Monthly Archives: February 2015

Reforming State Legislatures

In state legislatures throughout the United States, vital proposals for new or revised laws as well as ethical reforms are frequently blocked by powerful leaders, frequently called a speaker in lower houses or majority leaders in upper bodies. The enormous power they wield can lead to corruption.

In some states, the majority of the members of state legislature have little influence, since only two or three individuals, including the governor and the leaders of the upper and lower houses make most of the key decisions. Clearly, this is not in the interests of the citizenry, and it is doubtful whether the founders of the nation at large or the individual states envisioned a process that trivializes the role of the overwhelming majority of elected representatives.

One solution to this issue has been the institution of term limits. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures “Proposals to limit the terms of state legislators have been the subject of public policy debate since 1990. Since then, 21 states have adopted term limits, but court cases and repeals mean that only 15 states now have term limits for legislators.” The concept hasn’t been a panacea for all the ills affecting state governments. Critics note that inexperienced legislatures may lead to a transfer of power to the appointed staffs either of the legislature itself, the bureaucracy, or the governor.

Legislative bodies, like all groups, require rules and a leadership structure in order to function properly. But change must occur when leadership exceeds the requirements for actual organizational and efficiency purposes and effectively disenfranchises most members.

The conversation America avoids

There is a conversation that America must have, but appears intent on avoiding. It is now abundantly clear that the Obama/Clinton/Kerry foreign policy has failed, and failed to an unprecedented and exceptionally dangerous degree. Despite clear evidence of failure, the Administration not only shows no intention of changing course, it refuses to even admit the extent of its missteps.

Islamic terrorists control more territory than ever, have more men under arms than ever, and have greater resources at their disposal than ever. The premature withdrawal of American troops from Iraq created a vacuum allowing ISIS to thrive.  U.S. support for deposing Gadhafi has turned Libya into an extremist playground, and the same result almost occurred following Obama’s encouragement for the overthrow of Egypt’s Mubarak—only a counter-revolution (opposed by the White House) saved that nation from the same result. Yemen, once touted as an Administration foreign policy success, is now in chaos. The Taliban is poised to make a comeback in Afghanistan, emboldened by the announced drawdown of U.S. forces.

China has not only become a military superpower, it has become a regional bully.

Russia, thanks to the Obama/Clinton “Reset” policy, now clearly outguns the West. The Ukraine has been dismembered, and the world waits for the next move, which may be against NATO members Latvia, Estonia, or Lithuania. Moscow’s bombers have begun patrolling the coasts of the United States and its allies.

Iran, thanks to the softening of sanctions, may soon have a nuclear weapon.

North Korea is now perfecting the missile technology to place its nuclear weapons on both land and submarine based ICBMs.

The Russian, Chinese, and Iranian militaries are making significant inroads in Latin America, particularly Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

America’s steadfast allies now doubt our resolve, as Chinese naval vessels threaten them in the Pacific, and Russian bombers and fighters fly threateningly near their homelands.

Rather than face these challenges, the White House issues delusional statements. The President states that the “Shadow of the crisis of terrorism has passed.” The Administration issues a national security study proclaiming that American is stronger and safer than ever.

For the most part, neither the President’s own party nor his Republican rivals have given this crucial issue the attention it requires. Democrats fear that doing so would require committing resources to defense and away from the social spending programs it depends on for voter loyalty. Republicans hesitate in the belief that the American public, exhausted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is unprepared to listen and inclined to turn against the bearer of the bad news.

The peril grows rapidly.

Iranian-Chinese cooperation presents strategic threat

One of the most significant dangers faced by the U.S. and its allies is the tacit alliance between Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

As concerns over Iran’s nuclear program continue, an effort that owes much to Russian technology, economic relations between Tehran and Beijing continue to grow. According to a recent report in the Russian journal RT News, “China and Iran have had close economic, trade and energy ties, as China’s crude oil imports from Iran soared by nearly 30 percent last year to their highest level since 2011.” The report note that China’s foreign minister Wang envisions “Enormous space for cooperation on more industrial projects.”

A RAND study indicated thatOver the past few decades, China and Iran have developed a broad and deep partnership centered on China’s energy needs and Iran’s abundant resources as well as significant non-energy economic ties, arms sales and defense cooperation, and geostrategic balancing against the United States. This partnership presents a unique challenge to U.S. interests and objectives. In particular, China’s policies have hampered U.S. and international efforts to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

RAND’s analysis is similar to a study published in Foreign Affairs, which reported that “Driven by economic interests, as well as sympathy for Iran’s grievances, China is the only major player still active in the Iranian oil patch. Whereas firms from most other countries have retreated due to international pressure and Iran’s unfavorable business climate, China and its companies adhere only to the letter of Resolution 1929, which contains no explicit restrictions on energy investment or trade. China has thus emerged as the linchpin of the international sanctions regime against Iran and, by extension, of the effort to forestall Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability.”

House Armed Services Committee begins hearings on Russian aggression

Tensions continue to mount as Russia expands its influence in Ukraine and engages in nuclear-capable bomber flights close to the airspace of NATO members in Europe and North America.

NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, Alexander Vershbow maintains that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not an isolated incident, but a game-changer in European security. It reflects an evolving pattern of behavior that has been emerging for several years, despite our efforts to reach out to Russia and build a cooperative European security system with Russia.”

House Armed Services Committee chair Mac Thornberry has begun hearings  on threats to international security in Europe.

In a preliminary statement, the chairman addressed the nature of the threats: “First is the naked aggression of conquest. We have seen this in Europe many times in the past.  History has taught us that aggression, unchallenged in its early days, leads to greater costs and greater misery when it finally must be confronted. “Second is the undermining of the rules-based international system that has existed since the end of World War II.  I am among those who are convinced that President Putin is working to undermine the current international structure, in order to replace it with one more to his liking.  And he has some unsavory allies in that effort.
The third challenge is the tactics that are being used by Russia in Ukraine.  We’ve heard a lot about “little green men,” but the various efforts Russia is using to undermine the Ukrainian security forces –as well as to pull a facade over its own involvement– presents challenges to NATO and the United States.  We do not deal with naked lies, subversion, and other forms of subterfuge very well.”

Transportation Funding: A Wrong Turn?

Under President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget, The Department of Transportation would receive a significant level of funding.

While there is general agreement that the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs substantial investment, significant questions have been raised both about the manner in which the Administration’s plans would be funded, and about the competence to effectively and efficiently address the problem.

Over 6 years, the proposed funding would provide :

  •  $317 billion to invest in the highway system: The proposal will increase the amount of highway funds by an average of nearly 29 percent above FY 2015 enacted levels, emphasizing policies and reforms that prioritize investments for repairs and improvements to road safety and transit services, with particular attention to investments in rural and tribal areas.
  • Nearly $115 billion to invest in transit systems and expand transportation options: The proposal increases average transit spending by nearly 76 percent above FY 2015 enacted levels, which will enable the expansion of new projects that improve connectivity, such as light rail, street cars, and bus rapid transit, in suburbs, fast-growing cities, small towns, and rural communities, while still maintaining existing transit systems.
  • Predictable funding for rail investments: $28.6 billion over 6 years would be provided to fund the development of high performance rail and other passenger rail programs as part of an integrated national transportation strategy.

To pay for these programs, the White House has called for over $2 trillion in tax increases, including hikes to the personal income tax, death tax, capital gains and business tax rates (the U.S. already has the highest corporate tax level of any major nation, resulting in more jobs moving overseas) and sales taxes.

A CATO analysis of the transportation budget criticized the use of corporate taxes to pay for the plan, the emphasis on federal rather than state funding, the centralization of rail policy, and the generally increased role for Washington as opposed to more efficient state and local governments.

Medicaid patients encounter difficulties getting appointments

Disturbing information continues to build concerning the growing difficulty of individuals covered under the affordable care act as well as those under Medicaid in finding physicians who will treat them.

According to Healthline News, “many of the newly insured will have trouble finding a doctor. Those who do may have difficulty getting quick appointments. Many have gained or will gain coverage under the expansion of Medicaid. …A big problem, even for those who do live in Medicaid expansion states, is that there are not enough primary care physicians to treat people on the government insurance plan. This was a problem even before the expansion.” Healthline News reports that those not able to obtain primary care frequently end up in emergency rooms.

Part of the reason is that, this year, primary care doctors are receiving lesser reimbursement.

The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that the estimated 9.1 million Americans who enrolled in Medicaid last year under the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) expansion may have a more difficult time finding a primary care doctor in 2015 due to the sunsetting of provisions allowing for increased payments.

To address the problem, which can greatly increase costs to states and local governments, which in many cases are responsible for the emergency room expenses incurred at public hospitals, “Fifteen states indicated that they will continue the primary care fee increase in 2015, at least in part” according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.

Adding to the difficulties faced by Obamacare enrollees, a CNN Money study  finds that “Deductibles, co-payments, and drug payments are higher under the average Obamacare silver-level plans — the most popular — than employer policies.”

Time for a candid look at the climate change theory

The time has come for a candid re-examination of an almost sacrosanct article of faith: the acceptance of significant global climate change resulting from human causes.

Originally, advocates of the theory suggested that the planet was cooling.  That concept didn’t work out, and the same advocates proposed that the population, particularly in industrialized nations, was causing global warming.  That, too, hasn’t withstood the rigors of scientific analysis, particularly since the alleged warming trend appears to have halted for decades, if indeed it ever existed, and so the rather nebulous concept of “climate change” was proposed, and is now widely taught in schools, accepted by most of the media, and used as a factor in fostering large-scale government intervention in the private sector.

A number of explicit facts have challenged the notion that manmade activities are having a significant impact on the Earth’s temperature, starting with the fact that the Earth has continuously experienced climate change, even before humans made their relatively recent appearance.

The data employed to foster the manmade change theory has been shown to be seriously flawed. When “change” advocates generally cite records only a few hundred years old, they ignore extremely relevant information. From the 10th to the 14th centuries, the planet’s temperature was warmer  than that of our time. This period was followed by an era now known as “the Little Ice Age.”  Changes continued, not tied to human activity, and continue still.

As climate change advocates pursued significant alterations in the U.S. economy, some scientists began to notice an interesting phenomenon. The planet Mars appears to be experiencing climate changes similar to Earth. Clearly, human activity could not be a factor there.

As serious as the ignored data has been the intentional falsifying of key science studies. The most well-known case, popularly known as “Climategate,” came to the public’s attention when leaked emails from the University of East Anglia revealed that results of studies were tailored to ignore actual results in favor of propping up the beliefs of global warming theory advocates. It has now been revealed that the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have fabricated computer modeling of the atmosphere, perhaps in response to political pressure, also to better serve the wishes of climate change advocates.

The Earth’s environment does require attention, and actual harmful activities should be addressed. But the use of ignored facts and falsified data to support incorrect theories can only cause harm. The cynical employment of counterfeit science to pursue political ends is unacceptable.

Moscow’s military buildup is offensive, not defensive

The most worrisome aspect of Moscow’s intense military buildup is the offensive nature of the weapons and tactics emphasized. The advanced nuclear weapons technology upgrades, including both strategic and tactical weapons being implemented are complemented by advanced conventional weaponry additions.

2014 marked the first time that Russia attained strategic nuclear superiority over the U.S., as well as a ten to one lead in tactical atomic weapons.

As reported by the pro-Moscow news source Sputnik International,  the Sevmash shipyard is constructing four next-generation nuclear submarines, the first time in history this many have been constructed at once. The question, of course, is why the economically challenged Putin regime is concentrating so much of its resources on building an offensive-oriented military at a time when there are no threats to Russia.  Indeed, at a time when the U.S. defense budget has been cut, when the U.S. Army is being reduced to its lowest level since before World War II, the Navy its lowest level since World War I, and the USAF at its lowest level ever, there remains no credible excuse other than offensive operations for the ongoing, vast Russian buildup.

According to Sputnik, “This year, Sevmash is constructing Yasen-M- and Borei-A-class nuclear-powered submarines, the Kazan and the Prince Vladimir, as well as the multipurpose nuclear submarine Novosibirsk and the nuclear submarine Prince Oleg.” In 2014, the same shipyard constructed and transferred two Yasen- and Borei-class nuclear-powered submarines, the Severodvinsk and the Vladimir Monomakh.”

The same source also reports that the “Russian Air Force and Naval Aviation units are to receive Over 200 New Aircraft in 2015.  Also planned for future delivery is an updated long-range military transport plane…The IL-76MD-90A [long range cargo plane] was developed to transport a range of military equipment, armed personnel, heavy and long size vehicles and cargoes.” This is precisely the type of aircraft necessary for operations far from the Russian homeland.

With no threat on its borders, particularly in light of Europe’s underfunded military and the withdrawal of American tanks from Europe in 2014, and the significant U.S. sequestration cuts, there is no defensive reason for the Kremlin’s costly and far-ranging military buildup.

The global reach of Putin’s military stretches far beyond Ukraine, which despite a recent agreement remains the source of ongoing fighting. It extends beyond Europe, which Moscow has threatened with Iskander nuclear missiles (there are no US or European equivalent weapons) and overflights by military aircraft. The United Kingdom’s RAF has had to deter Russian nuclear-capable Bear bombers away from its coast, a continuation of Moscow’s ongoing threatening military flights towards European airspace. Citing the imminent danger of the Kremlin’s military towards the Baltic states, UK defense minister Michael Fallon sounded a cautionary note of the “clear and present danger” against these NATO members.

Russia is aggressively moving to establish a military presence in Latin America. In February, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu penned military deals with Cuba, Niaragua and Venezuela.  The deals allow Russian naval vessels to dock in the Latin America, establishes joint military drills, and furthers  cooperation between the armed forces of the several nations.  The deal enhances relations already emplaced by weapons sales.

It is apparently not fashionable for the American press to report much on these matters, and the Obama Administration has demonstrated no significant level of concern.

Washington heading for fiscal chaos

A look at recent statistics from the U.S. Treasury Department  are truly worrisome.

The federal government ran a budget deficit of $195 billion for the first four months of fiscal year 2015, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates—$12 billion more than the shortfall recorded in the same span last year. Revenues and outlays were both 8 percent higher than they were at this time a year ago. If lawmakers enact no further legislation affecting spending or revenues, the federal government will end fiscal year 2015 with a deficit of $468 billion, or 2.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The deficit occurred even as receipts through January totaled $1,041 billion, CBO estimates—$79 billion more than the amount collected in the same period last year.  In January alone, the government had a deficit of approximately $17.5 billion, a dramatic increase from last year’s figure of $10.3 billion.

The reality is that under current conditions, the federal government seems unwilling to balance its budget no matter how much revenue it takes in. But there’s even worse news.  Some essential functions of government, such as defense, have been enduring budget cuts even as nonessential areas, such as entitlements (other than social security) have spent more.

The difficult political fact that Washington seems incapable of facing is that the federal government is far too deeply involved in matters better left to the states.  Until it re-orients itself to those functions that are constitutionally envisioned for it, the federal government will continue to plunge faster and more unavoidably towards fiscal chaos.

U.S. increasingly vulnerable in space

Adm. Cecil D. Haney is Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, or “Stratcom.”

Stratcom’s mission includes ensuring space-based assets are available to support military operations and that these high-demand resources are used efficiently and effectively to promote mission accomplishment.

Admiral Haney has noted that Space is vital not just for defense. “When you look at where we as a nation have gone in space and our dependency on it – not just militarily, but as a society at large – you realize how important it is and why we work that particular area,” he said. “There is just so much going on in space today that it clearly warrants our attention in how to operate efficiently and effectively and have that awareness we need [that enables people] to do everything from banking to understanding weather patterns.”

He is clearly concerned about recent trends. Speaking at an Air Force Association breakfast, he noted that The playing field in space is changing, and not always to the advantage of nations that are peaceful and have democratic governments, “Today, our nation is dealing with a global security environment that is more complex, dynamic and volatile than at any time in our history.” The security environment features multiple actors operating across all domains. Many actors challenge U.S. democratic values in many ways, the admiral said.

“In addition to significant tensions involving nation states,” Haney told the audience, “we are in an environment that is flanked with numerous ungoverned or ineffectively governed areas that are breeding grounds for bad actors and violent extremist organizations.” These groups, he added, also use space and cyberspace to recruit and spread propaganda — including misinformation — in support of their causes.

“Perhaps of greater concern, however, is the proliferation of these emerging strategic capabilities attempting to limit our decision and maneuver space that ultimately impacts strategic stability,” Haney said.

The admiral focused on the emerging capabilities and what it means for the United States. Space is getting cluttered, he said, noting that it is more “congested, contested and competitive.” That alone makes U.S. capabilities increasingly vulnerable, he said.