Saturday, February 23, 2008

*A surprise in Pakistan – When we learned on Tuesday that the parliamentary elections in Pakistan resulted in the sound defeat of President (dictator) Pervez Musharraf I was quite surprised and wondered why. He rigged the elections in 2002 and recently suspended the Supreme Court (for fear they would rule against his powers) and he arrested many of his opposition. My question was answered by Trudy Rubin, someone I feel is an outstanding observer and analyst of international politics. In her column in the Philadelphia Inquirer “...these elections were unexpectedly fair due to the new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who recently succeeded Musharraf” (previously Musharraf headed both the military and the government). The army did not interfere in elections and as Rubin noted, “The general appears determined to focus on providing necessary security for Pakistan.” If only our Commander-In-Chief were so focused.

*No surprise in Bush – “The Bush administration is pressing the opposition leaders who defeated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to allow the former general to retain his position, a move that Western diplomats and U.S. officials say could trigger the very turmoil the United States seeks to avoid... The U.S. is urging the Pakistani political leaders who won the elections to form a new government quickly and not press to reinstate the judges whom Musharraf ousted last year” (Bush fears the judges would try to remove Musharraf). A number of foreign policy experts have criticized Bush for investing U.S. energy and treasure in a particular individual, Musharraf. The Bush push to keep Musharraf in power could be dangerous. “The effort to persuade Pakistan's newly elected parliament not to reinstate the judges could be perceived in Pakistan as a U.S. attempt to keep Musharraf in power after voters overwhelmingly rejected his Pakistan Muslim League-Q political party”. Aside from Bush protecting his best friend/dictator he wants to have it both ways – pontificate about bringing democracy to the world until inconvenience presents itself.

*Justification to stop some people from propagating - Someone called into CSPAN insisting that Barack Obama was Muslim and would be sworn in on a Koran, should he win the presidency. When the show’s host explained that Obama is not Muslim the caller responded,” Well, that's what I heard, and it was on the television."

*They don’t build walls like they used to – The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to build an 18 foot high steel and concrete fence along the Texas/Mexico border that will pass through the backyards of family homes (whose owners face condemnation lawsuits if they protest). Further angering homeowners is the decision to stop the wall at one end of the property of River Bend Resort and Golf Course and resume the wall at the other end of the resort. This same procedure is being used in another part of Texas on the property of Dallas billionaire Ray L. Hunt, a close friend of President Bush who “recently donated $35 million to Southern Methodist University to help build Bush’s presidential library.” Aside from being another costly and seemingly bungled project of Michael Chertoff and the DHS I find it curious that the wealthy and privileged Texans don’t want to be as “protected” as the proletariat. I also wonder about the merit of building a multi-million dollar defensive wall that is designed with large openings. Reference the Berlin Wall. The East Germans knew how to build a wall.

*Speaking of the DHS - In 2002 the DHS attempted to create a separate personnel system for its employees outside of the civil service labor-management agreement that covers federal workers. In 2005 this anti-union move was denied in District court and once again by a Federal Appeals court in 2006. In the fiscal 2008 appropriations bill for the DHS congress denied funding for a new personnel system. DHS has announced it will not seek further litigation on the matter.
“Bush officials contended that the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks required changes that would give more discretion to managers and permit quicker deployment of workers without notifying their union representatives.” Given the incompetence and lack of forthrightness of DHS management its actual intent is open to question. The Bush administration’s record on (anti-)union policy may be a hint.

*The McCain Double-Flip-Flop with One-and-A-Half Twists – Matt Corley at notes that prior to his presidential bid John McCain repeatedly was against the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. For example, "I am disappointed that the Senate Finance Committee preferred instead to cut the top tax rate of 39.6% to 36%, thereby granting generous tax relief to the wealthiest individuals of our country at the expense of lower- and middle-income American taxpayers." [McCain Senate floor statement, May 21, 2001]. Appearing on ABC’s This Week last Sunday Mitt McCain reversed his engines like a 747 that has overshot the landing strip. He performed a political polka around the definition of wealthy and then vowed, “under no circumstances would he increase taxes”. To categorically ignore the current tax structure is absurd.The Iraq war is now costing $250 million per DAY. America’s infrastructure (bridges, roads, toxic bodies of water) is in disrepair. The military and National Guard equipment is shot to hell. Education is sorely under-funded. McCain’s economic alchemy is as spurious as his claim to be at arms length from lobbyists where “virtually every one of his closest advisors are part of the Washington lobby culture. “A review of campaign finance filings shows that the Arizona Republican has accepted more than $100,000 in donations from employees of Greenberg Traurig, the very firm where Abramoff once reigned”. “According to Sen. McCain has received over $400,000 from lobbyists.” ABC News on January 29, 2008 reported that McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign – more than any of the other presidential candidates. Responding to his lobby connection on Friday McCain called his senior staff “honorable” for their lobbying work. "These people have honorable records, and they're honorable people, and I'm proud to have them as part of my team." When he recently made the statement that “economics” was not his strength it was the most straight talk we have heard from the Senator.

*The “equal time” principle – Both Clinton and Obama have benefitted from campaign donations from Greenburg Traurig and other lobbyists. has a rundown of major donations these Democratic candidates have received from this industry of lawyers and influencers. Lobbyists do serve a function in our system. Unfortunately, their influence and impact have far exceeded an appropriate role as their economic resources skyrocketed and in too many instances their ethics became questionable. In today’s election system candidates need huge sums of money and special interests are a gold vein waiting to be mined. The answer appears obvious - public financing of elections and stronger ethics regulations for lobbyists and politicians. The problem is that the inmates make the rules. The solution is substantial public pressure.

*The Dukester’s devil is going to hell – Former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) is currently in prison for accepting over $700,000 in bribes. The briber is defense contractor Brent Wilkes and he was just sentenced to 12 years in prison. The Washington Post points out, “Wilkes is a Republican Party "Pioneer" who raised more than $100,000 for President Bush's reelection in 2004 and donated -- in concert with his business colleagues -- $656,396 to 64 other Republican lawmakers and the national Republican Party committees in Washington from 1995 through the third quarter of 2005, according to campaign finance records.” It is no secret that defense contractors and companies such as Halliburton and Blackwater have been major donors to Republican interests. It appears that their investments were quite prudent in light of the billions of dollars they have reaped from the Iraq war. Since there was no legitimate reasons for Bush to invade Iraq it seems reasonable to examine possible illegitimate reasons.

*Modern Reform - John Halpin, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress was a recent guest blogger at ThinkProgress. I recommend his brief review of reform movements in America and his suggestion that together they have a place in today’s world. Mr. Halpin concludes: “To build a real case for modern reform efforts, we should draw on and defend all three traditions: Liberalism (liberty with economic opportunity); Populism (a stand on the side of the people and “equal rights for all, special privileges for none”); and Progressivism (honest government and a commitment to the common good). From one perspective it is not considered hip or cool or desirable in current society to associate with ism labels. I would suggest that current conditions in America warrant that each of us commit to ideas or concepts beyond the amorphous “political party” affiliation that in recent history has not served the interest of ourselves or our nation.

*Did the earth move for you? – The attempt of the religious right to dictate how we should lead our lives is not limited to activity in the U.S. or Afghanistan or Iran. Even Israel has its “interpreters” of the Almighty’s verse and word. A parliamentary member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, Shlomo Benizri, is blaming two recent earthquakes in Israel on Parliament’s tolerance of gays. Israel decriminalized homosexuality in 1988 and has since passed several laws recognizing gay rights. Israeli court rulings in recent years have granted inheritance rights to gay couples and recognized same-sex marriages performed abroad. I find it interesting that these “religious” reproachers spend more time judging others than aiding a neighbor, the sick or the needy. They prefer tearing down over building up. Recall some of the religious right in the U.S. claiming that 9/11 resulted from America’s tolerance of gays. Shlomo may be correct that God is ticked off. For the reason I suggest he look in the mirror.

*Quote of the week – From the blogger Blue Gal: Did you ever wonder that the reason everyone is talking about what Michelle Obama “thinks” is because she can?

The Great Debate – On Thursday I watched the debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that took place in Austin, TX. As I suspected, it would not really be a “great” debate since their positions are so close on so many key issues. What particularly impressed me about the event was witnessing two intelligent and knowledgeable adults discussing serious issues of import to me and my country and proposing reasonable solutions.
~Afterthought – Did you look forward to the day when you could have confidence your leader when Obama said he would be willing to meet with leaders of countries at odds with the U.S. “with preparation but no preconditions”? It is a different approach than Bush has taken and even his predecessor, as noted by Katrina Vanden Heuvel at The Nation: “during his two terms President Clinton did not meet with Fidel Castro or with Hugo Chavez or with the leaders of Iran, Syria, and North Korea--while generally pursuing a policy of trying to isolate these countries. But what did the Clinton approach actually accomplish?”

*The children of Iraq – Little is spoken of the effect of the Iraq war on its children. UNICEF just asked for $37 million to support vulnerable Iraqi children and their families. The cold reality: “A large number of children, estimated in the tens of thousands, have lost parents, siblings and other family members to violence; At least one in five primary school-age children is unable to go to school: Only 40 per cent of children have regular access to safe drinking water; Some 600,000 children are among the 1.2 million Iraqis displaced over the past two years. Most families are still unable to return home.”
When we see much of the violence around the world our hearts may be touched but a shrug usually follows because we are helpless to do anything about it. I would suggest that there is a difference with Iraq because America’s fingerprints are all over the smoking gun. It is beyond time that we do something about it. John McCain is comfortable with American troops being in Iraq for 10 to 100 years. Americans can do something about that on November 4, 2008.

*Quotes - Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)
~ If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.
~ An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
~What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.
~ God has no religion.


Ruth said...

We (my pseudo-hubby & I)always enjoy your wit, to wit Mitt McCain, and hope that with McCain's flip-flopping a Democrat will be a shoo-in. Loved your links to Blue Gal and Think Progressive, a whole crash course on Democracy in only 7 minutes. - Ruth and Scott

Anonymous said...

And I'm a repeat visitor as well (I can't sign in to blogger for reasons that remain obscure to me, so I'm tagged "anonymous" which isn't as ironic as I'd wish it to be *grin*) -- I think you made a particularly good point with war profiteers and the invasion of Iraq. There's a great quote from the WWII era -- could it be Roosevelt? -- someone said something to the effect that war profiteers would be called out for what they really are: traitors. Of the many ways that America has declined in the years since WWII ended, this is one that bothers me the most: the idea that our elected (okay "elected") leadership should first, invade a sovereign nation (something we felt pretty strongly about back at the IMT in Nuremberg in 1947) and second, essentially turn the whole adventure into a money maker for already-well-heeled Republicans. At CPAC, someone said that Iraq had, in fact, been an enormous success, apparently because so many people (okay, "people") had made so much money.

Have I mentioned these people make me sick?