What a Flag Represents


Filed Under General, Latest News on Jul 29 

As the NYPD assigns a team of dozens of detectives to solve the Brooklyn Bridge case, we are left with two main concerns. Vulnerability to terrorism is the first one; how could four or five intruders have climbed the bridge and replaced the flags, including blocking out the spotlights, without being noticed? One of NYC’s most iconic structures was easily breached. It is beyond doubt that when their identities are established and more is known, measures will be put in place to ensure it never happens again. The why will be important to find out, but the how is even more important to help the NYPD establish the right procedures to stop this type of assault.

The second concern is symbolic speech and flag desecration. A few years ago, UCLA Law professor Eugene Volokh in an op-ed piece argued that American law has long recognized symbolic expression and verbal expression as legally and constitutionally equivalent. Symbolic expressions like freedom poles – a form of protest against government tyranny – were argued in court as a matter of apeech according to the professor. The First Amendment thus conveniently protects flag-burning and other desecrations. Well maybe not. Even professor Volokh admits that many Founding Fathers placed very clear limits on the concept of free speech itself. Flag desecration would have been seen as sedition, and was prohibited accordingly. It has been 25 years since Texas v Johnson and the swing vote in that case was Justice Kennedy who was appointed instead of Robert Bork, who would have voted the other way. Perhaps what is most infuriating is that most acts of desecration are not explicitly intended to express an idea, but are a instead an intentional degrading of an idea; the values that a flag symbolizes. Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the 5 marines and the navy corpsman raising the Stars and Stripes on Mount Surbachi at Iwo Jima is one of the world’s most popular images and for good reason. No posed sculpture or painted image can capture the purpose and valor, and deliberate, unified action of those men. Three of them: Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, and Michael Strank gave their lives in battle in the following days. When we know the names of those who desecrated the flags that once again fly from the Brooklyn Bridge, it will be good to keep in mind those marines who gave their lives defending the Stars and Stripes. Let us hope that SCOTUS at some point places limits around the concept itself of free speech, in recogntion of what some symbols, like a flag, represent.

Concerning the Democratic Party, it would appear as almost certain that Hillary Clinton will be a contender in 2016 for the party’s presidential nomination. Now though it appears that Vice President Joe Biden is making moves in anticipation of running himself. Biden has long been rumored to be seeking the presidency in 2016 but he has failed to make any significant moves himself until recently. If Biden were to run, it would be his third attempt at securing the Democratic nomination having failed before in 1988 and 2008. Now it must be said that in polls he is trailing Clinton by around fifty points in several polls though this doesn’t mean he should be discounted so early. Biden brings with him decades of experience in government and is well liked, both qualities which generate support.

Biden recently reached out to former staffers and campaign workers, a move he described as a long overdue attempt to keep in touch. Others though see this as a move by Biden to begin laying the groundwork for a potential campaign. Additionally he has increasingly been speaking before large and influential groups such as the NAACP and the Urban League, perhaps as a way to woo minority voters which have been critical two the Democrats in the last two presidential elections. This can also be part of an attempt to become the more liberal voice of possible 2016 contenders. Where Clinton is closer to the center, Biden might be seeking to gain the support of traditional liberals.

Earlier this month Biden conceded before Generation Progress that the “hope and change” promises that were made in 2008 have failed to materialize. This can be viewed as a way for Biden to distance himself from President Obama. While any Democratic contender will be linked to the president in one way or another, the fact that Biden served as Obama’s vice president makes his situation more precarious. With approval ratings of Obama as low as they are, being the No. 2 in the administration doesn’t generate a massive flood of positive support. Despite this and other instances where distancing from the president was evident, Obama remains loyal having recently told the New Yorker that Biden would make a “superb” president.

Compared to Clinton, Biden is in a unique position in some ways. His gaffes are comical while Clinton’s make one cringe. The talk by Clinton about her fake poverty upon leaving the White House has damaged her in some ways. Biden on the other hand can continue to play on the fact that he isn’t rich, his “regular Joe,” working class background which is ultimately more endearing. While Clinton comes off as cold and calculating, Biden is affable and his typical smile brings with it a measure of trust.

Any quest for the nomination by Biden though is hampered in several ways. A Pew and Washington Post survey asked people which single word they would use to describe Biden and it was found that “good” and “idiot” to be the most used. Mind you both responses were nearly equal in number. Neither speak very positively for a person who seeks the presidency. Of course “idiot” has its negative connotations while “good” can be equated to adequate, not a source of enthusiasm. Biden himself is experienced and is a generally affable person. It is rumored that Obama has sought his opinion on a variety of foreign policy situations. On the other hand Biden is prone to gaffes and with the nature of the media, the gaffe-prone Biden will be seen more than the experienced-Biden. Also the issue of age will be brought up; if Biden were to ultimately win the presidency in 2016, he will be 74, the oldest person to ever be inaugurates as president.

Who can tell what will transpire in 2016? Personally, I don’t believe Biden has a chance to win the Democratic nomination. This despite the fact that no incumbent vice president has ever lost the nomination of their party if memory serves me correct. Biden was offered vice president for his foreign policy experience and to have a familiar face in the administration. In that role he is fine but as presidential material, I don’t believe so. I have been wrong though before. Honestly though, the GOP would have a field day with Biden if he won the nomination and I can assure one thing, 2016 will be a bad year for the left. Personally I feel that Biden will continue to show interest in seeking the nomination and pursue it to a degree but will stop short of declaring himself as a candidate right as other competitors declare their candidacies. The realization of the upward struggle he would face would lead to this decision.

Mistrust and Contain Russia


Filed Under Latest News on Jul 24 

Nearly 300 people are dead, their burnt and mangled remains spread out over Eastern Ukraine where someone launched a surface-to-air missile and brought down a passenger airliner. Vacationers, scientists on the way to an AIDS conference, people on a commercial flight. People who were going about their lives and trying to get back home or take a holiday, or do some work down under or in Asia. Intercepted calls seem to show pro-Russian separatists discussing the incident with a Russian official. They seem to show that the crazed separatist-terrorist who fired the missile thought the plane was a cargo plane disguised as a passenger liner, and carrying spies.

The problem isn’t just that separatists in the region are out of control. Russia is out of control. Putin is out of control. Putin and Russia are now enemies of the West. There is no way left to think of Russia as a partner anymore. Even assuming common interests in combating islamic extremism around the world. Russia is not just untrustworthy. Russia incites violence and constantly confronts the West. Reagan’s words to Gorbachev come back yet again to haunt and remind us. It is important to remember that “trust but verify” is a Russian proverb that Reagan used deliberately in the intense, intimate theatre of cold war negotiations between himself and Gorbachev. In fact it worked in the opposite direction. Verify in order to begin to trust was more like the process involved. Kerry’s pun of “verify and verify” is hardly even funny now if it ever was. There is no trust, arguably since Putin assumed office. And how can you verify if no one even claims to have shot the plane down? It is time now to mistrust and contain when it comes to Russia. The hope that ties of commerce and trade would bind us are no longer realistic. Whether Russia was involved directly with the shooting down of the Malaysian Airliner is unimportant. The violent chaos in Eastern Ukraine is Putin’s doing. The blood of this tragedy is on his hands.

On Thursday July 17th, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. On board were 298 passengers and crew who perished. Immediately a blame game emerged between the Ukrainian, Russian, and pro-Russian separatists as to who was responsible. So far it seems most likely that the separatists shot down MH17 after confusing it for a Ukrainian military transport. There are also reports that the Russians gave assistance to the separatists in using the missile system and are now helping to destroy evidence. This is an absolute tragedy but in that tragedy, there is a glimmer of hope; it is up to the international community to use the memory of those murdered to end this conflict now.

The shoot down of MH17 represents a game changer for the conflict in the Ukraine. Right now, it is strongly suspected that the missile which downed the jet was a Buk missile launched by pro-Russian separatists. If it is true that the separatists were responsible, support for the Ukraine to defeat them will swell. Already the Ukrainian military which has scored numerous successes against the separatists in recent weeks seems hell bent on finishing the job. Russia has without a doubt already questioned the degree to which it will continue to arm the separatists lest they become any further embroiled in any future tragedy. And if Russia is found to have played a part in this the outrage from the world, particularly the EU will be enormous. This isn’t a situation of a few foreigners getting killed in a conflict zone; this is 298 innocents needlessly murdered.

Additionally, MH17 has forced the world to turn its attention again to the Ukraine. In U.S. news media particularly, the conflict in the Ukraine has for the most part been ignored since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. The media must stop saying that the situation is inching closer to civil war; it has been a civil war for some time now and to say otherwise is to sugarcoat it. In recent days the level of violence has escalated with some even considering the near-term possibility of the Ukraine and Russia engaging each other in conflict. The tragedy of MH17 should provide the impetus for the international community to work towards solving this savage conflict.

Also, the shoot down of MH17 should send a message to the airlines and to civil aviation authorities. Many airlines have chosen even prior to this to circumvent the Ukraine. It is an active war zone where SAMs (surface to air missiles) have been in use. True, changing flight routes to avoid eastern Ukraine does come at a price which is increased fuel consumption. On the other hand, I as a passenger would gladly pay a surcharge on my ticket if I knew my flight would not be placed in harm’s way. Regardless of how many planes have safely traversed the Ukraine, the airline should value safety first. Bear in mind, this isn’t the first airliner to be shot down over a conflict zone.

If we allow the tragedy of MH17 to just fade away we will be doing a massive disservice to those who were died. In their memory, the international community must work to stop this conflict. Russia must stop supporting these separatists; the fact that the separatists are impeding the investigation of MH17 speaks volumes about their integrity. The world must take an active interest again. President Obama was right to come out immediately about the incident but he must take further steps. The new sanctions placed on Russia had already been in the works. He should go further. Furthermore, the airlines should work towards agreeing on new rules for future flight plans to avoid such a tragedy from occurring again. 289 innocents have died; we must not allow them to be forgotten.

Recently a scandal has emerged in Germany concerning U.S. intelligence activities in that country. A senior CIA official at the U.S. embassy in Berlin has been expelled from the country in response to two instances of alleged spying by the U.S. This comes at a bad time for the U.S. whose intelligence agencies have already been implicated in a variety of otherwise questionable activities over the past few years between domestic spying and spying on allies. In light of all that has happened one would think that the U.S. would take more precaution to avoid situations such as this, especially at a time when U.S. world power is slipping. Regardless, what has transpired should have been prevented if this administration actually cared to learn from its mistakes.

Now let’s be honest for a minute. The issue of the U.S. spying on its allies isn’t anything new; this is what we do, this is what many others so though it doesn’t make it right. Nor does it improve the image of the U.S. at a time when the world is in flames, our power is diminishing, and when we need friends the most. Germany is unarguably the powerhouse of Europe and is a major world player economically. We have been strong allies for over a half century and though that relationship has had its ups and downs, it is a strong relationship and one we should be keen to maintain. Unfortunately we are doing the exact opposite.

The Germans view spying in a somewhat different light than Americans. Remember that up until a decade and half ago, Germany was a divided state. Those who lived in the DDR (East Germany) remember all too well the activities of the Stasi, the state security service of the DDR. A combination of secret police and an intelligence agency, the Stasi is regarded as one of the most effective organizations of its type in history. The Stasi was brutally efficient in spying on citizens, turning citizens into informants, turning families and friends against each other and rooting out opposition. In a state where one can never be too sure if the person they are talking to is friend or foe, naturally the idea of spying is one to be hated. Now the issue of friend spying on friends has returned.

This matter is made all the worse as German Chancellor Angela Merkel was born and raised in the DDR. The memories of spying are ingrained in her mind. In December 2013, revelations emerged in the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the NSA was listening in on her personal mobile phone. At the time Merkel was furious and rightfully so, even confronting President Obama and stating “This is like the Stasi.” Angered not only by the possibility that her phone may have been tapped for over 10 years and that the U.S. had an extensive electronic surveillance program in Berlin was that the U.S. couldn’t be trusted with information it gathered as evidenced by the massive leaks from Edward Snowden.

Now I understand the president doesn’t know everything that is going on and can’t sign off on every decision for our intelligence agencies. One would think though that after the revelations last year, the president would sign an executive order to our intelligence agencies to stop such activities in Germany. Unfortunately it seems that Obama has failed to and now we are where we are today. So much for Obamas promises that we wouldn’t spy on our allies overseas anymore. Though one could have foreseen a situation such as this occurring since Obama rejected a proposed “no-spy” agreement with Germany that Merkel was pushing for. Now we find that the NSA has been using two Germans, one in the German defense ministry and another in the BND (the German equivalent to our CIA) to gather documents of interest. In response Germany has demanded a CIA official at the embassy in Berlin to be expelled from the country immediately.

What has the U.S. gained from these spying programs? Reportedly one of the Germans was gathering documents concerning a German parliamentary group that has been established to research U.S. spy programs in Germany. Additionally the Germans have claimed that the information gathered for the NSA was of little value. If such allegations are true, then the U.S. has sacrificed much for very little. Already Germans are screaming for a harsh rebuke of the U.S. and polls recently conducted find that Germans overwhelmingly view the U.S. as untrustworthy. For the Germans, who needs enemies when you have the U.S. as a friend, a U.S. which mind you in a situation such as this is its own worst enemy.

The relationship with Germany is at an all-time low. Merkel who has in the past been able to balance support and criticism for the U.S. might not be able to do so much longer. These latest spying allegations have brought Germany to a tipping point and it’s not only the opposition screaming but a majority of the country. There is a distinct deficit of trust that is only worsening. We could have stopped our spying activities after last year’s revelations but we didn’t. Because the president has failed to take action and to restrain the NSA and work towards treating Germany as an actual friend and ally, we have repeated the same mistakes but now the repercussions are for worse.

In Oklahoma, Common Core advocates have lost a battle with the state legislature as the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the legislature was in its rights when it repealed CC standards in English and math. A parent who attended the hearings with her two daughters described Common Core as “cognitive abuse.” Robert McCampbell, an attorney representing pro-CC groups stated, “Supervision of instruction is vested in the Board of Education.” He had argued that the repeal of CC standards in the state was an unconstitutional extension of the legislature’s powers.

Once again, the debate over Common Core seems to divide between two approaches to arguing the issue: Who should decide educational standards versus what those standards should be. Process and substance yield very different criticisms: Education standards should be handled at the local and state level. Or, Common Core standards are too demanding. One can argue that by having standards set locally, they will more likely be of an appropriate level for students. Unfortunately, that runs up against the requirements of the modern workplace, where employers insist they need students graduating with better math and communication skills than is currently the case. As well, CC standards seem to have included other goals like diversity, complicating the issue even further.

How much should the country worry about achieving levels of math skills that exist in Japan or China or South Korea for example? Ask how many crucial innovations that have revolutionized the workplace have come from the US. Or more importantly (the answer is a lot) are those innovations still coming at a healthy rate? Norm Augustine, former Lockheed Martin chairman, is worried. In a Forbes article written a couple of years ago he points an accusing finger at secondary math teachers. After retiring from Lockheed Martin he was unable to qualify for a job teaching 8th grade kids math. Instead he taught a highly rated course at Princeton. He points out that since 2009, more than half the patents granted in the country go to foreign corporations. He also calls for improved math and science education for K – 12th grade. See the problem? The same big shot calling for improved education was rejected by education bureaucrats for a position where he would have performed wonderfully in all likelihood. Might the problem with Common Core be the very departments of education that CC advocates insist should design and implement any new standards? Unfortunately for that Oklahoma parent, her kids will have to learn more science and math than she did if innovation is to continue to be a backbone of the economy. Fortunately, local state officials and local groups may get more of a say in how that gets done.

Reasons to Come to Detroit


Filed Under Latest News on Jul 16 

The Detroit Land Bank is overwhelmed. There are so many abandoned homes in Detroit, as well as empty lots, that they can’t keep up. What they need is dozens of crews roaming the city and accurately mapping what is left of the worst neighborhoods. But wait. They now have a new weapon that will mobilize concerned citizens and all you need is your smartphone. It’s called blexting, short for blight texting, and it’s an app you can download that allows you to take pictures of derelict properties which you then text to a public database. The city will use the database to decide whether to renovate or demolish the blighted structures. How many blighted structures are there in Detroit? About 85,000 of which about 73,000 are residential buildings.

Will blexting lead Detroit onto the path of recovery? No, but one supposes by encouraging citizens to get involved documenting the sorry state of parts of their city, it is a step forward. It is literally grass roots, a sad but unavoidable pun for a city that now sports what some are calling “urban prairie”. Demolishing derelict structures will lower drug dealing and other criminal activities but what is needed is for business to come back. And the city realizes this. Decades of top down chaotic administration of the city seem to finally have come to an end. Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert has bought 3 million square feet of property in the city and has invested about a billion dollars. He has brought his 7,600 employees downtown and has also brought dozens of start ups to the buildings he owns. It is an enormous vote of confidence by a very successful entrepreneur, but what is needed is a critical mass of independent businesses choosing to set up shop in the city for all the right reasons: reasonable tax rates, coherent regulation, reliable services and manageable levels of crime. Let us hope that an increasing number of businesses find good reasons to agree with Dan Gilbert’s optimism.

House Republicans want to ensure that the $3.7 billion package that is being requested by President Obama to deal with the border crisis is focused on border security measures and does not end up being a blank check that can be spent on anything from daycare for recently arrived illegal minors to the construction of lavish detention centers where the minors would be cared for before being placed with their supposed families in the US. Their counter proposal could theorectically be married with the original legislation that was supposed to deal with sex-trafficking of minors, and ended up having, as they say, unintended consequences. Will the House and Obama be able to agree on some sort of package?

A study by MacGillivray and Smith at NYU on agent-specific punishments examines how conditional punishment strategies make cooperation between states possible. In other words, if America conditions its punishment of a rougue state on that state removing its leader, it incentivizes the rouge state to replace its leader and change its policies. It depends on the long-term gains of cooperating outweighing the short-term benefits of exploiting the partner, i.e. America. The problem with the border crisis is how to decide who is the agent that you should direct your punishment against. Is it the government of Mexico, or El Salvador, or Guatemala, or Honduras? Is it the smugglers, of people, drugs, or weapons, that work the southern border? Or is the agent, if you are a member of the House majority, the administration and its various departments?

To expect cooperation from Mexico or any Central American state on controlling illegal immigration is a non-starter. They conveniently define away illegal immigration as undocumented workers and they tout the rights they should have. That leaves two possible agents: the smugglers, or the administration itself. In this case, maybe House Republicans are already following a conditional-punishment strategy on both levels. Beefing up border security means getting serious with the coyotes that run people, narcotics, and weapons over the border. Withholding approval of the emergency package means letting Obama know that the House wants to be sure the money will be spent on things that solve the crisis and don’t encourage further illegal minors to try their luck at the border. The House should use it’s financial levers to ensure this package helps and does not make things worse. If that involves sending clear messages about consequences to the White House, all the better.

On Tuesday, July 1st, Russian President Vladimir delivered a boisterous foreign policy speech to assembled Russian diplomats in Moscow. In it he addressed the situation in the Ukraine and the issue of western interference in the near abroad (the independent republics that emerged out of the Soviet Union upon its disintegration). Among his arguments were numerous scathing criticisms of Washington and its foreign policy. Putin came off as highly hypocritical on numerous points in his speech but one must also admit that some of his views are not without merit.

For starters Putin spoke of the issue in the Ukraine, a situation which has largely receded from U.S. news outlets. Putin blames increasing violence squarely on the shoulders of Ukrainian President Poroshenko. Poroshenko has the Ukrainian military engaged in a large offensive against pro-Russian separatist forces across the entire Eastern part of the Ukraine. Blaming the Ukrainians solely for the situation is absurd; then again Putin claimed that the pro-Russian forces in the Crimea prior to its annexation were most certainly not Russian forces so the veracity of his claims are questionable. Never mind that those “separatists” were equipped with the newest Russian body armor and in pristine new vehicles.

On the other hand he spoke of the non-interference principle regarding the West and the Ukraine and the potential for disastrous consequences. Truth be told, there is little doubt in my mind that western nations had a hand in Euromaiden, the riots which eventually brought about the collapse of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government. True, the Ukraine is part of Russia’s near abroad and Putin is keen on preventing further encroachment by the West in the forms of the EU and NATO in bordering countries. Though the interference of the west is minuscule next to that of Russia, a Russia which mind you immediately swept into a sovereign Ukraine and annexed and incorporated the Crimea. Do Putin’s ideas of non-interference extend to also arming groups engaged in internal struggles in foreign nations? Last time I looked it’s Putin arming pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine. If Putin is sincere also regarding his stand that Russia won’t interfere in Ukrainian internal affairs, then perhaps he should make good on his statement.

Putin also spoke of how the West should stop turning the world into a “global barracks.” He claimed that we should push our agendas and political ambitions aside in the interest of building better relations with the rest of the world. Since when did Russia become the friend of the world? Furthermore, since when did Putin decide to ditch his agenda and become the standard-bearer of world peace? Russia, along with China routinely overlook human rights violations in the world when votes come up to the UN Security Council while both nations sell weapons to whoever will buy them. Indeed Putin points to the Russia-China relationship as one which the West should seek to emulate as it is built not on a military alliance but cooperation.

Putin is a blatant hypocrite though this isn’t to say that the west, particularly the U.S. pursue an ideal foreign policy. We scream about Russia breaking international law by invading the sovereign states of Georgia and the Ukraine over the past several years. The truth is we do it as well, be it in Iraq or with our repeated drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere. We rail about Russia interfering in the affairs of countries along its borders while we interfere in the affairs of countries across the world. We demand that Russia take a more active interest in the conflicts of nations it sells its weapons to while we actively support rebel groups with aid and weapons.

Ultimately speeches of the type that Putin gave are meant to excite audiences and to provide strength to a leader on the world stage. Rarely are they translated into direct policy or for that matter even reflect existing policy. Was Putin’s speech hypocritical? Yes. Did he know it? Most certainly yes. It’s no different from foreign policy speeches of other world leaders who rail about one thing yet a cursory examination of their policy reveals them to be liars as well. Ultimately, these speeches typically tend to have tucked in them messages that represent reality. In this speech it was Putin recognizing the need for continued U.S.-Russia relations and that any calls to end them are essentially foolish.

Foreign policy, a collection of lies, innuendos, obfuscation, and agendas.

As House Republicans have carefully explained to the press, voters in Virginia are to blame for the lack of a comprehensive alternative plan to Obamacare. With Cantor gone and Kevin McCarthy getting up to speed as the new house majority leader, the best that can be hoped for is some policy principles cobbled together that candidates can campaign around in November. There is a lack of “bandwidth” as David Drucker puts it in the Washington Examiner, meaning, one supposes, that no one McCarthy is hiring as staff will want to touch the issue until some time much later.

I wonder if someone forgot to tell Ben Carson that he lacks bandwidth? There he is touring on his bus without the benefit of a well funded House Majority Leader team of staffers to do all the right polling and tell their boss not to touch the issue. Yes, he is a doctor, but more than that, he has a very clear idea of what health care should look like and is not at all reluctant to articulate it. Turning the question around, would someone like Ben Carson ever make it to House Majority Leader? It is likely the good doctor is not interested in taking that route, and would probably admit that someone like Kevin McCarthy or even Eric Cantor is more suited to the job. It makes you wonder if policy ideas – real ideas on what government should or should not do, and how they should do it – are just not possible late in a mid term election year in the House of Representatives. And mid-summer is late by any election year standard. Unfortunately for that theory, Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey wrote the Contract With America and then introduced it 6 weeks before the 1994 elections, dealing the Clinton Administration it’s first serious electoral defeat. The catalyzing issue? Clinton’s failed 1993 Health Care Reform. Maybe someone on Kevin McCarthy’s staff has a copy of both plans. It would make for useful reading.

The ISIS forces are not just Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist forces, they are also an army with a goal: establishing a caliphate, or islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader, in Syria, Iraq and adjacent lands as well. Bin Laden himself apparently mourned the collapse of the Ottaman Empire a century ago. Their crazed, fanatical intentions are abundantly clear whether they in fact have the military organization or not to achieve and maintain some sort of caliphate in the region. Putin is a little more indirect, if not quite subtle. Crimea is back in Mother Russia’s fold and Eastern Ukraine is still up for grabs at this point. While Russia – and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan – has suffered it’s share of terrorism, Putin also seems to harbor a little nostalgia for that evil empire, if you will, that crumbled around him as he worked as a KGB officer in East Germany from 1985 to 1990.

Western Representative Democracies have had to face numerous threats over the odd two centuries that they have been in existence: Monarchy, Bonapartism, Fascism, Communism, and Islamic Extremism come to mind for example. Monarchism has long since been folded into Representative Democracy, despite an unfortunate hiccup, to put it mildly, with Kaiser Wilhelm II. Napoleon met his Waterloo, a cliche nowadays, but a pivotal event at the time. Fascism was defeated in WW II despite local outbreaks in South America and elsewhere. Communism seems to have all but collapsed in the last two decades, and perhaps what is happening in Russia and Ukraine has more to do with Nationalism. The war with Islamic Extremism continues meanwhile. The problem becomes choosing your allies, even if temporarily, in a situation like Syria for example which seems to boil down to either siding with a Putin ally Bashar al-Assad, or sunni extremists with links to al Qaeda. Since the Soviet war in Afghanistan, balancing between Soviet or Russian forces and Islamic extremists has been a dangerous but perhaps necessary strategy. Who can be trusted between these two choices? Perversely, sunni terrorists can be trusted to be absolute enemies of America and Western Democracy. Putin, the elected President – again – of Russia is less trustworthy precisely because he is an elected official who harbors ambitions that threaten neighboring states. That does not mean you side with ISIS, it means you can trust them to be terrorists from start to finish. With Putin, the matter is far less clear.

Pablo Alvarado is executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. In an article on CNN’s website, he rails against conservatives, and presumably anyone else, who criticize the thousands of illegal children arriving from Central America. It is a “push” not a “pull” problem according to Pablo. All the kids are arriving not because of promises of amnesty but rather due to the violence in the region. Gang violence in El Salvador, corruption, poverty … you name it. And guess who is to blame for all this? Of course, who else? The US. Civil wars between communist regimes and insurgents in Nicaragua or between right wing governments and left wing rebels in El Salvador and Guatemala are all the result of America meddling according to Alvarado. He knows this because as a young student he had to flee El Salvador after receiving death threats. There are several issues here: What did US foreign policy actually do in the region? What was happening anyway in the region and what was Soviet and Cuban involvement? What does this have to do with gang violence nowadays? And whose fault is that?

Had America not provided aid to those fighting against communist backed regimes or guerrillas, a hard socialist axis in Central America would have been a likely outcome. From Guatemala to Nicaragua, we may have ended up with several Cuba’s forming a regional communist bloc right in America’s back yard. How do you fight communism in a region with a history of violent revolutions and corrupt dictatorships? With neutral observers under a UN mandate? With peace conferences in Geneva? Soviet and Cuban involvement was a fact and the battle got ugly without a doubt. Was there another way? Has negotiation worked with Cuba?

Finally, is gang violence somehow a result of US foreign policy? Or is it more likely a case of Salvadorean and other youth who entered a life of crime and gangs in the US – most as an earlier generation of illegal immigrants – and were deported back to Central America where they brought their gang activities with them to a country already steeped in violence? And somehow the US has to keep the floodgates open and not only that, but also fix Central America’s problems? Is it a surprise there is anger out there?

No one is shocked likely, or even surprised, by the revelation that Goldman Sachs may become one of Hillary’s biggest campaign contributors. As senator for New York, she voted for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act in 2008 along with 73 of her colleagues. So it should come as no surprise that certain large Wall Street firms might be inclined to help pay for her presidential election campaign. Call it pragmatism on their part to support someone like Hillary if you must. A sure source of hundreds of billions of taxpayer money is nothing to be sneezed at. Moreover, it was Secretary Paulson himself who proposed the act in the first place, after letting Lehman Brothers go bankrupt after Barclay’s was unable to get British regulators to approve the deal.

What will happen with someone like Hillary Clinton in the White House if another crisis looms? Say with Secretary of the Treasury Elizabeth Warren? The financial industry would become so over regulated that the term individual crisis would lose meaning. The cost of capital would rise and the rate of innovation would fall. Home ownership would be enshrined as a constitutional right – some would argue that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have already tried to do that – and the supply of new homes would dry up as available land was sealed off from further real estate and other developments. Subsidised Solar Power would expand and electric car owners would have to wait for endless brown outs to end to charge their vehicles. Big Labor would try to get their foot back in the door and might even succeed, if only in producing a greater number of strikes. Tax rates would become similar to those in the EU and Swiss army reserves would be put on high alert due to threats of invasion … by France and the USA. Germany, of course, would have to remain painfully neutral. So go ahead Goldman Sachs, and lay your money down. Let’s see how your bet plays out over the long term.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence spent over 10 years in the House and had established conservative credentials with many of his policy stances on immigration and family values. The former Tea Party Caucus member now has some conservatives mad over his health care plan for his state that could bring health care to over 450,000 low income uninsured residents. He plans to expand the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan which now covers about 50,000 low income residents. The plan would rely on health care savings plans and patient input according to the governor’s office but what gets conservatives mad is the fact that it will rely on over $16 billion of federal money to pay for its $18 billion cost. Indiana will shell out $1.5 billion. So the question becomes – aside from the balancing act Pence has to play between calling for an end to Obamacare and expanding health care coverage in his own state – do subsidized health savings account promote more efficient use of health care services?

The answer would depend on how Indiana plans to use these so-called health care savings accounts. The essence of a true health savings account is you control how much you save and how much you plan to use now or to set aside for future costs. What strings would be attached in Pence’s plan? When the federal government is contributing about 90& of the costs you can be sure that conditions will be rapidly attached and a whole slew of rules for the benefit of the low income earner will be put into place. Would the governor consider using the health care plans as a way to fund the costs over time – perhaps giving an increasing amount of room for the plans after a certain amount of time – rather than use them as a way to control costs? Or could both approaches work side by side? The answers will tell if Indiana’s plan is an alternative to, or just an extension of, Obamacare.

Just this week the Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that businesses need not be required under the ACA to provide emergency contraceptives to their employees. Under this ruling a closely held company claiming to hold a religious belief can be exempt from offering something its owners religiously disagree with. Under the ACA, companies were required under the contraceptive mandate to provide them to employees. This decision has caused a bit of a firestorm over women’s rights, the freedom of companies to do as they please, the limits of freedom of religion, etc. All of these issues are extremely important but I believe that the issue of personal responsibility is one of the most important.

Now companies do provide healthcare to their employees. Companies do have a vested interest in their employees and the interests of keeping them healthy should extend to a genuine concern for the welfare of an employee beyond maintaining staffing levels. At the same time though, why should companies be mandated to provide emergency contraceptives? Should companies also provide e-cigarettes to smokers and non-alcoholic beverages to alcoholics? No. While it might behoove a company to have fewer employees out on maternity leave for cost purposes, where does it behoove a company to baby its employees? Provide routine eye care to employees; yes. Provide contraceptives to careless employees who disregard the possible burden an unintended child might have; no.

The decision reached in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby removes the mandate on companies providing contraceptives on religious grounds. Frankly I can’t understand why such a mandate exists in the first place. Granted large sums of money are saved by the use of contraceptives when one looks at the overall expenses paid by the state for unintended pregnancies in the forms of medical care, welfare programs, education, etc. At the same time though if half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, why isn’t action taken to decrease the cost of contraceptives in the first place? Instead of at least making an attempt to address the situation of unintended pregnancies earlier on such as dealing with the costs of contraceptives, this administration prefers to have employers provide to employees what the latter failed to provide for themselves. Ultimately, bad careless decisions will still be made.

This issue in my mind is more about personal responsibility or the lack of it and with the government and its authority being used as a bailout. Initially the contraceptive mandate was ruled out for churches and other organizations that had clear religious differences. For example asking the Catholic Church to provide contraceptives is tantamount to asking parishioners to steal if necessary to provide money to the church. It’s wrong. Now in some ways such as with Hobby Lobby, the grounds for claiming religious freedom are harder to prove. Regardless I think it’s absurd. Never mind the fact that the contraceptive mandate failed to cover male contraceptives. I don’t hear the left screaming about the lack of equality.

In my family we believe in the idea that you sleep in the bed you make. You don’t expect others to bail you out for something you could’ve easily prevented and you most certainly don’t force others to do so. I’m happy that Hobby Lobby has had this victory and that the SCOTUS reached this decision. Though the issue I believe extends beyond the religious sentiments of an organization. It is a matter of personal responsibility and requiring employers to rectify issues that employees could’ve easily avoided in the first place is not the answer.

The situations in Iraq and Syria are tense and horrific to say the least. Bad enough we have an administration that is more concerned with its own poll numbers than securing American security and foreign stability but now we have Senator Rand Paul railing against any possible action in Iraq. Paul believes as he has stated recently in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that we should essentially dismiss ISIS in Iraq. Paul cites the 2003 Iraq War as a massive policy failure which in many ways it is and believes we shouldn’t commit ourselves to taking sides in Iraq today. At the same time though he completely dismisses the destabilizing effect of ISIS on the region and ultimately its threat to the United States and our interests. This view I can’t agree with.

Granted I understand the position of libertarians which Sen. Paul believes he is in that we should mind our own business overseas. There is some truth to that; our under thought actions over the decades have produced some extremely negative repercussions such as in Iraq which Paul focuses on as an example. In this case though and with Sen. Paul in particular I find fault. Paul is a far cry from his father, a man who I disagreed with heavily but still hold enormous respect for because I feel that he spoke of what he truly believed in. His son though is a political opportunist, detached from reality and bent on securing a future political position regardless of what he believes in. In the case of ISIS in Iraq, Sen. Paul is dead wrong and unrealistic.

Sen. Paul claims that ISIS has been emboldened to move into Iraq because we are arming Syrian rebels and their allies such as al Qaeda. Oh really? I’m sorry I didn’t get the memo but last I heard ISIS and al Qaeda aren’t exactly on friendly terms and are in fact in open opposition to each other. Indeed ISIS is fighting both the Assad government and most other rebel groups in Syria. Paul needs to get his facts straight before offering his assessments. Additionally, where are we arming ISIS? The CIA has been arming groups such as the FSA but not ISIS and in very limited ways that are a far cry from U.S. lethal aid provided to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Perhaps some weaponry has fallen into the hands of ISIS but to say we are directly arming them is an outright lie.

Now I understand Paul is a proponent of isolationism and non-interventionism. There is a difference though between ignoring something that isn’t a threat and something that is. Argue whichever position you have on dealing with ISIS in Iraq, boots on the ground, airstrikes, arming the Iraqis, and training the Iraqis, whatever. Taking the position to sit this out and watch though is not a viable option. A massive power vacuum in Syria and Iraq in the Middle East that can spread into Jordan and other states is something that has the ability to impact the U.S. in a very real way.

It’s thinking such as this that foreign policy is conducted and occurs in closed environments which ultimately lead to trouble. The idea that if it doesn’t directly affect us on American soil we should ignore it fails to take into account the complexities and interconnectedness of the world today. An ISIS state would be disastrous to regional stability, security, and the global economy. Worrying about it down the road as Paul suggests is careless and just plain wrong and reveals a man whose foreign policy opinions are more rooted in following a strict philosophy than dealing with them realistically.