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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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.