The Imagined at the Expense of the Real

The real threat was never Iraq.  That we invaded a country for developing and harboring weapons of mass destruction was a lie when it was perpetrated, and  has become a farce in the years that have since passed.  Withing living memory, the US has spent more capital, be it human, financial or political, on absolutely nothing, with zero return, in Iraq.  The entire justification that was sold to the American people and the entire globe was that Saddam Hussein had and was acquiring more lethal weapons of mass destruction.  Hans Blix, the weapons inspector, said it wasn’t so.  The UN said it wasn’t so.  Even Saddam Hussein, sociopath that he was, said it wasn’t so.  But George W. Bush, in the paranoid years that followed 9/11 said so.  And his notoriously incompetent director of the CIA George Tenet (admittedly, a Democratic appointee) agreed with him.

Now we’re faced with a shooting war in east Asia involving a country that does indeed have weapons of mass destruction.  This week, North Korean artillery batteries opened fire on civilian targets on a South Korean island off the coast.  Two civilians were killed and there were other casualties and injuries.  And this is coming on the heels of the North Koreans sinking a South Korean naval vessel earlier this year, the Cheonan, killing 46 as it went down.  North Korea has orchestrated dozens of incidents over the past five decades, be it kidnapping Japanese citizens to assassinating South Korean cabinet ministers to opening fire at the demilitarized zone.  In what has increasingly been an impoverished and resource-strapped regime, the Kim clan that rules the destitute country has been trying to ensure their own succession, and in so doing, risk destabilizing the entire region.

So why did I write about Iraq and then follow it up with North Korea?  I wrote about it because we’re not prepared as we ought to be.  What should have happened was we should have ignored Saddam Hussein for the madman despot that he was, bloody, unpleasant, but not a vital threat to our strategic interest, and we should have stayed in Afghanistan, finished the job, and got out.  But we didn’t.  Instead we shuffled around resources in such a way as to guarantee disappointing outcomes (at best) in both countries.  The end result that we have been caught entirely unprepared for a real military conflict with a country that has nuclear weapons, is unstable and has demonstrated that the gerontocracy that runs is utterly delusional.

We should be prepared to help out our South Korean and Japanese allies on this one.  We ought to have three carrier groups steaming towards the Sea of Japan as we speak, readying our bomber fleets for retaliatory strikes against North Korean nuclear installations and generally pulverizing the capability of the nation to threaten Asia.  But we can’t.  Why not?  The past nine years of war, both initiated and mismanaged by Republicans, have left us totally unable stage a separate, full blown third war.  This isn’t something that you can pull an all-nighter on.  This is something that requires careful planning, investment and consideration.  I don’t like war.  I’ve never been in one, but I still think that I wouldn’t like it.  What I like even less though, is not being prepared for a just war because you just got finished fighting one that wasn’t really necessary.

Republicans have always claimed the mantle of national security when it comes to elections.  After looking that this  series of events through this lens, I have no idea why.  Their policies have made both America and our allies less safe in the past decade.  We are not prepared to take the military actions that we and our allies require to protect us from threats from abroad.  And we have Republican policies and ideologies to thank for that.  This is kind of like my last posting about the budget.  National security is like the budget, something Republicans like to talk about being better on than Democrats, but every time they come near it, it just blows up in their face.  And, consequently, ours.


And the Prize Goes To…

Senator John Kyl (R-AZ).  For what, you may rightfully ask?  For being the first Republican Senator to break their pledge not to seek earmarks. Congressional Republicans have banded together and denounced the practice known as ‘earmarking,’ which is a when a member of Congress requests funds for a project in their home constituency.  The GOP’s been opposed to the practice, saying that it’s corrupt, and that it’s fiscally irresponsble.  Kyl’s pledge lasted a whopping three days before he broke down, and even now, his argument is essentially, that’s it’s not ‘technically’ an earmark.

Except for the fact that it is.  It’s about $200 million in federal funds to settle water mismanagement claims against the government on Indian reservations in Arizona, Kyl’s home state.  It may not be within the technical parameters of an ‘earmark,’ but that’s exactly what it is.

It’s this, and reasons like this, that would amuse me every time I hear a Republican talk about the public debt or the deficit:  they don’t really care about it.  They use it as a weapon against Democrats when they think it’ll win them an election.  When I was born, we had the august Ronald Reagan, who blew a hole so big in the federal budget with rearmament projects that it toppled the Soviet Union.  Oh, and he simultaneously cut taxes, arguing (counterintuitiwrongly) that it would increase tax collections.  The first President to make significant progress on balancing the federal budget?  George H.W. Bush.  And he was denied reelection because he couldn’t garner more conservative support after raising taxes.  What about Bill Clinton, the first Democrat to come along in a while?  Oh, he was the one who actually not only balanced the budget, but gave the nation a surplus, and a pretty big one at that ($400 billion).  And then we had George W. Bush, who had taken what was the biggest surplus in the history of our nation at the beginning of his administration, and turned it into the biggest deficit ever.  Massive tax cuts for the rich, a vast new medication drug entitlement program, and an elective war that was sold to the public for reasons that he later admitted were total bullshit, and it was all essentially paid for with debt supplementals issued by the Treasury.

So, my Republican friends, you’ll have to forgive me that I smile when you talk about your concern for balancing the budget.  You may well believe that you can do it.  But it the two GOP presidents who were the most fiscally irresponsible were reelected, and the one who did the right thing was denied reelection.  Then, it was Clinton, the first Democratic president we had had in a long time, who finally succeeded.  And all of this, taken with Senator Kyl’s three days of abstaining from earmarks, are what amuse me.  You may think you can balance the budget.  But within modern history, you never have, and the way it’s looking, you’re not going to.

Big F&^%$#@ Deal

That I like the Vice President should come as no surprise.  He’s been a rare spot of passion in an otherwise pretty even-keeled administration.  Where we on the left have been left feeling disappointed when the President hasn’t shown any anger or emotion, Vice President Biden’s obliged.  And how.  Today, a piece on him by a friend appeared in GQ.  It’s a good interview, and I encourage all of you to give it a read.

Enjoy the weekend.

White Hot China

That China’s economy has been growing, and has been doing so at a breakneck speed, is not news.  But that inflation is accelerating in China, well, that’s news.  Inflation picked up from 3.6% in September to 4.4% in October.  That’s a huge increase in monthly terms.  And in some areas, food prices have surged by as much as 2/3.  Inflation occurs when you have too much money chasing too few investment opportunities and goods within an given economy.  The central government is concerned to the point where subsidies are going to be offered to help people afford groceries.

This speaks volumes as to the fact that China has long has a trade surplus with the world to the point where it’s starting to harm their own economy.  There’s also indications that the economy in China may be overheating to the point where it’s assuming speculative characteristics similar to those found in the US in the years prior to the financial collapse.  I don’t know what’s going to happen in China, but I think that they may be in store for some kind of correction in the coming year.

Politics Stopping At the Water’s Edge

There’s a truism about politics stopping at the water’s edge.  Meaning, that we can engage in all sorts of political posturing and antics that we want, but when it comes to anything having to relate to foreign relations or military affairs (going beyond the water’s edge), you drop the politics, regardless of your constituency, and do what’s right for the country.

Senate Republicans seem to have forgotten this old adage.  They’re currently holding hostage the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, successor to another treaty that expired in December of 2009.  The old treaty, signed in 1991 between the United States and the Soviet Union, put limits on the number of warheads, launchers and bombers on both sides, and provided for inspections of nuclear facilities and inventories, in order to account for all of the stockpiles.

And believe me, in the chaotic days that were the 1990s in Russia, you can be sure that the United States was lucky to have the opportunity to ensure that the Russian nuclear arsenal was secured.  President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev began negotiations in 2009 in order to sign a new treaty.  The terms of the treaty are largely contiguous with the old one, and it represents a decrease in the size of both nations’ nuclear stockpiles.  The treaty, as all treaties are, is subject to a confirmation (67 yea) vote in the Senate.

Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ), who was capable to delivering the necessary votes for confirmation of the treaty, has seemed to indicate that he’ll not vote for it.  His objections?  Well, he seems to think that the White House is going to let the nuclear arsenal become obsolete (notwithstanding Obama’s commitment to spend $80 billion on upgrades and modernization) and he hasn’t enough time to review the treaty (even though it was signed in April, seven months ago).  18 hearings were held, over 900 questions for the record were submitted and answered, and it was passed out of committee with a majority vote, including the votes of three Republicans, Dick Lugar, Bob Corker and Johnny Isaakson.  Both of Kyl’s  claims are absolutely false, and they should ring as hollow as his commitment to national security is.

Ronald Reagan famously quoted the old Russian proverb ‘Trust, but verify’ when it comes to adhering to international arms treaties.  Right now, we’re only trusting.  There’s no verification going on, whatsoever.  I’m sorry to see that even the Republicans have forgotten the sage words of one of their own.  The GOP is once again taking a stand that may feel good to them (screwing the President), it’s endangering national security, and consequently, all of us.

New York City Subway to Extend to…New Jersey?

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) pulled the plug on a planned railway tunnel under the Hudson that would have linked New York and New Jersey last month.  The project, which would have been paid for by the federal government, New York and New Jersey, would have likely gone far over budget, for which the state of New Jersey would have been on the hook.

In the wake of the failed project, there’s been talk of extending the No. 7 train to Secaucus, NJ.  The MTA has been in the process of extending the line all the way to one block away from the Hudson.  This would be the first time that a New York City subway line would go outside of the city.  Why not just take it all the way across the river?  It would be cheaper than having to build a full scale tunnel.

I’ll tell you why: The system is BROKEN.  What we have as it is doesn’t work.  Service has deteriorated markedly over the course of the past year, dozens of subway and bus lines have been eliminated, fares are set to rise yet again in January and there’s absolutely no sign in sight of anything getting better.  Why, in the name of God, should we try and make such a system not only larger, but send it into another state?  How about we try fixing what we have before extending lines to Jersey?

I don’t think this will actually happen.  It’s one of those expensive projects that’s kind of sexy to think about, and since mass transit’s hot these days, it’s going to get some press.  But, putting these projects together, either in technical, political or financial terms, is notoriously difficult.  To illustrate to those of you who do not live in New York how hard it is to build a new subway line in New York City, consider this:  the Second Avenue Subway line was being planned when Babe Ruth was playing for the Yankees.  It’s not scheduled to open until 2016.  And though it’s ‘scheduled,’ that not a guarantee that it will.

What’s Good for GM Is Good For the Country

The title of this post was taken from testimony given by Charles Wilson, Eisenhower’s nominee to be the Secretary of Defense who was the president of GM at the time of his nomination.  When asked during his confirmation hearings if he thought he could make decisions that were adverse to GM, he replied with the title.  And, with GM’s initial public offering this week, it still rings true.

General Motors, long a mainstay of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, was delisted from global stock exchanges in 2009 in connection with its bankruptcy proceedings and restructuring turnaround.  Investors were wiped out in during the course of proceedings and shares haven’t been traded since the process began.  This coming Thursday, GM is set to launch an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, with shares expected to price at around $26-29 a share.  Interest in the offering has been high, with some analysts predicting that share prices will rise significantly from their starting point, making those involved with the transaction a lot of money.

That means you, not that it’ll pop up in your checking account though.  The United States initially government began intervening in the company when President Bush (not President Obama, as many mistakenly believe) authorized $13.4 billion in emergency financing from TARP funds to be extended to GM and Chrysler, with an additional $4 billion line of credit, in the event that it was needed.  In the spring of 2009, the President aggressively pushed for a government underwritten, expedited bankruptcy process, whereby the Treasury would finance the company in return for a majority stake in the restructured, smaller company.  The offering will significantly reduce the stake the government holds in GM, and the Treasury will look at shedding the rest of its shares in the coming year, netting the government an actual PROFIT from helping save the troubled automaker.  GM is also ahead of schedule in paying back the loans to the government.

Had the government not intervened in saving GM from collapse, it would have sent shockwaves through the global economy, with states like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois bearing the brunt of it.  In these states that are already reeling from years of economic decline, especially in Michigan, the economic situation there would have looked like a wasteland  had GM went under.  Hundreds of thousands of jobs would have been lost, be they with GM, its suppliers, vendors, dealers and many other firms that do business with GM.

Luckily, that didn’t happen.  GM has revamped itself.  The products are better, the sales are higher, and the company is making money again for the first time in a few years.  Perhaps most surprisingly, when you hear about a recall, chances are that it’s for a Japanese model, something that we’re not used to hearing.  The President took a huge political risk in saving a company when it wasn’t clear that it could be.  As a result, the government will have come out with a profit, the company has grown, an American icon has been saved and, most importantly, millions of Americans have held onto their jobs.  If I were the President, I’d insist on ringing the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange along with the GM CEO this coming Thursday.  This was his policy, and it was a stunning success.