Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Defining American Exceptionalism

My column in the Sky Hi News today

“American exceptionalism” is the new GOP rally phrase of the day.

Sounds great. I am a believer that we live in the greatest country on earth, but we need to look behind the flag-draped curtain into the definition some Republicans give it by asking a few tough questions.

It is almost exclusively defined in the mind of Mitt Romney, for example, as militarism. His proposal is to roll back all cuts inflicted on the Pentagon, increase spending on our military and missile defense systems. He needs to be challenged on the “pay for” realities.

How? If not by raising taxes, what exactly would he cut while reducing the deficit at the same time? Earned safety nets such as Social Security, Medicare? Our nation's future development of the next generations by cutting money to education? Infrastructure?

Is indefinite occupation of troublesome nations with our boots on the ground the policy a President Romney wants to perpetuate as he berates Obama for our combat troops departing Iraq? If so, how much of the cost of $2 billion per week just for Afghanistan and Iraq should he want us to continue to spend?

American Exceptionalism to many in the GOP means that the U.S. should never undertake military action in conjunction with anyone and that we should always lead, and never lead from behind. Does that mean we should also shoulder all the financial burden of any action ourselves? Does it mean we should unilaterally take action even though the rest of the world, especially our allies, should not be expected to contribute their blood and treasure and leadership?

Would President Romney give the Pentagon a blank check to proceed with weapons systems that reflect yesterday's tactics ? Or would he shift resources to enhance the techniques we have found to be so successful against terrorists who embed themselves among civilians in failed states, or in aiding those engaged in the Arab spring? Drones, air cover, command and control abilities, and special ops, State Department democracy trainers, private security contractors have proved lately to be very effective in taking down al-Qaida and others who have terrorized us. Besides being more effective, these new tactics have resulted in fewer deaths of civilians and it has given us the ability to conduct war on the cheap.

What I have noticed is the U.S. flag is not being burned by the Arabs. On her visit to Libya the day before Gadhafi was killed. Hillary Clinton was greeted by Allah Akbar, and that was just a month after President Obama in no uncertain terms at the United Nations reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel. When has anything like that ever happened? Or when did other Arab nations ever give us material support in an action against another Arab state as they did in Libya?

It was not the U.S. exceptionalism of military might the Arab Spring movement sought to emulate, either. It was their goal to establish democracy and human rights along the principles Obama laid out in his Cairo speech that helped spur them on.

It is true Pakistan, Syria and Iran remain on the unfinished business list. What does a President Romney plan to do that differs from President Obama's approach? Unilaterally invade and occupy ? We know what that got us in Iraq and Afghanistan. More economic isolation? We need more than unilateral action to make that work. More covert action? Covert by definition is secret so we do not even know if we could do more.

Sadly, too, American exceptionalism is taking on a new meaning. We are exceptionally behind most of the rest of the industrialized world in any measure of health care outcomes, in education, and in the conditions of our highways and roads, and our universal access to efficient communication provided by broadband. We are a nation overburdened by debt. That is not the kind of exceptionalism of which we should be proud.

Joe Scarborough is way off base this morning

On Morning Joe this morning, Joe tried to saddle the Obama administration with the same guilt as the GOP as a way to channel the Occupy Wall Street movement away from Democrats.  The case he made is that Wall Street campaign contribution money had bought Obama just as it had bought off his opponents.  
That is so yesterday, Joe. to put an equal  plague on both houses. According to the campaign finance watchdog, Open Secrets " Romney, a former executive at Bain Capital, has collected more than $7.5 million from interests within the FIRE (short for finance,insurance, real estate  sector) since he launched his campaign earlier this year, according to the Center's preliminary analysis of the latest campaign finance reports. Overall, Romney has raised more than $32.2 million for his 2012 presidential effort.

"Romney has received nearly twice as much as Obama from the finance, insurance and real estate sector, according to the Center's preliminary analysis. Still,  Obama has raised about $3.9 million from the FIRE sector -- about 4.4 perinsurancecent of his overall $89 million war chest."

So Wall Street money is now flowing to Mitt Romney.  Pres. Obama must have not met  their expectations in the past two and a half years.  Could it be they were disappointed in him? Perhaps there are two reasons that could have caused their money to flow elsewhere for 2012. 1) Wall Street Reform actually did scotch their freedom to conduct their business as usual, to conduct the speculative actions of hedge funds and opaque investment instruments 2) more vigorous prosecution by the Justice Department  of insider trading and ponzi schemes.. Granted, no big fish responsible for the meltdown have gone to jail yet , but investigations and prosecuting actions are in process. 3) Romney is from Wall Street.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wall Street Occupiers have more to learn from MLK

The dedication of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington  took place  as another movement,  Occupy Wall Street, is in  infancy.  There are many lessons the new movement could learn from  King’s leadership  .   The civil rights movement was also fueled by anger with  unfairness and injustice , but its success  was the result of using the right technique to bring others outside the group along with them.  Occupy Wall Street has taken one of those lessons to heart and it will succeed in moving others to join them if they stay the course.  The   lesson is that peaceful, civil disobedience ultimately will be more successful than violent acts of defiance. There are other lessons yet to be learned.
Dr. King’s technique was inspired by  Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s independence from the British Empire.   Using non violent protests and reacting peacefully  when authorities used physical violence against them gained them sympathy, respect, and support. 
 The alternative is  violence and our family has experienced some of it. My husband was born in the old Yugoslavia in 1933.  He saw first hand what happened when one group felt they had been poorly treated by the power structure in the midst of a world depression . Rage turned into   violence; parliament members were assassinated, and, when World War II came to the Balkans, so did civil war.  A dictatorship emerged, imposing  peace, but as soon as  strong man Tito died, the conflict resumed, climaxing in the bloody ethnic cleansing war of the Balkans in the 1990’s.  It is that life experience that had him  fearful that the US could experience the same expression of anger in violent riots and demonstrations. 
I grew up in an eastern Oklahoma town that had become the refuge for  many African Americans after race riots and KKK action in Tulsa in the 20’s and 30’s.  Oklahoma was the icon of poverty in that pre World War II period , choked with  dust storms, with masses of Okies immigrating to California. The African  Americans in that part of the world had learned that violence got them nothing but more poverty and even more institutionalized separation that was not equal.  It was MLK that showed them another way out of that wilderness, and how to use the democratic system and court decisions to end segregation.  The snarling police dogs, the murder of civil rights leaders, the peaceful hymn singing marches,  brought sufficient sympathetic support from diverse quarters  for the  causes so eloquently expressed by King,  that  it ended  government supported  segregation. The US worked through its civil war  of decades past with a much different outcome than Yugoslavia experienced..
Those same techniques developed by Gandhi and  MLK helped the participants in the Arab Spring overthrow oppressive dictators.  The outcome of the revolution in Egypt is jeopardized by violent religious strife. Tahrir square occupiers  have forgotten that non violence was their effective tool and that violence could nip their establishment of democracy in the bud as the military  imposes  the very same practices to stop the violence that  were  the reasons for the revolution. Non violence is not a one time matter; it must be practiced until the goal is reached.
  Occupy Wall Street has a chance  to translate sympathy into  votes and governmental action,  democracy’s  way of facilitating change. Non violence has been their mantra and  response to action by police.  They so far have learned the lessons of the civil rights movement well.  They need, though, to heed another lesson from MLK: to identify their goals and objectives.
The Occupy movement so far is just an expression of anger. Participants have not agreed on what they want either the private sector or government  to do.  Dr. King moved the civil rights activists past  anger to specific  objectives concerning  voter rights and eliminating  segregation .  They also need to channel their  rage into  reformist  goals if they  want to  rally  others to take action beyond merely  expressing sympathy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Disconnect between Wall Street and Wal-Mart

My column in today's Sky Hi News...
In the past weeks, the angry Left began a revolt and it is spreading. Occupy Wall Street has the potential to counterbalance and even overwhelm the power of the Tea Party. While both of these populist movements share anger, a feeling that they have lost control of their destinies, and were born in raucous demonstrations, there are some profound differences.

How presidential and congressional contenders tap into the anger could determine the outcome of 2012. Riding the tiger of populist anger may be an opportunity to score some political points, but there are dangers too.

Peggy Noonan, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote last week that she sees a “new convergence of thought among Democrats and Republicans who are not in Washington and not part of the political matrix. They are in agreement about our essential problems and priorities, that the economy comes first, all other crises … come second.”

She had watched two focus groups of “Wal-Mart” moms, middle and working class women in Indiana and Florida, who related their personal and economic pain and fear of layoffs and foreclosures, who just wanted someone to “fix it,” and sadly concluded that those in Washington “won't care till they're affected.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor dismissed the demonstrators as a “mob.” He may regret his words some day. The demonstrators are a manifestation of wider unrest, an unrest described by Noonan that goes beyond the parks occupied by demonstrators. The Wal-Mart moms may never join the demonstrators, but they may express their shared anger at the ballot box.

The 2012 winners will be those who have conveyed that they, too, “feel the pain” of the Wal-Mart moms and their “fixit plan” contains enough hope it will work.

The difference between the Tea Party and the president lies in the “fix it.” The new movement has not yet focused on the “fix it” part. It needs to do so if it is to spread beyond the demonstrators and encompass the broader population.

The Wal-mart moms' anger is not so much directed at the president, according to Noonan's observation, but at resentment of Wall Street and being suckered in by bankers to go into debt. They blame both parties in Congress.

I noted in Noonan's reporting the women were not demanding the Tea Party platform of lower taxes and shrinking the federal government, either. The Tea Party anger and fanatical single-minded dedication to anti-tax libertarianism and states rights were turn offs to some in 2010 and in Colorado, support of their anointed GOP Senate candidate proved toxic. The Democrat, Michael Bennett, won. With GOP presidential candidates trying to pass the Tea Party litmus tests, riding that tiger could eventually hurt them in critical swing states, especially if the Occupy Wall Street movement broadens its base.

The President does not need to become the demonstrators' spokesperson, but expressing empathy with all of those struggling in the economy and also reminding us of his policies that contrast with the GOP's, could give focus to some constructive action both the Wal-Mart moms and the demonstrators angry could support.

The GOP's obstructing his jobs bill , their mantra of “kill Dodd-Frank (Wall Street reform),” and tagging Obama's “tax fairness” as “class warfare” only adds fuel to the new movement's fire.

The President has a strong case to make. Independent experts interviewed on Sunday TV talk agreed that the jobs act would create more jobs and even be insurance against a double dip recession.

Obama signed legislation that addressed Wall Street greed. Killing reform would allow Wall Street to revert to practices that caused the 2008 crash … the banks too big to fail, of turning a blind eye to predatory lending, of lowered standards for capital requirements or down payments, or obscure, unregulated investments. Those kinds of practices caused the speculative bubble that led to the Great Recession, the biggest jobs killer since the Great Depression.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Obama needs to counter GOP issues immediately

My column in the Sky Hi News today; also linked by the Wall Street Journal in

The 2012 Presidential campaign is in full throttle with the GOP trying to sell us their pitch that small government, low taxes will cure the Great Recession and any other problem that even indirectly relates to it.

President Obama, on the other hand, has hit the road in defense of his jobs plan, revving up friendly crowds in pep rally style. That approach is not enough if he wants to become more credible to the less friendlies who still have an open mind. He needs to do a better job of countering the GOP's substantive arguments as they arise and not wait for a year.

In the past three years, the GOP has repeated untruths until the untruths have been accepted as fact, even after such assertions got shot down by impressive numbers of independent experts. Instead of calling the GOP out immediately, the administration has often remained silent, allowing the Republicans to turn fiction into common wisdom and making it harder for Obama to persuade voters later.

Now we hear that the president is waiting until the GOP settles on a candidate to paint a contrast between himself and the other guy. Why wait? There are platforms held in common by all of the GOP presidential hopefuls and the president can begin at least countering those now and save other attacks specific to the GOP nominee for later.

To a person, the GOP candidates are firing salvos against health care reform and the president's jobs act. They are a Greek chorus of “kill them both.” The president has not returned substantive fire other than lobbing back fairness issues. This may rally an already sympathetic base, but he needs more substance to woo the skeptical middle. It is not enough to have a day or two of rebuttals by experts on talk media, either. The president himself needs to draw more on credible evidence and logic than he has been doing. His challenge is indeed couching complex argumentation in effective sound bites.

The GOP attack line has been “kill the jobs plan; it won't work. We need long term solutions instead.” That last phrase is the GOP's Achilles heel because the voters need help today, not years from now. Credit Obama for repeating ad nauseam, “pass this bill NOW.” He has not countered the “won't work” argument, though. The rating agency Moody's and the poll by Bloomberg News of leading economists conclude that Obama's job plan will save us from a double dip recession, improve the GDP growth, and increase employment somewhat. Obama should shout out these evaluations and accuse the GOP of hurting job creation and risking a double dip recession by holding short term measures hostage to the long term. Both are needed and complement each other.

Obama's failure to make a case for health care reform has allowed “Obamacare” to enter our vernacular as a dirty word. Both the Simpson/ Bowles report and the Congressional Budget Office say it will save the deficit billions. The president is making a mistake if he is waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the spring on the laws' constitutionality to begin his counter-attack, because no matter what the Court's ruling, there will still be finger-pointing and threats of new legislation throughout the 2012 campaign.

Polls show that two provisions already in effect in advance of the 2014  full health law implementation are popular: allowing young adults to stay on their parents' insurance and requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions. Is that what the GOP wants to kill? The GOP has never had a plan to provide affordable coverage for the 30 million uninsured other than to let them continue to burden the inadequate ERs, rely on hospital charity that passes their cost on to the paying public, or palm the solutions onto the states who cannot even pay their teachers and firefighters. Obama should call them on it sooner than later.