26 May 2011

Learning The Right Lessons From NY-26

After the resignation of the Rep. Mike Lee (R-NY 26th), the Craigslist cruising cad of an ex-Congressman, it necessitated a special election to fill the suburban Buffalo seat.  This should have been an easy seat for the GOP to retain.  Cook Political Reports  rates NY-26 as a R +6.  This seat has been held by just three Democrats since 1857 in a state that has long had lopsided Democrat delegations.  But in the Special Election, Democrat Eire County Clerk Kathy Honchel beat New York Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (R-NY state 141st Claire) 47% to 42% in a four way race.

A facile analysis is that disgrunted Republican voters are fooled by the faux Tea Party candidate Jack Davis.  Inevitably, some voters will blindly pull the lever for a candidate with the right label.  But Davis is a notorious deep pocket party switcher who has been a perennial candidate for Congress since 2004 under the Democrat (three times), a dalliance with the Save Jobs Party, rejoining the Republicans and now running on the self created Tea Party line.

Anyone who follows politics in his district should be well aware of industrialist Jack Davis’ devotion to protectionism for American Industry, which is not a platform that would play well to real Tea Party activists.  Recently, Davis also attracted attention for assaulting a political activist hounding him about not participating in the Special Election Candidate Debate.  According to the Siena poll, Davis is drawing 12% after a nine point drop.  At the ballot box, Davis drew 7% and exit polling indicated that 2/3rds of his support would otherwise have gone to the Republican Corwin.  So Davis was a spoiler DIABLO (Democrat in All But Label Only), but that does not explain how a Democrat did so well in what is supposed to be the third most Republican district in the nation.

One of the major flashpoints in the NY-26 Special Election was  Medicare.  During exchanges with other candidates, Republican Corwin unsuccessfully tried to pin the current problems of Medicare on her Democrat challenger now Congresswoman-elect Honchel.  The Democrats used their well worn playbook to demonize their opponents and scare seniors.  This edition of Mediscare (sic) was to villify Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI 1st) plan to save Medicare (which Corwin supported) while progressive allies outrageously advertised that Republicans would literally throw Grandma off the cliff.

The lesson the Democrats are discerning from Honchel’s victory in the Special Election is that the Mediscare mantra works and that they should take the message nationally for the 2012 elections.  Many establishment Republicans believe that Ryan’s hope for saving Medicare by reforming it put him too far out on a limb.  In fact, Speaker Newt Gingrich opined during his presidential campaign that he considered the Ryan plan right wing social engineering which he opposed but Gingrich later retreated on his disparagement of the Ryan Plan  after the damage was done.  The danger is that moderate Republicans will conclude that Republicans can not tackle big issues like reforming Medicare or trying to reduce the deficit by cutting government programs(or reforming them) because of voter backlash.

Indubtably, Republicans have to be mindful of how they campaign about making difficult decisions.  Mediscare might have cost them some support.  But GOP party animals should consider that the problems may have been the quirks of New York Special Elections, the New York electorate and campaign messaging.

This is the third New York Special Election that Republicans have lost in three years.  In the prior contest in  2009, when Rep. John McHugh (R-NY 23rd), a moderate North Eastern Republican,  resigned his seat in Congress to become President Obama’s Secretary of the Army, the GOP local party establishment chose NY Assemblywoman DeeDee Scozzafava (R-NY state 122nd Gouvenor) as a candidate.  Scozzafava was so liberal, even for squishy Empire State Republicans, that she was considered a DIABLO.  Scozzafava had previously supported the lefty Working Families Party and she had ties to ACORN.  So much so, grassroots Tea Party activists championed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.  Moderate Republicans like Rep. Peter King (R-NY 3rd) and aspiring national Republicans like Speaker Gingrich voiced support for Scozzafava for the good of the party.  But Scozzafava lost so much support that she dropped out of the race on the eve of the election and then threw her support to the Democrat candidate now Rep. Bill Owen (D-NY 23rd), who was re-elected with a plurality in 2010.

There is a danger with Special Elections in New York, which does not provision a primary that local party officials will choose an insider candidate which is repugnant to the party base, ala Scozzafava.  That does not seem like the case with Corwin, but she did not appear to be the darling on the district and more of a chosen candidate.  Longtime Republicans in the district noted that heavily Republican sections of the district did not display Corwin lawn signs.  It certainly shows a lack of passion for the candidate, but the question is why.

The lack of a primary does allow for a crowded field, with ersatz candidates like Jack Davis drawing likely votes away from the GOP.  But instead of refraining from campaigning on hard issues like Medicare, Republicans should stand for something and have better messaging.

Corwin had developed a reputation for negative campaigning from her race for the NY Assembly.  It seems like she was trying to tar her opponent with a Medicare loadstone via negative ads. Alas these attack ads backfired  as the charge boomeranged into pinning Corwin with the perception that she wants to end Medicare due to  her association with the  Ryan plan (a.k.a. Mediscare).

But Corwin did not give anything positive for her potential voters to support.  The campaigns littered mailboxes with flyers for the Special Election, but Corwin was not seen as standing for anything positive.  One of Corwin’s phone bank callers revealed her instructions to just say “Can we count on you to support Jane?”.  The phone bankers were told to only give rationales if asked.  If you don’t stand for something, even in a reliably Republican district, it is unlikely to motivate voters to the polls, especially if the electorate is not passionately connected with the candidate. That is a key lesson that should be learned from NY

Tea Party sympathizers should be chastened to support third party candidacies which fracture the electorate and allow Democrats to win in a plurality.  But Republicans should recognize that there is still considerable discontent amongst the electorate who wants answers and not blindly coming to the aid of their party.  Tea Party types have an independent streak with some libertarian leanings. But they want answers not incumbents who stand for nothing.

But if there is any consolation for the loss of NY-26 for Republicans, it will make things more difficult for redistricting.  New York is going to lose two Congressional seats due to the 2010 Census.  It would have been easy to undercut the few GOP Representatives.  But now they must cannibalize their own, which may actually make the seat competitive again in 2012, with a GOP candidate that stands for something.

25 May 2011

Movie Review: The Hangover Part II

Hollywood is addicted to sequels because they are seen as easy money. Sequels capitalize on the affinity that audiences have for characters in popular films.  When it works, audiences flock to see what happens to film faves when placed in another situation.

The Hangover 2 is positioned to be a summer screwball comedy buddy film, using the ever-popular bachelor party goes awry plot.  The first The Hangover was set in Las Vegas, which lends itself to glitzy hedonism with the tag line “What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas” The twist in The Hangover 2 is that it is set in Bangkok, and director Todd Phillips makes sure that the setting visually lives up to its seedy and kinky reputation.

For those who had not seen the first round of Hangover, there were slight allusions to the prior fine predicament.  Frankly, the major thing that such viewers miss is any empathy for the proto-Wolf pack.  Stu (Ed Helms) is a nebbish Los Angeles dentist who is going to get this wedding right and marry his lovely Thai fiancee in her familial homeland.  He is accompanied on this destination wedding by his roguish friend Doug (Justin Bertha) and  Phil (Bradley Cooper), along with the bride’s 16 year old golden boy “Teddy” (Mason Lee, Ang Lee's son), and begrudgingly with the socially maladroit Alan (Zach Galifianakis).

Stu wants to have low key festivities at the Thai resort hotel but is convinced to have one drink on the beach to celebrate his pending nuptuals.  When most of them awake in a hellhole hotel in the Asian City of Angels (a.k.a. Bangkok) with no memory of their nocturnal naughtiness, they need to piece together what happened and how they lost someone (again).

Although fans packed the hallways to see an advanced screening of Hangover 2, even some fans acknowledged that the sequel did not seem as fresh as the first film.  Many of the plot elements seemed like carbon copies of the original.  The producers compensated for the plot familiarity by shock value.  The tattoo on the groom certainly left its mark, but unlike in the first film, they had more to worry about than a missing tooth.  And the private dancers from their night of partying hearty certainly get some prominent screen exposure.

Some of the screwball high jinks were amusing and appropriate for a comedy of errors. Surprisingly, for such a crude comedy, there were few real laugh out loud moments.  While the film was ripe with embarrassment humor, there was also plenty of opportunities to embody the Ugly American badge of dishonor, as well as an array of anti-Asian slurs.  Some of the scenes seemed were played over the top in a bid to become a summer blockbuster.  The denouement seemed too simple to be satisfying and had no resonance.

 As Joe Jackson put it on his Jumpin’ Jive album “What’s the use of getting sober, when you are going to get drunk again.”  So if you were a fan of the first Hangover, or prefer plebeian action comedy buddy films, then rush to the theaters to see Hangover 2.  Like one suffering from a hangover, it is dubious that the film will have strong legs for anything but a brief stand.

The Hangover Part II has an MPAA rating of R and will open nationwide on Thursday May 26th.

20 May 2011

What About The War Powers Resolution?

Our Founding Fathers sought to create a Republic that did not establish a government with autocratic abilities to make war.  So the authors of the U.S. Constitution created three co-equal branches of government with responsibility for war making shared between the elected Legislative and Executive Branches.  The Constitution authorizes Congress to declare war and fund it but directs the Executive to be Commander-in-Chief.

This Constitutional construct for war marking has been honored but not followed exactly as envisioned.  After Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought a Declaration of War from Congress.

The United States led forces from a league of nations to defend South Korea under the auspices of a United Nations mandate but without a War Declaration from Congress. President Truman contended that treaty obligations from joining the UN combined with already ceded Congressional authority for “Police Action” obviated a Congressional War Declaration.

In the Vietnam conflict, President Johnson did not seek a formal Declaration of War from Congress (although it is speculated that it could have been obtained) for political reasons.  Instead, after two attacks on US Navel forces in 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (Public Law 88-408) which allowed the President to deploy conventional forces against any communist aggression in Southeast Asia.

But in the wake of bitterness over an unsuccessful war in Vietnam along with a reticence against the Imperial Presidency, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (50 U.S.C. 1541-1548)  over the veto of President Richard Nixon, and it has caused controversy ever since.

The War Powers Resolution  requires the President to report deployments of troops into armed action abroad within 48 hours and to receive Congressional approbation within 60 days or else be forced to withdraw troops in another 30 days.

The seven Presidents who followed have bristled at the encroachment of Congress into the Executive Branch’s powers as Commander in Chief. But until now, all have acted “consistently” with the War Powers Resolution but not acting pursuant to the law. Basically, that gives Presidents a fig leaf which officially preserves the President’s prerogative while essentially complying with the War Powers Act.

While he was campaigning for the Presidency in 2007, then Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) gave a written response to a Boston Globe question about Presidential authority to make a pre-emptive strike against suspected Iranian nuclear sites.  Mr. Obama opined:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.
Such palavarous prose is consistent with the constitutional disposition of a Harvard trained legal scholar like Obama.  Around the same time in 2007, then Senator Joe Biden (D-NJ) implied that President George W. Bush was lying about the threat in Iran and promised to impeach him for military action without obtaining Congressional approval.

After being victorious in the 2008 Presidential Election, then President-Elect Obama held a seminar to consider changing the War Powers Act.  Former Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and James Baker recommended repealing the 1973 War Powers Act and replacing it with a new War Powers regimen that required  Congressional consultation BEFORE deploying troops into armed combat that lasts more than a week. Congress would then than 30 days to approve the action and have it signed. If Congress wanted to rescind authority, it would need a 2/3rds vote instead of requiring an affirmative confirmation like the 1973 Act.  But this was all just hot air.  Despite having strong majorities in both chambers of Congress, this was not a priority of President Obama and the 111th Congress.

In March 2011, while President Obama visited Rio de Jainero, the White House released an internet video announcing that American forces were engaged in Libya. President Obama assured Congressional leadership that the American war involvement in Libya would be only a matter of hours if not days.  The letter that the Obama Administration sent to both chambers of Congress relied upon UN Resolution 1973, which permitted the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya to protect civilians.

Now that the Libyan military excursion has reached the two month mark, what about the War Powers Act?   A letter from Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) charges that President Obama committed U.S. Forces without regard to compliance with the War Powers Act.  Obama Administration officials have indicated that they anticipate pursuing the action in Libya indefinitely, so these Senators petitioned the President as to whether he would comply with the law.

Per the War Powers Resolution, if the President does not gain Congressional approval for the military action and if the Commander-In-Chief does not withdraw forces within a month, this could force Congress’ hand.   A Congress which enforces the War Powers Act can either cut off funding for the war or impeach the President for High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

As the impeachment of President William J. Clinton showed, impeachment and removal from office is almost impossible remedy, especially in a divided Congress.  The power of the purse remains but it would be cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.  Libyan Leader Gaddafi has a history of backing terrorism and has been flirting with support from the Islamic Revolutionary government of Iran.  So Uncle Sam withdrawing precipitously from the Maghreb would stoke malavalent forces against US.  Moreover, a continuing civil war endangers the International oil market, just as oil prices are decreasing.  This could kill any economic recovery and imperil our European allies.

The Obama Administration has not sent any war authorization bills to Congress.  If President Obama observes the constitutional ethics that he bloviated about as a candidate, there is but one choice: Commander-In-Chief Obama must withdraw American forces in the next 30 days. But it is not advisable to bet on that option.

Unless response to the War Powers Resolution in Libya is mooted by the Rapture, it seems more likely that the Obama Administration will slow walk their response going into Memorial Weekend. Maybe hostilities will be halted for a few minutes so the 60 day clock can be reset. Perhaps they will spuriously claim that it is no longer a U.S. operation as NATO has taken the helm (even though the US essentially is NATO). Better yet, it can be asserted that America’s duty to protection now is sanctioned by treaty obligations to NATO, which follows “police action” authority from Congress, which requires no future Congressional approval.

Granted, as a political observer, I am skeptical about the merits of the War Powers Resolution. Perhaps as skeptical about apply the duty to protect in Libya but not for the slaughters by Assad in Syria. But the War Power Resolution of 1973 is the law of the land.  It is troubling to have a Chief Executive who neither has effective checks on his power nor abides by prior promises to respect the process once in office.

Even though President George W. Bush was reviled as Commander-In-Chief by a war wary opposition to his military conduct, at least the 43rd President bothered to get approval from Congress for the fight against Afghanistan (S.J. Res. 23, Public Law 107-40) and Iraq (H.J. Res. 114) BEFORE engaging in combat.
This sounds less like a Republic with co-equal branches with checks and balances and more like the latter days of Rome, where the legislature was more of a vestige of the res publica. It makes me want to hide in the conceit of the dystopian Terry Gilliam film Brazil (1985).

UPDATE 05/21 Per a letter from President Obama to Congress, the US has only  a limited role with non-kinetic military action in Libya supporting NATO since April 4th. With the US is in a support role, ergo, no War Powers Resolution is required.  I'm sure that Col. Gaddafi would still say that despite the background role that the US is still at war in Libya. 

Plugging The UBL Leaks

One of the more troublesome aspects of the raid on Usama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan is the alluvia of intelligence leaks about the operation.

Even before President Obama officially broke the news about the UBL elimination, Obama Administration sources enthused in background interviews that the team that successfully accomplished their mission would become household names.  So now SEAL Team Six has become a household name.  The victory lap by the Commander-In-Chief to Fort Campbell, Kentucky may not have resulted in a photo op, but it continued to focus public  attention to a group of well trained warriors who prefer to remain in the shadows.

Aside from the high profile congratulations to combat warriors, the White House has been a sieve for leaking operational details and the cornucopia of intelligence gathered from the UBL operation.  Instead of allowing the public to speculate of the fruits from the US Special Forces labor, senior Obama Administration officials confirmed that “real intelligence” is being garnered from the treasure trove computers and flash drives in the UBL compound. The “Senior Administration Official” indicated that al Qaeda’s head was still central to operations and interested in transportation and infrastructure targets. Alas, these leaks were not from “The Onion”.

During Congressional testimony this week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen adamantly insisted that:

[f]rom my perspective it is time to stop talking. And we have talked far too much about this. We need to move on. It's a story that, if we don't stop talking, it will never end. And it needs to.

Mullen is concerned that the continued leaks would compromise this precious capability of intelligence gathering and would impede the continued fight.

Similarly, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is retiring after serving as DOD chief in both the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations, testified that future operations would be riskier and more difficult due to the leaks.  Gates noted that senior Obama Administration officials agreed not to leak UBL operational details, but that arrangement only lasted about 15 hours.

So after nearly three weeks of opening the floodgates of operational intelligence, CIA Director Leon Panetta sent a memo to others in “The Company” that there should be no more UBL leaks.   Although Panetta notes that some of the leaks come from beyond Langley, any staffers who are caught are subject to prosecution by the DOJ.

There was a huge public row against the revelation of CIA Officer Valerie Plame to conservative columnist Robert Novak in 2003.  There was a concerted effort to tarnish and imprison accused President Bush’s advisor Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney advisor Lewis “Scooter” Libby over the leaks.  In fact, Libby was convicted over two process crimes, sentenced to 30 months in prison and two years of probation (both of which were commuted)  a $250,000 fine and huge legal bills.  Ironically, the source of the leak was Plame’s husband former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson and later leaked to Novak by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a moderate and a close associate of Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell.

It is dubious that current Attorney General Eric Holder will investigate this security breach as thoroughly as the Plame Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did, the stakes are much more serious than the revelation of a retired cocktail spy.  Considering that strong statements from key military officials before Congress led to civilian side CIA warnings, this is a glimpse at internecine Obama Administration squabbles with a not so secret instigator.  What compounds the UBL leaks is the fact that Leon Panetta has been designated as the replacement for the SecDef.

Led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will give deference to a Democrat appointee who has already been vetted for his position at the CIA.  But reading between the lines of the Congressional testimony this week, the Pentagon is peeved that so much operational intelligence has been leaked about the UBL operation.   And now the head of a transparent Spook City is poised to be approved as the civilian Grand Poobah of the Pentagon. Rubber stamping this shuffling of Cabinet seats is a mistake, as is the proliferation of political leaks on a major victory in the Long War that was enabled only by good intelligence.

16 May 2011

Will FLATTRy Get You Anywhere?

Courtesy Kevin MacPhail

Blogging can both be an exhilarating and excruciating endeavor.  While it is wonderful to share your perspective with the world, developing a quality product can be time consuming with virtually no renumeration for your blood, sweat and tears.

Some bloggers compensate for the time benefit analysis by posting lots of web ads on their blog. Granted some of the bigger blogs seem more like information age newspapers and merit the ads. But many beginners buy into the get rich quick internet illusion and succumb to commercialization, only to clutter their pages to unreadable eyesores or living with commercial content that is counter to the creator’s worldview.

I have also seen “Tip Jars”, but based upon the begging that I have read on some site, they seem just as empty as the counter clutter at most Starbucks.

However, it was called to my attention that there is a Swedish startup called “FLATTR” which presents itself as Social Micropayment system.  Basically, a subscriber willingly designates a flat monthly allowance to reward good providers of internet content.  The FLATTR subscriber essentially likes websites and the sum total (minus 10% administration charges) is spit equally amongst all liked websites.  If the pie is split into a thousand pieces, the net payout to each provider may be minuscule, but as they say in Swedish “Many small streams will form a river”.  If no websites are rewarded, then the money defaults to “charity”.

Online News has truly become mainstream since last year when “The Daily Beast” bought Newsweek, the venerable weekly news magazine.  Earlier this year, AOL bought “The Huffington Post” for $300 million. This shows how blogs have in some ways surpassed dead tree editions and that their content is valued.

However, I am skeptical how well efforts to pay for content or push subscriptions will work.  Paywalls have worked for websites with unique content and loyal audiences, such as The Wall Street Journal, and Excellence In Broadcasting.  But when the New York Times made a second attempt to prod people into subscribing after a reading a score of articles, these pieces seemed much less appealing.

It remains to be seen if bloggers and other content creators will be sufficiently FLATTRed. The decision to partner with Twitter to allow donations to Twitter users who have not registered with FLATTR gives it a fighting chance. But there are many skeletons that clutter the pathway to internet micropayment success.

In general, would you be willing to reward websites for outstanding content? If so, how much would you earmark each month? And how many pieces would you “like” each month? Inquiring minds would like to know.

H/T: http://kmacphail.blogspot.com/2011/05/flattr-twitter-logo.html

10 May 2011

Baja Arizona? The Gall of Gadsden

Some voters from Pima County Arizona are so frustrated with the political direction of the rest of their state that they are seeking to secede from the Sunset State.  The area roughly corresponds to the Southern Arizona portion of the “Gadsden Purchase”, which was a peaceful treaty transfer of territory between the United States and Mexico in 1854 to facilitate a southern route for a transcontinental railroad. 

A group of lawyers from the Democrat bastion of Tucson have launched a petition drive to include a non-binding secession proposition for “Baja Arizona”  for the November, 2012 general election for Pima County and possibly Santa Cruz County.  In order to qualify for the ballot, the Start Our State organizers must round up 48,000 valid voter signatures by July 5th.  

If this proposition drive is successful, it would only be the start of an arduous process.  The Arizona Legislature would need to sign off on the secession, and then the “Baja Arizona” break-off would need to win approval in a binding statewide referendum.  The chances of all of that occurring is pretty slim, particularly for “Alto” Arizona, which gained a Congressional seat from the 2010 Census.                                                                                           
In the abstract, a case can be made for “Baja Arizona” as its land mass would be larger than four states and its population greater than five states, including Alaska. But over half of the 980,000 inhabitants live in the city of Tuscon, which is (currently) Arizona’s second largest city.  Another 75,000 live in the Tucson suburbs.  But the rest of the population is scattered in the sparsely populated Arizona Sonoma desert. 

There have only been two successful state splits in American history.  West Virginia secession was associated with the War Between the States and Maine’s statehood was part of the Missouri Compromise.  Contingent to the admission of the Republic of Texas to American statehood, it has the right to split up into five states, but it is dubious if the Lone State State will exercise that option at this late date.

When considering the rationale for a Gadsden secession, it seems more like partisan Pima County pique than lack of representation.  While Arizona statewide party representation is 35.8% Republican, 31.6% Democrat, in Pima County Democrats outpace Republicans by a 38% to 31% margin.  The Start Our State mission is: 

To establish a new state in Southern Arizona free of the un-American, unconstitutional machinations of the Arizona legislature and to restore our region’s credibility as a place welcoming to others, open to commerce, and friendly to its neighbors.

Those are not bread and butter issues but partisan pushback to the initiatives that Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) and the conservative Arizona Legislature have done regarding Immigration, Health Care, and Candidate Qualifications.  It also seems like a reaction against the aggressive policing in Maricopa County by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
My cynical suspicions is that Secession Proposition is driven less for successful passage than to provide partisan political theater that should be a safe state for the eventual Republican Presidential nominee.  Additionally, such a local wedge issue should light a fire for liberals to go to the polls.  It also may have an ancillary intention of creating controversy by the participation of “undocumented” voters.  Or it could be just to stop Tea Party proponents from appropriating the Gadsden Flag.

At a time when there are serious challenges to the American way of life with porous borders, bankrupt state coffers and the costs of the growing burdens of a bureaucratic nanny state, it seems silly to exert such energy on this Pima County pipe dream.  If Pima County liberals do not like the directions of government, garner a majority and change the policies rather than threaten to secede over such partisan slim pickings. 

09 May 2011

Movie Review: Forks Over Knives Dietary Diatribe

The film Forks Over Knives was heavily promoted in coordination with Whole Foods Markets.  So I expected the subject matter to appeal to Birkenstock wearing foodies who are happy to spend their Whole Paycheques (sic) striving to eat better.  But instead of being a simple screed against omnivores, Forks Over Knives was a case of culinary counterculture agitprop to convince us that diet can overcome disease.

The film profiled two men of science who grew up on farms which produced high protein and dairy diets, but whose professional experience led them in a different direction.  Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritionist at Cornell University who produced “The China Project” that pinpointed extensive dietary data in the Peoples Republic of China during the mid 1970s to a variety of cancer rates in particular regions. Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr is surgeon at the renowned Cleveland Clinic who published a long term study on how nutritional changes can arrest and reverse coronary conditions in severely ill patients.  The scenes showing coronary bypass operations are meant for the squeamish.

Unfortunately, these profiles seemed more like hagiographies that obscured the main messages.  Another famous nutritionist, Dr. John McDougall, had far less story set up and screen time but his message about how drastic dietary changes can be beneficial had far more impact.  The McDougall diet eliminated added oils, processed foods, refined sugars, dairy and of course meat, but he had extensive studies of how those on the diet mitigated if not eliminating adverse outcomes in breast cancer patients.

What was far more effective than the paens to Campbell and Esselstyn were some of the graphics illustrating studies.  The graph that showed a correlation between the forced elimination of dairy and meat based diets in Norway under the Nazi occupation and the drop in coronary disease was dramatic. The illustration of how processed foods trick the stomach into not feeling satisfied despite the caloric intake was influential.   The study that showed how switching the diets of two groups of lab rats with higher dairy diets could cause immediate and noticeable differences certainly raised some eyebrows.

The filmmakers were clearly trying to dissuade skeptics that those on a “Whole Food plant based diet” were just some skinny wimps hanging out at the co-op.  The film refrained from calling the recommended regimen as vegan even though essentially that is what a whole food plant based diet is.  The film profiled a seventy something year old marathoner who had been running for 20 years after suffering from breast cancer and this was because of her vegan diet.  There was another segment which featured an Ultimate Fighter on the diet.  The scene where an Austin firefighter who was raised on the vegan diet climbing a firepole just by using his upper body strength while chanting “Real Men Eat Plants!” prompted the Prince Valiant coiffed vegan hipster sitting in front of me to cheer.

Forks Over Knives did dutifully include a dissenting dietician, but after announcing her ties to the Dairy Council, a viewer could discern that the filmmakers wanted to dismiss this data.  It is unclear if it was serendipitous or seditious that the dissenting dietician was filmed as she looked into direct sunlight and her eyelids constantly fluttered, which also served as a visual cue of her mendacity.

For a film that was premiering, I was surprised at the low quality of the print shown during the advanced screening.  Technically, there were varying sound quality in the interviews, which was distracting and took away from the message.

Forks Over Knives did make me consider making some dietary changes.  The graphic about how high fructose corn syrup can trick your stomach’s satiation barometer made me think about the importance of portion control and being deliberate about drinking one’s calories. Despite the championing of the vegan diet, the eating to live mantra through a vegan diet requires drastic dietary changes that impact socializing, such as scrutinizing everything one ingests as well limiting social dining.

Forks Over Knives did hint at how poor people do not know better so they have poor diets that leads to poor health.  There have been news reports where progressive cities, like San Francisco and New York are regulating fast food establishments on the type of cooking oil that is used, sodium content, toys in happy meals and where convenience food chains can be established.  Then there is the example of some Chicago Public Schools, which prohibited children from bring in their lunches from home because they might not be healthy.  Instead, the kids were forced to buy (or receive subsidies) for cafeteria lunches that they didn’t like and ended up being wasted food.

The interview with the Dr. Terry Manson, Chicago Commissioner of Public Health along with allusions to First Lady Michelle Obama’s food initiatives left me with the impression that our elected “betters” would be happy to be food fascists and impose this vegan regime to improve overall health.  Educating the public is important, but taking away choice is antithetical to the American ideal of freedom and pursuing happiness. Besides the ever changing nutritional guidelines come through the government and they show politics.  And science changes, as seen in fluoridation standards.

It is unclear if the health benefits of having a plant strong diet are conveyed on people who have not stopped cold turkey being omnivores.  Forks Over Knives presented some provocative information but I can’t say that I will be scared starved.

08 May 2011

Mixed Media Message On UBL

photo credit AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Since the White House pulled the trigger on the UBL elimination operation last week, there has been a barrage of mixed media messages.  Seemingly, UBL’s death brought 72 versions, with the story changing all the time.  The drastically different details are disturbing from people who purported watched the proceedings in real time from helmet cameras.  Oh wait, the official story is that there was a video blackout during 20 crucial minutes during the Special Forces mission.  Perhaps the spirit of Rosemary Wood from the Nixon White House was in charge of audio video in the Obama Situation Room. It is likely that such a feed was conveniently lost, whether it was in real time or retrospect, for officials to maintain plausible deniability and to  avoid answering uncomfortable questions on operational specifics.

The different versions of the raid muddle the message but are not uncommon in the fog of war.  What is unsettling is the Obama Administration’s incoherent policy on releasing media on the UBL operation.  Aside from the helmet cam controversy, there were competing factions within the Obama Administration about whether to release pictures of UBL’s cadaver.  Current CIA Chief (soon to be Secretary of Defense) Leon Panetta insisted that the photos would be released. But just about everything that the Chief Spook said about the UBL operation has been walked back.  In the end, President Obama decided that the UBL death photos would not be released as there was no reason to “spike the ball” and that a gruesome photo would inflame the so called Arab street.

Despite the Obama Administration’s anxiousness to quell any Islamic anxiety over UBL’s elimination, the Pentagon saw fit to release videos of Usama bin Laden blooper reels, UBL with a grey beard and a sequences showing a vain UBL watching video reports about himself.  Wisely, the DoD did not include audio tracks with this release. But so much for not spiking the ball. At a time when “deathers” are clamoring for the death photo and jihadist UBL sympathizers are already agitated, what a foolish way to feed the media beast.

President George H.W. Bush often mispronounced his Persian Gulf nemesis’ name. While it could be attributed to the verbal clumsiness characteristic of the Bush dynasty. But it turns out that Bush 41 was deliberately mispronouncing it as  "Sad-DUM"  to irritate the Iraqi dictator, which both rhymed with Sodom and Gomorrah and perhaps as a subtle Arab insult, as it connotes  either "nothing" or “little shoe shine boy”.  But a picture says a thousand words in a media age.  Certainly the shots of an aged Usuma were intended to deflate  cultivated image as the Lion of the Jihad with a prized black beard. But when UBL supports are hungry for any image for hagiography, these unguarded UBL images may stoke his supporters.  

Some media reports have indicated that President Obama had several months to contemplate an operation against UBL.  It is mind boggling to think that the White House did not anticipate the impact of post raid UBL images and have a unified front in the aftermath. The White House recreated President Obama’s dramatic exit from the UBL elimination declaration for the benefit of still photographers.  The Obama 2008 Presidential campaign was obsessed by optics, as epitomized by the Styrofoam Greek column “Barackenon”  from the Invesco Field acceptance speech.  The media miscues for the UBL raid seem like Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge scene.  It is difficult to control the message when it is not contained with a Big Slobbering Love Affair with the American Lamesteam Media.

The Long War that encompasses the War on Terrorism can not just be won on the battlefield but must win the media war.  The UBL Special Ops mission is a strong step in changing the perception in the region that America is not a strong horse.  But the equivocation about releasing photos, the constantly changing story in an Administration awarded for its transparency, the extent of leaks regarding the treasure trove of information and  and the mixed media messages on UBL is squandering the momentum from the “W”.

04 May 2011

Spike At Ground Zero?

During his two and a half years in the White House, President Obama has visited New York City numerous times.  Mr. Obama made speeches at the U.N., attended political fundraisers and even visited Broadway for a date night with First Lady Michelle Obama. But until this Thursday, President Obama never deigned to visit Ground Zero, the place where the World Trade Center Twin Towers stood before being destroyed in a terrorist attack on 9/11.

Now that the long arm of American justice has been administered on Usama bin Laden, courtesy of American intelligence and the Pentagon, President Obama has hastily scrambled to arrange a visit to Ground Zero.  Clearly, this is intended to be an exclamation point on the fact that UBL, the mastermind of 9/11, has been vanquished.

Arguably, a ceremony marking the momentous moment in the War on Terror at the  footprint of the Twin Towers. But there is a cognitive dissonance between the assertion from the White House that there is no need to triumphantly “spike the football” at UBL’s demise and the insistence at having a Ground Zero event now.

Since President Obama announced that a Special Forces team, at his direction, conducted an operation that lead to the death of UBL, there has been a tawdry feeling of using this victory in the War on Terror as a political tool.  When awarding a Medal of Honor two days after the UBL operation, President Obama asserted that there is nothing that America can not accomplish when we all work together in a spirit of patriotism. Some might consider such rhetoric as political pap. Perhaps.  It certainly does echo the “Together We Thrive” t-shirts distributed at the University of Arizona rally for victims of the Tuscon shootings in January 2011.

The President urging lawmakers work together in a spirit of patriotic unity to get things done implies that there is a clear path and no reasonable recourse for dissent.  That seems less like leadership in a democratic Republic and either more like a ukase or an end around.

This spirit of politicking seems to permeate President Obama’s rushed Ground Zero visit.  President Obama will be meeting with a select group of 9/11 victim families. Certainly, this hand picked representation will not include people like Deborah Burlingame, who might oppose the President’s general conduct on the War on Terror.  Look for the likes of the Jersey Girls, who politically favor the President.  Fortunately, the White House has indicated that there will not be photographs or video allowed for the meetings.  But undoubtedly they will be in the background as President Obama makes his remarks.

 Former President George W. Bush was invited to participate in President Obama’s Ground Zero pep rally. But the 43rd President declined to attend as he wants to remain out of the spotlight, although he will likely go to the 10th anniversary memorial.  Remarkably, former President Bill Clinton, who loves the limelight, also can not attend, but he cited a scheduling conflict.  As a cynical political analyst, it seems to me to be too transparent of a connection between the triumphant visit to Ground Zero and 2012 campaigning.

As a wartime leader, President George W. Bush spent extended periods with grieving victims families and he was careful never to publicize these emotional visits.  As for Barack Obama’s demeanor, one only need to recall how he left his roses of remembrance the last time he visited Ground Zero.

Even though the White House used a football allusion about spiking the ball, it might be more applicable to use a hoops analogy.  POTUS needs to be cautious about being caught charging too many times. Such aggressive court tactics may open up the lane but it can also result in fouling out.

Chimera Senate Candidate In Arizona

A Public Policy Polling survey indicates that three term Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ 8th) is leading six term Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ 6th) in a hypothetical match-up to fill the seat of retiring Senator John Kyl (R-AZ).

Rep. Giffords rocketed to national prominence after an assassination attempt by an unstable left leaning gunman in January.  While her medical recovery has been remarkable considering that she was critically shot in the head, she has not returned to represent her district since the assassination attempt. In fact, only a fortnight after the shooting, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-CA 47th) made a move to boot Giffords off of the House Armed Services Committee, since Democrats had fewer committee slots in the minority and Giffords obviously would not be present.

The PPP results are not surprising after months of fawning press coverage in the shock of the shooting, her encouraging medical recovery and the soap opera as to whether Giffords would be healthy enough to attend the penultimate launch of the Space Shuttle, piloted by her husband Captain Mark Kelly.  The PPP survey is early within the election cycle, so it denotes more name recognition than organization or actual support.

The Senate has had its share of superannuated Senators who have struggled with serious health issues while in office. Senator Strom Thurmond (D & R SC) remained in the Upper Chamber until he hit the century mark despite his increasingly frail physical and mental condition.  Although it seemed that Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) retained most of his formidable legislative wits during his 56 ½ years in the Senate, it seems that there was more of a determination by Byrd and voters to break the longest serving Senator record than to legislate.  There were concerns that after Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) suffered a serious stroke in December 2006 that he would be unable to effectively govern.  But South Dakota voters re-elected him in 2008.  Sen. Johnson was able to return to work several months after the medical trauma and he has only missed 5% of recorded votes over his career.

As she began her third term Rep. Giffords had developed a reputation as an attractive, youthful Blue Dog Democrat, but who had only won re-election by a slim 1.4%  In fact, Giffords voted against House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 6th) just days before the attack, presumably to distance herself from the progressive Democrat caucus.  But those credentials comprise a pretty thin reed in order to base a Senate campaign.

Gifford’s district has lacked congressional representation for five months and presumably for the foreseeable future.  It is troubling to think that a politician who is not well enough to return to her elected role as legislator is now being touted for the Senate.  Until Giffords makes a Sherman-esque statement against running, it will retard other Democrats from entering the race.

Although Arizona does have a state statute regarding the vacancy of a public office if the duties are not discharged in 90 days.  But the state law might be constitutionally pre-empted by Congress’ ability in Article I, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution which makes each chamber of Congress the judge of the qualifications of its members.  Besides, considering all of the sympathetic press from the Lamestream Media for Gifford’s condition, pressing this issue would be political suicide.

Psephologists deem the 2012 Election cycle as being difficult for Democrats as they will have to defend 22 of 33 seats up for election.  Democrat party hacks may consider Sen. Kyl’s retirement combined with tide of sympathy for Rep. Giffords as an opportunity for a pick up.  This is cynical politics which is selling a chimera candidate that voters see what they want in her figurehead.

May Gabrielle Giffords continue her medical recovery. God willing, she may be able to return to represent her constituents in Tuscon.  But Giffords should not be pushed into a Senate race that she can not vigorously campaign nor effectively legislate at this time.

Fallout From the Jihad Geronimo Heave Ho

Candidate Barack Obama campaigned against the way that President George W. Bush conducted his foreign policy.  The critiques included inveighing against the War in Iraq. Obama made hay about respecting other nation’s sovereign rights.  To echo what Senator John Kerry (D-MA) would call “the International Test”, America’s exertions of power were to receive prior international approbation.  Most significantly, the Obama ‘08 campaign harshly condemned use of harsh interrogation techniques.  In insure that things like waterboarding would not occur in the future, Obama vowed to close the US facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba where War on Terror suspects picked up on the battlefield were held.

Despite making the Gitmo closure the first thing that President Obama did in his Administration, Gitmo remains open for the foreseeable future, especially after the debacles of seeking to try Khalid Shek Mohammad in lower Manhattan and Congressional resistence to building a facility to hold terrorists in western Illinois.

As details emerge from the mission to get Usama bin Laden (code named Geromino), the Obama Administration’s rhetoric did not sync with reality. Intense interrogation techniques applied on Khalid Sheihk Mohammed at Gitmo may have helped elicit the nom de guerre of al Qaeda courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, which was vital in tracking down bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan seven years later. The Obama Administration is vehemently denying that the tip came from the 183 times KSM was waterboarded but he certainly was more cooperative after he decided that enough was enough and volunteered the information using conventional interrogation.

Another piece of the intelligence puzzle came from an al Qaeda operative Hassan Guel who was captured in Iraq in 2004.  Guel confirmed that Abu Ahmed was a trusted UBL courier who was close to al Qaeda’s 3rd in command Faraj al-Libi.  So much for belittling connections between the alleged just war against Afghanistan and the discretionary “wrong war” in Iraq.  Guel was not housed at Gitmo but by other allies, which also was criticized by Obama for being black sites that do not follow US standards on the treatment of prisoners.  Oops.

Much to his credit, President Obama lived up to his campaign boast that he would invade Pakistan in the hunt for al-Qaeda. Of course, that cowboy bravado would be condemned if it were his predecessor.  And there are consequences in the real world of diplomacy when actuating tough talk from the campaign hustings.  The US relationship with Pakistan is complicated. We can not afford to totally alienate them but our interests do not coincide with Islamabad and we need to be cognization that the ISA, the Pakistani Military and Civilian leadership may have different objectives.

When the intelligence about al Qaeda’s leader finally gelled in March 2011 after years, there are reports that the Pentagon wanted to organize an operation that utilized a couple of B-2s firing 2,000 pound JDAM missiles at the ‘Waziristan Mansion”.  President Obama supposedly thought better of that tactic, since there would be no remains of UBL left after the bombing.  So President Obama made a gutsy call that only had a 50% chance of success by sending Special Forces in for a capture or kill raid.  Despite the hitch of the one helicopter malfunction, the 40 minute raid went remarkably well.  But despite all of that risk required for sending in Navy Seal Team Six (which had been previously criticized as “Cheney’s Hit Squad” under Republican rule), the Obama Administration has dithered about releasing photographic proof that UBL is dead.

Allegedly, the photo of UBL’s corpse is too gruesome because of the head shot through the left eye.  Even though the enemy’s body was cleaned up for the burial at sea, there may be a reluctance to release that photo as it could be used as a martyr propaganda piece for years to come.

The burial at sea for UBL has become controversial.  Americans who were outraged at how the killer of 3,000 innocent citizens on September 11, 2001 wonder why UBL was given such a dignified disposal of his mortal coils. Bin Laden killed many Muslims in practicing his terrorism. That goes against Islamic principles of not killing your brethren. Yet the United States kept stressing that we gave UBL a proper Muslim burial.  And of course some Imams condemned the burial at sea for not being proper.

There were indications from the Obama Administration that multiple methods were used to identify UBL, including facial recognition and DNA testing.  The DNA material came from UBL’s half sister who died from brain cancer in the United States.  While I am sure that the Pentagon has some incredible resources at its disposal for a High Value Target like UBL, there was less than eight hours between the conclusion of the operation and President Obama definitely announcing UBL’s demise.  I have no doubts that UBL is dead but that is very quick lab work.  If we are being so cautious about a photo, was this being cavalier about C.S.I.?

In the fog of war, first reports can be sketchy and unreliable.  In fact, initial reports of the Jihad Geranimo raid was that it happened a week ago when it turns out that the raid finished only about eight hours before President Obama’s White House address.  But it is surprising how much of the facts of the operation had to be walked back from the later briefing to reporters.

National Security Advisor John Brennen gave a briefing where he indicated that UBL had a weapon and may have fired it at the US Special Forces team.  But the White House later backed away from that account and indicated that UBL was unarmed but still “resisted”.  A Pentagon briefer intimated that UBL used one of his wives as a human shield. Since UBL was said to fire from her back.  That is a neat trick for an unarmed man.  Now the information is that one of bin Laden’s daughters charged on the Special Forces and she was shot in the leg before UBL was riddled with bullets.

Such contradictory information is almost understandable if it did not come from an eyewitness to the events.  But the White House released a photo of the National Security team watching the raid in real time.  Some partisans have snipped that the President looks like an observer in his golf attire and windbreaker than a participant in the National Security meeting.  Others have focused on the real emotion of shock that Secretary of State displays in the picture.  But Michelle Malkin points out that National Security Advisor John Brennen is right there watching the live video feed from the UBL raid.  How could he make such a mistake in his briefing like UBL was an armed combatant or that he took a young woman as a human shield?

There is sagacious speculation that Brennan said more than he ought to have and the White House was walking it back to obscure the admission in CYA mode.  Some critics claim that the UBL elimination was violation of President Ford’s Executive Order against assassinating foreign leaders.  That holds no credence as al Qaeda was a non-state actor, so he was not technically a foreign “leader”.  Although American Special Forces are not trained to do “hits”, the video might look bad for propaganda if it ever got out.  Now international human rights agitators are demanding release of all material about the raid to ensure that there were no violations of the Geneva Accords or other human rights violations.  When you taut the “International Test” ala John Kerry, it does burden US when acting unilaterally.

One other troubling piece of fallout from the UBL raid is a self inflicted wound.  American government officials are bragging about the jackpot of information they recovered during the UBL raid.  Firefights rarely take longer than three minutes and this operation went on for forty minutes, so it is a reasonable inference that there was some sleuthing and intelligence gathering. But why broadcast it?  Especially since many are bracing for retaliatory counter measures from jihadists.  Loose lips sink ships.

President Obama should be commended for approving a risky maneuver to send in Special Forces to get UBL.  But this victory was premised on a foundation of years of material which he had condemned before becoming Commander-In-Chief.  President Obama wanted to have proof for the world of UBL’s demise.  He had better release it quickly before “deathers” conclude that UBL is hanging out with Elvis in seclusion.  May Obama not treat this as the end of “Kinetic Military Operations” against jihadist terrorism  nor should he expect that this achievement will ensure his re-election.  The handling the fallout from the UBL operation may be just as nigglesome as was the near decade long search for the mastermind of 9/11.

H/T: Michelle Malkin
H/T: HotAir.com

03 May 2011

Kucinich May Move Even Further Left

Eight term Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH 10th) has often marched to the beat of his own drummer.  Kucinich is the one time “Boy Mayor of Cleveland” who led the Rock and Roll Capital of the World into municipal default in 1978.   After he was defeated after serving for two years, he was hard on his luck.  He moved to Los Angeles to live off of the largess of Shirley McLaine.  Kucinich’s reported income in 1982 was $38.  That is quite a contrast in fortunes. But as Kucinich mused: "When I was growing up in Cleveland, my early experience conditioned me to hang in there and not to quit...”

Kucinich was unsuccessful in being elected to several statewide Ohio office races in the 1980's (Secretary of State, Governor), settling for a Cleveland City Council seat during a special election.   After following a quest for the meaning of life by moving to New Mexico for several years, he won an Ohio State Senate seat in 1994 before landing his current position representing the westside of Cleveland and suburban Cuyahoga county.

Kucinich has conducted two quixotic runs for President in 2004 and 2008, which may have been electorally unsuccessful but these campaigns made him the darling of progressives.  Additionally, Kucinich’s lauded lefty credentials along with his willingness to participate in the “Who Wants to Be First Lady: The Search for Mrs. Dennis Kucinich” in 2004 may have laid the foundation for landing a beautiful British bride as his 3rd wife who is 31 years his junior.   Let me invoke some lyrics from the Grateful Dead’s “Skeletons In the Closet” album which many of his ideological allies would appreciate: “What a long, strange trip it’s been”.

So it should be no surprise that Kucinich is thinking outside of the box and toying with moving even further left. Politically, that may not be possible for Kucinich, who has long championed a Cabinet level Department of Peace and who pushed the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney amongst other things.

Due to demographic declines, Ohio is losing two Congressional seats.  Republicans are in the lead for redistricting in Ohio, but Kucinich is a gadfly amongst Democrat party leadership and only crocodile tears by party Democrats as Kucinich’s district is eliminated.  Kucinich has been publically pondering whether to move to another state to continue his Congressional service.

When the public learned that Kucinich’s  Congressional District might disappear in the Ohio redistricting process, Kucinich’s Press Secretary revealed that the Congressman received entreaties from nearly 20 states urging him to run there.  Recently, Kucinich took a trip to Bainbridge Island Washington, where it is speculated might be location of the new Washington state Congressional District.  Kucinich asked to meet with 250 residents and he also participated in an event with the local  Suquamish Tribe.

In some senses, the Seattle area is a politically progressive hub and would be a better ideological match for Kucinich than his current mainly Middle European-American constituency. But former Democrat Speaker of the House wisely opined that “All politics is local”.  That does not just mean reading the mood of your constituents.  It also implies having connections with the community that you are representing.

Some states, such as New York, have a tradition of accepting carpetbagger candidates. Take for example Senator Robert Kennedy (D-MA NY) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-IL, AR, NY). But that is New York which accepts celebrity candidates for a statewide office that requires lots of fund-raising.  Name recognition may give Kucinich some boost for the primaries, but he has no organization or real ties to the district.  Kucinich might be susceptible to an ad which just shows his telephone listing in a metropolitan Cleveland phone book.

Despite Kucinch’s 8 terms in Congress, he is only the 10th ranking member of the Education and Workforce Committee and the 5th ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, behind Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).  So Kucinich’s experience will not give him much pull, especially as the minority party.

If Kucinich is hoping that his moving left will give more media exposure to progressive ideals on the West Coast, he will have to compete with Rep. “Baghdad” Jim McDermott (D-WA 7th). While Washington state Democrats are excited that they will gain a seat from the 2010 Census as it will give them a chance of a bigger slice of the federal fiscal pie, they should be chary about embracing a carpetbagging Congressman who seems to only succeed in quirky comedy appearances.

02 May 2011

Electoral Tide Turning In Canada

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper lost a vote of no confidence in late March over not releasing details of his anti-crime legislation, his five year old minority Conservative Government fell and elections were scheduled for early May.

Politics from our neighbor to the north rarely attract American attention unless the Quebecquois get close to seceding from the Canadian Federation.  Going into the election, it was a question of whether the Progressive Conservative Party (the “Tories”)  would pick up the requisite ridings so as to avoid forming another minority government. There was also the outside chance that all the other parties would band together to form a coalition government

But the early results are showing an interesting trend.  Two parties which have dominated Canadian politics have been decimated.  The Bloc Québécois, the regional party dedicated to promoting Quebec sovereignty which has dominated the provincial politics since 1991, has been decimated.  The  Bloc québécois used to have enough seats to work in coalition with a National Party (read Liberals) and leverage their power for their francophonic constituents.  The BQ went from 49 seats in the National Parliament in Ottawa to 3 seats.  Most of their voters seem to have emigrated to the “Dippers”, the New Democratic Party.

The Liberal Party (a.k.a. “The Grits), which used to dominate Canadian politics, have experienced quite a change in fortune.  Although the Grits held power for 69 years during the 20th Century, they are sinking from 77 seats to somewhere in the range of the low 30s.  Their share of vote went from 30% to around 20%.

The Liberals should not be totally written off.  After Progressive Conservative Party Prime Minister Brian Mulroney retired in 1993, his party went from 169 seat majority to only holding 2 seats.  But eventually they merged with Canadian Alliance and their successors have been quite successful during the last decade.

The NPD ran on a platform that “Ottawa’s Broken”. As a social democrat party, they would certainly be on the left and want lots of social spending akin to the progressives in America. The utter collapse of the Bloc Québécois and the marginalization of the Liberal Party allowed the NDP to treble their ridings.  In the exuberance of election returns, the NDP leadership effused that the NDP is from sea to sea and that Canada is moving towards being a two party system.

The Conservatives look as if they will increase their lead to 16 ridings. This will be the first majority government in Canada since 2004.

It is encouraging that Canada is gravitating away from the political Balkanization that has plagued them since the late 1960s.  Perhaps the francophones will work within the federal system rather than bridle against it.

With Friends Like Pak...

As US government officials reacted to the operation which eliminated Usama bin Laden, there has been a concerted effort to present the Pakistanis in as positive light as possible.  But the facts belie that bunkum.

The UBL operation was kept extremely close to the vest so that only a few US officials knew of the operation.  In fact, the Pakistanis were not told until after the operation occurred.  Yet the US government flacks claimed that Pakistani information supplemented the intelligence for the operation.  Right.

The Pakistani military scrambled to get jets in the air in response to intercept the U.S. Special Forces helicopters as they retreated from the operation in Abbottabad.  But the remaining Navy Seal helicopter was safely across the border in Afghanistan before they were engaged by the Pakistani military.

It is inconceivable to believe that the Pakistani’s were ignorant about Osama’s presence.  The abode where bin Laden had been held up was built five years ago at an estimated cost of $1 Million by owners who had no discernable income.  The compound was nicknamed the Waziristan Mansion by locals because the land had been secured by a mysterious buyer from Waziristan.

The Waziristan abode had several series of 12 foot high security  fences that should have attracted attention of the police or military officials. Hell, the police station was across the street and Pakistan’s West Point where three military divisions are stationed nearby. But this domicile had been tolerated for five years by Pakistani officials. Go figure.

Every single plot of land in the neighborhood of this compound was originally owned by the Pakistani military and sold off at bargain prices to well connected Pakistani military and ISI officers.  These circumstances lead Steve Cole of the New Yorker to conclude that Usama bin Laden had effectively been housed under Pakistani state control.

This makes U.S. foreign policy towards Pakistan somewhat perilous.  Retaining rights to flyover Pakistani airspace is crucial for continuing to supply NATO military operations in Afghanistan.  Perhaps President Obama will use the UBL assassination as a rationale for accelerating the withdrawal of combat military operations in Afghanistan even as the Taliban is starting its Spring offensive.  But withdrawing effective US/NATO combat forces may subject Afghanistan to the lawless state where terror operations like al Qaeda can again flourish.

Aside from geopolitical considerations for their neighbor, relations with Pakistan are complicated because they are a nuclear power in an unstable region and the Pakistani history of nuclear proliferation to the axis of evil and possibly jihaddist forces for the right price.  Since the 2011 al Qaeda terrorist attack, the US has pumped Billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan, which may be significantly squandered to corruption.  There were hackles raised when Congress tried to attach accountability to the $2 Billion of Pakistani aid in the last fiscal year until it was declared that the aid would have no strings attached.  But despite trying to buy Pakistan’s cooperation on the war on terror, we see how we have been duped.  Part of the problem may be that the Pakistan military and intelligence is not under civilian control, so there way be some disparity in cooperation with the US.

If the United States were to retreat from the region, this would leave Pakistan vulnerable to destabilization by jihadists.   It is reasonable to presume that the Pakistani military and ISI are playing both sides, which may line their pockets and ensures a continued gravy train.  But if the Pakistani military loses control, that gives the nuclear option to jihadists who may proliferate to their comrads in arms in other regions.  Another plausible scenario is that the Pakistani military placates Islamist agitators by heightening tensions with India as a power saving diversion.

While Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) was careful not to blame civilian officials in Islamabad, he may hold hearings about the role of the Pakistani military as Levin asserts that “They have lots of explaining to do”.

These South Central Asian complications ought to inspire lots of lucubrations in Foggy Bottom for the foreseeable future.

01 May 2011

JP II--Quasi Santo Subito

Six years ago, at the 264th Pontiffs funeral, there were spontaneous calls from the crowd for “Santo Subito” (Sainthood Now!).  Today, the Vatican celebrated the beatification of the Blessed Pope John Paul II (born Karol Józef Wojtyła) in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

Some Protestants bristle at the notion that the Church “makes” saints, as nobody (but Christ) is perfect and that we are all supposed to be called to sainthood in our Christian identity.  Certainly our baptism marks us as part of the Lord’s people and calls us to holiness.  The Catholic Church can recognize, based on investigation and guidance from the Holy Spirit,  that a person is already a saint, definitely in heaven and having led a life of great holiness is worthy of veneration by the faithful.  Canonized saints are important examples to the faithful of how to live a heroic (not perfect) Christian life.

Pope John Paul II was a remarkable man who wore many hats in his life, including Laborer, Thespian, Playwright, Patriot, Priest,  Philologist, Philosopher, Pilgrim, Bishop, Theologian, Sportsman, Scholar, Statesman and Vicar of Christ, but the cause for canonization is not premised on doctrinal dissertations, academic accolades or even geopolitical accomplishments.  It is about how John Paul II lived his life to reflect the Christian virtue which still touches the faithful today.

After several years of investigation led by postulator Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints recommended Servant of God John Paul II’s heroic virtue to the Pope. On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed John Paul II as “Venerable”.  The Church normally requires that one miracle is attributable to intercessions of a Venerable, but the Vatican only investigates possible miracles after a candidate is declared Venerable. These miracles are almost always miraculous medical cures as these are the easiest to verify.

Sister Marie Simon Pierre, a nun from the order of Little Sisters of the Catholic Motherhood in Aix au Province, France, had suffered with Parkinson’s Disease, like John Paul II, for four years. She intensely prayed along with her community for healing through the intercession of John Paul II only two months after John Paul II’s death.  Doctors determined that Sr. Simon Pierre’s neurological symptoms had disappeared inexplicably. 

After the Congregation for the Causes of Saints scrutinized the medical evidence that the healing was rapid, lasting and inexplicable and that is was the result of praying for the Venerable’s intercessions to God, they made their recommendations to the Pope.  On January 14, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI determined that the criteria were met to refer to John Paul II as “Blessed”. Such a beatification is a formal statement from the church that it is “worthy of belief” that a person has some to salvation but is not to be taken as a sign that canonization is certain.  The Vatican looks to authenticate another miracle occurring after the Blessed’s beatification. Based upon testimony at the John Paul II Cultural Center of Chester Lobrow of his wife Jadwiga’s miraculous healing through the intercession of John Paul II, such signs would not be surprising in the near future.

The date of the beatification was chosen because it was the 2nd Sunday of Easter, which Pope John Paul II instituted during his Papacy as “Divine Mercy Sunday”, due to his Devotion to St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938).  The vigil mass of the feast of Divine Mercy had just been celebrated at John Paul II’s bedside when he fell into a coma and soon after died.  It is also the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, or May Day for secular socialists.  After the Nazi’s invaded Poland, Jagiellonian University was closed and all able bodied males were conscribed to labor to avoid deportation to Germany.  So the young  Karol Wojtyła worked as a limestone quarryman and in a chemical plant. 

The date of John Paul II’s beatification also coincides with the March of the Living, as participants gather in Krakow,  Wojtyła’s home for 40 years, to march between the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz to Birkenau to remember the Holocaust.  John Paul II had strong connections with the Jewish community in his childhood home off Wadowice, where ¼  of the town’s 8,000 residents were eradicated for anti-Semitic aspirations of Nazi racial purity.  These events strongly influenced John Paul II’s weltanschauung, since during his pontificate, John Paul II made great strives to acknowledge the sin of anti-semitism, especially in the Holocaust, and to strengthen the Church’s relations with the Jewish Community. 

As a Pole, Karol Wojtyła was shaped by victimization by totalitarian domination, first by the Nazi’s then by the Communists.  We rightly remember the suffering of several million Jews being interned and murdered as part of the Holocaust of World War II, but Nazi Germany intended to eradicate any ‘deviant” culture, which also included non-Aryan intellectuals, Slavs, Catholics, gypsies and homosexuals.  The Nazi closing of Polish Universities came as Polish intellectuals were being slaughtered.  During the Nazi occupation, Polish culture was systematically being eradicated and the Slavs being treated as slaves for the Reich. 

The way that Karol Wojtyła reacted to these events was answering the call to the priesthood clandestinely and by participating in Rhapsodic Theater, a clandestine company dedicated to preserve some measure of Polish culture. The group’s concentration on the interplay of personal relationships and the power of the human word had a profound impact on how Karol Wojtyła lived his faith under the domination of the communists and as Pope. John Paul II  fought against his ideological adversaries with the power of the word, sublime yet suggestive symbolism and fostering a sense of connection and community.

After the Second World War, Poland suffered under the domination of Stalinist inspired Communism, which sought to reshape humanity into a Godless existence where the average worker was no more than a cog in the machine.  The communists built Nowa Huta (“New Steel Mill”) on the eastern outskirts of Krakow in 1947 as a Socialist Realist worker’s paradise with everything but a church. The faithful kept erecting crosses which communist officials would tear down.  Eventually the piety of Poles caused the people to want a church to be built, but the atheistic state first refused, then reluctantly agreed to quell unrest only to renege on the understanding  and then crush any dissent.

Karol Wojtyła was then Auxilliary Bishop of Krakow who defended the faithfuls’ spiritual cri-de-coeur but who shepherded a compromise with unwilling authorities.  When the Arka Pana (“Ark of God”) Church was eventually built in 1977, prominent features include a 70 meter mast shaped cross and triumphant pose of the crucified Jesus Christ, made from 10 kilos of shrapnel taken from the wounds from Polish soldiers. These elements show the influence of Karol Wojtyła  by fusing symbolism with Christian faithfulness, the prominence of the Cross, converting suffering into constructiveness and fidelity to Polish patriotism.

Then Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected Pontiff in October 1977 during the Year of Three Popes.  While Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 454 years and was from a nation behind the Iron Curtain, he was chosen because of his theology.  John Paul II chose as his papal motto “Totus Tuus”, which reflected his Reflected his personal consecration to Mary which was based on the spiritual approach of St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716)—“Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt" ("I am all yours, and all that I have is yours").  In Crossing the Threshold of Hope,  he explained that the “Totus Tuus” motto expressed the understanding that he “[c]ould not exclude the Lord's Mother from my life without neglecting the will of God-Trinity”.  Polish born composer Henryk Gorecki (1933-2010) wrote the choral piece “Totus Tuus” in honor of Pope John Paul II’s 3rd visit to Poland in 1987.

From the start of his Petrine ministry until his eventual death from Parkinson’s Disease 26 ½ years later, John Paul II’s message to the faithful was the Lucan exhortation “Be not afraid”.   In fact, John Paul II uttered the phrase three times during his homily at the Papal Inauguration.  This message “Be not afraid… open the door wide to Christ” was chosen as the slogan for his beatification.  It was the same message that he brought when he first visited his homeland of Poland in June 1979.  The documentary Nine Days That Changed the World showed the power that John Paul II message of “Be not afraid” had with the Polish people to instill the dignity of the individual to live out their faith and, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, renew the face of the Earth and their land.

The  millions of Poles who flocked to their favorite son's first pilgrimage back to his homeland showed that the faithful were not alone in that officially atheistic state and served as a real retort to Stalin’s taunt of “The Pope! How man divisions does he got?"  Both Lech Walesa, the piously Catholic worker who lead the Solidarity movement (and eventually became Poland’s President), and Vaclav Havel, the less spiritual leader of a free Czechoslovakia, credit the fall of the Iron Curtain to the message “Be not afraid” embodied in John Paul II’s 1st visit to Poland.

On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot three times at close range and critically wounded in St. Peter’s Square by a trained gunman Metmed Ali Agca. Many belief that this assassination attempt was a hit job coordinated by the Bulgarian Secret Police with the complicity of the Kremlin.  Yet less than two years later, John Paul II met with and forgave the gunman.  The Pope was convinced that Our Lady of Fatima kept him alive during the ordeal where he lost 3/4ths of his blood.  The Third Secret of our Lady of Fatima can be seen as predicting the assassination attempt on the Pope. The John Paul II’s faith filled connection between his assassination attempt and the visions of Fatima that a bullet from his wounds now tops the golden finery of the Our Lady of Fatima processional statue.

One of the hallmarks of John Paul II’s reign was being a Pilgrim as Vicar of Christ to proclaim Jesus as the Redeemer of Humanity to all the Earth. Frankly, he came pretty close to covering it all.  It is speculated that the curia spent about a fourth of their time planning for and executing his 104 foreign trips to 125 countries which totaled 725,000 miles.  While John Paul certainly visited countries with large Catholic populations many times, he also visited places which had no discernable Christian populations.  John Paul II not only sought to evangelize for Christ, he wanted to foster interfaith dialog. For example, in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on America, John Paul II kept his planned itinerary to Kazahkstan, which is mostly Muslim nation.

At the behest of Pope John Paul II, World Youth Days were held every couple of years at rotating international locations. Skeptics certainly questioned in disengaged youth would care about such events, but the youth loved to rally around the Pope and open themselves to the new evangelization.  The vitality of  World Youth Day tradition has not subsided in the loss of John Paul II.  These large conclaves of young people meeting to renew their faithful inclinations echoes how John Paul II loved to channel the energy of crowds in a positive manner to allow people to feel connected in a vibrant and visceral way.

The message of “Be not afraid” was epitomized by Pope John Paul II’s reaction to a musical gift when he visited Los Angeles in 1987.  To demonstrate courage, Tony Melendez, a musician without hands played a guitar song with his feet.  John Paul II was so moved by the performance that he leaped off the main stage to embrace Melendez on the satellite stage.  John Paul II’s spontaneous and evocative human gesture along with his message of how courage gives hope to all continues to touch the faithful.

While Pope Benedict XVI did not formally recognize John Paul II as a martyr in his beatification mass, many feel that the manner in which John Paul II lived with his debilitating disease and how he died with dignity in the Vatican was exemplary.  John Paul II had run the good race and was not afraid to go home to the Father by extending his life through extraordinary medical procedures for terminal illness.

The liturgical feast day for Blessed John Paul II will be October 22nd. In the Liturgy of the Hours for that day is part of the Papal Inauguration "Do not be afraid" homily.  The prayer for that day in the Office of Readings is:

O God, who are rich in mercy and who willed that the blessed John Paul the Second should preside as Pope over your universal Church, grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching, we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ, the sole Redeemer of mankind. Who lives and reigns.

Although another miracle is required for canonization, this has not stopped Catholic institutions from dedicating themselves to “John Paul the Great”. The new seminary in Washington DC is being dedicated to the Blessed John Paul II.

 So for now it is quasi Santo Subito. But the Blessed Pope John Paul II continues to touch our lives and is a model to “Be Not Afraid” in our own paths toward being part of the Community of Saints.