Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Florida Is the Mirror into the GOP's Will to Win in 2012

Here’s what Mitt Romney had to say about Newt Gingrich’s attacks on him in Florida these past days:
"He really can't whine about negative campaigning when he launched a very negative campaign in South Carolina. His comments most recently attacking me have been really quite sad and, I think, painfully revealing about the speaker and what he's willing to say and do to try and take the nomination. I just can't stand back and let him say those things about me without responding."
“I’m hoping that as I go to Nevada and Minnesota and Missouri and Colorado and Arizona, and the list goes on and on, that I’ll be able to get a lot of support in part because of the response here of people in Florida,” Romney added.
Gingrich insisted, meanwhile, that he will lose in Florida by a small margin, despite polls that show Romney 10-12% ahead of him.
Gingrich also insists that he is in the race for the long haul, going on to the next four caucus states and then into Super Tuesday this Spring, even though he lacks money, campaign staff and on-the-ground state organizations.
But, what I find most interesting about the Romney-Gingrich battle of words is how often they focus on intangibles. Does Romney lie…doubtful. Is Gingrich so fully in the pockets of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae…doubtful. There is some truth to both positions, but we all recognize “politics as usual” when we see it.
The real intangible is whether Romney is as “liberal” as Gingrich paints him, and whether Gingrich can really espouse to fill the shoes of Ronald Reagan.
It is a great mistake for the conservative wing of the GOP to try to make a pariah out of Romney because he is more moderate than they would prefer. His moderate views center on matters of personal conviction - abortion, which he accepts as a bad idea while carving out some exceptions for rape or when the mother’s life is in danger, and providing some kind of minimal health care to all legal Americans, a view which he shares with the majority of Americans, who agree that care ought to be available but without turning the present system that works for most Americans on its ear.
For the rest - matters political and governmental - there is very little difference between Romney and Gingrich - support for American technical and free market ingenuity in order to create new jobs, skinny down the federal government, follow the Constitution more rigorously, reduce the national debt, balance the national budget instead of raising taxes to pay for bigger government. A majority of Americans agree here, too.  
The person who does not agree is Barak Obama, whose platform is filled with bigger government, higher taxes, no escape from Obamacare, more regulation at all levels, and no quarter given to business even when it could create those desperately needed American jobs.
So, if all Republicans would take a minute to think carefully about their future and the future of the America they love so dearly, they would probably vote for Romney, because he has the campaign organization, money and presidential presence needed to confront Obama and win in November.
Florida’s results will tell us a lot not only about the candidates’ relative positions with voters but also about the GOP’s will to win the 2012 presidential election.
American politics is a history of compromise - about every aspect of national life and values.   Winning in 2012 is a matter of compromise, too - of finding the best fit between GOP principles and the national mood and cultural values.
Mitt Romney is far better positioned to carry that torch than is Newt Gingrich.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Update on Russia's Position on Syria

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Russia has decided to play its “Syria” card by continuing to defend Syria in its battle against the Arab League and the UN.
AP reports that Russia understands that its influence in the Middle East has fallen so low that Syria is its last hope. If Russia can defend Syria and bend events at the UN and in the Arab world, it may regain some of its influence in the region, so it has to try because it has nothing to lose. This analysis sounds a lot like Cold War politics, but Russia is perhaps still in that mindset in any case.
Thus, Russia will continue to veto attempts to subject Syria president Bashar al-Adsad from UN sanctions and will continue to provide weapons to Syria in the face of the almost worldwide Syrian arms embargo.
AP also suggests that Russia may be hopeful that al-Assad will prevail, thus repaying Russian support with future arms contracts.
Along with Cold War strategies and arms deals being in play, Vladimir Putin is also undoubtedly seeking to challenge the United States to prove that Russia under his leadership has fought back to a pre-eminent world position - all as part of his campaign to be re-elected president in March.
It may also be that Russia has been so vocal in its support of al-Assad that it cannot now retreat from its position without losing face both at home and in the international community.
Russia has played the Syria card for many years, even under al-Assad’s father’s regime, in an effort to dominate Middle East events and counter America influence in the region, mostly by arming Syria and allowing Syria to use the armaments to menace Israel.
When al-Assad the son took power after his father’s death, Russia forgave more than 70% of Syria’s Soviet-era debt and Putin has said several times that Russia’s route to renewing its Middle East power position is through Syria. As an example, the Syrian port of Tartus is the only naval base Russia has outside its own borders, and Russian military ships recently called on the port when they were in the Mediterranean.
And, Russia regularly delivers combat jets, tanks, missiles and other heavy weapons to Syria through Tartus - all paid for in cash by the Syrian regime.
With this as background, today Russia demanded why the Arab League had withdrawn its monitors from Syria on a day when an estimated 64 people were killed in street violence, saying that there was no need to do so. The Russian Foreign Minister called for the number of Arab League monitors to be increased.
The senior advisor to Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby said Sunday that Syrian observer activity had been suspended, and that observers outside Damascus have redeployed to the capital.
Some of the monitors will leave the country and others will stay on in Damascus but will not conduct any missions, he said.
Al-Assad's government has been under international pressure to end its brutal, months-long crackdown on an anti-government uprising that began last year.
The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and members of the Arab League have called on al-Assad to end the violence and step down.
Meanwhile, in a move that is reminiscent of earlier events in Iraq, Syrian Kurdish political groups met in Iraq to agree on a plan to protect their rights if al-Assad is ousted. While the Syrian groups say that they are willing to work with the Arab opposition in Syria, they want more self-determination and autonomy in a post-Assad Syria. The Kurds also reject taking up arms and say they are afraid of Islamic undertones in the opposition groups.
"We are calling for a decentralized government because Syria is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country," Abdul Hakim Bashar, chairman of the Kurdish National Council, told CNN. "We demand a secular state, so Islamist movements don't try to interpret the system for their benefits by applying Islamic rules in a disfigured way."
However, one of the main Syrian Kurdish parties, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said it was excluded from the meeting.
"We have been working to unite Kurdish people and converge between different views within the Kurdish movement in Western Kurdistan and Syria," the party said in a statement. "This conference by the Kurdistan Democratic Party is a plan to divide rather than unite the Kurdish people."
Kurds are Syria's largest ethnic minority, comprising between 10% and 15% of Syria's population.
Meanwhile, diplomats at the U.N. Security Council are considering a draft resolution that calls on al-Assad to step down and transfer power to his vice president. The Arab League plans to submit a new proposal to the Security Council later this week.
Russia, which maintains trade relations with Syria, has proposed its own draft U.N. resolution that assigns equal blame for the violence on both al-Assad and the opposition, an option rejected by the West.
In October, Russia and China made a rare double veto of a resolution that lacked sanctions but would have condemned the violence in Syria. This latest draft also lacks sanctions but is tougher than the earlier version, which said nothing about transfer of power.
Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, has dismissed the proposed resolution.
"Syria will not be Libya; Syria will not be Iraq; Syria will not be Somalia; Syria will not be a failing state," he told reporters.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tiger Woods Is Back

When Tiger Woods fell so profoundly from grace a couple years ago, I thought, and wrote a blog about the likelihood, that he would never be at the top of golf again.
But, if you've seen some of the tournament in Abu Dhabi this week, or even seen the commentary on TV sports programs, you know that for the first time since those dreadful events knocked the Tiger for a loop, it appears that he is back in form.
And, my optimism isn't just that he's tied for the lead going into the last day tomorrow. It is much more about him, the man. He seems so much like the Tiger Woods of old that it is hard not to believe that he has turned a corner somewhere in his head-heart that has made him whole again.
He was smiling - of course being in the lead helps a lot - as he said that he made mistakes, told the other golfers that he didn't know exactly why he was in first position, and laughed as he said, "I was just having fun out there."
How long has it been since Tiger Woods last said he was having fun on a golf course. It was obvious in his play. There were no tantrums, no pounding a club into the ground, and no look of despair-disgust-with-himself on the Tiger's face.
Will he win the Abu Dhabi tournament tomorrow? Who knows. But, I think we can be assured that he'll win tournaments this year, that his presence will inspire the crowds to cheer and follow him as they used to, and that golf will once again benefit from the Tiger that made every weekend so memorable for golf fans around the world.

Friday, January 27, 2012

We Have Had Enough Debates

Nineteen debates televised nationally is too many. If the people of Florida or any other state want to attend a debate, or watch it on statewide TV, before a GOP primary, I would agree wholeheartedly.
But, 19 national debates is finally :

-         boring because everything has been said a hundred times,
-         degrading for the participants, because as they search for new ways to express their views and to attack the other participants, things necessarily turn into personal diatribes that have little to do either with the election’s key issues or the personalities of the candidates.
-         very likely to make the TV viewers wonder if any of the candidates is qualified to be President because of the personal attacks, negative innuendo, and revelations that are not documented, proven or even true most of the time.

I admired Ron Paul’s and Mitt Romney’s good natured participation in last night’s Florida debate. It must be very difficult to begin a debate in the knowledge that one will be excoriated for being a normal human being, a description that I cannot in all honesty apply to either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. But Paul and Romney took the heat, responded as logically as the attacks permitted, and smiled as they watched the theatrics of Santorum and Gingrich.
Finally, just one good word for Rick Santorum. He was right last night in asking if all the candidates could please get on with talking about the issues instead of hashing over who is rich or a lobbyist.
I sincerely hope that the good people of Florida have had enough of Gingrich’s squalid personal attacks on Mitt Romney in the two debates in their state and will find that the only reasonable course of action is to vote for Romney - because we need to put these debates behind us. They have served their purpose in winnowing the field and in highlighting each candidate’s opinions, policies, personality and action under pressure.
It is now time to take the debate to Barak Obama, because that is where the real issues lie and where the election will be won or lost for America.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Mystery of Obama's Minimum Corporate Tax Proposal

There are times when it is impossible for me to explain a politician’s action. It happened today, for example, when President Obama’s White House announced that he wants a minimum corporate income tax. My reaction was astonishment.

1.      At a time when America is falling behind in the global competition race,
2.    At a time when unemployment, which is always cured by corporations large and small, is the number one issue for American voters,
3.     At a time when everyone, even President Obama, is calling for a major overhaul of the America tax code to eliminate “loopholes” and create a fairer system for all American taxpayers, corporations included,
4.     At a time when the President is being heavily criticized in the polls, by Republican and independent voters, and by commentators and business people,

The last thing we would have expected is the announcement that a minimum corporate tax is on the President’s agenda.
Well, I suppose the easy answer is to say that it plays to the left wing of his Democratic Party constituency, that it will make minority group Americans low on the economic ladder feel that he is trying to do something to alleviate their positions, and that it fits nicely in President Obama’s perception that a level playing field requires that corporations and wealthy Americans pay up.
All that equates with being re-elected. If Obama’s goal is re-election, he needs every vote he can get and swinging a broad bat at corporations, perceived by many Americans to be greedy and unworthy of government support, could garner a lot of votes, but probably not enough to give him the win in November. And, it will certainly galvanize every small business in the country - small businesses that create more than 50% of all jobs in America and that represent a middle class America already sufficiently fed up with the President to have formed the Tea Party movement. So, if votes were the goal, the President probably chose to go with the smaller voting block, and Barak Obama is too smart not to know that.
To take another tack, perhaps Obama was trying to do what he could to revise the tax code before the election so that he can say when the campaign gets underway full-time that it is he and not the GOP House of Representatives that is on the side of tax reform. The problem with this analysis is that nobody will believe that it is not just another political shenanigan.
Then again, he may have realized that the idea he has floated for more than a year now of sur-taxing the top 1% of Americans is simply never going to get the traction it needs to become law. Even waitresses in Omaha do not want it.
I think the real motive for the President’s minimum corporate tax proposal is that he really believes that this is the right thing to do to flatten the playing field for all Americans. And, the President’s problem here is that the more he tries to defend a minimum corporate tax, the more he will alienate himself from the American mainstream that understands that corporate capitalism is what made America great, that corporations need all the resources they can hold on to if America is to compete globally, and that they oppose higher taxes because they believe that the problem is not to collect more taxes but to reduce the expenditures of the government that is collecting the taxes.
The minimum corporate tax seems to be just one more sign that President Obama is far out of step with the real America and has no clue about how to get back into the fold.   

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Sad Tale from Greece

There was an article in a Swiss newspaper today that made me feel ill.
Truck farmers who grow onions, carrots and potatoes, near a river in a certain Greek region, learned in 2009 that the river had higher than legal levels of chrome in its waters. Of course, the vegetables from this region were taken off the market during the clean-up, which the farmers say is now over.
But, Greek consumers who would normally buy from these producers do not, if they have a choice, by virtue of having enough money to buy more expensive vegetables. So, some these vegetables are not sold.
Today, 17 tons of the produce were offered free in Athens. People, mostly retirees and older people, along with immigrants, stood in line for hours to be able to pick out a large sack full of onions, carrots and potatoes. The farmers say the produce is no longer harmful. The people waiting in line said they don't care about that.
It isn't the distribution of food that bothers me because that happens in most European countries, especially during the winter when extra calories are required by people who don't have the money to buy what they need or to heat their homes sufficiently, if they have a home.
It isn't even the possibility of offering contaminated food to people because if it's a one-time affair, chances are that there will be no harm done.
But, to think that there are people in Greece - in Europe - undoubtedly also in the United States - who don't have enough to eat is simply intolerable.
I'm not asking for the welfare state to kick in even harder. But, isn't it time to ask ourselves where and why we western nations are spending our money.
What good will it do to save starving people elsewhere in the world if we are creating the same problem in our own countries? What good will it do to save people from terrorists and tyrants if we are doing it at the cost of impoverishing our own citizens? What good will it do to pull the rest of the world up to our standard of living if it is at the cost of lowering our own, perhaps below theirs, in the next decade?
Does anyone in elected office even care anymore that they are being elected by people who desperately need help? I have to wonder. 
A lot of ink is being used to hash over the legitimate tax contributions America can ask of her top 1% of wealthy Americans. But, I find almost no discussion of what that additional tax revenues would be used for.
If it is to arm Afghans or build better fighter jets or support an International Monetary Fund that already gets its largest contribution from America, I would say that it is time to stop and think and talk.
A country is as strong as its citizens. When citizens are cast aside, made to feel redundant, forced to search for work that doesn't exist because government policies have driven the work elsewhere, told that they must participate in the "sacrifice" - when they are the sacrifice - to guns and international programs - then it is time to ask what American exceptionalism or "that shining city on the hill" has become.
And, finally, the streets will tell the tale. Cairo is not in revolution because it is Muslim. It is in revolution because its citizens were repressed and poor for longer than they could take it. When life becomes so horrible that to die in the hope of escape is better than to continue to live in despair, then the only possibility is revolt.
Americans understand this because revolt against repression formed their country. They are not immune from taking to the streets again.
When is somebody going to wake up, understand, and do something about it?
When are the Christian values Americans carry on their sleeves - politicians in election campaigns more than anyone else - going to move mountains again?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ron Paul's Case for Reducing the National Debt

In his comments after the last presidential debate, Ron Paul said that everyone in Washington likes to talk about watching out for future generations who will be burdened by a too large national debt.
He added, “We are that future generation and we are paying the price today.”
Ron Paul is well-known for his opposition to large, or perhaps almost any, national debt as a longer term proposition. It is for him the path to national monetary collapse and general citizen impoverishment caused by inflation.
Some time ago, he said, “Deficits mean future tax increases, pure and simple. Deficit spending should be viewed as a tax on future generations, and politicians who create deficits should be exposed as tax hikers.
But, Ron Paul is far from being alone in this view. The question of whether to have a national debt and, if so how much it should be, has been a serious topic in American political history from the Founding Fathers.
James Madison said, “Each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on, at the expense of other generations.”
That would warm Ron Paul’s heart, because a large chunk of the current American national debt is directly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, when Paul talks about bringing our troops home and using the money thus saved to help America and Americans, he is met with severe criticism, boo’s if there is an audience, and general media ridicule and scoffing as much as to say that he is a lunatic.
But, the notion that America should go into debt to fight wars, while as old as the Revolutionary War, was not a problem for several centuries because the debt was paid in full.
But, the Second World War set a new precedent in motion. Franklin Roosevelt intoned, “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” He was speaking of ridding the world of Nazis, but the result was the beginning of our modern unpaid and always-mounting national debt. After WWII, there was the Marshall Plan, and then the Korean “war” and then Vietnam and then Iraq and then Afghanistan…and with each war the national debt grew.
George Washington, in his 1796 Farewell Address after serving two terms as the first American President made the warning very clear:

“As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear.”

If that sounds vaguely familiar, Ron Paul said as much last weekend in the debate - I am not against the military, he said, but against keeping our troops all over the world all the time because, he added, that is not our job, it is not authorized by the Constitution and it does not make American safer.
I feel rather sure that no one laughed when President Washington issued his advice and warning, so why do Americans laugh at Ron Paul?
Is it because they are so frightened of terrorist threats that they will accept any government nonsense as necessary for security?
Is it because Americans are so convinced about the value of its military presence all over the globe as a sign of American superiority that they would feel diminished if the troops were brought home?
Or is it because Americans simply do not understand, or no longer agree with, the Constitutional concept of Congress declaring war, the President and military fighting and winning it and then coming home.  
Whatever the reason or reasons, it should be clear to all Americans that the anti-Americanism sewn in Southeast Asia by the US presence in Vietnam has now been repeated in the Middle East. The United States finally had to get out of Vietnam, in helicopter flights while the American Embassy was being overrun.
Is that the picture America wants to see replayed in Afghanistan or Pakistan?
Or would it be wiser to open a dialogue with Ron Paul and the others who agree with him to try to find a middle ground - one that would protect our national interests, save precious Dollars for domestic needs, and let the world fend a little more for itself in the assurance that America will be there if the need arises.
The military should have a strong voice in the discussion but it should not be the over-riding voice, because as President Eisenhower warned so sternly, the military-industrial complex has a vested interest in military spending and war.
Isn’t that what the Monroe Doctrine is all about???

Monday, January 23, 2012

We're Gonna Miss You, Joe Paterno

Anyone who ever watched an American football game probably knew Joe Paterno by reputation...the winningest college coach of all time, five undefeated seasons, three national titles. The list is long and yet it does not tell the real story of Joe Paterno.
He was a simple man, born into a world, 1926, when everything was a lot simpler and more wholesome. He loved his game and it was terribly good to him, but then genius is hard to defeat.
His legendary protection and discipline of his football players, their dedication and love of The Coach, and his wisdom in saying "no" when well-meaning but wrong-headed politicians asked him to run for governor of Pennsylvania. He stuck to football, the Penn State Nittany Lions to be exact, and never looked back.
And, then the unthinkable fell on him and his beloved game. A child abuse scandal at the heart of the Penn State football program. He was devastated, confused by it, and rapidly dismissed by the much younger board of trustees - to show the world they were serious about cleaning up the problem.
Joe Paterno took it like the man he was. He said he should have done more, he agonized over it, he stood in front of his home and told his beloved students to stop rioting and get back their studies when they tried to overturn his dismissal. But he said in his last interview that while he understood that there was a problem, he had no idea what its details were because he didn’t understand it. Joe Paterno was caught up by a world of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll that was simply not part of his life, just as our own grandparents would have been,
And then the second blow - he had lung cancer. Soon confined to a wheelchair and chemotherapy and radiation, he knew, and so did we all who looked at his ravaged face, that Joe was nearing the end. Death came for him this past weekend.
If you love real sports and sportsmanship, your eyes welled up as mine did when the news broke. A football world without Joe Paterno is almost unthinkable. And, the cruelty of being ripped from his team without so much as a public thank-you from Penn State while he was still alive for his immense contribution to the game of football, to civility and honor in sports, and to building men from the youngsters whom he took under his loving wing.
But, those men were there - never wavering during the scandal and at his death. They honored Joe Paterno as we could never do, because they knew him and they knew that he was a unique figure in their lives, in their sport and in America.
Rest in peace, Joe. We will never see your likes again.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Romney's Weaknesses and the GOP Death Wish

It was clear before yesterday's South Carolina GOP primary election that Mitt Romney was in trouble. His poll numbers were dropping, not just in South Carolina but nationally. And he was being attacked from all three of his opponents, while he had to spread his counter-attack among all of them.
But, those things didn't lose Romney the South Carolina primary -- Romney was his own worst enemy.
First, Mitt Romney is, as I keep saying, a genuinely kind person. It's visible in his eyes when he has to say something negative about anyone, even after being roundly attacked by the person. He does not get fired up. There is no "bit in the teeth" feel to his speeches or to his rebuttals. He is logical and covers the needed points, politely.
Compare that to Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum's attack mode. Their teeth begin to show, they get a satisfied smirk on their faces and they go after the jugular, most often the jugular of Romney, and "billy be damned" about the facts. And even when Mitt has the chance for rebuttal during debates, he tries to soft peddle, make the criticism a light joke or finish with a smile toward his attacker.
On top of these personal traits, admirable and sought after in most professions but anathema in political candidates, Mitt Romney is not a born-again Christian who identifies with the social and religious right wings of the Republican Party. He is conservative, but he is simply not on the GOP right-wing. Add to this the fact that Romney is a very rich man. That shouldn't matter but it seems to this year. Being rich seems to make him suspect, as if he were one of the bailed out Wall Streeters  - even though nothing could be farther from the truth.
Compare this to Gingrich and Santorum. They are accepted by the right-wing social and religious GOP conservatives and tea partiers -- even though both are rich, and one could ask a lot of piercing questions about Gingrich's "born again" status, after three wives, a congressional investigation that found that he had violated ethics requirements, and being a member of the least born-again of Christian churches.
Rich? Newt Gingrich makes several million dollars a year, as does Santorum. And they make their money because they know how to use their former Washington insider status to attract clients. Romney made his money in business, not as a Washington insider. But, Gingrich and Santorum poor mouth their financial status and Romney lets them get away with it. His recent call for Gingrich to publish his Fannie Mae consulting contract is the first attempt Romney has made to go after Newt's convoluted finances and "historian-consulting" arrangements. Santorum's lucrative position on the board of a health group just after he pushed for legislation as a Senator to help their cause is another attack point left on the floor by Romney.
It isn't too late for Mitt Romney, but the clock is ticking loudly. He needs to find a way to adapt his gentlemanly personality to the rough and tumble of presidential politics. He needs to go into Florida with guns blazing. He needs to and can attack both his opponents because they are VULNERABLE.
But, if Romney continues on the same path he has strolled along until now, he will lose. His followers will understand that even if he has enough delegates to be nominated, his chances of winning in November will be slim when he is up against a Chicago-junkyard-gang campaign that will smear him with lies and half-truths.
But, if the GOP can be rational just for once - something it is not very good at - it will understand that Romney is its best shot at winning in November, IF he toughens up and goes after the job of president instead of waiting to be anointed.
One more thought : I was knee deep in the 1964 GOP presidential campaign. I supported Pennsylvania Governor Bill Scranton and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. They were moderates feeling the first fireball of conservatism sweep over the GOP. They were out-manoeuvered at the convention and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was nominated. It was the death knell of the GOP, because Goldwater's right-wing rhetoric turned off the entire nation and he took only one state.
The damage Goldwater and his followers did to the Republican Party was healed only when Ronald Reagan's brand of compromise-conservatism pulled the GOP back together. And, the cure didn't stick, because as soon as Reagan left office, the right wing came charging back. We are seeing the result in 2012. They will accept no compromise with their religious and social platform. They will refuse to vote if one of them is not the nominee. They will destroy what is left of the Republican Party for another generation, and perhaps forever. Because Gingrich may well beat Obama in debates, on the facts, and in the heartland of America, but he will lose. He will lose just as Goldwater lost, maybe with more votes, but he will lose.
I have a modest proposal.
I believe we Republicans who are interested in good government more than in morality-play axioms in our candidates and platforms actually have more in common with Ron Paul and his libertarians than with the tea partiers and social/religious GOP conservatives. Ron Paul is not stupid. He knows that he will not win the nomination. But, he also knows that 50% of the American people agree with most of his principles. So do Romney and moderate Republicans and independents. Paul surely also knows that bringing all the troops home is not feasible. But, he knows that cutting the budget and reducing the national debt is critically important. So do Romney and moderate Republicans and independents.
The GOP has worried mightily about losing the right wing, about their splitting off and cutting the GOP below an efficient size. Maybe the opposite is the real truth. Maybe the GOP ought to kick out the social/religious right wing and move on.
If the moderate GOP, and we are many, and the libertarians and independents could come together, we could defeat both the Gingrich/Santorum social/religious faction and the leftist elite led by Barak Obama.
We need a leader. Are you listening, Donald Trump?

Friday, January 20, 2012

While Waiting for the South Carolina Vote, Let's Look at the Latest French Presidential Election Poll

There’s nothing to say about the GOP presidential debate last night. Tomorrow the Republicans of South Carolina will do the talking. Will they divide between Santorum and Gingrich, leaving the road clear for Romney? Or will they decide to support Romney and leave the contenders who preach their conservatism behind. We’ll know by tomorrow night. One thing we can probably predict today is that Ron Paul will continue to hold together his libertarian following and get 15% of the vote.
But, while all this is going on in American presidential politics, the French have been going toward their own presidential showdown, following a poll taken early this week that reveals some rather interesting trends.
President Sarkozy receives a positive opinion as president from only 32% of the French electorate. And the split between the right and left is even more pronounced - 77% of his own conservative party support him while 0% of the left socialist parties support him. That’s not an error - 0%.
President Sarkozy’s prime minister, François Fillon, receives a 47% favorable rating against 51% negative.
What is interesting here is that Fillon is the titular head of the government which has been so roundly attacked for its monetary leadership with Germany vis-à-vis the Euro and Greece, as well as for the unemployment figures in France and the leaking away of jobs to other countries. So, one would think he’d be losing favorability but instead it is Sarkozy, theoretically more removed from the day-to-day decision-making, although he has been a very active president when compared to past French presidents,  who is losing ground in the polls.
The revelation is that the moderate conservatives, in the form of François Bayrou are now leading in the polls, with 51% of those polled saying that he should have a larger role in government. Whether this can translate into votes in April is still to be seen. But, if we consider that his party got 3% of the vote in the last presidential election, it is quite remarkable and an indication of the depth of French dissatisfaction with government.
The Socialist Party candidate, François Hollande, is just behind Bayrou at 50%.
Sarkozy’s Minister for Foreign affairs, Alain Juppé, an old hand in Gaullist French politics, sits at 44%, followed by Martine Aubrey, the Socialist Party chairperson who withdrew after being beaten by Hollande in Socialist Party caucuses, at 43%.  
Marine Le Pen, the extreme right candidate, received a 43% favorable rating.
What seems clear is that President Sarkozy, while the leader of the largest political faction in France, has some work to do before the election rolls around. He started this week by meeting with union leaders and then announcing a new program push to reduce unemployment from its current 10% level. Will that be enough, given the fact that 6 out of 10 French polled say they favor a victory by Hollande over Sarkozy in April and believe that will be the outcome? 
As always, the presidential election first ballot in April will have a lot to say about who wins the presidency in the second ballot in May.
For Sarkozy, it is Bayrou who is the danger, along with Marine Le Pen. But, there are many small groups on the ballot for the French left and their splintering effect could deal a blow to Hollande, leaving the road open for a populist Socialist candidate or Le Pen to face Sarkozy in the May ballot.
For more on the French elections, see my blog of January 8th.
This latest poll was taken on January 13th.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Falling by the Wayside

Eight little Candidates dreamin of White House heaven,
One had a “past” and then there were seven;
Seven little Candidates showin' all their tricks,
One tumbled in the polls and then there were six.

One little, two little, three little, four little Candidates,
Five little, six little, seven little, eight little GOP Candidates.

Six little Candidates keepin’ their bid alive.
One bet too much on New Hampshire and then there were five;
Five little Candidates knocking on South Carolina doors,
One went home to Texas and then there were four.

One little, two little, three little, four little Candidates,
Five little, six little, seven little, eight little GOP Candidates.

Four little Candidates conservative as could be,
Who’ll drop out next? We’ll have to wait till Saturday to see.
Four little Candidates prayin’ for a Southern win.
But no one’s droppin’ out because they all can take it on the chin.

One little, two little, three little, four little Candidates,
Five little, six little, seven little, eight little GOP Candidates.

Four little Candidates, what’ll happen after Florida,
Newt or Rick will be gone because he lost the tombola.
Three little Candidates left sittin’ on the fence.
One stayed put because he was libertarian independent.

One little, two little, three little, four little Candidates,
Five little, six little, seven little, eight little GOP Candidates.

Three little Candidates soon to become two.
Because "electability" would be the sensible GOP thing to do.
Two little Candidates, but really One runnin' all alone,
He won the race and then there were none.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Keystone Pipeline Falls Victim to Presidential Politics

The news out of Washington today is that the Obama administration is set to reject the Keystone Pipeline project submitted by a Canadian firm, TransCanada. The rejection will come before the February 21st deadline set by Congress for the President to make his decision.
The Keystone Pipeline was intended to stretch from Canadian oil sands to Texas refineries.
The pipeline requires a US State Department permit because it crosses the Canada-US international border. The project proposal has been under review for more than three years. The department is required to determine whether the project is in the U.S. national interest.
It appears that the Obama administration will not prevent the submission of another proposal when an alternative route is agreed that would avoid the Nebraska Sandhills natural habitat.
The White House will also contend that it is the Republican House vote to force a decision by February 21 that has led to the rejection, because no alternative route has been proposed and could not have been in the short time permitted by Congress. However, TransCanada is supposedly set to submit a second proposal within two weeks.
The GOP House and many GOP presidential candidates have argued that President Obama’s original decision to delay the Keystone Pipeline was a political play to gain support from the environmental groups in the Democrat Party which oppose the pipeline during the 2012 presidential election. At the time it was delayed, officials predicted that the process of rerouting the pipeline and the subsequent environmental review would extend the permitting process into early 2013.
Even though a decision may be postponed until 2013, the issue itself could become a major talking point in the campaign fight between Republicans and Democrats. Environmental groups have lobbied against the project, arguing that the difficult extraction of oil sands contributes to climate change and that the pipeline itself poses leak risks. Supporters of the pipeline say it will create jobs and enhance U.S. energy security by increasing oil supplies from a friendly neighbor.
“President Obama is about to destroy tens of thousands of American jobs and sell American energy security to the Chinese,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered. “The president won’t stand up to his political base even to create American jobs. This is not the end of this fight.”
GOP presidential leader Mitt Romney issued a statement before the administration’s formal announcement, accusing Obama of putting “politics ahead of sound policy,” and adding that the move illustrates why unemployment has been consistently above 8 percent.
“By declaring that the Keystone pipeline is not in the ‘national interest,’ the president demonstrates a lack of seriousness about bringing down unemployment, restoring economic growth and achieving energy independence,” Romney said. “He seems to have confused the national interest with his own interest in pleasing the environmentalists in his political base.”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said Wednesday that, “This political decision offers hard evidence that creating jobs is not a high priority for this administration.”
However, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “Republicans put in jeopardy a process that should be immune from politics, should be conducted on basis of pragmatic analysis and hijacked it,”
adding, “The State Department warned that would create problems.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said that the White House would send a strong message to voters in rejecting the pipeline, demonstrating Obama’s “enduring commitment to breaking our dependence on oil.” When it comes to this year’s election, Brune added, “We’ll see a very clear and strong set of distinctions between Obama and his competitors on this issue.”
The announcement will apparently also mention steps the administration has taken to reduce oil consumption in the United States, such as tightening fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.
Republicans and their allies are just as eager to make this an important issue in the upcoming presidential election.
Michael Whatley, executive vice president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, said his group would continue pushing for the pipeline in every possible way.
So, dear readers, it is business as usual during the 2012 presidential campaign.
The Democrats are trying to make the best of the delay of a project that would have created jobs by accusing the GOP of forcing a too-quick decision.
Meanwhile, the GOP is forced to argue that jobs created now are better for the future of the US economy than those created after the presidential election.
Perhaps, although many people are asking him to bow out of the presidential race, Texas Governor Rick Perry is right in asserting that getting started immediately on energy independence is one of the keys to a sustainable economic recovery and to the permanent reduction of the federal debt.
But, no one has ever believed that being right is the leading indicator of a long career in Washington.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Romney's Next Move

Short of waking up to find that President Obama has left Washington for Chicago, never to return, an event less likely than the sun failing to rise tomorrow morning, Mitt Romney has now got all the advantages he's going to get before the South Carolina primary next Sunday.
So, it is up to him to carry the ball over the goal line, alone and with a crowd in the stadium cheering him on.
Mitt Romney delivered a solid, deeply felt speech after his New Hampshire victory. That speech will set the tone for the rest of the GOP primaries and for his run against Obama after the conventions have named the candidates. The speech was full of emotion, pride in American ideals and support for the free market system that has made America great, and it contained the right mix of family values, with his own large family standing behind him.
The speech was positive, with no attacks on his Republican opponents, and it was quiet but scathingly incisive in its attack on the unfulfilled 2008 Obama campaign promises. 
It showed again that Romney is a decent man whose desire to be President does not lead him to excess or to ill-considered jibes that are not part of his fundamental character. He is steady and calm and is just what America could use in these troubled times.  
Romney needs to repeat that speech over and over again, until every American knows it by heart. It delivers the right message at the right time to the right voters, which I believe are far more numerous than those now voting in GOP primaries across the country.
As we approach November's election, I believe that if President Obama is foolish enough to become the attack dog, turning on Romney as some GOP hopefuls have, it will backfire on the President just as it has on Gingrich and Perry.
There is something wholesome and honorable about Mitt Romney that it seems no one wants to see smeared. It's a little like watching Joe Lewis box. He was fair, soft spoken, kind and a friend to everyone. Mitt Romney reflects just those qualities and I think that anyone who attacks him too violently will find their glove ricocheting back into their own face, with that skillful, decent counter punch that seems so easy but is so-o-o-oo hard unless it comes from deep down inside.   

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Costa Concordia Goes Down off the Coast of Italy

If the Costa Concordia shipwreck is on your TV as much as it is on mine, you may be starting to ask why? Frankly, I don't know but I have some thoughts.
That the Concordia shipwreck is being treated with almost the same media intensity as an earthquake or the Iran-US stand-off in the Straits of Hormuz is baffling.
And the Concordia is not the Titanic, no matter how often some reporter repeats it. It's a real shame that it sank. It seems less than a tragedy, but people were killed and injured and that is always something to be aware of and feel sympathy for. The captain and crew seem to have been ill-prepared and didn't follow their own rules and that is something to keep in mind if ever you decide to take a cruise. The captain also appears, according to Costa's latest statements, to have been lax in following evacuation procedures, and more important, in reading the charts that should have told him he was too close to the island. A lot of people were left to fend for themselves as passengers, and their families were frightened, stressed and worried.
Now, why should that lead to a media blitz? I think for several reasons.
First, it is an "easy" story. The facts are all there and so are the players. Porto Santo Stefano is a small port, I know because I've been there, and it's easy to get to all the pieces of the story.
Second, the photos of the ship on its side are impressive - meant for TV. So, it is visually compelling.
Third, it is not a complicated story. There are no warring factions, no need to balance civil peace against repression, no worry that reporters will be arrested if they stray too far from the official dogma, and no political pieces to weave together in the 30-60 seconds reporters usually have. And, there are no language barriers for most reporters because Italian, French and English are available. So, the Concordia is a straightforward, easy to tell, visually compelling story.
Fourth, the coast of Italy is accessible. No visas, no waiting for a hostile government to agree to reporters being on scene, all the TV paraphenalia are available. So, one simply plugs everything in and begins to report.
But, let's face it. The Concordia is not World War III. It is not a major human tragedy such as an earthquake or tsunami. It isn't even an international story, unless you like reading passenger rosters.
So, my advice to all the networks wasting time and money and reporter skills in Porto Santo Stefano would be to find the real stories that affect millions and make a difference in the world. Let the Concordia rest in peace. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Capitalism, Morality and the Super Bowl

I have really just about had it with the pious and uninformed posturings of GOP presidential candidates, with the cheering follow-ups from the Democratic White House, about capitalism.
Capitalism is neither moral nor immoral. It is not a vulture or a canary. It does not sort out good from bad motives or humaine from inhumaine acts.
Capitalism is not alive - it does not have a brain or a soul, or even a mother to guide it along the treacherous path to moral rectitude.
Capitalism is a market system that uses money and ideas to follow where the money and ideas lead, in the hope of making more money and creating more ideas that will in turn make more money. To expect it to be moral in the pursuit of its inanimate ends is to expect a rock to bleed.
Whoa, you say. Capitalists are in charge of capitalism. True enough. But, capitalists can be constrained by many things -- cultural and moral values, religious convictions, the law, and outraged customers. And, capitalists are not the same as capitalism because they are alive - they have a brain, a soul and a mother to guide them along the treacherous path to moral rectitude in the pursuit of making money.
So, I suggest we stop beating up on capitalism. It performs very well in providing jobs, products, innovation and tax payments to any economy that recognizes it as a useful tool.
But, if we are not happy with the people who are involved in the capitalist process, let's say so. Let's tell them to stop killing jobs, to stop skipping town for another place where the rules are easier, to stop fudging the truth about their goal -- which is to make money in a capitalist environment.
But, let's be clear. Every time we make such criticisms and follow them up with rules and regulations and constraints about how the money and ideas of capitalism can and cannot be used, we are making it less likely that capitalism will succeed in providing as many jobs and products and innovation and tax payments to the economy as it would if left free of constraint.
Americans are waxing poetic about capitalism these days, wanting it to do its best for the economy by providing jobs and products and innovation and tax payments, and complaining bitterly about anyone (the White House as an example) who stands in the way.
But, at the same time, these Americans are condemning Mr. Romney for using the very tool - capitalism - that they pretend to prefer as the engine to drive the US economy back to good health. 
You cannot have it all ways. Capitalism works. It provides what we want - jobs and products and innovation and tax payments - but if we succeed in handcuffing so completely that it looks like a Sunday School teacher or a referee trying to keep Super Bowl players from ripping off each other's heads, it will die. And so will the jobs and products and innovation and tax payments. Ask the Soviet Union or the European Union, if you don't believe me.

Friday, January 13, 2012

S&P Strikes at the Heart of the Eurozone

Standard & Poor’s slashed through Europe today, cutting the government debt rating of many of the Eurozone member countries, first among them in importance - France.
France lost its AAA rating and was placed at AA+ by S&P. The cut wasn’t a surprise because S&P warned as early as December that the cut was in the offing. But, the consequences will be felt across Europe and perhaps the world. Of course, it would be wise to remember that the same was said when America lost its AAA rating last summer, and not much has changed since, except that US debt has been bought in great quantities, driving the cost of borrowing in the US below 2% for many of its government bonds.
So, perhaps the French cut will have similar results, but I doubt it. For several reasons.
First, France and Germany are the two Eurozone countries that have formed a money wall to protect its weaker members, such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Italy is now in the cusp of an ongoing fiscal crisis that may see it dipping into both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) for help with liquidity.
And, the Greek government announced today, before the downgrades occurred, that its negotiations with its lender banks had met a dead end and that perhaps they would resume next week. The IMF promptly began jawboning to get the parties back to the table, because without the forgiveness of 50% of its bank-held debt, Greece will default in it payments - UNLESS France and Germany provide the coverage that the ECB needs in order to buy Greek debt to fund the country’s ongoing cash needs.
It is here that the French downgrade is important, because the cut means that France will have to pay more to borrow funds, not only for its own use but also to help its ailing partners in the Eurozone. There may also be fewer lenders, simply because some funds and investors have rules about the level of risk they can take when buying government debt - AAA obviously being the least risky, and perhaps France will lose a few lenders because of such criteria.
That leaves Germany holding the bag…and we know that German citizens are not thrilled about offering a blank check, at their taxpayer expense, to every Eurozone country that managed its fiscal house so badly as to end up without funds.
And, it is no surprise that in this French presidential year - the vote is 100 days away - the Socialists and just about everyone else in France is blaming President Sarkozy for poor fiscal management of the country. If this sounds familiar, cut to the US presidential race where President Obama is accused of the same thing.
Of course, German and French officials are downplaying the cut, saying it will not affect their political goals or France’s place in the financial markets.
So, we are approaching yet another crunch point in the Eurozone and the European Union. Somebody has to come up with the cash to keep the region running.
It used to be France and Germany. Now it is Germany. For how long??

NOTE : Just for the record, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Slovakia had their government debt ratings cut today by S&P. But, it was Austria and France which lost AAA ratings. The others had already been downgraded several times. For example, Italy is now at BBB+.
That leaves just 13 countries in the world with S&P AAA ratings:  Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (Great Britain).