Sunday, December 27, 2015

What is the meaning of “make America great again”? , the Trump campaign slogan.  How do you measure whether America is less great than it was before and then the question becomes what would a President Trump do to our greatness?

 But  polls and metrics are not what is driving Donald Trump’s strength among 40% of GOP voters, no matter what outrageous  statements  he makes. Certainly media coverage of Muslim mass shootings in San Bernardino and Paris and lack of coverage of US and allies’ progress in  taking back ISIS held land  are proof to those who support him that the US is in decline and we need to be strong again. 

 How? . Pumping up military muscle? Repeating failed invasions?  Reviving verbal power slinging ugly Americans so we generate fear but  not respect? Banning Muslims visitors and immigrants, putting Muslims on enemies lists, and  his anti-Hispanic immigrant policies no doubt comfort  and reassure the angry and the fearful in the US.

How can we measure of how great the US is in the eyes of the world? .A June 24, 2015 poll conducted by Pew Research of attitudes in 40 countries concluded “Globally, Obama’s image is mostly positive. Across the 40 countries polled, a median of 65% say they have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs.  Overall, Obama remains much more popular globally than his predecessor,   but opinions vary significantly across nations and regions.”  So whose greatness is Trump trying to restore and in whose eyes? Certainly not Obama’s predecessors or in the eyes of  world opinion

 The two areas where Obama’s popularity has declined are Russia and Israel (poll was taken in the midst of the Iran nuclear deal negotiations).   Only President Putin of Russia came to Trump’s defense recently and Trump returned the compliment.  However,  most understand  that Putin’s  total control of the press and the reins of governmental power  and his aggression in the Ukraine are not in American traditions or our Constitution.  There is an old saying: “by his friends, we will know him”.  


What about our closest allies in Europe? Pew concludes “Western Europeans are still big Obama fans... When Obama entered the White House, his ratings were extremely high, and they’ve only slipped a little since then. At least a majority has confidence in him in each Western European country surveyed…” Still, there is disappointment with Obama in the region on certain issues, such as climate change.  The poll was taken before the Paris global warming summit.  High on the list , per Pew, is admiration of the US for personal freedoms.  This poll does not reflect the recent “ban Muslims” or anti-immigrant proposals put forth by some GOP candidates, including Trump.

How would a Trump presidency restore this metric of greatness ?  The foreign backlash, expressing disappointment in Trump’s willingness to discriminate on the basis of religion with  his ban Muslim rhetoric  has been so severe that he had to cancel trips to Jordan and Israel and petitions banning him from the UK also received a quick and impressive response.


We can only imagine what a Pew Poll taken a year into a Trump presidency would look like. It would not be very great.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/24/7-charts-on-how-the-world-views-president-obama/

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Kudos to Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush on the Trump "Muslim ban" issue.

Listening to the GOP CNN candidate debate last night, the proposals on fighting terrorism were all over the board, but what deserves my praise is the moving spontaenous combusting of Lindsey Graham who pasionately said: "We are not at war against a religion, Islam, we are at war with the terrorists".  While I question creeping increase of boots on the ground by 10,000 he advocates, I do not oppose it if they are the right boots on the ground...special forces, and there are to support our Arab allies.  However, that is the problem, too,  Until the other day, when Saudi Arabia announced a large military coaltion of other Sunnis in the world to fight terrorists, the Arab allies have been MIA when it came to fighting ISIS.  Whether we need to increase military spending is another issue that deserves scrutiny.  Is a shortage or funding of personnel and equipment the reason we have not gone after ISIS with boots on the ground  or is that just a way  for him to make his case for more defense spending?

Jeb Bush on MSNBC this morning  on Morning Joe put the connection together that we cannot look like we are denying all Musims entry to the US because it looks like we are at war with Islam...and makes it very difficult to lead a coaltion of Arab boots on the ground.  Can we ask the Turks or Arabs or Jordanians or Gulf States to contribute troops but deny their visitors and those seeking medical aid to come to the US because they are Muslim?  I would put it even more harshly:  Trump has virtually been considered persona non grata by our European allies and Jordan, not to mention Israel.  How could he have any credibility leading such a coalition.

Rarely do I ever agree with Dick Cheney, but he, too, recently said that banning Muslims from entry to the US was harmful to our national security.  This was a direct aim at Trump.  http://www.nytimes.com/topic/person/dick-cheney

A note to a reader of the blog, asking that I do not use the term ISIS.  It is a point well taken, but ISIL or daaesh  has never caught on with the general public.  In fact, spokespersons for US Muslim interests use ISIS as well.  I write for the public and I use ISIS so I do not have the bulk of my readers ask "who??"  The admimnistration makes it a point to use ISIS.  Our Arab supporters use daaesh.  If I had my druthers, I would use daaesh, too, but until ISIL is more accepted, or daaesh becomes accepted in the popular vocabulary.  My words are limited to 530 in my column and to always define the various names of ISIS means it is even harder to fit my words into the restrictive space.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Saudi awakening?

The Saudis awakening?

One of the key components Pres. Obama says we need to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere is for Muslims themselves to take care of their terroristm problem.  In his recent address to the nation, Obama asked the Muslim world to do more within their own countries and mosques to do that.  Key to US policy is for the US Arab allies to provide the boots on the ground in our war against ISIS.

 ISIS had pledged to wipe out the gulf Arab leaders and the Saudi regime, but until recently, the Saudis had seen the fight against the Shia in Iraq and Iran as their number one concern and had only focused  military action in Yemen against a Shia insurgency.  ISIS in Syria and Iraq had kept the Shias at bay north of them, so in a way, ISIS had a positive value to the Saudis. Besides both Saudis and ISIS are Sunnis.

The irony is that the theology of ISIS, permitting killing innocents and resulting in a virtual dealth cult that gave killing of apostates (both those who did not subscribe to their theology and all non Muslims)  and death in carrying that out a shortcut to paradise, has its roots in the madras schools in Saudi Arabia.  The majority Islamic interpretation of jihad is a fight to better oneself, not to be violent. The Salafists who advocated violent jihad ran those schools inspired Al Qaeda as well as ISIS and other franchises and fellow travelers.   A broad assumption was that the Saudis gave free rein to the Salafists to preach their version of violent  jihad as a Faustian bargain that permitted the Saudi royals to stay in power.  The ISIS and terrorist action had caused the death of far more Muslims than westerners. In the meantime, since ISIS and Saudi's are fellow Sunnis and for the Saudi's to take them on is a shift from the past.  However, ISIS' success may have given them pause that they are indeed a serious threat.


That has led to an announcement from the Saudis to create an alliance of Islamic nations to take on "terorists" .The reason the Saudis gave to begin gearing up against ISIS and the terrorist ilk is that it was giving Islam a bad name.

Whatever was motivating them: pressure from Obama, ISIS becoming a threat to their security,  realizaiton that fellow Sunis were victims of ISIS aggression, or bad PR resulted in an announcement that they would lead an alliance of Islamic nations to join together to launch a coordinated military  effort to fight terrorism.  Shia, Syrians and Iraqis and Iranians were not invited to join in.

What this means is not yet known.  The fight is to be coordinated by the Saudis in Saudi Arabia, but whether it means stepping up to the plate to provide military support to the opponents of ISIS is not known. Key to defeating ISIS is putting Arab boots on the ground and whether those boots come from this new alliance is not at all clear.  At least the alliance the Saudi's announced is a hopeful step.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/saudi-arabia-unveils-islamic-military-alliance-against-terrorism-n480016

  



Saturday, December 12, 2015

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-trump-defense-idUSKBN0TR1KY20151210

So we want Muslim phobic guys like these to be the leader of the free world?


The primrose path to homeland security advocated by Donald Trump and fellow travelers is simple: keep out Muslims, all of them, or even carpet bomb them. Fear is like a blindfold on a runner.  It keeps those driven by fear from seeing the ruts and roots that will trip them up.

 Here are some of the obstacles on the path to greater security. Key to reaching the goal of greater homeland security is to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Nearly all  of both political parties agree to succeed  we need  to form a coalition of regional Arabs, Turks, and Shia Iraqis to do the ground fighting in Syria and to bring along our European allies in a support role. The president we elect must also be the leader in creating that coalition, already difficult when those we want to join have conflicting goals. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and his ilk have made coalition building a mission impossible. So we want Muslim phobic guys like these to be the leader of the free world to fight ISIS?

Trump has already alienated the allies he professes he needs to lead in a coalition. He would be a leader with few followers.  Ted Cruz’s proposal “ bomb ISIS to oblivion” and the resulting death to civilians would lead to world- wide outrage . Imagine what that would look like on CNN.

To put together that kind of coalition requires strong leadership from the US and Trump has become a persona non grata to those we need most to form a coalition. His anti- Muslim rhetoric has already made him unwelcome in Israel and Jordan and he had to cancel both trips to those countries.  His ban also received negative reactions from China to our Middle East allies to Europe. His proposal to keep Muslims out of the US created such a backlash in Britain, half a million Brits in a few days signed a petition to ban him from setting foot on the United Kingdom.

Religious tests for admission to the US  to determine who is not a Muslim would  dim the lights of the shining city on the hill that that makes us exceptional and admired for our secular laws protecting  civil rights, regardless of race or religion. It would require verification of non- Muslim identity that by necessity is based on someone’s word to the immigration officer.  Chiming in were other candidates, even reasonable Jeb Bush, who wanted to admit only Christian Syrians, making it necessary to subject them to the same religious tests.

Those are public relations nightmares that would  increase anger on the Muslim streets and their leaders veritying  that the US is officially  against the billions of Muslims around the world when only a fraction of Muslims world-wide subscribe to that death cult of violent jihadism. It would destroy the trust and credibility of the US when diplomacy and coalition building are key to our national security.
For more on who are Muslim  jihadists and who are not, see the post March 11,2015, Why a World View Matters. 


http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-trump-defense-idUSKBN0TR1KY20151210

http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/12/10/trumps-upcoming-israel-visit-puts-netanyahu-in-a-bind

Also, see post on 2/23/15 New winds blowing in the Middle East in our fight against ISIS

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Our struggle with ISIS is about twenty-somethings taking years to play out




 Many familiar with ISIS and international terrorism call the battle with the rest of the Muslim world and modern civilization a generational one, taking years to play out.  Others claim the Obama foreign policy is a failure because it has been unable to stop ISIS or terrorism within his term in office or he has no strategy. His critics do not have a strategy either that differs much from what the White House is already executing. Instead, they argue over the President’s definition of terms. Semantics will not defeat terrorists. Actions which take into account the long term nature, the cause, and communication methods of this generational movement will.  A new President that does not understand this could even increase threats to our national security.

 What both the San Bernardino and the Paris attacks had in common is that they were carried out by twenty something year olds from a certain generation, Some  will have those violent values in their psyches for years to come. They use special means of communication that can inspire and instruct lone wolves, sleeper cells, and coordinate attacks. Terrorists do not communicate by phone so metadata collection has intelligence gathering limitations in preventing attacks. They use encrypted internet sites and social media. So far the purveyors of those services have taken little action against these hidden methods.

There is a force against ISIS that is also generational. They are uneasy bedfellows over which no government has control. The battle of the 20 something nerds has begun with a group of secret, controversial skilled hackers who work outside the law world- wide like modern Robin Hoods. They call themselves Anonymous and the Paris attacks that victimized mostly 20 somethings mobilized them to focus their weapons on ISIS. They claim they have the ability to crack encrypted messages, and sabotage social media and websites. Unlike Silicon Valley, they have the will to do it.


Some GOP candidates for president try to exude personal power, telling us they will stop the spread of terrorism with domestic policies that make hash of the principles and values of the Constitution.  This is as much of a war against ideologies requiring tactical finesse as it is a physical one.

Lowering ourselves to ISIS’ method of torture and fear or trampling civil rights of Muslims in the US is fighting fire with gasoline.  It puts us in greater danger of turning more young domestic Muslims against us in anger and resentment, increasing self -radicalization and loan wolf attacks.

 We may have the firepower to stamp out the Caliphate within their land borders if we choose to do an Iraq style invasion, but we will not stamp out the spread of their ideology and copycat tactics to other countries. As the President noted, we cannot bomb ideas from these young peoples’ heads.
What we also know is that Western boots alone on the ground only gave rise and continuing fuel to ISIS. . We must undertake a delicate dance of balancing multinational military and police force with ideological appeal to those who just want to get on with their day to day lives and find our values give them that opportunity.

A version of this ran in the www.skyhidailynews.com on Dec. 23, 2015

http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/24/technology/targeting-terror-intelligence-isis/index.html?iid=ob_lockedrail_bottomlarge&iid=obnetwork


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Violating constitutional principles is like riding the tiger

VIOLATING CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLES IS LIKE RIDING THE TIGER
Our founding fathers were wise men.  They established the Constitution that is as relevant today as it was in the late 18th century. It is being attacked by those who advocate ignoring the basic principles of that document because they are fearful.  Fear and hate are also powerful tools for those seeking power. We need to support the principles of the Constitution. To do otherwise is like riding the back of a tiger. It will eventually devour us as it has others.
It was not that our nation’s founders foresaw a nation or a world that would have the internet, a widespread bully pulpit of cable TV, weapons of mass destruction or firearms that would require little skill to be used as killing machines, but they drew on experiences of governance failures and the tendencies of human nature.
 Those writers of the Constitution carefully constructed a representative democracy, not a direct one that immediately reflected an ever fickle, easily spooked, public opinion.  They believed that extreme views and their proponents needed to be tempered. They had seen it all: religious wars in England and Europe. They had experienced public opinion influenced by pamphlets and rabble rousers and saw some hanging fellow colonialists who did not subscribe to the official religion of that particular colony.
 They had also witnessed the repression by kings governing by divine right, exercising power over their subjects’ lives.  So they wrote a document that made it less likely that there would ever be a king, yet left a government with enough powers to be effective.  They divided the power of federal government among three branches.  Even within the legislative branch, a more contemplative Senate put the brakes on a House more sensitive to the tides of public sentiment. They also retained some rights for the states.  When branches conflicted, they let the courts decide which act the closest to the intent of the Constitution, as they are doing now.  They amended the Constitution to protect individual citizens from being trampled by an overbearing, unfair government.
There are destructive forces today that undermine the principles upon which the Constitution was founded. For example, Donald Trump proposes registering all Muslims, forcing them to wear monitoring devices (violating more than one of the rights protected by the first Ten Amendments), and the use of torture. Others, such as John Kasich, want to set up a government agency to promote Judeo Christian values and thus de facto establishing a state religion in a nation that is multi-  and non- religious. The glue that holds such a diverse nation together is the Constitution, not allegiance to a religion’s particular interpretation of values.

Our forefathers formulated the Constitution to temper human nature’s instincts to embrace safety within the fold of like- minded groups.   It is that very human tendency to seek the leadership that is willing to throw under the bus the basic rights of individuals and the constraints of government power in the name of national security. It is only human to seek a strong man for protection, regardless of where he/she leads us. We saw it in Germany and Spain in the 1930’s and in Argentina under populist Peron in the 1950’s

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi Daily News  12/4/2015
www.skyhidailynews.com

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fear is the enemy of rational action

Thanksgiving is celebrated with remembrance of the Pilgrims founding their colony and surviving.  They were, after all, our first refugee/immigrants from tyranny. Other than Columbus Day, we celebrate few others who arrived later.  We forget that waves of immigrants were often met with scorn, prejudice, or rejection based on fear that they were Papists or socialists or had different traditions. Eventually we absorbed them into the American culture and they embraced our values.

 Ambitious politicians have exploited fear to fuel their rise to power, especially in times of threats from abroad.  Fear is a powerful force that is the enemy of rational action.    Unfortunately, fear sometimes caused us to commit acts contrary to ideals, laws, and Constitution.  Worst of all, because of fear, we may be led to strike out blindly only to repeat failed strategies.

To draw on Franklin Roosevelt’s oft quoted words:” We have nothing to fear but fear itself”’, we need leadership that does not deny the feelings of fear nor spooks the herd to panic and bolt over the cliff. We need leadership that addresses and reassures public concerns, and devises plausible, workable strategies weighed against possible counter-productive actions.  That is the rational approach; but we are not getting that from either side of the aisle.

We have some examples of what fear can do.  We have hung our heads in shame, as we did after our realization of the injustice we did to internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.  Fear of weapons of mass destruction was hyped to the public by some members of the Bush administration post 9/11 to motivate support for the ill-fated invasion and occupation of Iraq.  Invasion and occupation of Iraq upset the balance of power, gave rise to Iran’s regional domination, and created a backlash that gave birth to ISIS and the new generation of 20 something terrorists behind the Paris attacks.

President Obama was highly criticized for his “tone” in response to the Paris events.  He could have reassured scared Americans by indicating he understood their fears as Roosevelt did.  He could have announced he would increase the amount and intensity of what he was already doing. His strategy mostly resembled his critics ’proposals, anyway. He did not. Instead, he played down the threat and derided his critics. That made him appear disconnected from the public and reality and he is suffering in the polls. Fortunately for him he is not up for re-election.

However, sometimes national interests or basic American values may not be in sync with public opinion. Often forgotten was that the majority of public opinion was opposed to taking in Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Pres. Roosevelt, looking at a third term run, read the polls.  Boatloads of the refugees  were turned away from the US .  We need leadership that extolls our values and applies them to current situations even if it is not momentarily popular or vote getting.

Stampeding the public  to start fascist-like registration lists of all US Muslims, or only to admit Christian immigrants in defiance of our Constitution, would fulfill the goal of ISIS, to realize  their religious destiny of a war between the West and Islam, and it would serve the terrorists as a  recruiting tool..

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News  November 27, 2015


http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005267

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The battle of the 20 something nerds has begun: ISIS v Anonymous

The battle of the 20 something nerds has begun. ISIS attacks on Paris were about that generation. The perps, thr victims, the communication technology were mostly theirs. Joining against ISIS is also an ally from that generation...a group of secret, controversial skilled hackers who work outside the law worldwide. Let them get to work. May they out-fox ISIS and do what Silicon Valley will and cannot do.

Anonymous - Operation Paris Continues #OpParis JOIN US: https://www.facebook.com/AnonymousDirect - Connect with Anonymous - Subscribe ● http://www.yo…

The opening salvo:
http://www.ibtimes.com/anonymous-says-isis-plans-attacks-against-paris-world-sunday-2194926
It appears ISIS may have fought back with a disinformation story aimed at discrediting Anonymous:
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/anonymous-op-isis-isis-hits-back-by-publishing-sets-of-anti-hack-guidelines-a6743111.html

While I do not usually quote wikipedia, this may help us older folks  get a better grasp of Anonymous for those of us who wonder.  They are in a sense the Robin Hoods of the Internet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_(group) .  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes_mask

 I am grateful for my 20 something grandson who tuned me into them.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Turning away refugees because of their Syrian origina is not the first time that has been advocated, sadly. The US did it to boatloads of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

The 31 governors who recently declared Syrian refugees were un-welcome, their settlement should be unfunded, and especially Muslims should be excluded, reminded me of another ugly chapter in US history. As the Nazi's were about to close the German borders, Jews climbed on ocean liners for Cuba and then to the US...and both turned them away. Those governors, mostly Republicans, say they fear vetting is inadequate and say we ought to wait for a while to get it right first . They conveniently neglect to note that the vetting process for refugees to be allowed into the United Sates takes two years and scrutiny by multi federal agencies..

For a first person accounting, visit http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27373131


Messaging and tone cut both ways for the GOP and the President

That the President delivered his remarks after the G20 meeting was indeed a missed opportunity to demonstrate world leadership.  Immediately after his vigorous defense of his strategies, he was hit for his “tone”, not for the substance of his strategy..  The problem is that the GOP does have a tone that is politically smart, but strategically empty. The President has a substantive strategy, but it is politically deficient. Both parties need to retool and show what they would do or are doing otherwise, or pointing blaming fingers.

Here is the GOP  unspoken platform so far: “ Even if the President has stated his strategy, we will  deny he has any.   We should be fearful, resent foreigners because of their religion or their language or their color of their skin, and always criticize any Presidential action whatever it is.  Instead, let us wave the American flag and threaten action, whether it worked in the past  or not or whether or not the US has the political will or ability to carry it out.”  That may be politically smart, but it does nothing to show a better ability to solve the issue they identified,  demonstrate leadership ability,  or are in touch with reality.

 If the GOP proposes more of what the administration is already doing, then they have admitted the President’s strategy is correct but he needs just to do more of it and execute it better.   If they demand the US take  world leadership, then they should not limit his ability to strike diplomatic and military alliances, even with Russia or Iran,Turkey, and NATO. The President should not be criticized for taking advantage of an opportunity.  ISIS has given him a gift, since it has given countries previously unwilling to put ISIS at the top of their enemy list, to change their priorities. ISIS may have goaded the bulls to their detriment with their having been behind terrorist attacks in Ankara,Turkey,  the Russian passenger plane,  or Paris. 

Here is the President’s  spoken and unspoken platform so far: “ I cannot reassure you that we can doing anything to assuage your fears  It is hard to combat a bomber wearing a vest;  it is going to take years for whatever I am doing to work” .  That  message is bad politics, but it may be realistic strategy.

The President  should reassure the fearful public that he is understanding their fears in the wake of the Paris attacks  and is taking  additional steps immediately  even if it is already being done , has been done, or  already is his part of his strategy. He should put his message in clear  bullet points  of positive statements.  He should not put it in context of answering GOP criticisms or challenging them.  He has done that enough. Leave that up to others in the future.. 


For example, while citing successes when the public only sees failure, say he will delay admitting Syrian refugees for a year and up our vetting game by asking for more funding and focus,  and that is in effect what is being done anyway. If he agrees with carving up safe havens  for refugees near Syria, he talks about how he would do that. Instead of touting token increase in special ops, in Syria and Iraq,  he should underline the total of special ops already involved now , what their engagement rules are, and  say we will send more, even if he had it in plans anyway. Instead of saying we have shadowed x number of Homeland Security’s identified suspected domestic terrorists, and stopped x number of plots,  he should say we are increasing manpower and techniques to disrupt or hack their communications,  even though that is his current policy on the date of the statement. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The attacks in Paris by ISIS terrorists and the downing of a Russian airliner could be game changers, but what will be the game? What changed Friday the 13th was the realization that ISIS was not a localized land grab and a fight between them and other Muslims that did not share their ideology, but their radical movement had gone global.  They were now a threat to homelands from Russia to Turkey to Western Europe to the US.   It was also clear that the failure of intelligence services was profound and the terrorists had figured away to communicate in secret.

The G20 summit taking place in Turkey as this column is being written will be extremely revealing of any definitive change in attitudes of Russia and Turkey, who so far have not given priority to taking action against ISIS.  It is also an opportunity for Pres. Obama to take the lead in organizing action, at least so far as our Arab allies and NATO are concerned. Whatever we do, we should not make threats we cannot back up. We have done too much of that already.

What now?  The fallout will be profound on global realignment and alliances based on convenience or sympathy. Already there have been changes in attitude expressed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who came to an agreement for a road map for a political settlement in Syria.  While all the players have their own national agendas, it is clear that none of their agendas can succeed so long as ISIS remains a force.

The fallout will also impact the US race for president.  The real danger is that the hawks in the Republican party may beat war drums to strike out against ISIS with the same strategy and tactics that we know have failed in the past, massive troops invading and occupying the region. On the other hand, some in the GOP such as Jeb Bush advocate mostly doing more of what  the administration is already doing..

The worst reaction from the West would to condemn and create more fear of all Muslims.  ISIS fighters are motivated by an ideology that rationalizes the killing of innocents. It is a small sect of Islam and the most numbers of the victims of their barbarism have been Muslims. It is also in their ideology that this conflict is a religious war and it is a tool to recruit followers disaffected with their host country the more it appears that it is.   Anti-Islam sentiment is exactly what they hope happens. It is a way to self-fulfill their prophecy and it is a “make my day” approach.  Hawks should not fall into their trap on the battlefield or in politics. Unfortunately right wing media has already begun to gin up more anti-Islam sentiment in the US. Those who advocate only allowing Syrian Christian refugees to enter the US are feeding that perception.

What was especially disturbing about the Paris attacks was the failure of intelligence services. The line I heard in defense of the intelligence operatives was that they did not have the resources and manpower to shadow those they had already identified as radicalized and returnees from ISIS training camps, much less screen the refugees flooding into Europe. So why not fund that ability now, at least.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi DailyNews.com November 20,2015


For more, search Charlie Ebdo on this site, for reasons why France was singled out by ISIS

Monday, November 9, 2015

Issues matter

Issues matter

Listening to candidates for president still left standing, those who identify the aspirations of the disaffected owe that for their top tier position in the polls.  Whether that is Dr. Ben Carson or Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, they inspire large groups of people who agree with their gripes about the economy, banking, jobs, US position in the world, and a corrupt political system. Identifying problems may be a political winner for now, but the devil is in how to fix those problems and candidates know coming clean with the how’s could be a loser.
Issues do matter. How can you evaluate whether the ideas are even plausible or the candidate has knowledge and judgement to make sound policy if we do not even know what their solutions are?  Let us heart a substantive debates on issues instead of gotcha games.  

Without a debate on the issues, simply identifying problems may be a political winner for now, but the devil is in how to fix those problems. Candidates know coming clean might turn off voting groups. That is why you see candidates relying on a remarkable personal history, an appealing personality, personal attacks, or simply ducking answers. Some propose vague concepts, or ask for friendly debate moderators to throw them softball questions. Their lure is a shiny burrito wrapper without the tortilla, beans, rice, and salsa.

Jeb Bush believes voters want more than raging against problems and he has embraced the “fix it” slogan, drawing on position papers and a record in government. His problem is making the fixes sound as sexy and acceptable as the anger mongers’ rages. Hillary Clinton more and more reveals her fixes, too.

 l confess I like to play fantasy debate moderator  so here are some  questions  I could  ask  that would force a debate on issues.  

I would aks those who advocate repealing Obamacare what they would do about the millions who can afford health insurance for the first time.  Let them go bankrupt or throw themselves onto the mercy of charity care again?  Many promise they would come up with a better plan, but do not offer one. Some propose sketchy ideas, but they fail to tell us how much their proposal would cost or how many their plan would cover. If the freedom from federal government control is their goal, and states can do it better, what makes them think states have the will or means to provide anything comparable to the coverage of Obamacare? Or will they rely on a no strings attached gift from the feds and no standards with which to comply?

Those who advocate a militaristic, interventionist foreign policy to bring the US to its greatness again need to tell us how we are to accomplish that without large numbers of boots on the ground or a repeat of failed strategies.  

Those who want to boot a sluggish economy, while opposing government  infrastructure  and education funding or want to change the tax structure, need to tell us how taking away such perks and stimulus would help the middle class.    From those who propose to make higher education free or to bring more income equality, I would ask them how we pay for it.

For more, visit www.mufticforumblog.blogspot.com


Monday, November 2, 2015

Observing Veterans Day with more prospects of wounded warriors

Observance of Veterans Day November 11 should serve as a reminder that there is a human cost to combat. On Memorial Day last May, we honored those who died. On Veterans Day we honor those who came home, including the wounded. There are those who advocate more robust military combat to stop our current threat, ISIS. Are we, the American public, ready to add another war to the list of those generating veterans and seeing  the heartbreaking  images again on TV  of wounded warriors returning home?

The US finds our forces again in Iraq, continuing in Afghanistan, and now making raids into Syria, albeit in a reduced numbers and very limited combat roles. Reality has begun to set in: more US dead and wounded can be expected.

That the American public is “war weary” is a given. Almost no politician on the left and right is advocating an Iraq style invasion and occupation. No wonder. Over six thousand US troops have returned in body bags and caskets since 2003. But the numbers who died are only a small part of the total casualties, thanks to modern battle field medicine saving lives that would in the past have been lost. Those wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq total over 18,000. Some estimate a million. What we have to show for it is war without end, the rise of ISIS and resurgence of the Taliban and post conflict governments that have failed to stop either.

A political firestorm erupted with the announcement that the Obama administration is sending fifty more special forces have been added to the estimated 3500 US troops in northern Iraq and the 10000 forces in Afghanistan.  Politicians are quick to opine whether there are too many or too few or they are jeering at broken promises and blaming premature withdrawal or parsing the definition of boots on the ground and combat, while providing no alternatives that have not failed in the past.

The only hope to limit mission creep is to bring an end to the conflicts that threaten our own security before there is no other Iraq style alternative left. Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations on recent Morning Joe (November 2)and Fareed Zakaria’s CNN GPS (November 1)  advocates realistic goals regarding Syria and Iraq, understanding that we neither have allies within Syria we can train nor the will for extensive combat ourselves to defeat ISIS there or to overthrow Assad.  Instead, we need to buy time to get Sunni tribes and Kurds in northern Iraq strong enough to stop the advance of ISIS and to reach a realization among combatants that further violence is futile. At that point a political solution of dividing Syria into ethnic enclaves might work. His approach appears to be the administration strategy.

 The hope is that while every combatant group that has its own agenda, many of Syria’s neighbors also fear an ISIS/Al Qaeda dominated Sunni control of the region. We should be applauding the US diplomatic initiative to seek a political solution in Syria, including Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations that involve Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kurds and the sending of more US special ops to help what effective allies we have.

For more, see prior  posts of 10/19/15, Why military intervention does not work;  6/14/15, Time to Dust Off Joe Biden’s plan?; 5/9/15, Musings on differences between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day

A version of this was published in the www.skyhidailynews.com  November 5, 6 ,2015

Fareed Zakaria brings a different view  and makes the parallel between the Obama policy and US mission creep in Viet Nam.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-dangers-of-incrementalism/2015/11/05/22aad1de-83f9-11e5-9afb-0c971f713d0c_story.html



http://www.forbes.com/sites/rebeccaruiz/2013/11/04/report-a-million-veterans-injured-in-iraq-afghanistan-wars/

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The inquisition of Hillary Clinton results in unintended consequences for the GOP

The eleven hour long grilling of Hillary Clinton by Republican members of the House Benghazi select committee last week had some unintended consequences for the GOP.   Not only did their attack dog prosecutorial tone fail to rattle her, it gave her an opportunity to demonstrate in a very public way she had the self-control, stamina, and intelligence that a president would need.   The overt attempt by GOP committee members to trip her up with loaded questions, to get her to incriminate herself with her answers, also became additional proof of the partisan nature of the committee and did nothing to restore its credibility.    What did come out of her answer to a GOP committee member’s question is a fact that may in the long term diminish the importance of another issue dogging her, her emails on a private server.

The highly partisan dominated GOP committee began the hearings with a strike against their credibility by a whistle blowing ex staff member and statements by  two members of the House that the committee’s purpose was to hurt her candidacy.  As even committee  chair, Rep. Trey Goudy, admitted afterward, no new facts resulted.  Perhaps he meant no new facts emerged that could bring down her poll numbers.

Goudy had begun his opening case statement against her with trying to link the negatives of Benghazi to Clinton’s private emails.  He failed. What fact did emerge was to her advantage, that the decision making and communications of a Secretary of States’ office were made in staff briefings, one to one conversations, and mostly with old fashioned cables, not by emails.  This may explain why so little evidence of use of the private server has shown any impact on national security.  Only an unfinished investigation by the FBI to see there was “gross negligence” in handling classified and non-classified documents remains.          .

The GOP committee members substantiated the partisan purpose of the hearing with their attitudes and questions that were not fact seeking, but were questions prefaced and constructed to make a public case for their accusations.

 Adding to suspicions of GOP partisanship, the role of other major players had not gotten the same public exposure. Many questions and answers essential to protecting diplomats in the future are buried in written documentation, prior investigations, and hearing transcripts.
 Instead, GOP committee members were preoccupied with posing questions that explored conspiracy theories for the world to see, aimed at pinning blame on Clinton herself.

 Particularly glaring was the committee’s failure to give equal public grilling  of CIA and military  officials. Why were there intelligence failures and why was the military positioned too far away to come to the aid of a besieged ambassador?

There were other unasked pertinent questions deserving  a high profile public airing:  What happened in the State Department that fumbled the Ambassador’s request for more security?  Was underfunding truly an issue requiring prioritization?  Why was the ambassador’s visit not seen as deserving priority?   What measures has the State Department taken to reduce the possibility of a future attack against our diplomats? How and why did post-Gaddafi Libya’s democratically elected governance fail? What lessons learned can be applied to future situations when a dictator is deposed?

A version of this was published in the www.skyhidailynews.com October 29-30, 2015

For more, visit www.mufticforumblog.blogspot.com

Polls taken a few days after the Benghazi hearings confirm the hearings helped Clinton diminish the issue of her private server emails and gave her a bump in favorablility while reducing the favorability of the committee.
In short, the GOP strategy of grilling her backfired on them. http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/258940-after-benghazi-hearing-polling-up-for-clinton-emails




Monday, October 19, 2015

Why military intervention does not work out; a strong warning to hawks

Fareed Zakaria on CNN Sunday, October 18, 2015, delivered a strong warning to those who think the definition of American strength , its exceptionalism, and leadership is military intervention. He reviews both the Russian experience and the US since the Eisenhower administration and the resulting disasters, humanitarian, quagmire and occupation and failure then and now as a lesson for the future.  He praises Dwight Eisenhower's wisdom for bucking public sentiment for military action.

 I strongly agree and those who are rational could agree as well because evidence is based on experience .  Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I yield my posting this week to him.

For his excellent concise comment on the subject, go to http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1510/18/fzgps.01.html




Sunday, October 11, 2015

The rule of secular law is the law of the land

The rule of secular law

As  a former county clerk myself, the county clerk  who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because it violated her religious beliefs, got me thinking about the differences between a country ruled by laws that were secular, not connected with religious or spiritual matters, and a country ruled by an official state religion. The U.S. is governed by secular laws.

 

 That issue, secular vs religious rule,  dominated debates in  American history  among and within the colonies, but it became one of the compromises expressed in the First Amendment when the Constitution was formulated and ratified. It  forbad Congress from establishing a state religion and protected freedom to practice one’s own religion.

 

 Our founding fathers were influenced by  their bitter experience with persecution under the English kings who also served as the religious rulers by divine right and  the divisive practices of some colonies , such as the Puritans of Massachusetts who substituted persecution justified by one religious belief with another just as cruel.
In modern times the issue of separation of church and state has been the subject of many a US Supreme Court rulings.  Sometimes other Constitutional provisions such as the 14th Amendment that established the right of equal protection under the law seem to conflict with the First Amendment.  The Supreme Court is the arbiter that resolves those conflicts and they ruled in 2014 that equal protections trumped  laws in  those states that had passed laws motivated by religious beliefs of their majority forbidding same sex marriage.
 A key to a stable, successful democracy is a  rule of secular  law that protects minority interests.  Failure to do so has hobbled many wannabe democracies .The tension within secular states vs Islamist advocates of Sharia law , the religious laws derived from interpretations of the Koran, have played out in the Arab Spring .  In Egypt ,deposed President Mubarek’s secular law was replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sharia type laws that resulted in persecution of Christians and others, followed by  a military coup that re-established secular law.  In Turkey, a government tried to replace  the secular laws of Ataturk (founder of modern Turkey) with more Islamist ones.  The result has been many demonstrations, bombings and unrest, attempted power grabs,  and changes in leadership.  The Nobel peace prize was just awarded to a group in Tunisia who hammered out a compromise between Islamists and secularists, though the country is  still a home to many Islamic extremists.
 Most American elected and appointed officials swear on a Bible to uphold the laws of the land which are secular.      Kentucky  clerk, Kim Davis,  refused  to  issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because  she was acting because of her religious beliefs that  forbad her to do so.  Her action  resulted in jail time for contempt of court. 
Another Kentucky clerk opined : " Why take away the majority's right [just] to give the minority their rights?” Send her back to school for civics lessons.  The First and 14th amendment protects minority rights from being trampled by the majority ,  but they are not enforced under the authority of state sponsored religion but under the authority of the secular  Constitution.

Felicia Muftic served as Denver County Clerk from 1983-1991.
A version of this appeared in the www.skyhidailynews.com  October 23, 2015

 For sources tapped for the column visit www.mufticforumblog.blogspot.com and  also visit the posting: Freedom of religion, a right so often misunderstood

 Bowman, Brad (September 2, 2015). "Defiant county clerks standing ground on gay marriage issue". The State Journal (Frankfort, KY).













Monday, October 5, 2015

The GOP's logic on the Iran deal and same sex marriage escape me

There are some public policy positions being promoted by a variety of politicians that just do not seem logical.  Often good politics trump reason, especially when they  invigorate the juices of their political bases.  Take the examples of the failed attempt in Congress to block the Iran nuclear deal and some freedom of religion arguments advanced by the GOP.
 The logical element of the Iran deal is that it will keep war from happening immediately, and maybe even in a distant future, though much can change in a decade for better or for worse.  On the other hand, failure to pass the deal would have freed all other participants to drop any sanctions and they had made that clear they would do so. Clearly sanctions by one country, the US, would not be effective in changing Iran’s behavior any more than they were against Cuba. Sanctions by the larger international community were the only leverage against Iran.  Iran could develop nuclear weapons in a few months. Past cyber  attacks, assassinations of scientists, and bombing runs caused only temporary setbacks.  With the deal, violations of sanctions will trigger automatic reinstatement of international sanctions and military action is still an option. There will be constant monitoring of nuclear sites capable of nuclear weapons production and supply lines, with some level of inspections lasting past the ten year period. 
 Opponents to the deal ginned up fear, not reason. Their argument:  Iran’s government had bad policies toward its people and was untrustworthy. The deal does not rely on trust or love. Inspections are regarded by the international community as the most stringent ever imposed on any country.  Unable to refute that, the opponents just ignored or distorted  the inspection protocols in their multi- million dollar ad campaign full of misleading statements and instead, scared the public into opposing the deal.
In preparation for the 2016 elections, a fear mongering ad is running against Colorado Democratic Senate incumbent, Michael Bennet claiming he will be responsible for a nuclear holocaust caused by his vote in favor of the Iran deal. This ad, with multi lingual countdown by children, is similar to the one Democrats used effectively against GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964 who had indicated a willingness to use nukes. It depicted a child counting daisy petals followed by a nuclear blast.  Bennet has a reasoned case to make the Iran deal would immediately make a nuclear war less likely.
Also illogical is the GOP’s freedom of religion argument that same sex marriage destroys religious freedom.  Same sex marriage is contrary to religious beliefs held by many who would like government to force others to uphold their views and step on others ’rights. In 2014 the Supreme Court ruled same sex couples must be allowed to marry nationwide regardless if state laws permit marriage only by heterosexual couples. The ruling was particularly pertinent to officials issuing marriage licenses. A county clerk was jailed when she refused to issue licenses to same sex couples because it violated her religious beliefs. She has always been free to resign or run for another office, and she is still protected by the Constitution to continue her crusade elsewhere. Noticed: the ruling did not prevent heterosexual marriage.

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi Daily News (www.skyhidailynews.com) October 8,9, 2015

For more, visit the July 19, 2015 posting “The GOP comes out swinging against the Iran deal….    Also see the 8/2/15 blog posting: Heads up, spinners at work on the Iran deal....for a critique of the anti Iran deal ads


Felicia Muftic is a former Denver County Clerk who was sworn in to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.

http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/national/supreme-court-opinion-on-same-sex-marriage/1605/


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

John Boehner's and the Pope's Balancing Acts: Boehner's act fails; the Pope succeeds

Circus balancing acts nearly always succeed. It they do not, performers do not stay long in the business.  Politics is another story. Last week saw balance take a back seat to extreme views when House Majority Leader John Boehner threw in the towel, foreseeing a collision with a forty  member Tea Party caucus wanting to hold hostage the functioning of government to a single issue.  Pope Francis with great delicacy delivered messages in person to the American people and Catholics in a way that would make a tight rope walker proud.

In past eras, the middle, the balance between poles, was once the substance of the business of governing.  It is rare now when balance works and often imbalance is cheered by partisans holding less than a majority vote when they roll over their opposition without having themselves to budge an inch or take a political penalty at the ballot box.

Boehner quit, he said, to save the institution of Congress. He probably meant that Congress was structured to force compromise. I suspect another reason was that he wanted to come to the aid of the Republican Party.  Most right wing Tea Party members of his GOP Congressional caucus were protected from political repercussions by representing safe districts with constituents who agreed with them. The Tea Party had failed to get their way on defunding Planned Parenthood when the House votes were counted.  Never mind federal laws already prevented federal funds from being used for abortions. They cared little if their actions would deprive the service of any federal dollars to provide other low cost women’s health services.  They threatened to block approval of the entire federal budget, resulting in shutdown of government services.

Boehner had been there, done that. In 2013, the GOP dominated House engineered an actual shutdown for two weeks over a single issue, defunding Obamacare.    The result: The economy took a $12 to $24 billion hit. The GOP got the blame in spite of their attempt to cast blame on a stubborn President.  Polls showed Americans believed the GOP was responsible over Democrats 39 percent to 19 percent.

In order for Boehner to stop this government shutdown, he would have had to draw on Democratic votes, an anathema to Republican extremists.  They had attacked Boehner in the past for relying on the enemy and Boehner was facing some very contentious moments if he did it again. Clearly he was just tired of it and he, humming “ Zip-a-dee-doo dah”, quit.

On the other hand, Pope Francis was last week’s balancer in chief, giving pronouncements on his visit to the US about what he considered to be the moral course on critical governmental issues, some of which warmed the hearts of conservatives with his family focus, and cheered liberals with issues such as caring about income inequality, humane treatment of immigrants and refugees, caring for the poor, and global warming.   While he did not propose legislative directives of “thou shall or shalt not” to Congress, he urged compromise and dissed extremism. Nonetheless, he made his points without adding to the political polarization he so deplored. Perhaps the Pope inspired devout Catholic  Boehner to turn his disgust with extremists into the action he took. 

The edited version appeard in the Oct 1, 2   2015 Sky Hi Daily News www.skyhidailynews.com



Saturday, August 29, 2015

Services celebrating Michael Muftic, MD's life, will be held at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center Hotel in Denver at 5 PM on Tuesday, September 15 and at the Church of Eternal Hills in Tabernash, Colorado at 11 AM on Saturday, September 12. There will be receptions after both services. In Denver, after the reception there will also be a no host dinner at the hotel's restaurant, Altitude. The hotel requests that reservations for the dinner should be made in advance at 303 486 4434.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

GOP candidate debate: sins of omission

In watching the GOP candidate debates, I was struck by how little the needle was moved on the issue meter. There were no surprises or taking back of the individual candidate positions enunciated before the debates.  What was not said was also noteworthy.  Especially ignored were alternatives to Obamacare and the effectiveness of the verification provisions of the Iran deal.  In 2012, jobs and the economy were the overwhelmingly hot topic, though not quite as front and center in this debate. Perhaps the improving economy and jobs picture took winds out of those red sails.
  The shades of conservatism were on display in spite of Donald Trump’s hogging more minutes on the clock than others.  The Fox inquisitors put each on the spot to respond to and clarify their past statements that could be seen as controversial or defining of their deviation from the rest of the herd. Trump’s post- debate objection insulted a FOX news anchor. Both John Kasich and Jeb Bush made brief, but clear and convincing defense of such positions, Bush on common core and immigration, and Kasich caring about the poor in context of Medicaid expansion. 
What the Fox questioners did not do is to ask the candidates to rebut Democratic positions at the top of the Democratic issue priority list, including environment, global warming, income inequality, voter suppression, and financial services reform.  However, the candidates supported defunding Planned Parenthood, a guaranteed turn-off of young women voters.
The most glaring sin of omission concerned the Iran deal, condemned by nearly all on the stage.  Rarely did the word “verify” pass their lips.  Repeated charges that Obama was naïve to trust Iran completely ignored the entire text of the  agreement which  was about the verification process approved by all  nuclear and non- proliferation experts in the world, hardly the naïve ones. Candidates like other anti- deal critics remained intentionally ignorant of the details.   The exception was GOP’s amateur hour politicians citing the 24 day permission request for inspection. That had been defended by the nuclear experts as way to put a cap on delay tactics and clandestine nuclear development traces could not be destroyed in that time period.
 Complained the candidates and others, the deal failed because Iran’s behavior toward Israel would not be changed. Those were never the goals. Stopping Iran from getting the bomb was. That without the deal Iran could have nuclear weapons in months was simply ignored. It seemed less important to the candidates than there was a chance Iran could have nuclear weapons in ten years. Do they really mean that short term nuclear proliferation was not a concern, but long term was? Or do they mean war now was the only alternative to keeping Iran from nukes? How is another mid- east war in US interests?

Another sin of omission was the mantra shared by all GOP candidates:  repeal and replace Obamacare.  Once simply kill Obamacare was the line. Promoting a replacement is at least an acknowledgement of the effectiveness of Obamacare in getting 11 million more insured.  What was glaringly missing was with what they would replace it, including  details of costs and who would lose/keep/gain affordable  coverage.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Heads up: the issue spinners are at work
It is bad enough that the issues facing America are complex, the decisions consequential to our security or to the lives of citizens, but when advocates for one side or the other tell untruths, mislead, or leave out important details, it becomes difficult for citizens to form rational opinions based on facts.  Issues with highly technical components are especially vulnerable to abuse by false advertising.
There are two issues hot on the burner these days which are rife with spin doctors plying their trade. One concerns the Iran nuclear deal and the other, defunding Planned Parenthood. Whatever your position on either issue, heads up.  Media fact checkers are blowing the whistle.
Much of the Iran nuclear deal is very technical. You may have seen the commercial claiming the Iran nuclear deal is a bad deal, ending with “we need a better deal”.   There is very little in the ad that is not misleading.  The ad claims that there will be no inspection of 50 military sites. In Arizona, television station ABC15 ‘s  fact checker consulted experts  and found there will indeed be inspection of military sites that are nuclear  development capable. Other heavyweight experts agree. Not all military sites are appropriate for inspection. If the inspection request is refused, sanctions would be re- imposed.  Touts the ad, Iran can build a nuclear weapon in two months because Iran keeps nuclear facilities.  Experts looking at the deal say because the centrifuges needed to build a bomb are mothballed and enriched uranium is limited or destroyed, it would take at least a year.
The ad is paid for by Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, an ironic name because the result would be a nuclear Iran sooner than much later, if at all. The ad purports to support negotiating a better deal.  We note while we reinstate sanctions and try to reassemble any willing negotiators, Iran could build their bomb within months, and no inspectors would be there to detect it.  Threat of sanctions is not the only enforcer. If Iran breaks the deal, nothing in the agreement prohibits a military strike, per Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
Selective editing of undercover video is a technique as old as video.  Such is the case of the film used to convince lawmakers and the public that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for a profit.  Factcheck.org, an independent non- partisan fact checking group, looked at the original video of an “interview” of a Planned Parenthood official and compared it to the version widely circulated in the media used as a pretext by anti- abortion activists to motivate Congress to defund the organization. Left out of the version often repeated on news reports is the part in which the official carefully explains that the fetal tissue is used for research and that there is no profit.  Factcheck.org cites experts who calculate that Planned Parenthood’s charges probably do not even cover expenses. That Planned Parenthood makes a profit on donated fetal tissue is not true.  Of course, federal money by law cannot be used for abortions and the federal money now goes only for cancer screening and other women’s health services, which would be defunded. 

A version of this was run as a column in the www.skyhidailynews.com August 6, 7 2015

http://www.bloombergview.com/quicktake/irans-uranium-enrichment (destroys 2/3 centrifuges and limits all but 3.67% enriched uranium stores; limit refining metal to 5% over 15 years; after 10 years can build some centrifuges)
http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/03/31/carter-says-iran-nuclear-deal-would-not-limit-us-military-option.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/07/15/how-the-nuclear-deal-can-keep-iran-from-cheating-according-to-a-former-u-n-inspector/

Friday, July 24, 2015

The part time worker brouhaha. Most part timers choose to be part time

The part time worker brouhaha

A mini firestorm  between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush  about job creation and part time workers  got me digging  into the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) site to find  just how many part time workers wanted to work full time.  What I found  was  the number of part time workers in June, 2015  seeking full time jobs (two million)   is not a high percentage of either  part timers  or of the total 149 million labor force . While important to each individual affected,  only 10%  of  all part timers were actually seeking full time employment.   78 percent of part timers were part timers  by choice and the rest cited other economic reasons.  
Jeb  Bush, former governor of Florida and now vying for the GOP presidential nomination, started the war of words, when he said “that people need to work longer hours”, meaning that part timers need to become full timers and  there ought to be more full time jobs for those seeking them.  Hillary Clinton seized upon the phrase and in a major economic address said that “what workers wanted was a raise”.
Trend lines based on the BLS statistics also show that the number of those who choose to work part time has remained steady even through the ups and downs of the economy, but that those part timers seeking full time jobs increased especially during the Great Recession of 2008. As the economy has improved, their numbers are still  historically high, but  decreasing.
 An  more explosive political issue of concern to 65% of voters is the unfairness of the distribution of income. Uncontested is the fact that the middle class has “hollowed out”.     Neither party nor candidates can ignore this.  The Democrats will force the GOP to defend their plans to help the middle class  because Democrats  believe their own  proposals have  more potential  appeal to the key factor of “does he/she care about us”.  Expect Democrats to  propose stronger Wall Street reform,  minimum wage increases, expanding pay for overtime,   paid sick leave,  increased affordability of a college education, and  reform taxes so the secretary does not pay a higher percentage than the boss. Most  GOP candidates so far promise to help the middle class by relief to the wealthy and business. That  will be a harder sell to the middle class since recent experience has taught them prosperity does not  automatically trickle down to them.
 Bush claims more full time jobs  can be achieved  by raising growth to 4% per year, though he was vague about  how.  Bush and GOP candidates need to be pinned down on the specifics because the political devil is in those details. Will it be tax policy, welfare, trade and spending cuts?  If so, what gets cut and who benefits?  
Is 4% growth even possible?  Such sustained growth has not happened in most of American history. 5% growth did happen under President Reagan, but many  economists  owe that anomaly  to an expanding workforce  when women began working.  The non partisan Congressional Budget Office projected a 3% growth in 2015-2016 and dip in the long term to 2.2 percent due to baby boomers retiring and a shrinking workforce, a rate similar from 2009 to now.     

A version of this column appeared in the www.skyhidailynews.com  July 30, 2015     


      

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The GOP comes out swinging against the Iran deal and the Administration swings back harder

Also see a later posting: Heads up Spinners at work on the Iran deal 8/2/15 for comments on the anti Iran deal ad campaign.

 Nearly all  of the GOP members in Congress and their presidential contenders came out swinging against  the Iran nuclear arms control deal before they even  read the text, having  chosen to be deaf, blind, and intentionally dumb to the details of the provisions and the repercussions of killing the deal. Congress  will have sixty days  to become educated, though GOP’s pre-conceived notions seem already set in concrete.  Democrats swipe back harder and  turn to  keeping enough Senate Democrats in line to protect their president’s’ veto without GOP votes.

 Public rebuttals and counter rebuttals have begun. Key Administration arguments for the deal  are that the effectiveness of  verification measures make us safer than  a powerfully sobering result if the deal is killed. There would be no sanctions, no monitors by inspectors, a likely outbreak of war soon, a chance the US could be dragged into another Middle Eastern war to support our allies,  a nuclear arms race in the region, and knowing  Iran would be free to make  a bomb in a very short time.

If war now is considered better than the deal, the President pointed out, Iran’s  nuclear program would only be set back temporarily with conventional means. Bunker busters cannot wipe out their scientists’ knowhow.   The deal requires monitored mothballing  of 2/3 of their centrifuges and limits enriched uranium to 3.67% of stores for 15 years, making a bounce back difficult if impossible. 

Even Pres. Obama agrees there are  short term risks of beefed up hostilities from Iran’s surrogates due to Iran’s improving economic conditions and with the  conventional arms embargo lifted after five years, 8 years for missiles. Separate UN resolutions forbid Iran arming  surrogates.  Israel and our Gulf allies have already been offered more military aid to offset any  threat.

But are the provisions for verification good enough to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons?
To answer GOP charges that Iran could develop weapons in ten years, their R&D continues, and the administration is naïve, the administration is pitting their experts against the GOP’s that the deal will block the path.  The administration’s  lead technical negotiator, a hardly naïve  Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, is one of the  world’s top nuclear expert scientists,  .

 Republicans criticized the 24 day notice for Iran to approve  inspectors to visit suspected cheat sites, noting approval could still be  delayed for months.  Scrubbing sites in a short period is impossible, per Moniz. Tell- tale nuclear residue lasts for years. Military installations are subject to inspections, but the GOP claims monitoring provisions are vague.  The deal includes  monitoring the entire supply chain of nuclear materials that will provide evidence of hidden cheating to be pursued by inspectors for the next twenty-five years.  

Some in the GOP want to double down on sanctions to change Iran’s  behavior instead. The administration countered that the  purpose of sanctions was to force Iran to negotiate. If Congress kills the deal,  the sanction’s purpose, leverage to force Iran to renegotiate, and  an effective  sanctions coalition evaporates.  US leadership becomes untrustworthy. If  the deal survives,   “snap back” provisions obligate the signers automatically to reinstate sanctions if Iran is caught cheating.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News  July 23-24 2015

http://www.rt.com/usa/310049-us-military-aid-israel/   ($1.6 billion in aid offered to Israel)
http://www.bloombergview.com/quicktake/irans-uranium-enrichment (destroys 2/3 centrifuges and limits all but 3.67% enriched uranium stores; limit refining metal to 5% over 15 years; after 10 years can build some centrifuges)