Saturday, March 31, 2012

Syrian Opposition Digs in as International Community Remains Indecisive

With the insurgent groups meeting in Turkey this Sunday to organize themselves into a cohesive force, and the Friends of Syria joining them in a show of support and to gather information about what they can do to help the insurgents, the al-Assad regime jumped on the bandwagon today with a startling announcement: “The rebel movement has been broken.” The humanitarian watchdog groups keeping up with events in Syria say that 10,000 people have been killed in the year-long insurrection, and that it is not clear that the regime has as yet won anything.
The rebel commander Salim al-Kordi, spokesman for the Syrian Army faction that has left al-Assad and joined the insurgents, said that the rebels will not stop until “the tanks are withdrawn from all cities.”
The Friends of Syria includes some 70 nations, but it does not include Russia, China or Iran - three stalwart friends of al-Assad and his large contracts for military equipment, and his making available ports on the Mediterranean for Russian naval vessels…ain’t love grand???
Notwithstanding, the Syrian army continues to bomb pockets of resistance in major cities, and the rebels themselves are calling on the international community to arm them for the battle ahead.
In fact, the Arab world seems to be awakening to the fact that al-Assad and his cronies will only be driven out with force (something the US seems to be sadly unaware of), and so Saudi Arabia and Qatar are calling for arms to be provided to the newly organizing cohesive force.
That the Saudi chief diplomat, Saoud Al-Faisal, called for arming the rebels while standing next to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is surely a telling move to embarrass America into coming to terms with the need for arms to save the Syrian people.
Again Saturday, 32 Syrians died, 24 of them civilian, as the al-Assad regime took advantage of splits still in the opposition leadership and in the indecision in the international community to attack.
While Secretary Clinton did not agree to provide arms, she stated that she is sceptical that the Anna plan to have a daily ceasefire to evacuate and treat the wounded will have any impact on al-Assad’s regime, saying, “Until today, regime forces continue to pillage and set siege to cities an rebel enclaves, and to use as shields those who are at prayer.”
Hillary Clinton seems to be making the case against her own position.
Belgium announced Saturday that it is favorable to using military-protected humanitarian aid if that will deliver the assistance needed to Syrian civilians.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vice President Candidates Everywhere

Now that Mitt Romney has the nomination almost sewn up, the wannabes for Vice President are popping up all over the place.
It started with Rick Santorum saying he'd be open to a VP call - suggesting that it could even come from his arch rival, Romney. Not much chance of that happening. Santorum has burnt more bridges than he has in trying to better Romney in various GOP primaries, and Romney would probably select him only if he were the last Republican in America left which case, it wouldn't matter very much anyway.
Of course, diplomatic Newt Gingrich long ago said that he'd serve in whatever capacity he was called upon to accept. That always sounds good, but the truth is that his GOP voter index is just about -0- and Romney will want somebody with more vote-getting potential.
To cut to the chase, Marco Rubio, the young and very popular Senator from Florida, is the perpetual name on the VP list. His answer is always the thanks. But, turning down the vice presidency is not likely, even for the Rubios of this world. The VP spot is a stepping stone to national prominence, to being a presidential candidate himself, and to getting to the top of the GOP power player list very rapidly. So, don't count Marco Rubio out.
But, maybe the media could back off just a little and let Romney think things over carefully before they anoint Rubio.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Trouble Again, this Time in France

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is again in the news, and not as a candidate for the French presidency, something he was on his way to becoming before the world of prostitution fell down on his head.
The civil suit against DSK, calling for him to pay damages and costs, is underway in New York City, where the hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, who was unable to sustain a criminal charge against him for sexual aggression, is now pursuing her civil rights.
The lawyers of DSK are arguing today that he is immune from prosecution because of his diplomatic passport issued by the UN while he was head of the International Monetary Fund. Immunity for high grade diplomats and other high-ranking international bureaucrats, is covered by the 1947 UN International Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of Special Agencies.
According to DSK’s lawyers, he did not argue for immunity successfully during his criminal trial in NYC because he wanted to defend himself against the false allegations.
The judge in the civil trial seemed today to take the position, a common one in law, that the immunity existed only for activities carried out during the course of his functions for the IMF and would not apply to personal activities.
In addition, the United States has never ratified the Convention, placing the question of immunity for acts carried out in the US even more problematic.
Diallo has contended that she was forced to offer a fellation to DSK in his Sofitel hotel room in NYC, and he has admitted that there was a brief “inappropriate” sexual encounter but that it was consensual.
The NCY civil case judge has said that he will make a decision about the immunity question rapidly. If DSK is found to have immunity from prosecution, the Diallo affair will be over.
BUT, meanwhile, in France, DSK has been preliminarily indicted for “aggravated pimping in an organized band” by a French judge in relation to a prostitution call-girl ring that was run out of a Carlton Hotel in Lille in northern France. This has come to be known in France as “the Carlton Affair.”
Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers have said that DSK is innocent of all the charges levied against him in the Carlton Affair and they plan to appeal his being indicted. They are arguing that the Affair is a simple case of loose morals (alleged to have occurred in Paris and Washington) and has nothing to do with pimping or organizing a call girl ring. His lawyers are also saying that DSK is being hounded because of his notoriety in the Diallo NYC case, as well as for political reasons.
DSK is free on a 100,000 Euro bail (US$ 135,000). He is also under judicial control and may not talk to any of the other accused in the Carlton Affair, the civil parties, witnesses, or the media. His is, however, free to travel and may leave France.
Because he has been preliminarily indicted, DSK’s lawyers will now have access to the full judicial file and will be better able to prepare his defense. The negative side of the preliminary indictment is that DSK will once again be under extreme media scrutiny.
The examination by the French judge of the DSK role in the Carlton Affair will now get underway and may take as much a one year. The real indictment, under French law, will occur at the end of the judge’s examination of the case, and will either release DSK or accuse him formally of the charges being brought against him.
A renowned French newspaper, Le Monde, has gained possession of some of the testimony that DSK gave to the judge before his preliminary indictment. In the parts printed by Le Monde, DSK refers to the women as “girls,” “friends,” the little ones,” and also as the “material” (e.g., gifts).
Most were recognized as prostitutes, in text messages between two other suspects in the Carlton Affair. DSK’s lawyers said he used such words because it was easier than listing the women’s names each time he referred to them.
The women participated, according to the Le Monde transcript, in exchange and other sexual parties in Paris, Washington and Belgium, parties which were carefully organized by text messages that implicate DSK. Some of the women were also interviewed by the judge and, according to Le Monde, talked about bestial and violent encounters that were not usual in the world of escorting and call girls.
One thing the judge must now establish is that DSK knew the women were paid, i.e., prostitutes. That would make his indictment probable. According to Le Monde, DSK told the judge that in retrospect, he was “naive.”
DSK’s lawyers have not denied that they consider DSK a libertine, someone with loose morals, but they add that this is not a crime under the French penal code.
So, dear readers, as this affair progresses, you will have the background needed to understand its nuances.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Romney and the GOP Religious Conservatives

In the Washington Post today, Chris Cizzilla asked an interesting question: is Mitt Romney underrated?
His answer is “yes” and I’d like to explain why he came to that conclusion and give a little of my own commentary.
First, Cizzilla says that, no matter what anyone says, Romney’s Mormon religion is a negative with Republican evangelical voters. In any state where they make up more than 50% of the GOP vote, Romney has lost.
Second, Romney is a “moderate” compared to the other candidates, and this is a non-starter with the GOP’s base, especially when Romney refuses to play to the crowd by launching attacks on President Obama by calling him a “socialist,” something all other GOP candidates have done.
Third, Romney’s natural base is in the northeast, in a party where the natural base is the south. Fourth, Romney’s largest success while governor of Massachusetts was his health care law that made health scare universal in the commonwealth and has earned him animosity in the GOP, where Obamacare is despised because of its infringement on personal liberties.
Cizzilla is right about all these items. And, if one considers them carefully, there is no reason why Mitt Romney should be leading the pack and seem set to be the 2012 GOP nominee. Cizzilla goes on to explain that it is the Romney organization and money-collecting machine that has made the difference. He tosses in the idea that finally, GOP voters are beginning to ask what the others have done compared to Romney’s long list of achievements in the private and public sectors, and the answer - nothing - is making them tend toward Romney, even though they don’t really like him very much, because they want very badly to get rid of Obama in November.
So far, so good. But, I think there is more to explain in the relationship that has developed between Mitt Romney and the GOP.
If we consider the consequences of the four items above, it would be hard to imagine that Romney could win any delegate votes, let alone be the leading candidate with more than half the votes needed to be nominated.
I think there is something much deeper happening.
It is the return of the GOP to politics.
The notion that somehow elections are won because of social or religious preferences morally binding voters to candidates is a myth, foisted on the Republican Party by groups that want to co-opt the GOP for non-political purposes. They want to bring back a society that no longer exists…with its dogmas of religious conservatism, non-abortion, i.e., sexual abstinence outside marriage, refusal of sexual preferences outside heterosexual marriage, and refusal of the rights of the minorities when they disagree with these dogmas.
The only truly political policy these social conservatives support is fiscal conservatism. Their demand for a balanced budget, paying off the national debt and refusing to expand the tax base are the symptoms of this. And these are honorable political goals. But, the tactics used o achieve these goals are far from the political tradition of the United States and its Constitution.
Demanding signatures on a “No New Taxes” pledge, asking every congressperson to vote in knee-jerk fashion against even the smallest compromise, often those that would benefit their cause by lowering taxes or reducing spending somewhat, is not a political program. It is a quasi-religious crusade meant to divide the country into two camps - the neo-Christian conservatives and everyone else.
Mitt Romney has surely seen this and is fighting against it. His moderation, his refusal to be drawn into debates on issues that are personal rather than political, his calm in the face of the attacks from the religious right demanding that he explain again and again his position on abortion and gay rights, bear the markings of a religious crusade.
And because of his tactics, Mr. Romney, despite the media’s wrong-headed analysis that he is outside the GOP base and cannot ever win them over, is going to win them over, despite themselves.
He represents the voice of political reason, of political tradition, of political leadership. His goals are not religious. They are political, and finally, the social and religious conservatives will agree with him. They will agree, even while they go on talking about religious issues as a cover for their visceral need to defeat President Obama, because Romney’s approach has a chance of beating Obama, while they have seen in this primary season that their approach will lead to national division and defeat.
Perhaps Mitt Romney has known all along that catering to the religious right is a fool’s game. Perhaps he has known all along that they will buckle under and vote for him because the alternative is abhorrent to them.
So, I say, do not underestimate Mitt Romney. He may understand the Republican Party much better than most of us.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Syria Civil War Goes on as Rebels Form a United Front

President Obama has given the green light for the US to provide non-military aid to the Syrian rebels. The statement came during a meeting between the President and the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, both present in Seoul, South Korea, for a nuclear summit, and before an April 1 meeting of the recently formed “Friends of Syria.”
Mr. Obama mentioned specifically communications aid, saying that if the rebels are to consolidate and organize, they need communications systems. He also talked about medical aid.
The United States remains opposed to providing military aid to the rebels, for fear of escalating the violence into a generalized civil war.
Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan is in Moscow to try to convince the Russian government to put pressure on the al-Assad regime to end the violence. He is meeting with Russian President Medvedev and with Russian foreign minister Lavrov. Annan will continue on to Beijing Tuesday to continue his efforts to bring China on board, too.
President Medvedev told Annan that his efforts at peacemaking may be the last hope before a long and murderous civil war takes hold in Syria, adding, “For this reason, we give you all our support at every level.”
But, Russian foreign minister Lavrov reminded Kofi Annan that Russia is opposed to foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Syria, and would not support overt support for either side in the crisis. Lavrov said that the best thing would be for the rebels to enter into a ceasefire and sit down to negotiate with the al-Assad regime.
Apart from the ongoing diplomatic efforts, the Syrian rebels announced Saturday that they have formed a unified front and will meet in Turkey this week to work out the formal details of the union.
Al-Assad forces, meanwhile, have restarted their bombardment of Homs, attacking another area of the city, as well as attacking another city to the north, both in efforts to crush the opposition in its major strongholds.
A British-based human rights observer group said that 46 people died Saturday, 28 of them civilians. The New York-based Human Rights Watch showed video evidence of the al-Assad forces using human shields during assaults in the northeast region of Syria. The shields included children being forced to ride in tanks while they swept through towns.
I don’t know, dear readers, exactly where the demarcation between rebel fighting and civil war is, but it seems to me that whatever is going on in Syria is, and has been for some time, a civil war.

Friday, March 23, 2012

France Tries to Come to Terms with the Toulouse Killings

France is in turmoil. The French have come face-to-face with the reality of the terrorist threat that is in their midst, just as it is in the midst of every country in the world.
Since the 11th of March, when a young French man killed several members of the French military, including Muslims, and then killed at close range four Jewish people, including three children, one a little girl reportedly held at arm's length while he shot her in the head, and until he was surrounded by national police and brought to bay, but finally killed, in what may have been a suicide but more likely the shot of a French military swat-type team member who was being shot at by the assassin - France has followed, wept, commented, become angry, wondered what to do, and asked the question why over and over again.
It all sounds so familiar to Americans, who have lived with these emotions and thoughts since 9.11, or to the British or Spanish who have suffered similar attacks. But, France had been spared until the 11th of March 2012.
The young assassin was "normal" according to his neighbors, he was well-liked, he was integrated into his community. But, he was on the US watch list of potentially dangerous people, ever since he had gone to Afghanistan and trained at a jihad center. He was apparently co-opted in France (we will never really know why since he is dead) and sent to the training center to become a terrorist, re-enter France and cause as much damage and dislocation as possible.
He was under surveillance by the French national police, but they did not think he was dangerous, only someone who had fallen under the influence of extreme terrorist groups and therefore needed to be watched.
He told police, while under siege, that his motive was to avenge Palestinian deaths and to punish France for outlawing Islamic veils. It seems a terrible reason to kill innocent youngsters, but he did.
The French Jewish and Moslim communities have come together to condemn the killings, to say that they are united in their disgust concerning what happened, to explain that Moslims are not like the young assassin, but rather peace-loving and useful members of the French nation.
The French people, who are in practice very dedicated to their country's goals of liberty, equality and fraternity, have joined hands to try to heal this newest national wound. There was a joint Jewish-Muslim-Christian vigil yesterday in Toulouse, where the killings took place.
The French government has pursued the road of deciding to try to prevent young French from being swept up by the terrorist movement, either in schools or mosques, or in prisons where the government believes that recruiting is a serious activity for jihadists who are looking for targets to brainwash.
As Americans know, there are no easy answers, no easy cures. The world has become a scarier place since 9.11 and it will remain so for a long time, one fears. The wave of jihadist terrorism has curtailed and sometines killed traditional personal freedoms. It has made liberty-loving peoples ready to accept surveillance and government control that would have been unthinkable before the Trade Centers went crashing down.
But, as long as we who are under attack remain united, as long as we refuse to bow before the goal of being curtailed in our daily lives, as long as we continue to seek global brotherhood - the terrorists will not win. That is our strength. It is the strength that France and the French have shown this week, in the most trying circumstances. Our thoughts and prayers and support should be with them as they join the community of the hunted but unbowed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jeb Bush Makes It Official

Just after Mitt Romney made his acceptance speech in winning the Illinois GOP primary by 12% over Rick Santorum and by 40% over Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, something very important happened.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced that he is supporting Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination for president and said that it is now time to stop the primary battling and get on with the real job - defeating Barak Obama and his desastrous economic and social programs.
Very important? Very.
Jeb Bush is the son of former President George Bush, who, along with his wife Barbara, had already endorsed Romney. That leaves only George W. Bush on the outside about Romney and surely he will follow his family sooner or later.
So, Romney now has Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Chris Christie, John McCain and several other big-name Republican supporters. And, you can bet that in the coming several days and weeks, many more will follow.
Gingrich and Santorum can talk all they want about toughing it out until August and having a "conversation" with Romney about brokering the isn't going to happen.
There will be no brokering at the convention. There will be only Romney going in with the delegate votes he needs to win on the first ballot. The GOP candidate will be Mitt Romney.
If you need further proof about this, watch the White House and Obama's campaign spokespeople. They will forget about everyone except Romney and come after him full throttle on every issue they can muster, starting with RomneyCare.
But, this time, it'll be different. Because with the pack off his back, Romney can go back to being Romney. That means he'll come out swinging against Obama on economics and also start moving a little to the center to attract the moderate GOP and independents, who were basically left out of the Santorum-Gingrich inspired primary social issues campaign.
The GOP has survived. It wasn't sure for awhile, but the Grand Old Party has come to its senses and will have a real shot at taking the White House in November.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Russia Moves Toward the UN Position on Syria

The Russian Foreign Secretary announced this afternoon that Russia will probably vote in favor of the UN Security Council non-binding resolution that supports UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan's efforts to gain a ceasefire and UN monitoring control in Syria.
While Russia has not yet condemned the al-Assad regime's attacks on its own people, it seems to have agreed to supporting the resolution because it and China will get another non-binding resolution that condemns all violence in Syria and specifically mentions the attacks on Damascus these past days, which have been attributed to the insurgents.
So, with Saudi Arabia supplying arms, and now Russia coming on board concerning UN activities, it may be that events in Syria are reaching an important point. It could mean that al-Assad, who now has only China fully on his side, will realize that his days are numbered, that his regime is defeated, and that he needs to take whatever deal he can get from the UN and international community before it is too late. While al-Assad's actions do not lend support to the idea that he is behaving rationally, perhaps he can understand that by rejecting the possibility of a deal, Ben Ali (Tunisia), Hosni Mubarak (Egypt), and Colonel Qadhafi (Libya) were either arrested, jailed and tried or hunted down and killed.
Even Bashar al-Assad ought to be able to muster the brain power needed to see that he should try to do better for himself, while he still can.
The Security Council vote on the new non-binding resolution may come as early as tomorrow morning. It is still not known how China will vote.
And, a word of thanks to Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, for finally breaking the impasse and moving things toward a resolution for the Syrian people.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Illinois GOP Primary

On Tuesday, we will know if Mitt Romney won the Illinois primary, as current polling numbers are predicting. It would be a significant win, because Romney already has more than 500 delegate votes, almost half those he needs and more than double the combined delegate votes of his opponents.
In an unexplained move, Rick Santorum left Illinois today, abandoning the idea of campaigning on the last day in a critically important race for him - because Santorum needs Illinois, badly. His poorly organized operation will cost him some delegate votes, no matter what happens on election day, because his people didn't get him registered in some counties.
And now that he has pulled out of the Illinois campaign, it may be that Rick Santorum is having a reality moment. Has it finally sunk in that he will not ever gain the delegate vote count he needs to be nominated at the GOP Convention? Or, has he run out of serious money? Or have heavyweight GOP pols been on the phone to him, asking why he wants to reduce the GOP's chances in November, and perhaps suggesting that if he bows out now, he could still receive an important position in a Romney administration. Santorum isn't talking. So we don't know.
But, my bet is that both he and Newt Gingrich will bow out a some point after the next round of southern state primaries, that will include Louisiana. They may want to thank their workers by toughing it out in these states where they will do well. They may even think that a miracle might save their futures as candidates. but, deep down, they know that it's over. Mitt Romney is about to move into the more liberal end of the primary season, and his vote count will only increase while Santorum's and Gingrich's stagnates.
So, get out the Romney for President buttons. I think I hear Anne Romney saying "we've got lift-off."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saudi Arabia Intervenes in Syria

Two car bomb attacks in Damascus Saturday left 27 dead and 140 injured. The Syrian government blamed the attacks on “terrorists.”
Almost simultaneously, Saudi Arabia announced that was sending military materials to Syrian army deserters now working with the resistance front, saying that the arms would be supplied through Jordan, which denied that any such shipments were passing through its territory, saying the reports were “completely unfounded.”
Saudi Arabia’s announcement is the first break in the international community decision not to send arms to the Syrian rebels because of fears that a wider civil war would then be likely. Qatar may also be considering making such shipments, having announced last week that it believes the rebels should be provided military equipment.
Saudi Arabia has long been critical of the Syrian al-Assad regime and recently withdrew all of its diplomatic personnel from Damascus as a protest against the regime’s attacks on its own citizens.
Official Syrian media reported today that Saudi Arabia was sending terrorists into its territory and blamed the Saudi government for the deaths and injuries caused by the car bombs, saying that Saudi Arabia was “politically, legally and religiously responsible” for the attacks.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé condemned the attacks and all acts of terrorism against civilians. Iran also condemned the attacks, putting France in rather strange company.
Meanwhile, UN Syrian Special Envoy Kofi Annan, returning from Damascus to Geneva, said that the responses of the Syrian government to his proposals when he was in Damascus were “deceiving.” Nevertheless, Annan will send a delegation to Syria next week to assess possibilities for a cease-fire and for installing UN observers.
In Turkey, leaders of five different groups announced a plan to unify the Syrian opposition, because the opposition factions are having trouble combining their efforts.
In Lebanon, marchers in Beirut protested against the al-Assad regime, as did marchers in front of the White House in Washington, demanding that President Obama take action to stop the killing of civilians.
So, efforts at peacemaking continue while the violence is escalating on both sides, making a full-blown Syrian civil war more likely.
But, Saudi Arabia’s entry on the side of the rebels will surely have an important influence on the Arab world, as well as on the international community.

Friday, March 16, 2012

George Clooney Arrested in Front of Sudanese Embassy

Well, it doesn’t happen every day, but today George Clooney was handcuffed, arrested and put into a police van, along with several other demonstrators, including members of the House of Representatives, in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington.
Clooney, who has been active in trying to pressure the Sudanese government to allow food and medical supplies to be delivered to the people being persecuted by the Khartoum regime.
He also demanded that the Sudanese allow humanitarian aid workers through to the people who are suffering, before what Clooney described as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.”
His presence was meant to emphasize the “war crimes” of the Sudanese government against its own people in the south of the country.
Clooney added that the demonstrators were simply asking that the Khartoum regime stop starving, raping and killing its own citizens - women and children included.
George Clooney was in Sudan earlier this year, going in without government approval, to assess the situation in the south of the country. While there, he contracted malaria.
The area is the site of a civil war, including aerial bombardments, between the Khartoun regime military and the local inhabitants who want to be allowed to join the new nation of South Sudan, which gained its independence last July.
President Obama had a meeting with Clooney earlier this week, during which Clooney asked the President to pressure the Chinese president to use its influence with Sudan to stop the war crimes. China is the only country actively supporting the Khartoum regime, according to Clooney, because it receives petroleum from Khartoum and does not want to jeopardize the Sudanese source.
George Clooney testified before the American Senate this week, outlining the problems confronted by the 250,000 people who are in the middle of the civil war between Khartoum and South Sudan.
Mr. Clooney, often cited as being interested in a future as a politician, seems to be preparing a file to show his interest in the problem areas of the world.
Let’s hope his presence and voice will help the Sudanese who are being so badly mistreated by the Khartoum regime.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Social Issues Will Defeat the GOP

The controversy over birth control being part of the federal health insurance program is not going to disappear. It will be fed by the Obama team and the media and will make all Republican candidates look like they oppose women's rights and want to keep women "barefoot and pregnant." Of course, that is a gross over-simplification of the issue but modern media has a way of reducing politics to its absurd possibilities.
To be clear : the issue is whether the federal government can order church-funded entities to offer birth control to their employees through the church-sponsored employee health care insurance program. Conservatives say this violates the first amendment right of religious groups to freely practice their faith without government interference. President Obama and the Democrat Party say that the issue is a health issue and has nothing to do with first amendment religious freedom rights.
Read that paragraph several times and you will see, I think, that there will never be closure on the issue. The two sides are so dug-in to their positions historically that they will never see the other side's arguments, and neither side will throw in the towel and let the other side win.
That is the essence of religious and faith-related issues. They are tenets often (as is the Catholic Church's thousand year old belief that birth control should not be practiced except through abstinence) so strongly believed and followed that no one will change. Nor should they. Religious beliefs are off-limits under the Constitution, unless the beliefs cause serious societal harm or seriously harm the members themselves.
No Democrat or Republican would want to argue with this. But, they seem unable to see that the birth control issue is exactly that - a religious belief for or against birth control - that nobody will be able to change.
And, that is why the federal government, and all other governmental entities, should stay out of the business of forcing birth control onto religious groups that oppose it.
President Obama is on the right track when he says that the federal government will arrange to have health insurance providers offer birth control to those who would not be covered because an employer which is a religious entity will not pay for the coverage. But, he does not go far enough. If he is determined to make birth control freely available under Obamacare, he needs to set up an insurance "pool" much like the pools in states for otherwise non-insured drivers, that would provide birth contorl coverage to employees not otherwise covered. The pool concept would work and it would prevent the religious entity employer from paying through the back door by having its own insurer provide coverage.
If the GOP does not see the merits of this approach, I fear that the Obama
team will use the birth control issue to pull the vast majority of woman voters to his side in November. This would make a GOP victory almost impossible.
My advice to Mssrs Romney, Santorum, et al, would be - come to your senses, get religion out of politics because it doesn't belong there, and find a way to keep women on your side. Otherwise, you are going to lose, bigtime, in November.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The French Presidential Race Tightens

The latest French poll shows that President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger François Hollande are tied at 28% apiece for the first leg of the French presidential election coming in late April.
If the two candidates were pitted against each other in the second leg, the poll shows that Hollande would win if the election were held this week, with 54% of the vote, which is down from 56% two weeks ago.
The poll was taken after Sarkozy held his first large campaign rally and probably reflects this as much as anything else.
The extreme right Front National candidate, Marine Le Pen gained a point at 16%, and the centrist François Bayrou was stable at 13%.
The analysts for the CSA polling institute feel that the divisions in the left over policies concerning relief and bailouts for Eurozone countries, as well as the left's division over the question about whether to use protectionist policies to help France survive the current financial and economic crisis also played a role in lowering Hollande’s result, while having little impact on Sarkozy’s result.
It should b noted that 14% of those polled have not yet decided who they will vote for in the first leg and 17% have not made up their minds about who to vote for in the second leg.
So, with the French election six weeks’ away, the French are starting to form up behind their traditional parties - Gaullist and Socialist.
But, if anecdotes count for anything, I can tell you, dear readers, about a couple I met last weekend in Morzine while skiing.
They were Parisien, mid-fifties, and neither rich nor poor, although it was their first time to visit a ski resort, being there to let their grandson try out skiing during his winter school holiday.
They are solidly behind Sarkozy, expressing the view that he is doing the best anyone could possibly do in the present circumstances. They feel he will be re-elected easily. They do not like Hollande and do not believe anything the Socialists say about how to “fix” France’s economic problems. They do not like the Euro or the European Union and believe the Euro will crash and disappear in the next five years, while the EU will become more moderate and retreat to the 12 original countries that composed it.
I haven’t run into any Socialists to test their reactions, which would be opposite, in any case. But, the conversation renewed my feeling that the French are still firmly in the Gaullist mode. They do not trust the left and they do not blame Gaullist governments for France’s problems, but rather the left when it managed to intervene in the Mitterrand era.
The French presidential race will be close, I suppose, given the serious problems facing Europe and France today. But, if I had to make my choice now, I would say that President Sarkozy will be re-elected.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Afghanistan Troop Withdrawals

After the shocking events of the past weekend in Afghanistan, we learn today that the Obama administration, although asking the military for a timetable for final withdrawals from the war-torn country, has as yet not received firm figures or schedule for withdrawals after the 22,000 already agreed on for this summer.
Apparently, the US military commanders want to keep as many troops in Afghanistan for as long as possible, shifting them to areas where the pacification program is not moving forward as quickly as hoped, while the President wants to maintain the 31 December 2014 timetable as strictly as possible. The military viewpoint is that too fast withdrawals will jeopardize gains already made, but the White House, facing election this November, wants to have a plan in place to use during the fall campaign.
Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat with seniority on the House Armed Services Committee, is calling for a withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan, saying, “…it is time to bring our troops home.”
President Obama said today that the war must end “responsibly” and that the US must rush to the exit.
The American commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has not made any decision concerning troop withdrawals beyond this summer, and his spokesman, Navy Captain John Kirby, says Allen is under no pressure to do so.
The office of the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says that no final decisions have been made about the details concerning how to cut the troop count from 90,000 to 68,000 by the end of this summer. There is ongoing planning for these cuts but no decisions have been made, according to Captain Kirby, who added that General Allen has received no demands for options or recommendations. White House spokesman Jay Carney has confirmed this.
White House personnel say that troop reduction discussions are under way and that they include how to shift the US presence in Afghanistan to a largely advisory role by mid-2013. This would enable allied forces to withdraw or assume advisory roles leading up to the end game in December 2014.
The killings and Koran burnings of the past several weeks have made these decision points more critical and at the same time harder to agree on, especially with France and Great Britain are under public pressure to withdraw their troops as soon as possible.
While it is too early to say that decisions about Afghanistan withdrawals and handovers are going to stall or be made on an ad hoc basis, for the time being, it seems, dear readers, that planning has started but that no one knows exactly what to goal is, except to get out of Afghanistan and turn the war over to President Karzai and his military.
I would say that this is proof, if we needed any, that things are not going as planned in Afghanistan, that the Taliban are more powerful now than they were a year ago, despite allied and US efforts to subdue them, and that 2014 will be a messy time for everyone.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Afghanistan Becomes Insupportable

The American soldier who went on a rampage and killed 18 people in an Afghan village several days ago is certainly not stable enough mentally to be seen as a cold-blooded murderer. But, his case could be one of many lurking in the ranks of the US military.
America is sending young men and women back two and three and even four times to Iraq and Afghanistan. The emotional load these young people carry is more than we, who only have to endure the nightly news, can imagine. And, now they know they are cannon fodder of the worst sort - that is, the mission is winding down without a win and the opposition Taliban and al-Qaida are pushing their positions by attacking American and allied troops whenever they can, while our troops must be polite, caring in the villages that are now suspect, and generally social workers as much as soldiers.
It isn't a job description that most of us would be willing to take on, but these young troops are trying to do what has become the impossible. And, they are doing their jobs with conviction, valor and integrity.
But, now and then comes along the trooper whose nerves and mental capacity are not up to the task. And, by the time senior officers realize this, the irreparable harm has been done.
I could say that we need to get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, but I've said that before.
I could say that we will never win the war of political cooperation in Afghanistan, but we've known that for some time, and it is the major reason for pulling out on the 2014 timetable.
I could say that Afghanistan has defeated the British and the Russians before us, but we also knew that, even if we were blindly proud enough to think we could do what they had failed to do.
So, we slog on. American, French and British young men will be killed for nothing, and our goal will dwindle down to simply trying our best not to leave in helicopters reminiscent of Saigon.
Foolhardy thoughts of nation building and cleaning up a region that is happy just the way it is, except for the women who will suffer, is not a reason for war. War is declared and fought to be won because national interests require winning.
What a dreadful waste of lives, talents, and national resources.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Hostage Question

The Nigerian-British raid on a house in northern Nigeria which led to the murder of a British and an Italian hostage this week, has caused friction between Italy and Britain and has again raised the fundamental question - how to handle hostage situations.
First, it must be recognized that hostages are taken either for ransom (in the Philippines and in North Africa) or as political pawns (anywhere al-Qaida or other terrorist groups are active).
The difference is important because it will lead to different treatments of the situation by the government responsible for its citizen-hostages. For-ransom hostage takers are not generally anxious to kill or harm their hostages, since this would lead to the value of their hostages in general being reduced because the hostage takers could not be trusted to act "reasonably".
Political hostages are taken for media and recruitment/group bonding purposes and their lives are always in danger for they depend on the changing situations of the hostage takers.
But, in either case, there are two broad avenues of approach for the government. It can pay a ransom and "save" the hostages or it can negotiate and refuse to pay a ransom, thereby raising the threat of death. But, paying will inevitably lead to more citizens of that country being seized because the seizures turn into money-making enterprises. However, if the hostage takers are political fanatics, even paying a ransom cannot guarantee the release of the hostages because money is not the hostage takers' goal so much as the embarrassment of the country and public recognition that the hostage takers and their organization are "stronger" than the legitimate government trying to deal with them.
What to do?
Do what the British did this week - try to free the hostages by military intervention. But, this often backfires and hostages are killed in the attack. The political fallout at home is often severe, but also short-lived. It is only the hostages who make the ultimate payment.
There are no easy answers to this age-old and almost unanswerable question. But paying a ransom is sure to result in more hostage taking. So, negotiation or military intervention, even when it ends badly as it did this week, seems preferable.
Just for the record, (1) tourists are routinely warned about where not to go. They should always heed the advice; (2) humanitarian workers are aware of their vulnerability and are usually protected as best possible, but they should also follow basic precautionary measures for their own safety; and (3) commercial and technical workers often take the decision to enter into harm's way for monetary rewards, knowing that they are in danger, and their employers have a duty to protect them as best possible.
Are we our bother's keeper? It is a difficult question when hostages are concerned.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women's Day

We're celebrating women this week, but it seems that Rick Santorum and a lot of his supporters are missing the point.
We are celebrating the freedom of women - their ability to enter the workforce, to be students in any discipline, to have families and be productive members of the society in other ways at the same time, and to be treated as full members of the society they live in, whatever they choose to do.
I was in the first wave of women who broke into the ranks of upper management and the professions in America. It was only 40 years ago, and the quiet determination, overt battles, seeking of mentors and champions in male colleagues who could and would support our efforts, the humiliations swallowed for the greater goal of being accepted in an all-male club...these were tough and exhausting times and we fought and sistered to keep up our determination, and we cried alone at night and wondered if it was ever going to produce results.
But, the performance results came and they proved we could do whatever we were asked to do, and then we were accepted, slowly and often with bitterness in the eyes of the men who offered their hand to us. But, times changed and the bitterness became fatigue and finally overt agreement that we belonged.
Along the way, there were young men who took on our cause and without their acceptance, I wonder if we would have won so quickly. Many thanks to them. And, vitally important, there were senior male figures who understood that there was no stepping back from the change and so they embraced it and guided and championed us.
I take time to review all this, without the details that are still emblazoned in my soul even 40 years later, because I do not understand today's women and their apparent belief that Rick Santorum and his followers are in any sense "woman friendly." They are not. Their goal is to keep women at home as child bearers - an ancient and extremely important role - but they will not recognize that women may play other roles as well. It is a raw attempt, not even embellished with flowery language about how important women are for our common future.
Make no mistake, abolishing birth control will force women back into the defining role of wife and mother. We will become once again second-class citizens with little freedom to pursue our own dreams and intellectual goals and with no independent means to do so. We will be tied to a man's generosity, or lack thereof.
And, finally, I wonder, just what is the fundamental difference in quality between an extremely conservative Christian man who would deny women their freedom to bear or not bear children from the radical Islamist who denies the same thing, but who tacks on a veil or burka and refusal of medical treatment and education.
They both walk on the same road toward the suppression of women's fundamental right to be a free human being.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Super Tuesday Lessons

It came and went - Super Tuesday - and we are still asking, who is the Republican candidate going to be, finally.
Well, I for one, think what we learned on Super Tuesday is that none of the opponents snapping at the heels of Mitt Romney have the power to bring him down. He held off Rick Santorum in Ohio to bring in the one crucial state available last night for any GOP presidential hopeful. Romney's power in Ohio cities made him the winner over the conservative vote in the rural areas that went to Santorum. Romney will need to work hard to win in Ohio in November, but at least he can now say that he has already one victory there. And, Romney's Ohio win may give him a leg up on Santorum in his home state of Pennsylvania, right next door, where the demographics of the GOP are very similar.
For the rest of Super Tuesday's wins and losses, there were no surprises, with the possible exception on Tennessee, where Romney may have left chips on the table by not being there often enough. Georgia was always going to go for Gingrich, their long-time GOP national figure. That Romney took Alaska's caucuses may say something about the fading influence of Sarah Palin, who backed and voted for Gingrich in her home state, because the newly elected Senator, who is not a friend of Palin, supported Romney and brought him home a winner last night in Alaska.
For the rest of March, Mitt Romney has a lot of tough cards to play. The states holding primaries are mainly in the south and southwest, not favorable to his moderate views. But, these states cannot eliminate him either, because he's now too far ahead of Santorum and Gingrich and Paul in the convention delegate count to be overtaken in March.
I think the most important lesson from Super Tuesday's results may lie ahead. The race will be long and bitter, and the GOP conservatives are not going to accept Romney without a fight. But, finally, they will realize that he's going to get the nomination and grudgingly support him. The fallout from the bitter internal GOP struggle ahead and the lackluster support of the conservative wing of the GOP for Romney is that President Obama must now be considered the likely winner in November. Once more, the GOP is in the process of shooting itself in the foot instead of marching together to victory. Sad but true.
I am still wondering whether Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and a few other GOP wise heads can save the day somehow. I would like to believe it is possible but my political instincts tell me that we are looking at 1964 all over again. The ideologues on the right will take defeat rather than accept the truth - politics is a game of compromise and give-and-take. No drastically right of center ideology can win, not even the 2012 variety.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Super Tuesday Isn't Over Yet

Dear readers,
I'm still glued to the TV and talking with my sister in the United States to get details for my blog on Super Tuesday.
Romney has taken his home state, Massachusetts, as well as neighboring Vermont, and Virginia. Santorum has taken Tennessee and Oklahoma. Gingrich has won his home state of Georgia. It almost seems that we're in a zero-sum game on Super Tuesday.
But, one thing is sure. It's going to be a long night.
I'll post a blog tomorrow when we have all the results and can draw reasonably correct conclusions. Right now, that isn't possible.
So, good night, or good morning...and I'll talk to you later.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Super Tuesday at Last

Dear readers, please forgive my absence, but I’ve had a bout of flu that left me incapable of thinking, let alone writing, for a few days. But, it’s gone and here is today’s offering.
Finally, we are on the eve of Super Tuesday, that long-awaited day when ten states will hold Republican primaries, and perhaps, at last, a real frontrunner will appear to take the GOP presidential nomination.
Everyone is focused on Ohio, with 66 convention delegates at stake. Rick Santorum was leading in Ohio, a blue collar and rural bastion of American conservatism, often voting for a Democrat, but whom Ronald Reagan brought into the GOP fold in 1980 as Reagan Democrats. In the last days, however, it seems that Mitt Romney is moving up on Santorum and has a chance to take Ohio. Romney’s win in Washington state this past weekend, when everyone thought Ron Paul would win, is evidence of his renewed strength as Republican voters consider who can actually beat President Obama in November.
Surprisingly, Georgia, with 76 convention delegates at stake, will be another very hot property tomorrow. It is Newt Gingrich’s home state so everyone is predicting a large in for him, a win that would save him from the otherwise almost sure end of his presidential ambitions.
The GOP has a way of awarding convention delegates that gives Georgia, with its population of 9.8 million, more convention delegates than Ohio, with a population of 11.5 million. The GOP awards delegates based on population, but then tosses in extra delegates for having elected a Republican governor, senator, and for having more than 50% of GOP congress members. Add to that total the delegates awarded for having a state legislature GOP majority, and those awarded for having carried the state for the GOP presidential candidate in the last presidential election.
So, there you have it…Georgia jumped through more GOP hoops than Ohio and so it has more GOP convention delegates to award in 2012’s Super Tuesday primary than does Ohio.
In addition, the Republican Party recently changed its rules so that most states were not allowed to hold their primaries before March 6. New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan and Arizona each lost half their delegates because they ignored this rule.
Tuesday's contests in Ohio, Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska and Idaho will award 437 delegates, almost 40 percent of the 1,144 needed for a candidate to win the nomination.
The delegate counts for each state on Super Tuesday:
Georgia: 76
Ohio: 66
Tennessee: 58
Virginia: 49
Oklahoma: 43
Massachusetts: 41
Idaho: 32
Wyoming: 29
Alaska: 27
Vermont: 17

So, Super Tuesday is well-named, because with 40% of the convention delegates at stake, if someone wins all or most of the delegates, the contest would be almost over.
But, that is not likely to happen. More reasonably, I expect Romney to take about 275 of the delegates, Santorum 100, and the rest divided between Gingrich and Paul. But, stay tuned, because the GOP race is about to get really interesting.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Al-Assad Forces Defeat Dissidents in Homs

The Syrian army has taken control of the Bab Amr sector of Homs where the dissidents were fighting against great odds to drive back the al-Assad regime’s forces. The capitulation followed several weeks of constant bombardment and two days of street combat.
The UN Security Council has demanded immediate and unrestricted access to the sector in order to ascertain humanitarian needs and to evaluate whether there was a massacre of civilians, as reported by dissidents.
The dissidents themselves have vowed to continue their year-long effort to overthrow the al-Assad government and denounced today “the terrible Arab, Islamic and international silence.” Only Qatar, so far, seems to be considering sending arms to the dissidents to help them in their fight. Other countries and the UN are fearful that doing so would precipitate a general civil war.
The dissident media have said that there is a large operation sweeping through the Baba Amr sector of Homs, making arrests and performing widespread searches.
Meanwhile the Security Council seems to have agreed on a declaration of principles which deplores “the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” in Homs, Hama, Deraa and Idleb. Russia and China are joining in the declaration, apparently because it now demands that all sides allow humanitarian access for the evacuation of wounded.
Russia has also firmly called on the Syrian regime to meet with the humanitarian aid head of the UN.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is now the Arab League delegate for Syria, and he will be meeting in Cairo next week, and then it is expected that he will travel to Damascus, but no date as been fixed as yet.
So, the world waits, watches, and suffers with the Syrian people, while the international community seems unable to do anything more than adopt declarations and plan meetings in the next week’s timeframe.
Al-Assad will have killed all the dissidents, I fear, before anyone does anything to stop him.