Category Archives: Ye Olde Crabb sez

Untangling U.S. foreign policy


American geopoliticians in the 100 years the U.S. was coming of age as the superpower had the “luxury” of facing a relatively monolithic enemy. From the early 30s, it was fascism dominated by Mussolini and then Hitler until his downfall at the conclusion of World War II. Stalin and his worldwide Communist apparatus moved into that role in the immediate postwar period.

It was only with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1990 that Washington planners faced what had been the more normal historical array of a number of powerful national and imperial entities vying for power. Turning their hand to this complex has confronted American policymakers – however the disproportionate size and power of their country – with new and perplexing conflicting interests.

Nowhere is that problem more apparent than with Washington’s relations with the Russians. The muddled argument now taking place in the public arena is only the most obvious expression of this.

Vladimir Putin’s success at accumulating near-dictatorial powers, his potential to employ the former Soviet Union’s reservoir of weapons of mass destruction including hydrogen bombs, give him heft that has to be considered beyond the crippled power and condition of his country.

Especially is that true because he has sought to wield it against his neighbors and former Soviet appendages Georgia and Ukraine, threatening Poland and the Baltic states.The U.S. and its European allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could not ignore what was again a threat to peace by an aggressive neighbor, seeking as Putin has, the reconstruction of the foreign Russian Empire/Soviet Union.

If Putin does not aim at the superpower status of the former Soviet Union – although not nominally a Communist, he said “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” – he had the power to disrupt the peace and stability of the post-Soviet world.

Washington does not find it easy to deal with Putin’s Russia which in some parts of the world over which the U.S. still has the obligations of the principal, and at times, only, peacekeeper. It must oppose and lead an alliance against Moscow in Putin’s efforts to move back to the Communist/Imperial western borders. But in the critical Syrian civil war – with its growing foreign participation – Washington seeks to oust the Basher Al Assad government which Moscow supports although both find a common enemy in the ISIS Moslem terrorists who are the chief opponent of the Basher regime.

This leads to tactical contradictions such as U.S. bombing of Russian forces supporting the Damascus government, Washington’s chief enemy in the region and perhaps now the world.

In Western Europe, Washington’s half-century of backing the economic and political integration of the continent as a solution to its centuries of internecine warfare – which twice within the century have drawn in the U.S. – is collapsing. The withdrawal of Britain and its attempt now to boost its commercial and political relations with the U.S. and the English-speaking former Dominions, resurrects the old dilemma – what to do about a Germany that overwhelms its traditional enemy France, flirts with the Russians, and is dismayed by its own power.

In Asia, the U.S. has the prospect of an increasingly powerful and aggressive China which threatens to dominate both Japan and manipulates the two Koreans, menacing the most important sea lane in the world through Southeast Asia. A short-term U.S.commercial policy toward China that has been a net transfer of resources through below-cost pricing is now reaching its climax, but having destroyed much of the American manufacturing base on which the new digital revolution must build a completely new concept of production.

Washington is faced with the prospect of increasing its expensive buildup in East Asia or encouraging Japan and South Korea to adopt nuclear weapons in their defense.

The Trump Administration – a rogue if powerful political force built on the resentment of a large part of the population outside the three elitist urban centers – may be blessed with a certain naïve vitality. But it has only a short time for it and its successors to create a new U.S. approach to world diplomacy.

sws-04-04-17

 

 

 

 

Taking responsibility


We may never get to the end of the Susan Rice story.

History tells us that Rice rattled off a false tale on several networks after the attack and death of Four Americans – including the ambassador to Libya — in the Benghazi. Her detailed lie was that the deaths were the result of a semi-spontaneous anti-American demonstration occasioned by broadcasts from the then pro- Muslim Brotherhood broadcasts from radio Cairo that had spread throughout the Arab and Moslem world.

The truth was, of course, that the Libyan jihadists had plotted to kill Americans for some time, that the local U.S. diplomatic corps had been pleading unsuccessfully for weeks for additional defenses against what it knew were plots against them. Although Rice’s performance was almost immediately exposed, she suffered no particular consequences and continued as a high national security official.
The Rice story has barged into the headlines again with the revelation that she “unmasked” American citizens who, presumably, were only incidentally recorded in secret U.S. intelligence agencies’ search of communications for important leads. Theoretically such persons were protected unless specific requests were made for their identity by Administration officials, presumably because they would lead to further insights on the principal target of the surveillance.

When word eked out that Rice had been responsible for “unmasking” some of these names, she initially denied the role. But, again, she has backtracked and admitted that it was she who unasked some of these conversational participants. Why? is not yet to be explained since theoretically she was only a recipient of intelligence as she served as the 24th United States National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2017. It was in this role as a consumer of intelligence that she had access to the surveillance but theoretically had no authority except in unusual circumstances to direct its contents, a role for the several American intelligence agencies who produced the material for the president’s office to examine.

What is still at issue is whether having “unmasked” various U.S. persons who fell into the hands of the surveillance teams, she passed this material on to others in the Obama Administration, perhaps to be used against the Republican candidate in the run up to the presidential election last fall. Rice says she did no such thing, but given her record of stretching the truth, there is considerable speculation that is precisely what she did do.

It is here that we begin to enter the territory of does the punishment fit the crime?

Much too often recently, in “the swamp” in Washington that Donald Trump says he was elected to drain, there has been no penalty for either skirting the outer reaches of the law or, indeed, breaking it.

Instead, American public and private life has fallen into the speech formula of “taking responsibility” for the infraction. That epithet has moral and propaganda implications but it does not actually penalize the miscreant. In most cases, he [or she] either does not pay the price in dollars and cents for his failure to conform to the law nor does he surrender privileges and prestige that surround the position that has been violated. The most notorious example, of course, is Hillary Clinton’s use of her private e-mail [for whatever reason] to move official documents, which among other things increased their exposure to foreign espionage.

In both these instances of outright violation of the law, Hillary Clinton has announced that she “takes responsibility” for these missteps. But she has paid no other price.

This new version of the formula “I take responsibility” but requires no actual pain or suffering — either in prestige or in wealth – has eroded the whole concept of right and wrong in public life. It may be too late to fill the widening gap. But an effort ought to be done to take up this responsibility.

Sws-04-06-17

The Turkish model is dead


The effects of Turkey’s secularist hiccup last week when for the most part junior military tried to overthrow the regime will be long-term, inimitable, and disastrous for the U.S. and Afro-Asia.
For almost a hundred years, Turkey’s effort to modernize from the top down has been a possible model for much of the non-industrialized world. Mustafa Kemal, the country’s victor in the civil war which destroyed the old Ottoman multicultural empire, set out to “Europeanize” the country, shearing off its former leadership as the clerical as well as political Islamic world.
For Washington, Ataturk’s successor regime has been a bulwark, with its second largest North Atlantic Treaty Organization. army [more than half a million] holding up the eastern wing of the alliance. During The Cold War it was Ankara’s forces backed by U.S. land, sea, and air bases that prevented further Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean. This has come at an enormous price [$4 billion by 1997 in direct aid] in American aid; as late as July this year an argument was continuing over a $26-billion package including grants and loan guarantees.
The selection of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party [AKP] in 2003 opened the floodgates to a new competitive economy replacing at least in part Ataturk’s state capitalism. Remittances from Turks overseas [three million in Germany alone], foreign investment and an ambitious overseas tied-aid program of its own, seemed to be fulfilling Kemal Pasha’s aspirations, making it the fastest growing economy in Europe at more than 10% annually.
Despite Erdogan and the AKP’s ambiguity on permitting Washington to move forces through Turkey during George W. Bush’s 2002 Iraq War – or perhaps precisely because of it – soon after his election Pres. Barack Hussein Obama began to court Erdogan. Obama apparently saw Erdogan as a moderate Muslim democrat who could help him stabilize the Middle East. In a 2011 interview Obama named Erdogan, along with Germany Chancellor Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, as one of the five world leaders with whom he had the strongest bonds. They exchanged frequent calls and the U.S. president commiserated for 45 minutes on the death of Erdogan’s mother.
But a flagging economy and Erdogan’s growing grasp for power as he moved into the presidency in 2012 has clouded the picture. A well-known quotation – whether true or apocryphal – describes Erdogan’s politics: “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” Long before the attempted coup, he had unmercifully purged the senior military – the guardians of Ataturk’s secularist state — installing his own men. He also packed the judiciary and has more journalists in jail than any other regime. His threats since the failed coup to go even further with repressive measures and his own new constitution look like an old Mideastern pattern.
But worse still has been his pandering to Islamic elements, especially rural Anatolia where his conservative views are most popular. How far toward an Islamic state will Erdogan go is now an open question? Earlier critics who pointed out Turkey did little to curb the flow of Syrian and other refugees to Western Europe – a million last year alone to Germany. In fact, he used the refugee flow to blackmail Merkel into a huge new aid program and a laissez-passer for Turkish citizens in the European Union. Other EU members may demur, particularly France, with its opposition coming to a head in October is stronger after the massacre last week on the Riviera. .Erdogan already has used any criticism of his regime in Western Europe and the U.S. as evidence for his frequent charges of foreign intervention.
Talk among Erdogan supporters of establishing Sunni Islam as the state religions have been knocked down by Erdogan himself. But he always has flirted with radical Islamic terrorists. Gaza’s Hamas [the cause of his break with Israel] has openly operated as has Erdogan’s sympathy for Hizbollah [even it is Shia] in its fight against Basher al-Assad in Syria. That makes him less than a reliable ally in Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s effort to “degrade and [eventually[destroy” Daesh [ISIS or ISIL]..
Not only is the Turkish model gone, but there is every reason to question its future role as a NATO member..[Erdogan temporarilly closed the joint U.S.-Turkish NATO Incirlik air base, only 80 miles from the Syrian border, which Obama has been using in his low level war against Daesh.] Such moves could cripple an already limping alliance, successful as NATO.was for half century in the defeat of Communism.
sws-07-18-16

The only strategy


Originally posted on June 13, 2016 |

While the authorities continue to sort out the career of Omar Mateen, the killer who perpetrated the greatest mass killing in American history, U.S. strategy remains confused.

There never has been a question of the enormous potential for Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] to inflict suffering on Americans and other Westerners. The world has rarely seen such naked brutality. But alas! it is that dramatic aspect of the Daesh cult which attracts psychopaths, particularly from the Moslem world, to its colors, even attracting other terrorists. Its weapons in the fight with U.S. authorities are formidable. As its followers sometimes boast, it believes in death not in life as do its victims. Suicide bombers are an almost invincible enemy. Relying on old Moslem concepts, it justifies any deceit of non-believers if it can be rationalized as promoting Islam, something no other religion condones.

The infinitely complicated arguments over how to go after suspicious individuals who may be hidden terrorists has dominated the headlines and the conversations about a breakdown in American security. But in the end, proposed reforms are insufficient to prevent other attacks such as these
That is because the U.S. could not be a more attractive target for the Islamic terrorists. An open society, the first thing to acknowledge is that there are tens of thousands of potential American targets like the gay nightclub in Orlando.

It is true, of course, that there were ”mistakes” in handling Mateen when he came under official U.S. scrutiny. But as FBI spokesmen have admitted, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of potential Mateens in this country, and thousands more who could be infiltrated with relative ease given our immigration problems and the opportunities afforded through worldwide commerce and tourism.
There is, of course, a strong argument for tightening up our security procedures.

But the reality is that were we to move beyond a certain line in addressing the issue of suppressing terrorists among us, we would emasculate our hard fought civil liberties, the essence of the American political system. That, of course, is precisely what the Moslem terrorists intend: to create an atmosphere of such suspicion and repression that the whole concept of American liberty which they detest would be lost.

Pres. Barack Obama and Democratic Party presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton avoid the use of the words Islamic terrorists and any other attributes that associate these acts with the religion of Islam. They may have a very pragmatic argument for doing so; that is, official association of terrorism with the religion of Islam may encourage new anti-Western sentiments among its 1.2 billion adherents around the world.

But if so, their logic is at fault. We opposed Nazism despite the assumption that there were millions of “good Germans” who opposed it. We went through the long Cold War opposing Soviet Communism even though we hoped that true Russian autocracy and its European culture were being suppressed. After those battles were won, internal opponents of the dictatorships more often than not, were quick to concede that their position was strengthened by Western resolve.

Today we face a similar totalitarian opponent; Islam is not only a religious belief but it has always been indivisible from an attempt to create an authoritarian political regime. Even Mohammed, its founder, was a chief of government.

Pres. Obama has said U.S. strategy would “contain and dismantle” Daesh. In fact, ISIS has continued to grow, spreading its influence to other regions, and enlisting the support of radical Moslems everywhere.

The only strategy that the U.S. can successfully pursue is to go after ISIS in the same way the U.S. and its allies destroyed the Nazis and then Communism. It calls not only for an effective repression of Daesh but in a dramatic fashion that matches its own challenge, a strategy that calls on all our resources to destroy Islamic terrorism at its roots and quickly. That may not destroy the Islamicists’ concept. But anything less will lead to a long and debilitating struggle in which the priceless freedom of American life will be eroded and eventually destroyed.

sws-06-20-16

The pathology of American socialism


If you are not a socialist at 20, you have no heart, but if you are a socialist at 40 you have no brain. That old French aphorism describes better than more learned tomes the appeal and the reality of more than a hundred years of seeking to find the ideal society through either Christian socialism based on appeal to the Scriptures or “scientific” socialism based on Karl Marx’s writings.
It’s not clear when Sen. Bernie Sanders espouses “democratic socialism” he knows this long tortured history or is ignoring the fulminations of European socialism including its American versions. Most Americans are unaware that socialism had a thrust toward power in the early part of the 20th century when Eugene V. Debs, a trade union radical and his colleagues traded on social problems of the rapid U.S. industrialization. Even though Pres. Woodrow Wilson, “a progressive”, sent Debs to prison for his ironclad pacifism and opposition to American entry into World War I, he garnered more than a million votes in the 1920 presidential election.
But the socialists faded, shorn of their Communist radicals who bolted the party, in the enormous prosperity of the 1920s. They left one important addition to the national scene, the income tax, which could only be implemented with the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution which was deemed to have excluded all such direct taxes. When the Great Depression struck in 1929, much of the socialist rhetoric [along with proto-fascist ideas as well] were adopted in the wildly heterogenic New Deal of Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Norman Thomas, a former pastor from the Christian socialist tradition — a tall, handsome man, a splendid orator with a booming voice — took over the rump of the movement. Thomas, although a respected figure to whom thousands of European and Asian refugees came with notes of introduction during the turbulent 30s, was a failure as a politician. The Party dwindled under a series of crises; the first in 1936 when most oldtime socialists supported FDR against Thomas for the presidency. Thomas also followed the Europeans in their Popular Front, a partnership with the Communists aimed at halting the rise of Adolph Hitler’s Nazis and Benito Mussolini Italian Fascists. The anti-Communist socialist splinter, mostly New York Jews, broke away taking the famous old Rand School which had educated immigrants and a Borsch Belt resort. But here and here old memories remained: a Young People’s Socialist League on the University of Missouri campus in 1946 formed to end racial segregation on their campus.
Although the Party continued in name, maintaining a New York headquarters and continuing to publish a weekly version of its once powerful The Call, it played no role in U.S. politics. It was not until post-World War II when some old stragglers from the movement successfully persuaded Washington to wean the West European parties away from neutralism against the high tide of Communism in France, Italy and West Germany. On the Continent as in the British Labor Party, the European socialists came to brook no rival in their opposition to Moscow where the Communists had developed a totalitarian state, ready in the postwar period as one of the victors to absorb most of Central Europe.
Although the socialists blossomed in power in Scandinavia – in Sweden building a highly sophisticated industrial base, not least by collaborating with Hitler in WWII as an ostensible neutral – increasing social and political problems of their own making have undermined their hold on power. Mistaken references in the American debate to Denmark ignore its steady move away from socialism today.
Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist”, presumably in the Thomas and European anti-Communist traditions. But in Israel he chose to live for two years among kibutzim [members of communal settlements] with ties to Moscow. His flirtation with the Castros’ Cuba and their allegiance to the Soviet Union until its demise as well as the pro-Communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua puts the question what he really believes. Like so many other self-proclaimed socialists before him – currently it is the case in Venezuela –in power they have had to choose backtracking toward more conventional positions or trying to institute “socialism” with dictatorial regimes.
Just where is Sen. Sanders?
sws-05-31-16

Repairing the Special Relationship


 

There are important lessons for the U.S. in the apprehension in Belgium, after four months, of one of the chief perpetrators of the November 13, 2015 Paris massacre which took the lives if 130 innocents.

This security lapse has its parallel in the current relations between the U.S. and Britain.

It’s hardly worth arguing how much in common British and American societies and polities hold, a commonality developed over more than two centuries and based on everything from history through language to religious and political institutions. Unfortunately, Pres. Barack Obama came to office antagonistic to that relationship. Whether as part of his general strategy of worldwide withdrawal or a personal anti-colonial ideological bias [as Dinesh D’Souza with his own personal knowledge has argued] is to some extent irrelevant. What common sense tells us is that with our shared values and our mutually extensive formal and informal intelligence networks around the world, cooperation and interchange of information is not only necessary but indispensable.

Obama’s pinprick statements against London and the British continue unabated. In his recent remarks to Jeffrey Goldberg in an essay attempting to set out the President’s philosophy and strategy of government, Obama snidely remarked that David Cameron had created the current chaotic and dangerous Libyan situation because the U.K. Prime Minister was “distracted by a range of other things.” It is breathtaking that this comes on the heels of Obama’s notorious “leading from behind” strategy which failed so miserably in the overthrow of Mohammed Qadhafi, and with the almost daily revelation of details of policy misjudgments by the White House and the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The failures, or indeed absence altogether of policy, which Congressional investigators are daily revealing led to the death of four U.S. officials including the ambassador in the Benghazi affair. In what are less than discreet leaks, even now in the last months of his presidency, Obama has made jarring evaluations of Winston Churchill, with their implications for a view of U.S.-U.K. history which few, if any, American political leaders or academics would accept.

Given the bedrock on which U.S. and British relations are built, in the long run Obama’s malicious pecking may be insignificant. But his sabotage of Washington-London relations comes at a time of crisis in Britain which is trying to sort out its difficult relationship with the European Union, whether to continue to remain a member on negotiated terms, or suffer its loss of sovereignty in issues as critical as immigration. Britain and Cameron deserve better from their trusted ally. And it will be one of primary tasks of the new president in 2017 to repair the damage to the U.S.-UK “Special Relationship”, strengthening it for the many crises which face both countries in an increasingly interconnected but unstable world.

There are important lessons for the U.S. in the apprehension in Belgium, after four months, of one of the chief perpetrators of the November 13, 2015 Paris massacre which took the lives if 130 innocents.

This security lapse has its parallel in the current relations between the U.S. and Britain.

It’s hardly worth arguing how much in common British and American societies and polities hold, a commonality developed over more than two centuries and based on everything from history through language to religious and political institutions. Unfortunately, Pres. Barack Obama came to office antagonistic to that relationship. Whether Obama acts as part of his general strategy of worldwide withdrawal or a personal anti-colonial ideological bias [as Dinesh D’Souza with his own personal knowledge has argued] is to some extent irrelevant. What common sense tells us is that with our shared values and our mutually extensive formal and informal intelligence networks around the world, cooperation and interchange of information is not only necessary but indispensable.

Obama’s pinprick statements against London and the British continue unabated. In his recent remarks to Jeffrey Goldberg in an essay attempting to set out the President’s philosophy and strategy of government, Obama snidely remarked that David Cameron had created the current chaotic and dangerous Libyan situation because the U.K. Prime Minister was “distracted by a range of other things.” It is breathtaking that this comes on the heels of Obama’s notorious “leading from behind” strategy which failed so miserably in the overthrow of Mohammed Qadhafi, and with the almost daily revelation of details of policy misjudgments by the White House and the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The failures, or indeed absence altogether of policy, which Congressional investigators are daily revealing led to the death of four U.S. officials including the ambassador in the Benghazi affair. In what are less than discreet leaks, even now in the last months of his presidency, Obama has made jarring evaluations of Winston Churchill, with their implications for a view of U.S.-U.K. history which few, if any, American political leaders or academics would accept.

Given the bedrock on which U.S. and British relations are built, in the long run Obama’s malicious pecking may be insignificant. But his sabotage of Washington-London relations comes at a time of crisis in Britain which is trying to sort out its difficult relationship with the European Union, whether to continue to remain a member on negotiated terms, or suffer its loss of sovereignty in issues as critical as immigration. Britain and Cameron deserve better from their trusted ally. And it will be one of primary tasks of the new president in 2017 to repair the damage to the U.S.-UK “Special Relationship”, strengthening it for the many crises which face both countries in an increasingly interconnected but unstable world.

 

 

sws-03-16-16

 

 

 

 

 

Vulgarization of American life


Something very ugly is happening in the public arena.

The level of vulgarity has fallen so low that we have candidates for the presidency of the United States, our highest ikon demanding knowledge and shrewdness, sparing in schoolyard expletives. The media no longer flinch at using curse words which once were forbidden to any kind of polite conversation. Displays of sexual promiscuity are badges of honor for our celebrities.

Vulgar taunts and attempts at personal humiliation are replacing any discussion of issues and problems of government. It isn’t necessary to name those most guilty of such vulgarity. The use of it by any one individual, as we have seen, almost inevitably attracts others to the same low level of communication.

Those of us – granted, sometimes hypocritically – who protest this dissent into the depths of the worst of styles are called prudish, outdated or simply not a part of the current scene – “not with it!”. But it is time to blow a whistle and call a halt to what is demeaning not only to public discussion but which too often substitutes for real logical discussion and a measured discussion of the conflict of ideas.

It is hard to now how to call a halt to this trend.

The old guardians of propriety – pastors, priests and rabbis – seem to have lost their once vast influence on public life. That perhaps comes with a growing secularization of American life in which religion and those who practice it appear to be a smaller and smaller part of the population. But it also comes from a misconstrued understanding of what liberty and freedom, the hallmarks of American life and our democracy, mean.

The one place left for setting an example and calling a halt to the debasement of the public discourse is, of course, through our elected leaders. The president of the United States has always had at least three different roles – that of chief executor who administers and polices the law, that of politician who heads — at least temporarily –the majority opinion as expressed by voters, and another, hard to define, role as the symbol of the nation and its aspirations.

We are now deep in the process of selecting the next person who will hold that high office and try to meet all its heavy requirements. The contest this year is unusually complex since on the one side we have a veteran of many political wars with all the baggage that necessarily entails and on the other a bitter rivalry among a number of contestants fighting for their party’s nomination The sheer volume of discourse provides, alas!, an opportunity for infringement of the standards which we would uphold for an educated discourse.

But it might be important if, at this very moment, we turn out attention to the style and courtesy of the debate. We would not eschew, of course, a discussion of the major issues. Indeed, that is most necessary.

But we would also like to see one or more of the candidates turn his back on the vulgarity which has recently characterized this discourse. Prim and proper as it might seem, how about a candidate who makes it clear that he will rise about the kind of exchanges we have recently had, and return to more formal and discreet discussion for the highest office in the land. Let’s make it known that that too, proper behavior, is going to be rewarded in this political contest.

sws-023-04-16

 

The Energy Quotient


The old saw has it that “money makes the world go ‘round”. But in the post- industrial world it must be said to be energy. It could be argued that the two are synonymous. But that, too, isn’t true.

Take the recent arrival in Israel of a Dutch-Swiss trading company’s sweet oil cargo from the U.S. The shipment not only marked the first overseas shipment since the U.S. lifted its embargo on oil exports, but had enormous geopolitical implications. With the U.S. Shale Revolution smashing gas and petroleum prices generally around the world, the fallout has been vast and much of it still unpredictable.

There is, of course, the possibility that the U.S. will again resume its position as one of the world market’s major source of oil exports after a half century dominated by the Persian Gulf producers and their incredibly low crude costs. That would satisfy that old political battle cry for U.S. energy “independence”. The boom in the Mideast has led to the pile-up of petrodollars in the region beyond its technical and intellectual capacity to invest wisely, not the tax on world economies which former Secretary of Treasury William Simon once rationalized and dismissed as Persian Gulf producers came to dominate the market.

At the moment, the Saudis – despite an attempt to get major producers to limit production – is pumping madly in an attempt to cripple the higher cost American shale producers and to retain market share. So far that’s been met largely by additional technological innovation by the shale producers. More and more oil is coming on market, even some of it from noncompetitive smaller producers induced by political considerations. And with the lifting of sanctions, the mullahs in Tehran are hoping to get back into the fray as a once major exporter.

The arrival of American oil gives the Israelis one more element in what was once considered their most dangerous vulnerability, the lack of energy. It also adds one more link to the U.S.-Israeli alliance. It will enhance Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s battle against the state capitalists on both the Israeli left and right who want to forbid exports of their newfound huge gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean. Netanyahu needs those exports for political reasons, not the least to bolster the wavering relationship with Turkey. The Turks, once Israel’s only economic and military ally in the region, have drifted off under Pres. Recep Tayipp Erdogan flirtation with the Islamicists. But Israeli gas shipments through energy-deficit Turkey, along with transshipment of Central Asian oil and gas, to Europe is one of Ankara’s principal and critical politico-economic goals.

The American tie-up will also strengthen Israel’s hand in its efforts to coordinate recent massive discoveries of gas off Egypt by the Italian government company and Cyprus offshore gas. Even before these latest finds, a 2010 US Geological Survey report estimated that there were 122 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.7bn barrels of oil off the coasts of Israel and the Gaza Strip, Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon. [The U.S. consumes about 25 million cubic feet of gas annually.] The most recent additions to these massive reserves offer the Europeans an alternative to the high-cost Russian gas imports which have been the heart Moscow’s economy, now jeopardized sanctions imposed as a result of Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Syria and threats to the Baltic states.

With domestic gas, access to neighbor’s reserves, and now the new American tie, Israel’s economy and its worldwide stature is rising rapidly despite the insoluble Palestinian problem and the current wave of individual knifing violence. The Israeli arms industry and its exports, for example, are taking on great significance. [Israel and India have just initialed a new $2 billion New Delhi purchase.]

The irony, of course, in this is taking place despite the Obama Administration, for the most part covertly, to loosen Washington ties to the Israelis, America’s most dependable ally in the Middle East. That, too, may change in January 2017.

sws-01-16-16

 

 

 

 

The Veterans’ call


 

The time is long past when the scandal of the treatment of our veterans should have been removed from the political arena and drastically remedied..

The various reports of inefficiencies in the functioning of what should be one of our highest priorities of government is heartbreaking. For example, investigations into the long wait times faced by the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina, exposed the fact that a number of veterans were dying after long waits and delayed care

It is our understanding that some improvements have been made under the cirrent reform administration as a result of the avalanche of evidence that the Department is a cesspool of mismanagement and petty politics.

All the candidates for president in the elections later this year have turned to the subject of veterans’ welfare, some with more specific suggestions for improvements, others with the usual demagogic rhetoric of profession of support for the fighting man and the veteran.

But we believe that the problem is more urgent than any other issue before the federal government at this time aside from national security.

Statistics alone, from the Department itself, reflects the growing urgency: the number of calls rose by 112 percent from 2013 to 2014. Given the demographics of the veterans our two most recent wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, this load on the agency is certain to increase, and increase at a more rapid pace.

We believe that given the actual low priorities which the Obama Administration has assigned to military affairs generally, and specifically to veterans’ affairs, we believe it is time for a bipartisan and immediaste effort by the Congress to take control of the problem.

Here is our own horseback beginning of the solution of some of these problems, but one we insist, again, is of the highest urgency and ought to immediately get the attention of the Congress:

  • Congress should immediately suspend the Department of Veterans Affairs Administration and put it in the hands of an independent and expert Commission for Analyses and Direction of Veterans Affairs for a period of not less than two years.
  • That Commission should be chaired by a respected and knowledgeable former uniformed officer.Our nominee would be Gen. [USA Rtd.] David H. Petraeus. One of the additional members of the Comission should be chosen from recently retired military medical officials, the other should be a recently retired official of one of the profitable civilian hospital organizations. An additional executive administrator for the Commission should be chosen from the private medical/hospital world.
  • The first action should be to strengthen and implements the Veterans Choice program, part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. Its provisions already permit veterans to access federally paid medical care from non-VA local doctors and hospitals should be enhanced. We believe competition for the increasing services to the veterans to be the essence of any solution to the current chaotic scene.
  • The Commission should within its allotted tenure propose a new organizational approach to veterans’ problems, examining the possibility of transferring the whole operation to the medical services of The Pentagon, for example, or creating a permanent independent commission outside the executive to administer the VA program, or other alternatives to the current and failing part of the President’s heavy cabinet burden.
  • We would solicit the support of all the current presidential candidates and the Obama Administration, but failing the latter, the Congressional leadership should move on its own – hopefully with a bipartisan consensus, but if not, plow ahead.

None of this would easy, of course. But neither has the service of the veteran or the long shadow of age and growing incapacities which may develop with it.

Then need is great, the call is urgent. Congress has no higher duty than to implement such a program as soon as possible.

sws-01-21-16

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Barking up the wrong tree!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sws-01-17-16

China against the wall!


There is a hoary [if you pardon the pun] tradition among the mainline media to always give the Chinese Communists the benefit of the doubt, so to speak.

It goes back to the World War II days in the Nationalist refugee capital of Chungking when Gen.George Mashall tried for two years to foist a coalition government with the Communists on Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, ostensibly to fight the Japanese more efficiently. And the accompanying press mob was telling us that the Chinese Communists weren’t really Stalinists, just “agrarian radicals”. Three-quarters of a century and more than 50 million man-made Chinese victims later, something like that is still going on today.

All evidence points to a Chinese crackup or an explosion of violence against its  neighbors and the U.S. – or both.

But the distinguished “Old China hand”, Keith Bradsher, the Hong Kong bureau chief of The New York Times, is still having a hard time with it. After recounting some of the current China economic horrors, he says “That makes it difficult to discern the underlying health of the economy…”  Yeah! Difficult!

That was the week of the Chinese New Year when bloody rioting broke out in Hong Kong between the locals, increasing deprived [how ironic!] of their freedoms under the British colonial rule, which Beijing had promised on “the return” to the Motherland. It was another expression of Communist Party boss Xi Jinping trying to make himself a new Mao Tse-tung in an unprecedented crackdown on the always intimidated opposition in a one-party state.

For the record, here is a brief accounting:

  • Every Chinese who can is turning his ren min bao [the yuan] into dollars to get them out of the country – and that includes the billionaires created by its miraculous two decades of high growth, and high Party officials. The huge Chinese reserves of $3.23 trillion [January 2016] were hit with a net outflow of $637 billion in 2015. Beijing is faced with the dilemma of printing more yuan to buy more dollars in the market but which would encourage the flow, or trying to wait it out as the value of their currency dips and the drain on foreign exchange/and a questionable currency reserve continues. Then there is the question of official counts. Investor Kyle Bass estimates that China’s liquid foreign reserves are $2.2 trillion at most, compared with the People’s Bank of China’s [central bank] $3.23 trillion count.
  • Beijing escaped the worst effects of the world financial crash of 2007-8 by throwing the largest credit/stimulus ever conceived, $580 billion, into the economy in 2008-09. But it unleashed a credit,  and in turn an infrastructure,bubble — with lending in 2008 totaling RMB 9.6 trillion, nearly half of that year’s GDP – and with literally whole ghost cities being built with no one manning them. That credit binge still hangs over Chinese banks.The country’s biggest banks’ earnings for the quarter ended in September dripped from rates above 20% a few years ago to virtually nothing now. For the country’s eight biggest lenders average profit growth was just 0.7%. For the top four [government-owned and therefore Party directed], it was 0%.
  • China is still recording a massive trade surplus: $63 billion reported in January. But China’s trade contracted significantly more than economists had expected, as the world’s second economy suffered weak global demand, a slowdown at home and no real movement toward the stated goal of a consumer economy. Exports fell 6.6 per cent in renminbi terms on an annual basis, compared with forecasts for an increase of 3.6 per cent. Imports slid 14.4 per cent against expectations of a 1.8 per cent rise, according to [always suspect] government data. Dong Tao, an economist at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong:” China’s economy is in a cyclical downturn but it will probably take structural reforms to get Chinese growth back. Progress on the reform side has been slow and will probably continue to be slow, which will drag down growth further.”

sws-01-14-16

 

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

Rewritten history is bogus


 

James Baldwin, who knew it so deeply, personally, wrote in Notes of a Native Son: “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them”.

Still there are a group of mostly young people today who believe that they can rewrite the past and correct its iniquities and tragedies simply by destroying the monuments erected to yesteryear’s heroes. Their argument is that viewed from their high moral ground of the 21st century, these figures are now seen as less than heroic, and indeed, in some instances, participants in evil.

That’s not our view. We believe that history is a vast collection of the recollections of millions of people, sometimes even as faulty as individual recollections can be. We also know from carefully watching what is recorded of our own times what a small part of all the important nitty-gritty of life actually gets recorded or recorded accurately.

It was therefore with a little celebration that we saw that with the overwhelming backing of its alumni, the University of Oxford’s Oriel College has rejected a proposal to remove its statue of Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes was a British businessman, mining magnate and politician in Black Africa, who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, later to be part of the Union of South Africa, from 1890 to 1896. An ardent advocate of British imperialism, Rhodes’ British South Africa Company not only built the economy of South Africa, but he founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe and Zambia]. He described their native populations as” largely in a state of barbarism”. To build African nationhood, he advocated Anglo-Saxons governing them as a “subject race”, and he succeeded in marginalizing them politically. But Rhodes left an enormous economic development behind in Africa and much of his personal fortune to Oxford, his alma mater, affording thousands of foreigners the opportunity to study there under the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships.

A “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign started in 2015 by students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa removed a statue dedicated to Rhodes there. In Britain, Oxford administrators agreed to remove a plaque in Rhodes’s honor as a preliminary step to considering removing the Rhodes statue on that campus when the movement spread to the U.K. But the University administrators backed off when alumni threatened to cancel donations to the university, worth more than £100 million. We would like to believe that more than money was involved here but good sense. Whatever the judgment – of his times and the one passing now – he was an important historical figure whose presence must be acknowledged if history of his times is to be honored.

Unfortunately, good sense has not always prevailed in our own country where there has been a campaign to remove symbols and tributes to the dead of the Confederacy in the “War Between the States”. One of the things that the enormous number of Confederate memorials across the South makes evident is that the conflict was a much more complicated affair than it is often presented in our own day. Certainly, the preservation of slavery of African-Americans was an important issue, perhaps the most important issue in the conflict. But there were others – some such as federal versus states rights still continue to be debated in our own day.. And the valor and sacrifice of the Confederate war dead is a cause worth remembering, however much it may have been for a misguided and lost cause.

We can only hope that the fanatics on this side of the Atlantic will spare a few moments to consider what their fellow “activists” have met on the other side.

sws-01-02-16

 

Scandinavian hypocrisy


Rather suddenly, the northern European Scandinavian democracies and Finland have reversed their policies toward the limitless wave of migrants from the Mideast and North Africa besieging Europe.

It’s not uncommon for the Scandinavians — particularly the Swedes – to claim great humanitarian credentials while they betrayed their neighbors. Some of us at the wrong end of Sweden’s excellent 90mm Bofor artillery remember all too well Stockholm’s role in WWII. It claimed neutrality but was a critical supplier of high quality munitions to the Nazis, permitted them to cross Swedish territory when they invaded Norway, and often rejected the flood of refugees all around them.

Norway, in turn, which fell into the role of “a white sheikh” with the discovery and exploitation of North Sea oil, has been all too anxious to deliver political nostrums to others. Its “mediation” in Sri Lanka’s civil war, until it was finally shaken off after a decade, muddled those issues and led finally to a bloodbath. But this record hasn’t stopped the Scandinavians from presenting themselves as the moral arbitrators of the Western world with a high vaunted social democractic model that has created vast if unacknowledged social problems.

Rather suddenly, Sweden announces it will reject up to 80,000 asylum seekers who have arrived since last year, half of whom officials admit will be forced to leave against their will. Furthermore, Stockholm calls on police and migration authorities to prepare for a sharp increase in deportations, and to arrange charter flights to their country of origin. That may turn out to be difficult since some countries of origin, most prominently Pakistan, are refusing to take backtheir former residents. Sweden is also organizing other EU countries, including Germany, to discuss cooperation to make sure flights are filled to capacity. Sweden took in more than 160,000 asylum applications last year, by far the biggest influx in the EU as a proportion of the population.

Sweden’s move follows Denmark – which had seen its longtime open border with Sweden suddenly snapped closed for identification of each entrant – announced it not only was slowing accomodation of migrants but was confiscating their assets to help finance their accomodation. Norway has begun deporting arriving migrants through its Arctic border with Russia. The interior minister of Finland, a much more realistic player given its long history of fighting off Russian aggression, said Helsinki also intends to expel about two-thirds of the 32,000 asylum seekers it originally accepted in 2015..

Until now, the Nordics had trumpeted their open door to all migrants, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, now under attack within her own conservative coalition for her earlier welcome mat. But the arrival of more than a million migrants in Germany alone – a very large majority of them young single men and not the highly advertised families with women and small children – and predictions of an increased flow in 20916 have brought on an immigration crisis.

Germany’s elaborate social welfare program, a goal of many of the migrants, is breaking down under the impact of so many sudden arrivals with their growing demands – often reinforced with local rioting. The dramatic not atypical Mideastern male attack on New Year’s Eve female celebrants in Cologne and other large German cities, originally ignored by the mainline media, is reinforcing the new mood of resistance to the migrants. That’s despite their welcomed arrival by European Union businessmen facing a growing labor shortage due to a demographic slowdown in all the industrials societies.

Having accelerated the migrant flow with announced liberal policies of accommodating them, the Europeans now face a crisis: how to bloc a tsunami of migrants, the majority of whom are seeking economic opportunity rather than escape from refugee status, without violence and bloodshed.

 

 

sws-01-19-16

 

 

 

The Little Sisters, Big Issues


One of the most important and convoluted human rights issues has reached the Supreme Court with the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order, and its right to dispense charity according to its own code.

The high court will hear oral arguments for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the consolidated cases of Zubik v. Burwell on March 23rd.  In essence, the argument is whether the Little Sisters nuns who have dedicated their lives to caring for the elderly poor and other faith-based ministries may do it on their own terms. The government orders them to offer drugs that violate their religious beliefs, in this instance contraception and abortion of the unborn, even those same drugs and abortion procedures would be made available through other healthcare exchanges.

Originally the Obama Administration promised the Catholic order, and others with the same dilemma, that they would be excused from the legislation. But for whatever reason, the Administration has reversed its ruling and now requires the Little Sisters to change their healthcare to offer services that violate their Catholic teaching. Contradictorily, one third of all American workers who are employed by secular companies have been exempted by the government  from having to provide these same drugs in their plans because those employers plans were “grandfathered” in and did not have to change under new Obamacare regulations.

The Little Sisters of the Poor was born out of the personal rural experience of Saint Jeanne Jugan, a young religious French woman who grew up in a small town in the aftermath of the French revolution. Young Jeanne supported her family as a shepherdess and kitchen maid. But she also found time to tend the sick at a government civil and naval hospital. Her humility and love of the poor and ill became legendary among young women, and the religious community of the Little Sisters of the Poor formed in her image.

One hundred and seventy-five years later the society is an international Roman Catholic Congregation of Religious Sisters that serves more than 13,000 elderly poor in 31 countries. Its first home opened in America in 1868 and there are now 30 homes in the U.S. where the elderly and dying are given terminal care. For whatever reason, the Obama Administration has insisted that contrary to the government exemptions for church and church-run ministries from government mandates to supply all prescriptive drugs, the Little Sisters are not considered enough of religious institution for the same exemption. Instead, it demands the Little Sisters sign over their healthcare plan or pay $30 million in IRS fines.

The Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruled that the government could not force family-owned businesses to provide abortion-inducing drugs and devices through their employee insurance plan if it violated their religious beliefs. A few months later, the Supreme Court used its Hobby Lobby ruling to uphold prisoners’ religious rights in Holt v. Hobbs. The Court in recent months also repeatedly granted temporary protection for ministries that, like the Little Sisters, were facing fines. But on July 14, 2015 the government instructed the Little Sisters on tenets of their faith, claiming the Little Sisters’ religious beliefs about complicity were wrong and that the government’s demand that the Sisters sign over their health plan actually “relieves [the Little Sisters] from complicity.”

For us, the argument appears to be one of those in which the fine print of a law is hampering justice. We cannot believe the Court will not rule for the Little Sisters.

sws-01-26-16

 

 

 

The Debate Scandal


Donald Trump has a way of drawing attention to a problem, although rarely if ever offering any real detailed solution to it. He has done that again, largely by accident, in his row with Fox News over the next upcoming debate among the GOP candidates for the presidential nomination.

Roger Ailes, one of the all-time media geniuses, is perfectly in the right to refuse to let Trump dictate who is going to sit as moderators in the next debate his Fox News is sponsoring. Trump took a beating when Megyn Kelly tried to force him into answering some questions about his wideswinging monologues, largely without substance but that have seduced the media, Fox included. Trump wants Kelly out. Ailes say she stays in. Trump says he will walk. Trump even proposes he will mount his own counter-debate.

This kind of idiotic dustup was almost inevitably going to happen when the whole issue of who runs the debates and why was left to the marketplace. In a helter-skelter race for ad profits, the various TV companies have set up the debate schedules. Some of them, and that includes CNN and CNBC whose coverage is outrageously prejudiced.

The Republican and Democratic Party national committees, which have become pretty useless in the new political environment dominated by the social media, have gone along. That ought not to be the way things should be run in one of the most important political operations in our system, if one that is beyond the formal constitutional requirements.

Public political debates hark back to a time, of course, before the modern instruments of communication. The golden age was the mid-19th century when the very personal arguments between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas over the issues leading up to the Civil War, or for southerners, the more accurate War Between the States. It is perhaps important to remember that while both these politicians were unusually gifted, and their analyses and presentation of their points of view were rhetorically brilliant, they did not head off the surprise election of Lincoln, nor the tragic events that followed despite what most would concede was The Great Emancipator’s effort at statesmanship.

As is generally the case, the nation today is facing many great and small political decisions. History tells us it is not always easy to sort out which is which. But one has to believe that a more informed discussion of the many issues would contribute to the political process, and hopefully, to the strategic decisions which would follow by the electoral victors. That can’t be done if the debates are arranged in as corrupt a way as now is the case.

Before the next presidential election, it is our hope that a better way will be found to order the debates. First off, their direction should be in the hands of a neutral or near-neutral body. For example, a national presidential debate commission might be organized around the League of Women Voters with perhaps an addition of appointees from each of the major political parties’ national committees and perhaps the chairman of the various states’ electoral commissions.

This body would decide how many debates there would be, where they would be [although in the digital age, that seems largely irrelevant], and how they would be disseminated through the media. A portion of the huge profits which accrue to the media through sale of advertising time ought to be set aside to fund the debates, and perhaps contribute to some educational enterprises to make them more effective.

But Trump, although hardly unbeknownst to himself, has opened up this can of worms. And there ought to be an attempt now, anticipating 2020, to find a solution.

sws-01-27-15

Integrity


Integrity

There are moments in history when the fate of nations lies with the integrity of a single individual.

Such a moment has arisen in the United States with only a minimum of attention, and little fanfare.

Hillary Clinton, a candidate for president whom the polls tells us more than half the respondents do not believe is honest and trustworthy, is accused of having violated State Department protocol by running all her official business through a personal e-mail server.

The polls also reveal that the public is overwhelmingly tired of the whole snarled subject.  And as the Clintons, husband and wife, have in the past escaped onus much less punishment for their misdeeds, this too could fall by the wayside. The Clintons are obviously relying on their fanatically loyal base – and indeed even their notoriety — to secure the nomination and the presidency.

But Hillary’s violation of the security norms of the State Department. is an important issue upsetting precedent. And it is one protected by laws on security and the public record.

Common sense tells us that whatever the quibbles about whatever security restraints the documents were labeled with, any message is important which is intended for the eyes of the Secretary of State. He is after all one of the most important officials in the U.S. and during an emergency fourth in line for the presidency. Whether accurate or inaccurate, , for example, a message reaching the Secretary, summing up a critical situation in an ally or an opponent is not only important for the Secretary, the rest of the U.S. government, but for the country under scrutiny.

As the thousands of e-mails tumble out of the State Department’s coffers [so often on a Friday night] defying minute examination except over time and adding to the general confusion, it is perfectly apparent that Hillary Clinton has violated the law. Is that fact enough to justify prosecution, would it result in a conviction and perhaps sentencing, and how damaging would it be to her political ambitions?

Those are questions that could only be answered in time if the indictments are returned. The question of the hour is whether, indeed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation which has been charged with examining the case, refers it to the Attorney General of the U.S. for prosecution. It is, of course, another question whether Loretta E. Lynch, said to be one of the closest advisers – if there is such camaraderie in an Oval Office characterized by manifest arrogance. Attorney-General Lynch might very well reject any FBI request for an indictment – at what risk to her own integrity and that of the staff of Justice Department is to be seen. One recalls the Saturday Night Massacre when in October 1973 President Richard Nixon fired independent Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate affair, and ttorney-General Elliot Richardson an Deputy Attorney-General William Ruckelshaus resigned in protect.

Few are taking note of the precipice on which we stand now. FBI Director James B. Comey’s in basket is now rapidly filling with irrefutable evidence that Hillary Clinton did cross several red lines. And Comey is rapidly coming to that moment when he, and he alone, must decide if the “case” is to be turned over to the attorney-general for prosecution.

Comey was appointed in 2013 to his bastion 10-year term in office by Obama. Surprisingly, he came to the office after being nominated publicly arguing that the Black Lives Matter movement was intimidating law enforcement, that there had been “no mass incarceration” in the 70s and 80s, and while the President’s publicly negated accusations against Hillary even while they were sub judis with the FBI.

Comey has a reputation for impeccable integrity, for forthrightness and actions in pursuit of justice when he was a deputy attorney general in Chicago and New York. That included even taking action against fellow Republicans and including Pres. George W. Bush’s wire-tapping at the National Security Agency. His defense of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was the target of investigators after he was hospitalized was considered a brave political act. That characteristic surely now is going to meet its ultimate test.

sws-01-18-16

Mideast vaults downward


 

The chaotic threat to world peace and stability took another turn downward with Saudi Arabia’s execution of a group of dissidents, including a prominent member of its Shia community. Saudi Shias predominate in the southeastern oilfields and are a longtime disaffected minority, objects of religious antagonism and discrimination from the Saudis’ official Wahabi ultraorthodox Sunni religious. In fact, some observers see the Wahabi’s proselytizing activities throughout the world as the origin of the current wave of Sunni Islamic terrorism, matching the state terrorist activities of the mullahs in Tehran..

The executions not only led to protests from throughout the world but violence against the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and a break in relations between the Saudis and their allies, the Sunni Gulf states, and Iran. It will be further reflected in the growing animosity and violence between the Sunni majority and Shia minorities in all the Moslem countries.

The new eruption of diplomatic and sectarian violence is one more evidence of the failure of Pres. Obama’s Mideast policies. Entreaties were rebuffed from the U.S. to the Saudis not to send the 47 dissidents whom it labeled terrorists to the gallows. Once considered close allies, the Saudis have drifted away from Washington in the face of Obama’s attempts to reach a détente with Iran. The Sunni states see Iran’s intervention in Syria in support of the regime of Basher al-Assad, their support of the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah, and support of the once Sunni Moslem Brotherhood wing, Hamas, in Gaza, as a existential threat.

Nimr al-Nimr, one of those executed, was generally seen as a peaceful if belligerent opponent of the regime representing Shia interests. His inclusion in the group was an emphatic statement of suppression by the Saudis who had to anticipate it would be seen as martyrdom not only by the Shia but by other outside interested parties. It marks a victory for those hawkish forces in the torturous family disputes within the royal family for control and execution of Saudi policy. It comes at a testing time for the Saudis when the price of oil has cut into the enormous profits of the regime, used to retain the allegiance of the small elite and to control the large foreign community which keeps the oil empire going.

The Saudi action makes efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate an overall settlement to Syria’s civil war even more dubious. The U.S. and is allies have implied major concession to the al-Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies in agreeing to phase out by al-Assad rather than the original insistence of his immediate departure. But it is not clear that they have the support of the small Syrian moderate opposition and certainly not of the various Islamic terrorists groups in the multi-faceted conflict. And Syria remains at the heart of the current Mideast crisis, with the major powers choosing up different sides and the constant possibility of clashes such as the shooting down of a Russian fighter by Turkey. The analogy to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, now seen as a prelude to World War II, is all too ominous.

Obama insists, publicly, that he has a strategy for the U.S. role in the conflict. But it is clear that in addition to being ineffective, he is shifting gears – increasing the American military role in the area against his original cardinal and only principal of steady withdrawal. But the greatest danger that this incremental approach to the problem of the terrorists’ bases in Syria and Iraq may be met by the constant increase in prestige and recruitment by both Daesh [ISI or ISIL] and the once seemingly defeated Al Qaida with the assassination of Osama Bin Ladin..

sws-01-04-15

 

 

Media bias against Israel


It should go without saying that the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is a complicated issue with many facets. Many of the elements in the conflict go back as far as the mid-1930s and are layered one on another with in between outbreaks of warfare and failed efforts to achieve a settlement if not peace. Neither the reader, nor alas! the reporter, usually has patience for the background.

It could be argued, and is in those leftwing circles in Europe and the U.S. increasingly allied with what the Palestinian cause, that the Israeli presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is in itself a form of violence. No one should ignore constant interplay between the superior Israeli military power which maintains its presence there and the Palestinian population. Nor should anyone minimize the well kept secret that some Palestinians are glad of the security these Israelis forces offer, looking at the descent into chaos in nearby Arab Moslem countries.

But the outbreak of stabbing attacks from the Jewish High Holidays last fall, often against civilians and including occasional Arabs who stumble into these episodes, are a terrorist act perpetrated by the Palestinians. The very fact that much too often the knife-wielders are adolescents, schooled from infancy in hatred against Jews in schools often under UN sponsorship, is as reprehensible as the acts themselves.

The Israelis often are accused by their critics, including sympathizers with the Palestinians cause, of using “excessive force”. The statistics, on the face of it, might be used to prove the accusation since Palestinian attackers killed far exceed the Israeli victims. But, as the Israelis are wont to point out to a largely deaf audience, self defense in such difficult situations cannot always result minimal hurt.

But presenting these episodes in the media by identifying the Palestinian dead as victims – as is done often in the international media – without reference or emphasis on the attacks is a distortion.

Britain’s leftwing The Guardian newspaper, which has taken off where the implosion of the Soviet Union left off, recently ran a not atypical headline “Palestinian shot dead at Damascus gate in Jerusalem after stabbing Israeli guard”. The severe wound that the assailant inflicted on an Israeli border policeman was only mentioned in a text, borrowed from the French News Agency [AFP]. A similar piece in The London Daily Mail, albeit at greater length, was headed: “Jerusalem’s streets run red with blood: Israeli police shoot dead man who stabbed border guard at Damascus Gate — the 99th Palestinian to die in latest wave of violence.” The Mail’s actual coverage, however, was borrowed from the AFP story, a source incidentally often noted for more subtlety than its Anglophone competitors.

It is probably too much to expect that these same newspapers would accompany their stories with more sophisticated reporting of the current situation between Israelis and their Arab citizens and neighbors. Pres. Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry are determinedly continuing the pretense that there is “a negotiating process” underway. There is not. The Palestinian side is rent with a bitter rivalry between the weakening secular Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] and the Islamicist Hamas. That a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza leveraged the terrorist Hamas into power there, and which is now seeking to usurp the PLO on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem is rarely even hinted in the media.

So now our colleagues in the media are adding to the impasse with a twisted version of most recent events. “You’d be hard pressed to find an example of terror in the world – outside of Israel – where mainstream media outlets prioritize the fate of the perpetrators over that of their victims,” said watchdog UK Media Watch.

It’s time the media stopped adding to another already precarious Middle East imbroglio.

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Wrong time, wrong place, wrong speech


Pres. Obama is known, of course, for his great rhetorical gifts. Few recent presidents have had his gift for gab, as it is said colloquially. But the speech he gave in Paris Monday strikes us as nothing less than bizzare.
In a Paris still wracked with the pain of an indiscriminate massacre aimed at the very essence of the freedom, joy and life we have all through centuries associated with the City of Light, Obama chose to lead off the controversial international conclave ostensibly studying climate change. True, the French had persevered and were determined to go ahead with a multinational conference on a fashionable subject they had scheduled long ago as the capital of such world trends. And Obama did have the courtesy of paying his respects to the dead by going to the principal site of this infamy.
But then he launched into a highly controversial defense of continued insistence not only that man-made climate change is his principal international policy concern at the moment, but that it is a product of terrorism. That theme has been taken up by others, but that is no excuse for its idiocy.
His French hosts, rather gently given the circumstances, have been trying to use diplomacy move their allies in the direction of an all-out war to destroy at least one source of Islamic terrorism. That, of course, is a phenomenon which Obama and his advisers even refuse to name. Pres. François Hollande apparently after being told that the attack in Paris – unlike 9/11 in the U.S. – would not be considered as a challenge to NATO’s Article Five which requires that any attack on one be considered as an aggression against all. Instead, he went cap in hand to Washington, and even to Moscow under indictment and sanction for just such an attack, to get support in the effort he is leading to destroy a threat to the whole civilized world.
Just over a year ago, in a speech dedicated to aspects of his anti-terrorist strategy, Obama defends stoutly, he said: “xxx we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.” The Paris massacres – and those in Beirut and Mali which came almost simultaneously if less noted by Europeans and Americans – are sufficient evidence that the Obama strategy is not working.
He has capped his refusal to admit that failure, but more importantly, to demonstrate the capacity to cope with its inadequacies in moving to a more aggressive and effective effort to crush Daesh [ISI or ISIL]. Furthermore, we find him and the propaganda resources of the White House being devoted to what, at most, is a long term and exceedingly controversial and complex issue of climate change and its relation to man.
In this speech, Obama continued his litany of apologies for past American policy, arguing that the manmade aspects of climate change – the most controversial in the continuing argument among scientists of what is happening – are the product of past U.S. action. He argued that the U.S. and other industrial countries had created a problem of surplus carbon in the atmosphere that other countries, including the less wealthy who want to continue their use of fossil fuels, are its inheritors. Nowhere, of course, was the concept of how that American enterprise has produced an international economy in which all benefit and the greatest international philanthropic movement in history of which these same countries are largely the benefactors.
Another day, another well-delivered Obama speech.
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