Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Battle Over President Obama's Nomination for the Next Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court


THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH
IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING THAT PRESIDENT OBAMA WILL nominate someone to fill the vacancy left by the very conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia who died in mid-February 2016.  The only loser's, as I see it, in this monumental battle will be the poor nominee and the Republicans; this is a no-win situation for either party.  Whether the Democrats/Obama win depends on how they handle the battle or if they actually get their nominee through the potentially debilitating process.

It is even possible that. as rumored, President Obama may even nominate a well known moderate Republican; Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (who has recently quashed that rumor).  On the other hand, others suggest he might nominate a sacrificial lamb in the form of a very liberal justice, just to poke the conservatives in the eye by making them stop the nomination process.

The issue is whether Senator Mitch McConnell will eat crow and actually hold hearings for whoever Obama puts forward in the near future ... or not, regardless of who is put forward. (A blatant case of stonewalling for which the conservatives have honed to a fine point.)  McConnell & co. assert that it isn't right that a president with 11 months left to his (soon to be her, in my opinion) term should put forward, nor should Congress consider, a nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy.  The argument is, that since this is an election year, the "people" should decide who the president will be to make that nomination.

Well, didn't the "people" already decide (twice in this case) who the president is and who has the right AND duty to carry out ALL of the responsibilities of that position ... including filling vacancies on the Supreme Court?  Yes they did!   As one of those "people", I want my president to do their duty for the entire 100% of their term, not just 75%.

It's unfortunate for the opposition party (historically, neither Party is guiltless) that Justice Scalia died at an inconvenient time for them; but the Constitution, which wasn't designed with Parties in mind (in fact, the opposite), didn't provide for the executive to not exercise that part of their job description.  No, it was expected for the president to exercise that prerogative until midnight of the last day in office.



THE SENATE

THE FRAMERS OF OUR CONSTITUTION, the original great compromisers, tried their damnedest to mitigate the power of factions (parties in today's parlance) from interfering with the function of providing effective governance for the people who created it.  They well understood the debilitating nature of "tyranny by the majority" as well as "tyranny by the minority" and tried to insert the checks and balances needed to thwart those who see balanced government as a bad thing, who think moderation and compromise are dirty words, and who see a government of the People, by the People, and for the People as an anathema to their own parochial interests.  But they didn't foresee or protect America from the Radical Right whose forefathers boycotted the Constitutional Convention (or left it when they saw the result was not going to be another emasculated central government like the Continental Congress) and who then voted against the ratification of the Constitution because it usurped their version of 1) liberty or 2) the right to enslave others.

At no time in American history did the Congress fail to function as much as it has since Republicans took control of the House in 2011.  Sometimes the outcomes weren't very good, but it functioned nevertheless.  With the rise of the radical Right in 1994, that came to an end.  Not in one fell swoop, but in increments starting with the Gingrich revolution, which rapidly shifted further to the Right while growing in power during the 2000s.  Then, in 2010, it lurched much further Rightward with the take-over of the GOP by the Tea Party, the child of decades of effort of a handful of ultra-libertarian billionaires (if you believe Jane Mayer's Dark Money) whose stated goal was to bring government to a halt; and they have largely succeeded, when measured against all previous Congresses.

Once a upon a time, not long ago, the Supreme Court nominee needed to have severe actual or political flaws before the Senate might not Consent to the President's choice; only 28 out of 150 nominations put forward as of 2010.  As you can see, they were spread somewhat evenly, although President Tyler holds the record for most failed attempts at four.  If your interested, it breaks down like this:


  • Washington (2)
  • Madison (1)
  • J Q Adams (1)
  • Jackson (1)
  • Tyler (4)
  • Polk (1)
  • Fillmore (3)
  • Buchanan (1)
  • A Johnson (1)
  • Grant (3)
  • Hayes (1)
  • Cleveland (2)
  • Hoover (1)
  • L B Johnson (1)
  • Nixon (2)
  • Reagan (2)
  • G W Bush (1)
Of these:
  • 12 were rejected, 
  • 6 were withdrawn (of which 1 was later confirmed), 
  • 4 were postponed and never confirmed
  • 2 were nullified
  • 4 where no action was taken
Now the conservative Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to "take no action" again, this time on purpose again.  There are historical cases that are similar.
  • President Tyler nominated John Reed who got a vote in committee, but was rejected with no further action
  • President Fillmore nominated Edward Bradford shortly before the Senate adjourned for the year.
  • President Fillmore nominated William Micou shortly before the Senate adjourned for the year
  • President Hayes nominated Thomas Stanley Matthews early in his last year of office, just as President Obama will do in March 2016.  The conservative Senate refused to consider him; but Matthews was confirmed when the next President put him forward again.
  • Note that in all four cases where no action was taken, the president was "progressive" while the Senate was conservative.  Do you see a pattern?
At this point in time McConnell has talked to President Obama but still maintains his obstructionist position.  It would seem he has dug himself a very deep hole out of which he may not be able to climb.  And, if he can't climb out, he may very well drag the GOP in with him!  And, and if Trump wins the GOP nomination, as it seems certain he will, the combination one-two punch against the nation's sensibilities may very well be the cause of downstream Republican, particularly conservative, to lose.

If the loses are heavy enough, the loss of the Senate to Democrats is almost certain, but the House may be in jeopardy as well.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

To Break The Code or to Not Break The Code; The Battle Between Apple and the FBI

ON THE FACE OF IT, THIS SEEMS LIKE A STRAIGHT-FORWARD decision.  If you are afraid of terrorism in the United States, then Apple MUST help the FBI.  If you are worried about one of the things that make America unique - its privacy rights - then sorry FBI, find another way.  My gut reaction was to make Apple recover the contents the of the San Bernardino terrorist's cell phone.  I know longer feel that way.

The backstory is this.   Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, in an act of home grown terrorism,murdered 14 fellow co-workers in a San Bernardino facility in 2015; the terrorists were killed.  In the course of their investigation, the FBI recovered Syed's cellphone but lacked the encryption code to read his messages.  Apple does not, and this is key, have a current ability to break that code, nor turn off the built-in protection which will wipe the phone clean after 10 failed attempts to hack the code; thereby affording absolute protection of their customers privacy.  Apple refused to help and the FBI got a federal court order mandating them to help.

But, here's the rub.  Apple doesn't have the ability (or desire) easily undo their encryption protection.  Now Apple claims that if they do this, then that may open up Pandora's box to hackers breaking into every Apple phone.  I don't believe that for a moment.  Why, because Apple has their source code locked down tight enough not to be worried it will be hacked; therefore they could do the same for any code they wrote to break into Syad's phone.  This is not a good reason to deny the FBI what they want, and this was the position I initially took.

What changed my mind was the other argument Apple is making ... that this is a slipper slope to government intrusion into everybody's private communications.  This, I believe.  The way the government to do this is to "Compel" a company like Apple to create original work in order to pry into another citizen's privacy.   The path down the primrose-road starts with the government having the ability to force someone to "create" something they do not want to; in this .  And to me, that is one step too far; even in this kind of situation with terrorism.

On the other hand, I have no problem with the government buying up a bunch of iPhone's and trying to reverse engineer them to their heart's content.  But, the idea of our government being able coerce actions from an innocent party against their will seams to violate every principle America was founded on.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who Is To Blame for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Middle East?


Who Is To Blame for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Middle East?

From East to West: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the dream of Kurdistan, Syria, Lebanon; and turning South:  the Palestinian State and Yemen.  These are the countries who are experiencing humanitarian crises across the Middle East. Who is not?  Probably Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Emirates, Oman, Jordan, and Israel are experiencing a modicum of stability; even though Israel is at war with the Palestinian State and Iran's population is suffering quite a bit under the world's sanctions over their nuclear program.

Who is helping the masses who are on the run from the war(s)?  Try Europe and America.  Who is not helping at all?  Would you believe fellow Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, and the the United Arab Emirates.  Therein lies the answer to my question - "Who is to Blame?".


I am going to argue that it is Islam itself that is to blame ... in the long run. Most people will disagree, I am sure, and point to the United States and President Bush's aggression in Iraq as the fundamental cause; and I think they would be right - in the short-term.  Absent that policy decision, it is very likely al Qaeda would have remained dormant in Iraq and there would be no ISIS to threaten the world today.  In spite of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld rhetoric to the contrary, it was well known then, and history has proven, that Saddam Hussein was no friend of al Qaeda; if fact, they were somewhat antagonistic toward one another. (And, oh by the way, the West's sanctions against Hussein to prevent a return to weapons of mass destruction actually worked, Saddam had none and couldn't get any.)


But ultimately, that view isn't quite right, that these series of crises are Bush's fault.*  All you have to do is step back a few generations to the end of WW I where the Armistice created, out of whole cloth, the Middle East we know today, and with no regard for the realities on the ground.


Consider the map of the Ottoman Empire from 1914.  I suspect you do not see much that is familiar, unless you are a student of history (or remember your history lessons in high school); although you might be able to discern a few future modern states.   On the right side of the map is Persia ... today that is Iran.  Where the words "Ottoman Empire" are located, most of that is Turkey today.  Same for the Arabian Peninsula where Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or Oman are located?


The modern Middle East boundaries were drawn by either the French and British, under Mandates from the League of Nations after WW I; or by internal wars at the conclusion of WW I.  Modern day Turkey and Saudi Arabia were established via the latter means, while Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, Palestine, and Iraq came into being from the Mandates.


Mark Sykes, representing the British government, and Francois Georges-Picot, of the French government, are most responsible for how Middle East boundaries were drawn as the former Ottoman Empire was carved up.  The intent, apparently, was to make the divisions coincide with major ethnic groups, e.g. Jews, Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shi'a Muslims, etc; but, because these two men found straight lines simple, they thwarted their own plan.  The idea was to have Palestine (Br) largely populated by Jews, Transjordan (Br) by Muslims, Lebanon (Fr) by Christians, the Bakaa Valley (Fr) area went to Shi'a Muslims, Syria (Fr) and Iraq (Br) became the domain of Sunni Muslims, except, importantly, the coast of Syria which was Alawite Shi'a and Eastern Iraq which is also Shi'a.  Because of the way the borders were actually drawn, the resulting admixture of ethnic groups, tribes, and religions within a single border was a powder keg ready to explode.- and explode it did.


Between the two World Wars, the French and British were kept very busy suppressing a series of revolts throughout the region as each nation struggled to gain the independence that was promised, but not given to them if they worked against the Ottomans during WW I.  By the beginning of WW II, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan had gained nominal independence while Lebanon received it in 1943; Palestine remained as a British Mandate for the Jews. 


The fighting did not stop there.  Instead of revolting against the French and British, which still maintained strong influence, they made war against each other as the various tribes and sects attempted to gain power.  That all ended with WW II when Britain and France reasserted their control.  


By 1946, all foreign troops left Lebanon with a peaceful resumption of power; only to fall into alternating hot and cold civil war between the Muslims to the West and the Christians in the East.  Likewise, in 1946, the British gave Transjordan, later just Jordan, it independence.


Between wars in Arabia and Anatolia, as well as idiotic nation creation by France and Britain dividing up the spoils of war, the current set of nations were born - save Israel, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, and Oman.  Both Kuwait and Oman have effectively been sovereign countries for centuries, while the other Arab states came into being in 1971.  Israel, of course was carved out of Transjordan in 1947; its current border is in roughly the same place the Kingdom of Israel existed in 1020 BCE.


So, here we have a more fundamental reason behind today's humanitarian crises (plural) in the Middle East. There was no thought given by Britain and France, via the League of Nations, about the real-life consequences resulting from where they drew their self-serving borders for Iraq, Lebanon, and, Syria,  One unfortunate outcome was the marriage of two Muslim faiths, Sunni and Shi'a, who have hated each other for millennium; another was that no provision for Kurdistan which led to the near genocide of the ethnic Kurds by Turkey, Iraq, and Iran; they are still struggling for their existence today.

The European Powers remained dominant, but faced growing resistance, until they gave the region its "freedom", but installed "Sunni" leadership loyal to them.  The resistance kept growing and leadership changed hands a few times, but always under the British thumb.  WW II brought British control once more.


The whole region remained, in one form or another, under British occupation and West-friendly national leadership until 1954 when the British removed their military presence.  Internal turmoil in Iraq boiled over which ended in a coup in 1958, where the Western-oriented government was replaced by a series of dictators. The king of the hill ended up, in 1978, being the Hitler of the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, and his Sunni Ba'ath Party.


With this ascendency of the Sunnis in Iraq (and the Shi'a in Syria), the oppression of the minority Shi'a began in earnest.  It was the atrocities of this sick leader and his sometimes successful attempts to obtain weapons of mass destruction that ended up being the public justification of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of Defense declaring war on Iraq.


But, are the above unfortunate political machinations the root cause of the humanitarian crises in the Middle East?  Hardly!  For the onion can be peeled back another layer when you consider what the Middle East was like prior to Muhammad the Prophet's ascendancy and then in the aftermath of his death in 632 CE.  

To say that the Middle East today is peaceful, when compared to the Middle East around 600 CE is a big understatement.  The players at the time were the Byzantines and the Persians; Islam was in its formative stages.  In the 50 years between 572 and 628, the Middle East was at war for 45 of them. In these wars, 100,000s of Jews, Christians, Persians, and Arabs were either killed in battle or were simply massacred   Near the end of this period, Islam began its first expansion when Muhammad, through a succession of attacks, overran Mecca.


Another factor frequently overlooked by modern Western strategists is that the Middle and Near East, from Turkey to Oman, and the Mediterranean to Thailand, more than anywhere else on earth, society was/is based on tribal allegiances; and this has not changed over the millennia; a critical, and so far fatal point that has been missed by every nation-building outsider that has tried to tame the Middle East.


With Muhammad's death came a struggle for power by the various tribes Muhammad had cobbled together under the Muslim umbrella.  During the succession of Caliphs between 632 CE and 692 CE, and after several wars, Islam coalesced around two beliefs as to who the appropriate descendants of Muhammad are that should rule Islam.  The larger of the two groups are the Sunnis (75% to 90%), while Shi'as make up around 10% to 20%.


How all of this history relates to this hub is that the war between the Sunnis and Shi'as has never stopped, it's like the Hatfields and McCoys or the Catholics and Protestants  Sometimes there are lulls, sometimes outside forces suppress the violence for a period of time, but decade after decade the conflict simmers.


While Catholics and Protestants have laid their arms aside and true hostilities have ended, the beef between these two Christian religions still percolates below the surface.  Likewise, animosity between the Jews and Christians is kept alive by the extremes of these two religions.  Of course, there is open warfare between Islam and the Jews at this moment in time; an extension of the millennia long battle between Jews and Arabs.


It is THIS dynamic that I argue is behind today's misery in the Middle East. Assuming you have a magnifying glass, you can see where the competing factions of Islam come into conflict.



Demographics of Islam
By Peaceworld111 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Let try to interpret the above map for you because I think it is important to understand the relationship of the various factions of Islam to one another. First, notice that Islam, as a major religion, has spread well beyond the borders of the Middle East; from the West African coast to Indonesia.  From left-to-right, the distribution goes as follows:
  • Maliki Sunni - Turquoise: North Africa, Kuwait, North East Saudi Arabia, North United Arab Emirates 
  • Shafi'i Sunni - Indigo Blue: Eastern Egypt, Horn of Africa, Yemen, Southern Jordan, Northern Saudi Arabia, Western Iraq, North Eastern Iraq, North Western Iran, and South Eastern Turkey   
  • Hanafi Sunni - Green: Western Egypt, Jordan, Syria, North Western Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, South Eastern Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, South Iran, North India, East India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, North China, West Serbia
  • Hanbali Sunni - Forest Green: Saudi Arabia 
  • Ibadi - Purple - Oman 
  • Ahmadi - Qatar 
  • Ismaili Shi'a - Yellow: South Tajikistan
  • Ja'fari Shi'a - Brown: Iran, East Iraq, East Saudi Arabia, Central Afghanistan, East Azerbaijan, Northeast Pakistan  
  • Zaidi Shi'a - Southwest Saudi Arabia, Northwest Yemen 
  • Alawite Shi'a - Coast of Syria
Got That?

Consider the map again, this time in context of where the Sunnis and Shi'as make contact. Can you guess where all of the historic flashpoints have been since Muhammad died?  What we see is:

  • Shi'a Iran/Iraq is surrounded by Sunnis to the West by Iraq; to the North by Sunnis in Southern Russia and in Turkmenistan; to the East by Afghanistan Sunnis; South Iran is already Sunni.
  • Shi'as on the Syrian coast have Sunnis to the East (but control the Syrian gov't under Assad) 
  • Shi'as in central Afghanistan are surrounded on all sides by Sunnis, including the Taliban
  • Shi'as in Southwest Saudi Arabia/Northern Yemen are surrounded by Sunnis.  
  • Shi'as in East Afghanistan and Pakistan are surrounded by Sunnis
Now, let's think about where all of the misery exists in the Middle East:

  • Revolt in Syria by Sunnis against the Shi'a gov't
  • Terrorist organization of Sunnis (ISIS) who are attacking everybody to reestablish a Sunni caliphate
  • The just ended war between Sunnis, trying to get out from under Shi'a domination in Iraq' a war that was unleashed when America stupidly released the pent-up anger by our nation building exercise there. 
  •  The attack by Shi'as in and near north Yemen into Sunni Yemen
  • In Afghanistan, there isn't a particular war going on between Shi'as and Sunnis, but, the Sunni Taliban are, like ISIS, going after everybody, Sunni or Shi'a.
What is in common here is that each of these conflicts are Muslim on Muslim religious wars.  The same religious wars they have been in since 629 CE; I rest my case.


Oh, don't try to argue that it is President Obama's fault for not bullying Iraq into changing the status of forces agreement with the Bush administration which required the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.  The fact is, Obama tried to get the agreement changed and Iraq was having none of it.








Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Two Sides of Rape




THE TWO SIDES OF RAPE

Rape is a horrific crime which, if the victim isn't killed in the process, devastates the soul and can make life a living hell for the rest of their lives.

Being falsely accused of Rape is a horrific crime which, if the victim isn't killed in the aftermath, devastates the soul and can make life a living hell for the rest of their lives.

We are all aware of the truth of the first premise, but, we rarely think about the truth of the second.  Most often, as a People, it seems we don't really care much about those falsely accused of rape.  I suspect we don't care because first, the victim is usually a man and second it doesn't have the same traumatic impact on the psyche of the People as does the violation, in the most intimate and often violent way, of a woman.

I am not taking sides, it is impossible to do so because both crimes are unconscionable; but I am trying to bring this injustice of the forgotten victim to the reader's attention, to wit - that there are two sides to the crime of rape; not at the same time, but both very connected with each other.  Minus the violence of the crime of physical rape, it is amazing how similar the repercussions are to one another.

As soon as either crime is committed, victims are painted with a stigmatic brush.  This insanity is quite understandable (which doesn't imply acceptability) for the person falsely accused of rape, but is beyond my rational comprehension how the victim, usually a women, of rape is in anyway responsible for the act.  Nevertheless, in the minds of many, they are; in fact in some countries where fundamentalist monotheism is prevalent, women are killed for simply being the victim.

In these same countries, the perpetrator is simply ignored or, in some cases, given a slap on the ... back; the more liberal of these places might give him a slap on the wrist, instead.   But, punish him properly?  Well, it is not in their religion to do so.  Fortunately, it is not that dispicable in the more "developed" nations.  Evan so, with a very few exceptions, these advanced nation's records are nothing to be proud of. (The exceptions are Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark; the US ranks 20th.)

This built-in bias is one thing male victims who have been false accused of rape will not have to face.  But, that is small comfort given the life-changing devastation they are going to encounter once the accusation is made official, and therefore public.  And once public, whether you are famous or not, the accused will begin to suffer the consequences; it's just worse if you are famous.  As a general rule, the accused will be considered guilty by most but his closest friends and family; and if not quickly resolved, even these people will be begin to abandon you.  Unfortunately, there is, as far as I know, no support groups for someone accused of rape; they are on their own in a hostile world.  He immediately becomes a target hate, vengeance, ridicule, and potentially hurt or killed.  If he is unfortunate to be jailed prior to the trial, if there is one, then he has a much higher likelihood of physical harm or death.  If he is found guilty, even though he is innocent, that danger increases by an order of magnitude when he goes to prison.\

Especially vulnerable are teenage boys and young men, ages 16 - 21, who either 1) truly in love with the accuser (or more likely their parents), 2) lied to about the accuser's age, or 3) subject to a fabrication.  It is very hard for these young men to beat these charges, especially if they are statutory, and, as a consequence, many young men now go around with the sex-offender noose hanging around their neck along with the myriad of consequences that prevent them from ever leading a normal life. Almost as susceptible are the rich, fathers, and step-fathers, for obvious reasons.

One might think these false accusations are a rare event, given the lack of headlines; well, it isn't.  Depending on which study you look at the false report rate varies from 1.5% minimum to an incredulous 90%.  The median, however, appears to be around 20%, where 6 studies reported <10%; 6 more between 10 and 20%, 5 between 20% and 30%, and finally 6 which reported >30%.  (Worth mentioning is that significant portions of true rape reports go nowhere due to lack of evidence and/or police indifference.)

Once accused, the victim must try to prove something "didn't" happen; a chore that often is a magnitude harder to do than prove something "did" happen.  Even when the charge has quickly been disproven, the stigma rarely goes away entirely; there is always going to people who think the victim of the lie got away with rape.  I could write volumes as to the horrible consequences men (but sometime women, such as teachers) have suffered at the hands of their accuser.  But I will only offer the reader this site, http://www.falselyaccused.co.uk/consequences-of-false-sexual-accusations/ to puruse.

My point with this blog was to bring to light, in stark terms, falsely accusing someone of rape is almost tantamount in seriousness, and could lead to the same consequences as the rape they are being accused of.  While the potential of mental and physical harm, or even torture, murder or suicide, is very high for those who have truly suffered this attack on their person, it is no less true that the victim of the false accusations will have a high (I left off the "very") probability that one or more of these outcomes may also result


Sunday, September 21, 2014

American Interventionism: Pangs of Guilt from a Bleeding Heart Moderate

THE LATEST CRISIS, AS IF THE WORLD NEEDED MORE, IN IRAQ with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria and Levant or ISIS/ISIL has once again left America in a moral dilemma.  ISIS, I'll pick that one since I heard it first, has taken barbarism back when Romans use to crucify people at the drop of a hat, before there were Christians or Muslims..  Having read Bill Riley's book, The Killing of Jesus, I clearly understand how gruesome and horrendous a way crucifiction is to kill someone, and now ISIS has brought it back in vogue.  Of course they use more humane ways as well such as by simply lining up a few hundred people and machine gunning the down.  Now, like al Qaeda, from which they sprang like a bad seed, they claim to be Sunni Muslims, but they are not, they are simply barbaric killers hiding behind the name of Allah.

Last night, Aug 7, 2014, President Obama used his executive authority to approve limited air strikes against ISIS forces in Iraq for the purposes of protecting US State Department staff and support personnel in a single area in northern Iraq, actually in Kurdish territory.  Earlier, he also authorized a humanitarian air drop of food and water to tens of thousands Christians and Muslims surrounded by ISIS forces who were moving in for the kill.  This was in coordination with Iraq, Turkey, and with notification to certain leaders of Congress on vacation.  During his speech to the American people, the President used phrases suggesting that when America sees a terrible wrong and America has unique capabilities to help right that wrong IF asked be the host country, then we should act.  Which brings to this blog.

Over the 100 years or more America and American presidents have been faced with this moral dilemma many, many times.  The result is a large record of highly embarrassing hypocrisy.  In almost all cases, this not being one of them, America has intervened only because some national interest was involved or it is economically/politically beneficial to America.  Yet when we do intervene, we end up smiling proudly and pointing to how we are, stopping the genocide, saving the people, and establishing a stable democratic government ... and everybody knows that is rubbish.

There have been a few incursions by American regular troops (not just air power) where the outcome was as planned, more or less; Panama, Granada (the rational is very questionable), the first Iraq War, and the initial incursion into Afghanistan after 9/11.  Failures (or in one case a draw) that come to mind are Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan after the initial incursion.

So now, America is being dragged, rather than taking the lead, back into Iraq; back into a mess that is essentially one of our own making by first making the stupid decision to invade Iraq in the first place and then by bungling, in some cases criminally, the effort once we got there.  And dragged we must, for where our first aggression was not in America's national interest, this one clearly is.

Since I began writing this blog much has happened.  The initial air support to the Kurds was successful, ISIS advances were stopped there and in important areas reversed because it allowed Kurdish ground forces to retake lost territory; the exclusive al Maliki Iraqi government was voted out and a new, hopefully more inclusive gov't voted in (that in itself a major accomplishment of American diplomacy and a rare flash of Shi'ite rationalism); ISIS decided to teach the US and UK a lesson by beheading some of our nationals which only served to throw public opinion against them and reluctantly to Obama; Obama successfully putting together coalitions of both European states and Arab states to combat ISIS; and finally get Congress to vote on something he wanted, a bill authorizing him to train and equip moderate Syrian freedom fighters to battle ISIS on that front.

At this moment, we are simply waiting for the shoe to drop on ISIS, President has his target lists, his authorities, and his coalitions ,,, and he has never been afraid to use them when the provocation is sufficient.  He has made clear he is past the point of no return in responding to the ISIS threat.

Personally, I like to pick and choose when to throw America's mighty weight around.  I am a social liberal which means I am jam-packed with empathy toward others.  But, I am somewhat of a conservative when it comes to fiscal and foreign policy issues.  Further, I am a pragmatic idealist.  I know what the goals ought to be in a perfect world while understanding at the same time it is not, and never will be a perfect world.  The consequence of that knowledge is that I am aware my ideals will never be achieved, only approached.  Understanding that limitation drives a set of principles and actions which differ from those who think 100% of their ideology is achievable in the real world.

Consequently, that leads me to decisions to support President Obama's decision to ignore national boundaries when he went in to capture or kill bin Laden.  The same is true with his decision to ignore Syria's border in pursuing ISIS.  The leadership of both countries gave up their right for us to respect their borders when, in Pakistan's case, they were protecting our enemy, and in Syria's case, they are our enemy, for all practical purposes (there is that pragmatism again.)

Further, I am beyond happy that President Obama has figured out how to fight these kinds of "wars" properly.  First, he installed leadership in the Pentagon who understood asymmetric warfare rather than "cold" warfare (McCain) and how to take into account sectarian differences into their war plans. Next, he is executing plans that support that vision; by getting the effected parties to use the capabilities they have while we supply the capabilities they don't have and trying to get them to create the political environment which removes the civilian recruitment base of the terrorists.  In this case, that means convincing the Shi'ites and Sunnis to somehow get along (if Protestants and Catholics can do it, I suppose Sunnis and Shi'ites can as well).

The first sustained bombing has yet to start falling in ISIS, so I suspect I will be adding on to this blog when they do.

Monday, September 15, 2014

DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN AD IDEAS

The following message ideas appear to fill a gap in what I have seen in ads coming from Democratic candidates, the PACs, and the national organizations.  Personally, given the way I see the poll numbers going, I don't think the right message is getting out; so here are my shots at what I think would be effective.  Their intent is to be positive overall while taking shots at the opponent on issues that I think impact people close to home and aren't theoretical.  Finally, these are at the "fill-in-the-blank" candidate level and obviously intended to be much better written by professionals..

#1: OBAMACARE:

"Hi, my name is [   ] and I am running for [    ].  Of the many important issues which you have told me are of concern to you, I want to take a moment of your time to address one of them ... health care.  After an admittedly very rocky start last year, common for most new software systems, the [state] insurance exchange envisioned by the Affordable Care Act was on-line and accepting applications.  Overall, over 8 million Americans took advantage of this new program, [   ] million right here in [state].  Of those, about [  %] were people like many of you who didn't have insurance to start with many times because the insurance company simply dropped you or wouldn't let you sign up in the first place.

Beginning the month we go to the polls to select which Party is going to control Congress, the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges will open up again to let you sign up for the first time or to change, if you want to, what you already have.  Projections are that another [  ] million Americans will sign up for the first time this cycle.  But, all of that may be for naught IF the Republican Party gets control of the Senate and maintains control of the House.  WHY is it for naught?  Because my opponent and his Party's stated goal is KILL the Affordable Care Act or come as close to that goal as possible.

Is that what you really want ... to lose your the insurance you got just this year??  Democrats already know this to be true, but Republicans and Independents who have insurance for the very first time; these "bumper sticker" slogans used by my opponent against the Affordable Care Act are an attack on you personally, not on President Obama, but on you.  In their effort to [destroy your President's work], they have decided to make you "acceptable collateral damage"

Is that what you want [opponent's name] to do to you if you send [him/her] to Congress?  For it will happen if you vote along Party lines.

Part of my job, if you chose to send me to Congress, is to protect you and protect your right to affordable insurance.  Vote to keep your insurance, vote for [  ]

# 2 WOMEN

"Hi, my name is [   ] and I am running for [    ].  Of the many important issues which you have told me are of concern to you, I want to take a moment of your time to address one of them ...A Woman's Right to Equal Pay for Equal Work.  Just recently, Conservatives, including four women, voted to stop debate, meaning they didn't even want to talk about it, in the Senate on a bill, Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have gone a long way to guaranteeing Equal Pay for Equal Work.

Let me ask the Republican and Independent women listening to me right now, "Did you know your employer can prohibit you, even fire you, if you talk about your pay status with a co-worker?  Well, if you do, you can be!"  One of the provisions in the Paycheck Fairness Act, which I support, would Stop your employer from Firing you for exercising Your First Amendment Right to Free Speech.  Well, Conservatives, including my opponent Don't Think You Have That Right and even worse, they Don't Even Want To Talk About It!  I thought Conservatives were for the Bill of Rights, apparently not ... are you?

I know I am and if you value your Right To Speak as well and want to talk about your pay to co-workers, you will need to vote for me, for I will vote For the Paycheck Fairness Act,  If you vote for my opponent, it isn't going to happen because you will remain muzzled as you have been for the last 230 years for [He/She] will vote to deny you your right to speak.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Wealth, The Wealthy, and the Liberal Message About (It) Them

HYPERBOLE IS A TERRIBLE THING, especially when used in trying to influence people and win friends.  Unfortunately, in the Liberal/Progressive campaign to shed light on the rapidly increasing problem of Wage and Capital Inequality in America, this is what the argument has turned into  Simply put, by attacking the 1% en mass is quite counter-productive and frankly pissing a lot of would be supporters off; like me.

My background, fortunately, allows me to understand or to know where and how to look for an understanding of how inequality works, why it exists, why it won't go away, and how to mitigate it.  I write in great detail on it at myesoteric.hubpages.com with lots of long prose, boring numbers, and statistics.  Here, I will attempt to keep it short and sweet and, hopefully, much less boring.

The problem I see with the message coming from the Left since the beginning of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is that it morphed from the illicit "methods" some of the wealthy used to acquired their wealth to the fact that they were simply wealthy; as if being wealthy was a sin in and of itself.  It is easy to understand how this can happen, for it is much easier to make a physical object the focus of derision than it is an abstract idea ... like fraud or lack of ethics.  But as soon as the revolution took their eye-off-the-ball and began attacking a class of people, they lost the war.

I am here to tell you that if you are a Conservative who believes in conservatism or a Liberal and believes in liberalism, then there is nothing wrong with having gobs of money and selfishly spending it on ones self, it that is what pleases you no matter how garish it might be. If you are a Socialist, well then there are probably some among you do believe that kind of behavior is wrong and should be stopped in one manner or another.  But America was conceived in liberalism but reverted to conservatism for much of its history, until the Great Depression taught us there is a better way.  In either case, however, our modus operandi has always been to work hard and prosper and enjoy the fruit of our labor.

Nevertheless, part and parcel of that saying is you must come by your wealth honestly; honesty-is-the-best-policy has always been assumed in America, although rarely followed.  Honesty and fair play is also the grease that is supposed to guarantee all Americans, if they try hard and have the talent, to succeed in life; to make it to at least the middle class, if they start in the lower economic rungs, and to make it to the upper classes from the middle economic class.  But, for the most part, economic honesty and fair play, absent coercion from government regulations, simply doesn't exist in American society, or any other society for that matter.  This is why true economic mobility in most economic stratifications, save for those who lived on the frontier during the westward expansion and a short period between 1950 and 1980, was not a reality in America.

Yes, as technology advanced, so did the standard of living at all economic levels, but except for special periods like WW I, WW II, and the Great Depression, it rose at a higher rate in the higher income levels than it did at the lower ones.  Why?  Because the lack of economic honesty and fairness in our system allows it to happen that way.  This is the simple economic reality of America, and THAT is what the Occupy Wall Street movement, or what is left of it, and its follow on should be railing against.

The target of their ire shouldn't be directed at the 1%, but instead at several sets of people who allowed many unworthy people to gain or improve upon that status.  This would be:

  1. The ones that destroyed the regulations, such as the Glass-Steagal Act which prevented mortgage banks from mixing with investment banks, which protected us from dishonest financial institutions and real estate brokers.
  2. The regulators, such as Alan Greenspan, who refused to use what regulatory authority he had available to him to prevent the debacle which took place from happening, or at least being as bad as it was.
  3. The rating agencies and their Principals who conspired with the financial institutions to provide false rating reports was well as any government oversight regulators which allowed this to happen
  4. The real estate institutions, agents, brokers, and appraisers who participated and facilitated the fraud against uneducated buyers by glossing over, hiding, or flat out lying about relevant facts concerning the acquisition
  5. The financial institutions, Principals, and employees who knowingly and willingly brokered mortgages to people without the wherewithal to repay, packaged untraceable financial packages with known toxic collateral in them, as well as the government agencies who allowed these financial instruments to exist in the first place.
In every case, laws and regulations designed to ensure honesty and fair play in our financial systems were eviscerated, the government people put in place to keep the players honest turned their backs, and the politicians who so naively believe the economic system will take care of itself if only left alone were put in charge only to be proved wrong again for about the 25th time.  THAT is what the fight must be against, not the people who are simply wealthy for most of them got there by more or less honest means and should not be turned into villains just because they are part of the 1%.

If you think so, you missed the point by a mile.  The point is HOW they got there, and now you are talking only about 10% of the 1% ... maybe ... who did it by really dishonest means.  In the world of economic inequality, there are only two things that need our attention:
  1. Reducing the opportunities for dishonest people to take advantage of honest people, and that is the job of government
  2. Mitigating the natural, inexorable tendency of capitalism to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich (that is a whole other discussion.  It can be done, and, if fact, has been done in the past while maintaining all of the good things about capitalism)  This also the job of government.