Thursday, August 22, 2013

Death Comes to Syria and Egypt

Someone attacked a suburb of Damascus, Syria this week with all the quiet fury of a Biblical plague.  No marks of sacrificial blood could save the innocent or chosen.  This work of man killed all indiscriminately.

Nerve gas wafted through the streets and homes.  By the time it dissipated, it killed 1,300 just as effectively as the Japanese at Nanking or the Romans at Carthage in the Third Punic War.

The Daily Mail referred to the incident as "the town that never woke up."

The Syrian belligerents can be divided into three categories.  First is the Syrian government itself, no stranger to atrocities.  Rebelling against it is one group with an equal potential for evil, the Islamicists.  Kurdish forces in the northeast have seized important points.  Kurds have a quasi-sovereign state in northern Iraq, but also live in Syria, Turkey, and Iran.  Possibly the weakest faction is the Syrian nationalist rebels, tied by outrageous fortune to the Islamicists.

Government forces showed signs of desperation earlier this week when they attacked the Israeli held Golan Heights.  Provoking a war with Israel would throw the region into chaos.  Israel, so far, has remained somewhat restrained.

A group allied with the Syrian government took down the Washington Post's website last week.

The Washington Free Beacon reported a day before the attack that a joint Russian-American plan to create a transitional government has not taken the first necessary steps.

Meanwhile in Egypt, as was reported yesterday by Kirby Wilbur on the Sean Hannity Show, Muslim Brotherhood thugs, ousted by the military, have taken their rage out on the Coptic Christian community.

American influence since World War II has not brought complete peace, but has kept the lid on conflicts that could have erupted without its presence.  US troops have occasionally played a role, as in Lebanon under Eisenhower and Reagan. This also, of course, includes the Iraq wars. But usually US aims are realized through  the dispensation of aid and realpolitik style maneuvering.

Some of these conflicts, such as the rise of the Islamofascist thug group, Muslim Brotherhood, have steadily percolated for years.  The Brotherhood aligned with the Nazis before and during World War II to try and destabilize British authority in the Middle East.  Ever since, they have worked to undermine secular rule in Egypt to establish an Iran or Taliban style state there.

The full realization of their plans would put a hostile power in control of the vital Suez Canal who also would attack Israel.

Part of the problem lies at the feet of Barack Obama.  Nearly every president since Harry Truman has based American Middle East policy on certain foundations.  First was support of Israel.  Second, America must protect, or support the protection of, strategic interests.  These include safe ocean passage through the Suez, Straits of Hormuz, etc., oil reserves, and important points.

The United States also worked to prevent the rise of malefactors in the Middle East, but also lived with anti-democratic forces willing to go along with the game plan.  For example, Qaddafi was an enemy when he sponsored terrorism.  When he renounced weapons of mass destruction, he became at least tolerable and a possible example of a "reformed" dictator.  Not the best case scenario, but an improvement.

Supporting "democracy" in the Middle East is problematic.  Islamofascists, like the German Nazis and Communists before, advocate "democracy" so that they can come to power and annihilate it.  The best case scenario for Germany in the mid 1930s would have been a military coup and purge of Hitler's followers and Communists, followed by a restoration of the Kaiser.  Those rebelling against authoritarianism today often only plan to establish bloody totalitarianism tomorrow.

Previous presidents understood this.  Obama does not.

American policy in the region has no chance of restoration under Obama.  His aimless diplomacy, coupled with two poorly performing secretaries of state, inspire no respect.  Middle Easterners did not always like Obama's predecessor, but they respected his strength and ability to act.  Obama has effectively destroyed that perception and replaced it with weakness.

Drifting away from Israel has also made war more likely, not less.

Even though energy self-sufficiency will de-emphasize the Middle East's importance somewhat, it still breeds hate and terror.  America must have a policy that starts with a perception of strength based on the reality of action.  Doing anything else increases the chance of war and/or terror attacks.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Obama, Dick, and Andy: "I Wanna Talk About Me"

About a year ago, Barack Obama caused a personal pronoun stir when reported that he used the first person pronouns "I" and "me" a combined total of 117 times in a single speech.  But, however, Obama is far from alone in "wanting to talk about me."

About a year and six weeks before the oft reported July 2012 speech, blogger Marc Cenedella reported an analysis of Obama speeches given at CIA headquarters compared with several of his predecessors.  Since 1968, Presidents Carter, Reagan, and George W. Bush referred to themselves the least often.  George H. W. Bush gets a pass for a slightly higher level because he once was CIA chief, which would lead to more first person mentions.

By far, the three highest levels of use came from Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.  Clinton's high use shrinks when Cenedella factors in the length of the addresses.  The famously loquacious Clinton drops down to Bushian levels of first person pronoun use while Obama and Nixon remain higher than the rest.

In his 1960 work Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction, famed American historian Eric McKitrick examined another president persistent in his employment of first person pronouns.

About Johnson, he wrote :

For a public man, he was obsessed with himself to a degree that exceeded the normal, and most of his speeches, no matter what else they dealt with, may be read as demands for personal vindication and personal approval.

McKitrick also concluded that Johnson preferred general rules to concrete thinking "in order that (his mind) might once more close itself and be at rest."

Johnson, at his worst, often evoked images of crucifixion and Judah Iscariot-like betrayal in reference to himself and his enemies.  This worked in the East Tennessee hills where the poor felt just as nailed to a cross by their betters as he did.  But it fell short of the expectations that the national public had for the demeanor of their president.

McKitrick compared the inferiority complex of Johnson to the confidence of Lincoln.  About the 16th president, he said his "'humility' was sustained by the odd arrogance of a superior man's self-knowledge."  Interestingly, this also describes President Reagan and both chief executives of the Bush family.

Nixon's public speaking patterns mimicked McKitrick's evaluation of Johnson, especially early.  Journalist Theodore White remembered almost a decade later that in 1960, Nixon's "common utterances all too frequently a mixture of pathetic self-pity and petulant distemper."  Aide Robert Finch told White in 1968 that Nixon" doesn't want to be loved.  He's not looking for adulation the way he used to."  But that campaign evaluation looks more like Nixon covering than transforming his nature.

The three presidents all share in common some attributes.  All three worked to expand the authority of the executive branch.  None of them could work and play well with anyone except their closest trusted associates. All three had fatal flaws that kept them from functioning comfortably in the role chosen for them by the public.  Nixon enjoyed the most success, but of course unraveled his legacy by covering criminal activities.  Obama and Nixon both preferred layers of secrecy to public examination of their administration's doings.  Conversely, Johnson was perhaps too open about his exact feelings for proposals and personalities.

Of the three, Johnson was far and away the best speaker.  He could address a crowd extemporaneously for hours.  Sure, the crowds sometimes despised him after his efforts, but Johnson could never leave an audience cold.  Obama reads well from a teleprompter, but may be one of the worst presidential speakers if the ability to speak and respond without notes is factored.

Will Obama's presidency end in scandal and/or disgrace as Johnson and Nixon's did?  It certainly has achieved no success that has been of any value to the people. And history's remembrance of Johnson certainly has found echoes in Obama.

History will illuminate more of Obama as years and decades pass, but he has shown enough over the past several years that some conclusions are inescapable.

The most important of these is that Obama has been consistently a much smaller man than the American presidency demands.

Department of Transportation Shut Down 34 Bus and Trucking Firms In 2013

Last week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shut down The People's Choice.

According to a press release, officials found that the Hardeeville, South Carolina based bus company "failed to properly inspect, repair, or maintain" its fleet of vehicles.  According to the FMCSA, it also failed to adhere to regulations limiting drivers' time on the road, dispatched "unqualified drivers," and did take enough steps to prevent possible substance abuse of those operating the buses.

The People's Choice is the 18th company shut down by the administration since the deployment of 50 "Operation Quick Strike" inspectors last April.  This is part of a more aggressive strategy under Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

New regulations include the decrease of allowed weekly driving hours from 82 to 70.  The administration estimates that this will save 19 lives and prevent 1,400 accidents per year.  Drivers are also required to take scheduled breaks and limit their daily hours.

Interestingly enough, however, the new regulations specifically exempt all government drivers, including those driving school buses.  That includes those transporting students across state lines to athletic and other events.

The FMCSA states that the ultimate goal is to fight and reduce chronic driver fatigue.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cato Institute Study Details Rise in West Virginia and Some Other States' Welfare Payouts

This week, Cato Institute released its 2013 version of "The Work Versus Welfare Tradeoff."  This study shows the growth of welfare state by state since the last time the study was undertaken almost twenty years ago.

Twenty years since the highly touted welfare reform brokered by Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress, welfare still looks like a better deal than work.  Cato says that "welfare benefits continue to outpace the income that most recipients can expect to earn from an entry level job."

In over 35 states, welfare pays more than minimum wage.  In 13, it equals a staggering $15 per hour or more.  Cato research found that welfare recipients would prefer to work, rather than receive payouts. On the other hand, they are reluctant to apply for what opportunities are available.

Cato focused its research not only on the Temporary Aid For Needy Families, or TANF.  These cash payouts tend to be relatively low.  By looking at the entire spectrum of programs, Cato saw a more complete picture of welfare's costs.

The study examines the problem from many angles.  For instance, Cato found that West Virginia's annual welfare benefit, after accounting for inflation between 1995 and 2012, rose by over $4,700 per year.  In 2012, the full welfare package equaled $27,727 in cash.

West Virginia ranked 28th on the list.  The top states and the District of Columbia paid staggering amounts, up to nearly $50,000 per year.

Not every state saw increases.  Eighteen states actually saw their payouts decline, most of these in the South and West.

West Virginia wages, however, only increased by $1,900 to $24,900 between 1995 and 2012.

Cato detailed changes in the food stamp program, housing assistance, medical assistance, and other programs when forming their conclusions.

Broadband Speeds For Schools and Libraries Should Soon Improve

Many schools and libraries now report slower internet speeds than home service, despite having, on average, over 200 times more users.  That should soon change.

The Federal Communication Commission's "E Rate" program provides internet service to the nation's public schools and libraries.  In response to surveys showing lower speeds, acting FCC chair Mignon Clyburn  announced a plan to bring service closer to the levels enjoyed by home customers.

Problems arise from both the increasing numbers of people using the service, as well as the more digitally complicated information accessed for learning.

According to

Reforms to be implemented to the E-Rate program include the provision of affordable, high-capacity broadband for schools and libraries, the improvement of administrative efficiency and the maximization of cost-effectiveness in purchases. The agency also said it would work to improve its data collection methods in order to be able to more fairly allocate funding and phase out funding for outdated services so that more money can be allotted to investments that will increase bandwidth

Schools in rural and urban areas should expect the same types of upgrades as well.

Since E Rate was established in 1996, internet connections in schools and libraries rose from 14 percent to nearly 100 percent, according to the FCC.