Transnational Collaboration Derailed A Terror Plot in Canada

It’s time to Break It Down!

A week ago Monday, a terrorist attack killed 3 people near the end of the Boston Marathon race course.  In addition to the deaths, over 170 people suffered various injuries; some so severe, that amputations were required.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, are alleged to have been the perpetrators of the brutal explosive attack.  In related news reports, the Russian Government provided warnings in 2011 that Tamerlan may have been involved with a radical element in the Dagestan region of Russia.  The FBI interviewed the elder brother, but found no corroborating evidence.  Apparently after the interview, Tamerlan returned to Russia, and spent 6 months in Dagestan.  The is an ongoing discussion about whether Homeland Security officials simply dropped the ball in tracking Tamerlan.

In an unrelated matter, a week ago today, an explosion at a fertilizer plant and ammonia storage facility in the tiny town of West, Texas, resulted in at least 14 deaths, and more than 200 other casualties.  It was a rough week in these United States.  The American security apparatus, already on high alert, due to the Boston bombing, leapt into action to determine whether there were any elements connecting the incident in West to those in Boston.  There was none.  Though the exact cause has yet to be determined, there is significant speculation that the blast may have been the inadvertent result of an unfortunate mixing of the potentially volatile contents of the building.  A fire is thought to be the direct catalyst for the explosion.  Still, the question remains; how did the fire start?

Fast forward to Monday of this week, and there is another chapter to consider.  In an event planned beyond America’s borders, but still within a range of proximity that rightfully generates concern, Canadian authorities foiled what they have labeled, designs to initiate an “al-Qaeda inspired” attack on a Canadian VIA passenger train.  The plot, according to  Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), was aided by Iranian-based elements of the infamous terror group.

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, were arrested in Montreal and Toronto, respectively, on Monday.  Though the plot has no discernible link to the events in Boston, the train, originating in the Toronto area would likely have been heading to the United StatesFBI authorities collaborated with Canadian officials in exposing the plot, which led to their arrests.  In contrast to the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, it appears a coordinated national and global security apparatus worked as it should have to prevent Esseghaier and Raed from carrying out heinous acts of terror. 

The RCMP was tight-lipped about specific details of the plot, though they noted the two arrestees were not Canadian citizens.  They stated, further, that if the plot had been executed, innocent would have been killed.  The RCMP maintains the episode was still in the planning stages; they submit no one was in imminent danger.

The three events, despite the lack of a common thread, are an indication of rising tensions and an increase in violent acts, which may have terroristic overtones.  Even though the deadly explosion in West, Texas is not currently believed to have resulted from terrorist activity, the timing and related dynamics made it imperative to eliminate that possibility before determining the parameters of the investigation.

The events of September 11 (2001) forever changed air travel in the United States, and around the world.  It is likely that after last week, large widely dispersed events, such as Marathons, especially heralded races, as the one in Boston, will enact their own special safety precautions.  Now, after Monday, one can envision train travel will become an inordinately more onerous undertaking, as well.

The world as we know it continues to evolve.  The American visions of liberty and freedom will, undoubtedly, continue to stand out as unique models.  Yet, inexorably, the dimensions applied to defining such liberty, and the execution of freedom, American style, along with the attendant comforts of both, are eroding; slowly…but surely.

The FBI and the RCMP deserve kudos for their dedication, commitment, and professionalism.  Cheers; their Transnational Collaboration Derailed A Terror Plot in Canada!”

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to President Obama’s 2014 Budget Plan

It’s time to Break It Down!

I’m surprised; shocked would actually be a better word to describe my reaction.  I have checked.  Hell hasn’t frozen over, at least not that I can tell.  Nor is there snow falling on Miami Beach…according to the Weather Channel.  Yet, the GOP, the erstwhile “Party of No” to any measure proposed by President Barack Obama, has been reported to have embraced one of the tenets of the President’s 2014 Budget proposal.

Now it goes without saying, any proposal that could induce Republican leaders to speak supportively of a proposal submitted by the President is bound to be controversial on some front…and this one is.  In devising and proffering a budget, the President has proposed a new inflation measure — known as the chained consumer price index, or chained CPI — which would reduce Social Security benefits by only about 0.3 percentage points per year. But over the long run, it would save enough to wipe out as much as 20 percent of the program’s 75-year funding gap.

The GOP-led House of Representatives is moving ahead to conduct hearings on the proposal.  Republican Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee, has scheduled for Thursday the first public hearing looking at Obama’s proposal, The Washington Post reported. In addition, the panel’s health subcommittee will hold hearings on proposals by Obama that seek to control Medicare costs.
Representative Johnson is among the GOP members praising the President for including the chained-CPI adjustment in his budget request — saying it was “a first step toward protecting Social Security for today’s workers” — Democrats, conversely, as might be expected, are furious with the President for including the plan.

During a recent meeting arranged by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrats complained that their offices were being inundated with calls form irate constituents.

Politically, this is not a winner. Our brand is the party that brought you Social Security,” Democratic Rep. Rush D. Holt of New Jersey told the Post following the meeting.
As the same time, House Speaker John Boehner is pushing back against Republicans who are criticizing the plan as being harmful to seniors.  That’s because while some GOP members have expressed support for the proposal, as with a number of recent issues, the GOP response runs the gamut.  Some support it, others do not, and still there are those who have declined to commit to a position.
Nevertheless, the top Party official has made his position clear.  In response to Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon calling the President’s Social Security proposal “a shocking attack on seniors,” Speaker Boehner told reporters, “I’ve made it clear that I disagreed with what Chairman Walden said.  This is the least we must do to begin to solve the problem of Social Security.”

This mixed reaction among GOP denizens would be perplexing, were it not for what I like to call the Obama Factor (OF).  That is an apparently intrinsic and irresistible urge for Republicans to eat their loafers, rather than sign-off on any proposal offered by this President.  In other words, the proposal was once a mainstay of the GOP’s deficit-reduction overtures to the White House.  In that regard, like so many previous proposals by President Obama that were born as GOP initiatives; once again, we see at least some members of the vaunted Republican Party deciding that what they once thought was a fantastic idea…now stinks to high heaven.

That’s the GOP I have come to recognize over the past five years.  This new attitude exhibited by Speaker Boehner is an eerie thing.  Frankly, I do not know what to make of it.

Apparently neither do some RepublicansRepresentative Walden’s potentially off-message comment provoked swift rebuke from the powerful Club for Growth, the conservative advocacy group that supports the measure as a starting point for reining in spending on government entitlement programs.

The club quickly assigned Walden a place on its “Primary My Congressman” list of Republicans who deserve a GOP primary opponent because they are insufficiently true to conservative ideals.

“We always knew Greg Walden had a liberal record, but he really cemented it with his public opposition to even modest entitlement reform,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola.

The cost-of-living proposal, long promoted by economists who say the government’s inflation adjustments are too generous, would shave a few dollars off the monthly checks of seniors, veterans and others who receive Social Security and other government benefits.

Chained-CPI would also apply to the tax code, bringing in revenue by capturing more taxpayers at higher rates as the tax brackets are adjusted more slowly for inflation.

Naturally, Democrats, say the change would hit the most vulnerable members of society, who should not be targeted for deficit reduction.  But influential GOP thought-benders such as Grover Norquist, of Americans for Tax Reform, also oppose the proposal, suggesting it would violate the group’s anti-tax pledge unless the added revenues were applied to lower taxes elsewhere in the tax code.

So what, you ask, is today’s lesson?  The lesson is one I gleaned years ago, and that we now have yet another empirical standard to validate.  Even as the Speaker of the House is trying to marshal GOP troops to support a proposal for which his Party fought valiantly during recent in-the-trenches hand-to-hand combat with Democrats on resolving the debt crisis, Party members are verifying that the OF remains a key litmus test for determining issues they will or will not support.

In a recent discussion after it became clear President Obama’s budget would include Chained-CPI; a policy of which congressional Republicans have proved to be fond, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman posed a poignant rhetorical question: “Wanna bet that Republicans soon start running ads saying that Obama wants to cut your Social Security?”

In response, some scoffed at the idea.  The point seemed to be, Republicans are extreme, but they are not that extreme.  The GOP is shameless, but not that shameless.  They couldn’t seriously condemn the President for offering a policy Republicans demanded he offer, could they?  Would they?  Of course they could…and they did!

To recap, quickly:

  1. The GOP demanded that President Obama accept Social Security cuts through Chained-CPI.
  2. President Obama, eager to reach a     compromise, grudgingly agreed and offered the GOP the policy concession that had been requested.
  3. The GOP then attacked the President for proposing the policy     they demanded.

By any fair measure, this is insane.  But it’s equally predictable — this is the same caucus that demands Medicare cuts, but then based their 2010 and 2012 campaign strategies in part on attacks that Democrats cut Medicare.

As this 2014 Budget battle continues to take shape, it is clear that President Obama has figured out a way to push both Republicans and Democrats beyond their respective comfort zones.  What is unclear is whether this out-of-the-box gambit (for a Democrat) is a function of superior tactical reckoning, an early indicator of President Obama buying into the tenets of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, an effort to open budget negotiations with a true compromise posture, or if the President has simply figured out yet another way to capitalize on the contemporary state of confusion in which the GOP seems to be at least temporarily immersed.  No matter which option you embrace, it is fair to say, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to President Obama’s 2014 Budget Plan!”

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Gun Rights: An American Love Story!

It’s time to Break It Down!

“I’ll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands.”

If there is an anthem for the gun lobby, undoubtedly, that is it.  While many attribute the origin of the meme to Charlton Heston, he really just became the most persuasive, not to mention, most well-known vessel for what has become the quintessential message of the movement.  The quote is a variation of a slogan mentioned in a 1976 report from the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency: I Will Give Up My Gun When They Peel My Cold Dead Fingers From Around It.”

The original version was not Heston’s; nor was it proffered by the NRA, whose ad campaigns made it famous.  A citizen’s group, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, based in Bellevue, Washington, devised the slogan, along with the also popular slice of gun mythology, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”  Together, these two battle cries serve to keep the most avid of gun rights supporters perpetually energized.

About 10 days ago, Charlotte and Harriet Childress penned an Opinion piece for the Washington Post linking mass shootings in the United States with white men.  The Childress’, who are identical twins, are researchers and consultants who study social and political issues.  They are also co-authors of Clueless at the Top: While the Rest of Us Turn Elsewhere for Life, Liberty, and Happiness.”  The book takes a look at what the sisters call “Outdated hierarchies in American culture.”

Needless to say, anyone putting forth such a premise is likely to face some pretty serious scrutiny, and more than a few ad hominem attacks.  This was certainly the case with Charlotte and Harriet.  Of course the classic and ready point of reference for critics of their argument is, “What about all the gun-related homicides that are not mass shootings?”  First off, it is important to say, point well taken!  However, having conceded the noted exceptions, what about the rule, to which they speak?

As the NRA, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and the collective gun lobby make clear on a daily basis, a significant segment of the American populace loves its guns.  Judging by the ads one sees on TV, and by the Childress’ Washington Post Opinion, a key demographic of that segment is white men.

In Chicago, a city which has had mind-numbing numbers of homicides in the past several years, over 500 in 2012 alone, much of the carnage is attributed to young African American males, and to the gang violence to which many of them contribute.  This is a fair assessment, and appropriate discourse should ensue, and suitable remedies should be devised.

But, let’s not be obtuse, nor feign oblivion to the preeminently compelling fact of the matter, which is, the vast majority of perpetrators of mass shootings in America are white males (men or boys).  Columbine, Tucson, Aurora, & Newtown all spring to mind, with Newtown, where 20 five and six year-olds were murdered this past December, standing out as the touchstone for current efforts to fashion new gun law initiatives.

In their Washington Post article, the Childress sisters pose the inconvenient counter fact; “Imagine if African American men and boys were committing mass shootings month after month, year after year.”

Now you might argue, correctly I would add, that the majority of shooters in Chicago have been African American; and they have been, year after year.  However, and I know this may invite its own element of tension; the victims in Chicago have also been mostly black.  Say what you will about ours being a color-blind society, or this being a post-racial America; the color of the victims, especially in the case of mass shootings, does make a difference.

Most of the victims of these horrendous acts have been white.  To take the what if narrative from above a step further, imagine if black men and boys were killing whites in a steady stream of mass shootings.  I am not sure we would get to year after year before the subject garnered more serious and intense scrutiny.

As the NRA has set out to establish an agenda to defeat “any” new gun laws, its focus has been placed largely on mental health issues.  This tact seems designed to deflate, if not flat out disparage any efforts to enact new legislation, no matter how logical, or well-intended they may be.

So why single-out white men?  Well for one thing, as the Opinion notes: “Women and girls with mental health issues are not picking up semi-automatic weapons and shooting schoolchildren.  Immigrants with mental health issues are not committing mass shootings in malls and movie theaters.  Latinos with mental health issues are not continually killing groups of strangers.”  And just to be clear, neither Native Americans, nor African Americans have a history of committing multiple mass shootings either.

Childress and Childress submit if life were equitable, white male gun-rights advocates would be forced to address a series of serious questions about their credibility and objectivity, including:

What facets of white male culture create so many mass shootings?

Why are so many white men and boys producing and entertaining themselves  with violent video games and other media?

Why do white men buy, sell, and manufacture guns for profit, attend gun shows, and demonstrate for unrestricted gun access disproportionately than people of other ethnicities or races?

Why are white male congressmen leading the fight against gun control?

The sisters suggest that if we ask the right questions, we will get the right answers.  It is their belief that the answers to the above questions will encourage white men to examine their role in their own culture and to help other white men and boys become healthier and less violent.

All this is high-minded, sounds good, and may even be the right course of action to take.  Alas, right questions notwithstanding, I am unconvinced that we as a society are anywhere near stemming the tide of gun violence in general or mass shootings in particular.  What we have, in my opinion, is a failure to adequately grasp the essential isness of one of America’s most deeply ingrained natural laws: Gun Rights: An American Love Story!”

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“Back to the GOP Future!”

It’s time to Break It Down!

There is a rumor among us that the GOP is actively attempting to forge a makeover; a fundamental alteration of strategies and tactics that inured the Party’s losses in a number of key demographic strata back on November 6, 2012.  On that fateful day, AKA (also known as) Election Day, 2012, President Obama amassed an edge in numerous statistical categories, which ultimately propelled him to a win in the General Election.

It sounds good, in principle.  However, as with most high-minded ideals, finding and maintaining higher ground, moral or otherwise, is “easier said than done!”  Back to the real world; last week, Alaska Republican Representative Don Young took what may best be described as one humongous step “Back to the GOP Future!”  During a discussion about ongoing challenges to the economy last Thursday, Republican Young referred to Hispanic workers as “wetbacks,” an ethnic slur used to describe migrant workers.

In providing depth and context to his unwitting and off-putting phraseology, the Congressman told Alaska public radio station KRBD “My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes.  It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now.  It’s all done by machine.”  Perhaps, this variety of wrong-headed Palinesque jocularity is a fundamental flaw of Alaska Republicans.  But I digress.  The term “wetback” is a pejorative assignation historically used to describe workers from Latin American countries who swim across the Rio Grande to reach the United  States.

Last fall, during the height of the Presidential Campaign, a number of gaffes, if you will, impaired Governor Romney’s ability to engineer a successful effort to wrest the Presidency from “44.”  In fact, these untimely and unforced errors were a huge part of what Team GOP aimed to fix, after what by most accounts, they considered a stunning defeat in the 2012 Presidential Election.

In direct response, it has been reported that the Republican Party has executed extensive post-election polling and focus groups designed to obtain a serious and objective reading on where they stand within the framework of a changing electorate.  Obviously, this is not so subtle reinforcement of that ever compelling nugget of conventional wisdom: “Hindsight is 20/20.”  If only…this brainstorm had touched down before the election.

Mark McKinnon, a former strategist for George W. Bush opined, “The Republican Party needs messages and policies that appeal to a broader audience.  This election proved that trying to expand a shrinking base ain’t going to cut it.  It’s time to put some compassion back in conservatism.  The party needs more tolerance, more diversity and a deeper appreciation for the concerns of the middle class.”

To highlight his point, even though only 39% of whites, 44% of voters older than 65, and 25% of white males voted for President Obama, he still prevailed.  He did so in large measure because he won 9 of the 10 States identified as Swing States, losing only here in North  Carolina.  These states were home to the 10 closest election margins in 2012, and are listed below:


1. Florida: 0.6 percent (Obama 49.9, Romney 49.3.)

2. Ohio: 1.9 percent (Obama 50.1, Romney 48.2)

3. North  Carolina: 2.2 percent (Romney 50.6, Obama 48.4)

4. Virginia (99% reporting): 3.0 percent (Obama 50.8, Romney 47.8)

5. Colorado: 4.7 percent (Obama 51.2, Romney 46.5)

6. Pennsylvania (99% reporting): 5.2 percent (Obama 52, Romney 46.8)

7. Iowa: 5.6 percent (Obama 52.1, Romney 46.5)

8. New  Hampshire (99% reporting): 5.8 percent (Obama 52.2, Romney 46.4)

9. Nevada (99% reporting): 6.6 percent (Obama 52.3, Romney 45.7)

10. Wisconsin: 6.7 percent (Obama 52.8, Romney 46.1)


So despite President Obama and Democrats in general finding challenging sledding in the demographic segments for which the GOP fought most enthusiastically (and effectively, I might add), there was a proverbial desert of GOP political failure within in other demographic groups in 2012.  On the way to victory, the President won an array of demographic segments, including the dozen below:


     Black – 93%

     Hispanic – 67%




     Age 18-29 – 60%

     Age 30-44 – 52%


     Self Identified Gay – 76%

     Income Under $30,000 – 63%

     Income $30,000$49,000 – 57%

Obviously, the Republican Party has devoted a significant amount of mental capital to contemplating the return on investment (or lack thereof) in the politics of hate, derision, and various and sundry slurs.  Now all they need to do is get their full complement of players on board.

Congressman Young’s immediate response to the dust-up created by his comments was not exactly rueful, or contrition-filled.  In a sit down interview with Ketchikan Radio, Representative Young said, “I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California.  I know this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.”  And yet, he used to the term anyway.  Mental note to the Congressman; that you “knew the word is not used in the same way nowadays”, and yet you used it anyway…that is what most thinking people would call, “the problem.”

In retrospect, Representative Young’s slur is a classic example the type of devaluing of an entire ethnic group that will make the GOP’s efforts to recalibrate its vision and messaging a continuing minefield, littered with their own crass commentary and willful disregard of calls for change, even from within their own diminishing circle.  So, from my admittedly limited vantage point, this was just another case of SOSDD; “Back to the GOP Future!”

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