Monday, September 29, 2014

Sometimes You Just Scratch Your Head And Wonder...

Sometimes you just scratch your head and wonder...

It is truly amazing how we as a society can go about our lives as if existing in a vacuum; our decisions often made without any concept of historical perspective or future ramifications.

Yesterday Speaker Boehner decided to speculate on the success of the president’s plan to defeat ISIS. The Speaker believes that air strikes alone will not defeat ISIS. He believes that in order to achieve that goal a sufficient number of ground forces will be required. He is doubtful that the local ground forces on which the president is counting will prove to be sufficient. In the end he believes that US ground forces will be required to achieve victory.

The Speaker’s is not alone. Neo-cons like McCain and Graham share his views. In fact a recent NBC NEWS/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 72% of Americans believe that US combat troops will eventually be sent into the region. Half of those polled would support a ground war if the pentagon said it was necessary.

Here is where we have a vacuum of perspective.

Boehner, McCain, Graham, the Neo-Cons and probably half of those who support military action in the region are self proclaimed fiscal conservatives. They would have us believe that they are deeply concerned about the manner in which way the government spends money and its effect on our financial security. According to a study released today by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the air war in Syria and Iraq has already cost tax payers nearly $1 billion dollars. By all accounts the US military has made 200 bombing runs against ISIS targets. That’s 200 sorties at a cost of $1 billion. We are told that we can expect this war against ISIS to last years. The First Gulf War in Kuwait lasted about a minute and a half. US forces made 116,000 bombing runs during that conflict. Do the math.

Boehner and his like minded constituents have already pronounced as “failed” the president’s plan to use local forces on the ground. They want American kids in the fight. According to the same Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ report…a force of 25,000 US ground forces backed by American air power would cost roughly $1.8 billion per month…$22 billion per year. Folks like Boehner keep telling us that we are broke. Where does this money come from?

And then there is the question of the strategy itself.

Our history is rife with the failed strategies of American military intervention. Iraq and Afghanistan are but the most recent examples. We have proven time and again that success in foreign affairs involves altering ideologies. You cannot change ideologies with bombs. Propped up despots and American bombs do not win hearts and minds. Only through diplomacy and compromise can you subdue the discontent that gives birth to terrorism. Yet here we are spending money we don’t have on a strategy that we have proven will not work.

These are weighty matters.

They should not be made in a vacuum.

Friday, September 26, 2014


You can’t make this stuff up!

UK lawmakers returned to work this morning; interrupting their vacation to vote on whether their country should join coalition forces in bombing ISIS targets in Iraq (the Brits will debate going into Syria at another time). I watched in fascination as the members of Parliament engaged in a spirited debate with their Prime Minister over this very important topic. No matter the outcome, the Brits will walk away united; the best interests of their constituents well served.

Contrast if you will this outstanding display of governance with incompetence displayed by our own elected officials.

There has been some speculation that congress might cut short its vacation to take up an vote authorizing the president to conduct air strikes against ISIS forces in Syria. Speaker Boehner put an end to that speculation and went one…no, two steps further:

“I have made it clear that the House and Congress itself should speak…Doing this with a whole group of members who are on their way out the door, I don’t think that is the right way to handle this…I would suggest to you that early next year, assuming that
we continue in this effort, there may be that discussion.”

Allow me to summarize! No vote before the elections. No vote after the elections. Maybe a vote after the new congress is sworn in next year. Maybe!!!

It gets worse!

While the Speaker and his cowardly caucus refuse to do their jobs, the Republican National Committee is working hard to get them re-elected. The RNC is running an interesting ad in all the contested districts. In the background we see scary looking ISIS fighters brandishing their weapons and blowing stuff up. In the foreground frightened Americans voice their concerns that ISIS is coming to our shores. The ad ends by telling the viewer that the only way to protect America and defeat the ISIS threat is to send Republicans to congress.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

This & That!

SPEECH - In what may have been the most important speech of his presidency; President Obama called on the world community to bring an end to the extremist ideologies that threaten world peace. He challenged all countries and all religions to reject those who ruled by bloodshed and fear. He defended the use of air strikes against ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq saying: “The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.” He saved his harshest language for ISIS; calling it “evil” and a “network of death.”

One year ago, in a speech to this same body, the president called for an end to a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now we have this same president urging the world to join him in an open ended war against terrorism. What a difference a year makes.

By all accounts the president’s remarks were well received. But actions speak louder than words. The true test will be borne out by the contributions of the Islamic community in the war against extremists. The president likes to refer to the “40 nations that have joined a broad coalition in the fight against extremists.” And he is correct that just a week ago 40 nations signed a public declaration to “do their share” in the fight against ISIS. However it is one thing to sign a piece of paper; it is quite something else to commit blood and treasure. The true test of the strength of coalition will come when ISIS eventually retaliates.

SILENT - While the chattering class has parsed every word of the president’s remarks the Fools on the Hill have remained largely silent. Here we have the president issuing an open ended declaration of war against terrorism. He punctuates his remarks with the authorization of air strikes against a country that has yet to fire a shot in our direction. Then he goes to the UN and asks the world community to join him in this endeavor. And congress says nothing! This is the same bunch that criticizes the amount of golf he plays and rips him for saluting his protection detail with a cup of coffee in his hand.

One would think that any patriotic elected leader would at least issue a statement supporting the president in his effort to fight terrorism. Not this bunch. No sense disturbing the waters before the election. Better to see if the president’s plan works and weigh in later. The president should call congress back into session to vote on air strikes in Syria. And he should do it now…before the election. But he won’t do that. Because Harry Reid and the president’s Democrat Party don’t want to touch this war vote anymore than the Republicans.

BEST STORY - The best story to come out of the air strikes in Syria involves Major Miriam Al Mansouri. Major Al Mansouri is the first female to join the United Arab Emirates air force. She graduated from the UAE air force academy in 2008 and now serves as a squadron commander. The 35 year old pilot served as the team leader of an F-16 squadron that led airstrikes against ISIS targets this past week. She is the first woman from an Arab nation to fly a combat mission. How cool is it that in a region where many countries will not allow a woman to drive…we have a female fighter pilot dropping bombs on those who would subjugate her gender.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It's Really Not That Complicated

If you follow this space you know that I have often expressed my concerns over the absence of any apparent long term planning in our Middle East strategy. We seem to be playing a game of whack-a-mole, reacting to terrorist uprisings as they occur, without any real sense of what happens when the latest game ends. Yesterday a series of events occurred that, at least for me, provided a glimpse into what the Middle East will look like for the foreseeable future.

The beheadings of two American citizens by ISIS terrorist brought about a sea change in American public opinion. A nation that wanted no part of another protracted war suddenly demanded revenge for the brutal murders. I believe that the Obama administration succumbed to that public pressure and outlined a strategy that would appease the masses while holding fast to a pledge that now hangs like a millstone around his neck. In the process he has set the country on a failed course to repeat history. Americans want revenge. Are they ready for perpetual war? I fear that's where we are headed.

The administration spent the last 24 hours blowing smoke at anyone who will listen about the successful air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and the “broad coalition of regional partners” that joined with American forces in the attacks. To its credit, the Obama administration WAS able to cobble together a coalition of five Middle East partners who DID participate at some level in the air strikes. Getting Middle Eastern nations to agree on anything is like herding cats. The administration is certainly entitled to trumpet that success. However the truth is that without American boots on the ground to provide real time intelligence we really don’t know how successful the attacks were. If the president keeps his promise of “no US combat troops on the ground" we may never fully understand with certainty conditions as they occur. I'm not advocating for a full on assault. I'm just questioning the talking parts of a successful mission. I'm not sure that we know what success in the Middle East looks like.

What we do know with certainty is that ISIS cannot be defeated without ground forces to take and hold territory. The administration says that those ground forces will be provided by a reconstituted Iraqi army, the “Free Syria army, and the newly trained and armed “moderate rebels” in the region. By all accounts it will take the better part of a year to whip these forces into fighting shape. The best that we can hope for in the interim is that these air strikes will hold ISIS at bay long enough for the training and arming to bear fruit.

Congress has authorized $500 million to arm and train the “moderate rebels.” The question is: Who are the moderate rebels? By all accounts there are over 100 splinter groups fighting in Syria today…ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Nusra Front and a host of other terrorist factions hell bent on killing Americans, among them. For the first time we are now hearing about a group called the Khorasan Group. This is a small organization of roughly 100 fighters that like ISIS, is a splinter group of al Qaeda. They are led by a 33 year old former bin Laden lieutenant who is said to be one of the trusted few who knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks. Khorasan’s stated mission is to recruit westerners to blow up airplanes. They are expert bomb makers. They have been developing and testing bombs made of materials that are unable to be detected by today’s security measures. US intelligence believed that Khorasan posed an eminent threat to national security; to the extent that suspected Khorasan command and control centers were targeted in Monday’s air strikes. We have yet to fully engage ISIS, “the most serious threat to the homeland that we have ever seen” and suddenly a new “eminent” threat, Khorasan, rears its head.

While the US and its new “partners” were blowing things up in yet another Middle Eastern country; some of our former “partners” were showing their true colors.
The US military threw out Saddam, secured Iraq, and set the stage for the democratic election of the Malaki government. Malaki promised to set aside sectarian differences and build a government that represented all the Iraqi people. But no sooner had US forces headed for home, Malaki scrubbed the plan. Instead of seeking compromise between Sunni and Shia factions he sought revenge. He removed the Sunni’s from his cabinet and drove them from leadership positions in the military. His actions turned a promising future sour. A vision of hope and compromise was replaced with anger and distrust. When ISIS stormed into Iraq the Iraqi army, consisting of primarily Sunni soldiers, threw down their arms and ran…their actions in no small part due to their hatred and distrust of the Malaki government. Many of the now ISIS military leaders are former Iraqi generals. The Obama administration is hopeful that the Iraqi army can be reconstituted under the new Iraqi government and form a key component in the ground war against ISIS. Hope springs eternal.

And then there is our old partner in Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai. The Karzai government was known more for its corruption and greed than anything else. For thirteen years Karzai lined his pockets with US billions while simultaneously criticizing the hand that fed him. Forced to resign by the very country that propped him up for over a decade; Karzai’s farewell address was vintage Karzai; expressing his bitterness at what he categorized as America’s betrayal of his country: “American did not want peace for Afghanistan because it had its own agendas and goals here.” He made no mention of the contributions made by the American people or US military forces; the 2,000 dead or the hundreds of billions spent. Instead he made it a point of thanking those countries that had given far less: ‘I want to thank those countries that genuinely supported us…Western countries have their own personal interest…Western countries and the United States have their own personal goals.” And he cautioned his successors to be wary of doing business with the US: “Both wise brothers should be very careful in maintaining their relationship with Western countries and the United States.”

I fear that our recent history in the Middle East portends what the future will bring. I hear all the talk of air strikes and partners but I hear nothing about what happens next. What happens after ISIS is defeated? What happens after the bombs stop falling? Who or what fills the power vacuum? The answers are Khorasan and Malaki and Karzai. Not them specifically but others just like them. Terrorist groups raised from birth to seek retribution for the carnage brought upon them by American bombs. Corrupt despots; loyal to their American benefactors for as long as their palms are greased.

For in the end we are not them. We are infidels…to be used as long as we are useful and then discarded. They want our help as long as we are helpful. And then they want us gone.

If you pose these questions to those in authority they will tell you “It’s complicated!”

It isn’t complicated at all. It’s clear for all to see. It’s all right there in the history books.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

America At War Again!

Last night the United States went to war in yet another Middle East country. This time it is Syria that is feeling the wrath of America’s military might, as bombs rain down on ISIS targets in the city of Raqqa. This president, who once promised to end our country’s “endless war footing”, has committed the country to another seemingly endless conflict.

To his credit the president understood that any hope of a long term positive outcome in the war against ISIS rested on his ability to cobble together a broad coalition of regional partners. Arabs fighting Arabs is the only way this works. His deliberative, some say professorial, effort toward building that coalition has been ridiculed by those who would prefer to bomb first and ask questions later. But the president’s patience appears to have borne fruit. Early reports indicate that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates joined US forces in last nights’ air strikes.

The timing of this military strike is noteworthy. Tomorrow the president will address the United Nations’ General Assembly. He will make the case that ISIS is a global threat to all peace loving people. His goal will be to broaden the coalition of the willing by convincing the doubters to join the cause. One hundred forty heads of state will be in attendance.

I for one am still skeptical of our involvement in what is a centuries old Sunni versus Shia civil war. ISIS is nothing more than another terrorist faction born from that civil unrest. The USA is nothing more than a lightning rod whose very name breeds anger among the Muslims. I'll say it again...Arabs fighting Arabs is the only way this works. ISIS will eventually fall. I expect another terrorist faction will rise up to take its’ place. Therefore the yet to be answered question is what happens next? What happens after ISIS is defeated. Until that riddle is solved, a victory over ISIS is but “one small step for mankind.”

I give credit to the president for building his coalition. A broad coalition of Arab partners is the key not only to defeating ISIS but to a long term peaceful solution in the region. I question how long the coalition will hold together. If the president stays true to his refusal to commit large numbers of US troops to the fight; then this will be a long drawn out process.

This much is certain; however long our Arab partners remain in the fight they will have demonstrated far more courage than our elected leaders on the Hill. While American soldiers and their Arab partners put their lives at risk, our fearless elected leaders hide in their districts; afraid to utter a sentence that might hurt their chances for re-election.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Yesterday our fearless leaders in congress demonstrated why they are the most ineffective and reviled bunch of elected officials in American history.

In a rare bi-partisan effort congress passed a short term funding bill to keep the federal government running. In a demonstration of extreme hypocrisy and cowardice they buried in the funding bill a resolution to support the president’s request to arm and train the Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS.

The intent of the subterfuge was to enable members to avoid going on the record with stand alone yes or no vote on the president’s plan to arm the Syrian rebels. The talking points argument to constituents would go something like this: “I had to vote to keep the government open and the essential services running. The authorization for arming the rebels was in the funding bill. I had no choice.”

It’s as if they think we’re stupid.

Keep in mind that this is the same spineless bunch that recently announced that they were postponing an up or down vote to go to war in Syria until after the elections.

Equally disturbing is the statement released by congress immediately after the vote.
In a display of tone deaf self interest…congress announced that effective immediately they were cancelling all previously scheduled days in session for September and October…and that they would not return to Washington until the week after the elections.

Over the past six years members of congress on both sides of the aisle have labeled this president an imperialist and ripped him for abusing his executive powers and savaging the constitution. Now, when the country is in a war footing…when 1600 American men and women have been sent to the region to fight what congress calls “a real threat to our national security…when 160 air strikes have already been conducted against that enemy and an unlimited number more are on the horizon…when the country is considering expanding the fight into yet another when the most important decision that a congress can make needs to be made…this congress turns its back and slinks out of town…giving tacit approval to the “imperial” president to go it alone.

I fear that we are on a path to making the same mistakes that we have made in the past. I fear that we are underestimating the resolve of the enemy just as we underestimated the resolve of the Viet Cong al Qaeda, and the Taliban. I fear that we are underestimating the resolve of the Iraqi army and the Syrian rebels just as we did the South Vietnamese Army and mujahedeen. I fear that we are on a path of escalation that history tells us will lead to another protracted and unwinnable war. If ever there was need for a meaningful debate that time is now. Yet our elected leaders are nowhere to be found.

I for one, do not want to hear another member of congress voice objection over the president’ use of his executive powers.

In my mind this latest act of self interest and cowardice has forfeited them that right.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

News You Can't Use

Freedom of the press is a good thing. The press peels back the onion and allows us to see past the superfluous surface of a story into the core realities of what’s really going on. Freedom of the press helps to define who we are as a nation and we are all the richer for it.

But sometimes I’d like to strangle them! Yesterday was one of those times.

By now you have probably heard that the country’s top military commander, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, opened the door for the possible use of US ground forces in the war against ISIS. In his testimony before congress about the president’s plan to defeat ISIS Dempsey said this:

“My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that it will prove true, but if it fails to be true and if there are threats to the United States, then of course I would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of US military ground forces.”

Dempsey’s comments are being portrayed in the media as being at odds with the president’s continued assertions that he would not allow the country to “get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.” The tone in the reporting is clear…the president is lying…in spite of statements to the contrary he is preparing to use US military forces against ISIS.

NEWS FLASH!!! This is the United States of America not a third world banana republic run a blood thirsty general. In this country the military leaders do not decide when and how to go to war…the civilians do. Our civilian president is the Commander-in-Chief…not General Dempsey. The general was doing his job; giving a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question. His job is to be prepared at all times to offer for the president’s consideration a host of military options to the numerous conflicts taking place around the world.

If you were to look in the good general’s brief case you would undoubtedly find briefing reports for military options in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, etc. etc. Generals make military recommendations. Presidents decide whether or not to implement them.

The president’s stated plan is to use a coalition of local armed forces to take the fight to ISIS. the jury is out as to whether or not his plan will succeed. If that coalition fails the president will have to decide if ISIS poses a significant enough threat to national security to order the US military back into the region. Dempsey said that if it comes to that he’ll have his recommendations ready. No kidding!

This is a non-news story and anybody with a brain should understand that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First Priority...Protect the Gravy Train

Now that congress is back in session they find themselves facing the rather unpleasant task of actually having to govern.

There are two weighty issues on the agenda that require action before congress adjourns once more for the mid-terms: passing a continuing resolution to fund the government and passing a measure to fund the president’s plan to take the fight to ISIS. Both issues could impact the results of the upcoming mid-terms. If there is one thing this congress shuns more than “governing” it is the prospect of taking a war vote on the eve of an election.

The government will run out of money on September 30. A vote to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running use to be a non-event. But last year House Republicans refused to support the funding measure unless a series of spending reductions were incorporated in the resolution. The ploy backfired. Blame for the resulting 16 day government shutdown landed squarely on the backs of the Republicans. The party’s poll numbers plunged and they have yet to fully recover. A government shutdown on the eve of the mid-terms is something nobody in congress wants to see. But a vote to keep the government running will anger the far right factions of the party. Republican lawmakers will face some hostile constituents when they return to their districts. Damned if they do…damned if they don’t.

Then there is the president’s plan to defeat ISIS. The White House has finally given up on the charade of calling the president’s plan a “counterterrorism strategy” and is now calling it what it is…a WAR against ISIS. The president’s plan calls in part for US air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and a $500 million dollar appropriation to fund the arming and training of rebel groups in Syria that are fighting ISIS and the Assad regime.

The president’s strategy has received mixed reviews from both congress and the public. 62% of Americans support the president’s plan to take the fight to ISIS while 68% of Americans don’t think it will work. Neo-cons on the Hill don’t believe the president is doing enough while others fear that the weapons will end up in the hands of al Qaeda or other terrorist factions that threaten American interests. Most members would like to see the president find a way to act on his own and avoid going on the record altogether. An up or down “war vote” on the eve of an election could have serious consequences on one's long term employment prospects.

While our elected officials may be cowards they are not stupid. It appears that congress will put off until after the election a vote authorizing direct US military action in Syria. Whew!

That leaves that pesky vote on the $500 million to fund the Syrian rebels. Apparently House and Senate leadership intends to tie a measure to fund the Syrian rebels to the continuing resolution to fund the entire government. They believe that will give their members cover when they return home to their districts. The vote is no longer an up or down vote on going to war…it is a vote to keep the government running and government services flowing without interruption. See…easy!

The House is expected to take up the measure on Wednesday with the Senate to follow shortly thereafter.

Congress can be very creative when it comes to protecting their gravy train.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hillary...too cute by half!

If you are a Democrat giving serious consideration to running for the presidency then you have the Harkin Steak Fry circled on your calendar.

Once a local fundraiser to fill Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s political war chest, the Iowa Steak Fry has evolved into a signature political event with big time national exposure. Democratic hopefuls seeking national attention find large enthusiastic crowds eagerly waiting to press the flesh. If you are running then the Harkin Steak Fry is the place to be and be seen.

So it comes as no surprise that Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency, showed up at this weekend’s event in Indianola, Iowa. Not only did Hillary show up at the National Balloon Classic Balloon Field where the event was being held…she brought with her arguably the most popular politician in the history of the Democratic Party…husband Bill.

In 2007 Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for the presidency at the steak fry. She had not returned to Iowa since suffering a bitter defeat at the hands of Barak Obama in the January 2008 Iowa Caususes. Speculation was high that she would announce her expected run at this years’ event. After all Indianola, Iowa is generally not the type of place the Clinton’s hang out.

“Hello Iowa! I’m baaaack!” She exclaimed to raucous cheers from an enthusiastic audience.

‘It’s true, I’m thinking about it. (More cheers)

“For today that’s not why I’m here.” (Groans)

“I’m her for the steak.”

Over the course of the past six months Clinton has been asked thousands of times if she intends to run for the White House. Each time she responds with some little evasive quip designed to do nothing more than stoke the speculation. At a time when Clinton could be providing informed commentary…offering her insights on the weighty issues of our time…Clinton chooses to say nothing. She makes a host of speeches to fund her campaign machine…but says nothing. She publishes a book…and says nothing. Time and time again she is provided the opportunity to present new ideas on education, climate change, and poverty and income equality and yet she says nothing. As the former Secretary of State she is uniquely qualified to share her insight on the pressing matters of foreign policy. And yet again she says nothing. Always calculating…always political. Too cute by half! Behavior like this is why people hate politics.

We live in very complex and dangerous times. We need leaders who have the courage to speak the truth about these very politically charged issues. We don’t have time for political gamesmanship.

If Hillary intends to run then she should tell us. And then give us her insight on the issues.

If she is not going to run then say so. And then get the hell out of the way.

Friday, September 12, 2014

They Must Think We're Stupid!

The White House and its surrogates seem to be hell bent on deflecting any characterization of the president’s ISIS strategy as a “war.”

In his recent address to the American people the president never uttered the word “war; “preferring to label his plan to defeat ISIS as a “strategy.” In subsequent press briefings White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has been resolute in deflecting any attempts by the media to label the president’s military plan as a “war.” Even Secretary of State John Kerry, when recently pressed about his efforts to bring together a broad coalition of regional partners to fight ISIS, made it a point to correct any misconception of the president’s “strategy”: “If someone wants to think about it as being a war with ISIS they can do so, but the fact is that it is a major counterterrorism operation that will have many different parts. I don’t think people need to get into war fever on this.”

Just so were clear. From the administration’s perspective it is acceptable to label the use of drones to kill al Qaeda operatives…and often innocent civilians…as part of the president’s “WAR on Terror.” But authorizing the past five weeks of 150 bombing runs at the cost of $500 million against ISIS troops…calling on Americans and congress to support the expansion of these bombing runs against ISIS targets into another country without receiving that nation’s authorization…mobilizing a broad coalition of regional partners to provide ground support…and inserting 1500 US military personnel to co-ordinate the whole operation…is not “war” but a “major counterterrorism operation.”

Why all the obfuscation? It’s simple…politics.

The White House does not want to call its latest Middle East misadventure a ‘war” because that would require congressional approval. The president, while happy to receive congressional backing for his “strategy” does not want to formally ask for congressional approval because he is afraid that he might not get it. No money…no war…uh strategy. As leader of the Democrat Party there are always elections to consider. No one in the president’s party wants to be faced with a “war” vote in an election year. Heaven forbid a vulnerable Democrat candidate might have to actually govern on the eve of an election. Being on the wrong side of a war vote can have a disastrous affect on one’s political career. Just ask Hillary Clinton. And there is always one’s legacy to consider. This president campaigned as an anti-war candidate…twice. Perish the thought that history might judge him as little more than a facilitator of Bush’s folly.

The hypocrisy in congress is cloaked in an equally bright shade of yellow.
For the past six years congress, led by House Republicans, has railed against this “imperial presidents’ abuse of his executive powers.” The Speaker of the House even filed suit against the president for extending the deadline on one component of the Affordable Care Act…an extension the Speaker would have applauded had the president been a Republican. Yet for months they have criticized the president for not doing more to blunt the ISIS threat. Apparently blowing stuff up without seeking congressional approval is just fine. Now they have the president grudgingly heeding their call; publically announcing a massive military operation against ISIS. And where is congress? Silent! Instead of backing their bluster by governing, they tuck tail and hide; afraid to go on the record during an election year.

In a rare moment of political honesty Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) summed it up: It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it (the president’s strategy) would play out in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise him (Obama) if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”

The United States Congress…a true profile in courage.

The White House and congress continue to play their political games. The fact is bombs are dropping, people are shooting, and American military personnel are being placed in harm’s way. Call it what you will…this is war. We have been at war since 9/11.

Washington is playing political word games while American lives are at risk. Technically, until congress declares it as such…this plan to defeat ISIS is NOT a “war.’ Neither was Vietnam. Ask the families of the 50,000 dead how they feel about the distinction.

Our fearless leaders in Washington!

They must thing we’re stupid

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I do not feel good about this...

Last night, in a prime time address to the American people, the president outlined his strategy for defeating the terrorist group known as ISIS. He spoke of coalitions and airstrikes and military advisors. He called his plan a “counterterrorism strategy;” never once uttering the word “war.” In fact he made a point of assuring the American people that this “strategy” would be altogether different from the “wars” that Americans had been witnessing in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past thirteen years.

Afterward I watched a host of pundits and politicians weigh in on the president’s remarks. Their impressions were as one would expect…criticism from the right…accolades from the left. The most interesting, substantive and revealing comments came from war correspondences imbedded in Iraq and Syria. Perhaps I feel that way because their impressions reflected my own.

If you follow this space you know that yesterday I posted a series of questions that I was looking for the president to address in his speech. Here are those questions and my opinion as to how they were answered.

- What is the goal? The president said quite clearly that his goal was to “degrade and destroy ISIS.”

- What is the strategy? The president said the United States would lead a broad coalition of regional partners in taking the fight to ISIS. He said that the US would conduct air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and that he had NOT ruled out extending those air strikes into Syria. The president made it clear that his strategy did NOT include American ground forces. He expects ground support to come from a reorganized Iraqi army under the authority of a newly installed Iraqi government. He sees additional ground support coming from more moderate rebel factions in Syria. He said that the US would also be involved in training and supplying the Iraqi army and moderate rebel forces in Syria and that he was sending an additional 475 US military advisors into the region to assist in that effort. He said that the US would continue to provide humanitarian assistance in the region as needed.

- Who are the players? Other than the Iraqi army and the moderate rebel factions in Syria the president did not name the members of his “broad coalition” nor did he outline the part they would play in his strategy.

- What is the exit strategy? Yesterday I said that for me this was the most important question of all. What happens next? The president made no mention of what he believes the future holds once ISIS is defeated.

- Will the president call on Congress to support his strategy against ISIS? The president made it clear that he believes that he has the authority to execute his strategy without the support of congress. But he said that he would welcome congressional support because he believes that America’s interests are best served when the country is unified in its efforts. He did ask congress to provide the additional resources ($) to train the Iraqi army and Syrian rebels.

I don’t feel good about this!

First of all let me say that I was disheartened to hear the president make the case for a military strategy that for me was little more than a repeat of failed campaigns of years gone by. “Strategic air strikes” supported by “local armies” trained by a handful of “US military advisors” who are not…repeat…“not combat troops.” Pull out any historical documentation of the early days of the Vietnam War and tell me you don’t get a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach.

I was also disheartened to hear the president parse his words to carefully avoid calling this “strategy” what it really is…a war. We are dropping bombs on targets in foreign countries…killing enemy combatants and most likely innocent civilians. American pilots are risking their lives in flying those missions. The “military advisors” are operating in a war zone. At some point one of those planes will be shot down. And American pilot will be captured. A “military advisor” will be killed. The result will be an escalation in the conflict. Calling this a “counterterrorism strategy” is disingenuous. This is war! Let’s call it what is.

The president says that his goal is to degrade and eventually destroy ISIS. Fair enough. By every account that I have read this cannot be done without destroying ISIS’ command and control centers in Syria. And ISIS cannot be destroyed without the use of ground forces to support the air strikes. The president said that he would not shy away from expanding the US air strikes against targets in Syria. He did NOT say that he was authorizing them. Why the reluctance?

The president said that his strategy relied on ground forces to support the air strikes. The ground support he cited is supposed to come from the Iraqi army and moderate rebels in Syria. We have already spent $25 billion dollars to arm and train the Iraqi army only to see them throw down their arms and run at the first confrontation with ISIS. What is different now? According to imbedded correspondents, many local villagers have sided with ISIS because they hate or are afraid of the Iraqi army. It is true that moderate rebels in Syria have battled against ISIS. But they are no friend of the United States. Correspondents in the Syria confirm that America journalist David Sotlof was imbedded with the “more moderate Syrian rebels” when he was sold to ISIS. ISIS later beheaded Sotlof and posted his murder on YouTube.

Most troubling of all was the absence of an exit strategy. What happens the day after ISIS is defeated. Do we pull up stakes and leave? History tells us that if we pull out another ISIS like terrorist group will takes its place. History also tells us that re-entering the region without an exit strategy is a very, very bad idea. If the president’s strategy includes an exit plan he didn’t bother to share it last night.

It appears to me that the public beheadings of two American journalists has caused a seismic shift in American foreign policy in the Middle East. The suggested plan has all the underpinnings of failed plans that have come before.

I do not feel good about this. Not good at all!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Call to Arms.

The president will address the nation tonight when he is expected to lay out his strategy for defeating ISIS. The president will make the case that ISIS poses a serious threat to American national security that needs to be addressed.

There are those that believe that the president is late in coming to this conclusion. Popular opinion supports that analysis. The president comes to the podium tonight weighted with some awful polling numbers. His overall approval rating is 40%. Less than half of the country supports his foreign policy.

It is somewhat surprising that the country seems to be way ahead of the president when it comes to dealing with ISIS. 75% of the people believe that ISIS poses a threat to national security and 61% believe that the president should take military action against the militants. A nation once eager to leave Iraq behind now appears eager to take the fight to ISIS.

This mood swing is no doubt caused to some degree by the published videos of the barbaric beheadings of two American journalists by ISIS militants. 94% of those polled were aware of the journalists’ fate. In terms of awareness of a specific event…that 94% is the highest number every recorded in polling history.

Keeping the country safe is the president’s first priority. Sending American men and women into battle is the most difficult decision that a president has to make. It is easy to beat the war drum when you are not the one making that decision. I believe that military action should only be used as a measure of last resort. If slow and thoughtful deliberation is what it takes to exhaust all other options and unify a nation in support of military action; then I’m all for it. We have all too often witnessed the failed results of knee jerk foreign policy. I for one support the president’s thoughtful approach.

As I watch the president tonight I’ll be looking for the answers to these important questions:

- What is the goal? What do we hope to accomplish?

- What is the strategy? I’m not looking for the president to give away military secrets but I want to know in some specific terms how we intend to accomplish our goal.

- Who are the players? I’m tired of the definition of “American Leadership” being “America Goes It Alone.” Are we going it alone again, or has the president put together a coalition of nations to join us in the fight against ISIS? Who are the participants and what roles will they play. I expect that the president will say that our participation will focus on bombing runs against key military command and control centers but will NOT involve US ground troops. That would be a lie. You don’t order bombing runs without first inserting reconnaissance troops to scout out the targeted areas and get a sense of the situation on the ground. There are already some 600+ American “military advisors” in the region. These are CIA black-ops personnel who have been in theater for weeks; providing the president and his military advisors with the critical intelligence they need to develop their strategies. We already have boots on the ground and you can be certain that more will be added in the future.

- What is our exit strategy? This may be the most important question of all. ISIS consists of 15-17,000 well armed troops. But they are no match for the US military. If the president were to give the order at the conclusion of tonight’s speech, ISIS would be nothing more than a bad memory by the end of this weekend. A military victory over ISIS is a foregone conclusion. The more important question is what happens after ISIS is defeated. While we are very proficient at blowing things up, our track record in handling the aftermath is horrific. It took but a minute to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan only to have them return as we were pulling up stakes. We brought down an evil dictator in Iraq only to have an even more dangerous civil war fill the power vacuum that we left behind. We brought justice to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, eliminated al Qaeda’s leadership and scattered the remnants throughout the region; only to have even an even more dangerous group like ISIS take al Qaeda’s place. So for me perhaps the most important thing that I want to learn tonight is what steps the president intends to take after ISIS is defeated.

- Will the president call on congress to support his strategy against ISIS? The White House says that the president does not need congressional support to expand current military operations against ISIS. Mitch McConnell says that “the president should seek congressional support whether he believes he needs it or not.” For perhaps the first time in my life I agree with McConnell. It’s time for our fearless elected leaders to leave the safety of the sidelines and take a stand. If ISIS is a threat to our national security to the extent that the president is going to send additional American military personnel in harm’s way, expand our military operations into another sovereign country (Syria) and join forces with an international coalition; then congress should state for the record its support or opposition to the president’s position. The country is engaging in an act of war. I’ll be curious to see if the president calls for their support.
onight the president will give the most important speech that any president can give. Asking a nation to follow his call to arms is the most serious business.

I’ll be watching.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Money, Power and Celebrity Rule

It is impossible to turn on the news, surf the internet or pick up a newspaper without being overwhelmed by the saga of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
In the event you have been living in a cave, here is the Cliff’s Notes version.

Security video surfaces showing Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice hauling the lifeless body of his then fiancé out of a public elevator and dropping her to the floor like a sack of flour. Rice admits to striking his fiancé. Rice and his fiancé are charged with assault. Rice pleads out. The New Jersey state prosecutor gives Rice a slap on the wrist with no jail time. His fiancé apologizes for her part in the incident. The NFL suspends Rice for two games and fines him. Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh addresses the media and says in part: “It’s no big deal. We are moving on.”

Yesterday the rest of the security video is made public. This portion of the video is from inside the elevator. It shows Rice knocking his fiancé to the ground with a vicious punch. The NFL, claiming to have never before seen the portion of the video showing the actual punch; suspends Rice indefinitely. The Ravens immediately cut Rice from the team. Ravens’ coach Harbaugh says that seeing the rest of the video: “…changes things a little bit.”

The outrage against the NFL is palpable. How could the NFL suspend Rice for only two games for assaulting his fiancé when they routinely suspend its players for four games for smoking pot? How does a powerful organization like the NFL, that has eyes everywhere and contacts deep within law enforcement, claim to have not seen this video? And having seen the entire video, how does the NFL in good conscience issue their original ruling of a two game suspension? Critics call for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to resign or be fired.

The outrage is justified…yet at the same time misplaced. The NFL and its misogynistic attitudes toward women is not the issue. The problem goes much deeper than that. This is not just about violence against women. It is about a culture of violence that is rampant in our country. And it is about a societal tumor that values money, power and celebrity above all else…even to the extent of dismissing a violent act against a defenseless person.

This isn’t just a case of a powerful organization turning a blind eye toward violence against women. It is a case of rich and powerful people protecting at all costs their multi-billion dollar institution…their national brand. It is a case of the justice system letting the perpetrator of a violent crime off with a slap on the wrist because of his celebrity status in the local community. It is a sad case of the importance that money, power and celerity play in our society.

I have written many times before that we are a violent society. The US of A is the murder capital of the world. Mass shootings occur with such frequency that we are numb to them. Assault, rape, sexual abuse, child molestation and domestic violence are commonplace. Faceless victims fall prey to the violence every day; their stories not even a blip on the national conscience. But let the crime involve those with money, celebrity and power and our moral outrage knows no bounds.

Lost in the frenzy over the NFL’s insensitive handling Ray Rice’s deplorable actions is a story being quietly played out in State College, Pa.

While everyone was screaming at the NFL the NCAA announced that it was reducing previous sanctions against Penn State for the university’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky incident.

Sandusky, a long time assistant football coach, was found guilty on 52 counts of child molestation involving at least eight underage boys. Sandusky used his celebrity status to attract impressionable young men into his lair. The grand jury found that a number of high ranking school officials including the university president, athletic director and head football coach knew about the abuse and were guilty of covering up the incidents and failing to inform the authorities. PSU officials turned a blind eye in order to protect the institution, the legacy, the cash cow; even at the expense of ruining the lives of eight young men. Local authorities, even after hearing complaints on the abuse from multiple sources, failed to act; showing deference to the celebrity status of the football program, its iconic head coach and the unwitting popularity of the perpetrator. Two years later all is forgiven...sanctions lifted. "It's not theat big of a deal."

I am not condoning the actions of Ray Rice or the NFL. Ray Rice should be sitting in a jail cell like any other violent perpetrator. Roger Goodell should step down or be fired. His response to the initial video exemplifies the lack of understanding and sensitivity that permeates the league. Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh should be suspended for the same reason. But these corrective measures will do little to cure the illness that resides at the very core of who we are as a country.

Ray Rice’s actions and the NFL’s response offend our sensibilities. Like Jerry Sandusky and Penn State before them they will be a part of our national conversation for the days and weeks to come.

And then… what?

What will we do when the latest flames of fury grow cold? Will we strive to curb the violence that is so much a part of our culture? Will we strive to lessen the importance of money, power and celebrity when it comes to things that really matter?

I think you know the answer.

Monday, September 8, 2014

So much to little time!

The most ineffective congress in American history returns to the Capitol today where they will spend the next three weeks engaging in their unique version of “conducting the people’s business.” (That’s right; they will be in session for only three weeks.) Three weeks hence they will return to their districts until after the elections…during which time they will try to convince their constituents that their inept leadership warrants another term in office. They have a lot on their plate.

The most pressing issue facing congress will be deciding what to do about ISIS. Appearing on Sunday’s Meet the Press, an engaged President Obama informed viewers that he will lay out his strategy for defeating ISIS in a Wednesday address to the nation. The president made it clear that his intent is to explain his strategy to the American people, garner their support for his actions and to call upon congress to go on record in a united show of support of his efforts to defeat this latest terrorist threat.

We have already heard the war mongering rhetoric from a handful of the usual neo-con suspects. Even a small group of Democrats have weighed in; calling on the president to be more aggressive in his approach to ISIS. But if you listen closely you will notice that a vast majority of our fearless elected officials want no part of an up or down vote on military action. Far better politically to sit quietly on the sidelines and Monday-morning-quarterback after the dust has settled.

You see political careers have been inexorably altered on the basis of a “yea” or “nay” vote to send our troops into battle. Not too long ago an unknown junior senator from Illinois named Barak Obama voted against the war in Iraq. The presumptive Democrat nominee for the presidency, Hillary Rodham Clinton, voted for the war. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is easy to find a microphone and question the president’s leadership. It is far more difficult to go on record for sending our children into harms’ way. The president wants congress on the record.

One of the topics congress will not have to address is immigration reform. The president made it clear that he is breaking his promise to enact immigration reform measures via executive order by summer’s end saying that he will delay taking action until after the elections. Apparently the president is bowing to political pressure from vulnerable Democrat senator’s who fear their election prospects will be negatively impacted by any additional executive orders by this “imperialist” president.

The president denied charges that his change of heart was little more than pure partisan politics saying: “What I’m saying is that I‘m going to act (after the elections) because it’s the right thing for the country. But it’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we’ve done on unaccompanied children and why it’s necessary.”

I don’t know what that means. What I do know is that everything that needs to be said about immigration reform has been said over the past six years. There is nothing more to be learned between today and the day after the ballots are cast.

This president was elected in part because he promised to change the self-serving culture in Washington that fails to put the peoples’ best interests first. This president was elected in part because he promised Hispanics and other minorities that he would repair the divisive immigration laws that bring so much grief to their communities.

The president’s decision NOT to act is nothing more than politics as usual. His statement is clear…the self serving interests of a few challenged Democrat politicians outweighs the interests of the minority communities that the president vowed to protect.

Lost in all the noise about ISIS and immigration reform is the fact that the government will run out of money on September 30. The government will be forced to shut down if congress fails to agree on a continuing resolution to keep it funded.
We’ve seen this movie before. It doesn’t end well.

Three weeks to govern.

So much to do…so little time!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Buy a Burger! Support a Worker!

“All across the country right now there is a national movement going on made up of fast –food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity. There’s no denying a simple truth. America deserves a raise.”

The president made these remarks in a Labor Day speech before heading off to the NATO summit in Wales. His comments are part of a White House initiative to push Congress to pass a Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10.
Today fast food workers in 150 cities across the country will march in support of increasing the minimum wage. The “Fight for $15” campaign is seeking a $15 minimum wage and union representation.

In spite of the groundswell of support to increase the minimum wage, Republicans stand in opposition. Republicans say that small businesses are the engine that drives the economy by creating jobs. They believe that increasing the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, increase unemployment and weaken the economy.

Over the past 30 years the American economy has been rigged to benefit the business community. Corporations have received the benefits of the Bush Tax Cuts, tax loopholes, tax abatements and government subsidies. As a result corporate profits have soared; the DOW routinely posting record highs. Since 1980 the nation’s productivity is up 31% and its GDP has grown by 29%. Corporate executives pull in huge seven figure paychecks. Even incompetent chief executives who run their companies into the ground walk away with multi-million dollar golden parachutes.

Meanwhile hourly wages for everyday Americans remain flat…rising only 15 cents in the past 30 years. And as if refusing to pay a livable wage isn’t bad enough; businesses exacerbate the situation by cutting employees’ hours in order to avoid paying for their benefits.

History tells us that one of the greatest threats to the survival of our republic is the ever widening gap in income inequality. As the economic plight of the masses deteriorates the climate for unrest and upheaval grows exponentially. Economic equity breeds stability. A flourishing stable economy encourages an atmosphere of creativity and advancement in science, industry and the arts. None of that is possible when the vast majority of the people cannot make ends meet no matter how many jobs they work. Paying employees a livable wage is the fastest way to generating the income equality necessary for a health, vibrant, growing society.

The argument that increasing the minimum wage will harm the business community and increase unemployment is pure partisan nonsense. The Republican mantra that small businesses create jobs is false. Small businesses do not create jobs. Demand creates jobs. You can make the best whatchamacallit in the world. But if people can’t afford it they are not going to come into your shop to buy it. Find ways to put money in peoples’ pockets and you will see more of them in your store searching for your wonderful whatchamacallit. More money = more demand = more employees needed to service the demand.

The notion that increasing the minimum wage increases the unemployment rate is also false. Studies show (and there are several to choose from) that the unemployment rates in those states which adopted an increase in their minimum wage saw NO measurable increase in unemployment rates as compared to bordering states that chose NOT to increase their minimum wage.

Will some small businesses operating on the margins fail due to a mandatory wage increase? Yes! But the vast majority will have to hire more workers to meet the demand created by more customers looking to spend the new found cash in their pockets.

Republicans are being disingenuous when they express their concerns about the affects of a minimum wage increase on small businesses. They give the impression that they are worried about the mom and pop grocery store on the corner. In fact their real concerns are the profit margins of millionaires and billionaires who fund their campaigns. Remember, depending on the type of industry, you could have 500, 1000, or even 1500 employees and still be considered a small business. Billionaires like Warren Buffet, Steve Forbes and Michael Bloomberg are small business owners. You have to question the veracity of Republicans’ statements when they are advocating for businesses employing 500 or more people.

If republicans want to win national elections they need to get on the right side of this debate. Agree that an increase in the minimum wage is good for the country…but get something in return. Perhaps Republicans could agree on an increase in the minimum wage in exchange for the president’s approval to begin construction on the Keystone pipeline. Everybody gets something they want and the country moves forward.

It’s time to increase the minimum wage. A citizen working a full time job in the richest most “exceptional” country in the world should not be living in poverty.

Today, when you feel those hunger pangs, head to your local fast food restaurant. Buy a Big Mac, a Whopper, or a Double Cheese with everything on it. Shake the hand of a fast food worker. Give them your support. Buy a burger…support a worker.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Obama, International Community Organizer

The president will attend a meeting with NATO allies later this week. On his way to the summit in Wales he made a pit stop in Estonia. Early this morning President Obama joined Estonian President Toomas Ilvek for a joint press conference which focused primarily on ISIS and the Ukraine.

The president addressed the media mere hours after the release of a new video showing the beheading of yet another American journalist by ISIS forces. Needless to say tensions were running high; emotions raw. Yet here was the president, calm in demeanor, patiently addressing facts on the ground and explaining the steps being taken to address the ISIS threat.

The president spoke about “building a coalition,” “working in partnership with out NATO allies” “engaging our Arab partners in the region,” “appealing to all Muslims…Sunni, Shia, Kurds…” to come together in a joint effort to defeat ISIS.

This was Obama the community organizer at his best. Clearly engaged and well versed on the conditions on the ground; trying to bring all the affected factions together to find a joint resolution. No threats, no bluster, no “line in the sand.” No talk of “the full force and might of the US military.” It was the type of response that the president’s critics hate; one that drives neo-cons to call him “feckless” and “weak.”

It was the exact response that a war weary nation wants to hear.

The president understands that Americans are not interested in becoming the “tip of the spear” in a war against ISIS. He understands that the country wants see other nations in the region take up some of the heavy lifting. He understands that there is no quick fix; and that a long term solution will take months if not years to coalesce. He understands that the solution does not lie at the point of an American soldier’s gun. We have already seen what happens when the bombs stop falling.

Obama, the international community organizer! Carrying out the will of the people and displaying the right temperament and leadership skills for this very difficult task.

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's Time For This President To Act On Immigration Reform

The president has had a change of heart.

Over the past few weeks the president has been vocal in his frustration over the failure of House Republicans to act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
This past June Speaker Boehner informed the president that the House would not be voting on an immigration bill this year. A defiant Obama responded with a Rose Garden address during which he informed the nation that in the absence of congressional action he was “…beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.” He announced that he had asked his team to provide by the end of summer a list of executive actions that he could take. The president promised that he would act quickly on the recommendations. Subsequent White House briefings made it clear that the president had every intention of taking action before November mid-terms.

Evidently the president has changed his tune.

It now appears that the president will delay issuing any executive orders on immigration reform until AFTER the mid-terms. The word is that the president is taking heat from vulnerable Democrats who don’t want to spend the critical weeks before the election distancing themselves from the proclamations of an “imperialist president.” Republicans are trying to attach Democrat candidates to the president in any way they can. Finding oneself labeled as a surrogate for a president who would rather violate the constitution than work with congress can have an adverse affect on one’s political future.

Then candidate Obama promised he would pass immigration reform during his first term as president. President Obama repeated that promise during his campaign for re-election. And in past weeks President Obama promised that he would that he would act alone “without Congress” to fulfill that promise. Now we learn that he’s humming a different tune.

I for one appreciate that we have a very deliberative president; particularly when contemplating matters of war. But you can only ruminate about a given subject for so long before it becomes obvious that you really don’t know what the hell to do. At some point paralysis by analysis takes over.

I understand that a handful of vulnerable Democrat politicians may not want to get beat up over the president’s executive orders. But millions of immigrants and minorities are looking to THIS president to fulfill his promise. And they all vote.

Immigration reform is essential to the economic viability of this country. Open borders and the freedom of all races, colors and creeds to live together as one nation lies at the very soul of who we are as a country.

The time for deliberation and political posturing is over.

It’s time for this president to act!