Monday, February 28, 2011

Libya Distracts US Officials From Matters At Home

Why do we Americans feel the need to stick our nose into the business of foreign lands?  Where do we get the audacity to feel that everything that happens in the world is all about us?  It happens all the time.  It is happening right now.  And we are paying a heavy price for our interference; a price no other country is willing to pay.
Our propensity to impose our way of life on others is most exemplified by our politicians.  It is always interesting to watch our elected officials weigh in whenever political unrest erupts in foreign lands.  It is almost like an addiction.  They cannot help themselves.  They take to the airwaves espousing all matter of American might and resolve.  It doesn’t matter if the situation has any bearing on our country or not.  They have to weigh in.    
Libya hosts the most recent version of our meddling in world events.  The Gadhfi regime is on the verge of collapse.  In an effort to hold onto power Gadhfi has ordered his supporters to fire upon the protestors.  Thousands have died or have been injured in the fighting.  The world has called for Gadhfi to step down.  The noise has been deafening.  None have been more vocal than the members of the United States Congress.  They all want to get their two cents in.  And they all want to advise the President on how the US should respond.  Central to their message is the all knowing supreme importance of America taking a leadership role in the situation.  Senator John McCain said that the central rationale for our getting involved in the Libyan unrest is “because America leads.”  That’s it…because America leads.  Others have followed McCain’s lead, criticizing the President for not being more forceful in his counsel to the Libyans.  When asked why we feel the need to infuse ourselves into every international situation, Richard Haass, head of the President’s Council on Foreign Relations said; “because we have the capacity and the will.”  And because we have anointed ourselves to be the world’s big brother Haass warns; “Libya will be our next war.  In two to three years you will see the US involved in military operations in Libya...”
The question is “Why”?  Why is it that while our economy is sinking, our bridges are crumbling, our sick are dying and our children are failing we have the audacity to tell the rest of the word how to live their lives?  Why do our leaders feel they that can balance the politics of the world when they cannot balance their own budget? 
And who appointed the US the world’s big brother and peacekeeper?  Isn’t that what NATO Is for? Certainly the rest of the world is more than happy for the US to assume that role.  While we invest billions to blow things up the rest of the world is investing in their hospitals, their schools and their and their infrastructure.  Yet we continue on, expanding our military presence and imposing our political will because “America leads”. 
Imagine the response of our elected officials if another country tried to weigh in on us.  Imagine China saying “we will continue to loan you the money you need to stay afloat.  In exchange we want to build a military base on US soil to protect our investment.” 

If we don’t get our own house in order that day may be closer than we think.               

Friday, February 25, 2011

US History Repeating Itself In Afghanistan

The New York Times reports that the United States military is withdrawing its forces from the Pech Valley; an area once thought vital in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  The military once believed holding the valley to be critical in preventing insurgents from streaming into the country from Pakistan.  Now the military says that the resources assigned to holding the valley are out of proportion to the areas’ importance.  Sources state that the military presence once welcomed by the Afghan people has proven to be a destabilizing influence in the area and that the local tribesmen “just want to be left alone.”  One hundred and three military personnel lost their lives defending the valley.  Troops who were formerly stationed there are concerned that their sacrifice may have been in vain.    
Does any of this sound familiar?
Is there anyone who lived through the Vietnam area that doesn’t see the similarities here in Afghanistan?  Does anyone who lived through that time not remember the senseless military strategy of taking “strategic high ground” only to withdraw and then receive the order to take the same ground months, weeks or even days later?    Have we forgotten our lack of understanding of the Vietnamese culture, the corruption in the government we were supposedly helping and the lack of a clear objective?  Have we forgotten how we fought Vietnam with our hands tied behind our backs politically and we fought it against the will of the American people?  Have we suppressed the memory of what happened after that last American helicopter lifted off that rooftop in Saigon?
They say history repeats itself…   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gadhfi Holding US Hostage

Gasoline prices are racing toward $4.00 per gallon.  Some experts say $5.00 per gallon is likely by summer’s end.  Americans grumble.  Home heating oil prices are skyrocketing.  Americans whine. Carpools are organized.  Bus schedules examined.  Vacations cancelled.
It serves us right.
Embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi addressed his nation yesterday.  There he sat in a pickup truck, in the desert, wearing a fur hat reminiscent of an Alaskan Eskimo, while holding a white umbrella over his head.  His address lasted twenty seconds…yes, twenty seconds… and consisted of a defiant jumble of incoherent pronouncements.  The man is a crazy as crazy can be.  And the man is holding our economy hostage.
Gadhafi speaks from under his umbrella and the DOW tumbles.  Gadhafi rambles incoherently and gasoline prices rise.   American lives are altered.
Gadhafi of Libya, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, Ahmadinejad of Iran, Mubarak of Egypt and other delusional Middle Eastern heads of state control our economy just as assuredly as does Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.   Last week it was Mubarak who was unable to maintain order in his country thus threatening the flow of crude through the Suez Canal.  This week it is Gadhafi who is poised to fall; placing in jeopardy his country’s oil producing capacity.  Gadhafi has done more damage to the United States and its economy in the last seventy two hours than he did in all his previous forty years of reign.
Americans grumble.  Americans whine.  It serves us right.
America continues its insatiable addiction to oil with no end in sight.  Even the fragile state of our Middle Eastern suppliers does not alter our course nor curb our addiction.  Can you imagine any sensible American business owner, who when faced with the interruption of key raw materials from its main supplier, would not seek alternative sources for those materials?  But that is what we Americans do.  We allow unstable Middle Eastern autocracies hold our economy and consequently our quality of life hostage but we inexplicably refuse to develop alternatives.
In 1977 President Jimmy Carter challenged the country to wean itself off of oil and undertake a responsible alternative energy plan.  Thirty four years later we find ourselves in the same place. 
Oh we talk about it.  We talk about electric cars.  Automobile industry analysts say that there is a demand for two million electric cars.  To date we have built thirty thousand.  We talk about solar energy.  Solar technology was developed in this country.  But of the top twenty five manufactures of solar panels worldwide not one is here in the US.
We have the means.  Our natural gas resources are limitless.  Coal, wind, solar and nuclear power are all viable options.  And we have the finest universities in the world to develop new sources of energy.  But we do virtually nothing.
The Chinese get it.  While we spend billions blowing up rocks in Afghanistan the Chinese are investing billions in alternative sources of energy and infrastructure.  They are leaving us in their wake.
We can do this.  We can reinvent ourselves.  We have done it before.  After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor this country re-tooled and turned itself into the greatest manufacturer of military equipment that the world has ever seen.  Certainly we can do it again.  Do we have a choice?
The price of crude oil rose to $100 a barrel yesterday.  Industry experts say the surge will continue.
Americans grumble.  Americans whine.   It serves us right.               

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Correlation Between Women's Rights And The Wisconsin Protests

Is there a correlation between the labor unrest in Wisconsin and a woman’s right to choose?  Absolutely!  Here is why.
Last year the Republican Party campaigned on increased jobs and decreased spending.  But when they took office the first three pieces of legislation that they proposed were anti-abortion bills.  Then they proposed a spending bill that eliminated all $317 million dollars from Title X funding and consequently Planned Parenthood.  Repealing a women's right to choose is clearly high on the Republicans' "to do" list. 
These spending cuts are intended to hurt abortion providers, specifically Planned Parenthood which, according to Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post, is not only the largest recipient of federal family planning funds it is also the largest abortion provider in the country.  Title X clinics serve more than 5 million women per year, a vast majority of them low income.   As Marcus notes, “Planned Parenthood does not only provide abortion services…  Federal law requires Planned Parenthood to separate its abortion expenses from its other expenses…abortion represents 3% of the services Planned Parenthood provides; contraception accounts for 35%; testing for sexually transmitted diseases, 34%; cancer screening and prevention another 17%.”  She further cites the Guttmacher Institute noting; “The Guttmacher Institute has estimated that Title X helps prevent nearly 2,000,000 unintended pregnancies annually, including almost 400,000 teen pregnancies.  The institute says that these pregnancies would otherwise result in 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions.  Marcus finally states: “The inevitable result of eliminating Title X funding would not only be more abortions but higher bills for taxpayers footing Medicaid and welfare costs for poor children.”  Guttmacher found that every public dollar invested in family planning saves $3.74 in Medicaid expenditures for pregnant women and their babies.  All of this and the fact that abortion is legal in this country appear to be lost on Republicans.      
So what does any of this have to do with the labor unrest in Wisconsin?
Under the guise of fiscal Armageddon Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, is attempting to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public employees.  The workers have already acquiesced to the governor’s financial demands.  All that is left on the table is the right to bargain collectively.  But the governor has refused to back down.  His way or the highway!
Wisconsin is not alone.  Thirteen other states governors have proposed similar legislation. There is an undisputed, organized effort on the part of the Republican Party to break the unions.
Why, because the unions are the lifeblood of the Democratic Party.  During the 2010 elections unions contributed over $200 million dollars to Democratic candidates.  That is a huge number.  No other organization came close.  Of the top ten organizations contributing to political candidates; seven contributed to Republicans and three to Democratic candidates.  All three of the groups contributing to Democrats were unions. If the Republicans can break the unions they can break the Democratic Party.

And the only thing standing between Republicans and a woman’s right to choose is the Democratic Party.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Will GOP Freshmen Shut Down The Governmant?

Who is running the Republican Party?  Who is calling the shots?  The answer to that question will have a huge say in whether or not the federal government shuts down next month. 
The Republican Party is in the midst of a power struggle.  House Speaker John Boehner, Representative Eric Cantor and Senator Mitch McConnell are desperately trying to guide the ship. But since taking office two months ago, it has been the tea party freshmen that have controlled the message. 
It started when Boehner brought to the floor the extension of three components of the Patriot Act; measures whose passage was considered a slam dunk for Republicans.  That was until tea party freshman embarrassed party leadership by siding with Democrats and defeating the bills.
Next, the Republicans’ offered their eagerly anticipated proposal for spending cuts.  The leadership proposed a bill which slashed $40 billion in cuts.  Tea Party members protested that the cuts weren’t deep enough.  The final version cut more than $60 billion.
Then came the $450 million dollar contract for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine.  Everyone knew that Boehner wanted funding for the contract included in the spending bill because the engine was manufactured just outside Boehner’s district.  But tea party members defied the leader and voted to cut the engine contract from the spending bill.
All of which is much ado about nothing when it comes to actually lowering the deficit.  The proposed cuts are all focused on discretionary spending which makes up only 12% of the budget.  Noticeably absent are any substantive cuts on the remaining 88%: defense, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Looming in the distance is March 4th.  That is the day that the current Continuing Resolution for funding the government expires.  If a budget is not passed or at the very least the continuing resolution is not extended, the government will shut down.   That means all federal services will stop, social security checks will not be mailed, veterans benefits will not be paid and thousands of government employees will be laid off.  Tea Party freshman have flatly stated that they will not vote for another extension even if it means shutting down the government.
Will Republicans really shut down the government?  In 1995, under the leadership of Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republicans defied Bill Clinton and shut down the government for 27 days.  Current Speaker Boehner says he will not vote for a budget or an extension under current spending limits.  All it cost them was the next election.  But Boehner is no Gingrich and recent events tell us Boehner is not in control.
Times are a bit different than they were in 1995.  For one thing we are in the middle of two wars.  Nothing says “we support the troops” like “sorry, no paychecks, no disability benefits and, oh yeah, no more bullets.”  We are also just barely crawling out of a deep recession.  Nothing bolsters the economy like laying off thousands of government workers.  And Democrats are already preparing campaign ads showing Republicans ranting on the floor while the announcer states “these are the guys that withheld your social security checks.”
Still one should not question the Republicans’ resolve.  After all less than two months ago, bowing to tea party pressure, they withheld unemployment benefits from needy families as blackmail in order to get tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
March 4th is fast approaching.  It will be interesting.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Obama Should Thank "Birthers"

The President should thank the “Birthers.”  He should send them a fruit basket or a gift card to a national restaurant chain.  Something!
The “Birther” movement continues to question the President’s citizenship.  This relentless drum beat encourages the media to press Republican leaders to share their opinion.  Watching them squirm as they carefully word their response is pretty entertaining.  They are loath to answer this question.  They believe that it is nonsense; a distraction.  But they cannot bring themselves to state emphatically that they believe that the President is a naturalized citizen.  The best they can do is to say that they “take him at his word.”  That is like having an argument with someone and saying “ok, if you say so.”  It doesn’t solve anything and gives credence to the “Birthers.”
Why, because a majority of their base shares the ridiculous belief that the President was not born in this country.  A recent opinion poll of GOP primary voters shows that 51% of them do not believe the President was born here.
 And for this the President should be thankful.  Anything that distracts the voters from a sluggish economy and massive unemployment is good for him and good for his party.
But for the country, it is a sad state of affairs when the leadership of one of our two major political parties’ does not have the courage to say “I disagree with the President’s politics.  But I believe the President is a US citizen.  I believe he is a Christian and a good father and a good man; and I respect his willingness to serve our country.”             

Obama Right To Weigh In On Wisconsin Debate

The President took to the airwaves yesterday weighing in on the debate in Wisconsin over cutting public employee wages and benefits.  During an interview on a local Wisconsin television station the President was asked for his views on Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to cut public employee wages and benefits and the resulting protests.  The President acknowledged that in these tough economic times everyone needs to make sacrifices.  But on the subject of the Governor’s efforts to eliminate the public worker’s collective bargaining rights, the President stated forcefully that he felt such efforts were “an assault on the unions.” Critics were quick to weigh in claiming that the President’s comments were just one more example of federal government over reach; and that he had no right to interfere in a specific state issue.
Any governor facing a fiscal shortfall has the right to seek monetary concessions from the public employees.  After all employee wages and benefits represent roughly 83% of state government expenditures.  And in these trying times a reduction in salary or benefits is a whole lot better than being laid off.  But when the governor wants to not only cut benefits but eliminate the employees’ collective bargaining rights as well he is crossing a very broad line.
These events are not only happening in Wisconsin.  Dozens of state legislatures across the country are watching Wisconsin closely as they anticipate similar legislation.  In Ohio, more than 4,000 public union workers jammed the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday to hear testimony on a bill that repeals their right to negotiate.
This is not a particular state issue.  This is an organized, concerted effort on the part of conservatives to break the unions.  Seeking a reduction in employee’s benefits and wages makes sense.  That is what negotiations are for.  Taking away the right to negotiate goes too far.
The President got this one right.            

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Are Governors Trying To Break State Employee Unions?

While the national media has been focused on the protests in the Middle East there is some serious civil unrest going on much closer to home.  In several states across the nation state governors are seeking legislation to cut the pay and benefits of their respective public employees.  Governors  in New Jersey,  Ohio, Illinois, Florida and others have said that their states are in dire fiscal straights and the only way out is to reduce the salaries and retirement benefits of their public employees.
Nowhere is the unrest more volatile than in the state of Wisconsin.  Governor Scott Walker (R) announced that he would seek legislation that would not only break the contracts negotiated by the public employees’ union; it would curtail their collective bargaining rights preventing them from negotiating benefits, hours and working conditions as well as their ability to strike.  His rationale is that the state has serious fiscal problems and the only way to fix them is to cut salaries and benefits.
As expected, Wisconsin state employees are incensed.  They point out that when Governor Walker took office a mere two months ago he inherited a $121 million dollars surplus.  They point out that if in fact there is any shortfall it is because immediately after taking office Governor Walker implemented a massive tax cut initiative for the rich. Workers claim that he wants to pay for those tax cuts by cutting union salaries and benefits and in the process break the union. 
Six days ago the protest in Madison started with a few hundred people.  Yesterday over 30,000 people marched on the capital building while tens of thousands marched in cities all over the state.  More are expected to show up today when the legislation is put up for vote.
The fact that union busting efforts such as the one in Wisconsin are occurring virtually simultaneously across the country begs the question:  is this a nationally organized movement on the part of the Republican Party to break the backs of the public employee unions?  Many union members think that is exactly what is going on.  The governors argue that unlike the federal government they are required to balance their budgets and they are hamstrung by the overly generous employee benefit packages that in some cases allow employees to receive more in retirement than they did while working.
The unions have long been the backbone of the Democratic Party.  Unions are why we have a middle class, child labor laws and minimum wage.  If you break the unions you do serious damage to the Democrats.  In a recent interview Karl Rove pointed out that in the past two years union membership has dropped by over 650,000.  Said Rove “if unions continue to lose a half million members a year, that’s that many less members paying dues which go toward Democratic Party candidates.  No question that would have an effect on elections.”
Republicans rode into office with one single message: they would cut spending and increase jobs.  Governors across the country appear to be united in keeping that promise.  And it appears that they have focused on the unions.  How Democrats respond may hold the key to their future.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You Cannot Be Serious

 We have spent the last forty eight hours watching the Democrat/Republican budget debate and we have actually read the details of the President’s proposal.  Having looked at both sides of the issue with an open mind and an honest desire to see both sides, we have come to this conclusion.
This is a joke.  These are not serious people.  Or at the very least, these are not serious proposals that we should be expect to take seriously.
Let’s start with the Democrats and the Obama administration.
How can the President expect to be taken seriously when he cuts Pell grants for low income students and heating oil assistance for the poor after he supported extending almost $1 trillion in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?
How can the President expect to be taken seriously when he boasts that his budget will cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion over the next decade when a month ago he added $1 trillion to the deficit by supporting those tax same tax cuts?
How can the President expect to be taken seriously when he boasts of $50 billion in cuts to the Pentagon after extending our stay in Afghanistan from July of 2011 until at least 2014 at a cost of $2 billion per week?
The Republicans are no better.
How can Republicans expect to be taken seriously when their proposal eliminates public broadcasting, AmeriCorps national service program and unspent stimulus projects after they blackmailed Congress into extending the aforementioned tax cuts for the wealthy?
How can Republicans expect to be taken seriously when they claim that we are broke while lobbying for a $465 million dollar “extra engine” for the Joint Strike Fighter Jet; an engine that the Defense Secretary Gates says they don’t need nor want?  (Actually the reason is because the GE/Rolls Royce “extra engine” is made in House Speaker Boehner and Whip Eric Cantor’s home states.)
How can Republicans be expected to be taken seriously when after campaigning on “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” Boehner ridicules the increase in government jobs during Obama’s’ first two years and says “if those jobs are cut during this process, so be it.)
How can either party be taken seriously when these cuts focus on 12% of the budget and ignore the remaining 88% encompassing Defense, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? 
The simple fact is they can’t.  No one with half a brain would expect anything offered so far to be a reasonably thought out solution to the county’s financial difficulties.  And millions of lives will be forever altered while our elected leaders play their political games.
So why should we listen?
The pundits and political experts tell us that these proposals are just the preliminaries.  They say that the process is slow and will take time to come together.  Lawrence O’Donnell, former Senate Staff Director for the Senate Finance Committee says it will probably be three years before a final agreement is on entitlements is reached.  We just need to be patient.
We have seen what being patient can do to our society.  Hundreds of thousands of unemployed went without benefits while our elected leaders negotiated over tax cuts for the rich.  Hundreds of thousands of gay military service men and women served their country with distinction yet were forced to hide who they were while our leaders played political games with their sexual persuasion.  The list goes on and on.
Why do we have to be patient?  What will be different?  What will change in the next two to three years other than another few trillion more added on to our already staggering debt?
Perhaps a new group of politicians armed with the courage to do the right thing.     

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Budget: Politics vs Simple Math

Sometimes the political process is hard to understand.  It often appears that both political parties take a stance on a particular issue even though they know full well that their position is flawed and has no chance of being voted into law.  But they take to the airwaves staunchly posturing for posturing sake.  They know what needs to be done but they don’t have the political courage to act.
Take for example the Republicans’ efforts to repeal “Obamacare”.   Republicans brought up repeal in the House knowing full well that their efforts had zero chance of passage in the Senate and even less chance of getting past a Presidential veto.  They knew full well that there are portions of the bill that all Americans like and would not want to give up.  Yet they went through the appeal process for strictly political reasons.    
It appears this same theatrical performance is being played out in regard to the 2012 budget.  Both parties know that any fiscally responsible budget must deal substantively with a reduction in defense, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending.  The country is broke and those for areas account for 80% of our spending. 
So here comes the President announcing his 2012 budget recommendations.  Instead of showing bold leadership and tackling entitlements the President avoided the subject.  Some pundits say he took this position because he feared that Republicans would demagogue the issue saying “Obama hates old people.”  Others say that this was a bold political move challenging Republicans, “ok, you campaigned on slashing the deficit and cutting entitlements let’s see what you’ve got.”  Still other calls this budget a first offer in what promises to be a long, difficult negotiation with Republicans.
Now it is the Republicans turn.  They roundly criticized the President’s failure to attack entitlements t as “punting”.  Will they offer substantive reform or will they nibble around the edges as Obama did? How can they avoid the subject after sweeping the mid-terms by boldly promising these very cuts?
It appears to us that all of this posturing is unnecessary.  We are not stupid.  We all know that our deficits are growing at an unsustainable level.  Tough cuts must be made.  The retirement age must be increased.  Medicare and Medicaid growth rates must be set at a fixed level for the next decade or two.  We cannot afford to wage two wars and continue to position ourselves as the worlds’ peacekeeper. 
This is not politics it is simple math.      

Monday, February 14, 2011

Obama's Budget Whistling Past The Graveyard

The President will present his 2012 budget to Congress today.  Details leaked to the press tell reveal that his budget will cut $1.1 trillion dollars from the deficit over the next ten years.  Prominent are cuts in discretionary spending including education, infrastructure, and programs for the poor.  Noticeably absent are major reforms in defense, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Republicans have criticized the President’s budget as not going far enough.  House Speaker John Boehner said that the President’s budget “will continue to destroy jobs by spending too much, borrowing too much and taxing too much.” 
Here is the truth.  Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are serious about cutting the deficit.  Both parties are afraid that if they propose the cuts to entitlements and defense that everyone knows are necessary they risk losing their jobs.  So both sides nibble around the edges and toss around political rhetoric designed to deflect blame and change the subject.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, Obama’s budget will not reduce the deficit but rather increase it by $7 trillion dollars and more than $12 trillion if the current tax cuts are extended.
Republicans, who campaigned small government and promised drastic, substantive cuts in spending have offered a paltry $50 billion in spending cuts that are so week they don’t merit discussion.
Democrats and Republicans are playing a game of chicken.  Each side is waiting for the other to address the elephant in the room so they can demagogue the subject for political gain.  They are whistling past the graveyard as the country plummets toward economic Armageddon.
So when will the White House and Congress seriously tackle defense, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?  2013!  That is if Obama wins re-election in 2012 and no longer faces the prospect of running again.     

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak Steps Down

Within mere hours of making a shocking public pronouncement of his intention to remain in office until the September elections, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak abruptly stepped down relinquishing the office that he had held for almost thirty years.  The news spread through the country like wildfire and was met with cheers, fireworks and dancing in the streets.
 Nowhere was the news met with more enthusiasm than in Cairo’s Liberation Square.  Liberation Square had been ground zero for this revolution.  It is here where protestors fought with pro-Mubarak forces, gangs, and police who attempted to break their will.  None succeeded.  For eighteen days they demonstrated peacefully and finally they have their victory and their freedom.
What Egypt will look like in the next few years is hard to say.  There will no doubt be long and heated discussions of how to move Egypt forward.  Some will want look back for answers. We are already hearing people asking “where is the money” meaning where did the vast sums of money derived from the operation of the Suez Canal go.  Certainly it didn’t flow to the people and many will seek retribution from Mubarak and his functionaries.
Democracy is hard and difficult days lie ahead.  But today is a day for celebration.  The Egyptian people have the right to celebrate and feel proud of all that they have accomplished.  Watching their efforts these eighteen days has been an exciting and inspiring experience.

Money Does Not Always Buy Influence

The administration was seemingly caught off guard by President Mubarak’s recent remarks wherein he steadfastly refused to step down as President.  His unwillingness to bow to the wishes of the US government calls into question the extent to which the United States can influence events in the region.   
It had been widely reported that Mubarak would acquiesce to the will of the people and step aside.  Every news outlet, foreign and domestic, reported that Mubarak would leave.  The Egyptian military, long revered by the Egyptian people and the cornerstone of stability in the country, appeared before the protestors and announced “all of your demands will be met.”  Even the CIA expected Mubarak to step aside.  He had already agreed not to seek re-election in September and later promised that his son would not run as well.   But these concessions were not enough for the Egyptian people who want Mubarak out of office and out of the country.  When Mubarak vowed to stay until the September elections the mood in Liberation Square swiftly turned from one of joy and anticipation to anger and frustration.  The world was stunned and the rest of the world along with them.
The administration finds itself in a no win situation.  On the one hand they if they continue throw their support behind their long time ally they are turning their back on the core values which form the cornerstone of our democracy.  But if they try to force him out they risk incurring the wrath of every other autocracy in the region who is closely watching to see if America will stand by its allies when times get tough.
Naturally US politicians are doing what they do best, shouting from the rooftops.  Dick Cheney, for example questions how the Obama administration could turn its back on a long time trusted ally; even though that ally suppresses the very rights that we hold so dear.  Ron Paul, angry over Mubarak’s snub of US intervention, would like the US to stop its aide not only in the Middle East but to all foreign governments.  The old take my ball and go home diplomacy.
 Their protestations miss one very important point.  This is not about us.  This is about the people of Egypt and our opinions really don’t matter.   In fact we have very little influence over what goes on in the Middle East.  For all our military might and in spite of the billions upon billions of dollars that we have poured into the region, we have very little say in what goes on there.  Hosni Mubarak has made that perfectly clear.
Pouring billions of dollars into a region does not guarantee political influence.  Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia and now Egypt should make that point crystal clear.   

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mubarak Refuses To Leave. Tomorrow Promises Ugly Confrontation

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced today that he will not step aside as President.  While he did transfer supervisory power to his Vice President a defiant Mubarak vowed to remain as President until elections are held in September and to remain in Egypt until he dies.  Multiple news sources reported that Mubarak would announce that he was stepping down and a huge crowd had gathered in Cairo’s Liberation Square to hear his departing words.
The joyous crowd in Egypt’s Liberation Square, anticipating Mubarak’s departure, erupted in anger and bitter disappointment threatening to throw the country into violence.  They see Mubarak’s speech as a shell game where he professes to transfer power but remains in charge in the shadows.  They do not just want Mubarak to leave they want the entire regime removed.  There were already large demonstrations planned for tomorrow.  Given today’s events those demonstrations will no doubt be larger and more volatile.  There are real concerns of a major escalation in the unrest as the army may finally step in to quell the protestors.
Locally the US government is trying to make sense of current events.  Isolationist legislators are already calling for the US to pull their support not only from Egypt but form the entire area saying that any investment of blood and treasure is wasted.  The US had tried to ease Mubarak out gently prodding him to bend to the will of the people.  In his speech Mubarak pronounced that he would not bow to the directive of foreign countries, seeming to address his remarks directly to the US government.
President Mubarak gave what amounted to a war speech.  He was defiant in his resolve to stay until the end and die in his country.    
Former National Security Advisor Aaron Miller said that "historically Middle Eastern nations do not say “no” to the United States without sustaining severe financial and political consequences.  Hosni Mubarak just said “No” to the United States."
As we said previously, the democratic process can be ugly.  Tomorrow promises to be the start of a very ugly period for the Egyptian people.


Watching History Unfold

It appears that the Egyptian protestors have won and President Mubarak will step down this evening.  If events continue to unfold as reported the world that we wake up to will be a very, very different place. 
Watching these historic events unfold is pretty amazing.  This was all started just seventeen days ago by a few angry students who, seeking better economic conditions, wanted to organize a protest against an oppressive government.  What they succeeded in doing was instigating the overthrow of a regime that has ruled the largest Muslim nation in the world for thirty years.   And they inspired similar demonstrations and substantive changes in a number of Middle Eastern countries.  Many of Egypt’s neighbors are nervous.  "Israel", said NBC’s Brian Williams, “is as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” 
Egypt is a country where huge sums of wealth line the pockets of the ruling class while the remaining citizens suffer hunger and poor living conditions.  MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said “Egypt is not a poor country.  It is a country of poor people.”  Reporter Richard Engel took us on a video tour of Cairo.  We saw the masses, living in squalor, existing on less than two dollars a day; their shacks a stones’ throw from gated mansions housing government functionaries.  It has been reported that President Mubarak himself has accumulated a personal net worth of over $78 billion dollars while the citizens he is suppose to serve are starving.
And so they marched into Cairo’s central square.  And they voiced their opposition and their frustration…peacefully.  They didn’t use guns or roadside bombs or suicide bombers so popular among radicals.  They used Facebook, Twitter and text messages.  And they stayed.  For seventeen days, they stayed.  The pro-Mubarak forces came and attacked them with sticks, and knives and fists.  Many of the protestors were injured and several of them died.  But the next day they were still there…and the day after that…and the day after that….they stayed.  When the military announced that their demands would be met the crowd erupted.   And finally when the government realized that they had to bow to the will of the people, they won.  As we write this an estimated one million people are crowded into the square awaiting word that Mubarak has officially stepped down.
The situation is still tenuous.  Until Mubarak officially leaves and his successor is named the people remain cautiously optimistic. They are hopeful.  And they are firm in their resolve.
Achieving democracy can be an ugly, brutal process.  But at the same time it is quite a beautiful thing to observe. 

Republicans Continue To Struggle

The President invited the Republican leadership over to the White House yesterday for a nice lunch.  Evidently everyone had a wonderful time.    Leader Boehner was moved to proclaim that they had found common ground on a wide range of topics.   But while Mr. Boehner may have reached some manner of agreement with the President he has a long way to go to find common ground within his own party.
The fact is the Republicans are in disarray and are having a great deal of trouble finding their footing.  After staying on message for the last two years as they worked to unseat Democrats, they have been wildly dysfunctional since taking office.
Their campaign mantra was “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” but they have not offered one piece of job generating legislation.
They promised to reduce the size of “big Government”.  Thus far they have put forth not one, not two but three separate pieces of legislation aimed at eliminating a woman’s right to choose.  Nothing says small government like trying to oversee every pregnancy in the United States.
They promised major cuts in government spending in an effort to cut the deficit.  Their spokesman, Rep. Paul Ryan proudly trumpeted a weak $35 billion in cuts.  After being tarred and feathered by their Tea Party members they made further cuts increasing the total to a whopping $40 billion.  Tea Party Senator Rand Paul responded with his plan for $500 billion in cuts saying that the Republican leadership was not serious about cutting the deficit.
Republicans have even found rough footing in scoring on what appeared to be slam dunk wins.  The New York Times reports that what was expected to be a routine temporary extension of the anti-terrorism provisions of the Patriot Act was defeated when twenty six Republicans joined Democrats in defeating the bill.  Republicans were also forced to pull some trade assistance legislation off the floor when conservatives raised objections.
Looming over this Republican discord is the shadow of the upcoming expiration of the debt ceiling. An increase in the debt ceiling flies in the face of everything the Republicans promised during the recent campaign.  Their Tea Party members, like Rand Paul, are determined to keep that from happening even if it means defaulting on the country’s financial obligations.  
It is good for the country if Mr. Boehner and the President can reach a consensus of opinion.  Now all Mr. Boehner he has to do is find consensus within his own party.  So far that has been easier said than done.   

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rumsfeld Takes a Stab At Rewriting History

Are you tired of the depressing news that permeates our network and cable news channels?  Looking for some levity and comic relief to lighten the mood?  Then we suggest you pick up a copy of Donald Rumsfeld’s recently published memoir Known and Unknown.  This piece of revisionist history is sure to bring a chuckle to anyone who closely followed the day to day antics of the Bush administration.  That is if the true facts weren’t so sad.
To be fair, we have not read Mr. Rumsfeld’s entire memoir.  But the excerpts we have studied make it clear that anyone hoping for an honest, thoughtful commentary on the Bush years will be disappointed.
Rumsfeld is the latest of Bush’s inner circle to attempt to rewrite history.  Bush and Cheney through one form of media or another have sought to alter the manner in which history will view their time in office.  If nothing else they hope to avoid future prosecution.  (Any future trips to Spain should be reconsidered.)  Rumsfeld falls right in line.  There is little remorse and plenty of blame but ultimately Rumsfeld stands by the decisions that he made.
This memoir is typical Rumsfeld.  Self-confident, brusque and pompous he dismisses any criticism of the Bush administration as merely Monday morning quarterbacking.  And unlike Bush and Chaney he has no problem throwing some of his cohorts under the bus.  Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and then National Security Council Director Condoleeza Rice are not painted in a favorable light.
While Mr. Rumsfeld is entitled to provide us with his view of the events which occurred under his watch there are certain facts that are indisputable:
-The Bush administration attacked Iraq under the false accusation that they supported the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11 and that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could find their way onto American soil.  Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and no WMD were ever found.
-Fearful that the American people would lose their zest for retribution Rumsfeld ignored the advice of his generals and ordered the quick attack on Iraq with less than sufficient forces to take and secure the country.  While successful in taking Baghdad in short order the US military did not have enough troops on the ground to secure the country.  The resulting riots, looting and chaos resulted in thousands of needlessly lost lives and made the military’s job more difficult and dangerous.
-Once Hussein was overthrown the US ordered the dissolution of the Bath Party and the Republican Guard allowing tens of thousands of armed, angry Iraq’s to blend into the population only to fight US forces another day. 
-In order to gather information from suspected enemies, the Bush Administration ordered operatives to conduct what they referred to as “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” including among other things the water boarding of detainees.  The US was informed that these tactics were in violation of the Geneva Accords for the treatment of prisoners; and the conducting of the activities made the perpetrators in effect, war criminals.
The result of the Bush administration’s actions based on a lack of, misinterpretation of, or faulty intelligence was the longest war in US history.  It cost over 4,000 US dead, tens of thousands US wounded and injured and over $750 billion dollars.  There is no accounting for the number of dead and wounded Iraqis but experts put the figure in the millions.
Mr. Rumsfeld says he isn’t “much into hand-wringing” in defending his decisions about the Iraq war.  The families of the dead and wounded might take a different view.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Obama "Friends" the Business Community

President Obama went into the lion’s den last night.  Speaking to the US Chamber of Commerce he urged business leaders to hire more Americans and invest in America.  Based on the less than enthusiastic response of his audience, the President still has a ways to go to win them over.
To say that the Chamber has not been a friend to the President is an understatement.  The Chamber aggressively lobbied against the President’s health care legislation and financial reform initiatives and spent over $32 million dollars in campaign ads against Democrats in the 2010 elections.  They argued that he was anti-business and that his economic policies were particular hard on small businesses.  They point to a sluggish economy and nagging unemployment as validation for their beliefs. 
Tough crowd!  And one that has unfortunately been misinformed by the spin doctors on the right.  The fact is that Obama has done everything in his power to promote the interests of the American businessperson.  He has been pro-business since day one.
People tend to forget that when Obama took office the American economy was like a Manhattan train wreck at rush hour.  The economy was in a freefall, major banks were closing and the automobile industry was on the verge of collapse.  The situation forced the President to take actions that he would have not otherwise taken had the economy been healthy. 
By authorizing the second installment of the Bush Bank bailout he stabilized the banking industry allowing credit to flow.  Imagine the effects on American business if he would have allowed the banks to fail.  How would businesses operate without the ability to finance their operations? 
He bailed out the auto industry.  Imagine the effects on American business if he would have allowed this major industry to fail, closing thousands of small business suppliers  forcing 3 million more people into the unemployment lines.
He authorized the stimulus package which poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the sagging economy and funded tens of thousands of projects for American businesses.  Imagine the effects on American business if he would have allowed the economy to go into a depression.
He negotiated a favorable trade agreement with South Korea paving the way for increased commerce between our two countries.
In spite of being falsely hailed as another tax and spend liberal, Obama has reduced taxes.  According to the Congressional Budget Office Americans will pay less in taxes this year than any previous year since 1950.  For the third straight year Americans will pay less in taxes than they did under former President George W. Bush.  And corporate taxes in 2011 will be 33.3 percent lower than 2008. 
As a result of his efforts the economy is no longer in freefall but growing.  The stock market is rising and unemployment is steadily decreasing.  The only thing holding the economy back is the unwillingness of the business community to unleash the $2-$3 trillion dollars they have sitting on their balance sheets.
This President has done everything he can under extraordinary circumstances to right this economy.  He has done his part.  It is time for the American business community to do theirs.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Playing "Chicken" With The Deficit

Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Defense.  “The Big four”.  Any serious discussion about cutting the deficit must include substantive changes in these four areas.  Any budgetary recommendations that do not include measurable changes in these four areas, to quote Deficit Committee Chair Allan Simpson, are a “squirrel’s belch in a typhoon.”
The Republicans offered their solutions last week.  To be kind, their recommendations were embarrassing.  They offered $35 billion dollars in cuts that and didn’t get within a country mile of “The Big Four.”  Typically, their cuts focused on social programs that are essential to the poor and middle class.
The Obama administration is preparing its budget recommendations which are expected to be released next week.  Will they include substantive changes in “The Big Four”?  Those in the know are keeping that information close to the vest.
The fact is that both parties are playing a game of “chicken” with the deficit.  Republicans didn’t touch “The Big Four” because they are waiting for the Obama administration to do the heavy lifting.  Then Republicans will rip Democrats for “cheating our seniors”, “keeping us less safe” and “not supporting our troops” while privately thanking the heavens that Democrats made the cuts that everyone knew were necessary.
Democrats will probably ignore at least three of “The Big Four”.  They may offer some reductions in defense spending because Americans as a whole are fed up with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; whether or not they will have the courage to tackle the other three remains to be seen.
Who will blink first?  At some point one party or another will have to for the simple fact is we cannot sustain our current levels of spending in these four areas.  We will go bankrupt.  No one is arguing that point.  Who will have the courage to seriously address the problem remains to be seen.  Given the country’s current financial woes there seems to be no time like the present.
 We need out leaders to do the right thing.  We need them to make the tough decisions not just the politically safe ones.  Do our current political leaders have the courage to make those decisions? We shall see.   


Friday, February 4, 2011

Still Waiting For Republicans To Govern

“Washington’s spending spree is over.”  So declared Republican Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan in announcing his party’s plan to cut federal spending to 2008 levels.  In an effort to fulfill yet another campaign promise the party of the “Haves” will once again push to cut services to the “Have Nots”. According to the Associated Press the hardest hit agencies will include the departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Food and drug Administration and Agriculture.  The White house says that the Republican plan will lead to widespread furloughs of federal employees, force the less fortunate off subsidized housing, reduce services in national parks and slash aid to schools and local police and fire departments.  This on the heels of a $900 billion extension of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
Since they took control of the House Republicans have been long on style and short on substance.  They have spent their time orchestrating meaningless votes on the repeal of health care reform but have offered no specifics for replacement legislation.  They have danced around entitlements and refused to offer any substantive cuts in defense.  They have pounded their chest bemoaning the rising deficit but offered no solutions other than a reduction in taxes for the wealthy.  Their campaign mantra of “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” has yet to be addressed.  And now forced to finally put some substance behind their fear mongering rhetoric they offer a measly $35 billion in cuts that focus on those who can least bear the burden.
It is easy to make campaign promises.  It is quite something else to fulfill them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Memo To White House: Shhhhhhh...

 The White House needs to zip it. Be quiet.  Shut up.
Yesterday, what was once a primarily peaceful demonstration calling for the removal of Egyptian President Mubarak turned violent as pro-Mubarak forces attacked the protestors.  This was not a spontaneous event but rather a well organized attack spearheaded by members of the pro government Cairo police department.
President Mubarak had acquiesced to protestors demands saying he would not run for re-election.  But he defiantly vowed to remain in office until the September elections were held.  This delay did not sit well with the protestors and yesterday they called for a million man march into Cairo’s main square.  The peaceful march turned ugly when pro government forces attacked.  So far thirteen people have been killed and twelve hundred injured.  The protestors have now demanded that Mubarak leave by no later than Friday.  His refusal could make Friday a tipping point.    
True to form the Obama administration took to the podium to comment on the current events.  Communications Director Robert Gibbs, when asked about Mubarak’s refusal to leave office until September said: “the people want him to leave now…and now means now.”  The President has also seen fit to comment publically on the matter saying that he believes that “the Egyptian people will decide their own future.”  Translation, the people want you gone so leave.
The United States needs to be very careful here for two primary reasons. 
First of all, at least for now there doesn’t seem to be any anti-American sentiment among the protestors.  That could change very quickly if the administration comes on too strong in its rhetoric.  It is imperative for the US to maintain a favorable relationship with any newly formed government.
Secondly, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and our other allies in the area are watching us closely.  They are waiting to see if the US will support its allies when times get tough or if they will throw them under the proverbial bus for political gain.
For some reason the United States government feels the need to stick its nose in whenever and wherever a conflict occurs.  And this White House seems determined to do so in a very public way.  The President has made several comments about the matter.  Each time he has parsed his words carefully so as not to incite either side.  But in spite of his efforts his message has been clear: it’s time for Mubarak to go.  Imagine how we would react if a country that had supported us for thirty years made such public statements.  Not to mention our reaction to their meddling in our business in the first place.
There is no question that the recent events in Egypt have caused great trepidation in the White House.  No doubt the administration wants to control the outcome as best they can.  But public pronouncements are not the answer.  Back channel communications and subtle pressure from regional allies are more appropriate.  The President has a very effective State Department.  He should use it.
The situation in Egypt changes from day to day.  Given yesterday’s events President Mubarak’s certain departure seems not so certain.  Imagine the “egg on my face” conversation between Obama and Mubarak should Mubarak hang on.
The last thing the United States should be doing right now is taking sides and issuing ultimatums.  But like a moth drawn to a flame we just can’t seem to help ourselves.