Dan Simpson: Mistakes in progress

America is making a long list of them; here are some of my least favorite

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It could be that the cold weather has got to me, but I have the impression that the number of mistakes we as a nation are making at the moment is increasing, not diminishing.

I am capable of putting positive points on the board as well, as examples the progress in the Israeli-Palestinian, Iranian nuclear and Syrian talks, but today I will concentrate on matters that are not going well.

The first, no doubt provoked by the pathetic, anticlimactic Super Bowl, with its ad for the Maserati Ghibli, which we all are unlikely to be able to afford, is the tax-free status of the glittery National Football League, composed of very profitable teams owned by America’s 1-percent elite. The NFL’s not paying taxes dates from its early days, when people were not required to put their children to work in factories to buy a ticket to a game. The NFL should pay taxes.

A second is the Department of State’s having determined that America can afford to see the Keystone XL pipeline stretched across its middle, from north to south, in spite of whatever environmental risks it will present to the population. President Barack Obama still has the last word on the pipeline, but it is unlikely that he will be able to resist the temptation to approve it, given that it will produce jobs — building it, and, later, cleaning up its messes — and that it will enhance America’s ability to become less dependent on foreign energy sources. That latter sounds good until one notices that America is now busily exporting coal and other energy sources to China and elsewhere.

A third, related to the second, is the fact that the carelessness or criminality of a company, ironically named Freedom Industries, led to the poisoning of the water of an estimated 300,000 people for quite a long period of time — although what happened in the Charleston, W.Va., area is not directly related either to Keystone XL or to Pennsylvania’s now-beloved fracking. My own view of fracking — that I don’t want one day to have to shower with bottled water — was made flesh in Charleston and vicinity. First, MCHM, 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol, and later, when Freedom Industries was forced to admit it, formaldehyde, turned out to have leaked into the water supply, none of them passing the famous “smell test.”

A fourth, on the foreign affairs side, is the frantic effort by some in the Obama administration, symbiotic lobbyists, members of Congress and particularly adherents of the national security industry to persuade the rest of us that it is necessary to leave U.S. troops behind in Afghanistan after the December deadline for their withdrawal.

One argument they employ is that our drone program, deployed against Pakistan, depends on the United States maintaining bases in Afghanistan from which drones can be fired at human and other targets in Pakistan. This is, of course, sheer nonsense.

No one would argue that Pakistan isn’t important, although it is very questionable whether Americans killing Pakistanis and others in Pakistan with drones is to our overall advantage, given the fury it inspires, particularly when we kill innocent family members of terrorists and other civilians. The real point is that drone attacks can be launched from ships, and Pakistan has a long coastline. So, the claimed need for drone bases in Afghanistan is simply a lie to try to support the argument for a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after Dec. 31, 13 years after the war began.

Fifth, we were informed breathlessly last week that new Edward J. Snowden revelations indicate that another target of National Security Agency spying was foreign companies. We knew that already from the fact that one of the victims that the Brazilians were complaining about last year was their national oil company, Petrobras, not that the NSA would ever share its harvest with American oil companies, the rivals of Petrobras.

Sixth, I am afraid that I do not share in the “well done, good and faithful servant” praise that was heaped on retiring Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke last week as he stepped down from his post in favor of Janet Yellen. He saved the banks and Wall Street, not the rest of us. “Quantitative easing,” for which he is given credit, poured $85 billion per month of your and my money into the accounts of the big banks at the Fed for years. They were supposed to have passed it on to us in the form of job creation. They didn’t. Job creation figures continue to mirror the Denver Broncos’ pathetic performance against the Seahawks. Now the bankers and Wall Street managers are handing out huge, $20 million-plus bonuses to each other as rewards for their giant 2013 profits.

This adds insult to injury to middle-class and other Americans scraping to get by and who are about to be whacked with big tax bills to fund the nonsense in Washington and state capitals.

Seventh, there is the matter of Egypt’s aspiring president and American-trained pet, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has just arrested some 20 journalists of al-Jazeera, which, by the way, has an outlet on Pittsburgh cable.

Finally, there is that pesky rodent, Punxsutawny Phil, who predicted six more weeks of winter, obviously not realizing what that means for my column.

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (dsimpson@post-gazette.com,412-263-1976).

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