Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Michael Brown shooting

If this account is accurate, the police officer should be charged with murder.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Gore and 9/11

If Gore had been president in 2000, the 9/11 attacks  would probably have been averted.

Why do I say this?  Two reasons.

Firstly, it was Clinton's (and following him Gore's) intention to respond to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole by sending special forces into Afghanistan to destroy the Al Qaida camps.  The proposed raid had been put on hold until US intelligence confirmed that Al Qaida was indeed behind the Cole attack - confirmation that only came in January, at the time of the transition to the Bush administration.  Following the principle of disavowing anything that Clinton was for, the Bush team dropped the ball, and there was no response to the Cole attack.

If in a Gore administration the Afghan camps had been destroyed, it's possible that Al Qaida would have been weakened enough to be unable to mount the 9/11 attacks.  And would also have seen the consequences of attacking the US directly. As it was, the lack of any response to the Cole attack could only have emboldened Al Qaida, while leaving their structure intact.

So it's possible that 9/11 would have been averted right at the beginning of a Gore administration.  But it's also possible that the planning for 9/11 would have continued undeterred in Hamburg.

So let's assume that the 9/11 attack preparations continued.  As we later learned, there were a lot of disparate pieces of information available that put together would have been enough for the Gore administration to round up the plotters.  Would that have happened?

I had the opportunity a few years ago to talk to a counterterrorism advisor (now with the Sate Department) who had worked in the Clinton White House.  He told me that yes, in a Gore administration, 9/11 would probably have been averted, using the precedent of the 1999 millennium bomb threat to  explain why.

When in 1999 rumors of an attack on the US scheduled for Jan 1 2000 surfaced, the Clinton White House set up a dedicated situation room to deal with the possible attack, and daily sent out requests to federal agencies for any scrap of information that might be useful, as well as a reminder to be on alert.  And an alert immigration officer did in fact stop the would-be LAX bomber.*  So there was a precedent for what a President Gore** would have done in the months before September 2001, and if all the pieces of information out there (e.g. people taking airliner flight training who didn't seem interested in taking off or landing) had been collated in a Gore White House attack threat situation room - well, as I say, it's probable that 9/11 would have been averted.

And in his book Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke said the same.


 *An unanswered, and unanswerable, question:  would the immigration officer have let the bomber pass though without the White House promptings to be on heightened alert?
**The counterterrorism advisor told me that in the Clinton White House, it was Gore who was the one more concerned by, and focussed on, the possibility of terror attacks.




Butterfly Effect

Back in 2009, our Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker observed, "The events for which the Iraq War will be remembered have not yet happened."

We are now seeing the beginning of those events for which the war will be remembered: the rise of ISIS, and the beginning of a power struggle to determine the future that part of the Middle East we now know as Iraq and Syria.

To me, the crisis in the Middle East is an example of the butterfly effect in action.  Let me explain.

We are all familiar with the term butterfly effect, named for the hypothesis that a butterfly fluttering its wings will create a tiny change in air currents, which change in turn could effect other currents, starting a potential chain with increasingly greater effects, so perhaps culminating on a typhoon on the other side of the Earth.

The poor design of the "butterfly ballot" used in Florida in the 2000 election cost Al Gore over 20,000 votes, votes that would have easily propelled him to the presidency if the voters wishing to vote for him had not (understandably) been confused by the poor design, and so improperly punched their cards so their votes went to another candidate or were just not counted.  As a result, Bush was declared the winner in Florida, and so gained the presidency.

Now consider the counterfactual if Gore had become president as the voters wished.  9/11 would probably have been averted (I'll return to explain this in a future posting), and we would certainly not have embarked on the disastrous Iraq adventure.  And our destablization  of Iraq has led to the current frightful state of affairs as ISIS gains ground.

So, as I say, the butterfly effect made real...

Best Defense...

Returning to the theme that the best defense is a good offense:

I'm amazed at the Democrats' continuing wussiness in their failure to make their case, even when the Republicans hand them the opportunity on a platter.

The Republicans have tried  over 50 times to overturn the ACA, with legislation titled "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act"

If the Democrats were on their toes, they would have offered an amendment to the bill: to amend the title by striking the words "job killing" and replacing them with the words  "unemployment reducing", followed by an explanation in debate along these lines:

The description "job killing" is completely bogus.  Our colleagues across the aisle use this term because the CBO scoring of the Affordable Care Act predicted a reduction in the labor force. I'm afraid our colleagues have misunderstood.  That does not mean a reduction of jobs.  The expected reduction in the labor force would come from more people retiring from their jobs, or quitting their jobs to start their own businesses, now that health insurance is assured.  So it will reduce unemployment in two ways. The jobs that people voluntarily left would still exist, to be filled by the currently unemployed, and those who quit to start their own businesses will be hiring workers, also hiring the currently unemployed. Thus, the Affordable Care Act will result in more people getting jobs, so, as I say, to call the Act "job-killing" is completely bogus, and, intentionally or not, misleading to the public.  Hence the proposed amendment the replace the false "job killing" with the truthful "unemployment reducing". 
And one more thing: members who vote against this amendment after the reasons have been explained would be voting to knowingly continue to deceive their constituents and the public, and should realize that such mendacity will be preserved in the Congressional Record."
 It's really not that difficult, folks!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Lottery

While I suppose it's a good thing that the private numbers racket has been legalized by state lotteries (aka the public numbers racket), I am troubled by what I see here in California:  the aggressive advertising encouraging the purchase of lottery tickets.  I see the ads on the sides of buses and in the BART train stations, as well as on billboards, with such come-ons as "Luck will find you" (illustrated with an seductive woman) and "Fortune awaits".  The sheer number of the ads suggests a huge outlay of advertising dollars.

Ambrose Bierce described the lottery as a tax on people who are bad at math, for the odds of winning are staggeringly high.  The most likely purchasers of lottery tickets are those with the lowest incomes, which, given the infinitesimally small chance of winning, means a waste of their limited resources. If they choose to buy lottery tickets, it's certainly their right.  I just don't think the poor should be encouraged to  throw away their money by an expensive advertising campaign.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Revert, Not Raise

We do need more revenue to keep the federal government operating well without indefinitely running up debt through annual deficits.

But to suggest "raising taxes" is seen as political suicide as it's not popular with voters. So let's look at raising revenue through a different lens: we would not be raising taxes, but undoing most, if not all, of the irresponsible Reagan and Bush tax cuts - i.e. not "raising taxes", but reverting to the sensible tax rates in place before the cuts - the tax rates that were in effect in the Kennedy and Nixon years, when the United States was a more equal (or at least less unequal) society than it is today,

The effect would be the same, but the message would be one of undoing damage by going back to what we had before, rather than imposing something new.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WWID (What Would Ike Do?)

I missed Jill LePore's Article The Force when it appeared in the January 28, 2013 New Yorker - I recently caught up with it.

The article is about funding for our bloated military, and part of it describes the first of the 2011 House Armed Services Committee hearings on the future of the military.

Dwight Eisenhower famously said in his farewell address:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
and at the hearing Congressman John Garamendi read part of Eisenhower's first major address as president :
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.This is a world in arms. This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.... This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Garamendi invited Air Force General Richard Myers to comment on what Eisenhower said.  Myers's response:  "I wonder what President Eisenhower would have done in New York City on 9/12/2001."

Well, I do not wonder.  President Eisenhower, who had been supreme allied commander in World War ll, was well aware of the limits of military power, and the horror of warfare, and the two paragraphs above show his skepticism about the value to the country of its excessive militarization.  I'm fully confident he would have acted as another president did when there was a monstrous and murderous attack on a large building: President Clinton recognized that the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building was a criminal act, and directed the FBI to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.  So too was the attack on the World Trade Center a criminal act (though on a much larger scale), and the appropriate response was to identify who was behind the crime, arrest and try them.

And I believe that is the prudent and sensible course that President Eisenhower would have followed were he president in September 2001.