Sunday, November 28, 2010

President Obama Needs To Show That He Can Fight When Need Be

E.J. Dionne on "Meet The Press" spoke for many moderate and liberal independent and Democratic voters when he said the president needed to give the American people some indication that he would fight for something.

President Barack Obama could start by taking some of former Reagan OMB director David Stockman's advice. He can veto any bill that extends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (as he suggested today on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" and he can defend the deficit commission's spending cut proposals (entitlement cuts as well as defense budget cuts from the Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The former would help him with the liberal base; the latter with moderates.

No we cannot afford the middle class tax cuts, let a lone the tax cuts for the rich and he should, at minimum, threaten (and follow through on the threat) to veto any bill that extends the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Yes we do need to raise the retirement age for social security. Yes, Congress should increase the payroll tax and probably establish a procedure for means testing both entitlement programs, social security and medicare.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North Korean Aggression

Why the negotiations are futile. China will defend any and everything that the North Koreans will do if only to keep the country's subjects from seeking refuge in their country. Until the Chinese are willing to back a substantive sanction and inspection regime that allows for full, unannounced and unfettered access to North Korea's military facilities there is no point to any further negotiations with Pyongyang.

Attempts to meet with the North Koreans and the other regional powers must be rebuffed and the president must, in a show of solidarity, meet with his counterparts from Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand to express his solidarity with our allies, issue a joint statement condemning the North Korean administration for assault on South Korea's territorial integrity while warning against further strikes, reaffirm our nation's commitment to Japan and South Korea's defense, and offer to conduct joint military exercises with the South Koreans. China's premier should be invited to participate in the discussions but only with the understanding that the United States and its Pacific allies are willing to issue their statement with or without their support.

Last night the Political Heretic said we should not let the latest revelations concerning North Korea's latest nuclear enrichment program draw us into a new round of negotiations with the North Koreans because the concession we expect from the North Koreans are the nuclear weapons they use to extract concessions from us. They won't give up what we want them to give up because it is the one thing the impoverished country could use at the negotiation table. That much hasn't changed, but the latest incident forces us to confront the North Koreans now rather than later.

Update: US aircraft carrier is headed to the region for military exercise. Claim is that this was planned before the attack.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Time to Ignore North Korea: Talks with North Korea Will Be Fruitless

We have seen the North Koreans play this game before. If and when they want to acquire more aid, they prove successful they have been at skirting its commitments to open themselves up to UN inspections with the hope that we would then start a new round of negotiations that would prove beneficial to them. We clamor for sanctions which are then whittled down by the Chinese and Russian negotiators who are all to keen to do everything that would keep the North Korean government from collapsing. They had proven themselves to be a reliably untrustworthy negotiating partner at nuclear inspection talks The deals made by President Barack Obama's predecessors, George W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton, did not work. Hoping that new talks would lead to cooperation on nuclear weapons inspections and dismantlement would be delusional. We cannot expect them to give up the one bargaining chip which they have - the weapons we are bargaining to have removed.

I see no point in holding more talks with the North Koreans. The North Koreans really pose no immediate threat to the United States because the MAD (mutually assured destruction) threat which caused the American and Soviet governments to act responsibly does not hold in this case. We can withstand several nuclear attacks (albeit at a great loss of life and damage to the American economy) but the North Koreans could not, so any first attempt made by them would be mad.

North Korea's neighbors have far more to fear from its leaders' antics but we can always reiterate our promise to protect them from a North Korean attack and threaten Pyongyang with its annihilation should it launch a first strike on South Korea or Japan. In the mean time I see no reason why we should make the extra effort to negotiate and lower tensions on the peninsula when the governments in the region have shown no inclination to impose stricter, government-crippling sanctions on North Korea. Our government doesn't have to react every time Pyongyang decides to hold a military parade or conduct a missile test. Lower-level spokes persons at the State Department could condemn the North Koreans for their intransigence and then move on.

We can always strike the North Koreans if and when they choose to sell their weapons on the black market. Until they do so, we can tighten our own sanctions and withhold more aid from them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Educational Standards Below the Headline

I was reading an article in tomorrow's The New York Times today (yes it sounds weird and it was intentional) and found this blurb especially depressing:

"The public elementary school closest to the park is No. 64, at Sixth Street and Avenue B. It scored a C on its most recent city progress report, with 26.5 percent of tested students found proficient in English, 44.7 percent in math. Public School 19, on First Avenue, also scored a C; 34.1 percent were proficient in English, 56.8 percent in math.

The Tompkins Square Middle School, in the same building as No. 64, received an A, with 57.3 percent of students proficient in English, 72.8 percent in math. The East Side Community School on East 11th Street, which serves Grades 6 through 12, got an A for its middle school, with 33 percent of students proficient in English and 60.8 in math. Its high school also scored an A. In 2009 its SAT averages were 395 in reading, 406 in math and 390 in writing, versus 435, 432 and 439 statewide."

Note that: A school passes muster only a quarter of its students are proficient in English and another school is given high marks when only a third of its students proficient in English. Why are the standards so low? Why can't we expect more from them?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dissent within the Political Family

Senator John McCain's wife, Cindy McCain, came out against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this week. Then she changed her mind. I wonder why? Did her husband, who opposes the attempts to limit the idiotic ban on gays serving openly in the military tell her he cannot accept public dissent within the family? and if so why not? Why can't wives (or any spouse for that matter) distance themselves from their political spouse's positions every now and then?

Couldn't the senator, when pressed on the matter, say that everyone, his wife included, can have a disagreement every now and then?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Parents Accidentally Shoot Child

Well, the twelve-year-old learned why he shouldn't play with guns at his age. His parents apparently could not either. Perhaps they should have waited.

Trial Rights Subject to Congress?

The administration has concluded that it cannot put Mohammed on trial in federal court because of the opposition of lawmakers in Congress and in New York. - excerpt from The Washington Post

Note to Anne E. Kornblut and Peter Finn:

Congress has no say on who should be tried and who should be indefinitely contained. In order to remove trial rights which inconvenience law officers it must suspend the writ of habeas corpus which protects all of us.
It has not, to date, done so.

If President Barack Obama, like his predecessor George W. Bush, thinks he can detain a criminal suspect for the indefinite future, he should be forced to say so. The president should not be allowed to pin his broken campaign promise on Congress.

Environmental Regulations Unncessary Because We Can't Destroy Earth?

Even if we took his words at face value and believed that he is in fact correct, U.S. Representative John Shimkus makes no case for environmental deregulation. Whether or not there is a god and whether or not that god would destroy the earth at some point in the future is besides the point. Our presence on this earth has been relatively short. The question isn't whether or not we can destroy the earth but whether we can change the weather patterns so as to make human life as unlivable on this planet as it once was.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tax Cuts: One Last Time to Shift the Terms of the Debate

Unless he is floating a trial balloon designed to gauge the public's reaction, the president's top adviser says the president is willing to sign off on an across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cuts, including tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich, in order to save the tax cuts for the middle class. "We have to deal with the world as we find it," David Axelrod told The Huffington Post.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised to make the tax cuts permanent for those earning $250,000 a year or less while letting them expire (as they are set to do) for those earning more.

Some Democratic activists, particularly those aligned with the liberal wing of the party, were urging the Democrats on Capitol Hill to hold a debate and vote on extending the Bush tax cuts before they returned to their constituents to campaign for the midterm elections. They knew that the Democrats were poised to lose seats in both Houses and that their chance to frame the debate in a manner that was favorable to them would dwindle as time went on.

House Democrats could have voted for a proposal that extended the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and force the Republicans to take a stand for or against the middle class. If the Republicans threatened to filibuster that legislation in the senate, Democrats could blame the Republicans for holding middle class tax relief hostage to wealthy special interests.

The Democrats on Capitol Hill, who haven't find a principle they can forcefully defend, squandered their opportunity because they did not believe they could win the debate on taxes. Many felt the voters would oust them if they took a stand against tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy. Delaying the vote on extending the tax cuts did not save them from losing the majority in the House of Representatives. They were doomed to lose in some thirty-plus conservative districts that swung for Senator John McCain in his failed bid for the White House as well as many swing districts where voters were set to punish the Democrat incumbents for their perceived failure to create jobs during this economic recession.

In a few months the pendulum will swing and the Republicans will set the agenda and when they do the Republicans could send an across-the-board tax cuts plan to senate and force the Democrats to vote against tax cuts which middle class Americans think they need.

"There are concerns," Axerod said, "that Congress will continue to kick the can down the road in the future by passing temporary extensions for the wealthy time and time again. "But I don't want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point."

What Mr. Axelrod and his boss, President Barack Obama to this day fail to understand is that the president can use the bully pulpit to shift the terms in the debate. The chairmen of the deficit commission have just provided the president with yet again the talking point which he could use against the Republicans who are now clamoring for tax cuts for the rich. They say we will need to eliminate the alternative minimum tax, raise the retirement age for collecting social security, and cut medicare in order to cut the deficit and preserve the entitlement programs.

The president should ask the Republicans where they will find the money to offset their tax cuts for millionaires, while preserving the entitlement programs, create jobs, cut the deficit, make no cuts in defense programs, and fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A president who can force the Republicans to do the math (and as a result gets the American people to do the math) is a president who can get the tax cuts he wants.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

One Encouraging Thing From Last Night

For those of us who really want to see the president succeed and, even more importantly, help get us out of the recession last night wasn't one of our best nights. We'll see more gridlock and more political posturing now that the presidential campaign begins in earnest.

There is, however one bright spot. Those candidates who ousted the Democratic incumbents in the senate, whatever we make of their political views, are exceptionally bright individuals who are qualified to hold the office they were elected to. Senator-elect Rand Paul may be a libertarian reactionary who embraced the Tea Party, but he is a bright, well-informed American who graduated from a distinguished university. Marco Rubio, too can be thought of as a rising star because he took on a popular governor and presented an intellectually coherent argument for his election. Senators-elect Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Pat Toomey (R-PA)are or were congressmen who crafted and voted on bills that are now or could become law in the very near future.

I was very concerned with former Governor Sarah Palin's (R-Alaska) performance as Senator John McCain's running mate. Her abysmal performance during a Katie Couric interview led me to question her credentials for the office she was seeking. I could not believe that Senator John McCain, who is by anybody's definition a senior citizen, could tell us he believed someone as uninformed and as ill-prepared as Sarah Palin deserved to be one heart beat away from the presidency.

We faced the prospect of seeing voters send at minimum one (and potentially three ill-informed and unprepared candidates, two Republicans and one Democrat, to Washington. No one expected the Democrat, Alvin Green, to win but he could have if the voters wanted to vote the Republican incumbent, Senator Jim DeMint, out of office. The know-nothings running on the Republican ticket, Sharon Angle and Christine O'Donnell had a better shot at winning their senate races but the voters those states rejected their under-qualified Republicans and voted for the Democrats.

So, in the spirit of the holiday that is coming up two weeks from now let us give thanks to the voters in Delaware, Nevada, and South Carolina for sparing us from the spectacle of watching these three idiots talking about their votes in Congress.