Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks and America

Not all of Wikileaks is bad news. As Dana Milbank's column in today's Washington Post points out, many of our diplomats are veritable Graham Greenes able to pen poignant cables home. We also learn that Prince Andrews thinks the United States is back in the Great Game, which the American ambassador denied, having not received the talking points from the Bush-Cheney Administration. In my view, it was good news that our foreign service officers are conscious that all our erstwhile allies in the Middle East are corrupt, sleazy and double-dealing. We also learn that the Obama Administration has been adroit in isolating Iran in the world. Details of how the Obama Administration weened China away from Iran by getting the Saudis to guarantee its oil supply showed deft diplomacy.

There are the usual fun vignettes of world leaders like Qaddafhi with his buxom Romanian nurse, Sarkozy reveling in denying Tony Blair the Presidency of the EU, and Berlusconi's pride in setting a good table and his close relationship with Putin's less savory friends.

We can look forward to weeks more of Wikileaks. They promise more upcoming cables having to due with the Vatican, North Korea and Israel. Julian Assange told Forbes he will have a massive document dump on a major American bank, which will expose the international financial community.

But there exists the problem of "bad faith" by Wikileaks. For example, when they dumped over 250,000 cables into the internet, they also asked their supporters to download the "insurance files", which are heavily encoded. These files are supposed to guarantee the United States or other security services would not assassinate Assange or those who work for Wikileaks. But it seems to me that if you profess wanting transparency in "all global issues" then saving the crown jewels just to protect your person is not quite cricket.

The U.S. Government reacted with justified outrage over the latest Wikileaks, even more than the previous dump of Afghanistan and Iraq documents. The problem is that this administration has tried to recover America's fallen prestige in the world and this doesn't help matters. The Italian foreign minister characterized these actions by Wikileaks as the "9-11" of political diplomacy. Former CIA officer Bob Baer claims that the release of the cables will make it more problematic for the United States to launch drones inside Pakistan and to engage in some of its covert anti-terrorism work as in Yemen. Another practical problem is that the leak silences friends inside other countries from providing intelligence to American diplomats.

But one of the issues here is that over 2 million Americans had access to these cables. None of them were highly classified. And where was our vaunted counterintelligence officers? This seems to me to be the result of the Secret America the Washington Post revealed earlier this year. A myriad of new intelligence agencies have grown up since 9/11 and none of them have any adult supervision. If you really believe that the lone American military analyst is the source of these cables I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'll sell you. The Wikileaks phenomenon is just the start of a flood of classified materials washing across the internet. It doesn't have to be Wikileaks but competitors since our intelligence agencies are so porous.

One of the most disturbing aspect of the cables is that they reveal the United States under President Obama has not abandoned the "Long War" concept created by the Bush-Cheney years. Almost every cable is tinged with a fixation on terrorism and war fever. The cable of Bob Gates briefing the Italian foreign minister about how the world will be radically different if Iran obtains a nuclear device is one of hundreds of examples of this mentality. Luckily, our policy makers have refrained from taking the Sunni dictators' advice in bombing Tehran but the theme runs throughout the Middle Eastern cables. It's not clear who is the client state the United States or the small Sunni kleptocracies. The Saudi King waxes hot and cold over whether Iran should be bombed. When Mossad tries to blackmail the U.S. in 2005 to bomb Iran while there is still time, the Saudis weigh in to stop this. This year the Saudi King now wants Iran bombed. Every Middle Eastern state, including Israel, wants a war with Iran and naturally the United States must wage it and pay for it.

Reading these cables you have to conclude that America must rapidly adopt a national energy policy as soon as possible to withdraw from the region and realign our country with the hopes and aspirations with the region's peoples and not their corrupt rulers. While the Sunni potentates urge the United States to bomb Iran, Middle Eastern people in recent polls believe the greatest threat to their security is posed by Israel number one, then the United States second and Iran down in the mix. The cables make you believe we are being manipulated by local political forces rather than following our national interests.

If one recalls the days of anti-Americanism in Latin America, it was because we would install military dictators and did not encourage democracy and freedom after the years of the Alliance for Progress. In the atmosphere of the Cold war, center and center-left forces were considered suspect and our emphasis was on stability, which was temporarily purchased by widespread human rights abuses. Reading these cables, I fear we are descending into that mentality, which will create dangerous blowback. Our intelligence assets are in fact part of the political problem as witnessed by the honest cables from our ambassador to Pakistan.

Leftist critics of Iraq and Afghanistan wars claim we are in quagmires. But it actually becomes true when you consider our role in the whole Middle East. Just review the cables on Hamid Karzai and his brother. We are in bed with so many shady corrupt characters that it's hard to see how we can extract ourselves from them. And the problem is that the average person there will remember. Just as they remember when George H.W. Bush urged the Shi'ites to revolt against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War and the United States failed to come to their rescue.

The cables about Iran's nuclear program remind me of the E.U. ambassador, who said,"We're all negotiating over a nuclear weapon like an oriental rug. But the difference is that we don't know whether the rug exists or not." The most worrisome cables detail North Korea's shipment to Iran of ballistic missiles, something the Iranian ambassador to Moscow immediately denied the day after the cables appeared. It has been this missile capability, in my opinion, that is the actual security threat posed by Iran. As we have seen, the Iranian nuclear program has been sabotaged by cyber warfare and the assasination of nuclear scientists, which should push the program back years.

Emerging as the elephant in the room is North Korea. The cables are fascinating in that the United States and South Korea have gamed out a unified Korea and cables covering the Chinese indicate Beijing might not object to this. It's clear China is not happy with their clients as North Korea keeps going rogue. One only has to watch the recent events on the Korean peninsula to get some sense of their insanity. How much of this military action is to camouflage an on-going transfer of power?

The Right and the Left in the States have selectively picked cables to reinforce their own ideologies. The Left is making hay out of suggestions that somehow the United States encouraged the right-wing coup in Honduras, while there are counter cables indicating this might not be true. The Right is circulating cables printed in the Guardian that the Obama Administration was hoping that the moderates would triumph in the Iranian election. Not a bad hope. But the point of circulating these memos is to portray the Administration as naive, something the rest of the cables show they are not. In fact, the cables show that Obama's overture to Iran was done precisely to set up the situation for tougher sanctions, something the right didn't understand in the first place.

The American diplomatic corps comes across as professional, honest, educated and savvy to the local conditions. While these cables are not policy papers but just reports from the field, you have to give the men and women who serve our country credit for dealing with a hostile and threatening world. You also have to give them credit for ferreting out information from host countries. Unfortunately, something that might become more difficult with the release of these cables.

One item I found ironic was Harold Koh's statement condemning Wikileaks. Koh is the counselor for the State Department, whose appointment was challenged by conservatives who claimed--quite falsely--was an advocate of Sharia law.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Obama Abroad Again

President Obama punched back at the Republicans over the New Start Treaty with his address to the nation on Saturday. He even singled out Senator Kyl as a culprit. Besides the worthy goal of down-sizing our nuclear arsenal, President Obama stressed that failure to ratify the treaty would jeopardize Russian cooperation on Iran and its facilitation of American troops and equipment to Afghanistan. Of course, it would make the United States look like chumps and diminish the country's influence abroad, which Republicans either neglect to think about in their venegeance against Obama or simply don't care. Obama invoked literally every living Republican favoring the treaty and even the dead President Reagan. Senator Lugar did his part on television interviews stressing the urgency and importance of this treaty.

Retired General Egan, who was the deputy commander of U.S. nuclear forces, lashed out at conservative saying that they have literally no respect for the military. He claimed that all the brass and the majority of retired brass favor this Treaty and that it was clear that conservatives no longer trust the armed forces.

Since Day One, conservatives accused President Obama of neglecting our allies in Europe. They even attacked this treaty early on as precluding the implementation of the missle defense program--the famed Star War project. Of course, this was not true. Then they accused President Obama of neglecting to modernize our nuclear arsenal, which is doubly not true with the allocation of $85 billion to this task.Then the accusation was that were abandoning Eastern Europe. This weekend all of the East European governments urged the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty.

Is there some secret to the fact that conservatives have ignored the recent news of the United States' successful covert action smuggling tons of uranium and plutonium out of Kazakhstan--enough to make hundreds if not thousands of nuclear weapons? So far I have only read analyses by the left.

At the NATO meeting in Lisbon, most observers talked about the agreement to start withdrawing troops in 2011 and eventually handing over the security of the country in 2014. Sadly, this would mean the United States would be at war in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union was. Sadder still is the poll that found that the vast majority of Afghanistan don't know what 9/11 is or what the war is about in the first place.

If you think the United States should be diplomatically engaged, it's useful to note that NATO with the help of the Obama Administration over the past two years has finally produced their first mission statement about the 21st century after ten years with none. This doesn't get the headlines but these things used to matter.

Also, as the Drudge Report reminds us, Russia might be participating in the missle defense system, something Ronald Reagan actually promised them years ago.

While debating the future of Afghanistan with Hamid Karzai, the United States and the European Union met to discuss the global economic situation and continued plans to reach a new DOHA agreement on trade this coming year. From the major media--crickets.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the absolutely disasterous Asian trip of President Obama, Steven Chu, our Energy Secretary, is following up with both Japan and China on joint programs to develop alternative energy technologies. And that failed free trade agreement with South Korea should be coming along within the next month, even though the delay robbed President Obama of the final feather in his hat on the Asian trip.

North Korea always seems to act out when everyone else is getting all the attention. For opaque reasons, they escorted an American professor around several hundred more centrifuges as if bragging about a new phase in their atomic program. This weekend American diplomats were dispatched to notify Japan, South Korea and China of the new threats.

One disturbing undercurrent to President Obama's trip to Europe has been the renewal of concerns by NATO states that he is not investigating the admissions of torture by former President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The United Kingdom has already decided to compensate British citizens detained and tortured at Gitmo and the conservative Mayor of London strongly hinted that George W might want to forego a book tour in the United Kingdom because he would be subject to arrest for warcrimes. The Mayor even linked George W. Bush with General Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested in London for war crimes and money laundering. Only last week conservative Prime Minister Cameron denied Bush's claim that torture saved the lives of thousands of Londoners because waterboarding produced inavluable intelligence.

While President Obama is repairing relations in Europe, the legacy of George W lives on--organized crime gangs in Scotland have now adopted waterboarding as their technique of choice in their war with rivals over the drug trade. They did this with specific reference to the United States. Apparently, a rival gang leader was waterboarded and gave up the location of a cache of stolen drugs. So maybe we should relay this to Marc Thiessen as evidence that torture works.

President Obama now is looking at ways to meet his commitments made to the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change. Now that cap and trade is permanently dead and over half the House Republicans are on record disbelieving climate change, President Obama has ordered the EPA to seriously monitor carbon emissions and has focused on expediting clean energy alternatives and electric cars through the executive branch.

Finally, Happy 90th Birthday to Stan "The Man" Musial, who had a career batting average of .331.

It rains diamonds on Neptune.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

No End In Sight

"No End in Sight" is a superb documentary about the Iraq War. I recommend it for a walk down memory lane. The film was made near the end of the Bush Administration, just before the Surge was adopted. It is the story of how inept the post-war planning was and how a handful of people with no military or reconstruction experience dictated the policy. Some old favorites appear. General Garner, who was supposed to have been in charge of reconstruction,is interviewed about when and how he learned that Paul Bremer was taking over. The first on-the-ground footage is of the looting which began soon after we invaded and which we steadfastly refused to stop. In fact, it is clear from the interviews on the ground that our military was ordered by Washington not to interfere with the looting. The only site protected by our troops was the oil ministry as the Museum and the Library with centuries of antique Islamic works were looted and destroyed.

The film walks us through some of the most amazing decisions. As the American team hits the ground to try and begin reconstruction,the Pentagon approves the plan at De-Baathification, which ends up with the Iraqi technocrats and school teachers being fired simply because they had joined the party for a job. Then Paul Bremer single-handedly dissolved the Iraqi army. This is a stunning part of the film. Thousands of Iraqi military were volunteering to assist in restoring order and filling in profiles for their re-instatement. Generals, who were seen as reliable, were organizing their men. These people knew where all the arms caches of the demobilized army were. And they were willing to turn all of it over as long as their men received their paychecks. The Iraqi military met with United Nations' officials to try and get them to mediate with the United States about re-integrating the military so they could guard the frontiers. All of this was in motion and would have changed the direction of the future war. Instead,the army was officially dissolved by decree and the unemployed military joined with militias to start the insurrection.

The United States started to plan for the transition in Germany two years before we won World War II. For Iraq, the United States started six months ahead of the invasion and the multi-volume transition plan developed by the State Department was just thrown in the trashcan. The original estimate by Paul Wolfowitz for the cost of the war was $58 billion and time on the ground for US troops was estimated at 3 months. The film interviews intelligence officers and high-ranking military officers about their total disbelief when they heard this come out of the Pentagon. Even when the insurgency started to gain strength, Rumsfeld was still referring to the militants as "dead-enders" even though the National Intelligence Directorate prepared a massive report detailing the multi-levels of the armed action. To get Dubya to focus on this, they boiled the whole report down to 1 page. The interview with the intelligence officer is priceless,"The President didn't even read it."

This film is a wonderful antidote to the chapter on Iraq in "Decision Points". Even in his memoirs, President Bush admits that dissolving the Iraqi army might have been a bad decision, even though he hails Paul Bremer. In the film,Iraqis express their amazement that Bremer was chosen as the leader of the CPA because the United States had promised an Iraqi government chosen early in the game to stabilize the situation. The expressions on the faces of General Garner, Richard Armitage and others in discussing some of Bremer's decisions show pure surprise and astonishment. Col. Wilkerson shows up again discussing the reaction of General Powell to the whole show as it unravelled. Armitage basically says that the State Department wasn't informed about the dissolving of the Iraqi army until it was done. Garner says he would have loved to debate the point even if he had to lose the bureaucratic debate.

Veteran aid workers for international NGOs express amazement about seeing old students of theirs showing up in Baghdad, saying "how lucky they were given jobs like re-organizing the city's traffic patterns" even though they had no experience. Military officers talk about young Republican sons of big donors being given positions in Iraq as an adventure. Yet, several veteran State Department employees with years of experience in the Middle East and a fluency in Arabic are blackballed by the Pentagon or simply fired from Iraq because they didn't play the game. It was estimated that of the top 75 Americans in the Green Zone only 6 spoke any form of Arabic. All the United Nations personnel were fluent in the language and went out and met with Iraqis in their own homes.

One Marine said he had wanted the Iraqis to know the best of America but "this was not the best". Another Foreign Service Officer said that,"We used to say there were 450 ways to screw Iraq up and only three ways to get it right. Now we went through all 450 ways first."

The film shows endless lines of Iraqis waiting outside the Green Zone to volunteer to help the Americans either as technocrats or as translators but they were told after waiting several days to go home. The film shows how the Iraqis grew embittered about the Americans and after the total collapse of their economy started to align themselves with militants like Sadr and other Islamists.

Of the first $18 billion in aid, only $1 billion was spent and there is some question about where the rest went. Because American troop strength was below necessary requirements, the United States hired 45,000 defense contractors, which were lawless. There is a short film clip taken by a defense contractor as he and his colleagues drove down the highways randomly machine-gunning Iraqis driving in their cars. You get to see the swerving of the cars with wounded or dead drivers as they crashed into other traffic. This was the prelude to the hanging of the bodies of the three defense contractors from the bridge.

Well, at least our solders got all the equipment they needed. Not so. Part of the film traces the days when casualties started to mount up and that officers were demanding armored Humvees and finally confront Rumsfeld in the field about this need. Rumsfeld says that they can't be produced fast enough. One astute soldiers wonders how this could be when auto factories are closing down around America and certainly they could produce them. Nothing is done in the beginning about the IEDs, allowing for thousands of brutal casualties.

Another section of the film deals with the massive detentions by the Americans of any fighting age Iraqis and the effects of this on families' ability to exist economically. The United Nations tried to intervene on this policy of detention but were rebuffed. Even to this day, the United States has not released the number of Iraqis detained by the coalition forces.

What makes this an effective film is that it is not made by anti-war activists. It was made by people who started out wanting America to succeed even if the basic premise of the war was seriously flawed. Watching one blunder after another you are struck by how awesomely incompetent the Bush Administration was and how many thousands of lives were lost and maimed because of them. The film concludes with a breakdown of the war's financial cost--nearly $2 trillion when you factor in the lifetime medical costs to the wounded veterans.

Hopefully, Iraq will limp to a better political system and can recover from the war with a more pluralistic society. As for the Americans, we made Iran the major power in the Gulf region.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Taxi To The Dark Side

Instead of reviewing American Policy of Torture and its effects on our military,innocents and the so-called war on terror, just rent the DVD "The Taxi To The Dark Side", which won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2008.

The hook for the film is a young Afghani taxi-driver, who is picked up by an Afghan militia and given over to the U.S. military as the suspect of launching missile attacks on an American base. In fact, the head of the Afghan militia himself was the one launching such attacks and he would hand in random Afghanis to win favor with us. The young taxi-driver is taken to Bagram Air Force base in Kabul, interrogated, beaten, subjected to sensory deprivation, hung by chains across his cell. He dies and his death cetrificate reads "Homicide". The coroner finds that he had his legs pulverized. New York Times reporter Tim Golden follows the case as it winds up the chain of command.

The film expands on this incident to document abuses at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. It features interviews with the soldiers tried for the abuse at Bagram and how they came to be interrogators and what instructions they received. The film also contains interviews with defense attorneys for the Gitmo prisoners and released prisoners.

For someone like myself who follows this story regularly, two new dimensions of the torture question emerge in the film. First is that the CIA developed a scheme based on the work of Canadian psychologists, which sequenced punitive measures into both physical and pschological torture. The images of Lyndie England with a dog collar and leash on a naked Iraqi male is not some random sadistic act but part of a programmed sequence of acts to break down the person's identity. She was simply following orders that included challenging the sexual identity of prisoners. Taken one part at a time, some of these acts technically do not constitute torture but as a sequence they are devastating and are torture by any definition of the term.

The second fact that emerges from the film is a very brief mention of something incredibly important when we consider Eric Holder's actions or lack of actions punishing the responsible parties for these abuses. This has been one of my frustrations with President Obama and it has been vocally shared by civil libertarians. It was well and good President Obama banished torture by executive order but he has not taken any steps to punish any of the culprits including the authors of the torture memos.

What's the one little thing in this film that is relevant to all this--President Bush pressured Congress to pass a bill that included as one of its point a pardon for him, the Vice-President and all members of his Administration and members of the armed forces that had ordered or engaged in torture. That is one of the realities that Eric Holder found on investigating the lawyers in the DOJ.

Which brings us to the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first former Gitmo detainee to be tried in a civilian court. Ghailani was found quilty of only 1 of more than 280 counts including conspiracy and murder. Even so, he is likely to spend 20 years to life in a maximum security prison. But the fact that his five week trial did not result in more guilty verdicts have caused a collective conservative breakdown.

Daphne Eviatar, senior associate in Human Rights First's Law and Security Program, observed the trial and wrote up a brief account in yesterday's Huffington Post. She writes that anyone who actually observed the trial would have realized that the government never presented any direct evidence that Ghailani intended to kill anyone. Ms. Eviatar writes that it was not surprising that the jurors had a "reasonable doubt" about what Ghailani knew about the conspiracy to bomb the embassy in Kenya and whether he really knew his purchase of a truck and gas tanks would lead to the deaths of all those people.

We have heard the last few days from the usual Bush apologists and torture fanatics that this only proved that the Obama Administration's policy of fighting terrorism and trying terrorists in civilian courts is a disaster. We should recall that these same critics claimed that New York City would be at risk because of the trial, $240 million would be spent on security, and that the trial would provide Ghailani with a soapbox from which he could harangue Americans about jihad. None of this happened. No one even knew the trial was going on and not a single street in Manhattan was closed. Yet, as Liz Cheney cried the Obama administration was "irresponsible and reckless." Former Governor Pataki appearing on Hardball with Prof. Turley went hysterical about the trial and the lack of more convictions. He insisted that the evidence obtained by torture should have been used and he should have been tried in a military commission.

So we are back in the thick of the fight over the Gitmo detainees. Lindsey Graham, who is a big advocate of military commissions, lamented the New York trial and wants the future detainees to be tried in military commissions. This fascination by Republicans with military commissions is bizarre. With the recent plea deal of Omar Khadr, the Canadian child soldier who will spent one year in prison in Canada, the commissions have convicted a whopping 5 persons. In the case that Lindsey Graham hailed--the conviction of Bin Laden's driver--that man only received a 5 year prison sentence. According to the Department of Justice, federal courts have convicted more than 400 people on terrorism-related charges since 9/11. All those convicted are held in supermax prisons.

And then there is the real distrust by conservatives in our own justice system. The trial showcased America's respect for the rule of law by providing a real trial in a legitimate justice system, instead of some show trial. It is disturbing that conservatives find it a sign of weakness to provide a fair trial in a respected justice system. And by relying on our jury system, this is somehow reckless. All these conservatives have expressed a desire for a pre-determined sentence and a symbolic trial. And all the Obama critics have underscored that Judge Lewis Kaplan was wrong for excluding a witness whose identity was discovered through torture in a CIA secret prison and a confession that had been obtained through torture. To me that is truly scary.

Writing in the New York Times, Benjamin Weiser and Charlies Savage discuss the fascinating decisions behind the case itself and how it disappointed conservative critics with the lack of security threats and civil libertarians who thought a civilian court would allow for a detailed examination of the Bush Administration's post-9/11 policies on detention and interrgation. The authors wrote that the jurors heard nothing about Gitmo, where Mr. Ghailani was held, nor about the secret overseas "black site" run by the CIA, where his lawyers claim he was tortured. Nor did the jurors hear about his alleged confession, which prosecutors claimed was his admission of guilt of his role in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa.

Instead the trial itself ended up being a straightforward murder trial , stripped of the larger, inflammatory political aspects, leaving it up to the 12 jurors to evaluate the evidence of witnesses and forensic findings.

Weiser and Savage recount Eric Holder making the decision on civilian courts after he requested memoranda from civilian prosecutors based in Manhattan and Alexandria and from a team of military prosecutors assined to the Office of Military Commissions. The Military lost out because they argued for using statements the detainees made under interrogation. The civilian team argued for making the case without the need of using statements elicited under torture. The advantage of the civilian prosecutors' approach was that it eliminated the possibility that a statement, if allowed into a trial by a judge, could be the basis of an appeal on grounds that it was tainted.

The Ghailani case was a a test for this strategy.

The government made the decision not to use Ghailani's statements made during his 5 years in detention at a black site. What this meant was that the defense could not pursue how these statements were obtained and where. The "black site" issue was removed from the case. The defense also feared that the CIA was dismantling these prisons and wanted to have the site where Mr. Ghailani was held preserved in case the trial involved the death penalty. Eric Holder decided against seeking capital punishment, thereby making this a moot issue. Judge Kaplan also rejected a defense request that the indictment be dismissed because of the tactics used against Ghailani, thereby ensuring that the issue of torture would not derail the trial.

Basically, the system worked and the prosecution strategy was actually deft. But the jury seemed to have a mind of its own. And what's so bad about a 20 to life sentence? Do the critics of civilian trials want automatic serial life sentences?

Hanging over this trial and all other detainees from Gitmo is the black cloud of torture. If there were problems for the prosecution in the civilian court about how to handle torture, the situation would not be any better in a military commission. In fact, military commissions have been ordered by President Obama not to accept statements coerced by torture as evidence.

The most prominent critics of Obama's policy on civilian trials are people complicit in the Bush torture program itself. If you want more evidence of how destructive this policy has been to the United States, just check out the part in Taxi where Col. Wilkinson discusses the torture of Al-Libi and his statement made under torture that Saddam Hussein was training Al Qaeda in the use of biological weapons. This statement was never examined but instead inserted in Colin Powell's address to the United Nations as a reason to invade Iraq. The CIA later expunged all of Al-Libi's statements from the record as false. But the damage was already committed. America's reputation was severely damaged.

The Lame Duck Session

We only have a short time before this Congress will give way to the clowncar of the next circus.

If you were President Barack Obama, you need two basic things--the ratification of the New Start treaty and the passage of the Defense Appropriations Act with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Those should be the two top priorities.

For the purpose of the economy and the general welfare,perhaps, the most important issue would be the extension of the unemployment benefits. At no time in American history have these not been extended when our unemployment rate is above 7.5%. The House Democrats tried to fast-track approval, which requires 2/3rds of the House. The measure failed but it did put all the Republicans on the record as opposing these benefits, while all are for tax cuts for the wealthiest.

As for the extension of the tax cuts, House Democrats are already plannng to vote on the middle class tax cuts. Harry Reid plans several votes on different tax packages. If I were the Obama Administration and I didn't get credit for the larges middle class tax in history, I would not force the issue at the expense of either the Defense Bill or the Treaty.

The New Start Treaty is vital because it compliments the administration's efforts at non-proliferation. Failure to ratify would be applauded by Tehran and North Korea. The problem if the Treaty fails to ratify is that America will lack on-the-ground inspection ability in Russia,which most experts say terrorists will acquire nuclear materials.

After yesterday's summit of Secretary of States and NSC advisers at the White House in support of the Treaty and Dick Lugar's insistance that Harry Reid call the vote on his Republicans, the time to move is now. Otherwise,the momentum will be lost.

The Repeal of DADT will be a kabuki play choreographed around the release of the Pentagon Report and the hearings on the subject. The votes are there to break the filibuster and approve the repeal if the correct procedure will be used. But this will have to be compressed within a short time.

With the republican leadership conspicuously dissing the President's invitation to the White House, President Obama should just forget about reaching any accomodation with the GOP over the tax issue. He should simply ask his plan be voted on--step back from the fray--and have the GOP work to give the rich the tax breaks. Democrats shouldn't even play the game, just let the GOP try to muster their own votes for the tax breaks for the rich.

I have no idea how any extension of unemployment will work or even if it has a chance to pass.

But the Obama Administration must keep their eye on the prize. Secure the Treaty and repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Harry Reid wants a straight up and down vote on the DREAM Act, which Hispanics have been pushing. This Act once began with wide bipartisan support but now faces a divided Congress with the GOP' new embrace of anti-immigration ideas.

That's about all that really can get done in the Lame Duck. If they accomplish these things, it would have been one of the most productive sessions in history.

Then, we can begin the Republican campaign to roll back all of Obama's accomplishments. Don't lose heart. It will take much more effort than the GOP thinks.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Today in the GOP

Senator John Ensign of Nevada, encouraged by the victory in Louisiana of Diaper Dave Vitter, has announced his intentions to run again in 2012. Ensign is currently under investigation by the FBI for his payments to his former Chief of Staff and his wife and Ensign's lover as well as Ensign arranging for his Chief of Staff to become a lobbyist.

Haley Barbours' Republican Governors' Association produced the most interesting Republicans this year but it also failed to pick up as many seats as experts predicted. He only gained 5.

Mitch McConnell today said that the health reform bill put the United States on the road to tyranny. He claims he is relying on the courts to overturn it. I'm sure he chatted up Sam Alito at a recent fund-raiser.

Eric Cantor blasted a deficit reduction plan produced by Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici as being "too European". He said that the United States wanted to avoid becoming like most of the social welfare states in the world. Does this also include Irsael since Cantor swore to Bibi Netanyahu he would side with him over the President of the United States?

It's curious that both Republicans spoke today when they had previously announced that they had scheduling problems so they could not have the scheduled meeting with President Obama to talk about the tax cut issue.

With unemployment benefits running out for several million Americans, the GOP took their first bold action today by introducing a bill to defund National Public Radio because it fired millionaire Juan Williams. Eric Cantor claimed this would save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars.

Never fear the new Republican House will get down to business in January. One of the first bills to be introduced is to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrations who are born in the United States. This is seen as an indication of how the new majority intends to flex its muscles on illegal immigration.

I find this very sad. One of the uncontested contributions the Republican Party has made to the United States is the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the United States.

This new law is sponsored by alleged Christian Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who believes illegal aliens are giving birth to children in the United States so "they can have uninhibited access to taxpayer-funded benefits and to citizenship for as many family members as possible." This affects about 340,000 children a year. What's fascinating is that from a dollars and sense point of view illegals contribute more money to the economy than they take out.

In the WayBack machine, Lisa Murkowski became only the second Senator to have been elected through a write-in campaign. Previously, Strom Thurmond had won by write-in as a Dixiecrat.

Another blast from the past, Governor Charlie Crist wants to pardon Alexandria's own Jim Morrison, son of Admiral Morrison, who was better known as the lead singer of the Doors. Apparently, in Florida, Morrison whipped it out to show to the audience. The remaining Doors members have told the AP that Jim really didn't pull it out and that this never happened before or since. Morrison was found guilty in 1970 of indecent exposure and public profanity and was fined $500 and sentenced to six months in jail. He was appealing his conviction when he was found dead in a Paris bathtub in 1971. He was only 27.

I like the Doors' posthumous loyalty. But Jim Morrison did this every year in Asbury Park during his concerts at the Convention Hall. Each time the police would rush the stage and arrest him. This was a regular bit the Doors did everytime they came to town. That was part of the appeal. Betting when Morrison would whip it out. That ensured a sell-out each night.

And another Oldie but Goldie showed up. C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general under Reagan, appeared once again to warn that AIDS had become "the forgotten epidemic" and he felt that the "irrational fear" of AIDS had given way to "a sense of complacency that is as dangerous." The fundamentalist Christian doctor, who looked like he was Amish with his beard, drew praise when he first addressed the AIDS epidemic with a commonsense speech. Now at 95 and living in New Hampshire, Dr. Koop is in Washington at an AIDS summit to speak about the early days of the epidemic.

The few remaining Republicans, who know anything about foreign policy, are making a full court press on behalf of the NEW START TREATY. James Baker, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz are in town to lobby on behalf of this treaty. Senator Dick Lugar has gotten angry--which is a very rare moment--with Senate Republicans, who want to avoid voting on the treaty either to punish President Obama or to bow to the extreme right who are threatening to primary anyone who votes for the bill. Lugar has asked Reid to call the vote on the Treaty to get his colleagues on record. The Treaty has the unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the support of every living former Secretary of State and was originally thought urgent by Senate Republicans.

Rachel Maddow in her show last night covered the similarities of this treaty with that signed by Ronald Reagan. But she missed one vital point. The opponents of that treaty were the extreme right elements of the neoconservatives. The opponents of today's treaty are the cvery same people, who were then much younger. Unfortunately for all of us, they continue to have influence among Republicans, who forget that they were vocal in opposition to Ronald Reagan.

Country Last McCain is hanging tough on the repeal of DADT, saying that there needs more study and not just the Pentagon survey of the armed forces actually serving today. President Obama and Harry Reid have leaned on Senator Levin to include once again DADT in the Defense Appropriations Bill, which was filibustered before the election for the first time in American history. The Pentagon will have released its Survey by early December. Levin promises hearings immediately and a vote before recess. Several Republican Senators have already voiced support for the repeal of DADT. However, in a new Senate it would be tough going.

U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

The Commonwealth Fund just published a study in the journal Health Affairs, which examines the American health care system versus the experience in other developed countries. The Fund commissioned a Harris interactive poll of nearly 20,000 people in 11 countries between March and June.

Americans still pay more per capita for healthcare than the rest of the developed world, are unhappier with the results and are less healthy than people in other countries.

Some of the findings are eye-opening. A third of Americans say they have gone without medical care or skipped filling a prescription because of cost, compared to 5 percent in the Netherlands, for example. 20 percent of U.S. adults had major problems paying medical bills, compared with 2% in Britain and 9 percent in France, the next costliest country in terms of healthcare. The study found that only in the United States did such a large percentage have trouble paying their health care bills.

"U.S. adults were the most likely to incur high medical expenses, even when insured, and to spend time on insurance paperwork and disputes or to have payments denied," the report says.

About 60 percent or 157 million Americans under 65 get their health insurance through their employers. Roughly 45 million people 65 and older have coverage through the nation's Medicare system.

In the study they claimed that 47 million were without any health insurance. But last week the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 59 million Americans had no insurance for at least some of the beginning of 2010.

The ten other countries in the survey all provide a mix of public and private insurance. Adults in Britain, Switzerland, New Zealand and the Netherlands were the most likely to be able to get to a doctor the same day or next day when they needed to. More than 90percent of Swiss adults said they could see a doctor that fast, compared with 57% of adults in Sweden and the United States and fewer than half in Canada and Norway.

Interestingly, only 70 percent of adults in the United States or Norway said they were confident they would get the most effective treatment if ill, compared with 90 percent of Britons and 89 percent of the Swiss.

I guess Al Qaeda will have to attack the Swiss now because they envy their healthcare. Have you noticed they are planning attacks on Europe more these days? Maybe they don't envy our freedom anymore.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Women

With the political news so depressing, let's cheer about some things.

Patti Smith has won the National Book Award for "Just Kids". She deserves it. "Just Kids" is a beautifully written memoir of her early days in New York City and Brooklyn and her life-time friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. We reviewed it when it first came out.

Jim Carroll, punk rocker and poet, left "Petting Zoo", a novel about a New York-born artist struggling with his inspiration after he had won fame and fortune. The last chapter was finished by the executor of his estate after Carroll died writing it. The book has an introduction by Patti Smith.

"Because the Night", a song written by Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen, shows up on Bruce's "The Promise", a compilation of 26 songs not included with the original "Darkness on the Edge of Town". Nice to hear Bruce in his prime.

Mark Twain entered the New York Times bestseller list at #2 for his 100-year old "Autobiography". This is actually startling since the book is printed as a scholar's edition and not for easy reading.

I guess congratulations to Tom Wolfe for getting a Lifetime Achievement National Book Award. I stopped reading him after "Bonfire of the Vanities", a truly terrifying urban nightmare.

Congrats to Stan "the Man" Musial and Jasper Johns for receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. People have been lobbying for Stan "the Man" since the days of Dubya. Also congrats to Bush Senior for his Medal of Freedom and Maya Angelou.

Also at the White House, President Obama, our Geek-in-Chief, awarded the National Medals Laureates of Science,Technology and Innovation to:

Steven Sasson, the inventor of the digital camera.

Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor and Professor of Chemistry at the University of California , San Diego. She received the National Medal of Science for her research contributions in the areas of organic photochemistry and electrochemistry. Her work has led to the development of materials that can capture solar energy and thin films which can be used for information storage.

Warren Washington,Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research. He receives the National Medal of Science for his development and use of global climate models to understand climate and explain the role of human activities and natural processes in the Earth's climate system. Naturally, he will have to be investigated by the House Republicans for perpetrating the climate change hoax.

Sargeant Guinta was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was the first living person awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. Right-wing Christians protested that the Medal of Honor has been feminized because it has been awarded in recent memory to those who risked their lives saving their fellow soldiers. The suggestion is that it should be awarded to people who have a maximum of enemy kills. Onward Christian Soldiers!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Beginning of 2012

Penn and Schoen got back together to start polling on the 2012 election. The first Republican presidential debate is only months away. The GOP are heady with their one House trick--winning some 48 seats back where McCain won in 2008. So it's natural that they are feeling their oats. Karl Rove snorted that Obama lacks the political skills of Bill Clinton and can be beat. Of course, Karl will depend on his anonymous billionaire sources again.

So what do Penn and Schoen say at this early stage. Well, Barack Obama would lose to the generic Republican by 40 to 37%. This must of been the finding that sent Douglas Schoen off to write his op-ed about why President Obama must announce he's not running for re-election. I remember when some of the heaviest hitters in the Republican Party went to the White House in 1982 to persuade Ronald Reagan not to run for a second term.

The electorate this mid-term was overwhelmingly old and white and conservative. But conservatives have only gained 3% since 2006 and do not represent the next coming.

So, with the left mad at Obama and the Democrats licking their wounds, Penn and Schoen decided to poll the sadsack President against real living Republicans.

The results:
Obama over Palin 46%-33%
Obama over Romney 40%-32%
Obama over Pawlenty 39%-21%
Obama over Huckabee 40%-34%
Obama over Barbour 40%-20%

And, as Kurt Vonnegut said, and so it goes.

Of Thee I Sing*

*Today our President published a children's book dedicated to his daughters. The book covers various inspirational American characters from Georgia O'Keefe to George Washington. Congressional Quarterly printed a brief blurb about the book, which drew the strangest comments. One post said,"If he has enough time for this, he ought to mow the White House lawn." Get It. "Why doesn't he spend time running the country." But leave it to Fox News to turn this children's book like Obama's Study Hard speeches to children on opening day of school into something sinister. President Obama also included Sitting Bull as a person who was a great healer. Of course, this means he sided with a person who killed a U.S.General. That's just what a Muslim terrorist-loving President would do.

Meanwhile get ready for the real Hate Obama campaign from Rep. Issa, who called President Obama "one of the most corrupt Presidents in American history." He called the stimulus package $750 billion in "political walk around money", which Obama gave to his political friends. Issa claims this has to be explained. Of course, it's not true but that doesn't matters any more. Issa promises investigations into the New Black Panthers and ACORN, which he claims the President was involved with.

Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen, the pretend Democrats, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for President Obama to declare he's a one-term President and this way he would get bipartisan cooperation. They clearly haven't looked at the Republicans lately.

The latest CNN poll has Obama at 48% approval and 50% disapproval. But most interesting is that 9% who disapprove believe he's not liberal enough.

Republicans are acting like they have a mandate. It's important to point out that historically it's rather freakish to take only one House of Congress. This has only happened once before in the last century in 1930. It's not like this time it was a rousing standing ovation for their brilliant ideas.

Republicans will rule the House as if they have a mandate like they did in 2000 after being awarded the Presidency by one vote on the Supreme Court. However, only 11% of Americans believe there is a mandate. 50% in a CBS poll say Republicans will just block Obama's initiatives. The majority also believe that political polarization will get worse. Most polls are showing buyers' remorse.

What are the issues that concern most Americans? According to the latest Gallup poll, jobs/unemployment 33% and the economy in general 31%. Only 9% are concerned about the deficit and only 3% about war. In the CBS poll, this is lower--4% on the deficit and 2% about the wars.

The military is unanimous in support for the New Start Treaty, which President Obama negotiated with the Russians. However,the Washington Post claims it is up to senator Kyl of Arizona, who knows nothing about these matters. President Obama wants it ratified in the lame-duck Congress. But I'm doubtful that Republicans will think about national interest.

Eric Cantor joined other Republicans like Joe Lieberman and John McCain when he told Benjamin Netanyahu he had Israel's back against Obama. Republicans used to complain about Nancy Pelosi and others on foreign trips being traitors in their conversations with foreign leaders. Fortunately, for both the U.S. and Israel, Bibi ignored Cantor's advice and accepted the latest American offer on Mideast peace.

Country Last McCain seems to be in a pissing match with his wife over DADT. It seems he pressured Cindy to roll back her objection to it after she appeared in a video against hate. McCain is miffed that the Pentagon survey of the armed forces shows that repealing DADT would not affect anything. McCain refuses to go along with this, claiming more studies need to be done. McCain once said that if the military asked for it to be repealed he would support the move. They have repeatedly and the courts have ruled against it. But McCain will filibuster.

At this point, Obama should just sign an executive order repealing it. It's clear that the Supreme Court has already signalled that they would overturn the 9th Circuit Court's ruling it was unconstitutional. Obama's reticience to pursue the executive order option is his fear that another President would reverse it. I think it highly unlikely that once open gays can serve in the military that anyone will rescind that right. Sign it, Mr. President.

The infamous Bush Tax Breaks debate has been heating up again. The GOP thinks it would be OK to compromise over their extension for another two years because they know that it would be much harder to repeal then. I think it's stupid to maintain them. It's stupid policy-wise and ruinous economically. But I have no dog in the fight ultimately.

But Moody's has a different view. They claim that if the tax breaks are extended it may affect the credit-worthiness of the United States and signal the country can not get its fiscal act together. They threaten to downgrade America's Triple-A rating.

Also of concern is the growing Republican sentiment not to vote to raise the debt ceiling. A few commentators have suggested that the Democrats should get this commitment linked to the extension of the tax breaks for the wealthy. Others suggest they throw in extension of unemployment insurance.

Republicans are signalling their readiness to compromise on the tax breaks but not on extending unemployment insurance. Some of the millionaire tax breaks mean over $100,000 to the wealthy individual. Quite a gift when you are asking others to sacrifice. The United States has never not extended unemployment insurance when the unemployment rate was above 9.5%. Has never happened but I guess it might for the first time.

The mid-term campaign drew alot of attention to candidates like Buck in Colorado, Miller in Alaska and Lee in Utah who said they wanted the 17th Amendment repealed. The 17th Amendment allows for the direct election of Senators. Off-beat, a little kooky? Yes, but along comes Fat Tony Scalia, who gave a lecture last week and advocated the same thing. Scalia went into Glenn Beck territory claiming that the original intent of the constitution got all out of wack starting with the Progressive period and that we need to reclaim it.

This raises a question that keeps cropping up with the new Republican crowd. I have lived my life during the period of history when the United States was at the zenith of its power, militarily, politically, and economically. Now teabaggers, Tony Scalia and Republicans are claiming that America somehow went wrong starting in the progressive period. This means that they would like to repeal the days of America's greatness. How do they think we became a superpower? This is the strange disconnect with the small, limited government imperialists. You can not square the circle without recognizing the contributions to America of progressive policies.

You're really going to enjoy the next Congress, over half the new Republicans have never, ever held any type of public office, even a member on the local schoolboard.

For those concerned with the national debt, the Commonwealth Fund published a study this week that the Health Reform bill will save $143 billion from 2010-2019 and then $1.2 trillion from 2020-2029.

Maybe the Democrats should recruit the new Republican member who ran against Obamacare but demanded to know yesterday why his congressional medical insurance didn't take place immediately. He wanted a temporary policy until he's sworn in.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"We Harpooned Every Whale in the Sea.."*

* "and even some minnows". Alan Simpson, co-chair of the Catfood Commission

Alan Simpson said he wanted to be in the Government Witness Protection program after he and Erskine Bowles unveiled their recommendations yesterday. Wildly denounced,Bloomberg news writes this morning that the Deficit Commission's recommendations would cut $3.8 trillion from the national debt. But they added that politically their advice will not be taken.

Give them credit, Bowles and Simpson floated some trial balloons before the final recommendations due December 1. They are least were serious about their mission.Even their fellow board members are rebelling and it's doubtful whether they will rustle up 14 votes for their recommendations. What's curious is that we haven't heard any responses from the Republicans.

Do you get the impression that whenever President Obama is out of the country all hell breaks loose? Huffington Post broadcast that the Obama Administration has caved on tax cuts for the wealthy because of remarks yesterday by David Axelrod, who says the Administration has to deal with the political reality after the election. Almost immediately, the administration walked back the report.

Maybe it's just as well that Americans remain so self-centered. Otherwise, we would be seeing wall-to-wall stories that the young Obama's caregiver was a gay male, who now is a member of a leading transvestite group in Indonesia. Fox News floated the notion that Michelle Obama was going to meet with sex workers when she was in India. She did not. Or what about the huge scandal of Obama addressing the University of Indonesia and speaking Indonesian with some fluency. And the students were in rapture, not the heavenly kind.

It's strange that Pew published a poll on international trade while the President was out of the country. To summarize, Americans want more trade with Canada and the European countries but not South Korea or China. In short,more trade with white people.

The new teabagger congresscritters greeted Hispanic members of Congress with catcalls of "Go Back to Mexico!". Class bunch. Col. West's new chief of staff, who is a right-wing radio host, said on the first day of her new job that Nancy Pelosi was "garbage" and that illegals who commit crimes 'should be hung." It's going to be a long session.

The teabaggers are now turning on Rand Paul because he's reneging on his stance against earmarks. Jim Inhofe claims that the Left has brainwashed people about earmarks just as they have about global warming. What is in the water in Oklahoma? The war within the GOP has broken out and is likely to escalate in the next twelve months.

If you want to know how we have gotten to where we are today, rent the DVD "Casino Jack", which is a documentary on the conservative revolutionaries who gamed the system to win millions of dollars in lobbying contracts. Grover Norquist is shown emulating Lenin, who really is one of his political idols. Ralph Reed shows up with his Christian Coalition and then agitates for a gambling ban in Texas at the behest of Jack Abramoff's Indian casinos in Louisiana. Thomas Franks shows up to describe the origins of this so-called 'conservative revolution" and narrates how Tom Delay and Abramoff managed to manipulate Congress in covering up sweatshop conditions in the Marianas Islands as some showcase for free market economics. The film is a powerful indictment of the system in Washington. It ends with the Citizens United case which the filmmakers take as the ultimate triumph of these characters. One fun section is how a life guard from Reheboth was named the head of a think tank, which received millions of laundered money from Abramoff's clients. Abramoff today works in a Pizza Place in Baltimore after he served time in jail.

Gore Vidal said something that still hangs in the air," Barack Obama's problem is that he is too smart for the people he leads." James T. Kloppenberg, an American History professor at Harvard, just published "Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope and the American Political Tradition". This book is the antidote to Dinesh DeSouza's book on the anti-colonial Obama. Kloppenberg writes an intellectual history of Barack Obama by examining his writings, his graduate school papers, his teaching and his educational reading. Listening to President Obama's speeches, Kloppenberg examines Obama's willingness to be conciliatory and moderate in tone. Kloppenberg believes Obama is one of the first intellectual Presidents in a long time and he represents a long distinguished American tradition of political thought. Instead of locating Obama in the world of Franz Fanon as DeSouza does, Kloppenberg links Obama to philosophical pragmatism and its strongest proponents--William James and John Dewey. Now I know why I like him. However, Kloppenberg, who is a liberal, warns that Barack Obama's style and thinking may not be effective in a poisoned atmosphere with such polarization in the country.

Kloppenberg does an excellent job of unwinding the process Obama went through in rejecting identity politics. This always struck me when the Right mentions the list of radical characters Obama knew or was acquainted with. What the Right purposely never admits is that Obama rejected almost all these people's advice and went a different way. One of the personalities the Right identifies with Obama is a friend of his grandfather, a black member of the American Communist Party, who had been expelled. This friend told Obama not to work with white people, don't play their games and do not go to college. I guess that advice was ignored.

"Reading Obama" doesn't encourage progressives to think Obama is one of their own. Instead, he is as I've written a radical moderate. This becomes clear with each policy proposal put forth. It's simply the contrast with the very Radical Right agenda of the GOP that he appears leftish. What Koppenberg makes clear is that Obama is not a political pragmatist, a compromiser for the sake of it, but a philosophical pragmatist, who is skeptical of the assertions of any one group as possessing the right answers. In some ways, it would preferable if Obama was more in the progressive camp given our dire circumstances.

But such subtleties don't bother us with George W., who failed to repeat his defense of the Muslim people when asked about all the Islamophobia by Matt Lauer. Dubya did defend the TARP program on Rush and said facing a Great Depression he chose FDR over Herbert Hoover. Unfortunately, the results weren't the same.

"Decision Points" triggered an uncomfortable realization. George W. Bush, Al Gore, John Kerry--same education, same wealth, same class. Why do we think any one of them would not produce what we have today? As Robert Scheer has pointed out in his most recent book, The Clinton people and the Bush people colluded in the economic downfall of the United States. Why would we think the Democratic candidates would have produced anything different? After all, Democrats allowed the Patriot Act to be passed, knew about the torture program and basically got rolled by Bush and Cheney.

So far in my reading of Decision Points I have not come across anything to explain Dubya's studied lack of curiosity about the world at large. Also, he tries to pump up his Midlands upbringing but it doesn't explain years at Andover, Yale and Harvard. There is a lack of forthrightness about this period of his life as if he want to convey the image of the guy you must want to have a beer with. I've only gotten as far as his run for the Presidency but so far I get any new sense of gravitas or depth to Dubya.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One Cheer for the Catfood Commission

Paul Krugman has already dismissed the Deficit Commission's findings. Congressional Democrats have already denounced its recommendations. President Obama has called the recommendations a starting point for discussions.

It reminds me alot of the Grace Commission under Ronald Reagan created to study areas where one can eliminate government waste.

The Commission wants to reduce the size of the federal government by 250,000. It points to the massive increase in the number of contractors and employees during the Bush years. It also want to cap the number of federal political appointees to 2,000. They propose reducing unnecessary government printing, travel and the purchase of government vehicles. It plans to cut the budgets of Congress and the White House by 15%. And they want to freeze federal salaries for three years since everyone employed by the private sector, except for the very wealthy, is having their salaries cut.

The Commission wants to slow the growth of foreign aid, which is slated by the Obama Administration to increase by $14 billion over the next three years. The Commission wants to cut about $4.6 billion from the President's budget. It also wants to put a fence around diplomatic costs. It wants to reduce voluntary contributions to the United Nations. It also wants to eliminate OPIC, which insures overseas investments by American corporations.

The Commission proposes to eliminate alot of programs, which it claims are either ineffective or redundant. It also wants to sell off some of the federal government's 1.2 million buildings and some of its land parcels. Fees are to be charged to the Smithsonian and increased for the National Park System. It would also eliminate all funding for the Corporation for Public Brodcasting and NPR. The Commission urges the government to reduce the acquisition of land under the Land and water cinservation Fund.

So far, it's a pretty mixed picture. But the Commission does weigh in on reducing the cost of the Defense Department. It endorses Gates' promise to reduce Pentagon overhead by $100 billion by 2015. The Commission provides a long analysis of the problems of financial management and audits at the Pentagon,suggesting billions more could be saved. The Commission wants to freeze all civilian salaries at the Pentagon, freeze non-combat military pay at 2011 levels for 3 years and double Secretary Gates' cuts to defense contracting, which would save another $5 billion a year. The Commission suggests reducing procurement by 15% for a savings of $20 billion in 2015. It has called for the end of the V-22 Osprey, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and cancelling the F-35 buys for the Air Force, Navy and Marines. The Commission calls for cancelling the Navy's Future Maritime Prepositioning Force, the New Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Ground Combat Vehicle and the Joint Tactical radio. The Commission wants to reduce the number of military personnel at overseas bases by one-third.

The Commission also addressed the entitlement programs of the military's retirees. Military health care went from $17.5 billion in 2000 to $47.4 billion in 2010 and will double by 2020. Calls to reform TRICARE have met resistance by Congress. Retirees and their dependents make up 57% of the beneficiaries and 65% of the cost of these programs. (Many of your teabaggers benefit from this program.) Reforming the whole Tricare system would save nearly $6 billion a year.

The Commission also wants to replace military personnel performing commercial activities with civilians. It is estimated that 88,000 military personnel are performing such jobs. This would save another $5 billion a year.

The Commission wants to reduce spending on base support, facilities maintenance, consolidate the retail activities (PX) and integrate children into local schools in the United States. That's another $5 billion a year.

The Commission also wants to adjust the income tax rates. You will hear alot of screaming how the Commission favors the wealthy with a sharp reduction in the highest tax rates. But its recommendation calls for eliminating tax deductions so that in real terms the wealthier would be paying more than they do now. Also the so-called cuts to Social Security mean any COLA adjustments would be pegged to inflation. The most controversial would be an increase in the retirement age around 2020 linked to life expectancy. I'm willing to bet you our life expectancy will drop not rise. They also propose significantly cutting Medicare through waste and other ideas. These suggestions are the red flags for the political world.

But for my view the Commission deserves at least some credit for spelling out over $100 billion cuts in defense spending, which Congress would never touch. At least these cuts are now in the public to be debated. To me these are the real Third Rails in politics. I thought they were too tame on the whole base closure issue. They opted to be more cost efficient rather than to raise the question of why we need over 800 bases abroad.

The other aspect of the Commission's recommendations concern the reduction of corporate taxes. This issue needs to be de-politicized since reform of the 2,000-page corporate tax code needs reform. While people will make politics by decrying calls for lowering the tax rates, it's important to be aware that only 26% of American corporations actually pay any tax at all. What we want is for more companies to pay taxes at regular intervals and in predictable amounts.

The recommendations of the Catfood Commission are the products of conservative Republicans and Third Way Democrats, who have not integrated the reality of our depressed economy into their thinking and into their reality. It marries Reagan's Grace Commission with Al Gore's Re-Inventing Government project under Clinton. It has the psoitives and negatives of both.

So One Cheer!

When Wings Take Dreams

For Dubya's comeback, I suggest renting Will Ferrell's America:You're Welcome, a comedic but accurate account of the Bush presidency. It seems Dubya is annoying our allies. Gerhard Schroeder lambasted Bush for lying about why he didn't support the American invasion of Iraq and the British called him out on the assertion that waterboarding yielded information that prevented the Heathrow Airport plot. As a library of research has shown, it was the handiwork of the Brits and uncoerced leads from Muslims that stopped the plot.

In one of the televised interviews, W defends his approval of torture by saying that his lawyers said it was legal. Of course, Dick Cheney massaged the legal opinions, which another whole library has established.

If you are confused about Rightness and Wrongness of America's torturing people, I recommend Charles Fried and Gregory Fried's "Because it is Wrong:Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror". The father and son team debated the issues in the book privately and publicly over a year before committing their ideas to print. Charles Fried had been Reagan's Solicitor General and his son Gregory is a philosophy professor. The two handle the approaches to warrantless wiretapping and torture in their book. While both conclude they are wrong, they disagree to what are the remedies. Charles Fried backs the Obama approach of moving forward, while Gregory wants the torturing part of the Bush years to be punished and some semblance of a national reconciliation commission created.

George W's admission that he approved torture actually puts the United States in a difficult spot. Under the Torture Convention, signatory states are required to take the necessary remedis to stop the practice but also to bring the culprits to justice. This also applies to all sugnatories. In effect, George W. Bush should not be allowed to travel to Europe, Canada or any other country that has signed the Torture Convention. In addition, the United Nations rapporteur on torture is also owed considerable explanations by the United States about its practices on torture and renditioning. These requirements do not end with a change in administration. Jonathan Turley at the beginning of the Obama Administration cautioned the DOJ that if they brushed the crimes of torture under the rug than the new Administration would become liable under international law.

For those tempted to buy "Decision Points", don't. I'll report on anything newsworthy or noteworthy in the weeks ahead. I'll be reading in a quest to answer the question about why the Bush Administration was always so passive/aggressive toward every crisis. It seems Bush himself always needed at least two years before he acted on anything. In his interviews, he has lied about when he first learned about the impending financial collapse of the world economic system. He says March 2008 but the hard-copy evidence points to the same time the previous year. In the memoir he admits he let the situation in Iraq deteriorate for two years before he did anything about it.

My bet is still on Rumsfeld to produce a memoir, which actually says something truthful.

From the interviews to date, the tone of the former President gives you some hint of where the current GOP gets its rhetoric from. This tendency to make bold-faced assertions and then double-down on them if they are proven to be factually incorrect. Dubya's revisiting the reasons for war with Iraq takes us back to the good old days where he accused Saddam of harboring terrorists (he did harbor the PFLP), building vast amounts of WMDs (he wasn't and hadn't since the Gulf War), or at least having the capability (recent justification but also proven wrong), and gaming the international system by cheating on the UN food for oil program (true but can you justify war on these grounds?).

I can't wait to read about 9-11. What was it about the August warnings titled "Bin Laden Plans to Attack America" that he didn't believe. In the interviews, he tries to maintain that no one really knew who committed 9-11 until days later when intelligence picked up Al Qaeda's bragging about it. He and Cheney have argued that no one knew anything about Al Qaeda until after 9-11. This is just plain wrong as the Clinton Administration had a full-time office just tracking Bin Laden and documenting the group's plans and ideology. The same can be said about determining the group's personnel. There has been a huge smokescreen created by the Bush people over 9/11 and the rationale for why the huge military/ terrorist/ intelligence complex was created after that day.

Some of this is understandable. You get caught with your pants down on the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor. It's understandable you would want to cover up the obvious tracks leading to this event. But I find the whole rationale for torture in the Bush Administration to hang on this supposed ignorance about Al Qaeda and the wonderous revelations produced by waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed. But those revelations made the U.S. chase around the world on false leads, produced the false info that Saddam Hussein was linked to Al Qaeda, and did not produce information about the LAX plot or the Healthrow plot or anything else. The United States and its allies knew buckets of information about AlQaeda. They didn't need torture or the wonderful fantasies about the "ticking time-bomb" to motivate people.

Watching Dubya, I still get this sense the guy was not in control. If you go back to the parts of the interview with Matt Lauer about his authorizing torture,listen to it closely. You get the sense his participation was very late in the game and that he was merely asked to bless the torture that had already been approved. Even in this very major decision, he comes across as disengaged, not quite aware of what is going on.

Years ago, people speculated about Nixon's state of mind and whether he was actually engaged in the last years of his presidency. There were rumors about drink, maudlin late night tours of the Capitol, boatrides to Mount Vernon. But then slightly more than a decade ago, a book was published of all the memos he wrote while President. In these memos he was obsessed with the most minute details of policy, personnel, and politics. He even spent time actually describing the ridiculous uniforms for the White House Guards. In fact, Nixon was in total control--just not emotionally in control of himself.

Maybe we will find out the same about Dubya. But today I have my doubts.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The Previous Post was an analysis of the Republican threat not to raise the National Debt Ceiling and its implications for our short-term and long-term economic situation. As with many of my economic posts, this seemed to have disappeared in the Google Monster.

All I wanted to say was that Eric Cantor's threat to close the government if tax cuts for the rich aren't passed would mean the nearly half the government would cease overnight. The US would have to maintain its interest payments on its debt. but seriously jeopardized would be the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, social security and medicare payments as well as unemployment insurance. It would also ake us an economic pariah globally. It also would lead to a rapid search by the global community for another reserve currency.

I've Got More Debts Than Any Honest Man Can Pay

Unsolicited Advice to President Obama

The American people like a fighter and, as Yoda says,fight we must.

While it takes courage to weather the storm and congressional politics to see healthcare reform enacted, this is not obvious to people. People are not interested in process and I am afraid you got bogged down in mastering process here in the Beltway. Healthcare would have been more popular if it had the Medicare 55+, which some proposed, because that would have been a visible tangible. And with so many Americans of that age being unemployed or underemployed it would have made a dramatic difference.

Likewise, the Administration and the Democrats failed to sell the stimulus package. As I wrote months ago, the Administration should have broken the stimulus out into its components parts and sold those to the public. What is staggering is that your administration passed the largest Middle Class tax cut in history but no one noticed. In fact, the majority of Americans still believe you raised taxes. In the 2008 contest, you actually won the war over taxes.

It was a strategic blunder to announce the stimulus, promising unemployment would not rise above 8% and that we would see job growth of 250,000+ per month by summer. Even still the Administration depended on others to sell the notion that the stimulus ever saved or created 3 million jobs. In my opinion, this accounts for a large part of the Democrats' losses.

You have already made history as our first African-American President so govern as if you don't care about 2012. Let Obama be Obama. Even if you are a one-term President, you will have accomplished more substantive things than the last two Presidents combined. Remember James K. Polk. He made a list of what he wanted to accomplish and when he completed it he didn't run again. And he still ranks high among historians.

Don't let Congress get you bogged down or tangled up. The Republican leadership in Congress still have approval ratings below 20% and Congress itself will remain unpopular. Be prepared that the Republicans will not compromise and not change their obstructionist policies of the last two years. This time because they have "skin in the game" you can make them pay for this.

The only possible achievement you might get from Congress in the next two years is some agreement on infrastructure spending and that's only because our Highway Fund is depleted and congressmen need to brag about jobs in their district. Remember you only have to suffer through a year of the new Congress because nothing can get done in 2012.

On investigations adopt the policy of the George W. Bush administration and ignore all subpoenas. The House just wants to create kangaroo courts. They don't have the guts to impeach you anyway. Use hearings on Climate Change, etc. as a way to educate the public. No climate change legislation will pass anyway and the Cap and Trade bill proposed during the last Congress had no real Cap so trash it.

Don't compromise on the tax cuts for the wealthy. Let the House pass them if they want but use the Presidency as a bully pulpit and veto such legislation with a call to responsible policies to deal with the debt. Play the Republican problem of saying they want to cut the deficit and wanting to give the wealthy enormous tax breaks. Even if the middle class tax breaks expire because of the Republican game-laying, so be it. You can explain and point to your past record of giving the largest Middle Class tax break and saying you would like to in the future but these games are intolerable and the Republicans are acting in bad faith.

Stop apologizing. You have nothing to apologize about. The Republicans never apologized about anything. When you talk about debt reduction, please break out the national debt in terms of where and when they occurred. Of the 14.3 trillion, 13 trillion was accumulated under the Republicans. You might say so.

Lay out your ideas for the reduction of the national debt by keeping it simple. Please defend Social Security and clearly state your position. Even just say it would all be saved by lifting the cap on the FICA tax and use a chart to explain it. Then let the Republicans try to argue differently. You will have the facts on your side and can clearly exxplain it in a way Americans understand.

Please explain more simply what your three year freeze on discretionary spending means in terms of the size of federal government compared to the rest of the economy. This is simple and should be explained this way. Don't play this game of waiting to see what can be negotiated. If you lose, you lose but at least the public will have a clear sense of where you are coming from.

On DADT, this is a prime example of how you got hung up on the process and not the result. You say and I believe you that you want to repeal it. Give it one last shot with the lameduck congress and if that fails, repeal it by executive order and let the Republicans go batshit. Over 60% support the position that openly gay people should be able to serve in the miltary. then go for it. If it actually gets to the Supreme Court, it opens up a whole other bag of beans. You are the Commander in Chief after all.

Which brings me to the war party beating the tom-toms on going to war against Iran. Don't get muscled by these punks. They didn't pay for the last two wars, they won't for another one. The idea is insane.

As Commander-in-Chief sign an executive order closing Gitmo and if need be move the prison population to the Military prison in South Carolina. That is federal, not state property. Get the issue done with and don't bother with threats of not paying for their transfer.

Make the case for cutting unnecessary weapons systems, especially the jet engines produced in John Boehner's backyard. Defense spending has to be cut dramatically.

Use executive orders to get as much possible done in the last two years.

Forget the idea that somehow you have to appease Congress. Make them directly challenge the Presidency, not you. Frame these situations as things of presidential perogatives, not subjective choices by a black man.

Absolutely ignore all advice by the established punditry--there are all wealthy, predominantly white people who have not suffered one whit in the recession.

If you come out fighting, people will shutter and the GOP will shot back, but who cares? The American people will defend you as soon as you speak clearly and simply and push back against all these clowns.

Encourage Nancy Pelosi to be an attack dog back-bencher. Ignore all the Washington nonsense that she will cause your problems because everyone thinks you should accomodate the GOP. Since she knows the details of what the GOP want to repeal, let her have at it.

You might suggest to the television networks, who have featured round-the-clock Republicans the last two years, that this time they should feature Democrats to balance the Boehner/ Tea Party coalition.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

One More Cup of Coffee Before I Go*

*Bob Dylan

One of my many election blunders was to suggest Bill White might win the election fro Governor of Texas. All Texans and Americans would have been better off. Now Rick Perry announced after winning an unprecedented third term that he might not complete his term. Immediately, he appeared on national television because he is going to run for President. He said George W was a great President because "he defended us against our freedom."

Following on the George W.'s ideas that the deficits have nothing with your own actions, Perry is facing a mammoth $25 billion budget deficit he failed to inform voters about during the campaign. So in the new Republican mantra, what does he want to do?

Appearing on CNN's Parker/Spitzer show, he suggested that states be allowed to opt-out of social security. Has anyone noticed during the last year how individual citizens have dropped off the Republican rader screen in favor of corporate entities such as companies, banks and states? Perry pointed out that three counties in Texas had opted out of social security for their public employees in 1981 and he said the program was successful. However, observers of that program say that the public employees over the years did poorly compared to what they would have done in social security.

Joe Miller, the thug candidate for Senate in Alaska, also proposed the same thing. He suggests that states takeover Social Security and Medicare. His plan once analyzed required draconian provisions, such as a mandate that everyone must retire in the same state that they worked and paid taxes. Also, younger workers would move to an opt-out state to avoid paying Social Security taxes and then promptly move to a state with Social Security benefits the moment they become eligible. Eventually the whole system would collapse.

Well, in Texas, Republican lawmakers are actually proposing to drop out of the federal Medicaid program so as to solve their budget shortfall. Helped by the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, Texas would save some $60 billion from 2013 to 2019 by opting out of Medicare and the Children's Health Insurance Program, dropping all coverage for acute care. Currently, Texas has 3.6 million children , people with disabilities and impoverished Texans enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP.

In the type of new Republican thinking, State Senator Jane Nelson summarized it best saying that it was worth considering dropping out of Medicaid for fiscal reasons--as long as that didn't jeopardize the quality of care.

They could also save enormous amounts of money by eliminating public education and privatizing all highways (which is something Perry is doing).

And seniors voted for Republicans because Barack Obama cut $500 billion from the Medicare subsidies to the health insurance companies? Puh-Leese.

Stay tuned as more of this insanity gets transmitted through the Great Right-Wing Wurlizer.

Another great moment of the day was Eric Cantor wanted to separate aid to Israel from the overall foreign aid bill, signalling the Republicans want to decimate foreign aid. Now think about this--our foreign aid has increased as a substitute for our military expenditure in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea was that our aid would help stabilize these countries after we have left, thus ensuring that it wouldn't look like we just abandoned these people. This has escaped the new House majority. However, it was the Jewish groups that flipped out and objected, having been promised that American foreign aid in general would not be cut. The other point is that if you do separate aid for Israel--some day the vote will turn against you.

Up in Halifax, Nova Scotia--which had enjoyed my sane presence about one month ago--Senator Lindsey Graham fired up with Republican victories told the Canadian audience that Barack Obama must abandon his approach to Iran and be willing to go to war against Tehran, even though Americans don't want any more wars. Also, Lindsey called for a confrontation with China. Don't laugh. Mitt Romney before the Heritage Foundation last year said the same thing.

Senate Republicans led by Country Last McCain believe their increased strength will force President Obama from leaving Afghanistan this coming summer and will pressure him to attack Iran. The David Broder article suggesting that Iran would save Obama was not just the idle thoughts of a senile old man--apparently there are the idle thoughts of several senile old men.

I guess everyone missed being radicals when they were young so now in their later years they are going for broke.

Our Profligate President

Did you hear that President Obama's trip to Asia is costing American taxpayers' $200 million a day? And not only that but half the U.S. Navy is there to escort him? This just keeps on the amazing spending ways of the Obamas. How about the First Lady's expensive summer vacation to Spain and Italy? And what about the cost of remodelling their home in Chicago?

The Great Right-Wing Wurlizer promotes this little meme that the President is a big spender and blowing through the national budget. I have no idea how this interlinked media machine can be stopped. It's obvious that the Wurlizer played a great role in the mid-terms. Obama raised your taxes when in fact he cut taxes for 98% of Americans and initiated another 25 tax breaks for businesses. He badly mismanaged the TARP program so the American taxpayer is on the hook for hundreds of billions, when in fact they stand to make a profit of $16 billion from TARP. One elderly voter said "Obama needed his comeuppance because he took my Medicare away." Stunning. The Beat goes on and will go on uninterrupted.

Did you know that President Obama cut over $100 billion from the deficit this year? Did you know that his call for a moratorium on discretionary spending for three years would bring the percentage of government spending to GDP to its lowest level since the 1950s? Or did you know that when Congress votes on raising the national debt ceiling to over $14.3 trillion, that $13 trillion of that debt is courtesy of George W. Bush? You won't hear that either.

Our budget busting President is actually a money maker. One story you will never hear in the media is that Barack Obama has the Midas touch. Today, he announced a $15 billion trade deal with India. So he's already paid back the price of the trip. The U.S. makes a $16 billion profit on TARP. General Motors is paying back its government loans five years early with interest. Put another couple billion in the bank. The President saved over $1 billion on the census. The British Petroleum oil spill resulted in pay outs of $35 billion to taxpayers. Otherwise, we would have been on the hook for that amount. So that little list has earned us over $75 billion. This doesn't include the savings in healthcare reform. Not bad. We have to put him on the road some more. Oh, I forgot, American corporations made 65% profit this year, the largest in decades. Socialism is grand!

I wrote yesterday of John Kasich of Ohio and Martin Walker of Wisconsin turning down $1.3 billion in infrastructure funding for high speed rail. Today, Andrew Cuomo, not missing a beat, said that New York would take it and that it would mean the Erie Canal for New York State in the 21st century. At least Andrew gets it. So do Illinois and Iowa, which today assured voters of the commitment to the rail link from Chicago to Illinois.

The new numbskull Republican House wants to continue the Party's awesome policy of being anti-science by cutting back on the President's request to increase funding for NASA's earth science programs. If you want an example of this program, watch the new photos from the Hubble studying the latest comet. There are reasons we want to know more about the Earth.

P.S. President Obama's trip does not cost $200 million a day and half the U.S. Navy hasn't been deployed to Asia. If they were, that would mean they would have to travel from India,to Indonesia, to Korea and Japan in less than 10 days. That would set an all-time military record for naval deployments.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Whom Do You Represent?

It seems the GOP has trouble grasping representative democracy. Even though you win elections, you do have to represent all your constituents. The exit polls for this year's elections clearly indicate the issue was jobs and the economy. Yet, our newly elected Republicans have taken this to mean an outright endorsement of their ideology--and an ideology it is. They claim they are for "limited, constitutional government, cutting taxes (although they will not acknowledge Obama cut them) and the deficit".

While the President extended his hand to reach compromise, both John Boehner and Mitch McConnell said that Obama would have to adopt the Republican agenda or else they will close down the government. Oklahoma Tom Coburn threatened to close down the government unless $300 billion cuts in spending were found immediately. Senator Jim DeMint has demanded the right to read every bill before he would consent to let it come to a vote. A punk Michigan congressman, who just barely won election, demands that Obama do what Republicans say or the government will be closed down.

All of this rhetoric comes around the impending need to raise the debt ceiling of the country. The last time the GOP blocked this under the Clinton Administration we were not in a depression, fighting two wars, and having to assure the international community we can manage the awesome debt accumulated during the Bush-Cheney years. A failure to raise the debt ceiling now would trigger a collapse of the stock market and another severe challenge to the international economic system. Yet, our great media doesn't call these people out on their sheer insanity. They like the sports analogies of politics.

Dick Armey gave an interview with NPR where he outlined what the new Republican House should do. He claims that this is utterly the last chance the Republican Party has or else it will be finished on the national stage. He said that new teabagger members should just vote for limited government and cut all spending. The only spending that they should guarantee is military because that is the only function the federal government must perform. He said that he would suggest introducing a bill immediately to repeal Obamacare and even if it didn't go to the President then they should keep voting on it to fulfill their promises. (Note: repealing Obamacare would increase the federal debt by trillions as we know from the OMB report.) Asked whether Republicans should compromise with the Democrats and President Obama, he said Obama called Republicans "nasty things" during the campaign , unlike the nice epithets the GOP has called the President since Day 1, and that the Republicans can not trust him.

Now listening to Dick Armey talk about "limited government", you get a sense we are a country the size of New Hampshire, have no international obligations, social commitments to our citizens and aren't pivotal to the world financial system. The Exit Polls show that 37% of the Republican voters wanted more spending for job creation, not less, and a majority really didn't care about the national debt--like Republicans never have since Eisenhower. Also, the largest voting bloc for Republicans were the white elderly and the Party can not risk alienating its last base of support by cutting entitlement programs.

Now we have Republicans sitting in Congress saying they will not compromise. It's like they have never participated in the legislative process before.

But what bothers me is whom do they think they represent. We always hear Boehner say "The Voice of the American voter has been heard." but he never said that when President Obama won. When healthcare reform enjoyed a 59% popularity before the disinformation campaign was launched, we didn't hear Boehner accepting this. Only when Fox News and the faux teabaggers started their white riots, did he invoke the popular will. BUT, we once understood that if you were elected to such offices, you represented everyone in your district or your state no matter what their affiliation. Already, new members are turning away calls from constituents who did not support them. They is unprecedented in recent memory.

This is a serious problem. For example, John Kasich barely won by a whisker his battle against Gov. Strickland. During the election campaign he was asked what he would cut and what taxes would he raise etc. Like all GOP candidates this year, he dodged or refused to answer these questions. Yesterday, after the results were announced, he proclaimed that he was cancelling the rapid train plans through Ohio, which had been approved by the Federal Government, stated he would refuse to accept any further stimulus funds for the depressed state, would not enforce the voter-approved tax hike to support the public school system and would totally reorganize State government and eliminate whole departments. He said he would drastically cut education spending. Remember nearly 49% of the state voted against him. The scenario was repeated in Wisconsin with the election of a new Republican Governor. The first day after his victory, he announced he was cancelling the new rail link into the state as developed as part of the rehabilitation of our rail systems.

Like Chrissie in New Jersey cancelling the tunnel to Manhattan, these Republicans try to make a great show of cancelling such projects as if they are saving money. In all three cases, they will have to pay hundreds of millions back to the Federal government. Also, all three rail projects were to be funded by US-backed transportation bonds.

But it's the collossal arrogance and ignorance of these people which is appalling. We should expect this in the next year because you can look it up--none of these people told the voters what they would actually do. But it is clear that they all had a coordinated plan. Cut to Karl Rove. Speaking in western Pennsylvania yesterday to oil drillers, he assured them that there would be no new regulations on oil drilling passed by the House and that anything having to do with Clean Air was dead. How Does He Know? Was this a quid pro quo, all the candidates agreed to for the support of Crossroads America? Is this not bribery?

Out on the West Coast, a tired, old, hoarse Jerry Brown made his victory speech in an Art Deco movie theater built in 1928. Brown had refurbished the building and created two schools there while Mayor of Oakland. Perhaps it's his Jesuit training or Zen practices or simply his memory of his past time as Governor. He opened his speech with his firm commitment to a younger generation and stated his first priority as governor would be to get the resources to support the public education system in the state. Jerry Brown was one of the reasons California could brag about its public education system and its extensive college system. This jewel in the state's crown had been tarnished by draconian budget cuts in recent years.

But Jerry Brown reminded his audience that the political situation in the state and in the nation was highly polarized. He said that over 40% of the voters did not cast their ballot for him but his opponent. But he urged everyone not to compromise on principle but to compromise so that all Californians could seek common ground and a vision for the future. This is not the winner--takes--all principles we are seeing among Republicans. His words may be corny but they remain true in all of political life. Once the campaign ends, governing begins and we have to search for the common good. Maybe it's Jerry Brown's 71 years or maybe it's his experience as a successful governor 35 years ago, but it was clear that he would try and serve all Californians. You do not get that sense from any of the Republicans who have been elected. There is a ruthless nihilism that comes through that should scare everyone. There is no sense of the common good. It is completely lacking.

Another bright spot in the last few miserable days was the YouTube talk by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka. I guess you have to have led a long miners strike to have the bounce he did after the election. He addressed his rank-and-file and talked in detail of all their election activities and said how much they had affected the elections in Nevada, Colorado and California. He could have said that they came damn close in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio. But if you are going to speak in defeat, Trumpka had the tone down pat. He said the work begins again today to fight for workers' rights. I find myself more and more impressed by him.

Not to miss a beat, Nancy Pelosi was in California to start the formation of the state's "exchanges" for the implementation of the healthrefom bill and made an extensive speech about how this will help the state rebound from its economic woes and generate new jobs. As for her loss as Speaker, she can claim that she led the most progressive legislation in over a generation. It's really too bad some 400 of these bills never got taken up by the Senate.

Progressives are finally waking up to find that almost all their caucus is left in place. It was the Blue Dog caucus that was slaughtered. Progressive really have to find a way to commuicate their positions. Throughout the last two years, polling on policy reflects that the American people support "progressive" positions if phrased specifically. Almost 60% of the American people backed a public option for healthcare reform. Similar percentages back a larger stimulus and also President Obama's plans for the infrastructure. Given that Teabaggers supported funding for job creation, there might be room for a little subversion in the next Congress.

Republicans are now showing their true attitudes to the teabaggers. Michelle Bachman's attempt to make a move to #3 in the House was rebuffed and Karl Rove has now openly gone after the teabaggers. In the House, they will get their pet rocks like the gratuitous investigations into ACORN but they will not have a say about the corporate agenda of Tan Man Boehner. Boehner had already plotted policy in his meeting with Wall Street in New York last Spring.

So far, the Republicans have overreached in their statements about their mandate. The Rasmussen poll is actually looking quite prescient about the degree of disappointment people will feel with the new Congress. It's going to be interesting to see how the teabaggers react to getting their orders from the leadership. The new Republicans are far more radical and less corporate than their leaders. It would be delightful if the GOP didn't vote in a solid block for the first time in years. It might take the new authoritarians to break up the authoritarian rule.

Forget the Democrats for a minute. The new Republican party has an ideology that is like the mirror image of a Marxist paradise. It is libertarian, free market utopianism. Col.Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, said that these Republicans' views on economics are so laughable except for the situation we're in as a country. Wilkerson warned that the United States has to have good presidential leadership for the next four terms to get out of our mess and if we don't we will decline rapidly.

What does "constitutional, limited government" mean in the 21st century? We know from the past eight years that endless tax cuts and de-regulation did not create jobs and prosperity or make us stronger abroad. We know that economic development depends on education, investment in research and development and infrastructure, which did not happen until this President took over. And how do you square "limited government" with your imperial dreams? People like Pat Ryan with his "Blueprint for the Future" tries to square all this but only comes up with a country that would de-develop but remains a formidable military power. And he now will be head of the budget committee in the House. Over 15 libertarians won seats in the New Hampshire legislature and maybe that's where such people belong.

The problem we face is that people like the simplistic solutions until the implications are spelled out. If you eliminate social security, will your children take care of you in your old age? Will you and your family be able to afford healthcare? If you severely cut public education, won't we be at the mercy of other countries' who can out-compete us and out-arm us?

It seems to me an indicator of a Great Society is how it takes care of its most vulnerable. This new Republican vision has no room for compassion, empathy or solidarity with others. There is no social compact. There is really no role for government except to protect us from real and imagined foes. Limited government breeds large corporate entities, which Republicans frame as "entrepeneurs", "the producers", and "small business". Only government can violate human rights, not corporations. The rest of society--the old, the infirm, the poor, minorities--are just out of luck. Because that's the price you pay for your freedom.

Many of the new Republican senators and congressmen proclaim that "Atlas Shrugged" is their inspiration. Almost all who said this are dependent on government for their wealth and their families receive unemployment insurance, social security and government pensions. I received an e-mail tonight from a conservative complaining about Obama's mythical plans to raise taxes on the "European model" with a complete chart of all of Europe's tax rates. He said the example was Greece, where until this year you could retire at the age of 48. What is strange is that this person receives a nice miltary pension, benefits from government health insurance at $300 per month, works for defense contractors and also receives a stipend from a news agencies partly owned by the Saudis. He basically gamed the imperial side of our system to have a permanent livelihood. But he has no sense of irony when he advocates these right-wing positions about our welfare state.

Now this call for the repeal of healthcare. The Republicans are promising they will repeal this signature accomplishment of Barack Obama. They might as well try and air-brush him out of history. What they never say--and our media doesn't mention--millions more Americans will go bankrupt because of health costs. We are currently spending 2.5 trillion dollars a year on healthcare in this country, several times the percentage of GNP of any other developed nation. From the healthcare debate, we saw how that cost will continue to escalate unless something like the healthcare bill was passed. The Republicans scared seniors this year--this was Karl Rove's doing--that Obama cut $500 billion from Medicare. What he did was eliminate that much in fraud, waste and over-charging by insurance companies. Any repeal of healthcare would out the country again at the mercy of rapacious health insurance companies. But even they don't want it repealed as some of their spokesmen made clear today. They need the individual mandates--the precise element the Republicans oppose--in order to survive as a viable business.

Somehow the bipartisan agreement that we have a dysfunctional healthcare system seems to have vanished once Barack Obama triumphed. The alternative offered by House Republicans last time would only increase coverage of 3 million Americans, not 40 million and would only save $58 billion in a one time move. We would be stuck with the monstrous system as it is and all go bankrupt.

To answer Senator Coburn, President Obama should repeat his desire to kill the new fighter jet, which is running billions over budget and would cost $300 billion to complete. That would be the instant budget cut Coburn was looking for. But the problem is that the House doesn't want to cut this needless weapons system that was geared for the Cold War.

There are some cynics who believe we should just let Republicans have their way and then the American people would become aware of their treachery. But we know from this mid-term that the American people have already forgotten how we got to the present place. And they would buy into tax cuts for corporations as job creation. Even though we found out the contrary during the George Bush years. A key element in this mid-term elections was the almost relentless 20 month propaganda campaign by the right against President Obama so that none of his significant achievements were acknowledged and almost all the bad moves at the end of the Bush years were blamed on him such as the TARP program, which he turned into a profit.

George W. Bush's memoirs are out. Don't buy them. But one gets a sense how dumbed down we have become as a country when there is no outrage that he proudly asserts he approved the torture program and specifically ordered KSM to be waterboarded. P.S. Contrary to his assertions there was nothing learned from the torture other than disinformation that linked Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. Also, W says that even though he had been told about the impending economic collapse two years in advance, he was more interested in things like the rate of inflation and not these larger issues. So he didn't do anything. The most distressing moment of his presidency was not 9-11 or blowing Iraq, but being called a racist by Kanye West.

George W. claims that he really didn't pay attention to the destruction going on in Iraq for two years and then he was forced to act. Compare what the Right says about President Obama and his achievements in 20 months. Can you imagine the reaction if Obama postpone a decision for two years? Look what happened when he deliberated on the strategy in Afghanistan.

That's why one can not believe the American people will learn the disasterous effect Bush's policy had on the U.S. and the world at large. What you see after the mid-terms is the revenge of George W. Bush and his henchmen. It really doesn't mean anything to have a reality-based politics. I believe it's essential but clearly the majority of Americans do not.