Thursday, October 24, 2013
Ever since I could remember I’d wished I’d been lucky enough to be alive at that great time-when something big was going on, like the Crucifixion. And suddenly I realized I was. Here I was living through another Crucifixion.
— Ben Shahn, On painting a gouache: Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco (1932
He could not do it by himself. He had to be joined by others as committed as he. He had to be joined by others as mindless as he. And joined by legions of tea partiers he was. Many of them from Texas. Among them was Representative Joe Barton (R. TX). Mr. Barton is former chairman of the House Energy Conference Committee. It was he who famously explained in 2010 (when questioning the wisdom of deficit spending to fund national wind turbine energy )that: “Wind is the way you shift the heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up?” Addressing the effects of the tea party caucus as the government shutdown began he said: “I think the conservatives in the House have had some notable successes. You’re never 100 percent successful but we certainly saved lots and lots of money.” He was presumably not referring to the fact that the shutdown was estimated to have cost the government somewhere between $12 billion and $24 billion.
Of course Joe Barton and Ted Cruz were not the only performers from Texas. Congressman Louie Gohmert was also in favor of the government shutdown. He did not realize that the shutdown would have consequences. He was outraged when he learned that the World War II Veteran’s Memorial had been shutdown. In an interview with Glen Beck he said: “All you can figure is that somebody intentionally did this to make it difficult for World War II veterans. Just to create pain. Just for political gain.” He must have been right because Rep. Steve Stockman, one of his Congressional colleagues from Texas issued a press release in which he said: “Obama and Democrats are curb-stomping veterans because they believe their allies in the mainstream media will falsely blame it on Republicans, even though order to kill funding and close war memorials come on the letterhead of Democrat leaders and the White House.”
At the better-known crucifixion there were seven last words. At the Cruzifixion of the United States Ted Cruz held forth for more than 21 hours in order to prevent the U.S. Senate from legislating. In the 21 hours he spoke he spoke mostly nonsense. His most cogent moments came when he read aloud the children’s story of “Green Eggs and Ham”, a story that seemed singularly inapposite since the character who insisted he disliked green eggs and ham ended up telling his tutor, Sam-I-Am, “I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am.” That subtlety escaped Mr. Cruz’s notice who at the end of his 21-hour soliloquy still hated Obamacare. Many of his words were little more than mean spirited attacks on programs Ted Cruz did not understand and a man he could not stand.
When it became apparent that the party in the loony bin was coming to an end, the Republican members of the House reached out to the Lord. On October 15, two days before the government shut down came to an end, Republican members of the House joined together in singing a rousing version of an old hymn, “Amazing Grace”. They were led by Rep. Steve Southerland (R. FL). They sang the song in lieu of the morning prayer. Like Mr. Cruz in reading the children’s book, they didn’t fully understand the words of the hymn they sang. The first stanza is singularly appropriate to the conclusion of their tactics to keep the government shut down in place:
“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” On the 17th day the shutdown ended and the country was resurrected.
Some might think that having been defeated Mr. Cruz would have taken his cross and gone home. He has not. On the day that the government shutdown came to a close he put a hold on the approval by the senate of the nomination of Tom Wheeler to be the head of the F.C.C. He says the hold will be released as soon as he receives certain assurances from the nominee. Once he receives those assurances he will take his cross and together they will wander off in the political wilderness in search of new programs to Cruzify. Time will tell what they may be.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Tell the president that the way to solve his problem is to find that one man who would turn out to be . . . possessed of . . . a passion for anonymity.
— Tom Jones, (private secretary to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin) 1936
A number of readers have written asking if I would explain how the reader should deal with information the reader has received that the reader wants to share with the outside world but is prohibited from doing so for a variety of reasons. The question is asked because recipients of such information are often anxious to share their privileged information with members of the media in order to seem important or because they think the information they have is so important that they should share it. I cannot tell people what the preferred method of sharing such information is (Edgar Snowden is not a good example) but this column hopes to demonstrate, how the injunction has been avoided in different cases. The reader may file them away for future reference should he or she ever be told a secret that is simply too good to keep secret.
The first trick of the disclosure trade is to learn the proper use of the word “anonymous.” That word is essentially a “get out of jail free” card if the bearer of a secret discloses the secret to others. The following are some examples of really confidential information that was nonetheless disclosed by its possessor to a member of the media without fear of any untoward consequences by declaring himself or herself to be “anonymous” even though the person with whom “anonymous” is speaking knows exactly who anonymous is.
An associated press report dated October 6, 2013 concerned a successful raid in Libya by Navy SEALS that annoyed the Libyan government because it was successful as well as an unsuccessful raid by a Delta force in Somalia that didn’t annoy anyone since it was unsuccessful. The raid in Libya resulted in the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi a suspected Libyan al-Qaida figure. Since the raid was successful and since he is the Secretary of State, John Kerry spoke proudly and publicly of the raid saying the capture “makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in the effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.” A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said al-Libi was immediately taken out of the country. Neither man requested that he be described as being an anonymous source.
The Somalian raid was less successful. There was a fierce firefight as a result of which the Delta team had to retreat without accomplishing its objective. The circumstances of that attack were described by U.S. officials but they spoke anonymously because they were “not authorized to discuss the raid publicly.” By speaking anonymously what they said was not being discussed publicly even though what they said was widely reported in the media.
On October 9 there was a report about the status of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban who had been in detention in Pakistan. A disagreement between the Taliban and Pakistan as to Baradar’s status arose. The Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, insisted Baradar remained in captivity and Pakistani officials insisted that Baradar was free but living under tight security so he could be protected. The Pakistani assurances came from officials “who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the issue.” The reader was left to decide Baradar’s status but could not rely on what was published because the sources were not permitted to speak.
Another way of disclosing confidential information is to explain that the disclosure is “off the record” thus rendering it slightly less interesting, but certainly not less reportable, than if it were on the record. On October 13 it was reported that four men were arrested by British security officials who, the report said, were planning an attack similar to that carried out at the Kenyan Westgate Mall. The official who was describing the planned attack spoke to the reporters “on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the record.” Since it was not on the record his comments were fine.
A final example of not disclosing while disclosing comes from an October 16 Associated Press description of the nuclear discussions being conducted in Geneva between Iran and the European Union. A woman privy to the discussions described the status of the talks but insisted on anonymity since she wasn’t authorized to “divulge details of the closed meeting. “ Another person, who was described as a former senior U.N. official, described what was being demanded of Iran by the six powers. He spoke to reporters “on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the talks.”
Armed with the foregoing, all readers need do if they would like to attain public anonymity and the perks that accompany it, is find some really good secret and a media person with whom to share it. Good luck with that.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
A savage-creating stubborn-pulling fellow. . . .
—Aristophanes, Frogs 405 B.C.
There are many unkind things one can say about John Boehner, all of them true, but there must be a limit. It is unfair to compare him to Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq or Hamid Kharzai of Afghanistan. Not that the comparison is not almost irresistibly tempting.
Because of Mr. al-Maliki’s intransigence when negotiating with President Bush in 2008, Iraq and the United States were unable to enter into a status-of-forces agreement that the two countries had hoped to arrive at by July 31, 2008. Mr. al-Maliki refused to agree to the terms insisted upon by the United States the most important of which pertained to granting legal immunity to U.S. troops and Defense Department personnel from Iraqi prosecution for alleged crimes. Mr. al-Maliki and his government were under great pressure to reject any agreement that was perceived to infringe upon Iraqi sovereignty. On November 27, 2008 the Iraqi Parliament “ratified”: a Status of Forces Agreement with the United States that provided all U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30,2009 and all U.S. forces would be out of that country by December 31, 2011. In December 2011 U.S. forces withdrew. It all worked out as Mr. al-Maliki hoped but for one small detail. Iraqi forces cannot keep the peace. Since the agreement was signed and through September 2013, 10,864 Iraqis have been killed) and 10,394 Iraqis have been injured as a result of conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites. During the first six days of October, 135 Iraqis were killed including 12 school children whose elementary school was attacked. On the 7th day of October 59 people were killed. No one has died because of Mr. Boehner’s intransigence.
It is not fair to compare Mr. Boehner to Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai. Just as Mr. Boehner and the administration have reached an impasse in their talks, so, too, have the United States and Afghanistan reached an impasse in their talks as to the future of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2013. Mr. Karzai wants U.S. forces out of the country in 2014 but wants the United States to guarantee the country’s security. If following the withdrawal of forces by the U.S. the Afghan forces are unable to control the violence or insurgents from Pakistan, Mr. Karzai wants a guarantee that the U.S. will return to help. Another sticking point is the U.S. insistence that it wants to continue to hunt down al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai doesn’t want U.S. troops hunting in Afghanistan unless specifically invited to do so by Afghanistan. He wants the U.S. to turn over information about al-Qaida operatives to the Afghan forces and let those forces deal with the problem. Those are the same forces that Mr. Karzai thinks will be unable to maintain peace and security in Afghanistan and, therefore, wants the U.S. to guarantee that it will return to help out if those fears are well founded.
Just as Mr. Boehner keeps going back to his Republican caucus to see what to do to resolve the impasse in the U.S. Mr. Karzai has announced that he will convene the Loya Jirga assembly of local representatives to see what he should do. Explaining his reasons Mr. Karzai sounds like Mr. Boehner talking about the Republicans in his caucus. Mr. Karzai said: “The people of Afghanistan are the rulers, the decisions of the country lie with the people of Afghanistan, so whatever the people of Afghanistan decide, the government will obey.” Mr. Karzai explains he will submit “all aspects” of the agreement to the assembly. Like Mr. Karzai, Mr. Boehner cannot make any decisions without consulting with his caucus. As Mr. Karzai explains when contemplating the possibility that NATO troops will all be withdrawn absent an agreement he said: “The agreement has to suit Afghanistan’s interests and purposes. If it doesn’t suit us and if it doesn’t suit them then naturally we will go separate ways.”
Mr. Boehner is also going his separate way. No one has died because of his actions. Of course more than 7,000 children enrolled in head start programs have no place to go, employees at those schools are left without incomes. If the shutdown lasts through November 87,000 children will be impacted. Michigan plans to eliminate cash and food aid to the poor. Nutrition aid programs for women and children in North Carolina have been closed. Those are just tiny examples of the effects of the shutdown. And, of course, none of that compares with the level of violence that will certainly hit Afghanistan if NATO forces pull out of that country without an agreement for its security in place. In the U.S. no one will be killed because of the shutdown. A few might starve but that’s a small price to pay for living in one of the best-run countries in the world. Just ask John Boehner.