Saturday, November 29, 2014
An October Gallup survey shows that, on average, 37% of Americans are afraid to go out walking alone near their homes after dark. The percentage is highest among young Americans under 30 and among lower income Americans, but even among higher income and older Americans, approximately 30% are afraid to go out walking alone after dark. And another October Gallup survey shows that, on average, 63% of Americans feel their home is safer if they have a gun in it. This is an all-time high for this issue in Gallup surveys. Sixty-seven percent of men and 58% of women said having a gun in the house makes it a safer place. Sixty-five percent of whites and 56% of nonwhites said having a gun in the house makes it safer. Fifty-nine percent of people in the East, 62% in the Midwest, 68% in the South, and 59% in the West said having a gun in the house makes it safer. Eighty-one percent of Republicans and 64% of Independents said having a gun in the house makes it safer. But only 41% of Democrats said having a gun in the house makes it safer. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association warns that the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty that will take effect on December 24 could lead to increased gun control if President Obama implements it via executive order. NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen told The Blaze : "We are worried about an end-run around Congress...Barack Obama or a future anti-gun President could use [the treaty] and international norms compliance to rationalize enacting gun control politics through executive actions, especially in the import and export realms." Under the terms of the UN treaty, participating nations must set up export and import controls for combat vehicles, aircraft, and small arms. The treaty also requires those nations to "establish and maintain a national control system, including a national control list, in order to implement the provisions," according to the Washington Times. The treaty was approved by the UN General Assembly in April 2013. The NRA says the treaty is an "attempt by other countries, including some despotic regimes, to try and infringe on our constitutional rights. This treaty is a very real threat." The United States delegation to the UN supports the treaty, but the Senate, soon to be controlled by Republicans, is "less than likely" to ratify it, the Times says. The Obama administration is publicly voicing support for the treaty, and the NRA fears that could eventually result in implementation via executive order. "Even now, with an existing appropriations rider prohibiting action to implement the treaty unless it is approved by Congress, administration officials are publicly professing support for international efforts to bring the treaty into effect," Mortensen said. "That's outrageous. The United Nations is trying to establish what they call basic norms and bring international pressure on the United States to eviscerate our Second Amendment Rights and they have found willing allies in the Obama administration and John Kerry," the NRA's Mortensen added. ~~~~~ And as President Obama pushes ahead with his constitutionally questionable reform of US immigration law by means of executive order - while the new Republican Congress awaits its opportunity to counter Obama in January when it takes over - several parts of Obama's decisions are coming to light. Newsmax reports that lower-tier criminals such as drunken drivers, sex offenders and drug dealers -- yes, drug dealers -- aren't on the Priority One list of people to deport, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose guidelines are being prepared for the nation's immigration officers who will administer President Obama's new executive order. Johnson has prepared a DHS memo in which he writes : "In general, our enforcement and removal policies should continue to prioritize threats to national security, public safety, and border security. Due to limited resources, DHS and its components cannot respond to all immigration violations or remove all persons illegally in the United States." So, Johnson will direct immigration authorities to seek and deport terror suspects and felons, reports the Washington Examiner. And, lower-level criminals will be considered secondary priorities, thus an illegal immigrant can be in prison for a year for a violent crime but still not be considered a primary removal priority. Johnson's DHS memo says that there are three priorities for detaining illegal immigrants. Priority One lists the first illegals to be deported : "aliens engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage, or who otherwise pose a danger to national security," including people trying to "unlawfully enter" the country, immigrants convicted of felonies, if the immigrant status is "not an essential element" of the offence, and those convicted of an aggravated felony. Priority One status immigrants could have their deportations delayed, though, if they qualify for asylum or there are factors showing they are not a threat. Priority Two offenders, the second group to be subject to deportation, include people guilty of a "significant misdemeanor" that includes domestic violence or sexual offenders, burglars, people guilty of gun offenses, drug dealers, or drunken drivers. A significant misdemeanor means that the person can be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail, but not less than five days. This status also includes "aliens convicted of three or more misdemeanor offenses" other than traffic offenses. Finally, the Priority Three level includes those who have simply violated immigration laws, and they may be allowed to stay if an officer determines they are not a threat to the United States and its laws. But, the Johnson memo is said to suggest that even those falling within the Priority One designation are not to be targeted for immediate deportation -- immigration officers are permitted to determine if there are "compelling and exceptional factors that clearly indicate the [Priority One] alien is not a threat to national security, border security, or public safety and should not therefore be an enforcement priority." ~~~~~ Dear readers, Americans afraid to walk alone in their neighborhoods after dark, feeling safer inside their homes if they have a gun, worried that the UN, with Obama's help, may try to interfere with their constitutional right to bear arms, while Obama and DHS allow illegal immigrants who are criminals, including drug dealers and sex offenders, to be protected from deportation by an executive order that is, itself, very likely an illegal abuse of presidential power. Certainly, fear on the streets is not solely an American phenomenon; it exists all around the world and is worse in many countries than in the US. But, most countries have long since stripped the right to bear arms from their citizens. In this, Americans stand alone - the inheritors of the only Founders in history who feared the tyranncal excesses of government more than they feared their fellow Americans. That America's current President should agree with any foreign body that attempts to tamper with the US Constitution and the Second Amendment right to protect liberty and oppose tyranny -- for that is the soul of the Second Amendment -- is scandalous. That he should, at the same time try to force Americans to accept illegally-entered criminals as if they deserved to be in America, or could enter legally - because if they applied in their home country and declared a felony in their past, they would not receive a green card - is also a scandal. But, Americans are a strong and determined people. Neither illegal immigrant felons nor a President who has wandered far from the Constitution will long prevail.
Friday, November 28, 2014
The latest Gallup survey shows that just 27% of white non-college graduates approve of President Barack Obama's job performance, while 41% of white college graduates approve -- the biggest gap between the two white groups since the President took office. Support overall for Obama among whites has dropped steadily throughout his term, with the level of education being the key to Obama's popularity among whites. In 2009, Obama's approval gap between college-educated and non-college- educated whites was 6 points. It went to 10 points in 2010; 12 points in 2013, and now stands at 14 points. The Gallup survey also shows that differences of opinion about Obama are also evident along ethnic lines, with 32% of whites approving his performance compared to 84% of blacks, 64% of Asians and 53% of Hispanics. With 67% of adult whites not being college graduates, the "sheer size" of "the working-class white population" makes this bloc "of keen importance to politicians and strategists on both sides of the aisle," according to Gallup. The President does best among white female college graduates with 45% approval, followed by white male college graduates at 37%. The President has a 25% rating among white male non-college graduates and 29% among female non-college graduates. Political strategists wonder whether Democrats can pull in white voters in 2016. The cultural positions taken by the Democrat party have pushed many working-class voters away, according to Gallup. "Working-class whites exhibit weak support for the Democrats and their President and it's not clear how likely that is to change as time goes on," Gallup concluded. The poll was conducted before the midterm elections earlier this month. ~~~~~ There are some obvious reasons why President Obama's approval rating is falling. (1). Thanks to Obamacare, consumers across most of America will see their health insurance premiums go up next year for popular plans under President Obama's health care law. The government didn't try to predict consumer Obamacare prices for 2015. Instead, it published raw data, leaving it to independent experts to do the numbers. The numbers show that 2015 prices are rising for most plans, including silver plans, the coverage level picked by about two-thirds of the customers on the federal and state-run health insurance markets. There are four levels - platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Silver is a notch below what most people with employer coverage have. Kaiser Foundation studied premiums for the second-lowest-cost silver plan in every US county. That type of plan is a benchmark that the government uses as a basis for setting consumer premium subsidies for the entire program. Kaiser found that premiums for the second-lowest-cost silver plan are going up in 59% of counties nationwide, down in 34%, and remaining flat in 7%. And, 18% of counties will see an increase of more than 10%. At the other end of the spectrum, 13% of counties will see a decrease of more than 10%. But, those who shopped for and got the second-lowest-cost silver plan in their community in 2014 are not guaranteed to have it in 2015 unless they shop all over again. Why? Because another insurer may have bid lower and captured the designation. Just one joy of Obamacare -- changing insurers, often every year, is not the best way to manage the family healthcare system. In reality, Americans who don't shop around could face significant price increases. And, as is always the case when the government gets involved in any market, the price increases are more than those for the 150 million people covered by employer plans that make up the biggest chunk of the health-insurance market. Costs in those plans, which usually are more restrained by a competitive free market than prices in the individual market, are expected to rise about 4.6% on average next year, according to a recent survey from benefits consultant Mercer. Kaiser's analysis found wide differences from state to state, and even within states. Some of the steepest premium increases for benchmark plans are for counties in Alaska and Minnesota. Most counties in Georgia will see decreases. Premiums are trending up in Florida and Texas, prime targets of the administration's enrollment drive for 2015. In some cases, a current plan may be canceled, like that of one Missouri woman. The alternative she's being offered costs $15 a month more, and the co-pay is higher. On top of that, her doctor is not in the new plan. (2). In the continuing IRS scandal, it has been revealed that the IRS improperly turned over thousands of confidential tax documents to the White House for review. The information was obtained from a lawsuit filed against the US Treasury Department's inspector general by the legal advocacy firm Cause of Action, exposing a pipeline of communication between the IRS and the White House, according to the Daily Caller. The Cause of Action law firm noted that : “The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) informed Cause of Action that there exist nearly 2,500 potentially responsive documents relating to investigations of improper disclosures of confidential taxpayer information by the IRS to the White House.” The documents, including the exchange of confidential information between White House policy advisor Jeanne Lambrew and former IRS official Lois Lerner came to light after it was revealed that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for review. The Justice Department has asked for a longer window under which to review the newly found documents before releasing them publicly, the Daily Caller said. The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard, in his "Secrets" column, called news of the leaked documents a "shocking revelation.... This disclosure, coming only after Cause of Action sued TIGTA over its refusal to acknowledge whether such investigations took place, and after the court ordered TIGTA to reveal whether or not documents existed, signals that the White House may have made significant efforts to obtain taxpayers’ personal information,” Cause of Action wrote in a statement to the Examiner. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Americans don't like to see their President fail. When he fails, they know that they suffer and the nation does, too. But, Obamacare and the IRS scandal are just two of President Obama's failures. His approval ratings reflect the deep disappointment America feels in a President who has not lived up to his promises. The falling approval ratings also reflect the President's refusal to correct his failures, and they highlight America's awareness that the Obama administration has flirted with legally questionable activities and cover-ups that show a disrespect for America's institutions and citizens, and a disregard for the Constitution.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. What better time to talk about immigration. Most Americans came to America because England or the Low Countries or Switzerland didn't want them. It wasn't that they were vagrants or criminals -- that came later in the American Georgia colony and even later in Australia. The truth was that they were inconvenient -- because of their views about religious freedom or political liberties. And a New World separated by a month-long ocean journey seemed the perfect solution. So Walter Raleigh and Lord Baltimore and William Penn, and the world-famous Massachusetts Pilgrims, Puritans to be precise, were packed off to America to face whatever hardships a savage land would present. ~~~~~ It was an "out of sight, out of mind" solution that peopled America with a mixed bag of Catholics, Quakers, Anabaptists, Puritans, and others who had learned that their chance for survival, although slim, was better if they tied their futures to a libertarian-conservative political philosophy sweeping Europe with the idea that people were tied to their kings and legislatures by a Compact under which they could be governed only for as long as they agreed to the terms of the Compact. ~~~~~ This "Compact" political philosophy was what 18th century politics was all about. John Locke had put the idea down in writing in essays that spread all over Europe. The essays came to America with the Puritans and William Penn and many others. They fed Edmund Burke, who defended the American colonies' demands for a voice in how they were governed. From William Bradford to Samuel Adams to Washington and Jefferson and Madison - the core idea in American political discussions and writings was that people had the God-given right to govern themselves through properly elected and constrained officials. The Declaration of Independence begins with Locke's words : "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." This is the clearest and most-often quoted and borrowed statement of self-government by means of a Compact binding the governed and the government that has ever been written. ~~~~~ To return to immigration, this Compact is what brings immigrants, illegal and legal, to America. They know what it means to be American, whether they have read the Declaration of Independence or understand its content by observing America and Americans. Illegal immigrants are now the subject of a fundamental debate in America. No one doubts that they come to America searching for opportunities that can be provided only by personal freedom and liberties guaranteed by a Compact of the governed and the government. Seventy-five percent of Americans sympathize with them. But, the crunch comes with how illegals enter and live in America - by breaking the laws that the Compact enshrines. Americans want her modern immigrants to enter legally, as her older generations did - sent with the charter of a king, invited to pass through Ellis Island to work in steel mills and manufacturing plants, waiting in line to get a green card from an American Embassy in their home country. In the political souls of Americans, to sneak in illegally is to break the law, that is, to break the Compact. It is an act that weakens the fabric of the nation. It is a denial of America's unique form of democratic self-government. ~~~~~ And yet, dear readers, Americans are uncomfortable with tossing illegals out summarily. There has to be a middle ground in which illegals make positive moves that prove that they admit their error, pay for it, and show an understanding that being American is not just a job or an education for their children. It is more than safety from tryanny or the fear of living in criminal societies. Being American is bearing witness to the Compact of the governed and the government. Every American bears that responsibility above all others. From it alone comes the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Happy Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
On August 9, in Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. That is a fact. A grand jury that had been constituted in May was asked by the county prosecutor to consider both testimony from witnesses and physical evidence accompamied by expert witness explanations. That is a fact. The grand jury was charged to decide if Officer Wilson had committed a crime in killing Brown. They had the law explained to them and their answer, based on two months of review of the testimony, physical evidence and law, was given yesterday. The grand jury decided that there was no probable cause to find that Wilson had committed a crime. That is a fact. The predominantly black community that is Ferguson exploded in rioting after Brown's death. It exploded again last night after the grand jury decision was made public. That is a fact. ~~~~~ The rest is a volatile mix of race relations and politics and media coverage. The components, as I see them, include : *Poor community relations and a lack of blacks willing to be leaders in a black community with a white police force, one of many in America. *A reluctance or inability of some communities with black majorities to enter into the political process and take control of their own towns and neighborhoods. Why should Ferguson, a dissatisfied community that is 70/% black, routinely elect white mayors? *An integration of black and white Americans that has forced schools and political districts and employers to be "fair" - but that has resulted in no real coming together of the two races in America. *Black and white commentators - lawyers, prosecutors, politicians and crime experts - arguing with each other in an effort to be seen to be right by their natural bases, instead of trying to calmly consider the serious race-based issues. *"Professional" agitators and anarchists who used Ferguson's anguish to trash and burn a community that did not want them to become involved or burn their struggling community, leaving Ferguson to try today to brace for tonight and figure out what to do to rebuild. *A national black "voice" composed of people of color willing to be showcased by national liberal TV media to provide support for its progressive point of view that automatically blames whites for every black problem or failure. *White "common wisdom" that believes that all blacks prefer welfare to personal independence. *Reactionary white media stars using race as a tool to further their own careers. *An educational system that is failing to engage black youngsters, especially boys, and teach them to read and learn the other skills that will enable them to become part of adult America, instead of being supported by it in a welfare system that only feeds the problem and creates new generations of non-integrated young black men. *A black President whose failure to address in a meaningful way race-based issues has widened the gulf between non-integrated black citizens and their government, instead of closing the black-white gap as many had hoped when he was elected. *Both black and white American leaders at all levels who seem to be paralyzed in the face of the growing chasm developing between the non-elite white and non-elite black Americas - leaders who are afraid, angry, impotent, taking care of themselves without feeling a need to step up and reach out - with no national black or white political leaders addressing the issues frontally. ~~~~~ In declining to indict Wilson, the grand jury reached a conclusion that is far more the norm than the exception. Indictments of police officers in these kinds of situations is very unusual, as we all know. The Supreme Court formed the national standard in its 1989 decision that said the use of force must be evaluated through the "perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene" rather than being judged after the fact. That means officers are often given the benefit of the doubt by prosecutors and grand jurys reluctant to second-guess police decisions. So, the grand jury decision in the Ferguson case is not unique and it is not really the problem. The problem is racial. The Ferguson implosion represents the fears, animosities, separation and helplessness of both black and white America. ~~~~~ What strikes me again and again is that we are back in the 1960s. I was part of the battle to bring black Americans into full participation in American society. It seems we succeeded at some levels. That effort has indeed blended the black and white races at many levels in ways that continue to function today - where education makes good jobs and homes in middle class communities possible, leading to community and political leadership positions. But the isolated lower tier exists, where integration has become a bad joke because the tools to integrate are lacking. What is the answer? Do we go back to the basics -- find local black leaders willing to risk working with mixed-race teams sent into these communities to put infrastructure in place? Do we ask corporations to once again create and support neighborhood programs to educate and train young blacks and then hire them for skilled manufacturing jobs? Do enough such skilled jobs exist or have we moved past factories to technology-based workforces that demand longer training periods, thus stretching out the period before the reward for hard effort is felt by young blacks? Do we demand that the President prefer American blacks to illegal immigrants when it comes to lower tier jobs? ~~~~~ Dear readers, I do not believe that America cannot find answers if it wants to. And want to, America must. Because it is far more likely that America could be brought down by internal racial conflict than by any jihadist terrorist group in the world. It is time to wake up and address America's race problem. Blacks and whites share the blame. They also share the enormous dangers for America's future inherent in doing nothing. And, above all, they share the great potential benefits of putting their hearts and minds and money into working together to solve the problem instead of feeding it. The time is now. It is the responsibility of President Obama to stop speaking in platitudes and follow Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Nixon. Provide the leadership and harness the needed leaders and resources. That would be a lasting and positive legacy. There is no alternative except gradual self-destruction. That is a fact.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has been "pushed out" of office. That is the description of Hagel's resignation given by unnamed White House sources. These sources are quoted by CNN as saying that it is "a mutual decision." Hagel has become more and more direct in giving the President advice about his ISIS/Iraq/Syria strategy. But, Representative Peter King told CNN that, in fact, recently Hagel has spoken out at odds with his Commander-in-Chief in a forceful way one wouldn't expect. Hagel's latest policy advice letter to Obama said that the President : needs to be clearer about his ISIS strategy; needs a strategy about how to handle the Syria al-Assad regime; and needs to recognize that the successes against ISIS could be jeopardized without a clearer Syria strategy. In essence, Hagel's questions about Obama's strategy toward Syria warned President Obama that his policy was in jeopardy due to its failure to clarify its intentions toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Obama has insisted that the United States can go after ISIS militants without addressing al-Assad, who the United States would like to leave power. ~~~~~ Reuters reported today that a senior Obama administration official told it : "A successor will be named in short order, but Secretary Hagel will remain as Defense Secretary until his replacement is confirmed by the United States Senate." Other officials said Obama wanted fresh leadership during the final two years of his administration. But, Washington insiders seem to be convinced that Secretary Hagel was forced out because senior White House advisors, including those on the National Security Council, were not happy working with him and his public opposition to their ideas. ~~~~~ USA TODAY reports that a White House official said Hagel began speaking with Obama about departing the administration in October, noting that the midterm congressional elections provided a natural transition. Indeed, Obama has spoken to many top administration officials about whether they would stay on for the last two years of his presidency, according to the unnamed official who spoke to USA TODAY. But there are conflicting accounts of whether Obama asked Hagel to step down or he resigned voluntarily. The New York Times broke the news, citing anonymous sources, when it reported that Obama asked Hagel to resign. ~~~~~ After a shaky confirmation hearing, Hagel continued to have trouble expressing himself, often ceding public leadership to Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, and sometimes contradicting White House positions. The most vivid example was Hagel's famous characterization of ISIS. Here is how the NYT put it : "He raised the ire of the White House in August as the administration was ramping up its strategy to fight [ISIS], directly contradicting the President, who months before had likened the sunni militant group to a junior varsity basketball squad. Mr. Hagel, facing reporters in his now-familiar role next to General Dempsey, called [ISIS] an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.” White House officials later said they viewed those comments as unhelpful, although the administration still appears to be struggling to define just how large is the threat posed by [ISIS]." ~~~~~ In announcing Secretary Hagel's resignation, President Obama called him "an exemplary Defense Secretary." However, military experts, including Lt. Colonel Rick Francona, CNN senior military advisor, say that Hagel has been eliminated just as he had been able to positively connect with the Pentagon military leadership and was finding his voice to speak out on behalf of the US military about what needs to be done to defeat ISIS and to re-establish order in Iraq. Colonel Francona said that Hagel was "cut off at the knees" at a time when President Obama and his senior advisors are visibly struggling to figure out what their Middle East policy is or should be. According to Francona and other experts, the US military will continue to wonder just what Obama wants from it, either as tactics or strategy -- because with no clear presidential strategic statement as guidance, the military can act but cannot fully lead either Middle East military allies or the elusive Obama Iraq coalition. ~~~~~ Dear readers, "an exemplary Defense Secretary." Those are President Obama's words. Why would a President truly in charge of his own White House force an exemplary Defense Secretary to resign -- especially when Hagel's successor will face fiery confirmation hearings before a Republican Senate Armed Services Committee chaired by Senator John McCain. Are Obama and his White House senior advisors simply political babes in the woods, or do they relish starting and stirring fights with Congress and the GOP because they mistakenly see and relish that as their role. What "an unholy mess" - a line from Grace Kelly in High Society that perfectly describes Barack Obama and his White House. Chuck Hagel is the scapegoat - sacrificial lamb - expendable soldier. He is out of step. But, it is America and her military who will pay. Americans will pay in squandered tax dollars for an undeclared war that cannot even be defined by their Commander-in-Chief. The US military will pay in wasted bodies and devotion to duty and pride for a cause they can neither understand nor plan properly nor be at ease with. When the Iraq collapse began because of Obama's 2011 troop withdrawal, Robert Gates was Defense Secretary, a man who had the complete confidence of the military. It took his successor, Chuck Hagel, two years to get even a part of Gates' respect from the Pentagon. Now, Gates and Hagel are both gone and only two years remain in the Obama presidency. Is there enough time for the next Defense Secretary to gain the respect he needs to be able to speak for the military when at the White House? Or will Obama appoint a yes man who forces the Pentagon to turn inward and hunker down until 2016? Right now, none of the possibilities are encouraging. We may be facing two years in which the US military will feel that it is without a voice in White House councils concerning Middle East strategy and goals that affect them profoundly. And it raises the fear in the military that Hagel was fired, for that is what happened, exactly because he defended aggressive action against ISIS, while Obama and his inner circle of advisors are preparing to spin back and scale down the US role in Iraq and Syria, in blind pursuit of his "legacy" goal of ending the war in Iraq. It brings to mind Dwight Eisenhower, a great military leader who became a great President. Ike said : "But all history has taught us the grim lesson that no nation has ever been successful in avoiding the terrors of war by refusing to defend its rights -- by attempting to placate aggression." Radio and Television Report to the American People, Security in the Free World, 1959.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
The New York Times, followed by the rest of the media, are reporting that President Obama some weeks ago signed a new Afghanistan order that allows American forces to continue to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, and not just al-Qaida as ordered earlier by the President for the year 2015. The new order gives the US military a broader mission than Obama described publicly earlier this year, according to administration, military and congressional officials. It also once again frees American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troop combat missions. Obama administration planning for the US post-2014 mission was slowed by the political stalemate in Afghanistan earlier this year, when it took months for the winner of the country's presidential election to be certified, delaying the signing of the bilateral security agreement needed to keep US forces in the country after December. That is now behind us. ~~~~~ In the White House Rose Garden in May, Obama said the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year and that the missions for the 9,800 remaining troops would be limited to training Afghan forces and hunting for the “remnants of al-Qaida.” The White House is trying to stay ahead of today's breaking story, saying that little was altered by the new Obama order. But, clearly, President Obama has decided to change the Afghanistan mission, after a long debate among White House and other administration factions. The two competing positions were the campaign promise Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan and the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining Afghan missions. Obama had to make a decision because he had set the 13-year mission, Operation Enduring Freedom, to end on December 31. The internal discussions also had to reckon with this year’s collapse of Iraqi security forces in the face of the ISIS advance, and, according to the Times, the mistrust between the Pentagon and the White House caused by Obama’s 2009 decision to “surge” 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, which the President’s civilian advisors say was made only because of excessive Pentagon pressure, while some military officials say it was half-baked and made with an eye to domestic politics. ~~~~~ Some of Obama's top civilian aides argued that American lives should not be put at risk in 2015 fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and that their role should be limited to counterterrorism and training Afghan troops. But, according to the Times, the military pushed back, and generals both at the Pentagon and in Afghanistan urged Obama to define the mission more broadly to allow American troops to attack the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militants if intelligence revealed that they were threatening American forces. The President’s order would, under certain circumstances, also authorize American airstrikes to support Afghan military operations and permit US ground troops to accompany Afghan troops on operations against the Taliban. According to an American official who spoke to the Times : “There was a school of thought that wanted the mission to be very limited, focused solely on al-Qaida,... [but] the military pretty much got what it wanted.” ~~~~~ Yesterday, a senior administration official insisted that American forces would not carry out regular patrols or conduct offensive missions against the Taliban next year. “We will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban. To the extent that Taliban members directly threaten the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to al-Qaida, however, we will take appropriate measures to keep Americans safe.” However, it seems likely that President Obama’s decision will, in effect, extend the current US military role in Afghanistan for another year. ~~~~~ The US military’s Afghanistan role and troop size in 2015 has been the subject of much debate, but recently two new factors appeared. First, there was the advance of ISIS forces across northern Iraq and the collapse of the Iraqi Army, resulting in criticism led by the GOP and Senator John McCain that Obama's 2011 Iraq troop pullout left Iraqi troops ill-prepared to protect Iraq by themselves and caused the rise of ISIS. It also intensified criticism of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, which Republican and even some Democratic lawmakers have said presents an unrealistically compressed timeline that would hamper efforts to train and advise Afghan security forces, leaving them vulnerable to attack from Taliban fighters and other extremists, in a repeat of the Iraq mess. While Obama's new order could end that criticism, it is also likely to be attacked by some Democratic lawmakers who will say that President Obama allowed the military to dictate the terms of the endgame in Afghanistan. Second, with the transfer of power in Afghanistan to President Ashraf Ghani, there is far more acceptance of a larger American military mission in his country than was offered by his predecessor, President Karzai. According to a senior Afghan official interviewed by the Times, both President Ghani and his new national security advisor, Hanif Atmar, have requested that the US continue to fight Taliban forces in 2015, as opposed to being limited to operations against al-Qaida. Ghani also recently lifted the limits on US airstrikes and joint raids that Karzai had imposed, Afghan officials told the Times. And, the new Afghan president has already developed a close working relationship with General John F Campbell, the allied commander in Afghanistan. "The difference is night and day," General Campbell said in an email about the distinction between dealing with Ghani and Karzai. “President Ghani has reached out and embraced the international community. We have a strategic opportunity we haven’t had previously with President Karzai.” American military officials note that the easing of the limits on airstrikes imposed by Karzai is especially significant, even if the restrictions were not always honored. During the summer, Afghan generals occasionally ignored Karzai’s directive and requested American air support when their forces encountered trouble. Now, such subterfuge will not be necessary. One senior American military officer said that in light of President Obama’s decision, the Air Force expects to use F-16 fighters, B-1B bombers and Predator and Reaper drones to go after the Taliban in 2015. “Our plans are to maintain an offensive capability in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that he expects the Pentagon to issue an order in the next several weeks detailing the military’s role in Afghanistan in 2015 under Operation Resolute Support, the new name for the Afghanistan war. The Pentagon plans to take the lead role in advising and training Afghan forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan, with Italy also operating in the east, Germany in the north and Turkey in Kabul. ~~~~~ But by the end of next year, half the 9,800 American troops are still marked to leave Afghanistan, with those remaining consolidated in Kabul and Bagram and marked to leave by the end of 2016, allowing Obama to say he ended the Afghan war before leaving office. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it appears that President Obama has been saved from yet another major foreign policy/military blunder -- this time by new Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. Obama's Afghanistan troop withdrawal decision has been characteristically reviewed for some time, but the US drawdown of forces and transition to an advice-and-support role has never been embraced by either the US military or congressional military experts. And now that the President has twice raised US troop strength in Iraq - officially at 3,900 - and indicated that circumstances could raise that number even more, we have to wonder if Obama's last remaining "legacy" imperative of ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is also in a shambles. Will President Obama take the sensible decision and let his successor make this critical call, unhampered by Obama's imposition of political goals into what is a vitally critical military-world order issue. The political component was for Obama a game of one-upsmanship over a man who was never his opponent or enemy - President George W. Bush. George Bush was right about keeping some troops in Iraq, as he was right about weapons of mass destruction. It is time for Barack Obama to make one last effort to be non-vindictive and unfettered by politics. In short, to be presidential. The future of the Middle East - and perhaps of the world - could depend on Obama's finally making one 'adult' decision as President -- by passing the Afghanistan decision-making to the next US President.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Dear readers, I'm reversing the normal order of the blog today because the subject is not one I've been able to address before. I have occasionally asked why Moslems and Islam leaders don't speak out against the atrocities committed in the name of their religion. Well, today, I want to highlight a sunni scholar and cleric who is, and has been, speaking out against ISIS and the attacks of the Bashar al-Assad regime on the Syrian people. I heard him speak with Christiane Amanpour on CNN and then researched him on the Net. Here is what I found. ~~~~~ Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, a world-renowned Syrian sunni cleric and scholar, has condemned the ISIS killing of the American Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig and said ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "is going to hell," adding : "We have to speak loud and very clear that Moslems and Islam have nothing to do with this." Sheikh al-Yaqoubi told CNN's Christiane Amanpour this week : "ISIS has no nationality. Its nationality is terror, savagery, and hatred." Al-Yaqoubi said that every Friday every Imam everywhere in the world who preaches should be saying that ISIS is not Islam and that ISIS followers may think they are martyrs but "they are going to hell as every Moslem knows." He recently signed a fatwa and letter to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ( http://LetterToBaghdadi.com) affirming that it is a great sin for any Moslem to join ISIS. This letter has been co-signed by over 100 Moslem scholars. Al-Yaqoubi is recognized as an outspoken opponent of extremist groups and has called strongly for the protection of Christians and Yazudis. Al-Yaqoubi has also condemned the Jerusalem synagogue massacre, saying Islam forbids attacking places of worship. He also has spoken out against the killing of women, children and the elderly, again saying that these acts are forbidden by Islam. ~~~~~ Sheikh al-Yaqoubi has expressed his "deepest condolences" to Kassig's family, as well as to the families of the "many Syrians" who have been killed. Kassig converted to Islam in captivity; his parents now refer to him as Abdul-Rahman. Al-Yaqoubi led the prayers in Indiana today for Abdul-Rahman Kassig, whose parents, family and friends were present. ~~~~~ Sheikh Al-Yaqoubi was born in Damascus, Syria, in 1963. He comes from a family of Islamic scholars who have taught the Islamic sciences for centuries. His father, Ibrahim al-Yaqoubi (d. 1985) was a scholar. His paternal grandfather Ismail al-Yaqoubi (d. 1960) was a scholar and Sufi master. His father’s maternal uncle was Arabi al-Yaqoubi (d. 1965), and his paternal uncle was the Gnostic Sharif al-Yaqoubi (d. 1943). Among al-Yaqoubi’s predecessors, three have held the post of Maliki Imam at the Grand Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, and so has he. He is a descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, tracing his lineage through Mawlay Idris al-Anwar, founder of the city of Fès, to Hasan ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet. Al-Yaqoubi was trained in Islamic law and scholarship, and Sufism, a deeply mystic version of Islam, by his father. He then studied at the Universities of Damascus and Beirut. He earned a Ph.D at Gotenberg University in Sweden and was then elected mufti of Sweden. In 2012, al-Yaqoubi was listed in "The 500 Most Influential Moslems" by Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Moslem-Christian Understanding and the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre of Jordan. ~~~~~ In April 2011, Al-Yaqoubi became one of the first Ulama (Islamic scholars) to support the Syrian uprising and condemn the Syrian government’s response to peaceful demonstrations. Since the start of the Syrian uprising, al-Yaqoubi has campaigned internationally to provide humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees. In December 2012, he led a convoy for the delivery of “vast quantities of food, baby food and blankets” to displaced Syrians in Turkey. After he was exiled from Syria by President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, he has taken part in a sustained international effort to provide aid for the Syrian people. He has publically urged the international community to “implement help immediately” and to “lift the siege" on Syria.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
In the past few days, media commentators and GOP leaders have begun to quote one of President Obama's older comments about going it alone to help illegal immigrants : "I am not the emperor of the United States." The inference is that Obama has completely reversed his position on the legality of executive action on immigration, ignoring his own earlier declarations that shielding illegal immigrants from deportation would be beyond his authority - and irresponsible. The Washington Post pointed out the President's reversal in an editorial posted online Monday night bearing the headline: "In Mr. Obama’s own words, acting alone is 'not how our democracy functions'." Obama has stated as many as 22 times that broad executive action on immigration is at odds with the law -- the last time as recently as September 2013, when he had a sit-down with Telemundo interviewer Jose Diaz-Balart, in which he defended his 2012 executive action protecting so-called Dreamers - people brought to the United States illegally as children. But he insisted he couldn't do the same for other immigrants. "If we start broadening that, then essentially, I’ll be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally," Obama told Diaz-Balart. "So that’s not an option." Other Obama comments that have repudiated executive action on illegal immigrants -- "I'm not a king." //"This is something that I have struggled with throughout my presidency." // "The problem is, is that I’m the President of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed." // "The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws,...what I’m proposing is the harder path." // "There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President." ~~~~~ But now, President Obama says those same actions can be "legally unassailable," and the White House describes tonight's expected executive order as shielding up to 5 million people from deportation. As for Obama, he insists nothing has changed : "Getting a comprehensive deal of the sort that is in the Senate legislation, for example, does extend beyond my legal authorities," he insisted at the G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia. "There are certain things I cannot do." But, he added : "I can’t wait in perpetuity when I have authorities that, at least for the next two years, can improve the system, can allow us to shift more resources to the border rather than separating families; improve the legal immigration system. I would be derelict in my duties if I did not try to improve the system that everybody acknowledges is broken." In an email to reporters, the Republican National Committee on Monday asked : “When did we add a 'politically convenient clause' to the Constitution in the last four years?" the Times reports. ~~~~~ Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving GOP Senator and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an interview this week : "These are important issues -- and it should unnerve every citizen that we have a President who, in some respects, is out of control." While Senator Hatch told Newsmax that he would give Obama "the benefit of the doubt" pending today's announcement, he added : "The preliminary indications are that he's going to give legal status to millions of people. That is not a power that a President should have or does have. In a way, I think he's just sticking his thumb in the eyes of everybody in this country." Senator Hatch reacted as details emerged from the White House of Obama's long-expected unilateral actions -- granting work permits and deferring deportation for as many as 5 million illegal immigrants, granting resident status to parents of US citizens and permanent residents of more than five years, but excluding parents of the so-called Dreamers brought to the US as children and sheltered from deportation by the President in 2012. On Friday, Obama will deliver an address with more details at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, which has a large number of non-English-speaking students. The President continues to indicate that he will revoke his orders if Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform legislation : "What I'm going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as President to make the system better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem," Obama said in a video on Facebook. But in a move that smacked of partisanship, Obama met with 18 Democrats from the House and Senate over dinner at the White House on Wednesday. No GOP members were invited. ~~~~~ Republicans have vehemently opposed Obama's immigration plans since he vowed to take action in a Rose Garden speech in May. He postponed the move until after the November 4 elections because of Democrats' fears of losing the Senate along with seats in the House if he acted on the unpopular plan. It didn't help. The Democrats suffered a blistering defeat in the elections, with the GOP retaking the Senate and gaining House seats. In a meeting with House and Senate leaders the day after the midterms, Obama obstinately vowed to act unilaterally on immigration by the end of the year. House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reacted quckly, calling Obama's proposed action a "red flag" waved at a bull. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel slammed "Emperor Obama" yesterday when Obama confirmed his address for tonight, saying the executive orders would "cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue - and many others." Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was among other Republicans charging that Obama's orders would "provide illegal immigrants with the exact benefits Congress has repeatedly rejected: Social Security numbers, photo IDs and work permits. "This will allow them to now take jobs directly from struggling Americans in every occupation. Congress must not allow this unconstitutional action." Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said : "the egregious use of executive action and rule by fiat is bad enough, but knowing that undocumented criminals continue to be released into communities, even this past year, and could still remain in the country is outrageous." ~~~~~ Dear readers, if we follow carefully the arguments passing back and forth between President Obama and congressional Republicans, it becomes clear that the fundamental difference between them is how they view the constitutional rule of law. Republicans have historically upheld the rule of law and constitutional constraints, even when it prevents actions that would be beneficial, preferring to work within the legal and constitutional constraints to find solutions. Obama seems to think that the rule of law is good until it interferes with doing what he wants to do -- not so much because he wants to abandon the rule of law but because it inconveniently opposes his personal view of what is "best" for his supporters. And if his calculated and unlawful action adds to the number of his supporters, so much the better. In this case, Obama has probably also concluded that Congress and the Supreme Court will not have the courage to oppose him. A mistake. Speaker John Boehner talks like your neighbor might -- about any Obama order on illegal immigrants, he said, "...we will fight him tooth and nail..." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks with the measured cadence of a southern Senator. About Obama's executive order, he said : “He needs to understand something. If President Obama acts in defiance of the people and imposes his will on the country, Congress will act. We’re considering a variety of options. But make no mistake. When the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act.” That is the message of a leader sure of his position and convinced that he has been given the authority to act by the American people. Barack Obama has never faced such a combination of political skill and power and principled determination. The President is about to enter an arena he knows nothing about and has no skill set, experience or advisor to turn to for help. Let's see if he has realized this and it is reflected in his remarks tonight. Somehow I doubt it. Pride goeth before a fall.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
President Obama announced today on his Facebook page that he will talk to America at 8 p.m. EST Thursday about his plan to shelter up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, bypassing Congress and acting by executive order. Those covered will be able to get work permits but not federal benefits such as tax credits for Obamacare coverage. ~~~~~ Republicans are furious with the President about his threat to act on immigration by executive order. Some Republicans in Congress have threatened to shut down the government if the President issues such an executive order. Other Republicans have raised the possibility of refusing to pass a continuing resolution funding the government after mid-December as a means of making Obama withdraw such an action. But on Sunday, Represenrative Tom Cole, the Republican House deputy whip, warned his colleagues that shutting down the government is exactly what President Obama wants them to do : “I think the President wants a fight...I think he is trying to bait us into doing some of these extreme things that have been suggested.” The Washington Post said staffers for Senate Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell late last week distributed a memo to the more conservative members of the GOP, arguing that the last government shutdown had badly hurt the party. On Fox News Sunday, the network senior political analyst Brit Hume said : "It is an iron rule in Washington, exemplified many times, that if the government shuts down, the Republicans get the blame. Not some of the blame. Not most of the blame. All of the blame.” On Sunday, Republican lawmakers appeared on talk shows and said they weren’t interested in shutting down the government because of an immigration fight. Senator John Thune told Fox : “Republicans are looking at different options of how best to respond. Shutting the government down doesn’t solve the problem.” Even Senator Mike Lee, one of Obama’s most vocal detractors and a strong Tea Party conservative, dismissed shutdown rumors : “We’re not heading into a government shutdown. Congress is going to stand up to the President. Exactly what we do may depend on what he does and how he does it.” ~~~~~ The illegal immigrant issue has several key components. First and most important, one out of every six adult males aged 25 to 54 do not have jobs. Many of these men could be employed if Obama simply enforced the immigration laws already on the books and pushed the states to cooperate by requiring proof of citizenship to possess driver's licenses, enroll children in schools and access social services. This would put unemployed Americans in the preferred position when job-hunting. Second, GOP congressional leaders recognize rhat winning back the White House in 2016 will be more difficult if they ignore the sentiment of Hispanic voters, who have called on the President and Congress to ignore US immigration laws and thereby end deportations. Third, President Obama's continuing relaxed enforcement of US immigration laws has encouraged Central and South Americans and Mexicans to try to slip across US southern borders, knowing that once across the border, they will have a good chance of remaining in America. This has the effect of allowing into the country not only unskilled workers who drive down wages for Americans but also criminals who deal in drugs and human trafficking, and those with undetected serious communicable diseases ~~~~~ It is possible to enact a bipartisan compromise immigration law that finally *seals the border, *limits the legalization of undocumented workers to truly worthy cases, *provides for the entry of immigrants with skills needed by the US, and *establishes a rational and effective deportation policy. Instead, President Obama is now going to grant legal status to millions of illegal workers through an executive order that even Obama has said is questionable under the Constitution and circumvents prior laws enacted by Congress. ~~~~~ In addition, an NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll taken last weekend shows that half of Americans oppose President Obama’s plan to take executive action this week to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to legally remain in the country, even though Americans support attempts to help undocumented immigrants obtain citizenship. Obama's plan to take action without congressional consent is opposed by 48%, while 38% expressed support for the immigration plan, and 14% were undecided or had no opinion. Despite opposition to Obama’s proposed executive action, 57% of those surveyed were in favor of efforts to facilitate citizenship for undocumented immigrants and 75% of Americans would support the efforts if undocumented applicants were submitted to background checks and potential fines. Of 100 Latinos who responded to the survey, 43% favored Obama’s immigration plan, compared to 37% who were opposed. Nearly 65% of Democrats support executive action, compared to just 11% of Republicans. ~~~~~ Dear readers, these poll results have been replicated often over the past several months, making it meaningful for Republican leaders in the new Congress to forcefully oppose the President. However, the results will also encourage the President and his supporters to paint the GOP as anti-Hispanic, even though the GOP has fielded Hispanic candidates elected as Senators, Representatives, Governors and state and local officeholders. So, while Democrats may think that acting to loosen even more the Obama immigration enforcement policies by executive order might help some Democrats in 2016, it will do so by trashing the rule of law, selling out millions of unemployed Americans and reducing the incomes of working families. And, considering the November 4 midterm election results, the Democratic Party should be cautious. Republicans won 54 Senate seats, extended their House majority to an historic high, now hold 32 governorships, and a large majority of state legislatures and local offices - more than at any time since 1920. We may conclude that ignoring what Americans believe to be government's role may prevail for long periods, especially when the enforced policies seem to be socially "good" - as Bill Clinton liked to say, " the right thing to do." But, that tolerance for Democrat liberal socialism finally failed in America. Socialist policies long ago failed in Europe where unemployment stands at more than 12% on average, with a high of 25%, and where Europe cannot find the money it needs to continue to pay for the cradle-to-grave benefits Europeans are now addicted to. But he US midterms reflect a re-awakening of Americans to their conservative roots -- and yes, that includes immigrants, if they enter legally and join America in its goals of individual freedom and responsibility, with the government providing security and infrastructure, and appropriate safety nets. Legal immigration - yes. Nanny state benefits for illegal immigrants - no.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
It is time for a reckoning, for Islam to declare itself. The two Palestinian cousins armed with meat cleavers, knives and a gun who stormed into a Jerusalem synagogue during morning prayers Tuesday, killing four rabbis - 3 of them Americans and 1 British - carried out Jerusalem's bloodiest attack in years. Perhaps the most repulsive attack ever if you look at the video of the slaughter scene being shown on CNN -- pools and trails of blood, bits of human flesh and hair and bone that had been hacked from the victims -- who were at prayer, wrapped in prayer shawls, praying in a synagogue. It is a scene of horror. Every person who sees or considers this massacre should be enraged. If as a modern agnostic or atheist you shrug this horror off as part of today's world, if as a Christian you do not feel your stomach and soul recoil when you see the images, if you are a Moslem who feels in any sense that this slaughter is justifiable or in some measure take satisfaction from the murderous crime - you are not fully human. ~~~~~ Yet, Hamas, the jihadist terrorist Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, praised the attack. In Gaza, dozens of Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate, with some offering trays full of candy. And in the coming hours posters bearing the faces of the terrorist criminals will surely go up, and, true to his past actions, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will send letters of condolence to the killers' families. US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed the attack on Palestinian calls for "days of rage" and said Palestinian leaders must take serious steps to refrain from such incitement. He also urged Palestinian leaders to condemn the attack "in the most powerful terms." It was only after Kerry spoke to Netanyahu following the attack and then publicly denounced it as an "act of pure terror and senseless brutality and violence" that Palestinian President Abbas condemned it, too, the first time he has done so since a recent spike in deadly violence against Israelis began - a spike that has left 6 Israelis dead, including a 3-month-old baby. But Abbas also called for an end to Israeli "provocations" surrounding the sacred shrine holy to both Jews and Moslems -- the Temple Mount that is the most sacred place in Judaism, referred to by Moslems as the Noble Sanctuary, Islam's third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The site is so holy that Jews have traditionally refrained from going there, instead praying at the adjacent Western Wall. Israel's chief rabbis have urged people not to ascend to the area, but in recent years, a small but growing number of Jews, including ultranationalist lawmakers, have started to go to the Temple Mount to pray, seen by Palestinians as a provocation, although the Jews are only doing what Israel allows Moslem residents of Jerusalem to do daily, and which Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised the Palestinians that Israel will preserve. ~~~~~ The two terrorists were killed in a battle with Jerusalem police, whose spokeswoman Luba Samri identified the assailants as Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal, residents of east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians as their capital. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small militant group, said the cousins were among its members, though it did not say whether it had instructed them to carry out the attack. Clashes later broke out outside the assailants' home, where dozens of people hurled stones at police, who responded using riot dispersal weapons. Neighborhood residents, speaking on condition of anonymity for fears for their own safety, said 14 members of the Abu Jamal family were arrested. Mohammed Zahaikeh, a cousin of the family. said the brothers had been released in a 2011 prisoner swap and re-arrested recently by Israeli police. He did not say why. Israel has been on high alert with a spate of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. The violence has created a security challenge for Israel, since most of the attackers come from east Jerusalem. More than 200,000 Arab residents there hold residency rights that, in contrast to Palestinians in the neighboring West Bank, allow them to move freely throughout Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "respond harshly," describing the attack as a "cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by despicable murderers." And, according to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu has ordered the demolition of the homes of the two terrorists who carried out Tuesday's attack. The directive came at an emergency security consultation Netanyahu convened in his office with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel Security Agency head Yoram Cohen Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and other top security officials. In addition to ordering the demolition of the homes of the two terrorists, Netanyahu also gave orders to move forward with the demolition of the homes of terrorists who carried out other recent attacks. Netanyahu also ordered significantly ratcheting up of law enforcement against those guilty of incitement. ~~~~~ It is impossble not to compare Prime Minister Netanyahu's forceful response to terrorist attacks on Israelis and their guests with the comments of President Obama as he was returning from his trip to Asia and reacted to the beheading of US aid worker Peter Kassig by ISIS terrorists. Kassig, a convert to Islam, took the name Abdul-Rahman and was captured and held hostage by members of ISIS a year ago. President Obama said : “ISIL's actions represent no faith, least of all the Moslem faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own." ~~~~~ But, dear readers, although we know that these monsters don't represent Islam, that the ISIS and al-Qaida beheaders and axe murderers are not true sons of Islam -- yet we must ask what the true followers are thinking, feeling, fearing that has frozen them into submission and silence, that makes them meekly follow leaders who celebrate terrorism and death, who go out onto the streets to celebrate with them. When will Islam find the strength to free itself of this cancer that is eating at its soul, that wants to make Islam an outcast from civilization.
Monday, November 17, 2014
There are several major decision points looming on President Obama's foreign affairs agenda as he settles back into the Oval Office on his return from his Asia trip. First, he faces a November 24 deadline on reaching a final agreement with Iran as his stalled sensitive nuclear negotiations draw to a close. High-level talks in Oman last week made little headway, potentially setting the stage for Obama to make a choice between pursuing another negotiation extension or abandoning the diplomatic effort that he heralded as the right way to engage Iran when it began. Second, there are growing indications that the President may have to reconsider his airstrike campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Obama has asked Congress to address the need to extend the authorization for his airstrike effort, although he expects Congress to take up the request next year when Republicans take control of the Senate. And, Obama faces questions from within his own senior leadership, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and top General Michael Dempsey, who question the effectiveness of the military operation, particularly in Syria. Hagel said in a memo to White House national security advisor Susan Rice that Obama needed a clearer strategy for dealing with embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. Dempsey suggests the strategy is incomplete and will not succeed without more US troops. Third, there is the question of Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggressive push into eastern Ukraine and his reversion to Cold War tactics such as harassing Scandinavian states bordering the Baltic Sea with submarine surveillance and sending military aircraft into the Gulf of Mexico. And, there is the whole matter of Israel and its position in the Middle East, which seems destined to remain on hold until a new US President can clean up the mess caused by Obama letting his personal animosity toward Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and perhaps his personal prejudice and that of his White House advisors against Israel, destabilize the entire region. ~~~~~ At his news conference before leaving the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, President Obama said he wanted to "build on the momentum" of his Asia trip back home in Washington. Did his Asia trip give President Obama "momentum" or was it a mediocre performance? (1). The Democrat Party and the US media have characterized President Obama's climate agreement with China as a triumphant step in the US-China relationship. What did the climate pact actually do? Obama committed America to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025. Xi Jinping agreed to stop the growth of China’s emissions by 2030. Or, as GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell accurately explained, Obama agreed to give China 16 years of no reductions while agreeing that the US will reduce emissions by 25% -- a drag on the US economy and especially on the American coal industry and its jobs. No matter that Obama was harpooned by Xi Jinping, the New York Times hailed the deal as a “Landmark agreement...a signature achievement.” Fortunately, the Republican Congress will review the agreement and decide whether to confirm it. (2). Obama inked a high-tech market-opening agreement with China, but its advisability also must be seriously questioned. Some hi-tech experts accuse the President of thanking his Silicon Valley financial supporters by offering them a trade deal with China that eliminates tariffs on many high-technology products, thereby, according to the White House, creating 60,000 jobs by opening the Chinese market to $1 trillion in US exports. The Fiscal Times points out that America was told the same thing about automobiles when the United States agreed to admit China into the World Trade Organization. Instead, China threw up administrative barriers that require competitive US and Japanese automakers to produce with local partners in China in order to sell there, and ultimately transfer critical know-how to those Chinese partners. Now, experts say, the same thing will likely happen with digital technologies, which are the crown jewels of the American economy, but "Obama seems intent on giving them away, along with thousands of good-paying jobs, to keep Silicon Valley campaign dollars flowing into Democrat coffers. Anything for political advantage. The American worker be damned," says the Fiscal Times. ~~~~~ Fresh from his China 'triumphs,' President Obama moved on to Brisbane for a G-20 meeting where the news was about Obama’s diminished presence, never very high or credible in Asia, despite his pre-trip promise to push forward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his ambitious trade agreement, which pointedly, and foolishly, excludes China. But, there has been not a word about the TPP, which, without China, is no further along today than it was before Obama left for Asia. Obama and his senior advisors tried to do the same thing with Beijing’s idea of an Asians-only bank intended to rival the US-backed Asian Development Bank. This Obama mistake was highlighted in Beijing, where the Chinese boasted of the up-and-running Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, its $50 billion capitalization, and its 20 members. And, to drive his point home to Obama, Xi Jinping announced during Obama’s visit that China was putting $40 billion into a new Silk Road Fund to finance development projects in the seven Central Asian republics. As further embarrassment for the US, in Brisbane, Obama had to listen while China encouraged the group comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa - known as the BRICS - to move on establishing the New Development Bank, which will finance infrastructure and make available an emergency reserve fund. Another China-Russia idea, the BRICS bank is intended to bypass Western participation and cut the US Dollar out of its transactions. Finally, we cannot forget the Russian oil and gas deals with China, caused by Obama's mishandling of Vladimir Putin's aggressive Ukraine actions. By threatening to cut Putin out of his developed pipeline-intensive natural gas contracts with Europe, Obama pushed Putin into Xi Jinping's open arms. The two just announced a second natural gas agreement worth $325 billion, following the unprecedented $400 billion deal struck in March. By 2020, Russia will sell China more gas than it now sells Europe, and the supply is big enough and priced to threaten US sales in South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere in the region. ~~~~~ Dear readers, if President Obama 'succeeds' with Iran, ISIS, Ukraine and Israel-Palestine issues as well as he did with China during his recent Asian foray, we had better hope that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner keep congressional antennae tuned on the White House, while their budget, foreign affairs and armed services committees stay focused on cleaning up after Obama and his White-House-in-training. And, let's hope that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and America's top General, Michael Dempsey, are not fired by Obama and stay the course until 2016. It would also help if the US mainstream liberal media quit reading by rote from the White House talking point sheets and actually researched their stories before airing and printing them. But, as they say, the impossible takes a little longer.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Russia’s petrodollar days of plenty are over, according to the St. Petersburg Times, Russia's largest English-language newspaper. SPT columnist Alexei Bayer, born and raised in Moscow and living in New York Cty, writes that Russian conspiratologists are convinced that, like Reagan before him, Obama made a deal with the Saudis, leading to a recent drop in oil prices. Bayer notes that conspiracy theories have a fatal attraction for the Russian public : "Nothing of importance can ever happen in the world without some powerful players arranging it behind the scenes There was apparently a clever plan to break up the Soviet Union in 1991 - developed by John Foster Dulles, the US secretary of state in President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration - even though Dulles has been dead since 1959....And so on." And now, as oil prices are falling, the conspiratologists, and possibly Vladimir Putin, are convinced that US President Barack Obama is leading the recent price drop. "Never mind that ever since OPEC lost its dominance in the 1980s, no one has been controlling trained, well-paid economists at major oil companies. Nor does it matter that, given rational economic policies, lower oil prices should have a positive impact on the Russian economy, just as falling oil production put impoverished Mexico and Indonesia on the path to economic development," Bayer writes that oil is a special commodity, but it is subject to technology laws : "Demand for oil simply pumped out of the ground, and countries that were lucky enough to have large deposits were the main beneficiaries....Critical mass was achieved this year, when the US, thanks to the shale oil boom, became the world’s largest oil producer. Historically, technology has been getting steadily cheaper. Thus, any temporary upticks will fund a new technological spiral, leading to a renewed decline in prices." So much for conspiracy theories. ~~~~~ BUT, consider this. Agence France-Presse, based in Paris and the world's oldest and one of the largest international news agencies, reported this week that US House Speaker John Boehner has warned that President Obama is waging a "crusade" against affordable energy, after the United States and China reached agreement Wednesday on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Boehner said : "This announcement is yet another sign that the President intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact for America's heartland and the country as a whole...It is the latest example of the President's crusade against affordable, reliable energy that is already hurting jobs and squeezing middle-class families." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he was "particularly distressed" by the deal, which sees the two global powers achieve breakthrough cooperation in the fight against climate change. "I read the agreement requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state [Kentucky] and other states around the country," McConnell noted. This is an indication of the renewed Republican Party battle over climate change and energy policy in Congress, where the GOP will control both chambers beginning January 3 after Obama's Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat at the midterm polls. But lame duck Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hailed the US-China pact as one that could "spur other countries" to join in the climate change fight. "The historic announcement...is exactly what is needed to ensure that America's efforts to clean up our energy supply are replicated around the world." In response, Boehner noted that the GOP House passed several bills to "rein in" the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations on carbon emissions and other energy issues, but that the legislation stalled in the Democratic-held Senate. ~~~~~ The US fight is not "conspiratorial" in the bigger-than-life Russian sense, but it does highlight the divide between Republicans and Democrats on energy, with each party blaming the other of deliverately choosing policies bad for America. But instead of conspiratorial sabre-rattling à la Putin, the Republican-led House, reinforced in the mid-term elections, made its first move to change the direction of US energy policy yesterday. The House approved the Keystone XL pipeline by 252 votes to 161, with 31 Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with the GOP majority. This is the 9th time the House has passed a Keystone XL Pipeline bill to approve the $8 billion project opposed by the Obama administration, which has been studying the project for more than six years. House supporters are confident that this time the Senate will finally pass its version, but Senate passage is not guaranted when the Senate votes, probably next Tuesday. Senate supporters say all 45 GOP Senators plus 12 Democrats will vote for the bill, leaving the need to find 3 more votes for the 60 that could overcome a filibuster blocking procedure. Approval for the pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada's oil sands to the US Gulf coast energy hub, is controlled by the Obama administration because it crosses an international border. Proponents of the pipeline say it would create thousands of construction jobs and be environmentally safer than the current use of railcars and trucks for oil transport, while environmentalists who oppose it say it would increase carbon emissions linked to climate change. If Congress passes the measure, Obama will have to decide whether to use his veto. The White House has not said if he will do this, but yesterday after House passage of the bill, Obama said he still favors the evaluation being done by the State Department. The President also noted that there is ongoing legal action in Nebraska, where a court is expected to rule soon on a case about whether the pipeline may pass through the state. Meanwhile, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki said the House passage of the bill would have no impact on the State Department review and repeated that she does not know when it will be completed. With Obama leaning against approving the project, Democrats are divided about it, wondering whether to support Obama, whose unpopular policies were a big contributor to their election drubbings last week, by opposing the Pipeline, or to vote for it as a sign of solidarity with their constituents. ~~~~~ But, Senator Ron Johnson has a more political view of the recent Democrat Keystone about-face. The Senator told Newsmax on Friday that the Democrat support of the Keystone XL pipeline smacks of "100 percent pure political maneuvering, What’s remarkable to me is that Mary Landrieu has the gall to say in interviews that there’s no politics involved in this at all," the Republican said, referring to the Louisiana Democrat Senator whose political future may depend on her being able to get the 60 votes needed to approve the pipeline. "That’s all this is." Senator Johnson then likened Landrieu's remarks to those disparaging Americans by Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber : "It just proves that what Jonathan Gruber was saying is true: Democrats truly believe that the American public is so stupid that they can stand up and say, 'Oh, there’s no politics in this' and actually believe that the American public - and the folks in Louisiana - would believe this. It’s unbelievable." Landrieu, seeking a fourth Senate term, is in a bitter December 6 runoff with GOP Representative Bill Cassidy after neither won 50% of the votes in the November 4 election. Both have pushed their energy credentials, as the Democrats seek to keep the Republicans from adding another seat to the biggest majority the GOP has had in the upper chamber since World War II. Since the lame-duck congressional session began on Wednesday, Landrieu has been working feverishly to find the 60 votes needed to pass the pipeline proposal. She persuaded Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule the Tuesday vote and told reporters on Friday that she had 59 votes - including all 45 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Passage would be assured with 60 votes that prevent filibusters. When asked whether she had the 60 votes, Landrieu responded in the conference call, "I am going to say I'm confident I'll have the 60 votes," The Hill reports. ~~~~~~ Dear readers, from Putin's Russian conspiracy theories on oil pricing to American political manouvers over energy independence and jobs, there are connecting threads related to power and status in the world. But, the real difference is that in Russia, Putin controls what Russians hear and read and he controls who may run for public office, while in the United States, politics is an open process where political leaders rise or fall on their ability to understand what the free American people want in political leadership. It's a rough-and-tumble marketplace of ideas. That's what the US energy independence policy and the Keystone XL Pipeline are all about.
Friday, November 14, 2014
It took less than 24 hours for House and Senate Republicans to answer lame-duck Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who, according to ABC News, asked the White House to delay the announced executive order on immigration until after Congress passes a spending bill to keep the government running. ABC has also learned that while Democrat Reid believes that President Obama has the power to act independently on immigration, Reid told Senators today that he is concerned that some Republicans will seize on the executive order if Obama signs it too soon, threatening to block the funding bill unless the President withdraws the order. This series of events could lead to a government shutdown if neither Obama nor the House GOP is willing to compromise. ~~~~~ But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was swift to rule out the possibility of a government shutdown, even if the President signs an executive order to protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. “We’ll not be shutting the government down, threatening to default on the national debt,” McConnell told reporters today. And when reporters demanded whether a fight over immigration could break that pledge, McConnell said again: “We’ll not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt." Hours later, however, House Speaker John Boehner disagreed, saying a government shutdown could not be ruled out. Several Republicans are already threatening to try to hold up the spending bill over immigration, and Boehner said all options were on the table, declaring : “We’re going to fight the President tooth and nail if he continues down this path.” A government shutdown is not the preferred route, Boehner said, but added it could not be ruled out : “Our goal here is to stop the President from violating his own oath of office and violating the Constitution...It’s not to shut down the government.” Reid first expressed his concern about immigration during an off-camera conversation with a CNN producer, saying: “I’d like to get the finances of this country out of the way before he [President Obama] does it, but that’s up to him.” ~~~~~ For his part, President Obama seems to be fanning the flames that surround him by saying that he is "looking forward" to imposing an executive order that will give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. According to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, just two days after the midterm election that thoroughly rejected Democrats, the President announced his intention to unilaterally move forward with executive plans on immigration, at the same time that Speaker Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader McConnell warned that it would be a bad start to establishing a constructive working relationship with Congress. Earnest told Jorge Ramos of Fusion TV : "The President made a promise in the fall that if Congress didn't act that the President himself would take executive action to try to solve the problems of our broken immigration system before the end of the year. The President is going to keep that promise and is going to make that announcement before the end of the year. And it reflects a disappointment on the part of the President." Earnest blamed House Republicans for failing to pass the Reid-Democrat Senate immigration reform bill that both the GOP and most Americans disagree with. Earnest said this is what has forced the President to take action himself : "The President is disappointed that this legislative solution won't be achieved, but the President is looking forward to taking executive action on his own to solve as many of these problems as he can." ~~~~~ An outline of the immigration executive order that President Obama will sign was made available by the White House this week. It contains 10 executive actions that suspend deportations for and legalize more than 5 million illegal immigrants. The draft proposal to a federal agency was leaked to Fox News, according to the network. Obama's announcement could come as early as November 21 or shortly thereafter, a White House source told Fox. The President was briefed by the Department of Homeland Security before he left for his Asia trip. The most controversial elements would expand deportation deferrals not only to illegals who came to the US as children, but to the illegal-status parents of US citizens born in this country. Fox reports that the parental expansion could allow as many as 4.5 million illegal adults with US-born children to remain in the country. Obama's orders also would expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program he created in June 2012. DACA affected millions of illegals who were brought to the United States as children before June 2007 and who were under 31 years old as of June 2012, when the program started. But, the new Obama order would expand DACA to cover anyone who entered the US before age 16 - and would move the cutoff date back to January 1, 2010. This is expected to add nearly 300,000 illegal immigrants to DACA coverage, according to Fox. In addition, a State Department immigrant visa program covering technology jobs would offer another half-million immigrants a path to citizenship. Spouses also would be helped under the program. According to Fox, the DHS plans to "promote" the new naturalization process by giving a 50% discount on the first 10,000 applicants who come forward, with the exception of those whose incomes are above 200% of the national poverty level. Other planned executive actions would increase pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers - to "increase morale" within the agency - and the administration would revise its priorities to target only serious criminals for deportation. ~~~~~ Senator McConnell who said earlier that Obama's executive order approach to immigration reform was like "waving a red flag in front of a bull," reiterated his opposition to Obama's acting alone on immigration in a Wednesday speech on the Senate floor : "President Obama has a duty to help build the trust we all need to move forward together, not to double-down on old ways of doing business...That's why I think moving forward with the unilateral action on immigration he's planned would be a big mistake." ~~~~~ Dear readers, President Obama's determination to act on immigration by executive order is based on legal precedents that give the executive branch broad rights to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in how it enforces the laws. Those precedents upheld the 2012 DACA that protected from deportation the so-called Dreamers, who came to the US as young children. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday : “I’m confident that what the President will do will be consistent with our laws.” The White House expects many outside legal experts to back the administration. However, Speaker Boehner found support from GOP leaders yesterday about filing a lawsuit over the President’s authority to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Using the courts to express dissent with such an Obama action is seen as showing strength and signalling to conservatives that Boehner shares their frustrations about the President’s use of executive power. A final decision would be made only after consulting GOP House members following a White House executive order on immigration. Boehner's goal is to halt what he sees as the President’s unconstitutional power grab in using executive orders for issues that should be addressed by Congress as legislative matters. This battle is being fought in murky constitutional waters and it may be difficult for Boehner to find a federal court willing to hear the lawsuit that the courts may see as raising a question that the Constitution expects the Congress and the President to resolve, without judicial intervention. But there is also the possibility that a federal court could see the question as being about the constitutional limits of congressionally uncontrollable executive power. Of course, the other, more direct option would be for Congress to refuse to approve funds for any Obama immigration executive order. Stay tuned.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was elected by fellow Republicans today to become Senate majority leader when the new Congress convenes in January. It is the fulfillment of a long-held ambition for McConnell, who was chosen by acclamation at a closed-door meeting of the rank and file to lead the Senate in the final two years of President Barack Obama's term. McConnell was elected to a sixth Senate term last week in elections in which Republicans gained a Senate majority for the first time in eight years. ~~~~~ John Boehner is stronger than ever as House Speaker and will be elected to his third term as Speaker later today. Boehner already faces post-election grumbling from House conservatives, but his position is remarkably secure for a Speaker whose tenure has been marked by drama -- the debt ceiling standoff, the government shutdown and battles with Obama and within the GOP. Boehner will soon preside over the largest House GOP majority since World War II, with a GOP partner to work with in the Senate in McConnell. GOP Representative Tim Huelskamp, a frequent Boehner critic from the right, told CNN that the midterm elections were a mandate for change and "change wasn't compromise with the President...what won the election in 2014 was bold conservative principles and solutions." Huelskamp agrees with Boehner's pledge to again pass a series of GOP economic measures next year that the Democratic-led Senate ignored. But he insists that the GOP base also wants the Republican Congress to take measures backed by social conservatives, citing "traditional marriage and pro-life bills." But Boehner still has Barack Obama to deal with and it's unclear whether Boehner will make any major concessions and work with the President and Democrats to pass items like new infrastructure programs and new trade authority. In Washington, there's a sense that corralling the rambunctious House GOP conference is a job that no one else besides Boehner is prepared to take on at this point -- or even wants -- and when Republicans gather this week, Boehner will balance between telling his members what they want to hear about pushing conservative legislation next year and starting to set some expectations. Those who disagree with the Speaker say their disagreements have never been personal, and he's earned genuine respect. ~~~~~ McConnell and Boehner have their work cut out for them. "If they define success as passing bills that the President signs, that is setting themselves up for failure over the next year," according to Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action, a conservative group that has clashed with Boehner in the past. Holler said the list of economic items that McConnell and Boehner listed in their op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal last week was on target, but seen by conservatives as just "a good start." The bigger GOP majority gives the Speaker a cushion against tea partiers but Boehner still faces a GOP House divided over tactics and goals. ~~~~~ One issue that needs immediate attention is whether to fund the government for several months past a December 11 deadline in order to maintain leverage over President Obama on immigration or to pass a full-year spending bill to clear the decks for a fresh start with the GOP Congress in January. Pragmatic House members are pressing for an omnibus spending bill and warn that tea party forces who want to use necessary spending bills as ammunition in their battle with Obama over his planned executive action on immigration could spark a government shutdown next month or next year. But many conservatives do not want to give away any power to Obama and Senate Democrats, and they are promising an all-out battle - including withholding funding to implement any immigration order - to block Obama. More seasoned GOP House members warn that putting veto bait like an immigration provision into a spending bill could lead to a government shutdown, just as an effort last year to "defund" the new health care law backfired into a 16-day government shutdown that left large numbers of voters in a bad mood. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said : "There's no one more strong than me against unilateral action by the President on this subject. However, like it's been said before, don't take a hostage you can't shoot....I don't want a shutdown and I don't want the threat of a shutdown. Because that doesn't serve our purposes." In the Senate, the budget agenda is complicated. Conservatives Jeff Sessions and Mike Lee are among those arguing to use the must-pass spending bill - either in December or next year - to try to block Obama from taking unilateral action to protect millions of immigrants illegally in the US from deportation. At the very least, they want to pass only a short-term funding bill that saves major decisions on spending and other policies into next year when Republicans control the Senate. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, House Republicans moved legislation to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans and several moderate Democrats insist that construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs. Environmentalists maintain that the project would have a negative impact and contribute to climate change. Keystone XL supporters say Senate action is needed to end years of delay by the Obama administration on whether to approve the project. Approval by next Tuesday would force Obama to either sign it into law or veto the measure just weeks after a Democratic drubbing in midterm elections. ~~~~~ The emergence of the Keystone XL issue was a surprise in the lame-duck agenda expected to focus on keeping the government running past the December 11 budget deadline. Preventing a government shutdown is a top priority of Boehner and McConnell. McConnell says the other big items for the lame-duck session are renewing expired tax breaks for businesses and individuals, providing more money to fight Ebola and renewing Obama's authority to arm and train opposition to ISIS militants in Syria, which expires next month. McConnell said : "This will require cooperation from both sides of the aisle, from both sides of the Rotunda and from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The actions of the next few weeks could help set a positive tone for the work of the next Congress. It's a tone that will depend largely on the administration's willingness to respect the message sent last Tuesday." But Republicans in the Senate are split as well. Senator Marco Rubio says : "We could clearly pass a budget out of both chambers that doesn't fund the immigration executive order and the President would probably veto it or threaten to, and then you find yourself in kind of the situation we were in not long ago. So that's what everyone's trying to work through, to see if there's a way to address it that's not counterproductive." ~~~~~ Dear readers, the Republican victory in the mid-term elections -- a Senate majority, the largest House majority since WWII, 31 governorships and 2/3 of state legislatures -- surely stands for something more than a better budget process. A Gallup poll taken on November 6 and 7, after the GOP win and Democratic Party major losses, shows a record-low 36% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of the Democrat Party, down 6% from before the elections. The Republican Party's favorable rating, at 42%, up from 40%, marks the first time since September 2011 that the Republican Party has had a higher favorability rating than the Democratic Party. The Republican wave victory did not come because GOP candidates and their party were cautiously mimicking Democrats. It came because the Republicans stood for a bold new direction for America -- smaller government with balanced budgets, economic growth based on reasonable energy and regulatory policies that promote business and more fulltime jobs, a redoing of Obamacare's nationalized healthcare approach, a President held to his constitutional role and duties, and tax relief with tax code revision and simplification. These sea changes away from failed Democrat big-government tax-and-spend policies require not only vision, but GOP unity around key pieces of the legislation program mandated in the mid-term elections. Timidity will fail because Obama will ridicule it. But clear goals and tactics explained often to the American electorate will succeed -- because Americans have the same goals. The GOP must trust America to support them. After all, America elected them to do this long overdue job. Don't be afraid, GOP. Communicate. Be bold.