Thursday, April 13, 2017

Killer of All Nations

When--as announced with great fanfare today-- the US dropped a bomb on Afghanistan with the largest destructive yield of any non-nuclear device ever used by any nation, it followed aspects of several depressing patterns.

First, as has been traditional since even before the days of Nazi Germany, a western nation test dropped its latest bomb on a third world target.  It's likely that the audience intended for this blast included leadership in North Korea and China, Syria and Russia.  Russia, which has been testing its latest weapons in Syria, seems to me likely to counter with some use of one of their own enormous new devices.

The attack was announced the same day as a report surfaced of White House plans to attack North Korea if it tests another nuclear device.  No knowledgeable observer doubts that the North Koreans would retaliate, with massive loss of life in South Korea and beyond.  As one of Lawrence O'Donnell's guest experts said, things that should never be discussed are being discussed.  Partly because both North Korea and the US have unhinged leaders.

 Second, part of the admitted purpose of dropping it was to scare the shit out of the enemy and the surrounding populace--shades of Shock and Awe in Iraq.  And other direct connections to Vietnam.  None of those sickening precedents turned out well.

Homemade Hitler is making a show of giving the military free reign--which has the handy byproduct of encouraging them to like him.  All the better to use them for his apprentice dictatorship.

But a current result has been more civilian deaths and butcheries caused by American weapons, as reported today as well in Syria.  Homemade Hitler campaigning on killing the families of suspected terrorists, and his view of who potential terrorists might be, judging from his immigration policies, is pretty wide.

A few paragraphs from the New York Times report today, with emphasis added:

American commanders in Iraq and Syria have been given more authority to call in strikes, a loosening of the reins that began in the last month of the Obama administration. But some national security experts said that Mr. Trump and the Pentagon risked inflaming anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world with their approach to fighting the Islamic State.

The number of civilian casualties reported in American-led strikes in Iraq and Syria has increased since Mr. Trump took office, and March was the deadliest month for civilians ever recorded by Airwars, a group that tracks bombings. Reports of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria jumped to 3,471 from 1,782 the month before, the group said.

“Trump has ceded responsibilities to his military commanders, and it appears he’s paying little attention to operational details,” said Derek Chollet, who was the assistant secretary of defense for international affairs in the Obama administration.

Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Pentagon was being given leeway to carry out strategy without being told what, exactly, the overarching strategy is. “What they haven’t been given is a lot of strategic guidance to work with,” he said. “They can affect things, but without a guiding strategy, it’s hard to be sure you’re having the desired effect.”

But the increased casualties in Syria “cannot be explained away simply by the increased tempo of the war,” said Chris Woods, director of Airwars.

He noted that the number of airstrikes and targets hit actually fell slightly in March, but said his group’s research indicated that civilian deaths had risen sixfold in Syria, with more than 350 killed last month alone.

“This indicates to us a possible loosening of U.S. battlefield rules,” he said, “which is placing civilians at greater risk of harm.”

R.I.P. Dan Rooney

Second only to his father, "The Chief," Dan Rooney was the most beloved figure in Pittsburgh in my lifetime.  A few, like the late mayor Richard Caliguiri and several venerable local media stars might come close, but Rooney likely surpasses them.

Rooney's death was announced today.  He was 84.

He was heir to the Pittsburgh Steelers who oversaw decades of success, bringing six Super Bowl trophies to the city.  But he tested that popularity with his leadership in fighting racism in the NFL, formulating the Rooney Rule that requires that candidates of color be interviewed for top coaching jobs.  He tested it again by openly advocating for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections.

Pittsburghers were proud of his influence on the NFL, and they learned something from his calm and conciliatory style.  The NYTimes obituary chronicles his achievements.

He was with the Steelers for his entire working life (starting as a water boy), except for several years as Ambassador to Ireland (where he visited every county.) He was appointed by President Obama, who issued a statement today that reads:

"Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage. I knew he'd do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland think fondly of him today.

"And I know the people of Pittsburgh, who loved him not only for the Super Bowl championships he brought as the owner of the Steelers, but for his generosity of spirit, mourn his passing today. Michelle and I offer our condolences to the Rooney family, some of the most gracious and thoughtful people we know -- even as we celebrate the life of Dan Rooney: a championship-caliber good man."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Peace Sign

In the 1960s there was the "peace sign," the two finger salute that Winston Churchill previously used to denote V for Victory, and that Richard Nixon turned into a signature two handed cliche.

Now there's Keith Olbermann ending his "The Resistance" rants with a full open palm sign as he says the word "Peace."  At times it's a nearly hilarious gesture, as he goes to it directly from his escalating righteous anger.  His latest is a case in point.

But like a lot Olbermann has done, there's a history.  Maybe he's acknowledged or explained it, or maybe he'd deny it, but it seems clear to me.  He's doing Dave Garroway.

Dave Garroway was the first host of the NBC TV show "Today."  In the 1950s he was an early morning fixture.  There were only three national networks, and Today was the only national morning show.  Everybody watched him.

He had an easy-going manner--pretty much the opposite of Olbermann--- and didn't take himself that seriously.  After all, his co-host was a chimp.  No, really, a chimp, named J. Fred Muggs.

But he also became known as someone who could explain big stories and national issues, and why they were important, in ways that a lot of people could understand.  He was called "the Communicator."

Perhaps that's what Olbermann aspires to be.  There's something of a similiar eclectic background.  Olbermann started in sports broadcasting, and has gone back and forth between sports and politics.  Garroway started out as a radio DJ, a humorous feature reporter for KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, then a Chicago TV talk show host.

In any event, Dave Garroway ended every Today Show broadcast with that same open palm sign, and that single word, "Peace."

See? It's this kind of penetrating trivia you have me around to give you.

Blow It Up

I did not want to be spending my time chronicling what was so depressingly easy to foresee.  But here I am, still doing it.  For now.

When you are an unprincipled politician in the White House, let alone an apprentice dictator, and things are going badly, your policies are failing, your poll numbers are dropping, people aren't taking you seriously, what else do you do but send the American military out to blow something up.

At least this time they didn't start with a country.  Just an airfield.  But as a trial balloon, a pilot for a more extensive series, it worked great.  US media ate it up.

And if you find yourself slowly encircled by federal law enforcement, by the FBI and (at least until January 20) the CIA, you need to change the subject, and the best way to do that is to send the American military out to blow something up.  That only works long term however if you can whip up patriotic feeling and identify horrible enemies.  Fortunately they are always out there, ready made.

So now the media is talking about Syria and Russia, and not about the latest happenings in the White House regime--when it was a campaign--coordinating with Russia to bend the presidential election their way by unlawful means.  If you're interested, Rachel Maddow connects the most recent dots.

Keith Olbermann and Paul Krugman call the bombing a stunt.  It's more complicated than that, and more cynical, because the suffering and killing from chemical weapons is real.  But basically, if a stunt is a big noise with little effect done for politics, yes.  It was and is.

I don't know how many ways I have to say it but it's been clear from the beginning. The only way our apprentice dictator succeeds is by war.

The media loves war, for awhile, but for long enough.  Low wattage voters love war, as long as other peoples' sons and daughters are fighting it.  It's a little dicey, since war is more unpopular than it has ever been, but with the right marketing it can be sold.

  War also helps gain control of the military, which our apprentice dictator needs to become a master.  He already has the border patrol and immigration, where fascism is ascendant.  It seems that everything to do with travel, from the TSA to the airlines themselves, is going in an authoritarian direction.  Maybe that's the first place that the intersection of authoritarian rule and the rule of money becomes obvious.

There's another group worth mentioning.  Lacking the same national profile as in the past, white Evangelicals weren't talked about much in 2016.  But they voted, overwhelmingly for Homemade Hitler.  They voted for a Supreme Court that will end legal abortion.

They are also deeply embedded in the R party.  The youth movement that was brought into the R party in the latter 1980s and 90s, that served as foot soldiers in 2000 and in the Bush administration, had as their entry point into politics the evangelical movement, and political organizations founded and run by evangelicals (including Catholics.)  Some of them are highly placed in this White House.

In the New York Review of Books, the eminent Garry Wills reviews the eminent Frances FitzGerald's new book on American evangelicals.  He notes what it is easy for some of us to forget, that evangelicals are all about the coming apocalypse, which they welcome, because the world is damned, but they will be saved.  That, and the highly emotional appeal, motivates them to disdain science and social justice, because they just miss the point, when they aren't evidence of worshipping false gods.

Their most emotional issue is what they call the "baby murder" of abortion. Notice how many times Homemade Hitler said "babies" in describing the television pictures that he said motivated his attack. But even without this specific motivation, war can spark their enthusiasm, especially as it is seen to hasten Armageddon.  This only adds to the frenzy fed by the media.

And here I've wasted another chunk of my dwindling functional time, rattling on about the obvious, when others can do it for larger audiences.  Whatever the tragic flaw was that brought Homemade Hitler into power, the tragedy was thereafter inevitable. Maybe it's resistance of a sort.  But it's not all that healthy to be doing play by play.