Mar 3, 2011

A pattern of deception at Fox News

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Fox News as an idea. The conservative cable television station has a place, there is nothing at all wrong with news from a particular viewpoint. In Europe news sources have traditionally reported from a point of view with great success and their readers were no worse off because of it.

I am uncomfortable with Fox News calling themselves 'Fair and Balanced' when they are clearly conservative, pro-Republican and right-wing. The slogan "We report, you decide" smacks of arrogance that the relatively young news source has not yet earned.

If they keep up their recent history of convenient 'errors' that all for some reason end up favoring right-wing candidates and Republicans, they'll cease to be a source of journalism altogether.

In recent years, Fox News has inflated the numbers of people attending political rallies and book signings for conservative politicos.

There are multiple examples of Fox News broadcasting misleading and erroneous graphs that are not reflective of reality. For some reason these errors always seem to favor Republican points of view - whether disparaging President Obama's policies or inflating public response to GOP proposals.

It might not be fair to say all Fox News mistakes are because of their bias and desire to see liberal policies fail. Some are just plain ignorant.

When the network decides to reverse the results of polls to make it seem like Americans favor Republican governors' attempts to curtail collective bargaining rights for public workers, or post polling results that are utterly irrational, one begins to question their motives.

The problem with Fox is that they are now responsible for a generation of misinformed people who are willing to accept falsehoods as truth, all in the name of their political ideology. That should be a crime against the intellect. How can a democracy function if the media is telling people bald-faced lies and spinning important issues in an unethical manner to prevent honest debate? Fox is the most watched news network in the country, and its viewers are the most misinformed people in the country.

In the worst cases, Fox's editorial mistakes appear to be both racially and politically motivated.

Our neighbors to the north have prevented organizations like NewsCorp from dominating their airwaves by making it illegal to lie in a news broadcast. Perhaps we should do the same here, in the name of preserving the craft and profession of journalism and keeping it separate from entertainment.

Every time Fox writes or broadcasts an error, they damage our democracy as well as their credibility. We have a whole legion of politically motivated but terribly misinformed Fox News viewers out there who insist that they must be right because the 'mainstream media' has a liberal bias, and Fox does not. If Fox is purposefully lying to these folks, then there are dangerously ignorant people out there with the power to vote.

Charlie Sheen + Family Circus = Perfection

This is the most awesome thing going right now on Blogspot.

A Matter of Choice

Whether Democrats like it or not, there is always a chance that the 2012 elections will put a Republican into the White House. The GOP has a responsibility to nominate a credible candidate for President. I think Mitt Romney is the only potential Republican candidate who is prepared to lead this country.

In the past election, the choice of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was a good one on the surface. McCain ran unsuccessfully for the nomination several times and had experience on the campaign trail. He was a political moderate known for his ability to reach across the aisle and compromise with Democrats, and he had credible foreign policy experience. McCain was also known as a shrewd, intelligent individual that approached the challenges of governing with gravitas and dignity.

John McCain went awry when he selected an utterly unqualified person like Sarah Palin as his running mate. Sarah Palin represents everything wrong with the Republican Party - willfully ignorant, politically incompetent, it seems like every time Mrs. Palin opens her mouth she does more harm than good. Sarah Palin cost Senator McCain his election and making the mistake of nominating a candidate like her would surely cost the GOP again.

When I look at the field of Republican potentials today, I don't see many individuals who live up to our standards - most candidates resemble Sarah Palin more than they resemble John McCain.

For one thing, ideologues like Ron Paul have no place in the White House. They are utterly incapable of hammering out the compromises that lead to signed legislation and strong diplomacy. Leaders make compromises that most people don't like, accept the blame for them and then present said compromises to their consituents in a manner that makes them acceptable. I can't imagine Ron Paul making a compromise, let alone presenting it to the people in an acceptable manner.

On the other hand, you have leaders like Newt Gingrich who have the intellect and gravitas to sit in the Oval Office but lack the strength of character to be head of state.

Then you have some candidates that are just unacceptable because of their views on race and religion. Southern governors like Haley Barbour (R-MS) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee fall into this category.

The most qualified potential GOP candidate in the field is also the most popular one - which may stand as proof that the Republican Party is not the mass of hardline fools that many liberals try to portray them to be. Mitt Romney's moderate, nuanced points of view are always backed up by a torrent of logic and data. In debate he would be every bit the match for President Obama.

Romney has had the experience of being a Republican governing one of the most Democratic states in the country, Massachussetts. He successfully passed a health care reform law that mirrors Obama's own, and defended it against his critics. Not only that, Romney is also an experienced business man who can hold his own in economic discussions. If Obama must go down in defeat in Novemeber 2012, Romney is the only one who could credibly claim to be a better leader than him.

Mar 2, 2011

This is now a Libyan Civil War.

Robert Fisk today has an eye-opening story in The Independent about the state of Libya. He speaks of near chaos on the border as 10s of thousands try to leave the country beleaguered by internal conflict for over two weeks. What authorities remain there try to keep refugees supplied with water and food. In the mean time, state media within Libya continues to repeat the assertion that the global press is lying about conditions in the North African country and that the protests were small, localized disturbances encouraged by al Qaeda and hallucinogenic drugs.

Opposition protesters have received weapons training, according to Al Jazeera English, and have volunteered to march on Tripoli. The leaders and organizers of the anti-Gaddafi forces have for the time being decided to fortify and garrison the town of Benghazi.

In the meantime, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader, clings to power and title in the capitol of Tripoli. Today he addressed the public with a rambling, two-hour speech in which he reiterated that the protests were encouraged by al Qaeda and claimed that he was the only barrier preventing terrorism from entering southern and western Europe.

Gaddafi forces have engaged the opposition in brutal ground assaults, briefly retaking the city of Brega before the opposition apparently took it back. Though the opposition has the arsenal and numbers to protect itself from ground attack it has no answer to the Libyan air force which has inflicted casualties on protesters in support of Colonel Gaddafi. Gaddafi is also attacking oil producing areas in order to put economic pressure on the West.

As the border system collapses and panic sweeps over some of the population, the opposition stands strong, and Colonel Gaddafi is still in denial. Gaddafi still has a military force of around 10,000 trained troops, and anti-Gaddafi forces have more numbers but less firepower. Neither side recognized the authority of the other, and neither has sovereignty over Libya at this particular moment. Therefore, I conclude that we are witnessing a civil war.

Is asking whether Obama has purposefully raised gas prices a stupid question?

Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi raised eyebrows today by accusing President Barack Obama of pursuing policies that will drive up the price of oil.

Barbour was quoted in a Huffington Post article:

"This administration's policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive," said Barbour in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC

I'm not sure if this goes anywhere from here. The recent spike in oil prices has been caused by conflict in the Middle East. The Obama Administration has always taken great pains to frame their policies in encouraging alternative energy research and expanding public transportation as designed to ween the United States off of its dependence on Middle Eastern Oil. Barbour's accusations don't hold much water.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder where these alternative fuels that Barbour claims Obama is trying to push are. As far as I have seen, Obama has been compromising to use traditional fuels in more environmentally friendly ways. The White House has been a verbal proponent of clean coal power and exploration and cars with better fuel economy - policies that should drive down the cost of energy, not increase it.

I fail to see what political gain the Obama Administration would have for driving up the price of oil. Even if you oppose their policies, it isn't wise to assume that the administration is stupid.

Barbour claiming that Obama is purposely driving up the price of oil is like me claiming that Barbour caused Hurricane Katrina to hit his state in 2005 - purely ludicrous.

Mar 1, 2011

Libya may be on brink of humanitarian crisis

The situation in Libya has disintegrated since my last update. The north African country's authoritarian leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, is under fire from the diplomatic community and literally from his own people. Diplomatic and economic sanctions have been imposed by the UN and individual member-countries after Libyan diplomats withdrew support from Gaddafi's regime.

Protests have rocked the country for two weeks, and an all out rebellion has broken out with the resistance taking control of large portions of the country.It is unclear how much of Libya Gaddafi is in control of at this point, but he remains convinced that he is still in control of his country.

Al Jazeera has carried stories about groceries in Tripoli running out of food. Throughout the country protests continue relentless pressure on Col. Gaddafi to step down, however the inflation of food prices might extract a higher toll that the violence of the regime.

Gaddafi is refusing to relinquish control. Today he sent armed mercenaries to confront the demonstrations in cities in the east of Libya. There are no credible estimates as to the number of dead. Unlike Egypt, there are very few journalists freely operating in Libya, restricting the flow of good information from the country.

In the mean time, Libyan protesters are making one thing very clear to the west: they want control of their own country on their own terms, something that would be impossible with western interference. Nevertheless, it does look like a consensus is building to create a no-fly zone. I think that combined with humanitarian aid, such a measured response would not be inappropriate.

Is demonizing unions fair?

With the ongoing protests in Wisconsin against budget cuts proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker and a law that severely curtails the right of public employees to collectively bargain for better working conditions, the value of labor unions is once again an issue before the country. It is disturbing to see the decline in support for unions in America.

Those on the right generally oppose the labor union ideal, though for what reason exactly is difficult to find. Many root their arguments in the economic freedoms of business owners, whom Republicans argue should be able to run their business without interference from the government. However, there is also a long tradition of union support for the Democratic party, which has added a very political element to the GOP's opposition to labor unions.

I find it difficult to come up with a credible argument against the formation and existence of labor unions in the United States. Their very presence is just a continuation of the democratic, liberal values of the American revolution. The revolution was about asserting an individual's political independence from the tyrannical domination of a king. In the same manner, labor organizing into unions is asserting the individual's economic independence from the domination of wealth.

Labor unions give individual working people with little influence power to join together and speak with one voice to negotiate with the owners and operators of their respective industries. We, as citizens, vote on representatives to speak for us in legislatures. In the same manner working people should be allowed to vote for representatives to speak for them at the bargaining table where labor contracts are hammered out.

There is a stereotype in the United States of labor unions as a tool to negotiate for ridiculous concessions. Union members are portrayed as lazy, overpaid and coddled. This simply isn't true. Unions, using the collective power of labor, have led to the laws that shape our culture.

If not for unions, we would not have the 40 hour work week and the 8 hour work day. We would not have laws to prevent child labor. Our workplaces would be unsafe, and there would be no restitution for work missed while sick or injured, and workers could not miss days to care for injured or ill family members. There would be no minimum wage law. No one would make overtime pay. Laborers could be forced to live on property owned by their company, and required to buy products from a company store.

Remember the sacrifices that were made for labor rights - labor leaders endured violence and the threat of murder. Laws were changed to imprison union leaders. Many of them were incorrectly labeled communists and provocateurs and blacklisted. The struggle that gave individuals the right to form groups to negotiate for better conditions in their workplace was a direct descendent of the American Revolution and an ancestor to the American Civil Rights movement.

Unions have done for working people what democracy did for voting people. To abolish unions - or even curtail their rights - would be like appointing someone president for life or denying Americans the right to vote for their legislators. It would be like going back to Jim Crow laws and repealing the 19th Amendment. Opposing labor unions is - dare I say it - the very definition of being unamerican.

Feb 28, 2011

Political Parties playing chicken with budget cuts, shutdown

The battles over budgets continue in state capitols like Madison, Wisconsin as well as in the United States Congress in Washington D.C., where an impasse on the budget could lead to a government shutdown if no action is taken before March 4 - which is this Saturday.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are trying to hammer out a stop-gap measure compromise that would fund the government for two weeks with deep budget cuts. If this compromise is passed with the deep cuts intact, the GOP will likely try continue them.

At stake right now are hundreds of thousands of jobs and the very stability of the American economy. If the budget cuts that many representatives seek are indeed passed, it would likely mean another recession for the American people. Coupled with rising gas prices, the economic well-being of our country may be at risk.

On the other hand, the current level of deficit spending is not sustainable. Efforts must be undertaken to generate more revenue and necessitate less spending. Cutting 700,000 jobs does not, on the surface, sound like the best option available to our elected representatives.

However, if both sides fail to compromise and a shutdown occurs, losses are inevitable. Border security will cease to exist. Immigration and customs officials will be furloughed, slowing legal entry into the US, even of American citizens.

A government shutdown will furlough hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay. This will result in millions of dollars being withdrawn from the economy. In the short term, a shutdown is bad news for the whole country.

Veterans benefits will not be paid out and VA hospitals may close their doors. Our veterans will also lose their access to welfare, transportation, health care and social security programs

If a government shutdown becomes a long-term issue, social security checks may not be mailed out and the post office itself might cease to function. Money for active military personnel and military infrastructure will not be paid out, leaving our troops hungry and in the dark.

I'm not sure if many of the supporters of federal and state budget cuts have given much thought to what their tax dollars actually pay for. Teachers, roads, bridges, school buildings, traffic lights, buses, trains, ports, harbors, border crossings, health clinics, military, security, the electrical grid, the best educational programming on the planet, water safety testing and consumer safety agencies are all funded by municipal, state and federal budgets.

If we cut funding, we will inevitably lose some of these services. We can't afford to lose them, the cost to the middle class is too great, and it is ignorant to expect private industry to pick up the slack for services that our government already provides efficiently in a not-for-profit manner. One has to question why we are cutting programs and destroying jobs that help and benefit the middle and working classes just weeks after passing tax cuts that go mostly to those making over $250,000 per year.

Reid and Boehner need to stop their partisan game of chicken and come to a deal that continues current funding levels for government programs and prevents any government shutdown.

US Gov't to Gaddafi: Will You Please Go Now?

Finally, after days of seeking international consensus and patiently escalating sanctions, the Obama Administration has called for Muammar Gaddafi to step down from the Libyan presidency and leave his country.

This statement may be a little late in the game as Gaddafi has already seen most of his country fall into opposition hands. The opposition movement now plans a march on the capitol, Tripoli.

The statement by Secretary of State Clinton comes after the United States failed to publically call for the end of regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. It is unclear whether the American statements will affect conditions within Libya, however it may lead to more international cooperation to increase external pressures on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, his family and his associates.

The success of the Libyan revolution comes in the face of violent attacks from the regime upon the protesters, including air strikes, tank battles and hired thugs imported from other west-African countries to enter Libyan cities and brutalize pro-democracy groups.

The End of an Era

Frank Buckles, the United States' last World War I veteran, died over the weekend at the age of 110. According to MSNBC, there are now only two of the 65 million participants in World War I alive, a 109-year-old Australian man and a 110-year-old British woman.

World War I was a major turning point in history. The rise of nationalism overturned old monarchical and dictatorial regimes and empires. The Great War saw the end of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empire. The aftermath of the war saw Germany hit with sanctions that would become one of the leading explainers for the rise of Naziism and World War II.

Today's young people may be seeing a similar change in the world with successful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and revolt brewing in Bahrain, Libya and Algeria. Regimes like North Korea, Iran, Syria and Jordan also show signs of crumbling.

Just as the first 20 years of last century recast the world in a new nationalistic, post-colonial mold, the first 20 years of this century seem to be doing the same.

Feb 25, 2011

The best protest sign ever.

If Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans fire scores of teachers, Pedobear will gladly lend a hand!

A Sea of People in Bahrain

In Bahrain friday large numbers of pro-democracy protesters marched through the city to the Pearl Roundabout.

They mourned the killing of 7 of their fellow protesters last week, honoring them by re-naming the intersection 'Martyrs' Roundabout'

Gaddafi promises to arm counter-protesters

The situation in Libya continues to be in apparent flux. It is difficult to assess from my comfortable vantage point in the United States whether the country is deteriorating or stabilizing, but one thing is clear, it is not going its beseiged leader's way.

Today Muammar Gaddafi gave another chilling address to the people of Libya at the Green Square in Tripoli, where he promised to

defeat any aggression if necessary and arm the people ... prepare to defend Libya. Prepare to defend petrol, prepare to defend dignity

The square was filled with what appeared to be supporters of Colonel Gaddafi.

In the mean time, reports have come in to BBC Arabic that Gaddafi's control in Libya has been reduced to parts of Tripoli. The list of diplomats that have defected from the regime is expanding, and the Libyan missions to the Arab League and the United Nations no longer fly the all-green flag of Gaddafi, but the red, black and green flag of the rebellion.

Recently, on Twitter, some users report that 50,000 protesters have begun a march onto Tripoli.

If these reports are true, these could be the final hours of the Gaddafi regime.

Wisconsin crank call went too far.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was punked by a crank call from Ian Murphy, a blogger and 'new journalist' from the Buffalo Beast - details of that call can be found in a previous post.

Though many are disturbed that Governor Walker admitted to considering using violence and intimidation to end the protests, and that Walker would take phone calls from the billionaire tycoon and Tea Party founder Koch brothers but not his own state senators, I think the real issue here is the so-called journalist who used lies and deception to access governor Walker.

Ian Murphy is not a journalist. Any blogger who wishes to be called a journalist should still abide by the standards of ethics that all good journalists abide by.

The Society of Professional Journalists, in its Code of Ethics, argues that journalists should be 'honest, fair, and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news.'

Mr. Murphy fails the honesty test. The information derived from his fake conversation with Governor Walker was drawn from deceit that makes my entire profession look bad. Publicatons like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal would fire a reporter for stooping to such methods.

When seeking out interviews, journalists should never misrepresent their name or affiliation. If politicians or private citizens decline to speak with us, that is indeed their right, as it is our freedom to report their 'non-statements' and to continue to try to contact them.

I believe the Buffalo Beast website owes Governor Walker - and the entire profession of journalism - an apology for their dishonesty.

On the other hand, it is surprisingly easy to prank Wisconsin's governor.

Gaddafi's claims simply don't add up

As reported here and elsewhere, Muammar Gaddafi is blaming al Qaeda for drugging the pro-democracy demonstrators in Libya and provoking them into revolt.

If we avoid coming to the conclusions that Colonel Gaddafi is either deranged or lying, there's still little evidence that the Libyan revolution has been orchestrated or inspired by al Qaeda.

Consider al Qaeda's disposition throughout the world - small cells of terrorists lying in wait, using the resources of their host country to create effective attacks to inspire fear in the heart of the west. Not only is Libya not part of the west, but the protests and revolt happening there involve a very large portion of the population.

Also we should look at al Qaeda's preferred method of attack - using improvised explosive devices, assault parties using small arms, and suicide bombers. When one looks at the rebels on the streets of Libyan cities, there are large masses of people - hardly evident of al Qaeda-like tactics at work.

So Colonel Gaddafi's claims do not hold water. The revolt in Libya shows none of the signs of al Qaeda sponsored or inspired violence. On the surface, it doesn't even seem to be Islamist in character.

Feb 24, 2011

Gas prices back to $4/gallon this summer?

As parts of the Middle East struggle through democratic revolutions, oil prices have surged over $100 a barrel.

Though the countries experiencing unrest do not export large quantities of oil to the United States, gas prices have risen 12 cents a gallon over the past ten days. The democratic revolutions are occurring close to countries that export oil to the US, many of which depend on the stability of autocratic regimes who are at odds with their population over questions of legitimacy.

Countries like Libya also export oil to other areas around the world, like Europe. As the flow of oil from Libya slows to a trickle, Europe now has to seek oil from other sources. A smaller supply of oil has to accommodate increasing global demand, leading to higher prices.

Some experts are predicting that the average cost at the pump for Americans will reach $4 a gallon.

Skyrocketing fuel costs will have both an economic and a political impact on the US.

First, the prices will severely harm the budget of ordinary Americans. Middle and working class people will have less disposable income. As the cost of moving goods throughout the country increases, shelf prices for food and materials will also mushroom. As a people, Americans will spend less money on entertainment, tourism and luxury goods. While some sectors of the economy will weather the storm or even flourish, it will not offset the impact that the burden of fuel prices will have on the American consumer. In short, the fragile economic recovery is in serious risk.

Second, there will be pressure on Congress to examine measures to reduce the dependence on foreign oil. The Republican House of Representatives may find itself forced to reluctantly embrace programs promoted by the president and the Democratic party like Amtrak, High Speed Rail, and alternative fuel research.

What is clear is that this problem could be solved if Americans were encouraged to use other forms of transportation besides their cars. Some economists and politicians are floating using a $1 gas tax increase to both fund transit and rail programs and get people out of their cars and onto bicycles, sidewalks, buses and trains. Current gasoline tax levels are not enough to fund the insufficient transportation funding in the federal budget now.

Regime, Gaddafi's sanity crumble

Anti-regime protesters in Libya are gaining ground against government forces that appear to be made up of the remnants of the Libyan military still loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and hired mercenaries imported into the country from outside its borders.

Earlier today the pro-democracy crowds claimed Libya's third-largest city, Misurati, giving them a high-population stronghold in the western part of the country. Reports from Al Jazeera English and CNN's Ben Wedeman have confirmed that the protesters also control the eastern border of the country shared with Egypt and that thousands of refugees have crossed over the past few days.

In the mean time, the forces of Colonel Gaddafi's regime continue to attack the once peaceful protesters, who have taken up arms in defense. The protests continue to spread and grow despite the regime's tight control over the media, communications networks and other infrastructure in the country. As the international community tries to find a consensus on how to protect or help the pro-democracy movement from the regime's forces, Gaddafi's grasp on his sanity appears to be loosening.

In his latest speech, mysteriously given by telephone, Gaddafi claims that the protesters are drugged 'children' under the influence of al Qaeda. The Colonel has been unwilling to acknowledge that the rebellion is a popularly organized movement of Libyans who no longer want his leadership. Gaddafi's statements have become more erratic and his appearance has deteriorated as he has lost control of Libya.

Middle East expert, scholar and historian Juan Cole estimates that the protesters now control 90 percent of Libya.

The GOP answers the Dems olive branch with an insult.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-AZ) proposed a compromise with the Republican party that would fund the government for 30 days. The proposal would be a stop-gap measure as current government funding will stop on March 4th. Congress has not yet passed a budget for this year as the Republican Party has been reluctant to negotiate on spending cuts.

After proposing a widely maligned revised budget that would trim $61 billion of spending over 7 months, Speaker John Boehner and the Republican majority in the House have now brought a stop-gap measure to the table. The new measures would prevent a government shut down and trim $4 billion from the federal budget.

That is $2 billion a week in savings. House Republicans have not budged an inch on their plan to reduce the federal deficit by ending federal programs. The proposed reduction and elimination of government services would help fund the Bush tax cuts, which will cost the United States an estimated $4 trillion in revenue over the next 10 years.

To Harry Reid's credit, his proposal continues the $41 billion in cuts that the two parties agreed to back in December. However, it is clear that both parties have a long way to go before even a temporary stop-gap measure is agreed upon.

If House Republicans and Senate Democrats fail to compromise before March 4th, a shutdown will occur.

Feb 23, 2011

UPDATE: Scott Walker Punked by crank call

Though this isn't journalism, it reveals some important things about Scott Walker and what is going on behind the scenes in the Wisconsin budget/union protests. Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the info.

Here's the juicier details, thanks to HuffPo.

In essence, Walker pretty much admits he is conspiring with other GOP officials to deny Democrats their paychecks and to force the protesters into a stalemate where they'll have to give in to him on the budget matter. He also admits to contemplating planting pro-conservative individuals among the protesters.

It was recently announced that Scott Walker will address his state at 2:30 p.m. central time.

For Gaddafi, it is only a matter of time

The long reign of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, ruler of Libya for 41 years, is likely coming to a close. Earlier today military officials declared their support for the people of Libya against Colonel Gaddafi, declaring him a tyrant. CNN's Ben Wedemen reports that the military is arming protesters in some cities.

Throughout the country violence continues as pro-government forces crack down on the protesters. Despite crackdowns that have included the use of tanks and bombs and have killed over 1,000 according to reports, protesters remain on the streets. Several more Libyan cities have fallen.

In the mean time, western countries are scrambling to withdraw their citizens from the north African nation and European countries are preparing to take in refugees.

Throughout the country, the green flag of the Gaddafi regime is being replaced by the red, black and green flag that flew in Libya before his coup.

In response to the crisis, the UN Security Council has called for the Libyan government to stop the use of force against protesters as a rapid increase in oil prices threatens to cripple an already weak global economy.

Is the Wisconsin battle really just a power grab?

Now that the Wisconsin budget battles are in their second week, more is becoming clear as to what actually precipitated Governor Scott Walker and the state's Republican legislative caucus to propose a sweeping budget reduction coupled with elimination of collective bargaining rights for public sector employees. Chances are, it wasn't to reduce deficits or even stab at the heart of a traditional political enemy to the GOP, but it might still be about the bottom line.

According to some research into the legislation, it appears that it is designed to facilitate the sale of public utilities to subsidiaries of Koch Enterprises. The Koch brothers are the primary financiers behind the Tea Party movement, largely responsible for the election of highly conservative politicians like Scott Walker. If this research is proved true, then Scott Walker is using the budget crisis to kick back lucrative utility purchases to the Kochs in return for their support during the campaign.

Though it appears that the Democrats are winning the battles, both in the state capitol and in the hearts and minds of their constituents over the value of collective bargaining rights. A majority appears to support the protesters - however, Scott Walker and the Republican delegation the Wisconsin State Senate might be willing to scrap the collective bargaining issue in order to let their sweetheart deal for the Koch Brothers to go through.

Feb 22, 2011

Interesting Parallels in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio

Tough times abound in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio. All three states are experiencing major budget crunches, and in all three rust belt states pro-union demonstrators have entrenched themselves in state capitols to protest bills that would strip collective bargaining rights from public workers. These workers include teachers, sanitation workers and other municipal employees.

Though other public servants like police and firefighters have been exempted from some versions of these bills, they have attended protests in solidarity with the teachers.

In Wisconsin, some of the tactics used by controversial new governor Scott Walker mirror those used by dictators in the Middle East facing pro-democracy protests. I hesitate to make these comparisons, as the demonstrators in the Middle East face existential danger and often oppose well-entrenched, ruthless dictators. I don't think Governor Walker is a bloody dictator.

Some of his tactics are questionable though.

In Madison, on the capitol grounds, protesters have been unable to access one of their organizing websites for the past 24 hours. Though it is clear that previously this site was accessable, Governor Walker's administration claims that it is standard procedure for all 'new' sites to be screened before being made available to those using the internet on capitol grounds.

Walker has also made several defiant speeches in which he shows disdain for the will of his constituents. He also refused to acknowledge the protests as a genuine movement in his own state, attributing their numbers and success to 'outside influences'.

Other members of the government have found governor Walker's policies and behavior so offensive that they have left the state. Democratic State Senators in Indiana followed suit today.

Finally, Governor Scott Walker seems completely unable to compromise to come up with a solution, instead following what seems to have become an unfortunate GOP trademark: petulant, childish stubborness.

Next up, likely budget protests of a similar sort in Michigan and New Jersey.

Muammar Gaddafi speaks defiantly

Less than 30 minutes ago Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi addressed his people. In a somewhat disjointed speech marked by awkward pauses, Gaddafi promised to stay in power. He also accused the protesters in Libya of being on drugs and referred to them as rats.

According to Al Jazeera English, Gaddafi then called for his supporters to ""Get out of your homes, secure the streets, get the greasy rats out of the streets!"

This comes after a massive crackdown on protesters that many have blamed either Colonel Gaddafi or his son, Sa'if al-Islam Gaddafi, for ordering. Reports from the streets of Tripoli have claimed that those attacking Libyan demonstrators are not native to Libya, but appear to be mercenaries hired from Chad or Niger.

So unlike Egypt, where the military eventually refused to fire on its own people and turned against the regime, in Libya the regime has hired outsiders so that the ethical choice of killing ones own countrymen does not come into play.

In the mean time, Libyan diplomats continue to flee the regime. Iran has halted its oil activities in the country and is moving to withdraw its people within the next 36 hours. The anti-Gaddafi protesters have taken control of the eastern border and Libya and refugees from the conflict are now pouring into Egypt.

CNN's Ben Wedeman crossed the same border last night, becoming the only western journalist that I know of within Libya at this time.

Finally, the group Anonymous, a loose coalition of online hackers and troublemakers, have condemned the Gaddafi regime and have called for the UN to establish a no-fly zone over Libya in order to protect the protesters from government-sponsored violence.

Colonel Gaddafi has vowed to die like a martyr. His wish may yet come true.

UPDATE 1208 EST : Gaddafi closes a rambling speech that lasts over an hour by promising to lead those loyal to him in an effort to 'purify' Libya.

Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Obama's Rib

Always eager to get his name in the blogs and on the 24-hour cable news networks, Rush Limbaugh took some time during his show to criticize Michelle Obama's dietary choices while skiing at Vail, Colorado. Limbaugh, a fan of hyperbole, argued that it was hypocritical for Michelle Obama to eat a rib after championing healthier eating to combat obesity, especially childhood obesity.

Regardless of how hypocritical the portly Limbaugh's criticism of Michelle Obama's dietary choice might seem, the fact remains that his criticism is wrong. Had he done some research he might have found that the First Lady's dinner at Vail wasn't unhealthy at all and was actually called for due to her activity level.

Rush Limbaugh suggesting that someone else is unhealthy and fat isn't just hypocrisy - it is delicious, delicious irony.

Feb 21, 2011

Wisconsin teachers outsmart the governor

Tomorrow is day seven of the pro-education, anti-budget cut protests in Wisconsin. Over the weekend a small crowd of Tea Party activists attended the protests in support of Governor Scott Walker, but they were overwhelmed by the teachers and their supporters who outnumbered the conservatives by over 10 to 1.

Ghaddafi Punishes Libya

It seems to be the end of the line for Muammar Ghaddafi. Cabinet members and diplomats are fleeing his administration. Demonstrations and counter-protests have rocked every population center in Libya, and the 41-year dictator is clinging to power. Around the world Libyans and leaders are calling for him to step down.

Instead of heeding the calls of his people, Ghaddafi has sent jets and tanks to attack his own people. Al Jazeera English posted this a couple of hourse ago on their live blog:

12:34am: Images of bodies gutted in the attacks are too harrowing to be shown. Our colleagues on the TV side of the newsroom have had to pixellate the bloodied bodies, where limbs have been hacked off and torsos maimed.

In the mean time, BP and other oil companies are moving to shut down their operations within Libya and move their staff out of the country, which many fear may be slipping into civil war. This will no doubt cause oil prices to surge - Libya is in the top 10 of oil producing countries and is the third largest supplier of oil to the EU. Lower oil supply will drive prices, already at 2 year highs, to new maximums.

Given the reported atrocities that Ghaddafi is incurring on the Libyan people combined with the economic impact of a new oil crunch, some western leaders are no doubt considering whether some sort of intervention is necessary to prevent a long-term conflict.

Presidential aspirations fall short on foreign policy.

Potential GOP presidential frontrunners have levelled criticism towards the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama on all areas of policy. Some of this criticism is quite legitimate and should be taken seriously. It is true that, regardless of the quality of his reasons, President Obama is overseeing the largest federal budget deficit in history. However, these critics fail to acknowledge that the budget is merely proposed by the White House - it is actually crafted and passed into law by Congress.

One area where the White House does have power to shape policy is foreign affairs. The Obama Administration inherited a world thrown off balance by the pre-emptive military actions undertaken by the previous administration and by a prolonged economic downturn that has affected all corners of the globe.

This downturn has created instability in some of the emerging countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Iran and Libya. As demonstrations spread across the region, the president's policy has become clear - urge governments not to respond to legitimate protests with violence, but do not overtly support the overthrow of established regimes. In this way Obama has walked a fine line between supporting American allies in the region and supporting what appear to be pro-democracy protests.

Obama's potential opponents, however, have not fared as well and appear incoherent on Middle Eastern policy, torn between the pro-Israel neoconservative policies of the Bush Administration and the pseudo-isolationist paleoconservative policies of Republicans in the past.

Newt Gingrich was one of the first Republicans to publically fall on the foriegn policy sword, exclaiming that the Obama administration was 'amateurish' on Egypt while also claiming that the response raises trust issues with our allies, clearly coming out in opposition to emerging democracies in the Middle East. Gingrich widely supported the previous administration that sought to spread democracy in the Middle East through unprovoked attacks on the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Then Sarah Palin got in on the fun, picking up on a meme from the 2008 Democratic Primary claiming that Obama missed an important '3 am phone call' about the disorder in the Middle East. The faulty assumption that Palin and many others made about the Egyptian protest is that they were somehow connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the Muslim Brotherhood is somehow directly connected to today's terrorists that target western powers. This is what happens when you open your mouth and make a statement from a position of near-ignorance.

Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee both made the same mistake as Sarah Palin, convinced through what is at best ignorance, at worst racism, that all Muslim protesters in Egypt were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and that somehow constituted a threat to the United States. This could become a campaign issue - do we really want leaders who tilt at windmills? Does the Republican Party really want to nominate a candidate who knows so little about the Middle East and who makes inflamatory statements without checking their own facts?

The only GOP potential to respond in a remotely presidential manner on the Egypt affair was Mitt Romney, who withheld judgement and showed some diplomatic tact, even though he vaguely criticized Obama's foreign policies.

In the mean time, as a party, the GOP opposes international conflict resolution forums like the UN, opposes cooperative global nuclear disarmament and fails to present a coherent foreign policy at all - some candidates don't even grasp the basic geography of our planet - and their punditry is not improving their image.

Here come the planes.

Reports coming out of Tripoli of airstrikes by the Libyan government against protesters. One activist estimates 250 killed within the last 24 hours, a total that would double the more recent 'official' estimates coming from the country.

Elsewhere, the reports of airstrikes is confirmed as two Libyan pilots refused their orders to fire on the crowds and flew to Malta declaring their intentions to defect.

UPDATE 13:50 EST now reports of doctors being shot, fires throughout Tripoli. Also, it seems that the Libyan diplomatic corps are resigning en masse and joining the dissent against Ghaddafi's government.

...and now, Libya

Today the northern African nation of Libya stands on the brink of revolution after pro-democracy protests in Egypt and Tunisia succeeded in recent weeks. The revolt started with demonstrations against the 41-year dictatorship of Muammar al-Ghaddafi in the Libyan town of Benghazi. Since the protests began last week, they have grown in power and support, sweeping into the capitol of Tripoli.

Today's reports put the protest death toll estimates somewhere between 230 and 400 people. The secret police of Ghaddafi's regime have been far less hesitant to use force against the protesters. Despite the show of violence by the regime, recent reports claim military defections to the protesters' side and government buildings in the capitol on fire.

Ghaddafi's son appeared on television to try to put down the protests, claiming the country would be hurled toward civil war and that the protests were to create an Islamic emirate in Libya.

Though Libya has very high oil revenues, the country also suffers more than 20% unemployment, one of the factors that contributed to the fall of the regimes in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.

Feb 18, 2011

Bahrain Explodes

The small Persian Gulf country of Bahrain has witnessed anti-monarchy protests against the government of the Khalifa family there. The situation inside the key US ally escalated as the government opened fire on protesters yesterday, killing 3 and injuring many.

Today the protesters returned to the Pearl Roundabout, a location that has become their country's Tahrir Square, only to be assaulted once more by government forces. These assaults come despite requests from the United States that the Khalifa family show mercy and tolerance for the peaceful protesters. This chilling tweet from the New York Times Nicholas Kristof came amidst the chaos:

Panicked crowds running thru hospital after police attack. Drs rushing to ER. Tear gas grenades outside, wafting in.

Clearly, the United States is in another bind - support peace and democracy and lose a key ally, or support violent dictators and keep an important geostrategic foothold in the Persian Gulf?

Photo thanks to Al Jazeera English, whose excellent live blog can be found here.

Workers, citizens protest austerity measures in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, an alliance of teachers, private sector employees, and the Democratic Party have united to fight against proposed budget cuts and an anti-union bill before the Wisconsin state Senate. This might be a taste to come for possible national protests over draconian budget cuts proposed by the GOP and their TEA Party allies.

These protests echo the anti-austerity measure protests in Greece just a year ago, however the United States budgetary and fiscal situation is no where near as dire as that suffered by our European allies, despite the fact that our spending cuts are more extensive than the ones protested over there.

Also interesting is the budget battle occuring in the US House of Representatives, where the Republican Party is splitting apart over how deep their spending cuts should go. Recently, they moved NOT to cut a federal program that spent tax dollars sponsoring NASCAR drivers - but they still want to cut education, health care, and transportation.

The noted UK magazine The Economist has gone so far to call the GOP's deficit reduction efforts 'A Farce' - a political show using budget deficits as an excuse to attack the so-called enemies that stand in the face of conservative ideology - function government programs that provide a net benefit to the society the serve.

Feb 17, 2011

Pearl Roundabout, Manama, Bahrain before the police attacked

This was a peaceful protest before the government used tear gas, clubs and bullets on its own people.

This photo is from Al Jazeera English and is published here with attribution per their creative commons copyright.

The economy is recovering, why not the people?

The economy is clearly recovering and experiencing accelerating growth. GDP growth estimates are up for the year and the US Dollar is trading better on currency exchanges.

Corporate profits are up sharply, but employment is not. Nevertheless, it is clear that the US is doing better economically than in the recent past and that the relief and recovery measures signed by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama are responsible for our gains.

With corporations raking int he cash you might ask why jobs aren't being created and why the living conditions of the working class aren't improving. With leaner governments - millions of federal, state and municipal employees have lost their jobs over the past 10 years - there are fewer jobs, less spending and smaller incentive for businesses to hire on additional workers. Corporate profit is accumulated, not trickled down. The stimulus has saved and created millions of corporate jobs at the expense of public jobs.

For those of us who are still employed, the cost of living has increased. Thanks to rising fuel prices heating and food costs have ballooned.

And now the GOP wants to cut up to a million perfectly good jobs, threatening the country with the specter of yet another recession. Such a recession would reduce government revenue even further, forcing Congress and state legislatures to cut even more programs and more jobs from ever more essential programs.

If revolutions continue to occur in the oil producing areas of the world, fuel prices will continue to rise. Combined with the spending cuts being considered today, it could squeeze the American middle class out of existence.

Feb 16, 2011

Police storm protesters in Bahrain, at least 2 dead

Two to three hours ago police stormed the Pearl roundabout in Manama, Bahrain where peaceful demonstrators are camped out in protest of the dictatorial al-Khalifa family in power there. Al Jazeera English has the story (as usual):

This follows recent crackdowns on protesters by the regimes in Iran and Libya, which were condemned by the United States government. I would not expect such a condemnation from the Obama Administration over Bahrain, however, since the small island nation in the Persian Gulf is a key regional ally and the command base of the US 5th Naval Fleet.

Bahrain is one of the places from which the United States hopes to contain Iranian influence. Losing it as an ally would be a detriment to an already crumbling American hegemony in the region.

Social Media becomes a driver for political involvement, especially in youth

In 1440 Johannes Gutenburg created the printing press. In 1999, Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet. Whether it was Al Gore or DARPA that actually invented the internet is irrelevent:

The internet has profoundly changed the world we live in by creating movements and instigating revolutions, especially among the young. You can blame the former Vice President for wanting to get a piece of THAT action, can you?

According to a Pew Internet and American Life study, 22% of the American electorate used social networking sites to connect with candidates and campaigns in the last electoral cycle. Mainstream sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace combined with politicians and political action groups' own pages have combined to create a new way for potential voters to interact with candidates and campaigns.

The Pew study found that in the months leading up to the 2010 elections, Republicans caught up with Democrats in participation and presence on social networking sites.

"Among social networking site users, 40% of Republican voters and 38% of Democratic voters used these sites to get involved politically."

Many of the TEA Party protests that dotted the nation during the campaign season were organized on Web sites. Perhaps bridging the social networking gap may be an explaining factor for the GOP's gains in 2010.

An earlier study in 2008 found a sharp increase in American voters who claimed to use the internet to find election news, and that 1 in 5 internet users has posted political commentary online.

Elsewhere in the world the same sites are being used to organize democratic revolutions. Both Tunisia and Egypt recently experienced successful peaceful revolutions that were organized and aided by a strong presence on social networking sites.

The studies also found that social media users tend to be younger and more educated. The demographics of many Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, are heavily skewed toward youth, and their education levels have improved.

Jobs and the Budget

The economy is adding jobs, and has been since that cold day in January 2009 where Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States. Clearly, throughout much of that period there has not been a net gain in jobs. However, the private sector has been hiring steadily throughout that entire period.

How do we reconcile these disparate facts? How can additional private sector jobs not lead to a net drop in unemployment? Because the public sector, made up of local, state and federal government departments, has been shedding jobs. In fact, since taking office President Obama has shrunk the size of government, there are now fewer workers on government payrolls.

Public sector employees are healthier, happier, better educated and better paid - though that may be changing as conservatives dominate state capitols. Public sector jobs are higher quality jobs than private sector jobs and in the long run they are better for our country. When we reduce public sector jobs by eliminating programs, we directly reduce the quality of life for millions of Americans, reduce consumer spending and destroy public infrastructure.

So budget cuts have led to sustained unemployment and a prolonged recession.

Why then are certain elected officials advocating further budget cuts while linking them with economic stimulus? You don't stimulate an economy by destroying livelihoods.

Feb 15, 2011

Let's talk honestly about the budget.

Money is the lifeblood of our country. Very little happens without money, and our government accomplishes nothing without our tax dollars. If not for the electoral and fiscal involvement of the American populace, our schools stay closed, our streets are not patrolled, we have no ambulances, our roads are left to decay and our society as we know it completely ceases to exist. Businesses would fail without state and federal tax dollars going to building and maintaining infrastructure that as a whole is not profitiable. This is the very essence of politics – we choose those with talent and ideas among us to take the collected effort of society and direct it to better that society. There are many functions that the government operates more efficiently than the private sector would be able to.

A quick word on revenue. 45% of the US revenue comes from individual income taxes. An additional 34% comes from social security and medicare payroll taxes. Corporations themselves pay just 14% of our federal revenue, with a tax rate that ranges from 15% to 39% - however, so many loopholes and incentives are available to corporations that they generally end up paying very little in taxes. Capital gains, gift, estate, gas, cigarette, alcohol and other taxes are part of the remaining 7% of Federal receipts.

The GOP's bright idea about stimulating the free market into dealing with the financial crisis by cutting taxes on capital gains, for the rich and on corporations will have a negative effect on our revenue, but little positive effect on our economy – in fact, it is based on a complete misunderstanding of where the strength of our economy actually comes from – not the top class of investors and hoarders, but the middle class of investors and, most importantly, consumers. The playbook for the last 50 years of the Republican Party has been to slash revenues by either cutting income taxes for the highest echelons of earners or offering new tax loopholes for major corporations, thus forcing a budget deficit. When the deficit starts to balloon, Republicans in legislatures and Congress start to run on fiscal responsibility. After being elected as deficit hawks, they cut the programs that they oppose for ideological reasons, leaving government spending that benefits their traditional supporters in defense, security, resource extraction and energy.

From their behavior, we can posit that the GOP is not interested in smaller, more efficient government, but instead a government that benefits Republicans and their supporters. Otherwise, at least one of the many Republican Administrations in power since 1960 would have successfully reduced the size of government.

Let us return to the matter at hand and talk about the budget process – how a budget gets passed, and how the government spends your money – because although we all voluntarily give it to the government, that money, as well as the government, is ours. In the beginning the president proposes a budget to Congress asking for certain amounts of money for certain federal programs. The president himself does not come up with the specific figures cited in the budget proposal, instead suggested figures are given to the Oval Office by federal agencies – these are bundled to a plan which is given to the House of Representatives in early February.

Still with me? This stuff can get a little dry. The budget is then handed from the House leadership to budget committees, whose subcommittees then create resolutions setting spending limits for appropriations. After passing subcommittee and the budget committee as a whole, the resolutions go to appropriation committees, who then break the resolutions down to their subcommittees, which then allocate specific amounts to federal programs and agencies through appropriation bills. These bills have to pass through the subcommittees and committees before being brought before the House as a whole, generally bundled into a large package, for passage. In the process of moving from subcommittee to committee and through the larger chamber, compromises are made. It is in this part of the process that earmarks (more on those later) are attached to bills to motivate otherwise reluctant congressmen to vote for them.

The House leadership then hands the passed resolutions on to the Senate, where much of the process is repeated as the Senate considers the bills. More compromises are made, and after the Senate passes their version of bills they go to a conference committee formed between the leadership of both chambers and the appropriate committees where the resolutions originated. Further compromises are made, the leadership returns to the chamber with the new version of the bill, and if passed, they are sent to the president’s desk to be passed or vetoed. If vetoes, Congress has the ability to override with a 2/3rds majority vote.

There are several parts of the budget – and Congress does not actually get to vote on more than 50% of the budget because it is mandatory spending. 42% of federal spending goes to what are deemed mandatory entitlements, evenly divided between social security benefits and Medicaid/Medicare benefits. Social Security currently takes up 21% of our budget and is expected to grow as the baby-boomer generation retires. Currently, the Social Security program is unsustainable. It would be paid for by our Social Security payroll taxes several years into the future if the government had not borrowed out of the ‘Social Security Trust Fund’ created by a surplus of those payroll taxes. To make the program solvent and sustainable, a 1.4% tax increase or a 15% reduction in benefits will be needed.

Other mandatory appropriations make up 11% of our budget – this money goes to the everyday function of our government. The lights are kept on in the Capitol building through this portion of our budget. Members of Congress and the president also receive their salaries out of this 11%. When a party or group in the government forces a 'government shutdown', this money ceases to be spent and the government can fail to function.

Defense spending makes up 20% of our budget. One fifth of our budget goes to keeping our bases open, training our soldiers, and investing in new equipment for them. The Pentagon’s staff as well as our active and reserve duty soldiers are paid through this portion of our budget. This 20% also pays for security and upkeep for the United States’ nuclear arsenal. This portion of the budget does not, however, include monthly and quarterly emergency appropriations for foreign conflicts (more on that later). It is worth noting that many of these bases and units are vestigial remains of a wasteful Cold War military disposition and an ineffective campaign in the Middle East.

Discretionary spending is a significant portion of our budget – 18% of federal spending goes to infrastructure, support for state programs, ongoing non-mandatory federal programs, and earmarks. Earmarks as a portion of our federal budget make up 1-2% of federal spending. Republicans claim that cutting earmarks will help alleviate our national debt, however this is simply ludicrous. Furthermore, earmarks help grease the wheels of democracy – many important spending resolutions would be met with impasse if it were not for compromises made by members of Congress through amending each others’ bills with earmarks.

The other 9% of federal budgetary spending is lost to interest on our debt, which makes up 9% of the total budget.

The portion of spending I just discussed is the on-budget spending that is found in federal law, debated publicly in Congress, and is available for every American person to see online the actual passed budget is available for every American to see already, as have all federal budgets since 1997 by order of Bill Clinton. You can see for yourself right here:

A real problem we now face is shadow spending. There are two important forms of shadow-spending that I would like to discuss. The first are emergency appropriations, which Congress has been passing an awful lot of lately (the financial sector rescue, if we choose to pass it (and we should), will be one). Emergency appropriations are just that – a release of funds from either the Social Security ‘Trust Fund’ or borrowed from foreign or domestic lenders for emergency purposes. An emergency appropriation measure was made after Hurricane Katrina to help the cleanup and relief effort after that. More concerning, however, is the use of emergency appropriations to fund foreign conflicts. As of today most of the funding for the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan has occurred off-budget through these measures. These activities have added hundreds of billions of dollars to our deficits and debt.

Believe it or not, tax cuts, tax rebates, stimulus packages, and tax incentives are another form of shadow spending. These represent lost or missing revenue which increase our budget deficit and increase our national debt. When we offer incentives to corporations we lose a portion of federal revenues and force individual working taxpayers to shoulder more of the burden. When we offer ‘stimulus packages’ to ourselves we are putting ourselves further in the red. The Bush tax cuts, if continued in this manner, will cost us more than $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years. Republican talking points claim that cutting taxes will eventually increase revenue and alleviate debt – but this is certainly untrue. Revenue would have increased without these useless tax cuts which were weighted toward the ultra rich and proposed in the name of boosting our economy. If our economy has improved due to these tax cuts, it is certainly hard to see where. Basically we have put ourselves over a trillion dollars more in debt for no discernable reason.

Spending increases are another issue often raised by the GOP. Under Clinton, the budget increased by $300 billion, from $1.6 trillion to $1.9 trillion. Under Bush and the GOP, the budget has increased by $1.2 trillon to a fiscal year 2008 budget of $3.1 trillion. Under Clinton, our national debt as a percentage of our GDP (a measure of the productivity of the American economy) decreased for the first time since the Carter administration. Under Bush, our debt skyrocketed and the financial system collapsed. The crisis was ended and rebuilding has begun under President Obama, but at a very high cost. By embracing severe cuts in spending now, we put that recovery at risk, however such cuts should be forthcoming.

Here is the bottom line: Unless we make significant cuts in entitlements and/or defense spending, or we raise taxes, the United States will go bankrupt. Economists estimate at current tax rates and spending levels it will take 75 years for our economy to grow large enough to bring the budget back into the black. Something has to give, and either way you look at it, its going to end up being us. It is an existential issue, and we have to think deeply about what kind of country this is going to be in the future, what programs we can do with out and which ones will be necessary for a sustainable future for the generations to come.

The Budget Battle - is the GOP mainstream triangulated to win?

There are three major proposals for a budget before the American people today. One comes from the TEA Party favorite Rand Paul, a plan that slashes $500 billion from the federal budget immediately. Interestingly, Senator Paul is willing to cut spending on national defense and security, aid to Israel and farm subsidies, all three areas where most Republicans have been unwilling to compromise or even offer a plan for cuts. Paul's plan actually offers areas in which Democrats and the White House can negotiate.

The President's budget proposal also calls for deep budget cuts in areas traditionally of importance to Democrats. In fact, the President's plan was received with outcry from both his liberal base and the conservative opposition. The plan also calls for a repeal to tax cuts for the rich, but does not go nearly as far as the Rand Paul plan and also falls short of the spending cuts proposed by the Republican congressional mainstream.

Mainstream Republicans initially called for a measly $35 billion in budget cuts, targeting traditional GOP enemies like infrastructure upgrades, clean energy, the arts and the poor. In recent days the GOP has offered up another round of deeper cuts. Regardless of whether cutting this amount of spending is beneficial or detrimental to the country, it has become clear that the Republican party is now in an excellent position between the moderate White House and the arch-conservative TEA Party.

This position threatens to move the country further to the right as the moderate White House becomes the de-facto liberal position, while the TEA Party become the new conservative right. The conservative Republicans, once the very fringe of the right wing, are now in a place where they can call themselves moderates, whether that is a realistic description or not.

In other words, the coming budget battle threatens to redefine where we as Americans see ourselves politically.

One matter that should be more open to debate is how each of these plans will affect the country's fragile economic recovery.

Feb 14, 2011

Iran Protest Video

People gathering in central Tehran earlier today, only to be driven back by dense clouds of tear gas.

It appears that the Mubarak script is being followed in Iran as internet, social network and cell phone access is apparently being dismantled.

Per BBC World, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already come out praising the protesters in Iran. It is a lot easier for the Obama Administration to support protesters when they do not threaten the rule of an ally.

As Egypt winds down, will there be another?

The Egyptian revolution appears to be winding down after a handoff of power from the old regime of Hosni Mubarak to the military, which has sworn to be the defender of reform and democracy in Egypt. Most of the protesters have left public areas like Tahrir square and seem to be heeding the army's calls to return to their workplaces and ordinary lives.

The masses' work in the Egyptian revolution seems to be over. So what now?

Does the thirst for democracy and the popular will to make it happen go elsewhere? At a quick glance around the region, there are many places where the people desire reform. There are also leaders in the Middle East scrambling to respond to the successful popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia in order to prevent a similar problem in their own lands.

In Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for 30 years, has declared that he will not run for another term in the face of potent popular protests. In my opinion, it is here that another successful pro-democratic revolt is most likely. The regime is not a strong one but faces strong domestic opposition. The economic problems in Egypt and Tunisia are echoed in Yemen, as is the status of the regime as a deeply corrupt, dictatorial US ally.

In Bahrain, another key US ally led by the Khalifa family for almost 200 years, protests call for government reforms in a "Day of Rage" echoing the Egyptian revolution. It is important to remember that the royal family is Sunni Muslim while the majority of the population is Shia. If the Khalifa family falls from power there is an increased chance that Bahrain will come under the sphere of influence of Iran.

In Palestine, President Mahmoud Abbas has accepted the resignation of the cabinet of the Palestinian Authority and has called for a new government to be formed, apparently in response to the calls for reform resulting from the Egyptian revolution.

In Tehran protesters battle with police as the 2009 Green Movement seems to have found renewed energy in the wake of Mubarak's fall. Iran resembles Egypt politically in that it has a token-democratic republic that is actually trumped by power consolidated in the hands of a few. In Egypt's case that was the Mubarak regime and his supporters, in Iran that is a council of elite clergy that have the unspoken influence to counter the Grand Ayatollah. In both cases the people see past the sham-governments and direct their grievances towards the real rulers of their countries.

Lebanon formed a new government earlier this year after officials associated with Hezbollah resigned, forcing out long-serving Saad Hariri and leading to the ascension of Najib Mikati to the post. Hariri's career appears to be far from over and he is finding new strength as an opposition leader.

In Jordan and Syria both the governments have called for reforms ahead of potential mass demonstrations and movements. Both regimes are at odds with their population, with King Abdullah in Jordan only loosely related to his own people and President Bashir al-Assad in Syria divided from most of his people by religion, wealth and a burdensome security profile.

It is unclear whether any further change will come to the Middle East, just as it is unclear whether Egypt's military will actually give up power to a new democratically elected government when the time comes this September, or try to reserve power for themselves. One thing is clear, the dictatorships that the United States has traditionally supported in the Middle East are having existential crises, and the future of the region is for once firmly in the hands of the people there.