Friday, October 5, 2012

The Grand Old Ghost of George W. Bush

“I will not speak with disrespect of the Republican Party. I always speak with respect of the past.”
Woodrow Wilson




America is currently facing the highest pre-election jobless rate since World War II with an estimated 23 million Americans unemployed or underemployed. The number of Americans on food stamps has increased from 32 million to 46 million since Obama took office (source: USFDA). His signature healthcare legislation, as recently as June this year, had a mere 34 percent of the public in favour, while 48 percent disapproved of it (source: CBS News). The national debt increase is now officially larger under Obama’s watch than it was under all of Bush’s eight years in office; “The Debt rose $4.899 trillion during the two terms of the Bush presidency. It has now gone up $4.939 trillion since President Obama took office” (source: CBS News). The U.S. recession officially ended in June 2009, and the pace of recovery has been anemic at best and showing no signs of changing its current trajectory anytime soon.

History has also shown that no incumbent president has won re-election with a weak economy. George H.W. Bush got the boot in 1992 because of a weak economy (even though he had just won the Gulf war), Jimmy Carter in 1980, Gerald Ford in 1976, Herbert Hoover in 1932, William Howard Taft in 1912. Both Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland were also unceremoniously dispatched by the American people because the economy was hurting. “In fact, this formulation holds for every case of a deposed incumbent going back to the 1850s, which is as far back as NBER’s data goes.” (source: The Daily Caller). There have been numerous analyses done by pundits, and even academics are scratching their heads and offering explanations that say the personalities of the candidates maybe playing a more important role today versus the pain people are feeling at the pump. Or that it boils down to Mr. Romney’s inability to connect with the people, the way Mr. Obama does. A few days ago a group of twenty leading conservatives accused ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN of rigging coverage to help reelect President Obama.” (source: Washington Examiner). However, history and conventional wisdom would suggest that all other factors matter little when the economic picture is bleak, painful and unemployment very high. So, the only question that remains to be asked is why is Mitt Romney not running away with this election, and why is this race even a contest?

Rather than look to history, biased polling and conspiracy theories, the Republican Party would be better served to take a long hard look within their own tent. With some honest soul searching they will find that all the answers lead back to George W. Bush, and the party he left behind after eight years of internal turmoil. When Bush won re-election in 2004 it was clear that the cracks that emerged during his first term had started to widen within the party. It resulted in the GOP losing both the House and Senate in 2006, which served to further widen these internal cracks, ensuring that the ideological earthquake that had been swelling within the ranks was now a forgone conclusion. There has long been a small but vocal minority within the Republican ranks that believed this country has been on an unimpeded road to liberal hell and damnation; dominated by feckless Democrats and lily-livered RINO’s (Republicans in name only) who have enacted welfare policies and created a culture of handouts versus hard work, slowly destroying the once strong moral and God-fearing social fabric of America. The attacks on 9/11 presented the perfect opportunity, and George W. the perfect patsy, to implement their ultra-conservative agenda. It would start with a strike first (ask questions later) foreign policy and be followed by a audacious reversal and re-drawing of society and domestic policy to lead us towards a more conservative promised land. However, it did not quite pan out that way as they clearly bit off more than they could chew in an attempt to reverse sixty plus years in one Presidential term.

The ill-conceived and poorly executed Iraq war only served to sidetrack from the half started war in Afghanistan and more importantly the hunt for Bin Laden. It also forced America to live beyond its means, at a time when her economic might and global leadership status were already in decline. China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa were all emerging as strong economic powers, feeling more confident about their place on the world stage and thus less fearful of American dominance, than ever before in history.  Meanwhile, an administration embroiled in trying to save face in Iraq totally missed the numerous red flags and warning signs within the over-heating housing marketing. While Bush is not responsible for the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, he is accountable for ignoring and not paying enough attention to the cracks that had started to show up in the housing market and broader economy, well before his treasury secretary informed him of the stark choice between a $700B bailout and total financial meltdown. At the same time, reeling from botched and hugely unpopular Iraq war, Bush had started to distance himself from Cheney and the Neocon’s; softening his rhetoric, seeking diplomacy in both North Korea and Iran, and giving the foreign policy reigns to his softer Secretary of State. By the end of his tenure, the Bush presidency not only looked and felt like an unmitigated disaster for the country but he had also shattered the hard right dream of taking back the country by reversing liberalism. Under Bush there had been an unprecedented growth in the size of government, never before seen deficits (all financed by borrowing from China), he championed immigration reform that would allow current illegals to stay, provided government handouts, corporate bailouts and extended unemployment assistance, and there was no more tough talk or threats of war with Iran or any other axis of evil power. This betrayal of almost all the most dearly held conservative principles by Bush led to further disenchantment within the Republican ranks and gave birth to the Tea Party. The Tea Party calls itself a grassroots movement for all the people but acts more like it is anti-government, anti-spending/bailouts/stimulus, anti-immigration and anti-compromise politics.

The Tea Party would not be a bad thing if it had a reasonable view about reducing the size of government, bringing down deficit spending, simplifying the tax code, reducing personal and corporate tax rates and overhauling and cleaning up Obamacare but the fact that it has refused to compromise or even sit down and discuss any of these issues makes it feels like their only agenda is to hijack the GOP and yank the entire party to the extreme right. Unfortunately, politics is about compromise by its very nature. Ideology is not. By holding a gun to the head of the GOP the Tea partiers have only served to hurt their chances of success. They have made the GOP look like the party of NO, and provided Obama a free pass, even though he has done little to reach out and seek compromise himself. If you ask the average voter they will say that the Republicans have refused to compromise or reach across the aisle. This growing movement within the party has also forced every GOP presidential candidate to lean further right and appeal only to the extreme right wing base of the party. We saw how John McCain’s VP pick to placate his base turned out, and now a once moderate, slightly right of center, and once imminently electable Massachusetts Governor has been forced to expend considerable time and energy trying to prove that he is conservative enough to his own base. Frankly, this is pretty much all that Romney has been consumed with so far and it is also entirely responsible for his choice of running mate and all his recent gaffes. The man is trying so hard to be someone and something he is not; in the bargain he has not spent any time wooing the electorate, or formulating a strategy to fight his opponent. Meanwhile Obama has spent all his time and money making Romney look like a man who is constantly flip flopping, on virtually every principle and dearly held belief, and has successfully painted him as a weak and ineffective leader who will bend to the will of his party, every time.

Finally, it amazes me how Republicans today behave like the eight years of Bush never happened. That by choosing to ignore all the harsh realities and problems faced by America under his leadership they will somehow magically bear no responsibility. Or that the electorate will simply forget. In this context, laying blame for ALL of America’s problems at Obama’s feet is not only disingenuous but an incredibly naïve and dangerous strategy. Americans are well aware that the grave problems facing this country have been in the making for a few generations. Social security, Medicaid, Medicare, federal spending and ballooning deficits are all cans that have been kicked down the road by both Democratic and Republican presidents alike. What’s more, the electorate today is completely disillusioned with both the House and Senate; much more than they are with the person in the White House. So blaming a president for all our ills, when it is Congress that has the power to act and solve many of them, is like cutting their nose, particularly for Republicans. Consider that during six of Bush’s eight years the GOP controlled both the House and the Senate, and for the last six years of Clinton’s, before that. They also won back the House after Obama’s first two years in office, so have controlled it for half of his presidency. So, as long as the party is unable to fess up to the skeletons in their own closet and admit to the many failures during the junior Bush years, every Republican candidate who is electable will be burdened by the ghost of George W. Bush. He will continue to haunt them until the party is willing to exorcise his ghost. Or, with each subsequent electoral loss, the party can continue to react by pushing itself further to the right supporting candidates who have no chance of being elected. They will only end up looking more extreme, older, largely white male and further and further out of touch with women’s rights and modern America.

The majority of Americans are thirsting for new ideas and real-solutions not no compromise ideology and zero accountability. It would serve the Grand Old Party well to remember that the voter is not a moron, (she is your wife)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why It Is Time To ban Mayor Bloomberg.


"A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today - and in fact we have forgotten."
John F. Kennedy

Late last week the New York City Board of Health passed a ban, pushed by Mayor Bloomberg, on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, street carts and movie theaters.

Nobody disagrees that the problem of obesity has reached epidemic proportions in America and that childhood diabetes is becoming a hugely dangerous and growing problem. I also understand that reducing obesity will save taxpayers a lot of money and help to reduce healthcare costs and energy consumption. These are all good things. However, to pass a law to ban the sale of large sodas is a travesty.

There are two fundamental issues with the Mayor’s decision; I am insulted because he assumes that we are all morons or idiots, unable to make personal choices about what is good and bad for us. And yes, it is a personal choice, even if some of these decisions can affect society as a whole. This brings me to my second point, the method he has chosen (to achieve the right outcome – a healthier America) is a slippery slope that starts to involve the government taking over personal decisions and mandating and legislating what is good and bad for us. The single greatest cause of obesity is not sugary drinks; in fact, I would wager that poor eating habits, portion sizes, lack of exercise and low self-esteem are all major contributors to the problem. So why should he stop here? Why not restrict the portions that can be served in restaurants, or even have suggested entrées based on your body weight. Then let’s make theaters, ballparks and street vendors only carry healthy fruit and vegetable snacks. And why stop there why don’t we start fining parents whose children binge eat based on low self-esteem. Heck I have longed believe that many people today are not fit to be parents, so let’s start to issue parenting licenses that require prospective parents to pass a series of tests, just like we make them when they want to get behind the wheel of a car. After all, our politicians and government know what is best for all of us and only ever look out for our best interests. Of course, I exaggerate to make my point, but you can see how this path is a slippery slope that can lead to Saudi Arabia-esque society and not the America with the freedoms we now know.

The Mayor is right that we need to tackle this major health crisis and he is also right that cutting down on the amount of soda and sugary drinks people consume will help, BUT we need to achieve the same objective through education and by helping people to make better decisions about their health and their lives. Bloomberg himself also argues that the proliferation of marketing and advertising messages, particularly aimed at the poor and less educated make a certain segment of our population vulnerable to these messages. So let’s start by fixing the problem with a counter campaign that informs and teaches people about the long-term and serious affects these things have on our bodies, our lives and how they also affect the people around us and society as a whole. Let’s pass laws that make it mandatory for all fast food joints and other eating establishments to clearly show the calories, fat and ingredients that go into the food we are about to consume. Let’s start a movement using celebrities and role models to stop endorsing products that are bad for our kids. Let’s pass legislation that forces schools to have recess time again, and completely take corporations out of the school lunch rooms, so they can no longer dictate the menu based on their bottom lines.

The reality is that leaders today don’t have the courage, integrity or fortitude to solve the big problems that we are facing. This would mean taking on trade unions, school boards, celebrity donors and the same corporations that finance their re-election bids and fill their campaign coffers; not to mention the fact that their popularity numbers among voters would also plummet if they were to force them to face some of the cold hard truths. So instead they focus on the small, less relevant things or make up problems that simply divert our attention from the real issue. To make us believe that they have made some progress but it is really just a sleight of hand and solves nothing. Rather than take on the real and tough issues, Mayor Bloomberg, like every other politician, took the easy way out by making it more difficult for us to buy a 32 oz. drink.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India: Dr. Manmohan Singh


“Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?”
Bob Dylan

Dear Dr. Singh,

You recently stood outside parliament and invoked an Urdu couplet saying that your “silence is better than a thousand answers; it keeps intact the honour of innumerable questions.” Perhaps, there is some honour in not responding to each and every personal accusation made against you. We understand that many of these are politically motivated and designed by the opposition to disrupt parliamentary proceedings, or to distract the public from far more important matters facing the country. However, there is a much larger issue we are dealing with today, one that goes beyond your personal integrity, and one that affects the lives of each and every one of your countrymen and the future of our children.

The fact is that this is just the latest scam in a seemingly never-ending series of scams that plagued your coalition’s tenure – under your leadership. Perhaps you should also stay silent about the Black Money scandal where an Indian businessman was caught stashing Rs.39,120 crores ($8 billion), and the Supreme Court reprimanded your government “for failing to interrogate Khan and other alleged offenders despite having sufficient material in the possession of investigators.” (source: NDTV). Stay silent about the Commonwealth Games scam where your own party man and Chairman of the Organising Committee was charged by the CBI as “the "mastermind" in fixing and inflating costs of a timing, scoring and result” (source: Times of India). Ignore the 2G spectrum scam which not only involved dirty politicians from your coalition but also bureaucrats, corporate personalities, media personalities and lobbyists. We should also forget the Telgi stamp paper scam which lasted ten years, had tentacles across 12 states, and involved police officers and other government employees. Including one police officer who is said famously to have acquired “assets worth Rs.100 crores despite earning only Rs. 9,000 a month.” (source: Mens XP). Or look the other way about the growing number of defence scams, starting with Scorpene, where it was alleged that the “Congress leadership awarded the contract to French manufacture, Thales in exchange of 4% commission.” (source: Times of India). God forbid you dignify the outgoing Army Chief’s letter about our defence procurement procedures being mired in bureaucracy and corruption with a response. Even if our forces are woefully short of ammunition, poorly equipped and we face “97 per cent obsolescence in air defence preparedness.” (source: Times of India). Facts, it seems, that had previously been submitted by the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) in an earlier report highlighting “the same critical gaps in India's defence, only much more starkly.” (source: Times of India).

I suppose you want all of us to close our eyes when the International media does cover stories with the opening line; “It is sometimes said that corruption is the purpose of Indian politics.” (source: The Economist). Cover our ears and ignore companies like Dell whose senior executives are giving interviews stating that it is becoming impossible to do business in India because of power blackouts, uncertain tax rules and lack of honour among decision-makers.” New decision makers come and they don't honour the contract previously signed." We should say good riddance to companies like Germany's Fraport, the world's second-biggest airport operator, “who recently decided to shut its development office in India, becoming the latest in a growing list of companies exiting Asia's third-largest economy.” (source: Reuters). All while the rupee continues its free fall, to new and even greater lows; causing imports to skyrocket and making it harder for the average Indian to travel or study abroad. India’s last quarter economic growth rate was the slowest pace in the last three years. The agriculture sector posted modest growth of 1.7 percent and the industrial sector grew a meagre 1.9 percent. “The fall in gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), popularly known as the investment rate, to below 30 per cent of the GDP for the first time since 2004-05 does not augur well for the future.” A few weeks prior to this report being released Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch had both downgraded India’s economic outlook for 2012-13 (source: The Hindu). I could go on but perhaps my silence, even as inflation continues to rise, will speak louder for you.

It no longer matters if you dipped your hand in the cookie jar or not. I think I speak for all my countrymen when I say we still believe that you are not corrupt. However, it is not integrity that we seek from you; it is leadership, tenacity and the courage to fulfill the duties of your office. Nobody expects you to wipe out corruption, but at least let justice be delivered when corruption is exposed. Stop protecting those who have abused their office and been caught red-handed. Open your eyes and look around at the devastation your party and coalition members have caused under your nose and leadership. Turn your head in the direction of the havoc they are wreaking through unchecked corruption and unending greed. You will not have to look far to see how they continue to rape and pillage your country, our country, my country only to fill their Swiss coffers. They are selling our souls to the highest bidder, every day. Uphold the oath of your office and serve the people who put you there.

Mother India weeps and lies bleeding at your doorstep. This will be your legacy, Dr. Singh, if you continue to do nothing.

The time for silence is over. The time for words is also over. It is time for action. Save India. Lead us, or get out of the way.