Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year to All the Little Mice Who Can...

I wish all of you, dear readers, a very Happy New Year full of all good things. I hope we will be safer and friendlier in 2011, and that every one of us will be here for 2012. So, drink carefully, drive only if you're fit, enjoy every minute of 2010 that's left, and ring in the new with a toast surrounded by friends and family.
Here's my Tale of the Little Mice to give you a push into 2011.

Two little mice fell into a bowl of milk. They both started to swim as fast as they could, but they realized that the top edges of the bowl were far too high for them to climb up and out.
The first little mouse soon lost hope, stopped swimming and drowned.
The second little mouse continued to swim in order to keep its head above the milk. The little mouse swam for so long, beating its little feet against the milk, that it became exhausted. At the point of giving up, it felt something harder under its feet. It looked down and saw that, with all the frothing it had made trying to stay afloat, it had beaten the milk into butter.
It soon hopped out over the top of the bowl and saved itself.

I hope you have a lot more butter than milk in 2011. Casey-pops

Thursday, December 30, 2010

President Obama's Birth Certificate

It’s time for President Obama to put the question of his birthplace and his right to be president at rest.
Most of the reasonable world feels sure he was born in Hawaii and is, therefore, an American citizen by birth, the test required to be eligible for the office of President of the United States.
But some people, called “birthers,” continue to insist that he was not born on American soil and so has no right to be president. If one puts aside the birthers’ political motives, they have several good points.
First, Mr. Obama has released a “certification of live birth” that does not include the name of the hospital or attending doctor. This information would be included in the official long-form birth certificate. Why did the President choose to do this when he could just as easily have released the official birth certificate and put the whole matter to rest long ago?
If an official birth certificate for Barak Obama exists, why has he not released it? The State of Hawaii says that such a document exists in state storage files, and a legal birth announcement placed in a Hawaiian newspaper days after his birth seems to support this. But, Hawaii law does not authorize the state to release an official birth certificate. Only “persons concerned” can ask for and obtain its release.  
The new Governor of Hawaii was a friend of Obama’s parents, who knew them when they lived in Hawaii and when Obama was born. He would like to publish the official birth certificate, but, by law, he cannot.
Second, Mr. Obama’s continuing refusal breeds all sorts of conspiracy theories.  Some “birthers” say he was born in Kenya, the country of his father, or that he was born in Indonesia. Most serious analysts reject both these claims. But, unless he releases his official birth certificate, such claims will continue to haunt his presidency.
Third, the refusal to release his official birth certificate fits into the pattern of secrecy that Obama has maintained all his life. He has never released the following records which are routinely released by other presidents:

1.      a complete medical file that covers his adult life.
2.      a transcript of his record as a student at Occidental College, Columbia University or Harvard Law School.
3.      his senior dissertation, reportedly on “Soviet Nuclear Disarmament” has disappeared from Columbia University archives.
4.      his client list and fee billing records while he was a private attorney-at-law.
5.      his application to the Illinois State Bar, which reportedly may have been inaccurate.
6.      his papers as an Illinois state legislator, including correspondence and lobbyist contacts.

For a man who has said that he wants to make his presidency the most open and transparent in American history, this is rather strange behavior.
It opens the gates for all sorts of surmises about what facts the President may want to hide: Was Obama born to parents other than those cited? Is his name not the one that he long ago chose to use? Was he born at home and transferred to a hospital afterward? Was he born out of wedlock? Was his religion listed as Muslim on his official birth certificate? Would documents from his early school years present a pattern of leftist or Soviet sympathy? Was he a less gifted student than we are led to believe? Did he do favors for lobbyists that he would not have wanted to be used against his during his presidential campaign?
One could go on and on.
The truth is that only the truth will put this debate to rest.
Nothing that might be revealed could be as corrosive as the taint to his presidency that the refusal to release his official birth certificate engenders.
Mr. President, release the document. We will understand. We will still like you and consider you our president, unless you were not born on American soil. And, we do not believe that. So, put yourself and us at ease.
Mr. President, release your official birth certificate.   

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Ivory Coast Dilemma

Nothing and no one is going to chase Mr. Gbagbo from his "presidential" position in the south of the Ivory Coast. And, the same can be said of Mr. Outtara in the north. Each man represents a political , a regional and an almost ethnic constituency. They have both worked to unify the country and both have succeeded in that today, Ivory Coast is trying to be a democratic state.
The leaders in the West African Union acknowledge this, all the while trying to convince Gbagbo to step down and leave the country.
And, goodness knows, Laurent Gbagbo is not perfect. He has tried to repress the opposition and make the north irrelevant. But, he spent time in prison while he was fighting to democratize Ivory Coast, albeit in his personal understanding of the word. Perhaps he and his followers do not want to take the chance that their hard fought progress will degenerate into another civil war.
At least for now, the army agrees with Mr. Gbagbo and that makes any invasion by surrounding African nations extremely unlikely.
Europe and the UN are bringing their full powers to bear in an effort to make Mr. Outtara president. Their words and deeds won't succeed either, not as long as Gbabgo has a friend like Sierra Leone on his side to fund his fight.
And just today, it was announced that Roland Dumas and Jacques Vergès, two enormously well-known French lawyers, are going to Ivory Coast this weekend to help Mr. Gbagbo.
Vergès is known for his defense of Algerian "freedom fighter-terrorists" who were alleged to have had the untidy idea that bombing and killing French supporters of continuing a colonial Algeria would help their cause. Vergès defended them, but also others, including Palestinians, who wanted to be independent of foreign control. He is also recognized for his defense of notorious people who had difficulty finding legal counsel - Carlos, Klaus Barby, Tarek Aziz and a Khmer Rouge leader, among others. In  the process, Vergès made a lot of important political enemies in France and a lot of permanent friends in the Middle East and China.
Roland Dumas is a former French Foreign Minister, whose father was a resistance fighter killed by the Nazis. Dumas was, himself, interned by the Nazis in 1942 but escaped and joined the French resistance. Dumas was active politically, as a Socialist and friend of President Mitterrand, who appointed him Minister. Roland Dumas was later tried and somewhat "lightly" convicted of bribing countries in order to obtain contracts for a large French company. The conviction was later overturned.
These two lawyers have apparently offered their services to Laurent Gbagbo, and before you say, "so what...they're just like him," consider that these two men, between them, can cover the globe with their political networks of friends who are indebted to them for many reasons. Mr. Gbabgo has chosen his advisors rather astutely.
But, with all this noted, today on Swiss radio I heard an Ivory Coast citizen who lives in Geneva speaking about the situation in his country. He said he would not comment because he has family in Ivory Coast and whichever side he favored, the other side would seek retribution against them. He added, with rather more conviction, that the United Nations does not have the right to tell any country on earth who won an election.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Horror of the Khodorkovsky Trial

There is something horrifying about the guilty verdict of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
His ascetic face, determined but human, almost seems that of a martyr. His monk’s glasses and black coat. His jaw set for the worst that Russia’s Putin can deal him.
We remember the days of Stalin’s show trials. The ludicrous lawyers and judges pronouncing absurdities as the helpless defendants looked on, half dead because of cold and hunger and “soft” torture that left only psychological marks.
The horror is mixed with disbelief. How could we have been so duped by Putin and his road show of dogs, judo, smiles and promises of Russia’s democratic future?
How could we have believed that the Soviet apparatchik simply dissolved into nothingness at the moment when Boris Yeltsin stood atop the tank defiantly facing the Russian White House. It all seemed so real then, but 1991 is long ago and far away.
Yeltsin held Russia together while the country worked through the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But, it took Vladimir Putin to put Russia back together - in the old Soviet mold of persecutions, government by cliques, and favors only for those who first give favors to the elite - all papered over with the oligarchic industrial model that puts most private power in the hands of people whose success depends on their continuing support of Putin and his apparatchik. The oligarchs are the public face of the private control of Russia by Vladimir Putin and his Soviet-style government.
But, Khodorkovsky, although an oligarch, began to separate himself from Putin’s regime. He supported political parties, funded educational enterprises, and dared to criticize the Russian state for its abuse of power and its overriding control of the political process. He even tried to open his business by applying western transparency standards.
For this, he has found himself for the last five years in a Russian prison, better than Soviet era prisons, but nonetheless a prison, and for what? For trying to modernize Russia.    
Russian President, Mikhail Medvedev, says he wants to democratize Russia’s legal system. He says this, but he, too, is under Putin’s control. If Medvedev has, or indeed wants, independent political power, he has yet to show it.  
Putin’s Foreign Minister says of the Khodorkovsky trial : "Attempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable. We expect everyone to mind his own business, both at home and in the international arena."
And because the West wants to work with Russia and Putin, it will make the usual statements - Secretary of State Clinton and the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have already called the Khodorkovsky trial result unacceptable - but will, in all probability, return to business as usual soon enough.
In reality, Mikhail Khodorkovsky has challenged the basis of Putin’s Russian state, and he will continue to do so, from jail or free, until he sets Russia on the path to being a modern state or he is silenced permanently. He knows the game he is playing and he has acknowledged the possible consequences : "I am ready to die in jail."
Meanwhile, yesterday there was a post on a popular Russian Twitter feed that read, "Khodorkovsky is the name of the next Russian president."
We should, I suppose, at least acknowledge that in Stalin’s Soviet Union, that would never have happened, because his trial stands to make of Mr. Khodorkovsky an undying popular symbol of the hopes of the Russian people. Dare we think that Mr. Khodorkovsky’s cause will ultimately be victorious?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Khodorkovsky's Trial and Sentencing

Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, have been found guilty of corruption charges by the Russian judge who heard the case, his lawyer announced today. This is the second time that Khodorkovsky has received a guilty verdict. The first time was in 2005, when Khodorkovsky was sentenced to eight years in prison for underpaying production taxes on Yukos oil company, the giant Russian oil corporation he built from the ruins of the Soviet era state-owned petroleum industry.
Under Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, Yukos became the world’s second largest petroleum producer, after ExxonMobil.
After the first conviction of Khodorkovsky, Yukos was broken up and sold, most of it falling back into Kremlin control.
In this most recent proceeding, Khodorkovsky and his business partner, were charged with embezzlement and laundering of stolen property, i.e., the oil produced by Yukos.
Russian security forces maintained tight control outside the courthouse today, where hundreds of Khodorkovsky supporters gathered in the sub-zero weather in anticipation of the verdict. They chanted "Freedom" and "Russia without Putin."
Before his legal troubles began, Khodorkovsky had expressed the desire to run for public office and he had funded several opposition political parties, supposedly including one supported by the Kremlin.
In October, prosecutors demanded a fourteen-year prison sentence but said it should include Khodorkovsky’s current eight-year term, which will end in October 2011. Counting the first term, today’s sentence of Khodorkovsky could keep him in prison until 2017.
The former oil magnate had been incarcerated in a work camp near Krasnokamensk, 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) away from his native Moscow, but when the new charges were levied against the two men, they were moved to Moscow in 2009 to stand trial.
The court also ordered Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to pay about $600 million in back taxes.
There is little doubt that Khodorkovsky's prosecution has a meaning far beyond his own innocence or guilt. Critics say Khodorkovsky’s trials are a test of the Kremlin’s willingness to allow Russia to be governed by rule of law.
During the trial, Khodorkovsky, himself, said, "There is much more than just the fates of two people in your hands. Right here and right now, the fate of every citizen of our country is being decided....For me, as for anybody, it is hard to live in jail, and I do not want to die there. But if I have to, I will not hesitate. The things I believe in are worth dying for," he said.
"This verdict will be a verdict on whether Russia is a law-governed state, or whether it ever can become one," said Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Endowment, "because currently it is not a law-governed state and the trial of Khodorkovsky and his partner Lebedev is the most striking example of it."
Analysts say that Russia’s commitment to the rule of law is on trial. Former president and present prime minister Putin, and current President Medvedev, have stated their desire to reform the Russian court system that has often been marred by corruption and political dealings.
The Khodorkovsky trial is likely to mark current President Medvedev as a man of principle with independent political power, if he shows leniency, or as a convenience for Putin if he does not.
Khodorkovsky angered Putin long ago when he began to support political parties and to champion causes that the Kremlin would have preferred to keep quiet. The two men are, in a sense, rivals for the future of Russia, and so it is likely that Putin will keep Khodorkovsky imprisoned for as long as possible.
Khodorkovsky is one of the Russian oligarchs, who overpowered and took control of Russian industrial treasures in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Khodorkovsky could have taken his share of the wealth available to the oligarchs and quietly supported Putin, as the others have done. His path, however, diverted because of his interest in politics.
One of Khodorkovsky’s partners in the early consolidation of Yukos was Boris Berezovsky, who has sought and obtained political asylum in Britain.
Another of Khodorkovsky’s partners, Roman Abramovich, has remained on good terms with Putin, although he, too, spends much of his time in Britain and is considered to be one of Russia’s wealthiest men, not only because of his profits from Yukos but also from his other activities in Russian industry. Abramovich now owns the Chelsea football club in London.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

David Cameron - My Pick for Person of the Year

Everybody is publishing their "person of the year" lists. There are usually ten or so named as contributing the most to society in 2010. I'd like to offer my choice - one person.
I pick David Cameron, the newly elected British Primes Minister. He's a Conservative Party member and was the Conservative leader who broke the 12-year Labor Party armlock on British politics.
David Cameron is a young and energetic leader who understands that governments must cut back on spending and social programs, and for a refreshing change, his government is actually doing it. This is not an easy matter for him, because, for the first time in a half century, Britain has a coalition government. The Conservatives are allied in Parliament with the Liberal Democrats, who are far more to the left than Cameron's own party. So, he has needed great skill in bringing along his coalition members to support his government reduction programs.
But, that's not why I picked him. I picked him because he's perceptive and intelligent in his conservatism. He combines the retrenchment of social programs and government reduction with the "heart" that others talk about but rarely display. He has saved the programs for the poor and fragile, while asking all Britons to bear with him the personal pain of putting the British governmental house in order. He announced his own pay cut and expenses budget cut, and urged other government ministers to do the same. It worked.
He has also tied his program to a call for citizen participation. He is asking them to take back from government those things that the private sector, and in particular local communities, do much better. The challenge has been put and it is now up to the British citizenry to respond.
We all love to talk about how inefficient and costly big government is. Davis Cameron has actually thrown down the gauntlet, and most political analysts are watching closely to see if his daring move works.
What we need now is for more world leaders to do the same instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul while governments everywhere expand exponentially as the state takes more and more power for itself.
It's time for more David Camerons in the world. He is my pick for the person of the year in 2010. Let us hope that his effort pays and that he can again be named person of the year in 2011. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mother Earth Inching toward a New Year

The gifts are all opened, the turkey's in the oven, and Christmas is winding down. But, the good will and friendship around the world can continue if we remember that we are all brothers.
For some reason I was thinking this morning about the world we live in. During the holiday season, the earth seems to be left out of the celebrations. But, it's very important to keep it in our thoughts.
For every human being, there is some sense that the earth and its bounty are unique and should be protected. That's true and it takes every one of us to make the work effective.
The Creator, however you see him or her, has given us an abundance of beauty and utility that should make our lives happier and fuller. Think about the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Himalayas. Think about the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans. Think about the cows, the bears, the chickens, the lobsters, the coral, the sheep, the earth worms, the eagles and sparrows. Think about the daffodils, the spruce and sequoia, the grass, the wheat and corn and rice and manioc. Think about all of this and be thankful in your fashion.
Be grateful enough to try to do something to help preserve it and make it flourish for the next generations to live on and enjoy. It doesn't have to be great things, just little gestures as we go about our daily lives. We all know what those gestures are - no need to list them.
It's that easy to give the good earth a Christmas gift and a boost for the new year.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to our Blue Planet, and thank you, Creator, for providing it every moment of our lives.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men

There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields
Keeping watch over their flocks by night.
And, Lo, an angel of the Lord appeared unto them
And the glory of the Lord shone round about them
And they were sore afraid.
But, the angel said unto them,
Fear not, for, Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy
Which shall be to all people, for unto to you is born this day
In the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find the Babe
Wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel
A multitude of the heavenly host, praising God
And saying, Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, good will toward men.

This King James version of the glad tidings of Christmas has stayed in my heart and head since I was a child. When Christmas draws near, I automatically start to recite it silently. I think it was my great grandmother, who loved to read the Bible before all important family dinners, who read this part of the Gospel of Luke to me when we were alone, as well as to everyone waiting to eat my grandmother’s marvelous feasts for the Holidays.
On this holy night full of hope for mankind, may we all, of every faith, find time to reflect on the beauty of being human and the tremendous untapped power we have, in faith and ethical living, if only we choose to use it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Sad Commentary

The Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome were the targets of bomb attacks this morning. Two people are in critical condition and one may lose his hand and part of his arm to amputation.
What a sad and repulsive affair it is and how deranged the perpetrators must be.
During this holy season, it seems that even the Eternal City is not to be spared. These threats have been made for Europe and America and we can only be vigilant and trust in our security forces to protect us.
We can remember these victims in our thoughts and prayers, and we can hope that more bombs are not on the way to try to dim our Christmas and New Year celebrations.
As for the terrorists, I would just like to say. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Obama's Year-end Evaluation

I'm sure President Obama, in the snatches of quiet time he has, is trying to assess 2010 and his performance as president of the United States.

What will he find?
 - a revolutionary health care bill passed after mighty opposition in Congress and in the streets of America.
 - a jarring mid-term election that lost him a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and reduced his Senate majority.
 - a December compromise with the Republican congressional leadership that netted him the middle class tax rate he so much wanted and a reduction in Social Security taxes for 2011.
 - a trip to India and Asia that led to some business deals and a warming of America's relationship with India.
 - a defiant proclamation from both North Korea and Iran that they will pursue their nuclear enrichment programs, no matter what Mr. Obama and the rest of the world thinks about it.

What did he pay for these sometimes victories?
 - the health care law is under attack in the federal courts and will almost certainly have some of its provisions related to individual and state mandates struck down. The US Supreme Court will most probably decide that the federal government reached beyond its constitutional rights when it forced taxes and payments onto individuals and states, without their consent or ability to change anything. This is a blow for a man who fancies himself a constitutional law expert. He should have known better, but his leftist view of the US Constitution got in the way. He thought he could ram through one more intrusion into the ground of constitutionally protected states' rights, all for the greater good, under the Commerce Clause. The courts will say "not so fast."
 - the mid-term election debacle was predicted far in advance and the President had time to soften it. But, he chose to rally support only for those Democratic candidates running in states which will be important in his own 2012 presidential re-election bid, if he chooses to run. This left middle America open territory for the conservative Tea Party movement that is spearheading the effort to turn the United States federal apparatus back into a manageable form with lower expenditures and more power sent back to state and local governments where it belongs under the Constitution. Obama will regret his selfish short sightedness.
 - the December tax compromise came at the expense of abandoning his own Democratic Party, hurt and bleeding after the rough mid-term losses. It almost seems that the President decided they were no longer useful for his goals, so he tossed them aside for the more fertile GOP ground. This is another mistake because the Democrat Party lives and dies with the left wing of American political thought. Obama may court and cosy up to the GOP and conservatives, but when the time to vote comes in 2012, they will head for the GOP barn and leave him outside in the cold.
 - India is polite to everyone, especially those who take time to visit her. But, a month after Obama's successful visit, Russia's Putin signed a deal with India that will include joint nuclear plant development for peaceful purposes and other commercial deals that out-shine Obama's. I hope he enjoyed his visit, because India is a marvelously unique sub-continent, but he was out-classed by the Russians, who have always been the "friend" of India.
 - The nuclear problems thrust onto the world's plate by North Korea and Iran are not solely the fault or the responsibility of Mr. Obama. But, if he had the guts to be tougher, and the commitment to spend the time required to build a real world coalition, he might make a difference. He has shown neither propensity so far.

The team he favored lost the NCAA basketball national championship, but hey, we won't hold that against him, will we.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Real-politik Meets Real-ethics

There have been two elections in the world this past week - one in Belarus and one in Ivory Coast - both meant to elect new presidents.
The Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko won a fourth term in a one-sided battle that ended with one of his opponents and more than 600 others in jail in the protests that developed after the election results were announced. Lukashenko called them “vandals and thugs.” Three defeated presidential candidates were injured, some said by police, some said by protesters. They were hospitalized but were removed from hospital and interrogated by “authorities.” The Belarus Central Election Commission said that voter turnout was 90% and that the Commission has received no complaints. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe cautioned that the election was an improvement over past elections, but “Belarus still has a considerable way to go in meeting its OSCE commitments.”
The OSCE has often expressed concern about the status of civil and political rights in Belarus. In its statement Monday it remarked on the detention of candidates as well as activists, journalists and others.
"While voting on election day was overall assessed positively, the process deteriorated significantly during the vote count, with observers assessing almost half of vote counts monitored as bad or very bad," the OCSE said. "This undermined the steps that had been taken to improve the election." "This election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed," said Tony Lloyd, the leader of a short-term OSCE mission. "The counting process lacked transparency. The people of Belarus deserved better. And, in particular, I now expect the government to account for the arrests of presidential candidates, journalists and human rights activists."
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once called Lukashenko "the last dictator in Europe."
Russian President Medvedev, speaking on Russian state television Monday, said that Moscow expects Belarus to continue "to develop as a modern state based on democracy" after the election. "No matter who the leader is, Belarus will always be one of the states closest to us," Medvedev said.
I give all this detail to show the extent to which the Belarus election was a “fraud” on its citizens, and to compare it to the recent presidential election in Ivory Coast. The vote there was very close, and Mr.Outtara was declared the winner by the country’s Independent Electoral Commission before the Constitutional Council, closely aligned with Gbagbo, tossed out votes from Ouattara’s stronghold in the northern areas, because of what it called "flagrant irregularities."
UN peacekeepers have been in Ivory Coast for several years, trying to keep separate the two main political factions in the country. Mr. Gbabgo asked them to leave after he accused them, mostly French, of helping and arming the other faction. It might be added that France has economic ties to the country and would certainly not want the election to endanger them or the French citizens living and working in Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo’s refusal to step down has brought down the wrath of Europe, the UN, and just last night, the White House. All have asked the outgoing President Gbagbo to step down immediately and turn over the government to his opponent, who has declared himself president. But, Gbagbo has also been sworn in, so we have two presidents in Ivory Coast. To give Gbabgo his due, he has denounced street violence and has offered to permit an independent outsider to review the election results and give an opinion. Meanwhile, Mr. Gbabgo, should he want to leave the country, will find that he cannot get a European visa.
Ban-Ki-Moon, Un Secretary General, said Friday that Gbagbo's efforts to stay in power "cannot be allowed to stand," adding that anything other than his removal from office "would make a mockery of democracy... There will be consequences for those who have perpetrated or orchestrated any such actions, or (who) do so in the future," Ban said. "The results of the election are known. There was a clear winner. There is no other option," Ban said.
The situations in Belarus and Ivory Coast are both troubling and tragic. They are also perhaps the best current examples of the impossibility of exporting European-American democracy into areas neither culturally nor politically prepared to accept it.
But, I have only one question  - why would the world let Belarus pass by with only the barest of criticisms while Ivory Coast is feeling the full weight of Western muscle over its very similar situation?
I don’t know the answer, but I cannot help but wonder if it has everything to do with the West’s need to keep Russia happy, while Ivory Coast is a very small player on the world scene. That people are being bullied and killed in both countries surely ought to override any real-politik issues. There are times when "real-ethics" surely must take precedence.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Time for the GOP to Step Up to the Fiscal Plate

The US Congress has now passed the bill extending tax rates and reducing Social Security taxes. That was a good thing to do in the represent economic situation, but the clock is still ticking on America's fiscal condition, and in two weeks the Democrats who lost in November will be gone and the Republicans will be in charge of budgetary matters.
The Social Security tax relief and Bush tax cut extensions were not paid for by increasing other taxes or reducing spending in other parts of the US budget. That represents almost 1 trillion unfunded dollars to be added to the national deficit.
The debt of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, estimated at almost 1 trillion dollars, is not yet shown on the budget, but Congress has guaranteed their losses. Add to that the cost of Afghanistan and the unfunded costs begin to mount up.
The conservative Tea Partiers and other GOP conservatives elected in November won largely because they promised to get a handle on all these out-of-control expenditures and operate within a strict budget.
That promise should not be taken as just more campaign rhetoric. It is a key to the future of the United States as we know it.
If the GOP does not get the national budget under control and figure out how to begin lowering the national long term debt, America will sink into a fiscal morass that no one, not even Superman, will be able to pull us out of.
My hope is that every American - Republicans, Democrats and independents - will hold the feet of the new Congress to the fire. All the time, even over seemingly small matters. It is more than a matter of keeping election promises, it is a matter of national survival. Don't accept the usual answers - the "this case is unique" sort of explanation that our elected representatives so often rely on. Make them do what they must, even when it hurts them. Even when it hurts us.
The alternative will hurt a lot more - rapid inflation, loss of international influence, and the admission that the American Dream is over and the nightmare has begun.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Christmas Wish List

It's the time for making wish lists, and I'd like to do mine before it's too late to act on some of the items. The wishes are for everyone, no matter what religion, or of no religion. It's just a reminder that human beings share some things that neither politics nor religion nor status can take away from us.

1. I wish for peace, not universal and forever, because that's probably not possible. But, I'd like to see the two Koreas come to their senses and think about the rest of us living on the same planet with them.

2. I wish that everyone who has children or grandchildren would take some time with them this season, to help them understand that Christmas, as well as the other great religious feasts, is more about giving than receiving. I know that's trite, but if each of us can convince one child that the poor and damaged of this world are human beings who deserve kindness and love, if we can help them to give just one small thing, in the spirit of love, to someone who really needs it, they may grow up to be the kinds of adults who are desperately needed if we are to save our race.

3. I wish that we, who are already adult, will also make an effort to help the needy and forgotten - get a "Dear Santa" letter and fulfill it, or visit an elderly person and spend fifteen minutes listening to them talk about their childhoods and their loved ones who are gone. Take them a little gift. They will appreciate it, and you will feel better for having done it.

4. Find the people in your neighborhood, as my sister does, who are alone and if you're having a Christmas or New Year dinner, invite them. It doesn't matter whether they're Christian, they'll enjoy the day - and so will you and your family.

5. Finally, say something nice to or about a politician. They may be deaf and self-serving. They may be arrogant and self-ambitious. They may even be from the "other" party. But, they also do a lot of work for us every day, in many countries, and like most human beings, they just might respond, if only for a short time, by actually thinking about their responsibilities and trying to carry them out.

Why not make your own lists. I'm sure you can do better than I can.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The CIA Station Chief

The CIA station chief in Islamabad has been recalled after being named in a Pakistani civil lawsuit as the cause of civilian casualties in a recent Drone bombing in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The agent was apparently known to the Pakistani government and a lot of other people in the country.
First, one could say that this is somewhat bizarre since CIA agents are supposed to be clandestine, or at least very discreet. And, he was an agent marked for greater things in the CIA’s clandestine service, and that would seem to be in jeopardy now as well.
In any event, the entire world, with the exception of the US government which rarely admits any such activity, knows that the American CIA is making Drone forays from Afghanistan into Pakistan’s border area to try to eliminate Al-Qaida and Taliban militia operating there.
Pakistani newspapers had published a week ago the name of the agent as a possible target in a lawsuit to be brought by relatives of civilians killed in such Drone attacks. Later, an attorney for the families asked the Pakistani police to prevent the CIA agent from leaving the country until the lawsuit was filed. Despite this logical reason for his evacuation, the United States says it pulled the agent out of Pakistan because of serious death threats against him.
But, the plot thickens. The Washington Post has published an article suggesting that the naming of the US CIA agent may be in retaliation for a lawsuit filed last autumn in New York, naming the Pakistani who is head of the Inter-Service Intelligence, the equivalent of the US CIA, in relation to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last year. The ISI has in the past been accused by the US of helping militants close to the Taliban in the northern provinces as a way to protect their interests in case of American failure to eliminate them.
Have we entered an era where CIA and other spies are no longer secret, but instead normal members of their respective government’s presence in foreign countries? If so, why bother to call them spies? Maybe the military’s term, consular military attaché, would be more honest. But, if that is so, where are our spies? Do we need them? Probably, if we want to have the best intelligence available in sensitive areas of the world. And, every country would undoubtedly agree vis-à-vis its spies.
However, in the Pakistan case, perhaps we have just one more example of the United States being in a country that is not really an ally. That does not want our presence. That would prefer to make its own peace with the groups attacking it, even if that would mean co-existence with them and at least partial loss of sovereignty. Pakistan mistakenly thinks it can live with the Taliban, but it ought to ask Afghanistan citizens about the truth of Taliban rule. It would also mean the loss of US financial aid, not that it is going to those who need it every time.
And, it would also mean that the Pakistani nuclear capacity would be at the disposal of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. That is the real reason we are in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nation-building is the cover, but a cover not much more effective than the cover of the CIA agent who was just sued in Pakistan and then hustled out of the country before worse arrived.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winston Churchill and the American Congress

Winston Churchill is credited with saying "America will always do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other options."
Well, that’s what happened last night in the US House of Representatives and the Senate.
The House passed the tax bill that will allow the current “Bush” tax rates to continue for two years. It also will extend the 99-week unemployment benefits law to another year and reduce Social Security taxes, called payroll taxes because they are most often deducted from pay checks, for one year. All these measures will stimulate spending and, it is hoped, encourage employers to take on more employees. The bill is now on the President’s desk for final approval. What the bill does not do is give relief to retirees who are now receiving Social Security, something that would have been more just and would also have increased spending immediately, since retirees usually spend all their pension every month.
Meanwhile the Senate finally came to its senses, after repeated thrashings in the media by conservative voters, and abandoned the budget bill that was loaded with earmarked funds for a lot of Senators who, only three months ago, were fervently opposed to earmarks. The budget bill will now be the responsibility of the new Congress that convenes in January.
That brings me back to Winston Churchill, the great man of the twentieth century. It really seems he was right. We can count on Americans to do the right thing, even if it is in extremis.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

America's Future Role

I’ve been turning over in my mind for the last week this question : what will be the role of America in the future?
I heard someone say on TV last week that he thinks America’s future lies in being a crossroads where all countries meet and where young people come to be educated. When I heard it, I thought, that seems a rather narrow analysis that lacks vision, and perhaps lacks also an understanding of America’s view of itself.
What have been my conclusions over the past week? Several.
First, I don’t disagree with the person who said that America is a place where the young people of the world are educated. Our system of higher education is open to everyone and it has, in a seminal way, contributed to the world’s economic and technical development in the last century. He was also right in saying that America is a place where the world meets, because our borders are open and we have welcomed people from all over the world who come to America to be free and to live a better life and pass it on to their children. We Americans must strive to continue to be open to the world and not let transitory troubles with some immigrants lead us to isolate ourselves and our system from those who would like to share in it.
Yet, my mind continued to chew on the question of America’s future. Education and freedom for immigrants to live the American Dream are fine roles, but they define only a part of the uniqueness of America.  
For me, America is a vision of mankind, a vision that most of the world would embrace if it were not for repressive governments. Some of the world may also fear being submerged and disappearing into America. Every world culture has its own values, most of them just and acceptable. It is surely their desire to keep their values and not to have them overcome by another set not of their own making. And some cultures are so different from ours that it would take a great leap of faith for them to embrace the American way.
After all of this has been said, there is still something about America that attracts most of the world. It is not our way of life per se so much as it is our vision of mankind and our definition of America’s role in protecting it.
Americans believe they are called by God to protect mankind and that means making freedom and personal success available to all. It also means protecting people, wherever they may be, from those who would abuse them or deny their rights as human beings. This has sometimes got America into trouble in the 20th century as we rushed to the side of people who needed help, but perhaps not the kind of help America wanted to offer. But, if the two world wars and Korea are the standard, then America has stood up for freedom and personal liberties every time.
The rest of the world knows this. They may occasionally tell us to “get lost.” But if America really did get lost, and no one was there to take its place, they would certainly feel it and grieve for their own loss.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where Is America Fiscally?

If you are following the recent financial and political events in the United States, you well might ask, just where is America today fiscally? I'm not sure anyone can answer that question, but it needs to be asked, loud and clear, by everyone everywhere who cares whether America survives.
Fiscally, we are in the hands of a Federal Reserve chairman who seems to be determined to drive the US Dollar down into perdition. I don't know how much longer the world's financial community, that is, those who buy American debt and support the Dollar, will continue to trust our judgment - read that, Ben Bernanke's judgment. He appears to be much like President Obama - apply textbook logic and hope it will work out in real life. The problem is that everyone except Bernanke knows it's not working and they are frightened.
To put it into terms we can all appreciate : let's say you had invested 100% of your savings in US Dollars ten years ago. But, the Fed chairman was continually reducing the value of the Dollar by printing ever more of them, so that today your 100% was worth 60% of the value you had when you invested it. Would you continue to hang on, trusting that some day Bernanke will make it right and your savings will not only recover their original value but some interest as well? Or would you say, whoa, I've got to get out of here before I lose everything. That is the question facing many governmental and private investors right now. We like to beat up on China for its foreign exchange policy, but we forget to add that its enormous investment in US Dollars has lost a considerable part of its value since Obama and Bernanke started down the path of spend-and- print-forever policy.
And everyone who pays in Dollars - Americans and everyone who buys petroleum or copper or wheat or any commodity - will see prices rise for the commodity itself or for the things made from it. If a Dollar is worth 60% of its former value, isn't it logical to expect that everything valued and priced in Dollars will become more expensive to make up for the less valuable Dollar? That's inflation at work.
If those Dollars were 1936 Bugatti's, of which the world believed only five existed, and you had bought one for several millions of Dollars, only to find out later that there was a basement full of them in Rome just waiting to be sold for much less, wouldn't you try to sell your Bugatti now and salvage a little of your investment before the value of 1936 Bugatti's fell drastically on the entry of a lot more of them into the market. That's what will happen one day with US Dollars unless we get hold of our national finances.
It's the dilemma of every investor in US Dollars today, whether their investment is in Treasury Notes and Bonds, or in Dollars accumulated in bank accounts and investments such as houses.
Ron Paul, a Texas maverick of a congressman who has already served for a quarter century in Washington, all the while scolding and warning about the consequences of the "easy Dollar" policy that the Federal Reserve often follows and being ignored or called a fool for his efforts, is about to take over the chairmanship of the congressional committee that oversees the Federal Reserve. He promises close scrutiny and timely reporting by the Fed, something that until now has never occurred. This will perhaps make the Fed more responsible and more responsive to America.
We all ought to be cheering Ron Paul on. Democrats. Republicans. Americans. Countries around the globe. Everyone in the world.
Because if Ron Paul fails and the Federal Reserve goes on, unchecked, with its current policy of printing Dollars, we will all pay. In Dollars worth about 50% of their current debased value. Think about it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke died today. He was 69. He had spent almost fifty years in the service of the United States as a diplomat and special representative.
Holbrooke will certainly be remembered most for his brokering of the treaty that ended the war in the ex-Yougoslavia. It may seem a long time ago now, but in 1995, Holbrooke was the person who stood between peace and the warring factions which were taking the Balkans into a full scale war that would have divided and perhaps brought on a third major conflict in Europe in the last century.
President Clinton sent in Holbrooke when it became apparent that the European diplomatic machine was unable to do much more than sit in meetings discussing what to do and how to do it. Richard Holbrooke was a tough and unrelenting negotiator and he succeeded. When someone later asked why he had established a personal relationship with Milosovic, and if it was a good message to send to the world, he answered that he would talk to anyone in order to get the job done.
His death puts a hole in US diplomacy that will be hard to fill. His toughminded focus on peace was a force to be reckoned with but it is only now that the world's leaders are saying so.
And, there are others, like him, who labor all their careers to try to make this a better world. They are the unsung heroes who fade into the background when their job is done so that government ministers and Presidents can initial their work and take the bows.
As you remember Richard Holbrooke today, have a thought for the others as well. We need all of their efforts just to keep the goal of world peace alive. He and they are worth more than all the stolen cables ever to be published.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The First Shoe Drops for Obamacare

A US District Judge in Vriginia has ruled that it is unconstitutional for the Obama Health Care Law to require individuals to purchase health insurance.
This decision will certainly be appealed to the US Federal Appellate Court system and then arrive at the US Supreme Court, probably bundled together with several other lower federal court decisions.
Obamacare is a controversial law. It not only requires individuals to buy health care insurance or pay fines, it also requires every state to accept its provisions, and pay for many of them, even if a state cannot pay without "unbalancing" its state budget. And, it interferes with health care systems already in place that cover the employees of private companies.
You can bet that these, and other, major provisions will be tested in federal courts, and some of the provisions will be found unconstitutional. Whether the US Supreme Court will find compelling reasons to force states and individuals to accept all the provisions of Obamacare is not clear, but it seems that if individuals are finally deemed not to be required to purchase health insurance, it will put a hole in the financial scheme of the law and make it likely that other provisions will not be able to be funded.
Add to this the fact that Congress forgot to put a key provision in the bill that became law, one that would have allowed courts to separate out unconstitutional sections while saving valid provisions and permitting Congress to replace the tainted clauses with ones that conform to the Supreme Court's decisions.
Obamacare is not "in the bag" yet, and it never will be in its present form.
With the GOP soon to take control of the House of Representatives, it seems unlikely that the President will find a friendly hearing if he tries to correct the mistakes in the current law. This is not so much because the GOP wants to oppose every move the President makes, but because the GOP and more than half of Americans have always opposed Obamacare as being too expensive and putting powers into the hands of the federal government that would be better left to the states. 
This is one political battle that will be very long and unpleasant for President Obama.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bill Clinton's Triumphal Return to the White House

Were you as surprised as the American public last night when President Obama left the White Press Room in the hands of Bill Clinton? You should have been because it's a first in US history - to have someone other than the sitting president in the Press Room.
Why did it happen? Because Obama is in a world of trouble and he knows it.
Who can save him? He thinks Clinton may be the one, even though they had a cool relationship up until now.
Is Obama right? I don't think so.
First, nobody can save Obama but himself, and he's making a pretty poor job of it so far.
Second, if Bill wants to save anything, it's the country and the Democratic Party. Not that it's a terribly honorable "save" but somebody has to. And, if you think about it, if the Democratic Party is so divided that even the sitting President is being jostled and rejected by his own, how can it be useful in electing Hillary in 2012?
Let's not be naive, that is Bill's goal and it is Hillary's goal, too. If Bill Clinton is riding in on his white horse, it is not to save Barak's hide, but to improve the chances for his wife in 2012. He attacked Obama viciously before everybody kissed and made up in 2008. He'll do it again as soon as Hillary is "drafted" to be a candidate in 2012.
And, why does Hillary have a good chance of getting the Democratic nomination and winning? Because everyone knows that Bill will be waiting in the wings if anything goes wrong.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mr Blatter's Comments about England and the World Cup

I both saw and read the comments of Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, concerning England's reactions after the 2018 football World Cup was awarded to Russia.
Mr. Blatter said that the English were known for fair play, but in this case, England was a poor loser.
To put matters into perspective :
1. Mr. Blatter has had to discipline two members of the FIFA Executive Committee for taking payments in return for their votes regarding the 2018 and 2022 Cups.
2. More allegations have been made, but Mr. Blatter has not yet responded except to say that everything is in perfect order at FIFA.
3. Every sports newspaper or TV show that I follow has questioned how Russia or Qatar could have won and have speculated about some sort of "arrangement" to promote countries not yet in the World Cup "family" or some other unspoken advantage for Russia and Qatar.
As for England being a sore loser, they were the favorite of the FIFA committees that visited them because of the infrastructure already in place and the financial soundness of their bid.
England has not said it will withdraw from FIFA, but I would almost be pressed to recommend to any developed country that it stop participating in the World Cup bid process. It seems a waste of money to spend 75 Million Dollars or so in a bid process that is skewed against them from the beginning.
All England has asked for is that FIFA articulate its policy, and all of its policy, so that every country that wants to make a bid for a World Cup will at least understand its chance of winning.
For the moment, I would say that it is Mr. Blatter and FIFA that are the losers - losers because of how they have conducted themselves and losers because they do  not seem to understand the first thing about fair play.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

President Obama's Dilemma

President Obama has a problem.
The problem is called the Democratic Party, which is his own party.
The Democrats are angry with him for making a deal with the Republicans to break the logjam over taxes and unemployment benefits. They are probably also more than a little angry with themselves for not using the congressional majority they possessed for two years to push through their own version of a tax program. They didn't do that, despite the President's lukewarm requests, and now both the Democratic Party and the President have seen their leftist positions bent toward the center by the newly powerful GOP.
How did it happen?
In the November congressional elections, called the mid-term elections, the President was called to task by voters all over the United States for adopting a health care program that few Americans want in the form in which it was passed by Congress. The Democratic Congress and President Obama used a lot of goodwill and arm-twisting to get Obamacare passed. It left little time or courage for attacking the always difficult question of taxes. The result of the mid-term elections was that many Democrats lost because they had supported Obamacare, as well as the President and House Speaker Pelosi's "Spend-America-into-Economic-Recovery" deficit spending spree.
The US Constitution does not allow those elected in mid-term elections to take their seats immediately. Instead, they are sworn in in the first week of January. That means that there is now in Washington what is called a lame-duck Congress, made up of the 2008-2010 Congress, including the then-majority Democrats who were defeated in November. It is they who are trying to deal with the new strength of the Republicans who won in November but who are not yet seated in Congress.
Given this scenario, it is little wonder that the GOP is calling the shots. They negotiated a deal with the President to provide for the extension of current tax rates so that already-suffering American taxpayers will not feel the pinch of having higher taxes deducted from their paychecks starting in January.
The difficulty is that this deal means that high-income taypayers are also given the advantage of the current lower tax rates, even though the President made a point of saying during his campaign for President that he would stop these wealthier Americans from having the advantage of "low" tax rates. The GOP argument, which they took to the voters in November, was that many of these "wealthy" taxpayers are really small businesses who need these lower tax rates in order to grow and hire more employees, the universal American goal right now. The electorate seemingly agrees with the GOP who won a majority in the House of Representatives where taxes must originate.
What Obama knows is that if he waits until the GOP controls the House, he will have less bargaining power and will have to give up even more of his leftist agenda. Therefore, he concluded, deal now.
The Democrats are angry because they wanted to fight it out. The President has repeated several times that he will not put economically struggling American taxpayers at risk by using them as pawns in this purely political fight that the Democrats will lose in January anyway.
The Democratic congressional leadership is threatening not to provide the majority vote needed to make the "deal" law. The President has said this is not how the American electorate expects its elected lawmakers to behave.
The Republicans are sitting back, enjoying the show.
What will happen? It is anybody's guess, but the sheer upside-down nature of the political struggle is hugely interesting.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Freedom of Speech

I was watching a Sky News broadcast from England last night when I saw a spectacle that amazed me. There, live on camera, were a famous British film director and the daughter of a very wealthy English family, telling the world that the sexual misconduct allegations about Julian Assange were irrevalent, that what mattered was his freedom of speech.
It's not that I'm opposed to freedom of speech. It is one of the great freedoms fought for and won over the past 200 years. Freedom of speech even protects, as it should, flag burners, protesters unless they damage property, those who like to insult famous people, and a host of other acts that most of us would never consider indulging in ourselves.
But, these two celebrities casting aside moral issues in the name of freedom of speech baffled me, much in the same way I was baffled by French celebrities trying to cast aside moral issues and due process of law when Roman Polanski was detained in Switzerland last year until the United States could make its case for extradition. The arguments of the celebrities were, broadly, that Polanski was a creative genius who should be allowed to continue his work instead of answering for his past behavior. The charges there were more than suspicions because Polanski had been tried and convicted of sexual misconduct in the US. Finally, after due process of law, Polanski was released by the Swiss authorities because the United States failed to make it case.
But, here we have someone who was hiding from the Swedish authorities for several weeks after they announced that they would proceed with an investigation into allegations that Assange had either raped or sexually assaulted two young women.
I make no judgments. But, I do find it strange that twice in 18 months, celebrities have felt it necessary to say that freedom of speech is more important than the law and the alleged or proven sexual abuse of young women.
Something vitally important has been misunderstood by those making these arguments. Freedom of speech is one among many freedoms modern citizens of democratic states possess. It is not supreme, although it often takes precedence over other freedoms or laws. But it has limits. If you are a lawyer, you remember the law school question : "Does anyone have the right to yell 'fire' in a crowded theatre?" The answer is "No" unless there actually is a fire. Does freedom of speech protect anyone from facing a legal procedure because he or she is engaged in other activities that might be protected by freedom of speech? The answer is almost always "No."
Is Assange's activity of revealing diplomatic secrets one that should override his need to answer to the Swedish legal system concerning the possible criminal violation of other people's right not to be physically assaulted? You decide for yourself. For me, the answer is simple.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

General Washington's Eyeglasses

The world seems to be more than a little agitated these past days, mostly because of Wikileaks and the ongoing saga of internet disclosures about American diplomacy.
Long from these serious and often disconcerting revelations, there looms also the very real danger of harm coming to individual and military operatives, as well as innocent people who will be caught in the middle of this internet storm.
Today, we have learned that the founder of Wikileaks has made himself available to British police, after Great Britain was served with a Swedish warrant for his arrest on “morals” charges.
Far from these macro-political events, my sister is facing an election battle for the presidency of her retiree community this evening. She has waged an honorable campaign, faced with what could be described as an authoritarian clique that has for many years seized control of the community by ignoring parliamentary rules, including holding elections by show of hand voting.
In the throes of this, last evening on the phone with her, I reminded my sister of General Washington’s remarks to the troops who had served with him during the Revolutionary War, and who, after winning, were threatening revolt unless they were paid all their wages-in-arrears. Many of the soldiers and officers had served without pay for years, and they were in need of money to re-start their civilian lives. Finally, having exhausted all hope of winning their demands through dialogue, some of the officers issued an ultimatum: If they were not paid, they would march on Congress and seize control of the government.
Washington, great man that he was, tried to reason with them. He noted that he, too, had served without pay. He reminded them that if they carried out their threat, they would sully all the glory they had won in their heroic effort to free the American colonies from English rule.
Finally, after failing in informal debate to convince them, Washington then began reading a letter from a congressman. But as he read, he stumbled over the words and finally had to stop. He reached into his pocket and pulled out something his men had never before seen: a pair of spectacles. He begged their indulgence saying, "Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself going blind."
These words of humility made the soldiers begin to weep. After Washington left, they agreed to give Congress more time. Thomas Jefferson later remarked that "the moderation and virtue of a single [man] probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."
In these demanding times, when the roots of democracy are being threatened not only by terrorists and rogue states, but by the venality of some of our elected leaders, it may be wise to reflect on Washington’s words.
No matter what country we live in, no matter in what form our human rights are organized by the government that represents us and does our business as free peoples, somewhere in each national history there has been suffering, sacrifice and hardship endured in order to gain our present state of liberty.  
In every case, there has been a leader whose character, more than all the education and technology available, has marked the path and led the way.  
It was Washington’s character that earned the admiration and trust of his soldiers and officers. His humility, coupled with a reminder of the price he himself had paid for freedom, led his men to reason.
This is a lesson we need to relearn. Now rather than later.  A nation, a world, needs leaders who, by their own example of virtue and character, inspire sacrifice for the common good.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Reluctant Dragon GOP Wannabes

AP reports that Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, says he’s more inclined than not to run for President in 2012. Newt added that he’s been talking to friends and thinking about running, and he has come to believe that “it’s doable” but he won’t make a decision until February or March.
Gingrich also added in his interview with “Fox News Sunday” that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is probably the frontrunner because of his campaign structure and that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is the most popular of the would-be GOP presidential candidates. Gingrich says he’s competitive and somewhere in the bunch.
I didn’t make that up, dear readers, it came from Newt’s own mouth.
It reminds me of Mickey Rooney movies with Judy Garland when he’s being urged to run for school president or some such thing and he stammers and digs his shoes into the ground while he says, “Aw, shucks, if you really think I could win....”
Come on, Newt, you can do better than that, and the GOP deserves better. The Party doesn’t need a reluctant dragon. We’ve got enough problems with a divided Congress and a sitting President to beat. It’ll take guts and passion - not an “Aw, Shucks” attitude.
For some figures on where the potential candidates are with their fundraising :
Sarah Palin’s and Gingrich’s PACs both out-raised Mitt Romney in the mid-October to mid-November period. Palin raised $469,000 and Gingrich $314,000. Romney raised $285,000.
But, all these candidates have multiple fund-raising capabilities - Palin has her books and speaking tours, Romney has various state PACs and Gingrich has his American Solutions 527 group. These efforts have raised more than the PACs.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, also a popular potential candidate, has a PAC that raised $108,000.
The Republican Party has a lot of wannabes. Which one will get the nod and the nomination? It’s a sure bet that we won’t know that answer until the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries kick off the sorting process.
It was interesting that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, himself often mentioned as a possible candidate, said this weekend that Sarah Palin has a clear chance of becoming the candidate and has the attributes needed to be a great president. Sounds like he’s looking for the VP slot with Sarah, doesn’t it?
My vote for honesty, though, goes to Haley Barbour, who simply said that he won’t announce yet because he wants to see “if somebody has a better chance of winning than I do.”  It’s not often that a politician, and one as savvy as Barbour, speaks so forthrightly.
That breath of fresh air might just make me an early fan of Barbour, who at least isn’t in the “Aw, Shucks” school.

Wikileaks Comments

A reader from the USA thinks that I may be out of touch with the general feeling of insecurity and perhaps even anxiety in America caused by the classified documents being published by Wikileaks.
My comment was :
I agree with you, but I think that after some time, even classified documents will cease to shock. You might even ask why so many document need to be classified in the first place. Maybe because it's a cushy job for some office of Washington bureaucrats. In any event, the cat's out of the bag, and we're never going to put it back in unless the US government resorts to the Chinese approach of cyber attacks on unfriendly or too-free websites. That smacks of police statism. And it is one of the real dangers vis-à-vis Wikileaks - that these releases will have just the opposite of the intended effect and lead to state policing of all our until-now protected communication. The Federal Communications Commission chairman has just announced that he'll seek new restrictions on internet activities, without, as he promises, curtailing any of our freedoms in using the internet. Watch out below!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wikileaks Revisited

I just cannot make up my mind where I stand vis-à-vis Wikileaks and its recent efforts to reveal everything we already suspected but couldn't prove about most governments today.
Clearly, there will be substantial outfall for diplomacy. Is that a good or a bad thing? Making diplomats a little more cautious about what they say and how they advise their governments could be a "good." On the other hand, all these revelations might make international cooperation much more difficult because of the fear that every comment will end up on the front page of the New York Times. By and large, on this issue, I don't think Wikileaks makes much difference. Diplomats will do what they have to as their governments make demands on them. Wikileaks' seeming focus on the United States might skew the diplomatic scene for Washington for a time, but not forever. The affairs of state will continue around the world.
The military leaks are of a different nature. And here, I class puportedly diplomatic leaks involving covert operations on the ground in war zones. There will almost certainly be deaths and capture with torture. And, there will be fear. Fear of helping one side or another in the conflict. Fear of being an outcast in one's own country. Fear of death. Fear of being abandoned by the very side one was trying to help. To this, add the idea that such Wikileak revelations could be considered espionage, making their publisher subject to US or other law on the subject. The proof would be rather easy. The real problem would be to get jurisdiction over the person since espionage is not an extraditable offense in many countries, although an unintended consequence of the Wikileaks episode may be that many governments rush to make espionage an extraditable offense. However, for the time being, the "espionage" could continue even after a legal proceeding started. But, here, I am opposed to the publication by Wikileaks, or anyone else.
As for revelations threatened to be coming later, mostly about a major US bank, I suppose we'll just have to wait and see what is revealed and what the reaction is. But it is easy to imagine that Wikileaks will eventually publish embarrassing revelations of a personal nature, thus becoming the latest "L.A. Confidential." We already know how to respond to these leaks. We devour them as the day's candy and then ignore them for the most part.
That brings me to some basic questions: Should an entity like Wikileaks be allowed to exist? Is there any social value in its publication of private or "secret" information?
I will certainly be writing more on these questions as we watch the tale unfold, but here are a few preliminary thoughts.
1. Because of today's technology, shutting down a Wikileaks-like entity permanently will be almost impossible. Governments have already tried to block Wikileaks from internet servers based in their country, and the result has been that Wikileaks jumps to a server in another country. The nature of the internet is that information is free and should be available to everyone. In itself, that is not a bad thing. Information is power, the kind of power people need if they are to be good citizens, alert to the hidden agendas of their governments and ever ready to bend their government back to the purposes it was created to fulfill. That is an eternal and never-ending battle - the freedom and political power of citizens in the face of governments that often lie or badly damage the truth to bend their citizens to the government's will.
2. The social value of information, any kind of information, lies in its ability to improve society, thereby helping ordinary people to live better lives. Technology plays a major role in this. Wikileaks types of entities may be the price we will have to increasingly pay for our freedoms. One day, their "leaks" will be just like the morning news headlines, a "ho-hum" after we have quickly evaluated the quality and real value of the leak.
So, we may be entering a new age of information, but it will undoubtedly not have as dire consequences as we expect from our vantage point today.