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Monday, March 28, 2011

Will Libya Intervention Change Arab Perceptions?

Prior to Obama’s decision to militarily intervene in Libya many Republicans criticized him for moving too slowly to aid the rebels battling dictator and terrorist Muammar Gaddafi. As the rebels began to get beaten back and the strong hold city of Benghazi looked like it might be overrun by Gaddafi’s superior air and armor ability, Obama and a coalition of mainly French and British forces intervened with air power. Currently, the forces loyal to Gaddafi are being pushed back to Tripoli. Now of course, the Republicans are criticizing Obama for intervening at all, setting up a very embarrassing situation for former Republican speaker of the house and potential Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich who is now condemning the intervention and trying to explain away  making two completely different arguments only days apart.
           Republicans criticizing Obama no matter what he does? You don’t say? What else is new? We can expect little more from that political party. So what of this action? Did Obama have a choice?
           The simple answer is “Yes” Obama could have done nothing. It is reasonable to believe however, that a humanitarian disaster would have followed. As Gaddafi’ s forces drew close to Benghazi he threatened to slaughter his own people; in fact, he said that his forces were “coming tonight” and would show “no mercy.”  There was little reason to doubt Gadaffi’s words since he was recently confirmed by his former justice minister of  having given the order to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270  people in 1988. Gaddafi has also been a ruthless dictator in Libya for over 40 years.
           Obama’s rationale for initiating a military intervention on humanitarian grounds is therefore based on sound information. The immediate goal of the coalition was to halt the slaughter of civilians: mission accomplished. Now, the coalition is moving to bolster the rebels and remove Gaddafi. This is admittedly outside the mandate of the UN resolution but practically necessary, otherwise what is to stop Gaddafi from regrouping and  attempting to slaughter the rebels again? The US, the French , the British and the Arab league are determined that Gaddafi’s reign will end. So Gaddafi will be gone soon. What happens after that will be up to the Libyan people, but hopefully a democratic type government will come to be.
           In all the jockeying among Republicans threatening to run for President and the occasional conservative pundit, there has been little talk about how the Arab world will regard the United States after successful interventions in Egypt of a non-military nature and the currently military action in Libya. It is well established that there is an overwhelmingly negative view of the US throughout the Arab world. Most of this is a result of  our support of Israel over Palestine. Many Arabs feel the Palestinians have been maltreated, bullied and even murdered by an Israel supported and bolstered by American money and the American military.
           But the recent actions of the Obama administration show a different side. The US has been acting like the America of yore, fighting for the little guy evoking memories of the war against the Nazis and the Emperor of  Japan.  Whereas the Iraqi war was seen as nothing more then an unsuccessful attempt to seize oil, Egyptians have first hand knowledge that the US urged restraint on the part of the Egyptian military and negotiated President Mubarak’s peaceful exit from the country he had ruled for 30 years. Similarly, the entire Arab world is witness to the US stepping in to prevent the slaughter of common Arab people wanting only to be free of a dictator.  This is not Dick Cheney’s America where the Iraq invasion was seen in the Middle East and Europe (everywhere except in the US) as an unqualified power grab.  People see the US acting like it should be- requiring old allies to become democracies or get out – and asking nothing in return. This is the idealistic version of America we have not seen since Bill Clinton successfully intervened in the former Yugoslavia to prevent a war and ethnic cleansing from occurring. Every action the Bush Administration took seemed to have a lot of strings attached along with convoluted and often corrupt motives.
           The long term effect of all this could be a softening of the perception of Arabs toward America. Practically speaking, this could also lessen the number of young Arab men hoping to enter the ranks of Al Qaeda. It is difficult to hate a nation that stepped in to help the common Arab people when no one else would.   


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Time to Shut Down Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has threatened state workers with layoffs if the 14 self exiled Democratic Senators do not return to the state senate so that he can pass a bill removing collective bargaining rights for unions who did not support his campaign for Governor. Walker indicated he would lay off 1500 workers as soon as next month, unless his demands are met.

Governor Walker and other recently elected Republican Governors from New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio have sought to reduce or eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector unions since being elected in November. The Governors claim that they are doing this to try to relieve state fiscal deficits, although it is clear that taking away collective bargaining rights will only lessen the ability of union members to negotiate, not reduce the deficit. Notably, many unions have agreed to increasing contributions to pensions and benefits and some have agreed to pay cuts. As a result, the unions see this as nothing more then a ploy to weaken the political power of the unions who require dues from their members and usually endorse Democratic candidates.

Case in point: Governor Walker of Wisconsin received heavy support during his campaign from the extreme right wing billionaire Koch brothers of Kansas. The Koch brothers are ardently against unions of all types as they unabashedly state on the web site for their front group, “Americans for Prosperity .” They are both ranked 24th on the list of wealthiest Americans, worth an estimated $17.5 Billion. That money helped get Walker elected and he is doing his best to eradicate the unions even though polls in Wisconsin show he does not have the support of the people on ending collective bargaining rights.

The middle class has been losing ground for the last twenty years: 2001-2006 saw the first economic expansion in US history where the middle class saw no rise in income. Then in 2008, the economy collapsed with the middle class and working poor being the main victims. Factor in outsourcing for cheaper labor overseas and it’s not hard to see why our middle class is quickly fading away. For many working Americans the only weapon they have against these societal shifts are their numbers and their ability to act together to ask for better pay and benefits. In other words, the unions. The unions also provide political clout because they represent voting blocks that can pool money to support friendly candidates. Less then 10 % of all American workers are currently unionized down from 23% during the 70s. The decline of unions saw a corresponding decline in middle class incomes.

Republicans have used the economic crisis (caused by millionaire and billionaire bankers) as a pretext to weaken the ability of workers to negotiate better pay and benefits and to frustrate union efforts to get politicians elected who will look out for their interest. This is nothing more than an attack on the middle class, a middle class already under siege as a result of poor economic decisions on the national level by the previous Republican administration.

So, should the union members stand by and allow these threatened layoffs to happen or should they take action? For too long many union members felt the Republican Party was sympathetic to their plight and would help them “get the Government off their back.” Of course the reality is that for most middle class people Government programs like Social Security and Medicare have been a godsend that have lifted millions of Americans out of poverty. The idea of a Government “encroaching on our freedom” is something rich people say to avoid paying taxes; it is irrelevant to the middle class who benefit greatly not only from Social Security and Medicare, but also from education loans for college and the public school system.

No doubt many union members are now realizing the hostility of the Republican Party toward regular citizens having a voice politically and economically. The Governor is threatening lay offs if he does not succeed in doing away with collective bargaining rights. Why not show him the power of people and shut down the state? Let him see how the working people of Wisconsin feel about his taking away their basic right as Americans to negotiate higher wages to support their families. Every public sector worker should go on strike if the Governor goes ahead with the layoffs. In addition, every private sector worker should go on strike in solidarity. Shut down the state. Show the people of Wisconsin that this attack on the middle class is unacceptable. Then maybe Walker and other state Governors will learn the value of the middle class.

Consider the hypocrisy of the Republican Party: they insisted on extending the tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires but now ask teachers and cops to make sacrifices. The current budget proposal from the Republicans in the House cuts distribution of food and milk to single mothers-yet they are unwilling to end subsidies to the oil companies who make record profits. The middle class needs to make a stand now, or it will only get worse. Shut down Wisconsin.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Republicans Continue Assault On The Middle Class

The Bush years from 2001-2006 saw the first economic expansion in post World War II history where the middle class experienced no gain in income. In fact, many middle class folks actually saw their income decline during that time period and then of course 14 million lost their jobs. Although it was well accepted prior to 2001, the economic principle that tax cuts for the rich do not stimulate growth because wealthy people do not change spending habits as a result of a tax cut, got an exclamation point during W’s time in office.  The Bush Administration was preoccupied with cutting taxes for the wealthy and not concerned with providing opportunities for the middle class. What the 2001-2006 era showed was that the middle class does not benefit from tax breaks, even though it may sound good. Typical opportunities that help the middle class are education grants and job training. The middle class benefits from tax payer supported programs for otherwise cost prohibitive endeavors like a college education or cancer treatment for a child.  Nothing like that came out during the Bush years because the Republicans had no interest in helping the middle class. Despite that, middle class voters continued to vote for Republicans in great numbers.

In 2010, with the “shellacking” of the Democrats at the midterm polls Obama gave into Republican demands to extend tax cuts for the rich so as to not imperil tax breaks for the middle class and to acquire another 300 billion in stimulus cash. By 2010 the economic catastrophe that was the George W. Bush years was evident. Yet Republicans continued to push hard for tax cuts for the rich despite their supposive concern with the deficit and the undeniable fact that the tax cut extension would not stimulate the economy.

The Republicans in the house recently passed a bill proposing 60 billion dollars in budget cuts for 2011. The number one biggest program they want cut? Two billion dollars in federal job training.   This cut is aimed directly at the heart of a middle class still trying to recover from the 2008 crash and desperate to learn new skills to cope with a hi-tech world and the demise of jobs requiring little or no skill. It is a mystery why the Republican Party would seek to cut a program tied so closely to recovery and so necessary to permit future economic success for the middle class. Little has been made of this clear disregard for the plight of millions of Americans still suffering from the economic policies of the most recent Republican administration.

Notably, these cuts are being proposed by many new tea party members who were elected indubitably by members of the middle class. Whether it is ignorance or successful brain washing by wealthy, conservative interest groups, many middle class voters seem to think that this economic crisis is a result of government spending and excessive salaries for government workers. Never mind that during congressional hearings the heads of various banks and financial institutions already took the entire blame for the economic collapse and that the first entity of note to fall was not a state or federal agency but the Lehman Brothers trading house.

The latest attack on the middle class is occurring in state legislatures across the country where Republican Governors and legislators control the state houses. Despite the fact that unions are agreeing to contribute more to pensions and health care the Republicans want to go a step further: they want to remove the ability of the workers to collectively bargain. Essentially, they want to eliminate as much as possible the ability of the unions to organize for the purpose of asking for better pay or better benefits in the future. While nothing in the constitution guarantees a person a job, there is little debate that it is a very American thing to ask for a raise from your boss; the Governors of Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana want to take that away from firemen, cops and teachers.  Once again, neither unions or state workers caused the economic crisis- banks and financial institutions did. Why are these middle class people being punished for the wrongdoings of others while the very wealthy people in this county just got their tax cut extended for another two years?

Belt tightening is to be expected in an economic downturn and state and municipal workers are expected and have agreed to do their part. However, this Republican led effort will make it more difficult for middle class Americans to be paid a wage consistent with their skill and value to society. Teachers, firefighters and law enforcement provide essential services critical to the well being of the public. They should be allowed to ask for a raise.  In addition, these middle class people will be denied a voice in politics as unions are the only groups that permit them to be heard over the din of Billionaire funded organizations that work non-stop in an effort to undermine the political clout of 98% of the population.  It could be that this attack on that very American institution, which is the unions, will awaken the middle class to the true intentions of the Republican Party and reflect in the 2012 election.


Friday, May 28, 2010

The Anti-Job Party

Shortly after Obama was elected it was not long before Rush Limbaugh announced that he hoped the President would fail. At the time, with McCain vanquished, Sarah Palin under orders not to talk to the press and no other Republican of any notability willing to take the reins-in rode Limbaugh as the de facto leader of the Republican Party. As is the case with most Limbaugh proclamations elected Republicans were silent or slightly critical only to later beg forgiveness as Limbaugh's fandom inundated district offices with outrage directed toward the elected official.

It is an odd thing to say: "I hope the President fails." It is odd because by failing that means that the President will have been unable to get Americans back to work; a failing that will cause continued suffering among the American people. By failing the President would be unable to resolve the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts leading to the deaths of more Americans and the expenditure of more tax payer money better spent at home. And of course, by failing to reform healthcare more Americans would die for lack of insurance. Why would Limbaugh and by silent agreement the Republican Party seek the further suffering of their own people? Especially in light of the fact that it is the Republican Party that led the nation over the cliff. Should they have not been the most motivated to correct the problems they created?

Soon enough it became clear that not only did the Republicans hope for Obama to fail but they moved with deliberate speed to make it happen. Despite a year of debate and opposition they never came up with their own health plan and in the midst of the worst economic crisis in 80 years they voted twice to filibuster the beginning of debate of the financial reform bill. The opposition to even discussing reforming the financial system is perhaps the most obvious example of a complete disregard for the American people.

Fortunately, seventeen months into Obama's administration he has not failed in fact the opposite has happen. Despite the worst financial disaster in 80 years the economy has begun to grow again; 230,000 private sector jobs were added in April. General Motors repaid a 5 billion dollar loan 5 years early and made a profit; Chrysler hired 1100 workers in Michigan. The main banks and financial organizations are solvent and have started to make a profit again and the stock market, though volatile has begun to recover.

Of these accomplishments the Republicans played little or no part. Not even in the jobs department can the Republicans claim any credit. They voted against the stimulus package which was designed to invigorate the economy by providing funds for everything from new construction projects to saving teachers’ jobs. The Republicans were against the domestic auto industry bail-out which kept both GM and Chrysler solvent and operating, preserving hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans. Many Republicans even voted against the "Jobs Bill" which provided tax breaks for new hires. Notably, the Republican stimulus plan which was never more then half-baked, directed tax cuts and tax breaks and little else. It was always unclear how tax breaks would help people with no income. While the Republicans could argue a simple difference of philosophy when it came to health care and management of the wars, it could not make the same claim when it came to job creation. They simply had no credible plan and worse, helping out unemployed Americans did not appear to be a priority.

So with the mid-terms approaching and the economy just beginning to recover from the last Republicans administration what will the GOP be selling to encourage potential voters to support them? They cannot take credit for the economic turn-around because they voted against the legislative tools which helped make it happen. They can not tout a better health reform plan because they never presented one. Limbaugh said he wanted Obama to fail and elected Republicans did everything possible to make that happen by opposing every piece of legislation they could and offering nothing in the form of solutions. The only problem is that by hoping Obama failed the Republicans by extension were hoping the American people would fail. This November the voters may have a retort to those who planned their demise.


Friday, April 23, 2010

And the Lies Keep Coming...

The Republican effort to block Obama's attempt to right the ship after 8 years of poor decisions and bad policy continues. Having lost the health care reform battle the Republicans are now intent on making reform of the financial markets as difficult as possible. If one still needs proof as to whether the goal of the Republican Party is to make the lives of Americans better or ascend to power at all costs, this should settle the debate. There is little argument among sane people that a lack of regulation in the financial markets led to the worst economic disaster in 80 years. So you would think that given the mutual pain felt by all Americans a fix for the financial markets would enjoy, at last, bi-partisan support. Not so!

Mitch McConnell the Republican minority Senate leader still found things to grouse about and as they have with every significant bit of legislation, the Republicans invented a new lie to oppose it. Democrats had placed a provision in the bill whereby the Government could dismantle a bank or corporate entity that was threatening the financial markets and pay for the Government costs of the dismantling from a 50 billion dollar fund. The creation of the fund would come from private sector contributions. Seems straight forward, right? Well not to Mitch McConnell. He alleges that the fund will lead to more bail-outs even though this provision lies within the section of the bill entitled "Orderly Liquidation Authority".

A Republican television pundit explained that the creation of such a fund would ultimately be paid for by the tax payer because the Wall Street firms required to contribute would raise the costs to the consumers of their products to pay for their contribution. The twisted logic of this explanation aside, the Republicans, naturally, offer no solution as to who and how such a dismantling would be paid for.

Sadly, similar to the way an indulgent parent satisfies an irrational child, the Democrats may agree that a fund will be set up once the need to dismantle an entity arises. Anything to make the kid stop crying.

As if the problems that face the nation arising from the President's predecessor do not offer enough challenges the Republicans feel the need to mislead the public with each effort by the President to improve the situation of the American people. From Death Panels to the President's birth place, the Republican lies have been made shamelessly. No doubt, the President does not have all the answers and his solutions have not been perfect, yet the opposition is consistent only in its opposition and in its inability to constructively add to the debate. The Republicans hope their steadfast opposition to the President will pay off come election time. Certainly, the tea party types have been energized by Republican stonewalling and it will motivate them to get out the vote. But what about other Americans, specifically independents or moderates who just want to see things improve and for the Government to facilitate improvement? Will they tire of the Republican shenanigans? Most Americans must realize at this point that the Republican Party is far more interested in gaining political points then it is in dealing with the nation's problems. Obama, at least, cannot be blamed for passing bills to gain political advantage. Just the opposite, he has persevered in the face of ferocious opposition because he feels it is the right thing to do. If the American people collectively see the light and decide that it is better to have someone in power who seeks to positively change the status quo albeit imperfectly, Republicans may find their efforts are for naught.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Republican Party Ignites Violence

The big question in Washington D.C. and around the nation right now is whether the Republican Party is responsible for the current violence against Democratic members of the congress after passage of health care reform. Given what has been going on the last 14-months it should be no surprise that it has culminated in violence against those in favor of reform. During the town hall health care meetings last year I can recall distinctly watching Chuck Grassley, the long time Iowa Senator standing uncomfortably in front of constituents who very loudly denounced the "death panels" provision they believe existed in the health care reform bill. Sarah Palin herself condemned this part of the bill as she claimed it would be used to euthanize her son with Down syndrome. Grassley said that the death panels would be used to "pull the plug on Grandma". Now if I were a member of the tea party and I saw prominent members of the Republican Party affirming the existence of these panels then I might be inclined to believe these panels existed. And if I believed they existed, I think I would get very upset. Upset enough to get violent perhaps.

Herein lies the problem: there were no death panels, these panels are nothing more then a right wing fantasy. But one person's fantasy can become another's truth unless quickly rebutted. Grassley lacked the courage to address this untruth either because he was afraid he would lose their votes or because he was physically afraid of the mobs that confronted him. Then Grassley went one step further: he recommended the provision in dispute which actually referred to living wills be removed from the health reform bill because it was "confusing." So, Grassley not only failed to confront these people with the truth, he placated and encouraged them by reacting to the fantastical claim as if it were true.

Similarly, the Republicans have been loathe to confront birthers who contest Obama having been born in the United States. On this issue the Republicans once again sought to placate this claim. Republican Representative John Campbell of California announced that he would move on legislation to insure that each Presidential candidate show proof of birth. Campbell, like Grassley became a facilitator of ludicrous claims against Obama and the Government. Instead of doing his job and telling the people the truth, he found it easier to mollify them by acting as if these things were true. When the leaders of a mainstream party act as if the most ridiculous claims are true, how can we expect the uninformed and uneducated to understand what is going on? The Republicans are clearly fueling the madness. If mainstream politicians tell the people that the American Government plans to kill elderly Americans with their health care plan, then violence becomes a reasonable option. A lack of responsibility by Republicans can be directly linked to the irrationally rabid response of the tea party types and their brethren. Then, as the passage of health care reform got closer to reality the encouragement of violence by the Republicans became more direct. Hours before passage of the health care bill, protesting tea partyers called African-American lawmakers the "N" word and spit on them. Openly gay Representative Barney Frank was met with homosexual slurs as he too entered the capitol. Shortly after, Devin Nunes, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from California was interviewed on C-Span. When he was asked about the name calling and spitting directed toward his house colleagues he replied:

"I think when you use totalitarian tactics people begin to act crazy, people have every right to smear someone, they can do it, its not appropriate, I would stop short of characterizing twenty thousand people...[in this light]"

You would think that the first thing out of Representative Nunes' mouth would be a stern critique of the behavior described. Instead, he defends it as being an expected result of "totalitarian tactics". This is the first time I have ever heard voting by elected representatives described as totalitarian. And lest we forget, the Senate Health Bill passed 60-40. That is called a super majority. The final House Health Bill passed with a seven vote plurality. The Reconciliation Bill passed 54-43 in the Senate and by eight votes in the House. When a member of congress describes the normal workings of our democracy in such a misleading way, he necessarily fans the flames of malcontents. Soon after passage of the Health Bill, Democrats in various states complained of bricks being thrown through their office windows and threatening messages left on answering machines. Automobiles of Democrat politicians have been vandalized and the brother of one politician had the gas line to his home severed when his address was published on the internet.

The Republicans attempted to avoid being associated with these acts and sent Eric Cantor, the Republican whip to make a statement. He said he too had been the victim of harassment, by a bullet though his office window no less. A police investigation determined later that the bullet had actually been fired straight up in the air and then had fallen through the window of an office occasionally used by the congressman. The police stated that the bullet had not actually been aimed at Mr. Cantor's office. Anyway, Cantor wanted us to know he felt the Democrat's pain.

The Republicans have stirred the pot of this populist rage with blatant lies from death panels to the Health Bill having been passed undemocratically. Their deliberate campaign of misinformation has led to the point where for many people violence is an acceptable reaction.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Enough with Reagan Already!

Apparently Republicans in congress have little to do because some of them are floating around the idea of putting Ronald Reagan's image on the $50.00 bill. I guess being the party of "No" leaves plenty of time for amusing pursuits like preserving the legacy of one recent Republican President.

Just a few years ago the Republicans insisted on renaming the Airport in Washington D.C (originally called Washington National Airport) Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Now it seems they want to have him staring up at me from my bill fold for all eternity.

However, a problem arises: the $50.00 bill currently has an occupant or I guess the Republicans would consider him a squatter. That would be none other then Ulysses S. Grant the 18th President of the United States. In order for President Reagan to be placed on the bill they would have to oust old U.S. Grant. The Republicans must have sensed that of all the faces on the bills President Grant was the most vulnerable. But why?

Grant led the North to victory over a militarily more proficient South and then went on to become President of the nation. He played a key role in preserving the union: which many think is kind of a big deal. After the civil war Grant saw to reconstruction efforts that brought some former slaves to congress. Reagan on the other hand is known for cutting taxes but then also (less known) for raising them. In fact, he is responsible for one of the largest corporate tax hikes in history. Reagan started his Presidency with a 700 billion deficit and left with a three trillion dollar deficit. On the foreign policy front he is credited with helping to bring about the demise of the Soviet Union, which finally crumbled under his successor Bush I. In fact, Mikhail Gorbachev probably deserves a lot more credit for that then Reagan, but some Republicans would disagree. Notably, Grant was dead almost 30 years before he was put on the bill, Reagan has been dead six.

Do not get me wrong: although I am a Democrat I liked Reagan. I do not know why I liked him but growing up in the mid-eighties he reminded me of a kindly grandfather, with a twinkle in his eye, eating jelly beans by the fist full. I am just not sure he is dollar bill material since he is lacking (at this point) the historical weight to merit a memorial in my wallet. More than likely the impetus for all this is less a need to venerate Reagan and more the creation of a rally point for Republicans. Bush II followed the Republican creed of cutting taxes at all costs and drove the country off an economic cliff; then he pranced about like a cowboy and ended up starting a war for no reason with a trillion dollar price tag and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. The Republicans may feel that since the present does not bode well for their ideas why not harken back to the past. People may find comfort in the memory of the old actor and perhaps it will distract them for a moment from record high unemployment and an economic crisis unmatched in 80 years. Then again, the people may ask why politicians are not making better use of their time.

Here is a video from CNBC's Kudlow Report: Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is interviewed.