Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The GOP Has Too Many 2016 Candidates

Americans want change and reforms, but "people don't think any of this is going to happen," Stan Greenberg, chairman and CEO of polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, said during a recent reporter roundtable organized by the Christian Science Monitor. Their skepticism isn't based on the idea of a Democratic nominee who would follow a two-term Democrat, President Obama. "It's because the old political system is uniquely corrupted" in their eyes, Greenberg said. "What matters is how deep the critique people have about what's happening in the country, both politically and economically." Greenberg said that voters define corruption as money in politics and Washington power brokers who are self-serving and disconnected from everyday Americans and their concerns. This is why Clinton's wealth, the Clinton family wealth, the Clinton Foundation's fundraising, her decades lived as a VIP, and her missing emails discourage some voters from accepting the leading Democratic candidate as trustworthy, even if they favor the economic and social policies she stakes out. The poll shows a 31% to 31% dead heat about whether voters think Democrats or Republicans can bring about the sweeping changes they see as necessary for America's future. ~~~~~ These insights make it more understandable that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is gaining on Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. His appeal is as an issue-oriented protest candidate potentially capable of slowing any coronation of front-runner Clinton. In simultaneous surveys, Senator Sanders received nearly 25% support from likely Democratic caucus and primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire -- the states that host the first presidential nomination balloting early next year -- cutting sharply into Clinton's still-large lead. The polls suggest substantive and symbolic support for Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist, while Jeb Bush tops the list of GOP contenders with 15% support among Republican primary voters. That’s up from 12% last month and his best showing yet.  Support for Trump more than doubled since his announcement and that catapults him into the top tier at 11% -- but there is always a post-announcement spike in polls and it will take a month for Trump's real attraction to show, although it must be said that his conservative-populist message could push him up in GOP polls in the same way a similar populist, albeit socialist, message has pushed Bernie Sanders up in Democratic polls. Trump was followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 10%, ostensibly another non-politician outsider with a more sophisticated but nevertheless populist message. No one else receives double-digit backing. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the most important message coming from the presidential polls is subliminal. It is the hidden message of GOP voters who are saying that they cannot choose a candidate-leader because there are simply way too many wannabes muddying the waters with messages tweeked to help them get to the magic top 10 threshold for inclusion in the GOP debates that begin in September. There are now 16 - count them - 16 Republican candidates. That is outrageous and it seems more like a Broadway musical comedy than a serious quest to choose the best Republican candidate for President. Hillary Clinton has only Bernie Sanders to cope with. How is Jeb Bush, who leads every GOP poll every time, supposed to cope with 15 others? -- by ignoring them and delivering his message everyday and as widely as possible. Case in point -- a late June Fox News poll that asked questions looking ahead to the 2016 general election found that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are tied at 43% each, with 6% undecided. The 15 other Republicans should consider that result every night when they review their day. There comes a time in each party when it becomes clear that some presidential candidates will not make the cut. Their task at that moment is to step aside, do their best to deliver party unity from their supporters and begin to think about how they might serve America in other roles. If not before, then immediately after the top ten are chosen for the first GOP debate, those not included should do the decent and honorable thing -- support the GOP by withdrawing. This is a critical election. It may well be the last chance to lead the United States back to constitutional government that respects the majority as well as minorities. That may sound biased. It isn't. Without majority rule, the Constitution becomes a handbook for community organizers. America has been there and done that. It didn't work -- not for anyone. It is time for the change Americans want.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Greek Democracy or EU Elitism - Who Will Prevail

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speaking to the press this morning, said : "I will never let the Greek people down." Juncker's long monologue was somewhat like watching the Wicked Stepmother in Snow White ask over and over : "Mirror, Mirror on the walk, who is the fairest of us all?" As children, we knew she would be outraged by the answer. Today, Juncker said he was "betrayed" by Greece's behavior after all he and the EC had done to help it. Strange words form the man who heads the EC, the creditor of 60% of Greece's €323 billion debt.-- with the IMF (holding 10% of the Greek debt) and the ECB (6%) -- because their intransignce has caused a fall of 25% in Greek GDP during the last five years, unequaled in Europe since World War II, while its unemployment rate stands at 25% overall, with youth joblessness at 50%. There are food and medicine shortages, and pensioners must somehow survive on 50% of their pensions.~~~~~ After calling for a referendum, on Sunday evening, following emergency meetings with monetary authorities, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras annouced that Greek banks and the Athens stock market would be closed Monday to prevent a run on deposits and a massive share selloff. The creditors instantly went from optimism to pessimism, facing a likely Greek default and exit from the Eurozone. But to tell the truth, after the interim jolts, Greece will be better off out of the Eurozone. The UK's Telegraph quoted its financial columnist, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who calls the EC/IMF/ECB reaction to the Greek crisis : “deliberately provoking a bank run and endangering Europe's system in their zeal to force Greece to its knees....to duck their own responsibilities leading to this impasse.” According to Evans-Pritchard : "it has never been plainer that the Greek crisis is all of Europe’s....Tsipras and Varoufakis...had made more politically perilous compromises, notably on budget surplus targets and in its proposed tax reforms, and notably not on already slashed public-sector pensions. The EU advanced modified terms that amounted to tinkering at the margin....On the table at this point was a five-month extension of the bailout. Sign the deal and roughly $8 billion of the rescue funds agreed in 2012 will flow. Don’t, and Athens wouldn’t be able to cover a $1.8 billion payment due at the IMF this Tuesday." ~~~~~ So, last Friday, Tsipras announced his call for a public referendum on July 5 to determine the majority view of Greek voters. The EU was quick to react, suddenly withdrawing the bailout extension, leaving nothing for Greeks to vote on. It also refused Greece’s request for an extension of talks to accommodate the July 5 vote. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister and leader of the Eurogroup finance ministers, immediately accused Tsipras of breaking off the talks. The referendum idea, Dijsselbloem said, “has closed the door on further talks while the door was still open, in my mind.” Yet, Varoufakis was still on the telephones, tweeting, and trying to keep contacts open throughout the weekend. Dijsselbloem’s account of the Greek minister’s stance was disingenuous. Then, Dijsselbloem excluded Varoufakis from a Eurogroup meeting Saturday afternoon : “Our Greek colleague will not attend,” he said. But, despite or because of this, the Greek parliament backed Tsipras, voting for the referendum. This wasn't a great surprise because the left wing of the Syriza party was uneasy with Tsipras’s compromising in Brussels and had hinted last week that it wanted a referendum. On Sunday morning, the ECB stepped up to the plate, announcing that it wouldn’t provide further increases in emergency funds to keep Greek banks liquid. That put the Bank of Greece on notice that when the current provision runs out, it’ll be on its own to deal with the probability of a full run on Greek banks. But late on Sunday, the ECB board, perhaps having internal attacks of nerves, reversed itself, voting to provide Greece $2 billion in liquidity on Monday, the same amount it provided Friday. “It is obvious that ECB President Mario Draghi doesn’t want to be tagged as the one responsible for pushing Greece out of the Eurozone,” according to a Telegraph European source, and “I suspect he’ll do the same Tuesday, so Greek banks can keep their heads just above water.” ~~~~~ Concerning the catastrophic austerity program forced on Greece by the EU, Greek voters have an absolute right to judge a deal wherein Tsipras and Varoufakis have gone much further than they promised when elected in January.Europe has by action and words argued all along that the democratic process - to say nothing of the basic well-being of Greeks - counts less than technocratic calculations and targets that have repeatedly proven wrong in Greece and elsewhere. “Democracy deserves a boost in Euro-related matters,” Varoufakis tweeted Friday in support of the referendum. “We have just delivered it. Let the people decide. (Funny how radical this concept sounds)." Today, a Grexit begins to look inevitable. Grexit will be hard on Greeks during the transition back to the Drachma. but to put democratic values above market values is an easy decision. ~~~~~ Dear readers, when the European project began after WWII, Churchill, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet explicitly advanced it as the mechanism needed to strengthen European democracies. If Europe’s progress now depends on turning democracy into a centralized elite bureaucracy which smirks at the power of the governed and refuses to accept democratic votes in referenda -- the cynical joke among EU residents is that the EU makes them vote until they give the "right" answer -- then why support an EU at all? The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen), passed by France's National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, is a fundamental document of the French Revolution and in the history of human and civil rights. The Declaration was directly influenced by Thomas Jefferson, working with General Lafayette, who introduced it. Influenced also by the doctrine of "natural right," the rights of man are held to be universal : valid at all times and in every place, pertaining to human nature itself. It became the basis for the French nation of free individuals protected equally by law. It is included in the preamble of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth Republic (1958) and is still cherished by French citizens. The Declaration was a core statement of the values of the French revolution and had a major impact on the development of liberty and democracy in Europe and worldwide. The Declaration, together with the American Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, inspired the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The French Declaration says : "Society has the right to call for an account of its administration by every public agent. Any society in which the guarantee of the right is not secured, or the separation of powers not determined, has no constitution at all." Juncker, Merkel and Lagarde, who is French, would do well to memorize this excerpt. The French, Spanish and Italian people, and some of their growing political parties, look at Britain doing better than Eurozone countries because they do not have the Euro and so control their own finances and fiscal policies -- their own destiny. Weaker Eurozone countries feel a loss of sovereignty and an entrapment in a gigantic, unelected Brussels bureaucracy of elitists and politicians appointed by each country so as to "kick them upstairs" to the EU to represent the views of a particular political party at home. Unless the EU comes to terms with this, not only the Euro but the EU itself could collapse. It will be a pyrrhic victory for Merkel, Juncker and Co. to beat up on Greece and force it to its knees, if in doing so, they sow the seeds of a generalized insurrection within the European Union.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Email Bag - Terrorists, Greece and Same-Sex Marriage

It's the Sarurday email bag and a review of your comments and questions. The topics were varied but the themes seemed to narrow down to terrorism, Greece and yesterday, the US Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage. Remember that you can join us by sending your emails with comments, questions, quotes -- whatever you choose -- to casey.popshots@yahoo.com. Now, let's talk about this week's themes. ~~~~~ Terrorists beheaded a French small business owner, killed 36 European tourists in Tunisia and 28 shiite worshippers at a Kuwait City mosque on Friday. They also killed 200 civilians in Kobani, Syria, as ISIS fought to hold its grip on the town that was finally freed by the Kurdish military. It's one year since al-Baghdadi declared the ISIS caliphate. It has been a year in which we have seen many beheadings, suicide bombs, town sweeps in which innocent, trapped civilians were machine-gunned. We have also seen US-led airstrikes and several defeats of an Iraqi army that is trying to be simultaneously Iraqi, sunni and shiite while its government cosies up to Iran and hesitates to arm sunni militia who are in areas targeted by ISIS. There is no answer in sight for regrouping Iraq as a nation. But, in truth, Iraq was not a nation until the French and British cobbled it together after World War I. In this leadership vacuum, the Kurds - also not supplied with their military needs by the Iraq government - have consolidated their semi-autonomous territory in northern Iraq and Syria and are successfully combatting ISIS. The future looks grim until someone, undoubtedly a US President, decides to seriously lead the fight against terrorism. ~~~~~ In the case of Greece, late last night, Prime Minister Tsipras called for a national referendum on July 5 - if the Greek parliament agrees - so that Greeks can make their own decision on accepting very austere Eurozone/ECB/IMF conditions for continuing with the bailout program or rejecting those conditions and getting on with rebuilding the Greek economy and society brought down by bailout austerity. The Eurogroup late today decided that the bailout program will end on Tuesday, June 30. This leaves Greece in a sort of limbo, being dependent on the ECB to continue liquidity support for Greek banks until after the referendum. But in making the announcement, Eurogroup president Joroen Dijsselbloem said that Greece must live up to its prior commitments, while at the same time saying there is not yet a complete revised Eurozone program on the table. One wonders how Greece was supposed to agree to an incomplete Eurozone proposal. In any event, Greece has been shut out of currently ongoing Eurogroup talks even though Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis says that if negotiations continued, a deal might be reached by Tuesday. Whatever the outcome, we will see democracy at work in the land where democracy was born -- despite the Eurogroup leader seeming to look down on the democratic move by Tsipras. In fact, Varoufakis said today that the Eurogroup is being undemocratic in rejecting the idea of a referendum. Bravo to Prime Minister Tsipras. ~~~~~ The US Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage is a dangerous step down a non-constitutional path. Let me explain. The US Constitution is very clear that all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government remain powers reserved to the states. Domestic issues, including marriage, are not delegated by the Constitution to the federal government. Therefore, marriage, including same-sex marriage, remains a power reserved to the states. What the Supreme Court Majority of five justices has done is to use the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection to steal for themselves the power to decide who can marry -- a power clearly left to the states under the Constitution. The Majority has eliminated the power and right of each state to debate and vote through its legislature whether to permit same-sex marriage in its jurisdiction. As Justice Scalia put it in his dissent, American democracy was working well on the issue of same-sex marriage until yesterday, because the issue was actively being debated in every state and many (34) had already decided to permit same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court, in effect, cut off that constitutional process in favor of deciding itself that all states must permit same-sex marriage. Justice Scalia warned that this unconstitutional judicial decision-making weakens American democracy. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his powerful dissent : "If you are among the many Americans -- of whatever sexual orientation -- who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate this achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it. I respectfully dissent.” Amen, Mr. Chief Justice, Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Europeans Must Learn How to Deal with Terrorists in their Midst

This has been a terrible day in Europe and beyond. This morning, a 35-year-old man who lives near Lyon headed an hour south to Grenoble. His goal was an Air Products tank farm and refillng area in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier near Grenoble. He stopped near his destination, beheaded the owner of a delivery van he commandeered, dumped the body onto the ground near the Air Products entry gates - a knife was found nearby - and attached the severed head to a chain fence with Islamist flags and Arabic writing surrounding it. He then drove the delivery van, familiar to plant personnel because it was used to make drliveries to the plant, into the entry area and rammed into oxygrn tanks, causing an explosion that badly damaged the van. Two people were injured, apparently lightly. Plant security personnel stopped him as he was trying to open acetone tanks. Surveillance video camera footage may be useful in the case, according to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. Police believe he acted alone. He was arrested and identified as Jassine Salhi. He had been on a French security force list of radicalized French residents from 2006 to 2008, then later as someone who was in contact with extremist salafists. But he had no police record and so his surveillance ended. His wife and sister are also in custody. ~~~~~ In Sousse, Tunisia, soon after the Grenoble attack occurred, a student-terrorist with no police record used a Kalachnikof to mow down and kill 37 European tourists and injured 39 others on a beach at two hotels. Police opened fire and killed the attacker. Preliminary investigation shows that those killed were mostly British, Belgian and German. The Tunisian president has called for international help, saying that Tunisia doesn't have the capacity to deal with islamist jihadists alone. ~~~~~ And, in the third terrorist attack today, a suicide bomber killed at least 27 at a Shiite mosque in the Kuwaiti capital, Kuwait City, during Friday prayers. It was Kuwait's first terrorist attack since 1983. ISIS claimed responsibility for the deadly explosion that wounded 227 others, according to the Kuwait Ministry of the Interior. ISIS militants this week had called for violence during the Moslem holy month of Ramadan. Eyewitnesses say the suicide bomber was young - about 20 years old. He entered the mosque, stood with men at the back and exploded his large suicide bomb. Kuwait is sunni but has a shiite minority, although there is little apparent animosity between the sects in Kuwait. ~~~~ Dear readers, the EU leadership seems unable to talk about terrorism in Europe except in flurries after an attack occurs. Consequently, Europeans have difficulty comprehending that islamist terrorists are in their midst. France says it has more than 5,000 terrorists on a watch list but cannot possibly track all of them all the time. France and Belgium have large North African Moslem population. Britain has a minority mix of Pakistanis and others. Germany has a minority mix of Turks and Balkan Moslems. Every European country tries to welcome and integrate these minorities, but they often live in enclaves making daily surveillance difficult. There are rumors strongly denied by France and Britain that some of these enclaves are run by local unelected leaders using Sharia law and are no-go zones for police and security forces. In addition, the large Schengen Zone in the EU does not require border controls when moving from one country to another inside the Zone. Passports are controlled once when entering any country in the Zone. It is much like travelling from state to state in America. The big difference is that thousands of young disaffected European Moslems regularly are radicalized by jihadist imams in European mosques and often travel to Syria, Afghanistan or Pakistan for jihadist indoctrination and training. In addition, more than a hundred thousand refugees flood into Europe from the Middle East and Moslem Africa every year. It is impossible to adequately control the backgrounds of all these refugees or keep track of them as they try to illegally disperse throughout the EU. And while there are very few terrorist attacks in Europe itself, Europeans have a history of taking holidays in Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco. A serious education effort needs to be made to sensitize Europeans to the dangers of travel in these areas. And every EU country needs to teach its citizens the essentials of traveling and going about their daily lives in Europe in the new atmosphere of threats from terrorists. EU leaders need to speak out and initiate awareness programs to help improve the security of their citizens. The United States would do well to do the same. And, lastly, we all join in prayers and thoughts for the families of those so cruelly cut down today.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

EU in Chaos over How to Handle Refugee Problem

On April 19th, 800 refugees drowned when a boat capsized off the Libyan coast on its way to southern Italy. The worldwide and European shock was instantaneous. It was the last straw in a series of deadly disasters at sea in the Mediterranean. EU foreign and interior ministers met in Brussels three days later -- two days after EU leaders at a routine meeting the day after the capsize deaths had issued a cobbled together 10-point plan and discussed expanding emergency nautical rescues, destroying traffickers' boats and providing an "emergency mechanism for the resettlement" of refugees, which would address the question of how to fairly distribute refugees among all EU member states. This time, EU leaders seemed determined -- because, as the German Spiegel media outlet put it, "the credibility and the idealistic core of the European Union were at stake." Their closing statement said : "The European Union will do everything possible to prevent people from dying at sea." ~~~~~ Then, the mammoth and largely non-public EU bureaucracy took over, along with the never-ending inability of EU leaders and countries to agree on anything meaningful. Already at the first meeting, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for solidarity with Italy's monumental task as the 'first arrival' site of refugees on EU soil. He was rebuffed. British Prime Minister David Cameron refused. A Polish representative rejected new obligations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande were unwilling to make any clear statements. The EU tradition of making meaningless public statements and then turning to closed-door negotiation to find lowest-common-denominator agreement kicked in. The 28 governments were truly shocked about what had happened, but could not agree about solutions. ~~~~~ Stalling for time to build a consensus behind closed doors, they asked European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to come up with a political plan on the critical but divisive topic of migration. Juncker, always efficient if often misguided, on May 13, presented the Commission's "European Agenda on Migration." In the original form, the corresponding Commission documents are titled: "COM(2015) 241 final: Draft Amending Budget No. 5 to the General Budget 2015 - Responding to Migratory Pressures." First, the EC recommended directly accepting 20,000 refugees from crisis-stricken regions in the coming two years, and using a quota system to distribute them across the 28 member states. Second, the burden on EU countries like Italy, Greece and Malta, on whose coasts most of the refugees land, would be reduced -- 40,000 people were to be "taken off their hands," also with the help of a fixed quota system based on criteria like population, economic strength, the number of refugees already accepted and unemployment. Depending on the quota, 15.43% to 18.42% of the refugees were to be allocated to Germany, with the first batch consisting of more than 10,000 people. Countries like Latvia and Croatia, however, were to see only hundreds. But when the idea of a mandatory quota emerged, EU member states reacted negatively. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said : "The idea that somebody allows some refugees in their own country and then distributes them to other member states is mad and unfair." Other member states criticized the Commission for not sticking to the mandate established by European leaders at their special summit three weeks ago -- "voluntary, emergency redistribution" and a "voluntary pilot project" to resettle refugees. In effect, they agreed by disagreeing. Representatives of Eastern and Central European countries, as well as those of some Southern European countries, said they would refuse to accept any quota. The Polish delegation noted that solidarity can take many forms, and variations of this non-statement were then expressed in the following weeks. Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Spain and Romania used the same argument in voicing their objections to "imposed" solidarity. Representatives asked difficult questions : How can we make fingerprinting a requirement? Do we have to set up intake offices? How can the migrants be kept in the country if their true objective is to continue to Germany, Sweden or France? Should they be forced to remain in the country? Should they be housed in barracks? ~~~~~ Today, there is still no EU consensus on boat refugees, much less immigration. The EC Dublin II document places the burden of vetting, feeding, housing, granting refugee or asylum status and a job within 9 months to the first country where the refugee sets foot on EU territory. The EU received 626,000 asylum applications in 2014. In 2014 the number of applicants from Syria more than doubled, compared with 2013, reaching 123,000. That was 20% of the total, and far above the next biggest group - Afghans, who accounted for 7%. Migrants from Kosovo were in third place, just above Eritreans. Poor Roma account for many of the migrants from Kosovo. In 2014, EU asylum was granted to 163,000 people in first instance decisions - that is, nearly 45% of such decisions. Germany granted the most - 41,000, followed by Sweden (31,000) and Italy (21,000). ~~~~~ The wars in Syria and Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, are clearly the drivers of migration to Europe. Syria's Middle East neighbors have taken three million refugees, while millions more are displaced inside Syria. And, many migrants continue to make hazardous journeys from the Horn of Africa, often treated brutally by people traffickers and enduring desert heat and unrest in Libya, the main point of departure. War has ravaged Somalia and Italian officials believe many of the migrants are genuine asylum seekers, fleeing persecution. In the case of Eritrea, it appears many are young men fleeing compulsory military service, which has been likened to slavery. Eritrea is being destroyed by political repression, human rights groups say. ~~~~~ Dear readers, because of the dangers of sea migration attempts, half of the illegal immigrants flooding into the EU arrive in Greece -- 62,000 so far this year-- coming by land from Syria and Iraq. The other half arrives in Italy from Africa by boat -- another 60,000. The only EU effort following the April capsize drowning has been to begin Operation Triton to patrol the EU Mediterranean coastlines and turn back refugee boats, with the goal of sinking the boats before they take on refugees. EU countries with borders on refugee-generating non-EU countries are building brick and wire walls -- Hungary, Romania, Greece, Spain in its African territorial enclave. The recent near-insurrection of refugees in Calais illegally seeking to hide in trucks crossing the Channel to the UK from France is the most public example of the EU refugee crisis. It caused 6-hour delays in Channel crossings. The refugees say they got to Calais from Italy by hiding on trains going through Paris and that French gendarmes mostly waved them through to Calais. British Prime Minister Cameron says the situation is "totally unacceptable" even while saying that the UK and France are cooperating to manage the problem. That is the European Union problem in a nutshell -- no agreed action plan, each country trying to push refugees on to another EU country, and refugees taking advantage of the EU political chaos to head to northern member states where they know they will get better benefits as refugees and have a great chance of joining family already safely there, while finally getting a residency permit. The touted European Union is still an experiment -- and it keeps failing one test after another because its member states cannot agree on any issue that is even close to being important.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Are the EU and France Becoming Mouthpieces for Palestinian Terrorists?

A Gallup poll released Monday shows that 91% of American said they would vote fo a presidential candidate who is Jewish. The Gallup poll testing American voting preferences also showed that 73% of Americans would support an evangelical Christian for President, while 60% would back a Moslem and 58% an atheist. The latest results on voting for a Jewish candidate matched those from June 2012. When the question about religion was first asked in 1937, less than half of Americans said they would vote for a Jewish candidate. In addition to asking about religions, the poll, conducted from June 2 to 7, asked the 1,527 participants aged 18 and older about their willingness to vote for gay or lesbian, African-American, Latino, female and socialist presidential candidates. Ninety-two percent said they would vote for an African-American and/or a woman and 74% a gay or lesbian, while just 47% said they would consider voting for a socialist. Both Democrats (92%) and Republicans (95%) expressed willingness to vote for a Jewish candidate. But voting for a Jewish presidential candidate is the only point of agreement between Democrats and Republicans. In all other categories, their willingness to vote for various categories of candidates differed significantly. Among Republicans, 84% said they would vote for an evangelical, compared to 66% of Democrats, and more Democrats were willing to vote for a Moslem (73%) than Republicans (45%). And, while 64% of Democrats would vote for an atheist, only 45% of Republicans would. Noticeably higher percentages of Democrats (85%) than Republicans (61%) would vote for a gay or lesbian. ~~~~~ But, it appears that Americans' willingness to vote for a Jewish presidential candidate is lost on European, and in particular French, politicians, who seem determined to recognize a state of Palestine and penalize Israel, however they can. The UN General Assembly led the way in November 2012, voting by an overwhelming majority -- 138 in favor to 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, Palau, United States), with 41 abstentions -- to grant Palestine non-Member Observer State status in the UN. Two years later, in November 2014, Sweden became the 135th UN member state to recognize the state of Palestine. The only other European Union state to have recognized the state of Palestine is Iceland. ~~~~~ But, that may soon change. The establishment French Le Monde newspaper is reporting that France plans to present a new Israeli-Palestinian peace resolution with a strict deadline to the UN Security Council by the September General Assembly annual meeting. According to Le Monde, the French resolution will : (1) set both the parameters of a negotiated end to the conflict and a limited timeframe of 18 months for these negotiations to take place, (2) call for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders, with exchange of territories agreed by both parts, and with Israel pledging to pull out its troops during a transition period, (3) define Jerusalem as the capital of the two future states, and (4) suggest compensation for the Palestinian refugees' right of return, implicitly ending the validity of any demand for right of return. But contrary to demands by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Le Monde says the French plan doesn't include a date for the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. France reportedly feels that the situation has reached the point where time can no longer be allowed to run its course. France's previous efforts to draft a resolution were thwarted by the Palestinian Authority's hardline. Le Monde reports that the French decided to make a new attempt after the Israeli general election which saw Benjamin Netanyahu remain as Prime Minister with a coalition that leans farther to the right. Since 2009, Netanyahu has said he supports the peaceful coexistence of the two neighbor states, but he continues to encourage the development of additional West Bank settlements, while the Palestinian Authority has since late 2014 chosen a new negative strategy by denouncing Israeli occupation on all fronts : courts, diplomacy and even sporting institutions. The Le Monde article says that France believes it has an ultimate card to play in favor of pushing forward its plan -- if after 18 months no deal has been reached, France will officially recognize the state of Palestine. ~~~~~ But, says Le Monde, the Israeli government knows there are other priorities on the global agenda -- France has agreed to the American demand to delay all public announcements until after the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. And, Paris is also uncertain about Obama's intentions. Will the US break away from its history of using its UN veto to block any resolution that would place Israel under pressure? French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France's Foreign Affairs Committee on June 9 that he isn't sure what the US is thinking : "It varies, depending on the statements. We're keeping an eye on it." Le Monde says : "What we know of the text's formulation shows how very cautious it is, seeming to have given Israel a small concession by using the phrase "two states for two people," even though the Jews aren't the only Israeli citizens, there are also the 20% of Arabs." ~~~~~ The French compromise apparently hasn't convinced the Arab League that prefers to save these debates for the negotiations. The Palestinians would also prefer that the resolution refer to East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, to avoid debates about its perimeter. The starting point for them would be the 1949 "green line." But on Jerusalem Day in May, Netanyahu was clear on the future of the Holy City : "Jerusalem has always been the capital of the Jewish people alone and not of any other people. A divided Jerusalem is a past memory: The future belongs to a complete Jerusalem which will not be divided again." ~~~~~ Dear readers, in a recent op-ed piece in the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz, journalist Roy Isacowitz suggested that France not "waste its time with the UN" and recognize the state of Palestine now. "What France appears to have forgotten in its visionary zeal is that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are deeply split over the future of the Palestinian territories and that neither is in a position to actually decide on anything." And on the ground, a separate Palestinian state is far from a reality. Israel occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and it partially blockades the Gaza Strip. The continued expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank makes tackling the question of Palestinian sovereignty difficult. And the Palestinians continue to throw up artificial roadblocks to getting negotiations started. So, too, do the continuing rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel since last summer's ceasefire -- largely ignored by European and American media. Israel holds Hamas responsible for the rockets because Hamas controls Gaza. Hamas is also in a coalition government with Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in Ramalla, a sticking point with Israel, which calls the rocket attacks part of the continuing Palestinian terrorist war against Israel -- whose right to existence seems to be missing from the French plan. And, Israel has repeatedly explained that having 1967 borders would expose it to bombardment from the Syrian-Hezbollah side of the Golan Heights. What seems clear about the French plan is that it is meant to pave the way for the EU and its member states to recognize a state of Palestine. Why else would France present a plan it knows has no chance of succeeding? In the EU, only British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks out for Israel : "Because Israel is trying to defend against indiscriminate attacks, while trying to stop the attackers - and there’s such a difference between that and the nature of the indiscriminate attacks that Israel receives. I feel that very clearly. I’ve seen it very clearly as Prime Minister and I think it’s important to speak out about it. Obviously, we regret the loss of life wherever it takes place, but I do think there’s an important difference - as Prime Minister Netanyahu put it : Israel uses its weapons to defend its people and Hamas uses its people to defend its weapons." Sweden said when it recognized a state of Palestine that it wanted to support those who support negotiation over those who support violence. Sweden got it backwards. France is getting it all wrong. How sad and dangerous to see Europe, led by France, sink into being a mouthpiece for Palestinian terrorists.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Michael Oren Will Be Proven Right about Barack Obama

The Jerusalem Post reported last week on the book - "Ally: My Journey Across the American Israeli Divide" - written by former Israel ambassador to the US Michael Oren. The book published today has created much controversy even before hitting the bookstands. Oren, for example, writes that President Barack Obama endorsed the Palestinian position on the 1967 lines as the starting point for Palestinian state boundaries in 2011, thereby altering 40 years of US policy without prior consultation with Israel. A review of the book in Friday's New York Jewish Week notes that Oren described Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Office as outraged at Obama's 2011 move, instructing Oren to call congressional leaders. Oren says in the book : “Israel felt abandoned, I was to say. And that is no way to treat an ally.” In the book, Oren also describes Israel being continuously blamed for lack of progress on the diplomatic front, while the Palestinians were given a free pass. Oren said former US national security advisor General James Jones “often seemed ill-disposed toward Israel.” Regarding the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, Oren – now a Kulanu party Member of the Knesset – wrote that they have much in common : “Both men were left-handed, both believed in the power of oratory and that they were the smartest men in the room. Both were loners, adverse to decisionmaking and susceptible to a strong woman’s advice. And both saw themselves in transformative historical roles.” Oren, according to the report, wrote that “their similarities, perhaps as much as their differences," heightened the chance for animosity in their relationship. ~~~~~ But by far, the biggest controversy surrounding Oren's new book is related to his comments about President Obama that are not even in the book. The Times of Israel reviews a Michael Oren op-ed published Friday in Foreign Policy Magazine, in which Oren speculates that President Obama’s relentless outreach to the Moslem world may stem from his abandonment by the two Moslem father figures in his life and that he therefore seeks acceptance by their co-religionists. Friday's op-ed is Oren’s third critical commentary on Obama published in major US media in less than a week. In the first of the series, the former ambassador published “ How Obama abandoned Israel” in the Wall Street Journal, followed by “Why Obama is wrong about Iran being ‘rational’ on nuclear weapons,” in the Los Angeles Times. Oren also gave a long interview to the Times of Israel, in which he echoed charges in his new book -- that aspects of US-Israel ties are “in tatters” because of President Obama. The Times of Israel noted that the Obama administration responded bitterly to Oren’s earlier criticism of the President, calling it “absolutely false,” but has been silent in face of Oren's latest criticism. Current US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, said Oren was motivated by a desire to sell books. But while the leader of the party Oren belongs to has apologized and distanced the party from Oren's commentary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly refused a US request to do likewise. ~~~~~ In the Foreign Policy op-ed, Oren writes that “Obama’s attitudes toward Islam clearly stem from his personal interactions with Moslems. These were described in depth in his candid memoir, ‘Dreams from My Father,’ published 13 years before his election as President. Obama wrote passionately of the Kenyan villages where, after many years of dislocation, he felt most at home and of his childhood experiences in Indonesia." Oren added that he could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Moslem husbands, speculating about how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by Moslems. This is similar to Oren's assessment in his book that he says he gives “at the risk of armchair psychoanalyzing.” In his book, Oren also says he scoured “Dreams from My Father” in vain “for some expression of reverence, even respect, for the country its author would someday lead” but finds none. Instead, in Oren’s reading, “the book criticizes Americans for their capitalism and consumer culture, for despoiling their environment and maintaining antiquated power structures.” Oren also writes that Obama accused Americans traveling abroad of exhibiting “ignorance and arrogance” -- the very same shortcomings, notes Oren dryly, that the President’s critics assigned to him. In the Foreign Policy op-ed, Oren goes on to say : “Historians will likely look back at Obama’s policy toward Islam with a combination of curiosity and incredulousness. While some may credit the President for his good intentions, others might fault him for being naïve and detached from a complex and increasingly lethal reality." ~~~~~ Further, Oren writes in Foreign Policy that having that understanding of Obama was crucial to his role as ambassador from 2009 to 2013, Oren writes that he taught himself “Obama 101″ and “devoted months to studying the new President, pouring over his speeches, interviews, press releases, and memoirs, and meeting with many of his friends and supporters.” He says that during his four years as ambassador, he was rarely surprised by the President’s approach, especially on Moslem and Middle Eastern affairs. Oren charges that it is this very approach that led Obama to “boycott” a major gathering in Paris attended by dozens of world leaders following the devastating jihadist terror attacks in January. “The President could not participate in a protest against Moslem radicals whose motivations he sees as a distortion, rather than a radical interpretation, of Islam,” Oren writes in Foreign Policy. Obama was severely criticized for later statements in which he seemed to dismiss the anti-Semitic nature of the attack at the deli instead choosing to condemn the “vicious zealots who...randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli.” Oren sees these comments as an extension of Obama’s thinking on Islam and the Middle East : “If there are no terrorists spurred by Islam, there can be no purposely selected Jewish shop or intended Jewish victims, only a deli and randomly present folks,” Oren writes. ~~~~~ Michael Oren is a bestselling US-born and educated historian, with a Ph.D in History from Princeton, who gave up his US citizenship before moving to Israel and becoming Israel's US ambassador. He says he wrote the op-ed pieces to coincide with the publication of his book and to warn against the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama hopes to conclude soon. In a comprehensive interview to The Times of Israel this week, Oren said the book was also “a cri de coeur… for an alliance that should be in a much better place than it is.” He also said he wanted to raise alarm bells about President Obama’s nuclear talks with Iran. “This book comes out now for a reason,” Oren said on MSNBC, a week before the June 30 deadline for a nuclear agreement. Oren told MSNBC that any deal with Iran should be “conditioned on Iranian behavior,” adding that the alternative to any deal with the Iranians is “a better deal” in which Iran’s breakout time for enrichment is longer than a month or a year. “Maybe if I were an Iranian negotiator, I wouldn’t sign it either,” he said, noting that longer they wait, the better deal they could get for their interests. Oren also attacked what he termed the “signing bonus” for Iran, which he said could be as much as $50 billion. That money is “coming to a neighborhood near you,” he said, noting Iran’s history of funding terror proxies that have killed Americans. He also criticized the White House, repeating his charge that Obama put daylight between the US and Israel as a matter of policy when he spoke in Cairo in 2009. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Michael Oren is a widely-respected historian and diplomat. His analyses are neither frivolous nor without careful thought. Yet, there has been a veritable feeding frenzy of media and politicians trying to shred and cast Oren into a political outer darkness for his opinions. That more than 70% of Americans believe Obama is leading the US in the wrong direction is not mentioned in any of these ad hominem attacks -- not surprising since this longstanding poll result almost never finds its way into mainstream media. Nor was there mention of the US Congress being so worried about Obama's intentions vis-à-vis Iran that the Senate forced him to agree to unheard-of legislation specifically giving Congress a right of review already set out in the Constitution. One thinks of Hans Christian Andersen's tale of the Emperor's New Clothes. Everyone knows that Michael Oren has hit on a seminal aspect of Barack Obama's personality that explains much of his action. And, Oren was the child who cried out, "The Emperor has no clothes." It is too soon for the world to admit that Oren is right. But it will, eventually.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tsipras and Greeks Come Together as the Eurozone Blinks

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras put a new, but unspecified, proposal on the Eurozone/Eurogroup table early today, personally phoning EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Rumors in Europe suggest that the Tsipras proposal is for a 6-month extension in the current accord with the payment of the next tranch of the bailout to Greece to keep it afloat and avoid debt default while talks continue to find a long-term solution that would support Greek economic growth, as well as debt restructuring and repayment. Greece’s Eurogroup met for an hour today and then broke up, saying that Greece's creditors have called for more time to study the latest plan from Athens. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the Eurogroup of 19 Eurozone countries, said the aim is to reach an agreement later this week, but that the Greek plan is “a basis to really restart the talks again and really get a result”, he said, although officials need to assess whether “the economic reforms [proposed] are enough for the economy to take off again.” Both the To Vima Greek media outlet and the Guardian report that the new Greek proposal responds to creditors’ key demands, including raising VAT and making changes to the country’s pension system that would eventually raise the retirement age to 67. USA TODAY reported that a senior aide to Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, Tweeted early today that the proposals by Tsipras' government were a "good basis for progress." The potentially significant development comes as European leaders are set to hold an emergency summit in Brussels that is expected to continue late into the night, as both sides seek a way out of the stalemate. And, Giorgos Stathakis, Greece's economy minister, told the BBC that he expects Eurozone governments to confirm later today that the broad outlines of a deal have been agreed, paving the way for vital funds for Greece. ~~~~~ Today's apparent movement toward a Greek deal is clearly a response to political pressures felt by both the EU leadership and the Greek government. The Fiscal Times today reported a source as saying that : “Paris is now moving as far as she can toward compromise with Greece, without breaking contact with Berlin. Merkel is twisting and turning to move toward compromise without provoking a revolt in her party. Rome is aligned with Paris.” The source is quoted as adding that the IMF has turned a little "schizoid" amid these emerging alignments : “The IMF is now speaking with two tongues, one demanding still more concessions, the other saying that Greece needs a deal which substantially reduces the debt it took on to bail out northern European banks....My friends at the IMF tell me they’re completely fed up with the EU for ‘stonewalling' on everything.” ~~~~~ Much of the political problem is in Germany. Spiegel International reported last week that rumors suggested Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was as good as gone; that he had fallen out with Chancellor Merkel and was planning a coup. But, of course, Merkel didn't throw Schäuble out, despite the widening rift in the German government. According to Spiegel, insiders who know Merkel well say "the Chancellor has to answer one of the hardest questions she's had to face since assuming office, namely, should Greece be allowed to remain in the Euro, or should the whole drama be brought to a spectacular close with a Grexit." Spiegel sources say Merkel would like Greece to remain in the Eurozone and is prepared to pay a high price. The political problem is that Schäuble is not -- he thinks a Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone is in Europe's best interests. Merkel's political power comes from her popularity as the backbone of the EU. Schäuble's political power comes from members of the German parliament, who are fed up with having to approve one Greek bailout package after another. Schäuble and Merkel agree that everyone must abide by the rules, but Merkel fears that a Grexit could upset the financial markets in unforeseeable ways. She is also reluctant to risk looking like she prioritized German national interests and undermined the founding principles of the EU. Spiegel says : "It's an emotionally-charged disagreement that reflects the complex relationship between two politicians who do not completely trust one another. Schäuble is something of an éminence grise in the German government : he became a member of parliament in 1972, when Merkel was preparing to graduate from high school....Although she's the one in charge, he intermittently makes it clear that he remains his own man; that he doesn't kowtow to anyone." It will be hard for Merkel to secure majority support if Schäuble opposes her, so her fate is effectively in his hands, according to Spiegel : "Both of them understand the stakes, which is why they are both at pains to keep their disagreement under wraps." Government spokesman Steffen Seibert, meanwhile, insisted that "the Chancellor and the Finance Minister have an excellent working relationship that is both friendly and trusting." ~~~~~ It's hard to sustain the argument for Schäuble's Bundesbank-style austerity when every single statistic and every malnourished, unemployed Greek citizen indicates that the Schäuble-Merkel austerity is the problem, not the solution. On the Greek side, Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis, his finance minister, have been doing all the compromising since talks started last winter. When Tsipras faced his own political problem as his governing Syriza party started to fracture a month ago, it became clear that he had compromised as much as he could without risking political collapse and a new election. This accounts for the significant change in Tsipras’s tone lately -- his words now are about dignity -- and he sounds as determined as EU officials were early on. Tsipras told the Syriza bloc in parliament last week about increasing regressive consumption taxes : “I would like to make clear that deciding who will pay taxes in this country is the sole competence of the Greek government because the time has finally come for the bill of the crisis to be footed by oligarchs, not workers." On demands for more cuts in pensions and salaries, Tsipras said : "Salaried workers, pensioners and independent professionals won’t foot the bill.” ~~~~~ Dear readers, it seems that just as the Eurogroup/Eurozone and the IMF are beginning to splinter into groups with differing ideas about how to proceed, Greece and its Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have found their voice. Last Thursday, a Eurogroup meeting in Luxembourg fell apart in less than an hour. Athens had signaled that it was not going any further and the EU blinked. Also, Tsipras had spoken earlier in the day at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum of his determination to “sail distant oceans, uncharted waters, in search of safe harbors.” This was surely in part intended to make the US keep up pressure on the EU to cut a new deal. After formal talks with Tsipras Friday, Russian President Putin said he hoped a proposed pipeline from Russian gas fields to Greece would help Athens service its debt. That was when the ECB announced that it would raise the amount of emergency liquidity available to Greeks banks by $2 billion, to $10.1 billion - the ECB headed by Mario Draghi also blinked. The inflexible Shäuble seems to have been politically out-maneuvered as the EU summit convenes later today. So, while economics always wins out over politics, what we are now watching is the time-honored use of political skill, especially by Tsipras, to pull politics and economics into the same boat. No matter how the Greek question is resolved this week, it marks the moment when the long dream of European union lost its otherworldly glow and reality may finally have set in. The crowds in front of the Greek parliament building since Friday are betting on Tsipras to win the day...and save their future.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Email Bag -- Iran, Greece, US Presidential Elections

It's Saturday email bag time...after two Saturdays of other events too important to miss. Your emails for the past few weeks cover several topics, so instead of trying to choose one, let's comment on all the topics. ~~~~~ Why are the Iran talks so quiet when the deadline is fast approaching? Well, first, Secretary of State John Kerry broke his leg and spent two weeks in the hospital. And, second, Iran has used the approaching deadline to speak out about its non-negotiable items : no inspection of military sites, no unannounced inspections of any sort, and no exportation of the nuclear fuel materials stockpile that has grown 20% duting negotiations, according to the IAEA. The P5+1 negotiators hzve chosen not to respond publicly. So, what must Obama and the P5+1 demand from their side as non-negotiable items? *Access to all sites immediately as required by the Additional Protocol agreed in Lausanne and Code 3.1 of the 1974 Safeguard Agreements, which imposes a requirement of advance notice to the IAEA in Vienna of any intention to build any new nuclear facility. *The history of Iran's covert military activity cannot any longer remain covert, despite the insistence of Kerry this week that the US knows everything about Iran's nuclear program -- an assertion many experts find hard to accept at face value. *Exportation of all but 300 kg of enriched uranium to Russia so that for 15 years at least Iran would never have more than 300 kg of nuclear fuel, or IAEA-controlled conversion of all enriched uranium into reactor rods. *Unannounced inspection rights of all Iranian nuclear sites, including underground and military sites. Some of this has already been abandoned by Secretary Kerry, who signaled for the first time last Tuesday that the US is prepared to ease economic sanctions on Iran without fully resolving evidence suggesting that Iran’s scientists have been involved in secret work on nuclear weapons. In his first news conference since breaking his leg last month, Kerry suggested that major sanctions blocking oil sales and financial transfers might be lifted long before international inspectors get definitive answers to their longstanding questions about Iranian experiments and nuclear design work that appeared aimed at developing a bomb. Obama's rush to seal the deal continues as he abandons yet another control meant to keep Iran as honest as possible. ~~~~~Why won't Greece simply agree to the offered Eurozone -- that is, Eurogroup of Eurozone finance ministers -- solution and take the next tranch of bailout money? First, Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and his leftist government were elected to renegotiate the terms of the bailout deal. The Eurogroup has thus far refused to do this. And, being a socialist, Tsipras naturally looks out for the public sector and its supporters, who are the poor working and poor retired Greeks - so his demands are no 23% VAT on electricity and no additional 20% cut in pensions already cut by 50%. There is also the question of the Greek economy. Tsipras and his finance minister Varoufakis may be holding out for the best last-minute deal -- a good idea because the severe austerity program imposed on Greece has shrunk Greek GDP by 25% and increased unemployment to 26% overall and 50% for young Greeks, who are fleeing their country, taking its future with them. Austerity alone cannot solve these economic problems. Only a radical renegotiation of the Greek bailout debt can, if Greece is to stay in the Eurozone. If Greece defaulted, renegotiation of its debt and a reasonable austerity program, with a devalued drachma to support the other measures, would work much faster. Because Greece is in the Eurozone, these traditional methods can't be used. So, it is now time for the Eurogroup, the ECB and the IMF to seriously address the real Greek issues and find novel, realistic solutions. ~~~~~ And, finally, the most unusual question ever sent to the email bag. What would happen if President Obama refused to leave his post after the 2016 election for his successor? This has never happened in the 226 years since the US Constitition was ratified in 1789. When the presidential.election process is followed -- Article II and Amendments 12, 22 and 25 of the US Constitution -- the newly elected President is sworn into office on the following January 20th at noon. At that moment, presidential power passes to the new President. If at that moment the outgoing President refused to relinquish power, the Attorney General and FBI would order federal marshals to arrest him. If the refusal to cede power came between the election and the swearing-in, the Vice President with a majority of the major cabinet officers would write to the Senate President Pro-Tempore and the Speaker of the House to declare the President unfit to carry out his duties and the Vice President would assume the office of President until the swearing-in. If the Vice President happened to be in collusion with the rogue President, the Speaker would become interim President. But, this procedure, spelled out in the Constitition, while accurate, is untested and thus is surmise on my part because it has never happened. There could be alternate scenarios, but they are better left aside. I think President Obama is as weary of dealing with America as America is weary of dealing with him. They will part company on January 20, 2017, with kindly words and a sigh of relief. ~~~~~ Dear readets, please join us by sending your emails with comments, questions, quotes -- whatever you choose. The address is casey.popshots@yahoo.com. We'll be back with another email bag next Saturday.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Charleston Shooting - a Sobering Moment for America

The shooting deaths of nine Americans who were holding a Bible study meeting at the Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston on Wednesday evening was truly sobering. The pastor, Clementa Pinckney, a well-known civil rights activist and South Carolina legislator, was one of the victims. So were three other local black pastors and five others. All black. All respected members of their congregation and community. One woman was 87 years old. The youngest was 26. Killed by a young white man who told police he wanted to start "a race war." He sat and listened to the meeting for an hour before announcing that he had come to kill blacks and opened fire. Senseless murders that do not reflect anything so much as they do the deranged mind of a person who wore an apartheid patch on his jacket. ~~~~~ As we watched the news coverage, it was clear that there would be yet another round of calls for gun controls. President Obama led the way. Mainstream media and progressive black and white commentators fell into step. Only one voice that CNN sought out for comment differed. Berenice King, the daughter of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and director of his foundation, refused to march in lockstep with CNN's Wolf Blitzer when he asked her to speak on behalf of gun control. Berenice King said such hatred will find a weapon, if not guns some other instrument, so gun control is not the whole answer. She was not quoted even one time as the CNN coverage of the shooting continued. But CNN did mention the very low incidence of gun crimes in the UK because of strict gun control laws. It should have been reported, but was not by CNN, that last week a disgruntled and mentally unstable student in Bradford, in northern England, attacked his teacher with a knife. Senator Rand Paul said yesterday that something is wrong but "your government can't solve the problem for you." ~~~~~ The Charleston killer dropped out of high school in 9th grade. He was described as shy and quiet. He had an 'ordinary' arrest record, including drug possession. He turned 21 in April -- here the stories differ -- and he either bought or was given the pistol by his father at that time. It is hard to believe that his parents and others around him didn't notice any behavior that, addressed in time, might have avoided the massacre. If he had been under psychiatric care, he might have been better controlled before becoming the owner of a weapon, but that is not certain. ~~~~~ The continuing and escalating violent encounters in America surely signal a malaise, an illness, a cancer in its heart and soul. It is a sickness that is not reserved only for whites or blacks or poor communities or gun owners or police officers or any other identifiable group. Its roots may never be entirely known or understood. But its symptom is shouting. Black and white Americans shouting at each other. Gun owners and gun control supporters shouting at each other. Poor communities and police shouting at each other. Sometimes the shouting is loud and mean-spirited. Sometimes the shouting is tearful and heart-wrenching. Sometimes the shouting is silent and soul-chilling. Often, Americans let their politicians do the shouting for them. The only way across the political divide seems to be by hurling accusations of lying, cheating and misrepresentation at those who are on the other side of that divide. It reduces Americans to the status of flat, one-sided, two-dimensional characters in a bad melodrama. ~~~~~ Dear readers, this doesn't have to continue. Americans have talked to each other across political and social and religious and racial divides for more than two centuries. The leaders in every field of American endeavor can help by lowering their rhetoric and finding forums in which to talk to their opposition. Most importantly, American politicans can lead the way. The "great marketplace of ideas," as the Supreme Court has called the American social and political dialogue, can function without shouting. Indeed, it functions better when ideas, not political and social animosities, enlighten it. The presidential campaign now underway offers a unique opportunity to focus on a civilized debate about ideas, not personalities. Only two candidates seem to be trying to do this -- Jeb Bush and Rand Paul. This is not to say that they are the favorites to be elected. But it does say that they are aware of the value of a dialogue about ideas over the personal attack that many others are engaged in. If every American just lowered their tone -- stopped shouting and started talking to each other -- there would be a noticeable change in the great marketplace of ideas. If many Americans could do in the political and social arenas what the families of the nine dead in the Charleston massacre did today -- face the killer and say I forgive you, I am angry and grieving but I forgive you and I pray for you -- America would begin to feel the healing hand of brotherhood and love.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Napoleon's Glorious Defeat at Waterloo, 18 June 1815

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on the 18th of June 1815. It was a Sunday, preceded by rain that turned parts of the battlefield into mud unfit for the transport of cannon or the advance of cavalry troops. The battle was fought a mile from Waterloo and 10 miles from Brussels, in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. A French army under the command of Napoleon was defeated by a Seventh Coalition Anglo-allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, combined with a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard von Blücher. ~~~~~ On 13 March 1815, six days before Napoleon reached Paris after escaping from the Island of Elba, the European powers at the Congress of Vienna declared him an outlaw. Four days later, the United Kingdom, Russia, Austria, and Prussia mobilized armies to defeat Napoleon. Critically outnumbered and depending on volunteers from his prior armies to rejoin him, Napoleon knew that once he had failed to convince one or more of the Seventh Coalition allies from invading France, his only chance of remaining in power was to attack and defeat the Coalition armies separately. Napoleon planned to destroy the existing Coalition forces south of Brussels before they were reinforced, thereby driving the British back to the sea, knocking the Prussians out of the war and then turning his armies toward the Austrians and Russians. An additional consideration for Napoleon was that there were many French-speaking sympathisers in Belgium and a French victory might trigger a friendly revolution there. Also, Napoleon knew that the British troops in Belgium were largely second-line troops because most of the veterans of the Peninsular War had been sent to the United States and Canada to fight the War of 1812. ~~~~~ The Seventh Coalition had already assembled two large forces under Wellington and Blücher near the northeastern border of France. It was there that Napoleon chose to attack, hoping to destroy them before they could join in a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the Coalition. The Battle of Waterloo was the decisive engagement of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon's last battle. His defeat at Waterloo ended Napoleon's rule as Emperor of the French, and marked the end of his Hundred Days return from exile. Napoleon had reason to be optimistic. Two days before the Battle of Waterloo, Blücher's Prussian army was defeated by the French at Ligny. Wellington decided to engage Napoleon at Waterloo after learning that the regrouped Prussian army would join him. Wellington's army, positioned across the Brussels road on the Mont-Saint-Jean escarpment, survived repeated French attacks, until, in the evening, the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon's right flank. At that moment, Wellington's Anglo-allied army counter-attacked and drove the French army in disorder from the field. Coalition forces entered France and restored King Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon abdicated, finally surrendering to Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon, part of the British blockade of France, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. ~~~~~ The Battle of Waterloo cost Wellington 15,000 dead or wounded and Blücher 7,000 -- 810 of which were suffered by just one unit. Napoleon's losses were 24,000 to 26,000 killed or wounded and included 6,000 to 7,000 captured, with an additional 15,000 deserting subsequent to the battle and over the following days. Major W. E. Frye toured the battlefield on June 22nd and wrote : "This morning I went to visit the field of battle, which is a little beyond the village of Waterloo, on the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean; but on arrival there the sight was too horrible to behold. I felt sick in the stomach and was obliged to return. The multitude of carcasses, the heaps of wounded men with mangled limbs unable to move, and perishing from not having their wounds dressed or from hunger, as the Allies were, of course, obliged to take their surgeons and waggons with them, formed a spectacle I shall never forget. The wounded, both of the Allies and the French, remain in an equally deplorable state." ~~~~~ Napoleon had created the Imperial Guard (divided into Young, Middle and Old Guards), an elite palace-based military group tasked to protect him and form the core of his personal military force. At Waterloo, despite their great courage and stamina, the Guards showed signs of wavering. Their evacuation of the strategic village of Plancenoit led to the loss of the position that was meant to be used to cover the withdrawal of the French Army to Charleroi. The Guard fell back from Plancenoit in the direction of Maison du Roi and Caillou. But, their panache was still evident as they raised the cry "Sauvons nos aigles!" (Let us save our eagles - their emblem.) Those Guard members surviving -- they took very heavy casualties -- left in semi-cohesive units and retreated towards La Belle Alliance, an inn where Napoleon was directing the battle. It was during this retreat that some of the Guards were invited to surrender, eliciting the famous, if apocryphal, retort "La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas!" (The Guard dies, it does not surrender!) ~~~~~ The Battle of Waterloo was decisive in more than one sense. Every generation in Europe, up to the outbreak of the First World War a hundred years later, looked back at Waterloo as the turning point that dictated the course of subsequent world history. In retrospect, it was seen as the event that ushered in an era characterized by relative peace, material prosperity and technological progress. The battle ended the series of wars that had convulsed Europe and involved many other regions of the world since the French Revolution of the early 1790s. It also ended the First French Empire and the political and military career of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest commanders and statesmen in history -- and the most studied, with more than 70,000 biographies and historical works about him. It was followed by four decades of international peace -- no further major conflict occurred until the Crimean War. Changes to the configuration of European states, agreed after Waterloo, included the formation of the Holy Alliance of reactionary governments intent on repressing revolutionary and democratic ideas, and the reshaping of the former Holy Roman Empire into a German Confederation increasingly marked by the political dominance of Prussia. The bicentenary of Waterloo this year has prompted renewed attention to the geopolitical and economic legacy of the battle and the century of relative transatlantic peace which followed. ~~~~~ General Antoine-Henri, Baron Jomini, one of the leading military writers on the Napoleonic art of war, gave four principal causes that led to Napoleon's disastrous defeat : (1) the most influential was the arrival of Blücher, (2) the admirable firmness of the British infantry, joined to the sang-froid and aplomb of its chiefs, (3) the horrible weather, that had softened the ground, and rendered the offensive movements so toilsome, and retarded until 1 p.m. the attack that should have been made in the morning, and (4) the inconceivable formation of the first corps, in masses very much too deep for the first grand attack. Many historians give a much simpler reason -- Napoleon had defeated Prussian, Russian and Austrian armies and he knew their mettle and methods, but he had never fought an English infantry and he badly under-estimated their skill and discipline. ~~~~~ Dear readers, when a staff officer suggested that it be called the battle of La Belle Alliance, Wellington said he would not name a battle after the defeated side and decided to call the encounter the Battle of Waterloo. But, history has decided that Waterloo belongs to Napoleon. And it is certainly the political deeds and reforms not of Wellington but of Napoleon that have shaped modern France and modern Europe -- the idea of a governing State Council, the Napoleonic civil code of laws, the deep reform of education to open it to all, the integration of Protestants and Jews into society, the meritocracy that replaced privilege -- these are Napoleon Bonaparte's legacy, never abandoned and never bettered. The French often call the Battle of Waterloo "La défaite glorieuse." It was indeed glorious, because even in defeat, Napoleon marked the collective memory and experience of the French, the English, and Europe, forever.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Europe Must Separate Politics and Economics if the Euro Is to Survive Long-term

Expectations are low that there will be noticeable progress in Greece’s talks with its lenders at Thursday’s meeting of the Eurogroup of finance ministers in Luxembourg, despite the 10-minute phone call between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras last night. A European official told journalists that he expects the discussion regarding Greece at Thursday’s Eurogroup to be brief because creditors want new proposals from Athens. The Greek government insists it has already made suggestions sufficient to meet agreed fiscal targets. And this morning Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann went to Athens to hold talks with Prime Minister Tsipras. But, no progress was made. After the meeting, Tsipras said : “The margins for new cuts in pensions have been exhausted. We can’t understand the obsession of the lenders with pension cuts. If we don’t have an honorable compromise and an economically viable solution, we will take the responsibility to say a big no to the continuation of a catastrophic policy.” So, it appears that neither side is considering submitting new proposals at Thursday’s Eurogroup meeting. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis visited the offices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris today and said he doesn't think a deal will be reached tomorrow at the Eurogroup : “I don’t think so. Now it is up to political leaders to arrive at an accord.” Austrian Chancellor Faymann said he coordinated his visit with Juncker and was hopeful that a solution could be found, even though he admitted it would be a difficult task. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told the finance committee in Germany’s lower house : “I can’t see a solution lying before me but I see that if we are convinced we want one, we have a good chance.” Schäuble said that while he remains hopeful Greece and its creditors will reach an agreement by June 30, the German government is also preparing for failure. According to two lawmakers who attended the meeting and then spoke to Bloomberg : “We can’t offer further compromises. It’s the Greek people ordinary citizens, who will have the biggest problems if there’s a default, with no agreement or solution.” ~~~~~ In addition, the Bank of Greece warns that failure to reach an agreement with the creditors will result in a default, Greece will then be forced out of the Eurozone, and, most likely, out of the European Union. The warning came in the Bank of Greece’s Monetary Policy report for 2014 and 2015, which stressed the need to reach an agreement. The report notes that : “a manageable debt crisis, as the one that we are currently addressing with the help of our partners, would snowball into an uncontrollable crisis, with great risks for the banking system and financial stability. An exit from the Eurozone would only compound the already adverse environment, as the ensuing acute exchange rate crisis would send inflation soaring, reduction of income, proliferation of unemployment and the collapse of everything which the Greek economy has been achieved since joining the EU, particularly during the Euro period. From an equal partner of core European countries, Greece will become a poor country in Southern Europe Southern Europe,” the Greek Central Bank added. ~~~~~ Jose Manuel Barroso, a former European Commission president, today told CNN that the Tsipras government is "highly radicalized" and the Greek people are paying the price. But. in Greece last night, social security minister Dimitris Stratoulis said the cuts being demanded of Greece in pensions amount to €1.8 billion -- the equivalent of a 20% drop in earnings for pensioners. Stratoulis, a Syriza hardliner, added : "They are also demanding €1.8 billion in revenues from increasing VAT. These measures are measures of annihilation and will lead to the enslavement of the Greek people. They are unacceptable and therefore to be rejected. There are no high pensions. Pensions have already been cut by 50%, a new reduction would leader to even greater recession.” ~~~~~ At least one expert voice is speaking out for a different end to the Greek crisis. Hans Werner-Sinn, President of Germany’s Ifo Institute for Economic Research has long said that Europe must let Greece exit the Eurozone and go bankrupt because that would be the best for both. Werner-Sinn says : "Greece is insolvent… and we are delaying the process of declaring insolvency, which would be illegal if it was a private company....It is time for a big (debt) haircut and more radical measures to help Greece." Werner-Sinn, who has spoken in favor of a Greek exit from the Eurozone in the past, said it was difficult to see how Greece could resolve its problems while remaining in the single currency bloc, but added that any exit - "Grexit" - did not have to be permanent. The German economist says that it would be more risky for Europe to keep Greece in the Eurozone than let a Grexit happen. But getting out of the Eurozone would be beneficial for the debt-ridden country as well, according to Werner-Sinn : “I would say, in the end, a Greek exit is also desirable, because if one accompanies this exit with the help of the European community, with the promise to keep the gate open for Greece to return at a later point in time, this may well be a chance to regain the competitiveness of the country by devaluation.” This morning, Werner-Sinn said the Euro was created to produce prosperity and employment. If that is not the case for Greece - and perhaps other countries - why would the Eurozone want to hold on to them and keep them from leaving. The answer, according to Werner-Sinn, seems to be that the Euro was a political goal rather than an economic goal. ~~~~~ Dear readers, when politics and economics clash, economics always wins, but the road can be long and painful for all concenned.it is inconceivable that Greece's creditors -- the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF - cannot at least imagine the suffering their "bailout" solution has caused the Greek people. Normally, Greece and the IMF would have solved its problems by devaluing its currency, re-negotiating its public and private debts, and deciding on reform programs suited to its economy. But because Greece is a member of the Eurozone, the first two elements were not available. Some private debts were written down (the so-called "haircut" imposed on bond holders) but the much larger public debts were not touched. Nor was there a devaluation, for Greece was tied to the Euro. So all the burden was placed on the reform program, which imposed deep austerity on the Greek people, in return for which the country got some short-term loans. If this continues, Greece will spend the next 40 to 50 years repaying the EC, ECB and IMF -- while its people are devastated by an economy with no money left over for infrastructure, growth or social services. Perhaps the Eurozone is so focused on its political goals that these facts are blurred. But, the IMF knows this. So, somehow, the IMF should find the strength to stand with Greece against the Eurozone. It is not Greece's job to hold the Eurozone together as a political unit. The Euro will survive - and the Eurozone with it - only if politicians can be made to see that political goals cannot defy economic reality. Tsipras and the IMF, for all their faults, know this. The European Central Bank and the Eurozone must also learn this axiom if they are to save the Euro long-term.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The ECB-EC-IMF Troika Seems Determined to Destroy Greece

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi addressed the European Parliament yesterday, warning members that time is fast running out to resolve the Greek debt crisis. Financial markets, spooked by the prospect of a default, saw shares fall across Europe after the latest breakdown in talks between Athens and its creditors killed hopes of a deal being reached at a Eurozone finance ministers (the Eurogroup) meeting in Luxembourg Thursday. Draghi told the Parliament : “We need a strong and comprehensive agreement with Greece. And we need it very soon.” As he spoke, the fragile state of Greece’s banks was evident, with Monday's deposit withdrawals increasing to €400 million. The capital flight increases Greece's dependence on emergency funding from the ECB. Draghi said there would be no immediate loss of ECB support, despite the collapsing relationship between Athens and its creditors. “While all actors will now need to go the extra mile, the ball lies squarely in the camp of the Greek government to take the necessary steps,” Draghi said. ~~~~~ Alexis Tspiras, Greece’s Prime Minister, gave no sign of bowing to Eurozone demands that Greece make the state pension less generous, raise VAT, and reduce his government’s plans to reform labor laws in favor of workers. Tsipras told a Greek newspaper : “We will await patiently until the institutions accede to realism. We do not have the right to bury European democracy at the place where it was born.” Later, an EU official responded : “He may not have time for patience.” Tsipras blamed “political expediency” by lenders for the impasse and their insistence on new cuts in pensions “after five years of looting under the bailouts.” Tsipras's remarks infuriated European Commission (EC) officials in Brussels, who released details of how attempts to revive talks on Sunday broke down in less than an hour. EU officials said the “last-chance” negotiations led to a worsening of the situation as the Greeks sought to reopen issues already agreed. The officials were deeply pessimistic that a deal can be struck : “We are ready to convene at very short notice. The only condition is that something serious is on the table that makes discussions productive. That has not been possible.” ~~~~~ But, top Greek government sources forcefully rejected the EU claim that the Greek government agreed to measures which it later rejected, causing the collapse in talks on Sunday. A government source told the Guardian : “What we said at a dinner [attended by] Juncker last week was that if the whole agreement, the package of reforms, was economically viable we, in turn, could move towards their fiscal targets for 2015 and 2016....We never agreed to any of their baseline scenarios, or what would be done, or that we would reduce pensions and to leak that is very misleading.” One source added : “It is up to our European partners to decide whether, after six years of recession, the priority should be a strong reform program to counter tax evasion, the power of the elites and the failings of the Greek public administration or yet more recessionary measures, yet more cuts in pensions and real wages.” Another Tsipras insider said : “It is also time for a decision whether Europe can encompass a government and people that have set social and economic priorities somewhat different from the mainstream....to see whether pluralism, fairness and democracy are still European values worth preserving.” ~~~~~ Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said he is not planning to present new proposals at the Eurogroup finance ministers meeting on Thursday. A German newspaper interview published today, quoted Varoufakis as saying he would not present a list of reforms : “...because the Eurogroup is not the right place to present proposals which haven’t been discussed and negotiated on a lower level before.” However, Varoufakis said the Greek negotiating team is “available at any time” to find a comprehensive solution with its partners, adding that officials representing Greece’s lenders need to return to the table “with a clear, robust mandate.” Varoufakis later spoke at a Berlin cathedral, repeating his call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to give Greece a “speech of hope,” to signal that Europe is ready to end its demands for austerity, calling for hope similar to that given to Germany at the end of the Second World War. Greece’s current bailout package expires at the end of June and Athens must pay €1.6 billion to the IMF by June 30th, requiring the release of a further €7.2 billion in bailout funds in order to meet the payment. In return, Greece’s creditors - the ECB, the EC and the IMF - demand economic reforms. As Brussels considers how to handle a Greek default, Germany is said to be particularly worried about the risks of social breakdown in Greece. Unnamed German government sources told Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung Sunday that an emergency summit on Greece could be convened in Brussels as early as Friday if the Eurozone finance ministers fail to make a breakthrough on Thursday in Luxembourg. ~~~~~ But, today, positions seemed much hardened. Media reports indicate that Greek Prime Minister Tsipras said the IMF had “criminal responsibility” for Greece’s debt crisis, calling on its European creditors to assess IMF policies. Tsipras told his parliamentary group : “The time has come for the IMF’s proposals to be judged not just by us but especially by Europe....The IMF has criminal responsibility for today’s situation.” Indeed, in 2015, the IMF has hardened its insistance on further cuts to Greece’s pension system - with pensions already cut by 50% - and a rise to 23% in value-added tax on basic goods, like electricity, which Athens says will only deepen hardships for ordinary Greeks. Tsipras was blunt : “Right now, what dominates is the IMF’s harsh views on tough measures and Europe’s on denying any discussion over debt viability....The fixation on cuts...is most likely part of a political plan...to humiliate an entire people that has suffered in the past five years through no fault of its own. The time has come for the IMF’s proposals to be judged in public...by Europe,” he told the MPs of his radical left Syriza party. ~~~~~ Dear readers, it's hard to argue with Tsipras when last Friday IMF President Christine Lagarde urged the EU creditors of Ukraine - with more 2015 unpayable installments to them and the IMF than Greece - to forego payments without declaring Ukraine in default, and adding that the IMF would use its "Arrears" program to arrange Ukraine's IMF 2015 payments if Kiev is unable to pay. (Read the letter here : http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2015/pr15272.htm). Just what is going on in the EU and IMF? Why do they seem intent of finishing their job of destroying Greece? Lagarde's letter ends with this sentence : "I believe that their program warrants the support of the international community, including the private sector, which is indispensable for the success of this program." This isn't financial oversight or safety-netting as we would expect. It is pure ECB-EC-IMF politics being played out over the bones of a Greece already gravely wounded by them. US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew telephoned Alexis Tsipras to urge him to reach a realistic compromise, urgently. The Treasury said Lew underscored the urgency of Greece making a serious move to reach a pragmatic compromise with its creditors.” Instead of forcing Greece to submit, Lew should have held a conference call with Draghi, Juncker, Schäuble, Merkel and Lagarde. The message? Back off - renegotiate terms that make it possible for Greece to survive and recover. Or else, the US will put a hold on its IMF payments -- which are 17% of the IMF's balance sheet, the second being Japan at 6.5%. If Lagarde, Merkel, Schäuble, Juncker and Draghi want to play unfair and destructive hardball, the opponent should be someone their size - America, not Greece.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jeb! Another Bush Would Be a Whole Lot Better than Another Clinton

Jeb Bush has just announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President. He was visibly moved by the support given him by those present at the Miami-Dade College campus where he made his announcement speech. His mother, Barbara Bush, was there, along with his wife, Colomba, and their children and grandchildren. ~~~~~ Jeb Bush clearly is not at ease speaking before large audiences, but he was open and smiling, and forceful when necessary. And when he ended by saying, "I'm running with my heart and I'm running to win," my own heart went out to him. Jeb Bush is thoroughly likable. His smile is sincere. He reaches out to everyone in an audience, acknowledging them with that infectious smile. ~~~~~ Now, I grant that this is not a sufficient reason to be elected President of the United States. But, Jeb dealt with the issues, too, saying that progressives have delivered no progress. He said he would get the federal government out of education and return it to the states "and parents, where it belongs." But he also talked about the young black Americans who are just moved through schools without the system caring if they learn, and he said that will change if he is elected. He talked about defense, promising to rebuild and strengthen the military that has been severely cut by Obama. He said that under President Obama, America has refused to halt terrorists and has abandoned its friends. He promsed to reverse this, starting with the "democratic people of Israel." He got one of his several standing ovations for declaring his support for Israel. Jeb said balanced budgets with full service and lower taxes are possible -- he knows because he did it in Florida. And, Jeb asked why 4% economic growth is not considered possible, saying it is with the right policies in place - policies he will advance with Congress - 4% growth and 19 million new jobs will be created. Finally, Jeb promised "rules for the rulemakers" because federal regulations now far exceed anyrhing Americans have constitutionally consented to. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the mainstream media loves to repeat the mantra that Jeb cannot be elected because his name is Bush. But the same media illogicallly concludes that Hillary can be elected even though her last name is Clinton -- and in fact her husband Bill was on the podium with her this weekend when she made her first major speech. Some even say Bill wrote most of the speech. Why should anyone be ruled out of seeking any position, or held back from reaching for any goal, simply because he or she was born into a famous family. Why should Jeb be 'ordered' by the media to avoid his family. Why should Jeb and America be shut off from the experience and wisdom of two American Presidents, just because they are Jeb's father and brother. I think America has been plunged into such deep economic, social, foreign affairs, and military trouble by Barack Obama that every bit of help Jeb can bring to bear, in addition to his own considerable successful experience, should be welcomed. The mainstream media are transparently insincere when they warn Jeb about his family. Their fear is not that somehow Jeb could be contaminated by contact with them -- their fear is that conservative America will find in the renewed Bush family even more reason to support the Republican Party. Family is never the real issue. The real issue is always integrity, experience, vision, love of the Republic and its Constitution, and personal commitment to be the President of all Americans. With these criteria in mind, we can understand why the Democratic Party and the media are trying to separate America from the Bush family. Jeb Bush will show how wrongheaded this is. But, then, Americans are used to Democrats being on the wrong side of the issue. It's one more reason to support the GOP.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

June 14 Is Flag Day- Honor Old Glory Tomorrow

On June 14, 1777, the American Continental Congress passed the act establishing an official flag for the new nation. The resolution stated : “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." On August 3, 1949, President Harry S. Truman officially declared June 14 as Flag Day. ~~~~~ The history of the American flag is as fascinating as that of the American Republic itself. It has survived battles, inspired songs and evolved in response to the growth of the country it represents. It is undoubtedly the most universally recognized flag in the world. The origin of the first American flag is unknown. Some historians, and most Americans, believe it was designed and sewn by Philadelphia Quaker-born seamstress Betsy Ross. Betsy would often tell her children, grandchildren, relatives and friends of the fateful day when three members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress came to call upon her. Those representatives -- George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross -- asked her to sew the first flag. This meeting occurred in her home some time late in May 1776. George Washington was then the head of the Continental Army. Robert Morris, an owner of vast amounts of land, was perhaps the wealthiest citizen in the Colonies. Colonel George Ross was a respected Philadelphian and also the uncle of her late husband, John Ross. Naturally, Betsy Ross already knew George Ross as she had married his nephew. Furthermore Betsy was also acquainted with the great General Washington. Not only did they both worship at Christ Church in Philadelphia, but Betsy's pew was next to George and Martha Washington's pew. Her daughter recalled : "That she was previously well acquainted with Washington, and that he had often been in her house on friendly visits, as well as on business. That she had embroidered ruffles for his shirt bosoms and cuffs, and that it was partly owing to his friendship for her that she was chosen to make the flag." In June 1776, brave Betsy was a widow struggling to run her own upholstery business. Upholsterers n colonial America not only worked on furniture but did all sorts of sewing work, which for some included making flags. According to Betsy, General Washington showed her a rough design of the flag that included a six-pointed star. Betsy, very accomplished with scissors, demonstrated how to cut a five-pointed star in a single snip. Impressed, the committee entrusted Betsy with making our first flag, forever known as "the Betsy Ross Flag," described in the June 14, 1777, Continental Congress resolution introduced by John Adams. ~~~~~ The name Old Glory was first given to a large, 10-by-17-foot flag by its owner, William Driver, a sea captain from Massachusetts, inspiring the common nickname for all American flags. Driver’s flag is said to have survived multiple attempts to deface it during the Civil War. Driver was able to fly the flag over the Tennessee Statehouse once the war ended. The Driver flag is displayed at the National Museum of American History, and was last displayed in Tennessee by permission of the Smithsonian at an exhibition in 2006. Between 1777 and 1960, Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state. Today the flag consists of 13 horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well -- red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. The enormous 1814 garrison flag that survived the 25-hour shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by British troops and inspired Francis Scott Key to compose the poem "The Spangled Banner" has survived and is being preserved by the National Museum of American History. The "Star Spangled Banner" flag had become soiled and weakened over time and was removed from the museum in December 1998, and its preservation project continues today. The flag is now stored at a 10-degree angle in a special low-oxygen, filtered light chamber and is periodically examined at a microscopic level to detect signs of decay or damage within its individual fibers. ~~~~~ During a British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, amateur poet Francis Scott Key and several other Americans were captured and held on a British ship during the night bombardment. Key was so inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry at dawn that he wrote the Spangled Banner on September 14, 1814. It officially became the Ametican national anthem in 1931. In 1892, the flag inspired James B. Upham and Francis Bellamy to write "Allegiance," which became the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, first published in a magazine called The Youth's Companion. ~~~~~ While the American flag is normally flown from sunrise to sunset, there are several locations where the flag is flown 24 hours a day, either by presidential proclamation or by law : Fort McHenry, National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland / Flag House Square, Baltimore, Maryland / United States Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia / the Green of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts / The White House, Washington, DC / United States customs ports of entry / Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. ~~~~~ The American flag has been flown at significant foreign locations. In 1909, Robert Peary placed an American flag, sewn by his wife, at the North Pole. He also left pieces of another flag along the way. It is the only time a person has been honored for cutting the flag. In 1963, Barry Bishop placed the American flag on top of Mount Everest. In July 1969, the American flag was "flown" in space when Neil Armstrong placed it on the moon. Flags were placed on the lunar surface on each of the six manned landings during the Apollo program. The first time the American flag was flown overseas on a foreign fort was in Libya, over Fort Derne, on the shores of Tripoli in 1805. ~~~~~ Dear readers, wherever Americans gather -- to celebrate their independence, to honor their soldiers and war dead, to relax at a sports event, to put the patriotic finish on their porch or front yard, to say 'I'm proud to be American,' you will find the American flag -- big flags waving high, little flag pins on their shirts, flag motifs on their teeshirts, flags fluttering from the brims of their hats. Sometimes, citizens of other countries think Americans are too flag-crazy. The truth is that Americans honor and love their flag because it has been with them from before the Revolution through the Civil War and two World Wars. It has given them courage at Lexington and Bunker Hill, on Pacific atolls and in New York City on that fateful day. It can bring smiles to their faces and tears to their eyes. It is theirs and theirs alone -- to defend and preserve. The American Flag. Wave it proudly tomorrow.