Category Archives: Nevada politics

Gavel Unravel: Appellate Court Proposal in Nevada

What do Delaware, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming have in common?  Ans: None of these states have an intermediate appellate court.

Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty is now among those advocating for the latest proposal to incorporate an intermediate court into the Nevada judicial system. [LVRJ]  What’s different this time,  different from the last time Nevada voters rejected an intermediate court plan in 2010?   The 2014 proposal is a “push down” system, in which all cases on appeal go to the Nevada Supreme Court but cases such as appeals of driver’s licenses revocation and inmate writs of habeas corpus could be sent (pushed down) to the appeals court.

The problem is essentially a numbers game. There are approximately 2,200 cases coming to the Nevada Supreme Court each year, and some 733 of these fall into categories that would be under the jurisdiction of the appeals court.  Each Nevada Supreme Court judge is now handling an average of 333 cases (2013 figures) which is about 100 more than is recommended by the American Bar Association. [LVRJ] Under the latest proposal the Supreme Court would be taking on 1467 cases per year, or 209 cases per judge per year.

When Question 2 came to the voters in 2010 the results were closer than might have been expected, 313,769 voted “yes,” while 53.8% or 356,356 voted “no” on the appeals court creation. [Bllped]  Opponents argued there might be a need for an appeals court, but “There may be a need for an appellate court, but now is not the time fiscally. There is no way to create an entire separate level of courts without creating funding to support it on the taxpayers’ dime down the line.” [RGJ]

The funding question appears to be answered for the moment, with the appellate court needing about $800,000 in start up funds, and about $1.3 million per year for operations. [LVS] And, the support is bipartisan with both Republican Governor Sandoval and Democratic Attorney General Masto both advocating the new system.

Before anyone jumps on that rather tired “Taxpayer Dime” argument once more, consider the costs for Nevada citizens and businesses if nothing is done.

Under the current system it is taking about two years from the time an appeal is filed until the Nevada Supreme Court issues a response. [LVRJ]  That’s two years worth of an attorney on retainer, two years worth of waiting for a decision, two years worth of unnecessary delay – and the old saw is true: Justice delayed is justice denied.

There are some important cases coming before the Supreme Court this term, one is a 2013 Lincoln County case of child sexual abuse one of the central questions of which is does the defense have the right to demand an independent psychological examination of the victim(s)? [63563] In Hallenback v. Hallenback the Nevada Supreme Court is asked to decide if in a community property state one person is entitled to a full pension earned while separated from the other spouse.  In Slade v. Caesars Entertainment the court is asked to decide if an eviction from one casino property (in this case Mississippi) means a person is prohibited from attending any event in any other property owned by the casino corporation. The corporation has been involved in this litigation since March 2013.   These and other decisions pertain to civil liberties for both individuals and businesses, [NVSC] and should not have to compete with the justices’ time amid disputes over the revocation of driver’s licenses and inmate habeas corpus filings.

On the other hand it can be argued that a person who feels his or her driver’s license has been unfairly revoked, or an inmate who sincerely believes his habeas corpus rights have been violated, shouldn’t have to wait for a decision while cases involving community property, multi-state casino operations, and defense rights in important prosecutions, etc.  take up more of the court’s time.

Neither the aggrieved driver’s license litigant nor the multi-state casino corporation is well served by having a prolonged wait for the adjudication of their complaints, and there are costs associated with both kinds of cases, certainly beyond the cost of judicial operations and administration.  To argue that the state “can’t afford” to expand its judiciary because it might “ride on the Taxpayers’ dime” is also to contend that citizens and businesses in this state will have to spend more of their income and resources on delayed litigation and adjudication in a truncated system.

Or to put it more simply – it makes fiscal and judicial sense to adopt the appeals court proposal.

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Bits and Pieces: Tesla, Titus, Heller, and Amodei

Jig Saw Puzzle ** It’s a done deal. TESLA’s coming to Nevada, brought to us by $1.2 billion worth of ‘incentives.’ [RGJ]  Meanwhile, watch that multiplier! The state is assuming a 2.5 multiplier for revenue generation, i.e. for every one direct job with TESLA there will be 2.5 ancillary jobs created – that’s a big multiplier. [RGJ] See also [LVRJ]

**  Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1) asked the VA to move its regional office from Reno to Las Vegas. [LVRJ]  Much as it might pain a northern Nevadan to say so, but the Las Vegas metropolitan area does have more of the 246,000 Nevada veterans than those living in the north, [VA] and the northern office hasn’t covered itself in glory. [LVRJ]  I’d not want to hang by my hair waiting for a definitive answer from the new VA leadership.

** From the Department of No Surprises:  Senator Dean Heller (R-American Bankers Association) voted against the cloture motion to consider S.J. Res. 19, a bill to propose a Constitutional amendment to allow the Congress to enact meaningful campaign finance reform.  Senator Heller was one of 42 (all Republican) votes to continue to filibuster any attempt to overturn the decision in Citizens United.  [roll call 261]

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) voted in favor of H.R. 3522, a bill which would allow insurance corporations to offer small businesses group  insurance plans which DO NOT meet the standards for comprehensive health insurance coverage for their employees under the terms of the ACA.  [RC 495]  One organization summed up the problem with the bill:

“This legislation would allow health insurers to continue offering coverage outside of the insurance marketplaces established by the health law even if those plans do not comply with its coverage requirements. In addition, the inferior plans that would be allowed to continue under Representative Cassidy’s bill discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, force women to pay more than men for the same coverage and impose annual caps on the amount of care received by enrollees.” [NCPSSM]  (emphasis added)

Those three issues, pre-existing condition discrimination, gender discrimination, and junk policies with capped coverage are some of the main reasons the ACA was necessary in the first place.

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, nevada taxation, Titus

The Tesla Tango

Tesla Here’s the paragraph from PLAN’s letter to the Nevada state legislature which should capture attention:

If we are to use our state’s threadbare tax coffers to subsidize this multi-billion dollar corporation, we urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to hold Tesla accountable for creating family-wage jobs with Nevadans first in line, and other benefits for our state. Specifically, you should attach job quality standards regarding wages and benefits, indexed to inflation over the 20-year deal, to the Tesla tax breaks. You should also mandate customized training and first-source hiring procedures to maximize hiring opportunities for Nevadans. And to deter outsourcing or the use of temp agencies, all of Tesla’s tax breaks (not just the refundable credits) should require direct employment and be pegged to employment levels (so that property and sales tax exemptions would be scaled back if Tesla does not reach and maintain 6,500 employees). (emphasis added)

If Nevada is to experience the benefits from tax incentives offered to TESLA, then it needs to have the wage levels secured to a level which would allow for increased demand for goods and services.  In a state without an income tax, the state revenues have to filter through the sales and business taxes.  For that to happen there has to be an increased level of consumer spending.

‘Minimum wage jobs, temporary employment, outsourced temp employment will simply shave potential demand from the equation.  The current “half the loaf” proposal is problematic:

“The bill requires half of the construction workers and half of the permanent factory workers be from Nevada. Tesla will be required to keep such things as driver’s licenses and car registrations of its employees on file to prove the quota has been met. However, if Tesla can demonstrate it can’t find enough qualified employees in Nevada, it can ask the economic development director for a waiver.” [RGJ]

Why 50%? Why not 67%.  Or are we to be pleased that we’re getting the 50%?  The type of jobs included is another issue for stakeholders.  TESLA will no doubt import its own upper level management team for its plant, this is standard practice and will bring in incomes which could drive local demand for goods and services.  It’s the intermediate positions about which Nevadans might want to be concerned.   And, there’s this:

“Tesla will get a $12,500 transferable tax credit for up to 6,000 qualified employees, who work at least 30 hours a week and make an average of $22 an hour.”  [RGJ]

30 hours?  The last time we looked, 30 hours is a part time job, and which average are we talking about?  Is that the median wage? (half the paychecks above and half below the $22 mark) Or, is it an arithmetical mean, in which the salaries of the top employees are averaged in with the lowest paid workers?  In other words, if we use the arithmetical mean to get the average between a person paid $10 per hour with the income of the Sultan of Brunei wouldn’t that yield an artificially higher average wage?  Or, are we using the mode, the most common wage paid by the company? If there are more people earning $22 per hour than any other group – except there are profound disparities between the top and bottom – then would this be a clear picture of the salary and wage distribution of the firm?

No doubt there will be more questions as the Nevada legislature continues to debate the bill to offer TESLA tax incentives to locate its plant in the state. Stay tuned.

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Filed under Nevada, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

Nevada Legislature Needs to Talk About Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Ribbon Sadly, sometimes it takes a dramatic event to capture attention indicating a serious problem – the Ray Rice Case is a notable example.  In the immortal words of the late great Joan Rivers, “Can We Talk?”

Instead of taking action when alarms sound, Nevada’s been hitting the Snooze Alarm on domestic violence. 

Alarm:  On February 7, 2012 the Las Vegas Sun reported findings that nearly half of all women surveyed by the CDC living in Nevada reported having experienced domestic violence in their lifetimes.  Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto established a domestic violence fatality review board to review the issue and look at a  “sample of cases to determine where the chain of assistance and services could be strengthened to prevent future domestic violence homicides.”

Alarm:  April 24, 2013 The report from the domestic violence fatality review was published. [pdf]  Recommendations included suggestions for improving the collection and analysis of data – not surprising because the review board found local governments should (but not necessarily do) have processes in place to gather accurate and complete information for state wide analysis.

Another recommendation centered on the creation and implementation of a process by which there could be an immediate temporary restraining order at the time of an arrest, amending NRS 33.017.

The fifth recommendation suggested that local judges and attorneys discontinue the practice of pleading down domestic violence cases.  Pleading down a case such that the perpetrator is assigned to “impulse control classes” too often means that the second offense is treated as a “first offense,” and the cumulative process of domestic violence sentencing in ineffective.  We’ll come back to this recommendation in a moment.

Alarm:  January 26, 2014 the Las Vegas Review Journal reports that domestic violence cases are on the rise in Clark County. In 2012 the police responded to some 60,000 reports of domestic violence, and in 22,000 of those there was some form of criminal behavior.   While Nevada was no longer Number One in domestic violence statistics, having dropped to Number 16 in the nation, there are still entirely too many cases.

The Legal Environment

These alarms are going off in an environment in which domestic violence may not be considered a felony unless there is a weapon involved or the victim is permanently injured.  [LVGov]  Further,  section 228 of the Nevada statutes dealing with domestic violence is mostly concerned with the certification and administration of treatment programs.  This is not to say that Nevada laws are necessarily weak in term of domestic abuse, but they do have elements which could be improved.  One such area concerns “battery.”

While Las Vegas advises victims that there must be permanent injury or the use of a potentially lethal weapon for the perpetrator to face a felony charge, the statute on battery is not necessarily as lenient.  NRS 200.400 defines a battery as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.”

If the person intended to commit “mayhem” (permanent bodily injury) or robbery or grand larceny, then this would be considered a category B felony punishable by a state prison term of not less than 2 years nor more than 10, and a fine of not more than $10,000.  Battery with intent to kill will also be considered a category B felony with a term of at least 2 years incarceration and not more than 20.  If there is substantial bodily harm and the victim is over the age of 16, then the offense is a category A felony, with a minimum sentence of 2 years and a maximum of life. 

Again, the “substantial bodily harm” is defined as “Bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ; or Prolonged physical pain.”  In short, while the general definition of a battery seems like the obvious charge in a domestic violence situation, the definitions of “mayhem,” and “substantial bodily harm” raise the standard such that the advisory from Las Vegas is essentially correct.

The Personal Environment

Unfortunately not all forms of domestic abuse/violence take the obvious form of a battery, nor of an assault in a traditional legal sense.  Pushing, kicking, slapping, punching, strangulation, biting, throwing objects at or near the victim, subjecting the person to reckless driving, using household objects as weapons, threatening the partner with weapons of various sorts, are all common forms of domestic violence that don’t achieve the levels of abuse in the form of lacerations, fractures, internal injuries; or of abuse that leads to disabilities or death. [DWVA.org]  The academic definition of domestic abuse (intimidation, humiliation, physical injury) [AAETS] meets the legal definitions only when the abuse becomes readily apparent, and intense enough to meet the standards for mayhem or substantial bodily harm.

Modern society places a premium on being in control, and there is a temptation when discussing the behaviors listed above to describe them as being “out of control,” or the result of immediate anger or frustration.  In fact, the domestic abuser is all about control, “Domestic abuse is not a result of losing control; domestic abuse is intentionally trying to control another person. The abuser is purposefully using verbal, nonverbal, or physical means to gain control over the other person.”  [AAETS]

We punish those who go beyond the bounds of acceptable human behavior if they do things which cause substantial bodily harm or result in mayhem. However, we’re not as efficient in creating a legal environment in which it’s recognized that there are abusive individuals, who are not out of control, and whose actions cause severe emotional damage and psychological harm, which may or may not result in permanent injury.

It’s time now to reconsider the recommendation from the state review panel on sentencing guidelines, with a special focus on their commentary:

“When these cases are pleaded down to lower level offenses, sentencing is ineffective or even dangerous. For example, impulse control classes are not effective in domestic violence cases. In addition, this creates a system where future domestic violence incidents are treated as a first offense, and therefore the cumulative nature of domestic violence sentencing is ineffective.”  (emphasis added)

Admitting the Almost Obvious

Publicly stating that impulse control classes aren’t the answer should have raised some controversy when the Attorney General’s panel first issued the report on domestic violence cases in Nevada.  However, the conclusion is substantiated by other, and earlier, research.  In a 2002 meta-study of treatment programs (Babcock, Green, Robie) found: “Overall, effects due to treatment were in the small range, meaning that the current interventions have a minimal impact on reducing recidivism beyond the effect of being arrested.”

A study of offenders in Broward County, Florida in 2004 was no more heartening:  “The results presented here show no clear and demonstrable effects of counseling on offenders’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Analysis of  self-reported and victim-reported psychological and physical abuse using the revised Conflict Tactics Scales suggests that the behavior of batterers in  the treatment programs did not change over time.” (pdf) 

A 2008 publication of meta-analysis concerning studies of batterer treatment programs also confirms the Nevada panel’s conclusion. “The Preponderance of evidence now accumulated in the field calls into question the efficacy of “batterer” programs based on the most prevalent national models. Indeed, the main findings from our randomized trial are consistent with other recent trials, of which none found that mandating offenders to a batterer program for groups of men produced lower rates of re-abuse.” (pdf)

Not to paint a very pretty face on the matter, but Nevada has an entire section of code (NRS 228) given to certifying treatment programs for domestic abusers, one segment concerning how certification may be withdrawn, and a sentence requiring the program to measure the success of the individual’s progress – but doesn’t seem to have a complete grip on what to do when treatment doesn’t work.

The Legislative Environment

It would seem obvious that one of the tasks to which the next session of the State Legislature should set for itself is the oversight of sentencing and adjudication of domestic violence crimes.  There are some pertinent questions which ought to be raised:

#1.  What is the “success rate,” if any, of the mandatory treatment programs for domestic abusers in Nevada?  What is an “acceptable” recidivism rate?  How is recidivism measured? Re-arrest rates?  Self reporting? After treatment interviews and investigations?

#2. If, as suggested by the research, the fear of arrest is more conducive to a reduction in domestic violence among its perpetrators than court mandated treatment programs, then are community standards for police training, and judicial education commensurate with the need to effect more efficacious interaction between the batterers and the courts?  *This is a polite way to say, “Do we junk the bulk of NRS 228 and improve the way the legal code addresses that domestic battering which doesn’t meet the standards required for mayhem and substantial bodily injury?”

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Filed under domestic abuse, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

The Great North Houston Vote Suppression Raid: A cautionary tale for Nevada

There’s a cautionary tale here.  It really does make a difference who controls the offices of the state Secretary of State and who holds the post of State Attorney General.  If the following information isn’t convincing, I’m not sure what might be. 

Five days ago, Texans were reminded of a raid by police officers in protective gear sweeping into a house on the north side of Houston. It wasn’t a drug raid.  The officers displayed a search warrant and then removed computers, hard drives, and documents.  These weren’t related to any money laundering schemes – they were the property of “Houston Votes,” a voter registration effort.  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s delegation of investigators said they were after evidence of voting fraud.  And the result?

“The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.” [DallasNews]

The case included all the usual elements, a fervid Tea Party agitator, Catherine Englebrecht of the King Street Patriots, film clips from Fox News about the New Black Panthers, rumors of the organization being “worse than ACORN.”

The justification offered by Attorney General Abbott after the initial Dallas News story,  was that he didn’t know about the investigation at the time. [DallasNews]   A full on raid? Protective gear? Guns drawn? And the man ultimately in charge of this fiasco now can only say, “I trusted my aides?” There were more allegations of unjustified interference from Abbott’s office.

“The Houston Votes case is not the only one of its kind, though it’s unclear how often Abbott’s office investigates allegations similar to those levied against the group. In response to requests from The News, the attorney general’s office provided a list of 637 potential violations of the Elections Code referred to Abbott since he took office in late 2002.

Strickland (Abbott spokesperson) said he could not say how many were investigated or how many involved alleged voter registration fraud.” [Star Telegram]

In short, those 637 hardly constitute an “epidemic” of voter fraud as declared by Abbott in 2006.   So, what does this tale say in terms of Nevada’s upcoming vote?

The Republican candidate for Secretary of State, the person in charge of Nevada’s elections, is Barbara Cegavske, who has made her position clear.  She’s in favor of the photo ID requirements which have been used in states like Texas and North Carolina to suppress voting by Blacks and Hispanics:

Cegavske said that if elected in November she would consider introducing a voter ID bill during the 2015 legislative session if no lawmaker proposes a similar bill. Such measures have repeatedly failed to pass the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate, however.

“We need to have something that everyone feels secure about,” Cegavske said after speaking to about 40 people attending a breakfast for Hispanics in Politics, an influential Latino community group. “I don’t want to disenfranchise anybody, but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have identification.”  Cegavske said that even if people don’t drive they usually have other ID they use to get Social Security checks or food stamps or for other programs that require photo identification.”  [LVRJ]

Her statement couldn’t make it much clearer about whom she’s referring when discussing who might not be able to register to vote.  Cegavske’s opponent is Kate Marshall who has not made these kinds of statements.  The Nevada Democratic Party made its position on Senator Cegavske crystal clear:

“The only way to ensure the integrity of our election system is to keep Barbara Cegavske as far away from the Secretary of State’s office as possible,” said Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Zach Hudson.  “Cegavske’s rhetoric today might endear her to extremists in the TEA Party, but the reality is she is a career politician who has spent her time in the legislature killing ethics reform, blatantly abusing tax dollars and trying to suppress people from voting.”

Putting ingredients such as Tea Party + Voting + State Office Holder together is precisely what generated the debacle in Texas.  Cegavske, is indeed, a solution in search of a problem, and most definitely isn’t the best candidate for the office of Nevada Secretary of State.  (See also: Fodder and Folderol]  For that matter, she certainly doesn’t need to be teamed up with “Train Wreck” Adam Laxalt in the AG’s office.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

Justified, Necessary, or Both?

The police action in Sparks, NV might be controversial, but the Washoe County District Attorney has ruled the officers were justified in shooting, and killing, an armed 45 year old woman with a blood alcohol level of 0.127 in October, 2013. [RGJ]  The wounding of the woman’s daughter may generate more controversy, but the incident illustrates some of the major issues surrounding the use of lethal force by police officers.

The woman in question was threatening suicide.  There may be no more frightening situation for law enforcement personnel than facing someone who feels there is nothing left to lose. Individuals have been reported as deliberately assaulting officers while unarmed or while brandishing a variety of lethal and non lethal weapons. Some, perhaps up to 100 per year are intent upon having the police officer assist a suicide. [PSMag] Whatever the woman’s intent, let’s avoid using the catch-phrase “suicide by cop,” because it’s an undefined, unclear, categorization into which altogether too many incidents can be inserted which may or may not resemble one another in detail. [Slate]

What is reasonably clear from the report is that the woman was pointing her gun at her own head at one point in the confrontation, and threatening to end her life.  Suicidal ideation is one symptom of mental illness, and in entirely too many cases we are asking the police to serve as mental health professionals, a task for which they aren’t trained.

The fatal shooting of a homeless, mentally ill, man by the Albuquerque, NM police generated criticism of the officers’ use of lethal force last March, but it also highlighted the growing number of instances in which mentally ill individuals – lacking adequate local mental health services – are coming into contact with police agencies. [NYT]

There are training programs available for police officers, such as the NAMI Crisis Intervention Team model.    The Las Vegas Metro PD is working with NAMI-Southern Nevada to develop a collaborative pre-arrest diversion program based on the CIT model. [NAMI-SN] The Reno Police Department also has such a program. [UMemphis]  Smaller, more rural, Nevada counties may or may not have a CIT program in place. [UMemMap]

There is research indicating that the training works.  CIT trained responders were more likely to be engaged in “referral or transport” than in an arrest, and only 12% of the encounters in the study escalated to the level of physical force, and CIT trained personnel “were significantly more likely to report verbal engagement or negotiation as the highest level of force used.” [AJP pdf]

However, it would be remiss not to ask: How much effort is being put into alleviating the necessity of having expansive CIT programs? How many resources does the community provide for the mentally ill?

We also know the unfortunate woman had a blood alcohol concentration level well above Nevada’s general 0.08% limit.  We don’t know whether in this specific case alcohol was a constant or a periodic problem, and it really doesn’t matter individually, but collectively speaking it does raise the question of how well resourced and available alcohol treatment programs  are in the area?  Are they plentiful and affordable? Are they convenient in terms of access or are there long waiting lists and limited treatment facilities?

This case in Sparks, NV also requires some reflection on several other issues. For example, is the “suicide by cop” categorization appropriate, or not?  Are we adopting and implementing consistent training programs throughout Nevada cities and counties which might reduce the escalation of incidents into lethal territory?  Are we asking police departments and law enforcement agencies to assume too much of the burden of initial interaction with mentally ill or suicidal individuals?

As with all such tragic incidents, we’re always left with more questions than answers.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Health Care, Mental Health, Nevada politics

Pulling Representative Heck Slowly Toward Understanding Foreign Policy

SpaghettiRepresentative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is confused about the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.  “I don’t think we have a coherent foreign policy, and that’s part of the problem,” Heck said. “We have not exercised the level of leadership around the globe as we have over the past 20 years. … The world looks toward somebody to kind of set the example. And I don’t think we’ve been setting the example that we have set previously.” [LVRJ]

First there’s a big difference between something which is incoherent and something with which there is disagreement.  The limited engagement portion of what’s lumped together as Obama Doctrine isn’t too difficult to comprehend.  Unilateral force will be used if there is a direct threat to the United States.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?

Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.  If force is to be used, it should be in a very precise way.  [FP] Also not all that hard to understand.  In case Representative Heck is still confused, let’s apply some examples.

ISIL: A direct threat to Americans or American interests. IS attacks threatening Americans and American interests in Iraq, especially in the vicinity of Erbil in Kurdish controlled areas presented a direct threat to Americans in the region.  Response? Air strikes.  So far so good.  IS momentum in the area has been blunted and American lives and interests protected.  Humanitarian aid and the rearming of the Peshmerga forces associated with the mission was augmented by efforts from the British, the French, and the Germans.  Multilateral, targeted, minimal force applied to secure desired results.  What’s confusing about that?  But, what of indirect threats?

Libya:  What should be done in cases of threats to global security? Once again, we find the Administration employing a multilateral approach. In 2011 an effort by the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, and Great Britain (in a coalition ultimately including 19 nations)  coordinated a campaign of air strikes, naval blockades, no-fly zones, and logistical assistance to Libyan rebels. It worked.

Syria: The civil war in Syria presents a more complicated problem for nations which perceive the situation as a threat to global security.  The Assad government has close ties to Russia, and the rebel groups range from small inexperienced moderate elements, to criminal gangs, to extremist groups, to the really extremist groups like ISIS.  Coalitions, alliances, and coterminous realignments and the creation of new coalitions, make this a very fluid situation.  Problem One was to get the stockpiles of chemical weapons out of the game.  Mission accomplished. Last month a Danish ship delivered the last 600 metric tons of chemical weapons to a U.S. ship (Cape Ray) at an Italian port, where the chemicals will be destroyed. [CNN] Multilateral. Minimal use of force (a show of force at one point) with a maximum use of diplomacy, combined with a specifically focused mission.

Calls for arming the anti-Assad rebels is a simplistic response to a complicated problem.  In December 2013 the BBC published something of a roster of Syrian rebel forces for those wishing to keep track of the players.  There’s a coalition now called the Supreme Council of the Free Syrian Army, the good news is that this is a relatively moderate group, but the bad news is that it is composed of some 30 different militias which retain their own operational independence, command structures, and agendas. In short it is a very loosely joined network of independent brigades. Then there is the Islamic Front, another coalition of about seven groups which wants to topple the Assad government and devise an Islamic state.  This is not to be confused with the Al Qaeda or jihadist groups, such as the Al Nusra Front, and the Islamic State.  But wait, we haven’t listed the independent groups such as the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigades, Asala wa al-Tanmiya Front, or the group often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, the Durou al-Thawra Commission.

Now, just who is it that the U.S. might want to arm?  And by the way, Syria is about 64% Sunni, about 20% of whom are Kurds, Turkomans, Circassians, and Palestinians.  The Shia represent most of the other Muslims in Syria, and are divided into three groups: Twelvers, Ismailis, and Alawis.  And then there are the recently discovered by the foreign press —  Yazidis.

Now Representative Heck might want to ask himself: Does he prefer a policy which keeps U.S. interests in mind in Syria by making maximum use of diplomatic multilateral efforts and a minimal infusion of force; or would he prefer getting the U.S. mired in another swampy situation in the Middle East?

If one’s idea of a coherent foreign policy is one of moving in with a maximum use of unilateral force — and with minimal consideration of the consequences — then the Obama Administrations doctrine isn’t going to meet with one’s approval. And, that’s the question which needs to be answered by Representative Heck — If you don’t like a mission specific use of force, applied in conjunction with a multilateral diplomatic and military effort, then what do you want?

The bellicose blustering of the Bush Administration sounded coherent, but ultimately proved to produce incoherent results.  Witness our next example: Iraq.

Iraq: A nation created in the wake of World War I, with significant religious and political internal differences, formerly governed by an intransigent and despicable (albeit secular) dictator, crumbles after Sunni populations in the north and west perceive the Shiite government in the south (Baghdad/Basra) to be ignoring or damaging their interests. Kurdish populations in the northeast see the Shiite government as inimical to their interests, and the compliment is returned by the southern Shia.

The removal of ISF military leaders who are Sunni or former Baathists by the Maliki government creates a security force (army) of questionable utility.  The question is answered as the Iraqis try to form a new government in July-August 2014, and  ISIL moves from Syria into ‘friendly’ territory around Mosul.  ISIL (IS) attracts support from local Sunni groups alienated by the Maliki government, and radicals from surrounding territories.

The fractures in the Iraqi political system, fully identified in a policy review with General Odierno in 2010, are visible today. [FP]  Our goals as set forth in 2010-2011 are to (1) encourage reconciliation, (2) help develop a professional civil service, (3) promote a healthy relationship between the parliament and the executive, and (4) to support the reintegration of refugees and displaced persons.  [FP]

Recent actions by the Obama Administration have sought to get the Yazidis to safety (a multinational effort), re-arm and supply the Peshmerga (a multinational effort), and get the Maliki government in the rear view mirror in order to restore the government and the Iraq Security Force into working order.  Is this too complex for Representative Heck to ponder?

How about we set an example of using multinational cooperation to  diminish threats to global security by applying the least force appropriate in the most multilateral format possible?  Is that too difficult to understand?

Carry a Big Bull Horn and Do What With It?

But wait, Representative Heck’s apprehensions go even further:

“Heck said a lack of follow-through on U.S. threats makes America appear weak. He didn’t cite Syria, but President Bashar al-Assad suffered no serious repercussions for using chemical weapons against his own people.

“Our adversaries need to know that if they do X, then the U.S. is going to do Y,” Heck said. “And there has not been that consistency. That’s why you see actors, not only in the Middle East, but also Russia and China, push the limits.”  [LVRJ]

Breathe.  Did Representative Heck miss the part where the Danish ship met the U.S. ship in the Italian harbor — and Assad doesn’t have his chemical weapons anymore? The serious repercussion is that Assad can’t use his chemical weapons on his own people anymore because he doesn’t have them.  He’s down to barrel bombs.

Breathe, and let the breath condense on the crystal ball Representative Heck seems to have about the intentions and actions of foreign parties. If we tell people we’ll do Y if they do X — What are X and Y?

Let’s explore some of the implications of Representative Heck’s simple formula, in the application of the administration’s doctrine: Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.

Putin moves against Ukraine.  There is no direct threat to the United States therefore we will address the threat multilaterally and not necessarily with maximum (military) force.  Multilateral action is messy, can be slow, doesn’t make for dramatic headlines, and certainly isn’t conducive to the bellicose bluster approach. However, in this instance it’s a far better approach.

For example, the U.S. does about $160 million in trade with Ukraine, [Cen] by contrast Germany’s trade with Ukraine is estimated at $10 billion. [Siemens pdf] If economic interests are placed in the “threat” category then Germany has far more at stake in the problems between Ukraine and Russia than we do.  So do China, Belarus, Poland, Turkey, Italy, and Hungary. [Bloomberg]

But, but, but, sputter the critics, Putin moved into Crimea and we didn’t do anything.  Come to think of it, neither did the Ukrainians — possibly remembering Crimea was attached to Ukraine in 1954 as a matter of Soviet administrative convenience, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Crimea negotiated terms which allowed it to be an autonomous republic. [AJAM]

While the Russians (Putin) continue to threaten interference with Ukrainian sovereignty, the latest efforts have been rebuffed.  The Russians are putting out the story that the destruction of an armored column is a fantasy — the Ukrainians have another version of events, one in which they destroyed at least half of it. [HuffPo] Meanwhile, the notion of sending arms to Ukraine sounds a bit like carrying coal to Newcastle — at one point Ukraine exported arms to Russia, included in a total of $1.3 billion in arms sales each year. [Bloomberg]

Perhaps there’s not enough drama in the careful ratcheting up of economic sanctions to cool the blood of those who, like Representative Heck, are unable to comprehend the current foreign policy direction of the Obama Administration?  However, it’s not like the Russians didn’t get some warnings as the sanctions were slowly increased until they started to hurt Russians in their grocery stores. [USAT]  Yes, Mr. Putin, if you continue to threaten (X) Ukraine, the western nations will (Y) hit you in the grocery baskets.  Worse still for Mr. Putin’s plans, the Germans, who have taken their own economic interests into consideration during the maneuvering, are now taking a much stiffer stance. [NYT]

Now, what part of Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance. isn’t clear?

China? It’s difficult to tell what Representative Heck might be talking about, other than a generalized appeal to the old Yellow Peril line of jingoism.  However, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knows we’re monitoring what is going on between the Philippines, Vietnam and the Chinese regarding the South China Sea. [Reuters] And, that’s what we’re doing — monitoring to see if there has been or will be a de-escalation of tempers in that region.  We will be working with Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China to resolve differences — meaning we will adopt the position that Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.

Perhaps Representative Heck does understand that the Obama Administration will meet indirect threats with multilateral efforts and not apply the use of maximum force in each instance — then what is the substance of his criticism?  We don’t “sound” strong enough? What does that mean? We don’t “look” strong enough? What does that mean?

Representative Heck may be indulging in theater criticism — should the President’s voice have been louder? Deeper? Should the wording of policy statements have been more aggressive? Should aggressively worded policy statements be issued no matter what our friends and allies may say?  He may assert he doesn’t agree with the foreign policy direction of the Obama Administration, but surely he can’t mean he doesn’t understand it.

Never one to be considered a softy, Gen. George Patton offered this pithy bit of advice on leadership:

“You young lieutenants have to realize that your platoon is like a piece of spaghetti. You can’t push it. You’ve got to get out in front and pull it.”

President Obama seems to have received and understood that message, Representative Heck must still be working on it. Pull too hard on spaghetti and it breaks.

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