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President Obama’s Appearance on 60 Minutes: The Good And The Bad

by on Monday, September 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm EDT in Economy, Election 2012, Middle East, Politics

President Obama and Governor Romney both appeared on 60 Minutes last night in what is being billed as an indirect debate between the two candidates. They interviewed separately, but both used it as an opportunity to level some attacks at one another and to defend themselves against the other’s talking points.

Here are some of the things that struck me about Obama’s performance:

1. The Good

The President subtly distinguished U.S. interests from Israels’:

The President cleverly addressed Steve Kroft’s question regarding Israel PM Netanyahu’s blatant attempts to force the U.S. into war with Iran. Kroft asked him about the pressure being leveled at him during the U.S. elections (a time when a sitting President is most likely to placate deep-pocketed special interest groups). Obama appropriately recast the issue to the interests of the American people.

Although this tact might seem logical and obvious to most Americans — A U.S. President putting U.S. interests above those of a foreign government’s — anyone who follows the Israel / Palestine issue closely, knows this is practically unheard of in Washington, and actually constitutes bravery:

Kroft: How much pressure have you been getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu to make up your mind to use military force in Iran?

Obama: Well, look, I have conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu all the time. And I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.

Kroft: You’re saying you don’t feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don’t feel any pressure?

Obama:When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.

Later in the interview, Kroft brought up Romney’s assertion that Obama was weak on national defense and foreign policy, saying that he “needed to be more aggressive on Iran, he hadn’t done enough to support the revolt in Syria, and that our ‘friends’ don’t know where we stand, and our enemies think we’re weak.” To which Obama replied:

Well, let’s see what I’ve done since I came into office. I said I’d end the war in Iraq, I did. I said that we’d go after al-Qaeda. They’ve been decimated… That we’d go after Bin Laden, he’s gone. So, I’ve executed on my foreign policy, and it’s one the American people agree with. So, if Governor Romney is suggesting we should start another war, he should say so.

Essentially, Obama is turning Romney’s pro-Israel hawkishness around on him, by reminding Americans that war is too important an issue to be championing for mere political expediency. That committing the United States to another unnecessary war in the Middle East, once again driven by fear mongering, would hold severe repercussions for U.S. interests.

2. The Bad

The President was unapologetic about his overarching Neoliberal policies. In fact he bragged about them:

Kroft told Obama that Romney has framed him as someone who doesn’t have a clue about the economy. That he doesn’t understand “that private enterprise is the engine of growth in this country, and that’s what creates jobs, not big government.” And that Obama is “crushing economic freedom with taxes, regulations, and high-cost health care.” Instead of taking issue with Romney’s Neoliberal ideology, he rejected Romney’s depiction of him as someone unkind to Neoliberal values. 

Despite all the debt created by George W. Bush’s deep tax cuts, at a time we were engaged in two costly wars, Obama highlighted that he himself has been the true tax-cutter:

Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last 50 years. So, I haven’t raised taxes, I have cut taxes for middle class families by an average of $3,600 for a typical family.

And after all the calamity in our economy created by Bush’s deregulatory policies, Obama still touted his own non-regulatory record as more brazen than Bush’s, as if that is something to be proud of:

When it comes to regulations, I issued fewer regulations than my predecessor George W. Bush did during that same period in office. So it’s hard to say I over-regulated.

When Kroft asked him how he will get obstructionist Republicans to agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, Obama used it as an opportunity to tout his austerity credentials, and the Grand Bargain he plans once reelected:

Ultimately the American people agree with me. The only way to bring down our deficit is in a balanced way. So, keep in mind, I’ve agreed with the Republicans, and we’ve already cut a trillion dollars of spending. And I’ve told them I’m prepared to do additional spending cuts, and do some entitlement reform. 

But what I’ve said is, you can’t ask me to make student loans higher for kids who need it, or ask seniors to pay more for Medicare, or throw people off of healthcare, and not ask somebody like me or Mr. Romney to do anything. Not ask us to do a single dime’s worth of sacrifice?

Parse that again carefully. He doesn’t promise that young Americans WILL NOT be asked to pay more for student loans, or that seniors WILL NOT be asked to pay more for Medicare. He states you can’t ask these people to suffer even more, unless you also ask the wealthy, like him and Romney, to pay more in taxes.

This is a very significant point. He is willing to cut a Grand Bargain that will further harm those least capable of contributing financially, IF ONLY Republicans will agree that the rich need to toss a bit more tip money into the till. Because to Obama and the rest of the elite establishment this “shared sacrifice” between the “haves” and “have-nothing-to-spares” somehow constitutes a “balanced approach.”

Kroft pointed out that the housing crisis led to Obama bailing the banks out, and yet he decided that very few homeowners should be helped with mortgage-relief. Obama responded by touching on a few things he did do, but mostly distinguished his “modest” approach from Romney’s approach:

[…] We still have a long ways to go, but this is in contrast to Governor Romney’s proposal. When asked about what we should be doing with the housing market, [Romney] said, “Just let it bomb out.” That’s a quote. So, he was opposed to even the modest proposals we put into place.

So, instead of flogging his predecessor and Governor Romney for their irresponsible ideological beliefs, Obama attempted to out-‘W’ them, as if Bush’s Neoliberal economic policies were something to strive for, if not to exceed. In making the points above, Obama gives us a glimpse into his true economic compass, which deeply contradicts the policy platform he ran on in 2008.

Yes, his appointments of Neoliberal Wall Streeters and the policies he championed since he was elected have already confirmed that candidate Obama was a fraud, but it is interesting to see him four years later honestly aligning his rhetoric with his preferred policies.

The long-term damage done in propagating these sorts of pro-Neoliberal messages to the American public — that laissez-faire, non-regulatory, no-tax, pro-austerity policies are credible, responsible and commendable — only works to lend legitimacy to these long-failed policies, which now lie at the heart of our nation’s deep structural economic problems. 

Who knows, before long, in order to prove his pro-business mettle, Obama might even begin to boast about his NAFTA-like trade deals (the kinds he panned as a candidate in 2008), and how they’ll help U.S. corporations be more competitive, by encouraging them to lay off Americans and outsource their operations to low labor-cost countries. 

WATCH:

“Job Creators” & “Investors”: The Disconnect Between Republican Policies & Economic Stimulus

by on Monday, March 7, 2011 at 11:03 am EDT in Politics

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)The Republican Party’s latest economic policy proposals are nothing short of pure unadulterated neo-liberalism — the radical merciless ideology foisted upon the world by economist Milton Freedman. Recent events throughout the country have been playing out like a chapter straight out of Naomi Klein’s hugely important bestseller, The Shock Doctrine.

First the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, then the calls for deregulation, union-busting, and privatization; followed by — surprise! — severe austerity measures. These policies, if fully enacted, will accomplish little more than transferring trillions of dollars to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and in doing so crushing the lives of average Americans.

Any ‘trickle down’ effects yielded from extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — which added nearly a trillion dollars to our national debt — would have been negligible at best. But they will literally be jack-hammered to oblivion if followed by the Republican-proposed Draconian measures.

Their calls for deep spending cuts in the public sector (both at Federal and State levels) will translate into whittling away all safety nets for America’s elderly and most vulnerable, while issuing pink slips for teachers, cops, firemen, postal employees, librarians, etc.

Instead of paying teachers to educate our children, and cops to fight crime, taxpayers will instead be writing their unemployment checks. That is, until Republicans can finally figure out a way to terminate unemployment insurance as well. Meanwhile, our national infrastructure continues to crumble beneath our feet.

And their proposals do absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy. Unless you believe that sacking public workers will magically reduce unemployment, and somehow stimulate consumer demand (the driver for economic expansion).

Rather than subjecting lower and middle-income Americans to severe austerity measures, our economy would be best served by doing the very opposite. Policies that help to improve the financial bottom-line for struggling Americans guarantees an economic spark, if only because these Americans have little choice, but to spend every last dollar they make on necessities (i.e. they put ALL of it right back into the economy).

Unlike lower and middle-income Americans, the wealthy have the luxury to hoard each and every penny netted from their tax cuts. And few of them will be enticed to invest in a recessionary environment where risks are abnormally high.

How many millionaires are out stimulating the economy right now by purchasing third or fourth homes here in the U.S., when economists are now forecasting a double dip in home prices? How many are considering starting up new businesses, dependent upon consumer spending, when consumer bankruptcies just hit a 5-year high?

For wealthy individuals who do choose to invest, many will wisely target foreign companies, foreign mutual funds, foreign real estate, and multinationals who do business where economies are still growing. In other words, the ‘trickle-down’ part of Republican economic policies will actually occur in China, India, and elsewhere.

The supply-side ideology is based upon a faulty and outdated model that conveniently ignores competition for investment dollars overseas, and is largely dependent upon exaggerating the discretionary spending behavior of the wealthy.

As for corporate tax laws, two-thirds of all U.S. corporations dodged paying a single penny in taxes between 1998 and 2005. And how did these corporations repay the favor? By shifting their labor investments overseas, to countries where the cost of labor is extremely low, and where few if any environmental protection laws exist.

Cisco just released their international salary report showing that the average annual salary of their technical professionals in India ($14,508) is just 1/4 of what their American counterparts make ($62,993). And yet their Indian employees work 56 hours per week, on average — that’s 25% more hours than their American counterparts (45 hrs).

To rub some serious salt into the wounds, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that U.S. corporations (not even including Wall Street Banks) were sitting on close to $2 trillion in cash — the highest corporate cash reserves in over 50 years! — and still refuse to hire in the United States:

Rather than pouring their money into building plants or hiring workers, nonfinancial companies in the U.S. were sitting on $1.93 trillion in cash and other liquid assets at the end of September, up from $1.8 trillion at the end of June, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. Cash accounted for 7.4% of the companies’ total assets—the largest share since 1959.

The cash buildup shows the deep caution many companies feel about investing in expansion while the economic recovery remains painfully slow and high unemployment and battered household finances continue to limit consumers’ ability to spend.

Yet, Republicans contend we must deregulate our industries further to help corporations cut their costs — at the expense of the environment and consumer protections — and desist from demanding they pay their fair share in taxes — all so that they will have the money they need to “create jobs”.

NO informed American — outside of wealthy individuals and corporate profiteers — could possibly support the Republican Party’s economic policies.

Which begs the question: how does a political party, which serves only the interests of its wealthiest contributors, continue to successfully legislate policies that work against the very interests of the American people?

Since their ideology is unsupported by the facts, they hire “word doctors” who coin misleading phrases to be repeated over and over again. Phrases that are both simplistic and somehow ‘intuitive’ to a non-discerning public.

This has remained their tried and true method for selling destructive economic policies to the American people. Take Frank Luntz, probably the most famous of all conservative “word doctors”. He coined the phrase “government takeover of healthcare”, which became the talking point for the Republican Party during the health care reform debate. It helped spur the Tea Party into storming Democratic town hall meetings during that period — terrified that “Marxists” were coming after their Medicare.

Their current economic play-script is inundated with two phrases: “job creators” and “investors” — to be used in place of “corporations” and “wealthy individuals”. These phrases — more or less the equivalents of “fair and balanced” being used to describe Fox News ‘reporting’ — are now the cornerstone of the entire Republican economic policy narrative.

Take Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Virtually every sentence that comes out of his mouth includes the phrase “job creators”. Check out his Twitter account and count the tweets where he reiterates the phrase “job creators”. In fact, he created a website called AmericanJobCreators.com where he asks “job creators” to tell him what kinds of consumer protection regulations he should dismantle on their behalf.

The guy is a corporate lobbyist’s wet dream.

And our obsequious President — instead of showing leadership on this issue and dismantling this fictitious narrative — first capitulated on extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, then capitulated to Issa back in January on the argument that deregulation helps create jobs. In doing so, he legitimized what he knows to be untrue, making it next to impossible for his party to now push for MORE regulation and RAISE taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals without immediately being branded as hostile to “job creators”.

The Conservative Party in Canada, having noticed the success their Republican counterparts across the border were having with this “job creators” phrase, quickly employed it as their own anti-tax slogan.

But make no mistake about it. Our current economic plight was created by:

  • Bush’s deregulatory policies leading to a financial meltdown, and the ensuing AIG and TARP bailouts.
  • Bush’s misleading us into unnecessary & expensive wars.
  • Bush’s granting the wealthiest 2% nearly $3 trillion in tax cuts over the last decade.
  • Two-thirds of all corporations having evaded paying a single penny in taxes from their trillions in profits over the last decade.
  • Corporations having moved our higher paying jobs overseas to low-cost labor countries.

It is not due to a lack of investing capital by cash-hoarding, tax-evading corporations and the wealthiest 2% (the so called “job creators”) — which remains the Republican rationale for cutting taxes and deregulation.

Yet, somehow the lives of the rich and powerful keep getting easier — more comfortable — while the burden for the reckless calamity they unleashed on this country slowly, but surely — thanks to a combination of an emboldened right-wing and a compliant, timid President — gets shifted onto the backs of the American people in the form of harsh austerity measures.

Milton Friedman’s legacy continues to haunt us.

Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki To President Obama: GET OUT!

by on Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm EDT in Afghanistan, Iraq, Politics, World

Progressives and Libertarians alike have felt largely ignored by the Obama administration regarding their calls for immediate troop withdrawals.  It now appears there is some hope on the horizon.  Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki just stated to the Wall Street Journal that he wants U.S. troops out by the end of 2011.  Period.  No ifs, or buts.

Despite what many in the Administration have reportedly disclosed — that by the deadline for withdrawal, the U.S. would likely have found a way to extend its presence (in some significant capacity) — Nouri al-Maliki just revealed that U.S. troops would have no presence in Iraq after the end of 2011.  He believes the Iraqi government and its security forces are fully equipped and trained to confront “any remaining threats to Iraq’s security, sovereignty and unity.”  He states:

“The last American soldier will leave Iraq” as agreed, he said, speaking at his office in a leafy section of Baghdad’s protected Green Zone.

This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed.

The Prime Minister believes America’s apprehension in fully withdrawing is largely due to its “paranoia” of a potential Iraqi-Iranian alliance.  He believes this concern is unwarranted, and says Iraq has no intentions of entering into any kind of alliance with Iran, Turkey, or any Arab country.  He states that Iran itself is similarly paranoid about U.S. influence over its bordering neighbor.

When asked to elaborate on Iraq’s current security situation, he stated:

“Not a single militia or gang can confront Iraqi forces and take over a street or a house,” said Mr. Maliki. “This is finished; we are comfortable about that.”

He said full withdrawal of U.S. troops also will remove a prime motivator of insurgents—both the Shiite fighters tied to militia groups and Iran, and Sunnis linked to Mr. Hussein’s ousted Baath party.

Let’s hope other overseas leaders — namely, the corrupt and alleged heroin-addict, Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who continues to grow paranoid of U.S. intentions — will follow suit, and send us packing.

Otherwise, the U.S. Military Industrial Complex, with its stranglehold over Washington, will keep our overextended troops and contractors stationed across the world indefinitely, until they’ve effectively squeezed every last dollar out of the American taxpayer.

With spending cut proposals on the near horizon, there’s good reason to be concerned.  Our military commitments are unsustainable.  And now that nearly a trillion dollars in tax cuts for the richest 2% have been signed, sealed, and delivered, the only thing left on the chopping block seems to be domestic programs that will severely impact the lives of everyday struggling Americans.

What remains of a safety net for seniors and the unemployed, and social programs for the poor and needy; along with our floundering public education system, and our already-stretched local police forces — will all be starved, if not entirely defunded.  We cannot continue to feed this insatiable, ever-growing, military industrial monster.

By telling the U.S. to ‘scram’, PM Nouri al-Maliki is doing our country a favor of epic proportions — something President Obama seems incapable of doing himself.

Here’s a new clip of John Bolton fearmongering, as always; this time against defense spending cuts:

YouTube Preview Image

Unfortunately, Democrats are so terrified of being called “weak on national defense” that they reflexively acquiesce to this right-winged pro-defense narrative 99.9% of the time.  Defense spending has largely remained immune from the chopping block.

Again, thank you PM al-Maliki!

Karl Rove On Obama Extending Bush Tax Cuts: We’re All Supply-Siders Now!

by on Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 4:47 pm EDT in Politics, Tax Policies

The new tax cut bill, signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama, will surely come back to haunt him in his 2012 reelection campaign.  His quick capitulation to the Republicans, and aggressive advocacy for this fiscally irresponsible bill helps to further erode his credibility to one-time supporters. First came his health care ‘reform’ bill […]

War Of Words: Why Failed Theories, Like Reaganomics, Continue To Linger

by on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 2:55 pm EDT in Politics

The Republicans have long engaged in historic revisionism as a means of covering up a long record of failed policies and blunders.  Some of their most disastrous ideological experiments over the years, like Reaganomics, have been successfully re-framed into mythological successes.  Democrats have no one to blame for this, but themselves.  They’ve done next to […]