Category Archives: Constitution

The Obama Legacy


Historians will debate the importance of the Obama Administration and its role in American history for decades to come, of course. The legacy which presidents leave behind them is always a concern of our chief executives, and it has been of even more importance to Barack Obama. As he marked a milestone in his tour of duty. leaving on a foreign tour, with a successor he opposed now chosen, he publicly drew his own optimistic record. He carefully picked, of course, in a press conference, what he considered the best interpretation of events over the last eight years. But at least for the time being, when his policies and their repercussions are still relatively fresh, it is hard to draw a balance sheet which is less than disastrous.
Obama, of course, perhaps more than any other recent president, is an ideologue – and he insisted in his political campaigns that he aimed at a “transformation” of American society. His framework for events is a combination of his studies of history but overlaid by the socialist and pro-Communist views of the little social-political group around the University of Chicago who launched his career.
There is no doubt that he has effected changes, whether they are indeed transformations, and whether any have been beneficiary, only time will tell.
But any honest examination of the effects of his strategies is a record of miscalculation and failures. Perhaps the most dramatic ones have been in foreign policy. His campaign to withdraw American power and decision-making from the international scene has demonstrated what had always been apparent to serious students of foreign affairs: the enormous power of the U.S., economic, political and military, has a role in any international confrontation even when Washington chooses to remain neutral or withdraw its influence. A world order without U.S. participation is not only unimaginable to our allies but something our adversaries always question as a possibility.
The Middle East is the most dramatic example of the failure of Obama’s effort to remove American leadership and power in the interelated conflicts there. First, his effort to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance encouraged the Moslem terrorists in the area. Then, Sec. Hillary Clinton’s courted the brief Moslem Brotherhood regime in Egypt – overthrown by the military through popular demand. Obama and Hillary attempted to boycott the new military rulers thus providing an opportunity for Russian arms sales and influence where it had been expelled a half century ago by pro-Western Egtptians. In Syria, Obama’s initial declaration of opposition to the Basher al Assad regime was followed by withdrawal. Washington’s retreat assured the descent into a bloody, irresolute civil war sending a flood of millions of refugees into neighboring countries and Europe. The threat of force followed by its withdrawal has returned Moscow to a base in the eastern Mediterranean and helped extend Tehran mullahs’ state terrorisn excesses across the Fertile Crescent, even into Latin America. A treaty to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons, never submitted to the Senate as the Constitution fdemands, is rapidly disintegrating
In East and South Asia, Obama’s ambivalent policies toward Chinese aggression have encouraged Beijing to aggressive territorial claims against its neighbors, discouraged unity among the Southeast Asians against Chinese Communist threats. Again Hillary’s much publicized pivot to the Western Pacific has failed to materialize. Slowly, the rape of the American economy by the Chinese through export subsides and currency manipulation – begun in the Bush Administrations — has become so clear that the Trump Administration qill have no option but a dangerous crackdown.
Obama’s role as the first American Afro-American president was, whether admitted in public discussion, seen as an important opportunity to continue to heal the historic American race problem. But whether in part because his own exotic background linked him neither to the rising black middle class nor the poor of the ghetto, he either took nondefensible positions on individual race incidents or neglected completely the mayhem of his own Chicago hometown. One has to assume that the American black leadership can only see these past eight years as a failure by a president, whatever his color, to contribute to solution of the race problem which appears to most observers to be in an even worse condition than at his entry into office.
Obama’s claim for his Affordable Care solution to long-term U.S. medical care is nearing collapse with skyrocketing costs and failure of the insurance framework which was to support it. His steady stream of executive directives for additional regulation and environmental restraints has contributed toward the slowest and most erratic economic recovery since World War II.
Despite his rhetorical skills and personal popularity as the first black president, Obama’s legacy will be a negative one. As the anti-Obama vote for Donald Trump has demonstrated, it will also cast a shadow on many of the techniques and political forms his very talented political team gave the nation.
sws-11-14-16

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Jobs, jobs, jobs…


In the hot lather of an unusually rambunctious presidential political campaign, more than a little nonsense is being slung about by the rival candidates about ending the current lethargy of the U.S. economy.
First of all, of course, the world’s job market is not a finite number.
When the international economy is robust, it is so intertwined that creation of jobs in one national economy is bound to produce them among their trading partners. That’s why it is wrong to talk of the Chinese and other low priced labor having “stolen” American jobs.
True, China is running a huge trade surplus with the U.S. In 2015, Beijing’s export surplus to the U.S. over American goods to China was a record $365.7 billion. But beyond the statistical review lies a basic consideration for both countries’ economists and officials: China is accepting a debt of an increasingly devalued U.S. currency for its labor and its own resources and imported raw materials sold to the U.S.
One could, indeed, make the argument that while subsidizing its exports and manipulating the currencies, Beijing may be “stealing” foreign employment, But it is also – an essentially poor country – exporting capital. Few of those who are blathering about the current American economic scene are remarking on the low=cost consumers’ goods that these Chinese policies have produced for the American consumer.
The campaign promise made by both candidates to “return” jobs from China and other low wage producers, is equally subject to criticism. If, as is generally assumed, this would be done by erecting tariff barriers against these imports, it would mean higher prices [and presumably less consumption] by the U.S. consumer. That could produce additional revenues for the federal government, of course – indeed, the main source of revenue for the American government before the enactment of the 1913 Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. constitution permitting a direct tax which did not – as the Constitution requires, a per capita distribution among the States.
But what may be far more important is speculation about what these “jobs” would actuallybne were they “returned” to the U.S. Given the incredible speed with which the digital revolution has revolutionized all phases of American life, including manufacturing and services, it seems likely that any “return” would produce quite different employment than that which departed. Increasingly, perhaps more than the “escape” of jobs abroad,, American unemployment is produced through the introduction of these advanced technologies/ What ever happened to “dispatches” for delivery networks or to the old-fashioned highly trained “cashier” at the retail checkout?
What often seems the logical solution to this problem is the reeducation and retraining of workers for new and different, and usally enhanced, jobs. Enormous sums have been devoted over decades to the problem of reeducating.
But over the decades enormous sums have been expended with out great effect by both the various levels of government and by private employers. Most studies show that displaced factory workers in the United States on the average have lower wages after retraining to other positions This si also true for tiaison jobs which develop from the offshore “escape” of American industry.
These rehabilitation programs have built in handicaps. Often the worker who is to be retrained is in mid-career, older and less amenable to retraining than a young person just entering the workforce. It also presents a difficult problem due to the individual personality of some workers. Researchers estimate that under the best conditions one expensive academic year of such retraining at a community college increases the long-term earnings by about 8%t for older males and by about 10 percent for older females. But in an age of increasing technological tools, that problem appears to be magnified in any future attempt to find employment for these workers.
Rather than talk in terms of “bringing back: jobs which have been outsourced overseas, the politicians – and their economists – had best be working on the expansion of the economy with new more sophisticated jobs and careers, both for the unemployed and those new entries into the workforce.
sws-08-14-16

Plugging, common sense and precision


It was inevitable, of course, that when The Digital Revolution spawned The Information Revolution, it would simultaneously open up The Misinformation Revolution.
If anyone, anywhere, anytime – except perhaps in China – can gap on the internet and pontificate, a great deal of what is there is bound to be even worse than nonsense, but poisonous. The only defense is a resort to history, which seems to have gone out of style as an academic discipline, and common sense.
Here are cases in point:
The CN-NPR war against the candidacy of Donald Trump, whatever your own views about The Donald, constantly harps on the theme of the minority vote which they conclude he will not receive. Mebbe. But it is well to remember that in the past – with the enormous exception, granted, of 2008 and 2012, and for obvious reasons — was never a major factor in elections. Even registered black voters notoriously did not vote, and the Mexican-Americans in the southwest, less half as much as they. It remains to be seen if Pres. Barack Obama’s face, and the incredibly honed digital machine his supporters built, has reversed these historic trends.
Speaking of Hispanics. There are none. There are Americans who language in their household – or perhaps their only language in parts of the Southwest – is Spanish, properly Castellano. But, for example, antagonism between Mexico and Cuba in the Spanish Empire was the feud to end all feuds. That carried on among their progeny in the U.S. The Florida and New Jersey Cuban minorities, because of the flight of many of them and their antagonism to the Castro regime, have in the past been Republican with notable exceptions, e.g. Bob Menendez, Democrat, New Jersey (2006–Present), Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey’s 13th district [993-2006]. The flirtation with Raúl Castro of the Obama Administration is likely to end the erosion which was taking place among younger Cuban Americans in recent years. Puerto Ricans is the largest Spanish-speaking minority in Florida; they cannot vote in federal elections in Puerto Rico. They tend to be Democrats because of the long affiliation the first popularly elected governor of the Rican Commonwealth Luis Muñoz Marín local social democratic party was tied to the Democrats’ New Deal on the Mainland. California Mexican-Americans, when they vote tend, to be indeed solidly Democratic, but the Bushes and the current governor, Greg Abbott, has cut heavily into their formerly Democrat base. By the way, all speak Spanish but most Mexicans will admit – unless they come from their own Caribbean coast, e.g. Tampico – that they have great difficulty understanding Cubans and Puerto Ricans’ Spanish.
The Trump campaign keeps trumpeting a “fact”; the candidate earned more votes than any GOP primary candidate in history , they argue, in his primary race with 17 opponents whom he liquidated [or did more or less so until Ted Cruz’ ghost showed up at the third day of the Republican convention]. The “fact” is indisputable, but in no small part explained by another fact: the current estimate of the U.S. population is 322.48 [not counting an unknown number of illegals], more than double the 163.03 million estimated in 1954. Obviously, what is considered the minority political party – kept under an Electoral College handicap by the huge and continuing Democratic majorities in New York and California – has gained spectacularly? With an unprecedented number of candidates all salivating at the possibility of running against a “third Obama administration masquerading as Hillary Clinton, that impetus would have been even stronger. There was large numbers of Democrats and independents, in the states where registration can be changed easily, switching their party affiliation to Republican to take part in the free-for-all.
The CNNers and NPRers are trumpeting the divisions of the just ended Republican Convention, again, as the first time ever, etc. In fact, in the modern era both political parties have been coalitions of regional forces – often at ideological loggerheads with one another but both more interested in power than more egests. The Talking Heads ignore, for example, the fact that the Democratic Party which ruled [under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman] for two decades was a coalition of segregationists [“The Solid South, Dixiecrats, etc], highly personal urban political “machines [Tammany in NYC, Hague in Jersey City, Daley in Chicago and Pendergrass in Kansas City – from which Truman, himself emerged], the AFL-CIO unions, socialists and Communists, and FDR’s “kitchen cabinet” of academic advisers. Furthermore, vice presidents – to “balance” ticket geographically – virtually disappeared with FDR’s firing of Henry Wallace, an Iowa and agricultural society icon, in 1936. [I know; I was writing editorials in my hometown weekly supporting Wallace and the AFL-CIO Political Action Committee!] So-called platform committees in both parties have been irrelevant in terms of influencing the candidates’ policy but simply a combat ring for battling. Party apparatchiks.
So what’s the lesson here? Obviously, don’t believe everything The Talking Heads say with great authority. [It’s something of a delight to listen to one noted female star that has suddenly blossomed into an expert on the Mideast!] Remember, — at least for the time being –Google, and there are dictionaries, the Britannica, to check them out. But most of all maintain your own skepticisms – everything on the Internet is not The Word!
sws-07-21-16

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s sin


We have been waiting, rather impatiently, for some credible explanation for why the recent interview with The New York Times Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not take place. Or we would have settled for a denial. Or in the final absence of a satisfactory explanation, simply an explanation that it was a conversation with an old intimate of the Justice that was never intended for publication.
Where to begin to indict Justice Ginsberg for her lack of judgment, protocol or respect for that most holy of American institutions, the Supreme Court of the United States?
It is an old and honorable tradition, one of that has all the support of logic and a respect for law, justices and our institutions, that serving members of the highest court in the land do not discuss their deliberations, their views or the basis of their votes on issues. Bader Ginsburg has always been a show horse, far too ready to lecture in the public forum when she might have been attending to her torts.
But there is only one place for the justices’ views on the law: that is in the briefs which the Justices are permitted to write, either jointly in agreement with other justices, in dissent against other justices, or indeed, as impendent presentation of their legal views on particular cases which often as not may involve consideration of past verdicts of their colleagues on the Court.
The selection of justices for the high court is as serious a proceeding and duty as the president has as in the highest executive, elected by all the people, in the country. That selection and the approval – or disapproval – by the senate of his choice is a thorny political process. The fact that the Republican majority has held up approval of Chief Judge Merrick Garland., Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia who died suddenly earlier this year is not unprecedented. The reason for the Republicans’ reluctance is no secret; Scalia represented the keystone of the conservative majority in most decisions. Liberal Democrats in the same Senate majority position had done the same in the past. But given Garland’s generally highly respected qualifications for the bench, the Republicans might have been on firmer ground had they at least held hearings on his nomination and examined his past expressed views as well as his credentials.
In part, the Founders were less specific about the duties of the judiciary, the third and equal branch of government which they identified. This may have been in part because of their wariness about the threat that lifetime appointments – the only ones in government – might threaten a judicial ascendancy against the legislative and executive functions. In fact, the Founders less clearly defined the duties of the highest court and it could be argued that “judicial supremacy”, the right of the highest court to rule against the constitutionality of a law, arose as much by the action of strong chief justices in the early 19th century than by constitutional fiat.
The process reached a constitutional crisis in the mid-1930s after the wildly popular president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had won an avalanche in his second term election in 1936. FDR had his most loyal Congress supporters introduce the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. — dubbed by its opponents as the “court-packing plan”.
Roosevelt was attempting to circumvent a strictly constitutional majority of the Supreme Court which had repeatedly struck down some of his more drastic efforts to boost a Great Depression economy. Indeed, some of these proposals – with 20-20 hindsight – were anathema to the U.S. political system, arising as they often did from FDR’s kaleidoscope of advisers, ranging on the right and left from admirers of then new Europe fascism to the Soviet Union Communism.
Then, as now, the court was dominated by older personalities, most clinging to their seats on the Court. Roosevelt’s plan would have permitted him to appoint an additional justice to the Court,, up to a maximum of six, for every member of the court over the age of 70 years and 6 months. FDR and his advisers argued that since the Constitution had not stipulated the number of judges but had been decided by law, it was within the Congress [at his instance] to change the numbers.
But public opposition to Roosevelt’s proposal – including by his own curmudgeonly vice president, John Nance Garner, defeated the legislation. But through the ordinary attrition of age, a more friendly court came into view. It was pyhric victory for Roosevelt, loosing him support even among other members of his own party. But what it may have done was the enshrine the sanctity of the Court including its prerogative acquired in the 19th century to strike down legislation as “unconstitutional”, against the fundamental gurantees of the founding document. In reality it established judicial supremacy among the three separate elements of government which the Founders had conceived, setting up the uniqueness of the American Republic. [Britain, from whom so much of American politics descends, has continued to preserve “parliamentary supremacy”, the ultimate authority of its elected representatives, a divergence that has marked continued debate among Britain’s former colonies, such as India.]
It is against this background that Bader Ginsburg’s remarks must be judged. She has not only violated her own obligations to the Court, but she has perhaps set a bad precedent for other justices to follow. Bringing the Court into the political process for election of the new president is intolerable. Not only are we owed an apology by the 83-year-old Justice Bader Ginsburg, but her early retirement would be a welcomed solution to the disaster she has created.

Comey, the FBI – and America – take a hit


For the first century of its history, the United States avoided having a national police force. The Founders, for the most, had eschewed the whole issue when under pressure from Thomas Jefferson [and nevertheless his slave-holding Virginia constitutions] adopted that colony’s Bill of Rights as the first amendments to the federal constitution. The Virginia code’s tenth measure was to reserve all other rights and prerogatives not specifically named as federal functions to the individual states and their electorates. That was intended to head off the tyranny of a federal police power which like the British parliament had oppressed the American colonists.
Finally toward the end of the 19th century, a number of scandals – one involving the state government of Oregon – forced Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, acting on the 1887 statutes regulating interstate commerce, to set up an investigative service. In theory, it reported to the attorney-general – who contrary to current misinterpretations of constitutional law is a political office, a member of the president’s executive council [cabinet], and not an independent, judicial organization. Gen. Charles Joseph Bonapart, a collateral Baltimore descendant of the Little Corporal – created it on Roosevelt’s orders after Congress had denied him the authiority to incorporate other federal policing activities — for fear of creating a secret police.
The FBI’s first serious activity was pursuit of the 1910 Mann act against involuntary prostitution. It took on new life with enforcement from 1932 of the ill-starred alsohol prohibition act, when its name was officially changed to the Bureau of Federal Investigation. It was under J. Edgar Hoover, a uniquely endowed and politically astute veteran of the earlier agencies, who directed the FBI through an incredible career from 1924 to 1972. Hoover, for the most part avoiding party politics, gave the FBI its legendary reputation in oursuit of the big city criminal syndicates of the 1930s. And with the advent of World War II, the Agency took on a new role investigating terrorism after 9/11 and the Patriot Act.
Today the FBI’s mandate derives from Title 28 of the United States Code, Section 533, which authorizes the Attorney General to “appoint officials to detect and prosecute crimes against the United States.” But it is other federal statutes which give the FBI responsibility to investigate specific types of criminal activity. By giving the director a ten-year sinecure, unlike any other federal appointee, an effort has continued to make it an independent agency, even if quartered in the executive under an elected president and his appointive attorney-general.
James Brien Comey, Jr. was sworn in as FBI director on September 4, 2013 for a full ten-year term.on the basis of a distinguished career as a prosecuting attorney. In several instances, he had distinguished himself by prosecuting former political colleagues. And many long-term observers of the Agency hoped for another extended tenure by a politically astute professional director.
Comey’s test has come with the politically explosive issue of the transgressions of Hillary Clinton, firstly through her use of personal e-mails for whatever proprietary reasons. The even larger issue of the Clintons’ use – probably with the complicity of her husband, former Pres. Bill Clinton — of a multi-billion foundation awaits in the wings.
Dozens of public officials – one of the latest and most well known, of course, Gen. David Howell Petraeus – have been convicted, ushered out of office and served prison sentences for just such violations of security. Mrs. Clinton is revealed in the e-mails, reluctantly turned over to investigators by her office and the State Dept, that she purposely chose to remove this traffic from its security restrictions. Whether, indeed, foreign intelligence agencies hacked into them remains obscure, but common sense tells us that any subject matter reaching the eyes of a secretary of state, makes them of high security value. Whether or not they were formally labeled as “classified” is largely irrelevant.
Comey has acknowledged all this in his statement announcing there will be no prosecution of Hillary Clinton. Furtheremore, to our consternation, he has acknowledged that another person in a similar situation might well be prosecuted for the same infringement of security.
“To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences, Comey announced’ “To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”
Yet, Comey offers no explanation for his decision. It is not untoward, then, that the general public must now conclude that it is Hillary Clinton’s prominence, her candidacy for the presidency and her denials of earlier admissions of malfeasance, which have led to this “decision”
This is a very sad day for Comey’s reputation, for the FBI and for the attempts to uphold the morality of American politics.

sws-07-05-16

Abortion always with us


The latest Supreme Court ruling on the issue of abortion is only another stop-gap in the continuing debate, perhaps the most profound, in our public discussion of social issues.

The court has rule that Texas abortion clinics at risk of being closed by a restrictive state law will remain open and some of those shuttered will probably be able to reopen. But opponents of abortion said they plan to defend those laws in the interest of women’s health, while shifting to pursue new laws to protect fetal health.

We believe that while the court’s decision may have been judicious in itself, the whole concept of this important moral as well as political issue should not be decided in the courts.

The place to decide when, where and how abortion is to be permitted under the overall constitutional decision of the high court that it is a part of our freedom to choose is in the legislative assemblies. That might well be decided at the lowest possible level where those who take a personal and determined position on the issue are best heard.

Debates in the various state assemblies on how individual states should handle the problem are the best way to go forward. That is where we have to the best of our abilities in this democracy a hearing for the voice of the people.

The Texas law struck down by the courts reviewed the case of 41 abortion clinics before the law was with only 19 remaining. Ten more of these would have been forced to close had the high court allowed the law to stand.

Advocates of more tolerant abortion procedures expect some clinics to reopen, especially those in rural areas far from other providers. Nevertheless the reopening process is likely to be slowed by licensing, rebuilding and hiring. An organization advocating more liberal abortion law, the Guttmacher Institute, estimates that about half the women in the South live in counties without abortion clinics, 53% in the Midwest, with an overall 38% nationwide.

Five other states have enacted laws that require abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center requirements like the Texas law. They are Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee, where the law was temporarily blocked by a judge, according to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Right.

Advocates of more liberal abortion rights maintain that the requirements for health standards proposed by these laws are a subterfuge for banning or making abortion more difficult. They may well be right. But the fact remains that a high standard of health requirements for abortion clinics has to be maintained and that it might be argued, equally truthfully, that those demanding their abolition are indeed neglecting minimum women’s health standards.

The argument and its ensuing legal battles has hardly begun. Abortion opponents said they were searching for ways to defend laws similar to the Texas measure. They also plan to shift the focus of their debate to restricting access to abortion based on fetal health. An example of this approach might well be a 20-week abortion postponement based on fetal pain, or bans on second-trimester abortions they call “fetal dismemberment.”

These are complicated and delicate technical questions as well as posing moral isdelimmas for both the proponents and the opponents of abortion.

We believe that abortion, like all destruction of life in any form, is a critical moral issue and one that can only be treated with the most careful consideration. That, we believe, must be done by the largest part of our population that can be induced into participating in the debate. And that, we believe, requires that it be done at the lowest level of government and regulation, either the state, or even county and city government. Until that is done, judicial fiat is a continuing obstruction to justice in one of the most important moral issues of our time.

sws-06-28-16

What is Obama up to?


At 54, Barack Obama may well believe – and with more than a little justification – that the political world still has something in store for him.
But with the search for the new secretary-general of the United Nations now well under way with the usual East 42nd Street suspects, that doesn’t seem a job some of us thought for which he might be angling. Why else would be entrust so much of his “transformation” foreign policy to hapless international organizations?
Just because we are suspicious doesn’t mean we are paranoid. But one note has struck us in his many recent interviews. The rather badly handled one with Fox News’ Chris Wallace comes to mind. Wallace couldn’t figure out how to frame his questions to keep control of the narrative, and so when Obama began his superficial philosophizing, Wallace had to jump in ineffectively to give us mostly jabberwocky.
Still Obama did make a point worth noting. It was interpreted by the Talking Heads, quite rightly as a nasty crack at the Brits, so often a target of his derision and disrespect. When asked for the worst mistake of his administration, he said it was the failure to anticipate what would happen after the Qadaffi regime in Libya was brought down. Of course, his critics might find another half dozen or more egregious examples. He said he had not anticipated what would come with regime change and that he had left it to Cameron who had dropped the ball.
But we found it interesting that he did not kiss this question off as he did so many other direct interrogations from Wallace. He might very well have said that history would be the judge of his mistakes, a not uncommon answer other presidents have given the not terribly original question. Much was made his blaming the Libyan disaster on his not unknown object of antagonism, London..
But bringing up Libya at this particular time was not very helpful to Hillary Clinton, running more scared than had been anticipated for the Democratic nomination. Bringing up Libya at a time when Republican Congressional investigators are still going after her role as Secretary of State in the death of an American ambassador and three other U.S. officials at Benghazi wasn’t very helpful to the Hillary campaign. And the whole “leading from behind” strategy which has been such a target for his critics, was hardly a subject he would have wanted to get into, one would have assumed.
Just a coincidence? We wonder for we find the President’s public positions in the present campaign for the Democratic nomination a rather strange one. Yes, he has said, it would be a good thing to have a woman president. And he has endorsed Hillary’s credentials for the post. But he has not endorsed her, nor has his vice president.
Given what is likely to be a highly contested general election tussle between Hillary and whoever comes out of the Republican scrounge, the Obama endorsement as soon as possible would seem to be the order of the day. After all, it is pretty clear that as Hillary – if and when she gets the nomination – comes closer to the general election, she is going for crass political reasons to have to put distance between herself and an Obama Administration which is more and more criticized and a president who appears to have, at least for the moment, lost his mojo.
Obama’s legacy, as we are constantly told is a high priority concern of his, is increasingly up for grabs. Obamacare, his only major domestic accomplishment, almost daily turns into a bigger disaster. His strategy of an orderly retreat from what he regards as American overcommitment overseas, is bleeding at every regional conflict where U.S. intervention and leadership had been the order of the day for a half century.
So the relationship between Obama and the nominee for president may well decide whether he has any future political role. And that may be why he is playing a cat-an-mouse game with the Hillary campaign and her supposed nomination.
sws-04-15-16

The ghost of Bork rides again


Robert Heron Bork was a renowned American legal scholar, serving as a Yale Law School professor, U.S. Solicitor General, Acting Attorney General, and a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Bork was also in his time the foremost advocate of “Originalism” – an interpretation of the Constitution as fixed in the time of enactment. Originalists insist the constitutional meaning can only be changed by the procedures for amendment set out in Article Five . Bork saw this interpretation as the only way jurists could be prevented from creating new law without a popular consensus through legislation. Bork’s Originalism with its delving into origins is sometimes confused with another school on the right, Textualism, which holds to a narrower interpretation that the law’s meaning can not go beyond its stated language. Scalia saw himself as a Textualist.
The current dispute over the naming of Scalia’s replacement on The Court, recalls an earlier dramatic conflict. In 1987 President Ronald Reagan nominated Bork to the Supreme Court. The almost immediate violent opposition from the left to his elevation never questioned his credentials, neither his scholarship nor his practical experience on the bench. But less than an hour after Reagan’s announcement, Ted Kennedy eviscerated him in a nationally televised speech from the floor of the Senate. “Robert Bork’s America,” Kennedy said, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.”
Although the views as well as the credentials of nominees to the courts had been questioned all through U.S. history, the controversy over Bork’s appointment marked a departure in which his political/judicial leanings would be a test. Then Sen. Joseph Biden presided over a committee hearing of Bork’s nomination, generally considered fair despite the uproar in the liberal media which had left no charge unmade. [It was, ironically, during a period when Biden’s own campaign for the presidency was falling apart.] On October 6, Bork’s nomination was rejected in committee by a 9–5 vote.
Despite the fact that a committee rejection made a negative vote by the full [Democratic controlled] Senate almost certain, Bork continued what had become a losing battle on principal. He maintained that “xxx there should be a full debate and a final Senate decision. In deciding on this course, I harbor no illusions. But a crucial principle is at stake. That principle is the way we select the men and women who guard the liberties of all the American people. That should not be done through public campaigns of distortion. If I withdraw now, that campaign would be seen as a success, and it would be mounted against future nominees. For the sake of the Federal judiciary and the American people, that must not happen. The deliberative process must be restored.”
But Bork’s political support went mum. Bork even complained of Reagan’s lukewarm continued endorsement. And on October 23, 1987, the Senate rejected his confirmation, with 42 Senators voting in favor and 58 against. The vern “Bork” entered the dictionaries. New York City. Feminist Florynce Kennedy later would lead a movement to defeat the nomination of Clarence Thomas, saying, “We’re going to bork him. We’re going to kill him politically. … This little creep, where did he come from?” But Thomas, perhaps in no small part because of the color of his skin, was not Borked, but confirmed after a contentious confirmation hearing.
It now remains to be seen whether “turn-about is fair play”, whether Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, again a justice with the proper credentials but unacceptable for his political beliefs to the conservative majority in the Senate, will make the grade. Or will he be Borked.

sws-03-17-16

A Plague on Both Your Houses


 

It is a sad fact that both sides bear responsibility for a dramatic violation of freedom of expression – perhaps the most important of our liberties – in Chicago this past week.

Despite his pretended role as martyr, played as skillfully as a concert violinist which has marked Donald Trump’s courtship of an all too cooperative media, the leading candidate for the Republic presidential nomination bears much of the responsibility. Repeatedly, in his stream of consciousness remarks — as often as not incessantly, uncritically reproduced by the media he has alluded to the possibility of violence. Indeed he has endorsed it as part of his exploitation of antagonism and anger at the current U.S. scene, his stock and trade. He has talked of punching opponents in the face, carrying them out on stretchers, paying their insurance costs for injuries, etc. That is hardly a contribution to a measured and intelligent debate on the current political issues.

That of course is not meant to condone in any way the determined effort of an organized opposition to silence Trump, Instead of answering his arguments, it was determined to halt his speech and attempt to disperse his political rally. The discussion on the moveon.org website — with its implied ownership of so-called “protestors” determined to shut down Trump — is about as onerous as any other undemocrastic movement in America today. If, as charged, it is true that so-called protestors were paid to attack Trump’s following, it as much a threat to U.S. democracy as exists. If, as seems likely, moveon-org did organize the attempt to shut down Trump, how about our intrepid jouirnalists giving us a few names and more information. And, of course, our lagging media still haven’t come up with who, if that is true, paid the bill. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera

It is hard to believe that in 2016 there is any confusion about the basic right of all sides in any political debate to have their say. Or the corollary, that there can be no tolerance of any effort to suppress that expression of opinion.

The biographer of the French writer, historian and philosopher Voltaire, the Englishwoman Evelyn Beatrice Hall said it best in her 1906 book [an aphorism so often falsely attributed to Voltaire himself]:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

It is astonishing that the old axioms always held in high esteem in our democracy, is no longer understood by some of our most politically active young people. But even more frightening, that some of their professors – refugees from th 1960s — are, indeed, advocates of just such views as contradict everything held sacred in this democracy.

All of this takes place, of course, in a media that is less than professional. Trump exaggerates the numbers at his rallies, even 10 times but the media doesn’t report that the police and fire departments have a more accurate [and much smaller] count. You wouldn’t know if you read most of the media that Trump long hankered after running for the presidency but backed over several times because he was not considered serious by his peers. Trump makes the outrageous statement that huge numbers of people have approached him revealing that they never ever voted until he came along to bestir them. Is that really a questionable suggestion, given the numbers he claims from whom he heard this claim? The Trumpeters hang out that old and so often misused cliché that there has never been anything like the current Trump entourage. But one has only to think back to 1968 and to George Wallace’s mob, not the most illustrious example but a recent one. It’s fascinating to see who jumps on the Trump bandwagon, if that is what it is, an old and important element in propaganda. That even includes interviewing his son at length which hardly confirms the hypothesis that it is Trump DNA which carries magic unto new generations.

Oh well! We guess what we are saying in a nutshell is that tired, worn old cliché, which nevertheless is as valid as it has always been: the devil is in the details!

Sws-02-13-16

 

 

 

 

Libertarians unite!


A frightening wave of suppression of freedom of expression has swept the U.S., and most concerning of all, it is occurring in our universities and schools. If the university has meaning at all in democratic societies, it is as a stage on which ideas – all ideas – are permitted to compete for the considerzation of both student and teacher alike. Alas! in the current infringement of free speech, it is too often the faculty, products of the hectic 60s now arrived at the lectern, who are participants and even sponsors.

  • A Palestinian human rights activist opposed to the anti-Israel BDS movement was threatened, and eventually forced to cancel a talk during a tour of Chicago-area universities.
  • Students at California State University, Los Angeles, barricaded entrances to a theater where conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was to deliver a speech, ironically, about censorship and diversity on college campuses.
  • A Florin High School Sacramento, CA, sophomore was suspended for recording a video showing her principal getting body slammed with the rationale she had put it on Facebook, and then, that it was a security concern.
  • South Carolina’s Trumbull High School Principal Marc Guarino tried to cancel a student production of RENT, calling it too controversial, until more than 1,500 signatures and growing national media coverage forced an acknowledgement of freedom of school drama and musical theater companies.
  • New Hampshire parents have limited what their kids learn in school under state law even if the material is deemed educationally valuable by the faculty and sometimes has led to the removal of material for other people’s kids as well whose parents want them to be taught that material.
  • One in six colleges impose “free speech zones” that restrict liberty and violate First Amendment rights, as for example, Colorado Mesa University, where the administration provides only a thumbnail freespeech patio for a student body of nearly 10,000.
  • Despite teachers’ efforts to highlight the value of thw award-winning book, Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, it has been banned from the Sweet Home School Districtin Oregon in 8th grade classrooms.
  • Pennsylvania’s  Muhlenberg School District Middle School English teachers were told that books from a National Council of Teachers of English conference could not be added to their classroom libraries before they were “checked”.
  • The Kansas Board of Regents’ failed to revise a policythat says a university chief executive officer can discipline employees, up to termination, for “improper use of social media,” and to restore an art exhibition at the Dykes Library titled “Tom Gregg: Unsold – Grenades, Cute Animals and Bad Apples.”
  • Georgia’s Kennesaw State reinstated an article about lynching from an opening exhibition at the new Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art, after recognizing that the potentially offensive content could provide an opportunity to discuss the complexity of historical figures.

“The role of a university is to promote the clash of ideas, to test the results of research with other scholars, and to impart new knowledge to students,” as the last British governor of Hong Kong and former European Union commissioner for external affairs has written. “Freedom of speech is thus fundamental to what universities are, enabling them to sustain a sense of common humanity and uphold the mutual tolerance and understanding that underpin any free society. … [T]he irony today is that some of the most worrying attacks on these values have been coming from inside universities.”

In the end, society must take a certain risk if the fundamental right of freedom of expression in a democracy is to be maintained. That so many of the recent flagrant violations of free speech have taken place in an academic environment is the most worrying of what is, of course, a continuing battle between concerns for public safety and the state of mental health.

sws-03-01-16

 

 

 

 

Barking up the wrong tree!


My two Airedales have many remarkable qualities. Don’t, please, tell me you don’t know what an Airedale is! It’s that dog that is the quintessential happy face with a beard that used to illustrate almost every dog story and every can of dog food.

Granted we are a relic of the past. Everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson used to have them in the White House. There was a time, around the turn of the 20th century, when they were the American dog. I grant you they also went with big frame houses, big families, a chicken in every pot [with rice] for Sunday dinner, and an occasional slap across the chops if you didn’t behave properly, especially at meal time, and got caught putting the chewing gum away under the table.

But these days they are considered “big dogs”. [What do those “big dog” people think when they see the occasional Great Pyrenees? I used to meet a lady in Central Park in New York with one, a very well behaved critter. But I did wonder how she fitted him into an apartment on Central Park West.]

Nobody has told my two guys, a male and a female, that they are “big dogs”.  So whenever I am there – and often when I am not – they climb up on my big double bed. They generally sleep. Luckily for me, the male likes to sleep with his muzzle arranged over my feet. That keeps my toes, always cold in mid-summer, warm. They occasionally grunt when I roll over on one of them.  But by and large, we share the accommodations without rancor.

They don’t pay much attention to the television, which runs incessantly – sometimes [let’s be honest, often] when I am sleeping. [I was finally forced to shell out a hundred bucks for some nifty ear phones the other day so that when I am listening at full gallop, with my disappearing hearing, I don’t keep the whole house awake.] In fact, I find the best way to go to sleep is to tune in CNN and let that old Phumpha Wolf Blitzer, or even better, Amanpour whose generally stranded somewhere between Tehran and London,  put me right to sleep. Not Becky Anderson though – that’s a voice from hell and an accent [does anyone outside some special place in Yorkshire understand that accent?]. She grates.

But, curiously, and I have never understood this mystery: whenever a dog comes on the screen, my male, is all ears. [Name’s Yamana Nobori – “mountain guide” in Japanese because he was up and out of his little fenced-in turf at three weeks, climbing back and forth in to suckle Mom, and then running around the “fence” in the living room, barking at his 11 – yep! count them — 11, all beautiful fellow puppies, no runts if you please!]

I read that dogs don’t see too well, not as well as us humans [although count me out with my glaucoma!] They smell above and beyond the call of duty to discern the characteristics of the scene and those around them. But now wait a minute!: my old Sony TV is pretty good still [probably with an old tube better than what they put out today with those twisted slanted borders]. But it doesn’t give you smells, at least not yet.

So how does Nobori know a dog has just come on the screen? He watches silently but intently as long as the dog is on the picture. I notice, too, that he looks for it to come off the back on one side or another after it disappears. Then after a spell, he gives it up and goes back to sleep. Maybe he does have one eye open for the next dog on TV?

All this to tell you that Nobori is an art critic, too.

‘Cause my Airedales know when they hear a real barking dog!

sws-01-17-16

An Assistant President?


The American presidency is constitutionally and by tradition a very strong executive, our 33rd chief executive Harry S Truman uncharacteristically philosophized. And it sometimes makes less difference what his decision is but that he make one, he is alleged to have concluded. We say “alleged” for the Truman Library holders of his essences can’t find any quote like that. Maybe it was pillow talk between him and his notoriously publicly apolitical wife Bess. Or maybe it is just one of those many aphorisms mistakenly attributed to public figures because, like this one, they seem to fit.

But with that presidential power comes duty of almost limitless extent. Perhaps it could be argued that since Truman’s time those demands have become even heavier. Although thinking back to Harry’s role, his plate was indeed full: picking up after our iconic three term President without so much as a briefing [on the nuclear bomb project, for example], the test of America’s WWII victory immediately by Stalin’s aggression, the rebuilding of Europe, and the Korean War and all its dangers for another worldwide conflict and the test of civilian control of the military with the magnificent Douglas MacArthur, the epitome of the warrior.

Still Truman probably had that talent for administrative discipline which many Presidents, however brilliant and successful or unsuccessful, have not had. Truman came to the presidency with a remarkable life experience: a soldier in World War I, he had seen some of the worst of war. As a would-be entrepreneur who failed miserably at a time of deep economic stagnation. As a politician, he had worked in the bowels of one of the most corrupt but capable Big City Machines. Once in the national legislature, he had conducted what may have been the most successful Congressional investigations ever [the corruption of WWII government contracts][Aide-memoir to Congressman Trey Gowdy!], and, of course, the decision to introduce nuclear weapons to warfare.

Roughly, the U.S. president has three sets of duties, all of them more demanding than any one human being ought to have to carry and which test his abilities every second of the day.

He has first the protocol of president, the ceremonial duties that in other regimes is often handed off to a chief of state with little if any political power.

Secondly, he is the boss, the central figure at coordinating the vast bureaucracy as it goes about its individual tasks. [Truman: “The buck stops here!”] That, of course, includes being the civilian to ride herd over what is now and has been for some time and presumably in the near future the greatest military the world has ever seen.

And thirdly, he has the often delicate but critical role of cajoling his own political party and its adherents and opponents – more often than not the media and the public as well – into carrying out the necessary functions of government and those he would like to impress on it.

The Founders, while anticipating the possibility of a sudden demise of the president, produced a stand-in, the vice president. Logically, they thought, he should be the man defeated by the elected new president with the next most  votes. But it quickly became apparent that didn’t work and the 12th amendment to the Constitution sets up the separate election of a vice president.

Traditionally he had so little to do – except to be the presiding officer over the Senate.  One of the shrewdest and most pithy commentators, John Nance Garner who held the office for two presidential terms, said it was “not worth a bucket of warm piss”. Often, as in the case of Garner and Truman with FDR, they have not even been the president’s confidante.

The contrast with Pres. George H. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, could not be sharper. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Cheney’s politics, he served Bush in a capacity rare to other vice presidents. In no small part, that came from his career – a long list of staff positions both in the Congress and the executive including the presidential staff, a Congressman, secretary of defense, and even a presidential campaign manager. His severe health problems and apparent  lack of ambition for the highest office insured he was not a future presidential candidate. He became perhaps the most important cog in the wheels of the Bush Administration including taking precise policy positions to the president, often rejected.

Cheney became, not the vice president, but the assistant president, taking at least part of the load off an overloaded presidency.

One could have hoped this new pattern would prevail. It may in time.

But in the incumbency, Joe Biden appears more royal than the king, a spear-carrier for Barak Hussein Obama. But given what appears to be the President’s own intimations about who is the smartest man in the room, one has to wonder. A long and hard look shows little evidence of Biden’s long association with foreign affairs impacting the Obama strategy, for example.

Looking at the president current roster of high-flying political candidates, it is Carly Fiorina, the Republican presidential aspirant, who exhibits the qualities which would make for such an  assistant president. Her extemporaneous responses to interviewers are remarkable not only for the rhetoric but for an almost hierarchical outline she immediately accords the issue. Whatever the arguments over her business career, and we tend to the view she navigated a huge ship through a rough sea, she has administration in her dna.

In her case, of course, at 61, she might well go on to the presidency as many vice presidents have done. But in the meantime, we have our candidate for assistant president.
sws-01-09-16

Resurrecting Congress


 

Whether you agree with their agenda or not, the Republic Party’s conservative base is completely exasperated with the Congress. In election after election, recently, it has turned up a majority, or near-majority in both houses with the expressed purpose of opposing many if not most of Pres. Obama’s policies.

It is, in an important historical sense, not a question of who is “correct”. What is important, is that the American constitutional system demands that the three branches of government be independent and in opposition if in apposition to one another, in constant conflict to produce a limited government which would nevertheless function on the basis of compromise and cooperation. The concept of dividing legislative, executive and judicial functions of government was the gift of the gods from the Founding Fathers and marked the break of the American libertarians; revolution with their cultural roots in the Old World, even in Britain where they had suffered from parliamentary tyranny..

But we have fallen on evil days. It is not the issue the talking heads generally wail about, the bitter conflict and lack of creation of new legislation by the Congress. One could make the argument, and not just facetiously, that we are better off when the Congress is not legislating – especially since the old Bourbon and Water crowd on The Hill who knew how to draft legislation disappeared in favor of the new bred of Blow Dry soulless ideologues and would-be technocrats. Their amateurish prognostication often substitute these days for the actual attention and decision-making of the Congressmen and Senators, too busy raising money, campaigning and posturing on TV to read the small print.

Increasingly the Congress finds itself a minor player as Pres. Barak Obama rides his presidential directive horse into every corridor of American life and the courts take on the legislative process by announcing constitionality by social studies rather than the letter of the law. [I just got a blow by blow description from my auto mechanic of how Obama has collapsed the used car and junk markets with Environmntal Protection Agency directives in his first days in office which make no sense whatever to the automobile industry.]

All this and more was discussed in a learned and effective manner by Christopher DeMuth Sr. in a recent speech at Hillsale College, the intellectual fountainhead of the conservative movement. DeMuth says there are three things that must be done to return Congress, as the people’s representatives in a representative republic to its central constitutional position: 1] Congress must retrieve its control of the government’s purse strings, the ultimate weapon the Constitution writers understood was the bare bones of government; 2] it must return to the Budget Act of 1974 that required its members through committee and other action to approve all government spending on a specific basis [instead of passing it off to independence executive agencies], and 3] current serving Congressmen must relearn the old processes of governing, as boring as they may have seemed, of seniority and expertise in running its day to day affairs.

DeMoth makes the argument that the instruments for doing this are all there. The problem, of course, is political will, particularly in a growing atmosphere of digital speed and activity which permits so many shortcuts to decision making – however flawed they may be.

We would add that there is a basic problem here that requires something approaching one of the great crusades for public renewal which have marked Anglo-American history, for example, the great victory over drunkenness which had overtaken British society at the beginning of the 18th century. Think the Russians and their vodka! Or there were the great religious movements led by the Wesleys’ great crusade to dump the growing pomposity of Anglican Christianity for faith – and music!

DeMuth goes back to quote another incisive thinker, James Burnham, who as early as 1959 saw this constitutional tragedy approaching. As DeMuth quotes Burhan:

“To ask whether Congress can survive is …equivalent to the question: Can liberty survive in the United States?”

That simple statement is the essence of the problem we are discussing here. We wish some of the rhetorical falderal of the current debate among the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination for the 2016 elections were taking up this cause in a direct manner. Is there anyone out there listening to moans of a battered vox populi?

sws-12-30-15

 

 

 

Mr. Trump and the Moslems


The leading candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination – at least for now – has done it again.

He has taken a growing concern of the American people, not adequately met by the Obama Administration, and blown it into a bombastic slogan which benefits no one but the most vociferous of Donald Trump’s supporters.

The Donald is absolutely correct in suggesting that there could well be a security problem of admitting more Syrian refugees and economic migrants from other Mideast and South Asian countries. There is already enough serious reporting of the efforts of Daesh [or ISIl or ISIS] and other Islamic terrorist groups to infiltrate the flow of migrants reaching Europe and welcomed by Pres. Obama. It is also clear, from the horrendous event at San Benardino that the U.S. government and local police do not have an adequate vetting procedure for sorting out who is who. A point, again, well taken by Trump in his fiery statement.

But by taking the issue and turning it into another stadium rousing shouting match, Trump has done two things: he has made it more difficult to examine an exceedingly complex problem with serious and quiet undertaking. And he has given those who argue that any effort to examine the Islamic origins and connections of the current world terrorist threat is “Islamophobia”.

Some have argued that it is unfair to the great mass of the estimated less than thee million American Muslims and their coreligionists throughout the world to even examine the relationship despite the fact that the terrorists claim their allegiance to the faith. Perhaps even worse, Trumps’ blast – backed by repeated warnings of spokesmen for the Obama Administration against any evidence to the contrary – has exaggerated the possibility of a backlash against our innocent Moslem population. And, again, that contributes to the inability to examine the origins of the terrorists and their motivations.

It’s never going to be easy. But if the growing threat of homegrown and foreign directed and inspired terrorism is going to be met successfully, its origins in Islam are going to have to examined clinically. And the Moslem community, who knows better than any outsider can hope to learn the intimacies of conversion from law-abiding to “radical”, are going to have to be enlisted more successfully in its uprooting.

Trump’s blanket call to eliminate all Moslem immigration into the U.S.  is an unlikely gambit at best. Such outright discrimination violates the spirit of the Constitution and many of our laws which insists on no favoritism for any religious concept – although accepting the role of belief in God.

It is valid, as others have argued that our vetting of the immigrants at this moment is not sufficient and successful. And until a more systematic way of looking at migrants, sorting out true refugees from economic migrants and possible terrorist suspects, a “pause” may be necessary. Others said this quietly long before Trump took up his rabblerousing cry.  Somehow we are going to have to get back to that very difficult task.

But whatever onus lies with The Donald for demagoging an issue, responsibility certain lies with the Obama Administration spokesmen who have refused to recognize publicly the growing threat to our stability, and have, instead, raised the specter of anti-Moslem prejudice and violence where none has existed since the events of 9/11 and subsequent terrorist episodes involving Moslems.

We are still a long way from the November 2016 polls. The heat of the current exchanges suggest that it is going to be a long and difficult debate, especially after it assumes its next dimension, the struggle between Republican and Democrat nominees. Unfortunately, Obama’s role as president rather than leader of his party, has not always been evident. Perhaps the most important next step is for the President, himself, to lean back and accept his role as moderator and keeper of the public order and drop the role of partisan leader so evident in his most recent speeches and statements. After all, as he has said, he has no more elections to contest.

sws-12-09-15

Tolerance and toleration


 

“No offense intended. None taken.”

That old tried and true cliched axiom of American social relations seems to have been lost in the latest outbreak of campus madness; we have lived through several you know!

In a free society where the fundamental issue of freedom of speech is sacrosanct, it is obvious that there will be virtually constant friction.

You are allowed to say anything which is not actionable to the detriment of others. There is the dictum of Oliver Wendel Holmes, perhaps the most distinguished American jurist of all time, in his famous “clear and present danger” opinion for a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court in the 1919 case of Schenck vs. United States. One of Holmes great attributes was that he could lay out the law in language anyone could understand. In this case, he said that free speech did not cover crying “fire” in a crowded theater when there was otherwise no real danger of an incendiary. That obviously could produce a stampede which would indeed be a menace to life and limb.

Free speech is therefore likely to go off the rails, in the U.S. as in other democracies, when it wobbles in either direction: that is, when it goes over the line out rightly advocating violence in what would be construed as an inevitable manner. On the other hand, there is current wave of violating the very essence of free speech among a growing little band of university students. They see all criticism of totems of their particularly prejudices as prohibitive. Or they take it upon themselves to determine what is allowed or what is not permitted, what is in accordance with morality and what is immoral. .

Young people will be young people, and that includes their “knowing” that they can replace ancient verities with their new found knowledge and insight.

What is disturbing about the current wave of intellectual warfare in what are supposed to be the seats of higher learning in this country is that the raging students either are able to immediately intimidate the recognized authorities, or worse still, get faculty acquiescence to their fantasies.

Neither of these phenomena are unknown. Courage in the face of a screaming rabble is a rare commodity. That is true even if it is a crowd composed of what could be well dressed young people whose parents have the wherewithal to pay enormous tuition and other costs for a vaunted education. That kind of intellectual courage has never been nor will it ever be abundant.

And that the students’ worst violations of logic are endorsed by the generation of academics who still cling to their idiocies of the 1960s – their half-understood accumulations of socialist thought that had been debated over several centuries and always found wanting. That was, too, to be expected. Having not accomplished their revolution, these parlor guerrillas have followed some of their leading lights of those days and pledged to make their transformation of society through “the long march through the institutions”. Supporting loud and misguided young student revolutionaries is better than putting their own highly paid careers in jeopardy through a forthright advocacy of their own pseudo-revolutionary agenda.

This too will pass.

But the concern is with a group of young people, soon emerging into adult life and its responsibilities, presumably as our elite, who do not seem to grasp the fundamental premise of democracy. That is, the old saw that I oppose your ideas with all my being, but I would fight to the death to defend your right to express them.

There is an essential difference, therefore, between tolerance and toleration. To tolerate is to permit others to express their opinions and be heard. Tolerance is a well honed ability to listen to opposing opinions with receptive understanding to better appreciate the views of others and to examine, studiously, whether they may indeed be better than our own. That is what is being lost at the moment, and puts us in great jeopardy.

sws-11-27-15

 

 

 

Help Ukraine!


Among the many issues where Pres. Barack Obama has defied the will of the American people as expressed by the Congress is the case of Ukraine.
Like all geopolitical issues, of course, this one is ensnarled in contradictions.But they include the bitter memory of some two million Ukrainian victims of famine during the forced agricultural collectivization by Stalin in the mid-1930s.
Several facts are startlingly clear: The newly liberated Ukrainian people through in1994 in keeping with the American government’s pursuit of a worldwide program of nonproflieration of nuclear weapons agreed to end their production and destroy its stockpile. In exchange, the Budapest Memorandum signed by Russia, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States guarantees the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Kyiv followed through on the settlement.
Perhaps even more important, however, is the geopolitical argument.for aiding Ukraine. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, in his pursuit of reconstitution of the Russian/Soviet empire, is determined to bring Ukraine, the most important of the captive nations long under Moscow’s rule, back under his control. This follows, of course, Moscow’s attack in 2008 on the pro-Western government of Georgia, again a former “Soviet republic.” Then Vice President Dick Cheney warned that “Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and its continuation would have serious consequences….” In fact, after a strong rhetorical response, the U.S. did not respond, Putin detached important minority regions from the state, ending its courtship with EU membership. But as a “reward” for this aggression, the new Obama Administration’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flamboyantly offered Putin a “reset” intended to cement a new period of cordial relations. It did not, of course.
It could well be argued that Putin’s unilateral annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsular last year was an almost inevitable outcome of this continuing appeasement of Russian aggression. Historical analogies are often misleading, but Putin’s continuing agitation of small Russian-speaking minorities in former Soviet conquered territories smells far too much like Hitler’s tactics through the 1930s leading to World War II.
After extensive Russian meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs, in 2013 Kyiv began negotiations to affiliate with the European Union. It is no secret where this movement arose and why: Western Ukraine has a long history of rule by Central European governments. And it is clear that the majority iof Ukrainians, including in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, where there are large Russian-speaking and pro-Moscow minorities, wants to move into the more prosperous freedom of Europe. [Ukraine has seen its neighbor and historical rival, Poland, triple its per capita growth in the past 25 years while its own has stagnated if not fallen.]
As Russian fighters and heavy equipment surreptitiously have been introduced into the continuing conflict – which surprisingly has shown a Ukrainian force punching above its weight – Moscow has signed armistice agreements. But Putin has continued to violate Minsk II signed only in February 2015, and shows every indication not only of continuing the subversion of Ukraine but hints at such actions in the Baltic states as well.
The military situation is deteriorating, not least because, again, an international organization – this time the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – has refused to take a clear stand on Putin’s clandestine operations. Sec. of Defense Ash Carter – who whether through innate honesty or hoof-in-mouth often exposes the Administration’s policy gaffs – put it bluntly: “What’s clear is that sanctions are working on the Russian economy…what is not apparent is how that effect on his economy is deterring Putin from following the course that was evidenced in Crimea last year.” We beg to differ: the current situation in Ukraine indicates exactly what Putin is driving for, if not always how far he will take his tactics, and that is domination of the Ukrainian state.
Congress has authorized the president to lend military assistance to Ukraine. Former NATO Commander Gen. Wesley Clark has laid out a list of what effectively could be given now. It’s time to move, to halt a deteriorating international geopolitical situation as well as to bloc the Russian overthrow of an Ukrainian regime sympathetic to the West.
sws-09-03-15

Who’s Obama’s candidate?


It’s a question that may be just over the horizon.
There’s been a lot of talk about Pres. Barack Obama’s concern with his “legacy”. Some of his more robust recent controversial stretches of executive power have been seen as a reaction to six years of less than effective liaison, first with his Democratic controlled Congress, then with a Republican House, and now with both chambers in the hands of his political opponents. It hasn’t left a great bundle of monuments, especially with Obamacare under constant attack.
There’s a general consensus, too, that Obama won the presidency, particularly in the second term, with a unique political machine, maximizing the new digital revolution. There is agreement, too, that much of this was outside the purviews of the once mighty Big City Democratic machines, and that while eroded, that bundle of knowhow could constitute a force in the 2016 elections if resuscitated
All this to say that Obama can be seen as could play an important role in the coming campaign as it gains momentum, even though he keeps saying he has had his last election and no one yet takes seriously hints about the UN Secretary-Generalship coming up shortly.
At the other end of the ballpark, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton is rapidly loosing steam. She originally went for a strategy of coronation, as a former First Lady, Senator, and longtime political insider But she has little if any of the charisma of her husband who comes across even to his enemies as a somewhat quintessential Peck’s bad boy. Nor, especially after the Obama presidency, does she have his appeal to the black voter, traditionally always lax at the polls, or the purported Hispanic vote with two prominent Cuban Americans thrashing it out on the other side of the great divide.
This week’s explosive denials of accusations of her manipulation of government e-mails, however unspontaneous, are an evidence that the coronation strategy has worn thin. It may have to give way to old-fashioned electioneering with all the possibilities of missteps which her wooden public personality exaggerate. With so many young Republican contenders, it is too easy to label Hillary as yesterday’s candidate. Of course, there is Vice President Joe Bidden, the crazy uncle from the attic, but with two failed campaigns under his extended belt, that doesn’t seem too strong a possibility.
But it was from the White House that the first leaks, apparently, came about Hillary’s own personal server carrying her e-mails from a closet in a toilet. [To flush them down, just in case.] And then that FBI investigation? Yeah, we know the FBI is nonpolitical, that this investigation is limited to whether the celebrated e-mails can be released publicly. But the FBI reports to the Attorney-General of the United States and the Attorney-General [with no mention in the Constitution nevertheless] reports to the President of the U.S. …
That brings us to the issue of how far Obama, who has after all had his past differences with both Clintons — Hillary on the campaign trail — will want to go in pushing Hillary’s candidacy given its current lackluster. Or, would he, in the kind of “evolution” many if not most of his policies have taken, shift his weight to another candidate, and if so, who?
There is some puzzlement for why so many Democratic possibilities have not already thrown their hat into the ring. One speculates on Gov. Andrew Cuomo or even that ageing “Moonbeam”, Jerry Brown, the still popular governor who even at 77 could probably carry California’s 55 electoral votes toward the magic 270. Then there is the young Hispanic star, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, former San Antonio mayor who might pull a big Texas vote. If Hillary’s standing in the polls continues to drop, there are likely to be new entrants even contrary to speculation that it is going to be a Republican year, whatever – not the least because Obama leaves too much ugly debris.
The fact that Sen. Bernie Sanders has become a rock star for the Democratic leftwing base putting Hillary to shame, is a symptom. His “democratic socialist” label in addition to Vermont effetism is a no-no for too many voters whose granddaddies [great granddaddies?] racked up almost a million votes in 1920 for socialist Eugene V. Debs, from whom Sanders descends when the U.S. had less than a third its current 320 million.
Maryland’s Gov. O’Malley, once a bright young Baltimore mayor – ouch, Baltimore! – hasn’t stirred up much dust. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who keeps issuing Shermanoid statements, shares many of Obama’s politics, but if it is one woman down, another with a too professorial demeanor and a serious violation of affirmative action, doesn’t seem to fill the bill either.
So has Obama got some one in his barn he will trot out? Looking back when a young, unknown, Illinois senator by happenstance, challenged Hillary Clinton, it might be we should go looking for Obama’s candidate.
sws-08-18-15


Get in line, UN
We are not in that fanatical group of UN-haters who blame most of the world’s ills on the international conclave. In a world of perennial crisis, increasingly rapid communications and shortened distances, there certainly needs to be an international forum for open-ended discussion, and perhaps, when adequately safeguarded, a base for combined multinational action.
But we do have our list, a quite long one, of criticisms. And we have waited long years for another stalwart American UN representative such as the late Jeane Kirkpatrick who tried, not all that successfully as it turn out, to bring Washington pressure for some reform to the body.
We also remember that it is the US [and its ally Japan] who pick up by far the largest part of the tab for the organizations’ long list of growing activities around the world. {For example, in 2014-15 its estimated $7 billion for military costs for “peacekeeping” around the world, Washington and Tokyo picked up more than 40%, and that will increase now that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has received permission from the Japanese parliament to join multilateral overseas military operations.]
At a time of straitened resources for the U.S. government, we ought to go checking out the accounting. It’s hard to know just how much the American taxpayer actually gives the UN and its affiliated organizations. The nominal American contributions come from the State Department and AID [U.S. Agency for International Development]. But literally hundreds of millions of dollars are paid into UN activities by various American government agencies, including the Department of Agriculture to the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Fund, the Department of Energy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services to the World Health Organization.
Congress has asked for an accounting of these funds but only once, for 2010, did it get a full scoresheet. That was for FY 2010 when payments exceeded $7.691 billion, and to give you an idea of what is happening, that figure was some $1.3 billion higher than FY 2009.
But what has raised our hackles and ignited the whole question again is Pres. Obama’s outrageous announcement that he will short-circuit the U.S. Congress and go to the UN Security Council for an endorsement of his “deal” with Iran. Given the fact that Russia and China both hold seats with vetoes on the Council, and that both are all too eager to begin dipping into the billions which will accrue to Iran if Obama’s “deal” is accepted and sanctions are lifted, that is adding insult to injury.
The Congress, which by the most specific terms of the U.S. Constitution has the authority to approve all treaties negotiated by the President, has voted to take a 60-day look at the “deal”. .It’s a quibble for the White House to insist the Iran deal is an “executive agreement” and not a treaty, and to call up precedents to bolster their case. The fact is that it is “a formally concluded and ratified agreement between countries” for which the Constitution specifically requires Senate confirmation. And no one has argued that it is less than critical to the conduct of American policy in one of the most volatile areas of the world.
It is no secret that many in the Congress see Obama’s agreement to permit Iran to become “a threshold nuclear state”, that is one capable of producing weapons of mass destruction but agreeing to forebearance, at least for a limited time. Nor has it escaped them that at the last moment, the U.S. side threw in a lifting of sanctions on missile technology and weaponry, something both Russia and China are all too anxious to sell to Iran’s growing capacity to launch interncontinental ballistics missiles, even at the U.S.
Obama says his critics have no alternative, except military intervention and he became president pledging to take the U.S. out of wars in the Middle East, not to initiate a new one. That line of argument may again be as debatable as his prognostications about what future presidents would face years from now in a region where alliances are changing by the month..
But all of this should be argued and presented to the American people’s representatives. Its discussion should certainly not be short-circuited by the President’s going to the UN first.
Nothing would so inflame the politically aware in the U.S. body politic than such action. It is probably the best way to undermine further any credibility of the UN in the minds of the American people. We hope the President will back off this disastrous maneuver.
sws-07-19-15

Obama and his generals


One of the most fundamental principles of the American constitutional system is the institution of civilian dominance and control of the military. The Founders, concerned with so many possibilities of the usurpation of liberty by an aggrandizing central government, had strong views on the subject. Thomas Jefferson, whose duties in Europe kept him from being a direct participant at the Constitutional Convention, abhorred even the idea of a standing military. But he found, alas!, its necessity when in his own presidency an issue he personally had struggled with diplomatically for a decade, piracy along the Barbary Coast, necessitated he order military action by the young Republic.
As with most fundamental constitutional issues, implementation of a lofty however beneficent concept has not always been easy. The power to go to war resides with The Congress. But fighting any conflict, now excruciatingly if less than perfectly laid out in repeated legislation, is left to the President as head of the executive and therefore commander in chief of the armed forces.
In more recent times, crises have developed over differences between what the professional military see as threats to the Republic and the Oval Office’s estimate, granted, a wider view of U.S. interests. The line between bringing their point of view not only to the President, but to the people/electorate, has also been a difficult one to tread since the essence of military evaluations and strategy is secrecy.
When the famous war hero Gen. Douglas Macarthur argued during the stalemated Korean War that only confrontation with Communist China would win the day, Pres. Harry Truman demurred – not the least because he feared a nuclear confrontation. Macarthur was forced to step down, honored in the breach by the public through a dramatic farewell to the Congress, but losing his argument as he began “to fade away” in his own famous phrase despite his own and his well-wishers’ presidential ambitions. Geopoliticians and historians will argue forever whether Truman’s policy which prevailed did not, in fact, create a permanent threat to world peace as Macarthur had argued but on the other hand avoided a catastrophic war with Communist China.
Another less flamboyant but equally important crisis arose when Pres. Jimmy Carter moved to withdraw American forces on that same Peninsular in order to defuse the continuing provocations from Communist North Korea. The consensus among American military was then – as now – that Korea was “a dagger pointing at the heart of Japan”, and that American military presence there was an essential part of the Cold War strategy. No one, either on the military or the civilian side of any postwar Administration has questioned Japan’s keystone role in any Asian or world strategy. But when John K. Singlaub, a highly-decorated former OSS officer, a founding member of Central Intelligence Agency [CIA], criticized Carter’s position in a Washington Post interview, he was recalled as U.S. Commander in South Korea. Singlaub, drummed out of military service, continued campaigning for the eventual successful reversing of Carter’s original initiative.
There is growing evidence that a similar crisis is brewing now between the American military and Pres. Obama and his closest advisers. Major concessions to the Iranians at the Lausanne negotiations in an effort to head off an Iranian nuclear weapon is seen by the Obama Administration as a cardinal foreign policy goal. But the exclusion of such critical elements as the Mullahs’ sponsorship of Hizbollah and Hamas as well as other worldwide terrorism from those negotiations obviously sticks in the craw of those charged with worldwide military strategy.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, although virtually ignored by the mainstream media put it forthrightly while visiting Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Israel on June 9th: “[If current sanctions were removed] I think they [the Iranians] will invest in their surrogates; I think they will invest in additional military capability.” That clashes violently with Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew’s claim a bit earlier that “most of the money Iran receives from sanctions relief will not [emphasis in original] be used to support those activities.”
Dempsey, reappointed to a second term as Obama’s chairman of the joint chiefs in 2013, will be retiring shortly. Obviously, there is speculation about his refusal to tackle these issues more publicly in the U.S. Giving him the benefit of the doubt about his motivations, it is likely that old conundrum of a dissident public servant, whether to remain inside the magic circle to work against current policy, or create the kind of scandal Macarthur and Singlaub felt was necessary to change policy. But it seems unlikely that whatever Dempsey decides to do in his last few months, this issue will continue to be batted back and forth across the policy/strategy gap between 1600 Pennsylvania and The Pentagon for the year and a half remaining of the Obama Administration. And it is too important an issue for The Congress to continue to ignore in its own deliberations.
sws-97-11-15

Devil in the detail


The talking heads, never missing an opportunity to play follow the leader, are thumping again — with John Roberts again becoming Chief Semanticist — for a Republican “alternative to Mr. Obama’s Affordable care”.

That’s exactly what we must not have. There are possibly solutions to many of the problems of American health care [and far too many ill-informed comparisons with other countries’]. But they do not lie in adopting some new, monstrous, unworkable, poorly written, overall solution to a gigantic problem.

Obamacare may be collapsing on its own – and thereby making a massive contribution to those who would reform America’s health system, to pardon the phrase, in a systematic way.

Hawaii’s exchange is the latest to implode of the 13 which chose to have state-run exchanges to provide medical insurance. That’s in spite of $205 million in federal taxpayer funding to set it up and keep it going, a part of the nearly $4.5 billion Washington has thrown at the state exchanges in an effort to save them. Only 37,000 ever enrolled in Hawaii’s exchange – a long way from the estimated 70,000 required to make the website financially viable. Now Hawaii’s legislature refused to toss in another $28 million after not a single person would sign up during the extended enrollment period. It had been an off and on affair in any case with the fund periodically closed down for problems including its website coding.

But that is only the beginning of the national problem. Next month, the Supreme Court was supposed to rule on whether the Obamacare law intended for the subsidy to be paid to individuals insured by state exchanges or only for the federal ones. The opponents of Obamacare argued that was the intent of the law’s drafters and therefore ought to honored. The Obama Administration is argued that it was simply a mistake in the wording of the bill that allows it to be interpreted that way. Chief Justice Roberts argued that he was going to save Obamacare, whatever, even if he had to retranslate the law, apparently to preserve the peace and quiet of The Court for even more momentous decisions later on in what looks like a long tenure.

It was a tough decision for the justices. “Legislative history”, the record of all the debate producing the law, should tell us what was in the minds of the drafters. But since Obamacare was rushed through the Democratic majorities in both Houses at the time, that may not be clear. [Remember, then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told us we would know what was in the bill once it was passed.]

The argument that it was just a few misplaced words could be true. For the days when the old “Bourbon and branch water” veterans with their long experience drafted legislation on The Hill are long since gone, replaced too often by “the blow-dry boys” [and girls], many from a new class, if highly “credentialed”, rank amateurs who float back and forth between parliamentarians and even party allegiances.

But when the Court ruled for the Administration, however, that would be only the beginning of new troubles. It would encourage those states who did not choose to set up state exchanges to do so in order to grab the subsidies for its participants. But with state exchanges failing, that’s not an easy choice – especially since the feds have run out of money to set up the websites, much less to continue the subsidies.

This mess will have to be sorted out, of course, piece by piece – along with the other real issues of covering non-insured sick Americans and curbing rising medical costs. [Okay, they are down recently – maybe just because with the economic downturn, fewer sick have an option for medical service.]

It is therefore painful to hear the constant drumbeat in the mainstream media and among talking heads on TV bemoaning the fact, they say, that the Republicans don’t have an answer to Obamacare.

The Republicans, they say, ought to come up with a comprehensive solution.
Trying to solve the problems of one sixth of the U.S. economy, perhaps its most complicated for more than any other it involves personal “feelings” in decision-making, was a stupid idea. None of the 365 members of The Congress are endowed with that kind of omnipotence.

The way to solve the problems of American health is to go at them one by one, specifically and with detailed knowledge. Some are easy: wipe out the nice little patsy some insurance companies have with some state legislatures to limit access to within their state. Others such as how to assure a maximum coverage at minimal cost [yes, the U.S. spends much more on breast cancer testing than the Europeans, but look at the difference in mortality rates!]

When we hear “comprehensive”, we reach for our gun, to paraphrase one old Nazi’s threat. So let’s drop it and go to work on specific solutions to specific problems. That has been the American way in the past, a pragmatism we enjoyed over the rest of the world. Obamacare is a painful lesson in the need to review and renew that history!

sws-05-21-15