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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Are you telling me that some countries still have colonies? Shame!

Links: A. Territories Under the Jurisdiction of Other Countries.
           B. Where on the Globe are the Remaining Colonies?

Were you aware that two cities on the north Mediterranean coast of Morocco are actually part of Spain?  Ceuta and Melilla are leftover remnants of the days when Europe almost went to war over Morocco just prior to the first World War.  I highly recommend visiting these cities, which truly are neither Spanish or Moroccan, but an exotic, spice-filled hybrid of both.  And since you are going to be in the neighborhood, why not take a little tour of Morocco itself?  You won't be sorry.  Historically, Morocco existed as part of the French colonial empire, and the stories of Ceuta and Melilla, and of Spanish General Francisco Franco and his northern-Morocco based army of Falangists crossing the Straits of Gibraltar to begin the Spanish Civil War, are fascinating on their own.  In the early 1960's, when two million Frenchmen called Algeria home, many people don't realize that somewhere between two-hundred and three-hundred thousand French citizens were living in Morocco.  Does France have any colonies left in Africa?  Does anyone have any African colonies still on the books, so to speak? And Asia, are any European nations still getting free rubber and petroleum from the Far East?  I love maps and Geography, with History coming a close second, so I was able to make a close guess before examining the two links that I have provided.  For the sake of keeping this post simple and fun, lets follow the established definition of "colony", and let's start right at home, with the United States.

With consideration to populated areas only (the United States has research facilities at various small island clusters, including Palmyra Atoll, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef and Midway, Wake, Baker, Jarvis and Howland Islands), the United States administers the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the territory of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Territory of the United States Virgin Islands, and the Territory of Guam.  When I was in High School and originally discovered that the United States administered so many far-flung areas around the world, I was amazed.  And to think that the U.S. overseas empire once included Cuba, Haiti, and the Philippines!  Most of the territories listed above were Pacific Ocean nation-states that had been occupied by the Japanese and liberated by the U.S. during World War Two.  Over the decades, the relationships have occasionally been contentious, but as of 2015, everyone seems to be satisfied, at least for the moment.  The U.S. taxpayer dishes out quite a bit to keep these naturally unbalanced (fish, bird shit, and more fish) economies afloat, but these communities have and continue to provide the United States with a number of invaluable benefits, for research and military purposes.  The United States conducted weapons testing near some of these areas, and an elaborate effort has been underway for some time to clean up the mess that was created.  The one wild-card in the mix is Puerto Rico, which on occasion has flirted with both becoming the fifty-first state and also with becoming an independent nation.  Something to note: with the exception of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, all of the overseas U.S. possessions are in the Pacific Ocean.

Canada has no colonies, unless you consider the Province of Nunavut to be an occupied nation, as many of the indigenous peoples do.  We can pass over Mexico and South and Central America, as Ecuador's claim on the Galapagos Islands and Chile's on Easter Island are considered directly connected to the mainland.  Very few European nations continue to administer foreign lands.  Portugal, once one of the world's greatest colonial powers, now counts the Azores as its last remaining foreign dependency (it is considered an autonomous region of Portugal and its inhabitants are Portuguese citizens).  Spain has cast off all of its former possessions, as has Italy, Belgium and Germany.  The Netherlands continue to administer the Caribbean Islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, an arrangement totally acceptable (and beneficial) to the local population.  I find Denmark to be a fascinating country.  This relatively small, Baltic state has authority over the North Sea-located Faroe Islands (a very modern European population of roughly fifty-thousand, that collects revenue from fishing), and also Greenland, or Kaalallit Nunaat, which is jointly administered by both Copenhagen and Nuuk.  Denmark has been both deliberate and patient with the slow integration of the native peoples into self-government.  In fact, it appears as if the native population (a small Danish minority exists) are finding the current arrangement to be most beneficial. 

The United Kingdom and France appear to have more overseas "dependencies" than anyone else. The U.K. continues to effect some authority over the Caribbean communities of the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos.  All of these states have self-rule, with an appointed British governor to represent the best interests of the English Queen (Elizabeth II, not Elton John).  The British occupy two distant regions that have been the cause of some controversy: the Falklands Islands and Gibraltar.  For a century, the British administered the Falklands, without a word of complaint from Argentina, the nearest country as-the-crow-flies.  The Falklands aren't the most hospitable islands, as the climate is cold and blustery, and the land won't grow much of use. But the Falklands are located in a bit of a strategic location.  In the 1980's, in an effort to encourage a wave of national pride, a military junta in charge of the Argentinian government invaded the Falklands, changing the name to Las Malvinas. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister at the time, so suffice to say that the Falklands were back in British control within six-months to a year.  The issue still rankles some Argentineans, although I don't see the argument.  I find the continued British presence in Northern Ireland to be much more debatable, but much more complicated for this post.  The British also continue to occupy Gibraltar, which is part of mainland Spain (as Ulster is part of mainland Ireland).  The Spanish have made countless requests for the return of Gibraltar, and on occasion have implemented temporary blockades.  But Gibraltar has proven to be a priceless possession over the centuries, especially during the two World Wars, and the British have no intention of giving it up.  The Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Isle of Man may all be closer to mainland France than the U.K., but they are thoroughly British, to the point that the French would never consider asking for them back.

France has a very complicated, sometimes tragic history involving its colonies.  In most instances (not all), France attempted to introduce the populations of its colonies to France as an ideal to be replicated.  Cities were built in the French pattern (Hanoi, Saigon, Brazzaville, Algiers, Tunis, Abidjan, Damascus), the French language was widely instituted, and French history, literature and art became staples of education.  In most places, the transition was gradual, and the French footprint is still quite visible today.  In fact, a number of potential independent nations have elected to stay part of France, including Guadalupe, Martinique, Reunion, Mayotte, and French Guiana.  During the past fifty years, French occupation of New Caledonia and French Polynesia has at times been contentious.  In both instances, France poured more money into the local economy and legislated expanded home rule.  New Caledonia is a difficult situation because the French who trace their heritage to the mainland constitute almost as large a percentage of the population as the indigenous peoples.  New Caledonia is an undiscovered jewel in the South Pacific, just northeast of New Zealand.  Probably because of distance, it has only become popular with French tourists, even though it is home to arguable the most tropical landscapes and beaches in the Pacific. French Polynesia is occasionally criticized for the urbanization of the capital city Pape'ete on Tahiti.  Well, if you don't care for lots of people in your tropical vacation, then just hop the ferry to Moorea or Bora Bora; you can't lose.  France has always been dedicated to bringing economic success to its foreign dependencies.  French Guiana benefits tremendously from the French Ariane Space Center that is located in Kourou.  When France abandoned its claim to Indochina (Vietnam), the French government relocated a number of Hmong tribesmen to Guiana, where they have thrived.

I consider Bouvet Island, Jan Meyer, and Svalbard to be integral to the geography of Norway, just as I consider Christmas Island, Norfolk Island, Keeling, Coral Sea Islands, and a few other small islands to be directly connected to Australia.  New Zealand does administer the Cook Islands, but only as a welcome support for the small indigenous population.  I did not include Gaza or the West Bank in this discussion because it was not appropriate.  For all intents and purposes, Gaza is occupied and administered by Hamas and the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority.  If they would take a little of the foreign donations that end up lining people's pockets (or in the case of Hamas, buying weapons), and focus on infrastructure, job creation and community development, we would all be better off.  But destroying Israel remains the end goal of all endeavors, and until that changes, then Israel will be obliged to treat the West Bank and Gaza as occasional occupied territories.  Jeez how I hate war.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

With the intensification of the conflict, what is Putin's goal in the Ukraine?

Links: A. Fears of New Separatist Offensive in Ukraine.
           B. Concern over likely new Offensive.

The conflict in Ukraine shows no indications of de-escalation, as Russian-backed separatists continue to dictate the course of events.  Since last September's "cease fire", the Separatists have conducted a number of important operations, including the seizure of the airport at Donetsk and the occupation of the strategic town of Debaltseve.  So what, exactly was the purpose of the cease fire?  A serious analysis of the conflict over the past year, with a focus on where both sides are today, makes it apparent that the Russians have had no trouble outmaneuvering, outgunning, and outthinking the Ukrainians.  Yes, the sanctions are in place, and yes, they have damaged the Russian economy.  But they have failed miserably in their intention, which was to encourage a cease fire and pressure Russia into de-militarizing eastern Ukraine.  In fact, the opposite has occurred.  No doubt we here at MB were not the only bloggers who predicted that Russia would thumb its nose at sanctions.  The Russian people no do respond well to that type of pressure.  Traditionally, they have shown much more understanding for conflicts that are settled on the battlefield.  We predicted that the Russian people might become even more galvanized behind Putin if the west insisted on a sanctions regime.  Evidence points to our correct interpretation of the circumstances.  The Russian media is loath to print or air a story that is critical of the Separatists, and the concocted stories regarding the Ukrainian government and alleged "atrocities" against ethnic Russians take a page right from Nazi tactics on the German-Polish border, circa 1939.  Someone needs to deliver a polite message to Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Barack Obama: Sanctions have failed.  Please tell us you have a plan B.  If not, Putin may be tempted to split Ukraine right in half.

The Ukrainian military has not shown the strength and decisiveness that MB had predicted.  Outgunned and outflanked repeatedly, the Ukrainians have been obliged to evacuate a number of strategic towns and locations.  Its possible that this is a direct result of the lack of military support from the west, in particular the United States.  With Congressmen of both parties urging President Obama to start providing weapons and supplies to the Ukrainians, Obama did nothing, although U.S. military advisors are on the ground, as well as instructors, and the United States has been sharing sensitive imagery and intelligence with the Ukrainians from the beginning of the conflict.  One disturbing trend has been the increasing number of foreign mercenaries that have been fighting on behalf of Ukraine.  The rest of Ukraine continues to function normally, as Russia has not curtailed the supply of gas.  It does appear that the port city of Mariupol is the next strategic target for the Separatists, which would make sense, given Putin's obsession with the turning the Black Sea into a Russian lake.

As of mid-April, 2015, the military situation is extremely delicate for the Ukrainian government.  While its true that the majority of Ukraine's military has not been brought into the conflict, there are reasons for that decision.  The government has the obligation of ensuring at least a modest defense of the capital city of Kiev, should the conflict escalate.  If the actions of the present Ukrainian government are any indication, then the military decisions have been made conservatively and the bulk of Ukraine's armor and air resources have not been deployed (although a great deal of artillery seems to have made its way to the front).  The Ukrainian military authorities are concerned that the regular army, with so many new conscripts, will get pulverized on the eastern front.  So the arrival of U.S. advisors/instructors is welcome.  But the United States must set an example and demonstrate that it can discern the difference between the "good guys and the bad guys".  If we can arm Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey, then we should be able to assist Ukraine in a battle for survival against a 21st century fascist state.

As for Putin's goal, your guess is as good as ours.  It appears that possibly he has decided to emasculate Ukraine by splitting it in two and depriving Kiev of any port access to the Black Sea.  I can understand why some analysts might hypothesize that Putin intends on destroying independent Ukraine.  No matter how we size it up, we cannot imagine that Putin actually intends on occupying the entire Ukraine.  Western Ukraine is very Nationalist and Russia in particular is despised (with good reason).  Trying to occupy anything west of Kiev would be more trouble than its worth, not to mention the Ukrainian military, such as it is, would take a toll on the Russians before all was said and done.  But Putin has become hard to predict.  In fact, he new policy seems to be, "what can I do to surprise the west today", so truly, the only surprise would be if Putin reverted back to what we believe was the original strategy and offers to evacuate eastern Ukraine in exchange for official recognition of Russian suzerainty over the Donbas Basin.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Is the Rainbow Nation trying to erase a few colors? South Africa adds Xenophobia to it's list of post-apartheid demons.

Links: A. South Africa health of the Economy, 2015.
           B. South Africa and Xenophobia.

My last post focused on Nigeria, and today I am writing on South Africa.  This is the first time that I have dedicated back-to-back posts to individual African nations, but some of my comments in the previous post required a certain amount of follow-up.  I will be returning to regular commentary on the struggle against terrorism and other international issues with my next post.  In the past I have received emails that accuse me of being too negative on the state of affairs in South Africa.  Its not easy to realize that something I write would be considered intentionally damaging to the reputation and overage image of South Africa.  Outside of the United States, I have spent more years in South Africa than any other country.  I speak Afrikaans and a bit of Zulu, and I absolutely love South Africa and all South Africans.  But when I decided to embark on this blog experiment, I made a personal agreement to always blog honestly.  Regardless of whether you live in Christchurch or Vereeniging, South Africa is a mess.  A sizeable number of South Africans have started expressing their frustrations by verbally and physically attacking foreigners, most of whom appear to be in South Africa illegally.  A young friend recently asked me why none of the South Africans involved in the attacks seemed to be white.  "Aren't white South Africans suffering from economic hardships just like black South Africans?"  Simply put, no.

I found the first link provided above after searching for an easy-to-understand, short explanation of South Africa's economic problems, circa 2015.  I succeeded beyond my expectations, which excuses me from the unpleasant job of explaining the situation myself.  I am obliged to mention a few of the more important points, though.  When Thabo Mbeki was President, the South African government was still making a modest (but still not disciplined enough) effort to keep spending under control.  This positive effort on behalf of the government was echoed in homes across the country, as South Africans continued to "save for a rainy day".  But 2015 presents a starkly different scenario.  The current government spends like a child in a candy store, and South Africans, probably due to necessity more than anything else, are no longer growing savings nest-eggs in the bank.  The banking sector is another issue altogether, with a few banks taking advantage of the previous economic surplus to push a sizes of loans.  At the time, the government (which has since rectified the problem, to their credit), didn't have much oversight in this area, and a number of banks were left carrying millions of Rand in unpaid and abandoned loans.  This development effectively tightened the loan market, making it much more difficult for legitimate applicants wanting a mortgage for a new home, to get approval.  And of course, regardless of the year or the state of the economy, South Africa will be facing a crisis in the labor market.  South Africa does not seem to be able to create enough jobs to keep all able-bodied persons employed.  The pressure placed on the already taxed social welfare net increased dramatically, and today we are left with high unemployment, high underemployment, low consumer confidence, limited growth, inability to buy homes, and a disturbing number of hungry mouths to feed in the Republic.  Everyday the media provides salacious details of the latest scandal involving theft or related corruption by a management-level government employee. I made an effort to compile a list of which and how many South African government agencies had been looted by a former manager or three, but I shouldn't have wasted my time.  The answer was obvious all along:  ALL OF THEM.

So South Africans (mostly young and black), with no hope of finding a job, and no reason to plan for the future, sees foreigners in surprisingly large numbers moving into his or her community.  These people are strangers who speak a different language, and come from places like Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Somalia, to name a few.  The young person reasonably assumes that the cause of a shortage in jobs is the appearances of all these foreigners.  Why should they come to South Africa and take what little jobs we have available?  Most people don't stop to realize that the foreigners are just as unemployed as the South Africans.  The rumor that permeates throughout Africa, that South Africa is the land of great jobs and opportunity, is false.  South Africans know this, but Eritreans paying their last few nafka to a smuggler in order to get to South Africa, have no idea.  Hence the genesis of today's latest South African tragedy: the murders of innocent foreigners who are in Diepsloot, or Edendale, or Mamelodi, or Khyelitsha, in an attempt to find a job to feed their families, the same goal as everyone else.  How did things go so bad after the unity, faith and hope of 1994?  Unfortunately, where you have people, you will eventually find thieves, liars, and sociopaths.  No one is exempt, although it seems that uneducated, poorer communities unfairly get more than their share.

In the first Democratic, all-inclusive general elections of 1994, there was absolutely no doubt that the ANC would be victorious.  At the time, Inkatha was still a force to be reckoned with, and there was some question regarding the white vote and whether it would coalesce under the DA liberal banner, the former NP government, or move into laager mode behind the Freedom Front (which may have still been running under the title of "Conservative Party").  Two things occurred which were a surprise to me: the ANC ended up just short of a majority, and the National Party completely disintegrated (the NP had been bleeding voters to the Conservative Party for years before the first all-inclusive election, but in this instance it appeared that the white vote was choosing to unite behind a liberal party line).  Not surprisingly, in the run-up to the election, the ANC campaign repeatedly promised the new South African electorate that "100,000 homes would be built in the first year", and that "rate cards would be torn up and electricity would be free".  For a variety of reasons, not because of lack of effort, the number of homes built during the entire first ANC term as a national government was a far cry from the hoped-for 100,000.  But this did not stop the ANC from bringing out the same promise in the next election, and the next.  At any time during these elections, an honest economist would have been able to see that the ANC's promises were just impossible to deliver.  No doubt South Africa has always had some unique demographic characteristics, but in truth race has very little to do with the basic economic situation. South Africa continues to grow in population, both through its natural birth rate and through illegal immigration. The number of persons needing to be feed, and the number of job seekers continues to rise.  Even though over the past fifteen years, South Africa has experienced a number of substantial years of economic growth, it has never been anywhere near enough to compensate for the growth in population.  It really is that simple, folks.

 So why do I complain so much about corruption, if the real problem is uncontrolled population growth?  Because it offends me to my core, and because it DIDN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.  The ANC government took the reigns of power, with Madiba at the helm and the support of the majority of all South Africans, white and black.  The Truth and Reconciliation process was a true wonder to behold, as South Africans reminded the world about the power of forgiveness.  Sadly, the problem didn't take long in manifesting itself, because the ANC felt the necessity to reward persons who sacrificed for the struggle, with well-paying jobs that they were totally unqualified to do.  In the beginning their was hope that this would be the only issue that needed to be addressed, but when Madiba started to fade a bit, and a younger, more self-obsessed generation of politicians moved in, then the odd case of corruption would be discovered.  Soon, people were whispering about how it was unfair that so-and-so was paid a higher salary, so I will rectify the situation on my own.  Bribery became a real problem in the police force, until thank goodness the inclusion of dashboard cameras in police cruisers.  Once Thabo Mbeki departed stage left, then the real hijinks began.  Suddenly it was OK to hire your wife or your children to work in your department (no matter that they never showed up and just collected a one wants to rock the boat).  Also, seeding your department with family and friends made it very difficult for investigators to find whistle-blowers.  The potent South African media was on this problem like stink on shit, with front page photos of obese, drunk managers climbing out of their wrecked, brand new Mercedes, as the mistress lay in the passenger seat, dying from her injuries.  Soon the dailies didn't have to fight for stories; their were plenty to go around.  The Union bosses were on the take, the drug squads were bad, bribes and bribes for delivering government contracts became the normal way of doing business.  If you think I'm laying it on a little thick, ask a South African.

So its no surprise that frustration has really taken root in this community.  The whites of South Africa continue to be an amazing group.  The live in their fortresses in Brooklyn, Waterkloof, Sandhurst, Bryanston, Bishopscourt, Constantia, Hilton, and Umhlanga, and continue the tradition of hard work that has been passed down for generations.  White South Africans are needed to keep certain parts of this country functioning, and the truth is, they are still a dedicated, dependable bunch.  At the same time, they continue to live as they always have, with garden boys, maids, cooks, and servants quarters (separate from the house, of course).  I always take visitors on a drive through Bryanston and then north to Brooklyn and Waterkloof, and I always hear the same comment: "I thought all of this was supposed to end?"  Forgive me for sounding a bit cynical, but the thieves of today realize that they need this trained and dependable group to stay happy, so they don't emigrate to Australia, before the current government has had its opportunity to rob the country of some of its resources.

Cynical? Absolutely.  And also frustrated and disappointed.  I believe that the resources of South Africa should be dedicated 100 percent to improving the living conditions of the most needy in the community.  I lived in South Africa in 1989, and it seems to me that the same families have continued to accumulate wealth, with the ones who left having been replaced by the new ANC elite.  I make no bones about the fact that I support the Democratic Alliance.  The DA is just the panacea that South Africa craves.  Multi-racial, multi-EVERYTHING, the DA has a surplus of brilliant economists and academics who are straining at the bit to put this house in order.  Its not too late, because South Africa is resilient, and full of resources.  The education model that has proven so successful in the western Cape should be the national model.  In fact, so many programs instituted by the DA in the municipalities that they control, would bring needed relief to all corners of the Republic.  I have always considered the ANC to be omnipotent, and South Africa to be another in a long-line of one-party African states.  But maybe, just maybe, the tide has shifted with the most recent scandals, Nkandla being most offensive.  What an amazing thing it would be for South Africa to have the chance to spread its wings and finally BREATHE.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Nigeria: Africa's Great Resource and Hope for a Better Future.

Links: A.  Nigeria tackles unemployment, corruption, energy needs.
           B.  Everyone focused on ending poverty in Nigeria.

In the last few weeks, I have received dozens of emails from Nigerians either in-country or abroad, and I have been truly humbled by the thoughtful and polite comments regarding my posts on the recent Nigerian election.  In addition, I have commented on Nigeria with regards to Boko Haram, and also on the state of economics in Africa as a whole.  I receive more feedback on Nigeria than any other subject, which is encouraging, because I believe Nigeria is a tremendously important country, with the opportunity to lead the continent into a century of peace and economic growth.  But words are cheap, if you'll excuse the cliché.  I make no secret that I am very attached to South Africa.  I love the land and the people; I consider it one of three places where I can actually feel at home.  But for the sake of honesty, I have to recognize that South Africa seems bound and determined to abdicate its title as the "leader of the continent", and "powerhouse of Africa".  South Africa has serious internal conflicts, which have yet to really effect the economy (which remains sluggish anyhow), but when they do, it will be a full broadside.  I believe that the ANC government played its last "loyalty, sympathy and tradition" card in the last elections.  Madiba has gone to his great reward, and what sits in his place is a sorry substitute by any measure.  For over twenty years, the ANC, which has governed South Africa since the death of apartheid (1992-94), has been campaigning by promising free housing for millions.  Here is the rub, folks: not only have the people not received their free homes, but the President of the Republic, Jacob Zuma, who already had three official state residences, was provided with "Nkandla", a living compound larger than most luxury hotels.  In order to make Nkandla "livable" for Zuma, it required a helipad, a swimming pool, private hospital, and other amenities with a price tag of over 215 million rand.  So how many modest, four-room homes could 215 Rand pay for?  If we allocated 100,000 Rand per home, we could build over 20,000 homes.  We could make a large informal settlement disappear overnight. 

Instead of recognizing how damaging this scandal could become and ending the improvements (and possibly try to return some of the funds), Zuma has been indignant, and, of course, accepted no blame for the fiasco.  Nkandla is a perfect example of what has become of South Africa.  The ANC government, provided by the South African electorate with unlimited authority and no real oversight, has been like a group of children in a candy shop.  EVERY government department is drowning in either validated cases or accusations of corruption.  What is most heartbreaking about South Africa is that the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is multi-racial and overflowing with brilliant economists, planners, economic experts, teachers, etc.  If only....but it won't happen.  And this is the reason why Nigeria will have the opportunity to pick up the banner and become the leader for the entire continent.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, the winner in last month's elections, has a number of pressing issues to address sooner rather than later.  The Niger Delta militias, who, not that long ago, seemed to have the entire country held hostage, were smoothly co-opted by former President Goodluck Jonathan, and a serious crisis was resolved.....temporarily.  Jonathan flooded the Delta region with amnesty, cash, and benefits, and the militia played along.  In the last election, the Delta region voted heavily in favor of Jonathan, out of fear that the good times would come to an end with an All Progressives Congress (APC) victory.  The answer to this problem lies somewhere in between, and I have full confidence that Buhari will be up to the task.  The Delta region needs to be co-opted not into a small group of oil-revenue beneficiaries, but into the Nigerian economic system as a whole.  Many Nigerians (and at least one Texan) continue to be frustrated by the fact that Nigeria has to import refined petroleum.  Nigeria needs to build a refining capacity that is second-to-none.  Buhari need to play hard-ball with these billionaire western company execs who are padding their own retirements with Nigerian resources; there is no excuse for Nigeria to not have a full refining capability, and the fact that Nigeria has to import refined petroleum is an absolute tragedy.

I like both President Buhari and President Jonathan, who earned my deep respect by the manner in which he handled his defeat in the last election.  He could have made the outcome questionable, by encouraging demonstrations and denouncing the legitimacy of the process.  Instead, he single-handedly delivered a peaceful wake-up to Nigeria the next morning.  He could have caused all sorts of havoc in the Delta region alone.  Cheers and hats off to you, President Jonathan.  Buhari, as a Muslim, was in the delicate position of avoiding any inference that he might have sympathies for Boko Haram.  Buhari is a very intelligent and patient man.  When he was military leader of the Junta that governed Nigeria some years back, he never let anyone forget that Nigeria was destined to return to civilian rule in the near future.  He also governed in a fair and responsible manner.  Buhari has promised to address one particular issue that has received a great deal of internal press, and that is the borderline theft committed by outgoing governors and administrators in certain Nigerian states.  The law allows these individuals to assume a great deal of power over the purse strings, and jobs appear out of thin air and are given to friends and relatives.  Bonuses are awarded, and the most egregious act, increases in retirement salaries and related disbursements are summarily created.  A number of Nigerian state governors have become multi-millionaires by abusing the state budgets in this fashion.  Well, Buhari has promised to address the issue.  He has some very close relationships with a couple of men who are accused of such activities.  The Nigerian people will be able to test the sincerity, the mettle, and the honesty of their new president by how he handles this issue.  Not only does he need to create new laws that are uniform throughout the Republic, but he also needs to take measures that will protect the Nigerian taxpayer from this type of abuse in the future.  If at all possible, these men (and women) need to be held accountable, and if possible, the money needs to be returned to the people.

Corruption will always be a problem in a nation of low literacy.  History has shown us that as education becomes more prevalent, nations tend to move away from endemic corruption, although there will always be exceptions.  Russia is a modern country, and yet corruption plays an everyday part in the affairs of state and the economy.  But the people of Nigeria seem to share a determination, a dedication to root out corruption and create a bureaucracy that is accessible to all, not just to those with money.  This is the point of separation between South Africa and Nigeria.  I don't sense that the South Africa people are willing to fight corruption, if it means that the ANC can longer be the governing party.  Nigeria is rich in resources and in work ethic.  That combination will be the platform that lifts this country to new accomplishments.  Nigeria is evolving and growing as it confronts the Boko Haram menace in the north, and the devilish corruption that has taken root in the capital and the state houses around the country.  But Nigeria appears to be united as never before, to demand accountability, to support a government that puts education and job creation as permanent priorities, especially when budgets are being written.  The opportunity exists, with a mature, experienced, and considerate man as president, to make great things happen.  Good Bless Nigeria and South Africa.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Has the United States ever been on the wrong side of a war? Just a few to think about:

Links: A. The American Legion breaks down the Vietnam War
           B. Triggers of World War One
           C. Spain did not destroy the U.S.S. Maine   

I've decided that once every week I will have a "random history" day, in which I chose a subject from world history and hopefully present it in a manner which encourages comments.  The majority of my viewers are not from the United States, a fact of which I'm actually very proud.  With that in mind, the subjects I chose will rarely, if ever, be about the United States.  Today, though, we start off with a topic which should be of interest to everyone.  Certainly in my travels around the world, I've heard non-Americans offer opinions on the subject.  Has the United States ever fought on the wrong side of a war?  I have to choose the noun "war" as opposed to "conflict", because including every little scrape and rumble would have made any kind of focus impossible.  And lets not be shy - lets dive right in with the most controversial of wars: Vietnam, or the Second Indochina War (1961-1975).

When the United States started paying closer attention to events in Indochina, France, the former colonial power, and picked up stakes and moved on.  Following the Second World War, France, which had made a tremendous financial investment in French Indochine, decided to fight tooth-and-nail to defeat the communist insurgency that had flared up after the departure of the Japanese.  While the communists were raising hell in Korea with the U.S., they were also raising hell in Vietnam with France.  For many years, though, the French gave back as good as they got.  Both Saigon and Hanoi had been modernized along French lines, with grid-like downtowns, bakeries, streetlights, traffic signals, and a large City Hall.  Unfortunately, not much is left, but Saigon still has a few old colonial buildings standing.  The French Foreign Legion accomplished things in Indochina that are basically impossible to comprehend.  Almost outnumbered and usually outgunned, the Legionnaires just refused to quit.  The famous battle of Dien Ben Phu, standard fodder for all arm chair generals, is replete with examples of bravery and heroism in the face of overwhelming opposition.  The surrender at Dien Ben Phu ended France's efforts to keep its Asian colony, and introduced a perspective that would hit home to the United States in the decade to come; the perspective that its impossible to fight to defend a country when the country isn't your home.

During the Vietnam War, the United States went through three presidents: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.  Each man was faced with the decision of whether or not to escalate the war.  Even with the draft in place, at no time did the United State have anywhere near its full combat strength in Vietnam.  If necessary, the United States in 1970 could put millions of soldiers into the field.  But more soldiers no doubt result in more casualties.  As most students of military history are aware, almost all the battles of the war were victories for the United States and South Vietnam (pre-1973).  But while we were winning victories in the field, the north was flooding South Vietnam with both irregular troops and civilians, to put pressure on the economy and spread the ideology at the same time.  Strategically speaking, the famous Tet Offensive was a disaster for North Vietnam.  Nothing was gained and many well-trained soldiers died.  But it created a permanent fear in the heart of the South Vietnamese people, that a North victory was only a matter of time, and the Yankees would be leaving as soon as the winds changed direction. 

Even though Nixon campaigned on ending the war, he did consider certain military options that might have destroyed the Viet Cong permanently.  But Nixon was unable to control the monster of public opinion and pressure from our European allies.  If Nixon had doubles the number of troops and called for a full, non-stop bombing campaign of the north, the war would have been over in a few months.  Unless, of course, the Chinese invaded, as they did in Korea.  Or the Russians decided to up the ante.  Nixon also had the option of introducing Atomic weapons.  But the question today is not whether the war could have been won, the questions is whether we were fighting for the right side.  I think history has answered that question.  After defeating the south in 1975, Vietnam became a violent, reactionary, totalitarian state.  Hundreds of thousands, of not millions, died, AFTER the departure of the Americans.  And, as is the nature of communist regimes, the attempt was made to transport its brand of communism to both Laos (successfully), and Cambodia (eventually).  We were fighting in an effort to support the legal right of South Vietnam to exist (guaranteed by the United Nations, and also to hopefully prevent the genocide that unfortunately, followed.

The justification for going to war is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.  In 1915, if you were to ask any Austrian why a war was being fought in Europe, they would reply that it was because of the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by guerillas trained in Serbia.  In Russia, you would be told that Russia went to war to defend tiny Serbia from the military might of Austria.  France would say that they were obliged to go to war with Austria because of a mutual defense treaty with Russia, the same excuse Germany would use for coming into the conflict on the side of the Hapsburgs.  Whew!  The British waited a bit until recognizing an obligation to fight alongside France, and Italy decided to wait a year or two, and see who was winning before deciding what side to join.  The United States stayed neutral until almost the last year of combat.  A powerful and active anti-war movement kept President Woodrow Wilson from taking that final step until the Germans stupidly sent a telegram to Mexico, offering the Mexicans a return of all lands lost to the United States over the years if they came into the war on the side of Germany.  For some reason, the American people were more angry with the Zimmerman Telegram than they were with the continued sinking of U.S. passenger liners full of innocent civilians.

Back to the original question.  The United States declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire in 1917.  Was the United States justified in going to war over the telegram, and/or the continued sinking of U.S. ships?  I have a different opinion.  First and foremost, if the United States did not want to lose passenger liners (and innocent Americans), then it shouldn't have filled the hold of these liners with military equipment bound for Great Britain.  Secondly, why are Americans willingly sailing into a war zone anyways?  In 1863, if an Austrian ship delivering rifles to the Confederacy were sunk by Union blockading ships, would Austria be justified in declaring war on the United States?  And one must keep in mind that by 1917, the British maritime blockage was causing famine in Central Europe.  Children and the elderly were starving to death in Austria and Germany, while the soldiers were kept fed so they could continue fighting. Germany was searching for any way to combat the British blockage, so they were unsuccessfully attempting one of their own.  The telegram, which some experts continue to claim is a fake, is a red herring as far as I'm concerned.  In other words, it's an effort to distract folks from the truth.  If we go back to 1914, and imagine if the French Vice President were assassinated in Belgium by anarchists trained and armed in Germany, I can assure that France would be preparing for war.  The same can be said for a British Prince, or a Russia Archduke.  Austria's attempt to respond to the assassination of the heir to the Hapsburg throne was to punish Serbia, the guilty party.  At that particular time in history, it would have been a very normal course of action to expect.

Last but not least, my favorite: the destruction of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898.  At the time of the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana, the U.S. Congress was debating several measures regarding the Spanish possession of Cuba and Spain's treatment of the "indigenous" population.  Spain was portrayed as being borderline slave masters to the population of Cuba, save for a tiny class of Castilian plantation owners, civil servants and diplomats.  The same scenario was widely discussed regarding both Puerto Rico and the Far East colony of The Philippines.  In reality, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines basically constituted what remained of a once mighty Spanish Empire (excluding Spanish Sahara, Rio Muni and Equatorial Guinea in Africa, and a few other small enclaves).  Spain itself was broke, and staggering from internal conflicts relating to failed Republican governments and inept Monarchs.  But the new young King showed great promise, and the people of Spain sensed a new beginning.  Some of the ship-building facilities were modernized and orders placed for the beginnings of a new fleet.  In all honesty, the American interest in these Spanish possessions had almost nothing to do with philanthropy.  It had to do with economics and business, and also a growing sense of wider "Manifest Destiny"; something that stretched further than California.  Cuba was less than one hundred miles from Florida, of course it should be part of the United States, not crumbling, decrepit old Spain.  Its very likely that U.S. officials were being honest in their accusations of sabotage against Spanish authorities in Havana.  The battleship, which should never have been sent to Havana in the first place (an effort at intimidation, no doubt), just "blew up".  The Americans claimed that the Spanish purposely mined the harbor so as to come into contact with the Maine, or some such thing.  As you will learn from examining the third link I have provided, Spain has been completely exonerated.  In all likelihood, the explosion of the Maine was an internal, accidental event.  tragic, yes, but justification to go to war?  We did go to war, and Spain fought valiantly both on land and on sea.  But the Spanish fleet was twenty years too old to stand up to the powerful American squadron, and Teddy Roosevelt and his Roughriders eventually subdued the Spanish garrison on Cuba (with heavy losses).  The United States got to keep Puerto Rico permanently, and the Philippines and Cuba temporarily.  I'm not sure if an apology has been delivered to the Kingdom of Spain, but if not, then one is due.  Pure and simple, it was a war fought on false pretenses, and something beneath the fine, commendable, and respectable reputation of the United States government.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The release of my book, Mukhabarat, Baby!, has been rescheduled for early May 2015; here's why:

Link: Official Website For Mukhabarat, Baby!

I have been obliged to reschedule the release date of my memoir, Mukhabarat, Baby!, from April 14, 2015 until early May, 2015.  Being someone who really appreciates a well-thought schedule for business activities, I can't say that the change in release dates was a comfortable transition on my part.  But I am not a businessman, and I have no experience in the world of book publishing, printing, conversions, proof galleys, etc.  Persons who are more familiar with this environment have explained that release dates can be tricky things, and that its best to aim for perfection, but prepare for a bit of flexibility, especially when self-publishing.

Because of my lack of understanding regarding the time required for some of the processes involved in the printing preparation, I chose a release date that was a few weeks short of being reasonable.  It wasn't a case of negligence on my part, it was simply that I didn't leave any room for error, and error always finds its way into endeavors involving so many different pieces.  So additional time was needed to deliver the high-quality product of which I demand.  A few little birds whispered in my ear that the tiny imperfections that I had discovered in the proof were not worth altering the timetable.  I disagreed, and my decision is the one that matters.  It was an expensive decision, that will continue to have a cost, but there was never any question that the changes, as incidental to the story itself and minor as they were, would be made. I'm convinced most folks in my shoes would make the same decision.  This book is tremendously personal; I am the common denominator which connects one chapter to the next, and without a doubt it is a clear reflection of who I am as a man.  When I approve this book for sale, I will be absolutely comfortable with the quality of the product that bears not only my name, but the name of my family.

I have made the decision to identify "early May, 2015" as the new release date.  As the process becomes clearer, I intend on providing an exact date.  Please do not let the rescheduling of the release date impact your interest in reading my book.  When I originally decided to share my experiences in book form, I was determined to introduce a certain amount of humanity to the CIA and its employees, which I felt was lacking in today's media.  I have full confidence in the heart and soul of Mukhabarat, Baby!, and if the enthusiasm of the handful of persons who have already previewed the book is any indication, I will achieve my goal. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A few questions regarding the border and the Department of Homeland Security:

Links: A. Incoming Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
           B. Number of Deportations Plummet

As of late, the Federal Government has been focusing a great deal of attention on the issue of amnesty for illegal immigrants.  The Obama Administration has come to the conclusion that the only solution to the "problem" of illegal immigrants is to create a law that will allow them to become U.S. citizens.  Lets begin this discussion with an agreement that we will try and keep the issue as simple as possible.  Lets start at the beginning: why do persons cross the border into the United States from Mexico without documentation?  What is their intention?  The simple answer is, that some cross the border to deliver narcotics to drug smugglers, but most persons cross in the hope of finding a better life.  The governments of Mexico and Central America (and some in South America) are ineffectual at best and corrupt at worst, and regular jobs are very hard to find.  For some reason, everyone seems to have access to a television, and they see in the USA a country that provides education, jobs, and security.  So they scrounge up their last few pesos, and risk their lives just getting to the Mexican side of the border, before locating a Coyote (smuggler) to get them across.  Some of those traveling from south of Mexico never make it to the Rio Grande.  Mexico has very strict immigration laws which are enforced, unless, of course, you have the appropriate baksheesh (bribe money). 

So where were we?  Oh yes, people crossing the border into the United States sin documentos because they believe that the United States might provide them with the opportunity for a better life.  But at the end of the day, every nation on this planet has laws.  Those laws are intended to serve a purpose, usually to provide rules that allow us to interact in public (speed limits, traffic lights, etc.) and also to provide us with security. The United States is a nation of immigrants, so to speak.  At various times in the history of our Republic, we have welcomed large numbers of immigrants from overseas, including Italy, Russia, Ireland, England, China and Vietnam.  At the time, we needed the kind of labor that tis population surge provided.  Our nation was growing up....and out.  We needed roads, buildings, railroads, factories, ships, and on and on.  Our demographics have changed considerably since those days.  Now we are in need of highly skilled, educated immigrants, to work in the computer and high tech fields.  Sure there will always be construction jobs, lawn maintenance, and similar types of manual labor, but even those jobs will become more competitive if we don't enforce our border laws.

While the Administration and the Congress discuss the amnesty issue, the Administration has ordered a review of all criminal orders of removal (Deportation Orders).  Simply put, when a person without legal status commits a crime which requires incarceration, Homeland Security officials are obliged to arrange travel documents and escort this individual back to their country of birth, following the completion of their sentence.  Well, the Obama Administration, without probable cause (no history of abuse in this program), has suspended these deportations until a judge can review the deportation order and confirm that everything is copacetic.  Until then, the individual is released onto the streets, on their own recognizance.  Oddly enough, overall deportations have dropped considerably as well.  No doubt the Obama Administration has decided that Spring, 2015, is the time to overload us all with so much immigration stuff, that we will just throw up our hands and say, "you win"!  Not so fast.
The lack of border enforcement and the suspension of deportation orders has one purpose: to seduce the Hispanic community in the United States.  Hispanic Americans have always supported Democratic candidates over Republicans.  I think the trend really took off with President John F. Kennedy, but I could be wrong.  And the Latino community has been tremendously loyal to the Democratic Party.  If you take a poll along the southern border, and write down the party affiliation of every county sheriff, every judge, every chief of police, every mayor, every superintendent and member of the school board, you will notice the one commonality is that they are all Democrats.  Of course, the border areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are heavily Hispanic.  Which means a Republican candidate for any of the above-named offices will never win.  But here is where things gets tricky; another problem with our border communities?  Ineffectual leadership and corruption.  Communities with no running water and no paved roads, problems with the schools, infrastructure collapse, etc., would be a problem anywhere, but add to that almost endemic corruption.  In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, it seems as if the FBI is taking out one group of corrupt cops after another.  And the judges, who facilitate so much of the operations, get rounded up as well.  Its always persons who belong to and are loyal to the Democratic Party Machine. What would it take, after five decades and more of the same garbage, to try something different, and elect someone else?  Heck, if Republicans truly are monsters, then vote Libertarian.  But at the end of the day, the Democrats in Austin and in Washington DC know that they are guaranteed Representatives from those communities.  And that is the real tragedy, to be taken for granted year after year after year......

In the title of this post, I mentioned a few questions that I wanted to present to the Department of Homeland Security.  But after I started to type, I realized that I already knew the answer, and I was only hoping against hope that my questions might just put someone on the spot.  But that is an unreasonable dream, because, just like you, in the big scheme of things, I'm nobody.  Sometimes I get angry about politics and current events, but at the end of the day, I can only be responsible for myself and my own actions.  And that should be enough.  My perspective on the issue of amnesty is not complicated.  If we provide a path to citizenship to persons whose entire presence in our country is predicated on breaking our laws, then how in the future, do we decide which laws to enforce and which ones to ignore?  Its a slippery slope (HATE that cliché), but there it is.  The issue has already presented itself as a bit of a problem.  Should the police officer continue to enforce laws against possession of Marijuana, when, just five miles away in Colorado, its legal?  Another bit of annoyance for me regarding this amnesty plan is, what about all those people who followed the law, and have been waiting patiently for their turn to arrive, where they are granted legal residency?  Should we take that list, and just put them on the pathway as well?  How can we not?  These are people who respected our country enough to actually follow the legal path to residency.  Will they be punished for FOLLOWING the law, by being excluding from Obama's largesse?

And at the end of the day, most people who chose to be honest, will admit that they understand the motivation for this focus on amnesty.  Its all about votes.  First and foremost, it solidifies the Democratic Party as the friend of Hispanic Americans, at least in their eyes.  And if the program grows, and eventually includes as many as fifteen to twenty million persons, who transition from no status to citizenship, what does that do to our political process?  try to imagine twenty million new Democratic votes in the next Presidential election.  President Obama defeated Mitt Romney, roughly sixty-five million votes to sixty million votes.  Even if you were generous and gave the Republican candidate twenty-five percent, it still will end up creating a one-party state in the United States.  Its not complicated, and it very doable.  And the whole process starts at the border.  If you allow them to skirt the law, and stay in the United States, you have gained someone's gratitude for life.  Voting Democrat in return is an easy repayment.     

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Someone is interested in my opinion regarding the GOP contenders for 2016.

Link: 2016 GOP Candidates

The post which debuts today provides a bit of modest insight into the 2016 presidential campaign of Secretary Hillary Clinton.  Actually, I have received more email inquiries regarding my thoughts on the Republican candidates.  Is someone out there in the blogosphere assuming that I'm not going to vote Democrat in 2016?  Probably a safe bet, so I'm taking the time to share a few observations about the field of Republican candidates that has thus far taken shape.  By the way, has Bob Dole made a decision yet?

I like Scott Walker.  He really seems like a decent fellow.  Geez, do the lefties up there in Wisconsin hate him.  I like Walker because he understands just how far out of balance our relationship with organized Unions has become.  My father was digging coal out of the mountains in Harlan County, Kentucky, when he was twelve years old.  I fully understand the need for workers to create a Union.  Working together for fair pay, competitive benefits, and a safe working environment is as American as it gets.  But somewhere along the line, the major Unions in this country graduated from "Unionizing" to "Politicizing".  Once the Unions became politicized, the criminal element was introduced.  The struggle in Wisconsin was a real microcosm of the selfish, damaging attitude that many Unions express today.  When Scott Walker realized that Wisconsin was in a financial mess that could only be solved with sacrifices, he demanded that everyone participate in the process.  No one was too good to compromise and give up a little to right the ship of state.  He took on a tough opponent, but he stood strong for ALL the people of Wisconsin, and in the end, he won.  In the past month, a bit of hay has been made about the fact that Gov. Walker dropped out of University before finishing his degree.  Normally, it would make no difference to me, but when I heard Walker himself claim that he was just a semester away from graduating, I was perplexed.  In fact, a review of Marquette University records shows that he was more than a semester away from graduating.  It was more likely a year and some change. If a great job opportunity offered itself when I was still a year away, I would have taken the job, with the intention of finishing the degree later.  My real concern with Gov. Walker is that regionally, he doesn't help his own candidacy.  He has failed to deliver his own state in the last two presidential elections (he's not alone), and, Walker or no Walker, the GOP will not win Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota or Wisconsin.

I also like Rand Paul.  For those of you who are loyal readers of my blog, God Bless You.  Also, you will recall that last month I was a bit angry with Senator Paul regarding his comments on Cuba.  He has since revisited those comments to my satisfaction.  Rand Paul is intelligent, charming, good at raising money, and comes from an important state (Not Kentucky, but Ohio, just next door!).  I fully approve of his stated positions on Obamacare, immigration and the economy.  As for everything else, I'm a bit in the dark.  I can't help but worry that unless he has stated otherwise, I can assume that his opinion is the same as his father's (Rep. Ron Paul of Texas).  Sorry, folks, but I'm against legalizing drugs.  The reason the War on Drugs has failed is because it hasn't been enforced stringently enough.  I'm also a little wary of Rand Paul's foreign policy positions.  He has a bunch of work to do in that arena.  Ted Cruz is someone else who really appeals to me at certain times.  He is able to discuss the intricacies of international economics and how it impacts the average American, and immediately   switch over to an in depth analysis of the last three ballistic missile treaties with Russia.  This guy is sharp, and I am convinced he loves Texas, which goes a long way with me.  Cruz is intelligent and crafty enough to be President, but he has a tendency to piss people off.  I worry that a Cruz nomination creates a President Hillary. Another concern: my old man told me never to trust a man without any lips.

I love Dr. Ben Carson.  In a totally platonic way, of course.  This gentleman is kind, compassionate, brilliant, charming, and black.  I would love to see the GOP nominate an African-American who loves his country, to follow-up the one the Democrats gave us, who in my opinion, doesn't.  We are an inclusive America, and the Republican field of candidates (so far) includes an African-American and a Hispanic-American.  If Elizabeth Warren, Martin O'Malley, and Jim Webb can be coaxed into the race against Hillary (don't count on it), then the Democrats will be represented by four Caucasian politicians.....interesting.  Dr. Carson would bring the experience of a neurosurgeon to the White House.  He is also the sum of his beginnings, and he remembers the days of frightful discrimination that our nation struggled through.  Like most, I'm in the dark regarding his foreign policy ideas.  I would also like to hear his thoughts on immigration and the real-time problems we are having on the border.  Another possible candidate is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.  I'm afraid that for me, that boat has sailed.  And lets hope that its a study boat, because the Governor appears to have put on much of the weight that he so famously lost a few years back.

Speaking of large folks, I don't think Chris Christie will be running in 2016.  He has been obliged to deflect quite a bit of negative press (much of it undeserved).  But Christie is a smart politician and a young man.  he would be best advised to continue focusing on getting healthy (which the average American sees as an admirable accomplishment) and looking toward either 2020 or 2024.  What about Jeb Bush.  Jeb Bush is a very nice man.  I'm sure he is a wonderful father and a dedicated family man.  He comes from good stock, that's for sure.  But when it comes to delivering Florida for the GOP, he has failed terribly.  In fact, if he were the GOP candidate, there's no guarantee that he would be able to deliver Florida in 2016.  He has done some really good things as governor, but I'm taking a hiatus on voting for Bushes for President.  No more Clintons and no more Bushes.  At least for a few more years, please. 

I won't spend much time on Marco Rubio.  He's a charming man, speaks well, and is destined for great things.  I think its a bit early for Marco, but he has to try the waters eventually.  He has been a bit inconsistent regarding immigration, which is one of the top three issues pour moi.  He is forty-three years old, but doesn't look a day over thirty.  This will not help during a national campaign, when the average voter is looking for wisdom and experience.  Also, he has been unable to deliver Florida.  That is a very important factor in my book.  Its one of the reasons I lean towards Rand Paul.  Long before he was a presidential candidate, Rand Paul was helping to turn Kentucky from a borderline blue state into the solid red state that it is today.  That effort cannot be undervalued.  But as things stand today, given my lack of knowledge regarding some important positions taken by various candidates, I would say that on April 14, 2015, were the primary today, I would vote for Dr. Ben Carson, with Senator Rand Paul my second choice.   

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Something to consider....President Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Link: A. Hillary Clinton is running for President.
          B. Flaws of New Start Treaty

Hillary Clinton is running for the Democratic nomination to be President of the United States in 2016.  These things occur in steps: first the candidate must make a public announcement, usually accompanied by a Hollywood-produced video of babies, puppies and lots of Old Glory.  Then the candidate must run for their political party's nomination, in a series of primary elections that take place across the country.  Once the primaries are complete, the party meets in a pre-selected city for the nominating convention, where the votes are tallied (candidates earn delegates according to their percentage of the vote in each respective primary) and a nominee is announced.  The count takes place on the third night of the four-night spectacle, which allows the party to put together a fourth night, jump-start "pep rally" for all of the delegates and volunteers and party faithful.  Then the candidate runs for president against whoever was chosen by the opposing party.  Ideally, our system is designed to allow for multiple parties to participate, which could result in four or five candidates running in the general election.  But the system has allowed itself to be molded, shaped, prodded, and morphed in a manner that really only makes it reasonable for the participation of two political parties, and in the end, two presidential candidates.  In the United States, we have the Democratic and the Republican
Party.  We also have the never-say-die Libertarian Party, which can never get traction because of their lack of financial support for ad campaigns, and the wink-and-a-nod agreement between the GOP and the Democrats to keep the libertarians out of any debates.  This guarantees no press exposure, no major newspaper editorials, and no chance whatsoever of being competitive.

For everyone already familiar with our political system, I appreciate your patience slogging through the above paragraph on our electoral process.  The majority of my readers are not American, and I never assume that they understand the way we run our business.  As for the primary process, former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is running for the Democratic nomination in 2016.  This is not Hillary's first attempt to win the nomination.  In 2008, she started the primary season as the candidate to beat, only to be upstaged by Barack Obama.  I can only imagine how frustrating this loss must have been, as Clinton really appreciates everything happening according to plan.  Clinton was supposed to be president in 2008, not 2016; but these are cards she must play.  What I found to be the most amusing was that some political analysts (and personal friends) actually considered the possibility that she wouldn't run.  Hillary Clinton has been running for president for a long, long time.  Anything short of her own Administration will be considered a lifetime disappointment, at least in her own eyes.  You see, Hillary comes from the generation of the late 1960's and early 1970's that was either fighting in Vietnam, or protesting the war while in college.  Actually, Hillary Rodham was such a bright student and potential future leader, that in 1974 she was a chosen as a member of the impeachment inquiry staff in Washington, D.C., advising the House Committee on the Judiciary during the Watergate scandal. Under the guidance of Chief Counsel John Doar and senior member Bernie Nussbaum, Rodham helped research procedures of impeachment and it's historical grounds and standards.  During that same time, Hillary was dating Bill Clinton.  Once they were married, though, it quickly became apparent that his political ambitions would come first.  But Hillary made it obvious as First Lady that she was interested in policy, not White House Tours.  Her run for the Senate surprised no one, although her choice of locations was up in the air for some time.  Then, after losing the Presidential nomination to Obama in 2008, Hillary made the strategic decision to accept the position of Secretary of State in the Obama Administration.  I think that this was a mistake, but how big a mistake is yet to be seen.

The GOP will go through a much more contested primary season, and at this point, its anyone's guess if the nominee will be Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Mario Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, or someone else.  The Democratic nomination, though is Hillary's.  Forget the "draft Elizabeth Warren" campaign, or the conversation about Martin O'Malley; it's just a bit of distraction to make the Democrats appear as if they really are holding a competitive primary.  What is the first thing any sincere voter should do when considering a candidate?  Why, look at their experience.  Hillary served almost nine years as a Senator, representing New York State, and then accepted the position of Secretary of State in Barack Obama's first term.  She chose not to continue as Secretary of State during Obama's second term.  Evaluating Hillary's performance as a Senator is not difficult.  She voted as any liberal Democrat would, which is what was expected by her New York constituents.  She voted in favor of the Iraq War, and then explained that she, like so many of her fellow Democratic Senators, had been lied to and tricked into believing that Iraq posed a threat, when it didn't.  If you really want a look at Hillary's record, her time as Secretary of State is a treasure trove of information.  First and foremost, Hillary stayed behind the scenes during the Obama apology tours, that were such a highlight of his first term, which is a bit odd, considering that she was Secretary of State.  When it came to the
Secretary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov 
sign documents for Entry into Force of the New START Treaty.
New Start Treaty with Vladimir Putin and Russia, though, she was highly visible. Clinton was highly supportive of this treaty, which was intended to get the United States and Russia back on track to diminishing the nuclear stockpiles that had been accumulated during the Cold War.  Unfortunately, this treaty, like any treaty that would be approved by Putin, required almost all of the sacrifice to be on the part of the United States.  Plainly said, the New Start Treaty virtually eliminated any remaining advantage we had over the Russians, and severely limited our ability to protect our allies in Europe (especially eastern Europe).  No matter how you look at this treaty, it is a victory for Russia.  The treaty is a loser for the United States, and I have yet to hear anyone bring this fact to the attention of its number one supporter, Secretary Hillary Clinton.  Also during Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State, the Arab Spring bloomed right under the noses of our State Department, without so much as a fart coming out of Foggy Bottom.  We were unprepared in Tunisia, unprepared in Egypt, and boy, were we out of our league in Libya.  The events of the Arab Spring are an indication of a State Department that had become solely reactive in its actions.  Why? Because its focus was elsewhere. 

Another very sensitive issue deals with Secretary Clinton's creation of a private server, from her home, not just for her use, but for the use of certain members of her staff.  Law requires that all of those emails must be saved, but many weren't.  In fact, it appears as if two members of Secretary Clinton's staff reviewed the emails from the personal server to separate the ones that were personal and not related to government business, and to destroy them.  Wow.  Actually, no emails should have been destroyed, period.  Anyone want to bet that at least a few of those emails had "Benghazi" written in them somewhere?  It shows terrible judgment for someone who, at the beginning of her career in politics, was involved in the Watergate Investigation, during which a president destroyed tapes so they wouldn't be politically or criminally incriminating.  And now she orders two of her staff to destroy emails?  I don't think we've seen the last of this scandal.

In general, I don't think that Hillary Clinton would be a disaster as a president.  I believe she is an egomaniac, but what politician isn't?  It might actually be a useful trait for the job.  She is very intelligent, and appears to have boundless energy.  In no way have I seen any justification for questioning her patriotism.  Economically, I believe her policies would be much more to the center than the Obama Administration.  I'm convinced that one of the first things she would do would be to put together a panel to fix whatever is broken about Obamacare (or dump it altogether).  I don't see her being taken to the cleaners again by Putin, and she has gained substantial experience on the international stage.  My strongest disagreements with Hillary Clinton would be in the realm of foreign policy.  I believe that her international perspective is very left-of-center, and the world has become too dangerous for anything less than a strong, pro-military, "America-first" policy.  We are no longer in a position to trust first and verify later, and we must never waiver in our commitment to Israel.  For these reasons, and to a lesser extent, some of the issues mentioned earlier in this post, I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Is Yemen, 2015, a renewal of the Battle of Karbala, 680 AD?

Links: A. Saudi military on Yemeni border.
           B. Is conflict in Yemen a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

No need to get out your history books or almanacs, unless you really want to.  The Battle of Karbala was fought in central Iraq in 680 AD, with most religious scholars agreeing that the
violent clash went a long way to settling the question of The Prophet Mohammed's succession.  This is important because the two opponents came to represent the Sunni and Shia elements within Islam.  Until recently, the two groups seemed to co-exist within an awkward kind of avoidance, although on a few occasions, the international community has been given a glimpse of the emotions involved in the Sunni-Shia schism.  Following the first Gulf War, once it became apparent that President George H. Bush was not going to force Saddam Hussein from power, Saddam fired-up what was left of his war machine and butchered thousands of Shia in areas south of Iraq.  Saddam was legitimately concerned that the "Marsh Arabs", as these particular Shia were called, were rising up to possibly threaten his hold on power.  This was the moment in life that I went over to an Encyclopedia and educated myself on the Sunni and the Shia.  Having spent time in Iraq within the last decade, I became familiar with the two groups and the antagonism that basically defines their relationship.  Simply put, since Karbala in 680 AD, the Shia have been looking for a little respect.  For the most part, the Sunni are considered better educated, more intelligent, and wealthier.  The Shia are more the "manual laborers and farmers" of Islam, and they have a tendency to carry a chip on their shoulder as big as Manhattan.

In the last fifty years, the Shia, who are the majority in only two countries (Lebanon being a plurality, folks), have fought fiercely for causes that they support.  Following the revolution in Iran in 1979-1980, which deposed the Pahlavi Dynasty, the Shia-led government of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini threw everything but the kitchen sink at Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.  Since then, the Shia seem to be more comfortable standing up for their interests.  In Iraq in 2005, the Shia were quick to create militias to defend Shia communities and Holy Sites, when it became apparent that certain anti-U.S. groups were going to incite various causes to violence.  The Iranians were more than happy to provide training and equipment to these militias, who are even more powerful and active today than they were during the insurgency.  The Iranian government, and the Guardian Council in Qom, must be pleased by the expression of free will exhibited by the Shia Houthis of Yemen.  The Houthis have been around for sometime, and to their credit, they tried a number of non-violent approaches to the former government over the years, in an attempt to end discrimination against the Houthi community.  Eventually they were compelled to resort to violence, and the Yemeni government, already under siege from Al-Qaeda, was a bit of an easy target.  Today, as April passes us by, The Houthis are in control of the capital city of Sana, and are strategically positioned to move against Yemen's second city (and port/economic lifeline), Aden.  Interestingly enough, just to the east of Aden lies a reasonably large area which is controlled by (Sunni) Al-Qaeda.  And just when things couldn't get any more confusing, the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force, which continues to recognize the legitimacy of the recently removed Yemeni government, has started bombing Houthi forces. 

Why do the Saudis care if the Houthis run the table in Yemen?  Who knows, they may do a better job than the last few thugs that sat in Sana.  Actually, the answer is simple: the Saudis cannot continence a Shia government on the Arabian Peninsula (Bahrain is an island, so it doesn't count), and certainly not with a common border.  Publicly, the Saudis claim that they are only trying to restore peace and the democratically elected Yemeni government.  The truth is, the Saudis and the Iranians can't stand each other, and the Houthis have been heavily supported by Iran since the beginning.  Mark my word, the Saudis will do whatever is necessarily to guarantee that the Iranians do not have a presence on the Arabian Peninsula.  Just as I was starting this post, I noticed a news report come across the wire (yes, folks...I'm so cool and important that I have one of those "news wires") that Iranian warships were headed for Yemen.  Now that would be an
escalation along the lines of Kennedy and Khrushchev back in 1962.  Then, as I was looking for an additional article, I came across The Times Of Israel piece titled, "Iran sends battleships to Yemen amid standoff with Saudis".  I had to take a break, I was laughing so hard.  A journalist actually WROTE that header, and then added a photo of a warship the size of a shrimp boat flying the Iranian flag!  I guess "battleships" ain't what they used to be.  Regardless of my welcome moment of humor, be assured that the Iranian navy only has a handful of ships that are capable of sailing as far as Yemen.  The people of Aden need not lose any sleep; I can categorically guarantee that tomorrow morning when they wake up and look in the direction of the Indian Ocean, they will not see Iranian battleships on the horizon.

Which brings me to my next point of interest.  This is something my friend Jennifer and I have been discussing for a few weeks now.  Occasionally the media will release a story that mentions "Saudi ground forces", or "Saudi armor being moved to the Yemeni border".  For the moment, this is the most important issue that comes to my mind.  The Saudis have committed themselves to some level of conflict by conducting air operations against Houthi targets in Sana and other strategic locations.  If the Houthis were to go head-to-head against the Saudi military, the result would be beyond ugly.  It would be a monumental mismatch.  As far as I know, what was the Yemeni Army is still making noise in and around Aden (Houthis on one side, Al-Qaeda on the hell of a spot to be in).  If so, then in all likelihood the Houthis have not taken possession of the most modern and useful military vehicles and equipment.  So we are talking about Abrams tanks, state-of-the-art Artillery (trained in the Iraq war), fully-equipped infantry and special forces, support from helicopter gunships and guided missiles, etc., on one side, and the Houthis on the other.  A few months back I commented that I had seen a video of the Houthis storming some government building in Sana, and actually saw a guy on a camel, with a musket. Holy Lawrence of Arabia, folks.  Well, at least, historically, we are on the right continent.

The Saudis should make short work of the Houthis, and then what?  Clean out Al-Qaeda from eastern Yemen?  Now here is the potential complication that I have been discussing with Jennifer.  Everyone keeps talking about a Saudi ground invasion as if its a simple operation.  No way.  The Saudi armor is normally home-based in the north of the country and around Riyadh (I'm sure some units are also deployed in the Mecca/Medina/Jeddah triangle).  Would the Saudis transport their armor and artillery down west, to the coast, then down the coast road to Yemen?  Or is there another route that skirts the Rub al-Khali?  Whatever the case, for Saudi Arabia to relocate a military force large enough to finish the job at hand (the destruction of the Houthis), it would involve the mobilization of multiple divisions.  All of this activity should be visible for the world to watch on satellite.  I have yet to hear any media announce that a full-scale Saudi military build-up is taking place near Najran or Abu Arish.  So if it hasn't been noted, then how can it be taking place?  Now I'm taking a big chance with this post, because I'm writing it four days before it will see the light of day.  Many things can happen since then which would resolve the issues I have pointed out.  But as things stand today, from the perspective of this armchair general, I do not believe Saudi Arabia is preparing a full-out ground invasion of Yemen.     

Friday, April 10, 2015

Big Surprise.....Iran Agrees To A Treaty.

Links: A. Treaty With Iran Faces Opposition
           B. Difficulty Of Inspecting/Verifying Iran's Nuclear Research

To no one's surprise, the Obama Administration's negotiators returned home with a Treaty that was acceptable to the government of Iran.  This State Department, which has proven to be so woefully inept in the Middle East, Ukraine, South America, and everywhere else for that matter, manage to accomplish what no one in a decade has been able to do: get the Iranians to agree to a Treaty which would prohibit (through verification) the weaponizing of Iran's nuclear capabilities.  Up to this point, the Iranians have been claiming that their only interest in nuclear research is to create energy for peaceful purposes (electricity).  This type of research would be easy to monitor and verify.  But the Iranians do not want Inspectors.  Tehran argues that the United States, Russia, India and Pakistan achieved nuclear power without having "their sovereignty insulted", therefore why should Iran be made the exception?  The last few years have borne a disturbing resemblance to the games of Saddam Hussein, with a mixture of diplomacy and indignation used to propel the Iranians ever so closer to their goal.  Obviously the goal of the Iranian government is to develop a nuclear weapon not that free electricity wouldn't be a useful side benefit.  Tehran would become the first Shi'a nation to achieve this goal, and the second Muslim country after Sunni Pakistan. 

On its face, this issue appears to be all about the security of Israel.  Over the years, various different governments in Tehran have expressed the same desire, to participate in the destruction of Israel.  The most recent government has toned things down a bit, but that hasn't relaxed anyone in Tel Aviv.  But the issue goes much deeper.  Iran has bitter enemies in the Muslim world, especially in the Persian Gulf.  Once the Obama Administration announced that discussions were taking place with Iran, their Saudis immediately ratcheted up their interest in nuclear power/weapons.  The Saudis understood, just as we did, that the announcement of negotiations was nothing more than a warning that the deal was on its way.  The idea that this team of negotiators would come back empty-handed was, frankly, ignorant.  Obama needs this Treaty badly, as his opportunities to build some sense of a Legacy to his two-terms in office are dwindling.  We have Obamacare, The end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and the removal of military forces from Iraq.  We are somewhat in the midst of an effort to reform the Immigration system, but I'm not clear on how things will work themselves out, so I can't add that to the Legacy just yet.  But a signed treaty with the Islamic Republic of Iran, that provides the Iranians with peaceful nuclear power and no weapons, something the United Nations was unable to do, would be a very nice platform on which to start building that Legacy.

I do not pretend to understand much about physics, and atomic energy was never my strong suit at University.  But understanding the basics of the Iranian conundrum is not difficult.  In order to produce nuclear power, enriched uranium is necessary.  Because Russia has a ten-year contract to fuel Iran’s only power reactor at Bushehr, Iran has no present need for enriched uranium to generate civilian nuclear energy.  But Iran has enriched uranium, and its stockpile is growing.  Why, you ask, would Iran want enriched uranium if their "peaceful ambitions" (i.e., the amount of enriched uranium needed for peaceful purposes) are met by a contract signed with Russia?  The reality is, nuclear weapons require uranium that has been enriched at a higher grade that what Russia is contracted to deliver.  Now here is where things get complicated.  Please, please hang with me, folks.  You will be glad you did.  Lets talk about centrifuges.

Centrifuge:  A machine with a rapidly rotating container that applies centrifugal force to it's contents, typically to separate fluids of different densities.  After uranium has been mined, it is processed to separate the pure uranium from the ore, which results in uranium oxide.  Uranium oxide contains two types of uranium: U-235 and U-238. U-235 is what you need if you want to make a bomb or fuel a nuclear power plant. But the uranium oxide from the mine is about 99 percent U-238. So you need to somehow separate the U-235 from the U-238 and increase the amount of U-235. The process of concentrating the U-235 is called enrichment.  Having the capability (and the centrifuges) to enrich uranium is the key to creating a nuclear weapon.  The United Nations repeatedly expressed to Iran that a demonstrably peaceful plant would be no problem, but the Iranians have other plans.  if Iran were not interested in nuclear weapons, then this issue would be complete. 

The plant is almost operational, and the contract with the Russians is in place (and unnecessary, as Iran already has enriched uranium).  The questions remain: will the plant come on-line with some form of Inspections Protocol in place, and will the existing sanctions continue?  Although we have yet to examine even the slightest detail (why not?), the issue of inspections must be addressed because, frankly speaking, it is the most important.  No doubt the treaty includes an Inspections Protocol, but does it contain the necessary elements to guarantee that Iran is not making use of higher grade uranium? Basically, the treaty must address a handful of unavoidable issues:

1) Who is responsible for the Inspections Protocol?  Is it an international organization?
2) Does the protocol include on-site inspections or rely on instrumental data collection?
3) Who will measure the total amount of uranium utilized and the energy produced?
4) Since Iran has no need for the centrifuges, will they be destroyed, or delivered to an outside agency for destruction?
5) If the treaty is violated, what options have been included that will allow for the immediate cessation of all unauthorized activity?

From the moment of the initial announcement, my concern has been with the Inspections issue.  We went through the same bullshit with Iraq; in fact, in the last few years, Iran has been using some of the same excuses and explanations that Hans Blix must have known by heart.  And to think that Saddam Hussein was only hiding his chemical and biological weapons research.  At the end of the day, the person with something to hide is the one who is most likely to delay, and obfuscate, and distract.  When I have the opportunity to review the treaty in detail, I hope that I'm wrong, and that the Inspections Regime is up-to-par.  This would mean that Iran does not get to choose the Inspectors (sorry, Russia and China).  And its imperative that the Iranians agree to some mechanism that will allow for an international agency to have the ability to shut down whatever activity is taking place, that violates the treaty.

Excuse my cynicism, but what will probably occur, is that the Treaty will be full of loopholes, and before long, the Iranians will be in possession of at least one nuclear weapon (you don't normally make just one; I assume the first batch will include at least two).  And let's face it, folks, this is the ultimate "fait accompli".  Its tricky issuing orders to a country with a nuclear weapon.  And then the dominoes appear, as Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., for defensive purposes only, offer to spend whatever it takes so they can have a few bombs as well.  The Sunni are convinced that the Shi'a can't be trusted with that kind of power, therefore, at least for deterrence sake, a Sunni bomb is needed (Pakistan doesn't count; there is real concern that when the Pakistan delivery system is engaged, it will fly straight up for a mile, then fall right back down).

Let's have a look at the treaty.