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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Ferguson: The Mission and Why Mission Statements Matter

Ferguson CopsBack in 2002 the Department of Justice updated its guidelines on the use of force by local police departments. [DoJ]  The time machine must be fully operational today because the remarks in the document sound very much like the current headlines:

“Violent confrontations between police and their service population does not support a cohesive community or a responsive police department. Unfortunately, unjustified violence between police and minority members is not something from an era of policing that is behind us, as evidenced by recent, well publicized cases across the county.”

We now have yet another ‘well publicized case’ in Ferguson, Missouri, twelve years since the release of the 2002 guidelines report.  When people are posting comparative photographs of the St. Louis County Police operations in Ferguson alongside those from Egypt, China, and Heaven Only Knows Where, we’re obviously looking at unjustified violence and a community which is anything but cohesive. We’re also looking at what the Department of Justice in 2002 warned us about concerning the police culture and policing a community:

Instead of the recommended (1) problem solving, and (2) community partnering, we’re witnessing the third element in the list — (3) police culture. Let’s take a look at what the 2002 Guidelines had to say, it’s two paragraphs, but the time it takes to read through them is worth the effort:

“Clearly all police departments have a culture. The key question is whether that culture has been carefully developed or simply allowed to develop without benefit of reflection or guidance. There are police agencies, for example, where the use of force is viewed as abnormal. Thus, when force is used in such an environment, the event receives a great deal of managerial and administrative attention. Such scrutiny reflects the department’s culture: the use of force is viewed, and responded to, as an atypical occurrence.

Contrast such a department with one that does not view the use of force as abnormal. In such a department, there may be minimal written rules providing officers with policy guidelines regarding the use of force. There may be a lack of clearly articulated administrative procedures for tracking and investigating officers’ use of force. Finally, and most importantly, the culture of these departments is such that officers may view the use of force as an acceptable way of resolving conflict with the public.”  [DoJ 2002]

Now we have a foundation for asking some serious questions about police culture in our own communities.

Do the policy statements of the police force in question demonstrate the characteristics in paragraph one or two?  Are the rules clearly specified, is there a ‘clearly articulated administrative procedure’ for investigating  the use of force?  What managerial controls are in place to reduce the incidents of unreasonable or unjustifiable use of force?

If the culture of the organization is such that force is perceived as an intrinsic part of ‘police work’ and there are no administrative or managerial constraints in place then why would we not conclude that the officers do, in fact, see the use of force as a perfectly acceptable way to resolve conflicts?

Unfortunately, what we may well be witnessing in St. Louis County is a toxic combination of a local police department in Ferguson giving visual evidence that force was an acceptable way to enforce compliance with police directives, augmented by a county police department with an armory of weapons suitable for putting down a large riot in Tahrir Square which it was all too eager to put into play.

That’s the larger picture, but what do we find when we drill down to the statements the local police department makes to citizens who use the web site to find out about their local department?  The FPD is please to describe its mission as follows: “The Ferguson Police Department provides protection of life and property in Ferguson through the enforcement of laws and ordinances and assistance with emergency medical services.” [FPD]

Notice the emphasis upon protection and enforcement?  Protection and enforcement are indeed crucial elements, but compare the statement above to the mission statement of the Los Angeles Police Department — not without its own set of community relations problems:

“It is the mission of the Los Angeles Police Department to safeguard the lives and property of the people we serve, to reduce the incidence and fear of crime, and to enhance public safety while working with the diverse communities to improve their quality of life. Our mandate is to do so with honor and integrity, while at all times conducting ourselves with the highest ethical standards to maintain public confidence.”

There certainly might be legitimate questions about the LAPD’s capacity to carry out the improvement of their quality of life portion of the mission, and whether there is public confidence in their efforts — however, the department has at least established a framework in which the discussion of community diversity and ethical standards are an official part of the conversation.  It may be telling that the Ferguson PD didn’t find it necessary to incorporate those elements in its mission statement, and if they aren’t in the mission statement then how might they be a part of the discussion of the relationship between the police and the community?  The FPD has a similarly terse statement regarding community relations:

“Our relationship with the community is enhanced by our commitment of personnel to the positions of Community Relations, DARE, and school resource officers.” [FPD]

One of the first flags that goes up flashes on the word “positions.”  This is a quantifiable element not a qualitative one.  Nothing in the brief statement a person would find on their web site gives any further information about what community relations actually does or how the effectiveness is measured, and how the DARE and school resource officers are perceived.  Indeed, if we go back to the mission statement from the FPD the department will have done its job in the community if life and property are secure because the laws are enforced.

True, mission statements and web site information often tend to be terse, too often glib, and all too often relegated to posters on walls over coffee machines — also true, they illustrate the foundational elements of a police culture described in the 2002 Department of Justice Guidelines.

So, here’s your homework assignment! Look up the mission statement of your local police force.

Does the mission statement state or infer that the primary reason for the existence of the police department is enforcement?  Is this modified in any way to suggest a larger role in community relations?   For example: The Las Vegas Police Department tells its public:

 “The mission of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is to partner with the community to provide outstanding service and protection through prevention, innovation and leadership. Recruiting, hiring and training qualified and diverse individuals to serve the Las Vegas community are central to the successful achievement of this mission.” [LVMPD]

Once the mission statement is found how well the department in question is achieving its basic goals can be evaluated.  Have other organizations or agencies already evaluated the department’s performance? In the case of the Las Vegas police the ACLU issued a report in 2012 (pdf) proposing revisions to the use of force policies.  In other cases there may be site visits and evaluations available.

A little ground work is necessary to analyze the nature of the mission statement and what police culture it implies, to evaluate the efficacy of law enforcement efforts to secure the peace and safety of a community, and to synthesize these elements into a coherent judgment about the effectiveness of the local police department in term of its stated mission.

The President asked this morning for a comprehensive review of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri — there is nothing wrong with a bit of pro-active review by citizens who elect the public officials responsible for police oversight to determine the appropriateness of the police mission and to ask questions about the capacity of the department to accomplish it.

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Don’t Rush In: Limbaugh’s Unfortunate Mental Health Advice

I usually avoid Rush Limbaugh for the misogynistic racist and irrational person that he is, however when he launches one of his patented rants on mental health issues there’s a reason not to merely push the radio button and make him go away — there ought to be some push back. About 22 hours ago Mr. Limbaugh offered the following commentary on the unfortunate death of Robin Williams:

“He had everything, everything that you would think would make you happy.  But it didn’t.”  Now, what is the left’s worldview in general?  What is it? If you had to attach not a philosophy but an attitude to a leftist worldview, it’s one of pessimism and darkness, sadness.  They’re never happy, are they?  They’re always angry about something. No matter what they get, they’re always angry. ” [link]

Aside from being a mis-characterization of liberal philosophy which conveniently conforms to Mr. Limbaugh’s performance art form, this is about as bad as commentary on depression gets.

First, if Mr. Limbaugh’s advice — just be a conservative and you’ll be happy — were correct we’d not see depression clouding the lives of conservative friends and families, but unfortunately depression doesn’t respect party lines or economic boundaries.  While it may be associated with some groups more than others, the disease doesn’t leave any subset unscathed. [NHI]

Depression ChartSecondly, and perhaps most egregiously, Mr. Limbaugh gives every appearance of advising that should a person want to avoid this mental illness all that’s required is a change of political philosophy.  This is entirely too close to the “Snap Out Of It” school of really poor advice.

A person may be angry, or sad, or pessimistic, or in grief; these are simply emotions associated with everyday life on this planet.  Depression isn’t periodic sadness, or situational grief, or even temporary anger — it’s a debilitating mental disease which leaves the individual feeling helpless and hopeless…for weeks, or months, or years.

Instead of listening to Mr. Limbaugh’s misinformation, there are better sources of intelligent discussion about mental illness and depression specifically.  Why not begin with the NIMH site?  Continue on to their definitions and discussion page. There’s better information from the DBSA than you’ll find listening to a right wing radio host.  Want to find out how prevalent depression is in your area? The CDC has some answers for you.  Less interested in statistics than symptoms? The Mayo Clinic offers still more information for you, and discusses the symptoms in greater detail.

No matter what credible medical source of information a person seeks in order to advance his or her understanding of this disease, which may affect some 14 million Americans, it would have to be better than that from a radio host with a reputation for artificially categorizing all things human into a matrix of all things political.



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Defending Nothing: The Failure of the 113th

Amodei 3Representative Mark Amodei (R-Nevada Mining Association) has a point: “We need to vote on something,” Amodei said. “How the hell do you defend nothing?” [RGJ] And, the point has merit.  However, the leadership of his party in the 113th Congress hasn’t offered anything on major issues — immigration policy reform, infrastructure maintenance and construction, extension of unemployment benefits, job bills — on which to hang its hat.

The wonderful thing about having nothing to defend is that you have nothing to defend.  If nothing is done about comprehensive immigration policy reform then the GOP has no legislation to defend in the hinterlands of Teapartistan.   If nothing is done about infrastructure construction and maintenance then the GOP has no legislation to defend to the No New Taxes (Something For Nothing) crowd.  If nothing is done about enhancing or improving the Voting Rights Act, then the GOP has no position to defend with the Neo-Confederate radicals enthusiastically engaged in vote suppression. If nothing is done about raising the federal minimum wage then the GOP doesn’t have to defend its position to those who have purchased the Trickle Down Hoax on the installment plan.

Another wonderful thing about having nothing to defend is that it leaves the party free to re-litigate the past.  Don’t want to vote on comprehensive immigration policy reform? Then vote some 50 times to repeal or otherwise diminish the Affordable Care Act. [Slaughter] Don’t want to vote on raising the federal minimum wage? Then keep introducing and passing  bills on abortion (H.R. 7) and “fetal pain” (H.R. 1797).

Yet more wonders come from mislabeling bills, such as calling legislation designed to offer more tax cuts for the already unburdened as Jobs Bills. [C/L]  This past July the House passed an extension of the bonus depreciation breaks for major corporations, which does next to absolutely nothing for family owned small businesses, and proudly announced this would improve the overall economy — which it would, of course, provided that by ‘overall economy’ one means the bottom lines of major multinational corporations. [ATTP]

And then there’s the not-so-small matter of a House leadership which can’t get its own bills passed. Witness the debacle concerning the bill to alleviate immigration problems and refugee status adjudication.  House Leadership pulled its miserly $659 million measure addressing these issues this month [CNN] when it failed to herd the Tea Party cats in its own caucus.

If the 80th Congress was the Do Nothing assembly, then the 113th seems to have acquired the label of Do Absolutely Nothing.

“With it about to depart on its five-week August recess, just 142 public bills have become law in this current Congress (2013-2014) – down from the 906 the 80th “Do-Nothing” Congress passed in 1947-48, and the 333 that were enacted during the Newt Gingrich-led 104th Congress of 1995-96.” [NBC]

But wait, say the apologists for Washington Gridlock! We’re here to prevent bad bills from being passed, therefore nothing is better than something.  Evidently, “bad” is defined as anything which doesn’t meet the stringent and exact standards of Republican legislation.  Worse still, when Republican concerns are considered to attempt some compromise, House GOP caucus members are known to flee — recall the last immigration legislation blunder.

And so it goes.  And so Representative Amodei and others will continue to defend nothing. Nothing accomplished in terms of comprehensive immigration policy reform. Nothing accomplished in regard to raising the federal minimum wage. Nothing done regarding the improvement of the Voting Rights Act. Nothing accomplished with an eye toward our crumbling and inadequate national infrastructure. Nothing to approach the wage and salary gap between male and female employees. Nothing.

Somewhere, someone, may be considering a reprise of the 1961 hit “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying?”

“I will someday earn my medal:
Twenty-five year employee.
I’ll see to it that the medal
Is the only thing they’ll ever pin on me.”

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From AQI to the Islamic State: A Graphic

ISI origins

Source material: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Council on Foreign Relations. International Crisis Group, Iraq: Falluja’s Faustian Bargain, April 2014. Center for Strategic and International Studies, Al Qaeda in Iraq. (pdf) Visual mapping: What Does ISIS control? New York Times, updated August 6, 2014.

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A New Effort Demonstrates The Need For More

Domestic ViolenceIn the midst of all the current turmoil and related teeth gnashing ranting and railing associated therewith, it’s nice to find some heroes.  A UCC church in Las Vegas makes the news today with its plan to assist victims of domestic violence, regardless of their gender, race, or creed. [LVSun] Granted domestic violence is mostly associated with protecting women from abusive spouses, but that doesn’t mean it’s restricted to that category.  So, a large round of applause to the little church trying to make a difference in this problematic issue:

“A 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that bisexual and lesbian women were more likely to experience domestic violence than heterosexual women, and bisexual men were more likely to experience sexual violence than heterosexual men and gay men, who have similar rates.” [LVSun]

All the better since the re-authorization of VAWA in 2013 which finally recognized there might be a problem for members of the LBGT community and for members of Native American tribes.  To their credit, both Nevada Senators Reid and Heller voted in favor of the measure [GovTrak].  The final vote in the House showed all four members of Congress from Nevada voting in favor of the bill. [GovTrak] The measure passed on a 286-138 vote, all the nays coming from the Republican side of the aisle.

As described in a Department of Justice release, the re-authorization of VAWA addressed a serious problem in this country, and the inclusion of provisions for Native Americans was long overdue:

“In 2010, U.S. residents age 12 or older experienced an estimated 20 million violent and property victimizations, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). (NCJ 235508) These criminal victimizations included an estimated 4.3 million violent crimes defined as rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault. Almost 126,000 of the 1.4 million serious violent crimes were rapes and assaults. While this number has decreased over the last few years it is still shows that too many women are endangered and suffering. [...] American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime.” [DoJ]

The Department of Justice was correct in reporting the disparity in the statistics regarding the physical abuse experienced by Native American women.  Some of the numbers are patently outrageous.

 In a 2008 CDC study, 39% of Native women surveyed identified as victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, a rate higher than any other race or ethnicity surveyed. This finding has been common over the years. A study from 1998 that utilized a large national probability sample (n=8000) found that American Indian/Alaskan Native American women were the most likely racial group to report a physical assault by an intimate partner. [FWV.org pdf]

And: ” According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs at least 70% of the violent victimizations experienced by American
Indians are committed by persons not of the same race— a substantially higher rate of interracial violence than experienced by white or black victims.” [FWV.org pdf]

One of the issues for Native American women in Nevada is distance. There are domestic shelters in all major Nevada towns and cities, but some of these are at no small  physical distance from reservations.  The rural fishbowl effect creates another dilemma.  If a shelter is located in the immediate vicinity everyone knows of it — just as they know about every other thing that happens. If the shelter is located far enough away to secure some anonymity the victim may not have the transportation options available to get there.

In the best of all worlds, we would consider ways to alleviate the need for shelters for victims of domestic violence, urban or rural.

While some of the lists vary, most sources focus on the following elements of spousal abuse behavior.   A 1998 study reported by the NCBI observed:

“The present study compared male spouse abusers, with and without alcohol problems, with age-matched, nonabusive males on measures of personality style, personality disorder, dysphoria, and a number of demographic measures. There were no differences among the groups in racial composition, religious preference, or religious devoutness. Male abusers were less likely to be employed, to be in intact relationships, and were less well educated. They were more likely to have witnessed abuse or experienced abuse as children, although that observation is more characteristic of abusers with alcohol problems. Measures of personality and psychopathology generally supported the hypothesis that abusive males would show greater elevations on test scales reflecting personality disorder and dysphoria and less conformity than nonbatterers. Alcohol abuse was related to greater batterer-nonbatterer differences.”

Translation: Batterers come in all races, creeds, and kinds. They are generally unhappy people, less likely to have steady employment, and more likely to be repeating abuse they witnessed as children.

The batterers tend to try to excuse their behavior — the drinks made me do it defense — and often try to deny that the behavior has any lasting effect on family or personal relationships.  Three other terms associated with battering are possessiveness, jealousy, and domination. [NCCAVA]  The use of violence is a learned behavior, a repetition of childhood scenes, or the continuation of behavior which is not confronted, curtailed, or contained.  Battering is also associated with overall low self esteem and poor communication or interpersonal skills. [NCCAVA]

If this sounds like a mental health issue … it’s because it is.  And, this is not territory in which the state of Nevada has exactly covered itself in glory.  FY 2010’s $184 million sounds like a large figure until it’s broken down per capita and the allocation was  41st in the nation with $68.32 allocated. [GovSL]  The national average per capita expenditure in 2009 was $122.90. [NAMI] The NAMI looked at state budget appropriations by state from FY 2009 to FY 2012 and reported Nevada’s proposed expenditures declined 28.1%, down from $175.5 million to $126.2 million. [NAMI] These reductions put Nevada back at the top of the list for budget cutting of mental health services, along with South Carolina and Alabama. [NAMI]

Unfortunately, in an Age of Austerity, in which public allocation of tax revenues are perceived as expenses rather than investments, there is less incentive to be “the best.” Doing just enough to get by appears preferable? If Nevada would like to be known as the state with the least need for domestic violence shelters — for anyone and everyone — then some soul searching is in order.

Have we equipped and staffed our public schools with the resources to identify, diagnose, and treat children who are in households experiencing domestic violence?  Have we required that private school counterparts do the same?

Have we allocated the necessary resources to help schools, local governments, tribes, and community organizations provide assistance to families in which domestic violence occurs?  Can we offer these entities coordinated programs to promote education, address bullying behaviors, decrease instances of domestic violence?

Have we done enough to provide jobs for those who find their economic circumstances so stressful that violent behavior comes from their lack of personal control as they cope, or not, with the frustration?

The victims of domestic violence, Native American, non-Native, members of the LBGT community, or straight, men and boys, and women and girls, shouldn’t have to wait until that mythical day upon which the magic of trickle down hoax economics kicks in and all will be right with the world.  These men, women, girls, boys, need assistance now — and not in some utopian ethereal world yet to come.

Our Thanks to the members of that Las Vegas UCC church for making life a little bit easier for more people to receive more support.

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Cracks in the Economic Mirror

cracked glassWhy not come out and say it? Wall Street is not your friend. At least it’s not your friend if you are among the group casually known as American Workers.  I know, much has been said about our “Nation of Investors” and how millions of Americans have a stake in the financial markets.  [SEC] However, all that palaver papers over the obvious.  Wall Street’s financial markets are dominated by institutional investors, and such connection as the average American does have is often limited to the tertiary strings which attach to retirement savings accounts and pension funds.

There are forces which generate revenue for Wall Street investment houses that have a negative impact on those American Workers, for example — when Walgreen Inc. decided to eschew a corporate inversion, keeping its headquarters in Chicago the Market pounced and instead of rewarding the company for maintaining its American identity and retaining its American workforce at the Chicago HQ the Wall Street Wizards dumped its stock. [CBS]  More examples?

Merck, Cisco Systems, AOL, HP, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo — all companies which were rewarded by Wall Street for cutting expenses (read employees). [MoneyCNN] Cost cutting (read layoffs) will be rewarded because…? If revenues are at least stable and expenses are reduced there will obviously be more profits for shareholders.  If Wall Street has an anthem it must be “Onward Shareholder Value.”

The problem with marching to this tune is a loss of corporate focus.  Henry Ford’s big idea was to manufacture automobiles.  Merck may be the oldest pharmaceutical company in the world, beginning with Friedrich Merck’s purchase of an apothecary shop in 1668 — a firm which grew to sell the first commercial small pox vaccine in the United States in 1898. [Merck]  Henry Wells and William Fargo started their San Francisco business in 1852 offering banking and express services. [WF] In each of these instances the founders, whether a middle western mechanic, the descendents of an apothecary owner, or the bankers during the Gold Rush, opened their doors to provide products or to deliver a service.

A firm gets to be an institution by providing goods or services, sold to people who need or want them. There is no other way to build a business.  However, when the management of a company is more interested in the stock price than in the goods or services rendered to the public we start to see the cracks in the system.

The mythology takes over — We, say the managers, must guarantee to our shareholders (owners) the highest possible return on their investment.

Crack Number One:  How long must one wait for the return on the investment?  We have a relatively recent example of what happens when the management of a commercial enterprise decides to cash in on quick returns instead of waiting for long term results. Back in 2003 CBS News asked “Who killed Montana Power?”  The short answer is the management. Montana Power management took a blue chip company, a formerly solid investment, a source of economical electric power, and transformed it into … a disaster.

Crack Number Two: Institutional and professional investors aren’t investing in long term corporate strategies which they expect to grow over the next 90 years. They are instead attuned to the quarterly reports, the earnings estimates, and the pronouncements of the analysts.  Volatility, not stability, is the key to high and quick returns. Stability protects long term investors, volatility rewards short term speculation. [BusIns]

Crack Number Three:  When the Finance Department meets the Production Department who wins?   In the 1990s the financial sector accounted for about 20% of all corporate profits, by 2011 the sector rebounded from the Mortgage Meltdown and accounted for approximately 29% of all corporate profits. [HuffPo] The process happens in the remainder of the economy as well. Consider the recent information coming from General Electric.

The company’s industrial division (medical equipment, oil & gas drilling equipment, aircraft engines, locomotives, and gas turbines) reported revenue increases of 9%, its oil and gas revenues were up an impressive 25%, its financial services were up 7%.  In fact, the financial services end of the business, Synchrony Financial, is to be spun off getting GE out of the private label credit card business by 2015. Oh, and by the way — the corporation is planning to get rid of its appliance manufacturing. “Mr. Immelt made a promise to investors that the company would expand its industrial businesses and get rid of non-core segments.” [MBN]

The company formerly synonymous with nearly all things electrical is going to profit from selling off its private label credit card operations and dropping the appliances end of the business.  There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the evolution of a corporation moving with the tides to stay profitable — but this does illustrate how a firm can move from manufacturing into financials as a core segment of its business.

Meanwhile there are several Wall Street investment banks no longer in existence that were enamored of generating fast revenue in derivatives markets and moved with another tide — out to sea.

Crack Number Four: Insert the hedge fund managers here.  Its one thing to argue for shareholder activism when speaking of the managers of pension funds, 401(k) funds, or the like, it’s quite another when the shareholder activists are hedge and wealth management types.  The Harvard Business School issued a report (July 9, 2014) coming to the following, rather depressing conclusion:

“As in prior research, we find positive announcement-period returns of around 4% to 5% when a firm is targeted by activists and a 2% increase in return on assets over the subsequent one to five years. We find that activist directors are associated with significant strategic and operational actions by firms. We find evidence of increased divestiture, decreased acquisition activity, higher probability of being acquired, lower cash balances, higher payout, greater leverage, higher CEO turnover, lower CEO compensation, and reduced investment.”

We can lump “increased divestiture, decreased acquisition, higher probability of being taken over, more debt, and less investment” under the general category of short term interests.

What is a pension fund or 401(k) administrator to do?  If pension funds, both public and private, are to be invested in corporations increasingly likely to be managed for short term revenue results, and those results are all too likely to be hinged on a swinging door of price volatility; and, if corporations are more likely to be managed with an eye toward the financials, coupled with increased divestiture and greater leverage — how does one invest for the long term in a short term environment?

So, here comes the dilemma.  The fund managers and administrators may decide to swim with the sharks — to go along with the short term investment strategies and applaud the volatility of the financial markets.  However, we’d have to ask: Does the very volatility of the markets or the acquisition of more indebtedness actually work against the best interests of the people who are paying into those retirement or pension funds?

Those who are now working, expecting retirement benefits or pension payments, seem to be at the mercy of a financial sector which rewards their layoffs and applauds the divestiture of their firms.  The message is reflecting from a cracked mirror: If you are lucky and the financial markets are up on your 65th birthday you can retire — If not?

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