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In proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at s



Updated: 2016-01-05T09:41:33.034-06:00

 



I don't get MAD

2015-03-27T17:47:17.291-06:00

Today, I saw a Professor Heldman of Occidental College opine that we are “behaving like Persians don’t understand mutually assured destruction, when clearly they do.”  Here’s why that is so dangerous.Up until now, the political dialogue has been between those who favor going to war against Iran now, and those who say, “wait a few more days to see if there is a negotiated solution.” It is predictable that some will say, “let’s wait a couple more weeks.” I’ve been in the few-more-days camp, and even if Secretary of State Kerry is in the couple-more-weeks camp, I wouldn’t want that communicated to the other side just yet.Basically, this puts me out of step with my peacenik friends so let me say straight away: War is hell and it should be avoided if at all possible. Every effort should be put into negotiating a solution to the problem of Iran, and I am more optimistic than my right-wing friends. But if they are correct, then this may be one of those terrible instances when war cannot be avoided. We’ll know soon enough.It doesn’t help that a man who has been so wrong, so often, on such important questions seems to agree with me. Of course, I am referring to John Bolton, author of an article that appeared in the New York Times and entitled, “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.” Though I detest everything about the man, (except his moustache) I am okay with the bottom line, which is No Nukes for Ayatollahs, and the idea that if necessary we can back it up with our own Air Force.As usual, Josh Bolton, goes way beyond what the evidence will support. He suggests that Arabs would welcome a strike in Iran, and that he thinks that we could bring down the Iranian regime. Well, maybe he should be assigned to cleaning up the candy and flowers that greeted American liberators in Iraq. Thanks to American gullibility regarding Bolton's last prediction of being greeted as liberators, we are now giving air support to a Iraqi counter-insurgency in Tikret to oust Islamic State, in which effort we find ourselves allied with the Iranians.I don’t know if Arabs would welcome an America strike in Iran or not, but, frankly, I don’t give a damn. If they have a better plan for achieving a “No Nukes for Ayatollahs” solution, I am open to it. I have been listening, and haven’t heard anything, but, as I said, I am willing to wait till the end of the month.But along comes Professor Heldman, and she says that we don’t have to insist on No Nukes for Ayatollahs, because we can manage the risk of a nuclear Iran. She suggests one means of control is the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, but presumably she is open to other strategies. But I am not. And here are two reasons why.First, if Iran acquires a nuclear breakout capability, other nations in the area are going to insist on the same. Reliance on mutually assured destruction is complicated and involves a series of very careful calibrations. With two parties, the complexity is great, but each new party raises the complexity exponentially. Ayatollahs-with-nukes is unacceptably bad. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East, with Israel and Iran already having nuclear capabilities, is far worse.Second, assured destruction sounds bad to me, but I confess I have no way of knowing the degree to which that is a threat for Ayatollahs. I respect religious folk, but I don’t understand the Islamic religion, especially in its eschatological aspects.Professor Heldman may have other strategies for managing the proliferation risk and the Ayatollahs with a finger on the nuclear button, but the one she came out of the gate with was mutual assured destruction. If the professor has another idea, let’s have it, because that dog won't hunt.Even someone as consistently wrong as Josh Bolton got that one right. But what bothered me more about Professor Heldman’s suggestion is that it is the camel’s nose in the tent. The camel in this metaphor is the idea that a nuclear Iran can be managed. It is an attractive proposition to peaceniks like me, who believe that war is hell, w[...]



Natural born questions

2015-03-25T00:24:20.131-06:00

Every-word of the Constitution is important. Let’s take a look at three that have been in the news today: “natural-born Citizen.” First of all, it is clear that there are two classes of citizens in the vision of the framers, namely “natural born citizen,” and “others.” Clearly, naturalized citizens are in the “other” class and therefore not eligible to be President of the United States. Are there citizens who are neither naturalized nor natural born? Such a citizen would not be eligible to be President, according to the express terms of the Constitution.Of course, there are those who are citizens but not eligible because of age or residency requirements –- thirty-five and 14 years respectively. But are there people other than naturalized citizens who are ineligible for the presidency because of the nature of their citizenship? And might Ted Cruz be one of them? First, some background: The Constitution says that a qualification for being President is being a “natural born Citizen.” However, the Constitution doesn’t define “natural born Citizen.” The Third Congress enacted The Naturalization Act of 1790, which provided "the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens: Provided, That the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States." Presumably, this is the law that Ted Cruz referred to when he said the matter has been settled law for over two hundred years.The statute clearly recognized a distinction between non-naturalized, foreign born citizens of the US, and “natural born Citizens.” The 1790 Act provided automatic citizenship to the minor children of persons duly naturalized, and according to the language of the statute, such individuals, providing they are residents, become “citizens of the United States” automatically. In the very next sentence, act grants to the children born to citizens overseas the status of “natural born citizens.” The proximity of the two clauses strongly supports the conclusion that the statute creates two different classes of citizens: (1) Natural born citizens (and those granted that status) and (2) others, including naturalized as well as those who are minors acquiring citizenship automatically as children of naturalized citizens. Those in the first class are eligible to be President: those in the second class are not. And the facts of the case support the conclusion that Ted Cruz is in that former class: the class of automatic citizens who receive the additional status of the “natural born citizens” who are eligible to be President. As Ted himself might say, “Case closed, eh?”But here’s the funny part. That statute was superseded by the naturalization Act of 1795, which provided, “the children of citizens of the United States, born out of the limits of jurisdiction of the United States, shall be considered as citizens of the United States,” provided that the father of such a child had been a resident of the United States. Did you catch that? The superseding statute removed the words, “natural born” from the description of children born to citizens abroad. These children are "birthright citizens" to be sure. Far be it from me to suggest that Ted Cruz is not a birthright citizen. But the statute makes it clear that not all birthright citizens are natural born Citizens, eligible to serve as President. Congress is presumed to have intended to make a distinction between the language of the 1790 statute, and the language with which it superseded that law.  And the courts are tasked with giving effect to the Congressional intent. In fact, there are lots of people who say that the courts should stick to the literal letter of statutes and these people were out in force recently when King v Burwell was being argued. What will they say now? I hope that as a minimum, any defense they have to what looks to me l[...]



Give 'em hell, Barry! Part III

2015-03-25T00:30:46.130-06:00

Back in August of 2008, I argued that President Obama should recall the election of 1948, and run against a “do-nothing, good for nothing” Congress in his campaign for re-election.  See, hereand here. Once again, I am urging the President to emulate the predecessor known for plain-speaking. First, an example of how President Truman earned that reputation. Truman didn’t much care for a review of his daughter’s singing performance that appeared in the Washington Post on December 6, 1950. The music critic Paul Hume described Miss Truman as “extremely attractive,” but went on to state “Miss Truman cannot sing very well.” The president jotted off a note to Mr. Hume: “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!” All of this comes to mind because the President who has made a career of being “the least aggrieved black man in America,” has just had to endure a mean-spirited attack from the one of whom Joe Biden once said, “The only three things he mentions in a sentence—a noun and a verb and 9/11.” Republicans are not exactly distancing themselves from Rudy Guiliani.The White House responded to Guiliani’s despicable comments. Press Secretary Josh Earnest dealt out the most genteel smack-down ever uttered without using the words “Bless his heart.” Said he:"It's sad to see when somebody who has attained a certain level of public stature -- and even admiration -- tarnishes that legacy so thoroughly. The truth is, I don't take any joy or vindication or satisfaction from that."I think really the only thing that I feel, is I feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani today." Now, I have been saying that Guiliani was a complete fraud since May of 2007, as you can see here.  A couple of months later, Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice, joined me in calling “Bullshit!” on Guiliani’s self-promoting narrative. Nowadays, Wayne Barrett is with the NY Daily News, and he is obviously still disgusted by Rudy Guiliani, this time attacking Rudy’s pathological family relations. Why can’t the President do the same? He might be accused of picking the low-hanging fruit, but considering the pass that Guiliani has enjoyed, it’s time someone mentioned some of the things that Barrett brought up. They say it is a rule of politics that you don’t want to punch down, but when you are at the top of the heap, what else is there to do?It will be hard to top Truman’s directness. Still, the President is liberated from having to run for office again and someone has to mention the fact that when Guiliani attacked the President’s upbringing he crossed into forbidden territory. To get the ball rolling, let me suggest an opening gambit:“Mr. Guiliani has attacked me, which is part of his shtick. That’s fine, because when I signed up for a lifetime of public service to the country I love, I knew full well that there would be guttersnipes along the way that would put hatred of me over their professed love of country. But I didn’t sign up for an attack on my mama. That’s not acceptable coming from a lying son-of-a-bitch like the worthless Guiliani.” Fill in the rest, Mr. President…“   and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”[...]



Making history with Iran

2015-02-22T16:15:18.311-06:00

The U.S. and Iran may be on the verge of making a historic deal on nukes. The possible compromise was revealed ahead of the next negotiating round on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that starts Friday. Will it be historically good, or historically bad?First, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. Reagan famously said of the Soviet empire that one must, “Trust but verify.” It’s a Russian proverb, Доверяй, но проверяй (doveryai, no proveryai) and the Gipper used it to great effect in negotiating arms reductions with Gorbachev, or so they say.Some people also say that we are in a “Trust but verify” situation with Iran. This is completely false. Trust must play no part in our dealings with Iran. They absolutely cannot be trusted to comply with any treaty obligations. The only thing they can be trusted to be is true to their nature. You can trust that they are an atavistic, apocalyptic, totalitarian theocracy, determined to destroy Israel, and that they have financed terror operations against Jewish targets in Argentina, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere.As for their nuclear ambitions, trust that the Iranians will pursue weapons before, during and after these negotiations. The question on the table is whether or not sufficient obstacles can be placed in the way of an Iranian bomb. And by sufficient, I mean, sufficient to be certain that they won’t get a bomb that can be used in any way, including as a threat, or to arm a proxy.The plan being floated about is that Iran will keep 10,000 centrifuges. That’s a lot – enough to build a bomb. However, the idea is that Iran will have to export all of its production, and there will be an inspection and regulation regime to regulate the inputs and outputs to prevent Iran from getting the capacity to build a bomb. Finally, the centrifuges will be modified to limit how much nuclear fuel produced. I haven’t heard that the grade of the uranium produced is subject to controls under the proposed agreement, but my gut tells me that it is.This might be a good outcome but only if Iranian compliance can be verified. Can the U.N. International Atomic Agency be trusted with the responsibility of verifying Iranian compliance, as contemplated in the compromise? I trust the Iranians to try to skirt the regulations, avoid the inspections, and get away with breaching the agreement. And then what?War is the obvious option. The problem is that it takes time it takes to recognize a breach of the agreement. And then it takes more time to act on that knowledge, even in the case of unilateral military action under the command of the Commander-in-chief. What if, in that time, Iran gets a nuke? Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, Iran might be as little as one month and as much as a year from having a nuclear bomb under the terms of the compromise.The work-around for this little problem is that, at least in theory, the U.S can act upon less than certain knowledge. Maybe there is no will to go to war, but in the past, the U.S. has used sanctions to coerce Iran to behave better. The main sanction that the U.S. can impose is in the area of banking. By freezing bank accounts, the U.S. can more or less freeze the Iranian economy. As we shall see, this is a mixed blessing.Before we dismiss the rumored agreement out of hand, we need also to see what else is rolled into it. Will Iran commit to no longer funding Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the PLO (or, rather, it’s successor, the PA) and other terrorists around the world? What about a promise to stop its mischief in Iraq? All of this would be good, but there’s a rub.How would we enforce these collateral deals? Obviously, war is not an option because if it were, we would have gone to war a long time ago. Recall that the proposed deal depends upon Iran exporting all of its nuclear fuel. If, by a series of sanctions, we can prevent Iran from participating in international trade, that leaves them with no money, no [...]



Time for an old joke to explain what’s going on.

2015-01-30T13:40:16.530-06:00

First, the joke:“Zeyde! Zayde! Babe Ruth just hit his 6o home runs.”“Nu? Is this good or bad for the Jews?So, let’s take a look at where we are. Things are very nasty between the Democrats, who control the White House, and the Republicans, who control the Congress. As with any grievance, the decisive factor will be this: Who frames the narrative? Each side has a tale to tell in Washington, D.C. Call it “A City of Two Tales.” As usual, each grievant tells a tale in which he plays the role of victim in the opening salvo. Republicans claim that the President started it all when he took unilateral actions regarding immigration. It’s hard to take this seriously, but at the time, Boehner talked about “poisoning the well,” or “playing with matches.” They also claim that the President threw down a gauntlet at the State of the Union address when he said that he would veto any bill that would result in a break-down of negotiations with Iran, such as the conditional sanctions bill in the Senate now. These Republicans didn’t pay attention to the fact that the President also said that if negotiations break down, we will have to go to war.  Some Democrats, including Jews join these Republicans, because they are disappointed with the progress of negotiations with Iran. Some find the demands of Israel to be unrealistic. Iran will not dismantle anything that can be used for a nuclear weapon program, especially since, as signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to develop a civilian nuclear program.In the Democratic narrative, the story starts with Boehner’s invitation to Bibi and the attendant breach of protocol. Not to mention law: The Logan Act (1 Stat. 613, 30 January 1799, currently codified at 18 U.S.C. § 953) is a United States federal law that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. It was passed in 1799 and last amended in 1994. Violation of the Logan Act is a felony, punishable under federal law with imprisonment of up to three years. Some say that Boehner does not have the authority to invite any foreign leader to Congress and that only the POTUS or his designated official can. The Democratic view is that Mr. Obama is the duly elected mouth-piece for foreign policy, especially if the message is one everybody absolutely agrees upon. Everybody absolutely agrees on this message: The alliance between the United States and Israel is ironclad, inviolable, and sacrosanct. Everyone also agrees that Iran absolutely cannot be permitted to become a nuclear military power. We should be saying these things with a united voice. Choose your patter: “We are not a red country or a blue country,” or “Politics stops at the water’s edge.” Some Republicans are attracted to this message just out of respect for the office of President. Some Democrats, inclined to take Bibi’s side, are pulled back onto the reservation just out of loyalty to the occupant of the office of the President. So battle lines in this dispute are not completely congruent with party lines.Nu? Is this good or bad for the Jews?Funny you should ask. As it turns out, some Jews are Republicans, and they think the President can’t be trusted with negotiating an existential threat. They can say, with some validity, that they are standing with the duly elected PM of Israel, so who can complain? President Obama's supporters say, we are willing to threaten war against Iran if they don’t figure out a way to live without a nuclear bomb, but we draw the line at Bibi interjecting himself in partisan domestic politics. And further, international norms of behavior look upon interfering with another country's election. Inded, Obama used this as justification for announcing that he would not meet with Bibi when he was in Washington.Should Bibi be taking a side in the debate that we are having in the U.S. between two political parties on the issue of how to conduct foreign[...]



Twenty years ago, there was a massacre of Jews in Argentina.

2015-01-28T21:29:49.545-06:00

Twenty years ago, there was a massacre of Jews in Argentina.
A bombing of Argentina's largest Jewish center killed 85 people and injured more than 200. The identity of the terrorists has not been established. Recently, however, there have been allegations that the government of President Kirchner of Argentina may have reached a deal with the Iranian sponsors of this attack.
Testimony was expected in the Argentine Congress on January 18th, regarding the claim that President Kirchner had secretly reached a deal with Iran to shield officials wanted in connection with the biggest terrorist attack in the country's history. The testimony never came because the witness, a prosecutor named Alberto Misman, himself a Jew, was found dead in his bathroom with a .22 pistol by his side just hours before he was to testify.
At first, the President’s response was to suggest it was a suicide. Lately, it is acknowledged that Misman was murdered. This is awkward because the President is the obvious answer to the question, “who benefits?” Kirchner has tried to suggest that the Iranians did it. The issue threatens to disrupt the remainder of the President’s term as well the subsequent future of Argentina.
Here's what Big Mitch knows:86 Jews were killed, and hundreds were injured. Their lives were snuffed out because they were Jews. And it was to further someone’s political agenda. Ad mosai?*
If either President Kirchner or her accuser is telling the truth, Iran is right in the middle of it. So, if Bibi goes a little meshugah about the Iranians getting a bomb, forgive him.
He really doesn’t want to alienate the President of the United States, or the 2/3 of American Jews who voted for him. Nor did he think America’s special relationship with Israel should be a matter of partisan politics. Besides, Bibi is smart and one thing he has to figure is that Obama is going to be president for 2 more years. Sure, it’s a little early to call the 2016 election, but if you have to place your bets today, Hillary Clinton is the early favorite. Do you think Bibi wants to be a tool of a permanent minority party in the U.S.? Forgive him already. What do you always say? “Forgive he because he knows not what he is doing?”
Iran is the threat we need to focus on. And in case of Iran, let’s not forget what the President said in the State of the Union Address. If negotiations break down, we are going to war. So, Bibi, relax. America’s got your six. Always will. Maybe you’re working too hard. Cancel some speaking engagements.
"...and tell 'em Big Mitch sent ya!"



The Iranian Nuclear Threat: What to do

2015-01-23T03:25:57.855-06:00

It has been an interesting week for U.S. Israel relations. As is well known, both the U.S. and Israel are extremely concerned about the prospect of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. The issue is how to stop the Iranians from pursuing a nuclear bomb, and on this issue, the White House and the Republican-controlled Senate don’t see eye-to-eye. In his State of the Union address, President Obama said: "New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”Indeed, the Senate is not of one mind, as differing bills work their way through the legislative process. Here  is a good review of the bidding.Moreover, Israel does not adhere to only one view of the matter. Prime Minister Netanyahu favors a bill that would impose conditional sanctions on Iran, but at a press conference with European Union foreign policy chief  Federica Mogherini, Secretary of State John Kerry revealed that “In Israel, one of the top intelligence –- one of the top intelligence personnel within the Israeli intelligence field –- I won’t name names, but this person was asked directly by a congressional delegation that visited there over the weekend what the effect of sanctions would be. And this person answered that it would be like throwing a grenade into the process”Perhaps LIndsey Graham heard this Mossad official, because on Meet the Press, Graham said that he would be willing to forego a provisional sanctions bill if the President would submit any agreement with the Iranians to the Senate for ratification. This is an idea that, to borrow a phrase from Wolfgang Pauli, is "not even wrong." Any resolution of the problem will require many interim agreements, and submitting each one to the Senate would make progress impossible. This is especially true when one considers that the partisans in the Senate would never aprove of anything that the President negotiated, because they are dedicated to making sure that he fails at everything, regardless of the cost to the country.To round out this catalogue of difficulties, Speaker of the House John Boehner has invited the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to address Congress in early March. In a rude breach of protocol the Speaker did not even notify the White House. It has been theorized that this is pay-back for the President acting unilaterally on immigration. If so, it is beyond ironic that the acolytes of Ronald Reagan forget his admonition that “Politics ends at the water’s edge.” (1)If you want to see the extreme of using Iran to bash the President in a disgusting appeal to the religious right, I give you Ted Cruz. Bibi will be standing for early elections on March 17, and he will be speaking to Congress in early March. There is a longstanding norm of international politics that disapproves of any action that smacks of involving one country in the internal politics of another. Although Bibi is arguably guilty of breaching this norm in November of 2012, the White House referred to it in explaining why neither the President nor John Kerry would be meeting with him in advance of the Israeli election.So, now might be a good time to re-read what I wrote in February of last year, "AIPAC reconsidered."Of course, today it is difficult to be as sanguine as I was about the Arab Spring when I wrote that. However, I still think that things are a lot better now than they were six years ago. ISIL is a source of great concern but I have it on reliable information that no less an expert than  General Anthony Zinni.opines that the U.S. could defeat this rag-tag non-professional gang of 30,000 fighters in [...]



Je suis Juif.

2015-01-18T23:59:42.344-06:00

While watching the famous liberal media on TV, I saw Ron Allen, a reporter in Paris, talking about the number of Jews leaving France because of the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe in general, and in France in particular. The problem is real and substantial. Then, he used an expression that jangled my ears.  He said that more and more Jews are “going back to Israel.” The choice of words rankled because the Jews of France are generally not part of an immigrant community. Jews have lived in the south of France since at least the first century, brought by the Romans as slaves after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, the preeminent commentator on the Jewish Bible and the Oral Law, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known generally as Rashi, was born in Troyes, France in the year 1040. Jews prospered after the French Revolution, which gave them truly equal citizenship for the first time anywhere in Europe. Their emancipation in 1791 was the signal for ghettos to crumble all over the Continent. This is what French Prime Minister  Manuel Valls referred to when he said, “To understand what the idea of the republic is about, you have to understand the central role played by the emancipation of the Jews,” and, “if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”The endless list of famous French Jews includes two prime ministers, a Secretary of State, and literary giants such as Marcel Proust. Marc Chagall, “the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century,” made his home in Paris, having emigrated there as a young man before the first World War.At least a quarter of the 330,000 Jews in pre-war France were murdered by the Nazi and their sympathizers. After the war, many Jews immigrated to France from Eastern Europe. These Jews were joined in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s by large numbers of Jews from France's predominantly Muslim North African colonies as part of the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries. The Jewish community is strong in France, and Jews are integrated into all levels of society. Negative attitudes towards Jews in France are less common than in other European countries. One of the victims in the Charlie Habdo was a much-beloved Jewish cartoonist.And then, it occurred to me. Jews in France are, literally, exiles from the Holy Land, as am I. The Hebrew word for exile is galus. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Jewish nation was driven out of its homeland and sent off into a tear-soaked galus that lasts to this very day. We wait and yearn for the day when our galus and suffering will come to an end, when we will be returned to the Holy Land, with the coming of our redeemer, theMoshiach (Messiah) may it be speedily and in our times.[...]



The race that is too tough to understand.

2014-11-04T04:18:53.843-06:00

Here is the election.princeton.edu final predictions for Senate Races, presented on a handy-dandy scorecard.And here are the predictions for Governor's races.Major news media are ignoring an exciting race in Alaska. Is it is too hard to cover because of the time zones and the environment? Or is it too hard to explain? To make the matter worse, people like Sam Wang, of election.princeton.edu, don’t understand the situation in Alaska; and therefore, their math doesn’t add up.Here’s what you need to know.In both the gubernatorial and the senate races, the favored candidate is given a 62% chance of a win because he is ahead by one percentage point (plus or minus 3 or more percentage points.) The surprising prediction is that in the Senate, Dan Sullivan (the Republican) is favored, while in the Governor’s race, the Republican is considered more likely to lose. For that to happen a LOT of Alaskans would have to split their votes, choosing a Republican senator, and a Governor who ran as an Independent and then formed a fusion ticket with the Democratic nominee, Byron Mallot, a leader the Native Rights movement. Given that former AG, Dan Sullivan is to the Native Rights movement what the bus driver who kicked Rosa Parks off the bus is to the Civil Rights Movement, it’s difficult to imagine anyone who would vote for Native Rights Activist Byron Mallot and Former Attorney General Sullivan, prosecutor of Katy John So much the more so in light of the endorsement given to Begich by the Alaska Federation of Natives.It follows, that at least one of Sam Wang’s two Alaska predictions is wrong. We don’t know which, so the odds that it could be either is 50-50. Therefore, both races are precisely toss-ups. This sounds like some arithmatic sleight of hand, but it is no different from the process by which Dr. Wang averages polls in a particular race. The novelty is that I am averaging a senate race with a governor’s race: I reject the assumption that the two variables are independent. Do the math,  (But note that Dr. Wang is ever so slightly more sure of Sullivan than he is of Walker/Mallot.)However, and here’s where subjective feeling enters in, I say it is the prediction that Sullivan will beat Begich that is incorrect. I am betting on Mark Begich and I say, it’s easy money. He is an Alaskan, son of an Alaskan congressman, who done good, and we don't set the bar too high up here. (Just google Sarah Palin, or Don Young.) Factor in women's issues and this ain't as hard to figure as some Sci-Fi movie. It's psephology.Plus: can you say, "ground game?"“… and tell ‘em Big Mitch sent ya!” (Written the night BEFORE the election.)[...]



The cure for predator corporations

2014-06-09T13:54:52.742-06:00

If you are a corporation and you pay non-unionized labor so little that they can’t live on their salary without government benefits such as food-stamps, WIC, and TANF, then you are a predator corporation. You are taking profits from the labor of others, and not paying for it. Instead, the government is paying for it, and passing the bill along to the taxpayers. Some might say it is highly immoral to “wring[ your] bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” Anyway, it isn’t illegal. Now, just about any solution to this problem will undoubtedly be condemned as “income redistribution” or, worse, “socialism.” Never mind that anytime you go into Walmart and pay 25 cents for a trinket that they got from China for 10 cents, your income is being redistributed to the Waltons and the Chinese. But the Republican fetish for free markets regards the Waltons as geniuses who are simply playing by the rules and making money. Ain’t that what capitalism is supposed to be? Here’s an idea which is so crazy, it just may work.Supposed you passed a law that said that anybody who works for a non-union shop with more than 500 employees is ineligible for government benefits unless they are paid $15.00/hr.  The Republican anti-government crowd would have to at least acknowledge that it is not an expansion of the social safety net. They might even welcome it as a dismantling of what they see as a “welfare state.” Since, by its terms the law would enable some employers to pay union workers less than non-union workers it might be seen as a blow to the unions. Most states and localities will see a savings from the reduction of need for social services. They can pass the savings along in reduced taxes. Or they can do a little infrastructure building, producing jobs and higher quality of life. Or they can undo some of the cuts to education that been necessitated by the recent reign of austerity. But you know who isn’t going to like it? That would be the Walton family. You see, their business model doesn’t work without getting someone else to pay for their workers. What will they do when people refuse to work for them unless they are paid enough to live on? And by “paid enough to live on,” I mean, paid by their employers enough to live on. You see, it is just not worth it to work for the Waltons, without subsidies from the government. Maybe they will decide that unions aren’t such a bad thing after all. I doubt it, but as they say, it’s hard to predict the future. After all, unions have the power of numbers with which to negotiate a living wage. Maybe the Walton family will have to tighten their belts, though it is hard to imagine what they will have to do without. Maybe the CEO of McDonalds will have to scrape by 4.1 million a year (as he did in 2011) rather than the $13.8 million he was given this year. I think we can all agree that this is a bummer for him but it is not as bad as working for 30 hours a week and making $217.50.It may be that prices at Walmart and fast food places have to go up. That’s not so bad, either. According to the laws of supply and demand, people may eat less Mickey D. You got a problem with that? It may be that the trinket that Walmart purchased in China for 10 cents to sell to you, may cost you 27 cents instead of two bits. Think of the two cent difference as the amount your locality saved on costs, and if you didn’t get it back on your tax bill, enjoy your new road, or your kid’s music class. By the way, if you would like to manufacture trinkets in American, to sell in your own trinket boutique, you are two cents closer to being able to compete with Chinese imports. Talk this over with the next economist you meet, “… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”[...]



The Catholic vote

2014-05-12T17:26:56.041-06:00

In the last six presidential elections the candidate who won the Catholic vote has won the popular vote. Al Gore won the popular vote handily but lost the Supreme Court case of Bush v Gore. (Held: counting votes is unconstitutional.)President Obama carried the Catholic vote 50 percent to 48 percent while he won the overall national vote 51 percent to 47 percent. That's the third straight Presidential election where the Catholic vote has been a near-carbon copy of the overall vote.Many Catholic voters are Latino, a group that gave Obama 71% of their votes. Republican attitudes towards immigration aren’t going to win over many of these voters. Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, saidthe GOP shouldn’t even bother to field a presidential candidate in 2016 unless Congress passes immigration reform this year. Spoiler alert: they are not going to do it.The Catholic vote historically was solidly Democratic, but Richard Nixon undertook to create a “new majority” and enlisted Pat Buchanan to capture the Catholic vote. Buchanan suggested, among other things, appointing Italian-Americans to visible positions, going so far as to suggestthat the so-called “black seat” or “Jewish seat” on the Supreme Court be given to an ethnic Catholic when it became available. (He was for quotas before he was against them.) Today, there are no Protestants on the Court, and the only Black on the court is Catholic. There are three “ethnic Catholics” – Alito, Scalia, and Sotomeyor.In 1972 President Nixon, upon the suggestion of Buchanan, wrote to Cardinal Cooke expressing his opposition to abortion and supporting the effort to repeal the liberal N.Y. law. (Interestingly, in the 1970s, conservative Christian protests against sexual immorality began to surface, largely as a reaction to the “permissive sixties” and an emerging prominence of sexual liberties arising from Roe v Wade and the gay rights movement. Christians began to “wake up” and make sexuality issues a priority political cause, per Wiki.I’ll discuss how these voters can be recaptured at a later date.)The Republican efforts to appeal to Catholic voters achieved some success. Today, it is still assumed that for many Catholic voters -- especially white Catholics -- abortion is a key issue, that many of these voters went for Romney, and that they may go to the Republican nominee in 2016. I am not so sure that the issue of abortion has as much salience for Catholics as it once had. In a poll in October 2013, thirty-nine percent of all respondents — and 42 percent of self-identified Catholics – felt abortion should be illegal in either “all” or “most” cases. Catholics are just not that different from Americans as a whole.Pope Francis is not going to change church doctrine regarding this issue. But he has suggested that the church’s focus on abortion can be re-examined. Here is how he put it:“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”It is clear that he prefers to keep the attention on wealth inequality and concern for the poor. His comments on fairness very nearly amount to an open rebuke of Paul Ryan, an early contender for the Republican nomination. For sake of discussion, let’s call the issue of wealth inequality “fairness.” This is not the place to discuss the many reasons that “fairness” as an issue can be embraced by a huge majority of voter[...]



AIPAC reconsidered.

2014-02-12T12:43:56.337-06:00

AIPAC is at a cross-road. It has sided with President Barack Obama in a very public dispute with some of the most pro-Israel members of both houses of Congress.First the background. The U.S. and Israel share a foreign policy goal of keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel’s reasons are existential. The American administration is motivated by our strong commitment to Israel, as well as the realpolitik observation that Iran with nuclear weapons is unstable enough all by herself, but if that were to come about, the resultant nuclear arms race in the region would pose unacceptable risks. The U.S. has waged a campaign against Iran that included sabotage, in which effort they have received support from the Israelis. Iranian nuclear scientists have a habit of dying in suspicious circumstances, though, of course, nobody is taking credit. And then there were the sanctions. Here’s where you can read about the history of the U.S. efforts to first support and then discourage Iran’s nuclear program. (Executive Summary: Democrats are tougher on Iran than Republicans. By far.)The election of 2008 produced Democratic majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and, of course, a Democratic President. Congress passed “the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA), with bi-partisan support and President Obama signed it into law July 1, 2010. The CISADA greatly enhanced restrictions in Iran. The sanctions regime had the desired result: Iran came to the negotiating table.The negotiations resulted in an interim agreement which I discussed here. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu said that the agreement was the “deal of the century” for the Iranians, but President Obama argued that the interim agreement was a reasonable effort to avoid war, and further that the movement in Congress to pass additional, conditional sanctions would be counter-productive.  This is what he said at the State of the Union address: “It is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program -- and rolled back parts of that program -- for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. “It's not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we're engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.   “These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran's support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we're clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don't rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today. “The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. “If Iran's leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran's leaders do seize the[...]



What does it mean if Chris Christie survives this political scandal?

2014-01-13T01:49:03.471-06:00

Let’s begin with something we can all agree on: Chris Christie is a mean, vindictive son-of-a bitch.It seems unbelievable that Chris Christie would exact retribution against a mayor in his state for the perfectly reasonable position that he, the mayor, as a democrat should not endorse a Republican candidate for governor. So much the more so because the prank didn’t hit directly at the mayor of Fort Lee, but rather severely inconvenienced (and endangered) Fort Lee residents, most of whom voted for Christie.Rachel Maddow and Steve Kornacki have other theories to explain why Christie would take such a mean, punitive action. These theories might be right or they might be wrong, but the fact is that the prevailing story is that Christie was just being mean because Mayor Mark Sokolitch of Ft. Lee refused to endorse him.When such stories are not dismissed out of hand, and indeed, they are widely believed, it’s time to look at the culture that prevails in New Jersey. The picture that emerges is one of a political culture that has been described as “brass knuckles,” where revenge is not merely to be expected, but rather it is engaged in with the glee and élan that attaches to a favorite sport.Let's take a closer look.Christie hectors a member of the Teacher's unionWhen Christie disagreed with the politics of State Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat, whose district includes Elizabeth, the governor shut down the DMV in that city, the fourth largest in the state, to show his displeasure.Here’s another example: Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop accuses Christie’s office of canceling several meetings with N.J. department heads on the day after he refused to endorse the governor. You may remember that Fulop’s name has already come up in connection with Bridge-gate. Emails reveal that a top Christie aide asks then-Port Authority official David Wildstein whether the agency had responded to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s complaints about the closures. “Radio silence,” Wildstein, a Christie ally, wrote on Sept. 9. “His name comes right after Mayor Fulop.”In the spring, when Christie asked Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer to endorse him for re-election during a face-to-face meeting, Zimmer, a Democrat, told the governor no. After Hurricane Sandy, she applied to the state for a Hazard Mitigation Grant. When her request for grant funding came back, she said, Hoboken received $300,000 of the $100 million in grants requested — less than 1 percent. Pay-back, as they say in N.J., is a bitch.Do you will recall that in Christie’s marathon press conference he talked about how important loyalty was to him? After Christie won the last election in a landside, former Gov. Tom Kean, Sr. said, “Chris just won reelection, he’s popular, and there is a sense he would be able to compete everywhere.” Kean is the only Republican in modern political history to score a higher percentage of the vote than Christie did in November. When he ran for reelection in 1985, Kean won with 71 percent of the vote. More importantly, he was Christie’s first political mentor. There’s a guy who deserves loyalty.Unfortunately, it didn't extend to Kean’s son, Tom, Jr., who was in the Senate. He had a rather public feud with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D), with whom Christie has to work to get legislation through. As part of his effort to produce a Republican majority in the Senate majority, Kean had targeted Sweeney’s seat in the election. This is considered bad manners: New Jersey legislative leaders usually do not target each other for electoral defeat, and it didn’t go down well with Sweeney.Rather than support his fellow Republican, Christie avoided campaigning in Southern NJ, where Kean hoped to oust Democrats[...]



Free Association

2013-12-27T14:47:30.869-06:00

By the time Nelson Mandela died earlier this year, the idea of justifying apartheid was hard to fathom. Just what did P.W. Botha and F.W. de Klerk say in those pre-enlightenment days to excuse a hate-based system of oppression? Well, they started with a noble sounding sentiment: people have a right to freedom of association.We all agree with that, but in South Africa it was understood to mean that white people could associate with whom they chose, i.e., whites, and also, that nobody could force them to associate with those with whom they chose not to associate, i.e., blacks. Of course that was then, and this is now.And by “this is now,” I mean people are still claiming that their “freedom of association” is being violated so that they can justify raw bigotry. It’s happening in the U.S.A., and I don’t mean Union of South Africa.As everyone knows by now, there has been a bit of a kerfuffle because as it turns out, Duck Commander Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family said some things that are not politically correct. (Neither were they factually correct, but people don’t seem to object to that so much.) That he would condemn homosexuality should surprise nobody, since his fundamentalist Christian faith is the hallmark of his TV persona. That he would express it in such harsh terms took some people aback, but still, he could justify the sentiments by selective reference to the New Testament. What was really shocking was his assertion about life in Jim Crow Louisiana when he was growing up:I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field ... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' — not a word! Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.The take-away from this is that Phil Robertson is a jerk. But who cares? Predictably, people criticized him, and A&E network suspended him from their mega-hit. That’s when the fight started. Sarah Palin talked about Mr. Robertson’s First Amendment freedom, proving what we already knew: she’s an idiot. Later she defended herself by saying she hadn’t read the Robertson interview. Bobby Jindal said some nice things to say about Phil Robertson. “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. …  In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment.” In Alabama, State Sen. Jerry Fielding (R) promised to introduce a bill calling for the state to lend its support to suspended Robertson. Ian Bayne, a candidate for the 11th congressional district in Illinois sent out an email to his supporters comparing Phil Robertson to Rosa Parks. And Newt Gingrich takes a back seat to no one on the stupid bus: He compared Phil Robertson to Pope Francis.All of this would be funny if it weren’t for the peculiar aspect of right-wing talk that is so obnoxious. I refer, of course to the victim stance, the most egregious example of which is the faux war on Christmas. It was wearing thin until the Duck Dynasty contretemps came along, to breathe new life into the conceit that Christians in America are somehow victims of oppression. Here's what Walter Hudson has to offer on his own a reactionary right-wing blog:As the drama surrounding cable network A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson enters its second week without losing steam, our analysis of the incident[...]



Who can be tougher on Iran -- Democrats or Republicans?

2013-12-24T04:53:40.491-06:00

Do you really have to ask? Some of my friends are saying that the current administration is not doing enough to oppose Iran’s quest for nuclear arms. It made me wonder: What is the Republican record on this crucial point?Last year, just before the election, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) wrote to affirm President Obama’s strong support of Israel. He reminded us that, “President Reagan is rightly remembered as a strong friend of Israel, although he led the world’s condemnation of Israel at the U.N. when Israel knocked out Iraq’s threatening nuclear facility.” But that was then.Back in 2006, I noticed that the Washington Post had reported that: President Bush declared [Friday, Jan. 13, 2006] that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose ‘a grave threat to the security of the world’ as he tried to rally support from other major powers for U.N. Security Council action unless a defiant Tehran abandons any aspirations for nuclear weapons.I wondered at the time how it was that Iran was in a position to seek nuclear arms. As it turns out, it’s a pretty good tale.In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford proposed to sell nuclear technology to the Iranians according to a declassified National Security Decision Memorandum, signed by Henry Kissinger. Iran was ruled by a Shah, and he convincingly made the case that oil was too valuable to waste on daily energy needs. The Ford strategy paper said the “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” President Ford signed a directive in 1976 offering Tehran the chance to buy and operate a U.S.-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. It was a 6.4 billion-dollar deal that would have benefited principally two companies, Westinghouse and General Electric, and it would have resulted in Tehran having control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium. Thank G-d the deal fell through when the Shaw was deposed.The deal was for a complete “nuclear fuel cycle” -- reactors powered by and regenerating fissile materials on a self-sustaining basis. That is precisely the ability the current administration is now trying to prevent Iran from acquiring, as it was in 2005, during the G.W. Bush administration.It’s interesting to note that in 1975, President Ford’s Chief of Staff was a man named Dick Cheney, and his Secretary of Defense was a man named Donald Rumsfield. Paul Wolfowitz was responsible for nonproliferation at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. This is the crew that was at the White House when George W. Bush, under false pretenses, removed the only regional counter-balance to Iran.But let’s not get too far ahead of the story. Before he became Vice President, Mr. Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton. During the 1990’s, Halliburton paid out more than $3 million in fines for selling Libya nuclear detonator devices, which violated a U.S. trade embargo imposed on Libya because of that country's ties to terrorism. Also under Cheney leadership, Halliburton sold an Iranian oil development company key components for a nuclear reactor, according to Halliburton sources. More recently, Cheney has been critical of President Obama’s deal which halted Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.While Cheney was busy helping a Iranian terrorist regime acquire nuclear capabilities, Bill Clinton was busy being President of the United States.  He imposed some of the toughest sanctions against Iran in 1995, prohibiting U.S. trade in Iran's oil industry in March, and prohibiting any U.S. trade with Iran in May. Trade with the United States, which[...]



More Sanctions for Iran? Why not.

2013-12-24T23:16:04.152-06:00

So, there is a regime of sanctions that has crippled Iran’s economy, with the result that Secretary of State John Kerry has managed to get Iran to negotiate a stand down from their nuclear weapons program. Everybody with the good sense God gave animal crackers has made the observation that the Iranians cannot be trusted. Also, the sun rises in the east. Both observations are true, but since the interim agreement does not rely on trust, both are also useless in the context of new sanctions.Rather than rely on trust, the interim deal provides daily access to Natanz and Fordo sites to IAEA inspectors and access to other facilities, mines and mills. The inspectors will be able to confirm compliance or report breaches of the other obligations imposed on Iran, namely:·         Halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity. (Uranium enriched to 3.5-5% can be used for nuclear power reactors, 20% for nuclear medicines and 90% for a nuclear bomb.)·         “Neutralize” its stockpile of near-20%-enriched uranium, either by diluting it to less than 5% or converting it to a form which cannot be further enriched·         Not install any more centrifuges (the machines used to enrich uranium)·         Leave half to three-quarters of centrifuges installed in Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilities inoperable ·         Not build any more enrichment facilities·         Not increase its stockpile of 3.5% low-enriched uranium·         Halt work on the construction of its heavy-water reactor at Arak, not attempt to produce plutonium there (an alternative to highly enriched uranium used for an atomic weapon)·         Provide “long-sought” information on the Arak reactor and other dataTo put it mildly, this was a huge achievement. When Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu drew a red line on a cartoon bomb at the United Nations, he said that Iran must not be allowed to go any further than that. The interim agreement more than meets his demand at least as long as it holds up.On the other side of the negotiation is the P5+1 (viz., five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany.) In return for the foregoing promises, the P5+1 has agreed to a “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” relaxation of the sanctions regime. Additionally the U.S. has agreed to transfer about $4.2 billion to Iran in installments from assets seized by the U.S. government from sales of its oil.A key commitment that the P5+1 made is that it would not impose further nuclear-related sanctions if Iran meets its commitments. Now, several in Congress, including Senators Begich and Murkowsky and 22 other senators, want to impose further sanctions, a move which the Iranians say will queer the deal.The supporters of new sanctions say that they will be conditional, i.e. would only go into effect if the Iranians fail to live up to their agreement. It is passing strange indeed, that the number one argument in favor of these new sanctions is that they are a hollow gesture. After all, is there anyone in his right mind who thinks that if the Iranians breach the interim deal, America and her allies will have any difficulty imposing new and harsher sanctions? And above and beyond that, the President of the United States has said he will veto the new sanctions bill, even i[...]



What about Syria?

2013-08-29T11:36:00.675-06:00

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Attributed to Edmund Burke.)We have seen unspeakable evil in the case of the Syrian regime’s use of nerve gas on children and non-combatants. Secretary of State John Kerry did not overstate the case when he said it was “a moral obscenity.” As a general principle, little is gained from comparisons to Hitler. On the other hand, the use of Zyklon B, the murder of children, and the totalitarian regime are fresh – and painful – in our memory. And so is the reluctance of the world to confront the evil of Nazism.All wars are tragic, and the Syrian civil war seems to be especially so. According to various opposition activist groups, between 80,350 and 106,425 people have been killed, of which about half were civilians. According to the U.N., about 4 million Syrians have been displaced within the country and 1.8 million have fled to other countries. This is in a country of 22 ½ million people.President Obama has said that the use of gas warfare would cross a “red line.” There is no doubt that nerve gas has been used, nor that the Assad regime is responsible. There is some evidence  that the use of chemical weapons may have been the work of a General who over-stepped his authority. A more likely suspect is Maher al-Assad, brother of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Maher is the commander of its most formidable military division. Doubters of the responsibility of the Assad regime ask “Why would he invite United Nations chemical weapons inspectors to Syria, then launch a chemical weapons attack against women and children on the very day they arrive, just miles from where they are staying?” Since I am convinced that the Syrian regime is in fact responsible for the nerve gas attack, the question is not rhetorical, and, indeed, it demands an answer. The only answer that makes sense to me is that Assad made the calculation that America and her allies did not have the stomach to oppose this heinous violation of international law. He wanted to test this proposition with the hope that the answer would be demoralizing to the opposition. Was he correct in his calculus?Basta! Something must be done! The question is, “What to do?”Congress is in recess now, but the President has the power to call them back into session. It is fundamentally the power of Congress to declare war. Though this should be a completely non-partisan issue, the current Congress is so intractably anti-Obama that it cannot be counted upon to do the right thing. I would like the President to be able to share the responsibility for his decision with the elected officials and political leaders of our country, but is there any reason to believe that Republicans can act responsibly? Of course, it’s theoretically possible that the President can get commitments from the Republican leadership in Congress before he calls them back into session, so that he doesn't have to risk embarrassment. However, the rumblings from people like Senator John McCain don’t inspire confidence in this regard. Unfortunately, whatever is done in Syria will be a tough slog, and the sight of a potential quagmire for the President is too tempting for Republicans, who routinely talk about shutting down the government, defaulting on our debt, and de-funding every program aimed at helping people to improve their lot in life. The President wanted to make America great again after the destruction brought about by the George W. Bush administration, and Republicans openly declared that they wanted him to fail.History, or fate, has cast this President in the role of[...]



The Beauty of Texas State Senator Wendy Davis

2013-07-05T18:57:56.905-06:00

State Senator Wendy Davis, a Texas Democrat is an attractive woman, a graduate of Harvard Law and tough as nails. She proved the last point by filibustering an anti-choice measure, for which she was required to use a catheter. But what’s the point of mentioning that she is an attractive woman?It turns out that Conservatives are being dismissive of her because of her looks. A new website called “The Real Wendy Davis” has exposed Davis as "the first woman ever to look hotter than her 1991 yearbook photo." She's described as a Surgically Constructed “Human Barbie Doll”"Most people — at least those without a plastic surgeon on retainer — do not become more good looking as they age from their late 20s to their early 50s. Without extreme artificial intervention, even the luckiest among us — those blessed with good genes who exercise prudence toward their physical safety and health (for example, by avoiding guns and alcohol) — can at most aim to delay life’s inevitable physical decline, and come close to maintaining their good looks." What these buffoons do not understand is that women like Senator Davis mature and grow as they move from their 20’s to their 50’s. Just like men, they acquire a well-defined sense of self as they accumulate accomplishments, and build self confidence. They discover what is important to them, and they figure out how to pursue it with purpose and determination. Their values crystallize, and if these are values of caring and concern, they exude a sense of power that is charismatic. This is what is so attractive about Senator Davis. It’s also true that Senator Davis showed tremendous grace and poise, as, for example, when she responded to Rick Perry’s mean-spirited attack on her which brought up the fact that she was raised by a single mother, and had a child out of wedlock. The contrast between these two Texas politicians highlighted another quality of the Senator’s appeal, but we cannot tell from the 1991 photo if this, too, was acquired with experience.Conservatives who attack her because she is more attractive than she was when she sat for her yearbook photo 22 years ago imagine that the apex of womanly beauty is youthful inexperience, and powerlessness. A woman in her 20’s is near the height of her fertility, and those who see woman as only useful in the reproduction process, naturally see this stage of a woman’s growth as the pinnacle of her beauty. It is easy to dismiss the caviling of conservatives about Senator Davis’s looks as the carping of guttersnipes. I think it reveals in sharp relief the disdain with which they regard women with power and accomplishment.[...]



Peering into the future of Egypt.

2013-08-29T00:28:54.434-06:00

Today, Fareed Zakaria opined on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer that the interim government in Egypt must allow the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in future elections. “If they are not [allowed to participate] then the whole thing would be a complete sham, and frankly, that would be very dangerous. The real story here is that the Islamist political movement – not just in Egypt, but in Tunisia, Morocco and other places, potentially in Jordan –have been joining the mainstream, and joining the democratic process. Remember, there are many parts of the Islamist movement that have always been very distrustful of this. They have wanted a Caliphate, or they've wanted something that doesn't reek of a Western style of government. The Muslim Brotherhood embraced nonviolence and democracy. And so, for them to be ruled out of this process would be very dangerous. It might marginalize them. It might push them underground. And it might push some parts of them toward violence. That is the probably single most important thing to see – that the Muslim Brotherhood is included in whatever democratic processes is now re-established in Egypt.”Maybe yes, and maybe no.A constitution is not a suicide pact.  It is possible to have a constitution that incorporates a civil government, which guarantees, if I may borrow a phrase, certain inalienable rights. Given that the Coptic churches are believed to account for 10% of Egypt’s population, and that relations between Christians and Muslims in Egyptare generally harmonious, a constitutional guarantee of freedom of conscience is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Indeed, this appeared to be a key demand of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Consider, for example, the fact that protesters projected laser images of the cross along with the crescent on buildings surrounding them. Furthermore, the Pope of the Coptic Church of Alexandria was on stage with General Abdel Fattha Al Sisi, when he announced the military intervention, and that he, Pope Theodoros II, endorsed it. (Ninety-five percent of Egyptian Christians regard him as their religious leader.)Could the Muslim Brotherhood sign on to a guarantee of religious freedom?  As I pointed out in The Dog that Didn’t Bark on Feb 13, 2011, their website stated their vision of the future, thus:We envision the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, which are central Islamic values. We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets.Of course, that same website also said, “We do not intend to take a dominant role in the forthcoming political transition.”  My point is not that the Muslim Brotherhood can't be trusted: you already knew that. My point is that given the failures of the Islamist government, there is no reason to suspect that the framers of the next Egyptian constitution will not create a secular state similar to the government that brought Turkeyinto the twentieth century. By the way, in Turkey, the military has always played the role of stop-check against the civil authorities to guard against excesses, as the military has done in Egypt.I can imagine a constitution that specifically prohibits religious parties. Could the Muslim Brotherhood sign on to that?  I wouldn't bet on it, but as Niels Bohr* famously said, “Predictions are difficult, especially about the future.”  And that brings up back to where w[...]



Congratulations to the Tea Party

2013-03-04T14:27:28.653-06:00

Sequestration is underway, and Tea Partiers are claiming victory in their war against deficits. They see this as the first win in their campaign to impose austerity on the American people. Many Republicans, fearful of being challenged from the right in a primary, have argued that “everyone knows that spending is out of control.” Never mind that Federal nondefense discretionary spending — all spending minus defense and entitlements — is on track to hit its lowest level as a share of GDP in more than 50 years, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office. These self-proclaimed deficit hawks argue that we need austerity because, just like many American families, we have to “tighten our belt.” Unlike many American families, the U.S. government can print money. Also, it can spend on a scale that alters the unemployment rate around the country, stimulating the economy and producing more revenues. And it can borrow money at rates that approach zero per cent. Nevertheless, the acolytes of Grover Norquist insist that we must shrink government until it is the small enough to drown in a bathtub.If only we could be certain of how austerity works. Does it enable the economy to flourish? For that, we would need something like a controlled experiment. The United Kingdom government “austerity programme” is a series of sustained reductions in public spending, intended to reduce the budget deficit. How’s that working out? The U.K. economy is 3.3% smaller than it was in 2008. The U.S. economy is 2.9% larger (both adjusted for inflation). Get it? The U.K is in recession and the U.S. isn’t. What’s the number one cause of deficits? Recession. Hail Britannia! As Paul Krugman put it:“It's important to understand that what we're seeing isn't a failure of orthodox economics. Standard economics in this case—that is, economics based on what the profession has learned these past three generations, and for that matter on most textbooks—was the Keynesian position. The austerity thing was just invented out of thin air and a few dubious historical examples to serve the prejudices of the elite.”Think about that if you have some extra time today. Maybe you are trying to get through the shrunken TSA while trying to catch a plane that is delayed because of layoffs of air traffic controllers. Or maybe you are driving over unsafe bridges and on roads with potholes, with your kids whose Head Start program was shutdown, to get some meat at the market, where, because of a lack of meat inspectors, prices have shot up.And think on this: the sequestration is the result of Republicans refusal to close tax loopholes that it said were unfair and non-productive when negotiating a way to avoid the fiscal cliff.  They claim that the President “already got his tax hikes.” Of course, last time I checked, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives and had a filibuster/veto in the Senate. So go ask John Boehner to name names: Which Republicans voted for a tax increase?  “ …. and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”[...]



The Republican Opposition to Chuck Hagel Explained

2013-02-27T17:57:15.164-06:00

Republicans promised not to abuse the filibuster. They promptly broke that promise, along with precedent and filibustered Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense. What made the Senate Republicans hate Chuck Hagel so?If it were true that he is an anti-Semite, as alleged by anonymous Republican staffers, I would be right there with them. But he’s not, at least according to the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai Brith. So, that was a rather libelous smear. They said that he was bad for Israel. Again, if it were true, I’d be all like, “Screw him.” But there’s no evidence there, either. In fact, the evidence was quite the opposite, starting with Chuck Shumer’s endorsement of him. These and other false accusations were largely propagated by such groups as Americans for a Strong Defense which is run by former Mitt Romney campaign staffers, according to ABC News. Another group, Use Your Mandate, claims to be composed of anonymous Democrats and Independents, but uses  "Del Cielo Media, an arm of one of the most prominent Republican ad-buying firms in the country, Smart Media" according to The New York Times.Okay, I get it. Republicans hate Chuck Hagel. But it wasn’t always thus. Straight-talking John McCain said he would make a good Secretary of State, back in the day when he was also pushing the line that Sarah Palin was qualified to be President.  And lest we forget, Chuck Hagel himself is a – wait for it – Republican!Lindsey Graham took after Hagel like a woman scorned. Ostensibly, it was all about Benghazi  The question was what did the President know and when did he know it. Fey! Suffice it to say, Hagel was not in the government on September 11, 2012. The highlight of the hearing might have been when Senator Graham asked the nominee if he could name one Senator who was intimidated by the Israellobby, or one dumb thing that the Senate did because of intimidation by the Israeli lobby.The line of questioning was revealing in this way: it revealed why I would never be confirmed by the Senate. To wit: I would have answered, ‘Damn straight Senator. Someone who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby is you. And one dumb thing you did because of intimidation is ask that question of a Senator who has a perfect voting record on Israel, you shmuck!”Maybe it sounds like I am being a little harsh on Lindsey. Of course, that may have to do with the fact that when Elana Kagen was being confirmed by the Senate, he had to ask her if she remembered where she was on the day the Underwear Bomber failed in his attempt to blow up a jetliner. She offered up some legal mumbo jumbo about giving terrorists legal rights."No, I just asked you where you were at on Christmas," Graham said."You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant," Kagan replied, garnering a good guffaw from the audience.But not from me. See, I couldn’t figure out why it was even vaguely relevant. Except that Graham was trying to defeat the President’s nominee by highlighting the fact that she didn’t celebrate Christmas like real Americans do.So, naturally, I was amused, but not very much, to see Lindsey Graham trying to portray Chuck Hagel as no friend of the Jews. Then again, it’s hardly news that Lindsey Graham is a hypocrite. At least he didn’t join the Log Cabin Republicans in criticizing Hagel for his 1998 opposition to James Hormel’s appointment as ambassador to Luxembourg.  (Hagel’s opposition to Hormel, for which he has since apologize[...]



Minimum wage. It's the least we can do.

2013-02-20T03:40:31.159-06:00

About 1.7 million people earn the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Let’s pretend they each work 40 hours a week, and 50 weeks a year, which is to say that they each work 2,000 hours per year. (They don't because most minimum wage jobs are also part-time.) Raising the minimum hourly wage $1.00 would therefore cost employers of these workers, $3,400,000,000. Where’s it going to come from?Let's take a look at the top fifty employers of minimum wage workers. The average compensation of the CEOs of these companies is $9,397,302. Ninety-two percent of these companies were profitable last year, and 78% were profitable over the last three years. Compared to pre-recession levels, 75% have higher revenues, 63% have higher profits, 63% have higher operating margins, and 73% higher cash holdings. The recession is over and everything is looking up for these companies. Except the wages of minimum wage workers, which haven't seen an increase since 2009.   The fast food industry is one of the biggest employers of minimum wage workers. Here’s the executive compensation of some of the best paid CEOs in the fast food business.MacDonalds                  18,403,830Burger King                   17,072,427Wendy’s                        10,174,638YUM                           142,069,337Starbucks                     483,279,878Sonic                             17,630,484Domino’s Pizza              47,821,255Total:                           736,451,849Wal-Mart paid its CEO a mere 14.4 million, and we don’t know how much the CEO of Subway made. We do know that he is worth 1.5 billion, and is reputed to be compulsively frugal. Let’s just put him down for making 5% on his money, and call him good for 75,000,000. Add them all together and you get well past one and a half billion dollars.It’s kind of hard to believe that these guys (they are all men) wouldn't find it worth their while to get out of bed and do whatever they do for half that amount.  If the other half went to increasing the pay of the minimum wage workers, there would be over 22% of what was needed to give every single minimum wage worker in the United Statesa $1.00/hr raise. Take a minute to drink that in. By paying 9 CEOs something just south of Croesus, we can finance a quarter of what it takes to pay workers not quite enough to live on. Of course, if the CEOs want to make more money, their path is clear. Hire more low-paid workers and wring your wealth from the sweat of their brow.“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!” [...]



Carly Fiorina -- a 40 year low

2012-11-25T15:06:48.419-06:00

Carly Fiorina was on Meet the Press today, where she was introduced as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. It would not have been polite to introduce her as former advisor to losing presidential candidate John McCain, who had her ass handed to her when she ran against Barbara Boxer for the U.S. Senate. Much kinder to boost her bona fides by referring to her storied career in business. In doing so, if we are to continue in the spirit of generosity, let us overlook the fact that during her tenure, HP stock lost half its value and then she was shit-canned by the HP’s Board of Directors. She was given $20 million dollars to walk away and never bother them again, though a restraining order would have been cheaper. Anyway, it must have been money well spent, because the share value of the company jumped on news of her departure. Be that as it may, she’s still a reliable spokesperson for the failed policies various described as trickle-down or supply side economics.That anyone would try at this late date to defend these policies and be able to maintain a straight face is not a testament to the validity of these ideas, but rather to the shamelessness of the kleptocratic class. I found one thing she said to be of particular interest. “Small business formation is at a forty year low,” said Ms. Fiorina. Now, I have no idea if this is true of false, except for the fact that it was uttered by a woman who has been thoroughly discredited so many times before. Let’s assume it is true. The question is why is small business formation stalled?Ms. Fiorina suggested that the reason is that the tax-code is too complex. That’s nonsense, of course. If you want to start a niche boutique, or dress factory employing 5 or 6 cutters and sewers, and a salesperson or two, there’s not too much to know about the tax code that can’t be learned by purchasing Quickbooks. This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t have an accountant. But if you think that the reason you are having trouble competing with Walmart is that they have a better grasp of the tax code, then you shouldn’t be in business anyway. The reason that small business formation is at a 40 year low (if it is) is that big corporations have consolidated power under the laissez-faire economic policies of the previous administration, and the recession which these policies caused has paralyzed our abilities to deal with this problem. One of the longest lasting legacies of the Bush years will be the reactionary Supreme Court which gave us the Citizens United decision. I am assuming that everyone who reads this knows about how Walmart moves into neighborhoods, and undercuts the competition, putting them out of business. It then purchases in quantities from suppliers that are so significant that the suppliers can’t survive without Walmart’s business. Next step: demand price breaks from suppliers to the point that the only way they can avoid going out of business is to turn to Chinese manufacturers. Goodbye, more American jobs.Along the way, Walmart pays its workers coolie wages. You could stop right there and say that’s immoral, and you would be right. It is indefensible to pay people for working full-time for you and leave them unable to provide for their basic needs. It’s just unconscionable. In a by-gone era, Unions would have protected our fellow workers and preserved the dignity of labor. Walmart, and the candidates it supports are on the forefront of the “let's kill unions moveme[...]



Foreign Aid -- Your tax dollars at work

2012-11-18T22:50:09.455-06:00

The Iron Dome is a missile defense system that has been 90% successful in intercepting and destroying Palestinian rockets coming from Gaza, directed at Israeli civilian population centers. It distinguishes between those rockets that are heading for residential areas and those that would fall harmlessly in forests and elsewhere. It was developed with Israeli technology heavily subsidized by American foreign aid. Was the American foreign aid well spent? If not for Iron Dome, Israel would have sustained numerous civilian casualties from the thousand or so rockets launched by Hamas terrorists. Under such circumstances, Israelwould have been compelled to invade Gaza. Where would Egyptstand if Israel had invaded Gaza? Evidence is mounting that President Mohamed Mosni, of the Muslim Brotherhood, would offer more than rhetorical support to the Hamas government in Gaza. Note, Egypt is the second largest recipient of American foreign aid. Turkey, a member of NATO, is siding with Egyptagainst Israel because it still has not received an apology for Israel’s actions when blockade runners on the MV Mavi Marmara attacked Israeli commandos in 2010. Meanwhile, with Israelengaged in a ground war in Gaza, Iran could proceed with its nuclear ambitions unchecked. If it gets a nuclear bomb, the Saudis and the Jordanians will surely want them too. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a terrifying thought but the threat of loose nukes raises the stakes exponentially. Syria is already a catastrophe and the war is spilling into Israel. For now, Israel can protect herself from attacks from the Golan Heights. But what if she were involved in a ground war with the Gazans backed by Egypt?What would America’s course be in the nightmare described above? NATO unraveling, American foreign aid recipients using military force against Israel, nuclear Iran, an arms race in the mid-East, and Israel facing a threat from the North and the potential for nuclear bombs falling into the hands of Hamas terrorists: it’s not a pretty picture. America’s commitment to Israel is supposedly inviolate, and the credibility of the United States depends upon standing by Israel. Beyond that, if Israel is not defended by the United States, the entire Middle East will be taken over by Islamists, including Jordan where the Monarchy is enduring mass public protests even as I write these words.Think about it next time you hear someone complain about the United States giving foreign aid to Israel. “… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”[...]



Why was General Petraeus outed?

2012-11-13T01:11:34.631-06:00

On Friday, General David Petraeus resigned his position as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. His stated reason was that he had been discovered having an affair, and that his conduct was unbecoming to one who occupied his station.He was hailed as one of the great generals of our generation, and a man who demonstrated how honorable he was by owning up to his misconduct. As for the actual misconduct – which involved betraying one of the heroines of returning veterans – the networks had the usual amount of hand-wringing about why powerful men cheat on their wives risking their life’s work and reputation to do so. Interspersed with this pabulum were frequent reminders that the FBI had accidentally stumbled on this, security was not compromised and that no actual laws were broken. (Never mind that Uniform Code of Military Justice, Articles 133 and 134 authorize court martial for consensual affairs.)I am not qualified to comment on his military career, and even less qualified to cast the first stone regarding his personal life. However, there is a story here to be told and it is passing under the radar.The right-wing infotainment industry is promoting the idea that there must be a conspiracy here because this story was not revealed before the election. Further, they would like us to believe that the demise of Gen. Petraeus is related to the ginned up controversy regarding Benghazi, which the geniuses are calling “Obama’s Watergate.” They speculate that the resignation was necessary to silence the general who was expected to testify in congress next week. They insinuate that the general had been unduly cozy with the Romney campaign and that his humiliation and demise was payback. They point out that not everyone who has an affair is drummed out of the corps.As Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Robinson pointed out, General Petraeus was the head of a spy agency, and that makes the story of his affair like a spy novel. Further, there are no coincidences in spy novels. Just the fact that the President didn’t learn of the matter until after the election is enough fodder for plenty of conspiracy theories.Here’s what we know so far. Members of Congress are shocked that they were not informed earlier about the investigation of General Petraeus. Crazy, no? Imagine! A man who was not suspected of any criminal conduct who was only tangentially connected to an investigation was not exposed for having an affair to the members of Congress. Hardly the stuff of outrage unless, of course, you are a right-wing conspiracy nut in the employ of Fox infotainment buffoons.In fact, a better question is why Congress was notified at all? People at all levels of government have had affairs and not lost their jobs over it. Remember, nobody alleges that General Petraeus violated any law. He was just a name on a report of an investigation by the agency once headed by J. Edgar Hoover, he of pristine private behavior.Indeed, the fact that Congress was notified at all is rather remarkable. If one accepts the premise that there are no coincidences in spy novels, especially when sex is involved, the fact that Congress was advised that General Petraeus was cozy with his biographer is the hanging thread that begs to be pulled so that we can see what unravels.And let’s take a look at the way Congress was notified.  The Washington Post reports that:An aide to House Majority Lead[...]