Friday, May 20, 2011

Why This Strategy? Why Now?

We write this post in search of answers rather than offering opinions.
Yesterday, the President gave a major address on our Middle East foreign policy.  In his remarks he offered his views on the Israeli/Palestinian dispute.  He said that any discussions about the disputed territories should start with the boundaries drawn up in the 1967 negotiations.
His remarks drew mixed reviews from all except the Israelis… they are pissed.  Those on the right, neo-conservatives, who are traditionally pro-Israel, felt that by insisting on the 1967 boundaries the President had thrown Israel under the bus.  Those on the left supported the President believing that he was simply trying to provide a starting point to get the talks moving once again.  Some say he went too far…other say not far enough.   
Today, The President will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  This meeting between the two leaders was already predicted to be contentious given what has been described as their “frosty” relationship. In light of the President’s remarks a referee might be in order.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has already dismissed the President’s comments as “indefensible”.
What has us puzzled is why did the President choose to weigh in on this dispute…and why now?
We understand that Israel is a key military ally in the oil rich Middle East.  One former Secretary of Defense noted that having Israel in the region was like “having a large air craft carrier patrolling the area…a carrier that could never be sunk.”  Israel has supported our policies and proven invaluable in assisting our military and intelligence agencies.  With many of our European allies scaling back their military deployments due to economic restraints, Israel’s presence is becoming even more important.  The belief that the negotiations should begin with Israel turning over lands that they acquired since the 1967 negotiations is not new; nor is the Israeli response.
With all the changes going on in the Middle East the Israeli/Palestinian feud had been simmering on the back burner.  As we watched the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and now Syria the one thing notably absent was the burning of American and Israeli flags.  Once upon a time the hatred of the US and Israel was the cornerstone of the unrest in the Middle East.  Now, as demonstrations break out throughout the region, the protestor’s anger is directed toward their own government’s policies rather than on an ideological dispute thousands of miles away.  The seeds of democracy have been spreading rapidly over the past few months.   Why the President chose this time to turn the focus toward Israel and Palestine is confusing.
There is also an election to consider.  The Jewish community is very influential in American politics.  The American Israel Public Affairs Political Action Committee (AIPAC) is said to be the second most powerful lobbying group in Washington.  We wonder why the President would want to swat at this particular hornet’s nest at this particular time.  Poking a stick at these folks is a strategy with which we are unfamiliar.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Heading For The Cliff

It is truly maddening to watch the folks on Capitol Hill deal with the current debt crisis.  They continue to play a dangerous political game of chicken with the nation’s financial security; seemingly oblivious to the severity of the issues.
They cannot agree on anything.  The President appoints a bi-partisan commission to develop a solution for the deficit problem.  After months of study the Simpson-Bowles Commission releases its findings.  Their recommendations are honest, thorough and politically tough to swallow. They are ignored.  Even the President pushes their recommendations off to the side. 
He appoints another fact finding group led by Vice-President Biden.  The only Republican with any clout willing to attend is Eric Cantor.  It is hard to negotiate when one side doesn’t bother to show up. 
Another group, “The Gang of Six”, an independent group of three Senators from each party, attempts to tackle the problem.  The group reaches an impasse and one of the members resigns in frustration. 
The Democrats say everything is on the table…except a major overhaul of entitlements.  The Republicans say everything is on the table…except any increase in taxes.  They celebrate agreement on cutting student loan subsidies, farm payments and support for federal worker’s pensions; cuts which amount to millions when they need to be looking at trillions.  Just a few days ago they could not even agree that it just might be a waste of taxpayer’s money to give tax breaks as incentives oil companies who are making billions in profits.  If they cannot agree on a no brainer that affects less than 1% of the deficit then what can they agree on?
They cannot even agree on the seriousness of the problem.  Some members believe resolving the debt crisis can be put off and that the repercussions from failing to raise the debt ceiling have been grossly overstated.  These people are clueless.
The country is at the mercy of the bond markets.  The bond markets control our ability to borrow and loan money and therefore control the growth of our economy.  So strong is the influence of the bond markets on how our country operates that President Clinton was said to react in anger when informed that he could not pursue his economic agenda because the bond markets would react unfavorably.  “You mean to tell me my administration is going to be held hostage by the f-----g bond markets?”  Even the most powerful man in the world must yield to the power wielded by the bond markets.
If Congress fails to address the debt problem now the negative reaction from the bond markets will cause interest rates to rise substantially.  The government currently borrows money to pay its debts at an interest rate near 0%.  That rate could rise to 2-3% which would add another $500 billion in interest to the debt…per year.  Corporate interest rates will rise accordingly and small businesses will be unable to get the loans they need to operate.  The only way to grow out of this economic downturn is to build our way out; and construction and development projects will stop due to the inability to borrow money.  Stocks will fall and the strength of the US dollar on the international market will weaken.
The other part of this equation is jobs.  Both parties promised to develop jobs upon entering office; but neither party has fulfilled its promise.  Go back and read the articles about the debt issues.  You will find reams of political rhetoric about spending cuts but very little in the way of job creating solutions.  We cannot work our way out of this recession with 14 million people out of work.  And we cannot create jobs if high interest rates prohibit businesses from borrowing.  Again, the power of the bond markets controls the growth of the economy.
Standard & Poors has already warned  that the full faith and credit of the US government is in jeopardy.  Congress has yet to heed the warning.
The US economy is like a car rushing toward the edge of a cliff.  Congress is in the drivers’ seat; but they have yet to recognize the disaster that lies ahead.  They have the ability to put on the brakes but they are too distracted by the political landscape.  The bond traders are in the passenger seat.  They see the approaching doom and have already sounded the alarm.  They will bail out long before the car actually reaches the cliff.  Once they do the end it inevitable.
Congress is broken.  They live in a bubble sheltered from reality and oblivious to the needs of the people they were elected to serve.  Their behavior is a sad testament to our way of governing; and a danger to our way of life.           

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

This Should Have Been Easy

The US Senate had the opportunity to do the right thing yesterday.  They failed.
The Democrats proposed a bill that over the next ten years would eliminate $21 billion in tax breaks for   the oil industry.  They pledged that the resulting increase in tax revenue would be used to pay down the deficit.
 Republicans argued against the bill because “it would do nothing to solve the problem of high gas prices.”  In fact, they declared: “any tax increase would be passed along to consumers in the form of higher gas prices.”   They were hesitant to “raise taxes on the very people who invest in our economy and create jobs.”
The Republicans prevailed, defeating the bill in a procedural vote; effectively preventing the matter from reaching the floor for debate.  The bill failed 52-48.
This should have been easy.  This should have been a piece of cake, no brainer, slam dunk a lay up.  But once again the Senate lacked the courage to stand up to the big corporations and do the right thing for the American people.
Let’s examine the Republican argument.
First of all, does anyone believe that the repeal of subsidies will have any effect of the price we pay for a gallon of gas?  Gas prices have reached record highs even though the supply is plentiful and the oil company profits robust.  There is no correlation between the two.  The price we pay at the pump is determined by the speculators on Wall Street and the sheiks of OPEC.  While $21 billion dollars would help to reduce the nation’s debt it will have little effect on the price we pay.  
The exploration and sale of oil and gas is an incredibly lucrative enterprise.  Over the past five years the top five oil companies earned net profits of $126 billion dollars. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, less than 10% of these profits went toward the exploration of new oil while 58% (2005) to 89% (2009) went toward buying back stock and paying dividends.  And while their profits have grown substantially over the last five years their employment rolls have decreased.  The top five oil companies employ roughly 10,000 fewer workers today than they did in 2005.
And let’s not forget the fact that the oil companies said that they don’t need the subsidies.  In 2005 the CEO’s of the top five oil companies testified that they no longer needed the money.  At that time oil was trading at $55/barrel.  Today that same barrel is trading at $100.  As Citizens for Tax Justice points out: “Oil companies are wildly profitable and have huge incentives to find and sell more oil.  Repealing the subsidies will not change this.”   
No one should begrudge the oil industry their success.  Their profit margins are in line with many other major industries and they have the right to distribute those profits in any way they choose.  But providing tax breaks to companies having this much success while the government is struggling to make ends meet is a poor waste of taxpayer dollars.
The Senate missed an opportunity here proving once again how out of touch it is with the American people.  And the voters are paying attention.  In a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll 63% of voters say most members of Congress should be replaced.  That exceeds the dissatisfaction expressed by voters in 1994, 2006 and 2010 when they swept the well clean in favor of change.
This vote should have been easy.  And if the senate could not get this one right you have to wonder how they will cope with the difficult decisions that lie ahead.  The voters are wondering as well. 


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Newt Being Newt

Newt Gingrich effectively withdrew from the Presidential race yesterday.  Merely days after announcing his candidacy Gingrich did what he does best; flip flopping on his support of the Ryan Economic Plan thereby distancing himself from the Republican Party, and ending any chance at winning the nomination.
When Paul Ryan announced the details of his bold economic plan Gingrich was quick to jump on the bandwagon.  But after watching Ryan and his Republican cohorts get blasted by constituents enraged by the plan’s overhauling of entitlements, Gingrich has changed his tune.   Yesterday he referred to the Ryan Plan’s Medicare component as “imposing radical change” and “right wing social engineering”.  His sudden change of heart brought a tidal wave of criticism from conservative Republicans and pundits alike.
This is typical Gingrich; always preaching the values of social conservatism but folding up his tent when the polls suggest that those views are unpopular.  He is the egotistical bully in the school yard who is quick to back down when challenged.  Even while serving as the powerful Speaker of the House Gingrich displayed his lack of conviction.  As Speaker he hoisted the conservative standard with bombastic fervor only to cast it aside when the polls demanded he bow to the popularity of Clinton’s politics.  Clinton used Gingrich’s inflated ego and weak character to get his way.  The result was a balanced budget and economic prosperity.  Naturally Gingrich takes credit for it all.   
Jon Meacham said that Gingrich: “deals in the politics of hyperbole.  With Gingrich everything is a profound crisis.”  He compares Islam to Nazism, political foes to Stalin the President to illegal immigrants.  He cannot just disagree with Obama’s policies.  He prefers to call Obama a socialist, a Marxist, a Kenyan and a member of the Mau Mau revolution who wants to destroy our country.  He speaks forcefully in explaining his views…until the polls tell him to take another path.  He will alter his opinion seamlessly without one shred of hypocrisy.  He was for the Ryan plan…before he was against it.  Simple!   
Now he has criticized the cornerstone of his party’s economic platform and in doing so brought to an end his run for the nomination.  He doesn’t know that yet.  His ego won’t allow him to understand that he is done.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Its Officail...We're Broke!

It is official…we’re broke!  Today is the day that the country will exceed its’ debt limit.  Unless Congress agrees to raise the country’s $14.3 trillion dollar credit card limit by close of business today, the country will default on its financial obligations.  Translation…we can’t pay the mortgage and they are coming to take the car.
Like any family we have some shady temporary measures that we can use to delay the inevitable.  Over the next three months Treasury Secretary Geithner will juggle the books, robbing Peter to pay Paul to keep the country afloat.  Basically he will pay the house payment but forego the car payment to keep the wolves at bay.  But that strategy will only work until the first week in August.  Then we become Greece.
The debt ceiling needs to be raised.  We have done it in the past…several times in fact.   Congress has the power to do it.  They raised it to pay for George Bush’s war in Iraq and they did it to pay for his prescription drug plan for seniors.  But this time the Republican members of Congress are saying “not so fast my friend.”
House Speaker Boehner has said that he will not consider raising the debt ceiling unless spending cuts are enacted that exceed the increase in the debt limit.  He says that everything is on the table…except raising taxes.  The only way to meet his demands is to tackle entitlement reform.  Senate Leader Harry Reid says that cutting entitlements is a non starter.  The lines in the sand have been drawn.
Standard & Poors believes that the country has reached an impasse.  They do not believe Congress has the courage to make the difficult decisions necessary to reach an agreement; and they have warned that the country’s credit rating is in jeopardy.
It is for times like this that we look to the President for leadership.  The Boles –Simpson Commission, the Gang of Six and the Paul Ryan Plan are all well and good but the guy sitting in the White House is the person we turn to when we are in trouble…and we ARE in trouble.
The President has put to rest any questions about his willingness to make tough decisions in waging the war on terror.   During an interview with “60 minutes” Defense Secretary Robert Gates referred to the President’s decision to order the raid that killed bin Laden:  “ the most courageous decision I have ever see made by a sitting President”.  It is time for the President to display that same courage in our war against economic Armageddon.  Obama generated a great deal of political capital in eliminating bin Laden.  His approval ratings have soared in the weeks since the raid on Abbottabad.  It is time to spend some of that capital.
Everyone knows what needs to be done to fix this problem.  The retirement age for Social Security needs to be raised, Medicaid needs to be reformed, the defense budget needs to be cut and the Bush tax cuts for the rich eliminated.
It is time for the President to weigh in.        

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Here's Newt!

Newt Gingrich recently announced his candidacy for President of the United States.  For political junkies like us, Christmas morning came early.
Newt Gingrich is one of the most divisive politicians of our time.  He has never met a person with whom he disagreed that he didn’t label a socialist, a fascist or a Nazi. 
A former lobbyist, Gingrich will say anything to gain the spotlight.  Upon announcing his candidacy he acknowledged that Obama will be difficult to beat due to the unfair playing field favoring the President.  “He (The President) could not win a fair election…not given his record nor his values.”  What in the hell does that mean?
His penchant for bombastic commentary is unprecedented save for the oratorical foibles of Donald Trump.  He jumped on the “birther” bandwagon with both feet and believes that the President’s birth certificate is a forgery.  He has never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like.
 He is smart and he firmly believes that he is smarter than everybody else.  The chip on his shoulder is the size of Montana. 
He is known as a man of many ideas and offers solutions for fixing big government by the gross.  Unfortunately most of them are ridiculous, have no substance or are 180 degrees opposite from a solution he proposed weeks earlier.
He is a hypocrite.  While espousing his righteous indignation of President Clinton’s extramarital affair and leading the charge for Clinton’s impeachment he was having an extramarital affair of his own.  Married three times, he dumped one wife while she lay in a hospital bed dying from cancer and cheated on another.  When asked about it in a recent interview he blamed his indiscretions on “working too hard for the country.”  The phrase: “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones” is lost on Gingrich.  He is more about “do as I say not as I do.”
Gingrich is a thirty year veteran in Washington politics.  His abrasive style has cost him a lot of friends and made him a lot of enemies.  Referring to Gingrich, conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Newnan recently said:  “there is an old saying… over the years friends come and go but enemies multiply.”
A recent opinion poll asked registered Republicans this question: “when contemplating the qualifications of the prospective Presidential candidates’ list three things the make you the most uncomfortable.  They listed: 1.) former lobbyist, 2.) multiple marriages and 3.) FOX NEWS commentator.  Congratulations, Newt!  You’re 3 for 3.
Gingrich’s announcement has made the upcoming race for the Republican nomination a whole lot more entertaining.  It was already going to be fun watching Romney defend implementing Obamacare in Massachusetts; Bachman explain how our founding fathers fought to abolish slavery and Pawlenty search for a pulse.  Watching the bombastic Gingrich bull his way through the primaries will only add to the enjoyment.
Have your popcorn ready…it’s going to be a show. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Getting Serious About Our Nation's Future

Today’ newspapers feature continued posturing by both parties as they tackle the country’s economic woes.  At the center of the contentious debate is the debt limit crises; and the proffered solutions could not be more distinct.
The Democrats want to offset their proposed decreases in spending with tax increases on corporations and those making over $250,000 per year. Specifically they want to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the rich and roll back tax rebates for big corporations.
Republicans refuse to consider any tax increases and seek to reduce the deficit through entitlement reform and the reduction of social programs.  They tackle the entitlement issue by turning Medicare into a voucher program and passing off Medicaid to the states in the form of block grants.
Speaker Boehner has been the most vocal on the subject.  He has emphatically stated that tax increases are off the table… period.  He argues: “It makes no sense to increase taxes on the very people who invest in our economy and create jobs.”  Boehner further commands that spending cuts must exceed any increase in the debt ceiling.  If his demands are not met, the Speaker says that Republicans are more than willing to let the deadline pass and the country default on its obligations.  “The time has come to get serious about our country’s future” he exclaimed.
Speaker Boehner is correct.  It is time to get serious about our nations’ future.  Unfortunately Mr. Boehner is not practicing what he preaches.
First of all nothing says “compromise” like starting a negotiation by limiting the things on which one can compromise.  Spending cuts are important but you cannot effectively balance the budget without increasing revenue as well.  The tax rate on the wealthiest Americans is a huge piece of this puzzle. Republicans want to maintain those cuts at all cost.  Last year they went so far as to hold unemployment benefit s for the needy hostage in order to maintain them.  While this tactic may play well to their Tea Party base it is a non-starter for anyone “serious about our country’s future.”
Not only are Mr. Boehner’s statements disingenuous, they have no basis of fact.  If eliminating the tax cuts for the rich will cost the country jobs then one must ask…where are the jobs?  The Bush tax cuts have been in place for a decade and unemployment still hovers around 9%.  The folks who benefit from these cuts are not using the money to create American jobs.  In fact they are using the funds to invest overseas, reduce debt or line their pockets.  Every economic indicator shows that Wall Street is flourishing while the middle class and poor are struggling.  If you are not willing to talk about “shared sacrifice” then you don’t have much chance of reaching an agreement.
Second, Mr. Boehner’s statements fly in the face political reality.  If Mr. Boehner and his cohorts force the country to default the stock market will tumble, interest rates will rise and the economy will crash. The very people that Mr. Boehner claims to defend, the wealthiest 2%, will be impacted the most.  The repercussions of this economic decline would be the end of the Republican Party.
If you are truly serious about our country’s economic future then you must put be willing to put everything on the table.  The only way to fix the debt crises is to reform entitlements, cut defense spending and raise taxes.  To suggest anything less is disingenuous.
Mr. Boehner is adamant that tax increases are off the table.
Listening to him we are reminded of an old Yiddish saying:  “Man plans…God laughs.”          

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We Need To Embrace Diversity

President Obama flew to El Paso, Texas to make his case for immigration reform.  He was also there to garner votes for his re-election bid.
The President wants to overhaul current immigration laws to open a path toward citizenship for the millions of workers who are here illegally.  His message resonated with the mostly Latino audience.  Latinos typically vote Democrat.
Republicans want to secure our borders and send packing those who are here illegally.  They are not particularly interested in providing a path to citizenship for those who in their view steal our jobs and hurt our economy.  They are also not interested increasing the roles of Latino voters who, as we said, typically vote Democrat.
As usual both of these partisan political arguments miss the greater point.
We are who we are because of immigration.  This melting pot of diversity is what makes us The United States of America.  It is this coming together of different cultures that has spawned the innovation, creativity and work ethic that has made us the most prosperous country in the world.  To cut off the flow of immigrants to this country is to shut off the very life blood of this democracy.
There is no doubt that the system needs to be fixed.  We can no longer afford to have illegal immigrants accessing government services without paying their fair share. 
Providing illegal immigrants with a structured path toward citizenship makes sense.  Contrary to the Republican position, these folks help our economy by performing jobs that most Americans find too menial for wages most Americans deem inadequate.  Take these immigrants out of the workforce and watch the sticker shock at the local A&P. 
While Obama’s plan will be difficult to enforce it has far more upside than the alternative offered by the Republicans.  Using Gestapo tactics to round up between eleven and twenty million suspected illegal immigrants and bus them back to wherever is just not going to happen.  The cost of this draconian effort would be prohibitive; and the resulting violence and unrest, not to mention the economic downturn, will not sit well with the American people.  
It is a phrase too often repeated but nonetheless true…” we are all immigrants.”  All of us trace our roots back to some distant country.  Many of us can still sit with grandparents who passed through Ellis Island in search of a better life.  They brought with them a mosaic of culture, knowledge and experience that makes us…us. 
We need to embrace that diversity not smother it.    

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Here Is The Truth

Sometimes it is good to sit back and take a bi-partisan look at the major stories of the day.
The Debt Ceiling – The country will exceed its debt (credit card) limit next week.  If we don’t raise the debt limit we will default on our financial obligations.  The repercussions of such a default will be skyrocketing interest rates, a plummeting stock market and a historic degrading of our credit rating.  It will cost us more to borrow money and the affects of that will be felt in homes all across America. 
So what is the government doing about it?  The answer is …nothing. 
Naturally, the Democrats want to increase the limit.  They want to call the credit card company and request an increase in the country’s credit limit rather than inflict any economic pain on the masses. But they have no real plan on how to pay off the debt.  The Republicans are taking the “tough love’ approach.  They would allow the country to default unless the Democrats agree on drastic spending cuts that will hurt all Americans…except the wealthiest 2%.
The Treasury department says that “by juggling the books” they can put off the impending doom and extend the time before we exceed our credit limit to August 2. In other words they will do what millions of Americans do each and every month…decide whether to pay the electric bill of the car payment. 
Here is the truth.  The financial security and credit worthiness of the wealthiest country in the world is dependent upon the treasury department’s ability to “juggle the books” while our elected leaders kick the can down the road once more.  At some point this strategy will come to an abrupt, painful end.
Pakistan – The US finds bin Laden. But so distrustful is the US government of its’ Pakistani “partner” in the war against terror that it  invades Pakistani sovereign territory, kills bin Laden and returns to safety before notifying Pakistan about the operation.  So concerned are US officials over the violent reaction if the SEAL team is discovered they double up the force in anticipation of fighting their way out of the country.   
The Pakistan government is outraged at this lack of trust and this bold show of force.  They respond in a hissy fit by disclosing the identity of the CIA station chief in Islamabad; thereby making it more difficult for the CIA to operate in the region.
So if our relationship with Pakistan is so adversarial.  If there is so much distrust and tension; then why are they still considered our most valuable partner in the region?  And why do we continue to pay them $1.5 billion in aid each year? 
Here is the truth.  Pakistan has over 100 nuclear weapons and we are scared to death that they will end up in the hands of Al Qaida or some other terrorist organization.
Afghanistan – Now that bin Laden is dead many feel that is time for us to declare victory and pull out of Afghanistan.  ‘We did what we set out to do” they argue, “so let’s go home.”  Others argue that the Afghan government is not yet strong enough to defend itself and the country will revert back to the Taliban if we leave now.
Here is the truth.  The only thing keeping us in Afghanistan is politics.  No one wants to shoulder the blame for losing this war…especially going into an election year.  The fact is the Afghan government is corrupt, their army sucks and their culture is buried somewhere back in the 4th century. No one really believes anything will be any different if we leave now or twenty years from now.  Our leaders just don’t have the political courage to leave.  The harsh reality is that this war has no affect on our daily trip to Starbucks.  If we left tomorrow or stayed another ten years most of us would not care.
Meanwhile 51 US military personnel died in Afghanistan last month marking the deadliest month of this ten year war.
Commander in Chief – President Obama has established himself as Commander in Chief of the nation.  He has ramped up the number of troops in Afghanistan.  He has conducted drone strikes within the territorial limits of Pakistan.  He has ordered missile strikes in Libya.  He has authorized the bombing of Anwar al-Awlaki, and American citizen and key recruiter for Al Qaida.   And he has killed the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden.  Wires are still being tapped, detainees are still being tried by military tribunals instead of civil courts and Gitmo remains open.  Much to the chagrin of his base he has maintained many of the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
But however concerned the Democratic base may be their outrage cannot hold a candle to the discomfort felt by the Republicans.  You would think that the Republicans would applaud the President’s strong stance against terrorism.  Not so.  While they politely acknowledge the President’s actions they worry about the political affects of his change in policy.  As NYT columnist Ross Douthart writes:  “But there are dangers in this turnabout as well.  Now that Democrats have learned to stop worrying and embrace the imperial presidency, the United States lacks a strong institutional check on the tendency toward executive hubris and wartime overreach.”   When Bush attacks Iraq Republicans see it as bold and patriotic.  When Obama continues Bush’s policies they see it as “executive hubris and wartime overreach”.
Here is the truth.  Obama has played the war card.  He has effectively eliminated the long standing belief that only a Republican President can adequately protect the country.   The Republicans have tried to paint the president as soft on national defense.  The killing of bin Laden alone destroys that argument. 
Nothing is left but the economy.  And while American’s are not happy with the way things are going they won’t stand for the Republican plan; a plan that places the economic burden on the poor and middle class while cutting taxes for the rich.  In the end that dog won’t hunt.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why Are We Paying Pakistan?

Now that the US military has removed Osama bin Laden the spotlight shines on the government of Pakistan.  Given the circumstances of bin Laden’s demise one must ask the age old question: ” what did they know and when did they know it?”
By now we have all heard the reports surrounding the acquisition and termination of the world’s most wanted man.  For years we were told that bin laden was hiding out in caves deep within the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan; moving daily from place to place to avoid detection and capture.  We know now that for the past five years he was living in the relative comfort of a million dollar walled compound in the well to do city of Abottabad.  We have learned that Abbottabad is a particularly curious place for the most sought after man in the world to seek refuge because Abottabad is the home of the Pakistan military school, the equivalent of our West Point.  The city is teeming with active and retired military personnel.  To quote Jon Stewart:  “bin Laden wasn’t hiding in plain sight…he was chillin’ in plain sight.”  Naturally the Obama administration wants to know how bin Laden could live undetected in this military enclave.
The Pakistani government has responded with outrage and indignation.  They have condemned the US for conducting a military operation in Pakistani sovereign territory without previously notifying their government.  And their shorts are firmly bunched over any suggestion that they might have aided and abetted bin Laden.
“Me think he doth protest too much.” 
Pakistan is one of the most anti-American countries in the world.  Osama bin Laden lived there for five to six years in the middle of a military garrison.  For that to happen he had to have some sort of outside support.  To believe that the Pakistani government and/or its’ intelligence community had no knowledge of his presence strains credulity.  They are either complicit in providing him assistance or incompetent in their abilities.
In an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” the President stated that Pakistan had been an important partner in the war on terror.  He said: “in fact we have killed more terrorists on Pakistani soil than any other place in the world.”
 Which begs the question…why?
Why have we managed to kill more terrorists in Pakistan than any other place in the world?  Is it because we have the complete co-operation of the Pakistani government?  Or is it because if you are a terrorist seeking refuge then Pakistan is your destination of choice?  Have we eliminated more terrorists in Pakistan because of the efforts of the Pakistani intelligence service? Or is it because there are more terrorists per capita in Pakistan than any other country on the planet? 
The truth is Pakistan is the place known throughout the terrorist community where the government is sympathetic, safety can be bought and annominity a way of life?
The US currently pays Pakistan $1.5 billion in aid per year.  Over the past decade we have doled out over $20 billion in borrowed money to buy Pakistan’s assistance in fighting terror.  The Pakistan government has flatly stated that we will have to “do more” to repair the damage caused by invading their territory and questioning their loyalty.  Perhaps if we up the ante they will be better able to locate the bad guys who are living right under their noses.
The real $64,000 question is this: why is the US paying the Pakistani government to help in the apprehension of internationally wanted terrorists when those same terrorists are paying the Pakistanis to avoid capture?






Friday, May 6, 2011

Military Precision Shames A Dysfuntional Congress

The President traveled to Ground Zero yesterday where he honored those who lost their lives in the attacks on 9/11.  Today he will fly to Fort Campbell, Kentucky where he will meet the Seal Team VI members who brought the perpetrator of those attacks to justice.  This quiet private meeting will bring to a close the “official” ceremonies celebrating the death of the world’s most wanted man. 
The country’s euphoria will no doubt continue for the next days and weeks.  Eventually reality will sink in.  The economy will still be in a ditch.  Jobs will still be scarce.  We will still be at war and extremists will still wish us harm.  But as we ride the emotional roller coaster between the intense pride in this week’s accomplishments and the deep concern over our economic future there is one thing in which we can always be certain; the Congress of the United States of America will continue to operate as the dysfunctional weakest link of our government; forever shielded from the reality of its constituents by the fog of self preservation.
While the President was managing a slumping economy, overseeing two wars, preparing a major economic policy address, working with NATO to oust Gadhafi,  addressing the needs of the victims of the recent tornados, campaigning for re-election, defending his birthright,  and, oh yeah, authorizing the take down of the most wanted man on the planet;  Congress was doing…nothing.
That’s not fair.    Here is a list of their accomplishments since taking office in January:
- The Republican House passed four pieces of anti-abortion legislation that have zero chance of getting through the Senate.
- The Republican House passed legislation to defund the President’s Affordable Health Care Reform Act; legislation which has zero chance getting through the Senate.
 - The Republican House passed the Ryan Budget Proposal; legislation which has zero chance of getting through the Senate.  In fact after returning home to stinging criticism from their constituents they have returned to Washington to walk back key portions of the bill.
- The Republican House passed what is expected to be the first of three pieces of legislation designed to speed up offshore oil and gas drilling; even though they have not mandated any changes in the drilling procedures whose lapses caused the largest oil spill in US history.  None of these bills has any chance of getting through the Senate.
 - The Republican House voted down legislation which would have stopped $46 billion dollars in subsidies from being paid to the most profitable companies in the world…big oil.  Had the House allowed this bill to pass it would have sailed through the Senate.
You may have noticed a major omission in this flurry of congressional activity…jobs.  In spite of basing their entire 2010 campaign on the promise to increase jobs in America they have not proposed one piece of job creating legislation.
The events of this past week help us to remember all that is great about this country.  The persistency, professionalism and courage demonstrated by members of our intelligence and military communities make us proud.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the members of Congress.   

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stop the Nit Picking

When we picked up this morning’s newspaper we expected to find front page news about the amazing military operation that took down Osama bin Laden.  We expected more information about how bin laden was found and more details about the mission.  Instead we found ideological debates about the use of torture, hand wringing over whether or not bin laden was armed when he was shot, and deep concern over the potential release of photographs of bin laden’s body.  We were na├»ve to expect anything less.
In this world where the 15 minute news cycle and bi-partisan politics coexist it is difficult to find any event that doesn’t turn into a political debate within seconds of its taking place.  We thought that for just once an event as important as the “bin laden story” would rise above all of that.  We were wrong.
Today’s papers report that the ideologues on both sides of the aisle are arguing over whether or not enhanced interrogation techniques were instrumental in bringing down bin Laden.  Proponents argue that many important details that led us to bin Laden were obtained through the use of interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.   Detractors disagree; pointing out that the information came from other sources where the techniques were not used.
 First of all we find the use of the term “enhanced interrogation techniques” insulting.  These techniques constitute torture.  When we agreed to the terms of the Geneva Accords we said that we would not torture prisoners.  We agreed that the International Red Cross would determine what constituted torture; and they have determined that the tactics authorized by former President Bush and Vice President  Dick Cheney do in fact constitute torture.  So let’s just call it what it is and stop the posturing.
The point is whether or not these “techniques” provided valuable information for this mission is irrelevant.  Anyone who understands how these operations work knows that it is never one piece of information but thousands of bits of information coming together to form a conclusion.  In this case information gathered over seven years led to the take down of bin Laden.  Thousands of people working day and night pulled this together.  To mine this story for political points is insulting.
Then there are those whose sensibilities are offended by the fact that bin Laden was not armed when he was shot.  They want to know if he was given the opportunity to surrender or mercilessly executed in cold blood.
It is easy for people like this to sit in their recliners and play Monday morning quarterback. They forget that we are at war.  A group of very brave Navy Seals flies into a foreign country and under cover of darkness repels into a huge compound.  One of their choppers is damaged upon landing.  Before going in they do not know if they can get out.  Undaunted they continue the mission.  They enter the three story building where they are met with intense automatic weapon fire.  Confusion and heart pounding terror ensues as they go room to room not knowing what lay beyond each closed door.  They meet resistance and they eliminate their attackers.  On the third floor they find bin Laden.  They are rushed by a woman and they subdue her.  Bin Laden makes a move and is killed.  They remove the body and a treasure trove of enemy intelligence.
This was an incredibly successful military operation in a war that we have been fighting for ten years.  The head of the opposing forces was killed and information that may save US lives was retrieved.  To question the actions of the Seals under the circumstances in which they were operating is both disrespectful of their courage and shows a complete lack of understanding of the world in which we live.  This was a mission to get bin Laden dead or alive. It was in fact a death order.  Bin Laden was not armed.    Neither were the three thousand people who died at his hands on September 11.
And last but not least is the concern expressed by those who feel that photos of bin Laden may be too gruesome to show the public.  Whether or not those photos are released should not be about offending sensibilities but rather whether or not their release will help or harm our efforts in this war.  Will these photos serve as a warning for future terrorists?  Will they send the message that no matter how long it takes this will be your end?  Or will they serve as a rallying point to embolden our enemies to seek revenge? 
This is a war.  It is ugly and it is very, very real.  People die and are injured each and every day.  Unfortunately only 1% of America is invested in this war.  We are content to live our lives lost in texting, tweeting and friending while others do the heavy lifting. Most of us don’t give a damn.  Yet we are quick to criticize the actions of those who willingly place their lives on the line on our behalf.   
America needs to wake up.  The country is at war and we have just realized a major victory.  The man who started it all is dead.  The reason that we have lost so much in blood and treasure has been eliminated in one of the most professionally executed military operations in our history.  Let’s leave the nit picking for another time and focus on the fact that finally after ten years we have accomplished what we set out to do.  We have brought justice to those that attacked us on 9/11.
Mission Accomplished!  Now let’s bring the troops home and focus on improving the lives of the American people.                    

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Poker Face

During Saturday night’s White House Correspondence dinner Seth Meyer was entertaining the crowd with a series of jokes.  In light of the recent military action to take out Osama bin Laden one moment during Meyer’s performance was telling; and in hindsight, chilling.
Myers was joking about CSPAN and the stations' limited viewership.  Myers said:  “they can’t find Osama bin Laden.  They think he is hiding in the mountains of the Hindu Kush.  In fact he is hosting a daily talk show on CSPAN.”  The camera turned to the President who responded to the joke with a huge smile.  Knowing now that he had given the order to take out bin Laden the day before, and weather permitting, the operation would have been going on at that very moment, gives new a perspective to the President’s leadership capabilities.
The President’s critics have long been vocal in their distaste for this leadership style.  He has been called “too professorial”; “too deliberate”, “disengaged” and “who who leads from behind”.  To now realize that in the previous several months the President was: managing a lagging economy, overseeing the response to the killer tornados in the south, planning and delivering a major policy address, implementing a bombing strategy in Libya and dealing with the “birther” nonsense; knowing all the while that he had ordered a major military operation whose failure would bury his presidency and embarrassed the nation.  To know all of that was going on and to see that smile…at that particular joke…at that particular moment in time...says a great deal about this President’s leadership capabilities.
This is a leader.  This is a man who retained many of the controversial Bush policies because even though he disagreed with them, once in office he found them to be in the best interests of our country.  This is a man who in 2009 ordered the CIA to find bin Laden and never took his eyes off of the prize.  This is a man who ordered a military operation that could have been a political disaster but knew that its success would uplift the country and bring some closure to the 9/11 victims.  This is a man who is not afraid to put his country's best interests ahead of those of his party and his political base.  Like him or not, this is man is a leader.
And given his performance Saturday night; one hell of a poker player as well.   

A Case For Going it Alone

As the nation celebrates the elimination of Osama bin Laden we are learning new details of the circumstances leading up to his death.  Much of what we now know is troubling.
Over the years we have been led to believe that bin Laden was hiding out in the caves of the Hindu Kush; constantly on the move, never staying in the same place for a day or two for fear of capture.  Now we learn that for the past six years he has been living comfortably in a million dollar complex, an hours’ drive from the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad.  Let us put this development in its proper prospective.
Bin Laden has spent the last six years in the relatively well to do city of Abbottabad.  Abbottabad is the home of the Pakistani military training school.  It is a garrison city.  Virtually all of the homes in this town are occupied by current or retired military personnel.  The military is everywhere.  Think West Point. 
The compound itself is a massive walled facility.  Twelve to eighteen foot walls, topped with barb wire enclose the main building.  It sticks out like a sore thumb among the relatively modest surrounding homes.  Think gated Bel Air estate in the middle of Yonkers.
It is hard to believe that bin Laden managed to live undetected in this environment without outside support.  And to think that the Pakistani government and its vaunted internal security forces were unaware of bin Laden’s whereabouts strains credibility.  Perhaps the government helped bin Laden to remain hidden.  Perhaps they knew where he was but turned a blind eye for political reasons.  Or perhaps they were just too incompetent to locate a 6’7” terrorist hiding in plain sight.  Regardless, these new developments shed a very harsh light on our supposed partner.
The events surrounding bin Laden’s death and the apparent involvement of the Pakistani government in his ability to avoid detection raise new questions about our policy in the Middle East. 
Over the past decade we have given the Pakistani government over 20 billion in aid.  In exchange they were supposed to stop the flow of arms and terrorist personnel from crossing their borders into Afghanistan.  They were supposed to help us stabilize the region.  They were supposed to help us bring bin Laden to justice. So far they are 0-3.  The Pakistani’s are such unreliable partners that the US chose not to inform the Pakistani government about the bin Laden operation until it was completed.  How do you have a partnership with someone you don’t trust? 
The same can be said of our "partners" in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Afghan President Karzai routinely threatens to join the Taliban if the US doesn’t meet his demands.  And Iraqi Prime Minister al-Malaki is often seen being buddy buddy with the leadership in Iran.  With partners like these who needs enemies?
The circumstances surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden should bring with it a re-evaluation of our Middle East policy.  We have paid the Pakistani’s $20 billion dollars over the past decade and have received little in return.  We spend $110 billion per year in Afghanistan with no tangible benefit.  The unrest in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia threatens to drain our coffers even more. 
We are no longer the land of plenty.  We are broke.  We cannot afford to pour billions upon billions into governments we don’t trust who are merely using us to line their pockets.  Their loyalty will last only until a better offer comes along. 
Sometimes going it alone is the best option.  That was certainly the case in the elimination of the world’s most wanted man.
It is time to rethink our Middle East policy.  If our government is determined to dole out $2 billion per year in aid then better to send it to Des Moines, Iowa; or Milwaukee, Wisconsin;  or Topeka, Kansas  than Islamabad, Pakistan.         


Monday, May 2, 2011

"Justice Has Been Done"

Osama bin Laden is dead.  The man who brought down the twin towers and forever altered the American way of life was killed yesterday in a bold assault conducted by a small group of American Navy Seals.  The operation brought to an end the ten year search for the most wanted man in the world.
We now know that this operation had been in the works for months.  Remarkably the details were successfully kept under wraps until the mission was completed.  Even though bin Laden was found just north of Islamabad, the Pakistani government was kept in the dark for fear of leaks.  The President authorized the mission on Friday morning.  Bad weather delayed the assault until Sunday.  On Sunday evening the President was able to announce to the world that bin Laden was dead.   
The news traveled fast.  Spontaneous celebrations erupted on Times Square and in front of the White House.  Chants of “USA, USA, USA” reverberated through the streets.
When we heard the news we were flooded by a wave of different emotions.  There was shock and disbelief that it might not be true.  Then the rush of wanting to know how it all came down.  And finally goose bumps and pride in the skill and courage displayed by our intelligence and military personnel.
 The details are not important.  Over the next days, weeks and months they will be discussed and analyzed over and over again. What is important is that justice has been delivered to a mass murderer who forever changed our way of life. 
This is only one event.  The war on terror will continue.  But for one brief moment the country can exhale.
Our thoughts are with the families and friends who lost loved ones on that fateful day.  Hopefully they can realize some sense of closure.
Our thoughts are also with the men and women of the intelligence committee whose vigilance over the past ten years uncovered the information leading to bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Finally words cannot express our admiration for the Navy Seals who successfully accomplished this incredible mission.
American has been divided.  Partisan politics, a horrible economy and natural disasters have torn at the very fabric of our union.  But we were able to put that all aside yesterday.  The country came together and said with one voice; “we may be tested, we may be bowed but we will persevere.”
Thank you CIA!  Thank you Navy Seals!  And thank you Mr. President!  Job well done!