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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Redistribution is part of governing

Danville Advocate Messenger 12/11/12

            When a video surfaced last September showing Mitt Romney dismissing 47% of voters as irresponsible freeloaders, his panicked staffers scrambled to find something they could hit back with. They found an audio clip from 1998 in which Obama said that “I actually believe in some redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot."
            It seems that Obama has avoided using the toxic word “redistribution” in public since then. But the right-wing media howled over this 14-year old clip like hounds closing on their prey.
            Romney rushed out to tell Fox News: "I know some believe the government should take from some to give to the others. I think the president makes it clear in the tape that was released today that that's what he believes. I think that's an entirely foreign concept."
The GOP propaganda machine is very effective at dirtying the words it uses to describe its opponents. Think of what it has done to words like “government” and “public.” It wants us to hear “redistribution” as an alien Euro-Kenyan ‘socialist’ word that can hurt anyone by association.
            In reality, redistribution of wealth and income is an inescapable, essential function of government (yes, even under Republicans).  It happens in many ways.
            For instance, all the production processes that jointly create our gross domestic product (GDP) utilize expensive public goods and services on a massive scale. These goods and services include education, transportation systems, domestic and international security, the legal system (including courts), publicly funded research, communication networks, and numerous agencies that promote public health, monitor the safety of consumer products and protect our environment.
            The bill for these goods and services comes mostly in the form of taxes and fees. So we, as citizens with a democratic government, must decide how to divide up that bill. Should everyone pay, in the same amount or at the same rate regardless of what benefits they derive, or unequally according to some criterion, or should we rely more on user fees (as with toll roads)?
Private income is what’s left after paying the public bill. So whatever payment scheme our country adopts, it will amount to a government distribution of income, and cumulatively, of wealth.  Every time we change this scheme by lowering, raising or imposing new taxes and fees, we redistribute income and wealth.
The continuing battle over tax rates is mostly about alternative redistributions of income once the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year. President Obama wants the wealthiest of Americans (the “2%”) to pay a bigger share of the bill for public goods and services. One important means of achieving this would be letting the (2001-03) Bush tax cuts expire for the top 2%.
The Bush tax cuts were a massive upward redistribution of income that continues to this day. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, “[In 2010] the top 0.1% of earners (i.e., making over $3 million) received an average tax cut of roughly $520,000, more than 450 times larger than the share received by an average middle-income family.”
A major ingredient of the Bush cuts was a drop in the tax rate for long-term capital gains and dividends from 20% to 15%. (Long-term capital gains are the profits from selling stock or other assets held longer than one year. Capital gains and dividends are often called “investment” or “unearned” income, in contrast to income “earned” by actually working.)
Capital gains are a major source of income for rich Americans. As the Washington Post’s Steven Mufson and Jia Lynn Yang explain:  “Over the past 20 years, more than 80 percent of the capital gains income realized in the United States has gone to 5 percent of the people; about half of all the capital gains have gone to the wealthiest 0.1 percent” (9/11/11).
The Tax Policy Center predicts that in 2013 the 534,000 taxpayers with annual income over $1 million will receive an average of $782,000 in investment income. They will pay 15% tax on this income, 20% less than they would have paid if they had worked for this money. Our tax system’s preferential treatment of the investor class is a striking example of upward redistribution.
The highest marginal income tax rate was 91% during the Eisenhower years, 70% under Nixon, 50% under Reagan, 39.6% under Clinton, and is 35% since Bush. The capital gains rate was 39.9% under Carter, 28% under Reagan, 20% under Clinton, and is 15% since Bush.
So the Bush tax cuts continued a 50-year trend of wealthy Americans paying less and less of the bill for public goods and services. President Obama proposes to raise the current top income tax rate from 35% to 39.6% and the capital gains tax from 15% to 20%, while taxing dividends just like ordinary income.
This would be a modest step in reversing 50 years of upward redistribution of income and wealth.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The party of Lincoln plays the race card

Danville Advocate-Messenger, Sept. 20, 2012

            Something very shabby happened at an Aug. 21 Tea Party rally on the steps of Kentucky’s Capitol. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, state Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown)
told the crowd that Obama should be sent back to Chicago or Hawaii, “wherever he wants to go.” Someone shouted out that the president should be sent to Kenya. Thayer replied, “I'm not going to say that, but I appreciate your sentiments.”
What were the “sentiments” that Thayer so “appreciated”? Did Thayer like the way that “Kenya” reminded the crowd that Obama is black, and also suggested he was an African foreigner, not of European descent like real Americans?
Was Thayer happy to have someone else use a word he didn’t dare use himself, one that evoked for this crowd all the racist images that have shown up on Tea Party placards and in viral emails circulating among the GOP “base”? Was he inviting his base to savor the message conveyed by depictions of Obama in white-face or as a witch doctor?
            Thayer’s remark was an example of a favorite Republican campaign tactic: the racial “dog whistle.” Literal dog whistles have a high-frequency sound that dogs can hear but not humans. The GOP dog whistles consist of code words or phrases like “Kenya,” “inner-city,” “states’ rights” and “welfare.” These have both an everyday meaning and an additional one that registers with the racist minority that is an important section of the party’s base.
            “Kenya” reminds people of the “birther” controversy.  Birthers say that Obama is not a legitimate president because he is not a natural-born American. Adam J. Berinsky, a Professor of Political Science at MIT, reports that as of July, 2012 only 31% of self-identified Republicans believe Obama was born in the U.S. The rest (69%) either believe he was not born in this country (33%) or are unsure (36%).
            On July 27, 2009 Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of Hawaii’s Health Department certified that she had “seen the original vital records. . . verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawai'i and is a natural-born American citizen.” Then came assurances from Hawaii’s Republican governor Linda Lingle, and the White House release of an official copy of the Obama’s birth certificate in April of 2011.
Yet, according to Professor Berinsky, the percentage of Republicans doubting or denying Obama’s birth in the U.S. is essentially unchanged. Nothing will convince them, for the simple reason that they cannot accept the idea that a Black man really is our President.
Three days after Sen. Thayer’s performance in Frankfort, Mitt Romney spoke at a rally in Commerce, Michigan. He used the occasion to blow a big birther dog whistle at the crowd: “No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”
Donald Trump is a very prominent birther. Yet Romney happily shared the stage with him in Las Vegas, to receive his endorsement. He even invited him to speak at the Republican national convention—a treat denied to us when the first day of the convention was cancelled because of hurricane Isaac.
When asked by reporters about his willingness to be associated with an outspoken birther, Romney replied: “I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people." “Good people”? Trump is living proof that you can be very successful in business without wisdom, decency or class.
            According to a Pew Research poll released in July of 2012, 34% of self-described conservative Republicans and 19% of moderate Republicans believe Obama is Muslim. Sticking this tag onto the President taps into the epidemic of Islamophobia in this country. Obama becomes the perfect Other—a Black Kenyan Muslim, an object of hate and fear for a rabid GOP base. They can feel free to pile on him other tags such as communist, socialist, or Nazi, stripped of any meaning except Evil Alien.
            The base’s racist hatred even descends to animal imagery, as you can see if you google “obama monkey images.” Consider this joke’ emailed by Montana's U.S. District Chief Judge, George W. Bush nominee Richard Cebull on Feb. 12:
"A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?' His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!' "
            Of course it’s not the case that every Republican or Tea Party adherent is a racist. However, the disease afflicting the current GOP is that it can’t risk a clear, ringing condemnation of these views because it needs the votes of those who hold them. What we get instead is winking and dog whistles.




Thursday, August 16, 2012

Unclear language and dishonest rhetoric cloud the tax-cut debate

      Danville Advocate-Messenger  August 16, 2012     

             "I'm not proposing anything radical here," President Obama said on July 9. "I just believe that anybody making over $250,000 a year should go back to the income tax rates we were paying under Bill Clinton." Mitt Romney thinks otherwise: “This will be another kick in the gut to the middle class in America.”
            And so the fight is on again, just as in 2010. That was the year the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were, by law, set to expire. Obama and the Democrats wanted to keep the Bush tax rates for most taxpayers while raising them only for couples with incomes over $250,000 and individuals over $200,000. Republicans wanted the tax cuts to be permanent even for the wealthiest. The two sides compromised by extending the cuts for everyone only until the end of 2012, kicking the can down the road to where we are now.
            News media often talk about Obama’s proposal as raising taxes on the upper 2%. But this number is an inaccurate shorthand for “the wealthy.” According to an interactive map in the New York Times (1/14/12), $250,000 puts a couple in the top 3% nationally, but only in the top 5% in the New York City area.
            From my informal survey I’ve learned that many people shared my difficulty in understanding the tax debate. So here’s what I’ve been able to learn since then. I hope it’s helpful.
The debate about income taxes concerns the MARGINAL rate on TAXABLE income. Taxable income is gross income minus deductions and exemptions.
For instance, if a couple with two dependent children files a joint return and takes the standard deduction and four personal exemptions, the first $27,100 of their income is tax free. Income above that amount is taxable and is divided into segments or “brackets” with increasing tax rates for higher brackets.
Here are the brackets for 2012 (resulting from the Bush tax cuts):
           10% on taxable income from $0 to $17,400, plus
           15% on taxable income over $17,400 to $70,700, plus
           25% on taxable income over $70,700 to $142,700, plus
           28% on taxable income over $142,700 to $217,450, plus
           33% on taxable income over $217,450 to $388,350, plus
           35% on taxable income over $388,350
So, for example, if your taxable income reaches $17,400, that gets you into the second bracket where you pay 15 cents on every further dollar you earn until your taxable income reaches $70,700. After that, you pay 25 cents, but only on every dollar beyond $70,700.
            Unless Congress does something, the brackets for 2013 will revert to those of the Clinton era:  the lowest rate will be 15%; the 25% rate will rise to 28%; the 28% rate to 31%; the 33% rate to 36%; and the 35% rate to 39.6%.
The President and the GOP are battling over how to treat couples with incomes over $250,000 and individuals over $200,000.  Obama misrepresents his own proposal when he says that these filers “should go back to the income tax rates we were paying under Bill Clinton.”
Instead of the Clinton rates, what Obama’s actually proposing for these filers is that only the two top brackets revert to Clinton-era levels: the 33% rate will become 36%; and the 35% rate will become 39.6%, but ONLY FOR INCOME ABOVE THE $250,000/200,000 threshold. So even the wealthy would continue to benefit from the Bush tax cuts .
For example, if the married couple described above earns $251,000 in 2012, only $1000 of their income would be subject to a higher rate (36% instead of 33%). Their tax bill would increase by just $30. Actually, this couple would likely itemize deductions, letting them deduct much more than $27,100, and their tax bill would not go up at all.
According to Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), in 2013 “couples with adjusted gross income (AGI) between $250,000 and $300,000 would retain 98% of their Bush income tax cuts, on average, under Obama’s proposal.”
The CTJ report explains that couples earning $400,00 to $500,000 would, on average, keep 2/3 of their Bush tax cut ($7,029 out of $10,653). These poor souls are part of the 1% nationally. Of course, if you’re a Wall Street CEO or hedge fund manager pulling in $10-20 million, Obama’s plan will take away nearly all the average $700,000 tax cut Bush gave you.
 So here’s a question for Mitt Romney: where in all these numbers do we find the “kick in the gut to the middle class in America”? Perhaps he was thinking of the average income of his social circle.
 As reported in the New York Times, the Tax Policy Center has analyzed Romney’s own tax plan. They conclude that “middle- and lower-income households. . . earning less than about $200,000 annually” would have to pay more in taxes to make up for the tax revenue lost to Romney’s proposed tax cuts for the wealthy.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Capitalism is an irrational political system

Danville Advocate-Messenger

            Yes, it’s irrational. And it’s what the GOP says it wants for our country, to save us from becoming “like Europe.” It’s also what the post-New Deal Democratic Party stands for, only a little less.
            Let’s start with two recent events that highlight the damage American capitalism has done to American political institutions. I’m talking about the appearances of Jamie Dimon before the Senate Banking Committee on June 13 and the House Financial Services Committee on June 19. 
Dimon is chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the U.S., with assets over $2 trillion. He is a familiar figure on TV, with his elegantly coiffed white hair and serene demeanor. He is widely and lavishly praised (even by President Obama) for his financial wisdom.
Dimon had been summoned to explain his bank’s recent loss of $2-3 billion dollars in risky trades at its London branch. (Current estimates of the loss range from $6-9 billion.) People worried that JPMorgan Chase was once again engaged in the same reckless gambling that caused the global financial crisis of 2008. The FBI, the FED and the SEC are also investigating.
All these investigations should remind us that the weak Dodd-Frank reform law of 2010 has left JPMorgan Chase and other Wall Street giants too big to fail (TBTF). The financial world knows that the U.S. government will bail them out if they go broke just as it did in 2008.
Their TBTF status raises their credit rating and lowers their borrowing costs. In the case of JPMorgan Chase, this amounts to a $14 billion government subsidy according to an article in (“Dear Mr. Dimon, Is Your Bank Getting Corporate Welfare?”).
Republican senators on the Banking Committee received Dimon with a fawning frenzy. For instance, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) asked Dimon “What would you do to make our system safer?” And Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Ida.) asked “What should the function of regulators be?” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) solicited Dimon’s “ideas on what you think we need to do.” It was like a delegation of hens imploring the fox for his recipe.
JPMorgan Chase, described by President Obama as “one of the best managed banks,” is a habitual criminal. Try googling “JPMorgan Chase crimes.” I stopped counting after finding a total of $6 billion in settlements for various kinds of bid-rigging, bribery and fraud. In a decent, law-abiding country that values accountability, Dimon’s corrupt firm would have been shut down.
The Senate committee was roundly criticized for its obsequious behavior. Perhaps as a result, when Dimon went before before the House Financial Services Committee six days later, several members of both parties asked critical questions.
However, as The Nation’s George Zornick reported, committee chairman Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama) was watching his back. Bachus, “who has received more money from JPMorgan Chase than any other donor except one over his career … consistently interrupted even members of his own party when they went too hard on Dimon.” In a newspaper interview in 2010 after he was appointed committee chair, Bachus said: "my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."
Lying within Bachus’s 6th district are parts of Jefferson County that include the suburbs of his native Birmingham. In 1997 JPMorgan Chase sold Jefferson County a financing package for a $300 million sewer project. The package included derivatives that went bad, leaving the county with $3 billion in debt. This led the county in 2010 to declare the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
According to Bloomberg, “In 2009, JPMorgan agreed to a $722 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over payments its bankers allegedly made to people tied to [Jefferson] county politicians to win [the financing contract].”
This sordid crime against his home town did not deflect Rep. Bachus from his mission to “serve” Jamie Dimon’s bank.
There’s nothing very special about this “Mr. Dimon goes to Washington” story. It’s business as usual in the moral swamp that is the government of the United States. And it’s the logical, predictable outcome of a capitalist political system.
            In a capitalist political system, the primary role of a national government is to protect and facilitate a national market in which firms operate with a minimum of government intervention. Competition and economies of scale result in huge corporations as dominant social institutions.
Money is power—it commands not only goods and services in private markets, but also the services of those who govern. Only those who control large corporations can provide the money politicians need to campaign for national office in the world’s largest economy.
So, in a capitalist political system, the primary role of government is to nurture a private market that will in turn subordinate government to the profits of the wealthy minority who control large corporations.
Why would any society want to do this? Ask our two political parties.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Do American workers have Stockholm Syndrome?

       Danville Advocate-Messenger

              There’s a real possibility that Mitt Romney will be elected President by the votes of slightly more than 50% of American workers. He will have won their votes despite promising to reduce funding for their social safety net (e.g. Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps) while enacting tax cuts that would increase the incomes of very wealthy Americans such as himself.

Why ever would workers support him? They face high unemployment and job insecurity. So they might just need help from the programs Romney would shrink.
            Romney and the GOP would answer: the rich, are “job creators.” You ordinary people tend to use up your income on essentials such as food, shelter and education. Only the wealthy have enough money left over to invest in the businesses that give you jobs. The more income they get, the more jobs they create. Raising their taxes is like starving the goose that lays the golden eggs.

This answer flies in the face of well-known facts. It also makes no sense. That so many people believe it is a symptom of societal Stockholm Syndrome.
There is simply no correlation between the unemployment rate and higher or lower marginal tax rates for the wealthy. [Your marginal tax rate is the rate you pay on the taxable income that falls into the highest bracket you reach: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, or 35%.]
In fact, as Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress points out, “if you ranked each year since 1950 by overall job growth, the top five years would all boast [top] marginal tax rates at 70 percent or higher. The top 10 years would share marginal tax rates at 50 percent or higher. The two worst years, on the other hand, were 2008 and 2009, when the top marginal tax rate was 35 percent.”
Moreover, it just makes no sense to think that throwing more money at the investor class in the form of tax cuts will induce them to create jobs. Corporations today are awash in profits, as JPMorgan’s Tom Lee explains: "It's a record level of cash: $3.60 trillion, $670 billion dollars higher than 2007 when the market was at its prior peak.” But they’re not hiring.
Why? Because people don’t have the money to buy the products and services new employees would create. They’re still reeling from home value losses, unemployment, under-employment and job insecurity.
When investors won’t invest because consumers can’t buy, the government has to do the buying in order to revive the economy. It can restore consumer purchasing power by extending unemployment benefits, subsidizing education, health care and food purchases, and spending on our (rapidly decaying) infrastructure. As billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer said recently:
 “In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the middle class. And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle class, the poor and the rich.”
How do Mitt Romney and the GOP get away with making such foolish and dangerous proposals? Why aren’t they greeted with the scorn they deserve?
American workers are behaving like the employees held hostage in a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. During their six days of captivity, the employees emotionally identified with their captors and even defended them afterward. This kind of traumatic bonding is common enough to have been given a name: the Stockholm Syndrome.
People are afflicted with this syndrome under the following conditions:
1.  Perceived threat to survival and the belief that one's captor is willing to act on that threat
            2.  The captive's perception of small kindnesses from the captor
            3.  Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor
            4.  Perceived inability to escape

           The severe recession caused by the financial collapse of 2008 has left most workers feeling like their financial survival and their sense of identity is at risk. There is stubbornly high unemployment and under-employment. Those who lose their jobs and are “lucky” enough to find similar work often settle for much lower wages.
They are like captives: forced into a fearful situation by those with power over their workplaces—not just the owners, but also the financiers, those who control the capital and credit their workplaces need. Workers now live with the constant threat of termination. They must be grateful for the kindness of owners who keep them on in these bad times, and should give them what they want.
Workers’ perspective on what has happened and what must be done is shaped by politicians who depend on wealthy investors to finance their campaigns. It is also framed by media giants controlled by the same wealthy investors. Workers are taught there is no escape from the present system.
In a similar situation in the 1930s President Roosevelt told workers they “have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Unfortunately, Barack Obama is no FDR.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Obama v Romney: a choice or an echo?

Danville Advocate-Messenger April 17, 2012
            In announcing his campaign for the presidency in January of 1964, Barry Goldwater famously promised that “I will offer a choice, not an echo.” His was to be a campaign in which principles would create a stark difference between him and LBJ.
            Will that be the case between President Obama and the GOP’s nominee, Mitt Romney? Their campaign rhetoric makes it seem so.
            Romney would balance the budget and pay for a sharp increase in military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy by making deep cuts in funding for social programs. Obama would get the revenue to preserve the social safety net by increasing taxes for the wealthy and modestly reducing the rate of growth in military spending.
            As Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute pointed out in a March 6 blog, “Over the next ten years, Romney’s annual spending (in constant dollars) for the Pentagon would average 64 percent higher than annual post-Cold War budgets (1990-2012), and 42 percent more than the average during the Reagan era (1981-1989).” Obama’s plan would cost $5.7 trillion between 2013 and 2022, whereas Romney would spend a $2.58 trillion more, for a total of $8.3 trillion.
            These numbers make it seem that we’re presented with a stark choice here. However, both alternatives are based on an extravagant and outdated conception of America’s role in the international community. The choice is between bad and crazy.  
            Both Romney and Obama are committed to the U.S. military being a global police force. In a speech delivered to The Citadel last October, Romney insisted that the 21st century “must be an American Century” in which “America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.”
            When he announced on Jan. 5 that the military budget will increase at a slower rate, Obama added the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiorityin order to preserve “American global leadership.”
            The Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the Pentagon still has the planet divided up into military areas of command, and oversees an empire of more than 700 active bases in foreign countries.
Our global presence is more likely to provoke than to prevent terrorist attacks. So why do we maintain this empire at an annual cost of $250 billion (according to Chalmers Johnson, an expert on this subject)?
            Obama’s military budget is level with the maximum reached under George W. Bush, and higher than the peaks reached during the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars. According to Lawrence J. Korb, in an essay (7/6/11) he co-authored for the Center for American Progress,
            “The Obama administration and Congress could cut $150 billion from the budget and still be at Reagan levels. President Obama would need to reduce the budget by about 40 percent, or close to $300 billion, to reach the budget levels established by Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Clinton.”
            We now spend more on our military than we did during the Cold War when Americans believed that a superpower—the Soviet Union—posed an existential threat to the U.S. Those days are over. Yet the U.S. share of global military spending is 43%, while the Chinese share is 7.3% and Russia’s is 3.5%.
            The bloat in our military spending is not just numbers. It’s also as a huge opportunity cost. Every dollar spent on the military is a dollar unavailable for investing in education, health care, transportation and infrastructure.
            In addition to a soaring military budget, Romney wants tax cuts that would overwhelmingly favor the wealthy. In March the Tax Policy Center published updated summary tables of the effects of Romney’s and Obama’s tax proposals on taxpayers at different income levels. The difference is stark.
            For instance, in 2015 Romney would give an average tax cut of $150,000 to the top 1% (whose income averaged $1,500,000 in 2011), and $726,000 to the upper tenth (the .01%) of this blessed cohort. Obama would raise the taxes of the 1% by $105,000 and the .01% by $550,000.
These people don’t need Romney’s help. According to Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, the one-percenters captured 93% of the total income gains in 2010, the first year of recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-09.
As the Congressional Budget Office reported last October, the share of national income going to the 1% increased by 275% from 1979-2007. The bottom 80% “saw their shares decline by 2 to 3 percentage points.”
How will Romney pay for a balanced budget while expanding the military-industrial complex and coddling the very wealthy? According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, he would have to cut nondefense programs (incl. social security, Medicare and Medicaid) 25% in 2016 and 38% in 2022. Over ten years, these cuts would amount to $10 trillion.
Bill Moyers put it very well when he suggested that ‘GOP’ stands for “Guardians of Privilege.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

U.S. should step back from Iranian precipice

Danville Advocate-Messenger
March 5, 2012        

            The Obama administration is painting itself into a dangerous corner in response to Iran’s nuclear program. Under pressure from the very powerful Israeli lobby and from GOP presidential candidates, Obama proclaimed in his State of the Union address: "Let there be no doubt, America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal."
            He did not say what would count as “preventing,” but it seems to include getting Tehran to agree to a major and verifiable reduction in its nuclear program. Iran rejects this demand, insisting that it is enriching uranium solely for electrical power, which is permissible under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
            There are conflicting assessments about Iran’s intentions. According to the New York Times, “Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday [2/24] that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.”
            Iran may have decided instead to enhance its prestige and influence by letting the world know that it has the capacity to produce an atomic bomb in a short time span. It may not want the trouble and huge expense of actually building a stockpile of nuclear weapons.
            Obama is saying that the U.S. will “prevent” Iran from developing a nuclear weapon one way (sanctions) or another (military force). The latest sanction under consideration would deny Iran access to The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), the financial messaging service for most international money transfers.
            This would make it difficult for international buyers to pay for Iranian oil, thereby sharply reducing Iran’s revenues. Although that would be a blow to the Iranian economy, it also threatens to reduce the supply of oil to the world market, further driving up fuel prices and stalling economic recovery in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The President knows that the military alternative to sanctions could have disastrous consequences. A U.S. attack would take place at the same time as Iran’s neighbor and ally Syria is slipping into a civil war that threatens to destabilize the Middle East.
 Israel is threatening to launch its own attack on Iran, and is saying that it will not warn the U.S. in advance (AP 2/27). If that happens, the U.S. will very likely be drawn into the conflict to protect Israel.
Even the most powerful American or Israeli bombs would be only partially effective against Iran’s widely scattered nuclear facilities, some of which are deep underground or inside mountains. Air strikes would likely result in an even stronger effort by Iran to develop atomic weapons. Its people would put aside their deep political divisions to unite against the “Great Satan.”
            The U.S. would be unwilling and unable to invade and occupy Iran. Therefore, the Iranian regime would survive American or Israeli bombing raids and be able to retaliate both in its own region and abroad. There could be a major interruption of the world’s oil supply if the Persian Gulf becomes a war zone.
            As the International Crisis Group says in a Feb. 23 report, “There is no evidence that Iran’s leadership has succumbed or will succumb to economic hardship.” So Obama’s ultimatum to Iran—that Iran should yield under pressure of his economic sanctions or he will use force—may back him into a disastrous military conflict.  His ultimatum is as much a threat to American national security as it is to Iran’s.
            To better understand Iran’s resistance to American pressure, we need to reflect on the last 60 years of our relationship to Iran. In 1953 the CIA partnered with British intelligence to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, to stop him from nationalizing the holdings of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC, known today as BP).
            The coup enabled Shah Reza Pahlavi to rule Iran for 26 years as a brutal police state. The Shah’s security service, the SAVAK, tortured and murdered thousands of Iranians. It also worked closely with the CIA.
            The Islamist revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979 was inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini and driven by hatred not only of the Shah but also of the U.S. for its oppressive manipulation of Iranian politics. The current hostility of the Tehran government is blowback for American abuses of power.
            Even as the U.S. government is threatening Iran for enriching uranium, it accepts Israel’s arsenal of a hundred or more nuclear warheads which it can deliver by intercontinental ballistic missile, aircraft or submarine. It would be suicidal of Iran to build and then use a nuclear weapon against Israel.
            We must hope that President Obama has the wisdom and toughness to resist the efforts of the Israeli government and its allies in Congress to draw us into another military and foreign policy disaster in the Middle East.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mitt Romney is the one percent's Captain America

Danville Advocate-Messenger
February 16, 2012

On stage at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas on Feb. 2, Mitt Romney and his wife looked humble as they basked in the endorsement of The Donald, orange-haired birther and billionaire capitalist sage.
Trump sounded as if he were presenting the new Mr. and Mrs. America: “This is a great couple. Look at this couple.” If the Romneys had brought along their four totally handsome sons, Trump might have put in a plug for eugenics.
The scene was an ironic reminder of the financial elite’s success in taming the town-hall invaders, founding-father impersonators, tax haters, raucous Obamaphobes and flag-waving birthers that had coalesced as the Tea Party. Here was Trump, once the Tea Party’s presidential favorite, now blessing the establishment candidate.
During the primary season, the Tea Party became infatuated with a succession of unelectables—Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain. Happily for the GOP, all three quickly sank under the weight of their manifest incompetence.
That created an opening for another Tea Party darling: the disgraced former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, with his venomous mouth and great debating skill. This corrupt Washington insider won over South Carolina conservatives by presenting himself as anti-elitist. In a state that still sports the Confederate flag in front of its Capitol, Gingrich scored points by calling Obama a “food stamp President” as well as scolding blacks for lacking a work ethic.
However, Newt’s victory frightened GOP elders. Bob Dole warned that Gingrich would doom the party’s chances in November. Romney’s super-PAC was able to raise enough money to overwhelm Newt in the Florida primary.
Rick Santorum’s Feb. 7 victories in the low-turnout, non-binding caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and in Missouri’s straw poll, and his resulting surge in opinion polls, are unlikely to stop Romney. Santorum, Gingrich and Ron Paul will continue to divide (and thereby weaken) the anti-Romney conservatives. Romney’s much greater financial and organizational resources will likely prevail in the big primaries to come, as they did in Florida.
After his decisive win in the Nevada caucuses, Romney tweeted triumphantly: “Our message of restoring America’s greatness continues to resonate through the west & across the country.” What is his vision of our greatness?
And what is his message to the millions enduring the psychological and financial stress of unemployment? To the 48% of Americans who are either poor (49.1 million) or low-income (the 97.3 million who scrape by on less than 200% of poverty-level income).
 In a recent CNN interview, he admitted that he has nothing to say to many of these people: “I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”
Can we believe his promise to care for the safety net? As Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone points out, Romney has already told us how he would “fix” Medicaid: “Romney has endorsed Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal to "block-grant" the federal contribution to Medicaid – and turn the program over to the states.”
As an April 5 report of the Congressional Budget Office explains, under the Ryan plan “federal spending for Medicaid would be 35 percent lower in 2022 and 49 percent lower in 2030.” Romney told Sean Hannity in an Oct. 24 radio interview that he would cut even more from Medicaid, by reducing the annual growth cap of the block grants from 3% (in Ryan’s plan) to 1 or 2%. As any governor could tell him, this would be a disaster for millions of families.
In the same CNN interview, Romney added “I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine.” Instead, he says he worries about “middle income Americans, they're the folks that are really struggling right now, and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them."
In fact, his tax proposals suggest the exact opposite. According to Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center, “Mitt Romney’s tax plan would cut taxes for millions of households but bestow most of its benefits on those with the highest incomes. At the same time, it would significantly cut corporate taxes and add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit.”
In the year 2015, Romney’s tax plan would raise taxes by an average of $157 for the bottom 20% of taxpayers, and $82 for the second quintile. The third (middle) quintile (“the folks that are really struggling”) would receive a whopping $138 tax cut! (Tax Policy Center, “The Romney Plan”)
And what about the “very rich” that Romney says he’s “not concerned about”? The tax cut for those with incomes over $1 million would average $145,568.
In short, Romney’s vision of a restored America comes straight from George W. Bush’s coloring book: prosperity trickling down on the rest of us from super-wealthy “job creators” such as himself.