Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oregon Measure 74 - Guest Commentary

Steven Casey, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) member, offers another perspective on Measure 74, previously addressed in my commentary Voting in Oregon - 2010.

We have a number of issues put to us for a vote. Our voters’ pamphlet tells us that in addition to arguments pro and con, appointed “citizen panels” provide “impartial” explanations of some proposals. Yeah, sure. Methinks the “citizen panels” were loaded pretty heavily to the port side, but maybe that’s just me.

My favorite this election season is Measure 74, a reasonable adjustment of Oregon’s medical marijuana law. Let’s start here: Medical marijuana is already legal in Oregon. Under current law, holders of medical marijuana cards have to grow their own weed – difficult under most circumstances – or obtain it from a grower who can supply no more than four people. The ballot proposition would allow “dispensaries” where holders of medical marijuana cards go to purchase their mary jane – and such dispensaries would be regulated and taxed by the state.

Some don’t like Measure 74 because they don’t like the use of marijuana – for medical or recreational purposes. One argument says this is merely the camel’s nose under the tent of legal-for-all marijuana. I say “So?”

Many people do not like alcohol and tobacco, on moral, medical or religious grounds. But we don’t outlaw those substances. We tried Prohibition once. How did that work out for us?

It’s time for a little reality, here. Our nation has squandered billions of dollars on a hopeless “war on drugs.” That war is over. We lost. Our biggest accomplishment has been making huge numbers of the world’s most vicious monsters unimaginably rich – so rich they can buy entire countries and corrupt or intimidate justice systems throughout the world.

While many police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors oppose Measure 74, that’s hardly persuasive – it’s expected. They are in charge of the drug-fighting machine, and sincerely believe they are on the side of the angels. As someone who has spent the better part of a career in law enforcement and prosecution, I take a different view, as do many others who have been soldiers in the war on drugs.

Marijuana – medicinal or recreational – is here to stay and it is high time, you should pardon the expression, we treated it as an herb to be regulated, quality-controlled and taxed. Let us get marijuana revenue working for our citizens, not enriching murderous thugs.

The results of this election, in Oregon and around the country, will be fascinating. Our votes for candidates and measures are our exercise of democracy. Some fear that H. L. Mencken was right: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” Sure hope they’re wrong.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2010: No incumbents, no exception!

In a WSJ article Rep DeFazio said he “is facing the fight of his political life.” Considering that this “professional politician” is seeking reelection for an ELEVENTH term, this might be a good time for him to consider returning to real life as a private citizen and give someone else a chance to work on behalf of Oregon’s 4th district. While I applaud DeFazio’s military service and charitable donation, like many politicians he has been in the business of politics far too long. Undoubtedly many will continue to vote for him simply because they have the impression that he “brings home the bacon” and has simply become a decades-long habit for voters. To this proponent of fiscal responsibility, smaller government with intense dislike for earmarks=pork, he just does not represent my views of representative government. Fortunately we finally have another option to consider with Art Robinson.

Robinson Art Robinson, Mr DeFazio’s challenger, seems earnestly interested in serving and impressed me with his common sense approach and straight (read non-politico) talk. Listening to him twice as he came through our little fishing village of 1,200 potential voters I was certainly intrigued enough to want to learn more. “Art Robinson has tried hard to paper the landscape with his campaign signs” one local letter writer derisively stated recently. Indeed, the number of property owners willing to display campaign signs for a conservative candidate, especially in this liberal area, has been a surprising new show of assertiveness, not to mention the many campaign signs he has on display throughout the district.

Far from striking me as extremist, as he has been described by many in the media, I actually find Robinson’s real life experience as a businessman, scientist, and educator encouraging. Not conforming to the public image molded by the professional politicians we have become so used to for decades is actually a plus for any candidate. Contrary to what that same letter writer describes as “extremist views”, quite a few enthusiastic local voters seem energized at the prospect of a fresh approach by a regular guy with apparent common sense and considerable life experience. The letter claims that Robinson’s website shows his extremist views, such as advocating the abolishing of public schools as a “communist plot.” What I found on was the following platform statement about education: “We need to restore the excellent locally-controlled public schools that Americans were once privileged to attend – instead of the failing union-controlled government schools promoted by the District 4 incumbent.”

A further claim was that Robinson holds that “oil companies should not be taxed or regulated.” What I actually found on the website was “The high taxation, invasive regulation, and budget-busting over-spending of taxed, borrowed, and printed dollars voted for by the incumbent have failed. We cannot expect the same people and policies that lost our jobs and depressed our economy to fix these problems. We must get government off our backs, out of our pockets, and out of the way, so that we can get our country going again” and “We need a low-tax, moderately regulated free industrial environment in which our industries can build needed new energy generation installations without tax subsidies and without government favors or impediments.” I could go on, but apparently we are not looking at the same website.

Incumbent DeFazio recently accused Robinson of undisclosed suspicious campaign contributions, so I compared both candidates’ FEC reports next: the graphs are illustrative of their general funding situation, with DeFazio listing a remarkable number of PACs (and unions) supporting him to the tune of nearly $390K, almost all of these special interest groups related to transportation and infrastructure, perhaps because DeFazio sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and chairs one of its subcommittees. While Robinson appears to have negligible PAC support, his FEC report shows nearly $370K from a long list of individual contributors (more on that later).

Robinson’s views on these and other issues are specifically addressed on his website, in his campaign ads, forum speeches and interviews, all available on his website. His now infamous interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is certainly anything but a typical slick politician fawning over conceited media personality nor is he using the usual trite politico-speak - but see it and decide for yourselves. It did not strike me as a professional journalistic interview, but more of a forum for the interviewer to argue and debate her own positions with cherry-picked tidbits disguised as earnest issue questions. Her thinly disguised "I just want to get to know you!" approach prevented bringing out a discussion of the candidate's actual positions on issues relevant to voters. It served voters poorly and added nothing to their understanding of this candidate's position on issues.

Meanwhile, if I can catch Robinson between campaign stops, I intend to ask a number of follow-up questions about his views on term limits, his intended legislative approach, individual contributors, etc.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Voting in Oregon - 2010

Having just received my voters' pamphlet, I spent yesterday reading up on candidates (19 pages) and yet another slate of measures (fully 69 pages).  I found a few interesting tidbits: the VP now includes details on the seven officially recognized political parties in Oregon (Constitution, Democratic, Independent, Pacific Green, Progressive, and Republican).  Reading about their core visions and platforms was quite enlightening and virtually every one of them included something to like and not to like.  Equally enlightening were these parties' endorsements awarded to various candidates. 

My current political attitude is best expressed by NO INCUMBENTS NO EXCEPTIONS, so it should be obvious for whom I will not vote.  I will not devote space here to argue for or against specific candidates, since most registered voters will likely vote for their party's candidate or probably have already decided on their favorites based on other factors.  The six measures, on the other hand, moved me to make some general observations. 

In today's economy, it is especially helpful for the responsible voters to find information about the estimated financial impact of these proposed measures. And, with fully 69 pages dedicated to arguments for and against, some interesting trends emerged.  Measures 70, 71, and 76 only included "arguments in favor", leaving me wondering about any "arguments in opposition."  Measures 73 and 74 included a "citizens' review statement" - an interesting newly established voters panel about which I hope to learn more. 

These three measures really caught my attention with their "furnished by" endorsements, since these literally screamed "special interest":

Measure 74, The Oregon Regulated Medical Marijuana Supply System: a rather lengthy "act" clearly drafted by a committee, included numerous endorsements in favor furnished by Oregonians for Responsible Regulation of Marijuana. Only two statements in opposition of the measure were included, but one carried great weight, since it came from the Oregon Sheriffs, Chiefs of Police, and District Attorneys. 

Measure 75, another verbose ballot proposing to authorize a private casino in Multnomah County, included 11 statements in favor furnished by a Good for Oregon Committee or by someone directly associated with the location of the proposed casino. 

Measure 76, the last text-heavy proposal, seeks to extend lottery funding of parks and other recreational areas.  Of 42 endorsements in favor, fully 33 were furnished by Oregonians for Water, Parks & Wildlife, a Project of the Conservation Campaign, the rest by union groups.

But YOU decide - now go vote responsibly!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Irrelevance - The New NASA Reality

Commentary by Bill Hood, Retired Aerospace Engineer

The announcement that NASA's new primary mission is to "reach out to Muslim nations" has raised eyebrows and hackles across the country as well as inside the Congress. Many party stalwarts in the Democratic party are also puzzled and upset. The reaction in the media has been particularly interesting. Each reporter reacts to the news using his own experiential framework as a reference for forming a response. This has led to a host of interesting and informing articles discussing where and how the President has erred.

Upon reflection though, I believe the message being sent by this administration with this new assignment to lead the outreach to Muslim countries is reflective of a much deeper and more fundamental problem directly facing this Administration, and in a slightly more indirect way the American people. After the Cairo speech the president was on the hook to show some kind of outreach that tried to meet the letter if not the spirit of the promises made in Cairo. I think he scanned a list of possible candidate groups in his administration. None were obvious choices, but on reflection he chose NASA. Why he chose NASA is worthy of some thought and discussion. I can almost hear the argument: NASA isn't real busy, and they are real technical and the Arabs will be impressed if we pick NASA as the point organization.

What an astonishing conclusion: "not real busy". This isn't an assignment. Its a death knell.
The Problem -

NASA as it exists now is seen as fundamentally irrelevant not just by the current administration but by most Americans. Most in the republic would be hard-pressed to name one scientific mission launched by NASA in the past year. This is not to detract from the value of the pure science that NASA performs, but accepting the reality of the way NASA is currently seen is key to understanding how to get NASA back on track. As John Kennedy wrote, "you are what you are perceived to be."

NASA was NACA before the Lunar program. An obscure bureau concerned with civil aviation was assigned the Lunar mission and its name was changed to reflect it new mission. It kept the charter to perform its original aviation duties but they became step children to the new and all-consuming mission.

Background -

To understand the scope of the problem we need to look back 50 years. A young Democratic president was facing a formidable problem: The USSR was leading the US in the "space race". The implications were at once disheartening and terrifying to the American public. Never had we felt more vulnerable. Our schools and universities suddenly did not seem capable of producing the intellectual capital needed to protect the nation. The possibility of the homeland being destroyed by superior USSR technology had never seemed so real nor so immediate.

The mission John Kennedy selected for the newly named NASA was "land men on the moon and safely return them to earth and do it by 1970".

One sentence mobilized the US from high school to university and from small companies to huge industries. This technology-driven focus was understood by everyone as a way of centering our attention and effort on what amounted to a war with what were at that time the ultimate bad guys. While some initially decried it as a jingoistic bit of nationalism, their voices were stilled the first time we saw the dark side of the moon and realized the program was going to work. Whole new technologies and industries were developed and tooled. The MIRV and MaRV weapon programs, for example, were direct linear descendants of the guidance and control technology developed for the Saturn/Apollo program.

At the conclusion of the project no one in the world had any doubt as to the winner. Unfortunately this program is often seen as the high point in NASA's existence. While NASA and its supporters can point to the Shuttle program, the many successful scientific missions funded and launched by NASA every year, and the impressive success of the Space Station, none of these has been seen or pursued as a national objective of the highest priority. And this is quite rightly so. None were their decade's equivalent to the Manhattan or Apollo programs.

NASA's current reason for existence has run out of gas.

What To Do About It -

In the same way that JFK looked around for a path that would lead America to a convincing win in the space/missile race, President Obama needs to focus on the one thing that is perceived by the American people as a threat to their ability to pass on to their children an ever improving quality of life. For Kennedy it was winning the space race. For Reagan it was destroying the economy of the Soviet Union.

For this president it should be energy independence. There are many ways to achieve it and I won't try to list the possible choices. But giving this assignment to an organization that includes the old NASA, parts of DoE along with other parts of the government will provide the focus that will solve a huge problem for America. Doing it in less than a decade will sharpen the focus. Along the way it will incidentally solve the "NASA isn't busy" problem. Making the USA energy-independent and reducing our petroleum imports to zero will certainly reduce friction with our friends in OPEC, so perhaps reaching out formally will have less importance in the future. It will also go a long way toward solving the deficit problem. And whatever technologies that are developed in this project will have eager customers in the rest of the oil consuming world.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

NASA to reach out to Muslim world

by Rick Francona

You can't make this stuff up.

By now, we've all seen the news reports that President Barack Obama has instructed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden that his "foremost" mission is "to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering." Bolden went on to say that this effort would ultimately advance space travel.

This is far removed from NASA's charter - according to NASA's own documents, its mission is to "pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research." Improving relations with part of this planet and making people "feel good" would seem to fall under the State Department, but certainly not NASA. As to the remark that this feel-good outreach will advance space travel, this is just Obama Administration political rhetoric - Bolden, a retired Marine Corps test pilot and NASA astronaut, surely doesn't buy into this drivel. If he does, he should be looking for work.

That said, this lame effort should not take away from the many science, math and engineering contributions of the Muslim world. It might be illustrative to point out just a few of the many.

We all remember, maybe not fondly, algebra. Algebra is derived from the Arabic description of the mathematical concept - hisab al-jabr wal-muqabala (calculation by completion and substitition) - al-jabr became algebra. The father of algebra was a Persian mathematician, astronomer and geographer named Abu ╩┐Abdallah Muhammad bin Musa al-Khwarizmi, resident at a research institution in Baghdad in the early 9th century.

Al-Khwarizmi also pioneered the first systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations, introduced the use of the zero and the decimal (what we now call "Arabic numerals" in which the position of the digit has value), square roots, complex fractions and discovered the principle of the magnifying lens. The word algorithm is derived from his name.

In the field of astronomy, Arab and Persian astronomers were able to determine measurements of the degrees of meridian, equinoxes, eclipses, and the apparitions of the comets. The size of the earth was calculated on the shores of the Red Sea when Europeans still insisted that the earth was flat. The Arabs built a series of observatories throughout the region for further study - of course, all this was aided by the invention of the telescope by Abul Hasan.

Muslims also claim the invention of the mariner's compass, the pendulum and the watch. They were also pioneers in the field of medicine. The list goes on and on.

The Muslim World has made countless contributions, and I am sure they "feel good" about it - the Arabs, in any case, never felt shy about reminding me of them. I am not sure if we need to waste the time of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief making sure they do as his "foremost" responsibility.

It almost begs the pun - what planet are these people on?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

NASA: Who Should Reach Out to Whom?

By guest blogger Johnnie Ainsley, Former Space Reporter

On the surface, President Barack Obama’s order to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to reach out to the Muslim world seems to be a commendable approach to reversing thousands of years of backward thought. Islamists have for too long ignored the liberating spinoffs of science and technology in favor of suppressive thought and the incorporation of mental and physical bondage in their life perspectives. However, shouldn’t the Muslim world reach out to NASA instead?

NASA’s space exploration effort has been an open book to the entire world since its inception in 1958. Since then, its many discoveries have been made available to practically everyone, largely at U.S. taxpayer expense. Consequently, most societies and religions have updated the ancient notion that the Earth is the center of the universe with the more contemporary realization that our planet is a collection of cooled and compacted interstellar fragments orbiting an ordinary star on the fringe of one of billions of galaxies. While debate continues unabated as to whether or not there is a deity controlling our vast cosmos, most societies and religions have embraced NASA’s discoveries and incorporated them in their new world view.

Please note that I said “most” societies and religions, for certainly not all have replaced the ignorance and oppression of their theocratic convictions with the progressive enlightenment of scientific thought. With the exception of some engineering, mathematical and astronomical accomplishments by some Muslim scientists more than a thousand years ago, today’s Muslim world seems to be caught up in a worldwide quest to convert everyone to their point of view, with little regard to the sensitivities and opposing beliefs of others, let alone scientific and biological discoveries that refute their long-held mythological beliefs. Any means they can successfully employ seems to justify their end objective, as demonstrated by the rash of intentional bombings around the world of combatants and non-combatants alike. Anything connected to science, the arts, or philosophical thought outside their comfort zone is suppressed and crushed, perhaps with the lone exception of their love for more knowledge about new ways to build and plant explosive devices undetected, so they can maim, kill and create agony among non-believers.

How does one change thousands of years of backward thinking? More germane, how does NASA intend to encourage the Muslim world to reach out and embrace scientific thought? With the cancerous Islamic climate of death and destruction, the answer evades me. After all, radical Islamic converts vehemently oppose scientific thought and the many improvements NASA’s research and development spinoffs have brought to humanity throughout the civilized world. Were it not for those few accomplishments made by Muslim scientists in the ancient Middle East, their contributions to science and humanity would be relatively insignificant.

Contrasted with the scientific accomplishments of other religions, such as Judaism, the Muslim world has barely made an impact. From Jewish physicist Albert Einstein to Christopher Columbus, from Jonas Salk to Galileo, from Sigmund Freud to Levi Strauss and Joseph Pulitzer, Jewish contributions to humanity go on and on. Jews have won 13 percent of the total Nobel Prizes in literature, 19 percent in chemistry, 26 percent in physics, 41 percent in economics, 28 percent in medicine, and, very importantly, 9 percent in peace. How many such prizes have Muslims won? What is the Muslim world doing to advance science, the humanities, education, and progressive thought? The list is practically empty.

If the Muslim world really wants to feel good about its accomplishments, then its radical members should be more tolerant of the opinions of others and start trying to contribute to a better world instead of working to destroy it. Too, mainstream Islamists should stand up against their radical brothers and sisters and demand they cease the subversion of their Muslim religion. To ignore the violence, in essence, is to encourage it and to allow the radicals to implant a negative image on it in the eyes of peace-loving peoples.

In a recent interview with al-Jazeera, Administrator Bolden told a mostly Muslim audience that the United States is no longer capable of reaching beyond low Earth orbit without help from other nations. Just as the “religion of peace” radicals have at their heart a self-imposed philosophy of returning to the Dark Ages, the notion that this country is incapable of returning to the moon is none other than a self-imposed ploy by our Muslim-leaning president to suppress our leadership in space and technology.

If President Obama is looking to bolster self-esteem by making someone feed good about their contributions to science, math and engineering, he needs to start right here at home by recognizing and supporting all those Americans who have worked so hard to develop the NASA program to return humankind to the moon and beyond. I’m sure the self-esteem of tens of thousands of freedom-loving, religiously tolerant, NASA workers and contractors will be in favor of that.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Reflections on Senator Byrd's Death

While much has already been said about his accomplishments, I will reflect on only one aspect of Senator Robert Byrd's long political career. Like Senators Edward Kennedy and Strom Thurmond before him, this senator epitomizes what many citizens have come to despise - the professional politician.

I have become convinced that these senators, and others like them - Senators Ted Stevens and Arlen Specter come to mind - could not possibly understand the real life issues of the average voter. They have simply been to long and too far removed from the realities of real life encountered by the voters they are charged to represent. And I include here perfectly respectable politicians who mean well and conduct themselves appropriate to their responsibilities.

I firmly believe our founding fathers intended for dedicated citizens to rise to public service in politics when needed, and then return to private life after their service. If term limits are good enough for the office of president, term limits should also apply to Congress. Never mind the favorite phrase of so many of these professional politicians - "We have term limits, since our constituents can vote us out any time."

As more and more of these "politicians for life" opt to die in office rather than return voluntarily to the realities of private life, it is up to the voters to help them make the right decision.

My voting guide this election season and for the foreseeable future is simple: No incumbents, no exceptions!

A Fourth Director of National Intelligence in Six Years?

As we await the confirmation of yet another DNI, I sincerely hope the SSCI hearings will address the most critical aspect of this position created by the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act (see my previous posts on this issue
CIA director balances spy agency, Washington politics ; Leon Panetta - Nominee for CIA Director): until the the executive and legislative branches of government recognize that the DNI is intended to be the chief intelligence official and treat him as such, no candidate in that position will succeed. The fact that General Clapper is the fourth candidate for that position in six years is not comforting and raises ongoing concerns over a critical national security position that should arguably transcend administrations, just as the DCI position often transcended individual administrations.

While the CIA has the primary responsibility for foreign intelligence collection and analysis, the entire intelligence community contributes to the full intelligence picture needed by national decision makers. And the DNI position is intended to provide that complete intelligence picture to them, and especially to the president. If these decision makers still remain unwilling in 2010 to accept the reform passed in 2004 and inflexible to the idea that the director of CIA is no longer the president's chief intelligence advisor, legislators might as well rescind the 2004 Reform Act and revert officially to the old system of a a dual-hatted Director of CIA/Director of Central Intelligence.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A disservice to immigrants

While visiting with friends in California last week, I was taken aback by this ballot cover. Yes, you guessed it, I do not approve of multi-lingual official documents, especially not with something as important as voting. Before you jump to conclusions about my possible racist, bigoted, narrow-minded, etc. motives, keep in mind that as an immigrant myself I have an informed perspective an this matter from personal experience.

Before and after I immigrated to the US, yes, legally, it never occurred to me to expect anyone to speak my native language nor did I expect official government services to offer information in anything but English. After all, English is the language of America and critical to a newcomer's success in the "land of opportunity."

No citizenship act is more important that voting, but if you are not sufficiently fluent in English to understand your ballot, how could anyone possibly vote responsibly? By coddling immigrants, new and old, with services and instructions in their native language, we deprive them of the incentive to acquire critical English language skills to competite successfully in the job market and take advantage of the opportunities so many other immigrants enjoyed before them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jim Clapper and the DOD dilemma

by Rick Francona

President Barack Obama has nominated retired USAF Lieutenant General Jim Clapper to become the next Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Clapper is currently the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, or USD(I). The position of DNI requires Senate approval - several members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have expressed reservations over the appointment of yet another retired military officer to serve as DNI. Of the three persons who have held the relatively new office, two have been retired U.S. Navy admirals.

Before I make some comments, some disclosure. I have known General Clapper for decades, served with him and worked for him in a variety of assignments (and had the occasional run-in...). We have somewhat similar backgrounds, although he served in senior intelligence officer positions in combatant commands while my service was exclusively in what we call "pure" intelligence assignments - that is, units or agencies whose sole mission is to conduct intelligence operations. His experience includes intelligence planning, collection, analysis, reporting, direction, management and command - he certainly has the credentials for the job.

That said, if General Clapper is confirmed, his ascension to the post of DNI will be an interesting drama to watch. Clapper has spent almost his entire intelligence career in Department of Defense (DOD) units and agencies - Air Force signals intelligence units, the National Security Agency, special Defense Department collection units, intelligence directors for three combatant commands, assistant chief of staff of the Air Force for intelligence, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. All that experience made him the logical choice to be the current USD(I).

Most of the intelligence capabilities of the United States reside in Department of Defense. Defense intelligence not only makes up the overwhelming majority of the intelligence community, but it consumes the majority of the $50 billion budget as well. Defense agencies include the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and the intelligence branches of the each of the military services. Of the five "pure" intelligence agencies in the community, four fall under the Secretary of Defense.

When the Office of the DNI was created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, it set up the community for conflict between the formerly dominant Central Intelligence Agency and the bulk of the intelligence community that is part of DOD. Although the DNI is supposedly the head of the intelligence community, the position lacks real operational, budgetary and personnel authority - the DNI is supposed to "coordinate" the activities and operations of the 16 agencies that make up the community. Neither then-Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld nor current Secretary Bob Gates seemed inclined to give up control of their majority share of the intelligence community.

Even before the passage of the 2004 legislation, DOD officials knew that changes were on the horizon, based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to streamline operations of the intelligence community. To make sure that DOD maintained what it considered its rightful control of its intelligence agencies, the position now occupied by General Clapper was created. It was the first salvo in the battle between DOD and the DNI. When the legislation was finally passed, DOD carried the day and retained virtually all of its capabilities, now consolidated under the USD(I)/Director of Defense Intelligence. CIA, whose director also filled the now-abolished position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), became just another agency.

The DOD-DNI rivalry is not the only rivalry in the community. CIA sought also to protect its turf as the "senior" agency working directly for the DCI and the President. The creation of the DNI placed one more layer between it and the White House, putting it on a par with the DOD agencies.

Unfortunately, President Obama does not seem to understand that. He tends to treat CIA director Leon Panetta as the DNI, at the expense of current DNI Admiral Dennis Blair. It was probably to be expected - Panetta was a political choice and Democratic Party power broker. Blair, with no real intelligence credentials of his own, has been relegated to the bureaucratic sidelines.

If General Clapper is confirmed - and I hope he is - it will be interesting to see how he approaches the DOD intelligence agencies and the CIA under Leon Panetta. Is he going to allow Panetta to be the President's personal intelligence officer, or will he assert himself as the nation's senior intelligence officer in accordance with what I believe was the intent of the intelligence reform legislation?

General Clapper is a known re-organizer, so beware! Will he remain true to his current stance that there needs to be a Director of Defense Intelligence to represent DOD intelligence capabilities to the DNI, or will he try to bring all U.S. intelligence capabilities under his operational purview (that's where my money is)? Or will he widen the gap between DOD agencies and the CIA? Perhaps he will try to bring CIA under the Defense Department....

As I said, this will be fascinating.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

PJ "Spinner" Crowley - who is this guy?

by Rick Francona

If you have been watching the news lately, no doubt you have seen the clip of State Department spokesman PJ Crowley defending some off-the-reservation remarks of Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner to Chinese officials.

Posner's remarks - some characterize them as apologizing - are indefensible in and of themselves. He should be fired, but given President Obama's views on foreign policy, I seriously doubt Posner will be held accountable. Even more telling, spokesman Crowley went on several news outlets to defend Posner's remarks.

Look up "political spin" in the dictionary and you may see this as an example:

It is hard to believe that is the official position of the State Department - well, with this State Department (see Does the State Department have any competent Russian linguists? as an indicator), maybe not.

That said, PJ Crowley is a master at the craft. Why shouldn't he be - that's been his whole life. You would not know that unless you read between the lines of his biography. He's basically a retired U.S. Air Force public affairs officer - what we in the Air Force referred to as a "talking dog." Yes, that's a derogatory term - along with "they only lie when they move their lips."

Surprisingly, Crowley did not even read the Arizona law that Psoner referred to in his remarks, yet he tries to spin Posner's remarks as somehow an illustration of American law and order. Who is this guy?

biography contains technically correct phrases like "Special Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security Affairs and served on the staff of the National Security Council." What it doesn't say is that he was their public affairs officer - you know, press releases and arranging interviews. After he retired from the Air Force, he pretty much did the same thing for the Insurance Institute. He describes that job as addressing issues arising from the "World Trade Center tragedy." Tragedy - more spinning?

Crowley is a nice enough guy - I've been on the air with him on at least one occasion. He's just caught up in the Obama spin machine, but don't blame him for his spinning ways. He can't help it - that's all he's ever done.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Holder and Brennan - the "no-clue two"

by Rick Francona

These guys are an embarrassment.

Watch President Obama's advisor on homeland security and terrorism spin a homeland security failure, an intelligence failure and shoddy airport security into a victory.

"We're not lucky, we're good." Did he really say that? What arrogance. The only reason we did not have a catastrophe in the skies over Michigan in December, and a mass murder event in Times Square earlier this month was the failure of the detonators on both of the improvised explosive devices to function properly. It had everything to do with luck and absolutely nothing to do with being "good."

Brennan's attempt to cite the patriotism of the American military as part of the "good" job that happened in Detroit and Times Square is an insult to the men and women of the armed forces. They're doing their jobs; I'm not so sure about Brennan.

Then we have our illustrious Attorney General who just this weekend appears to have awakened from an almost ten-year nap with this brilliant assessment:

"We're now dealing with international terrorists, and I think that we have to think about perhaps modifying the rules that interrogators have and somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face."

I'm glad we got that resolved. We're "now" dealing with international terrorists? There have been numerous plots since 9/11 - most of them have involved persons trained in the Middle East or South Asia, or those influenced by advisors in those regions. At least we are no longer citing Zazi, Abdulmutallab, Hasan and Shazad as "lone wolves."

This is the same Eric Holder that wants to have federal court trials for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and the other 9/11 plotters - when a military commission would actually serve justice better - the same Eric Holder that was so anxious to have Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab read his Miranda rights so he could access to a lawyer.

Now the attorney general thinks we need to "modify the rules that interrogators have."

Mr. Holder, you've already done that - our interrogators are liable to face criminal sanctions if they so much as yell at a detainee, thanks to your decision to investigate CIA officers who used enhanced interrogations techniques during the Bush Administration. Having second thoughts, are we? When faced with the reality of two recent almost successful international terrorist attacks on the United States, it's a little different. The fact that we need intelligence from these terrorists demands that we treat them as captured enemy combatants, not criminal defendants.

I am reminded of a quote, and I am using as the opposite of its original context, "Where do we find such men?"

I don't know, but send them back.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Contessa Brewer disappointed terrorist is a Muslim?

By Rick Francona

Contessa with Rick at MSNBC - 2007

First, by way of full disclosure, I know Contessa Brewer both professionally and personally. I worked with her on air at MNSBC hundreds of times when I was an NBC News military analyst between 2003 and 2008, and I have also been to her home on several occasions - she is a charming hostess.

With that as background, I admit that I was a bit taken aback by her recent remarks on a talk show program expressing her dismay that accused terrorist Faisal Shahzad is a Muslim. Here is the clip of the show:

Immediately, there was a backlash asking which religion or from which country she hoped the perpetrator would be. Although I am sure Contessa did not want the accused to be of a specific religion or from a particular country, the question raises a valid point.

Why should a news reporter/anchor care what religion or nationality an alleged terrorist is? In a journalistic sense, it should not - the job of a reporter is to report the facts. The facts are that Faisal Shahzad is a Muslim, he is from an Islamic country - Pakistan is officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan - and he has admitted to attempting to detonate an vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBEID, or what we used to call a "ca bomb") in New York's Times Square.

Let's assume Contessa was speaking as a commentator or an analyst - believable since she was speaking on a radio talk show, not a news broadcast. Here is where I have a problem with many journalists. Many of them have terrific journalistic skills, some honed by education at some of our best schools and years of experience ferreting out sources and stories. However, most of them are not subject matter experts - that's why they hire people like me, for example, to provide the military analysis based on expertise they do not possess.

I would prefer that journalists stick to reporting, leaving the analysis to subject matter specialists and leaving the commentary to the pundits (many of which are not well-versed in the issues they address, but that's a different issue). It is when journalists venture beyond reporting that they get themselves in trouble.

Clearly, Contessa has been influenced by the noticeable MSNBC (and NBC News across the board) shift to the left over the past two years. When I worked there analyzing military operations in the Middle East, I thought that NBC News did a credible job of reporting fairly - I did my best to make sure our military analysis was unbiased. That changed dramatically during the 2008 Presidential campaign. The network has obviously made the editorial decision to support the Obama Administration.

That said, you would think that when it comes to a subject like terrorism, why should a journalist/reporter/anchor be "frustrated" that a terrorist who attempted to kill or maim hundreds of innocent people in Time Square be a Muslim or from an Islamic country? There should be a sense of outrage that some lowlife has attempted to kill people in the name of God, not concern that the perpetrator is of one religion as opposed to another.

Contessa, you're a friend and former colleague. The vast majority of terrorist attacks against Americans are executed by young Muslim men either from the Middle East/South Asia or trained there. That's a fact - let's support our efforts to stop terrorism and worry less about perceived racial profiling or whatever it is that frustrates you until it actually happens.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Defining Loyalty to America

How does a new American citizen define his loyalty to his chosen country? Should we question his loyalty based on origin or actions? How long does it take to prove loyalty? These and similar questions are brought once again to the attention of the country in the wake of the most recent terrorism attempt in Time Square by Faisal Shahzad, a newly naturalized American citizen of Pakistani origin. His act was nothing less than treason against his chosen country and a clear forfeiture of his citizenship.
Loyalty questions are entirely reasonable and will resurface with regularity during times of crisis. Our World War II experience logically led us to view Germans and Japanese with suspicion. During the Cold War we viewed with justifiable suspicion newly arrived immigrant from communist countries. After all, the Soviet Block had amply demonstrated its intentions and capabilities to launch sleeper cells for the purpose of penetrating American society and harming the country. And now during this era of continuing terrorism, we have good reasons to view Americans of Middle Eastern and south Asian origin with suspicion. America is an open society and largely welcoming to new citizens, but that is no reason to disregard reasonable caution for the sake of political correctness or misguided aversion to offending someone. The government’s primary responsibility is to defend and protect its citizens.

As a would-be American citizen, I experienced such suspicions and cautions first-hand. Upon my immigration to the US in the early 1970s I found it entirely reasonable and prudent for my adopted country to check me out and demand certain conditions in exchange for the highly sought-after and much-appreciated US citizenship. I gladly complied with the conditions of citizenship: a working knowledge of the English language, a basic understanding of civics, the promise not to become a burden to the state, and above all, loyalty to my chosen homeland. This was and still is accomplished with the
oath of allegiance. The most important aspect of qualifying for naturalization as an American citizen, the oath requires the new citizen to renounce any foreign allegiances and to support and defend the constitution. This oath is quite clear and unambiguous and taken voluntarily by a new citizen.

These citizenship requirements were a small price to pay for the freedom I enjoyed, the ability to shape my own destiny, the unlimited potential I could pursue with perseverance and drive. Although lengthy, I never resented the thorough background investigations to which I was subjected before being granted a commission in the US Air Force and eventually giving me access to Top Secret intelligence information. To me it was the embodiment of limitless opportunities offered by my adopted country - a country I considered my own many years before ever setting foot on American soil.

At the core of American values is freedom of choice - we chose to live here because we identify with the American way of life. We also have the right to leave anytime we no longer feel comfortable here, unlike many other countries that lack of this option in. Not coincidentally, many of our immigrants are from just those countries. But the oath of allegiance should guide all of us -- native-born and naturalized citizens!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Obama Presidency: How Far We Have Come...

Well over a year since my initial commentary on our country's prospects under an Obama administration, I reviewed my initial assessment from October 2008 and find it sadly confirmed. Just a reminder:

--"Eleventh hour developments with both presidential campaigns have raised grave concerns with this citizen. Senator Obama's recent focus on redistribution of wealth, or variations of such notions, concern me greatly. As one who experienced a people's paradise and two socialist-style societies directly and personally for extended periods of time, I am appalled at the notion that the citizens of MY adopted country would even entertain such options.

The long-standing promises of the "land of opportunities" - based on the pursuit of happiness and the implied and proven potential of success through hard work and perseverance were to me and remain to countless would-be immigrant the ultimate reason for desiring American citizenship. The idea of being responsible for one's own destiny - rather than having government dictate the parameters of happiness and success - has a timeless appeal. It is this ideal that I perceived in American values as a child and I ultimately found in my country of choice. There is simply no way to express adequately the feeling of exhilaration at the ability to choose one's own destiny.

In a government-controlled society, be it communist, socialist or some light version thereof, the idea of controlling your own fate is largely a fantasy. At best you are labeled into a certain category of citizen or profession, without a realistic chance to reach higher. At worst you are relegated to doing the "people's" work, meaning the government officials' work, based on largely inscrutable reasons, save for "sucking up" to all-powerful party hacks (read those who know what is best for the masses), inevitably requiring casting aside any principles of integrity and fostering a culture of deceit and sycophancy.

Social justice and a fair distribution of income sounds laudable, but it favors those who choose destructive or less productive life styles, while punishing those who choose self-reliance, perseverance and the pursuit of happiness. The concept of personal charity and generosity to others is largely non-existent in socialist systems, because it is assumed to be the government's role, like everything else.

I fell supremely privileged to be an American, so much so that I felt compelled to give back by serving my country in the military. I find the spirit of generosity of my fellow citizens admirable, something I experience constantly even in my small community, but something I never experienced in Europe, where I lived in several countries for many years. Thus I predict with dread that charity will decline considerably under an Obama administration fostering wealth redistribution policies. We are a generous people, but we like our freedom of charity choice and we do not like someone's choice of life style to become our responsibility.

After watching all the debates, many interviews, news analyses, commentaries, etc., I am convinced that an Obama-style government will be counter to our dearly-held American values. Most of us want and need a smaller government focused on the basic needs of the people - safety and security - and more personal responsibility from citizens."--

And where we are now appears to be suspiciously similar to what I feared in my commentary above. However, I am pleased to see concerned citizens of the formerly largely silent majority finally becoming vocal and visible!

Politicians - take notice!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Out of the box thinking - U.S. intelligence in Yemen

by Rick Francona

There has been a spotlight on the American intelligence and security agencies in the wake of the failed al-Qa'idah Christmas bombing of a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. A review of procedures and policies is obviously warranted in light of the abject failure of the agencies to prevent 'Umar Faruq 'Abd al-Mutallab from getting on an airliner with a bomb secreted on his body.

However, it is also right to point out some of the things the intelligence community is doing to get it right. There has been reporting over the last few months of a good program, generally overlooked by those of us that follow events in the region or the intelligence community. It has to do with Yemen and former adversaries of the United States.

Shortly after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, many Iraqi intelligence officers loyal to Saddam Husayn sought refuge in Yemen. Yemen's president, 'Ali 'Abdullah Salih, had been a long-time ally and supporter of the Iraqi president. Once the officers arrived, Salih took full advantage of the presence of these professional intelligence officers to improve his services' limited capabilities. In the Arab world, the Iraqis are good intelligence officers, probably second only to the Jordanians.

The Iraqi officers also took advantage of the situation. Having arrived in the country with some but not unlimited resources, the opportunity to practice their craft offered a chance to make a good living. Because of their professionalism compared to that of the Yemeni intelligence officers, they were able to assume prominent and influential positions in the country's intelligence and security services. Most of them have remained in Yemen rather than return to an Iraq where their experience - they did after all play key role in the repression that characterized the Ba'th regime - is neither valued nor desired.

When al-Qa'idah realized that its ability to conduct effective operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia came to an end, it moved many of its operatives and training bases to Yemen. Yemen, a backward country with poor infrastructure, a weak and highly corrupt central government and a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement, seemed a perfect place for the terrorist group. It also has a sketchy record when it comes to keeping terrorists in custody. Numerous convicted and alleged terrorists have been released or "escaped" - virtually all of the bombers of the USS Cole are at large in the country, as well as at least one member of the "Lackawanna Six" wanted in the United States.

As American intelligence began to focus on the country, it became apparent that cooperation with the local intelligence and security services was an imperative in the fight against al-Qa'idah. It only made sense to approach the Iraqis working for the Yemeni services and propose a cooperative relationship to deal with the growing al-Qa'idah problem in the country. It is useful to note that several of the Iraqi intelligence officers were familiar with the American intelligence services - they have been involved in the relationship in the 1980's between the Iraqi Intelligence Service and the Directorate of Military Intelligence on one side, and the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency on the other.

While we hurl stones at our intelligence and security agencies, we should also remember to acknowledge that they can think "out of the box" on occasion. This is a good example of a slightly unorthodox means of getting the job done.