Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tom Friedman and the "Moderates"

Pulitzer-prize winning liberal columnist Tom Friedman is at it again. Arguably, the personification of the New York Times, he argues today about the opening provided by the election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran and the apparent moderation newly displayed by the autocratic mullahs. Like his beloved USA, the Iranian government is being hammered by foreign entanglements, a poor economy and loss of opportunity for its growing youthful population. And thanks to President Barack Obama, we should now (or so Tom argues) reward this move to the center with a lifting of the economic embargo and an acceptance of their development of peaceful nuclear capabilities if they permit inspections of their enrichment activities. C'mon, providing materials for IED's that killed and maimed American soldiers in Iraq, denying the Holocaust and blaming it as the reason the West gave the Jews that Palestinian land, supporting terrorist regimes in Syria and Lebanon, shipping arms with their pals, the North Koreans, to Gaza - that's all in the past, that was done by the previous administration.

It's ludicrous, of course, but that's not the focus of my comments today. The argument that Friedman makes is naked hypocrisy and has no application when he views domestic politics through his rose colored liberal lenses. Like many on the left (and the voices and characterization have become more shrill by the day), he exhibits no similar sense of flexibility with those who might oppose progressive policies. Republicans are obstructionist, they have been hijacked by Tea Party lunatics and, let's be honest, there is an undercurrent of racism with those who stand in opposition to the President. But it's ironic because what's happening here is similar to what he describes in Iran and he is completely blind to it.

We, too, have been given the choice of politicians - in both parties - who are monochromatic in outlook. And some of us will leap at the chance to vote for the candidate in "gray", as Friedman describes it. Take Texas, for example. We had a choice between Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on the Republican side for Kay Bailey Hutchison's senate seat. Dewhurst had all the money, the support of the establishment; in other words, he would have become another "moderate" voice in the Republican caucus, protecting the status quo, following the rules of decorum, blending in. Texans rejected this notion of "Mr. Black, Mr. Black, Mr. Black" and swept the unlikely Ted Cruz into the Senate.

Does anyone believe that the "train wreck" of Obamacare would be getting the attention it is currently if Sen. Dewhurst was the junior senator from Texas? Would the Congress be demanding a one year delay in the individual mandate in order to secure a continuing resolution? Whatever your view of Obamacare, it is an undeniable fact that the President has provided discretionary, extralegal delays to groups of citizens, nullifying the notion of equal protection under the law. Ted Cruz was sent to the Senate to do exactly what he is doing: fighting the status quo, challenging the establishment and working to limit the role of government in people's lives.

How is it that we are called anarchists, terrorists, people with "bombs strapped to their bodies," according to Dan Pfeiffer, the President's communications director. How is it that Friedman has determined Rouhani's reasonableness because one his key aids happens to have a PhD from George Washington University? Why are he and the President so willing to lend the prestige of his office to a government that has murdered Americans, but sitting down with "extremists" in the opposition party is such an anathema? Tom Friedman is worried about the "quality of life in Iran"; what about the declining quality of life right here at home where millions have left the workforce and now - NOW - companies are reducing hours, dropping health coverage for part time employees, and even ending coverage for those in retirement?

Progressives need to stop the demonization of opponents and accept the fact that their signature piece of social justice legislation was passed without a single vote of support from the minority, in the dead of night, with incentives to persuade fence-sitting votes, and with legislative chicanery that required a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote. And, please, can we stop giving the moderate Iranians a benefit of the doubt that we refuse our own citizens?

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Cruz Craze

Ted Cruz has spent 21 hours in the well of the Senate, trying to stop the funding of Obamacare. There is near uniform agreement that he was wasting his time, knew he could not prevail, and was only interested in his own self-aggrandizement. All of that may be true. I was speaking to a very liberal friend of mine yesterday (yes, they're out here, too) and he said that the problem with Republicans is that they've allowed themselves to be hijacked by right wing zealots who want an end to government and hate Obama. I told him that I failed to see how that hijacking had been successful since Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn and others were actively seeking to delegitimize Ted Cruz, and he was being publicly pilloried by voices like Dr. Krauthammer and David Brooks. People like me, I told him, were simply trying to provide some balance against a Democratic Party that has been wholly subsumed by immoderate progressives, embodied by Obama, Reid and Pelosi.

When I was growing up, the Democrats were a schizoid group: there were Southern Democrats who actively opposed segregation and voting rights; there were strong foreign policy advocates like Scoop Jackson who would be viewed as incredibly hawkish today; and, let's remember that the sainted Bobby Kennedy, as his brother's Attorney General, used the power of federal law enforcement to spy and collect "opposition research" on Martin Luther King. But that "big tent" party began to change with the emergence of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern, the youthful opposition to the Vietnam War, the emergence of a radical fringe which embraced violent action, and Richard Nixon's abuse of power. This also served to solidify the creeping leftwing inclinations of mass media, exemplified by the NY Times, Washington Post and CBS' "60 Minutes".

Where are the voices of moderation in the Democratic Party today? Which voices can be described as the strong foreign policy advocates of the day? Which demand creation of more federal programs and which demand a more restrictive fiscal policy? if you're honest, you know the answer  - there are no dissenting voices. Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Durban, Wasserman Schultz, Feinstein, Mikulski, Schumer - you know I could go on and on. In the Republican Party, however, there is real difference of opinion, and this is characterized by today's media as a "civil war"; completely absurd. There's Mark Kirk and Lisa Murkowski, really more Democrats than Republicans; Rand Paul, who, while trying to posture as a friend of Israel, argues like his dad against foreign aid; John McCain, who calls Ted Cruz a "wacko bird" and wants to send sophisticated weaponry to al Qaeda sympathizers in Syria; and Peter King, whom I always admired for his strength in foreign affairs, publicly trashing Cruz in very personal terms. In which party is ideological purity demanded and in which party is there a legitimate struggle for ideological dominance? In years past, it was Republicans as the former and Democrats as the latter. That position has reversed itself since Obama's inauguration. Where are Democratic voices of dissent? How long did it take for one of Obama's own to speak out against his threats to attack Syria? Why are unions so conspicuously silent on the current Obamacare debate when their members will be subjected to excise taxation for their expensive health plans?

So, trash Ted Cruz to your heart's content. Mock him for reading his daughters "Green Eggs and Ham". His faux filibuster was undertaken to challenge the anemic establishment of the Republican Party, because he felt like drawing a red line ought to mean something to someone at some time. He will become a hero to many because he is willing to confront not only unpopular legislation, but the arthritic condition of his own party. Calling it a "civil war" is media hyperbole, of course, intended to inflict further damage on the party's perception. But, at least there is real discourse going on to best determine the future direction of the party, out in the open and open to all. There is nothing negative or destructive about that process.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

David Brooks Is A Boob

I love the New York Times. As a born and bred Yankee, I was brought up on the "grey lady", knew it as the sole paper of record, believed that whatever appeared in its pages was beyond reproach, researched to death and edited with precision. When I moved from the "TriState" area, I subscribed to it for decades, relying upon its pages to imbue me with a sophistication that my new neighbors could never replace - reading about fashion, food and theater. After 9/11 (as I have attempted to describe before), my enthusiasm for the paper began to wane as I saw George Bush pilloried as Lincoln must have been when he suspended habeus corpus, an illegitimate President who wanted to lay waste to those provisions of the Constitution the left is willing to favor.

David Brooks has inadequately replaced William Safire as the Times' "right leaning" columnist on the Op-Ed page. This is a guy who could barely contain his enthusiasm for the sharp crease in Obama's slacks, and I understand he has said today that Republican establishment leaders have to show Ted Cruz "who's boss" in his looming confrontation with Harry Reid over the continuing resolution. Again, this might come as something of a shock to Brooks and my hero, Dr. Krauthammer, but the rank and file with whom I speak are sick and tired of Republicans constantly being pressured to compromise with Democrats for the purpose of being reasonable and not upsetting the apple cart of government. The good doctor says this is a kamikaze mission and the Republicans will end up as sushi. This talk is patronizing and insults those who wish to fight for something a bit more principled than caving to progressives to not appear obstructionist.

The Affordable Care Act is a law straight out of Monty Python. There's nothing affordable or caring about it. It is about the growth of government. It is about the suffocation of competition. It is about the expansion of taxation. It is about higher premiums and constricted access to doctors. It is law crafted by progressives and passed only by them - in both houses of Congress. It was upheld by the Supreme Court only because the Court did not accept the Solicitor General's argument that the charges assessed to citizens were penalties, not taxes. I don't really care what forces led Speaker Boehner to pass a continuing resolution this week which included defunding Obamacare; he did the right thing and bent to the will of the people. This vote was demanded and now proceeds to the Senate.

Ted Cruz has consistently represented the views of those who oppose this legislation. To the extent that he stands in contrast to those who criticize him for being on a fool's mission or for opposing the establishment of his party which "can't stand him", he will enjoy the favor of those weary of compromising with Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. They and the President have no patience for us, call us anarchists who despise government, use the IRS to harass us, and try to mischaracterize us to make us the enemy of those only trying to better their lives. It is filthy, political opportunism designed to expand power and create dependency.

I have no illusions that Obama and Reid will never authorize a continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare. The process to accomplish this should be as messy, complicated and public as possible. And it should be abundantly clear in the aftermath that it was wholly protected by Democrats, that it had zero support from the opposition and that the people expressed their dissatisfaction with vigor and passion. David Brooks just doesn't get that people outside the NY - Beltway axis have had it. Five years of job loss and declining incomes. Now we have to put up with higher premiums, a loss of coverage and a 30 hour work week on top of it?


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Legislative Anarchy

Coordinating their messaging, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have essentially suggested that tea party kooks are hijacking the legislative process and are dedicated to anarchy by linking an increase in the debt limit to a defunding of Obamacare. They claim that these extremists want to shut down the government and intentionally harm the full faith and credit of the US. This, of course, is absurd and their claims contain two stunningly ironic statements on which the press refuses to pounce.

First, the Congress has not passed a budget since 2007 which has made these "continuing resolutions" necessary. With a budget passed by both Houses we wouldn't have to go through these endless charades. Since these resolution discussions have taken place, they've been used for political leverage by both parties. The Democrats, including then Sen Obama, threatened to blow up a debt increase during the Bush Administration because of their opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And those conflicts were both waged under authorizations that were passed by both Houses. Why the current effort represents anarchic activity and theirs did not is impossible to explain.

Second, the majority of Americans who oppose Obamacare might argue that the real act of legislative anarchy occurred during the highly manipulated process during which the bill was considered. It was not thoroughly debated, there were no opposition amendments considered, there were substantial incentives provided to certain legislators whose votes were in question, and, worst of all, Harry Reid employed the "reconciliation" process to insure the bill could pass without any Republican votes. Obamacare did not receive a single Republican vote in the House or the Senate, and it is unprecedented to have had a social program of this magnitude passed without a scintilla of support from the minority party.

Those in opposition to Obamacare object to it, not only because of the covert and manipulative way in which it was passed, but also because the highly partisan selling points employed by its proponents are turning out to be false. No one is saving $2500 a year in premiums, many people are not being given the option of keeping their current plans in place, and it is quite obvious, given that some companies are choosing to abandon selling insurance policies in certain states, that competition is not improving. Finally, many labor unions, which invested millions into the election and re-election of the President and which vocally supported Obamacare's approval, now realize that the "Cadillac" plans they were able to secure for their members, will now be subjected to an excise tax, much to the dismay of their leadership. They have been unable to secure a coveted waiver and, unhappily, their members - unlike the members of Congress and their staffs - will be subjected to the law's myriad restrictions.

Like the President, whose name has been attached to this abominable law, this legislation is a disaster and its full consequences have yet to be felt or digested. The conservative members of Congress and the Senate were sent there to oppose the President's progressive agenda, generally, and Obamacare in particular. If they don't make a legitimate effort to defund this law, while providing a continuing resolution to fund the government's essential functions, they will be challenged in primary and general election contests.

Anarchy is lawlessness in a society; when a majority party and its President manipulate the legislative process, provide taxpayer-funded incentives to lure fence-sitting legislators, and exempt certain groups from the law's effect extralegally, it is clear which group is practicing legislative anarchy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Passenger in 9B

I like to check the Daily Mail from the UK periodically because of my interest in the EPL and soccer in general. They love to traffic in celebrity news as well which seems a regular preoccupation of the English media. Today, though, I read something which blew me away. As I believe I may have mentioned in my initial post, my worldview was turned on its head on September 11, 2001. Prior to that very moment, I believed in accommodation, the Democratic anti-war dogma, the evil tendency of Republicans. I voted for Al Gore over George Bush (what could I possibly have been thinking?) and believed, like David Gregory who had camped out in Austin during the period when the election was in question, that Bush had stolen the election. Everything changed for me on 9/11, as I knew immediately that no private plane from Teterboro had caused that level of damage on a skyscraper, and I was swept up in Bush's controlled outrage. From 1948, Islamists had threatened and executed attacks on Israel, and now the movement had grown strong enough to reach out and attack America.

Dan Lewin was born in the US and his Jewish family made Aliyah when he was 14 (emigrating to Israel). He joined the IDF and became an officer in Sayaret Matkal, an elite special forces group. After he left the military, he attended the Israel Institure of Technology and then MIT. He cofounded Akamai Technologies with an MIT professor and became a billionaire. At 31, he boarded American Airlines flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles on September 11, 2001, to attend an Akamai meeting in LA. He was seated in row 9B, near Mohammed Atta and his cohort al-Omari. It is reported that Daniel understood what was beginning to unfold that day and he attempted by himself to prevent Atta and al-Omari from reaching the cockpit. He did not know that a third hijacker, al-Suquami, was seated directly behind him, and he became the first casualty of 9/11 when his throat was cut.

Like the passengers on United 93, can we possibly imagine how we would react in similar circumstances? Twelve years after the event, I continue to react with emotions that are very close to the surface as I watch the events of that date unfold. But I've never heard the story of Dan Lewin and really knew nothing of him. This young man of extraordinary accomplishments did not seem to hesitate to sacrifice himself to try to save the lives of his fellow passengers. He could not have known what Atta and the others had planned for American 11. He had everything to live for and yet those things appear to have taken a back seat when he was personally confronted with evil. He is survived by his wife and their two sons and he has been named one of the most influential figures of the Internet age. All of that may be true, but his selfless courage and willingness to sacrifice himself to prevent harm to others will never be forgotten and should be honored by Israelis and Americans alike. He embodies what binds the countries together.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 Tribute: Marine On the Road

I don't know about you, but where I live there are people panhandling at nearly every intersection. Some are surely homeless, many purport to be raising money for this cause or that, and it is a daily, relentless assault. I remember living in New York when homeless people with squeegees would water down your windshield, wipe the water off with newspaper and then become belligerent if they weren't tipped. It's certainly nothing like that, but when I see these people hanging out at Starbucks or talking on their Iphone, you'll forgive me if I've become a bit cynical.

But there's one guy out there. I don't see him all the time. He's clearly a former Marine, he's in a wheelchair and is missing both his legs. He snaps a salute to those who are obviously fellow veterans, doesn't hold a sign asking for anything in particular and he rolls that chair up and down the hilly intersection where he occassionally appears. In the Texas heat.

This image - particularly on 9/11 - produces real mixed emotions for me. Unlike some other people who appear on this intersection and seem perfectly capable of finding work, I don't know that the same is true for this man. I cannot begin to understand what it might be like to be without both legs and I cannot really know how a prospective employer might respond to a man in his condition. Sure, I would like to imagine that if I were in a position to offer a job, I would feel more motivation to hire veterans, particularly those with some physical impairment. But that's easy for me to say or imagine.

Though I don't know much about this man, I have spoken to him on several occassions and I know he has a family and two young daughters. Again, it's dangerous to make broad assumptions based upon the situation of one man, but we can all acknowledge that it takes groups like the Wounded Warriors and Fisher House to supplement the inadequate care provided to the veteran community. In an age when 90 million adults are out of the workforce, but record numbers of presumably able-bodied people are receiving food stamps, welfare and subsidized cell phones, it outrages me that men and women who volunteered to serve this country are not provided whatever they reasonably need.

Our President says that the wealthiest don't pay their fair share in taxes these days. While I dismiss that notion on its face, I for one would be prepared to pay more in taxes; not for a larger federal government - not for additional entitlement spending - not for more than a dozen intelligence agencies - not for a national department of education - not for subsidies to congressional staffs to help them to pay for Obamacare. But to pay to provide adequate housing for handicapped veterans - to pay to provide a free college education for the children of veterans who sacrificed themselves in service.
I'm sure you get my drift.

Let's drop the theatrical outrage about the children affected by the chemical weapons attack in Syria. The attack is an abomination, of course, but if we're really worried about the impact of violence against children, we'll attack gang violence in Chicago, restrict all late term abortions and address the epidemic of pregnancy among single young women in this country. In the meantime, we've got a legitimate crisis on our hands: this country refuses to provide its veterans with the benefits they have earned and provides benefits to those who have other reasonable options. This cannot stand.

And neither can my poor friend who rolls his chair up and down the road in that unforegiving Texas heat.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Samantha Power vs Reality

I think we can finally begin to see through the haze and assess some authorship for the drawing of the "red line" and the move toward beligerence against Syria. As has become typical with our President, who genuinely seems to avoid assuming responsibility for anything, in the near-term absence of David Axelrod, he looks to the counsel of Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice and Samantha Power to assist him in domestic and foreign policy direction. We all know about the mallability of Susan Rice. But Sam Power has really emerged as the leading voice in Obama foreign policy deployment.

She, of course, is a proponent of employing American power to defend the violation of human rights by authoritarian governments. She has been often cited as a persuasive proponent of American involvement in Libya and argued this week, before the Center for American Progress (enough said) that Obama's team had quietly manipulated the composition of the UN team that had entered Syria to evaluate the gas attack in an effort to turn Iran against Assad. The fact that Power really believed that anything could be done to turn Iran against Syria is the height of naiveté, and offers further evidence that Obama and his key advisers do not have any real understanding of the dynamics which underpin the Middle East.

The Mullahs in Iran have clearly identified their regional priorities since 1979: they wish to become the rightful defenders of the Faith having been supplanted by the Sunnis who protect Islam's two holiest sites; they wish to rid the region of the Jews who defile the Caliphate; they want all Western influence out of the region which is why they provided IED's to kill Americans to the Iraqi and Afgani insurgents; they want to become an atomic power to offset the dominance in the region achieved by Israel and aided by the Americans; and, they believe that their time on Earth requires them to create a environment conducive to the return of the 12th Imam.

The Iranians will not give up Assad nor permit the Sunni-dominated opponents to gain a share of power in Syria. It is for that reason that they have called their Hizballah surrogates into Syria to fight on Assad's behalf, why the North Koreans were involved in helping the Syrians construct their first nuclear power facility and why they have threatened to retaliate against Israel should the US choose to strike Assad. Certainly, the involvement and commitment of Russia and China are a bit more complex and not as ideologically motivated, but their alignment with Iran-Syria complicates the situation exponentially.

And somehow Sam Power believes that the composition of a UN chemical weapons team will convince the Iranians, themselves a victim of chemical weapons deployment at the hand of Saddam Hussein, that they have a moral obligation to abandon Assad and come over to the light. This is absurdity beyond description. It is difficult to conceive that we could possibly send someone to the UN worse than Susan Rice, but we have accomplished that difficult challenge. Sam Power is the penultimate liberal elite - she was schooled at Yale-Harvard-Yale-Harvard and won a Pulitzer Prize for her work reporting on the Bosnian-Serbian conflict. She is married to Cass Sunstein, another Obama acolyte and socialist ideologue.

There is no dispute about the strong influence that Valerie Jarrett exerts on the Obamas. We know that Obama defended Susan Rice with vigor regarding the role she did or did not play in the Benghazi disaster. His loyalty was so strong that she became his National Security Advisor after her embarrassing stint as UN Ambassador and spokesperson on all things Benghazi. As her replacement, he nominates Sam Power, author of a foreign policy doctrine that embraces everything he holds dear: exploited, powerless minorities oppressed by authoritarian dictators. It's a tragedy, though, that in the Obama-Powers universe, those minorities don't include Christians and Jews and don't acknowledge broader geographic realities.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Era of the Neo-Peaceniks

So sorry. Out of the loop for a week or two. Much going on. Without further adieu...

I have observed the discussions over the last few weeks regarding a possible punitive attack against Syria. At first, I really thought Obama was going to act unilaterally, act upon his outrage against the Syrian regime for their deployment of chemical agents and then....the British Parliament voted to remove itself from a "coalition of the willing" and objected to PM Cameron's attempt to involve the UK in a military action against Syria.

Now, the media is filled with accounts of a "neo-isolation" wing of the Republican Party that is opposing Obama's attempt to bring the matter before Congress, so he can't find adequate cover for his "red line" comments of a year ago. Apart from Rand Paul, I really don't believe there is any "neo-isolationist" wing; there is such overall disgust with Obama's lack of respect for constitutional protocol and authority that it is laughable to believe that all of a sudden he has decided that the "people" need to weigh in on this matter.

It is equally ironic to hear the classic anti-war voices of John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Rep (oops, I mean Sen) Ed Markey and Chuck Hagel trumpeting the need to take Assad to task. Of course, Lindsay Graham and John McCain are only too willing to lend their voices to support the hawkish views of these "neo-peaceniks" who are lining up to insure that their godhead is not embarassed by failing to enforce his red line.

Assad has consistently allied himself with bad actors. He has permitted his country to be used by Iran through which arms have been shipped to Hizballah; he has encouraged mujahadeen to use his country as a transport base to travel to Iraq to fight and kill American soldiers; he has sheltered members of the Saddam Hussein family after fleeing Iraq; he has encouraged Hizballah and Iranian Basijj fighters to come to Syria to battle opposition fighters; and, last but not least, he was in the process of constructing a nuclear reactor with the assistance of North Korean and Iranian technicians before the facility was destroyed by Israel. Let's be brutally honest: these actions are far more belligerent and deserving of some American military reaction than the deployment of chemical weapons. That is not to diminish the horror of actually employing gas against civilians, it's just in the grander scheme of things, Syria has been committing acts of war against the US for a number of years and threatening our national security.

As just a singular voice and voter, I would be ready to support whatever Obama was prepared to do if he just addressed the issue candidly. He is simply incapable or unwilling to do that, and has proven - to me at least - over his five years in office that for a "professor of constitutional law" he doesn't hold that document in high regard.