I just read an article in Counterpunch magazine that is highly critical of your policy position regarding the Middle East. You are venturing into areas in which you clearly have no expertise.
Suggestion: before you make any more statements about what our mid-eastern policy should be, get a real expert on board. This is a very serious business, and your opponents will take you apart if you continue with the same policy recommendations you are putting forth now. You would be wise to consult Dr. Juan Cole at the University of Michigan on the middle east in general. For Syria, specifically, Josh Landis at the University of Oklahoma would be a good choice.
The administration’s middle east policy is a mess, chiefly because neither the Obama or Bush administrations really knows or knew very much about the middle east and didn’t seem to want to know. Obama has enough sense to resist the pressure to become deeply involved in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, and a knowledgeable candidate who can speak with authority on this issue will, if nothing else, reinforce the president’s spine and help him keep the neo-cons, who are dying to put other people’s boots on the ground, at bay.
A president is only as good as his advisors. The same goes for a presidential candidate. Having good and forthright advisors is the key to wise governance.
The “politically correct” problem is the debt racked up by Greece to the European banks (mostly German) since its admission to the Euro Zone, and the assumption by the national governments of that debt in 2012, thus letting the banks off the hook and saddling the governments and international financial institutions with potential losses of € 323 billion ($352.7 billion).
Reckless lenders are at least, if not more, culpable than reckless borrowers, because lenders are usually in a better position to evaluate the creditworthiness of the latter. The Germans have not yet been willing to accept any blame at all, despite this obvious truth. In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made political hay by characterizing the Greeks as lazy freeloaders who ought to be forced to pay back the money loaned by the virtuous, industrious Germans.
By thus characterizing the Greeks, Merkel has painted herself into a corner. She cannot now be honest with her nation and tell them the truth: those debts are bad debts; Greece cannot pay its debts to Germany and will never be able to pay its debts, and that the austerity that has been forced on Greece has wrecked the Greek economy and made it even less likely that it will be able to pay the debt, ever. A debt that cannot be repaid will not be repaid.
Haven’t Merkel and her ministers learned from their history classes to know what a mindless insistence on reparations did the last time it was tried?
Similarly, I have often wondered why the Republicans in Congress have refused to either raise the gasoline tax to maintain the Highway Trust Fund (authorized by 26 U.S.C. § 9503 and subsequent sections), which is due to run out of funds shortly without additional funding.
The condition of our highway system is not good, notwithstanding the reassurances of conservative think tanks, such as The Heritage Foundation, who point out that the percentage of deficient bridges has been cut in half since 1993. The improvement in the average condition of bridges since 1993, however, does not diminish the gravity of our current situation. For an overview of the national condition of bridges, see Deficient Bridges by State and Highway System on the Federal Highways Administration website. (SD = “Structurally deficient”; FO = “Functionally Obsolete”) That’s still a lot of deficient bridges, and if the Highway Trust Fund is not sufficiently funded, it will take far longer than the 23 years it took to repair or replace the first half. In fact, the average condition will almost certainly become worse, because newer bridges (<10 years old) as well as older bridges will deteriorate during that time.
The near-insolvency of the Trust can be squarely laid at the doorstep of the Republicans in Congress. They have stymied all efforts to cure the problem, either by refusing to raise the gas tax to compensate for inflation, or replenishing the fund out of general funds. This is utterly irresponsible behavior, and their failure to act will lead to more and more lethal collapses of bridges as their condition inexorably becomes worse. Blood will be on their hands.
Of course blood is on Bush’s and Cheney’s hands, and they are riding high.
A post on the Daily Kos by RETIII attributes the deliberate failure to take action on the part of the Republican Congress to five causes:
1. The large majority of transportation expenditures are in Democratic-leaning states and legislators of the southern states that dominate the Republicans in Congress refuse to spend on states that don’t vote Republican. Witness the Republican reluctance to vote relief for Hurricane Sandy and contrast it with its alacrity in appropriating relief for the southern states hit by Katrina. This is shameful behavior.
2. The Trust is a perfect hostage to be used by the Republicans to defund programs that benefit the middle and lower classes. They justify defunding by invoking the need to balance the budget, a position they never take when they are in power. Shortly after he was elected, Bush approved a tax cut for the wealthy and made no apologies for unbalancing the budget. The budget-balancing mantra is a scam, just like the salvation through austerity religion.
3. By letting the transportation infrastructure of the nation deteriorate to a dangerous condition, they can claim that “government is the problem” and that the roads should be privatized. Remember that when you have to pay a toll to back out of your driveway, because the street’s been privatized;
4. By refusing to fund highway construction and repair, the Republicans can demand repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act that requires contractors to pay the prevailing wage on all public works projects for laborers and mechanics. Republicans have whined about Davis-Bacon since 1931, when it was passed as part of the New Deal. Recall that the Bush Administration waived requirement for reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina and contractors promptly trucked in Mexican migrants—legal and illegal—to work at minimum wage or lower.
Read the entire post on the Daily Kos website for a much fuller explanation of how the Republicans in Congress are holding our roads and highways hostage to advance the corporate agenda of their sponsors. Part of that agenda is to privatize any federal or state program that produces a large income stream, like the highways, the schools, and the military, which has already been largely privatized. They are succeeding because they have managed to hide their neo-liberal agenda from the public and keep themselves in the shadows. The corporate media, largely owned—if not completely owned—by the same corporations and financial institutions that profit from the neo-liberal agenda, filter out all contrary points of view, even when they program an occasional “liberal,” in order to claim impartiality. They are quick, however, to squelch a radio or TV personality that gets out of line. Remember Phil Donahue, who in 2003 was fired by MSNBC for opposing the Iraq invasion, even though he was the most popular host on the network. The corporate owners of MSNBE needed that war for their bottom line. Losing Phil was pocket change for them. So it goes.
When I heard that Obama’s chief economic adviser during his first election campaign was Robert Rubin, the former secretary of the Treasury who persuaded Bill Clinton to sign the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, I began to have serious doubts about Obama’s real intentions, irrespective of what he was promising on the stump. When President Obama appointed Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner as economic advisor and Secretary of the Treasury respectively, I knew, beyond peradventure, that the picture of the future painted for us by Obama would not become a reality. It would not even be close. Certainly not while he is president.
Note: For the JP’s comment in 1999 when Glass-Steagall was about to be repealed, click this link and scroll down to the entry dated 10/3/99, about 2/5 of the way down the page.
To start with, Obama refused to prosecute the bankers who committed egregious fraud upon investors and the public and instead, handed over literally trillions of dollars to the megabanks to keep them from going under. He allowed the CEOs and senior officers of the largest banks to keep the hundreds of millions of dollars they received in bonuses from their banks that they knew to be insolvent at the very time that those obscenely excessive bonuses were paid. The usual procedures undertaken by the FDIC when a bank becomes insolvent are to nationalize the bank, fire the current management, recapitalize the bank, and sell it off to the highest bidder. In the process, the FDIC wipes out the shareholder interest, awards the bondholders preferred stock in the new bank, and protects the depositors up to the maximum amount set by law. This process was ignored, however, in the case of the “too big to fail banks,” a clear case of moral hazard that sent a loud message to Wall Street that the government would bail them out whenever they pulled the same shenanigans in the future.
In addition, when a large percentage of private homes were under water caused by the bursting of the housing bubble, that is, were burdened with mortgage debt that exceeded the value of their home, the Treasury, authorized by law and supplied with cash by a congressional appropriation, simply refused to use the cash to give homeowners relief. Instead, Treasury under Timothy Geithner used the funds to “foam the runway” (in Geithner’s words) for the banks, in anticipation of the massive wave of foreclosures that would throw millions of families out of their homes.
On top of it all, Obama asked Congress for a stimulus that he knew perfectly well, in light of the bursting of a $6 trillion housing bubble, was grossly inadequate to put the economy back on track. Instead, he preached to the public that the U. S. Government was like a family and needed to reduce the deficit by cutting its outlays—when he knew what he was saying was a baldfaced lie. The best that could be said about this destructive policy is that the nation’s suffering resulting from the administration’s embrace of austerity was dwarfed by the suffering brought about in Europe by the European Central Bank’s imposition of austerity on the Eurozone. At least our economy is beginning to grow; the Europeans are still stuck in a stagnant recession that is destroying its future by impoverishing its present.
Hillary Clinton To the Rescue?
Hillary Clinton is making her second bid for the Democratic nomination.
Because of her reluctance to answer inconvenient questions (According to the Washington Post, she answered only eight questions in the first 29 days after she announced her candidacy), it is difficult to ascertain just how she stands on many important issues. We can learn much, however, by studying what she has done in the past and with whom she now associates.
Economist Thomas Pally points out that Hillary’s economic team consists of Bill Clinton’s advisors: Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and Peter Orszag.
Does this sound familiar?
“ * * * In the 1990s, Rubin and Summers put in place the trade, deregulation and competition policies that have gotten us in so much trouble. The housing bubble that ended so badly also began on their watch. Above all, they argued persistently for fiscal austerity and even toyed with privatizing Social Security.
“Following in the footsteps of Messrs. Rubin and Summers, for the last several years Mr. Orszag has been collecting booty on Wall Street. Before that, his starting job in Washington was to write papers showing that budget deficits increase interest rates, thereby preparing the political table for a menu of fiscal austerity and entitlement cuts.
“In Clintonworld, it seems that playing a central role in catastrophic policy failure or peddling bad economics doesn’t disqualify you from future influence. If anything, a record of being disastrously wrong on economic policy seems to be a required credential.”
If you read my column on the turnkey presidency, you will see that Hillary’s choices for economic advisors fits the general pattern. There are numerous economists of integrity in the U. S. and elsewhere who are far superior to Rubin, Summers and Orszag, with a vastly superior grasp of economic reality. If Hillary actually desires to help the nation pull out of the recession that still plagues everyone but the top 1%, she could improve her chances by refusing to have anything to do with these three retreads. It reveals much about her vision—as well as the mindset of her plutocratic contributors—that she chose these three men as her advisors after they paved the way for the worst economic disaster this nation has experienced since the Great Depression.
But these are “serious” men, meaning that Wall Street is confident that they will not upset the apple cart, or rather, the gravy train, that has enabled the wealthy to shamelessly enrich themselves beyond the dreams of Croesus at the expense of the less fortunate. This is why Hillary can charge $100,000 for a speech to Goldman Sachs and maintain with a straight face that such an obscenely munificent sum for a single speech is not an advance payment for favors to be rendered when she becomes president.
See: Why Bribery Isn’t Really Bribery Under Federal Law from the Jackson Progressive, dated 11/21/1999.
At the moment, it appears that Hillary is marching to the nomination over insignificant Democratic opposition. The Republicans who have so far tossed their hats into the ring resemble nothing so much as a pack of hyenas fighting over a carcass.The spectacle will further enhance any Democrat’s chances.
There is a caveat: Hillary is the only candidate with high-level managerial experience in the executive branch of the Federal Government. She is friends with many powerful persons in Washington, having served as first lady, senator, and Secretary of State. She is very intelligent, having graduated from Yale Law School and worked in a prestigious Little Rock law firm. In other words, she has her own power base, one that does not rely completely on the elite that customarily calls the shots in Washington. Her experience near the center of executive power make her one of the most qualified presidential candidates in decades. As I pointed out before, only one president since Richard Nixon has held a high position in the executive branch prior to becoming president. Hillary might, heaven forbid, appoint advisers and departmental heads not beholden to the powers that be.
That simply cannot be allowed to happen.
Hillary has gone out of her way to cozen up to the power elite. The speeches to Goldman Sachs are merely the tip of the iceberg. She must assuage the fear of the powerful and wealthy that she might go her own way. She must convince them that she will not attempt to make the system fairer or more equitable. If they do not believe that she will conform, they have ways, mainly through the media—but also some darker methods—of denying her a primary victory.
Don’t forget Edmund Muskie’s 1972 campaign for the Democratic nomination. Leading in the polls, he shed entirely justified tears in the snows of New Hampshire, and his candidacy was over. Muskie’s downfall was brought about by the dirty tricks of Republican operatives who effectively sabotaged the campaign of every candidate other than that of anti-Vietnam War senator George McGovern, who they correctly sensed was the weakest candidate. McGovern indeed became the Democratic candidate and was subsequently crushed by Richard Nixon in the general election.
If a new, credible Democratic candidate suddenly appears on the scene and seems well-connected and well-financed, watch carefully, for it is but a cloud on the horizon no bigger than a man’s hand. It will grow, and the gentle mist that begins to fall from it will soon turn into a raging storm that sweeps Hillary and her campaign into oblivion.
It should be an interesting election.
(Revised and corrected. 5/26/2015)
Bestowing fast-track authority upon the president is an abdication by Congress of its responsibility to the nation to seriously consider bills. By passing a fast-track provision, our legislature is relinquishing its constitutional powers to amend bills before it. The Roman historian Tacitus warns us what government under an uncontrolled executive is like:
Annals, III, 65.
“It is not my intention to dwell upon any senatorial motions save those either remarkable for their nobility or of memorable turpitude; in which case they fall within my conception of the first duty of history — to ensure that merit shall not lack its record and to hold before the vicious word and deed the terrors of posterity and infamy. But so tainted was that age, so mean its sycophancy, that not only the great personages of the state, who had to shield their magnificence by their servility, but all senators of consular rank, a large proportion of the ex-praetors, many ordinary members even, vied with one another in rising to move the most repulsive and extravagant resolutions. The tradition runs that Tiberius, on leaving the curia, had a habit of ejaculating in Greek, "These men! — how ready they are for slavery!" Even he, it was manifest, objecting though he did to public liberty, was growing weary of such grovelling patience in his slaves.”
Further, the administration has classified the draft of the treaty as “Secret,” as though the TPP is a military secret.
There is only one question to be asked about the TPP: What is contained in that treaty that it must be negotiated in secret by representatives of the largest multinational corporations out of the sight of the Congress, the press, and, most importantly, the public. Why is it so important and sensitive that revealing it could cause the leaker to be charged with espionage and sentenced to jail? This is a trade agreement, not a military secret.
The obvious and compelling reason for the secrecy is that the American public would be outraged by its contents because, being written by the multinational corporations, it almost certainly will be detrimental to our national interests and the welfare of the American people. It leads to the unhappy conclusion that our Congress is bought and paid for by large multinational corporations and Wall Street, plunderers and parasites that are determined to protect and strengthen their privileges and obscene wealth, to the detriment of everyone else.
The following passage from the Good Book is apt:
“[M]en loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19
Human beings also have a characteristic that makes it easy to hate muslims: we tend to project our dark side onto others and give them those attributes that we are unwilling to recognize in ourselves, and the less we know about the target, the easier it is to project. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and its satellites were the targets of our projection. We were told by our government and its media lackeys that there were no depths of evil to which the Russians would descend to further the cause of “Godless Communism.” The communist government did to its people the same thing we did, turn the United States and its people into villains that were out to conquer or even destroy their country. The Iron Curtain dividing the Communist domain from the peoples whose governments belonged to NATO, kept the two peoples separated and ignorant of each other.
Both sides believed that they had cause to fear the other side. Until 1952, the Soviet Union groaned under the heavy hand of Joseph Stalin, a vicious and paranoid dictator that ordered the deaths of literally millions of Soviet citizens to create a new society that he believed would bring about a golden age for humanity. The nations of Eastern Europe, occupied by the Soviet Army, became part of the Soviet bloc, whereas the western nations and the United States formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to counter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Shortly thereafter, the U. S. tested a thermonuclear bomb in the Pacific and began to build missiles capable of transporting thermonuclear bombs outside the Earth’s atmosphere to deliver them to the cities of the Soviet Union, an act that speeded up the development by the Soviet Union of the same kind of weapons capable of destroying U. S. Cities. And the people on both sides, who barely knew what the other was like, were manipulated into supporting and funding an insane arms race that carried with it the possibility of human extinction.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the power elite of the United States has been faced with a dilemma: there is no single enemy seriously threatening the U. S. Our armed forces are several times the size of any other possible rival. That is an economic disaster for the defense industry, which, in order to survive, must have a steady source of weapon orders from the government. They were suffering badly when they and the Bush administration received a gift that has been giving and giving: the destruction of the two towers of the World Trade Center by Islamic guerrillas, most of which were Saudis but had joined a jihadist group called Al Qaida, based at the time in Afghanistan. The Bush administration finally had something with which to manipulate the people. They could frighten the people with the threat of terrorism.
In reality, terrorism, which has never been accurately defined, has killed relatively killed very few people. The WTC was the biggest, and things has gone downhill since then. The average American is more likely to be killed by a falling television than by a terrorist attack. But the president and the media were able to strike fear in the populace by pointing to the devastation of the WTC. Along with Al Qaida, Islam became the target of our projections. Those fears and the hatred of Moslems it engendered became the tool of the administration to justify the totally illegal attacks and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The pity of it all is that all those innocent lives and all that wanton destruction would not have occurred had even a small percentage of the American citizens knew just a little about Islam and had come to know them as people who are a lot like us and want the same things we do. Familiarity makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to project one’s dark side on another person. They gradually become ordinary people.
The government and the media are getting ready to pump us up for an invasion of Iran. Hopefully the people of this nation will not permit our leaders to lead us into another illegal and foolhardy war on the other side of the Earth.
If you would like to gain some knowledge of Islam or get a taste of its spiritual wealth, you could not do better than obtaining a copy of The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. Rumi was a 13th Century Spiritual Teacher within the Sufi sect. He is today the most popular poet in the U. S. It is said that Muslims, Jews and Christians attended his funeral in Konya, Turkey. His soul was too big to be contained within the teachings of any religion.
By the way, he dictated all his poetry in Persian, which has become Farsi, the contemporary language of Iran.
"It is an incredibly discouraging time for a couple of reasons," said Alt. "Americans just don’t see a future at this point in time in science, and it has happened pretty quickly. And the other thing that is real interesting is, I’ve always had a number of Chinese recruits in the lab, and they would end up getting good jobs at MIT and Stanford -- great places. Now, everybody who comes to my lab... they are going now to get their own labs back in China, because they feel there is a much better situation to get funding.”
Read the entire article in the Huffington Post
This is not only a lie, but it is silly. To the Republicans, deficit spending is bad only when the Democrats are in power. As soon as they come into power, they throw fiscal caution to the winds by cutting taxes and increasing expenditures that enrich the top one-tenth of a percent. George W. Bush inherited a balanced budget and immediately passed two tax cuts favorable to the rich and well-connected. The tax cuts are part of the reason the dot-com bust wasn’t worse. Reagan totally busted the budget on the basis of crackpot theories concocted by economist Arthur Laffer on a napkin. Remember the Laffer Curve? Conservatives actually took it seriously, because it fit with their political agenda.
And the Obama administration is bragging that the deficit is going down when it ought to be going up to increase demand and put millions of workers back to work.
There is no accounting for some people.
Now consider the fact that over 500 representatives of multinational corporations are writing this treaty in secret, and you will begin to understand the gravity of the situation. The little we know about the treaty from leaked documents is enough to reject it as an infringement on our national sovereignty that will render our legislature and our courts helpless to pass or enforce laws that protect us but negatively affect a corporation’s profits, even if the corporation is polluting our air and water or engaging in illegal business practices.
The thrust of the treaty, from what little we know, is so outrageous than it must be kept secret to avoid provoking an uprising were it to become known.
For the current status of the treaty and analysis by Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, read his article in Naked Capitalism, Obama & TPP – Every One That Doeth Evil Hateth the Light.
The Obama administration is pushing Congress to give it “fast-track” authority, which would force Congress to vote the treaty up or down without the ability to modify it in any way or to eliminate the most obnoxious provisions. This is how the Clinton administration was able to get NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) passed by promising the creation of over 500,000 new jobs. That didn’t happen, as we all know. Instead, we lost factory after factory, as American firms moved manufacturing facilities to Mexico and then to China. We were warned then, just as we are being warned now. Will we be chumps again?