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This blog serves my columns as an archive, a place to add footnotes, and unedited previews and drafts of my weekly column for the Sky Hi News.(www.skyhidailynews.com) Often these drafts are posted on my Facebook page, The Muftic Forum, which is used as my main method of electronic distribution and comments from my readers.
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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
Update Nov 2107 originally published 11/23/15
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.
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
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
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.
The opening salvo:
It appears ISIS may have fought back with a disinformation story aimed at discrediting Anonymous:
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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