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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.   

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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.

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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.

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