Saturday, May 30, 2015
It's the Saturday email bag and this week was quiet -- a couple emails about US illegal immigration -- until the FIFA scandal broke. Clearly, FIFA and Sepp Blatter are the touchpoints this week. Let's look at how FIFA got into this mess and where it's headed. ~~~~~ Sepp Blatter, just re-elected president of FIFA for a fifth four-year term, will get an additional 4 years to add to his already 17-year-long reign as the head of the global football organization. His challenger, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein of Jordan, withdrew after losing the first round of voting 133 to 73, enough to keep Blatter from being elected on the first ballot that needed a 2/3 majority to win, but not enough to make it worthwhile for the Prince to submit to a second round of voting. Prince Ali gave a solemn and realistic speech before the election, calling for the hard work of reform, saying that the world is watching and that FIFA does not exist "in a bubble." It was not enough. Despite the massive scandal FIFA now faces after the arrest of 14 officials on corruption charges -- despite the calls by leaders of European and American football organizations demanding his resignation in the wake of those charges -- despite the charges of corruption that have clung to Blatter's administration like tar for most of his tenure -- despite the 500 and counting deaths in Qatar of foreign workers building facilities for the 2022 World Cup, awarded amid charges of bribery and now being investigated by the Swiss Justice Department -- despite all this, Sepp Blatter won yesterday. A victory for avarice and indifference to human integrity. How could it happen? How could the world's favorite spirt be so thoroughly hijacked? ~~~~~ First, Blatter changed FIFA from a Europe-centered and -controlled organization to an Asian and African organization. How? He gave 1 vote to each country's football federation -- so that Spain and Fiji have the same influence in FIFA decisionmaking. Then, Blatter started a program to build football stadiums and training facilities all over Africa and Asia and the rest of the non-Western world. Then, Blatter took football's World Cup, the most watched sporting event on Earth, out of Europe and gave it to Korea and Japan and South Africa and Russia and Qatar. In politics, it would be called gerrymandering or creating rotten boroughs -- or influence peddling. For Sepp Blatter, it was the way he solidified his control over world football. It is these accomplishments that Blatter recounts to defend himself when accused of corruption. He says he is spreading football to the whole world. In reality, it could be called the Sepp Blatter Method -- tie the developing world's football leadership to him through money and influence that they would never have otherwise, and in return they perpetually vote for Blatter. Under Blatter, the membership of FIFA has grown to 209 nations (15 more than the United Nations). The "little guys" in football see Blatter as their savior. Blatter is viewed as tyrannical and corrupt only in the West. To the little guys with small population and little economic power, he is Robin Hood, challenging the dominance of the West. But, the corruption has become a form of symbiosis. Some of the nations supporting Blatter are used to governments that involve bribery and coercion. For them, Blatter operates in a "normal" way and the US and Swiss investigations represent the attempt by the powerful to retain control of football. ~~~~~ But who actually owns the World Cup? Granted, the World Cup is one of the few events that can bring almost every country together. But, football is a sport fed by multinational corporate sponsors. The host nation usually loses money and ends up with debt incurred for unusable facilities. South Africa 2010 was a huge win for FIFA and the various multinational corporations that hosted it, but not so for the local merchants and the local fans who couldn't afford to buy tickets beyond those made available by the government. The truth is that a World Cup is designed for those who can afford to travel to it and buy the tickets -- they stay in a hotel chain that is probably American or European -- they buy soccer apparel made by Nike or Adidas and branded by FIFA that rakes a percentage out of the profits -- they drink beer made by a European company (now including Budweiser). ~~~~~ Dear readers, along with UEFA, the US, Canada and Australia, it has been sponsors that have told FIFA to shape up or else. The US is leading the legal attack. UEFA leaders will meet with UEFA president Michel Platini next week in Berlin before the European Challenge Cup final to decide a way forward on the football fields - options being considered include refusing to participate in the World Cup, a decision that would make the Cup a second-tier sports event with little interest for TV networks or big sponsorship deals. And the mega-sponsors are already uneasy. Visa has said that FIFA must act to clean itself up or risk the withdrawal of Visa as a sponsor. Coca Cola agrees. Nike has already said it will cooperate to clear its name after being anonymiysly referred to in connection with a $160 million deal cited in the US DOJ indictment. And if Blatter clings to his current practices for awarding World Cups, consider this : Will Budweiser want to sponsor a World Cup in a nation that forbids alcohol? Will Visa want to sponsor a World Cup in a nation where homosexuality is criminalized? Will any major sponsor want to sponsor a World Cup in a country that has invaded Ukraine. Okay, Blatter was re-elected. Whether he can serve out his term is another question. We will see. He said in a Zurich news conference this morning that he does not think he will be arrested - if the investigation is carried out under international standards. Does Sepp Blatter think that Switzerland and the United States belong to the developing world coalition that keeps him in power? He can be sure that the investigation will be fair, honest and transparent -- which is more than we can say about FIFA's current operating practices. --- Join our email bag fun. Just send me an email anytime about any topic that interests you -- email@example.com.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Yesterday, a federal judge resisted the Obama administration's first courtroon effort toward a dismissal of the lawsuit brought by House Republicans over Obamacare. In the hearing, Judge Rosemary Collyer criticized administration arguments to dismiss the case. The Health and Human Services Department says the House doesn't have the required legal standing to challenge how the administration implements Obamacare. The unprecedented lawsuit challenges the Obama administration actions to fund Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies to insurers that help low-income enrollees without a congressional appropriation, and its delay of the employer mandate by one year. Judge Collyer said she has not decided how she will rule, but she was firm in challenging the administration position and the oral arguments of Justice Department attorney Joel McElvain, who started by describing the House's objections to the Obamacare rules as an "abstract dispute over the implementation" of federal law, and therefore the House has no standing. Collyer answered that argument by saying, "You don't really think that." She later added, "This is the problem I have with your brief -- it's just not direct, you have to address their arguments." Acknowledging that she was tougher on the administration lawyer, the judge nevertheless had sharp questions for the House GOP's attorney, George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who said that dismissing the lawsuit could limit the legislative branch's ability to combat future executive overreach : "That would mean that there's nothing we could do that would stop them," he said. Collyer later responded in jest and saying that she was not suggesting it : "What about impeachment, is that an option?" She did not say when she will rule on the administration request. House Speaker John Boehner announced his intention to sue President Obama in July 2014, but filing was postponed until November after two attorneys hired by the House dropped out, reportedly under pressure from other clients. Turley eventually took the case. The Obama administration says that the House has not been injured by the administrative actions in any specific way, that the Constitution's separation-of- powers doctrine bars the lawsuit, and that Congress has other ways of expressing its opposition to the actions - such as the power of the purse. But, it is clear that Judge Collyer was not overwhelmed by Obama administration arguments. ~~~~~ The filing of this lawsuit was followed by House threats to sue over other Obama executive actions on immigration, though no lawsuit has been filed yet. This is certainly related to the fact that a lawsuit was filed in a Texas federal court in February by 26 states seeking to overturn Obama's executive orders giving amnesty to 5 million illegal immigrants. A federal appeals court on Tuesday refused to lift an injunction put in place by US District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in the Texas federal court case. Judge Hanen's injunction stops President Obama’s signature immigration proposals from moving forward, calling into doubt whether the program will even begin before the President leaves office. In a split 2-to-1 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans denied the Obama administration’s emergency request to lift the federal district court’s injunction on an initiative to defer the deportations of illegal immigrants and grant them work permits. Obama announced the program by executive orders in November. The President said the federal government does not have resources to remove all of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and must focus on hardened criminals and potential terrorists. But Texas and 25 other states sued the administration, called the move unconstitutional. Judge Hanen ruled in February that the expanded program should be put on hold until the case is resolved. The Obama administration asked for an immediate stay from the 5th Circuit last month, arguing that the states lacked the legal authority to sue the US government over policies relating to federal control of the nation’s borders. The 5th Circuit panel rejected that argument Tuesday. In the ruling, Judge Jerry Smith stated that Hanen’s injunction will remain in place because the administration is “unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal.” Judge Smith wrote that Texas had successfully established that it would incur a financial burden if it was required to issue driver’s licenses and other services to immigrants who qualified for deportation protection under Obama’s deferred-action program. Judge Smith's opinion was joined by Judge Jennifer Elrod. Smith added that the new program goes beyond the law enforcement concept of “prosecutorial discretion,” in which a government with limited resources sets priorities for enforcement. Rather, he wrote, the policy “is the affirmative act of conferring ‘lawful presence’ on a class of unlawfully present aliens. Though revocable, that new designation triggers eligibility for federal and state benefits that would not otherwise be available.” ~~~~~ The 5th Circuit appelate court’s ruling was a setback to Obama’s immigration agenda, which the President has made a major event in his second term. The Department of Homeland Security had planned to begin enrolling newly eligible immigrants this month. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the ruling is : “a victory for those committed to preserving the rule of law in America....We will continue to fight the brazen lawlessness that has become a trademark of the Obama Administration.” After rejecting the stay request, the 5th Circuit must now hear arguments in July on the administration’s underlying appeal of Hanen’s injunction. The 5th Circuit is one of the most conservative appeals courts in the nation, and the administration faces an uphill battle. In the meantime, US District Judge Hanen must rule on the key question of whether Obama’s executive actions are constitutional. Hanen has not indicated when his ruling will be handed down, although he has expressed skepticism about the President’s immigration policies. Whatever the rulings, the legal fight is likely to contonue on appeal up to the US Supreme Court. ~~~~~ In an ill-conceived attack on the 5th Circuit ruling against the President, the White House issued a statement saying : “Today, two judges of the Fifth Circuit chose to misinterpret the facts and the law in denying the government’s request for a stay,” White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine defended Obama’s actions as “fully consistent with the law...squarely within the bounds of his authority.” Obama’s new deferred-action program benefitting up to 5 million undocumented immigrants follows on a 2012 initiative that deferred the deportations of more than 600,000 immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children. The 2012 executive order that granted most of them work permits is not affected by Hanen’s injunction or the 5th Circuit decision. The expanded program now being challenged would extend to the undocumented parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents, provided the parents have lived in the country for at least five years and have not committed felonies or repeated misdemeanors. ~~~~~ Most 2016 GOP presidential candidates have pledged to overturn Obama’s immigration actions, while leading Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has strongly endorsed the President’s actions, saying she would issue even more executive orders as President, a campaign position obviously popular with Latino and Asian American groups. Erika Andiola, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, an immigrant rights group, who said : “We knew since the beginning that this was going to be a tough battle....Republicans strategically chose this conservative judge [Hanen] whom they knew would delay implementation and try to intimidate our community. We, however, were the ones who pressured the President, knowing it is a constitutional move, and we continue to be confident that we will win at the end.” ~~~~~ Dear readers, in 2011 President Obama said : "I just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed..... Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.” Mr. Obama should have followed his own advice. Now it appears that the federal courts will explain the Constitution to him again in much more public and precedent-creating legal decisions.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
FIFA's Sepp Blatter is now at the head of an executive committee most of whom are convicted, under indictment or targeted for questioning in a US Department of Justice legal probe that alleges money laundering, bribery and kickbacks in connection with the awarding, management, televising and sponsoring of football World Cups. The Swiss Department of Justice has now joined in the probe as it relates to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Brazil has suspended its federation president. EUFA, the powerhouse federation that directs European football, has called for a six-month delay in this week's FIFA meeting and election of Blatter to a fifth four-year term. Major sponsors - Coca Cola, Visa, McDonalds - are calling on FIFA to regenerate itself. Nike is alleged by the DOJ of agreeing to pay $160 million over 10 years for FIFA sponsorship rights. The 2010 South Africa World Cup is alleged to have been awarded partially as a result of bribes. Only the African and Asian football confederations have spoken up in support of the re-election of Blatter -- that in itself could raise, at the least, questions about their ethics and management practices. ~~~~~ Dear readers, UEFA is the logical leader in ridding football of FIFA as currently constructed. UEFA president Michel Platini is a former football player of legendary stature. He was president of the French Football Federation. He has never been touched by scandal or the innuendo of fast-dealing. One hopes that Michel Platini is honest -- because it is time for the countries and regional associations that form FIFA to ask UEFA and Platini to guide football out of the swirling cesspool of major charges of corruption that it has become. It is also time for Michel Platini to step up to the task that destiny has assigned to him, with the help of UEFA. And -- above all -- it is time for Sepp Blatter, if he has the slightest glimmer of regard for the sport of football, to resign. For the future, if not the love, of the beautiful game.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Spain's ruling People's Party (PP) suffered big losses in regional elections on Sunday as Spaniards delivered a message to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for four years of severe austerity and spending cuts and several high profile corruption scandals. The PP (at 27%) and its traditional opposition Socialist party (at 25%) garnered a combined vote of 52%, giving the PP its worst election result in more than 20 years. Early Sunday evening, exit polls showed that the PP economic recovery after the 2008 recession was too weak for it to hold an absolute majority in the regions. The new market-friendly center-right Ciudadanos ('Citizens') party and the left-wing anti-austerity Podemos ('We Can') party made strong headway in overturning the two-party system that has kept the PP and its rival Socialists in power since the end of the Franco dictatorship 40 years ago. With national elections expected in November, Spain's two main parties will now have to form coalitions in all of the 13 of Spain's 17 regions that voted on Sunday, as well as in more than 8,000 towns and cities. ~~~~~ The PP lost its absolute majority in regional bastions Madrid and Valencia, where left-wing coalitions will send the party into opposition for the first time since the mid-1990s. The success of anti-establishment candidates, who represented small local parties, in two of the largest Spanish regions underlined the fragmentation of Spain’s politics, as the governing PP of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy lost its longstanding relationship with voters ahead of general elections later this year. The PP also lost its key stronghold of Madrid city for the first time since 1991 in a leftist attack backed by Podemos. In Barcelona city, another left-wing coalition headed by former community activist Ada Colau and backed by Podemos beat pro-independence parties Convergencia i Unio (CiU) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), sendng a warning message to the Catalan separatist movement. Colau, 41, a former activist who fought housing evictions and was herself evicted, defeated Barcelona’s mayor, Xavier Trias, in what she described as a “David against Goliath” victory. Meanwhile, Manuela Carmena, a retired judge, did not win outright in Madrid, but her strong showing made it very likely that she will become mayor of Spain’s capital next month, at the helm of a coalition with the Socialists. Carmena, 71, joined Spain’s underground Communist party and started her legal career by attacking labor restrictions imposed by Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator. She was encouraged to run for mayor because of her record of integrity as a judge, and she vowed to end corruption in Madrid. In Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, Rita Barberá, the conservative mayor, is also expected to resign after 24 years in office. Barberá’s PP won, but with an insufficient margin to stop left-leaning parties from forming a coalition and removing her from office. ~~~~~ In 2011, the PP took power as voters punished the Socialists for leading Spain into an economic crisis. Now, four years later, Rajoy urged voters not to risk derailing Spain’s recent return to growth by entrusting economic management to left-leaning or untested political parties. And Spain seems to be creeping toward recovery. The New York Times reports that the government forecasts growth of 2.9% this year, which prime minister Rajoy expects to be the strongest among major European nations. However, “there is a broader change in the political mood in Spain that the Popular Party doesn’t seem to be able to grasp,” Manuel Arias- Maldonado, a politics professor at the University of Málaga, told the NYT. Sunday’s results, he added, show that the Popular Party had “false confidence that economic recovery would suffice" to keep his PP in power. ~~~~~ The motor for change in Spanish politics has been Podemus. Pablo Iglesias, the national Podemus leader, told supporters on Sunday night that the PP losses in Spain’s largest cities marked the end of the two- party system. “The big cities are the big engine of change in Spain,” Iglesias said, predicting that the change in the country’s political landscape would be confirmed in general elections to be held later this year. Podemus, a party that has existed for about one year, has taken on the PP both for its EU-imposed austerity programs and for its insistence that Spain has turned the recovery corner. Podemus says that as long as unemployment is over 25% and people are still losing their homes through bank foreclosures, it is not meaningful that Spain had a full-year economic growth in 2014 -- the first growth year in Spain since 2008, when a huge property bubble burst, putting millions of people out of work and pushing the country to the brink of a bail-out. The government's labor reforms have reduced the cost of hiring and firing and made part-time jobs a new norm. Despite this, unemployment remains high. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the PP and Socialists lost support to new upstart parties. The centre-right market-friendly Ciudadanos party went national in 2013. The anti-austerity Podemos, an ally of Greece's Syriza, was organized last year. The two parties were born out of the "Indignado" ("Outraged") protests that swamped Spain's streets during the economic crisis, in much the same way that Syriza came to power in Greece. It's easy to understand their appeal in countries hit hard by the 2008 recession and then hit again by Eurozone austerity programs that hurt the poor disproportionately. As an example, official data show that more than 22% of people in Spain were living in poverty in 2013, the year the country's recession officially ended. Even after the end of the economic crisis, Spain's unemployment rate remains extremely high and the government has acknowledged that the recovery has yet to reach the poorest. While it is far too soon to predict a Podemus -Ciudadanos victory in November's nationwide elections, important economic changes must be made for the PP and Socialists to be competitive -- and it may be too late to see any meaningful improvement before November. It is tempting to say that Spain will follow Greece into rebellion against Eurozone austerity, but it is important to remember that Spain's problem was a housing bubble that forced banks into liquidity crises, while Greece's problem was a basic failure of the economy caused by corruption, lax tax collection and very expensive public programs and subsidies. Spain is coming out of its bubble crisis, while Greece shows very little progress. The two countries are at different crossroads on very different highways. However, a quarter of the Spanish population is unemployed with many having run out of unemployment benefits, and home foreclosures continue without the government providing shelter for the displaced. Both the Greek and Spanish crises, although different, have become powerful engines for political change. One thing is sure -- being a Spanish PP or Socialist political candidate cannot be a comfortable place to be in mid-2015.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Dear readers, if you haven't yet read it, I hope you will spool down and read General MacArthur's "Duty Honor Country" speech. It is the ultimate expression of what it means to be an American soldier. ~~~~~ Today, I want to honor soldiers in another way, by addressing comments made by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Sunday. Carter told a TV reporter that Iraqi forces had demonstrated “no will to fight” against ISIS, blaming them for a retreat that led to the ISIS victory in Ramadi. Secretary Carter’s remarks on CNN’s State of the Union were the Obama administration’s strongest statement yet about what it sees as Iraq’s repeated inability to hold and take back territory from ISIS. Carter went on : “They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they failed to fight and withdrew from the site. That says to me and, I think, to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.” Carter also supported President Obama’s opposition to imbedding US ground troops alongside Iraqis on the front lines to give more accurate guidance for bombing. Carter, despite many expert military and congressional evaluations to the contrary, said that American and allied airstrikes have been “effective....If there comes a time when we have to change the kinds of support we give, we will make that recommendation....But what happened in Ramadi was a failure of the Iraqi forces to fight, and so our efforts now are devoted to providing their ground forces with the equipment, the training, and encouraging their will to fight so that our campaign enabling them can be successful -- both in defeating ISIL and keeping ISIL defeated in a sustained way.” ~~~~~ Last night on CNN, an Iraqi regular Army soldier talked to Arwa Damon, a reporter born in America, whose father is an American professor and mother a Syrian raised in Damascus. Damon grew up in Morocco and Turkey and speaks English, Arabic, Turkish and French as maternal languages. So there were no errors in translating. While CNN played the mobile phone video that the soldier's unit had made of their actual final hours in Ramadi, the soldier told Damon that they tried to fight off one ISIS attack and were then told that another ISIS unit was coming to squeeze them from another angle. They turned back at least two suicide tank bomb attacks. They called for air support that never came, and they then ran out of ammunition. It was at that point that they were ordered to evacuate. ~~~~~ This is the Ramadi story of one Iraqi regular Army unit -- not running from the fight but ordered out when they had no more ammunition. If there was an Iraqi lack of will to fight, it came from field headquarters errors. Most failures in battle come not from the soldiers on the line but from their support and strategic support and leadership. There is a good reason that Washington and Pershing and Stillwell and Patton and Clark stayed close to their troops -- it was to guide and protect and supply them as best possible. And this is certainly one of the reasons that some members of Congress, including Senator John McCain, have called on President Obama to authorize American troops to accompany Iraqi forces on the battlefield to call in specific locations for bombing, to provide accurate timely intelligence and to offer by example the leadership qualities now lacking in the Iraqi general staff -- which was stripped of its professional leadership, replaced by al-Maliki with his non-professional shiite cronies. Current Iraqi prime minister al-Abadi, at the head of a shiite govennment, has not reversed those failures. His regular Army is weak because instead of rebuilding its general staff, he has partially cast aside the Army in favor of relying on Iran's fellow-shiite Qums Revolutionary Guard strategists and on the deployment of Iran-led militia field units. Iraq deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq said yesterday that without reconciliation between sunni and shiites, which is not being advanced by al-Abadi, nothing will improve. And al-Mutlaq said the reconciliation must include arming sunni militias and having an American military leadership presence. ~~~~~ "The Obama administration is focused on continuing to bolster the Iraqi forces, who will ultimately win or lose the fight," Carter said. Of course, this is pure nonsense, spoken to defend the do-nothing policy of President Obama. Senator McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Sunday repeated his call to send American ground troops, including Special Operations forces, into Iraq. “We need to have a strategy,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is. I’d like to hear what it is. Because it certainly isn’t apparent now.” Concurring was Representative Mac Thornberry, who heads the House Armed Services Committee. He spoke on ABC's This Week and emphasized the need for more and better intelligence : “The other thing we’ve got to do is improve our intelligence capability,...the key way to know what they’re doing, to prevent them from getting a nuclear, chemical, biological weapon, is to augment our intelligence capability and then you’ve got to act.” ~~~~~ Vice President Biden on Monday telephoned Prime Minister al-Abadi to offer America's and President Obama's thanks for “the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces” and promised US support and supplies, all in the hope of calming the waters after Defense Secretary Carter's remarkably insensitive and destructive statements. But, today, without any visibly enhanced US support, Iraqi government forces formally launched an operation to drive ISIS out of Anbar province. The announcement was made by a spokesman for the Popular Mobilisation (al-Hashd al-Shaabi), a volunteer force comprising dozens of Iran-led shiite militias. The operation is intended to move southward from Salahuddin province to cut off ISIS militants in Ramadi from the Baiji oil refinery, and to form a semi-circle around Ramadi to retake the city and to cut off an ISIS advance toward Baghdad. ~~~~~ This may indicate to those cynical, or ignorant of the facts, that Iraq can manage militarily without US ground troops. The truth is that without US help, the Iraqi shiite government has moved even closer to shiite Iran, making a coalition with the sunni majority in Iraq very problematic. CNN analyst Philip Mudd says the government's willingness to make use of shiite militia groups supported by Iran alongside the Iraqi army to retake Ramadi in the sunni heartland of Anbar province may create future problems. Mudd, a former CIA counterterrorism official, said : "Short term, they may win. [However] The long-term solution for Iraq may not be a unified state if the only message they (sunnis in Anbar province) get is either join ISIS, which will behead you, or support the government, which brings in rival shiite militias to oust the sunnis. It's a very difficult political situation." But, a US military leadership presence would not only drive Iran-led militia to the sidelines, it would also provide the neutral Iraqi military needed to support a unified sunni-shiite Iraq government. ~~~~~ So, Secretary Carter, my suggestion would be that you first apologize to all Iraqi soldiers. Then, turn the US military general staff loose to do what they know needs to be done -- more supplies, on-the-ground military tactical and strategic leadership, heightened use of intelligence, and a new air strike component that sufficiently bombs ISIS to both stop their advances and destroy them in place. As it is today, Secretary Carter, you are just burning US military budget dollars on inadequate bombing sorties that do nothing to stop ISIS. Blaming others for one's own failures is the mark of weak character. It is also contrary to the American character. The real question, Secretary Carter, is not whether Iraqi soldiers have the will to fight ISIS. The real question is whether you and President Obama have the will to fight ISIS and free Iraq of its increasing dependence on Iran.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Memorial Day -- General MacArthur's Immortal Duty, Honor, Country Speech Honoring America's Soldiers
General Douglas MacArthur's Address on 12 May 1962 to the West Point Cadet Corps on Accepting the Thayer Award, which is presented annually to an outstanding citizen whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify the Military Academy motto, "Duty, Honor, Country." ~~~~~ "Duty, Honor, Country. No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this. Coming from a profession I have served so long and a people I have loved so well, it fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code - a code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. For all hours and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier....Duty, honor, country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn....The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule. But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the Nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temperate will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease....They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman. And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world's noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me; or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience in adversity of his courage under fire and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand camp fires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the first World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through the mire of shell-pocked roads to form grimly for the attack, bule-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many to the judgment seat of God. I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died, unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, honor, country....And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms, the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of tropical disease, the horror of stricken areas of war....the vision of gaunt, ghastly men, reverently following your password of duty, honor, country. The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral law and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the things that are right and its restraints are from the things that are wrong. The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training - sacrifice. In battle, and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when He created man in His own image. No physical courage and no greater strength can take the place of the divine help which alone can sustain him. However hard the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind. You now face a new world, a world of change....And through all this welter of change and development your mission remains fixed, determined inviolable. It is to win our wars. Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment; but you are the ones who are trained to fight. Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory, that if you lose, the Nation will be destroyed, that the very obsession of your public service must be duty, honor, country. Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men's minds. But serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation's war guardian....For a century and a half you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice....Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, honor, country. You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense....The long, gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: Duty, honor, country. This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen the end of war." The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished--tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ear, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, honor, country. Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the corps, and the corps, and the corps. I bid you farewell.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
It's Saturday email bag time and everybody's talking about only one topic this week -- Iraq. So let's get at it. ~~~~~ Because of ISIS attacks along the eastern Syrian-Iraq border, the official frontier between Syria and Iraq is being blurred. Yesterday, al-Assad government forces withdrew from the al-Tanf border crossing as ISIS advanced, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The loss of al-Tanf to ISIS follows their takeover of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on Thursday. The UN has expressed concern at reports that Syrian forces in Palmyra prevented civilians from leaving, ahead of its fall to ISIS. It said it was "deeply concerned" about those remaining in the area, amid reports of summary executions. ISIS has also overrun the World Heritage site adjacent to the modern city, raising concerns about its safety because ISIS has previously demolished ancient sites that pre-date Islam. Despite ongoing air strikes in both Syria and Iraq, the US has changed its assessment, now saying that fighting ISIS will be a "difficult challenge." ISIS now controls "more than 95,000 sq km (36,679 sq miles)" of Syria, that is 50% of the country's entire territory, the BBC reports the SOHR as saying. ISIS dominates the provinces of Deir al-Zour and Raqqa and has a strong presence in Hasakeh, Aleppo, Homs and Hama, although BBC journalists say there are regions under ISIS control in the east that are not strategically significant. What is significant is that the seizure of al-Tanf, in Syria's Homs province, has enabled ISIS to link its positions in east-central Syria directly with the areas they control in Iraq's western Anbar province, opening up direct supply lines and easing the logistics of moving fighters. ~~~~~ Farther east in Anbar, where ISIS took control of the province's capital Ramadi just days ago, ISIS units have been reported to be pushing eastwards from Ramadi down the Euphrates Valley towards Habbaniya, an Iraqi military base where pro-government forces are massing for a counter-attack on Ramadi. The Iraqi government wants to protect Habbaniya, as well as to take back both Ramadi and Fallujah, a city close to Baghdad which has been held by ISIS for over a year despite repeated attacks by government forces. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq warned that fighting ISIS was no longer a "local matter" and called on the international community to intervene, saying the world will have to face the dangers of ISIS if no clear strategy is formed soon. ~~~~~ The US has acknowledged that recent ISIS gains are a "setback" for coalition forces, but President Barack Obama insists the US is "not losing" the war : "There's no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time," he told The Atlantic magazine in an interview published Thursday, adding : "The training of Iraqi security forces, the fortifications, the command-and-control systems are not happening fast enough in Anbar, in the sunni parts of the country." White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the problem of ISIS is "not going to be solved overnight. Until we're able to build up local forces on the ground in Syria who can take the fight to Isil [ISIS] in their own country," he said, "this is going to continue to be a difficult challenge. ~~~~~ However, today Iraq officials report that 3,000 militia members in Iraq have begun pursuing ISIS militants, moving toward Ramadi. The pro-government forces say they have retaken Husayba, east of Ramadi, which is only 110km (70 miles) west of Baghdad. The Iranian-backed shiite Popular Mobilisation forces launched their operation out of the Iraqi air base at Habbaniya. This is good news, except that the operation is being carried out without much involvement by the Iraqi army. It was reported last weekend that 200 ISIS fighters captured Ramadi from 10 times that many Iraqi army soldiers. Military observers say the army simply doesn't have the determination to match ISIS, and that the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation forces are the only ones with the needed determination. But, the majority of the militia are shiite Moslems, and using them in Anbar province, which is overwhelmingly sunni, may give rise to sectarian violence. Nevertheless, there are some sunnis fighting alongside the Popular Mobilisation forces and so far there have been no incidents. A sunni tribal leader in Anbar, Sheikh Rafia Abdelkarim al-Fahdawi, told AFP news agency that his volunteers had also been deployed, along with police, special forces and army troops. Iraqi police spokesmen told news agencies that ISIS militants had been driven from Husayba and it was now under the control of pro-government forces. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Ramadi's fall has led to much ctiticism of the US regional policy of relying on air strikes to support the official Iraqi armed forces and police, ruling out a role for the militias, but not replacing them with an American ground presence. The Iraqi vice president, Ayad Allawi, has said publicly that the aerial campaign is simply not working : "There are no good news from the international coalition, and there is no strategy, so I asked the Iraqi leaders to put a strategy together and to present it to the coalition," he said. "The international coalition meets but without any results, the air strikes do not solve the problem." And, sunni politicians say they will only help in combatting ISIS if they get a larger say in the running of the country. Sunnis want to take control of and govern their own territories. They want Baghdad, or the US directly, to supply them with the arms and equipment they need in order to be responsible for their own security and to attack ISIS. The shiite Iraqi government in Baghdad hesitates to arm sunnis, fearing that they will turn on shiites, in revenge for the government's neglect and violent shiite attacks on sunnis. As we discussed earlier this week, this Iraqi sectarian split puts the Iran-led militias in the catbird seat because they are all shiite, all loyal to the Ayatollah Khamenei, all controlled by the powerful Qums foreign segment of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. And the same Qums militia are active in Syria. Their presence is in large part the reason that 50% of Syria and 30% of Iraq are controlled by ISIS. Every bomb dropped by the US and its coalition helps secure Iran's control of Iraq and Syria. Until President Obama accepts this reality, nothing anyone does will help Iraq -- there must be some sort of US military presence on the ground in Iraq, whether special operations or ground troops or a combination of them, to lead militarily. America has been training the Iraqi army for 15 years. It is not more training but strategic and field leadership that is lacking. If Mr. Obama wants to give the Middle East to Iran, he has simply to continue doing what he is now doing. The world can only hope that taking and consolidating control in all of Iraq and Syria is a big bite, even for Iran, and that the next US President will still have time to salvage the Middle East. --- Please join our Saturday email bags...just send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, May 22, 2015
Hillary Clinton Must Be Held Accountable for Withholding and Destroying the Public's Emails and Server
More than 55,000 pages of emails from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State were printed out into paper copies by somebody in her entourage, put into 12 large document boxes and delivered to the State Department. They represent 30,000 emails, half the 62,000 total emails she sent as Secretary of State. The other half of her emails she deemed personal. They were deleted. After making her personal, private selection of emails to share with Ametica and printing them out onto paper, Mrs. Clinton destroyed their electronic originals by erasing her private email server. The State Department was unable to meaningfully evaluate the paper copies of the emails, so State organized a team that has spent more than four months simply scanning them, thus returning them to their original electronic format. This makes it possible to sort them by date, topic, receiver, people copied, and other key words. ~~~~~ While this major delaying tactic by Hillary Clinton was being corrected, several Freedom of Information Act requests and requests of the House Select Committee on Benghazi languished at the State Department. On Monday, State told a federal judge in a case, brought by Vice News in United States District Court in Washington, that the 55,000 pages of Hillary emails would not be available until January 15,2016. John F. Hackett, acting director of the Office of Information Programs and Services at the State Department, said in the response to the court request in the Vice News case that : “Currently, this project is staffed full time by a project manager and two case analysts, as well as nine FOIA reviewers who devote the entirety of their time at the State Department to this effort, plus other analysts and information technology specialists who provide collateral assistance to this review in addition to their regular duties....The team managing this project has met daily since early April to implement and oversee this large undertaking....In consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration, the Department also conducted a page-by-page review of the documents to identify, designate, mark, and inventory entirely personal correspondence, i.e., those documents that are not federal records, included within the 55,000 pages,” Hackett wrote. ~~~~~ Earlier this week, the State Department said in a separate announcement that it would "soon" release to the House Select Committee on Benghazi just under 900 pages of Mrs. Clinton’s emails related to Libya and the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. There is, of course, no indication by the State Department that the emails to be sent to the Select Committee were selected by being subjected to an electronic search. Further, they may not be an exhaustive response to the Committee's request because they were originally selected by Hillary Clinton. ~~~~~ Like all federal judges, the judge in the Vice News case did not take fools and non-compliant defendents lightly, so he said waiting until January next year is not acceptable and ordered the State Department to file a plan to release the emails on a "rolling basis." The State Department said Tuesday that it would comply with the court order to develop a plan for releasing the emails it has received from Clinton, and would announce that plan within a week. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters that he doesn't know much about the process of preparing the 55,000 pages of Clinton emails for public release. Rathke doesn't know, for example, how many of those pages had been reviewed yet, or why State preferred to release all the emails at once, when they already exist in dozen of separate batches that have been through varying degrees of review. Rathke told reporters, when asked what was taking so long, that it was the sheer number of email pages to sift through. But he didn't have an update on how many pages had been reviewed so far. "I'm not in a position to preview where that stands," he said. The State Department's court filing in the Vice News case indicated some information may have to be redacted because it could reflect poorly on countries that might be named in the emails. But Rathke declined to say whether State was talking with other countries about the impact on them of any releases. ~~~~~ And while Congress may be slower to react to fools and non-compliant targets than federal judges, finally Congress acts. In the case of the State Department's delays in providing Hillary Clinton emails related to Benghazi, Congress has threatened to use the power of the purse to pressure the State Department into releasing more documents about how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handled her job during and after the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks. In what has become a stand-off, investigators in the House of Representatives have warned that entire portions of State's budget for public affairs and the Office of the Secretary could be set aside if it doesn't comply with congressional email demands. ~~~~~ Well, threats to withhold funds get attention fairly quickly, and the State Department today released a batch of 296 emails, about 850 pages that the State Department says are all the Clinton emails related to her handling of the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi. They are part of the 55,000 pages of emails she turned over to State from her private email server, which she used almost exclusively to conduct both private and public business during her time at State.“The emails we release today do not change the essential facts or our understanding of the events before, during, or after the attacks,” the State Department tweeted shortly after the announcement given to the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Representative Trey Gowdy, chairman of the Committee, said he was not surprised by the State Department statement, because the emails were selected and vetted by Clinton's own attorneys. "To assume a self-selected public record is complete, when no one with a duty or responsibility to the public had the ability to take part in the selection, requires a leap in logic no impartial reviewer should be required to make and strains credibility," he said in a statement Friday. Gowdy also said it was important to note that Clinton's email messages are just one piece of information related to Benghazi and cannot be fully evaluated without other documents and emails from other top officials at the State Department. "The committee is working to collect and evaluate all of the relevant and material information necessary to evaluate the full range of issues in context. We will not reach any investigative conclusions until our work is complete, but these emails continue to reinforce the fact that unresolved questions and issues remain as it relates to Benghazi," Gowdy said. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Hillary Clinton has been broadly criticized for conducting official business on a private email server, destroying 30,000 e-mails of her choosing and providing the rest in 12 large boxes of unsearchable paper records. Then, having done all she possibly could to prevent and/or slow the process of understanding her positions and commentary as Secretary of State, she had the gall to tell the media this week : “I want those emails out. Nobody has a bigger interest in getting [the emails] released than I do." Having erased 30,000 of those emails and continuing to refuse to turn over to the government her private server, from which experts could certainly recover much that she deliberately erased -- she added : “They are not mine; they belong to the State Department. But as much as they can expedite that process. That’s what I’m asking: please move as quickly as they possibly can.” For the first time in her public career, Hillary has told the entire truth. The emails and the server are not hers. Therefore, Mrs. Clinton should turn over the server to the National Archives or the State Department immediately. It is the only way we will ever know what her and President Obama's roles in the Benghazi tragedy were. Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell believes Clinton’s decision to use the private email server for official State Department business was poor judgment : “I don’t know who gave her that advice, but it was not good advice....She’s paying a price for it now....It was not good.” No other public servant could get away with such a lack of cooperation in obeying federal procedures and in destroying evidence. Neither should Hillary Clinton.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
On December 14, 2011, President Obama spoke to troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. To read the speech today is enormously painful, for its mix of bravado, self-agrandizing credit-taking, innuendo attacking President Bush, and outright disconnect with reality. I want to point out, as you read, that to the extent that President Obama is praising US military actions and successes, I do not quarrel with him. It is, rather, his inability to recognize and properly evaluate the reality of Iraq and the wider Middle East that is so dismaying. Here are some excerpts from that 2011 speech.~~~~ “It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success. Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations.” ~~~~~ “We remember the grind of the insurgency -– the roadside bombs, the sniper fire, the suicide attacks. From the ‘triangle of death’ to the fight for Ramadi; from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south -– your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it.” ~~~~~ “We remember the specter of sectarian violence -– al Qaeda’s attacks on mosques and pilgrims, militias that carried out campaigns of intimidation and campaigns of assassination. And in the face of ancient divisions, you stood firm to help those Iraqis who put their faith in the future.” ~~~~~ “We remember the surge and we remember the Awakening -– when the abyss of chaos turned toward the promise of reconciliation. By battling and building block by block in Baghdad, by bringing tribes into the fold and partnering with the Iraqi army and police, you helped turn the tide toward peace." ~~~~~ “And we remember the end of our combat mission and the emergence of a new dawn -– the precision of our efforts against al-Qaida in Iraq, the professionalism of the training of Iraqi security forces, and the steady drawdown of our forces. In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, you preserved the gains of the last four years and made this day possible." ~~~~~ “Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it. It’s not enough to honor you with words. Words are cheap. We must do it with deeds. You stood up for America; America needs to stand up for you. That’s why, as your Commander-in Chief I am committed to making sure that you get the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you’ve earned. For those of you who remain in uniform, we will do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our force –- including your families. We will keep faith with you. We will help our wounded warriors heal and we will stand by those who’ve suffered the unseen wounds of war. And make no mistake -- as we go forward as a nation, we are going to keep America’s armed forces the strongest fighting force the world has ever seen. That will not stop." ~~~~~ “Because of you, in Afghanistan we’ve broken the momentum of the Taliban. Because of you, we’ve begun a transition to the Afghans that will allow us to bring our troops home from there. And around the globe, as we draw down in Iraq, we have gone after al-Qaida so that terrorists who threaten America will have no safe haven, and Osama bin Laden will never again walk the face of this Earth.” ~~~~~ But, it was not only Barack Obama's words that defy reality. His friends joined in. “Remind them that this is the President that ended the war in Iraq.” (Michelle Obama.) “He has taken good care of our men and women in uniform, he has ended the war in Iraq.” (Bill Clinton) “We ended the war in Iraq.” (Joe Biden.) But, above all, there is the sheer egoism in the Obama boast : “You know I say what I mean and I mean what I say - I said I’d end the war in Iraq, I ended it.” ~~~~~ Dear readers, we can all cite the unraveling of each Obama statement, from sectarian violence to ISIS to Iran ascendancy in Iraq to the disastrous care sometimes given to veterans in VA facilities. But, today, I don't offer these quotes as partisan attacks on President Obama. It is not about Democrats vs Republicans or conservatives vs progressives or Obama supporters vs Obama skeptics. It is about vision vs the lack of vision in the most powerful leader in the world. This lack of vision has put President Obama in deeper and deeper waters as he tries to maintain his self-anointed position of being right about Iraq and the Middle East when he has been wrong --- simply wrong. It has led to his blaming President Bush or the Iraqi government or the military or intelligence for every error that belongs on his own shoulders. In June 2014, when asked if he had any “regrets” about not leaving a residual force in Iraq, Obama told reporters : “Keep in mind, that wasn’t a decision made by me. That was a decision made by the Iraqi government.” Back in 2011, when he was crowing about his victory, it was a different story. Obama proudly touted the small number of troops remaining in Iraq as one of his major accomplishments : “When I came into office,” he boasted at the time, “I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. As Commander in Chief, I ended our combat mission last year and pledged to keep our commitment to remove all our troops by the end of 2011. To date, we’ve removed more than 100,000 troops from Iraq." It is never easy for Congress to do battle with any President, and in this case, it is exceedingly difficult because President Obama seems prepared to reject constitutional constraints on his powers whenever it helps his position. It is also difficult because Obama has eviscerated the Democratic Party. There are no elder statesmen who might quietly restrain him. Vice President Biden is good only for gaffs and snoggling women. Harry Reid, who may have been, early on, more of an influence for presidential restraint than we recognized, is no longer on good health. Nancy Pelosi has always been merely Obama's voice and vote in Congress. Hillary Clinton is not able to weigh in -- tainted as she is by colluding in Obama's excesses, and in fighting for her own political future as her political past threatens to sink her. So, America holds its breath and counts the days to November 2016. But in Iraq -- and in Israel, Egypt, the Gulf states, Jordan, Saudi Arabia -- the luxury of waiting for a new American President is problematic in the extreme. King Abdullah of Jordan said today that the fight against ISIS "unites Moslems, Christians and Jews." That is absolutely true. But how much more productive that unity would be with an American President to lead it.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
The Iraq government is calling for volunteers to fight ISIS and help retake Ramadi. The al-Abadi cabinet issued an announcement of a voluntary recruitment drive, calling it necessary to fill shortages in squads in western Anbar province. Retaking Ramadi is a huge challenge for the Iraq government, which has had to appeal to shiite militias for help, risking a sectarian backlash by sending them into the sunni heartland. In Tikrit, for example, shiite militias had a major role in winning back control from ISIS but were also accused of targeting sunnis and their property, allegations the militias deny. Now, at Habbaniyah military camp, 12 miles (20 km) east of Ramadi, there are 3,000 shiite militiamen said to be "on standby" in preparation for an attempt to recapture the city. ~~~~~ Who are the shiite militia already on frontlines at Habbaniyah near Fallujah, east of of Ramadi, who were deployed to protect Baghdad and other towns still under government control? They are large, formally organized Iran-developed and backed groups : (1). According to Wameedh Zangana of the Badr Corps : "Hadi al-Ameri, the chief, took large forces toward Anbar province. He arrived at Habbaniyah military base, he is waiting for the other groups to start the operation of liberation of the whole province of Anbar." The Badr Brigades or Badr Corps, is now an Iraqi political party headed by al-Amiri. The Badr Brigade was the Iran-officered military wing of the Iran-based Shia Islamic party, Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), formed in 1982. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, most of Badr's fighters have entered the new Iraqi army and police force. Politically, Badr Corps and SCIRI were considered to be one party since 2003, but have now unofficially separated, with the Badr Organization now an official Iraqi political party. Badr Corps forces, and their Iranian commanders, have been prominent in the current fighting against ISIS in Iraq. The Badr Corps has infantry, armor, artillery, anti-aircraft, and commando units with an estimated strength of 10,000 to 50,000 men, according to the Badr Organization. (2). Naeem al Aboudi, spokesman for the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq group, says : "We are ready to send in thousands of our mujahedin (holy warriors) to fight. We are ready, just awaiting a sign from our leader, we expect that to happen in hours." Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, "League of the Righteous" is an Iraqi shiite paramilitary group active in the Iraqi insurgency and Syrian Civil War. During the Iraq War, it was known as Iraq's largest "Special Group," the American military's term for Iran-backed shiite paramilitaries in Iraq. It claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks on American, Coalition, and Iraqi forces. According to the UK's Guardian, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq is controlled by Iran and operates under the patronage of the powerful General Qassem Suleimani of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Quds Force. Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq allegedly receives training and weapons from Iran's Quds Force, as well as from the Iranian-proxy Lebanese Hezbollah. Expert estimates suggest that by March 2007, Iran was providing Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq between $750,000 and $3 million in arms and financial support each month. Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani, a former Badr Corps member who ran an important smuggling network played a key role in supplying the group. (3). And, Kata'ib Hezbollah militia has announced that its members are on highest alert and all leaves have been cancelled. Kata'ib Hezbollah is an Iraqi shiite paramilitary group that was active in the Iraqi insurgency and now in the Syrian Civil War and the fight against ISIS. It was originally an Iran-backed insurgent group that fought against American and Coalition Forces during the Iraq War. In 2013, Kata'ib Hezbollah and other Iraqi shiite militias acknowledged sending fighters to Syria to fight alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, against the sunni rebels seeking to overthrow him in the Syrian Civil War. In 2014, Kata'ib Hezbollah began taking a prominent role in the fight against ISIS in Iraq, and it was reported that it had received close air support from the US Air Force during the Iranian-led intervention in Iraq. ~~~~~ These anti-American Iran-backed militias are the proxy fighter groups that the supposedly national unity al-Abadi Iraqi government is dependant on to save the government and the country from an ISIS takeover that would lead to Iraq's disintegration into a no-mans-land of lawlessness. But, a shiite militia victory over ISIS is not at all sure because even at Tikrit, ISIS held the shiite militias and it was the Iraqi Army supported by US air strikes that finally drove off ISIS And shiite militia just lost Ramadi to ISIS. Even if ISIS is defeated, if the shiite militia gain control of Baghdad, Iraq will almost inevitably become an Iran client state. ~~~~~ It is understandable that thousands fled Ramadi both before and since its capture by ISIS on Sunday. The UN says 40,000 people have fled the area in recent days, with many having to sleep in the open. Streets in Ramadi are deserted, but some shops have been forced to open by ISIS fighters, who reportedly went door-to-door looking for government sympathizers and throwing bodies in the Euphrates river, as reported by residents. ~~~~~ It must have been cold comfort for these refugees to hear the US National Security Council say it is considering "how best to support local ground forces." Spokesman Alistair Baskey told AFP that some of the measures may include "accelerating the training and equipping of local tribes and supporting an Iraqi-led operation to retake Ramadi." President Obama was briefed and "reaffirmed the strong US support" for Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi. And, Al-Abadi said the Iraqi people need to "stand unified" and called for volunteers for the army. He once again also promised to arm and support sunni tribal militias. Iraqi troops in the area are expected to launch an attack on ISIS soon and they could be joined by about 3,000 shiite militia fighters. But it will be without the aid of US ground troops -- BBC's Gary O'Donoghue in Washington says the US insists it will only provide air cover to fighters under the control of the Iraqi government - reflecting concerns that some of the groups are controlled by Iran. Late today, it was also suggested that the US will supply Iraq with missiles for use against large ISIS suicide-bomb vehicles. Meanwhile, al-Abadi flew to Russia today, seeking closer military co-operation. Al-Abadi, who is travelling with a large number of ministers and advisors, is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is tempting to argue that the United States has a moral obligation to save Iraq, since today's Iraq is the creature of our making -- in a sense our Frankenstein -- in the most emotional scene of the original film, Frankenstein sits alone in tears, despised and feared by those he would befriend. That is the sentimental argument. But, the world of real politik offers an even stronger argument for saving Iraq. Its position -- separating Saudi Arabia and Iran, that is, the sunnis and the shiites. Supported by America, Iraq serves as a meaningful buffer zone in the Middle East. But, as an Iran client state, Iraq becomes the frontline in the Iran thrust to take the Saudi oil fields, return Egypt to the Moslem Brotherhood and Hamas, and destroy Israel. The role of the shiite militias imbedded in Iraq enhances Iranian political and religious influence there and adds greatly to Iran’s regional proxy strategy. They also threaten any US presence in Iraq today, including its diplomatic presence. That is the real politik reasoning -- it is necessary for the United States to assert and increase its military presence and influence in Iraq in order to protect Israel and the Arab states, including the Saudi petroleum reserves, from a terrorist Iranian hegemony that would destabilize the Middle East and the world.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
The US Military Can Lead the Middle East out of Its Crisis If President Obama Decides to Let Them Do Their Job
WAKE-UP CALL FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA AND HIS WHITE HOUSE ADVISORY TEAM. ~~~~~ The fall of Ramadi, the sunni capital of Iraq's Anbar province, is a stunning defeat for Iraqi security forces and military. It is an even more stunning defeat for the Barack Obama Middle East and Iraq "policy" : (1). hands off, no US ground troops, (2). try to force cohesive action from an Iraqi government that at best exists on the shiite-Iran side of the equation, by asking it to protect sunnis from ISIS, and (3). throw military equipment at this useless government knowing that it will not be distributed to sunnis and Kurds who need it and know how to use it, but, rather, knowing that it will, finally, when given to these Iran-led shiite militias, be abandoned to ISIS when the militia defenders flee from an ISIS advance. ~~~~~ It would seem a lot easier and more efficient to simply ship the US arms directly to ISIS and announce that President Obama and his advisors prefer an ISIS caliphate in Iraq. ~~~~~ Of course, the second sentence of that announcement would be to bid a final farewell to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, jordan, the Gulf states, AND Israel as we have known and nurtured them. ~~~~~ At the same time, Mr. Obama could also announce that it is time to abandon the past pretense that he is actually negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran and just tell the Ayatollahs that from now on it's full steam ahead toward finishing their nuclear bomb and ICBM program. ~~~~~ But, that would mean that Obama and his advisors would also need to alert Europe and Africa that "the Iranians are coming." ~~~~~ And shortly thereafter, Mr. Obama might want to alert Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines that North Korea, joined by Iran, Russia and China, will soon be making house calls. Perhaps Australia and New Zealand would be safe until later. ~~~~~ And all the while, the US military will be reinforcing American east and west coast border areas to intercept nuclear ICBMs. ~~~~~ Dear readers, if you think this a gross exaggeration of the run-on events following the fall of Iraq, please let me know how your vision of a shiite Iraq that is an Iran client state differs. ~~~~~ P.S. to President Obama and his advisors : You may not have noticed, occupied as you are with tossing US allies to the Iranian wolves, so let me remind you that you are the head of the best trained, best equipped, most professional, in short the finest military in the world. Perhaps if you take time to let this fact sink into your decision-making genes, it will occur to you that you cannot -- cannot on your best day -- plan a strategic and tactical military plan to avert the collapse that is fast approaching in the Middle East, starting with Iraq. But, your military can. That is their job. Your job is to understand and approve the plan and obtain congressional approval for the required budget. The world has fully noted your queasiness about real military engagement, but in crises, even the queasiest commander-in-chief must be prepared to use his military general staff for things other than parade functions. It is time to get out of the way, Mr. President. Ask your military Joint Chiefs to prepare the Middle East plan -- my guess is that they have already done this. Let them implement it -- before your unfathomable and unjustified sense that you know everything about being a military commander leads us into World War III when a real military plan could contain it in the region that now suffers greatly from your unskilled attention.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Judge Hanen Defends the Judicial Branch, Congress Should Defend the Legislative Branch from Obama's Executive Branch Attack
In the immigration lawsuit filed by 26 states, led by Texas, against the Obama administration in the Southern District of Texas, federal Judge Andrew Hanen issued a February 16 initial injunction in the belief that no action had taken effect under President Obama's executive orders establishing an amnesty plan for illegal immigrants. President Obama's Department of Justice lawyers had not told Judge Hanen that more than 100,000 illegal immigrants had already received three-year reprieves from deportation and work permits. Justice Department attorneys insisted in early March that the moves were made under 2012 guidelines and apologized for any confusion, but Hanen seemed unconvinced during a March hearing and threatened to sanction the attorneys. In his April 7 Order in which Judge Hanen refused to lift his injunction halting implementation of the Obama amnesty plan, he said the federal government had been "misleading." But he said he wouldn't immediately apply sanctions against the government -- Hanen could have tossed out the DOJ pleadings and given the victory to the states,"but because of the constitutional question involved, he didn't. ~~~~~ In a same-day comment, the White House defended President Obama’s new executive order immigration policies as “common sense” - but spokesman Josh Earnest called them “legislative action” before correcting himself. (Under the Constitution, only Congress can create legislation, while the President is charged with carrying out the laws, not writing them.) Earnest said : “We continue to have strong confidence in the legal arguments that we’re making,” adding that they already had an appeal of Judge Hanen's injunction pending. Meanwhile, the Justice Department angrily denied the Judge’s accusation that government lawyers misled him. The White House and Justice Department were reacting to the scathing analysis of the Justice Department’s misbehavior contained in Judge Hanen's April 7 Order. Hanen found that “attorneys for the government misrepresented the facts” to the court in pleadings filed in February and March. He told the Justice Department that he expected all the parties in the case including the government, “to act in a forthright manner and not hide behind deceptive representations and half-truths.” Judge Hanen also reprimanded the Justice Department lawyers for not having informed him immediately upon their discovery of the misrepresentation, saying that their claim that they took prompt, remedial action was “belied by the facts.” ~~~~~ Indeed, the Justice Department has now proved Judge Hanen correct. In an Advisory filed on May 7, the Justice Department finally informed Judge Hanen that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “sent three-year work authorizations after the court had issued its injunction” to approximately 2,000 individuals. This time, the Justice Department lawyers assert they only found out about the violation of the injunction order the day before their May 7 filing. They also said that DHS is in the process of converting “these three-year permits into two-year permits” and that Secretary Jeh Johnson has asked the DHS Inspector General to investigate the issuance of the three-year EADs (Employment Authorization Documents)," and is "begging" illegals who received the three-year EADs to return them in exchange for two-year EADs. ~~~~~ Thus, despite having told Judge Hanen both in court and in written pleadings that no part of the President’s plan was being implemented, the Justice Department lawyers have now made it clear that at least until late February, government officials were doing exactly the opposite. First, DOJ lawyers misled the court concerning more than 100,000 three-year amnesty applications that were approved between November 20 and February 16, as to which lawyers said they didn’t intend to mislead, assuming Judge Hanen knew those applications were being approved. Second, DHS later announced it had approved the 2,000 or so three-year applications even after the injunction - a clear violation of the judge’s Order that raises questions about the lawyers’ excuses for the first 100,000 approved applications. ~~~~~ “As the director of USCIS, I accept full responsibility," chief Leon Rodriquez said in a May 7 affidavit filed with Judge Hanen. Administration officials said the more than 100,000 applications approved between November 20 and February 16 were a "misunderstanding," while the 2,000 cases approved since the February 16 injunction were a problem with DHS’s IT procedures. Donald Neufeld, the DHS employee who is overseeing the deportation amnesty, said when the inunction came down, they stopped all amnesty applications. A few days later, they began processing two-year approvals again, but didn’t catch thousands of three-year cases that were in the pipeline. ~~~~~ In a supplemental three-page Order issued on May 8, Judge Hanen cited additional evidence to support his February finding that the states have standing to challenge Obama’s immigration plan. Judge Hanen had said in his February 16 Order that when the President declared in a televised town hall in February that agents who ignored his policies would face “consequences,” Obama showed that he intended to rewrite the law, not to carry it out. “In summary, the chief executive has ordered that the laws requiring removal of illegal immigrants that conflict with the [Obama] 2014 DHS directive are not to be enforced, and that anyone who attempts to do so will be punished,” Judge Hanen wrote. In addition, Judge Hanen noted in his May 8 Order that after the injunction was issued - in sworn testimony on April 14 before the House Judiciary Committee - Sarah Saldana, the DHS director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “reiterated that any officer or agent who did not follow the dictates of the 2014 DHS Directive would face the entire gamut of possible employee sanctions, including termination." Hanen said : “the President’s statements have now been reaffirmed under oath by the very person in charge of immigration enforcement" so that the government “has announced, and has now confirmed under oath, that it is pursuing a policy of mandatory non-compliance (with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and that any agent who seeks to enforce the duly-enacted immigration laws will face sanctions - which could include the loss of his or her job.” It is this “clear abdication of the law by the government - a law that is only enforceable by the government and outside the province of the states” that gives the states standing to bring suit. ~~~~~ It should be noted that the Justice Department checked with the White House before informing Judge Hanen that it was already carrying out part of President Obama’s immigration amnesty, administration attorneys revealed in the documents filed in court on May 7, as they tried to head off a serious judicial reaction against them. The attorneys turned over the communications with the White House to Judge Hanen -- clearly something that would not be done without presidential approval -- but the lawyers pleaded with the court not to look at the documents on grounds that it would intrude on the President’s powers. Still, the revelation that the White House was in the decision loop suggests officials knew the seriousness of the error in not informing Judge Hanen earlier that the Department of Homeland Security was already carrying out part of Obama’s amnesty by granting three-year work permits to illegal immigrants who qualified under the 2012 policy. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the latest actions by the government may make it very difficult for Justice Department lawyers who are trying to convince the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Judge Hanen’s injunction. This whole series of misstatements and probable lies by the Obama Department of Justice is not acceptable to the judicial branch of the US government, in this case represented by federal court Judge Andrew Hanen. It should also serve to boost the confidence of congressional leaders that Obama administration delaying tactics and misrepresentations are not acceptable to the legislative branch, either. The delays, half-truths, lost emails, refusals to turn over documents, Fifth Amendment use to avoid testifying -- whether for the IRS harassment of political groups, Fast and Furious, refusal to cooperate in the Benghazi investigation -- all point to President Obama and his administration's operation outside the spirit and letter of both the Constitution and the law. Congress should protect its constitutional functions and rights with assertiveness, in the knowledge that federal courts may yet protect their constitutional role. To be timid - to allow the Constitution to be trodden under by the executive branch - should not be any more acceptable to Congress or Americans than it is to Judge Hanen. Congress members have emails. Use them.
Saturday, May 16, 2015
It's Saturday email bag time again. This week, your comments continued to be about Greece and the Eurozone. There was also a question about Hillary Clinton and about the US presidential race. Since I just wrote a blog about Greece two days ago, there isn't additional news and we can only renew our support for Greece in this trying hour. Let's focus on American presidential politics. ~~~~~ The American media and Republican 2016 candidates, and even some Democrat party leaders, are complaining that since she announced her candidacy, Hillary Clinton has not been available for questions. ABC News says Clinton has "responded, in one way or another, to a grand total of nine questions from reporters since she launched her campaign last month." The most recent was on April 21 when she answered a question from a reporter about her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement. Clinton has not answered any questions from reporters since, although she has answered apparently pre-selected questions from voters at her organized campaign events. A Clinton campaign spokesman told ABC that "the focus of our ramp up period is to hear from voters about the issues they care about. She’s enjoyed engaging in hours of public question and answers sessions and, as the campaign progresses, looks forward to more engagement with voters and the press as well.” In fact, former President Bill Clinton has done more media interviews than his wife since she kicked off her campaign. Hillary Clinton has yet to do a formal sit down interview with any national media. Mrs. Clinton can indoubtedly survive for some time without giving interviews and dealing face-to-face with the media since she has no credible competition for the Democratic presidential nomination. But patience seems to be running out with her tactic. Jeb Bush, who has had trouble the past few days clarifying his position on the second Iraq war, is nevertheless out and accessible, answering press questions, including while moving through crowds. Even the liberal darling political guru of CNN, Gloria Borger, applauded Jeb's accessibility while lamenting Hillary's decision to hide from media questions. ~~~~~ Taking congressional action that could spell trouble for Hillary Clinton's candidacy, Representative Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House committee that is investigating Benghazi, seems determined to do a thorough job. The September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, generated many documents, and Gowdy has uncovered tens of thousands of new documents, but says he is still facing "obstacles" from the Obama administration. In an "Interim Progress Update" issued Monday, Gowdy revealed that the investigation "has uncovered new witnesses, new documents, new facts and will result in the most detailed and complete accounting of what happened in Benghazi." The report also indicates that in June the panel will interview former Secretary of State Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey and retired General Carter Ham, who was in charge of US troops in Libya at the time of the attack that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans and has prompted questions about the role of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Gowdy said his panel also plans to interview Susan Rice, who is Obama's national security advisor, and Huma Abedin, a top aide to Clinton. The report accuses officials in the Obama administration of refusing to turn over requested emails and documents related to Benghazi. Gowdy concludes that issuing subpoenas and using the courts to try to get the information would take too long and instead is suggesting that the House use its "power of the purse" to persuade the executive branch to hand over the requested information. Gowdy has written to Secretary of State John Kerry to ask for more cooperation : "You pledged your support and cooperation for the work of this committee when you assumed your current duties…yet the committee finds itself in the same place it was six months ago with respect to relevant communications from only ten former senior officials -- not one single piece of paper or email has been produced to the select committee from the 7th floor principals.” Gowdy said in the letter to Kerry that the State Department’s pace is making the committee’s work “impossible." Gowdy wrote in the report that : "In addition to highlighting the public's right to know substantial pieces of information still to be disclosed, the House should also consider motivating the executive branch through the appropriations process." The committee has also had a difficult time with Clinton over her willingness to testify. Gowdy has requested that she appear twice before the committee in public hearings, but Clinton lawyer David Kendall wrote to Gowdy to say she wil only appear once. Gowdy said the second hearing is needed to interview Clinton about her use of a personal email server for State Department business and her decision to destroy 30,000 emails. Gowdy says that the timing of the hearing hinges on when the panel obtains the thousands of documents it has requested but not yet received from the State Department. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the concensus of political professionals is that Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 presidential nomination to Barack Obama because of her disorganized and undisciplined campaign committee that sent mixed messages. There was also the matter of her being unable to control her husband Bill, whose racially charged attack on candidate Obama in South Carolina may have nailed the lid on the coffin for Hillary in 2008. For almost a year, we have been told by Hillary Land that this time it will be different! - that she has a disciplined campaign team and a coherent message. But what we have seen so far is an unspoken message of fear. Fear of Benghazi - fear of answering for her destruction of official emails that belonged not to her but to the US government - fear of having to defend herself against allegations that she and Bill engaged in influence peddling while she was Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton can run, but she cannot hide forever. Finally, she will have to explain her actions to American voters if she is to have any chance of being a viable presidential candidate. And it seems fitting that it will probably be a House member from South Carolina who makes her talk at last -- Trey Gowdy is a seasoned federal.prosecutor - if anybody can unmask Hillary Clinton, he can. Hillary's presidential ambitions may once again come to nothing because of South Carolina. ----- Please join our Saturday email bag. Send me a comment anytime to email@example.com. See you next Saturday.
Friday, May 15, 2015
Karl Rove, well-known GOP political advisor and analyst, wrote an essay that appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. It was titled "The Democrats’ Baffling Behavior." In it, Rove talks about President Obama's "lashing out" at Democrats in the way he used to attack Republicans. ~~~~~ Concerning President Obama, Rove says : "I’m baffled by his attack on Senator Elizabeth Warren in a Yahoo interview last weekend over her opposition to granting him trade-promotion authority [TPA]. Mr. Obama claimed 'her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny,' rejected her logic by snapping he would 'have to be pretty stupid' to do what she alleges, and then dismissed her by saying, 'the truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else.' By having her intelligence, judgment and motives questioned, Warren is getting a taste of what it has been like to be a Republican in the Obama era." Karl Rove has a point in saying that the President’s attack on Warren "made no strategic sense," although 'tactical sense' might describe it better. Obama's attack undoubtedly helped Senate Democrats find the votes on Tuesday to temporarily block bringing the TPA out of committee for debate, although Obama has since brought his Democrat Senators back into line and the TPA debate will begin. ~~~~~ The President later said his feud with Warren was not "personal." But, if you ask Speaker John Boehner and other congressional Republicans who have felt the malice in Obama attacks, they surely would say it felt personal. Obama meant to weaken them by belittling their intelligence and making them and the GOP look silly. Obama's goal before last November when the GOP took control of the Senate - the GOP has controlled the House since 2010 - was to keep the House from forcing his hand on Obamacare, tax policy, the budget and debt ceiling, his withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and his reducing the military budget and firing military general officers who disagreed with him. Those tactical goals, although not those any conservative would agree with, were recognizable as supporting the Obama strategic agenda. But, he is now applying the same tactic to congressional Democrats, especially Senator Warren, who has emerged as the leader of the far left progressive wing of the Democratic Party. ~~~~~ Why? Rove asks. My answer is that Barack Obama does not accept that the end of his presidential term will also be the end of his political dominance. He and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi represent the post-Clinton Democratic leadership. They have spent America into near-oblivion fiscally in order to buy and hold what they see as their voter base -- young, black, hispanic, LGBT, women, even illegal immigrants - the Obama Constituency. By giving governmental preference to their social and religious views and by parceling out to them sufficient benefits to keep them in social, ethnic and racial 'ghettos,' Obama is making them slaves to his view of the future. Reid and Pelosi, both in their 70s, are coming to the end of their useful political lives. Only Obama is left to carry on. And he does not want an ascendant Elizabeth Warren to scoop up and benefit from the fruits of his labors. That's why there are no young Democratic governors, senators, mayors or representatives geared up to run against Clinton. Only Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb - all over 70 except O'Malley - represent the Democratic Party’s puny effort to challenge Hillary. Obama's tactics have eliminated challengers and, according to most Democratic analysts they have left the state and local pre-Obama Democrat apparatus in a shambles so that the pipeline that leads to national prominence is almost empty. Only the computerized Obama Constituency list remains. And he refuses to share it with the Democratic Party or Hillary. Obama's tactical actions fit his strategy perfectly -- clear the Democratic field so that only he remains. Obama knows that Hillary will likely be beaten - she is old, mistrusted, and tied to his failures. Failures that don't weaken him as they do Hillary because the Obama Constituency doesn't care about them. Obama is willing to trade a few years of a Republican presidency and Congress while he prepares to intervene with his Obama Constituency. If that happens, Barack Obama will use his Constituency to lead America to a progressive place it has never been and from which return will be all but impossible. ~~~~~ Dear readers, if all this sounds too fantastic to be true, consider where America is today after six years of an Obama presidency. More than 2/3 of Americans think the future is bleak. Jobs are not coming back as they have after other recessions. The military labors under an Obama budget that has reduced the Army to World War II levels and the Navy to World War I levels. Partnership with Iran has become the goal of America's Middle East policy. China threatens America not to interfere with its aggressive South China Sea presence. Russian President Putin menaces eastern Europe and the NATO alliance. But, then ask yourself -- does the Obama Constituency care about any of this? Very little, if at all. And, Obama's belittling tactics toward the cable media networks he cannot control as he does mainstream media, Fox News in particular, are meant to keep his Constituency uninformed and solidly with him. Baffling? I think Obama's strategy and tactics are perfectly clear. He has created a Democratic Party in which a black President, whom no one can criticize without being called racist, is forging his own nightmarish vision of the American future.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
In a move that offers Greece its first helping hand, an investment deal between Greece and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) worth up to 500 million Euros a year, was signed today. Reuters reports that the EBRD and Greece formally signed the five-year agreement at the development bank's annual meeting in Georgia. It was agreed in March. Greece's economy ministry said in a statement : "It could help the country's economic recovery significantly." The ministry added it should boost the funding options of Greek businesses, especially the small and medium-sized ones that have been hit hardest by the country's economic crisis. The EBRD's decision to start lending in Greece comes after years of debate at the bank about whether a member of the world's most advanced monetary union fits in with the EBRD role of helping countries make the transition to market economies. The EBRD head, Suma Chakrabarti, said he hopes to have the first Greek projects in place in coming months but says Athens leaving the Euro would complicate things. New EBRD forecasts on Thursday predicted Greece's economy would stagnate this year and EBRD staff warned if it left the Euro, the situation would be far worse both for itself and the countries around it. EBRD’s shareholders voted today for the bank to invest in Greece until the end of 2020, deploying its expertise in attracting and encouraging foreign and domestic investment, strengthening the role of the private sector and deepening regional integration. The EBRD will also help in solving the insufficient capital situation for Greek private companies, which is a key barrier to Greek growth. The EBRD can contribute significantly with its equity and commercial debt solutions. The EBRD will also help in expanding the private sector’s role in infrastructure and energy. Greece is a natural trade and investment partner for many countries in south-eastern Europe where the EBRD has a strong presence. The Bank will support investments. ~~~~~ The Greek deal came as part of the EBRD meeting that released its latest Regional Economic Report that predicts overall stagnation in 2015 across all 35 countries covered and slight expansion of just 1.4% in 2016. But this outlook masks stark regional differences, according to the EBRD : “This is a very diverse picture,” said acting Chief Economist Hans Peter Lankes. “There is definitely scope for optimism especially in countries closely tied to the Eurozone. But the Russian recession is a cause for concern in many other economies.” The EBRD says Russia may face a protracted period of slow growth or stagnation. Low oil prices and sanctions have taken their toll on an already weak economy with deep-seated structural problems. In Central Europe and the Baltics (CEB), forecasts for Poland, Slovenia, the Slovak Republic and Hungary have been revised upward, reflecting the stimulus from the Eurozone monetary easing that has added to the earlier positive impact of lower oil prices. The CEB region is expected to see growth of 2.9% in 2015, compared with a January forecast of 2.6%. Expansion of 3.0% is seen for 2016. The quantitative easing (QE) by the European Central Bank, the weaker Euro and lower oil costs are also benefiting economies in southeastern Europe. QE has allowed easier monetary conditions in countries with close economic ties to the Eurozone. ~~~~~ However, the EBRD warned that any volatility related to Greece could dampen the outlook. The EBRD says that Greece would be plunged into a major recession if it defaulted on its debts, hurting economies across Eastern Europe. The baseline assumption in today’s EBRD report is that an agreement will be reached between Greece and the lending institutions,. That would help build confidence and stability and could pave the way for a return to modest growth in the second half of this year, pulling Greece out of recession. Growth could then rise to 2% in 2016, as improved confidence and the ECB’s QE programme kick in. However, the EBRD says its forecasts would be rendered completely invalid in a negative scenario if the Greek government misses sovereign debt payments, enacts capital controls, puts limits on deposit withdrawals, or introduces IOUs (“pseudo euros”) or equivalent instruments to pay domestic obligations. In this case, Greece would likely fall back to a major recession, the size and duration of which are difficult to quantify now. ~~~~~ Meanwhile, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis today renewed his request for a delay or resturcturing of the Greek debt with the European Central Bank. But four months of deadlock between Greece's radical left Syriza-led government and its EU-IMF creditors concerning the reforms needed to release the remaining bailout funds, has generated fears that Athens, which is running critically short of cash, may soon end up defaulting, setting off a messy exit from the Euro. Varoufakis today called for the ECB to agree for Athens to delay payment on some 27 billion Euros ($30 billion) in Greek bonds that it will otherwise be unable to repay. "It's quite simple, these bonds must be pushed into the future, this is clear also to the ECB," Varoufakis said. The Greek bonds were part of a batch purchased by the ECB in 2010 and 2011, he said. Varoufakis has warned that the country risks running out of cash within two weeks if no deal is reached with its creditors to unlock the last tranche of aid funds. In July and August Greece is already scheduled to repay over 6 billion Euros to the ECB from the same bonds, Varoufakis added. Amid widespread fears of a Greek exit from the Eurozone, the French Finance Minister today told CNN that there is no Plan B for Greece, which he says will stay in the Eurozone. ~~~~~ In another hardhit Eurozone country, although Spain is not on the front pages right now, and although the Spanish government recently announced that up to half a million jobs have been ceeated over the past year -- many Spaniards are feeling left out. Since the Euro crisis hit in 2010, Spain’s astronomical unemployment rates have vied with Greece's for first place in Europe. They have fallen from a high of 27% in 2013, but they are slowly rising again. In Andalucia jobless rates are around 35%. The overall Spanish unemployment rate increased slightly in the first quarter, to 23.8%. And in working-class neighborhoods, foreclosures continue while unemployment benefits are running out. Experts estimate that Spain will not reach its pre-2008 employment and economic activities rates until 2017, at the earliest. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Greece is suffering. Spain is suffering. And the Eurozone, the ECB and the IMF are stuck on the "pay up now" line vis-à-vis Greece. It made no sense for the IMF to demand a $750 million payment this week from a country that has said it will run out of cash in two weeks. Shakeseare said : " The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven." Where is the Eurozone mercy toward Greece? Illegal immigrants hauled up on Italy's beaches receive much kinder treatment than Greece -- both in the media and from EU leaders. Someone -- Chancellor Merkel comes to mind -- should step up to assume the Eurozone's ethical duty to treat Greece as any EU / Eurozone member deserves to be treated.