Monday, April 30, 2012

Political Reform, Democracy and Third Parties

With the countdown to the French presidential election at D-6 and the US presidential campaign heating up more each day, there are two nationally known politicians - one French and the other American - who are strangely on the sidelines even though they were presidential candidates themselves and command media attention.
Francois Bayrou is the leader of the French centrist party - Movement for Democracy, called the MoDem in France. He was a long-time moderate conservative Gaullist who broke away before the 2007 election of Nicolas Sarkozy to form MoDem because he believes that the real power of government can be harnessed by forming a coalition of the center that governs by acting reasonably and compromising to get things done.
Bayrou has been courted by both the Socialists and the Gaullists in France, and he was a MoDem candidate in both the 2007 and 2012 French presidential elections and took 15% and 10% of the first round votes, respectively. He is unwilling to join either side and clings to the idea that his party can unite the French in the political middle.
Jon Huntsman is a moderate conservative Republican who did a commendable job as GOP governor of Utah. He is an expert in Asian affairs and was US Ambassador to Singapore and Indonesia before taking on the job of being US Ambassador to China under Democratic President Barak Obama. This move alienated many Republicans who saw it as a form or “treason” and when he resigned as Ambassador to become a GOP presidential candidate in the 2011, many party loyals voiced the opinion that he could not possibly gain the support of enough GOP voters to win the nomination. They were right, for many reasons, and Huntsman withdrew and threw his 2-3% support to Mitt Romney with a lukewarm enthusiasm that one journalist described as “the spontaneous pleasure of the star of a hostage tape.”
Huntsman is now suggesting that he may start a third party in the US. He first voiced the idea in April and was promptly dis-invited as the speaker at two GOP National Committee events. It prompted Huntsman to say, “My first thought was, this is what they do in China on party matters if you talk off script.”
Within hours, websites were reporting the quote with headlines like “Huntsman compares GOP to Communist Party of China.” Jon Huntsman has tried to explain his hastily made remark, but the GOP is not amused or listening.
And, as did Francois Bayrou before him, Jon Huntsman is now talking seriously about a third American political party. The message he delivers is that both Democrats and Republicans – the “duopoly,” as he calls it —are paralyzed by polarization and inertia, and that the Republican Party is pursuing an “unsustainable” course in pursuing the 100% attack against Obama that made them the majority party in the House of Representatives in the 2010 election. Huntsman summarizes the GOP tactic as being unsustainable because he believes it “can’t last more than a cycle or two. ... With the political center hollowed out, the American people are going to say, who’s going to populate the center where you’ll get things done?”
When both Huntsman and Bayrou talk, they raise similar issues - limiting national legislative terms or otherwise controlling their make-up, campaign reform and national legislative redistricting to more accurately reflect population groups.
The sad truth is that none of these goals is feasible. Term limits cannot be supported by incumbents who must make the initial decision to enact them. Campaign reform is always on the table but what gets past the legislature is often window dressing. And, in the US, California has legislative term limits but is a state whose government is bankrupt and almost out of control…so much for term limits. As for redistricting, in the US, it is done routinely after every national census with no result except for even more bizarre shapes to the districts because the party in power has the job of redistricting and, like term limits, is not likely to be taken on as a serious reform project by either party.
So, what do Huntsman and Bayrou really want? Bayrou, the professor whose knowledge of the legislative and government process is deep, and Huntsman, whose knowledge of the Asia-Pacific Rim is vast and overshadows any other politician’s grasp of the region.
Power? I doubt it because if they really were seeking power they would stay in their parties and climb to the top.
What both men probably want is for the system to work better. Don’t we all? And, if they were the standard bearers of the new era, that would be fine, too, I suppose they are thinking.
But, in the United States, third parties have never taken hold. They tend to rise around a personality or idea and when the person or idea is dead, they vanish into the night. So, Jon Huntsman can form a third party and he may get as much as 10 to 15% of American voters to join him, as Ron Paul has done. But, Ron Paul was smart enough to see that he needed the GOP as his platform, not his adversary and his “third party” is actually a wing of the GOP.
In France, the system is parliamentary, so there are many smaller parties which collect around personalities or ideas and survive…until one or the other dies. So, Francois Bayrou can remain a national political figure in France without ever becoming the head of a majority party. And, when he fades away, someone else will take on the political center, without any hope of being elected president of France.
What both Bayrou and Huntsman miss is the fact that political reform in stable democracies comes from within. There is no need to force change because when party members begin to lose elections, they will get the message and do what it takes to save themselves and their party.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

American and French Political Smear Tactics 2012

There is something going on in both the United States and France during their respective presidential election campaigns that is amazingly similar.
I would call it creating the Demon and then Striking Him Down.
In France, the Socialist Francois Hollande has hit upon this device by finding the weak point of his opponent, incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that is the easiest to establish and the hardest to disprove.
In effect, Hollande and the Socialists have for many months tried to establish that Sarkozy is "interested only in the rich and does not really care about the majority of the French." Hollande has hammered this point home until the mass media and commentators have accepted it and use it as a major critcism of Sarkozy and his term in office. That it is not true is no longer important. Hollande created the Demon and he is now Striking Him Down.
Sarkozy has, in effect, lost the possibility of countering this false accusation. Whatever he says is simply countered by Hollande as another example of Sarkozy's support for the rich and his disdain for the common French person and his worries.
The same thing is being tried in the US by President Obama and his camp as they search for the weak point in Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for President. Because the GOP has the traditional reputation of being the party of "business and the rich" and because Obama has created the image of himself as the champion of the "common man", the game is on.
But, in the US, so far, the Demon (Romney working only for the rich and not caring about the common American) has not stuck enough to become a truism without need for proof. The media are still debating the issue. And, it is clear that Romney is not a tool of the rich, or of anybody else, for that matter. He won a primary battle by getting the votes of a wide range of GOP and independent voters.
The rich in America couldn't elect anybody because, as in France, there are just simply not enough of them.
But, one thing is sure, Mitt Romney needs to address this question urgently. If he doesn't, he will face the same unanswerable challenge that President Sarkozy now faces in the French presidential election. Thursday's poll in France showed Hollande in the lead over Sarkozy, 55% to 45%. Smear tactics can work if they are relentlessly pursued.
If Romney doesn't want to end up in the same boat, he had better get his campaign to focus on his support for ordinary Americans and his ability to solve their problems.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Newt Gingrich Will Bow Out of Race

Newt Gingrich is a puzzling person. He's the kind of man who seems to be a cuddly grandfather one minute, only to become a hatchet looking for somebody to chop the next.
And that is why he was never going to get very far in his bid to become the next US President.
America almost never elects presidents who are odd in any way. If you look back over the history of the presidency, the extremists never won, nor did the wannabes who were single issue candidates - the Cross of Gold or Prohibitionists or, I dare say, today's immigration voices.
Newt is different. It's not that he is a single issue guy. He covers the range of issues important in today's world. It is just that he never seems to stay interested in any one issue long enough to bring coherence to his ideas. We know he is moderate when it comes to immigration, but we don't really have a clue what he would propose to deal with the problem. He wants to shrink government, but aside from saying he'd eliminate huge swaths of the federal bureaucracy (thus saving billions, as he puts it) while saving the military untouched, we don't really know what he is proposing. The list could go on and on.
But now that Newt Gingrich is preparing his exit speech, he becomes a different commodity.
Gingrich has ideas. He wants to help America heal herself. His talent for proposing sweeping solutions is legendary.
But, what he needs is a minder. Someone who will make him do the hard work of putting flesh on the bones of the ideas he comes up with. And, he needs someone completely objective to evaluate those fleshed-out ideas and tell Newt the truth about their viability. Many of the ideas will fall away in this process, but some will not. Some of Newt's ideas will become programs that will help America.
That is Newt Gingrich's value. It needs to be harnessed and used for the common good. Think of him as a scientist who needs engineers to get his ideas put into workable shape.
I hope the Republican Party, and Mitt Romney, will find a way to use the uncommon flair of Newt Gingrich for speaking about the dreams we all have but cannot put into words.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Would a Sarkozy Loss in France Kill the European Union

The journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave, who has been covering Europe for Newsweek for more than 30 years and is now director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and editor at large at United Press International, gave an interview to Newsmax, where he is a contributor, about French President Nicolas Sarkozy and how he sees the results of the second round of the French presidential election.
De Borchgrave predicts that President Sarkozy will “squeak through” the upcoming election, remaining in office. The journalist goes on to say that a Sarkozy loss would lead to a decline of the European Union that could render it “irrelevant.” He also said, “If the Socialist wins, the decline of the European Union will continue to the point where it may become irrelevant in the context of geopolitics.”
De Borchgrave also warned that the European Union will “automatically collapse” if the Euro currency doesn’t survive, yet governments will be “automatically overthrown” by the people if they go too far in reducing spending.
When asked if the Euro will survive, de Borchgrave said: “If it doesn’t survive, the European Union automatically collapses, and that’s why I don’t think they’ll let it [the Euro] collapse. Greece may have to drop out….Portugal and Spain as well. But the core of the European Union is bound to remain the core while others may peel off….The future of the European Union is at stake…and nobody wants to see the whole thing collapse.”
Arnaud de Borchgrave is not the only analyst who sees things this way, but most of the others are predicting a win by the Socialist Francois Hollande. Their warning is that after Hollande is elected president of France, his policies will make the European Union much weaker because of his plan to re-enforce the national prerogatives of France and loosen the fiscal controls that are now in place to force austerity on those EU member states whose national debts are far in excess of both their EU Euozone control commitments and their ability to re-pay.
These factors, say the analysts, will ultimately lead to a collapse of the EU as it is now structured and perhaps will end the Euro as a common currency because of the future unsustainable cost of “bailouts” now being shouldered by Germany and France.
These predictions are certainly based on the fact that France is the EU’s second largest economy and without its contribution, Germany would be hard pressed to continue to shoulder the financial load alone, and certainly German voters would be against such a situation.
De Borchgrave also says a major issue in the French election is the war in Afghanistan, which is as unpopular in France as it is in the United States. This has, one might add, already led French President Sarkozy to announce a pullout of French troops in the coming year.
The journalist said, “I think the fact that he [Sarkozy] got France involved in Afghanistan….The Europeans who followed us into Afghanistan after 9/11 figured they were going to be around with us fighting Taliban and the remnants of al-Qaida for six, seven, eight or nine months, but not six, seven, eight or nine years. The involvement in Afghanistan has become more and more unpopular, as it has in our own country. I mean 70 percent of the American people today are against continued involvement in Afghanistan. It’s roughly the same figure all over Europe, and everybody is a little surprised to read in the papers today that we are talking about making a 10-years commitment to Afghanistan, to the non-Taliban government.”
[Note, dear readers, that last week the United States signed an accord with Afghan President Karzai that will serve as the outline for the American withdrawal in 2014, which in reality is almost an open-ended timeline commitment to support Karzai’s government both financially and with troops on the ground.]
Additionally, de Borchgrave reasoned that President Sarkozy narrowly lost the first round of France’s presidential election and will face a runoff because “because people consider him vulgar. He doesn’t quite seem presidential. But he does appeal to the man in the street, and also he is much firmer on immigration than his Socialist challenger.”
Remember, dear readers, that unemployment in France at 10% and many illegal immigrants are holding jobs without work permits and receiving extremely low wages, something that French workers and their unions see as avoidable if the government would enforce the immigration laws already on the books [but the workers and unions being Leftist in the majority of cases are opposed to many of the tactics that would rid France of its unwanted illegals]. If this sounds like the debate going on now in the US over illegal immigrants, it should, because the problems in the two countries are almost interchangeable.
“If Sarkozy wins, things will be roughly on the same level as they are today. I think he is going to win. He is very good at debating. My guess today is that he is going to squeak through.”
I want to add that de Borchgrave’s views are not the majority view in France. I happen to think he is right, and that President Sarkozy will “squeak” through, but nothing is less sure, and French polls are showing that Hollande would win if the election were held today. The French Left seems to be willing to put aside its internal philosophical differences so far, but with almost two weeks to go before the May 6 run-off, a lot can happen to split them along their traditional “Moderate” - “Core” - “Radical / Communist” factions.
Sarkozy has less of a problem in this respect because his Gaullist Right is much better organized and cohesive. His only “swing vote” problem is the 18% who voted for the extreme right candidate, and traditionally, many of these people will either vote for Sarkozy or stay home on May 6.
There will be a presidential debate on May 2, and perhaps some voters will be persuaded by that event.
I think, however, that the French will trust Sarkozy to pull them along through the crisis now enveloping the world, and not look to new and untested leadership in such difficult times.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Go Away, Jon Huntsman

Dear Jon Huntsman,
The Unites States is not China and the Republican Party is not the Chinese Communist Party.
That seems fundamentally true to most folks, but you appear to disagree.
Let me try to put it into perspective.
IF the USA were China, you would not have been allowed to be a candidate for President, because the candidate would have been settled within the Communist Party leadership.
IF you had spoken out, as you did a few days ago, against the Chinese Communist Party, you would now find yourself in a Chinese prison, without any visits from your family or human rights representatives.
IF you had spoken out against the Chinese Communist Party and were now in a Chinese prison, you would not only be facing some trumped up “breach of the common good” charge, but you would also be charged with tax evasion, to the tune of several million dollars, just as the artist Wei-Wei was when he spoke out.
IF you had spoken out against the Chinese Communist Party, the only members of your family not under house arrest would be those who had managed to flee to a safe country where they could speak in your defense…many Chinese dissident family members find their safe harbor in THE UNITED STATES.
So, please, Jon Huntsman, shut up, to be polite about it.
Go quietly into the oblivion you richly deserve and do not even bother to try to explain. We do not want to hear it or you.
And, while you are enjoying your retirement from public life, just try to remember that whatever you do, say, write or think, there will be no midnight knock at the door…because you are safe in a democratic country that tolerates idiots like you.
By the way, just for the record, America has had four years of an Obama administration trying to appease the Chinese government, a.k.a. the Chinese Communist Party. What it has achieved for the USA are patent thefts, currency manipulation and unfair international competition.
Maybe you can explain how the appeasement of China by the GOP and Mitt Romney would achieve any better result than President Obama and you, as President Obama’s Ambassador to China, did. Mr. Romney is right, and you, sir, are wrong.
So, just go away - now.
Sincerely, Casey-Pops

Monday, April 23, 2012

Senator Marco Rubio Takes Center Stage on CNN

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told Newsmax last week that Mitt Romney must brace himself for tough personal attacks from President Barack Obama, in what Bush said is sure to be the most negative campaign in modern American politics. The former governor said, “I think Mitt needs to stay above the fray a bit, and to offer a hopeful message that can lift people’s spirits up because after the end of this four or five months of really negative campaigning. I think people are going to be motivated by a more positive message.”
Jeb Bush also said that he thinks R0mney should pick Florida’s US Senator Marco Rubio to be his Vice President running mate.
Bush said Rubio is charismatic and “probably the best” VP candidate for the national GOP ticket this fall, saying that Rubio could well be the key to a GOP victory in November. “I think the combination would be extraordinary,” Bush added.
Then, one more time just for the record, Jeb Bush ruled himself out as a possible VP candidate. He presumably thinks the country is not ready for another Bush on a national ticket.
Afterward, Sunday on CNN’s State of the Nation, Candi Crowley interviewed Senator Rubio. It was the first time I had the chance to listen and watch Senator Rubio for an extended period, and I must say, I was impressed by his maturity (he is 40 years old) and openness.
Crowley is a unique journalist, in my view - polite but persistent, knowledgeable and willing to let the interviewee speak without interruption. So, when Rubio went up against her, he knew he was in professional and fair but insistent hands.
Her questions about the Hispanic vote were telling. Rubio made the point in several ways that Hispanics do not want a “free ride” in the US. He said many of them came to America illegally because it was the only way they could find to feed their children and save their families. He added that the Dream Act is not needed and is not advisable because it circumvents US law, and he said Hispanics would agree with him. What he and they want is a chance to have their children educated, under a special non-resident educational visa program, and then let the immigration process take its course, adding that he hopes America will understand that the Hispanic group in the US is conscientious, hard-working, and eager to be good Americans contributing to the country’s future. His is a moderate voice that seems to me to bridge the positions between the “throw-em-all-out” and “let-em-all-in” factions fighting it out for voter support.
When Crowley turned to the vice presidency, Senator Rubio gave what I consider to be a very solid answer. He said that the GOP now has its candidate, Mitt Romney, that Romney has a process in place for selecting the VP, and that arm chair quarterbacks ought to be quiet and let the process play out. Crowley repeatedly tried to get Rubio to say that he is or is not a candidate for VP, but he did not rise to her bait. He said again and again, ‘let the process play out. Romney is a serious and tested manager and politician and he will make the right choice.’ So, we will just have to wait with the Senator to see if he is chosen.
Then the conversation turned to his desire to be President sometime in the future. Again, Senator Rubio was mature and serious in his response. He said many politicians make a mistake when they enter political life by planning out their future. Rubio said, “I entered politics to serve.” He added that this should be the goal of all politicians. He went on to explain that if his services is seen as helpful, then he may have future opportunities in the public, NGO or business sectors, but he is not aiming at the presidency or anything else specifically. He is serving and hopes to do it well and for the benefit of America and his constituency.
And, in the course of the interview, Marco Rubio said something that made me appreciate his courage. He said he considers that George W. Bush was a good President, serving in very difficult times. I haven’t heard any other active GOP politician say anything so positive about President Bush, and I salute Rubio for doing it.
There, dear readers, is a polished and thoughtful politician at work with the media. He listened to the questions and answered politely with information on point. He discussed seriously the topics the journalist presented and didn’t try to talk about something else when the questions got tough.
And finally, Marco Rubio has something that no amount of money, training or position can buy.
It is called PRESENCE.
He fills the TV screen with his friendly, human face and smile. He is charming but serious. He is thoughtful without being pompous.
The GOP could do a whole lot worse than having Marco Rubio on its ticket as the vice presidential candidate.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The French Presidential Election

The first round of the French presidential election was held today. The turnout was 79% nationally.
The Socialist Francois Hollande received 28.6% of the vote and the incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy received 27%. These two candidates will now confront one another in the run-off election on May 6.
This is the first time a Socialist candidate has led after the first round since 1988, when Francois Mitterrand was running for his second term.
But, the real news tonight was the third place finish of Marine Le Pen, the Front National extreme right candidate, who received 18% of the vote. This is the highest result ever for the FN and signals the level of dissatisfaction with the French economy, with the politics-as-usual French system of talking about illegal immigrants but doing next to nothing about the problem, and with the European Union and its austerity and common currency, the Euro.
Le Pen attacked on all these issues and almost 20% of the French who voted today agreed with her.
In the next two weeks, the two candidates will sharpen their programs and their attacks on the other side. But, in the background, there will be a lot of jockeying for the support of the 8 candidates who did not finish in the money today - which amounts to 44% of the vote.
One would assume that Le Pen will tend toward Sarkozy, as will the centrist candidate who got 9%. That leaves 17%, and the extreme left can make up this difference. So, it's going to be a close race on May 6. Here again, the question mark is Le Pen and the FN, whose anti-Gaullist vitriole is always in the shadows and could give votes to the Socialist Hollande.
But, if I had to pick today, I would say that Sarkozy will squeak through. The French are Gaullists at heart and they will tend to vote Sarkozy. The French left is badly splintered and bickers constantly, and we'll see if the thought of winning the presidency can make them unite. Mitterrand is the only Socialist who has ever forced the left to stand together.
It's going to be an interesting race, and we can expect a long night on May 6.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Saturday for Waiting and Watching

Dear readers, we are all in a waiting mode today.
The trials in Bahrain are over and the Formula 1 race seems to be on - so far - for tomorrow. There were mass demonstrations today, some not far from the F1 track, and one person was found dead this morning after a march near where his body was found, but so far there are no details to confirm or deny that he was shot by security forces. The marchers who found him said he was killed by pellet shot...something hard to do except at very close range or by extraordinary "luck" on the part of the shooter.
And concerning Syria, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution today that will send 300 more unarmed ceasefire monitors to the country. Will this help the situation on the ground? I have no idea, because we still do not know if the 12 advance monitors have finally been allowed to enter Homs. But, we do know that al-Assad troops continue to bomb opponent locations.
And, in Europe, the French presidential election campaign is over. There is a halt, required by law, to campaign activities on Friday midnight in France before Sunday elections. This also means that no more survey results are allowed until 8 pm Sunday night when the last polling places close in mainland France (French Departments in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean areas are already counting their votes). So, all we now know is that the Socialist, Francois Hollande, and the incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy, were tied late on Thursday when the last survey was released. But, we have also been told by non-French TV, radio and newspaper outlets that they will publish exit poll results as they choose, since it would be difficult for French authorities to bring a lawsuit against any of them. The debate in France these days is whether the Internet and 21st century media have outstripped the power of the French National Assembly to prevent pre-closing voting information from being disseminated. Young people say they will find ways to encrypt the exit poll results and put them on the Net. Most candidates and politicians are against these tactics. Surprisingly, only President Sarkozy has spoken out against the ongoing viability of the law. His opinion is that France cannot shut down the Internet just because the French are voting. Does this mean that he is more confident of his results than the media are predicting? We'll know tomorrow at 8pm, French time (Eastern Daylight Time + 6 hrs). In any event, there will certainly be a run-off in two weeks between the two top vote getters, to determine finally who will be the next president of France.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Formula 1 Has Made a Big Mistake in Bahrain

The Arab Spring is now more than a year old, but its twists and turns are always surprising.
We didn’t expect that al-Assad could be shaken from his iron grip on Syria, but it seems he will be put aside like several dictators before him - Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qadhafi, Saleh.
We didn’t expect the Arab Spring to affect the Gulf States, but last year, Yemen fell into civil war as democratic opponents to the regime insisted on ousting President Saleh. Finally, he was wounded in an attack on his palace and went to Saudi Arabia for treatment, never to be the dictator again as Yemeni politicians and the population moved to put a better face on their country.
It was also a surprise when Bahraini shiites rose up against their host country’s sunni ruling group and tried to start an Arab Spring in Bahrain. This uprising was cut short because of the intervention of Saudi Arabia to protect the Bahraini indigenous sunni population from the long-term shiite guest workers become quasi-citizens, who had been given voting rights in parliament, but considered it not sufficient, and who are being supported by Iran in its bid to destabilize the Arabian peninsula and the United States’ presence there.
In the midst of relative quiet in Bahrain, an unprecedented set of events has occurred in the past month.
Formula 1 racing cancelled last year’s F1 in Bahrain because of the then-ongoing rebellion. But, Formula 1 head Bernie Ecclestone and his advisors, if he has any worthy of the name, decided that 2012 would be the year that F1 went back to Bahrain. Astonishingly, the Bahrain ruling family agreed and Saudi Arabia has remained publicly silent.
So, with some disquiet in the ranks of the F1 teams, and with a few brave drivers saying they “aren’t politicians” but it seems an odd thing to do, Formula 1 is in Bahrain this week, getting ready for a grand prix on Sunday.
Well, almost all of F1 is there, because after being caught up in their car in a protest march and escaping injury when a fire bomb exploded near them, several Team India employees have reportedly returned home and won’t be in the pits on Sunday. Team India, itself, refused to enter the trials on Friday but say they will be there on Saturday to qualify for the race on Sunday.
The protesters say the bomb was not meant for the Team India car and they are not trying to drive F1 away. This is echoed by the president of the Bahrain Formula 1 group and also by a spokesman for the ruling family.
But, today, there were more protests. Police are stationed around Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and a tank and police are on the road leading to the Formula 1 racetrack controlling everyone who wants to enter the area.
So, what was a relatively peaceful lull of almost a year in Bahrain has been turned into another round of violent protests.
Could Bernie Ecclestone not see what would happen?
Did the ruler of Bahrain really believe he could hold an F1 without the opposition shiites using it for all the publicity effect possible?
Did the F1 team leaders really think that because grand prix racing is not political, it would be spared the turmoil that is everywhere in the Gulf and especially in Bahrain, where the opposition is heavily controlled but not eliminated?
Do the heads of Team India, Robert Fernley, and Ferrari, Stefano Domenicali, really believe that saying they support the goals of the protesters will win them peace on Sunday or even help to calm the explosive situation their sport has created?
And, where oh where, are the King of Saudi Arabia and his Foreign Minister. These two leaders could have put a stop to the entire idea of racing again so soon in Bahrain, but they evidently chose not to.
I hope no one is hurt this weekend. I hope the protesters do not disrupt the F1 race because it is honestly non-political, and its actions in going back to Bahrain prove that it is not only non-political, but naïve in the extreme.
May Monday morning come without bloodshed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Syrian Ceasefire in Tatters

The Syrian ceasefire is in tatters. More than 120 people, mostly civilians killed by al-Assad forces, have died since it went into effect.
The Syrian regime is not cooperating with the UN either to put the UN monitors in place, especially in Homs - the center of the opposition and of al-Assad's murderous attacks, or to stop bombing civilian targets in Syrian cities where the opposition has its strongholds.
The opposition accuses the regime of bombarding civilian neighborhoods, killing civilians, making unlawful arrests and continuing the repressive presence of tanks in opposition stronghold cities.
Western and Arab diplomats met with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé in Paris on Thursday, trying to find a solution to the crisis. Juppé noted that only the opposition is complying with the ceasefire while the al-Assad forces “are pursuing their repression without shame.”
US UN Ambassador Susan Rice said that sending the rest of the UN monitors into Syria would be pointless until the al-Assad regime permits those already in Damascus to do their work properly. UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon agreed, calling on Syria to comply with the ceasefire protocol.
Meanwhile, the opposition has changed its stand about foreign intervention. General Moustapha Ahmed Al-Cheikh, head of the opposition military (the Free Syria Army) called Thursday for the countries that make up the Friends of Syria to begin surgical bombardments against al-Assad force installations, saying this needs to be done rapidly.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that tougher sanctions need to be imposed, including an arms embargo, to bring the al-Assad regime to the bargaining table.
Clinton also noted that Turkey is considering invoking the NATO Charter to call on its NATO allies to come to its aid in the matter of the continuing Syrian bombardments across the border into Turkey.
It appears that, finally, the Syria question is now front and center on international diplomatic and UN agendas.
Let us hope for the best outcome, one that stops the killing of civilians, more than 11,000 in the past 13 months, and that brings al-Assad and his cronies to the International Criminal Court. We have passed the time when negotiation or lenience with al-Assad is possible.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Obama's Tax Issue Campaign Gamble

The Obama campaign team and the President himself are focusing on taxes this week. Why?
Well, maybe because they’re worried that when Mitt Romney’s full campaign team gets rolling, taxes will be in the bag for the Republican candidate.
And, from now until November, the GOP House of representatives can introduce any conservative tax-related bill it wants to - and it will pass the House and go on to the Senate…the Democrat-controlled Senate, where the Democrats will have to vote “no” to it.
There is the problem in a nutshell. Whatever Obama says or does, his plans have to get through the House - and they won’t. And, the flip side is that any “no new taxes” legislation coming out of the GOP House will sound great to the vast majority of American taxpayers but the Democratic Senate will have to vote “no” in order to give Obama wiggle room with his “tax the rich” proposals.
But, even the Democrats in the Senate are skittish about raising taxes. A few days ago, the Buffet Rule that would have forced taxpayers making over $2 Million to pay at least 30% in taxes failed 51-35 in the Senate. Somebody is watching the folks back home and doesn’t like what he’s hearing about Obama’s tax ideas.
The Democrats are trying to turn the tax debate to their favor by arguing that there is a question of fairness in who pays how much in taxes. Polls show that a majority of Americans agree. But when the rubber hits the road, higher taxes are not welcome and that’s why polls also show that that more Americans trust the GOP to handle taxes than they do the Democrats or President Obama. They know that Democrats raise taxes and they hear Obama saying now that it is the right thing to do.
So, we are seeing the first big gamble of the presidential campaign, and it’s Obama who is taking the risk. In raising the tax issue and trying to make it a positive for himself and Democrats, he is bucking more than a century of American distaste for higher taxes (except in the WWII period).
It is far more likely that Mitt Romney will turn any Obama thrust into a parry that wounds the President - “Touché!” as they say in fencing.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The New US Afghanistan Plan

Associated Press reported last week that Admiral Bill McRaven, the head of US Special Operations, has fleshed out a plan for a US military presence in Afghanistan leading up to and following the end of the current US military activity in Afghanistan in 2014.
What Admiral McRaven visualizes is to replace the large US combat units with small operations teams that would be paired with (imbedded in) Afghan forces to help them withstand the Taliban onslaught foreseen after the 2014 US withdrawal of troops.
The plan was discussed at a meeting in Florida in February which was reportedly attended by Central Command General James Mattis and overall Afghanistan Commander General John Allen, whose preference is to keep a large US military force in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. US Political pressure and the withdrawal of NATO allied forces make this option unacceptable to the White House.
The US special teams would advise Afghan troops, helping with securing territory, advising about how to repel Taliban attacks, providing intelligence and communications support, and giving air cover when needed. Admiral McRaven’s plan includes most of the “enduring force” asked for by Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim during his recent visit to Washington and really amounts to a counterinsurgency strategy whose goal would be to protect the Afghan civilian population while assisting in the hunting down of Taliban and al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan.
The 23,000 US troops still in Afghanistan for the “surge” will be withdrawn later in 2012, leaving some 68,000 US troops in the country until 2014, to give Afghan forces time to be trained and get into place. The US presence would continue to include regular military units for logistics and air support but would not follow Vice President Biden’s plan of leaving Afghan forces alone in the field after 2014, with US units kept in their bases and going out only to hunt terrorists at “minimum” risk.
Instead, Admiral McRaven’s plan would imbed US troops in Afghan field units in positions of greater risk. McRaven’s strategy is to leave a contingent of several thousand special operators, mainly Navy SEALs and Army Delta Force, to continue working with Afghan special forces to go after terrorist targets.
US commanders would also like to keep several thousand defense intelligence troops in the country to feed data to the imbedded forces, but also relying on the CIA for intelligence.
Two-thirds of the 6,000-strong special operations force would be assigned to Afghanistan's rural towns and villages to advise inexperienced Afghan forces, and would include expanding the Village Stability Operations village program, in which US special operators help what is essentially an Afghan government-backed armed neighborhood watch to keep the peace.
US officials say they will take more care with selecting who gets deployed into these sensitive and remote areas in the future (presumably to avoid another massacre of villagers at the hands of a US soldier).
The commanders building the new team also would draw heavily from the group known as "Afghan Pakistan hands," the 700-strong force of troops and civilians given months of extra language training in Pashtu, Dari or Urdu, the three main languages of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fifty of the "hands" are already deployed to Village Stability Operations to serve as language and culture translators between special operations troops, Afghan government officials and local villagers.
The insider knowledge of the "hands" group and the special operators with multiple Afghan tours is intended to minimize the chance of further antagonizing Afghans and driving them to support the Taliban.
Some US military experts, including retired senior officers, are calling the McRaven plan the least bad option for dealing with the 2014 US troop withdrawal. Some add that it will at least let US troops withdraw in an orderly manner.
The proposal apparently has not yet been presented to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or the White House. Leaders of NATO nations are to meet May 20-21 in Chicago to discuss the war, among other issues.
Dear readers, if you are saying this does not sound like a real withdrawal, you’re undoubtedly right. But, as the British in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th century learned the hard way, there is no possibility of stabilizing Afghanistan and “withdrawing.” It is a war torn region divided along tribal lines, and the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists know the territory and play on its weaknesses better than any “hand” could possibly do.
The more serious question for Americans, and for American families with sons and daughters in Afghanistan, is how long it will take after the special operators and “hands” are deployed until they are systematically hunted down and killed or taken hostage by the terrorists, one might assume with the tacit help of some of the Afghan troops the Americans are trying to help.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sometimes the More You Read, the Less You Know

This weekend, there are a lot paired news events - each not really worth a long blog but all interesting as they give an insight into the current state of world affairs.

1. President Obama is in South America telling the continent that trade relations between their countries and America is well and working fine -- and at the same time, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is speaking on behalf of Mitt Romney, saying that Obama’s three-year delay in signing free trade agreements with South American countries, because of pressure from some labor unions, has cost US agriculture more than 1 Billion Dollars.
2. The UN Security Council has unanimously passed Resolution 2042, authorizing observers to go to Syria to monitor the ceasefire -- while both the rebels and the al-Assad regime are accusing the other of violations of the ceasefire, with the only “proof” so far being the deaths of at least three civilians today when regime troops opened fire in two separate Syrian cities.
3. The Istanbul meeting between world powers and Iran has led most western diplomats to express optimism about the possibility of Iran’s entering into serious discussions about its nuclear enrichment program -- while Iran’s President Ahmadinejad is saying in Tehran that “Iran will not budge one iota away from its inalienable rights to nuclear enrichment programs,” as Iranian diplomats call for the lifting of UN sanctions already in place against Iran, and the US strengthens its determination to carry on with the petroleum export ban on 1 July followed by other sanctions.
4. The Obama campaign team and the Democratic Party were on a roll characterizing Mitt Romney as unfriendly to women, and the polls seemed to show the women of America were buying the pitch -- until a female Democratic strategist said that Mrs. Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” a remark that made even President Obama himself “apologize” and gave Sarah Palin a talking point on “momma grizzlies” while Mrs. Romney rose above it all, saying that she had raised five sons and her staff added, yes…while suffering from MS and beating breast cancer.
5. President Obama has been all over Mitt Romney about paying only 15% in taxes last year and vowing to correct this injustice -- but today the world learned that the Obamas paid just 20% in taxes, and like Warren Buffet, paid a lower percent in taxes than Mr. Obama’s secretary.
6. And finally, just about everyone in the know in the world of ice hockey has picked the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Stanley Cup this year -- but right now the Philadelphia Flyers, after two matches, are leading the Penguins 2 -0 in the first leg of the play-offs.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Politics of the World Bank Presidency

The World Bank will select a new president Monday to replace Robert Zoellick, retiring at the end of June. The presidency of the World Bank is traditionally allotted to an American, just as the presidency of the International Monetary Fund always has gone to a European. But, this time the emerging market countries have demanded that one of them be considered for the post. A Columbian, Jose Antonio Ocampo, withdrew yesterday, after not being able to get a South American commitment to support him on Monday. This leaves two candidates : Madame Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Jim Jong Kim, an American born in South Korea. One would think that Mme Okonjo-Iweala might benefit from Ocampo’s withdrawal, as the remaining emerging world representative, but it seems that Japan, the United States, Canada and Mexico are supporting Mr. Kim. Most of Europe will vote with the Americans because this will help to assure that America will continue to vote for their candidates to head the IMF. This should guarantee Mr. Kim at least 60% of the votes, more than enough needed to win. There has been some negative noise from the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) but after meeting with Mr. Kim this week, the Russians announced that he is the best qualified candidate and that they will support him. So, Monday morning, we ought to find that the new head of the World Bank is the American, Jim Jong Kim, a medical doctor and anthropologist, who seems to be something of a specialist in tuberculosis. What that has to do with running the World Bank, I am sure we’ll find out in due course. Now, if the American presidency could be decided on just as civilized (or perhaps cynical) a basis as that of the World Bank, think of the time, money, bad political ads and speeches we’d be spared between now and November. Well, it’s Friday, the 13th…I can conjure up witches brews, can’t I???

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gingrich Is not Presidential Material

I do not know why Newt Gingrich insists that he's going all the way to Tampa. I can't remember anyone telling him that he couldn't go. That's not the question.
The problem is that Newt insists on going to Tampa as a candidate - making a last stand, sort of like General Custer, at the Republican Convention.
And that is exactly why he is not presidential material.
Remember back last year when he took a vacation while his first campaign staff was falling apart and leaving his then sinking ship? Remember when he then announced he was not a candidate? Remember how he then decided he was a candidate?
And, remember, while all this was going on, how people who had worked with him or been members of Congress when he was Speaker of the House said he was a poor manager and didn't build a team among the GOP members?
Despite all this, we gave Newt the benefit of the doubt. Some of us sent contributions. Some of us worked for him locally. Some of us voted for him when he was on the GOP primary ballot in our state.
We were wrong.
Newt Gingrich is not a team player. He does not put the need to get Barak Obama out of the White House for the good of America above his own ego. He does not understand that by hanging on, even marginally, he is divisive for the GOP. He does not get the fact that Mitt Romney is the candidate, no matter how often Newt goes to Tampa.
In short, Newt Gingrich has proved one more time that he does not have the personality, the maturity or the presence of mind needed to be President of the United States.
Go home, Newt. Buy plane tickets for yourself and Callista so you can go to Tampa and support Mr. Romney. Maybe if you do this soon enough, you will still have some chance of being a player in the Romney administration.
But, if I were Mitt Romney, I'd be wondering how long it would take before you blow up again, the next time on his watch as President.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Checkmate in Syria

Kofi Annan is trying hard to save the Syrian peace process. He has even tried to invoke the aid of Iran to bring the al-Assad regime to its senses. And, late today, we have heard that al-Assad intends to stop the bombing on Thursday, or perhaps move it away from the present cities toward other targets…the Syria-Turkey border? the Syria-Lebanon border?
One thing is sure. No one believes that Bashar al-Assad will follow through with a full commitment to the ceasefire plan he agreed to with Kofi Annan and the UN.
France, Britain and the United States have already called for tougher sanctions against the regime in light of its refusal to keep its word to the UN.
What will Russia and China do? It is not clear since they both reluctantly agreed to support the Annan plan, but have never agreed to the use of force or coercion against al-Assad. If the UN Security Council debates a package of sanctions, it seems highly likely that Russia and China will again block their passage. And, we will find ourselves back where we started early in 2012…no peace plan…no universally agreed sanctions…no Security Council unanimity…and no way to control the murderous actions of the Syria regime.
British Foreign Minister William Hague said today that it is time to take the Syrian question to the International Criminal Court. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe is asking for more intense measures against the Syrian regime and Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN, has called on Russia and China to step up to their responsibilities.
If Russia and China continue to stonewall the UN process, it would be tantamount to admitting that the UN and its Security Council are powerless to prevent the continuing massacre of Syrian civilians by the Syrian armed forces under al-Assad.
Russia, meanwhile, seems to be playing both sides. It has asked the Syrian Foreign Minister to comply more fully with the Annan plan while asking the UN to force the rebels to carry out what would amount to a unilateral ceasefire. That Russia has not convinced al-Assad to comply with the ceasefire suggests that either Russia lacks the influence the world thinks it has with Syria or proves that Russia has not used its influence and is prepared to let the bloodshed go on.
Whatever happens in the next day or so, it is now clear that the al-Assad regime has evaded all attempts to bring it to reason.
The spectacle is not pretty - al-Assad laughing up his blood-soaked sleeve at the United Nations, Russia either impotent or collusive, China unable to decide where it stands, Kofi Annan left with the tatters of a plan he to some extent staked his considerable reputation on, and no one with any idea about how to get international agreement to take a next step.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Santorum Suspends His Presidential Campaign

The fat lady just sang.
Rick Santorum, the only remaining opponent to Mitt Romney, has withdrawn from the Republican presidential campaign, saying, "This presidential campaign is over for me."
He suspended instead of ending his campaign so that his campaign committee can continue to collect contributions to pay off his remaining campaign debt, and perhaps to transfer funds to a new registered committee, because Santorum made it clear that he is not disappearing from the GOP scene, only from the presidential race.
His remarks, made at Gettysburg, a site dear to all Americans, and especially to Republicans, because it was there that the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, made his immortal Gettysburg Address, quoting the Declaration of Independence and challenging Americans then embroiled in the Civil War to prove that their country would survive.
Santorum made a similar appeal today, asking that America's political leaders take to heart the needs of all Americans, remembering that America is unique only for as long as she remembers how she was founded and who she is. In his speech, Rick Santorum reflected on the values of liberty and freedom that make all Americans special and said he will remain in the fight to keep those values alive so that America can be and remain great.
Importantly, Santorum also committed himself to helping defeat President Obama in November, thus putting aside any thought of his heading a splinter right wing effort to defeat Romney.
He stopped short of endorsing Romney, but that will come in due course, after the two men and their staffs have sorted out Santorum's role in the Romney campaign.
So, Mitt Romney must now turn his effort to the Fall Campaign against President Obama. It signals not only the honing of his message but also the beginning of a serious campaign to raise the money needed to fight Obama's more than $300 Million war chest, money raised and saved because he had no primary opponents and so didn't need to spend money to defeat them.
It is now also important that every Republican get behind Mitt Romney. He needs the GOP rank and file in his corner as he sets out to bring in independent voters and conservative Democrat voters.
The campaign has begun. Bravo Mr. Santorum!
May I add, "Mr. Gingrich, step up to the plate and do likewise."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Iran and Syria Updates

The next round of talks about Iran’s nuclear program gets underway soon and to mark the occasion, Iran has offered to discuss reducing the strength of the enhanced uranium it is producing. But, Iran will not turn over to international authorities the enriched uranium it has already made.
The talks will take place in Turkey, and considering the amount of time it took just to agree on the venue for the talks, one might wonder how serious the Iranian proposal is, or whether it is just one more time-buying effort by the Tehran regime. But, the suggestion was made by the chief scientist of Iran’s nuclear program and needs to be followed up.
As part of its proposal, the Iranians said that they could in the future cut back the strength of the enhanced uranium they already have stockpiled.
Iran continues to insist that it does not want to make fissionable bomb material but is only interested in making enhanced uranium for peaceful and scientific purposes. Observers believe that Iran’s determination to keep its program intact is part of its reinforcement of the idea that it is a major power.
Downgrading the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear capability seems to be worth making the effort to try to understand just what they are suggesting and to determine if it can be accommodated and controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Meanwhile, the Syrian situation has again come unglued, to no one’s surprise. Perhaps “escalation” would be the better word since today Syrian troops for the first time fired into Turkey refugee camps to try to stop Syrians who were fleeing from northern Syria. Several were wounded or killed. And, an Arab-language journalist was shot and killed by Syrian troops while he was in Lebanon, along the Syrian border. His cameraman escaped injury but says their car was riddled with bullets.
So, Bashar al-Assad’s response to the April 10 ceasefire is to begin a cross-border campaign to stop insurgents and the journalists who are trying to report on their activities.
Kofi Annan’s peace initiative seems to have been toppled by the cynical lies of the Syrian dictator.
What will be the next step, and who will take it? Arm the rebels? Create the buffer zone called for by Turkey to protect Syrian refugees in camps in Turkey? Hold Russia and China accountable for their protégé’s actions? Blockade Syrian ports? Halt all petroleum shipments to China?
There are a lot of possibilities. What we need now is the collective will to begin to implement some of them.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Message of Easter

For Christians around the world, it is the sacred feast of Easter, when they commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ.
So, let's put aside the political and social differences that separate us - whether Christian, Jew, Moslim, Hindu, Buddhist or non-believer - and focus for this weekend on the message, if not the feast, of Easter.
It is simple and can be taken to heart and applied by anyone, of any set of beliefs. It is that God loves us and was willing to make a great sacrifice Himself to show us His love.
To live within the love of God, however you see Him or Her, is to live a life that is open to others, that wants good for every person, that finds good in everyone and tries to bring it out, that makes the effort to be open to others by being kind to them.
Love, after all, is what most of us search for all our lives. But, there it is, right in front of us. The love of God for each of us, just waiting for us to accept it and apply it in our daily lives.
So, to my dear readers - Happy Easter and/or happy weekend to each of you. Reach out in the next day or so and love someone, do something nice for someone. Be a child of God's love for you.
I'll be back on Monday with my political commentary.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sometimes, It's Smart not to Listen to Everybody

Some people are making it seem today like the world got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.
Examples -
1. The Masters has started in Augusta, Georgia. The golf world has been front and center all week, and they have pretty much devoted their comments to whether Tiger Woods will win his 6th green jacket on Sunday. I wouldn’t mind if he did. In fact, at 36, Tiger needs to start winning majors again if he is to have any chance at catching Jack Nicklaus’ record. But, these fellows, all bright and well-informed professional golf journalists, seem to have forgotten about history. The history of Tiger Woods, to be exact. I don’t mean his personal troubles or the fact that he had to restructure his golf swing, or anything like that. I just mean - take a look at the field. There are hot young talents - American, British, Irish, Korean - just itching to get on the first tee at Augusta and prove they’ve got what it takes. There’s also the small matter of Phil Mickelson, who has won three Masters since 2004, and who is playing very good golf this Spring. Mickelson also has another plus going for him. If you think about his play at Augusta, he takes chances. Remember his oh-my-heaven-he’s-crazy-to try-that approaches to Augusta’s incredibly tough greens, or his fearless turns around Amen Corner. Mickelson may be the only golfer with the experience, confidence and savvy - add to that lack of nerves about the mythic course - who should be a real name to reckon with, before, that is, Augusta jumps up and grabs almost all of them by the throat. But, Tiger Woods? Top 3, but no horseshoe, I’d say.
2. The entire world, even President Obama (and we all know how long it takes our Prez to get it sometimes), knows that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for president. Everybody, that is, except Rick Santorum, who keeps insisting that somehow the Pennsylvania primary on April 24 will shoot him right back up to the top. It seems that not only is Santorum slower than the Prez, he’s got a big black hole where his political memory ought to be. Because we all remember that he lost his last race in Pennsylvania by 17%. That’s huge and yet he keeps telling us that this time it’s different. Well, recent polls don’t agree because he and Romney are in a dead heat. So, Rick, why don’t you just pack it in. Get out of the way so Mr. Romney can forge the platform, the voter coalition, the momentum and the media campaign he needs to beat Barak Obama in November. Rick - are you listening? I’m beginning to believe that your refusal to face reality may be the biggest reason why you are not going to be either the candidate or the President. Give it up, Rick, and get some rest. I think you need it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Romney Will Be the Winner in November

Yesterday's results in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia make it clear that Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for the presidency in the November election.
As if confirming this, President Obama mentioned Romney for the first time by name yesterday in his speech attacking the GOP budget proposal. Some time ago, I wrote that the best evidence of Romney's status would be the attacks that would start to come his way from the Obama camp.
Yesterday, Mr. Obama even blamed Mitt Romney for rising gasoline prices in the if President Obama himself weren't in office and had nothing to do with the prices of gas, or with anything else negative, for that matter. Barak Obama often lives in a dream world, and it is worrisome when he is supposed to be the leader of the world that his automatic reaction is to blame someone else for all his shortcomings.
Romney shot back his answers and it seems that now we have the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign in real time.
What also surprised me yesterday was the relative calm of Mitt Romney and the sharpness of the attack from Obama. We do not need a mindless machine gun in the White House. We need a calm, organized and thoughtful president who understands the problems and has good ideas about how to solve them.
Romney's speech last night in Wisconsin was clear and precise. He laid out his plan for his presidency and he honed in on the errors of the Obama presidency with the precision of a laser beam. He noted the differences between government controlling everything, which has led to the mess the country is in right now, and letting the private sector do its job, which has always worked for America.
Romney has the right instincts. He has the right ideas. He has the calm and composure to get the job done without turning everyone who didn't vote for him into wrecking cranes aimed at his programs.
Mitt Romney is on track to be the next President of the United States.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Syrian People Suffer While Diplomats Try to Force al-Assad Compliance

While those not completely bored with the long process are waiting tonight for news about a Romney victory in the latest GOP primaries - a subject for tomorrow’s blog - today the world should be looking toward Syria.
Al-Assad has sent military reinforcements to the cities where the opposition is strong. This may be the most honest of his answers to the UN and Kofi Annan’s peace process. Certainly, his allowing diplomats to come and go to and from his Damascus capital is not honest.
And, today while the diplomats were scouring their plans, papers and draft accords, 44 people were killed in Syria among then 31 civilians. The attacks took place in the south and north of the country, as well as close to Damascus.
And what was al-Assad doing…arranging for yet another visit by a UN delegation and promising to work with them on their plan for distributing aid to those in need - in need because of al-Assad’s murderous war on his own people.
The UN says it will have a plan agreed by Thursday to insert observers into troubled areas, and al-Assad has agreed to stop the shelling and put the country in a “ceasefire” mode by the 10th of April.
A militant in Deraa, an insurgent stronghold, told French reporters that “in their effort to starve the people, they [al-Assad troops] are entering houses, destroying any stocks of food found” and cutting electricity for 15 hours per day. The troops are also destroying wheat stockpiles in bakeries and throwing rising dough into the streets.
The International Red Cross president will be in Damascus on Wednesday and has asked to visit Deraa, as well as to see detention centers being used by al-Assad’s regime.
Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN has said that America sees no proof that al-Assad will keep any of these promises. Further, and with good reason, the insurgent army says it will not lay down its arms until al-Assad tanks and troops have withdrawn from their cities.
If this all sounds too familiar, it is the same song we have been listening to for more almost two months now. There seems to be an endless wave of plans, papers, meetings and resolutions…while the Syrian people are being killed and starved to try to break their spirit and desire for freedom.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Romney Closes in on Nomination

Tomorrow there will be Republican primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia (Washington, DC). These decisions should all go into the Romney column and put an end to the Santorum fantasy candidacy.
But, it will then be time for Mitt Romney to get busy with his wavering constituencies - moderate Republicans, independents, women and Hispanics.
The grinding primary season, far too long and divisive to help whoever the winner would have been, has been particularly hard on these natural Romney supporter groups. To ward off the right wing attacks coming from Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Romney has had to move to the right on social conservative issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, immigration and contraceptive availability.
Anyone with any sense of where Mitt Romney comes from politically must know that he is a moderate conservative on all these issues, preferring to let them be settled outside the political arena when possible. His instincts are right here because, as I have noted before, they are simply not politically solvable issues but rather religious beliefs - and no one is going to give an inch on his or her principles. But, the result has been to alienate women and Hispanics and the gay community.
The plain truth is that neither Romney nor any other GOP presidential candidate can win if women and Hispanics vote against him. So, Romney must mend fences with these voters even while he is holding on to the social conservative right wing of the GOP.
This is not going to be easy, and the sooner Santorum stops his attack dog running commentary against Romney on these issues, the better the GOP chances of moving into the White House in November will be.
But, Romney needs more...and he has one weapon that will be extremely useful, his wife. Mrs. Romney should waste no time getting out onto the women's circuit, making the case that her husband is not the arch anti-woman conservative he is being made out to be. Anne Romney can deliver this message with the warmth and openness that are her trademarks, and she will be credible.
As for the Hispanic vote - the answer seems so obvious that it's almost a waste of time to write it. Romney needs Florida Senator Marco Rubio on his ticket as the VP candidate. Rubio can deliver the Hispanic vote, with his meaningful and honest representation of this group which has become very important in GOP politics. And, I don't think Romney ought to wait until the convention to name Rubio. He should do it as soon as he has the delegate vote count sewn up, thus giving Senator Rubio the chance to work his constituency over a longer period.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Name for the Ages

The National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar, or as we usually call it, Burma, has said that its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has won a seat in the Burmese national parliament during Sunday’s elections.
Not only did she win, but she took 99% of the vote in her district according to the NLD.
It is difficult to fully appreciate, to take in, this momentous event.
We are used to hearing that Aung San Suu Kyi has been arrested…been sentenced to years of house arrest…been denied the right to see her family…been denied even the right to go to London for her husband’s funeral without knowing that she could never return to Burma…been refused visits by her sons for years…in short we are used to Aung San Suu Kyi being deprived of all the human events and joys that make life liveable in the best of times and worlds.
But, for this frail woman, now 63, life has been anything but good or joyful.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been the lone image confronting a Burma scorched by a military junta that has tried everything to defeat her, whose stance for democracy and personal liberty has been the one support of her people, whose quiet voice and smile have inspired us for twenty years and made us all a little ashamed of our small annoyances and inconveniences.
But, she has won...not the last step but the first. She is now a minority member of a parliament controlled by the same junta that has martyred her time and again.
News of her victory sent the Burmese people to the streets of Rangoon, far from her rural district, where they shouted their joy at the gates of the NLD headquarters.
Led with indefatigable conviction by the Nobel Peace Laureate, her party has apparently won not only Aung San Suu Kyi’s seat, but a total of 43 or 44 seats. The NLD can now take its rightful place in the corridors of Burmese power.
This just two years after Aung San Suu Kyi was declared Public Enemy No. One by the military junta. What has happened?
For unexplained reasons, but pushed by Aung San Suu Kyi to do so, the junta gave its public governmental powers over to a group of former military men who for whatever reason have decided to liberalize the country. Some say it is because Burma is now, because of junta policies, so poor that it cannot continue as it is. Some say that these former military men are more democratic than their allies. Some say that Burma cannot stand the pressures placed on it by the economic successes of its Asian neighbors, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Malaysia.
But, if Aung San Suu Kyi had not stood her ground during these long years of isolation, the junta would have had little pressure from within to change. It was Aung San Suu Kyi who held them up to criticism, who told the truth about their vicious regime, who quietly but persistently demanded that the world support her people.
The path in front of her now is possibly even more difficult.
She must be a part of the government without supporting it. She must go about her duties as a member of parliament without forgetting that she is the sole voice of Burma to the outside world and cannot seem to be supporting the junta. Most of all, she must continue to push for democracy and personal liberty for all Burmese in what will surely be a very hostile environment.
But, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Lady of Rangoon as she is lovingly called in Burma, will prevail. Her people, those peaceful, kind and loving Buddhists who are so prone to smile and accept instead of becoming angry and violent, will prevail.
Together, they have taught us a monumental lesson. Determination, combined with civility and a leader worthy of the name, will always win. Even in the Burma of the junta.
Aung San Suu Kyi. A name for the ages.