George W and Barack Obama

Any one else notice that two events seem to be bringing former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama together?  First, in Africa.

130702_obama_bush_africa_reu1According to Politico

The presidents appeared side-by-side and bowed their heads for a moment of silence at the embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, according to pool reports. They also shook hands with guests at the ceremony, which included the U.S. ambassador and family members of victims of the truck bombing.

The embassy was struck on Aug. 7, 1998, by Al Qaeda in a coordinated terrorist attack that also hit the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. In Tanzania, 10 people were killed and more than 85 were injured.

The Clinton quote I found in the Washington Post.

The Clinton quote, from Aug. 13, 1998 at Andrews Air Force Base, reads, “We must honor the memory of those we mourn by pressing the cause of freedom and justice for which they lived. It is the burden of our history and the bright hope of the world’s future.”

The second event bringing them together is immigration reform.  Remember that George W. tried to get a bill passed when he was President.  Now according to new accounts, including Politico, he is going to speak on the importance of reform.

Former President George W. Bush is expected to make a speech next week on how  immigration reform is good for the country, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Bush will speak after a citizenship ceremony at the George W. Bush Presidential  Center in Dallas on Wednesday followed by a panel discussion titled “What  Immigrants Contribute.”

While no one knows if he will inject himself into the current Congressional debate by supporting either the Senate or House bills, his talking about it may just help push some House Republicans into supporting the Senate bill which President Obama supports.

I think that Presidents are an exclusive club and no matter the politics there are always shared experience.  In Tanzania, we had the convergence of three: Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Photograph:  Reuters

Surveillance and President Obama

I look forward to my weekly email from my Congressman, Mike Capuano.  Of course, I once worked for him when he was mayor of the City of Somerville (a near Boston city) so I am used to Mike’s saying what he means and I almost always agree with him.  I am copying the entire first part of his email into this post.

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“U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Somerville), who voted against the Patriot Act, rallied protesters by calling the law the worst attack on freedom since the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.”

                                                                                                                Boston Herald

                                                                                                                September 10, 2003

 

The Patriot Act and Verizon

 

I am sure you are aware that Verizon has reportedly been ordered by the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) to turn over, “on an ongoing daily basis”, information about every customer telephone number, including landline, cell and business numbers. That information reportedly includes all numbers dialed and all calls received within the United States as well as between the United States and other countries.

As I write this newsletter, the news is filled with reports that a similar program called PRISM is in place for every major internet and email provider. The government claims they have not accessed the content of phone calls, but it seems they ARE accessing the content of emails such as videos, websites visited and more. According to reports, the PRISM program is not at this time being used on U.S. citizens.

Even if you can accept the government collecting the number and length of every call you make, are you really comfortable with them having the ability to catalogue all the YouTube videos you watch, the Netflix movies you download, or the web pages you visit? It seems that our own government has access to every phone call, email and internet search for all Americans at every minute of every day.

Like most Americans, I am absolutely outraged. But, if you’re a long time subscriber to these newsletters, you probably already knew that. You also probably know that I voted against passage of the so-called “Patriot Act” and every reauthorization since it first passed in 2001.

Before I go any further, I feel compelled to remind you that I was an early and strong supporter of President Obama.  I am still amongst the strongest Obama supporters in the House of Representatives.  Nonetheless, I cannot remain silent out of some sort of misplaced loyalty to President or party when I believe that basic American rights have been intentionally trampled.

I know we live in a dangerous world and there is work to do to prevent terrorists from harming us. But we must find a balance between giving law enforcement the tools they need to track and identify terrorists and protecting the very liberties upon which our great country was founded.

This data collection has reportedly been going on for 7 years. The length of time that this has been going on and the staggering amount of data collected on every Verizon customer amounts to an incredible overreach. Even if you’re not a Verizon customer, there is clearly reason for concern. Who really believes that Verizon is the only telecommunications company required to turn over this data?

I have always believed that we must give law enforcement the tools they need to pursue criminals. However, we can do that and still protect civil liberties.

It is time for those of us who support President Obama to speak up.  I believe he is a good man and has been a good President.  However, I think his Administration has allowed their concern for our safety to lead them down the wrong path.  If we remain silent, those who have always wished him to fail on every point stand a better chance of winning the hearts and minds of America and we will all be worse off for it.  It is possible to support President Obama and yet disagree with him on certain issues – this is one of those times.

The President has said he is glad this is out in the open and he welcomes discussion.  Instead of reacting in horror – or wishing more information would be collected, we need to talk.   I’m not sure I know where the balance is, but one thing that I learned at St. John’s College (Annapolis) is that dialog can lead to greater clarity and understanding.  So let’s talk:  To each other and to the President and your member of Congress.

Photograph from Capuano website.

What’s up with sequestration? Or we should have issued war bonds.

When I looked up sequestration in Merriam Webster, the closest meaning I could find to what is going on with the federal budget is

2
a: a legal writ authorizing a sheriff or commissioner to take into custody the property of a defendant who is in contempt until the orders of a court are complied with
b: a deposit whereby a neutral depositary agrees to hold property in litigation and to restore it to the party to whom it is adjudged to belong
So our tax dollars are being put aside until we pay down the debt or is it cut the deficit?  Back in 2004, the Treasury Department explained the difference this way.

What is the difference between the public debt and the deficit?

The deficit is the difference between the money Government takes in, called receipts, and what the Government spends, called outlays, each year.  Receipts include the money the Government takes in from income, excise and social insurance taxes as well as fees and other income.  Outlays include all Federal spending including social security and Medicare benefits along with all other spending ranging from medical research to interest payments on the debt.  When there is a deficit, Treasury must borrow the money needed for the government to pay its bills.

We borrow the money by selling Treasury securities like T-bills, notes, Treasury Inflation-Protected securities and savings bonds to the public. Additionally, the Government Trust Funds are required by law to invest accumulated surpluses in Treasury securities. The Treasury securities issued to the public and to the Government Trust Funds (intragovernmental holdings) then become part of the total debt.

One way to think about the debt is as accumulated deficits.

So back when Bill Clinton balanced the budget, we did not run a deficit and did not accumulate more debt.

While some on the right would argue that Clinton really didn’t reduce the deficit and he ruined the economy by raising taxes, I seem to remember that things were going pretty well for the average person during the Clinton years.

When George W. came into office he said he wanted to give us taxpayers back our surplus which probably would have been OK if he hadn’t then started 2 wars which we didn’t raise taxes of any kind to pay for.  No war bonds, no special tax assessment (used by state and local governments to pay for things), no general tax increase.  Thus the red ink on the chart above.  Then came what everyone is now calling the Great Recession.  Barack Obama really had no choice but to spend money to get the economy moving again.  We can argue about some of the spending – like saving some of the banks – but much of it work out pretty well, I think.

So now we have the sequester.  This was a deal made in 2011 to keep everything from coming to a halt.  I don’t think that anyone thought at the time that there wouldn’t be another budget deal to keep the cuts from going into effect, but so far no dice.  The New York Times ran an editorial on Sunday which is the best explanation of what the cuts would mean that I have seen.  For example:

NATIONAL SECURITY Two-week furloughs for most law-enforcement personnel will reduce Coast Guard operations, including drug interdictions and aid to navigation, by 25 percent. Cutbacks in Customs agents and airport security checkpoints will “substantially increase passenger wait times,” the Homeland Security Department said, creating delays of as much as an hour at busy airports. The Border Patrol will have to reduce work hours by the equivalent of 5,000 agents a year.

AIR TRAFFIC About 10 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration’s work force of 47,000 employees will be on furlough each day, including air traffic controllers, to meet a $600 million cut. The agency says it will be forced to reduce air traffic across the country, resulting in delays and disruptions, particularly at peak travel times.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE Every F.B.I. employee will be furloughed for nearly three weeks over the course of the year, the equivalent of 7,000 employees not working each day. The cut to the F.B.I. of $550 million will reduce the number of background checks on gun buyers that the bureau can perform, and reduce response times on cyberintrusion and counterterrorism investigations.

A three-week furlough of all food safety employees will produce a shortage of meat, poultry and eggs, pushing prices higher and harming restaurants and grocers. The Agriculture Department warns that public health could be affected by the inevitable black-market sales of uninspected food.

RECREATION National parks will have shorter hours, and some will have to close camping and hiking areas. Firefighting and law enforcement will be cut back.

DEFENSE PERSONNEL Enlisted personnel are exempt from sequester reductions this year, but furloughs lasting up to 22 days will be imposed for civilian employees, who do jobs like guarding military bases, handle budgets and teach the children of service members. More than 40 percent of those employees are veterans.

The military’s health insurance program, Tricare, could have a shortfall of up to $3 billion, which could lead to denial of elective medical care for retirees and dependents of active-duty service members.

And the list goes on.

The editorial concludes

Last week, Senate Democrats produced a much better plan to replace these cuts with a mix of new tax revenues and targeted reductions. About $55 billion would be raised by imposing a minimum tax on incomes of $1 million or more and ending some business deductions, while an equal amount of spending would be reduced from targeted cuts to defense and farm subsidies.

Republicans immediately rejected the idea; the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, called it “a political stunt.” Their proposal is to eliminate the defense cuts and double the ones on the domestic side, heedless of the suffering that even the existing reductions will inflict. Their refusal to consider new revenues means that on March 1, Americans will begin learning how austerity really feels.

Remember the definition of sequestration I began with?  It is a temporary thing.  The money is supposed to come back to us.  If the sequestration cuts really happen, I can bet you they won’t be temporary.  We are reaping the cost of wars most of us didn’t want and any rational solution will be held up by the same folks who did want to go to war.  We should have had war bonds.

THE VICTORY FUND COMMITTEE CAN HELP YOUR MONEY...

THE VICTORY FUND COMMITTEE CAN HELP YOUR MONEY WIN THIS WAR THROUGH INVESTMENT IN U.S. TREASURY SECURITIES SUITED TO… – NARA – 515674 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

44 Presidential drinks

I plan to open a bottle of champagne today and start celebrating early and I guess I’m not the only one.  I heard a story on NPR yesterday about Jim Hewes the bartender at the Willard Hotel Bar who has researched presidential history and created 44 drinks for our 44 Presidents.  I went looking for the complete list and found it on a Washington Post GOG blog.  So here, courtesy of NPR and the Post are some of those 44 drinks.

The Post points out

Hewes has certainly done his homework. Franklin D. Roosevelt represented by a Plymouth Gin Martini (the first drink he mixed up after the end of Prohibition), while James Garfield’s tipple is a Dewars Scotch, since industrialist Andrew Carnegie sent Garfield a case of Dewars to celebrate his inauguration.

Some of the list is based on conjecture: We don’t really know if Warren Harding ever drank a Seven and Seven, for example, though the mix of Canadian Whiskey and 7-Up was popular in his day. But it’s a fun and delicious trip through the history of drinking in America.

Hewes has even made some non alcoholic drinks for the teetotalers among our Presidents.

43. George W. Bush: Diet cola with a slice of lemon

Light and crisp, able to keep even the busiest Chief Executive, active, alert, and awake.

39. Jimmy Carter: Alcohol-Free Sparkling Wine

Served, much to the dismay of the fourth estate, throughout his four years in the White House.

30. Calvin Coolidge: Cranberry juice and soda

A gentle New England tonic to fortify one’s Puritan constitution.

19. Rutherford B. Hayes: Orange Blossom

Washington’s pressmen spiked the oranges with gin at the tea-totalling Hayes inaugural in 1877.

Jim Hewes of the Willard’s Round Robin Bar distills presidental history into 44 cocktails on his special inauguration menu. (Bill O’Leary/The Post)

Jim Hewes of the Willard’s Round Robin Bar distills presidental history into 44 cocktails on his special inauguration menu. (Bill O’Leary/The Post)

Is this the Coolidge cranberry with lime?  It looks like it might be. However I am much more interested in Cleveland, Madison  and Reagan who served champagne – or the California sparkling. Or in FDR or JFK who drank martinis.  FDR made his with Plymouth gin the way my husband makes mine. Some of the drinks sound pretty bad like James Monroe’s Sherry Cobbler.

According to NPR

The Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel is just a stone’s throw from the White House. Bartender Jim Hewes has been serving up drinks there for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve served presidents prior to their going to the White House and after,” he tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, including Presidents Reagan, Ford and both Bushes.

The original Willard Hotel was built in the 19th Century. Abraham Lincoln slept there the night before his inauguration, and President Ulysses S. Grant would enjoy a drink and a cigar in the lobby.

So what about 44?  A blue drink, of course.

44. Barack Obama: Blue Hawaiian

Combines the president’s penchant for aged Tequila and the cool blue waters of the Pacific. Features aged Tequila, Curacao and fresh lime juice.

NPR provides the recipe

Serves One

Patron Silver Tequila, (2 oz.) Blue Curacao (1/2 oz.), lime juice (2 oz.)

-Muddle 3 lime wedges with tequila

-Add ice, Curacao and lime juice

-Shake and strain over crushed ice

-Garnish with a wheel of lime and pineapple

Washington, D.C., bartender Jim Hewes distills presidential history into cocktails.

So today we either celebrate or drown our sorrows.  Look at the complete list published by the Post and pick a drink.

Thank you, Jim Hewes!

Photograph Hewes at the bar Liz Baker/NPR

Shaking hands – or not

Shaking hands is an almost universal and very ancient custom likely begun to show that neither person was holding a weapon.  Is it time to give up the custom?  And if we do, what would we replace it with?  I started thinking about this important question after reading Scott Lehigh’s column in today’s Boston Globe.

Let’s call our group of health-conscious citizens POSH: People Opposed to Shaking Hands.

Which brings me to the silver lining: This is the only time of year when it’s socially acceptable to refuse a handshake. Confronted with a presumptuously proffered paw, one need only invoke this magical phase: “The health experts say you really shouldn’t shake hands in flu season.”

If only those experts would make that a year-round recommendation. I mean, what, really, is the point? I’d understand it if humans were like those old cast-iron water pumps, and you had to lift and lower their arms a few times to bring forth a flow of conversation. But most folks I encounter are so impulsively chatty they feel no compunction whatsoever about sallying right into subjects that are none of their business. Like, say, why you don’t want to shake hands.

I know, I know, some people see it as a mark of friendship. But here at POSH, we see an outstretched hand for what it is: An amphibious landing craft crammed with an infantry of infectious microbes.

“OK, boys, we’re about to make contact. Move fast, travel light, and dig in as soon as you can.  Cold, Cough, and Fever, take the lead.”

I’ve been known to say that I have a cold so the other person doesn’t want to shake hands with me so I guess I’m a member of POSH.

I suggest we substitute another form of greeting.

There is the Japanese custom of bowing.  In Japan there can be complicated rules about the deepness of the bow to indicated relative social importance, but we don’t have to adopt that, we can just place our hands on our thighs or at our sides and incline slightly from the waist.

Or we could adopt the Sanskrit, namaste, which has more spiritual significance.

Finally, there is the good American fist bump.

Obama Fist Bump

Dap, first bump, whatever you call it: Barack and Michelle Obama showed their togetherness.

Even Mitt does it!

From christopherstreet

And Dubya tried.

So I’m with Scott Lehigh – lets stop shaking hands.

Creating Jobs: which party does better

The Republicans will campaign on the idea that lowing taxes on the wealthy (I think Romney wants to keep the Bush tax cuts and even cut more) creates jobs because the money the wealthy do not pay in taxes goes to create jobs.  Fay Paxton has looked at the history of job creation and posted an analysis on Winning Progressive.   Her conclusion:  Democrats create more jobs.  These charts describe private sector job creation.

Yes, the first months of the Obama Administration were rough, but as the chart shows, we started bleeding jobs under George W. Bush.

Ronald Reagan wins among Republicans, but he wasn’t afraid of raising taxes.

So what about federal public sector jobs?  The Republicans always claim that the Democrats are the party of big government.  Is this true?  Paxton says

Republicans talk about being conservatives who believe in small government and reducing the federal workforce. The numbers don’t bear out their claims.  In a press conference, House Speaker John Boehner said, “In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs.”  The Republicans even advanced legislation calling for a reduction of 200,000 federal employees.

Here’s the truth:

According to the Office of Personnel Management, it is true that the federal workforce increased by 237,000 employees. What Boehner does not tell…150,000 of the employees added to the roles were uniformed military personnel, no doubt to accommodate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 237,000 figure also includes temporary Census workers.

Despite claims of huge government expansion, historically, Democratic presidents reduced the size of the federal government workforce. The federal employment numbers, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the department charged with tracking the number of employees, the data shows the following:

Paxton summarizes

If we combine the totals for all federal employees, including the military:
Reagan began office with a total of 4,982,000 employees and ended his term with 5,292,000 employees. While President Obama took office with a federal employee roster of 4,430,000 employees (fewer than Reagan). At the end of 2010 President Obama’s federal workforce numbered 4,443,000; that’s 849,000 fewer employees than Reagan, the advocate of small government! Add to this the fact that President Reagan governed during peacetime, while President Obama inherited two wars.

So the figures don’t lie:  Democrats do a much better at creating new private sector jobs and reducing the size of the federal government.

 

Ryan’s Budget and the 2012 Election

 Dan Wasserman sums up the Ryan Budget.

04.04RYANBUDGET.gif

President Obama called the Ryan Budget “Social Darwinism” quoting that wise Republican, Newt Gingrich.  Mitt Romney called it “marvelous”.  Paul Krugman calls it “Pink Slime Economics”

Here is Krugman

And when I say fraudulent, I mean just that. The trouble with the budget devised by Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn’t just its almost inconceivably cruel priorities, the way it slashes taxes for corporations and the rich while drastically cutting food and medical aid to the needy. Even aside from all that, the Ryan budget purports to reduce the deficit — but the alleged deficit reduction depends on the completely unsupported assertion that trillions of dollars in revenue can be found by closing tax loopholes.

And we’re talking about a lot of loophole-closing. As Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out, to make his numbers work Mr. Ryan would, by 2022, have to close enough loopholes to yield an extra $700 billion in revenue every year. That’s a lot of money, even in an economy as big as ours. So which specific loopholes has Mr. Ryan, who issued a 98-page manifesto on behalf of his budget, said he would close?

None. Not one. He has, however, categorically ruled out any move to close the major loophole that benefits the rich, namely the ultra-low tax rates on income from capital. (That’s the loophole that lets Mitt Romney pay only 14 percent of his income in taxes, a lower tax rate than that faced by many middle-class families.)

This budget fight and the election to come are about what we want the country to be.  The Republicans have that much right.  Will we become a country with the rich hiding in gated communities and getting richer or will we a a country where everyone has a chance to succeed, where the less fortunate get help, and where there is a robust middle class?  Democracies thrive in countries with an educated middle class.  Look at the driving forces behind the Arab Spring.  The choices this election will be clear. 

The budget fight is also about whether or not a deficit is important right now.  Yes, we can’t continue to grow the deficit indefinitely, but it seems to this non-economist, that the way to deal with the deficit is not through draconian cuts to the domestic budget, but spend on things that result in jobs.  When people work they pay taxes and the deficit can begin to come down.  But cutting food stamps, unemployment insurance, job retaining programs, aid to education, are all key to growing jobs or helping those who can’t find them.

Andrew Rosenthal put it better in today’s New York Times.

He ticked off some of the budget’s most near-sighted assaults: financial aid cuts to nearly 10 million college students; 1,600 fewer medical grants; 4,000 fewer scientific research grants. Starting in 2014, it would cut around 200,000 children from the Head Start program and 2 million mothers and their young children from a food assistance program. “We wouldn’t have the capacity to enforce the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food that we eat,” he said.

Medicaid would be gutted, Medicare would be turned into a voucher program – but the Republicans would still cut taxes by $4.6 trillion over the next decade. The cuts, as usual, would mostly benefit the wealthy.

Mr. Obama noted that the stated purpose of the Republican budget is to reduce the federal budget deficit, but he called it a Trojan horse and “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” The real purpose is to cripple government. And he said, because it guts “the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last – education and training, research and development, our infrastructure – it is a prescription for decline.”

The Republican response to Mr. Obama – that the nation is in a debt crisis and the president doesn’t get it – just made his point for him. We don’t have a debt crisis. We have a medium- to long-term budget problem, driven largely by rising health costs combined with an aging population. Health care reform is an honest attempt to deal with that. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire, starting with the high-end ones, would be an honest attempt to deal with that. Then there’s our lack of jobs, lack of income growth, diminishing prospects and dwindling opportunities.

And we shouldn’t forget that George W. Bush told us we didn’t need to raise taxes to pay for the war in Iraq because it would pay for itself through oil revenue.  He cut taxes for the 1% instead and created a deficit.  This probably wouldn’t have been so catastrophic except that the economy collapsed in 2008.  Here is a link to a nice chart.

So the Ryan Budget will be at the heart of the election this fall – especially if Paul Ryan is Romney’s VP.  It will be interesting.

 

Obama’s Holiday Scorecard

I may be stretching the “holiday” a bit, but since Congress is still on vacation, I will use the term to talk about my tally of his most recent almost 10 days.

First, the pluses.  The recess appointments, the cuts to the defense budget and his continuing feisty attitude.  The negative is the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The negative first.  Alexander Cockburn’s analysis in the Nation is the best I’ve seen.  He explains

The change came with the whisper of Barack Obama’s pen, as he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual ratification of military Keynesianism—$662 billion this time—which has been our national policy since World War II bailed out the New Deal.

Sacrificial offerings to the Pentagon aren’t news. But this time, snugly ensconced in the NDAA came ratification by legal statute of the exposure of US citizens to arbitrary arrest without subsequent benefit of counsel, and to possible torture and imprisonment sine die. Goodbye, habeas corpus.

We’re talking here about citizens within the borders of the United States, not sitting in a hotel or out driving in some foreign land. In the latter case, as the late Anwar al-Awlaki’s incineration in Yemen bore witness a few months ago, the well-being or summary demise of a US citizen is contingent upon a secret determination of the president as to whether the aforementioned citizen is waging a war of terror on the United States. If the answer is in the affirmative, the citizen can be killed on the president’s say-so without further ado.

This is the latest disappointment on civil liberties.  I had such high hopes for a reversal of the Bush II trend after we elected a Constitutional expert.  In the sum, Obama has been almost worse.  ratifying decisions made by W and going further.

 

The President at Shaker Height HS

(Doug Mills/The New York Times)

 

On the positive side, the New York Times says

On Wednesday, after waiting until the dust in Iowa had settled, clearing out space in newspapers and on television, Mr. Obama delivered another jab, announcing four recess appointments, including that of Richard Cordray as head of a new consumer protection agency, despite Republican opposition. On Thursday, the president went to the Pentagon and outlined a new military strategy that embraces hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to what is a Republican sacred cow, and made it clear that American ground forces would no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cuts in the defense budget are a welcome change.  I have thought since the days when I demonstrated at the Pentagon against the War in Vietnam.  Let’s face it, the last 3 groundwars we have engaged in have been disasters.  Maybe the Bush I war to repel Iraq from the invasion os Kuwait can be counted as a success. But Bush 1 knew when to stop.

(Doug Mills/The New York Times)
 
In an unusual appearance at the Pentagon briefing room on Thursday, Mr. Obama outlined a new national defense strategy driven by three realities: the winding down of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fiscal crisis demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon budget cuts and a rising threat from China and Iran.

A fourth reality, not mentioned in the briefing room, was Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign and the chorus of Republican presidential candidates who have sought to portray him as decimating the Pentagon budget and being weak in his response to Iran.

Mr. Obama, who spoke surrounded by a tableau of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in dress uniforms and with chests full of medals, underscored the national security successes of his administration — the ending of the Iraq war, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya — before declaring that the United States would downsize to a smaller ground force, get rid of “outdated cold war-era systems” and step up investments in intelligence-gathering and cyberwarfare.

The new strategy document finally defines away the Defense Department’s historic requirement to have the ability to fight and win two wars at once — a measure that one official said “has been on life-support for years.”

The strategy released under Mr. Obama in 2010 said the military was responsible for “maintaining the ability to prevail against two capable nation-state aggressors.”

In contrast, the strategy released Thursday said the military must be able to fight one war, but is responsible only for “denying the objectives of — or imposing unacceptable costs on — an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”

Senior Pentagon officials said that viewing military requirements through something as static as the two-war model had become outdated, and that the true measurement was whether the Pentagon could field a force capable of carrying out a wide range of military actions to protect the nation’s interests.

Pentagon officials made it clear that the department’s priorities in coming years would be financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces and for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

I have never agreed with 100% of what any politician does, but this scorecard isn’t bad.  It will be interesting to see what the impact of all this is on the President’s re-election.

 

Misinformation and the disappearance of moderate Republican

Long title without an obvious connection.  I was reading John Nichols in the Nation about Australian politics and their equivalent of the old moderate Republican which he calls an endangered species followed by an opinion piece in Politico about the disinformation age by Neal Gabler.  Thinking about it I realized that the two were related.  The demise of the moderate Republican has destroyed the ability of Democrats and Republicans to have a conversation in a civil facts and it now threatens the ability of either party to govern.

Nichols writes

Growing up in Middle West in the latter half of the 20th century, I was surrounded by moderate Republicans of the old “Main Street” school—former Ilowa Congressman Jim Leach, former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson, former Illinois Senator Chuck Percy and former Illinois Congressman John Anderson, former Wisconsin Governor Warren Knowles and former Wisconsin Congressman Bill Steiger—all of whom embraced environmental, civil rights and clean government principles that made them worthy competitors with the Democrats at election time and worthy governing partners when the voting was done.

The suggestion that Leach, Steiger, Percy or Anderson might find a place in today’s Republican Party would provoke laughter in anyone familiar with the contemporary definition of the term “tea party.” Like the great modern Republicans of the recent past: former President Dwight Eisenhower, former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, former New York City Mayor John Lindsay, former Massachusetts Senator Ed Brooke, former Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker and dozens of other national leaders, the Midwest’s moderate Republicans would be about as likely to secure a Republican nomination these days as Barack Obama. (In point of fact, Obama’s governing style, with its emphasis on compromise and seeking private-sector solutions rather than classic governmental fixes, owes more to the moderate Republican tradition than to the liberal Democratic model of a Franklin Roosevelt.) 

He contrasts the situation with Australia.

In Australia, I’ve appeared with Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, the former leader of the conservative opposition party that’s roughly equivalent to the American Republicans. (They’re called “Liberals.” But that’s a reference to the traditional European term for fans of free markets and limited regulation.)

Turnbull, a former journalist who made millions in business, is enthusiastic about the private sector and more than willing to score government bureaucracy. But he is not a cookie-cutter conservative. A genuine “republican,” he wants to cut Australia’s last ties to the British Commonwealth and make the country a republic. A convert to Catholicism, he breaks with the church to support reproductive rights and stem cell research. He backs gay and lesbian rights. He’s concerned about climate change. A tech-savvy blogger who reads the ancient Greeks on his Kindle, he’s in the thick of Australia’s debate about how to build a state-of-the-art national broadband system.

Nichols points out that Turnbull is in the same mold as David Cameron, the new prime minister of England who is partnering with the Liberal Party.  I thought it a strange coalition, but is it different from Everett Dirksen working with Lyndon Johnson to pass legislation?  Probably not.

[I think Dirksen is the man in glasses to the right of Johnson in the picture]

 So how have we lost the ability to have a civil dialogue?  The internet and blogs like this one.  Fox News and MSNBC.  The fall of the non-partisan television news program.  The decline in newspaper readership.  Or all of the above.

Gabler writes

The recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that 18 percent of respondents believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim, and a whopping 43 percent are unsure exactly what religion he practices. This is disheartening on many levels — not least that it illustrates an astonishing degree of ignorance.

It is unlikely, however, that Americans are dumber now than they were, say, 25 years ago. With more of us attending college, we might even be smarter. But higher education rates and easier access to information have been undermined by what amounts to a vast and insidious revolutionary force — a kind of anti-Enlightenment in which facts yield to rumor, reason to uninformed opinion and objectivity to proudly declared subjectivity.

We swim in a limitless sea of misinformation, even disinformation, without much inclination to separate truth from fiction.

Is this a flaw in the American character, this inability to recognize the truth?  Gabler reaches back to de Tocqueville and his observation that Americans believe that they are all equal.  Some how truth has become a tool of the elite.

Daniel Moynihan famously said that everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. Well, Moynihan spoke too soon. From the political shoutfests on TV and radio to the endless drone of sports radio callers to the millions of vanity blogs, opinion has rapidly become fact.

The idea that there is such a thing as verifiable truth — such as Obama being a Christian — is increasingly seen as elitist. It’s as if truth were yet another scheme by the powerful to impose their will on everyone else.

This overzealous sense of democracy has been encouraged by the right-wing, which has a stake in taking on science and evidence because these things are often likely to betray the tenets of their beliefs. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered one example of informational demagoguery on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, saying “I take the president at his word” that he is a Christian.

So why is the Republican leadership so anxious to appear unintelligent and unable to stand up to the facts?  Is that why the moderate Republican is an endangered species?  Gabler believes that we are entering a post-Enlightenment era.

Steven Colbert has jokingly snarled that facts are liberal. The problem for the right is that facts are stubborn, so when you disagree with them — whether it is global warming or evolution or the effect of tax cuts on economic growth — you want to substitute your own “facts” for the allegedly objective ones.

Indeed, of the multitude of ways that President George W. Bush changed America, this may have been the most important. He helped legitimize the idea of individual truth. In doing so, he became the first president to challenge the old Enlightenment foundation on which this country was established.

Nichols points out

What makes Turnbull most like the American moderate Republicans of old is his style. When we shared the platform at the Walkley Foundation’s forum on election coverage, he was confident, not arrogant. His wit was quick and cutting. He refused to dumb things down and he knew how to charm an audience that might not have liked his party but did like him.

“He refused to dumb things down….”  And that is still another issue.  When you have your own facts, you don’t have to think too hard or work to uncover the truth.  You don’t have to plow though any real investigative reporting or read anything that isn’t on your favorite internet site (one that agrees with you, of course).  You can reduce complex issues to slogans.

It is a rainy night here in Boston and I’m feeling pessimistic, but sometimes it is very hard to think we aren’t entering a dark age when along comes this breaking news:   Former moderate Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has endorsed the liberal Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak.  Do you suppose that the moderate Republicans might just save the Democratic party since they don’t seem to have a place in the Republican Party?

 

Religious Freedom in America

George W. Bush was right.  [Never thought I would ever write that sentence.] The war on terror is not a war on Islam.  So why are our political leaders like President Obama and the Anti-Defamation League so skittish about saying that it is perfectly OK for a religious institution to build whatever they want on private property?  Would there be this kind of fuss if the Methodist Church decided to build a community center two blocks from Ground Zero?  I think not.

I’ve been searching through a number of websites to see if there were an accurate number for the Muslims who were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 without success.  The numbers I’ve found range from 40 to as many as 200.  It really doesn’t matter except that the survivors who think building an Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero seem to have forgotten the diversity of people who died.

According to Maureen Dowd in her  column in today’s New York Times, there   “…already are two mosques in the same neighborhood — one four blocks away and one 12 blocks away.”

[A worshiper enters Masjid Manhattan, which is sandwiched between two bars on Warren Street, about four blocks from the World Trade Center site. It was founded in 1970]

So what exactly is up with the President who made a strong, clear statement and then took at least a step back?  Is it the political staff who worried that because of his name and the fact that some people still insist that he is Muslim it is bad for him to say there is a fundamental right to build an Islamic Community Center even if it is 2 blocks from Ground Zero?

Dowd points out

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack. What is so frightening about Fox News?

Some critics have said the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers would be to allow a mosque to be built near ground zero.

Actually, the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers is the moral timidity that would ban a mosque from that neighborhood.

A bit of advice from one of your supporters Mr. President:  Do and say what you think is the right thing.  Then don’t try to take it back.  I believe that one of the reasons your popularity is falling is because you are seen as too calculating. 

One bit of refreshing news is the open letter from six Muslim/Arab Republicans.

While some in our party have recently conceded the constitutional argument, they are now arguing that it is insensitive, intolerant and unacceptable to locate the center at the present location: “Just because they have the right to do so – does not make it the right thing to do” they say. Many of these individuals are objecting to the location as being too close to the Ground Zero site and voicing the understandable pain and anguish of the 9-11 families who lost loved ones in this horrible tragedy. In expressing compassion and understanding for these families, we are asking ourselves the following: if two blocks is too close, is four blocks acceptable? or six blocks? or eight blocks? Does our party believe that one can only practice his/her religion in certain places within defined boundaries and away from the disapproving glances of some citizens? Should our party not be standing up and taking a leadership role– just like President Bush did after 9-11 – by making a clear distinction between Islam, one of the great three monotheistic faiths along with Judaism and Christianity, versus the terrorists who committed the atrocities on 9-11 and who are not only the true enemies of America but of Islam as well? President Bush struck the right balance in expressing sympathy for the families of the 9-11 victims while making it absolutely clear that the acts committed on 9-11 were not in the name of Islam. We are hoping that our party leaders can do the same now – especially at a time when it is greatly needed.

Dowd cites two other Republicans

So look where we are. The progressive Democrat in the White House, the first president of the United States with Muslim roots, has been morally trumped by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, two moderate Republicans who have spoken bravely and lucidly about not demonizing and defaming an entire religion in the name of fighting its radicals.

I have just heard that New York Governor David Patterson, a Democrat, was trying to set up some negotiations which would result in the Community Center being built on an alternative site.  The President can start to redeem himself by calling Patterson and urging him to stop any such effort.

I say boo to the cowardly Democrats and good for the reasonable Republicans striking a blow for religious freedom.  Let’s not let our fear of terrorist attacks let the extremists win.