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So, what’s the deal with Afghanistan?
Barack Obama has been President… about 68 days? And already, as he plans to draw down 100,000 troops in Iraq over the next 18 months, and send another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, there are already people describing the war in Afghanistan as his “Vietnam.” What is being neglected is the fact that he has inherited two horrific wars, both of which are unpopular, especially within the Democratic party. While these wars may very well suffer from a lack of public support, he is in the difficult position of having to recraft American policy so that he can safely exit both arenas, while shifting focus onto Al Qaeda… remember those guys? The ones who attacked us on 9/11?
Those who would compare President Obama and President Bush’s approach to the wars simply are not paying attention, or are hoping he fails. In Iraq, as mentioned, he is drawing down troops in preparation for an exit before 2011. Within Afghanistan, President Obama is already trying to build an international coalition so that it is not just the United States that bears the full burden. Due to the iron grip of the NeoCons in Bush’s first term, there was virtually no attempt to build a coalition beyond a few token troops from our closest allies. Also, President Bush generated so much animosity and disdain that few nations were willing to step forward and send troops to either Iraq or Afghanistan. President Obama has gone on a diplomacy offensive in order to round up support. He is very popular around the globe, a fact he hopes will gain him the support of world leaders and their troops. In addition to troop increases, President Obama is also going to send civilian experts to Afghanistan to help the fledgling nation develop its economy and political structures. They will also increase the training of Afghan security forces so they can bear responsibility for their own long-term safety.
While President Bush ignored the war in Afghanistan, assuming that the mission was accomplished, the Taliban slowly made a come-back and learned the lessons of guerrilla warfare that were being taught in Iraq. President Obama has promised to refocus our efforts into Afghanistan in order to keep the Taliban away from power, and to prevent them from recreating a safe haven for Al Qaeda. The central strategy will be one of divide and conquer. The Taliban is fractured, with two-thirds of Taliban forces more concerned with local issues, while the other third, led by former Afghan leader Mullah Omar, want to fully regain their control of power. The President hopes that by taking a political, rather than military, approach with the Taliban forces focused on local issues, he can pit the Taliban against itself and against Al Qaeda allies. This strategy also won glowing praise from Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai.
Another fact, which was ignored by President Bush, was that the Taliban have found a safe haven along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. This is where counter-insurgency operations will have to be conducted, and there is already evidence that President Obama is using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, known as Predator Drones, to strike at Taliban and Al Qaeda militants hiding along that porous Pakistan/Afghanistan border. The strikes, which have increased dramatically since August 2008, have sown distrust and division within the Al Qaeda ranks, an effect that they hope will be replicated within the Taliban. A major concern, however, is that there have been numerous drone attacks that have killed civilians. These attacks have been condemned by President Hamid Karzai, who has insisted that attacks on civilians must come to an end. The attacks have had the effect of adding to anti-America sentiment in some areas, which is not helpful in the long-run.
But it is not just the fact that the Taliban and Al Qaeda enjoy protection along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border: the Pakistani military also needs to do more to root out these terrorist elements, which requires counter-insurgency training. Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, made a trip to those countries in early February in order to demonstrate the Obama administration’s desire to focus on that region’s woes. Appearing on the Charlie Rose show, Holbrooke spoke about the need for Pakistan’s military to evolve away from being India-centric and to focus on counter-insurgency training. He also indicated that he would like to see more Pakistani troops along the border. “There is no way,
Charlie, that the international effort in Afghanistan can succeed unless
Pakistan can get its western tribal areas under control,” Holbrooke said. The Pakistan government needs to rein in terrorist organizations within, or there can be disastrous consequences. As was seen in December, with the attacks in Mumbai, these terrorist elements want to spark a larger war between India and Pakistan so they can continue their operations along the western border of Pakistan. The Taliban and Al Qaeda represent a threat to their own continuance as a nation, a threat they need to better understand. President Zardani’s wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by the Taliban, a prefect and personal example of the Taliban threat. Therefore, it becomes a necessity for the U.S. to train the Pakistani military and to provide support for the Pakistani government. This is a regional problem, which President Obama will work hard to resolve.
Though it is important to refocus on Afghanistan, President Obama needs to understand that the continued presence of U.S. troops in the middle-east is a factor in increasing animosity towards our nation. For instance, one of Osama bin Laden’s main grievances against the U.S., pre-9-11, was the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. This sentiment was felt across the Arab region, and it is felt even more powerfully as the U.S. is engaged in two wars in the region. However, despite this reality, President Obama has inherited Bush’s mistakes, and now he has to make decisions that were forced upon him by his predecessor. His choices range from bad to worse. In the short-term, it is necessary to drive back the Taliban in militarily, but in the long-term it is necessary to provide economic support and to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure. The seeds of this strategy have been planted already, as the civilian diplomats en route to Afghanistan are going to focus more on local development and governance, as well as security training. The political solution to the war in Afghanistan is ultimately what will bring us “victory”… which, for many Americans, is defined as bringing our troops home safely.
For President Obama, this the top priority, in terms of foreign policy. After his first National Security Council meeting, Obama was “calm and cool,” while others (such as Rahm Emmanuel) were stunned. “The general feeling was expressed by one person who said at the end, ‘Holy shit.'” There are a multitude of problems, including reining in the production of opium, curbing government corruption, and forging unity among the differing regions and warlords, and creating a sustainable and responsible government. These are some tough challenges and President Obama seems eager to take the challenge. He must, however, keep in mind his history: the Soviet Union deployed over 100,000 troops into Afghanistan and they were ultimately defeated. If he wants to avoid a quagmire, then he needs to split the civilian populations from the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents through positive developments in their society. He also needs to make sure that, in the long run, there is an Afghan face on both their government and military. This is a dangerous time for Afghanistan. There can be virtually no mistakes.
AAAAnd on a completely different note, just for the sake of levity, some hilarious pictures I found.
I quite enjoy the first one…
Remember her? How could we forget?
Israel’s invasion of Gaza was a humanitarian disaster. Roughly 1,417 people were killed in the 22 day war, 926 of them civilians. Of those, 313 were under the age of 18 and 116 were women. The war, aimed at the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, destroyed 15,000 homes and businesses, seriously damaged another 20,000 homes, destroyed 16 government buildings, and destroyed 20 mosques. The World Health Organization also reported that half of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 44 clinics were seriously damaged in the invasion. Two clinics were completely destroyed. In addition to delaying treatment to civilians injured during combat, according to Physicians fo Human Rights, Israel also targeted medics, killing 16. During the war, the International Red Cross ceased operations within Gaza after 13 of its ambulances were attacked while transporting victims to hospitals in Egypt. Despite these horrific figures (and thousands of personal accounts), Defense Minister Ehud Barak maintained that the Israeli army is the “most moral in the world.”
Hamas militants in Gaza were also guilty of gross disregard for human life. These militants fired rockets, such as the Kassam, into Israel, with reckless disregard for the damage to property and loss of life these rockets would cause. By the end of the war, 13 Israelis were killed: 3 were civilians killed by rocket fire, 6 were soldiers killed in battle, and the remaining 4 were killed by friendly fire. Throughout the three week war, Hamas militants fired 796 rockets into southern Israel (mostly in Sderot and Ashkelon), damaging an estimated 1,500 homes, 327 vehicles, and damaging 9 schools. Israeli officials have also accused Hamas of using human shields, though no evidence has been provided and human rights groups have found no evidence to support the claims. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for independent investigations into the conduct of war by both Hamas and Israel.
Though all life is valuable, it is ridiculous to assert that conducting a major ground invasion that results in the destruction of a society and causes the deaths of over 1,400 people is a reasonable and proportionate response to the attacks from a minority of militants using inaccurate shoulder rockets.
In an earlier blog, as the war was being waged, I wrote that “one must remember International Law, which dictates that the aggressor must keep the rule of Proportionality in mind.” The principle of Proportionality, an international law, dictates that “even if there is a clear military target it is not possible to attack it if the risk of civilians or civilian property being harmed is larger than the expected military advantage.” This is also known as the Fourth Geneva Convention. Proportionality should always be a guideline in war, and it clearly was not in this war.
Revelations of civilian abuses over the last week from veterans of the Gaza war have sent the Defense Ministry (still headed by Ehud Barak) into a defensive position. Soldiers came forward late last week with revelations that the Israeli army violated the rules of war and recklessly targeted civilians. One squad leader, quoted in a newsletter by Oranim Academic College in Kiryat Tivon (a pre-military preparatory program), explained the IDF’s (Israeli Defense Forces) procedures for clearing out houses: “When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up story by story. Each story, if we identified a person, we shoot them. I asked myself: ‘How is this reasonable?” Another soldier, according to Haaretz, described how a mother and child were killed by a sniper located on a rooftop. They misunderstood an order from an Israeli commander and went left, instead of going right. They paid for that mistake with their life. A soldier, named Aviv, described how an unarmed elderly woman, who was walking down a road, was killed, on command, by a sniper. When asked how this could happen, he remarked: “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn’t have to be with a weapon, you don’t have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him. With us it was an old woman, on whom I didn’t see any weapon. The order was to take the person out, that woman, the moment you see her.” One soldier, identified only as Moshe, was asked if these kinds of killings are investigated, to which he responded: “The attitude is very simple: It isn’t pleasant to say so, but no one cares at all. We aren’t investigating this. This is what happens during fighting and this is what happens during routine security.”
There were many more stories of wanton disregard for human life. Palestinians are widely regarded in Israeli society as homo sacer. In other words, according to the Roman designation, those who are homo sacer cannot be sacrificed, nor can their killing be considered homicide. They are entities without human rights. So, it becomes easy to kill them, or to destroy their homes and property. Vandalism becomes a medium for expressing this disregard, as evidenced by the fact that some soldiers wrote “Death to Arabs” on the vacated homes of Palestinians, as they threw their furniture out windows and desecrated family pictures. How could they do this? The squad leader (mentioned earlier) explained: “…the atmosphere in general [was that] the lives of Palestinians, let’s say, are something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers, so as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way.” Further revelations have made these attitudes even more worrisome.
A soldier identified as Ram described how Rabbis (like Chaplains in the U.S. army) were assigned to the military in order to provide services to religious soldiers, and to ensure that the kitchens were kosher. However, according to Ram and many others who served in Gaza, the military rabbinate have assumed the role of holy warriors. “The rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles, and … their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war,” Ram said. A staff Sergeant echoed this sentiment: “This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness. His message was clear: ‘This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.’ The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic.” The staff Sergeant said that he was uncomfortable about the sermon, but he noticed that other “troops seemed receptive.” This attitude, that Palestinians should be completely removed from Gaza, and that the Gazan invasion was part of that larger effort, was reinforced by the military rabbinate, who indirectly argued that international law should not prevail– instead, using overwhelming force to eliminate civilians was not only acceptable, but necessary in order to minimize the danger to soldiers. The words “Our ancestors did not always fight with a sword and at times preferred to use a bow and arrow from a distance” appeared in some of the texts distributed by the military rabbinate. These religious figures were unabashedly advocating ethnic cleansing.
Though the military rabbinate sound extreme, and they are, they represent only a small faction of Jewish clerics. The problem, according to Rabbi David Hartman, is that this minority is passionate about their belief in “Holy War” (like their Islamic fundamentalist counterparts) and so they are more likely to volunteer for military service, adding, “There’s a vacuum and it gets filled by crackpots.” Hartman said that this extreme nationalistic ideology has “to be fought with a rational religious ideology that takes into account the living reality of two peoples.” This is certainly a belief that needs to be shared by both sides of this conflict.
What always amazes me about the United States is that there is zero room for dialogue on this subject. None. Dissent on this topic is not tolerated. However, in Israel, there is a sharp debate on this very issue. On the left, there are secular pragmatists who believe the occupation and settlements should come to an end; on the right, there are religious fanatics who seek Zionist control over the whole region. There are some moderates, but they tend to be more right-leaning. For example, Ehud Barak and his Labour party are generally regarded as moderate, as is Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party. These parties only seem moderate when compared to Likud, the extreme right-wing party led by Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu. Both Livni and Barak were key figures in the recent invasion of Gaza. Under Netanyahu, more settlements and more war can be expected. For President Barack Obama, this is troubling. He has high hopes of resolving this conflict, which has dogged every President since 1967. He has already sent his Mid-East envoy George Mitchell to the region in order to signal his readiness to engage in the peace process. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already publicly rebuked incoming-PM Netanyahu for his assertion that the Palestinians are not yet ready for a state. She has also criticized Israel for its plans to destroy 80 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, saying: “Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’… It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem.” This is a troubling sign for the President, who is willing, but is currently being sucked more and more into the day to day management of the failing economic situation. Added to this domestic crisis is the extreme right-wing stances of the Netanyahu coalition, one that has signaled it will not place a high value on diplomacy.
It may very well be time for an imposed settlement, whether either side likes it or not.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
Middle-East Envoy George Mitchell talks with President Abbas, as a portrait of Yasser Arafat hangs on the wall behind them
President Obama with President Abbas
Hopefully, this administration will take a more evenhanded approach to this conflict.
Does everyone know that I have a BA in history and will (crossed fingers) teach US history at the High School level?
If not, then… now you know.
I’m also about to finish my BA in English, so I’ll be able to get a job teaching English if there are no history positions. But that’s not really what I’m writing about.
This is what I’m going to write about…
Glenn Beck, a tearful and moronic Fox News commentator, as well as other Republican commentators and congresspeople, have all criticized President Obama for comparing the current economic crisis to the Great Depression. Somehow saying that this economy is the worst since the Great Depression, while factually true, is unbecoming for a President. After 8 years of a President trying to put a rosy face on a horrific war, sagging economy, and the loss of American prestige around the globe, I’m very glad to have a President who can tell me the truth.
I can handle it, Barry. Give it to me straight.
Well, not everyone can handle it, apparently.
I have also heard gross misrepresentation of historical facts. The biggest distortion, heard time after time on Fox News, is that President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not end the Great Depression with the ultra-socialist New Deal policies, therefore disproving Keynesian economics altogether. While it is true that the New Deal policies did not cure the Great Depression, for many years it did alleviate some of the crisis. What is also true is that World War 2 ended the Great Depression, a fact that Obama critics point out in order to doomsay down his stimulus package and soon-to-be budget. The fact that World War 2 ended the Great Depression actually proves that President Obama’s plans have some chance of working, not the other way around.
Let’s begin with some background on the lead up to the Great Depression…
Following World War 1, the American economy was struggling to recover. Most of the European nations saw their economies collapse, but the United States, for the most part, had only to contend with rising prices and inflation. In 1921, however, the economy stumbled: over 100,000 businesses went bankrupt; 5 million Americans lost their jobs; and 453,000 farmers were forced to abandon their land. Part of this economic tumult was a result of labor strife and discontent with labor policies and practices.
However, by 1922, the economy rebounded and expanded in an unprecedented way. This had a lot to do with leaps in technology that allowed for a 60% increase in manufacturing output. The major industry, at this time, was the auto industry, thanks to Henry Ford’s innovative assembly line. Increased mobility made it possible for greater and faster transportation of goods, products, and resources. It also connected the rural areas with the urban, and increased demands for suburban housing. Advances in aviation and railroads also made transportation faster and more efficient, which helped spur the economy forward.
As the economy grew, and goods were easier and cheaper to produce, people were beginning to consume goods at a scale previously unseen in this country. This rise in consumerism also led to the creation of our modern advertising industry. Thanks in part to the development of the radio, mass-produced magazines, and the emerging movie industry, the advertising industry was one of the most successful of the decade. The “Roaring Twenties,” as the decade has come to be known, was really more of a period of conspicuous consumption for only a small portion of society.
The other, larger, part of society was able to buy goods through the use of credit. Half of the families, by 1929, were unable to buy any of the consumer goods that had been created out of technological advances. That inability to have access to purchasing power caused a decline in profits for companies, which only made it increasingly difficult to provide jobs and adequate wages for employees. The other major problem with the American economy was the focus on the construction and automobile industry. As fewer and fewer people purchased cars (the others either already owned a car or were unable to buy one) the profits for those industries fell sharply in the final years of the 1920’s. As banks began to suffer financially with the rise in defaulted loans, they began to call in on loans that borrowers were unable to pay. During the 1920’s, banks were recklessly loaning money to people who were not likely to ever pay back the loan. As defaults began pouring in, they tightened their rules on whom they would lend to, further worsening the growing crisis. Throughout the decade banks were gambling in the stock market with other people’s money, and as the stock market crashed they lost significant portions of people’s money. But it was also the debt of foreign nations that weighed the American economy down. Many European nations owed the U.S. huge sums of money, which they, too, were unable to pay off. So, stupidly, U.S. bank loaned huge sums of money to European countries in order to pay off the older debts. Protective tariffs in the U.S. also made it difficult for Europeans to sell their goods in the American market, making it that much more difficult for their economies to recover. On top of all this, the United States began to lose their edge in the trade industry. As Europe began to recover from WW 1, they relied more on domestic goods and agriculture and less on imported American goods and agriculture. By the end of the 1920’s, two-thirds of the American people were at or below the poverty line. The so-called “Roaring Twenties” were nothing more than a gilded hollow shell.
When President Herbert Hoover came into Office, the economic disaster had not yet dawned. He was a conservative “self-made” man, which fit into the national narrative– rags-to-riches-Horatio-Alger baloney. However, when the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, the American people went totally batshit. People jumped out of windows, men left their families, and people were making hurried runs to the banks to withdraw their cash– only making the situation worse. President Hoover tried to calm the American people by reassuring them that prosperity was just around the corner, or that the economy wasn’t really all that bad. In a series of bad public relations moves, President Hoover made appearances at baseball games to throw out the first pitch, distributed pictures of him fly-fishing, and engaged in activities that he hoped would convey to the American people that he was confident in the American economy.
Instead, he only proved to the American people that he didn’t give a damn about their suffering. He was a self-made man. He wanted all Americans to pull themselves up by their boot-straps (even if they didn’t own boots) and make themselves rich. He was not about to offer any meaningful government assistance. His conservative values would not be compromised for the sake of the American people.
So, in 1932 he was out on his ass.
The charming, eloquent, and compassionate Franklin D. Roosevelt won the election 1932 with the promise of a New Deal… he wasn’t quite sure what the new deal was, at the time, but to the American people it sounded a hell of a lot better than nothing, which is what President Hoover had given them. Roosevelt won a resounding victory, with 57.4% of the popular vote and 472 electoral votes to Hoover’s 40% popular vote and 59 electoral votes. On inauguration day, as Hoover and Roosevelt sat together in the Presidential limo, Hoover, in no mood to talk, sat pouting, while the newly elected president waved to the throngs of people with his hat, as they hoped to catch a glimpse of the man they hoped would bring change.
And change he brought.
His first 100 days in office were the busiest in the history of the nation, with many bills submitted to congress to insure banks (FDIC) and keep them afloat (the Emergency Banking Act), revamp agriculture through the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, restricted speculation with the Glass-Steagall Act, made it easier for laborers to bargain collectively, created the National Recovery Administration to spend large sums of money on public works, and the creation of the Tennessee Valley Act, which allowed for the construction of dams in order to generate electricity. Of course, over the years there were many other programs such as Social Security and the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). All of this had the effect of creating confidence in President Hoover, who had demonstrated his willingness to experiment with different policies in order to solve the financial crises. And the American people needed it: at least 25% of the American workforce was unemployed (this figure is probably low), another third of the population was underemployed, and natural disasters in the mid-west were forcing farmers to head out west in search of jobs. Many people who were without homes were forced to live in tent communities called Hoover-villes, named after the reviled Herbert Hoover. The Great Depression also had a huge impact on families and the self-confidence of many. Americans had swallowed all the baloney about Horatio Alger and rags-to-riches tales, so when the economy collapsed many people blamed themselves for their abject poverty, instead of the corporate and banking fat cats who brought the economy down. This self loathing caused many men to commit suicide or to leave their families out of shame. This was indeed the darkest period of history since “the Dark Ages, and it lasted 400 years,” as John Maynard Keynes once famously remarked after being asked if there was any time comparable to the Depression the country was in.
John Maynard Keynes, a British economist, developed the theory that government intervention in the market, which could lead to booms and head-off recessions. It was the Keynesian theory of economics that prevailed in the Roosevelt administration, as they attempted to tackle the Great Depression and rein in out of control markets. At the time, his policies were attacked as “socialist” and many argued that they would not work. Many today also argue that Keynesian economics did not pull the economy out of the Depression. Ah, but they are oh so wrong.
By 1937, there were signs of improvements in the economy. The national income jumped to $72 billion from the $40 billion in 1932. Millions of people were put to work, causing the unemployment rate to drop to 15%. Labor unions were gaining strength, child labor was outlawed, and a minimum wage was established. Though these improvements seem meager, it is only because there were conservative within President Roosevelt’s cabinet that were always attempting to water down his bills and reduce the amount of money he wanted to spend. This became even more evident in 1937 when the economy took a turn for the worse. The conservatives in his cabinet pointed to the improving economy as evidence that they should reduce government spending, an argument which convinced President Roosevelt. Almost immediately, the economy tanked. The economy began to recover in 1938 when the President approved a $5 billion public works bill, a recovery that took nearly 5 months. In 1938, FDR created the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a 40-hour work week. By this time, the banking industry had been turned around and strengthened, laborers and farmers were given unprecedented power and protection, the stock market was safe-guarded against irresponsible speculation, and the elderly and pitifully poor were provided safety nets that did not previously exist.
What really ended the Great Depression, however, was the emergence of World War 2. Critics of Keynesian economics point to this fact as evidence that his theory failed to end the Depression. However, the Keynesian theory is prooven true by this truth.
The United States was pulled into war after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Overnight, the huge unemployment, deflation, and slump in manufacturing vanished because the U.S. government spent unprecedented sums of money in diverse industries, which was exactly what Keynes had predicted would happen. For example, the federal budget had been only $9 billion in 1939, but it leapt to $100 billion by 1945, and the gross national product soared to $166 billion. The government spent $321 billion dollars– an amount that doubled the combined government expenditures over its 150 year history and ten times as much as the government spent in World War 1. Personal incomes increased by 100% as nearly 15 million men and women were put to work. This huge influx in government money into vital wartime industries caused– at its peak– many companies to produce twice as much as the Axis powers produced, and a lot more than the U.S. government actually needed.
In short– Keynesian economics was prooven to work through the massive government spending of World War 2, contrary to what conservatives would have the public believe.
As President Obama prepares to spend massive sums of government money to revive the economy, the American public would be wise to remember the lessons of the Great Depression and World War 2.
The first lesson is to not allow conservative critics to water down and stem government spending. That will not only delay and inhibit growth, but it could also lead to a worsening of the economy. The second lesson is that massive public work projects and an influx of government money into the economy will create jobs and raise all boats. It will be painful in the short term, but we can either have a long recession that could turn worse, or we can spend a significant sum of money and force the economy into the black.
Right now, President Obama is our FDR while the grumpy Republican nay-sayers are our Hoover. We all should support his economic policies– not because we’re dopey Obamamaniacs who are blinded by his “charm,” but because history has shown that the policies he is pursuing work.
God bless, America.
Everyone, take a deep breath.
Chill the fuck out.
I understand the furor over the AIG bonuses. Not only do they go “against our most basic sense of what’s fair, what’s right, it offends our values,” but they also are symptomatic of a system in serious need of fundamental change. And everyone is outraged over them, from the President right on down to the homeless guy out in front of the McDonalds by where I work.
But are we so “outraged” that we are losing sight of the big picture?
Afterall, the bonuses, though outrageous and boneheaded, are really an insignificant piece of the bailout money they’ve recived. The $165 million in bonuses is only one-tenth of one percent of the $180 billion they recieved in bailout money.
Don’t believe me? Well, I’ve never been great at math, but I’m sure that it works out like this:
$165,000,000/$180,000,000,000 = .0009166
The psuedo-populist rage that exists now originated with the Republican party, eager to shift blame onto President Barack Obama. When President Clinton left office, the national debt stood at $5.73 billion; when President Bush left office, the national debt stood at $10.66 billion. Not only did he double the national debt, but he also accumulated more debt than any President in American history. Some analysts predicted before the current fallout that the national debt would rise to as much as $2 trillion dollars. With President Obama’s stimulus packge and soon-to-be budget those figures are going to rise dramatically.
The GOP is trying to take advantage of American’s collective amnesia. So far, unfortunately, it is working. The party that is now screaming at President Obama to be fiscally responsible was the party, over the last eight years, that spent money like it was going out of style. President Bush did not even use his veto-power until the Democrats came into power in 2007. The sage Alan Greenspan, who recently stated that he was wrong to believe that the financial institutions would self-regulate, also famously admitted, in his book Age of Turbulence, that he had been angered by the Republican’s attitude that “deficts don’t matter.” His advice to President Bush, just as it was under President Reagan, to exercise fiscal responsibility was completely ignored. This attitude not only caused him to leave his position as Federal Reserve Chairman, but it also caused him some measure of happiness when the Republicans were swept out of power. To the surprise of many, this long-time Republican wrote that President Clinton (a Democrat) was far more fiscally conservative than any of the six presidents he worked under, and that he appreciated Clinton’s efforts to slash deficits and reduce the national debt.
Now, let’s turn the clock back to 1993…
President Clinton was putting together a budget hat would increase taxes on th rich, spend more money on important programs, and cut the budgets of programs that were not working. So called fiscal conservatives were outraged by President Clinton’s “tax and spend” budget, but what they missed was the fact that he was implementing short-term growth, but he was also preparing for long-term sustainability of that growth. That is exactly what is happening now under President Obama. Yes, he’s having to spend a lot of money, but he is also investing in long-term growth that will raise the American economy out of the depths of this recession.
But I’m geting ahead of myself.
The AIG bonuses have distracted people from the overall picture. The American public, thanks to the GOP and the “Pro-Obama” media, have been worked up into a frenzy over a semi-irritating story.
The reality is that the bonuses were included in the original bailout deal that was worked out in November 2008… wait… who was President in November?
Oh, yeah! Bush!
Within the original bailout agreement, AIG was allowed to payout retention bonuses to its prized employees, which initially totaled $469 milion (according to an SEC filing by AIG). In a November 2008 HuffingtonPost blog by Representative Elijah Cummings (A Bonus by Any Other Name Still Stinks), he wrote that “the company’s executives will be receiving ‘cash awards’ as ‘retention payments.’ AIG can dress this money up in fancy names, but no one is fooled. A bonus by any other name still stinks.” So, clearly, this was not a process that was clandestine or otherwise kept from the public. And, again, this was known before President Obama came into office.
The public, as usual, was not paying attention.
And, again, the public is not paying attention. They are distracted by their own “outrage” over the AIG bonuses. And President Obama is reaping all the blame that belongs to President Bush and the GOP.
Well, maybe he is partly to blame…
In February, as the Stimulis Bill was making its way through congress, an amendment was added to the bill which would allow companies that recieved bailout money to provide bonuses to “valuable” employees. According to Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn), Treasury officials came to him and insisted that he insert the amendment into the Stimulus bill. Apparently, the move was an effort to prevent lawsuits against the government from employees who were contractually promised bonuses. As Rep. Cummings noted, their bonus is keeping their job.
The President, who may or may not have been aware of the added amendment, has also expressed “outrage,” yet he has urged Americans to keep their eyes on the big picture. The bonuses, he remarked, though distateful, are an unfortunate and neccessary pill to swallow.
Just tonight, in fact, the Congress has passed a bill which places a 90% tax on those individuals that recieved bonuses. President Obama has indicated that he will not sign the bill. Secretary Treasury Tim Geithner has also said that he will deduct $165 million from the already planned additional $30 billion going to AIG.
Hopefully, this story loses its legs soon. Its nothing more than a distraction and an attempt to bring down President Obama’s numbers, which are still high. According to Gallup, President Obama enjoys a 65% approval rating, despite the gloomy economy and the furor over the AIG scandals of late. The American public, despite GOP efforts, still trust President Obama and still have a lot of hope for his presidency.
As President Obama said during his 60 Minutes interview, he is feeling the heat, as many bad choices made over the last few years (before he was President) are forcing him to make decisions that narrow down to “bad and worse”. He, nonetheless, continues to be steady, confident, and eloquent in his ability to convey his message to the American public. In the last week, he spent two days in California– a visit that included a stop on the Jay Leno show. Tonight the 60 Minutes interview airs, and later in the week he will make a televised appeal to the American people in order to rally support for his budget. This generation’s “Great Communicator” has a lot of explaining to do.
One of my pictures of Danielle is being published in a Canadian magazine called Uppercase. Here’s a link to the video clip of the nearly finished magazine:
If you look closely, you can see the picture and at one point see the bio and pic of Danielle and I. We’re super excited!
Here’s the picture to be published: