Russian Economy Collapsing? Merry Christmas Vladimir

In case you haven’t noticed, over the last couple of days Russia’s economy is shaking.   That perked up my day when I learned of it Monday, but I have more sober thoughts since then.

I admit to a feeling of glee when reading that Russia’s Central Bank hiked its interest rates from roughly 10 to 17 per cent, this in the attempt to stabilize the value of the ruble vis-a-vis the American dollar.  The ruble had dropped 50% since January and was dropping more.  That is a radical step to take and, as someone pointed out, its effect lasted about 10 minutes.

Just heard today that Apple is refusing to be paid in rubles along with all of Finland, I believe.  And I imagine that trend continues as I type.  A more detailed account of the events can be found in this Theworldpost piece from Monday.   And there is plenty more out there to Google.

Why gleeful?   Well, I like my beliefs to be validated and have believed Russia’s fragile economy would undermine Putin’s opportunistic foreign policy, while at the same time I did not believe he was another Hitler, only that he was the proudest of Russians humiliated by the weak state Russia had been in after the break up of the Soviet Union.

Now in a much stronger Russia, Putin has welcomed opportunities to push back at the West.  He has never wanted to conquer all of Ukraine, but just to keep it in turmoil, unstable and not a prized Western trophy, and not another Russian humiliation.

I was hoping the sanctions would do the trick, but it turns out the foremost cause has been the drop of oil prices from a high in the summer of $107 a barrel to $50-something now.   Russia’s main source of income comes from its energy sales, and now much of that income is lost.

The contribution of the Obama-led economic sanctions is hard to parse, though not surprisingly Democrats think they helped quite a bit while Republicans think their effect has been negligible.

Whatever,  the good news is Putin should have enough to worry about in keeping his hold on power over the next few months, enough worry that I read he now seems more pliable when it comes to working out some sort of political solution in eastern Ukraine, where Russian supported rebels and government forces continue to battle.

I would like to end this piece on that upbeat note, but feel the need to dampen that enthusiasm because who knows what instability and excesses might arise from an increasingly squashed Russian economy.

Putin just won the Man of the Year award in Russia for the 15th straight year and, though his popularity has slipped a bit of late, it has dropped only a few points to around 80%.  EIGHTY PER CENT!  American presidents tend to reach those upper limits at one point or another, but not for long.

The Russian hunger for revived national pride still seems to outweigh their economic values and, with Putin controlled media continually developing the narrative, this budding economic collapse will be portrayed more and more like a result of Western manipulation of oil markets as well as sanctions, both aimed at destroying Russia.

What will happen, who will Russians blame and how will Putin react?

I am reading a biography of Putin and am struck by a number of points made, like his describing himself as a thug when growing up and his childhood dream to become a KGB agent, while most other Russian boys dreamed of becoming an astronaut.  He often got into fights, and he seems to have suffered from the little-man-syndrome, the need to show he was the toughest guy around to compensate for his small stature.

One childhood friend states:  “If anyone ever insulted him in any way, Volodya (Vladimir) would immediately jump on the guy, scratch him, bite him, rip his hair out by the clump – do anything at all never to allow anyone to humiliate him in any way.” (1)

A little tough guy who refuses to be humiliated and I would add identifies so closely with mother Russia that he takes all slights to the nation personally.   It seems those are traits the Russians love, but how long will they love him if the predicted deep 2015 recession comes to pass.

And how will he react to it all?

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(1)  Quoted from:  The Man Without a Face:  The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, written by Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist who lived in Moscow when this book was published in 2012.   Gessen contends that Putin’s rise was largely a freakish accident, a guy who was in the right places at the right times and one so nondescript (“no face”) that it allowed others to envision him to be just what they wanted.

Why I Write About the Greater Middle East

In my post last week I asked for feedback on my blog and received none.

Greater Middle East

Greater Middle East (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, none, not one.   I have to say I am surprised, but not terribly so when I consider my own reading of blogs and editorials, glancing at many and reading some and seldom leaving comments.    It is the way we are these days.  So much information available to us,  and so little time, a situation exacerbated by the misshaping of information to fit someone’s political ideology.   We can not even begin to integrate all that information because so much of it is suspect.

It often strikes me that we have more knowledge and less collective understanding than ever.

If you like a post you linger longer.  If not you move on sooner.   No need to comment unless you really want to and why would you really want to?  Ingest it or just move on.

Hey, I’ll just assume those of you who read this fairly regularly feel the way the reader cited last time  does:  “I’ve enjoyed receiving (the) American Titanic blog this year. You put it together judiciously, pacing its frequency and length just right, to be of passing interest each time. I like your generously including further web-refs, for anyone wanting to follow-through on a particular subject.”

Love that comment.

The other response to my post I listed was from my close friend Judy.  Since she doesn’t want to read about the Mid-East – too complex and too removed from her life – I want to say something about why I want to write about it, even  if hardly anyone else wants to read it.

I want to write about it because of its complexity and its potential for rocking our world.  I have paid attention to world affairs for nearly 50 years and believe I can give some useful perspective to the burgeoning chaos that envelops the region.

Three factors have guided our foreign policy towards the Greater Middle East:  Oil, regional stability and nuclear weapons, either already there or potentially so.  Of course, the three are tied together and all linked to Israel, both a staunch ally and source of ongoing problems.  In our desire to maintain stability, so our sources of oil remained reliable, we often backed dictators, such as the Shah of Iran and Hosni Mubarak of Eygpt and, lest we forget, Saddam Hussein, before he got too big for his britches and invaded Kuwait.

We placed our faith in strong men who could keep their  internal politics stable, and all things considered, that vast region had been much more stable than it is today.

The Greater Middle East has become much more difficult to deal with now, as the age of the strong man has diminished and the age of republics has yet to arrive.  What we take for granted as democratic processes has not been experienced by most of this region.  Except for Israel, India and possibly Turkey, the nature of rule is either strong men, some pretending to lead democracies, chaos or semi-chaos.  Trying to make sense of this gigantic region is particularly difficult these days because so much is unpredictable.

I think I have some useful perspective and worthwhile thoughts on that collective tumult, and so that’s why I will return to the subject again and again in upcoming months.   Much will happen and it won’t be easy judging events when they do.

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Barack Obama: Our First Black and White President

Barack Obama is often referred to as our first black president, but I have thought of him as our first black and white president.  His background, experience and personal gifts combine to make whites like myself believe he not only empathizes  with the concerns of blacks when it comes to racial issues,  but also the concerns of whites.   Without that quality, he could not have been elected.

In case you haven’t heard, he displayed that capacity yesterday in a surprise visit to the White House Press Corp as described by Philip Rucker and Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post (on-line).

“President Obama implored Americans on Friday to “do some soul-searching” in the aftermath of the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Florida, speaking expansively and introspectively about the nation’s painful history of race and his own place in it.

Directly wading into the polarizing debate over last weekend’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, Obama tried to explain the case through the lens of past discrimination that still weighs heavily on African Americans.

The nation’s first black president, recognizing the disconnect between how whites and blacks were reacting to the Zimmerman verdict, sought to explain why the acquittal had upset so many African Americans.

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away,” Obama said.

Since the Zimmerman court decision, the discussion of the issue on MSNBC has been dominated by black pundits, implying you have to be black to really understand the racial nuances of the case.   At least one called for a national dialogue on race and democracy, which I welcome as long as it is a real dialogue he is seeking.

But he is a professor who seemed to be inviting we whites to an ongoing seminar in which he and other black intellectuals are going to enlighten us as to the many facets of our racism, conscious or otherwise.   No thanks.

If a real dialogue is to develop on issues that are in black and white, a tone must be set that reflects empathy with the fears,  anger and prejudices of both races.

In his surprising address yesterday, the president set such a tone:

Going Mad! Be Back April 9

Congress take its Easter/Passover two week recess next week and President Obama has gone to the mid-east to shore up our relations there, so this seems a good time for us to take a break from thinking about the torturous budget SNAFU, too.    Congress comes back April 8,  which just happens to be the final game day of March Madness, so the following day seems a good time to post again.

Unlike Congress, the NCAA basketball version of March Madness has a plan in place to get something accomplished, namely decide a national basketball champion.

Warmup before the 2006 NCAA Men's Division I B...

Warmup before the 2006 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament National Championship Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The time off will allow me to clean up that red row of Page  categories across the top, which seemed a good idea at first but I haven’t had the time to build them up as sources of information, so they have been neglected for months.  I’m not sure what I will put up there instead, but will go with the notion less is more.

Another thing I will work on some is my attitude.   I am a class half empty kind of guy and dwelling on our federal fiscal follies has drained the glass further.

When I was in my 20s – those  olden times when people still pecked on clunky typewriters, actually received letters and not all bills and junk mail, and spoke into phones attached to a wall – I saw a quote which I wish I still had.   It was from one of those wise ancient ancients and it went something like this:   Do not  dwell on the worries of the world.  The world is not worried about you.   Shrink the world to suit your daily life and you will be happy.

This was succinctly summed up more recently by another philosopher:  “Don’t worry be happy.”   That’s easier said then done, but below is a TED talk by Shawn Achor that might help.   A student of the  “science of happiness,” he wittily asserts that the problem is we have this pursuit of happiness thing backwards.   We tend to think success brings happiness, while it is actually the reverse.  Happiness brings success.

So, give him a gander when you have about 18 minutes for a few chuckles and some thought provoking.  (Those signed up to be emailed posts  may need to go to the web site to see the video.  Click the red and white symbol in the top left corner of the emailed post).

See ya two weeks from this coming Tuesday.

An Alternative to Thinking About the Sequester

Happy Sequestration Day, or Eve as it begins at midnight, I think.   According to the Huff Post, there will be a White House meeting today between President Obama and top congressional leaders, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner.   I will be shocked….shocked I say….if it produces anything except more animosity, though it is hard to fill a jar that is already full.

For those who have forgotten, this whole sequester thing was the result of a series of discussions, primarily between the Obama team and the Boehner team back in mid-2011.  Discussions on a fiscal compromise that went nowhere, so in August of that year they came up with this gun-to-the-head scenario called the sequester.   Surely, the threat of across the board meat cleaver type cuts would make both sides come to some agreement.   Well, no.

It seems widely agreed upon that the key stumbling block is the Tea Party wing of the Republican House.  It has been said politics is the art of compromise.  They apparently didn’t get the memo.  They are thrilled that they can do nothing and still get some budget cuts.   It is not that they are so powerful as a block, maybe 30 or 40 of them in the House, but the well funded Tea Party threatens other members with campaigns against them in the next election.  It has come to be called “being primaried,” and to my mind a cancer in the Republican Party.

So, Boehner, who is actually a pretty flexible guy, is very limited in what he feels he can agree to in negotiations, especially if he wants to remain Speaker.  That’s not the whole problem, but it is a big part of it.

According to Bob Woodward, on July 6, 2011 the President and Speaker Boehner met while still trying to make a deal.  “But at the end of the meeting, despite their previous discussion about pressing staff to find an agreement, they remained far apart on the key issues of taxation and entitlement reform (the emphasis my own).

That split remains wide and intractable.  At this point, I agree with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that both sides seem “willing to just let the sequester happen as long as they don’t get blamed for it.”

NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Thank you Monty Python for the above intro.   I can only think so much about our congressional gridlock before getting brain cramps, so as a form of refreshment I suggest TED, which produces an ongoing series of great lectures, showing nearly infinite human potential, in contrast to that reflected in Congress.   Anyone familiar with Ken Robinson?   I wasn’t until recently, but now I know he is recognized internationally as an expert on the subject of creativity, something I’d love to see Congress show a bit of.

He is much more interesting than the sequester and funny, too,  as I think you will agree.  Do note, though, it is an 18 minute talk, so put some time aside or prepare to listen in nibbles (I know it’s a mixed metaphor.  I love to mix metaphors if you haven’t already noticed).

New Year’s Resolutions and Evolutions

Diary

Diary (Photo credit: Barnaby)

If I make resolutions at all, they are small ones that seem relatively easy to keep.   For example, MY ONE resolution for 2013 is to make an entry in my personal journal every day instead of leaving several days blank as I have done in previous years.  The entry can be only one sentence.  Just as long as I do it.  And if for some reason I fail to be perfect, which is likely, than I will take the fall back position of making the resolution a general goal….to get into the habit of making an entry almost every day of 2013.    And then aim to do better in 2014.

In other words I will let the entry making evolve. The same as I did with this blog.  I began working on it a year ago, uncertain that I would actually wind up doing it.   The “it” being to examine our leaking political economy in hopes of separating the real issues we face from the politicized versions so that we  might actually have useful dialogues about how to patch the holes.

At times I felt totally intimidated.  The issues I wanted to sort out seemed too complex requiring too much time to get any kind of handle on them.  Who did I think I was? (*1).   I calmed down when reminding myself that most Americans concerned with the future of our country must have similar feelings. The difference between me and most of my fellow citizens is that I am inclined to put more time and energy into researching these issues, and to write something about my limited understanding of them.

Still, I did not fully commit to writing the blog until  I realized, after I had already decided on the title, that April 14th was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  That seemed an amazing coincidence to me, an omen which dispelled doubts and firmed up my commitment (*2).

My ongoing goal is not to come up with solutions but to better illuminate the nature of our real problems, so we might better understand our disagreements. That’s what I hope makes this blog worthwhile reading, despite my shortcomings.

Because misinformation abounds, most of my posts have either revolved around that issue or been tangential to it.   Most of the political chatter over months and months of electioneering was tangential at best when it comes to discussing our real political/economic problems and how we might combat them.   So, I tried to point out lies, distortions, facts out of context that prompted false conclusions, etc.   One reader kindly thanked me for guiding her through the election.  I try to be a trustworthy guide, while admitting I often get lost in the labyrinth of political spin, a house of horrors for someone struggling to understand.

While understanding the problems of our complex political economy is hard in itself, our loss of a common base of respected knowledge  makes understanding border on the mind boggling, while often refused a visa.   As conservative Democratic Senator Michael Bennett recently described the problem, in Washington “there are all kinds of people whose job it is to obfusgate the facts.”   That’s just for starters.  The internet allows us all to make our versions of the truth go viral, no matter how ungrounded they are.

Along with “sifting and winnowing” in search of truth,  much of what I have written has been about the presidential election, even though it often struck me as largely a huge waste of money, energy and time just to decide whether Barack Obama would remain Captain of our Titanic or be replaced by someone else.    Except for an economy that remains on an upward slope (but still largely a jobless recovery), our fiscal problems and our politicians inability to work together on addressing them, have not improved, as if that is news to anyone.

Regular readers know I am glad Barack Obama was reelected.  I spent a lot of space defending him from Republican talking points, which for the most part were lies or reasonable facsimiles of such.

Now that he has been reelected I can spend more time on examining how he does.  And how the Congress does in actually tackling our political/economic problems.   The recent fiscal deal was not a great start, but it was a start, reminding me of that ancient Chinese proverb… “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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(1*)  For those who do not know, I am 67 with a varied work back ground, though most of it has been related to education or horse racing, at times the two being combined.   My credentials regarding politics and economics are largely having observed the two in action over several decades.  That and my knowledge of history, being a history major in college and a history buff ever since.

(2*)   While a skeptic I have long thought there is something valid in what the psychologist Carl Jung called “synchronicity.”  Wikopedia provides a useful definition: ” Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner.”

So, I do think that some coincidences mean something, even though I’m always guessing at what they might mean.

A Real Political Debate is as Rare as a Great Prize Fight

The Pacquiao-Marquéz rivalry known for its lac...

The Pacquiao-Marquéz rivalry known for its lack of a definitive triumph suddenly had the most definitive ending of them all. (Photo credit: Erolle)

Barack Obama and John Boehner met two days ago and their aides are remaining mum, other than rumors that Obama made a proposal Sunday and Boehner just made a counter proposal today.    I can’t imagine much of a real deal taking place at this time, though perhaps a small agreement can come about while  kicking the rest of the cans down the road months into 2013, per usual.   We can only wait and see.

In the meantime, anyone like to watch prize fighting? I love a great fight and the Pacquiao-Marquez one Saturday night was great, a battle between two skilled warriors dramatically ended by one Marquez punch in the 6th round (*1).   Great fights are rare, but so is real political debate these days.   Mostly we have two sides flailing their talking points about, often with feckless moderators allowing lies and lesser truth misdemeanors  to score hits below the belt.

An exception would be the Jon Stewart interview of Governor Chris Christie a few days ago.   Stewart has been called the Walter Chronkite of our time, which I think is fitting in that our political scene has literally become  a joke over the past 30 years or so,  and parody is the best way to illuminate its phoniness.  Christie, on the other hand, has been called a rarity by newsman Bob Sheaffer:  “A politician who actually answers questions.”   In short, two men worth listening to when they tangle.

While no knock out punches were thrown, there was lots of sparring in what was a real debate.   Some of that debate was edited to fit the show, but you can see it in its entirety at the link shown at the bottom of this post.

There were three segments, like rounds, totaling about 26  minutes, but you can watch each separately if you don’t have the time or inclination to watch them all at once.  In the first round there were mostly love pats, two Jersey boys having some fun and building rapport, including Christi proudly telling of a hug he recently got from Bruce Springsteen.

Things got serious in the second round, though, as Stewart kept punching away at the Republican tendency to see things others need as “mooching” entitlements.   He said more than once that cancer for someone who lacks health insurance is a personal example of what a hurricane is to many, a tragedy as in New Jersey, stating that Republicans can see the need of relief for a whole region in an emergency but not the calamity of an individual who can’t afford health insurance.   Christie parried those blows and got in a few shots of his own in a debate that helped illuminate the issues involved.

In the third round, there was less punching and more badinage once again with the two agreeing on one thing in particular:  Real political debate seldom breaks out anymore.

Well, it broke out here, which is why I recommend your taking a glance via this  Huffington Post ink.

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(*1)  A related political tidbit:  Mitt and Ann Romney had seats ringside compliments of the chair of the Nevada State Boxing commission.  I didn’t know he liked boxing, but there’s a lot I don’t know about him because he has wanted it that way.  I’m waiting for someone to shed light on the matter with a book possibly titled:  Who was Mitt Romney?

Seceding from the 21st Century

You have probably heard that after the election numerous petitions for states to secede from the union have been sent to the White House, a few of them with more than 25,000 signatures, with Texas gathering over 100,000 (countered by a petition from Austin, Texas of 5,000 requesting to remain in the union should the rest of Texas secede)(*1).

United States presidential candidate Barack Ob...

United States presidential candidate Barack Obama speaking at Auditorium Shores in Austin, Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The petition from Alabama was initiated by the owner of a car wash which was shut down because of its topless attendants.   The city of Mobile closed it down, not the U. S. government, but no matter, secession still seemed the solution to owner Derick Belcher, and about 30,000 other signers used the opportunity to express their discontent, too, though there is no telling how many decried the loss of those topless girls as opposed to other grievances.

I imagine some of the thinking of other secessionists is a bit sounder than Mr. Belcher’s, but I doubt whether a single petition would have been filed had Mitt Romney won.   Not that a Romney win would have saved Mr. Belcher’s car wash, or even likely have made government a smidgeon smaller, it just would have symbolized less government interference in everyone’s personal economy.  Because Mitt Romney said so.

The Texas petition begins with these words:  “The US continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government’s neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending.”   Again, I assume these Texans believe Romney would change all that, or at least be a step in the right direction.

I doubt if many of the secessionists read The Economist, a weekly British magazine well regarded world wide.  It has a high estimation of the benefits of capitalism and less government but even they could not back Mitt Romney:    “Many of The Economist’s readers, especially those who run businesses in America, may well conclude that nothing could be worse than another four years of Mr Obama. We beg to differ. For all his businesslike intentions, Mr Romney has an economic plan that works only if you don’t believe most of what he says.”

The secessionists aren’t seceding from the union.  They’re seceding from Barack Obama.   Following four years of his being branded as a foreign born Muslim socialist while black as well, it is easy to see why they feel that way, despite the image being eons removed from reality, except the black part.    Just by not being Obama,  Mitt Etch-a-Sketch could appear to be a big improvement, especially when he said things like “the less government the better”.

Angry people want a target for their anger, someone to blame and spew venom upon.  Those on the right target Obama, but I think he is simply a symbol of rapidly changing times that produce anxiety and fear which lead to anger.   Foremost technological change, but social change as well, and the only thing moving slowly is our economy.  Its sluggishness is likely to remain so for quite some time and many sense that never again will it offer  good paying jobs for those not highly educated, at least technologically so.   Those old high-paying semi-skilled assembly line jobs at the car factories, for example, are never coming back  (*2).  While gay marriage and the non-white populations will continue to grow.

While of course there is a big racial element in Barack Obama’s becoming such a prime target of dislike, even hate, it is only one part of an image of “the other than ourselves” cemented by foreign and socialist caricatures which provide more acceptable reasons to reject him.

He symbolizes a world changing at break neck speed from the much slower, simpler America many of us grew up in.   These newest of rebels don’t want to secede from the United States, they want to secede from the 21st century.  At times I have such cravings myself, but I don’t blame Barack Obama for it all.

Seceding from the union, even if it were to be allowed, won’t counteract these changing times, especially for you and your carwash Mr. Belcher.

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(*1)  What has made this all possible was the White House having a “We the People” response section on their web site.   It is one more example of the law of unintended consequences.

(*2)  While American manufacturing is coming back, many of its jobs are not according to a recent world study:   “Manufacturing contributed 20 percent of the growth in global economic output in the decade ending in 2010, the McKinsey researchers estimate, and 37 percent of global productivity growth from 1995 to 2005. Yet the sector actually subtracted 24 percent from employment in advanced nations.”

Libya: A Political Moment that Shouldn’t Be

The general consensus of media pundits is that Obama won Tuesday’s debate, albeit narrowly.   Again we are  talking about rhetoric and style with only a tangential relationship to substance, i. e. Obama is judged to have thrust and parried a bit better than Romney, and much better than in the first debate where he barely lifted his sword.

English: map of Libya with Shabiat Banghazi hi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a sports fan, I have to say I’m a little excited about the rubber match to be fought this Monday over the issues of foreign policy.  But as a citizen, when I regain my sanity and see clearly the chasm between the pretense and reality, I think I belong in a rubber room.   All of us do who find the race exciting, like playing fantasy football.  Except it is more our version of the Hunger Games.

The problem with making the Monday debate really interesting is that by most accounts, Romney’s foreign policy is not much different than Obama’s.  The primary difference is his asserting he will just handle it all better.  And in the process his strategy will be to show how Obama has come up short.

As the patron saint of Wisconsin, Vince Lombardi, put it decades ago:  “Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing.”  True of football back then in Green Bay;  even more true of this presidential election.  This morning I heard Chuck Todd, an MSNBC analyst, articulate what we all know.  “This campaign is ugly and over the next 18 days it will become uglier.”

It is against this backdrop that the issue of the four American deaths in Libya has become a powerful campaign tool for the Republicans, probably viewed by some fundamentalists as a gift from God.    I flicked to FOX news several times yesterday and almost every time they were talking about Libya and what the Obama administration  knew when and what they did about it and what they covered up.

Ambassador Chris Stevens father said several days ago that it would be “horrendous” if the death of his son and three other Americans would become politicized.   Sorry Mr. Stevens, but this presidential campaign is being fought as if it were to the death, and the death of your son is like blood in the water to Republican sharks.   For them, he and the three others make wonderful symbols to contradict the Obama claim that al Queda has been steadily weakened and to show that the Obama team has not done enough to aid the development of democracies in Egypt and Libya (never mind that some other Republicans argue we should have strongly backed Mubarak our long time ally, and a few argue that it was even wrong to help topple Gaddafi as well, who had been our ally of sorts for awhile).

Granted the Obama administration hasn’t handled the news about the Benghazi killings well and their earlier stances about a spontaneous demonstration  seem wishful thinking, some cherry picking between different reports.   But let’s remember the situation in Benghazi is chaotic (it took three weeks for the FBI to feel it was safe enough to go investigate the consulate) while both campaigns have war rooms looking for every weakness in the “enemy” that they can turn to strategic advantage.   The Obama administration was not eager to reveal anything the Republicans could use.  Do you think it would have gone down any differently if the roles had been reversed?

Let’s also remember that Republicans like  Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz, who feigned outrage at the lack of security have voted several times to reduce the state department’s budget over the years, especially in the area of foreign security.   They remind me of the police prefect in that ancient movie Casablanca who was” shocked” to discover gambling taking place at Rick’s casino while someone discreetly hands him his winnings for the day.  Though in this case the hypocrisy is not humorous but galling.

What happened and why regarding those deaths in Libya is complex and will take time to sort out, but in the meantime Republicans will make it very simple for all of us:  the Obama administration has its head in the sand regarding al Queda and should have protected those Americans, an example of Obama policy failure writ large.  (FOX is more than willing to “help” in the sorting with a special investigative report this evening).

Kathleen Parker, somewhat right of center and one of my favorite columnists,  offers a much more balanced picture in a recent Washington Post editorial in which she gets to the heart of the real story in Libya:  “Stevens went to Benghazi knowing the risks and died in the service of his country, the people of Libya and the greater good. It is tragic, but it is war.”  

For now that’s the important point, not to rush to judgement on blame, but how brave our foreign service people can be  in chaotic, dangerous situations.  They see interacting with the local populace as vital to their work.   As such, to be so well protected as is our embassy in Iraq makes the foreign service people feel “incarcerated” as characterized by Daniel Server, a former diplomat.  In regards to Ambassador Stevens he has said:  “For our diplomats to do things right, it requires taking risks.  And Chris Stevens did things right.”

The bravery and commitment of Ambassador Chris Stevens,  computer expert Sean Smith and security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods is what should be focused upon, but don’t expect to see the tragedy play out that way Monday night.  If you are going to bother to watch.  I’m not.

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Those who want to delve more deeply into the complexity of the Benghazi attack should find interest in an article by Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor Getting in on the Benghazi Blame Game.

Pre-Debate Pondering the Undecided’s

I’ll be curious to see how the debate goes tonight, especially since this will be in a town meeting format with the audience asking most of the questions, though moderator Candy Crowley will have the questions beforehand and select the ones to be used, and provide some follow-ups.

English: Pictography of Alfred E. Neuman used ...

Alfred E. Neuman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope you understand these debates are not about substance but style and rhetoric.  And, given the town meeting venue, how and where each candidate moves takes on importance.  Romney won the first debate because his debate performance was much better.  A point made by a number of pundits is that the Obama team had spent months trying to make Romney seem “unacceptable”, and that changed for many that night.   Romney looked like he’d make a good president.  And Obama was caught flat footed when  Mitt tacked sharply to the center saying things he had never said before (well, not for a long time at least).

I have heard various suggestions from cable pundits of what pose each candidate should strike tonight if they want to win, including one focus group suggestion that the winning pose is that of  “a good husband.”  David Frum mirrors that in a recent post when he suggests Mitt Romney work on his appearing “empathetic.”  You know, the opposite of the “I don’t care about the 47%” attitude.

I keep thinking about the undecided’s, and wonder what varieties they come in.   I have no idea what might tip each balance, either in this debate or on election day.  Since my last post I have  heard a poll estimates undecided’s as 12% rather than 5%.   Could the undecided’s actually be growing in number?  The numbers might be increasing from people who are not really undecided.   Instead, they have just decided they are sick of it all.   I know one reader who finds both camps  so disgusting that, as far as I know, he may decide not to vote.  How many undecided’s will make that decision?

Adding to the difficulty in understanding the undecided’s is what Nate Silver (a pollster’s pollster) calls  “the confusing polling landscape” in an Oct 14 post:   Even some of the decided’s seem to be deciding differently since the first debate, as Silver’s projected Nov 6 estimate of Obama’s winning the presidency is down to 63.3%, a big drop from the 80+% of a few weeks ago.

This past weekend I watched Melissa Harris-Perry, a cable political chat show on MSNBC that devoted a  segment to the issue of the “undecided’s”.    I was struck by what seemed likely futile attempts of most of the participants, especially Melissa, to make substance points for selecting Obama, as if that would sway any undecided voters at this point.

In an email she has probably not gotten around to read, I pointed to a recent Pew poll in which 48% of voters don’t even seem to know that Obama is a Christian, including 17% who thinks he’s a Muslim.  If nearly 50% of voters don’t know that much yet, how much swing can reason bring?

Also, what may sound reasonable is often wrong.  Or the poll is.  Another recent Pew poll cited in a column by Matt Miller indicates that older voters favor Romney over Obama 58% to 37%.    Say what?  Liberal commentators and Dem operatives have cemented the impression we old folks are a slam dunk for them, that the threat of a change in Medicare to a voucher system would turn us into gray panthers.  But that poll suggests many of us  are jumping ship instead?  Maybe we are not the one-issue segment the Dems think.   Or maybe some of us would like to actually see how the Obama team will save Medicare as opposed to how Romney will disfigure it.   Or maybe, being old, some of us got confused (not my fault, nobody asked me).  Or maybe anything….who knows?

When I start feeling very confused by it all I think of Ohio.  Unless there are some major surprises in voting elsewhere, it seems that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.   The Republicans haven’t won a presidency without Ohio in their corner, and Obama has held a solid lead there for weeks in all the polls I’ve seen, though it seems more wobbly now.    Many Ohioans, employed in car-related businesses, benefited from the saving of GM and Chrysler and the state’s unemployment is around 7.2%, much lower than the national average.

No wonder both candidates (or their VP surrogates) seem to be visiting the state every other day, which after the election may prompt yet another round of debate about doing away with the Electoral College, so the rest of our votes would count as much as those in Ohio.

If Ohio winds up going for Romney, not only will I likely feel the need to avoid several people I’ve made wagers with, I will really be surprised.  And then, while I don’t want to do it, I’d encourage someone else to write a book maybe titled:  Who Were the Undecided’s and How Did They Decide the 2012 Presidential Election?