A Blog on Politics, Principles, and Uncovering the Narrative

The Slow and Brutal Dementia of the Right-Wing Base

It is astonishing that this race is within the margin of error.

Many on the left are astounded that so many conservative Christians in Georgia would reject a compassionate, profound, and clean-living Christian pastor like Reverend Raphael Warnock, and instead prefer the deranged and hedonistic pathological liar Herschel Walker. The thing is, this is nothing new; the phenomenon goes back to Ronald Reagan, and has only been growing since then.

People were incredulous when an actor, Ronald Reagan, who was clearly not too bright, ran for office. We believed his popularity was due to his acting skills, his charisma and charm—which, at least in part, was true enough. His supporters were perfectly willing to ignore the dim-witted nature of the man, instead creating their own image of his power and brilliance in defiance of what everyone witnessed.

But then republicans got behind George W. Bush, a privileged, former-drug-using, bullying little snot who was a serial liar, an AWOL draft-dodger, and clearly dumb as a post.

Not too long after that, republicans went absolutely wild over Sarah Palin, a corrupt, lying idiot who couldn’t answer even the simplest of questions—and even preferred her over John McCain, who, while he had his own issues, was at least pretty smart, and was a war hero to boot.

And then, of course, there is Donald Trump, who topped the chart with his pathological lying, his malignant narcissism, his appeals to violence and hatred; his cheating, stealing, and fraud; his racism, misogyny, and open contempt for disadvantaged people; his openly criminal intent, his open assault on institutions and truth, and even his hostility to democracy itself. He became not just their hero, but their savior. Their fealty and adoration turn out to have been not opportunistic but true, as it maintains its intensity even beyond his usefulness to right-wing desires.

With each of these inept, easily-manipulated, unqualified, and clearly broken people, their corruption and ill deeds just got more and more outrageous as their intelligence shrunk to almost vanishing insignificance.

Herschel Walker is nothing new; he is simply the latest in a clear trend, a progression—or, more accurately, a regression—towards a crushing singularity of lies, debauchery, and stupidity.

And so we find that an increasing number of republican voters not only don’t respond to intelligence, character, or values, they in fact don’t give a rat’s ass to any of it. All they care about is one thing:

Will they rule in my name?

Beyond that, most republicans could care less about the person. Put a known pedophile, a rapist, even a mass murderer up for republican candidacy, the ever-growing base will vote red.

Even worse, it actually seems that the more reprehensible and asinine the candidate is, the more they vote for them. One might think that the republican base was simply voting for whomever ran on the republican ticket, but no—they actually seem to prefer lying, corrupt, idiotic scumbags.

As confounding as this may be, once you look closer at the culture, and see the contempt for compassion, the destructive “make the world a worse place” attitude, their joy in making people they don’t like suffer for their entertainment, and their unrestrained desire to serve their animal pleasure of domination of others, you begin to realize that these people suffer from a sort of sadistic nihilism. Hurting people is the whole point. Wrecking the world is what they want. And they seem to not care the least about values or consequences.

Herschel Walker, in fact, may be even closer than Trump to being the embodiment of the republican base.

We have to realize that their behavior is not an accident or even very fringe; it is, in fact, a movement in and of itself.

No, They Don’t Want That

Neither Trump nor republicans want the affidavit released, just as they didn’t want the search warrant released.

This is a very common republican tactic: by demanding to have something released when they believe it is unlikely that will happen, they can raise doubt while at the same time pretending that they have nothing to hide.

Well, that backfired when it came to the search warrant: Garland got the warrant and receipts released, to the vast embarrassment of Trump and the GOP.

Now they’re screaming for the affidavit, as if somehow that will fully exonerate Trump. This time, they feel more confident that it will not be released, as releasing affidavits is very rare.

Of course, they might actually get their wish—and if they do, they will surely regret it. An affidavit would show the cause the FBI had in asking for the search warrant—and that could potentially be worse for Trump than the search warrant was.

Of course, republicans have another motive: the affidavit would reveal the FBI’s source(s) that they supposedly have within the Trump inner circle, or at least clues as to who it could be. This would help them because it would give them a target to endlessly smear and accuse—not to mention signal to their fringe crazies that open season is on for snitches.

If the affidavit is released, which it probably won’t be, it would hopefully be heavily redacted to hide all sensitive information.

In Which Conservatives Hold That Liberals Are Racists

Common right-wing claim: Liberals are racist.

Argument: liberals believe that black people cannot achieve anything on their own, and need special help and favors, whereas republicans respect the ability of black people to succeed on their own.

Flaw: This argument makes many extremely fallacious assumptions:

1. That racism and other impediments do not exist; that people of color share an even playing field with white people, and have an equal chance to succeed in any enterprise.

2. That liberals believe that racism has no impact; without this assumption, liberals would only be misguided, not racist.

3. That liberals believe that people of color cannot successfully compete in a fair and equitable environment, and so push artificial advantages on them that they do not need, eroding their self-confidence and self-reliance.

Ergo, since liberals believe people of color are inferior, liberals are racist.

That’s not some distortion I cooked up, that is the actual theory as explained to me by various conservatives. I will assume for this writing that any conservative making this argument atually believes it. Many likely do. But many know the argument is a crock and spread it because it serves and entertains them.

So let’s unravel the flaws:

1. The core of the argument, of course, hinges upon the assumption that racism simply isn’t a thing, that it has no significant impact. This is outrageously wrong; the evidence that racism exists, both personal and institutional, and has a substantial impact, is overwhelming, to say the least; it takes a fantastic level of willing blindness and denial to state otherwise.

2. The very idea that liberals do not believe that racism exists or has any impact is laughable.

3. Liberals do not fight to give people of color any advantages. All that liberals try to do is to remove obstacles created by racism and level the playing field. Not even close to the same thing. Liberals, for example, want to establish hiring guidelines, workplace rules, and other protocols that make the job market equitable and fair.

Of course, conservatives would not agree to many of these basic facts. They argue that racism has no impact in society, using fallacious examples like “we elected a black president” and “employers hire strictly on merit.” They use anecdotal evidence as if it were statistical; just last week, a conservative argued that of course the playing field is level, because “black millionaires and billionaires exist.” I hope that I do not have to explain to the reader where the flaw in this argument resides.

Furthermore, they expect liberals believe the exact same thing, or else are deluded.

And, since they believe (or claim to believe) that the playing field is level, they see any attempt to actually level the playing field as giving black people a decided advantage. Imagine a white person going into a room where they are told that they will get equitable snacks, and find that they are given 15 while a black person across the table has been given 5. An arbiter appears and says, “There has been a mistake, you got too many and the other person was given too few; we shall even things out.” The white person sees any attempt to give 5 of his snacks to the black person as unfair theft. The white person assumes that the unequal distribution is because they somehow deserve more, and that the lack for the black person is because they did something wrong. Human nature tells us that the reasoning is more venal: “I got the bigger share, for whatever reason, and I intend to keep it.”

When people are born with wealth stolen from others, many won’t and don’t question its validity; as the saying goes, “People born on third base believe that they just hit a triple.” They believe that the advantage is earned or otherwise natural and deserved. They also argue that since white people are often poor, this means that black people cannot be at a disadvantage. “I had to fight tooth and nail to get where I am, and have always had it really rough” is a common right-wing protest that they have it just as bad as black people do. It ignores the possibility that someone else had it worse, or that a much higher percentage of black people than white people have that problem.

Conservatives claim that 230 of years of slavery and 160 years of racial discrimination had no relevant economic impact in favor of white people or at the cost of black people; this idea is ludicrous on its face.

Conservatives deny the facts plainly established, such as that banks favor white people and disfavor black people when it comes to loans, that black people looking for jobs are denied even an interview 50% more often even when they have equal qualifications as white applicants, or that black people are treated differently by police.

So, is the truth that conservatives are racist? One could easily argue that anyone making such a preposterous argument about race as the one detailed above easily fits the bill. However, I will simply note the truism that “While not all republicans are racist, racists are usually republicans.”

Playing the Racist Card

When you hear right-wingers demand Ketanji Brown Jackson’s LCAT scores, do not respond to them by noting that she is an experienced judge at the Circuit level. They know that. That’s not their message.

You have to remember that republicans have laid down a heavy carpet of racist propaganda over the past many decades which makes the assertion that no black person ever achieved anything except through affirmative action. You have probably seen a number of TV shows and movies where someone says to a perfectly qualified white male, “We can’t hire anyone but a minority woman.”

While no white person, according to conservatives, ever has to question if their accomplishments were buoyed by racism—they are outlawing even the expression of that very idea as we speak—every black person must assume that any advantage or higher position they attained was not earned, but instead tainted, given to them in acts of reverse racism: “They only got there by being black.” If you want an example, look no farther than Obama.

And yes, of course it is hypocritical. While Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker is claiming that Jackson is just a “quota” nominee because Biden said he’d only put a black woman on the court, he made no such objections when Trump said he’d put a woman on the court.

 When the wingnuts like Tucker Carlson demand to see The Honorable Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s LCAT scores, they do not actually want to see the scores—they know they would be outstanding. What they are doing in demanding them is reminding their base that simply because she is black, she is by definition not qualified. They are communicating by dog whistle the idea that Jackson’s rise to the D.C. Circuit Court was only achieved by liberals hiring an unqualified black woman because reverse racism demanded it, and the proof is that Jackson is not revealing her LCAT scores.

The actual reason Jackson probably won’t reveal those scores is because the very request is condescending, demeaning, and insulting, not to mention outright racist; despite having less experience and qualifications, Amy Coney Barrett was never asked to do so. It would be like demanding that a nuclear physicist take a remedial high school math test by people known the hate the person for personal reasons. Agreeing to do it would be to reward the most disgustingly dishonest of people, and to invite even more abusive demands in the future. If Jackson did provide her LCAT scores and showed them to be what we all know they are, pundits like Carlson would only pivot and move the goal posts, demanding to see all her emails or private notes or whatever came next. You give a rat a cookie, it’s going to want a glass of milk.

No matter how dishonestly disguised, the only reservations that have been forwarded about The Honorable Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson have been, at their heart, racist. Because that’s the only play republicans have against her.

Guns and Responsibility

Read this article about a gun owner’s attitude toward Kyle Rittenhouse. It gets to the heart of gun control. Not directly, but in the assumptions made.

I live in Japan, where guns are effectively banned; it’s incredibly safe here. In the US, however, that’s not really an option. Guns aren’t going away anytime in the foreseeable future.

However, what the right wing wants is not the freedom to own and use guns; instead, what they demand is the liberty to buy and use guns without any conditions—and, more and more, without any penalties for irresponsible misuse, either.

Gun control is the responsible medium. Now, gun advocates will immediately assume that gun control is a ban, making it so that only criminals have guns because they can just decide to break the laws.

This, however, is blatantly false: despite the NRA propaganda, gun control does not ban guns, it does not deny guns to law-abiding citizens, and it does not proliferate guns in the hands of criminals.

It does the exact opposite.

Gun control is not a ban on weapons, it allows law-abiding citizens to own and use guns, and it minimizes the number of guns that criminals possess.

In fact, under even the strictest gun control now in effect in the US, the number of guns has actually increased while the amount of crime has decreased.

This goes against what many gun opponents feel is correct: that the fewer guns you have, the better things will be. That assumption is not fully correct. The key element is not the number of guns… instead, it is a matter of the people who possess them.

To understand this, you have to understand that most gun control in the US today is compromised by something called “The Patchwork Quilt.” That is, instead of there being one strong federal law for the whole country, gun control opponents have forced each state, county, and city to draft their own laws—creating a patchwork of areas, often in close proximity, where laws controlling guns can be strict or lax, allowing criminals who live in gun control areas to violate the laws with simplicity and ease.

Chicago does indeed have a gun control problem: it is called “Indiana.” All that a criminal has to do to defeat Chicago’s gun control laws is to drive to Gary and buy his guns there. The large number of guns taken from criminals in New York State proves the efficacy of the state’s gun control laws, as the vast majority were bought out of state and brought back in.

Gun control laws work, but are defeated by nearby areas where there is little or no gun control.

Amusingly, Oklahoma and Nebraska made the case for this by suing Colorado over its recreational marijuana laws: they claimed that since their own citizens could just drive to Colorado and get weed and bring it back, it compromised their own attempts to outlaw the drug. They were, effectively, arguing for federal gun control, they just hadn’t thought about the implications of their argument.

Gun control opponents, however, will ignore the Patchwork Quilt and simply say that gun control doesn’t work because it doesn’t work, trotting out the old propaganda line laid out by the NRA.

The thing is, we have a valid test case for gun control: Hawaii. In the 70’s, Hawaii had a gun crime problem, like much the rest of the country. In 1981, they made a new set of laws, strict gun controls which constituted the strongest such laws in any state in the country. They required training, testing, background checks, licensing, and registration, along with greater restrictions against guns classified as assault rifles.

If we are to believe the NRA line, Hawaii should have descended into hell: law-abiding citizens should have been stripped of their guns, while criminals roamed the streets, the only ones armed.

The reality, however, proved just the opposite: gun deaths and gun crimes in general dropped by more than half almost overnight, and stayed that way from that time forward. Today, Hawaii has one of the lowest, if not the lowest gun crime rate in the country.

Why is this a test case? Because the Patchwork Quilt cannot affect Hawaii. Being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii has a built-in moat: you cannot drive to Alaska to get guns and then drive them back.

Hawaii proves the case that gun control not only can work in the US, but that it does work in the US—so long as there are no holes in the coverage.

But here’s where we get the twist: after enforcing these laws, not only were law-abiding citizens still able to get guns… but the sheer number of legally owned guns has skyrocketed. The number of guns owned in Hawaii has consistently grown over time. There are more and more guns every year.

This will make most gun control advocates scratch their heads. Wait, more guns are better?

Well, not exactly, It is not the number of guns that matter, but instead how they are allowed

This brings us back to the article I linked to at the start of this post. The author writes:

I’ve owned guns all my life. … When it was time for my son to learn to hunt, we took a hunter safety course together, and I tried to teach him these important lessons just as my father had taught them to me. …the most important thing about owning a gun for protection [is that you] do everything possible to make sure you never have to use it. …

Professional police officers know how to handle a weapon, and the best cops know how to de-escalate a tense situation — they know how to keep it from getting worse. A young vigilante knows none of these things. 

And this brings the point home: America could be a “safe gun” country, if we had gun control—something that gun advocates fight tooth and nail to prevent. Oh, sure, they’ll say they approve of safe gun use—but they will do everything in their power to prevent it from being required.

And if it is not required, then few will do it.

Background checks have been proven over and over again as effective means of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, while allowing law-abiding citizens free access. Yes, opponents will bring up apocryphal examples of a law-abiding citizen caught in some bureaucratic snafu—but such cases are the rare exceptions, not the rule.

And training? Why in holy hell would anyone oppose training in gun safety and gun use? It makes no sense whatsoever—unless you want to use guns without any requirement for personal responsibility.

And if you want to bring up the tired cliché about tyrants using registration lists to confiscate weapons, I would direct you back through your portal to the fantasyland from which you emerged. Tyrants and fascists are typically ushered in by those who have the guns in the first place.

Hawaii proved the case: strong gun control works, so long as it is not compromised by gaping holes every other city, county, and state.

Kyle Rittenhouse and those who laud him as a hero are the quintessential example of how fetishistic gun culture in the US has brought us our current sad state of rampant gun crime and death.

We can have our guns, and our safety—but only if we’re willing to be responsible and do it the right way.

It’s a Deal

Trump is at it again: in order to drastically lower his property tax payments, he says that his golf club, assessed by the county as being worth $14 million, is actually only worth 1/10th that: $1.4 million.

So now there’s going to be a huge investigation and brouhaha and an even greater waste of taxpayer money trying to untangle Trump’s lies.

I have a simple solution: the county should accept Trump’s value. And then purchase it from him at his own price, using eminent domain, and use the land to build housing for the homeless.

If Trump says the property is only worth $1.4 million, take him up on it. If he wants to keep it, he can claim it at being his actual price—and pay the damned taxes on it.

That should, in fact, be the standard law for all tax assessments: if anyone with a property assessed at over, say, $5 million, tries to claim it is worth less than that amount, any local or state government should be able to buy it at the stated value, and then either use it, or sell it on the market and recoup the profit.

The Quality of Wealth That Matters

One of the problems that I have with the current liberal messaging is the constant focus on billionaire wealth in terms of total value. Things like, “During the pandemic, billionaires increased their wealth by $1 trillion,” or noting that Elon Musk is now worth something like $6 billion more than a week ago.

The problem is that this does not focus on actual, spendable wealth—instead, this is mostly stock value we’re talking about. And that wealth is not liquid. Saying that Elon Musk is now worth $230 billion does not mean he can spend that much on mansions and private jets—or that he does. All it means is that he controls stock of that value.

And the thing about stocks is that one market crash will wipe out most of that wealth. Tesla stock lost about 35% of its stock value back in March of 2020. It recovered, but it goes to show how the wealth is based upon confidence instead of actual value. And the higher a stock goes, the harder it may crash.

These billions and trillions are only meaningful if the owners are willing to give up their control of the companies.

What is much more meaningful is how much wealth they can personally access, either through money paid to them in salaries or otherwise, resources made available (like Bezos and his “Blue Origin” joyrides), dividend payouts, and actual asset sales. 

Of course, I know that the valuation of the stocks has more of an impact on readers, and may stand in for actual wealth which may be hidden, and I’m OK with it in principle… but it does grate on me to hear this all expressed as if Musk has all that money in his bank account.

These shock-value impressions also ignore the worth of the work being done. Bezos is a monster, in so many ways—but why people are attacking Musk, aside from the total worth of his stock holdings, is beyond me. Musk’s businesses, unlike Bezos’, are actually doing a lot of good. Musk is working on infrastructure, green energy, and future potential—and he’s doing a damn good job at it.

He doesn’t get a grand salary, he mostly borrows off of his stock value; he’s not stashing billions in the Caymans, he’s selling much of his wealth to fund his projects. I’m sure he lives in luxury, but the $230 billion is not going into his back pocket. He’s building stuff with it.

When it was announced that he was the richest man on Earth, Musk tweeted, “How strange … Well, back to work.” The fact that he is now no longer the richest shows how ephemeral that wealth can be. And Musk seems aware of it.

Compare that to Bezos, who seems to be reveling in his wealth while treating his employees like worthless crap.

I’m all for taxing the shit out of Bezos, but we do have to figure out what our message is. If we’re talking tax on personal liquid assets, great. If we’re closing loopholes and other tricks to avoid paying taxes, fantastic. If we want to tax profits overall, terrific.

But unless we’re talking about taxing non-liquid holdings on a daily basis, the whole “Musk just made $6 billion in a week” is, let’s admit it, mostly just for show.

Facebook Jail: How Facebook Empowers Trolls

By attempting to stop trolls, Facebook ineptly empowered them even further—and the reason has to do with Facebook’s own laziness and greed. You may have noticed that a lot of people you know have been put in “Facebook Jail” for seemingly petty offenses. Why is that happening?

I have a page on Facebook that I use to post about politics. I had already been through Facebook’s extortion wringer—they allow you to accrue followers on your page, gain some momentum, and then they kneecap you: they severely limit your ability to reach out to the followers you have gathered while at the same time start hitting you with incessant demands that you pay them to give some of it back to you. I certainly didn’t care enough to pay them a penny, so I just accepted that my page would be muted by its own platform. If you want to be a high-traffic site on Facebook, you have to pay.

But then, at one point a few years ago, I noticed something happening on my page: no one was getting notifications when I put up a post. The only reactions I got were from the few people who actively went to my page to see what I had posted. My reach dropped to zero. What the hell. I could still use Facebook in every other way, but suddenly my voice had been silenced.

I made complaints to Facebook about it, and, predictably, they did nothing. “Customer support” on the service is a fiction; go through the steps to ask them to fix something and all you’ll get are automated responses and no help at all.

After one week, the mysterious ban disappeared. Then, soon after, I got hit with another one. It also lasted exactly one week.

And then again, a third time, shortly after that. Same thing. One week, then back to normal. After that, it stopped.

It took me a bit to figure it out: I had been attacked by trolls.

Facebook has a problem with trolls. Publicly, they claim to want to stop them, but they can’t. Trolls tend to have a great deal of time to attack a problems, and tend to work in packs, helping and supporting each other. Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t want to spare much in the way of money or manpower to truly address the problem.

So they automate.

They create systems which are not announced publicly. If so many complaints are made in such and such a pattern, then a certain penalty is applied. They never announce it because they know that if they do, it can and will be abused.

The trolls are aware of this, and they actively work the system to figure out the latest rules. They share that information amongst themselves, and then use it as a weapon. That’s what happened to my page: trolls figured out that if they report abuse or make some other complaint in a specific way, they could get my page shut down. They do so, and then watch the page and laugh their asses off as the target posts about how they’ve been mysteriously silenced. They take that back to their off-service forums and share it as an accomplishment, as a way to accrue respect and currency amongst their peers. They milk these things as far as they can take them.

So, why does Facebook allow them to get away with this?

The answer is pretty simple: Facebook wants to appear to be dealing with abuse, but they don’t want to actually pay for it. So they automate.

The problem is, a basic truism in strategy in conflict is that if you always react in the exact same way every single time, your opponent can easily use that against you.

So Facebook lays out automated systems that rely on user-reported abuse by trolls, but trolls quickly work out what the system is and then use it in force to abuse their targets even more. In essence, Facebook is only aggravating the problem, not solving it.

Making the problem worse is that the people being attacked are never made aware of it until they are punished; there is no recourse. I was never informed of anyone making complaints, and my “Page Quality” console never showed a single violation. I have no clear idea how exactly they did it, I simply know that they did it.

I am guessing that this is how it worked: Facebook sets up a parameter where if a certain number of complaints of abuse are made by a certain number of different users within a certain period of time, then the page gets muted for a week. This would be allowed to happen three times before any human interaction from Facebook is called for. This means that a site can issue abuse—or be abused—for about a month. Upon the start of a fourth cycle of complaints, an alarm goes off, and a Facebook staffer spends maybe half a minute looking at the situation. If they can see no obvious signs of actual abuse, they then shut off the automated muting mechanism.

There is likely an exception made for high-traffic sites (which, in order to be high-traffic, are paying a fair amount of money to Facebook), where the parameters are set higher and staffer attention is brought in faster. Or maybe not—big spenders may just get the reverse treatment, where they can get reported any number of times and never receive punishment unless they become so abusive that it starts garnering media attention.

However, for the people who don’t “boost” their page—me and you and most Facebook users—they get the punishment, while the trolls get a hearty laugh.

This is a similar problem that you see in copy protection or “DRM” schemes: once a single copy of a movie or song gets out in the wild, it gets shared endlessly, and no copy protection scheme ever works, because somewhere there is a media pirate who always finds a way to get past it. As a result, the DRM scheme is completely ineffective—and, in fact, punishes the people who actually follow the rules by putting restrictions on them that make using the media harder.

Facebook avoids paying a price for this because (a) they hide the workings of it, and (b) they have a virtual monopoly, and know that the users they abuse won’t leave in enough numbers to cost them anything. In fact, all the fuss probably increases traffic and ad views for them.

And so we come to the latest set of rules in Facebook, which seem to be the cause for the now-famous seven- or thirty-day bans referred to as “Facebook Jail.”

You can bet that it is a new set of parameters Facebook set up for dealing with abuse.

You can bet that it is 99% automated.

You can bet that trolls figured it out very quickly and started using it.

And you can bet that the people you know who are disappearing for a week or a month at a time are being sent to Facebook Jail by the very trolls that are supposed to be the ones sent there.

Finger-Pointing and Ass-Covering: No, the CIA Did Not Give Biden Ample Warning

I have seen this article (“CIA warned of rapid Afghanistan collapse. So why did U.S. get it so wrong?“) used repeatedly to claim that Biden had ample early warning that the Afghan forces would collapse and the U.S. would not have time to withdraw adequately.

As far as I can tell, that conclusion is pure BS.

People nowadays seem to read no further than the headlines, and the headlines are written to be sensational; the more specific and meaningful content is in the article. This headline gives the incorrect impression that the Biden administration was fully and adequately warned in time to do things right.

But that’s not what the article actually says. In the first graf:

“As the Taliban began seizing provinces across Afghanistan in recent weeks, the CIA’s intelligence assessments began to warn in increasingly stark terms about the potential for a rapid, total collapse of the Afghan military and government, current and former U.S. officials told NBC News.”

Now break that down in terms of timing. “In recent weeks.” Not months; at most, 4-5 weeks ago. Then, “began to warn.” That says that the initial warnings were lesser than the later ones. Well, which ones? How many? How did they express it?

Not to mention: this was happening at a time when the Taliban had already started their move. Not before.

Then we have to ask, who was doing this? We are only told of “intelligence assessments,” which could mean anything from some lone analyst all the way up to the whole agency concurring. But that is not made clear.

So, at some point soon after the Taliban began their surprising blitz, someone at the CIA wrote a report warning of the advance that was already happening. As the Taliban advanced, the warnings became stronger.

How the hell does that make Biden derelict?

Seriously, as far as I can see, these warnings told Biden nothing that he could not already see, and there is zero—I repeat, zero—indication that Biden did or did not react to it immediately. However, with just a few weeks of knowledge that a blitz—one that surprised everyone, even the Taliban themselves—in the middle of an already-rushed massive withdrawal with a myriad of interdependent moving parts, you cannot expect the military to pivot on a dime and suddenly do in days what it was projected would take months. That is entirely unrealistic.

Now, if, as the headline suggests, the CIA had been pressing Biden with strong warnings at least a month before the advance began and Biden ignored it, that would be something.

But that’s not what this is. This appears to be little more than inter-agency ass-covering, using the media to create a narrative that the agency had it right all along.

An additional point of ire is that Biden’s State Department dragged their feet on getting the translators and other Afghanis who helped us out of the country. Again, angry parties highlighted that they were pressing to get this started early… but if you read the details again, these were only a few weeks before the collapse started, and the article gives a rather powerful reason why it did not happen faster:

“At the State Department, officials are pointing the finger at Congress, which created an onerous 14-step process for the special visa program that diplomats by law must complete before they can issue the visas. No diplomat wants to be the one who cuts a corner and ends up admitting into the U.S. someone who could pose a risk, one diplomat said. Congress ultimately passed legislation streamlining and expanding the program, but not until the end of July.”

In other words, republicans in Congress with hot heads on immigration didn’t want the Afghan helpers to come… the very same republicans who are now throwing scathing attacks at Biden for leaving them behind.

The lowdown is this: everybody screwed up. Bush 43 screwed up getting this started. Trump screwed up by gifting the Taliban with everything they wanted and screwing over the Afghan government and military, as well as our own. From there, you start with a distant third. Biden is somewhere in there, to be sure, but he has a lot of company.

If you see this same headline, or what it seems to convey, cited anywhere—challenge it. It’s incendiary fuel for Biden-haters on the left and the right… but it has practically zero substance.

What you’re seeing is a major disaster, and most of the people who want to avoid responsibility are pointing fingers; this article is an excellent example of this.

In the end, however, Biden is president, and as he said, the buck stops with him. And as such, he is opening the door for all the finger-pointers to point directly at him.

You have to at least respect the fact that the man can take the heat.

Trump would never have done this. In fact, instead of saying “The Buck Stops Here,” he’s pointing his stubby little fingers at Biden, claiming that he, unlike Biden, would have been masterful at the pull-out.

Right. Just like Syria.

Afghanistan, 9/11, Neoconservatism, and Bush: Why We Are Where We Are

There is a mass of criticism against President Biden over the pullout from Afghanistan, but there is one thing I have not heard or read: any evidence that it was possible for him to do better, given the context and starting circumstances. No one has given the slightest indication that Biden did not do everything he could. Maybe he didn’t—but no one has presented evidence that he didn’t.

I am not saying that Biden didn’t fumble to whatever extent; all I am saying is that I have heard no evidence at all that he did, and most seem to ignore the run-up to the withdrawal that caused the worst of the disaster. Trump hosted the Taliban last year, giving them extremely favorable terms, releasing 5000 of their people being held prisoner, delegitimizing the Afghan government we had helped build while giving the Taliban a much stronger position, and promising to pull out American forces by May 2021. Then he removed too many troops too quickly, strengthening the Taliban position even more without giving the U.S. time to draw down safely. This put Biden in a very difficult position; he delayed the pullout because there was not enough time under Trump’s plan to pull out properly, and before the job could be reliably done, the country collapsed.

It is quite possible that, despite the fact that the pullout was a huge disaster, Biden may have done the best job possible.

This is why quagmires are quagmires: they are messy to extract yourself from them, and you always get massive criticism for leaving when a victory is not possible. It does not help when the previous office-holder totally destabilized the situation and made an organized and proper action impossible to achieve.

However, the real blame lies not with Biden, and not even fully with Trump, but with George W. Bush. And the error was not just Afghanistan, but with 9/11 itself. I am amazed at how people immediately forgot how this whole thing began in the first place.

In May of 2001, Bush got his first big policy pushed through: a massive tax cut for rich people. The second item on his agenda came up next. Can you remember what it was? I doubt it. Few people do.

It was a push for Missile Defense, commonly referred to as “Star Wars”—a tremendously, even ruinously expensive cash cow for private industry.

So, why is that relevant?

The reason is because the Bush administration’s chief justification for the program hinged on the idea that hostile states like North Korea would soon perfect missiles that could eventually reach American territories, and pepper us with nuclear weapons. This assertion, however, was ludicrous on it’s face: not even North Korea would be stupid enough to leave a clearly readable missile path going from them to an American target, as there would be an immediate and devastating nuclear response that could effectively wipe out the entire nation.

The greater and rather obvious criticism that emerged immediately after Bush made his case was that hostile states like North Korea and Iraq would simply use terrorism instead of costly and difficult ICBMs. Pack a nuke into a shipping crate, sail into an American harbor like New York, and set it off there. This would cheaply and easily evade any defense, and would not leave a clear, readable path back to the responsible party. Even if identified as, say, North Korean nuclear material, they could simply claim that it had been stolen and used by terrorists and they had nothing to do with it.

Remember when we learned that, a month before 9/11, Bush resisted being presented with a PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) from a CIA analyst, one which warned that bin Laden was planning to attack the United States soon, and after reluctantly receiving it, Bush snapped back, annoyed, saying “All right, you’ve covered your ass now”?

That seemed to make no sense; why would a president be so annoyed, even pissed off, at being given a warning of an imminent terrorist threat?

However, it does make sense once you remember that Bush was in the middle of a big push for missile defense, for which the primary criticism was that terrorism made the missile defense system irrelevant.

Indeed, the Bush administration had shown outright hostility towards the counter-terrorism mechanism that the Clinton administration had built up, dismantling much of it, and generally disregarding terrorism as a lesser threat than hostile nations using missiles. Indeed, after 9/11, the justification for missile defense simply crumbled and disappeared.

In fact, on the day of 9/11 itself, Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s National Security Advisor, was scheduled to give a speech at Johns Hopkins University in which she would have played up the missile threat as she downplayed the threat of terrorism.

In that context, the Bush administration ignoring the threats of bin Laden’s attacks makes sense: had they taken positive action against a terrorist threat, they would be admitting to the nation that terrorism was indeed a pressing threat, which would cut the legs out from under their missile defense initiative.

And so bin Laden’s plan slipped by the willfully unprepared Bush administration, and 9/11 happened.

However, even that was not Bush’s greatest blunder, nor was it the only willful one.

When 9/11 hit, Bush—who, you also may not recall, was plummeting in the polls and regularly mocked as Cheney’s idiot puppet—suddenly was seen as a courageous hero, standing a hundred feet tall, bravely leading the war that threatened us all.

It was ratings gold—and was a dream come true for republicans, giving them a free pass to vote in every last piece of policy legislation they could dream of. Everything was suddenly cast as being elemental to the War on Terror—even consumer shopping was touted as a weapon against evil. Ironically, missile defense was shelved, but that was okay, because bloated defense industry contractors suddenly had more government money pouring into their coffers than they knew what to do with.

Bush, of course, immediately set out to invade Afghanistan, but it is important to note that Afghanistan was not his preferred target, and that he was not really interested in that war, nor in capturing bin Laden.

This became evident in December of 2001, when we had bin Laden boxed in at Tora Bora—but Bush had already shifted his focus from Afghanistan to Iraq, secretly planning to begin a military offensive in a country completely unrelated to the terrorism threat (Saddam Hussein was antagonist towards, not in cahoots with, terrorist groups).

A slip-up by bin Laden allowed the U.S. military to pinpoint his position within 10 meters—but Bush and his officers had completely understaffed the special forces necessary for the mission, creating a delay that allowed bin Laden and more than a thousand of his men to slip away into Pakistan.

If the U.S. had captured or killed bin Laden at that time, we could have declared victory, pulled out with anti-Taliban forces in charge, and stopped the whole Middle East war right then.

But that’s not what Bush and Cheney wanted. They wanted to invade Iraq and control the supply of oil, so bin Laden getting away was actually a plus for them.

They allowed Afghanistan to fester, ignored bin Laden, and invested heavily in prosecuting a war in Iraq, thus allowing not one, but two simultaneous quagmire wars in the Middle East.

When Obama came into office, he could not withdraw from Afghanistan while bin Laden was still there, and he focused on the hunt. Within two and a half years, he actually finished the job Bush failed to do in more than seven years, but still Obama did not withdraw from Afghanistan. He considered it, but stepped away from the idea when he realized that the Taliban would take over again.

But that’s the whole problem of a quagmire: the bad guys will always take over. What Bush and then Obama both did was to kick the can to the next administration.

One thing to know about Afghanistan: it has never been a winnable fight. The British learned this lesson in the past, and the Soviet Union paid a heavy price to learn the same lesson. Even from the beginning, there was no real strategy that realistically allowed for the U.S. to stabilize the country. It was bound to fail from the start.

Meanwhile, the United States spent two trillion dollars paying military contractors to wage and maintain the war—as presidents wavered, knowing the political price they would pay for ending it.

Trump, surprisingly, actually made the decision to pull out; not being a neoconservative, he was never a fan of overseas wars or controlling the flow of oil. So he made a deal with the Taliban.

The problem was that he was a gigantic idiot, and did everything the wrong way. He backstabbed the Afghan government we had built, gave the Taliban everything they wanted in exchange for an empty promise not to support terrorism, drew down troops to such a low level that control of the country was slipping away even before Biden took office, and promised a pullout in May 2021, not nearly enough time to do the job properly. Trump obviously didn’t care—he pulled out of Syria too quickly as well, and had no problem with the chaos it created.

Even republicans called the plan a mess and a mistake, unusually agreeing with the head of NATO.

The sad fact is, Trump was so engrossed in first campaigning to win the 2020 election, and then fighting his battle to delegitimize the election results, that he pretty much let the Afghanistan situation crumble unattended.

When Biden came into office, despite facing an unprecedented health crisis and a republican Congress bent on overthrowing Democracy itself, he got on to the Afghanistan problem immediately. He concluded that a May withdrawal would not be possible, and extended the stay as long as he could to allow for the withdrawal to be carried out effectively—but the Taliban, strengthened by Trump’s irrational promises and botched negotiations, were already closing in, and the Afghan military folded and fell apart just as quickly as Iraq’s had some years back. Trump more or less assured the collapse would be catastrophic.

This was an unwinnable war from the start, one begun by an inept bumbler who did not care, allowed to fester by a president who did not want to sully his reputation, followed by an idiotic narcissist who gave away the farm… only to fall on Joe Biden, who had long wanted to end the war, but was handed such a mess that no one would have been able to withdraw cleanly.

Do you really think that Trump would have handled it better? Of course not; it would have ben ten times worse. At least.

So I leave you with this proposition: if you want to argue that Biden failed, that he screwed up and made the mess worse than it had to be, be prepared to have evidence to back that up. Because I haven’t seen a damn shred of proof to support that proposition.

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