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We Support Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Atom PeaceOn Thursday, April 2, in Lausanne, Switzerland, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that negotiators had reached an agreement on key elements of a detailed and comprehensive framework to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

From the outset, we have supported the idea of the United States negotiating with Iran, after decades of estrangement and suspicion, and seeking both to peacefully reduce that nation’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon and to lift the sanctions on that nation. We are impressed by what we have heard in President Obama’s explanation of this historic agreement (or blueprint of an agreement), as well as in the remarks of Secretary of State John Kerry and Javad Zarif. Even though they are making many substantial concessions, the Iranians appear to be pleased with the framework announced yesterday.

Among the key provisions:

  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.
  • Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.
  • Iran’s breakout timeline—the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon—is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.

Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund spoke to Rachel Maddow last night and hailed the agreement as an excellent and comprehensive agreement.

As far as we can see, the United States is not having to give up anything (except an unwillingness to negotiate), and in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, Iran is agreeing to a comprehensive system of safeguards, international inspections, monitoring, dismantling of centrifuges, reductions of plutonium stockpiles, etc.

This agreement has been worked out not only between the U.S. and Iran but with the active participation of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. All nations’ foreign ministers have expressed approval of the basic framework announced on Thursday, April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in a statement:  “This is well beyond what many of us thought possible even 18 months ago and a good basis for what I believe could be a very good deal.”

Click here for a New York Times timeline of Iran’s nuclear program.

Give Peace—and Negotiations—a Chance

We just pray that the negotiators will be able to complete their work without obstruction by opponents. Illustrious members of Congress, and Republican presidential hopefuls, now would be a good time to not do something stupid. If you have no alternative plan, then don’t stand in the way. Let’s remember that the world is better off because President Ronald Reagan was willing to meet face-to-face with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss reductions in nuclear arms—there was substantial opposition to the Reykjavík summit at the time (1986)—just as critics opposed peace talks between Israel and Egypt, and President Nixon’s traveling to China, etc.

We should also note that President Obama and Secretary Kerry, with diplomatic assistance from Russia, succeeded in persuading Bashar al-Assad to agree to the destruction of all of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. Obama—who has been a vocal proponent of nuclear nonproliferation since his first days in the U.S. Senate—also signed the New Start Treaty of 2010 with Russian president Dmitri A. Medvedev, with help in the Senate from then-senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

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Further Reading

Hiroshima, 65 Years On: “Countdown to Zero” (LNW, 8/6/10)

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten (LNW, 8/9/10)

Disarmament Experts Clarify Film’s Position on Nuclear Power (LNW, 8/13/10)

Timeline on Iran’s Nuclear Program (New York Times)

On Iran, Obama Gets His Breakthrough,” by Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 4-2-15

Kerry, the Negotiator,” by Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 3-17-15

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Annus Horribilis : 2014 in Review

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

New Year
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Good Riddance to a Bad Year

In a speech in late 1992, Queen Elizabeth II used the phrase “annus horribilis” to describe Great Britain’s no-good, very bad year (tabloid-quality marital troubles of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, a fire at Windsor Castle, etc.). The term is derived from the Latin annus mirabilis (wonderful year). As the queen said about 1992, we feel about 2014: “not a year on which [we] shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”

First, though, let’s open with some good things that happened in 2014 that give us cause to hope that 2015 may bring more mirabilis and less horribilis.

Public health. Overall, the American medical establishment, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, managed pretty well in handling the cases of Ebola that arose in the U.S. (Try not to be freaked out by TV “news” coverage of this topic; as with weather events, the more alarmist their coverage, the better for their ratings.)

ACAIn other healthy developments, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, brought more good news for the general public (though not for Fox News). In “Tidings of Comfort” (12/26/14), New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says that in its first full year of full implementation (its provisions were phased in gradually after its passage in 2010), “the number of Americans without insurance fell by around 10 million. . . . premiums were far less than predicted, overall health spending is moderating, and specific cost-control measures are doing very well. And all indications suggest that year two will be marked by further success.”

Economy. Krugman points out that although economic recovery from the 2008 crisis has been slow, recent performance has been comparatively healthy, with steady increases in job creation and 5 percent growth in the U.S. economy overall. Some 6.7 million jobs have been created since Obama took office, compared with 3.1 million at the six-year mark under George W. Bush. If it were not for congressionally mandated austerity, the recovery would have been much better.

(Krugman does not mention this, but the recovery was strong enough in 2014 that, if we were living in normal, level-playing-field political conditions, without the artificial factors of gerrymandered congressional districts and unlimited dark money mentioned below, this year’s midterm elections should have gone more than usual in the favor of the president’s party.) For more on the president’s performance, see Krugman’s excellent and persuasive “In Defense of Obama” (Rolling Stone, 10/8/14).

Executive actions. President Obama took several positive actions on several important issues that do not depend on the constipated Congress to take effect. In November he used an executive action to grant a reprieve to nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants and to strengthen border security.

People’s Climate MarchAlso in November, Obama made a landmark agreement with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and to rely more on renewable sources of energy and on nuclear energy. Following on the massive People’s Climate March of Sept. 21, 2014, in which more than 400,000 marched in New York City as delegates were gathering at the United Nations, this agreement provided substantial good news for the environment and reason to hope for more progressive green achievements. (They can’t come too soon: the “climate change” the earth is undergoing may already be irreparable. But enough: we’re trying to focus on the positive here.)

And, in the kind of bold surprise we welcome and hope to see more of, in mid-December, President Obama announced that after nearly 55 years of diplomatic estrangement, the United States will normalize relations with Cuba and unfreeze the trade embargo, an agreement worked out with behind-the-scenes assistance from Pope Francis and the Vatican and the government of Canada.

About That Annus Horribilis . . .

We each have our own reasons, but it seems to be a widely shared view that even by the standards of this grim new century 2014 was a bad year—and it was already looking bad by the summer. “In this summer of global tumult” began a piece in The New York Times (“As World Boils, Fingers Point Obama’s Way,” 8/16/14). A general sense of gloom and dread was helped along by the fact that 2014 was, as many news outlets were commemorating, the centenary of the outbreak of The Great War.

In international affairs, there was Russia’s annexing of Crimea and troublemaking in Ukraine; the continuation of the dreadful Syrian civil war (two years and counting: some 76,000 died in Syria this year, including 3,500 children) and the related rise of ISIS (aka ISIL, or Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq; the very destructive Israel-Gaza war that erupted in July; and of course the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. But wait: there’s more.

In a nation whose middle class was still struggling if not drowning in a protracted recession and widespread unemployment since the economic collapse of 2008, while corporate profits reached record highs (“In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record [in 1965], while labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948.” [NYT 8/31/14])—the already poor and jobless were further stressed by interactions with heavily armed police. In the first eight months of 2014 in the United States there were more than 400 deaths from police shootings.

Disturbances of the Peace

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Here in the homeland, American society was disturbed by the still mysterious shooting on August 9 of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The death sparked outrage and dramatic protests against brutality and excessive militarization of police departments around the United States. The choking death on July 17 of a black man named Eric Garner while in police custody (“I can’t breathe,” he gasped eleven times)—he was suspected of illegally selling loose cigarettes near the Staten Island ferry—was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. In December a grand jury decided to not indict the police officer in the death; this decision, just a week after a similar decision in Missouri to not prosecute the officer who shot Michael Brown, prompted widespread protests in New York and around the nation with the themes “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.” Tension persists in (among other places) New York City, where the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio are not seeing eye to eye. Large numbers of officers physically turned their backs on the mayor when he spoke at the funeral service several days ago of one of two officers killed in Brooklyn by a lunatic from Baltimore seeking revenge for African Americans killed by police.

“Hell No You Can’t!”

MoneybagsOne more category that should be mentioned, like it or not, is the depressing outcome of the 2014 midterm congressional elections. (So depressing, in fact, that this blog was at a loss for words for several months.) Although victorious, empowered Republicans crowed that the American people had spoken (for them and against Obama, naturally), we attribute their success to (1) gerrymandered congressional districts tailor-made for conservative dominance; (2) unlimited “dark money” from corporations and political action committees following the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision (2010); and (3) voting rights restrictions that limited voting by minorities, college students, and other likely Democratic constituencies after the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). (See “Dark Money Helped Win the Senate,” The New  York Times Editorial Board, 11/8/14.)

Perhaps equally disheartening, though, and certainly more infuriating, is the chronic cowardice of establishment Democrats. Dem candidates distanced themselves from President Obama and shrank from speaking up about the party’s accomplishments and defending its historic programs. (See “A Failure to Communicate—Not a Failure to Govern” [LNW 11/3/10].) As our friend Cousin Pat from Georgia at Hurricane Radio has said many times, the Democratic Party cannot ally itself with Wall Street and still expect support from the middle class and working class at election time. (See his “Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November” [9/28/10])

We pray that progressive activists will multiply and press the Democrats and independents to push for progressive policies. One of the developments to which we’re not looking forward is the looming 2016 presidential election. We do not salivate at the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ candidate, but if she is the candidate the Republicans most fear, then perhaps she should be the Democrats’ leader in 2016. But HRC is a Wall Street, big-money Democrat, like Chuck Schumer, and her credentials do not bode well for peace or progressive causes. On our wish list is more of populist, independent thinkers like senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. We hope that, at the very least, Warren and other liberals and defenders of the middle class will be able to push Clinton toward more progressive talk and action.

Falling Stars in the Obituary Pages

Another way of looking at the year’s toll is by considering the obituaries of entertainers and authors in 2014—some of which were not death from natural causes. Philip Seymour Hoffman (46) and Robin Williams (63), among the greatest talents of any age, both took their own lives after giving immeasurably to world culture, both in humor and in pathos. Other great lives that ended this year include Lauren Bacall, Joan Rivers, Shirley Temple Black, poets Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Maxine Kumin, Galway Kinnell, Mark Strand, and the global-stature novelists Gabriel García Márquez and Nadine Gordimer, as well as the popular mystery writer P. D. James.

Power to the People

LNW_USA.sleeveWe hope for a better year this next time around, but we know that 2015 is not going to be better just because the previous one was a grind. But we will do our part, “every day, in every way,” and will try to contribute to a better city, a better nation, a better world. We hope you’ll join us in trying to give to civic affairs, for example, not only through occasional contributions to progressive groups (see our blogroll, lower right column, for Anti-War and Environment groups), but also by making our views known to newspapers and elected officials: phoning mayors, members of Congress, writing letters to the editor, and so on. Let’s encourage, congratulate, thank, and support those who do good, and when elected officials are off-track, let them know. (See our Political Action page for contact information.)

Wishing you and yours a better time in 2015, and strength through peace.

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Top illustration from New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Ferguson, Missouri, photograph by BBC News.

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Wishing America a Happier Birthday

Friday, July 4th, 2014

democracy_a-challenge@TP. . . And Many Happy Returns

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

—from ¶ 2 of The Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, July 4, 1776

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Bloggers on politics and current affairs tend to welcome the Fourth of July not only for the fireworks and cookouts like everyone else, but also because America’s Birthday provides an occasion for a kind of midsummer Thanksgiving. It’s also a time when we cannot help but feel the contrast between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s present-day actualities. Of course the nation is inevitably found wanting—as any nation would be—but the holiday can be a time to take stock of our fitness, in the same way a person who wants to lose weight or build strength weighs herself, looks in the mirror, and resolves to strive harder and smarter at the gym and the grocery store.

America.2In the neighborhood cinema last week we saw a trailer for America: Imagine the World Without Her, the new film by Dinesh D’Souza (based on his book of the same title), which challenges audiences to imagine the world without the greatness that is the United States of America as we (conservatives) know it, or her. The film shows the Statue of Liberty and other national icons disintegrating as one what-if after another strips away the essential components of our national history.

Now, the film may or may not be worth seeing, but what these images of disintegration called to mind almost immediately was the ravaging effect of the Supreme conservatives and Tea Partiers in Congress and in state legislatures who are dismantling the New Deal, the Great Society, stripping away the social safety net, refusing funding for rebuilding roads, bridges, and levees, revoking hard-won voting rights protections, and blocking access to health care for women and the poor and to common forms of birth control. (See William Greider’s powerful essay “Rolling Back the 20th Century,” a survey that’s as illuminating today as when The Nation published it in 2003.)

Here are some things we are thankful for on the nation’s birthday:

Domestic affairs: Although the Labor Department’s reports are not to be taken at face value because their numbers do not indicate the nearly 6 million who have given up trying to find jobs, we are pleased to see that about 2.5 million jobs were created in the last year, and over 9.4 million jobs have been created over the last several years. A New York Times editorial today (“Jobs Rebound, Prosperity Lags”) reports:

The economy added 288,000 jobs in June, and tallies for April and May were revised upward, bringing job creation over the past year to 2.49 million, the highest level in five years. The unemployment rate also fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest level in nearly six years, and, even better, the decline was unambiguously good news. It resulted from people getting hired and not leaving the work force.

The editorial goes on to note, however, that

Job growth is still falling short by 6.7 million jobs, including government jobs that were lost and not replaced, plus jobs that were needed to keep up with the population but not created. The jobless rate would be 9.6 percent, if it counted nearly six million people who would be looking for work or working if the economy were stronger.

Regrettably (to put it lightly), much of this weakness could be avoided by aggressive congressional action—and it’s never too late. Many, many jobs could be created, and others kept, if another stimulus were to be enacted, a really robust one this time; or if congressional Republicans would allow a vote on the American Jobs Act that President Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress in September 2011, and for which he campaigned vigorously. (Click here to see what that act would have provided for—e.g., $35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and $50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure.)

Executive actions: We are pleased that President Obama, who for too long tried to be reasonable and conciliatory with an opposition party that had already resolved to block him at every turn and allow no legislative accomplishments, ever, has recently, and with evident relish, turned to executive actions to do what he can on issues that cannot wait—such as raising the minimum wage for federal workers and for workers employed by federal contractors, on making the U.S. better prepared to combat climate change, etc. Other executive orders can be found here. As President Obama remarked before a July 1 cabinet meeting:

. . . what I’m going to be urging all of you to do, and what I’m going to be continually pushing throughout this year and for the next couple of years is that if Congress can’t act on core issues that would actually make a difference in helping middle-class families get ahead, then we’re going to have to be creative about how we can make real progress.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans offer no solutions of their own and continue to block all Democratic attempts at progress on creating jobs, on funding of badly needed infrastructure projects, on comprehensive immigration reform, on gun control, and other matters on which the Obama administration has pushed for legislative action. (See, for instance, “GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities,” LNW 10/17/13, and “Jobs, Jobs . . . Senate Republicans Keep Vets Unemployed,” LNW 9/25/12.)

Foreign affairs: We are reassured (for the most part) that this president is secure enough in his own judgment about national security and the expertise of his advisers that he will not be rushed into a knee-jerk military response to the latest crisis in Iraq (or what used to be known as Iraq). We are relieved, for example, that he does not worry about what John McCain will say. Regarding Iraq and the ISIS crisis, we are writing to the White House and to the Democratic Senate leadership to urge them to keep diplomacy first, to keep U.S. involvement minimal, military action nonexistent if possible, and to use every opportunity to think long-term and use diplomatic pressure to try to bring about more equitable representation of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq’s national government.

We remain impressed that the president opted not to authorize military strikes on Syria, as he considered doing around last Labor Day—that was the right call, in our view, and a courageous exercise of restraint—and that he and Secretary of State John Kerry have worked to reduce Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile (nearly all disposed of now, we’re told), with cooperation from Russia. We also applaud Obama for being a vigorous supporter, since his days in the Senate, of nuclear nonproliferation efforts and of arms reduction agreements with Russia, particularly the New Start Treaty of 2010 (thanks also to former Senator Dick Lugar, Republican of Indiana, along with then-Senator John Kerry).

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“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends”

vintage-flagWe continue to believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, and, as long as gross inequities and injustices exist, we expect never to be really satisfied with this nation that has such immense potential. Much has been given to this country, and much is expected of it. Perhaps it is only through our own individual efforts at cultivating peace and protecting liberty, including our neighbors’—the America within each of us—that the nation can be brought closest to its fulfillment.

This formerly (and ever potentially) great country deserves better, so much better, than what many of its elected officials are doing for it at present. (Country First, or Party First?) On this national holiday, the nation’s birthday, let us all, let each of us, recommit to do our part.

“Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation.” —Alasdair Gray

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Further Reading:

On July 4, Yearning for a Progressive American Revolution” (LNW 7/4/13)

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: “Barack the Bear

Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog: “Obama no longer cares whether the GOP is outraged

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities: Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing (LNW, 10/17/13)

Review of Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution 

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Illustration credit: “Democracy . . . a challenge” found at Think Progress.

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Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

ISIS supporters Mosul

ISIS supporters rally in Mosul, Iraq. BBC photo.

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White House Considers Special Forces to Advise Iraqis; Smells Like “Early Vietnam” Again

“The United States has provided a $14 billion foreign military aid package to Iraq that includes F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and M-16 rifles. It has rushed hundreds of Hellfire missiles as well as ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. A second round of counterterrorism training between American Special Operations commandos and Iraqi troops started in Jordan this week.”New York Times (6/11/14)

The Guardian and other news outlets report that President Obama yesterday notified Congress that the U.S. is sending “up to approximately 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” The president’s letter to Congress continued:

This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added this:

The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. These U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

Sectarian LinesThis action is a response to the sudden offensive last week by the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that charged through Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities in northern and central Iraq to within 75 miles of Baghdad, routing the Iraqi army, robbing banks, and executing Iraqi soldiers and police, and freeing Sunni prisoners. ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is a militant Sunni group founded in 2006 with ties to al Qaeda (though al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme), and the area it has swept through is also Sunni, thus sympathetic and more likely to cooperate than to resist.

The security situation is dire enough that the U.S. and Iran, already holding talks in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear program, have discussed the possibility of joint diplomatic efforts to halt the insurgents’ advance through Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry initially would not rule out military cooperation, but other administration officials quickly downplayed the likelihood of military cooperation. In another sign of Iran’s alarm at the threat, the (Shiite) Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a call to arms for all able-bodied men to resist ISIS’s advance toward Baghdad.

Baghdad, a city of 7 million, is ruled by a Shiite government under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who, to the U.S. administration’s dismay, has refused to include Sunni and Kurdish representatives within the governing elite. President Obama has been criticized for not leaving a residual force in Iraq when U.S. troops were withdrawn at the end of 2011, but al-Maliki refused to allow any U.S. forces to stay behind. “Matters worsened after American troops left in 2011,” writes The New York Times’s Serge Schmemann, “effectively turning the Iraqi Army into a hated and corrupt occupation force in Sunni areas. When ISIS forces approached, most Iraqi Army soldiers simply shed their battle fatigues and fled, leaving behind huge stores of American arms, including helicopters, for the rebels to harvest.”

“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.” —President Obama, letter to Congress, June 16

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

This move by the Obama administration, only days after the president vowed not to send U.S. combat forces back to Iraq, is in itself is not necessarily cause for alarm, but it does raise serious concerns, especially when we hear the too-familiar flapping of the wings of neocon war hawks (see below). The U.S. has a vast embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S. must show that it intends to protect its assets (people, property, files, etc.).

Rumsfeld-Hussein handshake 1983We are not alone in seeing the United States—or the five or so most forceful members of the George W. Bush administration, anyway—as responsible for igniting a conflagration between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein, dismantled the central government and effectively split Iraq into three autonomous regions. For all of his faults, the Sunni strongman, long a friend of the U.S., did keep a lid on sectarian tensions in Iraq—often brutally (see also former Yugoslavia). But we will always believe that the “liberation” of Iraq, cynically branded “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” had more to do with U.S. access to Iraqi oil, and that the chaotic forces loosed by the American-led war are something that Bush-Cheney Inc. never bothered to prepare for. Defense was king, and the nuances and subtleties of the State Department’s diplomats were scorned by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, & Co. (The illustration above shows Iraqi president Saddam Hussein greeting Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on Dec. 20, 1983.)

Then, compounding countless other errors already made through arrogance, lack of planning, and shunning of the State Department’s expertise, the U.S. through its Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and sought to neutralize the Ba’ath Party that was Saddam’s. A formerly proud and cohesive military—after all, with some help from Uncle Sam, Iraq held tough in a war against Iran for eight years in the 1980s—was scattered, and the ex-soldiers, many of them, became fierce fighters against the U.S. occupation forces. This is one reason why the U.S. had to stay as long as it did, training a new army. (Why the Iraqi army had to be disbanded was never clear, and none of the brains behind the operation will take responsibility for the decision.) You may recall former president Bush saying, over and over, “When the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” The disbanding of the Iraqi army was one of the worst of many disastrous decisions made by the U.S., and it haunts us—and Iraq—still.

“The Past Is Never Dead,” or, Beware the Neocon “Experts”

neocon1At the same time Obama is vowing not to send combat forces but is sending 275 embassy guardians, neocon hawks such as John McCain, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and Kenneth Pollack, who in 2002 and 2003 pushed relentlessly for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, are again appearing on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, in The New York Times, and on other mainstream network news talk shows and urging strong action against the jihadist forces. McCain has said that Obama should fire his entire national security team and has called for the ouster of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

John McCain also said, in April 2003, that there was “not a history of clashes that are violent” between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, “so I think they can probably get along”—he was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time—and he told MSNBC that he had “no doubt” that U.S. troops would be “welcomed as liberators.” McCain also said repeatedly in his 2008 campaign for president that Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation, had been training and supplying al-Qaida, a Sunni Islamist organization. Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said in congressional testimony, “we have no idea what kind of ethnic strife might appear in the future, although as I’ve noted it has not been the history of Iraq’s recent past,” and said that money from Iraq’s oil would pay for the (brief) war. William Kristol said “it’s going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war.” It turned out to be a nearly nine-year war (2003–11), and it may not be over. Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who is invariably identified as a Middle East expert, wrote in his very influential 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:

“. . . critics tend to exaggerate the likely costs to the United States of pursuing the Reconstruction Approach. In purely economic terms, Iraq itself, with its vast oil wealth, would pay for most of its reconstruction. . . . it is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars. The United States probably would have to provide $5 to $10 billion over the first three years to help get Iraq’s oil industry back on its feet, initiate the reconstrution of Iraq’s economy, and support the Iraqi people in the meantime . . .” [Emphasis per Mondoweiss, where this quotation was found.]

These guys—always wrong, always called back and still taken seriously by the news producers.

James Fallows at The Atlantic puts the point nicely:

“. . . we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense. 

“. . . we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”  [LNW’s emphasis]

new rule titlenew rule

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One more thing: Ominously, the U.S. aircraft carrier that has been sent into the Persian Gulf in case any air strikes are deemed necessary is the USS George H. W. Bush.

 

USSGHWBush-bbc

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Further Reading

The New York Times Middle East index

The Guardian on the ISIS crisis in Iraq

New York TimesThe Iraq-ISIS Conflict in Maps, Photos and Video

New York Times, “Rebels’ Fast Strike in Iraq Was Years in the Making” (6/15/14)

New York Times, U.S. Said to Rebuff Iraqi Request to Strike Militants” (6/11/14; quoted in epigraph above)

Nafeez Ahmed, “Iraq blowback: Isis rise manufactured by insatiable oil addiction” in The Guardian

The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave” by Matthew Yglesias

Juan Cole, “Seven Myths about the Radical Sunni Advance in Iraq

Steve Benen @ MaddowBlog, “[Neocons] have earned the right not to be listened to

James Fallows in The Atlantic, “The Return of the Iraq War Hawk

Andrew J. Bacevich in Commonweal, “The Duplicity of the Ideologues: U.S. Policy & Robert Kagan’s Fictive Narrative

Enter Ken Pollack and Tom Friedman– the Iraq experts!” James North at Mondoweiss

The Best and the Brightest: (Former Clintonite) Kenneth Pollack” by Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss (6/1/06)

Levees Not War posts on the Iraq War

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?  (12/31/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests  (4/11/10)

Omigod! Infinite Iraqi Freedom! We’re Never Leaving!  (4/7/08)

OMG! Operation Iraqi Freedom Isn’t Free!  (11/11/07)

Let the Eagle Soar . . .”  (10/23/07)

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Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote “Hell No”

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

NoWar

Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Not out of indifference to the plight of the Syrian people, and not from an automatic rejection of any and all military action, but rather out of grave concern about the uncontrollable consequences that a U.S. missile strike upon Syria could trigger—such as, quite possibly, a war between Iran and Israel—we urge the members of Congress to vote No—even “Hell No,” if you like—on President Obama’s request to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime in Syria.

Although this blog has long supported Barack Obama for president, and we are pleased that John Kerry, whom we supported (and campaigned for) for president in 2004, is secretary of state; although we generally trust their judgment in both domestic and international affairs; and even though we’ve been thankful for the judicious restraint that Obama has shown until now during the Syrian civil war, and we’re grateful that this past weekend he averted what appeared a rush to arms and decided to seek congressional authorization—

Despite the foregoing, this is one vote we want Obama to lose.

See Where Senators Stand  |  Contact Congress  |  Contact White House

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They Can’t Tell Us How This Would End

US-SYRIA-CONFLICT-CONGRESSAfter a day of testimony by Secretary of State Kerry, Defense secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey, on Tuesday night the Senate Foreign Relations committee worked out a resolution that would set a 60-day limit on military action in Syria, with one 30-day extension possible. In the House, Democratic representatives introduced a resolution that would limit any military action to no more than 60 days. The Army Times reports that the House resolution “also specifically prohibits any American forces on the ground in Syria and restricts the president from repeating the use of force beyond the initial punitive strikes unless Obama certifies to Congress that the Syrian forces have repeated their use of chemical weapons.”

[ Update: On Weds., Sept. 4, the Senate Foreign Relations committee voted 10–7, with nay votes from both parties, to authorize the use of force against the Syrian regime. The full Senate is expected to vote next week. ]

The United States is seriously considering unilateral military strikes against a nation whose chief ally and arms supplier is Russia? Against a nation that says If you fire on us, we’ll fire on Israel? (Syria has already been in wars with Israel in 1967, 1973, and 1982.)

But let’s think about this a moment.

If the U.S. fires on Syria—a deliberate escalation of a highly complicated civil war—how could the U.S. keep the conflict from escalating further?

If the U.S. attacks Syria, can we be assured that Assad will not use chemical weapons again? The U.S. claims that he flouted international law once; why not again?

And if Assad were to use chemical weapons again, what would the U.S. do then? Escalate in order to not “lose face”?

And, just supposing the U.S. were to be opening confidential, “back-channel” talks with representatives of the newly elected moderate president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, as perhaps we might be, what effect might American missiles on Damascus have on those talks?

The British parliament voted last week against participating in military action against Assad, sidelining our usual closest ally. If the U.S. Congress votes no, will Obama say, as Prime Minister David Cameron said, “I get it,” and desist from a military strike?

Does the Obama administration really think it is wise, or even sane, for the U.S. to “go it alone” if necessary and use cruise missiles against yet another Arab nation? We know that military force against Arab nations only validates anti-Western propaganda, fuels al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts, and increases the likelihood of terrorist retribution here in the U.S., in London, and elsewhere in the West.

If it is true that forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians—U.S. officials say that more than 1,400 were killed in an attack near Damascus on Aug. 21, and keep mentioning some 400 children among them—then that is indeed a sickening atrocity, but still, we do not agree that that requires unilateral action by the U.S. (The UN chemical weapons inspectors are expected to produce a report in late September.)

Syria is simply too dangerous, too interconnected with live wires and explosives—what’s called in international diplomacy a mare’s nest, a snake pit, or a death trap, among other technical terms. Look at the neighborhood: Syria borders Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and is very close to Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Too many things could go wrong. Let’s not, for God’s sake, go there.

And, as we have said over and over from the very first days of Levees Not War (in 2005), the U.S. simply cannot afford endless war and habitual reliance on military solutions to crises overseas, but instead must redirect its resources to rebuilding our own crumbling national infrastructure and to augmenting social services, including jobs programs, education, unemployment relief, and health care. National security begins at home.

 

syria.map

Work through the United Nations

A complex and dangerous situation like this, one that requires fact-finding and deliberation and negotiation by a council of nations, is what the United Nations was founded to handle. If would-be interventionists are frustrated that the UN Security Council’s member nations Russia and China would not go along with Washington’s view that “something must be done” and would use their veto in the Security Council, that does not give Washington the right to bypass the UN.

(Russian president Vladimir Putin has told the Associated Press that Russia might vote for a UN resolution on punitive force against Syria if it is proved that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. In the same interview, he warned that the West should not take “one-sided” action against Syria, that is, without the backing of the UN Security Council.)

The Arab League has called on the UN and the international community to take “necessary measures,” though the League did not specify what those measures might be. The secretary general of the Arab League did say, however, that there should be no military action without backing from the United Nations.

Some 100,000 have died in the Syrian civil war, which began with a pro-democracy uprising in March 2011. Some two million Syrians have been forced to flee to other countries. (Click here for a BBC News timeline of the Syrian civil war.)

Yale Law School professors Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro write in a New York Times op-ed that the choice of military force or nothing at all is “a false one.”

Most of international law relies not on force for its enforcement, but on the collective power of nations to deprive states of the benefits of membership in a system of states. Mr. Obama can cut off any remaining government contracts with foreign companies that do business with Mr. Assad’s regime. He can work with Congress to do much more for Syrian rebels and refugees—including providing antidotes to nerve agents, which are in short supply. He can use his rhetorical power to shame and pressure Russia and China.

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“Real Men Go to Tehran”

It’s a matter of public record that this war with Iraq is largely the brainchild of a group of neoconservative intellectuals, who view it as a pilot project. In August a British official close to the Bush team told Newsweek: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.” In February 2003, according to Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper, Under Secretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq the United States would “deal with” Iran, Syria and North Korea. 

—Paul Krugman, “Things to Come” (New York Times, 3/18/03)

What concerns us is not only the concerns raised above or the prospect of yet another U.S.-led war in the Middle East, but also the fact that neoconservatives and other hawks have been salivating for a war against Iran, and Syria could be an entry into just that. In early May, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, told Rachel Maddow that the same folks who brought us the Iraq war are pushing for a fight with Iran, and they see Syria as a backdoor entry into that war.

I think as Yogi Berra once said, it’s like déjà vu all over again. I see us walking down the same road with the same characters singing in the choir, the same people off the same sheet of music with a few changes trying to get us into war with Iran. The new momentum with respect to Syria is not just because of the brutal civil war there, it’s also because of people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain from my party and Bob Menendez from the Democratic party would like to use Syria as a back door to get us in a war with Iran. It’s another catastrophe brewing . . .

See “Syria Seen as a Backdoor to War with Iran” (LNW 5/2/13).

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Recommended Reading:

belle-syria-008-450x270New York Times updates on Syria

BBC News: Syrian civil war timeline and Syria profile

Jeffrey Frank at The New Yorker (9/4/13): “Eisenhower 1954, Obama 2013: Echoes of Vietnam in Syria

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker (9/4/13): “Kerry and the Senators: Unanswered Questions

Steve Coll at The New Yorker (9/9/13): “Crossing the Line: How Should Obama Respond to Syria?

On Syria, a U.N. Vote Isn’t OptionalNYT op-ed by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro

Natasha Lennard at Salon (9/4/13): RAND study finds that to destroy Syria chemical weapons, “boots on the ground” would be needed

New York Times editorial (9/3/13): “Debating the Case for Force

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (9/1/13): “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Syria Mess

Ed Kilgore at Political Animal (Washington Monthly): “The Road to War with Iran Runs Through Syria

Washington Post map of likely strike targets in Syria

Levees Not War (6/14/13): “Here We Go Again

Think Progress (4/29/13): “What You Need to Know About the Syrian Civil War

Steve Clemons at The Washington Note (8/20/12): “Syrian Conflict Not Just a Battle Against Assad

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Against-Next-War-T-Shirt-Northernsun

 

 



Obama Wins More Time to Repair, Lead America Forward

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Solid Victories for Progressive, Liberal Candidates, Reforms

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

“The task of perfecting our union moves forward”

“I have never been more hopeful about America. . . . I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting. . . . 

“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. . . . We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”

Barack Obama, Chicago, Nov. 6, 2012

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“[H]ere is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens . . . who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life. . . . I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. . . . The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide for those who have too little.

—Franklin D. Roosevelt, Second Inaugural Address (1937)

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This Is Our Idea of “Morning in America”

Last night Barack Obama became only the second Democratic president since FDR (in 1936) to win a second term with more than 50 percent of the vote in both his elections.

In our humble opinion, a win for the Democrats is a win for the American people. Of course not every American person sees it that way, but when illness or disaster strikes, or food needs inspecting, or voting rights need protecting, it’s best to have a government managed by the party that fought for and established Medicare, Social Security, FEMA, the Voting Rights Act, and so on. The party that believes government can and should be a force for the public good. Not the only solution, but indispensable and more reliable than the profit sector.

And it is a good thing for the 47 percent (indeed, the 99 percent) that the man who said “[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives” is not going to be the next president of the United States. We do want to say, however, that Gov. Romney, after waiting nearly an hour and a half before calling the president to concede (Karl Rove live on Fox was not ready to give up on Ohio), gave an admirably gracious and dignified concession speech to his supporters in Boston (see photo below).

From the East Coast to the West, across the Rust Belt and Midwest, and in Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, President Obama held ground he won in 2008. With a weak economy—nearly drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub by Republicans intent on strangling Obama’s every initiative—and under relentless attack from hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of negative ads by “dark money” conservative interests, he lost only two states he’d won in 2008: North Carolina and Indiana. The critical battleground states of Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nevada stayed blue. (See maps below). As of this writing the president’s electoral vote margin is about 100 (303 to 206), and his popular vote margin is roughly 3 million: 60.4 million to Romney’s 57.6 million. Florida is still counting.

Professor Warren Goes to Capitol Hill

Besides our elation with the president’s victory, in this year of a “war on women”—or at least appallingly callous attitudes and legislative hostility—we are delighted to welcome new senators Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.Dak.), and Mazie K. Hirono (Hawaii), and congratulate senators Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) on their reelection. (More about women’s wins here and here.) The Senate races are not all decided, but the Democrats have gained at least one seat, and currently have a 55–45 majority, with Maine’s newly elected independent Angus King likely to caucus with the Dems. With more progressives in his ranks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is talking again about filibuster reform. Yes, please!

One of the best things about Elizabeth Warren’s election to the Senate is that, being so knowledgeable about financial institutions and law, and so committed to reform on behalf of protecting those who are not investment bankers, she will keep the discussion on a more serious and fact-based plane. It is especially sweet that the incumbent she defeated 54% to 46%, Scott Brown, was the senator most lavishly funded by Wall Street contributors. One of the MSNBC people last night (Chris Matthews?) said that Warren is the most intellectually substantive person elected to the U.S. Senate since the late Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). Not only that, but she’ll put a lot of energy and momentum into Wall Street and consumer protection reform, which has really only begun. Now Jon Stewart will really want to make out with her.

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Fun in Philly: Getting Out the Vote, Door to Door

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Volunteering Relieves Election Anxiety

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

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Everyone knows the best cure for blues or worries is work. In the same way, the best antidote for election anxiety is volunteering and going door to door, making phone calls from a roomful of other volunteers. Yes-We-Can hope loves company. Above all, get out and do something. Action is empowering: too busy to worry, you feel less anxious. Working with others, you feel a part of something bigger: a good cause, the good fight.

And so, on Saturday morning on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan we boarded an Obama bus for Philadelphia, one of several carrying hundreds of Obama-Biden campaign volunteers from New York City into Pennsylvania. Our bus, with only one or two empty seats, brought about 25 of us to the Obama for America field office in the Ogontz neighborhood of northwest Philadelphia (staffed by friendly Lynn, above, among others) and the other 25 went to Cheltenham Township.

On a sunny, beautiful clear afternoon, we set out in teams of two each, with clipboards and maps and lists of Obama supporters or previous voters, with about 75 or more doorbells to ring and people to talk to. We were supplied with packets of Commit to Vote cards and small brochures about Obama-Biden’s commitment to a strong middle class—“building an economy from the middle class out”—and the importance of voting, with the date Nov. 6 prominent on the front.

Be Sure to Vote, and Please Volunteer If You Can

The objectives in this African-American neighborhood—as in every community in every state—were (1) to ask if President Obama can count on your support on November 6 (in this neighborhood, the answer was Yes He Can), and (2) to encourage supporters to get involved and volunteer a few hours or more for the campaign. Most everyone said they would be voting. We also asked the residents to tell their friends and family to be sure to get out and vote. Many yards and windows held Obama-Biden signs and even more for state representative Dwight Evans and Barack Obama (see below). We made sure they knew where the polling place was—they all knew where to go—and emphasized that it was not necessary to show an I.D. to vote. (The state supreme court recently ruled against the Pennsylvania state legislature’s recent law requiring voter I.D., but the court unhelpfully decided that polling place workers could ask to see an I.D. Most of the people we spoke with had been following the news and were aware that they did not need to bring an I.D., though more than a few said they would bring a driver’s license or other I.D. with them anyway.)

Because of the nice weather—and because more than a few people have to work on Saturdays—many were not at home. By our count, we knocked on 93 doors and spoke with about 40 voters, all of whom said they supported the president “strongly” and promised they would vote. Though a few were wary about opening the door, most were pleased to be visited and to be asked for their vote.

20th Street, Ogontz neighborhood, northwest Philadelphia

 

We kept noticing as we talked to people in this neighborhood the pride they feel in “our president,” and kept contrasting that with the attitude toward this community, if any at all, from the Republican party. This is a solidly middle-class neighborhood of mostly homeowners, well-kept gardens and neat front yards. How well will this community fare if yet another Republican administration cutting taxes on the wealthy and forcing austerity on everyone else takes power in the White House and drives its agenda through Congress? Does Mitt Romney even know these good people exist? They are all too aware of him and what he would mean for them and their families.

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On the way back to New York, one of the group leaders told us that the hundreds of volunteers on this one day alone reached tens of thousands of households, and that impact is magnified as the people contacted spread the word and urge friends and family to vote. He invited volunteers to step up to the wireless microphone and tell stories about their experiences. One said that she and her group stopped in for lunch at a neighborhood restaurant. They were the only white people in the place, but were welcome all the same. When the restaurant owner learned that they were Obama campaign volunteers, she refused to take their money. “You all are working for us; we just want to say thank you.” Another told of a college professor in her seventies who rolled down her car window and said, “Anything you can do to keep those [expletive deleted]’s out of the White House is just fine with me.”

We’ll be back on the beat in the coming weekends. The contact with voters is warming, affirming, makes you feel good.  You discover new parts of America and see with your own eyes what a difference an administration makes. Will there be investment and development in these communities, or neglect? Hope and pride, or something not so good?

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Our Barack Is Back—and We’ve Got His Back

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Clearly Obama

President Obama listens as the human Etch A Sketch changes positions yet again during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Oct. 16, 2012.

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. . . when [Romney] said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility—think about who he was talking about: folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives, veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country, students . . . , soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now, people who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income. . . .  

And when my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and he got a GI Bill and that allowed him to go to college, that wasn’t a handout. That was something that advanced the entire country, and I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That’s why I’m asking for your vote and that’s why I’m asking for another four years. —President Barack Obama, closing remarks of 2nd presidential debate, Oct. 16, 2012

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We’ll spare you from a detailed review of President Obama’s performance in Tuesday night’s debate, about which many others have written eloquently (see below), but we are more than delighted to see again the tough, focused fighter his supporters sorely missed in Round One. We’ll just say we loved the way the president skipped the niceties and went directly on the attack:

Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector; that’s been his philosophy as govqernor; that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate. You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money. 

That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade. That’s what’s been squeezing middle-class families. And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess, and the last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there.

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