Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Facing Extinction? Grand Old Party Blues

Republican diehards at some point must realize that their invitation-only (Tea) party is over. They must first acknowledge that the vast majority of Americans are simply trying to make it through the economic and societal mess left, in large part, by the last eight years of rogue Republican superintendence. The Grand Old Party is way out of touch with political reality and running mostly on bluster and using a worn out old play book of negativity and exclusion.

Defection from the Republican ranks is notable, with tens of thousands of moderate and centrist Republicans leaving their old party and becoming Democrats or independents. Concerned Americans who have already voted their centrist values rather than hewing to the strident, divisive, self-serving GOP party line.

Senior Republican Senator Arlen Specter's recent defection from the GOP to the Democratic Party has caused an uproar in the toxic hard-core of the remaining Republican party. But it has also brought forth thoughtful, constructive commentary from long-time loyal Republican moderates like Maine Senator Olympia Snow and former New Jersey Republican Governor, Christine Todd Whitman. They have both recently written strong, intelligent Op-Ed articles for The New York Times calling for a reconstituted GOP.

Former Governor Whitman minced no words: "Our democracy desperately needs two vibrant parties. And for Republicans to be that second party, we need to remind the nation of the principles for which we once stood." Whitman listed those principals as a party "committed to such important values as fiscal restraint, less government interference in our everyday lives, environmental policies that promote a balanced approach between protection and economic interest, and a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world." The present party seems to have dozed through all their noble ideals for at least the past eight years.

Certainly fiscal restraint was not a hallmark of the Bush-Cheney years. The national debt more than doubled, growing from $5.727 trillion when Bush took office to $11.315 trillion as he hastily cobbled together fiscal bailout legislation as he was leaving office. That legislation included yet another provision to raise the debt ceiling in addition to the seven times Bush had already raised the debt ceiling while in office. For six of those eight years he had a Republican-controlled Congress to back up his reckless, endless spending.

No other administration in history had ever run up such national debt. After the total fiscal irresponsibility of a Republican controlled Congress that allowed mega-banks and mortgage giants to run rampant with virtually no supervision, leading to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it is really hard to be lectured by Republicans about "fiscal responsibility." And we have not mentioned the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which had totaled some $840,000,000 at the end of Bush's term. That's not far from another trillion bucks.

As far as "less government interference in our everyday lives, environmental policies that promote a balanced approach between protection and economic interest, and a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world," just analyze those yourself.

For starters, there is Bush's warrant-less wiretapping of American citizens, unprecedented secrecy and torture, trampling the Constitution, wholesale sellout of our national resources to environmentally hostile energy companies, and a foreign policy that, against the advice of "the rest of the world" led to the unilateral invasion of Iraq, a country which had nothing at all to do with the 2001 9/11 attack.

Just what did happen to Governor Whitman's "principals" for which her GOP once stood?"

Clearly the success and amazing leadership exhibited by President Obama in his first three months in office continues to energize the nation, and the world, even as a global flu pandemic threatens. Obama's team approach to attacking the GOP debris he inherited has garnered international admiration and support. This has all made the frantic, defeated, remaining conservative Republican leadership angry and more irrational than ever.

Instead of accepting reality and trying to formulate a new platform and bring forward constructive centrist ideas and proposals which would positively engage them with the majority party, they simply continue to implode.

The disappearance of the dinosaurs is generally attributed to a huge asteroid colliding with earth wiping them out. Daily Kos today posted an appropriate graphic that Michael Steele and his party might want to put in their offices and contemplate for a while. The clever, telling logo design even has elements of Leader Limbaugh in it.

Slightly defaced Mad Hatter Tea Party Engraving - Sir John Tenniel

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Obama's First 100 Days : Now a Piggie Pandemic?

As President Obama's first 100 days draw to a close, another potentially deadly challenge has been added to the myriad complex problems he has been thoughtfully working his way through. Identified as "Swine Flu" or the N1H1 flu virus, it has a potential to become a global flu pandemic.

The new president started out already waist-deep major problems left by Mssrs. Bush and Cheney. Two wars in the Middle East, America's battered international image, and an economic nightmare are just part of Mr. Obama's to do list. To date, he has received high approval ratings for his leadership. A global flu pandemic on top of what we already face is tough to even imagine.

I read John M. Barry's "The Great Influenza" a few years ago. Barry meticulously details the "Spanish Flu" of 1918. His finely researched narrative left me astounded at the far-reaching damage a ravaging pandemic can cause. It is generally agreed that a flu outbreak on a Kansas farm originating from farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas who quickly spread the disease to other soldiers headed for the WWI front in Europe.

It became known as the Spanish Flu because Spain was one of the only countries left with a free press and they reported on the panic with detailed accounts of how those infected bled from the nose and ears and turned blue from lack of oxygen. Helpless victims suffered aches saying they felt like their bones were being broken. Death came quickly. The rampaging pandemic killed more people in one year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century. A third of the world's population were infected and worldwide deaths are estimated at between 50 and 100 million.

In the United States, as troops mustered in huge cantonment camps across the nation preparing to ship out to the war in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson, a conservative Democrat and religious fundamentalist, clamped down on press freedom. Citing patriotism and the need to keep Americans on a righteous and patriotic path, he personally prevented even a mention of the raging flu. A public health official in Philadelphia even allowed young soldiers to mingle with the public during a parade. The bureaucrat noted that, "It is not patriotic to establish guidelines to protect the civilian public." Whole ships, loaded with sick and contagious troops were sent on to Europe rather than admit openly that there was a problem. They were aptly called "death ships" with most of the troops dead or wretchedly ill as they arrived in European ports.

The mass movement of people to and across Europe hastened the spread of the virulent flu. In the USA, people were most infectious to others during the days before they experienced any symptoms themselves. Globally, an estimated 2 to 2/5% of those who came down with the flu died. In the fall and winter of 1918 more people died from influenza than from any other pandemic before or since.

This Sunday afternoon, unlike Woodrow Wilson, the White House declared a "public health emergency" and the center for disease control announced, “We expect to see more cases of swine flu. As we continue to look for cases, I expect we’re going to find them.”

Politics remain at play as the seriousness of the current swine flu outbreak is assessed. The World Health Organization is taking its characteristic cautious stance calling the present flu outbreak in Mexico that has already killed more than 80 and infected another 1,900, “a public health emergency of international concern.” The W.H.O. is holding off till Tuesday to announce if it will raise the threat level. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, deputy director general of the W.H.O. is reported to have said, "Raising the threat to level 4 “would be a very serious signal that countries ought to be dusting off pandemic plans.” The level is currently a 3 on a scale of 6. (Ed Note: Now raised to level 5, April 29th)

So, here we are at the early, early stages of a strain of flu that seems to have developed in pigs and birds, mutated into a unique virus that is now being transmitted directly from human to human. Mexico seems to be the originating point. Already milder cases are being reported and identified across America and also mild cases are now being reported in Canada and New Zealand, and it has reached Europe.

We have learned a great deal about combating pandemics, and have new medicines and vaccines that were nonexistent in 1918. But is is sobering to realize that by the early 1990s, 75 years of research had failed to answer a most basic question about the 1918 pandemic: why was it so fatal? In recent years we have made some progress, but there are still lots of unanswered questions.

Today human fear and uncertainty remain pretty basic. A growing number of Americans are already barely living on the edge following loss of jobs, homes, savings, and face health care that is out of reach because of lack of insurance. America's vulnerability to a sweeping killer flu pandemic is doubly frightening today because so many families are already terribly weakened from the results of another endemic disease . . . greed.

Fat greed that grew and mutated while the host banks and financial giants flourished. Then just like in some farmyard in Mexico the greed genes intermingled, mutated and became toxic. We are already fighting the results of a pandemic of unregulated greed. Now real swine instead of figurative pigs once again spawn a physically life-sapping virus.

If ever there was a need for cool, serious and effective leadership and consensus, it is today. This also is a chance for detached conservative Republicans to get over their loss at the polls, and instead of throwing tepid tea parties, to come together and join in positive action to see America safely through what could be even tougher times ahead.

Swine flu is non partisan.

Graphic by Larry Ray

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dick Cheney: A Political Madness

storm of delusional rage, classic paranoia, frightening pettiness, and political irrelevance continues to characterize former Vice President of the United States of America, Dick Cheney.

And his madness has recently been on public display wherever he can manage a TV interview.

Dick Cheney is sadly childlike in his petulant public outbursts. There is a mad gleam in his eye as he insists that his fantasy world and imagined demons are real. He is both the raving old uncle bursting into the room, ranting wildly and an overindulged child throwing a tantrum, kicking and screaming on the floor.

Cheney is still fuming that W resolutely refused to pardon his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. who was convicted of several federal counts including perjury for his part in leaking the identity of former CIA agent, Valerie Wilson. Cheney will reportedly be a no-show at a Bush gathering next week of the old administration faithful including Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes, Dan Bartlett and other loyal insiders.

That George W. Bush would stand up to him in a heated argument during the last hours of their administration remains a stinging, maddening affront and personal defeat to Cheney, the consummate controller. His reluctance to quietly retire after imposing incalculable damage upon this country really should come as no surprise as we look back at his past.

Cheney began his political career in 1969 as an intern for Wisconsin Congressman William A. Steiger. The fall of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford's assumption of the presidency inadvertently opened the doors to the White House to Cheney.

Ford chose wunderkind and Nixon cabinet member, Donald Rumsfeld, to help him regain control of a White House in disarray and crisis. On his tapes, Nixon said of Rumsfeld, "at least Rummy is tough enough" and "He's a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that."

The bureaucratically saavy Rumsfeld tapped by then Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney, as his deputy. Early on, Cheney was characterized by insiders for "making himself valuable by initially doing the lowest forms of bureaucratic scutwork."

Rolling Stone Magazine succinctly described the Rumsfeld-Cheney power grabbing cabal: "Having turned Ford into their instrument, Rumsfeld and Cheney staged a palace coup. They pushed Ford to fire Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, tell Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to look for another job, and remove Henry Kissinger from his post as national security adviser. Rumsfeld was named secretary of defense, and Cheney became chief of staff to the president. The Yale dropout and draft dodger was, at the age of 34, the second-most-powerful man in the White House."

After years of steadily parlaying his political power, in 1993 Cheney left Washington and the Defense Department after the Democrats returned to power under Bill Clinton. Cheney joined The American Enterprise Institute and in 1995 until 2000 the career politician became CEO of energy sector giant, Haliburton. In those five years, before returning to politics, Cheney's net worth was estimated to be between $30 million and $100 million, and said to be largely derived from his position at Haliburton. This was in addition to his gross income of nearly $8.82 million. Not bad for a Yale dropout who eventually earned both a BA and MA in political science.

The world is generally very familiar with Cheney's transformation in 2000, of the basically powerless office of Vice President of the George W. Bush administration into a secretive Dr. Strangelove operation. The Washington Post noted, "Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar, and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that 'the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,' and is therefore exempt from rules governing either."

He did not leave office gracefully, being confined to a wheelchair following a fall. His image is forever burned into our memory as he was wheeled into his place at the Obama Inauguration, bundled up in a lap blanket, dressed in black, and wearing a dark fedora. An image of physical defeat, and dour reluctance to acknowledge that the nation was overwhelmingly, joyfully welcoming in a new era of change, openness and rejection of everything he stands for.

Cheney is sadly like a modern-day Norma Desmond substituting Pennsylvania Avenue for Sunset Boulevard. An over-the-hill, discredited political actor who may be ready for his closeup, but does not realize that it would be in High Definition today, showing all his warts and madness in more detail than anyone wants to see. Like Norma, Dick is better remembered silent. He now must head back, deep into the hills of Wyoming and let America get on with its business.

Thanks to Hieronymus Bosch for the look into Dick's Dark Brain