Sunday, September 21, 2014

American Interventionism: Pangs of Guilt from a Bleeding Heart Moderate

THE LATEST CRISIS, AS IF THE WORLD NEEDED MORE, IN IRAQ with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria and Levant or ISIS/ISIL has once again left America in a moral dilemma.  ISIS, I'll pick that one since I heard it first, has taken barbarism back when Romans use to crucify people at the drop of a hat, before there were Christians or Muslims..  Having read Bill Riley's book, The Killing of Jesus, I clearly understand how gruesome and horrendous a way crucifiction is to kill someone, and now ISIS has brought it back in vogue.  Of course they use more humane ways as well such as by simply lining up a few hundred people and machine gunning the down.  Now, like al Qaeda, from which they sprang like a bad seed, they claim to be Sunni Muslims, but they are not, they are simply barbaric killers hiding behind the name of Allah.

Last night, Aug 7, 2014, President Obama used his executive authority to approve limited air strikes against ISIS forces in Iraq for the purposes of protecting US State Department staff and support personnel in a single area in northern Iraq, actually in Kurdish territory.  Earlier, he also authorized a humanitarian air drop of food and water to tens of thousands Christians and Muslims surrounded by ISIS forces who were moving in for the kill.  This was in coordination with Iraq, Turkey, and with notification to certain leaders of Congress on vacation.  During his speech to the American people, the President used phrases suggesting that when America sees a terrible wrong and America has unique capabilities to help right that wrong IF asked be the host country, then we should act.  Which brings to this blog.

Over the 100 years or more America and American presidents have been faced with this moral dilemma many, many times.  The result is a large record of highly embarrassing hypocrisy.  In almost all cases, this not being one of them, America has intervened only because some national interest was involved or it is economically/politically beneficial to America.  Yet when we do intervene, we end up smiling proudly and pointing to how we are, stopping the genocide, saving the people, and establishing a stable democratic government ... and everybody knows that is rubbish.

There have been a few incursions by American regular troops (not just air power) where the outcome was as planned, more or less; Panama, Granada (the rational is very questionable), the first Iraq War, and the initial incursion into Afghanistan after 9/11.  Failures (or in one case a draw) that come to mind are Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan after the initial incursion.

So now, America is being dragged, rather than taking the lead, back into Iraq; back into a mess that is essentially one of our own making by first making the stupid decision to invade Iraq in the first place and then by bungling, in some cases criminally, the effort once we got there.  And dragged we must, for where our first aggression was not in America's national interest, this one clearly is.

Since I began writing this blog much has happened.  The initial air support to the Kurds was successful, ISIS advances were stopped there and in important areas reversed because it allowed Kurdish ground forces to retake lost territory; the exclusive al Maliki Iraqi government was voted out and a new, hopefully more inclusive gov't voted in (that in itself a major accomplishment of American diplomacy and a rare flash of Shi'ite rationalism); ISIS decided to teach the US and UK a lesson by beheading some of our nationals which only served to throw public opinion against them and reluctantly to Obama; Obama successfully putting together coalitions of both European states and Arab states to combat ISIS; and finally get Congress to vote on something he wanted, a bill authorizing him to train and equip moderate Syrian freedom fighters to battle ISIS on that front.

At this moment, we are simply waiting for the shoe to drop on ISIS, President has his target lists, his authorities, and his coalitions ,,, and he has never been afraid to use them when the provocation is sufficient.  He has made clear he is past the point of no return in responding to the ISIS threat.

Personally, I like to pick and choose when to throw America's mighty weight around.  I am a social liberal which means I am jam-packed with empathy toward others.  But, I am somewhat of a conservative when it comes to fiscal and foreign policy issues.  Further, I am a pragmatic idealist.  I know what the goals ought to be in a perfect world while understanding at the same time it is not, and never will be a perfect world.  The consequence of that knowledge is that I am aware my ideals will never be achieved, only approached.  Understanding that limitation drives a set of principles and actions which differ from those who think 100% of their ideology is achievable in the real world.

Consequently, that leads me to decisions to support President Obama's decision to ignore national boundaries when he went in to capture or kill bin Laden.  The same is true with his decision to ignore Syria's border in pursuing ISIS.  The leadership of both countries gave up their right for us to respect their borders when, in Pakistan's case, they were protecting our enemy, and in Syria's case, they are our enemy, for all practical purposes (there is that pragmatism again.)

Further, I am beyond happy that President Obama has figured out how to fight these kinds of "wars" properly.  First, he installed leadership in the Pentagon who understood asymmetric warfare rather than "cold" warfare (McCain) and how to take into account sectarian differences into their war plans. Next, he is executing plans that support that vision; by getting the effected parties to use the capabilities they have while we supply the capabilities they don't have and trying to get them to create the political environment which removes the civilian recruitment base of the terrorists.  In this case, that means convincing the Shi'ites and Sunnis to somehow get along (if Protestants and Catholics can do it, I suppose Sunnis and Shi'ites can as well).

The first sustained bombing has yet to start falling in ISIS, so I suspect I will be adding on to this blog when they do.

Monday, September 15, 2014

DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN AD IDEAS

The following message ideas appear to fill a gap in what I have seen in ads coming from Democratic candidates, the PACs, and the national organizations.  Personally, given the way I see the poll numbers going, I don't think the right message is getting out; so here are my shots at what I think would be effective.  Their intent is to be positive overall while taking shots at the opponent on issues that I think impact people close to home and aren't theoretical.  Finally, these are at the "fill-in-the-blank" candidate level and obviously intended to be much better written by professionals..

#1: OBAMACARE:

"Hi, my name is [   ] and I am running for [    ].  Of the many important issues which you have told me are of concern to you, I want to take a moment of your time to address one of them ... health care.  After an admittedly very rocky start last year, common for most new software systems, the [state] insurance exchange envisioned by the Affordable Care Act was on-line and accepting applications.  Overall, over 8 million Americans took advantage of this new program, [   ] million right here in [state].  Of those, about [  %] were people like many of you who didn't have insurance to start with many times because the insurance company simply dropped you or wouldn't let you sign up in the first place.

Beginning the month we go to the polls to select which Party is going to control Congress, the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges will open up again to let you sign up for the first time or to change, if you want to, what you already have.  Projections are that another [  ] million Americans will sign up for the first time this cycle.  But, all of that may be for naught IF the Republican Party gets control of the Senate and maintains control of the House.  WHY is it for naught?  Because my opponent and his Party's stated goal is KILL the Affordable Care Act or come as close to that goal as possible.

Is that what you really want ... to lose your the insurance you got just this year??  Democrats already know this to be true, but Republicans and Independents who have insurance for the very first time; these "bumper sticker" slogans used by my opponent against the Affordable Care Act are an attack on you personally, not on President Obama, but on you.  In their effort to [destroy your President's work], they have decided to make you "acceptable collateral damage"

Is that what you want [opponent's name] to do to you if you send [him/her] to Congress?  For it will happen if you vote along Party lines.

Part of my job, if you chose to send me to Congress, is to protect you and protect your right to affordable insurance.  Vote to keep your insurance, vote for [  ]

# 2 WOMEN

"Hi, my name is [   ] and I am running for [    ].  Of the many important issues which you have told me are of concern to you, I want to take a moment of your time to address one of them ...A Woman's Right to Equal Pay for Equal Work.  Just recently, Conservatives, including four women, voted to stop debate, meaning they didn't even want to talk about it, in the Senate on a bill, Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have gone a long way to guaranteeing Equal Pay for Equal Work.

Let me ask the Republican and Independent women listening to me right now, "Did you know your employer can prohibit you, even fire you, if you talk about your pay status with a co-worker?  Well, if you do, you can be!"  One of the provisions in the Paycheck Fairness Act, which I support, would Stop your employer from Firing you for exercising Your First Amendment Right to Free Speech.  Well, Conservatives, including my opponent Don't Think You Have That Right and even worse, they Don't Even Want To Talk About It!  I thought Conservatives were for the Bill of Rights, apparently not ... are you?

I know I am and if you value your Right To Speak as well and want to talk about your pay to co-workers, you will need to vote for me, for I will vote For the Paycheck Fairness Act,  If you vote for my opponent, it isn't going to happen because you will remain muzzled as you have been for the last 230 years for [He/She] will vote to deny you your right to speak.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Wealth, The Wealthy, and the Liberal Message About (It) Them

HYPERBOLE IS A TERRIBLE THING, especially when used in trying to influence people and win friends.  Unfortunately, in the Liberal/Progressive campaign to shed light on the rapidly increasing problem of Wage and Capital Inequality in America, this is what the argument has turned into  Simply put, by attacking the 1% en mass is quite counter-productive and frankly pissing a lot of would be supporters off; like me.

My background, fortunately, allows me to understand or to know where and how to look for an understanding of how inequality works, why it exists, why it won't go away, and how to mitigate it.  I write in great detail on it at myesoteric.hubpages.com with lots of long prose, boring numbers, and statistics.  Here, I will attempt to keep it short and sweet and, hopefully, much less boring.

The problem I see with the message coming from the Left since the beginning of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is that it morphed from the illicit "methods" some of the wealthy used to acquired their wealth to the fact that they were simply wealthy; as if being wealthy was a sin in and of itself.  It is easy to understand how this can happen, for it is much easier to make a physical object the focus of derision than it is an abstract idea ... like fraud or lack of ethics.  But as soon as the revolution took their eye-off-the-ball and began attacking a class of people, they lost the war.

I am here to tell you that if you are a Conservative who believes in conservatism or a Liberal and believes in liberalism, then there is nothing wrong with having gobs of money and selfishly spending it on ones self, it that is what pleases you no matter how garish it might be. If you are a Socialist, well then there are probably some among you do believe that kind of behavior is wrong and should be stopped in one manner or another.  But America was conceived in liberalism but reverted to conservatism for much of its history, until the Great Depression taught us there is a better way.  In either case, however, our modus operandi has always been to work hard and prosper and enjoy the fruit of our labor.

Nevertheless, part and parcel of that saying is you must come by your wealth honestly; honesty-is-the-best-policy has always been assumed in America, although rarely followed.  Honesty and fair play is also the grease that is supposed to guarantee all Americans, if they try hard and have the talent, to succeed in life; to make it to at least the middle class, if they start in the lower economic rungs, and to make it to the upper classes from the middle economic class.  But, for the most part, economic honesty and fair play, absent coercion from government regulations, simply doesn't exist in American society, or any other society for that matter.  This is why true economic mobility in most economic stratifications, save for those who lived on the frontier during the westward expansion and a short period between 1950 and 1980, was not a reality in America.

Yes, as technology advanced, so did the standard of living at all economic levels, but except for special periods like WW I, WW II, and the Great Depression, it rose at a higher rate in the higher income levels than it did at the lower ones.  Why?  Because the lack of economic honesty and fairness in our system allows it to happen that way.  This is the simple economic reality of America, and THAT is what the Occupy Wall Street movement, or what is left of it, and its follow on should be railing against.

The target of their ire shouldn't be directed at the 1%, but instead at several sets of people who allowed many unworthy people to gain or improve upon that status.  This would be:

  1. The ones that destroyed the regulations, such as the Glass-Steagal Act which prevented mortgage banks from mixing with investment banks, which protected us from dishonest financial institutions and real estate brokers.
  2. The regulators, such as Alan Greenspan, who refused to use what regulatory authority he had available to him to prevent the debacle which took place from happening, or at least being as bad as it was.
  3. The rating agencies and their Principals who conspired with the financial institutions to provide false rating reports was well as any government oversight regulators which allowed this to happen
  4. The real estate institutions, agents, brokers, and appraisers who participated and facilitated the fraud against uneducated buyers by glossing over, hiding, or flat out lying about relevant facts concerning the acquisition
  5. The financial institutions, Principals, and employees who knowingly and willingly brokered mortgages to people without the wherewithal to repay, packaged untraceable financial packages with known toxic collateral in them, as well as the government agencies who allowed these financial instruments to exist in the first place.
In every case, laws and regulations designed to ensure honesty and fair play in our financial systems were eviscerated, the government people put in place to keep the players honest turned their backs, and the politicians who so naively believe the economic system will take care of itself if only left alone were put in charge only to be proved wrong again for about the 25th time.  THAT is what the fight must be against, not the people who are simply wealthy for most of them got there by more or less honest means and should not be turned into villains just because they are part of the 1%.

If you think so, you missed the point by a mile.  The point is HOW they got there, and now you are talking only about 10% of the 1% ... maybe ... who did it by really dishonest means.  In the world of economic inequality, there are only two things that need our attention:
  1. Reducing the opportunities for dishonest people to take advantage of honest people, and that is the job of government
  2. Mitigating the natural, inexorable tendency of capitalism to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich (that is a whole other discussion.  It can be done, and, if fact, has been done in the past while maintaining all of the good things about capitalism)  This also the job of government.

Monday, July 28, 2014

CONSERVATIVE ECONOMICS STRIKES AGAIN




FIRST, I NEED TO GIVE CREDIT TO THE SOURCE of my material, Dave Cieslewicz, former mayor of Madison, WI, in an article he wrote on 7/24/14 at http://m.isthmus.com/article.php?article=43235, in case you want to read the whole thing.  The point of this blog is to highlight some of the facts presented by Mr. Cieslewicz and make some comments on them.

The title of his article is You thought Wisconsin losing high-speed rail was bad? It actually just got worse.  Its subject matter, in reality, is the success of Conservative economic principles, or the lack thereof.  Mr. Cieslewicz uses the case of a high speed rail line to illustrate his case.  The essential facts are thus:
  • In 2009, then Gov. Jim Doyle joined forces with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to convince train manufacturer Talgo to locate in Milwaukee. The city of Milwaukee invested $10 million for site improvements at the old Tower Automotive plant in a neighborhood that needed the jobs and the reinvestment. 
  • Wisconsin ordered two trains for the state-sponsored Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha service. In addition, Talgo had an order for two trains for use in Oregon and Washington that would also be built in Milwaukee.
  • Gov. Doyle then secured $810 million in federal stimulus money to build higher-speed rail from Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison with the promise of eventually connecting the line to the Twin Cities
  • Those train sets would have been built in Milwaukee too.

In 2010, Milwaukee mayor Barrett competed with Tea Partyer Scott Walker, Milwaukee's County Executive, the Wisconsin's governor's office.  Walker pitted the two largest cities in Wisconsin, Madison and Milwaukee, against the rest of the state by running against the already in place train plan, which he portrayed as a boondoggle, as did Florida governor Rick Scott. And just like Florida, Scott Walker won, and the trains lost as he quickly moved to kill the Milwaukee to Madison part of the project.  But, he claimed to support upgrades to the Hiawatha line. Walker, however, was soon pressured by his Tea Party legislators to renege on on even the Hiawatha trains; which he did.  So, what were the the ramifications of this "looking after the citizens economic interests"?
  • Talgo was already well along in the construction of two sets of trains to serve that line. 
  • The state has already paid Talgo $40 million for those trains
  • The state paid another $12 million to other vendors, for a total cost so far of $52 million.
  • Talgo, rightly, filed a claim against the state for an additional $66 million in unpaid invoices and other losses due to the state defaulting on the contract. Even though the state is clearly at fault they nevertheless recently denied the claim and an unnecessary and expensive formal lawsuit is most certainly in its future.
In addition:
  • In May 2014, the completed trains were unceremoniously moved from the now abandoned Milwaukee Talgo plant to Indiana, for possible use there. 
  • Illinois is paying for an extension of Amtrak service to Rockford, and plans are in place to extend that to Dubuque. From there it's not hard to imagine completing the line to the Twin Cities (see above) and bypassing Wisconsin altogether.
The rational was:
  • Walker claimed that he opposed the 100% federally funded train because of the annual operating costs to the state, which amounted to around $7 million/yr
  • Now the state is on the line for as much as $118 million, which is 17 years of operations (longer if you take into consideration the time value money) for which Wisconsin will have received nothing at all except lost opportunity!
What was given up to "save Wisconsin from this boondoggle"?
  • Bringing new business and tax revenues into Wisconsin
  • Revitalizing a crumbling part of one of Wisconsin's major cities
  • Jobs both in the Milwaukee plant and all along the routes the train would have traveled
  • Growth in those rural places where stops were planned, at least based on the experience of other similar projects, including Madison itself
  • Advertisement about Wisconsin joining the 21st Century with a high-speed rail which would probably bring in new business to outlying areas that would combine the low cost of rural construction and operation combined with access to population centers for employees (Wisconsin now ranks 37 out of 50 in job creation.

This is just one example out of many where uber-Right-wing Conservatives have taken control of the governorship and state houses and applied their brand of economics.  The same has happened in Florida, where I live, and Rick Scott is now trying to walk-back on much of the same kind of damage he did in order to save his reelection bid.  Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, is a similar story except he has so alienated his own Party, the non-Right-wing element has revolted and is either supporting his Democratic opponent or, finding that to distasteful, simply withholding their support of Brownback.

Research I have conducted supports Mr. Cieslewicz single data point.  In looking over the history of major economic downturns in American history, the smallest of which was the 2008 Great Recession, when the economic theory promulgated by Conservatives (or today's Republicans) simply doesn't work; it naturally leads to the frequent major boom-bust cycles so prevalent from 1780 through 1933.  It should be noted that moderate Republicans like Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford and dropped the Classical economic school Conservatives are so enamored with and ended up supporting a somewhat conservative version of what today's Democrats prefer.  I suppose one can find one success story where a Scott Walker type governor has actually improved his state's economic standing in recent years, but I can't think of one.

Dave Cieslewicz is the former mayor of Madison. He blogs as Citizen Dave.

Moderate in the House also writes as My Esoteric at myesoteric,hubpages.com