Archive for November 2015

When Bullets Fly

November 30, 2015

There are some tried and true expressions which describe the confusion which takes place during battle. The “fog of war” and the “heat of battle” are two which are often used when decisions are made which seem to have overlooked what might be obvious after the battle.

Major sports teams today, the coach or manager has now gotten a wide range of subordinate coaches (like hitting or pitching in baseball or offensive and defensive coordinators in football) to run the minute by minute game activities while the “coach” forgets the details and tries to see “the big picture”.

In a strange way the GOP has gotten itself caught up in the “fog of war” and seems to have no one looking at the big picture. With 15 or so candidates running for the Presidential nomination, a national committee (RPNC) complicit, believes that survival (and subsequently winning the White House) lies only in grasping headlines in the 7/24 news cycle. For unexplained reasons, the GOP and the candidates have turned to making one divisive statement after another. Why?

From “repeal Obamacare” to “border security” to “voting fraud and photo ID” to “no expansion of Medicaid”, to “no Syrian refugees” and to “defund Planned Parenthood, the GOP crowd have chosen wedge issues, popular with their extreme base, to cultivate an American atmosphere of hate and divisiveness.

Sadly each of these issues could have been addressed with a compassionate and inclusive criticism coupled with proposals on how to correct. For example, the GOP could have said “we strongly support making health insurance available to all Americans regardless of age, health, or means and here is a more comprehensive and effective proposal than Obamacare”.  Or, “border security especially with Mexico is a national concern. Here is our proposal for ensuring any (or X numbers of) Mexican can come to the US with work papers so they can respond to employment openings. US employers who hire undocumented workers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent”. Or, “Planned Parenthood provides necessary services, especially for those poorer Americans, and contributes significantly to abortion reduction through its sex education classes.  Planned Parenthood may have strayed over the line at some clinics with a policy of selling fetal parts to research institutes. We seek a thorough investigation and policy changes if necessary in Planned Parenthood practices”.

Of course none of this inclusiveness has come from GOP candidates or sources. It appears they do not see it in their best interest. Instead they prefer to throw gasoline on a fire of public misunderstanding… in a seemingly coordinated manner.

Over the weekend in Colorado Springs an unintended consequence emerged. A mentally unstable individual, described in the press as a drifter and trouble maker, entered a Planned Parenthood clinic and killed three people, none of them healthcare providers. Hmmm.

The US has its share of mentally challenged people. The 7/24 talk shows are bad enough in whipping up division (with sparse or no data). When a national political party seemingly coordinates messages of divisiveness in pursuit of gaining power we should worry whether world history is repeating itself.

Bad things usually happen when bullets fly.

When The Hand That Gives Is That Hand That Takes

November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving is probably America’s favorite holiday. People say timing is everything and Thanksgiving which occurs almost three months after the last major holiday (Labor Day) hits a sweet spot for timing. Americans seem ready to travel and reconnect with family and friends.

In Philadelphia, the City holds its annual “Thanksgiving Day Parade” which in fact is Christmas Parade (or maybe I should say Holiday Parade). Originally this Parade was sponsored by Gimbel Brothers Department Stores (Macy’s fierce competitor). Unfortunately, Gimbel’s days ended in 1986 and a local ABC television channel pick up the lead sponsorship. The parade was saved and life was good.

Over the years, the parade has managed to bring to Philadelphia 15 or so first class marching bands from east of the Mississippi. A special occasion for the band’s members and a treat for Philadelphians. Each year the parade organizers presented a family friendly welcome to the holiday season. This year, however, they went over the top.

Apparently the money necessary to bring in top notch marching units and to pay for police and city clean up services is substantial (although not significantly more this year than the past). Never the less, the desire for ever larger TV audiences (beat the other channels) drove other forces than just covering the parade’s cost. And there in laid the problem.

The 2015 Parade became a “made for TV” event.

The Parade’s conclusion is directly in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and all units march must pass this reviewing point. The marching units march crisply and play their best.   Unfortunately, the Television Station also made the reviewing point their stage too. Hmmm.

If you haven’t guessed by now, the terrific marching units were of little interest to the TV moguls. Instead they arranged for brightly costumed singing and dancing units (who did not march) to perform while the parade stopped and waited. Add to this, time reserved for commercials, the parade did little marching and lots of standing still and waiting.

Thursday was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 60’s. The experience was exasperating but had the weather been like 2014 when it was cold, most spectators would have simply gone home disappointed.

The nice weather enable most to tough it out, stay to the end when Santa arrives, and the leave frustrated and disappointed.

The ABC affiliate hopefully will take note that their goals of producing a wonderful television event should not take precedent over the real event itself. Parades are for kids of all ages, and marching bands should be just that, something one goes and sees “march”.

Woodrow Wilson and Black Lives Matter

November 25, 2015

There have been a number of college campus protests recently initiated allegedly over claims these institutions engaged in racial discrimination. The unrest at University of Missouri resulted the President’s and Chancellor’s resignation as demanded by the protesting students.

Now Princeton is looking at a set of “demands” which include eliminating all public references to former President Woodrow Wilson (as in 28th US President and Princeton’s “Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs”). Hmmm.

Black Lives Matter seems to have arisen following a series of police shootings where African Americans were killed during run ins with police. In many of the incidents, two characteristics seemed present. First, excessive lethal force was apparently employed and second, incident investigation exonerated the accused.

Even though data shows that police have killed almost twice as many white persons as African Americans, when the data is corrected for population, the disproportioned African American police shootings jumps out.

These two issues are tempting to conflate. Racism and Police prejudice may seem potentially interrelated.

Being human, the tendency is to assign behavior of some to the group as a whole.   The charge of prejudice is unavoidable. For the police, dealing regularly with dangerous people, they could easily see most everyone (like those in the poor areas) as a criminal and justify lethal force.

Racism and racist policies are not always that easy to detect. Universities have been under pressure to open enrollment to a more “diverse” group and clearly now feel betrayed when minority students bite back.

Looking back most higher learning institutions some group had to be the minority. Each of these groups would have struggled with slights and often outright prejudices. Over time the schools evolved to be more inclusive and probably the minority group grew thicker skin. One might see the current African American discrimination claims as simply they are going through the same process. Hmmm.

Woodrow Wilson and Princeton represent something a little different. African Americans have a legitimate grievance if Wilson is presented as a great man without flaws. Having his name on a prestigious University School could certainly convey this. But to suggest all will be ok if Wilson name was struck from the school’s official name borders on naive if not short sighted.

Renaming institutions cannot change what the historical record already says. It is far more to everyone’s benefit that Wilson be remembered as a Statesman and College President who endorsed many good beliefs and who unfortunately also held other discredited beliefs.

Championing the “League of Nations” does not make his segregation views any more acceptable, nor does his views on race subtract from his contributions in other areas.

The excessive use of force in police matters can arise from a great many causes, not just racism. Emotional aptitude, training, and supervision can all contribute to a mind set that is ready to employ excess force.

Black lives must matter and so should all lives matter. If we allow police excesses (that African Americans are calling out) to continue, all other groups may live to experience these same excesses should police be ever called into confront some other type of protest or demonstration.

African American leaders will do well by their peers to emphasize education and acquiring the emotional and executive skills to compete and succeed in life after school. While some protesting and push back on perceived organizational slights is part of human nature, the victim would be wise to match, no double, their protest efforts with even greater academic work.

Excessive police force is a danger to all Americans. Since we can not do without police support of law and order, we all need to support proper police selection, training and supervision.

Vetting A Presidential Nominee

November 24, 2015

Watching the Republican Presidential nominating process unfold has been a lesson in fund raising, possessing the “right stuff”, and standing up to public vetting.  The GOP hopefuls list which began at nearly two dozen is slowly dwindling but the serious list (those with a chance) still remains close to 10.

Who will prevail and how long will it take?

Most everyone has been amazed at the success to date of non-politicians Donald Trump and Ben Carson. For a few weeks these two “outsiders” garnered over 50% of the polls. Trump still is hanging in at around 30% while Carson has fallen back to the high teens.

Carson’s recent drop in the polls highlights the amazing aspect of his prior success. Carson has no idea about foreign policy or current events. The Paris attack, ISIS and Syrian refugee issue, when vetted in the public forum, has shown he is not ready for prime time.  He would be a dangerous choice for Vice President since he appears to lack even the remotest background in diplomacy and world events.

Donald Trump is a quite different story. He has offered some of the most outlandish proposals on immigration, 9/11, taxes, and refugees and still is standing tall in the polls.  Trump seems to have offered a segment of voters someone who “says it as it is”, at least in their minds.

Anti-immigration, xenophobia, and gigantic tax cut promises have boosted Trump’s support even though his specific claims or proposals are patently unfounded. But 30% of the maybe 30% card carrying GOP base in a national election is not enough to win. Hmmm.

While Trump and Carson occupy the top positions, gradually Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasick are rising. This trio still are not a numeric challenge to Trump but are making life pretty rough on Jeb Bush and Carli Fiorina. The rest, Chris Christy, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, and Lindsay Graham have absolutely no chance and must be staying in hoping to get a VP nod.

The Primary race has been marked by pledges and promises which cannot reasonably be believed. No candidate is immune to the urge to say things which in hours are shown unfounded or unattainable. With the exception of Donald Trump, each candidate who has put forward some policy position crafted to appeal to the right, has lost a point or two in the polling standings. If things continue on the same path, by February or March, it should be clear that none of the current candidates has enough support to win in the general election even if they can secure the GOP nomination.

There is one unannounced candidate, however, who does poll well and would make a formidable candidate. That person is Mitt Romney.

Recent national polls show Mitt as by far and away the choice of Republican voters and a solid candidate against Hillary Clinton. If Mitt can stay patient, he could get the nomination without having to announce he is “severely conservative” again.

As time passes, the GOP should recognize in an election where less than a third of voters are true GOP believers (same percent holds for Democrats),  that unless the GOP offers a sane, responsible alternative, the mass of independent voters will side with Democrats and again keep the GOP out of the White House.

For my money, Mitt is by far the best choice if there must be a GOP President.

A Suspension Of Common Sense

November 19, 2015

The blood bath that took place in Paris last Friday truly would qualify for the moniker of “a suspension of common sense”. What possibly could the terrorists have thought was achievable by their suicidal acts?

There is no way the Western world will walk away from Iraq-Syria-Lebanon and cede the land to a radical Islamic regime bent on using theology to accumulate personal wealth for its leaders. They will not be satisfied with a little, they will want it all.

There is no way “Shiite” Iran will allow it either. And even “Sunni” Saudi Arabia cannot condone ISIS behavior. In short, sooner or later, ISIS and its current group of leaders, just like Osama ben Laden or Mullah Mohamed will cease to lead and in all likelihood be followed by other opportunists.

Money has a funny way of bending the minds of otherwise sane people.

But Paris isn’t the only place where there appears to be a suspension of common sense. Look no further than Washington DC and the GOP Presidential primary candidates.

The GOP has seized upon the vanishingly small risk associated with accepting Syrian refugees and in just days have build it into a do or die issue with President Obama. Governors (all but one Republican) have pompously announced they will not accept any Syrian refugees. House Republicans are now rushing new legislation through Congress to codify what would qualify as a fully “vetted” refugee. A procedure which no requires 18-24 months would become prohibitively long. Hmmm.

These are the same people who claim while beating their breasts that America is an exceptional country. Hmmm.

Occasionally, there will be a documentary about the internment of American citizens of Japanese decent during World War II. The move, which was clearly unconstitutional, stands as a stain on America and separates the US from Nazi Germany only in that the Government never intended to exterminate Japanese citizens.

By labeling Syrian refugees potential terrorists, the GOP is reaching back to the World War II xenophobia which took hold of the American spirit. Instead of exceptional, American now looks vulnerable and frightened.

Apparently the GOP doesn’t care and sees fanning these flames as a sure way to garner votes. Hmmm.

Shameful and Dangerously Misleading

November 17, 2015

Was it a shameful and dangerously misleading interpretation of the current Syrian refugee crisis or just plain old politics? Some two dozen plus Republican Governors lock stepped declared they would not allow any Syrian refugees into their States… in order to protect their State residents. Governor Cris Christie added that this prohibition would apply to even a 5 year old. It simply was too dangerous. Hmmm.

The almost simultaneous announcements dripped of a Republican plan aimed at discrediting Democrats, in particular President Obama and by inference Hillary Clinton. Republican spin masters did not even care that current law specifically place control of refugees in the hands of the Federal Government and Governors are powerless to interfere.

Hopefully these Governors know this and have issued their statements simply as a bluff. Otherwise, they risk a confrontation with the Federal Government and who knows what unexpected consequences that might bring.

The Governors rationale overlooks commonsense facts. The US has signed up for 6,000+ Syrian refugees now living in camps in Jordan. This is a pitiful small number compared to the magnitude of the refugee problem. Probably most obvious is that there are more than an estimated 200,000 Middle East immigrants already living in and around Detroit.

And, 7 of the 8 Paris attackers were French or Belgium citizens indicating terrorists come normally from residents who are converts to terrorist thinking.

Consider also that the 9/11 terrorists all entered the country legally and operated openly. Even more to the point, Major Nidal Hasan (Fort Hood shooter) who went to the dark side while on active duty. Hmmm.

America, as every history book will tell, is a country built on immigrants. Xenophobia, however, is not a fear America has been immune to. Over the years immigration has been widely accepted and widely feared. The GOP has grabbed this xenophobic fear and converted it to a political strategy.

This is a desperate and relatively shortsighted move, and is unlikely to stand up well with the test of time.

Paris Attacks – Press and Politician Field Day

November 16, 2015

The cowardly and pathetic terrorist attacks Friday in Paris have once again shocked the modern world. How can young men still in their prime carry out mass shootings and bombings where their own lives are certain to be lost too. Why suicide attacks? Why attacks at all?

In all societies there are mentally deranged people who for a wide range of reasons undertake unprovoked acts of murder and mayhem. These mass killings also end up with the “whys”. Why did he/she do it? Why that victim? What was there to gain? The Paris attacks raise similar questions but the first “why did they do it” is much less uncertain.

Radical Islamic terrorist are responding to attempts to rebuild a caliphate and the Western world has a habit of throwing obstacles in their way. This is like theater of the absurd. A Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, or what ever group follows seek first and foremost economic power for its leadership group. Surprise, surprise, this is about money first.

As in all ancient societies, in the new Caliphate, the average person’s task is to work and contribute money to the leadership group. To help induce the average person to contribute, these radical Islamic groups serve up a brew of harsh, repressive Islam which still promises a great day in “Paradise”, with earthly reminders (like dismemberment, caning, and stoning).  This mix is intended to emphaize  that the Caliphate is the right way.

ISIS is the current top dog in terrorism. Its message falls upon receptive ears around the world wheres some local Muslims find their lot in life less than their neighbors. For reasons unknown, some of these Muslims find ISIS’ message convincing and sign up to “drink the cool aide”. Hence, the West gets “home grown” terrorists.

For the American press, the Paris attacks is another gratuitous event where there is suddenly a large audience awaiting reports on the details. The Paris attacks represents a double win for the press since both Presidential primary races have gone flat with little of interest emanating from the candidates. A little rest from the Trump’s, Bush’s, Clinton’s and Sanders’ would be welcome by readers.

Ah, but not so fast.

The candidates have little sensible to say about fixing the American economy, couldn’t the bluster about what they might do to eradicate ISIS?

Two of the best in terms of beating dead horses, Lindsay Graham and John McCain are making the TV rounds rattling their sabers.

Graham and McCain are still unapologetic about championing the Iraq invasion and occupation made famous by George W Bush. The world, according to these two, is better off today without Saddam Hussein.

On Monday’s talk shows, Graham and McCain have recommended that President Obama should recall former General David Petraeus and ask him to lead our efforts to defeat ISIS. Hmmm.

The lesson which every school child should be taught is that in the event of war, strange and unexpected outcomes usually happen. Hussein was a dangerous dictator surviving in a dangerous area of the world. He used by necessity cruel methods to maintain power but his victims lay within Iraq. Hussein’s removal, like the proverbial genie once the cork was removed, unleashed all sorts of unexpected (but predictable) consequences.

General Petraeus recommended the “surge” which increased the US troop count by 20,000 at a time when the occupation was going poorly.  Soon, however, the level of fighting subsided and the Administration once again declared “mission accomplished”.  Time has shown that simultaneous with the increased troop level, large payments were being made to Sunni militias who suddenly stopped creating problems.  Hmmm.

Stabilizing the Middle East will not be resolved with a silver bullet. Peace will require a comprehensive plan and will take time. What peace efforts do not need is cheap political talk from former “Iraq Invasion and Occupation” apologists.