The fall of Ramadi, capital of Anbar, largest province in Iraq, after a rout of the Iraqi army by a few hundred ISIS fighters using bomb-laden trucks, represents a stunning setback for U.S. policy.
When President Obama declared that we shall "degrade and defeat" the Islamic State, he willed the ends, but not the means. The retreat from Ramadi makes clear that the Iraqi army, even backed by 3,000 U.S. troops, cannot drive ISIS out of Anbar and Mosul and back into Syria.
Baghdad cannot alone reunite Iraq.
Republicans are almost gleeful in charging that Obama's withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq created the vacuum the Islamic State has now filled.
Blaming Obama for ISIS in Iraq is shaping up to be the 2016 GOP attack line. But when it comes to the critical question — do Republicans favor reintroducing U.S. ground troops to retake Ramadi and Mosul and drive ISIS back into Syria? — no credible GOP presidential candidate is clamoring for a return to Mesopotamia. None of the mice wants to bell that particular cat.
Yet, absent American leadership and U.S. troops, who is going to expel the Islamic State? The only forces in Iraq able to attempt that are the Shiite militias whose sectarian barbarity is exceeded only by that of ISIS itself.
For the Sunnis of Anbar to be liberated by Shiite militias is like the Catholic Poles being liberated by the Red Army in 1945. Many Sunnis fear a rescue by Shiite militias more than they do the domination of the Islamic State.
America's choices in Iraq, none good, come down to these:
One: Reintroduce 10,000 ground troops and Marines to retake Ramadi and Anbar, and thousands more to retake Mosul and cleanse Iraq of ISIS. Another surge, like 2007. Yet that does not solve the problem of the Islamic State, which would retreat to Syria and wait for the Americans to leave Iraq again.
Two: Adopt a policy of degrade-and-contain by continuing air strikes on the Islamic State in Iraq, while training and backing the Iraqi army and Kurds in keeping ISIS out of Baghdad and Irbil.
Three: Accept the inevitable — that the Shiite-led Iraq we created by dethroning Saddam and smashing his Baathist state and army is going to be in the orbit of Iran. For we cannot now, without a major and indefinite reintroduction of U.S. forces, alter the existing balance of military and political power in Iraq.
Before the United States replicates the epochal blunder Bush II and the neocons committed, we should look hard at the realities of Iraq and the region, as we failed to do before we invaded.
The relevant realities are these.
First, the Iraqis are incapable of reuniting and pacifying their country themselves. To hold Iraq together and keep it out of Iran's sphere would require a large and indefinite presence of U.S. forces. How much more American blood and treasure is that worth?
Second, while the reintroduction of U.S. ground forces may be cheered by our Western allies, no NATO troops will be there beside us. As far as the West is concerned, Iraq is America's problem.
Nor will the Turks, Jordanians, Saudis or Gulf Arabs be sending troops to fight ISIS in Iraq or Syria. For them, the greater long-term dangers are: Iran, Hezbollah, Bashar Assad's Syria, Shiite Baghdad, and the Houthi rebels of Yemen, the so-called Shiite Crescent.
Another reality is that neither Syria, nor Iraq, nor Libya, nor Yemen is likely, soon, to be brought together as a unified nation-state under a government supported by a great majority of its people. Any regimes that rise in the capitals of these four nations seem certain to be seen by a significant slice of the population as illegitimate, and valid targets for revolutionary violence.
The Middle East is becoming a basket of failed states. And as we look around that region, every country is looking out for No. 1.
The Turks looked the other way as volunteers entered Syria to join ISIS. The Turks then let Kurds cross into Syria to keep ISIS out of Kobane. Now, according to Assad, the Turks are aiding al-Qaida (the Nusra Front) in establishing its own caliphate in Idlib. The Saudis and Gulf Arabs also, says Assad, aided the Nusra Front in taking Idlib.
And what of us?
Considering the millions of dead, wounded, uprooted, homeless, sick and suffering, American-born and native-born, have our wars and bombings in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen been, on balance, more a blessing than a curse to the people we went to help?
Before we plunge back into these Middle East wars from which, at long last, we have begun to extricate ourselves, we ought to recall the words of that anonymous U.S. officer in Vietnam: "We had to destroy the village — in order to save it."
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)
Last Updated on Friday, 22 May 2015 12:47
When the going got tough, Barack got in a huff, and then he got gruff.
President Obama has worked himself into such a tizzy over the TPP that he's lashing out at his progressive friends in Congress. He's mad because they refuse to be stereotypical lemmings, following him over this political cliff called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It masquerades as a "free trade agreement," but such savvy and feisty progressive senators as Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have ripped off the mask, revealing that TPP is not free, not about trade and not anything that the American people would ever agree to.
It is a stealth power grab, written in top-secret negotiations by and for multinational corporations from the U.S. and 11 other nations. This raw deal effectively empowers these profiteering corporate giants to overrule actions by the governments of any of these countries — including ours — that protect consumers, workers, the environment and other interests from corporate abuse.
This gift to the Trans-Pacific Titans is going to expand the rules of trade deals of the past such as NAFTA, WTO and Korea FTA. A few examples of what we have to look forward to with this turd of a deal the president is trying to polish and force onto the American people are: more off-shoring of American jobs, which in turn leads to greater income inequality; higher costs for lifesaving and sustaining medicines; our environmental protections will be under threat of corporate attack; food and product safety regulations will be undermined; net neutrality will once again be challenged; Wall Street reform will be nothing but a memory; and say so long to Buy American initiatives.
Why an American president — especially a Democrat — would embrace this private usurpation of our people's sovereignty is a mystery, but the great majority of congressional Democrats are not going along. So he's been publicly scolding them (as though they're disobedient children), huffily whining that they're playing politics, "whupping on me" and making up "stuff" about how this deal allows corporations to challenge and even change American laws.
Yet, rather than offer any evidence that they're making up stuff, Obama gruffly made up stuff about them. By opposing the TPP, he prevaricated in a recent speech, the Democrats are anti-trade and want to "pull up the drawbridge and build a moat around ourselves."
The president is on such thin ice with this ponderous giveaway to global corporate giants that his appeals for support have turned desperate, including this recent claim that TPP "is the most progressive trade deal in history."
Wow, that's a low bar! Does he mean more progressive than the thoroughly regressive NAFTA? Or maybe he's comparing TPP to King George III's East India Trading Company, which was such a bully that it sparked the American Revolution.
Indeed, Obama is doing some bullying of his own. He's pushing the lie that such Democrats as Warren are lying when they point out that TPP would let foreign corporations sue the USA in corporate-run international tribunals to force our officials to weaken or kill laws that might pinch a corporation's profits. "There is no chance, zero chance" of that happening, the president barked.
But, as he knows, it already has happened!
In April, under another trade agreement, his own administration was directed by a WTO tribunal to change — and essentially gut — a U.S. food-labeling law that dramatically reduced the killing of dolphins by commercial tuna-fishing fleets. Responding to public outrage over the mass slaughtering of the mammals, our Congress passed an effective dolphin-free law. But some tuna operations in Mexico complained that using dolphin-free nets hurt their profits, and the WTO ordered our sovereign nation to surrender our law to the dolphin-killing Mexican profiteers.
And just this past Monday, the WTO ordered the USofA to change its country-of-origin labeling laws, effectively saying our consumers do not have a right to know where the meat they eat is coming from.
By claiming that "no trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws," Obama is either lying, or he doesn't know what's in his own agreement.
What a pathetic show of presidential petulance! It's time for Obama to question himself — not his friends.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)
Last Updated on Friday, 22 May 2015 08:37
So, it's Memorial Day once again and this is where we kind of kick off the summer season. This holiday may involve having a barbeque out on the back deck with lots of friends and family. So, I thought I would do a public service announcement and tell you about the history of decks as well as some things to watch out for. And, did you know that the common household deck is one of most dangerous parts of the house? It should be used with extreme caution while partying.
First, the history of decks. Unfortunately, when I Googled "decks" there really wasn't any historical info that came up. All I found was the definition: "structure of planks or plates, approximately horizontal, extending across a ship or boat at any of various levels, especially one of those at the highest level and open to the weather." I also saw something about deck the hall, decks of cards, and what Mohammed Ali did to Sonny Liston. Apparently the term (deck) originated from the "Middle English dekke covering of a ship, from Middle Dutch *dec covering, probably from Middle Low German vordeck, from vordecken to cover, from vor- for- + decken to cover; akin to Old High German decchen to cover."
But, I happen to know that the common everyday house deck was invented by a redneck in Arkansas named Rooster Decker back in 1946. He had just returned home from World War II and wanted to have a party celebrating his return but his back yard was turned to mud by all his critters that were allowed to roam free while he was gone. Luckily, he had lots of pallets available and placed them on the ground in the back yard and voila, the deck was born. Of course, at parties in subsequent years he put plywood over the pallets because the first year both his cousin Zeke and his neighbor J.J. broke their ankles stepping in the slots in the pallets. Eventually, the name Decker became shortened to just "deck."
Improvements were made in decks over the years and they were eventually raised off the ground to prevent the critters from coming onto the deck and scurrying off with the unprotected barbecued goodies. But elevating the deck also led to some structural issues that need to be looked at particularly if you are buying a house with a deck and are going to have large groups of people partying, eating food, drinking, and generally hanging out on the deck. You better be sure the deck is constructed properly or the party could be ruined big time. That's where the home inspector comes in. These guys have partied on many a deck and are experts in finding problems.
While some rednecks might elevate a deck using 55 gallon drums or old wheels and tires, the correct method is to use pressure treated posts setting on concrete sona tubes (pilings) that are put into the ground going down below the frost level. That prevents the deck from heaving up and down with the frost. Of course Rooster didn't have a frost problem in Alabama, but we northern rednecks face more challenges.
Attaching an elevated deck to the house so that it doesn't fall off requires it to be lagged to the structure not just nailed. Nails will fail you when you get too many people on the deck dancing to Lynyrd Skynyrd and drinking margaritas. Many people have been seriously injured or killed rocking out to "Sweet Home Alabama" on improperly constructed decks. No kidding.
Another big problem occurs when a deck is not flashed correctly. Flashing is a metal strip that prevents water from seeping down between the deck and house. If flashing isn't done or done improperly water gets in there and causes the wood to rot. Lots of time we see decks built by do-it-yourself city folks that are done wrong. Rednecks always use flashing, or empty, flattened Mountain Dew cans... and sometimes they also streak, which is just a different kind of flashing.
The deck floor joists should be hung with metal hangers, not just nailed together Willie Nillie. And there are guidelines for correct spacing and spans for floor joists. Correctly constructed stairways and railings will prevent serious injury and falls. Things are risky enough out there on the deck without adding additional danger. We don't want little Timmie falling off the deck because the balusters were improperly spaced. Always use a good contractor to build your deck if you don't already have one and always get a home inspector when you buy a house because he will check it out thoroughly. This is the end of this week's public service announcement.
There were 63 residential homes sold in the twelve communities in the Lakes Region covered by the report. The average sales price came in at $341,682 and the median price point was $235,000. Forty four out of the sixty three buyers opted for homes with decks. It should be noted that not all of these buyers were rednecks.
Pease feel free to visitwww.lakesregionhome.comto learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data compiled using the NNEREN MLS system as of 5/20/15. Roy Sanborn is a sales associate at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-677-7012
Last Updated on Friday, 22 May 2015 07:41
The Senate Finance Committee has been hard at work for the last several weeks, working on the 2016-17 budget proposal that came over from the House and we are fast approaching our deadline to submit a final budget for consideration to the full Senate.
At this point, we've heard from all the departments and agencies and have a good sense of the problems and pitfalls in the budget the House of Representatives presented. A brief synopsis follows.
The House budget proposal appropriated $11.2 billion in total funds for the next biennium (as compared to the governor's budget of $11.5 billion.)
The House and governor budget proposals seem to be in agreement on approximately 35 departments — having little to no change. Some of those items include:
• Accepting the governor's proposal to cut funding for both bridge and road aid grants to municipalities in half.
• Fully funding the governor's recommendation for Office of Veterans Services and funding the new 25 bed unit at the N.H. Veterans Home.
• Accepting the governor's proposal to consolidate the Board of Nursing and the Real Estate Commission with the Joint Board.
• Accepting a variety of new and increased fees (e.g., vanity plate fee; Homeland Security Assessment; child support fee to name a few).
Some of the changes that the House did not agree with the governor on and made changes to include:
• Eliminating $93+ million in taxes and fees that the governor put into her budget;
• Allowing the sunset of The New Hampshire Health Protection Plan per current law.
• Eliminating the governor's proposal for a state Chief Operating Officer.
• Eliminating ServiceLink; significantly reducing Meals on Wheels and emergency shelter funding.
• Transferring $52.1 million from the Renewable Energy Fund to the general fund.
• Depleting the Rainy Day Fund ($9.3 million) for general fund spending.
• Greatly reducing funding for drug and alcohol prevention and treatment as well as tourism promotion.
Last week the Senate Finance Committee held the public hearing on the 2016/2017 budget in Concord and, as you might imagine, it was a packed house. An estimated 700+ New Hampshire citizens showed up to express their concerns about the budget proposed by the House. After nine hours of testimony, the public hearing ended at approximately 12:30 a.m.
Three-hundred seventy-four men, women, and youth signed in to speak. They included mothers and fathers, business people, advocacy groups, college students, and the developmentally disabled. Most of the testimony was in support of programs like Meals on Wheels, ServiceLink, developmental disabilities, mental health, substance abuse, and emergency shelters. Folks were frustrated, angry, and scared about the potential impacts from the House budget, but through all the testimony, comments were thoughtful and respectful.
With the public hearing behind us and having heard from the departments, we begin the process of putting the Senate's mark on the budget. As we have in the past, we will build a budget that is based on realistic revenues and lives within the state's means.
However, we do face challenges going into this budget that will force us to spend $123 million to $143 million more because of three issues (unexpected increase in spending due to the federal Affordable Care Act and the governor's settlement of the mental health and Medicaid Enhancement Tax lawsuits.)
We recognize that hard choices need to be made, and we will have much the same priorities as we had in our last budget. The Senate will craft a budget that works hard to protect the state's taxpayers and our most vulnerable citizens.
While we will continue to focus on those priorities, we will also work to re-establish the state's rainy day fund and reduce business taxes. We must create a better business climate for small and large business owners in the state.
I am confident that by working together, we will produce a responsible budget that lives within our means, with no new taxes and assures that our most vulnerable citizens and our taxpayers remain a top priority.
On a separate note, I'd like to share some good news with you — because of your calls, letters, and emails to the governor, funding has been restored to the nursing homes. When you doubt that your voice doesn't make a difference, here is a perfect example of where it has!
I am extremely pleased that the governor understood the importance of following the law and making nursing homes a priority. Unfortunately, she has not restored the $5.1 million to the home health agencies. I remain hopeful that she will do the right thing and restore the original funding to the home health care lines per the law.
(A Republican from Meredith, Jeanie Forrester represents District 2 in the N.H. Senate.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 May 2015 09:58
Why was 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sentenced to die in a state so generally opposed to capital punishment? A recent Boston Globe poll found that only 19 percent of Massachusetts residents wanted the Boston Marathon bomber put to death. The state hasn't seen an execution since 1947.
That sentence happened because national politics took the matter out of local hands. The federal government forced a death penalty trial. Only those open to a death sentence were allowed to serve on the jury. That made the jury members unrepresentative of the local population and the outcome preordained.
The sentence has eroded a sense of unity — the notion that a community can stand up to an awful crime without compromising its moral objection to capital punishment. And it goes against national trends.
Americans' support for the death penalty has sharply declined. Not long ago, about 80 percent of the American public favored it. A poll last year found 52 percent preferring life behind bars over execution.
Even some conservative states, such as Nebraska, are witnessing serious moves to end the death penalty. Opposition takes several forms: That capital punishment offends the pro-life ethic — as forcefully stated by Pope Francis. That executing someone who was wrongly convicted is an unspeakable horror. That the drawn-out and expensive appeals process typically following a death sentence serves no one, including the victims.
A discomfiting oddity of capital punishment is that whether and how it is applied depend on the place. The flamboyant cruelties of the Islamic State's beheadings and the antiseptic lethal injections in death penalty states seem variations of the same thing.
In 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled the electric chair unconstitutional. The current debate includes the shortage of drugs for lethal injections. These are discussions one shouldn't want to have.
Many Americans, Bostonians included, remain adamant that criminals like Tsarnaev need to be eliminated, without much concern for the means. "I don't think there's any punishment too great for him," Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said after the sentencing.
And some who generally oppose the death penalty say they would make an exception in the case of terrorism. They describe the Tsarnaev brothers' rampage as more an act of war than a multiple murder.
We must question, though, whether by defining a heinous crime as a politically inspired act, we are further inflating already-grandiose misfits into historic figures. Fears that executing Tsarnaev will elevate the former college student into martyr status are not unfounded.
That his twisted admirers might respond with violence should not be a concern in meting out justice. Let that be said. But how much more diminished Tsarnaev would be if he were simply stored behind bars with the serial rapists and the holdup men.
The gruesome pomp that would surround a Tsarnaev execution could further move the marathon bombing focus from the crime and its victims to the criminal. That helps explain why some of the affected families have opposed a death sentence.
Bill and Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son was murdered and whose 7-year-old daughter lost a leg in the bombing, have been among them. "For us," they wrote, "the story of Marathon Monday 2013 should not be defined by the actions or beliefs of the defendant, but by the resiliency of the human spirit and the rallying cries of this great city."
In sum, they don't want Tsarnaev made more important than he is.
The marathon's finish line, once a place to leave flowers, now evokes more complicated emotions. But the society that suffered the carnage did not have a say in the sentencing. That is one consolation for those Bostonians pained by the outcome.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2015 10:15