Saturday, December 31, 2011

Things I Hope Do and Do Not Happen in 2012

If we all have likes and dislikes about 2011, there are certain events that I, personally, would not like to see happen in 2012. Things that would make our world a worse place for all of us, a little scarier, if that’s possible, or a little less human.
So, here’s my list of Things That Should Not Happen in 2012.

1.   Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan strongman, continues to tighten his grip on South America, with the help of Russia and China.
2.   The Egyptian Army refuses to hand over power to the civilians who wrested it away from Mubarak and them in the first place, because a continued military rule in Egypt would set the stage for similar results all over Middle East hot spots.
3.   Syria’s Bashar al-Assad hangs on to power and uses it to destroy the Syrian opposition, who are the popular voice for moderation and modernization in this powerful Middle East country, because Syria is the key to the Iraq-Iran power play and to the survival of Israel without the need for a war to save her.
4.   Iran is allowed to continue the development of her nuclear capacity unchecked, because the longer the West and the United States dawdles, the more Iran will be convinced that it is a country that the rest of the word fears, and this would lead to war in the Middle East without any doubt.
5.   China continues to refuse to release its political prisoners and allow some greater measure of free speech, because without such a moderation in China’s human rights policies, she cannot be accepted totally into the group of leading powers, where she really belongs if she could just get her act together about personal freedoms and work out how to admit them into her communist society, as Russia has pretty much done, if you think about it, because Russia is still communist, with a patina of human rights and free market economics papered over it.
6.   Barak Obama is not re-elected, being beaten in 2012 by a Republican, probably Mitt Romney, who will restore to America her tradition of personal liberty, free market economics but with needed controls, and technological and military presences that will reassure the world that the America they knew and dream of is still there for all of them.
7.   The Eurozone continues to throw good money after bad trying to save the single currency, because the money both impoverishes every Eurozone country and its citizens and makes the day of reckoning even more costly for those countries, such as Germany and France, who may want to continue in tandem with a single Franco-German single currency.

On a more positive note, here are Some Other Thoughts about 2012:

1.   No matter who is elected president, Ron Paul should not be picked to be ambassador to the United Nations.
2.   Sarah Palin should not try to be the GOP mother figure, but get on with making mega-bucks as a tea partier.
3.   Silvio Berlusconi should fade quietly away from Italian politics instead of trying to form a coalition to take back power.
4.   Angelina Jolie should get her hair cut into a style that reflects both her age and the times.
5.   All men should try once again to shave instead of looking like they just stumbled, razor lacking, out of some Arctic exploration sled.
6.   Just once, we should have a Tour de France without even one drug use incident.
7.   Ireland should admit, now that its glory days as the recipient of enormous European Union funding are over, that she has a lot more in common with the United Kingdom and the United States than she does with the Eurozone, and go back home where she belongs.
8.   At least a few Hollywood stars should boycott violence for violence’s sake in their choice of films this year, because it might make all of us, and especially our children, more human.  
9.   Groups and politicians wanting to eliminate the Second Amendment right to bear arms should give up because it ain’t never gonna happen…find another cause that might actually do some good.
10. Sex in public life, everywhere, should show something except its physical aspects, and in the process teach the world's young people about the value of love in their lives.
11. Muslims and Christians actually have a lot more in common than we imagine in these troubled times, and a group of world leaders ought to find the commonalities and focus on them to try to bring an end to the unthinking fears on both sides that make the elimination of distrust and terrorism impossible…Bill Clinton, do you hear me???

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Likes and Dislikes of 2011

It’s that time again - 2011 is almost history and 2012 is peeking around the corner. And, the urge to make predictions rises like a melody that won’t leave your head.
But, this year, which has been so convulsive and erratic, I think I’d like to do something else - give my Likes and Dislikes for 2011. You don’t have to agree with my list, you can make your own.

1.   President Obama pulling all US troops out of Iraq with no real negotiation or plan for the future when, not if, things turn negative, because Iraq is an unstable and dangerous land where religious and ethnic differences are not yet under control and it is certain that American troops will have to step back in, not in a war mode but as peace establishers and then as peacekeepers.
2.   German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s determination to make the rest of Europe suffer for its lack of German-style government management, causing most of non-German Europeans to dislike her and distrust her solutions and wish that the Euro currency would disappear and German leadership with it.
3.   Russian prime minister Putin’s desire, perhaps aided by that of Russian president Medvedev, to play the Russian Bear card by supporting Qadhaffi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, proving once more that Russia may be a big power, but not great, because she cannot find it in her soul to support humanity, instead of sewing dissent among nations, at times when it would actually make a big difference in many people’s and country’s lives.
4.   Sepp Blatter’s continued tenure at the head of the Federation International of Football Associations, because he is outdated, too old, probably tainted by corruption and certainly not the man for the job if eradicating football racism counts for anything.
5.   The end of the space shuttle program, decided by President Bush and agreed to by President Obama, because it is an important visible symbol of America’s technical leadership and its demise reflects badly on America’s vision of her own future and lets other less altruistic nations take the lead in a program that worldwide TV beams to the masses of humanity every week, now showing Americans paying to hitch rides on Russian shuttles.

1.   David Cameron standing up to the Euro-team of Merkel and Sarkozy, because he is the only world statesman who has the vision that their financial salvage program is wrong and also the courage to say so and 2012 will prove him to have been right.  
2.   Sarah Palin’s good sense in deciding not to be a presidential candidate, because she understood that she could not be elected and would have been a distraction and negative force as a candidate - now if a few other Republicans would show that same good judgment, the White House will be in GOP hands in 2012.
3.   David Beckham’s and Thierry Henry’s decisions, as aging super stars of football, to continue to play, bridging the Atlantic to play in both America and Europe and thus bringing the two continent’s football closer together while showing that super stars may age, but their talents and positive effect of their teams and younger players, their countries and football in general cannot be over-estimated.
4.   Japan’s determination to overcome the terrible earthquake and tsunami, because it is a lesson in national solidarity and commitment to the future of a people.
5.   Israel’s decision to continue to stand up for its rights as a nation, despite terribly mixed support signals from President Obama, because without a strong and resilient Israel, the Middle East would disintegrate into warring religious and tribal factions, some of whom have or will have nuclear weapons.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ann and Mitt Romney Are a Joyfully Polite and Decent Couple

Ann Romney participated in the CNN Situation Room interview with her husband, Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate, yesterday.
She is a lovely woman.
Mrs. Romney was born in 1949 in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where she met her future husband when they were still in elementary school. Their relation led her, a practicing Christian who favored the Episcopalian Church, to convert to The Church of the Latter Day Saints before they married in 1969. She has a degree in education and French language from Harvard, earned at night after the birth of the first of their five sons. She has devoted herself to her family sons and husband.
In 1998, Ann Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Treatments, both mainstream and alternative, have allowed her to manage her MS, which is in remission. As part of her therapy, Mrs. Romney has found equestrian activities helpful, especially dressage, for which she has received recognition as an amateur.
Mrs. Romney has also had precancerous breast lumps, discovered in 2008, removed and is still undergoing preventive treatment.
She has been active in children’s charities, including Operation Kids. When her husband became governor of Massachusetts, she took on the job of Governor’s Liaison for faith-based groups in Massachusetts seeking grants from the federal government under its Faith Based and Community Activities Initiatives. Those who worked with her in this role say she was a “dynamo” who got a lot done, although she was not particularly in the public eye otherwise while her husband was governor.
But, during this time, Ann Romney was already becoming recognized nationally as the spearhead for her husband’s 2008 presidential bid.
In the 2012 presidential campaign, Mrs. Romney has travelled extensively with her husband, assuming once again a public role. Mitt Romney has often said that he would not stay in the political arena, seeking election to the presidency, if his wife’s health had deteriorated. It was Ann Romney who convinced her husband to undertake the 2012 effort, saying last night that she believes he is the one person who can turn American around.
When Mitt Romney made the unfortunate comment about a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry during a December debate, it was Ann who stepped up to him afterward and said, “There are a lot of things you do well. Betting isn't one of them.”
In a current ad on TV in Iowa, Ann Romney talks about the importance of measuring a candidate's character and integrity, an apparent knock against Gingrich.
"You can never predict what kind of tough decisions are going to come in front of a president's desk. But if you can trust they will do the right thing, and maybe the hard thing, and maybe not the popular thing, and if you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they've lived their life.”
It is in her role as a presidential candidate’s wife that she appeared last evening on CNN. She talked about the 2008 and 2012 campaigns and the tough times when her husband or she is attacked.
You know, it's funny.  This is our second time around, and the first time, at the end of the last campaign, I turned to Mitt, and I said one thing I know for certain, I'm never going to do this again. Because it is hard. It's hard to hear these things.  It's hard to go through this. Mitt laughed, because he says I said that after each pregnancy and I think most people know I have five kids….But going through it the second time gives you a different perspective. You recognize - and we didn't get into this the second time without really believing that Mitt needed to actually be the President of the United States.  Running is difficult. But we're running because we love America and because we believe America's heading in the wrong direction and because we truly believe Mitt is the right one to lead this country back to the prosperity that - and to the job creation and everything else.  So going through the process, I feel - it's funny this time.  I don't - I don't feel anything when I see those things.”
Watching last night, I was struck by the calmness and down to earth quality of Ann Romney. She is poised but natural, educated but not stiff about what she knows, thoughtfully convinced of her positions but not eager to push her convictions into America's face.
And she is obviously the center of her husband's life. All you need to do is watch him watch her...the affection, love, pride nad devotion cannot be hidden. Ann Romney is clearly on the same wavelength because she is relaxed and ready to speak without hesitation. Her body language is positive and directed toward her husband.
They are such a well-behaved, devoted, polite and decent couple that I wonder why anyone else should be elected. Maybe it's time for some old-fashioned courtesy and politeness to descend on the United States, emanating from a Romney White House.
Why not get back to the traditional basics Americans cherish?  




Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Polls Show Europeans Very Unhappy with the Euro Single Currency

A French-language newspaper in Switzerland published an article today about the attitude of citizens of Eurozone countries toward their Euro currency, the single currency as it is often called. Somewhat surprisingly, the major French TV channel devoted a report on today's evening news  to the same topic.
According to recent polls, the Euro is seen mostly as the mechanism whereby the cost of living was significantly raised because prices of ordinary items and food products have risen sharply in the 10 years that the Euro has existed. One of the original arguments for the implementation of the single currency - that the Euro would make travel easier by eliminating the need to change money as travellers crossed borders in Europe - is dismissed as irrelevant by most ordinary people.
An economist quoted by the Swiss paper said that the perception of the Euro as “an augmentation of prices” has not subsided and that it is the basic reason for Eurozone citizens’ unhappiness.  
For that reason as well as others, the Euro is disliked and seen as something to be tolerated rather than embraced by the some 332 million citizens in the 17 Eurozone countries that use it as their currency.
The Swiss newspaper rep0rted that 32% of French interviewed want to see the return of their French Franc. This desire is expressed among all regions from Normandy to the Côte d’Azur. The French TV report gave similar results.
Spanish citizens say that “the Euro is the worst thing that ever happened” to their country.
As one could well imagine, the current financial crisis, with its high rates of unemployment and contraction of social services, has simply reinforced the belief that the Euro is partly to blame and that it will make matters worse rather than better.
There is the tale told by a grandmother of a lollipop that used to cost 1.5 French Francs now costing 2 Euros…that would be like an American lollipop going from 25 cents to almost $2.50.
And, also as we might expect, dissatisfaction with the Euro leads to dissatisfaction with the entity that created it and foisted it on hundreds of millions of Europeans - the European Union.
Some European Union countries refused to join the Eurozone by rejecting the Euro - Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain.
Other countries in Europe refused even to join the European Union - notably Norway and Switzerland.
But, with the crisis caused by the public debt load of countries in the Eurozone, all of these non-participating countries are providing capital infusions to try to hold the Eurozone and the European Union together, at least until a rational way of dismantling it can be devised and agreed upon.
And, although they do not want to talk about it, most large European banks are now putting in place action plans to help them get through a collapse of the Euro. Not talking is their way of trying not to precipitate the very thing that they know will cause them losses and disruption.  
Dear readers, all is not well in the Eurozone on the eve of 2012. And it won’t be for some time to come…not until the Euro either recovers, which is not thought likely, or is put out of its misery as efficiently and calmly as possible.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Democrats' Fake Chant that They Are the People's Party

It is always infuriating to read and hear incessantly that the Democratic Party is the party of the people, dedicated to protecting the “average” guy / girl and his / her family. Democrats love to poke a pauper's stick in the eye of any nearby Republican, just to remind the world that the GOP is the party of “millionaires.”
Of course, we all know that this is rubbish, but in case you have any lingering doubts about which party is full of wealthy politicians whose interests are heavily weighted toward “the good life,” consider the following.

President Barack Obama is spending his holidays, all 17 days of them, in beach front homes in Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii. The tab that the President will hopefully pay personally is reportedly about $6,000 per night. US taxpayers will foot a bill of about $4 Million for the required security and communications systems needed while the President is on vacation.

While the president and his family are on their 17-day luxury vacation, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is spending her Christmas at the exotic Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka'upulehu in Kona, Hawaii. The Ca
lifornia Democrat's suite, which she has rented for the past two Christmases, goes for a gigantic $10,000 a night. Pelosi has been escorted by local police during her two visits, at a cost of $34,000 to local taxpayers.

Pelosi reportedly spent Christmas Eve at midnight Mass in St. Michael's Catholic Church in Kailua-Kona. Presumably, she gave a big contribution when the offering plate was passed, say $10,000, just to ease her conscience about the luxury of her own life, amid her rants about the GOP’s imaginary preoccupation with millionaires. But, then, it has often been proven that Mrs. Pelosi doesn’t have much of a conscience, does she?

GOP House Speaker John Boehner is at home in Ohio for the holidays.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Good King Wenceslas Is Patron Saint of the Czech Republic

"Good King Wenceslas" is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr whose feast has been celebrated from the very earliest days on December 26. During the King’s journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is able to continue by following the king's footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935).
Wenceslas I (b. 907 – September 28, 935) was the duke of Bohemia from 921 until his assassination in 935, purportedly in a plot by his own brother, Boleslav the Cruel.
Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, when a cult of Wenceslas grew up in Bohemia and in England. Within a few decades of Wenceslas' death four biographies of him were in circulation. These hagiographies had a powerful influence on the High Middle Ages’ conceptualization of the rex justus, or "righteous king"—that is, a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his princely vigor.
Referring approvingly to these hagiographies, the chronicler Cosmas of Prague, writing in about the year 1119, states:
 “But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.”
Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II, who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving for Wenceslas’ life and saintliness.
Although Wenceslas was, during his lifetime, only a duke, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously "conferred on [Wenceslas] the regal dignity and title" and that is why, in the legend and song, he is referred to as a "king."  
King Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech state.
In 1853, English hymnwriter John Mason Neale wrote the "Good King Wenceslas" lyrics, in collaboration with his music editor Thomas Helmore, and the carol first appeared in Carols for Christmas-Tide, 1853.
According to older Czech sources, Neale's lyrics are a translation of a poem by Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda, written in Czech, German and Latin.
The words are familiar to many European and American Christians and are sung at Christmas during church services.

Good King Wenceslas (J. M. Neale, 1853)
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

You are surely asking, dear readers, why I would go to such length about a Christmas carol. I have to say, first, that it is a good carol, with a sound moral message.  
But, more personally, it is the carol that marks the Christmas feast for my sister and me. We are usually far apart geographically, but wherever we may be on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, we call and sing Good King Wenceslas over the phone.  Our custom began when we lived near one another more than 40 years ago and we could sing the carol around the Christmas tree, and since that time, we have not missed a Christmas rendition of Good King Wenceslas, no matter where we are.
So, Happy Holidays, everyone, and Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day and St Stephen's Day to my Christian readers, and special Greetings to The Czech Republic, whose devotion to the saint has made his good deeds known around the world.
And, to my sister - don’t forget to keep your phone line available next December 25 because I’ll be phoning, as I always do.

PS: For my readers who prefer more political December 26 facts:

In 1799, four thousand people attended George Washington's funeral where Henry Lee declares him as "first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

In 1944, General George Patton's Third Army broke the encirclement of Nazi forces surrounding U.S. forces at Bastogne, Belgium.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Church Bombings Should Be Universally Condemned

It is hard to believe, even in these times filled with religious and political strife and hatred, that anyone would deliberately bomb a church while people are in it on Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus. But, it happened last year in Cairo and it has happened this year in Nigeria.
Nigeria is the largest country in Africa, with 160 million inhabitants. It is also one of the most divided upon religious lines. The south has a Christian majority, while the north has a Muslim majority. The group claiming responsibility for the attacks that have left at least 40 people dead is called Boko Haram, an extremist islamist group that some suspect has developed ties with the Maghreb al-Qaida group in French West Africa responsible for numerous attacks and kidnappings, mostly of European tourists.
It really doesn't matter what the goals of Boko Haram may be, or if they have been oppressed or belong to underclasses. What matters is that they have chosen to bomb a religious building full of worshippers. The tactic is not only heinous, but so lacking in human values that one wonders what kind of person or group could believe that their cause would be advanced by it.
It may be that they are zealots whose cause is so important in their own eyes that they have chosen the most drastic way of highlighting it. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have displayed such a lack of basic human decency that they are now open to whatever pursuit will end their reign of terror.
The Pope has spoken out against this most recent attack on Christians, as have most European governments and the United States.   
What I have not yet read is the declaration of any government or religious leader in the Muslim world. This is shameful, if true, because such an atrocity does not require deliberation before condemnation. It requires, it cries out for, the condemnation of every individual and government and religion that wants to remain in the community of civilized human beings.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Washington's Gone Home for Christmas So Let's Think about the Season

Washington - Congress and President - have signed the two-month payroll tax reduction extension, packed their bags and fled for home. We can always hope they will come back in January wiser and ready to serve the American people's future. But, that's probably just stardust in our eyes sprinkled by the angels who light our way to the stable. 
What really matters this week that leads to the birth of Jesus?
Love. So let's take a look at what some of our fellow human beings have had to say about love. Agree...disagree...but pick your favorite and try to live up to its promise.

“Man loves little and often ; woman much and rarely.”  _____Unknown

“The perfect love affair is one conducted entirely by mail.” _____Unknown
“The bravest thing men do is love women.” _____Mort Sahl

“There is no remedy for love but to love more.” _____Henry David Thoreau

“Where love is concerned, too much is not even enough.” _____Pierre de Beaumarchais

“True love begins when nothing is asked for in return.” _____Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” _____Mother Teresa

“Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.” _____Shakespeare

“Seduce my mind and you have my body; find my soul and I am yours forever.” _____Unknown

“I was afraid of love; I thought love took time like fine wine aging in a cellar. I was wrong. Love is there from the moment you see that person. Embrace it, let it grow, follow your heart, not your mind.” _____Unknown

“There are three things I have always loved and never understood : painting, music and women.” _____Fontenelle

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” ______John 3:16

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ask Ayn Rand...John Boehner Is Being Wrongfully Defeated by a Horde of Weak-kneed Politicians and the Wall Street Journal

Speaker of the House John Boehner is right about not wanting to extend the payroll tax cuts until he can see the full year’s program and the means of paying for it.
The Wall Street Journal is absolutely wrong in its position that the GOP is harming itself or American workers or the country.
What we have watched today is a dishonorable flanking movement by the weak-kneed media and politics-as-usual Washington, led by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic President Barak Obama. They know how easy it is to round up a thousand Americans who need money, now more than ever, and who are able to tell honestly heart-wrenching stories about why the loss of $70-100 per month will hurt.
John Boehner knows how to do that, too, and if he had stooped to do it, he would have been the hero-for-a-day in a town where heroes are measured by their ability to cave in to any force that makes them vulnerable to losing the next election.
Boehner chose to stand tall. It is Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate Minority Leader, who caved.
When asked how he would have handled the deal differently than Obama, Mitt Romney, GOP presidential frontrunner said: “I would’ve met with the leaders. I would’ve brought them to the White House, and if they didn’t want to come to the White House, I would’ve gone to their offices. I would have sat down. Leaders are involved in the process as opposed to just standing back and just criticizing the people who are in the process. . . . The president should have been working with his leaders in his own party, and he should’ve been reaching across the aisle and find among Republicans those who he thinks could’ve come to common position with the Democrats.”
Newt Gingrich charged that Obama is a “campaigner in chief who has no interest in trying to solve America’s problems,” and offered a harsh criticism of Harry Reid, accusing the Senate Democratic leader of “deliberately game-playing” and “total dereliction of duty.”
Gingrich added: “The Senate passes what it wants and it leaves town — doesn’t wait around, it doesn’t act responsibly. I just think if you’re a normal American, you’re looking at this stuff, you just say, ‘What a total failure of leadership.’ ” He said he had “no idea how I would try to handle it if I was in John Boehner’s position because he’s got a Senate majority leader who is totally destructive. . . .”
Ayn Rand isn’t alive to comment on today’s shabby events, but long ago she had something to say that applies to today’s mess and the weaknesses of Washington and America, for it is now time to tell Americans that the problem is theirs and the solution or destruction of their country rests in their hands, not in passing off blame to those elected to go to Washington. It is time for Americans to take charge of their destiny because nobody else is going to do it for them.
Here is Ayn Rand’s comment from Atlas Shrugged. Think about it and pass it on to your congressmen, your Senators and President Obama. Tell Mr. Boehner you support him because he is right.
“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromise is the transmitting rubber tube.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Washington Deadlock

The US House of Representatives is mostly empty this evening. The Senate is entirely empty because Senators left for the Christmas holiday two days ago. President Obama is rattling around alone in the White House because his wife and two daughters are on holiday in Hawaii without him while he waits to sign a bill that now would have to be passed by the Ghost of Christmas Past because there’s no one else left in Washington to do it.
All because of a payroll tax bill that everyone wants and no one seems to know how to get passed.
On Tuesday the House rejected a Senate compromise that would have extended a federal payroll tax holiday for two months, continued unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and averted a cut in the reimbursement rate for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
This means millions of American workers will see their paychecks shrink by something like $60-100 in January. That doesn’t seem to be much, but those two months will cost $36 billion.
And Congress cannot figure out how to pay for the payroll tax holiday in a way everyone can agree on. Should they cut entitlements or raise taxes? That is the question even Hamlet could not answer if he were in Washington these days.
What makes matters worse is that Republican Senators voted for the Senate bill and Republican House members stonewalled their leadership, or perhaps shielded their leader, John Boehner, from the tea partiers out in the real world who want no increased taxes and no additional federal debt. That leaves only entitlements cuts as a vehicle for paying, something which the Democrats are firmly opposed to.
Extending the tax cut for a full year, as well as unemployment benefits and Medicare rates, would cost $200 billion.
The two sides disagree about how to replenish Social Security, which is funded by payroll taxes. They’ve agreed to cover the $36 billion of the cost by raising the fees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge lenders for guaranteeing loans. That’s what the Senate used for its $33 billion two-month deal. But the Democrats and GOP have not been able to close the gap on a full-year deal.
The GOP House bill passed last week proposed entitlement cuts, including an increase in Medicare premiums for upper-income seniors and freezing federal salaries and shrinking the federal workforce.
Democrats want to raise taxes on the wealthy to offset the payroll tax cut, which is enjoyed by middle-income workers.
Under Obama’s American Jobs Act, the tax cut would be paid for by limiting tax deductions for families making more than $250,000 a year. Senate Democrats instead proposed a surtax on those making more than $1 million a year.
House Republicans insist the two sides are not far apart and that further talks could bridge the differences.
Obama said Senate leaders “made good progress” last week but decided that more time was needed to resolve the dispute and called for the two-month deal to be passed as “an insurance policy” against a tax increase.
That deal included a provision that would have required the Obama administration to make a speedy decision on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, a concession to House Republicans who don’t believe the tax cut is a good way to stimulate the economy.
Many Democrats charged Tuesday that continued GOP reluctance to extend the payroll tax cut was the true cause for the Republican opposition. The Republicans say this is not true.
One would think that with a $1 Trillion debt already hanging over their collective heads, Congress and the American people would shrug their shoulders and say, how’s another $200 Billion going to hurt?
But, it would hurt. What’s more, it would be the first slide down the slippery slope that leads to no budget control and no concern for the huge federal debt and little worry about who spends what and why.
That is the real problem we are witnessing in the paralysis we may think silly and unprofessional. It is neither silly nor unprofessional.
It is easy to say that a two-month extension won’t hurt. That it will all be easily resolved after the holidays, that no one wants American workers to lose money that could provide some of the weak stimulus needed in the American economy.
But, that is not the point. The point is that Democrats, often with the help of unmindful Republicans, have raised taxes, but not enough to pay for what they have spent, for a long time, and it is not time to pay. The paying will hurt. It is hurting now as John Boehner and his band try to make the point that America cannot go on as it has - that it must finally take responsibility for its finances - that spending must be controlled - that budgets must be balanced.
Why? Because if Boehner, and the rest who support him, fail, America will fail. Her credit rating will sink. Her money will become essentially worthless. If not this time, the next time. But the day will come and it is approaching with increasing speed.
Perhaps even more important, her place in the word will be jeopardized because she will no longer have the financial means to be the world’s leader.  It is easy to say, bring the troops home, stay out of foreign squabbles and wars, let the rest of the world take care of itself, and build an invisible wall around America that will keep her prosperous and safe no matter what happens elsewhere on our planet.
But, we know that is not how the world works today. Either America remains the leader, or someone else - China or Russia or a combination of them and others - will fill the vacuum.
When that day comes, it will be too late to pay America’s bills.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Can a New Year Truce Help the People of Egypt and Syria

I cannot help but think today about the freedom fighters of Egypt and the people of Syria who are trying to fight for freedom.
In Egypt, we are watching the terrible battle between the real democrats, those courageous street marchers who defied Mubarak and his military to be free, and the military which once stood with them but is now feeling power slipping away and resisting with violence against the very people they saved last January.
In Egypt, we see the forces of democracy and statist/religious control battling it out for the future of Egypt and of its people. The young and educated, especially, are engaged because it is their future. It is they who will suffer if repression is re-instated. It is they whose ideas and words will be suppressed if the islamist extreme gains power over the Egyptian government.
There is no hope, it seems, for Egyptian freedom fighters to win at the polls.  Their fears that early parliamentary elections would lead to massive victory for the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist groups was well-founded. They understand this and are now back on the streets and in the squares, fighting with everything they have in order not to lose the freedom that was so close and now seems jeopardized.  
And in Syria, we have a government so far out of control that it has today promulgated a law stating that anyone who supplies weapons to the freedom marchers in Syria will be subject to the death penalty.
The world continues to talk and cajole and install sanctions - and nothing is helping the Syrian martyrs who are trying to be free of a vicious sectarian and tribal dictatorship.
Could we hope for a Holiday truce for the Syrian people - a time at the New Year when the government would cease its slaughter.
Can we hope that the Egyptian army will see, as some in the Syrian army already have, that freedom is the honorable goal and that they must help to achieve it, starting with a truce for the New Year that will let all sides calm their passions and reflect on the rightful future of all Egyptians.