Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Christie vs. Paul

The escalating public dispute between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has exposed the deep rift that exists between factions of the Republican Party.   But these two men have turned their differences into a food fight over "pork" and "bacon".   

The dispute began last week when Christie raised concerns about the dangers of libertarianism, espoused by Senator Paul, who has been an outspoken critic of the National Security Agency and other national security issues.  "I just want us to be really cautious because this strain of libertarianism going through both parties right now and making big headlines I think is very dangerous," Christie told a gathering of Republican governors at the Aspen Institute in Colorado.  

The always blunt governor then said,  "These esoteric intellectual debates, I want them to come to New Jersey and sit in front of the widows and orphans and have that conversation, " referring to the people who lost family members in the September 11 terrorist attacks.  He concluded, "And they won't, because that's a much tougher conversation to have."

On Sunday, a prickly Senator Paul lashed back, attacking the governor for his federal funding requests following Hurricane Sandy.  "They're precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut spending, and their "gimme, gimme, gimme, give me all of my Sandy money now," he told reporters.  "Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense." 

Gimme, gimme, gimme a break, Mr. Paul!  The annual U.S. defense budget is $700 billion, larger than the combined defense budgets of the next dozen countries.  Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy was the second most destructive storm in U.S. history; it left in its wake 159 dead and an estimated $69 billion in damage.   Nonetheless, Mr. Paul tore into the governor on Monday night in an interview with Fox News, "It's really, I think, kind of sad and cheap that he would use the cloak of 9/11 victims and say, 'I'm the only one who cares about these victims.'" 

Governor Christie, a former prosecutor, responded to Mr. Paul in a press conference Tuesday.  “So if Senator Paul wants to start looking at where he’s going to cut spending to afford defense, maybe he should start looking at cutting the pork barrel spending that he brings home to Kentucky, at $1.51 for every $1.00 and not look at New Jersey, where we get $0.61 for every $1.00,” Christie said, referring to the amount of money each state receives for each dollar it pays to the federal government.   “So maybe Senator Paul could — could, you know, deal with that when he’s trying to deal with the reduction of spending on the federal side.  But I doubt he would, because most Washington politicians only care about bringing home the bacon so that they can get reelected.”

On Tuesday evening, Senator Paul struck back at the governor in a CNN interview.  “This is the king of bacon talking about bacon,” he said. “You know, we have two military bases in Kentucky. And is Governor Christie recommending that we shut down our military bases?”  Then he raised the ante.  “He’s making a big mistake picking a fight with other Republicans, because the Republican Party is shrinking in — in New England and in the northeast part of our country."  He continued, “I’m the one trying to grow the party by talking about liberation ideas of privacy and the Internet.  And attacking me isn’t helping the party.  He’s hurting the party.”

Paul then puffed, “Why would he want to pick a fight with the one guy who has the chance to grow the party by appealing to the youth and appealing to people who would like to see a more moderate and less aggressive foreign policy."

Governor Christie and Senator Paul are both positioning themselves for the 2016 presidential election.  The Republican Party suffered a stinging defeat at the ballot box one year ago that resulted in a self-examination of its core values.  But there is a wide chasm between its conservative right and its more centrist members on the future direction of the party.  

These differences are reflected in the public spat between Mr. Christie and Mr. Paul.  With three more years remaining before the election, Democrats, who will likely nominate Hillary Clinton as their standard-bearer, are certainly enjoying the show.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Weiner's Chutzpah

“It’s in our rearview mirror, but it’s not far,” former New York Representative Anthony Weiner said in a hastily called news conference Tuesday, where he confirmed that he continued to send sexual images of himself to female fans for more than a year after he resigned from Congress.   He admitted he did not stop until last summer. 

Weiner has every right to run for mayor of New York City.  But, given these latest embarrassing revelations, why does he want to expose (pardon the pun) himself and his family to such painful humiliation?  Does he really think he is worthy of leading America's greatest city?

On Tuesday, The Dirty, a website that is a self-described purveyor of gossip, reported it had spoken with a 22 year-old woman, whom it did not name, who described her sexual communications with Weiner.  She said they discussed explicit sexual acts and that he sent her a picture of his penis.  Later, Weiner requested that she delete their chats, admitting that, “I’m deeply flawed.” 

In a statement released before his news conference Tuesday, Weiner said, “While some things that have been posted today are true and some are not, there is no question that what I did was wrong.”  He would not specify what things were not true at his news conference.  “I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out and today they have,” Mr. Weiner told reporters. “I want to again say that I am very sorry to anyone who was on the receiving end of these messages and the disruption this has caused.” 

Weiner's admission runs counter to a narrative that such unseemly incidents were well behind him.  In fact, they continued until just a few months before he announced his mayoral candidacy.  In that announcement, Weiner asked New Yorkers for a "second chance to work for you."  

At Weiner's Tuesday news conference, his wife, Huma Abedin, a long-time aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, joined him.  Ms. Abedin put on a brave face as she watched Weiner speak.  She then read a statement to reporters, “Anthony’s made some horrible mistakes, both before he resigned from Congress and after.” She added, “We discussed all of this before Anthony decided he would run for mayor, so really what I want to say is, I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him.” 

Despite her reassurances, and her admission that their marriage had its ups and downs, the question is will New York City voters believe in Weiner.  He lied when news of the sexting scandal first broke two years ago.  He attacked reporters at the time for raising the issue.  He then misled New Yorkers by giving the impression that the incidents had ceased when he resigned from Congress.  They hadn't. 

Weiner is a bright and energetic figure.  He is a passionate spokesman for the middle class, for gay rights and health care.  Recent polls have put him in the lead among the Democratic candidates for mayor, who will face off in a primary on September 5.  But Tuesday's revelations will hurt his candidacy.

For sure, Weiner does not suffer from a lack of chutzpah.  That is a characteristic that is normally appealing to New Yorkers.  But it is clear that Weiner is flawed.  He lacks good judgment and he has consistently failed to be fully truthful. 

In a campaign appearance following his Tuesday news conference, Weiner told his audience that he was the only candidate who could "shake things up."  He is right.  But to what end, Mr. Weiner?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Obama: "A More Perfect Union"

When future historians write about America's long struggle for racial equality, they will include the moment when the country's first African American president broke his silence about the 2012 death of young Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.   President Barack Obama said, "When Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago."  

President Barack Obama made that startling observation in a surprise visit to reporters gathered in the White House pressroom on Friday afternoon.  His comments came nearly one week after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Martin.  Many civil rights leaders, who were unhappy about the verdict, had been pressuring the president to say something.  

President Obama did not challenge the jury's finding.  He said, "The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works."

The president's purpose was to provide what he called "context" about how some people were responding the verdict.  He spoke of their pain and observed, "I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away."  

Among the experiences he cited, "There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me — at least before I was a senator."  He said it is through these kinds of experiences that "the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida."  

President Obama added that "things are getting better" with each generation when it comes to racial bias.  But he did propose training for law enforcement and the justice system to lessen potential bias in the system.  And, in a clear reference to the controversial "stand your ground" laws, which exist in 26 states, he called for their review, "to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kind of confrontations we saw in the Florida case rather than diffuse them."

He then wondered aloud, "If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws."

The president offered no federal programs.  He also said he didn't feel he should convene a national conversation on race because it would become politicized.   Instead, he suggested that families, local communities and churches reflect on the issue.  He also asked that they consider how they are doing a better job helping young African Americans feel they are a full part of society who have pathways for success.  

Mr. Obama's heartfelt words Friday were powerful, personal and presidential.  While the Zimmerman-Martin verdict has divided the nation, it has once again exposed an underlying problem in our society.   But the president concluded his remarks on a hopeful note, "Along this long, difficult journey, we're becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union."    

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Growing Republican Irrelevance

The Republican Party's refusal to accept the fact that the United States is evolving socially and demographically will drive the party to irrelevance on the national political scene.    

The debate over immigration reform is the latest example of how the party is seems to be out of step with the nation.  Hispanics make up the largest minority in America.  They voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, by a margin of 71% to 27% for Governor Mitt Romney.  In 2012, Asians became the fastest growing minority population in the U.S., edging out Hispanics.   President Obama also got 71% of the Asian vote last November.

While only 39% of the white vote went for President Obama in 2012, the white population is declining as a share of the country's total population.  The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that whites will become the minority by 2043.    

There are currently more than 50 million Hispanics in the United States.  According to the Census Bureau, that number will grow to 132 million by 2050, or about 30% of the projected U.S. population.  

Faced with the stark reality of these numbers, many leading Republicans have spoken out in favor of immigration reform.  Earlier this week, former President George W. Bush said, “I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate.”  He added, "At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation.”  Bush's relatively strong showing among Hispanic voters in 2004, about 44%, helped him win reelection.  

But many Republicans in the House of Representatives don't care; especially those who occupy gerrymandered districts with small minority populations.  None has been more outspoken that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).  Speaking of the Senate's comprehensive immigration plan, he said, “It would hurt Republicans, and I don’t think you can make an argument otherwise.”  Why?  “Two out of every three of the new citizens would be Democrats,” he said.  

King's candid reasoning is exactly why House Republicans are trying to kill immigration reform. Instead, they are proposing a piecemeal approach to immigration that will leave out a pathway to citizenship.  Their first priority is securing the border because there has been a recent increase in illegal immigration in some Southwestern states.

There are 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.   The Senate's bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, which includes a "border surge" to secure the Southwest border with Mexico, would decrease illegal immigration by up to 50% according to the Congressional Budget Office.  The CBO further projected that the bill would cut federal deficits by $158 billion over the first ten years after enactment.

It would seem that the Senate bill would at least be worthy of consideration by the House.  But House Speaker John Boehner refuses to do so citing the Hastert rule, which means a majority of the majority House Republicans must agree.  So the Senate bill appears dead.

Following the Republican's disappointing results in the 2012 elections, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said, "When Republicans lost in November, it was a wakeup call. He issued a report that included the following recommendation: "We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only." 

Apparently House Republicans didn't get the message.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Egypt 2.0

For the second time in little more than two years the Egyptian military has overthrown its county's leader in response to massive nationwide protests.  Only this time they deposed a democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi, who had failed to live up to his promises and who had installed an authoritarian government

Egyptian General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi announced Wednesday evening that the Morsi government was dissolved, the constitution was suspended, and that an interim government would be installed headed by a senior jurist.  Military officers and a group of political and religious leaders joined el-Sisi at his announcement.  The announcement set off a jubilant celebration in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where tens of thousands of anti Morsi demonstrators had gathered.  Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a large gathering of pro Morsi supporters protested the coup. The Egyptian army had been deployed to maintain peace, but violence may not be avoided.

Former President Mohammad Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a decades old Islamic and political group founded on the belief that Islam is not just a religion, but a way of life.  Last November, Morsi granted himself unlimited powers, including the ability to legislate without judicial oversight.  His moves toward an Islamic state were unpopular with many Egyptians who took to the streets to express their unhappiness.

During Morsi's presidency unemployment skyrocketed, crime increased, the economy declined, and the country experienced shortages of gasoline, electricity and water.  Morsi proved to be a poor manager.

Nonetheless, the country is deeply divided between those wanting a sectarian government and those wanting an Islamic state.  But, following the tyrannical rule of former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, the only political party of any consequence was the Muslim Brotherhood.  And its party members were easily mobilized when Egypt held its democratic election one year ago.  The opposition was divided and had no strong leadership.  Morsi won 51.7% of the vote, thus eking out a victory.

The sacking of Morsi puts President Barack Obama and the American government in a difficult spot.  The White House released a statement from the president Wednesday night, in response to Morsi's toppling, which reflected America's dilemma.   "We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution," Obama said.  "I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters," he continued.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, is a critical American ally. Egypt has continued to live by its vital peace agreement with neighboring Israel.  Each year America provides the country about $1.5 billion in military and other aid.  But that aid can be cut off in the event of a military coup.  In his statement, the president said, "I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt."

Further complicating the situation is the fact that the Egyptian military is holding Morsi and has rounded up as many as 300 leading members of the Moslem Brotherhood.  These actions have cast a cloud of uncertainty over an already confusing situation.

While the U.S. can try to exert pressure for a quick return to a democratic state, ultimately it will be up to the Egyptian military to move the country forward.  But it promise of a roadmap for reconciliation will face great challenges because the country so deeply divided, and the Muslim Brotherhood will be more energized than ever.   

The whole world will be watching, especially Turkey, Syria, Iran and Israel.