Today’s headlines…

Perfect…perfect.  Totally represents the level of engagement most folks have in politics and world events, as opposed to their level of engagement with pop culture.  The government is likely to shut down in less than 24 hours…we have historic opportunities to engage Iran diplomatically…and what story is “most read” on websites this morning? Indeed, what story is actually the HEADLINE on many websites this morning?

The “Breaking Bad” finale was evidently last night, and is being dissected in great detail.


GOP adds “conscience clause” to government funding bill

Disgusting…not only are Repubs shutting down the government to try and pause Obamacare implementation, they also inserted what they call the “conscience clause”.

The clause the GOP House added to their spending bill would allow either employers or insurance companies to opt out of having to cover contraception. Working for a bible-thumping wacko? Sorry ma’am, that hairy old white man in the front office is claiming control of your vagina and uterus…no birth control coverage for you.

“Conscience” clause my ass. They’re trying to stop 30 million uninsured Americans from getting insurance coverage. They’re shutting down the government , leaving programs for the poor shuttered while they throw their tantrum about losing to Obama last fall. I guess their conscience only bothers them if it’s rich white men who need help…

America, home of the free…and the ignorant

Looks like me and a few hundred thousand of my close Fed friends will be getting an unscheduled vacation! I’ve got responsibilities, I’ve got folks counting on me, including some outside of Federal government, but thanks to Tea Party wackos and the weakest, worst Speaker-of-the-House in history, I’m not even going to have access to my work email when the government shuts down Tuesday. It’s easy to blame Boehner and House Republicans, but equally at fault…American voters and the public as a whole.

Republicans are committing political suicide with this move, with opinion polls showing they’re going to get blamed for the shutdown. However, the only reason Repubs feel even halfway comfortable about forcing a shutdown Is because of polls that continue to show overall unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act, and polls about raising the debt limit.

Regarding the ACA…Americans still have a negative impression of Obamacare when asked about the program as a whole. However, when you ask the public about all the individual components of the ACA, they’re very much in favor of most provisions. Why the disparity? Because Americans are freakin’ ignorant. Americans are incredibly reliant on being spoon-fed news events in short, simplified bites. Americans don’t KNOW the details about Obamacare, and are too lazy to educate themselves. Only in America can people say they’re against something in NAME, but for the actual CONTENT

Regarding the debt limit…Republicans are buoyed by polls that show Americans consistently resist raising the debt limit. A strong majority don’t think we should raise the debt limit, and a majority are even against raising it if it would mean America defaults on its debts!!! In other words…a majority of Americans are FUCKING IDIOTS. ANY American who says they don’t want to raise the debt limit is either 1) an anarchist or 2) completely ignorant as to what the debt limit represents. Americans just don’t understand the debt limit. They don’t understand the consequences of refusing to raise it. They don’t understand it would likely result in a severe recession, if not a deep depression, would result in permanently much higher interest rates. They don’t understand the incredibly negative impact it would have on their daily lives.

The American public doesn’t understand, but the politicians we send to DC certainly do. It’s incredible how much of politics is based on capitalizing on the ignorance of your constituents. Hell, the entire platform of the Republican Party is built on that ignorance. Here’s hoping the impending shutdown wakes some folks up and helps to reduce some of that ignorance.

Life as a Fed…

It’s 7:30 pm and at the moment on the floor of the US Senate, noted assclown Ted Cruz is filibustering. OK…in reality due to Senate rules, it’s not a filibuster…it’s just just Cruz doing what he does best…being a blowhard and making a show for the Tea Party wackos. There’s one thing and one thing only on Cruz’s mind, and it sure as he’ll isn’t Obamacare or what’s good for the country. No, the one thing on Ted Cruz’s mind is the political future of Ted Cruz.

In reality though you could say that’s the problem with every DC politician. In Cruz’s case he’s posturing for 2016, trying to endear himself to the wacko conservative wing of the Republican Party. The next election…that’s the ONLY thing that drives DC politicians. Mitch McConnell has been crapping his pants over this showdown, not wanting to look like an idiot like Cruz, but at the same time not wanting to piss off the Tea Party wackos. John Boehner is in survival mode, KNOWING Republicans are destroying the party in the long term, but going along with the Tea Party wackiness in order to preserve his speakership. One week until a shutdown that looks ever more likely…

Standing on the sidelines…folks like myself. I’m a US Geological Survey scientist who was around for the LAST shutdown in 1995. There were actually 2 shutdowns then, very short one, and then the one over the holidays that lasted many days. At the time, my wife and I were, well, 18 years younger and a LOT poorer. We’d just closed on our first house, and sitting at home instead of working certainly was a stressful time. I can survive a shutdown for a while now, but god knows there are a lot of Federal employees who would suffer a big hardship if they were out of work for a while.

Now I’m a project manager, and what’s the most frustrating about dealing with DC politics is the complete uncertainty and impossibility to ever make long-term plans. It’s not just a shutdown threat, it’s Congressional politics in general. EVERY year at this time, as we approach a new fiscal year, we have to make contingency plans regarding budgets. Will we be on a continuing resolution? (The answer to that is always YES for at least the last decade). What will our funding be for the fiscal year? Will your agency suffer a big budget hit if Congress does ever pass a budget, and if so, how do change course mid year?

I’ve been at USGS EROS for 20 years now. We truly are a world-class science organization, with many well-respected, well published scientists. Thats NOT due to DC politics or political support, it’s in SPITE of the constant roadblocks that we face. I look at our one organization with about 650 employees, and think of our experiences multiplied across all Federal agencies. How much money and time is wasted every year due to DC politics? How many government man hours are spent planning for shutdowns, for maneuvering through continuing resolutions?

To the general public, Federal employees have somehow become synonymous with the assclown politicians in DC. There’s the stereotype of the fat and happy Fed, overpaid and underworked. To that, I say BULLSHIT. I wish the public could separate the politics from the employees and agencies of the Federal government. We’re doing world-class work where I am, with very well-educated professionals who make less than they could in the private sector. We’re hard-working, dedicated workers, serving the American public with pride and responsibility.

Now if only we could disassociate ourselves from the assclown politicians in DC. It’s tiring having DC politics drag down the reputation of Federal workers themselves. It’s tiring when your work itself is negatively impacted by the uncertainty and interference of DC politics.

In the meantime we sit here with less than a week to go, and DC politicians seem more intent on insulting each other than they do in trying to make government WORK. Have a merry shutdown!!

Young Men Kill Record Alligator – Testosterone Levels Surge

I really need to add a new blog category…”Stupid CNN Front Page ‘News’”, or something along those lines.  I think it was the Onion the other day who made fun of CNN’s penchant for having ridiculous, non-news-worthy stories dominate their front page, and I certainly won’t argue with that.  It seems they had Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance as their lead story online for 3 days, with smaller headlines for “minor” stories like the U.S. potentially headed to war with Syria.

Yesterday’s big “news” comes from Mississippi, where rednecks from across the region salivated at the chance to go out and kill something.  Evidently there was an alligator hunt for the first time in many, many years, and the big CNN “news” was that multiple groups of rednecks killed record-sized alligators.  More than 24 hours later, and this big story is STILL on the top of the CNN “news” page.  The story is accompanied by a lovely photo of 3 young Mississippi rednecks, standing proudly behind a dead alligator hoisted up into the air.

Congrats CNN for relaying yet another ground-breaking “news” story.  And big congrats to the all those fine, Mississippi rednecks who satisfied their urge to go out and kill something…I can feel the manly testosterone SURGING, all the way up here in South Dakota.

If you really want some good entertainment, look at the reader comments accompanying this big “news” story.  Always entertaining to lift the curtain and see some uncensored discussion from the brilliant citizenry from across America.  My favorite posts accompanying this story…those that say it’s NECESSARY for Mississippi rednecks to go out and blast away at alligators, to control the population.  Did alligator populations spiral out of control prior to the arrival of testosterone-driven killing-machine young rednecks in America?  The damned creatures must have been so abundant that they were stacked on top of each other, without having these fine young rednecks…wait…no…these fine young redneck HEROES…to protect us from the scourge of out-of-control alligator populations.  BRAVO, young redneck Mississippi heroes!! Without your brave daring-do, it would have only been a matter of time before the out-of-control Alligator horde would have reached us up here in South Dakota.  Thank you CNN for reporting this story, and thank you Mississippi rednecks for protecting your fellow citizenry…

Revisiting farmers as “True Environmentalists”

Drain Tiling South Dakota

An August, 2013 photo from Highway 81 in Lake County, north of Madison, South Dakota. There are many large grassy fields in the area that are actively being converted to cropland. Here some large rolls of drain tile sit and await installation in a beautiful, massive grassy field. At this time next year, there's no doubt this will be a massive corn field.

I started this blog about 2 years ago, and the very first blog post focused on what seemed to be an impending “annexation” of southeastern South Dakota, by the state of Iowa.  At the time it was somewhat tongue in cheek, about South Dakota turning into an extension of Iowa, given the continuing conversion of pasture and other lands to cultivated corn and soybean fields.  Nothin’ against Iowa (OK, maybe a little bit), but…when I drive through our sister to the southeast, it’s a bit depressing, in that you typically see miles and miles of corn and soybeans, with very little grassland or woodland habitat.

I’ve blogged about this all before, but with the continued government support for ethanol, with continued high prices for corn, farmers are ratcheting up the conversion to cropland at an even higher pace.  I work at USGS EROS, a facility that sits outside of Sioux Falls 10 miles.  I always used to have my camera with me when I drove to work, and I usually would take gravel roads, driving by the few remaining “micro-habitats” that remained in a sea of farmland.  Yes, southeast South Dakota too is mostly cropland, but on my way to work, there are little pockets of pasture and grassland, shrubby fencerows and shelter belts, and marshy pastures and some wetland.

I should say there USED to be those little pockets of habitat, because just within the last few years, they are pretty much completely gone.  Pasture land and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands are pretty much a thing of the (very recent) past on my drive to work.  The little marshy spots and wetlands? COMPLETELY gone on my drive.  Just a couple of miles southeast of USGS EROS, there used to be a marshy pasture, with scattered wetter spots that actually supported cattails and other wetland vegetation.  When driving to and from work, it was the one spot I would often pause at with my camera. It was the ONLY little patch of wetland left on my way to work, and I was often rewarded with photos of some nice birds.  Swamp Sparrows, Le Conte’s Sparrows, Sedge Wrens…all nice birds to find here (all these photos are from that spot).

I knew that spot was likely in trouble when I saw heavy equipment sitting on the land last fall.  The natural drainage through the area, this little ditch that often held standing water, was dug up and expanded.  The entire field was drain-tiled, and this summer when I drove past the spot, the entire area was now a corn field.  ”Progress”…South Dakota style.  I don’t bother bringing my camera to work any more.   I don’t bother taking gravel roads.  Even these little micro-habitats that once held birds are now all gone, plowed under in the rush to grow even more corn.

I obviously get it, from the farmer’s perspective.  It’s their livelihood, and with the high price of corn, they want to scrape every possible bushel of corn from their land.  With the (RIDICULOUS) continued support for ethanol and the high price of corn, I suppose the “Iowa-zation” of eastern South Dakota is inevitable.  What bugs the HELL out of me though is the continued active advertising campaign talking about South Dakota farmers as “True Environmentalists”.  The “True Environmentalist” campaign has been going on for some time now, seemingly coinciding quite well with the rapid expansion of cropland and loss of CRP land in the state.  The ad campaign is sponsored by the South Dakota Corn Grower’s Association (surprise).

There are billboards around the state, and you see TV advertisements on occasion as well.  If you look at the website, you’ll see a page called “Caring for the land” that lists all the…benefits (!!) of farming and how they’re supposedly protecting water quality, the soil, and wildlife.

To that, I say BULLSHIT.  Look, with 7 billion mouths to feed on the planet, I know large-scale ag production is needed.  But for god’s sake farmers…call a freakin’ spade a spade’.  South Dakota farmers are about as much “Environmentalists” as are those in the oil and gas industry.  It’s about production, it’s about profit…it’s NOT about the environment.  A site and ad campaign that touts the water quality “benefits” of our “true environmentalist” farmers?  I love to fish, but I rarely bother fishing in this part of the state, and I CERTAINLY wouldn’t ever eat a fish I caught around here.  The water is incredibly turbid and so full-of ag-runoff that on a recent birding trip, I literally had to hold my nose driving past many of the lakes and ponds in the area.  Fertilizer runoff ensures massive algae blooms in the summer, and the stench around Lake Thompson and other lakes in the area is pretty horrid right now.

With the drought last year, farmers really took advantage by moving into former wetlands to install drain tile and convert them to cropland.  It’s bad enough to convert natural wetlands to cropland, but the drain tile itself facilitates  increased movement of pesticides and fertilizers into waterways.

It’s kind of depressing driving around Eastern South Dakota and seeing all the land conversion going on the state. Farmers…South Dakota Corn Grower’s Association…enough of the bullshit.  Call a spade a spade. Whitewashing the land conversion, whitewashing the drain-tiling of existing ag land, is no different from the oil companies advertising their “green cred”.

Republican GLEE over Syria

Many hundreds of Syrian men, women, and children were killed in the most gruesome manner possible, and many hundreds more were injured.  After multiple wars in the Middle East, a war-weary public is understandably reluctant to enter yet another conflict.  President Obama is really in a horrible position, with no great choices…through no fault of his own.

The Republican response to all of this? Outright GLEE.  In the COMPLETELY fucked-up world of Republican politics, Syria isn’t about chemical weapons, or all the people who were killed.  In the fucked-up world of Republican politics, Syria is about OBAMA, yet another topic they completely mis-read and twist in an effort to discredit a sitting president they hate even MORE than despots who massacre their own citizens through chemical weapons.  Rush Limbaugh, predictably, blames Obama for being “alone“,…as if a sitting president can flex his muscles and force another nation into war.  Hell, I’m surprised he didn’t blame Obama for dropping the chemical weapons themselves.  Charles Krauthammer, every BIT the loser that Rush Limbaugh is, takes glee in Obama being “humiliated“.

Of course Mr. Hawk himself, John McCain, is criticizing Obama for not doing ENOUGH, saying we need not only surgical air strikes, but even greater involvement. In the screwed up world of DC politics right now, it’s Nancy Pelosi who is sounding almost as hawkish as McCain.  From a strategic standpoint, it’s no-win for Obama.  As noted in this LA Times article, limited air strikes may actually make Assad STRONGER.  Despite the horror of what happened, it’s hardly surprising Great Britain is backing away from action.  They too realize it’s a no-win situation.    Back home, Americans aren’t going to stand for another protracted ground war, about the only thing that WOULD drive Assad out, but something that would leave an even messier, bigger power struggle than what’s occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just like Republican calls to elminate ObamaCare, they of course OFFER NO CREDIBLE SUGGESTIONS TO HOW THEY WOULD HANDLE THE ISSUE.  Republicans seem to be good at one thing, and one thing only…bitching and moaning about whatever it is Obama is doing.

Way to go, Limbaugh, Krauthammer, and the rest of you right-wing losers.  You’ve REALLY shown the pathetic nature of your party platform…being anti-Obama.  Instead of showing a single OUNCE of compassion for the Syrian victims, instead of providing CONSTRUCTIVE SUPPORT to a sitting president in a time of crisis…Republicans are focusing on criticizing Obama for action or inaction (in other words, criticizing what ever he decides to do), bitching about Obama needing to consult Congress before striking, and taking delight in Obama being “humiliated” and “alone”.

Pathetic…but sadly, predictable, given the state of the Republican party.  An entire party has been taken over by a single-minded HATRED of the sitting president, and the entire country is suffering as a result.

Drawing – Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Spoon-billed Sandpiper - Drawing

Colored pencil drawing of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper - Terry Sohl (2013)

I have WAY too many hobbies.  There’s also minor other little things in life that get in the way of my hobbies, like work, family, etc.  Because of that…November 9th, 2012.  That’s the last time I drew anything.  For most of 2013, the “feathers” part of the blog (and my hobbies) has been pretty inactive, as not only haven’t I drawn at all, but I just haven’t done a huge amount of birding this year either.  Tonight I finally got motivated to finish one I had at started (barely) a month ago.

This is a Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus). They’re not found in South Dakota.  They’re normally found in eastern Asia, but on rare occasions have been sighted in North America.  Beautiful little shorebirds, and with that unique little spoon-shaped bill, they’re pretty darned adorable.  That alone would make them a great subject to draw, but the real reason I chose this species…they’re one of the rarest birds on the planet, with only a few hundred (at best) left.

They breed in Siberia and then move down and over-winter in southeast Asia.  There, they are subject to subsistence hunting, and are most often caught by folks who use fine netting on mud-flats and other areas where shorebirds gather.  It’s a really tough situation to  manage, as those who (unknowingly) are capturing and killing these little birds are extremely poor, and are just trying to eek out a living.  Education programs are attempting to teach folks about the species, in the hopes of reducing capture of Spoon-billed Sandpipers, but it’s a species that may not have more than a few years left on the planet.  There’s now a captive breeding program that’s attempting to build up numbers of the species, but unless things change on their migration and winter habitat, it’s going to be an uphill climb for this little charismatic bird.

Now to keep my current pace, I can take the next 10 months off of drawing…  ;-)

In a perfect world…

I’m not one to cry much (hey, I’m a guy).  You might not believe that given that I’ve blogged about some of the events in my life where I’ve mentioned it, but as an adult I can only recall a handful of times where tears have actually been shed.   Most have been related to my son and his health, including tears of sorrow when he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes just after his first birthday, to tears of joy on the day the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare (tears that surprised even me, given the spontaneity of my reaction).  In terms of all-out, tears falling down my face, the moments have been few and far between, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been more frequent occasions where my eyes have welled up and I’ve had to choke back the tears a bit.

Yesterday was one of those moments, and it too was a very spontaneous, unexpected event.   Some background…I went to college at the University of Nebraska, for both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.  In High School, I was incredibly shy, and while I had my fishing buddies and we occasionally did other things, for the most part, I was a loner. The first year or two of college was hard. There were other classmates from my hometown of Beatrice, and oh…I think there was a twin brother around at the time too, although given our relationship, the details of his presence fail me at this time.  We did hang out, played a lot of video games, etc., but still…I remained quite shy and was much more of a loner than those around me.

Without the influence of two people in my college life, I honestly wonder where I would be today.  The biggest influence by far was my wife, who I didn’t meet until my last year of grad school.  Without her influence, without her support and the confidence she helped instill in me, I think I’d still be in my “shell”.  That shell included both my personal and professional life, as even aside from the social side of things, I don’t think I’d be nearly as confident or effective in my career if I hadn’t met (and married!) her.

The second, big positive relationship during my college days was with a long-time roommate…we’ll call him “Derek”, in honor of his beloved New York Yankees.  I don’t even remember when or where we met…I think it was playing in softball leagues in Lincoln…but “Derek” and I become roommates for several years in college.

I continued to hang out with my old Beatrice classmates in college, playing poker, softball, video games…but looking back, it just wasn’t as “real” as my friendship with “Derek”.  Especially as we all turned 21, playing video games or poker instead morphed into bar-hopping.   I went along with it.  If I DIDN’T act as if I were into it, I really would have been an extreme loner, so I played the game, went to bars, drank far more than I should have…and played the part of the typical college guy.  But in reality?  I didn’t enjoy going to bars.  I didn’t enjoy hanging out and getting hammered, just for the sake of getting hammered.  In short, I was faking it, just to look like “one of the guys”.  In reality…I was just as much in my “shell” as ever, never really letting anyone close.

When I started rooming with “Derek”, I never had that discomfort, the feeling that I was faking it.  I was still one socially awkward young man, but…there’s no one in college I’d have rather spent time with than “Derek”.  I don’t remember really going out to bars at all much, but instead, we did a lot of things I can say I truly enjoyed.  Fishing…”Fine Swining” (his term for going out to eat)…playing softball…and some of the most intense, multi-day “Axis & Allies” (a war board game) marathons you could imagine.  In short…with him, I could always be myself, and I really lucked out having him as a college roommate for those years.  Towards the end of my grad school days, he moved on right about the time I met my wife…

After college, we talked on a few occasions.  After college, my wife and I had a year and a half in hell (my term for the Washington DC area), but then moved to South Dakota.  On a couple of occasions, “Derek” came up and we went fishing, but we kind of lost contact until a few years ago.  ALL of my friends from college were big baseball fans, and we started a fantasy baseball league in 1986, way before fantasy sports was widespread at all.  A few years ago, I was surprised to learn that league was still going in Lincoln!  And, one of the league members was still “Derek”.  I was asked to rejoin the league, and for the past few years, I’ve been an active participant, and have reconnected a bit with “Derek”.

Whew…a long background, but necessary for you to understand my reaction yesterday.  I came home from work, plopped on the couch with my iPad, and started playing around.  I looked at Facebook, and noticed many people giving congratulations to “Derek”.  It took me a while to figure out what the congratulations were for, but “Derek” had gotten married over the weekend to “Mariano” (OK, yes, another Yankee stand-in name!).

I was such a misfit back in college, and rarely mustered the courage to get out and date much, but even back then, I never saw “Derek” with a girlfriend or out on a date.  In the years such, I knew he was still single, but never asked him about it, never questioned it.  All I knew…here was the greatest, nicest guy on the planet, and he was seemingly alone.

Now I hope you can understand the flood of emotion that hit when I read the news that my long-time roommate and friend was gay, and had just married.  The tears themselves?  DEFINITELY tears of joy…I was so happy for “Derek”, so happy that he had found someone to share his life.  But I admit that with the flood of emotion, came an undercurrent of sadness…sadness that after all those years living with him, after the subsequent years as adults, I never knew he was gay.

The guy was the best friend I had in college, someone I thought the world of.  However, in the world we live in (and lived in at the time, some 25 years ago), “Derek” must not have felt comfortable sharing this with me.  Given the testosterone-driven freakshow that can define college life for a guy, I can understand his decision to not advertise his sexual orientation.  There are also a couple of “friends” (not the textbook definition) on Facebook who have made no bones about their feelings about gay marriage and the like, friends from high school or college who also obviously went through that era, and STILL choose to act like bigoted neanderthals 25+ years later.    With the joy I felt for “Derek” yesterday, I just couldn’t help but feel that undercurrent of sadness that for those years we lived together, in that world…he didn’t feel comfortable talking to me about it.

The flood of emotion also had me second-guessing MYSELF yesterday.  Why SHOULD he have shared that information with me?  What kind of world do we live in where it’s even NEWS what your sexual orientation is?   Why SHOULD I feel sad that he never shared with me…it’s not like I shared all the intimate details of my love life (or lack thereof) with him!!  And hence the title of the blog post…

In a perfect world, “Derek” wouldn’t have worried about what his friends thought, or what others might think.  He wouldn’t have had to worry about any backlash, about any bigotry or intolerance directed towards him because of his sexual orientation.

In a perfect world, this wouldn’t have touched me so deeply yesterday.  In a perfect world, other than the marriage itself, this wouldn’t be “news” at all.

Here’s to you bud…so glad you found someone to share your life with.  And here’s hoping that “perfect world” may become reality someday.

Another War?

From all indications, the U.S. is about to get involved in the Syrian civil war.  One poll I saw yesterday said that only 9% of Americans would approve of military intervention in the Middle East.  After 10+ long years of war in the region, with questionable results for that 10-year investment, Americans are understandably resisting involvement in yet another Middle Eastern conflict.

Obama has been harshly criticized for his handling of both Egypt and Syria.  John McCain in particular has repeatedly called for more U.S. involvement, and he’s certainly not alone.  Obama has been understandably reluctant to repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration, and involve us in a long, incredibly costly overseas conflict where the ultimate goal could be called fuzzy, at best.  So what about Syria?

I’m not fond of America’s role as the defacto world’s policeman.  I’m REALLY not fond of the asinine amounts of money we budget for the military, while at the same time acting like barbarians and, until ObamaCare, being about the only industrialized nation that doesn’t bother to even take care of its citizens own health-care needs.    I’m not fond of hairy-old-white-man syndrome, old war horses who just don’t seem happy unless America is bombing…well…SOMEBODY.  But at the same time…Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own citizens is about as evil an action as you can imagine.  From a humanitarian standpoint, there’s no question something needs to be done against Assad.

The problem…what’s the ultimate goal?  Given how war-weary Americans are, there’s no way in hell Obama is going to send in ground troops, there’s no way in hell Syria will turn into another Iraq or Afghanistan.  Limited air strikes seem to be the option most often discussed at the moment.  I’m all for stopping Assad, but…what will this accomplish?  Air strikes alone as a strategy for bringing down a monster like Assad haven’t exactly had a great track record.  Air strikes may weaken Assad, but to what end?  To give the rebels a boost?  The fractured rebel groups opposing Assad include many with goals that are completely at odds with American interests, so even if airstrikes are effective in toppling Assad, without yet another long-term, on-the-ground intervention…in the long run, they may not be in America’s best interests.

I feel for the Syrian people.  Obama really has no good choices here.  In the short-term, any action that helps topple Assad is a must right now…even if the consequences include the eventual installation of a Syrian regime that’s even more hostile towards the U.S.

In the end though, I fear this is all going to be symbolic, a flexing of America’s (ridiculously-over-the-top) military power, with little strategic effectiveness.  There’s obviously a limit to what America’s military might can accomplish.  As our LONG involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown, we can’t use American military power to install U.S.-friendly, American-style democracies.  That kind of change has to come from within, from the Syrian people themselves.

Go ahead…target Assad.  Take out his air force.  Weaken the man and his administration.  I just hope the hairy-old-white-men hawks like John McCain don’t expect any miracles as a result…