Friday, August 08, 2014

Hamlet and Humpty Dumpty

Barack Obama is America's latter-day Hamlet, unable to make a timely decision when circumstances demand one. This tendency is most on display in the foreign policy arena, where the president dithers for weeks (Ukraine), months (Iraq) or years (Syria) before acting. The decision, when it finally comes, is invariably worthless because the critical moment at which it was possible to influence the course of events has long since passed.

Obama's administration bounces from one developing crisis to another, resembling nothing so much as a pinball machine. Secretary of State Kerry is a human pinball, shuttling from one place to another in a desperate effort to catch up with last week's crisis. About the best that can be said about Obama himself is that he apparently does not have a golf game on today's schedule.

In northern Iraq, ISIS is committing mass exterminations in and around Sinjar, and the "big" news out of the Pentagon at this hour is that U.S. warplanes have dropped two (two!) 500 pound bombs on ISIS targets outside of Irbil, the only city in the country where a modicum of economic development has taken root. We will see whether today's "pin pricks" have any effect at all on the ISIS onslaught. The artillery hit by the U.S. jets were just 35 miles outside of Irbil - the distance between the White House and Fredericksburg, VA.

And where is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a moment when American forces are reengaging in Iraq? In India, where the top item on the agenda is the sale of Apache helicopters to the Indian military. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Kurds - secular, pro-western, capable - are now having to retreat before the ISIS advance because the Hamlet in the White House cannot decide whether to supply them with the arms they need to defend themselves.

American policy in Iraq is grounded in a determination to maintain the fiction that it is possible to form a unified government of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds within "national" borders that were drawn (with the straight edge of a ruler) by Sir Mark Sykes (a Brit) and Francois Georges-Picot (a Frenchman) in 1916 as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling.

Today, Iraq is crumbling, and the notion that it can ever again resemble a unified "nation" within those borders is sheer nonsense. Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again.

The Shiite east and south is now merely an unofficial province of Iran. The Sunnis of the west may find a way to throw off the ISIS "caliphate," and the Kurdish north can, if given a chance, become a successful independent state that is friendly to the U.S. But the longer we pursue the chimera of a unified Iraq, the longer the blood letting will continue.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Monday night's Senatorial talkathon was powered by . . .

It was a chilly night in the nation's Capital when Senate Democrats took to the floor for an all-night "filibuster" (or something) to talk about global climate change (they've stopped calling it "global warming" since it became apparent that the climate has not warmed over the last 15 years). 

But despite the abnormally cold temperatures outside, the Senators were toasty warm in the Senate chamber, thanks to the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant.  The plant was built back in 1910, and has supplied heated steam and chilled water (depending on the season) for the Capitol building and Senate and House office buildings ever since.  It also supplied electricity for the Capitol complex until 1951, when electrical demand outran the facility's capacity.

I'll simply sidestep the obvious hot air jokes that I could make about the endless stream of senatorial blather for this not very successful publicity stunt, which is best understood (as the Wall Street Journal pointed out) as a "as a donor maintenance exercise."

Jolly Good

The talking heads on TV (even those on Morning Joe!) have all neglected to mention something important about David Jolly's win over Alex Sink (48-46) in yesterday's special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District. 

Despite being all but abandoned by the GOP establishment, and being heavily outspent, Jolly came from a 9 point deficit in the polls to defeat Sink by two points. But here's the interesting statistic: a libertarian candidate siphoned off nearly 5 percent of the vote cast! Most of those votes would have gone to Jolly in a two way race, so this could easily have been an even bigger win for the Republicans.

There are two messages for Democrats in all this. There's the obvious one: the GOP is unmistakably well- positioned to knock off enough Democratic senators to take control of the upper house in November. The other is that Democratic brave talk about retaking control of the House this fall is just simply nonsense.  Obama carried Florida 13 in both 2008 and 2012, but the Unaffordable Care Act has become a millstone around every Democratic neck and has changed the political landscape in a major way. Repeal and Replace was the winning message in Florida yesterday, and stands a very good chance of being the winning message in November nationwide.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"This is life imitating comedy"

Charles Krauthammer has an extraordinary ability to turn a phrase. Discussing The One's White House press conference yesterday, he acidly sums it up:
Beyond the competence issue is the arrogance. Five million freely chosen, freely purchased, freely renewed health-care plans are summarily canceled. Why? Because they don’t meet some arbitrary standard set by the experts in Washington.

. . . the law Obama so triumphantly gave us allows you to keep your plan only if he likes it. This is life imitating comedy — that old line about a liberal being someone who doesn’t care what you do as long as it’s mandatory.

For what it's worth, Obama's administrative "fix" is too little, far too late. It can only be explained in one of two ways. Either he simply does not have the slightest clue about how the insurance industry operates, or it's just one more maneuver to try to place the blame anywhere but on his shoulders. Probably a combination of the two.

Don't be misled by this "It's on me" stuff. He knows damned well that it is much too late in the game to reverse course. Insurance companies, unlike his HHS staff, have been working for all of the past three years doing actuarial projections so that they can properly price the new government-mandated insurance plans for a population whose actual composition cannot be anticipated with anything approaching precision.

To think that the companies could do a 180 in a matter of a few weeks is just absurd, especially when they'd be acting on the basis of an administrative rule that could be revised or revoked whenever it suits the president's whim. When they decline to take that kind of bait, he'll just do what he intended to do all along: blame the insurance companies.

Obama has been playing this sort of game for years, mostly without consequence. Now it's catching up with him. It's about time.

Friday, November 01, 2013

"all of the wounded were elderly men and children"

At least ten people attending a wedding in Afghanistan's Baghlan province were injured in a bomb attack.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but similar incidents in the past have been blamed on the Taliban, who regard music and other entertainment at wedding parties as unacceptable.
Less than a week ago, "a roadside bomb blast killed 18 civilians, most of them women and children, as they were travelling in a minibus to a wedding party in central Afghanistan's Ghazni province."

The Taliban are barbarians whose ideology permits - no, encourages - them to slaughter innocents because they enjoy music when celebrating a wedding.