Monday, October 31, 2011

Politics Is A Nasty Business and It Just Got Nastier

A few fine points on American politics might be in order because the media and Democratic professionals are using them to win the presidential election for Barak Obama before it even gets past the primary stage.
First, there is Mitt Romney. He’s got a problem with his Massachusetts health care legislation, but when he explains it, the facts are that he and the legislature were trying to cover uninsured residents of the Bay State without unraveling the health insurance that already covered most residents. That’s a lot different than the Obamacare (a word now outlawed in the Shakespearean literature of Congress and the federal government) that is meant to take away or jeopardize all private health insurance so that the federal government can cover all Americans at the price and with the pieces of coverage decided by federal bureaucrats.
Then, just to be sure Romney was cooked, the media decided to refer to him as often as possible as a Mormon.  Think about it. Have you EVER heard (since 19060 and the “Catholic question” around JFK) any presidential candidate referred to as a Catholic or a Presbyterian or a Methodist, or a Buddhist? Not likely. But, you might have heard some candidates referred to as social or conservative or right-to-life Christians. Perhaps because the media and Democrats don’t like these people very  much and they know for a certainty that many Democratic voters will not vote for candidates that are so labeled.
Second, there is Rick Perry. He got all the epithets tossed his way - cowboy,  southern racist, Texan (as in, “heaven forbid, not another TEXAN in the White House”), poor debater (as in, if he can't debate, he can’t be President." Says who???) and even unintelligent. Those words knocked Perry down in the polls for awhile, but he’s coming back because he and his team have cottoned on to the media and the Democratic machine and they are now better prepared to counterattack.
Fast forward to this past weekend. The conservative Republican Herman Cain was beating everyone (“Heaven forfend, even Obama”) in the pools and actually making a lot of sense. What happened? Some “unidentified source” pronounced the H word. Harassment, as in sexual. We don’t have all the facts. Maybe he was accused of sexual harassment, but so were a lot of male executives and supervisors in the 1990s. It was the bread-and-butter legal game for women who had been fired and their lawyers. I know, because I defended a few of the men myself. Most of the time, it was “Show me the money” and not a terrible tale of a life ruined, which real sexual harassment, an entirely different thing, can do big time.
I just find it interesting that no one who is a real threat to President Obama has much of a chance to avoid having a campaign of media and "old pol" smears and half-truths thrown at them.
Don’t be duped. Don’t turn your back on winners. Don’t demand a saint when what you need is a savvy President who can get America out of this horrible mess we’re in - and mayI add, thanks mostly to the Democrats and their social programs meant to keep voters on their side in the voting booth. All that began with FDR, and we could certainly write some smeary blogs about him, couldn't we? But, then he was a Democrat and the media loved him.   

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Conservative Christians Protest in Paris

The protests against the financial world’s behavior that started in New York City and spread to other major American cities are now in Europe. Berlin and London are the latest cities to see such protests.
The London protest, complete with tents and vows to stay until things change is different because it is in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the bishop and dean of St. Paul’s are trying to support the protesters while demanding that no violence will be tolerated. This 1960s-style sit-in is relatively peaceful, and the question being asked is what it will really accomplish.
But, this week there was another kind of protest in Paris. It occurred outside a Paris theatre where a play was being presented. The play is about Jesus and the protesters are conservative Catholic Christians, who protested the decision of the city of Paris to allow the play to be presented. Why? Because at the end there is a display of a painting of Jesus’ face smeared with excrement.
The protesters say that they cannot support freedom of artistic commentary when it becomes so degraded that it defames the person of Jesus Christ. One thinks immediately of the Muslims who protest against the use of the image of Mohammed in cartoons and political commentaries.
The mayor of Paris has said that the play will continue. The Catholic bishop of Paris has called the protesters people who are looking for an excuse to resort to violence against society.  
I’m not so sure about that, but I have no real information one way or the other. What I do know is that the Christian protesters are members of a very conservative group within the Catholic Church that favors the use of Latin in the Mass and wants a return to the liturgy that was used before Pope John XXIII modernized the Roman Mass.
I also know that there must be better, more sophisticated ways of expressing displeasure with Christianity, but freedom of speech often leads to insulting behavior that most find too offensive to tolerate. We remember the first American flag burnings that finally led to the US Supreme court saying that they were protected forms of speech.
The US Supreme Court will probably never get to express its opinion about the Paris play but one wonders how far the Court would go to try to accommodate free speech in the face of what the Paris protesters see as religious desecration.
It is also interesting that in France, which prides itself on its laicity and detachment from the Catholic Church, which is the preferred church of more than 90% of the French indigenous population, the protesters raised another point - that France is a Christian nation that has bent over backwards to accommodate non-Christian religions, and that now it is time to protect and nurture Christianity.  French President Sarkozy said almost the same thing last Spring in a speech, but his remarks were only casually noted in the French media.
One wonders if Christians are beginning to feel the pinch of tolerance in what they see as a lose-lose for their religion and a win-win for the others. If minority religions are treated with care in order to protect their rights, wouldn’t it be logical to say that the same rules apply to Christianity in these times when all religions are under seige?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Third Party Makes an Appearance

As if the Republican presidential wannabes didn't have enough to worry about - will Rick Perry ever debate again? could Herman Cain really win in Ohio as the latest polls suggest? should Michele Bachmann take the advice of Iowa caucus members and get out of the race? will Barak Obama spend so much money that he buries all the GOP candidates? does a flat tax, even with opt outs have any chance of getting through even a GOP Congress? - these are serious questions that no one has as yet begun to answer (well, maybe not about Michele; she told CNN last night that she wants to see the hard data on Iowans saying she's toast and Wolf "reindeer" Blitzer promised to get it and share it with her. Isn't he sweet?) . 
With all that to consider, today, we have news of a third party looking for a centrist candidate because they're "fed up" with the GOP conservatives on the debate trail. 
Guess who they're considering - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton, among others.
Bloomberg says he will not run. I believe him for several reasons. First, he'd have to leave New York City if elected and that is often terminal for real New Yorkers. Second, no New York City mayor has ever been elected president (there's a real connection with the first reason for this negative result). But, Bloomberg, astute politician that he is, realizes this and is staying out. Although he did say several months ago that if asked to be the VP, it would be hard to say no. Now, if we could get a few of the GOP debaters focus on being VP, too, (like Bachmann and Santorum) maybe we could begin to sort through those left.
But, Hillary is a different matter. She has not yet tatooed on her forehead, "NO," but she's very determined to "stay out of politics," as she puts it, after she leaves the State Department. Unlike most, she even rules out being VP. But, last week, Time Magazine had Hillary on its cover, and the editor stopped by to talk to an obliging Wolf on CNN's Situation Room. The editor waxed poetic about her. She is a super star, a diplomat-politician hors pair, the most recognized face in the world, and Time even did a straw poll to support their editor's convictions about Mrs. Clinton. If Obama ran against Romney, he'd beat him, 49-46% in last week's time frame. But, if Hillary ran against Romney, she'd win 55-38%. Now, this may mean that Hillary has the patriotic duty to run and save America.
But, it could also be sending another message. Romney, as I have firmly believed from the beginning, is not the fellow to beat Obama. Their styles are too much alike. Their views are too similar. They make noises that are so "old pol" that I wonder if either one really believes what he is saying about anything or is merely in an "I've got to win this" automatic mode.
So, the Time straw poll might really be telling the GOP to look right before crossing the street if they don't want to be run over by an oncoming black campaign bus named Obama.   

Friday, October 28, 2011

Islamists vs Democrats in the Arab Spring and the Debate Is Just Beginning

I suppose it’s safe to say that Europeans and Americans are nervous about current happenings in the Arab Spring countries.
Tunisia has imposed a curfew in Sidi, the city where the young man set fire to himself and started the Arab Spring. The curfew was put in place because Sidi residents are unhappy about the outcome of last weekend’s parliamentary elections and took to the streets to show it, burning the islamist party headquarters in the process.
Their complaints are that the islamist party was so well-organized and funded that others didn’t have a chance. They do not want an islamic state and worry that the parliament, whose major group will be the islamist party, will move in that direction, making laws that eliminate civic freedoms, especially for women, and turning Tunisia into a religious state. Tunisia has been a moderate Muslim nation, where bikinis are seen on the beaches and women can choose to wear veils or not. Religion is not forced on Tunisians and charia law is not the established law of the country.
The discomfort in the West is heightened by events in Libya, where the UN and its NATO military allies actually helped the Libyan freedom fighters win. Now, the National Transition Council has announced that charia law will be the basis of Libyan law. The NTC is trying to calm fears by saying it wants to establish a laic state with democratic freedoms guaranteed to all citizens.
We might add that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood looks set to be a major winner in the upcoming Egyptian parliamentary elections. The Brotherhood, outlawed by Mubarak’s regime, favors an islamic state but insists that it also would opt for a moderate laic government with democratic freedoms protected.
Last May 13, I wrote a blog about the Arab Spring needing time to get itself organized and seek those democratic principles and structures that make sense in a Muslim culture. That is even more true today.
But, the very fact that Tunisians have taken once again to the streets to defend their hard-won freedom, the fact that the Libyan NTC is making a real effort to calm fears about its motives and saying it wants a moderate government, the fact that Yemeni women recently burned their veils (American women burned bras to be heard, in Yemen it’s veils that make a strong statement) to show their support for reform and giving democratic freedoms to everyone - these are all positive signs.
So, let’s give the Arab Spring some time, vocal support and a show of interest in their real problems instead of jumping of the first conservative religious issue that surfaces, because I still find it hard to believe that the people who broke the back of dictatorships with their blood and lives will allow the victory to be stolen from them without a fight.
Tunisia is again leading the way. The question now being debated by Tunisians is whether to join a coalition with the islamist party or to stand in strong parliamentary opposition as a united group of moderates, laics, and democrats. That is progress and it’s beginning to sound like practical politics may be taking root. Patience is the word as we watch and do what we can to help.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What The European Union Decision on Greece Really Means

The leaders of the European Union worked through the night last night to come up with a plan to save Greece, the Euro as a currency and the banks that will take the hit to their capital required to achieve these goals.
What did the EU decide? Here are the main points from their communique:
“All Member States of the euro area are fully determined to continue their policy of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms. A particular effort will be required of those Member States who are experiencing tensions in sovereign debt markets.
“We commend Italy’s commitment to achieve a balanced budget by 2013 and a structural budget surplus in 2014, bringing about a reduction in gross government debt to 113% of GDP in 2014, as well as the foreseen introduction of a balanced budget rule in the constitution by mid 2012.
“We reiterate our determination to continue providing support to all countries under programmes until they have regained market access, provided they fully implement those programmes.
“To this end we invite Greece, private investors and all parties concerned to develop a voluntary bond exchange with a nominal discount of 50% on notional Greek debt held by private investors. The Euro zone Member States would contribute to the PSI package up to 30 billion Euro. On that basis, the official sector stands ready to provide additional programme financing of up to 100 billion euro until 2014, including the required recapitalisation of Greek banks.
“Being part of a monetary union has far reaching implications and implies a much closer coordination and surveillance to ensure stability and sustainability of the whole area. The current crisis shows the need to address this much more effectively. Therefore, while strengthening our crisis tools within the euro area, we will make further progress in integrating economic and fiscal policies by reinforcing coordination, surveillance and discipline. We will develop the necessary policies to support the functioning of the single currency area.
“The European Financial Stability Facility will have the flexibility to use these two options simultaneously, deploying them depending on the specific objective pursued and on market circumstances. The leverage effect of each option will vary, depending on their specific features and market conditions, but could be up to four or five.
“Financing of capital increase: Banks should first use private sources of capital, including through restructuring and conversion of debt to equity instruments. Banks should be subject to constraints regarding the distribution of dividends and bonus payments until the target has been attained. If necessary, national governments should provide support, and if this support is not available, recapitalization should be funded via a loan from the EFSF in the case of Eurozone countries.”
Those are the words. But, what does it really mean?
First, Europe has agreed to an extended period of austerity, including national budget reductions, layoffs of public employees, increases in minimum ages required to participate in publicly paid retirement systems, and selling off public assets such as buildings and infrastructure to put money in public treasuries. The problem with most of these ideas is that they assume a growing economy and GNP. This seems to be beginning slowly in the United States but Europe is in a zero growth situation in which public spending cutbacks will only make their economies shrink more. It’s a vicious circle - more public cutbacks and less private income and growth to make up the difference, or to provide the taxes needed to pay for anything, because Greece, Italy and Spain are flat broke. The EU has proof that this approach will not work - in Greece - but it appears ready to try, try again.
Second, the European Central Bank has agreed to use its power to deliver lending facilities to the debtor Eurozone nations, but only if there is no other choice. So, we will undoubtedly see more of the messy debt bailouts like we witnessed with the Greek situation - the EU will dither and talk until the last minute, destabilizing markets and currencies in the process, before it acts to solve each problem.
Third, Germany has won, insisting that its public treasury will not be used to bailout debtor nations.  Instead, Germany Chancellor Merkel has pushed through a deal in which private banks will negotiate with Greece (and any other Eurozone nation that can no longer borrow to pay for its governmental needs). The private banks have been told by Merkel and her parliament, by means of last night’s EU decision, that they can expect to take ½ Euro in repayments for every 1 Euro lent. So, the private banks who bought Greek bonds will take what the Europeans are calling a haircut on the $120B Greek debt they own. To rebuild their capital accounts, to cover their losses in Greek debt and surely to prepare for further “haircuts” when other Eurozone debtor nations decide that if Greece can play that game, they can, too - why not let private banks pay for the incompetent management of their economies instead of having to do it themselves??
So, the recapitalization of banks will provide a buffer for the next public sovereign debt crisis, but it will come at the expense of taking money out of the overall European economy to put it into bank capital accounts. This will be another damper on Europe’s ability to get itself moving in a positive economic direction again. Remember Lehman and its consequences for the broader American economy? That’s what we may eventually be looking at in Europe.
And, finally, there was no mention of the Euro itself, except to say that it has been saved, and these words came from analysts, not those engaged in the decision-making itself. But, until the Euro is restructured to separate industrial nations from agricultural or service industry nations -  and until these various types of nations can vary their public debt load without violating Eurozone rules set up and agreed to in the Maastricht Treaty - Europe is not going to be either stable or an economic growth region.
As James Carville said to Bill Clinton about the economy, “It’s the Euro, Stupid.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Perry Tax Plan Is Undoubtedly What America Needs

Today, as promised, it’s the Rick Perry tax plan. As Perry said when he proposed it yesterday, “My plan does not trim around the edges.”
The key points in the Perry “Cut, Balance and Grow” tax plan are:

1. Individuals would have the option to pay a 20% flat tax. They could also opt to remain in the old system, for example, (a) lower income taxpayers who get a better deal under today’s tax code, and (b) those whose personal financial planning was designed with the old system in mind.  
2. Individuals would have the right to establish retirement accounts outside the Social Security system.
3. The corporate tax rate would be reduced from 35% to 20%.
4. Taxes on dividends and capital gains would be eliminated.
5. There would be deep, but as yet unspecified, cuts in federal spending.

Perry also saves the most popular middle-class deductions - for state and local taxes, mortgage interest and charitable contributions - for those who earn less than $500,000.
“Taxes will be cut across all income groups in America, and the net benefit will be more money in Americans’ pockets with greater investment in the private economy,” Perry said to his audience of more than 200 in a small South Carolina town.
Perry is clearly courting tea party conservatives who have been reluctant to back Romney. In almost every way, he presents policies that are more conservative than those of the former Massachusetts governor. Overall, Perry’s proposal would call for much larger tax cuts and spending cuts than Romney’s proposals. It creates an even larger divide between him and Obama.  
“Fixing America’s tax, spending and entitlement cultures will not be easy. But the status quo of byzantine taxes, loose spending and the perpetual delay of entitlement reform is a recipe for disaster,” Perry said. “Cut, Balance and Grow” strikes a major blow against the Washington-knows-best mindset.”
He dismissed the view that his plan would cause greater income inequality.
“We went through, ‘what are the ways to really give incentives to those that are going to risk their capital to create the jobs?’ Those that want to get into the class warfare and talk about, ‘oh my goodness, there are going to be some folks here who make more money out of this, or have access to more money,’ I’ll let them do that,” Perry said.
But, Perry also stepped up to the budget question, calling for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and the repeal of Obamacare. Perry, like the other Republicans, calls for ending the estate tax and the repeal of a bill to reform Wall Street practices, known as the Dodd-Frank bill.
Perry’s plan makes Romney’s “trim around the edges” plan, as Perry puts it, seem more of the same old Washington heifer dust (as Perry, being Texan would probably like to add).
Perry also takes on Cain’s flat tax proposal head-on. On its face, Herman Cain’s flat tax plan is more “flat,” that is, it has fewer opt-out exceptions. And, because the individual flat tax is not optional under Cain’s proposal, those most likely to be hurt by it, primarily lower-income Americans, would suffer.
This undoubtedly makes the Perry plan more interesting as a campaign platform. For example, Cain’s plan was received very favorably until people began to consider the 9% national sales tax included in it. Americans have been saying “no” to a national sales tax for several decades, and Cain has not yet sold the idea, even to GOP voters, half of whom do not favor it, while 75% of conservatives and independents react positively to the idea of a flat tax system.   
Perry held up a single-page pocket-sized sample IRS form. That has got to get the average taxpayer’s adrenalin flowing.
Perry also called for raising the retirement age for Social Security and the Medicare benefits eligibility age, but he offered no details, saying he would work with Congress on the specifics.
“My plan balances the budget as fast as any serious plan that is being offered out there,” he said.
Perry, repeatedly attacking what he called the “federal nanny state,” said he would look to review and potentially repeal all regulations on businesses passed under the Obama administration.
“This is a change election and I offer a plan that changes the way America does business,” he said.
Amen, Governor. Now go out there and sell it to America.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Governor Perry is Conservative but He Is Not Nutty

I’ve been involved in and watched the American political scene for a long time. And, over the years, one truth has become more and more obvious. When the politically conservative point of view seems to be winning over a large percentage of American voters, the left gets out its meat axes and proceeds to bloody anyone who gets in their way.
Case in point. Rick Perry.
Now, let’s be honest. Perry has made a less than stellar beginning to his campaign. His Texas-grown staff seems not to get the message right and cannot control their candidate. And, the Governor does not help himself. He gets so tangled up in Texan vernacular phrasing that he becomes an easy target. But, hey, we know what he’s saying and what he means. Whoever said that a Boston accent was the only acceptable presidential voice, anyway.   
But I digress. Today the Washington Post jumped on Governor Perry with all the cynicism and ridicule it could muster - and that’s a lot, believe me, because the Washington Post believes that it alone has the right to call the shots in American politics. One might add that being inside the Beltway also makes the Post, itself,  a candidate for ridicule because its incestuous relationship with the federal political scene calls into question any position it takes.
To get back to Governor Perry - today, it was the birther issue. The columnists and opinion writers poured more vitriole over the man than anyone who has risen to be governor of any state at any time (the Longs of Louisiana excepted) deserves. Not only has he “found a new outlet for his fringe instincts” to quote Dana Millbank, but Millbank also dragged out Karl Rove, whom we all know is the one Republican determined to destroy Perry. And, Rove took the bait, saying, “when you associate yourself with a nutty view like that you damage yourself.”
Since most of the time, Karl Rove is also Washington Post GOP fodder, I can only assume that Millbank chose to quote him about the birther issue in an attempt to paint Perry as being even farther to the right of the GOP.
And, all of this fury was generated simply because Perry, when asked in the Sunday Parade Magazine interview if he thinks President Obama was born in the United States, said, “I have no reason to think otherwise.” The Governor actually went on to say that “it doesn’t matter” because Obama was elected.
What he might have added is that approximately one-third of Americans do not believe Obama was born in the United States. I suppose that means that one-third of us are “nutty” in our views and have found an outlet for “our fringe instincts.”
What Governor Perry might also have added is that no one has seen Barak Obama’s birth certificate. We were shown the facsimile of a “Live Birth” record.
But, if you were to take the time to read the political pages of the Washington Post today, you could find several references to the fact that Obama’s birth in the United States is a proven fact. Vox Populi (the voice of the people) - as the Romans said when the mob shouted its will in front of the Roman Senate. In a reversal of roles, today, we have the spectacle of a Washington newspaper shouting to the American people as if it were the sole keeper of their voice.   
What the Washington Post forgot in its dash to stomp all over Governor Perry was that he made a major policy proposal about taxes today in South Carolina. I'll write about that tomorrow. Frankly, my dears, I've had enough of the Post for one day.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Arab Spring Delivers a Dose of Reality

The Libyan National Transition Council, which proclaimed the country liberated yesterday, has today announced that it will quickly open discussions in order to form a transitional government within the next two weeks.
That is not news. But, the president of the NTC, Moustapha Abdeljalil, announced at the same time that Libya will henceforth be governed by charia law.
That brought veiled criticism from Europe in the form of French warnings that it will watch events closely, particularly to be sure that women are treated equally and that religious and cultural diversity is respected. The European Union called on the NTC to respect human rights.
In Libya, women were disquieted by the announcement, as were Libyan women living abroad.
The NTC president tried to re-assure the world and Libyan citizens about the imposition of charia law. "I wish to say to the international community that it should be assured that, while as Libyans we are Muslims, we are moderate Muslims…the rules of Islam represents no danger for any political party or group….It is simply that as Muslims, we have adopted the islamic law (charia) and any prior Libyan law contrary to charia is null and void.” He went on to explain that under charia, there is no possibility of divorce, that usury is abolished and that banks must henceforth operate as islamic banks. He also assured the press present in Benghazi when he made the announcement that the adoption of charia law does not mean that all current laws will be summarily overturned.
The announcement and assurances are undoubtedly cold comfort to those women, moderate muslims and non-muslims now living in Libya, as well as to those who would like to do business there. It will surely be read as a step backward, one that the United Nations and the coalition had probably hoped to avoid.
We can add to this the real probability that Tunisia’s Sunday parliamentary elections will result in a parliament led by a coalition in which the largest block is an islamist party, again a party that says it is moderate. And, since 90% of eligible Tunisians voted in an election watched over by more than 10,000 international election observers, one can hardly argue that the vote was manipulated.
So, what to make of all this. Perhaps, not much.
Let’s try a little fable - what if America had been seized by Maoists 50 years ago, its women subdued, its men treated with the harshest punishments and torture for disobeying Maoist rules. The, one day, the Arab world rose up and said, Enough. We will save our American friends. And they did, driving the Maoists out and restoring Americans to self-control. The United States was very grateful. It promised to re-establish a popular government and become a good member once again of the world community. Did America, out of gratitude to its Arab liberators, then become Muslim, knocking down churches and building mosques, telling women to wear veils, establishing islamic charia law? OF COURSE NOT. America returned to its tradition - liberal democracy, freedom of religion, equality of the sexes - in short, it became what it had always been, a western Christian-ethic democracy.
So, let’s not despair yet about the turn of events in Arab Spring countries. Give them a chance to get organized, to try to establish any form of representative government, something most have never known.
And let’s watch, as the French say, to be sure that women and religious groups and cultural minorities are not ill-treated. That, we did not intend when we agreed to help them. But, making western liberal democracies out of Muslim tribal and religious societies will probably take some time.   

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ron Paul and the Founders' Vision of America

The website title of the American Libertarian Party is, “The Party of Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom.” Strangely enough, the hero of the Libertarian Party is Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who is not running for president as a Libertarian but as a Republican.
Wikipedia defines Libertarianism as “the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society….Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs, all advocating strict limits to government activity and sharing the goal of maximizing individual liberty and political freedom.”
During the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, "liberal" ideas flourished in Europe and America; they challenged monarchy and state churches and emphasized reason, science, individual liberty, free markets, consent of the governed and limited government.
In his book, The Roots of Modern Libertarian Ideas, Brian Doherty, a libertarian journalist who has appeared on CNN and Fox News, explains that “…the libertarian vision is in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal; no one ought to have any special rights and privileges in his social relations with other people. We have certain rights—to our life, to our freedom, to do what we please in order to find happiness. Government has just one purpose: to help us protect those rights. And if it doesn’t, then we get to “alter or abolish it.”
Doherty goes on to say, “It’s hard to imagine a more libertarian document, but there it is, the Constitution: a sacred founding document of the United States of America. Libertarians…clearly understood that state power is forever trying to overwhelm political liberty and that they needed to be diligent in its defense.…American revolutionaries were, as the Declaration of Independence states, fighting not just for the historic rights of Englishmen but for the natural rights of all mankind. Americans had, too, a fresh vision of civic virtue. Virtue was no longer, as in classical times, based only in participation in affairs of state. The new virtue…flowed from the citizen’s participation in society, not in government, which the liberal-minded increasingly saw as the principal source of the evils of the world….Commerce, that great emollient of social ills, that creator of wealth and happiness, was breaking free of the old contempt that dogged it. Americans were to enjoy a great commercial republic, a society steeped in libertarian principles.”
Today’s American Libertarian Party is the United State’s third largest political party. Its vision is for a world in which individuals can freely exercise the natural right of sole dominion over their own lives, liberty and property….”
I suppose, dear readers, that you are wondering why I chose today to champion libertarianism, especially since I am a life-long Republican.
It is very simple. Ron Paul was on Meet the Press, the American NBC weekly political program, and as always, when I hear Ron Paul speak, I cannot help but agree with him.
Congressman Paul, at 76, is retiring from Congress but he is making one last effort at the US presidency. His views are clear. He focuses on the right problems (jobs, eliminating useless regulations, cutting way back on government budgets and on the taxes that support them). And, he is willing to discuss the real 2012 issues - not, as he put it, dwelling on who cuts Mitt Romney’s lawn.
I suppose Ron Paul does not have a chance of being elected President, but, as I mentioned a few blogs ago, we ought to be paying attention to him.
And, if we cannot elect Ron Paul, who? That is a mightily entangling question. But, if I had to choose, I would say, Herman Cain or Rick Perry, or maybe the two on the same ticket, running for President and Vice President- you choose who gets which office.
As Ron Paul so eloquently put it this morning, we have real, serious problems to confront. They are destroying our economy and our way of life nad the world. If we don’t act now, it will be too late.
I may be in the minority, but I do not believe that Mitt Romney can beat President Obama. I do not believe that they are very different - both support big government, taxation to solve the debt problem in stead of lowering the government’s budget, and dropping American troops into any dark corner of the world that is experiencing internal political problems.
Perry and, especially Cain, are not of these views. Perhaps with American citizen support they actually could make a difference. Before it’s too late.
Thomas Jefferson understood:
“Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the limits of the law,” because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sarkozy-Hollande and Obama-Romney in the Battle for the Political Center

Four thousand French left-leaning political activists, the Socialists and other leftist French political parties, made it official today at their party convention. Francois Hollande has been named as their candidate to face Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 French presidential election next Spring.
In his acceptance speech, Hollande characterized himself as a moderate, a centrist, who can bring the French people together, who can bridge the differences and put the entire country to work at curing its economic and social malaise.
And, Hollande is probably right. He is the politician the most likely to be able to do this. Why? Because he’s a moderate. So, the extreme left can support him even if they would have preferred a Socialist candidate who shared their world view, one in which green is extremely important and corporations and banks are dangerous actors to be watched and managed for the good of the nation.
Hollande is not of that school. His focus has been on trying to meet the budget targets set out for Eurozone countries, to create jobs for the more than 9% of the French who are not working, and to put an emphasis on education. Hollande’s moderation will certainly bring some conservatives into his camp who would otherwise have voted for Sarkozy, seeking his second term.
The problem for Sarkozy is to hold the center while being conservative enough to get the right wing’s votes. Moderation must necessarily play second fiddle to the right that must vote for him if he is to win. And, in France there is a third party far to the right that is getting a lot of attention in the run-up to the election because the right wing of Sarkozy’s party often agrees with their positions on immigration, support for Christianity, and getting out of the Eurozone.
One automatically thinks of the American 2012 presidential election.
Hollande’s advantage is that his party primaries are over and he’s now able to focus on political positioning. Mitt Romney, still the most likely to be the GOP candidate, is still not sure to be chosen in the primaries, so it will be months before he can start to carve out his middle-ground position in hopes that it will beat Obama.
In fact, France and the United States are mirror images of each other leading up to the 2012 election.  As many analysts have been saying, it will be the center that decides who the next American president will be. And, it is just possible that it will be the French center that decides who the next French president will be.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Qadhafi's Death and the End of the American Presence in Iraq

There are two news stories today and each one deserves a comment.
Let’s start with Colonel Qadhafi. His death is a great relief for the people of Libya, because he would have been a threat to their peace and liberty for as long as he lived. It is hard for westerners to understand the tribal culture on North Africa. The French understand as well as anyone because they’ve been there as the colonial power (although in Libya it was also Italy) for generations. And, today on French television, the commentaries are generally focused on this fact. Had Qadhafi lived, he would have been a block to Libya moving on - because he could always mount a force with tribal connections to him. That he was killed in Sirte, his tribal fief or hometown, and then taken to Misrata, the town that opposed him and was subjected to months of the most egregious attack and siege by Qadhafi loyalists, tells a tribal tale.
But, now that he is dead, Libyans are not so much focusing on how he died but on assuring that his body is treated with respect and given the proper Muslim burial rites.
We in the West have been shocked by the images of Qadhafi being mistreated and undoubtedly killed after his capture, but we did not experience the 42 years of his reign of terror. Ronald Reagan did not call him a Mad Dog for nothing. I don’t mean to excuse the fact of his mistreatment, but only to put it into context. Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher who went to Libya several times during the insurrection, and who was one of the first to call on the world to help the freedom fighters, said today that Qadhafi’s treatment was not worthy of the goals of the revolution. He is right. But, perhaps we all need to walk a mile in the moccasins of the people he terrorized before condemning them.
And, the big story of the day for America - all US troops will leave Iraq before the end of the year. No one will stay behind to continue training Iraqi troops. Only the contingent needed to protect the US Embassy will remain, along with a few thousand mercenaries who protect American contractors. It almost feels like a divorce, doesn’t it? Who gets the kids, the family pets, the house…
All we can hope for is that Iraq will survive, that the Iraqi government will find ways to hold together the ethnic, religious and tribal mix in the country so that democracy, as they define it, can take root and flourish.
We surely think today about the American casualties and the families that will forever feel the hole where one of their sons or daughters should have been. Walking a mile in the moccasins of these brave young men and women would teach all of us a lot about being an American.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pat Buchanan's Notion that America Must Be White-skinned

I’m not a great fan of Pat Buchanan, the White House Communications Director for President Reagan who later launched his own campaigns to become president and failed - once as a Republican and once under a third party banner. Buchanan always seems to me to be too strident in his conservatism, almost “in your face” in his assertions that only the Right knows anything. He has just given an interview to Newsmax reporters Martin Gould and Ashley Martella in which he talks about the disintegration of America, which also happens to be the subject of a book he has recently published.
Buchanan told Newsmax that if someone like Mitt Romney is nominated by the GOP in 2012, he can see the emergence of a third party candidate supported by the Tea Party. He thinks the Tea Party will not support Romney because of his Johnny-come-lately conservatism, his MassachusettsCare, and his Mormon faith, which they do not see as Christian.
Now, third party candidates are notorious losers. None has ever won an American presidential election. Not one. But, Buchanan is right when he says that a third party candidate under Tea Party’s auspices could give the election to President Obama.
Especially if what Buchanan says becomes reality - that the Tea Party would turn to Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman. Paul consistently gets about 6-8% of poll votes these days and that could be enough to tip the scales to Obama.
However, Buchanan went on to say that Cain, Perry, Bachmann and Santorum share the conservative values of the Tea Party, but that none of them could beat Romney in the primaries - a rather startling comment this early in the campaign before we see how the critically important Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries play out.  Buchanan added, “The one that has the best chance is Rick Perry and he has sort of broken his pick awful badly in the earlier debates.”
But, then Buchanan switched topics. Buchanan believes that demographic changes in the United States will make it impossible for a conservative Republican to be elected to the presidency from about 2025. He cites California, where no Republican holds statewide office as the bellweather, with its non-Hispanic white minority and Hispanic/Asian-American majority who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. He feels Texas will also follow California, and with that, the possibility of a conservative Republican presidential victory will be gone forever.
Buchanan’s statistics, if accurate, are compelling, even if they could be characterized as racist.
He says, “Richard Nixon carried California in all five elections in which he was on a national ticket. Ronald Reagan carried it four straight times, twice as governor, twice for president. Nowadays a Republican can’t get elected in California. The reason is the demography has changed; the whites are now a minority in California and 90 percent of Republican votes in presidential elections are white folks. But the Hispanic votes and the Asian-Americans vote 60-70 percent Democratic. African-Americans vote 90-95 percent Democratic. So when the white folks become a minority, as they are a minority now in California and they are a minority now in Texas – eventually Texas is going to go the way of California and you’ll never elect another Republican president if he is running on anything like a conservative ticket. For the last 30-35 years the birth rate among white Americans has fallen below replacement levels, below zero population growth. By the time we reach 2020, there are going to be more white folks over 65 than under 17. So the white population is stagnating and will begin to die out. All of America in 2050 is going to look like California today.”
That is why Pat Buchanan thinks America is disintegrating, that its best days are past. And, that is why I do not often agree with Buchanan.
His premise is that America can survive as it was intended to be only if the population is white. I do not think this is accurate.
America is an idea. It is not a set of demographic statistics. The Founders were trying to preserve democracy, not white skins. They put aside religious tests. Yes, they skirted the slavery issue, but their carefully drafted Constitution finally put slavery in its place, too.
Why would Buchanan believe that as minorities become majorities, rising into the middle and upper middle class and taking over the management of America’s governments, corporations and universities, that they would stay Democratic, that they would continue to behave as their ancestors did, ancestors who were poor, misused, uneducated and without political or economic power.
If demographics teaches us anything, it is that as individuals and groups become better educated and more affluent, they also become more conservative.
So, I for one, would not count America out just yet. She may have a different ethnic distribution in several decades, but her citizens will be just as eager to preserve her democratic institutions and her unique opportunity, available to anyone willing to work hard.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hermie and the Gang - the Las Vegas GOP Debate and Advice from France's President Sarkozy

Last night in Las Vegas, the Gang ganged up on Hermie, my sister’s name for Herman Cain, the latest frontrunner of the would-be GOP candidates for president.
It happened in the first ten minutes of the 2,556th debate this autumn. Okay, maybe there have only been five or six, but it seems like a lot more.
I have to say, I love politics and I love debates, especially when they have consequences, but the Republican wannabes are almost killing off my desire for the good fight.
Anyway, last evening, the Gang decided to have at Hermie because a day or two ago a tax think tank published an analysis showing that Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan would make the middle class pay more taxes than they do now.
How convenient that the analysis appeared as if by divine plan right before the Las Vegas debate and right after Herman Cain out-distanced Mitt Romney in two polls - in Iowa where he stomped Romney and in a national poll showing that he is neck-and-neck with Obama if the 2012 presidential election were held today.
Now, dear readers, don’t get the idea that I’m for Cain or against Romney. That could not be farther from the truth. But, I am for a solid Republican attack on the mis-guided, badly thought-out, and even more poorly executed policies and nightmarish dreams of the Obama presidency. Mr. Obama could probably be beaten right now by my choir director, except that he’s not American, does not speak English and could not run, having been born in France.
But, the reality is that we have almost 13 months stretching out before us until the November 2012 presidential election takes place. That is an eternity in politics. Or, perhaps less, because if last night’s GOP debate is any gauge, the Republican frontrunners (you can decide who’s actually in front…is it Romney or Perry or Cain or Paul?) are trying their best to lose.
I think we can rule out Bachmann and Santorum and Huntsman, who chose not to appear last night, preferring to stay hidden away in New Hampshire jousting at windmills while lamenting the lack of GOP taste for the middle ground. Maybe if Huntsman were able to explain what the middle ground means and why it’s the best place to be, we’d all be for it. But, simply to say he’s not viable because he’s too experienced, too intelligent and too competent to be acceptable to the vast unwashed GOP majority smacks of elitism at its worst.
So, we had Hermie, struggling to explain his 9-9-9 and the others attacking it as if they actually could offer an alternative, something egregiously missing last night. And, when all the scare words and platitudes about 9-9-9 had been exhausted, the Gang turned on Perry, who, surprisingly, defended himself rather well in explaining an energy PLAN - note the word, because plans, except for Perry's, were sorely missing from last night’s debate.
And, then, almost on cue, Santorum lashed out at Romney for his MassachusettsCare. The others leaped on the wagon, all, mind you without even a hint of an alternative. I despise the arrogance and folly of Obamacare, but at least Obama got it down on paper and sold it to Congress. Where is the GOP replacement idea? There isn’t one.
And, just so the religious right could feel that the evening also belonged to them, we had the spectacle of parading Mormonism out for Romney to bat down and Gingrich to try to place in context.
Finally, it was Newt Gingrich who made the most important comment of the entire debate - he said, “Maximizing bickering is probably not the road to the White House.”
Oh, how right you are, Newt.
The GOP needs : a plan for attacking Obama, not each other; a cessation of debates in which the color of the day is cheap shots at each other; a truce so that the real issues - jobs, tax code changes, businesses staying in America, a balanced federal budget, reduction of the crushing national debt - can be addressed seriously by a GOP that until now has sidestepped them.
If the Republican Party destroys its credibility even before Iowa, how can it expect to beat an incumbent President?
An afterthought - last Sunday evening the French left chose its standard bearer for the 2012 French presidential election. It was a bitterly fought two-phase affair that left the middle-most candidate the winner. Afterward, President Sarkozy, the conservative sitting president, said that the Socialist primary was a bad idea, and that it was not envisaged in the French Fifth Republic constitution where two candidates, or more, fight it out in a once-for-all votation. The Socialist primaries, he said, merely weaken those who engage in them. His team is now gearing up to use all the attacks thrown by the Socialists at each other to bolster his own campaign.   
Take heed, GOP. Take heed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Eurozone, France, America and Ron Paul

Moody’s, one of the world’s most important rating agencies, today told France that it is considering whether to put the country’s government debt (i.e., bonds) on a negative watch, which would mean that Moody’s could then decide to reduce the AAA rating of French debt.
At first glance, this seems like a reasonable decision because France has a budget deficit of 5.7% of its gross national product.  This is the same as the budget deficit of Portugal, already “bailed-out” by the Eurozone, the European National Bank and IMF loans. Eurozone countries in the European Union have committed by treaty to keeping their budget deficits below 3% of GNP. However, France is far from being alone in violating this treaty commitment. If honest governmental financial reporting were the rule, we would probably find that no other country in the Eurozone is currently in compliance.
But, the real problem in France is that growth is now at about 1.75% annually and is expected to decline to around 1% next year and unemployment is stubbornly at 9%. So, there is no way that consumer spending can boost France’s GNP enough to solve its debt problem in the near future, rather like America's dilemma.
And, France is a particular problem because, along with Germany, it is the pillar of the Eurozone and together, the two countries support the faltering Eurozone economies. Thus, France and Germany are the backbone of the 440 Billion Euro European Financial Stability Fund that Eurozone countries are trying to put together to bail out other weak Eurozone countries as their government debt ratings make it impossible for them to borrow money at reasonable interest rates. If France’s credit rating is lowered, it will cost the country more to guarantee its required share of the EFSF and would probably make the Fund an impossibility, because Germany, whose taxpayers are not enthusiastic about shouldering the entire Eurozone debt, would need to go it alone as the financial contributor to the EFSF.  
Added to this, France has to find 33 billion Euros to help Belgium bail out a failed Franco-Belgian bank, Dexia, which still holds significant toxic debt left over from the 2008 crisis.
In the middle of this mess, the Euro is magically still very high against the US Dollar. It took about 1.37 dollars to buy 1 Euro today. Don’t ask me to explain this, because it defies logic. And, keep in mind that without the US Federal Reserve printing money to keep the European Central Bank afloat, there would not be enough money in the Eurozone to meet ordinary private and commercial needs.
So, dear readers, the next time you hear that America is in the worst financial condition in the world, you might just want to re-read this blog. It ain’t necessarily so, as Mr. Gershwin wrote.
But, what America does need, as does every European country, is fiscal discipline. Nobody can spend 40% more than it makes every year and borrow the rest. Not you, not me, not the Eurozone countries, and not the United States. We are approaching not a liquidity crisis (where there is not enough money in the system to meet demand) but a solvency crisis (where there is a lot of money in the system but it is worthless because the government that prints it has nothing to back it up - not gold or the financial discipline necessary to keep its budget at a level that can be financed by tax income.
When money becomes worthless, it takes a lot of it simply to buy a loaf of bread. If you don’t believe that, ask Ron Paul to explain what happened in Weimar Germany between the two world wars, or in Zimbabwe today. Because when he talks about federal solvency, Ron Paul is right and we all ought to be paying attention.   

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Watching the Collapse of Obamacare

People all over the world are convinced that Obamacare was a wise and needed change to the American health care delivery system. They, being captive in state-run health care delivery systems, have never experienced and cannot understand that America’s health care delivery system worked before Obama butted in and it will work again after his disastrous attempt at a government monopoly in health care delivery has disappeared. The world sees the 40 million uninsured and says America is heartless. They cannot understand that allocating available health care money centrally in their own countries often kills their friends and family members by the necessary allocation of services, and that the ageing public infrastructures in Europe are less and less able to provide any reasonably timely health care service at all.
And, we are beginning in America to see Obamacare unravel.
This week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, appointed by Obama, wrote to Congress to tell them, “Despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation at this time.”
CLASS - the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program - was supposed to enroll healthy working Americans in a program to provide about $50 per month to pay for extras after they retired and presumably needed more professional health care services, such as home nursing and more expensive drugs. The program was also supposed to take $80 Billion off federal health care delivery system costs in the next decade. The problem was that healthy working age American, already burdened with high health care costs, didn’t think it was a good idea and few expressed the intention to sign up. When the financial analysis models were run, the monthly premium was estimated at anything from $100 to $350 per month. That, dear readers, is a “no-go.” And, so Secretary Sebelius has effectively stopped work on trying to develop it as a component of Obamacare.
At the same time, we have seen the buy-insurance-or-be-taxed provisions lose in federal appellate courts, and the US Supreme Court will soon be forced to decide if Obama’s buy-or-be-taxed method to pay for his Obamacare passes constitutional muster.
There are also the inconvenient matters of:
1. The Senate repeal in February of the 1099 provision in the bill that required companies to complete IRS paperwork each time they purchased $600 worth of goods from any vendor (there are already more than 10,000 waivers to this requirement);
2. The House voted Thursday to block public expenditures of taxpayer dollars on abortion-related services via taxpayer-subsidized health policies;
3. The growing whispers in Washington that the creation of federal health-insurance exchanges are so far behind schedule that they may not be ready when the full program takes effect in 2014.
That is not a very good record and the fault lies squarely in two places: with the White House for pushing through Congress the Obamacare bill in such fast forward that, in fact, most members voted for it without ever reading it; and with Congress for passing something as important as a drastic overhaul of the American health care delivery system because they were acting in a partisan fashion to support the President of their own Democrat Party and because they were bullied by his people into agreeing quickly.
Many experts have said this and I say it again, with experience in services delivery when I was a Deputy Assistant Secretary in HHS under President Reagan :
1. There is nothing wrong with the American health care system that tighter cost negotiation and national insurance markets won’t solve.
2. There is no one, not Democrats or Republicans, who do not want to provide health care for those now uninsured (if they are in the United States legally), but not at the expense of changing the vast majority of the system that works, and not by making the federal government its monopoly provider.
Obamacare is a non-starter because it was ill-conceived, badly drafted and ran roughshod over American law and voter sentiment.
That is what a “no- go” is and Mr. Obama should have known better.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is Herman Cain on to Something the Rest Don't See

Herman Cain, US Republican presidential hopeful, is Tea Partying in Tennessee this weekend. And, he’s having fun. Yesterday, his microphone system failed and so he sang a rousing version of a Broadway show tune. He often ends his meetings with a favorite hymn.
What is surprising about all this is that Tennessee loves him. He’s getting perhaps 500 people at each whistle stop meeting and the comments are positive. Statements like, “I’m glad he’s bringing God back into the debate,” or “He’s like us, he listens and he doesn’t talk down to us,” or “I came to see what 9-9-9 is all about, and I was going to vote for Obama, but Cain is kinda cool.”
And, even some southern Black voters are beginning to get Cain’s message, “You don’t have to vote for a Democrat to be heard.”
It’s still a LOOOOONG shot for Herman Cain to get the nomination, but he’s certainly more interesting than anyone else on the stumps. He’s intelligent, he listens, he’s good one-on-one as well as on the microphone, and it is clear that he’s enjoying himself.
His $2.8 Million raised during the third quarter is dwarfed by Romney’s and Perry’s $12-17 Million, but Cain says you don’t need that much money to run a presidential primary effort. This may be his Achilles Heel because the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries are coming on fast and without money to build a local presence, Cain may not have a chance. Iowans and New Hampshire GOP voters like to look their candidates in the eye and get an up-close-and-personal sense of them.
Cain is not doing this yet, but maybe he’s playing a game that nobody else has thought of. It is just possible that with a $14 Trillion national debt and Congress squabbling over how to reduce spending so that America doesn’t need to continue borrowing 40% of its annual federal budget year after year, Herman Cain understands that Americans a sick of debt, they are sick of slick politicians and they are ready for a change -- not the Obama spend-and-tax kind -- but a change brought about by a successful businessman who has something to offer besides bumper stickers and Madison avenue TV ads.
Something to think about.