Libya – Dire Situation

As Republican look through umpteen emails of Hillary Clinton,  the Benghazi committee is lost in the past.  It is not investigation; it is grand standing attack on Hillary.

The survival of  Benghazi  and 600,000 residents are imperil at this moment from ISIL.  Intervention from outside appears the only way to keep the country together,  but this could turn out to be a proxy battle, much worse than Syria.

Libya, Extremism and the Consequences of Collapse,  Al Jazeera, Jan 28, 2016

The above article is excellent, as it discusses the two main threats- ISIL and Al Qaeda. But the chaos created by the rival Tobruk and Tripoli governments, makes intervention very hazardous.

An initial attempt to assist in fighting ISIL with a US Special Forces Unit, on Dec 16, 2015 ended in disaster.  The group had expected a warm welcome from Libyan leaders.  Instead  as the soldiers were “captured” and  sent packing immediately.

Libyan Air Force Reveals Failed US Special Forces Mission, Newsweek

The UN Peace Talks looked very promising in December as a final peace ageement was ready for signing.  But, as reported on Dec 23, 2015, both the heads of state, of the Tobruk and Tripoli parliaments, refused to sign the peace agreement.

So, I guess the operating principle right now  with leaders in both Tripoli and Tobruk factions, is-  “whatever weakens my enemy, strengthens my position” and recognition of the absolute necessity of unity for battling the jihadists is lost.

Meanwhile,  I suspect a lot of options are being discussed, not really on how to save Libya, but with the limited goal of not seeing a ISIL flag raised over Benghazi.

Obama looks set to take fight to Islamic State in Libya

It is a terrible mess, and there are no really good alternatives, given the political disunity.  I feel for the people of Libya.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

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Cowboy Politics

“Let’s round up a posse and bring in this vermin,”  Sheriff Coffee said to Ben Cartwright last night.   By the end of the show, some 40 minutes later, everything was resolved, and the boys went to the Silver Dollar bar to have some beer.  The big  ox, Hoss was buying.

This, of course, was Bonanza, but seemed similarly equal to the Republican debate last night.  I didn’t watch the whole thing, but as far as the “terrorist threat” responses, it sure sounded like cowboy politics.

ISIL is a Middle East problem.  It will only be solved through a cooperative effort.  You can’t send troops into Syria, and expect to battle both ISIL and the Syrian government.  Rand Paul seemed the only one on stage, that wasn’t talking cowboy politics.

I think President Obama’s State of the Union address was perfect in the recognition that ISIL is not a force that can threaten our national existence.   ISIL  may grab a piece of headline news on a particular day, but they are never going to grab a square inch of US land.  Obama was telling ISIL that their efforts and sacrifice are futile, which is very necessary.   North Korea with nuclear weapons- now there is a real threat to us.   Iran with nuclear weapons- another frightening thought.

Through international efforts,  the immediate threat of Iran gaining nuclear weapons has been averted.  The destruction of uranium and centrifuges as part of the nuclear agreement, adds to our national security.  The inspections will continue as part of the agreement.   To pull out of an agreement, when Iran is fulfilling its obligations is totally nuts.

The next president will need to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.  It will require some very skillful diplomacy.   North Korea is likely looking very closely at Iran as more countries are willing to establish diplomatic relations, as the Iranians abandon their nuclear ambitions.  The nuclear deal meant a very rigorous set of inspections- and any deal with North Korea will be just as tough, and snap back provisions will certainly be a part of this.

But cowboy politics means you go it alone, with your mighty six shooter at your side. Your enemy must be obliterated.  You blanket bomb cities in Syria to get rid of the vermin, and then go to the Silver Dollar bar, to have a cold one with Hoss.

Of course,  your meddling has enrage the entire population of the Middle East  against you.  Your winning is really your loss.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

Spare a $100K?

Need a new Delorean,  just need a $100,000.   You don’t need to send me the money right away- the new Delorean won’t be produced until 2017.    This is absolutely the hottest car,  and all they want is $100,000.   The Delorean company never died- like I thought it had.  It will be made from stainless steel, of course.

Delorean Motor Company

The car can be built because a new law allows for  replication cars to be built in limited quantities without meeting current emission standards.

John Delorean passed away in year 2005.  He was arrested but never convicted for selling cocaine.

John Delorean

Stay tuned,

Dave

Ranking Presidents

There is still one full year left in Obama’s administration.  I’ve heard a lot about how Obama will go down in history as the worst American president. I disagree.

This “worst president in history” stuff  comes from those who listen to television and radio commentators, who make a very good living out of finding fault with Obama on every day of the week.  Conservatives would rank all Republican presidents at the top of the list, and all Democratic presidents at the bottom.  Liberals would do the opposite.

But, let’s face it,   everything that goes wrong in Washington is not the president’s fault. Also, presidents  who sink in popularity polls at least during some part of their term,  are not necessarily ranked poorly by academic scholars.    Case in point is President Truman, whose Gallup approval rating dropped to 27% during the Korean War, yet on balance, is considered one of the best president by  a series of selected scholars or historians:

Wikipedia’s Ranking 

Take a close look at the far right column, with the aggregate ranks, and you will see, some very familiar names as the top ranked presidents-  Lincoln, Roosevelt, Washington, and Jefferson.  And the 5 worst ones are Buchanan, Harding, Pierce, Johnson, and Fillmore. Although, Harrison is ranked as one of the 5 worst presidents, it is clearly unfair as he served only one year before his death.

When there is a truly good or bad president,  then there is a great deal of agreement among historians.   The highest ranked presidents in recent times are Kennedy, Johnson and Reagan.

The top quartile presidents are colored in blue.  The 30 year period from 1933 to 1963, marked a period of only top quartile presidents, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.   So, were these presidents so successful because of the times and mood of the country, or because they were all individually great leaders?   I believe it was a combination of good judgments and in most part, the backing of congress.

No- Obama will not go down as the worst president, nor the best president in the history of the US.  It is likely that a strong positive to his presidency was he made strong efforts to fulfill his campaign promises.  His inabilities to push his programs forward,  in many areas including global warming and immigration reform, were due to the intransigent conservative  Republican faction in Congress.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

 

 

Imperial Presidents

Every  US president would like more authority.   When John Kennedy was asked if there were any surprises when he became president, he said he was surprised at how little authority he really had.  We are no longer in the age of Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower, where there was a sense of the president had to, at times, act unilaterally, for the welfare of the country.

Fox News often brings commentators in, to make the accusation that Obama is operating outside the law.  One of the most amazing accusations was that it would be unlawful to strike against Syria, after they used chemical weapons, because only Congress can declare war.  These same Republicans seems to constantly criticize Obama for not bombing Syria, again without Congressional authority.

“Damn if you do, damn if you don’t”  as the old saying goes.  If Obama waits for Congress to act,  nothing will get done.  If he acts through executive orders, he is called an imperial president.   But most of the really famous presidents, where ones that acted outside of congress at times.  The famous Emancipation Proclamation of  President Lincoln, was an executive order.  Pretty incredible.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are controlled by Republicans and seem to be in lockstep against almost every initiative put forward by President.

Historians will quickly remind Americans that the conflicts between the legislature and executive branches have happened with every recent president.   But,  as former Senator Barney Frank pointed out,   a Democratic controlled Senate has a better relation to a Republican president than visa versa.  But, Frank is a Democrat, so beware of the bias.

Congress can be obstructive to the normal business of government in the name of congressional oversight.    Both parties have done this.   The Republicans, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio  refused to approve raising the debt ceiling, and had that measure  been defeated, the US would have been known as the only country which destroyed its credit rating, as an malicious act of partisan politics. This is a case where obstructive tactics went to destructive ones.

But, unfortunately,  there is great incentive for Democrats or Republicans to fight against each other.  No Republican is going to get on Fox News,  and accuse his fellow Republicans of being obstructionists.  Same with Democrats on MSNBC.

President Obama can’t get positions filled in the Department of State, according to Senator Kerry.   Republicans are demanding a nebulous “pound of flesh.”   Expect things to really boil when the next president nominates a Supreme Court justice.

When time is short as in the media, you load up both barrels of the gun and start blasting at the opposition.   But when the smoke clears,  it just seems everyone is a loser, as this is the surest way to make government less effective.

I just wish we had more moderates in both parties and less bias in the media.  I tire  of commentators on Fox, OANN and MSNBC.    Perhaps I yearn for yesterday.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Republican Trent Lott and Democrat Tom Daschle, have recently published a book, entitled Crisis Point, which highlights the way our government is becoming increasingly dysfunctional.   I have not had a chance to read it.

Crisis Point

 

 

 

Supreme Court to hear immigration case

Our immigration system is broken, and I know how to fix it.  Boy, if that isn’t the most worn out political cliche heard every election.

President Obama attempted to make one fix, called deferred deportation,  through the use of an executive order.  The lower courts in Texas said he had exceeded his authority.  Since President Obama and the Justice Department did not agree with the ruling, they appealed to the Supreme Court.  They have agreed to hear the case.

The Supreme Court could have declined to hear the case, in which case, the program would be dead.  So, it is a victory in a way, because they may rule in favor of the deferred deportation program.  Oral arguments will likely be in April, with a decision in late June, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The president can  not change a person’s status from illegal to legal.  The immigration laws are set by Congress.  And this is where the mess begins, because Republicans and Democrats have voiced very different agendas in regards to immigration.  But Obama and the Department of Justice felt that as long as the executive order made temporary changes to the way the law was being implemented, then the order was legal.  The next president can end the program for sure, but it will be extremely unpopular,  after granting deferred deportation to millions of people.  It will be like they came out of hiding, just to get caught again.

There are a number of legal issues before the court.  The authority to deport someone is with the INS, hence the executive branch has discretion to a certain extent.  But the lawsuits against the program argue that this should be done on a case by case basis, rather than a blanket deferment of a select group of illegals.  Another issue is whether the executive order is really a INS rule, in which case there is a lengthy process of hearings required as part of the rule making procedures.  An argument in favor of the executive order is that Congress did not budget enough money for the deportation of approximately 11 million illegals, so it forces the INS into selective enforcement.

The internet is filled with articles on deferred deportation.  For this reason, I have not included any links in this blog.

Supreme Court observers expect a close decision.   Liberals on the Court may see the executive order as a workable solution to a conflicting mess (lots of laws requiring deportation, little money to do it) made by Congress, while conservatives may see Obama as doing an end run around Congress.

The case belongs in the Supreme Court.  Exactly how much authority the executive branch of our government has, is a constitutional question, not to be answered by Congress, nor political candidates,   nor the media,  but in our highest court.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

Dimming hope in Libya

My hope for Libya becoming a unified country is diminishing.  It is a sad conclusion.  I had hoped for peace would come through the very capable UN negotiator, Martin Kobler.    A peace agreement was finally ready for signing in December 2015, giving rise to hope. Kobler was able to convince lawmakers from the Tobruk and Tripoli factions to sign the agreement,  but the leaders of both factions would not.

Wikipedia has done a phenomenal job of impartially chronicling events as follows:

 Libyan Civil War (2014 to present)

The Libyan civil war end in November 2011, and a period of calm existed until May 2014 when the newly elected congress in Tripoli was attacked. Today, the country is broken into two main factions  with the Tripoli and Tobruk governments controlling large portions of the west and east of Libya, respectively  and several other groups controlling parts of the country.

To control Libya, the entire Mediterranean coastline of Libya  must be secured.  This is where the export ports and refineries are located.  The regional airports and roads must also be secured for commerce to continue.  The onshore  oil fields are located more in the central part of the country and pipelines are bring the oil to the coastline for shipping.

The Wall Street Journal reported the destruction of the oil tank storage facility at Es Sider and Ras Lanuf with a million barrels of crude going up in smoke.  This was a dramatic show of force.   An astute commentator asked what good is the facility to ISIL if it is burned to the ground.  The answer is, that they have denied Libya the ability to export their oil,  one more step is seizing control of Libya.

Wall Street Article on ISIL attack

ISIL has control of Sirte, so this attack is a move to the east.   Next stop is likely Brega, which has a refinery and export port.  It would be a major prize to ISIL.     It is headquarters to Sirte Oil Company,  which before being nationalized by Gaddafi, was the Exxon oil company concession headquarters.

The Gulf News has a very insightful and timely article on the peace talks provided below:

There’s a ray of hope for Libya’s Peace Talks

Basically,  hope springs from the fact that ISIL has not been able to forge the essential ties to other influential groups, as it did in Syria.  I feel that this is likely because there isn’t the same condition of extreme  poverty and xenophobia (eventhough Gaddafi tried to instill western hatred) as in Syria.  So, ISIL is fighting both Tobruk and Tripoli government, from Sirte, home base of Gaddadi.

But still, ISIL may develop ties to other tribal groups, with their own militias.  The New York Times article on Jan 18, 2016 further analyzes the complex situation of the US trying to help defeat ISIL, without a united government in place:

 US courts unreliable allies to combat ISIL

In sum, everybody  wants national unity and a defeat of ISIL, but compromise is very elusive.  The trajectory, if based on past events, is frightening.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American who did not return

Robert Levinson did not come home with the rest of the released  prisoners from Iran.  His family has been on a number of stations, including CNN and Fox.  People are suddenly interested in those Obama didn’t get released from Iran.

His case is quite different from the other Americans. In Mr. Levinson’s case, the leaders in  Iran say they don’t know where Mr. Levinson is.  They deny having any involvement with his disappearance.  Hence, it is difficult to negotiate for the release of a missing person.

I’ve combed the internet looking at what could have happen to Mr. Levinson.  Is there proof that Mr. Levinson is alive?   Honestly, I really hate to say this but the evidence is weak.  But, the family believes strongly that he is in fact, still alive and imprisoned in Iran.  They believe the Iranian officials are lying when they deny any knowledge of his whereabouts.  Their hope increased as the Iran deal was negotiated, and hope Mr. Levinson would be”found” and returned to the US as part of the negotiations.

There have been two photographs of Mr. Levinson, received by his family.  It is possible that these are fakes.  It is terrible that anyone could intentionally inflict more pain on the family by creating fake photos. But there are all sorts of very weird people in this country.

The proof that Mr. Levinson went to Iran in year 2007 is rock solid.  He was staying on Kirk Island which is part of Iran.  His signature on a check out bill, dated March 9, 2007 from a hotel in Kirk Island.  It was reported in the Iranian state  run PressTV  on April 4, 2007 that he had been take into custody on March 9, 2007 and would be released shortly.  His family has confirmed that his name does not appear on any flight manifests leaving Kirk Island.   This is where the trail goes cold.   And it’s been cold for nearly 9 years.

Unlike the other prisoners,  Iran has never accused Mr. Levinson of doing anything wrong.  In fact, when members of his family went to Kirk Island in December 2007,  they say the Iranian officials treated them well.

There are a lot more details on Mr. Levinson’s trip,  which had been summarize in Wikipedia:

Wikipedia- Robert Levinson

His family has created a website,  with many links to news media stories:

Help Bob Levinson Website

It is just possible that  Iranians just might be telling the truth.  Anyone who has knowledge of Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts, can make a quick 5 million dollars, courtesy of the FBI.

Of course, the news media has jumped all over the prisoner release and Mr. Levinson’s case.   Republican candidates like Marco Rubio has widely condemned the prisoner swap, as putting American’s imperil.  I guess the idea is that a president of any country can just scoop up a few Americans, and negotiate with the White House to get their countrymen released as part of an exchange.  It is pretty silly, as most of the foreigners in our prisons are people their own governments want to be released.

Travel always carries some risk, and in general, more care has to be taken in a number of countries.  I happen to have some experience with this, having visited a number of countries in South America, Africa and the Middle East, including Syria, Libya, Colombia  and Angola.  There is always a risk of kidnapping and robbery.   Interestingly, kidnapping of foreigners is rare in the Middle East countries, but theft occurs in all major cities.  Miami has a lot of theft too.   Take my word for it!

But Americans were safe from the possibility of kidnapping in Iran, because money could not be wired into the country.  But, with the lifting of sanctions, this has changed.   However, I do not expect kidnapping to be a major problem, as most tourists will travel in organized groups.   Any money wired into the country for ransom will be quickly tracked down, and the kidnappers will be arrested.

Countries like Egypt,  Algeria and  Libya can pose risks for foreign journalists, but not for tourists.  A journalist who is relocated to Iran from Nigeria may actually feel more secure.  It is all relative.  Tourists must behave themselves.  This is probably rule number 1 in travel: Respect,  courtesy  and patience are absolute requisites- it’s not your country.

A lot of good tips are available on the internet for the intrepid traveler.  The cell phone is your friend and constant companion.  Learn speed dialing!  If you enjoy wandering around strange places, as I do, learn to keep a low profile.   Learn from nature- it is always better to travel in a group.  Local contacts can be essential.

But, I seem to be digressing here.   Bob Levinson’s  disappearance is a tragedy.  The information on his disappearance is very sparse. The disappearance should not become political.   There is no evidence Iran is hiding him, and it is not particularly useful for the US to demand release of a missing person or to accuse Iran of lying.    The 5 million dollars reward by the FBI for information was a good idea.  Americans traveling abroad to Iran in general should not be worried about being detained by the Iranian government, but also follow safe traveling tips.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

 

Mr. Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari

Three released Americans boarded a Swiss flight out of Iran.  They are Jason Regaian, Amir Hekmati and Sadeed Abedini.  It is great to see them released and returning to their families.

But we were told that four  Americans had been released as a result of the prisoner swaps.

Mr. Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari is one of the Americans released by Iranian officials.  The news media is going nuts because they don’t know anything about him. I mean nothing!  Most likely the US State Department knows  a lot, but unless Mr. Khosravi-Roodsari wants his bio to  be shared with the public, there is no need to provide any information.  Good- because everyone has a right to privacy.  And good because it shows that sometimes, private information known by government officials can remain secret.

All we know is that he is a business man, according to one source.  He is being called the ghost prisoner.  He is easily identified when they show photos, his square is blank.   His arrest came to light as a result of Iranian officials, and not his family. So Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari will remain a mystery man.  Another “What in the world moment.”

A fifth released prisoner is Mathew Trevithick.  His release was reported to be not part of the swap.  He is leaving Iran,  but not on the Swiss air flight, which I guess is just for the swapees (is there a word?).

Stay  tuned,

Dave