Friday, December 16, 2016

Why I quit politics

"Why I quit politics" is reposted from Andrei Codrescu's journal, Exquisite Corpse: http://www.corpse.org/archives/issue_12/clash/lasken.html


Of course you have to do something before you can quit it. I was a novice politician for almost a year in 1993, the year I ran for a seat on the Los Angeles School Board. I walked door to door, badgered people on the street, debated my opponent at public forums and on T.V. I talked to the newspapers, gave them statements, bios, photos. My opponent was the incumbent, well connected in Democratic circles through his political family, fast with facts and figures, thinner and younger than I.

From the start I had dumb luck. Most importantly, the teachers union, United Teachers of Los Angeles, declined to make an endorsement in our race, although they had supported the incumbent in his first campaign. I would have been dead in the water against them.

I also had luck in packaging. I was a classroom teacher, and this turned out to be a greatly saleable ballot label against my opponent's "Board member" (Political operatives have learned about this, and will scrounge deeply to find any past connection between the classroom and their candidates).

I stumbled into a lucky situation with a political sign company. The first company I approached, a major one in L.A., had been stiffed by a series of candidates and was reluctant to commit to me. My father had loaned me two thousand dollars for my campaign, and I blurted out that I would pay this up front in the form of a cashier's check. Within two days hundreds of signs saying "Keep Askin' for Lasken" were all over the turf in contention (so called Region 5, the western edge of the city running north from Westchester to Chatsworth). Compounding this beginner's luck was what I found to be a striking naivety in seemingly sophisticated people. For instance, a school administrator, a follower of news and an activist in neighborhood politics, said in reference to the signs that she had no idea I had so much "support."

My timing with the issues was lucky. The opinion in the San Fernando Valley was almost entirely for breaking up the giant L.A. school district (second largest in the country after New York's), and the west San Fernando Valley, the part in Region 5, was the most intensely pro-breakup. The incumbent was not in a position to support breakup, and I had supported it for years.

The issue of bilingual education worked in my favor. Though I supported California's efforts to help non-English speaking children with native language support, I was opposed to the withholding of English language instruction until higher grades. This played well with voters, anticipating the landslide passage five years later of Proposition 227, which mandated English language instruction in addition to native language support. Newspaper editors, most particularly Jack Miles at the L.A. Times, liked the topic, and I was able to publish a series of articles on bilingual education; several appeared during the campaign.

One week before the election I got a call from a pro-choice organization. They had been planning to send thousands of mailers in support of the incumbent because he had paid them a sizable fee and, of course, was pro-choice. I had only evinced the latter virtue. It happened that someone in the incumbent's campaign had angered them, and they had decided to support me in the mailer for free.

Topping off my luck, I won a raffle that placed my name first among the seven candidates. The effect of " 1. Doug Lasken-Teacher" was hard to beat as product placement.

The result of my luck: I received 36,000 votes, coming in second behind the incumbent's 50,000 ( turnout was large in this election because of the Riordan-Wu mayoral race). Had I taken 1% more of his vote, we would have been in a run-off. The day after the election the L.A. Times referred to "...newcomer Doug Lasken's surprising showing."

I remember standing at a newsstand off Hollywood Boulevard at 6:00a.m. reading, with trembling hands, the Times' hopeful obituary of me. Something sank inside me. The Doors '"This is the End" comes to mind. I knew I would not "capitalize" on my dumb luck, but I did not know why. I did not know why I had, at that moment, quit politics.

Well, perhaps what I didn't know was how to say it. I'm going to try to say it now: Politicians can't say "I don't know."

Politicians, in fact, can't say much at all of what they think. Well "Duh",you say. Yes, but when you're in a political situation where you're setting yourself up as the person who knows what's best, who has an answer to complex problems, there's a certain poignancy that comes with the knowledge that you're constructing a facade, a veil of words that sounds right, while the much vaunted human cortex watches as from the end of a long tunnel.

The above mental state was produced by certain types of questions, such as, "How would you increase test scores?" There is familiar boilerplate to deal with such questions: "Every student must receive quality instruction...We must have accountability and standards... Education must be our number one priority...", etc. Not that there is anything incorrect in such sentiments, but if they contained any important policy ideas we would be experiencing a much larger number of high scoring children. I did my best to sling a few slogans, and I used the English language instruction and breakup issues with some effect, but my brain was uncomfortable, my speech somewhat hesitant, and this perhaps cost me the 1% and the runoff.

Delving deeper into my uncooperative mind, I found something truly scary. It's not just that I wasn't in a position to say what I really thought about raising test scores. My hands hover now above the keyboard, waiting for a sign. No sign comes. Some muse has got me this far, but at the crucial moment she stands silent.

What the hell, here goes. Well you see, the thing is... I didn't really know how to raise test scores. I did believe that breaking up the district might improve efficiency, and that teaching English would improve English skills, but I wasn't completely sure test scores would go up significantly as a result. After all, when we talk about raising test scores we're not just talking about a few numbers going up; we're talking about real improvement in children's intellectual abilities. How do you get fifth graders in large numbers to know their times-tables, and remember them into secondary school? How do you get secondary students in large numbers to read books, really read them, from beginning to end? Why would a few corrective policy changes produce such profound educational outcomes?

Hindsight has justified the hesitation I felt during my campaign. Proposition 227 reinstated English instruction. A well funded "Standards" movement took hold in California and in much of the rest of the country, accompanied by millions of dollars in new textbooks and teacher training. There has been math reform, with renewed emphasis on basics. These reforms have helped a lot of kids, but they have not "raised test scores" in the real sense. In other words, although there have been small jumps in scores, there is no systemic, widespread change in our students. If you walk into a California classroom at random you are unlikely to find kids who can read well, or want to read, or who do math with the facility you find in Asia. Nor will you find this two years from now, or four years from now. It's not happening and it's not going to happen.

Why not? Because the discussion is political, and therefore incomplete. Standards are important, and logical instruction is important. But those are the easy parts.

Back to the reporter asking me how I would raise test scores. Let's say a cosmic force had ordered me to tell the truth. What would I have said? I might have stammered, "Well... I'm not sure." The reporter's brain would then have closed my file, stamping "loser" on it. If he was polite, though, there would be a pause, and then I would begin to think. This in itself, the sight of a politician lost in thought while the world waits, is anathema to a successful image. But if the cosmic force could get everyone to wait a bit, I could have given a decent answer. The discussion might have gone something like this:

Me: Well, we have a fundamental disconnect between our media based culture and the school setting. Virtually every kid is taught by the media to gaze at colored images which ridicule schools and teachers. We have nothing effective to counter this. We have not figured out a modern motivation for students. The U.S.is one of the few countries in the world that has ruled out physical pain as an educational tool (Singapore, much admired by math reformers, achieves the highest secondary math scores in the world partly by beating underachievers with bamboo canes). We do rely on the psychological pain implicit in the report card grade, but because of grade inflation, rampant from kindergarten through graduate school, and the glorification in the media of school failure, grades alone have become a weak motivator for all but a few students.

Reporter: So you advocate beating our students?

Me: Of course not.

Reporter: Then what do you advocate?

Me: We've forgotten economic incentive.

Reporter: For teenagers?

Me: Yes. Our surplus based society has extended childhood, resulting in dependence on parents at later ages, but teenagers are in their physical and intellectual prime, and will remain so into their twenties. They are designed to create and work, but the automation that gave us our surplus has resulted in a more seriously underemployed society than we like to admit. There are over 100,000 gang members in L.A., but there are not 100,000 jobs for them, not even menial ones. The standard curriculum in high school does not relate directly to visible jobs. Perhaps shop and computer classes do, but the thousands of jobs it would take to rationalize that curriculum do not exist. Honors students, the handful of clever kids who know how they will work the system, put up with non job-related curricula because they see a path to employment based on grades and general literacy, but they too have to wait. It is arguable that one of the purposes of secondary school is to serve as a holding facility to keep teenagers out of the job market. The first several years of college may serve the same purpose.

Reporter: So...you would propose.....?

Me: Well, somehow we need to have an economy that can absorb many more teenagers and people in their early twenties, and a school system that clearly feeds into this economy. But our technology, automation, may have made this impossible.

Reporter: How do you propose to remedy this?

Me ( after very long pause): I don't know.

End of dialogue, and career. Even an answer like, " We will have to replace our world economy, built up in haphazard form over three hundred years of industrial revolution, with a completely new, rationally organized economy", impractical as it might be as a campaign position, would be better than "I don't know." Anything is better than "I don't know."

It might seem strange to an extraterrestrial visitor from an advanced civilization that we have no place in our public discourse for "I don't know", since we so often, clearly, don't know, but it's basic human psychology at work. Management theorists have shown that leaders get approval for making decisions, for being decisive, regardless of the results (advice routinely followed by politicians). This is understandable given the human condition. We really don't know what we are supposed to do on this earth, or even if we are supposed to do something. If our leaders admitted this in public, society at large might collapse in terror. Still though, it can be something of a hindrance to problem solving to maintain at all times that soothing platitudes are solutions.

So after a refreshing brush with the fast lane, I returned, sober but wiser, to the classroom, where I find I can say "I don't know" a lot, to students, to parents, to my colleagues, and they don't seem to mind. Hey wait a minute, these people vote, or will vote...Hmmm.













Monday, December 05, 2016

Updates from Harry the Human

Regular readers will be familiar with my friend Harry the Human and his eccentric comrade, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster (http://harrythehuman.harrythehumanpoliticalthoughtsfrombeyondthepale.com/).  Robert was abducted last week by fellow gilas who are in a psychic war with humanity.  Tune in to my discussion of Robert, Harry and current events with Dr. Cheryl Lubin on her show, In Our Times at http://latalkradio.com/sites/default/files/audio/Cheryl-120616.mp3).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The ten-day blackout of Raqqa/Fallujah news on ABC, CBS and NBC (Updated)

I have not posted on this blog since May, when my friend and colleague Harry the Human told me that people are bored with polemics, even when all the assertions are true.  "What is anyone supposed to do with the knowledge that our entry into Syria's civil war is manipulated by forces we can't see or control?" Harry asked, continuing, "Better to put it all into poetry and, for want of a better term, 'fiction.'"  

That is what Harry does at http://harrythehuman.harrythehumanpoliticalthoughtsfrombeyondthepale.com/

I value Harry's opinion and so neglected this blog, but Harry tells me he has reconsidered my prose, and he now thinks that I've been right about so many things that I should keep at it.  This essay, my last before my hiatus, explores the media's role in manipulating the public's understanding of our involvement in Syria. Note the postscript, written today, 10/12, updating the media's most recent manipulations.  

I'm taking Harry's advice and will contribute again to this blog.  

Listen to my discussion of world events with Dr. Cheryl Lubin on her radio show, "In our Times," Tuesday, Nov. 5, 5:00pm at http://latalkradio.com/content/our-times.


D.L.   


At least the Vietnam War was reported.  Each time President Lyndon Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam in the late 1960's, the event was prominently covered in that evening's TV network news- on CBS, NBC and ABC- and appeared in headlines in all major American newspapers the next day.  Contrast that with modern reporting of America at war.  For instance, ARA News (an independent news service often cited by American network news) reported on April 2 (http://aranews.net/2016/04/u-s-led-coalition-hit-isis-mosque-syrias-raqqa/) that U.S.-led coalition bombers hit a mosque in Raqqa, killing "several militants" and "a number of civilians [up to 30] who attended Friday prayers."  The story was not run on American networks, that day or later.

My intent here is to detail a ten day period, starting May 24 and ending June 3, that featured a blackout of coverage by American TV networks (and many major newspapers) of any news of U.S.- coalition actions in Syria and Iraq.  The blackout coincided with the launching of two major coalition offenses.  On May 24 dozens of news sites on the Internet reported twin attacks by American-led coalitions against the two ISIS capitals, Raqqa in Syria and Fallujah in Iraq.  The attacks are ongoing as I write, but from May 24 through June 2 there was not one word on the attacks- or anything else in Syria or Iraq- on the CBS, NBC or ABC evening news from New York.  

[Update, 6/8: Although network coverage of the Raqqa and Fallujah attacks resumed 6/3, it is heavily censored, focussing on U.S. warplanes taking off from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.  For instance, although ABC online reported on 6/6 that Sunni civilians fleeing Fallujah face torture and death from Shiite troops in the U.S. coalition (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-07/iraqi-sunnis-accuse-shiite-militias-of-torture-in-is-battle/7484180), ABC TV did not report the story, nor did CBS or NBC.  This news item could be inconvenient  because we explain the attack on Fallujah as necessary to rescue Sunni civilians.]

Although the networks remained silent, mainstream reporting increased a bit starting Tuesday, May 31, with the Los Angeles Times' first piece on the attacks (http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-iraq-fallouja-20160531-snap-story.html), one week after they started. By the time the story ran it delivered old and incomplete information, at least to people who read Internet news.  In addition to the airstrikes and allied torture of civilians mentioned above, over the first week of the blackout people who read Internet news also learned that there are U.S. troops on the ground in the Raqqa attack (CNN: Politics posts photos of U.S. special-ops forces on the front lines near Raqqa, http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/26/politics/gallery/syria-special-ops/index.html).  The L.A. Times story omitted the airstrikes and U.S. troops on the ground, but it did describe the plight of civilians trapped in Fallujah.  The late reporting and the omissions removed all context from the plight of the civilians. The result: when Angelenos who rely on their hometown newspaper woke up on the 31st to read in the Times that 50,000 civilians trapped in Fallujah fear for their lives because of the U.S. coalition attack, that the civilian men anticipate being killed either by the U.S.-coalition or ISIS, they read this as if just learning what much of the world already knew, like amnesiacs waking in confusion.   How did actions by the U. S. during the news blackout affect the perceptions of civilians in Fallujah and Raqqa?  How do those civilians see us now, as our coalition threatens their lives to save them from ISIS? How does the rest of the world see the situation?  We don't know because we haven't been learning anything about it.  By the time we do learn it, it's a fait accompli.  

The pattern of omission during the blackout suggests that America's level of freedom and reliability of information is not unlike China's, with its dichotomy between state-controlled media and a still-free Internet, although in our case, for "state-controlled media" you would substitute "network news."  During the ten days of network silence the Raqqa and Fallujah attacks were covered extensively on the Internet by U.S.-based sites such as National Public Radio's (e.g., U.S.-Backed Forces Launch Two Major Offenses Against ISIS:  http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/25/479480583/u-s-backed-forces-launch-two-major-offensives-against-islamic-state), as well as the Daily Beast, CNN, BBC World News and many others, in sharp contrast to the censored news from New York.   Someone seemed to have given the networks the word: Do not direct public attention to the attacks on Raqqa and Fallujah.

The same omission appears in the presidential race: there has been no reference to the coalition attacks from Trump, Sanders or Clinton.  


The blackout finally ended on June 3, when the CBS evening news with Scott Pelley reported on the battle for Fallujah (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/50000-civilians-complicate-battle-to-retake-fallujah-iraq-from-isis/).  As in the L.A. Times piece, we learn that 50,000 civilians are trapped in Fallujah.  We do not learn of U.S. troops on the ground, of U.S. coalition airstrikes hitting civilians, or the threat to civilians in Fallujah from U.S. Coalition troops, again depriving American viewers of context.  The CBS piece begs the question of why the U.S. needs to lead this attack if thousands of civilians face massacre because of it, but without context few network viewers will notice.

In spite of the return of reporting to CBS, as far as the American public's attention goes the attacks are not happening.  Check with people you encounter today to confirm this.  Ten days of network blackout has contributed to this non-knowing, as it was intended to, but news manipulators are assisted by a long-bred political confusion, carefully nurtured since the Vietnam War and brought to fruition under President Obama, that has resulted in the hopeless fracturing of public comprehension of our war policies or any credible movement to question them.  

It should be noted that Americans do not necessarily care about collateral damage in the war against ISIS. Americans have been severely frightened by ISIS attacks on American and European civilians and by its many other gratuitous and horrible acts, so there exists a sort of tacit acceptance by Americans of raining down hell on ISIS, and maybe even on unknown civilians in the process.  To go along completely with this attitude, however, requires a level of trust in government that the Founders wisely did not recommend.  Accepting a government that so openly manipulates our understanding of world events will not serve us well in the future.

Conspiracy theories, such as those that posit active manipulation of a country's news sources, are by nature difficult to prove, even those, like mine, that are correct, but you can test the evidence for the two contentions in this essay:

1.  There was no coverage on American network TV news (i.e. on ABC, CBS or NBC) of the attacks on Raqqa and Fallujah from May 24 through June 2, while during the same period the Internet was full of critical coverage of the attacks. 

Test: Read online stories about the U.S. coalition attacks on Raqqa and Fallujah from May 24 through June 2.  Then go back, starting May 24, and check for coverage of the attacks in the evening news online for ABC, CBS and NBC. 
 Try major papers like the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.  The blackout is plain to see.

2.  Americans do not know that their country is leading major attacks on two foreign cities.

Test: Go up to anyone you know, or someone you just met, or the next person you see, and ask, "What's the latest on the U.S. coalition attacks on Raqqa and Fallujah?"   Let me know if you hear anything other than, "The what?"

Insert George Orwell quote here........


[Update, 10/12: The current triumph of mainstream media is the total amnesia regarding the U.S. coalition attack on Syrian troops on Sept. 17 (http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/17/middleeast/syria-claims-coalition-airstrike-hit-regime-forces/) which destroyed the Kerry/Lavrov putative attempt to bring relief to Aleppo.  Thousands of civilians now face pain and death because of that attack.  Do you remember hearing about it?  Probably not.  The media forgot it, so you forgot it too.

[This essay does not address the question of why a government would want to lure its people into war, but the subject came up Tuesday, 5/31, when Dr. Cheryl Lubin and I discussed it, and this essay, on her online radio show, In Our Times, at 
http://latalkradio.com/sites/default/files/audio/Cheryl-053116.mp3



Monday, May 02, 2016

Report from the California GOP convention

Why is one major political party collapsing, and the other teetering, just as we walk into a Mideast war?  Is our democracy less important to maintain when we're soon to be controlled by war hysteria?

I attended the California State Republican Convention in Burlingame last weekend, where I talked for twenty minutes with state Party Chair Jim Brulte and made notes on what I saw.  

First I'd better explain to my readers why I would attend a state GOP convention. I'm registered "decline to state," but for several years I've been interested in the Republican Party as a potential alternative to the war-mongering Democrats, who have used their top-dog status and skillful duplicity to bring us closer to war than Bush and the Neo-Cons ever dreamed.  

My hope was that the Republicans would follow the Democratic playbook of 1985 and re-invent themselves in their moment of crisis, a crisis brought on by its embrace of the Tea Party, which claims about 30% of the electorate and repels everyone else.  1985 is the year another major American political party revamped itself in the face of repeated failure.  After Ronald Reagan's landslide victory over Walter Mondale there was talk of the demise of the Democratic Party, reminiscent of talk today about the end of the Republican Party.  But unlike the GOP, the Democrats, under the guidance of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), undertook a self-study, identified their problem as an overly leftist agenda and found solutions in sharp turns to the right in welfare and trade.  To impress the electorate with the meaningfulness of its change, the Party picked public fights with progressives like Jesse Jackson.  The chair of the DLC was Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, who resigned to run successfully for president.   

I was certainly wrong about the GOP doing something like that.  The Party has shown no interest in self-analysis, expressing shock that Mitt Romney lost the last presidential election, and shock again this time that Jeb Bush, after spending $130 million on his campaign, would drop from the primaries as if no one had ever heard of him.  The clever minds of the DLC would have spotted the problem in an instant: the Republican Party will not publicly renounce the Tea Party.  That omission has ended the hopes of every centrist Republican candidate from Romney to Bush.

The GOP's faltering image helped Bill Clinton and continues to help President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and one might suspect a collusion between the parties in which the Republicans take the fall with unpopular positions (e.g. from Romney's primary opponent Senator Rick Santorum- never refuted by Romney: the Founders did not intend separation of church and state; abortion doctors should be charged with murder; contraception reduces sex to "mere pleasure") leaving the Democrats, by comparison, with a rational glow.  If so, the problem may have been that as time passed GOP leaders began to take this arrangement for granted and left the helm, allowing the Party to weaken to the point that the opportunist Donald Trump could corral it into submission.

The culture shift has been sudden.  Thus my interest in attending the Republican state convention last weekend.  I thought I might see a party in shambles, with factions colliding chaotically so that, at last, leaders might wake up and figure out how to survive and maybe even offer some resistance to Democrats.  I thought this even though national Party leaders had already shown their fatalism.  Senator Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House and chair of the Republican National Convention, was asked by a student what young Republicans should do if they see no candidate to support.  Continuing the GOP path to oblivion, Ryan advised that they should not approach the November election as a "vote for a person," adding, "I'm not trying to push you one way or another."  Why not?  

Similarly, after Reince Priebus, Chair of the Republican National Committee, met with Trump on April 1, Trump emerged to claim the Party would now rally behind him, while Priebus made no comment, staying in his office until all the reporters were gone.

[Update, 5/12:  Today Ryan and Priebus, who have so far declined to endorse Trump, met with him for the first time since the Indiana primary, when he became the presumptive nominee.  The three issued a statement describing the meeting as "a very positive step towards unification."  In terms of the art of the deal, the interpretation would be that Ryan and Priebus folded, allowing Trump to get the GOP for a bargain basement price, though you might critique Trump for acquiring something, regardless of price, that he won't be able to sell for more later.]

Back to the California convention, the big event Friday, lunch with Trump, was sold out ($175, are you kidding me!), but Trump's remarks were widely reported.  He told the audience, "I want the Party to unite behind me, but frankly, if it doesn't, I'll win anyway."   Reports said the audience "applauded politely."  In another universe they would have demanded their money back, at the least.  The state Party has for years made much of Ronald Reagan's alleged "11th Commandment": Thou shalt not attack another Republican.  Any candidate who appeared to do so was the target of intense opprobrium from the leadership on down.  Apparently not any more.

With this in mind I sat down to talk with the California Party Chair, Jim Brulte.  Brulte was kind enough to give me his time because he had read my articles, several published in GOP journals, advocating GOP rejection of the Tea Party, as described above.  We had exchanged views via email and I had found him to be a reasonable guy.

The first thing I wanted to ask Brulte was, "What about Trump?" but I sensed from watching his colleagues Priebus and Ryan that this would be a non-starter, so I tried to approach the subject obliquely by mentioning a prominent Republican commentator who had advised that the California GOP should play on its strengths, winning local elections in rural areas (where the Tea Party is strong) and forgoing major efforts to elect Republicans to big-stakes seats like governor, senator or president, leaving those for the Democratic cities to elect.  Brulte strongly denied that the Party is weak in the cities, citing as evidence the appointment of a Republican to chair the South Coast Air Quality Management District, covering L.A., Orange and several other counties.  Fine, but surely there's even more compelling evidence than that.  Brulte offered none, suggesting that yes, indeed, the party has decided to take the rural areas and give up the cities.

I attempted to go directly into a Trump discussion by noting that Trump waffles on positions important to the Tea Party, like abortion, and I asked Brulte if the Party would feel the need to represent Tea Party beliefs in response.  Brulte said forcefully, "That's policy, and I will not discuss policy with you."

That wraps up the substantive elements of my conversation with Jim Brulte.  As I walked through the convention, watching people from a variety of factions chat happily with people in their own groups, I realized why the chaos and resulting evolution I had anticipated were not happening.  The Republican Party today is not a political party.  It's a social club to which people who dislike the Democratic Party are invited, regardless of their reasons for disliking Democrats.  

As if to reinforce this idea, a lady approached me with a flyer and told me that the Tea Party California Caucus meeting was starting soon.  I asked why my convention agenda had not shown a Tea Party Caucus meeting and she said that the Tea Party is no longer affiliated with the Republican Party, it just has its meeting in the middle of the convention.  The brochure explained that the meeting was titled: "The right to Bear Arms in California, A Panel Discussion of the 2nd Amendment."  In search of insight, I followed the sizable crowd into the meeting room.  On the stage a large sign read, "TPCC Freedom Raffle, Featuring these great prizes: A Weatherby PA-08 Shotgun; Front Sight Firearms Training; (2) 4-Person Survival Packs."

Gene Hoffman, founder and chairman of Calguns Foundation, and Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, talked about how much they like Governor Jerry Brown because after the Governor accepted the "low-lying fruit" of background checks, he realized that nothing more could be gained by legislation.

Tim Donnelly, former assemblyman and candidate for governor, notorious for being arrested for attempting to carry a loaded handgun onto a Southwest flight, described how he got his AK 47 ready to protect his family after the San Bernadino attack.  You can’t beat this party for diversity.

The GOP certainly offers a "big tent."  That used to be the phrase for what a political party needs.  But a big inert tent is what a jellyfish would be if it didn't have a central nervous system.

Many observers expect the GOP national convention in July to bring the chaos I thought I might see in Burlingame, but if California is any indication, Trump will acquire this party like any of his other properties, do with it what he wants, and no one within the Party will feel that he or she has any influence in the matter.  There are unknowns coming towards us in this election, but the fate of the Republican Party is, unfortunately, now known.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Obama in Riyadh: Three dimensional chess

The latest chapter in the deceptive narrative of our growing involvement in the Middle East involves President Obama's trip on 4/20 to the Saudi capital of Riyadh for a summit of Gulf states fighting ISIS, followed a few days later by his announcement in London that he would authorize an increase in U.S. troops in Syria.  Leading up to this trip, in what appear strategic feints of candor, the media delivered a series of startling revelations about Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the U.S.  Over the past week we learned from 60 Minutes that the Saudi's were likely involved in 9/11, and that this information is contained and classified in 28 pages from the official 9/11 report that the President has fought to keep classified, and we learned from reviews of Pulitzer Prize winner Dexter Filkins' new book, The Forever War, that the Saudi's knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding for many months before the U.S. did and assisted Pakistan in concealing the information from the U.S.   

The seeming legitimacy of these revelations frees me from my usual sense that I need to inform people of subtle things they've missed, although there is one aspect of what is happening that is currently left out of the news: the perception throughout the Middle East (and reported but not noticed in the U.S.) that Saudi Arabia (like Russia) is our ally in a U.S. led coalition, ostensibly to fight ISIS but involved in quite a lot of other things as well.  The Saudi's have distinguished themselves in our coalition by massacring Houthi civilians in Yemen, bombing, among other sites, a Doctor's Without Borders hospital in January (two months after the U.S. bombed one in Afghanistan).  What is a Houthi?  You'll be lucky to find anyone outside a D.C. think tank who knows, or who might have the slightest idea why we would be a close ally of a country that bombs Houthi hospitals.  But it is in our handlers' interest now to turn America's attention to its disagreements with Saudi Arabia, so that we will not notice that Middle East populations perceive Saudi Arabia to be our partner just as it establishes itself as an evil bad guy in the region.  What is the purpose of this double game?  In my view it is to promote the war that elements in our leadership (including the President) desire (for further exploration of this idea see the next two essays on this blog: Our news is as manipulated as Russia's and Applied Amnesia).

And just as the screenwriters of our coming war do not want anyone to notice our close alliance with Saudi Arabia, they divert our attention from another extremely violent partner in our coalition, Russia, which like Saudi Arabia- relatively unhampered by domestic opposition- also bombs civilian targets at will, with no apparent relevance to fighting ISIS, the only plausible goal being to keep the pot boiling through the current "peace" talks.  

All it takes is one Russian jet to buzz a U.S. warship and the American people, like the audience of a cruise ship hypnotist, are mesmerized, chanting together:  We are not like them...we are not like them....

[Update, 5/7: As the Russians conduct a partial withdrawal per the "peace" talks, other elements keep the pot boiling, e.g. the bombing on 5/6 of a Syrian refugee camp which killed at least 30 civilians, (http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/05/middleeast/aleppo-syria-refugee-camp-bombed/), for which no faction has taken responsibility, making each faction susceptible to a different hate-inspiring story] 

Update, 4/21: Saudi King Salman did not greet President Obama when he arrived in Riyadh as he had other world leaders, a seeming snub, but it was reported later that Obama and the King had a two hour meeting which "cleared the air," with much nodding and smiling for the cameras.  Thus both policy ends were met: the need for Americans to see a rift between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia so there will be no American guilt at the Saudi open season on Yemeni civilians, plus a display of solidarity between the two countries to show people in the Middle East the other view, that we are part of the Saudi depredations.  In February U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did a similar balancing act with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the wake of Russian attacks on Syrian civilians (see below, Applied Amnesia).  The point of this strategy is to attain a basic ingredient for the war our leaders have in mind: each side must be seething with hatred and fear.

Updates: 4/26, U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said a partial truce agreed to in February was "barely alive", and he called on Russia and the U.S. to "intervene at the 'highest level' to save the struggling peace talks" (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36156865).  The next day, 4/27, Russia bombed a Doctors Without Borders Syrian hospital, "killing at least 14 patients and staff" (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36158947).  Americans will have forgotten the incident, if they noticed it in the first place, by tomorrow so that we and our ally Russia can present ourselves as the saviors of Syria. To see how we arrived at this point, read Our news is as manipulated as Russia's and Applied Amnesia below.

For more Lasken's Log, click on "Older posts" below.