The pizza joints are making a killing in Madison, Wisconsin. Normally at this time of year Ian’s Pizza by the Slice is doing good business because the state high school wrestling tournament is in town and the venue, the Kohl Center on the University of Wisconsin campus, is a block down Frances Street. But they and other pizzerias in town are raking it in thanks to the deliveries of pizza given to the protesters who have basically made the nearby state capitol building the world’s largest indoor camping site and old fashioned hockey arena with hundred of signs and banners posted all over the walls and balconies. They don’t have to pay for much of the pizza; sympathetic people are phoning in orders for them from all over the world, even from Egypt and Tunisia.
The state wrestling tournament still goes on though, seemingly shielded from tumult just a few blocks up the street. No doubt those attending from around Wisconsin are heading up State Street to see the fuss they see on their TV screens back home in Racine, Edgar, Wisconsin Rapids, West Allis and Cuba City. They’ll be met by protestors marching up and down both sides of State Street as they head to the capitol. The square itself has become an inverted reality where a protest takes place and life goes on as normal. Far from chaos in the streets, one could basically get to where they were going inside the building if they didn’t mind shaving a few minutes getting through the marchers going round and round it both outside and in. The State Assembly was voting on amendments to the budgets the Wednesday I happened to stroll in and nobody cared. Someone in the center of the rotunda was speaking and the crowd on the floor and the balconies were cheering or milling about. Supplies were being handed out. Pipe and Drum bands were playing. The cops, many of them sheriff’s deputies from around the state called in to protect the building and its occupants from the mob, were mostly just props. Lots of unwritten rules were being followed.
I have a theory that Gov. Walker delayed his budget address until after the state tournament because the last thing he wanted was to see crowds of white, middle and working class wrestling fans up at the capitol instead of at the Kohl Center joining the protesters when they see what the budget has in store for their towns, cities and schools. Much of the budgets of local government and school districts are made up by state aid and when the proposed billion dollar cuts come down, there a good chance many of the schools who have wrestlers down here may well be out of existence come next February–consolidated into bigger schools because not even teacher and personnel layoffs will make up the shortfalls. And when a school district goes out of business in Wisconsin, well, let’s just say the difference in the state between towns that have schools and those that don’t is quite stark, especially in the rural western part of the state. It’s easy working in the bowls of the Kohl Center and covering a huge enterprise like this to forget all that’s going on in the outside world. One can easily develop a bunker mentality like the press room itself. But many high school wrestling coaches are teachers too, and you can hear them talk about receiving layoff notices. No doubt there are fans in the stands who work for their local township, school district or county government and they probably just as worried too what’s going to happen. Wrestling fans, public employee or not, union or non-union, tend to be a conservative lot, not all but most. One wonders if Gov. Walker understands this.
The tournament ends Saturday night and on Sunday morning the state capitol police are telling the campers, most UW students, and TAs (teaching assistants) that they have to clear out of the building for “cleaning.” No doubt the hope from the governor’s office and the state legislative leadership, who prefer not to step over sleeping bags on their way to work, is that the campers won’t be back and the continuous two-week protest against Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget reforms will lose steam and fizzle out. That may or may not be so, but so long as the 14 State Senate Democrats, whose bolt from the state into Illinois began the stalemate, continue to stay away the standoff will continue–protesters or no protesters. Given the governor’s comments when he thinks he’s talking talking to David Koch over the phone, eager to get his approval and his money for what he’s doing, there’s no chance at all they’ll come back anytime soon.
And even if they did come back there’s no chance this dispute will end anytime soon in anyone’s mind. Already recall petitions are ready to be circulate for at least two-thirds of the State Senate coming from both sides of the divide. There will be an organized effort to recall Walker as soon as the law allows. No doubt the anti-Walker forces are hoping to collect the 500,000 signatures needed in order to have the recall election during the 2012 elections when President Obama will be on the ballot, the presumed favorite to win the state in the next election and thus a golden opportunity to get rid of him. Wisconsin has a fairly easy recall process, so easy in fact one wonders why it even has elections on fixed times and dates at all; the losers are already plotting your demise as soon as they get their chance, which is basically after you’re sworn in. So we’ll have lots of elections in Wisconsin over the next two years. In the meantime, your best bet is NOT to give your views on the budget or Wisconsin politics on Facebook lest you be “defriended ” or subject to nasty vitriol from persons on either side questioning your intelligence (the state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, recently did a big story on this). Stick to recipes and kids photos only.
There’s more to tell–but this is a blog, not a book. I’ll leave you rooting for the kids I cover to win state titles and to consider the large undercurrent underneath this struggle, which affects Wisconsin and the nation’s politics as a whole.
Congress should think twice before forcing a government shutdown, as the consequences could be the loss of the power of Congress to control spending through authorization and appropriation bills.
Congress permitted President George W. Bush to accumulate new powers in the executive, and these powers have passed to Obama. Bush succeeded in establishing that, as a wartime commander-in-chief, he had the “inherent power” to disobey the laws against torture, spying on Americans without obtaining warrants, and indefinite detention. In addition, Bush used signing statements in ways inconsistent with his oath and obligation to uphold the laws of the United States, and he took the U.S. to war based on lies, deception, and fabricated “evidence,” an offense that qualifies as treason.
With these precedents, it is a simple matter for President Obama to declare that, with the U.S. at war in a world of growing instability, he has the inherent power to ignore the debt limit and to continue financing the government with the creation of new money by the Federal Reserve.
Congress could try to protect its loss of the power of the purse by impeaching Obama. But how credible would it be to impeach a wartime president who is using the same “inherent power” of his office that Congress permitted the previous president to use?
The powers that Bush asserted not only violated statutory law, but also set aside constitutionally guaranteed rights that are the essence of American liberty. Yet, Congress made no attempt to restrain him with impeachment. How then does Congress impeach a president who is merely using his power to keep a government at war operating?
As President Bush’s acts were not deemed impeachable offenses, it seems likely that Congress has lost its power to impeach through default.
Apart from courageous comments by Senator Rand Paul, there has been little serious consideration of cutting the many programs supported by the government that provide no benefit to the American people. I have been given a copy of a letter sent out recently to congressional Republican chiefs of staff by the office of the esteemed patriot Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who unfortunately heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen wanted to advise your Members that there is a great deal of misinformation being circulated about the Continuing Resolution and aid to Israel.
There will be no cuts to security assistance to the Jewish State of Israel.
Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Majority Whip McCarthy, and Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers have ALL confirmed that Israel will maintain its Qualitative Military Edge.
To reiterate, while there will be cuts to the foreign aid and State Department budgets, there will be no cuts to aid to Israel.
Dr. Yleem D.S. Poblete (PhD)
Chief of Staff
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
It is reassuring to note that at a time when governments are toppling left and right Ros-Lehtinen has the time to assure her fellow GOPers that some things will never change. I wonder, however, why her letter had absolutely zero content relating to the national interest of the United States. Surely Ros-Lehtinen understands the giving $3 billion to Israel every year makes the United States a safer, though somewhat poorer, place?
Possibly connected to Ros-Lehtinen’s effort is an announcement posted on the AIPAC website that boasts that all 67 freshman GOP congressmen have signed a letter pledging “no cuts” in aid to Israel. So much for any change coming from the Tea Parties.
In the 1980’s the United States funded Iraq’s Saddam Hussein yet considered Palestine’s Yasser Arafat and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi terrorists. And they were. But so was Saddam, who at that time was terrorizing his own people, gassing Iraqi Kurds while receiving America’s financial and political support. In the 1990’s, the US declared Hussein a menace and we apparently changed our mind about Arafat, who was even invited to the White House to shake hands with Bill Clinton. In the 2000’s George W. Bush went back to calling Arafat a terrorist, went to war with Saddam, who we also began calling a terrorist, but made amends with Gaddafi by taking Libya off our official list of state sponsors of terror and sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to shake Gaddafi’s hand. Mind you, this is the same Libyan dictator that Ronald Reagan once called the “mad dog of the Middle East” and who was responsible for blowing up an airplane full of American school kids over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988.
If the above history of the US’s overseas alliances and antagonisms sounds nonsensical or perhaps even immoral, that’s because, well, it is. Welcome to American foreign policy.
Like Egypt before it a few weeks ago, as Libya descends into chaos the eyes of the world now look to America to see what we will do. Why? Because the rest of the world is accustomed to the US always doing something. In fact, no matter how much our constant involvement becomes obviously counterproductive or our actions come back to haunt us in the most damaging ways imaginable, the so called “experts” in Washington, DC continue to tell us we must still be involved heavily in the Middle East and around the globe, funding dictators and supporting terrorists, while also toppling the same dictators and fighting the same terrorists, as determined by which decade we find ourselves in or which president sits in the White House. For example,
in the 1980’s it was the official policy of the State Department to encourage radical jihad in Afghanistan to undermine the Soviets. Today, we find ourselves in a decade long war in Afghanistan fighting against the same radical jihadists we once encouraged and helped fund. Such insanity is what our leaders continue to advocate as a reasonable and necessary foreign policy. To suggest that we should just give up these ever-changing entanglements as a practical matter is disparaged as “isolationist” and therefore unfathomable, the experts tell us. Read More…
Last year, Barack Obama committed his administration to doubling U.S. exports in half a decade.
The good news: He is on the way. U.S. exports of goods and services grew in 2010 by 16.6 percent.
Bad news: U.S. imports, starting from a higher base, surged by 19.7 percent.
Result: The U.S. trade deficit in 2010 worsened by 33 percent, rising from $375 billion to $498 billion, the largest percentage increase in a decade. If Obama keeps this up, he may prove as big a disaster for U.S. manufacturing as his predecessor, although these are big shoes to fill.
As he has each February for years, Charles W. McMillion of MBG Information Services has compiled the stats on the industrial decline of his country under our free trade presidents. Here are but a few numbers for the decade from December 2000, the month before George W. Bush took the oath, to December 2010, the end of Obama’s second year.
In that decade, America ran a total of $6.1 trillion in trade deficits, more than our entire economic growth. To finance those 10 years of deficits, America had to borrow $1.553 billion every day.
And we wonder why China owns America.
In 2010, our trade deficit in manufactures alone rose 27 percent to $416 billion, far exceeding our trade deficit in crude oil. A decade of such deficits in manufactures has devastated the industrial states. Read More…
To someone who has been writing about the military’s Massive Message Machine for a few years now, or as the military more politely puts it, Strategic Communications, a whopping $4.9 billion of our taxpayer money for winning hearts and minds here and abroad in 2009 alone, Michael Hastings’ latest piece, “Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators,” is no real surprise.
It could be almost funny, imagining our senators, delivered up to the Men in Fatigues upon landing in their CH-47 Chinook helicopters, like the hapless victims in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) or the hilariously MST3k-lampooned Devil Doll (1964). I prefer The Stepford Wives analogy when writing about the lawmakers and think tankers who get all goofy-eyed after spending five minutes “in the field” on the generals’ turf. They come back home spouting things like, “timelines are dangerous,” “long hard slog,” and “political will to continue,” and start green lighting budgets and blocking measures to hasten the end of the war.
It might be funny if it weren’t so true. Hastings, the Rolling Stone writer who brought Gen. Stanley McChrystal down, writes that Gen. William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan troops, demanded in 2009 that U.S military psy-ops be turned on visiting Senators and other “distinguished visitors” during routine CODELs (congressional delegations) to the warzone. Seems that the truth wasn’t good enough to convince the military’s paymasters that they deserved more money and time to fight it. Sadly, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Al Franken were among the “targets” for this mission, which, as the Army whistleblower who helped Hastings break the story concluded, clearly violated the law against propagandizing our own citizens. Consequently, as I wrote about last year, both Levin and Franken fell down on the job when it came to resisting the push for the Afghan surge. In fact, it was immediately after one of these CODELs that the two senators softened their tone against the war policy.
Antiwar.com, Jan. 26, 2010:
Sure, the lawmaker may fly into Bagram air field with a head full of steam against sending 30,000 more troops, or at least a healthy skepticism toward escalating of a war in which every additional day, month, and year of the occupation seems to breathe new life into the forces against us. But like Joanna Eberhart’s fateful discovery at the Stepford Men’s Association, nearly every member of Congress who travels overseas these days to meet the boss returns mouthing the same rhetoric, like a plastic simulacrum of the man or woman their constituents elected.
“What I saw here is almost totally positive,” gushed Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, after a hand-holding walk through a forward operating base in Afghanistan. “We went to places away from Kabul today. We saw real partnering with Afghans … it’s reassuring to see that happening.”
Levin traveled to the region earlier this month with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), spending one day in Pakistan and two whole days in Afghanistan. “Our counterinsurgency strategy may be taking hold … we are offering [the Afghans] terms of security better than the false security offered by the Taliban,” he told reporters.
“I came back more optimistic about where we are,” Franken shared with Minnesota Public Radio upon his return.
“Gen. McChrystal did say momentum and perception are so important in Afghanistan. I believe we are seeing a change in that,” Franken said. “We need to clear, hold, and build, we need to secure these areas … we’re using classic counterinsurgency tactics and I feel much better.”
Just last month I mentioned how Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell was helping the military Svengalis get their hooks into budget cutting conservatives on a more recent CODEL. I think Hastings has helped expose something essential here, and it’s great to see that his source, Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, leader of the Information Operations unit tasked with turning their skills on senators and others, had the guts to stand up to the general and tell him he was breaking the law. He paid for it, with petty retaliation by the General’s office, according to Hastings. But it is always good to know that there are still levels of resistance from within the machine.
Marc Lynch makes a tentative case for the U.S. to take action — but not too much action — against Gaddafi. The measures he has in mind include, “the declaration and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, presumably by NATO, to prevent the use of military aircraft against the protestors [sic]. It could also mean a clear declaration that members of the regime and military will be held individually responsible for any future deaths. The U.S. should call for an urgent, immediate Security Council meeting and push for a strong resolution condeming [sic] Libya’s use of violence and authorizing targeted sanctions against the regime.” Various neoconservatives and Republican hawks have been calling for similar measures. Lynch, at least, says he is “keenly, painfully aware of all that could go wrong with even the kinds of responses I am recommending.”
Never mind what can go wrong, though — what could possibly go right? Sanctions won’t even give pause to the killing, much less end it, and Gaddafi has much more to worry about than “a strong resolution condemning” him or a “clear resolution” that he’ll be held accountable at the Hague. He’s going to be hanging from a lamp post once he loses power. His henchmen face an even starker calculation: join the resistance and risk being shot by Gaddafi himself or stick with him and enjoy the same fate if he’s vanquished. Either way, the terrors of international tribunals pale by comparison.
Aside from making Western interventionists feel better about themselves, the only use the symbolic measures proposed by Lynch have is to set a pretext for large-scale military invention, which Lynch insists he does not want. (“I don’t call for a direct military intervention.”) Imposing no-fly zone is not symbolic, of course: it’s “direct military intervention” pure and simple, an act of war. If a single NATO jet goes down, pressure to invade North Africa will be nigh irresistible. Interventionists of all stripes are fully aware of this.
Maybe naive good intentions outstrip common sense where some interventionists are concerned, but watch out: the Libyan slaughter is creating an opening for those who would have liked to stage-manage the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions to impose some “control” on unrest in the region. A Libyan intervention will be the first step toward putting an end to all this messy indigenous rebellion, so the task of proper, American-led “democratization” can resume. Considering the interests at stake, I expect the cries for intervention to grow very loud very quickly.
The reasons for the current protests in Wisconsin are somewhat complex but ultimately represent the need to address an unsustainable status quo versus a deep, although understandable, attachment to it. Naturally, government and union workers don’t want their pay or benefits reduced, just like those in the private sector don’t like it when they are downsized, fall victim to budget cuts or are outright fired. But whether private or public, changing circumstances often mean, well, circumstances must change. Such realignments are almost always controversial, even when they make sense. This is particularly the case when any such reform proposals target longstanding assumptions or deeply held, status quo attachments.
Virtually every story you read about Senator Rand Paul’s plan to cut foreign aid mentions Israel first and foremost. Never mind that Paul has proposed that we cut all foreign aid—which means literally every single country we currently subsidize. Never mind that Paul points out that although we give $3 billion to Israel annually, we also inexplicably give about $6 billion to countries that surround Israel, many of them antagonistic toward the Jewish state. Never mind that Paul has said explicitly “I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel… but not with money you don’t have. We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries even if they are our friends.”
Yet Paul’s fairly common sense, budget-conscious points concerning foreign aid haven’t even been considered and are obfuscated due almost entirely to the establishment’s focus on Israel. Senate Democrats wrote Paul a letter stating: “These remarks are alarming and aim to weaken the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel…” Republicans like Sen. Jim DeMint, who is usually a reliable fiscal hawk and generally an ally of Paul, responded that it would be a “real mistake to suggest we might reduce support to Israel.” Sen. Lindsey Graham was even more blunt, saying of Paul’s proposal: “Over my dead body!” Read More…
As a large and furious demonstration was under way outside and inside the Capitol in Madison last week, Barack Obama invited in a TV camera crew from Milwaukee and proceeded to fan the flames.
Dropping the mask of The Great Compromiser, Obama reverted to his role as South Chicago community organizer, charging Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin legislature with an “assault on unions.”
As the late Saul Alinsky admonished in his Rules for Radicals, “the community organizer … must first rub raw the resentments of the people; fan the latent hostilities to the point of overt expression.”
After Obama goaded the demonstrators, the protests swelled. All 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois to paralyze the upper chamber by denying it a quorum. Teachers went on strike, left kids in the classroom and came to Madison. Schools shut down. Read More…
This weekend I had a chance to read Rand Paul’s new book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. It is a much bolder book than Rand skeptics would have expected, and it is also a strategically clever book, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. To be sure, Rand’s anecdotes from the campaign trail and from his days as a boy growing up in the Paul household are well executed and engaging, rather than cloying and phony as in so many political books. More importantly, Senator Paul is willing to stake out positions—on the Patriot Act, the U.S. Constitution, the federal budget, Austrian economics, and so on—that are not exactly standard fare for a man in his position.
To begin with, I found Rand’s discussion of his campaign for the Republican nomination interesting and revealing. I did not realize the full extent to which the Republican establishment initially shut him out—at least until it became obvious he was a winner, at which point many of them couldn’t hop onto the bandwagon fast enough. I did recall Dick Cheney’s endorsement of Trey Grayson, the empty suit who opposed Rand in the primary. “I’m a lifelong conservative,” said the former vice president, “and I can tell the real thing when I see it.” That is, Cheney saw “conservatism” in a wooden, uninspired, business-as-usual, entirely safe man of the establishment. I happened to know the calculatingly inoffensive Grayson in my college days; we were both in Harvard’s class of ’94. A nice enough guy, but no one ever knew where he stood on anything. He must have been grooming himself even then.
Grayson was supposed to win. He had the party machine—which was all too happy to endorse someone so obviously uninterested in rocking the boat—fully behind him. And he lost, badly. Read More…