Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Obama on 1994 U.S. Ukraine defense agreement: What agreement?

In 1994 after the break up of the old Soviet Union, as an inducement to Ukraine to give up its formidable stockpile of former Soviet nuclear weapons within its borders,  the U.S. and the U.K. offered a defense agreement with Ukraine guaranteeing its soverignity and defense in return for Ukraine giving up all of its nuclear missiles and warheads. Ukraine agreed. 

Yet today and for the past month,  with Russian troops within Ukraine's borders and eastern cities disguised as local militia, seizing buildings, fomenting violence and acts of terrorism, trying to give Putin a pretext to invade, and with Russian troops, armour and air power massed on Ukraine's eastern border   one would think to hear Obama talk, that agreement doesn't even exist. Which is exactly what Putin is trying to find out.

 With Russia annexing Crimea mostly with Russian troops thinly, almost comically disguised as local militia, and with 40,000 Russian troops now sitting on Ukraine's eastern border, and with more armed Russian troops and agents wearing local militia fatigues without insignias as if anyone is being fooled, staging armed take overs of Ukrainian government buildings, Obama talks sanctions.

Its safe to say that the Gambino Family did a better job guaranteeing the safety of its members than the U.S. is doing in living up to its 1994 agreement with Ukraine.

There is little doubt Putin feels he can steam roll Obama and doesn't take anything Obama says seriously. And why should he? Obama couldn't stand up to the health insurance lobby, caved in on his own red line in Syria which only compounded the disaster there, waffled so much on Libya that the UK and France decided to act on their own sending in fighter jets, the agreement with Iran is becoming a farce and it is fairly common knowledge Obama has been a laughing stock around the world regarding foreign policy and for good reason. It is hard to think of any president, even the disastrous Bush and his misuse of American military, who was weaker and more indecisive than Obama.

So the last thing Putin is worried about is Obama living up to the 1994 agreement and assisting Ukraine militarily even if only with weapons and material.

His history aside, another reason Putin has no fear of Obama, is that for absolutely no useful reason, Obama publicly declared that  there would be no U.S. military involvement  or response and that the U.S.  living up to its defense obligations with Ukraine was off the table. It was, typically,  incredibly stupid and served no purpose except to embolden Putin.

Even if  an internal decision was made to not act militarily there was no reason to tell that to Putin. There was no useful rational reason to tell Putin that no matter what he did, he could do it with impunity  and not have to be concerned about any U.S. intervention. Sanctions? Hardship? After everything the Russian people have been through the last 100 years? If sanctions is the price Putin feels he has to pay to reclaim Ukraine even if it means doing it militarily he is prepared to do it.

It is one more misfiring and miscalculation by Obama which can almost  be expected since he's done the same repeatedly both in domestic policy as well as foreign.

Putin continues to show no fear militarily as his troop build up on the eastern end of Ukraine's border continues and the American NATO commander, a U.S. Air Force General is convinced the Russians are going to cross.

Obama will be quick to try and claim he is living up to the 1994 defense agreement while at the same time throwing it under the bus,  by saying defense can take many forms and that more sanctions are a form of defense and will hurt Russia.

 But it should be obvious by now that the sanctions imposed after Crimea did nothing to deter Putin from instigating more violence inside Ukraine. He has already set up his pretext for invasion and is waiting to see if the Ukrainian government has the temerity to actually fight back against the Russian plants inside Ukraine posing as local militia taking over government buildings and intimidating unarmed local officials, and then claim Ukraine is attacking civilians ( as if armed civilian terrorists would be any less  criminal and dangerous)  then use that as  his pretext to invade. The recent buzzing of a U.S. warship by an unarmed Russian military jet shows Putin is not afraid of Obama and that was a clear example of Putin probing Obama's weaknesses.

The Ukrainians have good reason to be nervous. Russia continues a massive troop build up on its borders and Obama just talks.  And talks.

There have been ultimatums laid down by the Ukrainian government for the Russian troops posing as militia and their protestors to surrender and leave the buildings or face being removed by force. These are ultimatums that have come and gone without action being taking and one can only hope that the government in Ukraine is not being coached by Obama since giving ultimatums and not living up to them has Obama's fingerprints all over them.

(NOTE: This last supposition has proved to be accurate. On April 17, appearing on CNN, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Wesley Clark, having just returned from Ukraine said that the Ukraine government and military has been following advice and "guidance" it had been given in surrendering their weapons and military vehicles to the Russian thugs and terrorists in Crimea and in other Ukrainian cities in order "not to provoke" and "to avoid bloodshed at any cost". The result has been the Ukrainian military suffering one humiliation after another emboldening the Russian terrorists and giving Putin propaganda victories. Though Clarke wouldn't say, there is only one place that "guidance" could have come from.)

For whatever economic sanctions Obama and the G7 now threaten to impose on Russia,  it still  would have been a good idea for Obama to keep Putin guessing about what the U.S. military response might be if  he invaded Ukraine. Obama could have done so simply by bringing up the 1994 agreement and leaving open all possibilities as opposed to making a point of saying the U.S. had no intention of living up to it militarily.  But Putin probably already knows that since,   as Obama has shown in the past, any agreement or pledge Obama makes is  never worth the paper its printed on anyway. And so far it looks as if Putin is acting accordingly.


In an interview on Al-Jazeera America on  April 17, former American NATO amabassador Kurt Volker reiterated the point made above:  that Obama's publicly taking military aid to Ukraine in any form off the table in spite of the 1994 defense agreement,  was not only uncessary but has emboldened Putin giving him one less thing to worry about knowing that Obama will avoid any military confrontation at all costs,  and in the end has made the crisis worse.

The decision for Obama to say publicly that military aid was "off the table" can only be called stupid and has proved once again, as was proved by Yale graduate George W. Bush, that being educated and being smart are two entirely different things.

And so the possibility of another defeat looms, more chaos is assured,  perhaps another victory for Putin, and all because of Obama's weakness, his fears, the weakness of his advisors, inexplicable stupidity and one more failure by Obama to live up to an agreement.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Obamacare numbers: A lot more failure than success.

The Obama administration did a victory lap last week pointing to the 7 million enrollees claimed as having signed up for health insurance through Obamacare and touted it as vindication and proof of Obamacare's success. But a closer look at the numbers, all the numbers related to Obamcare, including the effects of the policy as a whole on the problem it was supposed to solve, and the numbers show a major policy failure, not success.

Contrary to being something to crow about, the Obamacare numbers actually confirms the dire predictions of failure originally made about Obamacare by such right wing zealots as Howard Dean who called Obamacare junk,  and Warren Buffet who in 2010 predicted it would fail.

On the other side are the dependably out of touch with reality Republicans who charge the Obama administration with "cooking the books", a specious and unsubstantiated charge that on its face is as preposterous as  claims that the numbers prove Obamacare is a success.
The irony for Republicans is that they've been so busy lying about Obamacare, they miss the facts and the truth that points to Obamacare's failure .

The first thing to keep in mind regarding the original goal of 7 million set by the Obama administration is that it was more politics than healthcare, a goal so ridiculously low given the problem it was supposed to solve, that to have not hit it would in and of itself been  a monumental failure.  It was the equivalent of setting a limbo stick two inches above the ground and stepping over it and thinking you've accomplished something.

Remember that the U.S. has 50 million people without health insurance and of those, 32 million are in the category of the younger, healthier uninsured Obamacare needs to be sustainable.

Given that, and the importance of healthcare in  general, the number of people who enrolled after 6 months as the result of a program that was supposed to make healthcare more affordable and more widely available for everyone is pitifully small.

And enrollments do not equal people who have actually bought insurance. There are numbers already in the books based on the first 5 1/2 months that shows 15-20% of those who enroll never send in the check for the first premium. Blue Cross and Blue Shield just released up to date numbers that include the final day of enrollment showing that 15-20% of those who enrolled in their policies never paid the first month's premium.  If that percentage holds true across the board as it has in the  past,  the actual number of people who have purchased insurance through  Obamacare will be a little under 6 million not the 7.1 million the White House touted, missing an already artificially low projection.

And based on data already provided by the insurance companies, 75% of those who enrolled either already had insurance and switched to new policies so weren't part of the uninsured or belonged to the older, sicker group who didn't previously qualify for insurance.  Of the remaining enrollees, those in the vital younger, healthier group,  only 25%, or a little over 1 million of the 32 million needed in the insurance pools for Obamacare to be sustainable,  enrolled and it remains to be seen how many of those actually purchased policies.

Those numbers  show that Obamacare won't come close to solving the problem healthcare reform was supposed to solve which was to make healthcare more widely available and more affordable for everyone, especially for the tens of millions without it, and second,  to bring down the overall costs of healthcare which have been insanely out of control.

On the last issue, Obama claimed in his victory lap that the ACA was responsible for "bringing down the rate of growth of healthcare costs".  Having the highest costs in the world (with only the 29th best outcomes) that continue to get higher only at a slower rate is not success. Having an insane situation get more insane but at a slower rate is Cukoo's Nest reform. Not the reform the public option would have been. And healthcare reform that's been overwhelmingly rejected by the very people it was supposed to help most.

And the numbers that prove it, the numbers that matter most,  are those from the recent Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index on the overall impact of Obamacare, an index many consider authoritative and more accurate than government figures since it's compiled from many different reliable sources including the health insurance companies themselves, medical professionals, polls, over 28,000  interviews and government statistics.

The first and most striking number is that in the previous year,  before Obamacare was implemented, 17. 1% of U.S. adults were uninsured. That number has dropped to 15.9%. Though some actually try to spin that as somehow proof of success, even factoring in web site glitches, after 5 1/2 months, that the Affordable Care Act has brought down the total number of uninsured by only 1.2%  can only be called significant failure, not success. Even worse,  that number includes those who have signed up for expanded Medicaid and children who can now stay on their parents policies till the age of 26.

The index states in summary and without editorializing,  that the 15.9% uninsured is the lowest number of uninsured in six years, since 2008. But since Obamacare didn't exist in 2008,  it could be fairly asked,  after all the political angst and bloodletting, after all the country has been through, after one Obamacare mess after another from web site glitches to "If you like your insurance you can keep it", after all the scrambling Democrats have had to do to defend it,after all of Obama's speeches and dog and pony shows and celebrity commercials, what kind of healthcare reform is it that the number of uninsured now is almost the same as it was in the year before Obama even took office?

 In that year, 2008,the percentage of uninsured was 14.9%. It is testimony to current level of accepted mediocrity that a major healthcare reform overhaul which shows a net 1% increase  in the number of people who are uninsured since the year before Obama took office, could be called a success by anyone.  That more people had health insurance in 2008 before the Affordable Care Act shows how affordable health insurance under Obamacare really is no matter how many times Nancy Pelosi wants to say the word "affordable". That's not healthcare reform, that's snake oil. And chanting.

The index also shows that the biggest decline in the uninsured was among those making $36,000 a year or less. This is the group most eligible for subsides and the total number without insurance is 27.8%.  But  even among that group, according to the index, the decline in the number of uninsured was only 2.8%. 
Which means conversely 97.1% of the uninsured making $36,000 a year or less and most eligible for subsidies, rejected what was offered by the insurance companies under the ACA.

And no wonder. The low end silver and bronze policies aimed at the uninsured can run as high as $600 a month with $6,000 deductibles and 40% co-pays  in such diverse places as New York city, rural Georgia and Colorado. In Montana where there is only one insurance provider because most companies consider the population too small to set up business, it can run higher.  Premiums in other places fall somewhere in between but are generally too expensive and offer much too little in the way of coverage and accessibility to appeal to the younger healthier uninsured Obamacare needs to succeed.

It's something the White House has quietly admitted. In an article in the NY Times which didn't get much play, "White House Tightens Health Plans Standards After Consumers Complain", the Obama administration acknowledged, after receiving a barrage of consumer complaints, that the lower end health insurance plans are too expensive and offered anemic coverage .Which shouldn't be a surprise since Obamacare is a law written by the health insurance lobby themselves, the product of Obama's most significant cave in to corporate interests which amounted to Obama handing the keys to the healthcare reform chicken coop to the foxes who were part of the problem in the first place after they successfully pressured him to drop the public option.

The White House doesn't say how the problem can be fixed. Because the only way to fix it is to convince the insurance companies not just to charge less, but a lot less and offer a lot more . Don't hold your breath. The other fix is to replace Obamacare with what should have and would have been passed in the first place had it not been for Obama's lack of integrity, conviction and principle --  the public option.

For now there is talk of creating policies below the silver and bronze level called Copper policies ( really, no kidding - copper).  If that doesn't work, what's next? Wooden Nickel policies?  Most people think that's exactly what's being offered now.

If nothing changes Obamacare is headed for the oft quoted "Death Spiral" where the lack of young healthy uninsured substantially drives up  already high premiums (by 20-50% by some estimates) which will cause the entire program to collapse.

 Recently a host on MSNBC did a montage that mocked the "death spiral".They sounded like conservatives mocking climate change.And just as ignorant.  "Death spiral" wasn't coined by Republicans. It was coined by healthcare insurance economists who actually know what they're talking about who made the analysis long  before the Obamacare roll out that if the 32 million younger healthier uninsured didnt enter the insurance pools Obamacare would eventually collapse. And they didnt.

What Democrats and their  supporters need to start being honest about is that the only thing that kept the country from having the public option was Barrack Obama himself and his lack of conviction, principles and integrity.  The public option had already passed the House and days before the vote on healthcare reform 55 Democratic senators went public and said they'd vote for the public option in an attempt to give Obama a backbone transplant. The operation failed.

The solution for Democrats running in 2014 and the country is not how to defend Obamacare which can always show some minor anecdotal successes, but the public option which based on 2009 polls as many as 76% of Americans supported and in a June 2009 CBS/New York Times poll 72% supported and an astounding  66% said they were willing to  pay higher taxes to get. This is what Democrats threw overboard for Obamacare.And why senators Tom Harkin and Bernie Sanders said after the initial Obamacare vote that it was "better than nothing".  And they wonder why they were wiped out in the 2010 elections.

It's not a choice between Obamacare or nothing. That's Obama's defense when he rebuts Republican threats of repeal by saying " we can't go back to the way it was".  Those are false choices. Democrats need to start thinking about running on the pledge to replace Obamacare with the public option instead of defending Obamacare's failures with promises of endless fixing and repairing of what was a lemon of  a healthcare law to begin with. Running on "are you going to believe what we tell you or your own lying eyes" isn't going to work.

So if it's the numbers that matter,  Democrats need to be honest with themselves about Obamacare and run on replacing it with  the public option.  And do it before they see numbers related to Obamacare that are the same numbers Democrats saw after the 2010 elections. And for all the same reasons.


 The CBO recently issued numbers saying that Obamacare, while still expensive will be less expensive in the future.  This is based on primarily on government subsidies costing less and is being spun by Obamacare supporters as evidence of success. It isn't.

The reason  for the government paying out less than projected in subsidies should be obvious.  With the all numbers in for the year and 97% of those eligible for subsidies not buying policies and  no reason to think that will change,  it stands to reason the government will pay out less for subsidies in the future than originally projected. Because so few people are applying for them. Agan, more evidence of failure than success.


Obama called a press conference on April 17 to once again tout what he wants to try and call success of Obamacare based on updated enrollment figures of 8 million. While politically he has every right to rub the numbers into the faces of Republicans who from the beginning made specious and unsubstantiated claims because they were against any kind of reform, Obamacare is still a complete failure as a policy as already described. The 8 million now claimed as having enrolled is still pathetically small to begin with and will be reduced to about 6.4 million since the 20% of those enrolling but not paying premiums has been consistant from the beginning. As have the other percentages. Which still means that 75% of those enrolled are people who already had health insurance and of the 50 million in the United States who had no health insurance at all, that number as a result of Obamacare will be reduced by a paltry and insignificant 1.5%.

His other claim, that of the 8 million (soon to be 6.4) 35% are under 35 is also, as one would expect, vastly misleading. What Obamacare needs to be sustainable, as pointed out above and by health insurance economists, is all 32 million younger healthier people who currently do not have health insurance buying in to the insurance pools. If the percentages remain consistant as they have all along, of those 35%, or 2.2 million (still a paltry number considered what's needed) only 25% of those, or about 600,000 will be those who were previously uninsured, leaving 31.4 million of those 32 million needed who are still without insurance.

Every other measure of Obamacare including the cost of healthcare which will keep going up, making it more widely accessible to people who didn't have it,and making it more affordable for everyone  is as an abysmal a failure of public policy compared to what should have been -- the public option --  as one can get. Under the public option option, everyone who didnt have healthcare coverage would now have it. Everyone. And those who had insurance through private insurance companies would have had the option of getting a much better deal through the public option.  If Democrats refuse to recognize this,and do nothing to address it,  there are still 48 million people without health insurance, and millions of others who will see their premiums go up significantly, who will remind them in the fall.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Malaysia flight 370: The most plausible theory yet on what happened.

Theories about what happened to MH flight 370 abound everywhere. Everyone from experienced investigators to editors of aviation magazines to experienced pilots have offered theories of what happened. But every one of them has had at least one major flaw or one major hole contradicted by the known facts.

This theory, for what its worth, is based on all the available ( emphasis on available) evidence, is not one I've heard or read anywhere else, and as far as I can see, has no holes and is not contradicted by any known facts.

The theory is that what happened to MH-370  and it's disappearance was the result of an attempted terrorist hijacking for the purpose of inflicting mass casualties in a 911 style attack in Beijing that was successfully thwarted by the captain who intentionally diverted the plane away from land and populated areas into the Indian Ocean.

Analysts have known almost from the beginning that the change of course was the result of a reprogramming of the plane's auto-pilot, something that could be done by punching in 4 or 5 numbers, which turned the plane back from it's original flight path to Beijing. And that it was a deliberate act from the cockpit (though it took until April 1 for Malaysian investigators to confirm it and call it " a criminal act"). 

But there is no evidence that it was a deliberate act of  desired destruction on the part of the captain.  There is no evidence that would lead anyone to conclude or even suspect that it was a result of the pilot "flipping out". To the contrary all the available evidence so far  is that the captain was a good man who cared about others and had nothing in his background to suggest a problem.

 There can also be no catastrophic mechanical failure  The fact that the plane flew for 6 hours eliminates the word "catastrophic" since the plane was air worthy for 6 hours, which means the pilot could have landed anywhere in the event of any mechanical failure short of catastrophic. and it would not explain why the transponder was intentionally turned off.  (More on that later). 

Analysts say that the new course programmed into the auto pilot took place some time after take off. So why would the pilot, someone who according to all the available evidence was a good man who loved flying and had no apparent problems,  deliberately change course to send the plane out to the remotest part of the Indian Ocean?

It leaves hijacking. And given the destination of the flight, Beijing, there are potential suspects --  the same Chinese  separatist terrorist group responsible for the mass stabbing attack at a Chinese rail station not long ago that killed 26 people.

There are only two kinds of hijackings. One involves the hijacker wanting to be taken somewhere. If that were the case they would have reached that destination a month ago.

The other reason for hijacking is terrorism. And given the flight was headed to Beijing there is a reasonable possibility the plane could have been commandeered by the same Chinese terrorists responsible for the mass stabbing at the Chinese rail station who intended a 911 style attack in Beijing by crashing it into a government building, military installation or civilian location causing mass casualties.

The attack at the Beijing rail station tells us a few things about this group.  One, China has a serious terrorist group that exists. Second, this group is capable of inflicting mass casualites. Three, they have used public transportation before as a target. And four, given that the terrorists who carried out the mass stabbing attack were all killed by Chinese security forces, they are willing to give up their own lives in an attack.

Malaysian authorities say they've  checked out all the passengers, but how thoroughly? And how could they?

There were 15o Chinese nationals on that plane. How thoroughly could Malaysia, or any other government other than China check them out? They couldn't.  The only government capable of doing that is China and its not possible to check out 150 passengers as thoroughly as neccessary in less than a month.  And if China did find a link does anyone think they would make it public at this point? There is a good chance that all of China's intelligence assets are not only checking out the passengers but also trying to hunt down the separatist group and if they capture any of them, would do what was neccessary to extract information about MH-370.

 So any claim by Malaysia that the 150 Chinese passengers are cleared is in an of itself a red flag. That can't be taken at face value. And checking the passenger manifest wouldn't be enough anyway. That still wouldn't eliminate stowaways.

If it was a hijacking which seems more likely all the time, it's possible they made their intentions known to the captain who knew that if he followed their instructions he and everyone on board would be killed anyway, and devised a plan to divert the plane without their knowledge by re-programming the auto-pilot to fly away from any populated areas and  towards the Indian Ocean. That could explain the route around Indonesia if the captain didnt want to take the plane over land. 

The captain could have had a plan to try and subdue or overcome the hijackers once it was over the ocean and if they succeeded turn the plane around. If they failed and were killed, the plane would continue on it's course over a remote part of the Indian Ocean where it would be far away from land and any populated areas where it could cause no casualties on the ground.

The Chinese terrorists, unlike the 911 terrorists would have had no idea how to fly the plane or to change its course and could do nothing. In the middle of the night with no visibility it would be hours anyway before they'd realize they were not headed to Beijing. The other possible scenario is that both pilots and terrorists were killed or incapacitated in the attempt to subdue them and the plane flew as deliberately programmed by the captain out to the remotest part of the Indian Ocean until it ran out of fuel and where it would cause no casualties on the ground.  A deliberate act by the captain but one designed to save lives on the ground.

Regarding two other issues, the transponder being intentionally turned off along with radio communications and why, if it was a terrorist act, there have been no claims of responsibility.
Taking the claim of responsibility first, there were no claims of responsibility because the intended terrorist attack failed.

Regarding the transponder, it would make sense under those circumstances that the captain would turn off  both the transponder and radio communications.  Turning the plane as programmed to fly towards the Indian Ocean would have ( or should have) alerted air traffic control. The last thing the captain would have wanted is for air traffic control to notice the change and radio the cockpit asking why the plane was being taken off course which would alert the hijackers, potentially setting them off. 

The captain also would not have wanted  to raise suspicions on the ground that would have resulted in the scrambling fighter of  jets.  After all, what good could they possibly do? Nothing.  Except to shoot the plane down. And fighter jets would also alert the hijackers that their instructions werent being followed which might also set them off against the passengers or force an immediate crash into the first available target. Its unlikely the hijackers would have ordered the transponder turned off since their destination was Beijing anyway so why arouse suspicion? 

Instead the plane went down in the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel, a plan and deliberate act devised by a quick thinking captain, who thought of the safety of others on the ground over himself and his passengers in a situation where he felt he had no other choice,  and whose actions were intended to save countless lives on the ground. And probably did.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

General Alexander's Lonely Spy Club Band: no one has enjoyed the show.

With the NSA back in the news as a result of president Obama's latest NSA proposal, and  General Keith Alexander now  leaving to ride off into retirement,  its fair to say that those who are left supporting the NSA and it's meta data collection and other numbers performed on American citizens and exposed by Edward Snowden,  have been reduced to such a precious few they might  be referred to as General Alexander's Lonely Spy Club Band. Who it seems, are in the process of  breaking up since Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee who for the last year has been continuously beating the drums for the Lonely Spy Club Band  has also  announced he is leaving.

 The remaining band members include Dianne Feinstein, the Lady Ga Ga of congressional oversight who according to rumor, went ga ga over General Alexander and James Clapper a long time ago and in the words of Democratic congressman Alan Grayson, turned  congressional oversight into overlook, though she is now unhappy with the CIA who she believes, formed their own Spy Club Band and has been spying on her and her committee.

 And of course there is front man  James Clapper who from his first public performance showed his range is limited to falsetto. It was during his memorable solo performance in front of senator Ron Wyden's  oversight subcommittee, when Wyden asked Clapper the musical question, "does the NSA collect data on millions or tens of millions of Americans" that Clapper sang " No, Not Wittingly" in that now famous and familiar falsetto.

 "No Not Wittingly" was, in a word, perjury and, as it turns out,  it was Clapper'spoor  performance singing this little ditty  that convinced Snowden that trying to fix the problems within the NSA --  in house as Dianne Feinstein insisted he should have instead of airing the band's dirty linen in public -- would be impossible. That in turn led to Snowden's decision to go public and hand over the NSA documents he had to Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian which found them music to their ears.   The rest, as they say, is history. NSA Mania gripped the world ever since.

 Over the last year it's safe to say General Alexander's most memorable performance came in front of Senator Pat Leahy's judiciary oversight committee when he performed his memorable rendition of ( not to be confused with CIA renditions)  of " When I Foiled 54".

 Alexander's song and dance asserted that as a result of the NSA meta data collection, 54 terrorist plots were foiled including a plot to bomb the New York City Stock Exchange and a plot to attack the New York City subway system.

 Alexander's performance fell flat  almost immediately to anyone with a good ear since notably, there was no back up by then New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Certainly, had any of what Alexander been claiming been true, Bloomberg and Kelly would have been loudly backing  up Alexander, singing the praises of the meta data collection. Instead what we heard from Bloomberg and Kelly were sounds of silence.

 Senator Pat Leahy decided to checked out Alexander's claims and poured over them for days, backwards and forwards and concluded  there was  not a shred of evidence that showed the meta data collection had foiled or even  contributed to foiling even one terrorist plot much less 54. It was after Leahy's terrible review that General Alexander's Lonely Spy Club Band began to fall apart and losing fans.

 To hold the Lonely Spy Club Band together they tried using president Obama as their lead singer and front mant  but he fell flat too and kept changing his tune so often no one could tell what he was singing.  But with his recent announcement that he wants to end the bulk data collection of phone records, he's still falling flat since his new song leaves a lot to be desired and does nothing to stop bulk collection of Americans' emails and internet use so it's still a bad performance. Which is in keeping with last year's review of Obama's civil liberties performance by the ACLU who called it "disgusting".

 Waiting in the wings to take the place of the Lonely Spy Club Band is the USA Freedom Act, put together by Republican James Sensenbrenner and  Democratic senator Pat Leahy. The Freedom Act would abolish all bulk meta data collection of American citizens including Internet communications, clearly make illegal other abuses and violations of the law and constitution  and ensure that the Lonely Spy Club Band will never get back together. But it's meeting resistance from Bohner, the retiring Mike Rogers and other NSA sycophants in congress who are trying to cancel it and get their own, bogus reform act through congress, in essence trying to put together another spy band that stinks as much as the old one did.

Which means that citizens have to pressure their own members of congress to close them down and remind them that given everything we've heard from General Alexander's Lonely Spy Club Band, no one has enjoyed the show.

Monday, March 24, 2014

CNN's Malaysia flight 370 coverage proves again it's all about money.

This isn't the first time for CNN. It's not the first time the news network has tried to milk a story for all it's worth whether it was Sandy Hook or the Boston Marathon bombing and what it's worth for CNN at the moment is ratings, not facts, not information, not journalism, but money in the form of ratings.

For CNN, the Malaysia flight 370 story is another tragedy that's being treated as a cash cow they are determined to milk.

This is not to say that CNN didnt assemble an impressive collection of well informed experts to analyze what slim data was known and to give their opinions. But three weeks later CNN is still trying to figure out ways to fill almost all their air time with Malaysia Flight 370, and it shows.

When it became clear more than three weeks ago that coverage of the missing Malaysia flight had doubled CNN's normal ( and low) ratings,(which often happens with live events)  management made a business decision to go all Malaysia all the time and they've been doing  it ever since. And in the process, becoming the news network who cried "Breaking News" when 90% of the time there wasn't any.

When there has been nothing new to report, CNN continuously  resorts to rehashing and repackaging old news, even weeks old news,  and presenting it as "Breaking News" to keep viewers watching.

Like Monday's "Breaking News. At 12,000 feet a plane is still visible on radar".

That isnt Breaking News. That is what used to be called a factoid. Note that it wasn't even specifically about 370,  just a general piece of information that at 12,000 feet any plane is still visible on radar. This is what was presented as "Breaking News".

Another item was "Breaking News: Does flight 370 search lack imagination?"

What matters about all this is once again, the pandering and low level of competence that exists in journalism on a daily basis and especially TV journalism and how it's become impossible to count on these people to do their jobs and do it well especially during any time of real crisis,usually more interested in playing to the audience than in the truth.

Speaking of playing to the audience, the most obnoxious thing CNN does is every hour turn the tragedy into a game show with  "the announcement that in 15 minutes we'll be answering  your Twitter questions from you our audience".  The questions are usually ignorant or trivial or nonsensical but treated as "really interesting" and worth discussing when they aren't. Nothing like audience participation to solve an air disaster.

The ultimate truth of what the coverage is really all about came on Monday after a news conference  by the Malaysian prime minister stating that based on new information there was certainty that the plane had gone down in the Indian Ocean and there were no survivors.

Following that announcement, Ashley Banfield and John Berman read a statement from Malaysia airlines that  asked that the news media respect the privacy of the families. As they were reading that statement  CNN was showing still photos of a grieving, wailing Chinese woman as the camera pushed in slowly to a tight close up of her anguished face and kept repeating the shot  over and over interspersed with video footage of similar scenes showing other family members collapsing and reacting to the news, making it clear how much CNN intended on respecting the privacy of the families.

This was followed by  Banfield asking a correspondent on the scene, "Can you walk us through exactly what happened with these families today"? 

Across the bottom of the screen, as the correspondent gave details, CNN streamed a red banner that said "Screams and wails from family members". You know, just so you'd know.

It wasn't journalism, it wasn't even a perverse kind of voyeurism;  it might be categorized as   journalistic pornography or sadomasochism.  But not journalism. But it was all there for your viewing pleasure. 

Afterwards, the dishonest, even perverse attempts by CNN on keeping alive the idea that the plane might have landed safely somewhere instead of crashing into the Indian Ocean is  also all about keeping the story alive because no wreckage had yet been found.

CNN's experts have already talked about Air France flight 442 many times and  pointed out it took two years to find that wreckage.  Yet no one at the time suggested that because they hadnt found the wreckage the plane never crashed. But its what you do when your're trying to fill up time so you can charge a little more next month for a 30 second commercial.

NOTE: With all the theories about what happened, and with all of them having at least one hole or major contradiction based on the available evidence, I've offered my own theory which is based on the available evidence and for which, so far, there are no contradictory facts.

It's published as a separate peice and can be found at this link.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

CNN standards missing along with Malaysia flight 370.

Its no secret that CNN has been milking the missing Malaysia flight 370 story more than any other news organization. And who can blame them? Their ratings have been at a 20 year low and getting worse ( and for good reason) but since flight 370 has gone missing, they've seen their ratings almost double both for daytime and evening viewers. And that clearly has sent a signal to the executives at CNN to milk it for all its worth,  not only, by their own admission with wall to wall coverage, but also with constant rehashing of days old news, repackaged as "breaking news" and anchors asking questions so stupid some paid experts, like former chair of the NTSB Jim Francis, could barely hide his contempt, at times giving only one word answers to the more ridiculous questions of CNN anchors.

To give credit where credit is due, CNN has assembled some of the most knowledgeable and intelligent experts available from the always interesting, to the point, no nonsense Richard Quest, to former 777 pilots, accident investigators and former NSTB crash investigators and officials.

The problem, as it always is with CNN, has been with their anchors, most of them either constantly shilling for CNN's coverage as Don Lemon and Wolf Blitzer do repeatedly ( "stay tuned for our wall to wall coverage, coverage you can ONLY get here on CNN")   or asking one insipid or rehashed question after another which their guests politely try to answer as if they are worth asking ( and also because they are being paid)

Over the weekend we had the up and down voice inflections and endless emoting of Frederika Whitfield who couldn't seem to ask a question without interupting and  stepping all over the answer. She insisted on inserting days old information, possibly for the benefit of those watching who may have been in a coma and hearing about this for the first time, in the middle of a guests answer  and it seemed clear these were directions coming to her probably from some producer.

After interrupting one former 777 pilot who was making a good point so as to interject something that had nothing to do with the point the pilot was trying to make, the pilot went back to his point, then tried to add another as Whitfield  interrupted him again to go to someone else. When the pilot said he wanted to make one more point Whitefield's reply was, "Ok,  make it quick". Because, you know, the show must go on.

Taking over for Whitfield, Don Lemon anchored two hours of coverage like he was a substitute teacher for a bunch of first graders, holding up a small hobby shop replica of a Boeing 777 and pointing out how they were going to talk about every aspect of the plane,  "from the nose ( pointing to the nose) , the wings, (pointing to the wings), underneath the plane ( turning the plane and pointing underneath) and the rear" (pointing to the rear).

Then before a commercial break we were informed by Lemon just how great CNN's coverage is and how they will be covering "every angle" of this story non-stop (assume there was no pun intended).

It got even sillier when Lemon informed us the panel was now going to answer " your Twitter questions" .Lemon promised that the next hour was going to be devoted " to you, our audience". And for anyone who had any doubts CNN was turning this into a cross between a circus and a game show, Lemon actually said, " and after the break we'll be going to our "lightning round" to get to as many questions as we possible". No kidding. They did a lightning round.

Some of the questions were so stupid they defied credulity and made one wonder how CNN could actually employ producers who culled those questions to be read on the air.  Lemon tried to paint each one as "good" or "interesting". One was so stupid and convoluted that the "lightning round" expert said, " I don't really understand the question" . Lemon quickly moved to another one.

Along with rehashing old news  and asking stupid questions, there has also been CNN's pervasive abuse of "Breaking News".

Someone in the research department must have data showing people will watch longer if "Breaking News" is splashed across the bottom of the screen. Especially if they are channel hopping.   Because for CNN, "Breaking News" is everything from the fact that the plane has been missing for 12 days, to the "Breaking News" that the U.S. wants more transparancy to finding nothing on the pilot's flight simulator. They are also not above labeling news that's 3 and 4 days old as "Breaking News".

Things like,  "Breaking News. Unprecedented search underway for flight 370", which of course has been going on for 10 days.

Or: Breaking News: the capabilities of the 777" .

This showed Martin Savage in a flight simulator where it seems,  he's been glued for the last 3 days since they go to him live every hour. Hopefully they let the man get up to go to the bathroom.

But this is the level of non-journalism and pandering to which CNN has sunk  in trying to milk coverage of the missing flight and you don't need a pinging black box to find it. Especially in rehashing questions like " why are you allowed to turn off the transponder"?  That by the way, was one of the favorite Twitter questions and they are still talking about it even though it was one if the first  questions addressed and  was answered days ago ( the reason is that when the plane is on the ground, either before take off or after landing, there is no reason to clutter up an air traffic controller's screen with the plane's ID being transmitted especially at very busy airports.) But CNN still thinks this is controversial and needs to be discussed. Especially if it's a Twitter question.

CNN has managed to put together a pretty good collection of knowledgable experts to offer opinions or to shoot down opinions based on whatever the currently available data may reveal. But for anyone watching CNN,and interested in the story as so many people are, the best advice is to watch with remote control in hand so you can hit the mute button any time anyone other than a guest is talking. Which unfortunately is far too often. Skip the questions. Chris Cuomo and every other anchor at CNN takes 5 times longer to ask a question than it takes to answer it.

CNN followed up the next day by repeatedly showing footage of a distraught Chinese family member being carried out of the Malaysian briefing room while literally hundreds of cameras shot still and video footage of the scene. All for your viewing pleasure.  Giving us, as Wolf Blitzer repeatedly reminds us, " the kind of coverage only CNN can deliver!"

NOTE: CNN'sTwitter parade continues reading ridiculous Twitter questions from viewers which have absolutely no journalistic value and for the most part was answered days ago, continuing to destroy any pretense of journalism rather than continuing to use the missing flight as a cash cow.

Wolf Blitzer upheld CNN's astute standards of journalism and powers of observation when, in commenting on the possible debris found in the Indian Ocean by satellite 1500 miles off the coast of Austrailia, Blitzer told us that it was night now in Australia and reconnaisance planes would be sent in the morning to get a closer look and that Blitzer "assumes they will have a better chance of identifying what the debris might be during the day than at night". None of the experts on the set wanted to say,  "Ya think?"

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is Obama's weakness partially to blame for Ukraine? The proof is in the Putin.

The virtually universal and independent ( that is to say non-partisan, non-political) opinion, along with the predictable partisan Republican cheap shots,  is that Putin's moves into Crimea were fueled and emboldened  by Putin seeing Obama as weak and irresolute,  has no respect for him, doesn't believe Obama would take a stand or take any action that would matter, and considers everything Obama says as just empty words. Unfortunately, the truth is, who doesn't think that?

Obama caved in to Republicans on domestic issues and reneged on promises so often going as far back as the 2008 Democratic primaries,  from his dropping the public option on healthcare to breaking his promise to close Gitmo and watering down financial reform and just about every other domestic issue,  that Obama's credibility was so low that when it was extended to foreign affairs Putin was convinced that Obama was not a force to be reckoned with in taking the kind of  action he took in Crimea.

Many people point to Syria and Obama's quickly abandoning of his so called "Red Line" if Assad used chemical weapons  as being the significant  moment that re-enforced Putin's lack of respect for Obama and his calculation that Obama would do nothing to stop his planned incursion into Crimea. Ironically, it was a deal brokered by the Russians, which so far Syria has failed to live up to, that replaced  Obama's promise of a missile strike against Syria for using chemical weapons.

But Obama showed something less than resolve and resiliency long before Syria when it came to foreign policy. Obama vacillated twice in Egypt, first, waffling over whether to continue to support  Mubarak or the demonstrators in the streets who revolted against Mubarak. Obama began by supporting Mubarak then switched positions when the outcome became clear and he eventually supported new elections.  But a year after those new elections Obama vacillated once again in Egypt,  this time when Morsi, Egypt's newly elected president was also overthrown for not delivering on promises he made and the military sided with the demonstrators.Some in congress called it a coup and wanted Obama to cut off military aid to Egypt. Obama never voiced a position one way or another and did nothing.

There was Obama's waffling  over supporting the rebels in Libya until France and Britain took matters into their own hands and sent fighter jets to attack Ghadaffi  in support of the rebels and, perhaps showing a bit of contempt,  didn't even bother to notify Obama in advance.  And long before any of that, the first time Obama was forced to take a position on an issue concerning foreign policy, when hundreds of thousands of Iranian demonstrators took to the streets protesting a rigged presidential election that returned Ahmadinejad to power, Obama, embarrassingly, took a public position deciding he didn't want to take sides.

With Iranians being shot and clubbed in the streets, all  Obama could manage was that he "didn't want to meddle in Iranian affairs". When a girl named Nadia was shot in the face and killed on the streets of Tehran and became an international symbol of the fight for democratic institutions against dictatorships in the middle east, long before what is now being called the Arab Spring, Obama couldn't even bring himself to publicly stand up for and support the demonstrators and democracy. Instead he said again, he didn't want to meddle. What Obama got in return was Ahmadinejad accusing him of meddling.

So no one should be surprised that Putin has shown no concern over a meaningful response from Obama to  moving troops into Crimea under a pretext everyone knows is false.  Or, as seems inevitable, to the eventual annexation of Crimea which it which most experts say would be a violation of international law.

It was pointed out here, and also by Hillary Clinton which the news media immediately distorted for their own purposes, that Hitler used precisely the same pretext to send German troops into the Sudetenland in 1938 -- ostensibly to protect German speaking people from gang violence (of which there was no evidence) because the government in Czechoslovakia was incapable of protecting them.

This is the rationale Putin is using for invading Crimea.  Had Obama himself pointed out the same historical truth, given history and how the Nazis had killed tens of millions of Russians, that historical fact could have had a much stronger affect on Putin  than any of Obama's proposed "limited sanctions". At the very least it would put him on the defensive and force him to try and explain why it's not the same both internationally and to the Russian people.

Instead there's been virtual silence from Obama, except for the occasional political cliche like Putin "being on the wrong side of history",  while the historical truth grows more similar everyday.  Russian troops, or local militias supported by Russian troops have been acting like storm troopers, threatening unarmed civilians, shutting down Ukrainian TV stations,  replacing them with Russian propaganda, attacking and roughing up unarmed journalists, and conspicuously masking their faces,a virtual admission they are behaving like criminals.

Most recently, there was the erecting of barbed wire on the border between Crimea and eastern Ukraine by these militia, the surrounding of Ukrainian military bases and demands of surrender, and the threat that Putin might push even further into Ukraine, all of which has so far brought nothing of substance from Obama or the NATO countries the U.S. ostensibly leads.

Certainly Obama could have done more even in the war of words. Obama could have accepted Putin's claim that the military on the ground wasn't Russian (as preposterous as most observers say that claim is) and turn it against him.

By accepting Putin's claim, Obama could have  issued a warning to those "local militias" that if they provoked a military confrontation, if they attacked Ukrainian forces, or unarmed civilians,  the U.S. would have no choice but to defend Ukraine against attacks in accordance with its 1994 defense agreement with Ukraine to defend it in return for the Ukraine giving up it's nuclear arsenal. What could Putin do? Claim they are Russian soldiers after all and warn that the U.S. is risking a conflict with Russia when the U.S.could say it is only doing what Putin himself claimed to be doing,  protecting people from violence?

Obama could have even invited  Putin to join the U.S. and NATO and send in Russian forces to Crimea in a joint operation to help protect citizens from violence and help keep the peace. What could Putin say to that? No?

Instead Putin is only getting threats of limited, targeted and as yet  unannounced sanctions. No response or warning against the thuggery being carried out against unarmed Ukrainian civilians,the  military threats against the Ukrainian military and demands of surrender, or violence by so called local militias. Or Putin's intention to annex Crimea.

There is no indication Obama will have any kind of strong response to any of these things.  Which is the best reason in the world for the Russian president to have no second thoughts that he's been a hasty Putin.