Archive for the ‘isis’ category

A Dear Friend

September 4, 2016

This past week I had two occasion where two different people, both of whom I could honestly say I respected each and considered both a “good” person and a straight forward, non-convoluted speaker. One was blue collar and the other an educated former executive. Both I would consider “a dear friend”.

The blue collar friend allowed that Donald Trump appealed to him. He said “there are three main issues in the Presidential race, jobs, immigration, and ISIS”. Presumably, he was inferring that Trump could handle these issue better than Hillary Clnton. Hmmm.

Not in keeping with the “dear friend” status, I immediately volunteered that immigration and ISIS were not two of the three top issues and pointed out that more Americans by far die each year from automobile accidents, gun misuses, or household slips and falls than have succumbed from ISIS inspired attacks.

With regards to immigration, the flow of undocumented Mexicans into the US slowed to a trickle shortly after the 2008 recession and the number of undocumented aliens living in the US has stabilized. In short, other than jobs three reasons to vote for Trump is down to one.

My dear white collar friend is a long time conservative and for him to support a traditional Republican nominee would be no surprise. But in my opinion, the former executive is smart enough to recognize Donald Trump’s unfitness for office. Why would he be so sure Trump was the choice over Clinton?

As the discussion continued, the abortion issue arose as an article of faith. This dear friend, who is a devout Catholic, in essence could not vote for someone who supported Roe v Wade.

IMO, abortion was the litmus test which underlay all other arguments. Taxes are too high, my executive friend declared, but at the same time, my dear friend supported vouchers for Catholic Schools. He also wanted his “freedom” back which when asked for an example, said he wanted to swim in the ocean without life guard restrictions. Government was too large and President Obama was a complete failure. Hmmm.

My blue collar friend’s pick of jobs as the number one issue is understandable since his job security is enhanced with fuller employment. His choice of immigration and ISIS carry no “self interest” but rather reflect an effort to show his Trump choice on a broader foundation. His Trump preference, however, is susceptible to Clinton alternative job creation ideas if he would listen.

My dear executive friend, regrettably, I think is a lost cause. His religious driven anti-abortion beliefs color his thinking so much that he can only see Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness issues as proof enough that she should not be President but a man like Donald Trump who arguably is as flawed as Hillary, if not more so, should be elected.

My contact with both of these dear friends took place in social settings totally unsuitable for in-depth political discussion. When I hearr political operatives or those seeking political office advocating for Trump or Clinton, it is easy for me to discount the Republican leaning person and look beyond the (at times equally) biased and rhetorical language uttered by some Democrats.

These spokespersons are not one of “my dear friends”.

The sadness of these two encounters is that a woman’s right to choose is a Constitutional right (as interpreted by the Supreme Court) and is not likely to change under a President Clinton.

The US economy is already one of the best globally and not likely to grow much faster.

And ISIS is just another name for Islamic authoritarianism and there is no reason to expect Muslims motivated by money and power to suddenly become flower children. ISIS may soon disappear but assuredly will reappear in another form.  A rose by any other name is still a rose.

I have a third dear friend to whose wife, my wife told the story of the litmus test. The third dear friend’s wife said her husband felt much the same negativity about Hillary but she was keeping her mouth shut and planning to vote for Hillary Clinton anyways. Hmmm.

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Belgium – How Could You Have Been So Unprepared?

April 6, 2016

To listen to US Congress members, the GOP Presidential primary leaders, and talk show talking heads, one would think that Europe in general and Belgium in specific, know diddli-squat about national security. Do you know that someone can travel from Germany to France to Spain and then to Portugal and no one needs to verify his “papers”. Hmmm. I wonder whether that like traveling from Boston to Houston and then onto Los Angeles?

Those pointing a finger at Belgium believe that Europe’s lack of border checks between European countries is paramount to an abdication of police duties. Once a terrorist gains entry to any European country, the terrorist has free movement across borders to any other European country. Now that I think about it, it is the same in the US.

Another complaint involves European security services not talking to each other. Hmmm. Does that remind one of 9/11? And critics suggest the number of police jurisdictions found in Belgium and Brussels are too many. But how does that compare to the DEA, DHS, FBI, AFT combined with State, County, and local police units. Life is complicated.

Most Americans hearing these self-serving critique of the European and Belgium security services think these foreigners have something to learn… and none better than the US to teach them. Hmmm.

As in most of life, things are the way they are for reasons. If one thinks things should be different, one must begin by understanding why things are the way they are.

Europeans and Belgians are not mentally challenged nor are they lazy. Rather they carry memories of authoritarianism common through out the histories of these countries and most recently dramatically demonstrated when the NAZIs occupied other countries during World War II. The Nazis were simply good at knowing who you were and where you were suppose to be, and if that wasn’t what they thought best, one paid a heavy price.

The recent rise of muslim terrorists, not withstanding previous colonial bouts with the IRA, Algerians, Moroccans, and Turkish extremists, has undoubtably raised the stakes in keeping track of residents who wish to act on a different agenda. The world has seen a steady increase in criminal, bordering on terrorist, activities for the last 50+ years. Plane hijackings, suitcase bombs, ransom demands, and now suicide bombers have become more frequent and more sophisticated each year.

The socialization of weapons know-how coupled with the availability of physical weapons of all types (if one has the money to afford them) has changed the balance of power. Do it yourself, buy them pre-made, or inherit them from a friend, with guns, explosives, or dare I say, poisons plentiful, is a wonder that anyone who wants to be a killer or a terrorist can obtain the tools of the trade easily.

So, the terrorism threat is not really about ISIS (as fear mongering candidates would like us to think). Separatists, anarchists, and religious zealots have all offered the disconnected a cause to give their lives meaning. And for sure ISIS does attempt to provide that type of meaning but ISIS is just another group in a long list.

We must not overlook, that it takes money, methods (training, communications), and means (guns, explosives, lethal materials) to carry out terrorist activities. Someone is providing money (even if it is someone else’s money), someone is providing weapons and lethal materials. And, of course, someone must be the person willing to give up their life to carry out the terrorist act.

The GOP political spin attempts to assign causality to ISIS (and Europe and Belgium are just too dumb to know this). Get rid of ISIS and the problem vanishes, we are told. Wrong.

The world is awash in weapons and lethal materials. Money seems also to be no obstacle, either to be available or to be delivered to feed, house and cloth terrorist and to pay on-going businesses which manufacture weapons or lethal materials. Why don’t these politicians focus on the tools of the terrorist trade and seek to shut down these operations?

The most likely answer is that the real world is far too complicated for a five second sound bite and not nearly enough of a message to rouse fear in voters. In other words, those criticizing Europe and Belgium appear unable to understand the breath and depth of terrorism and far more interested in leveraging fear to their political advantage.

I suspect Europe and Belgium could teach the US (and certainly the GOP candidates) a thing or two about how the world really operates.

ISIS – Are They Behind Every Tree?

March 27, 2016

Hyperbolism is a friend of most politicians. And during a Presidential campaign season, the use of hyperbole is a must tool for most candidates. Hyperbole is particularly useful in misdirecting voters from one party’s failures to the mistaken belief that these failures are the result of the other party. For example, the GOP standard line touches on some aspect “of President Obama’s failed foreign policy”. Their litany goes… President Obama withdrew our troops too quickly and enabled the conditions leading to ISIS formation. Hmmm.

This revisionist history overlooks much.

For starters, Osama bin Laden’s “al Qaeda” movement began its brand of terrorism from safe bases in Afghanistan in the 1990’s. Al Qaeda became a household word following 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center (twin towers). With this spectacular terrorist act, Al Qaeda became enemy number one, a threat to America “because they do not like our way of life” our politicians and news media told us.

In a few months, the US went to war against the Taliban Afghan government and in the process drove al Qaeda underground and unable to further operate in the open. Future al Qaeda terrorist operations would have to be conducted by affiliates located in other countries.

These affiliates, however, were not to be found in Syria or Iraq since both countries were under the authoritarian control. Then for reasons which historians will debate for years to come, the US decided to invade and occupy Iraq. Saddam Hussein was toppled quickly and again for uncertain reasons, the US settled in for a period of regime change and “democratization”.

Soon the roots of “al Qaeda in Iraq” arose. Sunni based militias including Al Qaeda in Iraq raised havoc with Shiites and presented opposition to the newly formed Iraqi Government. Then came the “surge” where the US committed more troops and without much fanfare, began giving money to various local Sunni militias. The results were stunning and al Qaeda activities ceased.

When the US handed daily government control over to the “democratically” elected and Shiite lead government, surprise, surprise, the payments stop flowing to the Sunnis. In a short period, AQII had reappeared and during the Arab Spring morphed into ISIS.

It is problematic whether the US troop removal had anything to do with ISIS’ growth. Neoconservatives favor the story line that US military presence would have confronted ISIS and rendered them un-functional. Does this imply that the US would remain indefinitely in Iraq?

Al Qaeda and ISIS have been the faces of radical Islam. Behind these faces, however, are the raw unabashed thirst for power and a greater share of oil profits. Acts of terrorism are simply tools used in an attempt to shape world behavior and screams “leave us alone”.

The ISIS fear hyperbole can be easily seen if one wants to look. More people die each year from gun related mass shootings than terrorism world wide. More people die in traffic accidents each year than from acts of terrorism worldwide. More people die in home accidents than from terrorism worldwide. Hmmm.

President Obama’s decision to withdraw US military from Iraq, of course, was consistent with signed agreements executed during the Bush years. President Obama’s decision not to over turn these agreements, however, was thoughtful and not a result of weakness or fear. The nonsense of Sunni versus Shiite, Iran versus Saudi Arabia, and the general ambivalence of the Muslim world towards moving into modernity are social problems the US or any other country cannot solve. Only the Middle East populations can bring sense to their lives.

The troubling aspect of this non-involvement position is the region has only known leadership by power, the strongest kid on the block gets the oil and the money. What will make things different in the future?

The answer is unknowable but so what?

Suppose ISIS were to establish itself in Iraq and much of Syria. What would Egypt, Iran, or Saudi Arabia do? Take the worst case, ISIS somehow found a way to overthrow these regimes and gained greater territory. Would ISIS withhold oil from world commerce?

Unlikely, ISIS would need oil revenues (as it does today) to finance its government administration.

Would ISIS send an army of terrorists overseas (say to Brooklyn or Orlando or Salt Lake City) to create mayhem and bring foreign governments to their knees? Even more unlikely.

Hyperbole might be forgivable if one sees it as an essential part of politics. Hyperbole, however, must be constantly challenged by the responsible media so that average Americans do not drink the Kool-aid and believe these clearly unsubstantiated claims.

There will not be terrorists behind every tree but there could be an hyperbole spewing politicians.

High Fives Yet… Hmmm, Maybe Not Yet

December 30, 2015

National Public Radio aired a report this morning which should awake the sensibilities in anyone who cares to be sensible. The report covered  Presidential strategies in the face of political opposition. The case in point was President Eisenhower’s response to American panic when Russia began to flex its muscles in the early 1950s.

President Eisenhower was well aware that the Soviet Union’s strategic intent was ultimately to defeat the capitalist West.  The Soviet Union thought the West would tire of constant little wars and communism would triumph over capitalism in the market place.

Eisenhower concluded that the least desirable option was to allow America to get involved in a string of land wars. Eisenhower saw the uncertainty of these types of conflicts and that they would drain US resources.  Even more to the point, these little wars could lead to a nuclear confrontation.

Eisenhower elected to avoid land engagements and confront the Soviet Union with nuclear containment.

Critics, the same type as the neoconservatives who championed the Iraq invasion and occupation, railed against the weak and feckless policy. Many openly championed a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. Hmmm.

History, not without a few white knuckle moments, has proven Eisenhower’s direction a wise strategy.

President Obama has also taken a lonely path with his Middle East strategy. Obama has withdrawn combat troops from Iraq (and is well on the way in Afghanistan) because local ground wars are loosing propositions. Instead, President Obama has offered military support, including air power, to Middle East nations willing to fight terrorists.

The President’s strategy has been described as wrong, indecisive, and feckless. GOP candidates have promised “carpet bombing” and more troops to root out ISIS, and… (there is nothing offered about the future from these candidates).

In the past few days, Iraqi troops have retaken the city of Ramadi from ISIS in a campaign which combined American support (air power) and Iraqi “boots on the ground”. Hmmm.

It is too soon to declare victory for the President’s strategy. Time will need to show Iraq’s resolve to push ISIS out of the rest of Iraq and that the Shiite dominated central Government can govern the Sunni western Iraq. But what a good beginning.

Presidential strategies often are lonely positions to hold. With political opposition who value winning at all cost, the responsibility of leading our nation in a world still populated with nuclear weapons is a serious task.

President Obama seems at this point to be the only adult in the room.

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.

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.

Making The News

January 7, 2015

When a home town resident makes the national news, like on TV or in the major newspapers, most people sit up and say “Wow, he/she is from where I live”. I suspect our subconscious also thinks, “next time it could be me”.

This may not be the distinction we think it is. Making the news is not only about having our name mentioned in an article, sometimes the news is constructed with public interest in mind and our names are just props to add a dimension of realism to the “news”.

For example, consider these three news reports from today.

XL pipeline. The GOP has been saying for weeks that one of its first pieces of business in the 114th Congress would be to pass a XL pipeline piece of legislation. The GOP claims that if the President vetoes the bill it will be clear who is responsible for a non-productive Congress. This week the White House weighed in with the statement that the President would indeed veto a XL bill if it was passed before the State Department completed its review.

The news media could be clear that the XL pipeline is a “nothing” issue. They could point out that it will make no difference if the Pipeline is built or if it is not. The pipeline won’t create in total jobs nor will it cause environmental catastrophes. (or they could publish the data that refutes this “nothing” claim.) But you would never realize data existed from reading or listening to the news. The news business is, instead, hyping this probable veto as a declared war between the White House and Congress. OMG.

It is far more probable that the XL is just a pawn. The President will hold it hostage until there is something (in his opinion) worth trading for in return for XL’s passage. This prediction, however, is not as newsworthy as a fight. Hmmm.

Charlie Hebdo. This morning (6 hours later) the news media is abuzz with reports of the alleged terrorist shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. The news, of course, is that the shooting took place, that many innocent people were killed, and that it took place in an area near the American Embassy in Paris. But that does not take much time to share.

Making the news has already taken over. The media is reporting how ISIS is behind this attack and that other major cities around the world are on high alert for similar attacks. One reported asked the White House spokesperson whether the TSA would tighten its airport security procedures is response. Hmmm.

Clearly the shooting must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible identified. Clearly in the process of the investigation the scope of the conspiracy will be determined and it might be ISIS. It is even more probable it will not be directly connected to ISIS but rather to groups espousing the same or similar ideology. But waiting isn’t as flashy as asserting right now. If news organization were to act prudently, the 24/7 listeners would move their attention on to something else.

Falling Oil Prices. Yesterday the stock market fell for the third straight day. News reports lamented claiming investors had lost confidence and fear was taking over the markets because oil was now $50 a barrel. “Investors are worried” market reports spouted. “Their will be consequences to this sudden drop of oil price and we do not know what they all will be”, the “news” deliverers said.

Try for a moment to remember only a few years back when the only direction oil prices went was up. The same prognosticators cried then that rising oil (and gasoline) prices would strangle the economy. Woe is me.

Of course there will be consequence to such a precipitous drop in oil price. Some producing countries will see the major part of their economy disappear. The entire oil exploration sector will take a holiday until supply and demand begin to catch up. Isn’t that how capitalism is suppose to work?

A far more likely explanation for the stock market drop is the hidden market makers churning the relatively high stock valuations (of all sorts of businesses) to make money while the market drops and then buy back and make money while the market rises.

Hmmm. Who wants to report that? Fear and doom make much better news.