Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bob Herbert's Last Words (for awhile): "Losing Our Way"

This is this distinguished columnist's swansong. He's the latest gifted observer to leave the New York Times. We should pay attention to what he has to say.
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.

Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.

There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.

The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.

This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

As The Times’s David Kocieniewski reported, “Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”

G.E. is the nation’s largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people.

Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.
Mark his words, Brothers and Sisters. They bear repeating.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Who Lost Libya?

As I finally get down to writing this the United Nations Security Council has voted 10-0 with two abstentions to The UN’s principal policy-making panel yesterday voted 10-0, with five abstentions, to adopt a resolution that establishes a no-fly zone over Libya, demands a cease-fire and allows “all necessary measures” to protect civilians “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia abstained.

At this time, so late in the day, I'm inclined towards ambivalence between classifying this decision D.O.A. (dead on arrival) or O.B.E. (overtaken by events). The odious Muammar Qaddafi is about to close exterminate his eastern opponents in Benghazi. One thing about Qaddafi: he's not a dithering intellectual, is he? But, as it always or often said, America often gets around to doing the right thing but not at the right time: always too little, too late.

So, for the last month, I've been burning to ask my readers, who lost Libya? And my regulars know I never ask a question unless I have a plausible answer. Who lost the chance to oust Qaddafi when he was hanging by a little more than threads?

My answer is George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair and Barack Obama have surged and splurged the Anglo-American military, economic, and diplomatic capital so deeply into the red in Iraq and Afghanistan that the unipolar prerogatives promised us in the 21st Century elude our grasp.

I am of two minds. I have always believed that American armed forces existed for defense of the realm. As John Quincy Adams said,

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy ... she is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
However, in the past quarter century I have enthusiastically supported the full use of American military might 
  • when international aggression had to be repulsed (Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait) and,
  • when ethnic cleansing forced thousands of civilians to flee across international borders (the wars of Yugoslavian dissolution). Both of these circumstances threatened regional international stability. 
In both instances, our military objective stopped short of regime change; both military campaigns sought a change in our enemy's policies. Saddam Hussein was forced to withdraw from his occupation of Kuwait and Slobodan Milosevic was forced out of Bosnia and Kosovo. Both campaigns involved extremely few American Casualties. Both campaigns contained obtainable exit strategies. Neither of these violated the agent dictum of General Douglas MacArthur, not to get involved in a land war in Asia; a dictum which has been violated every day we stay in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This air war over Libya may become Obama's only non-inherited and elective war. Perhaps by whacking on a little guy like Qaddafi so accessible as he is right on the shoulders of the Mediterranean maritime freeway between Southern Europe and North Africa, Obama can have his Grenada.

As I said, I am of two minds. 

My second thought is founded on the need to shrink the pentagon budget to the extent that we drown our misguided Iraq and Afghan expeditionary occupations in a bath tub. When I hear advocates of intervention in Libya express opinions to the contrary, I'm convinced that we can't even afford taking cheap shots at Qaddafi. Just think what it will lead to. Take John McCain, who's never seen a war he doesn't like, before the Atlantic Council in Washington on Tuesday, for example:
Of course we have to have a no-fly zone. We are spending over $500 billion dollars, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan, on our nation’s defense. Don’t tell me we can’t do a no-fly zone over Tripoli.

I love the military, I love it, it’s been my life, but they always seem to find reasons why you can’t do something rather than why you can.
Add McCain's name to my list of Bush, Cheney, Blair, and Obama: this clique of myopic and spendthrift crusaders, together with their corporate sponsors, represent a far bigger threat to American national interest than does little Mo' Qaddafi from Libya.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Mass Devastation in Japan Is Personal

We can make a difference by donating to Doctors Without Borders (minimum donation $35) or to the American Red Cross (minimum donation $10).

Game Over: Obama Will Never Become a Transformational Leader

I'm not an Obama-Hater. I am just no longer a fan. I do not regret campaigning and voting for him in the last general election. I still figure him to have been a better POTUS than John McCain. By far. But I have more than a slight case of buyer's remorse for my not having loved Hillary Clinton more in the 2008 primary. Oh well. I still believe Barry's last name starts with an 'Oh' and not a 'zer0'.

I liked what Max Hastings said about Barry O so much yesterday (As Afghanistan falters and the Middle East burns, how Obama is missing in action), that I just have to amplify parts of his article.

.... Obama’s foreign policy is characterised by caution: towards Iran, China and now Libya.

.... America’s allies are bemused by the almost Trappist silence of this U.S. President, his reluctance to engage with many of the huge things that are happening both to his own country and to the world.

.... He entered office proclaiming ‘yes, we can’, and declared a nobly ambitious agenda.

.... The President, like his Democratic Party, has set his face against doing anything meaningful about America’s unsustainable burden of debt.

.... He proclaimed a commitment to peace in the Middle East, but Israeli stubbornness, endorsed by much of Congress, has confounded him.

.... This cool - indeed cold, cerebral - man understands the world’s and his own country’s problems better than almost any American President in history.

He entered office as a crusader mantled in a glittering white cloak. Yet he lacks a vital political gift, which empowered Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan: the ability to make the American people feel good about themselves.

His remoteness reflects an arrogance rooted in a curious lack of interest in people save as a political study. While the world welcomed Obama as a transformational figure, he shows no sign of wishing to fulfil any such grand role.

Indeed, the White House is obsessed with a single issue: how to get its man re-elected in November 2012.

..... Americans who inhabit the real world - which means the majority - recoil from the Republicans’ excesses as much as we do from the extreme Right in Britain.

They look with gratitude upon a President who, whatever his limitations, never speaks or acts less than rationally. But it is dismaying to see this brilliant man’s accomplishments fall so far short of the world’s hopes.

..... I am still convinced of the power of American creativity and energy to pull this country through its current troubles, to maintain pole position in the world for some decades yet.

I am much less sure, however, about whether Barack Obama will fulfil his extraordinary potential as a national leader.

A Washington admirer of the President urged me: ‘Don’t lose faith. If he gets re-elected, Congress will have to give him a break whether the Republicans like it or not. He may still do fine things that astonish us.’

Yet to do great deeds, a leader must fight tough fights. Obama has sat on his hands while many of the policies he trumpeted when he came to power ... have vanished into the sand.

A warm admirer of the President in 2008 says: ‘I must admit that I’m disappointed in him.’ Millions of Democrats share this view, while millions of Republicans hate him.

For those of us who embraced Obama’s professed idealism and high intelligence back in 2008, his passivity is depressing and frustrating.

Given the way the American system of government works - or often does not work - maybe this would-be visionary President was bound to succumb to the sordid demands of machine politics.

We dreamers will keep hoping Obama may still lay claim to greatness. But he is leaving it awfully late.
Let me explain why I have not included criticisms of specific foreign policy decisions or indecisions.

It used to be said that the occupant of Oval Office in the White House is the most powerful man in the world. That is no longer the case. In this century, armed expeditions into nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan have squandered our national military and economic resources such that the unipolar world promised Americans was D.O.A.

Now we have Lillputin image of - putively - the world's largest and most powerful democracy merely witnessing historic events instead of rising to the challenges they pose.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Down with the Dictatorship of the Corporatariat!

Alan Grayson is calling out for action against the Dictatorship of the Corportariate. 

He reminds us of the bloodshed in Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886, Homestead, Pennsylvania in July 6, 1892 and in Ludlow, Colorado on April 20, 1914.

Then Grayson asks, Did They Die in Vain?
Here and around the world, many people have fought and died, so that you and I would have the right to organize.

And so that 250,000 public workers in Wisconsin would have that right, too.

This is not exactly a new idea...

During Franklin Roosevelt's first term as president, he signed the National Labor Relations Act into law. [protecting] the right to organize. That was over 75 years ago....

I want to see an America that is healthy and wealthy.

They want an America that provides cheap labor to our corporate overlords. An America where the middle class is chained by debt.

We didn't ask for this fight. But we have no choice except to fight back. For the survival of the middle class in America. For us, for our children, and for our grandchildren. And so that the victims in Haymarket, in Homestead and in Ludlow did not die in vain.

As Cardinal Spellman said 45 years ago, "it is a war thrust upon us, and we cannot yield to tyranny."

I'm ready to fight for what's right. What about you?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

This Old Earth Is an Angry Planet

We can barely cope its calamitous natural disasters, not to mention afford man-made catastrophes. I understand that sometimes necessary wars happen; but we should never engage in elective wars. Specifically, we don't have the coin for COINs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Robert Reich Is Not a Potted Plant

Where is it? I can't find my Progressive, Republican-hating, red meat blogging voice.

I even started watching teevee. Well MSNBC, anyway. Very all very unsatisfying. For one thing, I am not a planted plant. I'm an interactive dude, especially when I'm sitting in my living room watching or listening to some useless idiot reiterating drivel. I'm even frustrated by the MSNBC pundits Big Ed, Chris Mathews, Larry O'Donnell. I'm glad they're there, of course. But only Sister Rachel cleans off the fat off the bones. There's just so much trivia and distracts even the best-motivated programmers and consumers of the main street media. That's new and old media.

In terms of the newer media, there's a lot more 'Rachels' out there. I'm a big fan of one of them: Robert Reich, Clinton's Secretary of Labor. This guy is right - er, make that 'correct' - on everything. Where has he been wrong?

His voice seems a lonely one and I feel like taking every opportunity to amplify it. Reich is especially impatient with today's Democrats:

Where are the Democrats? Shuffling their feet, looking at the floor.

“Please oh please give us four weeks before you shut us down,” they ask.

“No,” say the Republicans, “you’ll get only two.”

“Well, alright then,” say the Democrats.
Reich says Democrats should be saying:
Hike taxes on the super-rich. Reform the tax code to create more brackets at the top with higher rates for millionaires and billionaires. Absurdly, the top bracket is now set at $375,000 with a tax rate of 35 percent; the second-highest bracket, at 33 percent, starts at $172,000 for individuals. But the big money is way higher.

The source of income shouldn’t matter – salary, wages, capital gains, other unearned income – all should be treated the same. There’s no reason to reward speculators. (Don’t penalize true entrepreneurs, though. If they’re owners who have held their assets for at least twenty years, keep their capital gains low.)

And while you’re at it, raise the ceiling on income subject to Social Security taxes. And bring back the estate tax.

Do this and we can afford to do what we need to do as a nation. Do this and you prevent Republicans from setting the working middle class against itself. Do this and you restore some balance to a distribution of income and wealth that’s now dangerously out of whack.

Do this, Democrats, and you have a chance of being relevant again.
Is anyone listening? Not in the frickin' White House!