Democracy in Action

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Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation. – Atifete Jahjaga, Kosovar politician and the fourth President of Kosovo. 

I readily admit that I have a love/hate relationship with politics. I tire easily of the high-blown rhetoric and empty promises of politicians jockeying for a one-up with the voters. In my 60+ years I’ve heard it all before.

But as I watched the Fox Business News Republican debate last night I found myself stirring with excitement as I looked at these articulate candidates and wondered which might be our next President. When I was in third grade at Fish Creek Elementary School in Georgia our teacher, Mrs. Albee, put pictures of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in our classroom. She encouraged us to watch the debates and we discussed them in class the next day. We anxiously awaited the election results which left some bitterly disappointed and the rest elated. Even at that young age we were engaged in the process of democracy. I expect the kind of interactive learning Mrs. Albee employed would be frowned upon in today’s politically correct, “I’m afraid I will offend someone” classrooms of today. She instilled in me a deep interest in government and politics that has lasted a lifetime.

I had the privilege of visiting the Senate in Washington, DC as a part of a leadership training program. As I sat in the gallery I eagerly pointed out senators I recognized to my seat mate. “Look, there’s Patrick Leahy and Susan Collins. And over there is Barack Obama, they say he wants to run for President.” She looked at me and asked how I knew all this. I answered in amazement, “I watch the news!” Sadly, this part of the trip did not hold the fascination for her that it did for me. While I was riveted, she was bored to tears. When I grew up we had three television channels and at 6:00 PM, you watched the news. We also took a newspaper that I devoured cover to cover each day when I got home from school.

I have to limit myself or I would watch news all day, and unfortunately, the content of most news programs today are more like the contents of a scandal magazine. Sensationalism sells. I do watch Fox News every evening and it is my channel of choice for keeping up with what is going on in the world. Bret Baier is unparalleled in current news reporters. He is fair, balanced and a journalist in the truest sense of the word.

I watched every minute of the two FBN debates and after the debacle of the CNBC “debate” it was refreshing to see a true debate with professional moderators who made the event about the candidates and not themselves – who asked the questions American voters want to hear, not “gotcha” or inane questions designed to make the moderators look good. Just a note, MSNBC and CNBC, you didn’t succeed if that was your goal. You came off looking like fools.

FBN is to be commended and as I watched the debate I found myself tingling with that old excitement and anticipation that Mrs. Albee instilled in me all those years ago in a tiny, backwoods Southern school. She and all educators like her are also to be commended, for if children are not engaged in the process of democracy they will grow up to be adults who can sit in the Senate Chambers and not feel pride in our democratic process. The people who sit in that chamber may be flawed, but the process itself is the best in the world. It means we live in a country where we are free to vote and participate firsthand in the ruling of a nation.

I look forward to the rest of the debates that will continue with fewer candidates as they are refined through the campaigning process. It is an exciting time and I will never be accused of being an uninformed voter. Thank you Mrs. Albee.

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King Abdullah II – A Man Not to be Trifled With

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Nobody scares me. – King Abdallah II of Jordan

When news broke that ISIS had brutally burned downed Jordanian pilot, Mouath al-Kasaesbeh, alive, King Abdullah II of Jordan was visiting in Washington, DC. He was reported to be so angered he quoted Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie Unforgiven , “I’m going to kill his wife and all his friends and burn his damn house down.” He said, “There is going to be retribution like ISIS hasn’t seen”, vowing to his people that “our response will be on the level of disaster.” king abdullah2

King Abdullah had been trying to negotiate the release of Kasaesbeh but ISIS was demanding the release of convicted terrorist Sajida al-Rishawi who was sentenced to death for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack that killed 60 people. After learning of the inhuman killing of Kasaesbeh, Abdullah’s s first action was to have her publicly hanged along with another al Qaida operative convicted of murder.  Then he went to the home of the murdered pilot, personally consoled the family, and promised them he would avenge their son for his sacrifice.

Initial reports out of Jordan claimed that when the first flights of  F-16 attack aircraft streaked over the skies of ISIS’s capital that night dropping a barrage of bombs on ISIS targets, King Abdullah II was flying the lead aircraft.  Jordan has officially denied this, but many think it is true given the release of a photo showing him dressed in full military gear with an “I’m mad as hell” expression shortly before the strikes. On the way back to base, the squadron flew a Missing Man Formation over the home of the pilot’s family.

King Abdullah II is more than capable of carrying out such an attack. At 53 years of age he has spent 35 years of his life in the military.  He’s a trained Cobra attack helicopter pilot, an armored warfare tank commander, a graduate of the British Military Academy, and the founder of Jordan’s Special Operations Command unit of elite counter-terrorism commandos.  He’s performed hundreds of drops as a front-line paratrooper.

He graduated the UK Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, served as a Second Lieutenant of the 13/18th Royal Hussars Cavalry Regiment in Northern Ireland, flew Cobra helicopters in North Africa, became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Jordanian Third Armored Division, and then ultimately was appointed Commanding Officer of the Jordanian Special Forces in 1993.  Abdullah’s forward-thinking policies and commitment to “quality over quantity” led him to completely reorganize the unit into a unit that is now universally recognized as the most over-the-top hardcore special operations unit the Arab countries have to offer.  These guys are trained in counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, interrogation, and close-quarter combat in urban environments, can deploy anywhere in the Middle East at a moment’s notice, spend their summers in the USA training with Rangers and SEALs, and operate deep behind enemy lines for extended periods with little to no support.  They are also believed to have agents who have infiltrated at all levels at ISIS.King Abdullah5

So when King Abdullah II of Jordan says he’s going to “open the gates of Hell on them,” this is what he’s working with.  He has vowed to fight ISIS until “we run out of fuel and bullets.”

Besides being a formidable warrior King Abdullah is an impressive figure. His wife, Queen Rania looks like a supermodel and is a progressive leader in her own right. Four beautiful children round out their family. Since taking over as king in 1999 he’s done a lot of work to grant freedom to the media, improve the economy, advance women’s rights, and build peaceful political relations with Israel.  He has kept his country together despite war and revolution all around him.  He is member of the Hashemite Dynasty, the traditional guardians of Mecca and Medina  and has been  genetically confirmed as a 41st-level direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.  In 2004 he gave the Amman Message, a speech he issued after he organized a convention for 200 Muslim clerics (both Sunni and Shia) from over 50 countries.  He told his fellow Muslims they should strive for compassion, mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance and stop declaring jihad on everyone they perceive to be infidels.

King Abdullah is the epitome of a life well-lived. He once rode a Harley across California and drives a variety of awesome muscle cars and motorcycles. The most amazing bit of trivia is that he once appeared in a Star Trek: Voyager episode. His U.S. advisor arranged a surprise visit to the set for a cameo role as a non-credited extra as a human science officer. The then 34-year old Abdullah enthused, “I would have been thrilled just to visit the set but this is too much.” He is a majority owner of a Star Trek theme park in the Jordan city Aqaba that will open in 2017. King-Abdullah3

Abdullah collects ancient military weaponry, takes princesses skydiving in his spare time, has won a couple of international Rally Car races and is an author. The most endearing quality of this warrior king with a chest full of well-deserved medals is his unpretentiousness. In a time when world leaders demand to be treated like royalty, this true royal drives his own cars instead of using a chauffeur. In 2013, during a rare Middle East cold snap in Amman he helped push a car stuck in deep snow on a street.

King Abdullah II stands as a leader that most countries long for; strong, ready to fight for his country and someone whose actions back up his rhetoric. He looks to the future and moves his country forward to a more progressive nation. Yet he is a man of compassion who truly cares for humanity. Jordan is not perfect and has a way to go before it is a country where women have equal rights, but it is rated number one in 19 Arab countries in democratic reforms.

As an American, I look to his example of bravery and resolve and wish we had the same leadership. We have a president who was elected on words of hope and change, and while I admit we have changed as a country under his leadership, it has not been for the better. Our leadership branch is rife with bipartisanship that hobbles any meaningful progression for us as a nation. The current administration’s hesitant foreign policy has left us ridiculed and weak in the world’s eyes. We don’t need or want a king, but we do crave leadership, something we haven’t had in a long time.

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The Circus is in Town

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A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in . – H.L. Mencken

More and more candidates are throwing their hat into the 2016 presidential ring and the media, not to be outdone, are expanding that ring to three. The site of news reporters running after Clinton’s “Scooby” van was like watching a film of Japanese citizens fleeing Godzilla in reverse. Reporters have a difficult time trying to get the best tidbits of news, but focusing on what Hillary had to eat at Chipotle as a leading news story is ridiculous. Did we really need to know she had Masala chai and caramel lattes? What about asking her about her plan for the economy and her stance on Iran nuclear capabilities? Oh, that’s right, she won’t talk to reporters; therefore the mad rush to try to capture even a snippet of something to report to the nation on her campaign. As Clinton is choosing to run her campaign in a veil of secrecy perhaps the press should pick up their cameras and follow other candidates, leaving her to sit alone in her dark sunglasses with a few selected sycophants. Let her be the one to pursue the press.

Other candidates, while more visible, are still victims of the media who seem to find the highlighting of meaningless trivia more important than asking the hard questions we as the American public really want to know. Marco Rubio is too young vs. Clinton who is too old. Rand Paul and Chris Christie are flip-flopping. Jeb Bush is too old school. Ted Cruz is too much of a firebrand. This or that candidate is too wealthy, conservative, liberal, weak in foreign policy, hawkish and on and on.

We have a year and a half until the 2016 presidential election and by that time most of us will be so sick of mud-slinging and scandal dredging that we will just want it to be over. As the voters make the decision of who will (hopefully) lead our country for another four years, the defeated politicians will limp home, torn and bleeding, having spent millions, if not billions of dollars, to regroup and start plotting for another run in four years.

There is a lot of talk about campaign reform. It is one of Clinton’s talking points and one she wants to address if her 2 billion dollar campaign is successful. I have some suggestions to simplify the election process and reduce voter fatigue. Give each candidate one month to campaign. The first three weeks all television and radio ads are banned. Week one all the candidates will have knockout debates within their party with judges giving scores much like the Olympics. In the second week the winner of the debates will have a series of debates based on the topics that the American people have deemed most important. The third week the candidates can go wherever they want to campaign. The fourth week they can have television and radio ads but they can only talk about their plan for America and cannot mention the other candidate.

Clean and simple. Yes, I know this will never happen and maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe we need to have our candidates slug it out so we are sure they have the stamina to endure the rigors of being president of the most powerful country in the world in a time of economic instability and the growing threat of global terrorism. I also know that too much of anything is not good. Too much cake makes your stomach ache and staying too long at the circus just makes you tired and fussy.