Thursday, December 24, 2015


Senior Fellow, the Center for Transatlantic Relations; Professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh.

Getting Real: An ISIL Strategy

Posted: 12/14/2015 12:46 pm EST Updated: 12/14/2015 12:59 pm EST.  (Published in The World Post, December 17, 2015.)

Islamic State Flag

Any serious attempt to formulate a strategy for addressing the multifaceted crisis we confront in the Middle East should begin with acknowledging some unpleasant facts of life. The first is that neither willpower nor faith alone will alter the incontrovertible realities of this daunting situation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


 By Ronald T. Fox

In various Phronesis posts I have been highly critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and particularly of our disastrous war on terrorism, which has not only failed to stem terrorism, but, as I argued, has contributed to its growth, reach and boldness.  I have been especially critical of the Washington foreign policy elite who have proven themselves time and time again to be plagued by ignorance, fanciful thinking and tunnel vision when it comes to the Middle East.  The deference of the American public to the pronouncements and confident assurances of the foreign policy establishment, despite their long history of being wrong, boggles the mind.  Chalk up the American people as being complicit in our failed policies.    

As a number of readers have pointed out, I've been mute on what I think should be done to resolve the complex Islamic extremist mess we now face.  I have not offered a comprehensive strategy because I don’t feel I have sufficient knowledge of the dynamic forces at play in the region to provide an informed recommendation.  The conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and throughout the wider Middle East are extremely complex, featuring numerous participants with conflicting political and military agendas and strategies.  Even so-called friends aren’t on the same page.  The complexities defy the simplistic solutions offered by pandering politicians who rely on uninformed and gullible Americans to buy into add-water-and-stir solutions. These complexities, along with the fact that ISIS and other extremists already have an extensive presence in several countries outside of the Middle East, means that Islamist terrorism is an ongoing problem that can, at best, be managed, not “defeated.”

Further reading about the various challenges posed by jihadi extremists has helped me get a better fix on the complexities of the various conflicts.  I realize now that my previous posts left a lot out, particularly in regard to President Obama and his senior foreign policy team's responsibility  for ISIS’ (or ISIL's) growth and success and the mushrooming jihadist danger.  While it’s undeniable that President George Bush’s ill-conceived invasion of Iraq and his administration’s blundering policies in its aftermath paved the way for the emergence of ISIS, the terrorist group would not have reached its present heights without Obama's delusional policies.  As failed as his policies have been toward Syria and Iraq, he appears inescapably wedded to them.    

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Donald Trump has evolved from a joke, to a curiosity candidate, a fire-starting contender, to a front-runner for the Republican nomination for president.  Love him or hate him, dismiss him as a flash in the pan, there is no denying Trump has had an enormous impact on not just the tone of the campaign, but also policy positions being embraced by the GOP contenders. Washington Post opinion writer Michael Gerson aptly captured the Trump phenomenon in the following November 23 op/ed. I'm posting it as a guest commentary.

Ronald Fox

Tuesday, December 1, 2015



1. Rush Limbaugh. Leave it to Mr. Bombastic to link the discovery of water on Mars to his anti-climate science agenda. In true Limbaughian bombast, he said on this radio show:
“What's the big deal about flowing water on Mars?” . . . “You know what, when they start selling iPhones on Mars, that's when it'll matter to me.”
Limbaugh said he knew what they would do with the news:
“. . . look at the temperature data, that has been reported by NASA, has been made up, it's fraudulent for however many years, there isn't any warming, there hasn't been for 18.5 years. And yet, they're lying about it. They're just making up the amount of ice in the North and South Poles, they're making up the temperatures, they're lying and making up false charts and so forth. So what's to stop them from making up something that happened on Mars that will help advance their left-wing agenda on this planet?”
This vile, hate-filled blowhard has probably caused more harm to a warm and friendly America than any other individual. It’s sad that so many people still listen to him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


by Ronald T. Fox

In my previous post on Islamophobia Plays Into the Hands of Islamist, I criticized our "scorched-earth" strategy, which embraces the idea that liberating towns from ISIS control requires their near total destruction. Below are four images that illustrate my point.  To be sure, the vast destruction of Kobani shown below was not solely a product of allied bombing, but it is reportedly the major factor. Many are complicit in scorching Syria's earth; this is the saddest part of the unfolding human tragedy..

Monday, November 23, 2015


by Ronald T. Fox

Islamophobia IV

Hostility to immigrants and refugees has become a defining characteristic of American politics. While Republicans have almost unanimously embraced it, particularly against people from the Middle East, many Democrats have also jumped on the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee bandwagon. I thought Donald Trump established a new low when he characterizes immigrants from Mexico as criminals and rapists and called for a wall to be built along the Mexican border, but using the Paris attacks to scapegoat some of the world’s most desperate and vulnerable people to score political points is demagoguery at its worst. By adding Islamophobia to their repertoire of bigotry, Republicans are playing into the hands of Islamist extremists.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


          by Charles Snow

Penn State University will increase security at Beaver Stadium for this Saturday's football game with Michigan as well as at a three-band concert in the Bryce Jordan Center the night before. Enhanced security measures are being taken because of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. It appears that terrorists can claim another (micro) victory in the U.S. because Penn State has decided to increase security and because many football and music fans have been forced to calculate how risky their attendance at these events will be.

I believe the vast majority of Americans, myself included, would like to see terrorism in the world reduced if not eliminated. Wouldn't it be nice to go to a football game or a music concert without wondering if somebody is planning an attack that will create fear and mayhem -- regardless of how small that probability is? The difficult overall question, of course, is how the U.S. should go about fighting terrorism around the world.

Friday, November 6, 2015


By Ronald Fox

NOTE:  This essay, originally posted in November of 2013, was inadvertently re-sent out in error. My apologies.

An anonymous Phronesis reader commented on my essay on “After Iraq and Afghanistan,” saying that I didn’t provide evidence for my prediction that the U.S. will continue to unilaterally project military might abroad in its future approach to security. He noted that Phronesis supposedly prides itself on considering the evidence regarding a particular topic and then offering reasoned thoughts and opinions. He didn’t believe this philosophy applied to my essay.

I’d like to thank anonymous for the critical response. This is what Charles and I hoped who occur when we started the blog. Frankly, we’ve been a bit disappointed we haven’t received more comments on our postings. Now let me respond to anonymous. My apologies for repeating some points I made previously.

With all due respect to anonymous, I thought I did offer factual evidence and use reasoning to back my assertions. I contended that despite numerous Obama rhetorical flourishes to the contrary, and the incidence of strong public opposition to military strikes against Syria, the Obama administration shows no signs of being chastened about using force in future conflicts where he, and a small handful of his security advisers, consider it necessary (only a few are “in the loop”). The lesson he took from Iraq and Afghanistan was to not get involved in costly, troops-on-the-ground, land wars. He appears to have no problem, however, authorizing massive bombing, drone attacks, special force operations, bad guy assassinations, and cyber warfare, all of which have been increased under his watch. It is reasonable to expect his successors will follow his precedent; a foolish, future land war is even not out of the question. So what is my evidence for this gloomy prediction?



1. Sean Spicer (Spokesman for the Republican National Committee). Spicer is outraged that Democrats have accused Republicans of engaging in a “war on women.” In his words:

“I find it offensive that the Democratic National Committee is using a term like that to describe policy differences. It’s not only bad, but it’s downright pathetic they would use a term like ‘war’ when there are millions of Americans who actually have engaged in a real war. To use a term like that borders on unpatriotic.
Well, at least Republicans still remember we're still in Dubya's wars, a fact they seem to forget every time they push for a new tax break for millionaires. Wars don't need to be paid for; they just need to be remembered in political rhetoric. Spicer's concern for the troops is truly touching. Too bad his party wasn’t equally bothered by the shortage of body armor for our troops and the inadequate care at vet hospitals when they returned home.


Serious investigative journalism in America has long been on a death watch; deplorable coverage of the war in Syria by the major media networks has hammered in the last nail.

This conclusion applies mainly to broadcast media, though it should be noted that good journalism in print media, which has been eviscerated by downsizing (tens of thousands of reporters have lost their jobs), is also gasping for breath.  In both print and broadcast media, an aversion of their corporate owners to story lines that might incur disfavor with people in high places (lest they might lose the light tax and loose regulation privileges they enjoy) has scuttled many hard-hitting investigative stories. Reporters today understand where not to tread. An enterprising journalist may still go for it, but he knows his job may be on the line, as Mary Mapes and Dan Rather of CBS found out.
I recently returned from a vacation in Sweden and Switzerland where my source for nightly news was mainly CNN, though I was often also able to watch Al Jazeera English. The contrast in coverage of world events by a major American and a foreign network couldn’t have been sharper. Only Al Jazeera practiced what I consider good journalism. Its reporters stood out in asking tough questions and substantive follow-up questions in interviews with leading figures in the stories they were reporting. They were clearly highly informed on their topics, which allowed them to push further when interviewees evaded questions, offered obfuscating answers, or said things that weren't true. Event coverage on Al Jazeera included historical background, which enabled me to see the event in its historical context. CNN treated events as episodic.

Sunday, November 1, 2015



1. Pat Sajak (TV Celebrity). The popular right-wing moron offered this valuable observation to the dialogue on climate change:

“I now believe global warming alarmists are unpatriotic racists knowingly misleading for their own ends. Good night.”

No comment necessary.
2. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker, who is currently suing the federal government to enable Wisconsin to drug test food stamp applicants, is trying to package this as a way to help low-income people:

"For us, it's not a punitive thing, it's a progressive thing," Walker told The Huffington Post. "We're trying to help people who are in need of our assistance to get jobs . . . .because the best thing we can do with them is to make sure they get the skills and education they need, and make sure they are drug free if they have an addiction, to get back in the workforce."
Apparently it escaped Walker’s knowledge register that the majority of adults living receiving food stamps are either working or are not considered eligible to work because they're retired, disabled or students. To say nothing of the children Walker wants to deny nutritional assistance because their parent smoked a joint.  Walker claims that many employers have told him that they'd hire more people if only they could find drug-free applicants. Ask to name the employers who say this, he responded:
"Well, I've talked to them for years. I'd have to go back and look through my schedule over the years, but we've had employer after employer say that consistently that they want employees that are drug free and they want employees that can pass basic employability skills."
Don’t hold your breath for his list of employers. The austerity-minded governor also has no problem spending for drug testing, despite the fact that drug testing government aid applicants has been shown to be a waste of money in states that tried this before Walker got to it. The cost of testing a lot of applicants turns out to outweigh the savings from rejecting benefits the tiny percentage of applicants who fail their tests. Walker’s effort is just one more example of right-wing disdain for low-income people whom they blame for being poor. Why don’t they just come out and say it?

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Thoughtful Phronesis reader Jim Dubbs sent me an email in which he expressed disagreement with arguments I made in my The Legacy of the Hiroshima Myth posting.  Critical responses, like this one from Jim, are what Chuck and I hoped to receive when we launched Phronesis.  Dubbs’ main point is well taken; I did “put a lot of consequential eggs in my Hiroshima basket.” I knew I was reaching a bit far. In doing so, I hoped to elicit critical responses from readers who disagreed with my arguments. In the case of Mr. Dubbs, it appears to have worked, though I must admit it doesn’t take much stretching of a point to fire up Jim’s inquisitive mind. For me, he has long served as a “proof reader.”

This said, I still stand by my contention that America’s failure to confront the truth about Hiroshima has had a monumental impact on the formulation and conduct of U.S. national security policy; I leave it to our readers to probe the question further and decide if I overstated the Hiroshima legacy.

As to the truth about why President Truman used the bomb and why Japan surrendered, I believe that newly uncovered documents (especially American and Japanese war diaries) affirm what had previously been the informed hunches of revisionist historians: Truman’s main motive in using the bomb had more to do with Moscow than the driving desire to prevent an invasion and thus save lives, and Tokyo seemed more concerned about a Russian invasion than about the promised reign of ruin. On these points, academic historians are by no means in agreement. My hope in writing the piece was not to convince readers of my historical interpretation, but to simply open minds about the possibility of a counter-Hiroshima narrative. Hopefully, the various critical reflections that have greeted the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings will motivate Americans to revisit the Hiroshima truth. There’s a great deal riding on this.
Below is Jim Dubbs’ critique followed by some personal reflections on US nuclear strategy.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox

NOTE:  An old climate change denying friend forwarded me a statement by a person named Patrick Moore that appeared on conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager's website.  In the statement, Moore expresses skepticism about the validity of climate science.  (See: Patrick Moore on Climate Change). Moore bills himself as a scientist and co-founder of Greenpeace.  Listening to the statement, inspired me to write a response. Please understand, this friend and I have gone back and forth on the global warming question for years. This is just the latest salvo.  I've decided there will be no more.  Have you ever tried arguing with a climate change denier?  I don't need to say more.  Anyway, inspired by the Pope's visit, which my friend panned, I decided to post my response to the friend.  (I'm sending this while on vacation in Switzerland.)


I listened to the statement.  Moore doesn’t deny the planet is warming, but since it has also warmed in other centuries, he questions whether the recent spike is a result of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. OK, call him a climate change skeptic, not a denier. As this view conforms to what you have expressed over the years, I can understand why you forwarded the pronouncement. It’s also your bible, the Wall Street Journal’s position.
I won’t attempt to go into the evidence that disputes this position—done that before to no avail (facts don't seem to matter).  Instead I’ll touch on the credibility of Patrick Moore and what’s behind the anti-climate science campaign.

Friday, September 11, 2015


NOTE:  The post below was written by Tom Engelhardt and  published on his web site: I'm posting it on Phronesis because it offers a good update to my five-part series on the rise, military success, and expansion of the Islamic State:

September 10, 2015
Tom Engelhardt


Let’s take a moment to consider failure and its options in Washington. The U.S. has been warring with the Islamic State (IS) for more than a year now. The centerpiece of that war has been an ongoing campaign of bombings and air strikes in Syria and Iraq, thousands upon thousands of them.  The military claims that these have resulted in death tolls high enough to stagger any movement. In Iraq, the Obama administration has also launched a major effort, involving at least 3,400 military personnel, to retrain the American-created Iraqi army that essentially collapsed in June 2014. Impending offensives to retake key IS-held cities are regularly announced. In addition, in Syria there is an ongoing $500 million Pentagon effort to find and train a force of “moderate” Syrian rebels to battle IS militants.  Despite such efforts, reports now suggest that the Islamic State is at least as strong now as it was when the U.S. intervened in August 2014.  If anything, from Turkish border areas to al-Anbar Province in Iraq, it has expanded its holdings.  Only recently, its fighters even began to move into the suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox

NOTE: Part I (Scrutinizing the Hiroshima Myth and Legacy) and Part II (Why Did the U.S. Drop Atomic Bombs on Japan) of my three-part essay on Hiroshima examined distortions of truth surrounding the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These distortions formed a mythology about the bombings that has become deeply embedded in the collective American conscience. Part III, below, explores the legacy of the Hiroshima Myth.

Enduring American allegiance to the Hiroshima Myth—or, conversely, our collective failure to confront its truth—has had a profound impact on the United States, both at home and abroad. Perceiving the atomic bomb as a decisive war-winning weapon led most Americans to embrace it as the essential protector of our nation. To be safe, we needed to stockpile nuclear weapons and be prepared to use them, a belief that would spark a massive nuclear arms race in the ensuing decades. Accepting the Hiroshima Myth meant accepting nuclear weapons as a fact of national and international life.
The belief that the bomb killed thousands to save millions imparted a moral righteousness to the bomb that today translates into a collective American numbness to matters of mass destruction, even genocide. Almost anything is permissible if used to “save American lives.” This numbness, along with our belief in American exceptionalism and the decisiveness our military power, helps explain why the US is prone to deploying extensive force and using increasingly destructive weapons against perceived international enemies, however unthreatening they may appear to the reasoned mind.

Monday, August 31, 2015



1. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Donald Trump isn’t the only one saying outrageous things in a quest for headlines. In an apparent attempt to differentiate himself from Jeb Bush and the other GOP hopefuls, Walker said he would be prepared to bomb Iran on his first day in the Oval Office.
Speaking to reporters [in Iowa] this month after an appearance at the Family Leader Summit, Walker said the next president will need to be prepared to take aggressive action against Iran, "very possibly" including military strikes, on the day he or she is inaugurated. He went on to say he would not be comfortable with a commander- in-chief unwilling to act aggressively on day one of a new presidency.
With our recent war disasters, the Republican thirst for more war is mind-boggling. As absurd as is Walker’s boast, I expect other GOP hopefuls to up his anti. Who will be the first to call for a nuclear strike?

Saturday, August 1, 2015



1. Rep Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Like his fellow right-wing colleagues, Issa rarely misses an opportunity to evoke the image of Reagan the Great. In an award-worthy absurdity, Issa has proposed naming U.S. coastal waters after the former president. Issa’s bill would rename the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, which generally extends from three to 200 miles offshore, as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone, in honor of the man who first said “yeah, all that over there? That’s ours.”

What’s next? Adding Reagan’s head to Mount Rushmore? How about renaming the Hawaiian Islands the Reagan Islands? The real irony here is that most right-wingers despise the policies and actions Reagan undertook as President. No matter, the name works wonders with the uninformed.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015



1. U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI). Johnson offered this pearl of wisdom for all the working single moms out there:  If she wants to "increase her take-home pay” instead of having yet "another child out of wedlock" to increase her welfare windfall, she should instead "find someone to support her."

Johnson is quick to admit that he stole this incredibly sexist riff from his uber-misogynist Wisconsin colleague, Rep. Glenn Grothman.  Variations of this single mom marrying the government instead of marrying a real man has become a central talking point of Johnson's stump speech as he gears up for his re-election in 2016.

Of course it doesn’t matter to Johnson and Grothman that there is no evidence to support the claim that a single mom working below the poverty line would intentionally have another child to get healthcare, food stamps and other forms of government assistance to, as Johnson put it, “increase your take-home pay.” As most people, and especially the poor, know, government assistance does not come close to covering the cost of having, feeding, clothing, and supporting another child. Moreover, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act limits how long a woman can stay on welfare. It is outrageous that the false and stigmatizing “welfare queen” label persists and continues to shape public perceptions. We have Johnson and Grothman and other insensitive ignoramuses to thank for this. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox

OBAMA and Maliki
Maliki and Obama: A Green Light?
Claims that President Obama facilitated the ascent of the Islamic State have come from both right- and left-wings.  The right blames him for being late in recognizing the ISIS threat and excessively cautious in responding to it; liberal mainstream criticism has focused on his failure to constrain Maliki's repression of Sunnis.  Some observers to the left of the mainstream dismiss accusations that the President has been too cautious and instead claim he has actually pursued an interventionist agenda similar to the one promulgated by neoconservatives and liberal war-hawks during the Bush years.  This agenda, they say, has played into ISIS' hands.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox

ISIS Fighters in Tank
ISIS Fighters Celebrating

While a number of blame-games have fingered wealthy Sunni patrons in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the Persian Gulf monarchies for providing the financial and military wherewithal that enabled ISIS to flourish, most do not give enough credit to Islamic State leaders and fighters themselves for the organization's rise and the striking success of their political maneuvering and military operations. To be sure, they exploited a window of opportunity opened by Bush and Obama blunders, as well as opportunities which arose in Syria, but their persuasion skills, strategic savvy, fighting ability, and resilience have been extraordinary and must be seen as an essential factor in understanding how well they were able to exploit their opportunities.


By Ronald Fox

Maliki Public enemy

Nouri al-Maliki became prime minister in 2005. After assuming power, despite promises of democratic governance, he launched a campaign to eliminate potential Sunni threats to his regime. This translated into reducing the presence of former Ba’athist Party members and Sunnis from influential government positions and the military. Maliki moved cautiously at first, but his purges picked up in 2011 after American troops left Iraq and he no longer felt constrained by the U.S. presence.

Tariq al Hashimi
Tarig Al-Hashimi
When he purged his vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, the highest-ranking Sunni in his government (on a trumped-up charge about a planned coup), and President Obama blinked (more on this in a later post), Maliki felt free to escalate attacks against Sunnis. What followed was a brutal repression of Sunnis he considered potential threats, and in his paranoid mindset, the list was expansive. Thousands of Sunnis were arrested and jailed, many without charges. Several simply disappeared. Shiite militias took violence to new heights; blood flowed in the streets. Tribesmen of the Sunni Awakening were even targeted. These were people who had helped defeat al-Qaeda years earlier.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox

ISIS Fighters Celebrating
No matter how you slice, dice, or spin it, the U.S. war on terror in the wider Middle East has been an unmitigated disaster, arguably amounting to one of the greatest disasters of our time. The region is far less stable and America is far less free and secure than we were when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, and Muammar Gaddafi sat on his thrown in Libya.  And, the people we were intent on liberating from tyranny have enjoyed little of our cherished freedom and democracy.  Now the group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) is currently posing our most serious threat in the region, far more than our previous bogeyman, al Qaeda. Like a famished pacman, ISIS is gobbling up cities and towns in Iraq and Syria. Who or what is responsible for its rise, military success and expansion?

Fingers of blame for the rise and success of the Islamic State point in many directions. Neoconservative Republicans and military hawks blame Obama for leaving an insufficient American military presence in Iraq when the U.S. pulled out in 2011 and being too tardy and timid in responding to the ISIS threat. Democrats tend to emphasize the Bush Administration’s stream of blunders as paving the way for radical Jihadi extremists.  Travelers on the far left blame the neocon interventionist agenda and Obama for continuing it. Military leaders harp on the Iraqi army’s incompetence and lack of will to fight. Some analysts point to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s anti-Sunni repression as a key factor. The Islamic State's exceptional recruiting, persuasion, and fighting skills, facilitated by financial and weapons support from Sunni sympathizers in the Middle East region,  most importantly Saudi Arabia, have also been cited as key reasons for ISIS' ascent. Still others maintain that Shiite militias and weapons sent to Iraq by Iran were mainly responsible for the ISIS insurgency.  

I've been trying to make sense of the blame game for some time, not an easy task given the aversion to facts that underlies many opinions on the subject of the Islamic State.  To help sort out my thoughts, I've written an essay that looks at the main accusations leveled in the ISIS blame game. To spare Phronesis readers a long single post, the essay will be divided into five separate parts.  The first (below) will touch on the alleged responsibilities of the Bush Administration and the Iraqi Army. The second will address the claimed culpability of Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, and the third the role of ISIS itself.  President Obama's suspected responsibility will be the focus of the fourth post.  The fifth and final post, admittedly from a non-expert perspective, will attempt to make sense of it all.

Sunday, May 31, 2015



1. Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler). The Texas Republican proposed an amendment so outrageous that even some of his own GOP colleagues were repulsed—and this says a lot. Schaefer’s amendment would make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks, even if a fetus “has a severe and irreversible abnormality,” effectively forcing families with wanted, but unsustainable pregnancies to carry to term at the behest of the state and against the advice of their doctors or their own wishes.

What would cause a lawmaker to want the government to inflict more emotional pain onto an already grieving family, not to mention adding a major health risk to the mother? Does he not realize a woman can easily die of sepsis by carrying a deceased or nonviable fetus?

Schaefer’s answer is that suffering is “part of the human condition, since sin entered the world.”

Good God! Where do these people come from? More importantly, how do they hide their vile and odious ignorance long enough to get elected?

2. Presidential Wannabe Jeb Bush. In a Christian Broadcasting Network interview, Bush said he believes business owners should be able to refuse to provide services for same-sex couples “if it’s based on a religious belief.”

“A big country, a tolerant country, ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs,” he said. “This should not be that complicated. Gosh, it is right now.”

Business owners have long used the moral belief rationale as an excuse to discriminate against various groups of people, for example to refuse service to blacks at lunch counters and elsewhere. Framing discrimination as somehow righteous has a long, shameful history in America. It’s sickening that Bush and other right-wingers are determined to keep the subterfuge alive.

Let’s get one thing straight. The issue here isn’t about the government telling people how to conduct themselves in their private lives; it’s about how businesses operate. America would be a far less hospitable, not to mention just and free place, if government didn’t tell businesses they can’t discriminate against a given group of people. It isn't that complicated, no matter how much Jeb Bush and other Republicans try to confuse the issue.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox


Here we go again. Four big banks—Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland—pleaded guilty this week to multiple crimes related to manipulating foreign currencies and interest rates. Bank traders created online chat rooms they referred to as “the cartel” and “the mafia” where they colluded to manipulate exchange rates. Little did they know how appropriate these terms were, for the big banks have rap sheets that would put a mob boss to shame.

The big four were fined $5.6 billion (on top of $4.25 billion some of them agreed to pay regulators in November), and, for the first time, the banks’ parent companies rather than a subsidiary were required to enter the guilty pleas. Lest you think that pleading guilty to a felony represents a ramping up of big bank punishment, it must be noted that the banks were able to negotiate exemptions to stiff future regulations as part of the deal. These exemptions, like so many others in plea-bargain deals with banks, will allow them to conduct business as usual.

The criminal culture that pervades the Wall Street community has shown itself to be immune to the government efforts to reign in fraudulent bank activity. Substantial fines, deferred prosecution agreements mandating reforms, and threats of restructuring and criminal prosecution of executives have proven inadequate deterrents to criminal behavior. As the recent currency trading fraud demonstrates, despite years of regulatory black marks, big banks continue to arrogantly defy laws as well as business ethics (is this an oxymoron?). The prevailing Wall Street freewheeling culture is perhaps best summed up by a comment made in one of the online chat rooms by a Barclay’s trader: “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

Bank Regulation

Monday, May 11, 2015


NOTE:  I received the following commentary from Bruce Dillon, a retired teacher with 30-years of experience in California public secondary schools. The commentary is in response to two of my previous posts on education: Assessing Student Learning: the Curse of Standardized Tests; and,
Getting Serious About Educating Our Kids.


By Bruce Dillon

I’ve been out of the field since June, 2006, but I’d like to respond to your pieces entitled “Getting Serious About Educating Our Kids” and “Assessing Student Learning: The Curse of Standardized Tests.”

For some context, I taught in California public secondary schools from 1976 through 2006. I was named “Teacher of the Year” of my school in a district that covers the communities of La Costa, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Fairbanks Ranch, and Rancho Santa Fe on three occasions. I was recognized by the U. S. House of Representatives twice, the California Department of Education twice, the Office of the Governor, the California State Senate, the California State Assembly, and the local Rotary Club three times. I served as Department Chair for 18 years and District Department Chair-Standards Development and Curriculum Team Leader for 17 years. I chaired our School Site Council seven times. I taught as many AP and honors students over my tenure as I did regular and at-risk students. In a district blessed (or cursed) with affluence, we were among the lowest funded secondary school districts in the state for three decades, based on some formula tied to property taxes developed during the 1970's. I’ll grant that you have more study of the subject than me, but I’ll speak from the perspective of one guy in the trenches. And I’ll probably sound like a cynic…

Sunday, May 3, 2015



1. Texas State Senator Donna Campbell. The Tea Party Republican from Pluto startled even her far-right colleagues by introducing a bill to ban any foreign ownership of the Alamo. Campbell is not worried about a possible take-over by the Mexican government, but from the ferocious invading forces of the United Nations.

Campbell’s rush to the barricades was spurred by a news item that UNESCO is considering including the Alamo as a World Heritage Site, where it would share company with the Statue of Liberty, The Grand Canyon, and other historic sites. When a colleague gently asked her what kind of a problem she was trying to solve, Campbell responded:

“Anything that starts with the UN gives me cause for concern.”

I’m sure all you history buffs, preservationists, and aficionados of the absurd are pleased to know Senator Campbell has the Alamo’s back.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox

Reagan and Flag

Republicans like to refer to Ronald Reagan as the model conservative-- the patron saint of the right. They seem to believe evoking his name legitimizes everything they do, however fool-hardy. Perhaps nowhere was this more on display than in their reaction to President Obama’s efforts to conclude a nuclear agreement with Iran. Ronald Reagan, they say, would have taken a tougher line, including taking out suspected nuclear sites if necessary; he was no appeaser, like that current guy in the White House.  The Gipper a tough guy? This image simply does not square with history.  Reagan was really a softie in foreign policy, far more cautious than the Bushies, Clintonians, and Obama.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox


The premature retirement of budding San Francisco 49-er football star Chris Borland because of his concerns about the long-term cognitive effects of head collisions has refocused the debate about the risks of playing football. For Borland, retirement was not a knee-jerk decision. He did extensive homework on the connection between head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and talked to many people inside and outside of the game before deciding to retire. His conclusion was that football was not worth the risk to his health and safety.


By Ronald Fox

Power 5

Feeling much heat for its policy of limiting athletic scholarships to the basics, such as tuition and room-and-board, on a year-to-year basis, the NCAA appears to have fully relented in allowing Big Five power schools to cover the “full cost of attendance” throughout an athlete’s college career. Under growing pressure from athletes, Congress and a critical media, NCAA President Mark Emmert first indicated in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last summer his willingness to consider raising scholarship amounts and ending the standard year-to-year stipend. Now power conference schools will have a green light to go forward with their long held desire to offer more attractive scholarships.  Where this leaves less wealthy colleges is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox


Last week the U.S. initiated air strikes on ISIS in Tikrit in an effort to retake the city.  Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, the commander of the Islamic State operation, assured us that “these strikes are intended to destroy ISIS strongholds with precision [italics added], thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure.”  He went on to say that "this will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit."  In the same week, John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said “to stop Iran’s bomb, we must bomb Iran.”  Implicit in these statements is the belief that air power is the critical ingredient for achieving strategic objectives.
There is perhaps no greater myth in America than belief in the efficacy of air power, or, more specifically, strategic bombing.  This myth persists in spite of the fact that independent air operations have never proven decisive in any war in which the U.S. has been involved: not in World War II, not in Korea, not in Southeast Asia (where the US dropped twice as many tons of bombs as were dropped in the entire Second World War), not in the Gulf War (where we were told a "shock and awe" air campaign against the Iraqi leadership would end the war in just days), and not in Afghanistan or Iraq. Constant pounding from the air has also done very little to deter Islamist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS from prosecuting their war of terror.  If bombing campaigns employing increasingly accurate and lethal technologies have failed to deter our Islamist enemies, let alone produce victories, why do Americans remain so attached to them?

Billy Mitchell
General Billy Mitchell

Tuesday, March 31, 2015



1. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker once again showed his disdain for democracy and the U.S. constitution. In criticizing President Obama’s response to Islamic terrorists he offered his record of handling protesters in his state as evidence that he was qualified to take on terrorists. He said:

 “I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately we'll send a message not only that we'll protect American soil but do not take this upon freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world. We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

Comparing peaceful protesters from Wisconsin to a terrorist army in the Middle East is par for the Walker course. His divide-and-conquer strategy has created a rift in Wisconsin that will be difficult to heal. His base may eat up statements that he is a big tough guy for standing up to protesters, even though he never really did; he was so afraid, he slunk into the capitol like a coward through underground tunnels. Some hero! Walker’s afraid of the very citizens he was elected to represent.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


NOTE:   The "Letter from the 47" says a great deal about the state of American democracy and  how poisoned our political atmosphere has become. If our disastrous meddling in the Middle East hasn't totally buried the credibility of our righteous claims of American exceptionalism,  then the ill-conceived action by the Senate Republicans has hammered the last nail in the coffin.  What must the rest of the world be thinking of us now?  (Go to Some comments from European officials.)  The irony of such a blatantly illegal usurpation of power emanating from the "cradle of democracy" didn't escape one observer of Iranian politics, who emailed me the following copy of a letter he believes the Iranian Council of Guardians should send to U.S. Senators. With tongue firmly in cheek, he offers an Iranian perspective on the Senate Republican power grab, which he believes should make Iran proud.  (RT Fox)       

Saturday, March 14, 2015


NOTE”":    The following essay was written by David Rothkopf and published in the March 13, 2015 online version of Foreign Policy magazine under the title, In the Supreme Leader We Trust.  I am circulating it on Phronesis as a guest commentary. I hope it stimulates thought and discussion. 

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

And we have a winner!  
In a Congress full of partisan hacks, nitwits, and know-nothings, young Tom Cotton of Arkansas really had to do something special to have his blunder considered more awful than the prior lows, missteps, and gaffes that have come to symbolize this bleak era in the history of America’s legislative branch. But the letter he authored to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, represents the worst single example of partisan meddling in an ongoing international negotiation in modern American history.  
The letter, co-signed by 46 other Republican senators, shows far more than a complete disregard for America’s long-standing tradition of having partisanship stop at the water’s edge. It represents a clear effort to undermine the constitutionally mandated responsibility of the president of the United States to conduct U.S. foreign policy. It also simultaneously damaged American credibility in the eyes of the other nations with which we are involved in the negotiating process and in the eyes of the Iranians with whom we were negotiating. Think of the precedent: If Congress simply sent out letters saying, “We will overturn whatever the president agrees to,” who would negotiate with us after that? And not just on one issue, but on anything?  

Monday, March 2, 2015



1. Freshman Texas Rep. Molly White (R-Tx). Apparently no fan of the U.S. Constitution, White left some heart-felt instructions to her staff on how to deal with Muslims visiting her Austin office for Texas Muslim Capitol Day:

 "I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws," she posted on Facebook. "We will see how long they stay in my office."  

She’ll fit right in with today’s GOP. As with the rest of the Islam haters that inhabit the party, someone should teach her about the meaning of democracy.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox

NOTE:  This  post is a modified version of my previous commentary on the Brian Williams affair (Hypocrisy Reigns Supreme in the Brian Williams Drama).  I wrote it for my son's blog, Busch League Sports, for which I write a column as "The Professor." This version was not intended as a response to Charles Snow's earlier post.  I'm re-submitting it because I think this version provides greater clarity to the points I was trying to make.  In addition, the pictures my son added to the otherwise somber piece give it a refreshing humorous touch.  The new title better conveys my thesis.

 brian williams moon

There’s been widespread criticism of Brian Williams for his lie about a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a helicopter in which he was riding while covering the Iraq War in 2003, for which he has received a six-month suspension. (He told this story for years, but it only recently exploded into scandal.) Williams certainly deserves punishment for his falsehood, but there’s a bigger picture critique that should be part of the national discourse on the sordid affair. It runs to the very heart of the today’s mass media system. What I find more disgraceful than the Williams lie is his habit of injecting himself into the center of his story telling, a habit that has become all too common among celebrity journalists. I’m also disturbed by the hypocritical attacks he’s received from other mainstream journalists whose own records for truth leave much to be desired.

Friday, February 20, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox
Brian Williams Embellishes Katrina Coverage

NOTE: this commentary if being posted in response to my blogmate Charles Snow’s earlier post criticizing Brian Williams for making a false claim and NBC Nightly News for how it handled the scandal. (See What Would Walter Cronkite Say About Brian Williams and NBC?).  The current version is a revision of the original.

While I share Charles’ outrage about Brian Williams’ compromises with truth and how NBC Nightly News handled the affair, I think he’s missing the bigger picture. The issue is not just about Williams and the integrity of NBC Nightly News; it runs to the very heart of the mass media system. Truth and integrity, which guided the dissemination of news in the Walter Cronkite era, are no longer as highly valued as they once were. The driving preoccupation of our corporatized mass media today is to boost profits. This end justifies a multitude of means that years ago would have been unthinkable. Brian Williams, ironically an admirer of Cronkite, was skilled at creating drama by putting himself, at times seemingly in harm's way, at the scene of the event he was covering.  For this he won high praise from NBC’s corporate management, many of his colleagues, and, most importantly, his viewers. This meant high rating and hence more revenue for the network’s corporate owners.

What I find more disgraceful than the Williams lie is his habit of injecting himself into the center of the story he is telling, a habit that has become all to common among celebrity journalists.  I'm also disturbed by the hypocritical attacks he's received from other mainstream journalists whose own records for truth leave much to be desired.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


By Charles Snow  

Now the news is dominating the news! The absurd behavior of Brian Williams, and the way NBC Nightly News dealt with it, must have Walter Cronkite, the best TV news anchor of all time, rolling over in his grave. Obviously I can’t speak for Walter Cronkite, but I can use the lens of his self-assurance and integrity to analyze the Brian Williams situation.

Friday, February 13, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox   

One of the more serious, but as yet rarely discussed questions emerging from the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center is about the nature of patriotism.  Nearly all Americans believe they are patriotic, but there are vastly different interpretations as to what constitutes patriotism.   At its core, most would agree, patriotism involves love and devotion to the country, but there is wide disagreement as to what love and devotion means and what it requires of citizens. In America, there are two leading schools of thought on the meaning of patriotism:  one sees it as meaning unquestioned loyalty to the United States, the other as loyalty to our democratic principles and ideals. Let me say up front that I subscribe to the later interpretation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox 

In my last post on the issue of head injuries in football (Changing the Culture of Football), I wrote about a class-action lawsuit filed by parents of an Illinois high school football player whose son still suffers from frequent migraines and memory loss after multiple concussions received while playing football. The suit cites the State of Illinois for deficient concussion protocols. In asking the Illinois State High School Association to strengthen rules regarding head injuries, it also strives to warn parents about letting their children play football at a young age. 

Noting that similar lawsuits targeting high school associations are pending, I predicted that “It’s probably just a matter of time before lawsuits emerge for youth leagues.” There now appears some evidence to support this possibility.

Monday, February 9, 2015


nfl domestic violence

by Ronald Fox

(This is Part III on head injuries in football)

Is there a connection between the brutality of football, and particularly head injuries, and the prevalence of player’s committing violence against women? At this point, we can only speculate. One thing is certain, however, the NFL has a vested interest in avoiding the subject. Given its shameful and probably criminal denial that concussions could leave permanent brain damage, and its tardy, insensitive, inconsistent and patronizing response to the issue of player domestic violence, it is extremely doubtful the league will launch a serious investigation of a possible connection between head injuries and acts of partner violence—at least as long as the revenue-driven, denial artist Roger Goodell remains commissioner.


By Ronald Fox  

NOTE:  Consider this Part IV of my series on head injuries in football.  The other three parts were: Head Injuries in Football: The NFL Fumbles, Head Injuries in Football: The NFL Finally Responds, and Head Injuries in Football and Domestic Violence.

In previous posts I wrote about lawsuits filed by pro and college football players against their leagues and associations for brain injuries incurred as a result of head collisions. The reach has now been extended to the high school level. A former high school quarterback is suing the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) for not doing enough to protect players from concussions. This is the first case where legal action has been taken for former high school players as a whole against a group responsible for prep sports in a state. As injuries and lawsuits mount, perhaps football associations and leagues will finally get serious about changing the one thing likely to make the game safer: the way tackles are made.

Sunday, February 1, 2015



1. Tom Cotton (R-Ark). Cotton heavily played the fear-of-foreigners card in his recent election to the US Senate. Cotton warned of a murderous mass invasion by Islamic bogeymen often cited by the far right:

“Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico. They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.”

Here you have it. Mid-eastern jihadists are drooling about taking over Hot Springs. The sad thing is many of his fellow right-wing senators actually hope to respond to this phony danger by enacting anti-immigrant, anti-Latino legislation. They believe the 2014 election gave them a mandate to do so. And these people are senators?  

Friday, January 30, 2015


By Charles Snow

I received my PhD in Business Administration from the University of California. In early 1974, I received an offer for a faculty position in the business school at Penn State University. Because my wife and I would not be moving to State College, Pennsylvania until August of that year, the Chairman of the Management Department offered to send us a two-week subscription to the local newspaper so that we could start getting a feel for the State College community and perhaps find an apartment to lease. When the first copy of the paper arrived, the headline article, accompanied by a large picture, was about a mirror that had been recently installed at a semi-blind intersection on a country road. I began to wonder what I was getting myself into by accepting this job.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


By Ronald Fox
It a number of previous posts I bemoaned the failure of Federal prosecutors to subject big Wall Street banks to criminal prosecution for their assortment of misdeeds. (One notable exception was the criminal prosecution of Credit Suisse. See Credit Suisse Pleads Guilty To A Felony, But Gets Off Easy). Without criminal prosecution, I concluded that the heavy fines imposed on JPMorgan Chase and other Wall Street behemoths would not deter the various criminal wrongdoings that got them in legal hot water.  At the same time, I welcomed the seemingly huge fines, which federal prosecutors assured us were extremely stiff, the highest ever paid by banks.  They did seem impressive.  I said "seem," because now we know the big banks will pay nowhere near the full cost of the settlements.  A big chunk of the billions of dollars in fines they have to pay to various federal agencies and regulators is tax deductible.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015



(This is Part II of my series on head injuries in football)  

After more than a decade of denials and evasions of the problem, the NFL was finally forced to admit that concussions could have long-term effects. It didn’t concede easily. It took increased scientific confirmation of the presence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), wider public awareness, and political pressure brought to Capitol Hill by Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (Jane Leavy has authored a book about her titled The Woman Who Saved Football) and an organization of wives and widows of former players to get the NFL to respond. Commissioner Roger Goodell was hauled before a congressional hearing where he was asked point blank if concussions caused long-term damage. This time his familiar “don’t-ask-me-I’m-not-a-scientist-ask-them” refrain satisfied no one. One committee member equated his evasion to Big Tobacco.
Two new discoveries by Dr. McKee’s research team posed an even more ominous threat to the NFL and the game of football in general.  CTE deposits were found in the brains of a 21-year old college football player, Owen Thomas, who had committed suicide, and an 18-year old high school player who died after a fourth concussion. Finding the presence of CTE in players so young raised several questions that cut to the very heart of the game of football. Could asymptomatic, sub-concussive hits have long-term effects? Is playing the game too dangerous? How safe is it for children to play? At what age? What precautions can be taken to protect players from head injuries? Questions like these substantially raised the stakes for the NFL.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015



By Ronald Fox 

Sociopath: a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.  
Prompted by former Vice-President Dick Chaney’s ludicrous claim that President Obama was responsible for the rise of ISIS and the general chaos in the Middle East, among other things, I previously posted an essay on the Veep in which I attempted to set the record straight. In trying to understand Cheney’s unfounded claims, I considered whether he had amnesia, was a hypocrite, ideological delusionalist, or just a shameless liar. After much thought, I concluded he was a dangerous delusional ideologue. (See Dick Cheney is a Dangerous Delusional Ideologue). Cheney’s response to the multitude of horrors spelled out in the Senate Report on Torture leads me to amend my conclusion: Dick Cheney is a sociopath. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox  

(NOTE:  An earlier version of this essay was sent in error, so I'm re-submitting)

Ok, I admit it. I’ve become a political cynic. It’s easy to get jaded when your governing system is completely dysfunctional and the political party you’ve believed in has strayed from its core principles. The partisan divide has become obscenely wide and rigid. Partisanship has always characterized American politics, but perhaps never so much as in our present era. Political opponents rarely talk to each other, let alone collaborate to move legislation. I didn’t think I’d ever say it, but I long for a return to that old style politics when politicians fought it out on principle in the day, but got together after hours to make political deals. This is how law-making got done. It required mutual respect, trust and willingness to compromise. Above all, it required a commitment to the general good.  Sadly,  these days are long gone.