SYRIA – GO OR NO GO

The latest crisis of the moment in the Middle East is in Syria. The Syrian government has reportedly used chemical weapons against its own citizens, killing about 1,400, including hundreds of children. Supposedly, the US government has proof of this. What does the US do about this mess? No one wants to see innocent, defenseless women and children slaughtered. Do we intervene in some manner, and indirectly aid militant rebels that are backed by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Gods knows who else or do we do nothing and let them all kill each other. We would like to see Assad deposed, but would he be replaced by someone worse, or would a protracted civil war result? No one knows.

Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. President Obama, in his infinite non-wisdom and consistent with his historically inept foreign policy decisions over the last five years, has done neither. Instead he has remained on the sidelines blustering, like some 16 year schoolyard tough guy, about Assad needing to be punished for having crossed a “red line.” He has threatened some retaliation at some point either with a coalition of the willing or alone. I’m sure Assad, who has the backing of both Russia and Iran, is quaking in his boots.

Mr. Obama’s foreign policy track record is abysmal. Some of the lowlights: (1) He has been bullied by Vladimir Putin continually, the latest being Russia’s sheltering of Eric Snowden. (2) We intervened in Libya. How did that work out? Hint, see Benghazi. (3) We intervened in Egypt. How did that work out? We ended up with the Muslim Brotherhood. (4) We continue to dither about Iran and its nuclear capabilities. (5) We ignore North Korea, which openly thumbs its nose at us. (6) We have treated Israel, our only true friend and ally in the region, in such a cavalier manner that it has become wary and suspicious of our motives and strength of commitment to it. Mr. Obama has already demonstrated that he did not study history and economics at Harvard. Now, it appears that he did not study geopolitics either.

Mr. Obama’s style has been to lead from behind. Leak what you are planning to the press. Appear on a talk show with a sympathetic interviewer. Gauge the reaction. Prepare the public (and our enemies). Develop a coalition of the willing. Then and only then, act. This approach has backfired this time. Mr. Obama has appeared indecisive and weak. Furthermore, the British Parliament has refused to support intervention. Congress is not in session, and support from that body is in doubt anyway. Today, the New York Times reported that Mr. Obama is hoping that an unspecified Arab country will publicly join us in a military response. Good luck with that. Does any rational person think that an Arab country will make such a public commitment? (Joe Biden doesn’t count; I said “rational.”)

PREDICTION AND CONCLUSION

The Syria situation is partly the result of 5 years of ineptitude by Mr. Obama. In trying to become everyone’s friend, he has become no one’s friend and has no one’s respect. Countries no longer feel they have to be concerned about an American response to their actions. Mr. Obama does not realize that certain countries and people will hate us no matter what we do, so stop worrying about it, and do what is in America’s best interests.

In this particular situation, we are faced with a Hobson’s choice. My inclination would be not to intervene. We cannot be the world’s policeman any longer. America does not have the resources, and Americans do not have the will. We have to pick and choose when and where to commit American money, materiel and lives. Our recent interventions have met with mixed results if not abject failure. Often, they result in our involvement in prolonged land wars in which thousands of American lives are lost for dubious benefit, e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan. We risk a similar fate in Syria.

There is ample precedent. We did not intervene in Rwanda; we have stood by while Iran has developed nuclear weapons; and we have stood by while North Korea tests nuclear weapons and has repeatedly committed atrocities against its own citizens. Arguably, those situation were and are worse.

Unfortunately, my prediction is that Mr. Obama will intervene in some way, primarily to save face after his ill advised “red line” comment. Hopefully, he will limit his response to missile strikes and not commit troops. This will likely have a dubious benefit, but it will enable Mr. Obama to spin the situation by saying he took some action. After all, 2014 is an election year.

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FROM MARTIN LUTHER KING TO…… AL SHARPTON?

This week we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King delivered the speech during the “March for Jobs and Freedom” on August 28, 1963 in Washington D. C. in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It was one of several speeches, but it is the one we all remember. There were upwards of 250,000 persons in attendance that day. The rally was a great success in that it brought attention to the plight of African Americans, and helped influence the Federal government to pass the Voting Rights Act and other laws designed to foster racial equality. MLK was unquestionably one of the most outstanding leaders of the 20th Century. It is a shame that his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.

The 50th anniversary celebration gave us all an opportunity to reflect on the progress made since 1963. Incidentally, it would have been more appropriate for the sponsors to include conservative black leaders, such as Ben Carson, Allan Webb and/or Herman Cain as speakers. That would have made the event fair and balanced, as it should have been.

So, are African Americans better off today than they were 50 years ago? The African American unemployment rate is roughly double that of whites; the high school and college graduation rates are lower; they are much more likely to be the victim of a crime; and, most significantly, 72% of African American babies are born out of wedlock. With respect to leadership, African Americans have many leaders, but, unfortunately, none of them can hold a candle to Dr. King. An objective observer, however, would have to admit that African Americans have come a long way since 1963. Although much more needs to be done, by many measurements they are considerably better off than they were 50 years ago. For example:

1. We all acknowledge the importance of education to success in America. Their high school graduation rate, though less than for Whites, is 85% compared to 26% in 1963. The college graduation rate is 21% versus 4% in 1963.

2. We have comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, which are designed to prevent discrimination against many classes of individuals, including African Americans, in situations, such as jobs and education, among others. Although there are still some instances of overt discrimination, they are few and far between, and are usually redressed in the courts. In fact, the biggest controversy in this area is that in an age of political correctness, some people maintain that “reverse discrimination” exists in some cases.

3. The country has elected an African American President and a bevy of Congressmen, governors and mayors. This was inconceivable in 1963.

4. There are numerous examples of successful African Americans in business, entertainment and sports who, intentionally or not, act as role models.

PREDICTION AND CONCLUSION

Success in America requires hard work, self-reliance, accepting responsibility for your own actions and the will to overcome any and all obstacles in order to achieve. This formula holds true for both Whites and minorities. Yes, the path to success is easier if one is born into a family with caring, nurturing parents and wealth, but there have been countless cases of individuals who have overcome poverty and other obstacles to succeed. President Obama, himself, is a prime example.

In my opinion, many African American leaders and role models prefer to create controversy and “stir the pot” for their own reasons. In point of fact, sometimes they do more harm than good. Mr. Sharpton is guilty of that, but he is not the only one, just one of the most prominent. Influential African American entertainers, sports figures and politicians (we all know who they are) should be speaking out about the really important issues, such the out-of-wedlock birth rate, absentee fathers, poor parenting, gratuitous crime and violence and reliance on entitlements. The Bill Cosbys of the world are few and far between. The government cannot lift you up; you must do it yourself, and accept responsibility for your own actions or inactions.

President Obama is uniquely positioned to speak out – raised by a single parent, Harvard educated, President of the country. He is the role model of role models. He has tremendous influence and credibility, which he can use in a positive way, if only he would do so. Why hasn’t he? Your guess is as good as mine.

So, I challenge African American leaders and role models that if you REALLY want to help, speak up in a positive, constructive way, not in an inflammatory, divisive way. After all, to paraphrase what Congressman John Lewis said in his speech on Tuesday: “We are all in the same house, the same boat. We are living together in AMERICA’S house.”

HOPE AND CHANGE

Hope and change. Remember how we felt on Election Night in 2008. We were feeling so good about ourselves. We had just elected the first African American President of the United States. We had confirmed that old adage that anyone can succeed in America; under our way of life anything is possible. Mr. Obama was going to bring us all closer together: black and white, rich and poor, young and old. He was going to make America a better place, economically and socially. As a bright, young, vibrant African American with superb communicative skills he was uniquely positioned to do so. Sure, he had a liberal background as a community organizer and U. S. senator, but now he would be the president of ALL the people and broaden his perspective accordingly, much as many other presidents had before him. Or, so we thought.

Now it is 2013. Five years have passed, and none of that optimism has come to pass. If anything, we are worse off than before he took office. Consider the following negative affects of Obama-nomics:

1. Unemployment has remained stubbornly high. Overall unemployment is 7.4% versus 7.8% in January 2009 when Mr. Obama took office. Approximately 80% of jobs created have been part time as employers seek to minimize expenses for employee healthcare (more on this later). Furthermore, a disproportionate percentage of the jobs created have been at the low end of the wage scale. Many college graduates, unable to find jobs in the field for which they were educated, at great cost I might add, are waiting tables or working at low salaries, if they can find a job at all. Also, not included in the unemployment rate are the 8 million or so discouraged persons who have given up and stopped looking for work. Unemployment among blacks is 12.6%, about the same as in January 2009.

2. The average duration of a person receiving unemployment benefits has risen to 37 weeks compared to 20 in 2009. This is consistent with the fact that jobs are not as plentiful as the Administration would have you believe.

3. Despite Mr. Obama’s aggressive attempts to redistribute income and wealth, the poverty rate is 16%, which is higher than it was in 1965 when the “War on Poverty” began.

4. Over half of Americans earn less than $54,000 a year and the number of Americans on food stamps is increasing by 11,000 per day.

5. The average price of a gallon of gas at the pump is $3.53 compared to $1.85 in 2009.

6. Even Mr. Obama’s signature legislation, the (Un)Affordable Healthcare Act, has had negative unintended consequences. Healthcare costs are already rising as the insurance companies anticipate their increased costs when the law takes effect in 2014. Moreover, many employers have been reducing their employees’ hours below 30 per week. That way, they will be considered to be part time and ineligible for healthcare coverage under employer-sponsored plans.

7. Yes, the stock market is booming and corporate profits are up, which bodes well for the future. But, so far the primary beneficiaries of this have been the wealthy as they are the ones who own stocks. So, the supreme irony is that Mr. Obama’s policies have been hurting the very people that he wants to help and helping the very people he wants to hurt.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Mr. Obama, as the first black president, had a rare, if not unique, opportunity to bring us all closer together. However, instead of being the “Great Unifier,” he has been the “Great Divider.” His anti-capitalist, Robin Hood-esque economic policies have been an abject failure. His partisan politics have pitted rich against poor (tax increases and growth of entitlements), black against white (defending Trayvon Martin before the trial even began, while ignoring the slaying of an Australian citizen by three “bored” youths,” the school bus beat-down of a 14 year old by three black youths and the random slaying of an 88 year old war veteran), women against men (exaggerated “war on women” election issue), young against old and the haves against the have-nots.

Furthermore, he has failed to come clean on several scandals: Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS investigations and Eric Snowden’s disclosure of NSA activities, to name a few. Where is the leadership and accountability. Harry Truman must be turning over in his grave.

In my opinion, there is more social discord now than at any other time in the last 40 years (since the end of the Viet Nam War). I believe America is strong and resilient enough to survive the next three years, but it won’t be easy.

DETROIT – BANKRUPT AND DEVOID OF HOPE

According to the 1960 US census, Detroit was the richest city in the US on a per capita basis. In August it filed for bankruptcy. Detroit was not the first US city to file for bankruptcy, but it is by far the largest. For the record, others that share that dubious distinction include San Bernardino, CA, Stockton, CA and Central Falls, RI, among others.

What happened? How did Detroit get from point A to point B? Is its situation an isolated case or a portent? The answers are disturbing and do not bode well for the future.

Some of the factors over the last 50 years that have led to Detroit’s current situation are as follows. Note, many of these are interrelated.

1. The precipitous decline of the auto industry, which was Detroit’s bread and butter. There were many factors that contributed to this decline, but, simply put, the Big 3 could not compete with foreign manufacturers. Their operations were more inefficient and more costly, and their cars were qualitatively inferior. By 2009 the US auto industry was on the verge of extinction. The Federal bailouts in 2009 saved the Big 3, but not the city.

2. White, middle class flight to the suburbs. Detroit’s population has declined from 1.85 million in 1950 to approximately 700,000 in 2013. Many of those fleeing the city have simply abandoned their homes or businesses because they were severely underwater. This has eroded the tax base further.

3. Political corruption, which was exacerbated by the fact that the voters continually voted Democratic.

4. Exorbitant debt. This includes substantial underfunded pension and healthcare benefits for public employees. Even under the best case scenario these workers are likely to endure significant reductions in their retirement benefits. Furthermore, to add insult to injury Federal law dictates that bondholders’ claims would have priority over those of retired workers.

5. Crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise. The homicide rate is the highest its been since the 1970s. The police are stretched so thinly that it takes 58 minutes, on average, to respond to calls for help compared to the nationwide average of 11 minutes. Only 1/3 of the city’s ambulances are operative.

Under these circumstances, the chances of a reversal of fortune are slim and none.

I don’t mean to single out Detroit. Most US cities are heading toward the same fate. Detroit just got there first. There are common threads running through most of these cities. The following factors are present in varying degrees:

1. Substantial debt.
2. High taxes.
3. Declining population.
4. Generous entitlement programs.
5. Strong, often implacable, unions.
6. High compensation to public employees.
7. Substantial pension and healthcare commitments to retired public employees.
8. Non-right-to-work laws.
9. High crime rate

Want more bad news? When the stock market advances slow or reverse themselves, as they inevitably will, the debt and underfunding will increase accordingly. Additionally, the states in which these cities are located are not financially able to bail them out as they, themselves, are often in financial straits. California leads the pack, but New York, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania are right behind it. Moreover, if you’re think that the Feds will come to the rescue, forget it.

PREDICTION AND CONCLUSION

I don’t see any relief on the horizon. In my view, this is one mess that the Feds will not be able to spend us out of. There are simply too many municipalities that need assistance and not enough money. Bailouts would not be popular among the voters. Remember the unpopularity of a prospective bailout of New York City in the 1970s? Remember the famous newspaper headline – “(President) Ford to NYC: Drop Dead.” Besides, why reward bad behavior? I believe people should be responsible for the consequences of their actions.

Other municipalities should take heed and put their own house in order. They will need to change their modus operandi substantially – control expenses, reduce debt, incentivise businesses and middle class folks to stay, maintain a reasonable tax structure, reduce crime, etc. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be corrected overnight. It will require a significant shift in policies. But, it must be done or the consequences will be dire.