Tag Archives for " Obama "

Mar 18

You Can Tell it’s Sunday Again

By kevin | Current Affairs , Rants and Raves

You can tell it’s Sunday because it’s time for the GOP hopefuls to go on the morning talk shows and say stupid things about foreign policy.  This from the WSJ . . .

Mr. Romney said that if he became president, he would work more closely with Mr. Karzai and consult with him “day to day,” in contrast with Mr. Obama, who has had more limited contact with the Afghan leader.

Ummm, no you wouldn’t.

I think it’s very plain to see that the conditions there [in Afghanistan] are not going very well,” Mr. Romney told Fox. “And I lay part of the blame for that on the lack of leadership on the part of our president, both in terms of his interaction with Karzai, with leaders there, as well as his relative detachment from our military commanders there, and the fact that he published a specific date for our withdrawal.

Why does this make me think of the famous scene from Princess Bride where the Man in Black challenges Vizzini to a “battle of the wits” involving Iocane Powder

Vizzini:  YOU’D LIKE TO THINK THAT, WOULDN’T YOU?  You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Man In Black:  You’re trying to trick me into giving away something. It won’t work.


Man In Black:  Then make your choice.

Vizzini:  I will, and I choose– What in the world can that be?

Vizzini gestures up and away from the table. The Man In Black looks.

Man In Black:  What? Where? Vizzini switches the goblets. Turning back. I don’t see anything.

Vizzini:  Well, I- I could have sworn I saw something. No matter. Smirks.

Man In Black:  What’s so funny?

Vizzini:  I’ll tell you in a minute. First, let’s drink. Me from my glass, Picks up glass. and you from yours.

They drink.

Man In Black: Pointing. You guessed wrong.

Vizzini:  You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this:  never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha– Stops suddenly, and falls dead, to his right.

Yes, I can see clearly now Mitt, the right answer is to stay forever in the graveyard of nations, a place firmly locked in the Bronze Age with access to 20th century weapons (21st?) run by a guy who hangs onto his office because of American arms.  So riddle me this, what are you planning on talking to him about every day?

Not that facts matter to the only true conservative left standing, but the answer to the question is “no it is not.”

As in any other state, you have to comply with this and any federal law. And that is that English has to be the main language,” Santorum told El Vocero, a San Juan newspaper. “There are other states with more than one language as is the case in Hawaii, but to be a state in the United States, English has to be the main language.

And the question is: Is English the official language of the United States?

In other news, it was a bad week for lost innocence.

Mr. Smith went to Goldman and found out folks there had sharp elbows. So he quit. And it only took him 12 years to figure that out.

After taking the gullible western world by storm with Kony 2012 . . . (you pick)

  1. It turns out Invisible Children is a front for an evangelical group that is in Africa trying to convert the heathen.
  2. The producers turn out to subscribe to the doctrine of truthiness when it comes to, well most of it, in order to raise money.
  3. The locals hated the movie. Something about the white man’s burden.
  4. The co-founder of Invisible Children was arrested after quite visibly masturbating in public, high as a kite and drunk on his ass.

Mike Daisy admits to suffering from “truthiness” in his expose on This American Life. It turns out that Foxconn is only MOSTLY abusing the environment and taking advantage of workers in the name of profit (because that only goes on in China). He will now receive thirty lashes for embellishment.  (Bonus question, is truthiness about Foxconn the moral equivalent of calling someone a slut?)

The not-hit HBO series with the stellar cast (was Nick Nolte ever young?) called Luck was cancelled, the reason given because three horses died during filming (call it 4500 lbs. of horse meat).  No word on how many animals died in the making of the meals served to the cast.

It turns out that those rapacious slaughterhouse operators are putting weird stuff (the now notorious Pink Slime) in our ground beef.  Call for Mr. Sinclair, Mr. Upton Sinclair.

A decorated Non-Com on his fourth tour (but only his first in the country Mitt wants to adopt as our own) in a place where we’re not wanted, where the rules of engagement say we don’t shoot until the other guy shoots first, stuck out in the middle of fuck-all-nowhere surrounded by nothing finally snaps and goes medieval in a medieval land.  It’s sad for lots of reasons but the big surprise is that anyone is surprised and that it doesn’t happen more often (or does it?)

All of which puts me in mind of yet another movie.

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.

[A casino worker gives Renault a wad of money.]

Casino Worker: Your winnings, sir.

Captain Renault: [Quietly] Oh, thank you very much. [Loudly] Everybody out at once.



Dec 28

Oh What a Year it Was

By kevin | Current Affairs

No highly selective annual roundup could be complete without noting that last night the Portland Trailblazers, led by Jamal Crawford, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum defeated the Sacto Kings, led by DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, and some other guys . . . leading me to wonder, was it something in the water? Marcus 1, Marcus 2, LeMarcus and DeMarcus. David Sterns it’s Dr. Seuss on line 2.

In January, in a weird bit of symmetry, a food cart vendor named Mohamed (there’s a big friggin surprise) lit himself on fire launching what became known as the Arab spring in the dead of winter. Almost exactly a year later, at least some of us await the outcome of the Iowa caucuses hoping that a guy named Newt will spontaneously burst into flames on national TV.

Along the same lines, did anyone else note that in the same month, March, 1) The Donald (R) Gasbag, held a one point lead over Mitt Romney, (R) Vitalis by dredging up that favorite trope of the GOP, that Obama was born in on the planet Rewanhango 6, 2) Obama ordered US planes to join in the fun enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya, and 3) the Fukushima nuclear plant did a full Chernobyl? I’m blaming Fukushima on the Donald, The Donald on Mitt, and Romneycare on Obama, who is a secret pact with his Muslim controllers actually came up with the Massachusetts health care plan BEFORE Romney did and used his alien blue zap to hypnotize Mitt into making it law . . . right before he hypnotized Newt into praising it but after he held Newt at gunpoint and made him go on television with Nancy P.

(For those keeping track, yes I did skip February. Hosni resigned and Muammar cracked down. The rest of the month is a blur.)

And who can forget April? President Obama releases, again, his “long form” birth certificate and Newt Gingrich described Paul Ryan’s deficit reduction plan as radical “right wing social engineering” leading to a universal, month spanning WTF? Knowing that history is a gigantic looping reality show (or reality is a gigantic looping history show) . . .

  1. We can all now look forward to the President releasing his extra-long form, medium form, short-form with footnotes, free-form, and form-fitting birth certificates once the GOP picks a new liar in chief
  2. Newt will be back to saying stupid things that nobody cares about

All by April of 2012. Oh, and Prince William proved again, as did his father and zillions of other rich dudes before him, that you can be as homely as a horse and still get the total babe . . . as long as you are rich.

May saw the fall of Osama bin Laden thanks to Seal Team 6. In the “only in America” category, in that same month the following companies attempted to trademark the name of America’s Top Ninjas (read the list closely).

  1. Resco Instruments for “Chronographs as watches, Dials for clock-and-watch-making, Straps for wristwatches, Watch bands, Watch cases, Watch straps, Watches, Wristwatches”
  2. Justice is Done LLC for “commemorative coins; key rings of precious metals; cufflinks; jewelry; wall plaques made of precious metal”
  3. Jon Nami for “Series of fiction works, namely, novels and books”
  4. M.Z. Berger for “Clocks; Jewelry; Watches”
  5. Disney Enterprises for “Entertainment and education services”, “Toys, games and playthings; gymnastic and sporting articles (except clothing); hand-held units for playing electronic games other than those adapted for use with an external display screen or monitor; Christmas stockings; Christmas tree ornaments and decorations; snow globes” and “Clothing, footwear and headwear”,
  6. NovaLogic for “games and playthings, namely action figures and accessories therefor”

Disney? Disney? Really? In what can only be described as schadenfreude, all of the applications with the exception of Mr. Nami’s are listed as “dead.” Mr. Nami, there is a call for you on line two. Hello, hello . . . are you there?

June saw the the first GOP debate in New Hampshire . . . I know, it’s hard to remember a day when there wasn’t a GOP debate. Back then, God was taking the over on Michele Bachman (R) Seven Clothing Changes a Day, and everyone else was listed as “former.”

  1. Former Business Magnates Cain and Romney
  2. Former Governors Pawlenty and Romney
  3. Former Senator / House Speaker Santorum and Gingrich
  4. Former race war bater Paul

And just when you thought that the GOP had cornered the market on political foolishness, along came Anthony Weiner (D) BVD. We solemnly wait the turning worm wherein the man of 40,000 followers will surely do one of the following before summer.

  1. Take over from Charlie Sheen and the former Mr. Demi Moore in Two and a Half Men,
  2. Do a spread in Playboy posing as Lindsey Lohan posing as Marilyn Monrie
  3. Do a Fox reality show called Anthony’s Weiner

It’s hard to believe that it was just a few months ago, July to be exact, that our elected officials gave up even the slimmest pretense of competency or sanity by creating a “super committee” as the preferred strategy for not shutting down the government. S&P was clearly impressed but in the end it didn’t matter as it turns out that nobody wanted to sleep with the dollars ugly sister the Euro. Bye bye stock market.

Proving that all things revert to the mean, in August Michele Bachman got a bad case of what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness”, what the GOP faithful don’t notice and don’t care, and what some of us call alternatively “lies,” “made up stuff,” or “OMG, did he/she actually just say that” and informed the nation that the founding fathers had “worked tirelessly to end slavery.” President Obama released his interim mid-form birth certificate in King James English and Arabic. Rick Perry rode to the rescue. The “Anybody But Mitt” crowd breathed a sigh of relief. Qaddafi fled Tripoli. In a poll of prospective Iowa GOP voters, 3% thought his name was Gaddafi, 32% thought that meant Obama had abdicated and Condi Rice was now President, and the rest stopped by The Pizza Ranch for the salad bar.

After a brief turn at the ball, Rick Perry’s brain heads back to Texas leaving the rest of him to duke it out with Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack on the weekly GOP debate show, To Tell the Truthiness. Fortunately, Herman Cain, (R) Supersize, is there with 9-9-9, a tax plan that kind of makes sense if you’re rich. In other news, a Canadian Magazine incites a bunch of lefties to Occupy Wall Street leading that Defender of the Constitution, Peter King (R) Weimar Republic, to say . . .

“The fact is these people are anarchists. They have no idea what they’re doing out there,” King told host Laura Ingraham. “They have no sense of purpose other than a basically anti-American tone and anti-capitalist. It’s a ragtag mob basically.” “We have to be careful not to allow this to get any legitimacy,” he said, adding “I’m taking this seriously in that I’m old enough to remember what happened in the 1960s when the left-wing took to the streets and somehow the media glorified them and it ended up shaping policy. We can’t allow that to happen.”

Yes, much better to hang a bunch of tea bags off their heads, fund them with copious amounts of money by the Koch brothers, and call them a spontaneous movement. Later that month, an informal poll showed that every potential GOP voter in Iowa had met every GOP candidate twice.

In October, Apple founder Steve Jobs dies and half the literate world goes into mourning. Note to self, Steve Jobs was hyper rich and an asshat. Must start treating people poorly. It wasn’t until December that uber Banker Jamie Dimon said . . . “Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and that everyone who is rich is bad — I just don’t get it,” said Dimon at the conference, which was organized by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. . . No dude, the rest of us don’t hate rich people, we just hate you. In other news, Herman Cain delights the faithful by admitting, actually I think bragging is the word I’m looking for, that he didn’t know what an Uzbekistan was, where Libya was, and who Angela Merkel is.

And wasn’t it just last month that the entire eastern seaboard admitted to having sex with Herman Cain and Rick Perry threw down on the three, no wait two agencies he would disband? Herman Cain’s response to his confusion about the whole truth, lies, making stuff up thing, “all this stuff twirling around in my head”, proved a terrific lead in to the super committee dropping a gigantic moist turd. Leave it to Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno to put it all into proper perspective. After several minutes of foaming and thrashing about simply horrible things, the game goes on.

Which brings us to December. Herman Cain finally suspends his campaign (so he can still get federal matching dollars), Newt soars into the lead (meaning he will be toast by next Wednesday), the NBA plays its first games of the aborted (not enough sadly) season, a nation is treated to the sight of the GOP voting against a tax break for the middle classe, and a millions of college football fans shake off that icky sticky feeling it got from the Jerry and Joe buggering fest to feast on . . .

  • The Advocare V100 Independence Bowl
  • The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
  • The Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl
  • The Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
  • The Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl
  • The SD County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
  • The BBVA Compass Bowl
  • The Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl
  • The GoDaddy.com Bowl
  • The Belk Bowl

I can hardly wait for 2012!

Nov 09

Just the Other Side of the Debate

By kevin | Current Affairs , Random Walk

I’m looking at the WSJ on my iPad.  Immediately underneath the headline “Herman Cain: “I have Never Acted Inappropriately” is a picture of the soon to be former PM of Italy and just below that is a caption that says “Italian bond yields jumped to staggering highs in a chilling replay of the market volatility that preceded bailouts of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal.”  Holy smokes, you mean it’s Herman Cain’s fault?

Just spitballing here, but when you wind up and pitch the idea that there are three agencies you want to do away with, you might want to have on the tip of your tongue which ones you have in mind Rick Perry (R) Three Times a Charm.

Phone call for Marco Rubio.  Next.

Was it just me or did Michele Bachman (R) God Told Me To Run, look like she had recently hit the tanning bed?

Phone call for Mr. Cain, It’s the shark you jumped on line two. “For every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably thousands who will say that none of that activity ever can from Herman Cain.”  Really?  Did you actually think about that before you said it?

The best part about having never once played fantasy football is that I’m not kicking myself for taking Peyton Manning first this year.

Best job in the world? GOP candidate. You get to not just make up the craziest sounding shit, but you get to say it out loud on television and people will cheer wildly. “I can see Russia from my house!” Manic applause. “I’m going to cut three agencies just as soon as I remember their names!” Standing ovation. “I’m going create a tax credit for evil dwarfs who can spin straw into gold.” Pandemonium. “Our scary black man is better than their scary black man!” Grown men weep.

All those who thought that the latest episode of Glee where some of the characters went all the way went too far raise your hands.  Anyone?

Well this is embarrassing, three different appellate courts have now turned back GOP-led challenges to Obamacare, the latest led by a rock-ribbed conservative Reagan appointee who wrote in the majority opinion, “The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems.”

Overheard: Gary Hart, Larry Craig, John Edwards, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, President Clinton muttering to themselves, “Why didn’t I think to say ‘Look at all the people I haven’t had sex with’? Crap.”

For those keeping score at home, it’s all Europe all the time and the game is only in the third inning.

News flash, GOP Super Duper Committee members announce they are now for tax increases! Is it just me or does eliminating the deduction on second homes worth more than $1.5mm in exchange for reducing the top bracket from 35% to 28% sound more like a tax cut than a tax increase? Kind of the fiscal equivalent of “For every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably thousands who will say that . . .”

And this weeks entry in the Reality TV hall of fame: “I’d like to use a friend on that one. Ron, what’s the name of that agency I want to kill?”

Note to the bankrupt GOP party (no, the party actually is out of money with no real prospects of paying off its debts) from someone who has voted GOP in the past and would be willing to in the future, “Do you think you could take the office of the President just a little bit seriously?”

One of the best books I’ve read this year: Citizens of London.  A must read for anyone with even a passing interest in WW II.  Brilliant book.

I keep trying to find something pithy to say about Joe Paterno, Penn State, college football.  Right now the best I can come up with is that the last college football game I watched was in 2004 at the recently departed Husky Stadium. Now I’m embarrassed that I even check the scores. Blah, blah, blah, billion dollar television contract, blah, blah, BCS, blah, blah, bullshit. The world would not in any meaningful way be impoverished if the entire shitbread enterprise called intercollegiate sports was shut down next Tuesday.

Paging Kermit the Frog, it’s the GOP on line 3.  Next.

Nov 08

Valuable Statistical Insights Into Political Reality

By kevin | Current Affairs , Decision Making

A recent piece by my hero Barry Ritholtz on statistics and the problem with selective perception got me to thinking what other useful information might be out there. Here’s what I found . . . 

This first graphic shows clearly and irrefutably the correlation between the number of words in a piece of legislation (in this case the Declaration of Independence and the recent Dodd-Frank bill) and the price of Gold. The obvious answer is to write longer bills. 


This second graphic shows the strong (1:1) correlation between the number of Alaskans that voted for the winner of the 2010 Senate Race and the capacity of Spartan Stadium. One obvious conclusion is that Alaskan voters should build Michigan State a bigger stadium. 


This final graphic demonstrates the importance the Democratic party places on the price of cheddar cheese. Although there are month to month divergences (I calculate the coefficient to be roughly .8), the trend line is absolutely clear. Obama’s popularity is definitely tied to the wholesale price of cheese. Expect to see an earmark fight in the upcoming Agricultural support bill.

Jul 28

The Summer of Numerical Discontent

By kevin | Current Affairs , Decision Making

I went walking with a friend last night and we got to talking about Obama’s polling numbers and the general uselessness of trying to project forward to 2012 and his political fortunes. So I went looking.

John Woolley and Gerhard Peters have an excellent site where they publish their work on The American Presidency Project. It’s an absolute treasure trove.  To the subject of approval ratings, we find that Obama’s numbers have moved from a high of 69 points early in his administration to the mid 40s 19 months in (currently 44%).

And what of W?  He entered office with much lower approval numbers, due in large part to the legal fracas surrounding his losing the popular vote but winning the Supreme Court vote: 9/11 handed him a popularity coup sending his approval ratings soaring to 89%.  19 months in his approval ratings had settled back to 68% and by the mid-term elections were closer to Obama’s current numbers at 48%.  At the end, only 34% approved of Bush’s performance.

Clinton, despite his manifest personal troubles entered office with a 58% approval rating and left with a 66% rating, astonishing given the rise of the conservative attack machine during his administration. Only Reagan and Bush the Elder managed the same trick. 19 months in his approval rating had also dropped, oddly to 42%, essentially the same as Obama’s.  At the time of his re-election, his approval ratings stood at 58%.

Bush Senior’s popularity curve looks like a roller coaster.  He entered office at 51% and left at 56%.  As was true with his son, his ratings soared to 82% during Desert Storm, seemingly proving that America loves a tough guy, at least for awhile.

And what of the Lion of the Right?  Reagan took over from a President suffering 34% approval ratings, due to many things not the least of which was the Iranian Hostage Debacle.  Despite the fact that Reagan won the electoral vote going away, he entered office with an approval rating of 51%.  At the 19 month mark his approval ratings stood EXACTLY where Obama’s do, 44%.  At his re-election, his popularity stood at 61%, roughly the same as Clinton’s.

Conclusions?  The first is what investment prospectuses always tell you: Past performance is not indication of future performance.  This has to be one of the most common, most insidious decision-faults going: looking at data about the past (data, by definition is always about the past) and using it to project the future.  Project is actually an apt descriptor, as it is an exercise in projecting our hopes, dreams, fears, fobias, and preconceptions on the future based on what we see in the past.

A second possible conclusion is the lesson of Bill Clinton: It’s the economy stupid.

May 04

It’s All Obama’s Fault. Or Not.

By kevin | Random Walk

It’s been an interesting ten days for Obama (and the rest of us) . . .

Oil rig blows up, sinks, and unleashes a torrent of oil. It is Obama’s fault because he authorized offshore drilling and / or he didn’t respond quickly enough or in the right way.

A couple of FBI guys blow the tail on the Times Square bomber and Emirates doesn’t read their email. Still, in 54 hours we grab prime suspect number one before he leaves the country, manage not to read him his Miranda rights (that will never happen again) and more arrests have begun in Pakistan and elsewhere. It is Obama’s fault for not being in Time Square to personally apprehend the guy and/or direct the bomb squad, because the FBI lost site of the guy, and because Democrats are soft on terrorists.

“Ahmand in the dinner jacket” comes to town in the middle of the once every five year nuclear non-proliferation summit and makes a spectacle. It’s Obama’s fault for letting him in the country, for suggesting that talking to the guy made sense, for not allowing the Israelis to bomb Iran, for not being tough enough, and for not figuring out a way to isolate Iran even though Russia and China, and we know they do what we want, won’t go along.

Arizona detonates the national debate on Immigration (among other things). It’s Obama’s fault for not being born here, for being a socialist, for not having an answer, for not being able to tell Congress what to do and get them to do it, and for being a racist.

Lindsey Graham throws a shoe, first on Climate / Energy and then on Immigration. It’s Obama’s fault for being partisan, for not being able to work with the GOP, for not letting the GOP run everything even though he was the one that got elected by a landslide, for not being born here, and for having an agenda.

American Idol turns in another dumb week, ratings suffer, and Simon Cowell is even harder to fathom and stomach. It is Obama’s fault because Idol is on Fox and everything is Obama’s fault on Fox.

The only thing Obama and the Administration knew they were going to have to deal with going into last week was the UN. They could guess on Arizona. And I didn’t mention all the other inconsequential things like running two wars, trying to figure out if Europe and the Euro are going to incinerate and launch a full scale sovereign debt crisis, hosting the Navy football team, and the hundred other things that show up on his daily briefing that none of us know about.

Point one: To all the people who think Obama isn’t acting fast enough or up to your liking, get a clue. It’s been a bit of a week. In retrospect, the same could possibly have been said about W at Katrina but I still say he handled that one poorly (and there was advanced notice and a lot of it). Yeah, he signed up for the job but if you have to admit there have been a few things vying for his attention.

Point two: Everything is not Obama’s fault. Increase the budget and resources 100 times and a couple of flat foots can still blow a tail (just to pick one item). They got the bad guy. Yeah, not on the first trip wire but the backup systems worked. The same cannot be said for BP. Not to be too tart here, but in response to the conservative meme that government can do nothing well, and certainly nothing as well as private enterprise: I would score this one Government 1, private enterprise 0 in the overall competence category, at least in the HOLY %&^! category for this week.

Dec 05

Obama’s Paradox

By kevin | Current Affairs , Decision Making

With great care I draw your attention to an article by Lee Siegel called The Zero-Sacrifice Presidency.

Obama tells us that we can have quality, universal health care without increasing the deficit. He tells us that he intends to have the 9/11 detainees given a fair trial in a civilian court but assures us that the trials will end in convictions. He declares that he will wage war in Afghanistan, but pledges to start bringing the troops home in 18 months. And everybody nevertheless takes these contradictory, irreconcilable statements seriously, as they parse, analyze, scrutinize Obama’s every word for some kind of coherent meaning. The president is like the character Chance in the novel and movie Being There, whose every fatuous utterance was celebrated for its profundity.

Some of Obama’s defenders chastise his exasperated listeners for their inability to detect the president’s “complexity.” But a fantasy of universal popularity that panders to every conflicting interest simultaneously is not the same thing as “complexity.” It is complexity if I tell my wife that I have to move to another state where I know I can find work, but that I realize the strain it will put on our marriage, and that I know the effect it will have on our child, and that I am aware of the consequences of such an attempt if I don’t find a job, having spent so much money on moving and establishing myself in a new place. It is not complexity if I tell my wife that I have to move to another state where I know I can find work, but that I will be back next week, and with lots of money.

In the spirit of full disclosure, my caution is based on two points.  The first is that I was and largely still am an Obama supporter (though I fully admit my reasons may not be rational).  The second is that I made a promise to myself that I would stop writing political screeds. So why this?Continue reading

Nov 13

Afghanistan Escalation as a Case Study in Decision Making

By kevin | Decision Making

It is surely the height of arrogance to propose an expert point of view on Afghanistan unless you have the relevant information.  I don’t have foreign policy or military expertise, but I do have a point of view on decision making, so at the risk of hubris, here goes . . .

One of the problems I see (already I’m in trouble) is that there is no shared problem definition.  That’s pretty typical of a class of puzzles many refer to as “wicked problems.”  No surprise here but this is where the problems begin. In the case of Afghanistan, it’s easy to spot the following problem definitions or frames:

According to one piece I read recently, the problem as defined by Sec Def Gates is, “How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans as well as the American people that this is not an open-ended commitment?”

The problem that General McChrystal sees relates specifically to the mission he’s been tasked with, which is to fight an insurgency.  Current Army doctrine on that topic says protect the civilians from the bad guys, kill bad guys, and work on building a civil society.

The problem many politicians see is “How do I position myself to score political points?”

The problem that many US citizens see is a pointless war.

The problem that many who think about these things see is how to not destroy the finest military our country, and maybe the world, has ever seen because of eight years of nonstop war.

You see where I’m going with this and you can further appreciate that each of these problem definitions, or “frames,” lead the honest thinker in different directions, both in terms of the alternatives you would consider and the trade-offs you might make.

What is true is that the collective we will not arrive at a common definition of the problem.  There was a time that could have happened, indeed did happen, but that time is now long past.  The question President Obama and his aides are asking is both geopolitical as well as simply political: Balancing the perceived need to continue to prosecute two wars in the Middle East while keeping the general populace onboard.  None of the alternatives are appealing on a good day, and it’s no longer a good day.

As a citizen, I have a point of view on what I think should happen.  As someone that thinks daily about quality decision making, I am annoyed by those who think Obama is dithering or prevaracating.  His predecessors had the dual luxury of having starting this war when the public was with them as well as an ideological lens that eliminating competing points of view and the alternatives that came with them.  Obama is not an idealogue when it comes to foreign policy and is genuinely trying to make a quality decision.  What must trouble him is the abiding fear that despite his best intentions, the outcomes will most likely not be good.

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