Category Archives: The World

Congratulations also to Joe Biden, Israel, and yes, Iran

EDITOR’S NOTE: I started writing this on Saturday, April 20, right after posting the item before it — hence the play off that headline. It was just supposed to be a reflection on three things I’d read — or rather two things I’d read, and one I’d heard– that day. That was awhile back (I’ve been busy), but I still want to share those things, so here goes…

The parties mentioned in the headline figured out a way to keep the entire region from erupting into total war — with nukes, maybe.

Things looked really dark a week earlier, when those missiles and drones were on the way to Israel.

(Of course, in that region, the relative calm between Israel and Iran could also turn very dark at any time. But we’ve had nine days since I started this post without that happening, and that’s more than I would have bet on before the parties involved handled the situation more deftly than I expected.)

Israel had bloodied Iran with that attack in Damascus. Iran certainly deserved the bloodying, and it was refreshing in a way to see Israel go after the strong people who are behind the monsters of Hamas, rather than trying to get at Hamas itself through that organization’s favorite shield — the innocents of Gaza.

But of course, it may not have been the best thing to do, because naturally Iran felt obliged to retaliate. And since such incisive strokes as the Damascus attack are evidently beyond its capabilities, it went with the worst kind of escalation — hundreds of drones and missiles went flying at Israel.

Amazingly, Israel fended off virtually all of them, averting thousands of casualties among its civilian population. (It did this thanks in large part to help from allies.) But, by the logic of the region, it then had to strike back at Iran for this unprecedented direct attack. The allies who had helped prevent disaster strongly urged Israel to “take the win” and do nothing further. The world (at least, those small parts of it that pay attention) held its collective breath.

And Israel, amazingly, just “attacked” Iran in a way that did little more than kick up dust — but made its point by hitting spots right next to strategic targets. Basically, it said, “See what we could have done?”

Far more amazingly, Iran was cool about it — essentially acting like it didn’t happen.

That’s a stunning success for all parties involved — and for the rest of the world.

Anyway, I thought I’d share three things I read and heard (a podcast) on Saturday. Some folks who understood what had happened commented, and after that (as far as what I’ve seen), little has been said. I’ve tried to use those “share as gift” links, so let me know if you’re not a subscriber and the link works for you:

Thomas Friedman on Iran, Israel and Preventing a ‘Forever War’ — This is the “Matter of Opinion” podcast from Friday the 19th. The shocking ending — Israel and Iran both restraining themselves — hadn’t happened yet when this was recorded, but it’s a very good discussion between people who know what they’re talking about, and it sets out the stakes very well.

The unspoken story of why Israel didn’t clobber Iran — This is David Ignatius’ column from AFTER the Israeli response. It began, “One rule for containing a crisis is to keep your mouth shut, and the United States, Israel and Iran were all doing a pretty good job at that Friday after Israeli strikes near the Iranian city of Isfahan. Maybe the silence was the real message — a desire on all sides to prevent escalation by word or deed.”

Biden’s ‘bear hug’ with Israel pays off with a minimal strike on Iran — By Max Boot. An excerpt: “We saw the payoff from Biden’s ‘bear hug’ of Israel when Israel launched a pinprick retaliation early Friday for Iran’s massive attack last Saturday night on Israel. The risk of a regional conflagration had risen dramatically when Iran, responding to an earlier Israeli attack that flattened the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed three Iranian generals, launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel.”

This was a major diplomatic accomplishment, averting a disaster of global proportions. This had all been going in a phenomenally bad direction, and then it stopped.

I wanted to make sure to point it out, even after all these days, because you probably haven’t heard much about it since it happened. There aren’t all that many American journalists who understand these matters, so I wanted to raise the profile of these who do. Media have been filled with other things since then. Reporters write about what they think they understand, and after all, Taylor Swift just put out a surprise double album. And don’t forget the NFL draft!…

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny rays of hope, here and there…

I posted this this morning:

No, it’s not much, is it?

The fact that the one of the worst representatives I can think of in the House — a guy whose name has long been one of the first mentioned in connection with the most insane, destructive developments in that dysfunctional body  — will not be speaker is hardly an indication that things are going well in our country. We are left with the fact that the overwhelmingly majority of the party that controls the House was willing and even eager to elevate him to that post.

But it does mean the worst has not happened — yet. Even though we were careening in that direction this past week. And it offers a tiny gleam of hope that the GOP will get sufficiently fed up with doing things this way that it will turn to some approach that a reasonable human being might take. What would that be? Well, the most obvious thing that would happen in a sane world is that enough of the GOP would work with Democrats to choose a consensus speaker. That would be the best thing for America, and for the hope that our system used to give the world.

A somewhat more likely scenario would be to simply settle on the interim speaker, Patrick McHenry. I don’t know nearly enough about him to know whether he would be a good speaker, but at least we have few indications so far that he would be a horrible one.

Sadly, that’s where we’ve been in this country since 2016 — trying to avoid the horrible. Remember back in the 2008 presidential contest, when the country was offered a choice between “good” and “better.” And I don’t really care which of them you think was the good, and which the better. We’d have done well with either of them.

A great country should have choices all the time — for president, for speaker, for whatever. But it’s been a while for us.

As for Gaza… No, a truck crossing a border to provide humanitarian aid is not in any way an indication that this crisis is anywhere near over. Quite the contrary… Much blood, much horror, much suffering still seem inevitable. But if there is to be a path toward peace and justice, things like this have to happen. So it’s good to see, after all these days in which nothing good has happened on the ground there.

Yep, these are tiny things, but they need to be welcomed, if we want to move in the right direction on anything…

So, did I read this right? Should I have hung in there?

The only decent picture I could find illustrating the setting of the anecdote. No, I’m not in the picture.

It’s anecdote time. But first, a few words from Nicholas Kristof:

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Many Americans and Europeans flatter themselves by seeing the war in Ukraine through a false prism.

Too often, we think we have sacrificed for the Ukrainians. We pat ourselves on the back for providing expensive weapons and paying higher heating bills to help Ukrainians win their freedom — and we wish they’d get on with it.

In fact, what’s clear here in the Baltic countries is that it’s the other way around: The Ukrainians are sacrificing for us. They’re the ones doing us a favor, by degrading the Russian military and reducing the risk of a war in Europe that would cost the lives of our troops…

The whole piece is worth reading, but only those first three grafs are relevant to the memory that they stimulated…

It was a few months ago, maybe even in 2022. It’s hard to pin down, because it happened at Lowe’s, and I go there a lot.

This time, I wanted to copy some keys, and was using the self-serve machine devoted to that purpose. So for a minute or two, I was standing there, unable to easily evade folks who come up to strangers and initiate conversation.

There are a lot of people like that. And seriously, I try to go along and be nice to these folks. I get the impression sometimes that they are lonely. Maybe they live alone, and only get to speak to other people when they are out and about. And this is bad for everyone — but (or so I understand intellectually) especially painful for extraverts. (Although it would be great if some of them would stop whining about it! Oh, wait — I’d better add one of these… 🙂 )

This guy, whom I’ll describe as an older (as in, near my age) white guy, was at least topical. He comes up and without prelude (although maybe I’m just forgetting the prelude), he asks me who I thought would end up paying for all this aid we send Ukraine — us, or the Ukrainians.

I simply said, well, I assume we will, since we are the ones with the money as well as the goods. At that point, I could have gone on at length about how important it was for us to do so, and to keep doing so.

But I didn’t, because I sensed I was standing at the precipice, and one more step would take me into a spontaneous, fruitless argument with another isolationist. And I get into enough of those.

The conversation ended at that point. I don’t recall whether he just had no rejoinder — he may have been hoping to connect with someone who would say “It’ll be US, dammit! AGAIN! Those damn’ foreigners!” and didn’t know how to respond to my more neutral response — or I found some easy way of extricating myself.

Anyway, I now regret that I didn’t wait to see what was going on. It would only have taken a moment to find out whether I was in “America First” territory (in either the Trumpian or Lindbergh sense). I could have extricated myself at that point. Or perhaps I could have gotten him to see a broader picture (OK, everybody, stop laughing hysterically).

Or maybe he would have responded by saying “Hallelujah! Finally, somebody who’s not an isolationist!” And we could have had a high old time slapping each other on the back in mutual congratulation. That probably wasn’t where we were going, but let’s admit the possibility.

I think what chased me away was the thought that here’s a guy who comes up to busy strangers and starts conversations with something as likely to lead to acrimony as that. Made me wonder whether it was wise to stick around. Although I appreciated that he wanted to talk global affairs, rather than the weather or the Gamecocks.

But rather than keep kicking myself, I’ll close with Kristof’s words:

We’re right to celebrate a successful NATO summit. But especially if Ukraine struggles to recover large swaths of territory in this counteroffensive, there’ll be feckless grumbling in Western capitals about the price we’re paying and the favors we’re doing Ukraine. Anyone tempted to think that way should listen to the Baltic leaders, because they’ve learned the hard way how best to manage unruly bears.

 

Thrilled to meetcha…

I found the body language in the pool pics of Anthony Blinken meeting Xi this morning interesting.

Ol’ Xi seems to be going out of his way to make sure the world knows that he’s not thrilled to be finally meeting our secretary of state after the previous appointment was canceled over the spy balloon.

The one above is like, “OK, well, they told me I have to do this thing, so I’m doing it. Whatever…”

And I especially like the one below, evidently taken moments before by the pool photographer: Blinken eagerly striding over with his hand out, and Xi standing like his feet are nailed to the floor and he’s saying, “Yeah, OK, you can shake my hand if you must, but you’ve gotta come over to me, foreign devil…”

So, you know, no warmer relations yet, anyway…

Graham, Scott, also vote in favor of default

After I posted last night about the debt limit deal, the Senate did as I had hoped and passed it. So that’s done.

No thanks to Lindsey Graham or Tim Scott, who were among the 36 — all but five of them Republican — who voted instead for the United States to default on its debt, plunging the U.S. and world economies into turmoil.

Graham, for his part, offered an excuse that gave us a glimpse of his old self, the senator we knew before he lost his mind in 2016 — he said it was about national security. But that doesn’t wash. I’ve seen nothing on his vote since it happened, but hours before, he made a speech:

Graham made an impassioned speech Thursday on the Senate floor, saying small increases in fiscal year defense spending are not part of a “threat-based budget” but one that lacks safety and security for Americans. He later said that a supplemental defense budget for Ukraine and other spending must be agreed upon swiftly by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to make up for the House GOP’s below-inflation 3 percent military increase….

And as it happened, Schumer and Mitch McConnell joined together to offer as much assurance as anyone could reasonably expect under such rushed conditions, with default looming on Monday:

None of the amendments were adopted. But in an effort to alleviate concerns from defense hawks that the debt ceiling bill would restrict Pentagon spending too much, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a joint statement saying the “debt ceiling deal does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia, and our other adversaries.”…

As for Tim Scott — I’ve found nothing about why he voted the way he did. Maybe I’ve looked in the wrong places, but I found nothing on his website, on social media or in any news reports. Which reminds us of why it’s weird that he’s running for president. He’s not a guy who tends to be out front on anything, making his views known in developing situations. He’s not making an effort to tell us, and if he said something on the floor of the Senate, no one covered it.

He’s just this nice guy who’s happy to be a U.S. senator — his bio line on Twitter says “Just a South Carolinian living his mama’s American Dream” — and who doesn’t get swept up in what’s actually happening. Look at that Twitter feed, by the way. There’s nothing there — at least, anywhere near the top — posted in real time in response to anything that was happening, or anything he was doing. It’s just a bunch of prewritten campaign stuff, going on about how awful Joe Biden is.

You know, the Joe Biden who threw his all into working with McCarthy to keep the nation from defaulting for the first time in history.

And then, Graham and Scott basically said Nah, let’s go ahead and crash into the mountain

Are we about to send ‘advisers’ to Ukraine? Seem familiar?

I guess we’ll have to repaint them first — some none-desert color.

The Ukrainians need heavy tanks to fend off the increasingly desperate efforts by Vladimir Putin to crush their country.

I’m glad they’re about to get them. And I hope and pray that a peaceful solution can soon be found — not the kind of “peaceful solution” Putin would like, in which Ukraine is under his thumb and the world trembles in fear of him, but one in which it is a safe, self-governed nation, living next to a Russia that will never do this again.

But right now, they need the tanks. So it is a good thing that the Germans are going to provide Leopard 2s, and allow other European nations to share theirs. But they refused to do it if we weren’t in it with them, so we have decided to hand over some Abrams main battle tanks.

The Pentagon had been unwilling to do this, “citing concerns about how Ukraine would maintain the advanced tanks, which require extensive training and servicing.” By contrast, the Leopards are relatively simple to maintain and operate, or so I read.

But since the Germans wouldn’t agree without our participation, we’ll be sending the M1s. They mostly likely won’t arrive until the fall, but that’s not the point. The Leopards are what is needed to help resist the expected spring onslaught. They’re a gesture of solidarity. To the Germans, this gives them the ability to say to Putin, “Hey, don’t just blame us…” That’s the point of all this.

Assuming, though, that we follow through, and assuming also that they are impossible to keep running without having a bunch of experienced people maintaining them, it seems highly likely that we’ll soon have “advisers” in Ukraine. They may just be maintenance crews for the most part, but it will be a presence we don’t have now.

(Mind you, I’m no expert on tank operations and maintenance. I couldn’t change the oil on an Abrams any more than I could repair a television. And maybe we can teach the Ukrainians everything they need to know before the tanks arrive there. But it doesn’t sound like the brass over here think that can be done. At least, they didn’t think so last week. It’s one thing to teach people to drive the tank and fight with it. It’s another to keep complex machinery going once it’s deployed, and that doesn’t sound to me like a long-distance procedure.)

There have been Americans in uniform there before now. But this will be different. It won’t be combat troops, but it will be people who are essential to the war effort, even if mainly in a political and diplomatic sense. Meanwhile, we have elements of the 101st Airborne Division right next door in Romania. And soon the 10th Mountain Division will also have a presence there.

Is this the moment that historians will look back on, 50 years from now, as the one that the “Ukraine Quagmire” began? Assuming historians still exist then. I mean, assuming this (or something else) doesn’t lead to the nuclear exchange that we worked so hard — and successfully — to avoid during the Cold War. Which is what enables us to sit around and argue now about how that was accomplished.

Will this be like when JFK sent the 500 advisers in 1961, to reinforce the 700 Ike had sent in 1955? (A sort of follow-up to the ones Truman sent in 1950 to help the French, but the French ignored the advice.) By the end of 1963, there would be 11,000 Americans in-country.

Today, the consensus is that boy, we really screwed that up. Correct me if this is not what you would say, but I can imagine most Americans saying, “We just kept sending more of our boys over there to a place where we had no business being.”

And Americans tsk-tsk about the foolishness, and worse, wickedness of it all. And they’re so sure they’re right, and that they are so much wiser then the Best and Brightest who got us into Vietnam, and couldn’t get us out. Or refused to get us out, until Nixon came along and saved the day by abandoning Saigon.

Myself, I can — with the benefit of hindsight — point to a truckload of mistakes and miscalculations made that got us deeper and deeper into a conflict that was simply not going to turn out our way. But I also look back and see how every mistake was made, and how it didn’t look like a mistake to those making it.

A lot of people around me think they know better. I guess I’m writing this to make sure they’re noting this as it happens — assuming I’m reading it right, and something similar, or at least analogous, is occurring. Yes, the situations are different in a thousand ways. But what I’m pondering here is the bits that seem familiar.

It would be great if we, as a country, could have foresight that is half as perfect and accurate as everyone’s hindsight is regarding Vietnam. That would lead inevitably to a happy ending in which Ukraine and the rest of Europe are safe, and Russia has learned the lesson we’d like it to learn.

But we don’t have that, and right now — in light of this and that and the other thing in the real world we’re looking at — it seems right to send the Abrams tanks. I hope and pray — yep, I’m repeating myself — that it is…

This is what a Leopard 2 looks like. This one was just a prototype, but it was the only image I could find in the public domain.

 

We lost the queen at a bad time. Some brief thoughts…

Of course, it was a bad time for Britain, as you’ve probably read or heard a thousand times in recent days. But even before this sad occasion, there were pieces being written in reputable journals, such as this one in The Atlantic, foretelling woe for Albion. That was published in January, and it began:

The grim reality for Britain as it faces up to 2022 is that no other major power on Earth stands quite as close to its own dissolution…

So bad timing for Britain, and bad for me, too, as a blogger. My own 91-year-old mum was in the hospital having surgery — the placement of a pacemaker — that very day. She had just gotten out of the ER, and my brother and I had just seen her in post-op, when we got the news about the queen. (My mother is at home now and fine, thank God.)

Needless to say, I didn’t have time that day for blogging, or paying work, or much else. And things have been busy since.

But I had thoughts, and ripped them out over Twitter that day, when I had a sec, and thereafter. Which in a way was fine, because I really didn’t have any sort of coherent, strung-together essay popping up at that moment. Just a few quick thoughts. Here are some of them. I won’t embed the tweets, since y’all don’t seem to like that, but here are the thoughts:

I’ll add a couple more…

My headline is quite intentional. I say “we” and not “Britain,” because we’ve all lost someone of great importance to our world, someone who helped keep civilization anchored, someone who lived an unimpeachable life in view of the whole planet, and never did anything to embarrass or shame the human race, much less the British portion of it. (No matter how much I may like some of them, I have a hard time thinking of any American leader of whom I can say that.) She was a beacon of civilized restraint in a world increasingly condemning itself to drown in stupidity and snark. And she did it for 70 years! I really wish she could have beaten the Sun King’s record. And after that, I’d have cheered for her to beat Methuselah’s.

Y’all know, of course, that I’m an Anglophile. But I can still think of plenty of things to criticize the country for, from the dim times before Alfred the Great to the present time. But I don’t lay any of it at Elizabeth’s feet. At least, not this Elizabeth. And that is really, truly extraordinary. I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it again (and of course, I expect some of you will quickly share your Ten Worst Things About QEII lists. But those will say more about you than about her).

To sum it up, I will embed one of the tweets, so y’all can see the headline to which I was responding:

OK, I’m completely on board with ‘Kyiv’ now…

The least we can do is include both his Ys.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yeah, it’s been awhile. I’ve been busy with various things — great stuff like having grandchildren stay with us while their parents were on a trip, less-great stuff like seeing doctors about post-COVID stuff (I’ve got another such appointment in the morning). And one of the things that happens when it’s been awhile is that I won’t let myself do quick, easy posts, thinking that I should come back with something big. Which is stupid. Anyway, here’s something semi-quick-and-easy.

When I saw this column this morning (at least, it was “this morning” when I started this piece a couple of days ago now), I jumped on it right away. It was my kind of thing — a story that actually explains why the names of things, and places, and people change. It was headlined, “Kyiv vs. Kiev, Zelensky vs. Zelenskyy, and the immense meaning of ‘the’.

I appreciated it, although I sort of wish it hadn’t stopped with “the Ukraine” or “Zelensky” or “Kiev.” Those, by the way, are the names that are now out. I mean, I certainly knew about “the Ukraine,” and sort of understood why there was no “the” any more, although I’d be hard-pressed to explain it.

I mean there’s no particular rule I know of that explains why it is that people who live in Lebanon or Crimea or wherever feel a loss of sovereignty and self-determination when there’s a the, but I get the connotation. “The” means you’re not a country (unless you’re the United States, but we have kind of a weird country name anyway — although I love it). It suggests you’re just a region in another country, owned by somebody else. It doesn’t say it; it just suggests it.

But since this all happened recently enough (although you kids won’t think so), I understand that we dropped the “the” when the Soviet Union went kablooey, as a way of embracing Ukraine as a separate country. And there are important reasons right now for remembering that.

I was less clear on Kyiv. In fact, since I don’t do broadcast news much (not even NPR, lately), I’m not entirely sure how I’m supposed to say it to distinguish it from the more familiar “Kiev.” But this piece makes the why very clear: “Kyiv is the appropriate transliteration of the Ukrainian name of the country’s capital, whereas Kiev is the name of the city in Russian.” OK, I’m on board. I’ll do my best to say “Kyiv,” and pronounce it correctly. And if I write it the wrong way here, y’all call me on it.

How about whether the name of the Ukrainian president is “Zelensky” or “Zelenskyy.” Well, even though the latter looks like a typo, that’s the Ukrainian way. The single y is more Russian. So Zelenskyy it is, I suppose.

Even though I’m sure it would make my head hurt to have it explained more fully how we get such a fine distinction in English when, you know, we don’t do Cyrillic. I’m just not going to ask.

But sometimes I do wonder about such things. Which brings up the one that’s driven me nuts for decades, mainly because no one has ever given me a good reason that I can remember. And that’s why I said above that I wish Benjamin Dreyer, the copy editor who wrote the above piece, had gone beyond place names particular to Ukraine. (Although I know why he didn’t, because I understand the concept of a “news peg.”)

I mean the mystery of how “Peking” became “Beijing.” Even though I’ve read explanations a number of times over the years, I have to confess I don’t get it yet. I mean, all “Peking” was trying to do is represent phonetically what it sounds like when people who speak a language that doesn’t use anything like those letters say the name of their capital city. So why would it change, and change so dramatically?

So, before I wrote this, I went and read the Wikipedia article on it, and sort of understood what happened — as well as anyone who does not speak Mandarin can understand both the language, and the ins and outs of Red China’s efforts to control how it is spoken and represented.

Which brings me to why I’ve always been creeped out by the very idea of the names of things being changed for political reasons — even reasons that seem quite benign to me. So it is that I fully understand why “Mount McKinley,” which I had learned as a kid was the highest peak in the United States, had disappeared, and “Denali” had appeared in its place. But it still worries me a little.

I think it’s because I read Orwell’s 1984 at such a young age — and then reread it repeatedly over my lifetime, appreciating it more and more each time (sort of the way I do with “His Girl Friday,” only without the laughs). For those of you who have not spent your time that way, one of the most horrifying and indelible ideas is the diminution of the English language to the point where people are unable to even think in ways that would free them from that oppressive dystopia.

It’s not exactly the same thing, but I’ve always thought of it when I’ve considered such things as the Soviets renaming St. Petersburg (or, briefly, Petrograd) “Leningrad.” And it causes me to look at any such change with suspicion.

So, it takes a bit of self-persuasion to accept such changes as “Ukraine” without the “the,” and “Kyiv.” But I do.

But as for “Beijing,” well, in looking it up, I ran across this anecdote that was very, very Orwellian to my mind:

In the English, “Peking” was the preferred and dominant form through the 1970s. Beginning in 1979, the Chinese government encouraged replacement of the Wade-Giles romanisation system for written Chinese with the pinyin romanisation system. The New York Times adopted “Beijing” in 1986, with all major US media soon following. Elsewhere in the Anglosphere, the BBC switched in 1990. The Times of London used “Peking” until 1997, “when, according to The Irish Times, its correspondent in China was summoned to the Foreign Ministry [of the People’s Republic of China] and told co-operation would be withdrawn if the Times didn’t stop using ‘Peking’. It surrendered.”

I don’t know exactly why this is so important to the folks who run the former “Peking,” but an anecdote like that bothers me a lot…

Anyone watching the Olympics? Why?

2880px-Olympic_rings_without_rims.svg

I don’t pose that question as a challenge or anything. I’m not criticizing you for watching the games, if you are. I just think that right now, with the “asterisk games” going on, in defiance of the will of so many people in Japan, it would be interesting to have a discussion of why we think these games should or should not be happening, and why or why not we are interested.

Put me in the camp of those who believe that 1) the Olympics are a fine thing in the abstract, and I applaud those folks who revived them in 1896, but that 2) when the 2020 games were called off for COVID, everyone should have settled down to wait for 2024 to satisfy whatever craving they have for viewing Olympic competition.

Near as I can tell, there is only one reason to have gone ahead and had the games in 2021, rather than waiting, and that would be for the sakes of individual athletes for whom it’s either now or never. This was their moment, and they wouldn’t be at the same peak in 2024, so for them, not going ahead would have represented a personal loss.

I am not at all unsympathetic to that argument. It makes me think of my old friend Rayford Collins. Rayford worked in the composing room at my first newspaper after college, The Jackson Sun. As a compositor, he had a job that was essential to publishing a newspaper at the time — he would take the strips of copy that came out of the gigantic cold-type printer, cut them into columns with scissors, run them through a roller that applied molten wax to the back of them, and stick them onto the page under the highly irritating supervision of smart-ass college kids in their early 20s who came to the back shop to approve release of the pages that we had laid out and edited up front in the newsroom.

Rayford Collins in the early 60s during his own boxing career, long before I knew him.

Rayford Collins in the early 60s during his own boxing career, long before I knew him.

You should have seen the artistry of these guys as they cut the type and applied it, and often corrected typos we found by trimming out individual letters and sticking them over the errors, saving us from sending new copy back through.

But it was a job that would disappear long before my own did, as we moved to pagination, which meant we put the pages together on computers in the newsroom, and output them whole.

That wasn’t all Rayford was known for, though. An ex-boxer himself (he would end the process of applying type to the page with a BAM from his fist, which would be startling if you weren’t used to it), he had for years trained local young people in the art through Golden Gloves. He was such a good coach that a huge opportunity came his way: to coach the U.S.A Olympic boxing team in the 1980 games. His protege Jackie Beard had made the team, and they wanted Rayford on board, too.

We were all pretty excited for him. But then, the Russians invaded Afghanistan, and Jimmy Carter pulled us out of the Moscow Games. Raybord’s shot at the big time was crushed. I felt bad for him at the time, and I still do. But I don’t fault my man Jimmy for making the call he did. There are issues that are bigger than even the hopes and dreams of our friends. At least, that’s what I think, as a child of the Cold War. Maybe I’m wrong.

Anyway, Rayford still made his mark as a coach. When he died, he was celebrated for that, not for being a retired compositor after 45 years at the paper. We know he made it to the Olympics, even though the games were called off.

Anyway, these kids today are getting their shots.

Should they be? Should the Games have gone on? Are you following what’s happening over there, and rising and falling on this or that athlete’s accomplishments or lack thereof?

If so, I’m curious to hear about it…

Are the Cuban people moving to end dictatorship?

Map of Cuba, circa 1680.

Map of Cuba, circa 1680.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s something Bryan tried to post, but it mysteriously disappeared on him. So I’m hereby posting it for him, in appreciation for his recent efforts to keep this blog alive when I’m too tied up with stuff to do so (which I still am). I, too, have been thinking about the Caribbean, and not just because my youngest daughter lives down there and, after a too-short visit, is returning there tomorrow. I’ve been wanting to write something about Haiti. Maybe I’ll find time at some point…

Over the weekend, protests moved into the streets of various cities in Cuba.

It looks like the protests started over the chronic issue of food shortages and other essential products and services. The pandemic has only made conditions on the island country worse. The protesters also demanded vaccines to combat the pandemic, but began shifting in tone with chants of “Freedom!” and “Down with Communism!”

The New York Times has this:

Shouting “Freedom” and other anti-government slogans, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets in cities around the country on Sunday to protest food and medicine shortages, in a remarkable eruption of discontent not seen in nearly 30 years. https://t.co/BbqQPLrNiE

— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 11, 2021

Freedom and other anti-government slogans?” sort of seems an odd thought, but… whatever. If your government is ever on the other side of things from people legitimately asking for “Freedom,” you’re doing something wrong.

In any event, I certainly hope the people of Cuba are allowed to be free to choose their own form of government at some point. If this protest turns violent the current lack of medicine and food is going to exacerbate the poor conditions that already exist.

What it’s like for a South Carolinian in Israel now

Editor’s note: To our family, Marina is much more than just “a South Carolinian.” She’s one of my youngest daughter’s oldest and best friends. Her family still lives in our neighborhood, just a few houses away. Several years ago, she met an Israeli while she and my daughter and another girl were traveling around Europe together. She later moved to Israel and married him, and they have a little boy named Yahm. This is something she posted on Facebook a couple of days ago. I asked her if I could post it here, and I’m grateful that she agreed. I haven’t edited it at all.

By Marina Druseikis Guttman

Tuesday night the rocket sirens went off as I was putting Yahm to sleep. We entered the stairwell with the other neighbours. We heard explosions, one after the other and uncomfortably close. Someone suggested we move to the basement and we did, where we stayed for at least 30 minutes as the sirens and explosions continued. I didn’t try to count the number of booms, and even though I smiled with the neighbours at Yahm’s cuteness, I had images of worst-case scenarios running through my head. I didn’t sleep well but still managed to go to the lab the next day to get some data for an experiment that I’ve been really looking forward to.alerts

I moved to Tel Aviv in 2013, so I’d already experienced sirens, running to a safe room, rockets and the iron dome from the 2014 conflict. But this time felt different. On Tuesday some 130 rockets went over central Israel in an hour timespan. The iron dome is an amazing technological achievement, but it’s not perfect and with the increase in simultaneous rockets, it’s not possible to intercept all of them. There were direct hits to an apartment in Givatayim and a parked (empty) bus in Holon.

We had almost 2 days of quiet in Tel Aviv.

Then Saturday afternoon there was a siren at exactly the time Matan and Yahm were supposed to be biking home from down the street. Thankfully they hadn’t left yet. I sat in the stairwell with the neighbours and heard the explosions. Again I didn’t try to count the booms, but there were three blasts in particular that really got to me, one right after the other with each one seeming to get louder, closer, and again the worst-case scenarios ran through my head. During this barrage there was another direct hit in Ramat Gan, about 5 km from us, with one man dead as he was disabled and didn’t make it to a protected space in time. We had another barrage that night, shortly after midnight, as Hamas made good on their promise to “bring hell to Tel Aviv at midnight”, or something like that, as retaliation for the IDF taking down the tower housing international news organisations (the IDF say it was targeted because it was also a Hamas headquarter. I’ll just say the optics are terrible either way).

I don’t write this for sympathy or to detract from the Palestinian’s suffering or Israel’s wrongdoing. I choose to live here knowing what comes with it. But civilians – Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Arab, and those of us who fit none of those categories – are suffering and nobody wins.
I guess I feel the need to give my firsthand account because the media usually portrays the situation as David vs Goliath (though David wins so really that’s a poor analogy for the point they’re trying to make), and I’ve heard reporters say “it’s Palestinians throwing rocks versus a modern military.” But it’s not rocks. If there was no iron dome, Tel Aviv would be in rubble right now after just Tuesday night, not to mention the four other attacks since then. People who obviously don’t live here claim these are homemade pipe bombs and therefore not a threat (??), but that’s not the reality. I’m writing from the relative safety of Tel Aviv, but people living less than an hour south of here have had non-stop rockets for a week and are living in bomb shelters.rockets

For lack of a better word, I’m impressed by Hamas’ military advancements since 2014. It’s not like Israel played patty cakes then – no, the IDF destroyed many buildings housing weapons, and got a lot of international backlash for it. But in 6 years time Hamas has built and stockpiled thousands of rockets, and apparently missiles as well as drones that can carry explosives.
The events leading up to this were totally avoidable and the government’s actions, led by Bibi, are horrendous and inexcusable. And of course I don’t think Hamas’ retaliation on Israeli civilians can be justified, although I admit I’m biased because they are literally targeting my city. But that’s what it is. And now every little noise sounds like the start of the siren or a bomb exploding in the distance. It’s nerve wracking.

Perhaps the scariest part of all of this is the civil unrest. Jews and Arabs are attacking each other in mixed cities that have lived together peacefully for years (Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population – these are Israeli citizens, not Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank). It’s both heartbreaking and disgusting.

It’s important to separate the people from their governing bodies. I learned this many years ago as an American who was horrified by our actions in the Middle East and South and Central America, to name a few. But it’s still hard to read comments online that say anyone defending Israel or even showing sympathy for Israel is a promoter of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, genocide, etc. Hamas is purposefully bombarding civilians with rockets but no one claims the Palestinians are trying to commit ethnic cleansing or genocide – and they shouldn’t make that claim. Because Hamas doesn’t represent all Palestinians, just like Bibi doesn’t represent all Israelis.

Nothing is black and white. Everything is nuanced. I hope and pray for peace and an end to this cyclical violence.

Here’s Yahm and I trying to enjoy the sunshine after a difficult night and some snapshots of what it’s like to live in central Israel right now.

Marina and Yahm

Really feeling good about Tony Blinken

I haven’t really paid all that much attention to the names Joe Biden has put forward for his administration, beyond just a glance as they come out to make sure they’re more or less in keeping with my expectations.

The big thing for me was to elect Joe — to make sure he got the nomination, and won the election. Beyond that, I completely trusted him to appoint good people, people of good character. People with qualifications. People who understood what the country is about, and what would be expected of them in their jobs. People who would not delight the left wing of the Democratic Party, or give the other party anything of substance to whine about.

People who would restore the country.

So I’ve just been going, “Uh-huh” and “Sounds good” as the announcements have come.

Antony Blinken

Antony Blinken

But today, I listened to “The Daily” while walking, and it was a fairly in-depth discussion about Antony Blinken — his background, his understanding of America’s role in the world and what of it needs to be restored, his history with Biden, the ways in which he both agrees and disagrees with the boss. All of it fit perfectly with what Biden will need in a secretary of State. The new president will be pretty tied up with covid and other domestic concerns at first, but the rest of the world can’t wait. They need to know America is back, and willing to join back in with constructive efforts to build a better world. And while the president is busy at home, they need someone who can speak for him and be known to speak for him.

And Blinken seems to fit the need perfectly.

I haven’t felt this good about anyone nominated for a position in government in a long, long time.

I would have been happy and satisfied with it not being Pompeo, and not being Susan Rice.

But Blinken sounds way better than that.

My expectations for the coming administration were high, but having listened to that, they are now just a bit higher. And that’s saying something, really, as much as I like Joe…

Should I go ahead and vote? Have you?

A friend who voted today took this picture while waiting in the queue.

A friend who voted today took this picture while waiting in the queue.

I’m starting to feel doubts. They may not affect my behavior, but I’m having them.

Y’all know how strongly I feel about the importance of turning out and voting with one’s neighbors (which is way communitarian), in person, on actual Election Day. It is to me a major, deeply meaningful ritual of life in America.

But… this is an extraordinary situation, is it not?

First, we have the most important election in my lifetime, one in which we will either save our republic by electing a normal, decent human being as our highest elected official, or drag the country — and the rest of the world, which has been holding its breath for four years waiting for us to fix this — down further and deeper into the mire, the utter degradation.

So, you know, I need to vote, and it needs to count.

Second, we’re in the strangest situation of my life, in which so much about normality has gone out the window. For instance, I may never again go to work at an office, or anywhere other than my home — which overthrows thousands of years of human social and economic behavior. And that’s just one piece of it. I mean, 220,000 Americans are dead from this thing, and it’s far, far from over.

So… maybe I should make an exception in this instance.

Up to now, I’ve held to my resolve to wait until Nov. 3. But each day, more friends and family members go out and vote early — or technically, vote “in-person absentee.”

Which on the one hand supports my plan, by taking pressure off and reducing crowds on the day of. But what if that day is still even more insane, and things break down? I’m pretty sure I’ll get to vote anyway, but what sort of societal breakdown will occur while we’re waiting for all the votes to be counted, and a clear winner to emerge and be accepted?

I dunno. What do y’all think?

For that matter, what do y’all do? What have you done already? Some of you have reported in, but what about everybody else? Who’s voted by mail? Who’s done the “in-person absentee” thing? Who’s waiting for Election Day?

And why?

I would find it helpful to know…

Today, South Carolina can be proud of one of our own

File photo: The last time I saw Beasley was at the State House in 2015. He's been busy since.

File photo: The last time I saw Beasley was at the State House in 2015. He’s been busy since, doing good work.

Today, we can be proud of one of our own: Former Gov. David Beasley, who runs the U.N.’s World Food Programme. Today, his program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

This just cuts through so much nonsense.

The last time this prize was in the news, it was because a right-wing nut in Scandinavia was recommending Donald Trump for it. This week, we’re all wrapped up in whether or when there will be more presidential debates (I, for one, don’t ever need to see another one like the one we’ve seen), the plots of nutballs in Michigan, and who is or is not “likable” enough.

And now this, which reminds us what is important: Feeding starving people.

We used to yammer about nonsense when David was our governor, too. But now, he spends his days laboring in a higher calling than any in which I have ever engaged, and I expect y’all would say the same.

The challenge is immense, and in large part the Nobel committee gave the program this prize to call the world’s attention to it — and tell us to rise up and help. Here in America, we have amazingly idiotic arguments over wearing masks. David Beasley, who experienced COVID himself several months ago, gets up every morning and tries to meet the broader disaster this pandemic has visited upon the poor of the world:

Last month, the World Food Program’s executive director, David Beasley, warned of a wave of famine that could sweep the globe, brought on by a combination of conflict and the coronavirus pandemic. He said WFP needed $5 billion to prevent an estimated 30 million people dying from starvation. Beasley pointedly noted that there are 2,000 billionaires in the world, and asked them to help.

“Humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes,” Beasley said.

Because of the coronavirus, the agency estimates that the number of people facing food insecurity will double, to roughly 270 million. Lockdowns and weakened economies are undermining a decades-long — and largely successful — effort to reduce extreme poverty. The World Bank projects poverty levels to rise for the first time since the 1990s….

“In the blink of an eye, a health crisis became an economic crisis, a food crisis, a housing crisis, a political crisis. Everything collided with everything else,” the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said in a recent report. “We’ve been set back about 25 years in about 25 weeks.”

Millions in Syria and Yemen depend each month on WFP for survival. The organization says that more than 800 million people are chronically hungry, most of them living in conflict-stricken areas….

We must join our former governor in meeting this crisis. How? I don’t know. For starters, of course, we can vote for leaders who don’t call the places where the starving live “shithole countries.” But as individuals, as a country, as a community of nations, we must do more than that…

Mali,  Koundougou village, Mopti region, 20 May 2018 The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, travelled to West Africa, where more than five million people in six countries of the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal - could go hungry this year.  “In the Sahel, low rainfall has hurt harvests and reduced fodder and water for livestock, making lives harder for people there. WFP is working actively to help, and I am looking forward to meeting with the leaders of Senegal, Mali and Niger to reinforce our commitment to support their response plans. Our work in this region also includes long-term programmes that help communities help themselves, and I am looking forward to meeting men, women and children who are participating in these efforts.”      WFP urgently requires US$165 million to meet the needs of 3.5 million people during the lean season.  WFP is also working with partners and national governments on plans to scale up resilience to create jobs for young people; rehabilitate land and restore ecosystems; and invest in health, nutrition and education for a sustainable future.  In the Photo: WFP Executive Director David Beasley warmly welcomed by the community in the village of Koundougou, where WFP provides humanitarian assistance to address urgent needs during lean season, along with resilience building activities for long-term food security. Photo: WFP/Cecilia Aspe

Beasley in Burkina Faso.

A Q&A with David Beasley, who is recovering from COVID-19

Visiting as head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley is welcomed by the villagers of Koundougou, in Burkina Faso.

Visiting recently as head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley is welcomed by the villagers of Koundougou, in Burkina Faso.

Recently I reached out to our state’s most prominent coronavirus sufferer, former Gov. David Beasley, with some questions about what he was going through. It took him a few days to get back to me — he naturally waited until he felt up to it. But he sent me these replies on Friday (and I only saw them in my woefully neglected inbox today).

To update y’all, these days the former guv serves as executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme. Mr. Beasley felt ill after returning from a trip to Canada in mid-March, and self-quarantined for several days before testing positive for the coronavirus.

Here are his answers to my questions:

Q: How are you feeling?

A: I am definitely at the end of this now, with several days in a row feeling good. I feel stronger and much better. I took a walk of about a mile on the farm yesterday and it felt great. While I am doing good now, there were days when I had fever, aches, sore throat, congestion and was very tired. But never felt just awful, nor did I have extremely high fever. Just a general blahhhh.

Q: Are you at home?

A: Yes, I am at home and self-quarantined. Mary Wood is bringing me food through a door!

Q: Is the rest of your family well?

A: Thankfully, as of today, everyone is doing good.

Q: How did this come on? When did you suspect you had the virus? Where were you at the time?

A: I began to feel bad when I returned from a WFP trip a little more than three weeks ago. At first I thought it was just allergies. I had been tested twice before and both were negative. But this time, it was positive.

Q: As head of the World Food Programme, how do you see the coronavirus affecting food supplies around the world? And what should we be doing to address those effects?

A: This is a complex issue, but I’m very concerned about the overall impact the virus and this crisis is going to make on those who are hungry around the world in a number of areas. First, I’m concerned about the health impact. People who have to struggle every day to feed themselves or their families aren’t able to stockpile a couple of week’s worth of food while they stay at home to protect themselves against the virus, and at the same time their immune systems are weak. So they are very vulnerable to disease and, at the same time, they are out there, working in their fields or doing what it takes to find food. If the virus spreads to their communities, they will have much fewer resources to stem its spread and a much weaker immunological system.

Secondly, I’m concerned about the economic damage this is doing or going to do to countries that already are struggling or that are unstable politically. And, to get to the heart of your question, one of the areas that could sustain damage is the complex global food supply system. There’s no doubt that that supply system will be tested and strained in the coming weeks or months. As of now, the good news is that disruptions appear to be minimal. But April and May could get a lot worse. We’re worried about transportation restrictions and quarantines that could make it even harder for farmers to get access to markets, which is already an issue even in the best of times in places where we work. And we could see labor shortages in production and processing of food, especially in labor-intensive crops, and that could make a real impact on countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

To get at what can be done, you have to know where the problems are, and this is one place that WFP does extremely well — collect and analyze data. When you operate in more than 80 countries and feed 87 million people on any given day, you get pretty good at knowing what’s happening on the ground. So when it comes to food supply chains, we know close to immediately if there are food shortages, supply chain breaks and rapid increases in prices. We’ve already established our early warning system, so we can move right away, doing things like pre-positioning food in areas where we anticipate shortages or other access challenges. Right now, we are working with governments to speed up nearly $2 billion in contributions so we can do those things now, such as pre-position food and pre-purchase buffer stocks of food and cash so we have at least three months of assistance available for the most fragile places. We’ll also need additional resources for logistics, such as air transport. WFP is the main logistical arm of the United Nations — when you see planes taking aid workers to a place that needs help, they’re on one of our planes. We’re delivering needed medical equipment for the World Health Organization, for example. The entire world is now relying on WFP’s logistical network to manage the humanitarian and health response to the coronavirus.

Third, I do want to say that am concerned about the tremendous fiscal pressures that WFP donor governments are going to be under over the next few months. I am hearing encouraging signs from all our donor governments, including the United States, about how important our work is and that they continue to view it as a priority. But I do know many leaders are going to be under tremendous fiscal pressures over the next few months and years. And as for what individuals can do, you can donate to our work by going to wfp.org or wfpusa.org. You can also continue to express to your elected leaders that you believe it is in America’s economic and national security interests to support the work that the World Food Programme does. When countries make progress against hunger, they are more peaceful, more stable and there is less forced migration. That’s good news for all of us! If there’s one thing this virus has taught us, it’s that we are all connected in good times and bad ones.

Q: As a former governor, do you have any advice for Henry McMaster or other leaders on the state and local level?

A: I am certain they are listening closely to the advice of health experts and others, as they should. I’ve been in that position and they have some tough calls to make. I’m sure they are all doing their best to take public health and safety into account as they make decisions about our personal and economic freedoms.

Q: Simply as a person suffering from the virus, what advice do you have for the rest of us on a personal level?

A: This is a serious illness, so take the warnings from health experts seriously. Of course, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, stay at a safe distance from others, do all the other things health experts say to do, use common sense and take plenty of vitamins that will help your immune system. Trust me, you do not want to get this virus, and you don’t want to contribute to its spread.

Thanks, governor. May your recovery continue at full speed!

Et tu, Bernie? The Russian plot sickens

Well, boys, I reckon this is it - electoral combat toe to toe with the Roosskies.

Well, boys, I reckon this is it – electoral combat toe to toe with the Roosskies.

I hadn’t even had a chance to post about the Russians working to help elect Trump again, when we learned they were trying to help Bernie, too.

Which makes sense, of course. It fits their M.O., and their interests, in two ways:

  1. Their priority is helping Trump, because having Trump as president hurts America, sends us on a downward slide as a nation, and keeps us bitterly divided. And they feel quite sure, like many U.S. observers, that Bernie is the best possibly opponent for their boy.
  2. If they can’t have Trump, might as well elect the most divisive figure on the Democratic side as a backup. Because the point is weakening America, and having us all stirred up and angry is a great way to do that. (It’s working for them so far, after their successful efforts in 2016.)

Putin may be evil, but he’s not stupid.

All of that said, I want to give Bernie a big pat on the back for showing how a presidential candidate should react to such news:

“Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election,” Mr. Sanders said.

He also told reporters that he was briefed about a month ago.

“The intelligence community is telling us Russia is interfering in this campaign right now in 2020,” Mr. Sanders said on Friday in Bakersfield, Calif., where he was to hold a rally ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. “And what I say to Mr. Putin, ‘If I am elected president, trust me you will not be interfering in American elections.’”…

If only a certain other party would take a hint.

Basically, this is all part of a pattern that began in 2016. Then, workers at a Russian troll factory were told, “Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest except for Sanders and Trump — we support them.”

Which brings me to the point I was going to post about all this before we learned about the Bernie wrinkle…

Remember that we learned several months ago that the key CIA asset who had let us know that the Russians were trying to elect Trump in 2016 had to be exfiltrated to save his life back in 2017? As the NYT reported at the time:

The move brought to an end the career of one of the C.I.A.’s most important sources. It also effectively blinded American intelligence officials to the view from inside Russia as they sought clues about Kremlin interference in the 2018 midterm elections and next year’s presidential contest….

OK, well… if this guy was so golden, so well-placed, so irreplaceable… how do we know they’re doing the same in 2020?

Obviously, we don’t know everything. Which is probably a good thing, if we’re still getting such good intel. Better that the new source not be compromised, too.

Or, is this one of those hyperclever inside-out deals where the idea of our key source being extracted was disinformation, which news media eagerly lapped up, meant to protect the real source?

If so, I hope these news revelations aren’t endangering him. Or her

Did our top asset really come in from the cold? Or is he, or she, still out there?

Did our top asset really come in from the cold? Or is he, or she, still out there?

A Modest Proposal on Iran: We just have to play to Trump’s ego. It might even be worth it.

There’s a window of opportunity here, but it probably only stays open as long as the Iranians are content to have fired a few missiles without having hurt any Americans.

It won’t be easy. It will require a lot of people being in on the plan and sticking to it. And it will be distasteful, because it will involve flattering and kowtowing to Trump as though we were a bunch of Lindsey Grahams or something.

But it could definitely be worth it. Bear with me.

All of our allies would have to be in on it — the ones who have labored so to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump is assuring them is kaput. As for Israel — well, it will require some forbearance from them.

All the Democrats will have to play along. Nancy Pelosi’s role will be key. We’ll need the Republicans, too, but no sweat… this sort of toadyism is reflexive to them, so we don’t even have to ask for their help.

Here’s what we do: We all get together and communicate the following to Trump:

Oh, wow, you really showed those ayatollahs! You whacked their guy and after a bunch of bluster, they only had the guts to blow up some sand! You really had their number! You owned them, the way you always do with the libs! We can’t wait to see what you do next! Actually… we have a suggestion, not that it wouldn’t occur any moment to someone as brilliant as you…

You know that stupid Obama nuclear deal that only you saw needed to be scrapped? You know how the “allies” are all being so petulant about that? Well, let’s show them something. Let’s show them how it’s done by a real dealmaker! Negotiate a REAL deal, an America-First deal that makes everybody else they they got a great deal, too (the saps!)…

It won’t even be much trouble. Just take the stupid deal that Obama sweated over, work some of your magic on it to make it your own, and presto! The Trump Comprehensive Plan of Action will avert war, settle down the whole region, prevent nuclear proliferation and probably help with that global climate change thing that people keep yammering about!

It will be easy, for someone with a brain as brilliant and normal as yours! It would be just like what you did with NAFTA — knock it down, then replace it with something that is basically the same but less sad, a beautiful new thing with the glittering Trump brand on it — just chock full of real class! Something you can stand up and strut about…

As you see, we’ll probably have to work hard on the sincerity in doing this, but he’s so eager to be validated in his illusions about himself that he won’t examine it too closely. He’ll lap up the flattery, and next thing you know we’ll have a real breakthrough that would increase peace and security in the region and the world.

I mentioned Nancy Pelosi’s role. It’s essential, although fairly easy for her. She just needs to keep holding back the impeachment from the Senate. The hardest part for her will be that she’d have to say that she’s doing it because what our wonderful president is doing is so important that he must not be distracted!

We should be able to get all this done in a month or so — as I say, all the actual work got done in the Obama agreement — and then get on with impeachment, and the election.

What do you think? I’ll tell you what I think:

It. Could. WORK!

via GIPHY

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it, and other thoughts on the killing of Soleimani

1200px-Qasem_Soleimani_2019-10-01_05

Why have I gone so many days without commenting on the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the United States?

Because I’m still not sure what to say. I don’t have enough information to say “this was a good thing” or “this was a bad thing.” And ever since I made the move from news to editorial in 1994, I’ve been disinclined to write about anything that I couldn’t offer some sort of judgment on.

What follows is a few of the thoughts that have been going through my head since this happened…

We can’t get around the fact that this is Trump doing this.

First, if this is a classic “wag the dog” move, Trump has miscalculated. Because this incident underlines more starkly than anything else that’s happened in the past three years why it is an extraordinarily bad idea to have such an ignorant and deeply flawed person in the role of commander-in-chief.

Yes, the natural impulse in such a situation is for the American people to close ranks with the president and give him the benefit of the doubt. But how can anyone, other than the blindest of his base, do that with this man? Most people in the country know that he only cares about his own self-interest. There could be a situation in which his interest and the country’s coincidentally line up — the stopped-clock principal — but we know that to him, the country’s interest is simply not an operative variable.

And he lies. About everything. He doesn’t misspeak and then backtrack when the untruth is exposed, the way other people in politics do. He lies with utter abandon, and when the lie is proved beyond any doubt, he doubles down on it.

In a situation like this, in which (I’m assuming here) the American people can’t be shown all the evidence without compromising intelligence sources, it is essential that we have some faith in the truthfulness and judgment of the president, whether we like him or not. That is utterly impossible in this situation. So instead of persuadable people going, “This is a dicey situation, so we’d better rally around the president,” they are more likely to go “Oh, my God, how soon can we get someone else — anyone else — into the White House?”

Forgive me for starting with the political calculation, but the fact that this guy is in this job affects all the other things I have to say.

This is a job for the Deep State.

I can’t trust anything Trump — or anyone who owes his or her job to him — says about the situation. I know I can’t trust Republican members of Congress, either, based on their completely surrender of their minds to Trump. Nor am I terribly interested in what the Democratic presidential candidates think about it. (Yes, their statements may help us choose between them, but their reaction isn’t helpful in assessing the immediate situation, which is what I’m talking about here.)

What I want, what I need, to know in order to form a judgment is what the Deep State thinks. I need the views of experts who have no political dog in the fight.

Is it the consensus of our intelligence community that there was an imminent threat that justified taking the extraordinary chance (given that we don’t know what Iran will do) of killing this guy? Oh, and while I’m asking, what do they think we should do next?

Often in these situations, within a few days after the story has initially broken, there will be a piece — probably in The New York Times — from a reporter with excellent intelligence sources who has interviewed them about the situation and gleaned some sort of consensus from those sources.

This would be a great time for such a story. I’m not asking for the moon — I don’t expect something as definite as, for instance, the fact that ALL of our intelligence agencies agree that Russian interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. I’m not greedy. I’d just like to know in general what people who know a LOT more about this than I do are thinking. That might help me decide what I think.

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

When in doubt, quote a Clint Eastwood movie, right?

I don’t think anyone in this country, outside of people like this out-of-work football player, doubts for a moment that Soleimani had it coming.

But he’s had it coming for a long time, and we’ve had the ability to kill him before now, and we haven’t done so. The question isn’t, “Did he deserve it?” The question is, what changed that switched the calculus toward a decision to kill him now? And was that calculation sound?

In other words, someone might be a bad guy, but killing him may be a bad idea. (In fact, as an opponent of the death penalty, I would argue that it’s usually a bad idea to kill someone just for being a bad guy.)

And we just don’t have enough reliable information to know.

No one, but no one, thinks war with Iran is a good idea.

No matter how crazy and bloodthirsty you may think neocons are, I can’t think of anyone in that camp that has ever put forth outright war with Iran as a good idea. (Neo-cons don’t usually count John Bolton among their number.) I’ve never seen the case credibly made that it would be in anyone’s interest, except maybe people on the sidelines who don’t like us, such as Russia or China.

So, you know, we probably need to do what we can to avoid it from this point on… which brings us back to my fervent wish that a normal human being of any party was in the White House right now… Something I heard on the radio earlier today struck me as ironic in the extreme: A Republican member of Congress (I think; I didn’t catch the name) was making the point that the Iranians aren’t totally crazy; they don’t want war with the United States. How weird is that? We’re counting on the ayatollahs to be more rational and mature than the president of the United States

I could say much more, but I figure that’s enough to get a conversation going. Sorry to have taken so long, but as I say, I was hoping to know more….

In case you doubt corporations are taking over the world…

jobs dec 30

I want to say it was sometime in the ’70s when fiction started portraying a dystopian future in which corporations ruled the world instead of the governments of nation-states. Or maybe the ’80s. I have trouble remembering any specific works that had this as a theme, and this list I found only covers books from this century. But suffice to say that it’s a well-established trope, even older than the national emergence of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and their paranoia-based campaigns.

Anyway, I couldn’t help thinking of that when I saw the top two job postings today.

I saw the job titles, and assumed the employer would be the CIA, NSA, DIA or something along those lines.

But no, they’re both for Microsoft. And note we’re talking “Senior Intelligence Analyst,” which suggests there are other intelligent analysts junior to that one, which in turn seems to indicate there are agents out there to collect the intelligence that they analyze…

This is not quite as disturbing to me as it once might have been. I’d much rather have Bill Gates (or some random guy pulled off the street, for that matter) in charge of our foreign policy than You Know Who. And of course, in order to carry out that task, he’ll need good intel. And the great thing is, unlike our current president, he would actually take the facts thus uncovered into consideration…

Oh, as for the last posting you see in that screenshot… it would be fun to do another campaign, and I really, really need to lose the weight… and I met Tom Steyer’s wife a couple of weeks ago and she seemed nice and all, but… I’m still totally in Joe’s camp. So until he calls and asks for my help, I’m sitting this one out…

Look at them telling themselves, ‘Keep a straight face… Act like this is totally normal….’

macron

So it appears our president is over across the pond embarrassing us, again, squabbling with allies and roiling markets.

For me, it’s interesting to turn the sound down and just watch these foreign leaders sit next to him and labor to keep a straight face.

I give Macron some credit for breaking out of this pattern and confronting Trump, which you see above. But most continue to play the game, trying not to have a diplomatic incident.

I’m very sorry that we keep putting our friends through this…