“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the volunteer media recruits in a video conference. "We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front," Netanyahu said. "We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold … refuting the industry of lies."

Israel isn't the only country to set up such a system. In China, members of the so-called "fifty cent army" sprinkle positive, pro-government messages across the web and social media.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is looking to hire university students to post pro-Israel messages on social media networks — without needing to identify themselves as government-linked, officials said Wednesday.
The Israeli prime minister's office said in a statement that students on Israeli university campuses would receive full or partial scholarships to combat anti-Semitism and calls to boycott Israel online. It said students' messages would parallel statements by government officials.
"This is a groundbreaking project aimed at strengthening Israeli national diplomacy and adapting it to changes in information consumption," the statement said.
An Israeli official said Wednesday that scholarship recipients would be free to decide whether or not to identify themselves as part of the program, which would begin within months.
"Everyone who believes in the cause, and wants to join, can join," he told The Associated Press. He said the office was looking to budget $778,000 for the project, and that the national Israeli student association would select participants from a pool of applicants.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the project is still under development and he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about it.
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz identified the official heading the project as Danny Seaman, a public diplomacy official who has written posts on his personal Facebook page which Haaretz described as being incendiary and anti-Muslim.
Haaretz posted what it said were four screen shots of his recent posts. In one of them, Seaman wrote: "Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan mean that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?" In another, he uses profanity in a comment about the chief Palestinian peace negotiator.
The Israeli official said Seaman's posts were "unacceptable and do not reflect the position of the Israeli government." He said the national communications directorate in the Prime Minister's Office had instructed Seaman to "immediately cease from making such pronouncements."
Seaman declined comment, and the posts could no longer be seen on his Facebook profile on Wednesday.
The official from the prime minister's office would not say whether Seaman would be the project's director. Seaman, a former director of the Government Press Office, had a contentious relationship with the international media and banned Palestinians from receiving government press cards during his tenure.
Israel isn't the only country to set up such a system. In China, members of the so-called "fifty cent army" sprinkle positive, pro-government messages across the web and social media.
Public image is also a paramount concern to Israeli officials. The prime minister's office oversees a national initiative for "hasbara" — a Hebrew term that officials translate as public diplomacy and critics call propaganda. This initiative is intended to combat what officials see as popular discourse that goes beyond legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and constitutes hate speech that threatens the very legitimacy of Israel's existence.
The Israeli army has set up an "Interactive Media" division of a few dozen soldiers tasked with spreading the army's message on social media sites.
When Israel's army launched an offensive on Gaza militants late last year, the Israeli government set up a "media bunker" with hundreds of young volunteers posting updates reflecting Israel's point of view. Many Israelis believe the international news media are anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian.
At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the volunteer media recruits in a video conference.
"We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front," Netanyahu said. "We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold … refuting the industry of lies."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Micro Knife - Perfect for slicing a jugular vein on your next flight for Jihad - Fits in your wallet - Thinner than a credit card

Double your pleasure. Get two for your two man crew.

Get the US military out of the oil protection racket in the Middle East

The Oil Paradox: U. S. Exports vs. Persian Gulf Imports

Ever since the Arab oil embargo in 1973 the US has professed a strong desire for energy independence.  After two Iraq wars essentially over Persian Gulf oil we still are importing oil from the Gulf.  This is occurring at a time when the US is significantly reducing its overall oil imports; however imports from the Gulf have remained at historic levels.  Now it appears that US oil companies and Congress are looking at lifting the decades old ban on exporting US oil.

“So the U.S. spends as much or more protecting our oil interests in the Persian Gulf than the oil is worth, up to several times more.”

Apparently the two Iraq wars were insufficient motivation to reduce our imports from the Persian Gulf.  But now that Congress is opening the door on the export ban this would be an opportune time to start making the call to reduce Gulf imports before we significantly increase exports from our own shores.  Energy independence should still be of paramount importance to the US, and linking increased exports to eliminating Persian Gulf imports may be just the paradigm to make that happen.  Reducing or eliminating our use of Persian Gulf oil will give the US one less reason to maintain such a significant presence there, saving lives and US tax dollars.  Eliminating our use of Persian Gulf oil should also be seen as a vital national security issue.
In this essay I will explore this issue further and put some broad numbers to imports vs. exports, the cost of protecting our oil interests in the Gulf, and also look at the overall paradox of increasing our exports and while still importing oil from the Persian Gulf and elsewhere (including countries to which we export).

The Original Ban and Exports

First some facts about the export ban I mentioned earlier.  There have been several, but the most salient law governing oil exports is the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which banned the export of crude oil from the U.S. except under select circumstances. It’s the “…except under select circumstances” that has allowed exports to increase steadily since 2001 (Figure 1).  The ban was in response to the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and was designed to increase production in the US, thus furthering our long-standing goal of energy independence.
Figure 1. US Annual Crude Oil Exports
Figure 1. US Annual Crude Oil Exports
As you can see in this figure it took a few years for the ban to take effect, but exports did drop sharply after about 1979-80.  Oil companies and many in congress on both sides of the isle are now pushing for increasing oil exports as a means of increasing oil production in the US.  Others in congress however have pressed to slow the increase in order to avoid price volatility that the original ban was supposed to control.  Environmental groups are also concerned about any increase in fossil fuel production as it relates to global warming. These are all valid issues relating to increasing exports, however my concern here relates to the disconnection between increasing exports while imports from the Persian Gulf proceed unabated.


So let’s look at the import picture.  Figure 2 shows the imports of crude oil from various sectors around the world.  The very good news is that overall imports are declining. However, the one main U.S. import sector that seems to hold fairly steady is the Persian Gulf.  Many analysts believe the global nature of the world oil market makes oil pricing somewhat disconnected from its place of origin. “Anybody who follows the oil industry will tell you that it doesn’t make any difference where the oil comes from,” according to Keith Crane of the RAND Corporation (Flintoff, 2012).  Or does it?  Is the cost of a $100/barrel of crude from the Persian Gulf really the same as a $100/barrel of Canadian crude, or any other crude? Let’s take a look.
Figure 2. US Oil Imports
Figure 2. US Oil Imports

Costs vs. Value: How the US subsidizes Persian Gulf Oil

The unstable political landscape of the Persian Gulf has long since required a U.S. military presence there to protect our strategic national interest as it relates to oil.  Over the years several economists have calculated estimates of just how much that military presence costs the U.S. taxpayer to protect those oil-related interests.  A study by Delucchi and Murphy (2008) looked at the value of our imports from the Persian Gulf compared with the cost of our military presence there as a function of only protecting our oil interests.  This study excluded war-time and non-oil related military costs.  The estimated value of our Gulf imports for 2004 (the year on which the study focused) was roughly $33 billion.  The military cost of protecting those imports was estimated to range from $27 – $73 Billion.  A similar study in the prior year by Copulos (2003) estimated a 2003 oil value of $25 Billion compared against a military cost ranging from between $52 – $62 Billion.  Delucchi and Murphy (2008) also concluded that the cost of military protection in the Gulf was highly correlated with the value of those imports.  Therefore as the value of those rose, the military costs of protecting those Gulf oil interests also rose accordingly.

“Why do we continue to significantly subsidize, through our military engagement, oil imports from one of the most unstable and costly parts of the world, and reduce imports from everywhere else?”

So the U.S. spends as much or more protecting our oil interests in the Persian Gulf than the oil is worth, up to several times more.  Now that $100 barrel of Persian Gulf crude really costs us up to $300/barrel, so where the oil comes from really does matter.  In essence the U.S., by its military presence in the Gulf, is not only subsidizing Gulf oil for US companies who purchase it, but for any company or country that purchases it.
It’s true that even if we no longer import oil from the Gulf the US will still have a strategic interest in the Middle East, namely a nuclear Iran and our alliance with Israel, among others.  But without the Gulf oil interest future conflicts in the Middle East are far less likely to result in a “Boots on the ground” type of response.  We will likely always need some military presence in the Gulf, but eliminating or at least reducing our oil interests in the Gulf region will also make it easier for the US to more fully pivot towards Asia in terms of our foreign policy and pursuing our broader economic interests.  It seems that recently every time the US is about to fully turn its attention to Asia, something in the Middle East pulls us into a new conflict there and away from pursuing our mutual interests with Asia.

U. S. Production is on the Rise

Oil production in the U. S. has steadily climbed since 2009 increasing from 5.2 million barrels/day to 7.2MB/D in 2013, a steady 38% increase (Congressional Research Service, 2014). The CRS projects that US oil production will continue to increase to 9 MB/D by 2025, which translates to over 3 Billion barrels/yr..  Additionally, the CRS projects US natural gas production to steadily increase through 2040.  Now I’m not suggesting that all these increases in home-grown oil and gas can just be switched across the board and replace our Gulf imports, but unless someone begins to focus on reducing our Gulf imports it certainly will never happen.  In addition, because Gulf oil value directly affects the cost of protecting those reserves, any significant reduction in Persian Gulf oil will also result in lowered military costs.  We need to look closely at US production and how it can help wean us off Gulf oil. This needs to part of any discussion of lifting the US ban on oil exports.

The Paradoxes

So with such dramatic decreases in US oil imports from around the world, why have Persian Gulf imports remained virtually unchanged?  Why do we continue to significantly subsidize, through our military engagement, oil imports from one of the most unstable and costly parts of the world, and reduce imports from everywhere else?  If in 2005 Persian Gulf imports into the US were prohibited, there would have been more than enough oil elsewhere, including from our own increased production, to meet our oil needs in the US.
Let’s look at the issue of the cost of protecting our oil interests in the Gulf in a more practical way. The capacity of the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve, established after the 1973-74 OPEC oil embargo, is 727 million barrels.  It is the largest stockpile of government –owned emergency crude oil in the world.   At a current cost of $97.65/barrel, the value of the SPR is roughly $70 Billion, a value that falls well within the cost of what the US taxpayers currently pay every year merely to protect our strategic oil interests in the Gulf. I merely point this comparison out to show that we have choices and that there are far better ways to spend our tax dollars.
Finally, why do we still talk about the oil market as if it were a truly ‘free’ market when we provide such a significant subsidy, at great cost and risk to American lives, to keep this market operating?
As a postscript to the above discussion I have to also include another somewhat related paradox: Canada is the largest buyer of US exported oil. So why are we pushing the Keystone XL pipeline for Canada to export its low-grade tar sands crude into the US while we are shipping oil back to Canada?


I believe that what’s really missing here is a long-term energy policy. Such a policy should also include a plan to significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. This probably isn’t going to happen any time soon.  However, I believe that there is a unique opportunity now for a more thorough discussion of how to extricate ourselves from at least one major US operation in the Middle East…oil.  There needs to be a direct linkage made between further increasing US oil exports and a mandatory reduction of Persian Gulf imports.  We need to stop treating the oil market as a free market; actually it is a “free” market for everyone else who buys Gulf oil because we heavily subsidize it, but not for the US.
As policy matters go, I see this as a twofer; we have a chance to take a step forward on a significant Middle East national security issue while at the same time bringing us a step closer to a broader and more long-term energy policy.  It appears to me that the US energy market can move forward without the need of Persian Gulf oil which in itself could also further simplify our Middle East national security profile.

Other Oil-Related Questions

I’ve raised many questions here, and perhaps over time I’ll find the energy to delve into them more deeply. One significant question that bears further analysis is the relationship between the House of Saud (Saudi Arabia is the largest Persian Gulf Exporter to the US) and the US.  But first I felt it was important to at least raise the issue of connecting further U. S. exports to Persian Gulf Imports.  There may be a window of opportunity to have an honest dialogue on this issue as Congress weighs the pros and cons of removing the oil export embargo.

Literature Cited

Congressional Research Service. 2014. U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in Federal and Non-Federal Areas.(
Figure 1 – Export Data from Energy Information Administration:
Figure 2 – Import Sources Data from Energy Information Administration:
Flintoff, Corey 2012. Where does America get oil? You may be surprised. NPR, April 12, 2012. (

© Phil Wendt, August 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014

The criminal stupidity of US foreign policy started under Bush continues


Hagel didn't start the fire

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam war veteran and the lone Republican on Obama’s national security team, has been fired. And John McCain’s assessment is dead on.Hagel, he said, “was never really brought into that real tight circle inside the White House that makes all the decisions which has put us into the incredible debacle that we’re in today throughout the world.”U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles. But what were the “decisions” that produced the “incredible debacle”?
Who made them? Who supported them?
The first would be George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, a war for which Sens. John McCain, Joe Biden, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton all voted. At least Sen. Hagel admitted he made a mistake on that vote.
With our invasion, we dethroned Saddam and destroyed his Sunni Baathist regime. And today the Islamic State, a barbaric offshoot of al-Qaida, controls Mosul, Anbar and the Sunni third of Iraq.
Kurdistan is breaking away. And a Shia government in Baghdad, closely tied to Tehran and backed by murderous anti-American Shia militias, controls the rest. Terrorism is a daily occurrence.
Such is the condition of the nation which we were promised would become a model of democracy for the Middle East after a “cake-walk war.” The war lasted eight years for us, and now we are going back — to prevent a catastrophe.
A second decision came in 2011, when a rebellion arose against Bashar Assad in Syria, and we supported and aided the uprising. Assad must go, said Obama. McCain and the neocons agreed.
Now ISIS and al-Qaida are dominant from Aleppo to the Iraqi border with Assad barely holding the rest, while the rebels we urged to rise and overthrow the regime are routed or in retreat.
Had Assad fallen, had we bombed his army last year, as Obama, Kerry and McCain wanted to do, and brought down his regime, ISIS and al-Qaida might be in Damascus today. And America might be facing a decision either to invade or tolerate a terrorist regime in the heart of the Middle East.
Lest we forget, Vladimir Putin pulled our chestnuts out of the fire a year ago, with a brokered deal to rid Syria of chemical weapons.
The Turks, Saudis and Gulf Arabs who aided ISIS’ rise are having second thoughts, but sending no Saudi or Turkish troops to dislodge it.
So the clamor arises anew for U.S. “boots on the ground” to reunite the nations that the wars and revolutions we supported tore apart.
A third decision was the U.S.-NATO war on Col. Gadhafi’s Libya.
After deceiving the Russians by assuring them we wanted Security Council support for the use of air power simply to prevent a massacre in Benghazi, we bombed for half a year, and brought down Gadhafi.
Now we have on the south shore of the Mediterranean a huge failed state and strategic base camp for Islamists and terrorists who are spreading their poison into sub-Sahara Africa.
The great triumphs of Reagan and Bush 41 were converting Russia into a partner, and presiding over the liberation of Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the old Soviet Union into 15 independent nations.
Unfulfilled by such a victory for peace and freedom, unwilling to go home when our war, the Cold War, was over, Bush 43 decided to bring the entire Warsaw Pact, three Baltic states, and Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. For this project, Bush had the enthusiastic support of McCain, the neocons and the liberal interventionists.
Since 1991, we sought to cut the Russians out of the oil and gas of the Caspian basin with a pipeline through the Caucasus to Turkey, bombed Serbia to tear off its cradle province of Kosovo, and engineered color-coded revolutions in Belgrade, Tbilisi and other capitals to pull these new nations out of Russia’s sphere of influence.
Victoria Nuland of State and McCain popped up in Maidan Square in Kiev, backing demonstrations to bring down the democratically elected (if, admittedly, incompetent) regime in Ukraine.
The U.S.-backed coup succeeded. President Viktor Yanukovych fled, a pro-Western regime was installed, and a pro-Western president elected.
Having taken all this from his partner, Putin retrieved the Crimea and Russia’s Black Sea naval base at Sebastopol. When pro-Russia Ukrainians rose against the beneficiaries of the coup in Kiev, he backed his team, as we backed ours.
Now, we are imposing sanctions, driving Russia further from the West and into a realliance with Beijing, with which Putin has completed two long-term deals for oil and gas running over $700 billion dollars.
As the U.S. and NATO send planes, ships and troops to show our seriousness in the Baltic and Ukraine, Russian planes and ships test Western defenses from Finland to Sweden to Portugal to Alaska and the coast of the continental United States.
Who made these decisions that created the debacle?
Was it those isolationists again?
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lincoln’ Thanksgiving Blessing of 1863 - (Context) April 12, 1861: Battle of Fort Sumter Casualties: none

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
His Thanksgiving Bless
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State


I hardly know where to begin with this astonishing denial of personal responsibility. How about the year of 1863 and what the politicians under Lincoln accomplished:

December 31, 1862 - January 2, 1863: Battle of Stones River
Casualties: 23,515
13,249 Union
10,266 Confederate
January 9-11, 1863: Battle of Arkansas Post
Casualties: 6,547
1,047 Union
5,500 Confederate
April 30 - May 1, 1863: Battle of Chancellorsville
Casualties: Unknown
May 12, 1863: Battle of Raymond
Casualties: 956
442 Union
514 Confederate
May 18 - July 4, 1863: Siege of Vicksburg
Casualties: 19,233
10,142 Union
9,091 Confederate
May 21 - July 9, 1863: Siege of Port Hudson
Casualties: 12,208
5,000 Union
7,208 Confederate
June 9, 1863: Battle of Brandy Station
Casualties: 1,090
July 1-3, 1863: Battle of Gettysburg
Casualties: 51,000
23,000 Union
28,000 Confederate
July 11, 1863: First Battle of Fort Wagner
Casualties: 351
339 Union
12 Confederate

July 18, 1863: Second Battle of Fort Wagner
Casualties: 1,689
1,515 Union
174 Confederate

September 19-20, 1863: Battle of Chickamauga
Casualties: 34,624
16,170 Union
18,454 Confederate

November 23-25, 1863: Battle of Chattanooga
Casualties: 12,485
5,815 Union
6,670 Confederate
Lincoln did pardon a turkey

“I Heard You”

Obama unleashed: Defies GOP election wins, moves in opposite direction

McClatchy Washington BureauNovember 26, 2014 Updated 17 hours ago

Read more here:
 — President Barack Obama has spent November acting with a defiant fury, moving with little regard for the message voters sent at the polls.
Instead of reaching out to Republicans who won control of next year’s Congress Nov. 4, he’s charged ahead with initiatives that infuriate the victors, prompting critics to label him a “king” or “emperor.”
Wednesday, the Obama administration began an effort aimed at easing smog-related pollution. Earlier this month, Obama took executive action on immigration and climate change. The White House has suggested he would block the Keystone XL pipeline. He’s vowed to have the federal government regulate Internet access.
This damn-the-GOP-torpedoes burst is dramatically different from the contrition and soul searching other presidents endured after their parties suffered stinging defeats.
George W. Bush worked with the new Democratic-controlled Congress after the 2006 election to craft economic stimulus legislation. Bill Clinton in 1994 overhauled his political team and would work to craft a bipartisan welfare overhaul. After Republicans lost Senate control in 1986, Ronald Reagan brought in Washington insider Howard Baker, who had been Senate majority leader, to run his staff.
George W. Bush worked with the new Democratic-controlled Congress after the 2006 election to craft economic stimulus legislation. Bill Clinton in 1994 overhauled his political team and would work to craft a bipartisan welfare overhaul. After Republicans lost Senate control in 1986, Ronald Reagan brought in Washington insider Howard Baker, who had been Senate majority leader, to run his staff.
Obama instead draws his already insular circle tighter. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel doesn’t spout the White House line in public, so he’s out. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough becomes a frequent visitor to Congress but doesn’t heed warnings from Republican leaders that an immigration order would be political poison.
“Free at last; free at last from the bondage of (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid, threats from the Republican leadership, and persistent press ‘wimp’ criticism,” said Stephen Wayne, a presidential scholar at Georgetown University.
“Now he can do what he thinks is right and to the extent possible do so with the help of loyal compatriots that believe in him and his priorities,” he said.
Two factors appear to be driving Obama. “He wants to prove he’s still relevant,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a center-left policy research center.
And engaged, said White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.
“Typically, when you have a change in power in Congress, the new congressional majority dominates the conversation and drives the discussion,” Pfeiffer said. “Since right after the election, the president has been driving the discussions, moving forward aggressively on core priorities.”
Voters, though, generally rejected those core priorities, as Republicans had a net gain of at least eight Senate seats and will start 2015 with  their biggest majority in the House of Representatives since the late 1940s.
Obama maintains he’s on the right course; it’s just that Republican obstructionists have made progress difficult. 
That’s a different take on defeat. Presidents whose parties were crushed in midterm elections were occasionally stubborn but usually found new ways to work with the other side.
Americans made it clear in 2006 they’d had enough of the Iraq war, then in its fourth year. Two months after the election, Bush announced a “surge” of additional troops, even though Democrats who now ran Congress wanted a withdrawal timetable.
Bush reached out to congressional leaders on other fronts, and by 2008, they agreed on an economic stimulus package, international help for AIDS victims and the financial industry bailout. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Bush “a lovely man.”
Clinton got his jolt in 1994 when Republicans won control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Clinton shook up his political team, installing Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and South Carolina party stalwart Don Fowler as head of the Democratic National Committee.
Fowler this week saw big differences between Clinton and Obama. “Bill Clinton is a person who enjoys people,” he said. “He was very comfortable dealing with new people.”
Obama has always kept deliberations within a group of close friends and advisers, rarely meeting with his Cabinet or lobbying lawmakers. The inner circle includes senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who was close to the president in Chicago, McDonough and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Rather than move toward the Republicans since the elections on Nov. 4, Obama has defied them:
– Nov. 10. He declared strong support for net neutrality, the idea that Internet content be freely available and subject to government regulation to protect consumers. Opening the door to government regulation infuriated conservatives.
– Nov. 12. During Obama’s Asia trip, the United States and China unexpectedly agreed to new targets for greenhouse gas emissions designed help combat climate change. Republicans complained that Obama unilaterally decided the U.S. would cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels in the next 11 years.
– Nov. 20. Obama announced he would unilaterally protect millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally from deportation.
– Nov. 24. Obama pushed out Hagel, a former Republican senator. It was widely reported that Hagel was dismissed after a series of disagreements. Previous Obama defense secretaries complained that national security discussions were often insular and guided from the White House predominantly by domestic politics.
– Nov. 26. The Obama administration said it will move to implement tougher air quality standards for ozone. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, branded the plan “massive new regulation” that would “cost our economy millions of jobs.”
Overall, Ken Mayer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who wrote the book “With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power,” said it appears that Obama and his advisers saw no reason to hold back despite the pledges by Republican leaders to cooperate with him.
Obama has signaled he won’t let up anytime soon.
The White House has strongly suggested Obama would veto a bill authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline – a top priority of the new Republican Congress – saying he will wait for completion of a State Department review.
And advocates are hopeful that he will be emboldened to tackle a Cold War relic. They want him to restore diplomatic ties and ease restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, even though it would infuriate many South Florida Republicans.
After all, said Pfeiffer, “There is no reward for being meek here.” 
Email:; Twitter:  @lightmandavid. Email:; Twitter: @anitakumar01.

Read more here:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

As long as the global giant, the United States, continues to escalate its fight against the Islamic State, it gains a credibility and increasing popularity in the world of jihadism that it would never otherwise garner

What if it was Russia and China invading and Bombing? The Blindness of MSM and Washington

Printer FriendlyBy Tom Engelhardt ( | –

Let’s play a game, the kind that makes no sense on this single-superpower planet of ours. For a moment, do your best to suspend disbelief and imagine that there’s another superpower, great power, or even regional power somewhere that, between 2001 and 2003, launched two major wars in the Greater Middle East. We’re talking about full-scale invasions, long-term occupations, and nation-building programs, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.
In both countries, that power quickly succeeded in its stated objective of “regime change,” only to find itself mired in deadly conflicts with modestly armed minority insurgencies that it simply couldn’t win. In each country, to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, it built up a humongous army and allied “security” forces, poured money into “reconstruction” projects (most of which proved disasters of corruption and incompetence), and spent trillions of dollars of national treasure.
Having imagined that, ask yourself: How well did all of that turn out for this other power?  In Afghanistan, a recent news story highlights something of what was accomplished.  Though that country took slot 175 out of 177 on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, though its security forces continue to suffer grievous casualties, and though parts of the country are falling to a strengthening Taliban insurgency, it has for some years proudly held a firm grip on one record: Afghanistan is the leading narco-state on planet Earth.
In 2013, it upped its opium poppy cultivation by 36%, its opium production by almost 50%, and drug profits soared. Preliminary figures for this year, recently released by the U.N., indicate that opium cultivation has risen by another 7% and opium production by 17%, both to historic highs, as Afghanistan itself has become “one of the world’s most addicted societies.”
Meanwhile, where there once was Iraq (171st on that index of kleptocracies), there is now a Shiite government in Baghdad defended by a collapsed armyand sectarian militias, a de facto Kurdish state to the north, and, in the third of the country in-between, a newly proclaimed “caliphate” run by a terror movement so brutal it’s establishing records for pure bloodiness.  It’s headed by men whose West Point was a military prison run by that same great power and its bloodthirstiness is funded in part by captured oil fields and refineries.
In other words, after 13 years of doing its damnedest, on one side of the Greater Middle East this power has somehow overseen the rise of the dominant narco-state on the planet with monopoly control over 80%-90%of the global opium supply and 75% of the heroin. On the other side of the region, it’s been complicit in the creation of the first terrorist mini-oil state in history, a post-al-Qaeda triumph of extreme jihadism.
A Fraudulent Election and a Collapsed Army
Though I have no doubt that the fantasy of relocating Washington’s deeds to Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, or any other capital crumbled paragraphs ago, take a moment for one more experiment.  If this had been the work of any other power we thought less well of than we do of ourselves, imagine the blazing headlines right now.  Conjure up — and it shouldn’t be hard — what the usual war hawks would be spouting in Congress, what the usual suspects on the Sunday morning talk shows might be saying, and what stories cable news networks from CNN to Fox would be carrying.
You know perfectly well that the denunciations of such global behavior would be blistering, that the assorted pundits and talking heads would be excoriating, that the fear and hysteria over that heroin and those terrorists crossing our border would be somewhere in the stratosphere.  You would hear words like “evil” and “barbaric.”  It would be implied, or stated outright, that this avalanche of disaster was no happenstance but planned by that same grim power with its hand on the trigger these last 13 years, in part to harm the interests of the United States.  We would never hear the end of it.
Instead, the recent reports about Afghanistan’s bumper crop of opium poppies slipped by in the media like a ship on a dark ocean.  No blame was laid, no responsibility mentioned.  There were neither blazing headlines, nor angry jeremiads, nor blistering comments — none of the things that would have been commonplace if the Russians, the Chinese, or the Iranians had been responsible.
Just about no one in the mainstream excoriates or blames Washington for the 13 years leading up to this.  In fact, to the extent that Washington is blamed at all for the rise of the Islamic State, the focus has been on the Obama administration’s decision not to stay longer in Iraq in 2011 and do even more of the same.  (Hence, President Obama’s recent decision to extend the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan through at least 2015.)
All in all, we’ve experienced a remarkable performance here when it comes to not connecting the dots or feeling the need to assign responsibility or accountability for what’s happened in these years.  In some fashion, we Americans continue to see ourselves, as we have since 9/11, as victims, not destabilizers, of the world we inhabit.
To add to this spectacle, the Obama administration spent endless weeks helping engineer a fraudulent Afghan presidential election — funded in part by the opium trade — into a new, extra-constitutional form of government.  The actual vote count in that election is now, by mutual agreement of the two presidential candidates, never to be revealed.  All of this took place, in part, simply to have an Afghan president in place who could ink a new bilateral security agreement that would leave U.S. troops and bases there for a further decade.  If another country had meddled with an election in this fashion, can you imagine the headlines and commentary?  While reported here, all of this again passed by without significant comment.
When it comes to a path “forward” in Iraq, it’s been ever deeper into Iraq War 3.0.  Since a limited, “humanitarian” bombing campaign began in August, the Obama administration and the Pentagon have been on the up escalator: more air strikes, more advisers, more weaponry, more money.
Two and a half weeks ago, the president doubled the corps of American advisers (plus assorted other U.S. personnel) there to 3,000-plus.  Last week, the news came in that they were being hustled into the country faster than expected — specifically into dangerous, war-torn al-Anbar Province — to retrain the American-created, now thoroughly sectarian Iraqi army, reportedly in a state of remarkable disarray.
In the meantime, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, the Pentagon, and the White House continue to struggle over whether American boots can be put on the ground in a combat capacity, and if so, how many and in what roles in a “war” that essentially may have no legal basis in the American system of government. (Shades of Afghanistan!)  Of course, much of this internecine struggle in Washington is likely to be obviated the first time U.S. advisers are attacked in Anbar Province or elsewhere and boots end up hitting the ground fast, weapons firing.
Vietnamizing Iraq, Iraqicizing Vietnam
In the meantime, think about what we would have said if the Russians had acted as Washington did in Afghanistan, or if the Chinese had pursued an Iraq-like path in a country of their choosing for the third time with the same army, the same “unified” government, the same drones and weaponry, and in key cases, the same personnel!  (Or, if you want to make the task easier for yourself, just check out U.S. commentary these last months on Ukraine.)
For those of a certain age, the escalatory path the Obama administration has set us on in Iraq has a certain resonance and so, not surprisingly, at the edges of our world, familiar words like “quagmire” are again rising.  And who could deny that there’s something eerily familiar about it all?  Keep in mind that it took less than three years for the Kennedy administration to transition from the first several hundred American advisers it sent to Vietnam to work with the South Vietnamese Army in 1961 to 16,000 armed “advisers” in November 1963 when the president was assassinated.
The Obama administration seems to be in the grips of a similar escalatory fever and on a somewhat similar schedule, even if ahead of the Vietnam timetable when it comes to loosing air power over Iraq and Syria.  However, the comparison is, in a sense, unfair to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. After all, they were in the dark; they didn’t have a “Vietnam” to refer to.
For a more accurate equivalent, you would have to conjure up a Vietnam scenario that couldn’t have happened.  You would have to imagine that, in May 1975, at the time of the Mayaguez Incident (in which the Cambodians seized an American ship), just two weeks after the South Vietnamese capital Saigon fell, or perhaps even more appropriately in terms of the dual chronologies of the two wars, in December 1978 when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, President Gerald Ford had decided to send thousands of American troops back into Vietnam.
Inconceivable as that was then, only such an absurd scenario could catch the true eeriness of the escalatory path of our third Iraq war.
Four More Years!  Four More Years!
Try to imagine the reaction here, if the Russians were suddenly to send their military back into conflict-ridden Afghanistan to refight the lost war of the 1980s more effectively, bringing old Red Army commanders out of retirement to do so.
As it happens, the present war in Iraq and Syria is so unnervingly déjà vu all over again that an equivalency of any sort is next to impossible to conjure up.  However, since in the American imagination terrorism has taken over the bogeyman-like role that Communism once filled, the new Islamic State might in one sense at least be considered the equivalent of the North Vietnamese (and the rebel National Liberation Front, or Vietcong, in South Vietnam).  There is, for instance, some similarity in the inflamed fantasies Washington has attached to each: in the way both were conjured up here as larger-than-life phenomena capable of spreading across the globe.  (Look up “domino theory” on the meaning of a Communist victory in South Vietnam if you doubt me.)
There is also at least some equivalency in the inability of American leaders and commanders to bring the nature, or even the numbers, of the enemy into sharp focus.  Only recently, for instance, General Dempsey, who has played a crucial role in the launching of this latest war, rushed off on just the sort of “surprise visit” to Baghdad that American officials often made to Saigon to proclaim “progress” or “light at the end of the tunnel” in the Vietnam War.  He met with American Marines at the massive U.S. embassy in that city and offered an assessment that seemed to capture some of Washington’s confusions about the nature of its newest war.
Keep in mind that, at the moment the war was launched, the Islamic State was being portrayed here as a monster movement engorging itself on the region, one that potentially imperiled just about every American interest on the planet.  In Baghdad, Dempsey suddenly insisted that the monster was faltering, that the momentum of battle in Iraq was “starting to turn.”  He then labeled the militants of the Islamic State as “a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology” and concluded that, despite the nature of those formerly giant, now-puny fellows and the changing momentum of the war, it might nonetheless take “years” to win.  On his return to Washington he became more specific, claiming that the war could last up to four years and adding, “This is my third shot at Iraq, and that’s probably a poor choice of words.” Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers recently offered a similar four-year estimate, but tagged an “or more” onto it. (Four more years! Four more years! Or more! Or more!)
Despite their sudden access to crystal balls some 11-and-a-half years after the initial invasion of Iraq, such estimates should be taken with a grain of salt.  They reveal less a serious assessment of the Islamic State than just how shaky America’s top leadership, civilian and military, has become about what the U.S. is capable of achieving in the wake of an era of dismal failure in the Greater Middle East.
In reality, unlike North Vietnam in 1963, the Islamic “State” is a wildly sectarian rebel movement that sits atop what is at best a shaky proto-state (despite recent laughable news reports about claims that it will soon mint gold or silver coins).  It is not popular across the region.  Its growth is bound to be limited both by its extreme ideology and its Sunni sectarianism.  It faces enemies galore.  While its skill in puffing itself up — in Wizard of Oz fashion — to monstrous size and baiting the U.S. into further involvement may be striking, it is neither a goliath nor a “midget.”
General Dempsey can’t know how long (or short) its lifespan in the region may be.  One thing we do know, however: as long as the global giant, the United States, continues to escalate its fight against the Islamic State, it gains a credibility and increasing popularity in the world of jihadism that it would never otherwise garner.  As historian Stephen Kinzer wrote recentlyof the movement’s followers, “To face the mighty United States on Middle Eastern soil, and if possible to kill an American or die at American hands, is their dream. We are giving them a chance to realize it. Through its impressive mastery of social media, the Islamic State is already using our escalation as a recruiting tool.”
Awaiting Iraq War 4.0
Given all this, it should amaze us how seldom the dismal results of America’s actions in the Greater Middle East are mentioned in this country.  Think of it this way: Washington entered Iraq War 3.0 with a military that, for 13 years, had proven itself incapable of making its way to victory.  It entered the latest battle with an air force that, from the “shock and awe” moment it launched 50 “decapitation” strikes against Saddam Hussein and his top officials and killed none of them but dozens of ordinary Iraqis, has brought none of its engagements to what might be called a positive conclusion.  It entered battle with an interlocking set of 17 intelligence agencies that have eaten the better part of a trillion taxpayer dollars in these years and yet, in an area where the U.S. has fought three wars, still manages to be surprisedby just about any development, an area that, in the words of an anonymous American official, remains a “black hole” of information.  It has entered battle with leaders who, under the strain of fast-moving events, make essentially the same decision again and again to ever worse results.
In the end, the American national security machinery seems incapable of dealing with the single thing it was built to destroy in the 9/11 period: Islamic terrorism.  Instead its troops, special ops forces, drones, and intelligence operatives have destabilized and inflamed country after country, while turning a minor phenomenon on the planet into, as recent figures indicate, an increasing force for turmoil across the Greater Middle East and Africa.
Given the history of this last period, even if the Islamic State were to collapse tomorrow under American pressure, there would likely be worse to come.  It might not look like that movement or anything else we’ve experienced thus far, but it will predictably shock American officials yet again.  Whatever it may be, rest assured that there’s a solution for it brewing in Washington and you already know what it is.  Call it Iraq War 4.0.
To put the present escalating disaster in the region in perspective, a final analogy to Vietnam might be in order.  If, in 1975, you had suggested to Americans that, almost four decades later, the U.S. and Vietnam would be de facto allies in a new Asia, no one would have believed you, and yet such is the case today.
The Vietnamese decisively won their war against Washington, though much of their country was destroyed and millions died in the process.  In the U.S., the bitterness and sense of defeat took years to recede.  It’s worth remembering that the first president to launch a war in Iraq in 1990 was convinced that the singularly tonic effect of “victory” there was to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”  Now, all of official Washington seems to have a post-modern, twenty-first-century version of the same syndrome.
In the meantime, the world changed in few of the ways anyone expected.  Communism did not sweep the Third World and has since disappeared except in Vietnam, now a U.S. ally, tiny Cuba, and that wreck of a country, North Korea, as well as the world’s leading state on the “capitalist road,” China.  In other words, none of the inflamed fears of that era panned out.
Whatever the bloody horror, fragmentation, and chaos in the Middle East today, 40 years from now the fears and fantasies that led Washington into such repetitively destructive behavior will look no less foolish than the domino theory does today.  If only, in a final thought experiment, we could simply skip those decades and instantly look back upon the present nightmare from the clearer light of a future day, perhaps the next predictable escalatory steps might be avoided.  But don’t hold your breath, not with Washington chanting “Four more years!,” “Four more years!”
Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s His new book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).
[Note: A deep bow to Nick Turse for help on this piece. His thought experiments sparked my imagination. Tom]
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt
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