Thursday, May 26, 2011

With the capture of Mladic, another ogre is brought to justice. Perhaps or hopefully the Balkans can heal

Another ogre was found today. While we felt justice had been done in the killing of Osama Bin Laden,  though a  decade passed,  it took  16 years to bring to justice another  mass killer, the Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, indicted by the Hague Tribunal for crafting and carrying out ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars.  Both Bin Laden and Mladic were driven by hatred…Bin Laden declared a jihadist war against the Christian West and Mladic set about systematically to cleanse parts of Bosnia of Muslims and Croatian Catholics.
 A three year siege of Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia, but mostly Muslim, was overseen by Mladic and thousands were killed because of their ethnicity or the result of the siege and elsewhere. The world, and particularly Europe, dithered in the name of “fairness” to both sides.   9/11 was the final outrage that put Bin Laden on the most wanted list. The massacre of over seven thousand Muslim males between the ages of 10 and 77 was the catalyst for worldwide outrage, which ended that phase of the war that dragged on in Kosovo, ending with NATO bombing of Belgrade.
 The parallel comparisons between the two are easy to draw: both outraged the Western world and the West drew a line of behavior that was Post World War II unacceptable. Terror, which Mladic practiced to force Muslims out of predominantly Serbian areas, was honed finely, using rape as a calculated tool (not just as a spoils of war), and mass ethnic executions to eliminate groups of undesirable ethnics. The ethnic division he engineered exists today in modern Bosnia, which is ungovernable, ungoverned, and poor.  Osama Bin Laden’s calculated tactics of terror and mass killing of innocents in a mad attempt to bring the West to its knees do not need repeating. We are all too familiar with it as an effective tool for a small group to control and destroy a larger one by frightening and killing off innocents.
 It is suspected that Osama’s supporters within Pakistan made it possible for him to live in plain sight for 6 years there. Until 2001 Mladic had been living a normal, open life in Belgrade, Serbia under the protection of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president, even though Mladic had been indicted by the Hague for war crimes and arrest warrants and rewards had been issued in 1995. Milosovic was finally deposed and brought to the Hague in 2001 (where he died of natural causes during the trial). After 2001, we now believe Mladic lived among cousins and other Bosnian Serb refugees in northern Serbia, though he kept undercover and was suspected to have been protected by elements of the Serbian military.
 In 2007, a new, younger generation of Serbs, looking to the West and feeling the results of a poor economy, elected a younger leader, Boris Tadic. Even then, it took three years to “find” Mladic. Serbians began to see membership in the European Unions as a way out of their depressed economy, enough so that the desire for moving on outweighed the Serbian nationalism that had protected Mladic. The EU was to meet in this coming November to begin the long process to admit Serbia to the EU, but failure to capture Mladic was their deal killer.   He was found (uttered on the BBC today that US and UK intelligence helped “find”him), but the actual arrest was credited to the Serbs themselves.
There the comparison is harder to make.  Bin Laden was not brought to the Hague, nor was Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Bin Laden faced justice at the end of a SEALS weapon, but he had admitted to and had taken credit for 9/11.  Saddam had a trial, fair or not, and was hanged by his own people. Mladic, as did Milosovic before him, will probably try to claim he knew nothing and was not in control. The Hague Court has always been condemned by die hard Serbian nationalist supporters as anti-Serb. Sixteen years of evidence gathering and a pledge by Pres. Tadic to bring to justice to Mladic’s lieutenants may make the Mladic defense a weak one.
Perhaps now Serbia can move forward toward a better economy and connections with Western Europe. Perhaps now Bosnia can begin to heal. Perhaps now that the tyrants of this world who are motivated by ethnic and religious hatred to use terrorism as a tool know that eventually they will pay for their outrages against humanity.
I will be visiting Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia this summer. I hope the “perhaps” will turn into “hopefully” as those in the region digest the closing of the Mladic chapter.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Obama brings cohesiveness to US foreign policy

My column published May 25, 2011
On May 19, President Obama addressed the world to outline a semblance of cohesiveness on U.S. foreign policy in the turmoil of the Arab Spring, the spontaneous uprising against rulers' corruption and oppression. It was about time. Swift moving events are closing doors on opportunities. 

The U.S. foreign policy apple cart of carefully maintained treaties and accommodation with long-lived dictators had been upset. Outcomes were uncertain and the US needed to shape them toward our interests. We may have gotten Bin Laden, though it is unknown yet is how much of a power al-Qaida will be without their iconic leader. 

U.S. policy toward the changes in the Middle East and North Africa has seemed to react to the grass roots revolts on an ad hoc basis. 

Obama pronounced an overarching policy that would underlie any U.S. aid and sympathy to the popular movements that supported universal rights, regardless if existing governments were friends or foes. He urged dictators and potentates to get out of the way and embrace reform. He announced billions in aid for both Egypt and Tunisia, no doubt to encourage their restructuring as more liberal, secular democracies. While he voiced moral support to the revolutionaries, he remained Sphinx-like about the extent he was willing to help depose heads of state or to force them to reform.

We have a way to go to establish our credibility and influence outcomes. 

Fareed Zakaria on CNN Sunday interviewed young Egyptian leaders of the reform movement who dismissed Obama's May 19 speech as just words, no action, and they looked with suspicion and resentment at the U.S. for our past support of the Mubarak regime. . 

The young Egyptians also blamed the U.S. for the failure to reach a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Though the issue was not a factor in the uprisings, Israel will be impacted by the results .We in the west do not always grasp the extent that hostility toward the U.S. is due to U.S. support of Israel, complicating our ability to influence the region. 

Israel itself is facing a new reality. Time to adjust is passing away. Carefully constructed alliances with Arab neighbors that protected borders or buried the hatchet are in jeopardy. The Palestinians threw a monkey wrench into any negotiations for a two state solution. U.S. negotiator, George Mitchell, had quit in disgust when Hamas joined Fatah in Palestine so that now one member of the negotiating power, Hamas, did not even recognize Israel's right to exist. Many countries had lost patience with the failed negotiations and were bring a resolution before the UN to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state without a negotiated settlement. The timing of Obama's speech was aimed to head off that attempt

As the President noted in his speech before the pro Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, May 22, increasing numbers of Palestinians being born and living within current Israeli borders would make Jews in their own country the minority and threaten the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

The President had created a furor by explicitly stating a formerly implied policy that Israel's return to pre 1967 boundaries with land swaps. Israel had wished to discuss that matter later in the negotiation process, but Obama put it first on the agenda, perhaps hoping this concession would cause Hamas to soften its position. He hinted that land swaps could improve Israel's security and demographic situation, concluding that a two state solution was the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish state and he made it clear the decision would be up to the Israelis. 

It appears nothing will happen until Israelis and their U.S. supporters see that is in their own enlightened self-interest to restart negotiations regarding pre-1967 boundaries. The time for Israel to decide is short since when the dust of their neighbors' turmoil settles, Israel will find neighbors more hostile and drive even harder bargains.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


My column appearing in the Sky Hi Daily News on line edition May 17 2011 (note: in my submission to the newspaper, I did not call Boehner a bonehead.  I do consider the policies he supports to be boneheaded...but the editor repositioned the word in published version.  I have a great deal of respect for the
difficult tasks with which John Boehner is confronted and the adroitness he has demonstrated in meeting the challenges)

Now that the Bin Laden takedown is already fading to Page 2 and birthers have lost credibility, the economy is a cause cèlébre once again as the GOP sits down with Vice President Joe Biden to make the effort to hammer out a compromise.

Did John Boehner, speaker of the house, commit a bonehead move when he kicked off GOP strategy at an economics forum May 10? He raised the ante for conditions to agree to increase the debt limit while ignoring other serious plans. Hopefully this is only a position strengthening exercise prior to negotiations. Surely Republicans are not so irresponsible they would risk crashing the economy if they failed to get their way 100 percent. 

The Boehner address reminded me of that old camp sing song: “same song, second verse; could get better but it's gonna get worse.” 

He renewed the idea of holding the debt ceiling hostage on terms that were more of the same as yore, adding zeros to some figures and including some twists that others had long ago dissed . 

The prior GOP hostage deal was that they would lift the debt ceiling only if the president would present a “serious debt reduction plan.” 

The president proposed one, but the Republicans said it was only a speech that had not been put into an introduced budget bill and, in any case, included tax increases . They further upped the ante by adding cuts to current budget discussions to the hostage list.

Republicans probably hoped you would not remember that the Obama proposal would reduce the deficit by nearly the same as the plan House Republicans just approved without destroying Medicare as we know it. 

The key provision of the Obama plan, a trigger to force Congress to approve a plan to reduce the deficit if no progress was made by 2014, was simply blown off by Boehner because it did not rule out tax hikes, it kicked the can down the road, and he wanted to be specific about cuts now.

Boehner raised the hostage terms from cutting billions to cutting trillions in the long term, demanding more cuts than the amount the debt ceiling is raised.

Read Boehner's lips: “No new taxes.” Only cuts are acceptable. This is in spite of Obama's plan proposing $3 in cuts for every one dollar in tax hikes. The Simpson-Bowles debt commission and the gang of six in the Senate, including some heavy weight Republicans, came to the conclusion we could not reduce the deficit significantly without some tax increases

Boehner kept the Ryan plan on the table — the unpopular proposal House GOP members are all on the record as approving — which would substitute guaranteed Medicare benefits with vouchers that contain no guarantees they would keep up with escalating costs. The GOP still plots to kill “Obamacare,” thus eliminating health care cost containment provisions of the law, removing the $400 billion it saves to the Medicare system, and restoring the donut hole in drug benefits charged to seniors.

However, Boehner toned down support for the Ryan proposal by saying that everything is on the table except tax increases. What he put on the table was a warmed-over dinner: revival of the old GOP proposal to cut Medicare benefits to the wealthy. This is no more than a riff on the old GOP tune. 

Bonehead Boehner may have committed his insistence on Republicans being specific about what additional cuts they intend to make to meet their upped ante. Could it be they do not want more poster children of GOP heartlessness for Democrats to exploit?

Another bonehead move is that the hostage Boehner insists on holding to the debt ceiling issue is feeble. Republicans dare not execute it because it would wreck the economy, at least according to most economists. Most Republicans understand the risk and do not care to have it haunt them in 2012. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Enhanced interrogation

Kevin, always with thoughtful comments about my blog postings, asked a question I have never addressed:
What about enhanced interrogation? I find it morally repugnant and not worthy of the US character and tradition.. The other question is whether it is really helpful to the US even if we could get over the moral hump:
I have never been in a position to compare torture vs more psych ops approach but in listening to the debate about it, I think that our intelligence and enforcement agencies have long experience in interrogation techniques not using torture that have worked best in getting a subject to cough up valuable information.Often information given by the subject being tortured is fabricated to stop the torture
It is a very counterproductive way to sell American Democracy as an alternative to dictatorships, whether by  clerics or by strongmen.   We espouse one thing; do another. 
It is easily used as a recruitment tool by our enemies.
In spite of Dick Cheney's pronouncements that KSM helped when he lied he did not know the courier and that flagged that the courier was indeed a person of interest does not answer the question if other techniques would have  gotten the same results.
John McCain has always given the most powerful argument of them all. As a victim of torture himself, it endangers any troops captured in a conflict because it keeps alive the approval of torture and marks the troops as a target for revenge for similar treatment of the captors by us.

Kevin later asked if I believed enhanced interrogation was the same as torture: Answer: a rose is a rose is a rose Whenever you physically cause someone enough pain to force them to cough up an answer to a question ...that is torture. From what I have read of the description of water boarding, controlled drowning, then it fits.   I  have no problem with psychological manipulation, threats, trick questions and other tools of the FBI interrogators or the army manuals. Websters: "intense pain or suffering of body or mind: the infliction of such pain or suffering".  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The changing nature of war

My column appearing in the Sky Hi Daily News

Are we ready for the changed nature of war? Even before Sept. 11, our leaders had struggled with devising winning strategies to deal with terrorism. The killing of Osama bin Laden is a new one in the U.S. toolbox. Are we as a nation prepared to see more of it?

It is not as if assassination is a new phenomenon. It is the public nature in which it was reported that sets apart the events of May 1. Usually those who perform assassinations do it secretively and steal away in the dark.

The American public in the past viewed it as a below-the-belt, immoral tactic, the stuff of conspiracy theory novelists. If it received any official blessing as a political or military act, it was buried in top secrecy or whispered and forgotten. We preferred to see the heads of enemy government removed by capture and trials, preferably by their own people, and cloaked in legalities or bombed to unrecognizable dust by drones , hands off and less visible to our squeamish eyes.

In recent history, there were rumors of the U.S.'s failed attempt to kill Fidel Castro, but never was an assassination conducted by the U.S. covered in full glare of television, and never was such public credit given to a president as we saw transpire this month. This may not be the last time we see this happening, as we set our sights on eliminating the rest of the leadership of the hydra-headed monster that is al-Qaida.

Some have objected to shooting an unarmed man point blank in the head and heart. Most of us seem to have considered it as justice done in the context of war, a matter of revenge for Sept. 11, and essential to our own self-defense. After all, bin Laden and al-Qaida had declared a jihadist war on the West, carried it out from Spain, to New York, to the USS Cole, and to our embassies. And they had plans to continue.

The nature of war itself has changed, demanding new strategies and tactics. Once it was nation against nation. Large armies faced off in battle. Carpet and nuclear bombing caused massive collateral damage, as we politely call the death of innocents. Now it is war between a nation and a group of fanatics who have found a way to use their small numbers to terrify and to bring nations to their knees, with suicide bombers, sabotage, and airplanes targeting innocent women, children, and plain folks just trying to make a living and struggling with day to day concerns.

We were slow to move our mindset from invasions by armies and nuclear assured self-destruction. We first indulged in fruitless nation-building and winning hearts and minds at the point of a bayonet with large numbers of boots on the ground.

Now we are fighting fire with fire and we may have found a way to strike terror into the hearts of the terrorists themselves. Publicly and surgically taking out their leadership sends a powerful message, diminishes the myth of their power and cripples their ability to function effectively.

The way in which SEAL Team 6 took down bin Laden was also important. Care was taken to protect the lives of the wives and many children living in the compound. Instead of killing them all, we kept collateral damage to a minimum. That in itself was an advantage this special operation afforded us. We can take some comfort in that tactic. It may not have offset the damage drone attacks had done to the families of our targets, but it did present another method of conducting modern warfare and illustrated the better nature of American values.

Perhaps we can also accept public assassination as a method of reducing “collateral damage,” allowing us to achieve a military goal without killing women, children, and noncombatants. That may be the best moral rationale for our becoming assassins ourselves.

For more commentary, go to

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Did Boehner commit a boner?

Glory be. The President’s got guts. America awoke after the Bin Laden killing to a new appreciation of his cool, decisive, risk taking leadership style and a rug had been yanked out from under a key GOP strategy…to paint the President as a likeable, indecisive, professorial  wimp.  Immediately, Republicans fell back on their remaining ace in the hole…the economy.  They are not stupid.  They looked at the poll numbers and America grumbling about high gas prices and an anemic recovery.
 John Boehner, Speaker of the House, kicked off their strategy of renewed focus on economy at an economics forum May 10. Will he have committed a boner?
The Boehner address reminded me of that old camp sing song: “same song, second verse; could get better but it’s gonna get worse”.  He renewed holding hostage raising the debt ceiling to terms that were mostly more of the same as yore, , only adding zeros to some figures and adding twists that others had long ago dissed .
The prior GOP hostage deal  had been they would lift the debt ceiling only if the President would present a “serious debt reduction plan”.  The President proposed one, but the Republicans s either  acted as if it never happened or  dismissed  it as “gimmicks and deflections”.  Those are certainly ways  to avoid a side by side comparison of plans. Perhaps they feared whatever they proposed to date would not survive such scrutiny.
 Republicans probably hoped you would not remember that the Obama proposal would reduce the deficit by nearly the same as the plan House Republicans just approved , without destroying Medicare as we know it .  The key provision of the Obama plan, a trigger to force Congress to reduce the deficit by 2014 , was simply blown off by Boehner as , oops, it did not rule out tax hikes and we needed  to be specific about cuts now.
 Now Boehner raised the hostage terms from cutting billions to cutting trillions, but the rest looks just like before…with a twist or two.  Read Boehner’s lips, too, “no new taxes”.  Only cuts are acceptable. This is in spite of Obama’s plan proposing three dollars in cuts for every one dollar in tax hikes. The Simpson-Bowles debt commission and the gang of six in the Senate, including some heavy weight Republicans, came to the conclusion we could not reduce the deficit significantly without some tax increases. Even expert arm’s length observers writing in London’s Financial Times and on TV opined  relying only on cuts was political fantasy. 
Still on the table is the Ryan plan, in spite of some Republicans and the Tea Party running away from the proposal they voted for which would  substitute guaranteed Medicare benefits with vouchers that  contain no guarantees it would keep up with escalating costs. The GOP  still  proposes  to kill “Obamacare”,   thus eliminating  health care  cost containment provisions of the law,  removing the $400 billion it saves to the Medicare system , and restoring the  donut hole in drug benefits charged to seniors.  
However, Boehner did try to sidestep  the Ryan proposal by saying that everything is on the table except tax increases. What was new on the table was also warmed over dinner:  revival of the old GOP proposal to cut Medicare benefits to the wealthy.  This is no more than a riff on the old GOP song proposing of means testing to determine who would be able to receive benefits .
A boner Boehner may have committed is his  insistence on Republicans  being specific about what cuts they intend to make.   There are plenty of oxen that could get  gored, providing  ripe targets for Democrats to make poster children of GOP  heartlessness.
 Another boner  is that the hostage he insists  holding, raising the deficit ceiling, is one they dare not kill off because it would wreck the economy.  Most Republicans know it and do not care to have it haunt them in 2012.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Giving credit where credit is due

I was half amused and half incensed at the response of some Republicans who reacted to the Bin Laden killing by completely ignoring any role the President played in one of the most historical and  risky military actions of years.  It is  similar to the GOP's  strategy regarding the budget debate. Pres.Obama presented a serious plan for debt reduction and the GOP just acted as if it was  tree falling in the woods and no one was there to hear it. Could it be they fear some  side by side comparisons with Obama as a leader  and a budget proposal more acceptable to voters than theirs?

Obama may have not landed in the helicopter, risked his life in a shoot out, but  he participated in the planning,  gave the kill order and the order to proceed and watched the raid unfold in real time. GOP leaders immediately sprang into action dissing the President’s responsibility for the success or ignoring the president and only praising the Seals and intelligence forces A picture is worth a thousand words and it was clear from photos and reports of the situation room that fateful  Sunday  that the President was the Commander in chief of the operation The tension in the room, Obama biting his knuckles and veins on his temple visible, Hilary Clinton’s intensely focused eyes and hand over her mouth said much.   President’s counter terrorism adviser John Brennan called on CNN “ one of the most gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory. “
The call was both risky and gutsy.  The US was conducting a military action within a country that was neither sanctioned or informed in advance and that country was a critical ally, but a shaky one. The evidence was not firm that Bin Laden was a) even in the compound b) there was a double of thim there c) if killed, his body or proof of identification could be made d) and  aBlackhawk down and another screw up such as  Carters’s failed attempt in the Iran hostage crisis would probably have ended Obama’s political career. 
The episode will allow Obama to redefine himself as a poker faced strategist who could be deadly effective if achieving his goals, an unusual leader who did not fit into the standard mold. In the run up to the  probably the most defining moment of his political career, he relaxed as he threw comedic barbs at potential GOP candidates in a DC gathering  and ridiculed their “birther” insinuations, having yanked the rug out from under them by producing his long form birth certificate earlier in the week. He did more than a Bush flyover of the devastation  of an epic natural disaster. ,He showed immediate and sympathetic on the ground attention to the victims and mobilized immediate aid.  He was highly visible at a planned space launchings. If anything, he showed he could walk across the street and chew gum at the same time cool as a cucumber, bearing the stress of decisions and historic risks  he knew would come to a head within days.

Musings on the killing of bin Laden

Musings on the killing of Bin Laden.

My initial feeling was “hooray for our side”, tinged with regret we killed another human being, no matter how evil we considered him. I could imagine the terror his wives  and his innocent children/or grandchildren felt that night of May 1.  I probably, too, would have put my body between armed men and my husband and taken a bullet.
I struggled with that old adage of satisfaction granted by revenge fulfilled versus  my religious upbringing of the offsetting “turn the other cheek”.  I have been dismissed from juries because of conflicted feelings about death penalties, yet there are reports of executions I greeted with “justice has been done” because their crimes were so horrendous and their victims and their families suffered so much.
I watched on TV as the Twin Towers collapsed and I was horrified to learn of the death of children and grandchildren of Fraser Valley part time residents and land developer Bill and Janis Falkenberg on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. As our neighbors, the children had played in and around our property. Close colleagues and relatives all suffered personal losses on 9/11 thanks to Bin Laden. I admit  a feeling of closure when I heard of his death.
I hung our American flag outside our house Monday. May Day will forever have a new significance.
Bin Laden and his fellow travelers were responsible for many deaths of innocents, many of whom were his fellow Muslims, in some warped belief that one could frighten and terrify people to bow to his power  and to accept his deviant interpretation of the Koran that was contrary to the teachings of Mohammed who condemned the killing of innocents.  That jihadist  ideology, held by  a minority of Muslims, may still not die for years and we must also brace ourselves for another cycle of revenge.  One can only hope that the secular Arab Spring and the vast majority of  Muslims who have no sympathy for his religious ideology or practices will eventually drive his belief system and its practitioners into oblivion.
It is mixed comfort that we look at the death of Bin Laden as the result of war.  Yes, we are at war with terrorists and he declared war on us on 9/11.  People die in war.  It is no video game.  While condemning war, we know that defense of our lives, our property, family, country or tribe  is a basic human instinct that in itself is not evil; sometimes  it is a matter of survival,  perhaps more acceptable  than the other  amoral  desire for revenge. 
Pres. Obama made a judgment call not to release the pictures of a head wounded Bin Laden.   Some crazed Al Qaeda wannabe here and abroad could find inspiration from such a photo. Body Id by his wife, word of our Seals that face recognition technology made the ID surefire and DNA matching are enough to convince most he is dead. There will always be those who would only accept a photo, but the mutterings from some skeptics that the long form of Obama’s birth certificate must have been photo shopped as a way to perpetuate the birther myth points to the vulnerability of photos as proof.
We never show bloodied, mutilated victims of murder on news shows for a good reason. It is an insult to our sensibilities and traumatizing to children. We have at least been spared  this picture.
I can reluctantly accept the killing of Bin Laden in the context of winning a  war, as a victory in the cause of  protecting our own security. I salute those incredibly brave Navy Seals  who stormed the compound and were willing to take a bullet on our behalf.   I will continue to condemn those  who are  driven by some warped ideology or greed to attack us, and pray that some time in the future humanity will learn to settle differences without killing someone else.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Getting Bin Laden and birthers: trivia and profundity

My column appearing in the on line version of the Sky Hi Daily News yesterday ( appears below.
Today a more edited version appeared in its print version juxtaposed with my conservative counterpart's column, still birthering and calling our President by his middle name, Hussein. For your amusement, you can view the print page at, click the E edition and go to page 7. (May 4 2011 e edition)
My mother was from Missouri and she passed down to me a degree of skepticism. I confess that I am also skeptical of the skeptics.

“Show me” has always been the best antidote for skeptics, and President Obama gave us a high dose with history-making high drama that delivered the body of Osama Bin Laden and a birth certificate. Trivia and profundity exploded before our eyes.

I once served as head of an investigative unit in a district attorney's office. I learned that one “could make a case” for just about anything, but that proving a case “beyond a reasonable” doubt to a jury was a different animal. There is a great difference between speculating and proving what actually transpired

Lacking any proof that President Obama was born in Kenya and seeing a great deal of evidence he was born in Hawaii should have been a clue for most reasonable people that the “birther theory” was a work of fiction. Undeterred, the birthers became absorbed about disqualifying him by raising suspicions that he was not an American. Some insinuated he was even a secret dangerous Muslim and his Kenyan birth somehow made it true. Every time evidence surfaced that contradicted their fervently held beliefs, they concocted new plausible and implausible scenarios to explain it away and to make their case.

Later, politicians and journalists gave time to “both sides of the issue,” in itself giving equal credence to the theory, and many of them benefited from the increasing poll numbers and audience share. The movement spread beyond a core of ultra-conservative believers to the mainstream of Republicanism, and polls showed 38 percent of all Republicans believed in it to a degree. “Birther” legislation was gaining traction in many state legislatures, and even the Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer felt it went too far in her state, as she vetoed it. A Swift Boater was preparing to publish a birther book, most likely to lay the groundwork for another dirty tricks campaign in 2012.

The birther myth reached a crescendo last month. Donald Trump had embraced the birther line and he soared in the polls as he dominated media. Serious issues — Libya, Arab spring, deficits — were drowned out. He, like others, insinuated that Obama's failure to produce the long form of his birth certificate was the ultimate proof of his guilt. He must be hiding something, right?

The press and many in the public, had fallen for the glitter of Trump trumpeting Trump. Had anyone noticed Trump had put forth some cockeyed positions on foreign policy and delayed scrutiny of his fitness to be president? Trump advocated seizing the Middle East oil fields, and no one even questioned the wars that would result, or the legitimacy, ethics and impact on world opinion. Trump's lifestyle past is right up there in a class with Berlusconi of Italy. Dropping the F bomb at a rally last week was hardly evidence of a presidential temperament.

Last week, the president produced a certified copy of the long form of the Certificate of Live birth. It filled in the blanks the birthers used to bolster their case: the hospital's name, the doctor delivering him, the dates, and the signature of his mother. Certified copies have standing in court over any claims to the contrary. Proof such as this would be all a district attorney would need to feel confident he would have a winning case.

How trivial this all seems now in light of the president's announcement Sunday night that Bin Laden is dead. Our forces got him, and the president was deeply involved in getting justice done. Will this lay to rest the dark mutterings of those who questioned whether Obama was one of us and “really on our side?” Some will continue to believe what they want to believe. Facts never influenced them before. However, for most reasonable people it probably will. He showed us.

For more commentary, go to

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Redefining Obama: Obama got Osama fallout

Obama getting Osama was an event of high drama and much will be made of the immediate effect on national pride, national security, Afghanistan policy, relations with Pakistan, and the future of the war on terrorism.  There is another more subtle impact that will play out in the future.  One to watch carefully is the changing perception of the character of Obama. The GOP had worked hard to paint Obama as a dithering professor who analyzed options to death and  could not be decisive on the big issues of the day, though they conceded dismissively he was likable and could make great speeches. They made a point of questioning whether he was an effective leader at every opportunity they could, whether it was taking the initiative in coming up with a plan to reduce the deficit or going after Gadhafi.  The Democrats called him the adult in the room above  the petty and nasty partisan squabbles of a severely divided country and Congress.    GOP appeared to win the definition war until May 1.
Obama may have not landed in the helicopter, risked his life in a shoot out, but  he participated in the planning,  gave the kill order and the order to proceed and watched the raid unfold in real time.

The impact on 2012 will not be one of  painting Obama as the nation’s hero; it will be his newly defined stature as a gutsy, effective leader  and the chaos it will throw into the GOP’s ability to come up with candidates of comparable talents who will be  touting their poorly received deficit reduction plans. Their candidates  will have to butt heads with the Democrats’ less draconian and fairer plans for the economy and  a public noticing a  weak but improving   jobs picture. The burden will now be on the GOP to redefine themselves.

Monday, May 2, 2011

 “Show me “ has always been the best antidote for skeptics and Pres. Obama gave us a high dose with  history making high drama that delivered  the body of Bin Laden and   a birth certificate.    Trivia and profundity  have exploded before our eyes.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Republican strategy: ignore Obama's serious debt reduction proposal

Have you noticed? GOP's mantra is: we will not approve debt ceiling increase unless it is tied to a serious proposal to reduce the deficit. I thought Obama offered one: very serious and as effective, fairer, and less draconian, with a fail safe plan.  GOP's strategy: ignore it; avoid comparisons between the two. The Democrats have not helped because instead of emphasizing the debt reduction effectiveness (the seriousness of the Obama plan), they have seized on the privatization of medicare and unfairness issues. Those are legitimate and ultimately succeeding strategies, but they only dwell on the negatives of the Republican (Ryan plan). They also need to add a third point to their talking points...the Obama plan is a serious one.

 Most Americans do believe that the debt is a problem, and the Democrats would also be wise to emphasize the positives of how their plan would be more successful in the long term...or at least, be  either just as successful...and to make a firm point that the President's plan meets the criteria for a serious and effective  plan without the pitfalls of the GOP plan.

Of course, the stumbling block is the linkage: should the debt ceiling be linked to a serious plan as a condition of approval. The Democrats need to agree to a link, but the serious plan with which  it is linked to is more like the Obama plan and then they make a case for its superiority. What the Democrats ought not to do is to draw a line in the sand, but to indicate willingness to compromise a little and then they can paint the GOP is being stubborn,
ideologically based blockheads unconcerned with the collateral damage their plan incurs.

What will be fascinating is whether any compromise can be reached by the Gang of 6 in the Senate. We can expect the House GOP to continue to act like blockheads and stonewallers, but the ultimate test will be in the Senate where the Democrats hold the majority, yet members of their own party, including Colorado's Senator Udall agree that any debt ceiling increase approval must be tied to a debt reduction plan

On the Sunday talk shows on CNN, especially the one moderated by Candy Crowley, the GOP talkers tried to shift the conversation to: we must do it in the 2012 budget....upping the ante from a focus on the intermediate and long term realities of the federal deficit to doing a it all in the budget...a short term issue...  and then up the ante further by advocating for a balanced budget amendment (a short term political non starter) .Voters are going to have to become aware  of the long term solutions of deficit reduction vs. the practicality of an annual budget doing the entire  job now  and I think it is very easy for the GOP to obfuscate the entire debate as they confuse the two in the minds of the public. 

The danger of extreme 2012 budget reductions lies in the timing: severe cuts could stunt the recovery which is still a feeble one.  Like the UK, the danger lies in impact on the gross domestic product which in the UK's austerity program is now negative with  an increase in unemployment creating a strain on unemployment compensation funds.  A gradual move to austerity, as reflected in the Obama plan, may avoid the UK experience and the GOP's more abrupt one could actually harm the economy. Timing is everything. The Democrats could also make that point in the upcoming debate, especially since so much focus on the UK economy was the result of  media coverage of the royal wedding.