To help you get up to speed and give some perspective to the Syria crisis and issues confronting us, please take time to read the following materials. Stay smart, America.
James Fallows of the Atlantic (Article One), September 2:
Many times I’ve mentioned the foreign-policy assessments of William R. Polk, at right, who first wrote for the Atlantic (about Iraq) during Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, back in 1958, and served on the State Department’s Policy Planning staff during the Kennedy years. He now has sent in a detailed analysis about Syria.
Polk wrote this just before President Obama switched from his go-it-alone policy and decided to seek Congressional approval for a Syrian strike. It remains relevant for the choices Congress, the public, and the president have to make. It is very long, but it is systematically laid out as a series of 13 questions, with answers. If you’re in a rush, you could skip ahead to question #7, on the history and use of chemical weapons. But please consider the whole thing when you have the time to sit down for a real immersion in the implications of Congress’s upcoming decision. It wouldn’t hurt if Senators and Representatives read it too.
Full article HERE and if you read just one piece on Syria, read this one.
James Fallows of the Atlantic (Article Two), September 2:
"Attacking Syria is simply not in the U.S. national interest; and absent an objective assessment from a neutral inspection team, and absent a UN resolution, the U.S. has no legitimate authority under any law or treaty to act unilaterally. Period."
In the wake of President Obama’s (welcome) decision to seek Congressional authorization before striking Syria, long-time Congressional defense-policy expert Charles Stevenson offers these guidelines about what Congress should actually do:
President Obama’s request for congressional authorization for retaliatory strikes in Syria creates tough choices for members of Congress. Do they want to assert their constitutional role in war powers by taking decisive action, or do they want to play political games? Does a majority want to support action, oppose it, or try to set limits and conditions?
The best model for congressional action is the law they passed in 1983 authorizing participation in the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, the only time Congress specifically authorized force under the War Powers Act. Public Law 98-119 has several features that should be part of any measure on Syria:
It declared the action is part of the War Powers Act process, thus reasserting that mostly ignored law as a proper basis for action.
It limited U.S. military participation to a peacekeeping mission as President Reagan had promised — that the U.S. forces would not engage in combat.
It provided expedited, no filibuster rules for considering subsequent amendments to the law.
The best test of the Obama policy would be a simple up-or-down vote on a joint resolution authorizing the attack but limiting its purpose and scope. If that is not enough, if some members want to promote a policy of military aid to the Syrian opposition or a no-fly zone, let them vote on that and abide by the results. If it’s too much, let them vote that way and deny the President the support he seeks.
If Congress can’t come together and agree on a common policy, they will forfeit their claims to war powers.
Full article HERE.
Jeffery Frank of the New Yorker, September 4:
In April, 1954, President Eisenhower was being pressured to take military action in Vietnam, where the French were losing a symbolically important battle at Dien Bien Phu and were about to be driven out of what was then their colony. At a press conference that month, Eisenhower acknowledged the “falling domino” principle—the idea that if one land were to fall to Communism others would follow. John Foster Dulles, his Secretary of State, declared that a Communist political system imposed on Southeast Asia by means of the Marxist and nationalist guerrilla forces fighting the French “would be a grave threat to the whole free community,” and Vice-President Richard Nixon, in a talk to newspaper editors that April, dropped hints about dispatching American troops. Eisenhower never used a phrase like “red line,” as President Obama did when he warned the Syrian regime that the use of chemical weapons would be punished, but he did say that the defense of the Southeast Asia region was of “transcendent importance.” He sounded determined to act.
Yet Eisenhower, much like Obama, sometimes appeared to be acting in ways that ran counter to his words. Historic parallels are risky, but the conflict in Korea had ended the previous summer, with an armistice that gave victory to no one. That divisive war, fought at a cost of nearly thirty thousand American lives and more than eighty thousand wounded, left Ike and most Americans with no appetite for a return engagement. The divisive Iraq war and its murderous aftermath still shadow every mention of involvement in the Middle East.
When Eisenhower in 1954 said that his Administration would need to consult legislators, he was pretty sure that the 83rd Congress had no wish to endorse intervention, and it is not unreasonable to think that Obama, despite his strong words and his mini-summit with Senator John McCain, suspects that the 113th Congress may be no more inclined. Eisenhower stressed the importance of working with American allies, particularly Great Britain, and he sent a cable to Prime Minister Winston Churchill saying that a “new, ad hoc grouping or coalition of nations” was needed to help the French: “We face the hard situation of contemplating a disaster brought on by French weakness and the necessity of dealing with it before it develops.”
Full article HERE.
Michael Crowley, Time, September 9:
Foreign policy grants American presidents almost supernatural powers. From thousands of miles away, they can mobilize fleets and squadrons at a whim, sometimes killing without risking a single soldier’s life. But foreign policy can also become a curse, with an equally mystical ability to ruin a presidency. Barack Obama learned that lesson watching his predecessor wage what Obama famously called “a dumb war” of choice in Iraq. His opposition to the invasion launched the one-term Senator’s first presidential run, and he arrived in the White House with a clear vision of a humbler America narrowly focused on core interests, like healing domestic economic and social wounds. Obama would hunt down terrorists in caves and deserts and throw a harder punch at the Taliban in Afghanistan. But he also presented himself as a conciliator, a peacemaker who would land the Nobel Peace Prize before he’d even redecorated the Oval Office.
From the start of his presidency, Obama sounded his call in speeches from Washington to Prague to Cairo, describing a transformed world order—“a revolutionary world” where “we can do improbable, sometimes impossible things.” Cynics said Obama was just putting a gloss on harsh economic reality: deep in debt and with its financial sector in a tailspin, the U.S. couldn’t afford an interventionist foreign policy. But Obama seemed genuine enough when he spoke of starting a dialogue of “mutual respect” with Iran, and to other rivals, he vowed that “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Reason would replace raw power, and the neoconservative vision would be retired. It was hope and change on a global scale.
But history, it has turned out, wasn’t interested.
The fists remained clenched, the rhetoric toward the U.S. was disrespectful, and although there was revolution from Cairo to Tripoli to Damascus, it often unleashed dangerous religious and tribal passions across the Middle East. The hope has fermented into fear, the change into danger. Now, in a region that has confounded Presidents for decades and where the security stakes are highest, Obama faces a defining test in Syria.
This is not where Obama wanted to be. On Aug. 22, one day after a cloud of what is suspected to have been nerve gas descended on a Damascus suburb, killing hundreds of people, the President left the White House for an all-smiles bus tour of upstate New York, focused on college affordability. But that morning in the Situation Room, Obama’s national-security team was grasping the shocking scale of the attack and its implicit challenge to American power and authority.
Full article HERE.
It turns out even the deepest recession in decades can’t kill off pet spending. A new report from the Labor Department shows that while Americans cut back in some types of disposable spending during the nation’s financial crisis, spending on pets held steady and has begun to pick up again.
The report shows that Americans spent over $61 billion on their pets in 2011, with the average household spending just over $500 on their pets during the year. That’s more than the average household spent on alcohol, men’s clothing, or landline telephones. The data show that pet spending hit a peak in 2008, at $571 per household, then dropped off sharply, eventually hitting $480 in 2010. However, spending on Fluffy and Spot as a share of households’ total spending picked up slightly during the recession, from 0.9 percent in 2007 to 1.1 percent during the heart of the downturn in 2008 and 2009.
The Labor Department data show that Americans remained selflessly devoted to their pets during the recession, holding their spending on pet food steady through the downturn while cutting back on the luxury of eating out.
A major economic downturn may not dramatically cut pet spending, but having kids does. Single people spent over $400 on average on their pets in 2011, while single-parent households spent two-thirds that. Likewise, husbands and wives with no children at home spent the most on their pets, at nearly $700, while those with the youngest children spent less than 60 percent of that, at just over $400.
The data may also signal fatter times ahead for America’s pets. Americans age 55 to 64 spent the most on their pets of any age group, at $636 per year, in 2011. In addition, homeowners spent $653 on average, compared to renters, at $221. With baby boomers entering retirement and a housing recovery in place, that may mean the population willing to spend big on their animals is about to grow.
From US News, full story HERE
In a battle of beer logos, brewer Magic Hat has filed a federal lawsuit against Lexington’s West Sixth Brewing Co., claiming trademark infringement.
A lawsuit filed May 16 in U.S. District Court charged that West Sixth began selling beer, ale and brewpub services in 2012 using color, trademarks and designs “that closely resemble and are confusingly similar” to the designs used by Magic Hat for several years.
On Tuesday, West Sixth co-owner Ben Self said the lawsuit was without merit. West Sixth officials launched a social media campaign, asking customers to sign a petition on its website to ask Magic Hat to drop the lawsuit and stop “corporate bullying.”
According to news reports, North American Breweries Inc. bought Vermont-based Magic Hat in 2010. North American’s website said it owns and operates five U.S. breweries and six retail locations in New York, Vermont, California, Oregon and Washington.
The petition had more than 5,100 signatures by 9 p.m.
"The public has really come to our defense as a craft beer producer and joined us demanding that Magic Hat withdraw their lawsuit," Self said.
What’s at issue is a logo used on a number of products, including beer bottles and cans.
The lawsuit said the appearance or trade dress of Magic Hat’s #9-branded products is characterized by its distinctive orange, the predominant color on its labels, the presence of the “dingbat” star and the circular motif of the #9 design.
West Sixth recently introduced its Amber Ale, which is offered in an orange label that includes the numeral 6. The lawsuit says West Sixth has used a “dingbat” star to “confuse consumers and trade on Magic Hat’s good will.”
Magic Hat has used the #9 mark for beer and ale since at least 1995 in the United States and since at least 2009 in Kentucky, according to the lawsuit.
West Sixth has sold beer, ale and brewpub services using the 6 in its logo in portions of Kentucky and Ohio since April 1, 2012, the lawsuit said.
Magic Hat is seeking an injunction to stop West Sixth from using the design and is asking the court to direct West Sixth to pay Magic Hat all profits made by West Sixth as a result of “its acts of unfair competition,” the lawsuit says. Additionally, Magic Hat is asking for a jury trial and damages including costs and attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit says West Sixth’s use of “confusingly similar marks” is causing Magic Hat irreparable harm.
"West Sixth’s use of its confusingly similar marks … continues to cause, and is likely to cause confusion, … and deception in the minds of the consuming public," the lawsuit said.
West Sixth officials posted a statement at Nomoremagichat.com that said, in part:
"Before we go any further, we do want to let you know that none of this will affect in any way our ability to continue brewing the great beers that you all have come to love. So, don’t worry about that at all!
"They’re claiming that we intentionally copied their logo, and that has caused them "irreparable harm," enough that they’re asking for not only damages but also all our profits up until this point (little do they know that well, as a startup company, there wasn’t any, oops!)"
West Sixth logos were created by a professional design firm in Lexington called Cricket Press that has “a long history of fantastic and creative logo designs. … Our logo contains neither a ‘#’ nor a ‘9.’”
Read full story from the Herald Leader HERE.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Twitter is booming as a social media destination for teenagers who complain about too many adults and too much drama on Facebook, according to a new study published Tuesday about online behavior. It said teens are sharing more personal information about themselves even as they try to protect their online reputations.
Teens told researchers there were too many adults on Facebook and too much sharing of teenage angst and inane details like what a friend ate for dinner.
“The key is that there are fewer adults, fewer parents and just simply less complexity and less drama,” said Amanda Lenhart of the Pew Research Center, one of the study’s authors. “They still have their Facebook profiles, but they spend less time on them and move to places like Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.”
In the poll, 94 percent of teens who are social media users have a profile on Facebook – flat from the previous year. Twenty-six percent of teen social media users were on Twitter. That’s more than double the figure in 2011 of 12 percent.
In what is likely a concern to parents, more than 60 percent of the teens with Twitter accounts said their tweets were public, meaning anyone on Twitter – friend, foe or stranger – can see what they write and publish. About one-quarter of kids said their tweets were private and 12 percent said they did not know whether their tweets were public or private.
Teens are also sharing much more than in the past.
More than 90 percent of teen social media users said they have posted a picture of themselves – up from 79 percent in 2006. Seven in ten disclose the city or town where they live, up from about 60 percent over the same time period. And 20 percent disclose their cell phone number – up sharply from a mere two percent in 2006.
At the same time, teens say they’ve taken steps to protect their reputations and mask information they don’t want others to know. For example, nearly three-quarters of teen social media users have deleted people from their networks or friends list.
The researchers surveyed 802 parents and their 802 teens. The poll was conducted between July 26 and September 30, 2012, on landline and cell phones. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
From Time Magazine; full article HERE.
By Michael Scherer of Time Magazine
President Obama will release a “fiscally responsible” budget for the country today, his aides say. This is not news. It happened last year. And the year before. And the year before. In Obama’s first year, he was so confident, he called his budget “A New Era of Responsibility.”
Except, it wasn’t. And never really has been. Because the fiscally responsible part is always projected to begin a few years in the future, and each year, as a new budget comes out, White House aides have also revised their projections. What they believed to be responsible before was not so responsible after all. The deficits were larger than they expected. The economy grew slower. The debt was bigger.
There is some disagreement over just what “fiscally responsible” means. Some liberals believe there is no real risk of running up too much debt, given the demonstrated willingness of the world to buy our bonds, so it is responsible to accept our high deficits. Some conservatives believe that any deficits are a moral outrage that will turn our children into chattel or preface armageddon, so it is responsible to embrace austerity. For the purposes of this post, I am defining “fiscally responsible” as it is most often meant by the White House: charting a path to deficit levels that roughly stabilizes the size of the debt as a percentage of GDP.
In 2009, Obama’s propeller heads predicted the deficits in 2012 would be about 4.6% of GDP, or just slightly higher than the growth of the economy. Three years later, Obama’s number crunchers were saying that the 2012 deficit would be 7.2% of GDP, which means the original prediction was off by about 50%. Why? The biggest reason is that the financial crisis was worse than predicted, and the recovery has been slower, lowering tax revenue. It’s also true that Congress never puts a White House budget into law, but as this chart by The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews shows, had Obama had his way, the deficits would likely have been worse, not better. The budget that Congress passed in 2009 was 3% smaller that Obama wanted; it was 7% smaller in 2010.
But the pattern in the Obama administration has been remarkably consistent: Presidential budgets are a terrible source for predicting the fiscal responsibility of the U.S. government. Here is a line chart I made showing the deficit projections Obama made in each of his first four budgets, as a percentage of GDP. As you can see, each year the short-term projections tend to get a little worse.
The number crunchers across the street from the White House are not fudging the numbers. The problem is that lawmakers do not have complete control over deficits. The economy matters, and the official numbers have not been good at predicting what will happen.
The other thing worth mentioning here is that in discussions of fiscal responsibility, the President’s budget is often a distraction. The real problems with spending and taxation have little to do with what Obama likes most to talk about: new bridges, pre-K education, tax loopholes for the very wealthy. They have to do with long term trends—a decrease in tax rates and revenue over the last decades, and an increase in the cost of health care. The graphic designers at the U.S. Treasury clearly illustrate this point:
Larger copy of the chart HERE.
Any long term solution to the high deficits will most certainly arise from addressing these areas. And that deal, if it happens anytime soon, will not be found in the Obama budget document, though his recent embrace of cuts to Social Security and Medicare may be a step in that direction.
UPDATE: I have added below another line (in teal) to my chart, showing the deficit projections as a percentage of GDP from the most recent budget, fiscal year 2014, which was released Wednesday afternoon. You will see that the deficit estimates for the most immediate year are once again higher than they were predicted to be last year, the year before, the year before that, etc. Not exactly the kind of projections you want to take to the bank, or bond market. To read the whole budget, see here.