Archive for the ‘George W Bush’ category

The Wheel Goes ‘Round

August 16, 2017

A useful exercise for any person, 8 months into the Trump Presidency, might be to recall or read recounts of George W Bush’s 8 years. While there is little similarity between “W” and the Trumpster, as individuals, there are all sorts of signals that the Trump Administration is stumbling down a similar, risk infested path. Time will tell if the outcomes repeat those of “W”.

George W Bush was elected in a contested race with a minority of the popular vote and a generous assist from the Supreme Court to garner a small majority in the Electoral College. Despite this modest victory, the Bush team treated his win as a mandate.

The Bush White House asserted the country demanded change and “W” would bring it.
The Bush White House began its term with a positive Federal Budget, but that did not last long. Lock step with his Republican controlled Congress, “W” sought and received Congressional OK for tax reductions (actually 2). The tax reductions were intended to “pay for themselves” but as surely as supply side economics does not work, “W” cuts drove the Budget negative and the Federal Deficit began to grow.

Then world events entered the picture. Terrorists hijacked four airliners and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft was intentionally crashed just east of Pittsburg when passengers attempted to take back control.

But 9/11 set off a series of inexplicable events fully unforced White House errors.
With most of the world’s countries acting as allies, the US undertook a police action in Afghanistan and in short order, decapitated the Taliban government which had allowed Osama ben Laden and al Qaeda to operate openly. Then without notice or debate, the police action morphed into regime change and nation building. Oh, and by the way, more spending without any budgetary method of paying, hence the deficit grew even faster.

Bush and his Congressional colleagues were also certain there was over regulation from previous administrations and simply too much government. “W’s” approach was department budget cuts and even better, to appoint department leaders who would look the other way on their Departments administrative duties. Hubris took on new meaning.

Unfortunately, nature sent its own message in the form of Hurricane Katrina.

With the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headed by an inexperienced Michael Brown, the nation got to see a leader more concerned about his appearance than possessing the competence necessary for “managing” a response to a natural devastation.

On a different matter, to this day, there exists no credible explanation for why “W” allowed the US to invade and occupy Iraq. For sure there are attempts to attach the Iraq War to faulty intelligence but strategically there has never been a credible explanation.

The War cost the US the better part of a trillion dollars, resulted in thousands and thousands of severe casualties and deaths, and most glaring, unleashed the Islamic schism, Shiite versus Sunni, on the world. (Talk about opening Pandora’s box). Had President Bush not stacked the Defense and State Department key advisors with “yes men”, one would hope cooler minds could have steered the US clear of this foreign policy and humanitarian disaster.

But “W” saved its most ignominious transgression of commonsense for his unbridled encouragement of free enterprise, particularly in areas of banking and Wall Street. The notion that decisions made by chief executives and boards of directors had both the Country’s and their personal well being in mind turned out to be naive and without merit. Without clear sensible rules, corporations and Wall Street were ships without rudders.

The emerging culprit was a red hot housing mortgage market put on steroids by Wall Street securitization. Incredibly, everyone (administration and Wall Street) believed that said buying and selling “security packages” with contained a “piece” of hundreds of individual mortgages (combined into one security) was guaranteed to minimize, no dare I say, eliminate the risk mortgage failure. With no government set of rules, and no government authority watching the foxes in the hen house, the recession of 2007/8 soon grew to the near depression of 2008/9.

Now fast forward to 2017. The US has another Republican President elected with a minority of the popular vote and who thinks his policies flow from a national mandate. “The American People” spoke and President Trump is here to put those demands into action. Hmmm.

Similarly to 2000 when former President Bush took office, a set of domestic policies which favor the already wealthy and pander to the conservative minorities has emerged from both the White House and Congress.

The President and his Cabinet secretaries have reverse dozens of former President Obama’s domestic policies. From National Parks and Monuments to oil and gas exploration to Wall Street risk reduction regulations to FDA heath and safety controls.

But not satisfied with this list of high risk, low return policies changes, out are also the Trans Pacific Trade Pact, the Paris Global Warming Agreement, and NAFTA. Hmmm.

The inescapable teaching from the Bush years was that “no regulations” was extremely dangerous in the complex global world we live in. Society and corporations need clear rules with bright lines that cannot be crossed. The absence of rules and the reinforcement of the notion that government or the private sector can be trusted leads to the worst kind of outcomes… where the average person suffers while the wealthy thrive.

The answer to this quandary is not necessarily a Democrat Administration. Over regulation comes with its own set of problems. The country, instead, needs pragmatic, fact and science based policies. Polcies which blindly please one set of constituents such as labor unions, environmentalists, or anti-war groups could have as devastating consequences as those favoring Wall Street, Corporations, religious zealots, and xenophobes.

What is needed is a President and a Congress that values measured responses, recognizes social changes, and follows policies which allow American businesses to thrive in a global economy.

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Trump’s Syria

April 5, 2017

How many people do you know, besides yourself, who wished they could take back something they may have said in haste? Plenty I bet. Former President Obama is surely one of them too. His unfortunate “red line” warning is a good example.

Former President Obama was quite on the mark when he expressed outrage that anyone, and in particular, the Syrian Government would use chemical warfare, and use these outlawed weapons on its own people. Obama’s issuing of a warning he could not enforce was at its best like pulling for an inside straight. There was no way the treat would alter the behavior of a regime fighting for its life. At it worst, Obama’s red line reinforced the impression that the US would not act in any decisive manner to end the Syrian insurrection.

A lot has happened since the former President’s ill fated words. Russia’s entry into the conflict seems to have tilted power back into the Syrian Government’s hands. While needless deaths have continued, there seems to have been every indication that the civil war was heading to a conclusion. And then yesterday, Syria used chemical weapons again.

Pictures of the aftermath are horrific. Shown are defenseless civilians, including children, reacting to the painful and life threatening effects of these weapons (believed to be sarin gas). In what had already been documented as a war against humanity, a new outrageous chapter was opened.

President Trump now has the spotlight on him. What will the President do?

President Trump, in a pattern which seems genuinely him, immediately blamed someone else, this time President Obama. If President Trump really believes these words, America and Americans are really in trouble.

Lest we not forget, in another place on the globe, North Korea has continued to act provocatively on President Trump’s watch and other than words, the President has done nothing. Now President Trump has two failed States acting up and both apparently uninterested in making any deal with the great deal maker.

Syria sits in the middle of the Middle East. The invasion and occupation of Iraq opened Pandora’s Box, destabilizing the entire region. Thinking that an outside force, especial a non-Muslim force, can put Humpty Dumpty together again is wishful thinking.

North Korea, which lies snuggly against China’s northeast border, represents a different but equally dangerous challenge. Like President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Kim Jung Un is all about how to keep himself in power, and like Syria, North Korea cares little about the well being of its citizens. President Trump has said “all options are on the table” in response to North Korean provocations (striking the US west coast with a nuclear weapon). Does that sound like a red line?

Whether President Trump likes it or not, his Administration now owns North Korea and Syria. What ever goes right or wrong in either regime will be like fly paper. The great deal maker will not be able to get it off his hands.

The Jacksonian Revolt, Is That What’s Really Happening In Washington-Land

March 21, 2017

There are some bizarre events taking place in the nation’s capital. The President is tweeting (bizarre enough on its own) outrageous charges about President Obama which impugn the office and are completely baseless, and the President refuses to admit his mistake. The Senate is itching to confirm a new conservative Supreme Court Justice as if it were a long overdue (thanks to obstructionist Democrats) even though the Republican majority refused 12 months ago to consider Merritt Garland. And in Senate hearings, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI had open investigations focused on possible collusion between Russian operatives and members of President Trump’s campaign staff. Most Republicans dismissed the implications and instead wanted to talk about who might have leaked this information earlier.

How can grown intelligent people act this way?

“Foreign Policy” is carrying an article by Walter Russel Mead titled The Jacksonian Revolt. Mead lays out various US foreign policies (Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian, and Jacksonian) and their points of emphasis. Broadly, Hamiltonian and Wilsonian have dominated foreign policy thinking since World War II while Jeffersonian and Jacksonian have taken a back seat. Now the prospect that President Trump might be a 21st century Jacksonian is getting people’s attention.

What’s so wrong with Jacksonian foreign policy?

Both Jefferson and Jackson sought a low profile for the US. They believed this posture would be the least costly and the least likely to entangle the US in foreign wars. America first, so to speak.

Hamilton thought the US needed a sturdy presence around the world in order to fend off other countries who might interfere with foreign commerce. Neither school of thought sought conflict and both thought their strategy was superior.

Since the Second World War, US (Hamiltonian) foreign policy sought to build alliances globally and through economic development stabilize foreign actors who might be prone to war otherwise. Wilsonian believers tended to emphasize human rights and rule of law as key components of US foreign policy. With one off exception of Korea and Vietnam, the world has been relatively free of war (regional ones but no world wars) until the Gulf War I.
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and a coalition of western countries combined to over turn the invasion and expelled Iraqi forces.

In 2003, for reason still unclear, George W Bush’s Administration felt compelled to once again invade Iraq and in doing so, opened Pandora’s box. There are no mitigating explanations for what will be recorded in history as a tragic foreign policy failure but happen it did. Seventy years of broad based foreign policy support began to erode and 19 century world views once again seemed credible.

Mead speculates that Jacksonian Americans saw nothing good about US foreign policy but were more concerned (and felt personally threatened) by a changing US population demographic. Immigration was a direct threat, one cleverly encouraged by Democrats, thought the typical Jacksonian American. Donald Trump was their Andrew Jackson, and had come at not a moment too soon.

Mead’s concerns are strictly foreign policy and domestic policy and its attendant politics are secondary it seems. Mead does not support isolationism, but warns that future efforts on world order must consider to a greater degree the needs of other nations to feel their identities are respected (I think he is saying a little less Wilsonian flavor).

What Mead does not say is also important. Jacksonian Americans are still a minority. The coalition which elected President Trump and who have precipitated the US foreign policy rethink are far from a single mind on future steps. Libertarians and Neoconservatives feel free to plot new courses for the US.

America is not living in the age of sailing ships or horse drawn artillery as Jackson knew it. America is living whether we like it or not in the age of nuclear weapons, missile technology, and cyber warfare. Jeffersonian or Jacksonian foreign policies are incompatible with America’s best interests.

A rethink of Hamiltonian and Wilsonian foreign policy principles is probably necessary but with a President who seems unable (or unwilling) to value truthfulness, the prospects of more neoconservative policies (like invading Iraq) present a greater threat to our way of life.

Great America From Down Under

February 18, 2017

I am traveling presently in Australia. The experience has been both stimulating and at the same time therapeutic. There is hope that rational political views can dominate a society.

Thankfully Australian television news offers only snippets of American political drama yo remind me of the opposite. Regretfully Australian international news reports, augmented with internet news, has allowed me to experience the perverse contrast between a sane political system and the pseudo-“Make America Great Again” crowd.

Australia may not be a great power, or great in all things. But in terms of government civility and general hospitality of its population, it offers American visitors a breath of fresh air. To be sure, for xenophobes, religious zealots, and anti-gays, Australia is far less attractive than the Trump/GOP Sponsored America.

The big Australian political debate is whether the country’s energy goal should be 30% renewable or 50%. Cannabis, women and gay rights, and voting requirements are all settled issues. Australia does struggle with integrating diversity into its society but the government’s public face is four square behind respect for all groups.

Conversely, the US public face which most of the world saw as wise and prudent (and maybe a little too timid) under President Obama is flabbergasted over who this person Trump is, and what in the world he is really about.

IMO, all the signs of a George W Bush Administration are present. Trump/GOP combo will with one hand emasculate regulatory and public service departments, and with the other cut and dice Americans by vilifying the media, demonizing certain religions and creating a false fear around Mexico and Mexicans.  The call is clear to take sides.

What does the future look like?

Most likely unforeseen events (like Katrina, Iraq, or the mortgage scandal)  will bring the Trump/GOP regime to its knees. Whether it is hubris or just plain incompetence, Trump et al will reap the consequences of a short sighted, mean spirited populous agenda.

Where Is The Center In Troubled Times?

January 18, 2017

When George W Bush was elected in 2000, Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative”. What could be better, a mix of pragmatism and concern for others? The wealthy smiled as the Bush Administration made a case for two tax cuts. The evangelical community smiled when government policy turned upon science severely limiting stem cell research and linking foreign aid to impoverished countries’ family planning methods.

And the gates were opened for the neoconservative movement, blindly supporting Israel and simultaneously destabilizing the Arab world. Along came the Patriot Act, secret subpoenas, and Justice Department sanctioned torture.  Hmmm. That America’s part of the world tilted strongly to the right and away from the center would be an understatement.

Barack Obama brought into power countervailing tendencies. Science was again respected as evidenced by renewed concerns about global warming, use of data in forming public policy, and research into solar and wind technology. The Obama Administration pointedly worked to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to close the dark spot on America’s image, the Guantanamo Detention Facility. And, most remarkably, the Obama Administration attempted to bring US healthcare into the realm of other world class, modern industrial countries by passing the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican Party, lead by the Tea Party/Freedom Coalition howled in horror about the reckless race to the left. It was not, however, clear that President Obama was guiding America towards the “center” until Bernie Sanders’s campaign revealed much more progressive goals. For many conservatives, however, President Obama’s policies represented socialism, if not outright communism.  To highlight this, the Republican Party’s complete rejection of Merritt Garland’s Supreme Court nomination underscores GOP rejection of centrist governance.

As the Trump Administration readies itself to take office, the Republican controlled Congress appears like the cat ready to eat the canary. The Republican Congress can’t wait to take the country back and “back” will be well to the right of center.

The unknown, strangely is President-elect Trump. Will he focus upon the ideological right or what ever is needed to stimulate economic growth? Will President Trump trade support for right wing ideas in return for support of his growth initiatives? Or, even worse as some conservatives worry, would a President Trump simply be a Democrat in Republican clothing?

“Regaining The Center” may appear a desirable goal, especially in comparison to the conservative hinterlands Republicans boast as the fruits of taking America back. The GOP possesses enough votes in Congress that Republican initiatives can carry the day. “Regaining the Center” may serve the reader well by putting GOP policies in context as a public reminder that Republicans seek benefits for their wealthiest members, at the expense of the average person.  If there are benefits, these pluses flow incidental to their main purpose.

For now, the GOP and the Trump Administration can do pretty much what they wish. In two years and again in four, voters get to assess Republican stewardship.  As with George W Bush’s Administration whose results were mixed but on the big issues, failures, “Regaining the Center” may sound prophetic.  The center may soon appear much less unsettling for independents to shift left of the Trump Administration without doing a full Bernie Sanders.

 

Beginning To Look Back

January 11, 2017

President Obama gave his farewell speech yesterday in Chicago. Pundits suggested President Obama wanted to write his “legacy” before the Trump Administration has a chance to eviscerate it. George W Bush, when asked in the ashes of his failed Presidency, what would his legacy be, replied to the effect, “don’t know. History will determine that and history takes a long time”. Hmmm.

Comparing the two men and their terms in office, President Obama would look hands down the more successful President. But with whom would you rather have a beer?

George W Bush, despite his wealth and familiarity with the moneyed class, seemed such an easy going person and a comfortable person to be around. Barack Obama could also at times display a friendly look but too frequently flashed a message of disdain or intellectual arrogance.

President Obama appeared not to suffer fools well. And in Washington there is no shortage of self centered, free loading, bureaucrats and legislators only too ready to claim something based on half truths or no truths at all.

President Bush was quite correct in saying history takes a long time before it renders a clear verdict. President Obama has much to be proud about but the repeal and replace of Obamacare may obscure his bold (but not bold enough) steps towards universal healthcare coverage. His efforts towards renewable energy and other quality of life issues may confront an unsympathetic Congress and Presidency once Donald Trump is inaugurated. Obama’s 8 year efforts around immigration reform, voting rights support, and inclusion will be an afterthought with the new Administration. What will remain in 8 years is open to question.

On the foreign stage, IMO, President Obama has diagnosed the Middle East (including Israel) correctly. One can argue whether the Arab world should offer the peace branch to Israel or Israel should initiate a sincere proposal first. But until the Arab world settles its power and Islamic sect differences, there is little reason to expect success. The next Administration is likely to take sides, picking which ever group seems most useful short term. Hmmm.

With respect to China and Russia, President Obama rowed against long held State Department views of a proper world order. China and Russia both have a different view, not surprisingly placing their country’s interest ahead of other countries including the US. President Obama diagnosed Asia and in particular China as the country to watch and to update US China foreign policy accordingly.

China is far wealthier and more populated than Russia. Maintaining government control requires meeting the economic needs of its 1+ billion head population.  Unfortunately it will not be easy task for China to continue spreading new wealth to Chinese peasants without 10% growth each year.  Authoritarian countries usually look for outsiders to blame when domestic policies falter.

A fair President Obama criticism might be that in all matters, his preference for “no drama” and “no theater” probably kept him from communicating effectively to the American people in terms they would understand. Whether the issue was healthcare where America spend twice as much as the modern world, and do not provide coverage to all Americans, or where America’s defense budget is 10 times as large as the next biggest spending country, or where America spends more per student on K-12 education than any other country, yet produces test score results in the middle of the pack, President Obama shunned any attempts to bring about change by dramatizing these facts.

President Obama will, however, be remembered from day 1 as a decent man with a smart and gracious wife who lead a White House life, with their children, which was above the fray but not aloof. President Obama’s few emotional occasions dealt with tragedies like the Newtown Elementary School shootings, not whether the Dow Jones Average reached a new high.

Strangely some of President Obama’s most vocal critics come from the African American community. And some of the unkindest words reference little or no progress in jobs and opportunities. Using a football analogy, offensive linemen can out block defensive linemen for just a few seconds creating an opening for a running back. If the back is not ready, or does not run through the opening quickly enough, the running back will be caught for no gain. I wonder why the African American community does not see the chance they had and squandered?

The next Administration will initially be graded in comparison to President Obama’s record. Soon however, Trump Administration policies and unforeseen world events will shape America’s history and the Obama comparisons will cease being relevant. Then historians will have their chance to cast a more informed light on legacy.

Once Again, Do Ends Justify Means?

December 6, 2016

During the George W Bush years, especially with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, the Administration mantra was “the ends justify the means”. There was no civil liberty or time honored practice that was not sacred enough to escape being trampled if it stood in the way of an Administration objective. Now, in the early days preceding the Trump years, there are many indications that the good old days of “do what is necessary” will rule the day.

President Obama ran a different type of Presidency. Obama’s critics point to him leading from behind and running rough shod over Article one of the Constitution, making law through regulatory action. A far more apt President Obama criticism might be his years were “the means justify the ends”.

President Obama used only executive prerogatives which prior Presidents had used, for example appointments during Senate recesses and only when the Republican controlled Congress failed to act. With President Obama there were no incidents of fabricated intelligence, invasion of sovereign lands, or out right violation of signed treaties like the Geneva Convention. But to many, the Obama years lacked decisive action, ISIS being the critic’s most popular example.

So, it is not a surprise that neoconservatives and other right wing types see the Trump Presidency as a time the sun will shine again. These are people who see government power as the most effective statecraft tool. Carry a bigger stick, use it enough that opponents worry you might use it again, and demand everything as a means of getting the most. (Sound like a New York real estate developers motto?)

This week President-elect Trump has exercised his bully pulpit against United Technology’s Carrier air conditioning unit. By extension he has fired a warning shot across other American companies ideas about outsourcing jobs.  Trump has threatened new tariffs if words won’t suffice.

If retaining jobs is successful, how could this be an undesirable “ends”?

In another case, President-elect Trump arranged a telephone call with Taiwan’s President, a no-no for the past 60 years in US-China relations. But if Trump’s goal was to gain more US exports to China, how could that not be a desirable “ends”?

Both of these incidents could also be simply “bluffs”. President-elect Trump may think these are cost-free tactics which if they produce the desired outcome are great and if they do not, they cost virtually nothing he may think. Hmmm, or did they?

The neoconservatives and far right wingers are truly dangerous people. They seek to achieve government objectives by force which means too often using the sons and daughters of other people in military action. While this sacrifice is necessary when the US must defend its boarders, venturing into the affairs of other sovereign nations almost always comes back to haunt us.

The President-elect must be careful that his “bluffing” gambits will be misconstrued by the hawks and understood as encouragement for these chicken hawks to do the same.

Another potential casualty of the “bluff” approach is that the bluffs may obscure other viable approaches. In the case of US companies shipping jobs overseas, a revisit to the tax code might reveal changes which make these outsourcing moves less valuable. The President-elect might, if truly serious about making America Great Again, instead de-emphasize “maximizing shareholder value” in favor of broader corporate governance which considers 4 stakeholders (customers, employees, communities, and owners/shareholders).

The Taiwan phone call is hard to figure. Sending a signal that the US under Trump might do the unexpected is grossly naive since in the period of nuclear deterrents, the last thing the US wants is to send unclear messages.  For US self interests, it is important to know what China’s (or Russia) intent are or that China or Russia know ours.

And what would the President-elect think when the Chinese President begins calling Raul Castro regularly?

Ends do not justify any means, and bluffs, especially those associated with bullying, are extremely short sighted tactics. Lets hope these incidents are just growing pains for the new Administration.