Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Obama Problem Cont’d

Greenwald has once again written a very insightful post on a major issue he and I share with the Obama presidency, which is Obama’s unwillingness to make closing GITMO a priority. If you have not read the series of posts he has written about the President’s refusal to exercise his political clout in this and other areas regarding detainee issues, I suggest you do so. He presents a very well-argued case that Obama’s actions are pretty damning proof that he has no interest in waging the “War on Terror” any differently than his predecessor, even if he has dispensed with the terminology. Very disappointing.


David Fincher to Direct Facebook Movie Cont’d

Last year I posted a brief story that David Fincher, the man who brought us such films as Fight Club and Se7en, was going to direct a movie about the creation of Facebook entitled The Social Network.

Here is the teaser trailer for that film:

I will say this: That teaser makes it seem like a much more compelling film than I could have imagined it would be.

Cubs Meltdown: Part 102

For the 102nd year in a row, the Chicago Cubs will not be winning the World Series.  Despite being 8 games under .500 they are only 8 games in back of 1st in the Central, but they’re finished. I know, I know, we have not even reached the All-Star break yet, but this team is as dysfunctional as it gets. The latest exhibit: Our “ace” had to be separated from our 1st basemen during today’s game because they nearly got into a fight.

I was not even the least bit shocked when I saw that headline a short while ago. That is how bad this season has been. It actually started with Zambrano, the aforementioned “ace”, being put in the bullpen because he forgot how to pitch. He recently returned to the rotation, and he gave up four runs in the 1st inning today; apparently it was Derrek Lee’s (1st baseman) fault.

This team’s main problem is a lack of hitting, especially timely hitting. They are tied with the Kansas City Royals, the ROYALS, for most losses in one-run games, which has to be frustrating for the players.

And as a fan, this team is just not fun to watch or root for (do not for a second think that means I do not still root for them). They have underperformed and are not very clutch. I hope GM Jim Hendry trades away as many of the veterans he can, with Alfonso Soriano on top of my wishlist (but not going to happen without eating a large chunk of his terrible contract, and even then, good luck), get some prospects in return, and start the rebuilding process. The team already has rookies Starlin Castro and Tylver Colin making positive impacts this year, which bodes well for our future. I want to see who else we have in our system.

As we say in Cubs land, Wait till next year…

Obama: The Long Game, Part II

In February of 2009, Obama had signed into law a nearly $800 billion stimulus package that received a grand total of 3 Republican votes in Congress, despite the very troubled economy and the huge number of monthly job losses at the time (700,000 per).  It would seem illogical for the Republicans to vote against a bill aimed at getting the economy out of recession, but they and their media wing did an apt job of selling the bill as a socialist tool that would not be as beneficial as tax cuts and tax cuts alone.

That February he also announced a troop increase in Afghanistan of 17,000 soldiers. In March, Obama ordered 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan and gave us more insight into how he perceived the war there and what his strategy to “win” was:

If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged, that country will again be a base for terrorists.

So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.

That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you.

At this moment, the war in Afghanistan became Obama’s war, and it should have come to no surprise to anyone who paid attention to candidate Obama whom in 2008 said he wanted to pull troops out of Iraq and send them to Afghanistan . Obama saw the Afghanistan mission as one that Bush abandoned, and he was right about that. Thus, he wanted to combat terrorism where he felt it needed to be fought. But the mistake Obama, and his predecessor, made was thinking that terrorism was something that could be fought by more conventional military means. It is hard to argue that sending more of our military to the Middle East, an area of the world leery of U.S. policies even before the “War on Terror”, and escalating the conflict, thereby causing the loss of civilian life (sometimes intentionally), would inspire people of that area to join “our side”.

This was not a bold and courageous move by the President; it was the safe and expected one.  And it did not win him any political points with his opponents as would be clearly seen in the subsequent year when the health care debate took center stage (more on that later).

I do not know if Obama truly wanted to escalate the war in Afghanistan or if he felt that, given the situation, he HAD to.  If you recall, when defending the stimulus spending he deflected criticism of being a “tax & spend liberal” by saying he did not want to spend money to bail out banks and auto companies, but that he had to in order to keep the economy from going into a depression. I suppose whether you believe this or not dictates what side of the political divide you fall on.

All I know is that I can only hope that he did not make such a difficult decision because he felt a full withdrawal and acknowledgment that our efforts there were futile and probably creating more enemies, would be political suicide. Remember, this is a man who opposed the war and subsequent surge in Iraq, but felt the need to distance himself from at least the latter position when the surge showed signs of success.

The evidence overwhelmingly supports Obama’s choice to oppose the Iraq war, and probably the surge no matter what its eventual outcome, but that he felt he needed to distance himself from those positions (if, in fact, that is what he was doing) once again underscores the lengths our political leaders must go to in order to appease a misinformed and distracted nation. Obama had to tread carefully because he had to; we are a country of “all that matters is now”, and what is said and done in the past is irrelevant (unless politically expedient) and what can be done now to solve problems in the future is almost just as irrelevant.

(Quick tangent, somewhat related to these points about our problems as a populace:  This idea that America has never done anything wrong, is doing nothing wrong now and can never do wrong is naïve, myopic and dangerous. And that anyone would question, criticize, or express remorse for some of our actions and be called unpatriotic and anti-American for it, is just as dangerous. There would be no U.S.A. had citizens not questioned and criticized their ruling government. But we have allowed some in our country, led by the Republican party and their media wing, to claim the authority on what constitutes “patriotism”. In their eyes, unquestioning faith and devotion to American foreign policy decisions and denouncing any domestic initiatives that do not contain the words “tax” and “cut” in them is the only patriotism that matters. It is what “real” Americans think.  Meanwhile, they are free to call their sitting President a “socialist”, compare him to Hitler, imply he is in league with Muslim terrorists, and not once have their patriotism questioned. Why? Because being critical, no matter who off-base the criticisms may be, is part of what makes this country tick, what makes us great. Too bad they do not show those of us who question in our own way the same sort of respect. I can speak only for me of course when I say that I do not criticize our actions because I hate our country; I do so because I want our country to be exceptional. Republicans already think it is.)

Maybe Obama is more of a hawk and genuinely thought a surge in Afghanistan was the right call, and frankly, I hope that is the case. Because if the move was a “cave-in” to pressure from his opponents and the populace, who have been sucking on the tit of fear for the last nine years enabling us to sit by and watch while we waged two wars, spent a trillion dollars doing it, lost countless American lives and destroyed countless others, unlawfully detained and tortured innocent people, and saw our moral standing in the world diminished (and probably created more enemies than we destroyed), then that would be an extreme example of how cynical our politics has become.

And now, with McChrystal out a year into the Afghanistan mission and Petreus in, I have serious doubts (and I’m not the only one) about Obama being able to proceed with his planned withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. I say “being able” because, again, even if he wants to, politics and public pressure will probably prevent him from doing so.

(Part III to come)

Tennis Epic

In other sports news, the longest tennis match in the sport’s history is taking place at Wimbledon right now. Two fairly unknown players (John Isner & Nicolas Mahut) are in the 5th set of their match. The tally in the 5th set right now: 58-58. If my tennis parlance is correct, I believe that means they have played 116 games in the 5th set alone. Actually, the 5th set itself has eclipsed the previous record for the longest tennis MATCH of all time. They have played for nearly 10 hours of total match time, 7 of them coming today.

Incredible day in sports.

World Cup: U.S. Madness!

The U.S. had their final match of group play this morning at 9am my time. I recorded the game as I was at work and just finished watching it now. SPOILER ALERT: If you do not want to know what happened, please stop reading.

A quick summary of how the World Cup works for the uninitiated. There are 32 teams in the World Cup, split into 8 groups with 4 teams in each group. Each team plays the other 3 teams in their group and the two teams who finish with the most points in their group advance to the knockout rounds (win or go home). A team gets 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw (tie) and 0 points for a loss. In the event of ties after the group stage, goal differential becomes important. That means if two teams are tied with 5 points, the team with the best goal differential (number of goals scored – goals given up) advances.

In Group C, the U.S. was sitting in a tie for 2nd place with England, each team with 2 points and trailing the group leader Slovenia who had 4 points. The U.S. was playing Algeria, who was sitting alone at the bottom of the group with 1 point, while England played Slovenia. If the U.S. won, they advanced no matter what happened in the England game. But if the U.S. only managed a draw, they would need a draw in the England game and hope they would surpass the English in goal differential in order to advance.

The U.S. is notorious for bad starts and giving up early goals. That did not happen today. They came out much more prepared and more aggressive offensively. There was a very good scoring chance for Algeria when a strike from outside the box hit the crossbar, but no damage was done. The U.S. generated most of the scoring chances in the first half and in the 21st minute this happened:

In case you do not understand what happened there, the goal was disallowed for an offsides call that replays showed was wrong. So, the half ended scoreless.

The second half saw an even more dominant performance by the U.S., and yet, despite numerous chances, they could not find the back of the net. Meanwhile, England had a 1-0 lead over Slovenia which meant that the U.S. had to win the game in order to advance, or hope that Slovenia scored and earned a draw against the English. A draw would leave them one point behind Slovenia for the 2nd spot and two points behind England.

The game progressed and that 90th minute kept getting closer and despite their valiant efforts, the U.S. just could not net a goal. Then the 90th minute came and despite the referee tacking four additional minutes, the game was still scoreless and England was about to win. It would seem that it was not to be for the U.S., who now suddenly found themselves in danger of losing to an Algerian squad playing back and taking advantage of U.S. aggressiveness to try and score on the counterattack.

Algeria controlled the ball to start the extra time and attacked the U.S. defense, getting a shot on goalie Tim Howard. Howard stopped the shot and got the ball out quickly to Landon Donovan on the wing to start a U.S. attack, which led to this:

Incredible!! Improbable!! No word does justice to what you just saw. Adding to the weight of that was the fact that the U.S. had never even earned a point in any 3rd match of group play in a World Cup, and the goal not only gave the U.S. the victory, but it won them the group. Just amazing!

Obama : The Long Game, Part I

The subtitle of this post is borrowed from a term that I have most often seen used by one of my favorite political bloggers, Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan often credits Obama for not being farsighted like so many of his opponents and being willing to take a few punches in the short-term for long-term wins. Sullivan seems on point with this as Obama has repeatedly “risen from the mat” to claim huge legislative and political victories.

But I want to talk about why Obama has been fairly cautious in his approach thus far in his presidency. It would not be unreasonable to argue that Obama has not been cautious at all, what with passing a stimulus bill and comprehensive health care reform, escalating the war in Afghanistan, and “shaking down” BP over the spill. But if you look closely at those bills, his foreign policy, and how his administration has handled detainee issues, you see a much more moderate and careful approach (and let me also add that the posts in this series deal with the more major policies of the Obama presidency and not the things he has done that garner little attention but that have been positive steps, such as giving money to states to assist with Medicaid payments to the poor). And I think that was intentional, for the reasons outlined below.

Think back to 2008. We had long grown tired of Bush/Cheney, with Bush’s approval rating somewhere in the 20s, and an epic campaign was reaching its climax. Two very significant things happened that year: Fox News ratcheted up its attacks on Obama, bringing them to the absurd even by their standards, and McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his VP. The combination of the two had to be a wake-up call to Obama about how cynical our politics had become, and yet, he still spoke about eschewing the politics of old and creating a more bipartisan atmosphere in Washington.

Obama wins the election and inherits a mess of a political, economic and foreign policy scene. To combat this, as well as the political and media cynicism, he immediately reaches out to McCain in the hopes of getting Republicans on board to help rebuild the nation and its image. Here is a bit from a joint statement the two released following their meeting, which took place days after the election:

At this defining moment in history, we believe that Americans of all parties want and need their leaders to come together and change the bad habits of Washington so that we can solve the common and urgent challenges of our time

We hope to work together in the days and months ahead on critical challenges like solving our financial crisis, creating a new energy economy, and protecting our nation’s security.

Typical political speak to be sure, but it only reinforces the cynicism I have mentioned. Because not soon after Obama took office two months later, it was clear that one man saw that meeting and its outcome as sincere and the other did not, or at least saw things differently by January of 2009. I have no doubts that McCain was terribly bitter about losing the election, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he was sincere about helping Obama at that time. But in the two months leading up to the inauguration, the Republican party concluded that the best way for them to move forward, politically, was to oppose Obama at all costs, and they convinced McCain to go along with them.

So it is January of 2009, Obama is now the president and he has the unenviable task of dealing with the wreckage left behind by the Bush/Cheney national disaster. Call it naivety, call it stubborness, or political posturing, but Obama did reach out to the Republicans in the week following his inaguration to discuss the stimulus package, prompting this response from John Boehner: “The president is sincere in wanting to work with us, wanting to here [sic] our ideas and find some common ground.”

Obama and the Republicans knew a stimulus would be necessary to combat the recession, but the Republicans wanted nothing but tax cuts and some extensions of unemployment benefits, while Obama and the democrats wanted to include work programs along with tax cuts and unemployment benefits. And already, the Obama as big government spender meme was being rolled out by Fox News, aka, the Republican propaganda machine. In the end, a watered down stimulus bill was passed that included cuts to things like school nutrition, as well as generous tax cuts, at a lower price-tag than hoped for, and was done with no Republican support in the house and only 3 votes in the Senate (one of whom was Arlen Specter, who would later switch parties).

Now, I have no problem with politicians being criticized on substantive policy grounds. But that was not happening too much during this time in the MSM, particularly with Fox News, and it still not happening today. Using Fox as an example (I know, too easy), they were enabling peoples’ fears about Obama being a Muslim-terrorist, or a Socialist, or a Kenyan, which was and is not constructive journalism. Aside from being moronically false claims, that type of reporting misses the point and gets people focused on peripheral matters and not the substance of the issues. Sadly, this kind of journalism works and it makes the President’s job harder (Maybe that is a good thing, a sort of “checks and balances” with the media and populace holding the reigns?).

I am not saying that people are policy wonks and want to hear that kind of stuff, but it is a real shame that news organizations cannot find ways to both call out politicians for their double-speak, and figure out a way to lay out the most important aspects of new and important laws in a way the public can understand them.

I mention all this to say that while people were distracted by ridiculous claims about Obama, they failed to notice the lack of Republican support for a stimulus bill aimed at helping middle class and working Americans, like those who might watch Fox News for example. And many, if not most, Obama supporters failed to notice the bill was deficient in various aspects.

And on the same day Obama signed the stimulus bill into law, the White House announced they would be sending 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. A rather obvious clue that Obama intended to escalate the conflict in that country.

(Stay tuned for Part II in this series of posts.)