Woo me, damnit!

It is officially the Halloween season. Why you ask? Well, all my son talks about is his costume, pumpkins, and candy. Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, the grocery stores  have moved all the healthy food into the store rooms in back to make floor space for the M & M’s displays. Halloween is a unique time of the year. Any other evening, most Americans will pretend that they are not home when the doorbell rings. TV volume gets turned real low. Blinds are quickly shut. The entire family huddles on the floor as though the Terminator stands on their porch scanning the interior of the house with infrared vision. We teach our children street safety: 1. Never talk to strangers, 2. Never open the door for a stranger, 3. Never go to a stranger’s house. Yet, on one night a year, all that get’s thrown out the door. It is the one night a year otherwise sensible adults dress up like fools. The one night when it is okay to peer into the homes of complete strangers. To march our children up to dark doors in order to grovel for candy.

In an election year, it means something else entirely.

The scary specters at our door wear the most frightening things of all: No masks to hide their pleading faces; their costumes come in various colors and slogans. “Trick or treat” is not in their vocabulary. Their goody bag is for you! They are young–they are full of optimism. They are old–they are jaded. They are political canvassers.

Swinger

Swing State

As Halloween approaches, I wonder why I have not been besieged by these marauding solicitors, these pesky political canvassers that frighten us so. As a registered Independent, I wonder where my name has ended up? Especially here in Colorado. I naturally assumed that I would be fending them off with a sharp, hot poker. Instead, we’ve had visitors at the door for my wife, all belonging to her party, reminding her to vote.

Much has been made of the “independent voter” in this election year. A 2011 USA Today article highlighted the dwindling party affiliations, and commented that the politician who wins office this November will be the one who “is attractive to unaffiliated voters.”

But are we, the independent, the unaffiliated, truly independent? I’d like to think that I am. Having grown up in a home where American politics was rarely discussed–my parents are Dutch immigrants–I grew up apolitical. As a historian, and teacher of history, I try to stay neutral, to praise and belittle wherever praise and belittling is necessary.

In 1918, Charles F. Dole published The New American Citizen: The Essentials of Civics and Economics. In his study of politics in America, Dole said,

Among men, as in the schoolroom, there are some who always ask questions and want to know the reason of things…. Such as these, who think for themselves, and dare to stand alone, make independents in politics. Sometimes they are wrongheaded, or unsympathetic, or unsocial…. But it is important to have independent men in every community.

They are likely to prefer the good of the country to the success of their party. They will not act with their party, or will leave it, if it is wrong. If the other party changes, as parties sometimes change, and advocates measures that they believe in; if they change their own minds, as sensible men sometimes must; if the other party puts forward better candidates; or if a new party arises, the independent voters are willing to act wherever they believe that they can best secure the public welfare. They therefore help to keep the great parties right.

Does Charles Dole describe today’s independent?

Probably not.

If you ask most “independents” where they stand on various issues, you would probably find that today’s independent is more closely associated with one of the two major parties than they’d like to believe themselves. They hide their partisanship like child secrets the best candy from their Halloween stash from siblings… or parents. Others claim unaffiliated just because they don’t want to be drawn into a conversation around one of the three social faux pas at a dinner party: Politics, Religion, and Sex. With how vehemently people hold their politics, it is a safe route. (NPR, The American Prospect)

Are the divisive natures of the main parties alienating the moderate bloc?

Could these be our “independents”?

Are the parties changing, as Dole says they are wont to do, and are their constituents growing weary of the extremism coming from the two dominant parties? If they are changing, then are the voters thinking and looking not what is best for the party, but what is best for the country?

Unfortunately, listening to my peer circle, I would have to say no. Sectarianism still rules.

That doesn’t mean that people like me, the true independent, a person who seeks what is best for society like I look for what is best in my classroom still exists. We are out there. We are not less engaged. We are politically active and want to be convinced that a candidate is truly, overall, best for the country. Does that mean that I cannot accept a candidate who might be wrongheaded on issues? No. Does that mean I should dismiss a candidate who is unsympathetic? No. With as many “politically correct” issues, lobbyists in Washington, and demands placed on our civic leadership, they are bound to come off as wrongheaded on an issue or unsympathetic to a specific group. This does not mean that they are bad for all? No.

So, I will wait. I will pick at the Halloween candy sitting in a bowl by the door waiting the for the kids dressed in the latest superhero fad, princesses, or cartoon characters. I will keep my eye out for the Obama or Romney costume, hoping, in vain, that I will be visited like Scrooge by the ghosts of politics present. I will open my door to strangers, and I will keep my light on just in case a canvasser swings by and tries to woo me. Just don’t come by my house thinking the good candy is still in the bowl.

CIA and FBI Find Men Responsible For Benghazi Attack

Tripoli–Two days after President Obama oversaw the return of three Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, killed in the Consul attack in Benghazi, members of the U.S. State Department, along with agents of the CIA and FBI, met with Libyan leaders in Tripoli. The objective of the meeting was to find the man or men responsible for the attacks.

Obama had said, via his weekly radio address, “I have made it clear that the United States has a profound respect for people of all faiths,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “Yet there is never any justification for violence …. There is no excuse for attacks on our embassies and consulates.”

In response to repeated accusations from the Republican Party, including Presidential candidate Mitt Romney,

I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

Obama has ordered a full-scale investigation. “I will not be soft on terrorism,” Obama said during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “I will not allow Benghazi to become another Beirut.” This is an obvious reference to the 1983 Beirut Marine Barracks bombing; an event that would bring all the jihadist splinter groups together under one banner–Hezbollah.

The sudden about face from the Obama Administration is leaving Republicans confused. “Obama’s Cold War references harken to a day when Truman ran the Presidency and the buck stopped there,” said a senior Romney advisor. “We’ll have to see if Obama is trying to shape himself in these last few days before the election as another Truman, or if he will continue with Clinton’s foreign policy of lobbing a few missiles into sovereign nations and calling it foreign policy.”

“Obama is pulling out a card from the Republicans,” an Obama aid said. “People want quick justice, just like Reagan after the discotheque bombing in 1986. Obama is willing to get his hands dirty.”

Knowing the likelihood of singling out the attackers on the Consulate building attack as a sketch to the bad side of worse to none, Obama himself came up with the plan now being implemented in Tripoli.

Along side Libyan leaders, Senior State Department officials toured Abu Salem prison. Several men facing the death penalty under the newly installed Sharia law were interviewed by intelligence officers from the three agencies. The number one question was whether or not the men would be willing to stand trial for the attack, be found guilty, and executed. The rationale by a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity was “they are already going to be put to death, we might as well give them the opportunity to save face before their nation.” The interviews lasted about three hours.

Three men facing the death penalty for the rape of a young girl have agreed to the tribunal which will be held next week in Tripoli. In accordance with Sharia law, the United States will pay diyya to the families of the three men in exchange for their cooperation.

“This should appease the stupid, war-hawk, Neo-Cons,” an Obama spokesperson said in Tripoli.

Today’s Arabic Cold War (Part II)

the conclusion to “Today’s Arabic Cold War”.  Read part one here

Let’s look specifically at each of the players and their public and perceived agendas in Syria:

SAUDI ARABIA AND QATAR

Gulf Cooperation Council

With the fall of Egypt during the Arab Spring and Iraq after the U.S. invasion, the two superpowers of the Middle East receded into memory leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by Riyadh and Doha. These shifts in regional power have had a tremendous impact on places like Yemen and Bahrain. Sunni forces backed by Riyadh and Doha suppressed the majority Shiite population’s demand for greater rights under Bahrain’s Sunni leadership.

Now, the same forces are at play in Syria where Sunni forces are being amassed to overthrow Assad’s regime. Turkey, Iraq, and the Riyadh/Doha coalition are lending aid, weapons, and soldiers for one singular purpose: Establish yet another Sunni regime.

IRAN

Iranian support for the Assad regime has tarnished what little positive reputation Tehran has had in the world. Should Syria fall, Iran would lose its foothold in the Middle East, and its vital staging area for insurgent attacks on Israel. Tehran withdrew support for Hamas after Hamas Prime Minister Ismial Haniya said, “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.” Iran was one of Hamas’ largest sources of money and weapons, but clearly, Hamas is pulling for a Sunni-Arab victory in Syria. This leaves Iran with only Hezbollah as an ally in the region, and that relationship is only serving to sour the Arab people against Iran. Should the Sunni’s score yet another victory in Syria, Tehran would need to step up support for Lebanon, Hezbollah’s base of operations against Israel and other Arab states.

Tehran has sent arms, cash, and recently, soldiers to assist Assad. There can only be one reason for this: Iran seeks to maintain some semblance of authority in the Middle East.

Iran is quickly finding itself being backed into a corner in the Middle East. Nothing good comes from backing an angry beast into a no win situation. With pressure from the United States against Iranian nuclear programs, Sunni power growth post the Arab Spring, the rise of Riyadh and Doha as power brokers in the region,and a dwindling base of operations in the Mediterranean, Iran can only come out swinging. It will not be long before the angry hornet’s nest wakes up.

RUSSIA

Russia’s relationship with Islam and the Islamic states makes recent behavior by the United States look sainthood worthy.

One just need look at the Russian-Chechen relationship. Over a century of conquest, subjugation, and extermination have brought Muslims, mainly radical Sunni’s, seeking jihad into the region. Russia faces a ruthless Islamic jihadist movement that culminates in airport attacks and other forms of domestic terrorism. Granted, they brought this onto themselves, none the less, as Russia looks at the conflict in Syria, they only see one thing: The possible birth of yet another Riyadh backed Sunni regime.

The United States government either doesn’t understand, or, worse, care, about the impact of our involvement in Iraq and Libya and how these events upset the tenuous balance in the Middle East. For Russia, it is quite clear what happened.

The United States has left Iraq and Afghanistan a mess. Iraq has seen a Shi’ite government establish itself and link itself with Iran, but it faces staunch opposition from Sunni’s and Kurds. The Iraqi government is also spurned by Gulf Arab states, backed by Riyadh and Doha. A Sunni revolt in Iraq is inevitable, but not before more unrest, violence, and support from Saudi Arabia. For Russia, this mean yet another Sunni incursion.

Assad represents a secular leader standing firm against Islamic barbarians raiding the gates of his empire. Russians must ask themselves, if Syria collapses who or what is there to stop the barbarians from moving north toward the gates of Mother Russia? They’d seen Germanic marches into their nation, and now, the few remain buffer states on their southern border are collapsing, exposing a dangerous flank through which Islamic jihad can exact a terrible revenge on the people of Moscow.

The last thing Russia wants is the United States to support the revolt in Syria and then leave it a mess like it has done with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and leaving Saudi Arabia in control. Though relations between Moscow and Riyadh cooled in 2003, with Putin’s return to leadership and Moscow’s uncertainty as to Riyadh’s complete agenda in the Middle East, Russia can ill-afford to allow Assad’s regime to collapse.

ISRAEL

Tel Aviv has been rather quiet on Syria.

Israel has watched from the sidelines as the Arab Spring brought infighting among its neighbors, especially in Egypt. This infighting has strengthened Tel Aviv’s position in the region. Even is a staunchly anti-Israel government is established in Cairo, its ability to inflict damage on Israel has been severely diminished. For Israel, a prolonged conflict in Syria only serves to hinder its enemies and strengthen Israel’s position in the Middle East.

More than that, should Syria collapse into a democratic revolution, Sunni retribution would swiftly cascade upon Hezbollah which has used Damascus as its base of operations. Tel Aviv would rejoice at the ending of the Damascus-Tehran axis of evil.

The real benefit to Assad’s downfall for Israel would be the isolation of Iran in the region. An Arab Cold War would increase Israel’s position in the region as an ideological war festers between Riyadh/Doha and any groups in the newly liberated states that align themselves with Iran.

UNITED STATES

Whether we like it or not, the U.S. has had a “promote democracy” issue since the late 1800s. President Woodrow Wilson created so much chaos in Mexico promoting democracy that he instigated Pancho Villa’s raids into the Southwest.

More recently, the United States has attempted to spread democracy in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. What these three nations should teach us is that after the U.S. comes in to “spread democracy” we leave just as quickly leaving the nation to sort it out for itself.

In April 2011, the New York Times uncovered the truth behind the “spontaneous” and “indigenous” uprisings that occurred during the Arab Spring: The United States had inspired them.

“A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/world/15aid.html?pagewanted=all)

As with all meddling by U.S. foreign policy, our role in the Arab Spring has set into motion something that Washington wasn’t expecting nor can restrain. While the idea of establishing democracies around the world may be noble, what is created may not resemble the democracy we would enjoy working with. Take Egypt for example, where the Muslim Brotherhood is taking control of the government. How does this play into a Pan-Arabian world where Riyadh is the power broker?

Our current administration has not had the best relationship with Russia, and now, we stand at a crossroads between Putin and Obama over Syria. The Russian’s mistrust American goals, and, more, distrust America’s handling of revolution in the Middle East.

The United States has taken a passive, Hamiltonian stance on foreign policy. However, a sit around and wait for things to shake out and react to it will not work. Several nations are taking active roles in the crisis in Syria, and it may be time for the United States to do the same.

Today’s Arabic Cold War (Part I)

English: Map of Arabic-speaking countries.

English: Map of Arabic-speaking countries. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The current crisis in Syria poses a complex global issue. It is one the U.S. is opting to stand by and watch unfold; it is choosing to rely on international organizations to protect our own internal interests.

While this Hamiltonian view of foreign policy may have served George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton well, and “well” may be open for debate, now is not the time for the United States to sit on the sidelines hoping for someone else to step up as either the peace broker or warmonger. It will be interesting to see if the issue of Syria comes up in the Presidential debates, and I will be listening to both candidate’s response.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria goes beyond that of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. The players involved in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt were, for the most part, Tunisians, Libyans and Egyptians attempting to establish democratic changes over authoritarian regimes. Responding to the surprise overthrow of President Zine El-‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali in Tunisia, then Russian President Medvedev said, “I think that what happened in Tunisia was a big lesson for governments all around the world. Governments should not sit on their laurels and settle back in comfy chairs, but need to grow and develop together with society, regardless of where they are: in Europe, Africa, or Latin America” (http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/1684).

Syria presents a completely new wrinkle in what has been dubbed the Arab Cold War.

The initial Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 60s was one primarily of ideology in the midst of two superpowers fighting for supremacy. An ideological fight simmered between “conservative” monarchies like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and the more “radical” socialist regimes of Egypt and Syria. At debate was whether “Arab” constituted a common language, culture, history, and identity. This nationalism, it was believed by the radicals, should therefore be the basis of a Pan-Arabian identity that superseded the artificial boundaries that the West had imposed on the Middle East. It was important for the leaders of Arab nations to attempt to monopolize the power and interests of all Arabs; these leaders would take to the airwaves and either promote Pan-Arabian interest, as in the case of Egypt’s Gamel Abdel Nassar, or attempt to subdue the rise of radicals within their borders as in the case of Saudi Arabia.

According to Curtis Ryan in “The New Arab Cold War and the Struggle for Syria” the Arab Cold War of the 50s

Many of the same elements — power struggles, ideological and identity conflicts, and proxy wars — are present today. The main difference is that the 2012 version of the Arab cold war does not array revolutionary republics on one side. Over time, the radical republics of the 1950s and 1960s became deep-seated authoritarian states, neither revolutionary nor particularly republican…. On the other hand, the greatest similarity to the earlier cold war is the mobilization of conservative monarchies attempting to block another wave of change across the Arab regional system.

The ideological and identity conflicts rising in the Middle East, and Syria specifically, are the rekindling of tensions between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. In Syria, the rebels are backed by Riyadh and the new Pan-Arabian power of Doha. Recently, forty-eight Iranians were captured in Damascus. Their presence, Tehran confirmed, was for military support. According to Iran, “What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue but a conflict between the axis of resistance on one hand and regional and global enemies of this axis on the other.”

The better part of the analysis on Syria’s conflict has focused on the conflict be a sectarian Pan-Arabian issue, and this is one possible reason that the Obama administration has remained an outside observer; passively allowing international organizations to attempt peace. However, the crisis in Syria poses an even great threat to international affair, and the players involved could push the crisis into a whole new Cold War.

Tomorrow, I will conclude by looking at the specific players in the new Arabic Cold War.

We Are The 1%

What is So Wrong about being 1%?

In 1989, I was introduced to one of two teachers that I still look back to as a person who influenced my life. For what it matters, I can’t even begin to name all the teachers that I had, but Mr. Claude Bibeau still echoes in my memory. Why? Because he was my 1%.

What set him apart? What made Mr. Bibeau a man who I will forever remember?

He worked hard. He connected with his students. He expected the best from each one of us, and then pushed us to do better than that. He didn’t take no for an answer, neither from his students or from himself.

Did he make over a million dollars a year? Not even close. Did he have an investment portfolio? If he did, it was meager. Did he own multiple properties? Only if you consider the classroom that he got to early in the day and stayed late at night in, then yeah.

So, by the economic view, Mr. Bibeau is in no way a 1%.

In my world. He is in the 1/10 of the 1%.

Who are the “Other” 1%

Looking at the chart provided by The Economist, roughly thirty percent of the 1% are composed of “executive/managers”. In other words, members of the Wall Street crew. But, look at the bottom and you’ll find “other.” Who are the others and why aren’t we as frustrated with them as we are the Wall Street crew? According to The Economist article, “admission to the 1% began at $380,000 in 2008.” Let’s assume that is a fair benchmark. That would mean that under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB players and owners, every player is in the 1% since the new base salary for a major league player was set at $480,000 in 2012. Players like Albert Pujols and A-Rod obviously set the bar high for admission into the upper echelon of the 1% in baseball. The minimums in the NFL and NBA are $390,000 (just squeak into the 1%) and $473,604 respectively. Mind you, this is for a first year player.

It is not just athletes who comprise this despised group, but authors and actors as well.

Rick Riordan, author of the “Percy Jackson” series brought in $13 million in 2012 according to Forbes magazine. This put him at number fifteen of the top paid authors. Number one? Not J.K. Rawling. She checked in at number eleven. Pulling in an estimated staggering $94 million was James Patterson.

According to Forbes, Hollywood’s wage-earning royalty numbers 1 – 5 are Tom Cruise (5/11-5/12 est. $75 million), Leonardo DiCaprio ($37 million), Adam Sandler ($37 million), Dwayne Johnson ($36 million), and Ben Stiller ($33 million).

Add to that all the agents that represent these actors and authors who collected ten to fifteen percent. Also, the directors and producers of the films the A-List actors performed in. If you thought hard enough about it, you could probably name someone within six degrees of separation from you that resides at the low end of the 1%.

Why do they earn our wrath?

There was a time when American’s fostered a devotion to the Rugged Individual–risk takers, pioneers settling both the landscape of America and its business world, entrepreneurs, and common immigrants challenging themselves to create a better life for them and their children. Over time, this ideal has faded from the general consciousness. More and more, people are setting in the shade of the tree of life, content to wait for opportunity to come raining upon them like Newton’s apple.

Source: Bill Waterson, These Days Are Just Packed, 1993

As an aspiring author, I begrudge Rawling, Patterson or Riordan nothing. They worked hard. Wrote vast amounts of words that ended up in the waste basket. Refined their craft. There are scraps of paper with ideas and characters that the reader will never see. Stephen King recalls living in a small trailer in Maine while he wrote his novels; he never gave up though. And eventually they earned an address on the golden street in the 1% of authors neighborhood.

Young athletes run in stifling heat, throw thousands of passes through tires hanging from trees in gales, kick balls in drifts of snow, all to be the next Usain Bolt, or Payton Manning, or Alex Morgan. None of them chastise their idols for their wealth. These young athletes train to be the 1%.

Yet, the CEO, COO, CIO, CFO of any given Fortune 500 company is vilified. Their names etched in the tablets of humanity beside Lucifer and Hitler.

The CEO, athlete, actor, and author all share one thing in common: Hard work. Whereas the athlete spent hundreds of hours in the gym, the business leader spent hours in school. They participated in clubs like DECA. Spent at least eight years in college. Worked their way through the rank and file until they earned their spot at the top of the pyramid.

So, why the wrath?

Too Much Money

The average salary of a for a Fortune 500 CEO is $12.94 million dollars. This does not include stock option, free use of the corporate jet, and bonus pay. This amount is, indeed excessive, especially from the standpoint of the people who took the risk in buying the stock in the company. As a shareholder, I’d be in the Board office demanding a higher dividend at the expense of the bloated CEO salary. However, what these men and women do, the decisions they make, can alter the lives of hundreds if not thousands. Athletes? Actors? Authors? Not nearly as important in the grand scheme of things as the CEO.

The anti-1%ers despise the power and corruptness of the Wall Street crowd. They see their collective wealth as being able to buy into Washington. While this is true, it has to be said that it is true on both sides of the aisle. A 2010 report by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty found that real income growth of the top 1% garnered 45 percent of the Clinton-era income growth, 63 percent of the Bush-era growth and 93 percent of the Obama-era growth through 2010.

Despite their substantive growth in personal income, the business world 1%ers aren’t the only ones with stakes in the political arena. Hollywood and politics go together like Sonny and Cher; often a love/hate relationship, but no President has been able to go after the White House without backing from Hollywood and its ability to sway fans of their actors to specific political agendas.

For me, the “too much money” argument rings hollow. Most Americans would love to have a taste of that. Doubt me? Watch the sales of lottery tickets as the jackpots climb. Ultimately, these protests are more of a “I don’t have it, nor should you” chant. I just wish the protesters would be honest about it. Think about how much they could do, things they could learn, by working hard rather than sleeping in tents.

We Should All Aspire to be 1%

Whether they are athletes, authors, or CEO, hard work earned them what they have. Mr. Bibeau shared that ethic. He worked hard at what he did and became a 1% teacher. Knowing Mr. Bibeau, sports or the business world would never have fit him. For him, his natural gift was teaching. It was his calling, and his passion showed in his commitment to his students and their lives. Will he ever earn the same as A-Rod or James Patterson? Not until America realizes that education is as important as a baseball game or a novel. I write every day. I struggle with my craft, work to perfect my style, my characters, and my thoughts. This is not unlike the little girls who just watched McKayla Maroney, Missy Franklin, or Alex Morgan and are now begging their parents to enroll them in gymnastics, swimming or soccer, and will work hard to be future Olympians. We need to return to the idea of rewarding risk. Instead of pinning all hopes on cashing in on six lucky numbers, the rugged individual needs to step up, become innovators, creators, and push the boundaries of the human body and mind.

We may never have our own address on Golden Street, but we each have what we need. Happiness is in our homes, with our families, and vast amounts of money wouldn’t improve that. I’m a teacher, an aspiring writer. I live in a modest home, within my means, with great neighbors to share a beer. Yet, everyday, I strive to be a 1%. I strive to be the top of my field. I yearn to be Mr. Bibeau.

Sources:

http://www.economist.com/node/21543178

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/who-are-the-1-percenters/2011/10/06/gIQAn4JDQL_blog.html

http://blogs.barrons.com/penta/2012/05/07/who-are-the-one-percent/

http://www.therichest.org/sports/forbes-highest-paid-athletes/

http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/CEO-Pay-and-the-99/

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/opinion/the-rich-get-even-richer.html