Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Littwin: Cruelty, shock escalate stakes in Iraq

Iraq in 2010 by Todd Morris via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/alohateam/4247615684/in/photolist-7tm9ab-fKRvfi-bU5kk-66KsNP-yngWY-zzqsw-4FDDns-DJLDH-aAzXAo-4Q2xP-6toMLZ-5wjHmJ-Cjtjq-7JrWcR-8vQ2rs-8GfhDF-H7htV-yPMQs-5s1MrF-bey9BF-3JBt4h-aAzXs7-4yxSyY-7dSEuf-ddFUm2-uBEjH-vQWYv-2jW3yX-4Ba3gU-6ks5cY-5LCGw9-4ytBnv-53Zoqc-53ZoEk-544CUA-jv94J-7WKZ5P-4ztrbZ-jv8WQ-4FzqwZ-4Fzp1F-4FDBvJ-4FzoCn-4Fzr2r-4Fzpzk-4FzrpZ-4znLpx-72mWJN-7e3DVA-iiLnY

NOW we know what could go wrong in Iraq. What could go horribly, horribly wrong.

The beheading of journalist Jim Foley by the Islamic State (ISIS) and the cruel posting of the video — said to be in response to American bombing in Iraq — changed everything.

It’s as if ISIS leaders were trying to confirm that they are, in fact, what Charles Krauthammer calls the worst people on earth. Cruelty and shock were apparently the point. And the response has been exactly what you’d expect.

Barack Obama called ISIS a “cancer” that had no place in the 21st century. John Kerry called ISIS “the face of evil” and promised to confront the group “wherever it tries to spread its despicable hatred.”

It’s not clear whether ISIS leaders understood that Foley’s execution would make it more difficult for America to back away from Iraq, but I’m guessing they did.

Of course, that would mean Syria, where Obama has resisted all calls to join the fighting in a civil war that helped create ISIS as it’s constituted today. And Gen. Martin Dempsey, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now says that ISIS can’t be defeated without dealing with its presence in Syria.

“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated,” Dempsey said. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”

You can see what is happening here. It’s not clear whether ISIS leaders understood that Foley’s execution would make it more difficult for America to back away from Iraq, but I’m guessing they did. They have already threatened to kill more American hostages, and that’s obviously not an idle threat. Obama understood that. He didn’t pay off a ransom demand of $130 million, but he did send a rescue team to try to get the American hostages out of Syria. When the American commandos arrived at the site, the hostages were no longer there.

In any case, America’s role has already escalated, if just in the war of words. And even though Dempsey didn’t indicate that Obama was prepared to bomb any part of Syria, you can’t miss hearing the drumbeat.

When Obama announced the bombing missions, he vowed a “limited” war. There would be no American combat troops. But there are 300 so-called advisers. And if combat troops aren’t there, American planes and drones are. And already the rationale for American bombing — to protect minority groups from ISIS slaughter and to protect Americans in the Kurdish parts of Iraq — has changed.

ISIS isn’t simply an insurgent group that erased a border with Syria and overran the Iraqi army — while taking American military hardware that the Iraqis abandoned. It isn’t just an affront to civilized norms.

It is now the enemy.

When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was asked whether ISIL presented a “9/11-level threat,” he said, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen. The sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources presents a whole new dynamic and paradigm of threats to this country.”

Once you say that a group is a dynamic threat to your country, it’s hard to do anything but address the threat. This is an enemy you don’t have to demonize. You don’t have to gin up the threat of weapons of mass destruction. They do the heavy lifting for you.

As the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson noted, once there were guerrillas and then there were terrorists and now, he writes, there are groups like ISIS that are “something like serial killers … trying to out-bad their enemies, to frighten them into submission, and to somehow draw themselves into an ugly cartoon of evil.”

There aren’t any easy answers in Iraq. There never have been. If you want, you can take this back to George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and the inevitable spawning of radical groups, but there isn’t much point. It was painful to watch Obama, who became president with the promise of getting the country out of Iraq, taking years and years to to make it happen.

It’s an understatement to say these things are complicated. It’s an understatement to say, with the Mosul dam captured and the Kurds in jeopardy of being overrun, that America didn’t bear some responsibility.

Despite what Dick Cheney would tell you, Obama has played his bad hand reasonably well. Yes, he overreached with his line in the sand in Syria, but he did resist getting involved in Syria’s civil war. He didn’t go into Iraq until it was clear that Nouri al-Maliki was actually ready to give up power.

But where does that leave us?

As any poll will tell you, Americans are tired of war in the Middle East. We’ve finally learned the lesson of Iraq. There will be no American combat troops there – of that much we can be pretty sure. After all, Obama knew the lesson of Iraq before America invaded.

Presumably, Obama will try to put together a coalition force composed of countries in the region to help Iraqi troops take on ISIS, supported by Western air power. But what if he can’t? What then? What else could go wrong?

[Photo of Iraq in 2010 by Todd Morris via Flickr/Creative Commons.]

Littwin: Making a Fallujah of Ferguson

freep ferguson

TEN days after Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen, was shot and killed by a white cop, the problem in Ferguson, Mo., is pretty clear. The people doing the protesting don’t trust the police. And the police seem intent on showing that the protesters are right — that there’s no reason at all anyone should trust them.

Every night the two sides meet in what eventually turns into a showdown. Tear gas gets fired. Stun grenades are tossed. Guns are leveled. The protesters eventually disperse.

Everyone remains angry. And the cycle repeats.

It can’t keep going this way, but it does. And we’re left to wonder how the dream — or is it the myth? — of post-racial America comes to a full stop at an obscure St. Louis suburb.

The Missouri governor has called in the National Guard, to little immediate effect. The Washington Post has a great look at the mostly peaceful protesters — and how so-called “militants” have arrived from out of town to join forces with the “peaceful,” the “elders” and the “looters.”

Meanwhile, when the cops are not breaking up protests, they have been intentionally targeting the press — three arrests to this point and three near-immediate releases — as if they’re trying to show they don’t have play by any rules, even those penned by James Madison.

Among those who haven’t made any impact is Barack Obama, who called for calm and restraint from all sides. If anyone was restrained, it was Obama, who has had unhappy experiences — and some mediocre beer — when he gets involved in issues of race.

In his remarks, Obama discussed the reasons for mistrust of the police in black communities. And he lamented the fact that young black men are often subjects of fear. Obama also said he was sending Eric Holder to the scene and avoided the question of whether he might go himself.

Let’s just say, none of it helped.

What Obama might have said was that it was on the cops to make this right — to get out all the information they can and as quickly as possible. We don’t know what happened the day Michael Brown was shot. What we do know is that the cops aren’t telling us what they know about that day.

And so …

We had a dramatic reading Monday night from CNN’s Jake Tapper, a Washington insider who is not exactly your wide-eyed radical, who was on the scene. If you were watching and waiting for the nightly confrontation, you saw the crowds taunting the cops, and you saw the cops were back in force with all their military hardware. The Ferguson curfew was no longer in effect — one more failed attempt at bringing calm — but the cops were telling everyone to leave anyway.

Which is how the showdown begins, as Tapper reports, via Mediate:

I want to show you this, okay? To give you an idea of what’s going on. The protesters have moved all the way down there… they’re all the way down there. Nobody is threatening anything. Nobody is doing anything. None of the stores here that I can see are being looted. There is no violence.

Now I want you to look at what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri, in downtown America, okay? These are armed police, with — not machine guns — semi-automatic rifles, with batons, with shields, many of them dressed for combat. Now why they’re doing this? I don’t know. Because there is no threat going on here. None that merits this. There is none, okay? Absolutely there have been looters, absolutely over the last nine days there’s been violence, but there is nothing going on on this street right now that merits this scene out of Bagram. Nothing.

So if people wonder why the people of Ferguson, Missouri are so upset, this is part of the reason. What is this? This doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make any sense. And who knows when or how it will end

They tell us now that Ferguson was poised to explode. It’s an inner-ring suburb that has experienced dramatic demographic change — moving in just a few years from majority white to majority black. It’s an old story. Minorities move in, and whites move out.

But in Ferguson, the power structure has remained the same. Mostly white government. Nearly all white police force. And mostly blacks being arrested.

And when Michael Brown is walking in the center of the street with a friend, a white cop, Darren Wilson, tells them to get on the sidewalk. They refuse. And somehow from there, Brown ends up dead, having been shot six times. There have been two autopsies, and a third is coming, but the story doesn’t seem much clearer. The closest there is to an account from Wilson comes via an anonymous caller to a St. Louis talk-radio station.

It was only a few days ago that Capt. Ron Johnson, the state trooper brought in to replace the St. Louis County police chief, looked as if he might be the person calm the situation. And he did — for one night. Johnson, an African-American from the area, said all the right things about demilitarizing the area. He marched alongside the protesters.

And then the next day, the local cops — without telling Johnson, and maybe to sabotage him — named the officer who shot Brown and, as a bonus, released the video showing Brown strong-arming a store clerk while he stole some cigars. It was immediately seen for what it was — a Trayvon-Martin-like smear on Brown. Then came the leak of pot in Brown’s system.

Everyone is still angry. And whatever comes next, the cycle seems like a sure bet to repeat.

[ Image of Ferguson via Freep. ]

Littwin: A sudden calm in Ferguson

By Michael Calhoun

THE story isn’t over. A young man is still dead. We still don’t know what happened. A community is still outraged. The protests will no doubt continue until there are some answers in the questionable police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

But even so, the story line has changed dramatically.

This doesn’t happen very often in real life. Real life, even when moving quickly, doesn’t move at this kind of pace.

One night in Ferguson, Mo., the world – or at least the world as we understood it — seemed to be coming apart. A police force in little Ferguson had morphed before our eyes into an army of occupation — and the enemy, this time, really was us. The police chief overseeing it all had conceded it didn’t look good, as if it were simply a matter of optics. He was right about it not looking good, though. It looked like Iraq. What it didn’t look like was America.

The very next night, a new guy was on the job. The overwhelmingly white St. Louis County police force was out, and the Missouri state troopers were in. Not only did the optics change, everything seemed to change. Instead of tear gas, there were hugs. Instead of cops marching on the protesters, Capt. Ron Johnson — an African-American who grew up in the area and who now heads the police operation — was marching alongside them.

The flash grenades were gone. The tear gas was gone. The smoke hanging over the town was gone. The mine-resistant ambush-protected armored vehicle — yes, really — was gone. Everything was tamped way down. Cops took off their gas masks, revealing their faces. Camo outfits were replaced by cop-on-the-corner blue. Reporters weren’t being arrested. Film crews far from the protests weren’t being gassed. The barricaded streets were open to traffic.

No one, finally, was pointing a gun at anyone.

And Wesley Lowery, the reporter from the Washington Post who had been arrested, would Tweet: “I do not recognized the Ferguson I am in currently.”

What happened was glaringly obvious. It was obvious as the nonstop coverage on your favorite cable network news channel.

It took a few days for people to understand what was actually happening. But in a sudden jolt of recognition — in a Bull Connor, firehoses on the kids moment — millions watched and saw the whole thing differently. The Kevlar-jacketed, gun-pointing, armored-vehicle-riding cops weren’t facing full-blown riots. As one Iraqi vet put it, this wasn’t crowd control; it was intimidation. The protesters were being faced down by an absurdly — in another time, it would be almost comically — overdone show of force.

And the question quickly became: How could this be the proper response in a community torn up by the fact that a white cop – as yet unnamed — had shot and killed an unarmed African-American teen?

The story of race is hardly a new one. But the story in which Rand Paul is way ahead of Barack Obama on race is a different one.

We got the jolt, and Obama called for peace and upbraided the cops. Obama is clearly unhappy with the lack of transparency and with the show of force. But it was Paul who got to the point, writing an op-ed in Time magazine decrying the militarization of police forces in general and noting that race was the obvious factor here. He blamed big government for the military-style response, which may be a stretch. But on race, he got it exactly right: “If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.”

You don’t have to know much about modern policing, or much about crowd control, to know the cops in Ferguson were doing everything wrong in facing the protests. There was some looting and one store was burned, but the protests eventually became, as much as anything else, about not being able to protest. It was obviously a time for outreach, not for overreach.

And it was the overreach that shocked. And the fact that someplace like Ferguson has this kind of firepower at its disposal. The stories have been written for years, dating back to the ’70s and the emergence of SWAT teams, about the militarization of the police. But the change since 9/11, when the Pentagon ratcheted up it program of giving away excess firepower to police forces, has gone basically unnoticed until now.

But now that people are noticing, they can’t help but see that the numbers are shocking. According to an ACLU report, 63 police departments have taken on 500 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles in 2011 and 2012. That’s just for starters. Since 1997, the Pentagon has transferred something like $4 billion worth of equipment to the cops.

That’s how the streets of Ferguson came to look like the streets of Gaza. As someone put it, these guys give out traffic tickets by day and dress up in Kevlar by night. And that’s how a lot of suddenly outraged Americans came to understand that if this happens in suburban Ferguson, it can happen anywhere.

[Photo of Capt. Ron Johnson in Ferguson by Michael Calhoun via Twitter.]


AS we begin dropping bombs in Iraq once again, the one thing we don’t ask ourselves is this: What could go wrong?

Where to begin?

In Egypt, Tahrir Square happened, and we couldn’t justify continuing to stand by a dictator. We played no military role. We didn’t have to. Mubarak fell, and the Arab Spring was on. Soon, the Muslim Brotherhood would win an election (which was always the fear: What would happen when the wrong team wins in a democratic election?). There was a military coup. Now they are killing demonstrators, outlawing the Brotherhood, arresting journalists and shutting down what little democracy there was.

In Libya, we became part of the coalition air force for the rebels. You remember: Leading from behind, they called it. Qaddafi fell. The rebels won. More Arab Spring. Until the country fell into chaos and, eventually, Benghazi happened.

We’re left not just with the disasters, but the tag-along unexpected disasters and the hawkish, somehow unembarrassed so-called experts who didn’t see the disasters coming.

In Syria, civil war turned quickly into mass slaughter. We looked for a rebel group to side with, in order to stop the murderous Assad. Reliable moderates were hard to locate, and, in any case, the danger of arming them was clear. What if something like ISIS happened? And what if they took the moderates’ guns? And what if they used them to exploit the Shia-Sunni tensions in neighboring Iraq, which had grown ever worse as al-Maliki shut out the minority Sunnis? And what if ISIS brought with it a hard-line vision of Islam that would embarrass the Taliban?

And Iraq? The 4,400 American dead? The 100,000-plus Iraqi dead? The $1 trillion gone? The years it took to extricate ourselves from someplace we never should have been?

As Iraq explodes — and not just from American bombs — here’s an irony for you as told in Max Fisher’s Iraq explainer for vox.com, of how ISIS is using stolen American guns to fight its way through Iraq. Fisher writes:

The absurdity runs deep: America is using American military equipment to bomb other pieces of American military equipment halfway around the world. The reason the American military equipment got there in the first place was because, in 2003, the US had to use its military to rebuild the Iraqi army, which it just finished destroying with the American military. The American weapons the U.S. gave the Iraqi army totally failed at making Iraq secure and have become tools of terror used by an offshoot of al-Qaeda to terrorize the Iraqis that the US supposedly liberated a decade ago. And so now the U.S. has to use American weaponry to destroy the American weaponry it gave Iraqis to make Iraqis safer, in order to make Iraqis safer.

You can see the thread here. Not just disasters, but the unexpected disasters and the somehow unembarrassed so-called experts who didn’t see the disasters coming. The hawkish experts have been wrong time and again, and now they’re back, along with Cheney and memories of missing WMDs, missing flower-bearers, missing American values in Abu Ghraib.

Hillary Clinton made headlines the other day by taking a tiny step in the direction of the McCain position (which is to basically bomb everyone) by saying Barack Obama’s decision not to take more decisive action in Syria was a “failure” that helped lead to the current mess in Iraq.

What was the right call? I mean, in any of these situations? Playing a major role in Libya? Playing so cautiously in Syria?

Who lost Egypt?

The McCains and Cheneys tell us the problem in Iraq is that we didn’t leave a residual force there, presumably forever. Not that having troops in Iraq had forestalled the earlier disasters. You might make a better case that the problem goes all the way back to those senators (like Clinton) who voted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq.

The danger now is that we’ll really get pulled back in. It’s the last thing Obama wants, of course. He ran on getting us out of Iraq — and still it took him years. He knows the dangers. He hasn’t come to Iraq’s aid, in large part, because there’s no one in Baghdad to trust. The story there now is how the president of Iraq has appointed a new prime minister to form a government while al-Maliki has said he won’t go. No one knows what will happen.

What we do know is that we were told — time and again — that getting out of Iraq was a matter of rebuilding Iraq’s military, and so we spent many tens of millions of dollars in that effort. And we watched as that army, which seems to be no army at all, fell apart as soon as ISIS appeared.

And because Iraq is falling apart, we’re back, in a limited way, because we do have some responsibility there. But can our role stay limited? As minorities were threatened with genocide and as Americans seemed at risk in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, Obama decided to bomb ISIS positions. In the Kurds, he had a reliable ally, but Obama has worried that giving advanced arms to the independence-seeking Kurds would help them separate from the rest of Iraq. Now it seems he has no choice.

Still, Obama has said he won’t “allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq.” I don’t doubt his intentions. But we are getting into a war, in however limited a way, and there will be pressure to stay involved. What if things go badly for the Kurds? What if Baghdad is threatened?

What if — and I know this is a long shot — something unexpected happens and things really go wrong?

[ Image of Iraq by the US Army. ]

Littwin: The dreadfully consistent anti-Obamacare industry

The health reform law has never been the thing they say it is, which is why attacks on it have routinely  been exposed as baloney


IT has been a while, but the good times are officially back. There’s another anti-Obamacare ad on a TV screen near you, this time featuring an area woman with a sad, 30-second tale of Obamacare woe. The Crossroads GPS ad ends with a plea from “Richelle” to Mark Udall to “repeal” the law.

But, of course, once the sad tale gets checked out, it is mostly discredited. KDVR’s Eli Stokols did the checking. The woman telling the story, Richelle McKim, supplies much of the discrediting.

I thought they’d given up on this brand of ad. The last anti-Obamacare ad I remember in Colorado used an actress who had no tale of woe. She told us, instead, that health care was about “people,” and that Obamacare apparently wasn’t. And, of course, there’s the classic creepy Uncle Sam series of ads, which, if there’s any justice, should play in reruns forever.

But personal stories from real people?

They tried that, and one after the other, the testimonials proved to be at least semi-bogus. You remember. The stories were inconsistent. The numbers didn’t add up. The details were murky. Some critical piece of evidence was left out. The fact-checker business was booming.

Political ads tend to at least bend the truth. But these Obamacare ads were produced by contortionists.

Many political ads — probably most — tend to at least bend the truth. But these Obamacare ads were produced by contortionists.

Obviously, there are some people, somewhere, who ended up getting a bad deal because of Obamacare. After all, it’s a big country. Out of 300 million people, you’re bound to find a few weepers.

So why do all the sob stories turn out to be so, well, funny?

The problem is that the people who did get a bad deal are generally not exactly your sympathetic types. They’re young males who don’t want to buy health insurance because why would they? And then there’s your basic rich guy who doesn’t want to cough up a little extra to help ensure that everyone gets a shot at protecting his/her family. These are not people who are going to persuade you to vote for Cory Gardner and against Mark Udall.

So let’s go to Richelle McKim of Castle Rock. Her story is that her husband started his own business and that government is so often in the way.

But the family soldiered on, as McKim explains.

“We knew we needed to find healthcare,” McKim said. “Because we were a single income family, we couldn’t afford our plan.”

Then, on the screen, the critical text appears: “Richelle had to go back to work.”

Then we segue into Obamacare, as if Obamacare were the cause of Richelle having to leave the home. But Stokols went to McKim’s LinkedIn profile. Turns out she had been working since July of 2008, which, if you’ll remember, was before Obamacare and, for that matter, before the Obama presidency.

First she worked for her husband’s company from her house, but then in 2010, she needed to find different work. You’ll never guess where she would end up working, so I’ll just tell you — for two oil and gas companies, Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy. These companies just happen to be major contributors to — coincidence alert — Cory Gardner’s Senate campaign.

Now we’ll get to the punch line. Stokols called McKim to ask about the ad, and she told him that she went back to work because she needed the money. It also turned out her husband’s high blood pressure had made insuring him too expensive without employer-subsidized insurance.

“It wasn’t the Affordable Care Act,” Stokols quotes her as saying. “It was just a financial burden, having a single income for so long.”

So, the ad wasn’t really about Obamacare at all. So, why would they say it was?

Most people don’t like Obamacare. Every poll says so. It’s also true that most polls say a majority want to either keep Obamacare or fix it, but that isn’t the point. Hitting Obamacare works politically, although there is some question as to how effective it remains.

But for it to be effective, there has to be bad news attached. Richelle has bad news. Obamacare is bad for middle class entrepreneurs.

There’s a long list of bad news that has been associated with Obamacare, even if you don’t hear about all of them anymore.

There would be death panels. Remember death panels?

Medicare would be gutted. Remember Medicare?

Millions of policies were canceled for not meeting minimum Obamacare standards. And then it turned out that most people whose policies were canceled were transferred to new policies — sometimes even better policies.

People, we were told, wouldn’t sign up, particularly after the botched rollout. Except that they did, in numbers that exceeded expectations. Remember numbers?

More people would lose insurance than would gain insurance — for a net Obamacare loss. Speaker John Boehner even said that. One problem. It wasn’t even remotely true. According to a Gallup survey of 45,000 adults, the country’s uninsured rate fell from an average of 17.1 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in June of this year. Maybe Boehner should be in an anti-Obamacare ad.

There’s more. But the actual bad news concerning Obamacare has come mostly from judges. Unfortunately for the anti-Obamacare Super PACs, judges are far more likely to take testimony than to give testimonials. So, meanwhile, there’s always Richelle.

[ Image by 7-how-7. ]