And that’s why he makes the big bucks…

The time has come for The National Razor to embrace its blog-ness. In a first for this site, I am devoting an entire entry to reposting an article with little commentary, which I have to say really cuts down on the turnaround time.

However, before making this inevitable leap and moving on to the main event – showcasing former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s latest commentary for The Huffington Post – a small prologue is equally inevitable.

For a while now, I and others have been talking about the desire of the Republican leadership to return the United States to the Gilded Age. This is not hyperbole – it is what the GOP envisions as America’s ideal future. President Obama was handed an amazing opportunity to reverse the course of public opinion in the past 30 years and harness populist outrage to finally, meaningfully, undo the ever-increasing influence of multinational corporate and banking interests over the minds and government of the American people. Unfortunately, he was either unwilling or unable to pick up the mantle that Theodore Roosevelt donned so proudly 100 years ago, and instead we were treated to the bizarre and confounding spectacle of angry citizens rallying around the very people and institutions that forced them into dire circumstances – i.e., the Tea Party.

If you watch Glenn Beck for a sufficient length of time, you will hear him inveigle against Woodrow Wilson and the progressivism of the early 20th century. Beck, who may be an intellectually empty (though certainly not stupid) wreck of a man who couldn’t hold a job as a “morning zoo” radio host (no really, look it up), is nobody’s fool when it comes to stating utter hogwash in just such a way that it makes sense to someone who doesn’t know better. When he’s attacking Wilson, he’s really attacking Theodore Roosevelt – but his audience is at least aware enough to know that TR is on Mount Rushmore for some reason, so Beck selects a more palatable target in Wilson. It comes to the same thing, though: Advocating the destruction of every system put in place to prevent a new class of robber baron overlords from making indentured servants of everyone else.

The Tea Party protests, the protests in the Middle East and now the Wisconsin protests all have the same root: A system tilting completely out of balance, leaving the “regular folks” to pick up the tab of the “fat cats” and being told they should be grateful to even have that privilege. In the case of the Tea Party, however, their prescription is to aid the disease.

How is this possible? How can otherwise decent, patriotic Americans possibly watch what happened to the U.S. economy and political system over the past decade (really, three decades) and decide that the solution is more of the same, to the point of threatening anyone who says different?

Robert Reich is far more educated and experienced than I, and I suspect far more intelligent to boot. That’s why they pay him the big bucks, and that is why I will let him explain what is going on here.

The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class — pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don’t believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.

By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.

Republicans would rather no one notice their campaign to shrink the pie even further with additional tax cuts for the rich — making the Bush tax cuts permanent, further reducing the estate tax, and allowing the wealthy to shift ever more of their income into capital gains taxed at 15 percent.

 

Read the rest of his analysis here. Bonus: the alternative to modern corporatism

The strategy has three parts…

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Forecasting for 2012: Obama’s odds

The perils of making long term pronouncements based on short term trends were never clearer than in December 2010. At the month’s opening, many among the Chattering Class were still reacting to the apocalyptic Democratic losses in the midterm elections by writing President Obama’s political obituary. The generally agreed prognosis for the President was so grim that there was speculation about a Democratic primary challenger emerging against Obama, and the question in the minds of the punditry was not whether the Democratic agenda could proceed, but how much of the 111th Congress’s initiatives would be undone by the 112th.

What a difference a month makes. Now, as the new year dawns, the President is resurgent. Big victories during the lame duck session, news of an improving economy and a Christmas season without incendiary underwear bolstered a revitalized Administration that seems ready to go toe-to-toe with John Boehner’s House.

However, November 2012 is a very long way off, so the best that can be done is to present the major factors (as they stand today) in the 2012 election, and weigh them out to see if President Obama will be the new Jimmy Carter or the new Ronald Reagan – though only Ronald Reagan had lower approval ratings at this point in his presidency than Barack Obama.

The Economy

It is unlikely that any other single issue will be as important to 2012 voters as the state of the American economy, so the question is this: How low does the unemployment rate have to drop for the White House to signal success, and will it get there? Sinking under 9 percent would be an excellent start, but for Obama to be able to turn an albatross into an asset, the low 8 percent range is a better target. It is possible but unlikely it will fall that far, so Obama would be wise to avoid the mistake he made at the outset of his presidency and start setting realistic expectations now… and make sure he exceeds them by September of 2012.

Investigations

To most Americans, Darrell Issa is an unknown. To this native Californian, he is infamous as the man who engineered the recall against former Gov. Gray Davis, expecting to be the de facto choice for his replacement before Ahnold bid Issa’s dreams an “hasta la vista.”

Issa is now chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which gives him nearly limitless powers to investigate and subpoena anyone and everyone connected with the Administration’s agenda – and he will use it. Make no mistake, Issa’s committee has one goal and one goal only: embarrass the President and lay the groundwork for impeachment. Republicans often state that Obama is the “worst president ever,” and given the Tea Party’s tenuous-to-nonexistent grasp of history, many probably believe it. Though the prospect of getting articles of impeachment to pass the House is dim, even with the Tea Party crop of congressmen eager to add their “aye” to such a bill sight unseen, Issa has the capability to keep a steady stream of allegations in the news for the next two years. Much will depend on how the Administration prepares and executes a strategy to neutralize Issa and his committee.

Party Unity

Though the wisdom of Will Rogers’s quote about Democratic disorganization is perennially reaffirmed, the next two years might mark an exception. Perhaps the only positive result of the Democratic “shellacking” is that the ax fell heaviest on the necks of Blue Dog Democrats, making for a far more ideologically unified Democratic caucus in the 112th Congress. Democrats, and Obama in particular, are never so effective as when they are underdogs. Even if this is not strictly the case (Dems still hold the Senate and White House), it is the popular perception among the people and the pundits alike. This creates a powerful incentive for Democrats to hang together (or hang separately, props to Ben Franklin) and do what they seem intrinsically incapable of doing when they are in power: stay on message.

The Republicans have a tougher row to hoe. While the enthusiasm and novelty of the Tea Party bolstered their share of the electorate in 2010, Republicans now in effect have two separate caucuses to hold together, and there is little love lost between them. Establishment Republicans lost friends to the Tea Party, and many of them had to put in a lot of work to fend off intra-party challenges from the extreme right. Those wounds cannot have all healed, and more fundamentally, the dynamic sets up possible showdowns between entrenched Republican lawmakers who have been government employees for quite a while, and Tea Party neophytes who have little interest in the effective use of federal power and campaigned on, essentially, not governing. Whether the traditional Republicans or the Tea Party rookies will lead the debate is up in the air (I favor the old guard in that fight), but either way, Boehner will have his hands full sorting it all out.

And then, of course, there is the Republican presidential primary…

Republican Presidential Primary

If it was ever in doubt (which it really wasn’t), the lame duck session victories made it certain that Obama will once again top the Democratic ticket. Who the Republicans pick to lead theirs will be important, but perhaps more important will be how acrimonious the 2012 GOP primary gets. The current presumed contenders have their strengths and weaknesses as general election candidates (for my money, and according to polls, the weaknesses outnumber the strengths), but a number of them share a common trait: viciousness. I am still not convinced that Sarah Palin will stay in the primary hunt if it looks like she’ll get her clock cleaned in the early states, but Palinesque political assaults on fellow Republicans are a near certainty, regardless of who emerges as front runner. If played correctly, this can generate attention and excitement for the eventual GOP nominee without crippling him or her in the general. More likely, though, it will be a bloodbath. I have my fingers crossed that we will see Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich take the gloves off against each other and their fellow contenders. It will make for good television if nothing else.

Foreign Policy

Since my crystal ball is on the fritz, I am left with too many “unknown unknowns” to prognosticate on how this will affect Obama’s reelection prospects. However, some issues will certainly play a major role, Afghanistan and Israel topping the list. Both of those troubled regions contain enormous potential to either bolster or hinder Obama’s chances, though the pitfalls are more potent than the advantages. Sticking to the Afghanistan withdrawal timetable without plunging that nation into turmoil, and moving the peace ball forward in Israel without pissing off American Jews, will shore up Obama’s foreign policy credibility, but a major disaster in either area will make his reelection considerably more difficult.

Additionally, the potential for war on the Korean peninsula or military action against Iran is currently looming and may continue to be present for quite some time. History suggests that either event (depending on the magnitude and consequences) will give Obama a leg up in the election, but George H.W. Bush can tell you that history isn’t always right about that.

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Wisdom from the Man in the Arena

Of Theodore Roosevelt’s many fine and, it must be noted these days, self-penned speeches, none tower as high as the Man in the Arena speech, given in front of a distinguished audience at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910.

During that most famous of his addresses, Roosevelt did not merely deliver an ode to American virtues and individual enterprise, as is generally understood. TR was seldom a straightforward cheerleader for any policy or philosophy, and the sort of stripped-down, unequivocal picture that emerges from Roosevelt’s most celebrated deeds and expressions is to his historical legacy what a street artist caricature is to a Rembrandt. To assume Roosevelt’s views on any issue were uncomplicated is to entirely misunderstand the man, and discredit the intellectual labor and deliberation that produced his grandest statements and acts.

Bully for the Bull Moose!

The Man in the Arena speech, and especially its most prominent passage, can certainly sate the average American’s hunger for inspiration, or the desire of any citizen whose nation respects the sanctity of individual liberty to feel secure in the righteousness of that ideal. Nevertheless, as is so often the case with TR, it is his instruction, not his boosterism, that is most valuable to the modern American.

The wisdom and relevance of Theodore Roosevelt’s words, spoken a century ago but as impactful as if delivered today, are self-evident, so I will get out of the great man’s way and let him speak (however, I’ve taken the liberty of editing it down and bolding out key sections for the reader who doesn’t have all day to spend with TR). Here is the full text of the speech, for those who do have the time – you’re in for a treat.

“…In the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average women, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average cannot be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher.

“…I decline to recognize the mere multimillionaire, the man of mere wealth, as an asset of value to any country; and especially as not an asset to my own country. If he has earned or uses his wealth in a way that makes him a real benefit, of real use- and such is often the case- why, then he does become an asset of real worth. But it is the way in which it has been earned or used, and not the mere fact of wealth, that entitles him to the credit. There is need in business, as in most other forms of human activity, of the great guiding intelligences. Their places cannot be supplied by any number of lesser intelligences. It is a good thing that they should have ample recognition, ample reward. But we must not transfer our admiration to the reward instead of to the deed rewarded; and if what should be the reward exists without the service having been rendered, then admiration will only come from those who are mean of soul. The truth is that, after a certain measure of tangible material success or reward has been achieved, the question of increasing it becomes of constantly less importance compared to the other things that can be done in life. It is a bad thing for a nation to raise and to admire a false standard of success; and their can be no falser standard than that set by the deification of material well-being in and for itself. But the man who… piles up a great fortune, for the acquisition or retention of which he returns no corresponding benefit to the nation as a whole, should himself be made to feel that, so far from being desirable, he is an unworthy citizen of the community: that he is to be neither admired nor envied; that his right-thinking fellow countrymen put him low in the scale of citizenship, and leave him to be consoled by the admiration of those whose level of purpose is even lower than his own.
My position as regards the moneyed interests can be put in a few words. In every civilized society property rights must be carefully safeguarded; ordinarily, and in the great majority of cases, human rights and property rights are fundamentally and in the long run identical; but when it clearly appears that there is a real conflict between them, human rights must have the upper hand, for property belongs to man and not man to property. In fact, it is essential to good citizenship clearly to understand that there are certain qualities which we in a democracy are prone to admire in and of themselves, which ought by rights to be judged admirable or the reverse solely from the standpoint of the use made of them. Foremost among these I should include two very distinct gifts – the gift of money-making and the gift of oratory.

“It is highly desirable that a leader of opinion in democracy should be able to state his views clearly and convincingly. But all that the oratory can do of value to the community is enable the man thus to explain himself; if it enables the orator to put false values on things, it merely makes him power for mischief. Some excellent public servants have not that gift at all, and must merely rely on their deeds to speak for them; and unless oratory does represent genuine conviction based on good common sense and able to be translated into efficient performance, then the better the oratory the greater the damage to the public it deceives. Indeed, it is a sign of marked political weakness in any commonwealth if the people tend to be carried away by mere oratory, if they tend to value words in and for themselves, as divorced from the deeds for which they are supposed to stand. The phrase-maker, the phrase-monger, the ready talker, however great his power, whose speech does not make for courage, sobriety, and right understanding, is simply a noxious element in the body politic, and it speaks ill for the public if he has influence over them. To admire the gift of oratory without regard to the moral quality behind the gift is to do wrong to the republic.

“Of course all that I say of the orator applies with even greater force to the orator’s latter-day and more influential brother, the journalist. The power of the journalist is great, but he is entitled neither to respect nor admiration because of that power unless it is used aright. He can do, and often does, great good. He can do, and he often does, infinite mischief. All journalists, all writers, for the very reason that they appreciate the vast possibilities of their profession, should bear testimony against those who deeply discredit it. Offenses against taste and morals, which are bad enough in a private citizen, are infinitely worse if made into instruments for debauching the community through a newspaper. Mendacity, slander, sensationalism, inanity, vapid triviality, all are potent factors for the debauchery of the public mind and conscience. The excuse advanced for vicious writing, that the public demands it and that demand must be supplied, can no more be admitted than if it were advanced by purveyors of food who sell poisonous adulterations.

Good citizenship is not good citizenship if only exhibited in the home. There remains the duties of the individual in relation to the State, and these duties are none too easy under the conditions which exist where the effort is made to carry on the free government in a complex industrial civilization. Perhaps the most important thing the ordinary citizen, and, above all, the leader of ordinary citizens, has to remember in political life is that he must not be a sheer doctrinaire. The closest philosopher, the refined and cultured individual who from his library tells how men ought to be governed under ideal conditions, is of no use in actual governmental work; and the one-sided fanatic, and still more the mob-leader, and the insincere man who to achieve power promises what by no possibility can be performed, are not merely useless but noxious.

The citizen must have high ideals, and yet he must be able to achieve them in practical fashion. No permanent good comes from aspirations so lofty that they have grown fantastic and have become impossible and indeed undesirable to realize. The impractical visionary is far less often the guide and precursor than he is the embittered foe of the real reformer, of the man who, with stumblings and shortcoming, yet does in some shape, in practical fashion, give effect to the hopes and desires of those who strive for better things. Woe to the empty phrase-maker, to the empty idealist, who, instead of making ready the ground for the man of action, turns against him when he appears and hampers him when he does work! Moreover, the preacher of ideals must remember how sorry and contemptible is the figure which he will cut, how great the damage that he will do, if he does not himself, in his own life, strive measurably to realize the ideals that he preaches for others. Let him remember also that the worth of the ideal must be largely determined by the success with which it can in practice be realized. We should abhor the so-called “practical” men whose practicality assumes the shape of that peculiar baseness which finds its expression in disbelief in morality and decency, in disregard of high standards of living and conduct. Such a creature is the worst enemy of the body of politic. But only less desirable as a citizen is his nominal opponent and real ally, the man of fantastic vision who makes the impossible better forever the enemy of the possible good.

We can just as little afford to follow the doctrinaires of an extreme individualism as the doctrinaires of an extreme socialism. Individual initiative, so far from being discouraged, should be stimulated; and yet we should remember that, as society develops and grows more complex, we continually find that things which once it was desirable to leave to individual initiative can, under changed conditions, be performed with better results by common effort. It is quite impossible, and equally undesirable, to draw in theory a hard-and-fast line which shall always divide the two sets of cases… Much of the discussion about socialism and individualism is entirely pointless, because of the failure to agree on terminology. It is not good to be a slave of names. I am a strong individualist by personal habit, inheritance, and conviction; but it is a mere matter of common sense to recognize that the State, the community, the citizens acting together, can do a number of things better than if they were left to individual action… The deadening effect on any race of the adoption of a logical and extreme socialistic system could not be overstated; it would spell sheer destruction; it would produce grosser wrong and outrage, fouler immortality, than any existing system. But this does not mean that we may not with great advantage adopt certain of the principles professed by some given set of men who happen to call themselves Socialists; to be afraid to do so would be to make a mark of weakness on our part.

“We are bound in honor to refuse to listen to those men who would make us desist from the effort to do away with the inequality which means injustice; the inequality of right, opportunity, of privilege. We are bound in honor to strive to bring ever nearer the day when, as far is humanly possible, we shall be able to realize the ideal that each man shall have an equal opportunity to show the stuff that is in him by the way in which he renders service. There should, so far as possible, be equal of opportunity to render service; but just so long as there is inequality of service there should and must be inequality of reward. We may be sorry for the general, the painter, the artists, the worker in any profession or of any kind, whose misfortune rather than whose fault it is that he does his work ill. But the reward must go to the man who does his work well; for any other course is to create a new kind of privilege, the privilege of folly and weakness; and special privilege is injustice, whatever form it takes.

“To say that the thriftless, the lazy, the vicious, the incapable, ought to have reward given to those who are far-sighted, capable, and upright, is to say what is not true and cannot be true. Let us try to level up, but let us beware of the evil of leveling down. If a man stumbles, it is a good thing to help him to his feet. Every one of us needs a helping hand now and then. But if a man lies down, it is a waste of time to try and carry him; and it is a very bad thing for every one if we make men feel that the same reward will come to those who shirk their work and those who do it. Let us, then, take into account the actual facts of life, and not be misled into following any proposal for achieving the millennium, for recreating the golden age, until we have subjected it to hardheaded examination. On the other hand, it is foolish to reject a proposal merely because it is advanced by visionaries. If a given scheme is proposed, look at it on its merits, and, in considering it, disregard formulas. It does not matter in the least who proposes it, or why. If it seems good, try it. If it proves good, accept it; otherwise reject it. There are plenty of good men calling themselves Socialists with whom, up to a certain point, it is quite possible to work. If the next step is one which both we and they wish to take, why of course take it, without any regard to the fact that our views as to the tenth step may differ. But, on the other hand, keep clearly in mind that, though it has been worth while to take one step, this does not in the least mean that it may not be highly disadvantageous to take the next. It is just as foolish to refuse all progress because people demanding it desire at some points to go to absurd extremes, as it would be to go to these absurd extremes simply because some of the measures advocated by the extremists were wise.

The good citizen will demand liberty for himself, and as a matter of pride he will see to it that others receive liberty which he thus claims as his own. Probably the best test of true love of liberty in any country in the way in which minorities are treated in that country. Not only should there be complete liberty in matters of religion and opinion, but complete liberty for each man to lead his life as he desires, provided only that in so he does not wrong his neighbor. Persecution is bad because it is persecution, and without reference to which side happens at the most to be the persecutor and which the persecuted.
Of one man in especial, beyond any one else, the citizens of a republic should beware, and that is of the man who appeals to them to support him on the ground that he is hostile to other citizens of the republic, that he will secure for those who elect him, in one shape or another, profit at the expense of other citizens of the republic. It makes no difference whether he appeals to class hatred or class interest, to religious or antireligious prejudice. The man who makes such an appeal should always be presumed to make it for the sake of furthering his own interest. The very last thing an intelligent and self-respecting member of a democratic community should do is to reward any public man because that public man says that he will get the private citizen something to which this private citizen is not entitled, or will gratify some emotion or animosity which this private citizen ought not to possess. Let me illustrate this by one anecdote from my own experience. A number of years ago I was engaged in cattle-ranching on the great plains of the western Unite States. There were no fences. The cattle wandered free, the ownership of each one was determined by the brand; the calves were branded with the brand of the cows they followed. If on a round-up an animal was passed by, the following year it would appear as an unbranded yearling, and was then called a maverick. By the custom of the country these mavericks were branded with the brand of the man on whose range they were found. One day I was riding the range with a newly hired cowboy, and we came upon a maverick. We roped and threw it; then we built a fire, took out a cinch-ring, heated it in the fire; and then the cowboy started to put on the brand. I said to him, “It So-and-so’s brand,” naming the man on whose range we happened to be. He answered: “That’s all right, boss; I know my business.” In another moment I said to him: “Hold on, you are putting on my brand!” To which he answered: “That’s all right; I always put on the boss’s brand.” I answered: “Oh, very well. Now you go straight back to the ranch and get whatever is owing to you; I don’t need you any longer.” He jumped up and said: “Why, what’s the matter? I was putting on your brand.” And I answered: “Yes, my friend, and if you will steal for me then you will steal from me.”

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What the President needs to say on tax cuts

I voted for Barack Obama because I had never before 2007 encountered a politician I agreed with more on more issues than the junior senator from Illinois. Unfortunately, I also haven’t found one since 2008 – and that includes Barack Obama. The man I voted for has not been the president he promised to be, and it has nothing to do with policy. It has to do with leadership.

For some reason, Obama is unable or unwilling to articulate why his accomplishments are so important, and why his positions make sense. Jabs about his aloofness and lack of passion connect because they’re undeniable. Phone calls to the troops and a quarterly visit to the common folk doesn’t cut it when the country is beside itself and the opposition is out for blood – he needs to lead from the front.

Take health care. The plan that passed is an essentially good plan, but it is also the Republican plan. The Heritage Foundation, the foremost conservative think tank in the country, spent more than ten years advocating in support of what we ended up with: state-based, non-profit health insurance exchanges, which create competition among private insurers for customers. According to top economists, the public option would have been the most effective way to guarantee lower costs, but health insurance exchanges are a centrist compromise. Politically the ramifications should have been great for Obama. After roughly 100 years of trying, President Obama  finally succeeded in passing near-universal coverage for all Americans, and it’s almost completely paid for.

The President’s error wasn’t in violating the Constitution, as the Right claims, or in rejecting a single payer system, as the hard Left claims. It was that he lost control of the message. After adopting the main points of the Republican plan, including funds for tort reform pilot programs, he allowed the Republicans to turn around and claim that the health care reform law was a victory for socialism and evidence of a tyrannical government. Somehow nine months of intense debate over ideas that had already been examined for decades was sold as being “rammed down our throats”. In the summer of 2009, Americans were decisively in favor of health reform – and in favor of including the public option. By the summer of 2010, Democrats were coming to terms with the “shellacking” that was about to befall them, largely because the people retrospectively sided with Republicans on the health care battle.

Time and again, the President has had the same problem: sound policy, lousy messaging. We have watched the President repeatedly triumph one week and apologize for it the next. Standing firm is not his mistake, but the opposite: acting in good faith and the spirit of bipartisanship, and expecting it to be reciprocated. Theodore Roosevelt wrote disparagingly of John Quincy Adams for believing what the Rough Rider called “the myth of nonpartisanship.” Roosevelt claimed that Adams was a failure because he refused to be the leader of his party as well as leader of the country, and thought presidents could be above politics. Paraphrasing Roosevelt, Adams did a disservice to the people who elected him and abased his own ideals by compromising and placating when he should have been putting up a fight.

Again, this is not to mean that the President should refuse to work with Republicans. Rather, he must not work with Republicans if in doing so he will both give concessions and get beaten up at the same time. The President will declare ground rules and then act surprised when the opposition, who never agreed to the rules in the first place, disregard them.

This current tax debate should be a slam dunk for the President and the Democrats. The idea to extend middle class tax cuts alone is the most popular there is, ahead of extending tax cuts for everyone, and Republican threats to hold up the entire Senate agenda are unpopular, especially when it means the loss of unemployment benefits. The Republicans have given Democrats a perfect opening to finally cement the narrative of Republicans as the “Party of No” and “obstructionists,” which they’ve tried so hard to sell to the American public. They can also argue that Republican support for the deficit-ballooning extension of tax cuts for the rich shows a lack of concern about the national debt. As soon-to-be-former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland said, exasperated with the Washington Democrats, “If we can’t win that argument we might as well just fold up.”

Well, folding up they are. It now appears certain that all tax cuts will be extended, across the board. A three-year extension could easily add $1 trillion to the deficit, and the Republicans will know they are looking at two years of carte blanch in Congress.

So here is what the President, and every Democrat, should be saying:

“This is a time of sacrifice. Every American household has felt this recession, and every household has had to make hard choices about what to give up, and what to preserve. We must do the same as a nation. My debt commission has returned its findings, and we know that cuts to our military, our entitlement programs and many other sectors of government will be required to right the ship of our economy.

“We all have an obligation to help this recovery, and that responsibility falls to rich and poor alike. For ten years, we have watched income for top earners rise, while for everyone else it has been stagnant. The richest few have increased their wealth, while for everyone else there have been no gains. For ten years, this tax cut has been in place, yet no net jobs were created during the entire first decade of the century.

“The middle class is disappearing, and poverty is on the rise. Most Americans are dealing with issues as basic as where they will get the money to buy groceries, or how they will pay for their kids’ college. The Americans at the top do not have these concerns, and have on average seen their prosperity increase as the rest fall behind. And now they must do their part. This increase that the Republicans find so overreaching is at most 4.6 percent, and returns the tax rate to where it was during the most prosperous decade in American history, the 1990s.

“Republicans have pledged to block legislation such as the ratification of the START treaty, which is supported by five Republican former secretaries of state, and the extension of unemployment benefits for nearly 2 million struggling Americans, until the rich are guaranteed to keep their tax cut. Despite claiming that they stand for the middle class and reducing the debt, they have stated that if they cannot have tax cuts for the wealthy, which will add $4 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years, nobody can have the relief they desperately need.

“Republican priorities are clear. They answer to a constituency of wealth first and foremost. Now let me make my priorities clear. I stand for working to make sure we do not bankrupt ourselves. I pledge to reduce the debt and continue to move the United States out of this crisis. And I will not allow the Republicans to hold this country hostage while there are Americans who need help.

If they want to stand in the way of an agenda that helps ensure nuclear material isn’t being sold to rogue regimes, like the new START treaty, and making sure Americans who can’t find a job know they’ll at least be able to make rent, like the extension of unemployment, then they will have to answer to the country why neighbors and family members aren’t getting any help from the government.

“Republicans would deny funds to people who can’t afford to live unless people who have more than enough to live don’t get more. This is, I believe, unconscionable, and contrary to our values.

“We are going to face these kinds of tough debates in the future. But I want the Republicans and the American people to know that there are things on which I cannot and will not compromise. It is time for the Republicans to demonstrate the sincerity of their commitment to help the middle class and repair the deficit. I call on them to join me in extending tax cuts for the middle class, and moving forward with the important work the people need us to do.”

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Uncivil Society

To assert that public discourse in the United States has become increasingly simplistic, focused on minutae, nonfactual and, above all, uncivil, is not exactly pioneering. This downward drift is self-evident, and there is blame enough to go around. Though the Right-Wing Jacobins have been leading the charge away from social decorum and reason-based debate, it is doubtless that plenty on the Left have equally encouraged the exodus of sense and sensibility from the public sphere. This trend has been lamented (with varying degrees of sincerity) by commentators of all political stripes, though no serious effort has been made to curtail it.

While the success of Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and the kudos given others who are essentially saying “Ladies and gentlemen, please!” give hope that the trend is not irreversible, it seems that the problem will likely get worse before it improves.

Good evidence of this was provided Thursday by a person who has come to embody the “new normal” of juvenile argument and acerbic tone: Sarah Palin.

Going rogue against decency

Mrs. Palin is the ultimate culture warrior. She delights in nothing so much as raising the blood pressure of the Left (and center) through her folsky, homespun condescension and shrill sarcasm. The media know it’s smart business to give prime space to each and every one of her brain secretions, as controversy is the currency of the realm, and Palin, whose animal savvy about publicity and politics goes a long way to make up for deficiencies in almost every other aspect of her resume, has worked out quite the symbiotic relationship with the news media: She says nonsensical, ignorant or just downright nasty stuff; they report on her antics; she criticizes them for reporting it; and they report on the criticism. It is a straightforward and profitable dynamic for all concerned. Unfortunately, the casualties of this and other such relationships include: actual issues, sane public officials, and the general public.

(For the record, here is the appropriate response to almost every answer Sarah Palin has ever given in an interview.)

Most times, her snide quips, easy metaphors and red meat pseudo-Reaganisms can be ignored, or even enjoyed from a dispassionate remove. Yesterday, however, was one of those other times.

If there is one day we as Americans can and should set aside our differences and come together as a people, it is Thanksgiving. The Fourth of July may be the prescribed date for collective patriotic expression, but the Thanksgiving tradition, which predates the nation’s founding, transcends the historical, the political, and the martial components of what it means to be an American, and asks us to meditate on the spiritual. It is a time for reflection on our own fortune and to extend prayers for the fortune of others. On Thanksgiving, we are called to rise above our baser natures, hang up our grievances, put away our pettiness, and embrace our fellow Americans as brothers and sisters (except while watching football). It is a holiday to reflect that which is best in the American character.

Or, you can trash people to make yourself feel better about your own mistakes.

Entitled “A Thanksgiving Message to All 57 States,” it is a characteristically sarcastic broadside against the news media for having had the temerity to report what Palin told Glenn Beck in an interview Wednesday: “We’ve gotta stand with our North Korean allies.” Palin’s gaffe was clearly a slip of the lip, but also a particularly funny one, given her past interviews.

The former governor (who seems to be extremely thin-skinned for a Mama Grizzly/Pit Bull/Hockey Mom/Helicopter-Assisted Slayer of Wolves) took umbrage, as is her wont, and went on the offensive. There is no point in quoting the entirety of Palin’s 500-plus-word screed, but the gist of it is that she strung together a number of President Obama’s verbal gaffes age – including the infamous “all 57 states” slip – into a mock Thanksgiving message to make the point that everyone goofs but that the media is out to get her because they report on her goofs.

Here’s the end of it:

The media could even have done due diligence and checked my previous statements on the subject, which have always been consistent, and in fact even ahead of the curve. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story? (And for that matter, why not just make up stories out of thin air – like the totally false hard news story which has run for three days now reporting that I lobbied the producers of “Dancing with the Stars” to cast a former Senate candidate on their show. That lie is further clear proof that the media completely makes things up without doing even rudimentary fact-checking.)

“Hope springs eternal” as the poet says. Let’s hope that perhaps, just maybe, they might get it right next time. When we the people are effective in holding America’s free press accountable for responsible and truthful reporting, then we shall all have even more to be thankful for!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

This sums up the Sarah Palin phenomenon perfectly. Not even on Thanksgiving can she set aside whatever minor grievances she has to embrace the spirit of one of America’s most cherished traditions. It is a sad sign of the times, and a worse comment on Tea Party virtue, which, judging by the actions of its de facto leader, prizes a sense of victimhood and ceaseless attacks on its perceived enemies over unity and brotherhood. (Here is the original Sarah Palin/Christine O’Donnell gossip item, which, by the bye, was reported as being a gossip item by the “lamestream media”.)

Not all is bad, however. Most Thanksgiving messages from our leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, focused on the blessings we enjoy as Americans, the sacrifice of our troops and an appeal to charity, leaving the political battles for another day. With luck and courage, we may yet be able to stamp out the corrosive influence of the Sarah Palins and reclaim civility, decency and substance as the hallmarks of our national debate.

One of the best enunciations of this goal I have seen came yesterday from New York State Assemblyman Robert Castelli (R-Golden’s Bridge) in a Politico forum. Assemblyman Castelli, who was locked in a tight race with his opponent (which is yet unresolved, three weeks after Election Day), recounts in a piece entitled “Civil Discourse and the Body Politic” how students at a candidate forum were shocked and baffled by the level of respect and civility Castelli and his opponent afforded each other, and what a shame it is that expectations are so low.

“While it is true that each candidate’s record in office is always fair game,” he wrote, “a man or woman’s personal life or family is always off-bounds and yes, each candidate will try to define the other, but there are ways of doing that and ways not to. In the end, if we who serve wish to be admired by the public rather then despised, perhaps we should remember this the next time we run, and engage in civil discourse and debate like statesmen, and not politicians.”

From your lips to Sarah Palin’s ears, Assemblyman.

 

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A lost National Razor post: Why liberals must support the Afghanistan effort: Part I

[Editor’s note: this was last edited on October 8, about halfway done, and allowed to languish for over six months. Now seemed like the time to release it, for no particular reason. There is not a Part II – this was intended to call for a troop buildup in Afghanistan that ended up happening in December. This was what the troop level debate looked like around the time of the Kamdesh firefight.]
“In Afghanistan, this is the problem, because everybody holds a piece of that mirror, and they all look at it and claim that they hold the entire truth.” – Iranian filmmaker Moshen Makhmalbaf
 
It was a beautiful but soggy morning in Kamdesh. The rugged mountains pierced the overhanging clouds, while fog and mist flowed through the deeply furrowed valleys between the peaks. Rain was falling periodically, and through the vapor, the gray, green and brown of the landscape blended as if the whole vista was a watercolor. The sun, unseen behind the wall of clouds, scaled the tall mountains to the east that formed the border with Pakistan.
Mainly, it was quiet. The nearly unpeopled landscape was devoid of the traffic sounds, the siren wails and the jet engine whines that form the auditory background for almost everyone in America. Out in the wilds of Nurestan Province, silence was the norm.
The Kamdesh Forward Operating Base was home to 50 soldiers of the U.S. Army’s Task Force Mountain Warrior and about twice as many Afghan army troops, and they hadn’t seen much action of late. Once, years earlier, the troops had relieved many travelers through that sector of the Hindu Kush Mountains of their weapons, and ferreted out their share of Taliban materiel caches and fighters in the area.
The Taliban had found alternate routes, though, and for months had bypassed the tiny base completely. The skill of the Islamists navigating the terrain surpassed the ability of the Coalition and government troops to adapt to and counter the insurgents’ shifting tactics. So now, in the early morning hours, there was little to do. Sentries leaned against their sandbag turrets, the .50 caliber machine guns idle beside them. Men stirred awake, grabbed coffee, listened to music. It was unhurried. It was quiet.
Then, it was chaos.
Explosions rocked the compound as small arms fire erupted all around. The troops scrambled into position as they suddenly found themselves in heavy action, inundated with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and facing a swarm of Taliban fighters descending down the mountainside, appearing out of the mist that had obscured their movements in the pre-dawn hours.  
The radical fighters, hundreds strong, beseiged the camp for hours on end, raining down hell from nearby buildings and the mountain ridgelines above. The bombardment set buildings ablaze and pinned down the Coalition forces as fire spread through the outpost. At the height of the battle, the fighters blasted their way through the allied lines, breaching the perimeter and taking control of a portion of the base. Only a deadly, close-quarters firefight drove them back out, during which casualties on both sides mounted.  Eventually reinfocements were able to reach the area – too late for the Afghan army checkpoints that had been overrun during the offensive. Airstrikes and additional troops were enough to clear the attackers’ positions, but exhanges of gunfire continued through the afternoon.
By nightfall, the outpost was in ruins, and eight Americans lay dead. The Afghan Security Forces lost three men, and nearly twenty were captured by the Taliban. Three dozen others were wounded. Ironically, the Kamdesh base had already been scheduled for closure prior to the attack. Now, there was little left to abandon. 
The date was October 4, 2009. This happened on Saturday.
Whether any of us likes it or not – and it is a safe bet not many do – the United States is engaged in an ongoing, full-scale military operation in Afghanistan, and the likelihood is that we will be for years to come. The Battle of Kamdesh was an honest-to-God battle, in a real war.
Our path out of that country cannot be carved through our armed forces exclusively, nor through our diplomatic efforts alone, nor through humanitarian intervention as our sole means. It is only through a well-conceived, precisely executed program utilizing all three of those tools that we might secure our safety, improve life in the region and refocus our resources on other equally or more pressing issues, domestically and abroad.
U.S. soldiers manning a lookout at Kamdesh, where a fierce battle was fought Saturday

U.S. soldiers manning a lookout at Kamdesh, where a fierce battle was fought Saturday

The National Razor asserts firmly that, while the Iraq War was perhaps the gravest foreign policy mistake in the history of the Republic, an almost equally devastating mistake would be to leave Afghanistan in the hands of murderous, maniacal and motivated savages, whose stated mission is to supress women, curtail education, impose fundamentalist religion and spread their reach of violence and repression worldwide. Simply because George W. Bush said it does not automatically make it wrong. These men are evildoers.   
Those who conflate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are free to do so, but they do a grave disservice to their nation, whether they are on the right or the left. This was true when the Bush administration attempted to fuse them so as to lead us into an irrelevant and costly conflict, at the expense of our operations in Afghanistan. It is true now, when protestors of the far left rail against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the same breath and with the same vehemence, as if there was no distinction.
Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist and former protest candidate against Nancy Pelosi for her San Francisco congressional seat, was arrested Sunday when she chained herself to the fence outside the White House. Sixty others were also detained and cited, but possibly not the “pall bearers” who carried coffins draped with U.S., Iraqi and Afghani flags. Sheehan was wearing a shirt that read “Greed Kills” during the protest.  

Yesterday, the day before the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Afghanistan War, peace activist and former congressional candidate Cindy Sheehan announced that she is starting a new project, Peace of the Action, for which she is calling on 5,000 supporters to join her. Their plan, apparently, is to daily reenact the scene anti-war activists, Sheehan included, created outside the White House on the same day.

Cindy Sheehan, who doesn't perceive a difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo: AP

Cindy Sheehan, who doesn't perceive a difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo: AP

“We are not calling for this commitment for a day, a week, or a month. We are not even interested in making symbolic gestures. We are calling for this commitment until our demands of: All troops and para-military mercenaries, are ordered out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the drone bombings in the tribal regions of Af-Pak are discontinued and we get about the business of healing, reconciliation and REPARATIONS.”

And continued…

We must sacrifice a few of our creature comforts to rein in the Empire we live in before it’s too late. We will not start Peace of the Action until we have 5000 people who are willing to join us.

Peace will unfortunately require more than that. Peace will not come with the Taliban getting their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, or al-Qaeda going unmolested. It will come with patience and tolerance for a necessary increase in troops. The Left may not like it, but we will go with the commanders on this one.

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Ron Paul gets it right (and Obama gets it wrong)

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) is like Ozzy-era Black Sabbath: You shouldn’t dislike the music just because of the fans. To be sure, the music isn’t consistently awesome – and in fact some of it just blows – and the majority of die-hard Sabbath worshipers grasp nuance and refinement the way Sarah Palin grasps basic sentence structure. Nonetheless, those tunes that are great really are great, and at least you can talk to Sabbath fans about some subjects, as opposed to, say, Toby Keith fans, where reconstructive dental surgery is always a possibile outcome of straying into controversial topics.

So it is with Paul, who is pretty darn close to espousing the libertarian ideal. In libertarianism there is much for a progressive to love, especially for gays and pot smokers… doubly so for gay pot smokers. The simplicity of the idea, the harkening back to the rugged forging of a new nation where only an individual’s own limitations (and occassionally those pesky natives) stood in the way of Man meeting his potential, has broad appeal.

Rep. Ron Paul: When he's right, he's right

Also, he was against the Iraq War. This is a permanent feather in his cap, never to be taken away. Not even if Ozzy-era Ron Paul someday becomes Ronnie James Dio-era Ron Paul and just sounds terrible all the time.

That is a ways away, though, as evidenced by the latest-breaking news from Capitol Hill. Proving himself once again a contributor to the national dialogue, while so many of his Republican colleagues remain steadfast detractors, Paul is challenging the Obama administration to live up to its pledge of transparency. On this issue, he is right on the money.

Late Thursday afternoon, the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), approved a measure to assess upfront fees against large Wall Street firms to help pay for the dissolution of nonbank financial institutions, whereas taxpayers have hitherto been footing the bill. Included in the proposal was a plan to audit the operations of the Federal Reserve Bank.

From the New York Times:

The votes on fees and on the Fed audit came despite objections from the Obama administration. They illustrated the strong sentiment in Congress to curb the central bank’s power and assure voters that taxpayers won’t be on the hook for future Wall Street failures.

If Mr. Frank can win final passage in his committee in two weeks, the House could vote on the full overhaul next month.

On auditing the Fed, the committee adopted a plan by Representative Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, that had the support of a bipartisan roster of more than 300 members of Congress. It would give the Government Accountability Office the authority to audit the entirety of the Fed’s balance sheet, credit facilities and all securities purchase programs. Critics, led by Mr. Frank and Representative Melvin Watt, Democrat of North Carolina, argued that Mr. Paul’s proposal was too intrusive and could indirectly lead to higher interest rates. They proposed a more limited audit.

“If we open all of the discussions, the deliberations, the transactional gives and takes, what we will do is scare off capital because other governments will not deal with our Fed,” Mr. Watt said.

Mr. Paul, who ran a long-shot campaign for president last year, argued that Mr. Watt’s more limited proposal would exclude much of the Fed’s work from scrutiny.

“There is no reason in the world why this country and our people can’t know eventually about what’s going on in the Federal Reserve,” Mr. Paul said.

Mr. Paul could not be more correct. The Federal Reserve has always been a problematic institution, right down to the not-quite-private, not-quite-public status under which it operates. Lately, it has been arguably more powerful than any president’s economic advisory council or any Congressional committee, and, first under Alan Greenspan and later Ben Bernanke, became an instrument of making Milton Friedman economics official U.S. policy. Greenspan pressed for financial services deregulation and supported the bubble-driven markets of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and was a disciple of the perverse and nonsensical ideology of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. (Greenspan has since apologized, sort of, but not for being a Randian.)

Paul and his followers have a great deal of animus toward “fiat money” systems in general (wherein only government-sanctioned currency is legal tender, and the value of currency is not linked to or backed by actual assets, such as gold). The Federal Reserve is the administrator of America’s fiat money structure, and thus the cries of “End the Fed” shouted by Ron Paul adherents.  Notwithstanding the many ways dismantling the Federal Reserve Bank is an unnecessary and currently impossible task, the basic sentiment is not one shared by The National Razor. Fiat money is fine.

What is not fine is the idea that the entity to which the economic fortunes of this country are tied should operate under such a cloud of secrecy. That somehow the White House travel office received more official scrutiny in the late ’90s than the Fed may go some way toward explaining how things got so incredibly FUBAR this decade, and where we should turn our collective probing gaze to fix the fiasco in the next.

Sadly, the Obama administration is not on board. With Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner an alumnus of the New York Federal Reserve Board, and Chief Economic Advisor Larry Summers, well, just a schmuck, the “change we need” is looking a lot like the mess we’ve had. That Obama’s sweeping overhaul plans for the federal government do not currently include the (semi)governmental institution at the center of the crisis only confirms how necessary it is that the Fed be audited and, if need be, restructured. Goldman Sachs and AIG may have been “too big to fail,” but the Federal Reserve is not too big to be investigated.   

If anything, Obama should be at the vanguard of this push. Ron Paul is vehemently opposed to the health insurance reform bills being considered by Congress if they include a public option, which means that his followers, mainly registered independents, are as well. They may never come around to embracing a public option with open arms, but mollifying them with action on their most important issue, the Fed, will help immensely. On days like today, when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released an estimate that the Senate health reform bill under consideration would reduce federal budget deficits by close to $200 billion over the next decade, it would behoove the administration to be able to tout such a victory without having to face uncomfortable questions about transparency and defend an entity that was complicit in our financial turmoil.

Not only that, it would be doing what Obama promised to do.

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