Tuesday, December 28, 2010

General Petraeus Says.......

The broader counter insurgency strategy of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, and the Karzai government of Afghanistan,is "to win over the population with good government and economic opportunity", as well as with improved security.

Modern, literate, supremely powerful United States of America has some of the same problems as backward, illiterate Afghanistan, riven by civil war and tribal rivalries, occupied by 150,000 soldiers from Western nations bearing different religions, technologies and cultures.

The 100,000 American troops represent a nation with a string of problems, conditions that need solution –“to win over the population with good government and economic opportunity”. Some of the evidence can be found in the latest public opinion polls showing that only 27.6% believe the direction of the country is correct, 65.8 believe it wrong. 74% disapprove of the performance of the U.S. Congress. And President Obama has a job approval rating of 45.5% versus disapproval of 47.9. Americans have serious political differences that we solve ourselves without foreign interference, interferences that we would totally reject as outright imperialism.

General Petraeus has said repeatedly that there are merely 50 to 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Interfering in the Afghan civil war diverts us from our prime problems at home. Thank you General Petraeus, for reminding us of our primary responsibility, "to win over the population with good government and economic opportunity." – in the United States of America.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Drama in the Wikileaks

Wikileaks is a sensation, providing an unprecedented view of backroom bargaining by embassies all over the world, harsh assessments of foreign leaders and insider views of nuclear and terrorist threats. Like its predecessors the Obama administration says the diplomacy must remain secret. Wikileaks says all governments abuse secrecy by hiding facts and negotiations that should be made public. Here are a few examples:

• American and South Korean officials have discussed the formation of a United Korea should North Korea's economic and political troubles cause the North to implode.

• The US has offered political and large financial incentives to many countries to persuade them to take some of the prisoners now held in Guantanamo Bay Jail, untried and therefore unconvicted.

• When Afghanistan's vice president visited the United Arab Emirates this year, local authorities discovered he was carrying $52 million in cash. Perhaps for a drug deal?

• China's Politburo directed the invasion into Google's computer systems in China. Other cables said that China has broken into US government computers, those of US allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses.

• American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for CIA officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan.

The drama in the Wikileaks cables often comes from diplomats' stories of meetings with foreign figures, as well as games of diplomatic poker, the raw use of US power, and US assets spent profusely on legal and illegal strategies.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Nuclear Weapons Debate

The atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed my life. I dedicated myself to the elimination of atomic and nuclear arms to preserve planet Earth, to save the human species. Total elimination of the weapons and responsible international controls are the only political solutions. After I failed with ten presidents, I welcomed the Obama initiative and the New Start Treaty with great enthusiasm. I still do. But they are only a beginning. There will be serious problems along the way. This analysis points to some of them.

A world with fewer nuclear weapons, or a world with no nuclear weapons, would enhance the military power of the United States. As the only superpower, the US spends as much on its military as all other nations combined. It has more than 1000 bases in 140 countries, and the capacity to deliver significant numbers of troops and equipment anywhere on Earth within 24 hours. No other nation can come close to matching such immediate power and those who might are not building a counterforce.

Instead, actual or potential rivals seek protection from the US colossus by arming themselves with nuclear weapons to deter a potential conventional, non-nuclear, attack by the American juggernaut. A world without nuclear weapons would increase the power of the US to intimidate or destroy its rivals without fear of nuclear retaliation.

That is one of the reasons why virtually all American military leaders, past and present, as well as experienced diplomats, support President Barack Obama's treaty with Russia that reduces the number of long-range nuclear weapons and provides for mutual inspection of arsenals. This agreement will make it easier to enforce the Non-Proliferation Treaty that discourages all nations and forbids other signatory nations from building their own nuclear weapons. These are important first steps toward a world without any nuclear weapons, steps that also affect the current balance of power between nations. It won't be easy to reach the goal of elimination, but humanity does have a plan, a plan approved by the military, the diplomats, and the moralist, a rare combination.

However, the endgame of no nuclear weapons will put the military control of the planet in the grasp of the US, a nation with only 5% of the human population obtaining military dominance over the other 95%. The only way this could be justified is to link it with the survival of the human species. It may be a choice all nations will have to accept. How long would US military dominance survive? If history is a guide, the other nations will unite to overcome US superpower. To prevent loss of hegemony, one would expect the US to resist the coalition of opponents before they unite.

There is another argument against the Obama scenario. There has not been a major war since 1945, perhaps because the major powers have nuclear weapons and the result would be mutual annihilation. If nuclear weapons were to be effectively outlawed and dropped from all arsenals, would the likelihood of non-nuclear war be increased? Would the absence of the nuclear weapons of mass destruction lead us back to our former habits, to the awful pattern of mass armies killing with pre-nuclear types of weapons? Would rejection of nuclear weapons require a total rejection of the use of force?

Is the human species capable of such a radical change in defying thousands of years of human history, misery and warfare? Don't be so quick to say no. The pace of human adaptation to change has quickened remarkably as more prompt adjustments are made to match changes in the environment and human understanding.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Occupier in Afghanistan

Disagreements between Afghan President Hamad Karzai and the US over how the war should be pursued burst into the open at a coalition summit November 20 -- 21. In a face-to-face confrontation photographed in Lisbon, Portugal by the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama rejected Afghan demands to curtail raids and airstrikes, telling Karzai that he must listen to American concerns.

In a speech to the closed-door NATO session, Karzai named "civilian casualties, detentions, lawless behavior by some security companies, and, at times, the NATO posture as issues of serious concern to the Afghan people."

After the talks, Obama said that he is sensitive to Afghan requests and appreciates Karzai is "eager to assert full sovereignty including control of security operations within his country. If we are ponying up billions of dollars, if the expectation is that our troops are going to be there to ensure that President Karzai can continue to build and develop his country, then he's got to also pay attention to our concerns."

President Obama acknowledged that the issue of Afghan civilian casualties has caused real tensions. Yet, Obama said, "He's got to understand that I've got a bunch of young men and women who are in a foreign country being shot at, having to traverse terrain filled with IED's, and they need to protect themselves. So, if we are setting things up where they are just sitting ducks for the Taliban, that's not an acceptable answer either."

Obama talks to Karzai as an occupier, setting its own rules, killing civilians when necessary, spending billions of dollars, suffering death and casualties to American soldiers, sullying the name of America while rescuing the un-willing, corrupt and complaining ally, fighting in another country’s civil war. Lest we forget, the Taliban did not attack us on September 11, 2001, but here we are ten years later, sitting ducks for the Taliban who are proud to be fighting against the invading foreigner 7,000 miles from home, the foreigner prepared to waste precious lives and resources until 2014 and perhaps beyond.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Toward Fairer Taxes

On November 28, billionaire Warren Buffett will tell the world on ABC television that rich people should pay more in taxes. “I think that people at the high end - people like me - should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it.”

Buffett supports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plans to increase income taxes for those couples with $250,000 gross income - and so do I. And this may be the right time to endorse Pelosi for her effective and dignified leadership as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Capable and honorable, trapped in a situation of terrible unemployment, she can’t be held personally responsible for the political annihilation of the Democrats. Allowing the bankers to precipitate the crisis, was a national flaw.

President Obama’s deficit commission proposes raising the age at which one can receive Social Security benefits to 69 by 2075. A great many people in their 60s have lost or are about to lose their jobs and have little hope of finding another. Raising the retirement age would extend the period of receiving no income for many people approaching 70. The commission would end deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest while raising the gasoline tax, levying tax increases on the middle class while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.

Americans should not be stampeded into cutting increasingly critical Social Security protections. It's time to ask those who have reaped the benefits of runaway tax cuts and growing income inequality to pay their fair share, not cut Social Security. It's time to require income taxes on all earnings above $106,800. Doing so would fully address the projected shortfall for 75 years.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Showboating the Federal Deficit

President Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility to suggest solutions to the nation’s fiscal problems. The commission was to be bipartisan; incorporating Democratic and Republican ideas with the obvious effect that the Democrats, at that time controlling the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House was surrendering their political advantage in advance of negotiations.

Then the President appointed two chairmen of the commission; Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chair has a big business background and a small government agenda; and Alan Simpson, the Republican co-chair, had been a US senator whose voting record was solidly cautious conservative.

It is no surprise that these Obama chairs led their commission to endorse proposals that would solve the long-term deficit by cutting back Social Security, Medicare and other social welfare programs. Thus the poor, the sick and the elderly would pay for the tax breaks and bailouts for the already wealthy.

In addition, the co-chairs are proposing a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases - tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that mean a lot to middle-class Americans, including the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest, raising the age of social security eligibility, increasing the Federal Gasoline Tax, etc.

The suggested changes would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020 and stabilize the accumulated federal debt now hovering about $14 trillion. Half of this enormous debt is directly attributable to the tax reductions installed by President George W. Bush and the growing cost of the US military establishment that rules the world. Our country spends more on its military than all other nations in the world combined. We have more than 1000 military bases on the soil of 175 of the 192 member states of the United Nations Most of these countries buy US Treasury Bonds in spite of the big US deficit. Is there an element of compulsion here? Does China actually represent a military threat to the United States? For all the saber-rattling during the Russian-Georgia crisis, did anyone really think Americans were going to die for South Ossetia? The U.S. Navy has eleven large carrier battle groups structured to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Imperial Japanese Navy?

Yes, the Bowles-Simpson panel seeks a cut in the military budget of $100 billion per year. Anybody want to bet on that reduction passing this Congress or any other Congress representing 435 congressional districts each with at least one juicy contract from the Pentagon?
They must be kidding.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

US Secret War Expands Globally

According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret US war against Al Qaeda and other radical groups. Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget and are deployed in 75 countries operating now. in the Philippines, Colombia, Somalia and Yemen in addition to continuing operations in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

The surge in Special Operations deployments, along with intensified CIA drone attacks in western Pakistan, is the under side of the national security doctrine of global engagement President Obama released in June.

The CIA drone attacks in Pakistan along with unilateral US raids in Somalia and joint operations in Yemen provide politically useful tools in this election year. Obama, one senior military aide said, has allowed “things that the previous (Bush) administration did not.” Special Operations commanders have also become a far more regular presence at the White House than they were under George W. Bush's administration.

The clearest public description of the secret-war aspects of the doctrine came from the White House counterterrorism director John O. Brennan. He said that the United States will not merely respond after the fact to a terrorist attack but will “take the fight to Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates whether they plot and train in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia and beyond.” That rhetoric is not much different than Bush's pledge to “take the battle to the enemy and confront the worst threats before they emerge”.

In a report this June, the United Nations question the Obama administration's authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification - the permission of the countries in question - is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge the attacks. While the Obama administration continues Bush policy, it has rejected the constitutional executive authority claimed by Bush and has based its lethal operations on the authority Congress gave the President in 2001 to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” he determines, “planned, authorized committed or aided the September 11 attacks.” However, many of those currently being targeted particularly in places outside Afghanistan had nothing to do with 2001 attacks. Should one person, even the President of the United States, have the unilateral power to commit the nation to war?

The New York Times reported a senior United Nation's official said the United States appeared to think that it was "facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks" that justified its effort. But that could quickly lead to a situation in which dozens of countries carry out "competing drone attacks" outside their borders against people "labeled as terrorists by one group or another."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Obama's Major Leaguers Strike Out

Prepare to say goodbye to the highly touted economic and political teams that President Barack Obama put together to rescue the nation from the mistakes of the George W. Bush administration. These experts were assembled to give the relatively inexperienced new president the centrist policies that disappointed the eager voters who had jammed the polling stations to support the apostle of change.

Among the departing economists, please find Lawrence Summers, Director of the White House Economic Council, Peter Orzag, Head of Management and Budget and Christina Romer, Chair of Council of Economic Advisors. They will be followed by the political team led by hardnosed centrists, Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff, and David Axelrod, architect of the winning strategy in the presidential election. Watch for the retirements of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. James Jones, National Security Advisor, both holdovers from the Bush presidency.

This multi-faceted shakeup is an admission of failure to solve the problems of the nation. It promises a new approach, a new beginning closer to the expectations generated by Obama's charisma.

Some would blame the failures on the economic collapse and the administration’s political difficulties in passing corrective national legislation. But the Obama appointees, selected for their knowledge of capitalism's booms and busts as well as the difficulties of managing change in a nation of 300 million seemed to lack a coherent plan.

• They miscalculated the political effect of joblessness, of government spending, of the federal deficit, of the national debt.

• They came to power with the biggest public goodwill in decades but squandered it in delays and false starts.

• They proved unable to deal with the strategies of the Republicans in Congress
despite almost total political control of the House and Senate. Instead of winning compromises with elements of the GOP they settled for a media victory over “The party of NO”, forgetting that every compromise is made with opponents whose negotiation position is NO, until they agree. Hey failed to remind the electorate that the Bush administration launched two wars and a new entitlement – Medicare prescription drugs – while cutting taxes.

• They were unable to use the powerful financial and industrial institutions they saved from bankruptcy to pressure the Republicans in Congress even while they were bailing out these companies with trillions of dollars.

• They were unable to organize the committed army of Obama supporters in the presidential election into a grassroots organization to act as a pressure group on members of Congress and the media.

If the Obama administration is to survive the presidential election of 2012 giving Obama a second term, the replacements of the teams that struck out need to develop a relevant strategy. Unfortunately the new appointments will be made in the shadow of the 2010 congressional elections, almost sure to result in Democratic defeats. If history is the guide, replacements will be even more centrist than the original team. After Bill Clinton’s political defeat in the election of 1994, his policies swung further to the right but benefited from a business boom. Business and financial interests will demand looser regulation, fewer prosecutions, and lower taxes. Obama is already under pressure to appoint business executives, as though his outgoing aides Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin had not already worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Rest assured that neither Paul Krugman nor Joseph Stiglitz, both liberals, Keynesians and Nobel Prize winners, will be appointed.

The likely results: current policies will continue with new leaders, policies of mild economic stimulation, based on the political hope and prayer that another boom/bust cycle begins in time for the 2012 presidential election as it did for Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan when they got into trouble. Good luck.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Democrats Fight Back

At long last, the Obama administration has compiled talking points for Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. This campaign material is essentially defensive and does not reflect pride in the Democratic controversial legislation.

To offer hope for improving the economy: the Federal Open Market Committee is using proceeds from the Fed's vast mortgage-bond portfolio to buy long-term Treasury securities to increase the money supply by least 2 trillion dollars, thereby loosening credit and stimulating business activity. Warren Buffett objects, saying the move would lead to inflation. However, the policy change is a desperate attempt to revive the economy before November 2 and can be made without getting 60 votes in the Senate.

To offer hope for reducing the federal deficit: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced “a cut in the military budget,” then explained that inefficient programs would be eliminated, the proceeds used for “war fighting” with the result that the next military budget will increase by “only 1% over inflation”.

To offer hope for an end to the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: Dates have been set for withdrawals of combat troops “subject to safe conditions on the ground” but with the understanding that US residual military forces will remain to train native troops, to protect the US embassies and the private contractors hired by the US to support the residual forces.

To offer proof that the US will continue to pursue and destroy Al Qaeda, Taliban and other insurgencies: Members of Congress are urged to cite the Wikileaks report on the 92,000 secret documents as well as the CIA -inspired report on the “Secret Assault on Terrorism” that appeared in the New York Times to show that the US military effort has been widened to many more countries on two continents. Message: we will protect you no matter what it takes.

To offer proof that the governing Democrats are not liberals: Cite Obama's Press Secretary Robert Gibbs who insists that the administration has no “professional lefties”, or people who “want to eliminate the Pentagon”, or desire “to have a Canadian health care system” imported to the US, or “relentless liberals” who were the base of the movement that put Obama in the White House.

Will these strategies help to reverse the current decline in the political fortunes of the Democratic candidates? Do they truly reflect the aims and ideals of the Party? Will they build the Party or blur the Democratic message and foster disunity? These questions must be answered to the satisfaction of the voters.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Can Obama be Re-elected in 2012

As the November congressional elections draw closer, the conventional wisdom is that large Democratic losses in the Senate and the House of Representatives are inevitable parts of the political process, a reaction to the sweeping Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008. Another view holds that the defeated party reorganizes itself and recovers some political power as the nation seeks a new equilibrium.

Yes, there have been political eras where this scenario played out, when the president's party suffered significant midterm losses, but there are just as many elections when this did not happen. And in every case, there were policy reasons for defeat of the president's party at midterm. In the current election, systematic interviews with Democratic and Republican insiders in December, 2008, found that none of them believed that the “inevitability” theory applied to the Obama administration even though it took office in the depths of the Great Recession.

Indeed, the election and inauguration of President Barack Obama was marked by a remarkable outpouring of energy, enthusiasm and passion for his ideas for hope and change. Obama has been unable to keep these feelings and attitudes alive in his own party. They have moved to the Republican opposition. The Tea Party activists are today the main source of passionate public participation with their rallies, public meetings and insistent demands while the people whose vigor elected Obama sit in sullen inactivity. Jay Leno says that “President Obama has a new message for the American people…. “Things could be a lot worse.” We've gone from “Change you can believe in” to “Things could be a lot worse.”

In this depressed political situation, the Obama White House seems to be prepared for the loss of the Senate and the House. Their victories in Health Care Reform and Financial Reform have not brought the enthusiastic popular support they expected. The necessary compromises and the talmudic details of the programs are not well understood and so far have not changed the lives of the voters. Obama supporters have been disappointed on these and other issues. They were expecting a great leap forward but received only a baby step.

Nevertheless, Obama is engaged in an endless summer of fund raising for Democratic candidates, appealing especially for big bucks. His cautious management style seems to preclude any serious effort to rev up his base to challenge the power of the elites who seem to dominate the United States, the military and the bankers. That would not be the style of Obama, a man who prefers loving to fighting.

It is within this depressing frame that Obama and his political advisers prepare for his reelection effort in 2012. They find Obama himself is more popular than his policies. He retains the loyalty of youth, minorities, labor and liberals. Although none of these constituencies are satisfied with Obama’s policies, they cannot allow the historic symbolism of his election to be shrouded in defeat and rejection.

Will Obama's basic constituency turn out to work and vote in 2012 as they did in 2008? Must he change his advisers and adopt more liberal programs in the face of the Tea Party and the elite’s opposition? Can he reduce unemployment and America's commitment to police the entire world? Or will our first bi-racial president be rejected, not for his race, but for his unwillingness to preside over a regime of serious change?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

? Nationalize the Big Banks ?

Politicians in Washington are mesmerized by Wall Street campaign dollars and terrified by being branded “socialists”. That seems to be the most likely explanation for the failure of the Congress to pass a second stimulus bill despite continuing high levels of unemployment -especially long-term unemployment - that are absolutely catastrophic for millions of families.

In fact, politicians are leaning in the other direction. Instead of a jobs bill, they are promoting deficit reduction. Instead of promoting stimulation of the economy there has been a stunning revival of Herbert Hoover financial orthodoxy: hard money, balanced budget, and deficit reduction.

Yes, long-term fiscal responsibility is important but cutting spending in the midst of a recession is more likely to lead to deflation of prices, business activity and jobs than to the inflation that worries the financial elite. Social stability is promoted by full employment policies, diminishing crime, sickness and chronic unhappiness. Didn’t we learn from bitter experience?

The same politicians have just completed a financial overhaul bill that will be known as the Dodd - Frank Act. The outcome of this so-called reform is particularly relevant to taxpayers who spent and pledged trillions of dollars to bail out the banking system, especially the five US banks with the most assets: Bank of America $2.34 trillion, J.P. Morgan Chase $2.14 trillion, Citigroup $2 trillion, Wells Fargo $1.2 trillion, Goldman Sachs $0.88 trillion. The 10 largest banks have $10.4 trillion in assets, equivalent to 80% of the gross domestic product of the entire US

The most important failing of the Dodd-Frank Act is that it does not resolve the biggest problem and the greatest danger in the recent financial crisis.. If any one of the largest banks falls into serious financial trouble, by mistakes or by excessive risk, the federal government would be compelled to rescue to prevent collapse of the entire financial system. The concentration of wealth and power is the greatest danger to our capitalist system.

The Act reduces proprietary trading and regulates derivatives but we have had regulators and regulations for 100 years of ineffectiveness as low paid civil servants are overcome by the richest financial institutions in world history. There are two ways to reduce the risk of “too big and too powerful to fail”. First, cut the enormous and interconnected financial firms down to size by requiring them to sell off their various divisions. Alternatively, let them remain large but have the federal government take them over to be treated as public utilities run by salaried employees without the tempting bonuses realized by anti-social risks and gambling with other people’s money. If the taxpayer assumes the ultimate risk by bailout, he should have the ownership as well as the profits generated by the rise and fall of the various markets, often manipulated by the big boys in their seats of power

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Will We Ever Leave Afghanistan?

American military forces have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 under the congressional authorization to destroy Al Qaeda for its role in training the 19 criminals who attacked the World Trade buildings in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001, a date that will live in infamy. US military leaders now say that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda are no longer in Afghanistan but probably in Pakistan. The enemy has become the Taliban, an insurgency movement dedicated to overthrowing the Karzai government in Afghanistan, a regime supported and financed by the US.

President Barack Obama has sent 30,000 more troops to reinforce the 75,000 already in Afghanistan, in his attempt to secure a military victory over the Taliban guerrillas, a victory that will ensure the survival of the Karzai regime now holding power by election fraud and wholesale corruption. After ten years of fighting, thousands of American troops killed or wounded and a trillion dollars spent, most Americans want to transfer responsibility for this civil war to the Afghan government. However Obama policies for ending this long war are notable for their contradictions. He promises to begin drawing down US forces in July, 2011, “responsibly” but not hastily, and “taking into account conditions on the ground.” These hedges will allow Obama to delay or eliminate withdrawal indefinitely while citing the promised date as policy. Obama hints of willingness to talk to the Taliban while stepping up a military campaign designed to eliminate them. This has inspired President Karzai to begin his own secret negotiations with the Taliban in preparation for the possible departure of the Americans.

This has been the longest war in American history, begun when the US economy was in full bloom and the financial cost was not a factor. Now, with the economy hurting and enormous federal deficits piling up, voters are asking why are we in Afghanistan, a forsaken land dominated by brigands over the centuries, with no economic assets beyond opium, with a population largely illiterate, hardly a factor in world politics. With an important US election just a few months away, the Obama administration finally produced a reason for US presence in Afghanistan by announcing that it had discovered $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits there, far beyond any previously known reserves and “enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself.”

It must be very difficult for soldiers to put their lives on the line with such a contradictory and vague policy. Who wants to be the last one to die for a mistake? And who will protect the American businesses who invest in the newly discovered mineral riches? And who will protect them from the war lords and native marauders?

The timing of the minerals story is curious, especially because this information has been available for years. In fact, the McClatchy newspaper chain revealed several years ago that the Chinese government had made a long-term deal with the Karzai government giving them mining rights to the biggest copper mine in the world and that the Chinese were being protected from Afghan brigands by US troops. Obama needs to explain why the Chinese get this prize investment when US casualties make the exploration possible. What was the deal between China and the US? Was the price China's cooperation on the nuclear crises with North Korea and Iran?

In any case, it looks as though the American voters are being manipulated. We are leaving Afghanistan – maybe - but if we stay there is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. Will this be enough to the defer voter worries until after the November election? Will it take this issue away from the Republicans? The prime reason for the contradictory Obama policy is probably political. Leaving Afghanistan without a clear military victory is sure to inspire political attacks on the Obama administration as incompetent or worse, that it diminished US security by "losing Afghanistan", as though it was ours to lose.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jobs or Derivatives?

The United States needs another stimulus package to increase domestic economic activity which will generate more jobs and eliminate the remnants of the “Great Recession”. However, the Congress hesitates to pass the necessary legislation because the members are spooked by the rise of a competing worry, the federal deficit, now at $12.3 trillion and increasing by over $1 trillion for this year and the next.

These are not unimportant numbers but they should be placed in context: the accumulated deficit is equal to the lost revenues of the George W. Bush tax cuts plus the cost of the George W. Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without these very questionable expenditures there would be no federal deficit.

The proposed jobs bill is not questionable. It is required by the very high unemployment rate now almost 10% according to federal statistics but actually nearer to 15% when it includes the workers who have stopped looking for work, the workers who are forced to work part-time, and those working at jobs well below their training. As a result, we have a serious jobs crisis, a family crisis, and a humanitarian crisis that requires immediate amelioration before it leads to a social explosion.

The US economy and the federal government have other obligations, current and potential, that make the federal deficit look like small change. The Wall Street Journal reported on June 16, 2010, in an inside section indicating minimum importance, that, “Right now, US banks, mostly a few giants, have $276 trillion in over-the-counter derivatives….. Most of these derivatives are within commercial bank subsidiaries that enjoy federal deposit insurance. Thus, the banks effectively enjoy a government subsidy that likely distorts prices and allows them to hold too little capital against the derivatives…. The top derivative banks are so big the government would almost certainly rescue them - and their derivatives affiliates - if they are collapsed….”

The frightening $276 trillion threat posed by the derivatives is not getting the attention of the media and the Congress commensurate with the danger, nowhere near the worry about the $12 trillion threat and that's a pity. The $12 trillion threat is being used to prevent passage of a $1 trillion jobs bill that would boost jobs and business activity as it did during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

These contrasting choices highlight the most important issues this election year. There is no obligation for the federal government to guarantee any derivative investments (aka gambling). There is an obligation for the federal government to promote social and family stability through gainful employment policies.

Will the candidates for the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives respond to the political contributions of the bankers or the agonies of the workers and their families? Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Breaking Up the Super Banks

What made this recession a "great recession" isn't only its depth and duration. Most importantly, it has forced changes in the role of government in the economy, in rules for finance and banking. In addition, and just as far-reaching, it has changed American attitudes toward spending and thrift, retirement and homeownership, as well as finance and government.

Public attitudes toward the super-banks may have changed the most. "Bailout" has become a nasty word describing the incestuous relationship between the banks and the U.S. Treasury. It is a scandal that certain bankers had a private window at the Treasury for their financial convenience when money was needed to bail them out of their gambling and mistakes. The unfairness of the government subsidizing the errors of a particular industry is obvious but it is compounded by the subsidizing of only a part of that industry, the super-banks.

Don't think that this favoritism is due to family connections or college chums or drinking buddies, although there are favorites everywhere, even in Hell. Surprise: there was also the profit motive. Banks deemed by the government as too big to fail can borrow money for normal operations at lower rates of interest. The lender knows that this borrower is virtually guaranteed by Uncle Sam. The hazard, always a factor, is greatly diminished because the US Treasury is just over the horizon to bailout the deal. As a consequence, business practices are distorted, extra risks are taken and super-banks profits are dramatically increased. They can afford more political contributions and lobbyists. The banks can use the extra profits to acquire other banks making them even more essential to the national economy.

The big banks that dominate the economy do not lack defenders in high places, defenders whose influence offsets the qualms of the average citizen. Heavyweights such as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, presidential advisor Lawrence Summers, Robert Rubin, former Treasury Secretary and chief executive at Goldman Sachs and Citibank, would prefer strengthening regulation of banks rather than breaking them up by congressional law. Regulators can be pressured in a variety of ways; by the White House, by Members of Congress, by the prospect of future jobs, by the intricacies of the regulations, etc.

Finally, if the super-banks are divided so that they are not too big to fail, if a version of the New Deal Glass-Steagall Act of 1930’s was reenacted, separating commercial banks from investment banks, the question would remain whether that would be enough to prevent bank growth in unforeseen ways to the level that would command the subsidy of "too big to fail". We need to monitor these guys - in the public interest - to protect fair competition and to guard our national treasury.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maintaining US Hegemony

Robert M. Gates, US Secretary of Defense, wrote in Foreign Affairs, “The United States is unlikely to repeat a mission on the scale of those in Afghanistan or Iraq any time soon - that is, forced regime change followed by nation building under fire.”

This statement is close to admitting that the invasions were mistakes, that the dangers they were designed to suppress were not commensurate with the cost of suppression. One might then ask, why not bring the troops home at once, or as soon as logistically possible? Why plan on leaving 50,000 or more “residual” American troops in the occupied lands as an additional potential sacrifice in pursuit of a mistaken policy?

Gates continued: “In these situations, the effectiveness and credibility of the United States will only be as good as the effectiveness, credibility, and sustainability of its local partners.” Clearly, our local partners in Iraq and Afghanistan do not have these qualities. Their weakness requires US occupation and military sacrifice because the local elites do not have the power and ability to manage their countries nor the popular support to enforce their will.

The result was predictable: total reliance on the US military and US occupation forces. From time immemorial, these factors have always generated great increases in popular resistance. The foreign occupier violates native territoriality whether in Concord/ Lexington or in Jerusalem. The Tories were too weak to help the British occupiers of Massachusetts in 1776 and Herod could not control the Hebrews who revolted against Roman control of holy places..

The US had experienced this human phenomenon more recently. The leaders of South Vietnam made a mess of governing, alienated the population, crushed the subsistence farmers, created enemies of their regime as well as intense hatred of their American allies. After their complete victory in World War II, the allied forces were wiser, handing over power to the traditional elites in Germany and Japan, who were strong enough to manage their countries while taking general orders from the American conquerors who remained in the background – a strong contrast with Iraq and Afghanistan where the corrupt leaders alienated the local population. It is difficult if not impossible for a foreign occupier to rule without an effective native government to do its bidding. Such governments do not exist in Iraq and Afghanistan, another reason for immediate withdrawal.

Theoretically, as the only superpower, United States hegemony over Planet Earth can be maintained in a variety of ways. The current structure of military dominance relies on supporting the elites in the more than 140 countries where there are at least 750 US military bases. This military system puts the US in defense of ruling regimes in case of insurgency even without formal treaties. However, the military and financial costs may be too great even for the USA, a nation with only 6% of the earth’s humans but a grand 25% of the world's product. The military bases imply ultimate protection of the rulers and a degree of military occupation that inspires resentment of the US by local nationalists who will find ways of attacking the superpower.

But America has other traditions - of openness, of welcoming immigrants, of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, of constitutional government, of breaking social and sexual and racial barriers. It does not need to follow the Roman model of military empire of crushing resistance wherever it appears. America’s soft powers, its leadership in assimilation, its remarkable prosperity, its richness in ideas and technology, give it the opportunity to break the Roman pattern of legionary discipline with a benevolent leadership that relies on economic, social and moral persuasion. Even the flaws of America, its aggressiveness, its occasional meanness, its arrogance, so perfectly reflect the best and the worst of the human condition – a sort of Paradise Lost – but remembered.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Expansion of Presidential Power

Presidential power is one of the mysteries of the American political system, certainly not justified or suggested in the United States Constitution. The last thing the framers of the Constitution wanted was a king, an American George III, with the power to tax, to levy armies, to initiate wars. Yet that is our current system and presidential power is growing as the democratic spirit weakens under the pressures of maintaining world-wide hegemony.

The ultimate presidential power: only the president can order the use of a nuclear weapon against an enemy he identifies, at a moment he chooses, for reasons he alone finds adequate. To give it practical effect the president is always accompanied by an aide carrying a briefcase containing the authorization codes to fire one or all of America's nuclear weapons. The president is not required to consult anyone. Given the strength of America's nuclear arsenal, the president can destroy the entire human species and end all life on planet Earth. This enormous personal power has belonged to all presidents since 1945.

Now President Obama seeks to expand his solitary power to the domestic economic and financial sphere, seeking control of the money supply for his unilateral use and control.

This month President Obama plans to ask Congress to give him and future presidents the power to delete individual items from appropriation bills. Many previous presidents have sought to seize the power of the purse. Here is where it now resides. The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 7, “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives…..” subject to amendment by the Senate, the right of the president to veto, and the right of the Congress to override the veto.

That is why the Supreme Court in 1998 ruled a line-item veto unconstitutional. The constitutional responsibility of the president is to execute the laws passed by the people's representatives, the Congress of the United States. Now Obama wants the Congress to surrender part of its primary responsibility.

This constitutional change is most often put forward by Republican presidents. The attempt by this Democratic president to increase his vast presidential power tends to prove Lord Acton's famous maxim that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Weakening our division of powers may result in greater efficiency, but would clearly diminish the plan of the founding fathers to guard against the usurpation of authority by any one of the three branches of the federal government. Take away the power of the purse from Congress and it would become little more than a club for debate, the direct representatives of the people would be shorn of any significant power. And who can guarantee that the White House will not make appropriations based in part on political pressures and electoral calculations as the Congress does now.

In fact, for many years, the executive branch has found ways to modify the intent of congressional appropriations. Sometimes the president and his minions failed to spend the money, sometimes they chose the contractors, sometimes they speed or slow the rate of expenditure, sometimes they modify the project in ways that transform it and leave it to the undermanned Congress to discover the discrepancies.

Finally, giving any president increased power over appropriations might increase the growing number of presidential wars. A Library of Congress study identified 234 military actions between 1798 and 1993 of these by US Armed Forces abroad. Only five of these wars were declared by Congress as required by the U.S. Constitution. The Library of Congress calls those not declared by Congress presidential wars. Three are being fought right now in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. If presidents had appropriating power to finance more wars, we might be fighting in more of the 147 countries in which we have military bases.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Saving Obama and the Democrats

Here is the problem for liberals: we need to protect the Democrats from the anger their policies have generated while pushing them to implement the promises they made to win the 2008 election.

The most unfortunate outcome in the November 2010 elections would be significant political gains by the movement led by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party reactionaries. A close second negative would be the takeover of Congress by the Republican Party committed to downsizing and disempowering government from its responsibility to protect the nation and the most vulnerable people from the wild swings of the capitalist market.

President Obama's policies make it difficult to rally the voters who voted for hope and change, his glittering generalities not yet implemented but of special importance to liberals. On March 29, Obama changed federal policy by allowing and promoting drilling for oil offshore California and the eastern seaboard from Florida to Virginia, violating the promises he made to environmentalists. Despite the terrible explosion and oil spill that now threatens vast areas of the US, Obama insists that he will continue the new drilling program once the current crisis has been overcome. The oil companies were preferred over the environmental groups,

In his State of the Union address on January 27, Obama confirmed his campaign promise by calling for repeal of the “Don't ask, Don't tell” DADT policy. Less than a week later, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee that repealing the policy that prevents gay men and women from serving openly in the military was “the right thing to do.” But that policy has not been repealed. DADT is still the law of land.

Obama promised to close the infamous torture prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba within one year. One of a half years later it is still open and functioning, a blot on the human rights reputation of the US, a negative symbol that encourages people all over the world to oppose US policies and interests.

Obama has continued the Bush policies of wiretapping without a warrant Americans and others suspected of criminal activity, violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA 1998) that requires a warrant issued by a federal judge. So much for adherence to the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

While these are some of the Obama promises of special importance to liberals, all American voters are concerned with the lack of progress on reducing unemployment, restoring the economy, controlling the power of the big banks, the ballooning federal deficit and the endless war in Afghanistan. On all these, the record of the administration is weak

On each of these issues, millions of voters are disappointed and disillusioned. Even a confirmed centrist like Obama needs to live up to his promises and commitments and public expectations. There is sure to be political erosion in November away from Obama and the Democratic regime - and from constituencies that are not necessarily liberal. Isn't everyone an environmentalist to protect our beautiful homeland? Doesn't every American love and respect the Constitution?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bailing Out the Gambling Financiers

Why shouldn't banks be limited to a certain size that would not pose a threat to the entire economy? Why shouldn't they be restricted to specific activities that support personal savings and the financial needs of real businesses? Why shouldn't banks be forbidden to gamble with depositors’ cash, also known as other peoples' money?

It doesn't happen because the government is addicted to the tax revenues from the financial services and doesn't want the banks to go overseas. Let them go overseas: they won't find another country with the cash to bail them out nor the political vulnerability to their lobbyists and cash donations.

The subprime mortgage derivatives generated trillions of investment dollars by bank professionals who failed to research the package offered, failed to assess the viability of the sponsors, and ignored the underfunded reserves. Investment banks are a lot closer to spreadbetting indexes than your traditional gambling bookmaker as they simply let everyone else take the risk secure in the knowledge that the government will bail them out with taxpayer money. At least we should separate retail banking from the pure gambling that is often called investment banking. Another alternative would be to nationalize the banks. If the taxpayer assumes the ultimate risk, he should have ownership.

If Congress actually passes a bill forbidding bailouts but does not break up the enormous banks to a reasonable size, the next financial crisis will again be called a threat to the entire economy and the bailouts repeated. Never before has the intertwined relationship between big business and big government been so obvious to so many Americans. They are demanding change and they will get something that looks like change - but it won’t be adequate to contain the continuing crisis.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Abortion and the Health Reform Bill

The advocates of a woman’s legal right to abortion under the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision were enthusiastic supporters of the Democratic Health Care Reform Bill. But they were appalled at the deal President Obama made with 13 US Representatives to obtain their votes in exchange for an Executive Order that weakens the rights of women for legal abortions.

With little fanfare, with no glaring lights or TV cameras, no East Room speeches, without a photo or a handshake, President Obama did not commemorate this Executive Order with twenty signing pens. The president of NOW, the National Organization of Women, said, “We wished he would storm the ramparts for every one of our issues. It really pains me to conclude that on balance this law is not good for women. It’s health reform has been achieved on the backs of women and at the expense of women.” Other leaders made similar statements.

The new law requires women to make premium payments on most of their coverage and a second, far smaller one, for abortion coverage. Advocates fear that the executive order will make it more difficult to achieve elimination of the Hyde Amendment that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion. Hyde ought to be repealed because it penalizes women for a completely legal medical procedure – with the approval of President Obama.

There is another issue affected by Obama's Executive Order. In spite of the fact that abortion is legal in all three trimesters under clearly spelled out conditions and regulations, there is a national campaign of legal activities to discourage and intimidate women, doctors, nurses, hospitals, clinics, etc. from exercising their rights under the law. The systematic harassment sometimes violates laws when the “educational” efforts become threats and when doctors are murdered.

This anti-abortion campaign has been remarkably effective in making it difficult and expensive for women to exercise their right to abortion. In many communities, no doctors or hospitals will perform this service. Some women must travel significant distances to other cities and states, find a new doctor, bring along a friend or relative, make hospital arrangements, all at significant expense. Abortion services are not available in 87% of the counties of the US.

In the debate before the House of Representatives, virtually every anti-abortion speaker emphasized the sanctity of human life. Who could disagree with that principle and its application to the life and death of a child? But humanitarian and religious principles require that this principle be applied to all human activity: the life and health of the mother, the taking of life by the government by capital punishment, the existence of nuclear weapons that could eliminate all human life on planet Earth. President Obama's political arrangement on abortion has not helped to clarify these difficult issues and has encouraged the public campaign to deny legal rights to American women

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No More Bailouts

Americans have had enough of the nightmare of irresponsible big institutions getting bailed out by the US government using their tax dollars. The average citizen on Main Street should not pay for the risky and reckless behavior of corporate giants on Wall Street.

Bailout is the most unpopular word in the language today. In Texas, the Republican nomination for governor was decided when the heavy favorite, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, was derided as “Kay Bailout”, for her vote in the U.S. Senate.

Now, the Senate Democrats have proposed legislation to overhaul financial markets by establishing government scrutiny and regulation to almost any financial product, from payday loans to workers to derivative trades by investment bankers.

The bill's prospects are unclear. So far it has no Republican support and the lobbyists hired by financial interests are already on the attack. But their defense was destroyed when they took the bailout money to remain solvent. When they begged the US government to loan them trillions of dollars to save them from bankruptcy, they put themselves in the hands of the federal government obligated to make sure it never happens again.

Hence the absolute requirement for regulation of trading, for adequate capital, for consumer protection, for mortgage regulation, for transparent records, etc. When an institution needs a rescue to survive, it gives away part of its independence. If they are too big to fail because their failure will have negative consequences to the entire American and world economies, they must be restrained in conducting business in a manner that increases the risk of failure.

We all know that financial institutions and big business have enormous power in Washington. They will resist most serious reforms and effective regulation or at least try to weaken them. The battle will be a serious test of American democracy. If serious regulation does not establish controls over outright gambling with other people's money, over deceptive practices, over risk-taking for bonus payments, the nation will have capitulated to practices that could bring down the Republic.

We can't have anymore of this business of, heads I win, tails you lose. The national interest must be protected. No more gambling with depositors’ money with the assurance that the government will bail out the losses and a fat bonus will await the gambler if the house wins.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Military Influence in the US

In this period of American military dominance, generals and admirals have acquired influence well beyond the battlefield. Four-Star General David Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command, oversees US military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of the greater Middle East. He is the likely choice to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he will again be in the public spotlight. His recent lower profile was suggested by the Obama White House.

His extensive wartime experience and proven ability to negotiate on Capitol Hill have made General Petraeus a formidable political personality should he choose that venue after retirement. He regularly denies interest in becoming president of the United States, sometimes without being asked. He invokes the famous remark of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War general who made the stunningly clear response to presidential ambition: "If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve." Other notable generals found the call irresistible: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight David Eisenhower, so far.

However, that is not the end of the matter. The ascendancy of Petraeus has come during a period in American history in which military leaders have acquired influence well beyond the battlefield. Petraeus and his counterpart commanders in the Pacific, in Europe and in Latin America meet regularly with the politically powerful in foreign capitals, as well as in Washington, DC. Some observers point to their clout as evidence that US foreign policy has become militarized under both Democratic and Republican administrations. It is difficult to deflect this argument when the US is engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is intervening in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, is authorized to chase Al Qaeda militarily into any or all of the 192 countries on earth, and operates 761 military bases in 147 countries.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

America's Soft Power

The United States cannot solve the problems of the world on its own, and the world cannot solve them without the United States.

As the world’s only remaining superpower, America has the ability to affect the behavior of other nations through coercion, economic strength and the power of attraction. Hard power relies on coercion and raw economic power. Soft power influences others through public diplomacy, broadcasting, exchange programs, development assistance, disaster relief, exchange of ideas and culture - everything from Hollywood to Shakespeare to orchestras.

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama informed all countries, friendly and unfriendly, that there was a new attitude in the White House. He advised those countries “on the wrong side of history” that the United States “will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”.

During his first year in office, Obama followed through by launching negotiations with Iran and North Korea on their nuclear programs, searching for common ground with Russia on arms control and missile defense, and softening economic sanctions against Cuba.

The jury is still out on whether the Obama initiatives will bear fruit, but it is a start and a welcome improvement from the George W. Bush reliance on hard power. But much more must be done to translate Obama’s effective rhetoric into a softening of policy, a softening more likely to increase the security of America and the rest of the world. If President Obama were to withdraw American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, then reduce the enormous US military budget, close some of the 761 US military bases in 147 countries, he would set the stage for America to inspire and lead the world by using the panoply of its soft power.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dick Cheney’s Path to Bipartisanship

President Obama has finally achieved the bipartisanship for which he has been virtually begging since his agenda collapsed in Congress in the first year of his term. And the Republican partisan who showed him the way was former Vice President Richard Cheney, the meanest gun in politics. In his recent exchanges with Vice President Joe Biden, Cheney opposed virtually every Obama policy except for one: Cheney approves Obama policy in Afghanistan.

Finally, Obama knows how to get bipartisan support: concentrate on military intervention abroad, For generations, the presidents of both parties have unified the nation by fighting undeclared wars all over the world. The parties draw together to support the US troops sent abroad to fight "Just" wars and to establish American military bases, a Roman strategy without the pizza.

Cheney's approval arrives just in time to help Obama replace his failed agenda to reform health care, to regulate financial institutions, to solve the crisis in unemployment. With the Congress in total gridlock over domestic matters, Obama will gain political approval from Republicans and Independents by concentrating on Afghanistan and Iraq, with Iran waiting-on-call followed by likely insurgencies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Priorities determine bipartisanship. Cut Medicare but capture Osama Bin Laden.

By the November elections, the Obama Administration will have united the nation against the Taliban. After overwhelming force has pacified Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will design governments for other foreign nations. They will not fret at military occupation accompanied by the rebuilding of their homes and factories at US expense.

This scenario should satisfy American voters for at least the next two elections, keeping us safe abroad but shaky at home. It is likely to gain the support of those who believe America should use its incomparable strength, the most powerful military the world has ever seen. Cheney will encourage Obama by his grudging approval. The Congress will provide the necessary trillions with only a rare dissenting vote. And President Barack Obama will have achieved his ultimate goal, the unity of the nation in support of the bipartisan goals of "Just" wars to rescue humanity and to persuade everyone to love him.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Soft Power vs. US Military Budget

President Obama has proposed a freeze on 17% of the discretionary items in the federal budget over the next three years. These cuts affect domestic social expenditures that improve conditions of living in the United States. They are regrettable because they diminish US standard of living and reduce part of the government stimulus to our faltering economy.

At the same time, the President increased the US military budget significantly. His budget request for defense is 708 billion dollars but this number does not include spending for nuclear weapons and other military expenses tucked neatly into the budgets of other departments. In addition, every year the Congress makes supplemental appropriations to pay for current wars. The grand total for the year will be at least $1 trillion, spending more on the US military than all other nations on earth combined.

Since September 11, 2001, the Pentagon's budget has more than doubled in just nine years and a significant portion is spent outside the US to finance two unpopular wars and 761 American military bases in 147 countries. The size of America’s armed forces is about one and one-half million (1,500,000) and about five hundred thousand (500,000) are stationed overseas The people of every nation dislike military occupation by foreign soldiers. But American soldiers in foreign countries can give the rulers of these countries, dictators or democrats, a sense of security in the implied promise of US military support in crises. Is this an involuntary commitment to intervention? Does the American military presence inhibit those seeking change?

With President Obama's 2011 budget, 42 cents of every dollar the federal government spends will have to be borrowed. Foreign investors are lending us about half of our national debt and China and Japan provide half of that sum. China’s share is growing faster.

Some at the Pentagon are worrying that America's destiny, financial and political, may be in the control of a potential rival - and all without a shot being fired. Can we afford to be the policeman of the world? Are we overextending ourselves financially and militarily? Or do we believe that we can take unnecessary risks because we are too big to fail?

From the dawn of recorded history, no nation has surrendered its preeminence – and the United States shouldn’t and wouldn’t. Is there an alternative to our current outrageous waste of lives, money and resources? Joseph S. Nye Jr, Professor at Harvard University with hands-on experience in statecraft, advocates Smart Power, combining hard and soft power. "The United States can become a Smart Power by once again investing in global public goods - providing things that people and governments in all quarters of the world want but cannot attain on their own. Achieving economic development, securing public health, coping with climate change… all require leadership from the United States. By complementing its military and economic might with greater investments in its soft power, the United States can....... tackle tough global challenges.”

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Barack Obama - The Bipartisan President

Barack Obama is back in his campaigning mode where he is most comfortable, demonstrating his unthreatening personality, his good looks, his oratorical skills, this time not directed at his own election but to offer bipartisanship to the nation as a substitute for problem solving.

Some might say that his administration has been bipartisan from inception. How else can he explain that the most powerful positions in his government are filled by holdovers from the George W. Bush administration, Republicans all, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, Central Command General David Petraeus, to name only a few.

These appointments are easily understood if we listen to Obama's rhetoric. In his State of the Union address, his most pressing theme was an appeal to Congressional Republicans for bipartisanship help, this from a president with the greatest political power since FDR, controlling the White House, the U.S. Senate, the US House of Representatives by wide margins, soon to control the US Supreme Court with the next vacancy, the prime recipient of political contributions from Wall Street and corporate America.

This young and popular president finds it necessary to confess to Congressional Republicans at a meeting he requested, that he was not an "ideologue," that his health reform bill was not a "Bolshevik plot", that "the American people...... didn't send us to Washington to fight each other....., they sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done....."

Quite a defensive statement from the elected leader of Earth's only superpower.

President Obama knows that it is virtually impossible for the Congress to pass controversial legislation in an election-year, especially year 2010. Republicans, Democrats and independents are already complaining about failures to solve domestic and foreign problems in 2009, assigning most of the blame to the Democrats, the party in power and especially to the new and inexperienced president.

President Obama’s answer is bipartisanship, that the country's problems require unity of purpose and action, that he is ready, willing, even anxious to forgo political advantage to obtain the cooperation of the Republicans. And he can prove this by his unprecedented outreach to the rival party, his continuous praise of Ronald Reagan, and above all by his appointment of key Republican leaders to key administration posts.

Obama may even believe in bipartisanship rather than the political clash of economic and social interests expected in a democratic society. However, confronted with expectations greater than he can satisfy, Obama’s turn to bipartisanship may help the Democrats in the 2010 congressional elections and Obama when he runs for his second term in 2012. He may not be able to solve the nation's problems with bipartisanship, but he may be able to convince the voters to reassess the blame and to spread it broadly

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aftershocks from the Massachusetts Earthquake

The Democrats in the White House say that Martha Coakley's political mistakes were the prime factors in her impossible defeat. There is some truth in that - but not a lot.

The Democrats in Massachusetts say that the Obama administration’s political mistakes were the prime factors in Coakley's impossible defeat. There is some truth in that - probably a lot. Scott Brown's prime issue was Obama’s health care reform bill.

During the campaign, Scott Brown said repeatedly that he approved and advocated water boarding of prisoners, a technique of torture that was dropped by the Bush administration after it was used for years. Neither the Boston Globe nor Martha Coakley passed this important information on to the voters.

Many Americans express their regret that there are so few women in the U.S. Senate. This was an issue in the Democratic Senate Primary but disappeared in the January 19 election.

Another disappearance was the viability of Ted Kennedy's legacy. He surely would have campaigned and voted for Coakley as his widow Vicki pointed out repeatedly. Yet the Kennedy endorsement was virtually ignored by the voters. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

Obama, Bush and Clinton all promised to end hyper partisanship but the votes on health-care reform show that Obama is the latest president to fail to achieve reconciliation. American government is dysfunctional even when a party has a strong majority.

The US war in Afghanistan was not an important factor in the Massachusetts election although Brown supported the invasion and Coakley opposed it. When there is no draft or a tax to pay for the war, there is a tendency to pretend that we are not at war at all.

President Obama's approval rating is down to 46% but the White House has an idea to get it back up again. Just bring back Bush and Cheney for a week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Political Decline of President Barack Obama

The election in Massachusetts to replace Senator Edward M. Kennedy may turn out to be not as close as advertised. But it does highlight the political decline of President Barack Obama, only one year into his term. The Republican candidate, Scott Brown, is an inexperienced State Senator virtually unknown in Massachusetts and the nation only a few months ago, just like Obama was when he began thinking about running for president.

Obama is a gifted politician and he knows it. In his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” he wrote, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all of them.”

Right now, he is disappointing all of them. Let us count the ways

Obama has failed in his courtship of the Republicans despite his appointments of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, two Bush Republicans running the most important sectors of our government. Obama’s concessions to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, his bailouts of the nation's banks and auto companies have not gained him a single GOP vote in Congress.

The progressives/liberals in the Democratic Party are disillusioned by the priority given to saving the big banks, the failure to control corporate bonuses in bailed out companies, the military surge in Afghanistan, the compromises in health care reform, the failure to close the notorious prison at Guantanamo, etc.

The independents are also slipping away from Obama. Their perceptions are dominated by his inability to solve problems, his predilection for talk over action, the lack of a serious plan to reduce unemployment, a seemingly endless series of wars without resolution, and above all the failure to get things done in Washington. The bewildering complexities of health-care reform and the long period of indecision on the Afghanistan War have caused a decline of confidence in Obama and his administration.

In this political crisis, Obama has significant loyalists: African-Americans, Latinos, liberals still hopeful. And many Americans are personally bound to Obama by his personal attractiveness, his remarkable powers of oratory, his intellectual capacity, and the symbolism of his election as a break through for racial equality. His charming personality, attractive appearance, and likability, all help to keep him afloat in this political storm. But we chose a new and gloriously different president out of hope for serious change. And he hasn't delivered that - yet.


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