Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yesterday's big news

When the history of the 2012 Presidential election is written, few will note that November 28, 2011 was the day when it became unassailably obvious that Barak Obama would be re-elected.

What was the news break? Was it Manchester Union-Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich? Or was it when Ginger White revealed her long and recent affair with Herman Cain?

None of the above.

Newt Gingrich was the soup de jour on the Any-But-Romney buffet. But New Hampshire is near Massachusetts, and the editorial board of the Union-Leader was familiar with Romney. Familiarity had the predictable multiplier effect on contempt, and nobody was surprised when the paper gave Mitt the back if its hand. That Gingrich would be the beneficiary, may have been an unforeseen godsend to the President. After all, Alex Wagner, hostess of the MSNBC morning news show, Now, actually uttered this sentence: “‘Loathsome’ is a word often used in connection with Newt Gingrich.” And yet, there are those who believe that Gingrich can actually win the election.

Herman Cain had no chance of being President for reasons too numerous to catalogue here. It could be argued that his demise as a candidate helps the Republican party because it shakes up the field and may advance the day when a real competitor will be sifted out.

The real news that was an answer to my question and to the President’s prayers came on the Rachel Maddow show, when guest Buddy Roemer announced that if he didn’t win the Republican nomination, he would run on the America Votes ticket.

Buddy Who? Roemer was a member of Congress before he became the governor of Louisiana. He was the CEO of a private company and made his fortune there. Legislative experience, executive experience in government and private enterprise – call it the tri-fecta. He has been an advocate for election reform for many years and he has limited contributions to his campaign to under $100. As a result, he has not been invited to any of the Republican debates because those who sponsor the debates only invite viable candidates and hold that any candidate who has not raised a certain amount of money is not viable. It has been said of Roemer, that he is “a dynamic orator who could light up an audience with his first two sentences. When he got wound up it was truly evangelical and, he made sense. His wiry, five foot seven, one-hundred thirty-five pound frame would seem to uncoil and grow as he outlined his vision as a fighter against crime, corruption and waste in government, poor education, taxes and industrial pollution.”

As governor, Roemer called a special session of the legislature to push an ambitious tax and fiscal reform program for state and local governments. He vowed to slash spending, abolish programs, and close state-run institutions. Voters ultimately rejected his proposals, but times have changed, and what he served up is just what the Republicans are hungry for. Roemer vetoed an anti-abortion law, on grounds that it was unconstitutional. His veto was over-ridden, but in the end, he was vindicated because the law was, in fact, ruled unconstitutional. Though he is twice divorced, and thrice married, his personal life does not have the baggage connected with the salacious details and hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich.

In short, he is a perfect match for America Votes.

America who? America Votes is a grass roots organization that seeks to change the way that we select Presidential candidates. It intends to have a national internet primary. It promises the victor 50 state ballot access. Given Roehmer’s go-go (good government) credentials, he seems like a prohibitive odds-on favorite to win the internet primary.

What does it mean? It means that in every state, Republicans who are disenchanted with their candidate will have a choice other than voting for the President or staying home. It is obvious that a lot of Republicans who don’t like Romney will hold their nose and vote for him. But a good two or three percent of Republicans are either too bigoted to vote for a Mormon, or just simply feel, as I do, that Romney doesn’t care about people like me. A one or two point decline in support for Romney in key states is all it takes to deliver them to Obama.

Gingrich’s road is an uphill, long shot battle as is, but if one or two percent of his hoped-for voters defect to Roemer, he can wave goodbye to any hope of being elected. Thanks, Buddy!

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

If you are a one issue voter, and your one issue is Israel

A friend of mine, whom I respect greatly, recently said that any one of the Republican hopefuls is preferable to Barack Obama. Maybe this is because she thinks that Obama is not a staunch enough supporter of Israel.

I was thinking of this while watching the Sunday talk shows today. This week, the Defense Minister and former Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak appeared on the Sunday morning talk show, Fareed Zakaria GPS. The host is editor-at-large and a columnist for TIME magazine, and a columnist for The Washington Post.

 I found this exchange particularly interesting:

ZAKARIA: You know that there are people in the United States who've criticized President Obama for not supporting Israel strongly enough. Do you believe that President Obama is a very strong supporter of Israel?   
BARAK: He is extremely strong supporter of Israel in regard to - to its security. Traditionally, the president will support in Israel in keeping its collective military edge and taking care of its security needs. But this administration is excelling in this. And it could not have happened without the immediate direct support of the president. So I don't think that anyone can raise any question mark about the devotion of this president to the security of Israel.  
It doesn't mean that we cannot have difference of opinion at this or that point about this or that other aspect of what happens around us, Middle East or the peace process. I would love to see the American president agree to everything that comes from  our government, but I think that's too - kind of idealistic. 

 What does Ehud Barack know, that my friend does not?

It should be recalled that President Obama has successfully fought off Palestinian membership in the General Assembly, and is the first President to explicitly recognize that Israel is a “Jewish State,” (i.e. no right of return for Palestinians.)

To help insure the safety and security of Israel, the Obama administration has realized unprecedented levels of military cooperation with the state of Israel. The administration’s request for $2.775 billion to aid in Israel in fiscal year 2010 was the largest request in history. In F.Y. 2011, the administration requested even more: $3 billion.

“We’re talking about the realization of the Iron Dome missile defense system that will be funded out of this money and it will be saving Israeli lives from rockets, wherever they come from. That is real-that is not just a number, folks, that is a real live tangible impact on Israelis’ lives," according to Jarrod Bernstein, the President's Jewish community laison.

The President is winning the diplomatic war over Iran’s nuclear program. “On Iran, the president has spent more time trying to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions than any other foreign policy issue,” Bernstein said. “And it’s something that he raises every single time he’s in a room with a foreign world leader, about what more we can be doing.”

 “He’s also galvanized the international community to impose the toughest set of sanctions on Iran to date. In fact, he made the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledge in the Iranian parliament how hard of a time he’s having because of the American sanctions. And that is not something you hear very often in Iran, folks,” said Bernstein.

Finally, President Obama called for a “non-militarized” Palestinian state. No President has ever taken such a pro-Israel stance, and it is remarkable that this position has not drawn more attention. What has drawn attention is his call for a return to pre-1967 borders, with agreed upon swaps. This is essentially the same as  President G.W. Bush's demand outlined in a press release dated January 10, 2008 in which he referred to the Israeli presence in all of Jerusalem as an  “occupation.”
“The point of departure for a permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. ... While territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.”
And of course, this is the position of the Israeli government, too.

 Well, maybe my friend thinks that there is a Republican who is a better candidate than Obama on Israel or some other issue. So let’s take a look: For some time now the Republican presidential hopefuls have been campaigning and debating in hopes of being the last man or woman standing at the end of the nominating process. Mitt Romney has never been able to attract a following of more than 25% which is not surprising when one considers he is the spiritual godfather of individual mandates in healthcare reform.

Tim Pawlenty was seen as a reasonable alternative, except for the small problem that no body wanted to hear from him, much less give him money. So, after a flirtation with birther Donald Trump, the search for an alternative began in earnest.

 First up was Michelle Bachman, who, as I pointed out in these precincts wants to raise taxes on the poor in spite of her signature on a Grover Norquist pledge. She’s hoping for a second look now, but during her first pass, she could not think of anything to say other than “Make Obama a one-term President,” and repeal health care reform.

 The Republicans called out for another candidate and they got Rick Perry. The Texas governor who accused Romney of being a magnet for illegal aliens gives in-state tuition to illegal aliens attending college in his own state, and called anyone who disagreed with him “heartless.”

His pathetic debate performances highlighted the fact that he is not ready for prime time. A main ingredient in his stump speech, and, indeed, in his philosophy of government is that it should be streamlined by cutting out three government departments. On the test question, “Can you name them?” he got 67% right.

As if the comedian’s-full-employment-act had suddenly been signed into law, up popped Herman Cain, who clearly didn't know what is meant by “Palestinian right of return,” when asked about it.  Long before Cain was running for president and getting attention for his “bold 9-9-9 plan,” the residents of SimCity 4 -- which was released in 2003 -- were living under a system where the default tax rate was 9 percent for commercial taxes, 9 percent for industrial taxes and 9 percent for residential taxes.

During a debate in Iowa, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza recited his favorite inspirational quote: “A poet once said, ‘life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it’s never easy when there’s so much on the line.’”

 The poet? It’s from the theme of Pokémon: The Movie 2000, sung by the great disco queen Donna Summers.

Then came the sexual scandals, which, bad enough though they were, were not the worst of it. That would be his disastrous handling of the accusations which included thinly veiled threats aimed at other women inclined to come forward, and statements to the effect that there were thousands of women who he did not sexually harass.

The shameless invocation of Justice Thomas’s memorable phrase “high tech lynching,” was especially offensive because (1) I believe Anita Hill, (2) Our attitudes and understanding about sexual harassment has evolved since then, thanks, in part to Dr. Hill's bravery, (3)Thomas should not have been confirmed, and should in fact be impeached, and, (4) Cain was pretty darn quick to play the race card when it suited him.

What seemed like it must be the final stake through his heart was his gaffe in which he responded to a question about Libya with no apparent idea if he was talking about a country in Africa, in which President Obama had masterfully overseen the ousting of a vicious dictator/terrorist, or the tattooed lady made famous by Groucho Marx:  

You might think that was the end of Cain, but as it happens he managed to go downhill from there. Recall, if you will that Cain had once campaigned on a promise that all bills would be required to be no longer than three pages. Jon Stewart did an impersonation of Cain and then threw up a mock billboard that read: “HERMAN CAIN 2012 - I DON'T LIKE TO READ.”

Frankly, I thought it was hilarious. But in the immortal words of Ron Popiel, “Wait! There’s more!”

Cain tried to explain away his Libya gaffe by saying that the American people want “a leader, not a reader.” As goofy as the notion that Americans don’t want an informed President is, he trumped that, too! It turns out that the line was stolen from – wait for it – The Simpson’s Movie!

Next up is Newt Gingrich. The former lobbyist for Freddy Mac is hoping that he can get the nomination for President by vilifying his former client who paid him millions of dollars. This is the same Newt who said in September of 2008, “I think Senator McCain should have turned and said, ‘Senator Obama, are you prepared to give back all the money that Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae gave to you?’”

Things aren’t going well for Newt when Jack Abramoff accuses him of “engaging in the exact kind of corruption that America disdains.” Gingrich who has worked with Al Sharpton and Hillary Clinton also worked for the Heritage Foundation from whence Mitt Romney got the idea for individual mandates.

Gingrich has got more baggage than an airport carousel, but he has tried to excuse his serial philandering by saying that it was partly because of his “passion for this country.”  I can understand that excuse: I’ve seen Calista and I understand the joke to which the punch-line is “Do it for Old Glory." But what was Calista’s reasoning?

Maybe she is drawn to men with power – he was the Speaker of the House at the time that they began their affair. Maybe she just likes a guy with a million dollar line of credit at Tiffany’s, but that’s not the point. The point is the brazen hypocrisy of carrying on an affair while impeaching the President for – well, we all know what for.

I could go on for hours about Newt Gingrich’s personal failings but why bother? The guy is a pathetic liar, but that’s not why the Republicans will reject him. His real problem is that he is trying to court the religious right, most of whom are devout Southern Baptists. That’s the faith that he rejected when he converted to Roman Catholicism, a church which many Southern Baptists believe is headed by the anti-Christ.

 To me, they’re all gentiles, which I suppose is another thing I have in common with Jon Huntsman, besides the fact that neither one of us can get more than 3% support within the Republican party.

Luckily for Ron Paul, the media refuses to take him seriously, because if he ever gets the spotlight, his ugly association with his racist followers will pull the scab off an oozing wound on the Republican body politic.

Rick Santorum is the only guy I haven’t mentioned, and perhaps by the time you read this he will have run out of money. After all, he seems to be trying to be too conservative for the Tea Party, and his steadfast opposition to abortion and equality for gays is so extreme that even they realize that he is unelectable. The next President will probably have to win Pennsylvania, and Perry has already lost in state-wide election there.

So, what does it all add up to?

First, if you would be honest, you must admit that Obama is a staunch and able ally of Israel.

Second, he is going to be re-elected because there is no Republican who can win, and darn few that can be considered serious candidates.

Third, if you want to be a friend of Israel, give your support to Obama, so that he will continue to honor the opinions of “Lovers of Zion,” like myself and the friend I referenced above.

 “… and tell ‘em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The State of Palestinian Governance

In August 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and forcibly evicted Jewish settlers. Israel was criticized for this by Jews and Arabs alike.

In June 2007, elections were held in the Gaza, and Hamas won, although the legitimacy of the election is disputed. Be that as it may, the terrorist organization, Hamas promptly evicted the vanquished Palestinian Authority to the disputed territories of Judea and Sumaria, more commonly known as the West Bank. It is more accurate to say that Hamas won a civil war in Gaza than to credit with an electoral win. In no way, can the so-called election be considered a victory for democracy.

The Palestinian Authority, dominated by the terrorist organization formerly known as the PLO, are the same people who invented airplane hijacking and who ripped off their constituents to make Yassar Arafat fabulously wealthy.

Since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza, rockets have rained down on Israel from Gaza continuously. Hamas does not dispute that its goal is to destroy Israel, and any peace treaty that may be arrived at is seen by them as a first step towards that goal.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority held elections and Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party became President. However, his term has expired and there is no legitimate leader of the Palestinian Authority, which has re-named itself the Palestinian National Authority. Abbas clings to power by the conceit of refusing to convene Palestinian Legislative Council on the transparent pretense that there are not enough people to constitute a legislative body.

In April 2011, Fatah and Hamas came to an agreement which allowed Hamas to join in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and calling for elections within a year. If the coalition of Fatah and Hamas can hold together until the elections they will surely have a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council. In other words, the proposed Palestinian state will be governed for a coalition that includes members who make no secret of their desire to destroy a member state of the U.N.

To review: Abbas is not the legitimate leader of the Palestinian National Authority, and the Palestinian National Authority is not the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians living in the disputed territories of the Gaza strip and the West Bank. The application to the United Nations for recognition as a state does not refer to recognized boarders but does include a government committed to the destruction of Israel. Of course, the application should be rejected.

Love or Obama or hate him, but give him credit for standing up for Israel at the United Nations and for opposing the idea of rewarding Palestinian intransigence with a state.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bachmann wants to RAISE taxes!

In South Carolina today, candidate Michelle Bachmann held a town hall meeting at Myrtle Beach. She took a question about taxes. Here's her response:
“The question ‘What will I do to bring in the 50% of people who don’t pay taxes?’ It is unbelievable that today, the latest statistics we have, is that 53% of American’s pay taxes, 47% do not. It may even be worse than that this year. This is incomprehensible. Because every person in this county – I don’t care who you are – you have a stake in the success of the United States of America. Every single person should pay something!”
There you have it, folks. Michele Bachmann is in favor of raising taxes as nearly half of all Americans.

Let us not forget that Ms. Bachmann also promised to get gas prices down to under $2.00 per gallon. Everyone knows that the only way to get that is to have a serious recession. So, at least we know where she stands: raising taxes on half of the population of the United States and causing economic havoc.

Sure, we know she was a little bat-shit crazy before this. But that has been mostly on social conservatism issues, like cure-the-gay, and submissive wives. There is a dash of anti-intellectualism that spices up her views on global warming and evolution. But she presents as a serious woman when it comes to her tax bona fides. That was then, and this is now, and now she is running to out crazy a guy who wants to be the President of the country he wants to secede from.

And yet, people are still betting on Obama to lose the election.

“... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Friday, August 12, 2011

“Give ’em hell, Barry!” Part 2

The Republican controlled Congress has brought the country to the brink of disaster. In Part 1, of this post, I argued that the clear path to victory for Barak Obama is to ignore the Republican nominee and run against Congress the way Harry S Truman did in 1948, earning for himself a second term and a place in history as one of the greatest upset victors in history.

As usual, the President does not seem to be taking my advice. I would not find this surprising in and of itself, but for the fact that Obama is such a smart man that I would have figured him to come to this on his own.

Instead, the President is said to be preparing a campaign that capitalizes on Romney’s shortcomings. People think Romney is weird. His business experience consists of buying companies, firing employees and selling the companies in parts – hardly the resume you want if the country is clamoring for jobs creation. Romney-care was the template for Obama-care, et cetera, ad nauseum.

Will it work? People hate negative campaigning but the fact is that it works, especially if the candidate isn’t perceived as the first one to go negative. But in the case of Obama there are special circumstances. First, as an incumbent, negative campaigning may be perceived as infra dig. Second, it is so counter to the President’s persona, as we have come to know it, that it may appear to be desperation. Beyond that, given Obama’s personality, whether or not he could pull it off is a fair question. Finally, there will be plenty of surrogates available to remind the public of why we don’t like Romney, and the question is what should the President do. What I have proposed is not inimical to surrogates attacking Romney.

But what would it look like if the President followed the advice of Big Mitch, and patterned his campaign after the 1948 campaign of President Truman? Let's take a look.
Harry Truman called a special session of Congress known as the Turnip Day session during his 1948 presidential campaign. The Research Division of the Democratic National Committee came up with the idea as a way to dramatize the differences between the Republican platform and the performance of the Republican Congress. The special session of Congress, which began on the day known as “Turnip Day” in Missouri, proved to be an effective strategy in Truman's campaign.
Batt, William L., Jr., Origin of the 1948 Turnip Day Session of Congress (Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol 29 No 1 March 1999)

Today, in Michigan the President addressed factory workers. Here’s some of what he said:
You know, in the aftermath of this whole debt ceiling debacle, and when the markets going up and down like they are, there’s been a lot of talk in Washington right now that I should call Congress back early. The last thing we need is Congress spending more time arguing in D.C. (Applause.) What I figure is, they need to spend more time out here listening to you and hearing how fed up you are. (Applause.) That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’ll be traveling to a lot of communities like this one over the next week. That’s what Congress should be doing -- go back home, listen to people’s frustrations with all the gridlock. Listen to how frustrated folks are with the constant bickering and the unwillingness to compromise and the desire to score points, even if it’s at the expense of our country. And if they’re listening hard enough, maybe they’ll come back to Washington ready to compromise and ready to create jobs and ready to reduce our deficit -- ready to do what you sent them there to do.
Maybe he is just ignoring my advice. Or maybe he is laying the ground work for a call to convene Congress next summer. You know what they say in Missouri,
On the twenty-fifth of July, Sow your turnips, wet or dry...

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Romney is weird, but why mention it now?

Soon, I will post an addition to my previous post, “Give ’em hell!” But I want to quickly respond to the leaked news that Obama is planning to run a negative campaign against Romney. Look, this news didn’t leak out because of a slip of the tongue. Someone in the Obama corner planted it in the press for a reason. And what would that be?

Off the top of my head, they wanted to boost Romney’s chances of getting the nomination.

Here’s how it would work. Negative campaigning is perceived as a desperate tactic. Letting the story get out creates the impression that Romney is the only one that Obama is afraid of. That has to be good for Mitt.

Why would the President’s political team want to boost Romney’s chances of being nominated? They know any easy mark when they see one. They have been concerned about Huntsman for years, which accounts for why they sent him to the other side of the world. Gingrich is a capable orator, and he could damage the President even if he can’t win the election. After a little more exposure to wild-eyed craziness, a la Bachmann, Paul, and Cain, boring might start to look good, to the benefit of Pawlenty.

I didn’t mention Perry, because his craziness is of the squinty-eyed variety, redolent of George W. Bush. Suffice it to say of Perry, that the Bush people say he is “more interested in sound bites, than drilling down into the issues.” If you are too shallow for George W. Bush acolytes, you might as well have “No diving” tattooed on your forehead.

Of the three real potential candidates– Romney, Gingrich, and Pawlenty – Romney is easiest to beat.

Want an example? On the stump today in Arizona, Romney got laughed at for saying “Corporations are people.” Really, Mitt? Doesn't that mean that any corporation with a net income of more than $379,150 should be taxed at a marginal rate of 35%?*

Here’s another example: Tonight Faux News aired a debate in Iowa, in advance of the straw poll coming up this Saturday. Here’s Romney talking about withdrawing from Afghanistan:
Sometime within the next two years, we are going to draw down our troop strength and reach a point where the Afghan military is able to preserve the sovereignty of their own nation from the tyranny of the Taliban. That has to happen. It's time for the troops of Afghanistan to take on that responsibility, according to -- as I said in the last debate -- according to the timetable established and communicated by the generals in the field.

Those generals recommended to President Obama we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012. He took a political decision to draw them down faster than that. That is wrong. We should follow the recommendation of the generals, and we should now look for the people of Afghanistan to pick up their fight and preserve that liberty that has been so dearly won.
Spoken like a real Commander-in-chief, Mitsy. You should just come out and say, “I will do whatever the Generals tell me to do, because I don’t know shit.” I realize that you can’t help to criticizing whatever the President does, but really, do you want to court the “we need to stay in Afghanistan longer” vote?

Good luck with that …

“ … and tell ‘em Big Mitch sent ya!”

* Tip o' the hat to my pride and joy.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Give ’em hell!

You could say that the midterm elections resulted in a shellacking. I’m talking about the 1946 midterm election which resulted in a Republican pick up of 55 seats in the House, giving them a majority. Democrats had controlled the house for 14 years. In the Senate, Republicans gained 12 seats and also took over the majority. The election was seen as a referendum on President Truman.

Two years later, Democrats regained control of congress and Truman, who had ascended to the presidency when FDR died, was returned to office. How did it happen, and what lessons does the 1948 election hold for us today?

In 1948, the Republican nominee was Thomas Dewey, popular governor of the largest state, New York. The easterner was chosen after a contentious convention rather than Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, who campaigned for the nomination as an isolationist. Harold Stassen, the wonder boy from Minnesota, who had knocked out any hopes of Douglas MacArthur’s supporters, could not extend his popularity beyond his Midwest base. When Stassen lost the Ohio primary to Taft, and then lost the first ever nationally broadcast debate to Dewey in advance of the Oregon primary, it was all over but the shouting.

Basically, Dewey’s success was as an eastern establishment Republican. He prevailed against challengers who wanted to abolish many of the New Deal social welfare programs that had been created in the 1930s, which they regarded as too expensive and harmful to business interests. Dewey had previous experience, having been the Republican nominee against Roosevelt in 1944, but he was unpopular with Republicans who considered him cold, stiff and calculating. He was compared to “the little man on the wedding cake,” by Teddy Roosevelt’s socialite daughter.

As you might expect, an incumbent President was the odds-on favorite to win the nomination of his party. However, Truman was not without detractors. Liberals were not enthusiastic supporters of Truman – the Progressive party had their own nominee, former Vice-president (under FDR) Henry Wallace. Nor was the Democratic Party popular in what had been called the solid south. Because of Truman’s support of civil rights, the southern Democrats peeled off and formed the States Rights Democratic Party, aka the Dixiecrats. They nominated Strom Thurmond.

Given the three way split in the Democratic party, and the fact that the Republicans had taken control of both houses of the United States Congress as well as a majority of state governorships during the 1946 midterm elections by running against Truman, it came as no surprise that public-opinion polls showed Truman trailing Republican nominee Dewey, sometimes by double digits, after the Democratic convention.

Interestingly, the conventional wisdom had it that the front-runner after the conventions would be the eventual winner. Accordingly, little attention was paid to polling in the run-up to the election, with the result that the 1948 election is remembered as one of the greatest upsets in the history of electoral politics.

Today, the talking heads are saying that Obama’s most likely opponent is Mitt Romney and that the President is a slight underdog. As of this writing, Intrade, the on-line betting site, calculates only a 54.8% chance of Obama winning.

The comparison between Romney and Dewey is obvious. Both are not beloved of the Republican Party. While Dewey was considered “calculating,” Mitt Romney’s flip-flopping is legendary. Basically, he will say whatever he expects his audience wants to hear. Although Romney never received his party’s nomination, he does have the experience considered necessary to get it this time. To do so, Romney will have to prevail over the most conservative elements in his party including crazies from Minnesota, who want to turn back the clock on the New Deal.

Moreover, in the general election, Dewey was so sure of victory that his strategy was basically “take no chances and don’t blow a good thing.” In its execution it amounted to speeches filled with mealy-mouthed assertions of the obvious, including the now infamous quote “You know that your future is still ahead of you.” Although Romney has made more aggressive statements about his putative opponent, he has a history of back-tracking and flip-flopping that leaves his words with no more gravitas than Dewey’s. Consider how long it has taken him to come up with a snappy retort to the fact that Obama-care was patterned after his program in Massachusetts. Has he yet?

And what of the comparison between Harry S-for-nothing Truman, and President Obama, who has been accused of standing for nothing? Truman was an unelected incumbent, while Obama – who won decisively in 2008 – has never been considered fully legitimate by certain elements in the country. It is foolish to discount the existence of racism in the Old South, but suffice to say, the old Dixiecrats are now Republicans.

It is widely reported that Obama faces a serious enthusiasm gap, but it is hard to imagine that it is any worse than the abandonment by the left that Truman experienced. Truman’s Democratic base in the solid south split off from the party. It is hard to think of Dems similarly walking away from Obama, especially since many in Obama’s camp are Black, and he remains overwhelmingly popular with them. Someone is sure to remind the African-American community that not too long ago—in Romney’s lifetime—the Mormon Church openly discriminated against those whom they regard as bearing “the mark of Cain.” Furthermore, many bigoted voters in the South have as much of a problem with Romney, whom they regard as un-Christian, as they do with Obama.

But Obama may have a problem that Truman didn’t. It’s the economy. Unemployment is at 9%, the credit worthiness of the United States has been downgraded. The deficit is large and recent kerfuffle regarding the debt ceiling has made lots of folk antsy for lots of reasons. As I write these words, investors are awaiting with dread the opening of the market on Monday morning.

Congress is so dysfunctional that Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL) commenting on the 14% approval rating said he was surprised that congressmen had so many relatives. And herein lies the reason the Obama should follow Truman’s example.

The key element of Truman’s re-election campaign was to run against that 80th Congress, whom he described as “do nothing, and good-for-nothing.” Truman’s attack was caustic and unrelenting. He toured the country and everywhere he went, enthusiastic crowds shouted, “Give ’em hell, Harry!” Although there were no debates in those days, nor even television, American movie theaters agreed to play two newsreel-like campaign films in support of the Republican and the Democratic nominee. Truman was strapped for campaign funds and so he relied upon public-domain and newsreel footage of him taking part in major world events and signing important legislation. For undecided voters, the Truman film reinforced the image or the President as being engaged and decisive.

Truman simply ignored the fact that Dewey's policies were considerably more liberal than most of his fellow Republicans, and instead he concentrated his fire against what he characterized as the conservative, obstructionist tendencies of the unpopular 80th Congress. If you think Romney will not move back to the center after his flirtation with the extremist elements in his party, you’re naïve. But if you are right, Obama is a shoe-in.

The problem with this advice is the same problem that condemns all good advice. To be useful, it must be heeded. Obama came to national prominence as an orator who extolled the fact that there is “not a blue America, or a red America, but only a United States of America.” He has tried to be the great compromiser, and this tendency may have been his undoing in the recent debt ceiling negotiations. He has tried to appease the right, appeal to the center and hold on to the left.

President Obama believes in the basic goodness of the American people, and he wants to govern from the middle of the road. But as Dan Rather in his inimitable way, pointed out today, “The only thing in the middle of the road is yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” So Mr. President, stand up and fight for what Americans believe in.

Give ’em hell, Barry! And remember what President Truman said: “I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.”

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Knowing Republicans (in the Biblical sense)

We read in Genesis 41 that Pharaoh had two dreams that his advisers could not interpret for him. In one, seven fat, healthy cows are devoured by seven meager and ugly cows. In the other, seven healthy ears of corn are consumed by seven sickly ears of corn. Joseph is called upon to explain the meaning of these dreams to Pharaoh:

25. And Joseph said to Pharaoh, Pharaoh's dream is one; what God is doing He has told Pharaoh.

26. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears of grain are seven years; it is one dream.

27. And the seven meager and ugly cows coming up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears of grain, beaten by the east wind, will be seven years of famine.

28. It is this matter that I have spoken to Pharaoh; what God is about to do He has shown Pharaoh.

29. Behold, seven years are coming, great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt.

30. And seven years of famine will arise after them, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will destroy the land.

31. And the plenty will not be known because of that famine to follow, for it [will be] very severe.

32. And concerning the repetition of the dream to Pharaoh twice that is because the matter is ready [to emanate] from God, and God is hastening to execute it.

33. So now, let Pharaoh seek out an understanding and wise man and appoint him over the land of Egypt.

34. Let Pharaoh do [this] and appoint officials over the land and prepare the land of Egypt during the seven years of plenty.

35. And let them collect all the food of these coming seven good years, and let them gather the grain under Pharaoh's hand, food in the cities, and keep it.

36. Thus the food will remain as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will be in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not be destroyed by the famine."

37. The matter pleased Pharaoh and all his servants.

You bet it pleased Pharaoh. If it weren’t for Joseph, his nation would have been plunged into famine that would have killed millions. Pharaoh had billed himself out as a god, and a famine that kills the majority of his nation is bad for the brand. Joseph’s plan offered a way out of this problem. The plan worked out so well that Joseph was elevated to the position of viceroy, and the nation of Egypt survives to this day.

But it didn’t have to be that way. Imagine if Joseph’s plan had to also account for political realities that included a Republican House of Representatives intent upon toppling the regime. What would that look like?

38. But lo! There were those among his advisers who were not loyal to the Pharaoh. They huddled together and said, Who has made Pharaoh to be a god above us? Are we not fit to rule the empire as is he?

39. They looked upon his alabaster palaces, his monuments, and even unto the jewels with which he was bedecked. And they thought of the many who would face famine, while Pharaoh lived amid such magnificence and splendor.

40. And they had another thought. Thus said they, We, too, want to live in splendor and magnificence, for surely we have merited it. Were not our fathers men of stature?

41. God’s word to Joseph was fulfilled. Verily, the land produced a great abundance and a surplus of all manner of grains, such that the Egyptians needed to build great storehouses as Joseph directed, so that they could store the grain for the seven years of famine.

42. Now, the advisors who were not loyal to Pharaoh huddled together again. They looked upon the vast storehouses of grain, and they thought of the many who would face famine. And they said, We, too, want vast storehouses of grain, for surely we merit it. Were not our fathers men of stature?

43. So, they went abroad in the land and they spoke to the multitudes. Thus, said they: Our fathers were men of stature, so surely we know whereof we speak. Look you upon the wealth of our kingdom. Do you see starvation?

44. And the multitudes answered as one, There is no starvation in this land.

45. And they said, Are there not great surpluses, and storehouses of wealth, and gold and jewels in the Pharaoh’s alabaster palaces? And the multitudes answered as one, Yea, verily, it is so.

46. The disloyal advisors continued further. Does the Pharoah need more gold? Why then does he demand that we bring him grain?

47. The multitudes were confounded. And they said, we have been taxed too much, for surely, the Pharaoh has grain and gold and jewels. And lo! They believed it for they saw with their own eyes that the storehouses were overflowing with grain. So, they stopped bringing grain to the storehouses, and thus they departed from the plan that had been revealed to them by Joseph.

48. Now the disloyal advisors were wealthy men, for their fathers had been men of stature. And they built great storehouses for their own grain, for the land continued to produce more than they could use. And the multitudes could not store their grain, for they had not the wherewithal to build great storehouses. And vermin seized the grain that the multitudes could not consume.

49. But the men of substance said to the multitudes, give us your grain, and we will store it in the great storehouses. And you will pay us to store the grain, that you may have it in your time of need.

50. And it was well with the multitudes. Verily, they had enough to eat, and lo, they had savings with which to protect themselves against famine if ever it should arise.

51. And they forgot that the seven years of plenty were the work of God. And they believed that they, in their wisdom, had made the grain to grow. And they thought they could do no wrong.

52. Now the men of substance said, For storing your grain in our storehouses, and because we are wise men of substance, whose fathers were men of stature, you must pay us to use our storehouses one half of one half of one half of your grain each year that you shall use our storehouses.

53. And the multitudes readily agreed, for verily there was no want in the land. And so it was that after 7 years, there was but little grain in the storehouses for the multitudes, for the men of substance had earned it all by storing it in the storehouses that they had seen fit to build.

54. And so it was that the mighty Pharaoh had to borrow wealth from his neighbors so that the masses could be fed. For he had learned, that during seven fat years, it is wise to do as God had foretold to him through Joseph, and save for lean years.

55. And so, he borrowed from his neighbors to the east.

56. And the famine became hard on the multitudes, for lo, the grain that they had stored in the storehouses of the men of substance was lost to them for now it belonged to the men of substance.

57. But Pharaoh’s heart was not yet hardened, and his saw the misery of the people. So he borrowed more from his neighbors to the east. And he promised to them, that upon his oath, they would be paid back when good times returned, and he pledged to them the good reputation of the men of substance and of his entire kingdom.

58. For, surely, he said, the men of substance will pay their fair share, as they have benefitted the most and indeed, it was their cunning that had caused his nation to foreswear saving in the kingdom’s storehouses.

59. When the cunning men of substance heard that they would be expected to help the nation pay the neighbors to the east, they recoiled in horror. Said they, We did not cause this famine. We have saved for ourselves in our own great storehouses. And so, they forbade the Pharaoh to borrow any further.

60. And there was great starvation in the land.

61. And the neighbors to the east said, You have made a pledge to us. Will thou not uphold the honor of your nation? And thus Pharoah came to understand the words of Joseph regarding “the seven empty ears of grain, beaten by the east wind.”

62. Thus, did Pharaoh implore the men of substance: If it pleases you, and if your heart has been moved by the suffering of the people whom you did lead astray, and if you value your honor, then I beseech you to let me borrow from the neighbors to the east.

63. But the men of substance said, What will you do for us, if we allow you to do this thing for youself?

64. And the Pharaoh responded, What is it you demand of me?

65. And the men of substance replied as one, You must promise to us that we will never again save for lean years, but rather that which you spend shall be neither more nor less than what you collect from the multitudes. And you enshrine into law this promise, so that it will be a covenant for all time.

66. And so it was that Pharaoh enacted a law that forbade him to save grain during fat years, and thus, he was unable to feed the multitudes in the lean years. And his nation became impoverished. And there was a great suffering in the land, for the people had been persuaded by the men of substance to disobey God’s plan which was to care for all the people He had created.

“ … and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Monday, July 11, 2011

If not now, when?

President Obama summed up the need for a comprehensive budget deal with these memorable words: “If not now, when?” Many may have presumed that the President was trying to appease right-wingers by quoting their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, who used the same quote without attribution in his second inaugural address.

Actually, the author is Rabbi Hillel, who lived from 30 BCE to 9 CE and is recognized as one of the very greatest Jewish scholars in history. The full quote is, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

The President would do well to remember the entire quote. The President was elected because he is a man of the people. If he doesn’t stick up for his core constituencies, who will be for him? If he wants to serve the country he loves, he needs to get reelected. I hear talk that his reelection is not a sure thing. If he buckles on social security, on medicare, on tax breaks for millionaires, then I guess one has to wonder from whom his passionate support will come.

And what of these people whose greed is so out of control and so over the top that they have the nerve to say that they need more tax cuts? They are only for themselves, and the President doesn’t need to lower himself to their level. Indeed, he needs to oppose these kleptocrats.

By the way, if President Obama wants to pay homage to St. Ronny, he should remind the Republicans that during Reagan’s term the debt ceiling was raised 17 times, taxes were raised in 7 of 8 years, and tax rates were higher than they are now.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch set ya!”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Calling out Justice Roberts

Campaign Finance Law Strikes Out

“Every judge I appoint,” said President George W. Bush, “will be a person who clearly understands the role of a judge is to interpret the law, not to legislate from the bench.” He appointed John Roberts, the current Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Sounds good, eh? Who wants activist judges passing legislation? Besides the fact that it is impossible, it is just not democratic. But one thing that courts can do is repeal legislation. It’s not any more democratic, but at least judges can be activists to further an agenda if that’s the kind of judges they are.

And that’s the kind of judge John Roberts is. You bet he has an agenda. What’s his game? It’s serving up softballs to the rich and mighty. Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett is a perfect example.

The State of Arizona through the democratic process of citizen referendum, enacted a law that was intended to “level the playing field” of electoral politics by eliminating the advantage that money bestows upon thems that got it. The system was a model of simplicity. You could get funding for your campaign if you promised not to spend any money of your own. If your opponent started to spend his own money on a campaign, the state would match it up to a limit. Note that your opponent could spend as much of his money as he likes: there’s no limit. The Supreme Court, in Citizens United, held that money is speech and so, ipso facto, the law in no way restricts free speech.

Let’s take a look at the curve-ball Roberts court threw the citizens of Arizona. As the income curve in the United States begins to resemble a bell curve less and the grin of a Cheshire Cat more, up go the barrier to entry in diverse fields like, say, politics. Of course, anyone can beg for money to run for political office. But that means that in order to become elected, you have to become, if not indebted, at least beholden to the moneyed class. By a strange coincidence, the opinion in AZ Free Enterprise v. Bennett came down on the same day that the jury handed up a verdict in United States vs. Blagojevich.

Before John Roberts was confirmed he made his pitch to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment. … And I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” As it turns out, he threw a knock down pitch at the body politic when he authored a judicial repeal of the Arizona law enacted to prevent corruption and level the playing field.

As Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion of AZ Free Enterprise v. Bennett, “‘Leveling the playing field’ can sound like a good thing. But in a democracy, campaigning for office is not a game.”

The funny thing is that I don’t much care for a level playing field, either. I prefer a mound 10 inches high, 18 feet in diameter, with the front edge 50 feet, 6 inches from home plate. I guess that makes me more like an umpire than John Roberts is.

And speaking of baseball, here's what Justice Elana Kagan, the woman who saved the National Pastime, said in her dissenting opinion:

Less corruption, more speech. Robust campaigns leading to the election of representatives not beholden to the few, but accountable to the many. The people of Arizona might have expected a decent respect for those objectives. Today, they do not get it.... Truly, democracy is not a game.

Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the UC Irvine School of Law, put it this way: “Campaign finance laws have now gone 0 for 5 in the Roberts Court.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Who wants a shutdown?

Suppose for the moment that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was serious when he said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

And assume that Michelle Bachmann meant it when she told the Conservative Political Action Conference, “The all-important must have for 2012 is making Barack Obama a one-term president.”

Back in September, when people were preparing for a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, Speaker-to-be John Boehner held a series of talks to plan their agenda. “The goal, obviously, would be to make it a one-term presidency,” said a GOP lobbyist familiar with the talks.

Let’s take them at their word. If you were to plan the defeat of President Obama, especially in advance of choosing who will be your standard-bearer, what are the things that you would do? It’s a simple question, really. You would fully embrace the Rush Limbaugh “hope” that President Obama fails. And then, you would work tirelessly to make it so.

Although after the last congressional elections, Republicans were quick to claim that the mandate they received was to reduce the deficit. As I have noted elsewhere, I don’t recall anyone actually campaigning on that. Rather, my recollection is that that the election was about jobs, jobs, and jobs, with a soupçon of tax cutting. Only the greenest naïf would be surprised that Republicans engaged in a little bait and switch. But the real question is this: Why have they suddenly pivoted to a philosophy that deficits matter, contrary to what Dick Cheney said? Now that Republicans control the house, you would imagine they would be eager to bring home the pork barrel spending.

After all, when you have a recession, deficit spending spurs the economy. A resurgent economy leads to the creation of jobs, which translates to lower unemployment numbers. The Republicans are demanding $61 billion in cuts. Moody’s Analytics chief economist, Mark Zandi, an architect of the 2009 stimulus package who has advised both political parties, predicts that the GOP package would reduce economic growth by 0.5 percentage points this year, and by 0.2 percentage points in 2012, resulting in 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of next year.

If you are the least bit concerned about the deficit, you know that the Health Care law passed by the last congress and signed into law is essential to curtail the government’s deficit which is largely fueled by expanding medical costs. And yet the Republican enthusiasm for deficit reduction does not diminish their hostility to Obama-care. Michelle Bachmann has stated that she will not vote for any budget that does not defund Obama-care.

The Democrats have met the Republicans more than half way by agreeing to a $31 billion dollar deficit reduction plan. Senator Chuck Schumer has let it be known that privately John Boehner has agreed to this compromise, but Leader Boehner can’t publicly acknowledge the truth because he is a hostage of the Tea-party freshmen.

Why? Because the Republicans speak the truth. To them, the most important thing is for Obama to fail. They want unemployment numbers to go up. They want the government to shut down because that will kill the recovery and lead to inflation. They don’t care about the human suffering caused by the resultant increase in the misery index. They know that the higher the misery index, the better the chances of defeating an incumbent President.

They mewl and puke about the deficits, while ignoring the fact that much of the deficit was caused by the need to dig us out of the financial crisis caused by the Bush administration and the Republican congress he enjoyed. They forget that the extraordinary expenditures saved the American auto industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs. They forget that tax cuts to the super-rich and corporate welfare decimated America’s revenue base.

Soon you are going to hear Republicans asking “are you better off now than you were three years ago?” They know that if you answer “no” then you are less likely to vote for an incumbent president. They are banking on the fact that many people will forget how bad things were when the Obama administration inherited a mess that could have turned into a reprise of the Great Depression. And they are depending on the making the lives of Americans worse, and hoping that they can blame that misery on an incumbent president.

Who will rip the scab off this wound on the body politic? Who will call a spade a stinking shovel?

“... and tell 'em Big Mitch sent ya!"

Monday, February 28, 2011

John McCain's reckless attacks

Today, Senator John McCain was on Meet the Press for the 60th time. Thank God the man was not elected to the presidency. Listening to him, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he is a lunatic. He chose to attack President Obama's response to the Libya crisis. Here is some of what he said about how the U.S. should respond to the situation in Libya:
“We could impose, and could have imposed a no-fly zone. They would have stopped flying if that had been imposed. They’re using air power and helicopters to continue these massacres. We should recognize a provisional government somewhere in eastern Libya, perhaps Benghazi. We should make it clear that we will provide assistance to that provisional government. And finally, we should make it absolutely clear that anyone who continues or is engaged in these kinds of barbarous acts is going to find themselves on trial in a war crimes tribunal. We’ve got to really get tough.”
On Friday night’s edition of Washington Week in Review, Martha Raddatz, Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent for ABC News, ridiculed the idea of a no-fly zone, thus:
“I love that they keep talking about this no fly zone. I can’t imagine that that could happen, because, first of all, you would really have to have the U.N. It would be tantamount to an act of war if you went in and had a no-fly zone. I mean the same reason you can’t really land in Libya –it’s still a sovereign country. And if you don’t have permission to land there, you can’t do that. So I think a no-fly zone is not a reality here.”
So, John McCain, in order to prove that he is going to “really get tough,” would start a war in Libya. But wait! There’s more! He recommends that we support a provisional government in Benghazi. Does anyone know who’s in charge in Benghazi?

Here’s how David Zucchino described it for the L.A. Times:
“In Benghazi, the center of the eastern rebellion that broke free from 41 years of despotic rule a week ago, everyone is in charge — and no one is in charge. But everyone seems to have claimed a piece of the revolution.

“Men toting shotguns and hunting rifles operate checkpoints. Teenagers in sneakers direct traffic. Young men dance in the back of pickup trucks towing antiaircraft guns, and the makeshift government center in the downtown courthouse has the strung-out, manic feel of a college all-nighter.”
Not exactly De Gaul in 1943 Algiers.

Here’s a late breaking news item from the British newspaper the Independent:

Former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil announced that he would head an interim government with the suggestion that it has the backing of the US. He also said an agreement could be reached with the sons of Col Gaddafi to end the spiraling violence.

But confusion and controversy surrounded the announcement after the official spokesman for the Council disputed that version of events, saying that Mr Abdel-Jalil had expressed purely personal views. Abdul Hafiz Gouga added that there could be no accommodation with remnants of the regime because of "the huge human rights abuses" that had been committed. He insisted Mr. Abdel-Jalil would only be a member of the Council rather than its head. In fact, said Mr. Gouga, the organisation will have no hierarchy with the members, their numbers as yet undisclosed, all having an equal say on policy.”
Does this sound to you like the type of provisional government we want to recognize? I don’t think so. But Senator McCain not only wants to recognize it, he wants to provide assistance to it. There’s one small problem: the government has no address. In fact, on February 27th, the Libyan Youth Movement tweeted at 16:36: “Tripoli is and will be the capital of Libya, any talk of a 'Libyan' government on hold until Tripoli liberated.”

Now let’s assume that we could overcome the no-address problem and send war materiel and maybe even advisors into Benghazi to help sustain the resistance to Qaddafi. It could all turn out for the best. Or not.

First, the Arab world will not immediately forget that the U.S. has been supportive of some of the worst tyrants in the Muslim world, from the Shah of Iran, to Saddam Hussein, to Hosni Mubarak, and, some would say, to Mo Qaddafi. There is a risk that a peck on the cheek from the U.S. government to a nascent democratic movement in Libya could be the kiss of death.

Most Libyans have never known any form of government other than the Jamahiriya (a state of the masses) which in theory is government by the populace through local councils and in practice, an authoritarian kleptocracy. Can anyone guarantee that the next government in Libya will not also be corrupt? Do we want to be the midwife of such a government?

In case you haven’t noticed, Libya is oil-rich, producing about 2% of the world’s production of oil. Do you suppose any neighbors of Libya could covetously look upon those oil reserves? Algeria and Niger have border disputes with Libya and Chadian rebels are living in South Libya. If the rebels in Libya succeed in dismantling the Libyan army, will the country be vulnerable to attack from any of its neighbors? If so, who will the Libyans blame?

And last but not least, what are we to make of John McCain’s threat that “anyone … who is engaged in these kinds of barbarous acts is going to find themselves on trial in a war crimes tribunal?” I mean, other than McCain’s weakness with English grammar.

This threat must really put shivers in the boots of Mo. Qaddafi, who admitted to complicity in the Lockerbie bombing, for which he was rewarded with diplomatic recognition from George W. Bush. More directly to the point, Qaddafi has no intention of leaving office alive whether it is to go to exile or the Hague.

I can hear you now saying, “Big Mitch, you’ve successfully proven that John McCain is a reckless know-nothing, but we knew that since the day he nominated Sarah Palin. What do you propose to do about Libya?

Well, I am glad you asked. How about nothing. It sounds to me that things are going pretty well there.

At this juncture, it appears nearly certain that Qaddafi will be hanging from a tree before the ides of March. Sadly, many Libyan patriots will be the victims of his violence before his reign of terror is over. The price of Libyan freedom will be paid in much blood, but there is no other way. It is cold comfort to know that the Libyan military has been kept weak by Libya because Qaddafi did not want to lose power the way he gained it, viz., by military coup.

An American hands-off policy seems to have worked in Tunisia and Egypt. Both countries have survived revolutions with little or none of the knee-jerk anti-America and anti-Israel rhetoric that should have been expected. Perhaps Arabs are seeing that President Obama was serious when he said he would respect their desire for self-determination. And our non-involvement seems to be working in Libya:

As we read in the Daily Caller
The Arab League has barred Libya from attending meetings of the bloc until it ends its violent crackdown on protesters, which it said involved violations of human rights and international laws.
Of course, we know that a policy of non-intervention will displease some cranky old men like Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens sounds intelligent because he uses words like “obtrudes.” But here is what he said about Obama’s careful measured response to the situation in Libya:
"For weeks, the administration dithered over Egypt and calibrated its actions to the lowest and slowest common denominators, on the grounds that it was difficult to deal with a rancid old friend and ally who had outlived his usefulness. But then it became the turn of Muammar Qaddafi—an all-round stinking nuisance and moreover a long-term enemy—and the dithering began all over again. Until Wednesday Feb. 23, when the president made a few anodyne remarks that condemned "violence" in general but failed to cite Qaddafi in particular—every important statesman and stateswoman in the world had been heard from, with the exception of Obama.”
I’ve already written about Obama’s “dithering” over Egypt, praising him for laying the groundwork for a peaceful revolution in Egypt, and then letting it take its course. But on the subject of Libya, Hitchens seems to think that Obama’s reticence was a character flaw.

What he fails to understand is that a matter of the safety of hundreds of Americans had obtruded itself into the calculus. U.S. efforts to evacuate hundreds of Americans from Libya were being stymied by bad weather on the coast — and by the refusal of Qaddafi's government to allow American charter planes to land there. Ramping up the rhetoric could have had disasterous results for those whose safety is a primary concern of the POTUS.

A few hours after Hitchen’s idiocy hit the blogosphere, the U.S.-chartered ferry the Maria Dolores carrying 300 passengers, including at least 167 U.S. citizens Americans finally arrived at the Mediterranean island of Malta. We will wait in vain, for Hitchens message of congratulations to Obama.

With Americans out of Libya, we can expect to see coordinated efforts to oust Qaddafi. The most successful of these will be those of Libyans fighting for their basic human rights and for their freedom. God bless them for doing so, and for the bravery and self sacrifice that their task demands.

"... and tell ’Big Mitch sent ya!"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Government shutdown, or, Republicans get their wish.

It has been a goal of the Republican Party at least since the time of Ronald Reagan, to destroy the government. I am not trying to read the minds of Republicans. Rather, I am listening to their words and taking them at face value.

Take Ronald Reagan, who famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; Government is the problem.” He explained his plan for reducing government’s role in our life: “Well, if you've got a kid that's extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker.”

When George W. Bush took office, he fully embraced the “starve the beast” mentality. In 2001 he said, “so we have the tax relief plan [...] that now provides a new kind -- a fiscal straightjacket for Congress. And that’s good for the taxpayers, and it’s incredibly positive news if you’re worried about a federal government that has been growing at a dramatic pace over the past eight years and it has been.”

Grover Norquist wins the prize for the most memorable quotation on the subject: “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Give the Republicans their due. Their plan seems to be working. Let’s take a look at how they have accomplished so much.

First, there is the tax code. As we all know, Bush turned a budget surplus into a huge deficit by reducing taxes on the very wealthy.

They also went after the inheritance tax which taxes income gained not by innovative thinking or hard labor, but by the good fortune of being the child of a dead rich guy. I don’t begrudge anybody money made in this way. Au contraire, I send my condolences to the orphans and widows. But for two centuries the estate tax served as a check on the tendency of the rich to get richer while the poor got poorer. It prevented the amassing of huge fortunes and the creation of an European-style aristocracy.

Then, there is the destruction of civil discourse, and comity. Without a spirit of compromise and bi-partisanship, government cannot function. Grover Norquist – who described bipartisanship as “date-rape” – explained, “We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals -- and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship.” Is it any wonder that fellow conservative Tucker Carlson described Norquist as “repulsive:” He’s “a mean-spirited, humorless, dishonest little creep… the leering, drunken uncle everyone else wishes would stay home.”

We have seen the mean-spirited Republican obstructionism at work in Congress for the last two years. Consider the unprecedented increase in the number of filibusters by Republican senators in the last congress. The 111th Congress again broke the record for the number of filibusters in a session. In March 2010, freshman senator Al Franken attacked the majority of the filibusters—some on matters which later passed with little controversy—as a “perversion of the filibuster.”

Or consider the alarming – nay, shocking – refusal to confirm judges. Here’s how Doug Kendall, President of the Constitutional Accountability Center described the situation:

“Across the nation, Americans seeking justice in our federal court system depend on a functioning judiciary to hear their claims and adjudicate their complaints. While it is positive news that 19 of President Obama’s judicial nominees were confirmed by the Senate during this lame duck session of Congress, it is outrageous that Senate Republican leaders denied floor votes for 19 others.

“Throughout the 111th Congress, conservatives in the Senate have blocked floor votes for even the most uncontroversial nominees, creating a roadblock that needed to be cleared in the lame duck session. While votes have now been allowed on 19 previously blocked nominees, 19 other nominees will have to be re-nominated, and will be forced to go through a duplicative confirmation process – all while Americans wait for justice.

“Fifteen of the 19 blocked nominees were reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without recorded opposition or with overwhelmingly bi-partisan votes. Worse still, 13 were nominated to fill ‘judicial emergencies,’ a designation by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts denoting a vacant judicial seat with a crushing caseload. Such inaction by the Senate, while our judiciary is literally pleading for qualified judicial personnel, is unconscionable.”

Thanks to Proposition 13, California is broke. They can’t keep the courts or the DMV open five days a week and they are laying off teachers like nobody’s business. In Wisconsin, a state with a rich history of workers’ rights, citizens by the tens of thousands are marching on the Capitol to protest the Governor’s plan to strip state workers of collective bargaining rights under the pretext that their state is also broke.

In Michigan, state education officials have ordered the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools to immediately implement a plan that balances the district's books by closing half its schools.

And in Congress, there is a real threat that the government will actually shut down for lack of funding, when the continuing budget resolution expires early next month. Make no mistake about it: this is the Republican plan.

How many times have you heard a Republican say, “we were elected to cut the deficit.” The funny thing is, I’ve never met a person concerned about the deficit. I think Dick Cheney struck a popular chord when he said, “deficits don’t matter.”

Now let’s assume ad arguendo that Republicans really do want to cut the deficit. You can cut the deficit by making the wealthiest 2% pay their fair share of taxes. Take the case of Warren Buffett who in 2007 was estimated to be worth $52 billion. He said that he was taxed at 17.7 per cent on the $46 million he made in 2006, without trying to avoid paying higher taxes, while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 per cent.

You have often heard it said that the U.S. tax-rate on corporations is higher than any Western nation’s. Well, consider General Electric. Last year the conglomerate generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing in U.S. taxes. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion!

ExxonMobil had a pretty good year. It made $37.3 billion on sales of 311 billion. I’m betting that you, dear reader, paid more taxes to the U.S. government than ExxonMobil. Hint: I’ll win my bet if you paid anything at all in federal taxes.

Bank of America managed to eke out 4.4 billion in pre-tax income, so the government paid them 1.9 billion in tax credits. Forbes reports they won’t be paying taxes anytime soon because of a $49 billion “provision for credit losses.”

Ford Motor Company didn’t take any bailout money and still managed to earn 3 billion on sales of 118 billion. On that profit they were required to pay 2.3% to Uncle Sam. Verizon did okay, raking in pre-tax income of 11.6 billion, but they were able to keep their effective tax rate down to 10.5%, which is considerably lower than the rate at which Warren Buffett’s secretary paid.

I could go on and on, but by now you get the point: America’s wealthy and American corporations are not over-taxed. And yet, the so-called liberal press has completely bought into the idea that the deficit cannot be cut without slashing entitlements.

Entitlements are things people are entitled to. They are not government largess. In most cases, they are deferred compensation for a lifetime of work and service. In other cases, they provide the modicum of dignity that – forgive me for saying it – everyone is entitled to. Social Security, which is fundamentally sound for the foreseeable future, doesn't count in the deficit, because it is "off-budget." But that doesn't stop the chattering class from saying that we must attack Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

John Boehner has said over and over again, “We’re broke.” If the Republicans shut down the government again, the sound you will hear is the sound of your government gurgling bathwater.

Thanks, Republicans.

“and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The dog that didn't bark

“And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. But no dog shall bark …” Exodus 11:6, et seq.

From this, we are to learn that God’s hand was at work in the miraculous changes in Egypt. Once again, we are observing events in Egypt that defy logic and reason. Let’s review.

On June 4, 2009, at Cairo University, President Obama gave a speech entitled “A New Beginning.” Here’s some of what he said:

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

He expressed his “belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.”

The President acknowledged that “there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq.” He also stated clearly to the Egyptians, “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.”

Here’s what he said that is of special relevance to the situation in Egypt today:
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

Four months later, President received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee’s press release said:

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.”

In January of this year, protesters took to the streets in Cairo to overthrow Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was a staunch friend of the United States, but a tyrant nevertheless. For nearly three decades he ruled under an “Emergency Law” that allowed for the brutal suppression of all opposition. His nation suffered from extreme poverty, although he amassed a fortune which we have since learned is in the order of $70 billion. Successive American administrations had warned him that the situation was untenable, and had unsuccessfully urged him to liberalize his autocratic rule.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Egyptian-American alliance. The Camp David Peace Accords essentially made it impossible for there to be a unified Arab attack on Israel, as there had been in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. There is a reason why Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

By February 11th, Mubarak had resigned, and the government was in the hands of the military. The leadership of the military has strong ties with the Americans and they have expressed that they will honor all peace agreements, including Camp David. From the American point of view the outcome of the revolution could not have been better. This is true for the Israelis, as well.

Egyptian democracy will face many challenges before it fully takes hold. Perhaps, the Muslim Brotherhood will get a foothold in electoral politics, and then renege on the commitments they have made. Ambassador Martin Indyk opined on Meet the Press, “I don’t think the military is going to let the Muslim Brotherhood takeover. The Muslim Brotherhood knows that and they are keeping their head down and saying they don’t want to takeover.”

For the time being here’s what their website says:
We aim to achieve reform and rights for all: not just for the Muslim Brotherhood, not just for Muslims, but for all Egyptians. We do not intend to take a dominant role in the forthcoming political transition. We are not putting forward a candidate for the presidential elections scheduled for September.


We envision the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, which are central Islamic values. We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets.

What does all this have to do with dogs not barking in Egypt? In the Sherlock Holmes story, Silver Blaze, Doyle writes:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

By my lights the most curious thing about the Tahrir Square Revolution is the fact that the demonstrations were almost totally devoid of anti-American sloganeering. Nor was there any of the anti-Israel rhetoric that could have been expected. Who could have imagined that a popular revolution in the most populous Arab nation in the world, would not contain elements of reflex anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism?

If things do go badly in Egypt, Barack Obama will surely be blamed by those who hate him. But for now, it is hard to envision a better outcome. Give credit where credit is due.

"... and tell 'em Big Mitch sent ya!"

Post Script: I must the biggest dope of all time. I stupidly thought that the haters of Obama would wait until something went awry in Egypt before they criticized him. As you can see below, Newsweek's new columnist Niall Ferguson earns his wings by jumping on President Obama. The logic of his argument doesn't stand up any better than the headline-writer's spell-checker.


Obama's Egypt and Foreign Policy Failires

NEWSWEEK’s new columnist on Obama’s Egypt debacle and the vacuum it exposes.