Tag Archives: President Obama

State of the Union Reactions

25 Jan

CONGRESSWOMAN LOUISE SLAUGHTER

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-28) today released the following statement following President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress responding specifically to two tenants of his speech that she has worked on for years: rebuilding America’s manufacturing sector through trade enforcement and passing legislation that would end insider trading among Members of Congress.

“I was delighted to hear the President’s enthusiasm to sign legislation that ends insider trading in Congress and finally reigns in the political intelligence industry that’s been lurking in the shadows of the halls of Congress. I’ve been working on the STOCK Act since 2006 and I say that if the President wants to sign the STOCK Act, let’s get it through the House and send it to him!,” said Slaughter. “It is my hope that the bill that we send to the President is the same bill that has received overwhelming support. The STOCK Act is bipartisan, has enough support to pass the House and is what we should make the law of the land.”

“I was also encouraged that the President shares my desire to strengthen the American economy by rebuilding the American manufacturing sector. For too long American manufacturers have had to compete against illegal trade practices from international competitors and now is the time for bold trade enforcement policies.” Continue reading

What I Learned

3 Aug

So far, I’ve learned that the Democrats capitulated to tea party hostage-taking, abetted by mainstream Republicans; I’ve learned that the Republicans have sold out the tea party; I’ve learned that Gabby Giffords’ appearance on the House floor was a brazen stunt, concocted by Democrats to inject sympathy into the process; I’ve learned that Gabby Giffords’ appearance on the House floor was a brazen stunt, concocted by the White House to embarrass Democrats into voting in favor of the debt ceiling deal; I’ve learned that the debtpocalypse deal will guarantee a second recession because the government’s hands are now tied; I’ve learned that the debtpocalypse deal is horribly awful, and that anyone who took Econ 101 could tell you so – that you never pull trillions out of a recession economy; I’ve learned that the debtpocalypse deal is a return to fiscal sanity and responsibility, and that Washington is finally getting its fiscal house in order; I’ve learned that the supercommittee that will be constituted to establish cuts will be responsible; I’ve learned that the supercommittee that will be constituted to establish cuts is just a “catfood commission” that will determine how much more awful it can make the lives of Medicare-dependent seniors.

I do, however, agree with this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/RBReich/status/97890093695647744″%5D

I did learn that the Dow dipped 2% yesterday upon news of a debt deal, and that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I also learned that Senator Mitch McConnell has never worked a day in his life in the dreaded private sector.

In short, the country is well past having an honest discussion about fixing the economy, and both sides have become radicalized. This compromise is precisely how the country was founded to run. If we wanted to guarantee that policies or bills would be introduced and passed, we’d have a parliamentary system.

I learned that the Democrats have no game, and don’t know when or how to play a good hand. I learned that the Democrats suck at messaging, and the President makes a nice speech, but can’t – or won’t – advocate for what he believes in.  This country is ruled right now by the tea party.  Progressives, meanwhile, are pissing all over President Obama rather than Republicans and their tea party dog waggers.

I’m no economist, so I’m not going to pretend to inject my own opinion about whether this compromise is a disaster or not. I’m returned to the notion that re-election is the matter of tantamount importance in Washington. I also get the sense that President Obama’s entire raison d’etre is to prove to the tea party that he’s not the soshulist Kenyan usurper they think he is, which is as pointless as it is unnecessary.

Political Stories Left Unwritten

27 Jul

Like many writers, I keep a list of story ideas for future use. I use a big whiteboard in my office, a leftover of my time in the military when I organized our unit’s tasks and deployment schedules in a similar manner. If an article has been writing itself in my head for a couple days, almost a subconscious exercise for me, then I have no need to check the board. I can go weeks without glancing at it. But on a day like today, when nothing in particular has caught my enthusiasm, I look for inspiration.

Some of the story ideas are timeless – book reviews, or the unchanging nature of Buffalo politics. Some are waiting for the perfect opportunity to fit the zeitgeist; I wanted to write about Grand Rapids for a full year before the American Pie lipdub phenomenon, contrasted with the Buffalo: For Real video, provided the right timing and opening I needed. And some stories sit and rot and likely will never be written, because they are no longer relevant (the Islamic center near the former WTC), no longer true (Obama should run against his own party in ’12), or are increasingly unlikely to occur.

It is into this last bin that I toss today’s inspiration fodder. Normally, erasing a couple lines of black dry-erase ink does not merit a column itself. But today I’m a bit pained, as my idea was as much Hope as substance.

I wanted to write about the Republican Party redonning Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose mantle. About reclaiming the “Progressive” title that was once a hallmark of such policy, and be the party of leadership and vision in an otherwise empty Washington void. About how we they should embrace High Speed Rail, green energy, and a number of other targeted investment strategies that are fundamentally good for business, so our economic recovery is about more than recreating the failed investment bubbles and house-of-cards service sector of 1992 – 2008. About how the Republicans should embrace cities, because that’s where the voters are, and cut support to massive western infrastructure development that is both unsustainable and bloats the federal budget.

But I’m not writing that article, because I don’t write fiction for WNYMedia. It will never happen in my lifetime. Never say never, right? Well, I won’t hold my breath.

In 2001, prior to September 11th, moving the Republican Party to the center was a difficult, though real, possibility. Compassionate Conservative President Bush’s first “major” policy debate involved finding a middle ground on stem cell research. His first agenda items were education and tax cuts; he compromised on both, famously with Ted Kennedy on the second. History had ended in the Clinton era, and the tone of the Presidency and country were quite different, so different it can be hard to relate now. People like David Frum had spots at the table in the White House. Who knows what would have been possible by now.

Instead, Frum (and every voice like him) is sidelined and marginalized. Unlike Democrats, who usually seek to promote the smartest guy in the room, Republicans had been clever enough (since the days of Buckley) to put their wonks in think tanks and their statesmen in office. No longer. The statesmen have retired and the wonks have fled. We are left with tin-pot Tea Party economist politicians who confuse ideology with policy, personal confidence with wisdom, and brinksmanship with leadership. Running a business is a useful skill, but not the only skill needed to run a government. Every lesson is over learned or misunderstood. The ice of competent governance is thinning beneath the national party’s feet.

Unfortunately, the Republican foibles do not cure the Democrat’s own systemic failures. Take branding, which should be a strength for a party dominated by Hollywood and East/Left Coast media types. Republicans won the fight over the debt default as soon as it became about “default.” To a nation of credit card abusers and fleers of underwater mortgages, “default” doesn’t sound so bad. It sounds like the new normal. Strictly speaking, the United States will not “default” on its debt August 2nd. That would require not paying the $385B a year in interest on our Treasury notes, an eventuality no one is considering. What will actually happen is partial government shutdown, as the federal budget expenditures will overnight immediately have to equal revenues. Lopping a trillion off this year’s budget will cancel every road repair project, close every national park, put millions of “non-essential” employees on unpaid furlough, and a variety of other messy outcomes. “Government shutdown” is a winner for Democrats, which is why Republicans love “debt default.” It casts them as the tough-love parents of the discussion.

Democratic troubles extend far past word choice. President Obama and Harry Reid haven’t learned how to govern just because Boehner and Cantor are fighting dissention in the ranks. There is a significant pot/kettle problem when Democrats complain that Boehner does not speak for his entire caucus. Pelosi rarely herds her cats well, but within Democratic circles, such free thinking by rogue representatives is seen as a sign of strength. Bold Republican Tea Partiers, Class of 2010, are for once giving the fitful Democrats a taste of their own disorganized medicine. In the meantime, no one is picking up the “seriousness” slack. 

The main legit critiques of Candidate Obama, that he was an inexperienced legislator and untested leader, are both unfortunately proving to be sound. I did not expect Constitutional Scholar Obama to supplant Political Obama, but how else does one explain his constant deference to Congress for healthcare, debt ceiling and budgetary plans? Yes, we know they write the laws and you sign them. But would a little direction from that bully pulpit kill you? President Obama never learned how to cut a legislative deal himself, and clearly heading up a Presidential campaign, where everyone is on your side and wants to win like you, is not sufficient proof of leadership acumen. 

When Republicans don’t have an easy solution, they deny the problem exists (see: climate change, debt limit). When Democrats don’t have a plan, they blame Bush. Eric Cantor was in the minority so long, in his state legislature and Congress, he doesn’t know how to produce a majority effort. Democrats have been against Bush so long they don’t know how to govern independently, without a specific foil. While all the sides try to grow up, the United States may slip out of our unnatural boom back to our nearly forgotten historic average.

Impeachment Eligible

22 Jun

Obama’s illegal war continues.

I choose each of those four words for specific reasons. With a public distracted during the start of bomb dropping, a delay in ever explaining his reasoning and actions, no attempt to get a buy-in from the American public, and no vote sought in Congress, this sorry episode has nowhere to land but on President Obama’s shoulders. The action is illegal because any pretense of abiding by the War Powers Act passed after a 60/90 day deadline on June 19th. The action in question is most certainly a war, but it should embarrass the President that I must make that point explicitly, as his lawyers twist Orwellian. And finally, this war continues, endures, with only a glimmer of opposition now taking hold.

Always politically astute, President Obama cynically knows that the American people generally only care about wars when our soldiers are dying. That is not happening directly in Libya (this article is about Libya, remember we’re now fighting there too?), so the conflict slid under the national radar almost as soon as it began. Our soldiers may be indirectly dying because of Libya, but that is a nuanced argument that is difficult to sell. While our DOD budget is huge, the tools President Obama is using in Libya – attack helicopters, Predators, Reapers, AWACS, AC-130’s, spy satellites, etc – are exactly to ones in short supply within the US military. He didn’t support the Libyan opposition by sending 100,000 old M-16s sitting in a warehouse (that we know of, anyway). He dedicated units known within the military as “High Demand/Low Density.” Every AC-130 and Predator in Libya is not available to support our war in Afghanistan. How many soldiers there have died waiting for attack helicopter support? We won’t and can’t know. But President Obama’s eye certainly appears to be off that ball.

I can better accept the difficult choice of the allocation of resources under different political and legal conditions, but our involvement in Libya was rotten from the start, and has gotten worse. That glimmer of opposition I mentioned earlier has come from sources expected and not. George Will, who found his anti-intervention religion on January 20th, 2009, dislikes our involvement because we are using NATO and the UN as window dressing, allowing them to maintain legitimacy while we do what we want. Mayors from across the country object to our continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan because we’re spending money overseas instead of reinvesting at home. While they don’t specifically mention Libya, the argument certainly applies there as well. Glenn Greenwald (Salon) and Garrett Epps (The Atlantic) object to the over-reach of Executive Power. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich (author’s note: I dislike using this source link, but its what I’ve got) warned before the start of the action that failure to consult Congress is an impeachable offense, and have now filed a doomed lawsuit. Greenwald himself walks up to this “impeachment” line, calling the war “illegal” repeatedly, but never quite crosses it. Should he, and we?

Candidate Obama, constitutional scholar, declared a President should not engage in military action sans Congressional approval unless the country itself was threatened. President Obama broke the spirit of the War Powers Act the first day of bombing, but only the letter of the law last Sunday. If the process by which we ended up attacking Libya broke the law, and it was the President that took those actions, then he committed an impeachable offense. I would argue that he committed the first truly impeachable offense by a President since Richard Nixon ordered a rash of theft and breaking and entering. Worse, President Obama committed the offense involving the most solemn of Presidential duties: sending forces to combat.

First, let’s rule out some other dubious Presidential behavior. President Reagan’s Iran/Contra scandal never quite made it all the way to his desk. President Clinton’s circus was engineered; a grand jury testimonial whose sole purpose was to create a lie under oath about a fundamentally political and personal matter. Obama’s current Libya policy is often compared to Bush’s: Greenwald referencing his wire-tapping plan, Epps his torture fiasco. While there are apt comparisons to be made between their legal teams (both sought narrow legal definitions to exonerate their boss), I think the nature of Presidential action is important. The NSA eavesdropping and warrantless wiretapping evolved from new Patriot Act regulations following 9/11. That an administration wrestled with what was legal and what was not following the implementation of a new law is understandable. Likewise, while torture is illegal under the US code, it is facetious to act as if there has not been a two hundred year debate in our country over what constitutes “torture,” “cruel and unusual” punishments, etc. The standard has rightly evolved, but it is a regular matter of discussion, and the Executive Order authorized interrogation techniques we used (that we know of) consisted of procedures routinely used on our own US military trainees, techniques that sat in a grey area long before Bush authorized the CIA to get creative.

No such grey area exists on the question of whether dropping bombs on someone’s head is a war or not, no matter the protestations coming from President Obama’s legal counsel. The Obama Administration’s lawyerly squirms must make even John Yoo blush. Equally important, in my opinion, are the atmospheric circumstances surrounding this flouting of the law. The War Powers Act is a direct check on Presidential power – it restricts and defines an explicit Constitutional power, the most basic action of an any sovereign country: committing the military to war. That Congress asserted this authority by overriding a veto provides additional moral (though not legal) weight and consideration. It is also a law only one citizen in this country can break. Any of us could lie to a grand jury, and any police officer could wiretap illegally. But this law is designed for the President alone. Unlike ordering someone else to commit an illegal act, there is no degree of separation, no ambiguity in orders or directives, no wiggle room. The President has committed US forces to war past the firm, unequivocal numerical deadline. He is the solitary doer of an illegal deed.

Do not confuse bold leadership with illegal action. The UN confers political and geo-legal cover, not wisdom, nor diplomatic immunity to US law. No matter the supposed rightness of the cause, the Libyan War has passed from Executive Branch over-reach to illegality. Will Congress reassert and resume its role? Despite Boehner’s polite rebuttal, the political expediency is obvious: the only thing safer than voting “yes” on military action is not being forced to vote at all.

Our Next Step in Afghanistan

4 May

Osama Bin Laden’s blood had barely dried on the dusty ground of his palatial Pakistani compound before we as a country considered our next step in Afghanistan, and whether we could now finally declare victory and go home. Philosophically, support (or lack there of) for our current manifestation of the Afghan conflict breaks not along normal partisan or ideological lines, but rather shades of realism: Pragmatics, Blind Wearers, and the simple War Weary.

Pragmatists, such as President Obama, balance the nukes in Pakistan and remnants of Al Qaeda with our growing death toll, and grimly press on, seeing few options. Such sentiment is expressed well by this unnamed administration official:

“I hope people are going to feel, on a bipartisan basis, that when you move the ball this far, it’s crazy to walk off the field,” one senior administration official said. Officials who favor retaining a large troop presence said that while this was a significant victory, the security gains in Afghanistan remained fragile.

Outlying wearers of blinders let either their misplaced faith in humanity or pacifism (on the Left) or dislike of President Obama (on the Right) cloud their thinking, and recommend withdrawal from the conflict for those biased reasons. Thus do Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich and George Will all find themselves on the same side of the argument.

The War Weary, where I suspect most of the country lies, doesn’t like to “lose” and doesn’t like 10 year wars that produce casualties at this rate, and are looking for a reason, a sign, a signal, to Bring The Boys Home. Osama Bin Laden’s death looks like just such a portent. I can sympathize. With an unclear mission and vague goals articulated by President Obama, little gain in 10 years, and a Afghan history that points toward hopelessness, one can reasonably ask what we gain by continuing.

When I want to find a new smart, contrarian and/or well considered opinion, I check TED (skip to 10 minutes in):

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Those words are as relevant now as when spoken in 2005. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 10 years, 6 since this speech. These ideas are not new (jobs and roads, why didn’t we think of it before!), and in various forms, we have been attempting to implement them under two administrations. Do we have the stomach for a 20 year engagement, if we have seen so little progress after 10? How long do we beat our head against the wall? And what happens when we stop?

Unexpected Failures in Libya

20 Apr

It’s been a month, and we’re still bombing Libya. I know this may come as a shock to you – you would not know unless you listened deep into Morning Edition or read page 7 of the daily paper. Sandwiched between tsunamis, melting nuclear reactors, and Congressional budget battles, Libya only briefly captured America’s fickle attention.

Ignoring the opportunistic and blatantly political backlash by Republican Presidential contenders (faux and real), the legitimate critique of President Obama’s Libya policy has fallen into one of three basic camps: our plan is non-existent or unrealistic, the plan wasn’t communicated or Constitutional, and why this plan (Libya) and not other plans (Sudan). Me, I fell into all three camps – I admit I didn’t like the smell of this from the start.

But no matter which camp you fell in, the conventional wisdom also generally stated that while we can win the purely military phase of such wars (see: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq), the trouble would come once the rockets stopped flying, and the long, troubled, national building, elections and government phase began. Turns out the conventional wisdom misunderestimated our conventional military might – don’t look now, but we’re struggling in the shooting war part too.

With a messy mandate to protect civilians, defend rebel territory but only kinda attack the Gaddafi regime, NATO is stumbling. While still bombing select targets in Tripoli to seemingly little effect, in Misrata, last rebel stronghold in the west, and throughout eastern Libya, occasional NATO strikes from the air are not enough to make a tangible difference on the ground. Gaddafi’s forces have moved into the cities and dispersed with civilians, stymieing NATO attacks by ensuring that any bombing will break the West’s Hippocratic Oath. The rebels can gain no ground, Gaddafi’s forces continue their shelling, and a bloody stalemate endures. Internally, NATO continues to squabble. While NATO’s Danish secretary-general called for more precision bombing aircraft, French military commanders claimed plenty of aircraft were available, but more trustworthy target intel was needed. Meanwhile, the US is pulling out A-10’s and AC-130’s, exactly the kind of precision ground-pounders NATO says it wants.

Let me clear – winning militarily in Libya is a matter of political will, not capability. George Friedman notes the fallacy of the Immaculate Intervention – humanitarian wars, those that substitute sentiment for tangible goals, have an expectation of near zero cost to the invading force or the civilians to be assisted. NATO could (and to some small degree, must certainly be) send in terminal controllers and special forces to collect ground intelligence and direct strikes. NATO could also send arms and advisors to assist the rebels. Then they could send in security to defend the advisors. We have seen this movie before. We may be replaying it again – the Brits are talking about sending senior military strategists, and the EU humanitarian aid guards, a la Somalia ’93 Redux. The West does not like to lose wars once we’re in them. But Libya is Limbo – enough will to stay, not enough to “win” even the conventional military portion where our strength lies.      

How long will the average Libyan civilian be supportive of Western involvement if it proves ineffectual? The latest reports are troublesome:

Frustration was growing among residents in Misrata, where Gadhafi’s troops have intensified their long siege of the city in recent days. The doctor criticized NATO for failing to break the assault with its month-old campaign of air strikes. “We have not seen any protection of civilians,” the doctor said. “NATO air strikes are not enough, and the proof is that there are civilians killed every day here,” he said.

The theme was echoed in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said at a news conference: “There’s no more room for hesitation or for not standing with determination against what is happening in Misrata and other Libyan cities, because the destruction that Moammar Gadhafi is causing in Libyan cities is great and extensive.”

This is where the United States loses. Early in his latest book, Travels in Siberia, Ian Frazier tells the story of visiting a Russian in a decrepit Soviet-era apartment block, utilitarian concrete and humorless. The man is proud of his meager furnishings, and excitedly shows off each stick of furniture and modern convenience. But when the tour arrives in the kitchen, the solitary incandescent bulb hanging from the ceiling fails to light when the switch is thrown. The man, visibly annoyed, fiddles with the switch, and then, after retrieving a step-ladder, the wiring around the light itself. Finally, the man fetches a new bulb and changes it with several deliberate turns. He flips the switch again, and the light turns on. Opening his arms wide and gesturing to the whole of the now well-lighted room, the man proudly exclaims, “Ahhhhh. America!”

Vice-President Cheney infamously predicted that US troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq, and they were . . . at first. It did not take long for the lights to not turn on fast enough, and the warm glow of America to dim. America may now be coming too slow to Libyan dissenters and rebels. We, with NATO, are the greatest military force on the planet. How can we not have “won” yet? And upon winning, how can we not make everything work right away?

Libya? Really, Libya?

23 Mar

Surprise! We’re back to the Shock and Awe, knock-down-the-door, Tomahawk and JDAM war the US military in general, and Air Force and Navy in particular, like so much. Things are going swimmingly well in Libya because we’re still doing the parts we’re really good at. What comes next? If President Obama knows, he’s not saying, except that we won’t be in charge much longer (turns out the French never really were in charge after all, they just started the war first without talking to everyone). His War Powers Act clock is at 54 days and counting, but more on Obama’s failures in a moment.

Any public discussion of the fiasco in Libya seems to conform to a formula in three parts: two major – the question of whether to intervene, and the handling of the issue by the President – and one minor. Before I get to the major issues, let me dispense with the minor one.

The most insignificant portion of this issue is the hypocrisy watch all observers find themselves under, as the spectre of Iraq still looms, and our national politics are still played under broad Obama|Bush banners. For the record, I was for our action in Bosnia and Kosovo, because genocide was not a potential, but an ongoing horror. I was for intervention in conflicts we never stepped into, such as Rwanda. I was for the “little wars” of Clinton, in Iraq and Afghanistan in 1998, and wanted even more action because trouble seemed on the horizon and violence was escalating (embassy bombings, the USS Cole after, etc). I was for the invasion of Afghanistan at the time, because I was pissed, pro-Iraq War at the start, and pro-Surge as the best possible way to extricate ourselves from a bad situation. But now? A final analysis is complicated, as is inevitable when a war is personalized, and you find yourself invested in a very non-academic way. Lately, I find myself a recovering interventionist.

I say all of that as background to help you judge the following statement: what in God’s name are we doing in Libya? Have we gained no humility about the limits of US power, and learned nothing about picking sides in a tribal war, misunderstanding your enemy or allies, the limits of the capability of no-fly zones, and the grave responsibility of joining a war?

What are we doing in Libya? There is an ideological answer, and a realpolitik one. Both fail to pursuade, though (as is fundamental to its nature) the realpolitik answer is at least more pragmatic.

The ideologues, such as genocide expert and White House staffer Samantha Power, will tell you we must intervene in Libya because the international community can not stand by while a dictator murders his own people. While this sounds nice, it provides few practical specifics and is blatantly untrue. We stand by and watch dictators murder their own people all the time. In fact, we are currently doing so in Yemen, Bahrain, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and the Congo, just to name the worst. In each of those cases, far more people have been murdered over far longer of a time. “The International Community” is in a tizzy over a city being without power for a week or two in Libya. In Zimbabwe and the Congo, the slaughter has gone on for decades. In addition, such mushy aims lead to the questions Americans are currently asking: are we trying to kill Qaddafi? Who are the rebels (as a commentator from STRATFOR put it, who knew 6 weeks ago there even was a Libyan opposition)? Are we on their side? What is a civilian? Can we kill civilians to protect civilians? What if the no-fly zone doesn’t stop the conflict? What are our goals? What are the conditions that will allow us to be done? If Obama knows, he’s not telling.

With the ideological answer either wanting or ineffectual, one is left with the realpolitik answer. Here, the water is murkier. Khadafi has been alternatingly an international pariah and our ally strongman. He perpetrated some of the worst terrorist attacks against Europeans and Americans in the 1980’s, but he also was held up as the model of the reformed autocrat in the 2000’s, unilaterally disavowing his nuke program, shrugging off UN sanctions in 2003, and making amends with the Brits, such that they controversially released a Lockerbie conspirator only two years ago. In short, he was a neutral party (and occasional ally against Al Qaeda) much more recently than he was persona non grata.

So why Libya now? Besides the need to secure oil for Western Europe, the unspoken realpolitik answer is Iran. Through the eyes of the international geopolitical chess-player, the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa go something like this. The January immolation and uprising in Tunisia was a genuine cry for help by the “Arab Street.” The events since, however, that were thus set in motion have been pre-planned coups and proxy battles that used the street protests as cover. Mubarak fell because the Egyptian military ousted him, payback for him wanting to install his non-military son in power instead of the next general in line, as the military regime has done for 60 years. Protests in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain are actually battles between Shia and Sunni, with Iran funding and provoking the protestors and Saudi Arabia coming to the aid of the Sunni regimes in power. The US does not condemn the actions in those countries, or establish a no-fly zone over Bahrain, because we are actually opposing Iran, and want the protests in those country’s crushed. Libya is thus another proxy, a convenient way of showing Iran that America can walk and chew gum at the same time, or bomb one country while stuck in a ground war with two others. It also lowers the bar for military intervention, and allows us to potentially act to protect our national interests (read: seize oil fields, violently open the Straits of Hormuz, allow Israel to bomb Iran’s nuke program) in a much more flagrant way.

Under this explanation, President Obama would rightly see Libya as a side-show. Perhaps that explains why he is treating it as such, aloof and seemingly uninvolved. Which brings us to the second major issue – Obama’s disappointment as Commander-in-Chief. Afghanistan is adrift – it has been months since we heard anything consequential on that decade long conflict. Now his eye is off the ball again. Whatever is going on inside his head on the topic of Libya, ideological, realpolitik or political, we do not know because he has not said. Little consultation with Congress other than a cattle round-up conference call. No evening address to the American people. It displays a lack of seriousness with the military task at hand – he has publically spoken about sending our forces into a new war as much as he would about the EPA making a regulatory rule change. 

To say nothing of the utter hypocrisy. Candidate Obama in 2007 said:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.

What made him change his mind in this case? In fact, what made him change his mind in the last ten days? Two weeks ago mainstream liberals were lampooning “neocons” for trying to drag us into another war, and the prospect of intervention in Libya was laughable. At the end of February his Defense Secretary said he should have his head examined to get into another conflict in the Middle East, and later, on the topic of Libya, said a no-fly zone meant open war (implying it should be avoided, or at least not taken lightly). In a matter of days, Obama had, as David Gergen said today, a “head snapping reversal of policy.”

Bush was criticized for changing his mind about why we invaded Iraq (WMDs to Democracy) after the conflict began. I suppose one way to avoid that charge is to have no position at all. Going to the UN Security Council does not mean he is slow, indecisive or wussy to let the Europeans lead (though, like we said, they aren’t really leading, and now France and Italy are now bickering about who is doing what). Rather, Obama’s issue with going to the UN is that he used it as a substitute for planning or forming a policy. The UN confers precious little legitimacy anyway – a Security Council resolution simply means Russia and China do not have sufficient economic or political interests to interfere if the West wishes to additionally bankrupt itself on another expensive excursion. In this case, a veneer of legality is being substituted for substance.

When Obama returns from South America, we will probably have a policy speech explaining our goals in Libya . . . justification for the bombing after it began. In the meantime, The Daily Show describes the mess well:

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Quick Thoughts

16 Mar

Do Not Be Alarmed - this most likely isn't going to happen (http://www.snopes.com/photos/technology/fallout.asp)

It’s time for another article of thoughts that haven’t yet seen enough yeast to grow into their own columns. The unifying thread? SuperFAIL:

1) President Obama has some unfortunate energy policy timing, advocating increased off-shore drilling prior to the massive Gulf oil spill, and nuclear energy before the continuing disaster in Japan. Not that he is to blame – we are short on energy solutions that are not destructive at normal levels, and catastrophic on the extremes. Irresponsible natural gas exploration is contaminating Pennsylvania, the Canadians are destroying Alberta to free oil from tar sands, and there is nothing practical available to replace them. Hard to move to renewables like wind when our local turbines sit idle far more than they spin. Investment is the only pragmatic strategy if we want an environmentally sustainable energy policy: lots of money to regulate current energy industries to follow existing environmental laws, scraping and reworking from scratch our subsidy system to stop picking winner and losers and instead peg commodities to their true total cost, and basic science investment in research and future technologies. Don’t expect to hear any of that in the near future.

2) The census is complete, so it’s redistricting time, in Erie County and at the state level. In Erie County, the commission to redraw legislative districts, consolidating from 15 to 11, met for the first time. As Artvoice reports, the main topic of conversation was how much to do before data on population counts are actually available. In Buffalo’s petty rice bowl politics, the underlying question is who wins and who loses. Geoff Kelly believes no one wins except Ray Walter. Which is another way of saying, we’re all winning.

On the New York State front, the debate in the GOP controlled Senate is whether to change the constitution to mandate impartial redistricting (a plan with an 11 year delay), do a legislative patch now, or both. So far, only the Republicans and Citizens Union, an independent reform lobby, have weighed in. The Democratic controlled Assembly still has a chance to weigh in with traditional partisan redistricting, and screw up this Good Government push. But if these are the only options presented, we’re winning here too. (And this is the only non-FAIL you will see in this column.) 

3) It’s about to be construction season, and WNYMedia’s own intrepid Andrew Kulyk is filling in well on development watch for Mark Brynes, on prolonged sabbatical. What to watch for in 2011?!?! Not much an Canalside, unless you count a little more decking and bike racks as construction. Work on anything requiring an excavator will wait til the Fall. Also watch for an again delayed Federal Courthouse, that not only bears no resemblance to its graphic sales pitch, but is now rotting from the inside. Speaking of rotting, the steel beams of the Casino are rusting away, and may need to come down, even if a permanent complex is eventually built. Finally, if you are looking for hope, don’t look at the Statler – based upon past divisions between Croce and the Mayor, expect summer fights over the $5 million promised to help rehab the lower levels in time for the Convention That Will Save Buffalo.

Elections Have Consequences

9 Mar

 . . . or so we are reminded when President Obama is nominating new justices to the Supreme Court, or pushing new healthcare legislation. Apparently the same is not true at the local level, where in Wisconsin a newly elected Republican governor, a Republican Senate (19-14) and a Republican Assembly (57-38) are unable to pass budgets or public-sector union reform since the opposition will not even show up for work.

"Moranism" or "How the Left Never Resorts to Hitler Comparisons"

Complain as you will that Republicans in the US Senate threatened to filibuster President Obama’s legislative agenda. At least to filibuster they needed to be in Washington, so there was hope of talk and eventual compromise. If you are hiding in a neighboring state, and allowing surrogates to make your case for you, there is no hope of anything.

Of course, this battle is less about an upcoming budget and more about reining in the power of public sector unions, whose outsized pension and medical benefits, negotiated by politicians of both parties, are bankrupting states. That is not hyperbole. A year old report estimates the total shortfall for state pensions nationwide at $3 Trillion, or a third of our total federal debt. California alone has a $500 Billion hole, or six times the state budget. Six times. You don’t just toss in another 5% a year to make that whole again. You must significantly raise taxes or cut benefits to a sector that is already earning a compensation package 45% above the national average. The average pay of a Milwaukee teacher is $102K. Srsly.

To quote the Obama Administration again, Governor Walker shouldn’t let this serious crisis go to waste. Wisconsin has led national reform before, and it is doing so again. I lived in Wisconsin during the welfare debates of the 1990’s, and despite warnings of a complete breakdown of civilized society, Tommy Thompson’s reform was adopted nationwide as a major Clinton policy achievement. The public cannot afford the deal made to public sector unions, and it’s time to trim. If a state finally has a politician with the gumption to take on a major lobbying force and donator to both parties, then he should strike while he can. Such opportunities do not often present themselves, so why should Walker negotiate? He is simply acting as liberals wished Obama would on tax cuts, healthcare and the stimulus. Better that he embody that Bush-like quality of decisive implementation of a single coherent policy. At least then we aren’t muddling through tepid bi-partisan band-aids.

What of the sacred collective bargaining rights, the firewall issue that sent Wisconsin Democrats to Illinois? This fundamental, inalienable right is not present in twelve states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia), and is limited in twelve more (Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming). Somehow in those states children are taught, fires are fought, crimes are solved, streets are plowed, benefits are paid, and the bureaucracy crunches on. It does so without either massive poverty among state workers, or terribly unsafe working conditions.

Public sector unions are fundamentally incompatible with government. Don’t trust me. Trust FDR:

All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into public service….  The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people.

In other words, the government isn’t management. Politicians change. The will of the people changes. In fact, the workers pick the politicians with a self-reinforcing political “donation” system. There is no corporate hegemony to protect the workers from. They don’t need to be shielded from the abuses of the public. The general citizenry is not profiting at the public worker’s expense. In fact, comparatively, it is now the opposite.

Obama’s Erie County Budget

16 Feb

In ground breaking news, WNY’s politicians are not the only one’s incapable of tackling large budgetary issues. We have all grown exasperated watching Erie County argue over a hyper-politicized 6% of the budget, and a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of arts spending. Unfortunately, President Obama’s latest gambit bears more than a passing resemblance to Chris Collins’s budget in one very important way – it addresses only the tiniest portion of the issue.

At least Erie County partially has an excuse, as 94% of their budget is federally mandated. President Obama has no such legal excuse, only political ones. The nation is calling for the federal deficit to be lowered. Polls show Americans don’t like how Obama is handling the budget. Even I can add two and two and realize Obama (cynically) should be more aggressive in deficit cutting. And yet his budget only addresses non-defense discretionary spending, or 10% – 15% of the $3.7 Trillion behemoth.

When you only pay attention to the smallest part of the budget, you can’t expect to make a big impact on the deficit. And Obama’s doesn’t. It cuts $1.1 Trillion over 10 years, with the largest chunk ($550 Billion) disappearing in 2012, largely through a rose-colored glasses assumption that tax revenues will rise. But deferred success is no success in Washington’s spending frenzy. Budget projections rarely become reality, as the following charts show.

The chart on the left was produced during FY 2009, after President Obama proposed his $900 Billion stimulus package (which ended up accounting for 65% of the deficit by itself); the chart on the right was produced one year later. A couple items of note.

First, these charts easily explain why Americans (generally, but mostly attributed to the electorally successful Tea Party) are concerned about deficits now when they weren’t 2 years ago. I’ll give you a hint – it’s not because the President is a black Muslim sleeper agent. The deficit lines used to be little, and now are really big. Over four times as big. Clinton earned us a surplus. Bush squandered it and created (at the time) record deficits. Obama has blown either set of deficits or surpluses out of the water with completely out of proportion shortfalls. 

Second, the projections are often significantly off from reality. In FY09, the White House projected a deficit of $1.75T, but fortunately we only ended up with a $1.4T shortfall. So far so good, but Obama’s hole is so deep that his $350B error was larger than 5 of Bush’s 8 total budget deficits. In 2009, they predicted a FY10 deficit of $1.2T, and in 2010, they upped it to $1.5T. In the end, it was $1.3Tish. What’s a $100B or two between friends? It’s worse for FY11, where the deficit was projected to be $850B and $1.4T in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Now its slated to actually be $1.65T. An $800B swing in two years, or roughly double the deficit total of any Bush year. What good is it to claim savings in 2012 when the projections swing so far, and lately, for the worse.

But, you say, these projections have a better chance of coming true, because Obama has already proposed his 2012 budget early! Yes, and he never got a 2011 budget passed at all – we’re still spending on 2010 continuing resolutions. There is much time between now and October 2012, the end of that fiscal year, and much time for Congress and the President to make mischief.

If the President wants to be serious about deficits, and thinks they matter (not all do – Cheney and Krugman being strange bedfellows), then he should address Social Security, Medicare, the Department of Defense, and discretionary spending, and move the budget pain up to this year, and each year after. Republicans have proposed (a few) ways to do this. John Boehner’s numbers may be off (its 107,000 workers hired in the last 2 years, not 200,000), but one has to wonder how all the federal bureaucratic work got done in the Dark Ages of 2009? How did the government function before, when it didn’t have all these indispensable functionaries and laborers? Likewise, Rep Jordan of Ohio (with Jim DeMint in the Senate) have proposed reducing the federal budget to 2006 levels, and keeping it there for a decade. I don’t think we need to freeze spending quite so long, but was 2006 so bad? Did the nation get defended, entitlement checks get paid, and policies implemented? We even added $250 Billion to the deficit that year, so with tax revenues down we may well still be digging a hole. I don’t remember 2006 as the darkest of American days – in fact, with no war in Iraq, I’m sure Obama could put that 2006 money (so to speak) to better use. Or, to put it another way, are our children twice as educated as 2001? Because spending has doubled. Spending and deficits have grown so fast, its hard to imagine there is no room to trim, discretionary, defense, or not.