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Uneducated and Poor

May 30, 2010

The question is how would you describe Afghanistan today, and how would you describe it next year? Try uneducated and poor.

To be very clear, I am not saying dumb or lacking in intelligence. I am simply saying that most Afghans are uneducated and those who could make a difference are principally concerned with how they, themselves, become less poor. Afghanistan is playing out like a zero sum game.

It is in most every person of even modest wealth and education to keep things as they are. Enter the Islamic religion and the fundamental, the better. Keep the girls in second class status and subject to the whims of men. At least there would be some reward for men even if they had no money. The Koran and a woman, not so bad.

It is against this picture that one should think our military commitment to Afghanistan. There is no resolve at any level of the Afghan government to educate the masses, and consequently, there is no consensus on how to raise the general population’s standard of living.

This is true today and it will be true tomorrow. Yet the longer American military forces remain, the more Americans will loose their lives or become seriously wounded. The longer we stay, the more money we will waste.

It is time to tell the king he has no clothes on. It is time to end the erroneous notion that America can perform “nation building” in Afghanistan. It is time to say enough.

What a great thought for Memorial Day.

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Obamanomics

October 16, 2009

Over the past few months I have read and seen too many one sided, distorted, and down right ignorant criticisms of President Obama. But it is a free country and our Constitution protects free speech, so you have to take the bad with the good.

President Obama’s critics have targeted everything from his birth certificate to his support of non-existent death panels. In this milieu is also Obamanomics which critics purports will ruin America, our currency, and the future for our children. They cite the forecasted growth of the national debt as the prime example of irresponsibility. To be sure the debt projections are serious reasons for concern and if left unattended could in fact lead to undesirable outcomes. What the critics fail to tell Americans is what are the largest elements of the forecasted $ 10 trillion deficit.

About 80% of the debt will result from present law (Medicare, Medicaid, social security, and the Bush tax cuts).  If laws are not changed, the size of these expenditures will happen.  Without more government revenue, there will be deficits.  While cutting waste and unnecessary spending are critical elements, there are two steps that must take place in order reduce this deficit.

  • A progressive and prudent tax policy must be implemented which will raise taxes (probably to the level of Bill Clinton’s years where the country prospered).
  • A robust economy must emerge based on genuine value creation. This will in turn stimulate more tax revenue at any level of taxation.

To criticize the President is every person’s right. To make incomplete and misleading claims is dishonest, unethical, and a huge disservice to the Country. It will be interesting to see where these detractors come down on the retirement of Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis. Under pressure from the Obama Administration “pay czar”, Lewis voluntarily agreed to give back his $ 1.5 million 2009 pay package.

This BoA situation is another example of trying to close the barn door too late. Lewis is in line to receive over $100 million in retirement benefits (including stock) when he officially retires at the end of the year. My guess is that if the pay czar interferes, and in some way gets this amount reduced, critics will cry out about big government and unchecked powers. If the government blinks and Lewis retires with the loot, critics will then cry out about the Obama Administration being pals with Banks.

I just wonder why no one asks how anyone could be worth, or could need, $100 million retirement send off? I just wonder how this could happen in a publicly traded and regulated company? I guess it is just easier to throw snot balls than think about what is really happening.

McCain’s Math?

April 16, 2008

John McCain announced yesterday a series of tax cut measures he would support as President.  They added up to an estimate in excess of $ 500 million in annual tax revenue reduction.  What are John’s advisors thinking?  President George W “I love deficits” Bush is on his way to a record deficit this year and his 2009 proposed budget has about $ 600 million is deficits (when you add in the unbudgeted Iraq War costs).  Remember the US will have a $ 3 trillion budget in 2009 so if you add McCains $ 500 million to the already announced budget, we could expect a $ 3 trillion budget with a $ 1 trillion deficit…

The Wall Street Journal this morning endorsed the tax cuts saying they were welcome.  Where have fiscal and monetary responsible civic leaders gone?  If you think that the old and worn words that the next Administration will eliminate Government waste or find a fix for Medicare or Social Security as a means of solving this coming disaster, forget it.  While there are fixes needed for current Government spending, including programs such as Medicare and Social Security, there are many more needs for new investments in infrastructure and training/education (to stimulate and improve our global competitiveness).

Whether we like it or not, our Country is heading into a time when we will have to just “say no”.  The Bush tax cuts must die and we must find ways to significantly reduce the entire Defense Department spending (including Iraq War).  We need to level with Americans and explain what Social Security, Medicare, and any new healthcare plan will cost (in new taxes or reduction in specific existing Government programs).  But most of all we need balanced budgets for the good of the country.

  • Interest is becoming a significant part of the annual budget robbing money that could go for other programs.
  • Our currency is losing its value everyday, largely because the US has no monetary or fiscal discipline.
  • A balanced budget is what every American must do in their personal lives, how can the Government make comments on what’s good for Americans if it can not act responsibly itself.

Some will say that this is just election year boasting by McCain and he does not really mean it.  That may be true but what if McCain does try to enact these types of tax cuts?  In a bad economy (as we have now), even Democrats might look favorably on more cuts “to help jump start the economy”.   It is time to take our medicine for the excesses of the late 90’s and all of the 21st century.  You can not build a house or a Country on hot air and false promises.

So, What’s Next II

April 11, 2008

Let’s revisit the NEW policy that any of the Presidential candidates will need to adopt if there is to be an end to the mess called Iraq.  In my recent posting “So, What’s Next”, I listed 6 elements of a new policy and in this post, I would like to elaborate why each is important.   My elaboration is in italics.

        1. International support based upon a new and more cooperative, non-unilateralist view of the world.

The strongest link to the rationale for invading Iraq (without sanction from the UN) is found in the unilateralist declaration of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) issued in 1998.  Such household names as Richard Pearl, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, and good old boy Dick Cheney were signatories.  This document blatantly proposes that America has the power and it should use it to make the world the way it sees proper.  Without assigning other potential reasons for the invasion (like Israeli lobbying or the simple greed for oil), the NPAC idea of promoting democracy through pre-emptive wars is not a doctrine endorsed by the UN or for that matter a majority of other countries.

If we want to begin to take the finances and wealth (form munitions sales) out of the conflict, we will need an International agreement to curtail these activities.  Without a repudiation of NPAC by the next President and a call for International cooperation, there will be no sensible path forward.

2. A recognized “honest broker” approach to the entire Middle East.

From day one with the Bush Administration, the US policy in the Middle East was Israel – yes, Arabs – no.  The Saudis were ok since they had oil.  The Palestinians were forgotten and when convenient, were blamed.  The Israelis were allowed to build walls, erect barriers and check points, and to possess of land well within the Palestinian lands.  There was little or no effort by the State Department in finding a peaceful solution and the President’s heavy schedule of mountain biking and jogging simply did not permit him to become personally involved.

The continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict allows all Arabs to play the victim role and enables the more radical elements to do what any other policitical faction does… seek the remaining wealth of the land.  A settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian question will isolate the other conflicts (between Arabs) and enable a broader settlement.

3. A serious national policy to develop alternative energy sources that will reduce green house gases and cut our dependence on foreign oil by 50%.

I believe the fundamental drivers behind PNAC (or at least the White House gang) was oil.  There were two strategic purposes, first to obtain sufficient supplies that gasoline for the US could be plentiful and stable in price, and second, to deny or limit the access to oil for China and India so that the US could influence both their foreign and domestic policies.  Just doing the numbers tells you that the Chinese and Indians with a combined 2 1/2 billion people will sop up all the oil in short order.

The US must acknowledge this and rapidly move onto an economy that is not strapped down by foreign oil.  Eliminating this strangle hold will open wide our foreign policy options.  The Middle East is a big zero in our worldly needs and will be a threat only to those that remain fossil fuel bound.

4. Closure of Guantanamo and the return of all prisoners to their home countries unless they are transfered to US courts and tried under US law.  There can be no secret evidence or witnesses.

Guantanamo is a very sad chapter in American history when the President and his Adminstration should how cowardly they really were.  These are men who sought “deferments” or cushy (and protected) National Guard assignments rather than serve in the Vietnam War.  These “chicken hawks” freely sent other citizens children off to Iraq but did not do the same for either themselves or their children.  From these unpatriotic heros has come the disgraces of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and enhanced interrogation.  American history and values have been based upon due process and respect for human dignity.

Until Guantanamo is closed and the prisoners are either freed or processed in American courts, and there is a full return to the principles of the Geneva Convention, America will always be suspect in any negotiations to settle differences in the Middle East.

5. The mission of US troops in Iraq must be changed with a eventual withdrawal in mind.  Whether it is training or simply peace keeping, the scope of the mission must be reduced.

In parallel with points 1-4, the President must announce a new mission for American troops.  We must renounce any “occupation” status and adopt a training or ready stand by posture.  We must signal that our combat role is finished and will fire only if fired upon.

6. Careful thought must be given to separating the country into three parts (Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite) with an imposed split of oil revenues.  (The idea is that these groups will fight for their oil anyways but if they are already assured some split (plus foreign investment incentives), they might not fight so hard for more.

The final exit strategy is unknowable at this point.  The main Shiite and Sunni factions could decide to live side by side, or they could decide the spoils were still unevenly divided.  In the path where fighting continues and political compromise is not forthcoming, the US should look to a “soft divide” into three states within a state concept.  The Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shiites would each control about a third.  Oil revenues, however would be shared on some basis (probably a third each).  It is possible that in setting up this 3 State approach, Iran and Saudi Arabia might conclude that they should encourage more compromise ahead of this type of step.  In any case, no movement, then 3 States.

These 6 points are all necessary to cleanse outselves of the stench created by Bush and Cheney, and to convince the other parties that the new US foreign policy is NEW.  If the next President rejects such an approach, we will be discussing this again during the 2012 election campaign.

A WAy with Words

April 8, 2008

In yesterday’s New York Times, William Kristol wrote his weekly column on “The Shape of the Race to Come”.  In this article, Kristol predicts that Hillary will drop out in May and that Obama’s popularity will ebb and decline, and yes, surprise of all surprises, John McCain will, like the phoenix, complete his rise from the ashes and become the next President.  Kristol simply has a way with words.

In his other life, William Kristol is the publisher of the neoconservative magazine, the Weekly Standard, and the present day leader of PNAC (Project for the New American Century).  PNAC with members such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby, and Pearl, all who later populated the White House, proposed in the late nineties, that the US needed a foreign policy that projected American ideas of Democracy into the darkest corners of the world, under the justification that if the US didn’t do it, who would do it.  The Weekly Standard has trumpeted that theme ever since.  So, William Kristol can be fairly labeled an ardent supporter of the illegal invasion of Iraq, and although I am sure he dreamed of a cake walk, he is responsible in a way for the mess and tragic loss of life that has resulted. 

Kristol’s observations on the Democratic primary outcome are reasonable even though it is still a game in progress.  His dismissal of Obama, however, is typically unfair and short sighted.  I suspect Obama is far less religious than Jimmy Carter and far less naive, and will make a far more effective President.  Obama’s success as a President will hinge on who he surrounds himself with and how he makes and coordinates decisions.  George W Bush surrounded himself with capable, experienced, former public servants, and then let them run wild while he jogged and rode his mountain bike.  Bush was a dismal failure as a leader.  Kristol offers no case why Obama would be the same or worse.

With respect to McCain, Kristol almost argues it is just destiny.  There are no suggestions of solid policy or themes that will make McCains Presidency “McCain I” and not “Bush III”.  The spector of a “Bush III” should scare the day lights out of Americans.  Four more years of a policy-less Government who sole mission is to attract and reward financial backers, is this what our country needs?

Long time Republicans, most of whom are embarrassed by Bush and try to avoid excusing his performance, are legitimately worried about a Democratic Administration.  They fear uncontrolled Government spending, increased taxes, and a gradual expansion of the size of the Government.  The irony of this is of course the Bush record. 

  • Doubling the national debt to over $ 9 trillion
  • Deficit budgets in 7 of the 8 Bush years (Clinton gave him the first one balanced)
  • A plummeting currency with the dollar now about 1/2 the value of the Euro when Bush took office
  • A sprawling Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense
  • A mess of our Financial and Banking institutions due to no oversight
  • A darkened international image due in part to Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and “enhanced interrogation methods”

For sure there will be higher taxes under any sensible President.  The Country can not continue to borrow its way to prosperity.  Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire is almost a foregone conclusion.  With a $ 3 trillon yearly budget, the issue is not as much cutting out Government programs as more wisely spreading the money.  Supporting our healthcare and social security safety net along with investing in education and our physical infrastructure at the expense of a bulging Department of Defense budget should be expected and welcomed.  (The US Defense budget is larger than the rest of the world’s combined).

Kristol uses his craft of skillfully writing words that somehow never touch the heart of what choice lies ahead for the American people.

So What’s Next?

April 7, 2008

There seems to be plenty of expectations about the nature of General Patraeas’ Congressional testimony this week.  It has already been leaked that Patraeas will recommend a “pause” in troop withdrawal, and the shocker of a news report is that Presidents Cheney and Bush will approve this recommendation.  John McCain has also already said that the surge has been and continues to be a success and to pull out now wold be a defeat.  So what is the expectation about?

It is inconceivable that General Patraeas will report anything that is not already known.  US troops, if they pull out, will only leave a vacuum to suck in all the civil war forces in the region.  Oil and the wealth that can come from it is quite a target.  But how is that different from before the “Sadr cease fire” a year ago?

The current mess simply underscores the foolishness of the Cheney pushed plan to invade Iraq.  Every business man knows that when you embark on a new venture (like an acquisition or a joint venture, or most all contracts), the termination or exit clauses are as important as the opening terms.  That reality was totally lost on our Chicken Hawks in 2002 and today we are stuck with the mess.

The next President, especially if by some strange chance it is John McCain, must have a NEW POLICY, not a new war plan.  The Iraqi Government is a house of cards built around US troop presence.  The US is trapped until it faces up to the real facts and accepts the consequences of its failed policy.  The new policy must include:

1. International support based upon a new and more cooperative, non-unilateralist view of the world.

2. A recognized “honest broker” approach to the entire Middle East.

3. A serious national policy to develop alternative energy sources that will reduce green house gases and cut our dependence on foreign oil by 50%.

4. Closure of Guantanamo and the return of all prisoners to their home countries unless they are transfered to US courts and tried under US law.  There can be no secret evidence or witnesses.

5. The mission of US troops in Iraq must be changed with a eventual withdrawal in mind.  Whether it is training or simply peace keeping, the scope of the mission must be reduced.

6. Careful thought must be given to separating the country into three parts (Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite) with an imposed split of oil revenues.  (The idea is that these groups will fight for their oil anyways but if they are already assured some split (plus foreign investment incentives), they might not fight so hard for more.

It is unlikely that any of the candidates are thinking this definitively with campaign financing and for the democrats, simply the nomination is still in question.  It is to their supporting “brain” trust that must be charged with these details.  What we can expect, however, is that John, Barack, and Hillary recognize that it is not the troop withdrawal that counts, it is what the new policy turns out to be.

Surprise, Surprise

April 6, 2008

Reports coming from the meeting between President George W Bush and Soviet President, Vladimir Putin sounded totally predictable.  Putin showed Bush around Putin’s “get-a-way” on the Black Sea playing up to George’s vein ego.  George strutted around like he was important (and effective), both of which he is not.  The US sources quietly allowed that there would be no deal on the wrong headed proposal by Cheney and friends to place radar and anti-missile missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland.  I wonder why?

Could it be that this deployment makes no sense simply listening to the justifications given?  Who are the rogue nations with the capability, desire, and stupidity to fire intercontinental missiles at Europe or the US?  The deployment into countries very close to the Russian boarders is akin to the Russians deploying similar systems into Venezeula to protect them from unnamed threats in South America.  Would the US welcome that type of deployment?

Or could it be that “one issue at a time” Bush does not see the connection or that other people think in parallel and connect issues in trying to understand motives.  Bush hardly misses a chance to criticize Putin or Russia or to take the opportunity to champion some policy that the Russians view threatening.  Only earlier this week, while in the Ukraine, did Bush push for the inclusion of the Ukraine in NATO… of course against strong Russian objections.  Thankfully both Germany and France saw to it that Bush’s ideas were dead on arrival.

The next occupants of the White House need to learn from this situation.  (1) Don’t push issues that make no sense even if they are bankrolled by your rich supporters, and (2) remember that you can’t stick the other guy in the eye all the time and expect that person to cut you a break.  Bush seems to have been out of school the day they taught that lesson.