Archive for April 2011

Things They are A-Changing

April 30, 2011

The Middle East is a mess.  Well, that ‘s not new news.  What is news, however, is where it is becoming messier.   US foreign policy is between a rock and a hard place.  Our past 12 years of Middle East policy seems will produce an unexpected and unwanted outcome.

Tunisia and Libya are inching towards civil war.   Somalia could be their model in time.  Syria is killing their own citizens.  The numbers are rising each day.  Yemen is fighting a civil war quietly and spilling blood in their streets in order to quiet protesters.

Egypt has now raised its hand.  It says it will open its communications with Hamas and open the boarders with Gaza.  Potentially this can have devastating consequences to Israel.

For sure it will show what bad things happen when religious views are mixed with affairs of State.  Israelis will see what a huge mistake they have made by not having negotiated in good faith and reached an agreement with the Palestinians long ago.

Iraq is currently not involved.  They are so far content to count the days until American troops are fully withdrawn.  Iraq will wait and see what happens.  Iran’s shadow will drive the Shiites and Saudi Arabia will quietly fund a Sunni resistance.  Every so often, both sides will delight in killing each other and taking shots at Israel.

All of this is made possible by the abundance of oil and the unresolved issue of Israel’s right to exist.

The West should know by now that we cannot understand the Muslim faith or why they fight amongst themselves.  The West should just stand back.  This is their fight and when it is over, we can see what might be possible.

Israel is another story.  The West cannot abandon the Jews again.  This time, however, there must be reasonable conditions.  For example, fundamentalist Jewish groups cannot be allowed to hold a peace process captive because they claim god gave certain pieces of land to the Jewish people.  This is ridiculous on the surface and totally impractical at the bargaining table.

If the West steps in to protect Israel (including supply of arms and money), then Israel must take reasonable measures at concluding a peace.  If Muslim groups choose not to cooperate, and instead fight, then force should be authorized to defend “reasonable” Israeli boarders.

What a mess.

The Look of Order

April 29, 2011

Many Americans have watched the British royal wedding live today.  There is a magic and aura about the way the Brits pull off one of these events.  The music, the outfits, and the pomp all combine for an impression of order.  This is how the world should be, one might think.

The English, the Scots, the Welsh, and the Northern Irish as well as all those in the former Commonwealth who find comfort in “royalty” were rewarded today.  They saw a reaffirmation of divine order.  The King and Queen at the top, the lowly sea worm at the bottom.  Everything else in between, as it should be.

There is a look of order in the US too.  We have no royalty.  We do have, however, the rich.  They dress better than most.  They can go where ever they wish.  They can easily marry others like themselves.  They can step into government service for a mere campaign contribution, or they can take leave from private business pursuits and play politician full time.  They are free to do so, and they possess the means to accomplish what they want.

President George W Bush was just such an example.  His family wealth was substantial.   His education and the people he knew were of the first order.  As Governor and as President, he looked regal.  Unfortunately, at a time when meritocracy would have really mattered, being wealthy mattered more.

President Barack Obama is a different case.  He is an example of new education and self made minor wealth.  His gifts of rhetoric and quiet self confidence overshadowed any lack of royal blood.

His presidency is still being defined.  All that is clear is that President Obama’s record will far outshine that of President Bush.  Oh, and yes, many Americans are not sure he should be President.

Despite this, a detached view of the Bush years and the 2+ Obama years offer a sharp contrast.  Even though Bush, himself, was not burdened with the weight or appearance of hard work, his legitimacy seemed not in question.  (Had the Supreme Court sat on the side lines, Bush may not have been elected.)

With President Obama, a man elected to office on merit, his presidency has been questioned almost every step of the way.  Why should that be?

The idea of natural order is present everywhere.  The rich should lead, it is reasoned, because they know better.  Some say they are better.  The very essence of a democracy is just the opposite.  Those chosen in a democratic process get to lead whether they are rich or poor.  While most Americans know this consciously, their hearts still look for royalty and the King.

I wonder whether we will ever see the look of order with President Obama?

Judgement Day

April 28, 2011

The month of May 2011 is shaping up to be a big month for religiously focused people.  Well, maybe not all those who profess to a belief, but a lot of them.  For the rest of us, it could be bad news if we have guessed wrong.

On May 1 the Roman Catholic Church will create a new line of relics.  They will announce that former Pope John Paul II is a saint.  All his former possessions and those things close to him will suddenly have value as religious relics.

The former Pope’s body is hardly cold.  Never the less, the church has been able to painstakingly research the subject, find several “miracles” attributable to the Pope.   Now only a ceremony stands in the way.

For many Catholics, this will be a time of happiness and rejoicing.  For them, their god has shined upon them.  Polish Catholics are especially proud that one of theirs made the big time.

On May 21, other Christians have predicted this all will come to an end with Judgement Day and the end of the world.  Even though Christian experts have predicted the end several times before, they are sure they are right this time.

So this end of the world prediction may help explain why Rome has rushed the sainthood for John Paul.  Aside from the notion that there are miracles at all, what other reasons could justify the rush?

Could the canonization help divert Catholics attention from the swirling disgust around the child sex abuse and Church cover up?  Could the rush reflect the desire to insulate John Paul’s fate from the fact that much of it happened on his watch?  Who knows.

In the greater picture, both of these events are humorous in a cynical way.  They reflect no understanding of humanity or the real issues facing the world today.  Both reflect a myopic view of the world which begins and ends with each for profit religion.

I think I have already made my judgement.

Governments Are Not Smart

April 22, 2011

History is replete with examples of unexplainable Government mistakes.  Governments start down certain paths and suddenly something unexpected happens.  Oh, I should correct myself.  There is always an explanation.  It is simply that the explanation either makes no sense or is patently false.

Now it is true that Governments do not always get easy problems to solve.  We must cut them some slack just because these are not alway straight forward issues.

Take Libya.

It certainly looked like Colonel Gaddafi’s government would fall with the slightest effort.  Rebels were rushing towards the Libyan capital.  Then things changed.  Gaddafi’s forces looked like they would win.  The western governments thought this was not the best outcome and decided to assert a “no-fly” zone.  Things stabilized and again looked to be in the rebels favor.

Soon things stalemated.  What should be done next?

We have the answer.  British, French, and Italy plan to send “advisors” in to help the rebels.  If this is not taking sides, I am not sure what is.

If you are going to take sides, do it up front.  Tell your residents what is going down.  If it turns out favorable, then those leaders deserve praise.  If not, they deserve to be replaced.

Most leaders are more fearful of being replaced.  I wonder why?

The Wedding…

April 20, 2011

The English media, just like NBC are just beside themselves with anticipation of the upcoming royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.  There is one difference.  NBC is in it for the money.  The British, for some reason, see it as real and important.  Hmmm.

The whole notion of “royalty” seems strange in America.  How can one person be intrinsically superior to another just by blood line?  In Great Britain that is not so strange a thought.

This week on one English television station the big “human interest” news was that Kate’s mother was three generations removed from a coal miner.  Just imagine.  The honest and extremely hard work of a coal miner was being compared to something unworthy of royalty.  What are these people thinking?

The answer, of course, is that not everyone thinks the same way.  Even in the US there are some who think that President Obama may not be worthy enough to be president.  Some question his experience and others his performance in office.  The odd balls claim he should be disqualified since he was not born in the US (despite evidence to the contrary).

The real American spirit comes alive in debating performance.  Has someone demonstrated the meritocracy necessary to deserve our confidence?  The President has not thrilled many of his past ardent supporters for sure.  For those who always opposed him, it is easy to continue these negative feelings.

In America, the debate should be about performance and not veiled references to blood lines, especially ethnic or racial ones.  England is a great country.  It could and will be even better the more it moves away from lords, ladies, and other royalty.  The lesson for Americans is to not squander the absence of royalty has had on our common sense.

Know When To Hold Them…

April 19, 2011

Spring brings a renewed spirit.  The air suggest everything is possible.  No matter how bleak it has been, tomorrow will be better.  Well maybe.

The US is engaged in two, maybe three wars. We are not going to achieve our lofty goals in any of them.  It is time to fold our hands.

We all know about Iraq, a travesty brought on through arrogance and unbounded misjudgments.  We also know about Afghanistan.  There we could have rightly said, “mission accomplished”, and brought our troops home.  Instead we double down, not once but twice.  Nation building was the call. The end is no where in sight.  Libya counts as a possible third.

At home, there is a fourth war.  It is the political war, ostensibly over the budget and debt.  It is looking more each day as a class war.

When you are strung out and trying to meet too many obligations, the rules of commonsense demand that you narrow your focus.  Get something settled and then go on to the next with real focus.

Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have ever represented an imminent threat to the US.  For sure, Afghanistan did protect al Qaeda and al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11.  Afghan regime change was all that was required and that was accomplished in the first few months.  So 9 years later, let’s declare victory and bring all the troops home.

Iraq has been a total mistake.  We are leaving Iraq at the request of the Iraqis.  Too bad our Country did not have the confidence to leave on its own.  Our departure maybe delayed by if the Iraqi Government requests the US to stay.  Why would we ever want that to be the outcome?

The great danger of Libya is getting sucked into a civil war.  A wise America will commit no more military assets and will pull the plug on all efforts by year end.

When these are out of the way, the world becomes clearer.  It will be the deficit and then the debt that will be the real problems.  Democrats and Republicans seem to agree.  The major problem is that they seem to be ready to fight against two different enemies in order to fix the deficit.  Why can’t our political parties agree on what is wrong and how to fix it?

Ignorance and special interests are good starting points.  As long as politicians believe Americans are ignorant of the real cause of out of control Medicare/Medicaid costs, politicians will prefer to listen to special interests.  Most Americans do not know that all other modern countries in the world use some form of “universal health care”  Most of these countries have better health outcomes than the US, and all of them spend much less for their health care.  Why not take a look?

It is shameful to try and tax the less wealthy with increased Medicare/Medicaid payments while giving further tax breaks to the wealthy.  It is irresponsible to demand the current Medicare/Medicaid programs continue unchanged (and therefore continue to run a deficit) unless one argues that we must all pay for them.

It is time to end the wars and focus on solving the undeclared war at home.  At home the war should be aimed at the causes of excess expenditures, not the classes.

The Long Race

April 16, 2011

It must be a great job.  I am speaking about the Presidency of the United States.  Otherwise, why would anyone spend so much money and take so much time to campaign for election?

Each of the major political parties draw their supporters from each layer of society. There are the very rich, the wealthy, those earning more than $250,000 a year, the professionals, school teachers, firemen, policemen, union members, lower income earners, the less wealthy, minimum wage people, and those retired who fit all these categories. Some of each layer call themselves either Republican or Democrat.

If you look closer, however, there seems to be more well to do individuals who call themselves Republican.  This group is the party’s backbone.  They are joined by others who have earned some money, feel they have enough to take care of themselves but not enough to fund social programs.   They do not want to have any of their money taken in taxes and used to pay for services for others.  This group can swell in numbers depending upon the issue and the spin.  It is the group that swings elections the Republican way.

Democrats also appeal to people with money, just not the same ones who carry Republican banners.  Wealthy Democrats see the world as complex and full of interconnected systems.  So for example, these Democrats deplore abortion and think it should not take place except to save the mother.  They also recognize that the greatest cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancies.  As a consequence, government funded activities such as Planned Parenthood which does perform abortions but mainly provides education and contraceptives to those most vulnerable is viewed as a valuable route to meeting their objective of no abortions.

These wealthy Democrats, however, are not enough in numbers to get the party elected.

Traditionally the largest number of Democratic voters come from groups that directly benefit from government services or legal protection.  Union members, students, minorities, and immigrant groups make up a large part of the swing votes necessary to elect Democrats.

So what happens when there is not enough money left for the party in power to “buy” voters?

This is a fascinating question.  We will likely get an answer in this next election.  Our government is essentially broke.  There are no new entitlements that can be offered to the masses because there is no money to pay for them.  The big 2012 question will be what will have to be given up, not what will be given out.

Already Republicans and Democrats have drawn their lines.  Republicans have sugar coated the health care and said they will “save” Medicare and Medicaid by issuing vouchers and block grants instead of direct payments.  Life will be great.

Republicans will also simplify the tax code while granting tax breaks to the wealthy.  Overall they will promise stability and survival of the country.

Democrats will contrast this Republican vision with a full defense of current Medicare/Medicaid as well as many other government supported services.  They will project themselves as the protector of government services and regulations that many middle class members take for granted and the most vulnerable depend upon.  Their strategy is clear.  It is a game of numbers.

Mathematically, neither the Republican nor the Democratic deficit proposals work.  The two proposals fall far short of the necessary spending reductions or increased taxes.

Where is the honest third party that will lay out the situation as it really is?  Where is the third party that will hit it right down the middle?

Pay Back

April 15, 2011

There are two proposals on the table aimed at reigning in the deficit.  The deficit is a national disgrace.  Today it demonstrates to the world that America is unable to run its own affairs of State.  If Washington DC were a business, it would be declared bankrupt.

Aside from the image and competency issues, the deficit and debt rob Americans of the means to force their government (of either party) to be accountable for their actions.  Why worry about Government decisions, we can just charge it.

Consider the invasion and occupation of Iraq.  This government decision was purely one of choice.  With an all voluntary Army and no burden to pay special taxes, the American public had no skin in the game.  Remember Vietnam and think about the public’s displeasure.

Consider the Bush tax cuts.  These purely “free lunch” decisions sounded great at the time.  Now we are waking up to the fact that these tax cuts did not generate more tax revenue and there were no offsetting spending reductions (actually quite the opposite).  Now it is time to pay the piper.

Consider the “war on terror” and the creation of the TSA.  There are 60,000 more government workers and over $330 million in yearly costs.  This is work clearly within the means of the private sector.  Now we can see this as part of the government creep.

Where were the questions, like tell me again why we should invade Iraq?  How much will it cost me?  How many casualties will there be?  What will be the on-going costs for taking care of injured veterans?  How again was Iraq connected to 9/11?

Or where were these questions.  Why do we need this tax reduction?  Will the tax reductions benefit all segments fairly in a progressive way?  Why are we not simplifying the tax code at the same time.   What will be the long term effects of these tax reductions?  Will the debt increase?

How about, why should government agents be able to do a better job screening airline passengers than private industry ones?  Wouldn’t government pilots be trained more uniformly and provide better security than private sector ones?  What is the cost/risk ratio for trying to “inspect” problem passengers out of the flights?  “Granny, I am going to use the back of my hand….”

There is of course no guarantee that a balanced budget would have raised these questions.  Sometimes the heat of the moment prevails.  But what a side to have erred on.  We would have substantial lower debt, we probably would not have invaded Iraq ($1 trillion cost and still counting, over 4000 dead), we would not have adopted the Bush tax cuts in the first place, and maybe, just maybe, commonsense would have risen to the top in airport security.

Four, Six, Eight

April 14, 2011

The opening bids are in.  We now have three proposals to reduce the Federal Budget Deficit.  None of the proposals works by itself.  With $1.6 trillion staring at us, $400, 600, and 800 billion reduction per year does not reduce the debt.  Rather, the debt keeps growing.

Everyone has rightly counseled that too rapid a cut in the deficit could be dangerous for the economic recovery.  This is wise counsel.  I just wonder why someone cannot propose a balanced budget and then a time line to get there.

If you consider the best of these proposals, the Simpson-Bowles case, one sees that they could generate more in tax revenue and could be far more aggressive on defense spending.  They also could sign up for the real budget buster, the annual health care cost increases.

The Ryan proposal fails totally by not raising any taxes.  Rather it use a method to increase the out of pocket health care costs of the most vulnerable Americans as a means to reduce the impact of out of control health care costs.  Vouchers and block grants seem destine for producing unfairness unless there are provisions for those who simply cannot afford healthcare or the equivalent of Medicaid in future years.

President Obama batted third.  It is still unclear whether he has gotten on base because of an error or a bad call by the umpire.  His proposal produces the smallest reduction and is wholly inadequate.

His proposal, however, is the fairest although far from perfect.  He advocates ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest but that in and of itself does not generate enough tax revenue.  There is no way to move forward without taxing everyone and attacking the root cause of health care costs.

Most commentators are heralding that finally there is a discussion underway.  Let’s hope this discussion proceeds in a way that is in America’s best interest.  The formula is clear, control health care cost increases, increase taxes across the board, and significantly reduce security spending (defense and homeland security).



Don’t Meddle

April 13, 2011

The budget debate, and in particular, reducing the deficit, is getting all the news these days.  And while this is a worthy subject, there is another set of events, not totally unrelated, taking place right now too.  Check out the Middle East.

Libya is the poster child for why intervention is usually an unwise action.  Colonel Gaddafi has been in power 40 years and there must be a reason.  Make no mistake, Gaddafi is not a kind and generous person.  He does not worry about the well-being of Libyan.  He worries about himself, his family, and his supporters.  This is clear and easy to understand.

Gaddafi doesn’t just worry, he is a man of action.  He is cruel and vindictive.  He rules absolutely.  And for 40 years, he has remained in power.  So what do you expect he will do now that a rebellion has broken out?

The same can be said, in varying degrees of ruthlessness for the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen.  So, intervention is hardly a predictable course of action.  Yet American politics demand a perfunctory speech about democracy and human rights.  And there you have it, the US has taken a side.

By US standards, it is not hard to speak out against the rulers of Tunisia, Libya, and Syria.  They have a well known record of running repressive regimes.  When it comes to Jordan, Bahrain, and Yemen quite different American interests motivate our Government to look the other way.

Egypt stands out as a particularly difficult case.  Egypt has acted as a center of Arab moderation.  It has also cooperated with the US in both overt and covert operations.   During George W Bush’s term, he called for open elections in Egypt.  What he witnessed was a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalists until President Mubarak put an end to that.  President Obama called for Mubarak to “stand aside”.  Mubarak did so and now is under house arrest and in danger of prosecution.

Here is why America should keep out.

  • There is no Middle East Arab country capable of living by democratic principles.
  • There is no Middle East Arab leader who does not, or will not divert vast amounts of the local economy for his personal wealth.
  • There is no Middle East Arab country where clever Islamic religious leaders cannot put forth a better story about aiding the poor.

America needs to wake up and realize the real lay of the land.  If we feel compelled to support regime change, we owe a safe exit to the previous ruler (had this person been a friend of the US).  This language will be understood.

The best language with respect to the Arab Middle East is the language of silence.