Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Situation between Iran and the Rest of the World Just Got Much More Dangerous

Following the Iranian mob attack on the British Embassy in Teheran on Tuesday, Great Britain has withdrawn its embassy staff and ordered the Iranian Embassy in London to close immediately and has demanded that all Iranian staff leave Britain within 48 hours.
This is tough action, but the attack in Teheran was clearly not prevented by Iranian authorities but allowed to continue, with fire-bombings that started fires in the main buildings, looting of staff residences, destruction of furnishings in the Ambassador’s home, and stealing of British documents and other items.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said of the attack:
"This is a breach of international responsibilities of which any nation should be ashamed….We should be absolutely clear that no difficulty in relations can ever excuse in any way or under any circumstances the failure to protect diplomatic staff and diplomatic premises....Iran is a country where opposition leaders are under house arrest, more than 500 people have been executed so far this year and where genuine protest is ruthlessly stamped on….The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful."
Hague thanked those European and Arab nations that offered assistance to British Embassy staff following the incident. British citizens still in Iran will be supported by other EU missions there.
According to CNN International, The Netherlands is the latest European nation to recall its ambassador to Iran for consultations on Wednesday, following the lead of France and Germany.
The French Foreign Ministry said it was recalling its Teheran envoy, "given this blatant and unacceptable violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the severity of the violence."
The Iranian charge d'affaires in Paris has been called upon "to reiterate France's condemnation and to remind the Iranian authorities of their obligations," the ministry said in a statement.
Norway is closing its embassy there temporarily "because of a general assessment of the security situation in Iran," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday. A statement said the embassy would reopen Thursday.
Ireland's Foreign Office urged Iran to reconsider its decision to expel the British ambassador to Teheran and said it should bring those responsible for the embassy incursion to justice. If this does not happen, it said, "there are likely to be serious consequences for Iran's relations with the EU and the wider international community."
Dear readers, it is too early to tell if Iran is seriously escalating its battle with the rest of the world or if it started a demonstration that simply got out of hand. Either way, the world community is in no mood to accept Iran’s bullying actions and the government in Iran, whether it is President Amadinejad or the Ayatollah who is actually in charge - and there is concern that neither may be totally in control, needs to offer assurances for the future if it has any hope of remaining in the international community of nations. But, with the war that seems to be raging between the religious and secular factions governing Iran, assurances may be weak at best.
The already tense situation caused by Iran’s insistence on continuing its nuclear program has now gotten even more tense. It is one of those times when any small spark could ignite the region and lead to full scale war.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Egypt Is Voting and We Ought to be Cheering Them On

Egyptians are at the polls for the second day today, and according to the ministry in charge of voting, they are turning out in masses to cast their ballots for the new parliament. This is a real indication of the solidarity of the Egyptian people behind the revolution that ousted Mubarak in February.
And, if you consider that just last weekend, there were riots and violence around the center of Cairo because of fears that the military had hijacked the revolution and turned it into a military dictatorship, the numbers voting in this first round is to be loudly applauded.
That they would have to pay an $85 fine for not voting may have been an extra incentive, but Egyptians seem to be genuinely interested in exercising their right to vote in the first free and fair election in more than 50 years. Some young family members actually carried their grandparents to the polls to be sure they voted, and that they were not fined.
Those who talked to TV reporters during the voting process, either waiting in the sometimes 3-hour lines or after voting, explained their presence in several ways.
First, they want to be free and democratic.
Second, they do not want to fall back into the evils of dictatorship (here, many spoke of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations) after finally freeing themselves from the last one.
Third, they feel they may not get another chance to vote if they boycott this election and are voting for their children and the future.
Fourth, they know that the candidate lists are flawed, that the election will not represent their wishes fully, and that more elections will be required to finally set things right after the new constitution is written and adopted, but they also know that the time is now and that they must participate.
So, let us keep faith with Egypt and her people.
Let us support every effort they make to move toward representative government.
Let us find ways to tell them we are with them and will welcome them into the community of free nations as soon as they are able to join.
Let us be convinced ourselves that these long-suffering people are democrats at heart, no matter how many groups are trying to sidetrack them.
Let us, above all, not expect that Egyptians will be perfect the first time they try to become a democratic nation. It takes time and we must understand and help in every way we can.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What Does It Mean to be Presidential?

What does it really mean - to be presidential?
This weekend there was an article about smiles, the idea being that some smiles are pleasant and make people want to vote for a candidate while other smiles are artificial or smirking and make people want not to vote for the candidate.
Of course, the prime example was Ronald Reagan, and his twinkling eyes were part of the equation. But, others whose smiles helped, according to the study, were George W. Bush vs the condescending smile of Al Gore in 2000.  And Bill Clinton’s smile against that of Bob Dole. And evidently, Barak Obama’s 2008 smile.
In the past, there have been studies that show that people with ‘R’ in their last name are more often elected US President. And, we could probably add other characteristics that help, especially in this age of TV and wall-to-wall media coverage.
But, I don’t think these are anything more than the outward manifestations, to be theological about it, of an inner truth, an inner carriage and disposition of the persona and soul that connect with the most fundamental searching in the deep recesses of the American electorate’s hearts and minds for someone to lead them.
The best example of this is surely Abraham Lincoln, who was neither handsome nor even normal-looking, but whose profound wisdom and humanity reached so deeply into the American psyche that he is still regularly voted the best President of all time. Could Honest Abe do the same today in our media-sensitized world? I think so. Because he was presidential…a leader.
Now - to return to my question, just what does it mean to be presidential?
The TV pundits have latched onto the word to describe Newt Gingrich’s rapid and late rise in the polls. Gingrich is not at all like Lincoln, but he is presidential because he has the aura of knowing who Americans are and what they want in 2012. He is thoughtful. He is not petty as others have been in their attempt to score debate points. He is, despite his professorial diction and word choice, one with the electorate. He understands and tries to reflect that when he talks. And when he talks, he is solving problems in a two-way discussion with America, giving his views and asking for feedback to refine his views, but not to drastically change them.
We don't need to try to guess what he’ll do as President, because he tells us and says if we don’t agree he is willing to take the hit for his beliefs. This trait is what won the 1981 French presidency for François Mitterrand. He said, when asked by a reporter in a TV interview about his view on capital punishment and the use of the guillotine, that he was against it. He said he knew that the majority of French citizens were for capital punishment and that he would understand if they did not vote for him, but that he could not change his belief simply to be elected. His staff walked away from that evening sure he had lost the election. But he was elected, and he banished capital punishment, with a majority of French in agreement with the decision. That, my friends, is presidential.
Leadership is a strange and indefinable quality. It rests in the deep unspoken connection that the leader and his followers have for one another. It is founded on honesty and is grown in trust developed through always telling the hard truths, always being up-front with the followers.
From leadership comes the common ground, the commitment of leader and followers to each other needed to do great things - as a sports team, as a religion, as a political entity, as a nation.
America is sorely in need of a leader. If Newt Gingrich continues to make the presidential connection with America, he may be what Americans have been searching for. And, then, it won’t matter if he has been divorced or bought too many baubles at Tiffany’s.
What will matter is that, together, he and America may be able to do the job everyone knows must be done.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Democrat Effort to Paint the GOP as the Culprits in America's Fiscal Mess

President Obama’s effort to paint the GOP, and especially the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, as the evildoers in the fiscal problems of America is becoming a little boring, not to mention transparent in its lack of honesty.
In Charles Krauthammer’s syndicated column of the 25th of November, he notes that the tactic is not so much dishonest as it is the product of Democratic hardheadedness. Krauthammer’s explanation is that Democrats are so “stuck” on the idea of raising taxes for the “rich” that they fail to recognize that simpifying the tax code by cutting loopholes often yields the same “tax revenue” result they want, but by making the tax process more fair and clear, something the GOP has been trying to explain without success because of this Democrat blindspot.
As Krauthammer explains, the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which was appointed by President Obama, used the GOP idea of cutting loopholes to increase revenues and simplify the tax code at the same time. It proposed tax reform to lower tax rates at a “cost” of $1 trillion a year while, at the same time, eliminating loopholes that deprive the Treasury of $1.1 trillion a year. This would leave the Treasury with an excess – i.e., new tax revenues – of $100 billion a year, or $1 trillion over a decade.
He adds, “Raising revenues through tax reform is better than simply raising rates, which Democrats insist upon with near religious fervor. It is more economically efficient because it eliminates credits, carve-outs and deductions that grossly misallocate capital. And it is more fair because it is the rich who can afford not only the sharp lawyers and accountants who exploit loopholes but the lobbyists who create them in the first place....Yet the Democrats, who flatter themselves as the party of fairness, are instead obsessed with raising tax rates on the rich as a sign of civic virtue....As regarding the supercommittee, Obama was AWOL – then immediately pounced on its failure by going on TV to repeat his incessantly repeated campaign theme of the do-nothing (Republican) Congress.”
Krauthammer then points out that not only are the Democrats hardheaded, they distort the facts. For example, “It is the Republicans who passed – through the House, the only branch of government they control – a real budget that cut $5.8 trillion of spending over the next 10 years. Obama’s February budget, which would have increased spending, was laughed out of the Senate, voted down 97-0. As for the Democratic Senate, it has submitted no budget at all for two and a half years.”
Why would the Democrats be so obtuse? That’s a slam dunk. They hope to pin the fiscal mess on a GOP Congress that they continue to insist wants to protect millionaires. It’s a campaign phrase that might be attractive to traditional Democratic voter blocks.  
So, instead or trying to actually solve America’s fiscal problems, the Democrats in the Senate and White House will continue to whine about the GOP “no new taxes” position when in fact that is also not a fact. It is the Republican members of the Supercommittee who several times offered tax revenue increases to the Democratic members who rejected them.
Krauthammer’s solution? Bring the Simpson-Bowles Commission report to a vote on the House floor. Dare the Senate Democrats to vote down the grandest of all bargains. Dare Obama to veto his own debt commission. Dare the Democrats to actually do something about debt.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What's Going on in the World on the Day After Egypt, France and America

One thing nice about Thanksgiving, even for Americans living abroad, is that with TV we can watch some of the Macy’s Parade, see a few American football games and generally let the world roll by on its own for the long weekend. Maybe we eat chicken instead of turkey but that’s not a big deal.
However, the TV also brings some news, because zapping through the channels is sometimes better than the football.
And, today, Black Friday, business TV was head-counting at major department stores and interviewing store manager to try to get a feel for how the holiday season’s retail sales will play out. So, there were new toys to see, and lines of foolhardy folks shopping at midnight instead of sitting in front of their TVs zapping and munching a turkey sandwich.
But, some events today are worth mentioning.
Egypt, for example, where Cairo’s protesters are still on the streets and in the Square, trying to make the military understand that they want civilian rule and not more of the same from the Supreme Military Council…even the name sounds sinister, doesn’t it? And the military replied by announcing that elections will start his week. The protesters are still there, but they seem to be more peaceful, as do the military which is watching over them. Let’s hope Egypt holds together because it is the largest and most influential Arab country and its future has a great chance to be the future of the rest of the Arab world.
And there was also French President Sarkozy, out in the installations where nuclear energy is produced. More than 70% of France’s electricity is produced by nuclear plants, so Sarkozy is stumping for their continuation, in opposition to the left’s view that all French nuclear plants should be shut down as soon as possible. President Sarkozy’s answer to that is that the price of electricity, already high, would be out of reach for most French citizens, and that the investment in nuclear power is safe and provides for future power needs domestically, something that ought to be a positive in these times when petroleum is often captive to very unstable governments or dictators. That President Sarkozy is making this an item in his re-election campaign means that we will be hearing more about nuclear energy in the coming months - and rightly so, since, as Sarkozy pointed out today, the anti-nuclear energy coalition seems bent on eliminating nuclear power simply to prove it can do it.
As for President Obama, there he goes again,…to quote President Reagan. Obama gave his radio address for Thanksgiving and thanked soldiers, families, workers, just about everybody but God. Americans, being both religious by nature and sensitive to anything they see in their President that might be unorthodox when viewed from the prism of Christianity, were upset. Why would the President leave God out of Thanksgiving, they ask. Obama has not responded, but we can be sure that the discomfort has a lot to do with the uneasy feeling of many Americans that President Obama is neither American nor Christian. I have no opinion because only the President knows, but he ought to be more careful not to step on the cultural norms of the people he is attempting to govern.  
So, let’s get on with the football and let the world take care of itself for just a few more hours.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Being Thankful on Thanksgiving Day 2011

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the United States today, the one day of the year when Americans all take time to be with family and give thanks, between helpings of turkey and stuffing and a football match, to thank God for their blessings, individual and as a nation.
America is the only country in the world that has an official day of national thanksgiving. Legend says that the custom is as old as America herself - that the Pilgrims who landed in 1620 in what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts, arrived late in the year and almost starved the first winter because of their lack of food. The nearby Indian tribes realized this and fed them, but in the Spring they also taught the Pilgrims what to eat, how to grow or collect food in the wild, and how to store it for winter. In gratitude, after their first harvest the Pilgrims invited the Indians to a feast to thank them for their precious help and to share the bounty that God had given them.
Thanksgiving. It is not just American; it is human.
Thanksgiving 2011? What do we have to be grateful for? Some people might say, ‘not much.’ The economy is miserable, unemployment is high, home foreclosures go on, Congress is not functioning as the Constitution intended, and the President pardons Thanksgiving turkeys better than he does anything in his official job description, starting with leading the country.
But, that would be a short-sighted view of affairs on Thanksgiving Day 2011. There is still plenty to be thankful for.
America survived the 10th anniversary of 9.11 without a terrorist attack in her country or anywhere else in the world.
The US Dollar, long since buried by the pundits, is still the safe haven in a fiscal world where Europe is faltering and seems to be in free fall.
Investors are buying US Treasury Bonds at such a rapid rate that the interest Uncle Sam has to pay to borrow money is below 2% - the best in Europe is 2.15% and Germany is now feeling the heat from the flames of the burning Eurozone.
Afghanistan may actually be able in a year or so to take over its own internal defense, thanks to American tough-mindedness about staying the course and helping them create a nation. The nonsense about not being interested in nation-building I will leave for another day, but let’s not forget that America has built nations all over the world, from Japan to all of Europe, and the reward is that American allies are both independent and dependable.
The al-Qaida and Taliban in Pakistan have not yet stolen an atomic device from the Pakistani government and everyone in the world ought to be grateful for the long-suffering determination of America to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future. Thank-you, President Bush.
On the personal front, most of us have lost someone dear this year, but we have felt the love and support of family and friends who held us up and strengthened us when the going got tough.
Americans and other countries’ citizens have found time to help the poor, shelter the homeless and feed those who are hungry - we need to do more, but we should consider what would be their plight if we were to abandon charitable works.  
Nelson Mandela is still with us. The grand old man of African independence and freedom for black Africans shows simply by being there that the world is a better place than we had any right to expect. Thank-you, Mr. Mandela.
And babies are still being born. A reporter asked Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wife of the French President who just gave birth to a baby girl, if she wasn’t afraid to have a child in such a messed up world. Carla Bruni answered that babies don’t happen or not happen because of the world situation. Babies are our bet, if you like, that there will be a future and that we will be able to leave them a world that is not so poisoned by violence and hatred that they will be destroyed by it. Thank-you, Carla Bruni and all the other mothers of the world.

The Chronicler of the Old Testament wrote, “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.”

And, of course, William Shakespeare had the words for Thanksgiving Day centuries before it existed, but then we expect that of the Bard:

“O Lord that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The 11th GOP Presidential Debate...and the Winner Is...

The 11th Republican presidential debate was held last night in the Daughters of the American Revolution Convention Hall in Washington.
The DAR auditorium was filled with scholars from the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two conservative think tanks whose work is widely influential. It was these men and women who asked the GOP candidates questions about national security.
To give a broad brush, what we learned is, “Yes, Virginia, there is a learning curve.” Every debater is better now on his (or her) feet than at the beginning of this marathon. They are more assured, more polished in their approach to answers, and better informed on the topic of the evening.
Cain hit the business ball out of the park regularly, something the others often miss as a part of a complete answer. While Herman Cain is obviously not at ease in the fields of foreign affairs and national security, he has learned how to turn the questions toward what he does know - the economy. This brings a depth to his answers, even as they meander around the security issues, and Americans ought to be trying to decide how to use his expertise after the 2012 election.
Ron Paul’s libertarianism is fraying at the edges, as his textbook answers on the economy and personal liberty often fail to see the point in the questions. The enshrinement of personal liberty in the American Constitution is what sets America apart from its democratic peers in the world, but Ron Paul must surely understand that it is better to stop terrorists before they strike, as Gingrich chided, while saving personal liberty to the maximum extent possible. How he resolves this fundamental problem in libertarian philosophy will make or break his effort to bring libertarianism into the American political mainstream. He is so often right philosophically that we make allowances for his extreme views on liberty, but saying that the Taliban are only trying to get rid of US troops so they can govern as they choose is either naïve or disingenuous. Just ask Afghan women and children who were terrorized, starved and relegated to home prisons the last time the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan.
To cover the candidates who probably have little chance of being the GOP nominee  -

Rick Santorum - may he rest in peace, sooner rather than later. Profiling is not the answer unless it is informed by long-term intelligence support, and even then, it should not become profiling but the search for “suspects” whose whereabouts are being tracked. Ron Paul is right about this constitutional aspect of the security issue and it makes his position all the harder to knock down lightly.

Michele Bachmann gave her best performance last night, on a topic she understands and can discuss rationally. It’s too bad she cannot find this ease with other topics because it is clear that she has something to bring to the GOP party.

Jon Huntsman was in his home territory last night and it showed. His explanations and occasional frustrations were obviously the result of his mastery of foreign affairs and national security. It would be helpful to have him talk to a TV journalist one-on-one sometime so America can appreciate his expertise and wisdom and find the best place for his talents.

Now - for the big guns.
I am almost alone is continuing to see Rick Perry as a possible winner.  But, I must note that Perry is establishing his style and seems to be absolutely at ease now, giving his Reaganesque looks and answers with both seriousness and that “Reagan” twinkle in his eye that the others lack. I especially enjoyed his explanation of the national defense issue embedded in the Mexican border problem, and his assurance that it can be mastered and the border closed to illegals, which is in his view important because they include terrorists, a detail often ignored by the other debaters. Beneath that “aw shucks” persona, there is a mind and spirit as sharp and informed as any in the GOP debate. Rick Perry’s problem is that he has only 6 weeks left to convince Iowans and the polls tell us that the mountain he has to climb is as tall as Mt. Everest.
Newt Gingrich was also on home territory last night but his problem, for me, is still that slightly annoying impression he gives of someone lecturing to students. His points are always correct, his words ring with polished debating skill, but couldn’t Newt relax just a little. What did surprise me was his stand on regularizing illegal immigrants who have lived in the US for many years and who have paid taxes, have families and are good members of their communities. He is right, of course, but he knew he was on thin ice when he added that he would take the consequences of his view. Can anyone convince the tea party and other very conservative GOPers that people who are proud to be in America and are contributing their fair share to her success should not be treated like old dishcloths?
That leaves - as it always has this GOP debate season - Mitt Romney. I still feel uneasy about his positions on abortion, carbon taxes and health care. But, he stands there debate after debate giving answers that the rest of the field cannot argue with. He has the presence, the war chest, the poll leads and the media support that it takes to be nominated. Perhaps it is the media support that worries me most about Mitt Romney. I keep getting the feeling that the media are setting Romney and the GOP up for a loss in 2012, that they know his views are so close to Obama’s that he will be punched down as a weak copy of “the real thing.” That would be a tragedy for America because four more years of Obama would destroy the country.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Charles Krauthammer on President Obama's Republican Party Bashing

Charles Krauthammer, a distinguished conservative journalist, wrote an article last Thursday on the ‘sellout’ of Barak Obama. It is a concise piece that outlines precisely why Americans are angry with the President and why his chances of being re-elected are minimal. Here are excerpts from the Krauthammer essay.
“In 2008, the slogan was “Yes We Can.” For 2011-12, it's “We Can't Wait.” What happened in between? Candidate Obama, the vessel into which myriad dreams were poured, met the reality of governance.
His near-$1 trillion stimulus begat a stagnant economy with 9 percent unemployment. His attempt at Wall Street reform left in place a still too-big-to-fail financial system as vulnerable today as when he came into office. His green energy fantasies yielded Solyndra cronyism and a cap-and-trade regime not even a Democratic Congress would pass.
And now his signature achievement, Obamacare, is headed to the Supreme Court, where it could very well be struck down, just a week after its central element was overwhelmingly repudiated (2-1) by the good burghers of Ohio.”
Krauthammer goes on the say that when you promise things you cannot deliver, the strategy often is to blame the other side. Thus, President Obama has blamed the Republican Party, and especially the GOP majority in the House of Representatives, for just about everything that has gone wrong in his administration....
It's all the fault of Republican rejectionism.
Hence: “We Can't Wait.” We can't wait while they obstruct. We can't wait while they dither with my jobs bill. Write Congress today! Vote Democratic tomorrow!
“We can't wait. Except for certain exceptions, such as the 1,700-mile trans-USA Keystone XL pipeline, carrying Alberta oil to Texas refineries, that would have created thousands of American jobs and increased our energy independence.
“For that, we can wait, it seems. President Obama decreed that any decision must wait 12 to 18 months — postponed, by amazing coincidence, until after next year's election.
“Why? Because the pipeline angered Obama's environmental constituency. But their complaints are risible. Global warming from the extraction of the Alberta tar sands? Canada will extract the oil anyway. If it doesn't go to us, it will go to China. Net effect on the climate if we don't take that oil? Zero.
“Danger to a major aquifer, which the pipeline traverses? It is already crisscrossed by 25,000 miles of pipeline, enough to circle the Earth. Moreover, the State Department had subjected Keystone to three years of review — the most exhaustive study of any oil pipeline in U.S. history — and twice concluded in voluminous studies that there would be no significant environmental harm.
“So what happened? “The administration,” reported The New York Times, “had in recent days been exploring ways to put off the decision until after the presidential election.” Exploring ways to improve the project? Hardly. Exploring ways to get past the election.
“Obama's decision was meant to appease his environmentalists. It's already working. The president of the National Wildlife Federation told The Washington Post (online edition, Nov. 10) that thousands of environmentalists who were galvanized to protest the pipeline would now support Obama in 2012. Moreover, a source told the Post, Obama campaign officials had concluded that “…they do not pick up one vote from approving this project.”
“Sure, the pipeline would have produced thousands of truly shovel-ready jobs. Sure, delay could forfeit to China a supremely important strategic asset — a nearby, highly reliable source of energy. But approval was calculated to be a political loss for the president. Easy choice.
“It's hard to think of a more clear-cut case of putting politics over nation. This from a president whose central campaign theme is that Republicans put party over nation, sacrificing country to crass political ends.
Charles Krauthammer also points out that “… this is not the first time Obama's election calendar trumped the national interest:
• Obama's decision to wind down the Afghan surge in September 2012 is militarily inexplicable. It comes during the fighting season. It was recommended by none of his own military commanders. It is explicable only as a talking point for the final days of his re-election campaign.
• At the height of the debt-ceiling debate last July, Obama pledged to veto any agreement that was not long term. Definition of long term? By another amazing coincidence, any deal large enough to get him past Election Day (and thus avoid another such crisis next year).
• Tuesday it was revealed that last year the administration pressured Solyndra, as it was failing, to delay its planned Oct. 28 announcement of layoffs until Nov. 3 — the day after the midterm election. A contemporaneous email from a Solyndra investor noted: “Oddly they didn't give a reason for that date.” The writer was clearly born yesterday. The American voter was not — and (s)he soon gets to decide who really puts party over nation and re-election above all.
We can't wait.”
Dear readers, just to add the last bit of GOP-bashing by Obama…on Monday evening, right after the Supercommittee announced that it had no agreement on how to create $ 1.2 Trillion in budget cuts in the next decade, the President took to TV to tell America that it was all the fault of the Republican members of the Supercommittee who were protecting the current tax situation for ‘millionaires.’ No mention of the Democrats who would not even consider a first cut to welfare and social programs. No sir, blame it on the GOP. Full stop.
Once again, Barak Obama is treating the American voting public as a bunch of fools. They are not fools and he will most probably learn this to his great sorrow in November 2012 when he is left wondering why he was not re-elected. That - dear Mr. President - you can blame on the Republicans and all other thinking Americans.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Egyptian Freedom Fighters Back on the Streets and May Prove That Mobs Can be the Instruments of Freedom

Thirty-three people were killed this weekend at Tahrir Square in Cairo during the worst clashes between protesters and the Egyptian military since the revolution began last January.
The protesters are angry with the army’s inability or refusal to turn over power to a civilian government and get on with the promised parliamentary elections which ought to begin later this week.
On the streets surrounding the Square, thousands of protesters are milling and trying to figure out how to unblock the political situation in Egypt. Many believe that ousted president Hosni Mubarak is still in charge, directing the military from his jail cell. Others think the army will not voluntarily turn over power and want to step back into a military government much like that which was in power before (and perhaps during) Mubarak’s reign.
Tonight, there are rumors in Cairo that the cabinet appointed by the army council has offered its mass resignation. What and who would be acceptable to Egyptians as their successors is not clear.
The protest leaders have put out a call for a Million Person March tomorrow, which is likely to bring about even more confrontation and violence.
It is easy to be mesmerized by the TV images - to watch CNN or BBC and be caught up in the ‘theatre’ of protest and response, as if one were watching a good guy-bad guy war film. But, the images are not fake. They represent lives and families and the future of Egypt as a democratic nation. The protesters have already once put themselves on the line to rid Egypt of its military dictatorships that are sustained by army force and finally take over the army’s always weak intention to make Egypt stand for freedom.
And, then, one thinks about mobs…mob violence…the impersonal nature of protest and repression. Often, we hear and read about the nature of mobs, that they are capable of malicious and violent acts that no one human being would be able to commit alone.
Certainly, there is truth in this, for often mobs are taken over by anarchists (in G20 protests that turn into city-smashing sprees) or by sinister forces that use them for unannounced ends (South African apartheid police infiltrating marches and making them violent as an excuse to attack and kill black protesters).
But, in Egypt, perhaps the mob is not sinister or malicious, but simply human. Maybe they realize that alone, each protester would be shot or arrested and tortured or simply ignored. But, together, in the thousands, they can send a message to the Egyptian army that they will not endure another round of dictatorship. Together they can signal to the world that their voices are important, that they are serious and are willing to put their bodies on the line for freedom, demonstrating that mobs can be the voice of freedom and democracy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Today's Spanish Elections May Say Something about the French and American Presidential Elections in 2012

Spain held parliamentary elections today and the right (the Popular Party) won an absolute majority. The socialists, in power since 2004, have now been put out of office, taking only 28.5% of the vote and losing 59 seats. The result is historic for the right because it is the largest majority the party has had since Spain became a democracy after the fall of Franco and it means that the PP will be able to rule without forming any coalitions with the Greens or other minority parties.
Spain is the third European country to oust a government that was in power when the Eurozone crisis began. The other two are Italy and Greece, where sitting governments were also tossed out.
Spain has been hit by the crisis as hard as any Eurozone country. It has upwards of 20% unemployment, higher for young people who are actually studying French and German in private schools in the hope of leaving Spain to try to find work.
The right campaigned hard on the need to put into place a rigorous austerity program to try to save the country from default by reducing the government deficit and reassuring banks who buy Spanish bonds that the country is serious about putting its fiscal house in order.     
But, even though 72% of Spanish voters turned out today, they have no illusions about the future. Voters who spoke after leaving polling places said that they know that the crisis is worldwide and that there really isn’t any viable solution in sight.  
The new Popular Party prime minister will take office on the 20th of December, a week after the new parliament is sworn in, and his job, he says, is to try to keep Spain out of recession, and to reduce unemployment and the deficit at the same time (not an easy trick).
Next will be the French presidential election in April and May 2012, and then the US presidential election in November 2012.
It is not clear that these two results will follow Spain’s example of moving to the right. In France, especially, voters express a real resentment of the way President Sarkozy and his Gaullist party have governed. But, as the weeks tick down to voting day, my guess is that the French will probably vote for Sarkozy, although reluctantly. The socialist candidate is a former Socialist Party chairman who has no experience in governing (think Michele Bachmann) and whose party is really a coalition of many leftist factions who rarely agree among themselves. That, as one could say, is no way to win an election. And, the other interesting fact is that the extreme right Nationalist Party is polling at between 15 and 20% of probable voters. This could mean a repeat of the 2002 election when the socialists lost in the first round, being beaten by the Nationalist Party candidate. This led to a sweep for the right, when French voters who had voted extreme right edged back to the center and re-elected Jacques Chirac.
America? I would, if pressed, say that the same thing may happen there, except that there will be only one ballot. Those who are expressing very rightist preferences in presidential candidates will move back toward the center to be sure that their votes will count in preventing President Obama, who is far to the left of most Americans, from being re-elected.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Eurozone Debt Crisis and the US Dollar

It was reported today in the financial news that China bought more U.S. Treasury debt in September, after cutting its purchases of US Treasuries in August by 3.1%.
Total foreign holdings of US Treasury debt rose for a second straight month, according to the Treasury, with total foreign holdings increasing 1.9% to $4.66 Trillion. China, the largest foreign holder, bought 1% more to bring its total holdings to $1.15 Trillion.
This suggests that foreign demand for U.S. debt remains strong, despite a prolonged congressional debate this summer over increasing the nation's borrowing limit. Investors don't appear to be concerned that Standard & Poor's downgraded the credit rating on long-term U.S. debt. S&P said it lowered the U.S. credit rating because of politics that slowed the debt limit increase and not because it thought the U.S. couldn't pay its bills.
There was other important financial news today. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany is ready to give up some sovereignty in order to strengthen the Eurozone and restore confidence in the common currency.
Merkel’s remarks were made at the joint briefing following her meeting with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. European Union treaty changes to strengthen European Union institutions and supervise tighter budget rules are needed “to make the Eurozone more crisis-proof,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
“Germany sees the show the markets and the world public that the Euro will remain together, that the Euro must be defended, but also that we are prepared to give up a little bit of national sovereignty,” Merkel said, adding that Germany wants a strong EU and a Euro “of 17 member states that is just as strong and inspires confidence on international markets.”
Germany, the largest contributor to Euro-area bailouts, is ruffling feathers with its plans for an overhaul of the EU’s guiding rules (treaties). U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has already rebuffed Merkel’s proposal for treaty change, saying that the crisis offers the opportunity to allow power to “ebb back” to national states from Brussels.
Merkel explained that treaty change would mean “an intervention and oversight role in respect of the preparation of national budgets, but with flexibility to certain countries to do their own particular budgetary strategy.”
“We have an absolute interest in the continued strength of the European Union and the stability of the Eurozone and the Euro,” Irish Prime Minister Kenny said, but even so, “any steps toward major treaty changes would be very challenging….We had a frank conversation about that.”
Merkel said that the existing treaties mean that the European Central Bank “doesn’t have the possibility of solving the Euro problem.”
Markets in Europe apparently were not happy with these remarks, which were followed by the French Finance Minister saying that amending the EU treaties is not necessary, but that Germany should agree to allowing the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to hold a banking license so that it could buy and sell the bonds of countries in the Eurozone.
This is the European and the Euro problem in a nutshell. France and Germany have still not agreed on how to solve the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Most EU countries are not interested in re-opening the EU treaties because they would have to be ratified by either sceptic parliaments or by votes of citizens who are beginning to realize that whatever happens, they are going to be left holding the empty Euro sovereign debt bag and will have to re-fill it through higher taxes and severe cutbacks in government services.
All this indecision and bickering caused the European bond markets to become very nervous. Spanish and French 10-year bonds sold at higher than expected interest rates, meaning that these two Eurozone countries are probably now beginning to feel the effects of the European indecisiveness in their bond markets. This could truly be the death knell for the Euro, since Germany would then stand alone against the sovereign default of the entire Eurozone. European financial analysts are today talking about Italy already being lost and the next battlefield quickly becoming Spain.
But, there was a positive effect for those holding US Dollars. The Dollar rose today against all major currencies except the Japanese Yen, and the Euro hit a five-week low against the Greenback.
After a relative had died in London and the story was picked up in America as Mark Twain's having died, Twain wrote a handwritten note in May 1897 saying, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Perhaps this often-used quote also applies to the Dollar. All those wringing their hands about it losing its reserve currency status might want to take notice of today’s events. This is not to say that America can relax and do nothing about its own sovereign debt burden, but today’s financial markets gave the Dollar a vote of confidence which ought to encourage America to get on with what it knows it has to do - reduce its long-term debt and annual budget.  


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FIFA's Blatter Makes Inappropriate Comments on Football Racism

Sepp Blatter is president of the Federation International of Football Associations - better known as FIFA, which is the governing body for world football, or soccer as it is often known in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Blatter is a controversial figure, having survived allegations of bribe taking by his executive committee (never a finger pointed directly at him) and the recent choices of Football World Cup venues in the developing world, where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by countries to meet FIFA standards, money which would be better spent in developing their own people’s capacity to grow and compete economically. The latest example of Brazil trying to lock down whole slum areas in its largest cities in order to meet FIFA security requirements shows the lunacy of Blatter’s World Cup decision-making.
And, should we forget, Mr. Blatter has often been less than wise in his choice of words, making Herman Cain look good by comparison.
For example, Blatter not so long ago said that female football teams ought to wear tighter, sexier uniforms if they want to attract spectators to their games.
And he also suggested, after awarding a Football World Cup to Qatar and being asked how gay fans could be safe in the country where homosexuality is a crime, said, they had better abstain from sex of any kind, with a little smirk on his face.
But this week, Blatter really hit home. FIFA and all the European national football associations are waging a fierce battle against racism. It may be difficult for non-Europeans to comprehend that players of color on European teams are subjected to monkey hoots and having banana peels tossed at them to the accompaniment of racist words. Even members of their own teams have crossed the line with epithets hurled at African players, who are among the very best in the game.
Blatter went on record this week, saying that he has often spoken out against racism in football and that he will do so again and again.  Fine. But, not being able to stop there, Blatter went on the say that in the heat of play sometimes things are said that are wrong. Leading players of every color have taken him on about this nonchalant remark, and told him in so many words that they cannot believe he would say such thing in the middle of an anti-racism campaign that seems to be bearing fruit.
At his age, almost a carbon copy of Joe Paterno’s 84 years and whose age surely had a lot to do with his dismissive effort in the pedophile scandal at Penn State University, Blatter may be reaching the end of his rope. In Europe, commentators are beginning to ask if he shouldn’t retire and let someone younger and more in touch with the world we live in take over the reins of FIFA.
A consummation devoutly to be wished, as Hamlet said.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Herman Cain Explains America's Fiscal Problem

Yesterday, the Herman Cain website published an article on the fiscal problem facing America. It is a good explanation, not only of America's but also of Europe's situation.
You can find the article in its entirety at
To summarize the article:
1. America has more than $14 trillion in debt and upwards of $60 trillion in unfunded entitlement mandates, and the budget deficit is growing by $1 Trillion each year. 
2. Solving the fiscal problem is critical and it must be started now, and that requires presidential leadership, which Cain says Obama completely lacks.
3. The solution is two-pronged - first, begin budget cuts now, and second, stimulate economic growth.
4. To do these two things, the government must cut spending in a real way, not just by promising "future cuts" that will probably never materialize, and not by sticking to its belief that the only way back to economic growth is through government spending - a Keynesian idea that makes most governments run around in the non-productive circle of spending in bad times to create good times and spending in good times because the money's there. Result? No budget cuts, ever, and bigger and bigger deficits.
5. There is now sufficient money in the hands of individual Americans and corporations to generate economic growth by product / services demand and job creation, but neither individuals nor corporations are spending because they are unsure about the future...will there be new taxes, will regulation continue to increase and choke off corporate expansion, will more and more money be drained from the American economy to fund welfare?
6. Until presidential leadership takes control of the "cut spending and create an environment for economic growth" agenda, America will sink deeper and deeper into debt. That is why this election is so important. 
Of course, the 9-9-9 program is mentioned, and Cain obviously thinks he the best candidate. Maybe he is...time will tell if the Republican faithful believe him.
But, the fiscal analysis is correct. The solution is spelled out. It is now time to find a leader to get on with doing the job.
And, Europe should take the same lesson to heart, because America and Europe are on the same boat and on the same paths. Europe is just more to the front of the boat this time, and not for the good.

Monday, November 14, 2011

America’s and Europe’s Ability to Grow and Compete in the 21st Century

It is almost laughable that the Euro currency, battered by its leaders’ inability to keep their financial promises to one another, and for the past year by its inability to save either Greece or Italy from the real threat of government bankruptcy, is worth $1.37. That’s right, the US Dollar is worth 0.73 Euro today. Even Europeans find it rather hard to understand.
The most often given explanation is that instead of investing in Eurozone economies, the European Central Bank is investing its funds in China and Brazil, thereby earning real returns. This, they say, explains why the Euro is stronger than the Dollar - because it is earning returns on its investments, while the Dollar is paying others, mostly banks, who thus earn returns on their investments. How?
In the United States, the Federal Reserve is selling US Treasury Bonds and letting the money (proceeds) stay in banks in the US monetary system instead of sweeping the proceeds up into the Federal Reserve itself. Those extra Dollars being pumped into the US system makes the Dollar worth less because there are more of them in circulation. The banks use the Dollars to buy Treasuries and earn the interest the Federal Reserve pays. Critics of the Federal Reserve policy say that this is the main reason for high unemployment and inflationary pressures.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was caused, as analysts have agreed in hindsight, by placing high protective tariffs on foreign goods coming into the US, which was answered by other countries placing their own protective tariffs until goods were not moving freely enough to support any of the world’s economies. The Depression was also caused by taxing capital at too high rates (by increasing taxes on the rich), and by creating a climate of uncertainty because of President Roosevelt’s efforts to drastically change banking rules, the court system and regulatory schemes.
It that sounds oddly familiar, it is because we are witnessing much the same pattern today.
Whether it is President Obama’s attack on the rich in the name of “paying their fair share”, or his heavy-handed regulatory reforms and tack-on rules that have left business wondering what will be the next shoe to fall, or his Obamacare law that fundamentally changes the way American individuals and employers purchase medical care.
We are seeing the same pattern in Europe, where the latest idea is to tax banks on capital transactions, something which many experts point out would serve only to reduce the availability of money for those who want to use it to create jobs and products.
Until the American Congress acts to cut back on regulation, take back its constitutional duty to control the value of the Dollar, and reduce taxes that punish job-creating businesses, nothing will change very much in America.
In Europe, the problem is the expensive one-currency-for-all Euro (no matter how much it is killing jobs and economic growth) that has driven Eurozone countries to lie about their real government debt profiles, tax citizens at levels above their ability to pay, and seek more and more regulation to solve the problem.  
And, the real worry now is that so many people in the US and Europe are receiving welfare benefits of one sort or another, that they will vote to continue on the present path. This is the shortest road to destroying what is left of America’s and Europe’s ability to grow and compete in the 21st century against the emerging Asian and South American economies.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Italy's Eurozone Crisis Is Just Beginning

If there is a theme to the news these days, it is that Italy is on the road to becoming Greece II. And Greece is on the road to becoming the first country to exit the Eurozone.
The 10-year bond interest rate being demanded by lenders to Italy is hovering at around 7%. This is what financial analysts call the “tipping point,” that is, the interest rate that must be paid by a government borrowing money (i.e., selling bonds) to manage its budget is too great to be paid with the money available from taxes and other government income. So, sooner or later, the government will be in default and the lenders will have to either try to force the country to pay them without regard to the citizens’ needs, or the lenders will simply mark the bonds they bought as unrecoverable. This will put a hole in the banks’ capital account and someone will have to lend the banks money to fill the hole.
This hasn’t happened in Greece or Italy yet because the European Central Bank is buying their bonds - to support the interest rate at below 7% for Italy and simply to funnel money to Greece so it can continue as a going concern because its interest rate on 10-year bonds is above 30% and no one except the ECB is buying them.
That Mario Berlusconi was forced out as Italy’s prime minister really is of little positive significance. He has held the Italian government together through his coalition with the far right Northern League for almost 20 years. If you consider that Italy has had more than 50 prime ministers since the end of World War II, you will see that Berlusconi has done a remarkable job in keeping a government functioning in Italy for such a long period. We must now await the results of Mario Monti’s effort to forge a solid coalition that can push through the austerity measures demanded by the Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. Monti will probably get this job done, but in the aftermath, with budget tightening pinching the lives and living standards of almost every Italian family, he will need the support of the Northern League and Berlusconi’s party to continue to govern. Without these two parties, Monti could not survive a confidence vote in the Italian parliament.
Don’t believe that the Eurozone crisis is over, or that the Euro as a currency has been saved. Neither is out of the woods.
And, there is still whispering in Europe about Greece exiting the Eurozone and going back to its Drachma early next year. Will Italy follow and revive the Lira? Will Spain decide to go back to its old currency?
And, the biggest unanswered question of all, how long will Germany continue to be the lender of last resort for the rest of the Eurozone, paying to keep the Euro currency on life support while the rest of the Eurozone longs for the good old days when they actually had control over their currencies, their budgets and their individual destinies.
The year 2012 will be interesting, and not just for US presidential politics.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Consider Mitt Romney's Positions before Jumping on his Bandwagon

We all know by now, and some of us are tired of hearing, that the media says Mitt Romney is the person who will be nominated to represent the GOP in the 2012 presidential election.
But, just before everyone jumps on the bandwagon, let’s do a little review.

1. RomneyCare was the formula for Obamacare. Neither has worked, both have raised health care insurance and costs (in Massachusetts by 52%), and both are versions of socialized medicine, under which every person must buy insurance or pay a fine. Does the GOP really want to hear Obama thanking Romney in every campaign speech for giving him the idea for Obamacare?
2. CBS News says that Romney raised business taxes by $300 Million while governor of Massachusetts. Is this the way to create jobs?
3. Government spending in Massachusetts increased by 7.6% in 2006 and 10.2% in 2007 under Romney. Is this the work of someone who says he’s for smaller government?  
4. While Romney was governor of Massachusetts, the legislature passed the first law in the US to regulate carbon omissions. Is this the way to make America energy-independent?
5. While governor of Massachusetts, Romney appointed more Democrat than Republican judges. Is this conservative action at work?
6. Romney, when running for governor, said, “We do have tough gun control laws in Massachusetts - I support them…I believe they help protect us, and provide for our safety.” Are these the words of someone who would support the Second Amendment?
7. Romney once said that he is more pro-life than Ted Kennedy. What more is there to say?

So, let’s try to be thoughtful, and look for a Republican candidate who actually represents the GOP, and is not a weak-sister version of Barak Obama.