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By Jose Antonio Rodriguez 

“The Tea Party acted like terrorists in threatening to blow up the economy,” said Vice President Joe Biden, according to Politico, during a two-hour meeting with angry House Democrats. In a CBS interview, the Vice President denied using the “terrorism word”. Kendra Barkoff, Biden’s spokesperson, added further clarification: “The word was used by several members of Congress. The vice president does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse.” The closed-door caucus meeting took place amidst the scramble to pass a deal to raise the debt limit before the August 2nd deadline, a deal that some Democrats called a “Satan sandwich”.

The perpetually thin-skinned Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate during the 2008 election, immediately took offense to the comment. “To be called a terrorist because of our beliefs from the vice president, it’s quite appalling, it’s quite vile,” she said during a Fox News interview. Of course, she herself is quite famous for casually throwing around the “terrorism word”. During the 2008 election, Palin famously accused then-Senator Barack Obama of “pallin’ around” with terrorists, a reference to the fact that Obama sat onChicagoeducation boards with a former member of the Weather Underground named Bill Ayers. Indeed, Palin resurrected those allegations, saying, “He didn’t have a problem palling around with Bill Ayers back in the day when he kicked off his political career in Bill Ayers’ apartment… You know, shaking hands with Chavez and saying he doesn’t need any preconditions with dictators… wanting to read U.S. Miranda rights to alleged, suspected foreign terrorists.” She added that, if she and her ilk were actually terrorists, “heck, shoot, President Obama would be wanting to pal around with us, wouldn’t he?”

It should be added that Paul O’Neil, a Treasury Secretary for President George W. Bush, made remarks similar to the ones that House Democrats made during the meeting with Vice President Biden: “[The] people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really — they’re really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk.”

But how far off the mark are Paul O’Neil and the angry Democrats? Not that far.

The U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism as: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” The TEA Party backed freshmen in the House, elected in 2010, have threatened to shut down the government and throw it into default. More recently, they have shut down the Federal Aviation Agency, resulting in the furlough of 74,000 people, the halting of about 200 construction jobs, and causing the federal government to lose out on roughly $30 million a day in revenue. In every instance, these TEA Party backed members of the House have held the American people hostage, threatening to inflict economic violence if their narrow political, ideological demands are not met. Their efforts have supporters in conservative corners and from the Facebook page of the former Mayor of Wasilla. “Don’t retreat,” Sarah Palin routinely reminds her supporters. “Reload.” Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, had this to say about the tactics of the House Republicans: “If you hold one-half of one-third of the reins of power in Washington, and are willing to use and maintain that kind of discipline even if you will bring the entire temple down around your own head, there is a pretty good chance that you are going to get your way.”

This is not the first time our government has been threatened by right-wing zealots, however.

In the elections of 1994, Republicans took control of the House and Senate. Led by Newt Gingrich and motivated by his “Contract with America”—or, as Democrats termed it, the Contract on America—right-wing ideologues in Congress sought to reshape the government by gutting programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, and programs for the poor, such as Head Start, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Contract withAmerica also outlined an ambitious agenda, which included legislation for a balanced budget amendment and term limits.  Gingrich, the new Speaker of the House, even threatened to not raise the debt ceiling. These right-wing freshmen were operating on two assumptions: (1) that the American people had provided them with an historic mandate to carry out their agenda and (2) that President Bill Clinton would cave in to their demands.  After all, the American people just overwhelmingly swept the Republicans into power for the first time in over forty years. On the second point, they believed that President Clinton was politically weakened by scandals, which were manufactured by ultra-conservative Clinton-haters and fueled by a pliant media; they also believed that he was without convictions of any kind and lacked moral fortitude. By the end of 1995, they would be proved wrong on both fronts.

On the night of November 13, 1995, hours away from an impending government shut down, Republican leaders of Congress met with President Clinton in order to craft a last minute budget deal. Just a few days earlier, the Republican controlled Congress sent the President a budget that inflicted draconian cuts to entitlements and programs that millions of Americans depended upon. They also sent him a bill to raise the debt ceiling for another thirty days. The President, much to the surprise of the Republican leadership, vetoed both bills. During the tense, last minute negotiations in the White House, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Speaker Gingrich made conciliatory statements, while the zealous Dick Armey (now the leader of the TEA Party group Freedomworks) verbally attacked the President. Armey accused the President of fear-mongering, saying that he “could hardly get” his mother-in-law “into a nursing home, you guys have scared her so much.” President Clinton, who still nursed resentment over Armey’s claim that Hillary Clinton was a Marxist, lashed out at Armey: “I don’t know about your mother-in-law, but let me tell you, there are a lot of older women who are going to do pretty darn bad under your budget.” The President was feeling his blood boil. “So don’t expect any pity from me.” Armey, in a moment of petulance, retorted that the Republicans would shut down the government and effectively endClinton’s presidency. “If you want to pass your budget,” the President said with a glance to Bob Dole, who was planning to run for the presidency in 1996, “you will have to put somebody else in this chair!” As if to signal that the meeting was now over, the President declared that he didn’t “care if I go to five percent in the polls. I am not going to sign your budget. It is wrong. It is wrong for the country.”

At midnight, the government shut down began. Nearly 800,000 federal employees were furloughed and the lives of millions of Americans were inconvenienced. In order to prevent default, Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin borrowed $61 billion from retirement funds and employed some financial gimmicks, a move that elicited cries for his impeachment from Republicans who preferred that the country be thrown into default. Briefly, the government shut down ended, and it appeared that there would be a budget deal. But the Republican lead Congress continued to send the President bills that unnecessarily inflicted economic pain on the most vulnerable Americans. So, it was not to be, and the government was shut down for a second time. The American people were angry. The poll numbers for Republicans (and Gingrich in particular) plummeted, while the President’s poll numbers skyrocketed. In some polls, his numbers were almost 70% among likely voters over the age of 50. The American people rejected the extremism of the right-wing ideologues and supported President Clinton’s defense of programs that helped millions of Americans keep their heads above water. They rewarded him for not caving in to the demands of over-zealous Republicans, who were holding the American people and the economy hostage. In early January 1996, a contrite Gingrich apologized toClinton, saying, “We made a mistake. We thought you would cave.” On January 6, the government was back in business.

It is difficult not to look back over the last year and see that President Obama has, time and time again, been rolled by House Republicans, lead by Speaker of the House John Boehner. He has caved in to the demands of the TEA-orists, who have threatened to wreak economic violence if their demands are not met. In the wake of the recent debt limit deal, Speaker Boehner has boasted that he got 98% of what he wanted. Emboldened, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hinted that his party would continue the tactics that have allowed them to cut spending and risk government default. “I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this— it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming.” The deal allows the debt ceiling to be raised until early 2013, but it cuts nearly a trillion dollars in discretionary spending over the next ten years and creates a bipartisan committee, which will be tasked with cutting an additional 1.5 trillion dollars.  The TEA Partiers have thrown sanity into the wind. Though they brought the nation to the brink of economic devastation, many refused to vote for the deal that provided them with virtually everything they wanted and virtually nothing that the President wanted. These are people who will not take yes for an answer.

Not everyone is thrilled about the deal. Obviously, Democrats are enraged. Some progressive groups, such as MoveOn.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are threatening to withhold support for the President’s 2012 campaign. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has described the debt deal as an economic “disaster”, warning that it will make our deficit problem worse and “takeAmericaa long way down the road to banana-republic status.” Lawrence Summers, a former economic advisor to President Obama, said that there is a “one in three chance” that there will be a double-dip recession. Standard & Poor, a major credit rating agency, has also responded to the debt deal by downgradingAmerica’s top credit rating. In a statement following the downgrade, S&P cited a dysfunctional political system and a failure to produce a credible, balanced plan. “The majority of Republicans in Congress,” a representative from S&P said, “continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.” The American people, according to recent polls, also strongly dislike the deal. According to a CNN poll, 52% of Americans disapprove of the debt deal. The poll also found that three out of four Americans would describe elected officials as “spoiled children”. A New York Times/CBS News poll, for example, has Congress’s approval rating at a dismal 14%. Speaker Boehner’s disapproval rating is at 57%, ten points higher than the President’s. Public approval of the TEA Party is at a mere 20%. There are signs of hope for the White House in the polls, however. According to the latter poll, the American people trust President Obama over the Republicans with economic issues. They also blame Republicans for the crisis, believing that they refused to compromise. Despite all the drama, President Obama still stands with a 48% approval rating.

 

At some point, President Obama is going to have to take a stand and draw a line in the sand.  During the debt ceiling negotiations, he warned Rep. Eric Cantor: “Don’t call my bluff.” Yet, when they called his bluff, President Obama caved. In 1995, President Clinton demonstrated that he had conviction and moral fortitude. He held firm, risking his political career, and refused to be rolled by the right-wing zealots who were trying to gut government programs and remake the country in their image. When the dust settled, President Clinton not only succeeded in his 1996 election, but his fiscal discipline resulted in a balanced budget and a projected surplus in the trillions of dollars. Today, President Obama faces an equally fanatical and nihilistic group of TEA Party backed Republican freshmen who are willing to blow up the economy. Unfortunately, the TEA-orists have learned that they can get their way if they take hostages. This is a fundamental fight for the future of our country. President Obama needs to decide if he has the conviction to risk his poll numbers and his Presidency in order to preserve our way of life and win the future.

As July approaches, so too does the beginning of a withdrawal from Afghanistan. This has sparked some measure of debate in this country. Unfortunately, much of the debate around the future of our involvement in Afghanistan and the region is ill-informed. The most annoying debate is whether or not we should abandon counter-insurgency and embrace counter-terrorism. Allow me to simplify the effects of both strategies: The latter will result in prolonged war, while the former will bring about a negotiated settlement. But listening to the pundits, politicians, or reading the newspaper (or blog) writers, one would come away with the idea that counter-insurgency has failed and that counter-terrorism is the best strategy as we go forward. If we are to leave Afghanistan with some semblance of security, then we must continue the counter-insurgency strategy that has been in place for a year-and-a-half. Failing to do so will result in prolonged conflict. 

Conventional wisdom says that the killing of Osama bin Laden has boosted the argument for pursuing a counter-terrorism strategy. The detailed account of helicopters swooping down on a compound, with armed commandos rappelling down onto unsuspecting terrorists, has captured the imagination of Americans everywhere. It seemed so effective; indeed, bin Laden has a bullet in his head and chest to attest to the effectiveness of SEAL Team 6. Unfortunately, this is not exactly how counter-terrorism works. And if it did, it would require much more energy and money.

 Vice President Joe Biden is the White House’s biggest advocate of counter-terrorism. During the White House’s long internal discussion over what to do in Afghanistan, he pushed for a counter-terrorism strategy. In his view, a smaller footprint would yield better results, particularly if U.S. military forces went after Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. The larger footprint required by counter-insurgency would only create more terrorists, he argued. Biden also described counter-insurgency as nation-building. Throughout the internal debate, Biden sought to undermine the arguments of General David Petraeus and General Stanley McChrystal, the military brass. In the end, the President did not fully embrace the counter-terrorism strategy. He agreed to the strategy proposed by the military: counter-insurgency.  

The military, during the internal debate, argued that the Taliban was effectively winning the war. The momentum was on their side. But, in their view, the Taliban had an ally in Hamid Karzai. Karzai was corrupt and did not have the trust of the Afghans. A lack of security was also driving factor in allowing the Taliban insurgency to flourish. The only way to improve security and governance, they argued, was to add more troops on the ground and adopt a counter-insurgency strategy. They hoped for 40,000 more troops, but the President only approved 30,000 troops. Believing that the military was trying to box him in, the President dictated five pages of memorandum that were meant to straightjacket the military. He feared that they were pushing him into the trap of mission creep.

 Counter-terrorism sounds good on paper, which is why there were some vigorous supporters of CT in the White House. But the debate inside the White House (which is going on now in the public square) ignored the fact that insurgency is different from terrorism, and therefore require different approaches. This misunderstanding can be attributed to the Bush administration’s failure to accurately explain the post-9/11 challenge. By invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States created a power vacuum, which was the perfect environment for an insurgency. Salafist and takfiri Islamic militants were seeking to overthrow the governments established by the U.S. through the use of terrorism as a tactic. The Bush administration mislabeled the insurgents as “terrorists,” and that became the term everyone used to describe the enemies we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are major differences between the two, which should inform our military strategy in Afghanistan.

 When talking about terrorists, it is imperative to note that these are generally acts of violence that are committed by individuals with radical goals. They and their goals are not representative of their social group. They use terrorism as a means to shock both the public and government into accepting the demands of the terrorists. These are criminal acts of violence. Counter-terrorism is a form of law enforcement, whereby the terrorists are captured (or killed) and brought to justice. This is what recently happened to Osama bin Laden. 

Insurgents are different in most respects, though terrorism is a popular tactic among insurgents. But here is the deeper issue: insurgents are representative of their social group, and their goals or grievances are widely shared within that social group. In other words, the insurgents are representative of deeply rooted problems in society. The way to counter an insurgency is through a whole-of-government approach that marginalizes the grievances through a compromise or reform. The Arab Spring is an example of a non-violent insurgency.

 Now we come to the crux of the matter. 

There is no way to kill our way out of Afghanistan or the region. We cannot simply capture or detain our way out either. These are the methods of counter-terrorism. Furthermore, the region is crippled by deeply rooted problems that have allowed militant Islamic fundamentalists to gain influence and threaten the stability of governments in the region. These are not simply terrorists that we can seek out and arrest or kill, as counter-terrorism would have us do. The way to defeat these insurgents is through a counter-insurgency strategy that protects the public, increases government responsiveness and transparency, and addresses the deeply rooted grievances of the public. This will undoubtedly require some sort of compromise with the Taliban. All of this will require time and patience, something the public lacks, which is why they are now hoping to pursue a CT strategy. If we are serious about getting out and leaving behind a secure Afghanistan that we will not have to re-invade some time in the future (I’m not talking about winning, mind you), then a COIN strategy is our only hope.

 But I hate to leave the impression that we should do a purely COIN strategy. Certainly, that should be our guiding strategy in Afghanistan. However, there is a need for CT. We are doing that in some areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan right now with our have drones policing the skies. And obviously we just took out Osama bin Laden using CT. A hybrid strategy is useful. But this talk about ending COIN and adopting a purely CT approach is not only silly, it is irresponsible. 

As General David Petraeus has said many times, we cannot win this war. There will never be a time when we can have a ticker-tape parade and see al Qaeda and the Taliban sign a document to end the war. We may never live in a world that is free of either organization. So, the goal is to ensure that the people of the region are satisfied with their government, have hope for their future, and feel secure… at least enough so that we can leave and the Afghan government can continue what we started. The Arab Spring is showing us that the people in this region are taking it upon themselves to bring about change. Let’s hope they succeed so that we do not have to pursue a COIN or CT strategy.

And just because it made me smile…

 

 

 

 

The Republicans in Congress have proven that they hate the poor and middle class, but really love the rich. Recently, they allowed unemployment benefits for 2 million people to expire. They have also blocked several attempts by Democrats to continue the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98% of Americans. Talk about class warfare.

Yet President Obama has not done very much to exploit this. He has, instead, proclaimed that he will work with these people, even though they have bashed him repeatedly. Some Republicans, like Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the third-ranking House Republican, have said that President Obama and the Democrats do not want anyone to get a tax cut, which is a total lie. Pence stated: “Should Democrats get their way, every income tax bracket will increase on Jan. 1, 2011. Every single one.” While it is true all tax brackets will see a tax increase on January 1, 2011, it will not be because of the Democrats. President Obama has made it clear that he wants to see these tax cuts extended for those families making less than $250,000. He has even indicated that he is willing to make a deal with GOP leaders. The Democrats in Congress have attempted several times to extend the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98% of Americans, but Republicans like Pence have blocked those pieces of legislation.

Why? Because they exclude the rich. The top 2% of income earners do not need unemployment, so why pass an extension? The top 2% need a tax cut, so why exclude them? This debate only underscores their affinity for the wealthy. They try to cover this by claiming that they are fighting for small business owners. They argue, with no one in the White House really disputing them, that they are trying to stand up for those who are in need of a job, so they cannot fathom a tax hike on the job creators. All of this is a load of crap.

First of all, only 3% of small business owners would be affected by the so-called “tax hike.” Most small business owners do not make $250,000 in profit.

Secondly, the Republicans just blocked the passage of tax cuts for 98% of Americans, just so the top 2% can have $100,000 tax cuts. They are doing this at the same time they are saying that we cannot afford an extension of unemployment benefits and demanding that we start lowering the deficit. It’s hypocrisy and blatant favoritism of the rich. A recent CBO study found that for every dollar spent through unemployment benefits there is as much as $1.90 put into the economy. A dollar spent by the rich from the tax cuts generates somewhere between 10 and forty cents . In fact, the CBO found that extending unemployment benefits would be the best stimulus for our economy, while extending the Bush tax cuts was dead last.

Thirdly, as for it being a “tax hike,” these were tax cuts that were set by President Bush and the Republicans to expire at the end of 2010. These were not implemented as permanent rates, but a temporary tax gimmick to gin up support. Dan Bartlet, a former Bush White House Communications Director, admitted that they deliberately used the tax cut deadline as a trap for future political leaders: “The fact that we were able to lay the trap does feel pretty good, to tell you the truth.”

And lastly, it is a falsehood to suggest that not extending the tax cuts for the rich would have an impact on jobs. When President Bush first introduced the tax cuts, he argued that it would create jobs. Over his eight year term, the economy only added 2.4 million jobs. In Clinton’s first budget, he increased taxes for the rich. By the end of his eight year term, the economy added over 23 million jobs . This is a fact: job creators are motivated by demand. That’s economics 101. As it stands now, the business sector is sitting on 2 trillion dollars, which they are not spending. Why? Because they have excess supply. People do not have the money to purchase things as they have in the past, which is causing this recovery to move sluggishly. So, money is not the problem: demand is. It’s a vicious cycle: many people are out of work or are tightening their fiscal belts, so they do not consume as much, which causes businesses to have excess supply, which then prevents them from investing in their company, precluding any additional employment. And the cycle begins again.

This is why extending unemployment benefits is so important. Not doing so is a job killer. People who are unemployed spend the money they receive, which goes to businesses. Now that 2 million people are not going to be receiving unemployment benefits they will be tightening their fiscal belts even more, which will lead to even more excess supply and less demand. This will create a situation that will make it even harder for the business sector employ people.

But some people would rather pretend that giving the top 2% of income earners a tax cut will create jobs. It won’t.

In the final analysis, it becomes evident that any time the poor or middle class need some help the Republicans can be counted on to ignore their pleas. You get some millionaires and billionaires complaining that they cannot afford to maintain their fifth house or buy the small island they wanted the Republicans are there to lend a helping hand. They like to play the “We feel your pain” game, but they are only doing so in order to score political points. If they really cared, they would have voted for the extension of tax cuts for 98% of Americans and for extending unemployment benefits.

It’s not just the moral thing to do: it’s smart economics.

Fox News saw its rise during the tumultuous years of the Clinton presidency. They, in other words, made their name by being the anti-Clinton “news” organization. During the eight years of the Bush presidency, they became the cheerleaders of the Bush policies, most notably the invasion of Iraq. And now Fox News is in the business of distributing misinformation, lies, and conspiracy theories. Fox News even took it upon themselves to promote the TEA Party rallies, which were held all across our country and in our nation’s captial. At these rallies, “real Americans” accused the President of violating the Constitution, devising death panels to kill senior citizens and the disabled, and of being (somehow) a Nazi, fascist, socialist, marxist, and communist. Fox News has become the chief promoter of this insanity, neglecting any sense of journalistic ethic to be objective in its reporting, let alone attempting to do any fact checking.

With that said, I do not feel that it is a great idea for the White House to engage Fox News in a war of words. Hannity, for instance, loves the battle. He is now advertising his show as being “Not White House Approved,” implying that it was White House approved during the Bush years. The network has taken advantage of the White House attacks in order to generate more viewership and to play the role of victim. They are also crying foul: the Obama White House is attacking Fox because they are asking “tough questions” and “reporting the truth.” Never mind that they instigated the war on the White House from day one.

Here is a collection of clips that was put together by Media Matters:

I know that I will be boycotting Fox News. I hope that you will join me! Show your support and sign your name in the comment section!

I would also like to point out how a man with testicular fortitude and a rigid spine deals with Fox News:

I miss Bill Clinton!


By Jose Rodriguez

President Barack Obama spoke today to at the United Nations. His speech urged the world to take stronger action on the threat of Global Climate Change; he insisted that the United States is no longer beholden to the “go it alone” mentality that dominated the Bush administration; and he reminded that all nations must be aggressive in their economic policies in order to prevent a backslide into economic ruin.

He also spoke firmly on the issue of Middle-East peace. He affirmed that he would continue to work for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. He called on Palestine to rein in their militants, while reminding Israel that their settlements were not legitimate in the eyes of the United States. While aware that the peace process would be difficult, and that it would require Israel to recognize Palestinians have legitimate claims, and that it would require Palestinians to recognize that Israel has a right to exist.

There came a moment when the President reminded the UN body that we are “all God’s children.” He stressed that we all have the right to live in dignity, and that it was not acceptable for Gazans to have to live without clean drinking water. It was a not so subtle reminder that there is a moral component in bringing about a lasting peace to the people who live in the Holy Land.

The President of the United States has my full support on this issue.

On Tuesday, the President met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As acknowledged in the speech, the President knew that it would be difficult to forge a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This was demonstrated on Tuesday when Netanyahu refused to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank, only agreeing to a time- limited freeze. Mahmoud Abbas, who had refused to meet with Netanyahu until he halted all settlement building, allowed himself to be photographed shaking hands with Netanyahu, though that was a moment of embarrassment for him. They see Obama as even-handed, something they have not seen from previous Presidents, so Abbas (as a token of goodwill) agreed to the photo-op.

The President, after meeting both leaders, demonstrated his annoyance and impatience : “It is past time to stop talking about starting negotiations; it is time to move forward… Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon. So my message to these two leaders is clear: despite all the obstacles, all the history, all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward.” The way forward will be difficult as Netanyahu and Abbas have different goals: Abbas wants complete independence and statehood, whereas Netanyahu wants to maintain the occupation with limited Palestinian self-rule.

Afterward, Netanyahu claimed that Abbas had given up his preconditions (an implicit self-congratulatory remark, since he did not have to stop all settlement construction) and agreed to negotiations; Abbas has said that negotiations must be on final status issues, including the refugee problem and the issue of Jerusalem. On this issue, Abbas has the full support of President Obama, who insists that negotiations will include the refugee problem, borders, Jerusalem, and guaranteed security for Israel. Netanyahu, like every one of his predecessors, would prefer to kick that can down the road and only speak about future topics for future final status negotiations.

While Netanyahu seems to have won this round of diplomacy, there are signs that the President’s patience is growing thin and that he will compel the Israelis to be honest participants in negotiations. According to aides within the Obama administration, the President reminded Abbas and Netanyahu that the upcoming negotiations will be based on past agreements, including Oslo and the Clinton parameters.

There are also rumors that President Obama will summon both leaders to Washington D.C. to begin final status negotiations. However, Netanyahu, who has seen his poll numbers rise as he has defied President Obama, may not be willing to play ball. The failure of any upcoming negotiations would only further erode Abbas’ authority, as his numbers have fallen due to a failure to bring about any concessions or promises from Israel in the last decade. That has happened because Israel has refused to make any significant movement toward peace, as President Bush was not particularly interested in peace in the Middle-East and he was content to just allow the Israeli government to do whatever it pleased.

In the end, it might very well be that the Obama administration will have to impose a settlement on both parties, whether they like it or not.


By Jose Rodriguez

Barack Obama ran for President promising to bring “change” to Washington D.C., which turned out to be a winning promise. Even though Americans elected him to bring that change, there has been a shrill and loud portion of our society, motivated by partisan hatred, who have stopped at nothing to block his efforts to bring the change that Americans elected him to enact. Change is a frightening prospect for this segment of society, who respond with scurrilous allegations: Obama is really a Muslim; he hates America; he’s a socialist; he was not really born in this country; he’s a Nazi; he wants to kill old people; and on and on and on. People, like Rep. Joe Wilson, want to engage in that form of demagoguery in order to uphold the status quo. They want to shout down the President during an important speech, calling him a liar or contradicting him.

But Joe Wilson is not the first Wilson to shout at a President advocating for change during a speech.

In late November 1995, President Bill Clinton became the first U.S. President to make an official visit to Northern Ireland. More so than any President before or since, Bill Clinton was heavily involved in the Irish peace process; Clinton even appointed former Maine Senator George Mitchell to be the first Special Envoy to Ireland (George Mitchell is now the Special Envoy to the Middle-East, where he hopes to broker a peace deal). The conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland seemed so intractable that no previous President wanted to expend any energy finding a solution. President Clinton, however, had made bold promises to the Irish community in the United States, and he intended to keep them. By going to Ireland, he hoped to jump start the failing negotiations between Catholics and Protestants, who had been locked in conflict (known as the Troubles) for decades. Before long, not only had Clinton fallen completely in love with the Irish, but the Irish fell head over-heels in love with the Clintons (Hillary benefited from this love during her Presidential run in 2008). That the leader of the free world would come and meet with Irish leaders and everyday people was an immense honor for them. Protestants and Catholics alike flocked by the thousands (culminating in a speech attended by 100,000 people in Dublin) to see and hear the President of the United States, who was there to advocate for change and peace.

While a majority of Irish on both sides of the conflict wanted change and peace in Northern Ireland, fringe elements within both communities wanted to uphold the status quo. They were the loudest and most violent, so they were successful, for decades, in prolonging the conflict. These people criticized the President’s visit, saying that he had no business being in Ireland, and that he certainly had no business interfering in the on-going negotiations.

However, as Clinton got out into the public, shook hands, hugged hundreds of people, shared stories, and even accepted a few beers (which the Secret Service quickly poured out), the Irish public were very warm and receptive to Clinton and his message of hope. The Irish flocked to Clinton by the droves, swarming him and enveloping him, wanting to touch him and be in his presence, as though they could be infused with his energy and power. In reality, it was the President who was feeding off their energy, driving him for nearly 48 hours with virtually no sleep. The Secret Service was alarmed by this obvious inability to maintain security, but the President was more than eager to drown himself in the sea of people. This was, as he put it, the happiest time of his life.

While in Ireland, President Clinton stopped at the Mackie factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was owned by a Protestant, but he employed Catholics and Protestants. This place was, ostensibly, a symbol for peace and co-existence, but many of the employees either belonged to the IRA or for Protestant para-militaries in their time off. Before Clinton spoke, two children gave speeches that told of their suffering, but also called for peace. After young Cathy Hamill brought the room to tears with the story of her father’s murder, Clinton took the stage.

President Clinton, wagging his finger and clenching his fist, proclaimed, “only you can decide between division and unity, between hard lives and high hopes. You must say to those who would still use violence for political objectives: ‘You are the past, your day is over!'” This was a bold statement, considering that those people were in the room with him. It was also an obvious play on the famous IRA slogan, which said “Our day will come.” Clinton was challenging these people to turn their backs on the past and to move forward toward change, toward peace.

Not everyone was receptive to his message of change.

Cedric Wilson, a Protestant leader of the Northern Ireland Unionist party, shouted, “Never!”

As Clinton promised to “walk with” them if they chose to “walk the path of peace,” Wilson continued to heckle President Clinton: “Never!” “Those who showed the courage to break with the past,” Clinton said, “are entitled to their stake in the future.” Again, Wilson shouted, “Never!” Clinton pointed out Wilson, the heckler, who stood for the past, not the future of Ireland.

“Peace must be waged with a warrior’s resolve– bravely, proudly, and relentlessly– secure in the knowledge of the single greatest difference between war and peace; in peace everybody can win.” The President received a standing ovation that seemed to last forever. The people of Ireland were resolute: they were rejecting the Wilsons of the world.

In the end, due to the tireless efforts of Clinton, Mitchell, and the interested parties in Ireland, there was a negotiated peace in Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) was not only supported by the Irish governments and the British government, but it was also supported by the Irish people through a referendum. The people made a
choice for peace, rather than protracted violence and conflict. Though in recent years groups in Ireland have tried to re-ignite the Troubles, the people have held fast to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. Hillary Clinton has even appointed Declan Kelly to be the U.S. Special Envoy to Ireland, and she plans to visit Northern Ireland next month to review the peace process and to give a speech about the threat to peace posed by para-military groups in Ireland. This focus on Ireland is a break from the Bush administration, who largely ignored Ireland and left the U.S. participation in the peace process to the State Department. Had they continued Bill Clinton’s level of involvement, the situation in Ireland might be less perilous.

In the end, in a round-about sort of way, there are Wilsons in our world who shout “You lie!” or “Never!” to people who are interested in change, or in making progress. They are defenders of the status quo. As our country struggles to make sense of the health care bills in Congress (while continuing to be raped by insurance companies), we should all, at least, agree that we want to move forward– that we all want change and progress.

And we should all agree to ignore all the Wilsons of the world.


By Jose Rodriguez

Man, I wish I were Rob Miller, a Democrat who is challenging South Carolina’s Republican Representative Joe Wilson in 2010. Since President Obama’s speech last night, Miller has raised $200,000 from 5,000 donors. Wilson has even provided Congress a rare moment of unity– both sides of the aisle have denounced Wilson’s rude outburst. Senator John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 Presidential contender, was on Larry King last night and called Wilson’s comment “totally disrespectful” and said he should apologize. House Minority Leader John Boehner said in an interview that “his behavior was inappropriate.” There is also speculation that Boehner and the Minority Whip Eric Cantor want Wilson to apologize on the House floor. I’m not even going to bother quoting Democrats, who were naturally demanding an apology.

Wilson has since apologized, though his apology was insincere and forced. President Obama has also accepted the apology and has urged the people to move on beyond the bickering.

But what did Wilson say that has earned him the scorn of sensible people?

President Obama refuted the false assertion that the Health Care reform bill would cover illegal immigrants. Well, that was simply too much truthiness for Rep. Wilson, who could not contain his disdain for facts: “You lie!”

Thank you, South Carolina for providing us with more political absurdity!

The media has been covering this outburst, and his subsequent apology, but they have not really analyzed the substance of his ridiculous remark. The bottom line is that Joe Wilson is the one who lied, not the President.

Quite simply, section 246 on page 143 specifically excludes “undocumented aliens” from receiving “affordability credits” to pay for health insurance. A racist and anti-immigrant group known as Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has come out with a fact deprived statement claiming that so-called illegal immigrants would receive “taxpayer-funded health care benefits,” which is, as President Obama responded to Wilson during his speech, “not true.” The bill (HR 3200), in fact, does not change the status quo. As it stands now, illegal immigrants can purchase their own health insurance through private insurers. On August 25, 2009, the Congressional Research Service reported that the House bill “does not contain any restrictions on noncitzens participating in the Exchange—whether the noncitizens are legally or illegally present, or in the United States temporarily or permanently.” So, FAIR is correct in asserting that illegal immigrants would be able to participate in the insurance exchange, but it is simply not true that they would be getting, essentially, free health care. They would have to purchase their own health insurance and they would not be able to receive “affordability credits” to off-set that purchase. In other words, they would assume the full cost of health insurance, with no assistance from tax-payers.

Also, just to underscore the absurdity of the claim, section 246 is titled “NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.” Can it be any clearer?

There is a silly notion out there that the public option would essentially be free health care for the poor and lazy, at the expense of hard-working, rich, white people. The fact is, the public option, if it passes, would not be a free ride for the poor. In fact, they would be mandated to purchase health insurance. More than likely they would choose the more inexpensive not-for-profit government provided health insurance option. They would, however, if they are really poor, be able to receive government subsidies to purchase their health insurance.

So, no free ride for legal citizens or for illegal immigrants.

Now, whether or not not paying for undocumented immigrants is moral or financially sound, that is a different argument. Remember, if they continue to visit emergency rooms without health insurance, we will still be stuck with their hospital bills. It makes better sense to pay to cover them so that they receive better preventitive care. Paying for hospital visits and check-ups is far cheaper than paying for very expensive treatments that are completely preventable if caught early enough.

Another idiot making an ass of himself is Rush Limbaugh, the drugster.

He is trying to make a big fuss over the President’s new number: 30 million. The President used the figure “30 million” when referring to the number of people who are uninsured. Though the Census Bureau estimates that the figure is closer to 46.3 million, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated that the figure does not take into account undocumented immigrants. So, the White House argues, the actual figure of uninsured Americans is somewhere in the 30 millions. As the Census reported on today, the number of insured Americans rose to 46.3 million, up from 45.7 million. As the President lamented in his speech, that includes the 17,000 people who lose their insurance everyday. Whether or not the figure is 46.3 million or roughly 30 million, the fact is that we have a moral obligation to provide every American access to health insurance.

And, finally, another embarrassing moment has come from GOP Chairman Michael Steele. Steele has taken issue with the President’s use of a letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy. The letter was delivered, after his death, to the President. Though health care reform was Kennedy’s life issue, Steele characterized the letter as a “political tool.” The moment in the speech was an emotional one as the President seemed to struggle through those words, the Vice President wiped a tear from his eye, and Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, sat crying in the audience. “This cause stretched across decades,” he wrote. “It has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. … In the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me — and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.”

Here is the entirety of the letter:

May 12, 2009

Dear Mr. President,

I wanted to write a few final words to you to express my gratitude for your repeated personal kindnesses to me — and one last time, to salute your leadership in giving our country back its future and its truth.

On a personal level, you and Michelle reached out to Vicki, to our family and me in so many different ways. You helped to make these difficult months a happy time in my life.

You also made it a time of hope for me and for our country.

When I thought of all the years, all the battles, and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the President who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me — and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.

There will be struggles — there always have been — and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat — that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.

And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will — yes, we will — fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.

In closing, let me say again how proud I was to be part of your campaign — and proud as well to play a part in the early months of a new era of high purpose and achievement. I entered public life with a young President who inspired a generation and the world. It gives me great hope that as I leave, another young President inspires another generation and once more on America’s behalf inspires the entire world.

So, I wrote this to thank you one last time as a friend — and to stand with you one last time for change and the America we can become.

At the Denver Convention where you were nominated, I said the dream lives on.

And I finished this letter with unshakable faith that the dream will be fulfilled for this generation, and preserved and enlarged for generations to come.

With deep respect and abiding affection,
(Ted)

As the President said, after decades of stalling, it is time to move forward. It is now time to bring about health care reform.


By Jose Rodriguez

“We shouldn’t be playing into that.”

“If America stands for democracy and all of these demonstrations are going on in Tehran and other cities over there, and people don’t think that we really care, then obviously they’re going to question, ‘Do we really believe in our principles?'” said a visibly agitated Senator Grassley (R-Iowa). The Senator, like many of his GOP colleagues, was caught up in self-righteous rhteoric, designed to undermine President Barack Obama. These remarks, and similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, as well as other members of the GOP, came in response to the somewhat measured White House remarks on the Iranian elections held on June 12, 2009. On June 22, 2009, during an interview on CBS’ “The Early Show,” the President expressed a very rational reason for his cautious remarks: “The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. We shouldn’t be playing into that.”

Of course, the President has a great knowledge of history, unlike most Americans, and certainly unlike many in the GOP. But that has little to do with trying to score political points.

To understand why the Obama approach was not only correct, but safe, one needs to turn back the clock and review the history of Iranian-American relations. To begin, however, allow me the opportunity to conduct a brief survey of modern Iranian history.

The Safavid Dynasty

Today, when we look on maps of the world, we can find the country of Iran. However, for much of that country’s history, it was known as Persia, which was flanked by the Ottoman Empire (in the west) and, until about the end of the 18th century, the Mughal Empire (in the east). In 1501, a young man named Isma’il commanded forces into Tabriz, which he captured. Isma’il proclaimed himself Shah of the new Persian state, thus marking the beginning of the Safavid dynasty. Not only did they expand their territory into parts of Iraq (including Baghdad), but Isma’il also introduced Shi’ism as the official state religion, which, at the time, was regarded as a heretical threat to the Sunni followers of Islam. The Sunni Ottoman Empire regarded the Safavid empire a threat, and the two empires often clashed. In fact, this concern was justified as Shi’ite preachers from Persia ventured into Ottoman territories to promote rebellion and revolution among the Sunni population. Within the Ottoman Empire it was dangerous to be a Shi’a; within the Safavid Empire it was dangerous to be a Sunni. However, under the rule of Shah Abbas 1 the Great, the Ottomans and the Persians reached a peace deal, under which the latter lost a considerable amount of territory to the Ottomans.

It was during this period of relative peace that Abbas began to transition the Safavid Empire away from a collection of tribes (Turkish, Kurdish) and into an established Empire, complete with a ruling bureacratic elite. To combat the growing tensions with the tribal leaders, Abbas created an army composed of slaves captured during a previous war. Personally financed and completely loyal to the Shah, this army reached a strength of 37,000 troops. He also began a process of dispossessing tribes and aristocrats of their land, keeping them for the state and pocketing the revenues. He used these funds to begin beautiful construction in the empire’s capital Isfahan. He created an urban center, while making the city’s mosque more elaborate and ornate. This transformation, along with a policy of patronge, attracted scholars and artists, who accelerated the empire’s cultural and intellectual growth. The textile industry saw an explosion in creativity and production, particularly among the weavers, whose imaginative work led to a global demand for Persian rugs. Artists also saw a transformation in style and subjects. The Persian culture flourished under the rule of Abbas 1 the Great.

Abbas was really the last effective leader of the Safavid Empire. However, though his successors were incompetent, he had made the neccessary changes to the central government to ensure its survival after his death in 1629. The glory of Isfahan continued, the culture persisted, and a truce was reached with the Ottomans in 1638. Unfortunately, this inward focus, and a lack of outward threats, the Safavids allowed their military to fall into disarray. The weakened army was unable to put up much resistance against Afghan forces in 1722. By the following year the Safavid Empire collapsed, Isfahan had been captured, and an era of decentralization began.

The Qajar Dynasty

It was not until 1794 that another ruler took effective control over Persia. Fath Ali Shah, a Turk, took control of central Persia from Lotf ‘Ali Khan and established the Qajar dynasty. Seeds sown in the creation of the Safavid Empire hampered efforts to create a centralized power in Persia; the major obstacle was the religious establishment, who saw their power as being derived from God. The Qajars, they argued, were temporary rulers, while the Shi’a ulamas were exercising God’s will and thus retained ultimate authority. By the 20th century, the most learned of ulama were granted the title Ayatollah. The Qajar government attempted to bring about social/political/economic reforms, but they were blocked by the ulama, who had the support of the public. It was not as though the Qajars could mobilize the state’s military, as they were pitifully outnumbered by militias run by tribal chieftains who supported the ulama’s claim to authority. The Qajars would seek alternative ways to secure their power.

The Qajars moved the capital from Tabriz to Tehran, a secluded town surrounded by mountains, just south of the Caspian Sea. In order to counter the ulama’s power, the Qajars began to rely more and more on foreign powers, such as Russia and Britain. One leader, Nasir al-Din Shah (1848-1896), sought to reform the Persian army. Unfortunately, he lacked the funds to undertake such a project, which forced him to seek assistance from the Russians. His army initially stood at 3,000, but he was able to expand his army through the creation of a Cossack Brigade, which was armed and commanded by Russians. His administration also suffered from corruption and nepotism, which stifled the growth of a professional class. Caught in the middle were the peasants, who suffered the whims of the local chieftains or the Qajar government. Persia as a whole, however, would suffer as Russia and Britain began to exercise its colonial interest in Persia.

Foreign Interference

As Russia made sure to secure itself safe transport of goods through Persia, and as Russia conquered lands surrounding Persia (including Turkestan and Tajikstan), the British grew increasingly concerned about its interests in India. In 1857, the British were able to succeed in gaining the same low tariffs and extraterritorial privilges as the Russians enjoyed. Nasir al-Din, finding himself in an awkward position, began to take advantage of his situation. He allowed both countries to develop and monopolize certain markets within Persia, while personally gaining financial rewards and perks (such as paid trips to Russia and Europe). The prostitution of Persia (particularly the concession in 1872 to the British to build railroads, canals, and dams) led to the creation of a nationalist movement, which sought to overthrow the Qajar dynasty and throw out foreign powers. In 1890, after al-Din granted the British exclusive rights to sell tobacco in Persia, a grassroots movement was undertaken to oppose the Shah. The religious elites, peasants, and merchant class, united to organize a boycott. It was decreed, by a Shi’ite religious leader, that consumption of tobacco as forbidden until the al-Din government revoked its agreement with the British. The resistance was so great that the agreement was revoked in 1892, a sign that the religious establishment in Persia still carried tremendous influence. Broken politically and financially, the al-Din government was forced to subsist on Russian loans. In 1896, al-Din was assassinated, ending his 48 year reign.

His successor, Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar ruled for a short period of time (1896-1907). Mozaffar was not much different from Nasir al-Din. He too granted foreign powers exclusive rights within Persia, which aggravated the public. He also was forced to take loans from Britain, France, and Russia in order to pay off earlier loans or to pay for his own personal extravagances. This continuation of Nasir al-Din’s much hated policies led to growing opposition from three segments of Persian society: the merchant class, the ulamas, and a growing group of radical reformers. These three groups formed a coalition, which stood up to the Mozaffar administration in an effort to tear down the Qajar dynasty.

The Constitutionalists

United in their opposition to the Mozaffar administration, this group was able to stage large protests in Tehran in December 1905, and these protests persisted until August 1906. The crowds were so large, and the protests so virulent in their opposition, that Mozaffar was forced to capitulate to the protestors’ demands. The major concession they demanded was the creation of a Western-based constitution. An assembly was selected to draft a constitution, which included two provisions: power was to be allocated between the monarch and an elected legislative body; the second provision outlined the basic rights of Iranian citizens and granted the legislature several more powers, including the approval of ministers. The ulamas were also able to secure their power in the constitution by declaring Shi’ism the official religion, and created a committee to determine the conformity of laws passed by the legislature with shari’ah law. The radicals and the ulama were finding their relationship to be tenuous, as their aims were clearly contradictory. However, they had succeeded in limiting the power of the monarchy.

Or so they thought.

Russia and Britain had an agreement that designated spheres of influence: Britain in the southeast, Russia in the north. In the center of Persia, the government was allowed to retain control. Since Mozaffar had died in January 1907, he was succeeded by
Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar. Mohammad, eager to see his government retain power, he was able to point to the power grabs by Russia and Britain as clear failures of the new constitutional power. There were many in the ulama who supported the monarchy, and were used by Mohammad to condemn the constitutionalists as atheists. He even used the Cossacks to shut down the legislature, round up political opponents, and execute the constitutionalists. His actions threw the country into chaos, thus starting a civil war.

After 11 months of fighting, Tehran was seized and the constitution was restored. With Mohammad in exile in Constantinople, Ahmad Shah Qajar took the role of monarch. He was the last of the Qajar dynasty. Despite the success of the constitutionalists, actually governing Persia turned out to be a difficult task. The coalition began to fracture between those who sought to bring about equality and progressive reform and the ulama, who wanted to retain shari’ah law. These ideological differences broke out into armed violence, and the country was again thrown into chaos.

The Inability to Govern

Persia’s internal disturbances frightened the Britsh and Russians, who each used their military to occupy their half of the country. The legislative body was dissolved, the government was given control to conservative people who were loyal to their foreign masters. The constitution, more importantly, was dissolved, and the country, despite the purpose of the constitution to limit foreign influences, was dominated by the Russians and British. This was the situation in Persia until World War 1.

Reza Khan

Following World War 1, the Persian economy was devastated, the country was in turmoil, and it lacked a centralized power. In February 1921, as the country was in the midst of popular unrest over foreign control (again), a young colonel in the Cossack Brigade named Reza Khan marched his troops into Tehran and overthrew the shah. He demanded that Sayyid Zia Tabatabai be appointed Prime Minister, while he took the role of commander. It was only a matter of months, in May 1921, when Reza Khan forced Sayyid to relinquish the post of Prime Minister, that Reza Khan began assuming more and more power. In 1923, Ahmed Shah was asked by Khan to take a European vacation, which he did. He never returned to Persia, living in exile until his death in 1930. With the shah gone, Khan took the position of Prime Minister, and in 1925 bestowed the power of the monarchy to the Reza Khan family, thus granting Khan the status of shah.

The Wrath of Khan

The Pahlavi dynasty began in 1926. The Reza Shah, while not an enthusiastic supporter of reform, nonetheless viewed some reform as neccessary to maintain his hold on power.

I’ll pick up this discussion in my next blog.

–Mahalo

Since it was announced that President Barack Obama was going to be giving the commencement address for the 2009 graduating class of Notre Dame, the Vatican has been deafeningly silent. Close observers interpreted this silence as tacit approval of the Obama administration, and as a friendly opening for dialogue. This contrasted sharply with the outspokenness of a small group of Conservative Catholics (both among the laity and hierarchy) who have been against the President’s visit and the honorary degree the school was going to give him. Again, this was a small group, only 28% of Catholics, while half of Catholics approved of the President’s address and the remaining 22% not having an opinion either way. A recent poll also shows that 67% of Catholics approve of the way President Obama has run the country. Last November, 54% of Catholics voted for Barack Obama.

Ah, but the Vatican has ended its silence, which might prove problematic for Conservative Catholics.

Giuseppe Fiorentino, writing in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, has concluded that President Barack Obama has been a somewhat cautious leader, not the radical socialist Conservatives had portrayed him as. Fiorentino also cites Obama’s approaches to the economy and banking regulations, which have not been exactly bold; in other words, he has not used this as an opportunity to lead the U.S. towards socialism.

Obama’s stance on so-called “life issues” has not been as “apocalyptic” as some U.S. Catholic leaders have suggested, according to the paper. “The new guidelines regarding research on embryonic stem cells do not in fact follow the change of course planned months ago. They do not allow the creation of new embryos for research purposes or therapeutic cloning for reproductive purposes, and federal funds may only be used for experimentation with redundant embryos,” Fiorentino writes. “The search for common ground seems to be the road chosen by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to confront the sensitive abortion issue,” L’Osservatore says. Instead of confronting his opponents, Obama has shown that he wants to engage in a positive dialogue and find “common ground.” They are also heartened to hear that he does not intend to pursue ultra-liberal laws regarding abortion.

The paper also noted President Obama’s intention to include a “conscience clause” in the Freedom of Choice Act, which would allow doctors who are morally opposed to abortion to refuse participation in abortion procedures. In addition to seeking dialogue, the President, Fiorentino writes, also wants to reduce the number of abortions, which includes a plan to facilitate the adoption process, and providing health care for women who do decide to keep their unborn child.

This article has been yet another positive sign from the Vatican, following its early May issue entitled Obama in the White House: The Hundred Days the Didn’t Shake the World.

Here is the full article:

Obama in the White House
The hundred days that didn’t shake the world
One thousand three hundred sixty-one days separate Barack Obama from the end of his mandate. No one can know nor imagine what will happen in this time. In fact, many analysts describe the “occupation” of the president as a reactive one. Planned political strategy leaves the post — as the case of the Bush presidency after 11 September 2001 proves — to choices dictated by events.

In another perspective, this 29 April marks a hundred days of the first African-American president in the White House, traditionally a much-awaited point for an initial assessment, however inevitably partial. But rivers of ink have already flowed over these weeks that, according to many commentators, they’ve signified a decisive turn from the past, a redefinition of the very image of the United States in the world.

It might be that this capacity to communicate is one of the great traits of the president, recalling that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like the architect of the New Deal, Obama utilizes the modern media — radio then, internet today — to spread the message of hope which the nation needs. The great crisis of 1929 can’t be compared to the current one. And still the imprint seems the same. So too the ability of shifting the attention of public opinion in a pragmatic and functional way.

In these months Obama has seen his popularity grow only by having opened the doors to changes: he proposed direct negotiations with Iran to resolve the question of Tehran’s nuclear program and invited Russia to new discussions for the reduction of its strategic arsenals. Above all, he’s proposed a different role for the United States on the American continent, beginning to imagine new relations with Cuba. But in other and more concrete international scenarios, continuity in respect to the past is anything but compromised. Like in Iraq, where the administration is applying the exit strategy begun by Bush, and in Afghanistan. Here — Obama declared — is found the new front of the fight against terrorism. New only to a point, as it was in Afghanistan where the first US military intervention after September 11 took place. And not everything as a wish for discontinuity can be seen by the retention of Robert Gates at the helm of the Pentagon.

Even when, opening to Cuba, he’s broken a taboo, Obama isn’t much moved from his predecessors in the request for tangible signs on the part of Havana.

Similar evaluations can be made for the economic stimulus undertaken by the president. It’s been accused of excessive statism by some, if not placing the country on the path to socialism. A calmer analysis, however, notes that Obama moves with caution: very reluctant in the face of the nationalization of financial institutions, he opened the private sector to his plan to save credit institutions. Revealing, according to the International Herald Tribune, an unexpected similarity with Ronald Reagan, the president who placed a flag for the state’s retreat from the private sector. And much more statism revealed itself in the final months of the Bush-Paulson team with the partial nationalization of the titans of property lending, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Even on ethical questions — which, from the electoral campaign, have been the forceful concern of the Catholic episcopate — Obama doesn’t seem to have confirmed the radical changes he had aired. The new guidelines regarding embryonic stem-cell research don’t, in fact, line up with the changes foreseen months ago. They don’t permit the creation of new embryos for purposes of research or therapy, for cloning or reproductive ends, and federal funds may be used solely for experimentation with surplus embryos. These don’t remove the motives for criticism in the face of unacceptable forms of bioengineering that contrast with the human identity of the embryo, but the new regulations are less permissive.

A certain surprise has otherwise come about in these days through a bill designed by the Democratic party: the Pregnant Women Support Act would move to limit the number of abortions in the United States through initiatives of aid for distressed women. It’s not a negation of the doctrine until now expressed by Obama on matters of the interruption of pregnancy, but the legislative project could represent a rebalancing in support of motherhood.

Signals of innovations in the Obama administration are undeniable. Above all on matters of the care of environment and in particular the partnership that seems born with Beijing. But maybe it’s early to talk of revolution or imbalance in judgment, whether positive or negative. These hundred days have not shaken the world. Better to await the next one thousand three hundred sixty-one.

The latest online populist movement, given prominence through ad nauseum Fox News coverage, is the TEA Party organization. Tomorrow, wednesday April 15th, the organization will be holding nationwide protests and rallies in opposition to paying taxes. The coast-to-coast teabagging rallies will protest such things as: “spending trillions of borrowed dollars, leaving a debt our great-grandchildren will be paying”; people who “want to take your wealth and redistribute it to others”; “punish those who practice responsible financial behavior and reward those who do not”; “run up trillions of dollars of debt and then sell that debt to countries such as China… [and] want government controlled health care?”; “refuse to stop the flow of millions of illegal immigrants into our country”; and to protest “want to force doctors and other medical workers to perform abortions against their will… [and] want to impose a carbon tax on your electricity, gas and home heating fuels.” At the Atlanta tax day TEA party, Sean Hannity will host his Fox News show; the entire event is also supported by Michelle Malkin and Newt Gingrich. Sounds fun!

Can I just point out that many of these items have nothing to do with taxes? Abortion? Immigration? Health Care policy? It’s all a bunch of rubbish, if you ask me. And if you ask Paul Krugman, who had this to say: “The tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects.”

The conservatives who have organized these rallies and protests have wrapped themselves in the lore of our nation’s early patriots, who dressed as Natives, and, in the dead of night, secreted upon boats carrying crates of tea. In protest of Britain’s imposition of a tea tax, these patriots tossed the crates overboard, thus ruining the tea. The TEA protesters are not trying fighting for Independence, or fighting to throw off the yoke of oppression: this is the latest attempt by the right to undermine America– to undermine progress. They scream “socialism,” or decry Obama’s deficit spending, or his so-called attempt to shift wealth from one class to another. Where were these voices when President Bush rammed his tax cuts for the uber wealthy through congress, which was literally the largest transfer of wealth in American history? Where were these voices when President Bush doubled the national debt, adding some $5 trillion? And he oversaw the Chinese take-over of the American economy! And where were these voices when President Bush started bailing out the giant financial institutions, who were free to run-amuck under his administration’s deregulation policies? Where were these voices?

I’ll tell you where these voices were–

These voices, only a few short years– months– ago were singing the praise of George W. Bush, and screaming at liberals or anyone who questioned the President, calling them “unpatriotic” or “un-American.” These hypocrites have the audacity, after eight years of that shit, to call President Obama a tyrant, a socialist, or anything else they can think of, in a time when he is trying to fix all of the messes left behind by his predecessor. He didn’t create the financial mess– Bush did; he didn’t allow the Chinese to buy up our debt– Bush did; he didn’t create the vast disparity between rich and poor– Bush did; and on and on it goes. Now, President Obama find himself in the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, and these hypocritical Bush-lovers are ready to lynch the President. Just listen to the insanity of Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity, or Glenn Beck… it’s fucking madness! I- there are no words to describe how this just blows my fucking mind!

Even more amazing to me is the fact that there are so many Americans who are swayed by this ant-tax group. Yeah, it’s a pain in the rear to have to pay taxes, but it is nonetheless necessary in order to have a civilized society– it’s nice to have roads, bridges, policemen and firemen, an education system, government, and all the fancy things we enjoy everyday, but take for granted. So it kills me when people, who are either lower class or lower-middle class, are so angry about the tax code. I totally understand why the mega-rich don’t like paying taxes– they pay quite bit in taxes every year. But, in reality, many of these mega-rich people find loop-holes or write-offs. In many cases, they either don’t pay as much in taxes, or don’t pay any taxes at all. Take, for instance, Warren Buffet, who is the worlds third richest man: Warren Buffet pays less in taxes than his secretary! At a fundraiser, Buffet admonished his fellow wealthy elites by saying, “The 400 of us [here] pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you’re in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.” He went on to describe how he had only paid 17.7% in taxes on the $46 million he made, while his secretary paid 30% on her $60,000 income. He described the Republican mentality that says, “I’m making $80 million a year – God must have intended me to have a lower tax rate.” This is the unequal tax system that the protesters are trying to maintain– one that actually benefits the rich at their expense. They are angry that President Obama wants to create a fairer tax system by eliminating the Bush tax cuts on the super rich.

Where’s the logic in that?

The debate on “fairness,” with respect to taxation, has to do with equality. The rich complain about the fact that they pay more, which, they claim, is not fair. So, they send out the ignorant low and lower-middle class conservatives to protest a system that is, in reality, quite fair. The progressive tax system, created during President Roosevelt’s administration, was intended to tax people according to their ability to bear burdens relative to their level of income. In other words, the poor should have a smaller burden than the rich, due to the disparity of their incomes. Seems fair to me. Then again, I’m a poor bloke, and not some fancy pants wealthy elitist like Rush Limbaugh.

The growing trend among the conservative crowd is the so-called “Fair Tax” or the flat-tax. Mike Huckabee, during his 2008 Presidential campaign, boasted that “when the Fair Tax becomes law, it will be like waving a magic wand releasing us from pain and unfairness.” This seems, on its face, to be a good deal: abolish the income tax and the Federal Reserve and embrace a 23% tax on all goods and services. Seems simple, right? It even sounds a bit fair. Ah, but when one actually looks into the plan, it really benefits those who are wealthy, and it is at the expense of the poor. This is essentially “supply-side” economics at its best.

See, we poor (my wife and I fall below the line of poverty) actually spend more than we make. We don’t really save, not because we don’t want to, but because there just isn’t any money at the end of the month to do so. So, under the flat tax system, we would be paying at a 100% tax rate on our income. Those in the middle-class, who spend about 80% of their income, fall into the 80% tax bracket. Meanwhile, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who have loads of money that they could never spend in a lifetime, fall into the 5% tax bracket. So what this so-called Fair Tax does is penalize the poor and working class families, who already have a tough time making ends meet, while allowing the rich, who have money to burn, to spend less in taxes. Does this seem fair? Not only that, but the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation projected a ten year $2.5 trillion revenue shortfall in the event that the Fair Tax proposal became law. Hmmm… who would get to keep all that money? The rich, of course. Does that seem fair?

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(Tables come from Bruce Bartlett)

To the Hannitys and Limbaughs of the world, it does.

Neal Boortz and John Linder, authors of the Fair Tax Book, argue that this obviously regressive tax system that favors the rich would still benefit the poor because of the “pre-bates” they would receive. Pre-bates, just to inform the reader, are determined by the Census Bureau’s calculation for the poverty level, divided into twelve months, which would work out to $196. This income would go to everyone, at all levels of income despite need. Ah! But wait! Families who spend those pre-bates will be taxed again at the 23% rate.

There is also the issue of simplicity. The Fair Tax proponents argue that their proposed system would be easier. When Steve Forbes ran for president he famously pledged that Americans would only have to deal with a postcard sized tax return. Instead of Federal taxes, or state taxes, medicare or social security taxes, or corporate/business taxes, there would simply be one flat (and “fair”) tax: the 23% tax on goods and services. Would people prefer to pay more in taxes and have a simpler system? Or, do you think, people would prefer a complicated system that allows them to pay less in taxes? I think the latter option is the obvious choice.

There are a whole host of other problems affiliated with the Fair Tax initiative. Critics fear an increase in black market sales; others wonder how the proposal will deal with tax evasion, since there will be no IRS; how will states get their revenue?; there is the matter of the revenue shortfall; how the proposal will affect workers’ wages; and the cost of transitioning from one system to another.

Well, it’s late and my wife is beckoning me to the mattress we have in the corner of our small bedroom. So, to end my diatribe, I can only wish the TEA baggers well. I hope it all goes down smoothly, and without fuss. I’d like to go, but I’m just not into that sort of thing. I was tempted to attend the rally in my town, bring along a video camera, and film the event. But I think I would go insane and start yelling at people… I would then be assaulted by an angry mob.

Thanks, but no thanks.

I’m celebrating Tax Day by working. Earning what little money I can, and paying what little taxes I can afford to Uncle Sam.

Feel My Twitter

  • Thank you, #PeytonManning for throwing that interception to give the #Cowboys that win. What happened, bro? 3 years ago
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  • Reading #Noonan in the #WSJ complain about #NSA & Obama. Um... Where were conservatives after 9/11? They loved the PATRIOT Act until Obama. 3 years ago
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