Friday, June 30, 2017

Shirking Responsibility

The buck doesn’t stop here anymore

Recently the President of the United States gave Secretary of Defense Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan. While the White House may pitch this as giving experts the authority to do their jobs, that is simply not the case here. The President is ceding decision making powers that are not purely military, but intertwine with his other responsibilities as the chief administrator of the the administrative state, chief diplomat, and the enforcer of American law.

The job of the President is unique in both its power and scope. They cover diplomacy, domestic policy, law enforcement, and military. Hillary Clinton was often touted as the most qualified person to ever run for the Presidency. She has been a nationally recognized attorney, First Lady of both Arkansas and the United States, a U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State. Even she was not perfectly ready to take that office, because only the Presidency blends all of those roles, and more, into a single office.

The President may receive advice from experts in environmental and education policy, experts in diplomacy and international institutions, and life-long military and law enforcement professionals, but only the President must balance all of those needs against each other. Something that none of these experts can claim to have direct experience with. Even former presidential chiefs of staff cannot claim this, because the buck stops with the President.

By absolving himself of the responsibility to set troop levels, President Trump is refusing to take responsibility for all of the consequences that these operations likely will have an impact on non-military affairs. Brilliant and experienced he may be, but Secretary Mattis does not have the authority or tools to balance all of the considerations his newly-minted authority may have an impact on. And now the President dosen’t either.

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Reaction, as an American-Muslim, to Khizr Khan’s Speech

I was caught completely off guard, and moved to tears. I’m not one who is prone to crying (I didn’t even cry when I saw Finding Dory, nor during the first 20 minutes of Up), but my eyes welled up while listening to Khizr Khan on the last night of the Democratic National Convention.

Judging by what I’ve seen on TV and twitter, everyone was moved by the raw emotions expressed by a Gold Star parent (except perhaps Mr. Trump). His cry to be recognized as a patriotic American family in light of the hateful rhetoric against those who happen to be Muslims. With his wife, Ghazala Khan, at his side, her pain clear as daylight without having to say a word, Mr. Khan reminded us that Muslims are not just refugees, terrorists, or despots, but Americans, patriots, and yes, even veterans and their families who have made the ultimate sacrifices for their country (I refer to America of course).

Muslims make up about 1–2% of the American population. Even though 10% of doctors are Muslim, most Americans have never met a Muslim, let alone have any friends that are Muslim. As a result, it’s hard to fight against the bigotry and prejudices that are growing against Muslims. It certainly doesn’t help that no one listens to us either. How often have people said, “Why don’t Muslims come out and condemn these acts of terrorism?” We do. It’s just that no bothers to listen. The right to free speech does not come with the right to be heard.

It wasn’t just Mr. Khan’s speech about the sacrifice his son, and by extension his family, made in service to this country. I realized, that for the first time, an American-Muslim family was speaking about their patriotism, at a forum where they could not be ignored by the media. Everyday, through my example, I try to show everyone I meet that even though I’m a Muslim, I’m still an American. One who was born here, and shares the same values as my fellow Americans. Yet, it feels like I’m hardly making a dent.

In one fell swoop, Khizr and Ghazala Khan made more than just a dent. They have shown the entire country that American-Muslims have made the same kinds of sacrifices as other Gold Star families, and that they are affected by these sacrifices just as deeply. They gave a gift to American-Muslims as well. They gave us a voice heard by all.

I’m Still Worried and Concerned

Somehow, Donald Trump is still has a good chance of becoming President, despite his callous and juvenile reaction to Mr. Khan’s speech. Including attacking Mrs. Khan, who has made clear in subsequent interviews that the pain of losing her son is just as sharp as it was 12 years ago. Instead of just acknowledging the sacrifice made by Cpt. Humayun Khan, and moving on, Mr. Trump just couldn’t help himself. He lashed out, and tried to compare his business record to the sacrifice made by the Khans, and by extension every other military family who lost loved ones defending this country.

Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell came out with statements against what Mr. Trump said, but still refuse to reject him. And it’s about time that Senator John McCain denounced Trump. Took him long enough. Far longer than it should have. I actually don’t even understand why Governor Pence, who has a son in the Marine Corps., is still Trump’s running mate. Doesn’t it make him sick that Mr. Trump doesn’t respect veterans, alive nor fallen?

That’s only half of the things I’m worried about. The other half is Mr. and Mrs. Khan. Since the DNC speech, in interview after interview, their pain is still palpable. You can see it on their faces, and in their voices. Which is why I’m worried that there will be a misstep. Donald Trump has been attacking them personally, hence Mr. Khan’s words about how Mr. Trump lacks empathy and has a “black soul.” This reaction is completely understandable, but I’m worried that his emotions will overtake him, and all of the understanding his has created for American-Muslims will go out the window.

Mr. and Mrs. Khan, all of America has felt your pain. American-Muslims are grateful to you for helping the rest of America understand who we really are. Of course, this wouldn’t have happened without the DNC giving you this opportunity to speak. Please remember though, that everything you have done can be undone. Please, be careful. For all of us.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Remembering Why the EU Exists

It’s not about economic prosperity

Last week the United Kingdom voted by a slim margin to leave the European Union (EU); an entity of 28 countries that sought to create a single market by allowing the free movement of goods, services, and people. It seems though, that British citizens have, and many others across the world, have forgotten why the EU exists in the first place. It’s done its job so well apparently, that its purpose is forgotten.

The EU doesn’t exist to improve economic efficiencies (which it does), or to make more money (which so many absolutely have), nor to improve leverage in trade deals (which definitely happens). It exists to prevent war. After the Great War (a.k.a. World War I), people believed that there could never be another war because of the devastation caused by that one. False. A few short years later, the world experienced World War II. Clearly, devastation and horror are not strong deterrents to war.

Hence, an idea was formed and plan put in place. The idea was to make the countries of Europe so dependent on each other (especially France and Germany), that war would be a lose-lose situation, and always the worst of any series of options. This is how the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a precursor to the EU, was formed. People like Jean Monnet, one of the minds that fathered the current incarnation of European unity, weren’t concerned with making more money. They were interested in making sure that another continent-wide war couldn’t happen again.

Also something about a financial drain

Coming back to today: the UK Independence Party, and Boris Johnson (lovingly compared to Bam Bam from the Flintstones, by John Oliver), argued that the UK needed to leave the EU to control its own borders, to prevent immigrants from coming in and mooching off the British people. Using fear-mongering tactics, UKIP and Bam Bam, err…. Mr. Johnson, convinced 52% of Great Britain leave the EU.

Fear of others (immigrants), the unseen (EU institutions), and nostalgia (Um… colonialism I guess…?) are part of our base human instincts. These are the instincts that the Leave campaign appealed to. These kinds of arguments go beyond facts, and speak directly to the heart.

Rather than telling Britons why they should vote to stay within the EU, David Cameron, with the help of experts, economists, and other world figures (President Obama, Christine Lagarde, etc.), made a case for why they should be afraid of leaving. He fought fear-mongering with fear-mongering, but he didn’t do it particularly well. Jeremy Corbyn didn’t help much either. So what should Prime Minister Cameron have said instead?

How about telling his people everything they have gained by being part of the EU? The benefits of being the financial capital of Europe, because of unified regulations. Or perhaps the ease with which Britons can buy and sell goods to Europe. Not to mention easy, visa-free, vacations. Or the influence and power Britain wielded by being a major player in Europe, as well as being a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

This wasn’t a motivational poster.
These were instructions on what to do
during an air raid.
Or perhaps Mr. Cameron could have reminded the British people why they were members of the EU in the first place. Over half a century ago, Great Britain lost an entire generation to war. London was bombed repeatedly, and the nation bankrupted. In fact, they were on the verge of losing World War II to Nazi Germany altogether. It’s not about the economic benefits Britain reaped by being a member of the EU (which it did); it’s about continuing the efforts of the previous generations to ensure that Europe does not return to the era of constant warfare.

Friday, June 24, 2016



The fight between Apple and the FBI has become personal. Tim Cook’s interviews and Director Comey’s remarks to Congress each try to convince the public that they’re right. Like two cousins at a family reunion trying to convince Grandpa Dorfl that the other is a prick and shouldn’t get any of the inheritance.
It all started because law enforcement wants to gain access to an iPhone owned by the San Bernardino shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook. Unfortunately, there is a security feature on the phone, which would wipe all the data after a limited number of failed passcode attempts. And so, the FBI has used the All Writs Act of 1789 (passed by the very first Congress to tackle electronic encryption. OF COURSE!) to compel Apple to “update” the operating system on that phone alone, so that the FBI can guess Farook’s passcode as many times as it wants, without losing the data.

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