Monday, November 30, 2009

Three Cheers For The High Court

I find myself in the unusual position of cheering the Supreme Court for suppressing release of more photographs of American abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The high court today instructed the lower court to re-examine the issue.

My common sense is that we have seen enough of the photos and to show more would only aggravate the ill feeling and revulsion of a sad chapter scripted under the auspices of the Bush administration.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan in 2008 ruled the additional pictures should be released to the public. President Obama at first approved the release but changed his mind when the proposal was objected to by the Pentagon.

Since that time, Congress authorized the Defense Department to keep the additional photos secret, a policy enacted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The photos would inflame anti-American sentiment in Muslim and other countries, the administration determined.

Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU , said in a statement that “No democracy has ever been made stronger by suppressing evidence of its own misconduct.”

Justice Sonya Sotomayor, a member of the Circuit Court which made the earlier decision, recused herself from voting on the decision announced today.

It seems to me the release of additional photos would add nothing but another nail in the coffin of a horrendous misdeed conducted by poorly supervised soldiers and condoned by authorities all the way up the chain of command to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The real issue in this nightmare is not the release of more photos but the disgrace of civilian leaders who denied culpability allowing such actions to occur.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dumb Act Of Courage

Damn it. He did it. President Barack Obama today pardoned a turkey named Courage he preferred to eat but was vetoed by his two daughters. This is one presidential custom I hoped the president had the audacity to change.

At least Obama conducted the ceremony with dignity. No turkey slaughter in the background a la Sarah Palin's press conference last year in Alaska.

Some presidential customs are dumb and pardoning a turkey the day before Thanksgiving is one of them. If you have raised turkeys you will believe me when I say they are the dumbest creature on earth with sheep and lemmings tied for second.

These aren't wild turkeys our ancestors discovered after setting foot at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Somewhere in the archives of my family history is a letter written by a great-great grandmother who described the beast as tough, greasy and smelled gamy. Today's turkeys are bred for eating, a mutation of their former selves.

But, Americans in their short history cling to customs established by our ancestors. Face it, some are really dumb. Remember how ridiculous Calvin Coolidge looked wearing an Indian headdress while campaigning at an Indian reservation in the 1920s.

Flash forward to several years back when an unknown Barack Obama was photographed wearing African garb. His 2008 presidential campaign went bonkers trying to quash the photo that circulated the Internet and fanned by Republican attack teams.

I admired President George H.W. Bush when growers presented the White House with a crate of broccoli. He said he hated that veggie and refused to eat it. Good for him. At least he was being honest even though broccoli is my main vegetable of choice.

The problem with American customs played out by our leading politicians is that they kowtow to a particular constituency. Hillary Clinton in New York said she was a life-long Yankee fan when in fact her roots had her heart with the Chicago Cubs.

Next up on the dumb presidential custom list is the ceremonial lighting of an imported Christmas tree. As if our nation's retailers didn't plant that idea of buy buy buy weeks earlier.

Bah. Humbug.

Actually, I consider Thanksgiving the best holiday in the year. It is a time for families to unite and give blessings for themselves and their fellow countrymen. That is the message our presidents should convey.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Republican Trial Balloons For 2012

After scanning the news wires this morning, I was forced to take a second look at the calendar. Yep. Two days before Thanksgiving 2009. Then why are there stories floating around suggesting Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs run for president in 2012? President of what? POTUS? Yep.

Oh. My. God. Seriously, folks, Mrs. Palin is a contender despite her political warts.

Beck has shown no interest despite a website petition asking for signatures.

Dobbs says he's exploring the possibility which immediately conveys images of Rush Limbaugh as meek and timid.

Of the three, Beck scares me the most. Not that he would be drafted to run for president by the Republicans or a third-party conservative group. But his announced plans to hold conventions to educate people about self-reliance, the economy and community organizing as a step toward building an effective electoral force.

That's right. Glenn Beck, the community organizer.

"America, we cannot wait for a leader anymore," Beck told his radio and TV audiences Monday. "The people must lead, and the leader will follow." Professor Beck at the lectern poses a frightening scenario of spewing hate, fear, untruths and bigotry with an uncanny knack of adding two and two equaling five.

Even those who disagree with his causes, to not take this demagogue seriously backed by the Fox News Corp. and top ratings on the cable news channels is a dangerous path. Think of those 9/12 crowds he attracted to Washington whether they numbered 4,000, 40,000 or 400,000. Doesn't matter. The guy's a real life pied piper.

Reports The Los Angeles Times:

Beck's announcement is the latest in a series of attempts by well-known, right-leaning figures to fill a leadership void in the Republican Party -- which has no clear standard-bearer and has seen a schism open between its moderates and conservatives. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is drawing large crowds on a national book tour. Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham is asking GOP candidates to sign a 10-point pledge on her website.

Should Beck make progress in his efforts, it could widen the split within the party. He has cast himself as an outsider, an enemy of the "bipartisan corruption" in Washington. Many of his viewers and listeners favor the tea-party movement that has developed in reaction to fears that Obama is enlarging government's reach into the economy. Many also view the GOP establishment with suspicion.

Here's the Beck For President petition:

To: Glenn Beck

As a concerned American citizen, I am in search of an American presidential candidate for 2012 that will represent truth, our founding fathers' principles, and a strong sense of ethical and moral standards.

If you do not know Glenn Beck, I encourage you to get to know him. Please watch his show on Fox News. I encourage you to research his background and listen to his concern for our country and its citizens. Above all, please recognize that he is a man with a high regard for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all American citizens.

He is truly an American patriot and a caring, compassionate individual. The amount of honesty and empathy he has shown would make him an excellent presidential candidate for 2012. Right now, honesty and empathy are virtues completely lacking in Washington D.C. It is time to make a change!

If you are in support of the nomination of Glenn Beck for president in 2012, please sign below and this petition will be sent directly to him.

Thank you in advance for your support!


The Undersigned

Former CNN anchor Dobbs is not at all shy about his presidential ambitions. Asked by former Sen. Fred Thompson on his radio show whether he was considering the presidency, Dobbs was quick to respond "Yes, is the answer."

Was it crazy talk, Dobbs was asked on another radio show. "What's so crazy about that?" Dobbs fired back.

Unlike Beck, Dobbs can be introspective. "I don't think I've got the nature for it...But we've got to do something in this country. And I think that being in the public arena means you've got to be part of the solution."

In recent years, Dobbs has been an outspoken critic of undocumented workers burdening our labor force, health, welfare and justice systems. During those years Dobbs insisted he was a registered independent. An independent hasn't been elected POTUS since the early 1800s, my friend John Adams once told me.

Palin, meanwhile, got encouragement for president today by Matthew Dowd, President Bush's 2004 campaign strategist. On condition she follow five suggestions to refine her image, Dowd said the political climate leading into 2012 are in her favor.

Like it or not, if Sarah Palin decides to seek our nation's highest office, she has a shot. The probability of her success depends on her ability, and that of President Obama, to admit and learn from their mistakes.

I reject Beck and Dobbs on grounds of lack of temperament and totally clueless on how to govern. President Beck? President Dobbs? It even sounds grotesque.

President Palin? If you thought Barack Obama was glitter over substance, you are surely being hoodwinked by this lady. Her few policy statements are broad bromides of conservative talking points for less spending, lower taxes and a robust national defense. That sounds nice on the campaign trail, but the devil is in the details of governing, a lesson Barack Obama is still trying to grasp.

It would come as no surprise at this writing if Palin won the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Can you imagine the options Democratic strategists would have. First question out of the shute:

"Mrs. Palin. If you are elected, do you plan to serve an entire term?"

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Pace We Can Ill Afford

Most of us fail to grasp the enormity of trillions of dollars, let alone billions, so let's just throw the numbers out the window and for the sake of argument concede we'll never pay back what we as a nation owe in our lifetimes or those of future generations.

Instead, let's focus on ending this insanity and establishing our priorities. For the most part, these are tough decisions our elected leaders do not have the guts to enact.

National Security. We are a bankrupt superpower being drained with diminishing resources in money and manpower. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are not the same people who harbored and trained terrorists who hijacked our planes on Sept. 11, 2001. Why field a standing army of 150,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when we fight the same terrorists in Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia and Indonesia with special operation forces, the CIA and drones?

Foreign Aid. Cut it to humanitarian purposes only.

Space Exploration. Put it on hold and redirect the brain trust to national defense measures such as developing missile defenses, IED detection devices and improved satellite surveillance technology.

Energy and Climate. Reduce and eliminate dependence on foreign fossil fuels by tapping into natural gas as a bridge to wind, solar, nuclear and electrical power as well as building a new electrical grid infrastructure. Tax credits to those who cooperate; tax penalties to those who don't.

Health Care. Extend Medicare to all U.S. citizens. Subsidize private insurers to run the programs administered by the government comparable to the way in which Medicare Part D is now handled for drug coverage but with the stipulation purchasing of drugs is based on competitive bidding. Tort reform and capping malpractice awards must be imposed.

Certainly, some domestic programs will cost more in the short term but pay dividends in savings in the larger view. Yes, Virginia, there will be tough decisions to ration care as we saw last night on "Sixty Minutes." Get over it.

Congressional earmarks would be abolished and federal appropriations for local districts must prove a positive cost-benefit ratio. One good policy from the Nixon administration should be restored -- checks written directly to cities, counties and states to be spent on projects they deem appropriate.

Finally, Congress must pass a law with teeth that forces a federal balanced budget. Yes, Nancy, the time has come.

The way it works now, Congress's priority is getting reelected than living within its means. The Republicans say no to everything except national security. The Democrats can't decide if everything they want is worth it.

The way I see it, watching our economy going to hell is akin to watching the Hindenburg crash. "Oh, the inhumanity of it all."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Little Respect For The Left Coast, Please

I'm bummed out on politics for the moment and as Keith Olbermann does more often than not escape into the world of sports entertainment as Plan B. Just to piss off Glenn Beck and annoy Rush Limbaugh who hasn't thought of it, I am applying for the position of College Football Czar as an adviser to President Obama.

With the powers invested in me by executive order, the first and only decision I will make is abolish the Bowl Championship Series aka BCS.

College football is the only major sport in America not decided on the field but by sportswriters, broadcasters, coaches and computers. It is not an objective way to determine a national champion. The reason it is this way is money, greed by college presidents and ESPN.

My plan is to install a 16-team playoff format. It would consist of conference champions, independents-at-large (i.e. Notre Dame) and, if necessary, conference runners-up if their records warrant an invitation to the Sweet 16. That way, the school ranked 17th, has no one to blame but itself. More on those guys later.

I would reduce the season to 11 games that would conclude on the Thanksgiving weekend with conference championship games played. The three Saturdays in December would hold the first three rounds of the playoffs. The national championship game would be played the first week in January. Proceeds from the games would be distributed proportionally to all the conferences participating based on how far they progressed.

That would mean the most any two teams would play is 15 games in a season which is two more than the way it is now under the BCS. Four teams would play 14 and, of course, 16 play 13. I believe that deflates the argument the college football season is too long since more than 100 other NCAA Division One teams would play 11 or 12 at the most.

Most of the nation is glued to their television sets during March Madness when college basketball holds its 64-team tournaments. Who's to say college football couldn't draw equal frenzy?

Under the playoff system, no longer would we hear sour grapes from Boise State or TCU because they played a weaker conference schedule than the SEC, Big 8, Big 10 or Pac 10.

It also would determine if the Southeast Conference is really the best football conference in America. They say they are but that's not enough. Prove it on the gridiron, not the press box.

I'm a native Southern Californian and for years believe the East Coast bias short-changed the really good teams playing in that media's wrong time zone. USC under coach Pete Carroll has received its national acclaim rightfully. But, why are they in the top 20 at the moment when they have been killed by Oregon and Stanford as well as losing to Washington?

Stanford is getting no love outside of the West Coast because they have the reputation of bad teams in the past. The last two weekends they could have beaten Florida, Alabama or Texas. The Pac 10 does not have a championship game so their chances for the national title are nil in the BCS format but a darling of destiny in a playoff system.

Under the playoff system, teams not qualifying could still play in bowl games and the bragging rights for the winners just the same as under the BCS. Last year, the Pac 10 was 5-0 in bowl games which raised no eyebrows from those elitist experts on the East Coast.

Unless they lose their next games, the BCS most likely will select either an undefeated Boise State or TCU play the loser of the SEC championship game. That's a half loaf compared to what really would be meaningful under a playoff format.

You see, Glenn Beck, being a czar is not a bad gig. Besides, I have the president covering my backside. He, too, wants a playoff system in college football.

Yours truly, a West Coast biased football fan. Go (Oregon) Ducks. Go (Stanford) Cardinal.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What Big Pharma And Mexican Drug Cartels Share

The murderous Mexican drug cartels are known for their viciousness conducting their illicit trade. U.S. drug manufactures are less sanguine but equally adept at protecting their profits.

In anticipation of new health reform legislation that would curb their oligarchy, drug makers have raised their prices about 9% this past year while the Consumer Price Index has fallen by 1.3% during the same period.

The widely acclaimed deal the industry struck with the White House and Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus to shave $80 billion in prices over the next 10 years looks as if someone got snookered. It wasn't Big Pharma.

The industry's rapid price increases on brand names protected by patents are fairly chronicled and explained in an article in today's New York Times.

What the article fails to mention is that an amendment to the senate committee's bill was defeated that would have allowed Medicare to purchase drugs for low-income seniors at the same price that Medicaid pays for the drugs. The Congressional Budget Office estimated it would result in a loss of $106 billion over 10 years to drug makers. That tells you who has the upper hand in this process. It isn't the consumer. The House bill hopes to cut drug prices by $140 billion over the next decade.

The thrust of the price increases is to protect profits required for research and development of new drugs, the Times story quotes industry spokespersons. One of them, Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the industry association — the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — argued medicines create health savings.

"Medicines often reduce unnecessary hospitalization, help avoid costly medical procedures and increase productivity through better prevention and management of chronic diseases,” he said.

Artificially inflating prices is nothing new for Big Pharma. Reports The Times:

A Harvard health economist, Joseph P. Newhouse, said he found a similar pattern of unusual price increases after Congress added drug benefits to Medicare a few years ago, giving tens of millions of older Americans federally subsidized drug insurance. Just as the program was taking effect in 2006, the drug industry raised prices by the widest margin in a half-dozen years.

Don't you love our free market sources at work? It's more civilized than the Mexican drug lords. After all, we consumers are mere peons.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Ugly American Syndrome

The right-wing tsk tsk tskers are at it again. This time it is a deep bow of respect President Barack Obama offered when greeting Japanese emperor Akihito this weekend in Tokyo.

That bastion of conservatism, The Drudge Report, signaled its disgust by shouting in 42-pt. boldface headlines "How Low Can He Get?"

And, get this. Drudge uses as an example of diplomatic decorum none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney shaking hands with the emperor at the same residence in a 2007 file photo.

The Drudge article written by Andrew Malcolm didn't stop Obama's kissie pooh of royalty there. It reminded us of its outrage when our president had the gall to bow to the Saudi Arabia king earlier this year and Michelle Obama's patting Queen Elizabeth on her back.

Oh, my gosh. Obama has denigrated our national dignity to the level of some third world country -- say Somalia -- the report would have us believe.

Let's review. World opinion of the United States sunk to an all-time low during the cowboy diplomacy of George W. Bush and the ever-popular Mr. Cheney. Obama has spent a good part of his first year in office trying to restore our image after eight years of an administration that flipped the bird to our friends and foes alike.

I see Obama as showing respect to the other world leaders by recognizing their customs. That doesn't diminish our role in international affairs. It enhances it. And, in the case of Japan and China, it's not like he is giving away the key to our treasury. Hell, they already own it by acquiring our debt.

So what's the problem? It's what I call the Ugly American Syndrome. It's the belief we are the greatest country on earth and if others don't like it then stuff it. If others still resist, we will nuke them.

Now, it is only natural patriotism for any given country is a healthy thing. It is natural one wants to defend what he cherishes. The French are masters of that. Americans consider the French arrogant because they cling to the past, as Bush's former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld observed.

Because fate delivered me born in the USA, I'm perfectly content and fortunate for all the perks it offers. Do I think we're the greatest nation on earth? Not really, but I wouldn't want to change places with any citizen in any other nation on the planet.

Unlike the rightists, I don't need to thump my chest and claim I'm better than you, you poor slob living in the caves of Afghanistan. Look at the public opinion polls. The U.S. can't make the Top Ten list in numerous categories, the most embarrassing one being education. We can't spell without a computer spellcheck system. We can't locate our states on our maps. We can't do math without a calculator.

But, yes, we do one thing very well. We can knock the crap out of any nation at any time by pushing a red button.

It makes the discussion about how deep did our president bow so petty it stinks.

Author's Note: The link to The Drudge Report referred to a Los Angeles Times story. I couldn't find it on-line but that doesn't mean it wasn't there.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fort Hood: Hindsight Is Always Perfect

Americans such as myself step into troubled waters when we try to understand why an Army shrink would kill 13 and wound 33 on the pretext he didn't want to be assigned to Afghanistan.

Therefore, I find it not at all unusual that today's authors of Op-Ed columns in today's Los Angeles Times argue amongst themselves. The issue is not whether Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan committed a terrorist act. He did.

The issue which is only partially addressed in the opinion pieces is why the army failed to connect the dots of his behavior that culminated in the massacre.

The questions are -- was it because he was a Muslim? Was it because the army was protecting its investment in his education since it not only was short on Muslims it was short on mental health experts? Or was it because the army brass was intimidated and too politically correct?

That last question really bothers me. It forces a hypothetical question which really cannot be answered. That is, what if the major was a white Christian from our nation's heartland whose religious views trampled his objectivity as a psychiatric specialist? Or worse, what if he was totally incompetent as judged by his peers? Either way, would he have been drummed out of the corps? We don't know. He should have been discharged without prejudice so he could rise or fail by market forces in private practice with an unblemished service record.

The problem with my analysis and the army's is that hindsight is seen from a prism that is 20-20.

The Times commentaries are worth reading. One was offered by Tim Rutten, the paper's resident conservative. The other by Judith Miller, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a Fox News contributor, and David Samuels, a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine.

Friday, November 13, 2009

40,000 More Troops To Fight 300 Al-Quada?

As President Barack Obama deliberates -- no, Dick, he's not "dithering" -- a revised strategy and troop levels in Afghanistan, some people in the White House and Pentagon have loose lips and leaked some startling news this past week. If true, consider these developments:

The president has rejected four options on strategy and troop levels from his military intelligence team and instructed them to start over.

The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, a former commander of troops in the Asian countries, has bucked the now top general and Secretary of State by claiming additional troops to Afghanistan would be a mistake because it would play into the hands of the corrupt government of President Hamid Karzai.

Some intelligence experts believe there are only 300 active al-quada fighters in the Afghan provinces at a time our NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is recommending a troop increase of 40,000 soldiers. An earlier report indicates military experts believe the influence of al-quada in Afghanistan is waning and a return of the Taliban would reject the more radical Islamic extremists. Admittedly, that's a minority opinion.

While Obama insists in previous speeches the purpose of our forces is to prevent militants from taking over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, Seymour Hirsch, writing in the New Yorker Magazine, quotes Pakistani military leaders that security arrangement between the two countries is tenuous at best.

A report from the military today describes our troop morale in Afghanistan is low and deteriorating rapidly.

If you read these dispatches as I did you will forgive our president for pondering what's the best course of action. There is speculation that Obama will end up with a middle-course solution which I can't imagine will please anyone.

The one thing I did find positive was the relative success of our drone missiles taking out suspected al-quada leaders in the Af/Pac region despite collateral damage to the civilian population.

The entire military-political purpose of our war efforts in the two countries is to prevent al-quada or any other radical group from gaining access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Which is why I found this paragraph from Hirsch's New Yorker Magazine article so remarkable:

A senior Pakistani official who has close ties to (Pakistan President Asif Ali) Zardari exploded with anger during an interview when the subject turned to the American demands for more information about the arsenal. After the September 11th attacks, he said, there had been an understanding between the Bush Administration and then President Pervez Musharraf “over what Pakistan had and did not have.” Today, he said, “you’d like control of our day-to-day deployment. But why should we give it to you? Even if there was a military coup d’├ętat in Pakistan, no one is going to give up total control of our nuclear weapons. Never. Why are you not afraid of India’s nuclear weapons?” the official asked. “Because India is your friend, and the longtime policies of America and India converge. Between you and the Indians, you will fuck us in every way. The truth is that our weapons are less of a problem for the Obama Administration than finding a respectable way out of Afghanistan.”

I'll say it for the umpteenth time. Mr. President, send our troops home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Abortion Carried Too Far

I'm facing a moral crises over some fundamental issues regarding health reform legislation.

First, I believe a woman has the right to choose an abortion, not the government nor any religious organization. At the same time, I would not encourage my wife to abort our child unless it would save her life.

Second, as a policy issue, I have no moral grounds to oppose the Hyde Amendment which essentially prohibits taxpayers' money to pay for an abortion. The reasoning in itself is contradictory and unfair to women who cannot afford abortion procedures. My bias is directed at those women who lack responsibility and willy nilly get themselves pregnant as often as a tree bears fruit. Why should I living in Southern California pay for an abortion for some tart in South Florida? No where does it say some things in life are not fair.

I applaud the Catholic Church for running a network of hospitals and promoting universal health care coverage. At the same time, I am appalled that representatives of Catholic bishops successfully lobbied the House of Representatives to take its anti-abortion issue to the ultimate extreme. One threat they have used is closing down all the Catholic hospitals in America if they don't get their way.

The bill passed by the House prohibits a woman from getting an abortion even if she pays for it if any of the insurers involved receive federal subsidies. That, my friends, is a step too far since every carrier for a woman with modest income is subsidized.

From here, the debate goes downhill in a hand basket. It renews the ugly argument of the role religion plays in politics. My basic principle is to keep religion out of politics yet the Catholic bishops as well as the far right Protestant fundamentalists have every right to exercise their powers to our Congress. Complicating matters is many if not most Catholic laypeople quietly do not condone abortion.

Good politics is the art of compromise and doing what's best for the common good. It will be needed if Congress ever passes health reform. As of now, the abortion issue is more volatile than any tangent of a public option.

This article from National Public Radio sums the issue well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Health Reform Looking Like An Old Western Movie

From the very outset of the health reform legislation debate, I had this premonition that when the House and Senate bills reached the conference committee for reconciliation, President Barack Obama would come charging to the rescue like the hero wearing the white hat in those old western movies.

He still may do that if the Senate manages to actually pass a bill but he is quickly running out of ammunition. He did fire a silver bullet by sending Tonto disguised as former President Bill Clinton to the Senate today to rally the troops.

Rep. John Conyers, the veteran congressman from Detroit, also fired a shot not at the Senate but at the president himself. Essentially, Conyers told the president to get off his duff, take names and kick some butt exactly the way former President Lyndon Johnson did to get crucial civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s.

The advise from both seasoned pols has its drawbacks. Clinton's health reform plan failed. While Johnson won the civil rights battle, he lost The South to the Republicans for generations still counting.

Clinton's advise seems to be to do nothing is failure. The man could sell refrigerators to Eskimos. Conyers's pitch is to strike out the Republicans and do everything short of bribing the Democrats to stand as one.

Obama has backed himself in a corner giving the impression that his health reform agenda is his number one priority that must be passed in his first year of his first term. For an issue that could make or break his presidency, Obama is not acting like it. Yet.

He's facing overwhelming odds in igniting sentiment from his core supporters -- blacks, youth and independents. The exit polls from last Tuesday's off-year elections and national polls place health care reform far behind jobs, deficit spending and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For more on this click here and here.

My analysis is never underestimate Bill Clinton. The question is whether Obama will keep Clinton as his point man in the senate deliberations. As for the impact of Conyers' statements, he's just another liberal voicing wishful thinking.

Fate of the health reform legislation is in Obama's hands and answers the question whether he can actually govern or just talk the talk.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Forensics Key To Single-Shooter Theory

What bothers me is the time frame and number of shots fired from one if not two pistols by Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan in Thursday's shooting spree at Fort Hood, Tex.

News reports and eye witnesses said the shootings lasted nearly 30 minutes. Army investigators said more than 100 shots were fired. Local police were quoted as saying all the shell casings were recovered from the same gun.

If that is true, what about the shell casings fired by police officer Kimberly Munley who is credited for gunning down Hasan? In all, 13 people (12 soldiers and one civilian) were killed and 38 wounded. Most of the victims were shot multiple times. Based on those numbers, the shooter fired at least 110 rounds without a miss.

I'm not a forensic expert or gun enthusiast or conspiracy freak nor a math major, but the scene reconstructed in words and video do not add up. Of course, we are relying on initial investigation reports. Most important is the confined space in which about 300 soldiers were lined up waiting for their processing papers.

Federal officials said the gun thought to be used is an FN Herstal Five-seveN tactical pistol known as "the Cop Killer" because the impact can pierce so-called bullet-proof vests. It was purchased legally from a gun store in nearby Killeen in August. David Cheadle, the store manager, said it can fire 31 rounds with an extended clip before reloading.

It is unclear whether Hasan purchased the gun in his name and whether it was registered to carry on the sprawling military base which houses 50,000.

The second gun Hasan had with him was a .357 S&W Magnum revolver, federal law enforcement officials told ABC News. Ballistics are still being run to determine if he used the revolver in the shooting.

Because of the close range, it probably doesn't matter if Hasan was a proficient marksman. No news has surfaced yet as to his being certified with military weapons. Eye witnesses said he "fumbled" with the magazines in his efforts to reload.

The heroine cop, 35, confronted Hasan, fell to the ground for cover and at least one of her rounds struck the assailant in the chest. She suffered gun shot wounds to both thighs and one wrist.

The scene at the hospital ER was mayhem, according to this report from Fox News:

Emergency room physician Capt. Reis Ritz was in Darnall, the base hospital, when the loudspeaker came on: "Mass casualties. Mass casualties."

He said the first few to arrive were soldiers with multiple gunshot wounds who had driven themselves to the hospital. Others arrived soon after, some of them carrying friends who were more severely wounded. Many of the victims came into the emergency room with multiple gunshot wounds.

For Maj. Stephen Beckwith, the Emergency Medical Response director at Darnall, the sheer number of gunshot wounds struck him immediately, reminding him of blast injuries he'd seen in combat.

He and other ER personnel told that the gunshot wounds appeared to have been inflicted by semi-automatic pistols loaded with long bullets more often used with a standard M16 rifle. (The FN Herstal Five-seveN fires .57-caliber rounds.)

"Just so many gunshot wounds — gunshot wounds to the torso, the belly, the chest," he said. "It's similar to what you'd see down range."

Ritz has not yet been deployed overseas, and he said it was like nothing he'd ever seen.

"The worst part," he said, "there's all these multiple gunshot wounds, all the victims shot in multiple places, and they keep coming in and I have no idea who's shooting, where they're shooting from, or why.

"The worst part, not knowing when it would end, not knowing how many more, not knowing if it's only going to be gunshots or something else."

"It's not like we're in Iraq or in Afghanistan or in anything — it's home. It's like you'd expect in war, but it's home."

The Fort Hood massacre is a tragic, horrific story with a heroic ending. But many details during the shooting spree have yet to be clarified by a rigorous investigation. It must be established that Hasan was the lone shooter to quiet the conspiracy theorists who always raise their ugly heads in these events.

I have no problem with the military policy forbidding guns being carried by soldiers on base except for training purposes.

It just goes to show that if a person decides to commit a crazy act, there's not much in the way to stop him. That is the constant scenario of almost every mass murder episode.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Fox In The Hen House

I've given President Barack Obama a long leash in his efforts at governing and now must concede his biggest mistake in changing how Washington works is his staff's petty feud with Fox News. This running story has legs and they must be chopped off at the knees. This dog must sit, lie down, whacked on the behind with a rolled newspaper and go to obedience school.

The latest bark from the White House is troubling because the source of the story is a third party who works for Fox and claims an anonymous Democratic consultant was threatened by an unnamed White House staffer not to appear on the Fox cable channel.

The source is Patrick Caddell, a Fox News contributor and a former pollster for President Carter. He said he has spoken to Democratic consultants who have been told by the White House to avoid appearances on Fox. He declined to give their names. Over the years, I have believed Caddell is credible even though I don't agree with most of his policy positions.

Caddell said he had not gotten that message himself from the White House. "They know better than to tell me anything like that," he said sounding as egomaniac as some of the opinionated anchors on Fox.

Caddell added: "I have heard that they've done that to others in not-too-subtle ways. I find it appalling. When the White House gets in the business of suppressing dissent and comment, particularly from its own party, it hurts itself."

Caddell's brief was reported this way in the Los Angeles Times:

One Democratic strategist said that shortly after an appearance on Fox, he got a phone call from a White House official telling him not to be a guest on the show again. The call had an intimidating tone, he said.

The message was, " 'We better not see you on again,' " said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to run afoul of the White House. An implicit suggestion, he said, was that "clients might stop using you if you continue."

The White House contends Fox is an extension of the Republican Party and a political opponent bent on damaging the Obama administration. They fear certain issues framed by Fox compels the other media to follow along making subjects as ACORN and so-called presidential czars legitimate news stories.

The White House's pugnacious approach to the network leaves some Democrats troubled.

Don Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, said in an interview: "This approach is out of sync with my conception of what the Obama administration stands for and what they're trying to do. I think they'll think better of it and this will be a passing phase."

The Obama administration is falling into the gutter as did the Nixon administration by placing reporters out of favor on an enemy's list.

Say what you want about Fox, it is a legitimate news organization. Its opinions are no more or less slanted against the Obama administration than its weaker rival MSNBC slanted more favorably towards the White House.

Get over it, Mr. Obama, chief of staff Raum Emanuel, communications director Anita Dunn, and the rest of your minions. You're fighting a foe beneath your pay grade. Just ignore the bastards.

It is said that newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst shouted us into the Spanish-American war. Is Fox taking us in a direction we do not want to travel? Me thinks the Obama administration gives them too much credit.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Putting The Elections In Perspective

While Americans tuned into the political gyrations of a handful of elections yesterday and political operatives pontificating what it all means today, it remains dwarfed by what happened in Afghanistan.

Five British soldiers embedded with locals were shot and killed by an Afghan policeman with whom they were mentoring at a security outpost in Helmand Province. The embedded NATO troops were carrying out a key part of the counter-insurgency strategy to train Afghan army and police. The assailant escaped in the confusing firefight that followed. British newspapers voiced the outrage by its people back home in not-so-jolly England.

I join in their outrage which is compounded by a stay-the-course mentality of British and U.S. leaders who insist the murders were an isolated incident.

“Partnering and mentoring is more and more the way we are training the Afghan units,” Col. Wayne Shanks, a NATO public affairs officer, said. “You have to be there: work with them, live with them and it makes you safer in the long run. It’s a fundamental tenet of counterinsurgency strategy.”

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American military commander in Afghanistan, issued a statement saying: “We will not let this event deter our resolve to building a partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces to provide for Afghanistan’s future.”

The attack Tuesday was not the first nor last, said Haji Muhammed Anwar Khan, a Helmand tribal leader and member of Parliament.

Last month an Afghan policeman killed two U.S. soldiers in Wardak Province during a joint patrol.

Polls in Britain are split but support is slipping for that country's participation in Afghanistan where 92 of its troops have been killed this year. Britain has a force of 9,000 troops in that country among the 73,000 NATO forces that include 43 nations.

Britain's leadership remains resolved. Reports the New York Times:

But both the Labor party government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the opposition Conservatives led by David Cameron, who are strong favorites to win a general election next spring, have stood firmly by the British commitment.

Both leaders have said that Britain’s role in the NATO coalition in Afghanistan is essential to safeguarding Britain’s security against Islamic extremist attacks of the kind that the United States endured on Sept. 11, 2001, and Britain on July 7, 2005, when 56 people, including four suicide bombers, were killed in attacks on London’s transit system.

After the killing of the five British soldiers, that message was reaffirmed by the British defense minister, Bob Ainsworth. Speaking in a BBC interview during a visit to Saudi Arabia, he rejected the arguments of those in Britain who have said that the country should abandon its military role in Afghanistan and concentrate on guarding against attacks by Islamic militants at home.

British intelligence chiefs have said that three-quarters of all terrorist plots uncovered in Britain in recent years have had links to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is the ancestral homeland of the majority of Britain’s 1.5-million Muslims. “If Afghanistan is not secure, then Pakistan is not secure, and if Pakistan is not secure then Britain is not secure,” Ainsworth said.

The situation in the U.S. does not appear that sensitive because of a lack of large Muslim populations in U.S. cities. However, that in itself does not diminish the threat of clandestine terrorists cells infiltrated by al quada.

President Barack Obama is still holding back his decision to send up to 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan recommended by McChrystal.

I've said it before and say it again. There is no end game in Afghanistan nor is there a will among the American people to spend billions of dollars a month and the loss of lives -- for another decade at least -- for a people who do not want us there and a government that is for the most part inept and corrupt.

It's a steep price for national security when other options are available.

But no, we on the homefront slobber and salivate over the Republicans taking over two governorships and the comeuppance of Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Fred Thompson and Rick Santorum for endorsing an independent conservative over a Republican in an obscure congressional district in upstate New York.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Tiny Ripple Does Not Mean A Tsunami

Tell your friends you read it here first. Don't bother watching the wall-to-wall cable television coverage of today's handful of odd-year elections.

Robert McDonnell, the Republican candidate, will be elected governor of Virginia. Barring a minor miracle, incumbent New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine will lose to Republican Chris Christie. Douglas Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, will trounce Democrat Bill Owens in the 23rd Congressional district of New York.

Those are the highly publicized races across the nation. Don't believe for a minute the clucking you hear from Republican faithful. Give them their due and hand them a broom for the clean sweep. Too early for a trend, guys.

The significance of these races are not the epicenter of a tsunami. It is more like a gentle storm wave lapping on the shores of a political chapter written in stone years ago. That is, the party in power in Congress invariably loses seats during the mid-term elections which, by the way, won't occur until a year from now for the rest of the nation.

Virginians are especially in lockstep with that axiom, again invariably electing a governor from the opposite party in power in the nation's capitol. McDonnell could see a sea change in his favor in the 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates, its lower house. The current make-up is 53 Republicans, 44 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 1 vacancy. The senate's 40-members are not up for reelection until 2011. There, the Democrats hold 21-19 majority. If you are looking at trends, forget McDonnell and look at any party shuffling in the House of Delegates.

By last weekend, Corzine pulled within two points of the Republican Christie and will need a flat-out blitz by Democratic voters in Newark to eke out a victory. The New Jersey legislature now consists of 23 Democrats and 17 Republicans in the senate and 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans in the General Assembly. New Jersey, a solid blue state, is unlikely to witness a change in power in its legislature. Chalk this up to Corzine's unpopularity of raising taxes, job approval ratings below 40%, state unemployment and his former association with one of the nation's bailed out financial institutions, Goldman Sachs.

Other than the bizarre way it unfolded, the fact a conservative independent would win the 23rd congressional seat in New York is not surprising. A Democrat hasn't won in that district since the Civil War, or at least a very long time. The most pressing question is whether Hoffman will remain an independent but you can bet your week's paycheck he will join the Republican caucus in the House.

The general thinking among the pols is these elections are a referendum on President Barack Obama. I say it's a bit premature to cast doubts on the president's agenda at this early stage. Next November is a different story. By then we will have a clear picture on the success or failure of the health reform movement, climate change, Afghanistan and the economy.

As of now, the biggest drawback to Obama and the Democratic congress is unemployment and excessive government spending programs. The New York Times offers these thumbnail sketches of other races around the nation, including several involving same-sex marriage which is a test to see how much clout the conservatives swing.

In the coming months, it will be exciting to watch conservatives flex their muscles -- actually it's more like outshouting their more moderate Republican brethren. Reports the Los Angeles Times:

The rebellion that drove a moderate Republican (Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava in New York's 23rd) off the ballot in a special House election today is sending a clear message to the party leadership and its candidates: Ignore the conservative grass roots at your peril.

I find the conservative civil war with Republicans intriguing. You can bet that proverbial paycheck by next year there will be more than the reported 20% registered voters considering themselves Republicans. But even registration in the high 30 percentile rarely wins elections.

Their propaganda machine is in full throat and framing the national debate in their favor in which we see Newt Gingrich as the voice of reason and the Sarah Palins and her faithful "me too" follower Tim Pawlenty hammering away from the far right.

The biggest thing about midterm elections is apathy. Those millions of new voters thrilled by the campaign of the first black president will be sitting this one out. Why? I don't know other than there's no presidential standard bearer. It's always been that way.

This midterm election cycle is even worse, especially in the rural areas. The reason? It's the economy, stupid. Again the Los Angeles Times gives us a clue from rural America.