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Monday, April 23, 2012

SCANDALS AND POLITICS



The 2012 presidential and congressional campaigns have been in various stages for well over a year and have thus interfaced with a series of “scandals” perpetrated in government agencies and the military which have provided fodder for both an ever excited media and for politicians always looking for some election advantage. The Obama Administration has found itself in the position of needing to diminish the impact of the most notable of these events, although the actual importance of some is questionable.

The case of Solyndra Corp. which received a half billion dollar federal loan guarantee to make solar panels and then filed for bankruptcy protection certainly had the most financial impact. The fact that the loan guarantee was hastily approved and was used as an example of Obama's “green jobs” initiative, complete with an Obama photo op at the plant, makes this fair game for Republicans who are campaigning against size and waste in the federal government. Its 500 million dollar price tag certainly causes it to fall into the “scandal” category.

But the less expensive but seemingly more egregious recent events, at least on a personal level, of the General Services Administration and the Secret Service have gotten more media and congressional attention. The GSA “conference” in 2010, aka a good time jamboree, cost $823,000 (or more). This four day conference for about 300 GSA employees featured a clown, a mind reader, ridiculously expensive food and drink as well as high dollar accommodations at the 4 star M-Resort, Spa and Casino in Las Vegas. “What were they thinking?” is the question in most peoples minds. The Congress should subpoena the mind reader and find out. 
The GSA is responsible for the purchase, rental, maintenance and management of government buildings and facilities. It would seem that they could have found a conference room or two somewhere near by their headquarters in Washington D.C. to stage a “conference” or as this was a Western Region Conference of the Public Building Service perhaps conference rooms could have been found in San Francisco or Denver, homes to regional headquarters. Clearly that was not the intent. Instead it was just another excuse to have a good old time on the taxpayer's dime(s).

Is the the Obama Administration's at fault? Well, the head of the GSA was a Democrat political appointee before she resigned after the whistle blew. Politically, it reenforces the public's cynicism of bloated, out of control government which plays into the Republican/Tea Party election strategy.

Now comes the Secret Service party animal behavior in Cartagena, Columbia prior to Obama's visit there for the Summit of the Americas heads of state meeting. Eleven Secret Service agents and ten members of the U.S. military picked up twenty-one local prostitutes and took them to their hotel rooms. “What were 'they' thinking”? On a basic level we know, but somehow they weren't thinking at all about how this fell outside personal behavior codes of the highly professional Secret Service or how unlikely it was that it could remain “secret”. Prostitution is legal in Columbia and when one of the agents got into a payment dispute with one of the lady entrepreneurs she wasn't afraid to make an issue out of it.

Moralists can make whatever they want about this but the main issue is one of a possible breach of security. These agents were part of the advance team for President Obama's visit. Consorting with foreign nationals creates a risk of compromising information about the Presidents visit that could potentially put him at risk. Again, this was not Obama's or his administration's fault but it represents another brick in the wall that separates the government from the people and contributes to the aforementioned cynicism.

Two military “scandals” have been produced by the media in recent months and weeks. The first involved four Marines pictured urinating on the corpses of a few terrorists that a few hours before had been trying to kill them. Showing their contempt among themselves for these Taliban “combatants” is entirely understandable. These Marine's battalion suffered seven deaths in their seven-month deployment. Aside from the politics which overlays this entire war like a thick fog, the reaction of high U.S. officials is less understandable on several levels.

“Analysts” made the hypothetical argument that the Taliban would be so enraged that it would stymie talks between them and the Karzai government over a possible political settlement. This is absurd on it's face and it didn't happen, although those talks have failed for other reasons. The Taliban will seek any accommodation that advances their quest to weaken and eventually replace the Karzai government. Clear evidence of this comes from a New York Times quote from Taliban sources: “The Taliban initially indicated that the video would not undermine the push toward talks, saying that they saw it as just more evidence of what they said was American brutality and arrogance.”

This of course did not deter Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from indulging in the expected politically correct lamentations. These were described in the media as “ expressions of outrage and contrition”. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Clinton said: “It is absolutely inconsistent with American values and the standards we expect from our military personnel . . .” Of course the ever watchful Taliban took note of the media frenzy and a few days later made this absurd statement: “We strongly condemn the inhuman act of wild American soldiers, as ever, and consider this act in contradiction with all human and ethical norms.”

“Human and ethical norms”? This from a medieval political/religious movement that stones people to death for “moral” offenses. “While the images largely dominated the news in Afghanistan on Thursday, the Taliban’s campaign of assassinations continued when a suicide car bomber killed the governor of a district in the southern province of Kandahar. “ (New York Times; 1-12-12). Apparently Secretary Clinton wasn't “contrite” enough.

Fast forward to April 18, 2012. The Los Angeles Times published photos of members of the 82nd Airborne Division displaying body parts of Taliban terrorists that had blown themselves up in a failed roadside bomb suicide mission. Once again Panetta hurriedly sounded almost desperate to appease someone; Karzai? The Taliban?, Afghan citizens? 

"The behavior depicted absolutely violates our regulations and, more importantly, our core values," he said. This is not who we are and it is certainly not who we represent when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there."

While certainly true, getting your picture taken with an enemy who has just blown himself up is an “offense” that demands perspective and balance. The media, opponents of the war and liberal critics of the military, have gone overboard and swept military and administration officials along with them in both these incidents. These are not “high crimes” but a reflection of war weary young men who have become inured to the horrors of combat. Commentators have described this and the urination incident as “desecration”, a powerful word:
 Desecration:
1. (Sociology) to violate or outrage the sacred character of (an object or place) by destructive, blasphemous, or sacrilegious action.”

These commentators would have us believe that the bodies of a terrorist enemy killed in combat or blown up at their own hand, have a “sacred character”. Some claim that because of the common Islamic faith of the Taliban and the Afghan citizenry in general, that all Afghans will be offended. But this is overstated. The body parts pictures include Afghan policemen and an Afghan regional official admitted that Afghan security force personnel had done the same thing several months before.

The real scandal in both these military incidents is the continued presence of American forces in this war which offers no plausible successful outcome. A remarkable 69% of Americans think the U.S. should no longer be involved in Afghanistan (CBS News Poll; 3/26/12). Politically correct scapegoating of young American soldiers, and constantly apologizing to terrorists and dysfunctional and hostile governments simply because the are Muslim, is sure to figure into the perspectives of American voters in November.

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