Friday, April 29, 2011


It is said that "history repeats itself". Unfortunately that seems to be the case today. While Washington D. C. is not Seventh Century Rome one is reminded of that quaint vignette in which the emperor Nero supposedly "fiddled while Rome burned". No individual contemporary emperor exists in the U.S., but that characterization seems to be appropriate to a sort of collective Nero made up of our political "leadership" in Washington and the guides of our political agenda and attention, the media.

Here is the current "fire" i.e. just five of the important issues which need to be seriously addressed but which are leaders are "fiddling":
1. the 2012 fiscal year federal budget 2. the political chaos in the Middle East which will redefine vital economic and security issues for the future 3. rapidly rising gasoline and food prices in the U.S. and abroad 4. escalating violence in Mexico which threatens border towns in the U.S. and reinforces the need for immigration reform 5. the constant revisions of assessments of "progress" and withdrawal dates in Afghanistan.

The most important member of this Nero like "musical group" is of course President Obama. Currently engaged in campaign mode, Obama seems strangely disconnected from the host of important problems. He has become a spectator to important international events as his response to the various crises in the Middle East is limited to occasional "condemnations" of violence inflicted upon protestors. He is a reluctant and limited participant in the NATO intervention in Libya since employing the initial use of attack aircraft and cruise missiles to destroy Ghaddafi's air defenses in support of the "no fly zone". He "condemns" the violence of Ghaddafi's military response to the armed insurgency in the Northern cities but took two months to authorize the use of a few U.S. drones to attack the government's military. Since, turning over the operation with it's lack of specific goals, to NATO and the Canadian general who is in operational command, Obama has carefully withdrawn the U.S. from any kind of leadership, political or military. The situation is rapidly deteriorating into a stalemate and Obama needs to offer a rationale for U.S. participation and state an achievable goal or withdraw. He has "condemned" the harsher violence inflicted by Syrian president Assad on the protestors in that country but then turned to more important issues; releasing his birth certificate and denouncing Republican efforts to make serious cuts in the 2012 budget.

He "fiddles" and is largely silent about the spike in retail gasoline prices except to simply resorting to tired cliché's about "our addiction to oil" and "green alternatives". Some plan to further develop U.S. oil reserves and facilitate an increase in refining capacity would be a start. For years Democrats in the Congress who apparently discovered their inner caribou, have blocked oil exploration in just 10% of the Alaskan National Wildlife Reservation (ANWAR) and as leader of the nation Obama has made that do nothing position and a Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium his energy policy.

The chaos in Mexico where the drug gang violence exceeds the current sectarian violence in Iraq and is creeping across the southern U.S. border, is not on the presidential agenda. Despite the Roman like "fire" in the region, it appears that immigration reform and border security are "too hot" politically to address in a campaign year. Republicans are equally at fault in deferring this issue in the simple hope that they will take control of the White House and both houses of Congress in 2012. The fear of the 2012 Hispanic vote (less than 7% of the 2010 vote) has apparently immobilized both parties.

The critical budget process is an exercise in rhetorical excess and lack of political realism on the part of both sides. Obama has offered a 2012 budget which projects cuts from 2011 levels of 2.4%. But the 2011 budget deficit is now projected to be 1.65 trillion dollars so a 2.4% reduction is not cause for celebration. His budget also projects federal debt to grow to 16.7 trillion dollars by September, 2012, up from 14.3 trillion currently. He claims this budget will cut 1.1. trillion dollars over 10 years but that is just 110 billion per year or 2.94% of his 2012 budget and just 6.66 percent of the projected 2011 budget deficit. Obama has ignored all the recommendations of his own bi-partisan Deficit Commission and offered a political budget designed to avoid all painful but necessary spending reductions to accommodate his reelection campaign.

The Republican budget designed by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan includes significant spending cuts but is itself a political statement in that it will be “dead on arrival” in the Democrat controlled Senate and has already stimulated a veto threat by Obama. If both sides wanted to put down their “fiddles” and work to get something accomplished before the 2012 election, they would both have to accept some political risks. Obama needs to address the financial crisis in meaningful ways with real cuts and numbers not based on intangibles like a "recovering economy" and “belt tightening” efficiencies to control “waste and inefficiency”. Republican leaders need to start with a budget proposal that has room for compromise and some hope of enactment. This will require ignoring or convincing the ideologically brain locked members in the far right that some tax increases or closing of some “tax expenditures” (loopholes and deductions) is necessary given the enormity of the problem.

Meanwhile the watchdogs of our democracy, the national media, have been focused on: the Trump political sideshow, the royal wedding (now thankfully completed), and Obama's release of his birth certificate. There’s definitely smoke in the air but that fiddle music we hear isn’t the Foggy Mountain Boys.

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