Category Archives: Inside the Beltway Capers

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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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.

Common sense and Hillary Clinton


Hillary Clinton is the stormy petrel of American political life. Arguments about her and her ideas and position in the current scene are virtually endless. They also are argued generally at a high intensity in the greatest heat of conflict. But in the breach, a relatively common sense approach to her and her reputation has been lost.
The question of Hillary Clinton’s role in American society even exceeds her attempt as the presumptive Democratic Party candidate for America’s highest elected office in November. As the first female with the possibility of reaching the highest office in the land is a landmark in the long fight for equal rights for women in the U.S. and throughout the world. That attention will be again enhanced by a newly announced investigation of her use of e-mail correspondence by the Department of State, and the threat of Congressional Republicans to continue similar hearings.
Many, perhaps most, Americans might well be tired and bored with the discussion of how Clinton used her e-mail service during her years as secretary of state, and ready “to move on” as her supporters have asked. But, in fact, the tedious arguments over the e-mails are at the heart of the examination of Clinton’s personality and her role in American life.
The technicalities of the discussion, however, sometimes ignore common sense considerations of the whole environment in which it is held. For example, the importance of an e-mail addressed to the secretary or one emanating from her office or her assistants to others, may well exceed their nominal importance. In the complicated world of international relations and America’s relationship to its allies and its adversaries, it can well be argued that any subject is important which reaches the eyes of the fourth in line for succession to the U.S. presidency in time of emergency. Whether, for example, the secretary is aware of an incident or a subject in a foreign country could be of utmost importance to that or another country.
Whether Clinton’s disregard for the sanctity of secrets in classified documents was studied or “reckless neglect” is in the legal context irrelevant. The law which attempts to protect state secrets or portions of them warns that penalties for violation of it are similar, whether executed consciously by the violator, or whether something done without specific regard. That argument is an important part of the reasoning by FBI Director John Comey in closing the agency’s investigation of Clinton’s e-mail issue. He emphasized that there would be no call on the Justice Department prosecutors to initiate an indictment or a to presen it to a grand jury whether to return an indictment.
One of the most controversial issues in any official investigation – such as that conducted by Comey and the FBI – of Clinton is to what extend her public statements are to be included in any final analysis. Comey was adamant that Clinton had not lied in her testimony to the FBI contradicted earlier statements, although it is something of a puzzle why the Director himself was not involved in the several hours of questioning. But he was equally clear that the FBI had not considered the hours of testimony and reams of printed coverage of her statements.
Politicians, in the American political arena, are given a certain amount of leeway in defining what is truth and exaggeration. This is less than a formal cynicism as a part of what most Americans have always regarded as the “show business” aspects ot their political process. It is perhaps what has helped Americans – with the notable exception of the Civil War and with its huge loss of life — avoid the bitter extended political conflicts which have characterized European politics and brought on centuries of continual warfare.
Ultimately, if as now seems probable, Clinton is her party’s candidate for president in November, it will be the voters who will decide on her character not excluding the many contradictions in her statements which Comey and others have laid out in detail.
sws-07-08-16

Faked Obituary


Reports of the demise of the Republican Party are premature.
It makes good copy for Fox News and the few other slightly serious current spectacle reports. But the Talking Heads who spout this prediction have forgotten if they ever knew much about the history of American political parties.
They argue capture of the leadership of the Party by a billionaire populist TV star whose own past political inclinations were not those of the Grand Old Party candidate for president has led to its bifurcation. On the one side are the Trumpeters and those who have joined his bandwagon and on the other are the rock-ribbed conservative ideologues. The later dominated the Party’s serious discussions even if over more than a half century – except for the Goldwater anachronistic nomination of 1964 – their presidential candidates have been much further to the left. Even the vaunted Ronald Reagan, despite his iconic reincarnation, more often than now is admitted, turned his back on conservative decisions as he compromised for an intensely popular presidency.
The Trump takeover of the Party’s steering wheel, as a matter fact, looks very much like the seizure of the GOP from the conservatives then led by Cincinnati’s Taft family by Wendell Wilkie in 1940. Then a former Democrat, a Wall Street businessman, — and one from the utilities sector which had been the target of much of Franklin Delano Rosevelt’s own populist rhetoric — stampeded the nominating convention. He loaded the galleries and perhaps was the antecedent of the Kennedy brothers a couple of generations later and their manipulation of the media and public opinion.
Aa it turned out, of course, Wilkie didn’t have a chance against FDR despite Roosevelt’s violation of the old axiom – reputedly laid down by George Washington –against third terms. But he did develop into a statesman and it was his role as much as that of Michigan’s Republican Sen. Arthur Vandeberg to fight the old-line isolationism of the GOP in a new world dominated by American economic power.
But the conservative core, licking its wounds, remained an important part of the Republican Party. Today’s argument that the GOP is facing death through internecine warfare between its two radically contradictory wings doesn’t hold up.
First off, American political parties – for the overwhelming majority of their histories – have been amalgamations of often diametrically conflicted forces. That arises, as much as anything from the fact that any national party is a continental organization, a vast collection of local political forces in the many different locales and conditions of American life from ocean to ocean and now beyond.
The current crepe hangers ignore the history of these kinds of parties, even in recent history. It was after all a collection of the most disparate groups with whom FDR came to power in 1932. The Democrats, who held power, and dominated American political life for the next half century were a very, very strange combination. They consisted of a segregationist, ultra-conservative Southern Democrat contingent, setting the pace particularly in the Congress. There were the Big City Machines, largely built on immigrant Irish political wit and the new urbanites who could be corralled and shepherded to the voting booths. There were the Socialists and Communists activists, few but disproportionately responsible for the hard slugging of policy formulation and implementation. And all this was capped – during FDR’s lifetime – by a Hudson River bsquire pretending to be aristocracy. It could not have been more disparate. But it held together then, as the Republicans will now, by the search for power.
It remains to be seen whether this division within the Party will keep it from power. While their divisions restrained the Democrats through the 30s and 40s, it did not keep them out of the White House and in control of the House of Representatives for almost half a century. It begs belief that even the most die-hard conservative ideologue will not come over to Trump leadership if it continues to bring “moderates”, independents, and even a new crop of “Reagan Democrats” into a strengthened party. That, after all, is the road to power and that it is what it is all about. Conservatives will persuade themselves with some justification, that even in a Trump pragmatic administration they could burrow from within to achieve some limited conservative goals. And besides, the alternative is the Hillary Clinton ogre!
sws-05-06-16

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Hillary’s E-mails, Obama and Common Sense


Not a lot that is being said by The Talking Heads makes sense in the case of Hillary Clinton’s E-mails.
First of all, everything would tell us that any domestic or foreign political figure would be interested in the very fact that a specific subject had reached the Himalayan heights of the Secretary of State’s eyes. She is, after all, in addition to her vast power and influence as the decision-maker after The One in foreign relations matters, one of the most powerful figures in government.. And, of course, the secretary of state is the fifth in line to the presidency in the event a catastrophe eliminates the vice president, the speaker of the house, the majority leader of the house, and the pro temp leader.
It may well be, as many government officials have long argued, that too many documents are “classified”, said to be of lesser importance than their originator believed when he accorded them a secret status. But, as is obvious, that decision must be left with the originator of the document, not to be trifled with by the recipient. And as some of the released e-mails indicate, not only did Clinton disregard the classification, but she instructed subordinates in the State Department to remove the classification, acknowledging that she knew their significance even if she did not agree with its evaluation.
It is probably impossible for third parties, unless they are directly involved and know the subject matter, to evaluate the damage done by Clinton’s purposefully declassification. It is not even self-evident why she did it. But one has to assume that there are such things as state secrets, many of them in fact, and the necessity to prevent their disclosure to enemies foreign and domestic is an obligation all government employees or political appointments take on in their oath of office as well as the commonsensical performance of their duty. This, Clinton did not do.
Again, a good deal of speculation has gone on about whether the continuing inquiry into the matter of her e-mails will result in an indictment by the Attorney General of this Administration. It is, of course, possible that Loretta E. Lynch., who after all was confirmed with a bi-partisan vote based on her record for judicial perspicuity and balance, will proceed to authorize a prosecution after the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] inquiry is completed with evidence for an indictment of Clinton. Its results according to all the speculation in Washington would seem to lie in that direction.
But it appears for her to do so would require great political bravery, and probably self-sacrifice, judging from the President’s TV interview April 10. In that interview, he made it clear that he already has taken a decision that nothing in the investigation would incriminate Clinton. It bears noting, of course, that for a former supposed university law professor – of course, he was instead a part-time instructor and then a rather poor one by all accounts – the President has violated one of the principal axioms of executive conduct. That is that no executive should offer a public appraisal of a future verdict while any judicial or police inquiry is under way. He has done it, of course, repeatedly. Sub judice in the law, means according to the dictionary, “under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere”. That would include, and above all, by the president of the United States as the chief executive officer and enforcer of our laws.
Last, and perhaps most important, for some time the Mainstream Media have been talking about the Attorney-General’s office and the Justice Department as another branch of what has until now been considered a three part government, executive, legislative and judicial. That still remains the case. The Justice Department and its head under Pres. Obama remains, as it has always been, a part of the president’s cabinet – not mentioned in the Constitution. And, therefore, it is under his jurisdiction and control. Given his now infamous public statement, it seems unlikely that any justified prosecution of Clinton will be pursued for whatever miscarriage of justice. At least not until 2017 at the earliest.
sws-104-12-16

The media and the election


 We are a bit puzzled – and annoyed if truth to tell – with our colleagues in the media and their reporting and analysis of the election procedures.

They seem to have been dazzled by the emergence of the charismatic figure of Donald Trump. He not only gets maximum coverage, but much of it when it is on a one for one basis, is obsequious. At times he is permitted to rattle on, often without substance, for long periods without interruption. Granted that he is a popular figure, an an unusual one, and an important one, the disproportionate coverage appears to cover a lack of knowledge of the history of our electrion process – and the profitability of ratings and advertising revenue.

The analysts – many of whom obviously do not know the specifics of elections at their crucial ward level – keep talking about the resentment and hostility of a large number of voters expressed in the Trump candidacy. But we rarely get a look at any of these people or hear their complaints in person. Nor is there any technical examination of an obvious element in the Trump success, the movement of traditional nonvoters, Democrats and independents, into the Trump campaign what have until now been largely open primaries” in which one could cross over with minimum difficulty. That takes the kind of depth of understanding of the local scene, again, which many of our freewheeling analysts do not have.

There has been a tendency, too, of the mainstream media to call for a winnowing out of candidates among the Republicans to give us a more pointed contest between one or two candidates. That is not, to say the least, the role of the media. It may well be that that winnowing out won’t come until the convention. And that would neither be a disaster nor a malfunctioning of the system. The “concern” expressed over the possibility of a decision of the Republican candidate in a convention is misplaced.. Muddleheads talk without distinction of “a brokered convention:” and “a contested convention” They are not the same.

Leaving the choice of a candidate to a convention is, after all, the way we chose candidates for some 150 years until the last few decades.

If the candidates approach the convention without the necessary number of votes for a plurality, it is not stealing it from the highest bidder if delegates are then asked to vote. GOP convention rules have been changed somewhat, as they have been in the past. But the old rule of committing delegates to their promised candidate in the first round of voting, but then turning them loose to vote for whomever they want if that first round does not produce a candidate with the majority, is an old and honored procedure.

The talk of a “brokered convention” is totally bogus. The old days when there were political machines in cities and states, in which large blocks of votes were held by individual political leaders is long since gone. There is no possibility of a small group of politicians retiring to smoke-filled backrooms to choose the nominee. The new digital world of internet with its easy and cheap access to promotion has changed the whole dynamic. Then there is the Supreme Court’s decision that constitutional requirements for freedom of speech permit anonymous contributions to campaigns has changed the role of money. Nor is it likely that a well-oiled PR camp[aign which saw the balconies organized to overwhelm the floor and nominate a utilities executive, Wendell Wilkie, until then a Democrat, as in the 1940 GOP convention could take place.

There can be a contested convention for the Republicans in which no one comes forward initially with the required votes. And that, as we say, is in an old and honored tradition. In fact, we think it would not only be a useful and deliberate way of choosing the candidate, but it would be an exciting one. It would restore some of the old enthusiasm for politics that has gone astray in recent times. It might well become the kind of spectator sport that would draw young voters into the arena, in recent times so reluctant or simply bored with participation.

So back off, colleagues!

It’s a free for all in an old style, And as far as we are concerned, it is a welcomed one. Americans have every right to choose their rulers in combat. That’s what we seem to be getting. Let’s get on with it on those terms.

sws-03-10-16

 

Satire and the Politicos


 

It’s awfully hard to write political satire these days, the crowing spice of more sophisticated political debate. That’s because the leading political figures are such caricatures of themselves that it is very hard to exaggerate their peculiarities in order to laugh at them.

Could anyone be more wooden, more artificial, more klutzy than Hillary Clinton? Tighten that corset lady! The Donald’s outrageous pomposity is only exceeded by his vulgarity and boorishness and the obvious lack of real content to his remarks. It’s going to take more than a clever room clerk. How to mimic the pure nebbishness of JEB who hangs around like an orphan in the storm? Okay, so you’re a family man but how does that make you a candidate for the White House? And so it goes.

Nevertheless, the jazz pianist and comedian Marcus Roberts is trying, maybe too hard, but he is trying.

Roberts has created a series of songs, ballads that take on the presidential candidates on their own turf. The names tell you all: “Making America Great Again [All By Myself]” [Donald Trump], “It’s My Turn” [Hillary Clinton], “I Did Chop Down That Cherry Tree” [Ben Carson], and “Feel the Bern” [Bernie Sanders].

Roberts told The New Yorker magazine that the different melodic refrains in the piece are a reflection of aspects of their personalities; for example, Bernie Sanders’ personality has its ups and downs.. So, he says, you get “… the tenor [Saxophone] plays it, it starts to get a little more rambunctious. You know, maybe that’s when he tells Hillary, ‘I don’t really give a damn about hearing about your e-mails anymore.’ It becomes kind of aggressive, and there’s a lot of fire, like, we’re going to get to this. I think that’s why Sanders appeals to young people.”

Roberts say that razzing Trump was the easiest part of his set of ditties. “It was clear that it needed to be bold and up-front and egotistical,” Roberts said. He told a colleague to whistle as if he were Trump surveying his vast real-estate empire from up high. ‘You’re rich, you’ve got pretty much everything anybody could want, and you’re just chilling,’ Roberts said: A trumpet cuts in on the whistling, to show Trump’s more aggressive and cocksure side. ‘He interrupts himself,’ Roberts explained, ‘almost to say, “I’m going to get all this great stuff done, I don’t need any help, I know what I need to do, just get out of my way and let me do it.” It almost has a Batman-superhero vibe to it.”

Roberts, who teaches music at Florida State, told The New Yorker,  he especially wanted young people who are followers of one or the other of the candidates, to listen carefully to the songs as a reminder that “art still has a place in politics “

We wish more clever satire had.

sws-01-14-16

Close the damned border!


Just when we thought the so-called debate about immigration couldn’t get more screwed up, we get another round.
Donald Trump provided the gotcha media with a confused statement on illegals, and then trying to take it back in the fashion of Jeb Bush with his Iraq War fandango.
Then a prince of the Church wades in accusing Trump of being a neo-Klu Klux Klaner. [Would it be uncharitable of us to suspect this, too, has something to do with the growing competition in Latin America between their traditional Church and the evangelicals?] In any case, the good father has overshot his critique since we don’t have any evidence that Trump, whatever else his sins, is a racist.
Then we get the more disheartening news involving the death of innocents at the hands of illegal Mexican immigrants with criminal records. Nothing could be more heart-rending than the most recent story of a couple and their daughter who stopped to help a roadside motorist only to be murdered. But then he was an illegal who had been here so long, ICE officials had given him a green card!
And so it goes …
It is unlikely that debate among the Republican aspirants coming up shortly will do much to clarify issues.
So may we add our few cents, restating the more than obvious basis on which any sensible eventual solution of the knotty immigration conundrum is to be found?
We don’t know how many illegal aliens are in the U.S. And we suspect that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] doesn’t either. Have you noticed that suddenly the mainstream media has abandoned the 12 million figure for an 11 million estimate – a million here, and a million there, as someone has said, and you have a lot of illegals. Has anyone among our learned professional colleagues asked ICE where they get that figure?
More than a few years ago when the predecessor to ICE estimated the illegals at 5 million, we asked for an accounting procedure. We were told that it was based on examining the number of applications for visas from a particular country and then on-the-spot census takers. Our response was that we doubted if one of their young ladies with her clipboard wading into what was then called Spanish Harlem would know the difference between Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean Hispanics masquerading as Puerto Ricans who, of course, had U.S. citizenship
The reason we ask where the estimate comes from is that somewhere, again, pulled out of an old Christmas Eve sock, someone has said that 40% of the illegals are actually legal immigrants who have simply overstayed their visas. Were that the case, then we are probably talking about a much larger portion of illegals being non-Latino– with their economy in collapse again, for example, we suspect there may be more Irish overstaying as was the case in the past.
Enough said.
The beginning and end of this whole discussion has to be the simple proposition of closing the southern border and tightening up at immigration airports.
We don’t underestimate that problem. And that is why we say it is principle concern and should take all the energies of all those – calling all Congressmen – who sincerely want to deal with the problem. As Gov. Rick Perry has shown with the Texas National Guard, we know what is required to seal the border..
Once the borders are sealed against additional immigration – a big if for we know there are special interests, not the least the agro-industrial lobby, that wants a unskilled, cheap and dependent labor – we can proceed. Contrary to the fiction perpetrated on both sides of the aisle, our own Latino populations – who are the first victims of the illegal presence here – are not wedded to continued wideopen borders and their Texas votes have proved they are not for sale only on that issue.
But the beginning of any solution of the presence of whatever number of illegals is in the country, and other issues connected with it, lies first in closing the border.
Can we stick to that one goal for the moment please, and end this circus?
sws-08-0115

The U.S. polity: a wonky fit


The polls tell us that those Americans interested in politics are split almost evenly into two groups: those who approve of President Barak Hussein Obama’s leadership and those critical of it.

Further analysis shows quite basic differences between the two groups – and disturbing for those of us who want a country rich in diversity but engaged in a constant healthy exchange of ideas.

The President’s supporters are what my Mom in her retirement among the elderly in Florida, with some envy, used to call “the alright-nicks”. They are members of an elite who either financially or politically – or both – have disproportionately profited from the system. They see themselves, and their nominal leader, Obama, as tapped by some unseen but knowing source to lead — especially to guide a rabble [excluding themselves, of course] which does not know its own interests and therefore what is best for them.

In fact, their numbers have recently been reinforced as the economy has marginally improved and the noise around Administration scandals and policy failures has dissipated with time in a fast moving society. [IRS persecution of political opponents, veterans dying because of illtreatment at the VA, the sacrifice of lives at Benghazi, massive infractions of border security, mishandling of government lands, near collapse of the president’s personal security – Poof! Gone With the Wind!]

The other half of the politically oriented are fervent, if sometimes highly prejudiced, critics of Obama’s policies – or, indeed, the lack thereof in many avenues of leadership where he is counted among the missing. Domestically, they perceive inhibiting bureaucratic intervention or neglect of the always marginally effective governmental actions which could speed the economic recovery out of the disaster of 2007-08. Abroad, they see perennial crises deepen with a strategy of withdrawal of American power in areas where it has long been the arbiter, indeed, the presumed leader by the other foreign participants.

Any attempt by the critics to entertain a meaningful debate is largely ignored by the Obama followers whose allegiance to their leader lies elsewhere than in loyalty to issues. In reality, the Obama coalition is a motley crew whose interest in their leader is largely pro forma – that is, loyalty as a member of an ethnic or an interest group rather than based on broader issues or an attachment to ideology.

Some might take issue with this argument, of course, claiming that Obama, himself, is an ideologue of the left and has the support of what constitutes the American left in politics. That has some validity, of course. But as a scion of the amateur radicalism of the 1960s, I would argue Obama and his followers’ allegiance to leftwing politics is more sloganeering with as little understanding as their 60s mentors had of the long traditions of socialism and its offspring in Western thought.

Rather, the Obama coalition is a collection of Alrightnicks. There is the rapidly growing political class of government employees headed by his appointed superbureaucrats, many circulating through the revolving door of Washington government appointments and lobbying. It doesn’t take long for a visitor Inside the Beltway, the anointed circle of Washington, D.C., and some of the country’s wealthiest counties in Maryland and Virginia that surround it, to know that they are passing through a world all its own – often inured from the rest of the country’s trials and tribulations.

There is, of course, Obama’s following among Afro-Americans – who however disenchanted with the little accomplished by the Administration in pushing the economy, and therefore the fortunes of their impoverished and crime-ridden ghettoes, feels it has no choice but loyalty to the first Afro-American chief executive. The media, of course, are kept – best explained by Pat Moynihan’s dissection more than a generation ago of the capital press corps. He saw how – even before the print media began to collapse under the dynamics of the digital revolution – working class newspapermen had turned into media elite as they moved off to the suburbs to join the ruling class. There is Hollywood glitz, of course. Recently revealed cynical backstage exchanges have shown just how meaningless on both sides of the footlights Tinseltown’s is the glamor that rubs off on the Administration. More difficult to explain, of course, are the small but highly influential Jewish followers of Obama – although they have in so many ways built themselves into the Establishment in the shortest order, perhaps, of any once discriminated American minority. That they ignore Obama’s war on Israel is camouflaged by the increasing lack of liaison between younger Jews and Israel and the continuing barrage of empty statements from Obama’s spokesmen [some of them Jews] of the unbreakable U.S. alliance with Jerusalem.

Bringing up the rear is the traditional support for any president which is part of the American political scene, backed by the increasing influence of what Harry Truman rightly described as the most powerful executive in the world, accumulating strength contrary to the efforts of the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to limit it, as the world and the U.S. becomes an increasingly complex society to govern.

Looking at these two bumping mobs, we may well be at an historic crossroads just now.

For all the myriad reasons, the electorate has seen fit not only to give the Congressional opposition its greatest strength since the 1920s, reinforced with similar movement in most of the state legislatures and governors’ mansions. With what has been an all too incompetent leadership, that powerful control of the legislature branch – and has so often been argued, the courts, too, follow elections – the Republicans now have an opportunity to force a discussion of issues rather than of emotional loyalties. If they avoid the siren song of its few media sympathizers and reject “comprehensive” solutions to vast problems, but instead tend to the nitty-gritty of legislative minutiae, there will be a contest. It means avoiding such catastrophes as the pretension that myriad problems of one sixth of the economy could be solved with the bumbling as well as bogus ideology of Obamacare in a single piece of legislation.

Obama – or his most intimate counselors, whoever they are – has had a great deal of luck. But he does exhibit the art of a demagogue in directing the Greek chorus from his bully pulpit. Whether by happenstance or design, he has managed by moving immediately without the Congress on such issues as immigration and environmental regulation, to obscure the massive electoral victory of his opponents last fall. [The prostituted media helped, of course.] Someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue obviously sees what otherwise would be a gross violation of separation of powers as the way to bull through the lame duck years.

But, for the moment at least, the ball is now in the Congressional Republicans’ court. Let’s see if they know how to ace it!

sws-01-05-15

Transformation of U.S. foreign policy


Barack Hussein Obama, with a group of largely ideologically primitive amateur policymakers but skillful media manipulators, set out in 2008 with the stated purpose to “transform” the American Republic. Although their emphasis was more related to domestic issues, their goals also required a linked fundamental reorientation of American foreign policy.

With the prospect that in a few days, another defeat in Congressional midterm elections will severely limit his further initiatives in the remaining two years of the Obama Administration, it must be acknowledged that at least temporarily Obama & Co. have succeeded in their overall aims in the international arena.

That is a stark contrast to the domestic scene where most Obama policies have either failed spectacularly or are in a state of continued dispute in the face of, however eroded, traditional values, the weight of inertia, and that incredible American entrepreneurial utilization of technology. In energy, for example, perhaps the most important ingredient of economic policy, the technological breakthroughs in the exploitation of gas and oil – the shale gas revolution – have completely upended Obama’s energy strategy. Not only is the outlook for fossil fuel reserves, worldwide as well as domestically, been completely changed, but the always volatile energy costs now appear headed for a long period of falling real prices. Obama’s attempt to stampede the U.S. economy into highly government subsidized so-called alternative sources of energy are in shambles – at an untold cost to the taxpayer, or course.

The Obamaites have been far more successful in their pursuit of a dramatic reorientation of U.S. foreign policy. It remains to be seen, of course, whether those initiatives are a permanent feature of the international scene. But, for the moment at least, Obama has accomplished his goals: Gone largely is continuing recognition of Washington’s post-World War II leadership of the coalition of allies which not only won the greatest war in history against the Nazis and Japanese militarists but also outran the threat of another totalitarian enemy, Soviet Communism.

The Obama view was that in the half-century-plus of Washington world leadership, if not in its longer history including slavery, America had made too many mistakes, that its worldwide dominance was on balance deleterious, that a better role would be one of, at most, primus inter pare. Furthermore, reaching out rhetorically to former perceived victims of American actions would be a pathway toward peace and stability. In short, what he and his colleagues saw as a more compassionate and understanding American executive could go far in curing the world’s problems rather than using its power to help stabilize the world scene. [Never mind their dismissal if remarked at all of the enormous extension of aid to the world over previous decades.]

To a considerable extent, Obama – with the aid, however reluctant she now says, of his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton – has been able to achieve these policies.
But the daily headlines also tell us that the goals of this strategy has not been achieved in any quarter of the globe. But to the contrary, the world has hardly ever been in such disarray with or without an activist U.S. leadership.

Two points need to be made quickly:

The Obama Administration and its policies are not responsible for most of the world’s political problems, misgovernment and violence. It did inherit what despite one of the longest periods of peace in Europe’s history with its overwhelming influence on world affairs, was a volatile world scene. In short, the world is the jungle it always was. And recent events have shown us political movements demonstrating the ugliest aspects of human nature, too, are still with us. In short, it is clear that no farseeing American strategy could have done more than ameliorate the world scene, as some of us would argue it did for some six decades.

Secondly, the history of ideas suggests that Obama’s international perspective did not spring like Athena fully formed and armed from Zeus’ forehead. Obama’s theories of international relations rely heavily on that strong undercurrent of American thinking which always sought to minimize our exposure to the rest of the world’s problems.

That was the case, rather successfully throughout most of the 19th century with the help of His Majesty’s British Navy, and the God-given geographic isolation that two oceans afforded the U.S. [One has to recall, for example, that only a little over a year before the Pearl Harbor attack, legislation for extension of universal military service passed the House of Representatives by only one vote] Not only was that complicated concept, generally dubbed “isolationism”, part and parcel of American political thinking from the beginning of the Republic, but its supporters in more recent past have included a wide swath of supporters across the political spectrum from “Prairie radicals” to the complex sympathies of the warring parties in the U.S. electorate. [Pacifist and Socialist Norman Thomas sat on the same “America First” – the most active of prewar isolationist organizaions — platform with members of the pro-Nazi German American Bund in Yorkville in 1940.]

Still, the list of successful “accomplishments” of the Obama strategy to diminish America’s role in international affairs is long.

• By abandoning the deployment of anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, arduously negotiated, Washington not only dealt American missile defense a body blow but awakened the old threat of decoupling European security from America’s worldwide strategies.

• The refusal to lead the alliance which overthrew Qadaffi in Libya resulted not only in the tragic and ignominious death of an American ambassador and three other Americans but is leading to an anarchic situation there – with its threat to Egypt and the rest of North Africa and oil markets – with possible jihadist ascendancy.

• An amorphous position toward the U.S.-Israeli alliance, despite pro forma statements to the contrary, emboldened jihadist Hamas and further diminished the possibility of a Palestinian negotiating partner for an accommodation between the Jewish state and the Arabs.

• The refusal to lead a Western alliance in support of Ukraine against the Hitler-tactics of infiltration and puppetry of Russia’s Vladimir Putin has not only diminished the fragile Kyiv government but put into question the guarantees of the NATO alliance to its Central and Eastern European members.

• Neither Obama’s ostensibly seminal addresses in Cairo and Istanbul with apologies for pretended insults to Islam by the U.S. and a more than sympathetic reading of the history of Islam have improved relationships with the Muslim world nor diminished the growing Islam;s traditional jihadist elements.

• Courtship of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, apparently a critical part of Mr. Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan’s nonconventional view of Islam, has widened the gap with the Egyptian military now ruling what has been the most important Arab country and a leader of the Muslim world and other Arab allies in the Gulf.

• A studied neutral position toward Chinese claims on Japanese occupied territory returned under bilateral postwar agreements to Tokyo and no immediate followup to Clinton’s statement of reorientation of U.S. strategy toward Asia has unnerved traditional Asian allies.

• Continued flirtation with the tottering Communist regime in Havana has encouraged Moscow to try to resurrect its alliance with Castro Cuba, encouraged elaborate Cuban espionage in the U.S., and undermined the continuing dissident democratic movement in Cuba supported by Cuban Americans in the U.S.

It is far from clear that in the kind of volatile world in which we live, the “success” of Obama’s transformation of American policy would not be the object of a concerted reversal by a new administration in 2016. Or, indeed, as despite cryptic language and new names for old crimes [workplace violence for jihadist terrorism], the Obama Administration is now by force majeure is being made to reverse course. The great danger is, of course, as in the present attempt to cope with the ISIL phenomenon in Iraq and Syria, Obama’s half-measures will lead to further disaster.

sws-10-05-14

Bengazhi: the honor of the American military is hanging in the balance


A version of this column is scheduled for publication in worldtribune.com, Monday, May 13, 2013.

Despite the distractions of a continuing unemployment crisis and the media’s concentration on stories of human depravity, the scandal of the death of four Americans including an ambassador in Bengazhi — “a long time ago” according to the Administration’s spokesman — will not be put down.

Three sets of issues follow the testimony of three whistleblowers from the Department of State appearing before the early May meeting of the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform:

Why were proper preparations not made to defend American personnel and territory [the embassies and consulates] in the chaos of newly liberated Libya, especially on the anniversary of 9/11?

Why did the Obama Administration feed explanations of the origins of the event which were boldfaced lies – a “cover-up” for which we now have confirmation from U.S. government documents?

Why were American military forces in the region ordered not to go to the aid of the embattled American ambassador and his handful of ad hoc defenders, even including that additional small Special Forces group available in Tripoli?

It is, of course, the second set of these questions which has gained what little media attention there has been, largely until this past week reported only by Fox News. That is the nature of the American political process. For quite correctly, if the party in power has made extraordinary efforts to mask failures in strategy and tactics, it assumes an even wider political significance than the very events themselves. To lie in covering mistakes is seen in the American political culture as a greater sin and violation of the voters’ mandate than the act itself.

But in the long run of history, it may well be that the third of this group of questions is the most meaningful, that is, the role of the American military.

Despite their magnificent performance as the most skilled warriors in modern history, the American military have been bogged down in continuous war for more than a decade. Huge mistakes in strategy – the decision not to finish off Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the First Persian Gulf War and the notorious articles of engagement in Afghanistan have prevented conclusive victories.

But there are almost no critics of substance of the performance of American soldiers, sailors and marines themselves. Not only is their valor self-evident, but their honor in pursuing the brutal demands of extended conflict are also a cardinal aspect of this past decade. [I would be one of those who argue that pinpointing in so far as that is possible in any armed engagement of terrorist leadership with unmanned aerial vehicles is as humane a pursuit as war permits against an enemy which boasts of its own attacks against civilian targets.]

Sacrifice is, of course, the name of the game for every man and woman enlisted in the U.S. armed forces. The possibility of losing life and limb in defense of American national interest is of course implicit in their service contract with their country. Yet one of the time-honored traditions of the U.S. military, paid for with countless lives over the two hundred years of the Republic, is that embattled comrades are never voluntarily left on their own to face an enemy no matter the prospects for an outcome. “Just as you have a responsibility to your country under the Code of Conduct, the United States government has an equal responsibility—to keep faith with you and stand by you as you fight for your country”, says The Code of the U.S. Fighting Force.

But in his testimony before the House Committee, Gregory Hicks, in command in the Tripoli embassy in the absence [and later death] of Amb. Chris Stevens in Bengazhi, claims the remnant of a Special Forces security force — already shredded by orders from Washington — was ordered to “stand down”. Hicks told investigators that SOCAFRICA commander Lt. Col. Gibson and his team were on their way to board a C-130 from Tripoli for Benghazi prior to an attack on a second U.S. compound “when [Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, ‘you can’t go now, you don’t have the authority to go now.’ And so they missed the flight … They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it.”

Nor did assistance arrive from the U.S. military outside Libya during the eight hours that Americans were under attack, trapped inside compounds by hostile forces armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK-47 rifles. Obama administration officials have insisted that no military resources could have made it in time. This has been refuted categorically by former military and CIA officials.

A White House official told CBS that, at the start of the attack, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “looked at available options, and the ones we exercised had our military forces arrive in less than 24 hours, well ahead of timelines laid out in established policies.”

Hicks has testified: “…I talked with the Defense Attaché, Lt. Col. Keith Phillips, and I asked him, ‘Is there anything coming?’ And he said that the nearest fighter planes were Aviano [Italy], that he had been told that it would take two to three hours to get them airborne, but that there were no tanker assets near enough to support a flight from Aviano. [Fighters were routinely refueled in NATO bases in nearby Sicily during the overthrow of Qadaffi.]

“…And for the second time that night [before 5:15 AM attack], I asked the Defense Attaché, is there anything coming, is there anything out there to help our people from, you know, big military? …The answer was, it’s too far away, there are no tankers, there is nothing, there is nothing that could respond.” [A Delta Special Forces strike force was on exercises in Croatia, not more than four hours away.]

“…The second team — the Defense Attaché worked assiduously all night long to try to get the Libyan military to respond in some way. Early in the morning — sorry, after we were formally notified by the Prime Minister, who called me, that Chris had passed, the Libyan military agreed to fly their C-130 to Benghazi and carry additional personnel to Benghazi as reinforcements. Because we at that time — at that time, the third attack, the mortar attack at 5:15, had not yet occurred, if I remember correctly. …I still remember Colonel Gibson, he said, ‘I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military.’ A nice compliment. “

Members of the Committee – except for Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York’s 14th Congressional District who immediately charged critics of trashing the military – have tiptoed around this issue. Apparently they fear further accusations such as Ms. Maloney’s.

Yet at the heart of the Bengazhi unknown is Gen. Carter N. Ham, commander of the Africa Command, who, suspiciously, was removed within a month of the events ahead of the usual end of his command and then given early retirement. The Committee and the country need to hear from him where the order to stand down came from, whether it was, indeed, his decision, his superiors at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, or with the Commander-in-chief in the White House where constitutionally it should have been. At least according to official statements, the President went to bed and departed on Air Force One the next day for a fundraiser only seven weeks before the election.

The honor, the integrity and the reputation of the American military hangs on the legitimate answers from the participants to these questions, the military as well as the civilians.

sws-05-11-13

Liquidate The World Bank!


An old adage holds bureaucracies may successfully pursue their original goals for only a generation. After that their efforts go to feathering their bureaucratic nest. Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae are examples: outrageous executive compensation and payoffs to Congressional friends, all contributing to a housing bust, now requiring more billions in taxpayers’ bailout.

Another example might well be The World Bank [IBRD]. One of two post-World War II institutions for restructuring the world economy, John Maynard Milord Keynes, author of the Bretton Woods Accords setting them up, said the clerks had got it wrong: the Bank for Reconstruction and Finance should have been called fund and the International Monetary Fund [IMF] should have been called bank.

Created to rebuild Western Europe, the Bank soon was eclipsed by the Marshall Plan and its appendages as West European capital markets recovered. Looking for new fields to conquer, it turned to what then were unambiguously called undeveloped countries, entering its golden age under Eugene Black [1949–1963], a former Wall Street bond salesman. Black’s ah shucks! Hillbilly act masked a wily Washington politician — although a one longtime Bank insider quipped, “Gene Black was a figure of Nat McKitterick’s imagination”, a reference to Black’s anonymous ideas man.

Black stuck to underwriting subsidized specific infrastructure projects, fudging later with parallel lending for soft currencies. His loans record, some $15 [old dollars] billion, theoretically without default, masked disastrous policies such as supporting India’s Soviet-style planning for three decades producing “the Hindu rate of growth” [stagnation] and initiating vast Indonesian [corrupt] lending underpinning the 36-year-long Soeharto dictatorship.

But it was under Robert McNamara’s leadership [1968 – 1981] the Bank went cosmic. [Mckitterick: “Cosmic lovers are people who cannot relate to human beings, so they fall in love with the cosmos.”] McNamara called in McKinsey for the usual bloviated rationale for the client’s preconceived strategy, in this case a vast expansion. He proceeded to ignore charter requirements for specific projects, funded social welfare schemes – and muscled in on the IMF with balance of payments loans. In his search, apparently, for expiation of his perceived Vietnam War sins as U.S. Secretary of Defense, McNamara played down capitalist enterprise. He hid the Bank’s International Finance Corporation [IFC], its “free enterprise window” designed to guarantee foreign capital partnering with locals to encourage private sector growth. His lieutenants even had a hard time getting him to be seen on Wall Street selling the Bank’s highly rated bonds [not a big deal since they were backed, after all, by governments’ sovereign credit].

But, increasingly, through the decades in a new world of enormous multinational corporations, vast liquidity and increasingly sophisticated finance [albeit with algorithms sometimes gone awry], the Bank has become superfluous. Its subsidized lending would be better left to markets discipline. Its vaunted research is too often suspect, outdistanced by more hard-nosed entrepreneurial analysis.

Now a minor crisis has arisen: the Europeans’ prerogative to pick the Fund director while Americans chose the Bank president is questioned by Beijing occasioned by the unanticipated refusal of Robert Zoellick to seek a second term. A bureaucrat meandering the Washington circuit including Fannie Mae, Zoellick replaced his predecessor ousted in a sex scandal and has undistinguished himself by having the shortest fuse since former Sec. of Treasury William Simon left town — and sanctioning the Bank’s massive China funding.

The Bank’s over 10,000 bloated bureaucracy gives off a miasma of institutionalized corruption – extraordinarily high, tax-free salaries, unparalleled “extras” and fabulous retirements. A sign of the times: IFC attempts to partner with corrupt Communist Vietnam government entities. Ironically, Zoellick’s parting shot, a long-winded China study, a collaboration with a Beijing Communist Party/government think tank, calls for massive restructuring as China inevitably stumbles off high growth rates. But chances Beijing’s new team scheduled to take office this fall moving away from state capitalism are virtually nil – unless a daunting charismatic figure somehow surfaces from among the faceless Partycrats.

An incoming Republican Administration, if and when, should fold up the whole caboodle as part of its Washington cleanup. But given the size of the awaiting Washington quagmire, it seems an unlikely priority. That means choosing a new World Bank president – Hillary Clinton is rumored hovering offstage — will become just one more bone of contention between Washington and Beijing.

Transparency alert: Sanders was deputy of the World Bank’s Tokyo mission 1970-72.

sws-03-02-12

The limits of personal diplomacy


The limits of personal diplomacy

Back in prehistory, during The Cold War, students of arcane Kremlinology – the science and art of trying to unravel what Winston Churchill called “a riddle wrapped in an enigma” – identified a dangerous heresy. “Mirror-imaging”, it was called, defined as attributing to Moscow our own motivations, rather than understanding Soviet Communist leadership lived in a completely different world and dreamed different dreams.

In a sense it was what Sigmund Freud called “projection”, a psychological defense whereby an individual “projects” his own thoughts, motivations, desires and feelings onto someone else. In the Soviets case, the West collectively – hoping against hope – often tried to see Moscow’s actions as an expression of a common desire for peace and stability. Alas! that was rarely the case, especially after Josef Stalin’s failed mid-30s self-serving maneuvers to block Nazi Germany.

All this came to mind with a recent Obama Administration “leak” announcing Vice President Joseph Biden would take “the China portfolio”. Insiders said Mr. Biden would channel multifaceted China relations, ultimately lifting issues from secretaries of state, treasury, and defense. It didn’t take long for the lickspittle camp followers of the huge U.S. China trade lobby who apparently flew this kite to bring it to earth. No, Mr. Biden, hasn’t quite become the [however controversial] “assistant president” of Mr. Richard Cheney in the Bush II Administrations, and would not he be taking over “China”, just kibitzing.

But one couldn’t help speculating on the origins of this little Washington circus.

For some months it’s been clear with continuing Middle East disasters – admittedly much of the debris inherited from earlier times and administrations – the Obama White House wanted the country to look further east for its major foreign policy initiatives. A fawning media fell in line. That was despite echoes of growing disappointment in Pres. Obama’s earlier Muslim outreach, the escalating Iranian crisis, unanticipated subversion of “The Arab Spring”, troubled relations with major ally Israel, and the messy withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, China looms ever larger. Not only are there huge unresolved economic issues in a time when the economy takes front and center – Beijing’s still growing dollars hoard, the unresolved yuan’s value, billions in stolen American intellectual property, blocking of American imports. But increasing bellicosity of Chinese military – and a lashing out against the U.S. by Le Keqiang, now scheduled as China’s next prime minister — all point to what might well be America’s number one longer term foreign policy concern.

With cavalier aplomb – given what’s generally perceived as U.S. over commitment and a gaping treasury – Sec. Clinton added to all this when she threw down the gauntlet in Southeast Asia. With “Vietnam Syndrome”long forgotten, Mrs. Clinton announced Washington would back China’s Southeast Asian neighbors in attempting to fend off Beijing’s outrageous claims to South China Sea oil and gas and dominance of one of the world’s most strategic waterways. Yes, it was only a restatement of America’s post-World War II Western Pacific hegemony and renewing the U.S. Navy’s pledge to maintain freedom of the seas. Still …

As best one can calculate – motivation is always the most dangerous speculation – some Administration geopolitical genius latched on to the coincidence Mr. Biden was the U.S. vice president, and China’s Vice President, Xi Jinping, is supposedly tapped in this fall’s succession to succeed Pres. Hu Jinbao. So, wouldn’t it be jolly for our vice president to get to know their vice president, establish a personal relationship, leading to understanding and cooperation, as we set off into the sunset? Kumbaya!

But Beijing’s politics are, if anything, more Byzantine than Washington’s – and far more opaque. Mr. Xi has repeatedly stumbled despite his “lips and teeth” relationship to Pres. Hu in his scramble for the triple throne of Party, military and government No. 1. And despite Mr. Biden’s claims to proletarian origins, they hardly match “princeling” Mr. Xi’s background — son of a Communist Party founder who incurred Mao Tsetung’s wrath that ondemned his teenage son to seven years “exile” at hard labor in a poverty-stricken semidesert village.

Whatever their vitae, dreaming up a buddy relationship as solution to the troubled U.S.-China relations almost certainly ahead, is, indeed, preposterous. The little soap opera proves, were it not already self-evident, the “lessons” of the Cold War lie buried somewhere in the Library of Congress — with no remnant at CIA, one surmises.

sws-01-06-12

A pipeline to …well, almost …eternity


Follow the money No. 97

A pipeline to …well, almost …eternity

Camouflaged by Congressional political badminton and Pres. Barack Obama’s demagoguery, the Keystone XL Pipeline Project represents solutions to economic and security issues far exceeding its general appreciation.

Half truths on all sides have obscured the project’s underlying fundamentals. Some are only emerging as additional research and technology is applied – most of it, for a change, good news in that it boosts estimates of access to available North American new fossil fuels reserves even if at higher prices.

Contrary to claims of Congressional proponents, the project is not an immediate positive economic bonanza. Like all natural resource development projects, construction employment will be temporary and jobs minimal when the pipeline is actually functional. Of course, given the current environment, any new jobs of any duration not added to the public payroll — the project is funded privately at something over $7 billion — is a godsend.

Its importance lies in its contribution to what should be a longer term U.S. energy strategy, a consideration often missing in heated partisan debate.

First of all, direct access to the Canadian tar sands affords fallback access for the almost bottomless U.S. energy maw – developing rapidly long- term whatever the short-term diminished demand of a temporarily crippled economy. Scandal after scandal is proving the Obama Administration’s so-called green energy strategy corrupt as well as wasteful and ineffectual. Keystone, on the other hand, would put crude into the Texas petrochemical refinery complex already absorbing Venezuela’s similar heavier oil – those reserves recently reestimated upward with spectacular finds on the Orinoco River.

That would give the U.S. not only an emergency alternative to the Venezuelan crude, fourth largest of our import sources, but leverage against the machinations of gringo-baiting Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez. Given that country’s long troubled history, necessary insurance is needed even in a post-Chavez Venezuela [soon perhaps with reports the fiery demagogue may soon fall victim to cancer largely untreated so he could continue exercising his one-man rule].

The expanded pipeline proposal also now would pick up on its way the more attractive sweet crude from the Bakken strike in North Dakota, already one of the largest in U.S. history and apparently linked by new successful prospecting and new shale recovery technologies to huge neighboring regional deposits. With Bakken already having added an estimated 10% to American reserves, these could turn into the largest petroleum find in U.S. history.

As the pipeline travels south, it also aims at untangling a crude gathering traffic jam in Oklahoma and expanding the tanker delivery scene on the Texas coast.

But radical environmentalists had chosen – with the help of the usual Hollywood suspects assuaging their guilt for their gratuitously huge earnings – to make Keystone a major test. That was despite three years research by experts for the State Dept. had not turned up sufficient environmental issues to block the project. When local interests in Nebraska – ignoring the relatively clean record of the country’s vast pipeline networks – argued spills might threaten a critical local aquifer, the Canadian company countered with a $100-million-dollar detour around it.

Washington rumors are Sec. of State Hillary Clinton was not only not consulted but not forewarned when Pres. Obama, anticipating the 2011 election, threw a bouquet to enviromentalistas who had been increasingly jaundiced at his 2008 promises. But with even normally loyal trade unionists joining the outcry against the White House postponement to go ahead until after next year’s election, it was inevitable the issue would become a cudgel for the Republicans.

Canadian threats to transfer their affections to the Chinese market might have some validity – although even Chavez is arranging swaps with Iran for his Chinese sales with Venezuelan crude supposedly sold Beijing flowing into Texas. But level-headed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper – an economist and native of Canada’s provincial giant oilwell, Alberta – may have overestimated American common sense. [Recent hints suggest Ottawa feels it is dealing with an overburdened, troubled U.S. and has to demonstrate inordinate patience for both their sakes. One has to wonder what the two chief executives talk about in frequent and what appear to be pleasant meetings!] But, in fact, Canada’s role as No. 1 foreign energy supplier to the U.S. – something forgotten in much of the talk about “American energy independence” – probably, rightfully, isn’t going away in the near future. The Republicans may be seeing to that.

sws-11-16-11

Does the U.S. have “a Muslim problem”?


For those who lived through the World War II prelude and the Cold War, the current American dilemma dealing with Islam is all too familiar. To the extent historical analogies are valid, countering Islamic radical infiltration resembles nothing so much as a century of struggle against Communism before the Soviet Union, as Lenin would have said, was consigned to history’s dustbin.

In the bitter climate of The Great Depression – for younger readers, do go to that marvelous reportage of John Steinbeck – reform was not only fashionable but critical. The movers and shakers were a strange lot, drawn from all parts of American society and all ideologies. An example was blossoming of the 30s trade union movement, as a veteran labor leader once told me, I think correctly, advanced by three factors: government [the New Deal’s Wagner Act], socialists and Communists [“community organizers” of those days].

As the years go by, us old reprobates are handed more and more proof of the incredible penetration of Moscow espionage. James Jesus Angleton, the intelligence community’s old Cold Warrior stalwart, may have been paranoid but, as the saying goes, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t persecuted. But, perhaps more importantly, the Cambridge University scandals dramatize as no other single episode widespread subversion of Western thought as well as institutions by Stalinists flying under two false flags of reform and anti-fascism.

Why is any of this relevant dealing with today’s Islamicist threat?

Muslim “moderates” and their apologists present Islam as another Abrahamic religion not all that different from Christianity or Judaism. [Do not the latters’ holy books, too, drip with blood and hatred?] The answer, not so simple but enough for this brief apologia: Islam never had its Renaissance, its Reformation, its Counter-Reformation, its haskala, its Enlightenment, its scientific revolution.

Meanwhile, by accident of history and geology, the industrial West has transferred vast resources to primitive Persian Gulf tribal societies. Just oil revenues alone of half a trillion dollars annually finances fanaticism – bereft of its civilizing Persian [Zoroastrian] and Indian [Hindu, Buddhist] agglomerations – to spread hatred with a “we-they” syndrome so virulent no Western psychiatrist could have imagined it. In effect, the West nurtures subversion of our civilization – as so often it helped the Soviets through Russian Communism’s many death defying crises.

Our problem, then, is not so simple as distinguishing between Islam as religion and a political creed. It would be no easier than earlier on sorting out Communist motivation from true “reformism” — or often simple naiveté. Distinguishing between Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s spot-on denunciations of Communist infiltration at the time was difficult when “McCarthyism”, the accusation of slander, was flung about, often, by partisans of Communists appearing before his inquisition that refused to identify their true beliefs and exploited his excesses.

That comes to mind now with charges from Muslim organizations, including unindicted co-conspirators aiding terrorists, who scream “Islamaphobia” when any attempt is made to ferret the real intent of those seeking to subvert US institutions. For those Muslims who take their cue from parts of the sunnah/hadith – sayings and activities of the prophet Mohammed – dissimulation is permitted when dealing with non-believers, even “People of the Book” [Christians and Jews]. It was so with Communists using Marxist “ethics” even against their “social fascist” [social democrat], sometime partners.

That’s why U.S. and state governments are in difficulty sorting out Islamicist tendencies. Much the same miasma as during the long fight against Communism, its state power and its influence as an ideology dogs the current scene. Prisons and the military have succumbed to fanatics posing as chaplains. Our most prestigious universities accept benefice from the Gulf states in exchange for defending their authoritarianism and obscurantism. Mosques and madrass [religious schools] are often financed and encadred by radical preachers sabotaging our values. Our crusaders [pun intended] for freedom of the internet inadvertently permit terrorist digital recruiting. To a degree, Ron Paul is right suggesting we have reaped a whirlwind we sowed – alas! but with petrodollars and technology transfer rather than the geopolitical offenses he and others pretend.

This has all, of course, been compounded by a President who — for example in his Cairo speech written and poorly researched by a very young man without knowledge of the 1400 years of Islam and eons of Mideast history – serves up misplaced sentiment, logic and politics to further befuddle an already critical issue.

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Not exactly…


The cacophony from the left [and its politically correct mainstream media mirror] calling for amity, negotiation, compromise and immediate action to solve the current crisis is not only hypocritical and insincere but ahistorical. The American Republic was born and nurtured in conflict, not only on the battlefield but also in the world of ideas. No one who has read American history could deny the virulence of debate over fundamentals which initiated and always has characterized our political discourse. That it should be true today is not only logical but virtuous.

As always in a free environment, the U.S. polity is constantly in the midst of making fundamental decisions, whether they know it or not. But now an economic crisis has brought a studied reexamination of basic values and issues. It is only natural the discussion would be heartfelt and contradictory.

On one side, the Obama Administration brought to power the 60s generation. Despite their enormous impact on popular culture, they were defeated then in their attempts to reconstitute The Republic by substituting a pseudo-Marxian template. They now have slid into positions of power largely by happenstance of demography at a time a larger public is questioning the effectiveness of old formulae.

However much criticism Mr. Barack Obama gets from the left, the essence of their common worldview is cohesive: a strategy of redistribution of wealth through government fiat. It is left, therefore, largely to Republican nominees to untangle issues, however unsystematically.

In this process, confirming ideas never die, the old Rockefeller Republican – for lack of better nomenclature – hypothesis has resurfaced with gusto. The concept envisions a “correct” political party allied with powerful business interests as best able to lead to a prosperous and stable future. But in this period of severe economic crisis and unusually volatile politics, that ethos is challenged by a combination of old-fashioned populism and 19th century American constitutionalism calling for more radical approaches.

That conflict places candidates for the Republican nomination in critical competition, obscured often by personalities, “political professionalism”, accidents of region, ethnicity or race, and all the other accoutrements of mass communications politics — often trivia which unfortunately can decisively substitute for logical arguments. But Mitt Romney clearly represents that Rockefeller ghost in the argument [perhaps with a slight assist from his fellow Mormon Jon Huntsman, an irony not lost on those who recall the daring of their forefathers]. The business model, he argues, is what is needed to rescue The Republic. That model, again he quite rightly argues, always comes with convoluted solutions to what are undeniably complex political and economic problems. But in the process, Gov. Romney loses his way, abandoning The Republic’s essence: freedom of choice for as many as possible, granted at the risk of occasional horrendous miscalculation.

Romney’s meandering represents why in politics, unlike everyday life and business, sound practice often means cutting to the heart of an issue. The U.S. economic disaster is, this writer would argue, basically the result of government meddling in the markets and the unforgiving, unavoidable boom and bust of the business cycle. No better example is apparent than the attempt to wish Americans into universal home ownership through the disastrous creation of semi-government, engorged mortgage brokers, Freddy Mac and Fanny Mae. It was, after all, the housing bubble as much as any other single factor which brought on the crisis.

Analogous was Mr. Romney’s attempt as Massachusetts governor to solve health insurance problems through mandate – appropriated by Pres. Barack Obama in his own version on an eventual, clandestine trip to a national government health care system on the disastrous European and Japanese model. That too was typical of politicians who rely on business orthodoxy for success, attempting to imitate the CEO’s ability to command his organization’s cadre — so different from a heterogeneous world of democratic politics demanding persuasion above all else.

That moral as well as cognitive lapse illustrates, contrary to the calumny expounded on the left, why the high priests of laissez-faire such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mise and particularly Friedrick Hayek http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HhsWHfGRIA  saw free markets as an instrument of morality and altruism. And, contrarily, it is disguised alliances between politicians and their crony business partners [which, incidentally, nowhere is more exemplified than by the current Obama Administration], which is immoral as well as destructive of successful economic development.

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life & art


That old corundum: does life follow art or does art follow life? First, we had the Tea Party which breathed life into the Republican Party and the American political process, a rethinking of basic issues by  a previously largely apolitical section of the poity. Now we have Occupy Wall Street, an artifice of the media, young and jaded middle class young people, egged on and paid for by irresponsible billionaires like George Soros and his moveon.org, and trade unions long since not representatives of a struggling working class, all of  which surely is some sort of art form, if of doubtful taste.

Perfidious Americus


Running an empire is not for sissies.

Since 1945, the U.S., holding the aces, had to finesse a role once played by the Europeans with Washington pulling up the Latin American rear. But that tacit alliance maintained worldwide stability for only two decades, in part because pre-digital America could sulk behind two oceans.

After Western Civilization’s second bloody civil war, rules changed: colonialism was abnegated, first “officially” in the 1943 Cairo Declaration. Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Nationalist China ally Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek acknowledged European domination would go following the Allied victory. Of course, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, there too, was soon to meet British class voter retribution, and within less than two decades, the last of the Tory Grandees, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, would wrap up what had been the empire on which the sun never set. So much for Churchill’s vow he had not become the King’s first minister to preside over liquidation of the British imperium.

But Soviet aggression setting off The Cold War, and, U.S. amateurism, never allowed Washington. to get ahead of the time curve. [After “Cairo” former Sec. of State Dean Rusk, then a young political officer in the South East Asia Command, signaled Washington for instructions on French Indochina. He never got a response.] Furthermore, it was always America’s idealistic aim to set new standards for mutual respect and benefit, even while it had not yet cleaned up its own racist backyard.

Washington learned quickly managing alliances never comes easy, even with hegemonic power. The reason is obvious: too many conflicting demands. Still Pres. Harry Truman’s good old Midwestern common sense, gifted European leadership, and American dough-re-me, girded Western Europe to defeat the Soviet challenge. Although we may well look aghast at today’s tatters, NATO was perhaps the most successful alliance in history, winning a long, costly struggle – “peacefully”.

You wouldn’t know that, of course, listening to the self-deprecation and, indeed, abysmal groveling, of the Obama Administration. That alone would have torpedoed current American prestige and strategy, unhinged by Islamic terrorism and an abrupt end to the most prosperous era in world history – gained in no small part through trillions of dollars in U.S. generosity still continuing to client states.

The Obama Administration, though, was intent on “leading from behind”. Too clever by half, as our British cousins would say, forgotten were the first elements in any alliance: at least temporary loyalty to a common cause, and stalwart if sometimes painful leadership by example. First there were petty insults to the Brits – return of Churchill’s bust from the Oval office, gimcrackery for the Queen, etc. Instead of securing an Iraq alliance at the heart of the Arab/Muslim world, there was a hallelujahed withdrawal timetable. There is, apparently, coming abandonment of a Kabul regime on lifesupport long before victory. Vociferous equating of Israeli and Palestinian claims doomed any accommodation there, especially after a problematic “Arab Spring” explosion demonstrated Israeli-Arab relations was only one, and probably not the most important, Mideast problem..

In all these instances, typically, semiruptures came with American media piling-on, campaigns of fact and fiction about the steadfastness, or lack thereof, of allies. This tactic flouts — particularly with third world countries — the obvious: helping inept, corrupt regimes to modernize is the name of the game. Were that not true, America would not be there in the first place.

Now in the election silly season, Obama Administration foreign policy proceeds on autopilot. Not only are arms – required under U.S. law – denied Taiwan but “a high official Administration source” publicly trashes the opposition candidate in the upcoming January presidential elections. Regarding Pakistan, whose overwhelming problem is dysfunctional government, Washington chooses war on the front pages and NPR, simultaneously publicly delivering ultimata. These latter may, in the end, turn bluff given the critical role that country’s geography and its menace of becoming a factory for creating jihadists [with nukes] on a half a billion impoverished, semiliterate Muslim base.

Alas! It is all too reminiscent of the unlearned lessons in the demise of the South Vietnam alliance now a half century ago after loss of 58,000 American lives and enormous treasure. Pompous media, including some conservatives, are still repeating old clichés. No wonder Washington doesn’t seem to have learned a lot about running alliances. Perfidious Albion, indeed!

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Attention America Mainstream Media: get out your lawbooks


 Oxford Dictionary of the English Language
bail 1
the temporary release of an accused person waiting trial, sometimes on condition that a sum of money be l0dged to guarantee their appearance in court
ransom [noun]
a sum of money or other payment demanded for the release of a prisoner
Those American kids were kidnapped and bought out, not bailed — no one in his right mind would go back to Tehran for a trial.

Energy at home, energy abroad: disaster


Pres. Barack Obama’s war on fossil fuels is adding to world instability already wracked by international debt, demographic bulges and largely unpredictable galloping technology.

Domestic implications of his policies are increasingly apparent: the closing in of prospecting and drilling is costing tens, perhaps hundreds of thousand of jobs. The attempt to choose winners and losers through “green energy” subsidies is producing market distortions, huge losses of taxpayers’ funds and corruption rarely seen since the old Soviet Union’s Gosplan. Using executive fiat for arbitrary environmental rulings after Mr. Obama’s “cap and trade” quietly died in Congress is eroding Constitutional government by creating “precedent” for defying public opinion as expressed through the legislative process.

On the world scene, the impact is equally grim, although as always with intricate politico-economic problems, difficult to quantify.

It is a given, of course, that world energy is, as the economists say, an imperfect market. It runs the gamut: Pres. Hugo Chavez gives 100,000 bbl/da to his ideological buddy Fidel Castro to keep Havana lights on from Venezuela production, a principal source of American imports. Hand-me-down restrictive policies, a heritage of the Carter Administration’s misbegotten Department of Energy and its first head, James R. Schlesinger, dogs natural gas. Cartelization of the industry despite all the legislation and litigation since the Supreme Court broke up John D. Rocekefeller’s Standard Oil in 1911 continues to inhibit competition with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] trying to set production quotas to control prices.

Yet, by and large, world energy is fungible – that is, production, stocks and therefore prices in one region impacts the worldwide market. After becoming a net importer in 1970, then doubling imports since the mid-80s to 50% of total consumption in 2010, the U.S. as world’s No. 1 consumer [and a producer of 25% of the world’s liquid gold] is decisive in establishing price, stocks and supply in other markets.

By impeding U.S. production through its refusal to lift controls, dragging out decisions or initiating or threatening to initiate new controls, the Obama Administration helps put a floor under world prices. That’s despite their erosion by a fall in consumption impacted by the worldwide economic recession, a very “leaky” OPEC struggling to control its 40% of world production, and production in the Persian Gulf for some grades a fraction of costs in North America. At a time of growing worldwide economic stagnation, despite the argument the real price of oil is skewed by a depreciating petrodollar in which most of it is traded, cheap oil remains as it has always been the sine qua non of American prosperity – and probably for world recovery.

Higher prices gorge feudal satrapies with their small backward populations in the Persian Gulf, unable to absorb and efficiently utilize capital. Worse, they indirectly finance world terrorists wherever they may be. For example, Saudi subsidies to mosques and community activities in the U.S. and the West as well as in the rest of the Muslim world carry with them Wahhabbi sect preachers insinuating sharia [pre-modern Islamic law] into Western legal codes, advocating armed jihad against “:infidels” and even fellow dissident Muslim sects or reformers.

Higher prices produce a petroleum bonanza for the increasingly authoritarian and corrupt Russian regime permitting it to avoid basic post-Soviet reforms. They give Moscow’s inefficient producers increasing international political leverage through gas sales to Germany and other Western countries. They reinforce the Putin regime’s efforts to reestablish Soviet hegemony over Ukraine and Central Asia and Moscow’s hope to intervene in a post-U.S. withdrawal Afghanistan.

Higher prices for its meager oil exports has propped up – along with Obama Administration appeasement – the bloody al-Assad dictatorship at war with its own Syrian people.

Not only has the natural gas snafu produced a temporary domestic surplus –with new technology pointing toward vast new production but it prevents potential liquefied natural gas [LNG] exports to high priced markets such as East Asia. U.S. sales to South Korea, for example, would block a proposed Moscow-Seoul gas project whose transit fees through North Korea would bolster the bankrupt, peace-threatening regime in Pyongyang.

Much of this, again, is the Obama Administration’s heritage. But its pandering to environmentalistas within its ranks has exacerbated old problems and invented new ones. With most of the President’s foreign policy initiatives in shambles, the external manifestations of his energy policy could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

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