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Posts Tagged ‘BARACK OBAMA’

FORTUNE’S FOOL: OBAMA AND THE MID-TERMS: PART TWO (END)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on November 12, 2014 at 12:21 am

Barack Obama has proven extremely lucky in his past political competition.

In his 2004 race for United States Senator from Illinois, a scandal forced his chief opponent. Jack Ryan,  to withdraw from the race.

In his 2008 race for President, his opponent, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain, chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.  Her laughable ignorance persuaded millions of voters they didn’t want her “a heartbeat away” from the Presidency.

Four years later, on August 11, 2012, Mitt Romney, the expected Republican nominee for President, gave Obama another unexpected gift: He chose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee.

Paul Ryan

In 2011, as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan released “The Path to Prosperity,” a 2012 budget resolution that he claimed would end “uncontrolled  government spending” and “crushing levels of taxes.”

According to economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich:

“More than any other politician today, Paul Ryan exemplifies the social Darwinism at the core of today’s Republican Party: Reward the rich, penalize the poor, let everyone else fend for themselves. Dog eat dog.”

On March 12, 2012, details of Ryan’s 2013 House Budget Committee proposal were released.  Among these:

  • Repeal the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010.
  • Turn Medicare into a private health insurance system.
  • Slash funding for Medicaid, which ensures medical care for the poor, forcing states to drop coverage for 14 to 28 million low-income people, according to the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • Reduce food stamps for poor families by 17%–$135 billion–over the decade, leading to a significant increase in hunger, especially among children.

In addition, his “H.R. 212: Sanctity of Human Life Act” would give fetuses full personhood rights from the moment of fertilization.

This would:

  • Outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest; and
  • Ban certain methods of birth control, such as IUDs and spermicides.

Unsurprisingly, Obama found it easy to turn Ryan’s Right-wing extremism against him–and Romney.

Fast forward to 2904–and the mid-term Congressional elections.

The 2010 mid-terms had given control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans.  For Obama and Democrats generally, it was vitally important that their party retain control of the Senate.

But throughout 2014, a series of unexpected problems arose to plague the Obama administration.

Among these:

  • Tens of thousands of women and children flooded into the United States from Central America.  Many of the children came unaccompanied by their parents.
  • The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started blitzing Iraq, routing the American-trained Iraqi army.
  • The Secret Service allowed a White House fence jumper to penetrate the East Room through an unlocked door.  Luckily, Obama and his family had just left for Camp David.
  • Unknown to the Secret Service, an armed–and several times arrested–security guard rode in the same elevator as President Barack Obama.
  • An Ebola-infected man flew from Liberia to Dallas to visit family.  Admitted to a hospital, he died on October 8–after infecting two nurses, making them the first American victims of this deadly disease.

None of these actions was Obama’s fault:

  • The flood of illegal alien children resulted from a change in legislation during the Presidency of George W. Bush.
  • ISIS would have tried to establish an Islamic empire no matter who was President.
  • The series of foul-ups at the Secret Service were a product of longstanding neglect within the agency.
  • The series of foul-ups at the Dallas hospital were entirely a local matter, beyond the control of the White House.

Still, taken together, they convinced millions of Americans that the Federal Government was too inept or corrupt to efficiently address domestic and foreign crises.

Fortune had turned for–and on–Obama.

As Niccolo Machiavelli explained in The Prince:

If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful.  But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of his procedure.

No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him.  Or else because having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it.

And therefore the cautious man, when it is time to act suddenly, does not know how to do so and is consequently ruined.  

Another reason for Obama’s change in fortune: Given to making inspiring speeches, he has proven consistently timid in advancing his agenda.

As Machiavelli puts it:

I certainly think that it is better to be impetuous than cautious.  For fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force. 

And it can be seen that she lets herself be overcome by the bold, rather than by those who proceed coldly.  And therefore, like a woman, she is always a friend to the young, who are less cautious, fiercer, and master her with greater audacity.

With little more than two years left in office, Obama must act decisively–and ruthlessly–if he is to secure a legacy beyond being America’s first black President.

Whether he can bring himself to do so is entirely another matter.

FORTUNE’S FOOL: OBAMA AND THE MID-TERMS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on November 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm

For most Americans, history is a collection of names, dates and places they were forced to memorize in high school.  Then, after passing their history test, they quickly forget everything they had supposedly learned.

But for those who care to understand the world they live in, history serves as an invaluable road map.

It won’t tell you precisely where you are going.  But it will tell you where others have gone, and which routes have proven the most effective–or the most ruinous.

This was the view of Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science.  And, luckily for those generations who came after him, he left a detailed and insightful record of what he had learned from his own study of history.

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Niccolo Machiavelli

A major theme running through Machiavelli’s works–most notably The Prince and The Discourses–is the role that Fortune plays in the lives of men.

In Chapter 25 of The Prince he offers the following description of its fickleness:

I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the other half or thereabouts to be governed by us

I would compare her to an impetuous river that, when turbulent, inundates the plains, casts down trees and buildings, removes earth from this side and places it on the other; every one flees before it, and everything yields to its fury without being able to oppose it. 

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Still, when it is quiet, men can make provisions against it by dykes and banks, so that when it follows it will either go into a canal or its rush will not be so wild and dangerous. 

So it is with fortune, which shows her power where no measures have been taken to resist her, and directs her fury where she knows that no dykes or barriers have been made to hold her.

Like Machiavelli, President Barack Obama also understands the importance of luck.  He, more than most politicians, has been extremely lucky in his competition.

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Barack Obama

Consider his 2004 race for United States Senator from Illinois.

In the general election, Obama faced Republican Jack Ryan.  Ryan seemed a true Golden Boy:  He was handsome,  popular and a  wealthy former Goldman-Sachs partner.

Jack Ryan

And although he was now divorced, he had been married–from 1991 to 1999–to Jeri Ryan.  The actress who was/is best-known for her role as the catsuited Borg “Seven-of-Nine” in “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Jeri Ryan as “Seven-of-Nine”

Obama’s candidacy looked doomed.  And then the unexpected happened.

The Chicago Tribune and WLS-TV, the local ABC affiliate, filed suit to have the Ryans’ divorce and child custody records released.  And they were.

In the custody files, his then-wife, Jeri, charged that Jack had pressured her to perform sexual acts with him at swinger’s clubs in New York, New Orleans, and Paris while other patrons watched.

Jeri described one as “a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling.”  And she had steadfastly refused to let Jack assimilate her in so public a setting.

Jack confirmed the trips with the actress but described them simply as “romantic getaways,” denying her claims that he sought public sex.

Ryan had been running against Obama as a clean-cut, “family values” candidate.  Suddenly, he found that image fatally tainted.

Days after the release, Ryan withdrew from the race.  As his replacement, the Republicans chose Alan Keyes, a black right-winger whom even George W. Bush found to be “a piece of work.”

Obama easily won election with 73% of the votes.

In 2008, Obama ran for President.

For starters, the incumbent holder of the White House–George W. Bush–was by then the most unpopular President since Harry S. Truman in 1953.

For those who wanted a complete change from the Bush legacy, Obama–black, young, highly educated, articulate–offered the embodiment of freshness.

His nominated opponent was Arizona’s Republican United States Senator John McCain. And, once again, Obama got electoral help from the Republican party.

McCain chose Sarah Palin, a two-year Governor of Alaska who roused the GOP’s Right-wing base–but outraged liberals and moderates.  Even worse for McCain, Palin’s moronic statements quickly became a target for parody–especially that of “Saturday Night Live” comic Tina Fey.

Obama won the election with 53% of the vote, amassing 365 electoral votes to McCain’s 173.

And then, on August 11, 2012,  Mitt Romney, the all-but-anointed Republican nominee for President, gave Obama another Ryan to run against: Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Elected at 28 to Congress in 1998, over the next 12 years he built a reputation as a firm social and budgetary conservative.

And so Romney–thoroughly distrusted by the Rightists in the Republican party–picked Ryan to be his Vice Presidential running mate.

It would prove to be a fateful–and fatal–choice.

 

THE COMING IMPEACHMENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on November 11, 2014 at 12:48 am

Some Republicans–like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah–want their new majorities in the House and Senate to make “producing legislation” a top priority.

But others will soon make the impeachment of President Barack Obama their top priority.

Here’s how it will happen.

“We now have the votes and we have the ability to call the agenda, so stop name-calling and let’s actually produce some legislation that helps jobs and the economy and moves our country forward,” Chaffetz said in an interview after Republicans captured the U.S. Senate on November 4.

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Rep. Jason Chaffetz

“I think the country has figured that out, and they’ve given us the mandate to do it, and we better produce, or they’ll kick us out too.”

Obama has vowed to act unilaterally before year’s end to reduce the number of deportations and grant work permits to millions of illegal aliens living in the United States.

After promising to take executive action on immigration by the end of the summer, Obama delayed his plans until after the elections.  Democrats–especially Senators from conservative states–had warned him that such administrative moves could threaten their reelection.

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Illegal aliens crossing American borders by the millions

But on November 4, most of those Democrats lost anyway, leaving immigration advocates–and their millions of illegal alien constituents–feeling that the delay was needless.

“What I’m not going to do is just wait,” the president said as immigration legislation that the Senate passed in June 2013 remained stalled in the House.

Kentucky’s U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell–who will become Senate Majority Leader in January–has warned that this would be an in-your-face affront to the new majority GOP:

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Mitch McConnell

“I think the president choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration would be a big mistake,” McConnell said. “It’s an issue that most of my members want to address legislatively and it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own.’ …

“I hope he won’t do that because I do think it poisons the well for the opportunity to address a very important domestic issue.”

To which Obama responded: “I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take.

“Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill.”

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Barack Obama

Republicans could use spending bills to restrict or stop such executive action, by cutting appropriations to those agencies that would be tasked with carrying out Obama’s directives on immigration.

Several Republicans hold the deep-seated view that Obama already has been abusing his constitutional authority.

“Abuse of power” is an impeachable offense under the United States Constitution.  So making this assertion would provide Republicans with the weapon they’ve long sought to drive Obama from the White House.

Republicans, in fact, have a tainted history of using impeachment to remove a President who dared to thwart their agenda.

After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, Republican President Andrew Johnson tried to carry out Lincoln’s humane policies to reunify the nation after the Civil War.

He issued a series of proclamations directing the former Confederate states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. In response, Southern states returned many of their old leaders, and passed Black Codes to deprive freed slaves of many civil liberties.

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Andrew Johnson

Congress refused to seat legislators from those states and advanced legislation to overrule the Southern actions.  Johnson vetoed their bills, and Congress overrode him, setting a pattern until he left the White House in 1869.

As the conflict grew between the executive and legislative branches of government, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson in firing Cabinet officials.  Johnson then tried to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton–with whom he had an antagonistic relationship.

An enraged Congress impeached Johnson in the House of Representatives.  He avoided conviction and removal from office in the Senate–by one vote.

If President Obama tries to end-run Congress on immigration policy, history will likely repeat itself with another round of impeachment hearings.

It was Mitch McConnell who infamously vowed–immediately after Obama’s election in 2008–to make him “a one-term President.”

Moreover, there is actually no reason for Obama to risk his Presidency by granting the privileges of American citizenship to millions of illegal aliens.

Democrats–and especially Obama–had counted on millions of illegal aliens to retain Democratic control of the Senate.  But those masses of Hispanic voters never showed up at the polls, thus giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress.

If Obama practiced ruthless “Chicago politics” as charged by his enemies, his response would be: “You [illegal aliens] didn’t live up to your end.  Therefore, I have no further responsibility to you.”

Unfortunately for the President, he seems unable to break with his past of backing unpopular causes for little in return.

 

TWO LIVES, TWO LEGACIES

In History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 28, 2014 at 1:04 am

Benjamin C. Bradlee and Richard M. Nixon.

Both men were driven to succeed.  And both achieved fame and power in doing so.

Bradlee made his name in journalism.

Benjamin C. Bradlee

Nixon made his in politics.

Richard M. Nixon

Both served in the United States Navy in the Pacific during World War II.

Both had strong connections to John F. Kennedy.

  • Bradlee knew him as a friend and reporter during JFK’s years as a Senator and President.
  • Nixon–as a Senator and later Vice President–knew Kennedy as a Senatorial colleague and as a political adversary, unsuccessfully contesting him for the Presidency in 1960.

For both, 1948 was a pivotal year.

  • Bradlee joined The Washington Post as a reporter.
  • Nixon, as a U.S. Representative, accused Algier Hiss, a former State Department official, of having been a Communist spy.  Hiss was eventually convicted of perjury and sent to prison.

Both attained their positions of maximum power in 1968.

  • Bradlee became executive editor of The Washington Post.
  • Nixon became the 37th President of the United States.

Bradlee made it his business to dig up the truth.  Nixon made it his business to distort the truth–or to conceal it when distortion wasn’t enough.

Nixon and Bradlee had their first major clash in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers, a secret government study of how the United States became enmeshed in the Vietnam war.

  • Although the Papers concerned events that had occurred during the Presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Nixon was outraged at their release by a former Defense Department analyst named Daniel Ellsburg.
  • Nixon ordered his Attorney General, John Mitchell, to enjoin The New York Times–which had begun publishing the study–from continuing to publish its revelations.
  • Bradlee, as executive editor of The Washington Post, urged his publisher, Katherine Graham, to take over where the Times had left off.
  • The controversey ended when the Supreme Court ruled, 6–3, that the government failed to meet the burden of proof required for prior restraint of the press.

In 1972, Bradlee and Nixon squared off for their most important battle–a “third-rate burglary” of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Benjamin C. Bradlee

  • Bradlee backed two young, aggressive reporters named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, as they probed the burglary.
  • This led to their discovering a series of illegal dirty tricks the Nixon re-election campaign had aimed at various Democratic opponents.
  • The Post’s revelations led to the formation of the Senate Watergate Committee, the discovery of Nixon’s tape-recordings of his private–and criminal–conversations, and, finally, to Nixon’s own resignation in disgrace on August 9, 1974.
  • Bradlee was one of only four men who knew the identity of “Deep Throat,” Woodward and Bernstein’s famous undercover source, then-FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt.  Felt outed himself in 2005.
  • Nixon, who died in 1994, never learned the identity of the most famous whistleblower in history.

Bradlee became an advocate for education and the study of history.

Nixon entered history as the only American President forced to resign from office.

 Richard Nixon saying farewell at the White House

Bradlee became a media celebrity.  Nixon became a media target.

  • Bradlee was portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor Jason Robarbs in the hit 1976 film, All the President’s Men.
  • Nixon was portrayed–in Oliver Stone’s 1995 drama, Nixon–by Anthony Hopkins.

Bradlee and Nixon each published a series of books.

  • Bradlee’s: That Special Grace and Conversations With Kennedy focused on his longtime friendship with John F. Kennedy.  A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures was Bradlee’s memoirs.
  • Nixon’s:  Among his 11 titles: Six Crises; RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon; The Real War; Leaders; Real Peace; No More Vietnams; Beyond Peace.

After leaving the White House, Nixon worked hard behind-the-scenes to refashion himself into an elder statesman of the Republican Party.

  • Throughout the 1980s, he traveled the lecture circuit, wrote books, and met with many foreign leaders, especially those of Third World countries.
  • He supported Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, making television appearances portraying himself as the senior statesman above the fray. 
  • For the rest of his life, he fought ferociously through the courts to prevent the release of most of the infamous “Watergate tapes” that chronicled his crimes as President.
  • Only since his death have many of these been made public.

Nixon died on April 22, 1994.

  • Eulogists at his funeral included President Bill Clinton and former Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, California Governor Pete Wilson and the Reverend Billy Graham.
  • Despite his efforts to portray himself as an elder statesman, Nixon could never erase his infamy as the only President to resign in disgrace.
  • To this day, he remains a nonperson within the Republican Party.  While numerous Republican Presidential candidates quote and identify themselves with Ronald Reagan, none has done the same with Nixon.

Bradlee remained executive editor of The Washington Post until retiring in 1991.  But he continued to serve as vice president-at-large until his death on October 21, 2014.

  • In 2007, he received the French Legion of Honor, the highest award given by the French government, at a ceremony in Paris.
  • In 2013, he was named as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.  He was presented the medal at a White House ceremony on November 20, 2013.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 24, 2014 at 12:06 am

President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised and spent millions of dollars for campaign ads. They logged thousands of miles, crisscrossing the nation, speaking to millions of Americans.

And yet, when the 2012 Presidential race finally ended on November 6, 2012, history recorded the contest was settled with a single video.

It was the infamous “47%” video of Romney speaking–for once, truthfully–at a private fundraiser:

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him.

“Who are dependent upon government. Who believe that–that they are victims. Who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them.

“Who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that’s–it’s an entitlement.

“…These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich.”

A great deal of speculation has centered on: Who filmed it?

And in April, 2013, history repeated itself–with another Republican caught telling the ugly truth behind closed doors.

In this case, it was Kentucky United States Senator Mitch McConnell.  A microphone (probably stationed outside his Senate office) caught him discussing how to attack Ashley Judd’s mental health if the actress decided to challenge him in 2014.

“She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced,” a McConnell aide said. “I mean, it’s been documented….She’s suffered some suicidal tendencies.  She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the 90s.”

“I assume most of you have played the game Whac-A-Mole,” said McConnell.  “This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.”

McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, refused to answer reporters’ questions about whether an opponent’s mental health or religious beliefs are fair game in a political campaign.

Instead, he accused “the political left” of mounting “quite a Nixonian move.”  An ironic charge, considering that Nixon and McConnell rose to power within the same political party.

As in the case of the Mitt Romney videotape, the focus of the press quickly turned to: Who recorded it?

But this totally missed the point.

It doesn’t matter who provides vital information. What does matter is: Is that information accurate?

In Romney’s case, it opened a window into a world seldom-seen by voters: The world of big-league donors and their money-grubbing political solicitors.

In McConnell’s case, it cast light on the how entrenched politicians ruthlessly defend their turf.

It should be clear that money-grubbing politicians have two versions of campaign speaking: One for donors whose money they seek, and another for the public whose votes they seek.

Rich and greed-obsessed donors (unlike poor and ignorant voters) are too smart to be fobbed off with appeals to their fears and prejudices. They expect a tangible return for their support–namely:

  • Lower (preferably no) taxes
  • Freedom to pollute
  • Freedom to pay their employees the lowest possible wages
  • Freedom to treat their employees like serfs
  • Freedom to churn out shoddy or even dangerous goods

So what a candidate says in private, to his wealthy donors–or his campaign strategists–reflects what he really means and intends to do.

A similar frenzy of speculation centered on the identity of “Deep Throat”–the legendary source for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal. For decades, this proved a favorite guessing game for Washington reporters, politicians and government officials.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein working on Watergate

In the end, “Deep Throat” turned out to be W. Mark Felt, assistant director of the FBI.

Commentators have endlessly debated his motives for leaking crucial Watergate evidence that ultimately ended the corrupt Presidency of Richard Nixon.

And, in the end, despite all the theories, it didn’t matter.

Felt provided Washington Woodward with the evidence necessary to keep the Watergate investigations going–by both the Post and the FBI.

W. Mark Felt

Thus, the question making the rounds about the McConnell discussion shouldn’t have been: Who taped it?

It should have been: How can more private fundraisers and political strategy sessions be penetrated and recorded–so voters can learn the truth about those who would become our elected rulers?

Definitely, those who specialize in “opposition research” should be thinking hard about this.

Private investigators–who regularly unearth secrets others want to keep secret–might also take an interest in this line of work.

And news organizations should offer financial rewards to those who provide such secret information.

With the advent of billionaires trying to buy the Presidency, and the unwillingness of Congress and the Supreme Court to stop the flow of unsavory money into politics, this may be our only chance to preserve what is left of the Republic.

Anyone who’s ever turned on a light to find roaches scurrying quickly over a kitchen floor knows the truth of this.

Turn on the lights–and watch the roaches scurry away.

HITLER, THE GOP AND “SCORCHED EARTH”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 15, 2014 at 12:00 am

During the summer of 2011, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

If Congress failed to raise the borrowing limit of the federal government by August 2, the date when the U.S. reached the limit of its borrowing abilities, America would begin defaulting on its loans.

As Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, explained the looming economic catastrophe:

“If you don’t send out Social Security checks, I would hate to think about the credit meeting at S&P and Moody’s the next morning.

“If you’re not paying millions and millions and millions of people that range in age from 65 on up, money you promised them, you’re not a AAA,” said Buffett.

Warren Buffett

A triple-A credit rating is the highest possible rating that can be achieved.

And while Republicans demanded that the disadvantaged tighten their belts, they rejected any raising of taxes on their foremost constituency–the wealthiest 1%.

As the calendar moved ever closer to the fateful date of August 2, Republican leaders continued to insist: Any deal that includes taxes “can’t pass the House.”

In the end, what counted was what the House Republicans wanted.

To prevent the government from defaulting on its loans, President Barack Obama agreed to sign the Republican-crafted Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011.

The Act provided for a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to produce legislation by late November to decrease the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years.

When the so-called “Super Committee” failed to reach agreement, the second part of the BCA went into effect.

This directed automatic across-the-board cuts (known as “sequestrations”) split evenly between defense and domestic spending, beginning on January 2, 2013.

A major casualty of sequestration has been the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  And this, combined with the Ebola crisis, has threatened the safety of the Nation Republicans claim to love:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • In 2013, the CDC was forced to cut 5%, or more than $285 million, from its budget.
  • The sequester cut $195 million from the National Centers for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, a CDC program that tries to prevent illness and death from infectious disease.
  • For fiscal 2014, CDC’s budget was $5.9 billion, down from the $6.5 billion allotted in 2010.

Moreover, the United States is now confronting the Ebola crisis without a Surgeon General–thanks to NRA-funded Republican Senators.

President Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy to fill the spot in November, 2013, when the previous surgeon general left the position.

But the Senate still hasn’t approved Murthy. And support for him has declined since he tweeted on October 16, 2002, that “guns are a health care issue.”

At the same time, Republicans have rushed to blame President Obama for the continuing Ebola menace in West Africa–and the danger it poses to Americans.

“I think this Ebola outbreak in Africa is a serious problem,” said House Speaker John Boehner.  “And I’m a bit surprised the administration hasn’t acted more quickly to address what is a serious threat, not only to Africans but to others around the world.”

“The President made a lot of commitments to combat Ebola, actions which I supported,” said North Carolina U.S. Senator Richard Burr. “But it has become clear that the administration’s capacity to fulfill these promises in a timeline that sufficiently addresses this crisis does not exist.”

* * * * *

As the Third Reich came to its fiery end, Adolf Hitler sought to punish the German people for being “unworthy” of his “genius” and losing the war he had started.

His attitude was: “If I can’t rule Germany, then there won’t be a Germany.”

In his infamous “Nero Order,” he decreed the destruction of everything still remaining–industries, ships, harbors, communications, roads, mines, bridges, stores, utility plants, food stuffs.

Fortunately for Germany, one man–Albert Speer–finally broke ranks with his Fuhrer.

Albert Speer

Risking death, he refused to carry out Hitler’s “scorched earth” order.  Even more important, he mounted a successful effort to block such destruction or persuade influential military and civilian leaders to disobey the order as well.

As a result, those targets slated for destruction were spared.

Since the election of America’s first black President, Republicans have waged a similar “scorched earth” campaign. 

Their avowed goal–as stated openly by Kentucky’s U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell–was “to make Barack Obama a one-term President.”  

Literally during his first Inauguration, Republicans, in a secret meeting, agreed to block every effort he made to repair the economy.

Acting as extortionists, they have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they didn’t get their way in legislative matters.

And just as repeatedly, they have blocked legislation that would have helped the poor, unemployed, women, elderly, disabled or middle-class. 

At the center of their fury has been the Affordable Care Act, providing medical care to all citizens. Even after Congress passed it and the Supreme Court affirmed it, House Republicans shut down the government in October, 2013. 

By doing so, they hoped to pressure Obama into killing his signature piece of legislation. The effort failed.

Like Adolf Hitler, their attitude has been: “If I can’t rule America, there won’t be an America.”

It remains to be seen whether a Republican Albert Speer will step forward to save America from the self-destructive excesses of this Nation’s own fanatics.

HITLER, THE GOP AND “SCORCHED EARTH”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 14, 2014 at 12:10 am

Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments for the Third Reich, was appalled.

His Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler–the man he had idolized for 14 years–had just passed a death sentence on Germany, the nation he claimed to love above all others.

Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler pouring over architectural plans

On March 19, 1945, facing certain defeat, Hitler had ordered a massive “scorched-earth” campaign throughout Germany.

All German agriculture, industry, ships, communications, roads, food stuffs, mines, bridges, stores and utility plants were to be destroyed.

If implemented, it would deprive the entire German population of even the barest necessities after the war.

Click here: Hitler’s “Scorched Earth” Decree and Albert Speer’s Response

Now living in a bunker 50 feet below bomb-shattered Berlin, Hitler gave full vent to his most destructive impulses.

Adolf Hitler addressing boy soldiers as the Third Reich crumbles

“If the war is lost,” Hitler told Speer, “the nation will also perish. This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis which the people will need to continue even a most primitive existence.

“On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves, because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation.

“Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have all been killed.”

Speer argued in vain that there must be a future for the German people.  But Hitler refused to back down. He gave Speer 24 hours to reconsider his opposition to the order.

The next day, Speer told Hitler: “My Fuhrer, I stand unconditionally behind you!”

“Then all is well,” said Hitler, suddenly with tears in his eyes.

“If I stand unreservedly behind you,” said Speer, “then you must entrust me rather than the Gauleiters [district Party leaders serving as provincial governors] with the implementation of your decree.”

Filled with gratitude, Hitler signed the decree Speer had thoughtfully prepared before their fateful meeting.

By doing so, Hitler unintentionally gave Speer the power to thwart his “scorched earth” decree.

Speer had been the closest thing to a friend in Hitler’s life.  Trained as an architect, he had joined the Nazi Party in 1931.

He met Hitler in 1933, when he presented the Fuhrer with architectural designs for the Nuremberg Rally scheduled for that year.

From then on, Speer became Hitler’s “genius architect” assigned to create buildings meant to last for a thousand years.

In 1943, Hitler appointed him Minister of Armaments, charged with revitalizing the German war effort.

Nevertheless, Speer now crisscrossed Germany, persuading military leaders and district governors to not destroy the vital facilities that wound be needed after the war.

“No other senior National Socialist could have done the job,” writes Randall Hanson, author of Disobeying Hitler: German Resistance After Valkyrie.

“Speer was one of the very few people in the Reich–perhaps even the only one–with such power to influence actors willingness/unwillingness to destroy.”

Despite his later conviction for war crimes at Nuremberg, Speer never regretted his efforts to save Germany from total destruction at the hands of Adolf Hitler.

Fast-forward to the United States since the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

Republicans have adopted the same my-way-or-else “negotiating” stance as Adolf Hitler.  Like him, they are determined to gain absolute power–or destroy the Nation they claim to love.

Ronald Reagan presided over a tripling of the national debt–and raised the debt limit 17 times–during his eight years in the White House.

President George W. Bush nearly doubled it again.

But that didn’t become an issue for Republicans–so long as one of them held the White House.

Republicans in Congress raised the debt ceiling seven times during the George W. Bush Presidency–when the national debt grew to $10.627 trillion due to tax cuts and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Only when a Democrat–and a black one at that–became President did Congressional Republicans consider this a danger.

Suddenly, “fiscal integrity” became the byword of Republicans.  And in its name, they repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if their legislative demands weren’t met.

In April, 2011, the United States government almost shut down over Republican demands about subsidized pap smears.

During a late-night White House meeting with President Barack Obama and key Congressional leaders, Republican House Speaker John Boehner made this threat:

His conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through Title X legislation.

John Boehner

Facing an April 8 deadline, negotiators worked day and night to strike a compromise–and finally reached one.

Three months later–on July 9–Republican extortionists again threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their demands were met.

By refusing to raise the debt ceiling, they would force the government to default on paying the bills it owed.

President Obama had offered to make historic cuts in the federal government and the social safety net–on which millions of Americans depend for their most basic needs.

But Boehner rejected that offer. He would not agree to the tax increases that Democrats wanted to impose on the wealthiest 1% as part of the bargain.

LIKE AIDS, LIKE EBOLA: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 7, 2014 at 12:25 am

On October 3, a series of high-ranking officials briefed reporters at the White House on the emerging Ebola threat.

Presiding over the briefing was Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security.

The assembled dignitaries repeatedly assured their audience–reporters from the national media and those tuning in around the country–that there was nothing to worry about.

Lisa Monaco speaking at White House press conference on Ebola

As explained by Monaco:

“I want to emphasize that the United States is prepared to deal with this crisis both at home and in the region. Every Ebola outbreak over the past 40 years has been stopped.

“We know how to do this and we will do it again. With America’s leadership, I am confident, and President Obama is confident, that this epidemic will also be stopped.”

A little more than 30 years ago, America was facing another deadly epidemic–that of AIDS.

Officials at all levels of government–local, state and Federal–also repeatedly assured their fellow citizens they had nothing to worry about.

Everyone knew, after all, that only homosexuals having “unprotected sex” got AIDS.

So the warning went out: If you aren’t gay, you have nothing to worry about.

But then another group of AIDS-infected patients appeared: intravenous drug users.

So the message was revised: If you’re not gay, and you don’t use IV drugs, you’re OK.

Then a third group of at-risk people began showing up in doctors’ offices: Haitians.

So, once again, the warning was revised: If you aren’t gay, don’t use IV drugs, and you’re not from Haiti, you’ll be safe.

But then a fourth group of endangered citizens emerged: hemophiliacs.

So the warning was reissued as: If you’re not gay, don’t use IV drugs, aren’t Haitian and aren’t a hemophiliac needing blood transfusions, AIDS can’t touch you.

And then a fifth category of victims emerged: heterosexual women.

And, yet again, the warning was changed: If you’re not gay, don’t use IV drugs, aren’t Haitian, aren’t a hemophilic and aren’t a heterosexual woman….

The numbers of potential AIDS victims kept expanding–and giving the lie to all the comforting boilerplate churned out by PR machines.

Apparently, someone at the White House press conference on Ebola remembered that earlier scenario.

Because, to the obvious surprise of the assembled dignitaries, an anonymous reporter stated what was clearly on the minds of his viewing/listening audience:

“So help me understand–the stuff that you’ve talked about in terms of preparedness here in this country, the conversations with hospitals, the coordination with the local authorities and all seems very dissonant.

“I think to people in the country who look at basically the first case, or one of the first cases, and see that the whole thing broke down.

“At every step of the way there were breakdowns. It broke down, as the person back there was saying, when he [Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who flew to Dallas from Liberia] lied on the form.

“It broke down when the hospital turned him away. It broke down when the materials that were in his apartment haven’t been thrown away.

“I mean, it feels like, to Americans, like you guys are up here talking about we have this great and perfect system that’s going to be able to contain this virus because we’ve done all this preparation, and yet it doesn’t look like it’s working.

“And so how should the regular or the average person have confidence that whether it’s the case in Howard or whether it’s some case somewhere else in the country at the moment, that somebody isn’t being turned away there?

“That somebody didn’t get–their temperature got taken in Africa but didn’t get caught, and so they’re on a plane as we speak?  Square the dissonance between your confidence and the fact that things don’t seem to be working.”

It was the journalistic version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: The little boy’s pointing out that the emperor–for all the subservient flattery of his aides–didn’t have any clothes on.

Lisa Monaco fell back on boilerplate: “I think the American people should be confident for all the reasons that we have stated and the President has spoken to….”

She admitted that, yes, all the screw-ups the reporter had outlined had in fact happened: “And we have now seen one [Ebola] case, and as Dr. Fauci mentioned, it is entirely possible we will see another case.”

But she refused to admit that preventing other Ebola-infected Liberians from entering the United States was a commonsense approach.

She repeated what she had said earlier: “We have a public health infrastructure and medical professionals throughout this country who are capable of dealing with cases if they present themselves….”

In short, the United States can afford to be a dumping-ground for other countries’ deadly cast-offs.

And, somehow, everything would of course turn out all right.

LIKE AIDS, LIKE EBOLA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 6, 2014 at 12:11 am

Ebola.  Another way of saying: “African nightmare.”

Its signs and symptoms typically begin abruptly within five to 10 days of infection. These include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Severe headache
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Weakness

Over time, symptoms become increasingly severe and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Hiccups
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Red eyes
  • Raised rash
  • Chest pain and cough
  • Stomach pain
  • Severe weight loss
  • Bleeding, usually from the eyes, and bruising (people near death may bleed from other orifices, such as ears, nose and rectum)
  • Internal bleeding

Ebola virus

The average time between contracting Ebola and the onset of symptoms is eight to 10 days, but this can vary between two and 21 days.

Its early symptoms may be similar to–and mistaken for–those of malaria, dengue fever or other tropical fevers.  When the disease reaches the bleeding phase, there can be no doubt.

Ebola-infected hand

Infection can occur through contact with

  • blood
  • sweat
  • saliva
  • mucus
  • vomit
  • feces
  • tears
  • breast milk
  • semen
  • urine

of an infected person or animal.

Fruit bats are believed to be carriers and may spread the virus without being affected.

Even surviving Ebola infection doesn’t guarantee future safety: Male survivors may be able to transmit it through semen for almost two months.

Doctors believe it can’t–as yet–be transmitted through the air, like measles or chickenpox.

Government officials–such as Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–are quick to point out that “direct contact” must occur to cause infection.

“Direct contact” means fluids that spray or splash into your eyes, nose or mouth–as when someone sneezes or coughs on you–or enter the bloodstream through breaks or cuts in skin.

You can also become infected by touching someone’s infected fluids and then touching your eyes or mouth.

Until September, Ebola was a nightmare that plagued only Africa–especially Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

As of October 3, Ebola has killed 3,400 people in West Africa.

Then on September 21, Thomas Eric Duncan flew from Liberia to Dallas, Texas.  On September 25 he sought medical care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

He was diagnosed as having a “low grade fever and abdominal pain.”  He underwent basic blood tests but wasn’t screened for Ebola. Duncan left the medical facility after being given antibiotics and a pain reliever.

Duncan lived in a Dallas apartment with his family when he got sick.  On October 3, that apartment was finally decontaminated by a hazardous-materials crew.

Duncan’s relatives were moved out to a private residence in a gated community that was offered by a volunteer.

Health officials are monitoring about 50 people who may have had contact with Duncan, including nine who are believed to be at a higher risk. Thus far none have shown symptoms. 

Meanwhile, an American freelance cameraman working for NBC in Liberia has tested positive for Ebola and will be flown back to the United States, along with the rest of the news crew.

So how is the Federal Government coping with this unprecedented crisis?

With a massive PR offensive, orchestrated at the highest level–the White House.

On October 3, reporters for national news media were briefed at the White House by no less a series of high-ranking officials than:

  • Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security;
  • Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services;
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases;
  • Raj Shah, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development; and
  • General David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Forces Africa Command.

“We are not facing just a health crisis, we are facing a national security priority,” said Monaco.  And she added:

“The strategy the United States is executing has four key goals:

  • To control the epidemic at its source in West Africa;
  • To mitigate the second-order impacts of this epidemic;
  • To lead a coordinated international response;
  • And to build a robust global health security infrastructure so we are prepared over the long run to confront epidemics such as the one we’re facing today.”

But controlling “the epidemic at its source in West Africa” doesn’t mean the government will ban all flights from Ebola-ravaged Liberia.

Said Monaco: “Right now we believe those types of steps actually impede the response. They…. slow down the ability of the United States and other international partners to actually get expertise and capabilities and equipment into the affected areas.”

Monaco did not explain why preventing travelers from an infected region from entering the United States would impede the United States from shipping “capabilities and equipment into the affected areas.

But it’s easy to see how such a ban of black Africans would be seen–and attacked–as Politically Incorrect.  Especially if it were ordered by the first black President of the United States.

The assembled dignitaries repeatedly emphasized that , as Monaco put it:

“It’s very important to remind the American people that the United States has the most capable health care infrastructure and the best doctors in the world, bar none. And it’s why people travel from all over the world to receive medical care here in the United States.”

That, at least, is the official side of the story.  In the next column, we’ll explore the real side of it.

REPUBLICANS: KILLING IS GOOD, FOOD STAMPS ARE BAD

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm

In the 1970 film, Patton, General George S. Patton is a man driven by his obsession to be the best field commander in the war–and to be recognized for it.

George C. Scott as George S. Patton

And he sees British General Bernard Montgomery–his equally egotistical rival–as a potential obstacle to that latter ambition.

So, in Algeria, he conjures up a plan that will sideline “Monty” while he, Patton, defeats the Germans–and bags the glory.

The trick lies in throwing a sumptuous dinner-–in the middle of the African desert-–for a visiting British general: Harold Alexander.

As Patton (George C. Scott, in an Oscar-winning performance) tells his aide: “I want to give a dinner for General Alexander. I want to get to him before Montgomery does.  I want the finest food and the best wine available. Everything.”

The aide pulls off the dinner–where, indeed, “the finest food and the best wine” are on full display, along with attentive waiters and a candelabra.

So think about it:

  • In the middle of the desert
  • while American and British forces are forced to subsist on C-rations
  • and are under repeated air attack by the Luftwaffe
  • and tank attack by the Afrika Korps

a handful of ultra-pampered American and British military officers find the time–and luxuries–to throw themselves a fine party.

Now, fast-forward from Algeria in 1943 to Washington, D.C., in 2013.

Returning to Congress after their traditional summer recess, House Republicans planned to cut $40 billion in food stamps for the poor.  That’s double the amount previously sought by Right-wingers.

The cuts would include drug tests of applicants and tougher work rules.  As Republicans see it: There’s no point in “helping” the poor if you can’t humiliate them.

Food stamps, the largest U.S. anti-hunger program, are the pivotal issue for a new U.S. farm law costing $80 billion a year.

One in seven Americans–15% of U.S. households–received food stamps at latest count.  Enrollment in the program soared after the 2008-09 recession–a direct consequence of the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate powerful, greed-fueled corporations.

Republicans claim the program is unbearably expensive at $78 billion a year.

Meanwhile, as 49 million Americans have trouble putting meals on the table, Republicans are eager to spend billions of dollars for another project.

An unnecessary war with Syria.

One of these right-wingers is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard–and one of the leading instigators of the 2003 war with Iraq.

He–like senior officials on the George W. Bush administration–claimed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them against the United States.

That proved to be a lie.

He also pushed the lie that Hussein planned 9/11 with Osama bin Laden.

He has never apologized for either lie–or the resulting war that killed 4,487 American soldiers and wounded another 32,226.

In a recent column, Kristol called for a return to slaughter–not only in Syria but Iran as well:

“…Soon after voting to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime, Republicans might consider moving an authorization for the use of force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

“They can explain that Obama’s dithering in the case of Syria shows the utility of unequivocally giving him the authority to act early with respect to Iran.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice–who also helped lie the nation into the needless 2003 Iraq war–is another big promoter of “give war a chance”:

“My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead–and one cannot lead from behind.”

Among Republican U.S. Senators calling for war are John McCain (Arizona) and Lindsey Graman (South Carolina), who issued a joint statement:

“Using stand-off weapons, without boots on the ground, and at minimal risk to our men and women in uniform, we can significantly degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missile capabilities and help to establish and defend safe areas on  the ground.

“In addition, we must begin a large-scale effort to train and equip moderate, vetted elements of the Syrian opposition with the game-changing weapons they need to shift the military balance against [Syrian dictator Bashir] Assad’s forces.”

Except that there are no “moderate, vetted elements of the Syrian opposition.  The opposition is just as murderous as the Assad regime–and eager to replace one dictator with another.

In addition: A major weapon for “degrading Assad’s air power” would be Tomahawk Cruise missiles.  A single one of these costs $1,410,000.

Firing of a Tomahawk Cruise missile

A protracted missile strike would rain literally billions of dollars’ worth of American missiles on Syria.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is spending about $27 million a week to maintain the increased U.S. Navy presence in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East region to keep watch over Syria and be prepared to strike.

Navy officials say it costs about $25 million a week for the carrier group and $2 million a week for each destroyer.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all this?

Yes.

Powerful people–whether generals, politicians or the wealthy–will always find abundant money and resources available for projects they consider important.

It’s only when it comes to projects that other people actually need that such people will claim there is, unfortunately, a cash shortage.

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