Congress is seeking to pass a Constitutional Amendment limiting contributions to election campaigns

Not without my having a hissy-fit about it, they aren’t.

The Senate, primarily Democrats (but it says “Joint,” so to me that implies at least one sponsor from the Republicans) has introduced Senate Joint Resolution 19, found here: “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.”

Now yeah, the US elections process has tons of bullshit within it. The Electoral College is an idiotic structure and campaign financing is a mess. My hope was this particular bill would curtail spending by corporations for electoral campaigns. Corporations aren’t people, and in my opinion don’t have freedom of speech. Individuals should be allowed to contribute whatever they want to an election, as long as it’s in a free and open manner (hey, if you want to use your free speech to support someone, then be accountable for it). Oh, and to close a loophole, no one should be permitted to contribute to a campaign on behalf of another person (so those corporations can’t donate $10 billion dollars on behalf of all their employees).

Anyway, just my two cents. There’s still plenty of room for corruption and influence there, but hey, Democracy is the worst form of government in the world, except for all the others, right (and there are, imho, a couple of exceptions to this rule, but that’s another blog entry)? Unfortunately, this bill – which remember is really a Constitutional Amendment – accomplishes absolutely none of that, and instead seeks to curtail your First Amendment rights.

It’s rather brief and to the point, but absolutely vague enough to let Congress unleash absolute power over your rights via subsequent bills supported by this legislation. To boil the roughly seven parts down to a couple of sentences: Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal and State elections by setting limits on the amount of contributions to candidates for the purposes of supporting or opposing a candidate. Oh, they do point out this amendment will have no power over freedom of the press, just individuals because, you know, the press is more important. And then the kicker that’s going to screw all of us: “Section 4. Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Now all this is the potential impact. What’s probably the real impact? Somehow I don’t think this is going to get through Congress. If it did, three-fourths of the states would have to ratify it, which I also don’t think will happen. And I have a feeling the Supreme Court would strike it down as well.

But do we really want to take that chance?

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Putinism and the Anti-WEIRD Coalition

stoshk:

I agree with the majority of your post. Until factors change, I think Ukraine is lost to us as far as American/Western wishes are concerned. Unfortunately, while the sentiment supporting this move in Russia has been building, I believe we ourselves were the trigger. As Crowl asked in The Strategist’s Short Catechism, “How strong is the home front? Does public opinion support…?” As our early 21st-century “long wars” wind down, the American population is war-weary, and even if there were a compelling national interest (other than humanitarian) to go into Ukraine, I don’t think the public would support it. I think this widespread and widely-broadcast national feeling is the reason the Russians are going into Ukraine and the Chinese are aggressively expanding in the South China Sea; they know the US doesn’t have the stomach for it right now. If the administration wants to have any effect at tempering (notice I didn’t say “solving”) this situation, they need to come up with better execution of the other components of DIME-FIL than the military one, because they won’t have the backing for it. Unfortunately our diplomatic and other skills seem to be out of practice.
On another note, the move into Ukraine is the culmination (so far) of one heck of a Russian nationalistic build-up over the past few years; mostly military, with increased defense budgets and the resumption of air, surface and submarine maneuvers not seen since the 1980s. However, the Russian economy is still a catastrophe; how long will Putin be able to distract the masses with the Western bogeyman beating at the door before the Russian economy implodes a second time?

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

Vladimir Putin’s slow-rolling conquest of Ukraine has restarted openly today, with calls for an “independence referendum” for the newly declared “People’s Republic of Donetsk” in the East. It’s clear that Moscow intends to conquer something like half of Ukraine – through quasi-covert means if possible, by overt invasion if necessary. Regardless, this will place the West on a course for something like the Cold War 2.0 I’ve written about.

That notion is not accepted yet by many in the West, who seem not to understand Putin’s agenda. Among the doubters is President Obama, who dismissed the idea of a new Cold War with Russia, on the grounds that Putin has no ideology, so what’s there to fight about? As Obama put it recently“This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations. No global ideology. The…

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I’m tired of Congress

I’m beat, bushed, exhausted as well as pissed-off, fed up, and ready to tell any member of Congress to their face to go throw their useless selves off a bridge. They (“they” being members of both parties) are a bunch of arrogant, out-of-touch, heads-up-their-assess, “we can do no wrong and never have to apologize [unless we get caught and busted by the media]” elitists who neither care nor plan for the good of the nation as a whole. All they care about is securing their own districts and raising money, the goal of both being to get themselves continually re-elected. Yes, they are elected to represent their constituents, but there was a time when they also recognized the responsibility of serving for the good of the nation as a whole, even if that meant occasional sacrifices. Now all it means is anytime something negative comes up, they spend all their energies – and all of OUR MONEY – blaming the other party instead of putting those energies toward fixing the problems.

What’s driven me to this point? Well… just about everything they’ve done for the past several decades, but the straw that’s broken my personal camel’s back is how Congress is dealing – or not dealing – with the budget concerning the military. Don’t get me wrong; I’m pissed off about sequestration, the budget and the economy as a whole, immigration, school issues, crime, etc etc etc, but what’s happening with the military at the moment is a Perfect Storm example of the problem.

So Congress has directed the military cut their budgets. Fine, they manage the money; that’s their role. However (and I’ll use my own service, the US Air Force, here since I’m most familiar with it), even as Congress DIRECTS cuts, they won’t ALLOW cuts. And keep in mind as I go through I’m not arguing for or against of these proposed cuts; that’s a whole ‘nother article. My issue is with the execution of any money-saving efforts, or lack thereof.

If you’ve noticed the news, any effort the USAF has made to actually cut the funds they’ve been directed to cut has been met with Congressional roadblocks being thrown up by anyone whose district is threatened. The Air Force attempted to retire the A-10 and U-2 fleets: blocked by Congressionals from those districts because those aircraft are “vital to the nation.” Retiring the B-1 fleet or a portion of the F-16 fleet: hell no, say Congressionals from those districts because they’re “vital to the nation.” Attempts to retire seven E-3 AWACS aircraft, reduced to four by the Congressional from Oklahoma who would’ve lost 350 jobs in his district (but hey, at least something got through). The service has said it could cut its entire KC-10 Extender refueling fleet, but the Congressional panel blocked that move even before it had a chance to be proposed because they’re “vital to…”… aw screw it. What’s more, Congress has added verbiage to next year’s spending bill preventing the Air Force from trying to reenact these cuts next year.

It seems the only things Congress is willing to cut are manpower, and health care and benefits, because the “pain” would be spread equally across the nation, and the blame for the cuts could be laid squarely on the Chiefs of Staffs of the services instead who’s really at fault, who’s responsible, who should be held accountable and voted out of office for sheer, complete and ongoing incompetence: our “elected” representatives.

Post-edit: About an hour after I completed my rant, this foreign policy piece on SecDef Hagel pops up. I shall add “mind-melds with SecDef” to my resume’ ;-)

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Is 2014 a tipping point?

With Russia “invading” (in quotes because right now we don’t know if it’s official yet) the Crimea and the 20th century spectre of the Soviet War Machine raising its head within Ukraine, there are a lot of interesting and very good articles out there about the situation, like this one at The Bridge and another by Robert Kagan from Brookings. They and a great many others coming out are actually focusing less on the Ukrainian situation and more on how we’re finally witnessing firsthand “the decline of America as a superpower.” I won’t pretend to have their credentials and expertise, but I do have some opinions and comments on the subject.

First, I don’t believe America is declining as a superpower. We may well be choosing not to exercise that power as freely as we did in the past, but even with the proposed cuts in the American military, the ability to project power – be it by aircraft carrier, cruise missile, aircraft or ICBM – is still there, and even if we’re shrinking in numbers, the technological capability continues to increase (even if we have a terrible habit of fielding it before it’s truly ready). There may well be damned good reasons for arguing against forces cuts, but frankly, “we can’t go back to pre-World War Two levels” isn’t one of them. Ignoring the point it’s an observation, not an argument, I propose that today’s Soldier/Marine, with enhanced body armor, comms, GPS and weaponry, is more capable and powerful than a platoon or more of WWII, Korea or Vietnam-era troops, so the straight-numbers comparison is fallacious. As none of our current adversaries have our levels of technology, experience and capability, I still say we have the cutting edge in all mediums of war, possibly excepting cyberspace, and in spite of the recessions and downturns, our economic power continues to be unparalleled.

Next, the reason we’re not exercising that power is due to the will of the American people. As has been shown in the past, after every major conflict America gets understandably war-weary, wanting to come home, lick her wounds and bury and mourn her dead. That is what’s happening here. After 13 years of war, we’re tired, and I can’t disagree with what seems to be a widely-held opinion that we need to pull back and focus on ourselves for a while; work a little harder at putting our own house in order, and maybe a bit of our backyard and areas and topics where we have a compelling national interest, but more on that later.

What does this mean for Ukraine? Unfortunately, not a lot from the American corner. I’m a huge advocate of diplomacy, and especially exhausting diplomacy before going the military-action route, but I don’t feel it’s going to work here, at least not to the benefit of the Ukrainians. Russia isn’t in the mood for talking, and they know we’re war-weary and are not about to put boots-on-ground in Russia’s backyard, so they’re going to take the Crimea and they’re going to get it. What’s unknown is how far they’re going to push regarding taking at least eastern Ukraine or possibly the whole damn country along with it. What’s more likely to affect that equation is less what we’re doing and more on what Europe will do. This is Europe’s backyard as well, and you can be damn sure all the former Eastern Bloc nations are getting little beads of perspiration on their foreheads and wondering if they’re next. After most – but not all – of Europe leaning on the US all these years, expecting us to put our neck out, it’s time to grow some cajones and step up, and decide just how much western-style Democracy for your neighbors is worth to you.

However, in spite of the tragedy going on in Ukraine, I’m not finding many people talking about the greater strategic situation. The first article I cited above is one, but most are using Ukraine to lament our great demise as we’re about to be swallowed up into the history books. Russia isn’t the only one who’s been pushing the status quo lately – and Russia has been pushing, reestablishing military maneuvers, patrols and provocations not seen since the 1980s. China as well has been dipping its toe into provocative waters the past few years, culminating (for now) in this year’s establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) extending well past internationally-recognized territorial waters and more reminiscent of its ancient dynastic reaches. Along with the airspace, it’s making great efforts to claim oceanic zones well past the 12-mile limit, and is willing to come very close to direct confrontation with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam to do so. And why? Because like Russia, China can see the American cycle and knows that while we’ll posture and rant, we won’t act. Per the title of this post, I ask the question: do these events signify a tipping point, and into what? A lessening of American influence in certain parts of the world, or an outright new Cold War? I hope and believe it’s the former, but I can’t discount the latter. A major geo-political shift, or just ripples on the global pond? Time will tell.

So is the US developing a more isolationist outlook a bad thing, at least in terms of compelling US interests? Hard to say. Perhaps it will encourage Europe to take some risks with Russia. Perhaps it will push Japan, South Korea and the SE Asian nations into a military NATO-esque treaty much more formal, binding and important than the current ASEAN, which is just political and economic. Perhaps it will force the Middle East to finally do something about Iran and its financing of nearly every subversive group in the region. What does it mean to the US and our closest allies? It may well mean that since we’re unwilling to face more years of conflict – that we need a breather – we’ll have to accept ceding certain geo-political portions of the spectrum to our adversaries and deal with them down the road when, admittedly, they’ll be entrenched and it will be much harder. But maybe not that much harder, or one could even speculate the problem could take care of itself while we’re in a pseudo-isolationist mode. After all, Russia’s economy is still in poor shape, and any expansion attempts – which seem, in the Russian tradition, to be likely to include a lot of military forces – could see the whole country economically implode again a’ la 1989. And the Chinese have established a reputation for themselves as well: they go into developing countries with a lot of capital, improving the lives of the populations there, but their arrogance quickly makes it clear they see their “investments” as inferiors, and so prospects for long-term relationships wither as the indigenous populations realize the Chinese will never view them as equals, but merely resources to be expended as needed.

And as for us? The will of the people seems to be clear, if not a mandate: end the long wars, bring our troops home, focus on our economy and bringing jobs and manufacturing back to the US (and if you don’t believe that’s a priority for Americans, check out how fast Mike Rowe’s and his mikeroweWORKS Foundation pages have been growing). In spite of our greatness, we’re not perfect, and there are areas where we are surpassed in other parts of the world: aspects of education, health care (and I’m NOT delving into a health care debate here!), and seemingly small but actually very important things like parental maternity leave.

Along with getting our own house in order, maybe it’s also a chance to help our closest neighbors and build security in our own neighborhood. The Ukraine situation has largely overshadowed the revolutionary events happening in Venezuela this week (who also happens to be our biggest oil supplier; talk about your strategic interests!); Cuba is enacting more and more reforms, and it just may need an economic push to take it over the top; Columbia was once synonymous with drug lords and drug wars and it now a thriving nation (with admittedly some lingering problems), and the southern South American (is that redundant?) nations of Brazil, Argentina and Chile could be economic powerhouses and powerful allies, with a little help, assistance and advice.

As always it is, in the end, in the hands of the American people. We – and our votes and polls – will decide, and the whole world will, to different extents, have to live with our decision.

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Syria – Six Questions Our Leaders Should Be Asking, and We Should Be Discussing

Since the use of chemical weapons (hereafter referred to as CW) in Syria, it’s been front page news as the US government and populace, as well as the international community at large, addresses the issues, actions and consequences.  Per various forms of media, global society at large seems completely worn out on conflict and is largely against the idea of direct action, pressuring their governments to the point where most international partners are bowing out of the idea.  Here in the US, no matter which spin of media you follow there does seem to be a majority against a direct strike by both the populace and Congress.

There are actually valid arguments for both acting against and staying out of Syria.  For starters, Syria is a sovereign nation, and this is an internal conflict; in other words, none of our damn business.  We didn’t care when the Syrian regime was just using bullets; why should we care now?  Of course it’s because Assad stepped on the old CW trip-wire, taking this from a (sadly) rather common Middle Eastern civil war to a topic of international concern.  Also, since World War Two the US has both been seen and proclaimed itself as the world’s policeman.  Acting or not acting in this situation will either maintain that status, or possibly dissolve it, as stepping aside will make us inconsistent in that role.  It may very well permanently change our international status and perception – and that may not be a bad thing. 

Many years ago, in the early 1990s when I was a student, I was passed an article written by Philip A. Crowl at the US Air Force Academy in 1978.  Originally discussing Vietnam, it’s titled “The Strategist’s Short Catechism:  Six Questions Without Answers” and the full online text can be found at http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112106658633;view=1up;seq=1. Those six questions – questions any senior decision-maker or military leader should ask before entering a conflict, seem to be even more relevant in light of current events.

To summarize, the six questions must all be answerable before entering a military situation if one is to have hope of success.  They should be being asked by our nation’s leadership, and they should be being discussed by our populace.  The six questions, in summary (and all should be considered quotes or paraphrases from Crowl’s article), are:

1)       What is it about?  What specific national interests and policy objectives are served by the proposed military action?  How is the value attached to those interests and objectives, and what is their fair price – are these objectives and interests worth the price that war more often than not demands?

2)      Is the national military strategy tailored to meet the national policy objectives?  Does the military means meet the political ends?  Does the military know how far to go, or when to stop (either in physical location, or in level of force)?

3)      What are the limits of military power?  Is the military being asked to do something it cannot achieve?  This often goes against the military – and overall American – “can do” attitude, and so can be hard to face.

4)      What are the alternatives?  Not only diplomacy and negotiation, but have all the possible military strategies been considered, or only the favorite or most popular?  War should always be the last resort of politics, not the first.

5)      How strong is the home front?  Does public opinion support the war and the military strategy employed to fight it?  How much stress can civilian society endure under the pressures of the wartime sacrifices demanded?  Can it plausibly be explained as a “just war?”

6)      Does today’s strategy overlook points of difference and exaggerate points of likeness between past and present?  What are the lessons of experience?  Has concern over past success and failures developed into a neurotic fixation that blinds the strategist to changed circumstances requiring new and different responses?

So where do I stand on this (because it would be unfair to criticize without putting forth my own views)?  The American people (and their politicians) tend to take a very short view on current events.  This doesn’t mean their objection to attacking Syria is wrong, but they should also be aware that if, at their urging, the US government takes no action against Syrian CW stores and activities, they really have no cause to go pointing fingers if – a few years down the road – a Syrian terrorist (or terrorist supplied by the Syrians) drops a CW device on a US overseas base, or even within the US.  After all, you had your chance, and decided – justifiably at the time – it wasn’t worth it.  Therefore, while my belief is that the US government should respect the wishes of the American people, I personally think we should drop a few dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles on every Syrian CW factory, warehouse and convoy we can find, and lessen the greater threat as much as possible with the minimum loss of life and national treasure.

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Another Politican Rant

My perception is that federal-level politicians are completely cut off from the average US citizen. Maybe it’s not solely their fault; perhaps their staffers filter out everything non-political before it gets to them, but I don’t think they’re “in touch” with anyone any more. I’m a centrist, but have friends and family from across the political spectrum from the far right to the far left and everywhere in between, but what I’ve been seeing over the past few months for the first time is that EVERYONE is sick of politicians. Even people I used to consider the “party faithful” on both sides – people who will vote their party’s candidate without even knowing the candidate’s details – are calling for mass ousters of Congress for incompetence. Personally, for the past few years I’ve been practicing a “vote out the incumbent whoever they are” philosophy and will continue to do so until I see someone start performing. For now, all they do is talk. I believe if a politician took a leap off the bandwagon and tried to do something for the greater good, something that showed they actually cared about their constituents rather than keeping their ratings up, they’d gain a huge following. Take for example if Senator Rubio of FL said “jobs are a problem in this country, and the employment scene in FL isn’t looking great, but there are tons of oil and oil-industry-related jobs in North Dakota right now. If you want a job, you should move there.” Sure, some communities and FL state officials would scream that he was ruining the state’s tax base by encourage emigration, but people would realize he actually cares about them having a job. I think he’d attract a lot of good attention because Americans would find it refreshing, kind of like if a member of Congress had actually stayed in DC and worked when Congress as a whole decided to take a 9-day vacation right before sequestration hit.

I used to be very interested in the Sunday morning political talk shows and interviews. Now, I feel like these guys aren’t even talking to the American people anymore; they’re only addressing their fellow politicians, attacking and defending, and for the most part we, the public, no longer give a shit because we know by their actions they’re not even talking to us or representing best interests. They’re either representing their own interests or those of their party. In a few cases, they’re representing their constituents’ interests, but generally for purposes of re-election and at a greater cost to Americans as a whole.

The big question is, will any of these guys ever realize how pathetic and untrustworthy the American people think they are?

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North Korea in the news again. After 60 years, shouldn’t we maybe try a new approach?

The North Koreans (NorKs) and Iran continue to be snarky and we continue hitting them with more and more sanctions and seeking to isolate them at greater levels. It didn’t work with Cuba 50 years ago, and it’s not going to work now. The key is engagement – draw them in, get their people exposed to what’s out there in the rest of the world. Make them hungry for it. Sure, the current regimes will claim victory and responsibility for bringing the 21st century to their people, but so what? The people are who matter, and once they see what’s out there, it’s the people who will make the change. Not immediately, but even if it takes a generation change will come. Americans just need to take a more strategic, longer view of the world.

To that end, I believe we should be engaging with these countries and every other country we’re seeking to influence. We should be funding – overtly or covertly – internet access and cafes at every opportunity, because we’ve seen what it leads to. Look at China – they “cracked” the door on the internet for their people just a wee bit, and then were unable to hold it closed, and now China has a burgeoning middle class and more democracy than they’ve ever had before. Is it American democracy? No, but it doesn’t need to be. They’re making their own style, and I feel it will continue to evolve as the average Chinese gets more access and the younger generations age and replace the older ones.

So for Cuba, lift the sanctions; let everyone vacation there. Cuba will get hard foreign currency, but more importantly, Cubans will all these Americans; how they act, how they live, and they’ll want it. Lift the sanctions on the condition of building telecommunications links and contracts with US companies and get the internet in there. For the NorKs, same thing: give them the food they need to keep their people from starving. If necessary, route it through Venezuela or some other nation they deem friendly, but tie it to establishing greater communications with the outside world: student exchanges and internet access. It will take years, but change will happen. It will likely be more of a Chinese-flavor or emergence than American, but so what? All we need is some flavor of democracy, since historically (and admittedly, “so far”), democracies don’t attack each other.

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