Monday, September 30, 2013

Are Putin and China Blackmailing Obama Because of US Debt Needs?

A conservative European website asked a very troubling question last week - is Putin playing the debt card over Syria? Here's the quote used to support this opinion : "They are living beyond their means and shifting a part of the weight of their problems to the world economy. They are living like parasites off the global economy and their monopoly of the dollar. If [in America] there is a systemic malfunction, this will affect everyone. Countries like Russia and China hold a significant part of their reserves in American securities. There should be other reserve currencies." ___Vladimir Putin, 2011. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the answer may turn out to be that very possibly both Russia and China are playing the debt card. This makes a lot more sense since China holds approximately 1.275 trillion dollars of US debt, compared to Russia's approximately 138 billion dollars. So, if Russian president Putin is playing point man in this proposed scenario, it is surely China that is writing the script and calling the shots. We don't know what actually happened on Friday, 30 August 2013. What motivated the sudden bomb-drop of Obama's change of tactic, seemingly only hours away from a military strike on al-Assad? The US President's advisors and the military certainly appeared to be caught totally by surprise. Did Putin let it be known to Obama that China would not be happy continuing to buy the debt of an America on the ground in Syria? It is clear that a US attack would have escalated, leading to US troops on the ground. Sunni allies of America in the region, led by Saudi Arabia, would have supported a US ground war in Syria, not so much looking for a victory there, but more likely because their real goal is not al-Assad but his shiite bosses in Iran. Machiavelli said, "he who overcomes his enemies by stratagem is as much to be praised as he who overcomes them by force." And Russia, China and Putin would have lost big-time if the US had been forced by the situation on the ground to occupy Syria -- (1). Iran would have been exposed to a US land invasion through northern Iraq, which is under US-friendly Kurdish control; (2). The Kurds also would have welcomed a US ground attack to help expand and create a Kurdistan state, not something Russia would appreciate in its southern border region; (3). A Kurd state would also put American military forces on the border of the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia, posing a threat to an already weakening Russian influence in the area; (4). The Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria, would have been lost, denying Russia its only remaining foreign naval base and weakening Russian and Chinese efforts to gain influence to counter the American control of Middle East oil and gas resources. That is the Russia-China-Putin worst-case scenario. But, why would Obama not want to win that power play? Because if China especially, and Russia, refuse to buy American debt, who will? And if America were caught in this choking off of Chinese, and Russian, credit, why wouldn't other countries turn on the US and the Dollar? The doomsday scenario would be upon America and the world. In Sun Tzu's ancient Chinese military treatise, The Art of War, he said : "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.....Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across." If China is trying to do just that - make America's supremacy collapse under overspending supported by Chinese credit that makes America, in effect, a Chinese client state - then every American should be foursquare behind US House Speaker John Boehner, the Republican Party and the tea partiers, who understand that Obama and the Democrat Party are selling America to China. Obama's contention that there is no problem because the annual deficit has been halved is a lie. His $700 billion annual deficit is obscene. And it automatically raises the national debt, which was $1 trillion in 2008 and is $1.67 trillion now,making it necessary to borrow even more operating funds from China. Barack Obama is either stupid or an evil agent sent by God to test America's will to survive. Do not believe him. Do not attack the tea party or the GOP. They are America's last hope. I am telling you the hard, cold truth. We either get our debt under control or we become a Chinese outpost directed by Vladimir Putin. That should not be such a difficult decision. Think long and hard about it and talk to all your friends. This time, it is for real.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Democrats Will Be to Blame if There Is a US Government Shutdown

Barack Obama's job-approval rating is its lowest level since 2011, reflecting public disapproval of his clashes with Congress on spending and a growing opposition to Obamacare, according to two new polls. The Bloomberg National Poll of 1,000 adults conducted on September 20-23 shows the president with a 45% job-approval rating. The Gallup poll of 11,259 adults on September 21-22 gives him 44%. The Gallup survey shows that the President is rapidly losing support within his own party. While 78% of Democrats still give him a positive job-approval rating, he's lost 13 points from a high of 91% in the month after his re-election. "Loss of support from a president's core supporters is an ominous sign, as they are typically the last group to abandon the president when things go sour," Gallup said. "Obama still enjoys the support of the vast majority of Democrats, 78%, but that is down 13 points from the end of last year and is 6 points below his average 84% approval rating from Democrats throughout his presidency." While the two polls may have been bad news for the President, the Republicans were also blamed by respondents. In the Bloomberg survey, for example, respondents blamed both Obama and congressional Republicans for the partisan mess in Washington over spending and the debt limit. But they still give the President a better favorability rating at 47% to congressional Republicans at 34%. Results for both parties are the worst since the Bloomberg National Poll started in 2009. The Bloomberg survey also found that Democrats' approval rating at 44% was a two-year low. J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., which conducted the Bloomberg survey, said results show that the President is entering the budget fight with a "slippery advantage" in popularity over Republicans. "Obama has been damaged, but the Republicans haven't crawled out of their own hole," she said. And meanwhile, the Battle of the Budget continues unabated. House Speaker John Boehner and GOP survivors of the 1995-96 government closures that weakened Republicans and strengthened the hand of Democratic President Bill Clinton, are afraid of the 2014 election consequences for the GOP of a government shutdown, but Boehner says he doesn't expect one to occur on Tuesday. As for the real-life consequences of a shutdown - there aren't really any unless you plan to visit a national park, buy a house with a government-guaranteed mortgage or receive certain mothers' food supplements for young children. But because of the time it takes the Senate to approve even non-controversial bills - and please note that while the House worked Saturday, the Senate will not re-convene until Monday afternoon and has no plans to start sooner - the possibility of a short shutdown looms. Saturday the House took up the bill returned by the Senate, which eliminates the part that would defund Obamacare. The House, in turn, amended the Senate-passed bill to approve the budget, extend the continuing authorization one extra month to 15 December, and delay the implementation of Obamacare for one year. The bill that the House is returning to the Senate also eliminates the medical device tax that would have helped to pay for Obamacare. But since the House is returning its amended bill to the Senate over the weekend, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois - Obama's home state, said that because of the time it takes the Senate to approve even non-controversial bills, "That is a concession on their part that we're going to shut down the government." And at a community college near Washington, Obama insisted on Friday that he would not negotiate over his signature domestic achievement, either on a bill to keep the government operating or legislation to raise the nation's borrowing authority : "The entire world looks to us to make sure that the world economy is stable. You don't mess with that....And that's why I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America." Responding to Obama's non-negotiable stand, House Speaker Boehner said, "Well, I'm sorry but it just doesn't work that way." The last-ditch effort on Obamacare comes days before coast-to-coast enrollment in the plan's health care exchanges begins on October 1. ~~~~~ Dear readers, when we consider these events and positions, several things become clear. The GOP House is leveraging as best it can its minority position in the Washington legislative hierarchy. With a Democrat Senate majority and a Democrat President, it is impossible for the GOP House to overturn Obamacare. But we should not forget that the House represents the majority opinion of Americans, who want Obamacare eliminated by a 55% to 65/% majority, depending on the poll. So the GOP's tactic is to nibble away at the parts of Obamacare that delay it - eliminating the funding medical device tax, delaying individual enrollment for one year - all with the hope that the 2014 legislative elections will return a GOP majority to both the House and Senate. That would stop Obamacare in its tracks until the 2016 presidential election, since any presidential veto could probably be overturned in the House. As for President Obama's refusal to negotiate - my only comment is, 'grow up into your office and the real world of political decision-making. You will be forced to negotiate, if not sooner, then later.' Don't blame the GOP for the Senate Democrat majority's and your own intransigence in the face of the clear demand of the majority of the American electorate.

Friday, September 27, 2013

With Pope Francis, We Must Ask, Who Am I to Judge?

Dear readers, I had such an emotional experience today that I want to share it with you. I usually go to Mass on Friday evening. Today, I arrived early and was reading the bulletin board when I felt - or rather smelled - someone behind me. I turned around and saw a tall gaunt man in very shabby clothes. He asked me for one euro...about $1.35. I said, you've been drinking. He answered, a little. Then he apologized and asked again. He was clearly not a professional beggar in a gang. He was French. And the pain and suffering in his eyes was difficut to look at. But I looked him in the eyes and said, you need to eat. He said, how? I got my wallet out of my handbag. How could I refuse anyone so vulnerble...and inside a church. I didn't have much cash because I had just been grocery shopping. But I had ten euros. I handed the money to him. I said again, promise me you will eat and not drink. He asked, where? There's a cafe behind the church, I said. He looked at me and said, I asked a woman for money and what I found was an angel for my shoulder. He touched my shoulder and then his own. I said I wanted to light some candles before service began and told him to go and eat. Actually, I was fighting back tears. I lit my candles and then sat in a pew to say a prayer. Suddenly, I saw him walk down the apse and stop to look at the candles. I went over to him and asked if he wanted a candle. He answered, yes. I lit it and went across to the side chapel where Mass was almost ready to start. He stayed behind looking at a painting of the Virgin and Child that has been a refuge for people with special needs for several centuries. ~~~~~ I know that you are thinking he went straight out and bought a couple glasses of cheap wine. That is probably true. But maybe he felt something that had been missing for a long time in his life - human contact. I'm not an angel. None of us are. But, Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist -- we all are taught to love and help our neighbors. Pope Francis is driving this home with his emphasis on mercy and caring for the poor. His "Who am I to judge?" ~~~~~ So, dear readers, whatever God you pray to, do me a favor and say a word for this poor French alcoholic outcast...and for all tbe world's outcasts everywhere. We are, after all is said and done for good and bad, we are our brothers' keepers.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Obama's Dismal Record in Iraq

Late last Saturday, 60 people were killed at a funeral in the shiite Moslem Sadr City district of Baghdad. A mourners' tent was hit by two explosions, one of them a suicide car bomb. A third explosion followed as police, ambulances and firefighters converged on the scene. Officials reported that women and children were among the dead and that more than 120 people were injured. Also on Saturday, eight people were killed in a separate bomb attack in a street in the nearby neighbourhood of Ur. And at least five police officers were killed in an assault on a police station in Baiji, north of Baghdad. The surge in mainly sectarian violence across Iraq in recent months reached its highest level since 2008. The violence seems to have been triggered by an April army raid on a sunni Moslem anti- government group camp north of Baghdad. In addition, Iraq has also seen a spill-over of violence from the conflict in Syria, which has also taken on increasingly sectarian overtones. In recent weeks, Iraqi security forces have arrested hundreds of alleged al-Qaida members in and around Baghdad as part of a campaign that the shiite-led government is calling "revenge for the martyrs." The sweep operations, mostly in sunni districts, have angered the sunni community and failed to halt the violence. More than 5,000 people have died so far this year in Iraq, 800 of them in August alone, according to the United Nations. ~~~~~ To step back, on 18 December 2011, the last US soldiers left Iraq, ending nearly nine years of war that killed 4,500 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis. Marking the end of the combat mission, President Barack Obama spoke to an American military audience in North Carolina, emphasizing repeatedly that he was fulfilling his 2008 campaign pledge of an Iraq pull-out, while praising the courage of American soldiers and vowing that Iraqi forces were prepared to assume responsibility for their country’s security. “Of course,” he noted, “violence will not end.... Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife.” In his speech, Obama boasted that “security incidents in Iraq have been near the lowest on record since the war began." Obama concluded his address by saying that “what America can do, and will do, is to provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.” What Iraq needed most during its transition to democracy was a limited, stabilizing American military force in the country. And Obama was an abject failure in his attempt to close a deal to keep a residual military force in Iraq. Did he seriously want to succeed? The fragile, newly elected Iraqi government refused to grant blanket immunity to American soldiers in Iraq, and Obama refused consider negotiating over the requirement. This was not the kind of detail to make a deal collapse. Since then, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has filled the power vacuum by consolidating his rule, eliminating his sunni rivals and tightening his control over Iraq’s security services. And, Iraq has descended into chaos. This year alone, approximately 1,000 Iraqis have died violently each month. Hardly a day goes by without multiple attacks being perpetrated throughout the country, as the domestic carnage proceeds unabatedly. And, as might be expected with the absence of an American military presence, Iraq has fallen into the orbit of Iran. Maliki refused to condemn the brutal al-Assad crackdown on dissent. As world leaders condemned the Syrian regime in 2011, Maliki was defiant, calling on Syrian protesters not to “sabotage” the country. Iraq’s support of al-Assad and Iran includes allowing Iran to fly weaponry into Syria through Iraqi airspace, which prompted US Secretary of State John Kerry to make an unannounced visit to Baghdad this past March to urge greater air scrutiny across Iraq. On September 1st, at least 52 Iranian dissidents of the opposition Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) group were killed, mostly execution style, in Camp Ashraf, less than 100 km. from Baghdad; a massacre that followed the August 27 visit to Iraq by Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force. Supporters of the roughly 100 exiles who had been living at the camp blamed the attack on Iraqi security forces. The following week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also visited Iraq at the behest of Supreme Leader Khamenei, allegedly to express gratitude for both the Iraqi government’s support of al-Assad and the mass killing, which Iranian leaders widely praised. And yet, the presence of the MEK members was based on an agreement ratified by the UN, Iraq and the US in 2012. Accordingly, the UN vehemently condemned the September 1 attack and sent a fact-finding mission to investigate. The Obama administration has remained conspicuously silent. ~~~~~ Dear readers, after a decade of war, the US is left with minimal, if any, influence in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iranian leadership in Iraq and the entire Iran-Iraq-Syria arc has grown substantially. Obama's 2011 decision to make a total military withdrawal from Iraq has led to a complete loss of the the war for Baghdad, and therefore very possibly a loss of American influence in the entire Middle East. The next time you listen to President Obama vow that he is committed to being an active player in the search for peace in the Middle East, think about his deliberately dismal record in Iraq.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Senator Ted Cruz - a Modern Don Quijote

Freshman US Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, is on a mission to defeat Obamacare. He is in a majority of Americans who also fo not want Obamacare. It would seem like a slam-dunk except for the fact that the Senate is controlled by the Democrats, the Party of Democrat President Obama. The parliamentary rules are best left to congressional experts. Suffice it to say that Ted Cruz cannot win and he knew that going in to his filibuster of for over 20 hours. He has been attacked by his fellow Republicans for likely causing them to be blamed for a federal government shutdown, if it occurs. Only GOP Senators Lee, Paul and Rubio have come to his aid in filling the marathon talking effort. And Democrats are calling him insane. One could say that in such circumstances, Ted Cruz is a modern Don Quijote. It may be true. And let's remember that Cruz is a Texan - those indomitable souls who stood and died at the Alamo rather than allow Santa Anna to sweep north into a still independent Texas. Afterward, when the US army had saved Texas and wanted to annex it, those same Texans bargained hard and saved their passion for being a Republic within a Union. Texans have recently said they may consider leaving the Union because the US government has lost sight of the country's founding principles of liberty, small government and self-responsibility. No other state would be taken seriously stating such a position, but Americans are wondering if Texas may actually one day do it. So Ted Cruz comes from a long line of independent, liberty-loving people. And, he represents the voice of Americans all over the country of every political persuasion who feel isolated from a government they no longer either agree with or respect. So, before relegating Ted Cruz to the ash heap of American politics, wait a little. It will do no good for the GOP to keep the government operating if in so doing they sell their souls to Democratic Party conformity. It will not alienate true independents and moderate and conservative Republicans if Ted Cruz finally forces the Democrats to take ownership of the ill-considered and drafted Obamacare and its excesses of cost and interference in the personal lives of Americans. Politics is a strange business. Sometimes yesterday's fools are tomorrow's heros. Be patient with Ted Cruz, GOP. Afterall, you actually agree with the principles he is fighting to save. He said it best hinself when he said that opposing party leaders is "survivable," adding, "Ultimately, it is liberating" and that his long evening involved "sometimes some pain, sometimes fatigue." But he added, "You know what? There's far more pain in rolling over. ... Far more pain in not standing up for principle." Amen, Senator Cruz. Amen.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Will President Obama Follow His UN Speech with Action This Year?

Tbere has been a flood of media attention on the UN addresses of US President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani on Tuesday in New York City. Rouhani spoke after Obama, asking for a position of respect for Iran and repeating Iran's position that Iran has the right to develop nuclear materials for peaceful purposes, including the right to enrich uranium. Obama was first at the podium, and he said that Iran should have access to nuclear materials for peaceful purposes, but did not comment on who should provide those materials. The President welcomed the new Iranian government's pursuit of a "more moderate course," saying it should offer the basis for a breakthrough on Iran's nuclear impasse with the UN and the US. As he did at the beginning of his first term in 2009, Obama again signaled his willingness to directly engage Iran's leaders. He told the UN General Assembly audience he has directed Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue that diplomacy with Teheran, in conjunction with the five other world powers, noting that it may prove too difficult but that it is "a path that must be tested." Kerry will join representatives from those nations Thursday in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu said Tuesday that the world should be cautious about Iran's new outreach to the West. "Iran thinks soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb," Netanyahu said. But he added that he welcomes Obama's efforts to engage Rouhani. Obama said he agrees with many in the US and around the world who say Rouhani's "conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable." There has been speculation that Obama and Rouhani would meet one-on-one on the sidelines at the UN, but US officials said after the President's speech that no meeting would take place. In Iran, the main domestic TV channels did not run the speech live. Concerning other matters, the President said he encourages the effort to seal a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, noting that the two sides have resumed direct talks, partly as a result of extensive lobbying by Kerry. Obama praised both Israeli and Palestinian leaders for their willingness to take "significant political risks" in getting back to the negotiating table. He said the United States must recognize that Israel's security depends on the formation of a Palestinian state. Later this week, President Obama will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He'll also hold talks at the White House next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The last Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel, and Israeli leaders have pushed Obama to be more forceful with the threat of military action in response to Teheran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Severe international sanctions have had a substantial effect on Iran, leading to a 40% spike in inflation and high unemployment, leaving the Iranian public frustrated with a deteriorating economy. This led to Rouhani's election and is responsible for his conciliatory tone. But it is still unclear whether Iran is willing to take the steps the US requires before easing the sanctions, including curbing uranium enrichment and shutting down the Fordo underground nuclear facility. Top Democratic and Republican senators sent Obama separate letters this week that also urged him to make clear to Teheran's new leadership that the US will not accept a nuclear-capable Iran. Congressional officials from both parties have urged Obama to maintain tough sanctions until Iran makes significant nuclear concessions. The President was more firm in expressing his position concerning Syria's chemical weapons of mass destruction. He said the future of the international body itself may be jeopardized if it fails to meet the challenge over what to do about Syria's chemical weapons, calling on the Security Council to pass a resolution to enforce consequences if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fails to follow a US-Russian deal to turn over his CWMD stockpiles. Obama also defended the White House's decision to maintain ties with the interim government in Egypt, which took over after the military ousted the country's first democratically elected leader, criticizing Morsi for being unable or unwilling to meet the Egyptian people's expectations. However, he said future American support "will depend on Egypt's progress in pursuing a democratic path." ~~~~~ Dear readers, there is much to consider in President Obama's UN speech. We know that his major addresses are usually excellent but that the implementation of their ideas often fails. We will now have to watch events unfold -- will the Iranian talks be tough but productive? Will Obama's active leadership lead to a real success in ridding Syria of al-Assad's chemical weapons? Is the President ready to invest himself forcefully in the Israel-Palestine process, for that is the only possible path to peace. We must hope that in this case the past is not the prologue to the future.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Obama-Kerry Team : O-K or K-O'd in Syria and Iran?

It's becoming more and more difficult to talk about one country in the Middle East without being forced to talk about all of them. ~~~~~ We witnessed this weekend the al-Sabaab terrorist attack on innocent shoppers in a Nairobi mall. At least 62 are dead and several hundred wounded. Al-Shabaab, an extremist sunni Islam faction, is identified with Somalia - think of Mogadishu - but they are angry with Kenya's efforts in Somalia to suppress them. Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida affiliated group that also works with the Taliban, has terrorized southern Somalia -- they behead Christians and display their bodies in public with crucifixes and Bibles next to them; they send gangs with a female to inspect women for bras and arrest those who wear them; they have banned BBC and other world radio; they stoned a 13-year-old girl to death after she tried to report that she had been raped and they shot neighbors who went to the execution to try to stop the stoning. Nice people, al-Shabaab. ~~~~~ On Sunday, Taliban suicide bombers attacked worshippers at a historic church in northwestern Pakistan, killing 78 and wounding 141 in the deadliest-ever attack against the country's Christian minority. The wing of the Pakistani Taliban that calls itself Jundullah claimed responsibility, raising questions about the government's push to strike a peace deal with the Taliban to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands of people. The Jundullah said they would continue to target non-Moslems until the United States stops drone attacks in Pakistan's remote tribal region. The 78 dead included 34 women and seven children. Another 37 children were among the 141 wounded. The number of casualties from the blasts was so high that the hospital ran short of caskets for the dead and beds for the wounded. The bishop of Peshawar announced a three-day mourning period and blamed the government and security agencies for failing to protect Christians. "If the government shows will, it can control this terrorism," the bishop said. "We have been asking authorities to enhance security, but they haven't paid any heed." Hundreds of Christians burned tires in the street in the southern city of Karachi to protest the bombing. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack in an unusually strong statement sent to reporters : "The terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions....Such cruel acts of terrorism reflect the brutality and inhumane mindset of the terrorists." Islamic militants have carried out dozens of attacks since Sharif took office in June, even though he has made clear that he believes a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban is the best way to solve the problem of violence in the country. Pakistan's major political parties have endorsed Sharif's call for negotiations. But the Taliban have said the government must release militant prisoners and begin pulling troops out of the northwest tribal region that serves as their sanctuary before they will begin talks. Critics of peace talks point out that past deals with the Taliban have collapsed and simply given the militants time to regroup. "I don't think appeasement will work," a senior leader of the main opposition group, the Pakistan People's Party, said. "This is a message from them that they don't believe in negotiations. If they don't, we should also stand up and fight them." Supporters of negotiations say that is the only way forward since military operations against the Taliban in the tribal region have failed to subdue them. ~~~~~ In Iraq, this year alone, approximately 5,000 Iraqis have died, largely in sunni-on-shiite terror attacks, with a recent surge in violence killing 1,000 Iraqis each month. Hardly a day goes by without multiple attacks throughout the country, as Iraq domestic carnage grows. ~~~~~ You may ask, dear readers, why we are talking about Somalia, Kenya, Pakistan and Iraq when the entire world is tightly focused on the US-Russian Syria chemical weapons deal. Because there is one major footprint on all these violent affairs. It is the absence of an Obama Middle East strategy, a lack which emboldens terrorists everywhere in the region because they believe that President Obama is weak and will not undertake serious counter-measures to stop them. He abandoned Iraq. He then promised to curtail and eliminate the Taliban in Afghanistan, but he is now in tbe process of abandoning Afghans to a future that can only mean new domination by the Taliban. AND now, having made a complete mess of Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama is turning to Syria and Iran in his search for a Middle East victory. This is disconcerting, to say the least, if the Obama-Kerry Syria effort is an example of things to come with Iran. So far, the entire world, except for a few American Democrat Party diehards, is of the opinion that the Obama-Kerry team has failed either to get anything that could be called concrete out of Russian president Putin or to use the chemical weapons issue to prevail on the al-Assad regime to join the cause of a ceasefire and peace deal for Syria. If this is the best Obama-Kerry can do with a regime actually under severe pressure in a civil war, imagine what their result will be when face-to-face with the coldly efficient Iran hardliners. As New York columnist Mike Goodwin wrote today : "The idea that the hollow 'solution' to the Syrian problem is a template for White House goals with Iran rings frighteningly true, given how quickly President Obama dropped his red-line threats....the talk is growing that Obama quickly pivoted to Iran in hopes that Russia would help him pull off another Houdini escape from responsibility....The problem is that the “peace at any price” approach always raises the price later. Syria and Iran are not likely to give up their weapons of mass destruction, especially with Vladimir Putin protecting them. His embrace shields both from the Security Council and American military action. Even Israel will find it impossible to use force against Iran’s nukes while Putin has lured a desperate Obama into endless negotiations." ~~~~~ And, dear readers, even President Obama's own past defense secretaries, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, have criticized Obama's handling of al-Assad and Putin. I'm tempted to call Obama and Kerry amateurs because that's the image they project. Worse, they seem to be grasping at straws to make a deal with Iran. I would feel a lot better if they had at least one heavyweight diplomat on their O-K team. Otherwise, it may become the K-O team, with Obama and Kerry down for the count and the Middle East knocked out with them. Sad. Dangerous.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Actions, not Words, Will Be Proof of Iran's Intent

Yesterday we reviewed the American-Iranian initiative to restart negotiations on Iran's nuclear enrichment program from their points of view. But there is a uniquely critical third party to any US-Iran negotiation - Israel. While the Obama administration works out how to respond to overtures from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, President Obama must reassure Israeli officials that sanctions on Teheran will not be eased unless it first takes tangible steps to limit its nuclear program. Private discussions taking place both in Washington and Israel are meant to calm Israelis' fears that the United States is moving prematurely toward rapprochement with Iran at a time when Iran is already questioning US resolve to keep open the threat of military action. The latest public comments from senior Israeli officials suggest that the White House faces an uphill struggle to overcome those misgivings. The American effort to reassure Israel comes as Iranian President Rouhani, who has launched a massive PR barrage toward the United States, in advance of his trip to New York for his debut address at the United Nations next Tuesday. French President Hollande has already indicated that he will meet Rouhani in the wings of the General Assembly annual meeting. It remains to be seen which, if any, US diplomat will do the same. Most US experts say that it would be a bad idea for Obama and Rouhani to meet at this stage. Meanwhile, Israel has dismissed overtures to the West by Rouhani, and his pledge in an interview on US television that Iran would never develop nuclear weapons. "One must not be fooled by the Iranian president's fraudulent words," Netanyahu's office said in a statement on Thursday. "The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning." Both Israel and the United States have in the past warned of possible military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran if sanctions and diplomacy fail to curb its atomic program. But Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said a phrase used often in the past by US and Israeli leaders - that "all options are on the table" in confronting Iran - was not enough to persuade Teheran to stop its uranium enrichment." Steinitz said that three US aircraft carriers off the eastern Mediterranean coast would have led to a different response from Iran. In Washington, a leading pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, issued a memo on Friday supportive of Mr. Netanyahu’s plan. It added that Iran must allow inspectors into a military plant at Parchin where, it said, Iran tests explosives. “Pleasant rhetoric will not suffice,” the group said. “If Iran fails to act, sanctions must be increased.” And Steinitz said in an interview published in Israel Friday that the Iranians are six months away from developing a bomb, and that “there is no more time to hold negotiations.” Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former Netanyahu aide, said : "It’s certainly different perspectives looking at the same picture....Israel is clearly focused on Iranian action, and the messages in Washington seem more hopeful about Iranian intentions.” This position is echoed by many Israeli leaders and analysts, who see Mr Obama’s zigzag response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons as a bad omen for his resolve in stopping Iran. Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said there was a contradiction in many of Rouhani's statements : "He's saying, 'We've never wanted a nuclear weapon, we'll never produce a nuclear weapon,' '' Oren said. ''But then he says, 'Time is running out for a negotiated solution.' '' Emily Landau of the Institute for Nationa Security Studies at Tel Aviv University said she saw ''no indication of any willingness to reverse course on the nuclear front,'' citing 1,000 recently installed centrifuges and Mr. Rouhani's refusal to consider suspending uranium enrichment. But Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israel lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said Friday that there was a chance Mr. Rouhani was promising real change. Mr. Netanyahu did not limit his criticism of Rouhani to the nuclear issue. He also addressed Mr. Rouhani's ducking of a question about whether he, like his predecessor, believes the Holocaust was a myth. Mr. Rouhani answered, ''I'm not an historian; I'm a politician.'' Mr. Netanyahu's reponse : ''It does not take an historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust -- it just requires being a human being.'' ~~~~~ Dear readers, to repeat what I wrote yesterday, the US must have a clear set of goals in dealing with Iran. Both Iran and Israel have well-defined goals. Iran wants the crippling international sanctions against it lifted, and it wants its nuclear program to be internationally accepted as being for peaceful purposes. Israel wants all threats of a devastating nuclear strike from Iran eliminated and is not willing to accept anything short of regular international inspections of all Iran's nuclear facilities as a success. Israel wants actions from Iran, not mere words. The problem, as has been consistently the case with Obama diplomatic forays into the Middle East cauldron, it that he mistakes words for actions. Words serve to begin negotiations. Actions serve to end them. It would be not only a grave strategic error to mistake Iranian words for acts. It would be an act of treachery against Israel. That must never happen.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Message to Obama and Kerry - Don't Ruin Your Iranian Opportunity

As we watch President Obama and Secrerary of State Kerry being flim-flammed by Russian President Putin over the future of the US-Russian Syria chemical weapons deal -- the history is along the lines of : all OK / No, Russia won't agree to force against al-Assad / al-Assad agrees to join UN oganization that controls chemical weapons / Putin says maybe al-Assad won't abide by the deal. It's like shoveling smoke, and unfortunately Obama and Kerry are holding the shovels. ~~~~~ But wait. Enter the new Iranian President Rouhani with a worldwide public relations campaign worthy of Hollywood. He has sent a Rosh Hashanah greeting to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wishing the Israeli people a happy new year / responded to a congratulatory letter from Obama with comments about resuming nuclear negotiations / freed from prison an Iranian woman who is a human rights lawyer / at least for a few minutes opened up an uncensored internet to Iranians / asked if President Obama would like to chat at the New York UN General Assembly annual meeting / asked if he could help broker a Syrian peace deal. Not bad for a fella from Teheran. ~~~~~ This is not to announce the arrival of the Millennium. Russia is still arming al-Assad forces. Iran is still sending soldiers attached to the Revolutionary Guard to train al-Assad troops. Iran's nuclear enrichment program continues apace. ~~~~~ But, if Obama and Kerry and their new foreign affairs partner, Congress, can pick themselves up and shake off Putin's dust, they may actually have an opportunity to make a difference in the Middle East. There is no doubt that Rouhani is more powerful than Putin in the region because he sits at the right side of the Shiite religious leader. Iran controls to a large extent the programs of Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as al-Assad. Iran is also feeling the economic pinch of severe petroleum and banking sanctions put in place by America and Europe. Iran needs to break out of this straightjacket in order to maintain internal peace and stability. Israel says it is happy that Iran is using a new vocabulary but awaits the destruction of al-Assad's chemical stockpiles. ~~~~~ Dear readers, such an opportunity vis-à-vis Iran has not presented itself since the 1979 revolution. Instead of conducting a pre-vetting process in public, as they did with the Syria chemical weapons deal, it would behoove Mssrs Obama and Kerry to be quiet - work every available diplomatic avenue - be firm in their demands and flexible in the negotiating of those demands. They might even consider talking very privately to some of America's senior diplomats - Baker, Kissinger, Rice, Bolton and Albright come to mind. Neither America nor the world needs a second failure of Middle East diplomacy. Obama and Kerry should take all the help they can get.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The US and the EU Should Support the Free Syria Army and the Egyptian Army

There is significant military action in both Syria and Egypt, largely ignored by international media that are focused on the US-Russian Syria chemical weapons deal. FIRST -- CNN and AP have reported that al-Qaida-linked militants were on the verge of capturing a strategic border gate between Turkey and opposition-controlled northern Syria late Wednesday night. Jihadist-islamist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advanced toward the Turkish border hours after they pushed more moderate Syrian rebels out of the nearby Syrian town of Azaz. CNN talked with Abu Rashid, a commander from the Northern Storm Brigade, a rebel contingent from the opposition Free Syrian Army. "We are trying to bring reinforcements to make sure that the border crossing is not lost to the ISIS," he said. The Northern Storm Brigade has controlled Azaz and the Syrian side of the Oncupinar-Bab el Salama border crossing with Turkey for the past year after it wrested control of the town from the government of Bashar al-Assad. This is the gate through which much of American and western humanitarian aid flows. It was also where Senator John McCain crossed from Turkey into Syria this summer. ISIS aims to form a radical-islamist state including Iraq and Syria.vISIS fighters in Syria czome from Iraq, North Africa, Lebanon, and Turkey. SECOND -- There is continuing infighting among rebel groups in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, which borders Iraq, and in the north where al-Qaida fighters from the ISIS and their allies in the Nusra Front have been battling Kurdish anti-government rebels for months. The infighting increased after ISIS jihadists tried to arrest a German doctor, who was a volunteer in the region, for photographing them. The doctor escaped but the two rebel factions began fighting. There are video reports of gathering groups of ISIS pickup trucks with mounted artillery gathering near the Iraq border. THIRD -- The Egyptian military has retaken Dalga, the southern Egyptian town where I reported attacks on Christians and pillaging of Churches by Moslem Brotherhood islamic militants. But, Dalga Christians are not feeling secure yet. For example, Brotherhood members on motorbikes are driving by Sameer Hanna Tanyous's home in this southern Egyptian town making a menacing gesture — running their fingers across their throats. Others, he says, shout warnings that security forces won't be there forever to protect him and other Christians. This week, a large contingent of Egyptian army troops and police rolled into Dalga, backed by helicopter gunships, breaking the hold of islamist hardliners who seized control of the town of 120,000 in early July in a spasm of violence after the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. Their grip terrorized the town's Christians, as Brotherhood radicals torched and looted their homes, businesses and churches. The town's estimated 20,000 Christians fear the troops will stay only long enough to make some arrests and once they're gone, the backlash from militants against them will be even worse. The predicament of Dalga's Christians reflects that of the minority community across the country especially in the rural communities of the south, where religious conservatism is prevalent among Moslems and radical Brotherhood islamists wield considerable influence. Egypt's Christians have long complained of discrimination, but their situation dramatically worsened during Morsi's year in office, when islamists were freed to terrorize Christians. After the military ousted Morsi on July 3, his Brotherhood supporters unleashed a backlash of violence that largely targeted Christians, whom they accused of pushing for his removal. Christian homes and businesses around the country were attacked, particularly in provinces of the south, like Minya, where Dalga is located Security forces that retook control of Dalga on Monday have detained at least 130 militants. The local police station is now houses a half dozen police generals and hundreds of policemen, with police in full riot gear milling around. To Dalga's islamists, the assault by the security forces on their town is another crime by military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whom they accuse of overturning the democratic process by removing Morsi following mass protests demanding his ouster. ~~~~~ Dear readers, one of the negative aspects of the current bickering in Geneva over the August 21 Syrian chemical attack is that public attention has been diverted from alarming activities on the ground in Syria, where radical-jihadists are increasingly in control of strategic points in rebel-held territory and are attacking Free Syria Army units to reduce their territorial influence. But, in Egypt, despite today's CNN characterization of what is happening as "chaos on Egyptian streets," it is not chaos but the Egyptian army's effort, which now seems to be more organized and determined, to halt the continued Moslem Brotherhood assaults on Egyptians who do not want a Brotherhood presence in their communities. America and Europe should not lose sight of the need to support both the Egyptian army and the moderate Free Syria Army.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The French Senate Takes on Child Beauty Pageants in an Effort to Protect Young Girls

France's Senate has voted to ban beauty pageants for children under 16, in an effort to protect girls from being sexualized too early. The ban would impose prison terns and 30,000 euros in fines and would apply to organizers, parents and anyone else who encourages such contests. A pageant organizer lamented that the move was so severe. The legislation must now go to the lower house of parliament for further debate and another vote. Child beauty pageants are less common in France than in the United States and elsewhere, but the French Senate has decided that girls get the message early on, said the bill's sponsor, Senator Chantal Jouanno, that they are sexual beings, from advertising and marketing campaigns - and even from department stores that sell lingerie for girls as young as 6. Jouanno said the bill is meant to protect young girls and to encourage equality. All children of a young age should be concentrating on learning, not on physical appearance. "I have a hard time seeing how these competitions are in the greater interest of the child." She said that when she asked an organizer why there are no such contests for boys, he answered, "boys wouldn't lower themselves like that." The bill doesn't specify what kind of competitions would be covered, including whether it would extend to online photo competitions or pretty baby contests. The bill also aims to protect children from danger and being prematurely forced into roles of seduction that harm their development. According to AP, Michel Le Parmentier, who says he has been organizing "mini-Miss" pageants in France since 1989, said he's disappointed that the draft law involves an overall ban. He said that he has been in discussions with legislators about regulating such pageants but wasn't expecting such sweeping language. The French Senate had considered softer language but in the end decided on an overall ban. French equal rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem may work on a compromise measure when the bill goes to the lower house of Parliament. ~~~~~ Dear readers, on first glance, we may be tempted to say that there are many more serious problems in today's world than child beauty pageants. And I rarely support enlarging the scope of government intervention in our already heavily regulated daily lives. But this French Senate action is for me very important. It is sad to realize that parents, and especially mothers, do not choose normal lives for their very young daughters. But the evidence is clear that they sometimes don't. And it demeans not only themselves and their daughtets, but sets the course for the "sexualization" of all young girls, making them sex objects in the minds of young boys and society and even in their own minds. And so, as is often the case, France has found time to address an issue that its Senate believes important for the healthy development of French youngsters. Will America heed the call? Unfortunately, I suspect that the misguided application of the Constitution's call for individual freedom will be used to paper over the fact that some parents are no longer good role models or guides for their children and should be directed by law. ~~~~~ And to continue the effort to protect children from venal adults, perhaps a lawmaker somewhere will have the courage to take on the violent video games readily available to children, and which teach them early on that killing with guns is acceptable. Boys should be given the chance to grow up without a computer-generated gun in their hands.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Remember Benghazi

A House Oversight Committee report to be released next week concludes that the State Department investigation into the 11 September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, was not conducted independently and did not hold top officials accountable. Media outlets obtained embargoed copies of the report this weekend. The Administrative Review Board (ARB) appointed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed four mid-level State Department officials for the mismanagement of security in Benghazi, but ignored the roles of officials at the highest level of the department. The four mid-level assistant secretary employees placed on paid leave were never told why and were later given new departmental job assignments. The House report states that "the ARB blamed systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies within two bureaus, but it downplayed the importance of decisions made at senior levels of the Department." Witnesses were uncertain how much these decisions impacted the inadequate security position in Benghazi. The House committee's report states that “The ARB’s decision to cite certain officials as accountable for what happened in Benghazi appears to have been based on factors that had little or no connection to the security posture at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya.” The House report questions why Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy, who was instrumental in naming the members of the ARB, was never blamed or disciplined even though he admitted to having a role in denying repeated requests for added security at the post before it was attacked on 11 September 2012. As security conditions degraded in the summer of 2012, with documented attacks on western facilities, a State Department officer who served on the Libya desk said Kennedy was asked about the mission's future, and Kennedy said he would first have to check with Secretary Clinton. Based on a conversation between Ambassador Chris Stevens - killed in the September 11 attack - and Clinton, Stevens’ deputy Greg Hicks testified it was the former Secretary of State's personal goal to have a permanent operation in Benghazi. And further implicating Clinton is the report conclusion that “The haphazard decision to place the four officials cited by the ARB on paid administrative leave," created the appearance that "former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s decision to announce action against the individuals named in the ARB report was more of a public relations strategy than a measured response to a tragedy." This, concludes the House report is the real reason why one year after the Benghazi attacks, no one at the State Department has been fired for their role leading up to the Benghazi attacks. It appears increasingly likely the Department’s primary objective was to create the public appearance of accountability." The report also questions Clinton's own awareness of her possible role in the department's missteps that contributed to attack. The Committee said the probe was rushed, taking only 10 weeks. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Douglas Franz told The Daily Beast on Sunday that the Committee, chaired by GOP Representative Darrell Issa, was playing politics with Benghazi, and that the ARB had cooperated fully with Issa's investigation. "In fact, it set a new standard for transparency measured by tens of thousands of pages of documents turned over to Congress, testimony in public and closed hearings and a declassified report for the public." The idea that anything has been hidden or that accountability has been averted requires willful ignorance of these facts." Representative Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the committee, also defended the ARB report, telling CBS News the ARB conducted "one of the most comprehensive reviews in history." ~~~~~ Dear readers, tens of thousands of pages are more likely to hide the truth than to display it. We are still immersed in the muddy waters of yesterday's bloody attack at the Washington Naval Yard, but that must not make us forget about US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US diplomats assassinated in Benghazi one year ago. They were abandoned by borh the State Department and the presidential security that they deserved and were entitled to. And, from 11 September 2012 until today, neither President Obama nor former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has deigned to explain either exactly what happened on that fatal night in Benghazi, or why it happened. Remember Benghazi. It, along with IRS illegal political activities and illegally authorized NSA spying on American citizens, is the real footprint of Barack Obama's presidency.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Are the UN Chemical Attack Report and the Washington Shooting Spree Related?

Dear readers, perhaps I am too cynical...but why would there be an attack at a Washington DC naval facility at the very moment that the UN report on the Syria chemical attack was released? Was it to take the chemical attack report off TV Page One, to avoid highlighting the information in the UN report that says 85% of victim blood samples tested positive for sarin, that the missile canister fragments tested positive for sarin, that the canisters had Cyrillic lettering on them, i.e., Russian. Am I being paranoid? ~~~~~ UN inspectors said Monday there is "clear and convincing evidence" that chemical weapons were used on a "relatively large scale" against civilians, including children as young as 7, in an attack on August 21 in Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds and perhaps more than a thousand people in Syria's civil war. The report was clear about the use of chemical weapons, but, as expected, it did not answer the key question of who launched the attack. The US has said the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was behind the attack, while the Syrian government accuses the rebels. US Secretary of State John Kerry met in Paris with his counterparts from France, Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia before seeking a UN resolution that would detail how the international community can secure and destroy Syria's stockpile and chemical precursors. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov clashed Monday over possible military action if Syria doesn't abandon its chemical weapons.Kerry said the US-Russia agreement "fully commits the United States and Russia to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the event of non-compliance." Chapter 7 resolutions permit military enforcement. Russia's Lavrov said Chapter 7 was the subject of "fierce debate" during the US-Russia talks but said that "the final document...doesn't mention it" and that the Security Council resolution being negotiated will not be under Chapter 7. He said if Syria fails to cooperate, the Security Council can pass an entirely different resolution "which may employ Chapter 7." Lavrov stressed that attempts to threaten the use of force against Syria would disrupt a chance for Geneva peace negotiations that the US and Russia have been trying to organize. But in a public statement today, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon called the chemical attack "a war crime" and said those who perpetuated it "must be held to account." ~~~~~ So, dear readers, we must ask if America has once again been successfully targeted by those who prefer to keep the United States off-balance in its war on terrorism - a war on terrorism that President Obama refuses to label as such. There is no doubt that al-Qaida, other jihadists and the al-Assad regime have benefitted from sharing the media spotlight today. Whether because of a terrorist plot or by coincidence we will learn as the investigation continues. And sad as today's news out of Washington is, the real news is that the United Nations has labelled the August 21 chemical attack a war crime, whose perpetrators must be held to account. Take notice, Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kerry Applauds a Deal While Lavrov Prepares His Veto Pen

The United States and Russia came to an agreement Saturday on a format for securing and destroying Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014, but there was no decision on imposing UN penalties if the al-Assad regime fails to comply. The deal has garnered widespread sighs of relief from just about everyone in the world except the Syrian rebels and the Free Syrian Army, who had hoped a US military strike would even the civil war playing field somewhat. One could guess that the greatest sigh came from President Obama, whose inept handling of the Syrian chemical attack made it possible, perhaps even necessary, for Russian President Putin to rescue him. The format agreed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva includes : (1). what Kerry called "a shared assessment" of the size but not the location of the weapons stockpile, and a timetable and measures to be followed by al-Assad. International inspectors are to be in Syria by November, charged to complete by the end of November their initial assessment of stockpiles and all mixing and filling equipment to be destroyed. These will be removed from the country or destroyed by mid-2014. While experts say the job can be done, there is almost universal agreement among them that the job will take at least 3-4 years. They also think any attempt to remove chemicals from Syria would be foolhardy, since the only open route is into Lebanon, where they could easily fall into the hands of Hezbollah. (2). After initial disagreement, Kerry and Lavrov agreed to present a UN Security Council resolution that places the agreement under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter authorizing the use of both force and nonmilitary enforcement measures. But, given that Russia is the Syrian regime's chief protector, it seems clear that Russia will veto any resolution calling for military action against al-Assad, making Russia's agreement to a Chapter 7 resolution mere lip service. (3). President Obama has commented, making it clear that "if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act." But Russia's prior rejection of three resolutions on Syria, makes it equally clear that Russia will veto any future UN move toward military action. This will leave America without a coalition, unless France stays the course, because the nations that would join such a US-led attack will not do so without a UN resolution in place to cover their actions. Kerry told a Geneva news conference that "There can be no games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime." We can only hope so, because an al-Assad disavowal will leave America once again isolated in face of the al-Assad chemical weapons dilemma. (4). Kerry and Lavrov emphasized that the agreement sends a strong message to Syria and to the world that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. Lavrov added, "We understand that the decisions we have reached today are only the beginning of the road." But, noncompliance by the al-Assad regime or any other party would be referred to the 15-nation Security Council by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That group oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria will apparently join in October. The OPCW president spoke of adopting "necessary measures" to put in place "an accelerated program to verify the complete destruction" of Syria's chemical weapons, production facilities and "other relevant capabilities." Kerry says the OPCW will be working under Chapter 7 rules. "What remedy is chosen is subject to the debate within the Council, which is always true. But there's a commitment to impose measures." Lavrov, however, indicated there would be limits to using such a resolution. "Any violations of procedure...would be looked at by the Security Council and if they are approved, the Security Council would take the required measures, concrete measures," Lavrov said. "Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions." But, given that a thorough investigation of any allegation of noncompliance is required before any possible action, Moscow could drag out the process or veto measures it deems too harsh. ~~~~~ Dear readers, in this agreement we see the result of an indecisive American President being backed into a corner by a Russian president who seized an opportunity to enhance his and Russia's image. Do not blame Vladimir Putin for this "agreement" which is really a wish list of the Obama-Kerry team being shredded by Putin's realpolitik. A leading US Republican Senator, Bob Corker, who a few days ago said Obama is incapable of being the American commander-in-chief, expressed concerns that without the threat of force, it is not clear "how Syrian compliance will be possible under the terms of any agreement." He said Syria's "willingness to follow through is very much an open question" and he said he does not want the negotiations to signal a "retreat from our broader national interests," including support for "moderate" opposition forces in Syria. General Salim Idris, head of the Free Syrian Army, told a news conference in Turkey that the Russian initiative would "buy time" and that rebels will continue "fighting the regime and work for bringing it down." He said that if international inspectors come to Syria in order to inspect chemical weapons, "we will facilitate their passages but there will be no cease-fire." The FSA will not block the work of UN inspectors, he said, and the "inspectors will not be subjected to rebel fire when they are in regime-controlled areas." ~~~~~ Yet President Obama continues to say he has the power to strike unilaterally if the UN deal fails. Act, Mr. President? Your allies will not follow without a UN resolution which you have today injudiciously put into the hands of Russia, which will veto it. Your ill-thought-out decision to ask Congress for authorization to strike is a failure since neither the House nor the Senate will accept your proposal to strike Syria. And, the American people, depending on the region polled, are 70-90% against your entire strike idea. I repeat my prior suggestion. For the good of America and the world : Resign.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Moral Imperative and the Golden Rule Applied to Syria

A moral imperative is defined in Merriam's Dictionary as "something that must happen because it is the right thing." The concept originated with Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher who broadly created the modern approach to philosophical discussion. The moral imperative was the idea that every human being has within him or her a conscience that continually asks : "Is what I am about to do something that I would want other human beings to do?" For Kant, not following the moral law was seen to be self-defeating and thus contrary to reason because the moral law embodied the universal law that governs all human behavior. Kant's moral imperative was further developed by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in the mid-20th century. For Sartre, the moral imperative is a principle originating inside a person's mind that compels that person to act. Later thinkers took the imperative to be the divine voice speaking through the human spirit. The dictates of conscience are right and often resist further justification. Looked at another way, the experience of conscience is the basic experience of encountering the right. Of course, exceptions are cut out for two types of human beings - the "insane" whose inner conscience is so damaged that it leads to unacceptable decisions, and "sophists," those who are so adept at logical argument (think about the question 'how many angels can dance on a pin head') that they can turn any question of conscience to their own non-moral advantage. The moral imperative is both individual and collective because it forces each person to include the community of humankind in his or her decisionmaking. One might see a comparison with the Golden Mean or Rule that gives a working principle for human acts : "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Both the moral imperative and the Golden Mean are meant to prevent us from doing the bad and choosing the best at the point when we are going to act in any case. ~~~~~ Of course, dear readers, the moral imperative is shouting at all of us as we consider where we stand vis-à-vis Syria and al-Assad's chemical weapons attacks, and also his conventional massacre of thousands of Syrian civilians who were supposedly entrusted to him for protection and care because he is their president. The voice of conscience in each of us is fairly screaming "Do something." But it is being confronted by another voice that is whispering "It isn't our problem." But those two voices are compatible if we acknowledge that the massacres and chemical atrocities that have killed innocent children and adults is, indeed, not "our" problem. It is "everyone's" problem. Massacre and chemical attacks are seen by all normal human beings as anathema. It is mankind that must stop the slaughter. America may lead. Russia may wriggle in by virtue of President Obama's incompetence in foreign affairs. But mankind must respond. That is what makes the United Nations important. The UN is the world's collective voice of conscience. It is sometimes co-opted by political partisan groups, but this time it must brush these aside. It must hold both America and Russia to their most conscientious positions. And above all, the UN must bring al-Assad and his henchmen to the bar of international justice. Because the tiny voice in each of us is crying out for justice, and for mercy, for the people of Syria.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putin's Hallucinatory New York Times Op-Ed Piece

Russian President Vladimir Putin's Op-Ed piece in the New York Times today has caused an avalanche of American responses. Everything from "irrelevant" to "I wanted to vomit." It was somewhat shocking for a Russian president to address the American people directly, as Putin did, but before dismissing his message out-of-hand, let's take a look at what he said in its totality. ~~~~~ (1). Putin said this is "a time of insufficient communication between our societies. Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together." Yes, in WWII, American President Roosevelt linked the Soviet Union to the allied Normandy invasion and sweep toward Berlin to create a two-front war that Hitler couldn't handle. But, after the war, the Soviets dropped the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe despite promises made to US-British allies. But, today's lack of communication can be attributed to US President Obama's general lack of communication with world leaders, including sophomoric comments about Putin himself (2). Putin cites the UN as having been created after WWII "to prevent such devastation from ever happening again. The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades. No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization." While in principle this is true, the Soviet, now, Russian permanent Security Council seat veto has often prevented an otherwise unified world from acting. The effort to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian civil war has been blocked by Russia for two years...not exactly a strong platform from which to lecture America about wanting to act to prevent further massacre of Syrian civilians. (3). Putin writes that an American strike is widely opposed because "it will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism." Here, Putin is merely repeating what a majority of Americans and the US Congress believe. (4). Putin says an American strike "could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa....No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militant groups are planning more attacks - this time against Israel - cannot be ignored. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance." Again, Mr. Putin should clean up his own act - Russia supporting Iran's nuclear program and arming Hezbollah and al-Assad are not useful in the effort to resolve the complex Middle East mess. (5). Putin writes that "Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country....there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government....This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world." Has Putin forgotten that the al-Assad regime is fighting with Russian-supplied weapons and weapons systems, chemical weapons technology and plants, as well as an air defense system and advisors sold to it by Russia? (6). Concerning the American strike, Putin writes "From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression." Dare we remind Mr. Putin of Russia's own aggressions in Afghanistan and Chechnya - both undertaken unilaterally as 'internal' matters outside UN jurisfiction and both involving suspected Russian chemical attacks and widespread civilian torture and massacres. Russia is making the same 'internal' conflict argument to protect al-Assad. (7). Putin wants America to stop trying to rule the world. "Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan“you’re either with us or against us.” But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded." There are many Americans who agree that Anerican cannot be the world's "policeman." And some countries agree. But, with the UN handcuffed by Russian obstructionism, who can peoples deprived of even the most fundamental human rights - by the way, guaranteed by that same handcuffed UN - turn to if not the largest, most stable democractic power in the world. (8). Concerning the Russian initiative to secure and destroy al-Assad's chemical weapons stockpile and manufacturing capability, Putin writes "The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action. I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations. If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this." One can only agree. But every other hour, Russia puts new constraints into its chemical weapons proposal. Trust cuts both ways and if Putin is truly serious, he needs to stop throwing wrenches into the fragile process now being born. ~~~~~ Finally, dear readers, Mr. Putin makes the statement surely meant to arouse suspicion and disgust in the heart of every American. "I carefully studied his [Obama's] address to the nation on Tuesday And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal." ~~~~~ America is exceptional, Mr. Putin. It operates under the world's oldest constitution, enshrining human rights, individual liberty and religious freedom. It does not arrest or kill people who publically disagree with it. It does not practice ethnic cleansing or state-led racism or sexual discrimination. It does not use chemical weapons or help those who do. It opposes nuclear proliferation. It welcomes refugees. Its political leaders are elected and step down routinely, without changing its Constitution to permit old KGB officers to lead forever. ~~~~~ Yes, Mr. Putin, America is exceptional. Instead of reading President Obama's speech, perhaps you ought to read and take to heart the US Constitution.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shanksville : Where 44 Americans Gave the Last Full Measure on 9/11

Shanksville, Pennsylvania, is a tiny town of 250 residents nestled in the hills of Somerset County an hour and a half east of Pittsburgh. It is about the same distance from my hometown. Tuesday, a day before the 12th anniversary of 9/11, workers in Shanksville broke ground on the  Flight 93 National Memorial beginning construction on the 6,800-square-foot visitor center that will tell the story of Flight 93. Four hijackers turned the plane toward Washington, D.C., likely targeting the US Capitol building before the plane's 44 passengers and crew stormed the cockpit and tried to regain control. The plane crashed into a field and everyone on board was killed. "Because of the quick and determined actions of the passengers and crew Flight 93 was the only one of the four hijacked aircraft that failed to reach the terrorists' intended target that day," the National Park Service wrote on its website. "The passengers and crew showed unity, courage, and defiance in the face of adversity." ~~~~~ Today, as America reflects on 9/11 and those who died, their families and the rescuers, attention will be focused on the Twin Towers in New York City. But, over the sleepy little hamlet of Shanksville in the tree-covered hills of western Pennsylvania, 44 Americans deliberately gave their lives to save other Ameticans from the fate of those in the Twin Towers. ~~~~~ "Greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Will the World Be Patient and Find a Diplomatic Solution to Syria's Chemical WMD

It has been a very busy day in international diplomatic circles as the world scrambles to put context around Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for the al-Assad Syria regime to turn over its chemical weapon stockpiles to international authorities for destruction. Putin told reporters today that the plan "can work, only in the event that we hear trhat the American side and those who support the USA in this sense, reject the use of force." President Barack Obama has thrown his support behind a French resolution at the UN Security Council but continues to push the idea of US airstrikes against al-Assad's regime if that effort fails. The French resolution calls for inspection, placing the chemical weapons under international control, and ultimately dismantling manufacturing capabiities and destroying the chemical stockpiles. Bashar al-Assad's regime today said it will declare its chemical weapons arsenal and sign the international chemical weapons convention, as well as agreeing to the Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control and stopping their production. Syria's foreign minister said Syria will also place chemical weapons locations in the hands of representatives of Russia, "other countries" and the United Nations. Meanwhile, emphasizing the threat of military might and raising hope it won't be needed, President Barack Obama threw his support behind UN Security Council talks aimed at securing Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles, while he continued to advance the fallback idea of US airstrikes against al-Assad's regime. Perhaps because of today's events, a bipartisan group of US Senators crafted a reworked congressional resolution calling for a UN team to remove the chemical weapons by a set deadline and authorizing military action if that doesn't happen. Obama will address the American people from the White House tonight, still ready to press the case for congressionally-approved military action if diplomacy fails. Today, Obama quoted President Reagan's advice : "we don't just trust, but we also verify." Obama added : "The importance is to make sure that the international community has confidence that these chemical weapons are under control, that they are not being used, that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed." ~~~~~ Prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough unfolded rapidly Tuesday. (1). Al-Assad's government accepted a Russian plan to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile. (2). France tabled a UN Security Council resolution that woukd require Syria to turn over its chemical weapons for UN destruction and to permit inspectors to verify the disarmament. (3). The UN Security Council, at Russia's request, scheduled closed consultations for late afternoon. (4). Syria's foreign minister said the nation would declare its chemical weapons arsenal and sign an international chemical weapons treaty. (5). US Secretary of State John Kerry said Obama, French President Holland and British Prime Minister Cameron agreed to work closely together in consultation with Russia and China to explore the Russian proposal to put all Syrian chemical weapons "under the control of a verifiable destruction enforcement mechanism." (6). Russian President Putin said the US would need to renounce the use of force against Syria because no country will disarm under threat of military action. (7). Kerry countered that any deal with Syria to give up its chemical weapons must be enshrined in a binding UN Security Council resolution that sets consequences for Syrian non-compliance. He said Russian suggestions that the UN endorsement come in the form of a non-binding statement from the rotating president of the Security Council would be unacceptable to the Obama administration. (8). Russia abruptly withdrew its request for an emergency Security Council meeting this evening. ~~~~~ And opposition to Obama's military strike resolution continues to mount in the US Congress. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell became the first congressional leader to come out against a resolution giving the president authority for limited strikes, saying, "there are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria." In another blow to the administration, Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts announced his opposition, saying the resolution was too broad, "the effects of a strike are too unpredictable, and because I believe we must give diplomatic measures that could avoid military action a chance to work." Searching for an alternative, a bipartisan group of US Senators worked on a retooled resolution that would call on the United Nations to state that Syria used chemical weapons and require a UN team to remove them within a specific time period, possibly 60 days. If that can't be done, then Obama would have the authority to launch military strikes, congressional aides said. But, it seems that Russia, al-Assad's biggest international backer, championed a less forceful diplomatic path forward in the hope of preventing the instability that might arise from a broader, Iraq-like conflict involving the United States. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said after meeting with the Russian parliament speaker that his government had agreed to the Russian initiative to "thwart US aggression." But the rebel Syrian National Coalition, which had hoped for airstrikes to tip the balance in the 2-year-old civil war, cast al-Assad's move as a ploy to escape punishment for a crime against humanity. Obama has consistently asserted that he has the power as commander-on-chief to act regardless of any vote in Congress, and he has consistently declined to say whether he would do so if lawmakers refuse to approve the legislation he is seeking. refuse to approve the legislation he is seeking. However, for the Obama administration, even the possibility of a diplomatic solution offered an "out" since finding the 60 votes needed for Senate passage of a use-of-force resolution is failing. Reflecting the difficulty, Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unexpectedly postponed a test vote originally set for Wednesday on Obama's call for legislation backing a military strike. Reid cited ongoing "international discussions." ~~~~~ Dear readers, we are at the beginning of an extended diplomatic effort to both avert a US military attack on Syria and to bring al-Assad's chemical weapons under international control. Syria has never admitted definitely until today that it has chemical weapons. It has never provided an accounting of the size of its stockpile, but according to an unclassified estimate by the French government, it includes more than 1,000 tons of "chemical agents and precursor chemicals,including sulfur mustard, VX and sarin gas." It seems logical that bringing the Syrian chemical weapons of mass destruction under control should outweigh most of the diplomatic positions now being put forward. An American cosmetic missile strike now or in 60 days or later would do nothing to reach this goal. There will be time to deal with the Syrian civil war and al-Assad's culpability under international law later. As might be expected - Iran supports the Russian resolution - Saudi Arabia is skeptical. So, the resolution of the Syrian chemical weapons issue will not resolve this millennium-old sunni-shiite dispute either. But that dispute could be easier to contain, and perhaps finally resolve, with al-Assad's chemical weapons safely out of the way. As we learned when we were children : "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Kissinger Speaks Out on the Syrian Crisis

Military strikes against Syria are in the United States' best interest, Representative Mike Rogers said Sunday, but the Obama administration "has done an awful job" explaining that to the American people." It's a confusing mess to this point," the Michigan Republican, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, told CBS "Face the Nation." "That has been their biggest challenge on what is an incredibly important issue. This cannot be about Barack Obama. It has to be what is in the best interest of the United States of America. We have to have that debate and that discussion," Rogers said. Most Americans disagree - whether because they are opposed to Obama, or war-weary, or simply use the information available to arrive at a different conclusion. ~~~~~ Here are the latest polls : 39% for and 59% against US military attack / 21% for and 79% against the President attacking if Congress votes no / 72% say the US has no strategic security interest in Syria / 72% say a strike will lead to a greater war in the Middle East, with US troops on the ground / 59% say how their congressmen and Senators vote on the attack will not affect how they vote in the next election. ~~~~~ Here is a sampling of the positions of the players in President Obama's congressional toss of the dice. (1). Senator John McCain, although a supporter of the Obama resolution and the leader of the small congressional group urging a wider participation on the side of the Syrian Free Army, has warned that President Obama could face impeachment if he put “boots on the ground” in Syria. "No one wants American boots on the ground," the Arizona Republican told Phoenix CBS affiliate KFYI-TV on Thursday. "Nor will there be American boots on the ground because there would be an impeachment of the president if they did that. "The fact is [Syrian President] Bashar Assad has massacred 100,000 people," McCain added. "The conflict is spreading.…The Russians are all in, the Iranians are all in - and it’s an unfair fight." McCain added : “The president has bungled this beyond belief,” referring to Obama's handling of the Syrian situation. "Announced that he’s going to strike and then say, ‘No, I’m going to the American Congress.’ I can’t believe how badly he’s mishandled this issue.” He reiterated that the US would not send troops to Syria in response to al-Assad's August 21 chemical weapons attacks on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. "I am unalterably opposed to having a single American boot on the ground in Syria,” McCain said. “The American people wouldn’t stand for it. Second of all, it would not be anything but counter-productive to do that," he added. "American blood and treasure is too precious to do that.” McCain said he understood Americans' skittishness about a Syrian strike. “They are largely against any action in Syria - and I understand their skepticism,” McCain said. (2). Michigan Republican Representative Justin Amash said Sunday that there is "overwhelming disapproval" among his constituents and most other Americans against the president's call for military strikes. "I think that there are some things being embellished in public statements," Amash said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "The evidence is not as strong as the public statements that the president and his administration have been making." And although White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said earlier on the TV program that "nobody" is disputing the evidence that Assad's regime was responsible for chemical attacks that killed more than 1,400 civilians in Damascus, Amash said he takes issue with the public statements from the Obama administration. "The briefings haven't given me comfort," Amash said. "[They] make me more skeptical about the situation." Further, the Michigan lawmaker said, his constituents overwhelmingly disapprove of taking action in Syria. Amash said that his office sponsored a series of town hall meetings. "Eleven meetings in two days, and what I saw was astonishing," he said. "What I saw was not just disapproval of war, it was really have to take that very seriously." Amash said that lawmakers need to keep their constituents' wishes in mind, which will make a statement about democracy overseas as well. (3). Maryland Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings said that while 77% of his district voted for President Barack Obama, that support doesn't extend to military action in Syria, and the president has a long way to go to convince people. "He has to come in front of Congress and the nation," said Cummings, who remains undecided over whether he backs the President's call for action. "When you ask Congress to be involved, you're also asking our constituents." He said Obama "is being held to a higher standard, the reason being Iraq," and war-weary constituents don't want the country to become involved in a similar situation in Syria. Cummings said he plans to look at more limited plans for involvement that may come through the House before he decides how he'll vote. "If we go in and find ourselves mired in a civil war, what do we do?" he asked. ~~~~~ Henry Kissinger spoke with CNN's Christiane Amanpour today. The doyen of American diplomats, Kissinger at 90 makes more sense than most on any foreign relations topic. Today he surprised me a little, but if you think about it, he was pointing directly at what was actually happening on the ground. US Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-the-cuff remark about how to avoid a US strike. He said that the turnover in one week of all al-Assad's chemical weapons for destruction would halt a US attack. But'he added, "that isn't going to happen. It's impossible." The White House called his remark an unscripted "goof." Russia's foreign secretary jumped on Kerry's remark to suggest that Syria do just that - turn over all its chemical weapons for destruction. Syria's foreign secretary agreed that it was a good idea. UN Secretary General Ban-Ki- Moon wasted no time, announcing that the UN Security Council would propose a solution for receiving and destroying al-Assad's chemical weapons stockpile. If Henry Kissinger were still around, this proposal would have been floated privately, negotiated with Russia and Syria, and announced as a US-Russia initiative. There would have been no need to say 'unscripted goof.' But that is the difference between amateurs and the great Henry Kissinger. As it was, today, Kissinger said that he supported the Obama resolution for a limited strike against the Syrian regime, although he remains opposed to US intervention in the Syrian civil war, because of the potential disaster if chemical and other weapons of mass destruction become an acceptable part of war. He also said he greatly worries about the erosion of the power of the US presidency internationally under Obama, who, according to Kissinger, acted unwisely to put the question of the Syrian strike to Congress. He is opposed to America being the world's policeman, but he believes that America is "the world's last resort" for important things like the use of weapons of mass destruction. And, to make this work, the American president must be strong when it comes to foreign affairs. And, Kissinger added, if America had appealed to Russia's real interest here -- a Syria with WMD would endanger Russia before it would endanger America -- Russia would have seen that its interests are the same as America's and would have helped. Perhaps Russia saw that today when Kerry went off-script. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, Kissinger supports the Obama resolution. Henry Kissinger always puts everything in the right perspective. The problem is that it would be Barack Obama carrying out the program - and I have no confidence that Obama can carry it off. No confidence at all.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

LADEE Moon Probe Successfully Launched by NASA

It's Saturday and after a week just about as gut-wrenching as any we've been through together, dear readers, let's pause and dream a little dream about something America does very well. NASA's newest unmanned robotic explorer rocketed into space late Friday in an unprecedented moonshot from Virginia that mermerized sky watchers along the US East Coast. While the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer) spacecraft ran into early equipment trouble, NASA assured everyone early Saturday that the lunar probe was safe and on a perfect track for the moon. LADEE's reaction wheels had been turned on to orient and stabilize the spacecraft, which was spinning too fast after it separated from the final rocket stage, but they were automatically shut down by LADEE's own system. On Saturday, NASA confirmed that the reaction wheels were successfully brought back on-line and the spacecraft has acquired its safe-mode attitude profile. The limits that caused the powering off of the wheels soon after activation were disabled, and reaction wheel fault protection has been selectively re-enabled. “Our engineers will determine the appropriate means of managing the reaction wheel fault protection program. Answers will be developed over time and will not hold up checkout activities,” said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager. LADEE was launched by a Minotaur V rocket a little before midnight Friday evening from Virginia's Eastern Shore. Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives following the successful launch. "We are headed to the moon!" NASA said in a tweet. The launch provided a rare light show along the East Coast for those blessed with clear skies. NASA urged sky watchers to share their launch pictures through the website Flickr, and the photos and sighting reports quickly poured in from New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New Jersey, Rhode Island, eastern Pennsylvania and Virginia, among other places. LADEE, pronounced "LA'-dee," is taking a roundabout path to the moon, making three huge laps around Earth before getting close enough to pop into lunar orbit. Unlike the quick three-day Apollo flights to the moon, LADEE will need a full month to reach Earth's closest neighbor. The Air Force Minotaur V rocket rhzy powered LADEE's launch was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. The spacecraft, which is the size of a small car, is expected to reach the moon on October 6. Scientists want to study the moon's delicate surface and determine if moon dust actually levitates from the lunar surface. NASA hopes to eventually replace LADEE's traditional radio systems with laser communications, which would mean faster bandwidth using significantly less power and smaller devices. As humans go farther out into the solar system, certainly to Mars, that laser communications will be needed to send high-definition and 3-D video, according to NASA's science mission chief, John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA has provided the following details of the launch -- The LADEE was successfully launched at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday, September 6, from Pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility Wallops Island, Virginia. LADEE is on its way to arrive at the moon in 30 days, then enter lunar orbit. -- LADEE is managed by NASA's Ames Research Center, which confirmed early Saturday morning that LADEE successfully separated from its Minotaur V rocket, had full power and is in communication with ground control. In less than two weeks, the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. will make its first delivery to the International Space Station, using its own Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule. That commercial launch is scheduled for September 17. ~~~~~ If America could stop being the world's policeman and godfather, these are the kinds of scientific and technical advances that she does extremely well. We were worried when the last manned flight occurred two years ago. But the private sector and NASA are proving the value of joint efforts to explore space and manage what has already been accomplished in cooperation with other countries around the world. Bravo! ~~~~~ You can follow LADEE's journey and watch the NASA TV coverage of the launch on YouTube at this URL :

Friday, September 6, 2013

Syrian Children, Egyptian Christians - Where is Humanity's Call for Justice and Mercy?

Today there is more immensely troubling news coming from the Middle East. ~~~~~ In the south of Egypt, where radical islamists loyal to ousted President Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood are in control, Christians are being killed, their houses burned, their possessions stolen, in some cases with attempts to sell them back to their owners, and Christian churches are being sacked and burned. In Dalga, a 1600-year-old Coptic monastery and its church was burned and its treasures destroyed. Saints remains were scattered. The priest's house was looted and burned but Moslem neighbors saved him. Another priest in the town was shot. Some Christians are paying Moslems to protect them. Others are fleeing north. The Egyptian army has not been able to bring the region under its control because of fighting an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. So, Minya and Assiut provinces, both radical islamist strongholds and both home to Egypt's two largest Christian communities, are suffering the consequences. Dalga, located 270 kilometers (160 miles) south of Cairo in Minya, on the edge of the Nile Valley near the cliffs that mark the start of the desert, has been a radical islamist stronghold since the 1980s. Christians remaining are in hiding while their churches are ransacked and set ablaze, like the Monastery of the Virgin Mary and St. Abraam. The Anglican church was looted.This is a region in Egypt where Christians are 25% of the population, well above the national average of 10%. The radical islamist leaders had been in jail until Morsi freed them after his election and gave them a free hand in the region. They are said to be receiving arms from Libya on their western border. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, CNN is reporting today that Syrians in rebel-held areas, especially south of Damascus, are running out of food and medicines, having eaten all available grains and animals - and even tree leaves. The children in these areas are especially hard hit, with no access to protein or milk. The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is being refused access to these enclaves - all under tank-led seige by the al-Assad army. CNN showed undocumented rebel video of children starving, most of them youngsters with underlying health problems that make them especially vulnerable. Will al-Assad eventually blame the rebels and the West for this atrocity, too? ~~~~~ Dear readers, one has to ask -- have we become so callous to human suffering that nothing can move us to action? Do we feel so helpless in the face of the turmoil in the Middle East that the UN - whose only real value is in protecting vulnerable "collateral damage" human beings - has not yet seen the General Assembly rise up with one voice to help their fellow human beings? The General Assembly was quick to support Palestine...where is its support for humanity? Are Syrian children less valuable because they are Moslem? Are Egyptians expendable because they are Christian? Heaven preserve us if we have come to such an endgame.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Louis XIV, John Locke and Barack Obama

Louis XIV, the Sun King, was born on 5 September 1638. He died in 1715 after having ruled France for 72 years. Why should we care about a French king who died 300 years ago? He left behind him a country whose borders had been expanded to make France secure from invasion. He encouraged the arts - Moliere, Racine, Lully, Le Nôtre and many others - and founded the Academie Francaise and helped Moliere with the Comedie Francaise, the oldest national theatre. Both exist still. He quelled an early revolt of his aristocracy who opposed his ending their feudal rights - many of the revolt leaders were members of his own family, the house of Bourbon - by building the spectacular Versailles and forcing them to serve him by living there. It is the opinion of most historians that Louis XIV created the modern French state. Louis XIV has also received immense praise. The anti-Bourbon Napoleon described him not only as "a great king," but also as "the only King of France worthy of the name." Leibniz, the German Protestant philosopher, commended him as "one of the greatest kings that ever was." And Lord Acton admired him as "by far the ablest man who was born in modern times on the steps of a throne." Finally, Voltaire also dubbed his reign "an eternally memorable age," calling it " le Grand Siècle" (the "Great Century"). Louis XIV developed to its apex the theory of the divine right of kings. ~~~~~ John Locke, who was born in 1632 and died in 1704, was an almost identical contemporary of Louis XIV. Without the birthright of le Grand Louis, John Locke nevertheless made an impact on the world that was perhaps greater and more fundamental. Locke's political theory was founded on social contract theory. He believed that human nature is characterised by reason and tolerance and that human nature allowed men to be selfish. This is apparent with the introduction of currency. In a natural state all people were equal and independent, and everyone had a natural right to defend his “Life, health, Liberty, or Possessions." Most scholars trace the phrase " life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," in the American Declaration of Independence, to Locke's theory of rights and individual liberty and responsibility. ~~~~~ It is said that Louis on his deathbed advised his heir with these words : "Do not follow the bad example which I have set you; I have often undertaken war too lightly and have sustained it for vanity. Do not imitate me, but be a peaceful prince, and may you apply yourself principally to the alleviation of the burdens of your subjects." He was right. So was John Locke. Today, Think about this, dear readers, as we watch the debacle of an American President who mouths the Constitution and clings to it as a talisman without understanding either its words or its vision of the perfectibility of mankind - or the great efforts of human minds and hearts such as Loius XIV and John Locke who moved humanity along its path to full civilization.