Saturday, April 22, 2017

A New Low Down Under

By Miles Franklin
Antipodes Correspondent of The Spy

You might think that a nation founded by convicts might appreciate a few new hose lines to replenish the old gene pool but, according to the usually authoritative New York Times, not so much:
On Thursday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed tough new requirements for would-be citizens, including stricter standards for English-language proficiency, an “Australian values” test and a four-year wait.
Apparently the local crocodile-skinners are worried about letting too many people who, notwithstanding their talents and contributions to building this dusty outpost at the end of the world, don't look exactly like the criminals of England who were transported to that distant shore as punishment by Her Majesty's Government:
“Citizenship and immigration policy is being used specifically for political ends,” said Henry Sherrell, a research officer in the Development Policy Center at Australian National University.

Ben Saul, the Challis chair of international law at Sydney Law School, agreed, saying there was no apparent need for the changes. “There is little evidence that the current Australian citizenship processes are being abused or admit the ‘wrong’ kind of citizens,” he said.
Included in the package is a rule that would permanently bar from citizenship any immigrant who failed the citizenship exam three times.  As part of the independence and industry I have shown throughout my brilliant career, I have taken the liberty of, in the great tradition of our First Settlers, purloining a copy of the test so that applicants can swot up.  Good luck to all!

Government of Australia

Citizenship Examination for  Anyone Who Looks Like an Abo 

1.  Which of the following is the greatest contribution that Australia has made to world culture?
a.  Mel Gibson
b.  Rupert Murdoch  
c.  Nicole Kidman
d.  Olivia Newton-John

2.  When pulled over by the old bill for driving under the influence of about 20 lagers and a speedball, what does a good Australian citizen do?
a.  Whip out his croc-skinning knife
b.  Offer the copper the backwash from your 21st lager
c.   Go on a drunken rant about how important you are and refer to any female officer as "Sugar Tits      

3.   Why was the swagman so jolly?

a.  He finally got to marry one of Mick Jagger's castoffs
b.  He had finished his cinematic masterpiece blaming the Jews for crucifying Jesus
c.  Unlike everyone else in his gang, he didn't die at Gallipoli  
d.  He had dumped his first wife to marry Linda Koslowski

4.  Who were the first white settlers of Australia? (choose all that apply)

a.  Convicts
b.  Hookers
c.  Beggars
d.  Drunkards
e.  Rupert Murdoch

5.  After Tasmania was settled by white criminals how many native-born Aborigines remained?

a.  A thousand
b.  100
c.   1
d.   0
e.   Who gives a toss?

6.     Australia is a states party to the United Nations Convention on Refugees.  To carry out its responsibilities, Australia must refrain from which of the following acts, if any?

a.    Intercepting refugees and detaining them in a third country
b.    Denying any refugee hope of entry to Australia despite a well-founded fear of persecution
c.    Dragging out asylum hearings for years while keeping asylum applicants locked up in a tropical hellhole
d.    Sucking up to Donald Trump

7.   What were Australia's strategic goals at Gallipoli?

a.   Fucked if we know
b.   Not a clue mate
c.   Launch Mel Gibson's movie career
d.   Do whatever Winston Churchill told them to do

8.  Essay question:  What the fuck was going on in Baz Luhrman's Australia?   

9.  Practical exam.  Make a Vegemite sandwich and eat it without gagging once.     

Friday, April 14, 2017

Another day, another columnist in agony

By A.J. Liebling
Meta-content Generator

Hardly had we finished mending Nick Kristof's heart, broken by entirely reasonable disagreement over his odes to not racist at all supporters of the Grifter-in-Chief than another pontificating gasbag was brought into our Emergency Room also suffering from the agony that comes from saying something stupid on TV and being justly criticized for it.

Today's Neediest Case is Fareed Zakaria, who, when he is not bloviating for CNN or improving the minds of Columbia students, adorns, if that is the word, Freddie Hiatt '76's Washington Post editorial page. Busy fella.  His latest effort for the Post is an attack on liberals for what he calls “Trump Derangement Syndrome”, by which you might think he means the view that the current President of the United States is a lying crooked bigoted ignorant dangerous admitted sex offender.  In other words, the truth.

No, you'd be wrong.  Our columnist seems to share that view, or at least he claims he does.  So what's scrambling his signal?  It takes a while to tease it out but eventually the attentive reader learns that he's suffering from the same illness that felled Nick Kristof: his feelings are hurt.

What happened, Fareed?  Tell us, we're listening:
I supported the strike and pointed out — in print and on air — that Trump was finally being presidential because the action “seems to reflect a belated recognition from Trump that he cannot simply put America first — that the president of the United States must act on behalf of broader interests and ideals.”  . . . .

From the response on the left, you would have thought I had just endorsed Trump for pope. Otherwise thoughtful columnists described my views as “nonsense” and a sign that the media has “bent over backward” to support Trump. (Really?) One journalist declared on television, “If that guy could have sex with this cruise missile attack, I think he would do it.” A gaggle of former Obama speechwriters discussed how my comments were perhaps “the stupidest” of any given on the subject.
Wow, that sounds awful.  Maybe not as awful as the 5,000,000 Syrians driven from their country by the insane violence unleashed against them by that Himmleresque weak-chinned murderer and his Russian armorers, but let's stipulate pretty bad.

Now, what really happened?  Let's go to the video tape, or at least the transcript:
On New Day this morning, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria praised Donald Trump for launching missiles at Syria. When Alisyn Camerota asked him, “What changed last night?” Zakaria responded that Trump “became President of the United States.”
That's a little different, isn't it, Fareed? And wouldn't you have to admit that equating being President with ordering a pinprick missile attack that did nothing to alleviate the suffering of Syrian civilians between bites of Mar-a-Lago chocolate cake is just a tad fatuous?  Wouldn't a better example of creeping Presidentiality have been the Grifter-in-Chief's flip-flops on one China, Chinese trade sanctions, or the discovery that NATO is “no longer obsolete?”  At least those show that some information and judgment has infiltrated the fever swamp under that thing on his head.  Not sure you can say the same thing about establishing the principle that it's OK to kill Syrian kids with barrel bombs, but not with nerve gas.

Also, isn't it dangerous to encourage this unstable clown to think that blowing stuff up is good for his image?  He does watch your network, doesn't he?

At any rate, you could argue this back and forth but at the end of the day Syrian children are still dying and Fareed Zakaria gets to jet off to Davos none the worse for a little Twitter snark.

That's not the way Zakaria saw it.  It wasn't that he said something inartful or worse; it was those same liberals persecuting Grifter-in-Chief voters and their apologists now making life a living hell for another gasbag.  Taking issue with Zakaria's reification of random bang bang was in fact a sign of something much worse: 
Liberals have to avoid Trump Derangement Syndrome. If Trump pursues a policy, it cannot axiomatically be wrong, evil and dangerous. 
Of course, no liberal ever said that.  What they said was, oh, let's let them speak for themselves:
For a number of reasons, military intervention is unlikely to work in Syria.
What deranged liberal said that?   If you guessed Fareed Zakaria, you won!

Anyway, between Kristof and Zakaria, we hardly know where to begin to salve the narcissistic injuries of well-compensated bloviators.  We would only commend to their attention one Maureen Dowd, who gets raked over the coals endlessly for the dumb sh*t she says about Hillary Clinton.  But you don't hear Ms. Dowd crying about those deranged liberals being mean to her.   Instead, she goes about her business as if she doesn't give a toss.

Our Rx for Nick and Fareed:  Be more like Maureen Dowd.  Woman up.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why We Fight, Chapter 93,210

KABUL, Afghanistan — Last year, the American military spent more than $100 million to rebuild the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps, which is battling resurgent Taliban militants in the southern province of Helmand.

Soldiers were to be recruited and trained, and armed with new equipment. A new commander, trumpeted as visionary and clean of corruption, was appointed to rebuild and reform the unit, which was a shambles just a year after taking charge of security in Helmand from the American-led NATO coalition. Casualties were at a record high, the leadership was corrupt, and many of the soldiers existed only on paper.

But as winter set in, it became clear that the plan had not worked.
Over the course of the year, the Taliban gained more territory; the militants now largely control seven of 14 districts in Helmand and contest another five, according to local officials. Casualties among government forces in the province broke records again.

And that new, clean commander? He was arrested on charges of stealing food and fuel intended for his beleaguered soldiers.
With large swaths of the Afghan countryside under Taliban control and several cities threatened, American and NATO leaders are growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of security reforms that they see as necessary to battle the insurgency.

A major problem is the rampant corruption of the Afghan security leadership, which is profiting from the chaos even as soldiers die in record numbers.
Most of that work was rapidly undone, because of corruption and inept leadership,” says Maj. Gen. Richard G. Kaiser, in charge of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan, referring to efforts to reform the 215th. . . .

This year’s fighting comes as the country’s coalition government remains stagnated by infighting and struggling to deal with the realities on the battlefield. . . .   “The American military has tried for 15 years to help Afghanistan build a professional army,” said Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired American general who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan and later was the American ambassador to Kabul. “It has always assumed that its own goal of defeating the insurgency is shared by Afghan Army leaders.”
But, he added, “this is often not so.”
Mr. Eikenberry said that for many Afghan commanders, the Taliban were just one concern in an uncertain political and economic environment.

“Others are ensuring the welfare of his family and supporters, staying aligned with political patrons, and avoiding combat so as to preserve his unit, which is a source of revenue,” he said, referring to commanders in general. . . .

But, from interviews with about two dozen security officials across the country, it is clear that of the improvements that General Nicholson said were urgently needed in several vital areas — leadership, retraining struggling units and combating corruption — little has been achieved on the ground.
Western officials said that in the first three months of the year, Afghan forces were almost entirely on the defensive. In a clear indication of concern, General Nicholson has asked the White House to send thousands of additional American troops to help the roughly 10,000-strong coalition force that remains on the ground. . . .

Officials say President Ashraf Ghani is increasingly aware that his military commanders have been lying to him on the state of their units and on the adoption of changes charted in Kabul. But there is also skepticism among Western and Afghan officials about just how committed he is to keeping the security overhaul free from patronage politics.

After prodding by coalition leaders, a board appointed by the president was supposed to purge corrupt and incompetent security leaders during the winter and create a system of merit-based promotions. The winter is over, and that work has yet to begin.

Even though the military reform has been far from satisfactory, the support keeps coming. 

According to General Kaiser, the United States has since October provided about 900 new Humvees, new weapons sufficient for about 14 battalions, fuel for a fleet of more than 100,000 vehicles, winter clothing for 25 percent of the Afghan Army and the police, and three-quarters of a year’s supply of ammunition.

I can give you everything all day, but it doesn’t mean anything if you have poor leadership taking it away from you,” General Kaiser said.

Coalition leaders have had to resort to drastic measures to jolt their Afghan partners into action. Last year, General Kaiser’s team pulled the fuel contract from the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior Affairs, which adds up to about $250 million, because it could not trust the agencies with that much money. Then, to get Afghan leaders to update their systems with biometrics of existing soldiers to ensure there were no “ghost soldiers” on the payroll, they held back pay for tens of thousands of army soldiers funded by the United States.

The pressure tactics appeared to work: The army increased the number of its properly enrolled soldiers by 20,000 over just two months. . . .

One reason for the leadership problems is a widening gap between soldiers and commanders. One senior Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to candidly express his concerns, described what he called a caste-based system within the ranks.

At the top, he said, is a class of often incompetent generals, many of them from the Communist or the civil war period who had strong political ties. The soldiers and police officers are treated as an “untouchable” class, dying at an average of close to 20 a day. The leaders show little concern for their men, the Afghan official said, a view that is widely held by Western officials.

“We hear story after story of commanders who steal the fuel, sell it to the Taliban, who take the weapons we — you — pay for and sell it to the Taliban,” John Sopko, the United States special inspector general for Afghanistan, said in a recent speech. “The irony of it is, the terrorists are at the end of our supply chain.”

In the interview, General Kaiser, whose son is an Army lieutenant, clearly felt frustrated by the lack of empathy shown by Afghan leaders for their soldiers. . . .

The New York Times, April 9, 2017

Update, April 13, 2017 from the Spy's Continuous News Desk:  We dropped a big bomb so everything's great again.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nick Kristof's Guide to Popularity

By A.J. Liebling
Meta-content Generator

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Heart of Dixie Cafe and listen to Lester Maddox explain why even though he of course isn't a bigot he still supports the Tangerine-Faced Grifter, here comes Nick Kristof again to tell us liberals (who support his pontifications by paying to read The New York Times) that we've got it all wrong.

We had previously taken issue with Kristof's not-especially-convincing efforts to exonerate Grifter voters on the grounds that they were not all bigots and why can't we all get along.  We made – what's that word again? – arguments, both practical and moral, against his views.  Apparently some other folks expressed their views with greater vituperation, because Kristof now complains that his previous arguments in support of the Essential Goodness of Trumpanistas made him “unpopular.”

Let's see if we can mend Nick Kristof's broken heart, if not his reasoning.  First of all, if you want to paint those who disagree with you as screaming idiots, all you have to do is pluck a few of the ripest comments from your harvest.  Is it really the case that you judge your opponents by the most extreme statements made by any of them?

We'll revert to that inquiry infra but first let's do something he doesn't do: grapple with reality.  He says:
The blunt truth is that if we care about a progressive agenda, we simply can’t write off 46 percent of the electorate. If there is to be movement on mass incarceration, on electoral reform, on women’s health, on child care, on inequality, on access to good education, on climate change, then progressives need to win more congressional and legislative seats around the country.
Can't dispute the second sentence.  Let's look at the first.  Now who are we to quibble over the meanings of words with a distinguished columnist for the world's most authoritative news source?  We always thought that “electorate” didn't mean those who voted; it means the entire body of qualified voters, whether or not they turned out to vote on Election Day.  In our defense, we can only point out that this view is also held by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.  On page 575.  Like us, you can look it up.

So going with this barely plausible definition of electorate, we can say that the Tangerine-Faced Grifter received the support not of 46 per cent of the electorate, but of 46 per cent of voters who cast ballots.  As turnout in 2016 sank to 55% of eligible voters, in fact the Tangerine-Faced Grifter received the support of 26 per cent of the electorate, a rather less imposing bloc, and certainly less numerous than the 45% who stayed home and ate Cheetos on November 8.  You can look up these numbers too.  Here.

Kristof argues that not all of this 26% can be written off as bigots.  Since we haven't talked to all of them, we can neither confirm nor deny that assertion.   But some other folks, practicing an obscure craft known as “reporting,” did, and here's what they found:
Facts, however, as a rather more illustrious predecessor of President Trump once remarked, “are stubborn things.” Interestingly, on the very same day that Sanders offered his evidence-free defense of Trump voters in Boston, the latest data from the American National Election Studies (ANES) was released.
Philip Klinkner, a political scientist at Hamilton College and an expert on race relations, has pored over this ANES data and tells me that “whether it’s good politics to say so or not, the evidence from the 2016 election is very clear that attitudes about blacks, immigrants, and Muslims were a key component of Trump’s appeal.” For example, he says, “in 2016 Trump did worse than Mitt Romney among voters with low and moderate levels of racial resentment, but much better among those with high levels of resentment.”
The Intercept, April 6, 2017.

Non-bigoted Grifter voters, shown here winning
The study quoted by The Intercept correlated Presidential preferences with responses to questions involving racist tells:
Klinkner himself grabbed headlines last summer when he revealed that the best way to identify a Trump supporter in the U.S. was to ask “just one simple question: is Barack Obama a Muslim?” Because, he said, “if they are white and the answer is yes, 89 percent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton.” This is economic anxiety? Really?
Other surveys and polls of Trump voters found “a strong relationship between anti-black attitudes and support for Trump”; Trump supporters being “more likely to describe African Americans as ‘criminal,’ ‘unintelligent,’ ‘lazy’ and ‘violent’”; more likely to believe “people of color are taking white jobs”; and a “majority” of them rating blacks “as less evolved than whites.” Sorry, but how can any of these prejudices be blamed on free trade or low wages?
But back to our star columnist, who doesn't stoop so low as to consider pesky things like facts when he can nurse his wounded pride.  Grifter voters aren't motivated by racism, bigotry, or anythings horrible like that; they're upset that liberals think so (apparently correctly, as we just learned):
I asked the people I interviewed in Oklahoma why they were sticking with Trump. There are many reasons working-class conservatives vote against their economic interests — abortion and gun issues count heavily for some — but another is the mockery of Democrats who deride them as ignorant bumpkins. The vilification of these voters is a gift to Trump.
But rural Oregon's gift to punditry doesn't stop at blaming those pesky liberals for forcing white non-bigots into voting for a crooked ignorant dangerous unbalanced sex criminal whose entire Administration devotes every non-dysfunctional moment to f**king them over.  He's also got practical solutions:  
Maybe we need more junior year “abroad” programs that send liberals to Kansas and conservatives to Massachusetts.
I think this is op-ed humor but with this guy who knows?

We've got a different idea.  Where does he think that these alert, informed citizens got the idea that liberals spend their days not in fighting desperately to preserve their health care and bring them jobs, higher education, and economic opportunity but in lounging around kale bars slagging them off?  Could it have anything to do with their sources of information?  I'd be fascinated to know if our intrepid columnist met any Trumpanistas who ever read a word printed by his employer.

Our guess is that they get their “news” from old Uncle Gropey and his fellow barroom brawlers at Schlox News, the leading news choice of these thoughtful voters.  They also consume bottomless steins of disinformation poured through their Facebook accounts by reactionary bloggers and Kremlin trolls.   Maybe that explains why they think President Obama is a Muslim who used taxpayer money to give Negroes free phones or that liberals are engaged in a massive conspiracy to make them look like ignorant credulous hate-addled schmucks.

Even if us coastal elites got in our Priuses and Teslas and drove to Ambridge, Pennsylvania, Youngstown, Ohio, or wherever else (Oklahoma?  What's that?) Grifter fans congregate and prostrated ourselves at the feet of these worthies, we doubt we'd win many hearts and minds.  We'd bet that they would continue to consume a news pizza double-stuffed and dripping with disinformation designed to alienate them from those who advocate on their behalf.

It's never hard to make liberals sound cruel and unfair.  There will always be a few angry comments you can highlight and generalize from.  But what kind of fair-minded reporter would do something like that?

As for us, we're going with The Intercept's pithy conclusion:

Always remember: You have to identify the disease before you can begin work on a cure. In the case of support for Donald Trump, the results are in: It isn’t the economy. It’s the racism, stupid.
On second thought, let's improve our political discourse by not calling Nick Kristof stupid.  Let's just say naive.