Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Benghazi Conspiracy Theory

Sen. John McCain has taken the resolute position that the US Embassy Attack in Benghazi involved a cover up orchestrated by the President of the United States to conceal details from the American government and people. I can only speculate about his motivation, but I would optimistically like to think it stems from his desire to protect Americans abroad, as he has had the most unpleasant experiences at the hands of overseas enemies. His determination to hold American leadership accountable for the Ambassador Chris Stevens' death probably stems from his genuine appreciation of and fondness for him, who, by all accounts was respected and liked by all who knew him. Sen. McCain's insistence that the President is responsible probably comes from his belief that the President is weak on foreign policy and preemptively judges the President's decision-making as inadequate. Many Americans share this view of the President, therefore the theory that he knew more about the attacks than he was letting on gained traction. Many Republican supporters are reeling and angry at the election results and want to show the world just how right they were about how bad this President is. They latch onto any negative criticism of him. An unfortunate stimulant in this conspiracy theory's ability to gain traction is that  many McCain supporters already believe that the President is a Kenyan-born Muslim, so this might not seem like much of a stretch for them (moderate Republicans hate when people bring that up, but it is absolutely true) . Once several people agree about something, consensus advertising shows us it's easier for even more people to accept the premise of any claim. Now, we are in the midst of public inquiries brought about by unfounded theories.

Ambassador Chris Stevens
McCain's theory, like all conspiracy theories, is comprised of few murky details. He has access to more classified information and little-known details that make the rest of us curious onlookers envious, but he has not presented a coherent argument for his theories and is behaving in the exact way that he accused the President of behaving. He has provided no basis for his arguments. Because of that, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denied John McCain's request for an inquisition-style Senate Committee. Investigations are already underway in the Senate and the House, so Sen. McCain's request for a televised prosecution of the President's administration, no matter how nobly intended, is absurd. Even Republican Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Committee, said that McCain's suggestion was unnecessary.

The accusations of conspiracy began during the presidential debates, when Republicans, for some reason, accused the president of concealing the fact that the attack did not just spawn from a protest, but was actually a coordinated attack. This does not make sense because, the day after the attack he said, "And my suspicion is there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start." Considering the attack could have come from any number of groups that hate America, including remnants of forces loyal to Quaddafi or Ansar Al Sharia, as some military intel suggested, there was no reason for him to immediately say the attack was by Al Quaeda until verified. Still, in his speech from the Rose Garden that day, he implied that the attack as an "act of terror." Fox News tried to convince its audience with ambitious, but ultimately unsuccessful, sophistry that the President didn't say what he actually said, or rather, didn't mean what he said.

John McCain Remarks on Benghazi Investigation

The conspiratorial claims are far-ranging and constantly evolving. McCain and fellow senator Lindsey Graham first verbally assaulted U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice after she made a presentation to the United Nations, implicating an offensive Youtube video as the catalyst for a protest's organic escalation to violent mob. It was a story that the President alluded to in his Rose Garden speech after the attack. Nine days later, the administration announced that Al Qaeda had a hand in the attack. McCain and Graham claimed her integrity should be questioned because she lied to the American people. They plan to block her nomination for Secretary of State after Hilary Clinton's departure. Though she is not even an official choice of the President for the position, McCain and Graham have erected a preemptive obstacle. The President threw down the gauntlet in her defense with unexpected hostility and indignant enthusiasm, claiming she was simply reading from a prepared intelligence agency report. McCain immediately retreated from the unjust attack on Rice. He then redirected the fight again toward the President and his administration.

As already quite clear, the President should not have jumped to conclusions about this being an act of terror, because the enemy was not absolutely certain and both the CIA and FBI left out information about Al Qaeda leads because they didn't want to disrupt the investigation. The President stated publicly that the attackers were organized and targeted Americans, but that was all he was willing to say until more details were from the investigation were confirmed, as it should be. What could McCain hoped to have learned from the President the day after that he couldn't wait nine days to find out? It changed nothing. The reason the Youtube video was mentioned as the catalyst for the attack is because the attack was about the Youtube video. The militant group Ansar Al-Sharia said that they launched the attack in retaliation for the video.  United States intelligence indicated that a mob was protesting the video and marched on the consulate in an incensed rage, just as they had done in other nations that day. It was hardly the first time angry Muslims attacked embassies over perceived insults. It's not entirely clear if the Al Qaeda agents were complicit in riling up the crowd, used them because it was convenient, or began the whole demonstration as part of their plan. The concurrent attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo was a direct result of the Youtube video as well as protests at the Yemen Consulate. Not that Al Qaida needed an excuse, but it seems like the video was the excuse they chose to launch an attack on the United States.

Attack on Egyptian Embassy
CIA reports show that reliable ground level-intelligence was difficult to obtain during the first attack. The CIA had a surveillance drone in the area that gave a limited view of the events preceding the battle, which contributed to early reports that it was a spontaneous attack.  After the CIA and FBI testified that the situation "involved many, many people, and it's a mix of intent, motivation, a mix of skill, armament" the Republicans mostly seemed content that the motivations for the attack were not easily untangled within 24 they switched attack tactics. McCain then said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's inaction during the crisis caused the deaths of four Americans. McCain made sure to identify the culprit as a member of the President's cabinet, implicating the President.

Responding directly to John McCain, Secretary Panetta wrote that they could not reach the consulate in time, in part, because "several hundred reports were received indicating possible threats to U.S. facilities around the world." The military was all over the place, investigating threats to other consulates, dealing with the aftermath of other attacks and attempting to defend against other credible threats. They also had to constantly evaluate intelligence received from Benghazi, determining the best plan of action. There are two major criticisms that troops on the ground frequently level at their military superiors when the situations arise: 1.) sending men blindly into a firefight with little-to-no intelligence about the situation, which Panetta clearly was unwilling to do, and 2.) delaying a military response until it's too late. The two criticisms are diametrically opposed. If you avoid one, you run the risk of falling victim to another. Black Hawk Down was a movie-worthy tale of sending troops into a situation with inadequate intelligence. Into the Fire is a book about the deadly consequences of taking too long to evaluate threats. The best any military commander can do is balance the two. McCain was not satisfied because reports surfaced that Ambassador Stevens had repeatedly requested additional security after an armed assault targeted embassy personnel on August 6, but additional security was not given. There was a reason for that, however.

The loss of American lives has blinded many to the enormous task of protecting consulates. On July 2, a planned attack on the Kenyan consulate was thwarted. The U.S. Embassy said terrorist threats were still active a week later. On July 26, a gunman opened fire outside the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia. On August 5, terrorists attacked Israel, killing 16 soldiers and raising the alert for American personnel in that area. On August 6, demonstrations in Afghanistan became violent as they began violently attacking Western targets of opportunity. After an unrelated suicide attack in Yemen, authorities captured Al Qaeda militants who planned an attack on the U.S. Embassy. U.S. Embassy security was heightened in Islamabad, Pakistan in anticipation of violence during Pakistan Independence Day. More personnel was diverted to Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed two embassy employees on Sept. 2. Viable Jihadi groups in Egypt threatened to attack the Cairo Embassy on September 11. In addition to the terrorist attacks, the military attempted to protect the Egyptian and Yemen Consulates from spontaneous attacks. The authorities were also investigating threats to embassies in Lebanon, Tunisia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Zambia, Armenia, Sudan, Berundi and others. The United States is under attack all the time. The military believed some of the others had greater reason to fear an imminent attack, and some did (they were attacked). They simply couldn't be everywhere at once.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Not programmed to pass up an opportunity to lie through its teeth, Fox News claimed that the CIA denied backup to the "diplomatic mission." They even marketed the story as an "EXCLUSIVE" and it is still available on their site. The story was debunked in less than 12 hours. They are still sticking to that story, even now. Immediately after learning of the attack, we now know that the President ordered special forces dispatched from Italy to help in the fight and scrambled jets from North Carolina to aid in the rescue effort. Military bases in nearby countries evaluated the threat and situation, drafted deployment plans and traveled to Benghazi where they arrived after the firefight. Shortly after the first-wave attack on the main building, the nine-man security team was overwhelmed in a rapidly deteriorating situation. The building was set on fire, causing the death of Management Officer Sean Smith and Ambassador Chris Stevens. CIA operatives from a nearby annex building heroically rushed to the aid of the remaining Americans, bringing them back to the more secure annex building. Less than three hours after fighting began, U.S. security reinforcements from Tripoli arrived to help. In a second attack five hours after the first, a rocket fired at the building killed two security operatives on the roof, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Hopelessly outgunned, the remaining Americans managed to escape to the airport, flying safely to Tripoli and then Germany where they were interviewed by the FBI.

I'm really not sure what John McCain thinks anyone should have done here. I'm not sure what he thinks the President could have done better. I'm not sure why he thinks Panetta could have done better, considering the complicated and delicate nature of the task, as well as having Congress cut Embassy funding by $327 million. Cutting funding may have been the right move from a domestic spending standpoint, but it certainly made Panetta's job harder. I'm also not sure what McCain wanted the CIA to do, and they made a pretty significant sacrifice in the first place.

Ex-CIA Director David Petraus
The conspiracy took another turn when the affair between CIA Director David Petraeus and his biographer went public, as extremist right-wing conservatives accused the Obama Administration of blackmailing Petraeus to keep quiet about what really happened during the Benghazi attack. Even Charles Krauthammer, the (until recently) respected intellectual elite of the right, is propagating the conspiracy theory. All that McCain, Graham, Krauthammer, and pundits like Andrew Napolitano seem convinced of is that there is a conspiracy. All other details are flexible. They adjust the narrative continually and obsessively to meet each new revelation that deflates the veracity of their claims. They can't name a viable reason for the President to conceal the motivation of the attack from anyone. There are no rewards to be reaped. No one's reputation should be affected by honest and rapid action that nonetheless fell short. There isn't enough reason for the President to instigate an international conspiracy it is Republicans think it's supposed to do. There's no advantage to this so-called conspiracy in any way. Every single person has been honest since day one. Every single story aligns perfectly to the events portrayed by the person testifying ahead of them, from the people on the ground to the people in the Pentagon.

There's nothing to see here, folks.

Many Americans don't know the details of what surrounds the Benghazi attack. Many understandably rely on news outlets to give them the summary after it's over. But, right now, there are high-level Republican government officials who are determined to live in a conspiracy-filled fantasy world. The Benghazi cover-up isn't even the most ridiculous conspiracy from the Republicans this month. The Georgia Republican Senate Majority Leader sponsored a seminar explaining how Obama won the election using mind-control. That is not a joke or exaggeration. Donald Trump is still spouting about the President's birth certificate. Wisconsin and Florida elected officials are stating that hundreds of thousands of cases of voter fraud per state won Democrats the election. Before the election, seventy percent of Republicans believed the polls were skewed toward Obama, even though they were accurately depicting his victory. This type of conspiratorial thinking should have ended with the election. I thought the message to Republicans was clear: this insanity will no longer be tolerated.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

How to Fix the Republican Party

The United States two-party political system is frequently revered for its elegant simplicity and effectiveness. During my younger years, my father told me it was a good system not easily replaced and one of my favorite historians, J. Joseph Ellis, considers it among the "triumphs" of the Founding Fathers (no, it's not in the Constitution). I, on the other hand, find it limiting, divisive, destructive and dangerous. I want it weakened, split and then eradicated. Data shows that more people are hating it every year, as Independent voters now outnumber both Republicans and Democrats.

My father was right about one thing. It's not easily replaced. Over the past century, Democrats and Republicans have passed laws that make it all but impossible for third-party candidates to get any exposure to the electorate. Despite elected third-party representation in every other developed government, Americans consider it the most unlikely of pipe-dreams.

I've dedicated a considerable amount of thought to the destruction of the two-party system. I think it may yet happen. Goodness knows that the Republican party is teetering on the edge. But that doesn't help the American public right now. Instead of complaining about the parties and their behavior, I've decided to take a brief reprieve and focus on how to improve the parties we have. This doesn't excuse either party's stalwart resistance to the inclusion of a third party, but we need better options right now. We shouldn't have to wait until they do enough damage to themselves or each other before we can finally introduce reasonable and electable third-party candidates. We should improve the controlling parties while continuing to strive for more options in upcoming elections.

Both parties have issues that appear insurmountable to many voters. Democrats seem incapable of understanding the fact that money isn't limitless. Although Republicans understand this, to a degree, they seemingly understand little else. They are blind to their surroundings in every way. They lost the 2012 Presidential election, seats in the House of Representatives and seats in the Senate, yet they still don't see a need for party reform. Right now, Charles Krauthammer, arguably the smartest man I've ever read, continues to spin the idea that the Republican Party is on the right track.

That is willful delusion.

Bill O'Reilly and the 24-hour-infomercial known as Fox News are telling their viewers that Republicans lost the election because the American people want handouts and Obama will give it to them.


According to PEW Research polls, 87% of voters said the Economy was a critical issue. In the same poll, we can see that other considerations are fading, such as immigration, energy and terrorism. Fifty-six percent of voters said they preferred a smaller federal government. The country still leans conservative, which it has for a decade.

Eighty-three percent (83%) of Americans are concerned about the debt. A conservative-leaning electorate with great interest in fixing the debt problem is NOT, by and large, a group that wants handouts. Unless they're old. The only group to continually demand "handouts" en masse, and raise taxes if necessary to keep it getting handouts, is the baby boomer/retiree voting block. Which is the only group that voted heavily in favor of Republicans. That doesn't sound like an electorate that wants "free stuff." It sounds like an electorate that collectively appreciates the dangers of overspending and wants to do something about it.

The majority of people even believed Romney would be better for the debt crisis. That's right, people think a Republican might even be better at dealing with the crisis, but couldn't bring themselves to vote Republican anyway.

I explained in my last post what the electorate actually has a problem with. To elaborate, nearly every other major issue the Republican Party stands for is either...

Willfully Ignorant
or Batshit Crazy.

The Republican Party has to address these issues. The Presidential Primary proved to the world that the party leadership is comprised of candidates who intend to become the moral police, something most Americans find distasteful in the first place, and worse, their moral compass is off-kilter from the rest of the country. That is not a problem with the electorate, the media, or ANYONE ELSE the party wants to blame. It is a Republican Party problem and if they truly want to address the financial issue, they need to abandon their overbearing, intrusive moral crusade. We can make our own decisions. For a party complaining that the Democratic party thinks we're too dumb to make our own decisions and that they pass too many frivolous laws, like cigarette tax hikes, bans on Happy Meals, and volume reduction on Soft Drinks, the Republican Party wants to control the most intimate aspects of our lives. If we have to choose between two overly-legislative styles, we're going pay more for cigarettes and forgo 64 oz big gulps instead of tolerating Senators telling us who and how to fuck.

There is a separation of church and state. We like it that way. The primary obstacle to the Tea Party's incessant attempts to violate the first amendment is churches. They understand the repercussions to religions intervening in the role of government and vice versa. Too many Republican leaders scratch and tear at the wall of separation when they want Christian laws passed, and then conveniently remember why it's there when they want to squelch the influence of Islam's Sharia Law in American politics. It works both ways. Republicans are constitutionally forbidden from favoring Christianity, Islam, Shinto, Buddhism, Judaism, Hellenism, or any of the hundreds of other religions.

They can probably use the following religious phrases without a) compromising their faith, or b) alienating everyone else:
"God Bless America"
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims."
"My faith has helped guide me through difficult times and tough decisions."

No one gets their feathers too ruffled about those innocuous comments. However, once they start preaching about the will of God (by the way, too many people are privy to God's thoughts, which is blasphemy) or the apocalyptic commandments of Jesus (whose name was actually Yeshua (double parenthetical bonus: it translates to Joshua) and Republicans don't seem to know that), is when we get into dangerous territory.

Democrats aren't divisive, Republicans are. When comparing the party that brought together Latinos, Blacks, women, Asians, Muslims, Atheists, mainstream Christians, Gays and youth for the election, as well as preferred by other nation's leaders to the other party, which is hated by every single other highly developed nation in the WORLD except Pakistan, that could only rally a majority of votes among 50 year old evangelical white males, it's clear which party is divisive. They must knock off this notion that Democrats are the villains in this story and take responsibility for scaring off every demographic with extremist rhetoric and policies.

They need to stop threatening Revolution. Donald Trump is the most recent Republican to do so. It's been said by Greene County, VA Republicans and Sarah Palin. Sean Hannity irresponsibly hyped the rhetoric. Michele Bachmann encouraged it. Glenn Beck alternately condemns  revolution or advocates it, depending on if it's communist or his idea  (He's a Libertarian, though. Kind of). Republican Leaders called for citizens to take their country back, take to the streets, rise up! When the Occupation movement began, when the poor and downtrodden, the young and passionate did exactly that, Republicans did everything possible to crush the movement. They're not just calling for revolution, they're hypocrites about it. They clearly don't care about the will of the people, they just want to do whatever they want. Because that rhetoric is unnecessarily incendiary and they are so selective about whether it is the revolution they want to lead, whether the people want it or not, they need to stop talking about it.

And for goodness' sake, they have to stop talking about Rape! People are making lists of the most offensive Republican comments about rape. That list should have one comment, the only one before they all learned to shut up. If at any point they think it's a good idea to talk about rape, Republicans should take a deep breath, and really think, not rush it. They should think about how they will word it, try to visualize the face of the person they are speaking with when they say it, concentrating on the outcome. They should take time to consider the reactions of the casual passers-by, whom may hear; take a look at them and wonder, really wonder, if they're going to understand, with the utmost clarity, what is being said. If they do all that, the person they were talking to should have already left after uncomfortably staring at their perplexed and distant expressions. They'll know they said the right thing if nothing came out of their fucking mouths. Don't. Ever. Talk. About. Rape. If necessary, Republicans should start the Don't Ever Talk About Rape Foundation (D.E.T.A.R.F.) to give support to idiots in their party who may think they have a problem with spontaneous rape-talk. It tends to be a uniquely Republican phenomenon to burst into rape-talk without warning. They need to nip that shit in the bud.

Just this advice will help Republicans with Asians, Latinos, Mulsims, Jews and Women. Fixing these issues will not compromise what is supposed to be the core issues among Republicans, fiscal responsibility and a limited and efficient government, because most of the country wants that. If Republicans really cared what happens to the country's finances, then they wouldn't use their podiums to ram overreaching moral imperatives down our throats; they would concentrate on finance.

Follow the examples of Marco Rubio when he says, God doesn't love us more than Belgium.  Follow the lead of Jon Huntsman, when he says he believes Scientists about Global Warming and evolution. Get away from complaining about how we're all a bunch of teat-sucking degenerates and concentrate on how to help our financial situation, improve energy efficiency, avoid foreign dependence on oil (and oil altogether, if possible) and advance scientific innovation. We can all get behind those things.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Republicans Miss the Mark

Republicans, I am your target.

I'm a political moderate who believes a balanced budget is essential to renewed American prosperity. I'm a swing voter. In 2008, my ballot crissed and crossed party lines as I tried to support candidates who reflected ethical leadership and responsibility. You've had me in your sights since 2008, and after campaigning for my benefit, speaking directly to me and my circumstances, you have completely missed the mark.

You believed you could attach any price tag to fiscal reform and we'd accept it because we are desperate for it. You overstated the meaning of the 2010 congressional election, when seats swung conservative, you believed it was an endorsement of all Republican ideals. You banked on it. You were wrong. For the sake of promised fiscal responsibility, I, and apparently many others, was not willing to take it at the cost of compromising fundamental freedoms and sacrificing reason.

Americans tend to respect science. It brought electricity into our homes, gave us transportation to work, improved medicine and got us to the Moon. Yet, the Republican Party, with increasing intensity, demands we reject clear scientific data about Global Warming, Germ Theory and Evolution.

You demand we assign special significance to the relationships of certain consenting adults and condemn the relationship of other consenting adults. Most of us couldn't care less what people do or who they do it with.

You've stepped away from the encouragement and promotion of values and, instead, attempt to legislate them. You too often emphasized the middle name of the President, as if it held some significant meaning. You denied the validity of his verified and triple-checked birth records. You unreasonably called him a Muslim while equating American Muslims with terrorists.

You fervently claimed to know the will of a God, and try to make us abide by that will, whether we believe or not. In the only country with a legal founding document elucidating the separation of church and state, you've demanded we worship your God in your way.

For every person willing to risk social injustice for the sake of financial stability, there were more who refused to accept your party's unreasonable prejudices. You've crossed lines the rest of us defend. We do not want zealous anti-science intolerance. Sure, we want passion and responsibility, but we want logic and reason too. After the frightening Republican Presidential Primary, Mitt Romney was the only candidate who stood a chance of election, and even he could not overcome the party stigma. You've attached too high a price tag to fiscal reform.

You've lost the Presidential election because of it.