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Monday, November 21, 2011

GOING, GOING, GONE? POLITICS ETC.




If things seem chaotic from state level politics all the way up through the international level, they are.  However, out of the turmoil it's becoming clear that the sun is setting on a number of phenomena, some gratefully some regrettably.  The hangers-on, disbelievers, and media over interpreters won't give up easily but here's a short list of sinking ships to take note of.

Herman Cain
:    It was fun while it lasted but Cain's shooting star ascendance and subsequent flame out was in retrospect inevitable.  His popularity was/is mostly based on his engaging personality with it's "I'm not wrong; they just don't understand; " "I'm not a politician" stage presence.  But his whole attempt at substance was wrapped up in his "9-9-9" plan for tax reform and after its initial promise of being simple and fair, further analysis couldn't make the numbers work.  In terms of necessary revenues to restrain a growing deficit and federal debt, or "fairness" with respect to its impact on different classes of tax payers, it came up short.  The personal financial  implications of the third "9" which is a 9% federal sales tax were also starting to sink in to voters, as well as the political implications to his opponents.  

Still, sufficient numbers of Republican voters from the social conservative and anti-Washington wing kept Cain's support stable, although not growing, in the 23-25% area.  But "9-9-9" wasn't powerful enough to protect Cain when the bottom started to drop out over the revelation of a decade old series of sexual harassment complaints.  The veracity of these complaints has yet to be proved and the fact that the timing of their public release after 10-11 years is clearly an attempt by political opponents to destroy the Cain campaign, has not sufficiently mitigated their impact.  But then, in a series of interviews,  Cain demonstrated an astonishing Palinesque  level of ignorance about international politics  which made him seem even more vulnerable politically and less prepared to assume the nation's highest office.

First, even before the harassment controversy, he was asked if he agreed with George Bush's neo-conservative philosophy which was the basis for the Iraq war. Cain said simply that he was "not familiar with the neo-conservative "movement".  More recently he claimed that China was trying to develop nuclear weapons, apparently ignorant of the fact that they have had such weapons since 1964. But the most crippling demonstration of "in the box" thinking occurred when asked whether he supported Obama's policy with respect to the Libyan revolution.  He simply couldn't answer and remarkably seemed not to know that the six month NATO intervention and the expenditure of $2 billion by the U.S. in support of the insurgency which led to the killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi had even occurred. 

Cain, not surprisingly, but still unfortunately, says he’s in for the duration but his support is dwindling and it’s a safe bet to wave good bye to Herman as a serious candidate.

Occupy Wall Street
:   It took off with a bang on September 15 and quickly spread around the country and Western Europe.  But over time, the differences in the various protests became evident as did it’s fundamental organizational flaws and lack of purpose.  In Spain, there was already a youthful protest movement based on high unemployment.  In England the primary complaint was significant tuition increases which were part of the coalition government’s budget reducing austerity program.  But even in the U.S., despite the use of a few common slogans i.e. “We’re the 99%”, it eventually became clear that the protest movement was about anything any participants wanted it to be.  Thus the home made signs , which are the “message of the movement” indicate that this is a protest about:  the capitalist economic system; inequality of wealth; environmental activism; student loans; global warming; lack of housing for the homeless; anti-war protests; legalizing marijuana; freeing Wikileaks traitor Pvt. Bradley Manning, and pretty much everything else commonly associated with Left wing causes.  

If the protest is about everything, it is about nothing.  Even if it were to focus on the original complaint, "corporate greed", that is not a legislative program.  But of course that's part of the attraction to the movement's core group, the "twenty something", counter culture fringe that every generation seems to produce.  You don't have to know anything to simply camp out in a commune like atmosphere, pound on drums and guitars, and wave simple minded signs and banners, to be a "revolutionary".  It's all fun and no work.

Of course there are other components to the movement; homeless hangers on and weekenders like the usual group of self righteous college students and self serving union activists, but as a group, the movement has demonstrated such a high level of self indulgence, lawlessness and disdain for the rights of the surrounding populations that they have worn out their welcome in cities across the country.  Even in liberal communities like New York City, Portland Oregon, Denver and remarkably, the "people's republic of Oakland", municipal authorities have had to respond to the complaints of the business community and ordinary citizens who can't take off time from work and families to camp out for two months and who don't think their lives should be disrupted by those with nothing else to do.  Thus, one by one the illegal and fetid camps are being cleared.

All this has resulted in a dramatic loss of public support for the movement.  Public Policy Polling reports that only 33% of responders now "support the goals of the OWS movement." It is fair to speculate that a much higher percentage does not support their tactics.  Indeed the movement now relies on physical confrontations with police to generate headlines and sympathy.  Leftist commentators now write less about  "inequality" and more about alleged “police brutality" which they define as any effort by police to remove or control mobs who refuse to comply with municipal laws and resist arrest.

The movement was always more about process, i.e. camping and protesting, than about product i.e. legislative remedies to economic issues.  Now with declining public support, more robust and common sense enforcement of municipal laws, and the onset of winter weather, OWS has reached a tipping point.  It will not disappear, especially in more temperate climates, but it will slowly exhaust itself.  While the originators of the movement, a couple of Canadian journalists, claim that the movement will not decline, they at the same time acknowledge that it will have to change tactics.  "With or without winter encampments", the new tactics they are recommending are:  "marked escalation of surprise"; "playful precision disruption"; "rush hour flash mobs"; "bank occupations"; "occupy squads" and "edgy theatrics".   Ignoring the fact that getting large groups together without encampments will present great difficulties, "playful disruption", "rush hour flash mobs" and "bank occupations" are tactics which clearly reveal the genuine purpose of the movement which is to perpetuate their irresponsible self indulgence and disrupt the lives of the rest of the "99 percent" who they claim to represent.  These tactics will further reduce public support and stimulate more confrontations with authorities to the further discredit of this exercise in irresponsibility.

Federal debt reduction
:   With the failure of the "super committee" of Congress who had been charged with formulating  a debt reduction plan of 1.2 trillion dollars, it is clear that the Congress lacks the wisdom and political courage to tackle this enormously important issue.  This of course, is no surprise.  Even a "successful" outcome would have required only a reduction of 120 billion dollars a year for ten years.  In the face of current annual federal deficits in the area of 1.3 trillion dollars, and now an accumulated federal debt in excess of 15 trillion dollars, the goal, if achieved would have been mostly a symbolic victory.  While symbolic achievements might have given some confidence to  lenders, investors, producers and consumers, it would essentially still have deferred the problem.  It is clear that the ideological divide in the current Congress and the political environment created by the upcoming 2012 national elections make any significant progress in the area of fiscal responsibility impossible. The “automatic”, across the board ten year cuts of 1.2 trillion dollars which are supposed to result upon the failure of the super committee will probably not come about in spite of President Obama's threat to veto any modification legislation.  The cuts are not supposed to commence until 2013 and the next Congress will not be obligated to carry these cuts forward, also Obama may not be president after January, 2013.  Already, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, along with Republican conservatives are vowing to amend the estimated 500 billion dollars in cuts to defense spending required under the current legislation.  Such an effort would stimulate a similar demand by Democrats to reduce the cuts to domestic programs and the whole effort would fall apart.

The best remedy now available is the election itself if it can produce a majority government.  A majority Democrat government, while improbable at this point, would not be inclined to make significant cuts in spending however, and since their strategy of tax increases is clearly not sufficient to make significant deficit/debt reductions, the problem would continue to grow to unsustainable levels. 

A majority Republican government, while more probable, though in no way certain, could bring about major spending reductions, although such proposals could expect to face Democrat filibusters in the Senate.  However, reductions of the magnitude required without some increases in revenue through new or higher taxes and elimination of deductions would slow economic recovery.  Currently the prospects are for a post election continuation of divided government with the Senate remaining in Democrat hands, no matter which party controls the White House. 

Good bye to the super committee and to meaningful economic reform for the foreseeable future.

There are several other important entities and programs on the endangered species list, a couple are;  Greece, which may be too far gone into government debt to save as a member of the 17 nation Euro zone and whose economy may eventually implode.

 Any hope for a sensible, workable U.S. immigration policy, as Obama has not proposed a policy, has now ordered  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop deporting illegal immigrants who are not criminals, thus waving a welcome sign to millions more illegal immigrants, all the while pursuing his law suits against the states of Alabama, Utah and Arizona who, in the face of the federal government's failure to act, passed immigration control measures of their own.

Americans are to be forgiven if they ask:  "Is anyone in charge?"

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