Monday, October 29, 2012

Democracy includes everybody, right? So why the attempts to limit voting?

It is difficult to believe that such people believe in democracy.  How will they behave if the candidate they support doesn't win?  That is, if it turns out that the "democracy" they claim to want actually doesn't happen?  In the last four years some people in congress had no higher priority than to make sure the duly elected President would not be re-elected -- an ignoble agenda for those commissioned by the people to govern a great country.  See what some have been doing to make sure that democracy doesn't turn out to be what it is supposed to be:   

Democracy denied: Millions of Americans blocked from voting: Voter suppression efforts today echo 19th century efforts to block urban immigrant working class from casting vote.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Obama Apologized ?

I am dumbfounded that the story seems to be gaining salience among many Americans that President Obama went to the Middle East to apologize.  No, he went to the Middle East to call for democracy -- undermining the power of the many dictators in the region.

President Obama went to the oldest university in the world, Al Azhar, a center of learning for Muslims of all nations, in a country ruled by a dictator and explained what democracy meant, and called for the rule of law and responsible government in the countries of the Middle East.  
The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. …
 And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God.  These things we share.  This is the hope of all humanity.  …
 But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere….
 Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.  Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.  America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.  And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.  So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power:  You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.  Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.  [for more see
That was on June 4, 2009.  What happened next should not be considered direct responses to Obama’s speech but as expressions of the broadly shared hopes for responsible leadership of the sort that Obama spoke of.  It reflected a longing throughout the Middle East for fair and just governments that are accountable to the people they govern, the kind of government Obama described.  

Here are some signs that Obama’s speech touched a chord.

*  On June 12, 8 days after Obama’s speech, Iran exploded.  The government held a presidential election on that day and most Iranians believed their candidate, Mir-Hussein Mousavi, had won by a land-slide.  In fact, they were astounded to hear, even before the polls had closed, that the current President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, declared the winner.  That night people came out on the streets, not [yet] to formally demonstrate but to discuss how this could have happened.  But the government reaction was so severe that within days many people were clashing with government-paid goons.  Eventually, they would begin to chant “Death to the Dictator” in the streets of Tehran.  The Iranians were demanding the just and authentic democracy that Obama had called for.
*  A year and a half after the speech, almost to the day, the “Arab Spring” began.  It began on December 18 in Tunisia when Mohamed Bouazizi, in a fit of frustration at the way he had been treated by a local official, set himself on fire in a street of Sidi Bouzid.  The shock of the event instigated a riot that spread throughout the country, and by January 14 President  Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a dictator that was broadly presumed to be secure, fled the country.  

*  Demonstrations of a similar sort were already in motion in Egypt and by February 11, 2011 President Hosni Mubarak was out of power.  
*  That same week demonstrations began in Libya against Muammar Ghaddafi.  It turned into a long, drawn out civil war that eventually took Ghaddafi’s life in October. 
*  In the mean time Yemen was similarly wrought, and after much conflict President Ali Abdullah Saleh was obliged to relinquish much of his power. 
*  Demonstrations elsewhere were less successful: The struggle to dethrone President Bashar Al-Assad is still going on; the struggle against King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has been ruthlessly crushed.

My point is that Obama’s speech seemed well to express the desires of the frustrated peoples of the Middle East, especially of the young people.  

Apology?  No.  Rather, Obama's call for democracy marked a dramatic shift in the aspirations of the peoples of the region, who had long suffered under cruel dictatorships.

Monday, October 22, 2012

McGovern's death reminds us of a tragic moment

The passing of Senator George McGovern reminds us that it is possible for the wrong person to win an election.  McGovern, a Democrat, ran in 1972 the most unsuccessful presidential campaign in American history:  he was beaten by the slate of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in a landslide:  every state but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia supported the Republican ticket.   But in less than a year Agnew was forced to resign because of charges that he  had been involved in extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy.   The next year, on August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon himself resigned, having been implicated in the Watergate break-in.  Both Nixon and Agnew were guilty of major criminal behavior before the election took place but they took office with the largest mandate in history.  Can we believe that McGovern would have been a better president?  He would at least have been a very different president, and it is tempting to assert that he would have been better than Richard Nixon. 
But elections turn on the stories that the candidates tell, and in the end the candidate that tells the most convincing story wins. 

Is there anything to learn from this incident in the past? 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mitt Romney, the Mystery Candidate

Most of us look around the world and we wonder how a society could become flawed to such an extreme that it accepts, even fosters, policies that lead to destruction.  We wonder how the people of Germany could have allowed Hitler’s National Socialist Party to have total power within the country and lead the country into a devastating war.  We wonder how so many Hutus of Rwanda could have been persuaded that they should take up machetes against their Tutsi neighbors.  How could the Serbs of Bosnia become convinced that they should “cleanse” their society of Muslims, not only to kill members of their own communities but also to destroy buildings, museums, every notable structure built by their Muslim neighbors?  We wonder:  How did these societies seem to have lose all reason.

Is not this country about to do something comparably irrational?

There is a chance that we will elect as our president someone about whom we scarcely know anything, a person who steadfastly refuses to tell us much about himself or even of his future program.  He has, as Professor Garry Wills puts it, a “mystery box” of solutions to our country’s problems [NYRB 11/8/12], along with a body of opinions that we know he has changed over time and even now he carefully veils.    

  • On abortion, his wife Ann Romney refused to reveal his opinion [she said it was merely a distraction.   
  • On the loopholes he will plug in order to get to a balanced budget even though he plans to reduce taxes even further [they are already close to an all-time low]:  he says that that matter will be the surprise he will give Congress once he is in office.
  • On voter-ID drives that would reduce the electorate [those most likely not to vote for him], he said the issue was a distraction.
  • On requiring ultrasound exams for pregnant women seeking abortions as many of his party support, he said the question was a distraction.
  • Most surprisingly, on his actual record he carefully provides few details: 
    • On what he did at Bain capital he reveals little;
    • On his major accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts, the health-care law, he carefully evades mention of it since it was the model for the “Obamacare” law that he now denounces.
  • He reveals to the public only the last two years of his tax returns.  This is most curious because his father published his tax returns for the previous ten years when he ran for President.  Does Mitt Romney think that more than the last two years of tax returns should be revealed?  Decide for yourself:  He demanded to see the tax returns of the last ten years of those individuals he was  considering for his running mate.  Romney has seen the tax returns of Paul Ryan for the past ten years [NYRB 11/8/12] but he steadfastly refuses to reveal more than two years of his own tax returns. 
The American public knows almost nothing substantial about Mitt Romney, and he could be our next President.  What would he really do for our economy?  We don’t know.  What plans does he have to fix the deficit?  We don’t know.  How will he deal with the incessant conflict in the Middle East? We don’t know.  What is his policy toward minorities?  Well, this we can guess and he knows better than to put that into words.

Romney was scarcely liked or supported by his own Republican Party – he just turned out to be the last one standing.  So why is he a viable candidate for President of the Unites States of America, the most powerful leader in the world?  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What they are not saying ... How this country got into its mess

When it comes to elections we all seem to have short memories.  That may be the reason that politicians say the same things over and over again, and why some of them don't mind contradicting themselves.  But what I don’t understand is why some history has been completely ignored in the recent political debates.  
Here is what I remember about how my country got into the mess it’s in:
  • When George W. Bush became President he was given a prize that scarcely any president has ever received in American history:  A budget surplus.                 So what did his administration do with it?  Improve the highway infrastructure?  Update the aging bridges across the country?  Install a national optical fiber system?  Provide the country with comprehensive wi-fi?  No, they gave the money “back” as a "tax cut."  For most people it was a couple hundred dollars; for those with high incomes the return was several thousand dollars; for instance, if your taxable income was between $200,000 and $499,000, your return was $7400 [NYT 10/19/10, from Tax Policy Institute].  So who were the new administration catering to?
  • When the 9/11/01 attack took place the Bush administration was given world-wide support and sympathy -- another gift not given to many presidents before him; even in Iran the young people held a minute of silence in honor of the American dead before a soccer game.  And indeed the American attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan was widely supported; no one had much sympathy for the Taliban, and no one cared when thousands of them died and the rest were forced to flee into Pakistan.  But within a year the Bush administrated turned their attention away from that conflict, leaving the job unfinished.  They turned away in order to attack Saddam Hussein in Iraq; they even claimed he had been behind the 9/11/01 attack [remember this?] in order to justify their refocus on Iraq.  So doing, they awakened the many confused and frustrated unemployed young men all over the Middle East, to give them the sense that America was attacking the whole Muslim world -- and a cause to fight for.  The attack on Iraq squandered the good-will of the world, and revived a nearly crushed AlQaeda.  
  • The Bush administration made no provision for the costs of the two wars they were involved in.  Those costs were taken off-line when the budget was being discussed; the skyrocketing costs of the wars were hardly discussed in Congress.  In those days Paul Ryan and others who now present themselves as budget hawks signed off on the Bush budgets every time.
  • The result was that by the time the Bush administration left office the economy was in the tank -- for many reasons, but one of them was the unfunded wars.  When the Bush administration left office the budget was in deficit.  Their successor was dealt one of the worst hands of any administration since 1930.  
The people who participated in policies that left this country in a mess now present themselves as eager to correct the errors of George W. Bush's successor.  Ryan voted for the profligate policies that caused the deficit that he now deplores.    

Why would the American people want Ryan and those who supported the Bush administration to come back?  How could anyone want them back?

The profligacy of the Bush administration now seems like it was ages in the past -- which is where the Romney/Ryan ticket wants it to be.  Hardly anyone remembers just how our country got to this point.  This story remains unmentioned, and is almost forgotten.