Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Political update for June, 2009

Ahhh, Spring!

It was 93 degrees in Buchanan, Va., where I live, on Tuesday and heading towards that today. Too hot for me. But, it is a pleasant change from the almost two months of rain and icky weather we’ve had for most of Spring here and up the East Coast. I have already had my usual Spring fights with people. They go like this – they say, Spring is the best season and the weather is wonderful. I say, no, it’s going to rain a lot and be cold; we will have a handful of wonderful Spring days and then it is going to roar into Summer weather ahead of schedule. It happens in the Northeast every year.

Yes, there are few days like beautiful Spring days, unless they are the best Autumn days (my favorite season), but, this is my personal Groundhog’s Day scenario. Every year everyone but me seems to forget what last Spring was like and I have the same conversations over every year, as if the last one never happened, when my nemeses insist that this Spring is unusual. I have only my daughter as a witness, who has heard it enough from me to remember we go through this every year, which is more support than Bill Murray got in the movie. This year I have been arguing with one friend, who insisted that Spring was wonderful every year and I was imagining the bad weather (glass half full). So, routinely, I get to send her “Ahhh, Spring” letters as it pours on us from above or we have to put our furnaces on because it is so damn cold in mid-May. Never mind Spring, there’s nothing like a good “I tried to tell you.” I counted four really beautiful Spring days thus far (that is, neither cold, rainy or too hot). And, yet, I will get to argue with her and others again next year.

Sully for president

I seem to have gone off the track in another argument I’ve been having, insisting that Chesley Sullenberger’s feat of landing the plane safely in the Hudson River wasn’t all that amazing. Not that I thought he didn’t do a good job – I was more impressed that no one standing on the wing in the freezing weather and water, fell in and took his word for it that he was just doing what he was paid to do. I don’t think I’ve spoken about it in this blog, but I’ve been saying it since it happened. After hearing from a bunch of pilots and pretty much everyone else in the world that I’m out of my mind, I’ll fold on it. Mea culpa. He did a great job and deserves all the praise he gets. I suppose that my being cynical about our media heroes, who often aren’t all that heroic, has its limits, and once in a while I get it wrong. That being said, I wouldn’t compare it to the guy who jumped on the subway tracks a couple of years ago and covered the epileptic while the train passed over, but it was a feat of which he can be proud. Besides, Sully seems to be a nice guy (at least, we think – there’s that damn cynicism again).

The Economy - getting better - nahhh!

Very little seems to be happening on the economic front these days. The state of the automakers and the banks, the unemployment, the GDP, GNP and what have you, all confirms for me my belief that all the messing around Bush’s team and Obama’s team have done to “rescue” the economy has all been for naught, and actually hurt. Every once in a while some powerful administration figure says that that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but the news always seems bad to me. I know not from whence they get the idea that things will turn around next year.

I never rule out the possibility of a recovery. The economy is not entirely beholden to politics and presidential tinkering and might just rebound. But, in the long run (whatever that means – the next ten years maybe, but even as early as this year) I expect another collapse due to the unprecedented spending from Washington. At some point, taxes must sky rocket. If the president had his way, that wouldn’t be until after the 2012 election, but it seems like they will have to do something way before then, and maybe very soon. If you just don’t get it yet and think that spending trillions of dollars is a good idea even with very little of it meant to spark business growth, consider that Obama now has stated (despite campaign promises – there’s a shock, eh?) to tax health care benefits. The effect this will have on the middle and lower class will be devastating. It will not have a big effect on the wealthy but will also be a blow to business, which will be faced with greater demand for some form of recompensation from its employees, some of whom will know longer be able to pay for their share of the premiums (but see last week's post on my brilliant solution to the health care crisis). Be sure, the government considers themselves and their spending more important than you paying your bills. What have they ever done since you’ve been alive to make you think otherwise? Doesn’t matter which side’s in office – they want your money.

If I haven’t made it clear umpteen times before, the New Deal did not seem to work very well during the thirties (you could ask then secretary of the treasury, Morgenthau, were he alive) and now, when we already have the huge expenses of so many entitlements already in place, and FDIC and social security and Medicaid, Medicare, Welfare, etc., it makes no sense at all to spend, spend, spend like madmen. Not only aren’t we on a gold standard any more, but it seems like all monetary theory has gone out the window. I am constantly struck that government pretends it has its own money to spend. They are either going to print money up like they are running out of paper, tax us to death, or default on their obligations (the last thing they want to do). One thing we can all agree on – the two parties and their corresponding ideological adventurers will blame each other if we fail and take credit for any success.

Please all laugh with me whenever anyone tells you that one of these "brilliant" money men like Geithner or Summers thinks he or she can tame the economy.

Sotomayor and the Senate

Justice Sotomayor’s Senate hearing, so far unscheduled, will be worthwhile viewing. And I am smiling, dear readers, at the thought that C-Span, the greatest boon to television ever – the poor man’s doctoral program – will again replay all of the past televised Senate hearings for Supreme Court Justices from Rehnquist (I believe the first televised) on down. You are not going to watch them, are you? Okay, if you are only going to watch a little (not going to, are you?), watch both of Rehnquist’s hearings (the second one, when he was appointed chief justice, is the more fun of the two), Bork’s, if they show it, Thomas’s (with Borks, definitely the most entertaining) and Scalia’s. That’s not a conservative political statement – they are clearly all right wingers, but, for whatever reason the political dynamic at the time made those by far the most interesting and provocative of the group. Watch also John Robert’s hearing if you can, where he put on a sterling performance, getting praise from even the Senator’s opposed to him for his brilliance.

I am shocked, shocked I tell you that Senators from both sides are already heating up the hypocrisy – the right wanting to slow things down, when they wanted to push through Roberts and Alito’s nominations, and the left wanting to push through Sotomayor while they claimed they didn’t get enough time on Bush’s appointments. We will unfortunately get cheated out of one big hypocritical moment. During the Bush days, when the right was in charge but the left had enough senators to filibuster, we reached the “nuclear” crisis. The right claimed that constitutionally, there was no right to filibuster a presidential appointment as a matter of constitutional interpretation and they were winding up to have Dick Cheney so rule from the floor as the president of the senate, and let the left deal with that however they could. The left, of course, was equally apoplectic, and insisted that since the senate could make its own rules, and there was no exception in the filibuster rule for appointments, then they could do what they pleased, also according to the constitution. A compromise was finally had, led by John McCain, where a few right wing Senators promised not to support such a ruling and the left promised to be sparing in its use of the filibuster for them.

We won’t get to see both parties reverse their stands, now that it is a Democratic appointment, for one reason only – the right almost certainly doesn’t have enough votes to maintain a filibuster.

Here’s what really bothers me about it. The reason the filibuster issue was a problem at all concerning judicial appointments was because it was a controversy that arose during important nominations. If the Senators really wanted to fix it, they would have waited until there was a lull, and then re-written the rule to take effect only after the election of the next president (which turned out to be Obama) – that way, no one would know which side would benefit from the rule change. But, you will probably never see it happen because the truth is, both sides love the filibuster rule when it suits them and don’t want to give it up, however much they complain when they are in the majority.

I have particularly grieved by the Senate process. The grilling hearings are a relatively recent phenomena, and nowadays, they seem to be done more so that the Senators can get a little press time than anything else. Do you think these Senators are actually going to read Sotomayor’s opinions? Even the most controversial ones? Don’t count on it. They will get briefings they will read from for a handful of cases they want to attack or praise. Remember, they are very busy fundraising and we have to be reasonable.

Of course, we all know what it really comes down to. All the posing, all the nonsense, all the hypocrisy these days comes down to whether many of the Senators think the candidate will be a vote for or against abortion rights. That’s a shame, especially because it can't be honestly done. I don’t see why asking a potential appointee whether they have a personal opinion about abortion and what it is. They will have death penalty cases, but you could ask them how they felt about murder. That is hardly the same as asking them how they would vote on a particular case. Still, it is accepted these days that no one will answer that question and I’m sure they hope they have never made any public statements on it before either.

What of the bias issue? Without quoting precisely, Sotomayor gave a speech where she said a Latina would have more experiences that would enable her to be a good judge than a white man. I have no doubt that Obama and many on his side think so too. His comments concerning who he would pick seemed to indicate it at least. I know many on the left who still feel that minorities should be given advantages that white (particularly males) don’t have – some say so openly, others just seem to also be on their side. Of course, I also know a fair amount of conservatives who almost always seem to come down on the white male side. At least we have a balance of injustice. As always, the miracle to me is that neither side can see themselves, but only the flaws in the other side. I wonder if any on the left will tell her they are troubled by her statement and vote against her. You have to doubt it, but it could happen (and we will see what Specter does).

I am hardly troubled by Sotomayor’s statement that they make policy on the court of appeals. She said in the same talk that they shouldn’t, but that it was a reality. Any attempt to utilize that against her is just so much political nitpicking and you should give it as much consideration as you would a hen’s opinion as to how many eggs you should eat (stretching for some type of profound simile there aaaaaand . . . missing badly).

The Middle East

I was deeply troubled earlier this year when America pledged 900 billion to help the Palestinians in Gaza after Israel crushed them when fired upon by rockets. It seemed an indication that he was going to make the mistake of trying to buy off people who hate us. That doesn’t work. Even statistics from the U.N. of how countries we give aid to vote shows us that they are happy to take our money but not our side. If it's appeasement they are after, Munich didn’t work out for Chamberlain either (and, yes, Chris Matthews, I know what happened at Munich). I for one don’t have faith that the money will not end up buying more rockets for Hamas or that they will get the credit for rebuilding Gaza. What this did is make it less likely that the Gazans or Hamas will think twice before attacking Israel again.

However, after I wrote feverishly on this topic a few months ago (1/24/09) in support of Israel as being more right than wrong in the struggle, identifying them as our ally, and encouraging them in the active right of self defense, I also mentioned that in a few years technology will allow their enemies to destroy them easily and remotely with so many missiles, that they had better find a solution fast. Also, I indicated that if Israel wants to keep the settlements in the West Bank, that I might very well turn around and support the Palestinians against that. It would be a violation of the U.N. charter. It would result in Israel giving up all moral authority. And, it would just make me think of them as thieves of the worst sort. Yet, we know from surveys that there are many Israelis who feel that they should keep the settlements and even expand (which they are still doing).

A one state solution is certainly not possible if Israel wants to keep its Jewish character. The two state solution is the only reasonable solution if they wish to survive. And that should mean that Palestinian land is Palestinian land (67 borders). To my surprise, when I discuss this issue with American Jews, they seem by a healthy amount to support Israel’s keeping the territory and they and Netanyahu are slowly going to pull me away from supporting them. It also makes me think two things might happen. One, there will be no solution and that is possibly what many Israelis (at least the government and perhaps a majority of the people) intend. Two, Israel will be destroyed some day and might deserve it by just trying reaching into the jar and not being able to take it without without opening their fist and dropping the cookie. I think they will find that once Hizbollah or Hamas or Iran is on top of them, they will not unilaterally stop or allow humanitarian aid in for Israel. But, Israel will have dealt the play, to quote one of my favorite fiction authors.

Nuclear proliferation

Is it me, or can you also not understand why any country with the ability to create nuclear weapons would be a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty? If I was Iran, I would certainly want the bomb, particularly with its neighbor Pakistan, a Sunni country, packing, not to mention India. If I was Japan, I would certainly want the bomb. Who cares if North Korea has a guidance system for a missile. They can motor and row it over to Japan on any calm night. One population center gone and it is the end for a country like Japan, which reproduces its citizens at a very low rate. It is one thing for us to say, we don’t want countries we don’t like to have the bomb. It is another thing to prevent it. Let’s face it. Bush did nothing about North Korea. Obama’s done nothing about North Korea. Bush did nothing successful about Iran. Same for Obama.

Really, what can they do? Sure you could attack Iran, but its one of the biggest countries in the world and it would take tremendous resources to accomplish anything while clearly destabilizing the Middle East. It’s nuclear program is spread out and hidden among many secret installations. An attack would almost certainly bring reprisals and our country has little stomach for that. Iran is not Libya and isn't going to panic at a rattling sabre. No American leader has the gall to do that anyway these days, nor any other country other than Israel, and they do not have the power to do it. Those days, at least for now, are over.

I might sound like one of those crazy conspiracy theorists to you. So, let me quote President Obama during a presidential debate:

“We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. And so it’s unacceptable. And I will do everything that’s required to prevent it. And we will never take military options off the table.”

Like most presidential candidates with a chance, Obama said what he needed to satisfy the public he would defend us. But, what exactly would he do to avoid the bomb. He needn’t worry much. National Intelligence Estimates put the timetable for an Iranian bomb even beyond an Obama second term. Whether that’s accurate or not, he has cover to sit on his hands as long as he wants as long to and there isn’t a smoking gun. Even then, do you see him sending in Special Forces?

Besides, what country can answer this following question without at least knowing that their answer will be chauvinistic and unsatisfying, even if they have a good reason – “Why can you have the bomb and we can’t?” Once Iran builds one – like India and Pakistan did, there is nothing left to do about it. Economic sanctions haven't worked on Cuba in almost 50 years and won't work on Iran anymore than they have already.

I don’t know if Iran is building a bomb. I know we can’t trust intelligence or international inspectors to give us correct answers about it. So many of them were wrong about Iraq and to my mind, Colin Powell’s performance before the U.N. was one of the most craven political acts I’ve ever seen. It’s not that I don’t like Colin Powell. I actually do, although I don’t agree with some of his ideas on war (particularly the - you break it, you own it idea). Of course, the willingness to suspend disbelief by the American people after that speech was more astonishing. I'm sure there are people who didn't believe it, but I can't think of any (although like you had trouble finding Nazi's after WWII, you can probably find a lot of disbelievers of the the Weapons of Mass Destruction after Iraq went South). Sometimes my cynicism does lead to the right answer. No WMD's would be found. I thought getting rid of Saddam was a good idea anyway, for other reasons, but the way we have stayed was foolish and very destructive to our economy and the country's morale.

I do think Iran is trying to obtain nuclear weaponry, but my reasons are not based on inside information but on their prior behavior. Iran has already given us the reason that they will lie to us. When they were discovered to have been hiding a long entrenched program one of their leaders explained that they had no choice. Embargos by the U.S. had hurt their economy so much in order to prevent them from obtaining equipment they could use to make atomic power, that the country suffered from the lack of what it called dual purpose materials. They hadn’t wanted it to get worse, but wanted nuclear power, so they lied. The same theory applies to the bomb. They would find their power enhanced by obtaining the bomb as has every other country that obtained it. We now welcome India, for example, into the club, because it is better to have them on our side.

No doubt that U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the economic concerns now upon us has given Iran a much freer hand. This was one of the gifts of the Bush years to our enemies – perhaps the biggest gift.

Unlike many who are usually more on the hawkish side, at least in terms of preparation, I am not one who is concerned with dialogue between our president and other leaders. History shows us that it in itself is not a problem. Examples with Russia and China are to obvious to spend time on here, but I cannot see how engaging with much lesser powers like North Korea, Cuba, Iran, etc., can hurt either. Are we that dumb that we will be fooled that easily. Will the world really give Castro more credibility because he had lunch with Obama or shook his hand? Of course, one needs greater experience than President Bush to do so and not look in their eyes to see their soul.

Here are my solutions to all of the above problems. National recognition that Spring is not the best, but the worst season; a likeness of Sully in the Smithsonian (which he would find funny); growing recognition of the hypnotized American populace that spending money you don’t have and can never pay back (when is this ever good) will lead to higher taxes, inflation, severe depression or all three; Republican recognition that Sotomayor is not the anti-christ and they have no chance to block her nomination absent some bombshell like she keeps anglo-male slaves in a hacienda; increased pressure on Israel to unilaterally abandon the settlements and regain completely the moral authority they had in the past and last, increased diplomatic, covert and economic pressure on Iran, but learn how to live with their having the bomb if they are building one, because China and Russia are not going to help us apply the pressure we need to really accomplish anything.

That was so easy. Why don’t I just run for president? I seem to have all the answers. Perhaps I can get Sully to run for VP


  1. I cannot agree with your view that the New Deal failed. In your eagerness to support your point I think you dismiss or overlook too much real historical evidence to the contrary. We can agree that it is unclear how much the various factors that ended the depression should divy up the credit (I DO agree with you that the war played a bigger role than the various domestic programs), but to say the New Deal failed is historical denial. Also, huge support for Israel bombing Iran's reactor if they build one. A country whose leaders have promised to destroy Israel cannot have nuclear weaponry. That said, we agree on 3 out of 5 of your main points. Not bad.

  2. I stand by my statement re the new deal - it didn't seem to work well. It certainly did not bring us out of the depression and the year the war broke out in Europe unemployment rate was over 17% and over 19% in '38, 5 years after the New Deal began. I've quoted Morgenthau before, so I won't again, but he said - I think in '37, spending didn't work. Who would know better? I'm not saying that government programs did not put some people to work - but remember - the rest of the country had to pay for that - and taking that money from people hurts during a depression - moreover, many of the regulations were nightmares for businessmen, and, fortunately, before FDR was able to get all his judges in there, some acts were ruled unconstitutional. I haven't read anything factual that makes me think it was successful, so we will continue to disagree.

    But, like you said, 3 out of 5 isn't bad - then again, you already privately beat me up on the Sully thing, so can we count that?

    Thanks for commenting.


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .