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Michael Barone - Obama blinks — twice

"We're eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked," Secretary of State Dean Rusk famously said during the Cuban missile crisis.
Barack Obama has been doing a lot of blinking lately. On Syria especially.
"There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movements on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons," he said back in August 2012. Chemical weapons were a "red line."
Presumably the president hoped that his statement would deter Bashar Assad's embattled regime from using chemical weapons. And presumably he hoped that his demand in 2011 for Assad to relinquish power would be obeyed.
Obama surely hoped back then that the Syrian dictator would be overthrown quickly, as his counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had been. Unfortunately, Assad has proved to be tougher and more ruthless.
Last December, the U.S. consul in Istanbul reported evidence of chemical gas attacks in Syria to the State Department. Last week, it was reported that all U.S. intelligence agencies believe that sarin gas has been deployed there. But Obama has been unwilling to change his policies significantly. He has not ordered imposition of a no-fly zone, as Bill Clinton did in Kosovo in the 1990s.
He has not pledged support for the Syrian rebels. Instead, he has indicated that intelligence "assessments" are not conclusive. "We've got to do everything we can to investigate and establish with some certainty" — an interesting standard — "what exactly has happened in Syria," he said at a press conference on Tuesday. "We will use all the assets and resources that we have at our disposal. We'll work with the neighboring countries to see whether we can establish a clear baseline of facts. And we've also called on the United Nations to investigate."
These are conditions that seem impossible to meet. The United Nations will not act because of the veto of Assad-supporting Russia.
Other nations' intelligence services have already chimed in, concluding that chemical weapons are indeed being used in Syria. Our ability to "investigate and establish with some certainty what exactly has happened in Syria" is limited.
This president, like his predecessors, has to make decisions based on incomplete and imperfect information. It comes with the job.
The red line has been crossed, but the president has decided not to change the game.
This could have perilous consequences. Will Israeli leaders take seriously Obama's pledge that he will not allow Iran to deploy nuclear weapons? Will our Asian allies be confident of our backing in their disputes with China over islets in the East China Sea? Will China be deterred from attacking them?
Blinking at the evidence that Syria has crossed what he called a "red line," Obama may be hoping to avoid getting bogged down in a military quagmire there. But weakness is provocative, and appeasement can lead to a wider war.
Last week, Obama also blinked on the sequester, as Senate Democrats led the charge to give the Federal Aviation Administration explicit flexibility after the agency furloughed air traffic controllers. He had said earlier that he would veto legislation giving administrators flexibility in adapting to spending cuts. But — blink — he signed the bill, instead.
"The Democrats have lost on sequestration," wrote the liberal Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein. By agreeing to "ease the pain," he said, "Democrats have agreed to sequestration for the foreseeable future."
That's probably right. Obama's prediction of dire consequences from sequester cuts was undermined by the administration's two most visible cuts in service. The idea that mandatory cuts required cancelling White House tours didn't meet the laugh test. Fodder for late-night comics. And the idea that a 4 percent cut in FAA funding required delaying 40 percent of airline flights was equally laughable.
It antagonized two classes of strategically placed frequent flyers: members of Congress and members of the press. No way they were going to tolerate needless flight delays.
Obama's acceptance of the sequester means ratcheting spending levels down in the future, just as the Obama Democrats' stimulus package ratcheted spending up. That's a policy defeat for liberals, but the general public will probably not suffer much from Obama's sequester blink. The consequences of his Syria blink could be much more ominous.

Last Updated on Friday, 03 May 2013 08:57

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Susan Estrich - A gay man in the NBA

It is almost unbelievable that this is a first. But it is. Jason Collins is the first male athlete playing in a major sport to "come out."
Yes — the first in any of the five major leagues.
The president applauded him for his courage. Chelsea Clinton, his college classmate, and her dad both spoke out in support of him. So did Kobe Bryant, who two years ago was fined $100,000 for making an anti-gay slur to an official. NBACommissioner David Stern praised Collins for assuming a "leadership mantle on this very important issue."
Collins deserves all of this praise and more.
Of course, Collins is not your ordinary professional athlete. He is far better educated, more articulate and more sophisticated than at least 90-something percent of the men who play professional sports. He attended one of the finest and most elite prep schools in the country, Harvard-Westlake, with the children of some of the wealthiest and best-connected people in the world. He went on to Stanford, where he hung out with the president's daughter. Surely none of this should take away from his courage, but it does make clear just how far professional sports have to go.
It is simply not possible that Collins is the only gay man playing professional sports in America. Not possible. That even Collins, with his education and connections, felt the need to stay in the closet so long speaks volumes about why his announcement matters. It was only last February that Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers said he would not accept a gay teammate. (He was forced to apologize, but frankly, so what?) Grant Hill of the Clippers was quoted, this season, as saying that gays are "still taboo in the locker room."
Still taboo in the locker room. The last plantation of intolerance?
Not in the military. Not in Congress. Certainly not in Hollywood. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to wed. Rhode Island is about to be the 10th. If you ask me, the United States Supreme Court will soon hold that the federal government cannot discriminate against same-sex couples and that California cannot revoke their right to marry. If not this year, then soon, I expect the court to hold that the Constitution requires such recognition.
So why can't a gay man play football or basketball or baseball without hiding his sexual orientation? Who cares who he sleeps with if he can catch and throw and make the shot?
That gays should be taboo while brutality, abuse and violence have been accepted is stunning, to say the least.
Collins has made a stand and in public, anyway, is receiving broad and vocal support. What's being whispered in locker rooms is no doubt another story. Ignorance is not eliminated by the courage of one man and the support of two presidents. And Collins, a free agent, is officially unemployed. Whether another team will hire him, who knows?
But for gay kids who are playing sports in playgrounds across the country, there is finally a beacon, a role model, a man to look up to, to realize that you can be a great male athlete, still showering in the locker room (assuming he does for at least another season), and a proud gay man.
It should not have taken until 2013. There should be more than one man standing up. But last week there were none. Progress may be slow, but it is still progress. It is clear which way the wind is blowing. Once, Jackie Robinson stood alone. Someday we will say the same of Jason Collins.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 May 2013 08:20

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Pat Buchanan - Syria: their war, not ours

"The worst mistake of my presidency," said Ronald Reagan of his decision to put Marines into the middle of Lebanon's civil war, where 241 died in a suicide bombing of their barracks.
And if Barack Obama plunges into Syria's civil war, it could consume his presidency, even as Iraq consumed the presidency of George W. Bush.
Why would Obama even consider this? Because he blundered badly. Foolishly, he put his credibility on the line by warning that any Syrian use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and be a "game changer" with "enormous consequences."
Not only was this ultimatum unwise, Obama had no authority to issue it. If Syria does not threaten or attack us, Obama would need congressional authorization before he could constitutionally engage in acts of war against Syria. When did he ever receive such authorization?
Moreover, there is no proof Syrian President Bashar Assad ever ordered the use of chemical weapons. U.S. intelligence agencies maintain that small amounts of the deadly toxin sarin gas were likely used. But if it did happen, we do not know who ordered it.
Syrians officials deny that they ever used chemicals. And before we dismiss Damascus' denials, recall that an innocent man in Tupelo, Miss., was lately charged with mailing deadly ricin to Sen. Roger Wicker and President Obama. This weekend, we learned he may have been framed.
It is well within the capacity of Assad's enemies to use or fake the use of poison gas to suck us into fighting their war.
Even if elements of Assad's army did use sarin, we ought not plunge in. And, fortunately, that seems to be Obama's thinking.
Why stay out? Because it is not our war. There is no vital U.S. interest in who rules Syria. Hafez Assad and Bashar have ruled Syria for 40 years. How has that ever threatened us?
Moreover, U.S. intervention would signal to Assad that the end is near, making his use of every weapon in his arsenal, including chemical weapons, more — not less — likely.
U.S. intervention would also make us de facto allies of Assad's principal enemies, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nusra Front, Syria's al-Qaida. As The New York Times reported Sunday, "Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of."
Do we really wish to expend American blood and treasure to bring about a victory of Islamists and jihadists in Syria?
If Assad's chemical weapons threaten any nation, it is Israel. But Israel knows where they are stored and has an air force superior to our own in the Med. Israeli troops on the Golan are as close to Damascus as Dulles Airport is to Washington, D.C. Yet Israel has not attacked Syria's chemical weapons.
Why not? Israel is well aware that Syria's air defense system is, as The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, "one of the most advanced and concentrated barriers on the planet." And if Israel does not feel sufficiently threatened by Syria's chemical weapons to go after them, why should we, 4,000 miles away?
Then there is Turkey, with three times Syria's population, NATO's second-largest army and a 600-mile border. Why is ridding the Middle East of Assad our assignment and not Ankara's? Surely the heirs of the Ottomans have a larger stake here.
And if we get into this war, how do we get out?
For the war is metastasizing. Hezbollah is sending in fighters to help the Alawite Shia. Other Lebanese are assisting the Sunni rebels. The war could spread into Iraq, where the latest clashes between Sunni and Shia are pulling the country apart. Young Muslims are coming in from Europe.
Iran and Russia are aiding Damascus. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are aiding the Islamists. The United States, Jordan and Turkey are aiding the secularists. Syria could come apart, and a sectarian and ethnic war of all against all erupt across the region.
Do we really want the U.S. military in the middle of this?
Because his "red line" appears to have been crossed, Obama is being told he must attack Syria to maintain his credibility with Iran and North Korea.
Nonsense. To attack Syria would compound Obama's folly in drawing the red line. Better to have egg on Obama's face than for America to be dragged into another unnecessary war.
Obama would not be alone in having his bluff called. George Bush proclaimed that no "axis of evil" nation would be allowed to acquire the "world's worst weapons." North Korea now has those weapons.
Congressional war hawks, led by Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are cawing for air strikes and no-fly zones, which would mean dead and captured Americans and many more dead Syrians.
Time for Congress to either authorize Obama to lead us into a new Middle East war, or direct him, in the absence of an attack upon us, to keep America out of what is Syria's civil war.
Before we slide into another war, let the country be consulted first.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Froma Harrop - Legal pot means more money for states & less for gangs

The good things that should happen after marijuana is legalized are happening in Colorado. In November, voters in Colorado — and Washington state — legalized pot for recreational use. (Many states allow medical use of marijuana.)
What are the good things?
For starters, money, money, money for the state coffers. As of last week, lawmakers in Denver were still tussling over how heavily to tax marijuana sales. A leading plan centers on excise and sales taxes totaling 30 percent. The tax can't go so high that it encourages a black market.
The first $40 million collected from the excise tax would go to schools. And revenues from a 15 percent sales tax on pot plus the 2.9 percent ordinary state sales tax would be sent to local governments and cover the cost of enforcing the new marijuana regulations.
Meanwhile, the state would save money it now spends on arresting, prosecuting and jailing citizens caught smoking the stuff. As one small example, Washington state no longer trains new police dogs to sniff out marijuana.
Some lawmakers say they want "safeguards" in place to ensure that marijuana doesn't end up in the hands of kids, criminals and cartels — like it's not happening already.
Speaking of which, turning pot producers and vendors into legitimate businesses is perhaps the most welcome outcome of marijuana legalization. As Elliott Klug, head of Pink House Blooms, a $3-million-a-year marijuana business in Denver, told The Wall Street Journal: "We were the bad guys. Now we are still the bad guys, but we pay taxes."
What he means is that while the new marijuana operations can operate in the open, they are not being treated as leniently as other farming ventures. The state is regulating them with a heavy hand, to the point of doing background checks on the growers' tattoos.
As more people pile into marijuana merchandizing, prices fall. (Pot prices in Denver are already down a third from their levels in 2011.) Taking the big money out of a formerly illegal but popular product dismantles the criminal cartels' business model. That means less violence on the streets, less smuggling at the Mexican border. It means ordinary citizens can hike in national forests without fear of tripping upon some gang-run marijuana operation.
Unfortunately, while Colorado and Washington state are doing their bit to end the insanity, the federal government has not. Under federal law, marijuana remains an illegal substance.
This means that legitimate pot growers can't borrow money. (Banks will not lend to businesses the feds do not consider legal.) If a grower develops an especially high-quality plant, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will not register it.
Marijuana has been a $1.3 billion-a-year business in this country, a business largely closed to the law-abiding. And there's a collateral lost opportunity caused by our crazy prohibition on hemp farming. Hemp is an industrial product with many uses. Though it lacks the psychoactive properties of marijuana, hemp is a cousin of marijuana bearing some family resemblance. That's the only reason American farmers are banned from growing it. Across the northern border in Canada, hemp waves on thousands of acres.
Sadly, the Obama administration has lacked the courage to boldly move forward on changing the national marijuana laws. Last winter, President Obama took the baby step of saying the administration wouldn't spend much time on recreational users.
The U.S. Department of Justice is currently scratching its head over what to do about Colorado and Washington state. Eventually, the feds will come around, but how much money must be wasted on prosecution and how much tax revenues lost before that happens?
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Bob Meade - The new normal

"The new normal." That phrase has been popularized during the last few years. It stems from the horror of "9-11" when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center buildings, killing more people than were killed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941.
The new normal indicates a change in lifestyle, of the adjustments to our awareness that become necessary to avoid possible harm. It means we are to be suspicious of those things that were routinely accepted as part of our daily life in the past. We are to be suspicious because of a person's ethnicity, but we can't openly say so because that would not be politically correct. Fear, which has always been the final motivator, now moves to the head of the line.
Law abiding citizens in this country are not used to having fear as a primary motivator. We expect the "old normal" of shopping, dining out, going to school, visiting with friends, taking in a ball game, all to be devoid of our suspicions. But, in the "new normal", we are to adjust our mindsets from what had been pleasant or routine, to fear, and therefore, suspicion.
There's more though. It seems like our "new normal", includes blatantly calling others "liars", or "pathological liars". We claim others have made statements they never made because it suits our purpose to do so. We use language so foul that it causes the print media to scrap on-line commentary on the things others have written. We imply cowardice on the part of others in an effort to boast of our own manhood. We routinely put political party before country. We seek to invalidate the Constitution and the Bill of Rights because we think we're smarter than the founders. And, we righteously cry foul if those of the other party reciprocate to our bias. We allow ourselves to be subservient to politicians who overstay their time in office because of their desire for the euphoria of power. We let tenured academicians indoctrinate rather that teach. We tolerate destroying the most innocent among us, but give little thought to the fact that we were allowed to live and weren't destroyed in a similar manner. We watch as "success" is demonized as greed and we ignore the envy we perpetrate in doing so. We communicate through "social" media because it's faceless and indifferent to the emotions inherent in personal dialogue. We use 140 characters, a single "packet" of information, to remotely express a thought. We unproductively follow celebrities on Twitter for who knows why. We lose precious time standing in lines at airports watching as other are groped in search of myriad contraband items, perhaps something as dangerous as a bottle of shampoo. It matters not that it's a seven year old girl or her seventy year old grandma in a wheelchair. You see, political correctness dictates a numerical statistic not necessarily the most suspicious. And our fear creates a previously unseen hypocrisy as we are fearful of offending a Muslim, but not a Christian or a Jew. We call an on-base massacre at Fort Hood, "workplace violence" because we fear offending those of the Muslim faith. And, we ignore the fact that soldiers and their families are slighted and denied benefits because we refuse to acknowledge the incident as an act of war. (http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/members-congress-demand-obama-administration-classify-ft-hood/story?id=18493746)
These "new normal" items represent victories for those who would try and destroy us; those in the west who value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They claim victory each time they instill fear or have us change how we live our lives. The reputation of the United States as the most powerful nation in the world is shredded as two young men wreak havoc at the Boston Marathon. Innocent people are killed and scores of others are injured, suffering, and maimed for life. Two young men inflicting pain on a major metropolitan area, a state, and a nation. In addition to the physical pain and anguish, has anyone calculated the impact of lost revenues to businesses and lost wages to workers, or the impact such terror will have on the city of so many universities and first rate hospitals . . . how will the act change the way those institutions operate in a safe and secure manner, and at what cost?
The "new normal" can be a step up, it doesn't have to be a life of fear and suspicion. Maybe we can start by putting aside the negatives being hurled at each other and simply consider that the one you are trying to denigrate, may be the one you might need to come to your aid.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 254

 
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