The Syria questions

As President Obama continues to embark on a path to attack Syria for its probable use of chemical weapons, several major issues remain unanswered. Questions that not only address the use of deadly force by the nation, but also address consequences that could reach far into the future.

The first and most pressing issue is if the President can act without the authorization of Congress. As Senator Obama stated December 20, 2007

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As commander-in-chief, the president does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”

The key to that statement is “actual or imminent threat to the nation.” It is the same critical point brought up by Rep. Scott Rigell’s letter to the President sent August 28, 2013. It is the crux of the War Powers Act of 1973.

Without a threat to the nation, use of force against Syria is unconstitutional if it fails to have the consent of the Congress as I and apparently 150 members of Congress believe (Rep. Richard Hanna, my congressman, is NOT among the 100 Republicans and 50 Democrats that support the Rigell letter currently).

The second question is what is the benefit? Assuming that either Congress approves, or there is a national threat that thus far appears unproven, what is the gain to America for having taken action?

If the attack of the Syrian government is limited, as has been widely discussed by the White House, to just bombings then it means that collateral damage is likely. Collateral damage can be destruction of infrastructure and deaths of civilians. Such damage feeds into terrorist groups, using the grief and strife to fuel recruitment that given time can lead to terrorist attacks on America. Just imagine a child that has lost a parent, or a parent of a child that is critically wounded via collateral damage, and a nefarious organization preying upon them under the guise of hitting back against America and you can visualize the scenario.

Against such a potential problem, among many others, what will be achieved? President Obama has already stated that US action will not result in a regime change. Due to the mix of rebel supporters that are known enemies of the US, the strength and depth of integration among the rebels being unknown, the US currently does not want to provide additional support to rebels. So the proposed action in effect does nothing to change the situation in Syria, thus how does America benefit?

It should also be noted that the American public, that of Britain and Germany, as well as other nations do not believe military action should be taken. They too do not see a benefit, and as such support to the US has already been impeded.

Third is a question of planning. What is the purpose to the attack against Syria? What is President Obama trying to gain ultimately?

Attacking a sovereign nation, under internal conflict or not, never just ends with the last bomb going off. There are consequences that continue long after. The US relationship with Russia and the other Middle East nations will be affected. Considering the lack of support form critical allies England and Germany, and the potential of unilateral action, all consequences will lie solely on the US. Is there any contingency for how say Iran, or Hezbola, or China may react? Will this impede the use or production of future chemical weapons by Syria or any other nation? Does this signal a US willingness to attack other nations with chemical weapon stores – and if so, how does the US justify the stores of chemical weapons that we have?

At this time, no plan – coherent or otherwise – has been offered to address any of these concerns. In fact, beyond the act of aggression, no other forward looking proposal has been made. The ramifications of this range from the mundane to the extreme. If the current Assad regime wins the internal Syrian conflict, the US will have created an enemy that will remember what we did in their difficult time. If rebels factions win, many are aligned with organizations and nations that outright hate America. Even if those factions of rebels are not the clear winner, Syria will become a nation akin to Libya, Egypt, and others that are torn by internal power plays and vacuums increasing Middle East instability.

Considering what is known at this time, the conclusion that can be drawn from just these simple questions, is that:

  • There is no threat to America from the internal Syrian conflict that is immediate or even an obvious direct consequence from non-action.
  • There is no benefit (direct or long-term) to the US if a limited non-regime changing attack were to take place.
  • The production and use of chemical weapons will not be hindered, globally or regionally, whether or not the US attacks Syria.
  • The consequences of taking this action will cause a ripple in the Middle East that is likely to have ramification long-term that will in all cases be negative to the US.
  • The American people, and those of some of its closest allies, do not believe that military action is the correct path.
  • Without a justification greater than – to put it crudely – ‘I am the president and I think it’s bad’, there seems to be no reason to engage Syria. Until a clear and definitive plan of action can be constructed, that takes into account all of the above and more, it is best for America to remain outside of this internal conflict. That is true even if the fact that chemical weapons are being used is accurate, as seems probable at this time.

    What is most shocking at this time is that 285 members of Congress (including my own representative, Rep. Hanna) have not joined Rep. Rigell in demanding justification and congressional approval prior to action. This is not about partisan politics, but ultimately the best interest of America. Allowing a poorly thought out military strike today can and likely will result in ramifications that will be an actual and imminent threat to the nation in the future.

    But that is my opinion.

    Thoughts on President Obama’s jaunt through New York

    So President Obama came to New York State. For all the hype and press that goes with a presidential visit, what did New York and America get?

    Predictably, in fact I surmised as much on Monday August 19, 2013 in my appearance on Bob Joseph Show (WNBF Talk Radio), President Obama avoided like the plague the key issues facing New York State. Fracking? Not a word. Jobs? Far on the horizon. This was about higher education, first last, and only.

    wrong track
    But did the new proposals do anything to improve the education system? No. If anything, a very sound argument can be made that the net result will be that colleges will lower the bar and standards will be eased. The purpose of higher learning has been even more obscured by a potential hurdle of even more red tape and gaming the numbers to score federal dollars.

    President Obama, without intending to do so, has placed a directive in front of college administrations – dumb down the courses so more kids pass and you will get boatloads of taxpayer dollars. At the same time, cherry-pick the best students, and steer them to careers that make big money – business and lawyers, ect – and the Government will reward you.

    How can I conclude this?

    Well the criteria laid out by President Obama is to emphasize the number of students graduating. There are only 2 ways to do that, either kids will be smarter and more focused entering college or the requirements to pass will be lowered. The first option isn’t happening, nor is such an outcome even on the horizon. Yet President Obama has almost mandated that to have any hope of even a mediocre career some form of college is required and every child in America must attain that. So a bigger demand for college, and a threat of funding losses without high graduation percentages, yet no improvement in quality of students equates to turning a bachelor’s degree into a high school diploma.

    On the other end, there is the money component. If a college has a huge number of graduates, who are incompetent or unprepared for the real world due to a need for large class exit numbers, then the other grading factor of how much graduates make becomes another game that bodes poorly for the masses. The best students, those that have the greatest potential must be steered from things like teaching, philosophy, science (other than engineering), English, and other cash-poor positions.

    Teachers have been screaming (rightly to a degree) that they are underpaid for decades. What job is perfect for a philosophy degree? What’s the demand industry that requires a history degree? On the other hand though, 1 MBA or lawyer can make the same money as 5 other occupations. So the trade-off is a dozen basket weaving degrees for every MBA or lawyer or engineer. The net result? Reinforcing an elitist and economically segregated class of individuals at the expense of the masses.

    But let’s just drop that issue where it is. Plenty of others will debate the merits and Government red tape that has been proposed.

    Why did President Obama pick New York? Why did he pick Binghamton?

    New York is blue. It’s one of the largest and most secure Democrat safe havens in the nation. Coming here ensures that most of the press coverage will be positive, no matter how many prominent issues are left by the wayside. It also means that most politicians will be given a boost in upcoming State and local elections, a sure way to rally the base and generate donations. As for the NY-22, well it’s not like the Republican incumbent will say anything or even attempt a public outcry. Lastly, it makes a convenient road trip to what really matters – setting VP Biden on the road to his own Presidential ambitions.

    There are 131 colleges in New York State, 36 community colleges, and a horde of vocational and technical institutes. Comparatively, New York is one of the most accessible and cost-effective States to get a higher education at in the nation. What has been proposed will not make New York any more accessible, though it could make a degree from here less desirable.

    President Obama could have come to New York to discuss natural gas, a major issue that he spoke about in at least 2 State of the Union Addresses. It’s green, and benefits the nation. It’s topical, and a major economic concern for a nation wallowing in debt. It’s a source of jobs, which can be used to pay for the higher education that President Obama ranks as an absolute necessity.

    President Obama could have talked about jobs that would provide a means to pay for college. Broome County alone exceeds the national average of unemployment, and the day that temporary construction stops it will be massively higher. But the president was silent.

    President Obama could have also spoken about encouraging new business growth from these college graduates – except New York is the least business friendly State in the nation (followed closely by the other pillar of blue States, California). Of course the fact that there continues to be a mass exodus of people and business from New York was another issue that was both without solution or concern.

    Obviously President Obama didn’t even pause to consider the topics. Which seems to indicate that this tour wasn’t about a benefit to the nation, but a way to safely avoid bigger issues he didn’t want to address at the time. Good for VP Biden, not so much for everyone else.

    New York State should be insulted. President Obama presented half thought out ideas with negative consequences that are very real and apparent to anyone not insulated in a bubble of ideological snobs and political panderers. He thumbed his nose at the concerns of the State, with an impact on the lives of every American.

    Higher education is a great goal, but without the backbone of strong leadership and the foundation of the integral fundamentals of jobs, K-12 education, debt reduction, and population retention it’s just hype.

    Michael Vasquez on WNBF with Bob Joseph – 8/19/13

    On Monday August 19th at 9:30 a.m., Michael Vasquez returned to the Bob Joseph Show on WNBF Talk Radio 1290AM. In this round of discussion topics included the impending visit by President Obama, fracking, green energy, taxes, partisan gridlock, Congress, political accountability, small business, and more.

    The following videos are the entire discussion as it was heard on-air.

    Part 1

    Part 2

    Pres. Obama talks NSA, Rep. Hanna visits Southern Tier, and the net result is?

    For the week August 5 – August 10, there has been no end of talk from the Executive and Legislative Branches. President Obama held a press conference on 8/4, and Rep. Richard Hanna of the NY-22 was in the Southern Tier for part of the week. But what does that all mean? What is the real result of all the bluster?

    NSA internet surveillence program known as PRISM
    Looking at President Obama’s calls to make the NSA, and intelligence agencies in general, more transparent is a welcome sign. It has only taken 2 months of public outcry to get a response from the Obama Administration. During that time the public has become aware of the massive access that the Government has to private and personal information of virtually every American in the nation without cause. In this 2 month span, Congress discussed and voted to restrict the Patriot Act section 215 as well as programs like PRISM – the Amash Amendment (H Amend 413) was defeated in a bi-partisan vote [Rep. Hanna voted against Amash].

    So President Obama, late to the issue, is now concerned about the privacy issues that he defended as “transparent” on June 17, 2013, in an interview with Charlie Rose – that was rated by the independent fact-checking source Politifact as a Pant’s On Fire lie.

    Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, is quoted in that fact-check as stating
    “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s raison d’être is to prevent any information about surveillance from being made available – much less authoritative ones,” Harper said. “I don’t know of any plausible meaning of ‘transparent’ that encompasses the ‘oversight behind closed doors’ concept.”

    But the question remains, how transparent will this sudden change of heart be? In the press conference President Obama did not address what is to become of the records already collected and stored indefinitely by the NSA. President Obama did not comment on how those records are being used, or how abuse is being prevented. That is especially important as Sen. Ron Wyden stated on July 30th

    “We had a big development last Friday when Gen. [James] Clapper, the head of the intelligence agencies, admitted that the community had violated these court orders on phone record collection, and I’ll tell your viewers that those violations are significantly more troubling than the government has stated.”

    It seems apparent that the “transparency” promised will require more than just the eloquent words of a President that has a failed track record on transparency promises, like a determined effort by members of Congress to ensure legislation as well as oversight is enacted. But Congress is divided on that point.

    Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY 22)

    Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY 22)

    Which brings up Rep. Richard Hanna. As previously noted above, and stated in a prior article I wrote on July 25th, Rep. Hanna has voted against restricting the NSA and other agencies from the blanket powers they currently have. That is at odds with his publicized statements that he is in favor of limiting that power. Rep. Hanna is also absent his support on other legislation to restrict the blanket power of the Government to spy on average citizens, as seen in his lack of support for H.R. 2399: LIBERT-E Act. Thus his stated position seems hollow compared to his actions in Congress.

    Yet such flip-flops do not seem to trouble Rep. Hanna as he visited the Southern Tier – finally. Though he has been the representative of a district that covers the Southern Tier and Central NY, he has largely avoided the area until the current recess of Congress.

    While this week Rep. Hanna has talked with firefighters and Binghamton University, stating a commitment to help small business and communities, there is no lack of question to his commitment on these issues. Since 2011, when he entered Congress, Rep Hanna has sponsored and/or co-sponsored 22 Bills. Of those he has succeeded in naming a Post Office, and getting 2 baseball commemorative coin legislation passed. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce, and member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Joint Economic Committee, constituents might expect more but that is not what has been received.

    Still, the bigger question may be where has Rep. Hanna been before the current recess of Congress and the announcement of a potential Republican challenger (myself). One might even question if Rep. Hanna would have bothered to address the Southern Tier were it not for the potential of a challenger, as his efforts in the 2012 re-election campaign seemed to display.

    Like with President Obama, Rep. Hanna appears to be trailing the needs of constituents. In fact, based on his flip-flops of making statements to constituents and voting opposite on the floor of Congress, Rep. Hanna appears to be a mysterious force in Congress. He has attacked his Party, apparently abandoned his campaign positions, and sided against the Rights and best interests of his constituents (in my opinion) on multiple occasions. One would be hard pressed to define his positions on late-term abortion, immigration reform, drones and legislation restricting their abuse by Government, or several other issues.

    None of which adds any credibility or confidence in his ability or desire to actually follow up on everything discussed and presented this week in the Southern Tier.

    What has the political talk of August 5th – 10th provided the New York 22nd Congressional District and the nation? Not much when any deeper consideration of what has been said is looked at. While the soundbites sound great, this cursory attempt to maintain political power and placate the public ultimately provides no confidence that anything but the current status quo will be maintained.

    What are the Obamacare numbers for the NY-22?

    Over the years there has been a massive discussion about what Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) will cost, and how individuals will pay that cost. Yet, to date there have been no real answers that the Average American can pull up and understand at a glance. In fact there is no system available to even easily get an estimate of the cost at this time. But after being asked again recently, I decided to cull some data to get an idea of what might be the result.

    First, healthcare insurance is now a requirement of all citizens (enforced as of 2014). No matter if you are in poverty or a billionaire, you must have healthcare insurance or suffer penalties – 2.5% of income (maximum, based on income) assessed on your income taxes. Thus, if you are making say $25,000 a year and choose not to get healthcare you will have a fine of $95 added to your taxes. Of course the average refund for a person in New York State (2011) was $3070.70. So the above example would still result in a refund to the taxpayer.

    This is the first problem with Obamacare. Some people, generally the young that are just starting their careers or those that are poor, will not suffer negatively from the penalty (if it even applies). So the impetus to get healthcare insurance before it is needed is subdued, increasing the burden on those with health insurance and likely a catalyst to increase cost in the future.

    Separate of the penalty, what happens to those that do get health insurance. We will look at 2 groups, a single person making $31,796 and a family of 3 making the same (1 kid). The dollar amounts and family size are based on the Census results for NY State – of which the results for the NY-22 are lower.

    Before we look at the estimates, the following is the annual cost of healthcare in America: Single – $5,615 and for a Family – $15,745. The deductible is respectively $1,120 and $2.075. For those covered by an employer, they pay respectively $1,225 and $4,316.

    The approximate out of pocket cost, based on 2010 figures, is $2787. That is the cost of co-pays and other expenses separate of the health insurance premium. Estimates are for that figure to go to $3,301 in 2014.

    So given the above, assume that either your employers have either removed their healthcare coverage (because it is cheaper not to provide it) or that it is not an option (you are either part of the trend of part-time workers or otherwise unable to get other coverage). We will also assume that the age is 50, again based on Census data.

    Example 1

    A non-smoker under the above conditions, NOT including out-of-pocket costs, is 277% above poverty and so could have a premium of $2,806 for a silver plan, $1,883 for a bronze plan. Of this the Government might give a tax credit of $2,584*.

    A non-smoking family of 3 with 1 child under 20, under the above conditions, NOT including out-of-pocket costs, is 163% above poverty and so could have a premium of $1,459 for a silver plan, $0 for a bronze plan. Of this the Government might give a tax credit of $11,238*.

    The key points that should be addressed:

  • A Bronze healthcare plan is the minimum required by law. As of this time no standard for what that minimum is has been established. It is quite possible, that like many State auto insurance minimums, the requirement will be inadequate to the needs of the general public – which would either place the burden of the difference on the plan holder or the general public (causing premiums to increase in the future).
  • A Silver plan is more comprehensive than the bare-bones Bronze. Again, no standard exists at this time.
  • The above estimates are based on the poverty level, which changes annually. Therefore, the potential tax credit can go up or down independent of actual healthcare costs or income of the plan holder, without prior notice.
  • The above does not cover the additional $3,301 in out-of-pocket costs.
  • Cost increases dramatically for each smoker in household. Therefore there is a built in enticement to lie about this – which can again influence costs.

    So what happens in the above estimate figures, if the plan holder gets a raise (assuming that poverty does not change)? If we ONLY change the income by 3% the figures become

    Example 2

    A non-smoker under the above conditions ($32749 annual), NOT including out-of-pocket costs, is 285% above poverty and so could have a premium of $2,969 for a silver plan, $2,046 for a bronze plan. Of this the Government might give a tax credit of $2,421*.

    A non-smoking family of 3 with 1 child under 20, under the above conditions ($32749 annual), NOT including out-of-pocket costs, is 168% above poverty and so could have a premium of $1,576 for a silver plan, $0 for a bronze plan. Of this the Government might give a tax credit of $11,121*.

    The increase is 5.8% for a Single person, 8% for a Family. That far outpaces the actual income gain.

    *Another critical point about the healthcare premium. The Government provides a tax credit on the income taxes for what has been paid. In other words, the plan holder will pay (in Example 1) Single – $5309, Family – $12,697 up front. The tax credit will be applied on their taxes that following year, which may result in a refund of all or just part of what is paid. The estimated $3,301 in out-of-pocket costs is NOT covered by the tax credit.

    Therefore, under this non-State specific summary, a single person making just $31,796 could pay a total of $8610, a family of 3 could pay $15,998, of which they may or may not get all, part, or none of the tax credit as actual in pocket cash depending on the poverty level at the time of the tax return and their income tax return filed.

    Complicated? More than a bit. Especially as no standard for what is considered a basic minimum has been reached.

    Worse is if you just change the age. If the same data from Example 1 is used, but the age is 25 instead of 50, the tax credit drops to just $229 out of a premium of $3030 for a Single. Instead of the proposed 51% discount, the younger plan holder will only get a 24.5% discount. Not much incentive for the youth to join up, with whom the cost savings of the Obamacare estimates are dependent on. If younger Americans opt out, paying $95 on their tax returns and keeping the cash in their pocket thru the year, costs for Obamacare will rocket higher.

    But no matter the complications, as of January 1, 2014, all citizens must comply with the demands of the Government or be penalized. In the meantime, businesses have a 1 year reprieve as they try to sort through the actual costs and determine the best way to go. As the growing trend of part-time workers has indicated, many have realized that it is cheaper and far more expedient to drop healthcare than adapt to the Government loopholes. The public does not get the same options though.

    I hope this has helped.

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