Greater Krueger National Park

Greater Krueger National Park
An image from a recent trip to South Africa. Clcik on the image for more on this trip.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Budget Deal

Thank you to all who voted for the budget deal in both the House and the Senate.  Thank you too to the President for signing it into law.  Granted, it is not perfect, but I believe that  it is a minor step in the right direction and I particularly like the fact that it represents bipartisan agreement.

Now, it is on to the deficit.  After that, we have to straighten out the mess that is Obamacare.  And then, of course, we have got to get America back to work.  Hopefully, moderate voices will continue to make themselves heard and we can do the things necessary to get this country back on track.  

I no longer look to either conservatives or liberals to solve our problems.  I have lost faith in both ends of the political spectrum in this country.  I am in search of pragmatists.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Budget Negotiating Committee

Paul Ryan and Patty Murray along with 27 other senators and congressmen have commenced their meetings on the budget mess.  Their opening statements were positive and hopeful, but very real differences continue to exist between the two sides.  I am hopeful that a compromise can be achieved in these meetings, but worry that entrenched partisans on both sides of the aisle may attempt to block Congressional action prior to the next set of deadlines at the turn of the year.

If any of the players are listening, I humbly request that they do their job and reach a pragmatic solution to our financial problems.  I could care less if the solution fits either side’s ideological position.  What we need is some honest common sense applied to problems that could destroy our very way of life.  I suggest that the compromise should be some reduction in spending and entitlements matched with some increase in revenue through reform of tax loopholes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Affordable Health Care Act and President Obama

During the last four or five years, President Obama told us repeatedly that we could keep our health plan and our doctor.  He did not tell us that the Affordable Health Care Act would eliminate many of the health care plans that we like nor that the new plans would require that we go to certain specific doctors.  Word is that this inconsistency was not a misunderstanding.  The White House knew that what the President was saying was not true as much as three years ago.

Some Obama supporters are saying that the President did not know that he was telling an untruth.  I find that extremely hard to believe, but I suppose that it might possibly be true.  There are, after all, a number of other things that have gone dramatically wrong in the last few years that he has told us he did not know anything about.  He didn't know that the IRS was targeting conservatives in an effort to reduce their political effectiveness during the last election cycle.  He didn't know anything about Fast and Furious until it killed one of our own.   He didn't know that Ambassador Stevens was pleading for more security in the face of a certain al Queda attack in Benghazi.  He didn't know that the Justice Department was hasseling reporters.  Today, he tells us that he doesn't know much of anything about NSA's listening in on our telephone calls and reading our email.  And now the subject is our health.  One of two things is true here.  Either he is saying things that he knows are untrue or he is not doing his job (or both).

I completely agree that our healthcare system needs to be modernized, but I do not believe that this is the way to do it.  In fact, I am so angry that I am almost ready to start listening to Ted Cruz.  If Obama is going to destroy our lives and the future of this nation anyway, why should we just sit back and do nothing?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Government Shutdown & the Parks

As we all know, the recent government shutdown resulted in a lot of federal land being closed to the public, at least nominally.  Most of the attention in the press revolved around our National Parks, but, to some extent or another, it impacted all federal lands including those managed by the Bureau of Public Lands and the Department of Forestry.  I've lived through several of these events and I have not liked any of them for a whole host of reasons.  The most important single reason being that it indicates that the people that we elected to govern us are not doing their job. 

In this post, I want to focus on just one aspect of the shutdown problem - the good name of the folks who look after our public lands.  Some of the commentary that I have heard, this time around, includes derogatory slurs that I feel are uncalled for and reflect badly on those that initiated them.   Some political pundits believe that this Administration wanted to inflict maximum pain on the public by closing the parks.  The rationale being that if the public complained loudly enough it would help achieve their political objectives regarding the funding of the government.  That may be true or not, but it does not follow that the field staff who are merely implementing orders from Washington are somehow bad people.  I honestly do not know of any of our professional public servants who want to hurt the public.  Politicians and senior officials in Washington maybe, but not the folks in the field.  They are, after all, part of that public.

It particularly galls me to hear someone criticize our park personnel for being overly concerned about the environment.  Concern for our environment is, after all, why we hired them in the first place.  We can and should continue to have a dialogue in this country about the proper role of environmental concerns, but, in the process, let's not demean the folks charged with doing everything in their power to protect our public lands.  I argue that these folks are an extremely valuable part of our community and should be venerated by all of us, not abused by politicians with a political axe to grind.  Every time I walk our wild lands, I say a very heartfelt thank you for all of their hard work.  Some of us may not be sufficiently aware of how little wild there is left in this country.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Patty Murray & Paul Ryan Talks

Ok, so we have a few weeks of breathing room before our next crisis.  I wish Paul Ryan and Patty Murray all of the very best of good fortune in their conversations.  I honestly hope that cool heads manage to prevail and a genuine compromise is achieved in Washington that will permit the rest of us to get on with our lives.

Monday, October 14, 2013

President Obama on Benghazi

According to press reports, President Obama has, at long last, personally written to the father of Tyrone Woods, one of the two former Seals that were killed in the Benghazi Consulate attack on 9/11/12.

"On that tragic day, I directed my national security team to do everything possible to respond to the attacks against our people and facilities in Benghazi. The United States Government considered a range of options and deployed additional military capabilities, but as our military leaders have said, the military forces needed to carry out the type of operation you describe were not close enough to have made a difference. Please know that my actions would have been the same if the attack had been against my own family. The sad truth is that attacks happened so rapidly that U.S. forces could not arrive in time to prevent the loss of our brave Americans."

Assuming that this quote is accurate, as I do, it is nothing more than a reiteration of the inadequate explanation that we have received before.  The argument that there was not enough time to get help to the Americans fighting for their lives presupposes that the President knew how long that fire fight was going to last.  No one could know that.  If his children were in Benghazi, he would have made the effort and he would not have gone to bed until he knew that they were safe.  He is a good father, but a grossly incompetent president.

If we are ever to get the truth, we will need to hear from the military officers that were in the chain of command from Washington to the field.  We will need to see the orders that were written and date time stamped, particularly the presidential "do everything possible" order.  I particularly want to know why General Ham, the officer responsible for the Benghazi region, was relieved of duty during, repeat during, the attack.  The rumor is that he was told to keep his forces in place and he responded with "screw it."  When he, subsequently started taking the steps necessary to try to save our people, he was relieved of command by a junior officer.  It may not be true, but that rumor sounds very plausible and stinks to high heaven.  I wonder why it has not been clarified by the Administration.  I wonder why General Ham has not been heard from.

I believe that Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, was instructed by the President not to let the situation get out of hand and blow up into a major military event because it might adversely impact his reelection a month or so later.  I also assume that after giving that order, Barack Obama went to bed so that he would be fresh for his electioneering junket to Las Vegas the next morning.  Because he did not speak to Panetta again that night, I presume that the President got a good night's sleep while the Americans that he put into harms way were being attacked and killed.

After Stevens, Woods, Doherty and Smith were murdered, the President publicly characterized their needless sacrifice as "bumps in the road."  This callous attitude on the part of Obama toward the men and women who serve us abroad is again reflected in recent events.  The inexcusable denial of death benefits to the families of the recently fallen in Afghanistan is absolutely infuriating.  I applaud the veterans who pulled the barricades from the War Memorial and placed them at the White House.  That symbolic gesture by Americans who have put their lives on the line to protect those of us at home expresses much more than irritation over the government shutdown.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Most Republican Politicians are idiots and so are Most Democrat Politicians

The polls indicate that Americans are really fed up with Washington - all of Washington.  Certainly I am.  The things that are being said and done by our elected representatives on Capitol Hill and in the White House are, to say the very least, unbelievable.  I can actually remember when our government made decisions according to a fixed procedure, originally laid out in our founding documents.  The system was not fool proof by any means, but it worked pretty darn well for a couple of centuries and even got us through a civil war.  Today, we manage our affairs by doing absolutely nothing for long periods of time and then creating a dramatic last minute crisis in an effort to force one side or the other to back down as ignobly as possible.  The objective seems to be to gain the upper hand politically rather than to solve any particular national problem.  This political contretemps seems to be getting worse and worse, more and more irrational, and certainly more dangerous to the stability of our system of government.

The polarized nature of our society is, of course, a major part of the problem.  This country has long been divided into three groups.  Right, center and left.  The right and the left have, over time, become more radicalized, while the center has become less and less engaged.  I leave it to the scholars to determine the historic roots of all of this, but I see it as a fundamental part of the challenge that we face going forward.  I am fiscally very conservative and socially rather liberal, a difficult juggling act these days.  I am so disgusted with both political parties right now that I almost wish that we had a parliamentary system of government so that I could join some splinter group that better reflected my political views.  It wouldn't really help in finding political solutions to our problems, but it would make me feel better.  I could hide among like minded people and ignore the political views of all of the rest of the nation, knowing that those in my group were the only ones that were right about whatever subject came along.  Come to think about it - that is precisely what most of us are doing right now.

Our news media have all, long ago, chosen sides with most of it choosing to champion very liberal principals.  The much maligned talk radio and the Fox TV Channel are pretty much the lone proponents of conservative values.  All, repeat all, of the news media spin events to suit their political philosophy.  As a result, they attract those elements of the public that generally agree with that philosophy.  Another factor in encouraging like minded people to talk to like minded people is the increasingly ghettoized nature of our neighborhoods.  There are notable exceptions, but generally speaking, well-to-do people tend to vote Republican and less well off folks tend to vote Democrat.  They usually live in different parts of any given community and they rarely socialize to any great extent.  I live in California.  California has adopted a lot of laws and regulations that are inimical to many forms of business.  Many of those businesses have moved out of the state.  On balance that resulted in more conservatives leaving the state than liberals.  Many of them have moved to Texas.  California votes liberal and Texas votes conservative.  Etc, etc, etc…

While the trend lines in the right and the left are not good, what is happening in the middle is the really bad part.  More and more Americans are burying themselves in popular culture and ignoring the fundamental challenges that are facing our nation.  As a people, we have always been more interested in our private lives than we were in what was happening in Washington, let alone outside the borders of our country, but things have gotten worse in recent years.  I suggest that the major reason for this is the increased complexity of the issues that swirl around us here at home and in the global economy.  Things have gotten so complex that it takes full time study to understand any one of the various components that interrelate to make up the modern world and the few experts who actually do understand one or another of these components are usually very busy.  None of our politicians have proven very able at explaining the various challenges in such a way that Joe Citizen can understand them.  I doubt that very many of the politicians really understand the issues themselves.  The result is that half-truths prevail and are used to spin competing political objectives.  Joe Citizen can, of course, see through this and throws up his hands in disgust and returns to Facebook.

What do we do about it?  Our system of government depends on an enlightened public.  We don't have to all be smart about all subjects, but most of us had better be alert enough to see important trend lines or we will follow down the Greek path to financial collapse.  I argue that we have been following the liberal path long enough to have successfully addressed some of the social issues that have plagued this country for a very long time.  We are not, by any means, done remedying any of them, but we have made great progress, particularly in recent decades.  The downside of all of this is that we have racked up some pretty spectacular debt along the way, and the downturn in the world economic picture has not helped either.  We risk everything that we have fought so hard to achieve if we do not face up to the economic reality that is staring us in the face.  I humbly suggest that the ship of state needs a minor course correction and we have to nudge our government to the right for a few years.  I admit that at this precise moment it is hard for me to envision giving my support to the Republican idiots that are prancing around this country yelling at the tops of their lungs, but we must, repeat must, correct our economic course and I see no hope that the Democratic idiots that we have in power right now will do that.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Egypt, Impact of our Military Aid Decisions

The Obama Administration certainly has it's hands full in the Middle East and I admire the way in which Secretary Kerry is digging in on the issues, but I am very worried that things are not progressing particularly well.  Although nothing is ever written in stone in this region, it currently looks like we may have agreed to prolong the life of the Assad regime in Syria and are actively seeking a dangerous detente with the Ayatollah in Iran.  We have basically washed our hands of Iraq and are in the process of giving Afghanistan back to the Taliban.  Our current policy in Egypt is no less worrying and the situation is just as complicated as in the rest of the region.  Our friends in the area are beginning to ask us some pretty difficult questions and they appear to be worried about the answers that they are getting.  Israel appears to be particularly nervous about our fidelity, Iraq understands that we have abandoned them, Jordan is facing extreme difficulties dealing with the overflow from the Syrian mess,  and the Gulf States are completely mystified by what they see us doing.  Our enemies, on the other hand, are delighted with the strategic American withdrawal from the Middle East that they see as the corner stone of our current foreign policy.

Our recent series of decisions to hold back significant financial and material support from the new Egyptian Government are just the latest signals that feed concern not only in Egypt itself, but among all of our friends in the Middle East.  I suggest that no country in the region understands the nuanced policy that Secretary Kerry and President Obama are attempting to implement vis-a-vis Egypt.  As I understand it, we are trying to say that we oppose the use of military force to unseat a democratically elected government, even if that government was not acting in accordance with democratic principals.  We make a big point of the fact that we have not yet implemented the coup provision of our law that would end aid permanently and we very much look forward to the restoration of democracy in Egypt.  In the comfort of an air-conditioned office in Washington that might look like a sophisticated message and I am sure that we have some pretty elegant talking points for anyone that might listen.  We are skilled at developing sophisticated talking points for almost any occasion.

I doubt that there are very many people hearing what we are trying to say to the current Egyptian government.  Our friends remember how we appeared to fawn over Morsi's Islamic Brotherhood crowd during the year or so that they were in office and how we put up with the Brotherhood's numerous examples of non-democratic actions without taking any apparent notice - certainly not withholding any aid.  Our friends believe that we were actively cheering Morsi on in the naive hope that we could make peace with the radical Islamic World.  The Egyptian military eventually decided that Morsi was not furthering democracy, he was actively hijacking it and trying to turn all of Egypt into a radical Islamic theocracy.  Because the democratic option was being removed from Egyptian politics, the military took the only action that they could to protect against that outcome.  They ran a military coup and the impressive thing about it was the amount of popular support that the military had and still has, for that matter, among a large percentage of the Egyptian people.

Not surprisingly, there is much about our foreign policy that mirrors our domestic policy.  There is a definite connecting thread between Work Place Violence in Fort Hood and support for the Morsi Government.  The reluctance to even use the word terrorist to define our enemy here at home and our refusal to recognize what Morsi was up to in Egypt are intellectually connected.  This situation confuses both our enemies and our friends and I believe that confusion is extremely dangerous to the United States of America.  It emboldens our enemies and frightens our allies.  That, in turn, results in policies and accommodations between countries that are not in our national interest.  To put it very bluntly, America under Barack Obama looks like a bumbling idiot that has no concept of what it is like to live in the real world.  From my point of view, however, that is not the really scary part.  For me, the fact that my fellow citizens don't appear to be sufficiently interested in these issues is the worst part of the problem facing us in the Middle East.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pragmatism over Ideology - Please!

Last night Republican Richard Berry received 68% of the votes cast and won reelection as Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His campaign emphasized his responsible approach to addressing basic issues facing the community.  Independent observers of the mayoral race credited Berry's impressive win to the political support that he enjoyed across the entire political spectrum, including not just Republicans, but also Democrats and Independents.

I suggest that this kind of campaign and candidate is what this country needs at the national level.  Aggressive electioneering, but low key, focused on real solutions to  basic issues facing the nation and independent of ideology.  Governor Susana Martinez is the governor of New Mexico.  She is another example showing exactly how effective this kind of candidate can be - not just at winning elections but also in governing.  I suggest that the Republican Party should stop quoting dead people and start explaining exactly how we can pragmatically dig ourselves out of the hole that we have gotten ourselves into.  

By focusing on what Democrats have done wrong without providing viable specific alternatives, we cast ourselves as nay sayers.  This not only hurts us at the polls, but it also limits our effectiveness if we do manage to get elected.  Success at governing is more difficult to achieve than just getting elected.  How come?  Because success at governing means that you have the people at your back.  People don't stick with leaders that don't produce real results.  Instead, they look to the other guy to see if he can do any better and the revolving door turns yet again without any real progress on specific problems.

Berry's reelection win in Albuquerque was in the first round of voting, something that had not happened in that city for more than a quarter century.  It means that he will have considerable public support for his policies during his second term in office.  That is what makes it possible for somebody to actually make a contribution to his community.  You only get there if you are addressing real problems not just spouting ideological gibberish.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Obamacare - Who's Fault Is It & What Do We Do About It?

I have friends that are all over the map geographically, culturally and politically.  I like all of them, but only agree with each of them on a limited range of subjects.  I find our differences one of the attractions.  Sometimes they live in a different country.  Sometimes they pursue a different lifestyle.  Sometimes they profess a different political point of view.  Our differences sometimes generate lively discussions, but never impair our friendship.  Because of our friendship, I take extra pains to understand where they are coming from when we disagree.  In the process, I sometimes see things differently and sometimes not.  I hope that, on occasion, I might influence the thinking of a friend on a matter I believe to be important.

I have a recommendation - next time you are discussing politics with a neighbor, try really listening to what they are telling you.  Don't just automatically dismiss their heartfelt opinions when they do not fit your political ideology.  Remember that, in a democracy, for better or for worse, decision makers are selected by the majority of the people who vote.  Over time national decisions will reflect the opinions of that majority - as they should.  It is not adequate long term to just win elections.  It is corny to say it, but the most important force in this country really is the voice of the people - all of the people.  The resulting national conversation flows around many subjects like a river.  Sometimes it brings one subject to the fore and sometimes another, but it rarely drops any important subject for very long.

For the past few decades this country has been discussing health care.  We all agree that the quality of health care that is available in this country is superior to that found in any other country in the world, but we also see a few serious problems.  Republican and Democrat politicians have both had an opportunity to deal with the subject, but very little was done to address these problems until Barack Obama managed to gain control of all branches of government in 2008.  He used that opportunity to force implementation of legislation intended to revamp the entire health system.  Because of the divisions in the body politic on the subject, he chose to avoid real debate and unilaterally implemented legislation that literally no one had read before it was signed into law.

That improper course of action has led directly to the current partial government shutdown and is playing a significant part in the argument over the debt ceiling.  Who is in the wrong here?  As a conservative, it is easy for me to point out the multitude of things that are improper in Obamacare.  I don't like the law and ideally would like to see it abandoned or, at least, seriously amended.  At the same time, I understand why some of my neighbors might like various aspects of it and I wholeheartedly agree that we conservatives did not earlier do enough to address the health problems that face many of our fellow Americans.  By ignoring those problems for too long we are partially responsible for the Affordable Health Care Act.

I suggest that we stop insisting on Obamacare's repeal and adopt a policy of intelligent repair when it begins to fail.  Our tactics right now are insane for a whole host of reasons - none of which demonstrate intelligence on the other side of the political aisle, but all of which impair our ability to improve our political position in 2014 and 2016.  I honestly believe that this country needs a course correction and I am sure that the only way that will happen is if more conservatives are elected at all levels of government in the next few years.  That is only going to happen if the national conversation demands it, so get out and talk with your neighbors not at them.  Stop putting all of the blame on Congress.  The real problem is out here in the grass roots in the discussions that we are having with each other.

Friday, October 4, 2013

War Memorial & Benghazi

The other day, Senator Rand Paul, commenting on the closure of the World War II Memorial, used Twitter to compare the number of security guards at the Memorial with the number that had been protecting the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.  This tweet was picked up by one of the Fox News television programs and that in turn led Media Matters to criticize it as being wrong and label it as one more example of Fox News' "inexhaustible obsession with Benghazi."  Media Matters might possibly be right that Senator Rand's tweet was inaccurate.  Apparently, there were security guards present at the Memorial, but there may not have been seven and they might not have been "sent."   For the record, I do not think that Senator Paul's comment was well thought out, nor do I think that it was very important.

More importantly, however, Media Matters is also correct that Fox News does appear to have what might correctly be called an "inexhaustible obsession with Benghazi."  I confess that I do as well and I believe that the fact that Media Matters does not have an "inexhaustible obsession with Benghazi" is one of the things that is wrong with the American media today.  Four very good Americans were murdered because of incompetence, malfeasance, and stupidity at the highest levels of our government.  Why is that not a subject with which we should all have an "inexhaustible obsession?"  Why is it inappropriate to be "obsessively" interested in the fact that the President and the Secretary of State lied to the American people following the attack because of the fear that the truth would adversely impact the 2012 election?

Most of the American media agrees with President Obama's characterization of Benghazi as being "bumps in the road" and, like Secretary Clinton, ask "what does it matter?"   For me, the horrible and needless death of four Americans can not be dismissed as "bumps in the road" and Benghazi matters a lot, in a lot of different ways.  One of the ways that it matters is that it demonstrates the callus nature of our President and our Secretary of State.  Another is that it proves that they are both willing to lie to the American people.  A third is that it demonstrates their incompetence.  The list goes on, but there are no items on it that are favorable to these two incompetent professional politicians.  Benghazi matters to me and it should to every American.  It is tragic and it is disgraceful .

The Debt Ceiling and the Political Fence

I need some help understanding what is involved in the debt ceiling fight.  Both the President and the Secretary of the Treasury have issued some pretty dire warnings about what would happen if we defaulted on our debt.  I accept those warnings, and, like everyone else I know, I oppose defaulting on any of our $17 trillion debt.  

The President has also said that he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling.  I have difficultly following his logic on this point.  If the danger is as great as we all agree that it is, how can the President refuse to discuss the danger with all of the rest of us - Democrat and Republican alike?  I know of no Republican that advocates default.  I do know a lot of Americans, Republican and Democrat, that want a more fulsome discussion of our debt.

As I understand it, our debt/GNP ratio is in serious trouble and it is getting worse every year that we continue doing business as usual.  Unbelievably, we currently owe more money than we make in a year and, because we have not found a way to curtail our spending, the imbalance grows every year.  

Think about it this way.  A family that makes $100,000 a year owes a total of $105,000.   If that family spends more than $100,000 in a given year, it obviously has to borrow even more money to pay interest and support the additional spending.  That worsens the ratio of what it makes to what it owes.  As the family ages, the children have to pick up the burden of paying the interest and principal from their parents who spent the money that created the debt.    That is Greece and it is becoming us.  It just can not continue for ever, even if we are comfortable spending our kid's money.

So, Mr. President, please quit running around the country campaigning for the 2014 elections for just a little while.  Please sit down with both Republicans and Democrats in a room somewhere and hammer out an economic way forward that is in the interest of all of us and can be supported by the entire country.  Please quit trying to scare us into continuing our spending spree and help lead us into a more economically secure future.

You are willing to call the Ayatollah's current front man in Iran and start a conversation with people who have labeled us "The Great Satan" and you chat fairly regularly with the ex-KGB thug that currently runs Russia.  Why not call a couple of folks in the House of Representatives and start a conversation with some of your fellow Americans that are just on the other side of a domestic political fence?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wall Street is too calm for it's own good?

Anyone that has read any of my recent posts will have seen a great deal of criticism of current Republican tactics.  Basically, I think that some Republicans are acting irresponsibly and advocating political maneuvers that are detrimental to the conservative cause.  If you want chapter and verse, read some of my recent posts.  Please also understand that, in my view, the Democrats are doing no better.  Today, very unfortunately, the President again joined in the stupidity personally.

Unbelievably, Barack Obama actually told CNBC today that Wall Street should be more concerned than it is about the possibility that the government will default on its debt.  The President of the United States is attempting to scare the market in order to put pressure on the Republican Party.  That is not a president that is trying to bring us together to find solutions.  That is another example of a divisive politician focused on petty political advantage rather then the good of the nation.  It is disgusting as well as irresponsible and dangerous.

Is North Korea a good model for our nuclear discussions with Iran?

In the world of diplomacy, words are important.  This week at the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Benyamin Netanyahu warned Teheran and the rest of the world that Israel would not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.  "Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map."  A relatively junior Iranian diplomat replied that "the Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran…"  Although the Iranian statement was interesting in that it was the first time that an Iranian delegate to the UN had publicly referred to "Israel" instead of the "Zionist entity," not much can be made of that fact because of the junior rank of the Iranian.  It might well have been a slip of the tongue rather than a deliberate signal that reflected a change in Iran's position regarding the legitimacy of Israel.

Another interesting bit of recent phraseology was Netanyahu's statement that "…Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.  If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone."  The prime minister's speech at the UN came the day after he had met with President Obama in Washington.  At that meeting, the Israeli leader is said to have warned Obama not to back off the sanctions and not to take Iran's charm offensive at face value.  Obama replied by assuring Netanyahu that it was "imperative" that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon, but it was also necessary to "test diplomacy."  Many observers, familiar with diplomatic doublespeak, suggest that Netanyahu's "stand alone" speech at the UN demonstrated the extent of his nervousness with regard to Obama's personal dedication to America's continued steadfast support of Israel.

Although the Iranians were encouraged by the fact that President Obama tried to arrange a meeting between himself and President Rouhani at the UN and, when that overture was rebuffed, made a telephone call to him after he returned to Teheran, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was unhappy with Obama's public statements of support for Israel following his meeting with Netanyahu.  He was particularly unhappy with Obama's assurances to Netanyahu that the military option was still on the table.  Zarif boldly warned that Obama's "flip-flop" threatened efforts to build trust.

Rouhani and Zarif are both experienced diplomats of the first order.  Both have been involved with Iran's nuclear program for decades.  Both have a good command of the english language and both know a great deal about this country (particularly Zarif).  There is no question about it.  Ayatollah Khamenei has deployed his first team and it is tempting to think that his strategy has been in play for a long time.  It is not beyond the realm of possibility that he had earlier selected the bellicose Ahmadinejad as his front man with the intent of further dramatizing the "change in attitude" represented by the deployment now of Rouhani and Zarif.  I know little of Iranian internal affairs and so this speculation could be wildly off the mark.  It might just be happenstance that a bellicose, uncouth, malcontent was replaced by a sophisticated southing voice of reason at just the right time.  Whatever the road traveled, the psychological result is the same and it is powerful.

The issue here is important and it is not just the security of the state of Israel.  Iran has been a declared enemy of the United States ever since the religious revolution that overthrew the Shah and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.  There is no concrete evidence that it has changed it's mind about America and now wants to make nice with the country that it has repeatedly and officially labeled the "Great Satan."  Obviously, Iran does want to protect it's fledgling nuclear program and it would be very nice to get out from under the economic sanctions that, by all accounts, are beginning to hurt their economy rather severely.  The official line coming out of Teheran is that Iran insists on it's right to have a peaceful nuclear program, but does not desire to have a nuclear weapon.  In fact, it desires not to have a nuclear weapon.

Both the American and Iranian sides have recently said that they see the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue.  Understandably, a war weary America is attracted to the idea and, equally understandably, an Israel under attack is worried about the long term consequences.  I have no idea what is being considered behind closed doors, but it looks to me that the deal that is being discussed by Kerry and Zarif relates to enrichment levels not to the nuclear program per se.  One of the reasons that I come to this conclusion is Zarif's unsolicited public statement that Iran's right to engage in the enrichment of uranium is non-negotiable, but Iran is willing, in principal, to permit UN inspection of it's nuclear facilities to ensure that it is living up to it's agreement not to build a nuclear weapon.  Israel sees this as nothing more and nothing less than the way in which America dealt with the North Korean nuclear program and it worries that the result will be the same.  So do I.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Iran and Syria, Chemical Weapons and Nuclear Power

An advance team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday.  The Assad government continues to appear to be serious about following through on it's commitment to permit the destruction of of its chemical weapons, but rebel groups within Syria are not happy about what is happening.  They point out that only a small fraction of the more than 100,000 people that have been killed in the civil war were victims of poison gas.  Most were killed by conventional weapons.  They worry that the outside world has shifted it's attention from the war crimes of the Assad regime to the destruction of the chemical weapons.  Given that Iran has been a staunch supporter of Assad over the years, they are also undoubtably worried about the strategic implications of a possible rapprochement between Rouhani and Obama.

Meanwhile, the fractionalization of the groups opposed to the Assad regime continues apace.  Nobody knows for certain just exactly how many different factions there are in the opposition, nor how they interrelate at any given time.  Alliances shift, intergroup rivalries breed fighting between rebel brigades, and outside interests are pursuing objectives unrelated to Syria per se.  Of great concern to Western countries that are attempting to clandestinely support the rebels, is the fact that al-Quaida affiliates appear to be increasingly successful in carving out a safe haven in areas already liberated by rebel forces.  All of this causes considerable confusion and obviously complicates the task of the opposition on the battlefield, but it also foreshadows serious difficulties in any effort that might be made in the future to end the fighting through negotiation.  

In the meantime, the killing goes on and it looks more and more unlikely that Syria will be able to stabilize it's internal political situation any time soon.  At best, we might see open warfare replaced by sporadic sectarian violence brought about by a formal or informal agreement between outside powers.  In this scenario, we might expect to see Iran continue to play a significant role in Syria's internal affairs, particularly if Rouhani and Obama continue to get along well in their conversations.  It will be tempting for the oval office to weigh the relative importance of Syria's civil war against our fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon and reach conclusions that are not supportive of those Syrians opposed to President Assad's regime.  Not inevitable by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely possible.  If it were to play out that way it would demonstrate an early example of the value to Teheran of their fledgling nuclear program.

Government Shutdown, Who is to Blame?

Nobody pulled a rabbit out of their hat and the United States Government has started closing down.  Not the end of the world.  It has happened before, and we have lived through it.  I presume that we will again this time.

At the same time, it is certainly not an ideal situation and a lot of fundamental disagreement is still on the political table.  The really unfortunate part of the situation is that everybody is so intent on maintaining their ideological purity that we are not even trying to find common ground.  Name calling has replaced pragmatism on all sides of all disputes.

This situation has existed long enough that there are entrenched groups on both sides of the political fence that don't even want to talk to members of the other side of any given argument.  When they do meet, talking points are substituted for rational discussion.  The really distressing development is that this is happening at all levels of society - not just in Congress.

We conservatives are just as guilty of this behavior as are our liberal neighbors.  Take Obamacare as an example.  Granted, the law is flawed in just about every way imaginable and the manner in which it has been implemented is atrocious as well as incompetent, but it is the law of the land whether we like it or not (and I do not).  We do not currently have the votes necessary to overturn it and our current antics are needlessly risking our political future sufficiently that we may not have the votes necessary to even modify it in the near future.

Many conservatives can not accept the fact that our society is changing.  Many of our younger citizens do not really know much about history and few have a sound understanding of our constitution. Deplorable perhaps, but a fact of life none the less.  It does little good to lecture them about how George Washington would have handled a given challenge.  In some circles it is even detrimental to our argument to associate it with the "rich white men who owned slaves and would not let women vote, way back before the internet."

Those that disagree with me argue that we can not give up our principals.  My fear is that our failure to find compromise is one of the reasons that America is moving left at such a rapid rate.  Those of us who are so true to our principals that they will not compromise are a shrinking percentage of our body politic and these elderly ideologues are taking our principals with them into the abyss of history.  It is way too bad for all of us, liberal and conservative, young and old, alike.

PS:  I don't care which political party gets blamed for the shutdown.  As far as I am concerned, we, the citizens of this country, are responsible because we are not listening to each other.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Government Shutdown?

I post this at 9:30 pm Washington time on September 30, 2013.  Right now it looks like the impasse in Congress over the continuing resolution will continue through midnight and the United States Government will shut down for some period of time.

I am a staunch fiscal conservative and a long time member of the Republican Party.  I dislike virtually all of Obama's policies and feel that healthcare is of such fundamental importance to the citizens of this country that legislation regarding it should have been thoroughly discussed and openly debated before it was passed by Congress.  That was not done.  Obamacare was written in secret and passed by a bare majority of Democrats in Congress.  

I believe current political polling that indicates that a large percentage of the American public has serious reservations about Obamacare and I commend all of our citizens, Democrat and Republican, who have spoken so eloquently against it.   I hold both Democrats and Republicans responsible, however, for the current impasse and believe that, in this situation, the President should have facilitated the national discussion that did not happen when the law was drafted instead of insisting on it's partial implementation later this week.  Obama is, in effect, joining Pelosi and Reid in cramming it down our throats.

Having said all of the above, I would like to tell any Republican politician that might deign  to listen to a mere citizen, that I think that most of them are acting like idiots or worse.  Whether we like it or not, and I most certainly do not, the Affordable Health Care Act was legally passed by Congress.  Conservatives challenged it all the way to the Supreme Court and lost.  We then made it a major issue in the 2012 presidential election and Obama ate our lunch.  Then some misguided members of our party decided that we should oppose it's funding as part of the continuing resolution fight even though we did not have the votes to win.   Now, the nation has a government shutdown looming and we want everybody to blame Obama and the Democrats.  Talk about wishful thinking!

The other day, Governor Huckabee articulated my own position far better and more fulsomely than I could ever do it.  He argued that we should just let the Democrats own Obamacare and pick up the political fall out in 2014 and 2016.  If we are right about how bad this law is, we will gain control of enough of government to do something more than just moan about it.  If we are wrong about it, the country will be better off and we deserve to be defeated.  I certainly hope that we have had enough of our adventure in tilting against windmills and are not thinking seriously about continuing this stupidity into the forthcoming fight over the debt ceiling. If we do that I will begin to suspect that we are in reality working clandestinely for Hillary Clinton.

PS:  I hope that somebody pulls a rabbit out of a hat before midnight.

Fort Hood, Workplace Violence?

In Rudyard Kipling's day, during the nineteenth century, international relations was likened to a game, as the European Empires maneuvered for hegemony in Central Asia.  "The Great Game" was seen as a complicated chess match where pawns were regularly sacrificed in pursuit of esoteric strategies that were poorly understood even by those that were directly involved.  The allegory has gone out of favor, but the arcane maneuvering continues and those that see themselves as potential pawns fret that they might be the next to be sacrificed by the great powers or by those that wish to become great powers.

Significant changes have taken place in the world since Kipling wrote Kim.  Today, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the international community recognizes only one great power and that nation is not at all certain that it wants to continue to try to lead the world.  The situation is further complicated by the resurrection of a potentially great power that is not conveniently circumscribed by a boundary line that can be drawn on a map.  It is possible to conceive of the two great antagonists in today's world as being Western Society and the nascent Islamic Caliphate.  Today's chess match is far more complex than was the case a century ago and the dangers are far greater.

Today's game board is not limited to Central Asia.  Today, although the principal moves are being made in the Middle East, we see game pieces being moved throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and even here in North America.  The strategic complexity of the game has changed as well.  In Lord Whoever's day, Mata Hari connived, regiments moved, Sheiks were assassinated, European governors were installed and new lines were drawn on everybody's maps.  Today, the killing goes on, of course, but it is largely perpretated by "Islamic fighters" on one hand and "technology" on the other.  Very little fighting is done by regiments and virtually none of the really important killing is done by traditional military units.  Suicide vests and car bombs against lasers and unmanned drones is an oversimplification, of course, but there is an important element of truth embedded in it.

Yesterday's chessboard was simpler as well.  Land was occupied, populations were subjugated, leaders were executed or suborned, and victory was declared.  Today, we see immigration replacing military deployment, multiculturalism replacing occupation, and a struggle of cultural identity complicating if not replacing political struggle.  As was the case in Kipling's day, we tend to focus on that which is most immediate and easiest to understand.  In Syria, we see Assad and Putin successfully outmaneuvering President Obama and the Syrian rebels, but we applaud our President for avoiding a war that he himself proposed in the first place.  In Iran, we see the possibility of improved relations with a country that actively supports attacks on America and it's allies "without doing anything more" than removing our sanctions and agreeing to permit Iran to join the nuclear club.

Important as these tactical developments are, they pale into insignificance when compared with the strategic importance of what is going on in most, if not all, of the Muslim World.  There we see increasing radicalization that does not bode well for the future.  While we remain focused on what is happening to our pawns, our opponent is positioning his major chess pieces in such a way that he will be able to increasingly dominate important areas of the game board.  We should also understand that this strategic advance is not limited to the Middle East.  Increased Muslim immigration into Europe is bringing the tactical battle into the homeland of America's most important friend in the international community.  We must understand that the resultant cultural disruption leads inevitably to political and economic problems that weaken power and influence.  In the process, "fortress America" is weakened and most of us are completely unaware of how the strategic picture is shifting.

To make the game even more interesting, our opponent is not any one individual, nation or people.  Radical Islam is a formidable political-religious phenomenon that dates back to the Moorish conquest of the Maghreb and Spain in the 7th Century of the Christian Era.  It has seen its fortunes rise and fall over the centuries.  It's adherents have a long view of history and that view is an important source of their strength.  If we want to win at this game, we need to get serious about what we are engaged in.  Wishful thinking will not cut it.  It would help if we would recognize who our opponent is and the seriousness of what is at stake.  Fort Hood was not a "drive-by shooting" or "workplace violence" or any other euphemism.  It was an attack by the wanna-be great power - Radical Islam.  After naming our opponent, we need to look hard at how we are relating to the strategic threat.  That is going to be the really hard part, because it will require that we develop strategies to deal with the cultural elements of the struggle.  That process will need to bust some important myths that currently cloud our thinking.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Conservatives might learn something from Pope Francis

I remember Republicans telling a joke that involved the Democrats organizing a circular firing squad.  I don't hear that joke told these days.  I do hear Republicans squabbling among themselves about how best to win this or that election and pass or defeat this or that bill.  Although this bickering is troubling in that it reflects considerable disarray among conservatives about tactics, I am more concerned with the lack of any positive specific national strategy to address all of the very considerable challenges that face this country.  I suggest that just bashing liberals and calling for smaller and "more responsible" government will not be enough to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I believe that we need to lay out in very specific terms what we would do if we were in a position to control decision-making in this country.  I recognize that some will point out, correctly, that this approach will inevitably antagonize some potential supporters who disagree with one or more elements of our vision for the country.  So be it.  If our ideas are so all fired great, we will attract more supporters than we lose.  If our ideas fail to do that, our candidates do not deserve to be elected to office.  This is a democracy after all and our government is responsible to the people - all of the people.  It is not enough to be right, we have to convince our neighbors that we can do the job.  Recently, we have failed miserably in doing that at the national level, but we have had some significant success at the state and local levels where we have gotten much more specific in our campaigning.

I advocate taking a page out of Pope Francis's playbook.  He is advocating that the Catholic Church focus less on ideological purity and take a more pragmatic approach to specific problems facing Catholics.  I suggest that we conservatives should stop pontificating about the Founding Fathers and start offering specific solutions to the problems that Joe the Plumber is talking about.  Pope Francis is not calling for Catholics to give up their principals and I am not calling for conservatives to do that either.  I am suggesting that we should focus on real solutions to the very real challenges that face us in the twenty-first century.

The International Community Understands Benghazi Even If We Do Not

According to the polls, a majority of Americans want to know more about what happened in Benghazi and why it happened.  I argue that we already know enough and what we are really saying is that we want those responsible to acknowledge their various failures fully and publicly.  Unfortunately, I do not believe that will ever happen, primarily because both the President and the Secretary of State went to bed when they should have been doing absolutely everything in their power to protect the lives of about forty Americans that they had put into harms way.  There is no possibility that they could politically survive such an admission, so it is not going to happen.  The obfuscation will continue as long as a significant portion of the American public refuses to face facts. 

While I continue to be furious over Obama and Clinton's actions leading up to, during, and following the attack on our consulate, I have to commend them on their political skill in covering their tracks and successfully fooling much of America as to what happened and why it happened.  I am also amazed by the public's ability to ignore the facts that we already have about this disgraceful tragedy.  It is clear that policy decisions at the presidential and secretary of state level were the root cause of inadequate security in our consulate - not any bureaucratic decision by a mid-level State Department bureaucrat or any lack of time or resources.  It is also clear that those policy decisions were driven in very large part by the imperatives of the presidential elections of 2012.  Anyone who still has a problem with this analysis should re-read all of the drafts of the talking points that Susan Rice used following the attack.  They provide a clear picture of how the post-attack lies were formulated.

The needless deaths of Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, Glenn Doherty and Christopher Stevens is a national tragedy, but the irresponsible actions of our President and our Secretary of State with regard to Benghazi is a national disgrace.  We must also understand that the impact of Benghazi on our relations with our friends and enemies in the international community is profound.  I assure you that none of them are as confused about what really happened in that dirty hell hole as some of us continue to want to be.  What foreigners see is an American President that is able to lie to an American public that does not want to face up to what is going on outside of the borders of the United States.  This disappoints and frightens our friends and encourages and emboldens our enemies.  Benghazi is part and parcel of a set of foreign and domestic policies that are weakening this country and intensifying the very considerable threat that faces us in this increasingly dangerous world.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Iran's Charm Offensive, Why Now?

Peaceful democratic principals are difficult to uphold when the threat of violence is great.  During wartime, our democratic practices are modified so that we can better deal with the danger presented by our enemies.  The current threat of terrorism has resulted in a massive intrusion into our privacy here in the United States and many of us feel that government has overstepped it's authority.  It is indeed Orwellian with the specter of Big Brother constantly looking over our shoulder.  Traffic cams follow us on the highway, mall cams follow us while shopping, and NSA listens to our telephone conversations and reads our email messages.  Our privacy is pretty well shot and we are not going to get it back no matter how loud we squeal.  (I long ago adopted the practice of not saying or writing anything that I was not willing to read as a headline in the New York Times.  It has not changed anything that I want to say, but it has made me a bit more careful as to how I say it.)

For all of our problems, we still live in a country that enjoys great freedoms and the rule of law is basically in tact.  While we may dislike some parts of our legal system, most of us are still largely sheltered from violence impacting our daily lives.  This makes it extremely difficult for us to understand what is going on in much of the rest of the world.  Particularly in the Third World, violence is an important element of daily life.  People living in those societies are surrounded by violence and the threat of violence virtually everywhere that they turn.  I suggest that this is a very important limitation in the effectiveness of our efforts at public diplomacy and our failure to understand it is the source of a lot of wishful thinking as we try to understand the public mood in the various Middle Eastern theocracies.

The flavor of the moment in this regard is Iran.  Relations with Iran have been strained ever since the religious revolution thirty some years ago.  That revolution replaced the Shah with the Ayatollah and swapped out an imperial dictator for a religious dictator.  It did not create a free and independent democracy.  Iran does have elections, but the outcome of those elections are determined in advance by the Supreme Leader.  Unquestionably, there is dissent within Iran, but there is no possibility that it will be able to impact national policy.  Real dissent that might endanger the theocracy is dealt with swiftly and harshly as we saw in the so-called Green Revolution a few years ago.  Iran is yet another example of how violence can trump democratic procedure.

This is important for America to understand right now as our government tries to figure out how to deal with Iran's current charm offensive.  Some Americans want desperately to believe that the Iranian people desire better relations with the West and the election of Rouhani, a moderate, is a reflection of those desires.  These folks applaud President Obama's outreach to President Rouhani and advocate taking Iran's word about not wanting to develop a nuclear weapon.  Others, myself included, see no evidence that Rouhani is anything other than the pawn of the Supreme Leader.  We believe that the Ayatollah wants to avoid a military attack on his nuclear facilities and is willing to agree to a temporary modification of his nuclear program in order to protect it for the future.  In the process, he also looks to the West to remove it's sanctions.  We do not believe that he intends to modify his support of terror against those of us living in the West.  Assuming that he is successful in accomplishing these objectives, I believe that it is inevitable that Iran will eventually build a nuclear weapon as well as delivery systems that will endanger the entire Western World.

I believe that the timing of Iran's Charm Offensive is related to their progress in developing their nuclear weapon.  According to most intelligence reports that leak out into the press, Iran is very close to being able to create a nuclear weapon.  Both the United States and Israel have made it very clear that they would not permit that to happen.  I believe that the sudden Iranian Charm Offensive is primarily aimed at Obama, not only to deter an American attack, but also to encourage America to argue against an Israeli attack.

Friday, September 27, 2013

An Open Letter to Senator Ted Cruz

People are beginning to say that you are interested in being the Republican candidate for President in 2016.  I want you to know that I share most of your political positions on issues and, if you are our candidate, I will definitely vote for you.  Unfortunately, I must also say that I think that if you are our candidate in 2016, we will definitely lose that election and Hillary Clinton will be able to continue the policy direction set by Barack Obama.  I see that prospect as being nothing short of disaster.

As I understand it, the Republican candidate must attract votes from a wide spectrum of people across this great country in order to win the presidency.  To accomplish that, he or she must be able to bring people together.  So far, it does not look like you have been able to demonstrate that ability even among your fellow conservatives.  If a potential candidate can not bring his own party along with his leadership I see no way that he or she would be able to attract sufficient support from the political middle to win the election.

I recognize that this position will relegate me to what many call the RINOs.  I don't see it that way, but I understand the frustration that many in our party have with those of us who want to compromise with our liberal neighbors rather than "stick to our principals" and insist on ideological purity in everything that we say or do.  My problem with the ideological purity imperative is that it inevitably leads to defeat.  I honestly believe that it was one of the reasons that we lost the last time around.

Maybe, I am just jumping the gun.  Maybe, you are currently just trying to galvanize your fellow conservatives to fight hard against the stupidities of this administration's policies.  Maybe, you will start demonstrating the leadership skills that this country will need in order to correct the adverse impact of the Obama years.  I certainly hope so, because I would love to vote a conservative into the oval office.

Syrian Resolution in the United Nations

Assuming that recent press reports are correct, the five permanent members of the United Nations have agreed on a United Nations resolution that will require Syria to give up it's chemical weapons.  Reportedly, the resolution does not contain any automatic penalties if Syria fails to comply.  It does say that if Syria fails to comply, the Security Council will discuss imposing measures under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter and that those measures could include economic sanctions or even military action.  Before any action is undertaken, however, the matter would have to go back to the Security Council for further discussions (where Russia holds the veto power).  This "compromise" between the American and Russian positions on sanctions is a significant, if tactical, diplomatic victory for Russia.  The United States had wanted an explicit threat of military force and Assad and Putin had adamantly opposed any such threat.  Assad and Putin appear to have won their point.

Combine this "compromise" with Russian willingness to have their military guard Syria's chemical weapons while the United Nations is in the process of inspecting and destroying them and, if accepted, you have a significant measure of Russian influence over the entire process.  This might well result in the chemical weapons being destroyed, but it will also raise the question as to whether or not Russia and Syria have colluded to hide at least some of the weapons or perhaps even permitted some to be transferred to other players in the region.  Given that very few people in this country want to see American "boots on the ground" in Syria, it is going to be very tempting for Kerry to accept the Russian offer to protect the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.  In addition to the other problems that this development would present, the presence of Russian troops at government military facilities throughout Syria would pose additional challenges for the Syrian rebels and would make a unilateral American missile strike very dangerous if not completely impossible.  (Substituting U.N. troops for Russian will pose many of the same problems.)

Our new envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is saying pretty much what she has to say in the circumstances:  "This resolution makes clear there will be consequences for noncompliance."  For those of us in this country that do not follow international events very closely, this will sound pretty good, but we must understand that a lot of others around the world are going to be muttering epitaphs like "paper tiger."  These observers are also going to be following what else we are doing in the region, particularly with regard to our renewed conversation with Iran.  The world will be asking at what point does this kind of compromise turn into an admission of weakness?  I admit that I do not have enough information to know what we should do on any of this, but I am extremely worried.  I wish Secretary Kerry and President Obama all of the best in their efforts to ensure our security in what appears to me to be an increasingly dangerous world.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Iran's Nuclear Program and Kerry/Zarif Talks

President Obama's speech yesterday at the United Nations is attracting a great deal of attention in the world press as do most speeches by American presidents at the General Assembly.  The press in each country, including this one, hears what it wants to hear and criticizes those points that it feels are contrary to their country's national interest.  Conservative columnists in this country, commenting on the speech, worry that Obama is falling for the charm offensive being waged by Iran's new president.  These folks believe that the Iranians are playing for time so that they can complete the construction of their first nuclear weapon.  The most cynical of them point out that it was the Iranians that backed out of the accidental meeting that had been arranged between Rouhani and Obama.  They point out that even this small tactical move buys the Iranians more time.  Liberal commentators, on the other hand, praise Obama for reaching out to the Iranians in an effort to improve relations through diplomacy rather than war.

Unfortunately, I basically share the critics fears.  I sincerely wish that our disagreement with Iran could be resolved through discussion and I advocate pursuing any and all diplomatic channels vigorously, but I see no evidence that we should trust the Iranian government.  Rouhani, like Ahmadinejad before him, is not the real decision maker in the Iranian power structure.  Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, is the real authority in Iran and, although he has moderated his own rhetoric, I see absolutely no evidence that he has changed political directions in any fundamental way.  Iran refuses to recognize Israel, fundamentally distrusts the United States, and insists on it's "right" to have a nuclear program.  Regionally, it allies itself with other countries and groups that are acknowledged enemies of the United States and supports terror as a legitimate agent of political change.  Like many other observers of the Middle East, I do not relish seeing Iran in possession of a nuclear weapon.

Secretary of State Kerry is entering into a new round of talks with the Iranians.  Their new Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, studied in the United States and speaks english fluently.  He is a very experienced professional diplomat that is well respected by the current Iranian power structure.  He even knows many of the politicians currently occupying high office in the United States Government.  Presumably, the Kerry/Zarif talks will be wide-ranging, but the Iranian nuclear program will obviously be a critical subject of discussion.  The Iranians want to keep it going toward a bomb and we want to stop it, hopefully without having to take military action.  My guess is that, if pressed hard enough, the Iranians will offer to halt their enrichment activities in return for a reduction in the severity of our economic sanctions.  If we agree, we may stave off a war, but we will also sanctify the Iranian nuclear program.  Even if Iran honors the agreement, the program to build the bomb can be restarted at any point in the future that they so desire.  Given the secretive nature of the Iranian regime, ensuring that they are not cheating will be extremely difficult.

Virtually every country in the Middle East sees it's own vital interests at stake in this imbroglio.  Our actions vis-a-vis Iran impact our relations with all of the Middle East.  I wish Obama and Kerry well in dealing with what is really a difficult can of worms.  Although I am not a supporter of this president or his administration, I am old school with regard to foreign relations.  Domestic politics should stop at the water's edge.  There is plenty for us to argue about here at home.  Let's confine our attacks to the budget fight and leave Kerry alone to do his very difficult job.  If we don't like what he does, and we live through it, we can address it the next time we go to the ballot box.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Senator and the President Disagree

Senator Barak Obama and President Barak Obama fundamentally disagree about the significance of raising the debt ceiling.  Senator Obama has explained very articulately that to do so is criminal in that it is spending our children's money.  President Obama vehemently disagrees.  Which one is right?

I suggest that they are both right about different aspects of the challenge.  We are spending our children's money and we do have to increase the debt ceiling in order to avoid defaulting on our existing loans.  We are in such a mess that we need to borrow more money just to pay the interest that we owe on money that we borrowed earlier.  Our credit card is maxed out and it is utter stupidity to think that we can spend our way out of the problem as President Obama wants to continue trying to do.  Every time we raise the debt ceiling, this government becomes emboldened to spend just "a little bit" more.

Combine the profligate spending with the current monetary policy, which continues to cheapen the value of our savings, and you have a surefire recipe for disaster, but that is not enough for Obama.  This government wants to make job creation as difficult as possible through increased regulation, while at the same time redistributing as much private wealth as possible through increased taxes and expanded government welfare programs.  The frosting on the cake is the rampant fraud, disgraceful inefficiency and outright theft that characterizes virtually all government programs.

Why in the world is Barak Obama implementing policies that are destroying this country's economy?  Some say that he is simply evil.  Other's say that he is a socialist or perhaps even a communist.  A few say that he is just not as smart as he thinks that he is.  I don't really know, but I do have a theory.  I think that, as President, Barack Obama is acting out a dream that he had as a young man working in the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago.  I think that he is trying to right all of the social wrongs that he feels still plague this country.  Although he is obviously a highly intelligent person, he does not have any practical experience in economic matters.  His experience in Chicago obviously helped to shape his domestic political skill set, but it failed to teach him much about how to create jobs.

Although President Obama's heart may have been in the right place, his policies have endangered the welfare of the entire country, including the very people that he has been trying to help.  Going forward, this country needs to elect political leaders at all levels that will apply more conservative principals to the very real problems that face us.  I am not arguing that we should turn our back on any of Obama's lofty objectives, but I am suggesting that we need to be a bit more pragmatic about the way in which we approach them.  Let's start by restoring the economic engine that made this country great in the first place.  After that, we will be in better shape to help resolve those social problems that obviously still exist.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Obamacare, Repeal or Reform

Obamacare was written in secret, literally behind closed doors, by a small group of people and then shoved down the throats of the American public by the legislative chicanery of a bare liberal majority in Congress.  It suffers from all of the problems that stem from that kind of approach to major legislation.  It is a travesty no matter how one looks at it and it deserves to be thrown out for a whole host of reasons.  Even more importantly, it is in reality a stalking horse for something that is far worse - socialized medicine.

As we all know, America has developed the best medical system that the world has ever seen, but it has a serious drawback - it is unbelievably expensive.  Much of America is unable to take full advantage of what modern medicine offers because of the price tag.  We have all known this for some time and, for that reason, it has been a subject of steadily increasing significance in our political dialog.  I don't trust any of the statistics that are being bandied about, but the numbers of Americans that are adversely impacted by the high cost is very large and the strain that is being exerted on our economy is enormous.

Although the polls indicate that most Americans do not like Obamacare, I suspect that there is an overwhelming majority of us that agree with the objective of finding a way for more of us to enjoy the benefits of our medical system.  Depending on each of our individual circumstances, we will be attracted to some aspects of Obamacare while we dislike others.  Those of us who want to eliminate Obamacare should seriously consider changing our tactics.  Not our strategic objective.  Our tactics.  The best way to destroy Obamacare would be to repeal it, but the most practical way to destroy Obamacare is to repair the parts of it that break down and amend those parts of it that obviously need to be modified.

In order for this approach to be successful, it will be necessary to ensure that conservative concepts and values are better represented at all levels of government and that means that we need to do a better job of convincing the American public that we will be good stewards of the public weal.  Advocating reform rather than repeal might well turn out to have some advantages in this respect.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Debt Ceiling, Continuing Resolution and Obamacare

Here we go again.  Silly Season.  Another continuing resolution is running out, the debt ceiling needs to be raised again, and virtually every politician in the country is spouting stupidity (including not just liberals but many of the conservatives as well).  If it were not so serious, it would be hilarious.

Here it is in a nutshell - this government is spending too much money.  If we do not tighten our belts and cut down on our spending, our economy will collapse in the same way that Greece and much of the rest of Southern Europe has fallen in on itself.  This will happen sooner or later depending on what we do now.  It does not matter what anybody does tactically.  We either improve our spending/GNP balance sheet or we collapse.  Period.

I do not like Obamacare.  I wish that the last election had turned out differently, but unfortunately we are stuck with this stupid legislation as the law of the land.  News Flash!  Conservatives control one House of Congress.  We can not defund Obamacare.  If we really want to get rid of it (and I do), we must start by changing the balance of power within the government.  

That means that we must win control of both houses of congress in 2014 and take the oval office in 2016.  In order to do that, one of the things that we need to do is to present plans that will reform our medical system so that it does a better job of meeting the needs of the American people than this hodgepodge legislation that we are stuck with right now.  It is not sufficient to just bash Obamacare.  We need to prove that we can do better.

It seems to me that too many of my conservative friends do not understand that it is not enough to blame the other guy for doing wrong.  We should have learned that just by watching the current occupant of the White House.  Obama blames Bush for creating a situation that he has failed to improve.  We correctly criticize him for that fault, yet we are guilty of the same thing.  We point out what is wrong with Obamacare, but we have not clearly articulated a plan that we believe will improve the situation.

If we conservatives don't wise up, we are going to see Hillary Clinton replace Barack Obama and that will virtually ensure that we will turn into a great big Greece spot.  It also ensures the continuation of Obamacare.  Remember Hillarycare?

Charlene Lamb Thrown Under the Bus by Hillary Clinton?

Unfortunately, we are still talking about the ARB (Accountability Review Board) that looked into the "Benghazi Affair."  Congressional investigators are horrified that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally selected four of the five members of the board and they are shocked that, although the board did not bother to interview the Secretary, they did continue to stay in touch with her, feeding information about what they were finding during their group chats with various department staffers.  My fellow citizens, please wake up.  The ARB was not an independent investigation conducted by outsiders (Admiral Mullen was window dressing).  It was an internal look at the bureaucracy performed by bureaucrats (Ambassador Pickering was the real leader).  The ARB was looking for bureaucratic things that might have gone wrong and they did not find much to complain about.  That is because the State Department is a pretty effective bureaucracy that is staffed by some rather remarkable people.  They may not come across very well on television, but I assure you that they are very competent in handling their bureaucratic tasks.  It is important to note that the ARB was not asked to look into the wisdom of the policy that drove the bureaucracy during Benghazi.

The Benghazi tragedy was not bureaucratic in nature.  It was a policy driven disaster.  Bureaucrats were not the people who made the errors that killed the Ambassador and his three companions.  Every bureaucrat in the chain from Washington to Benghazi was merely implementing policy.  They were following the orders that were the logical extension of policy set by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Within the State Department, the problem resides on the seventh floor where policy is made, not on the floors below where it is merely implemented.  The policy that was in place at the time required the American Mission in Libya to project an air of confidence in the competence of the Libyan Government.  It was deemed necessary to demonstrate that confidence by reducing our own security assets in country and increasing our reliance on those of the host government even in the face of the approaching 9/11 anniversary.  Here is the crux of the matter.  We refused to increase security assets in spite of the Ambassador and his staff repeatedly requesting that their security position be improved.  We maintained this position, even after the Libyan Government informed us that they could not prevent an attack on our consulate.  We did not even preposition military force as a failsafe backup should the situation go south on 9/11.

A few days ago, Congress questioned Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary of State for Management, about his role in the Benghazi Tragedy.  The Under Secretary is an extremely important bureaucratic position in the Department of State.  It is one of the positions that interfaces between policy and bureaucracy.  Kennedy is an experienced bureaucrat and he chose his words very carefully during the questioning.  When asked questions about why security had not been beefed up prior to 9/11 he answered that he had no "actionable intelligence" that an attack was imminent.  I presume that he is telling the truth in so far as the paper flow across his desk from the intelligence community, but his answer does not address the information that he was receiving from the Libyan Mission's security personnel and from the Ambassador.  Here is the place where the mistakes were made.  Our government did not listen to our people on the ground.  Instead, they chose to rely on the silence of our intelligence community which fit the needs of our policy far better.

Before we decide that Kennedy is the culprit we need to understand the legal position of an American Ambassador.  Contrary to what most people think (including some ambassadors), an American Ambassador assigned as Chief of Mission in a foreign country does not work for the Secretary of State.  In those circumstances, the Ambassador is the Personal Representative of the President of the United States.  This is the legal source of his position as Chief of Mission.  In that role, he oversees the activities of all USG activities in the country of his assignment, including all military, clandestine, economic, and anything else that might be going on at the time.  When an ambassador makes a request to Washington, an Under Secretary of State does not have enough clout to ignore it either legally or morally.  Kennedy could not have unilaterally turned down Ambassador Steven's increasingly desperate pleas for help.  He had to have done it because it was required by the policy guidance given to him by his superiors in the Department of State.  The Under Secretary has only one superior.  It is the Secretary of State.

I spent thirty years working for the United States Government, most of it in the Department of State.  I have great respect for the dedicated people that work in that organization.  America is very lucky to have them.  Although I might fault some of them for not fighting harder against a policy that is wrong, in the last analysis their job is to implement the instructions of their superiors.  I hate to see a Charlene Lamb get thrown under the bus for doing her job and it is one more reason why I dislike what I see Hillary Clinton doing.  She is responsible for that injustice just as she is for the deaths of Chris Stevens, Glenn Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Syria and Chemical Weapons

Assad appears to be acting in good faith within the framework of the agreement brokered by Russia and the United States with regard to Syria's chemical weapons.  Press reports indicate that the dictator has at least started the process of declaring his chemical stockpile within the time frame demanded by the agreement.  There are still miles to go in the process of destroying those weapons, but so far so good as regards that aspect of the Syrian problem.

Interestingly, the Kerry/Lavrov agreement may have ensured Assad's political survival for at least as long as it takes to destroy the chemical arsenal.  To remove him from power right now might well lead to chaos within the Syrian government and that, in turn, might permit the chemical weapons to fall into the hands of one or another of the terrorist groups active in the Syrian war.  Understandably, the rebels that have been demanding Assad's immediate ouster are not happy with the possibility of their enemy managing to squeeze out a bit more longevity.  

If, as I suspect, Kerry and Lavrov are now discussing a renewal of the Syrian peace conference, we can expect even more unhappiness from the rebels because they will find it difficult to insist on Assad's departure before they sit down in Geneva to negotiate an end to the fighting.  It is very easy to envision a scenario wherein the United States pressures the rebels to negotiate face to face with the Assad regime.

We can expect Russia to remain firmly in support of the Assad regime even if eventually Putin has to give up the man himself.  Putin's objective is not Assad.  It is Tartus, Russia's port on the Mediterranean.   I have no idea what our own current position is on Russian access to Tartus.  I suspect that the Commander of the U. S. Sixth Fleet in Naples, Italy, does not like it much, but I doubt that it plays very heavily in Obama's calculations regarding Syria.  My guess is that he would be content with a Syrian solution that let his friend Vlad keep his Mediterranean port.  That does not bode well for the Syrians long term, because even if they get rid of Assad they will still be stuck with Putin.

Much of what is going on today is invisible to those of us in the general public, but we can assume that Syria is a hot topic of discussion everywhere in the Middle East and every political operative in every government in the region is trying to influence the course of events.  I would give a lot to be the fly on the wall in New York when Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani accidentally on purpose pass in the hall at the United Nations.