Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Few Words about Ted Cruz

At the Republican debate last night, Senator Ted Cruz said, “[P]olitical correctness is killing people.”

I’m sure that what the senator actually meant to say was, “Bashing political correctness is a useful device for assholes like me to appeal to the bigots in the electorate.”

OK, maybe not. Maybe he really meant what he said, even though what he said was bull hockey, if you know what I mean. 

In case you don’t know what I mean, what I mean is bullshit.

If Senator Cruz is really hostile to political correctness, he is hostile to a general sensibility that says it is a bad idea, even unethical, to disparage people using racist epithets and to otherwise promote negative stereotypes. If you think people shouldn’t be treated with racist or ethnocentric contempt, you too believe in political correctness.

Naturally, some people take the idea of universal respect for people too far and use political correctness as a way to strike a moralistic pose or to pat themselves on the back. Shame on them. But shame, even more, on people like Ted Cruz, who obviously practice political correctness themselves while striking a moralistic pose suggesting they are dead set against it.

Of all the people in both parties now running for president (all 1,674 of them), Cruz is the worst. He is undoubtedly an intelligent man, which makes him that much more odious. He, more than any of his rivals, reminds me of Richard Nixon. People who listened to Nixon’s White House tapes have reported with disgust that every staff meeting seemed to be focused on how to advance his, Nixon’s, political interests. Never was the issue of what’s good for the nation brought up. I imagine that if we could hear Ted Cruz’s thoughts, we would be similarly struck by their repugnantly selfish and utterly unethical qualities. The man just seems to breathe a raging, narcissistic ambition.

He has been called out for his declaration that if he were president he would “carpet bomb” ISIS. This is a lie. Nobody in the American military believes that carpet bombing is an appropriate or effective tactic. Cruz probably knows this, but in his inimitably sleazy way, he broadcasts his commitment to carpet bombing as a way to sound tough. “President Obama is such a wimp that he refuses to carpet bomb ISIS and kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, but I will!”

When Cruz was called on his carpet bombing claim during the debate, he tried to double-talk his way out with this gem: “[I] would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops.”

News flash, Senator Cruz, the ISIS fighters are in the cities.

Imagine for a moment that Ted Cruz were a decent, honest man.

I know, I know, but just try.

With his intelligence and his superior debating skills, he could bring a lot to a presidential campaign. But instead, he insults us with a well rehearsed, thoroughly dishonest series of sound bites, many of which he himself does not believe, but which he has calculated might attract naïve voters to his cause. Gross.

But, you ask, doesn’t every politician do this? Well, except maybe for Bernie Sanders, I think they all do it to some extent. But Cruz is special because that is all he does. So now I find myself watching with fascinated horror to see just how high the Republican electorate is willing to lift this duplicitous poser. May the Force protect us.

(Thanks to Jezebel for the picture.)

Saturday, November 14, 2015


The world is no stranger to depravity. Nazism has only been dead for 70 years and it was a mere 35 years ago that the Khmer Rouge murdered about 25 percent of Cambodia’s people. Now the leaders of Daesh (aka Islamic State, IS, ISIS, and ISIL) are guaranteeing that they will be remembered, long after their extinction, as members of the World’s Gallery of Scoundrels.

I’m settling on the name Daesh here partly to honor our friends in France who suffered so grievously in yesterday’s massacre. About a year ago Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said that we would do well not to use the term “Islamic State” since “it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists.” The “Daesh cutthroats,” Mr. Fabius argued, are, in any case, a terrorist group rather than a state.

I don’t intend to quibble over such niceties as what constitutes a state, but I believe knowing something about how Daesh operates is worthwhile. An insightful analysis about its inner workings can be found in a recent article in Der Spiegel that my friend Rachel shared with me. I think that the most important points that this article reveals are (1) that Daesh was established not by religious fanatics, but by an angry Iraqi who had worked, until 2003, as an intelligence officer for Saddam Hussein, and (2) that Daesh has conquered extensive territories by first infiltrating them and then using Gestapo-like techniques to subordinate their populations.

The man behind these very carefully designed techniques was killed in January 2014, but not before he set the apparatus in motion that has led to Daesh’s successes in Syria and Iraq. He went by numerous aliases, including Haji Bakr, and he had been, before the US invasion, a high-ranking intelligence officer in Saddam Hussein’s air defense force. Der Spiegel was able to describe the inner workings of Daesh because the death of Haji Bakr resulted in his detailed plans for conquest and control falling into his enemies’ (and Der Spiegel’s) hands.

These plans revealed that many of the most fanatic fighters in Daesh are foreigners. Of course it’s common knowledge that thousands of young men from around the world have traveled to the Middle East to join Daesh, but Der Spiegel notes that the fanaticism of these foreigners often surpasses that of the Syrian and Iraqi fighters because the foreigners have no emotional investment in any local populations and little contact with the people of Syria and Iraq except through their acts of violence.

Those who have paid attention to Daesh’s expansion are familiar with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi who, like Haji Bakr was radicalized by the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Al-Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca, a U.S. facility, for four years because of his ties to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). When he was released, he became a leader in AQI, but later joined Daesh and eventually assumed the position of Daesh's Caliph, or supreme leader. Der Spiegel leads me to believe that al-Baghdadi is useful to Daesh mainly because his genuine religious fanaticism gives the organization a public image that helps obscure its secular ruthlessness. This ruthlessness owes more to the Saddam Hussein School of Terrorism and Thought Control than it does to anything in Islam.

In fact, the non-Islamic features of Daesh help explain its conflict with al Qaeda. The latter organization is clearly motivated by a fanatic version of Islam, and a number of its leaders have pointed accusing fingers at Daesh, not just for its brutality (which al Qaeda can all but match), but for its lack of authentic religiosity.

Almost everyone in the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, agrees that Daesh must be destroyed. Not only France, but Turkey and Lebanon have suffered horribly at its hands. And so, apparently, have the people of Russia who lost 224 compatriots to what appears to be a Daesh-inspired bomb on board an Airbus over the Sinai.

The only question is, how should we go about killing this foul beast? Cooperation between NATO, Russia, Iran and Middle Eastern Arabs (including those Syrians whose behavior has not made it impossible for us to work with them) is essential. A full scale invasion by foreign armies strikes me as a very bad idea for a number of reasons. For one thing, let’s not forget that the leaders of Daesh, both al-Baghdadi and the late Haji Bakr, emerged in response to just such an invasion.  President Obama’s argument that Daesh can first be systematically degraded and then destroyed makes sense. And this process cannot be a strictly American or foreign-driven one, but must involve local people as its most prominent participants in order for it to be successful.

Showing great promise and impressive courage in this regard are the Kurds who both saved Kobani from a Daesh attack, and who now are in the process of retaking the city of Sinjar. Reports from Sinjar indicate that a number of Daesh fighters fled in the face of the attacking Kurds and their Yazidi allies. This is good news in that it means, first, that these fleeing fighters are not inspired by a fanatic sense that martyrdom is a reward to be enthusiastically sought, and, second, it aligns with current reports that Daesh is running short of voluntary manpower and is having to draft locals to fill its ranks.

I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end of Daesh, but the elimination of this blot on humanity is bound to be a bloody affair. In the meantime, how sad it is that good and blameless people, like those who died in Paris yesterday, have to suffer so tragically while this monster still manages to hold on to its loathsome life. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Zombie Candidates: they lurch clumsily forward with ever-staring eyes – not realizing that they’re dead!

What would you do if this man were to approach you on the street and announce, “I’m Jim Gilmore and I am going to be the next President of the United States”?

You might well think you were being confronted with some poor chap who had taken leave of his senses. But in fact this man, Jim Gilmore is indeed running for president. The fact that you did not recognize his face, nor, probably, his name, is a good indication that this former governor is a zombie candidate. He keeps on going as though his campaign actually had life in it. But it does not.

Lincoln Chafee is another zombie candidate.


Granted it is interesting to have a Democratic Presidential Candidate who was once a Republican Senator, and then an Independent Governor. That, however, is the most interesting thing about Mr. Chafee’s candidacy.

At the recent Democratic debate he described himself as “a block of granite,” and what a block of granite would do were you to plunk it into the deep blue sea is exactly what Mr. Chafee’s candidacy has been doing lately. Given that he seems to be a very decent and sincere man, I take no pleasure in noting this, but it is time for him to let go of his walking corpse of a campaign.

Then there is Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana. His poll numbers started out last spring in the single digit range, but at least that single digit was to the left of the decimal point. Lately he’s been polling at around .8% among Republicans.

One of his most memorable quotes came during a Fox News interview when he said “the Confederate flag is a symbol of my heritage, and that heritage has nothing to do with racism or hate.” But even this little outburst of bigotry failed to help his numbers. 

And let's not forget the T-shirt that his campaign distributed which was emblazoned with the words “Tanned Rested Ready.”

                        Jindal Campaign T-shirt

Still no traction, though it did set some people speculating as to whether Governor Jindal had a much stronger sense of irony than we realized. Apparently not. He is just weird. 

Bobby, we hardly knew ye, but the better we got to know ye, the less presidential ye seemed.

                          Governor Bobby Jindal

Polling at half of Bobby Jindal’s rate is former Governor George Pataki of New York at .4%.

Not sure what he’s thinking. Maybe he’s hoping that if the GOP picks a right-wing fanatic like Ted Cruz, he can offer himself as the perfect running mate – a blue state Republican who seems fairly normal compared to Cruz.

Also polling at about .4% is Lindsay Graham.

Senator Graham is distinguished by his strong message which is clear, decisive and utterly insane. Senator Graham’s main complaint with Obama is that the president has failed to exploit America’s war-waging potential.

“We have the capacity to crank up the combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus start a new war in Syria, but what is President Obama doing about this? Nothing!”

Admittedly these are not Senator Grahams’ exact words, but they capture, I think, his message.

“All I'm asking for is just one little teeny weeny boots-on-the-ground war in Syria, no bigger than this, I promise.”

Finally, there’s Rick Santorum. I don’t know what his campaign slogan is, but it should be something like, “Yes, it’s me again.”

                                   Rick Santorum

The response from the Republican electorate seems to be the equivalent of a collective eye roll.

The point is that all of these people, Democrat and Republican alike, should not be cluttering up the landscape with their hopeless dreams. Isn’t it enough that the electoral landscape is already cluttered with the likes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson? Isn’t that in itself sufficiently depressing? For everyone’s sake, would you gentlemen please escort your candidacies to the nearest mausoleum, see them inside, and lock the door. Thank you.