Archive for June 2014

A Mess Is A Mess

June 13, 2014

When George Bush and his mentor, Dick Cheney, invaded and occupied Iraq, a very fragile, but tightly bond, society was shattered. The US had no business intervening and as history has (and will continue to) show, had no idea of what it had done or knowledge of what to do once the consequences were clear.

Today we are seeing the first phase of another Iraq destruction play out. Why am I not surprised? The Iraq invasion and occupation was uncalled for and from the eariest days an embarrassing display of America’s foreign intelligence.

Iraq was an artificially created country, bounded by outsider drawn borders, ever ready to self destruct and blow apart from social and religious divides. Sadamm Hussein was a bad actor, one of the worst. He was, however, successful in suppressing the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish difference. (Of course this was done by an iron rule mentality and merciless willingness to kill). Never the less, Iraq was an under control country.  The common person could live.

Following the uninvited US invasion, the US authorities dismantled the Iraq Army and in essence gave the keys to the previous underclass, the Shiites. While this was long overdue, the Shiites were not prepared to govern and form a coalition government.

Why not give the money to fellow Shiites (the new Iraqi Government thought) since they had been so discriminated in the past?

It is unclear how the current insurrection will play out. There is no reason to expect a democratic solution or even an authoritarian government favorable to the west. Rather, one should expect a government (or ruling authority) that favors more authoritative measures favoring one religious sect over the others.

So… to see President Obama speaking to journalists about the US supplying military aid to the Iraqi Government must make one wonder. What is it about non-inclusive governing practices that the US does not understand?

Since the installation of the Maliki lead Iraqi Government, the inclusion of Sunni’s and Kurds has been minimal. In third world countries like Iraq, inclusive governments are all about sharing the meager wealth of the lands, not necessarily for producing policies reflecting a country wide preference. So why commit more good money after bad?

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has opened pandora’s box. Getting all the gremlins back in the box will be a thankless (and probably impossible) task.  Allowing Iraq to split into three sections might be the wisest step forward.

Toughest Job In The Nation

June 9, 2014

Most people might say that President Obama has the toughest job in the nation. Certainly the Presidency is a tough job and if toughness is measured in positive poll numbers, President Obama has a tough job.

But President Obama does not have the toughest job or the toughest task in America. Hmmm.

If not the President, then who?

In my book, the toughest job belongs to Mark Emmert, President of the NCAA.

The highly successful organization of college sports activities has grown so large and profitable that simply keeping the wealth from others (like the athletes upon whose performance the money stream is based) makes his job the most difficult.

In the olden days, there was a well developed notion of amateurism. Athletes competed for both the honor and exhilaration of competitive sports. Colleges picked up on this theme, and hence, followed the “student-athlete”. Receiving compensation was a dirty idea and broadly discouraged. If someone wanted to make money, they should turn professional, it was reasoned.

One success lead to another and many colleges and universities found that if they provided tuition and living expenses support, they could attract better athletes. Better athletes, in turn, produced even better winning teams. Winning teams produced sporting events that people would pay to see, and while attending these event, fans would buy souvenirs too. Along came ESPN, and the ideal of amateurism moved into the category of buggy whip.

Emmert’s organization is trying to defend then NCAA against a suit brought by college football players.  These players have had the names and images used to promote the NCAA (bringing in millions in TV revenue) without any student compensation or permission. Hmmm.

Emmert’s position is no way is the NCAA going to share these revenues. Students are students the NCAA alleges.

The NCAA legal team has put forward the notion that students should not receive a cut because not all colleges could afford to share their NCAA profit portion. Hmmm.

Let’s think about that. How far would that argument go if a school said it could not afford to pay the printer who produced college advertisements, or could not afford to pay the gardeners who made the campus so attractive?

To be sure, how much to pay student athletes is not an easy question to answer. It could be a flat fee (sort of like a more generous scholarship), or it could be more like the real world (like a percent of what the student athlete brings in).

Once this debate is opened, all the other real world issues will pop up, like strikes and lock outs etc.

My guess is that a wise Emmert would find some way to create a “fund” where all student athletes received a notional percent of the NCAA’s take. Upon graduation or at least four years, each student athlete would receive their “share”. The Johnny Maziel’s of the world would not like such a formula. These stars would opt for some formula that more closely tied performance to payout.

Never the less, offering to create an after graduation payout would put the NCAA on the “high” ground, rather than the hypocritical swamp they currently are clinging too.

Contrasts In Style

June 6, 2014

British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama held a news conference yesterday. The word “news” should be put in quotation marks. Each said what one would expect.   Never the less, there was a clear and distinct difference in style.

Both were well dressed and stood erect. Both looked towards the camera as well as canvasing the general audience. Both showed deference to the other and spoke well of each nation. But there was a difference.

Prime Minister Cameron listened to each question carefully, paused, and then answered with what he wanted to say seemingly ignoring the specific question. And as if to put the cherry on top of the sundae, the prime minister smiled back at the questioner.

President Obama a listened intently and paused. Oh, does he pause. Then in deliberately, drawn out phrases, the President responded to each question. With each sentence, President Obama poised midway, as if to silently hear the playback of what he had already said. With more complicated questions, the President paused midway several times. And when he finished, he smiled a smile that said, “I hope you understand that now”.

This contrast in styles signaled a contrast in intent. Prime Minister Cameron, who must each week enduring grilling from the House of Commons, practices the art of saying “nothing” forcefully and convincingly.  The Prime Minister simply wanted listeners to know he was in charge.

President Obama, on the other hand, is pounded each day with outrageous sound bite questions from his loyal opposition.  The President must not ignore these partisan allegations for fear that the public will equate silence with acceptance.   The President’s nature, however, is to try and educate the listener.  Hence the long drawn out answers.

In an open interview or news conference format, education is both thankless and nearly impossible to achieve. President Quixote, however, apparently does not think so.

Dysfunction Begins With Thinking

June 5, 2014

Congress has been accused often of being a dysfunctional organization. Many times this dysfunction has been correlated with individual Congress members’ personal search for financial support. Other times, the dysfunction could be more associated with blind party loyalties.  American citizens’s needs, however, has been normally vague in Congressional action (or non-action).

The current brouhaha over the swap of 5 Taliban detainees for Sergeant Bowe Burgdahl has reinforced a third reason for Congressional dysfunction. Too many simply do not think.

President Obama has pointed out (in professorial tones) that the US military does not leave behind on the battle field any of its ranks if it is at all possible to recover them. Full stop.

This position has long been a core value of our military top command and represents nothing new or modified. What’s hard to understand about that?

“Well”, say the critics, “Bergdahl is a traitor”. Hmmm. What do these people think the words “we do not leave any US military” mean?

For those who might not argue about the Bergdahl repatriation, instead mount their high horse over the release of 5 former senior Taliban detainees. Some think 5 was too many and others think that anyone of them was too many. They infer these 5 will rejoin the Taliban and create havoc for the US.

The President has pointed out (again professorially) the nature of the agreement releasing these detainees (exile in Qatar for a year and a promise to not rejoin Taliban military operations).   There is of course always a chance the promises will not hold.

But think about it. Not releasing these detainees now begs the question “when”?

Our Constitution sets the standard of rule by law and prohibits indefinite detention (except in time of war). Guantanamo Detention Facilities represent internationally a dark smudge on the US reputation, and domestically, honesty with itself is missing.

Guantanamo represents a departure form American ideals and the potential onset of a two tier judicial system. It leaves open the possibility for future authorities to detain Americans indefinitely simply because they are charged with being a terrorist threat.

Congress members might be justified in holding the position that 5 was too many or the 5 individuals were the wrong 5, but they are irresponsible (and guilty of not thinking) if they do not have an equally clear position on how these 5 and the rest of the Guantanamo detainees are to be render a law based disposition of their status.

Dealing with the Guantanamo mess will require thinking and courage. Congress appears short on both qualities.

Today’s News

June 3, 2014

In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, there were two articles involving the Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese. The front page carried the story detailing community concerns arising over the closure of a neighborhood church.

The Church is closing 16 churches, either outright or through merger with nearby churches. The closures reflect demographic shifts as well as a new era where growth is no longer where it was before. The old saying “it takes money to make money” seems to be playing out. Churches in less affluent neighborhoods are giving way to suburban mega centers (at least much larger).

The Archbishop has explained that the diocese’s serious financial condition makes it no longer feasible to keep open all the neighborhood churches. While available public information supports this position, there is a sensitive emotional reaction taking place just the same over each closure.

Each parish has members who have bonded to their particular church. These bonds have been formed over time and through life’s journey and personal commitment. In a much larger, ever changing world, the neighborhood church has offered some people solace. The church was in effect their club.

The second article was a brief one which noted that the Philadelphia Archdiocese had filed a lawsuit in Federal Court to enjoin the government from enforcing the Affordable Care Act. The Philadelphia Archdiocese has objected to the contraceptive requirements contained in ACA.

The decision over church closures can be understood in business terms. Displaced parishioners are encourage to find another still open church.

Denying contraceptive insurance coverage to those seeking such coverage the Church claims is based upon faith, religious freedom, so to speak.

Those who have had their church closed were already catholics. Those potentially being denied full ACA provisions may or may not be catholic. Hmmm.

Religious freedom certainly plays no role in church closures. Church affiliated businesses (like schools, hospitals, or charities), operate in the secular world where by definition (First Amendment) the government is restrained from establishing any religion.

How can Courts find in the Catholic Church’s attempt to impose its religious views on others, especial those with different religious traditions.  I wonder whether Justices will consider that over 90% of catholic women use contraceptives?

All male institution, hmmm.

Having It Your Way

June 2, 2014

Can you imagine reading these headlines, “President Obama Abandons GI In Afghanistan”?

It could have been that way had not President Obama authorized the swap of 5 Guantanamo detainees for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Instead, “you know who” is claiming the swap will endanger future GIs.

Prisoners of war are a sensitive topic in all conflicts. They are especially sensitive when one side represents irregular forces and the swap would involve uniformed soldiers for un-uniformed guerillas.

And trading 5 for 1, well that just sound fair.

The GOP opposition seems like another death wish.  Of course it could be just a knee-jerk reaction and without any thought.

I wonder how the VFW will feel about the alternative of leaving a POW in Afghanistan after US combat troops with draw?

The swap is not without its risks. The five released Taliban members were said to be prisoners who would never be tried but still subject to indefinite detention. One might think these prisoners were likely to resume their past behavior once they are given a chance.  For a movement that seems to never lack members willing to kill themselves and as many others a possible, releasing 5 more seems like a drop in the ocean.

Even more a question mark, however, is how exactly did Bergdahl get captured? Did Bergdahl somehow facilitate his capture? Hmmm.

A prudent GOP would have waited for the dust to settle before declaring a position, I would have thought. But then using data and facts is not any politician’s long suit.