Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Carter: Obama has given up on Middle East peace

Former President Jimmy Carter is not at all impressed with Barack Obama’s efforts toward Middle East peace.  Speaking Tuesday at the LBJ library’s annual Harry Middleton Lectureship series, Carter said that in terms of the peace process in the Middle East, "nothing is going on."

Answering a question about Egypt, the former president praised President Obama’s handling of the situation there saying he’s "done quite well" and that Obama has handled it "about the same way I’d have handled it if I’d been in office."

However, on the broader question of the Middle East peace process, Carter was much less complimentary saying, "President Obama has basically given up on peace in the Middle East."

Pointing out that Obama had started out well, Carter blasted Obama by claiming that he’d now become "more accommodating to Netanyahu and Israel than George W. Bush was."  Trying to dampen his critique of the Obama administration, Carter said he really wasn’t there to criticize, but he’d been asked a question and that was the answer.  "I don’t have any feeling of success for what President Obama had done in the Middle East", Carter concluded.

The session was an hour long question and answer period on a wide range of topics including Carter’s run for the presidency, his term in office and his work after he left office.  In it Carter’s most pointed remarks came during the discussion of the Middle East peace process.

Often cited as someone who cozies up to dictators, Carter admitted to having "lunch or dinner" each time he went to Egypt with Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief, because he knew "more about the Middle East than anyone", and he described Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad as a "young, fairly progressive president" who had "inherited" the presidency from his father.

But it seems that even the likes of Jimmy Carter knows an empty suit when he see’s one and a person from whom you would expect to see fairly significant support can’t find it in himself to say anything positive about the Obama Middle East peace initiative – or lack thereof.

~McQ

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Madison equals Cairo? Not even close

It’s a cold day in hell here as I favorably quote someone who I usually savage.   And I have to revise my thoughts on the left not getting irony – apparently some do.  Who am I taking about?  Joe Klein.  Yup that Joe Klein, TIME’s Joe Klein.  He actually gets it:

Revolutions everywhere–in the middle east, in the middle west. But there is a difference: in the middle east, the protesters are marching for democracy; in the middle west, they’re protesting against it. I mean, Isn’t it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting "Freedom, Democracy, Union" while trying to prevent a vote? Isn’t it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process? Isn’t it interesting that some of those who–rightly–protest the assorted Republican efforts to stymie majority rule in the U.S. Senate are celebrating the Democratic efforts to stymie the same in  the Wisconsin Senate?

An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that.

I know … you’re wondering, “what did they do with the real Joe Klein”, but hey give the devil his due (keeping with the cold day in hell metaphor) – he’s exactly right.

The other Klein, the Ezra type, not so much.

Let’s be clear: Whatever fiscal problems Wisconsin is — or is not — facing at the moment, they’re not caused by labor unions.

That, sir, is irrelevant.  Whatever “fiscal problems” are present need to be solved by having across the board spending cuts and that’s the point of requiring public service labor union members to pitch in a little more on their benefits.  Essentially what Wisconsin is trying to do is put state employees on an even par with private employees in terms of benefits.P1-AZ544_UNIONS_NS_20110217194803

Here’s the bottom line of what is triggering these protests:

Besides limiting collective-bargaining rights for most workers—excepting police, firefighters and others involved in public safety—it would require government workers, who currently contribute little or nothing to their pensions, to contribute 5.8% of their pay to pensions, and pay at least 12.6% of health-care premiums, up from an average of 6%.

Wow.  No more free lunch.  Can’t imagine that, can you?  You know, actually having to pitch in for your pension and health-care?  Privately employed citizens have been doing that forever.  So why are the public sector folks exempt?  Well that’s the dirty little secret isn’t it?

Let’s go to Matt Welch for the answer:

We are witnessing the logical conclusion of the Democratic Party’s philosophy, and it is this: Your tax dollars exist to make public sector unions happy. When we run out of other people’s money to pay for those contracts and promises (most of which are negotiated outside of public view, often between union officials and the politicians that union officials helped elect), then we just need to raise taxes to cover a shortfall that is obviously Wall Street’s fault. Anyone who doesn’t agree is a bully, and might just bear an uncanny resemblance to Hitler.

There is Wisconsin in a nutshell – distilled as well as you’ll find it anywhere.  These deals were mostly pay for play and the state’s taxpayers were sold down the river.  I noted some months ago that the Democrats have become the party of public service unions instead of the party of the blue collar worker.  They are dependent on the money and machine those powerful unions provide to stay in power.

And when that machine falters?  Well, you get tantrums like this.  Remember the union protesters in Illinois a few months ago clamoring for the governor there to raise taxes instead of cutting their benefits?  Just like Ezra Klein they want to lay off the fiscal mess on others instead of recognizing its reality and understanding that the free ride has come to an end.  It doesn’t matter if the unions had anything to do with the mess – the mess says everything is on the table.  That’s the only way out of the mess.

But, this is Armageddon for the Democrats and their stakeholders.  If states succeed in breaking the hold public service unions have on government, Democrats stand to lose substantial power.   That explains why President Obama has entered the fray.  While he wouldn’t back the protesters in Iran because it might be seen as meddling in the internal affairs of the state, he has no qualms whatsoever of meddling in the internal affairs of the state of Wisconsin.   Apparently elections only have consequences when he wins.

What has the unions so terrified of the Walker plan?  Well here’s the plan:

His plan allows workers to quit their union without losing their job. He requires unions to demonstrate their support through an annual secret-ballot vote. He also ends the unfair taxpayer subsidy to union fundraising: The state and local government would stop collecting union dues with their payroll systems.

Under that plan, union membership would be an actual choice instead of a mandated requirement to hold a job.  Horror of horrors.   How dare a governor advance something which actually enhances freedom (choice = freedom) – why that makes him a dictator, of course and akin to Hitler.

Make no mistake, these protests in Madison aren’t about democracy, freedom or liberty.  They’re about the left’s power and something they love to project on the right and Wall Street – selfishness.  The protests are a collective tantrum from adolescents who refuse to acknowledge that their special-interest Candyland no longer exists and while it did, it existed on the back of the tax payers who were made to unwillingly subsidizing their way of life.

This is the wrong fight, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Democrats are on the wrong side.  Public sector unions are not popular and despite Ezra Klein’s denial, are held responsible for some of the fiscal problems the states face (like pensions):

A new poll from the Washington-based Clarus Group asked:

Do you think government employees should be represented by labor unions that bargain for higher pay, benefits and pensions … or do you think government employees should not be represented by labor unions?

A full 64% of the respondents said "no."

That includes 42% of Democrats, and an overwhelming majority of Republicans. Only 49% of Democrats think public workers should be in unions at all.

So, as you watch these “protests” keep them in context.  They’re an astroturfed attempt, orchestrated from the highest office in the land,  to keep the power current structure in place that underpins the political power of the Democrats.  This isn’t about rights or liberty or freedom, this is about power and money.  And it has finally unmasked the left in this country and revealed what it is really all about.

~McQ

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Canadian court rules baby must die as it decides, not as the parents request

This is sure to revive talk of death panels.  And I’m afraid I simply don’t understand the reasoning here.  But it is a stark example of the state making decisions that should be left to the people involved – in a free country, that is.

Anyway, the story:

A Windsor, Ont. couple’s fight to bring their gravely ill baby home to die ended in bitter tears Thursday when a Superior Court judge dismissed their appeal to stop doctors from removing the infant’s breathing tube at the hospital.

The father and relatives of one-year-old Joseph Maraachli wept outside a London courthouse after an emotional Justice Helen Rady upheld the earlier decision of an independent provincial tribunal forcing the baby’s parents to comply with doctors’ orders.

With all of their legal avenues exhausted, the family will have to say goodbye to Joseph Monday morning — on Family Day — when his breathing tube will be removed.

Apparently the baby has a rare neurological disease which has put him in a “severe and deteriorating neurological condition that has left him in a persistent vegetative state, according to specialists in London, Ont., who’ve examined him. “

Bottom line, the child is dying. It is now to the point where the baby can’t swallow or breath on his own. The parents know and understand that. They know the child will die. They’re not asking the state to try and save their baby. Instead, what they are asking – what they have to ask, apparently – is permission of the state to take their child home and let the baby die among "friends and loved ones".

Pretty outrageous request, isn’t it?  And yet they don’t have the final say.

The parents had petitioned the regional medical board for a tracheotomy to be performed on the child to facilitate their ability to take him home with them.  That would have opened up a direct airway which would have made it possible to take the baby home and let it die there.

Oh, too much to ask apparently.  Remember, the baby is dying.   It’s going to die.   There’s no question about that –  everyone involved knows it will be dead in a matter of hours if not days.  The parents are not asking for heroic or extended (and expensive) treatment be continued.  Just a tracheotomy.

The reason given for the refusal?

But doctors refused to perform the procedure, citing serious risks of infection, pneumonia and other possible complications.

It’s a bit like refusing a lung cancer patient with stage 4 cancer a final cigarette because it might kill them.  The reason is absurd on its face. But apparently enough that a judge decided for the state and not the parents.  So instead of risking infection or pneumonia and letting the parents take their child home to die, the state insists on removing the breathing tube in the hospital and letting the child smother to death there.

Maraachli and Nader went before the Consent and Capacity Board of Ontario, an independent body that deals with matters under the Health Care Consent Act, which sided with the doctors in late January and agreed that it was in Joseph’s best interest to have the breathing tube removed.

Don’t you love it when something called the “Consent and Capacity Board” has the final say on what is in the “best interest” of a child, rather than the parents?

Given the structure and effect of this monstrosity called ObamaCare, that is the probable end state  we’ll eventually see here – an insurance industry which will collapse and in answer to the “problem” which government created, a single-payer system will be implemented.  And you can bet that something along the line of the “Consent and Capacity Board” will eventually take all such decisions out of your hands and make them exclusively the decision of the state.

(HT: All American Blogger)

~McQ

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Wisconsin heats up while "civility" takes a holiday on the left

Wisconsin is a great example of special interest constituency politics. I’m not talking about politics that focus on the constituents in your district or state if you’re an elected representative or senator.  I’m talking about special-interest constituents who provide you money and backing when you seek election or reelection – whether from your district or not.

That’s pretty much what is going on in Wisconsin boils down too.  Wisconsin’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker has proposed a number of ways to “repair” the budget.  In summary, those aimed at public service unions place limits on their existing power:

It would require most public workers to pay half their pension costs – typically 5.8% of pay for state workers – and at least 12% of their health care costs. It applies to most state and local employees but does not apply to police, firefighters and state troopers, who would continue to bargain for their benefits.

Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.

Apparently such limits are simply outrageous.  Unions hold annual elections?  Public workers pay more toward their pensions and health care costs?  And, of course, the bargaining “rights” curtailed in everything but wages?

So that’s prompted an astroturf campaign which has involved organizations outside Wisconsin, to include the White House.  The one thing public sector unions can do effectively it seems is “flash mobs”.  Reports of advertisements in Illinois aimed at recruiting activists for protests in Wisconsin were common.

The Democratic National Committee also has involved themselves in the local fight

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.

[…]

OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.

So anyone who thinks this is all “spontaneous” might want to buy a clue.

Meanwhile, all the Democratic state senators in Wisconsin have run off to Rockford, Ill to avoid having to do their jobs.   You see, Republicans hold a majority, but are one short of a quorum needed to pass legislation.  So without the Democrats, the Senate is unable to act on legislation.  Democrats have issued a “list of demands”:

“We demand that the provisions that completely eliminate the ability of workers… to negotiate on a fair basis with their employers be removed from the budget repair bill and any other future budget,” Miller said.

He also demanded legislative oversight on changes to the state’s medical programs, which are targeted for changes in the bill. The bill would also require union members to contribute to their health care and pensions.

My guess is there’s some negotiating room there, but if I were the governor I’d tell Dems that there’ll be no talk about their demands until they act like adults and show back up in the capital ready to do their jobs.   And Governor Walker has laid out the alternative fairly clearly:

Walker said the only alternative would be layoffs of 10,000 to 12,000 state and local employees.

Of course, without a quorum, that isn’t the strongest hand in the world.  But what Democrats are doing sure seems like a childish tantrum in my eyes.  Republicans may not have a quorum and state government may grind to a halt because of it, but I doubt that voters are going to blame members of the GOP for that. 

All of this has spawned the usual misinformation as charges and counter-charges fly.  Ed Schultz provides an example of a completely false statement about the controversy according to Politifact Wisconsin.  Said Shultz:

Under changes being debated, state employees in Wisconsin "who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight."

Not true.  Although state employees would have to pay a higher percentage for their benefits (in the 6 to 11% range) none are looking at “20 percent of their income disappear[ing] over night”.

Unions have been losing favor in the eyes of the American public for years, with a fairly sharp downturn in their popularity in 2007.  Since then their favorability rating has stayed about the same, but unfavorable numbers continue to build:

Americans’ attitudes about labor unions changed only slightly over the past year, following a sharp downturn between early 2007 and early 2010. Currently, 45% say they have a favorable opinion about labor unions, while nearly as many (41%) say they have an unfavorable opinion.

In January 2007, 58% said they had a favorable opinion of unions; 31% had an unfavorable opinion.

Tantrums like this, astroturfing and the plain old uncivil behavior aren’t going to help their case.  Ann Althouse has some examples of the latter.   It appears that Adolph Hitler has made a comeback among the left in Wisconsin.   Civility is only a requirement for those on the right, apparently.  The left – well it’s the left and any insult and comparison, no matter how outrageous, is perfectly fine. Godwin’s law is in effect in Wisconsin.

I think Wisconsin is only the beginning of these sorts of spectacles and fights.  Entrenched bureaucracies and unions aren’t going to give up their power easily and go quietly in the night.  How they conduct themselves in this sort of fight will be important though.  The point, one assumes, is to bring visibility to their arguments and persuade the public to back them.  If that’s the case, I don’t think the way the Wisconsin protesters (and legislators) are prosecuting their case will be held up as a model to be emulated.

Cuts are coming – whether made willingly or forced by reality.   There’s no escaping that.   Gov. Walker is trying to get ahead of that curve.

Human nature says no one wants to see their ox gored, regardless of reality’s demands.  But in a battle for public opinion, acting like children, calling people Nazis and importing out-of-state protesters in what is really  a local fight doesn’t seem to be the best way to get the public on your side.

~McQ

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Quote of the Day–lefty logic edition

When is a penalty not a penalty?  Ask Rep Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX).  Yesterday she told the House Judiciary Committee that the requirement imposed on individuals to buy health insurance doesn’t really constitute a penalty for non-compliance:’

“I would make the argument, one, that instead it is an incentive to do right–that it is not penalizing because penalty is punishment,” Jackson-Lee told the Judiciary Committee.

[…]

“You’re not punished if you have health insurance, in fact. And so you are, in fact, incentivized to have health insurance, rather than take the negative which is to suggest that because we have a penalty you are being punished,” Rep. Jackson-Lee said.

“I am helping you. I am helping you not to have 26 percent un-insurance in the state of Texas. I’m helping children be insured. I’m helping diverse minorities be insured,” said Rep. Jackson-Lee. “And I know during the civil rights argument–even though we were arguing under the Constitution–there were many policy statements being made: Do we want to live in a nation that discriminates against a person because of the color of their skin? In addition to the constitutional argument, do we want to live in a nation where there are people being uninsured causing catastrophic costs unto the nation and others have to pay. I think that is the question that needs to be considered by the courts.”

Unfortunately for Rep. Jackson-Lee, who may have never actually read the bill, the law is quite specific about non-compliance.

“If an applicable individual fails to meet the requirement of subsection (a) [having a government-approved health-insurance policy]… there is hereby imposed a penalty with respect to the individual.”

And:

Elsewhere, in a section entitled “Payment of Penalty,” it says that individuals failing to carry a government-approved health insurance policy must pay a maximum penalty of $750.

Meanwhile back in the runaway logic train of Ms. Jackson-Lee:

“But I also need to say whether or not it is more an incentive than it is a punishment,” said Rep. Jackson-Lee. “I am more inspired by incentive. And I welcome it being a parking ticket. We get parking tickets all the time, and no one complains about being required to do the right thing.”

*Sigh*

One of those bright stars – because of the level of intrusion we’re allowed this government to make – who are making decisions about your life.

~McQ

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NYT screams for adults while acting like a child

Reading the first paragraph in an NYT editorial gave me a rather cynical chuckle this morning

Are there any adults in charge of the House? Watching this week’s frenzied slash-and-burn budget contest, we had to conclude the answer to that is no.

Really – is that the answer?  Or is the answer there haven’t been any adults in charge for years – decades even – as evidenced by the horrendous fiscal mess we’re in today.

The NYT’s answer?  Apparently the status quo is alright with the Grey Lady.  Check this out:

First Speaker John Boehner’s Republican leadership proposed cutting the rest of the 2011 budget by $32 billion. But that wasn’t enough for his fanatical freshmen, who demanded that it be cut by $61 billion, destroying vital government programs with gleeful abandon.

Here we go … speaking of acting like adults, it would be nice if the NYT would try it.  As Rand Paul pointed out, $32 billion is about 5 days of government spending.  $61 then would be about 10.  And the $81 billion they’re now talking about – tack on 4 more days. The NYT wants you to seriously believe that eliminating that pittance would destroy “vital government programs”?   We’re talking a multi-trillion dollar budget here guys.  Until we’re talking trillions in cuts, we’re not talking about serious cuts.

In fact, what the NYT is worried about is cuts to some programs it considers to be vital but apparently others don’t. 

If the Republicans got their way, it would wreak havoc on Americans’ lives and national security. This blood sport also has nothing to do with the programs that are driving up the long-term deficit: Medicare, Medicaid and, to a lesser extent, Social Security.

Well here’s the bad news for the NYT – to get the budget back on a sustainable track, it is going to require a little “havoc” within the budget and certainly a dramatic lessening of spending.

Obviously I agree that the programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have to be addressed.  But that doesn’t exempt the other areas where spending may be less in terms of those programs but just as wasteful, unnecessary or unneeded.  You aren’t going to address the problems of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in a Continuing Resolution – that’s a ‘red herring’.  The fact that the big 3 haven’t been addressed yet doesn’t mean they won’t be nor does it mean discretionary spending shouldn’t be.

So, if the mean old Republicans end up cutting $81 billion out of the 7 month Continuing Resolution to fund government (since the Democratic Congress didn’t do its primary job and pass a budget) what will that mean?

Several credible economists have said that an $81 billion cut could result in up to 800,000 layoffs throughout the American economy.

The House freshmen seemed even less concerned about the effect of their budget slashing. “A lot of us freshmen don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about how Washington, D.C., is operated,” Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican of South Dakota, told the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. “And, frankly, we don’t really care.”

Frankly, he shouldn’t.  My guess is government will trundle along without a hiccup if the worst case (and you know that’s what is going to be presented here) scenario of 800,000 layoffs materializes.   It won’t, of course.   We all know how this works – if in fact the cuts were to cause layoffs, most would come through attrition and early retirement packages vs. being “let go”. 

No, this is the usual “if they do that, the baby ducks will die” rhetoric in which any cut is countered with the worst imaginable scenario whether feasible or not.  Government’s job is not providing employment.  It is doing the people’s business and protecting the nation.  And it should do that in as lean a posture as possible.  That’s what an adult would say.

Of course Obama has bowed up and claimed he will veto any such “job killing” measure.  If I were the GOP I’d be saying “go ahead, make my day”, because it then becomes a matter of explaining that the GOP attempted to cut spending and the size of government, but Big Government Obama, who depends on the votes of public service unions to win reelection, opted for them over the will of the people.

~McQ

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Chauncey De Vega doubles down on “stupid”

First, I have no idea who “Chauncey De Vega” is.  But I do know his type. So when the story broke about his post on AlterNet calling Herman Cain a “monkey” and a “minstrel”, I thought it something that others could handle quite well, thank you very much.

And, deservedly, De Vega was roundly criticized – not only for the language he used, but for the stereotypical and foundationless characterizations he used in his absurd commentary.  Just another in a long line of clueless, historically ignorant and confused “commenters” on racial issues who feel the need to use inflammatory language to be noticed.  Another race obsessed jerk who cannot fathom that others of his race may, through their own experiences in life, see things of a political nature different than he does.  Apparently he is “the one” that decides what is proper and acceptable for blacks to believe and anyone who doesn’t toe that line is a “race traitor”.  In his post, Herman Cain was the race traitor of the day.

Today De Vega doubled down on his stupid rant.  AlterNet, where the original was posted, made it clear that his first post was in the “Speak Easy” which is a forum provided by AlterNet for “unedited” pieces.  This follow up was in a different area which means, one assumes, that De Vega was edited and the inflammatory name calling was deleted prior to publication.  Of course that doesn’t change the substance, and the substance, such that it is, isn’t much more acceptable, intellectually, than was the original post.

Why?  Because it is an exercise is attempting to justify being an ignorant jerk.  It sheds no new light on anything except the writer’s prejudices – which he willingly exposes.  One assumes he thinks he’s being convincing, but a quick read through the piece leaves you with the understanding that this is simply “stereotypes are us” on steroids.  There’s really nothing thought provoking or even particularly interesting about De Vega’s words.   It is the work of a man whose mind was made up years ago and who now proudly wears the blinders of ignorance for all to see.

As most race-baiters realize, the absence of racism within today’s society would be a disaster for them.  They’ve built a cottage industry around the word and are seeing their bread and butter slip away.  De Vega is reduced to mischaracterizing the speech of another black man (I heard the speech), denigrating him and his beliefs and thereby indicting the crowd that listened and cheered his words as “white masters” to keep the hate alive.

Peddling racial hate is a much tougher job today as witnessed by the fact that he and others feel it necessary to attack any black who strays from what they consider the only way blacks should think.  Those sorts of successful blacks give lie to their race-baiting rhetoric.  The Chauncey De Vegas of this world deserve the all the condemnation and derision they earn through their vile and hateful rhetoric.  They belong in a past era of this country’s racial history and are no more acceptable today than is the KKK.  Ironically, both, as it turns out, are in the business of trying to sell the very same thing.

~McQ

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A little history lesson–Egypt and Iran

This, from Austin Bay, does an excellent job of making the point about Egypt that I have been trying to get across in a meta sense. He does it with a look back at the Iranian revolution. It, in many ways, mirrors what is happening in Egypt today. Bay makes the point that in all such revolutions, the key is organization. And unfortunately authoritarians usually do a better job of organizing than do democrats.

A democratic movement will never march in lockstep, but common principles — such as dedication to individual rights — must translate into a common spine to resist, with armed force when necessary, inevitable manipulation, threat and attack by tyrants, terrorists and their vicious partisans.

Recent history bears tragic witness. In the aftermath of their popular rebellion of 1979, the hodgepodge collection of Iranian liberals and nationalists fragmented. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s radical Islamic totalitarians divided the democratic coalition and attacked them individually. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran’s first president after the 1979 revolt, identifies the failure to form a unified democratic front as the Iranians greatest strategic error.

In an essay published in the Christian Science Monitor last month, Bani-Sadr said most Iranian political organizations "did not commit themselves to democracy. Lacking the unity of a democratic front, one by one they became targets of power-seeking clergy in the form of the Islamic Republic Party … ."

I remember the Iranian revolution vividly. I remember Bani-Sadr and the hopes he had for a free and democratic Iran. And I also remember the relentless Ayatollahs and their eventual success at the "divide and conquer" strategy they used. Iran has never gotten off the mat since.

Bay is much more optimistic about the outcome in Egypt than I obviously am.  I think it is much to early to determine that they are headed in the right direction.  Bay says there are hopeful signs.  Good.  But … and there’s always one of those when talking about an authoritarian regime willingly handing over power … we’re so early in the process it’s impossible to tell if the military is really serious about the handover or whether nationalists, secularists, “moderate” Islamists and activists can indeed form a united front or will instead fracture at various points. 

History says “fracture”.

Bay puts the “key” to success in his conclusion:

How the military receives the counter-proposal is crucial. Rejection or ambivalent delay sends the ominous message that there is at least one strong faction of military Bonapartists who prefer pharaoh to freedom. The give and take of sincere negotiations among revolutionary factions and the military, ending in authentic compromise, however, will not only forward the process of building a democratic front but signal the emergence of genuine democratic politics.

You can be guaranteed there are what Bay calls “Bonapartists” within the military.  And in Egyptian history it isn’t unheard of for more junior level officers to resort to violence to take over (Gamal Nasser anyone?).  In the sort of revolutionary atmosphere now prevalent in Egypt it should be remembered that not all revolutionaries want democracy or freedom.  You can rest assured there are power struggles going on within a great number of these factions both within and outside the military.

Given Bay’s quoting of recent history, I’m not sure how he is so optimistic at this early date in the process, but he does seem to think that a united Egyptian democratic front may emerge from all this turmoil.  I remain skeptical and doubtful (even if I’d love to be proven wrong).  And … I have history on my side.

~McQ

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GM to pay 400 million in bonuses without loans being paid back … where’s the left on this?

Giving the left the benefit of the doubt, maybe they didn’t know about this.  Because I’m sure, just as they blasted Wall Street for paying bonuses after receiving bailout money and TARP funds, they’d be keen to be consistent and do the same to GM.

Less than two years after entering bankruptcy, General Motors will extend millions of dollars in bonuses to most of its 48,000 hourly workers as a reward for the company’s rapid turnaround after it was rescued by the government.

The payments, disclosed Monday in company documents, are similar to bonuses announced last week for white-collar employees. The bonuses to 76,000 American workers will probably total more than $400 million — an amount that suggests executives have increasing confidence in the automaker’s comeback.

But the comeback was and is still financed by taxpayers money and borrowing.  What in the world is GM doing paying out bonuses when it still owes at least $40 billion in loans?  That $400 million would be a nice chunk toward that payback, wouldn’t it?

But the bonuses drew criticism from an opponent of the auto industry bailout in Washington who said GM should repay its entire $49.5 billion loan before offering bonuses.

"Since the taxpayers helped these companies out of bankruptcy, the taxpayers should be repaid before bonuses go out," said Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. "It sends a message that those in charge take shareholders, in this case the taxpayers, for a sucker."

Yeah, kind of hard to argue otherwise, isn’t it?  And no, for you that believed all the hype, GM hasn’t paid back its loans despite the commercials it made claiming it had.  It isn’t even close to paying them off.

That said, I’m sure, once the story gets out that the left will be just as consistent in slamming GM for paying bonuses without repaying its loans as it was with taking Wall Street (properly I might add) for precisely the same reason.  (HT: Maggie’s Notebook).

Oh, and by the way:

Ford Motor Co. announced plans last month to pay its 40,600 U.S. factory workers $5,000 each, the first such checks since 1999. The Dearborn, Mich., company, which avoided bankruptcy and did not get a government bailout, made $6.6 billion last year.

Ford also plans to pay performance bonuses to white-collar workers in lieu of raises, but it would not reveal the amounts.

Good for them and congratulations.

~McQ

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Secular democracy in Egypt? The devil is in the details

The committee empaneled to rewrite the Egyptian Constitution and given 10 days to do so has named it’s head

Egypt’s new ruling military council has appointed an Islamist judge to head the committee drawing up a new constitution, angering some of those who argued last week’s revolution would deliver the country to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Of course there are some who continue to argue this is all a secular movement (how does one conclude a group calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood is somehow a “secular” group as the West would define “secular?) and that the end result will be a strong democracy as demanded by the people.

Uh, probably not.  Careful monitoring says that most likely the next government will be anything but “secular” as defined by the West:

But the make-up of the new committee, and the fact it has been given just ten days to come up with a new constitution, has dashed hopes that it will remove Article 2, which makes Islam the state religion and says Shariah is the main source of law.

There is something very concrete for you to watch for and monitor – the status of “Article 2” in any new constitution.  The double-talk isn’t just confined to the word “secular”.  “Moderate” gets a going over too.   What anyone in the West would consider a “moderate” here would most likely be called a “secular liberal” there.   The West might consider Egypt’s “moderates” as fairly radical here.   As an example of having to read carefully, look at this:

"Al-Bishry is a figure who is accepted by all Egyptians," said Aboul Ella al-Madi, leader of Al-Wasat. "He has criticised the Coptic Church but he has also criticised the Muslim Brotherhood and the former regime.

Sounds great right?    But what is “Al-Wasat”?  It’s an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.  And you have to love the fact that he feels qualified to speak for “all Egyptians”.

Another claim made by those appointing the committee is it includes a “Coptic Christian” (The NYT names him as Maher Samy Youssef, a judge and Coptic Christian).  Or maybe not:

But Bishop Markos, a member of the Coptic Church’s Holy Syndicate, said no one from the Military Council had been in touch since it came to power.

He said: "We do not know the result of this but we hope the committee will be wise enough to take into account the rights of all Egyptians."

And Islamists in general (using “Islamist” in the generally accepted sense of “religious radical”)?

In another sign of increased freedoms for Islamists, the Gama’a Islamiya, the radical group responsible for a wave of terror attacks in the 1990s, held a public meeting in a town in southern Egypt on Monday night, according to a local newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm.

Nice – radical terror groups go main stream and hold public meetings. 

Back to the head of the committee …. a person who knows Egypt pretty well has weighed in:

Wael Abbas, the best-known human rights blogger in Egypt, who was sentenced to prison by the Mubarak regime last year, said it was a "worrying" choice.

"There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist," he said. "We want a secular state that respects all religions and which belongs to all religions."

Take that one sentence to heart – “there is no such thing as a moderate Islamist”.  We’ve come to understand that over the years, yet many of us seem to want to ignore that when it comes to Egypt.  Note that Abbas wants a real secular state as you and I might define it, not one as the Muslim Brotherhood would.

This move by the military council is one, I think, that is calculated to further calm fears that the military plans to continue to hold on to control.  The NYT says:

Though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which seized power with Mr. Mubarak’s exit, has repeatedly pledged to uphold the goals of the Egyptian revolution, many in the opposition have questioned the army’s willingness to submit for the first time to a civilian democracy after six decades of military-backed strongmen.

So appointing the committee helps calm those fears:

“The move to appoint the panel is the first concrete thing the army has done since taking over,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent civil rights lawyer and Mubarak critic. “We have only had communiqués. We have been analyzing the rhetoric. But now is the first concrete move, and there is nothing about it that concerns us.”

That last sentence is very telling, especially the claim “there is nothing about it that concerns us”.  The fact that Bahgat isn’t concerned doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be concerned.   An Islamist judge heads the committee and:

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Sobhi Saleh, an Alexandria appeals lawyer and former member of Parliament who is a prominent figure of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Mubarak government repeatedly portrayed Mr. Saleh as extremist. Mr. Saleh has espoused some views many here might consider excessive, like advocating a ban on public kissing in most places, and he was released from an Egyptian intelligence prison recently.

Is that a “moderate” position?  Would such bans be “secular” in scope?  My guess is the answer would be  “yes” from someone like Saleh if passed by a Parliament (using the democratic process to pass authoritarian laws).   Anyway, you then have to love this analysis of the committee by Saleh:

“The committee is technical and very balanced,” Mr. Saleh said. “It has no political color, except me because I was a member of Parliament.”

Well yeah, so who is it that will lend “political color” to this work?  A radical member of the Muslim Brotherhood on a committee headed by an Islamist judge.

There’s no question there’s a lot of “hope” going on in Egypt right now – but as when “hope” was a prominent word here in the US during the last election cycle, everyone is being left to write their own interpretation on the large blank page “hope” has provided.   The problem there, as it was here, is what the people of Egypt “hope” will come about and what they will actually get out of this process – as it appears to be lining up – are probably not the same thing at all.

~McQ

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