Monthly Archives: June 2015

When will the White House acknowledge the threat from Russia?

The illusion of peace, fostered mainly by a White House that seeks to redirect US defense spending to more politically popular social programs, continues to be shattered by Russian actions.

In statements eerily reminiscent of the excuse Hitler used to justify Nazi aggression in Europe, Yevgeny Lukyanov, the Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council is claiming that Russian speakers in the Baltic states need Moscow’s protection.

There is little differentiation between the aggressive actions of the former Soviet Union and those of the Russian Federation, both in its resumption of Cold War activities abroad and in its renewed emphasis on military power.

Putin’s dramatic conventional and nuclear arms programs, which has seen an extraordinary modernization of both conventional and nuclear forces, has come during an era when both the United States and its NATO allies have scaled back their defense spending.

While the U.S. was in the midst of an extensive reduction in military spending, Moscow, starting in 2010, launched a $720 billion modernization program. As noted by the Economist  in 2014, “Russia’s defence spending has nearly doubled in nominal terms since 2007. This year alone it will rise by 18.4%.”

Russia has major increases in defense spending budgeted each year to 2020. The National Interest  notes that Putin “has pushed for this program even over the objections of some within the Kremlin who worried about costs and the possible negative impact on Russian prosperity; opposition to the expansion of military spending was one of the reasons the long-serving Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin left the cabinet several years ago…… Perusing budget reports and position papers, Russian plans—spearheaded by the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry—certainly look impressive—and ominous. … If all goes according to plan, the Russian military, by 2020, will return to a million active-duty personnel, backed up by 2300 new tanks, some 1200 new helicopters and planes, with a navy fielding fifty new surface ships and twenty-eight submarines, with one hundred new satellites designed to augment Russia’s communications, command and control capabilities. Putin has committed to spending billions over the next decade to fulfill these requirements.

And a growing number of Russians support the military buildup. A Levada Center poll found that 46 percent of Russians were in favor of increasing military spending even if it led to an economic slowdown (versus 41 percent opposed if defense increases caused economic hardship.”

The Kremlin has not been shy about flaunting its power. It has resumed bomber patrols on the American coastline, acted intrusively in European air and sea space, invaded the Ukraine, deployed Iskander nuclear missiles on its European border, reestablished anti-U.S. military relations with Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and engaged in large scale war training maneuvers with its ally China.

It also militarized the Arctic. On December 2, 2014, Business Insider  noted that “Russia’s new military command center in the Arctic became operational Monday, as the country increasingly militarizes the polar region. Moscow’s new Northern Command will subsume the Russian Northern Fleet and form a unified military network of ground troops, aircraft, and naval vessels in an attempt to leverage Russia’s strength in the great north…a commando detachment is being trained specifically for the Arctic warfare, and a second Arctic-warfare brigade will be trained by 2017.Furthermore, a year-round airbase is under construction in the New Siberian Islands Archipelago alongside an additional 13 airfields and ten air-defense radar stations. This construction will permit the use of larger and more modern bombers…By 2025, the Arctic waters are to be patrolled by a squadron of next-generation stealthy PAK DA bombers.”

Russia has also violated the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty.  According to the U.S. State Department, “The United States has determined that in 2014, the Russian Federation continued to be in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Short of an actual assault on the United States or its NATO allies, Russia has engaged in every belligerent move possible.  That assault is not a mere distant concern. Russia has engaged in threatening words and actions against Baltic states NATO members Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, an action which could precipitate a major Russia-NATO clash.

Obama must explain his Middle Eastern policy

As it becomes evident that the Iranian nuclear talks will be extended, after 18 months of negotiations, yet again beyond a deadline, the entire Obama/Clinton strategy towards the Middle East must be called into question. The Obama Administration’s policies in the region have completely failed, and it’s unwillingness to provide reasonable explanations of both its tactics and goals must be called into question.

Whatever the current White House’s opinions of the war fought to vanquish Saddam Hussein’s reign over Iraq, the premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from that nation by President Obama opened up a power vacuum that has been filled by ISIS.  Why were there no contingency plans to deal with this very obvious outcome?

If President Obama had, as a key goal, the avoidance of armed conflict in the Middle East and the removal of the U.S. military, why did he commit U.S. armed forces to play a key role in the ouster of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi? Gaddafi had renounced and disbanded his nuclear program, and broken his ties to terrorists. He was on the same side as the West in opposing al Qaeda. That decision clearly indicates to Iran that there is no benefit in siding with the U.S. on nuclear disarmament and opposing terrorism.

The result of the President’s decision was a clear victory for terrorists in the region. That opens up the next issue. Why was an attack mounted on the American facility in Benghazi, and why did both the Obama White House and the Clinton State Department work so vigorously to mislead the public about an unknown video being the cause? Why were air, sea, and land forces prohibited from mounting a rescue attempt? According to discussions by the New York Analysis of Policy & Government with experienced retired military personnel, the allegations that no American forces were within range is completely false. Why have relevant documents not been released, and relevant personnel not been allowed to testify?

Similarly, why did the White House side with the radical and violent Muslim Brotherhood against the pro-peace, U.S.-friendly regime of Hosni Mubarak? When the Muslim Brotherhood took power and began committing atrocities, why did President Obama remain silent—until the Muslim Brotherhood was in turn ousted, and the White House then decided to protest that ouster?

Further south in Africa, the Boko Haram, a terrorist organization now affiliated with ISIS, has been noted for some time for its atrocities, particularly against young women. Despite its obvious and well-known reputation, the White House and the Clinton State Department avoided placing the organization on the terrorist list. Why? And, in the wake of revelations regarding a potential financial incentive for Ms. Clinton to fail to be truthful regarding Boko Haram, why hasn’t the White House acted?

Why didn’t the White House act in a timely manner to assist the anti-terrorist leadership in Yemen, when it had clear and abundant warnings of the threat against the government there?

Why did the Obama Administration ignore its own “Red Line” with Syria?

Why has the Obama Administration gone out of its way to publicly castigate the Israelis, who are our most dependable ally in the region?

The questions about Iran, arguably the leading anti-American power in the region, are the most central to the inquiries about the Obama Administrations’ goals and practices. The regime in Tehran is vehemently and militantly anti-U.S., evidenced by instances of its government officials repeatedly chanting “Death to America” and its military practicing assaults on U.S. naval assets.

According to the Clarion Project:

“Iran has been on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism since 1984. Its 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism states that Iran is supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Syrian regime (also labeled a State Sponsor of Terrorism), Houthi rebels in Yemen, Shiite militants in Bahrain and Shiite militias in Iraq.5 The State Department confirmed that Iran continues to work with Al-Qaeda elements, despite their expressed hostility towards one another. It stated: ‘Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior Al-Qaeda (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saq al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and also to Syria. . Al-Fadhli is a veteran AQ operative who has been active for years. Al-Fadhli began working with the Iranbased AQ facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by Iranian authorities. He was released in 2011 and assumed leadership of the Iran-based AQ facilitation network.’

“ Iran operates a global network, including in the U.S. and South America. In May 2013, a 500 page report by an Argentine state prosecutor said Iran has an “intelligence and terrorist network” in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago and Suriname and elsewhere.6 The State Department also said Iran increased its presence in Africa. Iran is also known to work closely with North Korea on weapons of mass destruction programs. The IRGC is believed to have a presence in Sudan (another State Sponsor of Terrorism), where it oversees a supply route to Hamas.”

Despite all that, the President Obama’s policies towards Iran have been apparently intentionally weak and ineffective:

When the “Green Revolution” opposed the extremist Tehran regime, it was one of the only “Arab Spring” movements not supported by the White House.

The White House has softened its stance on sanctions against Tehran.

There has been no significant White House response to Iranian and Iranian-backed forces moving into Latin America.

Secretary of State Clinton facilitated the transfer of uranium to Russia while Moscow was assisting Iran’s nuclear program

American air strikes against ISIS have been miniscule compared to past U.S. efforts against other aggressors, as Washington has allowed Iranian forces to achieve Tehran’s long-sought after goal of expanding its power in Iraq under the excuse of fighting that force.

The White House has allowed deadlines to be breached in nuclear talks with Iran, allowing that nation vital time to actually achieve the ability to produce nuclear weapons.

The White House owes the American people and Congress an immediate, clear and thorough explanation of its Middle Eastern goals and practices.

Ignoring the Constitution, and its consequences

There is a deeper implication in the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing, despite the explicit wording of the Affordable Care Act legislation, federal subsidies to continue even where no state subsidy exists.

The precise issue, as stated by Scotus blog , was “Whether the Internal Revenue Service may permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through exchanges established by the federal government under Section 1321 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

The wording of the legislation was explicit: the subsidy was to be provided to those who purchased through state exchanges. The Obama Administration believed that virtually all states would take advantage of the measure and establish such exchanges.

The White House was disappointed. The majority of states (New Jersey, Delaware, Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin and Louisiana) choose not to establish their own exchanges.

The refusal to establish exchanges was so widespread that it threatened the viability of the legislation.

That result should not have been a surprise. The Affordable Health Care was passed at a rare moment when the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives were all, albeit briefly, in Democrat hands. Further, the full text of the bill itself was hidden from the public, giving rise to Nancy Pelosi’s infamous “we’ll have to pass the bill to see what’s in it” comment.

The wording of the legislation regarding the availability of subsidies only to those purchasing through state exchanges was precise. Indeed, even Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the Court’s majority opinion, stated “Petitioners’ arguments about the plain meaning of Section 36B are strong. But while the meaning of the phrase “an Exchange established by the State under [42 U. S. C. §18031]” may seem plain “when viewed in isolation,” such a reading turns out to be “untenable in light of [the statute] as a whole.” Department of Revenue of Ore. v. ACF Industries, Inc., 510 U. S. 332, 343 (1994). In this instance, the context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

The Court Majority’s playing fast and loose with the wording of the law raised the ire of dissenting Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, who wrote “ The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says “Exchange established by the State” it means “Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government.” That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.

“This case requires us to decide whether someone who buys insurance on an Exchange established by the Secretary gets tax credits. You would think the answer would be obvious—so obvious there would hardly be a need for the Supreme Court to hear a case about it. In order to receive any money under §36B, an individual must enroll in an insurance plan through an “Exchange established by the State.” The Secretary of Health and Human Services is not a State. So an Exchange established by the Secretary is not an Exchange established by the State—which means people who buy health insurance through such an Exchange get no money under §36B. Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.” It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state Exchanges than to use the words “established by the State.” And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words “by the State” other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges. “[T]he plain, obvious, and rational meaning of a statute is always to be preferred to any curious, narrow, hidden sense that nothing but the exigency of a hard case and the ingenuity and study of an acute and powerful intellect would discover.” I wholeheartedly agree with the Court that sound interpretation requires paying attention to the whole law, not homing in on isolated words or even isolated sections. Context always matters. Let us not forget, however, why context matters: It is a tool for understanding the term  s of the law, not an excuse for rewriting them.”

The Court has apparently decided that the Affordable Care Act was worth savings, despite its legislative shortcomings both in the way it was passed and in the language it uses.

In 2012, when the legislation was challenged in the National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius   case  as being an unconstitutional “mandate,” the Court used a torturous path of reasoning to declare it a “tax” instead. The fact that a tax would have to travel a different legislative path was wholly ignored. Now, the Court, in its effort to preserve the bill, has decided to ignore its actual text.

If one favors Obamacare, there is a temptation to say, “So what? A progressive achievement has been achieved. Who cares about technicalities?”

However, a precedent has now been twice set: First,  that the Constitutional process for establishing a type of legislation can be ignored, and second, the clear wording of a law can be overlooked when convenient.

Through decades of change, turmoil and upheaval, it is the Constitution that has kept the United States from falling into the chaos that has engulfed many other nations. Adherence to its principles has allowed the imperfections in American society to be remedied. But, if the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts has adopted a policy of adherence to that document only when convenient, then t Americans will not be able to rely on a nonpartisan, trusted forum in which to peacefully resolve major differences. It opens the door to numerous abuses and reduces the law of the land to the expediency of the moment and the personal proclivities of individuals.

Hamilton’s removal on the $10 bill: The real reason

 

Another Independence Day is almost here, and with it, another attack on the founders and founding principles that led to America’s success.

The concept of replacing Alexander Hamilton’s photo on the $10 bill at first sounds harmless, or even commendable.  Why not give someone else, particularly a female, the chance to grace this bit of currency?

But like much else in the highly partisan intersection of educational, cultural and political decisions, this seemingly innocuous move is part of a far larger agenda, one that poses a crucial danger to the future of our nation. It is part of a drive to eliminate the teaching of the principles upon which America was founded.

There has been much written about the undeniable hard-left bias on our college campuses. The New York Analysis of Policy & Government has previously reported that “The existence of the leftist bias is statistically well-documented and this overwhelming majority seeks to suppress contrary voices.  A number of studies have provided solid statistical evidence of this…Far too many American universities, at ever greater cost, are striving to eliminate the very concepts that gave rise to the founding of the United States.  Rather than, as Jefferson hoped, provide a foundation for the preservation of personal freedom, colleges are now becoming a wellspring of collectivist authoritarianism.”

The extremist anti-American views that dominate colleges are being forced onto grammar and high schools. The History News Network found that

“The new Framework of the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. history course. inculcates a consistently negative view of American culture. … The Framework ignores the United States’ founding principles and their influence in inspiring the spread of democracy and galvanizing the movement to abolish slavery…A particularly troubling failure of the Framework is its dismissal of the Declaration of Independence and the principles so eloquently expressed there. The Framework’s entire discussion of this seminal document consists of just one phrase in one sentence: “The colonists’ belief in the superiority of republican self-government based on the natural rights of the people found its clearest American expression in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and in the Declaration of Independence… The Framework thus ignores the philosophical underpinnings of the Declaration and the willingness of the signers to pledge ‘our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor’ to the cause of freedom.

Boston’s Pioneer Institute examined the issue, as reported by the Heartland Institute.  It’s “Shortchanging the Future” study argues:

“We are told that we should no longer privilege the traditional patriotic narrative. But is the only alternative a narrative that damns “dead white males” as oppressors, thereby ensuring that live white male children grow up hating history? …Why is it so hard for us all to agree that the United States has had more than its share of racial, ethnic, and religious conflict precisely because it became the most diverse nation in the world, but that minorities have risen precisely because they could insist upon rights first trumpeted forth by the United States… The present study is especially troubling because it documents not only disagreements over standards, but the fading away of history altogether. Fewer hours are devoted to it; students display commensurately greater ignorance. Perhaps this is simply a function of demoralization or distraction. But I suspect it is also on someone’s agenda…The collective grasp of basic history and civics among American students is alarmingly weak. Beyond dispiriting test results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and other measures, poor performance in history and civics portends a decay of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for a lifetime of active, engaged citizenship. The reasons for this decline are many: the amount of time devoted to history in K-12 education has demonstrably shrunk over time; demands to make curriculum more inclusive have led schools and teachers to dwell on social history, race, and gender in ways that distort the nation’s historical narrative.”

In February, reports the Iowa State Daily , “Oklahomans initiated an attempt to stop the revisionist-left from fiddling with the history books. The Oklahoma legislature has approved a bill to stop funding advanced placement history classes, on the basis that the curriculum is too left-wing.   There’s a severe left-wing bias in academia…”

Alexander Hamilton was a classic American success story. Orphaned, he nevertheless rose to success. He became a key figure in the Revolution, and later was a major force in getting the Constitution ratified—the Constitution that so many on the left find an inconvenient roadblock to implementing their collectivist agenda.

His success through perseverance, courage and faith in the grand experiment in freedom that is America is a clear repudiation of everything the academic and political left stands for. It is no coincidence that his recognition on American currency is targeted for removal.

Obama’s lack of accountability

The relationship and accountability of the American presidency to the citizenry has been altered sharply during the Obama Administration. This can be clearly seen in the manner in which it interacts with the media.

In terms of direct contact with the press, the Obama White House has held the fewest average press conferences of any Administration since the dawn of the comprehensive news cycle brought about by cable/satellite television, according to the American Presidency Project . George Bush (41) held an average of 34.25 per year, Clinton, 24.13, Bush (43) 26.25, and Obama, 20.38.

Perhaps more important than the number of press conferences is the quality of them. By now, the rather infamous false statements regarding the Affordable Care Act—“If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor,” for example, have become fodder for comedy shows. The significant misstatements about the attack in Benghazi are currently being investigated by Congress.

President Obama’s relationship with the media has been one of intimidation. Consider: The White House has seized phone records of AP reporters; it has bugged laptops of correspondents; it has monitored reporters’ emails; and it has reduced the number of federal employees designated to respond to press inquiries.

The President has repeatedly criticized news outlets which disagree with him, and has sought to find ways to penalize them. Under his direction, attempts to enhance the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (the abortive attempt to place monitors in news rooms, for example) have been undertaken.

The Administration has not been subjected to the expected criticism of these acts due to its incestuous relationship with key media figures.  The Washington Post reported in 2013 “The list of prominent news people with close White House relations includes ABC News President Ben Sherwood, who is the brother of Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a top national-security adviser to President Obama. His counterpart at CBS, news division president David Rhodes, is the brother of Benjamin Rhodes, a key foreign-policy specialist. CNN’s deputy Washington bureau chief, Virginia Moseley, is married to Tom Nides, who until earlier this year was deputy secretary of state under Hillary Rodham Clinton. Further, White House press secretary Jay Carney’s wife is Claire Shipman, a veteran reporter for ABC. And NPR’s White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro, is married to a lawyer, Michael Gottlieb, who joined the White House counsel’s office in April.”

Access to government information other than by press conferences has also been denied to a far greater extent than in prior Administrations as well, PBS reported in March. “The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press…It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged. Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent, the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in five years.”

 

The Pope’s mistake

Pope Francis has detracted from legitimate scientific and economic debates regarding two issues, poverty and climate change, and has harmed the Catholic Church by his forays outside his areas of expertise.

His recently released Encyclical “Encyclical Laudato si‘” states that:

“Climate change is a global problem with serious implications, environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods; it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day…the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all…many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms…Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded”.

The Pope’s concern for the environment is a legitimate (if non-theological) interest. Insuring the cleanliness of Earth’s air and water, the biodiversity of its species, and the preservation of its wild spaces is in the interest of all. But the question of man-made climate change, despite the fervent attempts of its adherents, remains an open question. The planet’s climate has consistently changed, frequently shifting from warming periods to cooling periods and back again long before the advent of industrialization, automobiles, or the extensive discharge of chemicals into the air.

Supporters of the man-made climate change concept have employed non-scientific tactics involving political pressure and the doctoring of data to in their advocacy. The Vatican has not indicated what scientific data the head of the Church relied on, and how rigorous his research has been. It is most distressing that, according to the Washington Post, he did not seek alternative views, an arrogance reminiscent of the infamous 1610 trial of Galileo.

If Pope Francis had expressed a deep concern for the health of the planetary environment without entering into the climate change debate, he could have accomplished more success in calling attention and concern to the issue in a far less partisan manner.

The Pontiff compounded his error by calling for what amounts to international control of environmental resources. The closest analogy to his concept can be seen in the past and present actions of communist regimes. Absent the separation of powers, checks and balances, and competing influences characteristic of more capitalistic systems, the environment has and is suffering tremendously under the top-down power structure of leftist regimes. When the Iron Curtain fell, Western Europeans, particularly those in West Germany, were aghast at the terrible toll on the environment that became evident in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations under Moscow’s control. The same can be seen today in China, which is the worst polluter on the planet.

Pope Francis has displayed a similar lack of knowledge in his approach to poverty. He correctly notes that “…Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it…”  However, it is clearly evident that the system that has far more successfully reduced poverty is not the socialism he essentially alludes to, but capitalism. Indeed, even the prime alleged “success story” of Communist China is wholly dependent on the sale of items to capitalist economies, predominately the United States. A mere redistribution of wealth from “rich” nations to “poor” nations essentially creates a one-time solution that will quickly fade, as the ineffective socialist and other top-down economies will fail to create the conditions for ongoing prosperity.

All people are at least partially influenced by the region in which they were brought up, and the South American-born Pontiff is no exception. He appears sympathetic to the Latin American Catholic movement known as “Liberation theology,” which embraces a left-wing, political view of Christianity far more than the traditional spiritual elements which are its true essence. Interestingly, Pope Francis’s predecessors took a rather dim view of this, so the current head of the world’s Catholics is at odds with his predecessors.

The world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are under no obligation to follow the Pontiff’s scientific or political views. While the Pope’s word on matters of religious doctrine is, essentially, law for the church, his views on other matters are essentially his own opinion.

But he is the Pope, and his views on any topic are cause for great interest throughout Christianity. (Catholic Bible 101.com notes “The doctrine of infallibility, officially defined at the Vatican I council of 1870, says that when the Pope is officially defining church dogma, the Holy Spirit is also. There are three  requirements for infallibility to be invoked: 1.  The pronouncement must be made by the official successor to Peter. 2.  The subject matter must be in the area of faith and morals. 3.  The Pope must be speaking ex cathedra (from the chair) of Peter, and must be intending to proclaim a doctrine that binds the entire Church to assent.”)

When the Pope ventures into areas beyond his theological expertise, that can cause problems.  Damien Thompson, writing in Spectator writes: “What should worry Francis is that moderate conservative Catholics are losing confidence in him. The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who is no one’s idea of an extremist, believes that ‘this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him’. Cristina Odone, former editor of the Catholic Herald, says that ‘Francis achieved miracles with his compassionate, off-the-cuff comments that detoxified the Catholic brand. He personifies optimism — but when he tries to turn this into policy he isn’t in command of the procedures or the details. The result is confusion.’”

America’s not gaining from improved relations with Cuba & Venezuela

The Stratfor organization reports that American diplomats are reaching out to Venezuela.  The move follows the opening of relations with Cuba.

“Recent discussions between Venezuelan and U.S. officials suggest that tentative negotiations between the two countries are taking shape. U.S. State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon has met with Venezuelan officials on three occasions — twice with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas and once with National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello in Port au Prince, Haiti. The United States has begun engaging Venezuela at a time when Caracas’ public finances are stretching thin. These political contacts are still in an early stage but may grow into wider negotiations on Venezuela’s political future.

“The information available about the meetings suggests that both sides may still be feeling out potential concessions rather than making substantive decisions. Shannon’s discussion in Haiti reportedly dealt with whether the United States would repeal an executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials allegedly involved in human rights violations. Some officials are part of a list of dozens of Venezuelan officials that includes Cabello, who faces a criminal investigation in a U.S. federal district court for allegedly facilitating cocaine trafficking to the United States, a fact U.S. negotiators could leverage. In the meeting, Shannon also reportedly asked for Venezuela to set a date for legislative elections and reiterated long-standing U.S. demands to release political prisoners.”

Politics and international relations are not necessarily arenas where morals are on the top of the agenda. However, absent a major or urgent necessity, (an alliance in time of war, for example; during World War 2, the U.S. allied with Soviet Russia) violating core principles and interests in return for little or no benefits raises questions.

Both Cuba and Venezuela are significant violators of human rights, and both have engaged in military relations with other nations that are hostile to American interests.

According to Human Rights Watch “…the Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public, including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment. Short-term arbitrary arrests have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely.”

Human Rights Watch  has also outlined Venezuela’s poor rights record:

“Under the leadership of President Chávez and now President Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and the erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute its critics.  While many Venezuelans continue to criticize the government, the prospect of facing reprisals—in the form of arbitrary or abusive state action—has undercut the ability of judges to fairly adjudicate politically sensitive cases, and forced journalists and rights defenders to weigh the consequences of publicizing information and opinions that are critical of the government.

“In September 2013, the Venezuelan government’s decision to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights took effect, leaving Venezuelans without access to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, an international tribunal that has protected their rights for decades in a wide array of cases.

“Police abuse, prison conditions, and impunity for abuses by security forces remain serious problems.”

According to Canada’s National Post  “Russia is courting Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua…to gain access to air bases and ports for resupply of Russian naval assets and strategic bombers operating in the Western Hemisphere…Starting last year, a Russian intelligence ship has docked in Havana… multiple times conducting operations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast of the United States…”

Russia’s Pravda  news reports that Moscow is enhancing military relations with Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. “an intergovernmental agreement was signed to establish a simplified procedure for vessels of the Russian navy to enter Nicaraguan ports. Another agreement was signed to train military specialists at Russian universities. Venezuela offered its “friendly ports” to Russian ships as well. The country is willing to organize joint drills with Russia, including with the use of multiple rocket launchers. It is possible that aircraft of the Russian Air Force may land in the country someday soon as well. During the meeting with Cuban leader Raul Castro in Havana, Russian Defense Minister Shoigu said that “military relations develop constructively.” Shoigu expressed Russia’s gratitude to the Cuban side for the honors given to Russian military ships and vessels during their call at the port of Havana. It goes about The Victor Leonov electronic intelligence ship that paid a visit to Cuba in January 2015 and a couple of times in 2014.”

Russia is not the only hostile power to establish relations with those nations. The Washington Free Beacon reports “The Iranian government is significantly boosting its presence and resources in Latin America, posing a national security threat to the region, according to a group of U.S. and Latin American officials who met earlier this week in Florida to discuss Iran’s covert actions. While Iran has long had a foothold in the Western hemisphere …officials warned that the Islamic Republic has invested significant resources into its Latin American operations in a bid to increase its sway in the region. Iran’s growing influence in the region—and its effort to exert influence over governments there—has fostered pressing security concerns as the Iranians inch closer to the United States’ southern border.”

There has been no indication that Cuba or Venezuela are offering to abandon their military relationship with Russia in return for concessions from the U.S. The salient question is, what does the United States gain from improved relations with these objectionable governments?

Iran, terrorism, and Nuclear nightmares

By the end of June, the often postponed deadline for a nuclear weapons deal with Iran is supposed to be concluded.  If an agreement is reached at all, it is expected to be substantially inadequate to achieving the goal of permanently preventing that nation from constructing atomic weapons, or providing assurances of compliance via appropriate inspections.

As a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation pact, Iran is already obligated to forego the possession of nuclear weapons, an obligation it ignores.  Why should anyone believe that yet another treaty would be followed any more diligently than one it already ignores?

The nature of the Tehran regime can be clearly seen in the latest U.S. State Department “Country Reports on Terrorism.” Outlining the nations’ 2014 activities, the State Department summary reads:

“Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2014, including support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, Lebanese Hizballah, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. This year, Iran increased its assistance to Iraqi Shia militias, one of which is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), in response to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) incursion into Iraq, and has continued to support other militia groups in the region. Iran also attempted to smuggle weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza. While its main effort focused on supporting goals in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Iran and its proxies also continued subtle efforts at growing influence elsewhere including in Africa, Asia, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.

“Iran views Syria as a crucial causeway in its weapons supply route to Lebanese Hizballah, its primary beneficiary, and as a key pillar in its “resistance” front. In 2014, Iran continued to provide arms, financing, training, and the facilitation of primarily Iraqi Shia and Afghan fighters to support the Asad regime’s brutal crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of at least 191,000 people in Syria, according to August UN estimates. Iran publicly admits to sending members of the IRGC to Syria in an advisory role. There is consistent media reporting that some of these troops are IRGC-QF members and that they have taken part in direct combat operations. While Tehran has denied that IRGC-QF personnel participate in combat operations, in 2014 it acknowledged the deaths in Syria of two senior officers (Brigadier Generals Abdullah Eskandari and Jamar Dariswali). Tehran claimed they were volunteers who lost their lives while protecting holy shrines near Damascus.

“Likewise in Iraq, despite its pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization, Iran increased training and funding to Iraqi Shia militia groups in response to ISIL’s advance into Iraq. Many of these groups, such as Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), have exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and have committed serious human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians. The IRGC-QF, in concert with Lebanese Hizballah, provided training outside of Iraq as well as advisors inside Iraq for Shia militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive device (IED) technology and other advanced weaponry. Similar to Hizballah fighters, many of these trained Shia militants have used these skills to fight for the Asad regime in Syria or against ISIL in Iraq…

“Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.

“Iran remains a state of proliferation concern. Despite multiple UNSCRs requiring Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear proliferation activities, Iran continued to be in noncompliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. Implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, coordinated by the EU), and Iran began on January 20, 2014. Iran has fulfilled the commitments that it made under the JPOA. The parties negotiated during 2014 to pursue a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to achieve a long-term comprehensive solution to restore confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful.”

A nation that supports many of the worst forces on the planet can hardly be expected to abide by treaty obligations, particularly those not backed by thorough inspections.

Even more concerning is the potential relationship between Iran’s growing nuclear prowess and its affiliation with and support for terrorist forces around the world. It is likely that it would provide an avenue for anti-Israeli forces to gain nuclear weapons that could literally end the Jewish states’ existence. Its connections to terrorist movements in Latin America, combined with the porous U.S. southern border, could result in a nuclear detonation within the American homeland.

Considering the existence of nuclear weapons in a number of states that are either rogue or have strong relationships with terrorists, including North Korea and Pakistan, as well as the possibility of some atomic devices that may have been smuggled out of Russia in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Tehran’s rulers may be able to achieve its stated objectives of “wiping Israel off the map” and “attacking the Great Satan” (the U.S.) while claiming that it had nothing to do with the ultimate terrorist attack.