Friday, December 03, 2010

With Trouble A-Brewin' At Home, Presidents Head Overseas

To coin a phrase, they "get out of Dodge." It may be to Camp David (Jimmy Carter to meditate before disastrous 'Malaise' speech/Bill Clinton to mend fences with Hillary), the ranch (George W. Bush/Ronald Reagan), or to friendly (for them) foreign policy pastures in Cairo and Afghanistan (Nixon/Obama).

Nixon  in  Cairo,  June  1974 Obama in Afghanistan,  December 2010

Two months after his triumphant trip to Cairo, Egypt President Nixon would resign in disgrace, while back home the Watergate noose tightened inexorably around his doomed presidency. Obviously, President Obama's problems today dwarf what Nixon faced at the time, but they are similar in one respect: Both Presidents' problems were of their own making.

President Obama has consistently reneged on his campaign promise to take a firm stand on ending tax cuts for the rich, now that the rubbber has hit the road. And he is on the verge of caving on every other issue too, from START, a treasonous and unprecedented treaty obstruction by Republicans, to DADT to extending unemployment benefits, which are being held hostage to the Bush tax cuts. As Paul Krugman said: "It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right."

Nixon's triumphant motorcade through the streets of Cairo was but a brief respite from the fires of Watergate consuming his presidency. Two months after this President's trip to Afghanistan, once the new Republican Congress takes over, wither his presidency? It would be less surprising were President Obama to announce he's not running for a second term and then proceed to spend his dwindling days in office rubber stamping reactionary Republican initiatives while playing War Chief, than if he suddenly decided to channel his inner Democrat. At this critical juncture in our history, the last thing we need is a Lear or a Hamlet roaming the White House corridors. What the country needs, and deserves, is a generous helping of the spirit of FDR and Truman in our president.

TEA PARTY Remedial Education: Who Benefits From Tax Cuts For The Rich?

Your heroes! The Teabaggers hang on these overpaid hucksters' every word, actually PAY their salaries. How's that working for ya, teabaggin' fool tools? Do you stand to benefit too? Demographically, considering how much government benefits you receive, Medicare and Social Security, gladly paid by MY TAXES, you're not cashing in on much of this Chinese BONUS BONANZA; you're just the saps who nod your heads in fear at the latest absurd conspiracy or racist broadside, and fall in line. Senator Claire McCaskill alluded to this: If this OBSCENE genuflecting to the super rich in which the disparity in wealth between the few at the rarefied top and the rest of us, the widest it's been since 1928, continues, there will be a REAL populist uprising:
“I don’t know how anyone can keep a straight face and say they are for deficit reduction while they insist on a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, completely unpaid for,” McCaskill said of the GOP stance. “If they think it’s OK to raise taxes for the embattled middle class because . . . (Democrats) don’t give more money to millionaires, it really is time for people in America to take up pitchforks.”
Coming from a  U.S. senator, this was an extraordinary (and WELCOME) statement. It also reflects a level of frustration with the lack of leadership from the White House that is spilling over within Democratic ranks. Just remember (for the few who've read your history) what happened just one year later.

Hail to The Capitulator-in-Chief

There's something slightly off-putting about President Obama paying a "surprise" visit to our troops in Afghanistan at the height of the Bush tax cuts extension debate, which will burn a $100 billion hole in our deficit, in order to give the top 2 percent super rich a bonus millionaires get the same tax cut everyone else gets up to $250,000 courtesy of China and the taxpayers, including the unemployed who pay taxes too. It's as if the President is running away from the withering criticism by Democrats on the Left, furious at him for caving to the Republicans. Sure, it's great to see the Commander-in-Chief boosting our troops' morale; that's one of his solemn duties. But the timing of it, just as the Senate is about to ratify the result of his preemptive capitulation to the Republican minority (they will still be a governing minority next year), as the unemployment rate ticked up .2 percent, without even a semblance of standing up for Democratic priorities (extending unemployment insurance, holding firm on the middle class tax cuts) or calling Republicans on their fraudulent "concern" over deficits is, well ... the adjectives abound based on one's scale of seething. Paul Krugman (here's why he's my favorite columnist) tells it like it is in his New York Times Nov. 2 column:
Freezing Out Hope By Paul Krugman - NYT, Nov. 2, 2010

After the Democratic “shellacking” in the midterm elections, everyone wondered how President Obama would respond. Would he show what he was made of? Would he stand firm for the values he believes in, even in the face of political adversity?

On Monday, we got the answer: he announced a pay freeze for federal workers. This was an announcement that had it all. It was transparently cynical; it was trivial in scale, but misguided in direction; and by making the announcement, Mr. Obama effectively conceded the policy argument to the very people who are seeking — successfully, it seems — to destroy him.

So I guess we are, in fact, seeing what Mr. Obama is made of.

About that pay freeze: the president likes to talk about “teachable moments.” Well, in this case he seems eager to teach Americans something false.

The truth is that America’s long-run deficit problem has nothing at all to do with overpaid federal workers. For one thing, those workers aren’t overpaid. Federal salaries are, on average, somewhat less than those of private-sector workers with equivalent qualifications. And, anyway, employee pay is only a small fraction of federal expenses; even cutting the payroll in half would reduce total spending less than 3 percent.

So freezing federal pay is cynical deficit-reduction theater. It’s a (literally) cheap trick that only sounds impressive to people who don’t know anything about budget realities. The actual savings, about $5 billion over two years, are chump change given the scale of the deficit.

Anyway, slashing federal spending at a time when the economy is depressed is exactly the wrong thing to do. Just ask Federal Reserve officials, who have lately been more or less pleading for some help in their efforts to promote faster job growth.

Meanwhile, there’s a real deficit issue on the table: whether tax cuts for the wealthy will, as Republicans demand, be extended. Just as a reminder, over the next 75 years the cost of making those tax cuts permanent would be roughly equal to the entire expected financial shortfall of Social Security. Mr. Obama’s pay ploy might, just might, have been justified if he had used the announcement of a freeze as an occasion to take a strong stand against Republican demands — to declare that at a time when deficits are an important issue, tax breaks for the wealthiest aren’t acceptable.

But he didn’t. Instead, he apparently intended the pay freeze announcement as a peace gesture to Republicans the day before a bipartisan summit. At that meeting, Mr. Obama, who has faced two years of complete scorched-earth opposition, declared that he had failed to reach out sufficiently to his implacable enemies. He did not, as far as anyone knows, wear a sign on his back saying “Kick me,” although he might as well have.

There were no comparable gestures from the other side. Instead, Senate Republicans declared that none of the rest of the legislation on the table — legislation that includes such things as a strategic arms treaty that’s vital to national security — would be acted on until the tax-cut issue was resolved, presumably on their terms.

It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right.

The real question is what Mr. Obama and his inner circle are thinking. Do they really believe, after all this time, that gestures of appeasement to the G.O.P. will elicit a good-faith response?

What’s even more puzzling is the apparent indifference of the Obama team to the effect of such gestures on their supporters. One would have expected a candidate who rode the enthusiasm of activists to an upset victory in the Democratic primary to realize that this enthusiasm was an important asset. Instead, however, Mr. Obama almost seems as if he’s trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake.

Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse — a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.

So what are Democrats to do? The answer, increasingly, seems to be that they’ll have to strike out on their own. In particular, Democrats in Congress still have the ability to put their opponents on the spot — as they did on Thursday when they forced a vote on extending middle-class tax cuts, putting Republicans in the awkward position of voting against the middle class to safeguard tax cuts for the rich.

It would be much easier, of course, for Democrats to draw a line if Mr. Obama would do his part. But all indications are that the party will have to look elsewhere for the leadership it needs.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

New York Daily News Captures GOP MERRY XMAS Card to The Unemployed

This was an opportune time for New York's second newspaper and original tabloid, the NY Daily News, to recycle its most famous headlines ever: "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD." It was 1975. (And the newspaper cost 15 cents!) As New York City teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, President Ford (unelected successor to Richard Nixon who had resigned in disgrace over Watergate) gave a speech denying federal assistance to the city. Eventually, President Ford signed legislation providing federal loans to the city, which were repaid with interest. There was miscalculation and posturing on both sides. Ford was rightly miffed because he never said those words. But it was an editorial stroke of genius (there's not much room for boringly accurate block headlines on the News' front page) and it cost President Ford reelection the next year.

Fast forward to Nov. 2, 2010. Today's headline and story behind it focuses on the plight of 95,000 of the city's unemployed whose benefits were cut off today, at the height of the Holiday season, because the Republicans are playing games with their lives. In this instance it was Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, whose name is SHIT in New York, blocking a vote to extend jobless benefits. It's a dangerous kabuki dance these GOP bastards are playing, and if history is any indication they'll end up paying for their craven heartlessness laced with hipocrisy. Teabaggers should take note of the subhead: "But Wall Street Parties Like It's 1999." When a conservative newspaper makes the sweetheart connection between the Tea Party tools and Wall Street, your gig is up. You've hit your highwater mark; now you're headed for a big fall, Teabaggers. Here are the two headlines, side-by-side:

NASA Discovers New Form of Life Made of Arsenic

The discovery of this new biochemical system was made following a sweep of the Republican Caucus and Tea Party rallies in search of human biological carbon life forms. at poisonous Lake Mono in California. Pressed for comment, Republican leaders said this is further confirmation NASA should be scuttled and sold for parts to the Chinese. Mitch McConnell released a letter stating that "Republicans and the American people respect the separation of church and state" and are "appalled" by big government "meddling in God's private affairs." Senator John McCain groused, "get off my lawn! I've already said what I think of DADT!"

New GOPoisonous Life Form Discovered by NASA


And it isn’t even Friday.

When Steve King called President Obama an “urban” candidate which is white code language for BLACK, Keith Olbermann said rather generously that he was getting close to “jumping the racism shark.” Keith, this guy made that jump a while back and he’s just circling back to make another jump and another and another, ad nauseum. King tried to walk back his remarks on the ‘little black T-shirt’ dude’s program. This racist’s claim would be a wee bit more credible if he didn’t have a history of racist comments. Back in June, King said the President has a “default mechanism that favors the black person.” More recently, Rep. King said a decades-long settlement of government agencies' discrimination against African American and Native American farmers was “slavery reparations.”

Strange. If unemployment among African Americans is a whopping 52.6 percent compared to the national average of 9.6 percent, I’d hate to think what Mr. King’s non-“default” position is: A return to slavery, or perhaps only indentured servitude? This little-discussed figure is behind the cruelty of  Tea/Republican Party lawmakers in denying millions of unemployed Americans an extension of unemployment benefits. These imbeciles think it’s a “black” problem even though African Americans make up only 13 percent of the general population. While the Idiot Punditocracy opine imperiously that the unemployed have no political leverage (true) it’s the false perception of their skin color that seals the deal for Republicans to vote NO.

(Wait. They’ll vote YES on an $18 billion extension of unemployment as long as it’s paid for from unspent stimulus revenues which are already allocated, but will gladly add $108 billion to the deficit to give the super rich 2 percent of the population a tax cut.)

Ironically, one of the many serious critiques of the Obama administration thus far is he has not paid enough attention to the urgent problems of the black community lest he not be perceived as president of  ALL the people. They’re saying that ANYWAY, Mr. President, so why not forget the optics and just do what’s right.

Congressman Steve King takes his punishment.
Is blatant, open racism by members of Congress part of the House Ethics Committee purview? If something isn't done to address the common use of racism in Congress (especially now with more racists and Teabaggers descending on our capital) we could see another incident like this. In the alternate, restoring the punishment of the pillory on the public (square) Mall as a great new tourist attraction of the evils of Washington D.C. might be enthusiastically embraced by originalists in the Tea Party!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dear Mr. President: What Would FDR do With a Hand Like This?

Or Truman, or RFK — which is it, Mr. President? Stand on the solid, hallowed ground of the Titans of the Democratic Party or the shifting sands of (with all due respect to their good works) Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

President Obama Remedial Education: HOW TO BEHAVE LIKE A DEMOCRAT

Ted Strickland, outgoing governor of Ohio, knows. This is his HARSH BUT CONSTRUCTIVE criticism of  the President. Frankly, when the Democratic governor of a key electoral state is so utterly baffled by the President’s inability to recognize Republicans want to ROLL, NEUTER, AND DESTROY HIM, WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA TO SIT UP AND TAKE NOTICE?!?

LISTEN UP, Mr. President, this isn’t your base whom you seem to be contemptuous of (hasn't listened to us in any substantive way for two years), this is Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland:
“I saw what CNN said after that meeting yesterday. A line saying the president said he should have been willing to work with the GOP earlier. What? After all of this you don't realize these people want to destroy you and your agenda?" he asked. "How many times do you have to be, you know, slapped in the face? Look what they did with health care.

I mean, I understand a reluctance to reach the conclusion that I think a reasonable person can reach: that [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell was speaking the truth when he said his goal was not to govern, not to develop public policy, but his goal is to defeat this president in 2012. And I think when the base understands that that's what's at stake, the base is going to be much more willing to engage and to join the fight. The base is going to be less willing to join the fight if they don't see the clear differences. The differences are there, for God's sake.”

PS. "Intellectual elitism" is Gov. Strickland's code denomination for Blue Dog/DLC/corporatist inauthentic Democrats of the type Chris Matthews cannot get enough of. Chris is already going on one of his bonehead rampages re: the deficit, playing on the enemy's territory in which he's throughly comfortable and sanguine. Once again, his negative obsession with the public option manifests itself. No, Chris, it has been anything but "thoroughly discussed" on your show. Misrepresented and slimed, by you, yes.

Funnin’ Rachel Maddow (Part Deux): Rachel Gets Her Wish as Keith Repels Michele’s Come-On (Kinda)

(This isn’t rating week, is it? Just checking …)

Caption This:
Rachel embraces her "inchoate yearning ..."

Meanwhile, back at 30 Rock, the “cable” show … For some weird, inexplicable reason wingnut women (many repeat Worst Persons) flock to Keith Olbermann as if he were the embodiment of that character in the Dos Equus beer commercial, “the world’s most interesting man.” Laura Ingraham allegedly dated him. Ruthie, Olbermann’s possessive-compulsive media stalker at the Daily Caller, dedicates a weekly column to Keith’s every utterance. And now, most shocking of all, Michele Bachmann has expressed a burning desire to be stranded on a desert island with him:
“I think it would be so interesting to have a discussion with him. And I think he would be willing to have a discussion. I do.”
Sounds like a come-on to me. After splitting a few coconuts, what “discussion” could Keith and Michele possibly have on a desert island? Think about it. Keith’s reaction to Michele:


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If President Obama Were More Like Harry Truman

He'd never stand for this outrage from Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the pallid, pathetic clown lobbying to chair the House Energy Committee. Barton had the unmitigated gall to compare himself to legendary WWII general George S. Patton in this tasteless adolescent self-promotion:

If Barton is Patton, Boehner Eisenhower and Cantor Omar Bradley, what does that make President Obama — Hitler? If President Obama were like Harry Truman, here’s what he might say to Joe Barton:

“Joe, my Grandfather served under General Patton, and you dodged the Vietnam draft when your number came up. That’s the reality. I’m glad you’re no Patton or you’d still be trying to fight your way out of Sicily today.”

And to Mitch McConnell, who said his number one objective is defeating the President: “Make my day, Mitch. Give me your best shot. But don’t try playing hardball with me if you can’t match me stride for stride.”

Instead we got the pablum of today’s photo-op in the White House. We’d like to see President Obama throw a few more elbows around instead of taking them. Be more like ‘Give ‘em Hell Harry’ Mr. President.

Heh … As if.

Funnin’ Rachel Maddow: Flippin’ The Prop

Rachel Pop Quiz: Name the prop Rachel was holding up to make a serious point about “our problem” before she dropped this saucy double entendre: “This is very nice. And it works both ways! It just means something different …

Monday, November 29, 2010

WikiLeaks: Damaging or a Positive Paradigm Shift in Foreign Policy?

What do you do when you’ve got the mightiest military force hanging out in your backyard at your beck and call, putting out brushfires, while you fret about a suspicious neighbor from a different tribe beefing up his own military power and behaving like he’s king of the block? You might just ask your big bad military “guests” to snuff out the suspicious neighbor’s military force before it gets too strong.

According to the latest documents dump of State Department cables — some 250,000 of them — by the WikiLeaks website, that’s exactly what our Mideast “ally” Saudi Arabia did by urging America to attack Iran and take out its nuclear capacity. The UAE added helpfully that ground troops may be required. Gee, and we thought Bibi Netanyahu’s Israeli government was hawkish and warlike … certainly not compared to Saudi King Abdullah. While the Israelis focus on non-lethal cyber attacks to cripple Iran’s nuclear program, the Saudi king and his junior potentates in their medieval garments are all gung-ho over war with Iran. As long as it’s American lives on the line.

King Abdullah reminds me of  the anti-Castro agitator who kept alive the dream of “liberating” Cuba by “urging” America to invade the island and take Castro out. I remember telling one of these dudes that if he wanted his island “back” (a common refrain these days re: the U.S. … where did it go?) do what Castro did: lead a group of guerrillas to Cuba, head for the Sierra Maestra, and start a war against the Cuban government. Oh, and maybe grow a beard to look like Che. But don’t demand (he wasn’t asking) that the U.S. should expend blood and treasure staging another Bay of Pigs to satisfy his right wing agenda. Needless to say, that didn’t go over very well.

For Americans like Sarah Palin who don’t know the difference between EYE-ran (Iran) and EYE-rack (Iraq) here’s a brief primer:  In the tribalist world of Middle East (and environs) Arab and Muslim nations, of the two major Islamic sects — Sunni and Shia — Sunnis comprise about 85 percent of Muslims with large majorities in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and most Arab nations, as well as non-Arab Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran is the Shia outlier and a major regional power made stronger by George W. Bush’s reckless invasion and war of choice in Iraq.

By deposing Saddam Hussein, the U.S. turned a tenuous regional balance of power on its head, empowering Iran to flex its regional muscles and the weaker oil-rich Sunni states to secretly (lest their interests be aligned with Israel’s) urge a U.S. strike on Iran. The minority Shia dictator of Iraq had nothing at all to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks carried out by Sunni fanatics, most of whom were Saudi nationals. Nor did Saddam have weapons of mass destruction or the means to obtain them. But he did provide a check on Iranian power and regional hegemony, which was shattered by the invasion of Iraq.

In backing the Iraqui Shia insurgency against the U.S. and the Sunni government of Iraq, Iran has been just destabilizing enough to inflict pain in casualties, resources and materiĆ©l on the U.S., while weakening the political structure. And we haven’t even gotten to Af-Pak yet, the nexus of Islamic terrorism today. That is the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan where Bin Laden and Al Qeda (Sunni fundies) are holed up, with hot spots all the way to Yemen. It may be an oversimplification but the relevant point, getting down to brass tacks, is that the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide is thousands of years in the making and we’re the clueless kids on the block taking fire from all sides.

Fahrenheit 911 had a scene of U.S. authorities hustling (facilitating) the flight of Saudi members of Bin Laden’s family out of the country only hours after the 9/11 attacks, when all commercial flights were grounded. Nothing could have been more symbolic of the incestuous vassal-master relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia than the country from which most of the 9/11 terrorists originated should be given the royal treatment to remove members of the 9/11 terrorist mastermind family from the reach of U.S. law. 

This uneven relationship drove President Obama to insist throughout his campaign and presidency on the urgency of freeing ourselves of Middle East oil dependency: It wasn’t just about the abstract need (in most Americans’ minds, amid all this “cheap” Saudi oil) to gain strength through energy independence. He spoke of what we knew to be true but didn’t have “official” confirmation of: Saudi Arabia is one of the sleaziest anti-American operators (they’re not a country, they’re a crime family) on the face of the globe, and they have us by the balls.

All they need to do is turn off the oil spigot.

The U.S. government knew of Saudi madrassas throughout the world, those schools that have become breeding grounds for terrorists. But they chose to look the other way. Now we get “official” confirmation thanks to WikiLeaks that “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda.” How can the Saudis be our “allies” at the same time they're funding and perpetuating terrorism? My educated guess is that Saudi intelligence knows a whole lot more about prospective terrorist plots against America than it is willing to share. But it will continue to warn U.S. intelligence when such plots go operational … as long as the U.S. does its bidding. The word for this is, extortion.

Perhaps we can turn the WikiLeaks State Department documents dump into an opportunity. Turn lemons into lemonade. Go in a different, honorable direction of open and frank diplomacy, of sunshine, and treat those nations that harbor, fund, promote and encourage terrorism as the pariahs they ought to be. And if they deign to turn off the spigot, we shall take all necessary measures to protect our interests — a paradigm shift in foreign policy that recognizes the new realities of a WikiLeaker's world.