Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Warms the cockles of your heart.

Seven states that are among those suing to overturn Healthcare Reform are claiming federal subsidies under that very act.

A New Force for Afghanistan

Even as the U.S. buildup in Afghanistan continues, commentators are looking forward to next July 1st, when the withdrawal of American combat troops is scheduled to begin. Given the continuing and even increasing threat posed by the Taliban, there have been a number of stories on the way that women's rights have advanced in the country since 2001, and how they are threatened by the Taliban. Katie Couric did, I think, two stories when she was in Afghanistan recently. Time magazine ran a cover story that showed--on that cover--a beautiful young woman whose nose had been cut off by her husband in a fit of anger--a typical punishment in the traditional society.

Should we keep troops in Afghanistan longer than we would otherwise, because we believe in women's rights? Will we do women an injustice by withdrawing? These are complicated issues, and people of good will may be on all sides.

But I have an idea on how we can help women in Afghanistan to help themselves: Arm them! Let women form militias. Let them fight the Taliban. Women have fought in resistance movements for many years. More and more armies let women fight in combat; the United States does, even though our laws still formally forbid it. Let Afghan women fight for their rights.

And nothing will advance women's rights in Afghanistan faster than letting them face their abusers and would-be abusers with guns in their hands.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The wrong speech

President Obama is scheduled to give a national address on Iraq next week. That's not the speech he should give. Iraq is yesterday's news. Americans are worried about the state of the economy--more worried than we were six months ago. That's the issue that the President should address. Here's what I'd like him to say:

My fellow Americans, you don't need me to tell you that our economy remains in tough shape. Although we are recovering from the recession, the pace of recovery is much too slow. Millions of Americans have been out of work for months, with little prospect of getting new jobs in the near future. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners are still facing the threat of foreclosure. Tens of thousands of business owners worry about whether their shops and factories and farms can survive. Cities and towns across the nation are laying off teachers, police and firefighters--people who provide essential public services.

At the same time, there is much that needs to be done in this nation. We have half a million bridges that need to be rebuilt or repaired. We have thousands of dams that are in states of disrepair. Our roads need to be maintained and upgraded. Our electrical grid is not well constructed for the diverse sources of clean power that we need to bring on line in the next few years. We are buying millions and millions of barrels of oil from other countries, and some of them have supported forces that have tried to do harm to the United States; we need to learn to use less oil. We lack the broadband Internet capacity of many nations with which we compete. While we have started on high-speed rail lines, we need thousands of miles more track that can take the trans that have been commonplace in Europe and China for years.

In 2009, Congress passed the American Reconstruction and Recovery Act, the stimulus package. That program has been a great help. It has saved or created more than two million jobs. It has supported programs to rebuild America. But it is not enough. The stimulus was designed to spur the economy for two years; that time is expiring. The truth is, government needs to do much more to help our economy get rolling again.

Government needs to take on that role, because private enterprise is not. Businesses are not creating enough jobs. They are not investing enough in out future prosperity. There are banks--many of them the very ones that were baled out with billions or our taxpayer dollars--that are holding on to huge profits, but not lending to businesses or homeowners. There are large corporations sitting on large profits that they could be using to modernize plants, develop new lines of products and hire new workers. There are small businesses that simply cannot afford to expand or to hire. Whatever the reasons for this behavior, the evidence is clear: private business is not moving our economy forward fast enough.

Government can help. As the Reinvestment and Recovery Act has shown, public investment can create and preserve jobs. It can meet important public needs. It can inspire new investment. That is why I am calling on Congress to enact a stimulus package of $750 billion before April 15, 2011, and another of equal size by April 15, 2012. As part of those packages, I call on Congress to dedicate at least one third of the amount appropriated to rebuilding and extending our infrastructure.

This money must be directed to America's needs, not to the well-being of individual politicians. It must be used to improve our public works and public ways, to inspiring private investment, to retain jobs in pubic services and to inspire private enterprises to hire more Americans.

Some of you will be concerned that this program will increase the deficit. Even though our economy has not been progressing as strongly as it could, many voices have been raised to call for reducing the deficit now. It' is true that the federal deficit is a serious problem. I do not mean to suggest otherwise. Simply put, we need to reduce the deficit substantially.

But the deficit is a chronic problem, while the current economic situation creates an immediate need that demands work now. It's like this: suppose a patient who has cancer also develops pneumonia. The cancer needs to be treated, but if the doctors do not work at once to cure the pneumonia, the patient will die before the cancer can harm him. The deficit is like that cancer: it demands to be treated, but first we have to deal with the economic need that we face now.

Accordingly, following two years in which we use government resources to move our economy forward, it will be time to begin to reduce the federal deficit, not just by a small amount, and not just for one or two years, but for as long as it takes to bring it under control. That will require hard work and hard choices. It may seem an impossible task, but remember that that is what we did in the 1990's, when for several years the government ran surpluses that permitted us to pay down the federal debt. We can do that again, and we can do it without placing the burden of deficit reduction on those who can least afford it. But we cannot do that with an economy that is weak.

As you know, voters will go to the polls on November 2nd. I suspect some will say that the election this year should be a referendum on the plan I have outlined tonight. That is fine with me. Let those who argue against using government to move us forward explain how they would create jobs. Let them tell people who are out of work how they will get them back to earning paychecks. Let them tell us all how they will keep our bridges from falling down and our dams from breaking. Let them tell homeowners how they can avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. Let them tell teachers and firefighters and policemen how they will be able to keep on serving our communities. Let them tell the American people how long we can afford to let our nation's economy stagnate. Let the debate begin.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Re-thinking W

Who's the leader of the responsible, moderate faction in the GOP when it comes to the controversy over the Cordoba Center in lower Manhattan?

George W. Bush, would you believe? As a number of commentators--most recently NPR on today's' Morning Edition--have noted, Mr. Bush consistently linked his opposition to al Qaeda with respect for Muslims and their institutions, and statements assuring Americans that Islam is a religion of peace.

So, in less than two years we've come to the point where George W. Bush is on the left of the Republican Party.

(I should note that Mr. Bush has refused to take a position on the question gripping the nation: whether the Center can be built in a neighborhood of porn shops, strip clubs and OTB parlors.)

Retail politics

News Corporation, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has given $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. Yep, $1,000,000 bucks.

This raises a number of questions, aside from the obvious--what is Murdoch getting for his money?

When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United, declaring that corporations have an untrammeled right to buy political influence, many people asked whether that meant that foreign corporations had the same rights as American companies. (At this writing, the Court's majority has not yet declared that foreign individuals may buy American politicians the way wealthy Americans can.) News Corp. may be an American enterprise (I haven't checked on the locale of its incorporation, but I'd put my money on Delaware), but it is controlled by Mr. Murdoch, an Australian. So, is this kosher, or are there still some limits to the extent of our corruption?

Another question: is the White House going to continue to treat Murdoch's Fox News as if it were a news organization, rather than a mouthpiece of the Republican Party? It made headlines when Helen Thomas' seat in the front row of the White House press room was given to Fox (I suggested that the administration might be following Sun Tzu's dictum, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer"), but the formal entrance of the Murdoch empire into partisan politics should perhaps move the Obama Administration to throw Fox out of the room entirely.

Democrats have shown a regrettable tendency to act as if Republicans operate on the same assumptions of civic discourse and respect for institutions as they do. The Republicans do not. By their actions they have forfeited any assumption of good faith about their policies, principles or programs. So, when a "news" organization enters the lists on behalf of Republicans, it is perfectly appropriate to declare it persona non grata in the halls of government.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bigotry stalks the land

The uproar over the planned Cordoba (Islamic) Center in lower Manhattan may be dying back, although Republicans will undoubtedly try to keep the flames hot until the November election. Still, it is a story that needs more light shed on it.

President Obama has faced a storm of criticism for having pointed out that the proponents of the Center have every right to build it--although he gave the unfortunate appearance of dithering when he said the next day that he was not commenting on the wisdom of the location.

Apparently realizing that they could not win an argument over the First Amendment, opponents of what they mis-characterize as the "Mosque at Ground Zero" have receded to making a case that the Center should not be built, "there."

To begin with, where is "there?" If the proposed location--in a derelict Burlington Coat Factory--is too close to sacred ground (let's not forget that Muslims died in the attack on the World Trade Center, too), is 14th Street OK? How about 23rd Street, where I lived for a couple of years? Or 34th Street? No, that last won't work: it's too close to the site of Miracle on 34th Street.

Let's be honest: what is behind opposition to the siting of the Cordoba Center is bigotry. Anti-Islamic bias is the currently acceptable form of open or slightly-camouflaged prejudice in the United States. As Josh Marshall points out, George W. Bush held the outright bigots in his party in check by making inclusive remarks about Islam. Now that his is out of the picture, there seems to be no one on that side of the aisle ready to call out the extremists. That's right, the Republican Party has moved to the point where W looks like a moderate.

Time for all of us to stand up and make it clear that the First Amendment contains no clause excluding Muslims, or anyone else. We need to do that for our own freedom.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mad as hell

Those who might have consulted this page in the past 3 months will have noticed that there's been nothing new. Truth is, I had pretty well convinced myself that I lacked the energy to keep coming up with new fusillades. But the assaults on truth, sense and honesty multiply and, to quote a famous speech from a two-star movie, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more.

So be warned: Expect to see more fulminations in the coming days.

(Oh, and I hope that future quotations will be less trite.)