Category Archives: Democracy

Lies, Heresy, and the End of the World As We Know It

This is re-posted from Race42012.com, thanks to the author, MWS, for allowing me to share it.

Suze Orman- a personal finance guru for whom I have tremendous respect- says that much of our personal finance troubles come from our willing belief in lies, and that we can only free ourselves from these problems when we start to acknowledge the truth about our money. It is high time that we as Americans, and as Republicans, stop lying to ourselves about the single greatest economic threat to America. It is high time that we faced the truth about the nation’s debt, and our party’s role in creating it. So here are some facts:

When Ronald Reagan took office, the National Debt was $934 billion dollars. That was about 30% of GDP.

When George W. Bush took office, the Debt was $5.7 trillion. That was about 60% of GDP (that figure actually dropped in the Clinton years).

Currently, the debt is fast approaching $11 trillion, close to 70% of GDP. INTEREST on the National Debt in FY08 amounted to $451 billion, around 20% of government expenditures, and $1500 for every man, woman, and child in America.

The deficit for just the first four months of FY09 is $569 billion. Obama’s “stimulus” hasn’t even begun.

Obama has assured us that we will have trillion dollar deficits for years to come. That means that the next Republican President- even if she wins in 2012- will inherit a cumulative debt around $15 trillion. Considering that the economy is currently shrinking, and that the CBO projects that Obama’s “stimulus” will drag the economy in a few years, that means the next Republican President could well inherit a debt that is larger than our entire annual economic output.

The economic boom of the last 25 years was largely artificial. While the federal government spent around $10 trillion we didn’t pay for, the private sector followed suit. According to the Federal Reserve, Americans held around $2.5 trillion in consumer debt at the end of 2008. That’s about $8500 per capita, and THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE MORTGAGES. Estimates vary, but leverage and falling home values probably have 20-30% of homeowners owing more on their homes than they are worth.

While we are not Argentina, it is worth noting that Argentina had a National debt less than 60% of GDP when they defaulted in the 90s. They still haven’t recovered.

It seems clear to me, at least, that we are on a downward spiral that is going to end very badly. China is already closing off the tap of credit, as they are funding their own $600 billion stimulus. I cannot see how the not-too-distant future does not bring high inflation and high interest rates. And all of these problems don’t even begin to address the looming insolvency of Social Security and Medicare.

And so I am proposing the only heresy graver than questioning Israeli policy in the GOP…

It is high time that we acknowledge that we have both a moral and an economic imperative to raise taxes as soon as the economy stabilizes. It is time to forget everything you learned on the radio about economics. We have a moral obligation to pay our bills.

Now I can already hear the objections. “We are already overtaxed!” That may be true, but we still aren’t paying for what we are spending. And for historical perspective, the top marginal rate in Reagan’s 6th year of office was 50%, and that rate kicked in at a lower income than Carter’s top rate (adjusted for inflation). So for most of the “miraculous 80s” the top rate was 50%. In the roaring 90s, the top rate was 40%. Currently, it stand at 35%. Now I know you don’t raise taxes in a recession, but raising them when the economy stabilizes will not be the end of civilization.

Objection #2 brings in the full force of Talk Show Economics. “Cutting taxes INCREASES revenue, and raises taxes DECREASES revenue.” This is only half true, and only to an extent. Generally, lower taxes stimulate growth, so it is fair to say that cutting taxes raises more revenue than would have been raised at the lower rate had the economy not grown. But it is not necessarily true that tax cuts raise more revenue than would have been raised had the rate not been cut. It depends on what part of the Laffer Curve you are on. And this is only common sense. If tax cuts ALWAYS brought in more tax revenue, then let’s cut taxes to 0.0000000000001% and we’ll have the debt paid off in no time!

We also cannot simply cut domestic spending and get out of this. The time for that is WAY past. Simply cutting “fraud, waste, and abuse” will hardly put a dent in it, despite popular fantasies about government bloat. If you really want to cut spending, make people pay for what the government is spending. If you want to shrink the government, make the voters actually pay for their government. Stop the free ride.

So what does this mean for 2012? I don’t expect any Republican to have the guts to propose a tax increase, no matter how high the debt. So I would look to a candidate who showed real leadership when faced with a deficit. Any knucklehead can cut taxes and run up the debt. That’s easy. Shoot, Bush could do it. I want to see a candidate who made tough choices that actually closed the gap, whether in the House, Senate, or Governor’s mansion. I want someone who was willing to do what needed to be done.

Folks, it’s not 1981 any more, and we can’t promote the same policies that made sense in 1981. We can no longer afford the Empire. We cannot afford all of the good things that government can do for people, and we cannot afford tax rates that do not pay for what we spend. It is time to cut spending, and raise taxes. The 25 year bubble has popped. We can’t fake it any longer, and the longer we try the worse it is going to be. It is time we stopped lying to ourselves about money. Let the Era of Austerity begin.

-Matt Sanders

Comments from the post, many are just as thoughtful

1. jrcutler Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 11:04 am

Very true, this problem has gotten out of hand, and no one is prepared better to continue what has been done than Obama.
This is a terrible time to have a Democrat in the whitehouse. By the way, who do we answer to anyways when it comes to “our national debt” maybe if everyone knew the answer to that question, maybe out debt wouldn’t be so out of control. If we owe our debt to ourselves, I don’t see why spending will ever slow down, do you?

6. Matt C Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 11:23 am

Kind of yes, kind of no.

I agree that we as the GOP must take full responsibility for our hand in creating the current deficits and debt. But just raising taxes will NEVER solve the problem because no matter how much extra money the government takes in, it will spend it on something else and create even larger deficits. Hundreds of years of history, with only a few that had balanced budgets, bear this out.

We absolutely must decrease domestic spending – and here’s the rub: we’re not going to be able to make a dent just by talking about discretionary spending. We need to take on welfare – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, etc. Those social welfare programs eat up well over 50% of our federal budget every year, leaving us little to work with and showing just how ridiculous focusing on “pork” really is.

Here’s my plan, and I’ve been developing it for quite some time now:
• Institute a 1% federal sales tax applicable to every good and service purchased. Include in the legislation that the total revenue from this tax must go directly to paying down our national debt, and that when the national debt hits zero, the tax is automatically eliminated with no opportunity to reinstitute it unless deficit spending occurs – and only then with a supermajority vote.
• Pass a balanced budget amendment requiring every budget submitted to Congress to be balanced except in the case of national emergencies, such as war or Katrina-like national disasters.
• Completely and totally privatize Social Security. The idea that the federal government is involved in a retirement program is philosophically ludicrous, and even moreso when you see that the average rate of return on SS investments is less than 2%. Sell it to the American public as a X years-long phase out plan and that they are getting more of their money on every paycheck to put in a retirement account of their choice – more money in the hands of more people, giving them more freedom and more choice! With the right salesman (or woman) this could be a winner.

Just eliminating the national debt and Social Security frees up over 33% of our total federal budget, and it heads off the impending fiscal doom of social security going broke and costing us trillions upon trillions of more money. The next step then would be to massively reform the rest of the welfare programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which currently take up another 25% or so of our federal budget and are threatening to, just by themselves, increase to the point where spending just on those programs will be larger than our entire current federal budget. That is the part of the plan I’m still working on…

7. Matt C Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 11:27 am

Oh, I forgot a couple other things, too – privatize the Post Office, which loses money every year they’re in existence. There’s probably a slew of entrepreneurs that would jump at the chance to open a mail delivery company, and I’ll bet you anything they’ll do it more cost effectively than government workers.

Also, privatizing Social Security frees up billions of dollars (if not more) of business money, since companies will not be paying half of every single employee’s SS taxes any longer — allowing them to invest in technology, more jobs, etc. It could lead to a huge economic boom.
8. Kavon W. Nikrad Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 11:31 am

I agree that we as the GOP must take full responsibility for our hand in creating the current deficits and debt. But just raising taxes will NEVER solve the problem because no matter how much extra money the government takes in, it will spend it on something else and create even larger deficits.

Amen a thousand times Matt C.

Tax cuts are not the problem. The three most infamous supply-side tax cuts: the Kennedy Tax cuts, the Reagan Tax Cuts, and the Bush Tax Cuts, all resulted in INCREASED revenue. The problem is that Government has never cut SPENDING except for a few year in Reagan’s first term and for a few years in the 1990’s.

The idea that placing additional an tax burden on job creators and American families will result in more prosperity is ludicrous, quite frankly.

This is where “The Old Man” was right. Many ridiculed his constant harping on Earmarks and Pork Barrel spending during the campaign. But let’s give credit where it is due, he was right—it is the spending that is killing us.
9. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 11:44 am

Matt C,

I agree with most of #6, and I hope I emphasized that we need to cut spending as well as raise taxes. I like your idea of a national sales tax to pay off the debt.

As for a balanced budget amendment, I’m all in favor, but it has to have teeth, or te Congress will ALWAYS declare some state of emergency. Currently Congress has a “Paygo system, where spending increases and tax cuts are supposed to be offset elsewhere. They simply get around this by tagging regular spending bills as “supplemental” or “emergency.”
10. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 11:48 am

Kavon,

“Tax cuts are not the problem. The three most infamous supply-side tax cuts”

I agree they are not the problem, in and of themselves, but when we are so far in hoc, they become part of the problem.

(KN) “The idea that placing additional an tax burden on job creators and American families will result in more prosperity is ludicrous, quite frankly.”

To clarify, the purpose of tax increases would not be to create prosperity, but to avoid disaster from the mountain of debt. That’s why I tagged it the “Era of Austerity.” It’s not so much about artificially creating boom times anymore through buying what we cannot afford, but heading off catastrophe by paying for what we already bought.
11. fran Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 11:56 am

THE EMPHASIS NEEDS TO BE ON SPENDING CUTS!!!!!!

It will make a huge difference.

I grew up in Alberta when they did it. People whine and moaned but eventually the majority realized it was for the best:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE7DD173EF932A35752C0A963958260

It pissed me off every time during the debate when Obama would say we need a scalpel instead of an axe. We do need an axe. He needs to be well aware of these numbers!
12. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

nate,

“That’s nothing, my mortgage alone is 200% of my personal GDP. I’d like to be in the 70% range like the government.”

The difference is your mortgage is an amortizing loan that is structured for payoff in a set number of years, with the qualification that you have the income those payments.

The government is paying interest only, and STILL can’t make the payments.
13. MPC Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

#1, the debt is owed to foreign investors, generally the Chinese and Japanese. Our government can spend with abandon because, until now at least, China has been willing to foot the bill, having confidence in future payout.

It’s a death warrant to let the debt continue to balloon as it is doing, and if tax hikes are really the only way we can immediately stem that, it’s a step we have to take. As the deficit runs up, that in itself will halt investment and growth. At worst, we get this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_economic_crisis_(1999-2002)

Which is what happens when foreign countries start to smell trouble and unease and stop loaning us money in effect to pay for our debts. Obviously the dollar is considerably studier than the Argentine peso was, but with the comparative strength of alternate foreign currencies, particularly the Euro, this is not impossible. It doesn’t matter how we cut it, but it needs to happen soon. Taxes must go up, and those programs have got to start getting trimmed.

With respect to that, I really like your ideas MattC. The problem is political feasibility. I’m afraid that short-sighted voters will not have the will to do anything about it until it’s too late.
14. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

MPC,

The dollar could be headed the way of the Peso.

Consider that our current accounts deficit (trade deficit plus budget deficit) had been running about $1 trillion a year. This year, it’ll probably be around $2.6 trillion (with the “stimulus”). That means a net outflow of $2.6 trillion this year in capital.

The world is awash in dollars. If China didn’t artifically peg its currency to the dollar, the dollar would immediately weaken. And where are the trillions coming from that the Fed is handing out? Presumably, the printing presses. I don’t see how we can avoid a massive weakening of the dollar, coupled with sky high inflation and interest rates.

Y’all may want to think about locking in 30 year mortgages, btw. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if mortgage rates are in double digits in 2-3 years.
15. John Mark Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:03 pm

I agree with MWS, that we seriously need to consider tax-hikes. Republicans have married the idea that tax-cuts are always good, the logical conclusion to that is that it would be good to have no taxes, and therefore no government. Therefore, we’re stuck advocating the idea that’s logical conclusion is anarchy. I think this hurts us politically as people look at Republicans and we’re not expressing a real idea of what think the ideal rate for taxes, or spending is, instead we make it seem that its ideal not to have taxes and spending; meanwhile the Democrats come across as willing take a critical look at what taxes and spending should be. I don’t think the Democrats have come to the right conclusion, but Republicans need to anaylize things beyond less spending and less tax-cuts.
16. Falz Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:19 pm

I stop reading at this point: “That means that the next Republican President- even if she wins in 2012-”.
17. Michael Lawrence Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Good piece MWS. I’m inclined to agree. The national debt is far and away the issue that I am most concerned about as a voter. I wouldn’t object to a tax increase to begin actually paying down principal on it. Though I’d want the tax increase to be across the board so that the 50% who don’t pay taxes would have to start, even if was only a modest amount. It’s ridiculous that half the people in this country pay no taxes and enjoy all the benefits.
18. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:32 pm

John Mark and Michael,

Good points, both.
19. John Mark Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:35 pm

17, Well there’s some people who can’t make money and who it doesn’t make sense to tax. Also, unfortunately we’ve got to consider the implications of being the party who’s calling for tax-hikes one the lower income people. I think a big reason for Obama’s sucess, was that he was able to pound home the idea that his tax plan benefited 95% of Americans more than McCain’s.
20. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a more hostile reaction than I have. Some have rightly pointed out that spending has to be cut, that tax increases must be accompanied by spending cuts, that tax increases should go to pay down the debt, and should be shared by all.

Hopefully this is representative of the party as a whole. If voters get serious about the debt, their leaders will follow.
21. John Mark Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:40 pm

20, Don’t get your hopes up. Post this on RedState and I think you’ll get your hostile reaction.
22. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:40 pm

John Mark,

I agree that folks who can barely take care of themselves shouldn’t be paying taxes. But I know that half the country is not destitute. And when half the country is not invested in how taxes are spent, that creates a problem in a democracy. You are right that there are huge political problems with raising taxes on the middle and working class. Clinton learned from Mondale’s mistake, and ever since the Democrats will only raise taxes on “the rich.”

That’s one reason Matt C’s national sales tax makes so much sense.
23. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

falz,

Don’t let your misogyny keep you from the discussion!
24. John Mark Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I have heard that the 11 trillion dollar debt figure is not the useful figure to use as it includes debt owed by one part of the government to the other. Someone told me the public debt which is what we actually owe is more like 6.3 Billion dollars. That’s still huge though.
25. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 2:11 pm

John Mark,

The 6 trillion figure pretends that the money borrowed from the Social Security Trust fund is still there.

It’s not.
26. SteveS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Good post MWS, and I too am surprised that the reaction wasn’t more hostile. I think the reason is that what you wrote was simply too well argued for anyone to strongly disagree with.

I think a good place to start would be an increase in the gas tax. But you can’t get elected calling for that.
27. sdpride Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 2:23 pm

http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4040

“If it seems that raising taxes is the only way to reduce the national debt, at least when so much spending is mandated by “entitlement” programs, that only shows the need for an economic dictionary. “Taxes” is one of those treacherous words with more than one meaning, enabling politicians to shift back and forth between meanings when they talk.

Unless spending is reduced, then of course more tax revenues are necessary in order to reduce a deficit or bring down a debt. But tax revenues and tax rates are two different things, even though the same word — “taxes” — is used to refer to both.”

“If Congress can just reduce the rate of increase in spending, rising tax revenues can reduce the deficit and eventually eliminate it.”

“Promoting the growth of the national economy would be one of the fastest and best ways of reducing the national debt.”
28. Swint Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

This was one of the better posts I have seen on here lately. Not that I agree 100% with the proposals, but it was innovative and smart. I agree that this is a monstrous problem, but I am not convinced that significant tax increases are the solution. I do, however, like the 1% national sales tax with all of the caveats that Matt mentioned and getting rid of social security.

The problem, as has been stated, is the political viability. Implementing the necessary changes would be political suicide for the sitting President and maybe the party that institutes it. The only way I ever think it would be possible, barring a complete collapse of our country is a 2nd term president with an veep that is not running in the next election. Basically, what we had in Bush. This president will also have to have a lot of cojones as well. Even then I doubt congress would ever agree to it.

MWS and Kavon, do you mind if I repost this and some of the comments on both of my blogs at dryflypolitics.com and swint.instablogs.com?
29. Evil Conservative Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Matt,

Congrats on the post. A lot of good insights.

One thing though that hopefully eases a little concern in terms of time frame to fix this:
“China is already closing off the tap of credit, as they are funding their own $600 billion stimulus. ”

That’s true, but NYU professor Roubini, who is a notoriously cynical economist right now, is saying that China is so tightly linked to our success (as our other nations) that to close off the tap would be disasterous for them.

Now that’s what he believes. I agree, but at some point inside the next 50-100 years they will close it off and become the world’s #1 superpower.
Britain choked on the gluttony of empire and imperial conquest. We’re going out with a whimper on the sloth of entitlements.
30. Tom in SoCal Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

A national sales tax is the last thing we need. It may sound like a good idea, but it would lead us to the same situation as Europe. A high VAT (sales tax) and a high personal income tax. Do you think a 1% national sales tax would stay at 1%? Of course not, it would be increased to pay for … (fill in the blank).

In fact look at Europe closely, because that is where the Dems want to lead us. High taxes, the government in charge of many many things and very little productive growth.
31. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Swint,

“MWS and Kavon, do you mind if I repost this and some of the comments on both of my blogs”

Fine with me.
32. MWS Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Tom in SoCal,

“In fact look at Europe closely, because that is where the Dems want to lead us.”

That’s not what I’m proposing. I’m proposing we pay off the debt, and that will take higher taxes as well as reduced spending.
33. Tom in SoCal Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 4:07 pm

That might be what you are proposing, but in reality it would not happen.
34. MarkG Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 4:40 pm

I agree with Tom’s skepticism of the national sales tax: It would rise over time, especially because another type of federal tax would simply make it easier for politicians to play three-card monty stunts with revenue streams.

Also, although consumption taxes, flat taxes, and the Fair Tax all have their appeal, I can say from living under the 16 percent VAT regime in Germany, a lot of economic activity occurs “off the books.” Dodging taxes for services is rampant in the informal economy due to the punitive VAT rate (now 20 percent). But if it weren’t for this gray market, many would not even be able to afford to hire the very services they provide for others. I knew many laborers such as plumbers and roofers who did much of their work after hours on a cash basis for friends of friends, and who said that they couldn’t actually afford the rates they officially have to charge thanks to the VAT and various strangulatory regulations.

As to Matt’s (MWS’s) general point: Yes, tax hikes do deserve sincere discussion, but I’d frame it as an either-or proposition. Either we raise taxes or cut programs. Tax hikes should be addressed in the context of general tax code reform — tax rebalancing rather than higher taxes.

But I doubt many would take tax-cut bidding wars like we had in the last primary all to seriously.
35. ogrepete Says:
February 13th, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Nice post, MWS.

I’ve been worrying about this for quite a while. Our country is running toward bankruptcy faster and faster.
36. Doug Forrester Says:
February 14th, 2009 at 12:13 am

#34, I’ve got to almost entirely agree with MarkG here. Our whole set of taxes need to be rebalanced with an eye towards increasing revenue for debt repayment.

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Filed under Barack Obama, Conservative, Democracy, Democrats

Open Thread: Who’s Our Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, or Washington?

One of my favorite books is John Adams by David McCullough.  Last night on HBO a multi-part series began based on this book and the life of John Adams.   Whenever I study American history and the revolutionary period I am awe struck by the passion most of these men appear to have had for freedom and liberty; for doing what was best for the American people and not necessarily for themselves. 

This really struck home as I watched the show last night when the King of England decreed that any one in remote open rebellion against the crown would tried for treason and hung.  Each of the men in the continental congress knew this applied to them.  There was a somber and reflective mood amongst them as it sunk in that they were officially outlaws and traitors.  Yet rather than dispanding and sinking back into line with the British, they became united and the push for independence became stronger.

This got me to think about how fortunate we were to have such men at that time in our country.  I have no doubt that they were ordained by God from before the foundations of the world to be born when and where they were and to play such an important role.  Then I began to think about our situation today and compare our current crop of politicians and leaders with those whom I call the “big-4”.  The big-4 consists of George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.  These four people set themselves apart from the rest as the key players in America’s independence. 

Sadly,  when I look at our prospects todayI only see one leader that I would call a modern-day (insert-name here), and that is Gen. Petraeus.    He could arguably be our modern-day Washington.  Not that he will go down with the same acclaim or has accomplished as great a work as Washington, but he is innovative, a strong leader, honest, and rescued our military from what seemed to be a hopless situation.

However on the political front, I see little of note.  It disgusts me that our current choices for the next President are McCain, Clinton, and Obama.  We have a guy who has a terrible temper, drops f-bombs on capital hill interns regularly, and dumped his first wife to marry into money.  We have a lady who can’t be trusted, has been in more scandals than can be counted, and is as dirty as mud.  And a no-experience senator who refuses to take a stand on any issue really and rarely votes;  when he does it is usually after everyone else to see what side is going to win.  Really, I am extremely disappointed with the options we are presented and see no reason for optimism for the next 4 years. 

One  of the reasons I was such an ardent supporter of Romney is that I really believed that he wanted to help the country, it wasn’t a quest for power or money.   This is a country that needs fixing bad, especially with the economy, and Romney was the guy to do it. Not only that, but he is a good person, honest and a man of integrity.  However, now we are stuck with a bunch of candidates that are terrible really. 

Nevertheless, to find a silver lining, I would like all of you to propose which modern-leaders would you put into the category of an Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, or Washington?  Why?    These leaders can and should be from both parties as no one party has the exclusive right to good leadership or, conversely, scandal. 

So I will begin and the first one I can think of is Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona.  Here is a guy who is principled and determined.  He does not sway with opinion polls and seems to genuinely care about the path our country is taking as opposed to lining his own coffers.   He may never become more prominent than a congressman, but I sure hope he does.    So who do you like?

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Filed under American History, Barack Obama, Congress, Democracy, Election 2008, Hillary Clinton, History, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Politics

Oh Please, Oh Please Go to Convention

Last night was a great night for American politics.  Over the last month, all we have been hearing is that Barack has it all but locked up and Hillary should drop out, despite the fact that results in Ohio and Texas looked positive for her and win in each of those could sway momentum massively.   Indeed, that is what occurred;  in one night the Democratic race went from blow-out to a neck and neck race, and this is great for we Americans.  Especially for people like me who like to witness historical events and new things that I may never get to experience again.

Last year in the NFL season I rooted for the Pats to win the Super Bowl just so that I could witness a team go undefeated, I cheered as Bonds hit number 756 because it was historical (partially because I am a die hard Giants fan), and I was enthralled with Kosovo declaring independence.   These events and many like it captivated me because of the historical nature both of the event and, in some instances, the circumstances surrounding it.  

In this same way I am praying that the Democratic race go to convention without a candidate.  I would love to witness a convention being played out in the way they are intended to, in a chess game of strategy and smoke-filled back room deals.  Sure, those kinds of things are shady and unfortunate, but the sheer excitement and historical nature of the whole idea of a brokered convention would be great entertainment and fun to watch. 

Sure, many of you will say, “Swint, this is serious stuff, Politics is not for your own personal entertainment”.  I agree with you, however, as long as Hillary or Barack come out of the convention with the nomination, the Democrats will have a legitimate nominee who is capable and has the support a solid chunk of the American electorate.  In other words, “no harm, no foul”.  On the other hand, the worst thing that could occur is if someone other than those two came out of the convention with the nomination, this would be devastating and unfortunate.  However there is no chance that will happen.  So why not enjoy this political season for the historical nature that it is?  Let’s keep it going.  The only way this could be better is if the GOP went to convention and Mitt came out on top, but that possibility dead, so I must settle on the hope that the Democratic voters will continue to split their vote. 

Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership will likely never allow this to go all the way to convention. The convention is just too close to the general election.  So sometime in June after all the states have voted and if no one candidate has secured the nom, a back-room deal will be hashed out.  (And let me say, if it get’s to that, Hillary will be the nominee based upon the age of Barack.  Barack will be told that no matter what he will have the backing of the Party in the next go around).  That will be disappointing, but what can we do?  Anyway, here’s to hoping that we get to witness some history this Summer; besides the only way I spend more than thirty seconds caring about the Democratic convention is if it is brokered. 

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Filed under Barack Obama, Candidates, Democracy, Democrats, Election 2008, Hillary Clinton, Politics

Part II-War, National Interest, and Iraq

Last week I wrote about the first part of the following quote.  In the piece, I discussed reasons we went to War in Iraq, why we are still there, so on and so forth.  It came to my attention that it was really long and so with Part II today, I will attempt to keep it considerably shorter.  Now let’s address the 2nd sentence of the comment below. 

I guess my problem is I can’t honestly justify attacking a country for its oil when there are so many worse countries and regimes around the world. The situation in Darfur is much worse than it ever was in Iraq, and we don’t do something about it why?

There are two ways to address this sentence about Darfur and that is to discuss why we don’t get involved in Darfur due to interests (or lack thereof) and also to address the utter hypocricy by those who use this as a counter argument for Iraq.

First, let’s answer the question.  The hard and cold truth is we aren’t going into Sudan militarily because we have no interests there and because Sudan poses no threat to the outside world.  If you think that justifying war in Iraq was difficult, wait until you have to justify war in Sudan.  The reality, as cold and sad as it may be, is that Iraq and the Middle-East is of great interest and value to us and to the civilized world.  First and foremost they provide the world’s energy needs.  That is the only reason we have any relationship of a significant value with that part of the world.  If they didn’t have oil or natural gas we would treat and view them no differently than we do Mali or Chad. 

Today, admitting the fact that oil is a national interest and adding that it should be draws the gasp of millions people.  But why shouldn’t it be, we need it, the world needs it, and the middle-east has it.  But, people say, we are exploiting those people and making their lives worse. B.S., they and their governments are what determines whether or not their lives suck; how that money is used and spent is entirely up to them. I don’t see the UAEers or Kuwaitis complaining.  But I digress.

I completely understand the desire some have for more action in Darfur.  I have a great fascination for Africa, it is my favorite region to study.  I wish so much that we had the means and justification to use force to end genocide and ethnic cleansing. I remember studying the Rwanda genocide and then watching Hotel Rwanda and just being so disgusted with the actions of the western World and the inaction of the UN.   As I pondered those things, I realized the catch-22 the United States is in.  On the one hand, we are the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation.  Our people enjoy immense freedom and partake of democracy, don’t we have an obligation to help and defend those who can’t help and defend themselves?  I wish the answer were ‘yes’ and in a perfect world, we would do so.  But unfortunately, we just can’t do it.  First, if we did start getting involved militarily, where does it end?  Are we going to attack Sudan, then Uganda, Nigeria, Somalia, Eritrea, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, etc?  We would be involved everywhere and undoubtedly, both sides of the conflict would wish we would go home.

Second, we have limited resources, just because we have the largest military in the world, doesn’t mean we have the ability to fight multiple wars on multiple fronts.  Third, the entire world would be outraged and we would have no support.  We can’t force democracy through the barrell of a gun, no matter how much we may want to.  The sad reality is that there is only so much we have the ability to do and only so much we can legally do. 

This brings me to the hypocricy of those that make comments like this.  There are two hypocricies herein.  First, they imply the argument that that we should leave Iraq to go stop a genocide in Africa, they try to come across as so compassionate and caring about human rights, yet they they either fail to realize or blatantly ignore the fact that if we leave Iraq too soon, we would inevitably have a human rights crisis created in Iraq.  All of these people who say we need to get out of Iraq also claim to care about freedom and human life, yet are ok with us pulling out to make a political point and indicting Bush, all the while creating a major humanitarian crisis.  Fixing one humanitarian crisis while creating another one does not sound like a productive move to me.

The second hypocricy is that people who make comments like this want us to think they would actually support military action in Sudan.  This is utterly ridiculous.  These people will yell and scream for us to leave Iraq and say that we should be helping in Sudan, if we actually did it and sent our military in there, they would call us murderers, empirialists, etc.   Straight hypocricy. 

Finally, as I said earlier I have great affinity for Africa.  What is occurring in Sudan and other parts of that continent break my heart and is very sad.  The U.S. does need to do more, but we also need to do more smartly.  Throwing money at it won’t help.   I personally believe that this should be a EU and UN matter.  It was European countries who colonized that continent and they have a significant amount of blame on their shoulders.  The UN needs to allow their peacekeeping forces to use force when necessary, just minor force.  Peacekeepers are worthless if they can’t do anything to keep the peace.  We also need to put much more pressure on the African Union.  Most of the responsibility falls on the backs of those people and countries who surround Sudan. 

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Addressing War, National Interest, and Iraq-Part 1

On a previous post that I wrote, oddly enough one about Josh Romney possibly running for congress, a debate has broken out in the comments section about war and President Bush.  Anytime this is discussed between me and someone who wants us to withdraw immediately from Iraq, a few of the same arguments are made, two of which are stated in comment below, given to us by SLCondensed:

I guess my problem is I can’t honestly justify attacking a country for its oil when there are so many worse countries and regimes around the world. The situation in Darfur is much worse than it ever was in Iraq, and we don’t do something about it why?

I posted a fairly brief response to this comment, but feel that there is so much more involved with this comment that it justified a whole post here.  The first comment SLCondensed writes comes down an issue of national interest and this is what will be addressed in Part 1 (the comment about Darfur will be addressed in Part 2).  After reading that sentence there are a few questions that need to be asked: 

1. Why did we go to war in Iraq?
2. Did we go to war in Iraq for Oil?
3. Were there worse regimes and countries than Iraq?
4. Considering how much conflict there is in the world, what responsibility does the U.S. have to intervene?  What is the threshold for such an intervention? How should the U.S., being the industrialized world’s security provider, determine when military intervention is acceptable?
5. Does the reason we went to Iraq in the first place even matter to the situation today?

Regarding why we went to war in Iraq, there was not one single reason.  Sure, the Bush administration sold us that there were WMDs and that was really the only reason given, but it was so much more than that.  First, I need to remind the reader that EVERYONE believed Iraq had WMDs before we invaded, everyone (except Saddam).  The question wasn’t, “Does Iraq have WMDs?”, it was, “how much of a threat are those WMDs?”  So I don’t want to hear anything about Bush lied, what a crock.

Anyway, here is the list of reasons why I think we went to Iraq: 1. WMDs (9/11 was still fresh on our minds), 2. Surround Iran with U.S. forces 3. Oil and Gas, 4. Send a message to other despotic regimes (which worked magically, just about 9 months after Iraq started Libya gave up it’s WMD program, perhaps Bush’s greatest acheivement and solidified my vote for him in ’04), 5. Revenge against Saddam for trying to assassinate Bush ’41, 6. To provide freedom to the Iraqi people, 6. To finally force people to take Western threats seriously (I mean, how many times can you say, “you better do this or else” and never follow through-lookin’ at you U.N.), 7. To fight terrorists somewhere not named the United States.

Some of those reasons are more honorable than others, some are more realistic than others, some are childish, but ultimately I believe all of those things were considered by the Bush administration during the decision making process.  Of course, the Administration could not come out and say all those things, it would have been political suicide. No President, whether GOP or Dem, would be that stupid. 

Question 2 was answered in question one, of course the need for oil played a part in our decision to go to war in Iraq.  So what?  The need for energy and fuel is essential to any society, the whole reason we have any interest in the Middle-East at all is because of energy.  If they didn’t have oil or gas we would view them and treat them the way we do Mali and Sudan.

Question 3, certainly there were worse regimes in the world, but not many.  North Korea, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Somalia, and Haiti to name a few.   But this brings us back to national interest and it’s role in our decision making process, which I will discuss in full in Part II.

Question 4,  these questions have no cut and dry answer.  But I will certainly share my opinion.  The way I view the current world is I see the U.S as the world’s only superpower and essentially, as the military for Canada, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand.   Each of these geographies, whether we or they like or not, rely on the U.S. predominantly for their security.  The reason they can get away with having such miniscule military forces is because they know the U.S. is there to back them up and we will so long as the reason is just.  This is a good scenario for both parties, it allows us to maintain our place in the world and grow and expand our economic interests.  It allows them to focus their more limited resources on providing for the people socially and economically.  The fact the U.S. acts in this role is precisely why the developed world blossomed.  Now these realities may upset you or you may like them, but the fact remains that this is the reality of the world in which we now live.

So, with the U.S. having such a large role in the world, both economically and militarily, it puts us in a place of responsibility.  How to use that responsibility is a question of great debate and the cause of much frustration and animosity, both on the part of America and the rest of the world.  The fact is, despite our current position as the world’s hegemon, we still have limited resources, we can’t do all things and we can’t be involved in everthing; nor should we.   Thus, all decisions are usually to be made based upon national interest.  Every country in the history of the world operates this way.

With the U.S. in such a unique and powerful position, we also have to show restraint.  Just because we have freedom and democracy does not mean that we have to force every other country to institute the same.  Forcing democracy seems like an oxymoron.  At the same time, the spread of democracy is in our national interests so we encourage democracy and try to demonstrate the value of it. 

Similarly, both because of national interest/limited resources and because we need to allow countries to largely work out their own issues, we just can’t and shouldn’t get involved everywhere.  Sometimes it is justified, but determining that justification is difficult.  I will address this much more in Part II.  Ultimately, though, the U.S. needs to make decisions based upon what is best for the U.S.

Question 5, ultimately SLCondensed’s comment basically was saying that we need to leave Iraq because we never should have been there in the first place.  Whether that reasoning is true or not, it has absolutely no relevance on the current situation.  The anti-Iraq people’s favorite argument against Iraq is this reason we are there thing and it is utterly ridiculous. The fact is, we are in Iraq, we destroyed their government, and we decided that we were going to help rebuild it and to provide freedom.  Essentially, we broke so we are going to fix it.

Why we went to Iraq in the first place does not change the fact that we are there.  Pulling out all of our troops and causing an even worse humanitarian crisis because you disagree of our original justification for the interaction is ridiculous, ignorant, and naieve.   Further, we are now winning.  Why are we going to pull out when victory and success is in our sights?

But you may say, what determine’s victory in Iraq? I would argue that victory is a country that is relatively stable, can provide for the basic needs of the people, and has a semblance of democracy.  We don’t need Iraq to be like the U.S. or even like Turkey right away, we need Iraq to just be able to largely support itself, defend its people from radicals, and provide an environment for continued economic development.

This leads me to briefly discuss U.S. history in war.  The United States has a large history of doing terrible in wars at the beginning but pulling out the victory in the end.  Let’s run down that history.  The U.S. had no business winning the revolutionary war.  We lost battle after battle and very nearly lost the war in the first year.  The war lasted about 8 years, in 1776 things were awful, yet by 1783 and ’84 we had come back and won. 

The War of 1812 was near disaster as well.  Our Navy was terrible and we lost many battles early on, but managed to pull it out in the end.  The Civil War is the perfect example.  From 1860 to 1863 the Union army was terrible, many people criticized the war and wanted us out.  had we listened to them the United States would be two countries. Fortunately we had a President that had resolve and refused to cower to public pressure.  Eventually, we won some big battles and won the war. 

In WWII the German military had the upperhand for the first year or two of our involvement, but again, American determination resulted in victory.  This takes us to Vietnam.  The reality in Vietnam is that when we gave up, we were on our way to winning, things were looking up.  The only reason we lost the War was because our politicians back home caved to public pressure.   We would have been outright victorious a short time later had we seen it through.

The only two wars that we haven’t been behind in were WWI, because we came in late and gave the Brits and French the boost they needed to break the stalemate with the Germans, and Iraq I, we faced a ridiculously weak military and only required Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.  (By the way, that was a War that was solely for oil, I wonder where all you were then?).

Today, we are going through a similar pattern to what we SHOULD be used to, except for the fact our people are historically ignorant.  The first 3 years of the “war” (I don’t even consider it a war, it more a peacekeeping and stability mission, we won the war when the Iraqi Army collapsed and Baghdad fell) were disasterous.  We made a lot of mistakes, just like the Lincoln administration did in the 1860’s, but year four has been a resounding success and year 5 is starting out much the same; even the Political situation is starting to stablize.  Yet so many of you still want us to throw in the towel.  It makes no sense!

As a result, the only conclusion I can come to as to why you want us to give up actually has nothing to do with Iraq or the realities there, it is that you hate and despise President Bush and want whatever it takes to bring him down to occur (short of assassination of course).   I am confident that had Kerry won in 2004 and followed the exact same path that Bush has taken in this second term, today you would be loving Kerry.  The reality is that so many of you are so blinded by your vitriol for Bush that you fail to recognize that the fastest way for us to get out of Iraq and the best way to ensure that a humanitarian crisis will be averted is by finishing the job there.  It reminds me of a common phrase our training instructors told us in Air Force Basic Training, “the fastest way out of here is to graduate.”   Things are going well in Iraq, sure they aren’t perfect, but they are still going well (you can tell that by the limited coverage Iraq gets in the media).  Give it a chance and try to look at the situation realistically.

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Filed under 9/11, Air Force, Anti-War, Army, Congress, Conservative, Democracy, Democrats, Election 2008, Genocide, History, International Affairs, Iraq, Liberal, Liberalism, Marines, Media, Military, Myanmar, Politics, Progress, Progressive, Senate, Terror, terrorism

My Obamania is Over

Well, not that I was ever an Obama supporter, but I certainly considered voting for him over McCain, especially if Huckabee were on the ticket.  However, now that I am actually looking at what Obama stands for and what he believes, any interest I had in him has completely dissolved. 

Sure, Obama is charismatic, a good speaker, and seemingly a good person but I need more than that.  Last week I discovered his, if not support, indifference for partial birth abortion something that is absolutely unacceptable.   Now, this morning I read an article by David Frum published by the National Post titled Hillary Has a Point.    This article mentions some troubling things about Barack that further diminishes him and potentially makes him my third choice behind both McCain and Hillary (How can that be?!).

The first thing that sticks out to me is that Obama has pledged unconditional and immediate withdrawal from Iraq.  While I don’t believe he would actually be stupid enough to carry out such a pledge, it is still worrying.   Remember, conservatives demanded pledges from candidates regarding taxes and abortion, people take these things seriously.  With such a pledge, if Obama were to win the Presidency and then four years from now we still have a presence in Iraq his supporters are going to be up in arms and may likely revolt.  It could be comparable to Bush 41’s “read my lips” debacle.    Frum goes on to say that Hillary has “given every indication of being a more responsible commander-in-chief than Obama.”

Further, Obama has agreed to meet with such despotic leaders as Ahmadi-Nejad, Chavez, and Castro (Raul version).  And while I certainly think that our foreign policy can almost be childish regarding whom we will and will not talk to, these talks certainly should not be done without conditions and should not be openly encouraged. 

Obama has consistently demonstrated his weakness and a lack of judgement with foreign policy.  Perhaps he and Ron Paul should hook up.   I still have a lot to learn about each of the three candidates still remaining, but I will be honest, if I didn’t already know Hillary and know of her character (or lack thereof) and just went solely on her campaign rhetoric, she would be right up there with McCain on whom I would support in November.  However, she lost me well before the campaigning began, she is a bad person.  I don’t care how much I may agree with a person’s policies, character and honesty goes a long way and are essential for my vote.  

So while it appears that Obama is tops for character and integrity (but what do I know), he is third on policy and ideas.  So apparently my only option left is a “hold-nose” vote for McCain, but I don’t know if I can do it.  I may not be voting for President this cycle or will write in Mitt just for fun.

P.S.  Zen, it is time for you to stop your silly support for Obama :).

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Africa’s Vicious Cycle Continues

There is something inherently wrong with Africa.  It seems that no matter how much a country in Africa, specifically sub-Saharan Africa,  progresses at some point it all falls apart and returns to what Africa is apparently used to being: a land of chaos.  I suppose there is a reason it is called the “Dark Continent” and it has nothing to do with the color of the skin of a majority of the people. 

I have a great fascination with Africa and in terms of political/social desires, there is nothing that I would rather see than a generally stable and prosperous Africa.  What a sight that would be to behold.  A continent so ripe with conflict and war, being able to rise above it and enter into the developed world while providing relative peace and prosperity for even the poorest of people. 

In the 80s and 90s it appeared that there was a shift towards this vision.  While many countries continued to reside in hell (Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda), many were stablizing and becoming prosperous.  However, today many of those same countries are or look as if they are regressing and being trapped by the grasp of ethnic strife and war once again or, at least, are in the grip or totalitarian leaders who are destroying their country.

There are three countries that come to mind that have fallen into this trap.  In the 80’s and early 90’s the Ivory Coast was often considered Africa’s shining star.  An example of openness and relative prosperity, however today it is embroiled by war and strife.

Even worse, and I would argue the most serious, is Zimbabwe.  Zimbabwe had a burgeoning economy and was Africa’s breadbasket.  They too were among the most prolific examples of African prosperity all while under the same leader they have today, Robert Mugabe.  Yet around 1998 something snapped in Mugabe (or at least that is how it seems to me), perhaps he became paranoid of losing his power, but he instituded terrible economic reforms and has continued to do so since.   As a result, Zimbabwe is arguably the worst country in Africa, or at least the worst country that was somewhat prosperous a decade ago (it is hard to compare Zimbabwe with Somalia, a country that has always been in chaos).   And through all of this, Mugabe and his government refuse to recognize that it was their policies that caused this devastation. 

Perhaps the most disappointing is what is currently going on in Kenya.  Kenya WAS as late as last fall Africa’s proud country.  The one that Africa could show the world the potential they have.  Granted, things have never been as prosperous as the West there, but they were a far sight better than most of the rest of Africa and became the standard bearer of success.  Yet, for some reason, Africa’s nature would not let it be.  Just like with the Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe (and throw Nigeria in there), Africa is pulling Kenya back to what it is apparently supposed to be; Chaotic. 

As a result of a contested and likely corrupt election, huge swaths of minority tribal people are dissatisfied and are partaking in ethnic cleansing of the Kikuyu people.   It is in sharp parallel with the Rwanda genocide in 1994, except that it has not overtaken the whole country.   All is not lost yet in Kenya however, the President can take a nearly unprecedented step for Africa and step up and either resign and call for new elections or bring all sides together and forge a new political and power sharing agreement.  But even this is no guarantee of success. 

What a complete shame and disappointment.  Will there ever be a country in Africa that will be able to rise above the fray and stay there?  I don’t know, but there are reasons for optimism.   Right now, Botswana is doing incredibly well.  They have a stronger economy and higher GDP than even South Africa (last I checked) and have a stable, though relatively totalitarian government.  Their biggest issue is AIDS; an issue that can easily bring down the country. 

Ghana, too, is a strong country with decent leadership, though with it’s own corruption issues.  However, what Africa needs immediately is stability and security, they can deal with corruption later, but stability is essential for international investment, key to fixing Africa. 

So the question now becomes, can Botswana or Ghana continue it’s rapid rise?  Can countries recently embroiled in strife, yet now seemingly out of it and improving, like Liberia and Uganda, continue to hold together it’s fragile stability?  Or will the curse of Africa strike again and tear these down.  My guess is that only one or two of them make it out alive and I would put my money on Botswana and Liberia. 

Africa is a sad yet fascinating place.  One that probably has so much more to offer in terms of U.S. national interest (which it takes for the U.S. to care about truly helping a country) than we realize.  The question is, will any country there stablize enough for us to find out?  Will the tribes put aside their differences for the good of the whole?  I doubt it.  Certainly a small handful of countries can pull it off, but as a whole Africa looks doomed with little hope.  I pray that I am wrong, but this latest failure in Kenya shows that chaos and genocide are only a moment away.

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