Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Razzle Dazzle on Afghanistan

When President Obama told the nation his revised policy on Afghanistan, he indicated that America's mission in that country is not open-ended in duration, that we will leave when our objectives have been accomplished, and that the objectives are worth the sacrifices. Obama’s primary goal is the destruction of the Taliban insurgency against the corrupt Karzai government.

The president should have addressed the problem of corruption within the government of Afghanistan President Hamid KarzaiHamid Karzai and explain why the C.I.A. had his brother on its payroll. Did the C.I.A. foster the widespread Afghan corruption that we are now criticizing? The same brother, Ahmed Wali KarzaiAhmed Wali Karzai, is widely believed to be involved in the highly profitable drug trade. When this was called to the attention of Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton, she said, "Every country makes compromises, and it behooves you to be humble about pointing fingers." This was hardly a denial, and it fits neatly with her comfort with the Karzai regime despite evidence of widespread fraud in the recent presidential election.

Another front requires a presidential explanation. The Obama administration prides itself on transparency in government operations but it hasn't told us about the U.S. Army providing security that will enable China to exploit in Afghanistan one of the world's largest deposits of copper, earn tens of billions of dollars and feed its insatiable appetite for valuable raw materials.

This U.S. troop deployment protects the Chinese investment-the largest in Afghanistan's history-from the Taliban and the impoverished locals. It saves the Chinese from having to send their own troops abroad to defend their economic interests. We seem to have no problem doing just that-even keeping our troops there-under fire-for a decade. Remarkably, we are doing this favor for the Chinese in spite of the fact that a qualified American corporation bid but lost the contract. When Chinese President Hu JintaoHu Jintao recently had dinner with President Obama, did they discuss the quid pro quo for this remarkable cooperation? Should we know the deal? Does it have any connection with the continuing purchase of U.S. government bonds by China in spite of the decline in the value of the dollar?

Beijing faces enormous challenges in completing the project and gaining access to the estimated 240,000,000 tons of copper accessible through surface mining alone. Taliban-led insurgents are likely to harass the Chinese project for nationalistic reasons to preserve this valuable Afghan asset from the foreigners. It is estimated that this project development will take decades. Is this another indication that U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely? Was Obama’s promise to leave Afghanistan merely a traditional Chicago-style Razzle Dazzle Act put together by his closest political advisers, Chicagoans David Axlerod and Rahm EmanuelEmanuel to deflect criticism with hocus pocus?

Monday, November 30, 2009

One Third of the Nation

One Third of the Nation
By Jerome Grossman

On January 20, 1937, in his Second Inaugural Address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Roosevelt, the wealthy aristocrat, was defending the economic and social policies he had introduced in 1933 in relief of the dire condition of the American worker. His New Deal established the federal government's responsibility for protecting farmers, workers, and the unemployed while actively regulating the economy to prevent another crash.

To avert national collapse, Roosevelt introduced legislation that he had worked for as governor of New York: minimum wage to lift purchasing power for those with bottom incomes; laws strengthening workers right to unionize thus raising incomes; unemployment insurance to avoid starvation; Social Security providing minimum income for the aged; farm policy guaranteeing a fair return to family farmers.

In retrospect, the Great Depression is a staggeringly unique event. But today's economic numbers show today’s workers in similar distress with about the same percentage of the population hurting, their situation made barely tolerable only by the Roosevelt reforms and initiatives.

Today the official unemployment rate is 10.2%. However, the unofficial rate accepted by most economists is 17.5%, the difference composed of workers employed part time in their regular jobs, those employed below their level of experience and training, discouraged workers unemployed for such a long period that they are no longer looking for work, and those formerly employed by businesses that have collapsed or moved abroad, etc..

Based on the 17.5% unemployment rate, figuring only one worker to a family, the number of unemployed are about 27 million workers. Assuming that each unemployed worker is the breadwinner for a family of four, the number of people “ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished”, is approximately 100 million, about the same percentage of our current population of 300 million as the “One Third of the Nation” described by Roosevelt.

Roosevelt and the social workers around him who helped make policy, Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, Harold A. Ickes, farmer Henry Wallace, focused on relief for “The Forgotten Man.”. They saved the banks from bankruptcy while installing serious regulations but spent most of their energies and assets on the workers. Today President Obama says his $787 billion stimulus is working but where are all the jobs? Since taking office, his administration, in contrast to the Roosevelt administration, has studiously avoided paying people to go to work, which could be accomplished by subsidizing private-sector employment or by creating new government paid jobs. There are programs in some states that financially compensate employees who cut their hours to prevent broader layoffs at their companies. Unemployed workers could be paid for going back to school to further their education and to learn new skills. The list of creative activities to support and improve the workforce is endless and requires only the will and orientation of the president’s advisers who seem to be more worried about Wall Street and banks “Too Big to Fail.”

Obama’s Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the president’s chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers are not oriented in the same direction as Roosevelt’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and Relief Administrator Harry Hopkins, and that's a pity.


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