President Obama faced his own Ukraine affair last week. He ordered military action against foreign assets controlled by an unstable interim government facing its own domestic factional opposition after deposing a former corrupt leader. Without NATO approval, the President took action on local officials’ requests. The short-term action was successful. The US military didn’t fire a shot.
Did you know about it? I didn’t.
A continual subtheme of “Digging Deeper” is the media’s tragic fail: at a time when news and information really counts, the media has collectively decided to abandon journalism for sensationalism. The media collective pursues profits and revenue as its main purpose; stories rise and fall with the sun. Ratings and rants count for more than facts or the public’s interest. So much so that the media collectively ignored a dramatic use of force in the Mediterranean Sea by a US President already faced with a military crisis in the same geopolitical theatre, albeit further east.
To me, that’s news.
Anytime the US authorizes the use of military force beyond our national borders, it is a real confrontation and situations can rapidly escalate and spiral out of control. Recent history is replete with small operations turned long-term. In fact we are still unwinding two wars that transferred billions annually to private contractors and corrupt governments without achieving any central policy aims.
Drones are cruel, but they are cheaper. They don’t require the massive movement of troops and materiel, the building of bases, the horrendous cost in lives that marked the warfare of the last decade.
Last week, the President ordered his favorite go-to force, a team of Navy SEALs, to board and seize control of a rogue ship, an oil tanker, the Morning Glory, sailing illegally under a North Korean flag, loaded with oil pumped from Libyan facilities at Sidra (in eastern Libya), after it illegally loaded at the Es-sider oil terminal.
Sidra and the terminal are blockaded on the ground and controlled by a rival faction to Libya’s interim government. This is one of several factions that oppose the recognized governing coalition and, with other dissident groups, has crippled Libya’s oil industry by strikes and sporadic fighting.
In fact, Sidra has 19 storage tanks with total capacity of 6.2 million barrels, mainly owned by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and a trio of US companies: Hess, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil. According to one industry analyst, diminishing confidence in reliable local production may motivate Marathon to sell its stake in the joint venture.
Somehow, the Morning Glory was loaded with $20 million worth of oil (some estimates say $34 million) from the NOC storage facility and it sailed away from Sidra toward an unknown destination. Morning Glory was the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the separatist revolt against the central government in Tripoli erupted in July 2013.
Rana Jawal, with the BBC, offered this analysis:
Washington made clear it supports Libya’s elected authorities with the Navy Seals operation.
The US has sent a clear message to both potential traders of illicit oil and to the armed groups blocking Libya’s terminals that it will not permit the sale of oil from rebel-held areas.
Libya matters to the US partly because a failed state would be viewed as yet another failed US adventure abroad, after it backed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
The intervention will also help to dispel at least one of the many suspicions and rumours among Libyans – that the West will deal with anyone to get hold of crude oil.
It may also restore some of the Libyan government’s credibility with people here, which has been lost over the past year. However, the dangers of this blockade escalating into an armed confrontation remain and it hinges on the government’s next move.
It also cost Libya’s interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan his job. He was replaced by the Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who received a two-week appointment, which was renewed this week. The new Prime Minister was tasked with coming up with a plan to reopen the Libyan’s eastern oil ports. Libya is currently shipping 275,000 barrels a month, down from 1.6 million barrels last July.
Three takeaways: One, Libya, to a degree greater than Ukraine, exhibits the factional fighting and contention for power and revenue seen throughout the region from North Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia Minor. The completing groups attempt to take advantage of regime change or current instability. They are usually centered around Islamists and several nativist parties who seem intent on relying on arms to settle their differences. Ukraine is the first state to be directly exploited by a former super power. Elsewhere, the groups effect more of a standstill (Syria) than clear winners. Even in Egypt, after winning the election, the Islamists were forced to take a step back.
Two, this factionalism is destabilizing a number of domestic economies. As conditions become more perilous, the conflicts may spiral into cycles of violence involving not only the assets of the political economy but also civilian lives and families, as is already the case in Syria, and to a degree, in Egypt.
Three, the US has no magic wand by which to determine its desired outcomes in local fights, nor can it afford to finance or interfere in every insurgency. Yet its commitment, when made, should not be in half steps. Especially in offering non-military aid. The US commitment to food aid is woefully insufficient and is adding to destabilization by placing unsustainable burdens on countries who are neighbors to states in conflict. A model for creating temporary jobs from mobile production facilities is badly needed in refugee camps. Continue reading Obama’s Ukraine Affair
Even before yesterday’s secession “referendum” in Crimea, Washington and the European Union had declared that the process didn’t pass the smell test. Sure as dammit, there was an off-putting spoor to exit polls suggesting 93% support for breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. European foreign ministers gather today in Brussels to discuss freezing Russian assets, with a Thursday conclave of EU leaders also scheduled.
Stateside, John Kerry has been spending a lot of time on the phone with Russian foreign minister Lavrov, much as Secretary Kerry’s boss has been chatting a lot with Lavrov’s. In Congress, bipartisan pressure continues to build for sanctions against Russia; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared a sanctions bill last week that also guarantees $1 billion in loans to Ukraine. Just back from a meaningless but self-aggrandizing Ukraine junket, and ever the bilge – er, bridge over troubled water, John McCain yesterday unhelpfully described Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Hmm. What with “that one” in the White House for a second term, poor Senator McCain is running out of wars. Shill, baby, shill.
Fred Phelps, former capo of the Westboro Baptist church, reportedly begins the week “close to death.” Which would be a shame, except that he’s Fred Phelps.
Cyberspace could be in for a rude shock this week if Republicans make good on their excited bleating about deploying some spanking new “.gop” websites. Wow! Talk about seismic shifts: same stale, dim, destructive ideas, totally new domain!
The search continues for Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370, amid new suspicions that the plane’s disappearance was linked to a 9/11-style plot to attack India. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Peter King, one of his fellow Republican doofuses thereon, continue to insist that a terrorism connection is unlikely, which leads me to suspect that it’s very likely. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/17/14
If those present at the March on Washington imagined anything about the national conversation on race half a century hence, they might well have assumed it would at least be an adult conversation, because of course they had no way of knowing that the Republicans of the new millennium would so decisively abandon any pretense of maturity, emotional or intellectual.
The GOP Dog-Whistle Philharmonic haughtily eschewed the high-profile 50th-anniversary celebrations of the March, opting instead to stage a series of energetic but stridently off-key recitals by its few minority soloists, like Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz.
In an op-ed supposedly penned to commemorate Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, Jindal, stunningly, used the occasion to criticize – wait for it – minorities:
Jindal accused minorities of placing “far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’ our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans…
“Here’s an idea: How about just ‘Americans?’ That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our ‘separateness’ is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot,” the governor opined.
Jindal underscored that waste of electrons with an appearance on Meet the Press last week that included a jaw-dropping rationalization for the tidal wave of bigotry to which the nation’s first not-entirely-white President has been subjected:
David Gregory asked Gov. Jindal about Colin Powell’s opinion that there is a dark vein of intolerance within the Republican Party. Jindal answered by comparing the Republicans’ Obama racism to Democratic treatment of George W. Bush.
The same day Jindal was pitching that idiocy, Senator Ted Cruz, touted, toasted, hyper-hyped Cuban-Canadian-American Demagogue Extraordinaire, appeared on CNN and claimed that his party’s vigorous efforts to destroy Obamacare are based in part on trying to help Hispanics and African Americans:
“… it’s not working and it’s hurting Americans,” Cruz insisted. “And by the way, the people that it’s hurting the most are the most vulnerable among us… The people who are losing their jobs are young people, are Hispanics, are African-Americans, are single moms. I don’t think that’s fair, I don’t think that’s right.”
Sure you don’t, Senator. Your party is all about minorities, after all. Case in point, the government’s figures for 2012 show African Americans at 13.1% as a percentage of total population, and Hispanic Americans at 16.9%, while a 2012 Pew study found that 31% of African Americans and 22% of Hispanic Americans have received SNAP benefits at some time in their lives. Yet, strangely, the party you and your doughy cohort of sophists insist is on the side of minorities has yet to reinstate food assistance funding after summarily stripping it out of the Farm Bill, the legislation through which SNAP money has traditionally been disbursed.
If it’s no longer mind-boggling that the stubbornly self-congratulatory “Party of Lincoln” is so utterly, offensively worthless on race and every other issue of minority rights, it’s only because everybody got used to it ages ago. And not a single po-faced minority conservative mouthing glib clichés in the direction of the nearest TV camera is going to do anything but make it worse.
TWO: Crass from the Past
Leave it to Republicans to keep their presidential campaigns in the news long after the campaigns have ended. You might remember a fellow by the name of McCain who ran against Barack Obama back in 2008. You know, the mavericky guy? Thought his long-suffering wife would be a fabulous “Miss Buffalo Chip”? Recklessly chose a running mate who had never heard of the Bush Doctrine and couldn’t name a single newspaper she read? A POW in Vietnam, although his campaign only ever mentioned it on days of the week with names ending in “y”?
Five years on, the FEC has managed to reach a “conciliation agreement” with “Five-Plane” McCain’s campaign for taking excessive campaign contributions and sundry other violations, all of which would have been easily avoided if anyone working on the campaign had cared enough to care. The agreement stipulates $80,000 in fines. Chump change in the grand scheme of things? Sure. And it certainly won’t be coming from the spouse-subsidized pockets of Senator “Keating Five” himself, but it’s a mildly gratifying little story nonetheless.
You might also recall that while the 2008 Obama campaign was running an impressively web-savvy operation (modeled on but expanding greatly on the blueprint of Joe Trippi’s groundbreaking work for Howard Dean in 2004), the hapless John McCain was reduced to admitting he relied on his wife and aides to get online, with the almost pathetically hopeful postscript:
“I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself…”
Well, times sure have changed. McCain’s just a regular old cybernaut nowadays, as he proved Tuesday at a Senate hearing on Syria. As his colleagues mulled over matters of life, death, international law, and scruffy old domestic politics, Senator McCain was photographed by the Washington Post‘s Melina Mara playing online poker on his iPhone.
There are three possible takeaways here, as I see it. One is that McCain is so fixated on the idea of raining explosive ordnance on Syria that he doesn’t give a nickel-plated crap what he might hear at a hearing intended to furnish him with the sort of information important decision-makers supposedly need to make their decisions. The second is that McCain is a goldbricking charlatan who owes his state and the nation a formal apology and his immediate resignation. The third is he’s both.
Then there’s Rick Santorum, whose granitic façade of moral rectitude has long been suspected of masking an inner sleazeball. Well, suspected by me, at least, but also by electoral watchdog groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, who recently filed a formal complaint with the FEC alleging that Santorum directed a $1 million donation to the Red White and Blue Fund, a Super PAC, in violation of federal election law.
If true, it’s disgusting behavior for any politician, let alone one who wants the world to believe he invented ethics, but the most disturbing allegation is that Bill Doré, the Louisiana businessman whose donation is at the heart of the complaint, actually thought it was sensible to cough up a million bucks to try and get Rick Santorum elected President of the United States.
Last, and almost certainly least, there’s Michele Bachmann, whose ill-fated 2012 campaign has already resulted in a probe by the House Ethics Committee for possible financial violations, a lawsuit over an allegedly stolen mailing list, and an active investigation into Kent Sorenson, a state senator who chaired her campaign in Iowa and may have received improper payments for so doing, in addition to more recent allegations that he solicited money from the Ron Paul campaign in exchange for switching his support.
The newest Bachmann scandal-in-waiting revolves around possible illegal coordination between her campaign and the National Fiscal Conservative PAC, coordination that might have involved her husband Marcus Bachmann. The Justice Department subpoenaed financial and other records from the Super PAC last week. It seems Bachmann’s imminent retirement from Congress could prove fortuitous, freeing her to spend more time with her attorneys.
THREE: The Mire Next Time
And then there are the horrors and hilarity of Republican presidential campaigns yet to come. If you thought ’08 and ’12 were grotesque spectacles of dank depravity, untrammeled ugliness and anti-intellectual pandering to the scummiest side of human nature, you were right, but ’16 is going to be much worse. Or better, depending on how entertaining you find all this stuff.
Former centerfold model and temp Senator Scott Brown, having nothing much else to do these days, recently went to the Iowa State Fair, and explained to the Boston Herald why. He wants to find out if the country is collectively deranged enough to consider putting him in the White House:
“I want to get an indication of whether there’s even an interest, in Massachusetts and throughout the country, if there’s room for a bi-partisan problem solver… It’s 2013, I think it’s premature, but I am curious. There’s a lot of good name recognition in the Dakotas and here – that’s pretty good.”
Yeah, real good. Hey, maybe Cosmo can do a sort of “where are they now?” follow-up shoot, with a naked President Brown stretched out on an Oval Office couch, a copy of the Constitution barely preserving his modesty.
As I noted here a couple of weeks ago, Congressman Peter King of New York is on a jihad to neutralize what he calls the “Rand Paul isolationist wing” of his party, and if that means he has to get elected President to do so, well, so be it. At least he wouldn’t do any nude modeling, or so we can hope.
Ted Cruz, of course, has been running all over the country, most recently to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa, pretending that a presidential run is the last thing on his mind, while hurriedly initiating the process to divest himself of the Canadian citizenship he pretends he didn’t know he had. If it were up to Texas Teabagger Christine Katok (a woman on record as doubting President Obama’s eligibility) Cruz wouldn’t need to bother:
“As far as I’m concerned, Canada is not really foreign soil…”
With no Democratic incumbent to face in ’16, Republicans, theoretically, have a shot at retaking the White House, but these early stirrings already hint at their determination to ensure it won’t happen. Continue reading Take Five (Way Stranger than Fiction edition)
With the House and Senate now shuttered until September, anyone seeking a quick fix of foolishness this week will have to look beyond the Beltway. Ames, Iowa would be an ideal place to start.
On Saturday, Ames hosts the second annual “FAMiLY LEADERSHIP SUMMIT,” where you’ll be able to hear a variety of speakers each “address a ‘singular’ and ‘major’ threat to America and to America’s families, along with the opportunity for leadership solutions to these threats,” and maybe even find out why “The FAMilY LEADER” organization exempted the “i” from their all-caps name. For a mere $49, you can savor speakers such as washed-up actor Stephen Baldwin, washed-up politican Rick Santorum, and tufted pink windbag Donald J. Trump, and your boxed lunch is included. I have no inside info, but I’m guessing that the “singular” and “major” threats to America will include minorities, gay people, SNAP recipients, Girl Scouts and Democrats.
If that shindig seems insufficiently compelling, you might consider Tuesday’s fundraiser for New Hampshire Republicans in Wolfeboro, headlined by someone named Mitt Romney, who apparently has a summer home there. It seems not all fools and their money are soon parted; as of this writing, there are still $1,500 VIP tix available.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns has just wrapped up another Cairo trip after discussions with various Egyptian politicians and interest groups, and conjoined twits Lindsey Graham and John McCain are likely to head there this week at the behest of the Obama Administration. If their efforts falter, I hope the President sees fit to send reinforcements, like maybe the other 44 members of the Senate Republican Conference. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/5/13
This week marked the tenth anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq, illegal as in fraudulently undertaken, thereby invalidating any supposed sanction previously conferred either by Congress or the United Nations, and also incomprehensibly immoral, like all crimes against humanity.
There should be no surcease, ever, of denunciation of the criminal horror unleashed on Iraq by the Bush administration and those who helped enable it, the latter largely for shamefully political reasons. In a nation with such a bounteous supply of prisons, there’s plenty of room to house the guilty for the rest of their lamentably natural lives, and their accomplices for some fraction thereof.
I have no hope that either will ever happen.
This week, fifteen months after the last combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq, the anniversary was marked in George Bush’s “beacon of democracy in the Middle East” with a wave of lethal violence, tersely quantified by the New York Times:
… 57 dead and nearly 190 wounded in separate attacks that included 17 car bombs, 2 adhesive bombs stuck to cars, and a killing with a silenced gun.
This week, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies released the results of a study conducted by its Cost of War Project. The study found:
The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest…
The war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number…
When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war’s death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000, the study said.
Yes, effecting mass death, destruction and chaos is more efficient than ever, yet it still doesn’t come cheap. Of course, that’s not how the Bush junta made its sales pitch. In the run-up to The Decider’s trigger finger getting intolerably itchy, Mitch Daniels, his OMB director, nudged up the saturation on the administration’s already over-saturated blue skies, to obscure what it would really cost in borrowed cash to dust off Saddam Hussein as one would a garden pest and install a compliant regime straight out of whatever remained of Dick Cheney’s wet dreams:
Mr. Daniels would not provide specific costs for either a long or a short military campaign against Saddam Hussein. But he said that the administration was budgeting for both, and that earlier estimates of $100 billion to $200 billion in Iraq war costs by Lawrence B. Lindsey, Mr. Bush’s former chief economic adviser, were too high.
And then he added a scabrous little grace note:
Mr. Daniels cautioned that his budget projections did not mean a war with Iraq was imminent, and that it was impossible to know what any military campaign against Iraq would ultimately cost.
The viciously, deliberately dishonest math behind all this has long been known, although it has constantly been revised upwards. Contrasts were drawn between prediction and reality almost from the outset, despite the best efforts of White House propagandists, supine but incessantly talkative members of Congress, and the jitterbugging marionettes of the mainstream media. The immense gap between the predicted and actual numbers probably still provokes gales of rheumy cackling whenever the old gang gathers around the fireplace for a snifter of brandy or human blood in whatever dank privy the original PNAC signatories still hold their unholy soirées.
TWO: With Fiends Like These…
Over and above the rancor they directed at Democrats, progressives and various other favorite scapegoats for the deleterious effects of their own wretched ideas, participants at CPAC ‘s 40th anniversary shindig last week were also remarkably splenetic toward each other.
Rick Perry brought a McCain/Romney dartboard:
“Now, the popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections… That is what they say. That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012…”
Rand Paul was even more bluntly insolent to his elders:
“The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered… I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?”
Donald Trump’s post-speech press conference featured another of the oafish magnate’s swipes at Karl Rove:
“This is the same mind that spent $400 million and didn’t win a race. He’s the most overrated person in politics…”
Louie Gohmert discharged a lot of indiscriminate buckshot, some of which winged the Nixon administration:
“Vietnam was winnable, but people in Washington decided we should not win it.”
Sarah Palin continued her lupercalian vendetta against sort-of-Republican Mike Bloomberg:
“Bloomberg’s not around,” Palin joked as she slurped on a giant soda, “our Big Gulps are safe.”
Brent Bozell dragged in a whole sack of grudges. Against, for example, Paul Ryan:
“… your proposed budget that has the federal government spending $41 TRILLION over the next ten years, with more and more and more spending increases every single year, and assumes all the oppressive Obamacare taxes. Congressman, that’s what liberal Democrats do, not us.
“This is not conservatism. It is, literally, Democrat Lite…”
Against Haley Barbour:
“… my friend, when you call for unity and on conservatives to ‘sing from the same hymnal’ and then publicly trash good conservative groups like Club for Growth for supporting good conservatives, you’re out of tune, and you’re out of line…”
Against the House leadership:
“John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy… you, like virtually every single other Republican elected to Congress solemnly vowed to rid us of Obamacare, which you can do simply by refusing to fund it. Why haven’t you done so?
“You’ve done nothing for over two years but give us excuses and more commitments that tomorrow, yes tomorrow, you’ll honor your promises. Gentlemen, where promises are concerned, you are not what you promised to be.”
With all the heated infighting, it’s a good thing attendees could buy a Marco Rubio water bottle in the exhibit hall.
THREE: Minority Report I
Desperate to garner votes from minority groups they mostly would prefer not to have anything to do with, Republicans still don’t seem to understand the difference between genuine outreach and simple smash-and-grab.
Take the CPAC breakout session called “Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?” chaired by K. Carl Smith, an African-American conservative. What could go wrong? Lots: Continue reading Take Five (Really, Really, Really Fuzzy Math edition)
“This Week” on ABC will feature House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, on to discuss the “fiscal cliff.” House Homeland Security Committee Chair Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., will discuss the . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 11/18/12
On ABC’s “This Week,” Stephanie Cutter and Newt Gingrich will discuss the current state of the race as well as ABC’s newest polling numbers. The roundtable will include ABC News’ George Will, PBS’ “Washington Week” moderator and . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 10/28/12
NBC’s “Meet the Press” will feature Chris Christie to talk about the upcoming presidential debates. In addition, Ralph Reed, former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA), the BBC’s Katty Kay and MSNBC’s Chuck Todd will also discuss the upcoming . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 9/30/12
The September 16th edition of “Face the Nation” on CBS features Libyan Interim President Mohammed el-Megarif, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 9/16/12