Archive for March 2011

Putting Our Toe In

March 31, 2011

The New York Times reported today what should not have been hard to predict.  The US has advisors on the ground in Libya.

This is the way it started in Vietnam too.  We escalated to trainers and before we knew it we were in for a whole lot more.  But probably not this time.

From the evening television reports, the rebels do not have a chance against any type of regular Army.  They race around in civilian vehicles during the daylight and then head home to rest at night.  Kadafi’s forces are far more organized and are repelling the rebels.  If the west does not do something quickly, there will be no rebel territory to defend.

The question of the day, however, is can these US advisers (said to be CIA or CIA contractors) tilt the battle alone?  One task they are said to be providing is forward observer air guidance.  In short, they are telling coalition planes which vehicles belong to Kadafi’s troops and which ones do not.  It was easy with tanks because only Kadafi had them.  Now Government forces are using civilian vehicles too.  It is hard to tell from the air who has the white hats and who has the black ones.

These are dangerous times.  For sure we have gotten here in a much more reasoned way than when we invaded and occupied Iraq.  That still does not mean we will not get sucked in and find the same results.

It is time to support the President (for say 3 months) and then decide if the view is worth the climb.



March 30, 2011

No one has ever been labeled “an exaggerator” who blamed Congress members of open hypocrisy.  It appears this quality is necessary for survival and when found in abundance, can propel House or Senate members to great heights of leadership.  Our country has been so blessed.

President Obama’s decision to join in the military action in Libya has brought out the full rage of hypocritical peacocks, each strutting their finest feathers.  Senator McCain says the President did not move fast enough nor has he moved decisively.  The fine Senator either has not learned anything from the Iraq debacle or he enjoys the spot light more than talking sense.  Senator Luger, who normally is a source of reason, criticized the President for not having a plan to get out and knowing how much it will cost.  I wonder whether that criticism applied to Iraq too?  Senator Paul, true to his libertarian views, demands that Congress and only Congress decide in matters such as Libya.  I wonder where Senator Paul has been these past three months.  Congress cannot agree upon a Continuing Resolution or how to approach the long term deficit and debt albatross.  A Government shutdown is facing all of us.

You may ask what qualifies these positions as hypocrisy and not incompetence or their rock solid hard core beliefs?

There is certainly an element of core belief.   Each of these Senators would approach any question of military use in a similar way.  To that extent, we are seeing their core beliefs.  But there is more.

I favor hypocrisy over incompetence because each knows their positions were not possible in this particular situation.  Never the less, they also know their positions will have a sensible ring to their constituents.

This is a disservice to the Senate which should be deliberative and take a longer term view when compared to the House.  It is also a disservice to the American people who for the most part do not know whether the Libyan incursion was a good idea or not.  These inoperable comments shed no light upon the wisdom of Obama’s move.

And this sought of brings us full circle.  There is little interest in Congress to do what is right (even if it is wrong) on this issue or any other.  Congress’ driving energy is about getting reelected and only by accident helping to shape a bright future for the country.

The call to enter the Libyan rebellion is not straight forward and the wisdom of it may be known only years in the future.  Congress does have a real and important role in determining what further resources should be committed, and do deserve to be a full partner in deciding that.

That is, if they really want to be a partner.


The President’s Call

March 29, 2011

Last evening President Obama outlined why he order American assets used in military strikes on Libya.  The morning after the news media is assessing how effective his speech was.

We all know President Obama is a sports fan.  In most sports, there are referees or umpires.  Someone to judge whether the play or action that had just taken place was within the rules.

“You’re out” (!), screams the first base umpire raising his arm with his thumb extended.  “Charge on number 3” (!), yells the referee rotating his waist forward and the pointing at number 3.

When these plays are clear cut, no one takes notice.  When they are close, it is all about how these officials sell the call.  In a way President Obama was trying last evening to sell his call on attacking Libya.

With no attack on Americans or American interests, and no imminent threat posed towards America, the decision to attack fits the definition of a bad call.  Of course most of us would also want America to stand against the slaughter of innocent civilians.

So does this make it a close call?  The problem is that attacks on civilians happens almost every day someplace in the world.  How does one draw the line?

The President elaborated other contributing reasons.

  • No unilateral action.  The President sought first a consensus of involved countries.  He tied these together with a UN resolution.
  • Chance for cease fire.  Before any attacks were made, the coalition sought a cease fire agreement with Kadafi and the Libyan government.  Had the Kadafi accepted a cease fire, no armed intervention was to take place.  (This requires belief since events went down another road,)
  • No US troops on the ground.  The President promised that the US leadership role would be temporary and would involve no use of American ground military units.  No occupation by the US.

As usual it was Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said it like it is on Sunday.  Gates responded when asked is Libya a vital interest of the US, “no, it is not vital but we do have interests in Libya and we do have vital interests in Middle East and Libya is part of the Middle East… “

The President’s speech seems to indicate that he may have learned from the foolish and wasteful invasion and occupation of Iraq.  The next few days and weeks will reveal whether President Obama’s nuanced move on another Middle East country was the right call or not.

For now, and considering the additional turmoil in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen, I think the President made the right call in a very close play.

Public Menace

March 26, 2011

Reports out of Manila in the Philippines, drives home the core notion of why separation of church and state is so necessary.  And if it is the Philippines, it must be the Catholic Church.

As is almost always the case, there is no disagreement with what the Catholic Church can hold as doctrine, or what it asks its dues paying members to follow.  They may chose to believe that the earth is flat or that the universe spins around the earth.  That is a matter of faith and theirs to hold.

The conflict always arises when the Church steps across the line and tries to influence secular law.

Currently the Philippine Catholic Church is leading public efforts to oppose pending legislation mandating sex education in public schools.  The Church opposes any teaching of birth control, the use of contraceptive devices (including condoms), and the teaching of reproductive health or sex education in class rooms.

The linkage between high levels of poverty and high numbers of children per family is well documented.  The Church is condemning the Philippines to perpetual poverty and less awareness of what is really possible.  This is a cruel method to keep dues paying attendance high.


March 25, 2011

Over the next few months, we will hear the voices of Republican Presidential hopefuls pandering to their social conservative right.  Along with denying women their rights, these politicians will hint and may outrightly voice the return of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  Unit cohesion and our fighting men want that policy will pass their lips in as sanctimonious manner as possible.  These men (and women) hope to become President.

The strategy of these attacks is transparent.  These Republican candidates are appealing to a mostly homogeneous group of bible toters (somehow they have failed to grasp the love thy neighbor passage).  They believe this will appeal to these fundamentalists as well as evangelicals.  Tell them what they want to hear is a time honored political tradition.

In the national election, picking on gays and lesbians is less effective but if necessary to keep the right wing base in line, these candidates will risk alienating the 10-13% gay vote.  What better tactic than to pick on the weak.

Immigration which has been a staple of the past may come out differently this time.  This has been a code word for isolating Mexicans and blaming them for all that is going wrong.  The 2010 census figures, however, may give politicians pause.  The largest minority and fastest going ethnic slice of the American pie are Hispanics.  My guess is that immigration will get a free ride this time.


Kansas Too

March 24, 2011

Not wanting to be outdone by South Dakota, the Kansas State legislature is preparing a bill that would place intrusive restriction on the performance of an abortion after 22 weeks.  Here we go again, down the slippery slope.

The compromise ground in the pro-choice, pro-life debate has been in front of us for a long time.  This compromise concedes that a woman has sole right to keep or end a pregnancy in the first trimester.  In the second trimester, there could/should be some reasonable restriction or conditions, and in the third trimester, there should be rigorous restriction.

This compromise recognizes the dignity and rights of a woman and also demands certain responsibilities of her too.  In cases of rare illnesses or genetic conditions that can not be determined until later in pregnancy, a woman could be excused for delaying her decision to abort.  Otherwise, without a definite risk to the woman’s life, it is a reasonable expectation of society that a woman carry full term.

Religious zealots who wish to foist their personal beliefs on others combined with political panderers are stirring the pot again with no interest in finding any compromise.  South Dakota and Kansas are just the first out of the box.  Moderates better hurry and reclaim the center ground.

Moderates had best include both parties, and both pro-lifers and pro-choicers.



Rome and South Dakota

March 23, 2011

It seems as though modern day Rome is burning.  America finds itself in political grid lock, partly over what are real issues and partly over what is fair.  The Federal budget is hopelessly locked in deficits as far as the eye can see.  Both political parties refuse to discuss what it would take to balance the budget although both parties have no trouble seeing why cuts should not be made in programs and policies they favor.

Somehow in all this confusion, legislators in South Dakota think they have an even more important issue at hand.  They have passed, and Governor Dennis Daugaard has signed, a new law requiring a 3 day wait in order to obtain an abortion.  This passes neither the test of relevance (real issue) or whether this type of law is fair.

Opponents claim the law is unconstitutional.   And, there we are, a social issue trying to nudge its way into the grossly divided national political process.

There are many well meaning people who do not endorse abortion.  There are also many who simply pander the subject as means to raise political contributions or church donations.  (There will be a special place in hell, if there is a hell, for these people).  The real issue here is unwanted pregnancies.

There is no evidence I have seen that people get pregnant just to undergo an abortion.  If someone is against abortions, then their focus is far better served working to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

With respect to fairness, those who oppose abortion first are denying someone else, the woman, her basic right to control her reproductive health.  These opponents could become far more convincing if they provided pregnant women seeking an abortion with physical, emotional, and financial help that would encourage and enable the mother to go full term.  Instead, opponents of abortion seem content with letting the mother and baby fend for themselves.  This is not fair, for sure, for the new born.  It is also enormously hypocritical of abortion opponents to treat the unwanted pregnancy so coldly.



March 22, 2011

President Obama is away in South America.

This has not stopped critics, weary from their ideological and mythical battles with the deficit, from opening up from all sides.  Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich has termed US attacks on Libyan air defense assets, an impeachable offense.  Republican leaders are grumbling that the President did not involve them enough in the process leading up to the hostilities.  Interestingly, Republicans are split with some saying Obama has not acted quick enough and others saying they need more information.

Bottom line.  The President is taking heat.

President Obama’s style is to seek facts and to think.  Americans are not used to that type of presidency.  The downside of President Obama’s approach is that world events sometime set their own pace and do not allow you to operate on your own timeline.  We are seeing that play out now.

The President knows that the “rebels” are an amorphous collection of tribes and factions whose political views are entirely unclear.  They are united, however, in opposing Kardafi.  Ousting Kardafi could easily lead to someone just as despotic.  So why risk a third land war and fuel the hatred of Islamic fundamentalist?

The Administration is telling the press that it sought a UN mandate for humanitarian reasons.  No more Rwanda’s.  I wonder, if that is the true reason, whether the Administration has thought that standard through.  The US will really become the world’s policeman if that is the standard for military action.

There is a chance, just like in “W’s” invasion of Iraq, that the initial military action will end soon.  The President may get a chance to explain his actions and it will make sense to us.  (At least we are not looking for WMD’s.)  There is unfortunately also a very good chance that the Libyan stalemate will last for some time.  A Libyan civil war, like all civil wars, will result in a lot of innocent people dying.  So much for humanitarianism.

China and Russia may be the wisest here.  They say, “don’t meddle in the internal affairs of other countries.


The Iraq Redo

March 21, 2011

When it rains, it sometimes pours.  The print and visual news media are in dog heaven.  There is more dramatic and action packed news to report than there are hours in the day to soak their advertisers.  This is certainly prime time for these corporate moguls.

The general unrest in the Middle East started February off.  A peaceful peoples internet uprising, we were told.  Tunisia and Egypt became household names.  Then, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami coupled with the nuclear power station meltdowns came along and more than satisfied hungry news appetites.  But that was not all.  At the same time we learned about Libya.  Would Kardafi win or would the rebels prevail?

Of all these stories, the best is center stage now.  It is about war where bombs drop.   Americans can sit safely in their homes and watch their tax dollars at work.  Highly sophisticated aircraft, some flying 26 hours round trip, are dropping “smart bombs” on carefully selected targets.  Of course there could be some collateral damage but it will be minimal, we are told.

There is an eery similarity of this new – “a war by any other name still looks like a war” action to “W’s” invasion and occupation of Iraq.  Aside from the fact there was no imminent threat towards the US in both wars, let’s look at the public relations production.  Military and government officials are telling us what this military operation won’t do.  But these officials cannot (or are deliberately not) telling us what is the goal or what the ending will look like.

It is simply amazing, however, at all the first hand reports one can read or see on television 24 hours a day.  If you think back to the Iraq invasion, it was a war made for TV.  You could smell the hubris.

Fast forward to today.  Where is the balanced reporting?  Where is the critical assessment of the government’s action?  Where is the thoughtful debate on how the US can extricate itself?  Where is the discussion of how we will pay for this when the Congress can not agree on a Continuing Resolution?

You will not see any of these others considerations until the war footage gets stale.  Once Americans get their fill of blood and guts, then the media will switch its coverage to opposing views.

What’s wrong with America today?  Just pick up your newspaper or turn on your TV.  It will be right in front of you.  Its called the free press and built upon one slice of free speech.  The other slices are simply not news worthy in these times.



March Madness

March 20, 2011

The world this week has seemed to take leave of its senses.  Events that have no connection or logical basis have taken place right before our television assisted eyes.  Who would have believed?

First, we witnessed the quake the Japanese had been waiting for.  The big one.  Japanese auto makers have been preparing for this event for over 20 years building production facilities outside of Japan around the world.  Yet when the quake took place, the mass wreckage that had been seen in the Kobe quake did not take place in the centers of automobile manufacture.  Instead devastation occurred in the northeast far away from where they make cars.  Yet automobile production ground to a halt.

What happened?  For reasons yet explained, Japan lost electric power from 6 nuclear generators.  In addition to lost power, Japan is experiencing radiation release from the potential melt down of as many as 4 of the 6.  Unprecedented.

The country that brought us camera and televisions that worked, cars that performed reliably and lasted a long time, the Walkman and Mario Brothers, and many other marvels has just come up looking like a third world country with respect to running nuclear power stations.  Madness.

Second, in the lighter category, Sarah Palin, for reasons also not explained has taken a trip to India.  There she has given interviews and has spoken to Indian business people.  The trip and speech have all the markings of a Presidential race positioning exercise.  Palin told her audience that the future would depend on a strong relationship between India and the US.  She singled out China as the country to watch for bad behavior.  Ms “black and white” put the world order in much more clear terms.  Hmmm.  Madness.

Third, in the Mediterranean, we have seen proof that much of the world (including the US) have lost their faculties.  Following a UN no-fly zone mandate, war has broken out in Libya.  There is no confusion that Colonel Kardafi (and his sons) is a ruthless despot.  This is not new information.  There is no doubt that Kardafi would have taken revenge against armed rebels.  Life sometimes is very cruel.  What is confusing is why now, why is the US involved?

I can imagine several explanations, and if they are not enough, I can go to the library and look up some of George W Bush’s Iraq invasion and occupation speeches.  They made little sense then and they will make little sense now.

There is another consideration about Libya and Kardafi.  The message to all the other dictators and despots is clear.  If you get in trouble and lose control of your population, do not expect the US to be your friend.  Still more to the point, if your country is also rich in minerals, you can expect the rest of the industrialized world to rise up against you too.  So, it is best to be brutal all the time and prevent any uprising in the first place.