Monday, January 31, 2011

Arab World Unrest and the West

As I watch events in Egypt and Tunisia, I can understand their origins, as well as any European or American can.
The unrest was, is and will be caused by police state controls on personal liberty, by lack of democratic elections, by unemployment and its resulting unsupportable poverty levels, and by a young generation that has been educated but has no outlet for its skills and knowledge. The result is built up tensions in society that finally explode, largely because today there is the Internet and its social networking that enables people to organize without meeting. The goal of the demonstrators is to remove repressive dictators and replace them with governments that represent the people being governed.
If we think about it, a lot of the same things are going on in Europe and the United States, where people are demonstrating and demanding more responsive governments. There is little violence because western governments are democratic and so there is a mechanism for the people being governed to replace their leaders with ones that are more to their liking.
But, there is one big difference between the Arab world and the West.
The Arab world is governed by very right-wing rulers, for the most part. People are ostensibly free to do what they like and to live and work where they can, but the ruling group watches them for signs of deviation from the calm that supports the regime. Those who would agitate against the rulers are jailed, tortured or otherwise silenced. When the control is too much to bear, revolt follows, massive revolt as we see today because  it can be organized without the organizers being arrested before sizeable demonstrations can begin.
In the West, we are governed from the left, primarily, with America the exception until 2008 with the election of Barak Obama. So, we are free to demonstrate, to petition, to vote and to re-frame how our governments work.
But, in Europe and America today there is social unrest. People want less government intervention in their everyday lives, more and better jobs, less taxation, and a government that is more to their liking.
So, Arabs and Westerners are moving toward the center - Arabs from the right and Westerners from the left. Will we meet one day? It is hard to say, but the tendencies are clear. Less government, more personal freedom and fulfillment, less onerous burdens, whether by relief from high taxes and unnecessary regulation or simply having a job and being able to feed and house our families. The days of big, intrusive  government are weighing heavily on humanity and something will have to give.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt and America

We all continue to watch with apprehension and fascination the events unfolding in Egypt.
Fascination because we are fellow democrats who honor personal liberty and defend the right of all people to choose their own government, and so we watch and hope and pray that the Egyptian people will manage to free themselves of a government that they feel oppresses them and create one that will be fair and serve their cultural sense of liberty.
Apprehension because Egypt is in a uniquely important location and its future is, in a real sense, the future of us all. Pharaohs fought to keep their Red Sea shores free of enemies so that culture and commerce could thrive. The Red Sea is today no less important. The West's oil passes through it and the Suez Canal controlled by Egypt. Our effort to maintain Israel as a free and independent Jewish state depends on the Red Sea’s availability for military purposes. 
We might add that a relatively stable Middle East depends on Egypt's balancing position between the Arab world and Israel. For the stability of EgyptAmerica has placed its bet on the Egyptian army, which receives weapons, equipment, training and money from the United States.
If the Army finds a way to calm the demonstrators and ease the government into a compromise, if the Army can convince the world that the compromise will maintain the status quo in the region, if the Army can avoid the natural instinct to form a military regime instead of letting the Egyptian people decide upon the form of their government...if all this happens, the Middle East will remain at least as stable as it is today. No threats from the Saudi King or anyone else concerning regional stability and condemning rioting will matter if the Egyptian Army does not achieve these goals.
The other side of this fundamental equation is the demonstrators themselves. They are middle class, intellectuals, workers, poor - all classes. But, they need a leader, or leaders, and they need to know what they want so that a conversation with the Army can begin. If Mohamed AlBaradei can fill this role, we may begin to see progress. If this does not happen quickly, the situation will degenerate into rioting and civil chaos, the first signs of which we are already witnessing in Egypt.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thomas Jefferson and Egypt

For almost 30 years, as long as Hosni Mubarak has been in control in Egypt, the United States has been trying to get him to loosen his grip and give Egyptian citizens some of the freedoms - speech and peaceful assembly above all - they deserve and have demanded.
Until this week the demands were muffled and quelled. And, Mubarak's autocratic determination to hold on to all power has been quietly acquiesed in by an America that needs Egypt because it has built its Middle East strategy around Egypt.
There are 80 million Egyptians, and 2 to 3 million of them are either police or military, most being supported with the 1.5 Billion US Dollars of annual American aid. That is the largest American aid package of any country on earth, except for Israel. Mubarak, understanding his importance, has always mouthed good intentions but held firmly to his absolute power. His governments are shams. It is Mubarak who governs absolutely and it is liberty-loving America that has looked the other way out of its perceived self-interest in keeping Egypt on its side in the Middle East.
That brings me to Thomas Jefferson, one of America's Founding Fathers who abhorred and feared powerful government and found few virtues comparable to personal liberty.
Jefferson once said, "A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both and deserve neither."
It is easy enough to apply that truism to Egypt and most of the Middle East.
But, think about it in terms of the United States. We have for generations traded liberty for order in South America and it has won for us the disgust of most Latin Americans who have chosen, instead, to do business with Russia and China. Only in Cuba, where we have stood up for freedom for 60 years, are we really respected.
Shift to the Middle East. Since World War II, we have made our bed with autocratic rulers all over the region. They take our money and depend on our military presence for their continued existence, but their rule has fostered rebellious youth and crafty terrorist movements. Only in Israel, where we are on the side of freedom, are we respected.
What are we to do? Continue to support autocrats who do not even understand the word "liberty." Maybe it is too late for anything else. But maybe, if we begin to refuse the trading of liberty for order in other countries, we might have a chance to regain our stature as the protector of liberty everywhere, even in the Middle East. Of course, that would mean developing our own natural resources and foregoing our soft dependence on Arab oil. But, we would sleep better at night, and we could then stand up firmly beside our natural allies,  including those repressed Middle East citizens who are crying out for liberty.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Timothy Geithner Condemns His Own Policies at Davos

Today at the Davos Economic Forum, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told his audience that the debt profile of the United States is not sustainable in the long term.
I feel sure that gives great comfort to every American, and probably to a lot of her enemies, as well.
Why, Oh why, tell me, dear readers, would an American Secretary of the Treasury reveal that he does not agree with the fiscal policy he is responsible for? Could it have been a moment of unfettered truth-telling while speaking before an international audience which does not vote? Or did he read the wrong speech - was it really the lecture he was preparing to give to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in order to make him stop the printing presses that are making of the American fiscal position a house of cards?
Surely, the President knew what Geithner was going to say. No political appointee speaks publicly without Secretarial clearance (for sub-secretary appointees, as I was) or by the White House for Secretaries.
So, (1) what message were Geithner and Obama sending, and (2) to whom?
If the answer is (1) stop printing money, and (2) the recipient was Bernanke, wouldn't a phone call have worked much better, and without once again throwing the American fiscal mess up for worldwide viewing.
But, if the answer is (1) we know what we are doing and we're going to continue until it works or we are finally bankrupt for lack of government bond buyers (e.g., China), and (2) the recipient was China, which is footing the bill for our printing presses, wouldn't a phone call have been better so that China's dilemma was not thrown up once again for all the world to see.
Europe is gliding down the same path we took after Obama was elected, because of the recent sale of government bonds of Eurozone countries - bonds that aren't backed by anything more solid than the words of Jean-Claude Trichet, European Central Bank president, and Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, whose own court system is now considering whether she even has the right to put up good German money to prop up the Eurozone. In Europe, it’s both China and Japan who are buying. Was Geithner trying to tell the Eurozone it's all right. America is doing it and you can, too?
Maybe Tiny Tim just got ahead of himself, not for the first time. Maybe he just swung from the hip without understanding the impact of his statement -  such as gold's price rising this afternoon and Wall Street falling after a few days of decent results that gave many analysts hope that a recovery was honestly underway.
Perhaps Geithner doesn't care about recovery. Maybe he wants to walk down the path to oblivion. Maybe he doesn't even care if he takes America with him.
But, Tim, a lot of us do care. So, please do two things for America : (1) shut up, and (2) stop spending and find a less expensive way to create jobs - like freeing up American businesses from regulation and heavy taxes and the Obamacare burden so they can create the jobs that your printing presses cannot.
Oh, yes, there is something else you could do. Resign. Let somebody who actually understands the problem have a try at solving it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Casey Pops for President and Why We Chose Wrong with Obama in 2008

Thank you bunches, dear reader, for your comment. I'd love to be president. At least I'd have a clue what my job description is. If Mr. Obama only had a faint idea what he's supposed to be doing, America would be a lot better off today. But, let's face it. We made a BIG mistake in 2008.
The election of Barak Obama was wrong-headed and ill-advised.
Wrong-headed and ill-advised because we knew he wasn't saying anything specific, but merely mouthing platitudes about change and brotherhood. It used to be that every presidential candidate waxed poetic about "Mother, the flag and apple pie" but Obama switched to "Change and brotherhood."
Let me be clear, change happens, as the Swiss insurance commercial says, but it's not always for the better. Take the Edsel, or the American Basketball Association, or beehive hairdo's. Change for the better with Obama? I don't think so.
So, what exactly was Obama talking about? We now know, much to our sorrow and disgust, what he meant.
Spending our way into the oblivion of collapsed nations in order to give health care to 30 million people while ignoring the fact that 300 million people are happy with their present private health care. 
Riding roughshod on America by regulating every corporate effort to create jobs.
Playing fast and loose with our security by freeing Guantanamo Bay detainees to be tried in civil courts.
Refusing to inch even slightly to the middle to accommodate the will of the American people. And in case you missed it last Tuesday, he has not changed his stripes, he has only altered his words to try to cover his tracks for the future. Do not be fooled again.
Let me also be clear about brotherhood. America is built on it. We made it happen while the rest of the world was still trying to decide whether women and blacks could vote. We advanced the status of both these groups with the support of government, corporations and communities all over the country. Voters have elected female and black judges, mayors, congresspeople, governors and a president. Corporate America has named women and blacks to their boards of directors, chosen them as vice presidents and CEOs and thereby helped all of us turn the corner against prejudice once and for all.
Do not believe Americans are racist or chauvinist. Americans come from all corners of the planet and represent every religion, as well as no religion. We have built our country on their individual and collective efforts and we do not need to apologize to anyone. 
Where are the black or female national presidents or corporate CEOs in the rest of the world? India had Indira Ghandi, Liberia has Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the Scandinavian countries now have equality in corporate boards and in government, but it took quotas to get there. Don't even bother looking in the rest of Europe, except for Switzerland where a majority of the national governing council is now female. Blacks? Forget it.
So, do not be fooled by Obama's preachy words about making America more "fair". We lived the word before he came along. If you're a "minority" there is only one place to be - America. And Barak Obama had nothing to do with making it that way. He only benefitted.
So, get out there and be active. Help candidates. Tell both the GOP and Democrat Party what you want. Hold their feet to the fire till they shape up because I'm afraid that politicians will be politicians, some tea partiers included.
And, for goodness sake, quit feeling guilty and powerless. America built the modern world. Let's not stop now. We've still got a big job to do pulling all of America up to its best, helping Africa become a full world member, finding ways to empower Arabs to take control of their lives and nations for good instead of dictatorship and terror, giving Asia the strong support it needs in order to live in the shadow of China with its as yet unspoken, and therefore menacing, agenda for the future. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Modest Suggestions about the Real Obama State of the Union Address


Last evening, President Obama spoke to a rather subdued congressional gathering about tax reform and budget freezes.
These are both laudable goals but he almost completely missed the point.
Put aside the GOP response, equally lacking in vision, and Michele Bachman’s grab for TV time, and what’s left is a ho-hum "do it as we’ve always done it" address.
What could America do to bring back its world class economy?
My list is short but requires a lot of difficult decisions.
1.   Re-write the corporate tax code so that American corporations can compete with developing country labor costs. This means that the federal government will have to bankroll American corporations’ payroll costs in the form of tax relief until the benefit kicks in with increasing worldwide sales. Any first-year accounting student could keep tabs on progress and decide when each corporation should start feeding into the federal coffers a part of the benefit it has received - a part but to all.  If we can subsidize tobacco growing, surely we can subsidize our market system, labor included.
2.   Get serious about technology and the educational system required to grow technical pre-eminence. Pay top high school graduates to go to university and pay their professors to include them in research projects. The government cost will be recouped many times over as we once again become the world’s technology leader and our products (think hardware, software, communications systems, disease control breakthroughs, energy source development (no ethanol ideas please, let farmers use their land for what it does best - feeding people), agricultural improvements, and 21st century weapons systems.  
3.   Scrap antitrust laws that were meant to control the early 20th century business model and actually encourage companies and entrepreneurs, with the government’s financial help, to work together to develop world class innovations.
4.   Roll back Obamacare and replace it with a private health care system that opens the interstate market for health insurance, caps what doctors and hospitals can do as tests and procedures without prior insurer approval, caps medical malpractice (both in what can be claimed as damages and what can be charged as insurance for the medical profession), and gets the government out of the active control of Medicare and Medicaid by funding a private mechanism that will then manage the systems and report to Congress and the American people annually.
5.   Reduce individual taxes in the framework of a new tax code that is actually understandable and that permits Americans to use their money to create businesses, add to their savings, fund innovation by investing in start-ups and research-based corporations, and creating retirement nest eggs for their later use.

All of the above could really be captured in one phrase - get the government out of the way so that Americans can go about what they do best - innovation and marketing.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Perfect Obama State of the Union Address

Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon with predictions about what President Obama's State of the Union Address will contain and what will be left out. Frankly, I think we ought to go about it another in way. What would be the perfect address? Here's my view.

"Mr. Speaker, members of the House, Senators, honored guests.
I am happy to be invited here tonight to talk to the American people about the state of their Union.

Let me say, first, that the state of the Union is solid in several respects:
  - Americans are more than ever involved in their nation and in its government.
  - The country has turned the corner of one of the most difficult economic periods in its history and Americans are now more optimistic than they have been in several years.
  - America's position in the world has firmed up and we are once more looked upon with respect when we offer our opinions and suggestions on the world stage.

Now, for myself, I would like to speak frankly tonight to all my fellow citizens. I use that phrase deliberately because while we are together this evening, my White House staff is preparing for the release of my birth certificate, which will once and for all put to rest the notion that I am not an American.

I was elected in 2008, with a comfortable majority. I want to thank all of you for your vote of confidence. However, after two years of trying to govern by putting in place the programs I think necessary to move our country ahead, I have come to realize that somehow, back during the 2008 campaign, we didn't communicate very well. I was saying one thing and you were hearing another. This communication mis-match has led to a severe disfuntioning of the office of President and of the legislative branch.

First, I have always been a Democrat leaning to the left side of my party. Somehow, my message made you believe that I am more moderate that I really am.

Second, I have always proposed programs that are socially based, that is, programs that aid people more than they help corporate or middle class conservative America. But, this message seems to have been misunderstood, and when I actually began to implement these programs, you were shocked and dug in to stop me.

Third, in order to carry out my programs, I and my party have run up what the majority of Americans consider to be unsupportable debts and this has both angered and frightened the great majority of you.

It took me some time to get the message, but I believe that I now fully understand what you want from me and your federal government.

In the next 18 months, I promise to work with the majority in the House and with you, the American people, to bring my views and yours together in ways that will help America realize its potential, both economically and socially, and at costs the American taxpayer can afford.

Next January, I will give an accounting of what we were able to do together in 2011. If it was good for America and good for you, its citizens, perhaps you will consider re-electing me. I hope so.
Thank you, God bless you and God bless America."

Well, dear readers, we can dream, can't we. And, as Abraham Lincoln once said, "My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Obama's Birth Certificate - Yet Again

Rush Limbaugh is again calling for the President to release his birth certificate.
For the moment, the White House has not commented.
If this sounds like deja vu, you bet it is.
I cannot for the life of me explain why the President is not releasing the birth certificate.
If he has something to hide, let's get it out in the open and be done with it.
If he was not born in the United States, let's get it over with before the next election campaign begins, because if Mr. Obama thinks he can stonewall again, as he did in 2008, he is totally wrong. Americans have the ABSOLUTE right to know where their president was born - any president, not just the current one. And, in 2012, the demand to know will outweigh and overshadow any other topic.
This is no longer just a bunch of wacko's who would like to de-seat Obama. It is a matter of national security and national interest. Americans are not dumb or lazy. They have done everything possible to get the information themselves. It is not possible because of Hawaii law.
So, now it is the turn of Mr. Obama to prove he is the stuff presidents are made of by releasing the birth certificate himself.
If he has not done so out of misplaced pride or the belief he is above mainstreet alley fighting, he is wrong. If he is playing a game because it is amusing to him and he believes he cannot be defeated, he is wrong.  Americans will win. They always have when it to comes to knowing all about their president and they will win this time, too. Mssrs. Nixon and Clinton are proof.
Just one last thought - a week or so ago, the White House ordered the elimination of the names of father and mother from all US passports. The explanation is that listing father and mother could embarrass children adopted by gay couples. Could it really be that Barak Obama does not want the names of his own father and mother showing up on his passport?
Mr. President, as Casey Stengel used to say, it's not over till the fat lady sings. Right now, she is dead silent and you ought to be very worried.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The "1999" Chinese Stealth Bomber

The Serbs have finally said publicly that when an American stealth bomber was shot down over Serbia in the 1999 war, the pieces were picked up by local residents who sold or gave them to military intelligence agents from Russia and China.
So, now we can be sure that yet another case of industrial espionage has occurred and that neither Russia, who introduced their stealth bomber last year, nor the Chinese, who introduced theirs a couple weeks ago, were able to produce one without stealing American technology.
Does that mean we ought to be afraid of either Russia or China's military power?
Well, if it's a question of military technological superiority, no.
But if it's a question of calculated thievery of other people's inventions, maybe the whole world ought to be afraid. If China and Russia are so intent on equaling American military power, it must be for a practical reason and not just as a matter of misguided national pride.
And, then, there is the case of Renault in France. Three employees have been charged recently with stealing and selling electric automobile technology to the Chinese. The Chinese deny it vehemently, but Renault is sure that's what happened.
How can anyone seriously talk about a working relationship with a regime that doesn't even understand the basic points of human interaction and civility - such as buying what one needs instead of stealing it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Packers, Bears, Jets, Steelers

American pro football is nearing its climax. This weekend, the two championship games before the Super Bowl are being played.
It's the New York Jets against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh and The Green Bay Packers against the Chicago Bears in Chicago.
Now, let me say first that I'm from western Pennsylvania and grew up on pro Football  in the 1950-60s when it was just gearing up to become a mania. In the1950s, the Steelers didn't win much, but Pittsburghers were loyal fans and supported the Rooney family every hard step of the way. Then along came quarterback Bobby Layne and John Henry Johnson in the early 60s and later, could we ever forget the mythic teams in the late 60s and 70s, with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and the unforgettable (especially if you were unlucky enough to be lined up opposite them and got in their way) Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes. My mother met Holmes once and never forgot how enormous he was beside her 5-foot frame, and how gentle and kind he was, too.
Okay, nostalgia aside, I like the Steelers against the Jets. The Jets have only ever won one game at Pittsburgh and that was earlier this season. I just cannot imagine that Ben Rothlisberger will let it happen again, not in Heinz Stadium.  It will almost surely be a high-scoring game, and the man with ice in his veins, Rothlisberger, will need to pass like he always does and his defense will have to keep the Jets from scrambling for first downs. Steelers 27 - Jets 17.
In Chicago, it will be a different matter entirely. Here, I like the Packers in a lower-scoring defensive cruncher. First, they have a monstrous defense that Chicago will not be able to overcome often enough to win. Second, the Packers have a better record and momentum going for them. And, not to forget, they have Vince Lombardi. He may be gone now, but Lombardi's spirit inspires the Pack, just as it does all of American football. It used to be, long ago, on the field in South Bend, that Notre Dame won it for the Gipper. This weekend, the Pack is going to win one for the coach - Lombardi, of course. Packers 13 - Bears 10.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Henry Kissinger on China

Henry Kissinger was the guest on the Charlie Rose program Wednesday evening. Kissinger is an old man now. His speech is somewhat slower, and it is clear that he takes a little longer to formulate his thoughts and turn them into words chiselled to perfection. But, he still does it. Anyone who wants to know how the United States ought to be conducting its relationship with China need only listen to this interview.
Henry Kissinger, the architect of the opening up of China to the West and America under President Nixon, probably knows more about China, the Chinese and how they think, and what their words and actions mean, than anyone in the world outside China.
Answering Rose's question, Kissinger applied his intelligence and precision to the Obama administration's China policy. He has no basic quarrel with it - the United States needs to become a working partner with China.
How to go about it? That is his forté and where his disagreements about tactics, fundamental as they are, were sculptured into a lesson in diplomacy that everyone ought to read and re-read.
To summarize:
1. Do not be afraid of China. Like any major or rising power, it flexes its muscle to get what it wants. So does the USA. Consider that "China has not survived for 4000 years by being soft." That quote alone was worth the entire hour.
2. Do not threaten China. (Or anyone else.) China will not budge if it is backed into a corner publicly. Talk privately and in a context that will let China see the benefits to itself in following American advice.
3. Especially, do not fuss publicly about the yuan. China knows it must re-value its currency, and shouting the fact from the rooftops only makes it harder for China's political leadership to do the job. Remember that the re-evaluation of the yuan is not the entire solution to American economic problems. It will not only make Chinese exports more expensive, it will also make the Chinese people (i.e., the 800 million I talked about yesterday) suffer, and that could lead to internal political instability, something that would not be good for Asia or the world.  
4. Meet with Chinese leaders regularly, even if there are no big items to discuss. It is the only way to become at ease with each other so that in crises, the important discussions are not occasions in which Chinese or American distrust of the other gets in the way.
5. Remember that China is not an aggressive country. It does not seek to enlarge its boundaries (except for Tibet, which has been a cause for Chinese-Indian, that is, British Empire, disputes for centuries). Other Asian countries fear China not for its expansionist tendencies but for its muscular attempts to bend other Asian countries to its will by threats. That's why an American presence in Asia is important.
6. Develop a deep and enduring relationship with India - for several reasons. First, India is, simply by its existence, the best control against China. Second, America and India have common interests in Asia that need to be confronted and resolved together over the long term.
I cannot do Henry Kissinger justice, but I think I've captured his major points. Go to Charlie Rose's website and see the interview for yourself. It is well worth the time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

China and America

Events seem to be jostling this week. First, there was the inevitable shake-out on Wall Street as the market tried to find a mean before (we hope) continuing its upward march in what looks more and more like a recovery in the making. But, commodities fell on the strength of the US Dollar and on news from China that its economy is overheating and inflations is rising. While a mature economy like that in the United States can ride out minor inflationary blips, in a developing economy like China’s, where food and energy costs still make up the bulk of a family’s budget, even small inflationary rises in the cost of basics can cause anger and unrest directed at political leaders.
And that brings me to the most distressing event of all this week - the state visit of Chinese Premier Hu to America. I’m not against his visit, but I am completely opposed to the constant stream of “newspeak” and lies that accompany Mr. Hu wherever he goes.
First, America is not a declining power, as we are told ceaselessly in the American and international press. America is on the way to recovery from a very harsh economic recession, perhaps a depression except that the word is now banned. But, we are recovering. We need to get our fiscal problems in order as fast as we can so that our currency and our market can continue to drive the world’s prosperity. But, we will do this and nothing China can do in the next 100 years will match it.
China managed to avoid most of the troubles felt by the rest of the world since 2008 because her economy thrives on government management of all goods and services, and of the money that makes them work. China is loosening its economy to try to take on free market concepts, but it is still a centrally controlled economy in every sense, and controlled economies are dangerously fragile to outside shocks. Just ask the Soviet Union.
China also thrives because of cheap exports made by grossly underpaid workers and on cheap goods bought by its 800 million peasants.
Yes, 800 million peasants - who live in grossly substandard housing, have a minimum caloric intake per day, and have no prospect of improving their lot. China’s development is in the public facades of its big cities, in the growth of its export manufacturing capacity, and in the demand of its newly rich middle and upper classes for foreign “luxuries”, commonly called western goods, goods that China can produce herself only by “borrowing” the patents and protected know-how required to produce them.
If China fails to control its booming economic growth and the inflation that accompanies such growth, she will have the 800 million poor Chinese on the streets demanding money to pay for their meager food and other basic needs. China knows this and is trying to deal with it, but central control makes the job a lot harder than it would be for a free market economy. In fact, history teaches us that centrally controlled economies almost always fail to achieve greatness.
Add to this the fact that China’s one-child policy is rapidly making it a graying society. There are not enough children being born to grow up and work to feed the seniors. That could also spell a decline in its workforce capability and become another reason for social unrest. It will also mean that China will have to divert large sums of money just to care for its elderly population, money that otherwise would have gone into economic development.
And, lest we forget, China is an authoritarian state. Its political leaders control everything. Everyone who is opposed to their rule is silenced permanently or jailed.
In one of her recent speeches, Secretary of state Hillary Clinton noted that the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo is still imprisoned and said, "those who advocate peacefully for reform within the constitution . . . should not be harassed or prosecuted."
Meanwhile all the US President, himself the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, could say during Mr. Hu’s visit was, "China is a developing country with a huge population and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform....In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development, and a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights."
At least Mrs. Clinton got it right, and was almost matched by Premier Hu, who answered a White House press corps question on China’s human rights record by saying that China has a lot more work to do.
So, a developing country with 800 million peasants, a government-controlled central economy and an aging population is going to take over the United States in the next 25 years.
Believe that and you’ll also undoubtedly believe it when I say that I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I could sell cheap, if you’re interested.
But, there is another China. It is young, educated, well paid and interested in the world outside its borders. These young people are the future of China. They are on the internet and traveling as never before. They are not afraid to speak out about China's political system, softly to be sure, but China's leaders must be wary of the power of this younger generation. We should help them, reach out to them and make them aware that America and the West are eager for them to succeed, because the more they succeed, the more we will see the changes in China that we all hope for - freedom of speech, a more democratic political system and the economic growth that will assist all of Asia to grow, too. 
We should not be afraid of China's next generation, but rather help them to become the partner for good that the world wants to see. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Democracy and Surveillance Cameras

There was a report on the French TV noon news today about a city in the south of France, Sète, where the local government has installed TV cameras on a lamp pole across the street from a bakery. The cameras are wired to the Sète police station TV screens and anyone who double parks to run in and buy the all-important French baguette, gets a parking violation ticket.
For some reason, that hit me as a final straw.
Just who thinks that parking between pre-conceived lines is so important that people have to be surveyed with hidden cameras and fined for disobeying, i.e., parking outside the lines for the two minutes it takes to buy a loaf of fresh bread.
The bakery in question is losing business as any reasonable person would expect. But, then governments are not often reasonable. They take an oath of office and suddenly we are subjested to their personal world view. 'Subjected' is the right word, because citizens have nothing to say in the matter. The only recourse is to await the next election and vote for someone else, hoping against hope that that person, once elected, will be better.
Was there a crime wave in Sète, with armed bandits sweeping down on the bakery several times a day to steal bread and the money in the poor baker's cash register? Evidently no. Did the good citizens of Sète hold a town meeting to express their disgust at the parking situation outside the bakery? Evidently, no. Did they vote to install a surveillance camera in order to bring the outlaws to their knees by fining them for bad parking habits ? Evidently, no. Did they ask the bakery and people who use the street in question if they were bothered by the double parking? Evidently, no. Was anyone killed or injured because of the double parking? Evidently, no. Had they elected a mayor based on his promise to install surveillance cameras so as to rid the city of criminal drivers? Evidently, no.
What I cannot understand is why we, in France and all over Europe and America, have so meekly submitted to this Soviet tactic of spying on its own citizens in order to arrest or control them by fear tactics. Are we so unaware of our rights as free people that we do not understand that these tactics are undemocratic, that they are attempts to foist on us the sense that only police and cameras will make us safe, that we are obliged to obey the government no matter how absurd its actions may be.
It is utter nonsense that free men and women should be watched by the state and its police. George Orwell warned us, but we laughed at him. Well, dear friends, 1984 is here and we aren't even struggling to free ourselves from it tentacles.
It is enough to make one despair for the future of humanity.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Baby Doc Duvalier Returns to Haiti

Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the former dictator of Haiti, returned to Haiti yesterday, quietly and with no announced plans to do anything. He merely said he wants to help.
Baby Doc, the son of the notorious Haitian dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier, followed in his father's footsteps as president. He tortured, jailed without trial or hope of exit, and took whatever he could by whatever means required from the Haitian people, with the help of his Ton Ton Makout secret police . He was ousted in a street-led coup and went into exile in France in 1987.
But, there he was yesterday morning, emerging from an Air France flight from Paris, accompanied by his long-time girlfriend and several aides. He said nothing to the press and went directly to a "luxury" hotel where he seems to be almost holed-up. He promises a press conference this week.
France did not know he was leaving. Haiti did not know he was arriving. America is "troubled." Numerous human rights organizations are calling for his arrest by the Haitian government, if there really is one, so that he can be put on trial for his past deeds.
Haitians, more than half of whom are under 20 years old and have no memory of his dictatorship, are divided about his presence in the country.
Some Haitians say it will only make an extremely difficult situation more difficult. Others say it will make the ongoing Haitian presidential elections more confused. Older citizens remember his cruelty and fear the possibility of his regaining power. Many wonder, given the mess that Haiti has been left in by the world in general, if Baby Doc might actually help put things in order.
Rumors in Europe suggest he may be having financial troubles. If so, did he return to Haiti to clean out the tills one more time?
Does he want to be president again? Could he win an election? Would the international community tolerate this. Would his attempt to re-enter the political arena make the other ousted Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, consider returning, too?
Poor Haiti seems not to have enough troubles. It now has to endure the presence of one past dictator and the possible return of another. As my grandmother would have said, "There's good luck, bad luck, and no luck at all."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tunisia, Dictatorships and Terrorism

Ben Ali, the ousted dictator cum president of Tunisia was tolerated, and even welcomed, by western democracies during his 23-year regime. The same tolerance can be seen in the fact that the West continues to "support" Qadaffi in Libya, Mubarak in Egypt, and the systems in place in the Gulf region.
Surely, the West has not really approved of the supression of political and personal rights that keeps these dictators afloat. Surely, the West would prefer freer, more democratic states in North Africa and the Gulf.
Yet time and again, they are tolerated, even welcomed into the community of nations, much as Pinochet was in Chile, after Allende was overthrown with the help of the American CIA in the 1970s.
Is there something in these rightist regimes that makes democratic states feel more secure? We tolerated Franco in Spain and a whole region of repression in eastern Europe for forty years after World War II, while doing our best to get rid of leftist regimes in South and Central America, and in Asia.
Does democracy lean right? Probably. Does it approve of repression or torture or controlled media or exaggerated accumulations of personal wealth by rightist dictators and their cronies? Probably not, if we look at our own systems of government that guarantee freedom of the press, personal freedom and careful control of police entities so that personal liberties are maintained.
This past weekend, after the popular overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia, there were opinion pieces in Europe and America noting that he had been tolerated because his rightist regime cracked down on Al-Qaida and other Muslim terrorist groups. He did that. But, when he came to power in 1987, where was Al-Qaida? It wasn't even on the map back then.
When the American CIA decided it had had enough of Allende's popular leftist regime in Chile, where was Muslim terrorism? It didn't exist in Chile then and it still does not.
Perhaps in North Africa, where leftist terrorists have threatened to overpower several governments, especially in Algeria, and where rightist dictators have ruthlessly suppressed their adherents, we westerners have looked the other way, feeling more comfortable with dictators than with the possibility of extremist control of North Africa, especially in Egypt, whose fall into Al-Qaida hands would threaten the very existence of Israel.
But, now we have the inspiring spectacle of a popular overthrow of a rightist regime in Tunisia, something that the West thought impossible, always fearing a takeover by leftist Muslim fundamentalists instead. Other dictators in the region are surely wary, fearing that they may be the next targets. In Libya over the weekend, no mention was made of Ben Ali's ouster in the government-controlled press or television. But, Qadaffi knows the youth of his country are restless, and so does the King of Morocco and Egypt's Mubarak. Their young, educated populations are restless for what they see on the internet - more freedom and greater personal wealth.
The results are not in yet in Tunisia. We don't know if the promised elections will produce a democratically inclined president and government or just more of the same from Ben Ali's party, which still exists even though he's gone.
Perhaps a little more active support from America and Europe would help the people of North Africa to achieve their goal of personal freedom and representative government. Popular French political analysts are already saying that America got one up on France by commenting early in support of the young Tunisians who made a "jasmine revolution" as they call it.
But, we all need to be aware of our rightist tendencies, and remember that educated people more often than not make the right decision, given the chance.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Martin Luther King

This weekend Americans are celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a great man, a necessary man in the history of America, for he marched and preached and went to jail until we finally understood that racial segregation would not and should not work. His assassination, horrific as it was on that fateful day in Memphis, was almost the final sacrifice required of Martin Luther King, for with it America turned in earnest to walk the hard road of desegregation.  We have used his “I have a dream” speech so often for so many situations that it has become almost trivial, but the truth he spoke on the Mall in Washington on the 28th of August, 1963, deserves to be read and studied continually for its message of brotherhood and its vision of the best that America can be. Here is the full text. Take time to read it. You won’t be disappointed. You may even learn something about America on the 16th of January, 2011.

         I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
         But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
         In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
         We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
         It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
         But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
         The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
         We cannot walk alone.
         And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
         We cannot turn back.
         There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
         I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
         Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
         And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
         I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
         I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
         I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
         I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
         I have a dream today!
         I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
         I have a dream today!
         I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

         This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
         With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
         And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
         And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
                Free at last! Free at last!
                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pope John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI announced yesterday that Pope John Paul II will be beatified on May 1st. The news has brought joy to millions of Catholics and people of good faith everywhere, who recognized in John Paul a holy man of unique proportion in the 20th century. John Paul was a man of the people, rich and poor, young and old, healthy and ill, Christian and not. He struck a chord in the hearts of all those who search for goodness and compassion in their fellow men. He suffered greatly and shared his suffering with us so that we could see that it makes us more humble, more human, more trustworthy. When he died on the 2nd of April 2005, it was as if a little of each of us had passed away with him.
But, John Paul's legacy lives. The man who inspired Poland to begin its emancipation from Soviet rule and thereby brought down the Soviet Union, the man who rallied millions of young people with the words, "do not be afraid", the man who visited more countries than anyone else in the 20th century, that man is still with us. His photo, with those kindly and wise eyes, is enough to melt our hearts and make us realize just how saintly he was.
The cries of 'santo subito', sainthood now, in St. Peter's Square during the days between his death and funeral made it clear that he had touched something in us that no one else had done. The daily procession of visitors to his tomb in the crypt below the sanctuary of St. Peter's Basilica has made it necessary, finally, to move his tomb up to the portico so that more people can pass by and visit him each day.
We moderns are not used to sanctity. We have not often seen it. We are taught that it belongs to another age, that it died with the unchallenging religious spirit of the Middle Ages. But, those views are wrong and John Paul is the proof. Sanctity exists, not just in John Paul but in every person who strives to do good, to be kind, to reach out to others, to find the human goodness in everyone, even, for John Paul, in the man who shot him.
So, dear friends, don't give up on humanity. Hold fast to your ideals and try, despite everything, to let them work in your lives every day. That is John Paul's legacy and his wish. It is the best and only adequate tribute we can pay him.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Do Belarus and Tunisia Have in Common ?

They are dictatorships hiding out in democratic trappings.
Belarus, where a recent election gave more than 90% of the vote to the incumbent, and where most of the opponent candidates were tossed in jail, has recently also tossed out the Organization for European Security and Cooperation, which was sent to monitor the "election." The world is waiting for the first serious response from either the UN or a major democracy.
Tunisia is now in the throes of a full blown insurrection against its president, Ben Ali, who has been re-elected at every (unopposed) election in the last 23 years. In the past month, students and graduates who cannot find work have been marching in protest of the repressive regime. The protests spread throughout the country and turned violent in the past week. Tunis, the capital, is now under martial law and police and military have been given the order to fire on anyone opposing one of their orders. Tanks are trying to maintain some semblance of public order while a 6 pm to 6 am curfew was just announced several hours ago. Ben Ali has also promised new legislative elections and his own retirement at the end of his current term that expires in 2014. The marchers are not satisfied, given Ben Ali's past record of announcing one thing and doing another. The world is watching and warning citizens on holiday in Tunisia to be careful. No serious commentary from the UN or any major democracy has yet been made.
I raise these situations, to remind us that Ivory Coast, where two candidates got about 50% of the vote each, and who have both declared themselves president, are continuing to try to work out the problem through negotiation and compromise. There has been some street violence, but it has been minor. The world knows that the UN and every major democracy has chosen sides concerning Ivory Coast and has told one of the candidates to step down, while applying diplomatic pressure by refusing him and his group visas, and by freezing that group's bank accounts outside Ivory Coast.  
Is there a hint of favoritism and unequal treatment here? Seems highly likely to me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

America and the 911 Healing Process

I have been watching American and British TV coverage of the Tucson shootings since they occurred last Saturday, up to and including the President's Memorial Service last night in Tucson.
I went to the University of Arizona for two years and the places and names are familiar to me. They brought back memories of a real southwestern city, not too big, but big enough for Americans, Mexicans and American Indians, now called native Americans, to live together in harmony. The University,with its mission bell tower where we all celebrated each football or baseball victory, was a melting pot for Arizonans and Californians mostly, with some native Americans and Mexicans tossed in.
Tucson was bustling in the early 1960s. It had a downtown with a large department store named Goldwaters (that's right, Barry's family). It had wide open streets that stretched straight and long through town and into the desert.
The desert defines Tucson, really. It is a hot, dry marvel of a wilderness  that changes with every season, to display huge fields of spring desert flowers, rampaging arroyos of water when the rains come, and sunsets that no word or photograph can do justice to.
Tucson was a bastion of leather-skinned ranchers and retirees who played golf every day and drank tequila or Superior beer with real Mexican toasted tortillas and hotter than hot sauce every evening. The best restaurants were haciendas that served Mexican cuisine of an authenticity unlike anything Easterners raised on Taco Bell can imagine. Some were in town and many were on the edges of the desert, so that an evening meal became an encounter with visions that seemed to come from a southwestern art gallery.
The center of the downtown was owned by the regional Indian nation, Yaqui if my memory serves me right, and you could stroll along and engage them in vibrant conversation on any given afternoon. You could also buy real Indian silver jewelry from their street market, some of which I still possess and cherish.
If John Wayne could have picked his birthplace, it surely would have been Tucson.
So, what happened Saturday last in Tucson hurt me. It cut deep into my memories and made me realize that tragedy can rear its ugly head, even in a peaceful southwestern town.
And the national reaction, so sincere and so profoundly innocent, made me wonder how events in a local corner in southern Arizona, tragic and reprehensible as they were, could spawn such genuine grief and soul-searching across the entire nation.
I'm not a psychiatrist or sociologist, so I have no professional explanation to offer.
But, I deeply believe that it is a symptom of the continuing shock to the American conscience and psyche caused by 911. No other explanation makes sense to me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sarah Palin's Statement about the Tucson Shootings

Sarah Palin is an important and controversial figure in American politics. She represents a conservative vision of America that is totally rejected by most Democrats, blue dogs aside. It is often tempting to relegate her to the odd-ball sidelines of the national debate, but that is a mistake. She is a powerful spokesman for what most concede, often with great anger and disbelief, to be the majority political view in the United States today. That she was almost immediately charged with being the cause of the Tucson killings was both dishonest and sadly laughable. It is as if mental illness and deranged acts do not exist.
Below is her statement about Tucson as placed on her Facebook page. I reprint it here because it is one of the few reasonable and valid statements to appear about the tragedy that is gripping America.

" Like millions of Americans I learned of the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday, and my heart broke for the innocent victims. No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent, but we do mourn for the victims’ families as we express our sympathy. 
 I agree with the sentiments shared yesterday at the beautiful Catholic mass held in honor of the victims. The mass will hopefully help begin a healing process for the families touched by this tragedy and for our country.
 Our exceptional nation, so vibrant with ideas and the passionate exchange and debate of ideas, is a light to the rest of the world. Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents were exercising their right to exchange ideas that day, to celebrate our Republic’s core values and peacefully assemble to petition our government. It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day. 
 There is a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive, and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman.
 Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance. After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.
 President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.
The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future. President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections the will of the American people was heard, and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our Republic.
Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions.  And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.
 There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure.
As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote.” Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional. 
 No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.
 Just days before she was shot, Congresswoman Giffords read the First Amendment on the floor of the House. It was a beautiful moment and more than simply “symbolic,” as some claim, to have the Constitution read by our Congress. I am confident she knew that reading our sacred charter of liberty was more than just “symbolic.” But less than a week after Congresswoman Giffords reaffirmed our protected freedoms, another member of Congress announced that he would propose a law that would criminalize speech he found offensive.
 It is in the hour when our values are challenged that we must remain resolved to protect those values. Recall how the events of 9-11 challenged our values and we had to fight the tendency to trade our freedoms for perceived security. And so it is today.
 Let us honor those precious lives cut short in Tucson by praying for them and their families and by cherishing their memories. Let us pray for the full recovery of the wounded. And let us pray for our country. In times like this we need God’s guidance and the peace He provides. We need strength to not let the random acts of a criminal turn us against ourselves, or weaken our solid foundation, or provide a pretext to stifle debate.
 America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy. We will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time, to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner, and to unite in the knowledge that, though our ideas may be different, we must all strive for a better future for our country. May God bless America.

- Sarah Palin "

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is the Euro Worth Saving?

China, and now, Japan are buying the government bonds of eurozone countries.
China noted that it is in Europe to stay and that its warm breezes will help thaw the European freeze, both in climate and fiscal policy presumably. China also invested some money into the UK and will lend a British zoo a pair of pandas for ten years as a sign of friendship.
The United States has been, through Federal Reserve mechanisms, pouring dollars into Europe since 2008 in an effort to prop up European banks needing cash, and thereby supporting the Euro.
Is the Euro really worth saving? I'm not so sure, and neither are a lot of ordinary Europeans who are seeing their purchasing power and standard of living disintegrate under the Euro regime. The Euro was thrust upon them in a series of treaties that were pretty much either ratified by state parliaments without voter agreement or put to citizen votes (in Ireland they voted twice, that is, until the Irish got it right and voted yes).
The Euro is at the heart of what is wrong with today's Europe. The single currency favors only Germany, and to some extent France, because their economies are self-sustaining and export-based.
The smaller eurozone countries (Italy, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Portugal...) cannot compete with either France or Germany. Their economies are based on agriculture, or tourism, or small local industry. They cannot do what has sustained them since World War II - borrow on the international bond markets and repay as they can. Sometimes, the repayments have been supported by currency devaluations that have made it easier to repay in currencies that are worth less. Lenders have allowed this practice because they get their money back in higher interest rates charged for their bond purchases. This resulted in higher encrusted debt levels in these countries, but their citizens were happy.
Under the Euro regime, the small countries have been stymied. They can no longer devalue their currency (the Euro) because they have no control over it. They can no longer hold higher government debt levels because the treaties they were flim-flammed into accepting prevent them from maintaining a national debt burden over 3% of their Gross National Product. That is what is called national suicide - and people all over Europe are beginning to awaken to their mistake.
Will they demand that their respective countries withdraw from the eurozone? That would be difficult because of the terms of their current bond debts, but they could strike or engage in other forms of protest that might leave their governments will little choice but to withdraw or renegotiate the terms of their participation in the Euro single currency.
Germany, France and the European Central Bank (a bank that has no real power except to persuade) would have a debacle on their hands if countries demanded that the eurozone be broken up, because they are themselves lenders to the other governments. Add to that the impact if the Euro had to be replaced by the old local currencies. It could be done, but it would not be pretty or financially pleasant for anyone, least of all Germany, which has come to rely on the Euro for its export-driven economy. If Germany were to return to the Deutsch Mark, the DM would rapidly increase in value and that would be a cold wind for the German economy.
So, we wait and watch. Something will happen. What? Nobody knows the answer today.