Saturday, December 29, 2007

Who impressed you most in 2007?

Published on December 27, 2007 in Metro Eireann

The World at Home section’s featured columnist CHARLES LAFFITEAU responded:

“Barack Obama, because I truly believe he is the one person who can unify America and end its decades-long civil war over culture, gender, race and religious differences at a time when the world needs America’s leadership most. On America’s role in the world Obama says that: “We can and should lead the world, but we have to apply wisdom and judgement.”

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Only 2 more weeks till the Iowa caucuses

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 20th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

With just two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses and the beginning of the last leg of the US Presidential nomination process, I will now attempt to provide the indepth and unbiased analysis of the average US citizen’s views on various different social issues and the current political standing of the Presidential candidates of both the Repunlican and Democratic parties that I promised you in my last column.
I should note that the key US Presidential primary dates have all been moved forward in the past six months as different states jockey for a position of national influence regarding the eventual Presidential nominees by being among the first to allow their voters to cast ballots for them. In so doing, some of these states also risk losing half or all of the number of convention delegates allotted by the Republican and Democratic Parties to them. These states are betting that the national parties will not follow through with these threats, but if they are wrong in this assessment then they will have a reduced or no role at the national nominating conventions.
The candidates who win these primaries will then be left with nothing more than some newspaper headlines to show for their victories, since half or all of these state’s actual delegate votes won’t be counted as part of the political parties’ Presidential nomination process. Personally, I hope both parties follow through on their threats because such actions by individual states to draw more attention to themselves throws the entire nominating process into chaos.
As things currently stand though, it appears that Iowa will once again kick off the race for national convention delegates with the first in the nation state party caucuses on Thursday January 3rd, 2008. The Iowa caucuses will then be followed by the New Hampshire state primary five days later on Tuesday January 8th 2008. Both of these dates are the earliest ever for Presidential nomination voting.
The Michigan primary has been moved up to Tuesday, January 15th along with the Florida primary two weeks later on January 29th but all of the Democratic candidates have refused to campaign in either state and none of their Republican counterparts have made any moves in that direction either. The Republican Party has slashed the number of delegate votes from all of these states in half for holding their primaries before February 5th and the Democratic Party has said it will bar delegates from these states from voting at their national convention. Well, so much for these states trying to trying to influence the national Presidential nominating process.
The biggest Presidential primary voting date will once again be on February 3rd 2008, the so called “Super Tuesday” national primary for both parties, when voters in twenty one states will go to the polls to elect almost half of the nation’s presidential nominating delegates. Super Tuesday separates the Presidential contenders from the pretenders and the leading vote getter coming out of this group of primaries will be the odds on favourite to capture their respective party’s nomination for US President.
Even though the number of delegate votes at stake in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries is very small, many past Presidential party nominations have been decided based on surprising or disappointing showings in these early voting states. It is for that reason all of the Democratic and Republican nominees have been spending the vast majority of their time and television advertising dollars on their respective Presidential political campaigns in these states.
In 2004 John Kerry emerged as the surprise winner of the Iowa caucuses, while frontrunner Howard Dean ran a disappointing third, leading to Dean’s demise and Kerry’s eventual triumph as the Democratic Presidential nominee. In 1992 Massachusetts’ US Senator Paul Tsongas defeated little known Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton 33.2% to 24.8%, but Clinton’s strong showing surprised most political observers and thus gave him the momentum he needed to win the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination. So where do the current Presidential candidates stand in these two early presidential voting states?
Well, in Iowa the frontrunner among Iowa voters for the past year, Republican Mitt Romney, is now in a virtual dead heat with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, despite a huge advantage in terms of campaign resources, staff, TV advertising as well as time and money spent in the state over the past year. Huckabee has surged past better known and financed Republican rivals such as Rudy Giuliani, “Law and Order” TV star Fred Thompson and Senator John McCain and is now poised for an upset win in the Republican caucuses.
Huckabee is a very likable candidate who has handled himself well in debates with his better known rivals and enjoys the support of a majority of socially conservative Republican voters. A win in Iowa or a strong second place showing there may give Huckabee just the momentum he needs to duplicate what another former Arkansas Governor did in New Hampshire sixteen years ago, which eventually led to Bill Clinton capturing the Democratic Party’s 1992 Presidential nomination.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has also lost her front running position in Iowa and is now in a statistical tie with her two main Democratic rivals, Barack Obama and Senator John Edwards less than two weeks before this contest is decided. The news isn’t any better for Romney and Clinton in New Hampshire where both have seen double digit percentage point leads over second place rivals, John McCain and Barack Obama, evaporate. Both Clinton and Giuliani (because of Huckabee) have also witnessed additional erosion of their leads in national polls.
Nationally, Romney is fighting the perception that he isn’t as trustworthy as other candidates like Huckabee, because of his flip-flops on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Clinton is likewise grappling with the public’s perception that she says what voters want to hear, not what she believes. So from my perspective, a loss or close win in these early contests could sink their Presidential campaigns.

A Republican's analysis of Democratic candidate' campaigns

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 13th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

I closed last week’s column with some comments related to the lack of propriety in American politics, alluding to Republican conservatives disseminating rumours that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim and not a Christian, with at least one of them claiming his source was Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That opens the door for me to discuss the Democratic candidates for President and analyze their campaign tactics and issues of importance to them and other American citizens.
Before I begin I think it would be prudent of me to remind readers that I came out in support of Senator Barack Obama for both the Democratic nomination and the US Presidency at the beginning of this year, in spite of the fact that I am and will continue to be a lifelong member of the Republican Party. That I’m doing so shouldn’t be that surprising since Ronald Regan had a group called “Democrats for Regan” supporting him in 1980 and 1984. You may want to take my observations about the Democratic race with a grain of salt though, since I’m analyzing the candidate I support as well as those he is running against.
To begin where I left off last week, I initially found the editor of Insight’s claim that the source of the rumour was the Clinton campaign to be self-serving since they would love to tarnish her campaign for the Presidential nomination. But it now turns out that Judy Rose, the Jones County Iowa Clinton campaign chairwoman, was indeed circulating an e-mail message falsely stating that Senator Barack Obama was Muslim and was running for president as a “Manchurian candidate”. Clinton’s campaign denies any knowledge or involvement in Jones activities, but one still can’t help but wonder.
While illegal immigration is the top national issue for a majority of Republicans, Democrats see the top three issues as the war in Iraq, health care and the economy. My own sense is that these same three issues are the ones of most concern to the majority of American voters regardless of their political affiliation. The Iraq war is also of concern for most Republicans, but they see it as an essential part of the war on terror which is why all but one of the Republican candidates supports President Bush’s determination to continue to prosecute the war.
But unfortunately for the Republican candidates, between two thirds and three quarters of American voters believe this war was a colossal mistake and should have never been undertaken by President Bush. Thus I would expect that whoever the eventual Republican nominee is, he will immediately begin to soften his support for maintaining the status quo in Iraq once he has been nominated, lest he risk alienating a majority of the independent voters he will need the support of to win the November 2008 general election.
In a similar vein Hillary Clinton has already changed her stance on the politically explosive issue of illegal immigration, saying that she no longer supports the idea of giving illegal immigrants drivers’ licences for identification and crime reporting purposes. Mrs. Clinton’s statement that “As president, I will not support driver’s licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration, including border security and fixing our broken system.” is much closer to Republican positions on the issue than the sentiments of most Democrats and is an indication that she is looking ahead to the general election.
Mrs. Clinton says her strengths on security and foreign policy issues are due to her previous White House experiences and this is why she would be a stronger US commander in chief than her Democratic rivals. While Hillary did travel the world and meet heads of state as First Lady, her judgement remains suspect in my mind because of her vote to authorize the Iraq war, which was the politically popular thing to do in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
This is also one of several reasons why polls in Iowa and nationwide suggest that many voters see Mrs. Clinton as calculating and more likely to say what she thinks a majority of American voters want to hear rather than what she really believes. Another reason is that without explicitly appealing to women to vote for her because she is a woman, Hillary frequently talks about what other women tell her about the importance of her candidacy as a woman. Hillary also makes frequent references to “the all-boys club of presidential politics” and is prone to using language that evokes gender stereotypes. I see this as a subtle but effective appeal to women to vote for her because she is a woman, despite her denials that she is playing the gender card.
In contrast to Mrs. Clinton, Senator Obama has assiduously avoided playing the race card in his appearances before predominately African-American voters, instead striking the same theme that he does with predominately white or Hispanic audiences, that he is a multicultural candidate with a unique ability to bring people together and break from the status quo. Not surprisingly Obama is also running behind Mrs. Clinton when it comes to endorsements from African-American politicians, endorsements that Mrs. Clinton courts but that Mr. Obama refuses to ask for. In his appeals to women voters, Mr. Obama likewise presents himself as particularly sensitized and equally committed to women’s issues because he was raised by a single mother. Obama also showed good judgement and political courage in his principled stand against the Iraq war and in his decision to support immigration reforms like issuing drivers licences to illegal immigrants.
These are the main reasons why Barack Obama appeals to me as a refreshingly honest Presidential candidate and Hillary Clinton does not. Thus Obama’s statement that “I believe I can bring the country together and overcome the special interests.” summarises his campaign’s theme; that he will be an agent of change as President, representing the interests of all Americans regardless of race, gender or ethnicity.

Republican YouTube debate?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 6th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

I watched the Republican Presidential candidates’ debate on CNN while I was in Berlin last week and so today I want to discuss what I saw and heard as well as a few candidate insights and some recent examples of what I meant when I wrote of the growing lack of propriety in US political campaigns.
The debates were organized by CNN based on questions posed by ordinary American citizens of all ages, ethnicities and religious or political persuasions that were video-recorded on YouTube. Each of the 8 candidates was also allowed to record their own 30 second YouTube political ads which were played at various points throughout this 2 hour long so-called debate.
I say so-called, because in a true debate, each candidate gives a timed response to the same question and then is allowed some additional time later for rebuttal. Such was not the case here, since only one to three candidates was asked to respond to each question and rebuttal time varied from none to as often as three times depending on the issue. Still in all, CNN debate moderator Anderson Cooper did a fairly good job of spreading the questions around and following up when candidates tried to avoid answering the question (as so many politicians are famous for doing).
Predictably, the dominant issue in this debate, and the one that drew the most fireworks, was illegal immigration. Are you surprised it wasn’t the Iraq war? Well don’t be, because a shrinking majority of Republican voters still support Dubya and buy into the President’s argument that the Iraq war is ground-zero in Bush’s global “war on terror”. As such, only a single GOP candidate is against the war and that candidate, maverick libertarian Ron Paul, has no chance at winning the Republican nomination.
In fact the only question that was asked about the Iraq war came towards the end of the debate when a questioner asked whether the candidates felt that the US should maintain a “permanent” military presence in Iraq in order to protect the nation from Islamic extremists. Nor were the responses from the candidates to this question surprising either. Fred Thompson said the US should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes as did anti-immigration demagogue Tom Tancredo.
When Ron Paul said that he would pull US troops out and turn the country over to Iraqi political leaders, he justified his position by rightly pointing out that there wasn’t nearly as much violence in Kurdish controlled Northern Iraq or in Southern Iraq since the British had basically withdrawn and been replaced by Muqtada al Sadr’s Shiite militias there.
Senator McCain then responded sharply to Ron Paul accusing him of being an isolationist and harkening back to his days as a Vietnam POW, saying the US never lost a battle in Vietnam but had been forced to leave the job undone because American public opinion had turned against the war. McCain then went on to say that we can’t afford to repeat this mistake again in Iraq to a resounding round of applause.
But the first four and largest number of questions dealt with illegal immigration and what the candidates would do to stop it. I happen to believe this has become the Republican Party faithful’s hot button issue because the President and my party have performed so dismally in all other areas, that immigration is the only issue left they can get self-righteously indignant about.
I will write a column later which will delve into this issue in more detail, but suffice to say that all of the candidates espoused the “no amnesty” and “let’s build a bigger fence to keep them out” approach. John McCain was the only one who even attempted to point out that these so-called solutions still don’t address the issue of what do we do about the estimated 12 – 15 million illegal immigrants already residing in the US. Are we supposed to believe that we can arrest and deport them all?
On questions about the huge deficits that Bush and the Republican led Congress have run up since 2001 and the 40% increase in spending on areas other than Social Security and Medicare, all of the candidates beat the same drums, saying that they would veto pork barrel spending measures and impose across the board spending cuts and or eliminate Departments like Education and Energy. Give me a break!
On questions like abortion and gun control only Giuliani took a position supporting the status quo while the others voiced support for anti-abortion laws and US citizen’s 2nd amendment rights to bear arms. In response to a question about the death penalty stated as “What would Jesus do?” Mike Huckabee gave the best response saying that “Jesus was too smart to run for public office”. Yet he and all the other candidates claimed that they regarded its use as a difficult but appropriate means of punishment for certain crimes.
While there was nothing new or unexpected in the candidates’ views on these and a number of other issues, Fred Thompson’s campaign ad attacked Romney for his flip flopping on issues like abortion and Huckabee on raising taxes. I think this showed how desperate Thompson has become since he trails them in Iowa and New Hampshire. By contrast, the other candidates’ ads either attacked Hillary Clinton or burnished their credentials as “true conservatives”. What a waste of my time watching this debate was.
While most of the Republicans have been attacking Hillary regularly in their ads, Barack Obama has been subjected to patently false claims by conservative magazines like Insight and Human Events that he is actually a Muslim and not a Christian. These false rumours have also been picked up and passed along by conservative talk show hosts like Michael Savage. Even more interesting is the editor of Insight’s claim that the source of the rumour was the Hillary Clinton campaign. Clinton denies this and for her sake I hope her campaign’s being honest about this.

What does the average American voter think?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 29th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As I was winging my way back across the Atlantic Ocean to my home (yes home is Ireland now), I reflected a bit on what I had experienced for the last 2 and a ½ months while I had been back in my former home of the United States of America.
The issues which seemed to have weighed most heavily on my mind were those involving the environmental effects of global warming, the upcoming US Presidential and Congressional election landscape and the heightened debate about how to deal with illegal immigration. I will now endeavour to compose my thoughts on where the sentiments of US citizens stand on these matters and discuss them in my remaining columns for 2007.
If it is sometimes difficult for me to gauge the true sentiments of most Americans on any number of political issues, then I think it must be extremely hard for those outside of the United States to understand how the average American thinks. Most people living outside of the US are much more limited in terms of their exposure to how the average US citizen thinks and reacts to politically divisive topics, so maybe it would be helpful to frame my discussions of where I think America is headed by first discussing how we have evolved as a society politically.
Unlike most other democracies in the world and particularly in the EU, the US political system is rooted in the two party system of political governance. Third party candidates for President or other state and federal political offices have, with only a few exceptions, never been successful in being elected to positions of political power. The reasons for this are many and complex, but in general this is a reflection of a kind of innate social and political conservatism on the part of American society as a whole.
This attitude is reflected in the fact that there are significant overlaps in the respective political positions of most members of the two long dominant Democratic and Republican political parties. Therefore, as compared to political parties in most of the other democracies around the world, these two US political parties are both essentially centrist in nature. The results of US Presidential elections over the past fifty years reflect these overlaps because they have always been fairly close in terms of both the popular and state electoral vote totals of the respective candidates.
The only two exceptions were the Presidential elections of 1964 and 1972 which occurred at the beginning and at the end of the Vietnam War and a period of great social upheaval in both the US and the rest of the world. In 1964 the Republican Party nominated a very politically conservative candidate, Barry Goldwater, and paid for this departure from previous nominations of more centrist Presidential candidates by losing the1964 Presidential contest in an electoral landslide to incumbent Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater lost in an avalanche, winning the popular and electoral vote in only his home state of Arizona and five other southern states, largely because American voters thought Goldwater’s hardline foreign policy positions would bring about a deadly nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union.
The Democratic Party however, did not heed the lessons learned by the Republican Party’s debilitating loss of the 1964 Presidential election. In 1972, Democrats nominated a very politically liberal anti-Vietnam War candidate, George McGovern, to run against incumbent US President Richard Nixon. Despite the rising unpopularity of the Vietnam War (and not due to Republican “dirty tricks”), President Nixon was re-elected in another avalanche by the second largest popular and electoral vote total in US Presidential election history. McGovern lost the popular vote by a 60 to 38% margin, failed to carry even his home state of South Dakota and won the electoral votes of only the state of Massachusettes and the District of Columbia.
Thus the elctions of 1964 and 1972 further cemented the idea that political elections in the US are won or lost based on the political views of the moderate center of the American voter electorate, rather than the political perspectives of the more activist conservative Republican or liberal Democratic Party members. But in more recent years I have detected a subtle but nonetheless discernible evolution in the American political landscape. I believe that much of this change has been due to the growing influence of the US electronic news media at the expense of the more traditional printed news sources.
The political positions of many elected officials from both parties (on a number of issues) have become decidedly more polarized in recent years. There is also much less propriety in terms of the way in which elections are contested by both Republican and Democratic Party candidates. My own sense is that the average American citizen is way out ahead of most US politicians (and much more moderate) in his or her views on issues such as health care, education, environment and foreign policy.
But you wouldn’t know this because the US news media, particularly the electronic versions, primarily focuses on the differences between the perspectives of various members of the “political classes” rather than the views of average American citizens. I say this with all due respect for both the news media and the political classes, because I consider myself to be a member of both. But the news media in the US and much of the rest of the world is now dominated by private business corporations which are motivated and driven by a desire to sell advertising and derive greater profits from the viewer ratings and or purchases of their news products.
Unfortunately, it is much easier to attract viewers’ and readers’ attention if you focus on controversial or attention grabbing “sound bites” and differences in political opinions, than it is to provide those consumers with an indepth and unbiased analysis of various different social issues and political positions. I will nonethelass attempt to provide readers with this kind of analysis in my future 2007 newscolumns.

My Fall road trip thru the South

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 22nd 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Today I will depart from my usual discussion of US politics and talk about my road trip through the Deep South last month.
At the beginning of October I began my first road trip (following my last graduate school class of the week) on a hot and muggy Thursday evening. I drove from Dallas Texas to Little Rock Arkansas, a trip which covered about 550 kilometres in approximately 4 ½ hours at an average speed of 120 kilometres per hour. (I must also confess that I do have a bit of a heavy foot when I’m driving on the highway.)
The US Interstate highway system connects virtually all US cities and permits travellers to cover long distances at relatively high speeds. Just picture a divided 4-6 lane highway like the M-1, minus the traffic jams of course, connecting Dublin with Cork, Galway, Shannon, Belfast and Derry and you will have some idea of what the US Interstate highway system is like.
I lived in Little Rock for several years before I moved to Dallas and have returned there on a number of occasions thru the years but not since 2004. I must say I was amazed at the difference the Clinton Presidential Library has made on the area of downtown Little Rock that adjoins it. The Clinton Library is a beautiful piece of architecture which sits on a site which runs along the banks of the Arkansas River. But I was most amazed by what had happened to the buildings for several blocks west, north and south of the Clinton Library.
To the west and north of the site, where there had once been run down hotels and office buildings, there were now new or renovated office towers alongside first class hotels and restaurants. To the north and the Interstate 30 highway traffic ramps, instead of a three floor Fone Brothers paint factory and warehouse, there is now a public library restaurants and clubs and upscale urban loft apartments. An area of downtown Little Rock which was once totally devoid of humans after the sun went down is now alive throughout the day and well into the night with tourists visiting the Clinton Library or strolling through the beautiful riverfront park that adjoins it.
As I left the city the next morning to continue on my journey to visit my mother and sister in Memphis, I was also struck by the sight of a huge new Baptist Church which had arisen on a site next to the intersection of Interstate highways 40 and 30. When I had last passed this way there had been nothing but trees there so the unexpected change in scenery was a bit startling for me. But as I settled in for the 250 kilometre drive to Memphis, I was greeted by the same rice and soybean fields that I had remembered from years past. I even saw an old single engine crop-duster airplane swooping up and down against the blue sky while methodically spraying pesticides on the fields that stretch out from the highway as far as the eye can see.
Memphis had also changed a lot during the eight years since I had last visited, though not as much it seemed as Little Rock had. A movie called The Firm starring Tom Cruise was filmed entirely in Memphis Tennessee if you ever want to see what this city built on the bluffs high above the Mississippi River actually looks like. I lived in Memphis for a year before I moved to Little Rock and remember hearing a lot of great music while I was there. Memphis is world famous as both the home of Graceland and Elvis Presley as well as the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination. But I prefer to remember it as the home of the blues, B.B. King and Rendezvous ribs.
After having a grand day with my mother and sister I resumed my journey across the Deep South, by eschewing the Interstate highways for the two lane country roads of northern Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. I drove about 400 kilometres and then stopped for the night in Huntsville Alabama which is the home of the United States’ space program and headquarters location for NASA.
While this region of the south has not changed a great deal over the years, I couldn’t help but notice the effects of climate change on this area of the country. When I resumed my journey of another 400 kilometres to Atlanta the next morning, I passed by numerous lakes in this semi-mountainous region which were showing the effects of several years of a severe drought. Boat docks were sitting high and dry 10-15 meters above lakes which were at their lowest recorded levels in history. Fields of corn and soybeans were shrivelling in 33C summer heat even though it was autumn.
When I arrived in Atlanta Georgia early Saturday afternoon I found myself in a traffic jam while I was still many miles from the city. The cause was the shutdown of one of the three lanes of traffic due to the construction and paving of two new lanes on either side of Interstate 75, which would eventually increase the number of lanes in each direction from 3 to 5. I was born and raised in Atlanta and always look forward to my visits there, but I must confess that I am not happy with many of the changes which I see happening to my old hometown.
I had a lovely dinner with my brother, his fiancée, my sister and her daughter at my favourite New Orleans cuisine restaurant in the Buckhead area where I used to live. But the area is now awash in high rise condos and offices which are coupled with mind numbing traffic congestion. As a result, the character of the neighbourhood has been lost and I mourn the fact that it will never again be the same.
I then drove to Birmingham Alabama on Sunday to see my sister and niece, but forgot that there was a NASCAR stock car race at the Talladega Speedway that same afternoon. As I passed by the race track, I saw thousands of RVs and travel trailers parked all around the Race track and knew I was in trouble. I ran smack into a post race traffic jam and it took me 2 hours to travel 15 kilometres.
Monday afternoon I resumed my trip back to Dallas accompanied by many of those RVs I had seen on Sunday. When I arrived that night I was glad I had made the trip but I was also very happy it was over. Imagine how you would feel if you had just driven 3000 kilometres in 96 hours to visit relatives in 3 different cities.

Bush's Presidential legacy and some future trends

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 8th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I pointed out the inconsistencies in President Bush’s defence of his economic policies in response to the strong criticism from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, of his and Congress’ lack of fiscal discipline over the last seven years. Today I want to elaborate a bit more on this issue and other steps President Bush is now taking to try and redefine his Presidency now that barely a year remains in his term as US President. But as has been his pattern for the past seven years, “Dubya” has undertaken these new initiatives with too little political capital and much too late in the game to make any real headway on these issues before he leaves office.
Still smarting from Greenspan’s scathing criticism of his administration’s ill conceived economic and monetary policies, the President finally decided to veto a domestic spending bill. Prior to this, Bush’s only three vetoes of spending legislation had been of two bills authorizing federal funding for stem cell research and one restricting his funding for the Iraq war. The message one might draw from these vetoes was don’t try to get me to spend money to fund medical research that will save lives and don’t try to stop me from spending as much as I want killing people in Iraq.
President Bush has vetoed the stem cell legislation twice despite the pleas of many Republicans in Congress and his own National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni, who says “All avenues of research need to be pursued. We must continue the research at all levels, or there will be no progress.” Thus it should come as no surprise that Bush’s fourth veto in seven years was of a bill that would have expanded health care coverage for children whose families are poor but not poor enough to qualify for Medicare. His decision to do so has baffled many Republican allies and has left Bush as politically isolated as he has ever been.
Because this measure was supported by many Republicans in Congress, they are openly questioning why the President has decided to take such a hard line on a bill that will actually reduce overall government outlays for children’s medical care. That is because without the expanded coverage these children will instead be forced to go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment which ends up costing the government far more than federally insured visits to a doctor’s office. What the heck, no one has ever claimed that our President was one of the brightest bulbs in the pack now have they?
The President has also undertaken a number of other initiatives in an effort to rewrite his place in history. No president wants to be remembered as the author of an ill-fated and unpopular war so Bush’s advisers hope to broaden the picture and soften history’s judgement of his failures as a President before he hands over power January 20th 2009. Since the most ambitious items on Bush's second-term domestic agenda have died, most notably his ideas for restructuring Social Security and immigration laws, Bush has now tried to draw attention to a number of other highly visible issues.
On the foreign policy front, Bush went to the United Nations late last month and tried to rally support for his Middle East peace initiative, insisting that his vision of a new Palestinian state was still “achievable” before the end of his presidency. Too bad Bush chose to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the last seven years otherwise maybe this “vision” might have been achievable. But I am afraid it is once again a case of too little too late when it comes to resolving this long standing dispute.
He also pressed for more U.N. action against Iran, acutely aware he has only a year left to stop Tehran's nuclear program. But the reality here is that it was his own administration’s sabre rattling and refusal to negotiate with Tehran for the past seven years which has served to harden Iran’s stance and embolden Tehran’s hard liners. It was fortunate however, that he finally reversed course in the spring after six years of belligerent intransigence and allowed the US to negotiate with North Korea to put an end to its nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, this will probably be “Dubya’s” lone foreign policy triumph after eight years as US President.
The Bush administration has finally accepted the grim reality that it has no hope of winning the war in Iraq by January. 20th 2009 and so has undertaken a new strategy to stabilize the country and then withdraw some of the additional “surge” forces Bush deployed there by next summer. The President hopes this will leave his successor as President with a less volatile situation that would reduce demands by American citizens to pull out completely. Bush believes that if he can do that, even a Democratic Presidential successor will be compelled to continue his Iraq war policy.
Bush is also now trying to find another way to handle suspected terrorists and close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities before he leaves office. The President is concerned about how history will judge this aspect of his legacy and believes that by taking the initiative to do this before his term expires he can avoid future investigations and harsher judgements about these anti-terror tactics. He is also rushing to institutionalize other controversial tactics he has employed in the “war on terror” so they will outlast his presidency. That is why he finally agreed to put his warrantless surveillance program under the jurisdiction of a secret intelligence court.
Embarrassed by the sight of a former Presidential rival being awarded a Nobel Peace prize for his work to address climate change caused by global warming, President Bush has finally decided he also needs to adopt a higher profile on this issue. We are talking about the same President who for years expressed doubt that human activity has anything to do with warming and who renounced the Kyoto treaty and mandatory limits on greenhouse emissions as soon as he took office in 2001.
But now that his term as president is almost over, Bush has decided to summon the 15 nations that produce the most greenhouse gases to a conference in Washington in hopes of producing a plan to cut their emissions by the end of 2008. While I am glad to see him attempting to address this issue one cannot help but question his motives for finally doing so. No matter. I just wish Bush had decided to undertake all of the aforementioned initiatives while he still had some power and prestige to put behind these efforts. As its stands now, Dubya’s new interest in these issues is again symbolic of a Presidency defined by the phrase “too little too late”.
Of course there is always a chance that maybe they will one day decide to start awarding Nobel prizes for War to counter-balance the ones awarded for Peace. I mean, we need a war in order to have a peace don’t we? If so, then “Dubya” still has a chance of winning a prize worthy of his failed Presidency. lol

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 15th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

I have noticed a number of trends in government and amongst my fellow Americans while I have been back in the states the past two months. Some are worrisome while a couple give me cause for hope, so I will begin by discussing the ones that worry me before trying to end this column on a more optimistic note.
With only about a year left in office, President Bush has left acting or interim appointees in charge of many agencies of the federal government. In many cases, the White House has shown no inclination to find permanent replacements which would require confirmation by the US Senate. By following this course Bush is effectively circumventing the Senate’s right to review and approve such appointments, but it also means these agencies are being run by people who lack the clout to make decisions.
The fact that the President’s low standing among American voters has rendered almost any foreign or domestic policy initiative he undertakes as a colossal waste of time doesn’t mean that our government agencies should also be left in the same ineffectual position our nation’s President finds himself in. Unfortunately, President Bush appears to be more concerned about the bruising of his ego, which might result from the loss of a Senate confirmation battle over one of his permanent appointees, than he is with ensuring that these government agencies can effectively continue to serve the interests of the American people. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised though because President Bush’s agenda over the past seven years has always been one that consistently puts his own self interests ahead of those he was elected to serve.
As for my own Republican Party, the current cast of Presidential candidates continue to leave me decidedly unimpressed. On the same day that the stock markets hit record highs, Republican presidential candidates held a debate where they all continued to espouse lower taxes and free markets while warning that Democrats like Hillary Clinton pose the greatest danger to the nation's future prosperity. Although Fred Thompson finally met his rivals in a televised debate, he simply joined them in singing the praises of reducing government spending and regulation while ignoring the real threats to our nation’s prosperity, such as the lack of affordable healthcare, damage to the environment, persistent budget deficits and the growing national debt.
The Republican Party appears to be hopelessly stuck in the past and I for one am sick and tired of hearing the same old rhetoric from its Presidential candidates. It has yet to dawn on any of them that there are many other Republicans who are just as Fed-Up as I am with both President Bush and those Republicans in Congress who have supported and rubberstamped all of his foreign and domestic policies for the last seven years. We are Fed-Up with the ill-conceived war in Iraq, Republican legislators’ total lack of fiscal responsibility and their refusal to take action over the poor disaster management responses by the Department of Homeland Security.
During the primary season, Republican business leaders always rally around the establishment candidate. But this time it's a Democrat, not a Republican. And it’s a woman, not a man. For example, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, a life-long Republican who raised more than $200,000 for Dubya's 2004 re-election campaign, announced his support and plans to do the same for Hillary Clinton this past spring.
And James Robinson III, the former CEO of American Express was recently quoted as saying “I've been a Republican all my life. I believe in fiscal conservatism and being a social moderate. (but regarding my support for Mrs. Clinton) It seems to me she's the person who has got the broadest experience. She understands the importance of business development, innovation and entrepreneurship.”
But it's not just CEOs who are abandoning the Republican Party in the upcoming election. Since 2004, the percentage of professionals who identify themselves as Republicans has fallen from 44 percent to 37 percent, and their main concerns are healthcare, climate change and the economy (according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll). But in the last Republican economic debate, all of the major candidates continued to sing from the same old GOP hymnal, hailing rising income inequality in the US as a wonderful by-product of the free enterprise system while simultaneously blaming lawyers and Democrats for all of our country’s woes. No need to wonder why young professionals are now deserting the Republican Party.
Regarding the ongoing conflict in Iraq, I am also worried because of recent statements by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of American forces in Iraq, who called the Bush administration’s handling of the war “incompetent” and said the result was “a nightmare with no end in sight.” General Sanchez went on to criticize his former boss for a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan” and denounced the current surge of additional American forces as a “desperate” move that would not achieve long-term stability. His comments worry me because I have seen nothing to suggest that his assessment is off the mark and yet Bush is determined to stay in Iraq for as long as he remains President. How many more lives will we sacrifice on the altar of “Bush’s Folly”?
But I have noticed a couple of positive trends over the last two months. While I could be wrong, during the course of my travels throughout the southern United States this fall, I have noticed a change in the attitudes of many younger Americans. They are beginning to question the wisdom of their establishment elders and as a result are becoming more involved in the political process. They are more tolerant of those who are different from themselves or their friends as well as of those who don’t agree with them. They are also showing a real interest in being of service to their local communities by getting involved in civic affairs and by serving as volunteers for organizations which help those who are less fortunate.
Even those who identify themselves as Evangelical Christians reflect this change. In talking with several members of my younger brother’s church I was very impressed by their thirty something views on what “moral values” actually means. They don’t have a problem with gay rights or marriage nor do they think that school sanctioned prayers should be reinstated in the nations public schools, both of which are the top concerns (along with restricting abortion rights) of Christian conservatives over the age of fifty. Instead, they told me that their religious faith informs a need to help the poor, improve education and provide better health care.
It’s because of my faith in these younger Americans that I can return to Ireland with a sense of optimism about my country’s future prospects.

Greenspan assails Bush "league"economics

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 1st 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In several previous columns over the last year I have assailed the domestic economic and monetary policies of President Bush and accused him and many other Republicans in Congress of betraying Republican economic principles over the course of the last 6 years. For those Republicans who think I am all wet and see nothing but sunshine on the economic front, I now refer them to a respected Republican “authority” on economic and monetary policy matters, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
The vast majority of Americans and Republicans would regard Alan Greenspan as much more knowledgeable about economic and monetary policy than President Bush or any Republican serving in Congress. First appointed US Federal Reserve chairman by Republican President Ronald Regan in August 1987, he was later reappointed at successive four-year intervals by Bush’s father, Democratic President Bill Clinton and then by the current President Bush until his retirement at the end of January of last year. Alan Greenspan was always considered to be the leading authority on US economic and monetary policy and his active influence on the Fed and current chairman, Ben Bernanke, continue to this day.
When President Bush first brandished his credit card to pay for his war to “liberate” Iraq and defend the US against Al Qaeda terrorism, the US dollar was almost at parity with the Euro at 105 US cents needed to purchase a single Euro. Today, four and a half years, $600 billion and thousands of lives later, the dollar has lost over a third of its value, such that 145 US cents are now required to buy a single Euro. Since the price of oil has also tripled from $25 a barrel to over $79 a barrel during this same time period, who has really benefited from Bush and Cheney’s decision to invade Iraq as part of their “war on terror”? The average American citizen or oil company executives?
Like me, Greenspan voted for George Bush in 2000 and was initially elated to see some of his old friends like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (from their days in Republican President Gerald Ford’s White House) returning to positions of power within the US Federal Government. Greenspan writes that “I thought we had a golden opportunity to advance the ideals of effective, fiscally conservative government and free markets.” But this elation soon turned to dismay when Greenspan realized just how much these men had changed during the intervening 25 years going on to say that “I was soon to see my old friends veer off in unexpected directions.”
Greenspan doesn’t mince his words in his recently published memoirs when he describes Bush and Cheney’s real motive for invading Iraq with his statement that “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” While President Bush continues to claim that he did so to end Saddam’s support for terrorism and prevent him from using his non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Greenspan believes as I do that the real reason was Bush and Cheney felt that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the security of US oil supplies in the Middle East.
Bush and company believed that they could “liberate” Iraq, remake the country into America’s image and thus guarantee continued US access to low cost Middle East oil supplies from the region. Hmmm. Since the price we pay for oil has more than tripled since the beginning of the Iraq war it appears that all Bush and Cheney accomplished was to raise the price of oil and the revenues or profits of the countries and companies that produce it. Was this another smart move by Bush? If you’re in the oil business you would certainly think so.
But Alan Greenspan doesn’t stop there with his critical assessment of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the Republican Congress’ dismal performance in office over the last seven years. He accurately portrays them as abandoning their party’s principles on government spending and deficits. Greenspan says that “The Republicans in Congress lost their way. They swapped principle for power (and) they ended up with neither. They deserved to lose (control of Congress in the 2006 election).” It goes without saying that Greenspan also agrees with me that based on the Republican Party’s record since the 2006 elections, Republicans also deserve to lose again in the upcoming 2008 elections
Greenspan then goes on to describe the Bush administration as so captive to its own political ideology and re-election manoeuvres that it stopped exercising any kind of fiscal discipline. Greenspan also assails the Republican tax cuts in 2001 as being irresponsible in light of the ballooning federal budget and spending bills passed by the Republican controlled Congress with Bush’s support. Bush has defended himself against Greenspan’s accusations by touting his pre 9/11 income tax cuts positive impact on the economy saying that “I would also argue that cutting taxes made a significant difference, not only with dealing with a recession and an attack on our country, but it also made a significant difference in dealing with the deficit, because a growing economy yielded more tax revenues, which allows us to shrink the deficit.”
But if one looks closely at all the economic data a much different picture emerges than the one President Bush is trying to paint for the American public. Bush first took office in 2001, the last time the US government produced a budget surplus. Every year after that, the government has been in the red with the budget deficit swelling to a record $413 billion by 2004. Yes the economy was growing but much of this growth was due to easy credit, which was, in turn, fuelling speculative real estate investments and low interest adjustable rate mortgages for people with poor credit. Now the bill is coming due as the US economy teeters on the brink of a recession caused by the meltdown of the market for mortgage backed securities and the bursting of the real estate bubble which ballooned following Bush’s 2001 income tax cuts.
Bush also fails to note the “hidden tax increases” which are being driven largely by the negative consequences of the ballooning budget deficit. Persistent deficits always lead to higher borrowing costs for consumers and companies, thus slowing economic activity and shrinking government tax revenues rather than increasing them. The other hidden tax increase comes in the form of the higher prices Americans are paying for imported goods and anything derived from oil. So whose opinion is more relevant, Bush’s or Greenspan’s?

Democratic candidate field in mid October

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 25th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

. Last week I called the race for the Republican presidential nomination a toss-up in spite of Rudy Giuliani’s double digit lead over his three main rivals. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton now holds an even wider margin of support from the nation’s Democratic voters over her three closest rivals for the Presidential nomination. Indeed the Republican Presidential candidates and many political analysts have already decided that Hillary will win the Democratic nomination and have begun to attack her and her positions on national election issues accordingly. But I think a closer look at the numbers reveals that some of Clinton’s support is actually softer than it would appear to be at first glance.
Hillary has been doing quite well of late and it shows not just in the opinion polls but also at the bank. Money talks and for the first time Hillary Clinton raised more money than her closest rival Barack Obama ($27 million versus $20 million in the third quarter) while John Edwards and Bill Richardson were raising another $7 million and $5 million respectively. The remaining Democratic Presidential candidates like Senator’s Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden are failing to gain much traction with their campaign donations trickling in around the $1 million dollar mark..
Prior to these latest fundraising figures, Barack Obama had bested Clinton in terms of raising money, particularly campaign donations that could be used in the Democratic primary battles as opposed to funds that could only be used in the 2008 General Election if that candidate won the Democratic nomination for President. Since the beginning of the year, both candidates have now raised approximately $75 million that can be used in the Democratic Party primary election campaigns
Where Hillary has a real edge is the $15 million she already has in the bank for the General election as opposed to only $4 million for Senator Obama. While both Clinton and Obama have been spending heavily on TV advertising in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Hillary still has a bit more cash on hand ($35 million to $32 million for Obama) to use in the remaining three months before primary voters go to the polls in these states. By comparison, Senator Edwards has a third less money (around $10 million) and Bill Richardson less than a fifth of the front-runners cash reserves with only $5 million left to use in the next three months. But now let’s take a closer look at Hillary’s numbers.
For starters, Mrs. Clinton has raised most of her money by tapping the wallets of wealthy Democratic supporters for the maximum amounts ($2,300 per person) that they can contribute in both the Democratic primary and General elections. There are only so many of these kinds of contributors and going back to them for more donations at a later date isn’t an option for Hillary. Another source of much of Clinton’s campaign cash has been Political Action Committees (PACS)which are used by Washington lobbyists to funnel money to candidates they believe will be friendly to the business interests they represent should they be elected. Finally, Hillary has also transferred millions of dollars left over from her successful US Senate campaign to her Presidential campaign fund.
On the other hand, Senator Obama did not have any such millions left over from his US Senate campaign to use as seed money for a Presidential bid, nor has Barack Obama’s campaign accepted any PAC’s or lobbyists’ money. Thus the $75 million Obama has for his Democratic Presidential primary battles was raised without transferring one cent from any other campaign fund and with no money from federal lobbyists or PACs. Furthermore, very few of Obama’s supporters have yet given the $2,300 maximum allowed by US law.
This is a reflection of the huge number of grassroots supporters Barack Obama has drawn to his campaign for the Presidency. Senator Obama has received considerable attention for his use of the internet to help build a base of over 450,000 financial contributors during the first nine months of his campaign. This number is more than double the quantity of campaign donors Hillary Clinton has and, more importantly, these are people who are still in a position to give more money to his campaign at a later date if asked to do so.
So the next three months will be crucial ones for Barack Obama and the other Democratic challengers, including the surprisingly effective dark horse candidate, Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Obama, Edwards and Richardson must demonstrate that they can continue to raise money in the face of disappointing poll numbers versus Clinton, if they hope to sustain their respective Presidential campaigns through the first round of twenty plus state primaries in January and February of next year.
If Hillary loses in a half a dozen or more of these states then I expect to see her current big lead in voter opinion polls evaporate by the time March rolls around because voter support for her is soft if one looks below the surface. I think that much of Mrs. Clinton’s support in the polls derives not from her positions on issues like universal health care or ending the US role in Iraq, but from voter identification with and recognition of her spouse, former President Bill Clinton.
Last spring, in response to worries about the grassroots campaign strength of Barack Obama, Hillary’s campaign advisors decided to feature the former president much more prominently in her Presidential campaign. Bill Clinton’s role had previously been more of a behind the scenes one at fund raisers for wealthy contributors than out on the campaign trail at voter rallies. The former President was and still is a very effective political campaigner and ever since that decision last spring he has been front and centre during his wife’s Presidential campaign.
As President Bush’s approval ratings have dropped to and remained at historically low levels during the course of this past year, the approval ratings of the former President have soared as voters yearn for the “good old days”. But a vote for Hillary is not the same thing as a vote for a return to the “good old days” of the Bill Clinton Presidency. I suspect that once Hillary’s rivals start to hone in on this particular point, some of her current supporters will begin to more carefully consider another Clinton Presidency and then the race for the Democratic nomination will tighten considerably. I could be wrong, but I still see this race as a toss-up too.

Republican Presidential candidates as of mid October

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 18th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Having been back in the states for 6 weeks now, I think it’s time for me to give an assessment of how the 2008 US Presidential contest is shaping up beginning with my own Republican Party.
At the national level Rudy Giuliani is still the leader of the pack by double digit percentages in terms of support among likely Republican primary voters as well as in the area of raising money to finance his campaign. Rudy raised $11 million in campaign donations for the third quarter and has $16 million on hand just 3 months before the first Presidential primary votes are cast. After Rudy though the picture becomes much more muddled.
Mitt Romney comes in second in terms of overall fund raising (thanks in part to $17.5 million in loans of his own money) and has $9 million left to use for the January primary contests but is still a distant fourth in the national voter polls. It is worth noting that despite a huge campaign money and TV advertising spending advantage, Romney is only slightly ahead in the national polls of Hope Arkansas’ second US Presidential candidate in the last 20 years (the other one was named Clinton,) former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. In the last quarter Romney raised $10 million, but $8.5 million of that was his own money which means he actually only took in $1.5 million from other donors to Huckabee’s $1million. This is not a good sign for Romney’s national Presidential campaign.
Huckabee, on the other hand, has fared well in the Republican Presidential debates and his stock has been rising in both the national polls as well as the Iowa state polls (where the first primary contest will be decided in January) despite his significant weakness in terms of raising money to finance his Presidential bid. Romney has been pouring money into his Iowa caucuses’ and New Hampshire state primary campaigns in the hopes that wins there will propel him into the national spotlight, just weeks ahead of over a dozen other major state primaries on Super Tuesday, with the image of being a winner.
Romney still has a double digit lead over his other Republican rivals in the Iowa state voter polls but the positions behind him have changed significantly since the spring. Back in May Rudy Giuliani and John McCain were in a virtual tie for second place in Iowa, with McCain at 18 percent and Giuliani at 17 percent. But today the newest Republican candidate, Fred Thompson, stands in second at 18 percent and Mike Huckabee is up to third at 12 percent. Huckabee is essentially in a tie with Giuliani who has dropped to 11 percent while John McCain, who is short on campaign cash, has dropped even further in the Iowa polls to only 7 percent, just ahead of GOP anti-war maverick Ron Paul.
In New Hampshire the news is not as good for Romney as his double digit lead over his main Republican rivals has all but evaporated despite his spending millions on TV ads and state campaign staff. Giuliani has now forged a tie in the latest polls while John McCain has seemed to revive his Presidential candidacy there by placing a close third in the most recent surveys. Once again Mike Huckabee is proving to be a viable alternative by coming in a surprising fourth, tied with Ron Paul and ahead of Fred Thompson. This is hardly a good sign for Thompson’s campaign.
On the fundraising front TV actor Fred Thompson raised $9.3 million in the third quarter placing him third among Republicans. He still has $7 million left to use in advance of the January primaries but his fundraising has gotten off to a rather slow start because of his late entry into the Republican presidential campaign. Ole Fred stretched the interpretation of what an “exploratory” campaign committee’s limits are by waiting until September to “officially” announce his candidacy while raising about $3.5 million in advance of his “official” Presidential campaign bid. John McCain, the early Republican front-runner who is running short on cash, reported raising $6 million in the last quarter which is only slightly ahead of the equally surprising $5 million raised by Ron Paul, the anti-war Texas libertarian
Republicans still lag far behind their Democratic counterparts in raising money, a worrisome trend which shows no signs of abating. Hillary Clinton raised $27 million in the last quarter and Barack Obama raised $20 million while John Edwards and Bill Richardson were raising $7 million and $5 million respectively. All together the Democratic Presidential candidates continue to raise campaign funds at a pace that is roughly double that of their Republican counter-parts. Republican fund-raising has slipped for a variety of reasons including a lack of enthusiasm for the field of Republican candidates, and dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush, the Iraq war and the numerous scandals involving prominent Republican legislators.
So how do I size up the rather muddled republican field of presidential candidates 3 months before the first caucuses and primaries? Well, despite his surprisingly strong showing in the Iowa and New Hampshire state polls, I still don’t see Mike Huckabee winning the Republican nomination, but he has definitely positioned himself as a strong possible Vice Presidential running mate for whoever captures the GOP nomination. Giuliani remains the strongest candidate both in terms of voter recognition and fund raising ability but his support is soft in some of the early primary states like Iowa, where a poor showing on Election Day could tarnish his current front-runner status and image as someone who can beat his Democratic rival.
Fred Thompson has been a bit of a disappointment as he has failed thus far to ignite much enthusiasm among Republican voters. Sure he is running second in the national polls but that has more to do with his voter recognition as a TV actor and a lack of enthusiasm for the other Republican candidates than it does with his political positions or debating prowess. Romney has tried to solidify his support among social conservatives, but this bloc of voters still appears to be hopelessly divided between Huckabee, Thompson and Romney and to a lesser extent Giuliani and McCain. As I see it, this contest is still a toss-up barring some unexpected gaffes on the part of one or more of the aforementioned candidates.
Next week I will assess the Democratic field which according to some appears to be much less muddled than my own party’s contest. I’m not so sure I agree with that assessment however.

Bush and the surge and the status of the Iraq war

Republican Politics, American Style
Published September 27th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Here I sit on the 6th anniversary of the 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks contemplating yesterday’s testimony of General Petraeus and US Ambassador Crocker before Congress regarding the ongoing conflict in Iraq. After listening and considering their statements and responses to questions I am struck by several things that were said as well as some issues which were not discussed.
For one thing, it is a shame that it took almost four years to put these two men in a position to address the military and political problems which were the inevitable consequences of the Bush administration’s rash decision to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. General Petraeus has one of the brightest military minds in the US Armed Forces and is an expert in counter-insurgency tactics. Ambassador Crocker is a career Foreign Service officer with prior diplomatic experience serving in another Middle Eastern country torn apart by sectarian religious violence, Lebanon. I can not help but wonder how different the situation might be in Iraq today, had these men been given their current authority as recently as even 3 years ago.
Unfortunately I fear that (as has been the case repeatedly during the course of the Bush administration’s 2 terms in office) their current assignments have come too late to be able to affect the changes that will be necessary to stabilize the military and political situation in Iraq. Having said that, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker’s realistic assessment of the current state of affairs in Iraq does stand in stark contrast with President Bush’s Pollyanna-ish “Victory Strategy” of 2005, which apparently no longer exists. Neither man spoke of victory but instead unveiled a strategy designed to stabilize Iraq enough to allow a slow withdrawal of the additional 30,000 US troops Bush deployed in Iraq this past January, commencing this December and ending next summer.
Both men argued against any decision to reduce the US military’s troop levels in Iraq below the 130,000 point that existed last year before Bush deployed 30,000 more US troops as part of his “surge” strategy. Both Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus expressed concern that the military and security gains they have seen in and around Baghdad would be difficult to maintain if anything more than the “surge” troops were withdrawn. They said they would need until March to get a better sense of the political and security situation in Iraq and to assess the impact of a limited drawdown of “surge” forces. General Petraeus said that “Like Ambassador Crocker, I believe Iraq's problems will require a long-term effort. There are no easy answers or quick solutions. And although we both believe this effort can succeed, it will take time. . . . A premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences.”
For the past several months, the president has pointed to the testimony from Petraeus and Crocker in urging Democrats and Republicans in Congress to wait until they have heard this assessment before deciding to try to force a change in Bush’s Iraq war strategy and the beginning of a withdrawal of US military forces. It is worth noting here that the Iraq war debate is no longer about whether to withdraw U.S. troops but rather is about how many troops to withdraw and how quickly to do it. However, based on General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker’s recommendations to Congress, for the immediate future we can expect little change in strategy or US troop strength in Iraq.
This is in spite of the fact that a substantial majority of American citizens and voters don’t believe that there is any workable solution for the problems that currently exist in Iraq and want US troops brought home. This is due to the fact that Democrats hold only a slim majority in the US Senate and are themselves divided between those who want to strike a bi-partisan compromise with disaffected Republican moderates and those liberal Democrats who continue to push their colleagues to take a harder line against the war.
The grim reality of US politics is that you need a 2/3rds majority in both houses of Congress to overturn a certain Presidential veto of any legislation designed to force a change in Iraq war strategy. The Democrats will have to forge a compromise on troop withdrawals in order to attract enough disaffected Republicans to their side to withstand a Bush veto if they hope to pass any such legislation.
Yet some liberal Democrats remain opposed to any compromises with some, like US Representative Lynn Woolsey of California, calling on Democratic Party activists to target “the moderate Democrats who are holding up the whole thing.” Woolsey is even endorsing primary challenges of such Democrats notwithstanding the fact that defeating them might also later weaken the Democratic majority in Congress. Because of these divisions within the Democratic Party I see little chance for an acceptable troop withdrawal compromise with Congressional Republicans until just before next year’s general elections if at all. Regardless it is now clear that Bush intends to keep troop strength in Iraq at the pre-surge level of 130,000 until he leaves office, which means it will fall to his successor to decide how many troops to withdraw and when to do so.
The assessments from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are probably the first honest ones provided by the Bush administration since the beginning of this reckless invasion of Iraq in 2003, yet are still overly optimistic in my opinion. General Petraeus in particular has a vested interest in continuing with the military strategy President Bush has been pursing since the end of the last year because it is largely based on his own recommendations. One can hardly expect a rigidly objective evaluation of whether or not this military strategy is truly working from the man who authored it.
While Ambassador Crocker’s assessment of the political situation in Iraq was fairly objective, I nonetheless see it as tinged with optimistic as well. I will explain why I believe both were a bit too optimistic in next week’s column.

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 4th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I discussed General Petraeus and US Ambassador Crocker’s testimony before Congress, which while fairly accurate was also too optimistic in my opinion. Now I will attempt to explain my reasons for saying this.
As regards General Petraeus I want to begin by saying I have no questions regarding his honesty and the integrity of what he said about the current military situation in Iraq. Indeed, since the surge strategy first began to be implemented at the end of last year, civilian deaths are down 70 percent in Baghdad and deaths from sectarian violence have fallen by 55 percent. General Petraeus further noted that U.S. forces have killed or captured nearly 100 leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq and another 2,500 al Qaeda fighters since January. General Petraeus also pointed to a decrease in security incidents during eight of the past 12 weeks and an overall decline to the lowest levels seen since June of last year.
But the progress General Petraeus cited on the military and security fronts has not been the product of his counter-insurgency strategy as much as it has been the end result of a combination of luck and his own astuteness. At the beginning of this year, General Petraeus’ commanders in Anbar Province became aware that the tribal leaders, who had been fighting against US forces there, had grown unhappy with al Qaeda’s demands that, among other things, their fighters be allowed to marry these tribal leaders’ daughters. General Petraeus saw this strategic miscalculation by al Qaeda as an opportunity and took advantage of it by using lots of cash and weapons to help forge new alliances with these same tribal leaders in Anbar Province. The end result was that most of the al Qaeda leaders and their troops that were killed or captured in Iraq over the last 9 months were operating in Anbar Province, not Baghdad. Thus the military successes cited by General Petraeus in his defence of the surge strategy were due largely to the mistakes made by al Qaeda in Iraq, rather than the increase in US forces deployed there.
In January, when President Bush first announced his plans to deploy 20,000 to 30,000 more troops to Iraq, he emphasized that Baghdad was the key to creating a stable Iraq. By halting the violence in Baghdad the President said that “Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas.” But this is not what has actually happened thus far. While civilian deaths and violence are down in Baghdad, just as General Petraeus claims, much of the violence has actually shifted to others areas near or surrounding Baghdad. While the security in some Baghdad neighbourhoods has improved, others have seen increased threats to their safety when insurgents have then moved from more secure Baghdad neighbourhoods into areas with fewer American troops.
Some other neighbourhoods in Baghdad have seen a decrease in violence, not as the result of a surge in US troops, but as a consequence of sectarian purges which have killed or driven away as many as 35,000 Sunni and or Shiite residents. Lt. Col. Steven M. Miska, deputy commander of a US infantry brigade that is charged with controlling northwest Baghdad, describes it this way, “We’ve done everything we can militarily. I think we have essentially stalled the sectarian conflict (but) without addressing the underlying grievances.”
Thus after closely scrutinizing some of these other factors which are beyond the US military’s control, but which have also contributed to the recent improvements in security, I have concluded that General Petraeus’ optimism about the effectiveness of the surge strategy is based more on his hope that it will work than it is on the reality of the current military situation in Iraq. To his credit though, General Petraeus has also seen the handwriting on the wall as regards public and Congressional support for the current Iraq war strategy. That is why he offered to begin to make some token troop withdrawals from Iraq before the end of this year in the hope that doing so would buy more time for the current surge strategy. Based on the rather tepid response to his recommendations (that we wait until March before we begin to contemplate anything beyond some small symbolic reductions in troop strength) by both Republican and Democrats, it looks to me like he succeeded.
As for the political assessment by Ambassador Crocker, I thought this was very much on the mark, but I don’t see any foundation for his optimism that the political situation will improve at some point in the near future. The reason President Bush gave for increasing the number of troops in Iraq was to give the Iraqi government time to forge a compromise on legislation dealing with the distribution of oil revenues and ending prohibitions on government employment for Sunni officials who once belonged to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. This has not happened, nor does it appear likely to happen any time soon.
The only political progress cited by Ambassador Crocker was a recent agreement by Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders to work more closely together, and the Shiite government’s grudging acceptance of the U.S. military's arming of former Sunni insurgent tribal leaders as part of their alliance with the US against al Qaeda forces in Anbar and Diyala Provinces. In other words, the hoped for political progress which was supposed to result from the surge strategy has been virtually non-existent.
Ambassador Crocker’s optimism was based on his belief that the budding bottom-up political dialogue which was occurring among some Sunni constituencies in Anbar Province would spread to other areas of the country and translate into reconciliation at the national level. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation among the Shiite majority is that we have been and continue to promote a top-down political dialogue. Regardless, I’m not sure the bottom-up strategy that is showing promise among the Sunnis in Anbar Province, will ever work with the Shiites at either the provincial or national level. So next week I will elaborate on what I believe the future will look like for the US in Iraq thru 2008.

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 11th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As I see it, the bottom line for the Bush administration’s current Iraq war strategy is that we have seen only the slightest and largely transitory progress there as a result of the increased US troop presence. Neither General Petraeus, nor Ambassador Crocker were able to reassure Congress or the American people that a continuation of these efforts would help forge a political compromise among the Sunni and Shiite sectarian factions. Yet even if there was some progress in the future, both men made it clear that the US would have to maintain a significant military presence in Iraq for many years to come.
A disgusted Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel, expressed the feelings of me as well as many others with four simple words questioning what purpose would be served by the continued presence of the remaining 130,000 US soldiers in Iraq (proposed by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker) when he asked “Buy time? …..For what?” Following some intense questioning by Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton about the lack of political reconciliation, General Petraeus conceded that he would be “hard-pressed” to justify America’s presence in Iraq if there is no political progress in Iraq over the next year.
Noticeably absent from their testimony and questions by various congressional representatives was any mention of the 3 way Shiite gang battle for control of Iraq’s port city of Basra now that the British have begun to withdraw from this region. I should also note that neither General Petraeus nor Ambassador Crocker would answer questions about whether the military successes in Anbar Province and some areas of Baghdad could realistically be transferred into a broader agreement that would end the sectarian strife. Nor were they willing to provide any estimates of how many more years’ large numbers of American troops would be needed or when the training of Iraqi troops would be completed so that American troops could begin to assume a supporting role.
Personally, I question whether any number of months or alliances with moderate Sunnis or Shiites will bring Iraq any closer to the national reconciliation that President Bush told the American public would be spurred along by the surge strategy he began implementing in January. Even though General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were unwilling to estimate how many more years a US military presence would be required to ensure stability in Iraq, military and congressional sources say that contingency plans have already been formulated for the next 10 years.
Unfortunately these contingency plans are based on a hopeful view that there will be more progress on both the military and political fronts than has yet materialized in Iraq. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has in turn developed an estimate of the costs to implement these as yet unacknowledged contingency plans. They say the devil is in the details, but in this particular case a broad overview alone is enough to sober up even the most inebriated political or military strategist.
The US military believes that a continuation of President Bush’s current strategy will lead to a gradual drawdown (over a 5 year period) of US troops, beginning in the second half of next year, from the pre and post surge level of 130,000 to a new level of 75,000 soldiers combined in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2013. That 75,000 troop level would then be maintained for at least an additional five years thru fiscal year 2017.
The CBO estimates that the US has already spent an estimated 600 billion dollars, thru fiscal year 2008, on war costs directly related to President Bush’s reckless decision to invade Iraq. To continue to prolong this speculative campaign as part of President Bush’s ill-conceived “war on terror” the CBO says it will only cost American taxpayers an additional 958 billion dollars over the next 10 years.
What a deal. Only one and a half trillion dollars to defend the United States against a non-existent threat from a tin horn dictator who neither possessed any weapons of mass destruction, nor any capability to deliver them if he had actually had them. Better yet, the al Qaeda terrorist organization which did attack the United States has now doubled in size and been provided a training ground closer to their home lands where they can kill American soldiers more easily than they could have had those soldiers remained in the United States. Oh and did I mention we also let the leader of al Qaeda escape capture by redirecting military and intelligence resources away from Afghanistan in favour of hunting down Saddam Hussein and his henchmen in Iraq?
Why anyone would argue that the President’s “war on terror” and Iraq war strategies have been a failure is beyond me. As the President and his associates are quick to point out, there has not been another terror attack in the US since the 9/11 attacks six years ago. Of course why would al Qaeda want to attack the US when they can and have killed or wounded many more Americans in Iraq than they ever could have in the US?
Now I would like to close my evaluation of the future of the US in the Iraq war on a more serious note. Let’s face the facts. The Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq still fear each other. Whether you are at the top levels of the government or in the sizzling neighbourhoods of Baghdad, sectarian hatred is only being amplified rather than lessened. The political distrust is not just in the corridors of power within the Iraqi government but it is also evident in the streets. Here one can see there are few jobs; sporadic electricity supplies, widespread corruption and plenty of brand new memories of appalling murders perpetrated by both Sunni and Shiite extremists. The 3 way Shiite gang war currently underway in Basra is a precursor of what will eventually happen in Baghdad and other areas of the country where Sunnis and Shiites once lived in harmony.
While the Bush administration’s many foolish decisions have left Iraq in a mess and we do have a certain responsibility to try and fix it, I no longer believe we can salvage anything positive from this debacle. While we did light the fire, our continued presence in the region is only adding more fuel to it. As I see it, the only course left for the US is to withdraw and allow the fire to rage on until it finally exhausts its sectarian fuel. Only then will the US be in a position to play a truly constructive role in rebuilding a nation torn asunder by the policies and decisions of the current US administration.

What it's like being back in the states

Republican Politics, American Style
Published September 20th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Having been back in the states for more than a week now, I thought I would depart from my usual discourse on US politics and discuss how it feels to be back in my native land after spending most of the past year living, studying and working in Dublin.
While my flight from Dublin to Dallas by way of Chicago was relatively uneventful, it nonetheless felt quite different than any previous flight I have ever taken back to Dallas or the United States for that matter. Having flown over 4 million miles over the past 20 years, I can recall many journeys very similar to my most recent one, but none where I experienced the kind of mixed feelings I had on this last trip. For reasons I don't fully understand yet, this is the first time I have ever travelled back to the states where I wasn't really all that excited about going. I have always looked forward to seeing my family and friends after being away for any length of time, so I'm at a bit of a loss as regards explaining why I had such varied sentiments about this trip.
I had previously flown back to the states on the exact same flight itinerary in May and before that in December, so there was nothing different about either the logistics or length of this particular trip. I was also warmly greeted by the same friends and family members that had welcomed me before following past arrivals back into Dallas, so there was nothing different there either. What’s more, I have once again thoroughly enjoyed seeing and spending time talking with my numerous friends and family members here in the states. So what is the explanation for this mixture of feelings?
After contemplating this jumble of feelings for the last 10 days, I have concluded that the answer probably lies somewhere within the breadth of experiences that I had during this past summer after I returned to Dublin from my last trip to Dallas in May. In contrast with my prior months in Dublin, I have become aware that I spent much less time interacting with the many university friends I have made since I first came to Ireland, because most of my classmates had scattered to other countries and parts of Ireland following the completion of our taught courses and final exams. Like me, my ‘mates have also spent a substantial amount of time over the summer doing the solitary research required to write our respective dissertations.
While I have had much less contact with the post graduate students whom I spent most of my leisure and class time with during my first 8 months in Ireland, I have spent more time over the last 3 months with other members of the Irish community, particularly those who work or spend time as volunteers for Amnesty International’s Irish Section. I was also given an opportunity to speak and express my views about the cultural integration and immigration issues which Ireland is now grappling with at an Inter-Faith Conference in Blanchardstown. These activities have in turn led me to be introduced to a new group of acquaintances, some of whom have become very good friends.
Today I have many fond memories of my first summer in Ireland, although I am sure that many other Irish residents will remember it as a rather miserable vacation time of unseasonable rain and chilly temperatures. I too was disappointed that the lovely April weather I experienced in Dublin was not repeated again except for a couple of brief periods in early June and late August. On the other hand I sure am glad I wasn’t in the UK during this same timeframe since that country seemed to bear the brunt of this summer’s rainy weather and subsequent flooding.
Music has played a large part in my summer memories beginning with a front row (seat?) viewing spot for the Dave Matthews Band concert at the Point at the end of May, followed by similar vantage points for concerts by INXS and R.E.M. at the Olympia Theatre in June and July. I must say that I was very impressed by both the musicians and the setting for these bands, in particular the Olympia Theatre. The sound quality was excellent and while I have seen all of these bands perform before at concerts in the states, I must also say that the concert venues were neither as intimate nor as special as those in Dublin.
Then things got even better when I attended the Oxegen Festival as an Amnesty International volunteer. The weather was miserable, the food second-rate, the loos and showers were mediocre, the mud was insufferable and omnipresent, and the sound quality was far from the best I’ve ever heard. Yet I enjoyed myself more at Oxegen than anywhere else I went this summer including the Leeds Festival in late August. Please understand that in contrast to Oxegen, at Leeds the weather was sunny, the food was good, the showers and loos were always clean and the back stage viewing platforms we gained access to were far superior to the back stage areas we used at Oxegen.
So since I enjoyed Leeds, why do I still recall Oxegen so fondly? Well at Oxegen I did get to hear Daft Punk for the first time in 5 years and I got turned on to some great music I hadn’t heard before from DJ Cost Cut Chemist and a Canadian band named Arcade Fire. But I think maybe the difference in my feelings about these concert experiences has to do with the differences in the people who were there. Since I was also with some of the same Amnesty International volunteer friends at Leeds, maybe it was the bonding experience with other friends in the wretched conditions at Oxegen that made that weekend seem more special. Who knows?
Similarly, while I have yet to figure out exactly why I had such mixed feelings about returning to the states this time, I think it has something to do with the acquaintances and friendships I made this summer. Thus far, it is the only explanation I can come up with for my current sentiments. While I’m currently residing in my homeland of the United States, I no longer feel at home here. Today, the place where I feel most at home…. is Dublin Ireland.

Gonzales and Rumsfeld stuck around far too long

Republican Politics, American Style
Published September 13th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my last column I discussed the Guantanamo Bay detentions as well as other questionable Bush administration legal positions in addition to the reasons why I believe that President Bush and many Republicans in Congress have betrayed Republican values over the course of the past six years. I am now back in the states completing my postgraduate work at the University of Texas at Dallas and thus will be writing my next 12 columns from the “scene of the crimes” so to speak.
Now that Alberto Gonzales has finally yielded to pressure from White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and resigned as Attorney General, Guantanamo Bay’s days as a detention facility for “enemy combatants” may finally be numbered. Long before he became Attorney General, Gonzales had been the chief architect of President Bush’s controversial counterterrorism policies including the administration's questionable interrogation policies, its secret overseas prisons and the government's warrant-less domestic surveillance program. After Gonzales departs later this month I expect a renewed push by Defence Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Rice to shut down Guantanamo and reign in some of the aforementioned policies.
Although I expect VP Cheney to put up a spirited fight to maintain the status quo, he has lost one of his few remaining allies in support of these policies who the President also had confidence in. Coupled with previous departures of other neo-conservatives from the Bush administration and their subsequent replacement with foreign policy realists, Cheney is now increasingly isolated within the White House national security and foreign policy establishment. This is one of the few positive developments I have seen within the Bush administration during the past year and while I may wish for more in the next 16 months, frankly I don’t expect there will be many others.
That is because President Bush has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to admit any mistakes in judgment where either administration personnel or policies are concerned. Donald Rumsfeld held on to his job as Defence Secretary far beyond his label’s “expiration date” and in the face of overwhelming evidence that his strategies in the Iraq war and his leadership in conducting that war were both failures.
At a White House dinner six months before Rumsfeld was forced to resign following the disastrous 2006 mid-term elections, President Bush had asked for a show of hands among his other advisers on whether or not Rumsfeld should be dumped as his Defence Secretary. Seven of them, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, current chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, former chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., and current White House counsellor Ed Gillespie, raised their hands in favour of forcing him out. Only three said he should be retained including national security adviser Steven Hadley and my old buddy Karl Rove. Bush also raised his hand in favour of keeping Rumsfeld on and, of course, wasn’t that the only vote that really counted anyway?
However by the time Bush finally cut Rumsfeld loose six months later, any positive political capital that he might have garnered with such a move had long since been lost. Rumsfeld had by then lost all credibility with the American people, military and defence department employees as well as most members of Congress including many Republicans. As such the general reaction from all quarters to Rumsfeld’s resignation was “Well, it’s about time. What took you so long?”
The saga of Alberto Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General is even sadder than Rumsfeld’s reign (of terror?) in the “war on terror” as Defence Secretary. Here was a man of humble beginnings as the son of poor Mexican migrant workers, who worked his way through college and eventually rose to the heights of power as the United States’ first Hispanic attorney general. But Gonzales’ fall from office was excruciatingly slow and painful and was needlessly long and drawn out due to President Bush’s inability to admit that Gonzales had made any mistakes while he was in office.
Virtually all of the wounds suffered by Alberto Gonzales over the past year were self inflicted, rather than the result of partisan politics as President Bush would have us believe. When he announced Alberto Gonzales’ resignation last week, Bush claimed that Gonzales had been the victim of “months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department.” In so doing the President ignored the fact that most members of his own Republican Party, as well as many members of his White House staff, believed that it was Gonzales who had demonstrated both his incompetence and poor judgement as Attorney General in his initial response to the controversy surrounding the firings of several US attorneys.
In his appearances before congressional committees investigating the efficacy of these firings, Gonzales repeatedly angered lawmakers by saying that he could not recall key episodes and details related to the U.S. attorneys' dismissals, testifying nearly 70 times at one hearing alone that he could not remember specific events. Furthermore, testimony by other Department of Justice (DOJ) employees, like his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and his senior counsellor, Monica Goodling, was often at odds with what statements, meetings and facts Gonzales could recall and did testify about.
Gonzales then added further fuel to the fire with his testimony regarding his previous role as White House counsellor in extending the government’s warrant-less surveillance program. FBI director William Mueller and others subsequently undercut Gonzales's reputation for honesty by providing accounts of events surrounding the government's warrant-less surveillance program that were at serious odds with Gonzales's account of the events surrounding the renewal of that program and the opposition to it by then Attorney General John Ashcroft.
DOJ investigators have now said they are examining whether Gonzales purposely misled Congress in his warrant-less surveillance program testimony or attempted to improperly influence a witness in his employ, Monica Goodling, as regards her testimony on the US attorney firings. What a way to end your term in office.

The Bush and Republican Party record for the past 6 years

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on September 6th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Over the past few weeks I have discussed why I believe either active or untreated alcoholism has played a role in President Bush’s resistance to compromise and his unwillingness to admit any mistakes on either foreign or domestic policies, as well as the dangerous influence of Vice President Dick Cheney within the Bush administration. I then outlined mistakes which the Republican administration has made over the past 6 years, with the Republican Congress acting as willing accomplices, which I view as a betrayal of my party’s long held economic principles.
Today as I prepare to return to the states for a couple of months, I want to wrap up my analysis of how my fellow Republicans have performed during their 6 years in complete control of basically all 3 branches of the Federal government. I have tried to focus on 4 important areas, the role of the President, Vice President and their appointees in federal government, the Bush administration and the Republican Congress’s fiscal policies, their collective response to the crisis of healthcare entitlements and today on the President’s lack of respect for the US legal system.
I will conclude by highlighting the problems which have arisen and suggest solutions based on traditional Republican Party principles which have been ignored by both the President and many Republicans in Congress for the last 6 years. I’m not going to spend much time discussing the Iraq war or the so-called “war on terror” because I have already discussed these issues at length in previous columns.
The Republican Party has traditionally been opposed to government intrusion into American citizens’ private lives and a strong supporter of strict interpretation and adherence to the rights of citizen’s as set forth in the US Constitution. Republicans also push for greater respect for the rule of law and the creation of stronger institutions to uphold and enforce laws in other less developed countries which lack such legal systems, while also pointing to the US legal system as a worthy model.
But the Bush administration has shown little respect for US federal laws that it doesn’t like and has also turned the US Constitution on its head in the name of its so-called “war on terror”. Many respected Republican congressmen have joined Democrats in questioning both the constitutionality of many of the anti-terror policies President Bush has claimed he has a right to authorise and the effectiveness of these measures. In fact, whenever the Bush administration has been challenged in the US federal courts on its claims, these largely Republican jurists courts have ruled against the President and his legal advisors.
Federal courts have already ruled against the administration’s warrant less wire taping policies and the US Supreme Court took the administration to task for its refusal to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate CO2 greenhouse gas emissions by automobiles and power plants. Now the US Supreme Court has reversed itself and agreed to hear an appeal arguing that the Guantanamo Bay military detention hearings are unjust and that detainees have a right to contest their detentions in federal court.
Many constitutional lawyers say this was due to a respected Republican lawyer’s account of what he had witnessed while serving as a trial judge at these hearings. They believe that Colonel Abraham’s description of a procedure that he believed was deeply flawed and was simply a tool for military commanders to rubber-stamp decisions they had already made, played an important role in the US Supreme Court’s extraordinary reversal.
Here are a few quotes from Colonel Abraham that were recently published in the New York Times which summarize his views about Guantanamo Bay; “The hearings amounted to a superficial summary of information, the quality of which would not have withstood scrutiny in any serious law-enforcement or intelligence investigation,” He goes on to say how the military commanders reacted when the hearing panels decided that (due to unsupported accusations by unknown persons), a detainee wasn’t really an enemy combatant. “Anything that resulted in a ‘not enemy combatant’ would just send ripples through the entire process,” he said. “The interpretation is, ‘You got the wrong result. Do it again.’ ”
Maybe another ruling by the US Supreme Court against the Bush administration is what it will take to shut down Guantanamo Bay, because Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Rice have thus far been unable to persuade the President to do so. They can not seem to overcome the objections of Cheney and an Attorney General who is thoroughly discredited and widely derided by most Republicans in Congress. But given the Bush administration’s dismal record when it is challenged in federal court, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he and Cheney are standing by Alberto Gonzales even though he has become the laughing stock of Washington DC. The blind leading the blind!
True Republicans treat federal government like a business and hire the best people to run their agencies regardless of party affiliation. They don’t hire incompetent or inexperienced social conservative ideologues like Monica Goodling or officials with prior records of self dealing like J. Steven Giles. They cut loose cabinet officials who prove to be incompetent after they are on the job like Alberto Gonzales, rather than let them continue to demoralise their department’s employees.
True Republicans don’t try to make the federal government bureaucracy larger and more intrusive and they sure don’t use a budget deficit credit card to finance a war or an expansion of entitlement programs. They use a combination of taxes, reduced benefits and tighter eligibility guidelines to ensure the solvency of such programs. They also negotiate like any business would with potential suppliers on the prices the government pays for things like prescription drugs or the reconstruction efforts in Iraq or New Orleans.
True Republicans negotiate with dictators rather than invade their countries to overthrow them. True Republicans demonstrate genuine respect for the rule of law and they don’t thumb their nose at it the way Bush and Cheney have. Slan!