Archive for August 2013

Walking Your Talk Part II

I just listened to the President’s speech and he walked his talk. From my point of view, that was the perfect speech that made me feel proud of our President. Now I will watch Congress make me ashamed. I hope I am wrong.

And let me say this strike is time sensitive if you are a Syrian or you are an American who may be put in harm’s way. So I don’t think we should just let Congress mosey back in on the 9th. They need to be back Tuesday with this the first order of business. If they say no, then the fall of Rome has finally happened.

Meanwhile in media land, they are asking all the wrong questions. I listened to David Gregory list the litany of questions that have become the mantra of our press: What if this does not upset the balance of power (it is not suppose to), what if Assad comes back and does it again (then we hit him again), what if Syria strikes Israel (I believe the Israelis can handle this one), what if al-Qaeda supported rebels take control (then they are going to find leading a country a full time job), and on and on.

Never once did he ask the President’s question, what happens if we don’t take action, and he laid out the consequences. Are those consequences okay? Americans seem to want some kind of iron clad guarantee that nothing bad is going to happen. That is not life as we know it. The reality to be debated is whether we can let a gross escalation of the killing machine go unpunished because the consequences are not worse than the risks. I think the consequences are much worse than the risks, but I have been a broken record on that one.

Oh, and one more thing as we go into this debate: We are not going to affect the outcome of what is happening in the Middle East. What we are watching is the playing out of history that should have happened hundreds of years ago, but because of murderous dictators and foreign intervention, the Middle East could not play out their sectarian nonsense.

Do not forget the chaos that was Europe during the religious wars of middle of the last millennia. It is theirs to fight out, learn many of the lessons (the Enlightenment) we have already and then work their way toward the 21 century. All we can do is make sure they do not acquire and use weapons that pose a threat to the rest of the civilized world as the wreak havoc on each other until they learn there is no answer in their violence and religious intolerance.

Walking Your Talk

No, I am not talking about the Red Line. I think after consideration of what I know at this time, we must enforce that Red Line. But we are also a constitutional Republic and there is no legal way to do this without Congresses authorization, which they will never give. This Congress can’t agree on a Farm Bill, so they are not going to authorize a tough, risky, but necessary action against Syria. It is a forgone conclusion that if we go to Congress for approval, nothing will happen.

I think it is critical that we take action, but I also want to see the Constitution restored. So if you are going to walk your talk, even if the outcome is not what you want, I have to say, we must get Congressional approval. No, I don’t think the debate will be healthy for the country because Congress has become so Republican (not partisan, Republican) that the debate will not be an honest one. It will be a political show trial with “death panels” and all the other lies they generate.. And in the end, we will do nothing just as we have done nothing about the Farm Bill, jobs, Immigration, Infrastructure investment, real banking reform, you name it. But that is the system we have, and while it failed us in Iraq (due to cooked books), and will fail us again here, it is the government we have all sworn to uphold.

Now having said all that, I think President Obama will skirt it. There is historical precedent for that in both Republican and Democratic administrations. That is what I see in the tea leaves so far. I think he is in no hurray to get involved in another Middle Eastern mess, I think he sees what I do if he doesn’t act, the leaders of the various Middle Eastern countries turned loose to do what they will in an ever increasing sectarian conflict. When he does, and he does it because he believes it is the right thing to do for the country and the world, he has finally given the Republicans the material they need to impeach him. That is why they don’t want to vote on it. It is rather amazing to see the Neocons questioning the use of military power to enforce our foreign policy goals, hypocrisy run wild, but that is where we are at today.

It would be nice to see a real debate in Congress, discussing the risks, possible blowback, follow-on policy, or the impact of doing nothing with an honest appraisal. And if you believe we would get that, I have some land just recently cleared land, just west of Yosemite that I want to sell you. But as bad as it would be, it is what must be. To do anything else is to once again turn away from our Constitution in a time when that document and its principles are ever more important to safeguard our freedoms.

The British Rebuke or the Last Time We had a Republican in Office

Roger Cohen again captured what I think we have quickly forgotten about the Bush Administration and the last time we had Republicans in office who live on a different planet when he commented on the British voting not to support America in a punative strike on Syria:

As Cameron acknowledged, the vote by 285 votes to 272, with 30 defections from his own Tory party, contained an irrefutable message: “It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action.”

That is right: The British, like other Europeans, are weary of war, and more mistrusting than before of the United States of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, post-9/11 bellicosity, mass surveillance and the banking crisis. A U.S. hangover permeated the House of Commons. So did the memory of the more than 600 British dead in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But I think most compelling was Mr. Cohen’s conclusion:

Britain and the United States will continue to matter a great deal to each other. But for anyone who believes as I do in the ultimate beneficence of Pax Americana, in the values of the trans-Atlantic world and in the critical importance of American credibility on the red lines it draws for global security and against the horrors of gassing, the British vote represents a bleak turning point.

I think about this and I can’t help thinking had we not been duped and abused by Bush and Cheney, this action would almost seem automatic. Sure there are risks and arguments against incursion, but they have become hysterical. I listened to Chris Hayes lament that we were “going to war” on Friday when we are doing no such thing. But we are standing up for once for an important principle that if we don’t stand up for, well, Katy bar the door.

I guess what really bothers me about what I am hearing is that it is so dishonest. If you don’t think we should be involved just say so, but don’t raise all the issues about blow back, or question the intelligence, or why humanitarian now, because when those questions are sufficiently answered, you still are against it. I would just like to see you be honest and say it is not our problem. It is like the poor and economic inequality. It must be their fault and it is not my problem. That is who we have become and I just wish you would be honest about it.

Maybe by Monday We Won’t Be Talking About This

I read two really good op-eds this morning, one by David Brooks and the other one by Roger Cohen. Both make important points about what is going on in the Middle East. David (I think he is Republican constipated on Economics but this isn’t economics) makes what I think is the essential point about the Middle East, this is really a sectarian conflict that quite possibly will expand to the whole area to settle long ago decide borders and power centers. I think that is dead on, and no matter what we do, that will continue. When you see the strife from this perspective you start to see the nation-state politics more clearly as nations trying to hang on to the status quo.

Roger Cohen explains why even though this is the case, we must act. I come down on the Cohen side on this. I think what he laid out is the really simple logic that demands action. His point, which I think is dead on, is that the worst outcome from a strike is that nothing changes, but the outcomes from not taking action changes the whole dynamic in the Middle East with a United States on the sideline and toothless cowering in the corner.

One of the interesting things going on in pundit land on the TV is a lot of, this is hard, bad things could happen, so lets go hide and do nothing. This argument is couched in questions like why do we need to be the policeman of world (because they expect us to and we built a military to do that), Iran and other bad players might react (so we are paralyzed by fear of Iran? What does that say about our nuke deterrence and take any steps necessary?), or what is the long term plan. On the last one, it is to deter chemical weapons usage and then let the sectarian war work itself out, and if they use them again, boom again. Thinking we can control the outcome of an evolving sectarian dynamic in the Middle East is just foolish.

Oh and let’s not say we are doing this to solve a humanitarian problem and that is another false argument for not going in (If we didn’t do anything for the 100,000 killed, why for a few more with chemical weapons). We are doing this to deter use of chemical weapons. They are getting lost, maybe purposely, in false arguments to convince themselves we can hide in the corner and let the world go away.

I really don’t think this is as hard as everyone is making it and I think instead of the endless posturing by pundits, the President needs to lay out our plan and the evidence for our action. Force Congress to decide, and get on with it, whatever it is. That is really not that hard is it?

Blowback from Iraq

I think we need to strike Syria if the reports of Syrian government involvement is proven. But the lies and dissembling that got us into Iraq are now making us much more hesitant to act. Maybe that is good, or maybe it is delaying us until action will be less effective, or preventing action at all. Is that good? Well we will find out. The British have said no. If our Congress said no, at least they can’t blame the President if this turns out to be a bad idea. Oh, wait. This is a Republican Congress. They will blame him no matter what. After all didn’t he fail to act on Katrina?

Well What do We Know: Syria

Actually the critical question is what do we not know. As questions fly about how sure are we that Assad was behind the chemical attacks, the real questions kind of get ignored in the near term, They are:

  1. If he has used Chemical Weapons should we attack? If your answer here is no, why should we be the policeman for the world, then who did what is really irrelevant.
  2. If your answer to 1 above is yes, then we get to the targeting questions. Are there targets that strike a balance between unnecessary killing and really punish his behavior in away that deters him, and degrades his ability to use them again?
  3. If the answer is no, why are having this discussion? If yes, then we have to consider blowback. What are the unintended consequences and are they worth the “lesson”.
  4. What happens if we do nothing?

Here are my answers:

  1. On the basic question, we have to have credible evidence that is shared. We have to see it and agree that there is little doubt about the use of chemical weapons and by whom
  2. On question 1, my answer is yes if we have suitable targets (see 2 above) and here is my reasoning that answers 1-3. Forget the red line stuff although there is a credibility issue especially with Iran and Nukes. Also forget about the world policeman issue. Considering the size of our military budget, our budget is more than the sum of the next 13 countries combined. If we did not want to be the world’s policeman, why are we spending like we do?

    But the real issue and my answer to 4 above is the expanded use of chemical weapons which would be the horrific weapon of choice to pacify and terrify a population. To allow their use without a response is to encourage their use, and a chemical weapons arms race in the Middle East. I think all of the other risks are minor compared to this outcome and is why I would support a strike.

  3. Finally what if we don’t have targets that really fill the bill? I think we have to then not just attack wantonly, but to make our case to the world citing the above and find other ways to turn them into outlaws and support whatever will overthrow the regime even if it is a conservative Islamic government. Find ways to strike when we can that keeps them off balance. As bad as the alternative is to al-Asadd, it is better than the example of using chemical weapons to hold on to power

But nobody said this was an easy decision and we must remind ourselves that this is not the Bush Administration cooking the books and looking for any excuse. We have a President who does not want to get involved and I am sure he is mulling over the same questions. But before we do anything, he needs to tell us what the justification is and what the game plan is. It is why I have never wanted his job.

What It is All Really About

The march on Washington may wake us up. At least it has started a conversation not just about race, but about economic inequality. Republicans will tell you that they are not discriminating against minorities, but “takers”. Their belief is that it really is a level playing field and government just rewards those who did not earn their way. That fantasy is becoming harder and harder to maintain in the face of the largest economic inequality in our history.

I would argue, as Martin Luther King did if you heard his whole speech, that you cannot have racial equality without economic equality. The Nobel economist Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote about his own awakening to this reality yesterday in the NYT:

Despite rhetoric about the land of opportunity, a young American’s life prospects are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in almost any other advanced country. And thus, the legacy of discrimination and lack of educational and job opportunity is perpetuated, from one generation to the next.

Given this lack of mobility, the fact that even today, 65 percent of African-American children live in low-income families does not bode well for their future, or the nation’s.

Men with just a high school education have seen enormous drops in their real incomes over the past two decades, a decline that has disproportionately affected African-Americans.

While outright race-based segregation in schools was banned, in reality, educational segregation has worsened in recent decades, as Gary Orfield and other scholars have documented.

Part of the reason is that the country has become more economically segregated. Poor black children are more likely to live in communities with concentrated poverty — some 45 percent do so, as opposed to 12 percent for poor white children, as the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out.

Neither he or I are calling for some mass redistribution of income, but we both are saying that unless the government acts to see a more equal and just distribution, there can be no equality in American society. Right now the Republican Party is on the opposite track and if they are successful, we will be creating a failed economy, ripe for strife. All I want to see is a level playing field and anybody who tells it is level now is lying through their teeth.

Cyber Attack

Here is some food for thought: Yesterday the New York Times web site was attacked by a group claiming to be aligned with the Syrian government (Syrian Electronic Army). It is still down today. Is that the retaliation we are going to see from Syria, except on our more important cyber infrastructure like power generation and control? Remember when the Republicans voted down requirements by our government to force industries to tighten their cyber security because it put undo cost burdens on business? We may see which cost more, implementing more strict cyber security or outages and interruptions, if not now, in the future.

The Problem with Rachel

I watched Rachel tonight (The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC) and I am getting concerned for her. She needs to do less lecturing and have a few more guests who can balance her point of view. She was on the Syria situation tonight (as she was last night) and she is making arguments that don’t quite hold together. Last night she wanted to make the point that it is possible that we aided and abetted Saddam in his gassing of the Kurds, or at least knew about it and did nothing so what is the big deal now like this is hypocritical.

Well maybe it is, but the logic that does not hold together is that one administration’s (Reagan’s) lack of a moral compass should be somehow compared to this one that does have one. One immoral act does not have anything to do with the other nor should we be guided by that earlier decision. So I have no idea what her point is and someone should have challenged her on that one.

Tonight (and last night) she is pushing the belief that we should wait for the UN team to release their findings. What is the hurry she asked? Then she points out how in Iraq we “made” a gross mistake when we got the intelligence wrong, so we should wait a month for the UN assessment.

Again there are big problems with this line of thinking. First let’s take her assumption that there is no hurry. Tell that to the Syrians who could be subject to another attack. Second, I don’t know about you, but if I wait a month to spank my dog for some infraction, she has forgotten what that was about and is just confused. Okay, a little simplistic, but the idea works with both the rebels and Syrian government especially if they are moving and hardening targets.

Second, sorry Rachel, but we did not make a big mistake in the WMD in Iraq. Our government went looking to find a reason to invade and we cooked the intelligence. Not in the sense that they lied, but they only looked for things that proved their case and ignored other evidence that either disproved it or questioned what they got. We don’t have a senile VP trying to rush us into another war. And there was plenty of data in the press to counter this intelligence, but it was shoved to page 19 as we rushed to war. In this case nobody really wants to do this, but if the evidence is overwhelming, we have an obligation and a moral duty that no one really wants to do.

Third, she is disregarding how much we do know about Syrian chemical weapons, how they were deployed, and the rebels capabilities if they did have them. And of course indications are we have surveilled them giving the order. I believe we will have all of this evidence soon enough. There is no Curveball in this equation. There is no rush to war. We also have earlier data.

Here is the final argument she is making that needs push back. 100,000 have been killed and we do nothing and now it is a thousand more and we feel the need to strike. Why can’t we wait? The answer here has to do with how they were killed and extrapolate that to hundreds of thousands if this weapon is allowed to be legitimized by our inaction. Think of the genocides in Africa and how much worse they would be with a helicopter with a spray canister. Think about an arms race for chemical weapons in the Middle East if this turns out to the successful implementation of force. Think about a weapon whose central guidance system for pinpoint attacks is the swirling breeze.

Now it is time to turn the table on Rachel. If the evidence is already in, and regardless of what the UN says, China and Russia won’t let us act, what is the point in waiting in some feverish hope we got it wrong? What is so special about the UN other than they will fail to act when (if) we have solid evidence? Are you willing to put more American and Syrian lives at risk by ignoring our own verified intelligence and waiting while Asadd gets ready and rallies his allies? And once we get from the UN what we already know, what then? Do we try to negotiate with those who won’t negotiate? What is our leverage? Is it worth a chemical weapons arm race?

Come on Rachel. Your show is not Rush Limbaugh so quit preaching to the choir and get some people who will push back intelligently. Right now you are lecturing us, and on this one your own prejudices are blinding you to better arguments. We expect better.

The Real State of Jobs

The popular myths about jobs fall into these categories:

  • There are plenty of jobs, just not enough people with the proper skills (structural argument about alignment). The problem with this one is that if that were true, jobs were going wanting for lack of qualified applicants, then wages would be going up to attract those who are qualified, but they are not
  • Machines are taking over jobs and displacing well paid workers and that is just the price of progress and a more efficient workplace. The problem here is not that this might be happening, but why don’t we change tax policy to tax capital (machines) and make the worker competitive or provide funds to provide training and jobs for the future.
  • People would take the jobs that are out there (minimum wage), but their unemployment benefits are too generous. First, most states have shortened the time you can receive these benefits. Second, the logic is horrific. Starve the people and they will work for sub-subsistence wages. Third, the less people make, the less they can buy, and so goes the economy.

The real story about jobs was revealed in the tale of Mr.John Fugazzie in the NYT today:

He was in charge of dairy and frozen foods for the A.&P. supermarket chain, making $125,000 a year. He was also a guest that month at a White House forum on joblessness, in recognition of his work creating Neighbors-helping-Neighbors U.S.A., a volunteer networking organization with 28 chapters in New Jersey serving 1,200 unemployed, mainly white-collar, baby boomers. “John has one of the best volunteer organizations out there,” said Ben Seigel, a deputy director at the Labor Department. “He’s tireless and always upbeat.”

Lately Mr. Fugazzie has been feeling a little weary and beat down. One morning last October, just before his 57th birthday, he was laid off and, carrying a box of belongings from his office, driven home in a car service hired by the company. In the 10 months since, he has applied for more than 400 positions and had 10 interviews, but still has no job.

He and his family are living in his 88-year-old mother’s home, and last month he awoke at 4:30 a.m., sweating profusely, in the midst of a heart attack. As happens to many Americans, when he lost his job, he lost his health insurance. He now owes $171,569.44 for the six nights he spent at the hospital…

Two-thirds in that age group (55-64) who found work again are making less than they did in their previous job; their median salary loss is 18 percent compared with a 6.7 percent drop for 20- to 24-year-olds.

Are we a great country or what? We could be creating jobs and rebuilding our infrastructure and using the talents of Mr. Fugazzie, but instead we are hell bent on shutting down government or defaulting on our debt to get more cuts so we can create more misery. Oh and let’s not forget gutting Obamacare. That is the real state of this country.