Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Fall of Saigon, 30 April 1975, and Its Lessons for America in the Middle East

Today, we commemmorate the Fall of Saigon. On April 30, 1975, Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was captured by the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (the Viet Cong). This marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of a transition period to the formal reunification of Vietnam into a socialist republic, governed by the Communist Party of Vietnam. Vietnam remains today a country under Communist rule. On April 29, 1975, North Vietnamese forces, under the command of General Van Tien Dung began their final assault on Saigon, attacking South Vietnamese forces, commanded by General Nguyen Van Toan, which suffered heavy artillery bombardment. This bombardment at the Tan Son Nhut Airport killed the last two American servicemen to die in Vietnam : Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge. By the afternoon of the next day, April 30, North Vietnamese troops had occupied the important points of Saigon and raised their flag over the South Vietnamese presidential palace. The South Vietnamese government capitulated shortly afterward. The city was renamed Ho Chí Minh City, after the Democratic Republic's President. The capture of the city was preceded by the evacuation of almost all the American civilian and military personnel in Saigon, along with tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians associated with the southern regime. The evacuation culminated in Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation in history. In addition to the flight of refugees, the end of the war and the institution of new rules forcing habitants out into farming areas by the Communists contributed to a decline in the city’s population. In addition, of the 90,000 South Vietnamese who worked for the US, 30,000 were hunted down through abandoned US records and killed. Some 23,000 were able to be evacuated to the US. ~~~~~ The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, was a Cold War-era proxy war between the US and Soviet Communist forces in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It went on from November 1, 1955 -- after the French were driven out at the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu -- to the fall of Saigon that surrendered Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to Communist forces on April 30, 1975. The war was in large part carried out as a guerrilla war by the Viet Cong, a South Vietnamese Communist common front aided by the North Vietnam Army armed and supported by the Soviet Union, against anti-Communist forces in the region. The North Vietnamese Army engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units to battle. As the war continued, the part of the Viet Cong in the fighting decreased as the role of the NVA grew. US and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy operations, involving ground forces, artillery, and airstrikes. The US conducted a large-scale strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam, and over time the North Vietnamese airspace became the most heavily defended in the world. The US government viewed American involvement in the war as a way to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam -- part of a wider containment strategy, with the stated aim of stopping the unacceptable spread of Communism. According to the US "domino theory," if one state went Communist, other states in the region would follow - putting the Philippines, strategic for the US, at risk. The North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong were fighting to reunify Vietnam under Communist rule. They viewed the conflict as a colonial war, fought initially against forces from France and then America, and later against South Vietnam, which it regarded as a US puppet state. Beginning in 1950, American military advisors arrived in what was then French Indochina. US involvement escalated in the early 1960s, with troop levels tripling in 1961 and again in 1962. US involvement escalated further following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which a US destroyer clashed with North Vietnamese fast attack craft. This was followed by the American Congress passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the US President authorization to increase the US military presence. Regular US combat units were deployed beginning in 1965. In 1968, the Communists launched the Tet Offensive, which failed in its goal of overthrowing the South Vietnamese government but became the turning point in the war, as it persuaded a large segment of the United States population that its government's claims of making progress toward winning the war were untrue despite many years of massive US military aid to South Vietnam. American disillusionment with the war led to the first domestic peace marches and draft protests, a force that led to President Lyndon Johnson deciding not to seek re-election in 1968. A gradual withdrawal of US ground forces began as part of a policy known as Vietnamization, which aimed to end American involvement in the war while transferring the task of fighting the Communists to the South Vietnamese themselves. Direct US military involvement ended on August 15,1973, as a result of the Case-Church Amendment passed by the US Congress to prohibit further US military activity in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia unless the President secured congressional approval in advance. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities. Estimates of the number of Vietnamese service members and civilians killed vary from 800,000 to 3.1 million. Some 200,000–300,000 Cambodians, 20,000–200,000 Laotians, and 58,220 US service members died in the conflict. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the Vietnam War damaged the soul of America as no other except the Civil War. It pitted youngsters against parents, brothers and sisters against each other -- in an atmosphere where neutrality was not permitted. A political chasm opened between liberals and conservatives that drove the left farther to the left and the right farther to the right. The chasm has not closed and American politics continues to suffer from the Vietnam era's disease of having to choose a side. For or Against. Right or Wrong. Hawk or Dove. Patriot or Traitor. Today, President Obama is being chased by the ghosts of Vietnam in the Middle East. After the Fall of Saigon, the American military said it would never again fight a war it was not allowed to win. It had learned the lessons of Vietnam -- have a plan that leads to victory or don't engage; air supremacy is vital but ground troops must secure territory; guerrilla wars are best avoided unless a vital US interest is at stake. Read the above history of the US presence in Vietnam and you are reading the history of the US presence in the Middle East in the Obama era -- start with air power, train and arm local armies, send advisors, but no boots on the ground because it is a problem for the local countries to resolve. President Obama has heard this advice from every military leader and Secretary of Defense. But, as in Vietnam, mission creep is inevitable. So, if America has learned anything from Vietnam, it is this. Decide whether the Middle East is a vital interest of the United States. If it is, unleash the military to win the war and suppress the jihadists - and Iran with them, if it is foolish enough to become a combatant. If the Middle East is not an American vital interest -- which I think would be a dangerous concluson -- then withdraw every last US soldier and let the chips fall where they may. But, America and its President must stop wasting American lives and resources in the Middle East in the fundamentally mistaken view that it is not capable of becoming another gut-wrenching Vietnam.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Is Iran Launching Provocations at the United States and President Obama

With worldwide media focused on the catasthropic earthquake in Nepal, some important news stories are flying under the radar. One potentially key set of events involves ongoing naval incidents in the Arabian Sea. ~~~~~ The print media reports today that the US and Iranian navies are again facing off after Iranian forces boarded a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Arabian Gulf and the American Navy dispatched a destroyer to monitor the situation. It was first reported that the cargo ship shot at and boarded by Iranian authorities flew a US flag, but it was later confirmed that the ship was the MV Maersk Tigris, a Danish-owned vessel registered in the Marshall Islands. The Pentagon said in a statement that Iranian forces boarded the ship on Tuesday morning after firing a warning shot across its bows as it was traveling through the Strait of Hormuz. “The master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters. He declined and one of the Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris,” which spokesman Colonel Steve Warren called "inappropriate." Warren said : “The master then complied with the Iranian demand and proceeded into Iranian waters in the vicinity of Larak Island.” Warren said the US Navy responded to a distress call and dispatched a Navy Destroyer, USS Farragut, which was some 60 nautical miles away, to travel to the cargo ship as quickly as possible “to observe the interaction." According to the Maersk shipping company which is in contact with the US military, on Tuesday evening the vessel was being escorted towards Bandar Abbas on the coast of Iran by Iranian patrol boats. The Pentagon says about 30 individuals are on board. At this point, no US military action is expected, aside from monitoring the situation. Warren said it was "to be determined" what the USS Farragut will do when it reaches the vicinity of the incident. ~~~~~ Yesterday, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters that the US has a security compact with the Marshall Islands on defense issues, although it has not received a "specific request" for assistance since the Tuesday incident. Rathke added that it is a key concern of the US to keep the regional shipping lanes "open and safe." Rathke said that the US believes that Iranians will "send the ship on its way." He pointed out that historically, Iran Revolutionary Guard naval forces have been more likely to be engaged in hostile contact with the shipping and military vessels in the region than the regular Iranian navy. Rathke noted that the US has been in contact with US shipping company representatives "with regard to how their vessels should respond to threatening encounters with foreign naval forces and how to contact us." ~~~~~ Even though the Strait of Hormuz is in Iranian territorial waters, "innocent passage" is applied -- ships are authorized to pass through the Strait assuming they abide by all the rules of the sea -- because it is an internationally recognized shipping lane. The Saudi Arabian Al-Arabiya media network today quoted US Energy Information Administration data stating that 17 million barrels per day, or about 30% of all seaborne-traded oil, passed through the channel in 2013. Al-Arabiya added that Iran has in the past threatened to block the Strait to show its opposition to sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. The channel is a narrow strip of water separating Oman and Iran that connects the biggest Gulf oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia, with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. At its narrowest point, the strait is 21 miles across and consists of 2-mile wide navigable channels for inbound and outbound shipping and a 2-mile-wide buffer zone. ~~~~~ The Maersk Tigris was, according to Iran's semi-official news agency FARS, seized at the request of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization. The vessel was seized after a relevant court order was issued, according to the source, indicating that the IPMO had monetary differences with the ship owner. But a spokesman for the Singapore-based company that manages the Tigris, Rickmers Shipmanagement, said he did not know why Iran had taken action. Spokesman Cor Radings confirmed to Danish TV that Iranian forces fired warning shots at the container ship and boarded it, and said the company was concerned for the crew. The vessel had been following a normal commercial route between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he said. Maersk confirmed to CNN today that the crew are in satisfactory condition. ~~~~~ Early today, al-Arabiya confirmed the details of the incident. The Maersk Tigris was enroute from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. In its report, al-Arabiya pointedly noted that the incident occurred as Iran and the US seek to finalize a deal releasing Iran from severe economic sanctions in return for controls on its nuclear program. ~~~~~ The Jerusalem Post today reported on the Tigris incident, noting that the Obama administration has had several close calls with Iran at sea. The JPost said that : "The US last publicly threatened to board and inspect ships carrying Iranian arms in 2014, when a vessel under a Panama flag was sailing toward Gaza. Israel volunteered to board the ship instead, and arrested its crew." In 2011 and 2012, the Jerusalem Post said President Obama sent two aircraft carriers through the Straits of Hormuz and into the Arabian Sea in response to threats from Teheran to close the strait and disrupt the world's flow of oil. And last week, as this blog reported extensively, Obama moved the USS Theodore Roosevelt to the Gulf of Aden to “ensure the freedom of navigation” through its strait, as Iranian ships approached Yemen’s shores. ~~~~~ On a broader political line of reporting, yesterday, the Jerusalem Post noted that US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in New York to continue negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. The two men met in Zarif’s old residence, the residence of the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, marking the first time a US statesman has entered an Iranian facility since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. After the meeting, Kerry told a conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for which both Kerry and Zarif were in New York, : “We are, in fact, closer than ever to the good comprehensive deal that we have been seeking, and if we can get there, the entire world will be safer.” Asked whether the US believed Iran’s actions on the Tigris were related to the nuclear talks, a State Department spokesman declined to speculate, but said the US is committed to ensuring freedom of navigation in the strait. ~~~~~ What has been much less reported is the fact that there was a prior direct Iran-US naval confrontation last Friday. CNN reported today that the US Navy confirmed to it that the Friday incident occurred when a US-flagged ship was intercepted by an Iran Revolutionary Guard naval patrol. The incident occurred on Friday when four Iranian naval vessels surrounded the US-flagged Maersk Kensington in the Strait of Hormuz. A senior US military official told CNN that "the Iranians encircled the Kensington and followed the ship on its course for a period of time before withdrawing and breaking away." In the incident Friday, no shots were fired. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Iran is certainly not behaving like a country so choked by economic sanctions that it is willing to agree to surrender control of its precious nuclear program. Consider Iran's recent actions. The supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei recently joined a Teheran crowd in shouting "Death to America." Concurrently, he and Iranian President Rouhani disavowed every point listed by President Obama and Secretary Kerry as having been agreed to between Iran and the US-led P5+1 to form the basis for a formal June nuclear agreement. Iran then sent a commercial and military naval convoy into the Arabian Sea to attempt to deliver arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. That incident was put to rest by the presence of the American jumbo aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt. And now, we witness ongoing Iranian military harassment and seizure of commercial ships entitled to navigate the Strait of Hormuz. Do these sound like the acts of a country desperate to appease the West? Not really. It seems much more likely that Iran sees an Obama-led US as being so weak and eager for an Iranian deal that the Ayatollahs can do whatever they like without jeopardizing the deal. And, it is just possible that Iran is hoping Obama will blunder into a reaction to Iranian provocations serious enough to permit Iran to seize control of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen in an ensuing worldwide disarray. We know how big Iran's ambitions are -- it would be wise to be alert to every possibility.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Fall of the House of Clinton...???

The Washington Times reported yesterday that a top Democratic fundraiser recruited by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has put his fundraising activities on hold, saying he can’t do it with a clear conscience because there are too many unanswered questions surrounding the former Secretary of State. New York businessman Jon Cooper, enlisted by Team Clinton for its elite corps of early fundraisers known as “HillStarters,” said that he decided not to tap his donor network for Mrs. Clinton because she hasn’t provided enough answers about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation while she ran the State Department, her exclusive use of private email for official business as America’s top diplomat and her commitment to liberal priorities. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that the Clinton Foundation issued a statement on Sunday in which it admitted it “made mistakes” over the listing of donations from foreign governments on its tax returns. At the same time, the author of the "Clinton Cash" book, which alleges that donors to the Clinton family through its foundation or for personal appearances and speeches, says the donors may have received government favors, and he called for an immediate investigation. Maura Pally, acting chief executive of the Clinton Foundation - which is run by the former Secretary of State, her husband the former President Bil Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea - published the statement on its website. Pally says the foundation will probably have to re-file tax returns for “some” years, after a voluntary external review concluded that while total revenue for the charitable foundation had been properly reported, grants received from foreign governments had not been separated from other donations. According to Pally : “Our error was that government grants were mistakenly combined with other donations....So yes, we made mistakes, as many organizations of our size do, but we are acting quickly to remedy them, and have taken steps to ensure they do not happen in the future.” The Pally statement came as author Peter Schweizer was making appearances on Sunday political talk shows to call for investigations into donations to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. His book, "Clinton Cash," will be published on May 5th. Schweizer called attention to what he said was a “troubling pattern” of behavior in which donations to the Clinton Foundation from foreign interests coincided with US government decisions favoring them, including decisions made at the State Department when Clinton was Secretary of State. Schweizer compared the situation to insider trading or corruption, in which there may not be direct proof of a criminal quid pro quo, but where a pattern of behavior justifies investigation. “It’s a very extensive pattern,” he told Fox. On ABC, he said : “The smoking gun is the pattern. Whenever you have an issue of the flow of funds to political candidates, or their foundation, or their spouse, is there evidence of a pattern of favorable decisions being made for those individuals?” Schweizer said his book would show dozens of examples : “Some people, particularly the Clinton camp, would say that these are all coincidences. I think you are talking about a trend.” Asked if he thought a criminal investigation should be launched, Schweizer said he did not know, but he noted that in the cases of Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who was convicted of corruption-related charges, and Senator Bob Menendez's criminal probe, the prosecutions were launched because of an observable pattern of behavior : “What you had was funds flowing to individuals, some of them gifts, some of them campaign contributions and actions that were being taken by those public officials that seemed to benefit the contributors. Certainly I think [the Clinton foundation] warrants investigation.” Schweizer said he wanted a probe into donations to the Clintons’ charitable interests from Canadian individuals linked to a US-approved mining deal that helped Russians corner a significant share of the uranium market. Talking more broadly about what his book may or may not prove, he said: “It’s not up to an author to prove crime. You need subpoena power, you need access to records and information, you need access to emails, you cannot leave it up to an author, to say that an author has to prove a criminal case.” ~~~~~ Concerning the uranium question, on April 24th, the National Review's Jim Geraghty pointed out an exchange on Fox News on the 23rd, in which Senator John Barrasso, a member of both the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Foreign Relations Committee, seemed to allege that uranium mined in the United States has illegally been taken out of the country. Barrasso added that he is specifically concerned that the uranium may have been transported to Iran. The claim has political importance because it is obviously related a New York Times report last week that showed the Clinton Foundation had accepted millions of dollars from foreign donors, including some in Russia, who were seeking US government approval for a deal that would transfer the rights to about 20% of US uranium mines to a Russian-held company. The affair occurred while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, and her department, as well as a number of other US agencies, approved the deal. Multiple approvals were needed because uranium is considered an important national security asset. The deal was approved and Russian firm Rosatom took control of a Canadian company called Uranium One -- giving Rosatom control of many worldwide uranium production facilities, including about one-fifth of the capacity in the United States. Pravda called it a "coup" for Putin. As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show a flow of cash to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million -- not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well. And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock. Senator Barrasso told Fox News that he opposed the sale back in 2010, when it was first contemplated. And said, “Now you have [Russian President] Vladimir Putin owning 20% of American uranium - controlling that. And we know that Russia sends uranium to people who are not our friends, to our bitter enemies, including Iran.” Barrasso said that in 2010 he was assured by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the uranium would not leave the US. In fact, Barrasso asserts that uranium has left the United States, has gone overseas and under the direction of Vladimir Putin -- exported without the federal permissions required for tightly controlled strategic materials. Barrasso said that he had asked the NRC to alert him if a license request was submitted, but he received no alerts. Barrasso said : “When you talk to people on the ground, uranium has left the United States. It has gone to Canada, has gone overseas,” while the US still has to import uranium to satisfy nuclear power generation needs. “I think there’s an issue of national security as well as energy security, and I worry about Iran getting this uranium,” he said. ~~~~~ Dear readers, we have not even touched on the mismanagement and possible coverups and criminal acts that continue to swirl around Hillary Clinton -- Benghazi - the calls for increased diplomatic mission security she ignored, as well as the persistent allegations that she and the Obama White House allowed the attack to occur and then covered it up, the reset with Russia, her use of a private email server while at State and later destruction of likely government records, and her current refusal to make the server available to congressional investigators. These acts, combined with the Clinton Foundation sleaze that may involve criminal influence peddling, should disqualify Hillary Clinton from any office of public trust. Yet, she has never been formally investigated or charged with any wrongdoing. Instead, she is lionized by the Democratic Party as the savior of America worthy of being the President who bears its name and reflects its ideals. Shameful. And more. But. The power hunger that made Hillary and Bill Clinton promote her for US President may finally shine sufficient light on them to reveal their deplorable values and shady tactics and bring down the House of Clinton.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Netanyahu and the Hazards of the 2016 US Presidential Campaign Season

The US has announced through Vice President Biden that it will deliver fifth-generation stealth aircraft to Israel in 2016. Biden pledged America’s firm commitment to defend the Jewish state : “Next year we will deliver to Israel the F-35 joint strike fighter, our finest, making Israel the only country in the Middle East with a fifth-generation aircraft.” Biden was speaking at an Israeli Embassy event to celebrate the country’s 67th Independence Day. Israel bought 19 F-35s in 2010 for $2.75 billion and agreed in February to buy an additional 14 Lockheed Martin Corp. fighter jets for about $3 billion. Biden’s appearance at the event came after months of heightened tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama over Israel’s fierce opposition to Obama's plan to complete a deal that Netanyahu says will ensure Iran's eventual possession of nuclear weapons threatening Israel's existence. The very public Netanyahu-Obama disagreement over the deal has made some say that US-Israel relations have been harmed beyond repair, raising questions about continued American support for Israel. But, as Biden stood under a large Israeli flag, he promised that the US would always “have Israel’s back,” giving the strong impression that the US wants to step back from the battle and re-establish a US-Israel working relationship. Biden said the Obama administration and Congress : “has provided $20 billion in military assistance to Israel and cutting edge weapons to [help it] maintain a qualitative advantage against any potential opponent. We continue to discuss what more must be done in the near term and the long term to continue to strengthen Israel so it can maintain that edge.” Biden said the US commitment to Israel is nonpartisan, but his own allegiance to it is personal. ~~~~~ But, while Vice President Biden is affirming American support for Israel, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, in testimony before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee in charge of State Department funding, said the US will no longer automatically exercise its veto in the UN Security Council to protect Israel. Power specifically declined to rule out support for resolutions on Palestinian statehood or the “peace process,” saying : “We will look to see what will advance Israel’s security and what will advance peace in the region.…Our objective as an administration is what can we do to defuse tensions, what will it take to get those negotiations back on track.” When Committee members expressed skepticism, she replied : “We will continue to work extremely closely with Israel in New York. As you know well we have a record of standing with Israel when it matters." Power refused to rule out the possibility that the US would support resolutions in the UN Security Council to limit Israeli sovereignty to the lands within the 1949 armistice lines - the lines that Israel insists are indefensible. This is the position that President Obama has taken several times - and Israel has rejected - in trying to restart Israel-Palestine peace talks. This dichotomy in US policy leaves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his soon to be sworn-in new government little breathing space before needing to create and implement policies to lead Israel through an extremely trying period in its history. ~~~~~ The Jerusalem Post has given a somber evaluation of the situation. JPost journalist Caroline Glick sets out a daunting agenda for Netanyahu -- He must develop the means to cope with the deteriorating US relationship; he must quickly set clear strategies for contending with the consequence of the US’s strategic shift away from its allies and toward Iran’s nuclear project; he must determine the principles that will guide Israel's moves in dealing with the regional instability engulfing or threatening to engulf its Arab neighbors; and, he must set a clear policy for Israel-Arab relations. ~~~~~ The reality confronting Prime Minister Netanyahu is in many respects the same reality confronting the United States -- how to unravel the mess created by President Obama. First, by joining in the task facing the new American President and Congress of putting back into working order the Middle East partnerships so badly damaged by Obama's determination to cast aside all America's regional allies in favor of creating a new Iranian hegemony. Israel will play a big role in this reconstruction, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates. But, the Jerusalem Post is right to suggest that Israel shouldn't just wait for 2016 -- because we still have little idea who the next US President will be. If, as many doubt, Hillary Clinton is elected, it will be not only a continuation of Obama policies, it will also mean dealing with a US President who mistakes photo-ops for policy leadership. In this case, Israel will need strong relations with Congress and the American people - something it already has and should maintain and deepen - to help guide American Middle East policy. If a Republican is elected, Congress and Netanyahu will have a strong partner to work with. And, in the next 18 months, while we all wait for a new US President, Israel will face a world and a Middle East much less stable than when Obama took office in 2009. The US military has less capability because of Obama's budget reductions and removal of general officers who refused to accept his doubtful decisions. Netanyahu, like Congress and the US military, needs to find the fine line between working as closely as possible with Obama to keep Israel's operational and intelligence relationship with the US military fully functional and halting Obama's occasional efforts to damage both Israel and the US militarily. At the same time, Israel will need to continue to build solid, if invisible, working relationships with the sunni Arab world. That will provide the buffer and muscle to see Israel through to November 2016, and make it a stronger US partner post-Obama. ~~~~~ Obama has made it very clear that he is committed to a policy of reaching a deal with Iran that will enable Iran to have nuclear weapons. Being quiet in the face of this terrible reality got Israel nowhere. But Prime Minister Netanyahu's famous speech before a joint session of Congress not only solidified congressional opinion behind him, it also gave the American public the confidence in its own opinion needed to stand up to Obama's foolhardy plan. Now, Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is acknowledged to be problematic. And it is very unpopular. That kind of fact-based forceful defense of what is best for Israel, America and the Middle East will continue to serve Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel well. ~~~~~ Dear readers, all these political and military positionings will also serve another purpose. They will constrain the Obama administration from pressuring Israel with impunity to give up its future safety and sovereignty -- as President Obama seems determined to do by his support for the Palestinian Hamas terrorists and their equally dangerous West Bank Palestinian Authority brothers. The support of Congress and the American public enables Israel to withstand Obama administration coercion to end the fighting on Hamas’s terms. In addition, in recent weeks, Egyptian and Saudi media have expressed support for an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear installations, if need be. This support will also make it difficult for Obama to take revenge on Israel. The cause of Israel is far from lost. It is as alive as it ever was. The goal for the next year and a half will be for Prime Minister Netanyahu to strike a steady, assertive, but not unnecessarily combative, course through the hazards of a US presidential campaign season.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Saturday Email Bag - Greece, Yemen, Iran

It's Saturday email bag time again. Your emails are don't focus one one issue this week. They're split among Iran, Yemen, and Greece. So, let's update each topic. ~~~~~ At his meeting with EU finance ministers yesterday, Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis rejected any more wage or pension cuts and said creditors must agree on a realistic target for the primary budget surplus before talkiing about debt service : "Our government is eager to rationalize the pension system (for example, by limiting early retirement), proceed with partial privatization of public assets...create a fully independent tax commission," Varoufakis said. Greek officials say they are aiming for a primary surplus of 1.2 to 1.5% of gross domestic product this year, well below the goals of 3% in 2015 and 4.5% in 2016 agreed in Greece's 2012 EU/IMF bailout program. French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told Reuters there was room for maneuver on Greece's primary surplus, "as long as it remains positive." Exactly when Greece's cash reserves run out is unclear, but sources familiar with the matter say it could come when Greece is faced with paying its €750 million installment to the IMF in May. It is long past time for the Eurozone finance ministers group to stop pretending that Greece is capable of structural reform and get on with helping Greece survive the huge debt burden it carries -- both the debt created over years through its own fault and the debt piled on top of that by the EU troika's "rescue" package. We may wish that Varoufakis were more forthcoming about Greece's present fiscal and financial condition, but he is right in refusing to continue to play the EU finance ministers' shell game of writing yet another structural reform fairytale just to please them. ~~~~~ Yemen offers some clearcut news, although the entirety of the situation in the country is anything but clear. The nine-ship Iranian convoy carrying weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen turned around Thursday after being followed by US warships moved to the area to prevent arms shipments, according to sources in the Pentagon, as reported by Fox News. The Pentagon sources said the nine-ship convoy is south of Salalah, Oman, headed northeast in the Arabian Sea in the direction of Iran. The ships, including seven freighters and two frigates, had sailed southwest along the coast of Yemen heading in the direction of Aden and the entrance to the Red Sea. The Pentagon said the two Iranian warships escorting the convoy are Thondor Type 021-class missile boats and the other ships in the convoy are a mix of commercial vessels with some carrying shipping containers. The turnaround follows the arrival of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier known as the “Big Stick” and her escort, the USS Normandy, a guided missile cruiser, that have been shadowing the Iranian convoy for the past few days, the sources said. Fighter jets from the carrier are relaying the convoy’s location to US Navy command. Pentagon officials say the US Navy deployed the nine ships in a line parallel to the coast of Yemen -- from the Bab-el-Mandeb Straight at Aden to waters south of Oman -- to provide "continuous coverage" of the Iranian convoy. The Pentagon says the Iranian Navy ships are "smaller than destroyers." a Pentagon official also said that the type of weapons the freighters are carrying are "bigger than small arms." Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the USS Theodore Roosevelt came within 200 nautical miles of the Iranian convoy, adding, "It's not over yet, we will continue to monitor them all the way back home." Despite the Iranian convoy's presence and Pentagon assessments that it carries weapons, Iran continues to insist that it provides only humanitarian aid to the Houthi rebels, who chased the Yemeni president from Sanaa and are fighting for control of the Gulf nation. Warships from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who back the Houthi-pursued Yemeni President Hadi are positioned to the southwest of the convoy, forming a blockade of the Gulf of Aden and the port city of Aden, to protect access to Suez. So, while the Iranian weapons convoy has been stopped by the US allied naval presence, the fighting in Yemen continues, including Saudi air strikes. The good news may be that now the Houthis are calling for peace talks. Have they been badly damaged by the air strikes and naval blockade? Could be. ~~~~~ If we turn to Iran and its nuclear deal, I've been reading blogs all week about Obama's declassifying of documents showing that for several years, the Obama administration has known that Iran is 2 to 3 months away from having fuel for a nuclear bomb. One take on this revelation is that Obama is applying more pressure to get Congress to forget its oversight and approval functions and submit to his desire to handle the Iran deal alone. Another take is that, as Iran's positions become more negative about key deal elements, Obama needs to get this information into the public domain without having to admit that he knew all along but hid the critical information from Congress. Netanyahu has been right all along. When Netanhayu spoke to Congress, he said : "A decade from now, the sanctions against Iran would have been lifted and it would be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs. At that point, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision. My longtime friend, John Kerry, the Secretary of State, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires. Now I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, and this with full international legitimacy." And, we need to keep in mind that with the 2 to 3 month breakout time going all the way back to 2012, perhaps the question we should be asking is how many bombs could Iran assemble with fuel they have already secretly produced. And, just as important, when will the first ICBM roll off the Iranian assembly line with the capability of carrying the nuclear warheads. The seemingly compulsive liars in the White House have once more deliberately misled Congress, US allies and America about the true proximity of the Iranian nuclear threat. This, combined with China's announcement this week that North Korea already has 20 nuclear warheads - and the North Korean leader's coming visit to Moscow - suggest several scenarios : North Korea could deliver more nuclear warheads to Iran through Russia, or Russia could deliver ICBMs to North Korea, and, of course to Iran, under the cover of its air defense systems deliveries. If any of these scenarios is true, the Axis of Evil is alive and functioning, and the world is in trouble - big big trouble. ~~~~~ Dear readers, thanks for taking time to email your comments and questions. Please continue, or join us if you haven't yet -- See you at the email bag next Saturday.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Rubio, Clinton --Jobs, Economy, Presidential Polls --Numbers Tell a Story

For the third straight week, the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose, but the underlying trend points to some improvement in the labor market. The US economy is recovering from a soft start this year, and other data released Thursday showing weak new home sales and manufacturing activity suggest that the economy's recovery could continue to be weak. Economic activity was held down by harsh winter weather, weak global demand and a labor dispute at West Coast ports that is now settled. The strong dollar and lower energy prices have cut into profits for some companies. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 295,000 for the week ended April 18, the Labor Department said. Despite the increase, claims remained for a seventh consecutive week below the 300,000 threshold, a level economists associate with a strengthening labor market. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it smoothes out week-to-week volatility, increased 1,750 last week to 284,500. The four-week average of claims fell 20,750 between the March and April survey periods, suggesting an acceleration in job growth, which had slowed sharply in March. Federal Reserve members say they would like to see further improvements in the labor market before beginning to raise interest rates, and a June rate hike now seems unlikely. ~~~~~ In a precursor of these weak job numbers, the April 18th Real Clear Politics opinion poll averages showed President Obama's job approval rating at 44.9% approving and 50.0% disapproving. The poll also found that only 29.4% of Americans think the country is going in the right direction, while a whopping 60.4% think the country is on the wrong track. These poll numbers undoubtedly reflect the fact that middle class America is being left behind by the very soft economic recovery and they lay the blame on President Obama's domestic policies. ~~~~~ In another poll result published today, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has jumped to the head of the line of Republican presidential aspirants. The Quinnipiac University poll surprised political analysts and pros because it has been just a little more than a week since Rubio formally launched his campaign and stepped up his fundraising efforts. Rubio, 43, the son of working-class Cuban immigrants and a former Speaker of the Florida House, kicked off an ambitious campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination on April 13, calling for a “new American century” and asking voters to reject the “stale leadership” of older Democrats and Republicans alike. Yet, he also delivered a message for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, his one-time mentor and likely rival for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination : “I’ve heard some suggest that I should step aside and wait my turn. But I cannot because I believe our very identity as an exceptional nation is at stake and I can make a difference as President.” Until this Quinnipiac poll, Rubio had been in the second tier in national polls. But the new Quinnipiac survey shows Rubio with the support of 15% of Republican primary voters, followed by Bush with 13% and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with 11%. No other GOP candidate tops 9%, including the two other announced Republican presidential candidates, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Fourteen percent of those surveyed were undecided. On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - who formally entered the race last weekend by video and then launched a low-key listening tour in Iowa and New Hampshire -- continues to dominate the Democratic field with 60%. She is followed by Vice President Joe Biden at 10% and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent, at 8%. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who recently suggested that he will probably challenge Clinton, has just 3%, while 14% are undecided. Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement : “This is the kind of survey that shoots adrenalin into a campaign. Marco Rubio gets strong enough numbers and favorability ratings to look like a legit threat to Hillary Clinton.” Indeed, in a Quinnipiac hypothetical general election matchup, Clinton gets 45% of likely voters to 43% for Rubio -- the best showing of a Republican. Hillary Clinton leads other top Republicans as follows: 45 – 40% over New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; 46 – 42% over Rand Paul; 47 – 42% over former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee; 46 – 39% over Jeb Bush; 46 – 41% over Scott Walker; and 48 – 41% over Ted Cruz. ~~~~~ Dear readers, if we match up today's unemployment numbers with Obama's low favorability ratings and the latest presidential polls, we see the following relationships. The US economy's recovery is struggling to create any sense of real upward momentum. And it is hourly workers and the salaried middle class who are not benefitting from the weak recovery. That they blame President Obama by giving him low favorability ratings is normal ~- every President is rightly held responsible for the economy because his policies, implemented by his cabinet, create economic growth or stagnation and failure. And so far, the weak US recovery unemployment data has driven home for average Americans the fact that Obama economic policies are not working for them. With a presidential election campaign heating up, the economy and employment are front and center. Senator Marco Rubio's personal life story is the playing out of the American Dream. His success is the success of every hard-working American. He is not the son of a political dynasty. He does not belong to a rich, coddled family whose lifestyle is beyond imagining. With Cuban immigrant parents who worked hard as a bartender and maid, became citizens and raised their children to be hard-working, honorable Americans, Marco Rubio is the real thing. He polls well against Hillary Clinton because he identifies with the vast majority of middle class Americans and they identify with him. Add to that the fact that Rubio is the only candidate of either party who has a coherent, clearly stated and easily understood program for America that resonates with the middle class. Marco Rubio is going to be standing at the end of the primary season next year. He will be a voice to reckon with as the GOP chooses its 2016 presidential candidate.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Iranian and American Navies in Gulf of Aden Face-off

The US aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt, left the Persian Gulf on Sunday and is now in the Arabian Sea off Yemen, joining other American ships, apparently prepared to block any Iranian weapons shipments to shiite Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen, although the Obama administration and US Navy are being careful about how they characterize the Roosevelt's presence close to a nearby Iranian flotilla. ~~~~~ A Navy official confirmed to Fox News that the Roosevelt - along with her escort ship, the USS Normandy, a guided-missile cruiser - will help enforce the UN blockade that forbids weapons deliveries into Yemen. A massive ship that carries F/A-18 fighter jets, the Roosevelt's presence is a US show of military force. A written statement from the Navy on Monday, cited by Fox, said the two ships are joining others in conducting "maritime security operations." The US Navy has increased its presence in this area recently as a result of the current instability in Yemen, the statement said : "The purpose of these operations is to ensure the vital shipping lanes in the region remain open and safe. The United States remains committed to its regional partners and to maintaining security in the maritime environment." ~~~~~ There are now at least nine US Navy ships in the Arabian Sea area, including cruisers and destroyers, whose teams can board and search vessels, and three support ships. The US Navy normally conducts consensual ship boardings when needed, such as in combatting piracy around Africa. So far however, US naval personnel have not boarded any Iranian vessels during the Yemen conflict. Officials said it's too soon to speculate about what the Navy ships may do as the Iranian convoy approaches, including whether Iran would consent to a boarding request, and what actions the Navy would take if it made a request that was refused. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, Commander Kevin Stephens of the Fifth Fleet told CNN that aircraft from aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt are also conducting "manned reconnaissance" to monitor all maritime traffic moving through the area the Roosevelt is operating in, to assist in making informed decisions. Commander Stephens stressed that the repositioning of US ships in the region was taken in order to assure the freedom of navigation through established international shipping lanes and to ensure maritime security, and not to interdict Iranian ships. Stephens said : "We are closely monitoring all maritime activity in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden. We are not going to discuss the number and types of vessels we are monitoring or speculate about the possible destination or cargo of those vessels." But, according to an unnamed senior Defense Department official, moving the Roosevelt is viewed by the Pentagon as significant but not necessarily a prelude to conflict. If the Iranians are delivering arms and violating United Nations resolutions, it could trigger a confrontation with the Navy. "It's too soon to tell if that will happen," the official said. ~~~~~ At the same time, apparently based on interviews with naval personnel and military analysts, CNN reported yesterday that while the Iranian ships remain in international waters, the US and other partner nations can keep an eye on them to see if they move toward Yemeni territorial waters. CNN quoted a US official as saying that it would be an extraordinary step and not a foregone conclusion that the US would attempt to board an Iranian ship if it entered Yemeni waters. In a concurring statement, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Tuesday : "I want to be very clear just so that no one has the wrong impression. They are not there to intercept Iranian ships. The purpose of moving them is only to ensure that the shipping lanes remain open and safe." ~~~~~ In a new move yesterday, a fleet of Iranian warships arrived near the southern coast of Yemen, an act that will increase tension in the US-Iran stand-off in the region, as each country seeks to strengthen its position in the current Yemen conflict. The Iranian fleet includes a destroyer and a helicopter-carrying warship. Iran's commander of Iran's Regular Navy, Flotilla Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, when asked about warnings from Saudi Arabia and the US to keep Iranian navy ships away from Yemen, said his fleet was operating legally. "We don't let anyone give us warnings and threats, because we are working according to international law and regulations," he said. "And we work for the security of our country and other countries." ~~~~~ Texas Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN Tuesday : "I don't think this changes anything directly, but it does highlight that Iran has a number of activities around the region and around the world that are problematic. It includes their missile program, it includes their growing influence in Iraq, it includes their propping up of Assad in Syria and their fueling this war in Yemen." ~~~~~ And, dear readers, we have to admit that in this era when most wars are begun practically by appointment and involve land forces, with naval support from air carrier-launched air strikes, we don't think of wars being started by naval encounters. But, US history is full of them -- the "not one cent for tribute" Barbary Wars begun while Thomas Jefferson was President; the War of 1812 provoked by US-British naval fights on the high seas; the Civil War that began when Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor; the sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbor that began the Spanish-American War; and the most infamous of all - Pearl Harbor. And while not involving the US, the 1805 order of Napoleon to his fleet in Cadiz to run the British blockade and head to the English Channel, where his army was massed ready to invade England -- who can forget the Battle of Trafalgar and Lord Nelson's crushing victory over the French and Spanish that cost him his life, but won for Britain worldwide naval supremacy for more than a century and ended Napoleon's dream of invading England. So, while everyone in Washington is downplaying the possibility that war or a naval battle will emerge from the growing naval confrontation between Iran and the United States, and its allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt, don't rule it out. As Lord Nelson said at Trafalgar : "Something must be left to chance; nothing is sure, in a sea fight above all."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ypres 1915 - Syria 2015, Chlorine Gas Attacks Continue But Obama's Red Line Has Disappeared

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation." ~~~~~ Everyone recognizes that statement. It was uttered by President Obama at a White House press conference on August 20, 2012. He went on to say : "We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly." And everyone also knows that, finally, Obama rubbed out the red line and abandoned the whole problem, turning it over to the UN after it became clear that the al-Assad regime had used sarin gas on its own civilians, killing more than a thousand of them. ~~~~~ Fast forward to today. ~~~~~ Syrian doctors confirmed what activists reported after a March 16 attack in Idlib province, telling the UN Security Council recently that helicopters were heard flying above the village of Sarmin. There was then a thud and an overpowering smell of bleach before dozens of people began arriving at the local hospital with breathing difficulties. Activists in Idlib said that the al-Assad Syrian government dropped five barrel bombs containing chlorine gas on the city in March. The Syrian government denies it was responsible for the Idlib attack. A video recently shown to the Security Council showed the desperate attempts by doctors to revive three children, aged one, two and three, as well as their grandmother and parents. ~~~~~ The attack on Sarmin came just days after the Security Council approved a resolution that condemned the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria and threatened military action in case of further violations. Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use in weapons is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The US and other Security Council members have long accused the al-Assad regime of carrying out chemical weapons attacks. They say that the Syrian military is the only party in the conflict that has helicopters, which were heard in Sarmin and in other places targeted by chemical attacks using barrel bombs. Syrian doctors have told the United Nations that chlorine gas attacks continue in the country long after the government's stockpile of chemical weapons was reportedly destroyed last year. ~~~~~ Chlorine is not a very effective chemical weapon because it normally disperses rapidly in open areas. making it ineffective on a battlefield, but it can be fatal if inhaled heavily after exploding in an enclosed space, as big barrel bomb drops, which is what appears to have happened in some recent Syria incidents. But, chlorine can be very effective as psychological warfare for al-Assad, evoking traumatic memories of the much more serious sarin chemical attacks in 2013. And, if the reports are confirmed, there may also be an element of defiance and pushback involved -- al-Assad and his military leaders know they can count on Russian diplomatic protection under Russia's Security Council veto unless the outrages are too horrible to ignore. Here are some known fatal chemical attacks in Syria : **March 2015: Chlorine suspected in attacks on four villages in Idlib province, including Sarmin - six dead, at least 206 people affected. **April/May 2014: OPCW concludes chlorine attacks likely used in attacks on three villages in Idlib - 13 dead. ** 21 August 2013: Sarin gas in attacks on two Damascus suburbs - between 200 and 1,400 dead. **19 March 2013: Sarin gas attack on Aleppo - 19 dead. A report last year by a fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said a toxic chemical, almost certainly chlorine, was used repeatedly in attacks on villages in Northern Syria. Witnesses were quoted as saying : "Leaves on plants...wilted 'like autumn leaves.'" The report said : "In one case, a child standing close to the impact site died later because of exposure to the toxic chemical." ~~~~~ The use of chlorine gas as a weapon dates from World War I. The first large-scale use of chlorine as a weapon occurred at Ipres, Belgium, on April 22, 1915, exactly one century ago today, when German troops opened the taps on a line of chlorine tanks to send a poisonous cloud drifting, mingled with dense fog, across no man's land and into WWI Allied trenches. The gas blinded soldiers and made them retch, vomit and choke, combining with bodily fluids to destroy their lungs. There was no denying gas attacks a century ago in Flanders. The Ipres chlorine gas attack unleashed the massive use of gas by both Germany and the Allies during the last three years of the First World War. Chemical weapons killed nearly 100,000 and injured 1 million more during the conflict. ~~~~~ Dear readers, as for Obama's red line -- he affirmed it 7 times before backing off from it. Then he changed his narrative. He first said that the red line wasn't his, but was the world's red line. He even accused Fox News of making an inaccurate "translation" of his red line remark, whereas all Fox was doing was repeating his exact quote. In October 2014, Obama's former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said drawing the red line, threatening Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad with military strikes if he unleashed chemical weapons on his people, was “the right thing to do.” But once Obama did that, according to Panetta : “then I think the credibility of the United States is on the line.” Once the United States had proof that al-Assad used chemical weapons, killing 1,400 people, Panetta said : “then it was important for us to stand by our word and go in and do what a commander in chief should do.” Instead, Obama shocked the world by asking Congress to vote to give him the authority to carry out airstrikes against Assad, a step lawmakers predictably refused to take because Obama didn't need congressional approval and could have acted under the War Powers Act. The President then pulled back, which “sent a mixed message, not only to Assad, not only to the Syrians, but [also] to the world.,” Panetta said. “And that is something you do not want to establish in the world, an issue with regard to the credibility of the United States to stand by what we say we're gonna do." Here is the YouTube video of Syrian doctors trying to save the three children after the latest al-Assad chlorine barrel bomb attack. It is a forceful reminder of the result of President Obama's failure to control al-Assad when it would have been relatively easy and might have saved the last 2+ years of deadly Syrian civil war, which has imbedded ISIS, as well as Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, in the country. Be warned - the video is graphic.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Greece and Italy Are the Founders of Western Civilization - Why Is the EU Tormenting Them?

The past few days, I've been trying to make sense of the European Union's reaction to two important crises -- one inside the EU tself and the other pounding at its shores. Of course, the first is Greece, toward which the EU seems to be more a tormentor than a protector. The second is the wave of boat migrants that threatens to overwhelm Italy while the EU looks on from afar in seeming indifference both to its member state's plight and to the drowning migrants. My thoughts led me to consider the nature of the two countries being mistreated and ignored by the EU -- Greece, the "cradle of western civilization," and Italy, the birthplace of the Roman Empire that became Europe and the home of the Catholic Church and Renaissance that created the humanist values on which the modern western world is built. ~~~~~ Greece is being fleeced by inflexible ideologues and politicians who know she cannot survive their actions. Why? I don't know. But, Germany's leaders, in particular Chancellor Merkel's Finance Minister Schaeuble, seem to delight in bullying Greece. I don't often support the left, but Greece's socialist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is absolutely right to say "Enough." The EU position reminds me of a Mafia loanshark operation with Schaeuble and the IMF's Lagarde as the enforcers. In late breaking news yesterday, to keep Greece afloat, Tsipras has ordered local Greek government units to move their funds to the central bank. With negotiations over bailout aid deadlocked, Tsipras needs the cash for salaries, pensions and a repayment to the IMF. Greek bonds fell after the move, pushing three-year yields to a crippling 28.7%, the highest since the nation’s debt restructuring in 2012. The move shows that the Greek government's insolvency has become a liquidity problem as the country tries to make its May payment of over €700 million to the IMF. When Tsipras's finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, ruled out agreeing to the demands of Eurozone creditors -- that Greece continue its destructive austerity program in order to repay its Eurozone debt on schedule -- he said : “We are not prepared to carry on pretending and extending trying to enforce an unenforceable program which for five years now has steadfastly refused to produce any tangible benefits....a problem of insolvency for five years has been dealt with as a problem of liquidity." Well, the insolvency has become a liquidity problem because of the EU and IMF refusal to make bridge funds available to Greece, which is about to be swamped. One has to ask why Germany and the IMF refuse to compromise by stretching out loan repayments and forgiving some of the interest due. The only answer seems to be that they are indifferent to or want to see Greece fail. ~~~~~ And Saturday's capsized boat off Libya, followed by several more - with a death toll reaching 1,500 in 2015 - highlights another Mafia, from Africa and the Middle East and apparently largely Moslem, who are human traffickers operating in Libya and fleecing their victims before putting them on death boats, heading out into international waters, sending distress signals and then leaving the boats, sometimes with hundreds of migrants locked in holds. Each trafficker makes up to €80,000 per boatload. Where is humanity hiding? Not in the EU, whose leaders want to concentrate on keeping boats from leaving Libya by cracking down on traffickers. A noble goal, but it does nothing to save the lives of drowning victims who were fleeing disastrous conditions of war, persecution and starvation at home. Only Italy, helped by Malta, are out in the Mediterranean Sea close to Libya looking for survivors. Italy describes the EU Triton program as inadequate because it only patrols close to the Italian shoreline and has a budget only 1/3 that of Italy's effort. The European Union's foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, added migration as a last-minute emergency issue to an EU foreign ministers' meeting on Monday in Luxembourg. "Europe can do more and Europe must do more," Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, said Sunday. "It is a shame and a confession of failure how many countries run away from responsibility and how little money we provide for rescue missions." Some 8,500 boat refugees have been saved and taken to Italy since April 1. Last year, 170,000 refugees from Africa and the Middle East entered Europe through Italy, according to the UN. Some estimates suggest the number may triple this year, as political and economic stability in their home countries worsens. The European Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the problem, but its president says there are no short term solutions available. ~~~~~ The question is this. Is the EU deliberately encouraging the continuation of conditions that could destroy Greece and substantially weaken Italy? The perceived symbolic center of the EU is in the Northern tier. The Southern perimeter countries were sought originally as Eurozone members to grow the Eurozone faster and to have greater impact earlier. Perhaps now, as the entire Euro experiment falters because the North and the South are not compatible in a common currency based on Germany's high tech manufacturing economy, Germany is asking : “What have you done for us lately?” If we turn the question around, Chancellor Merkel has done very little except in a negative way for Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland. They have become trading chips for what she and her EU seek. Power. Stability. Influence. Commercial Success. Here are some points to consider. ~~~~~ The EU needs dependable non-Russian sources for energy. Reaching an agreement or partnership with the Moslem world could provide a level of energy security worth the sacrifice of Greece and/or Italy, and it could also provide a guaranteed market of 1.4 billion people for German manufacturers. What quid pro quo could this partnership be based on? A strategic look at the Mediterranean Sea shows that the collapse of Greece, Spain, and Italy would give the entire Mediterranean coastline to the Moslems, with Iran and ISIS and other jihadist terror groups vying for control of all shipping lines - from the Suez, Black Sea, and Adriatic Sea into the Mediterranean and then through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic. Israel would be completely cut off from the West. The Suez Canal would be lost. Only France would have Mediterranean coastal access. So, if control of the Mediterranean is part of Iran's and the jihadists' aims and if Germany wants to buy them off in return for security for Northern "Fortress Europe," the sacrifice of the Southern perimeter might seem enticing. But, dear readers, Chancellor Merkel surely realizes that no deal agreed upon today with Iran or the jihadist world will be worth anything tomorrow. So, my guess is that the above scenario must be at least partially subliminal in the German and northern EU psyche. ~~~~~ Another component in the EU's indifference to Greece and Italy is undoubtedly religious and cultural. Greece, Italy and Spain have deeply Catholic Christian cultures. Northern Europe has long considered itself "post-Christian." While Greece, Italy and Spain fight off EU efforts to obliterate national identity by striving to preserve the Catholic and cultural aspects of their daily lives, Northern Europe is broadly indifferent to forced religious and cultural homogeneity. It may be that German and Northern EU antipathy to the problems of Greece and Italy, and eventually Spain, is deeply rooted in Europe's intellectual disdain for Christianity. That would make the inflexible attitude of the EU's Northern power centers toward the Southern perimeter recognizable -- it is the sense of European cartesian elites that Christian philosophy and theology are inferior. All Christians will recognize this attitude. In America it is the smug assurance of science that religion is inferior because it does not show up in a microscope -- not yet -- but the God particle research may soon put cracks in that argument. In Europe, the smugness is based on the sense that cartesian logic demands the denial of God, putting Greece, Italy and Spain on a lesser intellectual level. But the EU should not forget that without Christianity and its all-encompassing God of love, they would probably be much like the world of Islam -- unable to break out of their (teutonic and celtic) xenophobic tribal prejudices and fears in order to develop as they have under Christianity. Whatever the reasons, Chancellor Merkel and her EU need to prove that Europe is capable of united action to save the Mediterranean for the West and to demonstrate that the EU is part of western civilization by compassionately helping its patriarchs - Greece and Italy.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli Memorial Day, Begins Tomorrow at Sundown

Yom Hazikaron, Israel's Remembrance Day for its fallen soldiers and terrorist victims, will be observed this Wednesday, April 22. I want to talk about it today, because the observance begins tomorrow at sundown. Remembrance Day is an intensely somber, personal day of loss for all Israelis, who mourn fallen sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, neighbors and friends. Israel is a tiny country of 7 million people - about the size of Switzerland. The 6,000 soldiers Israel lost in the 1948 War of Independence was 1% of the total population, equivalent to the United States losing 1.4 million soldiers in the same year. In Israel’s short history, 23,169 soldiers have been killed in active military duty. Sixty-six of them fell last summer in Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s effort to stop the rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza. ~~~~~ Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon began the observance on Sunday by lighting a computer virtual candle in honor of Israel's fallen soldiers and civilian victims of hostile action. Ya'alon wrote : "On Remembrance Day the Israeli nation, as one big family, bows its head and unites with the memories of all of the fallen of Israel's wars, as a moral obligation to those who in their death commanded us to live. So that we may be worthy of them." The memorial computer application, created by the Defense Ministry, makes it possible for every visitor to its website to light a candle, to dedicate a personal message and to share it with others. Israel will mark Remembrance Day this year by honoring 116 recently fallen soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in the past year. Of the 116 who lost their lives, 66 soldiers and five civilians were killed during Operation Protective Edge last summer. Two soldiers were killed in a Hezbollah missile attack in January. In addition, 35 IDF disabled veterans who succumbed to their wounds have been recognized as IDF fallen soldiers this year. There are some 553 soldiers, including Staff-Sergeant Oron Shaul who was killed in Gaza last summer, whose place of burial remains unknown. The Defense Ministry said that since 1948, there is a total of 9,753 bereaved families, 4,958 widows, and 2,049 orphans aged under 30. ~~~~ Ahead of Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted a Sunday meeting at his Jerusalem offices with IDF orphans, five of whom lost their fathers during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. It was the third meeting organized with Prime Minister Netanyahu by the IDF Orphans Organization. Netanyahu and the children, aged eight to 16, talked about the tragedy of losing a close relative in war. "How do you feel when you send soldiers to the battlefield?" one boy asked. "I feel that I’m on the front lines with the soldiers and the commanders, and not like a prime minister sitting in an office," Netanyahu answered. "How did you feel when your brother [Yon Netanyahu] was killed in Entebbe?" asked Heut, whose father, Sargeant-Major Bayhesain Kshaun, was killed in Protective Edge. The prime minister said : "We were very close and it was very hard for me. I didn’t know how I would live. It turned out that life is like a river, which flows and leads you into new places. It will happen to you, too!" ~~~~~ Here are some details to help us better understand the Yom Hazikaron memorial day. It began unofficially with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, and was enacted into law in 1963, the day preceding Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). It is observed as a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives in battle or while otherwise defending Israel. Yom Hazikaron is one of four new holidays that have been added to the Jewish national calendar since the creation of Israel. The other three are : Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs' Day), Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). Perhaps because most of the Israeli population has relatives or close friends who have died defending Israel, Yom Hazikaron is widely observed throughout all sectors of Israel, with the exception of most Arabs, lasting throughout the entire day. Places of entertainment are closed by law, and shops, restaurants and cafes are closed. Television and radio broadcast programs about Israeli wars and other programs that convey the somber mood of the day. The most widely recognized commemoration during Hazikaron, as on Yom HaShoah, is the sounding of an air raid siren for two minutes in the morning and evening, when all activity - including traffic on the highways - ceases. The first siren marks the beginning of Yom Hazikaron and the second is sounded prior to the public recitation of prayers in military cemeteries. Many public ceremonies are held throughout Israel, with special readings and poems recited. There is a national ceremony at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl, where many of Israel's leaders and military are buried. There is a special memorial prayer and "El Maleh Rachamim" memorial prayer for members of the Israeli Defense Forces who died in the line of duty, which is read at many of the Yom Hazikaron ceremonies. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of recognizing joy in times of sadness and sadness in times of joy, Hazikaron's somber end heralds the beginning of the joyous and festive Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israel's Independence Day. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is customary in the West to set aside a day to honor the country's war dead. Most Americans and Europeans, as most Israelis, have family members or friends who died in military service. It is a day to remember the great debt we owe to these heros who have selflessly given their lives to protect us. For Israel, as for America and France and Britain, the memories and pain are fresh because young men and women die every year as they serve in the military. But, Israel feels the additional anguish of being surrounded by enemies whose stated purpose is her destruction - "annihilation" as Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas put it. It is a great honor for me to know a group of these fearless Israeli soldiers. One of them was captured, beaten and shot last April. He managed to escape and was rescued by Israeli forces. He suffered for many months before dying -- a young man of 35 who had all of life ahead of him. But, he lives, not just on Yom Hazikaron, but every day, every hour, in the hearts of those who were privileged to know and love him. ~~~~~ "I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Memorial Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did." ___US President Benjamin Harrison.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

It's Saturday Email Time -- Greece and the Eurozone

It's Saturday email bag time -- and Greece is the big topic this week, with comments and questions about what's going on and what will happen. Let's dig into it. ~~~~~ Greece needs to reach a deal with its Eurozone partners by the 24th of April. If there's no deal by then, Greece could default on its loans and be pushed into the exit lane of the Eurozone. We've been through these crises before, but now there's a growing belief that without some sort of deal on Greek reforms, the leftist government will run out of the cash needed to honor its debt interest payments. Greece has to pay an €80 million interest bill to the European Central Bank (ECB) on April 20th and €200 million to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on May 1st. But, the monster payment causing jitters all over Europe is a €760 million interest payment to the IMF due on May 12th. IMF president Christine Lagarde has insisted that no delay will be permitted, although rumors persist that Greece has asked for one. ~~~~~ Greece is meeting with its creditors - the IMF and other Eurozone countries - in the Latvian capital, Riga, on April 24th, in an attempt to reduce its debt repayments and improve the repayment schedule. The €750 million due to the IMF on May 12th is all but impossible for Greece, according to experts, but the government is trying to make it -- perhaps by making the difficult decision of paying its debts by not funding pensions and public sector salaries. The government denies reports that it has used reserves from the health service to help pay debts. For the populist, left-wing party swept to power by Greek anger at EU-imposed austerity and at Germany, seen as the Alpha wolf at the door, it will be difficult to stop paying salaries and pensions. ~~~~~ Conditions have been made worse by the ongoing uncertainty of reaching a deal between Athens and its lead creditors - the IMF, the Europeann Commission (EC) and the ECB. The creditors are waiting for Greece to make a set of proposals, and Greece seems to be waiting for ideas to come from them. The practical aim of the April 24th talks is to release a €7.2bn bailout tranche. But, even then, Greece might still need a third bailout of more than $10 billion. And if there is no forthcoming Greek reform package -- or one that fails to satisfy the IMF, ECB and EC -- there will be no new cash. It's a dangerous game of chicken being played out in the Eurozone. ~~~~~ To make matters worse, if that were possible, the S&P ratings agency has downgraded Greece's credit rating again. It dropped long and short-term sovereign credit ratings to CCC+/C from B-/B and says its outlook is negative. Financial markets use S&P ratings to set the interest rate at which investors should lend to a country. S&P said the Greek economy had shrunk by 1% in six months, despite the benefits of a lower oil price and a weak Euro : "Greece's solvency hinges increasingly on favourable business, financial, and economic conditions....In our view, these conditions have worsened. Without deep economic reform or further relief, we expect Greece's debt and other financial commitments will be unsustainable." S&P added that Greek government finances, which appeared to be improving last year, have now fallen because of weaker economic activity and rising arrears in tax payments. The worry for Greece is that its collapsing finances could force its creditors to demand further austerity measures. S&P said that economic prospects could deteriorate further unless Greece reached a deal over the next €7.2bn tranche of its bailout loan : "If the stalemate between Greece and its official lenders is not resolved before the middle of May, then there might not be enough time for the Greek parliament to enact whatever conditions are attached to a revised lending program." ~~~~~ And, ever his charming self, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned this week that an agreement between Athens and its creditors is unlikely to happen any time soon : "Until now, we don't have a solution, and I don't expect to get a solution in the next week." Schaeuble added that Greece would struggle to find creditors outside the EU and IMF. Assuming a rather cynical posture, Schaeuble said Greece would be welcome to try to find investment from Beijing or Moscow, but may have difficulties. His warning came as Greece's borrowing costs jumped from 23.5% to 27% (both are considered impossible to sustain by financial experts). Schaeuble said the Greek government needs to find creditors : "The Europeans have said, OK, we are ready to do it [lend money] until 2020....If you find someone else, whether it's in Beijing, in Moscow, in Washington DC, or in New York, who will lend you money, ok, fine, we would be happy. But it's difficult to find someone who is lending you in this situation amounts [of] €200 billion." He added that Greece must focus on increasing its competitiveness and primary surplus. ~~~~~ So, the question everyone is asking is what if Greece defaults? Greek banks are relying on €74bn in emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) from the ECB to stay liquid. If the government defaults on its loans, it risks having its liquidity life line from the ECB -- which is keeping both the banks and the government afloat -- cut off. A "forced default" -- one in which Greece simply runs out of money and quits paying its bills, including its citizens' pensions -- would create both ferocious political reaction and a downward spiral leading to Greece leaving the Eurozone and perhaps the EU. The signs that Greeks anticipate that this could happen are already evident. Tens of billions of Euros have been withdrawn from private and business accounts and deposits could begin to leave even faster if April 24th comes and goes with no deal. To halt a run on the banks there might be a ban on withdrawals. In fact, Greece's future in the Euro is looking so shaky that UK bookmaker William Hill has stopped taking bets on the chances of a Grexit. After a forced default, Greece would return to the drachma, suffer instant devaluation and inflation and face a banking crisis. International markets could remain closed to it for years, like Argentina in 2002. ~~~~~ Some economists suggest that the best option would be for Greece to go through a "managed default" to get easier, longer terms on debt service payments on its Eurozone loans. Greece would stay in the Eurozone, but with strict capital controls to keep money from flooding out of Greece. One idea, reportedly under consideration in Germany, would be for the ECB to continue funding Greek banks while considering them in default, in return for strict guarantees for structural reform. Default would mean a big loss for the ECB, up to €110 billion for its exposure to banks and €20 bllion used to buy Greek government bonds. As a central bank, the ECB could simply print the money to recapitalize itself -- a result considered out of the question by Germany. ~~~~~ Dear readers, there are also the questions of market contagion and wider political fallout. The EU has put in place mechanisms to isolate the banking difficulties of one member state from the other 27. So fear of contagion spreading from one country's default no longer exists for Eurozone partners such as Germany. But the IMF has ominously warned that "risks and vulnerabilities continue to exist." And, there is also the potential of political repercussions outside Greece. Several governments facing anti-Euro movements will be watching what happens in Greece with a view to their own potential futures. Spain, Portugal and Italy have economies ill-suited to the high-tech manufacturing based German vision of the Eurozone. If Greece can successfully exit the Eurozone in a managed default, these countries' governments might find themselves under serious political pressure to follow the Greek model. Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy share many characteristics not suited to the Eurozone -- small artisianal industries, some very high-tech but not able to be industrial behemoths; large agricultural sectors whose export cashflows are not competitive with Germany's; and, the need for a more flexible currency to meet economic and export market ups and downs than is possible in the strict Euro regime. Greece and the other southern tier Eurozone countries should never have been admitted to the Eurozone. They will eventually either follow Greece -- or Eurozone rules will be adapted to accommodate their particular needs. As for Greece, it is hard to imagine that Germany will risk bringing down the Euro just to show Greece who's boss. Look for a deal - perhaps not by April 24th, but soon. It will contain stretched-out Greek debt repayment schedules in return for Greek commitments to restructuring programs that don't severely impact Greek citizens. ~~~~~ (I love getting your emails -- send them anytime to

Friday, April 17, 2015

Illegal Migration Is Dangerous for the Migrants, their Countries and for Western Democracies

The xenophobic attacks against foreigners -- who make up 10% of the population -- in South Africa have not yet been quelled. USA Today reported yesterday that fear is so vivid among foreigners that anti-immigrant attacks will escalate that foreigners seek refuge in camps and police stations. In efforts to halt the rampages against foreigners, a peace march was staged and South African President Jacob Zuma condemned the attacks in a statement late Thursday in front of Parliament, with his words carried live on TV. With unemployment levels high in South Africa -- officially at 25% and often estimated to be closer to 35% -- immigrants are accused of driving down wages and taking jobs that should go to South Africans, although the government says that often immigrants bring needed skills not available in South Africa. Locals burned and looted foreign-owned shops in January this year, and the volence has re-ignited after the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, called immigrants "lice" and said they should "take their bags and go." Police said attacks in Durban have left five people dead in recent days. More than 2,000 foreigners are staying in camps around the city, guarded by police and security forces and afraid to return home. Immigrants flocked to a police station outside Johannesburg yesterday and stayed there overnight, police said. The Primrose Methodist Church, which housed foreigners after similar attacks in 2008, is preparing to take people in again. Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana- Mashabane met on Friday with African diplomats based in South Africa to discuss the government's efforts to protect immigrants. Nkoana-Mashabane said : "We took the African diplomatic corps into confidence on the practical measures that are being taken by the security agencies to bring to justice those who are responsible for the violence and related criminal acts....We believe we can defeat this demon and the resolve of the South African government and the support that has been pledged by our sister countries is all that we need to nip this in the bud," she said. The dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, Bene M'Poko, said the message from the meeting was that the attacks needed to be stopped immediately : "We as Africans and South Africans are going to work together to end this violence. We have defeated colonialism and apartheid by working together. So we are confident that if we put our heads together, we will stop these acts of violence." ~~~~~ Violence threatens to spread through sub-Sahara Africa. The South African News24 media group reports that Nigerians in Johannesburg armed themselves with machetes on Friday after a number of their businesses were attacked by South Africans. The Zimbabwe student union called on Zimbabweans to retaliate against South African businesses in their country. In Mozambique, some South African trucks taking goods into the country were stoned and halted, and at least one border crossing between the two nations was closed for a time. Mozambique police say that cross-border traffic is moving freely now but they would not say that things are quiet. ~~~~~ We could easily say that the xenophobic attacks are just one example of South Africa's democracy falling apart because Nelson Mandela is no longer alive to exert his influence. We might also surmise that South Africa, like the rest of Africa, cannot sustain democracy long term. These are easy answers. But consider this. ~~~~~ In Italy, in the heart of Europe, citizens have sometimes taken to the streets to protest against their problem with illegal Africans arriving by boat. In the latest tragedy, some 400 people drowned on Sunday off the coast of Libya - some who were Christian pushed overboard by Moslems who have since been arrested. The chaos in Libya has seen thousands of migrants flee to Italy and also sparked fears of a new stronghold for jihadists to launch attacks on Europe. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Italy shoulders nearly all of the burden for patrol and rescue. "Ninety percent of the cost of the patrol and sea rescue operations are falling on our shoulders, and we have not had an adequate response from the EU," he told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding that the EU was only spending €3 million a month on its Operation Triton sea patrols. "And then there is the difficult issue of knowing where to send those rescued at sea - to the nearest port? To the country where their boat came from? The EU has to respond clearly to these questions," Gentiloni said. The northern Italian province of Lombardy answered one question yesterday by refusing to take in any boat migrants. ~~~~~ In February, the Council of Europe called on  Greece to curb growing violence against immigrants. The warnings come at a time when Greek unemployment is above 25% - 50% for young people - and Greece is being forced to repay loans to the IMF and the ECB that would be cancelled as usurious if attempted by private parties. The Council's report said that xenophobia was on the rise in the country and urged  Greece to work with non-government organizations to "develop a comprehensive national strategy to combat racism and intolerance." According to Christian Ahlund, the chair of the council’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) : "Despite steps forward...problems persist, including worrying levels of xenophobia and violence against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants....Despite the progress achieved, some issues give rise to concern." He said Greek authorities should launch a broad-based public campaign to denounce racist attitudes as being contrary to Greek values and interests and to promote an inclusive and multi-cultural approach towards Greek identity. The ECRI also called on Greek political and religious leaders to take a "firm stand" against racist discourse and instruct political speakers to refrain from making derogatory comments targeting a group of persons on grounds of their race, religion, nationality, language or ethnic origin. The ECRI also welcomed the enforcement of a much-delayed anti-racism law, as well as the appointment of public prosecutors to deal with acts of racist violence and the creation of a special police force to tackle racist attacks. ~~~~~ And today in France - where unemployment is officially above 12% and French households are protesting against their high tax load in a period of a falling econony and stagnant wages - Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced a €100 mllion fund to combat racism, anti-semitism and anti-Moslem trends. ~~~~~ Dear readers, if you are American, you must hear echoes of what is happening in the US -- claims that illegal immigrants are driving down wages, taking jobs from American workers, and using social services that drive up their cost for all American taxpayers. There have been peaceful protests along the southern US-Mexico border. What is clear is that the world's economy is still weak and that the weakness falls heavily on Africans and Latin Americans. Their natural solution is to try to enter countries where they have a better chance of findong jobs -- or at least where they will receive food and shelter, often missing in their home countries. We can protest, put them in internment areas, build walls, and even attack them with machetes. It will not halt their migration effort. What will? Not paying large sums to their governments for economic and educational reforms-- that only enriches their non-accountable leaders. Not leaving the field vacant for China, whose presence will only strip these poor countries of their most valuable resources. Not sending the illegal migrants back -- they or others will only arrive. I really do not have an immediate answer. But it could be that convincing their leaders to let the West go in on a non-partisan basis to develop infrastructure would work. A series of African and Latin American Marshall Plans would create jobs, jumpstart education and build a base for a functioning economy. In 2012, I called for a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. Nothing has happened. It is not too late, and we can add Africa and Latin America to the grand project. Migrants don't arrive on our borders because they hate their own cultures and countries. They arrive because they are desperate -- except for terrorists. Let's find reasonable ways to help them stay at home. It will not only help them, it will help us. It is critical to remember that even in stable democratic countries, people can be pushed just so far before the compact between the governed and the government snaps.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Harry, Hillary, Bill - the Gang Leaders of the Democrat Party Establishment

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid recently dismissed the entire group of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls, calling Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul "losers." Reid also called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "a lump of coal." The 2016 candidates shouldn't feel too bad. Reid has said similiar things to GOP presidential candidates - and Presidents - in the past. He once called George W. Bush a "loser," and told him “your dog is fat" when visiting the Oval Office. Reid called former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney “kind of a joke." ~~~~~ A nice way for the highest ranking Democrat in Congress -- and the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, since President Obama has long since opted out of the job -- to behave. But the conservative media is busy with another 'Harry Reid' story. Apparently, some in the media who follow Reid doubt his version of the events that led to his injury and lack of sight in one eye. Reid says he was hit in the face by an elastic exercise band that broke, causing him to fall down and injure himself. But, almost immediately after the New Year's Day incident, John Hinderaker of the conservative Power Line blog speculated that Reid "looks like he has been in a fight, and not with an elastic band. [P]erhaps Reid is an unsteady, elderly gentleman with precarious balance, and a snapping band caused him to fall with what seems like extraordinary force. But I doubt it. I think it is questionable whether we are being told the truth about what happened to Harry Reid." Rumors abound that Reid was beat up by angry mobster-types. ~~~~~ This just adds to the sense of conservatives that Demicrat leaders are a scummy bunch. And we may now - if we haven't already - add Hillary Clinton to the miserable gang of Democratic leaders. Members of her campaign staff actually drove "ordinary" Iowans to Hillary's first campaign stop -- including an "ordinary" health care 'lobbyist in training' who was an Obama campaign intern and Joe Biden's chauffeur. That would fit right in with Harry Reid's less than perfect sense of propriety. And, while Hillary arrived in Iowa by van, stopping for a burrito salad at a Chipotle where she left no tip -- ah yes, she is all for raising the minimum wage but not by digging into her own fat wallet to help young service industry workers -- she left by plane. Enough elbow-rubbing wirh ordinary folk, it would seem. And about that higher minimum wage, as well as her desire to forge income equality and to tighten campaign finance laws after she has amply benefitted from them -- Mrs. Clinton won't put any meat on these policy bones for 6 to 8 weeks. She needs time to talk to real people to find out what her policies should be. This is the woman who would be President, so if she is elected, we may expect one floor of the Old Executive Office Building to be dedicated to Hillary's Ordinary People Marketing Panel. I hope they're ready when that 3 a.m. phone call comes. Otherwise, the world will just have to wait till 9 a.m. for its answer so that Hillary can talk it over with her OPMP. ~~~~~ Who in Congress has endorsed Clinton? The Hill is keeping a tab of lawmakers she’s garnered -- 93 lawmakers, or nearly 40% of Democrats in Congress. That almost matches the 99 endorsements she picked up during her failed 2008 presidential bid. This strong support, the Hill writes, could push Hillary Clinton to the left and help hold back any potential Democratic challengers, including former Maryland Governor O'Malley. However, progressives on Capitol Hill haven’t heard enough from Hillary Clinton. According to the controlling left side of the Democratic Party, Hillary needs to do more to satisfy them. “I’m glad that she’s talking about income inequality,” Representative Raul Grijalva, co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told the National Journal. But Grijalva said : "Specificity is what people are going to ask about, and firm declaration.” (Where is that OPMP when Hillary needs them?) Twenty lawmakers have signed on to an effort to push White House contenders to embrace a progressive agenda, with issues including Wall Street reform and Social Security expansion. Some liberal groups are still hoping for a challenger more leftist than Clinton, according to the National Journal, but most congressional progressives have decided to encourage Clinton to embrace more of their leftist ideals. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, Clinton said on Tuesday : "There's something wrong when hedge-fund managers pay lower taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80 when I was driving here over the last two days." Wall Street's reaction was Realpolitik. A major Democratic donor on Wall Street responded to Clinton’s ripping hedge-fund managers’ taxes on Tuesday by saying : "It’s just politics.” Politico writes that hedge-fund managers who have long been part of Clinton’s political and fundraising networks aren’t worrying about her put-down : “The question is not going to be whether or not hedge-fund managers or CEOs make too much money,” another Clinton supporter who manages a hedge fund told Politico : “The question is how do you solve the problem of inequality. Nobody takes it like she s going after them personally.” ~~~~~ Dear readers, Hillary is in the race. But we don't yet know what she stands for, except seemingly to appease the left side of the Democrat Party establishment where Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Governor O'Malley are lurking. What we need to remember is that Hillary -- with all her botched efforts as Secretary of State and her privately stored and destroyed official government business emails -- is part of a completely private political party called "Bill and Hillary Clinton Forever." They crave...they feed on...power. The down-home Hillary of 2016 is just as power-hungry as the Bill of 1992. They have out-manoeuvered the entire Democrat Party. They have survived scandals and unexplained deaths and hoarding money by using the world's problems to fleece governments seeking favor at the Clinton royal court. What they have not yet done is close their playbook by electing Hillary President. We can cut short the Clinton plan by refusing to let America be bought with $26 worth of Clinton glass beads. Just consider the cynical contempt for American voters revealed in this piece of news -- As Hillary Clinton spoke about stopping runaway campaign funding, a group of big Democratic donors, including Clinton allies, were convening in California to talk about spending millions of dollars on liberal groups. The New York Times reported last week that her campaign and her allies will likely haul in $2.5 billion, "dwarfing her would-be rivals in both parties."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 15, 1865...Abraham Lincoln Died..."Now he Belongs to the Ages"

It was 150 years ago today that President Abraham Lincoln died. He was shot on April 14, 1865. Shortly after 10 p.m., actor John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, and fatally shot President Lincoln. As Lincoln slumped forward in his seat, Booth leapt onto the stage and escaped through the back door. A doctor in the audience rushed over to examine the paralyzed President. Lincoln was then carried across the street to Petersen's Boarding House, where he died at 7:22 a.m. the next morning. At that moment, Secretary of War Stanton, who had kept vigil with Mrs. Lincoln all night, uttered the famous line : "Now he belongs to the ages." ~~~~~ Co-conspirator Lewis Powell (or Paine/Payne) attempted to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward, but only managed to injure him. David Herold accompanied Powell. However, Herold fled before the deed was finished. At the same time, George Atzerodt was supposed to have killed Vice-President Andrew Johnson. Atzerodt did not go through with the assassination. Booth and Herold escaped the Capital and traveled to Mary Surratt's Tavern in Maryland where they picked up supplies. They then traveled to Dr. Samuel Mudd's house where Booth's leg was set. On April 26, Herold and Booth were found hiding in a barn near Port Royal, Virginia. Herold surrendered but Booth refused to come out of the barn so it was set on fire. In the ensuing chaos, a soldier shot and killed Booth. Eight Lincoln conspirators were caught over the next few days and tried by a military court. They were found guilty on June 30 and given various sentences depending upon their involvement. Lewis Powel(Paine), David Herold, George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt were charged with conspiring with Booth, along with various other crimes, and were hanged on July 7, 1865. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michae O'Laughlen were sentenced to life in prison. Mudd escaped execution by a single vote, the tribunal having voted 5–4 against hanging him. ~~~~~ We are often told about President Lincoln's foreboding dream that many say predicted his assassination. But, Mr. Lincoln also uttered prophetic words as he left Illinois to go to Washington for his first inauguration in 1861 : "My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell." Lincoln's Farewell Address at the Great Western Depot in Springfield, Illinois, February 11, 1861.