Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Clipping the Wings of Cruz

Texas Senator Ted Cruz knows exactly what he is doing and he is achieving all of his goals.  His disruptive tactics are winning him acclaim from conservative Americans who disdain all things Washington, while the Republican establishment is fuming with anger.    

Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz was born in Canada but has been a Texan pretty much all his life.  From his earliest days he has been ambitious and driven.  He was valedictorian of his high school class.  He graduated cum laude from Princeton University in 1992, and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1995. Harvard Law professor Alan Desrhowitz once said, "Cruz was off the charts brilliant." 

Cruz clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the first Latino to clerk for a chief justice. He went into private practice before joining the Bush-Cheney campaign in 1999.  He worked in the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission before being appointed Texas Solicitor General in 2003.  As a lawyer, Cruz has authored more than 80 U.S. Supreme Court briefs, and has presented nine oral arguments before the court.  Cruz is a gun-rights supporter, he has defended the rights of students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms, and he opposes same-sex marriage.  

But President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has given Cruz the opportunity to quickly increase his national profile and collect deep-pocketed supporters.  Like the Calgary Stampeder he is by birth, he has shaken up the political arena by insisting that Congress defund Obamacare as a condition for keeping the government open.  But his twist in logic is that it will be President Obama's fault if the government shuts down.  And, in another amazing twist, Cruz has promised to filibuster in the Senate the very budget bill that defunds Obamacare he asked the House of Representatives to pass.

Cruz defended his tactics to Fox News, "I mean folks can do whatever they want to resist change, and there are a lot of people that have been in Washington a long time that are fearful of change," he said.  "They're fearful of risk, they're fearful of anything that changes the clubby way Washington does business."  Brilliant! And this sentiment reflects the feelings of many tea-party Americans.  Furthermore, it has won the strong endorsement of former Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.  Palin is an opportunist as well.  

Cruz believes that if his efforts to defund Obamacare fail, his supporters will respect him for standing up for principle.  So the more criticism he receives, the better for his future.  As he said to Fox News, "No matter what insults others choose to hurl at me, and in the past few weeks they have picked quit a few, some of them have been pretty amusing actually, but no matter what they do I'm not going to respond in kind."  Ah, the high road. 

Cruz believes he is the smartest man in Washington, and his sights are set on the White House in 2016.  In his senior thesis at Princeton, entitled "Clipping the Wings of Angels", he argued against an all-powerful state.  So it should be no surprise he is opposed to implementation of Obamacare.  But how smart can Cruz be to want to risk a government shut down, or a debt ceiling breach, either of which will result in disastrous consequences for Americans.    

There is an old saying that applies perfectly to Ted Cruz: "Never in doubt, seldom right."   

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Compassionless Conservatves

The Republican Party is vigorously pursing reductions in the federal budget that will severely impact those who most need help.  What is worse, many in the party are willing to shut the government down and disrupt the global economy in order to make their point.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker John Boehner, have scheduled a vote Friday on legislation to fund the government through Dec. 15 at existing levels while permanently defunding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.  The same bill will include a requirement for Treasury to give priority to Social Security and disability payments in the event the government reaches its borrowing limit and cannot pay all of its obligations.  The plan is then for the Senate to take up the measure, even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, says that such a measure will not pass.

Some 48 million Americans are uninsured, and the Republicans have offered no viable alternatives for the law.   Obamacare remains unpopular with Americans mainly because the public has misunderstood it and conservatives have demonized it.  Cries of death panels and deficits overshadow the many benefits that the law puts in place.  For instance, providing health insurance to everyone, requiring insurance companies to cover people with preexisting health conditions, ending lifetime limits on coverage, providing coverage to adults under 26, and reigning in health care costs.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has been among the most vocal proponents for defunding Obamacare at all costs.   While House and Senate Republicans have sparred over which chamber should take the lead, Cruz now says he will do "everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare," including filibuster any funding bill in the Senate that funds the Affordable Care Act.  Earlier he had received the ire of many House Republicans because, after stoking up grassroots opposition in Republican districts around the country, Cruz conceded he could not get such a measure through the Senate.

If Congress doesn't pass a spending bill by September 30 the government will partially shut down.  And if Congress fails to raise the federal government's debt ceiling later in October, the USA will default and throw the global markets into economic chaos.

But some Republicans in Congress love to play brinksmanship, and have stirred up support among their core voters, all in an effort to change the way Washington does business.  Such tactics can also get an ambitious Senator more national attention and enhance political fundraising efforts.

But Obamacare is the law of the land.  It was approved by Congress, was signed by the president, and was upheld by the United States Supreme Court.  The president will veto any measure that would kill his most significant domestic accomplishment.  So the defund effort is a fool's errand and many Republicans know it.   The Wall Street Journal concluded that the defunding strategy will backfire on Republicans, "The kamikazes could end up ensuring the return of all-Democratic rule."  GOP strategist Karl Rove wrote, "Going down that road would strengthen the president while alienating independents. It is an ill-conceived tactic, and Republicans should reject it."

Meanwhile, House Republicans have voted to cut $4 billion a year out of food stamps over the next decade.  The controversial measure will force about 14 million people off the program by 2013.   48 million Americans currently get food stamps, or about 15% of the U.S. population.  House Republicans say their bill would eliminate those who shouldn't get food stamps by closing loopholes and cutting benefits to "able-bodied adults" unless they work part time or are in a job training program.  It is estimated that 3.8 million people will lose benefits in the first year.

Both these initiatives come at a time when the Census Bureau announced that the number of Americans living in poverty has climbed to 46.5 million.   Remarkably about 16 million children and 4 million seniors are now living in poverty in America.  While most of the 8 million jobs lost during the recession have been recouped, many of those jobs are in low paying service industry.  Meanwhile the nation's economic recovery remains tepid, in part due to state and federal government cutbacks.  Yet corporate profits are rising and the wealthiest 1% of Americans are doing better than ever.

So, just when so many Americans desperately need help and are most vulnerable, the Republicans are most determined to cut the deficit on the backs of the poor, and to deny every citizen access to proper health care.

So it goes with the compassionless conservatives of today's Republican Party.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Obama's Syrian Decision

As President Obama tries to rally support for a strike against Syria, he finds himself in a high stakes diplomatic chess match with no good outcome in sight.  Mr. Obama's stand on principle for the prohibition of chemical weapons use and the maintenance of international norms puts at risk the future of his presidency and his legacy.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a ruthless dictator determined to destroy his opposition using every weapon in his arsenal.  On Wednesday the New York Times said of Assad, "behind the veneer of normality, Mr. Assad has grown increasingly aggressive, declaring his determination to wipe out the opposition, insisting that he is standing against an imperialist enemy."

Syria's civil war has left more than 100 thousand civilians dead in that country.  Two million war refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and about five million Syrians have had to flee their homes.  Meanwhile, Assad has been able to turn the tide of momentum to his favor.  His opposition is made up of a myriad of groups with differing ideologies and competing goals, which has made it difficult for America to provide military support.  So rebel fighters are inadequately trained and poorly armed. 

Perhaps emboldened by his improving position, Assad has resorted to chemical weapons to kill and demoralize his opponents.  The United States has overwhelming and convincing evidence that he is behind the attack two weeks ago, which killed more than a thousand civilians, including several hundred children. 

One year ago President Obama told a news conference, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."  He concluded, “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”  He did not specify any consequences at that news conference.

This past Saturday, the president announced he had decided on the consequences.  “After careful deliberation I have decided the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” Mr. Obama said.  But he added that he would seek Congress's approval, even though he did not need to do so. 

The president and key members of his administration have "flooded the zone" in search of congressional support, as well as the support of key allies.  In a series of hearings, Secretary of Sate John Kerry has stressed that military action would not be directed a regime change, it would not be an open-ended intervention, nor would America put "boots on the ground" in Syria. 

But the administration has to overcome great skepticism for its case from a congress that was burned ten years earlier by false evidence of weapons of mass destruction from President George W. Bush's administration as justification for invading Iraq.  Meanwhile, according to recent polls, a war-weary American public is opposed to any military action against Syria.

There are no good options for the president.  Failure to attack Syria will only further embolden Assad who will continue to massacre his own civilians, and it will spur Iran to accelerate its development of nuclear weapons.  Worse, it will weaken America's standing in the world, at a time that Russia and China are expanding their ambitions.

On the other hand, a "limited" attack, which the president proposes, is unlikely to be effective in significantly degrading and deterring Syria's weapon's stockpile, much of which is hidden among civilians, or deter Assad from using them again and again if he becomes desperate.  An American attack is certain to result in civilian casualties, set off a wave of terrorist strikes against Western nations and Syria's neighbors, and further demonize the U.S. among some people in the region.
On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved, by a 10-to-7 bipartisan vote, a resolution that would limit military strikes against the Syrian government to a 60-day window, with the possibility of a 30-day extension, and it would specifically block the use of ground troops.  The full Senate is expected to take up the measure early next week.  The prospects for success in the House of Representatives are uncertain.  If Congress fails to pass the measure it would be seen as a huge international embarrassment for the president.  

So momentum appears to be slowly building on Capitol Hill for support of military action against Assad's government, in part because it is the best choice from several bad options.  If an attack is approved and carried out by American forces, many nations may not like it.  But they will recognize that America, led by President Obama, has stood on a fundamental principle for the good of humanity.