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The Logic of War, Part II – The Syrian Conundrum

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Yesterday, in the post linked here, I discussed generally what I believe should be our logical process in evaluating whether a war was reasonable and necessary.

Today, I am going to put Syria to the test.

1.  U.S. National Interest.

Clearly, we must have some vital interest that involves us in a conflict.  If a war goes on in a region of the world where we have no diplomatic, military, or financial objective…we simply must turn away.  We are not the world’s policeman, as much as Barack Obama, John Kerry, John McCain and others would apparently like to make us so.

As for Syria, do we have a vital interest?  Syria probably falls into that over broad category.  Like the Cold War, Misters Obama and Kerry are arguing that any destabilization of the Middle East is worrisome.  Syria could potentially be a threat to our allies, Israel and Turkey.  And they fear the conflict spilling over its borders into places such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.

I find this argument less than compelling.  If destabilization is a threat…then why are we not more involved in Egypt today? Or, for a larger question:  why are we allowing Iran to build nuclear weapons?  Both likely have far more national implications for the United States.  One could even make the argument that pulling our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan destabilizes the region.

But, history has given Presidents broad leeway on this, and I guess I should do the same for President Obama.  Syria does in the broadest and most vague terms fit the arena of American national interest.

2.  Do we have a list of defined goals and objectives?

I think the clear answer here is a categorical ‘No’.

During yesterday’s testimony to Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked this time and again, and could not provide a rational response.

Does anyone, including the President, have any idea what the endgame is?  We have already been assured that regime change is out of the question, so removal of Assad from power is not a goal of these strikes (Ironically, Kerry stated it may be a goal of our diplomatic approach, but not the military action; if that makes any sense).  That also means they don’t want to wipe out the current Syrian army.

The Defense Department has stated that there is no tactical way of destroying the chemical weapons stashes around the country…so ridding the country of WMD is not possible.

And a ground invasion is off the table, at least theoretically.

The only argument for a defined goal that I can fathom is that we are acting as the world’s policeman, and wish to ‘punish’ the Syrian authorities for use of chemical weapons.  This might be meaningful, if we had the world community supporting us.  Of course, we don’t.  The United Nations refuses to authorize this, and most of our major allies have decided to stay at home.

3.  Are the goals worthwhile?

Not sure how to answer this after the answer in question #2, but I think it is fair to say that if you have no real goals in mind, there is nothing worthwhile in the effort.

If the only goal is to punish Syria, then will the missile strikes that are being contemplated achieve even that minimal goal?

 4.  Are the goals achievable?

What goals?

OK, let us, for the sake of argument, say our goal is policing the world community, and to punish Assad for violating international norms.

If that is the case, what punishment would suffice?  Clearly not a few Tomahawk missiles, that is for sure.  In the past two decades, such action against the likes of Saddam Hussein did nothing but bolster their regimes hard-line stances.

You would need a systematic disruption of the ability of the Syrian army’s ability to fight the rebels; strategic destruction of the Syrian air force; and some sort of diminshed ability of the Syrians to use chemical weapons.  Furthermore, direct assault on Assad’s own power base would be helpful.

After the testimony of Defense officials, other than the destruction of the Syrian air force, none of these goals are achievable.  And even the Syrian Air Force may be a tough target to destroy. Certainly, we could hurt Assad’s forces.

That said, how would we hurt Assad in such a way, when Mr. Kerry specifically stated that our goal is not to hurt Assad in such a way?

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I admit there may be a logical reason to strike Syria.  The use of chemical weapons should be considered beyond the pale, an act of evil against civilians that should not stand.

However, nothing in this strategy from the Obama Administration makes the least amount of sense.  They probably have, in the most lenient definition imaginable, some national interest involved.  But they have yet to articulate a rational set of goals that are worthwhile and achievable considering the situation on the ground.

Until they meet those criteria, they should not involve the United States in any foreign intervention.

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The Logic Of War, Part I

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As Barack Obama continues on his weaving, hesitant and confused path toward attacking Syria, we continue to see his utter lack of a true philosophy or method when it comes to deciding America’s role in foreign interventions.

For decades, we as a country became involved in numerous conflicts, but all were, to a greater or lesser extent, related to American interests, either political, military, or economic.  Unfortunately, the last century’s wars mostly involved the Cold War, and the appearance that we were countering the ‘Communist threat’.  That was an  overly broad vision of ‘American national interest’ that involved us in conflict after conflict that, as history showed, did little truly to benefit America.

Many keep discussing what our involvement should be in these conflicts,  As I wrote last week, Mr. Obama now seems to have completely accepted the U.S. role as the world’s policeman.  It is fascinating that a man who so clearly opposed our war in Iraq, and did not outwardly support our specific strategy to win in Afghanistan, now has such an expansive view of foreign policy.

It does bring us back to the core question:  how do we determine if a war is ‘necessary’?  Clearly it is an issue we deal with time and again, and the President Obama appears to be struggling with. I personally think that to come to the decision of getting involved in any foreign conflict, we must achieve these four goals.

1.  Is there a U.S. National Interest?

I believe there are several levels of importance when in comes to issue of national interest.

First and foremost is safety and security.  A response to a direct attack on the United States of America clearly falls under this category.  The most glaring examples of this are Pearl Harbor and the September 11, 2001 attacks.   Nobody who is reasonable would question the U.S.’s right to respond to such attacks on our vital interests, our homeland, and most importantly, our citizens.

The next level of importance is an attack on our allies.  We live in the world where we need friends, and as such, we have created military alliances in order to keep the peace. Sometimes, this can backfire, as the snowball effect of the road to war in World War I showed.  However, a direct attack against one of our close allies, such any member of NATO, clearly would fall into our national interest.  Of course, a larger debate would occur if our more peripheral allies, such as Israel or Taiwan, were attacked.

The third, and weakest level of American national interest is when people make the argument that regional stability is essential for American well-being.  This covers a wide range of issues, whether it be political stability, economic interests, or involvement in other relationships we have across the globe.

Most wars in the post-WWII era have fallen under this category:  Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, The First Gulf War, Kosovo War, and even the wars in Iraq and Libya more recently.  Each of these have, in one manner or another, altered the political dynamic in a region of the world we consider important, and thus, we have felt the need to move to military action.

The problem with this category is simple:  there is no clear, definite U.S. interest.  What appears to be important to some is clearly not important to others.  Iraq is the perfect example.  We can argue the issue of pre-emption, but to some, Saddam Hussein provided a threat to the United States, both because of his potential weapons, but also because of his destabilizing force on the region.  Ironically, the Obama Administration makes similar claims today about Syria.

 2.  Do we have a list of defined goals and objectives?

This is an essential consideration for a multitude of reasons.  First, to prevent the use of military use as a diversion for some other issue, such as a political crisis (Clinton firing missiles into Iraq at the height of the Monica Lewinsky crisis, for example).  Second, to have a limited number of goals to prevent expansion into a larger conflict (Vietnam comes to mind).  Lastly, to understand when the war is over; how can you end a war, if you have a shifting goalpost of what the war must achieve?

Afghanistan is a good example of this.  Clearly, there was a vital national security interest there after 9/11.  But what was the goal? Was it to simply rid the country of terrorist elements? That could have been done with air strikes most likely.  Was it for regime change, to punish the Taliban?  Or was it nation building?  Even after a decade of fighting there, some of these questions remain unanswered.  And it appears that we may be leaving that conflict before we ever really answer any of those questions.

3.  Are the goals of war worthwhile?

I think this is an important question that we have more often than not skipped over in recent years.  Even if we go to war, and achieve our ends…are the goals justified and meaningful?

Let us take the Korean War.  Clearly, we were in the midst of the Cold War, and so any communist aggression was to be fought against, no matter the cost nor outcome.  And South Korea, a strong democracy today and a stalwart ally, would say the war was worth it.  But would we fight a similar war today, at the cost of over 33,000 American deaths? I find that doubtful.

Consider Iraq.  We actually achieved many of our stated goals.  Iraq is far from perfect, but they are relatively stable compared to the rest of the region.  They have a sort of constitutional democracy; they certainly aren’t a dictatorship like their immediate neighbors.  And they are no longer a threat to the larger region.  However, at the cost of 4,500 American deaths, it is considered a relative failure by most.

So, even the costs of war have changed over time.  The Korean War is considered a success, Iraq War a failure…although the former had 10x greater cost in American blood.

Furthermore, there is the financial cost involved.  We cannot decide to go to war or not to go to war based on cost alone, but we cannot ignore the issue all together either.  The Iraq War costed $784 billion in today’s dollars.  The Korean War would have cost $341 Billion; Vietnam costed around $738 billion, and in turn, was a military loss.

 4.  Are the goals achievable?

Once you have determined if a war is of national interest, and you have a list of achievable defined goals, then you must clearly ask if such goals are achievable, under the prescribed limits set forth by the nation.

The latter part of that statement is actually more difficult than the former.  That is a political question.  For example, if in 2003 George W. Bush had told America that the Iraq war would take a decade, cost four thousand American lives, and would cost $700 billion dollars…I  highly doubt even most Republicans would have backed the effort.  Some of this cannot be known, as wars are highly unpredictable. But even within the realms of our prognostication abilities, to convince the American public such a cost was worthwhile would have been a long, hard slog. 

The core of the question, whether the goals are achievable, is critical to any endeavor, not just a war effort.  Can the United States, with our military force and diplomatic power, achieve victory as we have defined it?  Many times in our past, we refuse to define what victory is, for a simple reason:  we haven’t a clue what we are trying to achieve.  Could Vietnam, for example, have been avoided if we had honestly confronted this question?  Could we ever have pushed the communists out, considering the involvement of the Chinese? 

One ancillary point out of this particular discussion:  are we willing to make the sacrifices necessary to win the war?  Are we willing to lose thousands of men, spend billions of dollars, and spend years in a concerted effort to win the conflict?  This was a question we were not truly honest about with ourselves prior to Iraq, for example.

And that leads to a final point:  if you can’t win the war with conventional weapons…are you willing to win the war in other methods?  For example, we could have ‘won’ the war in Vietnam with tactical nuclear weapons.  After all the blood and treasure we poured in there, should we have considered such drastic action?  And if not, why were we there in the first place?

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These questions are essential discussions that should be had before we enter any foreign conflict.  We have been too laissez faire in our approach to intervening overseas, as a slow progression of more and more lackadaisical use of military force has become the norm.  We certainly cannot blame Barack Obama for this, as this has been going on for decades, but a return to a more logical, thoughtful approach is necessary.

Furthermore, the belief that Congress and the American people should follow a logical, thoughtful process toward international interventionalism is not an ‘isolationist’ position.  I certainly am willing to intervene overseas if the necessity arises.  For example, Afghanistan was a necessary war, even though we did not do a great job answering questions 2 and 4 above before entering that conflict.  I do think we could have done the country a great service however if we had answered those questions; it may have more clearly defined what our strategy was, and what steps were necessary, instead of the sometimes confused strategy that has been the hallmark of the Bush and Obama administrations for the past few years.

Tomorrow, part two of this series, with the essential question of the day:  How do we answer these questions now that we face a conflict with Syria?

 

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Jennifer Rubin Jumps The Shark

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Jennifer Rubin, in a piece in yesterday’s Washington Post, takes umbrage at the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz’s vision of what America’s role in the world should believe.

Calling them a ‘group of isolationists’ she goes on a diatribe of immense proportions.  She concludes with this little tidbit:

In short, for isolationists, there is no amount of dead Syrians, refugees and WMD deaths that would justify us doing anything effective.

This is, as usual, the wrong argument to have.

The isolationist moniker is a false one to begin to label many of these politicians, on both sides of the aisle.

As I have written on numerous occasions, there is a logical method to deciding if war is necessary.  We do not, as Ms. Rubin alleges, simply put number deaths in one column, number of bombs in another column, and use an equation and arrive at an answer.

For example, cannot those who support Ms. Rubin’s argument use their imagination to dream up a scenario where hundreds of thousands of people were dying…and that America still had no military inclination whatsoever?

Of course, nobody needs to imagine such an event…we saw it just two decades ago.  Bill Clinton oversaw the murder of 1 million Rwandans…and nobody would claim he was an isolationist. And although some historians may lay some of those deaths at his feet, I believe that is also unfair.  Entering a civil war where America had no national interest, no vested interested, no strategic importance whatsoever would have been foolish.  Hindsight is very convenient for these armchair quarterbacks, but even if that occurred today, I am doubtful the likes of Barack Obama or George W. Bush would do much different.

Rubin goes on…

Is that the world we want to live in? Once Assad used chemical weapons, then all despots will feel free to do the same. And the green light would not entice merely rogue regimes in Syria and North Korea.

We already live in this world.  That people were not able to recognize that simply shows their own extravagant self delusion.  Does anyone believe, no matter what we do to Assad, that the next dictator won’t go ahead with their plans for weapons of mass destruction?

Look at history.  We wiped out Saddam Hussein, who also gassed his own people.  We took out Gaddafi, who at one time had WMD but gave them up.  Did that change Bassar al Assad’s calculations in the least?

And who is to say that our tepid response to Assad won’t actually do the opposite, and give more credence to the ideas that despots and dictators should build up their weapons systems?  The lesson is, if you can make it inconvenient for America to mount a ground invasion, basically it is fine to have weapons of mass destruction.

The reality is, short of going back to the Bush-era concept of pre-emption, we will have to accept these minor states having chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.  I see little if not any belief among any of the political class that, for example, we should mount a full-scale attack on Iran to stop them from obtaining nuclear weapons.  Neither the public nor the political class have the stomach for such an operation. And that doesn’t just include the so-called isolationists.

The larger discussion is how we stayed involved in the politics of the world, without becoming arrogant and overbearing.  We are already hated in many quarters for what many feel is American arrogance and self-righteousness.  The error in Syria is not that we haven’t done anything; the error was ever assuming we should even consider doing anything, unless our direct national interests were at stake.

The better question for people Rubin’s ilk is, do we now accept the role of the world’s policeman?  And who anointed us as such?  Did we simply place that crown on our own head?  And if we are arrogant enough to believe we have that right, to unilaterally declare what is and is not acceptable in this world…where does that eventually take us as a nation?

I fear she doesn’t really have the courage to answer that.

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The New Obama Doctrine On Foreign Wars

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Liberals made much  hay about the Bush doctrine in the previous administration, but not much has been made of the Obama doctrines during the current one.

One reason is simple:  Obama has no grand vision on foreign policy.  He flies from one conflict to another, neither caring nor obsessing over whether his actions will have later consequences

But from his response from Syria, we can learn a couple valuable things about how Obama thinks, not to mention how the left in a larger perspective feels about foreign policy.

1.  There is no national interest necessary.

Syria may be a central player in the Middle East, but this is an unlike foe for the United States.  Three short years ago, the Obama Administration was openly looking a Bashar al Assad as an ally.  Hillary Clinton famously referred to him as a ‘reformer’.

Now, they are a threat to the United States?

They may very well be a threat to Israel. Possibly to their other neighbors.  But only in the most extreme stretch of the imagination are they a threat to the United States of America.  In fact, they are likely a larger threat only if we attack.

Heck…they don’t even have a significant oil source.

2.  We are now the world’s policeman.

The most common argument I have heard from progressive friends is that Assad violated international standards, and therefore, must be punished.

This is a fascinating argument from a political movement whose main cry for the last decade is that we specifically should not be the policeman for all the world’s problems. Today…they specifically want us to take on that role.

3.  No allies necessary.

Obama has done one remarkable thing in his foreign policy:  he has made Britain, a steadfast ally of ours, no longer….steadfast.

Yesterday the U.K. Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s request to have power to intervene in Syria.

How remarkable an event was this?  The last time that Parliament rejected such military action was…1782.

In Afghanistan, George W. Bush was able to rally more than 40 countries and all of NATO.  In Iraq, which was clearly a heated political discussion, Bush got the support of 30 other countries, including Britain and Spain, and came very close to getting the support of Turkey and India.

Barack Obama could not get the support of England.

Now, this is not so important, except for the simple fact that Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden, along with the likes of Chuck Hagel, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid scolded President Bush for his ‘limited’ allied force, and some even remarked that Bush’s claim was a ‘fantasy’.

I wonder what spin they will provide now?

4.  UN?  What’s the UN?

No United Nations Security Council resolution is coming.  Not in the near term.  Russia and China are adamant that more time is needed before they can decide on any action, and even then, they view this as an internal Syrian matter.

So Obama, because of this ‘roadblock’ (and where have we heard that before) will simply act…unilaterally.

The irony, of course, is that George W. Bush, who was labeled a ‘cowboy’ and a ‘unilateralist’ actually did go to the U.N. and, in fact, did obtain Security Council resolutions for his actions.

5. Constitution matters only for Republican Presidents

This is Senator Barack Obama in 2007:

“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,” Obama told the Boston Globe.

Today, President Obama and his staff are quite clear: no Congressional authority is necessary.   And neither would this be unique; they took the same tactic with Libya.

Now, if they are going to make this argument, they should at least have the honesty to admit they were wrong in 2007, and the likes of Dick Cheney, John Yoo and others were right.  Of course, that would make their liberal base go over the edge, but whose fault is that?

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In conclusion, President Obama is rapidly expanding the powers of the Executive to go to war.  These are expansions of those powers that Dick Cheney and other neocons in the prior administration urged President Bush to take, but he never did so.  Bush, ironically, had more respect for the Constitution and international law than our current Oval Office occupant does.

Those that say that Assad and the Syrians who used chemical weapons against their own people are correct that those actions should not go unpunished.  But following a course to war that has neither the support of the American people or the world, and cannot get approved by the Congress and the United Nations, is one of folly.

But that is the heart of the Obama doctrine on foreign intervention, as it stands today.

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I Too Have A Dream…

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On the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Two score and ten years ago, one of the great African-American leaders of all time came to the Lincoln Memorial, to give his view of the direction of race relations in America, and the ever continuing fight for civil rights and equality.

At the time, civil rights was an enigma.

Jim Crow still persisted.  Segregation and discrimination were the norm.  The upward mobility of the middle class Black man was limited by an opaque glass ceiling. Access to educational and financial institutions was limited. And the ability for minorities to affect the political system was virtually non-existent.

How times have changed.

A two-year old boy of mixed heritage that day saw a Black man praise the virtues of America’s heart, and 50 years later would be a two term President of the United States.

In fact, the opaque class ceiling that existed in 1963 has largely been destroyed.  People of all races, creeds, sex and background can reach any level in society.  Barack Obama simply is the penultimate example.

This is not to say our great quest for equality has been achieved.  In fact, it will never be achieved. Martin Luther King understood this basic concept:

“When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

So the march for equality proceeds.  The fight goes on.  But the issues that confront us have evolved, and led to a much broader, wider issue than MLK faced.

Today, America is once again failing the words of our Founding Fathers, and the promise it made to all Americans.  We face great challenges, but our leaders fail at every turn.  As Mr. King stated that day:

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

America is failing its people.  And yes, that includes African-Americans, who still are lagging in economic freedom and educational access.  But it is not failing those Americans alone.

White Americans are growing ever poorer and less educated.  Hispanic Americans are struggling economically, as the economy and the government fail to meet the demands of today.  Across the board, government becomes ever more burdensome, tries to give away more, and ultimately provides access to far less.

Every day, the rich get richer, not only on their own merits, but because we have a government that grows larger and larger, and thus, helps the rich benefit from the teat of big government.  We have corrupt officials who make corrupt bargains with those ensuring their place in the power structure, while the remainder of America can only sit and watch.

But I say to you, my friends, my fellow Americans, that does not deter my optimism for the future.  Because I also have a dream.  My hopes reside in the core of what the American Dream truly means.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”  But that means that we will not first look to the color of one’s skin to make our fair determination, but to the core of their being and their soul.

I have a dream that the few enclaves of prejudice that exist in America will continue to be marginalized and be wiped out.  I dream that many of these places, not all of them in the south, will be called out for their bias and bigotry, not only against races, but also religions, political beliefs, and other concepts of social construct and politics.

I have a dream that one day, voters of all races will not vote by race.  They will vote by ideas.  They will look at the arguments openly and honestly, and give a fair chance for all ideas.  I dream that people that disagree with conventional wisdom will no longer be treated as pariahs and traitors to their race, and we will never ever hear the term ‘Uncle Tom’ used again.

I dream of a day where every vote will count as a single vote; where access to the voting booth will be guaranteed; but also where we can verify that those that do vote have the right to vote, so we are confident in the democracy we all hold so dear.

I dream that children of all races, in all corners of this country, will have the choice and access to the educational institution of their choosing, because the great bigotry of today is the soft bigotry of low expectations that now is the rule of thumb for our public schools.

I have a dream people will not accuse honest patriotic Americans of bigotry or hatred, only because of differences in political thought.

I dream that people will accept the great strides we have made in this country over the last several generations, without clouding the fact that some improvements are still obviously necessary.  I hope people realize how egalitarian our society truly is, compared to much of the world, even other places in the Western world.  I see inequalities, but many of those are self-inflicted, and I hope and pray we figure out that many of our failures are because of our own stupidity than about skin color.

I have a dream that one day, persons of all colors, races, sexes, and political parties can talk openly and honestly about many of the societal and cultural issues that plague America, that hold its people back, that deter certain groups from achieving the American dream, without being accused of having racial prejudice in our hearts simply for discussing the issue.

And this is my final dream.  My final dream is that my children, who are now 7 and 3, who are minorities in the great melting pot of the American experiment, will grow up in an America where they barely discuss race or ethnicity.  That when they do discuss it, it will be in passing, and not at the heart of every political dialogue and discourse.  Where their favorite political candidates are not scored based on how many boxes they can check on a census card, but the quality of their ideas and the content of their character.

That is my dream.

Only then will I believe America will be free at last.

 

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Regarding citizenship and media stupidity

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For some unknown reason, we have to talk about the citizenship rules that allow a person to be qualified to be the President of the United States again.

The stupidity of this discussion boggles the mind.  It was stupid when it was brought up when Barack Obama first ran in 2008, it was even dumber when issues about John McCain’s Panamanian birth arose, and now is compounded with a new level of stupidity based on the recent disclosure of Sen. Ted Cruz’s birth certificate.

Furthermore, the trolls in the media that have nothing better to do than discuss established law without understanding the law they are discussing are roping in Conservatives, who are falling for the trap.  My good friend Leslie P has an excellent piece on this at the Liberty’s Torch.

There are some subtle rules in here, but here is the basic gist of the situation:  if you are a child of an American citizen, and you claim American citizenship upon your birth…you are a naturally born citizen of the United States.

There are some minor hurdles however.  For example, before a certain date, you needed that parent to reside in the U.S. during some period within 5 years of the birth. And you cannot immediately claim another country’s citizenship, and the later proclaim U.S. Citizenship…that would renounce your American citizenship as natural born.

If you want an extensive run down on the legal case, this was an excellent article from Redstate.com, in two parts.  Many little details and nuances are in the laws, but my gestalt is pretty much accurate.

Now, the media has jumped on another little nuance…that Cruz (who is, by all legal criteria, a Natural Born Citizen) is also potentially a Canadian citizen.  This actually may be true, based on what some legal scholars in Canada are stating.  This is, additionally, also completely irrelevant to the discussion whether Cruz is eligible for the Presidency.  Nothing in the Constitution precludes a Natural Born Citizen from having dual citizenship.

What is really intriguing about this is that, if the media had any inquisitive nature at all, that Barack Obama, under Kenyan law, was a KENYAN citizen by birth until the age of 23.  Because his father was a Kenyan citizen at birth, Obama automatically was a Kenyan citizen with dual citizenship until the age of 23.  At that time, he either had to become a Kenyan citizen in toto, or automatically lost his claim on his Kenyan citizenship, because adults cannot have dual citizenship in Kenya.

Intriguing how the media never picked up on that.

Don’t let the media drive a silly narrative.  This is strategic on their part; they think that they can use the birther issue to divide the Right.  We conservatives should always base the decision on what the law specifically states.  And in this question, there is no debate.

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Obama/Hillary Doctrine In Tatters

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Egypt burns.  Syria lies in ruins.  Libya is falling apart.  Iraq may be close to civil war itself.  And Afghanistan never really improved after the Obama surge.

Here lies the remnants of Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama’s largest foreign policy vision, the Arab Spring.

President Barack Obama, aided by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, believed their own audaciousness could push many of the world’s hot spots into more peaceful methods of dialogue and understanding.  This was most prominent in what ended up to be called the ‘Arab Spring’.  Obama tried to take credit for those results, by pointing to his now famous/infamous 2009 Cairo speech.  That speech basically was an apology for the 8 years of George W. Bush, and letting the world know that there was a new order, led by his compatriots.

This month, we can pretty much evaluate the Obama policy: it is a complete and utter failure.

Egypt has always been a troublesome partner.  But the Obama people simply misread the situation over the past couple years; and the results are horrific.

When they helped urge the ouster of Hosni Mubarak two years ago, the results could have been predicted.  Countries don’t just evolve like a phoenix from the ashes of totalitarianism.  It takes time and effort to build the democratic infrastructure necessary. With Mubarak gone, there was no one other than the Egyptian military to do that.  The military is a force of stability throughout the Middle East; the naive mistake for the Obama State Department is, that does not make them necessarily a force for good.  They forget the history that the military was largely responsible for placing those totalitarian dictators in place in the first place.

So when Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood came to power, the Military was unhappy, and it showed. There was immediate friction.  And of course, the US had no interest in maintaining Morsi; however, despite how the media wants to spin it, the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi did clearly win the election (not that the election was anywhere near perfect; what election is in the Middle East?).  So we side, once again, with the Military, this time against Morsi (and refuse to call it a coup in the process)…and believe our standing among the Arab street would improve?

Now, the Military acts like they always do…they have a problem that looks like a nail, and they hammer it.  They will try to crush the Muslim Brotherhood.  The problem? If you believe surveys and polls, the Brotherhood’s support is growing. It was already about a third of the country, and may be pushing 40% now.  You cannot wipe out 40% of the nation.

You can see the incompetence repeated time after time after time; Egypt is just the newest example.  In Afghanistan, Obama took Bush’s successful surge concept from Iraq, and used it…and failed.  Afghanistan is probably more unsettled today than before Obama took office.  In Iraq, we have left the country; and as such, the only stabilizing force there no longer exists.  The country teeters on the edge of civil war, and we have no power to stop it.  In Syria, we could have helped by getting involved three years ago with simple outside assistance; today, there is full-blown Civil War, where both sides are actually our enemies.  Only a fool would try to get involved there.  And Libya has been spiraling from the moment Obama claimed victory there after Qaddafi’s killing.  The country is basically a failed state.

The Hillary Clinton/John Kerry Secretaries of State tandem may go down in history as one of the most incompetent ever.  They had an unsurpassed amount of good will upon Obama’s election in 2008; and they have squandered it.  The US is now less respected  in most countries than it was…under Bush.  That is quite an accomplishment.

Kerry travels around and makes ignorant statements, which the administration the next day has to rescind or alter just to save face.  As for Hillary, she begins her campaign for 2016; tell me, has anyone ever been more undeserving of praise than her?  It is the Democrat equivalent of Donald Rumsfeld failing at the Defense Department and then running for President.  Hillary, by every metric, failed at the State department, from Benghazi to Syria to Russia to China…and yet here she is, the presumptive favorite for her party’s nomination.

By every metric known to man, the Obama Administration foreign policy in the Middle East has failed.  It will take time for the media to catch on, as they are slow learners.  It will take even longer for Democrats, because they must at all costs protect Hillary’s legacy. But the truth is there to see, today.

 

This was crossposted at the Liberty’s Torch

1

How To Fix Detroit

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So following my piece on Detroit’s bankruptcy, including my editorial in the National Post, I got a lot of email with a very reasonable question:  “You complain about the problems, but you have no solutions!”.

That is true, at least so far.  So, it is now time to turn to the future, and come up with solutions to make the city of Detroit great again, and to allow its people to thrive.

Let us begin by understanding that this is a problem that took 2/3 of a century or more to culminate in filing Chapter 9 bankruptcy.  So there are no quick solutions.  This is a generational battle.

Next, let us stop being naive.  I have heard a bunch of platitudes like “Detroit will be back!”.  Sorry, but there is no inherent reason why Detroit should recover.  We should make sure it will recover, but with continued incompetent leadership, it will fail. I will give you a perfect real life example:  Flint, Mi, about 60 miles to the north of Detroit.  They have been saying they will return to prosperity for 30 years…and their situation simply worsens and worsens, to the point now that it is unlikely Flint will ever be more than a monument to the Rust Belt cities of America.

So, putting aside such silliness, how do we actually solve Detroit’s problems?

First, there is a short term hurdle.  Detroit is approximately $18 billion in debt, and has no way to pay for it.  It is buried under pensions and other obligations that cannot be met. Much of this will be determined by the bankruptcy court, based on legal regulations and bylaws.  But a couple points.  First, Detroit should try not to sell off valuable assets that could help Detroit recover in the long term.  Short term debts should not be paid by long term treasures.  The best example is the Detroit Institute of Arts, which contains one of the country’s greatest collections of art and historical pieces.  Many creditors want to raid the D.I.A. to pay off bond holders.  There may be a few pieces in the collection that may make sense to sell off, but for the most part, this should be a protected asset, the basis of a future cultural center in a city that needs to recover.

Other assets probably should have long been sold off, or at least, leased for significant cash value.  Belle Isle, a lovely island in the Detroit River, could be a mecca of residential, commercial, and other mixed use business.  Instead, under city control it is a wasteland, benefiting virtually no one.  Another asset?  The Detroit Public Water system, which supplies most of the water and sewer services for much of the metropolitan area.  This must be divested, and removed out of the city’s control.

Second, you must fix the broken system that remains in Detroit, left by years of neglect and incompetence.  This will, sadly, cost money, but you must invest to get return.  There are various estimates of what it will cost to fix the essential infrastructure, clear abandoned buildings, fix the roads, etc.  But the most recent estimates are anywhere from $1-2 billion.  This is the one piece of the puzzle where the Federal government may have a small role.

The tough part of this will be choosing what parts of the city simply must be let go.  This process started long ago out of necessity, but not must take on a more logical process.  For example, in 2008, Detroit had 317 active parks. It now has just 107 — and 50 of those parks are set to close, although civic donations are keeping them open through the summer.  Some of these parks should be given away, while others consolidated, in order to make best use of limited funds.

Another example is Detroit’s antiquated payroll department.  As I said in my previous piece, it has the highest cost per employee in the country, or $62 per check, to process Detroit payroll expenses. It has multiple payroll systems that are not integrated with each other. Much of this processing should be privatized…the average private payroll company only charges about $10 per paycheck.  Yes, there are 150 employees in this department, and tough cuts are going to have to be made.  This is the reality; a tough reality.

Some of these problems are much more complicated however,  Look at emergency services (including police, Fire, and ambulances).  They simply don’t have the money to cover the bulk of the city. On an average day, only 10 to 14 of the city’s 38 ambulances are working. The average Detroit fire station is 80 years old, and maintenance costs often exceed $1 million each year.  Approximately 40 percent of Detroit’s street lights do not work.

It takes an average of nearly an hour for Detroit police to respond to any emergency, whether it be a routine call or an active emergency.  The average nationwide?  11 minutes.  A systematic overhaul of the police department is necessary to focus resources where needed.  However, this gets into a much bigger problem…

Third, the city needs to reorganize; and I am not talking about the bureaucracy.  I am actually talking about the bricks and mortar, littering the city, much of it falling apart from disuse.  If you drive through the city, you can go from neighborhood to neighborhood where only a few houses stand, where dozens or hundreds used to exist.  The city is trying to provide emergency coverage in these areas, and cannot reasonably ever attain the type of coverage necessary for a city.  It is more like living in rural America than in a metropolis.

Mayor Bing actually proposed a radical (some would say ‘insane’) proposal to bulldoze up to one quarter of the City, centralize businesses and residents, and focus on the people in a way that made sense.

Now, this plan has huge problems. One, it takes money.  Second, it would be a massive use of eminent domain, as you forcibly transfer residents from their current home into an equivalent home in a centralized neighborhood.  There would be numerous lawsuits, protests, etc.  But on the other hand, Detroit may not have any choice.  The alternative may be to leave individuals where they are, but tell them they are on their own…without sufficient emergency services in their area.

So this would be a massive undertaking.  But what are the benefits, if it could be done?  First, emergency services would be less costly, and much easier to maintain.  It would drive down costs.  Infrastructure costs would plummet.  But the additional benefit would be turning large swaths of the city into green space, agricultural use, or other potential uses.  You could turn Detroit into one of the greenest cities in America.  One proposal had a contiguous park along the border of downtown, that would be along the same lines of Central Park.  Detroit currently is one of the grayest, dirtiest looking cities you will ever see; this could transform that image.

The burdensome pension system also must be dealt with.  This will be painful; many of the residents of the city are former employees.  To be sure, pensioners should be the last creditors to face the axe; but they cannot be spared.  The pension system currently allows long term employees to retire at almost 100% salary.  No system can survive such payouts, especially with a dwindling population and shrinking workforce. The pensioners will have to take a hit, the same way those at GM and Chrysler did.  Of course, the unions will fight this tooth and nail, because pensions are the bedrock of their value to their members.  But there simply is not the money to pay for it; it is a numbers game, and that is a game the unions will ultimately lose.

The final piece of the puzzle may be the hardest, because in some ways, it will take self governance out of the hands of the residents of Detroit.  The city council and city government must be fundamentally reformed.  And if one thing has been proven, the current regime is unwilling to make those reforms.

Gov. Rick Snyder will have the tough duty to tell the residents that the State of Michigan will do what is best for the residents of the city of Detroit.  All vestiges of the government of the past half century need to be washed away…as well as the remnants of decades of corruption and incompetence.

To Snyder’s credit, as well as Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, they are confronting this problem head on.  Orr is in talks with the Ford Foundation and New York University’s new Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment, among others, for recommendations to improve the city’s governance structure and operations.  These kind of intellectual exercises are exactly what Detroit needs to rethink its future.

These are the choices left to Detroit.  They have a large budget deficit, enormous long term debts, and no way to pay for them. Detroit is at the statutory limit in its ability to tax, so even if that was a viable solution (and it is not), that avenue is not open to them.

Detroit must make fundamental changes to its pension system and bureaucracy.  There is no other answer available to them.  They can try to leverage what assets they have, but those are few and far between, and certainly not enough to fill the hole they have dug.  Even the immense wealth of the Detroit Institute of Arts would hardly make a dent in that debt.

Once the city emerges out of bankruptcy, its citizens must focus on the immediate needs of the city:  emergency services must be re-established, the city’s regulations and tax structures must be made more business friendly, and a street by street analysis of long term sustainability must go forward.

Some on the right have proposed a ‘Hong Kong style’ economic reform plan, with pro-business tax rates and enterprise zones. I favor such reforms, but I am not sure that would be a ‘magic bullet’ in a city like Detroit, which fundamentally depends heavily on manufacturing and import/exports.  Detroit must maximize its advantages.  It is the major thoroughfare from the U.S. to Canada.  The metropolitan area is ripe with intellectual and financial capital, and if the city once again welcomed its rich neighbors, money could flow into the city, and help spur investment and growth.  The city still has a large manufacturing base that can be rejuvenated, if the unions are willing to adapt; I realize that is a leap of faith, but it must happen.  Detroit should become a hub of manufacturing innovation and trade.  But to happen, the city must enter the 21st century.

Detroit can emerge from the ashes.  But it must choose to make the hard decisions.  Those choices do not get any easier with the passage of time.  Many chances to save Detroit have been missed.  This time, there is no time nor chances left.

2

Detroit: A Progressive Utopia

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I grew up in Detroit. I went to high school in what can be considered an ‘inner ring’ suburb, went to college at the University of Michigan nearby, and did my graduate work at Wayne State University downtown. After medical school, I came back and did residency outside of Detroit, and even finished my residency up in Flint, MI.  My parents still live in the suburbs.  And in many ways, I will always be a child of the Motor City.

It is rough, it is grimy, it is tough nosed. It is also the definition of blue collar, hard working Americana. All the greatness of America’s past and all the ills that it now bears can be summed up by the city of Detroit.

And in that respect, the bankruptcy of Detroit, now the largest in the history of the United States of America, is an extremely sad event for me.  But, it was an event whose time has long been expected.

I graduated high school in an inner suburb of Detroit in 1991.  I remember discussing with my U.S. government teacher (who happened to be our local teacher union representative, and a proud liberal) about the long term expectations of Detroit economically.  I remember his words to this day: “Son, Detroit is circling the drain; it is just a matter of time.”

I guess by that, he meant 22 years.

Everyone in Detroit knew that without enormous, radical change, the city was dying.  They have known this since at least the early 1980s.  That radical change has never come.  The city’s population peaked at almost 2 million in 1950, during the boom times of the post-war era.  It had the highest media income of any city in the U.S. at that time; it now ranks 66 of the largest 68th cities.  Detroit, other than New York City, was considered the national center of culture, arts, and music.

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Detroit Institute of Arts…one of the great art museums in America

That population now hovers at just over 700,000 people today.

The city in 2000 was acting like it still had 2 million people.  Despite drastic cuts since 2000, Detroit is still one of the most overstaffed cities. As of 2011, one city employee for every 55 residents…by far the most in the United States.  The public services were bloated, and bureaucracy clogged with numerous useless union workers who could neither be laid off or fired, and who would all achieve full pensions after 25 years of service.  And once those people retired, the cycle continued, because someone would have to pay for those pensions.

Pension reform is a dirty word in Detroit, for a very simple reason:  a large proportion of the population of Detroit lives on city pension money.  Simply put, it is a hamster wheel; the city must run faster and faster to attempt to keep pace with itself.

How did Detroit become like this?  Well, progressives made it that way.  From 1961 on, Detroit more than any other city in America became the crucible in to which progressives poured every utopian idea imaginable.

Detroit spent more on education, welfare, and infrastructure than almost any other city in the U.S.A. during the sixties and seventies.  The city passed tough regulations, allowing city leaders to manage which businesses could open in the city, and which could not, largely basing those decisions on political leanings.  Money flowed into the education system, as some of the largest public schools in the country were built in Detroit.

The cycle was kept alive during this time because of the boom times of the auto industry.  Of course, the gas crisis of the 1970s put an end to that, as General Motors, Ford, American Motors, and Chrysler all struggled through out the latter part of the century.

Furthermore, race issues became paramount.  Mayor Coleman Young was considered a leading African American progressive when he became the leader of Detroit in 1974.  But from the very start, Mayor Young was one of the leading race baiters of the Democrat Party, blaming many of the ills of the city on the rich white upper class.  That white group was already fleeing the city after the riots of 1967…Mayor Young just helped speed up the process. In his inaugural address, he stated, “I issue this warning to all those pushers, to all rip-off artists, to all muggers: It’s time to leave Detroit; hit Eight Mile Road!”.  Many mark it as the moment at which whites were no longer welcome in the city of Detroit.

So white flight began in earnest.  The Detroit suburbs, primarily along the north corridor adjacent to the now famous 8 Mile Road, grew at astonishing rates.  Wealth fled the city of Detroit, leaving an underclass of both African Americans and Whites that remains to this day.

To this day, African American progressives still applaud Mayor Young…despite his complete and utter failure to improve the city he controlled. Crime, poverty, lack of education, and corruption all spiraled out of control under his tenure…and Democrats cheered.

As the city started hemorrhaging money, how did it react?  First, it increased local taxes up to the constitutional limit within the state of Michigan.   To this day, it has the highest tax rates in the state.  It increased union protections to the maximum; almost nothing can be done in the city without union oversight.  And it refuse to scale back city services, despite a bloated bureaucracy whose size could no longer match the small size of its populace.

There are numerous examples of this.  For example, it costs Detroit $62 in administrative costs for every paycheck if cuts. That’s 3.5x the average for municipal government, and 4x the average private employer. Why?  Because instead of privatizing the business (which many do), it takes four times as many employees to do the payroll in the city…because of union demands. Out of the 149 people working in the payroll department today, 51 are uniformed officers of the police department…for some unknown reason.

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Such excesses run rampant through the city services.  Another example is the demolition of abandoned properties in the city.  There are approximately 78,000 vacant structures in the City. Approximately 38,000 structures are considered dangerous.  Should be an easy job to move forward on, with the mixture of state and Federal money to clean up the city, no?  Of course not, not in Detroit. Because of barriers in the city administration, legal hurdles, etc., it costs $8,500 on average to demolish the average city home.  These homes, on average, only cost about $5,000 on the open market. If you tore down only the 38,000 structures in Detroit considered “dangerous,” it would cost about $350 million, mainly because of the bloated bureaucracy remaining in the dysfunctional city.

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Detroit is now a largely abandoned city.  The population is only 700,000, and will likely drop below that mark in the next census.  Far more people reside in the suburbs today than within the city itself.  Large swaths of the city are completely empty.  This has become so much of a problem, the city recently tried to relocate individuals in sparse areas in order to restructure city services in a way that made some fiscal sense.  Many of the residents refused to move, even when given new homes to move to.

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To be fair, it isn’t like there haven’t been rays of sunshine in the city.  Dennis Archer became mayor in the 90s, and led a resurgence, cleaning up corruption and trying to streamline the city.  But it became too much for him to fight the entrenched interests, and he left, leaving possibly the worst mayor in America, Kwame Kilpatrick (who is on probation after serving time in jail for corruption charges).  Mayor Dave Bing, a former basketball star, has numerous bright ideas, but has to fight the City Council for every inch.  No good man can fight the corrupt and the incompetent for very long without becoming burned out.

I am still an idealist though.  I believe that Detroit can survive and even flourish, given the right leadership and focus.  The auto companies are doing relatively well.  Other companies are trying to move to the city to diversify its businesses, led by Dan Gilbert (owner of Quicken Loans, and the Cleveland Cavaliers).  Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and the Henry Ford Hospital system, among others, employ tens of thousands of dollars and bring billions in research dollars into the city. If planned correctly, the Detroit/Suburb/Ann Arbor corridor could become a center of medical and scientific research…only lack of imagination and will prevents it from becoming so.

But the entrenched progressive interests that have dominated Detroit for the past 70 years are a powerful force, that fight tooth and nail any reform that would make serious progress in the city.  City employees must be drastically reduced, and city services diminished to fit a city of 600k people, instead of one of 2 million residents.  Portions of the city need to be bulldozed, possibly created into potential green space or farming uses. Pension reform is a must, because the city cannot afford the bloated pension system it currently uses.  And a tax system that promotes business and innovation is a must.

Bankruptcy, as painful and embarrassing as it is, could help bring about those reforms. But every one of these reforms are fought by the old time progressives, who still envision the city of the 1950s instead of the reality of the 21st century.

So despite all the hopes and dreams of a formerly great city, progressive lead the city forward into the future; as my former teacher once said, the city still appears to be circling the drain.

 

Please note:  an edited version of this piece appeared in the Editorial page of Toronto’s National Post on July, 20, 2013. 

 

 

0

Trayvon, Zimmerman, and the Man in the Mirror


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First, let me start by saying I didn’t pay that much close attention to the George Zimmerman murder trial.  To me, it didn’t much matter, because as we now see, it solved nothing.  Half the country still thinks Zimmerman is a murder, while the other half believe justice was done.  Zimmerman was found not guilty, but is considered a murderer by half the country…so what did the trial ultimately achieve?  Who knows.

From the beginning of this case, I knew this is where we would end up.  There was no satisfactory ending here.  If Zimmerman had been found guilty, I am sure there would be a large segment of the population decrying the end of the right to self defense in this country.

The legal aspects of the case are of little consequence to me at this point.  I think the jury did what it had to do, and there was little prosecutors could do otherwise.  I don’t believe Zimmerman is innocent though…he is not guilty under the view of the law.  But common sense, in hindsight, would say that Zimmerman should never have left his car that night.  I wonder, in his most honest moments, if he wouldn’t admit that himself.

But moving past the legal arguments, what is of more consequence is how this reflects on us as a nation.

After the election of Barack Obama, many people believed we had reached a ‘turning point’ on race relations.  Of course, we now see that maybe no such thing exists.  We once again are faced with a highly charged teachable moment, showing us that under the calm demeanor of the public, the angst of the African American community is unchanging.

In many respects, this is the mirror image of the O.J. Simpson trial.  After O.J.’s acquittal, Black communities cheered, regardless of the fact that few believed that O.J. was really innocent.  It did not matter; it was a victory from the legal system that minorities so distrusted, and that was preeminent.  They won; the facts were irrelevant.

Today, those same communities feel betrayed.  They feel Trayvon was murdered, for no cause, and justice was not done.  We complete the circle, and appear to not advanced one inch.

I wish there was some possibility of closure, some moment of clarity, a beam of sunlight that would make this better.  There isn’t.  We currently have leaders unable to bring any divergent groups together.  We as a nation are as divided as we have been at any time in my lifetime. There is no grand conciliator waiting in the wings, to bring Americans of all stripes and colors together, to morn for a young man’s death, while accepting the ruling of the Justice system.

What is even more frightening is that Zimmerman is not really even a great example of the oppressive white majority that the media would like to make him out to be. Zimmerman’s father is white, a US Army veteran who became a magistrate in Fairfax County, Virginia.  Zimmerman’s mother is Peruvian, and her own grandparents were…of African descent.

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Zimmerman’s maternal grandmother, Cristina, who had lived with the Zimmermans since 1978, worked as a babysitter for years during Zimmerman’s childhood. For several years she cared for two African-American girls who ate their meals at the Zimmerman house and went back and forth to school each day with the Zimmerman children.  Zimmerman dated African Americans in high school, started his first business with an African American friend…this was no skin head bigot we are talking about here.

George Zimmerman is a member of a minority, a liberal Democrat.  Zimmerman is about as a mixed ethnic child of America as you can provide…and now, he is the definition of the racism in America.

Does it matter?  Does it matter that Zimmerman, a white/hispanic/and even partially African child of America is supposed to be a white oppressor of African Americans?  I have no answers.  I simply don’t know.  I do know it makes me immensely sad. I have tears in my eyes when I see Trayvon’s parents, who I am sure are unable to bring any closure to this tragedy.  And yet, I am not sure the justice system did anything wrong, in which case…what the hell are we supposed to think?

I do know this:  for all the supposed honest talk about race we are supposed to be having, there is a lot of dishonesty going around.

At the end of the day, a young African American teenager is dead, for no good reason, with his family’s life torn apart; Zimmerman is technically free, but his life will forever be defined by those four minutes in a dark sidewalk in his neighborhood, so in many respects he will never be free.  And moreover, the country once again regresses, as the race baiters and race dividers in our country once again score a victory.  And we as a nation learn nothing.

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