A Flesh Wound

May 21, 2015

President Obama described the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi as a “flesh wound” and a  “tactical setback.” This is the kind of double speak that was often heard during the Vietnam War as President Lyndon Johnson and his generals tried to reassure the American public that what appeared to be significant defeats were merely temporary bumps in the road that would easily be overcome.

Those bumps became potholes as this country eventually lost the war and was forced to leave the country to the Communist Vietcong. Years later historians and journalists concluded that the Vietnam was was never winnable and that our war policy was made within an isolated bubble often termed group think – an aversion to seeing the reality of a situation and an unwillingness to tell the man in charge what he didn’t want to hear.

Now the current Iraq war against the Islamic State is not another Vietnam, in large part because President Obama pulled our troops out and left behind a token force. The Iraqis told us to leave and the American public has lost its will to fight for a corrupt and incompetent government in the Middle East.  But the original decision by President Bush to dismantle the leadership of the Iraqi army coupled with President Obama’s decision to take our troops out has led to disaster on the battlefield.

Obama still clings to the view that this is not our war and that others will have to defeat the Islamic State. Claims by critics of the President that 10,000 US troops should be embedded with the Iraqis fall on deaf ears as the President is in no mood to return to Iraq- American is no longer the policeman to the world. The result of is that we are left with bland assurances that victory over the fanatics is within reach and the loss of key real estate is but a “flesh wound.”

It’s time to talk straight to the American people and admit that the Iraqi forces are unable to defend what is left of their country and that our strategy is really no strategy at all, except to send in advisers, weaponry and an occasional special operations attack. The fanatics cannot be defeated with this non-strategy, only a Bush-like surge of 10,000 US troops will drive the Islamic State back. But with the American people seemingly behind him and the Islamic State posing only a tiny threat to the homeland the double speak, group think and non-strategy is what our Iraq policy has become. Don’t look for the Marines in Ramadi any time soon, they left years ago.

Commencement Wisdom?

May 19, 2015

I have been to enough commencement exercises in my academic career that I can be considered as something of an expert at listening to high-priced men and women of distinction impart their wisdom  to the graduates, who in most cases just want to get the diploma and head out to dinner and those envelopes with congratulatory checks stuffed inside.

What usually happens at these commencement events is that after a few jokes and stories the speaker in full regalia and an honorary degree settles down to emitting the following standard pearls of wisdom:

” Follow your passion”

” Work hard”

” Chase that dream”

” Don’t avoid a challenge”

” Don’t let setbacks get you down”

” Control your destiny”

” Reach for the stars”

Blah, Blah, Blah

It is a rare experience when I have heard a commencement speaker offer the following words of advice, words that touch on the reality of the workplace of today and tomorrow:

” You have a lot to learn, so listen to those with experience”

” The world doesn’t owe you anything”

” Accept responsibility for your mistakes, don’t blame the person in the next cubicle”

“You’ll probably get fired once in your career”

“Just try your best”

And as Winston Churchill said,” never,never, never, never give up”

Congratulations to the Class of 2015, Good Luck, it’s a tough world out there.

Watergate and Deflategate

May 12, 2015

This blog entry won’t be long since just about everyone in New England has offered their opinion on Tom Brady, the Patriots and the National Football League. What I will say is that one of the lasting lessons of the political crisis of the Nixon administration, commonly called Watergate, is that often the cover-up is more damning than the crime.

Breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to steal documents was indeed a crime and low level crooks got arrested and did time. But the Watergate crisis occurred because President Nixon engaged in a cover-up by not releasing documents related to the case, told his underlings to engage in all sorts of legal and political maneuvers to stop the special prosecutor, and likely destroyed a Oval Office recording device that probably held incriminating conversations.

Nixon stonewalled, held fast to his arrogance of power, saw his tormentors as enemies, and in the end brought himself disgrace as he resigned from office.

That was 1974, but Deflategate has many similarities to Watergate – an unwillingness to cooperate with authorities, a refusal to hand over phone texts, outright lies to the press, the prosecutor, the public, and a view that the Patriots are somehow above reproach and deserve to be treated in a special manner.

Sure the PSI of the football is to most fans insignificant ( that really had no impact on the outcome of the game) and Tom Brady is the best quarterback in football ( and a football god in these parts). But when faced with allegations of actions that gave the Patriots a competitive edge during a championship game, what did the all-American hero do? He engaged in a modern day cover-up filled with lies, half truths; he refused to cooperate with the NFL; and  he revealed an arrogant attitude born from the view that he and the Patriots were above the rules. Luckily for Tom Brady, he only got a four game suspension, the team lost two draft picks and owner Bob Kraft, a billionaire, has to pay a million dollar fine. Remember for his cover-up Nixon lost the presidency.

The Charm City

April 28, 2015

Watching Baltimore face the worst night of violence and destruction since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the reporters, pundits, experts and the people on the street of what is proudly called ” Charm City” laid blame for the chaos with a wide net. From young thugs to an out of touch mayor to brutalizing police to absent parents, it seemed that just about everyone in Baltimore was at fault.

Lost in this blame game were state and local officials who took pride in revitalizing the Inner Harbor at the expense of Sandtown; the banks that approved but a handful of loans to build new homes and businesses; the corporate sector that left Baltimore never to return leaving one in five residents of the black community unemployed; and let’s not forget the media who in one tragic night all of sudden recognized that there was a poverty, inequality, injustice problem in the “Charm City.”

Baltimore was indeed on the way back with many examples of change and development, but the progress was painfully slow and the resources necessary to make a real dent on poverty, inequality and injustice were grossly insufficient. It doesn’t take an urban planner to see that with 16,000 abandoned homes in Baltimore the task of bringing the city back was akin to rebuilding Europe after World War II.

Because hope is always the antidote to negligence, many of the fine people of Baltimore took the city away from the chaos and began the long road back. It was truly heartening to see the people who love Baltimore cleaning up the streets and helping those who lost everything. It is important to remember that riots do nothing but bring senseless destruction; lawlessness is no answer to community failure; and isolating a racial group in the modern equivalent of a ghetto is a sure-fire recipe for retaliation.

Baltimore is now in the hand-wringing stage as government officials, religious leaders and community activists will form a blue ribbon commission tasked with making a long list of recommendations for reform. Some of the reforms may see the light of day, but what Baltimore needs more than anything is to admit that a city with 20% unemployment in the black ghetto, 16,000 abandoned buildings, and a power structure that is risk averse to pour resources into a forgotten part of the city needs a major make-over.

Bill and Hillary: It’s Always Something

April 22, 2015

Because they are only human, political leaders at the national level, whether in power or seeking power, possess one or many personal or ethical flaws. They could be corrupt, bigots, philanderers, closet alcoholics, paranoids, oddballs or outrageous liars ( or a combination of all or some of these flaws). There is not a politician alive today that is a saint ; most if they were Catholics should go to confession regularly or at least to a therapist.

But with the Clintons, Bill and now Hillary, it seems that they are always ready to push the envelope of proper presidential behavior by engaging in activities that give their adversaries plenty of media ammo to make it difficult to trust them or believe in them. To their credit or because they are the most skilled politicians in skirting the law, Bill and Hillary always seem to overcome the problems that they knowingly placed themselves in.

Now with Hillary it is Benghazi, email servers, special favors to foreign financial supporters, and perhaps misused money in their charitable foundation. It is always something. Of course conservatives are jumping full board on these alleged miscues, but it is only because Hillary, like her husband, keeps pushing the envelope believing that somehow she will survive and prosper. Paddy Power, the Irish bookmaker, has Hillary as an overwhelming victor in the 2016 presidential election.

It’s still way to early even to pay attention to the personal and ethical flaws of Hillary Clinton, but I think it is fair to say that in this election the American voter is looking for policies, ideas, initiatives and straight talk from Hillary rather than the regular barrage of nasty claims of malfeasance and scandal-mongering. Way too much time and media spin is being spent on getting this Clinton out of hot water and salvaging her campaign.

If you are a Clinton supporter it is almost like you would want to sit down with Hillary and tell her to stop being Bill.

Taking Back America?

April 13, 2015

Republicans, whether running for the presidency or in Congress, have hit upon a slogan that will likely endure through the 2016 elections. The GOP wants to” take back America.” Now I get the fact that much of this lingo means that the Republicans want to replace liberalism, secularism, progressivism, Obamaism, and Clintonism, and of course socialism with conservative principles and leadership.

But when Republicans talk about ” taking back America” I think the American public deserve more than vague platitudes and phony promises to get rid of the IRS and send illegal immigrants ( all 12 million of them) back to Mexico. I guess I have some questions as to what ” taking back America” means from a policy perspective.

So, in no order of importance here are some questions as to what the Republicans need to answer about ” taking back America”:

Do the Republicans mean that we would return to a time when nearly 50 million Americans had no health insurance?

Do the Republicans mean that we would cut the taxes of millionaires and major corporations even though they have stashed over $ 20 trillion offshore and receive generous subsidies from the government?

Do the Republicans mean that we would deepen income inequality and let the poor and the middle class drown in debt and poverty?

Do the Republicans mean that we would return to Teddy Roosevelt’s desire to become” policeman to the world” and bomb our adversaries and invade foreign lands?

Do the Republicans mean that African-Americans and Hispanics would be stripped of basic civil and political rights in order to keep the soon to be white minority in control?

Now I suspect that ” taking back America” really is code for stopping gay marriage, taking down Jefferson’s walls of separation between church, and state, weakening the morally corrupt media and Hollywood, and ending any attempts to further legalize weed. Certainly the GOP has a constitutional right to voice their concerns over these hot button issues, but let’s face it, gay marriage is here to stay, the younger generation is overwhelmingly secular if not agnostic, the media and Hollywood are deeply entrenched in our culture and booze rather than weed is the real threat to health and safety.

So my only request of the Republicans is that when they promise to ” take back America” they address the five questions posed above. I personally would not want to go back to the America of one hundred years ago.

Religious Freedom, Discrimination and Profit

April 7, 2015

When major corporations like Wal-Mart, Eli Lilly, Apple and others tell conservative governors to accent anti-discrimination in their laws rather than religious freedom, it is clear that the capitalist marketplace has given a huge boost to the gay rights/ gay marriage community.

Certainly there are millions of religious-minded Americans who believe that the gay lifestyle is a biblical abomination. But there also millions of gays ( and their supporters) who are consumers, employees and activists who have had little difficulty in convincing Fortune 500 corporations that discrimination ( couched in the language of religious freedom) is just bad for business. In a nutshell the message from many corporations is ” stop the hate, so we can make a profit.”

What happened in Indiana, Arkansas and likely other states is that corporate executives want to move on in this gay rights debate and are simply tired of the culture wars emanating from the conservative wing of the Republican Party. I am not very good at prognostication but I would bet Vegas money that the Supreme Court validates gay marriage in June, further driving a nail in the coffin of the proponents of the gay culture war.

It was pretty clear from the beginning that the religious freedom bills were more about giving small business owners the legal grounds to deny services to gays. But what governors like Mike Pence in Indiana and Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas did not anticipate is that big business trumps small business and profit is always more important than religion. We pride ourselves as a nation of faith, but we are really a nation of money, and as this nation becomes more secular the faith community is losing out to profit.

I happened to hear a talk by former Congressman Barney Frank, who was the first member of Congress to come out of the closet. Frank, is a liberals liberal and obviously has an ax to grind when it comes to gay rights. But he made a solid point when he said that in ten years or so the issue of gay rights will go the way of anti-Semitism as two examples of discriminatory barriers being broken down in this country against minorities.

Time will only tell if this is a turning point in gay rights and gay marriage in the United States, but one thing is now clear – corporate profit has dealt a blow to the gay culture war.


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