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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

This could backfire; at this time, fairly or unfairly, many Americans are on edge with Muslims: U.S. to greatly expand resettlement for Syrian refugees

From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration will greatly increase the number of Syrian refugees approved for permanent resettlement in the United States next year but has opted against a separate refugee program to serve victims of that intractable civil war, administration officials said Tuesday.

The State Department is reviewing more than 4,000 applications from Syrian refugees seeking permanent homes in the United States next year or beyond, up from dozens considered for resettlement this year and last, officials said. The expansion reflects determinations by the United Nations refugee agency and the United States that tens of thousands of refugees living outside Syria are unlikely to ever be able to return.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Many Missteps in Assessment of ISIS Threat

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq.
 
But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”
 
The White House denies that, but the threat certainly has its attention now as American warplanes pound the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State in hopes of reversing its lightning-swift seizing of territory in Iraq and Syria. Still, even as bombs fall from the sky thousands of miles away, the question of how it failed to anticipate the rise of a militant force that in the space of a few months has redrawn the map of the Middle East resonates inside and outside the Obama administration.
 
President Obama fueled the debate in an interview broadcast over the weekend when he said that intelligence agencies had underestimated the peril posed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Mr. Obama accurately quoted James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, acknowledging that he and his analysts did not foresee the stunning success of Islamic State forces or the catastrophic collapse of the Iraqi Army.
 
But by pointing to the agencies without mentioning any misjudgments of his own, Mr. Obama left intelligence officials bristling about being made into scapegoats and critics complaining that he was trying to avoid responsibility.
 
“This was not an intelligence community failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat,” said Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
 
A spokesman denied on Monday that Mr. Obama was blaming intelligence agencies in his interview on “60 Minutes” on CBS News. “That is not what the president’s intent was,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “What the president was trying to make clear” was “how difficult it is to predict the will of security forces that are based in another country to fight.”
 
Mr. Earnest added that “the president’s commander in chief and he’s the one who takes responsibility” for ensuring the national security based on the information provided by intelligence analysts. “And the president continues to have the highest degree of confidence in our intelligence community to continue to provide that advice,” he said.
 
The Islamic State was born out of the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was crippled by the time Mr. Obama withdrew American forces from Iraq at the end of 2011. The civil war that erupted in neighboring Syria pitting President Bashar al-Assad against a variety of rebel organizations provided a haven for the Qaeda affiliate to reconstitute itself with an influx of foreign fighters.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

This could backfire (the bracelet part): The Justice Department on Friday pressured the Ferguson Police Department to stop its officers from wearing bracelets supporting the officer who shot an unarmed teenager.

From The New York Times:

The Justice Department on Friday pressured the Ferguson Police Department to stop its officers from wearing bracelets stamped with the message “I am Darren Wilson,” in solidarity with the police officer who is being investigated for shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old, and from covering up their name plates with tape.

In a stern letter to Chief Thomas Jackson, Christy E. Lopez, deputy chief of the special litigation section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said that the bracelets “upset and agitated people.”   
 
“There is no question that police departments can and should closely regulate officers’ professional  is no question that police departments can and should closely regulate officers’ professional appearance and behavior, particularly where, as here, the expressive accessory itself is exacerbating an already tense atmosphere between law enforcement and residents in Ferguson,” Ms. Lopez wrote. “These bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.”
 
Ms. Lopez noted that Chief Jackson had agreed to prohibit officers from wearing the “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets while in uniform and on duty. Nonetheless, she said she was making the letter to him public.

Two Claims to Lead Muslim World Split Jihadists - Leader of Islamic State Challenges Afghan Taliban's Mullah Omar

From The Wall Street Journal:

KABUL—The rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, just as the Taliban are plotting a comeback in Afghanistan, has ignited a shadowy feud within the jihadist universe: Which "emir of the believers" is the real McCoy?
 
The lofty title denoting spiritual leadership of the Muslim world was claimed in 1996 by the Afghan Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who famously wrapped himself in Prophet Muhammad's cloak in a Kandahar mosque.
 
It was to him that Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders then-based in Afghanistan pledged their allegiance—an oath to which most of al Qaeda's old cadre still subscribe, at least theoretically, and which al Qaeda's new leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, reaffirmed in his latest video statement this month.
 
But in June, flush with power after seizing Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul, the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, decided to one-up Mullah Omar.
In addition to proclaiming himself the new "emir of the believers," he announced that he was also assuming the title of caliph of the entire Muslim world, and would henceforth be known as "Caliph Ibrahim."
 
That was a bold claim that shocked even old guard Islamist extremists, let alone ordinary Muslims who have been horrified by Islamic State's atrocities. The title of caliph, after all, has lain dormant since the heir to the Ottoman throne Abdulmecid II relinquished it in 1924.

In any case, no caliph in more than a millennium actually ruled the entire Muslim world, in part because of the myriad differences in culture and language between, for example, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The demand by Mr. Baghdadi that all the world's Muslims pledge allegiance to him has gained little traction outside Syria and Iraq. But the global ambitions of Islamic State, with its blitzkrieg battlefield victories and a slick propaganda machine, are increasingly unnerving the Taliban.

"In Islamic law, you can't have two persons as the emirs of the believers—one of them should be killed," says Waheed Muzhda, a Kabul-based analyst who served in the Taliban regime's foreign ministry before the 2001 U.S. invasion, and still maintains contacts with Taliban leaders.

In this contest, he adds, the reclusive Mullah Omar—who communicates with believers twice a year by issuing a holiday encyclical in a variety of languages—is at a disadvantage in the new age of social media and satellite television.

"Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is present, he is talking, people see him. But Mullah Omar has disappeared and nobody knows where he is," Mr. Muzhda says.

Islamic State has already begun trying to gain recruits in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands that shelter the remainders of al Qaeda and a constellation of other jihadist groups. It has started publishing propaganda in Pashto and Dari languages.

So far, however, its inroads have been limited, with only a handful of small, publicity-hungry splinter groups pledging allegiance.

"This is more of an Arab phenomenon. There is no impact here," Afghan Interior Minister Umar Daudzai said about Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The Afghan Taliban, who are under Mullah Omar's leadership, and the main factions of the Pakistani Taliban, who acknowledge him as a spiritual leader but operate separately, have all rejected Mr. Baghdadi's demand for a bayaa, or allegiance pledge. Still, their spokesmen have been cautious to avoid direct criticism of Islamic State.

"We are engaged in an ongoing jihad in our own country, and therefore we don't want to make any comment on the developments and movements in other countries," says Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

The original founders of Islamic State in Iraq— Abu Musab al Zarqawi, killed in 2006, and his successor Abu Omar al Baghdadi, killed in 2010—both spent time in Afghanistan, with Mr. Zarqawi commanding Arab volunteers in Herat under a Taliban commander named Mullah Hanan. As with other Arab jihadists sheltered here, they acknowledged Mullah Omar's authority.

It is unclear whether "Caliph Ibrahim" ever set foot in Afghanistan. While a senior Afghan official says he believes so, others close to the Taliban deny that.

To be sure, for many Arab militants, the pledge to Mullah Omar has always been more of a practical arrangement that allowed them to operate in pre-2001 Afghanistan than a sign of ideological affinity.

Those ideologies have diverged even more over the past decade, as the Taliban focused on regaining power in Afghanistan and opened peace talks with the U.S.

These days, even the more hard-core Afghan Taliban have been repulsed by Islamic State's bloodthirsty ways, such as the wholesale slaughter of Shiites and Yazidis.

"They don't treat people the right way and are much more extreme. The Taliban didn't kill nearly as many people. The Taliban don't force people to convert to Islam," says Mohammad Akbar Agha, a former senior Afghan Taliban commander who was involved in kidnapping United Nations staff in 2004, and is the cousin of the Taliban's political commission chief, Tayeb Agha.

When the founder of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Durrani, established his empire in the 18th century, he refused to bow to the Ottoman caliph, addressing him insolently as "brother," Mr. Agha points out.

"This is the attitude of the Afghans," he says. "I don't think they will oblige Islamic State."

Noonan: Republicans Need a Direction - They could win by default, but that's not good enough.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

In a year when Republicans are operating in such an enviable political environment, why aren't their U.S. Senate candidates holding big and impressive leads? Why does it look close? Why are party professionals getting worried?

The Democratic president is unpopular. What progress can be claimed in the economy is tentative, uneven, feels temporary. True unemployment is bad and people who have jobs feel stressed and hammered by costs. Americans are less optimistic than they've ever been in the modern era, with right-track/wrong-track numbers upside down. Scandals, war, uncertain leadership—all this has yielded a sense the whole enterprise of the past six years just did not work.

But Republicans aren't achieving lift-off. The metaphor used most often is the wave. If Republicans can't make, catch and ride a wave in an environment like this, they've gone from being the stupid party to the stupid loser party.

What's wrong?

An accomplished establishment Republican this week shrugged and noted the obvious: Every race is state-by-state and has its own realities; some candidates prove good and some are disappointing. Another establishment figure, an elected officeholder, observed with satisfaction that Republicans in Washington have done a good job making sure local candidates weren't nutty persons who said nutty things.

But is that enough? Kellyanne Conway of The Polling Co. says no: "It's not enough for voters to have a candidate who doesn't say something controversial. They need something compelling."

The party's consultants say it comes down to money: Republicans are raising less than Democrats and need more. But Ms. Conway notes that in 2012, well-funded Republicans George Allen, Connie Mack, Linda McMahon, Josh Mandel and Tommy Thompson all went down to defeat. It's not all about money.

The question this week is whether the election should be nationalized, lifted beyond the local and given power by clear stands on some agreed-upon national issues. Those who resist say the election has already been nationalized by Barack Obama. His and his administration's unpopularity are all the unifying force that's needed.

But put aside the word "nationalized." Shouldn't the Republican Party make it clear right now exactly what it is for and what it intends to do?

Here the views of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and much of the Washington-based GOP election apparatus have held sway. If you are explicit in terms of larger policy ideas, you just give Democrats something to shoot at. Don't give them a target. ObamaCare, the foreign-policy mess, the IRS—these are so unpopular they're more than enough reason to vote Republican. Don't give voters a reason not to!

This sounds like the hard practicality of big-time politics, and it has a certain logic. But it doesn't take into account some underlying realities.

One is the rising air of public crisis. Many voters, especially in the Republican base, feel America is under threat and we are losing our country. They feel they are fighting to save it. In a time of alarm, vagueness doesn't seem clever but oblivious—out of touch and unaware.

Asecond reality is the GOP's brand problem. Everyone knows about it and is tired of saying it; the Democrats continue exploiting it because it's almost all they have. Moreover, history suggests a political brand problem gets resolved only by a vivid figure like FDR or Reagan, who through their popularity and power changed how people saw their parties. Republican politicians can't sit around waiting for a vivid figure to come along, so they don't talk about the problem anymore.

The cliché is that Republicans are old, white, don't like women or science, are narrow, numeric and oppose all modern ways. The cliché probably isn't as powerful as it used to be because the president has made so many new Republicans, but it's still there.

But Republicanism right now has a special duty to be dynamic and serious. It has to paint a world of the possible. It has to make people feel that things can be made better. The spirit animating the party should be "This way, we will take that hill and hold it. Together, now, let's march." To rouse people you have to tell them your plans.

And it would be especially welcome at this moment. The Democratic Party in the last years of Obama is running on empty, pushing old buttons. To judge by their current campaigns, their only bullets are mischief and malice. The mischief includes a wholly fictional Republican war on women and the malice involves class-mongering and "check your privilege" manipulation. Only the young seem idealistic; older Democrats seem like a sated force.

The Democrats' reputation is suffering, but the point here is the Republicans'. When you have a poor brand, do you spend all your time saying the other guy is worse? Or do you start rebuilding your reputation? In politics that means saying what you are for, not what you are against, and what you will do, not what the other guy will do if the voters let him.

A third reason to go with the idea of avowed meaning is the suspicion some voters must have that while to vote Democratic this year is to vote for the potential of more trouble, to vote Republican may be a vote for nothing changing or improving very much.

Both parties in Washington use stasis as a strategy. I suspect there are Republicans on the ground who intuit the Republican version of this. Republican inertia was outlined to me this spring, ironically, by a GOP congressman:

The 2010 election, he explained, was about winning the House, don't rock the boat. Twenty twelve was all about the presidential—again don't rock the boat, don't mess things up with anything controversial, win the presidency to effect change. In 2014, he said, it's all about the Senate—win it, hold the House. Then in 2016 it's going to be all about the presidential and holding the Senate. In 2018, he said, it will be all about holding Congress for a Republican president or against a Democratic one. Then in 2020 it will be all about the presidential.

After that, he said, we might do something!

His point was that party professionals think the party has to keep winning, so—wait. For what?

Republican political professionals need to get the meaning of things back. Otherwise, if Republicans do take the Senate, their new majority will arrive not having won on the basis of something shared. They will not be able to claim any mandate for anything. That will encourage them to become self-driven freelancers in a very pleasant and distinguished freelancer's club, which is sort of what the Senate is.

It's good to win, but winning without a declared governing purpose is a ticket to nowhere.

Some feel a vague list of general stands might solve the problem and do the trick. They think it's probably too late to do more than that. But there are 6½ weeks before the election, and plenty of voters would be asking for more information and open to changing their minds. In such circumstances, explicit vows are more likely to be taken seriously than airy sentiments.

Republicans need to say what they're for. They need to make it new and true—not something defensive but something equal to the moment.

Syria Airstrikes Roil Rebel Alliances - Protests Held Across Syria in Opposition to Strikes Against Islamic State Militants

From The Wall Street Journal:

Thousands of civilians and rebels across Syria protested allied airstrikes against extremist militants that continued on Friday, underscoring the challenge the U.S.-led campaign faces in dealing with complex ties among rival rebel factions.
 
The attacks are leading to confusion on the ground and new complications for American policy makers, as they try to navigate the tensions between the more moderate Syrian rebels they back and extremist ones.
 
Many of these moderate Syrian rebels—a linchpin of the Obama administration's Syria strategy to better train and arm the opposition—accuse the U.S. of excluding them from the West's strategy on Syria and of undercutting their efforts to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
 
The risks were underscored by the Friday protests, with demonstrators raising anti-American banners—a notable departure from when activists pleaded for international intervention in the early days of the Syrian conflict.
 
The unrest stemmed largely from the U.S. decision this past week to target not only the extremist Islamic State militant group in Syria, but also a second cluster of fighters, what American officials call the Khorasan group.
 
When U.S. missiles and bombs were fired at sites used by Khorasan this week as part of the offensive against Islamic State forces, American officials said the strikes were intended to disrupt an imminent Khorasan terror plot directed at the West.
 
To many Syrians, however, the Khorasan militants are indistinguishable from the Nusra Front rebel group, which opposes both President Assad and the foreign fighters of the Islamic State militant force. Further, many U.S.-backed moderate rebels are allied with Nusra, which, despite its al Qaeda affiliation is seen by many other rebels as a preferable, homegrown rebel movement.
 
So, many of these Syrian rebels say they view the U.S.-led campaign as a misdirected attack on forces the population supports for protecting the country's Sunni majority from mainly Shiite-linked government forces when the international community failed to intervene over 3½ years.
 
Meanwhile, many of these people charged, regime military units and their allies—including the militant Hezbollah group—got a pass.
 
The emerging dynamic shows how the volatile mix of jihadists and shifting alliances in Syria can have cascading and unpredictable consequences, making even the most limited U.S. mission in Syria complex.
 
"Khorasan" refers to a geographic region comprising parts of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Group members are top al Qaeda operatives who arrived in Syria a year or more ago as part of an initiative to bolster Nusra Front's transnational jihadist profile and help it better compete with the Islamic State militants, said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow with the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar who tracks militant groups in the region.
 
Khorasan is more of a network than a formal organization, U.S. officials say, that rests within Nusra Front. The two entities have different goals, but both are al Qaeda components and work closely to leverage each other's strengths.
 
U.S. officials are debating the degree to which Khorasan foreign militants respond to direct orders from al Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as they develop what American officials say are terrorist plots outside of the region.
 
One U.S. official said the Khorasan group's makeup is fluid and estimated its size as more than a handful and less than a few dozen. Nusra Front, led by Abu Muhammad al-Julani, is estimated to have 5,000 to 6,000 mostly Syrian fighters, according to Rand Corp.
 
Khorasan benefits from operating in the haven that Nusra Front has carved out in Syria, and it has tapped some Nusra talent for certain specialist expertise, the U.S. official said. Nusra Front benefits from tactical training by Khorasan and it gains additional cachet of working with al Qaeda's top operatives.
 
Even though they have different goals, there is some cross pollination between the two groups. "They are there at the pleasure of the Nusra Front," said another U.S. official of Khorasan. "But there are some guys who also participate in the Khorasan group."
 
The assessment of American counterterrorism officials differs markedly from perceptions in the region.
 
In Syria, the Khorasan group moniker means little. It is "a label created by officials in the U.S. and has no recognition within Jabhat al-Nusra or al Qaeda circles," Mr. Lister said, referring to the Nusra Front.
 
But the arrival of these al Qaeda transplants from outside of Syria has prompted a major evolution within Nusra Front, he said. The organization is "increasingly beginning to represent more of a transnationally minded organization, with an explicit intention to establish Islamic Emirates in Syria," he said.
 
Nusra Front's recent capture of 45 United Nations peacekeepers, whom it later released, may be an indication of that shift, Mr. Lister said.
 
The gap between the U.S. and local Syrians over the significance of the Khorasan group is deeply complicating the U.S. offensive in Syria.
 
The airstrikes meant for Khorasan group also hit Nusra Front, according to Syrians in the areas that were hit. Despite U.S. officials's stated efforts to interrupt "imminent" plots against the U.S. and Europe, Syrians said they know nothing about Khorasan and that the targets struck were Nusra Front, as well as two families in a housing complex who were killed. The U.S. says it is investigating reports of civilian casualties.
 
Jihadists also reported in Twitter posts that a Nusra Front sniper, Abu Yousuf al-Turki, had been killed in the strikes, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.
 
The perception of such attacks on Nusra risks alienating moderate opposition forces with which the U.S. is trying to work, said Shadi Hamid a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of "Temptations of Power," a book on Islamist movements.
 
"A major gap has opened up between the U.S. and our supposed local allies in Syria," he said.
 
Illustrating the complicated sectarian dynamics the U.S.-led airstrikes must navigate, most ground commanders backed by the U.S. coordinate operations with Nusra Front against the Assad regime and Islamic State militants, Mr. Lister said.
 
On Tuesday, nearly a dozen of the FSA's most powerful groups signed a declaration denouncing the strikes, demanding they target the Syrian regime, too. In a heated meeting with the Syrian opposition in Istanbul Thursday, U.S. officials demanded an explanation for the statement condemning the American-led coalition, an opposition official said.
 
"They said 'friends don't speak against friends,' " said an opposition official with knowledge of the meeting. "We told them, 'true friendship means coordination.' " The meeting was confirmed by a second opposition official.
 
The U.S. State Department had no comment.
 
Whatever the distinction between the two groups, the Khorasan-Nusra relationship provides al Qaeda with a unique and dangerous Syria-based force that allows it to plan attacks both locally and internationally, say U.S. officials and counterterrorism specialists.
 
"Nusra is the local or regional power and Khorasan is the international strike force," said Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University who specializes in counterterrorism. "What's fundamentally worrisome is that al Qaeda has the luxury of wielding both."
 
On Friday, at the headquarters of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, in Reyhanli, Turkey, officials frantically called rebel leaders inside Syria to determine whether U.S. or Syrian government military strikes hit various towns, killing civilians and the fighters alike.
 
"That's the problem with the lack of coordination," said Husam Almarie, a spokesman for the FSA's northern effort. "We don't know who is hitting Syria, and it's our country."

Surprise: Thousands of Migrants Have Failed to Report to Immigration Offices

From The Wall Street Journal:

Thousands of families apprehended for entering the country illegally and then released by U.S. authorities have subsequently failed to report to immigration offices as required.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, about 70% of migrant families encountered at the border since May and released haven't reported to an office of the agency as instructed. Between May and August, agents apprehended about 40,000 people entering the U.S. in family units, amid a surge in illegal immigration from Central America.

Because of a shortage of detention space, most migrant families caught at the border have been allowed to join relatives in the U.S. as they await deportation proceedings. Separately, the individuals are instructed to report to an ICE office within a few weeks of reaching their destination.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Deal With Saudis Paved Way for Syrian Airstrikes - Talks With Saudi Arabia Were Linchpin in U.S. Efforts to Get Arab States Into Fight Against Islamic State

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Americans knew a lot was riding on a Sept. 11 meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia at his summer palace on the Red Sea.
A year earlier, King Abdullah had fumed when President Barack Obama called off strikes against the regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. This time, the U.S. needed the king's commitment to support a different Syrian mission—against the extremist group Islamic State—knowing there was little hope of assembling an Arab front without it.

At the palace, Secretary of State John Kerry requested assistance up to and including air strikes, according to U.S. and Gulf officials. "We will provide any support you need," the king said.

That moment, more than any other, set in train the U.S. air campaign in Syria against Islamic State, according to U.S. and Gulf officials. Mr. Obama made clear he would only authorize strikes if regional allies agreed to join the effort. Few would likely go along if the Saudis sat on the sidelines.
 
How the alliance fares will depend on how the two sides reconcile their fundamental differences over Syria and other issues. Saudi leaders and members of the moderate Syrian opposition are betting the U.S. could eventually be pulled in the direction of strikes supporting moderate rebel fighters against Mr. Assad in addition to Islamic State. U.S. officials say the administration has no intention of bombing Mr. Assad's forces.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shocking new: Limited English Limits Job Prospects -

From The Wall Street Journal:

Almost one in 10 adults of working age in the U.S. has limited proficiency in English, more than 2.5 times as many as in 1980, curbing their job prospects and ability to contribute to the economy.

Two-thirds of the 19.2 million people who have limited English are Spanish speakers. However, Asians and Pacific Islanders are most likely to have limited proficiency relative to their size of the overall population, according to a new report produced by the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Georgia built F-22 finally used in combat

From the AJC:

While you slept, the Georgia-built F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter jet ever, finally saw combat.

The F-22, assembled by Lockheed in Marietta, has had a troubled history, largely due to its price tag. Almost 200 of the planes, allegedly the most advanced air-superiority aircraft in the world, were built at a cost of $67 billion.

Curiously, the plane was first used in combat three years after its 16-year production run (1996-2011) ended.

The Wall Street Journal’s story of the Syrian bombings mentions the F-22 was part of a coordinated air strike that also included 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The WSJ says “The airstrikes in Syria will mark the first time the U.S. has used the F-22, its most advanced aircraft, in battle. Even when attacking Libyan air defenses, the Pentagon avoided deploying F-22s, which are stationed at a base in the U.A.E.”

Why was the F-22 finally used?

According to reports, Syria has advanced Russian radar installations that would have picked up less-stealthy military aircraft.

The F-22 can also fly higher and drop guided bombs from a greater distance away from its target than other fighters. The WSJ says an F-22 can drop a 1,000-pound guided bomb from 15 miles away.

Each F-22 cost U.S. taxpayers about $377 million including production and development.
An older F-18 Super Hornet costs about $51 million per plane, while the newest fighter, the F-35, which will seemingly be shared with the world’s air forces, costs about $135 million per unit, not counting development costs.

The most expensive plane? Probably the B-2 Spirit bomber. Twenty-one of the iconic, stealthy planes were built by Northrop Grumman at a unit cost of almost $800 million each. But, unlike the F-22, the B-2 has seen almost constant service since the early 1990s.

Funding for the F-22 was killed by the U.S. Senate in 2009 after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the air-superiority fighter was not well-suited for combat against foes who didn’t have modern planes (Iraq, Afghanistan).

Will the F-22 finally be worth what we paid for it? I have no idea. But I do know the next time a big military spending bill comes up, some politician is sure to remind us the next Russian or Chinese warplane requires us to spend even more.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Suspicions Run Deep in Iraq That C.I.A. and the Islamic State Are United

From The New York Times:

BAGHDAD — The United States has conducted an escalating campaign of deadly airstrikes against the extremists of the Islamic State for more than a month. But that appears to have done little to tamp down the conspiracy theories still circulating from the streets of Baghdad to the highest levels of Iraqi government that the C.I.A. is secretly behind the same extremists that it is now attacking.

“We know about who made Daesh,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a deputy prime minister, using an Arabic shorthand for the Islamic State on Saturday at a demonstration called by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to warn against the possible deployment of American ground troops. Mr. Sadr publicly blamed the C.I.A. for creating the Islamic State in a speech last week, and interviews suggested that most of the few thousand people at the demonstration, including dozens of members of Parliament, subscribed to the same theory. (Mr. Sadr is considered close to Iran, and the theory is popular there as well.)

The prevalence of the theory in the streets underscored the deep suspicions of the American military’s return to Iraq more than a decade after its invasion, in 2003. The casual endorsement by a senior official, though, was also a pointed reminder that the new Iraqi government may be an awkward partner for the American-led campaign to drive out the extremists.

The Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS, has conquered many of the predominantly Sunni Muslim provinces in Iraq’s northeast, aided by the alienation of many residents to the Shiite-dominated government of the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. President Obama has insisted repeatedly that American military action against the Islamic State depended on the installation of a more inclusive government in Baghdad, but he moved ahead before it was complete.
 
The Parliament has not yet confirmed nominees for the crucial posts of interior or defense minister, in part because of discord between Sunni and Shiite factions, and the Iraqi news media has reported that it may be more than a month before the posts are filled.

How Gary Hart’s Downfall Forever Changed American Politics - For most of the 20th century, adultery as a practice — at least for men — was rarely discussed but widely accepted. Kennedy and Johnson governed during the era that “Mad Men” would later portray, when the powerful man’s meaningless tryst with a secretary was no less common than the three-martini lunch. (The timing: This comes after I have watched The Roosevelts for the past seven evenings, and enjoyed a second of it.)


From The New York Times:

As anyone alive during the 1980s knows, Hart, the first serious presidential contender of the 1960s generation, was taken down and eternally humiliated by a scandal, a suspected affair with a beautiful blonde whose name, Donna Rice, had entered the cultural lexicon, along with the yacht — Monkey Business — near which she had been photographed on his lap. . .  In popular culture, Gary Hart would forever be that archetypal antihero of presidential politics: the iconic adulterer.

The Hart episode is almost universally remembered as a tale of classic hubris. A Kennedy-like figure on a fast track to the presidency defies the media to find anything nonexemplary in his personal life, even as he carries on an affair with a woman half his age and poses for pictures with her, and naturally he gets caught and humiliated. How could he not have known this would happen? How could such a smart guy have been that stupid?

Of course, you could reasonably have asked that same question of the three most important political figures of Hart’s lifetime, all Democratic presidents thought of as towering successes. Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were adulterers, before and during their presidencies, and we can safely assume they had plenty of company. In his 1978 memoir, Theodore White, the most prolific and influential chronicler of presidential politics in the last half of the 20th century, wrote that he was “reasonably sure” that of all the candidates he had covered, only three — Harry Truman, George Romney and Jimmy Carter — hadn’t enjoyed the pleasure of “casual partners.” He and his colleagues considered those affairs irrelevant.
 
By the late 1980s, however, a series of powerful, external forces in the society were colliding, creating a dangerous vortex on the edge of our politics. Hart didn’t create that vortex. He was, rather, the first to wander into its path.
 
The nation was still feeling the residual effects of Watergate, which 13 years earlier led to the first resignation of a sitting president. Richard Nixon’s fall was shocking, not least because it was more personal than political, a result of instability and pettiness rather than pure ideology. And for this reason Watergate, along with the deception over what was really happening in Vietnam, had injected into presidential politics a new focus on private morality.
 
Social mores were changing, too. For most of the 20th century, adultery as a practice — at least for men — was rarely discussed but widely accepted. Kennedy and Johnson governed during the era that “Mad Men” would later portray, when the powerful man’s meaningless tryst with a secretary was no less common than the three-martini lunch. Twenty years later, however, social forces unleashed by the tumult of the 1960s were rising up to contest this view. Feminism and the “women’s lib” movement had transformed expectations for a woman’s role in marriage, just as the civil rights movement had changed prevailing attitudes toward African-Americans.
As America continued to debate the Equal Rights Amendment for women into the 1980s, younger liberals — the same permissive generation that ushered in the sexual revolution and free love — were suddenly apt to see adultery as a kind of political betrayal, and one that needed to be exposed. “This is the last time a candidate will be able to treat women as bimbos,” is how the feminist Betty Friedan put it after Hart’s withdrawal. (If only she’d known.)
 
Perhaps most salient, though, the nation’s news media were changing in profound ways. When giants like White came up through the news business in the postwar years, the surest path to success was to gain the trust of politicians and infiltrate their world. Proximity to power and the information and insight derived from having it was the currency of the trade. By the 1980s, however, Watergate and television had combined to awaken an entirely new kind of career ambition. If you were an aspiring journalist born in the 1950s, when the baby boom was in full swing, then you entered the business at almost exactly the moment when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post — portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the cinematic version of their first book, “All the President’s Men” — were becoming not just the most celebrated reporters of their day but very likely the wealthiest and most famous journalists in American history (with the possible exception of Walter Cronkite). And what made Woodward and Bernstein so iconic wasn’t proximity, but scandal. They had actually managed to take down a mendacious American president, and in doing so they came to symbolize the hope and heroism of a new generation.
 
It would be hard to overstate the impact this had, especially on younger reporters. If you were one of the new breed of middle-class, Ivy League-educated baby boomers who had decided to change the world through journalism, then there was simply no one you could want to become more than Woodward or Bernstein, which is to say, there was no greater calling than to expose the lies of a politician, no matter how inconsequential those lies might turn out to be or in how dark a place they might be lurking.
 
The [Miami] published a front-page reconstruction of the events leading up to and including that Saturday night. Written by McGee, Fiedler and Savage, the 7,000-plus-word article — Moby-Dick-like proportions by the standards of daily journalism — is remarkable reading. First, it’s striking how much The Herald’s account of its investigation consciously imitates, in its clinical voice and staccato cadence, Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men.” (“McGee rushed toward a pay telephone a block away to call editors in Miami. It was 9:33 p.m.”) Clearly, the reporters and editors at The Herald thought themselves to be reconstructing a scandal of similar proportions, the kind of thing that would lead to Pulitzers and movie deals. The solemn tone of the piece suggests that Fiedler and his colleagues imagined themselves to be the only ones standing between America and another menacing, immoral president; reading it, you might think Hart had been caught bludgeoning a beautiful young woman to death, rather than taking her to dinner.
 
The other fascinating thing about The Herald’s reconstruction is that it captures, in agonizing detail, the very moment when the walls between the public and private lives of candidates, between politics and celebrity, came tumbling down forever.
 
The next morning, on May 3, The Herald reporters published a front-page article about Hart’s purported affair. At the end, they referred to a statement in which Hart challenged reporters interested in his personal life to follow him. Hart couldn’t have known it at the time, but his words — “follow me around” — would shadow him for the rest of his days. They would bury everything else he had ever said in public life.
 
In the history of Washington scandal, only a few quotes — “I am not a crook,” “I did not have sex with that woman” — have become as synonymous with a politician. In truth, though, Hart never issued any challenge to The Miami Herald’s reporters, or to anybody else, really. The words were spoken weeks earlier to E. J. Dionne Jr., who was then the top political reporter for The New York Times and was writing a profile for this magazine. Dionne discussed a broad range of topics with Hart and then reluctantly turned to the rumors of affairs. Hart was exasperated and he finally told Dionne: “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.”
 
Hart said this in an annoyed and sarcastic sort of way, in an obvious attempt to make a point. He was “serious” about the sentiment, all right, but only to the extent that a man who had been twice separated from his wife and dated other women over the years — with the full knowledge of his friends in the press corps and without having seen a single word written about it at the time — could have been serious about such a thing. Hart might as well have been suggesting that Martians beam down and run his campaign, for all the chance he thought there was that any reporter would actually resort to stalking him. Dionne certainly didn’t take the comment literally, though he suspected others might. “He did not think of it as a challenge,” Dionne would recall many years later. “And at the time, I did not think of it as a challenge.”
 
As it happened, Dionne’s cover story was set to appear Sunday, May 3, the same day the Herald published its front-page exposé. No one at The Herald had a clue that Hart had issued any “challenge” on the previous Monday when Fiedler heard from his anonymous tipster or when he continued to chase the story during the week or when McGee flew off to Washington and began prowling outside the townhouse on Friday night. All of this they did on their own, without any prodding from Hart.
 
In those days before the Internet, however, The Times circulated printed copies of its magazine to other news media a few days early, so editors and producers could pick out anything that might be newsworthy and publicize it in their own weekend editions or Sunday shows. And so it was that when Fiedler boarded his flight to Washington Saturday morning, eager to join the stakeout, he brought with him the advance copy of Dionne’s story, which had been sent to The Herald. Somewhere above the Atlantic seaboard, anyone sitting next to Fiedler would probably have seen him jolt upward in his seat as if suddenly receiving an electric shock. There it was, staring up at him from the page — Hart explicitly inviting him and his colleagues to do exactly the kind of surveillance they had undertaken the night before.
 
The discovery of Hart’s supposed challenge, which the Herald reporters took from the advance copy of The Times Magazine on Saturday night and inserted at the end of their Sunday blockbuster — so that the two articles, referring to the same quote, appeared on newsstands simultaneously — probably eased any reservations the editors in Miami might have had about pushing the story into print before they had a chance to identify Rice and try to talk to her. Soon enough, as The Herald would put it in their longer reconstruction a week later, Gary Hart would be seen as “the gifted hero who had taunted the press to ‘follow me around.’ ” Everyone would know that Hart had goaded the press into hiding outside his townhouse and tracking his movements. So what if The Herald reporters hadn’t even known about it when they put Hart under surveillance? Hart’s quote appeared to justify The Herald’s extraordinary investigation, and that’s all that mattered.
 
The difference here is far more than a technicality. Even when insiders and historians recall the Hart episode now, they recall it the same way: Hart issued his infamous challenge to reporters, telling them to follow him around if they didn’t believe him, and then The Herald took him up on it. Inexplicably, people believe, Hart set his own trap and then allowed himself to become ensnared in it.
 
And this version of events conveniently enabled The Herald’s reporters and editors to completely sidestep some important and uncomfortable questions. As long as it was Hart, and not The Herald, who set the whole thing in motion, then it was he and not they who suddenly moved the boundaries between private and political lives. They never had to grapple with the complex issues of why Hart was subject to a kind of invasive, personal scrutiny no major candidate before him had endured, or to consider where that shift in the political culture had led us. Hart had, after all, given the media no choice in the matter.
 
In the days after the Herald story, Hart continued on to New Hampshire, where photographers and political reporters, who until then had always observed some sense of decorum, shoved one another aside and leapt over shrubs in an effort to get near the wounded candidate. It was there, at a carnival-like news conference on Wednesday, May 6, that Paul Taylor, a star reporter for The Washington Post, publicly asked Hart the question that no presidential candidate in America to that point had ever been asked, let alone from one of the country’s most admired newspapers: “Have you ever committed adultery?”
 
The most enduring image of that time, of course, is the infamous photo of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap, which Armandt snapped on a crowded dock in Bimini during that overnight cruise and later sold to The National Enquirer. In it, Rice is wearing a short white dress; Hart is wearing a “Monkey Business crew” T-shirt, along with a startled, crooked grin. Most people who lived through the event, and some who covered it, will tell you that the photo is what provided irrefutable evidence of the affair and drove Hart from the race. But the photo didn’t surface until nearly three weeks after Hart suspended his candidacy. It was a final indignity, to be sure, but it had nothing to do with his decision to quit. [This phone, that is above this post, came from the Web, not this story in the NYT Magazine. Who of my generation does not recall seeing it? I did not remember it surfaced later as just noted.]
 
If Nixon’s resignation created the character culture in American politics, then Hart’s undoing marked the moment when political reporters ceased to care about almost anything else. By the 1990s, the cardinal objective of all political journalism had shifted from a focus on agendas to a focus on narrow notions of character, from illuminating worldviews to exposing falsehoods. If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would be: “We know you’re a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it.”
 
As an industry, we aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions. As the former senator Bob Kerrey, who has acknowledged participating in an atrocity as a soldier in Vietnam, told me once, “We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and there’s a tendency to think that we are.” That quote, I thought, should have been posted on the wall of every newsroom in the country, just to remind us that it was true.
 
Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters’. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial. It drove a lot of potential candidates with complex ideas away from the process, and it made it easier for a lot of candidates who knew nothing about policy to breeze into national office, because there was no expectation that a candidate was going to say anything of substance anyway.
 
Gary Hart, meanwhile  . . . 
 
“Well, at the very least, George W. Bush wouldn’t have been president,” Hart said ruefully. This sounded a little narcissistic, but it was, in fact, a hard premise to refute. Had Hart bested George H. W. Bush in 1988, as he was well on his way to doing, it’s difficult to imagine that Bush’s aimless eldest son would have somehow ascended from nowhere to become governor of Texas and then president within 12 years’ time.
 
“And we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq,” Hart went on. “And a lot of people would be alive who are dead.” A brief silence surrounded us. Hart sighed loudly, as if literally deflating. “You have to live with that, you know?”

I hate it for her, and I don't think it necessarily comes with the territory (although in our party we often eat our own). But Wasserman has been toxic for a good while, just as Nanch Peloski. The end will come sooner rather than later as the party has lost confidence in her as a unifying leader and a party spokesperson.

This past Friday at party function
2012
From The Washington Post:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz had an awkward task at the Democratic National Committee's Women’s Leadership Forum on Friday. She had to have back-to-back-to-back public encounters with the leaders of her party, who gathered there a day after a scathing and deeply reported story suggested that Democrats are all but done with her as chairman.

One by one, she introduced Vice President Biden, Hillary Clinton and President Obama. And it was essentially air-kisses all around.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Unwisdom of Barack Obama - Is he weak? Arrogant? Ambivalent? Don't overthink the president.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

At this dramatic time, with a world on fire, we look at the president and ponder again who he is. Mr. Obama himself mocked how people see him, according to a remarkable piece this week by Peter Baker in the New York Times"Oh, it's a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president," he reportedly said, sarcastically, in a meeting with journalists before his big Syria speech. Zbigniew Brzezinski told Mr. Baker the president's critics think he's a "a softy. He's not a softy."

Actually, no one thinks he's a softy. A man who personally picks drone targets, who seems sometimes to enjoy antagonizing congressional Republicans, whose speeches not infrequently carry a certain undercurrent of political malice, cannot precisely be understood as soft.

But we focus on Mr. Obama's personality and psychology—he's weak or arrogant or ambivalent, or all three—and while this is interesting, it's too fancy. We are overthinking the president.

His essential problem is that he has very poor judgment.

And we don't say this because he's so famously bright—academically credentialed, smooth, facile with words, quick with concepts. (That's the sort of intelligence the press and popular historians most prize and celebrate, because it's exactly the sort they possess.) But brightness is not the same as judgment, which has to do with discernment, instinct, the ability to see the big picture, wisdom that is earned or natural.

Mr. Obama can see the trees, name their genus and species, judge their age and describe their color. He absorbs data. But he consistently misses the shape, size and density of the forest. His recitations of data are really a faux sophistication that suggests command of the subject but misses the heart of the matter.

You can run down the list. His famous "red line" comment was poor judgment. He shouldn't have put himself or his country in that position, threatening action if a foreign leader did something. He misjudged the indelible impression his crawl-back would make on the world.

Last month it was the "I don't have a strategy" statement on the Islamic State. That's not something an American president attempting to rouse the public and impress the world can say. But he didn't know.

ObamaCare top to bottom was poor judgment. It shouldn't have been the central domestic effort of his presidency, that should have been the economy and jobs. He thought his bill could go forward without making Republicans co-own it, thought it would be clever to let Congress write it, thought an overextended and undertalented federal government could execute it. He thought those who told him the website would work were truthful, when he should have been smoking out agendas, incompetence and yes-sir-ism. He shouldn't have said if you like your doctor you can keep him. That was his domestic red-line comment. It was a product of poor judgment.

The other night, at the end of his Syria speech, he sang a long, off-point aria to the economy. Supposedly it would be ringing and rousing, but viewers looked at each other and scratched their heads. It didn't belong there. It showed a classic misjudging of his position. The president thinks people are depressed because they don't understand how good the economy is. Actually right now they are depressed because he is president. It was like Jimmy Carter's malaise speech. It wasn't a bad speech, but he wasn't the person who could give it because voters weren't thinking malaise was the problem, they were thinking Mr. Carter was. He couldn't relieve public unhappiness because people had come to think he was the source of it.

Mr. Obama misjudged from day one his position vis-à-vis Republicans on Capitol Hill. He thought they were out to kill him. Some were! That's Washington. But Republicans in 2009 were more desperate than he understood, and some could have been picked off, because they thought he was the future and they didn't want to be on the wrong side of history. To get their support on health care he would have had to make adjustments, bend a little so they could play ball without losing all standing and self-respect. He couldn't do it. He didn't see their quandary. He allowed them to stand against him with integrity. That was poor judgement!

Libya? Poor judgment. A nation run by a nut was turned into a nation run by many nuts, some more vicious than the dictator they toppled. Russia? The president misread it, which would only have been a mistake, if a serious one, if it hadn't been for his snotty high-handedness toward those who'd made warnings. To Mitt Romney, in debate, in October 2012: "The 1980s—they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back."

He misjudged public reaction to the Snowden revelations, did not understand Americans were increasingly alarmed about privacy and the government.

He can read a poll, but he can't anticipate a sentiment.

On scandals, and all administrations have them, he says something ringing, allows the withholding of information, and hopes it will all go away. Does Benghazi look to you like it's going away? Was the IRS's reputation buttressed by his claims that there wasn't a "smidgen of corruption" within it, or was its reputation ruined by its stonewalling?

In his handling of the Islamic State the president has been slow to act, slow to move, inconsistent in his statements, unpersuasive, uninspiring. No boots on the ground, maybe boots on the ground but not combat boots, only advisory boots. He takes off the table things that should be there, and insists on weird words like "degrade"—why not just "stop and defeat"?—and, in fact, "ISIL." The world calls it ISIS or Islamic State. Why does he need a separate language? How does that help?

In another strange, off-point aria, reported by the Times's Mr. Baker, the president told the journalists that if he were "an adviser" to ISIS, he would have told them not to do the beheadings but to send the hostages home with a note instead. Can you imagine FDR ruminating about how if Hitler wanted to win over Americans he wouldn't have invaded Poland, he would have softly encircled it and then thrown an unusually boisterous Oktoberfest?

Meanwhile time passes. The president's own surrogates this week seemed unsure, halting, sometimes confused. A month ago there was a chance to hit the Islamic State hard when they were in the field and destroy not just their arms but their mystique. At this point we are enhancing it. It is the focus of all eyes, the subject of the American debate. Boy do they make us nervous, maybe they're coming across our borders.

Maybe all this is the president's clever way of letting time pass, letting things play out, so that in a few months the public fever to do something—he always thinks the public has a fever—will be over. And he will then be able to do little, which perhaps is what he wants.

But none of this looks clever. It looks like poor judgment beginning to end.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Obama is defying the Constitution on war

I gree with George Will writing in The Washington Post, as do many legal scholars.  And truthfully, don't understand why the President doesn't want to make Congress buy in.

In Georgia, Politics Moves Past Just Black and White

See this Part I of a II part series from The New York Times (this article mentions my fair city of Douglas).

Rift widens between Obama, U.S. military over strategy to fight Islamic State

From The Washington Post:

Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.

Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president’s approach against the Islamic State militant group.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rove-affiliated group attacks Grimes for stance on immigration bill

From The Washington Post:

[T]he Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was approved in 2013 on a vote of 68 to 32 in the Senate,

If the bill had become law, undocumented aliens would have had to jump through all sorts of hoops before they could be considered for legal permanent residence, including registering with the government, having a steady job, paying a fine, paying back taxes, passing background checks, learning English—and then getting in line behind immigrants who had entered the country legally. It would have taken at least 13 years before citizenship could be obtained.

As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) put it, “they will have an earned, hard pathway to citizenship. They have to get in the back of the line before they can become citizens. They can’t cut in line.”

That bill said that Registered Provisional Immigrants—the intermediate step for illegal immigrants — will not be eligible for federal means-tested public benefits, such as Obamacare, food stamps or Medicaid or Medicare.

(Some undocumented aliens already have received Medicare, though they are not supposed to under a 1996 law, and the Obama administration says it is trying to end the problem. Some critics of the law also claim that there are some loopholes, such as access to emergency Medicaid for children or tax credits for the working poor, but these are mostly semantics. Besides, Registered Provisional Immigrants would have to allow payroll deductions for Social Security and Medicare while being unable to get those benefits unless they become citizens.)

Tom Friedman: Take a Deep Breath - ISIS and the Arab World (Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia have far more at stake in this than the United States.)

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

LONDON — An existential struggle is taking place in the Arab world today. But is it ours or is it theirs? Before we step up military action in Iraq and Syria, that’s the question that needs answering.
 
What concerns me most about President Obama’s decision to re-engage in Iraq is that it feels as if it’s being done in response to some deliberately exaggerated fears — fear engendered by YouTube videos of the beheadings of two U.S. journalists — and fear that ISIS, a.k.a., the Islamic State, is coming to a mall near you. How did we start getting so afraid again so fast? Didn’t we build a Department of Homeland Security?
 
I am not dismissing ISIS. Obama is right that ISIS needs to be degraded and destroyed. But when you act out of fear, you don’t think strategically and you glide over essential questions, like why is it that Shiite Iran, which helped trigger this whole Sunni rebellion in Iraq, is scoffing at even coordinating with us, and Turkey and some Arab states are setting limits on their involvement?
 
When I read that, I think that Nader Mousavizadeh, who co-leads the global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners, is correct when he says: “When it comes to intervening in the Arab world’s existential struggle, we have to stop and ask ourselves why we have such a challenge getting them to help us save them.”
 
So before we get in any deeper, let’s ask some radical questions, starting with: What if we did nothing? George Friedman (no relation), the chairman of Stratfor, raised this idea in his recent essay on Stratfor.com, “The Virtue of Subtlety.” He notes that the ISIS uprising was the inevitable Sunni backlash to being brutally stripped of power and resources by the pro-Iranian Shiite governments and militias in Baghdad and Syria. But then he asks:
 
Is ISIS “really a problem for the United States? The American interest is not stability but the existence of a dynamic balance of power in which all players are effectively paralyzed so that no one who would threaten the United States emerges. ... But the principle of balance of power does not mean that balance must be maintained directly. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia have far more at stake in this than the United States. So long as they believe that the United States will attempt to control the situation, it is perfectly rational for them to back off and watch, or act in the margins, or even hinder the Americans. The United States must turn this from a balance of power between Syria and Iraq to a balance of power among this trio of regional powers. They have far more at stake and, absent the United States, they have no choice but to involve themselves. They cannot stand by and watch a chaos that could spread to them.”
 
Therefore, he concludes, the best U.S. strategy rests in us “doing as little as possible and forcing regional powers into the fray, then in maintaining the balance of power in this coalition.” I am not sure, but it’s worth debating.
 
Here’s another question: What’s this war really about?
 
Saudi financing for these groups is a byproduct of the ruling bargain there between the al-Saud family and its Salafist religious establishment, known as the Wahhabis. The al-Sauds get to rule and live how they like behind walls, and the Wahhabis get to propagate Salafist Islam both inside Saudi Arabia and across the Muslim world, using Saudi oil wealth. Saudi Arabia is, in effect, helping to fund both the war against ISIS and the Islamist ideology that creates ISIS members (some 1,000 Saudis are believed to be fighting with jihadist groups in Syria), through Salafist mosques in Europe, Pakistan, Central Asia and the Arab world.
 
This game has reached its limit. First, because ISIS presents a challenge to Saudi Arabia. ISIS says it is the “caliphate,” the center of Islam. Saudi Arabia believes it is the center. And, second, ISIS is threatening Muslims everywhere. Khalidi told me of a Muslim woman friend in London who says she’s afraid to go out with her head scarf on for fear that people will believe she is with ISIS — just for dressing as a Muslim. Saudi Arabia cannot continue fighting ISIS and feeding the ideology that nurtures ISIS. It will hurt more and more Muslims.
 
This game has reached its limit. First, because ISIS presents a challenge to Saudi Arabia. ISIS says it is the “caliphate,” the center of Islam. Saudi Arabia believes it is the center. And, second, ISIS is threatening Muslims everywhere. Khalidi told me of a Muslim woman friend in London who says she’s afraid to go out with her head scarf on for fear that people will believe she is with ISIS — just for dressing as a Muslim. Saudi Arabia cannot continue fighting ISIS and feeding the ideology that nurtures ISIS. It will hurt more and more Muslims.
 
We, too, have to stop tolerating this. For years, the U.S. has “played the role of the central bank of Middle East stability,” noted Mousavizadeh. “Just as the European Central Bank funding delays the day that France has to go through structural reforms, America’s security umbrella,” always there no matter what the Saudis do, “has delayed the day that Saudi Arabia has to face up to its internal contradictions,” and reform its toxic ruling bargain. The future of Islam and our success against ISIS depend on it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New Obamacare provisions add nearly $50 million to state budget

Walter Jones writes:

ATLANTA | Two, little-reported provisions of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — are expected to add nearly $50 million to the tab for Georgia taxpayers by increasing access to Medicaid and limiting one tool the state has used to catch people who aren’t eligible.

“I’m frustrated as a taxpayer,” said state House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn.

The Georgia Department of Community Health estimates all provisions of the sweeping federal health care law will add almost $250 million to the state budget during the current fiscal year. That includes expanding benefits in the insurance plan for government employees and increased enrollment in Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids by people who were eligible all along but never applied for coverage until the new federal law required them to.

But the biggest jolt to the budget from Obamacare comes from the federal government prohibiting state officials from checking the eligibility every six months.

“It’s one of those things you look at it and say that’s the prudent thing to do,” England said. “It might cost you a little bit more paperwork on one hand, but you are saving more on the other hand on benefits.”

Medicaid eligibility, like PeachCare, is based on citizenship and income, which can change based on a new job or marriage.

“In that six-month interval if you find someone who’s no longer eligible, you take them off the rolls,” said Clyde Reese, Georgia’s commissioner of community health. “Now, waiting the extra six months to 12 months, you may be paying for somebody in that (added period) who was not eligible.”
Checking income yearly instead of semiannually added $42 million to the state budget.

Advocates for the poor say the longer period reduces hassles for people on Medicaid and lowers the risk they are accidentally dropped from coverage because of missing paperwork.

Georgia’s re-verification system has been problem-plagued, dropping thousands of people in error, according to advocate Linda Lowe.

“It means cancelled appointments, interrupted treatment, missed medications, and headaches for the family and medical providers,” she said.

The other new provision adds more than $7 million to the budget by allowing hospitals to bill Medicaid for patients before their eligibility is checked. So-called presumptive eligibility ensures providers get paid for treating someone who shows up in an emergency room, say hospital representatives.

“While this may add costs to the Medicaid program in the short term, we expect significant cost savings in the long term,” said Kevin Bloye, vice president of the Georgia Hospital Association. “Without insurance coverage, hospitals have to cost shift their losses from the uninsured — who only pay, on average, between 5-10 percent of the hospital’s cost to provide care — to other payers to break even.”

Reese said allowing hospitals to rely on the patients’ say-so could be hard to police.
“There is a very limited ability to go back and recoup the money that Medicaid has paid, so there’s going to be a cost associated with that,” he said. “As far as abuse, I think we’re going to see what the experience is when people present.”