Tag Archives: Obama

President Rides the Fourth Rail

obama The President of the United States will give a major speech tonight about immigration policy which may make some conservative Republican heads explode – which they were probably going to do anyway.  The House of Representatives has been sitting on a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill (S. 744) since June 27, 2013; a bill passage which provided a photo-op for Senators McCain and Schumer cheering the bipartisan effort. [Politico] The widely touted bill went to the Republican controlled House in which politics took precedence over policy.  The GOP objected, and the leadership said it wanted to take up the measures in a piece-meal fashion, but none of the 19 related bills emerged from House committees. [Congress] Finally, it became relatively obvious to all, except those who would not see, that the Congress had no intention of voting on any immigration policy reform bill during this session of Congress.  So, what’s so dodgy about the issue?

One problem for the Republican majority leadership in the House came from an ideological split in their own membership – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out forcefully in favor of S. 744.  The radio broadcasts from the right wing screamed “amnesty!”  House Speaker John Boehner was caught between two wings of the GOP, in its internecine conflict between commercial and financial interests and the Tea Party ultra-nationalists. He never brought the bill to the floor – or any of the others.

The failure to act on S. 744 offered cover for Representatives such as Joe Heck (R-NV3) who was free to say almost anything on immigration policy without having to adopt the provisions of a Republican bill, drafting a bill of his own, or taking a specific stance against the Senate version.  The failure also allowed the ultra-right wing Tea Party members to ‘valiantly’ oppose ‘amnesty,’ in its current meaning – any reform of the immigration policy which allows a pathway to U.S. citizenship.  Why does this create such a clamor from the right wing?

The Toxic Mix

It’s easy to spot the cornerstone of opposition from Tea Party types to any form of immigration policy reform, and the rock-like intransigence is made of up that usual conglomeration of bigotry, racism, and fear.  At a purely political level it’s simply a chant “They (Democrats) want amnesty just to get votes.”   This is an interesting charge because there isn’t a political party which ever existed for more than three minutes anywhere that wasn’t interested in increasing its base. Using this frame of reference how might we logically characterize vote suppression tactics and strategies from the Republicans which diminish the voting of ethnic minorities?  “They just want to have just their own people voting?”

Reverting to the right wing scare machine for a moment, the commentators and pundits of Hate Radio have been pounding their message since Reagan offered amnesty to family members in 1986. [BusInsider]  (Pre-emptive arguments, such as those offered by pundit David Frum,  appear to know exactly what the President wants before he says it, and to assume that because the Simpson-Mazzoli Act didn’t solve the all problems in perpetuity, therefore any other attempt at reform won’t either.)  The right wing has been lambasted with talking points ALL of which have long been debunked. “Immigrants don’t pay taxes.”  No, they are paying taxes for services they will never receive. “Immigrants come here to get on welfare!” No, the ratio between taxes paid and services used in this country never favors the immigrant population.  “They send all their money home!”  No, not when they’re contributing about $162 billion in tax revenues to federal, state, and local governments, and not when they are paying for housing, food, clothing and other essentials.

They take American jobs!”  No, again.  That myth has been long debunked. (See also: Boston Globe)   “They don’t speak English, and don’t want to!”  Now we’re gravitating into Nativist Territory.  Within ten years of immigration most speak English well enough to sustain employment and other activities in their communities.  [IPOrg] At the anecdotal level some who claim not to have a racist bone in their entire skeleton lament the advent of Spanish language broadcast programming, and Spanish language options on the telephone – retailers and other commercial interests figured out long ago that Spanish speaking immigrants aren’t “sending all their money home,” and want to make it as easy as possible for the immigrant families to part with some into the coffers of the marketers.  None of this anti-immigrant rhetoric explains why we have more demand for English Language classes than the supply will fulfill.

When all else fails, the descendants of immigrants from the great wave of the early 20th century will passionately announce that these immigrants are “different.”  Really, perhaps in that no immigrant from Honduras is going to see a “NINA” sign (No Irish Need Apply) but the discrimination remains the same.   How conveniently we forget the anti-German rhetoric of World War I, the anti-Polish “jokes” that still have a place in the lexicon of some not-very-funny people?  Just as the Irish, the Poles, the Russians, the Jews, the Chinese, and other previous immigrants experienced discrimination and derision – the Spanish speaking immigrants from Central and South America are now getting a taste of it.   They are – different, and therefore suspect.

Are they so suspect that we must pile up the ramparts, and protect ourselves from the ‘scourge’ of un-American immigrants?  We can look at our own state.

Nevada by the numbers: According to the last Census estimate (2013) there are 2,790,136 people living in the state of Nevada, or about 24.6 people per square mile of our acres and acres of acres and acres.  9% of the population is African American, 1.6% are Native American, 8.1% are of Asian descent , 27.5% are of Hispanic or Latino descent, and 52.2% report being white “alone” (not of Hispanic or Latino descent).  19.2% of Nevada residents are foreign born.  Of those who are foreign born, as of 2010, 57.2% were from Latin America, 29.8% from Asia, 8.5% from Europe, 1.7% from Canada, 2.3% from Africa, and 0.5% from Oceania.  [UNLV pdf]   When the Census Bureau ran the numbers and published information about naturalized citizens and non-citizens in 2003, there were 2,207,575 residents of Nevada, of whom 379,885 were foreign born, or about 17%.  129,330 were naturalized citizens, and 250,555 were non-citizens, or about 11%.  [Census download]

The following chart shows the percentage of residents of Hispanic or Latino descent by county, and the percentage of county residents (who might be of any ethnic classification) who are foreign born.  [Census]

County Hispanic Foreign Born
Carson City 22.7% 11.9%
Churchill 13.2% 5.7%
Douglas 11.8% 6.0%
Elko 23.7% 9.8%
Esmeralda 18% 16%
Humboldt 25.2% 13.6%
Lander 23.5% 13.6%
Lincoln 7.2% 2.1%
Lyon 15.7% 7.4%
Mineral 10.6% 3.3%
Nye 14.1% 8.3%
Pershing 22.5% 12.6%
Storey 7.5% 4.1%
White Pine 14.8% 2.3%
Washoe 23.3% 15.1%
Clark 30.0% 21.9%

 

One of the more interesting features of this chart is the obvious fact that in NO county are all the residents of Hispanic or Latino descent foreign born; for example in Carson City, it’s impossible to have an Hispanic/Latino population of 22.7% who are all non-citizens – a subgroup constituting only 11.9% of the total population.  In Humboldt County, 25.2% of the total population is of Hispanic/Latino descent, but only 13.6% of the total county population is foreign born.  Maybe “THEY” aren’t so different after all, their children are in school – probably participating in the athletic programs; they are shopping at the supermarket; and, the odds are that they were born here.

So, if they are paying taxes, using few public services, spending money in local businesses, taking jobs few others want to perform, and learning to speak English as fast as they can … what’s the problem?  Just once I’d like to hear a right wing radio personality be absolutely completely honest — “they” are different because they aren’t white.   So, whatever the President says this evening, it will be as the wits say “A black man advocating for brown people” and this will cause the White-Wing politicians to launch their diatribes and epithets, and excuses for continuing to do nothing.

We know what people say about those who are good at making excuses? They usually aren’t very good at doing anything else.

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Filed under Immigration, Nativism, Nevada, Nevada politics

A Tale of Two Epidemics

AIDS Ebola

Wake me up when there are more actual cases of Ebola infections in the United States than there are chattering heads on television screens launching uninformed speculative comments.  All this palaver might serve a purpose (other than generating ratings) if it weren’t composed of, and targeted toward, the intellectually disenfranchised.

We’ve seen all this before – Swine Flu, Bird Flu, MERS, SARS – each one a Threat to Humanity! Like never before. Like nothing we’ve ever seen. Except we have. It was AIDS.

By the end of 1981 there were 159 cases of AIDS recorded in the United States, it wasn’t until 1982 with 771 cases reported and 618 deaths that the CDC labeled the disease AIDS and associated it with male homosexuality, intravenous drug use, Haitian origin, and hemophilia A.  The CDC didn’t add women as being a group at risk until 1983, and cautioned blood banks that there might be a problem.  By then 2807 cases had been reported, and 2118 deaths were associated with the disease.

No one was screeching about the need for an AIDS Czar in 1984, and no one was calling for the government to “move faster.” But 7,239 cases were recorded, there were 5,596 deaths, and one Congressional hearing.

In 1985 we were introduced to the tragic story of Ryan White, who was barred from attending school in his Indiana home town. The Department of Defense announced it would screen recruits for AIDS, and actor Elizabeth Tayler, Dr. Michael Gottlieb, and Dr. Mathilde Brim announced the creation of the American Foundation for AID Research in September. There were 15,527 cases reported, and 12,529 deaths.

It wasn’t until 1986 that the U.S. Surgeon General called for a comprehensive program of sex and AIDS education, and more information on condom use. 1986 was also the year in which the National Institutes of Health planned the formation of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group.  Dr. Krim and Elizabeth Taylor testified before Congress about the need for clinical research, accelerated research, and more timely access to experimental HIV/AIDS medication.  In 1986 there were 28,712 cases reported, and 24,559 deaths.

“And the Band Played On” was published in 1987 while the FDA finally allowed condom manufacturers to advertise that the use of their product would reduce the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS.  50,378 cases were reported, and 40,849 deaths.  In 1988 the federal government finally responded with legislation – the HOPE Act, during that year there were 82,362 cases and 61,816 deaths.  At the end of 1989 there were 117,508 cases of AIDS, and 89,343 deaths.  The numbers were worse in 1990, 160,969 reported cases, and 120,453 deaths.  1991, 206,563 cases, with 156,143 deaths.  Fast forward to another bad year, 1995 with 513,486 cases reported and 319,849 deaths, however the research funded earlier is beginning to pay off in terms of therapeutic drugs and better prevention education.  As of 2011 there were approximately 1.1 million people in the United States living with HIV/AIDs and more than 33 million living with the disease in other parts of the world. [AmFar]

There’s been enough hyper-partisanship about the way the Reagan Administration handled the AID epidemic. However, the President was not one to discuss it publicly – not until a September 17, 1985 press conference. There are conflicting stories about whether Reagan moved Koop to speak out, or if it were the other way round.  Democrats in Congress did manage to move the money, from $8 million in research funding in 1982 to $26.5 million in 1983 bumped up to $44 million, and more during the remainder of the decade.  [RCP]   What can be said with some certainty is that the Reagan Administration was painfully slow in addressing the calamity that was HIV/AIDS, and did not adopt a leadership role until late in 1985, some four years after the disease was first noted (1981).

The national media and D.C. press corps weren’t helpful either – Chris Geidner notes 13 instances researched by Jon Cohen during which the press corps erupted in laughter at insensitive comments made from the podium by White House Spokesperson Larry Speakes beginning in  October 15, 1982.

Myth Making

It doesn’t take too many little gray cells to figure out why conservatives are so adamant about “blaming the Ebola crisis” on the current President.  To discuss the executive branch reactions to a public health problem invites comparison to the Reagan years, and the comparison doesn’t polish the lustrous image of the the conservative President.

The Congress passed a budget in January 2014 which severely constrained the budgets for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, calling for across the board cuts in spending – including research on the Ebola virus. [CNNOn March 23, 2014 Officials in Guinea confirmed 49 cases of Ebola infection, and by March 31 Ebola infections were at an epidemic level. As of May 2014 cases are reported in Liberia, and by the end of the month cases are confirmed in Sierra Leone. [NHReg]

On August 8, 2014 the World Health Organization issued a full-on warning about the spread of the Ebola virus in west Africa, saying, among other warnings, that the infections constituted an “extraordinary event,” and a public health risk to other countries.

The Obama Administration’s response in this instance is to be measured in days, not years. On August 5, 2014 the CDC issued a Level 2 travel alert for travelers to Nigeria, and a Level 3 travel alert notice remained in effect for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. [CDC]  The agency had also deployed health professionals to the affected area as of August 4th – 6 to Guinea, 12 to Liberia, 4 to Nigeria, and 9 to Sierra Leone.  The CDC also initiated the use of the Epi-Info software tool to determine “contact tracing” to break the chain of transmission. [CDC]  By September 17th the President announced that 3,000 troops would be sent to Liberia to establish a command center to oversee the construction of 17 health care facilities of 100 beds each to isolate and treat victims. The U.S. mission would also be tasked with training 500 health care workers per week. [VOA]

By October 22nd the Administration had launched the deployment of 170 medical professionals from multiple agencies and departments, some of whom were part of the USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team to the core of the epidemic area in west Africa; had scaled up the deployment of DoD teams including members from the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center to operate three mobile laboratories providing 24 hour turnaround results on samples.  The Administration had obligated $300 million for fighting the outbreak in west Africa, including funds for the construction of one hospital completed and staffed by U.S. Public Health Service officers.  The efforts also included initiating 65 “safe burial teams” to help Liberians facing the epidemic.  [WH]

The conservative response to these measures was quick and predictable.  One opinion given much air time was that the mission to Liberia wasn’t a legitimate military operation in the commonly held sense of the term, and therefore beyond the scope of “fighting and winning wars.” Another complaint was that the Commander in Chief was sending soldiers, “valuable highly trained war-fighters” just to support health care workers. And, then there was the “why are we sending troops over there when we should be doing something here,” complaint – missing the point that this was precisely the argument for sending more troops to the Middle East in 2003. [MMA]

Meanwhile on the Home Front

Speaking of the domestic front – In March 2014, the Republicans in the U.S. Senate balked at the nomination of Dr. Vivek H. Murthy to be the Surgeon General because the doctor had run afoul of Chris Cox, the head lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.  Dr. Murthy’s experience in hospital emergency rooms caused him to believe that assault weapons do serious damage to human bodies, and that limiting ammunition sales might reduce the number of such fatalities and serious injuries. [NYT]  Right wing pundits called for the “immediate withdrawal of the nomination” in October 2014, so an “experienced professional” could be considered. [PJM]  The ever-media-seeking Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) dismissed Murthy’s nomination saying, “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist,” which got an immediate smack down from Politifact.

While the obstructionists in the Senate blocked the nomination, the CDC was adjusting its guideline and issued revised, or “interim,” guidance for hospitals dealing with Ebola infections on August 8, 2014.  The August interim guidance sounds predictive in the case of the Texas hospital which later experienced infections:

“It emphasized that anyone collecting or handling such specimens are to follow standards compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration bloodborne pathogens standards, including wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and implementing other safeguards.

For specimen collection and laboratory testing, PPE recommendations include full face shield or goggles, masks to cover all of the nose and mouth, gloves and fluid-resistant or impermeable gowns. For laboratory testing, the recommendations also include use of a certified class II biosafety cabinet or plexiglass splash guard.”

Politics and Protocols

The CDC tightened the guidelines further, issuing revised guidance to health care workers and hospitals on October 20, 2014.  It also provided more stringent guidance for travel and airline operations, and prospective patient monitoring.

Back in the Senate, Arizona Senator John McCain issued a call for an “Ebola Czar” to coordinate the response to the cases on U.S. soil on October 12-13th. [Hill]  This would be the self-same Senator who decried the Administration’s appointment of “more czars than the Romanoffs.” [HuffPo]  The nomination of Surgeon General Murthy was still the subject of a Republican filibuster.  No sooner than President Obama had appointed an experienced administrator, Ron Klain, an individual with a solid reputation for dealing with complex bureaucratic issues, [CNN] than the GOP lambasted the appointment as “tone deaf and insensitive,” whatever that might mean; and, Senator Cruz criticized the appointment of anyone. [CNN]  The nomination of the Surgeon General nominee remains in Senate limbo.

All this partisan bickering was highlighted by the October 23rd performance of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) who announced that the Surgeon General needs to be in charge of the efforts to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, evidently unaware that his GOP colleagues in the Senate were filibustering the nomination of Dr. Murthy. [HuffPo]

While the Republicans squabbled over who should be appointed to what if anyone should be appointed to anything – the Administration continued to ramp up the coordination of public health efforts.

In addition to increasing the stringency of screening measures and travel restrictions,  activating post arrival monitoring, tightening CDC health care protocols, the Administration approved the creation of a Dedicated Response Team to be assigned to any hospital that receives a confirmed case of Ebola, a “Lessons Learned” training and outreach program based on what occurred in Texas, a Northern Command 30 person short notice assistance team to provide service to civilian medical professionals, and the offering of FEMA coordination for federal assistance to meet “needs on the ground.” [WHFS]

Now, imagine what might have been different if the Reagan Administration had adopted the same robust response to those first 159 cases of AIDS in 1981? Little wonder the conservatives are cranky.

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The Timing of The President’s Remarks in Two Pictures

The Beltway Media was most disturbed by the timing of the President’s remarks concerning the budget deal in the Senate.  President Obama spoke after the Senate vote, but before the House took action.  [MSNBC]  The two clock faces below will both explain the timing, and offering an indication of why reopening the government and avoiding default had international importance.

Remember: The Tokyo stock exchange opens at 7:00 PM eastern time; the Singapore and Hong Kong exchanges open at 9:00 PM eastern time.

9 oclockSo, the Tokyo Exchange was open while the House was still considering the bill.

When did the President speak?  At 8:28 PM eastern time.

8 28 oclockThe House had already blown past the opening of the Tokyo Exchange, and was heading toward the opening of the Hong Kong and Singapore exchanges…

The President spoke before the openings of these two major stock exchanges, giving investors 32 minutes  notice that we were not going to default on our obligations.

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The Story of Six Warships

USS San AntonioThe full transcript of the President’s speech on the Syrian issue can be found here, and here.   The video can be found here.  The reactions, predictably run from precise to persiflage.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca): “As the Obama administration continues to pursue a diplomatic resolution, the president justly made clear tonight that the threat of military action remains on the table as we continue to work to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.” — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.”  [ABC]

Pelosi has been listening.  Note the phrasing, such as “continues to pursue a diplomatic resolution,” and “the threat of military action.”

When the former House Speaker used the phrase “continues to pursue a diplomatic resolution,” she was precisely summarizing U.S. diplomatic transactions with the Russians vis a vis their client state, Syria.  Business Insider followed the plot:

“Our goal from the beginning has been to secure the chemical weapons stockpile in Syria,” a senior administration official insisted.

The announcement by the Russians was the result of months of meetings and conversations between Presidents Obama and (Vladimir) Putin, and Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lavrov, about the role Russia could play in securing chemical weapons,” the official told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.

The idea was first discussed at a G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, a year ago by Obama and Putin, and has been raised in subsequent meetings “though agreement could not be reached,” the official said.

Kerry sought to flesh it out during a trip to Moscow in May, when he discussed with Lavrov “replicating the potential model of Libya’s nuclear program which in 2003 was removed under an international agreement.” (emphasis added)

The  diplomatic discussion concerning the control of Syrian chemical weapons has been a plot point since the G20 Summit on June 17, 2012.   The former Speaker is also on point with the phrase: “threat of military action.”

Notice that the topic of  options available for the control of Syrian WMD/Chemical weapons stockpiles has been ongoing since June 17, 2012, so why did Secretary of State Kerry’s comments, and publicizing of the topic draw such an immediate and positive response from the Russians?

A former Secretary of State’s observations shed some light on this.  Our previous Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stated:

“It is very important to note that this discussion that has taken hold today about potential international control over Syria’s stockpiles, only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States to keep pressure on the Syrian government as well as those supporting Syria, like Russia.” [Atlantic] (emphasis added)

In short, Secretary Kerry couldn’t reasonably expect the Russians to approve any proposals for external control of Syrian regime chemical and biological weapons without a statement by the U.S. President that he was perfectly willing to use force — if necessary — to curtail their use.    The Secretary now quotes Samuel Johnson, “Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.”  The crux of the matter is that the U.S. has tried since June 2012 to impress upon the Russians the necessity of curtailing their client state’s use of chemical weapons — until the U.S.S. San Antonio and the U.S.S. Stout, Mahan, Ramage, Barry, and Graveley were parked in the neighborhood [GR.ca] the Russians had ignored these proposals.

Thus what “sounded” like a gaffe on June 9, 2013 was simply merely the publication of an American proposal, under quiet discussion for the previous year,  made more palatable to the Russian government by the presence of a “creditable threat” as personified by the six warships. Had Secretary Kerry made the proposals public before the arrival of the six warships the Russians could have made public their opposition to external control of Syrian chemical weapons without fear of much reaction.  The six warships made the point — the U.S. is very very serious about this option.

Congratulations to House Minority Leader Pelosi for keeping the plot straight, and for realizing that timing is everything.  First the negotiations, then the credible threat, then the publication of the proposal, and then the positive reaction.

RNC Chair Reince Priebus didn’t follow the plot: “The administration’s handling of the U.S. response to Syria has been so haphazard it’s disappointed even the president’s most ardent supporters. This rudderless diplomacy has embarrassed America on the world stage.” — Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.” [ABC]

Haphazard? Priebus may be good at following talking points, but he missed the sequence on this one.  “Rudderless?” It should be obvious at this point the U.S. had been proposing the external control option from the 2012 G20 to the 2013 G20 — the difference being those six warships serving as exclamation points made the option much more attainable by the 2013 session.   The rudders of those six warships weren’t guiding the vessels along a vacation route, there was a reason for their destination, and had been since June 17, 2012.

“Embarrassed?”  Only if one adopts Vladimir Putin as the ultimate negotiator, which the conservatives appear to be doing.  Did Putin “save the President’s face?” Or, come to the “Diplomatic Rescue?” [MMFAThese assertions work only if one ignores the initial positions of the two powers.  The U.S. wanted control over the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in concordance with the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1993 CWC.  The Russians didn’t.   When one side adopts the position of the opponent during diplomatic negotiations that is generally conceded to be a Win.

There is still room for debate about the appropriate use of force to be deployed or applied by the United States. There is still room for debate concerning the efficacy of limited military engagement. There is still room for discussion about the nature of American interests in the region.  What should no longer be debatable is the consistency of Obama Administration policy on the use of chemical weapons.

Congress may choose to allow the Administration the rope (military option) to form the noose threatening the Russians and their client state in Syria — or it can opt to remove this tool from the diplomatic shed.  The question remains: How focused will the Russians be on a diplomatic solution  without those six warships deployed and fully ready to act?

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Filed under Foreign Policy

Focus Please? Evaluating the evaluations on Syria

Syria map 2The Chatterati are all over cable news shows “explaining” their support of or their opposition to taking military action against the Assad regime in Syria.  We can sort the objections into categories.  There are some which are emanating from the same perspective though coming to different conclusions,  and of these we have the usual suspects focusing on hypothetical results affecting the perception of American power.

The underlying assumption is that America must never appear “weak,” and therefore any proposed response to a intractable diplomatic problem must be “strong, resolute, and over-powering.”  Whatever the policy or project, it must result in the domination of American interests.   Examples of this perspective are on offer from such pundits as Krauthammer, and General Robert Shales, ret. [WashMon]  The Power Argument has some intrinsic flaws.

First, it rests upon external perceptions:  We are only as strong as our adversaries think we are.  In one context it could be the policy analogy of the Quaker Cannons of the American Civil War… logs painted black and “pointed” at “targets” but far enough away not to be discerned for what they actually were.   Externalizing our evaluation requires precious little internal evaluation.  If our opponents believe we are a Super Power, then we must be. This obviates the need for self-evaluation.  Another facet of externalizing our evaluation is that we tread close to the differentiation between “respect” and “fear.”   Do we wish to be respected, or do we “Bomb Bomb Iran” indulging in the militarism which incites more fear than respect?

Secondly, the hyper-militarism seems to be predicated upon hyper-masculinity.  Attributes associated with the “He-Man Hero” genre of Hollywood fantasies are projected onto real international diplomatic issues.  Our response must be “robust,” our actions must teach the villains a “lesson.”  Our policies must leave no doubt about who is in control.   In this Shoot’em Up version of international relations the scripted imaginary world of film industry melodramas becomes the matrix in which we are to evaluate the efficacy of our diplomatic and military actions.   We can, and no doubt should, base our international relations on firmer grounds.

Another element in the debate focuses on hypothetical results of hypothetical actions.   In this realm we get the “What If? and the “What then?” questions.   Objections to taking any military action against the Syrian government may be framed as: “What if Assad survives, and announces to the world that he has stood up to the Super Power?”  As noted previously, this objection is grounded in the Perception of American Power perspective, and comes close to adopting the tenets of the  Bruce Willis – Rambo – Hollywood School of International Relations.   However, it also tracks with analysis based on judging hypothetical actions by their possible negative hypothetical results.  Ezra Klein provides a list of ten possible negative outcomes which fall into this general category. If there were ever a recipe for complete inertia this would suffice nicely.

However, merely because there might be negative results from some actions doesn’t necessarily mean all actions are equally undesirable.   This kind of thinking often produces nothing other  than the false choice fallacy: We must do Everything or we shouldn’t do Anything.

Again, as noted previously — we’ll get better answers when we ask better questions.

1. Does the United States have  legitimate interests at stake in the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War?  There are arguments refuting this — it is a civil war, and there are some bad actors on both sides, individuals and groups with which we have nothing in common and who are not generally supportive of our interests.   On the other  hand, the answer is “yes.”  We are a signatory of both the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1993 CWC.  We understand, and have agreed, that the use of these weapons causes unnecessary civilian casualties, violates international norms of behavior, and if we can’t act to stop this variety of egregious behavior, then what can and should we attempt to stop?

2. What should be the objectives of American policy toward Syria?  Should our objective be the restraint of the Assad Regime’s use of particular tactical weapons in the internal conflict? Or, should our objectives be wider, including such possibilities as (a) the removal of the Assad Regime? (b) the stabilization of the Middle East region? (c) the protection of Israel and allies like Turkey and Jordan?   Generally speaking the broader the objective the more difficult the diplomacy.  Eliminating the capacity of the Syrian government to transfer, deploy, or store chemical weapons isn’t a particularly daunting military objective.  Lord knows we have an arsenal of tactical weaponry suited to the purpose.  However, protecting our own interests while bringing the interests of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and other Middle Eastern states into the calculations is much more complicated.

Rather than pontificate on these two issues, let me offer some of the better reasoned position articles on the subject of American interests for your consideration.   On the conservative side, Mark Moyar, of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, provides a summary of U.S. interests in Syria.   Caparra and Farr, writing for the Brookings Institute evaluate “U.S. Intervention in Syria: Other Options besides Military Action.”  On the left, the Center for American Progress described the shift in American policy towards Syria in an article posted last June.  Ken Sofer provides a thoughtful piece, “Next Steps in Syria,” also from the CAP.   Richard Betts observes, “Pick Your Poison: America Has Many Options in Syria, None are Good, in Foreign Affairs.   The humanitarian aspects of the conflict are summarized in Atlantic’s piece, “Why Human Rights Groups Don’t Agree On What To Do About Syria.”

It shouldn’t be too much to ask that if we are to debate the value of an American intervention in the Syrian Civil War, at least we do so intelligently.

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GOP: Getting Back to Base-ics?

Now, would someone in the corporate media care to discuss “Republicans in Disarray?”  Heaven knows it’s been a hallmark of coverage about issues within the Democratic Party.  As a former adherent of the GOP, and now as a complete outsider, I’ve had some rambling notions about what’s been happening since the 1980’s.  Here they are.

Ancestor Worship

The election of President Ronald Reagan was a significant one for the Republicans, and the popularization of the Southern Strategy by GOP activist Kevin Phillips continued into the decade.  The Republicans offered a home for the Dixiecrats, the gun lobby, and the “God, Guns, and Gays” wedge issue proponents who found succor within Republican realms.  His was the “Southern Strategy Fulfilled.”  All of this made it far easier for the beknighted President to advance an agenda that was blatantly anti-union, persistently pro-banking, and generally pro-corporate.   He was, however, not the consistent opponent of the New Deal some conservative would like to remember.

“Reagan increased payroll taxes in 1983. History records that, alarmed by spiraling deficits, he signed tax increases during six of his eight years in office. Even so, his administration tripled the national debt, to almost $3 trillion.” [Salon]

He pulled U.S. forces out of Lebanon after the Beirut Barracks bombing. He gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants.  He did not privatize Social Security, instead he raised the payroll taxes.   What he did do was to popularize some right wing ideas which advanced the corporate agenda (to break the social compact between citizens and their government) such as the “welfare queen.”  Reagan’s world was “Leave it to Beaver” without the unionized employees who made the show possible.  It was “Ozzie and Harriet” without any African American neighbors.  It was “See The USA In Your Chevrolet” without acknowledging the Eisenhower Administration’s grand public works project — the Interstate Highway system.  Reagan, instead, paved the route for the Bush and Rove show.

The Bush-Rove Bargain

The Show was abetted by the advance of right wing talk radio in the AM revival after the fairness doctrine was eliminated during the Reagan Administration in 1987.   The Reaganesque mythology of welfare queens was translated to the John Birch Society – Randian free market mythology, and further transmogrified into Compassionate Conservatism, proving  once and for all times that a snappy slogan exempts the speaker from having to provide any specific, cogent, or rational policy proposals on any given subject.  The spins, the twists, and the dog whistling created an environment in which the Oil Barons, the Bankers, and the CEO’s were the Blesséd Among Us, while the rest of the nation’s population would have to demonstrate their worthiness to receive the charity of the country.  If this is sounding a bit familiar, it should.

The Truth Tellers

One of the well documented features of the Romney-Ryan election efforts was the casual association their campaign had with the truth.  Nor did their campaign suffer from a surfeit of consistency.   Indeed, one of the highlights came when this quotation was captured: “I’m not familiar precisely with what I said, but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was,” Romney responded.” [RS]  How on Earth could a candidate get away with this?  Even worse, there was this comment from the Romney camp: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said at a panel organized by ABC News.” [HP]  The answer may well be that Governor Romney assumed that the Mythology of Reagan, the focus group centered conservatism of Bush, the fulfillment of the Southern Strategy, and the cynicism toward information from the media created by the GOP-Fox-Right Wing radio Echo Chamber, would all culminate in a successful election effort.

What Went Wrong?

Policy Matters.  Those corporate friendly policies of the Bush Administration which tended toward de-regulation, capital flight, and “creative” products to enhance investment revenues collapsed in a staggering heap circa 2007 and 2008.  We went from “Greed Is Good,” back to “Greed Is One Of The Seven Deadly Sins.”

Item – The vaunted and well publicized Supply Side Theory of economics proved illusory, in all probability because it was a hoax in the first place.  It may take the American public some time to understand the facts, but as of 2008 they were inescapable — low taxation did not, and never had, create economic growth in the real economy. No amount of spinning, theorizing, generalizing, or rationalizing can make this ideological theory whole again. Yet the Romney campaign persisted, enabled by the plutocrats on the Rove donor lists, the Club for Growth, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the bankers.

Item – The Republicans themselves, at least in the form of former House Speaker New Gingrich, recognized that they had a Financialist candidate in a race wherein the electorate was still reeling from the effects of financialist excesses.   American voters rejected the Supply Siders, in favor of a candidate whose economic policies emphasize growth not European style austerity, which seems to have done precious little for the Eurozone economic growth rate.

Item – the conservative complaints about immigrants being a curse upon the civil state were strident enough to cause Hispanic voters to express their opinions in the polling that mattered.  Opposition to the DREAM Act, calls for self-deportation, “papers please” legislation,” and charges that the Hispanic community was basically “unAmerican,” didn’t help expand the numbers for the Republican Party.

Item – That “rape thing” in combination with wholesale assaults on the Affordable Care Act, attached to radio ranting about “sluts” who take birth control pills, and associated with the most extreme anti-abortion rhetoric wasn’t good for Republicans either.  Only 15% to 20% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all instances. [PR]  Proposing to adopt policies supported by 20% of the population doesn’t seem to be a constructive way to attract votes from the 46.2% of American women who are registered to vote. [Census]

Leadership 

Leadership matters.   Those not self identified members of the Republican Party have marveled at the importance attached to the opinions of the right wing radio ranters in GOP politics.  There have been several instances in which members of Congress, for example, sought to distance themselves from or disagree with radio commentator Rush Limbaugh — only to walk back their criticism almost immediately. Unfortunately for Republican politicians, Mr. Limbaugh’s misogynistic, racist, and otherwise radical offerings are associated with the fringe right not the moderate middle.

It is handy to have one’s own television network, but Fox News however helpful it seeks to be has done a poor job of informing its viewers.  Studies from the University of Maryland and Fairleigh Dickinson University both demonstrated that Fox viewers were the least well informed, and were often willing to accept obviously inaccurate information.  [HP] Fox’s response was to attack the Universities, not to deny the results of the studies.  The Republicans could be certain to count as theirs the votes among the Fox viewers, but while Fox draws about 604,000 per day [TV] it should be recalled that there are 112,806,642 people in the country between the ages of 18-44, another 81,489,445 aged 45-64, and some 40,267,984 over 65.   In slightly more stark terms, Fox is reaching 604,000 daily viewers out of 234,564,071 of those eligible to vote.

Item – An echo chamber can also be a trap.   From the outside it appears the Republicans can’t decide if they are a Party with its own radio and TV broadcasters, or if they are the operatives responsible for promoting the policies sought by  one television network, and a handful of broadcasters on AM radio.   The Party appears to be functioning without a national spokesperson — is the anointed one Rush Limbaugh? Senator John McCain? Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly?  Governor Mitt Romney? Senator Mitch McConnell?  What are we to think of a party that for two election cycles didn’t (or couldn’t) use the services of its most recent incumbent?

Having an incumbent in the White House is always an advantage, but President Obama is the acknowledged leader of the Democratic Party, and has secured the support of former President Bill Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator John Kerry, and the imprimatur of the Kennedy family.  GOP spokesperson may rail about the “Chicago” clique responsible for the Obama Campaign, but there’s no mistaking the fact that unlike the GOP there is a clear coterie of national Democratic leadership aligned with an incumbent president.

In Fine

Ancestor worship, focus group politics, and the narrowing perspective along polarized lines promoted by a self referencing media does not constitute a recipe  for long term success.  Self definition works better.  If the GOP is truly the Small Government Party, then the privacy invasive anti-abortion portion of the base will be disappointed.  If the GOP is the Party of Big Business, then eventually small business owners will come to define themselves separately from the mega-corporations and the bankers.  If the GOP is the Party of Social Conservatives then does it permanently constrain its membership to the 20% to 30% of voters for whom issues like abortion are primary considerations?

Perhaps the Party might want to look at Democratic efforts to realign itself after 1988?  There’s a template there should the GOP choose to follow it, but WARNING — it requires moderation.

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Filed under 2012 election, conservatism, Politics, Republicans

Wynn Joins the P.I.T.Y Party

Poor Steve Wynn — the Nevada gambling mogul isn’t getting the respect he deserves! To hear him tell it:

“I’ll be damned if I want him (President Obama) to lecture me about small business and jobs,” he told Ralston. “I’m a job creator. Guys like me are job creators and we don’t like having a bull’s-eye put on our backs.”

“I can’t stand the idea of being demagogued, that is being put down, by a president who hasn’t created any jobs and doesn’t even understand how the economy works,” he added.”  [LVSun]

Stephen Colbert had some well chosen words for this attitude, and offered a solution — the formation of the Protecting Industry Titans and Yachtsmen, or the P.I.T.Y. Party.  Evidently, Mr. Wynn is seeking membership.

The moguls like Wynn  certainly are getting touchy these days.   Mr. Wynn is sounding ever so much like hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, from Freeland’s article, and Colbert’s satire:

Cooperman argued that Obama has needlessly antagonized the rich by making comments that are hostile to economic success. The prose, rife with compound metaphors and righteous indignation, is a good reflection of Cooperman’s table talk. “The divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf, at this point as much visceral as philosophical, between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them,” Cooperman wrote. “It is a gulf that is at once counterproductive and freighted with dangerous historical precedents.”  [New Yorker]

Excuse me for a moment — as a member of the 53% who did pay federal income tax in 2011, but whose vehicles must do without their own elevators, I have to ask: When did getting your itty-bitty feelings hurt preclude you from making sound business decisions in your own interest?

First, what happened in the recent recovery which might have exacerbated the sense that the 0.1% were raking in far more than might be expected for any small element in the overall economy?

Chrystia Freeland captured the trends in two paragraphs back in 2011:

“Before the recession, it was relatively easy to ignore this concentration of wealth among an elite few. The wondrous inventions of the modern economy—Google, Amazon, the iPhone—broadly improved the lives of middle-class consumers, even as they made a tiny subset of entrepreneurs hugely wealthy. And the less-wondrous inventions—particularly the explosion of subprime credit—helped mask the rise of income inequality for many of those whose earnings were stagnant.

But the financial crisis and its long, dismal aftermath have changed all that. A multibillion-dollar bailout and Wall Street’s swift, subsequent reinstatement of gargantuan bonuses have inspired a narrative of parasitic bankers and other elites rigging the game for their own benefit. And this, in turn, has led to wider—and not unreasonable—fears that we are living in not merely a plutonomy, but a plutocracy, in which the rich display outsize political influence, narrowly self-interested motives, and a casual indifference to anyone outside their own rarefied economic bubble.”  [Atlantic]

BUT, don’t mention any of this or they’ll get their feelings hurt?

Note that both Cooperman and Wynn perceive themselves as members of the focus group formulated Job Creators category.  If one remains hermetically sealed in one’s “rarefied economic bubble,” then this might be understandable.

Thus within the confined realm of their “narrowly self-interested motives,” excluding the needs of any around them, Wynn and Cooperman are free to indulge in the level of self pity necessary to excuse their opposition to paying a mite more in taxes to support the interests of any others. Or, that other 99%.

Secondly, “it’s all about me,” isn’t necessarily a good philosophical foundation for business practices.  Note the arrogance of Wynn’s articulation, “Guys like me are job creators and we don’t like having a bull’s-eye put on our backs.”    Mr. Wynn should know better.  What happened to his business in the wake of the Housing Bubble collapse?

Visitor volume, reported as 54,267,549 for Nevada in 2008 dropped to 49,731,901 in 2009.  It dropped to 49,684,782 in 2010 as the Recession deepened.  [NVRA]  Airport travel, convention attendance, visitor volume, all those statistics Nevadans watch carefully were down.  People de-leveraging from household debt, and especially those who lost jobs, don’t answer Nevada’s siren songs.  Those people are included in a group commonly called CUSTOMERS.

If too many customers are too financially strapped to play with our fancy lights and whistles money grabbing machines or to play at our flashy green tables then Mr. Wynn’s operations decline — back to the bad old days of the Bingo Parlor in Maryland?

Who doesn’t understand how the economy works?

If those who consider themselves the Elite excavate their own custom designed bunkers in which only their economic needs really count, and bombard the political system with their avaricious ideology, then it won’t be too long until the customers they require to sustain their operations evaporate.

Income inequality trends were in place prior to the Recession, as illustrated by this graphic from the Congressional Budget Office:

Income increased by 275% for those in the highest quintile, by 65% for the next highest group, by just under 40% for the next 60% of the income earners, and 18% for those in the bottom quintile. [CBO]


Notice that since 1982 the percentage of wealth accumulating to the top 1% of American income earners has increased, and increased rather dramatically since 2002.

Now it’s time to ask the obvious question:  If wealth accumulation trends continue, and it appears that they have during the recovery period —

“In 2010, average real income per family grew by 2.3% (Table 1) but the gains were very uneven. Top 1% incomes grew by 11.6% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 0.2%. Hence, the top 1% captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery. Such an uneven recovery can help explain the recent public demonstrations against inequality. It is likely that this uneven recovery has continued in 2011 as the stock market has continued to recover. National Accounts statistics show that corporate profits and dividends distributed have grown strongly in 2011 while wage and salary accruals have only grown only modestly.”  [Saez pdf] (emphasis added)

— then how do the ultra-rich intend to keep their businesses profitable?  Especially in Mr. Wynn’s case, the casinos being essentially entertainment retailing?

One of the time honored ways to determine if a business is in trouble is to see if it is gaining a larger share in a declining market.   Obviously, if a declining number of people have the financial capacity to spend their discretionary income on entertainment, then this doesn’t bode well for entertainment establishments.   Pursuing economic and taxation policies which precipitate further contraction in wealth accumulation among a majority of the population isn’t conducive to creating an expanding market for anyone’s products.  The President appears to have grasp this point, Mr. Wynn and Mr. Adelson perhaps not so much.

Job Creators

Moguls do not create jobs.  Moguls, and other businesses owners, hire people.   If they have a lick of sense they do not hire anyone they don’t need.  Another time honored rule of personnel management says:  If you don’t need Cousin Harry don’t hire him.  Nothing will drive any business into the ground faster than an inflated payroll — especially when it threatens to morph into the  family tree.

For the umpteenth millionth time — staffing levels should only be increased when the current employees cannot make or provide the goods and services demanded by the customers, with an acceptable level of customer service.

Demand is what creates jobs.  For all the self-congratulatory posturing of the economic elite, if no one is buying the vehicles, purchasing the furniture, or spending a night with the slot machines — there will be less demand and with less demand comes the natural restrictions on hiring.  The old Supply Side Hoax was never more than an artificial justification for greed.  It certainly isn’t the way to keep an economy growing.  The President understands this, some of the touchy moguls not so much.

Perhaps someone would like to procure one of Mr. Colbert’s Million Dollar Certificates, suitable for framing, telling Mr. Wynn that at least one person likes him?

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Filed under Adelson, campaign funds, Economy, income inequality, income tax, Obama, Republicans, Steve Wynn, Taxation