Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Real Loser on Hong Kong Could Be Chinese President Xi Jinping

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have renewed their demand that Hong Kong's top leader meet with them, threatening wider actions if he does not, after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's complete rejection of the student political demands, as well as his refusal to resign. The standoff has reduced hopes for a quick resolution of the protest. Leung said today that China would not budge in its decision to limit voting reforms in Hong Kong, an important Asian financial center. Leung's statement drew a defiant response from the students, who believe that his refusal to open a dialogue will lead inevitably to more people coming out onto the streets. ~~~~~ What do the protesters want, exactly? They want the reversal of an August decision by mainland China's government that a pro-Beijing panel will screen all candidates in the territory's first direct elections, scheduled for 2017 -- a move they view as reneging on a promise that the Hong Kong chief executive will be chosen through "universal suffrage." Leung was not democratically elected by universal suffrage and he is viewed by the protesters, and many other Hong Kongers, as a Beijing puppet. Some say the young protesters are emboldened by the knowledge that Hong Kong's free press and social media will help protect them from a Chinese crackdown, similar to that which the new Chinese president Xi Jinping has used on protesting minorities and dissidents on the mainland, where public dissent is often harshly punished. Xi Jinping vowed in a speech today to celebrate Chinese National Day that he will "steadfastly safeguard" Hong Kong's prosperity and stability. He said Beijing believes Hong Kong will "create an even better future in the big family of the motherland." He also said that he has confidence in Hong Kong's semi-autonomous government to handle the crisis. Hong Kong was given to Great Britain by China in 1842. Under a 1984 agreement with the British, Hong Kong was ceded back to China in 1997. Under the agreement and Hong Kong charter, China promised to allow universal suffrage in Hong Kong, in a "one country, two systems" arrangement that gives Hong Kong universal suffrage and wide democratic civil liberties, not available to mainland Chinese, until 2047 when Hong Kong is scheduled to be absorbed into the mainland China Communist political system.~~~~~ Many of the protesters are students born after the 1984 agreement with Britain that set in motion the return of Hong Kong and its 7 million citizens to China. They have grown up in an era of affluence and stability, with no experience of past political turmoil in mainland China. ~~~~~ "The people on the streets are here because we've made the decision ourselves and we will only leave when we have achieved something," Chloe Cheung, a 20-year-old student at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, told AP. "We are waiting for the government to respond to our demands for democracy and a say in what the elections will be like." But, Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the organizer of the university class boycotts that led to the street protests, says the students are considering the best way forward, including a possible widening of the street protests, calling for a labor strike and occupying a government building. Despite the hardening rhetoric from both sides, the mood on the streets today was described by CNN as light, with both protesters and police seeming to believe that there will be no confrontations. Few police were in evidence, and those who were appeared relaxed, continuing the light-handed approach they adopted after their use of tear gas and pepper spray over the weekend failed to end the protests. The crowds are now blocking the financial district and other areas. The protest has been called "The Umbrella Protest" because of umbrellas opened to protect protesters from tear gas. Rain capes have also been stockpiled as a defense in case police use pepper spray again. A student interviewed by AP said : "We are not afraid of tear gas, we are not afraid of pepper spray. We will not leave until Leung Chun-ying resigns. We will not give up, we will persevere until the end." Many bus routes have been canceled and some subway entrances near protest areas are closed, and police and fire departments are calling for protesters to clear the streets. But, the inconveniences caused by the protests have not alienated most Hong Kongers, who support the demands for democratic government in Hong Kong. They see the protesters' calls for control of their own future as a possible solution to the widening gap between the city's ultra-wealthy and the rest of the population. "I plan to stay in the protests as long as they remain peaceful," said Peter Chin, a 22-year-old student at Hong Kong University. "Basically, we just want to talk with them, but they are not willing. So we will stay here until they're ready to consult with us," he said. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Leung's total rejection of the student demands is not surprising. China's Communist leadership is eager to avoid any conciliatory moves that might embolden dissidents and separatists on the mainland, where agitation against the Communist Party's tight control, coupled with a Xi Jinping ongoing two-year-old purge of successful business and political leaders, is a potentially explosive mix. Xi Jinping's ferocious anti-corruption campaign has surely made many powerful enemies among the Party elite who feel that their networks, families and fortunes are in danger. Some senior level Party leaders may even be quietly supporting the protesters, not for democratic reasons but because they would like to see Xi Jinping's power reduced. Added to this top level Party struggle is the unrest in China caused by protesters of every minority from Moslems in the northwest to Tibetan buddhists. So Beijing is afraid to allow the mainland Chinese to see images of civil disobedience in Hong Kong and CNN reports that the popular image-sharing site Instagram has been blocked, joining the long blacklist that includes Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Google. All this fits into Beijing's model for dealing with unrest. The beleaguered Hong Kong chief executive Leung will be left to solve the problem alone. If he succeeds, his Party bosses may go easy in him. But for now, Leung is most likely trying to stamp out Hong Kong’s protests without help from Beijing. Hong Kong is China’s leading financial center, making it so important that few Party leaders would want to advise Leung or take charge of a situation that is for the present unmanageable and would give China a black eye in much of the world if heavy-handed tactics were to be used. The only person in the Party who could make decisions on Hong Kong's fate is Xi Jinping himself, but even he will undoubtedly try to stay aloof, because a failure could call into question his leadership. The result is that Leung has probably been told by Party bureaucrats to solve the problem -- however he can, by discussion or repression. And if Leung fails, or uses methods too violent for Beijing to ignore, then he will be sacrificed. But, all the while, it is Xi Jinping himself who is on trial. He is already vulnerable -- he is relatively new on the job, he has destabilized and frightened the Party leadership and he has a high profile crisis on his hands. It is not impossible that Xi Jinping will be the real loser in Hong Kong.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Obama Blame-game Has Gone too Far as He Blames the US Military and Intelligence for His Own Mistakes

President Barack Obama gave an interview to CBS 60 Minutes on Sunday. He spoke about the difficulties inherent in his Syria policy, acknowledging that the US-led military campaign against ISIS and Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, helps Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a man the United Nations has accused of war crimes and the US would like to see banished. Obama said : ''We are not going to stabilize Syria under the rule of Assad...On the other hand, in terms of immediate threats to the United States, ISIL, the Khorasan Group - those folks could kill Americans." But, ISIS, Nusra ahd Khorasan, targeted by US airstrikes, are the most significant military opposition to al-Assad. And that is Obama's problem -- if the US attacks them, he helps al-Assad. If he leaves them alone, they will continue to spread in Syria, brutalizing communities and plotting against the West. Yesterday, Obama was struggling under the weight of a "damned-if-you-do...damned-if-you-don't" dilemma largely of his own making. Consider two major decision points that Obama has faced and mishandled. ~~~~~ THE IRAQ TROOP WITHDRAWAL. In October 2011, President Obama announced that all US troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by year's end. On 18 December 2011, the last convoy rolled out of Iraq and into Kuwait. In October 2011, Colonel Salam Khaled of the Iraqi Army 6th Brigade said : “Our forces are good, but not to a sufficient degree that allows them to face external and internal challenges alone. The loyalty of forces is not to their homeland. The loyalty is to the political parties and to the sects.” What was the Obama response in 2011? Officials said, "Iraqi forces are indeed prepared to preserve the nation’s stability." Dennis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, told reporters : “One assessment after another about the Iraqi security forces came back saying these guys are ready, these guys are capable, these guys are proven.” But, Reuters published a report on 18 December 2011 taking a pessimistic view : "For Iraqis, the US departure brings a sense of sovereignty tempered by nagging fears their country may slide once again into the kind of sectarian violence that killed many thousands of people at its peak in 2006 and 2007. Prime Minister al-Maliki's shi'ite-led government still struggles with a delicate power-sharing arrangement between shi'ite, Kurdish and sunni parties, leaving Iraq vulnerable to meddling by sunni Arab nations and shi'ite Iran." And what was the Obama response on Sunday? In discussing Iraq, Obama said the US left the country after the war with “a democracy that was intact, a military that was well-equipped and the ability then (for Iraqis) to chart their own course.” However, Prime Minister al-Maliki “squandered” that opportunity over roughly five years because he was “much more interested in consolidating his shia base and very suspicious of the sunnis and the Kurds, who make up the other two thirds of the country....We are helping Iraq with a battle that's taking place on their soil, with their troops," the President said. "This is not America against ISIL. This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership." ~~~~~ REFUSAL TO ACT AGAINST AL-ASSAD. In August 2013, the Obama administration was trying to decide how to respond to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that was the most flagrant violation of Obama's 2012 "red line" for potential military action. But the possibility of intervention lessened after America's General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a 19 August 2013 letter to a congressman that the administration was opposed to even limited action in Syria because it believed rebels wouldn't support American interests if they seized power. Dempsey said the US military is clearly capable of taking out al-Assad's air force and shifting the balance of the war toward the armed opposition. But such an approach would plunge the US into the war without offering any strategy for ending what has become a sectarian fight. For America, the death toll and painful images were seen as again putting a spotlight on President Obama's 2012 pledge to respond forcefully to any chemical weapons use by the al-Assad government. In 2013, the Obama administration said it confirmed that Syrian forces committed such attacks, and the US then ordered a lethal aid package of small arms to be sent to some rebel groups, although it's unclear whether any weapons were ever delivered. Dempsey, in his letter, said : "Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides....It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not." Despite Dempsey's assessment, Obama recognized the Syrian opposition coalition as "the legitimate representative" of the Syrian people. That was the Obama position in August 2013. What is the Obama position in September 2014? On 60 Minutes, Obama said his first priority is degrading the extremists who threaten Iraq and the West. To defeat them, he acknowledged, would require a competent local ground force, something no analyst predicts will happen soon in Syria, despite US plans to arm and train "moderate" rebels. The US has said it would not cooperate with the al-Assad government. Yesterday, Obama said : "Right now we have a campaign plan that has a good chance of succeeding in Iraq. Syria is a more challenging situation." ~~~~~ The "no boots on the ground" mantra was questioned Sunday by House Speaker John Boehner, who said if local forces aren't trained to battle ISIS quickly enough, US troops would be required. "Maybe we can get enough of these forces trained and get 'em on the battlefield. But somebody's boots have to be there," the Republican Speaker said on ABC's "This Week." Boehner questioned Obama's strategy to destroy ISIS, saying that the US may have "no choice" but to send in American troops if the mix of US-led airstrikes and a ground campaign reliant on Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and moderate Syrian rebels fails to achieve that goal. Boehner said : "These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don't destroy them first, we're going to pay the price." ~~~~~ Dear readers, the most worrisome aspect of President Obama's constant shift from one "strategy" to another is his readiness to blame others for his own mistakes. "60 Minutes" interviewer Steve Kroft asked Obama how the threat coming from Syria and Iraq squares with the President's longstanding position that al-Qaida's leadership has been "decimated." Obama answered that there was an international network of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, headed by bin Laden. "And that structure we have rendered ineffective. But what I also said....is that you have regional groups with regional ambitions and territorial ambitions. And what also has not changed is the kind of violent, ideologically driven extremism that has taken root in too much of the Moslem world." While an "overwhelming majority of Moslems are peaceful," Obama said, "right now, there is a cancer that has grown for too long that suggests that it is acceptable to kill innocent people who worship a different God. And that...extremism, unfortunately, means that we're going to see for some time the possibility that...radical groups may spring up, particularly in countries that are still relatively fragile, where you had sectarian tensions, where you don't have a strong state security apparatus....We've got to get Arab and Moslem leaders to say very clearly: 'These folks do not represent us. They do not represent Islam.'" But the most dispicable blame-game Obama played Sunday was to unjustly place blame on the US intelligence and military communities for the mess he has got himself into. Asked how ISIS fighters had come to control so much of Iraq and Syria, Obama said it was "absolutely true" that the US overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi army. He added that during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, "where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos." Obama said his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has acknowledged that the US "underestimated what had been taking place in Syria." A sad comment from the President who likes to refer to himself as the commander-in-chief -- to blame the US Intel and military who work 24/7 to keep America and the world safe from terrorism. As I post this, ISIS is approaching Baghdad -- who will Obama blame for this catastrophe?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Economy, National Security, ISIS - Americans Are Unhappy with Everything Obama Does

Americans have a bleak view of the economy and of their own financial situations, according to a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute. The Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, but only 21% of Americans believe it's really over, while 72% say the Great Recession continues. While 7% of Americans report they are in excellent shape financially, only 34% say they're in good shape, 37% say they're in fair shape, and 20% say they're in poor shape. Just 30% feel the economy has improved during the past two years, while 35% say it has worsened, and 33% say it is about the same. And difficult as it may be to accept, 36% of Americans say that someone in their household had to cut back on food to save money during the last year. “It looks a little gloomy,” said Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the survey in conjunction with the Brookings Institution. “There's been a wavering belief in the concept of the American Dream. About half said it once existed but no longer. One in 10 said it never was true,” Jones told the Houston Chronicle. “Despite the fact that there has been improvement in the economy since the Great Recession, there are still four in ten Americans who live in households experiencing high or moderate levels of economic insecurity,” Jones said. “Economic insecurity remains highly stratified by race, with nearly six in ten black Americans living in households with high or moderate levels of economic insecurity.” PBS Newshour reported that the most common economic fear "reveals a human suffering more visceral, and perhaps less publicized, than layoffs or unemployment rolls : food insecurity," with 36% of respondents saying they’d experienced it. "It’s possible that’s the budgetary item Americans feel they have the most control over (compared to whether they pay a monthly bill or not, for example), and thus find it easiest to cut. It’s not specified whether “cutting back to save money” means going hungry or forgoing an $8 bag of almonds," PBS Newshour reported. But, almonds aside,Wall Street Journal columnist William Galston says life has been tough for many Americans for quite a while : "The American economy hasn't worked for average families since the end of the Clinton administration. A recovery that leaves them out is no recovery at all, and they know it. This simple fact goes a long way toward explaining the tone of our current politics and the temper of our society." Median household income totaled $51,939 in 2013, down 8% from more than $56,000 in 2007. "The median earnings for Americans working full-time year round haven't changed much since 2007," Galston says. "But more than five years into the recovery, there are fewer full-time workers than before the recession." ~~~~~ And, to add to the economy, which is the main concern of Americans, at close to 40%, Karl Rove reports that voters are now worried about national security. As the midterm election campaign enters its last six weeks, new factors have appeared that will help determine which party controls the Senate next year, according to Rove. The concern about national security began with the conflict in Ukraine, and it has grown as ISIS cut a swath across Iraq and beheaded two American journalists. Rove cites an August 4 CBS News poll that asked what was the most important problem facing the country. Terrorism wasn't even on the list. In a September 15 CBS News/New York Times survey, voters ranked terrorism as No. 2 at 17% (behind the economy at 38%) as the most important factor in their decision about who to vote for in the congressional election. A foreign-policy crisis normally boosts the party in power, says Rove, but not this time. Obama's abysmal approval numbers are likely to improve only a little before the election. The GOP's advantage as the party better able to handle national security has been building for more than a year and was at 23% in the September 7 Gallup poll. And voters don't believe the President's claims that the economy is thriving. Even people with jobs feel apprehensive because : paychecks are flat, growth is anemic, and people are worried about their children's prospects. President Obama had a 38% approval on handling the economy in the September 9 Fox News poll. In the September 7 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 67% believe America is on the wrong track. But to win, Rove says, Republican candidates must show they are in touch with voter concerns about growth, jobs, paychecks, government spending and debt -- by offering specific, persuasive ideas. For example, Obama's threat to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants by fiat has turned immigration into an issue involving the President's abuse of power, not just an issue of national security and the economy. For Karl Rove : "It is not enough for Republicans to remind them of Mr. Obama's many failings; voters want to know how the GOP would move the country forward. Republicans must keep three plates spinning at once: encouraging voters to send Mr. Obama a message, defending themselves against brutal Democratic attacks, and laying out a governing vision." ~~~~~ The economic and national security issues are eating into President Obama's own poll numbers. For the first time since Obama took office, more Americans disapprove than approve of his handling of terror threats, as shown in the New York Times latest poll reported on September 25. The slide in the President's approval ratings on terrorism comes as the White House pushes its fight against ISIS, the brutal group that uses beheading as a publicity and recruiting tactic, and as a means of terrorizing entrapped communities into meek submission. The New York Times-CBS poll found that 50% of Anericans hold a negative view of how Obama is generally dealing with terrorism, while only 41% approve. The poll also found that 55% do not believe Obama has a clear plan for dealing with ISIS militants and 57% say he is not being tough enough on the group. Forty-eight percent disapprove of how Obama is handling the ISIS situation compared to 39% who approve. A whopping 69% are in favor of anti-ISIS US airstrikes in Syria, but 55% oppose sending ground troops to that country or to neighboring Iraq to target ISIS. The survey results were released as Obama ratcheted up the pressure on Wednesday, with the President declaring there was no hiding place for the jihadists. "Our reach is long," he warned. According to the Times, the finding that 50% disapprove of how Obama is handling terrorism represents a 12-point increase from March. "The findings represent the first time since he became President that more Americans rate Mr. Obama negatively on terrorism than they do positively," the Times reported. Overall, 58% of Americans now hold a negative view of Obama's overall handling of foreign policy, compared to 34% who view it positively. According to the poll, 33% think the Obama administration's policies have made the country less safe. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is clear that Americans are not happy with President Obama's performance -- whether we measure the economy or jobs or personal financial security or national security or the war on ISIS, Obama is given low marks in every poll. This should make a Republican sweep of the House and Senate elections inevitable. The trap for the GOP is not to become complacent. Every voter counts. Every local organization and contact count. Every opportunity to speak out about the mess created by Obama and the Democratic Party must be seized. And above all, every public commentary and speech must include details about the GOP's own agenda -- job creation, lower taxes so that business can invest in jobs and technology, bringing the national debt under control, repealing and replacing Obamacare, securing US borders, and returning to constitutional government. The GOP can lead the way out of the Obama morass, but it must be vigilant and pro-active to succeed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Is Obama Leading the World toward Star Wars or Blackhawk Down?

British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament for today's debate on whether to approve airstrike support in Iraq under the Obama-led anti-ISIS coalition. Cameron, who deliberately left the question of Syria out of the resolution, said beforehand that in such key matters, consensus is important so that Britain is united behind the final decision. Well, Cameron got his consensus in spades -- the vote was 524 to 23 for taking airstrike action as part of the Iraq coalition. Cameron made a passionate plea for action in graphic terms - noting that the militants had beheaded their victims, gouged out eyes and carried out crucifixions to promote goals "from the Dark Ages." Cameron told Parliament : "There isn't a 'walk on by' option. There isn't an option of just hoping this will go away." But, Cameron also explained that the current anti-ISIS campaign will require "patience and persistence," not "shock and awe" - a reference to the phrase associated with the invasion of Iraq. ~~~~~ Belgium and Denmark joined Britain on Friday in becoming members the US-led coalition of nations that are launching airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq, with both countries committing warplanes to the battle against the extremist ISIS jihadists. Belgian overwhelmingly approved, voting 114 to 2 to take part, despite widespread concerns that more terrorism may follow in their homeland as a result. Denmark pledged seven F-16 fighter jets. Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said "everyone should contribute" in announcing that her government would send four operational planes and three reserve jets along with 250 pilots and support staff for 12 months. Lawmakers in Denmark must also approve, but that is considered a formality. Britain is expected to deploy Tornado GR4 aircraft,some of which are in Cyprus, within striking distance of northern Iraq. Tornadoes loaded with Brimstone missiles, said British Parliament member Ben Goodlad, have a particular ability to hit convoys and fleeing targets. ~~~~~ The Brirish Parliament, and Europe in general, have agreed to participate in the coalition in Iraq because the Iraqi government has asked for such help, making intervention lawful under international law for them. No European nation has yet agreed to join the US and some Arab states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan) in strikes in Syria, which is not part of the coalition and has not asked for help. Last year, the British Parliament rejected the idea of intervening in Syria to stop al-Assad from using chemical weapons. After today's vote, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon indicated that the government might later ask Parliament for support for Syrian airstrikes. That would be a divisive debate in Britain. Last year, Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, voted against airstrikes in Syria and said more work needs to be done. "The point I have been making in the last few days is, in my view, when we are not talking about being invited in by a democratic state it would be better - I put it no higher than that - it would be better to seek a UN Security Council resolution," he was quoted as saying. ~~~~~ British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon raised the critical point being debated in Europe. "ISIL is based in Syria. That's where its headquarters are, that's where its resources, its people are. To deal with ISIL you do have to deal and defeat them in both Iraq and in Syria," he told BBC. "We are taking this in a calm, measured way, step-by-step, but it is clear to us that obviously ISIL, in the end, has to be tackled on a broader front." But, Labour leader Ed Miliband, before the Parliament vote today to approve military intervention in Iraq, ruled out British ground troops being committed, saying the UK must not repeat the mistakes of the past. So, to the "Syria question" we must add the "ground troop" question. While the question of entering Syria is uniformly seen as being tied to UN Security Council approval in Europe, the question of ground troop intervention - in Iraq - is still an open issue, much like the US, where entering Syrian airspace is an agreed tactic, but the use of US ground troops is being hotly debated. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a news conference today : " No one is under any illusion - any illusions - that airstrikes alone will destroy ISIS." Sitting beside Hagel, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that neither an air assault nor a military campaign will truly win the war against the group, and that troops must be trained to fight ISIS on the ground while the US and other nations take a broader approach towards eradicating the extremists. The US Central Command, Dempsey said, is actively working with "Iraqi military to ensure that what occurs on the ground is their campaign, not our campaign, and the Pentagon continues to talk with leadership in neighboring Turkey “about ways to contribute to the coalition. Yes, there has to be a ground component to the campaign against ISIL," Dempsey said later during the briefing, adding that earlier figures per group of 5,000 prospective US-trained forces may be but a fraction of what is required. Instead, he said, upwards of 15,000 combatants may need to be trained to take on the ever growing Islamic State.“ Hagel added, "This will not be an easy or brief effort. We are at the beginning of the administration’s effort to degrade and destroy the Islamic State." ~~~~~ Dear readers, it seems that which countries' planes fly over what countries is pretty well settled for now. But whose boots, if any, are or will be on what ground is a messy kettle of questions and commentary. Several things are clear. America's military and their Defense Secretary believe that Obama's insistence that no US ground troops will be used is wrong as a strategy. General Dempsey has done everything but carry a protest sign over the issue. And Chuck Hagel would be right beside him. The Obama mantra of "this is their ground war" has made the US military, with Saudi Arabia's help, turn to the tactic of training troops -- Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels. There is also an ongoing shadowy flow of US Special Operations personnel toward Iraq. And we know that both Arab and European coalition partners are reluctant ground warriors. So, we are in the position, as one European political commentator said today, of being in a "war" that President Obama is making up as he goes along. It is costly, inefficient and ultimately impossible to win. Who will hold Obama's feet to the fire of war? No one he would listen to, and that is the core of the problem -- Barack Obama listens to no one. And so he has dragged the world into the vortex of an undefined, unwinnable Star War, where nobody's boots ever touch ground except when an aircraft is shot down. And that will happen eventually. And whose boots will be on the ground to meet him? ISIS boots. Blackhawk Down II is in the making.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

America Needs a Balanced, Objective Attorney General after Eric Holder's Divisiveness

Eric Holder, who directed the Obama administration's legal fight against terrorism and was outspoken on issues of racial fairness, is resigning after six years on the job as the nation's first black Attorney General. The White House said that President Obama announced Holder's departure today at the White House. A White House spokesman said that Holder, one of Obama's longest serving Cabinet members, will continue as Attorney General until a successor is confirmed. Holder's decision comes in the midst of a high-profile Justice Department civil rights investigation into the use of force by police in Ferguson, Missouri, where a young black man was shot by a white law enforcement officer last month. Holder has been the leader in forming the administration's reaction to the police shooting in Ferguson last month of Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, sparking racial tension in the St. Louis suburb. The news of Holder's resignation came as civil rights leaders and the families of the Ferguson man, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, who died in a New York City police chokehold this summer, were appearing at a news conference in Washington. The Reverend Al Sharpton said today that he hopes the White House will meet with civil rights representatives before appointing a replacement. "There has not been an attorney general with a civil rights record equal to Attorney General Eric Holder," Sharpton said. Speaking to AP recently, Holder said he hopes the Ferguson matter is settled quickly, saying that it is not in the best interests of the nation to have this drag out. "There's a great deal of anticipation, and I'd say apprehension, on the part of the people in Ferguson, and many people in this nation, about how this is going to be resolved." And in fact, Holder may be resigning now so that Obama can use the lameduck session of a still-Democrat majority Senate to push through his nominee as Holder's successor. ~~~~~ The White House also said today that the President has not made a final decision on a replacement for Holder, one of the most progressive voices in his Cabinet, who finalized his plans in a meeting with the President over the Labor Day weekend, according to a Justice Department official. Possible candidates among administration officials include : Solicitor General Don Verrilli; Deputy US Attorney General James Cole; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a former Rhode Island attorney general; former White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler; Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York; and Jenny Durkan, a former US Attorney in Washington state. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, mentioned as a possible Holder successor, took himself out of consideration : "That's an enormously important job, but it's not one for me right now," Patrick said. ~~~~~ Holder has admitted that his upbringing influenced his legal perspective - his father was born in Barbados and his sister helped desegregate the University of Alabama. He referred to America in 2009 as a "nation of cowards" in discussions of race. He later lamented that "systemic and unwarranted racial disparities remain disturbingly common." A former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, Holder left private practice to take the job of reshaping a Justice Department that had been tarnished by a scandal involving fired US attorneys and that had authorized harsh interrogation methods for terrorism suspects. He immediately signaled a new direction by declaring that waterboarding was torture, contrary to the George W. Bush administration's insistence that it wasn't. Holder wanted to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged co-conspirators in New York. The plan was stopped by political opposition to granting civilian criminal trials to terrorist suspects, who would have had greater legal protections in civilian courts than in military commissions. But, Holder maintained his position that civilian courts were the most appropriate venue. He argued that his original plan was vindicated by the successful prosecution in New York of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law. ~~~~~ Eric Holder's tenure as Attorney General was among the most controversial in US history. Representative Darrell Issa said on news of Eric Holder's resignation : "Eric Holder is the most divisive US Attorney General in modern history." Representative Matt Salmon said Eric Holder's resignation should be welcome by advocates of justice across the US. Here are some examples of Holder actions and statements that appeared in my August 25 blog. (1). Discriminatory Hiring Practices -- August 8, 2011 court documents revealed that the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division had been engaging in politicized hiring in the career civil service ranks. In June 2008, Holder said that the Justice Department was “going to be looking for people who share our values.” (2). Fort Hood -- Not one of the post-attack reports issued by the DOJ mentioned Nidal Hasan’s Islamist ideology. Obama administration reports on the attack labeled it as “workplace violence.” (3). AP Surveillance -- The Holder Justice Department secretly obtained two months of the telephone records of reporters and editors for AP. The records provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know. (4). Weather Underground Pardon -- Holder, as Deputy Attorney General, “was the gatekeeper for presidential pardons.” Two of the recipients of Holder’s pardons were former Weather Underground members Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans. The Weather Underground was a far-left organization whose main objective was to overthrow the American government. (5). Hostility Towards Conservatives -- At an American Constitution Society gathering in 2004, Holder said : “Conservatives have been defenders of the status quo, afraid of the future, and content to allow to continue to exist all but the most blatant inequalities....made a mockery of the rule of law....put the environment at risk for the sake of unproven economic theories, to play to the fears of our citizens, and not to their hopes, and to return the nation to a time that in fact never existed.” Holder said conservatives are “breathtaking” in their “arrogance.,,," The hallmarks of the “conservative agenda” include “social division, mindless tax cutting, and a defense posture that does not really make us safer....With the mainstream media somewhat cowered by conservative critics, and the conservative media disseminating the news in anything but a fair and balanced manner, and you know what I mean there, the means to reach the greatest number of people is not easily accessible.” (6). Opposition to Second Amendent Rights -- In 2008, Eric Holder claimed that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, but only applied to government militia. (7). Opposition to Voter ID Laws -- Eric Holder has consistently opposed efforts to pass voter ID laws. (8). Fast & Furious -- A US government gun-trafficking investigation gone very wrong. The number of arms unaccounted for is around 1,500 and about two-thirds of those guns ended up in Mexico, according to congressional testimony. Fast & Furious has resulted in the death of a US Border Patrol officer, some 2,000 firearms in the hands of criminals, and the dismissal of a 24-year veteran law enforcement official. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, no matter who President Obama names as the next US Atorney General, he or she will have little chance of becoming as divisive a figure as Eric Holder. But, that really shouldn't be the role of an Attorney General. The office of Attorney General was established by Congress in The Judiciary Act of 1789. The duties of this officer were "to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the president of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments." Only in 1870 was the Department of Justice established to support the attorney general in the discharge of his responsibilities. The Attorney General, with the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Defense, are the four main Cabinet officers. The Attorney General is 7th in line of succession for the presidency. So, what a President should look for in a prospective Attorney General are solid legal experience and written or spoken indications of an undrtstanding of the American Constitutional process and government. What the United States does not need in an Attorney General is the divisiveness caused by his pursuit of a political agenda of any sort - right or left - as Eric Holder has created, we may assume at the request of President Obama, because the Attorney General serves at the President's pleasure. If the next Attorney General can bring a new balance and objectivity to the job, America will be well-served.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A French Mountain Guide, Herve Gourdel, Dies at ISIS Hands. Rest in Peace.

The video is called "A Message of Blood for the French Government." It appeared online today, showing Algerian extremists allied with ISIS decapitating a French hostage as retaliation after France carried out airstrikes in Iraq. French President Francois Hollande condemned the killing of Herve Gourdel, a 55-year-old professional mountain guide born in Nice, and said France would continue its fight against the sunni militants of ISIS that have taken over large areas of northern Iraq and Syria. President Hollande said : "Herve Gourdel is dead because he is the representative of a people - ours - that defends human dignity against barbarity." Hollande was speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. "My determination is total and this attack only reinforces it. We will continue to fight terrorism everywhere." France started airstrikes in Iraq on Friday, the first country to join the US military campaign against ISIS fighters there. Killing a hostage is a new approach for Algerian terrorists, who have in the past made millions of dollars by ransoming hostages. France is known for paying ransoms, although in the past hostages have died at the hands of their captors. ~~~~~ In the video, members of a newly formed group calling itself Jund al-Khilifa, Soldiers of the Caliphate, that split away from al-Qaida's North Africa branch, stand over a kneeling Gourdel. They pledge their allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and say they are fighting his enemies. They add that they are following his instructions to attack the French. The video then shows the captive pushed to the ground and blindfolded before being beheaded. ~~~~~ France has long been seen as a special target for hostage-takers for several reasons : (1) the French military campaign against al-Qaida-linked militants in Mali; (2) the French involvement in the NATO force in Afghanistan; and, (3) French laws banning the Moslem face veil in public and banning Moslem headscarves in public buildings. Nearly 1,000 French radicals have joined or are trying to join the ISIS group in Syria and in Iraq - more than the number of fighters from any other Western country. This is a reflection of the fact that France has the largest Moslem population in Europe, estimated to be 7.5% of France's total population. French authorities are particularly concerned that they will return and stage attacks at home. The video resembled those showing the beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker in recent weeks, but instead of starting with clips of President Barack Obama speaking, it showed Hollande. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Wednesday after hearing about the video that France would not pay a ransom for Gourdel, who arrived in Algeria Saturday and was taken in the Djura Djura mountains of northern Algeria on Sunday during a hiking trip. His Algerian companions and guides were released. On his Facebook page Gourdel had expressed his excitement about his camping trip and said he was looking forward to being shown around for a change, instead of being the guide. The remote Djura Djura mountains, with their steep valleys and deep caves is also one of the last strongholds of Islamist extremists in northern Algeria. The Algerian government undertook a massive hunt for Gourdel, using helicopters and special forces to comb the region. Hollande has spoken with Gourdel's family and Gourdel's hometown in southern France is planning a vigil Thursday at the mountaineering office where he worked. Gourdel advertised his work on his professional website, saying that being a mountain guide enabled him to 'escape from office life.' He regularly led expeditions in places like Nepal and Jordan, and the Atlas mountains in Morocco. French media have reported that he was married with two grown up children, and parents in their 80s. ~~~~~ Dear readers, in the last month, ISIS has released videos showing the beheading of  British aid worker David Haines, and American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. A second British aid worker, Alan Henning, and two Germans are being held by an ISIS group that threatens to behead him. European Moslems are beginning to speak out against ISIS, notably in a social site program called "#notinmyname." The head of a leading French Moslem group, Dalil Boubakeur, said he was horrified by Gourdel's beheading, calling it "this barbaric crime," and condemning it "with the utmost energy." The group has called for imams to denounce ISIS practices. And Moslem country leaders have been saying at the UN General Assembly that the names "Islamic State" and its acronyms ISIS and ISIL, are not correct because ISIS is neither a state nor Islamic. The local Middle East name for the group is DAESCH and Middle East leaders prefer the use of this name. But, by whatever name it is known, ISIS has clearly made capturing and beheading Westerners a hallmark of its violent jihadist terrorism. And while airstrikes and coalition building are vital, it is also vital to remove this hallmark that both attracts young recruits and terrifies into submission local populations. Hunting down ISIS units that have carried out beheadings and meting out severe punishment for their barbarous acts, as well as rescuing hostages, should be priorities in this new war we are engaged in -- once again a job for Special Forces. And overarching these tasks, the world needs to be told about the real dangers of traveling in certain areas in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The day has past when tourists can wander the globe ignorant of fundamental information about where they are. A little information and some individual self-responsibility would go a long way toward reducing kidnappings and beheadings.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Only Fools Believe Obama Extricated the American Military from Iraq

The world knows by now that the United States and five Arab countries - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan - launched airstrikes Monday night on ISIS targets in Syria. The vast majority of the bombs and missiles fired came from US aircraft, according to US military sources. The Syria airstrike mission expanded the Obama "strategy" - a no-US-ground-troops military campaign against ISIS - from Iraq into a country whose three-year civil war has given the brutal ISIS group a safe haven to use as their headquarters and command center. Using a mix of manned aircraft - fighter jets and bombers - plus Tomahawk cruise missiles, the strikes were part of the military campaign that President Obama authorized two weeks ago in order to "disrupt and destroy" the ISIS militants, who have slaughtered thousands of people, beheaded Westerners - including two American journalists and one British aid worker - and captured large parts of northern Syria and northern and western Iraq. US Department of Defense (DOD) officials said the airstrikes began around 8:30 pm Washington DC time. The first sorties finished about 90 minutes later, but the operation continued for several more hours, according to one DOD official. Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the military made the decision to strike early Monday, adding that initial indications are that the Syria airstrikes were “very successful.” A White House official said Obama was updated during the mission. The strikes were carried out by manned Air Force and Navy aircraft and Tomahawk missiles launched from US ships in the northern Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, including the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, which is in the Gulf. It is unclear whether drones were used in Monday's airstrikes. The Syrian airstrikes were against ISIS headquarters in Raqqa in eastern Syria, including what the DOD labeled as the militants' command and control centers, re-supply facilities, training camps, financial center and other key logistical sites. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Senators last week : "We will be prepared to strike ISIL targets in Syria that degrade ISIL's capabilities. This won't look like a shock-and-awe campaign, because that's simply not how ISIL is organized, but it will be a persistent and sustainable campaign." General Dempsey said today in an interview with reporters as he flew to Washington after a trip to Europe, that one goal of Monday's strike was to prove to ISIS that they will find no safe haven. The DOD said the US also took separate unilateral action Monday night to disrupt an "imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qaida veterans - referred to as the Khorasan Group - that has used an area near Aleppo in Syria as a safe-haven from which to train and launch terrorist attacks against European and American targets. The US has also increased its surveillance flights over Syria, getting better intelligence on potential targets and militant movements. Lieutenant General William Mayville Jr, the director of Operations for the Joint Staff, said today that last night's strikes are the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. Mayville also predicted that ISIS will adapt to the new airstrike campaign and maintain a lower profile. He also described ISIS as a “learning organization...and they will adapt to what we’ve done and seek to address their shortfalls and gaps in our air campaign in the coming weeks." Military leaders have said about two-thirds of the estimated 31,000 ISIS militants are in Syria. Some officials have expressed concern that going after ISIS in Syria could inadvertently help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, since the militants are fighting in part to overthrow al-Assad. But in his September 10 speech, Obama vowed to go after ISIS militants wherever they may be. The US military started launching targeted airstrikes in Iraq in August, focusing specifically on protecting US interests and personnel, assisting Iraqi refugees and securing critical infrastructure. But recently, as part of the newly expanded campaign, the US began striking militant targets across Iraq, including enemy fighters, outposts, equipment and weapons. To date US fighter aircraft, bombers and drones have launched about 190 airstrikes within Iraq. Last night's attack included 14 airstrikes and 47 Tomahawk launches, according to DOD. Congress passed legislation late last week authorizing the military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. Obama signed the bill into law Friday, providing $500 million for the US to train about 5,000 rebels over the next year. Obama administration officials have also been crisscrossing the globe trying to build a broad international coalition of nations, including Arab countries, to go after ISIS and help train and equip Iraqi security forces and moderate Syrian rebels. ISIS, meanwhile, has threatened retribution. Its spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said in a 42-minute audio statement released Sunday that the fighters were ready to battle the US-led military coalition and called for attacks at home and abroad. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is hard to know what to make of the Syria airstrikes. Admiral Kirby told CNN's Christiane Amanpour today that the airstrikes may go on for a year while moderate Syrian rebels are being trained and armed. This strongly suggests that the ISIS "war" drag on for years. The Bahrain foreign minister confirmed to Amanpour that Bahrain would be part of the coalition for "as long as it takes." He also called on Islam's religious leaders to make clear that ISIS is not part of Islam. And Obama's statement at the White House early today was in a way his effort to pull both the world and American voters to his side. If we might paraphrase, the President was saying : "I have shown you my Arab coalition so it's your turn to prove you're my friend and my ally by supporting and joining me." And in America, it will temporarily drive up his ratings and make the GOP look bad if it continues to point out the very real insufficiencies in the Obama strategy. The President informed Congress last night about the Syria airstrike and we may well ask how the GOP can refuse or quibble over the budget Obama is asking for, especially after clamoring for him to act -- a dilemma for the GOP. But finally, Obama has done very little except drive ISIS underground, and unless the Free Syrian Army and the Iraqi army can help the Kurd peshmergas, in a month the bomb sites will be nothing more than desert ruins of another Obama failure. In the year it will take to get the renewed Syrian Free Army on the ground, Raqqa will need to be re-bombed and re-bombed. So why did the President choose to act now, knowing that no ground follow-up is available? Maybe it would be more useful to take the advice of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who says recent calls for lone-wolf terror attacks in the West are a larger concern than organized efforts by established terrorist groups. "The lone wolves worry me more, because they're harder to follow, they're harder to track. It's harder to get intelligence," Giuliani said Monday on CNN's "The Situation Room." ISIS on Sunday called for lone-wolf attacks against civilians in the United States and any country planning to aid the US in air or ground attacks against it. "When you have things like...this ISIS leader saying, 'Go off and do your own thing,' nobody has to communicate with anybody," said Giuliani, mayor of New York during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the security challenge is the most difficult. Giuliani said that ISIS may be less dangerous than the hype about the group, and he also said ISIS has done itself no favors by alienating more of the world than al-Qaida has. It has committed atrocities condemned in some cases even by al-Qaida, including beheadings, crucifixions, mass shootings, rapes, and kidnappings. Dear readers, we may well ask, what is the right mix in the fight to hold the Middle East together and give it the dynamic cooperation needed to move forward? I still believe that a Special Operations-led combined ground and air blitz against ISIS would be better and more efficient than the drip-drip of a prolonged airstrike campaign while Obama tries to create a proxy army simply so he can continue to say that he has extricated America from Iraq. Only fools believe that.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Obama's Relaxed "Terrorist Support" Refugee Screening Rules Are Troubling

There is troubling news coming from the UN directed at America, with President Obama's agreement, and it's a topic hard to address without sounding anti-Moslem. But I'm going to try. ~~~~~ Since the early 1990s, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has selected 200,000 to 250,000 refugees from Islamic countries to be resettled in the United States. Most of them have come from Somalia and Iraq. But, displaced Syrians are slated to make up the next big wave of Moslem refugees coming to America, added to the mix of refugees marked for settlement in the US in the midst of that country’s violent 3-year-old civil war. What is surprising is that the Obama administration, without attempting to begin a dialogue with Americans, has been paving the way for the Syrian refugees for months, according to WND, a conservative website. The refugees will soon arrive in American cities scattered throughout the US. And, even more surprising is the revelation in February by Fox News and the LA Times that in February, the State Department moved to ease the rules that protect the US from accepting refugees with potential ties to terrorist organizations. The rules were seen as “too strict” so the Obama administration has eased the rules for would-be asylum-seekers, refugees and others who hope to come to the United States or stay here -- and who gave "limited" support to terrorists or terrorist groups. The change was one of President Obama's first actions on immigration since he pledged during his January State of the Union address to use more executive orders. The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department now say that people considered to have provided "limited material support" to terrorists or terrorist groups are no longer automatically barred from the United States. A post-9/11 provision in immigrant law, known as "terrorism related inadmissibility grounds," had affected anyone considered to have given support to terrorists. With little exception, the provision has been applied rigidly to those trying to enter the US and those already here but wanting to change their immigration status. Fox gave the example of Morteza Assadi, a 49-year-old real estate agent in northern Virginia, whose green card application has been on hold for more than a decade because as a teenager in Tehran, Iran, in the early 1980s, Assad distributed fliers for a mujahedeen group - once considered a terrorist organization by the State Department - that opposed the government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Assadi said he told the US government about his activities when he and his wife applied for asylum in the late 1990s. Those requests were later granted and his wife has since become a US citizen. But Assadi's case has remained stalled. Assadi says : "When we are teenagers, we have different mindsets. I thought, I'm doing my country a favor." Assadi said he only briefly associated with the group, which was removed from Washington's list of terrorist organizations in 2012, and that he was never an active member or contributor to its activities. Now he's hopeful that the US government will look at his teenage activities as "limited" - either because of a lawsuit filed in federal court to force the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to process Assadi's green card application or because the government will act on its own." ~~~~~ Of course, it is always possible to find the exception to every law, and Assadi may be that exception. But the Homeland Security Department defended the action broadly in a statement saying that the rule change, made without consulting Congress, gives the government more discretion but won't open the US to terrorists or their sympathizers. People seeking refugee status, asylum and visas, including those already in the United States, still will be checked to make sure they don't pose a threat to national security or public safety, according to the department. In the past, the provision allowed few exemptions beyond those granted for providing medical care or acting under duress. The change now allows officials to consider whether the terrorist support was not only limited but potentially part of "routine commercial transactions or routine social transactions." Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard said : "Refugee applicants are subject to more security checks than any other category of traveler to the United States. Nothing in these exemptions changes the rigorous, multilayered security screening we do." The change does not specifically address "freedom fighters" who may have fought against an established government, including members of rebel groups who have led revolts in Arab Spring uprisings. In late 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Services said about 4,400 affected cases were on hold as the government reviewed possible exemptions to the rule. It's unclear how many of those cases are still pending. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the rule change will help people he described as deserving refugees and asylum-seekers. "The existing interpretation was so broad as to be unworkable," Leahy said in a statement. He said the previous rule barred applicants for reasons "that no rational person would consider." Republican lawmakers argue that the administration is relaxing rules designed by Congress to protect the country from terrorists. Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the change naive given today's global terrorist threats, saying that President Obama should be protecting Americans from terrorists instead of easing the way for potential terrorists to enter the US. ~~~~~ Dear readers, from 2012 through 2014, the United States will have accrepted more than 90,000 refugees from the Middle East alone. Overall, each year the US sets as its goal taking 50% of UNHCR's refugees for resettlemrnt. In 2012, America, Canada and Australia accounted for 90% of all UNHCR refugee resettlements, with America taking 76% of them. In addition, the US contributes more than 70% of the budget of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which was $575 million in 2012, and in addition works to create third-country resettlement programs in countries near to the refugees' home countries. No one can reasonably argue that America is not almost singlehandedly supporting the UNHCR refugee resettlement effort -- taking half the refugees each year, paying 70% of the UNHCR' s budget and working to create resettlemrnt areas near refugees' homes. Given the more than generous commitmrnt of Americans to the worldwide, and especially the Middle East, refugee problem, it seems to me that the least US citizens deserve is a President who explains his program goals, discusses openly where in America refugees will be resettled, and talks at length about how the post-9/11 provision in immigrant law, known as "terrorism related inadmissibility grounds," that had protected America from anyone considered to have given support to terrorists will continue to do so under his new relaxed approach adopted by executive directive without consultation with or agreement by Congress. America's commitment to bear the major burden of the current refugee crisis should not, and must not, make America more vulnerable to terrorist attack. Perhaps Mr. Obama can make a valid case for his action, but America deserves to hear it and decide for itself.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

There Will Never Be US Ground Troops in Iraq...Thus Sayeth Obama

President Barack Obama's military campaign against ISIS has never been just airstrikes. It included Special Forces on the ground in Iraq from day one, already extending beyond the limits he first tried to outlined. But military experts inside and outside the administration continue to advise the President in public that an even greater expansion may be needed for the mission to succeed, including positioning US ground troops with front-line Iraqi security forces. Doing that could put Obama close to violating his pledge to keep Americans out of combat. For Obama, re-engaging in combat in Iraq would mean going back on promises about the current mission and abandoning a pillar of his presidency - ending long wars and avoid new ones. But, if General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, decides that the ISIS campaign needs US ground troops, he told Congress that he will recommend that to the President. And if Obama refuses to provide ground troops in such circumstances, he would undoubtedly be accused of putting his legacy first. He began by announcing a limited airstrike campaign, but the US now is pursuing targets across Iraq and is expected to push the attacks into Syria. Soon, the Pentagon will start training and equipping Syrian rebels to fight the militants. And while American coalition allies in the region are enthusiastic about the new American leadership role, even they are saying that unless American ground troops also participate, it will be difficult to defeat ISIS. Robert Gates, former Defense Secretary for Presidents Bush and Obama has said : "They're not going to be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces or the peshmerga. So there will be boots on the ground if there's to be any hope of success in the strategy." General Dempsey also says that about half the Iraqi army is incapable of partnering effectively with the US to combat ISIS, suggesting a high likelihood that more Americans would be needed on the ground. The President quickly responded to Dempsey's comments by emphasizing his pledge to keep Americans out of combat missions. Last week, Obama told troops at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida : "As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq." But White House officials have left open the possibility that Obama could accept a recommendation to put ground troops in forward operating positions alongside Iraqi and peshmerga forces. They would not be sent with a specific combat mission, but they would be armed, as are the 1,600 military personnel already sent to Iraq this summer, and would have the authority to fight back if attacked. Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for New American Security, said that would leave Obama with "something of a rhetorical quandary. What is happening in Iraq is going to look a lot like combat," said Fontaine, a former State Department official who has advised Senator John McCain on foreign policy. While a CNN poll shows that 76% of Americans back strikes in Iraq and 75% support them in Syria, just 38% favor sending US ground troops to those countries. Obama will be searching for more coalition partners when he attends the UN General Assembly annual meeting in New York next week, taljibg to world leaders and probably looking for countries willing to commit ground troops. ~~~~~ The perfect rebuttal came yesterday to President Obama's simplistic strategy - thinking that he can defeat ISIS with airstrikes but no US ground'troops, aided by Kurdish peshmerga troops whom he has thus far refused to arm. AP and Reuters report that tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds and Arabs pushed through the Turkish border Friday as they fled ISIS’ latest advance in Syria. By sundown Friday, the militants had taken more than 60 villages in northern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, which says tens of thousands of residents have fled their homes ahead of the ISIS surge, adding to the over 3 million Syrian refugees scattered among neighboring Middle East countries, including the 800,000 already in Turkey. The Turkish borders remained closed early on Friday but finally they were opened to save the Syrian Kurds massing its borders. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Saturday : "Around 45,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed the border as of now from eight entrance points along a 30 kilometer (18 mile) distance from Akcakale to Mursitpinar since we opened the border yesterday." The ISIS advance in northern Syria has prompted calls for help by the region's Kurds, who say they fear a possible massacre in the town of Ayn al-Arab close to the Turkish border. Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani on Friday called on the international community to help Syrian Kurds, saying the jihadists must be "hit and destroyed wherever they are." Barzani noted that the United States is drawing up plans for military action in Syria against the radical Sunni Muslim group ISIS and said now is the time to strike in northern Syria and provide heavy arms to the Kurdish peshmerga, adding that ISIS is using confiscated US arms and equipment, and the peshmerga should have US equipment to be better able to fight ISIS. ~~~~~ Dear readers, President Obama has two problems. First, he announced his "no US ground troops" policy and refuses to discuss it with his own military or coalition partners, although both say that victory is not possible without US troops leading on the ground. Second, Mr. Obama talks a good story about working with the Kurds and their peshmerga troops, but thus far it seems he has not provided them with the heavy arms they need to fight ISIS successfully. ~~~ And, perhaps President Obama has a third problem - he continues to use the "no ground troops" mantra even while the White House is talking about the possibility of placing armed US forward forces with Iraqi and Kurdish troops. Now, this line of White House Newspeak nonsense made me remember President Bill Clinton. Remember when Bill Clinton faced impeachment over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky? Clinton was being questioned about a previous statement made by his attorney, Robert Bennett, that stated that there “is” no sexual relationship between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinksky. Clinton defended his attorney's statement as being correct because at the time there was no relationship. He said, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If 'is' means 'is and never has been' that's one thing - if it means 'there is none', that was a completely true statement." Fast forward to Obama and ISIS. Obama might say : "It depends on the meaning of 'never.' If 'never' means no armed US troops on the ground in Iraq because I officially announce that I will never send them, then there will 'never' be US troops on the ground in Iraq. And 'never' ask me to explain how the armed US troops already on the ground in Iraq got there, because I will 'never' tell you." ~~~ Got that? If it seems fuzzy, don't feel bad. Just consider poor President Obama, who is fighting a publicly reported ground war in Iraq while 'never' - and he means 'never' - admitting it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Robert Burns Told the Scots to Be British Because Only the British Could Fix the Mess They Made

Scotland was saved for the UK by a 55% to 45% margin. Many are crediting Gordon Brown - that loathed and forgotten Labourite Scotsman who followed behind Tony Blair as the man at the Exchequer who found the money for Blair's welfare state ideas and was rewarded with the prime minister position for a very short period - as the person who saved the conservative bacon. But the Scotland question was far from a simple Yes or No vote. Here's a look at what is coming to the UK. ~~~~~ Prime Minister David Cameron responded Friday to the passion stirred by the Scottish independence movement by promising sweeping new powers to the UK's regions. Scotland's rebellion under Alec Salmond's Scottish Nationalist Party, formed by him to free Scotland from the UK and taking the majority position in the Scottish parliament in a stunning 2011 election victory, and England's own fledgling demands for more autonomy, mean that to keep an uneasy union intact, each of Britain's four nations soon may need to live mostly under separate roofs. Their complaints about being ruled by London's Parliament - to which each country sends elected members - focus particularly on tax rates and welfare benefits, and Cameron promised reform to beat back the separatist movement. And importantly, he called for a similar reform of the relationship between Parliament in London and Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and most significantly in England, the home of 85% of the UK's population. Cameron said the voice missing from the national discussion is England. "We have heard the voice of Scotland, and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws...requires a decisive answer," Cameron said outside No. 10 Downing Street. ~~~~~ The political implications of Cameron's announcement are monumental. The new effort to reshape the political map of the UK will come before several key tests of opinion that, depending on how the British vote, could end in Britain's exit from the European Union in a promised 2017 referendum. But first, UK voters must decide by May 2015 whether Cameron and his Euro-skeptic, England-centric Conservative Party remain in power or give way to the center-left Labour Party, the perennial preference of Scottish and Welsh voters. Northern Ireland, Wales and even England are feeling empowered by the strong 45% support for Scottish independence. The pro-independence vote fell short but still means that more than 1.6 million Scots opted to leave Great Britain. ~~~~~ Cameron appointed one of Scotland's business leaders, Lord Smith of Kelvin, to lead a Scotland Devolution Commission that has been charged to report its recommendations by November on what responsibilities and powers should be transferred to Scotland. Cameron set a rapid timetable that calls for legislation to be published by January and passed before he calls parliamentary elections next Spring. Typically, the Commons and upper House of Lords don't work so quickly. He said similar diplomatic initiatives would begin with the regional governments in Northern Ireland and Wales, but offered no deadlines or specifics. Like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also received their own legislatures in the late 1990s as part of Tony Blair's Labour government campaign pledge to bring a measure of self-government to nations that long have complained of English domination of decision-making. Before Blair's devolution program, the British central government was dominant, while town and regional councils covered chiefly the mundane realities of daily life, such as garbage collection and parking meters. The regional governments of Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff still have a long way to go to possess the political autonomy enjoyed by US or Australian states or Canadian provinces. While they have their own effective governors, called "first ministers," the devolved administrations cannot impose or collect taxes. Part of Cameron's campaign promises to Scotland were that the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh would be able to set sales tax policies and change income tax brackets to make the rich pay more, and potentially collect and receive other tax revenues more directly. Currently, sales and income taxes go to a UK-wide authority, and Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales receive block grants that are subsidized by English taxpayers, a sore point with the English who complain that they subsidize better social benefits for Scotland than they receive themselves. ~~~~~ So Cameron faces challenges on several fronts. Right-wingers in his own party oppose the promises he has just made to Scotland, and want to focus on preventing Scottish lawmakers from voting on parliamentary bills that apply only for England and Wales, a longstanding peculiarity of the UK's multi-layered political system. Cameron expects Parliament to pass bills to transfer more powers to Wales' Assembly and to create new restrictions on Scottish and Northern Irish lawmakers in the House of Commons, so that they could no longer vote on issues pertaining only to England and Wales. Wales has received fewer devolved powers than Scotland and Northern Ireland. But the Labour leader of its regional government in Cardiff said the Welsh wanted whatever the Scots were getting, too. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said : "It seems perfectly reasonable that we might expect a fair share of the pot." Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative lawmaker from southern England, said he expects England to create its own fully devolved political structures - which would leave the United Kingdom with an overarching prime minister - but England would join Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in having a First Minister overseeing internal affairs, too. ~~~~~ Cameron's move to emphasize new England-only political structures could be a politically savvy response to his narrow escape in Scotland. If he succeeds in shifting the powers of lawmakers in the House of Commons, a future British government would not be able to marshal support from Wales and Scotland to win key parliamentary votes. That would favor the Conservatives, who are profoundly unpopular outside England.Labour leader Ed Miliband hopes to oust Cameron from power in London and entice voters in Scotland back from the Scottish Nationalist Party. Miliband said at the anti-independence Better Together campaign in Scotland : "Change doesn't end today. Change begins today, because we know this country needs to change in the way it's governed." ~~~~~ Of course, Northern Ireland presents different, more dangerous problems. There, a Catholic-Protestant coalition of former enemies has been trying for months to enact UK welfare reforms. Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party, refuses to impose the cuts and Northern Ireland is suffering increasing financial penalties as a result, and the province's Protestant leader is warning that the power-sharing that holds the government together needs fundamentally new rules to survive. Failure there could mean a resurgence of the kind of street warfare that claimed 3,700 lives over the past four decades. And Thursday's Scotland vote also offers an opportunity for Sinn Fein, which wants a referendum on Northern Ireland's future. The province's 1998 peace accord contains provisions for a vote on whether Northern Ireland should stay in the United Kingdom, as its Protestant majority favors, or be absorbed into the Republic of Ireland, which won independence from the UK in 1922 after a bitter two-year war. A Sinn Fein leader said : "The people here, like our Scottish cousins, should be provided the opportunity in a border poll to determine the constitutional position. That is the democratic way forward." ~~~~~ So, dear readers, it appears that the United Kingdom is destined to face many competing internal challenges : between parties and capitals, between those who pay and those who receive, and between voters whose souls and patriotism respond to different stimuli. An example -- the ballot papers of 691 of the more than 3.6 million Scots who cast their ballots Thursday answered the question 'should Scotland be independent' by checking both Yes and No. And now we can look forward to ballot box battles to control local parliaments all over the UK...and we will see the conservative values predominant in England and Northern Ireland fight it out with the socialists of Wales and Scotland. Stay tuned because it's going to get messy. The right wing of the Conservative Party in Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition Parliament are already saying they have no idea what he has promised. Bette Midler once said, "When it's 3 o'clock in New York, it's still 1938 in London." That may all be about to change -- but don't bet a lot on it. The English, the British, have an uncanny ability to make sweeping changes just so they can stay the same as they were. That's why we love them.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mitt Romney vs Hillary Clinton - No Contest if Character and Achievement Mean Anything

The extremely important congressional elections in the United States are just 47 days away -- please support and vote for Republicans who promise to repeal Obamacare, reduce the national debt without handcuffing the military, and lower taxes and help business create jobs and get the economy moving. But, it is the 2016 presidential election that is increasing its grip daily on the American public and media. There are two cases in point today - aimed at 2016 frontrunners - although neither Mitt Romney nor Hillary Clinton has thus far announced their candidacy. ~~~~~ Mitt Romney has consistently said he will not be a presidential candidate in 2016, although a month ago he did admit that circumstances can change. And today, Pat Buchanan - a veteran conservative political commentator, former GOP presidential candidate and senior adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan - gave some practical advice to Mitt Romney on the 2016 Republican presidential nomination -- "Go for it." Buchanan told Newsmax : "It's very hard for me to see how someone could look at the fact that he's got a real shot at the nomination and then walk away from it when the man believes he ought to be President." Buchanan said on the Steve Malzberg Show on Newsmax TV : "If it were me and I looked at those kinds of numbers, I'd be on the next flight to Manchester [New Hampshire, the critically important second GOP presidential primary]." When Romney acknowledged that "circumstances can change," the next day, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll found 35% of likely GOP caucus voters would vote for the former Massachusetts governor in 2016. "You saw the poll : in New Hampshire, Rand Paul's at 15%, I think, 5% ahead of anybody," he said. "But nobody's got any real support, except Romney, who was not in the poll, which is very interesting." Buchanan - author of "The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority" - said Hillary Clinton, if she runs for the Democratic presidential nomination, will have some major explaining to do about her time in the Senate : "She said the worst mistake of her Senate career - and it was a most important vote - was voting to authorize war in Iraq," Buchanan said. "She said her most important vote was a mistake. Then she said she voted against the surge, even though she believed it was a good idea, to maintain her political viability in Iowa. She's going to have to answer for all this." ~~~~~ Pat Buchanan didn't comment on Mrs. Clinton's role in the Benghazi attack, but Dick Morris made up for Buchanan's omission. Morris told Newsmax that the House Select Committee on Benghazi that has started its hearings will make the "Benghazi problem" hit former secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "She hasn't hit that bump in the road yet really," Morris told J.D.Hayworth and John Bachman on "America's Forum on Newsmax TV Wednesday. "She's about to hit big time the Benghazi problem. First of all, you have the hearings," he explained. "You have the report that there was a document dump going on before the hearings in the basement of the State Department overseen by her chief counsel, Cheryl Mills.Then, in addition, you have the televised testimony, not a testimony but appearances of the three Benghazi guards, on Bret Baier's [Fox News] interview, where they say clearly that the commander told them to stand down, stay put and not go to the aid of the consulate," Morris said. "When they finally got there -- disobeying orders, and went there -- it was half an hour after the raid started and the Ambassador was dead." Morris explained that there are other Benghazi issues -- "whether there was air support, why there wasn't, and then the core question, which is why did she spend two weeks lying to the American people telling them this was about a video that everybody now dismisses as just ridiculous." South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy, who is chair of the Benghazi Committee, said that the committee will take a very thorough approach, even if means asking "the same question twice." Morris, former political consultant to former President Bill Clinton, explained "that the hearings ultimately are going to be involving one person, Hillary Clinton." However, "before you call her as a witness, you've got to prep the ground by getting all sorts of basic information on the record. The committee needs to lay the basis for what is the standard procedure in diplomatic protocol and all kinds of basic elements so that when Hillary testifies there's a body of evidence to hold her to the truth," he added. Ultimately, Morris believes that Gowdy will accomplish what needs to be done : "The very nature of Hillary's fabrication in saying that this was the tape is so outrageous that I don't think anything would be seen as overzealous," he contends. "Let's remember about Trey Gowdy, he may end up benefitting from this politically, but he's not running for President and he can be a true prosecutor...without worrying too much about his personal image." ~~~~~ Dear readers, there couldn't be a more stark difference between two people than that between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. Hillary Clinton -- self-important wife of a former President, whose whole life seems to be dedicated to aggrandizing herself and her meager achievements while downplaying her lack of positive results, her insistence on her credentials, her refusal to acknowledge any fault, her questionable character and demeanor both as a lawyer and a First Lady. Mitt Romney -- self-effacing man of moral and religious principles whose achievements in business, politics and family may be unmatched in his generation of Americans, whose understanding of the problems facing America have been proven vastly superior to that of the President who defeated him in 2012 by belittling his positions. If the decision in 2016 comes down to Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, there will be no contest as to character, morality or political acumen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Has Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Smoking Gun Surfaced?

The special House committee investigating the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, headed by Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the panel's chairman, debuted Wednesday in a less confrontational style than previous congressional Benghazi hearings. The panel's first public hearing focused mostly on whether the State Department has learned its lesson about security. Gowdy said the State Department has a history of resisting change and his committee will pursue this as well as all the other questions still not answered about the Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Democrat members of the 7 Republican-5 Democrat committee largely agreed with Gowdy's opening statement, which is in line with the Democrat Senate report on Benghazi publishrd in January 2014 and drafted by the Democrat majority of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. That report found that the State Department, then under Hillary Clinton, refused repeated requests to boost security despite warnings from the CIA and its own staff about the danger of militant attacks. The report found that : "The attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya - to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets - and given the known security shortfalls at the US Mission." So we seem to have a common thread tying together the Democrat Senate and the Republican House -- the State Department under Hillary Clinton was responsible for the lax security that led to the attack and death of Stevens and other Americans. ~~~~~ And a story has just appeared on The Lonely Conservative website that may bring Democrats and Republicans even closer together about what happened and why in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. While Hillary Clinton was in Iowa over the weekend campaigning for Senator Tom Harkin and fueling more speculation about her presidential ambitions, and while she talked about a “new chapter” for America, as if she has nothing to do with the current international mess she was instrumental in creating, a former State Department diplomat came forward with a startling allegation : Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the terrorist attacks on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton, who was Secretary of State during the rise of the ISIS, was also in charge when the US consulate in Benghazi was attacked. According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington. This is the first time Maxwell has publicly come forward with the story. At that time, Maxwell was a leader in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, which was charged with collecting emails and documents relevant to the Benghazi probe. Maxwell was later singled out for discipline before he was cleared of wrongdoing. Maxwell says that also present at the after-hours meeting was Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff. “I was not invited to that after-hours endeavor, but I heard about it and decided to check it out on a Sunday afternoon,” Maxwell says. He didn’t know it then, but Maxwell would ultimately become one of four State Department officials singled out for discipline - he says scapegoated - then later cleared of being responsible for catastrophic security lapses that led to the attacks. Maxwell says the weekend document session was held in the basement of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters in a room underneath the “jogger’s entrance.” He describes it as a large space, outfitted with computers and big screen monitors, intended for emergency planning, and with small offices on the periphery. When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend task : “She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the[Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisersn “I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’” A few minutes after he arrived, Maxwell says, two high-ranking State Department officials arrived. In a Fox News interview, Representative Jason Chaffetz named the two Hillary Clinton confidants who allegedly were  present as Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff, and a former White House counsel who defended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. The other, Chaffetz said, was Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, who previously worked on Hillary Clinton’s and then Barack Obama's presidential campaigns. “When Cheryl saw me, she snapped, ‘Who are you?’ Jake explained, ‘That’s Ray Maxwell, an NEA deputy assistant secretary.’ She conceded, ‘Well, OK.’” Maxwell says the two officials, close confidants of Clinton, appeared to check on the operation and then left. Maxwell says after Mills and Sullivan arrived, he, the office director and an intern moved into a small office where they looked through some papers. Maxwell says his stack included pre-attack telegrams and cables between the US embassy in Tripoli and State Department headquarters. After a short time, Maxwell says he decided to leave : “I didn’t feel good about it,” he says. The Lonely Conservative says it contacted Mills and Sullivan to ask about the allegations and the purpose of the. separation of documents, but they did not return calls or emails, and neither did Hillary Clinton, who declined an interview request and offered no comment. A State Department spokesman told The Lonely Conservative it would have been impossible for anybody outside the Accountability Review Board (ARB) to control the flow of information because the board 'cultivated so many sources.' When the ARB issued its call for documents in early October 2012, just weeks after the Benghazi attacks, the executive directorate of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs was put in charge of collecting all emails and relevant material. It was gathered, boxed and - Maxwell says - ended up in the basement room prior to being turned over. In May 2013, when critics questioned the ARB’s investigation as not thorough enough, co-chairmen Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen responded that “we had unfettered access to everyone and everything including all the documentation we needed." Maxwell says when he heard that statement, he couldn’t help but wonder if the ARB - perhaps unknowingly - had received from his bureau a scrubbed set of documents with the most damaging material missing. Maxwell also criticizes the ARB for failing to interview key people at the White House, State Department and the CIA. Maxwell says he has been interviewed privately by several members of Congress in recent months, including Chaffetz, a member of the House Oversight Committee, and Representative Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Chaffetz told The Lonely Conservative that Maxwell’s allegations “go to the heart of the integrity of the State Department. The allegations are as serious as it gets, and it’s something we have obviously followed up and pursued. I’m 100% confident the Benghazi Select Committee is going to dive deep on that issue.” Former Obama Supporter Maxwell, 58, strongly supported President Barack Obama and personally contributed to his presidential campaign. But post-Benghazi, he has abandoned Obama and Clinton, saying he was sacrificed as a scapegoat while higher-up officials directly responsible escaped discipline. Maxwell spent a year on paid administrative leave with no official charge ever levied against him. Ultimately, the State Department cleared and reinstated him before he retired in November 2013. Several weeks after he was placed on leave, Maxwell met with a State Department ombudsman. “She told me, ‘You are taking this all too personally, Raymond. It is not about you.' I told her that ‘My name is on TV and I’m on administrative leave, it seems like it’s about me.’ Then she said, ‘You’re not harmed, you’re still getting paid. Don’t watch TV. Take your wife on a cruise. It’s not about you; it’s about Hillary and 2016.’" ~~~~~ Dear readers, before the Democratic Party anoints Hillary Clinton as its 2016 standard bearer, it should get to the bottom of these allegations. They are consistent with Mrs. Clinton's past efforts to hide her culpability by managing the facts and accusing others in order to deflect attention from her own actions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Obamacare : Higher Premiums, Lower Wages, Fewer Jobs, and Funded Abortions

Because of the current worries about ISIS and the Middle East, one key November election issue has been pushed onto rhe back burner. OBAMACARE. Remember President Obama's 3,000-page law designed to destroy the American healthcare system? Well, it's still there, taking more of your money as premiums, delivering fewer doctors, hospitals and services, and spending your tax dollars to subsidize the premiums to the tune of nearly $1 trillion between now and 2024. Here are some of the current news about Obamacare. ~~~~~ When he signed the Obamacare bill into law President Obama promised Americans that it would not cover abortions - even signing an executive order to that effect. But a new GOA report shows that he misled America. Despite Obama's promise to awmakers and the American public in a special joint session of Congress on healthcare reform that “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortion,” a new report released by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) today documents massive public funding of abortion in Obamacare. Among GAO’s findings, every Obamacare taxpayer-subsidized health insurance plan in New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island and Hawaii pays for abortion on demand. In New York, 405 out of 426 Obamacare plans subsidize abortion on demand, in California, 86 of 90, in Massachusetts 109 0f 111, in Oregon 92 of 102, in Washington DC 23 of 34. A Health and Human Services Department official confirmed that the law requires issuers to collect separate payments for abortion-related costs, but said that the law doesn’t specify how. Critics of the dual payment track have long questioned the arrangement. saying that it is essentially inoperable. If a plan wants to cover abortion, it has to estimate the cost of coverage - no less than $1 per enrollee, per month - and collect that money from customers in a separate way than via their tax subsidies. Then, the pots of money have to remain separate. Nationally, 1,062 plans in 28 states only cover abortion in the cases of rape, incest or to preserve the mother’s life, and 1,036 plans cover abortion services in a wider variety of circumstances, the GAO report said. Another Obamacare lie uncovered. ~~~~~ Forbes reports that Democrats are trumpeting estimates indicating that Ovamacare exchange insurance premiums will rise on average in 2015. If, as we should, we measure Obamacare by looking at the underlying affordability of American health care, there can be no doubt that health care today is more costly than it would have been without Obamacare. Last week, McKinsey released its preliminary rate filings for 2015. McKinsey looked at the premium of the lowest-priced Silver plan in 2015, and compared that to the premium of the lowest-priced Silver plan in 2014. This is useful because Obamacare insurance subsidies are geared to the cost of Silver plans, and because 65% of those selecting plans this past year chose Silver plans. McKinsey found that the premium of the lowest-priced Silver plan increased by an average of 8% in 2015. That’s slightly above the PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) 2015 medical inflation estimate of 6.8%. In other words, Obamacare plans on average aren’t bending down the cost curve - they’re bending it slightly upward. PwC, using a different methodology than McKinsey to estimate 2015 exchange premiums, calculates the average 2015 premium rate increase as 7%. Another study in nine states from Avalere Health pegs the average rate increase at 8%. It’s important to emphasize that these rate increases are preliminary, because each state’s insurance commissioner - and also the federal government - must approve proposed rate increases before they are enacted. Because government agencies almost always try to jawbone insurers into going easy on rate increases, we could see a somewhat lower increase than the preliminary numbers indicate - but prices keep going up. Measured over two years, Obamacare’s rate hikes remain toxic. And further increases are on the horizon in 2017, when some of the law’s subsidies to insurance companies are set to expire. Contrary to Paul Krugman and other ACA cheerleaders, rate shock isn’t a myth. It’s a fact. The Manhattan Institute looked at the actual, finalized rate filings in 2014 and compared them to what was available in 2013 and found an average US county rate increase of 49%. But, Obamacare’s $2 trillion in subsidies cushions the impact of rate shock for those whose incomes are low enough to qualify them. That’s why 85% of those who signed up for exchange-based plans last spring were people eligible for subsidies. Obamacare isn’t out of the woods by any means. Insurers are extremely nervous about the fact that much of the Obamacare website’s “back end” - the part that processes subsidy eligibility and payments, among other things - remains a mess. Earlier this summer, the US Government Accountability Office entered 12 fake applications into the federal exchanges, and found that 11 of them were approved. Importantly, a set of Obamacare exchange provisions called the “ three Rs” - risk adjustment, reinsurance, and risk corridors - encourage insurers to offer premiums on the exchanges that are imprudently low. If you are an insurance company, and you lose money because your premiums were lower than your actual claim costs, Obamacare subsidizes that loss for you. It’s this part of the law that Senator Marco Rubio and others have been calling a “bailout” of participating insurers. The problem is that the “three Rs” are transitional. Reinsurance and risk corridors expire at the end of 2016, at which point insurance companies like Aetna, Humana, and Cigna will have to charge premiums in line with their costs. That may lead to a spike in premiums in 2017. insurance companies heavily lobbied Obama's right hand advisor Valerie Jarrett this year to spend more on the “three R” subsidies, threatening substantial rate hikes if they weren’t accommodated. They were accommodated. So, the story is more complicated than either side would like you to believe. Premiums on Obamacare exchanges are rising 7-8% for 2015. Premiums rose a lot in 2014. And they may go up again in 2017, as the “three R” program phases out. The bottom line is that if you shop for coverage on your own, and you don’t qualify for Obamacare subsidies, you’re probably paying a lot more for insurance today than you did before And that’s one reason Obamacare remains unpopular with the public. ~~~~~ Fox News reports a finding by several regional Federal Reserve Banks that businesses are cutting jobs due to Obamacare. Health economist John Goodman noted that "three Federal Reserve Banks in Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta have surveyed people in their area and roughly 20% of the employers are saying they cut back on employment: “Roughly one fifth are saying they're moving from full time to part time,” Goodman added. “More than one in ten say they're doing more outsourcing - all this because of the new health care reform." Doug Holtz-Eakin, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, said, “for the smaller employers - those that have between 20 and 49 employees - you get a negative impact on jobs, you get a negative impact on wages in those jobs. What this means for small business as a whole is that over $22 billion of earnings are gone for their workers and 350,000 jobs." Small business is responsible for the vast majority of job creation in the US. While Obama has delayed the mandate requiring businesses with more than 50 employees to provide insurance, businesses know it's coming, so many avoid hiring to keep their worker rolls below 50. Also, the mandate applies only to those who work more than 30 hours a week - an incentive for employers to reduce hours. "The 30-hour cutoff is how the administration determines whether you're full time or part time," Goodman said. "And so we see this everywhere, that people are restricted, they're pushed below 30 hours, they count as part time and when they're part time, the employer doesn't have to provide health insurance." More than a third of manufacturing firms in the NY Fed survey said they're raising prices to cover the costs of health care, and about half the businesses surveyed by the Dallas Fed said Obamacare is raising insurance costs for their employees, but employers don’t just take that lying down," said Tevi Troy of the American Health Policy Institute. Goodman added, "Even among full-time workers, take home pay is going to go down because one thing that almost all the employers are doing in response to Obamacare is raising the deductibles, raising the co-payments and making the employee pay more of the premium." ~~~~~ Dear readers, don't let Mr. Obama lull you into forgetting about Obamacare. When you vote this November, remember the Obamacare disaster. Vote only for candidates committed to "repeal and replacement." Nothing -- not even ISIS -- is more important for America's future.