Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to understand what is wrong with our economy today and what steps might help improve it. We have had two great depressions in our history.  The one beginning in 1929, denominated the Great Depression, which lasted until 1939 and which probably only ended because the United States spent billions of dollars to produce war materials and hired millions of men to fight in those wars sending home money to families to buy the limited consumer goods available.  The Cleveland Depression of 1893 lasted seven years - the government did absolutely nothing, although it may have worsened the situation by reducing the money supply - limiting coinage to gold and rejecting bimetallism.  Now we’re in the Bush Depression (they are calling it the Great Recession because no one wants to use the D word) which began in 2008.

We have millions unemployed, we have more underemployed and many no longer seeking employment.  Consumers are not spending as they should because they don’t have the money to buy.  Confidence in the economy is going down.  The stock market after rebounding is now a roller coaster heading downwards.  And the rest of the world - because we are now in a global economy (although the Depression of 1929 had many international components as well) is economically faltering, Japan due to the tsunami; Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal due to too much debt.

The US no longer manufactures as many goods as we once did.  We have become a service economy which is dependent upon consumers being able to afford the services of others.  And much of that service economy has become mechanized due to computer technological advancements.

The political landscape is so polarized, and so ideologically divided, that every suggestion to improve the economic situation is reacted to based on whose idea it is, which party supports the idea, and whether it will improve the standing of President Obama. 

The radical Republicans say adopt the Grover Cleveland/Herbert Hoover approach and do nothing - the market will adjust itself.  Tell that to the people who can’t afford to buy food at the produce market.   These same right wingers say cut taxes on the rich so they will spend money to create jobs and prosperity will trickle down.  Trickle down was a term first used by Theodore Roosevelt, who used it derisively.  Because nothing has ever trickled down.  Further, they want to cut all government spending.  Reduce the number of federal and state employees - create more unemployed workers who can’t afford to feed and clothe their families.

The Democrats offer little more than the ideas of the New Deal.  Now, I support those ideas but the FDR programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration were designed to alleviate the pain and horror of the Depression - they were not long term job growth programs.  So liberals need to come up with new ideas.

We know  that small businesses create the jobs.  We have no more large factory manufacturing base in this country.  So let’s relax regulations on small businesses; let’s reduce some of the tax and cost burdens on small businesses.
We can add stimulus to consumer purchasing by forgiving the millions of dollars of student loans putting those monthly payments in the hands of the most willing to spend of our demographic groups.

As for the large corporations, that are making record profits, let them pay their fair share and not hide money overseas and pay little or nothing due to loopholes; let those increased revenues enable us to retain needed public employees, repair our nation’s infrastructure (a sure way to create jobs) and stop the increasing of the national debt.

There is no reason that every citizen shouldn’t pay social security taxes and Medicare taxes on their full annual income; and there is no fair excuse why the very rich (those making over $500,000 individually per annum) shouldn’t pay the tax rates they paid under Clinton and Reagan.  One thing the New Deal, followed by the post war Fair Deal of Harry Truman, and basically accepted by Eisenhower and Nixon, did was create an America with a small upper class, a huge middle class and beginning with LBJ’s Great Society programs a shrinking lower class.  We should get back to that instead of the two class society we are now building of super haves and have-nots.   America is better than that and always has been.  We have been a nation that believed that all of us as a society can help lift those up who are fallen down.  As JFK put it that “a rising tide would lift all boats”.  We can be a nation with equal opportunity for all to enjoy that pursuit of happiness that our founders pledged their lives for. 

28 June 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The New Isolationism - Right and Left Unite

The recent Republican presidential debate and the Kucinich and Boehner actions in Congress concerning Libya have re-opened a debate in America about what the role of military force should be in our country’s foreign policy.

There is now a growing agreement among right wing radical Republicans and liberal progressive Democrats to end the war in Afghanistan; and most of them also support ending our involvement in Libya.  There is a growing sense of isolationism in the country today with slogans such as Take Care of Ourselves First, Use Foreign Aid Here, and We Don’t Belong in Other People’s Business.  The only surprise in all this is how long it has taken to gain traction. (Let me state for the record that I oppose the war in Afghanistan and support the NATO action in Libya)

Historically isolationism, and in fact anti-war movements, have been strong  throughout  American history.  Ben Franklin said that during the Revolution 1/3 of the colonists were supportive of independence, 1/3 supported the King and 1/3 had no opinion or went whichever the wind was blowing.   The War of 1812 was a controversial war that was strongly opposed by the New England states to the point where they flirted with secession. Only the British burning of Washington DC, which caused great outrage throughout the nation, and Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans, which engendered a false sense of victory among the people, ended with that War being remembered favorably.  Similarly the Mexican War was strongly opposed by the Whig Party and some Democrats because it was seen as both a way to expand slavery and a portent of sectional division to come. It became historically popular because the US won and acquired so much territory (California, New Mexico, Arizona et al).

The Spanish American War was opposed by the Democrats who felt it was imperialistic and they opposed US acquisition of colonies, e.g. Puerto Rico and the Philippines.  There was a great national debate between 1914 and 1917 about World War I; with the anti involvement side winning most votes. The antis    only caved in after German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare threatened more Lusitania’s and the Zimmerman telegram caused the scare of Mexico trying to retake the west.   Although both candidates for President in 1940 were sympathetic to the Allies in World War II, the American people did not support a war until the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor; and, Congress did not declare war on Germany until a few days later after Germany had declared war on the US.

Successful wars don’t lead to opposition to future conflicts.  The stalemate in Korea and the debacle in Vietnam certainly did.  Since then only the Gulf War in 1991 had real popular support and even that had negative votes and voices in Congress.

Today’s new isolationism is an amalgamation of two distinct philosophical viewpoints.  The radical right wing Republicans are now opposed to the Afghan war and the Libyan action for two reasons 1)Obama is now Commander in Chief   and  2)they see no reason why America should help other people gain freedom or retain freedom.  Since they see no role for government in helping people here maintain their rights or their livelihood why should we expect them to care about other people in far away nations. The liberals, who have found their voice in opposition to Libya (they have been reticent about Afghanistan because the commander in chief is now their leader), come from a tradition of non-military intervention.  They support freedom for Libya, they oppose genocide in Darfur and Al Qaeda control in Yemen but “no boots on the ground” has become their non-interventionist mantra. 

So now the right wing Republicans have returned to their isolationist roots and the liberals to their anti-militarist underpinnings to join in opposing the Libyan action; just as the Republicans opposed Clinton’s use of air power with NATO to stop the genocide in Kosovo. 

History clearly shows that economic sanctions, moral suasion, or diplomatic pressure rarely impacts on a well armed dictatorial regime.  And, while air and naval power without ground forces has not proven an effective quick way to take out a dictator there is some evidence that it may work.  It is certainly worth trying as an alternative to losing thousands of lives sending in troops.

The larger question before Americans is this: are we to give up a role as the world symbol of democracy and freedom?  Does the Statue of Liberty stand for the 20th century only?  Are we going to become Fortress America or an island unto ourselves?  There was a time in our country when our leaders and our people believed that freedom denied anyone anywhere denied freedom to everyone everywhere.  There was a time in our country when committed to a better life for all Americans we were willing to likewise do what we could to help all peoples. 

I believe we need leaders who look at each foreign problem closely and separately -- the is no one answer fits all.  What we don’t need are knee jerk radicals who opposed any policy initiated by the President knowing full well they will reverse their position if the next President  is of their party. And what we don’t need are misguided non-interventionists who insist that no matter how egregious a situation is military power is not to be used.

It was Wendell Willkie, a Republican leader, who coined the term seventy years ago of One World; and we have become a smaller, closer world since.  The cause of World Peace will be furthered, as it has been, by collective security and nations working together through the United Nations, regional organizations, like NATO and the Organization of American States, and cultural and social world organizations.  191 nations must live in peace or all will descend into despotism and/or anarchy.  I favor Peace – that’s something worth standing for and maybe even fighting for. 

22 June 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another Sex Scandal Pol Bites the Dust -- Weiner Resigns

Congressman Anthony Weiner has resigned his seat in Congress.  Following the tradition of most Democrats who get caught in these media frenzied sex scandals he bowed to party pressure, not to his constituents, and gave up his public office.

First, I should say that I admired Anthony Weiner, as a Congressman.  He was an articulate and vocal advocate for liberal progressive causes that I also believe in and he didn’t flip-flop; he stood firm for his positions and often held others’ feet to the fire on issues domestic and foreign.  What he did is not defendable.  The narcissistic and addictive reasons that his personality warped into something lewd I cannot diagnose.  His initial lying was in my opinion motivated by a desire to protect his wife and family.  And so he joins those many politicians who in our nation’s history have fallen, not because of political indiscretions but, due to personal and mostly sexual peccadilloes.

You may remember Senator Vitter of Louisiana, a family values right wing Republican who frequented prostitutes.  He refused to resign, His party never asked him to. In fact they renominated him for the Senate and he was reelected.   There was Senator Ensign, Republican of Nevada.  He used public and party funds to pay the salaries of a husband and wife one of whom he had an affair with and then helped the husband get a lobbying job.  Under fire from the Senate, not from the leaders of his party, he announced he would not seek re-election in 2012 and then, probably because of the Senate Ethics Comm. investigation he resigned so that committee would have no jurisdiction over his actions.

One of the first scandals of this past half decade was Governor Elliot Spitzer of New York.  He paid a call girl and when that was discovered under intense pressure from his Democratic party he resigned.  Not long after the scandal broke around Republican Governor Sanford of South Carolina.  Seems he frequently left the state and his public duties so he could romance a lady from Argentina (of course he left his wife and children in the Governor’s mansion in Columbia, SC.) His state Republican gave him a pass, the legislature did nothing and he completed his term of office

What patterns can we see here?  I see hypocrisy run rampant in the family-values right wing Republican Party which wants to impose its moral values on our society but not on its representatives.  I see a Democratic party with a double standard of great liberality as to the social mores we should have government recognize and enforce but, holding their officials to strict standards that forget that elected officials are simply people with all the foibles and weaknesses of people.   I also see a Republican party that has institutionalized the circling of the wagons and protects any of their own who get in trouble.  While Democrats throw any of their folks who get in trouble under the bus in an irrational fear that voters will hold all Democrats accountable for the indiscretions of each single Democrat.

As I wrote in a recent blog entry sex scandals are nothing new to our nation nor even to the highest office in our land - the Presidency.  At least nine of our forty-three Presidents have had sex scandals: four with revelations occurring while in office and unsuccessful  efforts, by their oppositions to defeat them (I refer to Jefferson, Jackson, Cleveland and Wilson)   Four of our Presidents were revealed to have engaged in extra-marital sexual dalliances either before or during their Presidencies, but the revelations occurred after they had left office and became tales that served to titillate the public.  I refer to Warren Harding’s White House assignations with his mistress with whom he may have fathered a daughter; FDR’s long time affair with Lucy Mercer which began and ended during WWI in and then resumed after his election (in fact she was with him when he died at Warm Springs in 1945); Eisenhower’s relations with his female military aide during WWII; and JFK’s various involvements before and perhaps when he was President..  These matters became known after these four men had left the White House so they had no effect on their political careers.

(The ninth was President Clinton whose dalliance with his intern is probably the most famous and led to the fruitless Republican effort to remove him from office. Unlike this decade the Democrats rallied around him and refused to thrown him under that proverbial bus)

What would happen today with those Presidents?  With a combination of the 24/7 media frenzied attention and the new more judgmental public attitude I’m not sure that Jefferson, Jackson or Cleveland would have been elected.  America and the world may have been denied Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership due to an affair that began seventeen years before he ran for President.  And Clinton might well have been deserted by the cowards of his party.

So Anthony Weiner is gone.  The liberal progressive wing of the Democratic Party will have to look for a new champion.  And, the media can get back to what he claims it prefers to do: report on the real issues facing America: jobs, deficits, Medicare, Social Security and war.  Well, at least until the next public official is found to be subject to all the weaknesses of an average human being.  If we insist on holding our elected officials to a higher standard we run the risk of deifying them and thus treating them like untouchable and omniscient figures come down from Mount Olympus to rule us.  That would be a terrible mistake and feed all those who prefer a man on a white horse to a citizen chosen by his peers.  As a people and as a body politic we must change our way of thinking and heed that age old injunction “Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged”

16 June 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

An American Obsession: Political Sex Scandals


It seems that Americans have been obsessed with the sexual escapades of their public officials since the founding of the nation.  Yet the response of the citizenry, or at least the electorate , was different in the conservative Victorian 19th century then it has been in the liberal modernistic 20th century.

When Alexander Hamilton was found to have had an affair with a married woman (he was also married) it became quite a sensation in the 1790's.  In fact Congress sent a delegation to meet with Hamilton (including among the three delegates James Monroe) to determine if the blackmail that caused the affair to become know was inappropriately affecting the Treasury Department.  Hamilton made a complete confession, some felt he wrote too much, President Washington stood by him, and his political enemies gave him a pass so as not to adversely impact the financial situation of the new government.   

Only a few years later came the Jefferson scandal, known at the time as his keeping a mulatto concubine with some theorizing that she bore him a child.  Added to what was a political misrepresentation of his Deism as akin to Atheism one would have thought that Jefferson would not have been twice elected President, but he was and he doubled the size of the United States, among other things of note.  In the late twentieth century people were more excited by the Jefferson-Hemmings relationship than they were in the 1800 and 1804 elections.

Andrew Jackson was accused of living in common law status with a married woman, Rachel Robards (whose divorce hadn’t gone through), and it became an issue that dogged him in three Presidential campaigns - he won the popular vote each time and was elected President twice.

And then there is the case of Grover Cleveland, admittedly the father of a child born out of wedlock (although he may have covered for a relative or friend); his opponents even turned it into a song “Ma, Ma where’s my PA, Gone to the White House, ha ha ha”.  Three times he won the popular vote in the key years of the Victorian era 1884-92 and served twice as President.

Of course, after the two world wars Americans became liberal in their attitudes toward sex.  Right.  With birth control, acceptance of differing sexual life styles, sex outside marriage, illegitimacy no longer having any negative meaning, even miscegenation finally rejected as even a concept.  But what happened to the attitude toward public officials   Well President Bill Clinton engaged in oral sex performed by a White House intern and his opponents spent a year and half trying to remove him from office through impeachment.  Congressmen who pushed that impeachment had to resign due to their own sexual affairs.  The list of Senators, Congressmen and Governors who have been involved in sexual scandals in the last four years alone is too large to review here.  Spitzer of NY and Sanford of SC; Vitter of La.; and Edwards of NC. 

And now of course the latest, Congressman Weiner of New York -- found to be sexting.  I don’t really understand the attraction to sexting - I suppose if I had a great body I might want to show it off but on a cell phone or the Internet - I don’t’ get it.  And I am appalled that the public is so quick to pillory a man who succumbed to some sort of addiction or narcissistic impulse and engaged in this practice.  It should be a matter for his wife and family to resolve and if he needs psychological help he should get it.  But he, like Presidents Jefferson, Clinton, Jackson (I left out the stories on Wilson, Harding, FDR and JFK because they didn’t get much traction until the men had died) should be judged by his public official actions not his private peccadilloes. Weiner went on national television and humbled himself and humiliated himself in a way that most of those in the past few years have not.  And his political career - at least as far as advancement is likely over. He and his wife have surely suffered enough.  It’s not like he lied to the country to get us into a war that cost thousands their lives (oh, but that’s ok in America today.) 

We would be wise as a body politic, when the next great political sex scandal erupts in the media, to remember the words of the world’s greatest preacher who two thousand years ago faced down a mob determined to stone an alleged prostitute:  “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.”   To that I can only add “Amen”.

12  June  2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is Sarah Palin the 21st Century Andrew Jackson?

At first glance it might seem incongruous to draw a comparison between Sarah Palin and Andrew Jackson.  And I am not comparing their abilities nor what they stood for. But I do believe there are similarities to the type of “celebritician” that she is and he was.

It is generally agreed that Sarah Palin got the attention of the nation with her Vice Presidential race in 2008 and then proceeded with her book and her reality travelogue TV show to become a celebrity.  The Fox news gig was more an effort to give her some credentials than to create the celebrity status.  

In the 19th century Andrew Jackson was in many ways one of America’s’ first celebrities.  He won the Battle of New Orleans (fought after the Peace treaty had been signed but before he or others in America knew that.)  As a youngster he had been scarred by a British soldier sword during the Revolution.  And he was a hero of Indian wars in the old southwest.  These facts were known throughout the country through the newspapers which were posted in general stores and on boards at town squares.

Political negatives about Jackson were simply overlooked.  As a Congressman he had voted against a resolution praising George Washington.  And he had resigned his office as US Senator from Tennessee and later as territorial Governor of Florida. (Sarah Palin resigned as Governor of Alaska in midterm) These matters were not made an issue when he ran for President in 1824. 

The Washington DC elite (there was no Beltway then) didn’t like Jackson.  They considered him uncouth, poorly educated, somewhat brazen in his mannerisms and unsophisticated.  Yet the people voted for him in 1824 - he didn’t win enough electoral votes, so the election was decided by the House of Representatives where the establishment chose John Quincy Adams, son of the 2nd President.  But Jackson remained the idol of many Americans -- the personification of the new west of the nation (in those days Tennessee was the West) and he was able to win election in 1828 defeating incumbent President Adams.

Sarah Palin is lampooned by the media, liberal and moderate, as relatively uneducated, not well read, somewhat unsophisticated and somewhat brazen in her mannerisms (shooting a caribou for example -- of course Jackson was pilloried for having shot a man and not in battle).  Palin is criticized for much of what she tweets and what she says.  Jackson was notorious for saying what he thought in simple terms although the most famous are occasions that occurred after he became President (like when he supposedly said of Chief Justice Marshall’s Supreme Court decision that barred moving the Cherokee and Creek Indians to lands west of the Mississippi – “Marshall made his decision now let him enforce it”

Palin is considered the darling of the non-establishment Republicans: the evangelical right, the Tea Partiers, the working class rural voters, the soccer moms.  Jackson was seen as the symbolic leader of the “men on the make” the workingmen of the cities, the poorer farmers and the entrepreneurs of the new cities and states of the northwest and the southwest.

General Jackson was not supported in 1824 by the establishment leaders of his party (although by that point there may have been only one amalgamated national party more a label than an apparatus).  Jefferson rooted for John Quincy Adams and so likely did Madison and Monroe.  The plantation owners and big city merchants and the ruling money elites were appalled by Jackson and felt threatened by a possible Jackson victory.

You can see the same attitude in the response of the establishment to a Sarah Palin win. It has to be ridiculed and made unthinkable.  But clearly that is not so to millions of Americans. And if Republicans vote for her in the primaries, the party establishment will fold as it always does in national party situations and will accept her candidacy as the establishment did in 1828, finally, of Jackson.

I think Andrew Jackson was the most significant American President between Jefferson and Lincoln and certainly the third most important president of his century.  I am not suggesting that Sarah Palin as President could be another Andrew Jackson.  I doubt she has the staying power and the intellectual capacities that Jackson had. But, those who underestimate her ability to win a party nomination and/or an election would do well to learn their history and see how often this country has turned to persons who the intelligentsia at the time downplayed (Walter Lippmann referred to FDR as a ‘third rate intellect”).  Democrats who wish for Palin’s nomination because they think she is the easiest to beat in 2012 had best be careful what they wish for. 

Most political prognosticators, and I think historians, would agree that Sarah Palin’s chances of defeating President Obama are much slighter than were Jackson’s of defeating Pres. Adams.  So it well may be that like Jackson’s nemesis Henry Clay, Sarah Palin can win her party’s nomination but not the Presidency.  And like the last Populist, evangelical, fundamentalist Presidential candidate, who thrice won the Democratic nomination and dominated his party for thirty years, she can’t win the Presidency.  So she may end up being the 21st century version of William Jennings Bryan not Andrew Jackson.

7 June 2011