Friday, March 2, 2012

Newt's financial mismanagement

Huffington Post has completed an investigation, reported today as:
"Newt Gingrich Leaves 30-Year Trail Of Debts, Lawsuits And Bankruptcies In His Wake"
While declaring himself a model of fiscal discipline, which he would bring to the presidency, the true story is that this has rarely been true for the organizations he has founded -- and often abandoned.   Despite the injection of more than $11 million by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Newt's current campaign is barely meeting expenses.

Interviews with former colleagues and review of official documents reveal
"a striking pattern of financial mismanagement at the political and nonprofit groups that Gingrich has created, steered and abandoned over the past 30 years. .
"Since 1984, Gingrich has launched 12 politically oriented organizations and initiatives based in Washington. Of those, five have been investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the House Ethics Committee, another five closed down with debts totaling more than $500,000, and two were subject to legal action.

"According to former colleagues and subordinates, Gingrich burns through money by repeatedly expanding his plans and ignoring warnings from staff about the finances of his projects. Now, the same pattern is threatening his presidential campaign.

"'The best way to say it is that Newt has no brakes and no rear view mirror,' observed one former adviser. . . . 'he never pulls back, and he never learns from the past.'"
Even more damning perhaps is the picture that emerges of Newt as setting up these organizations so that any financial failure does not attach to him personally.  When they don't work out, he just moves on to some other new big idea, leaving others to deal with the financial failure.  The Huffington Post article goes into much detail with examples of this.  A former colleague says
"Newt leaves all of his colleagues with bags of dead cats.  Not just one dead cat.  Bags of dead cats."
That's bad enough, but there's worse.  John Richardson, who interviewed Newt's second ex-wife for a devastating portrayal of him in 2010 for Esquire, has written a follow-up article based on his further talks with Marianne Gingrich.   He says this:
The real story isn't that Gingrich committed adultery . . .  over and over and over again. The real story is that Newt Gingrich is so deeply conflicted and strange, so erratic and unreliable, so scheming and secretive, that he's way too much like a character out of Dostoevsky than a politician should ever be.
Ugh.  And Nate Silver gives him an 85% chance of winning the Republican primary in Georgia.  I'm tempted to cross-over in the primary next week just so I can vote against him.


Lying about gas prices

Newt promises $2.50 gasoline prices if only we will elect him president.  Rick Santorum outdid him by claiming that prices at the gasoline pump were what caused the housing bubble to crash -- people couldn't afford their mortgages for paying so much for gasoline.   John Boehner claimed that gas prices have doubled under President Obama.   They all scream about drilling more.   Newt thinks natural gas is so plentiful that it will solve all our problems.

It's all lies.   Obama said today that "Anybody who tells you that we can just drill our way out of this problem does not know what they're talking about, or they're not telling you the truth -- one or the other."

Here are the facts:

1.  The current average pump price is $3.73 -- lower than it was at the start of the recession when Bush was president.

2.   Oil production in the U. S. is at its highest level in eight years.   More rigs are operating in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined.  More than 400 drilling permits have been issued since the BP oil spill.

3.  For the first time in 13 years, we are importing less than half of the U. S. oil consumption.

4.   As Nancy Pelosi pointed out, supply is going up and demand is going down.  So why are prices going up?   "You explain it by recognizing that Republicans are protecting Wall Street speculators responsible for driving up the pain at the pump," she said.

If you have no good policies to run on, all you can do is lie, I suppose.   Just make stuff up.  The problem is:   Fox News amplifies the lies and people believe it.

But wait -- maybe not so many people are believing it.   Obama's approval rating is going up.  His chances of winning re-election are soaring.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Non-hawks speak out

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) have coauthored a letter to President Obama cautioning against any rush to war.    With the impending visit tomorrow of Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, this is very timely.

Here is the text of the letter, which has been endorsed by a liberal and peace groups:

“What the President has to tell the Israeli leadership is: ‘Look, if you’re going to sign us up for a protracted military conflict that you can start but cannot finish, we’ve got to be in on it from the beginning.  And we say diplomacy is what we need to do now…The United States, the strongest military on Earth, should never be in a position where it is not in control of its own destiny.  The fact is, we cannot let even an ally, an important ally like Israel, drag us into war that we think diplomacy can serve better in.”
Rep. Ellison also commented that “We just got out of one war, we’re trying to get out of another one, we do not need a third…diplomacy is the right option. . . .  No one says diplomacy is easy, but going to war would be catastrophic."

Ellison also said that many Israeli generals and military experts also believe “an attack on Iran would be destabilizing for them and the wrong way to go.”  And, as I noted in a comment to yesterday's post, a poll of Israeli people found that only 19% support a military strike against Iran without U.S. support and 42% support a strike with U. S. support.

In addition, our Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey says that the Iranian leadership is rational in its international dealings and that they can be negotiated with.  That is not to say that they are always truthful or forthcoming but that they are not wild, crazy people who would act rashly.   Every move, every statement they make is carefully calculated for its effect.   That, in itself, is more hopeful than if we were dealing with a crazy despot like Kaddhafi.

Of course, the hawks disagree and warn that we cannot risk an irrational move from the Iranians.


Obama recycles optimism

With improving economic indicators, President Obama is sound a new note of optimism about the improved economy -- and taking some credit for his policies helping to make that happen.

This, of course, is a winning strategy -- as long as the improvement holds up.  The risk is that soaring fuel prices, economic crisis in Europe, or worsening tensions in the Middle East may turn this around between now and November.

For the time being, however, here is the good news as compiled into today's AJC.

1.  Incomes rose 0.7% in the third quarter compared with earlier estimates of a 1.9% drop.

2.  Consumer spending rose 2.1% in the fourth quarter, spurred by a jump in purchases of autos and other long-lasting goods.

3.  Jobs .   Companies have stepped up hiring, and the unemployment rate has dropped for five straight months to 8.3%.

4.  Manufacturing.  Factories boosted output;  December was their strongest month of growth in five years.

5. Consumer Confidence rose to its highest point in a year.

Sounds good -- if it will just continue.     

And could we please at least push the line that these improvements came in spite of the Republicans doing everything they could to prevent any success for the president?


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

War Hawks are at it again

Our fear-mongering, testosterone-poisoned Congressional Hawks are sharpening their claws and trying to ramp up war fever, timed two days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits President Obama on Friday.

Trying to paint President Obama into a corner, and perhaps set the stage for a campaign issue for the next six months, a group of hawkish senators, led by Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, are pushing a senate resolution that, in effect, puts the senate on record as willing to back the president if he decides that it is necessary to bomb Iran.

This comes on the heels of a thinly veiled campaign by the White House to tamp down just such war fever, releasing a series of statements that include doubts from our intelligence groups that Iran is actually working on a nuclear bomb, as well as Iran's presumed retaliatory direct attacks on Israel and terrorists attacks on U. S. personnel and interests throughout the Middle East, especially in Afghanistan.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, went so far last week as saying that bombing Iran would not "be prudent."

In response to the senate hawks, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz, has now asked the obvious question:   Just exactly what do you hope to accomplish by bombing Iran?  If they are in fact working on a bomb, it would clearly be in their deep underground facilities beneath a mountain that would be impervious to bombs.   What is the national security objective?

The prudent course seems to be continuing sanctions, diplomacy, efforts at talks, and covert activities to disrupt their computer-controlled centrifuge systems.    From all I've read, my best guess is that the Iranians are not yet working on actual weapon systems or yet concentrating uranium to weapons grade (it requires many times more concentration than does fuel for nuclear power plants, which they are making), but that they are doing all things short of that to be prepared to move more quickly if they do decide to make a bomb.

The hawks say if we wait until they do, it will be too late.  They also, being hawks, think that the U.S. must convey a threatening level of power and the willingness to use it.   They think Obama's approach comes from -- and conveys -- weakness.

Gen. Schwartz also pointed out that the Pentagon has complete plans for just such attacks on Iran, if it should become necessary, as part of their preparedness strategy;  and President Obama has been given a full range of options from the military standpoint.

There are other considerations that the hawks ignore, however.  For example the effect on the larger Muslim world of the United States attacking yet another Muslim country, inflaming the image of us as the imperial power.   After all, much of the anti-American feeling in the Muslim world is related to our backing Israel -- which is a nuclear power in the Middle East and their enemy.  It didn't help either that we were behind the coup that overthrew Iran's elected socialist government and put the Shah back in power.   The Shah was then eventually overthrown in a coup that resulted in the present theocracy that rules Iran.

Did we learn nothing from the hawk's leading us into a misadventure in Iraq?   Are we going to let them do it all over again?


David Brooks on the GOP primary field

Conservative columnist for The New York Times, David Brooks, wrote yesterday about the effect of the radical right wing taking over the Republican party and its moderate incumbents changing their stripes in order to get re-elected.   He cites Senators Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar as examples.
". . .  it is worth pointing out that this behavior is not entirely honorable. . . . to kowtow to the extremes so you can preserve your political career.  But, of course, this is exactly what has been happening . . .  [Right] Wingers fight to take over the party, mainstream Republicans bob and weave to keep their seats. . . .

"Under [the extreme's] influence, we’ve had a primary campaign that isn’t really an argument about issues. It’s a series of heresy trials in which each of the candidates accuse the others of tribal impurity. Two kinds of candidates emerge from this process: first, those who are forceful but outside the mainstream; second, those who started out mainstream but look weak and unprincipled because they have spent so much time genuflecting before those who despise them.

"Neither is likely to win in the fall. Before the G.O.P. meshugana campaign, independents were leaning toward the G.O.P. But, in the latest Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll, Obama leads Mitt Romney among independents by 49 percent to 27 percent."
Ahhhh . . .   how sweet it's going to be.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Religious freedom

For all his protestations to the contrary, Rick Santorum does not believe in religious freedom.

As I understand it, and as I think most scholars understand it, it means that our government is neutral with regard to any particular religion, while protecting the rights of all to practice their own religion or their lack of religion.

There are a few limits that would restrict some claims to how that religion is practiced, including the general principle that it cannot supercede other laws or trample on others' rights.  For example, a claim that human sacrifice is part of their religious rites would not be tolerated.   Claims that using illegal substances (like peyote) is part of Native American religious rites is a murkier areas that may require adjudication by the courts.

But the essence of neutrality was the core of John F. Kennedy's landmark declaration in 1960 when his Roman Catholicism became an issue in the presidential campaign.   He said:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
Rick Santorum said that this makes him want to throw up.   He seems incapable of understanding that official neutrality is what guarantees personal religious freedom.   He should think about the possibility that, if we allow him to impose Roman Catholic beliefs, then he would be susceptible at some other time to a president who might want to impose Muslim beliefs on him.

Some of us still want our democratic nation to be defined in the reality-based world.  Santorum apparently does not agree.   If he gets nauseated by Kennedy's noble statement, he would probably barf his insides out at my contention that our nation's founding principles stem far more from Enlightenment ideals than from Christian beliefs, although there are certainly some principles shared by both.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Santorum outdoes himself

Did you have any doubt that Rick Santorum does not inhabit the "reality-based" world?

His know-nothing crowd may eat it up -- it's what they want to hear.   But surely he must be losing any support he might have ever had among thinking Republicans and Independents.

Here's his latest:
"We need to look at the situation with gas prices today.  We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices. The bubble burst in housing because people couldn't pay their mortgages because they were looking at $4 a gallon gasoline."
Duh . . . what can you say to something so utterly divorced from reality?


Best actress Oscar

Some years they really should award two best actress or best actor awards -- because two people so richly deserve it that it seems cruel for one to wind up as an "also-ran."   One such time was 2006, when Phillip Seymore Hoffman won Best Actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote over Heath Ledger's equally stunning (I would say superior) role as Ennis Del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain."

This year it was two marvelous actresses.   Meryl Streep won as Margaret Thatcher in "Iron Lady" over Viola Davis' extraordinary performance in "The Help."   I was passionately hoping that Davis would win, just as a I had been for Ledger to win.

 Yes, I know that Meryl Streep has been nominated for 17 Oscars and that it has been over 20 years since she won the last of her three.  But, as great as Streep is at what I have come to think of as "impersonations," I am always aware of watching Meryl Streep be marvelous.  Never for a minute did I lose the thought that I was watching her impersonate Julia Child or Margaret Thatcher, as brilliant as she was in both.

In contrast, in watching "The Help" for the third time last week, there was just no question in my mind that Viola Davis was Abilene down to the very core of her being.

That's the difference.  Streep impresses me with her brilliant impersonations.   Davis is the character.   The same was true of her other nominated role in Doubt.   The same was true of Hoffman and Ledger.   Hoffman gave a brilliant impersonation of Capote;  but Ledger just simply was Ennis.

For the record:  Davis was voted Best Actress by her peer actors in the Screen Actors Guild award.


Santorum's excess goes over the line

Rick Santorum is going all out to capture the right-wing Christian voters.  He accuses President Obama of waging "war against religion."   He says that when he hears about separation of church and state, he feels like throwing up.  In his view, the separation should be absolute in one direction (the state cannot interfere with religion) but not the other (religion should very much influence the state).

He's running out of new accusations to throw, so now he's saying that Obama is a "snob" for wanting all Americans to engage in higher education, because not everybody wants or needs to go to college.   Sunday on ABC’s This Week, he doubled down on that point by adding that it's part of the war on religion.  He declared that “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it."

Get the message?   Higher education is ruining our young people, turning them away from their faith.  There's a slight problem with that:  multiple studies have found that the opposite is true — including the one that Santorum has reportedly been referring to.

Although his spokesman did not respond to a request for their source, PBS concluded that he was probably referring to a study published in 2007 in the journal Social Forces, which found that 64% of students in four year college programs experienced a decrease in their frequency of attendance at religious worship services.

However, that is only half of what they found.  The other half (inconvenient for Santorum's purpose) was that those who don’t go to college at all have an even steeper decline (76%) in their attendance.

Another self-report study (Harvard 2006) found that 25% of college students said they had become more spiritual during college, while only 7% said they had become less spiritual.

These numbers are completely beside the point, of course.   Santorum is going after people who want confirmation of their paranoid mistrust of science, education, and reason.   Remember that infamous quote during the Bush administration from one of his insider staff people who differentiated those who live in the "reality-based" world from those who live in the "faith-based" world?    He was talking about people in the Bush administration who live in a fantasy-based world.

Santorum will go on believing that college is dangerous, and some of his followers will too.

But it is not a winning strategy, and many Republicans know that and are worried. Governor Chris Christie and even right-wing Gov. Bob McDonnell (VA) have spoke out in defense of Obama's educational policies.

The Obama team could not possibly write a better script for the GOP primary battles if it had free rein over the process.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Romney wrong on auto bailout

Mitt Romney tried to reframe his opposition to the government bailout of General Motors and Chrysler in 2008-09 by saying that what he had said was that the government should have stayed on the sidelines and allowed the auto industry to go through "an orderly bankruptcy procedure."

He now likes to add, "I was right."   GM and Chrysler did go through bankruptcy and now they are thriving again.

Not so fast, says Steven Rattner, who was the lead adviser to the government's auto task force that oversaw the bailout.   Rattner writes in a New York Times op-ed:
That sounds like a wonderfully sensible approach — except that it’s utter fantasy. In late 2008 and early 2009, when G.M. and Chrysler had exhausted their liquidity, every scrap of private capital had fled to the sidelines.

I know this because the administration’s auto task force, for which I was the lead adviser, spoke diligently to all conceivable providers of funds, and not one had the slightest interest in financing those companies on any terms. If Mr. Romney disagrees, he should come forward with specific names of willing investors in place of empty rhetoric. I predict that he won’t be able to, because there aren’t any.

Without government financing — initiated by President George W. Bush in December 2008 — the two companies would not have been able to pursue Chapter 11 reorganization. Instead they would have been forced to cease production, close their doors and lay off virtually all workers once their coffers ran dry. . .

Now, less than three years later, G.M. and Chrysler have markedly exceeded our expectations. . . .And they are hiring new workers for the first time in many years. . . .  All of this was accomplished at relatively low cost; taxpayers will receive back the vast preponderance of the $82 billion that was invested.
 So, let's be honest here, Mitt.   Your plan would not have worked, and you can't have it both ways.   If your plan had been followed, says Mr. Rattner -- himself a long-time Wall Street executive -- "More than a million jobs would have been lost, at least for a time. Michigan and the entire industrial Midwest would have been devastated."

What enabled the companies to survive and continue operation (and preserve jobs) was the government's bailout money.   Without that, they could not have continued operating enough to go through bankruptcy.  They would simply have failed and closed.