Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Requiem for a Lightweight

Trump did not win. Ms. Inevitability lost.  It was inevitable. The only surprise is that so many refused to see what was so obvious until it was too late. I saw it coming and said so; first in September, 2011, then in  June, 2013, and again in June, 2016.  However, there is a much more profound consequence of this election that remains ignored in the post-election ruminations of the media.  I will touch on that later, but first, the postmortem.

Did the Russians steal the election from  her?  No.  Whatever they may have done was minor to what she did to herself long before.   Hillary, paranoid of right-wing conspiracies long before Russian hacking became a national security threat,  dismissed security concerns when she was Secretary of State. She dismissed security concerns regarding her own personal server(s).  Her campaign dismissed security concerns as if they had no prior knowledge of her email vulnerability, and no prior exposure to ‘third rate burglaries’.  How much more damage could the Russians have done to her than she and her dream team had already done to themselves?

Did the leaked emails kill her?  Probably not.  If there were any smoking guns revealed, I’m not aware of them from what was reported in the press.  Most of it was a lot of embarrassing but petty, small-minded trivia erupting from her camp followers and hangers-on which reflected the shallowness and self-serving mentality that many of us associate with the political culture in general.

Did Comey and the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight do her in?  She may be convinced that he did, but I would give equal credit to Willful Bill, who just had to stop by the AG’s plane to discuss grandkids for 45 minutes. That may not have justified Comey’s subsequent actions, but in the current take-no-prisoners climate, it must have upped his need to protect Number 1, not wishing to be Lynched for his boss’ poor judgement and not knowing her loyalties.  Between a rabid Congress and incompetent Justice, he didn’t have any good choices.  Only responsibility.

Hillary didn’t lose because of Comey. She didn’t lose because of the email server. She didn’t lose because she’s not likable enough.  She lost because she was an inferior candidate,  a fragile ego hiding behind a brittle mask of toughness, and unwilling to acknowledge her own weaknesses; a striver who could not calibrate her ambitions to the dimensions of her abilities; a closet Republican wearing the mask of a liberal; a chameleon  who struggles to blend in but only manages to stand out and irritate with every tone-deaf effort to justify herself;  a panderer to minorities who did not understand that elections are won by majorities; a self-styled political operative who failed to grasp that the ultimate election was the Electoral College and not the popular vote; a candidate so seriously flawed in image and limited in substance that her flacks had to re-brand  her every two or three weeks as the New, Exciting Hillary, only to experience serial failure.  All the Queen’s horses and All the Queen’s men couldn’t put Hillary together in the end.

But the real story of Hillary’s loss is not that she won by nearly 3 million of the popular votes.  It is that she didn’t win by far more and that she lost the ultimate race, the Electoral College, by so much and against an opponent as deplorable as hers.  Hillary’s real measure of loss is the votes that were cast against her and the votes that stayed home. If one adds the 4 million votes for Gary Johnson, most of which we can presume would have gone to Trump or stayed home, she would have lost the popular vote or been in a dead heat, and still lost the Electoral College.  Voter turnout over the prior election appears to have increased by at least 7 million.  Voter registration is reported to have significantly increased for this election.  If we assume that the Democrats were largely the beneficiaries of registration growth, but she only won by 3 million votes, what does that suggest about how much of her base eroded, like the out-going tide of public mood pulling grains of sand from under her feet while she stands at the water’s edge,  contemplating the view of the horizon, only to discover herself pulled out to sea by the undertow she didn’t know was there.

But it would be unfair to blame Hillary’s loss on Hillary alone.  It takes a village.  In this case, the Democratic party.  Consider that after her amateurish campaign against a relatively unknown newcomer in 2008, the Democratic Party is handed a victory that it  largely did not earn as a party, and then proceed to lose ground in two consecutive mid-term elections in which it should have built on momentum to solidify its gains, but basically left Obama to swing in the wind.  And now it has the temerity to insinuate, if not charge, that it lost 2016 because Obama ‘didn’t do enough’.  I hope that when Mr. Obama writes his memoir, he devotes a chapter of rebuttal entitled ‘The Audacity of Dopes’.

     *  *  *

This election has been a collection of ironies.

First, that Ms. Experience should be severely challenged by a virtually unknown quantity in Mr. Sanders for the second time in her illustrious career and survive not on her merits, but on her careful engineering of the backroom Democratic machinery in an undemocratic manner.

Second, that the chief strategies of Hillary and Trump were to debate each other’s deplorability, and against all reasonable assumptions, she lost.

But the greatest irony is that she was defeated by a candidate who  attacked her for being a pawn of the elite, and who is proving day by day to be a more corrosive agent of middle class economic and social decline than Hillary would ever be.

How did this come to be?  The ultimate blame belongs to the electorate.  We pay more attention to sports, reality TV and the Kardashians than to the politics that influence our daily lives.  We are a society that embraces the cheap and easy  and frivolous at the expense of quality and durability, and it shows in our political choices as well as our clothes and food.

We don’t want a President.  We want Santa Claus, who will fulfill our every wish with no effort or sacrifice on our part.  Many of us, especially Democrats, expected the newly elected Obama to do it all, and we turned our back on him like yesterday’s meatloaf when  he couldn’t fix everything in the face of a Congress of indifferent Democrats and largely rabid Republicans led by the treasonous Mitch McConnell and the gutless John Boehner.

The American public, programmed by the media for cultural ADD and narcissism, turned on Obama for failing to meet its expectations and now turns to Trump with the same level of hope that it first projected on Obama, but hope resting on a dubious foundation.

I suspect, based on the anecdotal knowledge from my small sphere of acquaintances but with  no statistical foundation for the assertion, that many who voted for Trump view him not as a leader but as a hammer.  They have few expectations that he will  ‘make things better’.  Rather, they hope that he will ‘drain the swamp’ and break the system that they feel has done so much for so long to put their well-being at risk.  They are willing to take the risk that out of the rubble that Trump will create,  they can fashion a better life for themselves. That is likely an ill-conceived calculation.

Ironically, many of these people are professionals whose well-being is tied to the very system they hope Trump will dismantle.  They seem to embrace a detached sense of cause and effect, seemingly dismissing effect. Many of these people in my acquaintance are analytics in fields of finance and management and medicine and engineering where facts matter and have consequences, and image is to be viewed with professional skepticism. But they see the current system as beyond redemption, and in need of recycling.  I share the view that the current system is seriously flawed, but if Trump is the cure, I’d prefer the illness and a search for a credible remedy.

   *  *  *

There remains one critical question for the economic elite and their political gofers to contemplate.  When Trump’s masses discover in the next year that he is the Hillary they feared, what will they do?  When they discover that he and his wrecking crew have stripped them of the few remaining benefits and safeguards that the current political  order provides and they have taken for granted, what will they do.  Can Trump put back in the bottle the anger he has released, or will he be its next victim, but not its final victim? When the Tea Partiers and Occupiers realize that they are not each other’s enemy, but that they share a common enemy, what happens next?

   *  *  *

I voted for Hillary Clinton, much as I distrust her.  I deemed her less dangerous and destructive and more subject to control and containment than Trump.  I did not do so gladly, but I considered the option of not voting a dereliction of a citizen’s duty. Even among two genuinely lousy choices, one is usually less lousy than the other, if only by a hair’s width. I hope that this requiem for Hillary’s political life does not become a requiem for our great national experiment.

I am reminded of Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics:

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose

Bookends  1968.

Not much has changed.

But everything has changed.

Onward

20161226

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The Bully-In-Chief and the Naked Empress

You would think that a society that has spent the past ten years wringing its communal hands over how to deal with school yard bullies and their consequences would recognize one in the man-child Donald Trump, and have a clue of how to deal with him.  Obviously not.

Most interesting is the self-inflicted dilemma of the Repugnantlan Party; those stalwart wearers of flag lapel pins,  supporters of our troops and police, champions of right to life until born, true believers that they have a monopoly on patriotism, self-appointed protectors of the constitution that they are systematically raping in the name of God, country and free enterprise….They stand trembling in the shadow of Trump.  Ironically, the shadow is less than the man, but the Repugnantlans are less still in their collective incapacity to confront this breathing amalgam of narcissism, arrogance, deceit and rank ignorance, and say to themselves and the society that they presume to lead “This man does not represent our values, and we will not lend our Party’s label to his twisted and destructive enterprise.”   Or something to that effect.  But that apparently demands more courage than they can collectively muster.

Nor were the alternatives all that attractive.  A party that has embraced a thinly disguised agenda of bigotry, religious zealotry, misogyny and elitism under the brand Conservatism, and thus done severe damage to the meaning of that term; that same party has looked desperately in its wings among the kooks and Hucksters, and mini-narcissists in waiting, for an alternative to the Enfant Terrible, to no apparent avail.  Short Form: they’re screwed.

The question before the Repugnantlans is: Do we face a firestorm at the convention in the effort to save the party?  Or do we face a firestorm at the voting booths and watch the party be bludgeoned into dust, at the possible tangible loss of Congressional majority.

Given the level of courage and integrity currently in evidence in the party leadership, it is conceivable that they would rather suffer the risk of defeat in the less frightening confrontation and anonymity of the voting booth, than to risk the physical, in-your-face, mano-a-mano confrontation that is promised by Thugs for Trump at the convention.

And as disturbing as all this is in what it says about the state of Party leadership, what is even more disturbing is that there is a constituency that is big enough to give Trump this power.  The question is: is this a constituency of mini-bullies supporting a master bully in their greatest fantasy of power, or as some observers suggest, are Trump’s followers mostly very angry people who see Trump not so much as their leader, but their hammer to render a failing system to the dustbin of history. A similar speculation has been rendered of Bernie Sanders, who is beginning to sound more like Trump in his prognostications for the coming Democratic Convention.

Then there’s the Demo-crass.  They have a different kind of fear, or should.  They face the risk that fewer people will turn out for Ms Inevitability, a.k.a ‘Hillary Don’t-Cry-For-Me-Argentina Rodham-Clinton’, than the die-hard crazies who will turn out for Trump.  On paper, she should have this thing licked.  She’s got ‘credential’s.  She’s engineered the back room of the Convention.  She’s got an enviable Rolodex ( because, as she acknowledged in the prvate computer server grillings, she’s not particularly tech savvy) and the financial backing.  What she lacks is credibility.  Not necessarily an insurmountable problem for a politician.  But she has such an incredible knack for shooting herself in the foot, that it’s totally reasonable for the average person to wonder if she can be trusted with nukes.

In one of her rare moments of candor, she acknowledged after the Florida primary that she is ‘not a natural politician’,  like her husband or Obama.  So why is she running for the position of Politician in Chief?  Is it because she’s a superb, wonky tactician like her husband?  Uh-huh!  When the press were battering her phalanx of flacks, she carefully sequestered behind her security wall.  When an attack was needed, she sent out Bill.  When credibility was needed, she grasped for Barack’s coat-tails, and when that was inconvenient as in the case of the Pacific Trade agreement, she let go.  She claims to fight for the underdog, but what has she ever won for the underdog of substance? Health care, voting rights, better treatment of women anywhere in the world?  She claims experience, but where is the wisdom?  Health care? Libya? the Russian Reset? Syria?  Is her wisdom and pragmatism possibly hidden in that gold-plated speech she gave to Goldman Sachs which remains more closely guarded than her official emails as Secretary of State.  Could it be that if that text ever saw the light of day, it would reveal her to be as shallow and vacuous as the Mitt-ster?

Hillary is nothing but an avatar of women’s and minorities aspirations, but without the substance and quite possibly the will to deliver more than pious platitudes. A candidate whose image quite likely has to be re-invented every two weeks by her army of ‘advisor’s who are still groping for a credible product, isn’t much of a vehicle for progress.  An individual who has struggled against as improbable opponent as Bernie Sanders, in spite of all the advantages she amassed for her presumed coronation, must be profoundly lacking in substance.  A person, whose chief praise in recent weeks is that she has broken many barriers, but always seems to do it the hard way, is not a strong credential for endorsement.  I can’t really picture myself pitching my wares to a prospective employer with the line:’I git it done, but always the hard way’.   Endurance is fine, but competence would be better. She is the Demo-crass equivalent of Jeb Bush.  They  could make an awesome fusion ticket of irrelevance and incompetence.

On any rigorous assessment of substance, Hillary is an empty suit.  Indeed, the Empress has no clothes.

Hillary’s only claim to viability as a candidate is that, next to Trump, she looks at least sufferable, and may almost pass for presidential.  But even that may not be enough to save her if the terminal boredom or revulsion of so many independents and many in her own party is enough to deny her the critical margin for victory.

And then there’s the wild card:  The Republican Convention is July 18 to 21.  The Democratic Convention is July 25 to 28.  What if the Repugnantlan Party finally found the testicular fortitude to deny Trump the nomination on merits (or lack thereof), and installed Romney as the plug-and-play answer?    A contest between two equally brittle avatars.  But on surface, it is conceivable that Romney, an executive in private and public enterprise, could appear to have more chops than Ms Inevitability.

The Demo-crass High Command would have to assess  very quickly which old horse has the better chance.  The Demo-crass will be in the same convention dilemma as the Repugnantlans of reconsidering the ‘presumptive’ nominee, but the Repugs will have gained first mover advantage, which Mitt, the consummate capitalist, knows is critical.  Could the Hillary Horde pivot quickly to a new opponent and a new strategy?  Not likely, if two presidential campaigns are compelling evidence. Could the Democratic Party?  Probably not a prayer.

Can Elizabeth Warren save the ticket?  She would likely carry the ticket.  But if I were her, I’d be extremely wary of signing on to the HIll ‘n Bill show.

Onward.

20160612

 

Never Argue with a Madman

“Never argue with a madman.  Bystanders won’t be able to tell the difference.”    Author unknown.

I happened upon that piece of wisdom some years ago on a poster entitled “Corollaries to Murphy’s Law”, and filed it for future reference.  You may have noticed (or more probably not) that I have not posted in this blog since July.  There is a reason for that.  I have watched the ongoing tragicomedy of our times unfold. I recalled the above wisdom and struggled with the question: how does one make a rational comment about the rabid irrationality that is consuming our society (the term ‘civilization’ seems inappropriate); and to what point?

Here’s a sampling of what troubles me:

There’s the Republican Clown Circus, vying for leadership of the most exceptional country on the planet.  If I were foreign friend or foe, I’d tremble at the thought of any one of them being within reach of the ‘football’ that carries the secret codes to microwave the planet.  Any of them!

Following close behind is the Republican dominated Congress where actors of less inflated idiocy incubate, waiting for their turn in the big show. If there was an appropriate application of law, the Republic leadership and its minions would be charged under RICO  or treason for criminal conspiracy to destroy the government of the United States through concerted efforts masked as group insanity.

Lagging behind but not far, is the Democratic Party which champions Bill-ary; the political equivalent of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner.  Bill-ary: a person few really trust, but too many are willing to accept in order to make h(im)er the first so called female to inhabit the White House as ‘precedent’.  Forget that much of Obama’s presidency has been in one way or another involved in cleaning up messes that had their origin during the reign of Bill.  Forget that Hillary accomplished nothing of significance as First Lady; merely polished her credentials in the Senate as knee-jerk hawk to prepare  for her ‘inevitability’; and also merely put a smiley face on the nation’s reputation while racking up her frequent flier miles as Secy of State.  Can the Dems not do better than this?  Can women not do better than this?

Probably not, because what sane person of ability would aspire to positions which merely set them up as targets for media businesses masking as journalistic enterprises, driven by profit to create and sustain the public circuses that feed the profits.  Only the truly craven for whom the mask of insanity is now a tolerated facade for a public so cynical that it too has forsaken any pretext of reason for the easy gratification of raw emotion.

Nor is the political world the only circus in town.  We are watching multiple spectacles in the business world.  Unicorns, those precious mythical tech companies with inflated expectations and equally inflated valuations of $1 billion or more, are multiplying like rabbits.  I’m particularly fascinated by the melodrama of Theranos, waiting for that to unfold or implode, and wondering how all the big names on its board of directors will acquit themselves in the end. (Hint:  plausible deniability usually works, but has its limits.)

Then there’s the juggernaut of Elon Musk.  His accomplishments are more substantive, but when the media recently reported his concern that a Third World War might foreclose any hope of humans venturing to Mars, I had to wonder about his judgment.  Elon, you are far brighter than I, but I would venture that if the Planet has a Third World War, getting to Mars will be the least of our concerns, and could probably be the best thing to happen for Mars.  In fact, if we do it right, we could conceivably sanitize this planet for the next visit of interplanetary microbes in the cosmic evolutionary process.   Clean slate; fresh start.  Humanity’s final gift to the universe.

There’s the media-cracy; that contorted and perverted lens through which we gaze to try to comprehend what’s happening around us, because we’re part of the global village for better or worse, and first-hand knowledge of what’s happening in our neighborhood is largely irrelevant when all the strings are now pulled by distant puppet masters. Journalists complain about being the public’s and politicians’ shared pinata.  Most of what passes for journalism today would not have survived the editing of my high school journalism teacher.  Not for grammar or word-smithing, but for objectivity, quality content and service to the reader.

And what rant regarding communal in(s)anity would be complete without a nod to our current penchant for mass killings.  It seems that every time one occurs, which is almost weekly lately, the press reports a surge in gun sales.  Like 300 million guns on the streets and in the homes of America aren’t enough to do the job of protecting us from ourselves?  And where are all those ‘good guys with guns’ that the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre promised would protect us from civil mayhem?  My guess is that deep down, even a lot of his card carrying members don’t want to live in a society where every day is High Noon at the local mall, and the family has to pack for protection.

As for mental health care being the cure for gun violence, there’s a simple solution:  Start with the folks who rush to the gun shops after every scare headline in the tabloids. Then round up the publishers and producers of media whose sociopathic inclinations motivate them to create chaos for profit. ( I won’t mention names.)

But if society is to screen likely suspects for mental illness to preempt further violence, it would seem appropriate to put the executive leadership of the NRA at the head of the list, because the idea that we need more firepower in the general populace to prevent violence of the people, by the people, against the people…. is certifiable lunacy.

Onward

20160123

Timing Isn’t Everything, But It’s Critical

One of the critical elements in defining a controlled process is to specify the performance standards under which it will be judged. Among the basic performance standards are:

–  Quantity (how much to produce, how many transactions to process)

–  Quality (how good)

–  Cost (at what value)

–  Time (due date, elapsed time to completion, incurred time to completion)

These all play off one another. They do not exist in isolation.  You want it now? It’ll cost you more.  You want it now? I can’t make that many. You want it now? Not at the requested quality.  The imperative of ‘now’ has important ramifications for any process.  And today, more than ever, the constraint of time and the imperative of ‘now’ is the performance criterion that seems to trump all others.

*   *   *

Obama clearly understood the strategic imperative of time with respect to health care reform, but not the tactical implications of time in system implementation.  He understood that to avoid the long-term debt threat (not the faux short-term one) he must bend the health care cost curve, and he must begin now.  To improve the economy, he must get people back to work, and to do that, he must bend the health care cost curve, and he must begin now.  To avoid erosion of his initiative from relentless political attacks, he must advance it into reality so that it cannot easily be undone, and he must do that before he leaves office, and he must do that sooner before its intangible promise fades from public commitment under the withering fire of political assault; and the passage of time is not his friend.

What he and his team obviously did not understand, or would not acknowledge, was the tactical reality of producing a systemic platform to quality and quantitative standards within the time constraint of strategic considerations.  And here we are.  In such cases, time is not a destination, but a marker on a journey.  Best understood and communicated in that perspective. Too many CEOs fail to understand the limits of compressing time in the real world.

*  *  *

Meredith Whitney misunderstood time in her failed prediction of collapse of the municipal bond market.  She may yet be right for all the wrong reasons, but she blew it by being specific about timing, and without caveating the prediction on critical collateral factors that would be necessary for the result. Two factors which probably contributed to blowing her timing were the ARRA program which pumped money into municipalities and in many cases did more to prop up sagging budgets than prime the economic recovery; and Quantitative Easing (QE) which propped up the stock markets and inflated pension portfolios that might otherwise have sunk further in value and forced more municipalities to the wall sooner.  The imperative of continuing QE likely has less to do with keeping Wall Street happy than with keeping fresh lipstick on the pig of state and municipal finances.  In this case, the injection of value has ‘bought’ time, but not necessarily results.  It may only delay the inevitable.

*  *  *

I have previously written about timing and Clim-Ergy, the interplay of climate and energy issues. CO2 emissions and their consequences are moving on one time line.  Energy resources relative to economic and demographic drivers are moving on another time line. Renewable energy deployment is moving on a third timeline that needs to bend the first timeline before the second drives it beyond tolerable standards, and before the second plateaus and drives cost beyond tolerable standards.  Currently, there is no credible prospect that the third timeline will meet quantitative, qualitative and cost/benefit  performance standards within the necessary time standards, although that could change, but at the moment and in the foreseeable future, the odds are somewhere between slim and none.

*  *  *

I recently convened a meeting in my community on the subject of affordable housing. A private developer has stated that a new apartment complex he is completing could never offer rentals at the comparatively low prices he is offering if he had to buy the land at today’s prices rather than its cost thirty years ago.  Interestingly, while he is attuned to the influence of inflation over time, he is apparently unaware of the time value of his sunk invested dollars over that same period of time, particularly at market rates of return.  That proves to be a major impediment in attracting private investors to affordable housing projects, because their need for return is greater within a specified time frame.  An alternative that I proposed is for the Town to buy the land and lease it, because it can be ‘patient capital’, and enhance the economics of the overall project, bringing in much-needed diversity to the Town’s demographics and economy.  That idea is a bit foreign in our community, but again it speaks to different perceptions of time and its value in monetary terms and collateral benefits.

*  *  *

How soon do you need that ‘special something’?  The Big Box wants you to have it right now, if it’s worth your time and gas.  Jeff Bezos wants you to have anything in two days.    Why wait til Black Friday for those once-a-year Christmas sales when you can be thankful for them on Thanksgiving Day, assuming of course that you’re not a ‘sales associate’. In these instances, how much does time really matter, and what is it worth?

*  *  *

How long is a ‘long’ war? Some would say any war is too long. The US public seems to think ten years is too much in Vietnam and Iraq-istan (a.k.a. Vietnam Too) . The Taliban thinks it’s just another day in Paradise. It’s more than willing to let the clock run out.  For the US military, the calendar has run out between those two competing perspectives.  Job not done.

*  *  *

Time and education is a critical issue. Think about it. We have in our children a product that takes from 13 to 23 years to manufacture through formal education factories to a productive ‘resource’, depending on application. If one is preparing for a forty-year career, that is a reasonable investment, with hopefully a beneficial return on investment.  But if technological and economic and social uncertainties significantly truncate that timeline of application, it has significant impact on the choices and wisdom of the investment.

*  *  *

Should Elizabeth Warren run for President and in possible primary opposition to Hillary Clinton?  For Hillary, time is running out.  For Liz, as for Barach before her, the time might not be right because she may not be ready with a broad enough portfolio or a sufficiently diverse and competent team to make ALL the right moves. But also, as with Barach, she faces a window of opportunity for her perceived critical issues that might not afford her the luxury of time to ‘ripen on the vine’ until ready.  Alternatively, she might be able to ‘borrow time’ by running with the ripened Joe Biden as his VP, pressing her finance issues while broadening her portfolio for a subsequent run.  Can women wait til 2020 for the first woman president in our exceptional society which has taken longer than most to advance a qualified woman to that position?  Or is it more important to sacrifice quality for time?

*  *  *

Do you want to live to be 100?  It’s not just a question of time, but also a question of quality of life and cost/benefit (to me, not to the medical-insurance complex).  Maybe in twenty years my perspective on those two factors will change, but right now I’m gunning for 85 and out!

*  *  *

And let’s not forget time and love.  Diana Ross sang that you can’t hurry it.  Mike Jagger (the taliban-ista of love) opined that it was on his side. The Outsiders sang it won’t let them wait that long. It’s all a matter of perspective.

*  *  *

The value of time is not the same for everyone, but it must be understood, and the understanding must be communicated clearly, whether it is with an employer, a client, an investor, a society, a lover, or one’s self.

Thank you for giving me your time.

Onward

20131115

Cool Hand Barach — The Sequel

In late 2010, I wrote the original post at the time of a showdown regarding tax cuts.  I suggested that Obama, who at that time was portrayed as weak and indecisive, was really playing rope-a-dope with the dopes in both the Republican and Democratic parties. I believe that subsequent history has confirmed that assessment.  I’m prepared to go out on a limb again.

This time, it is the threat to unilaterally use force in Syria.  It seems crazy for him to take this positions on the surface, with the utter failure of Iraq so fresh, the current failure of Af-Pakistan fresher still, and the questionable success of Libya highly debatable, and a cautionary tale for any intervention in Syria. Given his commitment to end both wars, and his reluctance for engagement in both Libya and Syria, his sudden if reluctant commitment to unilateral action seems inconsistent, to put it politely. But is it crazy, or calculating?  I have a sense that he is playing a very high stakes game of poker (or more appropriately, pool) with a very narrow window of opportunity.  Here’s how I see it.

1)  His primary tactical target is to neutralize Syria by way of….Russia.  He does that by means of threatening a strike which would put Russia in a very difficult position.  Russia knows he can do it.  Putin is just not sure if O is crazy enough to do it,…and that’s the problem.  Because if O is crazy enough, then what does Russia do in response?  It likely does not want to consider a reciprocal military response, for which it is likely not adequately positioned.  It could consider a cyber response, but that could get easily out of hand with no fun for anyone.  And to do nothing would be an insufferable political embarrassment.

2)  So the easiest way out for Putin (and let us be sure: it’s all about Vlad), is to lean on Syria and say ‘Cut out the chemistry lab stuff.  Go back to slaughter in the accepted conventional way that everyone has tolerated so nicely for the past 99,000 deaths’.  He then goes back to O and the UN and says that the great humanitarian state of Russia has negotiated a cessation of further gassing of the neighborhood, and we should all go back to concentrating on a further negotiation to end the more acceptable means of slaughter while that slaughter continues.

This seems like a great symbolic, do-nothing solution to everyone but the Syrians on all sides.  Russia saves face. O doesn’t have to pull a trigger for which there could be infinite unintended consequences. Life goes on…or not for some.

3)  But a message has been sent nonetheless that ripples out from the bloody streets of Syria.  Assad now knows the limits of his prime patron. Russia has been put in a smaller box than Obama.  And the dark eminences in Tehran also know the possible limits of  their prime patron. And that causes uncertainty about the limits of future support.

4)  But it’s not all about the Moslems. In Jerusalem the worries remain that the autocrats in Syria and Egypt could ultimately succumb to the Moslem extremists, who would not necessarily seize control, but could destabilize the  neighborhood.  While the Israelis wring their hands, Obama gently suggests to them that this might be the best, and dare we suggest last, time for them to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians so as to take that issue off the table for other Arab and Moslem militants, undermining Hezbollah and Hamas, and rendering Al Qaeda’s recruiting posters pointless.

5) With the Palestinians off the table, Iran has no remaining bogeyman to divert its population’s attention from its day-to-day plight but the distant Great Satan, and the populace can begin concentrating on contemplating the cost-benefit of endless investments in centrifuges at the expense of everything else.

6)  LATE BREAKING NEWS: OBAMA SEEKS AUTHORIZATION BY CONGRESS.  Perfect. He wins either way.  Either Congress pulls the plug, and lets him off the hook, or Congress authorizes and we’re back to Step 1.  If Congress pulls the plug, he lays the issue at the Security Council where Russia and China, with their own internal political problems, are called to task for aiding and abetting slaughter by stonewalling international intervention, of which they do not want to set even the most remote precedent for their own home-brew caldrons.  And how long will Congress debate this one, with the Republicans divided internally as much as Democrats, and Democrat doves forming an unlikely alliance with Rand Paul libertarians.

Meanwhile, the killing proceeds unabated.

If my inferences are correct, Obama may be playing a very high stakes game that could significantly alter the dynamics of the Middle East, but not necessarily its direction.

*   *   *

I believe that Obama, the community organizer, understands far better than John McCain and Hillary, the Elitists, the limits of what the US can do alone in the Middle East and elsewhere.  We may be the only superpower, but it does not make us all-powerful. We can influence events but we cannot control them and assure outcomes. And that is the ultimate point.  The best we can do in the long run is to watch and wait and see what emerges from the morass, and prepare to negotiate a relationship with whatever survives and appears to sustain. This is not ambivalence, or cowardice or indifference; it is pragmatism.

The Middle East today is a bastardization of history, gerrymandered by Western powers without regard to history and culture.  It is unsustainable in current configuration for that reason.  The Genie is out of the bottle. The pretense that we have a humanitarian mission when everyone suspects that our only motivation is to sustain access to oil does not compel our engagement in Syria, no matter how regrettable the human suffering.

The world is on fire, and the fires must burn themselves out, because their containment and curtailment by other means is beyond the resources, wisdom and will of the observers.  What we are witnessing is the disintegration of social and political systems, just as we have witnessed the decay and dysfunction of economic systems in recent years and of environmental systems currently.  How they re-constitute is anyone’s guess.

The rules of war that define decorum between armies in feudal contests of force between nation-states are becoming irrelevant as we move to conflicts between civilians and their armies within nation-states.  The organizing paradigm is transnational political and religious (same thing) movements.  The battle is between anarchy and authoritarian control. In the West, the question is whether democracy can coexist with security when the forces of disruption use democratic processes as a cover for anarchistic asymmetric warfare against established authority.  And, will Authority sustain security in concert with democracy, or at its expense for ulterior motives that become all too achievable in the specter of chaos. In the East and South, these questions are largely moot.

Meanwhile, back in the US of A, our own internal divisions and dysfunction are beginning to show disturbing signs of similarity to Egypt. The NSA, drug wars, gerrymandering voting districts, voter rights, erosion of public trust in public institutions, little armed ayatollahs of the religious and secular right .  We too are disturbingly close to the edge of the precipice, and the soil of a once firm civic footing is eroding under our feet.

*   *   *

The issue of chemical weapons, as horrific as they may be, is a side-show.  Does it really matter if we use chemical weapons or drones, or Abrams tanks, or M4 assault weapons, or napalm, or cluster bombs, or fry the grid and take a society back to the stone age with death by a thousand other means?  Dead is dead, maimed is maimed, and at the end of the day the body count is the inverse measurement of humanity’s progress from its ignorant and barbaric roots.  So far, the score doesn’t look good.

Onward.

20130901

Halt the Hillary Hype….Pleeeeese!

It is time for Hillary to stand up, or stand down.  But she cannot stand still. And if she isn’t prepared to stand up, she should sequester her self-promoting hype machine.

I appreciate that women yearn to be affirmed of their role in US society with the ascendance of one of their number to the highest office in the land. It is a blemish on our national record that a nation which professes to be democratic, a nation which has made many advances in equality for women prior to this century, has yet to elevate a competent woman through its political processes to this pinnacle.  It is not for shortage for competent women.

But Hillary is not that woman. Not when you strip her down to substance. And women do themselves no favors by heaping their aspirations for recognition and advancement on a less-than-capable standard-bearer who will not likely deliver results, partly for reasons of her own, and partly for circumstances beyond her control.

Why Not Hillary?

Viewing her through gender-neutral eyes, my main question is: what has she accomplished of substance in her various roles?

As First Lady?

I would rank her below Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Laura Bush in representing that position with its inherent limits but high visibility.

As US Senator?

Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, but I do not recall any significant legislation, or any significant policy stance that distinguished her, beyond her effort to prove that she could ‘work across the aisle’, get along with the boys, and be acceptably hawkish.  And this recognizes that as a freshman senator her options are inherently limited, but not non-existent for a person of her stature.  Others have done more with less.

As Presidential Candidate?

Not the best job in staff selection or management.  May the Fates have mercy if the same competence is brought to the Oval Office.

As Secretary of State?

Accomplishment 1. She put a friendlier and more rational face on US diplomacy, but that was a very low hurdle to clear from the prior administration.

Accomplishment 2.  Gave greater visibility to women’s issues on the international stage.

Accomplishment 3.  Most frequent flier miles of any secretary of state since the Wright Brothers.

Work-in-Progress 1.  China.  Neither better nor worse

Work-in-Progress 2.  Af-Pak-istan  No further comment needed.

Work-in-Progress 3.  Israel-Palestine – No worse, no better, no fault of hers, but no cigar

Work-in-Progress 4.  The Middle East – We don’t control it, we don’t even influence it any more, but we don’t have a clue either.

Fail Number 1   Benghazi – before the attack.  We should have anticipated the level of risk and planned security accordingly.

Fail Number 2   Benghazi – during the attack – What was the Ambassador doing in such a vulnerable location virtually unprotected? Never adequately explained.  Maybe not her personal responsibility, but it was her organization’s fail, and we know where the buck must stop.

Fail Number 3  Benghazi – the aftermath.  The job of a leader is to lead. Susan Rice shouldn’t have had to take the heat as long as she did. Where was Hillary?  No doubt there was in-fighting among various agencies with exposures to cover, but where was Hillary? Benghazi was her 3:00 a.m. call, and by all external appearances, she blew it.  Most importantly, whether or not that is true, if she runs for President, the opposition will hammer her with insinuations that will be presented as fact, and will have the ring, if not the substance, of truth.

As President?

On a good day, Hillary will likely have a Congress as capable and congenial as her predecessor, and her options to govern will be as robust.

If Not Hillary, Who?

Tough question.  I don’t have the answer.  I think the first woman president most likely must come from a State governorship with a proven track record of accomplishment.  Alternatively, she must be a leader of another venue with substantive accomplishment, not merely advocacy, and not merely an accomplished triangulator.

When I consider Hillary, I compare her to women in public life that I respect:

Kathleen Sebelius – Field General for Obamacare.  Quiet, determined, hasn’t yet blown an incredibly complex assignment in spite of all the carping and sabotage from the usual suspects.

Sheila Bair – former head of the FDIC.  Provided sound leadership of a critical institution at a critical time and apparently could stand toe-to-toe with the Boys’ Club and not flinch.  Could be a team player when required, and speak her mind when needed.

Lisa Murkowski – Senator from Alaska – makes Sara Palin look like the wanna-be Momma Grizzly that she is.  Has more testicular fortitude than most Republicans and Democrats.  I may not agree with all of her positions, but I respect her independence of thought in a political neighborhood where that trait is generally fatal.

Elisabeth Warren – Fought for consumer rights before it was cool, and long before the systemic abuses became so blatant that her position could no longer be rationally denied.  Green to the Senate, she has nonetheless wasted no time in bringing some moral indignation to an institution that otherwise seems grossly short on moral compass. Needs to ripen on the vine a bit, and achieve the kind of solid accomplishment she was capable of but denied in her role forming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It may be that none of the above ladies would have all the necessary attributes of an effective president, but they each reflect qualities and a level of attainment that I find lacking in Hillary. If women in the US are to achieve the next milestone of political advancement in the coming or some future presidential race, they must pick the best horse, and not the one that can prance with the greatest flair.

Redemption

But Hillary, for all that she has invested in her aspirations, should not be denied an opportunity to earn what she believes is her destiny, and she still has an opportunity.

First, she needs to mount a concerted advocacy against the anti-women, anti-family agendas of the current US Congress and many state legislatures. She needs to rally and LEAD women and the men who value them to get off their apathy and demonstrate that they are a philosophical and electoral force to be reckoned with.

Second, she needs to lead the charge to create in 2014 and maintain in 2016 a Congress that she can work with.  If she fails that, she will be no more successful than her predecessor, and possibly not as effective. Her own party is her second biggest obstacle to the White House.

Third, she needs to articulate, not triangulate, some clear and compelling policy initiatives that she is prepared to stand or fall on.

*  *  *

Leadership requires clarity of purpose and courage. While I empathize with Obama’s circumstance, we must move beyond it in the next presidential term. We have critical issues that cannot be deferred due to deception and political destruction by a minority Taliban of the radical right, or the dithering and diffusion of energies and purpose by a narcissistic Left.

If women are to advance their cause, they must first unify around a core agenda that can bring them together in critical mass, and then choose the best candidate, male or female, to advance that cause.  If Hillary is to earn that opportunity, she must do it with more than a well oiled PR machine.

The time to act is now. The clock is ticking.

Onward

20130627

Desperately Seeking Hillary

They yearn for Hillary.

" What would Hillary have done ? "

" If only Hillary had won,…."

" Hillary would have…"

Who are 'they'?  Democrats, of course.  And, interestingly, some Republicans.

But she didn't win.  Get over it, and tip-toe back into reality.

And, to help you with that painful exercise, let's take " If only Hillary "  out for a test drive and see where we wind up.

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