Thursday, March 31, 2011

Boots On The Ground

President Obama has insisted that no US ground troops will join in the Libyan campaign.  Now we learn that CIA operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks.  Apparently they are wearing sandals.
The New York Times reports that several weeks ago the President signed a “secret finding” authorizing the CIA to provide arms and other support to the Libyan opposition forces.  While the CIA has yet to provide the arms that the rebels sorely need they have been gathering intelligence on the whereabouts of Qaddafi’s forces and co-coordinating NATO coalition air strikes.  They have also been trying to determine the makeup of the rebel forces and gain some understanding as to where their ultimate loyalties may lie.  There are concerns that the rebels may include facets of Al Qaida and their loyalties may turn against the US once Qaddafi is defeated.
This is a muddled and dangerous mess that the President has led us into.  The President has involved us in a foreign civil war that is only growing more complicated, more dangerous and more expensive with each passing day.  And make no mistake this is America’s war.  The President has said Qaddafi must go.  When the President of the United States says Qaddafi must go…he WILL go either voluntarily or in a body bag.  Anything less will be seen as a defeat of this President and this country. You can call it a NATO operation all you want.  You can say that the US is handing off control of the operation to NATO forces.  But this is not Sarkozy or Cameron versus Qaddafi.  To the entire world this is a standoff between Obama and Qaddafi.  This is an American operation using primarily American missiles, warships, fighters and yes, boots on the ground; and it will continue to be an American operation until it is completed.
So when will the mission be completed?  The end game is unclear.  The President has said that we are there for humanitarian purposes.  But he also has clearly stated that Qaddafi must go.  What will happen when we leave?  We saw what happened in Afghanistan when we left to focus on Iraq.  Does anyone believe a similar carnage will not occur once we pull out of Afghanistan?   So we remove Qaddafi…then what.  There is the very real possibility that the rebels that we are assisting may be even worse than the current regime.  We know nothing about them yet we have spent over $600 million dollars thus far supporting them.  If we remove Qaddafi will the power vacuum that is sure to occur leave the country wide open for an Al Qaida stronghold?  After all the rebel capital of Benghazi has been a breeding ground for Al Qaida terrorists since 911.
The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that Qaddafi must go.  The only way to accomplish that goal is with military forces on the ground.  That has been clear since people began throwing rocks at each other centuries ago.  Right now our army consists of a ragtag group of rebels who are untrained and poorly armed.  They made great advances while the US was conducting the bombing raids.  Now that the air support has been withdrawn the rebels are in full retreat and have lost virtually all the ground they once held.  There are comical stories of the rebels mishandling rocket launchers and firing them backwards.  A hotel housing the western press corps was recently shelled by an eager but misguided rebel combatant.  Many of their current weapons date back to WWII.  The US is contemplating providing arms to the rebels.  But you can’t just airdrop a bunch of sophisticated weaponry out of a C-130 transport.  Proper use of these weapons requires extensive training.  That means the insertion of US military personnel to train and support the rebels.  And in what direction will those weapons be pointed once Qaddafi is removed?  Does any of this sound familiar?
The rebels are not capable of defeating Qaddafi’s forces.  Unless someone inside his inner circle does the deed the US marines will be tasked with his removal.  Once Qaddafi is gone then what?  The truth is we have no idea?
So what could the President have done differently?  His supporters argue that had he allowed Qaddafi to massacre tens of thousands innocents he would have been roundly criticized.  But innocents were massacred in Darfur and are currently being massacred in Syria, Tunisia and Bahrain but we do nothing.  Obama supporters say that by entering Libya we are sending a message that tyrannical behavior will not be tolerated by the world community.  This same rationale used to explain the removal of Saddam in Iraq.  But even as we leveled Bagdad; Mubarak continued to oppress his people in Egypt, as did Assad in Syria, Ahmadinejad in Iran etc. etc.
The fact is that the President erred when he authorized that first missile strike.  For once he gave that order he committed us to another war in another Muslim country without a clear objective, without an exit strategy and without a clear understanding of the consequences.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Education Is The Key to A Strong Foreign Policy

We live in a very dangerous and volatile world.  Much of our focus is on the events in foreign lands and how those events may affect our way of life.  We constantly talk about having a smart, strong, effective foreign policy that will protect our democracy and promote our economic growth.  We build a massive military to protect our shores and to advance our influence.  We provide billions in humanitarian aid to needy countries; in part because we genuinely care but also to demonstrate our benevolence.  We curry favor with thugs and dictators to assure the free flow of our life’s blood, oil.  We do all of these things and much, much more to solidify our place in an ever changing dangerous world.  But we seem to miss the key ingredient necessary to building and maintaining a strong comprehensive foreign policy.
The key to a strong foreign policy is a strong domestic policy centered on education.  If we want to continue to compete on the world stage and be the leader in technology, innovation, product development and science we have to effectively train our future leaders in those fields.
Our competitors around the world seem to grasp this concept.  While we are pouring billions into the development of new weapon systems they are pouring those funds into their schools.  While we borrow money and then spend that money defending the very countries that lent it to us our competitors are developing tomorrow’s leaders.  While we play the worlds’ policeman the world is passing us by. The United States was once the leader in education.  We now rank twenty first among developed countries.
So what are we doing about it?  Nothing.  At a time when we should be spending more on education the current congressional budget proposals want to cut education funding.  Governors across the nation are cutting teachers’ salaries, benefits and collective bargain rights.  Some would like to abolish the department of education in its entirety.
Yes, there are flaws in the system.  More money is needed.  But we cannot just throw money at the problem.  We have been doing that for years with little result.  The system needs to change.  The system needs to start focusing on the children not the teachers.  Bad teachers need to be removed not given tenure.  Good teachers need to be retained, encouraged and rewarded not laid off because they have the least seniority.  Teachers need to be graded.  When their children fail they fail and they need to suffer the consequences.  Teachers need to be paid a decent wage because what they do is the most important job there is.  But teachers need to be compensated on the basis of their effectiveness.  All teachers do not provide the same level of instruction and so all teachers should not be paid the same.
Our schools are crumbling…they need to be the best in the world.  Our text books, audio visual equipment and teaching aids are outdated…they need to be the best in the world.  And our teachers should not have to pay for them out of their own pockets.
Once our children are receiving the best education that we can provide; if they are still not able to grasp the material, they need to be held back until they do.  Passing them on to the next grade is not doing them any favors.    
If we have the intellect to develop the most advanced weapon systems in the world and land a man on the moon…if we can afford to impose a no fly zone in Libya and build hospitals and schools and milk treatment plants in Iraq…if we can  give an Egyptian autocrat $1.5 billion each year in bribe money and provide rich oil companies $45 billion a year in subsidies… then we should have the intellect and the money to  effectively prepare our children to compete in this world.  Our way of life depends on it.  What could possibly be more important?
The key to a strong foreign policy is to out think the competition not out muscle them.     

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The President's Speech...More Questions Than Answers

The President gave a speech last night in which he defended his decision to authorize military force in Libya.  He said a lot of things. 
He said that we entered Libya for humanitarian reasons; to stop the possible slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent civilians.  He said we did not undertake this action against Gadhafi alone but with a coalition of NATO partners.  He said that our commitment would be limited and that we were turning the lead in the operation over to NATO on Wednesday.  And he said Gadhafi must go but that removing him was not the purpose of this military action.
There were also a lot of things he didn’t say.
He did not use the term “war”.  He didn’t say what would happen if in fact Gadhafi did not go.  He did not explain the ultimate end game for our involvement.  He did not say if our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya meant that we would be going into Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain or Syria.  He did not spell out nor clarify our foreign policy in the region. And he did not address the cost.
The President left a number of questions unanswered.  Perhaps he just doesn’t know.  Perhaps he knows that we won’t like the answers.
In spite of the President’s unwillingness to address certain politically sensitive issues; here are some things that we can state with a great degree of certainty.
We ARE at war in Libya.  When you use your military to attack another country’s military in an effort to subvert the wishes of that country’s leadership…you are at war.  Disagree?  What would we call it if another country had attacked our military installations?  Does anyone remember Pearl Harbor?  Ask Gadhafi’s military forces as US Cruise missiles rain down on them if they are at war.
Gadhafi must and will be eliminated.  The problem is that no other country has agreed to take him so his leaving in exile is not an option.  Since he has no place to go he must be killed.  To leave him standing, even in some sort of neutered political position, would be victory for Gadhafi and a defeat of this President and this country.  The US will not let that happen.  If the rebels fail to remove him the US will.
We are using borrowed money to fight this war and every dollar we spend is a dollar we are not spending on improving the plight of our own citizens.  We are choosing to protect the citizens of Libya from a brutal dictator at expense of the needy here at home.  If we are as broke as our leaders say we are than there can be no other conclusion.
The United States does not have a definitive foreign policy in the Middle East.  The fact is that we are doing little more than playing wack-a-mole in the region.  We find ourselves supporting protests in several countries throughout the Middle East; even though these protests threaten to overthrow autocratic leaders that we have supported for decades.  The only thing definitive about our policy in the region is that we will do whatever is necessary to keep Middle Eastern oil flowing to our shores.
Our involvement in the region is not “limited” as the President might suggest.  We have been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade.  Iraq alone has cost us of 4,000 lives and over one trillion dollars.  We are now in Libya and we will be there until Gadhafi is gone and a new government is in place.  Recent events in Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and now Syria suggest that we will find ourselves entering those conflicts as well.  We are not nearing the end of our involvement in the Middle East.  This is just the beginning. 
The United States of America has for some reason assumed a self imposed narcissistic moral belief that we are the worlds’ policeman and as such we must involve ourselves in every conflict that exists in this world.  The world is more than happy to sit back and watch as we exhaust our blood and treasure to keep them safe while our own citizens struggle.  As long as we maintain this belief we will continue to find ourselves involved in lengthy conflicts that we cannot win and that we can ill afford. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Digging Through the Trash

The weekend is typically the time when Americans turn away from their daily routine and allow the more pleasant aspects of life to distract them from their everyday drudgery.  Consequently the weekend is also the time when stories less flattering to the government are released to the press with the hope that their content will fly under the radar of a distracted public.  This practice is referred to as “putting it out with the trash”.  This past weekend the “trash” contained a number of stories that offer a telling tale of the state of our society and our country.
The first is a story about how our failing economy and the rising cost of health care has negatively impacted the health of Americans.  The story reports that that the number of adults that skipped going to the doctor or did not renew prescriptions so that they could buy food or pay for housing rose 2 ½ times from 2005 to 2010.  In 2005 6 % of adults reported that someone in their household went without doctor’s care because they needed the money to pay for basic necessities.  That number rose to 16% in 2010.  Overall 25% of adults reported having trouble paying their medical bills or are not paying them at all.  Only 4% of adults age 65 and over are having trouble paying for their health care because they are receiving Medicare or Medicaid assistance.  The lack of preventative care leads to more serious health care issues and the resulting increase in health care costs.  But Republicans want to slash Medicare and Medicaid benefits. In spite of the President’s Affordable Health Care bill the cost and availability of health care in this country is still a monumental problem that is threatening the very existence of a large percentage of Americans.
The next story concerns America’s policy in the Middle East.  Last week we wrote that the President’s intervention into Libya might set a dangerous precedent for future military action.  Basically we questioned that if our intervention into Libya was for humanitarian reasons; to stop Gadhafi from slaughtering thousands of his countrymen; would we then be compelled to intervene if other autocratic regimes committed similar atrocities.  Apparently we may not have to wait too long to find out.  Over the weekend Syrian Security Forces ramped up the violence firing on protestors and using a heavy hand to quiet the rebellion.  Senator Joe Lieberman, who has never met a war he didn’t like, said he would support military intervention into Syria.  As noted in the previous story; we do not seem to have the will or the money to provide affordable health care for over 42 million needy American citizens but we have no problem spending billions of borrowed funds to protect the security of citizens in foreign countries.
Then there is the story about the scarcity of the drugs used to execute death row inmates.  It seems that there is a shortage of sodium thiopental.  Sodium thiopental is a sedative that is part of the three drug cocktail used by nearly thirty four states to administer executions.  The shortage is so bad and the increasing numbers of scheduled executions raising at such a rapid rate that many states are illegally buying the drugs from overseas suppliers.  The DEA is investigating.  The concern is that the quality of the overseas drugs may be inferior and that the administration of these drugs “may be ineffective” or “may cause extreme pain in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and inhuman punishment”.  Let’s set aside the fact that the death penalty itself is cruel and unusual punishment and has not proven to be an effective deterrent of violent crime.  The fact that our prison system, which is suppose to “rehabilitate and correct” the behavior of inmates, is now undertaking felonious behavior to procure illegal drugs to facilitate killing them is mind boggling.
The story of our increased usage of social media gives us pause.  It seems that the Oxford English Dictionary has approved the internet inspired expressions: OMG (O my God), LOL (Laugh Out Loud), BFF (Best Friends Forever) and IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).  They also approved the use of “Heart” as a verb and the equivalent of “to love” that is represented as a symbol in “I (Heart) you”.  Last but not least they approved our favorite, “Muffin Tops” as a phrase to denote an overweight individual whose belly fat overflows his or her belt line.  This causes us to wonder about the rapid evolution of the video aspects of social media, video conferencing, Skype etc.  If, as projected, telephones  become passé’ and we will have the ability to literally see everyone and anyone we are talking to; how will social media junkies be able to communicate when they are forced to look each other in the eye and express cogent thoughts using complete sentences.
Finally, the most shocking story was reported by Rolling Stone magazine on their website.  They report that there are “Killing Teams” operating in Afghanistan.  These are not sanctioned military operations but rogue patrols of American soldiers who murder innocent Afghan citizens and then mutilate and display the corpses for propaganda purposes.  The story details the questionable background of some of these troops and how the military is forced to reduce their recruiting standards to meet the needs of an overextended military.  Rolling Stone reports that the activities of the “Killing Teams” were well known throughout the Afghan theater and up through the command to at least the brigade level.  The report also includes several previously classified grisly photos taken by the “Killing Teams” themselves as they documented their handiwork.  Key to America’s success in Afghanistan is the political struggle war to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.  That very difficult job just became impossible.                           

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Putting Things In Perspective

Putting things in their proper perspective is always a good idea.  Let’s give it a shot.
The cost of our intervention into Libya reached $1 billion dollars yesterday.  Just think what we could do with an extra billion dollars back home….like NOT cutting home heating oil assistance for the elderly.
The President has said that our spearheading the Libyan mission will end “soon” after which we will hand things over to our “coalition partners”.  Secretary of Defense Gates said that could happen as soon as Saturday.  Let’s hope so because it has taken us only 6 days to spend that $1 billion dollars.  The meter is ticking.
If you think $1 billion is a lot of money…each year our government gives $46 billion in subsidies to the richest most profitable companies in the world…the oil companies.  Just think what we could do with an extra $46 billion dollars back home…like…  It makes your head hurt doesn’t it?
The United States end game in Libya seems unclear.  The President has said that we are there strictly as part of a humanitarian effort to protect the Libyan people.  He has also said that Gadhafi must go.  Which is it?  What happens if Gadhafi stays?  Colin Powell once advised that you never use military force unless you are absolutely clear as to the reason for going in and the trigger which will signal your withdrawal.  He also cautioned that once the United States commits to using military force in a country they are also committing to rebuilding that country after the war is over.  He gave that advice to George W. Bush prior to Bush declaring war on Iraq.  Bush didn’t listen.  Apparently neither did Obama.
George W. Bush was considered a wartime President; Wilson on steroids.  Then Senator Obama was often critical of Bush’s wartime policies during his Presidential campaign. Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize now President Obama has continued virtually every one of George Bush’s wartime policies.
When George Bush left office we were involved in a military conflict in two Muslim countries:  Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are now involved in a military conflict in four Muslim countries:  Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya.
Syrian security forces continued their crackdown on protestors; firing into the crowds and killing fifteen.  Watch out Syria…you could be Muslim country number five.  
In a recent unscientific poll 1500 people were asked to raise their hands if they were pleased with the direction in which the country is going.  No one raised their hand.  They were then asked which Republican could beat President Obama in the 2012 election.  No one raised their hand.
The latest Gallup poll shows the Presidents’ approval rating has dropped to 44%.  Seven days ago he was at 51%.  Six days ago we attacked Libya.  Translation…the American people don’t want us in Libya and if Obama wants to win re-election he should leave Libya…soon…with a win.         

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Coalition of One

The President has said that our involvement in Libya will be limited in time and scope.  He has promised that we will not take the lead in this fight leaving the heavy lifting to our coalition partners.  He has also said Gadhafi must go.  Given recent events in the Libyan theater his pronouncements may be wishful thinking.
In the past five days the United States has fired 167 Tomahawk Cruise missiles at a cost of $1.1 million each.  Britain has fired 12 and claims to be in danger of running out. 
During the pre-assault negotiations France demanded to be the first to attack Libyan targets.  Their demands designed to bolster French President Sarkozy’s war footing in the eyes of his countrymen.  The French fired the first shot, though prematurely, and have done little since. 
The Arab League gave their much needed approval for action against Gadhafi.  Once the fighting began they backed off.  Then they climbed back on board.  The Arab League has yet to fire one shot in this conflict.  Only Qatar has promised to provide military equipment and those armaments will not arrive until this weekend.
Secretary of Defense Gates said that going into Libya is a bad idea.  Secretary of State Clinton argued that we needed to go in for humanitarian purposes. The President has stated that Gadhafi must go. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen said that a scenario does exit where Gadhafi would remain in power.
And what if we are successful in removing Gadhafi?  The rebels that we claim to be assisting are entrenched in Benghazi.  Benghazi has long been a stronghold for the development of terrorists who have attacked US interests throughout the world.  If these rebels are successful in overthrowing the Gadhafi regime there is no certainty that the newly formed government will be friendly to the US.  
This is a muddled US military operation clear and simple.  Our coalition partners are either unwilling or incapable of maintaining an ongoing military campaign necessary to achieve the objective.  Our civilian and military leaders strongly disagree on what that objective is.  The rebels that we are clearing a path for seem incapable of walking down that path.  And if they prove victorious there are serious questions as to whether or not their new government will be friendly toward the US.
When will we learn that the world is more than willing to sit back and let the US spend its blood and treasure for political purposes?  And when will we learn that interfering in the politics of a Muslim country is always complicated and always has unknown and unintended consequences?          

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

America Distracted Again

If you watch television, read the newspapers or search the internet you are bombarded by stories about the conflict in Libya.  Even the disaster in Japan has now been pushed off to the side.  Chief among these stories is the ongoing debate about America’s military intervention in another foreign country.  There is little in the way of support for the President’s decision to order US military assets into the conflict.  And even those who support the decision think he waited too long to act.  But while the debate rages on about all things Libya there are two important stories that have flown under the media radar.
Those that support our intervention in Libya point out that the Arab League has signed off on our use of military force.  It is that “authorization” that has legitimized our attacking Libya and differentiates the Libyan situation from the oppression and violence currently being imposed by the governments in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Iran to name a few.  While the Arab League has been willing to offer their approval of military action they have thus far been unwilling to get their hands dirty.  Only Qatar has stepped up to provide actual military assets.  Once again, the American taxpayers are footing the bill to end oppression in the Middle East while neighboring Arab states sit on their hands.  This glaring disparity has gone virtually un-reported by the press.
The other item that is noticeably absent from today’s reporting is jobs.  Roughly 15% of Americans are either unemployed, underemployed or have stopped looking for a job.  Yet this huge problem and our governments’ futile efforts to improve the situation are nowhere to be found in the press.  American families are still struggling but yet our leaders and those that cover them are distracted by our involvement in another war that we cannot afford.  No doubt our elected leaders are happy to have the nation focusing in another direction.  It distracts the voters from realizing that they have not done one thing to improve the economic plight of the folks who elected them to do just that.
Once again we are distracted from our problems at home while we rush to assume our place as the world’s policeman.  I’m sure the Arab League is most appreciative.     

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who's Next...China?

The New York Times reports that the United States military ramped up its attacks on Libyan military targets yesterday.  American B-2 stealth bombers, F-16 and F-15 fighter jets and Harrier attack jets pummeled Libyan ground forces, air defenses and airfields.  These assaults coming on the heels of Saturday’s cruise missile attacks carried out by US gunships and submarines stationed off the Libyan coast.  Defense Secretary Gates told a press briefing that he expects the attacks to last “only a few days”.
Rebel forces that had been routed by pro Gadhafi military and air superiority were emboldened by the UN coalition efforts.  By late Sunday evening the rebels had pressed back almost forty miles to the crossroads city of Ajdabiya.
“Gadhafi must go”.  After this pronouncement by President Obama anything less is unacceptable.  If Gadhafi is permitted to remain in power, even in control of only part of the country, it will be viewed by America’s enemies as a sign of weakness and a defeat of this President.  Rest assured we will stay the course until Gadhafi is removed.
So why are we there?  The US government says that they are participating in these military actions “for humanitarian purposes because the Libyan government is slaughtering its own people and must be stopped.”  If that is in fact our governments’ reasoning then we have a lot to do.
If US foreign policy is based on our willingness to intervene whenever a foreign government is imposing violence on its people then there are several other countries that can expect a visit from our military in the near future.  Will Yemen be next or Bahrain?  What about Syria?  The Syrians have been held down under the heel of an oppressive government for ages.  What about China?  Maybe we should strike there first.  We have been patiently lecturing them about their oppression and civil rights violations for decades.  They don't seem to want to listen.  Maybe they should be next.
One would hope that our government would have learned something from our war on Iraq.  Saddam was another bad guy who had been slaughtering thousands upon thousands of his people.  You may recall that his violent and oppressive rule was one of a plethora of reasons given for our intervention.  Just look how well that turned out. 
And as for Secretary Gates’ pronouncement that our involvement would last for “only a few days”; one cannot help but recall George W. Bush standing  on that aircraft carrier beneath the “Mission Accomplished” banner and making the all too premature announcement that “military operations in Iraq had been completed”.  Make no mistake about it; our military involvement in Libya will not end quietly or quickly.
America is now involved in three separate wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya.  Our military is spread dangerously thin.  We are borrowing virtually every penny we spend on these military operations and our withdrawal from any of these countries will leave a vacuum of power that is arguably worse than it was before we entered.  There is no real end game and no definitive definition of winning.
So who’s next…

Friday, March 18, 2011

Donald "Trumps" Sheen

Sometimes you just need to laugh.  With all of the horrible things going on around the world we thought that it might be good for the soul to take the time for a little levity.
Over the past few weeks we watched with humor and sadness the tragedy that is Charlie Sheen.  We watched with great fascination as Charlie explained his Adonis DNA and his superstar status.  He told us how great he was and explained that our average minds could not contemplate the incredible capabilities of all things Charlie.  Watching Sheen was like viewing a terrible car accident.  You don’t want to look but you cannot bring yourself to look away.  His story is a tragic lesson on what happens when drug abuse meets self entitled materialism.
But when the humor of Charlie’s ranting morphed into sadness and our living rooms were filled with all the world’s difficulties… Donald Trump granted ABC an interview and spoke of his possible candidacy for President of the United States.
Not since Sarah Palin gave her self- serving remarks in the aftermath of theTuscon shootings have we witnessed such a display of self absorbed, self promoting narcissistic bull.  Make no mistake Trump does not lack for confidence.  It is almost embarrassing to watch as he lectures on how great it is to be “The Donald”.  Trump set the stage for the interview…his plush, lavishly appointed private jet.  He often spoke in the third person.  He spoke of his brilliance: “I’m a very smart guy.  I got good grades from the best school in the country, the Wharton school of Business”.  He spoke of his wealth:  “Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”  When asked if he could raise the estimated $600 million necessary for a campaign he said he would put it up himself.  When pressed on whether he had that much money he said “do I have $600 million? Yes!  I have much more.”  And he spoke of his lasting impact on people:  “if you interviewed people in my kindergarten class they would remember me.”  It was classic Trump.
At least Charlie Sheen could explain his behavior as the result of years of drug abuse.  Trump has no such excuse.  And he is seriously contemplating running for President.  Maybe it’s not so funny after all.    

Hello! Don't Foget The Jobs!

As we previously noted; the Republican Party campaigned on putting America back to work and reducing the size of America’s debt.  They promised to cut spending, reduce the size of government and reform the way Washington works.  Thus far there has been little evidence of their neither capability nor desire to do any of the above.  Republicans have been full of promises and rhetoric but weak on substance.
Since taking control of the House the Republicans have proposed three bills seeking to repeal a woman’s right to choose.  They have proposed to defund NPR and reduce home heating oil assistance for the elderly.  Oh, lest we forget, they withheld unemployment benefits for the needy as a bargaining chip to gain one trillion dollars in tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
But their primary campaign promise was to bring us “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”.  Thus far they have delivered zero, zero and zero.  In fact they have proposed cuts in domestic spending that will result in the loss of over 700,000 jobs.  When pressed on the matter House Leader Boehner said: “so be it”. They won’t even talk specifically about developing jobs.  Mr. Boehner now says that they are working to develop an “environment for growth” whatever that means.
The need to put America back to work has vanished from our political dialogue.  It has been lost in all the noise about Egypt and Libya, earthquakes and tsunami’s nuclear meltdowns and, oh yes, Charlie Sheen.
America is hurting.  For the first time in our history the average wage of the American worker has decreased over the past decade. The disparity in wealth between the wealthiest Americans and the middle class is greater than ever before.  And nobody is talking about it.
So where are the jobs?  While we appreciate all of the interest in current world events let us not forget that unemployment in the United States is hovering around 10%.  And both parties promise to do something about it.   

US Going To War Again

The UN passed a resolution yesterday authorizing the use of military forces to quell the violence in Libya.  The Obama administration no doubt gave a sigh of relief.  The President has been quite clear in his belief that Gadhafi must go.  Had the UN failed to deliver the political cover that US officials had quietly hoped for, the US would have been on their own in backing up the President’s rhetoric.  Make no mistake that even though this resolution has the backing of a majority of the world’s governments this will be a United States operation with United States lives on the line.  
The United States has apparently decided that it is within our purview to declare war and use military force against a country that has not posed any threat to our security.  Make no mistake about it, the implementation of a No Fly Zone and the insertion of US military ground forces, is an act of war on Libya.  Vietnam, Somalia and Iraq have already gone down in  history as failed acts of military intervention that resulted in incalculable losses in American blood and treasure.  Will Libya be next?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Libya, Japan...Where Do We Get The Money?

We don’t understand how this works!
It was reported yesterday that the Obama administration is contemplating ramping up our military involvement in Libya.  Talk of implementing a “No fly Zone” has now morphed into a serious discussion of inserting American troops onto Libyan soil.  The Gadhafi government has been slaughtering anyone who would dare to oppose the regime. The President has clearly and succinctly stated that the Gadhafi regime must go; and now the administration finds itself in the difficult position of backing up that pronouncement.
Then there is the matter of Japan.  The President has spoken to the Japanese government and personally offered whatever assistance necessary to help the Japanese people through this horrible tragedy.
The circumstances in Libya and Japan cry out for the assistance of all of mankind.  And for the for United States, the self proclaimed leader of the world,  to offer any assistance necessary to help those who are suffering is the right and compassionate thing to do.  Anyone watching the horrific images on television could not argue the point.  But our involvement in these two very different situations will be a massive undertaking and consequently poses one basic question.
How are we paying for this?  Make no mistake; we do not question the worthiness of the effort.  We just don’t understand how we can afford such benevolence in our current financial condition.
We have been told by our elected leaders that we are broke.   They tell us we are soon to become the next Greece; defaulting on our obligations and plunging into the economic abyss.  We are so broke that the Republicans have withheld unemployment benefits and recommended the reduction in funding for education, infrastructure, research and development and innovation projects.  We are so broke that they want to cut Medicare and Medicaid and privatize social security.  They even want to cut home heating oil assistance for the elderly.  If you can’t afford to keep your elderly from freezing to death than you certainly MUST be broke.
So if that is the case then one must ask; where is the money coming from to pay for what will be billions of dollars in assistance to Libya and Japan.  The fiscally responsible Republicans have been strangely quiet about the economic repercussions of these issues.  In fact Senators McCain and Liebermann have been saber rattling for us to move into Libya for quite some time.  The Democrats are no better.  Senator Kerry has been in lockstep with McCain.  Evidently we CAN afford another war…we just cannot afford to take care of our elderly.
It seems apparent that we will finance our involvement in Libya and Japan the same way we financed the extension of one trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest of our citizens; we’ll just borrow it from China.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Obama Weak On Gun Control

 In an recent opinion piece in Representative Gabrielle Gifford’s’ home town paper, The Arizona Star, the President penned his much awaited statement on gun control.  They might as well have saved the ink.
Speaking on the subject for only the second time during his Presidency, the President shied away from voicing any specific opinions on this controversial issue.  He proposed strengthening and enforcing the existing laws.  But he did not mention the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 or the proposed ban on high capacity ammunition magazines that would have outlawed the magazine used by Gifford’s assailant in the Tucson shooting.
The President seems to have lost his voice on the subject of gun control.  During his 2004 Senate campaign he said: “I think it is a scandal that this president (George W. Bush) did not force a renewal of this assault weapons ban.”  Many had hoped that the president would address the issue during his speech at the Tucson memorial service.  But the White house said to do so at such an emotional event would be too polarizing; and they promised that the president would make an important statement on the subject “in the near future.”  We are still waiting.
The President is preparing to run for a second term.  We acknowledge that proposing a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban would anger many of the independents that Obama needs for re-election.  After all getting elected is job one for any politician.  But favoring a ban on extended ammunition magazines is a position favored by all but the most radical right wing  Americans.  Even devoted gun advocate Dick Cheney said in a recent interview that a ban on extended magazines “is something that we could consider.”
The President has failed to demonstrate the courage to lead on this issue.  If his recent opinion piece is any indication of his views on the subject; then apparently he has no opinion.         

Rockin' In 2011

My wife and I took a road trip this weekend to visit some friends up north.  On the way home we found ourselves listening to “oldies” music from the 1960’s and 70’s.  While the melodies brought back memories of days gone by the lyrics of the protest songs were as pertinent today as they were back then. 

They spoke of unending wars, poverty, hunger and racism.  They spoke of profiling, ineffective government and the rise of the rich at the expense of the poor.  And they sang of hope, hope for a better tomorrow and the belief that “together we can make it happen.”

Obviously forty to fifty years has not been enough time to right the wrongs that were prevalent back in the day.   Let us hope that our children and our children’s children will be able to sing a different song.       

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

US Should Learn Form The Japanese Tragedy

While watching the incredible images of the devastation in Japan we can only reflect on how vulnerable we are.  For in spite of our penchant for elevating the honor and glory of mankind we are but pawns in the hands of Mother Nature.  Our hearts go out to the Japanese people.  We are saddened by their loss and humbled by their quiet resolve to overcome this tragedy.

The Japanese people have been struggling economically for the past decade.  Their financial crisis rivals anything that we have faced over the past three years.  It would be more than enough for them to continue to find their economic footing.  To then face the destruction brought on by a 9.0 earthquake is unfathomable.  Add to that the fear, helplessness and total devastation carried on the thirty foot waves of the resulting tsunami and you wonder how things could possibly get any worse.  Until they did; as four of the areas nuclear reactors exploded adding radioactive particulates to an already unimaginable situation.

As Americans are want to do; we immediately start to question how this tragedy affects us.  We cannot control Mother Nature.  “Stuff happens” as the saying goes.  So we focus on the nuclear reactors.  We question the expanding role of nuclear power as a source of energy.  Talking heads fill the airwaves with graphs and charts outlining the location of our nuclear reactors and the estimated affects of a nuclear meltdown.  Opponents of nuclear energy run around with their hair on fire, shrieking statistics of cancer, respiratory disease and other ailments brought on by radiation exposure.  Proponents of nuclear energy calmly note that we keep flying after planes crash, sailing after ships sink and mining after mines collapse.  The cacophony is as maddening as it is telling.

The fact is that there is absolutely no future planning going on in this country.  We are a reactionary country.  When a fire occurs we run head first into the burning building.  Afterwards we analyze the event to death and pass all measure of legislation to assure that it never happens again.  But we never seem to have the courage to tackle the problem before it happens; even when we know with all certainty that the tragedy will occur. 

We do have an energy crisis.  We do have a debt crisis.  We do have a deteriorating infrastructure and a failing education system.  Social Security will run out of money on a date certain.  But we do not have the will to make the tough decisions necessary to tackle these problems.  We would rather kick the can down the road. 

The crisis of the moment is the debt.  Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have offered a serious proposal to resolve the issue.  We have been content to sell our debt off to the Chinese…and the Japanese.  It would seem that the Japanese might not be in the position to buy a more of our debt for a while. 

The events in Japan will temporarily shift our focus to our energy crisis. Nuclear is dangerous and there is the problem with disposal of the waste.  Coal is plentiful but even clean coal pollutes the atmosphere.  We have more natural gas than the Saudi’s have oil; but extracting it pollutes the water table.  Solar and wind just don’t seem to excite us enough to warrant investment.  And then there is oil, the preferred drug for our addiction. We will do anything for it; even sacrifice our sons and daughters to guarantee its uninterrupted flow.

The fact is we do not have a comprehensive energy plan to deal with this crisis.  And this “crisis” has been going on since we laughed at Jimmy Carters’ energy conservation proposal in 1977.

The simple truth is that our current comprehensive energy plan is managed by the Department of Defense.  It consists of inserting United States military forces wherever necessary to insure that foreign oil continues to flow to our shores.  It is a costly, unsustainable plan that is ultimately destined to fail.  Let us hope that when that day comes we are able to exhibit the same courage and quiet resolve that the Japanese people have exhibited over these past few days.               

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Homeland Security Targets Islam

The Homeland Security Committee will begin conducting hearings tomorrow on the impact of radical Islam here in the United States. Chaired by New York Representative Peter King, the committee will investigate the increase in Islamic terrorist plots within our borders.  
Democrats are outraged.  Many are comparing these hearings to McCarthyism and the internment of Japanese US citizens during WW II.  House Republican leaders are not thrilled about the hearings either.  They fear the hearings will pose an inflammatory distraction as they try to focus Congress on the economy.
Chairman King will not be deterred.  He has been vocal in his beliefs that there is a growing threat from radical Islamic terrorist cells here in the US.  He has often said that America has too many mosques and that as many as 85% of Muslim leaders were not cooperating with authorities. Now, as Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, he can bring his views to forefront of the debate.
Is there anyone that believes that this will end well? 
Like it or not Muslims throughout the world will see these hearings as an attack on their religion.  Peace minded Muslims will watch these hearings play out on CSPAN and wonder if their radical members are right; that America hates all Muslims and profiles all of them in the same discriminatory fashion.    
And what’s next?  Phones are being wiretapped. Personal emails are being read.  Random pat downs by airport security profile persons of Middle Eastern decent.   “Persons of interest” are detained for months and years without due process.  Now we stage public hearings targeting their religion.   
Chairman King says that radical Islamic terrorists are recruiting new members with the intent of doing us harm.   He needs to broaden his prospective.  All cross this country White, Black, Asian and Hispanic gangs rain fear and violence on the weakest of society.  They recruit children as members.  They breed hatred and violence and a distain for authority.  Should we investigate and round up every gang member or everyone who fails to denounce gang violence or balks at helping the authorities?
Chairman King wants to investigate “persons who fail to denounce Islamic terrorism.  He means Muslims. He believes radical Islam must be investigated regardless of whose sensibilities are offended.  It should be noted that this is the same Peter King who publically supported the IRA.
These hearings are little more than a publicity stunt.  If you feel that strongly about the threat posed by radical Muslims then do the hard police work necessary to make your case and bring the guilty to justice.  Targeting and entire religion for the actions of a few is just wrong; particularly in a country boasts freedom of religion.
The only thing that these hearings will accomplish will be to incite more terrorist attacks and turn a billion Muslims against us.  Can’t you see Thursday’s lead story on Al Jazzier?  “US Homeland Security Targets Islam.”                

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Libya: We Have Seen This Movie Before

David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker penned an article in the New York Times titled; “Washington’s Role in Libya Grows Complex”.  In the article they go into great detail of the political and moral dilemma facing the President as he decides whether or not to insert the United States military into the Libyan conflict.  Nowhere in their article do they make the one salient point that seems so crystal clear to us.
This is not our war.  This is a civil war that bears no threat to our national security or our way of life.  It is none of our business.  And though it is heart wrenching to see the protestors reaching out for our assistance, we do not have the money or the available military assets to intervene.  We are broke and our military is stretched to the limit. 
Even if we had the funds and the available military forces it would still be wrong for us to intervene.  Contrary to the belief of many of our elected officials, it is not our divine provenance to insert ourselves into every conflict that erupts across the globe.  The unrest in Libya should be resolved by the Libyan people.  Any outside intervention should come from NATO, the Arab League or the African Union.
Why?  Because here is how the insertion of US military forces will play out.  The US will try to establish a “No Fly Zone” to prevent Gadhafi from massacring the protestors with his air force.  That will mean that the US military will bomb Libyan runways, communications sites and anti-aircraft installations.  Hundreds if not thousands of people will die in these air attacks.  The next day Al Jazzier will show the mutilated bodies along with the banner: “US Military Attacks another Muslim Nation Killing Innocent Muslim Women and Children.”  Video clips of these stories will be shown throughout the Arab world.  They will be used as tools to recruit more terrorists and embolden more suicide bombers.  Terrorist attacks against US interests will escalate.  Our military presence in the region will ramp up to ward off those attacks.  And a new Iraq/Afghanistan will be born.
We have seen this movie before.  The end is not pretty.        


Gingrich Lectures About Moral Issues

GOP Presidential candidates converged on the great state of Iowa yesterday where they made their case before the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.  There was a great deal of rhetoric about moral issues with many of the speakers making the case that balancing the federal budget was the morally right thing to do.  Newt Gingrich was one of the speakers addressing the moral issues of governing; comparing our current fiscal crises, and himself, with Abraham Lincoln and the Dred Scott decision.
Listening to Newt Gingrich comment on moral issues is surreal.  This is a man who is on his third wife having divorced his second wife while she lay in a hospital bed suffering with cancer.  This is a man who led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky while being involved in an extramarital affair himself.
Does this mean that he is not entitled to voice his opinion on the nation’s current fiscal crises?   No, it just means that his comments about moral issues should be viewed within the context of how he has lived his life.       

Monday, March 7, 2011

Prepping For Our Next War

There has been a lot of talk lately about the United States imposing a “No Fly Zone” over Libya in order to keep Gadhafi from bombing the protestors and massacring his citizens.  .  Defense Secretary Gates has responded urging caution.  He says such an exercise would require bombing Libyan runways, communications sites and anti-aircraft installations to keep Libyan forces from attacking US aircraft while they enforce the no fly restriction.
Senators Kerry, McCain and McConnell disagree.   They are pushing the White House to intervene in the Libyan crises.  They want the President to enforce a “No Fly Zone” over Libyan territory.  Senator McConnell would also like the President to offer assistance to the opposition forces in the form of advisors or equipment.
Senator Kerry has been the most vocal.   He feels that by simply bombing Libyan runways we would halt Gadhafi’s air operations against the protestors.  And he says that this would be a short operation that would not require our involvement for a long period of time.   He does not feel that such an operation would constitute a military intervention.  Senator McCain shares his views.
Are these people crazy?  Do they not realize that our military is already stretched to the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Do they not realize the toll that these multiple deployments are having on our troops and their families?  Do they not remember that World War I and the Viet Nam wars were suppose to be  “short wars” where our involvement started by sending in advisors and equipment?  Do they really believe that bombing Libyan runways, telecommunications sites and anti-aircraft installations would not constitute an unprovoked act of war by the United States? 
Perhaps someone should ask the Senators how they would feel if a foreign country decided to conduct a bombing run on JFK international.  Would the Senators consider that an act of war?
What is this sudden interest in Libya about?  Is this about protecting the protestors?   There are violent uprisings going on all over the world on a daily basis. Should we intervene in all of them?
Is this about oil?  Most of the oil from Libya is going to China.  Why would we endanger our pilots to protect oil flowing to China?
And why us?  Why must the United States always be the one to step in?  If there is a valid reason to intervene in Libya militarily then why can’t NATO or the UN take the lead?    
Senator McConnell is clueless.  Senators Kerry and McCain should know better.

Budget Cuts Roll Downhill

During the mid-term elections Republicans promised to cut deficit spending and increase jobs.  The voters tired of wasteful spending and bloated big government bought the Republicans’ sales pitch and swept them into office.  The voters are about to get what they asked for and they may not like it.
While Republican leaders have shied away from tackling entitlements and defense spending they have shown no hesitancy to go after domestic discretionary spending.  Even though this tactic has zero effect on balancing the budget it will have a drastic and sobering effect on those who voted Republicans into office.
Here is how this works.  The Republicans have proposed to cut some $61 billion dollars out of domestic discretionary spending including funding for: education, innovation, infrastructure, Planned Parenthood, NPR and heating oil assistance for the impoverished to name just a few.  Faced with a reduction in federal funds, state governments, who unlike the federal government must balance their budgets, are looking at huge budgetary cuts as well.  Many states rely on federal funding to stay afloat.  If federal funds are not available they have no choice but to cut services and programs.  State governments in turn provide a substantial portion of the funding local city and township governments need to operate; in some cases as much as 60% of their budget.  Without these state funds cuts in local police, fire, health services, road maintenance etc. are inevitable as are the massive layoffs of lower and middle income workers.
These cuts are not just restricted to public sector programs and jobs.  As local services are cut and layoffs occur people have less money to buy things.  A decrease in the demand for goods and services naturally means a reduction in private sector retail sales, manufacturing and service providers.  As their revenues decrease they are forced to lay off more folks.  And as the purchasing of goods and services decreases so does the corresponding sales tax revenue that is so important for state and local governments.  The circle continues.
We assume that the voters who asked for these austerity measures want to keep their jobs.  We assume that they want someone to respond when they dial 911.  We assume that they want their children to be safe, healthy and well educated.  But we have to find a way to pay for it.
Many people want to reduce the size of the federal government and allow the states to assume a larger role.  But if  you constantly cut federal taxes and federal funding then the financial burden must fall to the states as well.  Cut federal taxes?  Great idea; until you find yourself raising state taxes to make up the difference.  Get rid of the death tax?  Great idea; until you need to raise property taxes to make up the difference.  Dump the Department of education?  Great idea; until you need to float a school levy every other week to keep the doors open.    Somebody has to pay to put cops on the streets.  Somebody has to pay to educate the children, staff the hospitals, fix the potholes and plow the snow.   
Cutting domestic discretionary spending on the federal level affects the poor and middle class workers.  The resulting decrease in goods and services increases unemployment and damages an already struggling economy.  Ultimately, cutting federal spending hurts the very people that voted for the cuts.