Monday, March 31, 2014

Selecting the GOP 2016 Candidate - Principles, Programs, Process, Money

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is being encouraged to seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in a low-key effort by Mitt Romney's former financial and political backers, the Washington Post reports. Bush is seen as someone who can best unite the party as a viable alternative to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has stumbled politically over the Bridge-gate affair. Concerned that the scandal has damaged Christie’s political standing, and alarmed by the steady rise of Senator Rand Paul, a Republican whose base is libertarian, prominent donors, conservative leaders and longtime operatives say they consider Bush the GOP’s best hope to win back the White House. Bush’s advisors sat he's not actively exploring the possibility of becoming a candidate and won't make a decision before the end of this year. But recently, Bush has crisscrossed the country making policy speeches, campaigning for Republicans running in the fall midterm elections, sharpening his messages on income inequality and foreign policy, and cementing ties with wealthy donors to the GOP. One such donor is casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who hosted Bush at a Los Vegas dinner for financial heavyweights where Bush was encouraged to enter the race. The "vast majority" of Romney's biggest contributors would reportedly support Bush, according to the Post, which says bundlers believe that the “vast majority” of Romney’s top 100 donors would back Bush in a competitive nomination fight : “He’s the most desired candidate out there....Everybody that I know is excited about it,” is the theme. ~~~~~ But, Bush, 61, would have some serious hurdles to jump as a candidate. He left the Florida governorship seven years ago, and some analysts think he's having difficulty discussing the GOP's major internal issues in ways that will keep everyone on board. "It'd be a little odd to nominate someone who was last in office in 2006, who hasn't been politically involved at all, in any significant way, in the Obama years," said Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol. But, Bush has written a book advocating immigration reform, campaigned for common core education standards, embraced the traditional GOP foreign policy agenda, opposed Medicaid expansion, and has told audiences that the nation is experiencing a lack of economic mobility. One core GOP issue where Jeb Bush has vacillated is immigration, moving from favoring a pathway to citizenship to saying citizenship is off the table. But, one immigration point clearly favors a Bush candidacy. He is fluent in Spanish and his wife Columba was born in Mexico. And Jeb Bush has longstanding credibility within the Hispanic community that could help broaden his coalition. If analysts are correct in saying that to win the presidency, the GOP will need to convince Hispanic Americans to vote Republican, then Bush is well placed, along with Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Tradition dictates that American political parties can't have president and vice president candidates from the same state, so either Bush or Rubio must bow to the other if the Hispanic vote is seen as so critical that it will be a defining issue in candidate selection. Jeb Bush is also seen as being the heavyweight who many Republicans say is required to compete with former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrats’ leading potential contender, although labeling Mrs. Clinton a heavyweight in anything but ambition is a stretch. “Jeb has the capacity to bring the party together,” the Post quotes Fred Malek, a top Republican, as saying. ~~~~~ So for now, dear readers, Bush's biggest selling point is that he is viewed favorably by the party's fundraisers and establishment. And he has an edge on immigration, not so much inside the GOP base, whose more conservative wing seems to be lost in a fantasy world where 10 million illegal immigrants will simply vanish into a Black Hole, but with the moderate GOP and independents, and with Hispanic American voters themselves, who understand only too well the impossibiliry of ideas such as self-deportation. And, just as important, Jeb Bush is popular with evangelicals, who are a more important force than Hispanics in GOP primaries. Perhaps it is this connection that made Bush say in January that he would consider a run if he could do it "joyfully" and be an uplifting force. This is an unusual way to describe a run for rhe White House. While being an "uplifting force" would be a definite improvement over the divisive and bitterly partisan Obama years, it will be necessary to understand more fully what Jeb Bush meant here. If he wants to uplift America into a Santorum-like extreme evangelical position, he would lose, just as Santorum did. If he means that he wants to restore America's faith in itself and in its Constitution, that would be a winning message. And, of course, a Jeb Bush candidacy would test whether the nation still has angry memories of the George W. Bush administration and whether America is suffering from "Bush fatigue." An early March ABC News/Washington Post poll tested 10 potential 2016 presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton and nine Republicans, asking whether respondents “definitely would” vote for the candidate, “would consider” voting for the candidate or “definitely would not” vote for the candidate. This is admittedly not much more than a name recognition test and so it is no great surprise that Clinton – presumably the best known – got the highest marks. But what was interesting is how Jeb Bush fared : 6% said they would definitely vote for him and 38% would consider it – but fully 48% “definitely would not” vote for him. The only person who had a comparable “not” figure was Mitt Romney, and no one else had one higher than 40% (Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are at 40%, while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is at 39% and Texas Senator Ted Cruz is at 38% – again showing the importance of name recognition). What, if anything, does this poll tell us? Not much. Rudi Giuliani was ahead in the same poll at the same period before the 2008 election. But, all the publicity around the efforts of heavyweight donors and bundlers to force the GOP into accepting Jeb Bush is not the ideal way either to select the right candidate or to endear the GOP to the large majority of Americans. I would be appalled to put GOP presidential possibles and America through another round of a thousand debates. But, before deciding on a candidate, Republicans deserve to at least hear what their principles are and how they would transform their ideas into programs. Don't let anyone, even Sheldon Adelson, up-end the process. We know what the GOP wants - jobs, less debt, lower and simpler taxes, repeal of Obamacare, restoration of America's world leadership role, and smaller federal government with fewer regulations. The person who can put those ideas into a coherent set of programs should be the GOP standard bearer. Immigration, religious issues and reaching out to Hispanics and Blacks will then follow naturally. First, the horse, then the cart, please.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Obamacare - Not Just Health Care But American Values Are at Stake

The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, may be on the books as a law since 2010 and it may be rolling out across the United States, but public support for President Barack Obama's health care law has fallen to its lowest level since passage of the landmark legislation four years ago, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Only 26% favor Obamacare, but a mere 13% think it will be repealed. A narrow majority expects the law to be further implemented with minor changes, or as passed. That is the crux of the problem. Obamacare is vehemently disliked but it marches on like a horde of killer ants sweeping across a tropical forest floor. As Gwen Sliger of Dallas told the AP : "Repealing a law after it has been passed is pretty impossible. At this point, I don't see that happening." Her opinion reflects the national mood. Although a Democrat, Sliger is strongly opposed to Obamacare But she thinks it is here to stay. And she echoes the feeling of a majority of Americans when she says that she likes the idea that a person cannot be refused coverage for a pre-existing condition, but does not like the fact that under Obamacare you can be fined for not having coverage. The AP-GfK poll was taken before last Thursday's announcement by the White House that new health insurance markets have surpassed the goal of 6 million sign-ups, so the potential impact of that news on public opinion is not reflected in the poll. Open enrollment season began with a dysfunctional website last October 1 but will end Monday on a seemingly more positive note. The exchanges offer subsidized private coverage to people without a plan on the job. Only 5% of the poll respondents think the Obamacare rollout has gone very or extremely well, but the number who think it has gone at least somewhat well has improved from 12% in December to 26% now. The downside - in families where members have tried to use the exchanges to sign up for health insurance, 59% say there have been problems in using the website. This is clearly reflected in the leaked news this week that Maryland is scraping its exchange website modeled on the federal website and will probably purchase the website built and used by Connecticut, seen as the best exchange website in the US. A West Virginian who strongly opposes Obamacare told AP : "I think it's much too big a thing for the country to be taking on....The federal bureauceacy just seems too strong, it's like an anaconda." A Florida factory superviser whose two adult sons tried to buy health insurance on the exchanges found it too expensive for them to purchase. The mother supported President Clinton, but said the economy has gone sour for working people under Obama. "Everything is so expensive, not just health care," she said. In April 2010, just after the bill was passed, 50% of Americans said they were opposed to it, while 39% were in favor, and 10% had no opinion. Now, in March 2014, just 26% say they are in favor, a drop of 13 percentage points, and 43% say they are opposed, a drop of 7 percentage points since that poll four years ago. But the number who neither support nor oppose the law has tripled, to 30%. This response is not significantly different from the 27% registered in January and last December. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Obamacare may have registered the 6 million it set as the goal for the first annual enrollment period ending on Monday, 31 March. But, the enrollees, as best we can tell from the insurance industry because the Obama administration will not give any enrollee detail, are older and signing up for the cheapest plans. These two demographic points mean that the prices for everyone will undoubtedly rise in 2015. And, Americans - while deeply dissatisfied with Obamacare's interference with their choice of doctors and hospitals and medicines and treatments - are becoming pessimistic that the mess that is Obamacare will ever be repealed. This means that the mid-term 2014 congressional elections are critically important. November's elections will be possibly the last chance Americans have to overturn Obamacare - by voting for Republicans for both the House and Senate. The Democrat argument that there will still be the Obama presidential veto is not valid. A GOP House and Senate can and will halt Obamacare funding and deal with the uninsured - both poor and with pre-existing conditions. Nothing - no principle of right, moderate or left GOP groups - can be allowed to strip votes away from Republican candidates committed to abolishing Obamacare. It may seem that a health care law does not warrant such unfailing commitment. But in the case of Obamacare, it is not just health care but the future of America that is at stake -- an America built on the principles of personal freedom, liberty to be free of cradle-to-grave socialist government and the principle that 1/6 of the American economy should respond to competitive market forces instead of bureaucratic nanny-state agendas.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Abortion and the Death Penalty - Two Difficult Issues Confronting Texas and All of America

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld Texas' tough abortion restrictions that have forced the closure of about 20 clinics around the state, ruling that the new rules don't jeopardize women's health. The New Orleans based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court judge who said the rules violate the US Constitution and serve no medical purpose. After the lower court's ruling, the appeals court allowed the restrictions to go into effect while it considered the case. The rules require doctors who perform abortions must have privileges at a nearby hospital and places strict limits on doctors prescribing abortion-inducing pills. More regulations that are scheduled to begin later this year weren't a part of the case. In its opinion, the appeals court said the law "on its face does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman." Planned Parenthood, which sued to block the restrictions, called the ruling "terrible" and said that "safe and legal abortion will continue to be virtually impossible for thousands of Texas women to access." Women will be forced to seek abortions later in their pregnancy, if they are able to get to a doctor at all." The Republican-controlled Legislature passed and Governor Rick Perry signed last summer some of the toughest restrictions in the US on when, where and how women may obtain an abortion. Debate of the law drew thousands of demonstrators on both sides of the issue to the Texas state Capitol and caused a 12-hour filibuster by state Senator Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat who succeeded in temporarily blocking passage. Though the restrictions later passed overwhelmingly, Davis catapulted to political stardom and is now running for governor. The office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is also now running for governor, defended the law in court. He and Perry, who is not seeking re-election, cheered Thursday's ruling, saying the court's decision vindicates the careful effort by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women." In passing the rules, Texas lawmakers argued they were protecting the health of women. But abortion-rights supporters called the measures an attempt to effectively ban abortion through overregulation. The new rules, including a requirement that all procedures take place in a surgical facility, are set to begin in September, though they may also be challenged in court. The court rejected the argument that the burden caused by the new rules "falls on a large fraction of the cases." If the number of women who will have to travel farther increases because of the smaller number of doctors who will perform abortions, "the burden does not fall on the vast majority of Texas women seeking abortions," the appeals court found. The US Supreme Court will probably have the last word. The court's four liberal justices already have indicated they are inclined to hear an appeal. In November, the four dissented from the high court ruling upholding the 5th Circuit's decision to allow Texas to enforce the law while the lower court appeal was pending. The dissent, written by Justice Stephen Breyer and jouned by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, said that the four dissrnters would probably want to hear the case regardless of the 5th Circuit decision. Five votes constitute a majority on the nine-justice court, but it takes only four to grant full review of a lower court ruling. ~~~~~ Texas executed 16 people in 2013, one more person than in 2012. In 2013, 69% of the people Texas executed were people of color, eight African-Americans and three Hispanics. There were five white people executed by Texas in 2013. Since December 7, 1982, the state of Texas has executed 508 people. There have been 269 executions in Texas since Rick Perry took office in December 2000. New death sentences have declined from their high in the late 90s. In 1999, there were 48 people sentenced to death. On March 24, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in a Texas death penalty case concerning the ineffectiveness of counsel. In his request for federal relief from his death sentence, Robert Jennings cited three instances in which his trial lawyers failed to adequately represent him. A US District Court granted him relief on two of those claims (including failure to present evidence of his mental problems), while denying the third (his own lawyers told the jury they agreed he was eligible for the death penalty). Texas appealed the District Court's grant of relief on the first two claims to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which then held they could not consider Jennings' third claim of ineffective representation because his lawyers failed to file formal appeal papers on that claim. The case may be set for argument in the fall. Texas has become ground zero for capital punishment. Between 1976 (when the Supreme Court lifted its prohibition on the death penalty) and 1998 Texas executed 167 people. Next in rank was Virginia which executed 60 during the same period. pact of this procedure on the frequency. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the conflict between the strong desire of the Texas government to save unborn babies from being aborted and killed and its first place in US executions because of its death penalty law is astonishing. How can anyone who opposes abortion for whatever reason, whether to protect the unborn child or the mother's health and life, at the same time execute human beings for whatever reason, whether because of the viciousness of the crime or the color of their skin or ethnic background. Texas is at odds with itself. So is America. Some say in Texas it is a leftover from the days of lynchings. Others say it is a remnant of the frontier mindset. In the rest of America, these are sober, uncomfortable issues. If Rick Perry, or anyone else, is serious about running for President in 2016, they will have to address both issues. While white Americans - Protestant, Catholic and nonaffiliated - favor capital punishment at between 55% and 67%, Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants do not, at between 27% and 37% favorability rating. But life in prison without parole is increasingly seen as an alternative, especially among young voters. As for abortion, Gallup has been asking the question since 1975 when 54% of Americans opposed abortion. In 2013, Gallup got the same answer : 54%. But in 2012, when abortion was an issue in the presidential campaign, only 17% said they could only vote for a candidate who agreed with their own views in abortion, while 45% said many other factors would also be considered before voting for a candidate who disagreed with their abortion views and 22% said it would be an important but not decisive factor. Most Americans polled say that the issue is complex and they disagree with the black-and-white views of both pro-life and pro-abortion activists. Perry and other Republican presidential hopefuls can hold the GOP base with a Texas-like view on abortion and the death penalty. But with Hispanic and Black voters, groups needed for either a Democrat or a Republican to win, the election will be decided by more mature discussions of these two difficult and heart-wrenching issues.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is France the Only "Sick Man" in Europe?

France is the 'sick man of Europe.' Well, it's fairer to say that it's France's turn to be the 'sick man of Europe,' a title no country wants. According to Reuters, the phrase seems to have originated with Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who wrote it in reference to the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in the mid-19th century. The Tsar said Turkey was "sick" and journalists added the "man of Europe" a century later. It has been bestowed on whichever European state has a lagging economy. In the 1970s, it was the UK, then seen as prey to militant unions, before Margaret Thatcher challenged them and won. In the 1990s, it was Germany as it struggled with the costs of reunification. Italy, with no or low growth and huge debts, has had the title occasionally over the past four years. So has Greece, as well as struggling Portugal. Now, it's France. According to Reuters France is the sick man of Europe because its manufacturing and service sectors are contracting. But in reality, France is no sicker than any other country in Europe. They all suffer from the same problems : monetary over-stimulation, over-regulation, over-taxation and a cradle-to-grave socialist mentality. This could include Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Ireland and Italy, to name a few. But Northern Europe is not exempt. The disease simply hasn't created enough symptoms yet to be noticeable - but it will, according to Reuters. The January unemployment rate for the total EU was 12% (with France 10.9%, Germany 5%, UK 7.9%, Ireland 11.9%, Portugal 15.3%, Spain 25.8%, Greece 26.8%). Even the northern EU member countries average 7%, except for Norway, not a member of the Euro currency zone, at 3.9%. Not a picture of economic health or an argument for social calm. And in France, the number of jobless surged by 0.9% in February to a new record of 3.34 million, the labor ministry said last week. The number of new jobseekers rose by 31,500 in February, it said, admitting  there had been a "marked progression" in unemployment. ~~~~~ Here is Reuters' argument for calling France Europe's 'sick man' : "at a time when many other European economies are showing some growth, output in France's manufacturing and service sectors is contracting. Unemployment is rising, with a quarter of those under age 25 jobless....This malaise has centered media attention on the man who is implicitly held to be accountable : the Socialist President Francois Hollande. He is seen as vacillating – he scrapped a number of his initiatives when they were met with sustained protests - and out of touch. Thus, when the French far right party, the National Front, did well in the local government elections last Sunday, images of the president looking doleful were everywhere - as were pictures of a joyous Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader. Disenchantment with the EU is now sweeping France. The mainstream parties, where the official position has long been supportive of the EU and the Euro, are being challenged to be more skeptical. The liberal political philosopher Pierre Manent writes that 'life for European citizens is determined more and more not by the familiar national debate...but by the outcome of a European process that is much less comprehensible.' This simple truth - that most people are unfamiliar with and thus cannot relate to the forces that govern their lives - has been the theme that Le Pen and her comrades have hammered at mercilessly, finally catching the popular mood." ~~~~~The rise in the French jobless rate is likely to put even more pressure on President Francois  Hollande, with the overall number of jobseekers having increased by more than  420,000 since he took office in May 2012. Hollande's Socialists are struggling to jump-start France's stagnant economy  and are expected to suffer a major losses in the second round of  municipal elections this coming Sunday, which could lead to a cabinet reshuffle. The labor ministry vowed the government would "continue and intensify" its  efforts to fight unemployment after the release of the latest figures. ~~~~~ Dear readers, these unemloyment figures could not come at a worse time for France's ruling Socialist Party. President Hollande’s party took a beating in the first round on March 23rd. The Socialists took 38% of the vote, far behind the mainstream right UMP at 46%. The Socialists came humiliatingly third in several towns. The first round was won by the center-right UMP party. But the symbolic victory went to Marine Le Pen’s populist National Front (FN). The Socialists may hang on to some big cities after the second round on March 30th, including Paris, even though the UMP mayoral candidate came on first, because of a deal made early this week between the Socialists and the French Green Party. In other places, the Socialists are in an awkward spot, nowhere more so than in Marseille. The left had hoped to win, but came in third behind both the first place UMP and the FN. The National Front is not the kind of party that you would want running a liberal democratic country. The FN is an ultra-right organization that often runs afoul of French anti-Semitism laws and whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the father of Marine Le Pen, is often accused and occasionally convicted under the French anti-Semitism laws. The administrative abilities of the FN are not deep, and no one in France thinks the FN could win enough votes to become the majoriry party, but the FN might force the main parties to do some hard thinking both about France and its place in the EU. A resurgence of incisive political thought from France - a country that prides itself on its use of reason - would be good for Europe and it would give greater weight to British Prime Minister David Cameron's calls for a streanlining of the EU that rolls back unnecessary and costly EU regulations and puts more decisionmaking power back at the country level. Meanwhile, French politics may be partially renewed through challenges from the FN. While the Reuters editorial is well-thought out, it makes the fundamental mistake of proposing that only certain European countries, especially southern ones, are "sick." The truth is that all of Europe is sick, with the possible exception of Germany, which would be better off if it didn't have to carry the financial burden of keeping the rest of the EU afloat - France included.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Obama Bows to Saudi Anti-Semitism while Snubbing Freedom of the Press

In a world where the American President is seen as weak and often wrongheaded in his foreign policy decisions, it should not come as a great surprise that the Saudi government is taking advantage of the lackluster fading star that is Barack Obama by refusing to allow the Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief to cover President Obama's trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The White House Correspondents Association called the Saudi decision not to grant Michael Wilner a visa for the President's trip "outrageous." Wilner is purportedly the only member of the Washington press corps who has been denied a visa. The correspondents association said : "It is outrageous that the Saudi government has refused to allow a White House reporter entry to the country to cover this week’s visit of President Barack Obama. The denial is an affront not only to this journalist but to the entire White House press corps and to the principle of freedom of the press that we hold so dear." The Jerusalem Post also reported that the Saudis ignored "firmly worded requests" to grant the application, which were made by US National Security Advisor Susan Rice and presidential assistant Tony Blinken to Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir. The Jerusalem Post added : “Rice and Blinken separately expressed extreme displeasure at the delay and the prospect of a denial.’’ The White House said it has complained about the denial separately : "We are deeply disappointed that this credible journalist was denied a visa,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “We will continue to register our serious concerns about this unfortunate decision." Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama en route to Belgium on Tuesday, however, that the Saudi Arabian trip would not be reconsidered : "Look, we have disagreements with Saudi Arabia on a number of issues. We obviously have had disagreements in the past as it relates to some issues associated with Israel, some issues associated with human rights. But we also share a significant set of interests with Saudi Arabia. They’re a very important partner of ours in the Gulf, and we believe it's better to have the type of relationship where we can cooperate but also be clear and honest with one another where we have differences," Rhodes said. In an editorial, the Jewish Press accused the Saudis of 'plain old anti-Semitism.' Wilner, a Jewish American, works for the Israeli English-language newspaper but does not hold Israeli citizenship and has never lived in the Jewish state. Saudi Arabia has no official relationship with the government of Israel,’’ the editorial said. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, we have here *an American citizen who happens to be *a journalist who is *an accredited member of the White House Press Corps *who is travelling with the President and is being *denied a visa to enter Saudi Arabia, *one of the stops on President Obama's latest trip to the Middle East. And what has the American President done about this affront? His National Securtiy Advisor and her Deputy have protested, as has the White House. BUT, the trip is not being cancelled because Saudi Arabia is "a very important partner of ours in the Gulf..." May we assume from this explanation that America's relationship with Saudi Arabia is more important than taking a stand against anti-Semitism and for freedom of the press and in support of America's most loyal ally, Israel? Or could it be that President Obama wants to reassure the Saudi leaders that - even though America could now singlehandedly pull the plug on the lavish petrodollar lifestyle the Saudis have become accustomed to - he will keep this from happening by preventing the construction of the Keystone Pipeline and deep port CNG terminals and the beginning of renewed offshore drilling programs? OR - is it simply that Barack Obama has been practicing his bowing technique and doesn't want to lose the opportunity to make one last bow as America's President to the King of Saudi Arabia? What a horror show the Obama presidency has become.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Recent US Train Derailments - Accidents or Sabotage?

A commuter train that derailed at O'Hare International Airport injuring 30 rammed up an escalator at one of the world's busiest airports and would have been far worse, and likely fatal, had it not happened how and when it did, a transportation expert says. Federal investigators are saying nothing about what may have caused the Chicago Transit Authority train to jump its tracks around 3 a.m. Monday, then slice across a concrete platform and crash up a heavily used escalator that takes travelers and workers into O'Hare International Airport. Investigators were expected back on the scene Tuesday. "It is a miracle that nobody died," said an expert at DePaul University. The system is designed so that if an operator becomes incapacitated and their hand slips off the controls, the train should come to a stop. The local union president speculated that the operator fell asleep, and that upon impact, inertia may have thrown the operator against the hand switch, accelerating it onto the escalator. He said investigators planned to speak to the operator and investigate the tracks and all other possiblities. A lapse in focus has also been suggested as a possible contributing cause of a train going off the tracks in New York City last December, killing four people. A preliminary safety board report didn't mention that issue, saying excessive speed appeared to be a factor. ~~~~~ I have followed US train derailment news reports for more than a year now. Their frequency has increased recently and made me curious to look at the recent record of US train derailments. The results were surprising. If we consider the first calendar quarter (01 January through 31 March), here is the US train derailment record for the first quarter of 2010 to 2014 : In 2010, there were no train derailments. In 2011, there were 2 train derailments. In 2012, there were no train derailments. In 2013, there was 1 train derailment. In 2014, there have been 16 train derailments. Now, we might say the 2014 record was caused by the bad winter weather, but the derailments are scattered all over America, not just in areas that had excessive snowfall. Even in North Dakota, where petroleum is now bring transported by rail, the cause of the derailments was not the explosion and fire of a railcar, rather the derailment caused the petroleum railcars to explode and catch fire. ~~~~~ Dear readers, consider that in the period from 01 December 2013 to 25 March 2014, there have also been breaches of the Washington Naval Yard and the Norfolk Naval Station by armed gunmen who shot and killed people in secure areas. And consider that in relatively the same time frame, there have been 2 breaches of electrical substations by intruders whose goal was to destroy transformers - which would have brought down electricity grids in California and New Jersey if the intruders had not been stopped. What can we make of these seemingly unrelated events? Of course, we might say 'nothing' because they really may have been unrelated. On the other hand, it could be that America has been infiltrated by, or has its own homegrown, terrorists at work. They may be "practicing" by carrying out small attacks in preparation for a larger incident. The federal government has said nothing, as would be expected because if they are actively hunting the perpetrators, silence would be the norm. I must add that I have no information that would confirm a terrorist theory for these recent attacks and derailments. But, the number of incidents and their bunched occurrences does raise questions.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Will Europe Pay a Territorial Price for Timidity in Facing Down Putin?

Ukraine's new government in Kiev ordered its troops to retreat from Crimea today, ending days of indecision in which Western leaders tried to present a unified response to Russia's tightening grip on the Crimean peninsula. Russian forces have been routinely seizing Ukrainian ships and military installations in Crimea, including a naval base near the eastern Crimean port of Feodosia, where two injured servicemen were taken captive today, while as many as 80 were detained, Ukrainian officials reported. Over the weekend, Russian troops stormed the Belbek air force base near Sevastopol and detained the commander. With the storming of at least three military facilities over the past three days - and the decision by some to switch to the Russian side - it isn't clear how many Ukrainian troops remain in Crimea. For example, the former Ukraine navy chief, who was charged with treason by the Ukraine government after he swore allegiance to the Russian-backed Crimean authorities and urged others to defect, was named a deputy chief of Russia's Black Sea Fleet by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during his visit to Crimea on Monday to inspect the Black Sea Fleet, which has been stationed in Crimea under an agreement with Ukraine that allowed Moscow to have up to 25,000 troops on the peninsula. Denis Berezovsky had been appointed commander of Ukraine's navy on March 1, only to surrender the country's base in the port of Sevastopol to pro-Russian forces a day later. Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchnynov, whose new government is struggling to maintain contol and establish itself, said the Defense Ministry has been ordered to withdraw all servicemen in Crimea to Ukraine's mainland. Turchnynov said Ukrainian troops would be evacuated with their families in response to unspecified threats from what he termed occupying Russian forces. The interim government in Kiev has been criticized for its indecision over Ukrainian troops in Crimea, and some Ukrainian troops have already left their bases. Moscow says its absorption of Crimea has been rendered legitimate by a referendum held earlier this month in which the bulk of voters in the peninsula approved the move, but the process has come under sustained criticism from the international community. ~~~~~ While Russia's takeover of Ukraine is in practical terms complete and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev continues to provide economic aid to Crimea, and has promised that Crimeans will continue receiving pensions and subsidies even after the region switches to the Russian ruble, the West seems to be shifting its attention to Ukraine. US President Barack Obama's agenda will be filled with Ukraine as he begins a week of international travel in the Netherlands, where he was set to attend a nuclear security summit, which has been overshadowed by last-minute talks on Ukraine among the Group of Seven industrialized economies - the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Seeking to intensify pressure on Moscow, western powers met to discuss methods for isolating Russia. British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that a summit scheduled for June in Sochi was now off the table, while the United States warned that Russia's global standing would continue to deteriorate as the West presents a united front against Putin. The G-7 warned that Russia will face increasing separation from the powerful Group of Eight world powers unless it changes course in Ukraine. "As long as the political environment for the G-8 is not there, as at the moment, there is no G-8 - neither as a concrete summit nor as a format," Merkel said. Leaders of the reconstituted Group of Seven - Russia excluded - met today at the Dutch prime minister's residence to sketch out a path forward. President Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said the meeting was arranged to outlne "what economic sanctions Russia will be faced with if it continues down this course." He said the G-7 would also discuss assistance for the Ukrainian government, indicating that the US and other nations were not prepared to formally cut Russia out of the G-8. The President declared that the US and Europe stand together behind Ukraine : "We're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far," Obama said. Obama also sought to garner support from China, one of Moscow's closest allies, during one-on-one talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China often sides with Russia against the West, but US officials are appealing to Beijing's well-known opposition to outside interference in another nation's domestic affairs. Obama was careful in pre-meeting statements before sitting down with the Chinese president, saying only that they would discuss Ukraine. When the UN Security Council voted on a resolution declaring Crimea's secession referendum illegal, Russia vetoed the measure, the 13 other council members voted in favor, and China's abstention isolated Moscow internationally. In contrast, the BRIC partners, a group of five major emerging economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - issued a statement Monday opposing sanctions and urging nations to work through the UN instead. The so-called BRICS nations said hostile language, sanctions and force do not "contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution." ~~~~~ Dear readers, even though Russian officials have been very circumspect about the precise number of Russian troops in Crimea, last week Ukraine estimated that 60,000 Russian troops were massed near Crimea's borders with Ukraine. Today, the estimate was raised to 100,000. This is the real issue facing the G-7 as it meets in Amsterdam. One must ask what Vladimir Putin's intentions are. He says he has no expansionist plans - but taking Crimea was not expansionist for Putin because he and the Russians he represents believe that Crimea has always been Russian. If one were Vladimir Putin, it would not be difficult to make the same argument about Ukraine. And then? The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)? Moldova? And even Romania and Bulgaria. The world could see the reconstruction of much of the Soviet eastern European bloc. And how effective are economic and political sanctions against such a Russian military advance through eastern Europe? Not at all. NATO and the US, with their European allies, have military capabilities far superior to Russia's. If Western Europe does not want to see its eastern border move radically westward, it needs to develop a strategy far more robust than sanctions. Or pay the territorial price for its timidity.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pope Francis Acts to Confront the Problem of Pedophile Priests

Pope Francis today named the first members of a commission that will advise him on sex abuse policy. The new commission will include both lay and religious experts - and an Irish woman, Marie Collins, who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland and who has, as an adult, become a prominent campaigner for accountability in the Church. The goal of the initial members is to start outlining the commission's statutes, tasks and priorities. The sex abuse scandal has badly damaged the Catholic Church's reputation around the world and has cost dioceses and religious orders billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements. Pope Francis promised last December that he would enact policies to protect children, train church personnel and keep abusers out of the clergy. But Francis gave no details until today. A key open question is whether the commission will deal with the critical issue of disciplining bishops who cover up for abusers. In a statement, the Vatican hinted that the commission will do this, saying the commission would look into both "civil and canonical duties and responsibilities" for church personnel. Canon law already provides for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but no punishment has ever been imposed on a bishop for failing to report a pedophile priest to police. In 2012, Rome's Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University hosted a seminar for bishops from around the world to educate them on best practices to protect children, and several participants from that conference are now founding members of the pope's commission. During that 2012 conference, Collins told the bishops of her own ordeal, of the hospitalizations, anxiety and depression she endured after Irish church authorities didn't believe her when she reported her attacker, and then blamed her for the assault. The investigation was obstructed and the laity misled. "I was treated as someone with an agenda against the Church. The police investigation was obstructed and the laity misled. I was distraught," Collins said. The Reverend Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the creation of the commission is evidence that Francis believes "the Church must hold the protection of minors among her highest priorities." But in a March 5 interview with Corriere della Sera, Francis complained that the Church had been unfairly attacked. He acknowledged the "profound" wounds abuse leaves and credited Pope Benedict XVI with turning the Church around. In 2001, Benedict personally took over handling sexual abuse cases because bishops were transferring pedophile priests instead of punishing them. In his final two years as pope, Benedict defrocked 400 abusive priests. In the March 5 interview, Francis also said : "The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No one has done more. And yet the Church is the only one that has been attacked." The initial commission group named Saturday will also name its own peaders and propose other members to better reflect the Church's geographic diversity. Seven of the initial members are European and one is American, to facilitate their organizational meetings. The group includes three clergy and five laity, including four women. In announcing the appointments, a Vatican spokesman said they reflect late Pope John Paul II’s statement that “there is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.” In a sign of his personal interest in the commission's work, Pope Francis named a fellow Argentinian and Jesuit priest, the Reverend Humberto Miguel Yáñez, who was received by Francis into the Jesuit order in 1975 and who studied under him at an Argentine Jesuit college. Yáñez today heads the moral theology department at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome, and is seen as having direct access to Pope Feancis. Other members announced today include :-- The Reverend Hans Zollner, a German Jesuit who is the academic vice rector of Gregorian University and head of its Institute of Psychology, and who coordinated a major anti-abuse conference in Rome in 2012 called “Toward Healing and Renewal.” -- Hanna Suchocka, a former prime minister of Poland and currently Poland’s ambassador to the Vatican. -- Claudio Papale, an Italian lay expert on church law who teaches at Rome’s Pontifical Urbaniana University. -- Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychologist who has written widely on the effects of sexual abuse and exploitation on children. -- Baroness Sheila Hollins, a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and current president of the British Medical Association, who is frequently consulted on child development issues in the United Kingdom. Sources reportedly told John Allen of the Boston Globe that Francis chose not to issue a legal document providing a structure and mandate for the new commission, preferring that the people he has named work out those details. While plans originally called for the anti-abuse body to be housed within the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, today’s announcement suggests it will have an independent profile and report directly to the pope. The Boston newspaper is especially interested in the new commission because Pope Francis named Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston to the commission. O’Malley, already the obly American on the pope’s “G8” council of Cardinal advisers, is also the sole American among the commission members announced today. O’Malley’s new responsibility is not full-time, meaning he will not move to Rome and will continue to serve as the Archbishop of Boston. O'Malley declined a Boston Globe request to speak about his role on the commission beyond what was in the Vatican announcement. But, in a February interview with the Globe, Cardinal O’Malley discussed the commission and Francis’s broader approach to the abuse crisis : “He’s certainly aware of how serious this issue is...I don’t think he has a plan yet for how to deal with it.” O’Malley said in February that one important function of the new commission might be working with national-level conferences of bishops around the world to ensure they have all implemented anti-abuse guidelines. The aim of that effort, he said, is “to have some clarity about what the expectations are throughout the world.” O’Malley also suggested that the commission might be able to make progress on what many critics see as the most serious unfinished business from the crisis - holding bishops accountable if they fail to apply the church’s official “zero tolerance” policy. Those critics point, for instance, to Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, who pleaded guilty in September 2012 to a misdemeanor charge of failure to report a priest accused of abuse but who remains in office. "I hope this commission will help the church develop protocols, so there will be a very clear path to follow” in such cases, O’Malley said. He added that it would likely not be the commission’s job to investigate individual cases, but rather to help develop procedures the pope can apply when a bishop is accused of failing to respond appropriately. The new commission is expected to meet two or three times a year, with members staying in touch by phone and e-mail at other times. ~~~~~ Dear readers, we can only applaud Pope Francis for beginning the process of clarifying and unifying the Catholic Church's position on child sexual abuse by priests. This work is rightly placed in the hands of lay men and women, including both experts and the abused. But, the commission must not become an institutionalized debating body. It must work closely with Francis to provide clear and severe procedures for dealing with pedophile priests - promptly. Child sexual abuse is, afterall, not a problem of theological niceties. It is a matter of repairing what was a basic affront and a profound treachery directed toward the faithful and their precious cbildren. Action is required and now Pope Francis seems to be ready. It is not an hour too soon.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Dismantle the IRS - Sometimes the Truth Is So Simple

In a decision sure to cause Republicans in Congress to question even further his integrity, Attorney General Eric Holder has denied Senator Ted Cruz's demand for a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS's targeting of tea party groups – a rejection the Texas Republican is slamming as "the height of hypocrisy" by the Obama administration. Cruz had called for the appointment on January 22, writing to Holder that eight months had passed "since both you and President Obama professed outrage at the IRS's wrongful conduct," without beginning any legal action. But in its March 10 reply letter to Cruz, the Department of Justice bristled, asserting that "such an appointment is not warranted" because the case doesn't present a conflict of interest, prosecutors and law-enforcement professionals" are conducting the probe. "The Department remains committed to integrity and fairness in all of its law-enforcement efforts, without regard to politics," the letter stated. It was signed by Peter Kadzik, principal deputy assistant attorney general. Republicans have pointed out the investigator in the Justice department probe is Barbara Bosserman, a partisan donor to President Obama and Democratic causes, who is a civil rights specialst and not in the public integrity section, which would be normal. On Wednesday, Cruz fired back at the DoJ rejection, calling it : "the height of hypocrisy for the Obama Administration to claim that the investigator leading the investigation into the IRS's illegal program has no conflict of interest.....Sadly…Eric Holder has chosen to reject the bipartisan tradition of the Department of Justice of putting rule of law above political allegiance," Cruz said, citing attorneys general who've named special prosecutors to investigate Watergate under President Richard Nixon and the Monica Lewinsky scandal under President Bill Clinton. ~~~~~ Cruz's call for a special prosecutor has not been the only one. House Oversight Committee member Jim Jordan also demanded that a special prosecutor be appointed. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing 41 groups targeted by the IRS, told Fox News that Holder's rejection showed that "the federal government has no interest in investigating the truth here and to find out exactly what happened." Sekulow noted that President Obama had told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that there wasn't a "smidgen" of corruption by the tax agency, even though the President should have said nothing because of the ongoing nature of the investigation. "I've got 41 clients that are in civil court,...None of this is adding up, and I'm not shocked that the special prosecutor was denied,....Disappointed, but not shocked," Sekulow said, adding that the civil litigation will go on. ~~~~~ Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are also pressing the DoJ for more information about contact government lawyers reportedly made with Lois Lerner, the former IRS employee at the center of the scandal over the IRS’s targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny. The renewed push from Committee chairman Darrel Issa and Committee member Jim Jordan comes as the Committee considers whether to pursue possible contempt charges against Lerner after she invoked the fifth amendment right against self-incrimination on two occasions when called before the Committee. “For over eight months, the Committee has sought to carry out its oversight obligations in concert with the Department of Justice’s law-enforcement duties,” the congressmen wrote in a letter to the DoJ dated March 20 : “At every stage, the department has refused to fully cooperate with the Committee. In light of recent reports that the department interviewed former IRS official Lois Lerner, we write to again request information about the administration’s investigation of the IRS targeting,” they wrote. In the letter, they ask Attorney General Holder for specific details about the department’s interview of Lerner, as well as any communications between the department, other law enforcement agencies, Ms. Lerner or her counsel regarding immunity. Earlier this month, Representative Issa had recalled Lerner to testify, in an effort to make her respond to questions about her role in the IRS’s targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny. After Lerner refused to answer 10 separate questions, citing her right against self-incrimination, Issa gaveled the hearing closed. Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the Committee’s top Democrat, asked to be recognized and Issa said he would entertain a question, but when Cummings began a statement criticizing the IRS investigation, Issa had the microphones cut and left the room. Cummings has circulated a legal analysis, in which he says that Issa’s conduct during the hearing voided the possibility of holding Lerner in contempt of Congress. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said last week that he and House counsel “reject the premise of Mr. Cummings’ letter....I do not agree with that analysis in any way, shape or form,” Mr. Boehner said. “I’ve made clear on more than one occasion that Ms. Lerner should either testify or be held in contempt.” Jim Jordan, who is chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee investigating the IRS's targeting of conservative groups, says that "we need a special prosecutor." This came after the Wall Street Journal reported early in March that Lerner has been interviewed by Department of Justice lawyers without being put under oath. Apparently, the long interview included discussions about the unlawful targeting by the IRS of tea party groups, as well as her choosing to invoke her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify before Congress. "There must be something there," says Jordan, who argues that in practical terms Lerner, who wants immunity from prosecution before she testifies before Congress, already has "the best immunity deal." Jordan says that Lerner should tell the American people what she knows about IRS harassment of the President's philosophical opponents because, thanks to explicit signals from the administration, she must already know she is "not going to jail." Jordan referred to a January 13 WSJ report that the FBI has no plans to file criminal charges against anyone in the scandal. The WSJ cited law-enforcement officials who said "investigators didn't find the kind of political bias or 'enemy hunting' that would amount to a violation of criminal law." This report was followed by President Obama's Super Bowl Sunday declaration on Fox News that there was "not even a smidgen of corruption" in the case. Jordan notes that both statements were made before prosecutors had even spoken to most victims of IRS harassment, and that this remains true to this day. The Ohio Republican adds that Lerner can take further comfort from the fact that Bosserman, tasked by the DoJ to head the investigation, donated more than $5,000 to Barack Obama's campaigns. Jordan has also asked Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz to determine how this case landed with Ms. Bosserman, a civil-rights attorney, instead of a prosecutor in the department's public integrity section. Jordan says he'd like to get a transcript of the DoJ's Lerner interview but doubts the department will turn it over since the executive branch still hasn't complied with a congressional subpoena to turn over all of Lerner's emails. While Jordan is not endorsing a revival of the flawed and expired independent counsel statute, he says "we need a special prosecutor." And he believes that Horowitz, an Obama appointee, could conduct a serious inquiry. "I would trust Horowitz," Jordan added. ~~~~~ Dear readers, in analyzing the Justice Department's position concerning the unlawful IRS targeting of conservative tea party groups that were asking for routine status clearances so that they could ask for donations to be used during the 2012 presidential campaign, it is difficult not to see President Obama and White House intervention, asking for the IRS to go very slowly in granting the status clearances. This obviously worked in candidate Obama's favor - keeping conservative political commentary silent while Obama's partisan groups were quickly cleared to collect funds to defend his positions. This is an unconstitutional mis-use of the power of the presidency because it suppresses the first anendment right to free speech. And Senator Cruz may have the right answer, at least for the IRS. During the recent Conservative Political Action Conference – an annual conference held near Washington, D.C., Cruz once again called for the dismantling of the IRS. Last year, Cruz suggested the best way to handle the agency’s long list of problems was to dismantle the IRS entirely. Revise the tax code using a flat tax system - eliminate the all-pervasive IRS for a simple accounting agency - sometimes the truth is so simple.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Obama Weakness Haunts Democrat Candidates Like the Ghost of Christmas Past

Karl Rove has been a keen observer of Washington politics for many years. His latest Wall Street Journal column today takes a history-based look at the November mid-term congressional elections from the viewpoint of the popularity of the sitting President. Rove observes that, based on recent opinion polls, public support for President Obama "is tanking on multiple fronts, dragging down his party." According to Rove, foreign policy was a relative strength for Obama during his first term, but, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that Obama has a 53% disapproval rating on his handling of foreign affairs, the worst rating of his presidency. Rove says that this number has undoubtedly grown since the poll was conducted 11 days ago - before Vladimir Putin's public humiliation of President Obama's weak reaction to Putin's takeover of Crimea. "No modern American President has been exposed as this feckless and impotent, except for perhaps Jimmy Carter," according to Rove, who concludes that once a President is seen as weak in the area of foreign affairs, it is virtually impossible to reconstruct his image, and that weakness generally means bad things for his party : "Once a president is seen as weak in foreign affairs, it colors perceptions of his leadership at home. Not that the news at home is good," Rove writes, citing a March 9 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that showed Obama with a 41% approval rating and a 56% disapproval rating for his handling of the economy. According to Rove, this 41% approval number is lower than all but eight of the 47 surveys this poll has made since Obama's first inaugural, and his disapproval rating is worse than all but seven others since January 2009. Then, Rove gives the historical context. When Ronald Reagan was president in March 1986, 44% of Americans rated the economy "excellent" or "good" while 16% called it "poor," according to a Money Magazine survey conducted by ABC News. Seven months later, Republicans lost eight Senate seats and five House seats in the mid-terms. In March 2006, when George W. Bush was president, 41% rated the economy "excellent" or "good" while 24% called it "poor" in an ABC News/Washington Post poll. In that year's mid-terms, Republicans lost six Senate seats and 30 House seats. The situation facing Democrats today is worse. The March 2 ABC News/Washington Post survey reported that 28% rated the economy "excellent" or "good" while 28% called it "poor." Unless the Obama economy dramatically improves, it will be politically toxic for Democrats, who can no longer rely on health care as a strength. The dreadful rollout of Obamacare left the president with a 36% approval rating and a 59% disapproval rating for his handling of health care in a March 6 Fox News poll. Rove's analysis of the Obama health care is that congressional Democrats will continue to be vulnerable on Obamacare. They are uncertain whether to embrace Obamacare enthusiasically - the advice of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - or take a "mend it, don't end it" approach - being touted by the White House and practiced by their losing candidate in the recent Florida special congressional election and by many Democratic incumbent Senators in trouble in their re-election bids. Rove calls the two approaches "pick-your-poison choice," and concludes that the only thing that could rescue Democrats is for Republican candidates to appear as advocates for the pre-Obamacare status quo. ~~~~~ But, dear readers, that is not going to happen. The outline of a GOP health care "repeal and replace" health care plan that puts personal choice at its center while providing coverage for uninsured Americans is already being developed. In other areas, President Obama's advocating a minimum-wage increase makes for good poll numbers but it is not the kind of agenda item that will fire up Democeat grassroots voters who are still looking for a job...any job...and see a higher minimum wage as making their search harder. And the President's rhetoric on income inequality, words that have not been backed up by any concrete White House proposal, is reminiscent of Huey Long and FDR's 1930s speeches meant to stir up the class-warfare needed to assure re-election during the Great Depression. The GOP will head into the mid-term campaign with an agenda that should ensure victory in November -- job creation, market-based health-care reforms, eliminating unnecessary and costly bureaucracy and regulations that hinder job creation, tax code reform aimed at simplification and freeing business to create jobs and promote growth, a balanced-budget amendment, an all-inclusive energy strategy that does not penalize America's abundant coal and offshore petroleum reserves while finally getting the Canadian-US pipeline underway, increased access to overseas markets, and 21st century jobs training. This outline must now be turned into legislative proposals to provide a unifying message that GOP candidates can personalize for their constituents. Compared to this dynamic forward-looking American agenda, Barack Obama has saddled his Democrat Party and candidates with old-deal Democrat ideas from the Huey Long era and with the spectre of his incompetence in both domestic and foreign affairs hovering over them like the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Romney and Israel Give Obama Scathing Performance Reviews

There are times when President Barack Obama receives an unexpected job performance review. Yesterday he got two. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee defeated by Obama, kept his dignity and grace when, some time after he said during the 2012 campaign that Russia is America's "greatest geopolitical foe. They stand up for the world's worst actors," Obama seized the occasion to belittle Romney in the final debate of the presidential campaign. Obama tried to portray challenger Mitt Romney as a novice who lacks understanding of complex world issues, saying : "Governor Romney, I'm glad that you recognize that al-Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaida. You said Russia...the 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years," Obama said. We now know that Mitt Romney was right and Barack Obama is the neophyte who doesn't understand the geopolitics of the world he is supposed to be leadung. Yesterday, Romney, still as polite as ever, told the Wall Street Journal that President Obama "has procrastinated in making foreign policy decisions, frittering away the chance to influence events until it was too late." The consequence, Romney said, is a litany of leadership failures on the global stage. There are no "good choices" because of the President's "terrible timing." Romney pointed out that it is the case regarding Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, Bashar al-Assad's persistence in Syria's relentless civil war, and the refusal of Iraq and Afghanistan to sign status-of-forces agreements with the United States. "Why, across the world, are America's hands so tied?" the former Massachusetts governor wrote. "A large part of the answer is our leader's terrible timing." Romney said the time to have acted on Ukraine was when the protests and violence first began to percolate and it was obvious Russia would try to exploit the instability : "That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions," Romney wrote. The time to have acted on Syria - seeing to it that the rebels were armed - was during the early stages of the rebellion when promoting moderate leaders and reassuring al-Assad's Alawite base would have been possible. Romney said that the United States should have pressured Hosni Mubarak to reform Egypt's political system before violence destabilized the country. It should have signed deals about force levels with Iraq and Afghanistan before announcing timelines for troop withdrawals. Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to "anticipate events, prepare for them, and act in time to shape them," Romney wrote. They failed "to act when action was possible and needed." As a result, Romney said, the world has diminished respect for the United States, and the troubles Washington faces have only been exacerbated. Romney wrote that "a chastened President" and current Secretary of State John Kerry "can yet succeed . . . Timing is of the essence." We can only say 'Amen' to Mitt Romney's analysis and ask why Americans were so lacking in judgment as to re-elect Barack Obama. But, more frontal criticism of Obama's foreign policy failures also came from another quarter yesterday. Israel's Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, gave an address at Tel Aviv University on Monday, which was reported by the daily paper, Haaretz, quoting Yaalon as saying that Israel cannot depend on the United States to lead any action against Iran's nuclear program and can only rely on itself. The comments by Moshe Yaalon came as world powers and Iran were about to start a new round of talks in Vienna over Iran's contested nuclear program. The background to Yaalon's remarks is well-known. The West fears the Iranian nuclear program could be used to make a nuclear weapon and seeks to scale it back. Teheran denies the program has a military dimension and insists it is for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation. If a deal with world powers is reached, sanctions imposed on Iran over the nuclear program could be lifted. Israel has criticized the ongoing talks with Teheran, saying an interim nuclear deal, struck last November, has left Iran's military nuclear capabilities largely intact while giving it relief from some economic sanctions. At the same time, Israel's strongest piece of leverage, the threat of a military strike on Iran, has taken a back stage to the talks, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence it remains on the table. Yaalon's remarks seemed to underscore that insistence. "We thought that the one who needs to lead the campaign against Iran is the US," Yaalon said, according to Haaretz. Yaalon reportedly said that the US began negotiations with Iran and Iran gained the upper hand in the talks : "If we wished others would do the work for us, it wouldn't be done soon, and therefore in this matter, we have to behave as if we can only rely on ourselves." Yaalon's office confirmed his remarks but refused to comment whether he was advocating an Israeli strike on Iran. Netanyahu's office also declined to comment. Yaalon criticized the West, saying its leaders prefer to avoid confrontation with Iran. As for the US, the defense minister alleged American influence is waning in other parts of the world, such as Ukraine over the crisis there : "Weakness certainly does not pay in the world,...No one can replace the US as the world's policeman. I hope the US will come to its senses." ~~~~~ Dear readers, there is little to add to these separate but accurate Obama performance reviews. Obama's complete lack of mastery of the larger world and its political, military and cultural dynamics has left us wondering how much more harm he can do before November 2016 and how long it will take to re-establish a balance in the world based on commonly-held beliefs in democratic values backed up by US military power. It may be that Barack Obama had a vision of a world roundtable where all are equal. But he sorely misjudged the nature of the players vying for places at that table. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Ukraine are paying the price for Obama's naive misconceptions. America must find a better equipped President - one who can deal with the world's reality. That is not Hillary Clinton. If America fails in 2016, the whole world will be at the longer-term mercy of bullying, vicious dictators.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Missing Plane - A Rejection of Obamacare - A Russian Crimea

Dear readers, let's look at three key stories today. (1). THE MISSING PLANE. Eleven days after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, the whereabouts of the plane is still unknown and all possibilities - from pilot suicide to mechanical failures to sabotage to terrorist hijacking - are still being considered. But there is one question that has had very little discussion - why didn’t any of the passengers or flight attendants attempt to call loved ones with their cell phones? So far, investigators have not been able to find any phone calls, e-mails or social media postings that originated from the missing plane. The New York Times quotes Malaysia airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya as saying there hasn’t been any evidence of communications  from the plane : "but anyway they are still checking and there are millions of records for them to process." Passengers on the hijacked flights during the 9/11 terrorist attacks called loved ones using cell phones. In the more than 12 years since that day, technology has moved forward at a tremendous rate. A 2012 report said that 3/4 of the world’s population has access to a cell phone. So if, as the data suggests, the plane continued to fly for several hours after it lost contact with ground radar, why didn’t anyone try to make a call? Or post a message on Twitter or on China’s blog site Weibo? The NYT says there are a number of plausible reasons. For one, whoever was in control of the airplane could have depressurized the cabin, rendering the passengers unconscious within seconds. Death would have followed. If it is true that the plane climbed to 45,000 feet shortly after losing contact with ground radar, passengers in an already depressurized cabin would have slipped into unconsciousness within seconds at that altitude. Or perhaps the plane was flying at too high altitude for cell phones to find a signal. But there are other reports that say the plane was flying very low, at around 5,000 feet where signals abound. Another question concerns the 10 satellite phones in the business class section. Why didn’t anyone use them? One theory, again according to the Times report, is that someone could have disabled the in-flight entertainment system and that would also inactivate the satellite phones. So we are left with the last Words of MH370's co-pilot : "All right. Good night." Dear readers, was this sign-off, not made according to normal regulations, a coded message to someone? Did the co-pilot, on effect, signal a co-conspirator that he had eliminated the pilot and had the airplane under his personal control and was proceeding with a prior-agreed plan? (2). THE UNINSURED REJECT OBAMACARE. One-third of Americans currently uninsured still have no intention of buying health coverage even though they are required to do so by the Affordable Care Act according to Bankrate's latest Health Insurance Pulse survey. Thirty-four percent contacted by telephone said they have no intention of buying insurance. Of these - 41% cited cost, 17% said they oppose Obamacare and 13% said they are healthy and don't need insurance. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they do plan to purchase health coverage. Michael Morrisey, professor of health economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health told Bankrate, "I think it's just rolling past them, and they're not giving it a whole lot of attention." In the Bankrate survey, only 30% were aware of tax credits designed to offset costs, but those making less than $30,000 a year - who are more likely to benefit from them - were in the group least likely to know about the credits. It is mostly men who won't buy insurance over opposition to Obamacare. Twenty- two percent of men cited that as the reason compared to 8% of women. Most opponents of Obamacare are Republican, and half of uninsured Republicans cited opposition to Obamacare as their reason to remain uninsured. Only 5% of those who identify as Democrats cited opposition to Obamacare as their reason. And it is mostly the young who say they won't buy insurance because they are healthy. Thirty-one percent of respondents age 18-29 cited that reason. Only 6% of those 30-49 said they were healthy enough to remain uninsured. Also, only 48% of the uninsured were aware they have only until March 31 to sign up. Dr. Jane Hughes, an ophthalmologist, told Fox News that the Department of Health and Human Services and Medicare and Medicaid Services say they aren't keeping track of who had insurance and who didn't when they are signing up. Dr. Hughes said : "It's absolutely not been worth the hassle, and I know why we did all of this: This was a socio-political agenda to take over one-sixth of the private sector economy using my profession  - medicine  - to do it." Six million have been bumped off insurance plans because of Obamacare. 4.2 million have signed up. "If we had a big neon sign over it would be minus : -1.8 million now enrolled. That's hardly a success story." ~~~~~ Dear readers, Barack Obama's intransigence in the face of Americans' angry rejection of Obamacare reminds me of old images of Soviet tanks and troops patrolling Eastern European streets to remind them that being Soviet satellite states was "good for them." (3). CRIMEA. It is now Russian and President Putin told the Russian parliament today that he wants to have friendly relations with "an independent Ukraine." ~~~~~ Dear readers, why doesn't the US and the EU take Vladimir Putin at his word -- treat Crimea as Russian, open its borders for any Crimeans who want to move to Ukraine, free all Ukrainian military stationed in Crimea to return to Ukraine, agree on a fixed maximum Russian military presence in Crimea, demand a large indemnity payment from Russia to Ukraine for its annexation of Crimea, agree with Russia and Ukraine for a UN peacekeeping force at the Ukraine-Crimea border with a sufficiently wide non-militarized zone on both sides of the border. It's time for Russia to "put its money where its mouth is."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Crimea - Obama and the EU Should Have Thought before Threatening Putin

Sunday's Crimea referendum, with a 97% vote to return to Russia, has had swift effect -- the Crimean parliament has seized all Ukraine assets in Crimea and nationalized them - voted to take the Russian rouble as its currency and to establish a central bank with $250 million in funds provided by Russia - asked the world to recognize its existence - called up 20,000 reservists to regular military duty - passed a resolution allowing Ukrainian military in Crimea to join the Crimean (i.e., Russian) army - filed a petition with President Putin and with the Russian parliament to be accepted as an independent country and to be taken into the Russian Federation. Concurrently,President Putin has signed a proclamation recognizing the independence of Crimea, Russia's parliament will consider Crimea's independence on Tuesday, and Russia continues to secure the Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol and the rest of Crimea militarily. President Putin will speak to a joint meeting of the houses of the Russian parliament on Tuesday. ~~~~~ In the West on Monday, the most comprehensive sanctions against Russia since the end of the Cold War were announced by President Barack Obama when he froze the US assets of seven Russian officials, including top advisers to President Putin, for their support of Crimea's vote to secede from Ukraine. Obama warned that more people could face financial punishment : "We stand ready to impose further sanctions," Obama said, moving to "increase the cost" to Russia for its actions in Crimea, and he warned that more people could face financial punishment. He added in a brief statement from the White House that he still believes there can be a diplomatic resolution to the crisis and that the sanctions can be "calibrated based on whether Russia escalates or pulls back in its involvement....We are imposing sanctions on specific individuals responsible for undermining the sovereignty, territorial integrity and government of Ukraine. We're making it clear that there are consequences for their actions," Obama said. The US Treasury also imposed sanctions on four Ukrainians, including former President Viktor Yanukovich, who have supported Crimea's separation - under existing authority under a previous Obama executive order. Those targeted will have all US assets frozen and no one in the United States can do business with them. The sanctions are meant to warn Russia that unless it abides by its international obligations and returns its military forces to their original bases and respects Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the US is prepared to take additional steps to impose further political and economic costs," a White House statement said. The US list included Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister, Valentina Matviyenko head of the upper house of the Russian parliament and the ousted Ukrainian leader, Viktor Yanukovych. Obama administration officials say there is some overlap between the US and European list, which today placed sanctions on 21 people. The EU has also shown its support for Ukraine by announcing it will temporarily remove customs duties on Ukrainian exports to the EU. The President said that western leaders are demonstrating a "solemn commitment to our collective defense." Obama administration officials say there is some concrete evidence that some ballots for the referendum arrived pre-marked in many cities and "there are massive anomalies in the vote." The officials did not say what that evidence was. Obama and the EU say that the Crimea referendum violated the Ukrainian constitution and international law and took place in the strategic peninsula under duress of Russian military intervention. Putin maintained that the vote was legal and consistent with the right of self-determination, according to the Kremlin. Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchinov said Kiev was ready for negotiations with Russia, but it would never accept the annexation of Crimea. ~~~~~ But for many, Obama is not going far enough. Senator John McCain, just back from a weekend trip to Kiev, said on MSNBC that Obama's response was inadequate : "I don't know how it could have been weaker, besides doing nothing - seven people being sanctioned after naked aggression has taken place." White House spokesman Jay Carney responded by saying that President Obama did not rule out future sanctions against Putin himself : "We have the authorities to more broadly identify individuals and entities in the future, and we will do that as necessary if the costs to Russia need to be increased." Two other prominent Repubicans have warned that failure of the United States to deter Russia in Ukraine will only embolden Russian President Putin and could end in a military standoff. Today, Senator Lindsey Graham and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote in an op-ed on that failure of the United States and Western Europe to act could give Putin the green light to "test our resolve" in Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia. Those three former Soviet republics are now members of NATO, which all other NATO members, including the United States, are bound by treaty to protect with military force. "Trouble there could 'reset' us right back to direct warfare with Russia," according to Graham and Gingrich : "That would be a disaster and very, very dangerous." Passivity, they say, is the path most likely to lead to war. "The Obama administration should grant the request for military aid immediately - before it's too late for deterrence," they wrote. Gingrich and Graham also call for President Barack Obama to immediately issue an executive order approving the export of American natural gas to 20 countries awaiting bureaucratic approval. "The highest priority should go to approving exports to Europe, where in many places, Russia has a near-monopoly on natural gas," they said. They also call on Obama to issue an executive order approving 24 pending liquefied natural gas facilities they say have been delayed by "bureaucratic red tape." Europe is heavily dependent on natural gas from Russia, leading many Republicans to call on increased production in the US to lessen Putin's stranglehold on Europe, which has been less willing to buy into sanctions against Russia for fear of it holding back energy exports. The op-ed notes that while Obama hosted Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk last week as a show of support and Secretary of State John Kerry announced "very serious" steps if Russia does not back down by Monday from its attempt to annex Crimea, those words must be backed by action."Theodore Roosevelt is famous for a foreign policy he summarized as 'speak softly and carry a big stick,'" the pair wrote. "Obama's foreign policy is closer to 'scream loudly and carry no stick.'" ~~~~~ Dear readers, I cannot help but conclude that the Ukraine crisis is a self-inflicted wound that the West cannot now easily heal. Originally, the problem was in Kiev, where protesters finally brought down the pro-Russian Yanukovich government. As that played out, Yanukovich fled to Russia and Putin saw both the need and the opportunity to secure Russia's Black Sea Fleet port at Sevastopol in Crimea. Swept along by the newly democratic Ukraine, both European and American leaders took a hard line against Putin's self-interest actions, threatening and demanding instead of conciliating and negotiating with both Kiev and Putin. The West having announced that force was not on the table, Putin knew that he held the winning hand - control of petroleum for Europe, the will to use military force in Crimea, the weakness of Obama when faced with quasi-military crises. Putin has played these into a fait-accompli. He now controls Crimea which, being Russian traditionally, has now voted to return to Russia. It may be illegal. It may be counter to current European territorial norms. But it is over. What will Obama and the EU, read that German Chancellor Merkel, do now? Slap on sanctions that do not anger Putin enough to make him stop gas and oil shipments to Europe. This is no way to win a war of nerves against a popular dictator. The next time Putin strikes, Obama and the EU had better make a serious analysis before responding, knee-jerk fashion, to a self-interested nationalistic cry for military back-up. And of course there will be a next strike. The West has now taught Putin and others of his like that they can pretty much do what they want if they simply move faster than Obama and the EU can think.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Russia's Swaggeringly Dangerous Aggression in Ukraine

The propaganda war is heating up in the hours before Crimeans go to the polls to decide their fate - Ukrainian or Russian. In central Moscow on Saturday, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched against the Kremlin-backed referendum in Crimea. Demonstrators waved Russian and Ukrainian flags, while opposition activists - including two members of the Pussy Riot punk band - shouted "Say no to war!" and "Putin, go away!" from the stage. Protesters also held up banners that read: "For your freedom and for ours!" Nearby, there was another rally - several thousand men from a group called "Essence of Time" dressed in uniform red jackets and marching to the sound of Soviet-era military music in disciplined columns - close to the Kremlin to support Russia's intervention in Crimea, an intervention widely condemned as illegitimate by the international community. While President Putin's popularity has risen since he announced Russia's willingness to use force in Ukraine, the anti-government demonstration Saturday showed that not everyone is happy with the decision. One marcher interviewed by AP, Dmitry Maksimov, a 29-year-old lawyer who held a bouquet of flowers dyed blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, said : "I love Ukraine - it's Putin who needs war and an empire, not me." Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of Pussy Riot, called for defiance against the authorities. None of Russia's state-owned news channels showed footage from the anti-government protest, and instead showed live video from the red-shirted pro-Russia rally near the Kremlin. ~~~~~ In fact, if one were to view what's going on in Ukraine through the propaganda filter of Russian TV and other news media, one would believe that the Ukrainian government is run by anti-Semitic fascists, that people killed in the Kiev protests were shot by opposition snipers and that the West is behind it all. And the possibility to counter this obviously slanted portrayal is shrinking. In Russia, the push to demonize Ukraine's leadership has become frenetic. Authorities in Ukraine have responded by blocking Russian TV channels. Lev Gudkov, head of a respected independent Moscow-based polling agency, told AP that the propagandist tone of Russian state television has reached new levels : "For intensity, comprehensiveness and aggressiveness, this is like nothing I have ever seen over the whole post-Soviet period," Gudkov said. News bulletins on top network Channel 1 present reports detailing everything from purported rampant lawlessness to vague threats of reprisals against ethnic Russians and Jews, as well as showing interviews with talking heads alleging foreign-led plots. NTV, owned by gas giant Gazprom's media arm, on Thursday aired a report about purportedly hacked email correspondence between US and Ukrainian officials making plans to stage an attack on their own military jets. The piece goes on to claim that the incident was to serve as an excuse for the US to take military action against Russia. Right Sector, a radical ultra-nationalist Ukrainian group involved in the most violent assaults against Kiev riot police, is the subject of daily TV exposés meant to frighten Russians. Yet, for all the attention Russia gives it, Right Sector has not been granted any posts in the new Ukraine government and observers say it has little actual clout. In the Thursday night clashes in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk between government supporters and a hostile pro-Russian crowd, TV coverage by Rossiya-1, a Russian state station, reported that the incident had been provoked by "special forces" of the Maidan, the informal name of the movement that brought about last month's ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich. What really happened, according to AP, is that at one point a pro-Russian mob encircled and threw objects at a small huddling group of people, shouting for them to get on their knees. At least one person died. Ukraine's effort to counter the Kremlin-led smear campaign has not been very sophisticated. Ukrainian broadcast authorities ordered the suspension of the signal of Russian state-controlled television stations on Tuesday - a move that drew swift indignation from Moscow, as one would expect, and from international media advocacy groups, who might have been more balanced in their commentary. For example, in Crimea, one of the two TV stations that Russia allows to broadcast keeps repeating a clip that displays the slogan "March 16: Together with Russia" while blaring the Russian national anthem. The other on-air TV station in Crimea is the pro-Kiev Tatar ATR, which has a "United Country" logo, and shows regular on-the-street interviews with people explaining that they want Crimea to remain part of Ukraine. And the Russian military in Crimea intimidate many of the journalists on the ground covering events. Some journalists have faced assaults from members of pro-Russian militia forces, complicating efforts to give full coverage to events in Crimea. ~~~~~ There is also the Internet. People in Russia's provinces, where Internet penetration is weak, are particularly susceptible to one-sided reporting. "The only sources of information there are the federal television stations, and they have been conducting an exercise in brainwashing," Gudkov, the independent Moscow pollster, says. Dissenting Russians have turned to online sources for alternative viewpoints, including better information about current developments in Ukraine. But a growing crackdown on Internet news outlets is stemming that flow. On Wednesday, the owner of leading independent news website fired its chief editor, Galina Timchenko, after official complaints that the outlet's coverage of Ukraine breached a law banning dissemination of extremist material because it showed a link to comments by Dmytro Yarosh, a nationalist Ukrainian leader wanted in Russia on charges of instigating terrorism. Disseminating such material or incitements to join unauthorized rallies can as of this year be the basis for closing Internet outlets without a court order. A group of dissenting websites and a blog run by prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny were summarily banned on a request from prosecutors. "Russian authorities are unabashedly cleansing the media landscape of independent voices that have the power to shape minds," said Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "We condemn this ban on alternative sources of news and opinion, and call on Moscow to cease this Soviet-style crackdown." Today, less than half of Russia's adult population uses the Internet on a daily basis, but in Moscow and other major cities, this is changing and it is common to see people glued to their smartphones during commuter hours. Russian aurhorities seem interested in the generation that looks much more at the Internet," said Sergei Buntman, deputy editor of liberal-leaning Ekho Moskvy radio station, whose website was also momentarily blocked by major providers overnight Thursday. The freedom of access to non-manipulated news in Russia will be won or lost on the Internet. But for now, Russian propagande efforts seem to be having the desired effect, with polls showing that 43% of Russian respondents say a military response is justified because people there [Crimea] are at risk of attack from "bandits and nationalists." Another 28% agree on the threat, but suggest a political solution would be preferable. ~~~~~ Dear readers, today, in its campaign to retake Crimea from Ukraine, Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, is focused on heavy-handed TV propaganda left over from the Soviet era. And, to back up the propaganda, heavily armed forces under Russian command effectively control the Crimean peninsula and are using helicopter troops to secure Crimea infrastructure, including a gas transfer station and pipeline on the mainland in southeast Ukraine, an act called an invasion by Ukraine and condemned by all UN Security Council members, except Russia, which vetoed a formal resolution. Whatever the outcome in Sunday's Crimea referendum - and it is hard to believe that Russia has not already manipulated the vote count to be sure that Crimea appears to be choosing Russia - the next week will see eastern European tensions mount, western sanctions set in motion and strident Russian propaganda continue to match the click of Russian military boots in Crimea. Edmund Burke said it : "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." It is, indeed, time for good men to do something to stop Russia's swaggeringly dangerous aggression - today in European Ukraine, tomorrow, where?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Crimea Set to Vote as Russia and the West Continue to Disagree

The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday about the street clashes taking place in Donetsk, a largely Russian-speaking city in eastern Ukraine, where many residents have close ties to Russia. Donetsk declared a day of mourning on Friday after one person was killed and more than two dozen injured in one such clash. The city has seen repeated standoffs between pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators. On Friday, protesters from a pro-Russian march fought with those from a rally "for a united Ukraine," resulting in the death of a 22-year-old man and injuries to a reported 26 people. Other reports said 28 people had been injured and that the young man had been stabbed to death. Ukrainian media reported that pro-Russian protesters had attacked first, but the Russian Foreign Ministry and Russian media disagreed, saying instead that armed men had attacked peaceful pro-Russian demonstrators. In a statement released in response to the clashes, the foreign ministry said Kiev was not in control of the situation in the country and had failed to guarantee demonstrators' safety : "Radical far-right gangs armed with traumatic firearms and clubs, who began to arrive in the city yesterday from other regions of the country, attacked peaceful protesters who came out on the streets to express their attitude toward the destructive position of the people who call themselves the Ukrainian government," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The head of Ukraine's security service wrote on his Facebook page on Friday that four people had been detained in connection with the violence in Donetsk and that "these detainments are only the beginning." Russian troops and armoured vehicles massed on the border with eastern Ukraine on Thursday, alarming Kiev, where Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov issued a statement saying that the Russian forces were "ready to intervene in Ukraine at any time." The Russian Defence Ministry admitted in several statements that at least 10,000 troops had gathered in provinces along the border, but said they were there only to participate in intensive exercises. Donetsk residents said the attacks originated from the pro-Russian demonstrations. The pro- Russian protestors had arrived at Lenin Square before the pro-Ukrainian ones, according to bystanders. Many residents of Donetsk think that the pro-Russia protesters are Russians sent from Russia, which is simply waiting for the right episode to trigger its invasion and occupation of east Ukraine, in a fashion much like that of Crimea. And, in what may be seen as Russia's raising the stakes in its confrontation with the West, Moscow also ordered six Sukhoi-27 fighter jets and three transport planes into Belarus, located on Ukraine's northern border, to head off what the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, said was a potential NATO threat. ~~~~~ In response to the buildup, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her strongest words yet, warned Moscow that it risked massive political and economic damage if it refused to change course on Ukraine. In a Thursday address to Parliament, Merkel told German lawmakers the only way out of the crisis is through diplomacy and assured them that "the use of the military is no option." But, she said, the European Union and other western nations would soon freeze bank accounts and implement trade restrictions if Russia refused to enter "negotiations that achieve results and aren't just a play for time." If Moscow does not begin to "de-escalate" the situation, then Merkel said the 28 EU nations, the United States and other trans-Atlantic partners would act on their agreed conclusion that Russia's decision to deploy troops into Ukraine's strategic Crimean Peninsula was a clear breach of international law, and that Moscow was bullying its weaker neighbor with methods reminiscent of 19th century European power politics. She said western nations were "working on a political and diplomatic" path out of the crisis, including creating a format for talks directly between Kiev and Moscow, but said any question of Crimea breaking away from Ukraine was off the table. Merkel was adamant : "Let me be absolutely clear so that there is no misunderstanding, the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not up for discussion," she said. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry held six hours of private meetings in London on Friday. They did not find common ground and made separate statements to the press afterward. Lavrov said : "We will respect the will of [the] people of Crimea." Russia and the US have "no common vision" on the crisis in Ukraine, Russia's Foreign Minister said. However, Lavrov called his London meeting with John Kerry "constructive." Kerry said the US was "deeply concerned" about Russia sending Russian troops to the Ukraine border and in Crimea troops to the Ukraine border. After the talks, Lavrov told reporters that Russia had no plans to invade south-eastern Ukraine. Kerry said the US had not changed its position on the "illegitimate" referendum and would not recognise its results. However, he said his Russian counterpart had made it clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not prepared to make any decision until after the vote. The Secretary of State said that he had told Lavrov that there would be consequences if Russia "does not find a way to change course." ~~~~~ Dear readers, we are approaching the next crunch point in the Ukraine crisis. It is expected that on Sunday, Crimea will vote to join Russia. But observers on the ground say that the vote could be close. And if Crimea votes to remain part of Ukraine, it would be much easier to negotiate a deal with Russia, guaranteed by the EU and the US, to give Russia control over its Sevastopol Black Sea Fleet port without tearing Crimea away from Ukraine and precipitating an international confrontation in eastern Europe. But this is a minority view in Russia where the majority of Russians support Putin's stance and give him a 68% positive rank in popularity polls. However, when CNN asked four Russian students studying in London what the solution could be, only one said there was no peaceful solution. The other three Russian students said that Ukraine should become more democratic now that Yanukovich is gone and that it should move toward Europe while maintaining good relations with Russia - all this to be decided by coordinated popular referenda in Ukraine and Crimea. "Out of the mouths of babes..."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Republican-Libertarian Coalition Is Strong - Keep It That Way

There are many talking point differences among leaders in the Republican party - degree of budget constraint, definition of personal liberty, foreign policy, military agenda - to name a few. All of these are negotiable and will be decided before the 2016 presidential campaign begins. However, the GOP leaders are facing another and potentially more serious level of difference - the definition of "Republican" vs "Libertarian." These are not just words on paper. They are the lifeblood of the two competing branches of current constitutional republicanism. The differences in the two words' meanings often determine whether a congressional race will pit a Republican against a Democrat or whether race will include a Libertarian on the ballot. The presence of a Libertarian can take away 3-10% of the GOP candidate's vote count and can mean that the Democrat will win. This happens because GOP tea partiers often feel drawn to the Libertarian side of the political spectrum, unless military preparedness and budget size are part of the debate. Senator Ted Cruz addressed this issue at last week's Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC) and he tried to do some fence-mending, dismissing "divisions" with tea party-approved colleague, and possible 2016 GOP presidential rival, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, declaring he'd proudly "stand with Rand." Cruz said : "Although some would like to play up divisions among Republicans, I have no desire to play their game," the Washington Post reported."Rand Paul is a courageous voice for liberty, and I’m honored to call him my friend,...We do not agree on everything, especially regarding foreign policy, but we have agreed on the vast majority of issues, and I am sure we will continue to do so." It was the foreign policy issue that initially opened the rift between the pair recently, when Cruz told ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulous," that "I think US leadership is critical in the world, and I agree with [Paul] that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad, but I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did." On Fox News Sunday, Paul hit back : "I think those who would try to argue that somehow I'm different than the mainstream Republican opinion are people who want to take advantage for their own personal political gain," he said. "I'm a great believer in Ronald Reagan. I'm a great believer in a strong national defense." The following day, Paul expanded on his criticism, writing for Bretibart News that Reagan's legacy was being mangled. "I don’t claim to be the next Ronald Reagan nor do I attempt to disparage fellow Republicans as not being sufficiently Reaganesque," Paul wrote. "I will remind anyone who thinks we will win elections by trashing previous Republican nominees or holding oneself out as some paragon in the mold of Reagan, that splintering the party is not the route to victory." Paul praised Reagan as "a great leader and President," but he wrote : "too often people make him into something he wasn’t in order to serve their own political purposes....Today, we forget that some of the Republican hawks of his time criticized Reagan harshly for this too, again, calling him an appeaser,...Today’s Republicans should concentrate on establishing their own identities and agendas, as opposed to simply latching onto Ronald Reagan’s legacy - or worse, misrepresenting it." Senator Rand never named Cruz. After initially declining comment, Cruz's office offered a statement later the same day : "Substantive policy disagreements are a positive aspect of the political discourse but in the fight for liberty, I am proud to stand with Rand," the Cruz statement said. Rand (31%) and Cruz (11% ) finished first and second at the CPAC straw poll on March 9. ~~~~~While Senators Rand and Cruz were agreeing to disagree, former Arkansas Governor and 2008 presidential cabdidate Mike Huckabee addressed the CPAC issue by saying that "libertarianism is not conservatism,...CPAC is becoming increasingly libertarian over the past few years, and we saw that this year," Huckabee told Dick Morris, J.D. Hayworth and John Bachman on Newsmax TV's America's Forum during the COAC convention : "Libertarians have a very valid point of view, and increasingly we're seeing a libertarian influence for the Republican Party. But pure libertarianism is not Republicanism,...They're welcome in the Republican Party, but don't act as if somehow libertarianism is a purer form of being Republican," The Arkansas Republican said. Huckabee added, however, that he doesn't put all the blame for Republican losses on Libertarian Party candidates taking votes from GOP candidates. "If 10 percent more of the social conservatives had voted in the 2012 election, Mitt Romney would be president today," Huckabee said. "They stayed home, in larger numbers, in part because they didn't feel like there was a message that really connected to them." Huckabee believes that the solution for Republican candidates is not to stay away from social issues, because "by doing so, you almost ensure defeat." He added that "a real conservative embodies the whole spectrum of conservatism, which is not only fiscal conservatism [but also] the idea that we need less government and the government we have ought to be more effective and more local." ~~~~~ Dear readers, Republicans are in an excellent position to come out on top in the 2014 congressional elections. Democrats are already distancing themselves from President Obama and his falling 41% positive rating in the last polls, and trying to say that Obamacare needs a littke "tweaking" instead of being repealed, which the majority of Americans want and which the victory of a "Repeal Obamacare" Republican in last Tuesday's special Florida congressional election emphasized. The last thing the Republican Party should do now is succumb to internal pressures and media baiting that will lead to blowing up out of proportion the political nuances that define conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and libertarians (both in the GOP and Libertarian Party members). Such infighting will be used by the Democrat Party and the media to portray the GOP as being in disarray. That must not happen. The 2014 elections will save America from Obama's leftist policies and no internal GOP "counting the angels on pinheads" should be allowed to interfere with this critically important goal for America. The only practical difference between Libertarians and Republicans is in the area of foreign policy and military "entanglements." But Barack Obama's disastrously dovish and retreatist "absense-while-on-duty" foreign policy and his frontal attack on the military preparedness that is needed to keep America safe has taught both tbe GOP and libertarians one key lesson -- hiding from the world is not possible and confronting it successfully requires a world-view foreign policy and the military to support it. The Democrats have failed America on these key points. Together, Republicans and Libertarians can master these vitally important goals.