By Larry Kudlow
A week after Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday celebration, comparisons between presidents Obama and Reagan continue.
The conversation began when Obama praised Reagan in a USA Today op-ed. He commended Reagan's leadership, his confidence in and optimism for America, and his great ability to communicate his vision for the country. Reaganites like myself appreciate these sentiments.
But so far, the differences between the two presidents are still huge.
Begin with the economy. Reagan and Obama both inherited deep and brutal recessions. But the first six recovery quarters look completely different for each president.
So far, real GDP has averaged only 3 percent annually for Obama. Employment as defined by nonfarm payrolls has increased by a paltry 121,000.
On the other hand, going back to Reagan's first six recovery quarters, real GDP averaged 7.7 percent annually while nonfarm payrolls rose by 5.3 million.
No two situations are exactly alike. Reagan inherited massive double-digit inflation with 20 percent interest rates. Obama was left with a colossal financial meltdown. But Reagan's economic vision put private-sector free-enterprise at the center. Obama has chosen a massive expansion of government power.
These are huge differences. One succeeded, while thus far the other has not.
While Obama's first act was an $800 billion government-spending package, one of Reagan's first decisions was a near $50 billion domestic-spending cut ($100 billion constant dollars today). Obama went for a nationalized health-care plan, energy cap-and-tax-and-trade, and pro-union card check. Reagan ended wage and price controls, deregulated all energy prices, terminated the Synthetic Fuels Corp., and fired the striking air-traffic controllers. Big differences.
Drawing from the work of Arthur Laffer and Robert Mundell, Reagan saw the economic-growth benefits of limited government, lower tax rates, and a dollar as good as gold. Gold prices plunged as Reagan and Paul Volcker worked to vanquish inflation. Ever-soaring inflation was the cruelest tax hike of all. But in the Reagan years the inflation rate dropped from near 13 percent to as low as 2 percent -- a huge disinflation tax cut. Accompanied by lower marginal tax rates, the Reagan policies sparked a powerful recovery in business and jobs.
Reagan slashed tax rates across-the-board for individuals, investors, and businesses. At the margin, his reforms lowered the top personal rate from 70 percent to 28 percent. And he left a simple two-bracket tax code that cut thousands of pages of IRS rules and regulations.
And while the top individual tax rate was slashed under Reagan, individual income-tax revenues increased from roughly $300 billion to $450 billion. In other words, the Laffer curve worked. With surging economic growth, the incentives from lower tax rates actually raised tax revenues.
Mr. Obama, on the other hand, campaigned to raise tax rates on successful earners and investors. Along with the dozens of taxes legislated into Obamacare, these are all job stoppers.
Only after the 2010 election landslide did Mr. Obama finally agree to extend the 2003 Bush tax rates for a couple of years. But, he continues his pledge to hike those taxes again when the deal expires in 2012.
From his experience as a movie actor facing a 90 percent tax rate, Reagan always encouraged success. Everyone's success. And he came to believe that if it pays more after tax to work and invest, then people will do so.
Of course, Reagan increased the defense budget to defeat the Soviets. But during the seven fat years of growth -- to use the late Robert Bartley's term -- overall federal spending dropped from 23 percent of GDP to 21 percent. (Obama has taken the size of government to 25 percent of GDP.)
As for the budget deficit, Reagan left it around 3 percent of GDP -- almost exactly where he inherited it.
Overall, Reagan's policies created 21 million new jobs as real GDP averaged 3.5 percent annually during the seven fat years of recovery. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent from 10.7 percent. The stock market rose nearly 200 percent. And household net worth expanded by $8 trillion.
Quintessentially, Mr. Reagan was a private-sector, free-enterprise man. His policies of low tax rates, lighter regulation, domestic-spending limits, and low inflation rescued the country from the malaise of stagflation. Meanwhile, his military build-up, tough diplomacy, and "evil empire" battle cry defeated Soviet communism. Reagan was an optimist, but a tough-minded one. He believed in American exceptionalism. He also fervently believed in freedom.
Since last November's Tea Party election, Obama has read about Reagan, talked about Reagan, and very cautiously moved economic policy in the direction of Reagan. I am open-minded. Let's hope the current president stays on his new Reagan path.
But let's never forget: Ronald Reagan saved the country 30 years ago. He also saved our future. Hopefully Mr. Obama will learn from that.
By Deroy Murdock
Twenty-eight of these United States - encompassing 164 million people, 53 percent of America's population, and 285 Electoral College votes - are suing the federal government to stop Obamacare. This litigation challenges the constitutionality of Obamacare's mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to decide, once and for all, whether the Constitution's Commerce Clause empowers Congress to force Americans to conduct commerce.
Shattering the Obamacare Death Star, however, may require slamming it from multiple directions. Hence, an additional legal strategy should address this law's apparent violation of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause - which explicitly applies to the states, but which the Supreme Court has more or less hitched onto the federal government as well.
Obamacare is not being enforced equally at all. As of February 9, the Obama administration had granted 915 waivers, mainly to influential organizations, major companies, and pro-Democratic labor unions. Those less lucky or less well connected have a different option: Obey Obamacare.
According to the Health and Human Services Department, these waiver recipients claim that complying with new "annual dollar-limit requirements" would cost their group health plans "either a large increase in premiums or a significant decrease in access to coverage." But unlike the objective income brackets that trigger diverse tax rates, "large" and "significant" are subjective criteria. This gives HHS bureaucrats ample opportunity to treat the insured unequally.
Major waiver recipients and their enrollees include the Carpenters Health and Welfare Fund (20,500), Service Employees International Union Local 25 (31,000), Darden Restaurants (34,000), Aetna (209,423), CIGNA (265,000), and the United Federation of Teachers (351,000). Union members represent 43.1 percent of the 2,443,047 enrollees included in these waivers.
"Obamacare was sold as all benefit - no downside," Rep. Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.) said Wednesday at a waiver-focused House oversight hearing. And now, "2.5 million people literally need to be protected from the devastating effects of Obamacare."
"The selective dispensations to Obamacare's mandates that Obama so far has given to various special interests - especially his union friends - fly in the face of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause," says Roger Pilon, the libertarian Cato Institute's vice president for legal affairs. "But they're just the other side of the ‘Cornhusker Kickback,' the ‘Louisiana Purchase,' and other last-minute shenanigans that Obama and congressional Democrats employed to get this travesty passed in the first place."
"The very interests who supported this law and helped ram it through Congress are now applying for waivers," Betsy McCaughey, president of Defend Your Healthcare (defendyourhealthcare.us), told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on February 12. "If government has the power to grant waivers, it has the power to deny them and destroy any business. Americans never should have to slink and slither to the White House for exemptions, like supplicants." McCaughey will ask President Obama to give waivers to everyone who requests them via her website.
While Democrats hail this new law as the greatest medical innovation since the tongue depressor, these 915 waivers may be the most compelling argument against Obamacare yet. After Democrats ignored the screams of the populace and jammed this catastrophe down our throats, they argued that Americans soon would love this gargantuan law.
"It's very obvious that people have a lack of understanding of our health-care-reform bill," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said last August. "The more people learn about this bill, the more they like it."
Democrats have it backward. With Obamacare, familiarity breeds contempt. Nearly one year after its enactment, 57 percent of Americans want Obamacare repealed, while only 38 percent oppose repeal, according to a February 12-13 Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely voters. (Margin of error: +/- 3 percent.)
Meanwhile, rather than clamor to accelerate Obamacare, unions, corporations, and other prominent players secure the priceless waivers that are their passport out of this mess. Instead of cheerful passengers aboard a luxury liner, those who know Obamacare best resemble terrified Vietnamese huddled atop the U.S. Embassy, praying for seats aboard the last chopper out of Saigon, just steps ahead of the marauding Viet Cong.
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.
President Barack Obama is sliding deep into a "Win the Future" (WTF) tour, during which he battles economic stagnation and his own ruinous spend-and-regulate-til-the-cows-come-home policies (and those of his immediate predecessor) by the profligate use of cliches. His latest stop was in Cleveland, Ohio, dubbed "the most miserable city" in the U.S. just last year by Forbes magazine.
In search of support for a budget that even his fans found pathetic and some votes in 2012, Obama spoke as if he had transported back to 1950, when "the Mistake on the Lake" was peaking in population growth. Presidential nippets from an address at Cleveland State University to entrepreneurs, small business leaders, and the like:
"As the economy changed, a lot of people wrote off Cleveland as a shell of its former self. But you . . . knew differently." [ellipsis in original news account; bonus points for filling it in with something printable]...
"We've got to invent new (industries), and that's what you're doing here."...
"When small businesses do well, we do well."...
"It's small businesses like yours that help drive America's economic growth."
"If we can get businesses to partner with local community colleges or local universities and have them help design the training process for the jobs that already exist, it's a win-win."
The forum lasted three hours and I'm betting the cliches-to-hour ratio was pulling somewhere north of 60: 1. Just to make sure Obama isn't the only person talking exclusively in useless aphorisms, The Plain Dealer ends its account with a participant gushing that the 'Bama admin "gets it. They actually get it. The question now is: How do we leverage this to benefit Cleveland?"
Wasn't that supposed to be the freaking point of the forum? If you're walking out of an hours-long meeting and the big insight is that people in Washington understand that Cleveland is a dying city, well, it was nice knowing you.
The bromance of small business is one of the phoniest apparitions to cloud America since its founding, a veritable Funky Phantom of misdirected policymaking. The government counts any enterprise with fewer than 500 employees as "small" and it's a definition that covers about 99.7 percent of all businesses. However, it's that puny 0.3 percent of other super-humongous-gigantic businesses that account for about half of all private-sector employment. As the National Federation of Independent Business and other groups would tell you when they're not trying to shake down the feds for subsidized loans via the generally wasteful and unnecessary Small Business Administration, entrepreneurs don't need special tax treatment and subsidies as much as they need a stable, predictable tax and regulatory environment (just like big business!). It's hard enough to make a go of it in the marketplace, they don't need wild overspending by government at all levels and an endless bevy of new rules that countermand past rules etc.
Cleveland and the larger region of Northeast Ohio is in a decades-long funk for a lot of reasons, some of which they can't control (such as the end of highly protected industries that start to hit the skids in the 1960s if not before) and many that they can absolutely control (high and complicated local and state taxes, shitty and expensive public schools, 19th-century zoning and planning schemes, idiot legislators who would rather spend money they don't have on high-tech garbage cans than loosen up the business environment).
Can this city be saved? You bet it can, but not through the sort of high-profile pow-wows that just took place. The city's and region's leaders need to drink deep not of yesteryear's cliches and failed ideas but of exactly the sort of proven policies that Reason spent a year documenting in "Reason Saves Cleveland with Drew Carey: How to fix the 'Mistake on the Lake' and other once-great American cities." Go here for more info and research up the ying-yang. Or shut your office door and spend the first hour of the work day learning what can make cities thrive once again:
By Michelle Malkin
Welcome to the reckoning. We have met the fiscal apocalypse, and it is smack dab in the middle of the heartland. As Wisconsin goes, so goes the nation. Let us pray it does not go the way of the decrepit welfare states of the European Union.
The lowdown: State government workers in the Badger State pay piddling amounts for generous taxpayer-subsidized health benefits. Faced with a $3.6 billion budget hole and a state constitutional ban on running a deficit, new GOP Gov. Scott Walker wants public unions to pony up a little more. He has proposed raising the public employee share of health insurance premiums from less than 5 percent to 12.4 percent. He is also pushing for state workers to cover half of their pension contributions. To spare taxpayers the soaring costs of Byzantine union-negotiated work rules, he would rein in Big Labor's collective bargaining power to cover only wages unless approved at the ballot box.
As the free-market MacIver Institute in Wisconsin points out, the benefits concessions Walker is asking public union workers to make would still maintain their health insurance contribution rates at the second-lowest among Midwest states for family coverage. Moreover, a new analysis by benefits think tank HCTrends shows that the new rate "would also be less than the employee contributions required at 85 percent of large Milwaukee-area employers."
This modest call for shared sacrifice has triggered the wrath of the White House-Big Labor-Michael Moore axis. On Thursday, President Obama lamented the "assault on unions." AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union bosses dubbed Walker the "Mubarak of the Midwest" while their minions toted posters of Walker's face superimposed on Hitler's. Moore goaded thousands of striking union protesters to "shut down" the "new Cairo" while the state's Democratic legislators bailed on floor debate over the union reform package.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan spurned the opportunity to condemn thousands of Wisconsin public school teachers for lying about being "sick" and shutting down at least eight school districts across the state to attend capitol protests (many of whom dragged their students on a social justice field trip with them). Instead, Duncan defended teachers for "doing probably the most important work in society." Only striking government teachers could win federal praise for NOT doing their jobs.
Yes, the so-called progressives truly believe that bringing American union workers into the 21st century in line with the rest of the workforce is tantamount to dictatorship.
Yes, the so-called progressives truly believe that by walking off their jobs and out of their classrooms, they are "putting children first."
If ever there were proof that public unions no longer work in the public interest, this is it. Big Labor dragoons workers into exclusive representation agreements, forces them to pay compulsory dues that fatten Democratic political coffers and then has the chutzpah to cast itself as an Egyptian-style "freedom" and "human rights" movement.
Meanwhile, union leaders elsewhere are quietly forcing their low-wage members to share the sacrifice in order to preserve teetering health funds. In New York state, Skidmore College campus janitors, dining service workers and other maintenance employees received late notice from the SEIU that 4.15 percent of their gross earnings will now be deducted from their paychecks to cover the cost of the health plan provided through the behemoth 1199 SEIU Greater New York Benefit Fund. (If the name sounds familiar, it's because this is one of several privileged SEIU affiliates that has received an Obamacare waiver.)
These workers are forced to join the union in order to preserve their jobs, and unlike non-union workers, they are locked into a single health plan. The SEIU has now decreed that they must pay new fees to include spouses on their plans and has hiked employee co-pays for doctor visits and prescription drugs.
What's necessary for New York union workers is necessary for Wisconsin union workers -- and for the rest of the protected union worker class in bankrupt and near-bankrupt states across America. The "persuasion of power" so ruthlessly and recklessly exercised by the SEIU and its thuggish allies must be broken by the moral courage of fiscal discipline. It's now or never.
By Pat Buchanan
As a large and furious demonstration was under way outside and inside the Capitol in Madison last week, Barack Obama invited in a TV camera crew from Milwaukee and proceeded to fan the flames.
Dropping the mask of The Great Compromiser, Obama reverted to his role as South Chicago community organizer, charging Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin legislature with an "assault on unions."
As the late Saul Alinsky admonished in his "Rules for Radicals," "the community organizer ... must first rub raw the resentments of the people; fan the latent hostilities to the point of overt expression."
After Obama goaded the demonstrators, the protests swelled. All 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois to paralyze the upper chamber by denying it a quorum. Teachers went on strike, left kids in the classroom and came to Madison. Schools shut down.
Jesse Jackson arrived. The White House political machine went into overdrive to sustain the crowds in Madison and other capitals and use street pressure to break governments seeking to peel back the pay, perks, privileges and power of public employee unions that are the taxpayer-subsidized armies of the Democratic Party.
Marin County millionairess Nancy Pelosi, doing a poor imitation of Emma Goldman, announced, "I stand in solidarity with the Wisconsin workers fighting for their rights, especially for all the students and young people leading the charge."
Is this not the same lady who called Tea Partiers "un-American" for "drowning out opposing views"? Is not drowning out opposing views exactly what those scores of thousands are doing in Madison, banging drums inside the state Capitol?
Some carried signs comparing Walker to Hitler, Mussolini and Mubarak. One had a placard with the face of Walker in the cross hairs of a rifle sight. Major media seemed uninterested. These signs didn't comport with their script.
In related street action, protesters, outraged over Congress' oversight of the D.C. budget, showed up at John Boehner's residence on Capitol Hill to abuse the speaker at his home.
And so the great battle of this generation is engaged.
Between now and 2013, the states are facing a total budget shortfall of $175 billion. To solve it, they are taking separate paths.
Illinois voted to raise taxes by two-thirds and borrow $12 billion more, $8.5 billion of it to pay overdue bills. The Republican minority fought this approach, but was outvoted and accepted defeat.
Wisconsin, however, where Republicans captured both houses and the governor's office in November, and which is facing a deficit of $3.6 billion over the next two years, has chosen to cut spending.
Walker and the legislature want to require state employees, except police, firemen and troopers, to contribute half of their future pension benefits and up to 12.6 percent of health care premiums.
Wisconsin state workers and teachers enjoy the most generous benefits of state employees anywhere in America. According to the MacIver Institute, the average teacher in the Milwaukee public schools earns $100,000 a year -- $56,000 in pay, $44,000 in benefits -- and enjoys job security.
More controversially, Walker would end collective bargaining for benefits while retaining it for salaries and wage hikes up to annual inflation. This would ease the burden on local governments and school districts faced with the same budget crisis but less able to stand up to large and powerful government unions.
Other new governors like John Kasich of Ohio are looking at the Wisconsin approach to save their states from bankruptcy. They, too, are now facing massive street protests instigated by Obama and orchestrated by his agents operating out of the DNC.
The Battle of Madison, where Obama, Pelosi, the AFL-CIO, Jackson, the teachers unions and the Alinskyite left are refusing to accept the results of the 2010 election and taking to the streets to break state governments, is shaping up as the first engagement in the Battle for America. What will be decided?
Can the states, with new governments elected by the people, roll back government to prevent a default? Or will the states be forced by street protests, work stoppages by legislators, and strikes by state employees and teachers to betray the people who elected them? Will they be forced to raise taxes ad infinitum to feed the government's insatiable appetite for tax dollars?
In short, does democracy work anymore in America?
What Obama has done will come back to haunt him. He has encouraged if not incited an angry and alienated left that lost the country in a free election to overturn the results of that election by street protests and invasions of state capitols.
As the huge antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s broke the presidency of Lyndon Johnson and sought to break the presidency of Richard Nixon, Obama and his cohorts are out to break Wisconsin.
One hopes the people of Wisconsin will stand up to this extortion being carried on with the blessing of their own president.
By Alvaro Vargas Llosa
WASHINGTON -- Until a few weeks ago, there was a disconnect between the financial disaster the United States faces and the battles its mainstream political actors were waging. The White House and Congress were busy expanding government while anti-government critics, including the tea party movement, were more interested in crusades than in restoring fiscal and regulatory sanity to the nation.
Thanks to controversial efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to cut some benefits and collective bargaining rights, as well as the $61 billion in federal spending cuts approved by the House of Representatives and the likely government shutdown if the Senate rejects them, the fault lines have been redrawn. The country is finally focused on what matters if the United States wants to avoid giving the impression that it is headed for Third World status.
Walker is doing what any governor in his place should do -- trying to balance a budget projected to produce a $3.6 billion shortfall in the next two years, more than 10 percent of its expenditures. State taxes amount to 20 percent of the average income of Wisconsin residents. A big chunk of that money sustains a highly unionized public employee force that is well paid by comparison with the private sector.
Walker understands that Wisconsin and most other states are in financial doldrums. Until recently, few governors were willing to confront this problem head-on. Walker's example, along with the efforts of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, could now easily be replicated elsewhere.
Anyone who tackles the country's financial imbalances will generate angry reactions. Even speaking out about them does so. A recent example were the attacks against financial analyst Meredith Whitney for warning on "60 Minutes" that, given the calamitous situation of local governments, the United States will see 50 to 100 municipal bond defaults in the not-too-distant future.
Protesters in Wisconsin and elsewhere are angry that public employees and government programs should bear the brunt of fiscal prudence when massive bailouts have saved irresponsible banks and when executive pay is back to astronomical levels. They are right about the banks, but letting them fail would not have benefited Wisconsin's underfunded public union pensions in any way. As for executive pay, in what way would private-sector bonuses beef up the budget of every city and every state in the country, or indeed of the federal government?
As the fight over the federal budget gathers pace, we will also see big confrontations between the reformers and the hostages to the status quo in Washington. Democrats are salivating over a possible backlash against Republican lawmakers if they force a government shutdown in early March by insisting on spending cuts. And complacent Republicans are dreading that very possibility in the face of the onslaught from the more energetic House Republican freshmen who recently passed that bold measure to reduce the federal budget by $61 billion.
The United States has been getting away with surreal levels of debt for far too long. If the dollar were not the world's reserve currency, a major debt crisis would have exploded by now. The total outstanding federal debt has reached $14.1 trillion, almost the equivalent of what the economy produces in a year. Meanwhile, the annual deficit, a major source of that ever-mounting debt, stands at more than $1.6 trillion for 2011. It represents almost 11 percent of the nation's gross domestic product -- which compares pitifully even with Greece, whose deficit in 2010 amounted to 8 percent of that country's economy.
As a result of these imbalances, and of the illusion that unemployment can be brought down with government spending, the Federal Reserve has been printing dollars like crazy -- half of them to purchase Treasury bonds. The policy of easy money has contributed to skyrocketing commodity prices, whose ugly political, social and economic consequences we are only beginning to see around the world.
Given this context, the battle of Wisconsin -- who would have thought? -- has acquired planetary significance. If the forces of reason prevail, the contagion could spread like wildfire, bringing sanity to Washington and across the nation. If they don't, the best chance in many years to reverse America's slow decline will have been missed.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and the editor of "Lessons from the Poor." His e-mail address is AVLlosa(at)independent.org.
TOBRUK, LIBYA - On Libya's northeastern border, there are no visa procedures and no passport-control officers. There's just a gaggle of armed young men - defected soldiers and police officers - waving people through.
"Welcome to the new Libya," reads a graffiti tag at the crossing.
The young men eagerly displayed cellphone videos that they said depicted government mercenaries shooting down women, children and men. They told of rapes, looting and killings over the past week, as demonstrators have risen up in open revolt and the government of Moammar Gaddafi has cracked down hard.
"Our leader is a tyrant, and he'll kill us all in cold blood," said Hassan el-Modeer, a British-educated engineer. "The world needs to intervene as soon as possible."
Opposition supporters described this area to visitors as the "liberated eastern region of Libya," and anti-government sentiment runs high here.
But it is also clear that deep divisions remain. Even in this coastal town, more than 900 miles from Libya's capital and in an area that has slipped well beyond the government's control, some still support Gaddafi, who has ruled this country for 41 years.
On the unlit road leading from the Egyptian border, two young men weaved their vehicle through the lawless passage. Salam Mheishi, 17, balanced his rifle in his lap. Trucks sped past filled with men chanting: "God. Moammar. Libya. That's it."
"The colonel just spoke," one of the men in the car said, referring to Gaddafi, who had just given a televised speech. Celebratory gunfire echoed through the night air. "They love him. We love him."
A teacher walked up to the car and yelled inside.
"The president, Hillary Clinton, the United Nations and human rights groups must intervene," he said. "The people are being killed in the streets of Tripoli. He's a psycho, and he will create a catastrophe."
Mheishi listened. The background picture on his phone is an image of Gaddafi. Later he defended his leader and blamed "thugs" for turning peaceful protests to violence. Along the road he pointed with pride to a villa he said was owned by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Gaddafi's son.
"We have money here, and people are happy. When thugs were released from prisons, they seized tanks and weapons and stole from the shops," Mheishi said. "People want peace and stability. They want the president."
On the road, he waved hello to young men manning checkpoints, armed with guns and sticks. They dressed in pieces of police and army uniforms given to them by defectors. Much of the light weaponry was apparently provided by the army.
Across the eastern part of Libya, military and police defectors stood with the opposition. Many told of turning against the government after a sister, a neighbor or a relative was killed in what they described as massacres.
Attiya el Sabr, 32, a border guard, said he defected Thursday after his brother-in-law was shot in Tobruk.
"Libya is in a security vacuum, and it's uncontrolled now," he said. "The civilian people protect the area."
Even top military officers have defected. On Sunday, Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmoud, the commander of the Tobruk Garrison, took off his shoes and entered a mosque, he said. Inside he hailed the martyrs of the revolution and told the people he was with them.
Hundreds gathered around him and wept. Mahmoud said that he had participated in Gaddafi's 1969 revolution but that his family had persuaded him in recent days to turn against the government. His daughter, who holds a doctorate, sobbed into the phone, telling him of the hundreds who had been killed in their home town of Benghazi. Many were teenage boys, and some were the neighbors' children.
"I decided to withdraw from the revolutionary army and join the people," Mahmoud said, still in his uniform Tuesday night.
"I didn't expect a revolutionary challenge to 'the African King of Kings,' " he said, a reference to Gaddafi's preferred title for himself. "The revolution is now armed and demolishing old buildings and reconstructing a world of freedom, of prime values, honesty, peace and love."
He said the United States and other foreign powers should not "apply double standards in dealing with Libya because of oil and economy." He said he knows that his choice to defect is dangerous and that the consequences could be severe if the revolution fails. "Maybe the next time you come to Tobruk, you'll find me in a grave," he said.
Some opposition figures are still too afraid to give their names to reporters. But in a hotel lobby, Modeer, the engineer, said he was willing to speak out against what he described as atrocities by Gaddafi's crumbling government.
"In Tripoli, they shot people in cold blood," he said, tears streaming down his face. "We have no other choice. We die or we win."
Modeer pulled out a small pistol from his pocket.
Interventionists Target Libya
It's their only hope of salvaging our Middle East empire
Outside of an asylum, is there anybody nuttier than Moammar Qadaffy? Well, yes: Marc Lynch, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University – and non-resident smarty-pants at the Center for a New American
Security – who blogs at ForeignPolicy.com, where he writes: Hegemony
“The unfolding situation in Libya has been horrible to behold. No matter how many times we warn that dictators will do what they must to stay in power, it is still shocking to see the images of brutalized civilians which have been flooding al-Jazeera and circulating on the internet. We should not be fooled by Libya’s geographic proximity to Egypt and Tunisia, or guided by the debates over how the United States could best help a peaceful protest movement achieve democratic change. The appropriate comparison is Bosnia or Kosovo, or even Rwanda where a massacre is unfolding on live television and the world is challenged to act. It is time for the United States, NATO, the United Nations and the Arab League to act forcefully to try to prevent the already bloody situation from degenerating into something much worse.”
This may seem like a crazy idea, an off-the-wall suggestion made in the heat of the moment. But when you think about it – and witness how widespread such sentiment is amongst our assembled “experts” and professional know-it-alls – you realize such a call to intervene was inevitable. It was only a matter of time before the War Party would find an excuse to intervene in the Middle Eastern upsurge, and make it all about us. We are, after all, a nation – nay, an empire – of narcissists, and so the pertinent question is: what can we do? What must we do? Benghazi is burning – don’t we have a moral obligation to preen on the world stage as we put the fire out?
Qadaffy would like nothing better. His poorly translated speech is being described as “surreal,” and “rambling,” and indeed it may have been both, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t or couldn’t be effective in a Libyan context. In that speech, standing in front of the bombed out ruin of a building that stands as a monument to Reagan’s 1986 bombing, he directly addressed the rebels:
“You people with big beards when this was happening, when 170 planes were bombing — where were you? You were bowing to your master, America. We fought back against the tyranny of America, we were resilient.”
The specter of American intervention is just what Dr. Qaddafy ordered: it would play right into his hands. As is so often the case with government action, both at home and abroad, it would have exactly the opposite of its intended effect. Yet we have been through this so many times that I find it hard if not impossible to believe an associate professor of political science and international affairs has failed to assimilate this lesson – especially in the case of an alleged “expert” on the Arab world. Can Professor Lynch really believe a “forceful” intervention – starting with a “no fly zone” – won’t buttress Qadaffy’s position?
The wily old dictator hasn’t managed to stay in power for 41 years by sheer chance: he knows how to appeal to the passions and prejudices of his people, and his strategy is clearly to divide the country along generational lines – rather like the Nixon-Agnew strategy during the Vietnam era. Like the Nixonians, the Qadaffyites are pointing to those crazed youths running rampant in the streets as influenced by the twin poisons of drugs – “You rats were given pills!” – and radical ideology, which is what the reference to “you people with big beards” is all about. Like our own neoconservatives, and the Glenn Beck crowd, the daffy dictator is raising the specter of the dreaded Muslim Brotherhood as the real author of the Arab upsurge. In the Nixon years, it was communism that was the Great Bogeyman: today, it is Islamism – or, in the case of the hardcore neocons, Islam per se.
In the face of a signal event such as the Arab Awakening, the real political alignments and dividing lines suddenly become visible, like lightning at midnight. On one side of the divide, we have Moammar Qaddafy, Glenn Beck, Hosni Mubarak, David Horowitz, King Hamad of Bahrain, and most of the writers for National Review, who think it’s all an infernal plot hatched by Islamist radicals. On the other hand, we have the overwhelming majority of the peoples of the Middle East, who yearn to be free – and the overwhelming majority of Americans, who sympathize with their plight.
Intervention by the West would strengthen Qaddafy – possibly even saving him from a well-deserved end – and give ammunition to the marginal Islamist element sympathetic to al-Qaeda. Both would be confirmed in their worldview: see, Qadaffy would say, the foreigners are coming to take over your country. See, the Islamists would aver, the Crusaders are coming to take away your revolution.
The interventionists are running the concept of a “no fly zone” up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes. But the reality is that this would be merely a prelude to full-scale intervention by the NATO nations, principally the US, with the UN imprimatur added on as an afterthought. Lynch compares this to the US intervention in Kosovo – a “humanitarian” intervention that ended with the establishment of a gangster “state” whose “President” is a big-time Mafia chieftain and accused organ thief! And, yes, there are still US troops in that country, and a substantial albeit diminishing European contingent. Once the West intervenes in Libya, it will be a good decade or so before they get out – if they aren’t chased out first.
Lynch tells us how “shocking” it is “to see the images of brutalized civilians,” but Al Jazeera has been regularly broadcasting far worse images of civilians brutalized by the American bombing of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – is Professor Lynch not equally shocked? Is he calling for “humanitarian” intervention to stop the Americans from massacring defenseless people? Of course not.
Oh, but don’t worry, says Lynch, this isn’t “an imperialist venture.” Why isn’t it? Well, just because it isn’t: because it’s an “emergency,” and we have to take action “before it’s too late.”
It’s always an emergency, isn’t it? There’s always some overriding imperative – strategic, economic, moral – that compels us to “act,” i.e. call out the Marines. Yet the timing of this is just a tad more than suspicious: at the very moment when the Arab world is rising up and throwing off its chains – chains forged in the furnace of Western colonialism and imperialism – the self-appointed Saviors of the World are riding in on their white horses, ready to “guide” the revolutionary upsurge to a more manageable conclusion. And it just so happens that Libya is rich in oil: news of the recent troubles caused oil prices to reach their highest point in two years. Like common thieves targeting a drunk, Western political leaders smell a bonanza – and are ready to pounce.
None other than Paul Wolfowitz, one of the authors of the Iraq debacle, demands “urgent action,” and Danielle Pletka, chairman of Ahmed Chalabi’s American fan club and a big wheel over at the American Enterprise Institute, fumes:
“Have they convened an emergency Security Council meeting? Have they demanded Qadhafi step down? Have they frozen Qadhafi and sons’ assets or called on others to do so? Have they imposed any economic measures? Have they done anything except wait all day and issue a comment at 5 pm? There are no easy answers, but there are clearly wrong things to do and among them is ‘just sit there.’”
Pletka and her fellow neocons can’t live in a world where we “just sit there” while others determine the course of events – and determine their own destiny. A world in which the United States isn’t the Prime Mover is, for them, a nightmare universe – and they’ve been living that nightmare since January, when Tunisia and then Egypt had their lids blown off. Two major American allies in the Middle East inside of less than two months – how could the Empire survive such a humiliation? Libya is their big chance to intervene and save face.
Of course, “moderates” like Professor Lynch will soon be outdistanced by crackpots like Cliff May, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who has declared he’d “go further and tell the Libyan armed forces that the West will bomb their airfields if they continue to slaughter their people. Arming the demonstrators also cannot be ruled out. The Libyan government is already blaming the protests on foreign help, and the protesters are facing a life or death struggle. The worst policy would be to encourage the demonstrators without giving them the tools to prevail.”
May’s was one of the loudest voices warning that the Egyptian revolution could well be a Muslim Brotherhood front – now he wants us to bomb Libyan airfields and give the rebels “the tools to prevail.” Should we bomb Bahrain’s airfields after the king’s security forces – imported from Saudi Arabia – slaughtered his own citizens in the capital’s main square? I don’t think the FDD believes that. Michael Ledeen, their foreign policy guru, certainly doesn’t.On their web site, FDD approvingly cites Amir Taheri, who writes;
“In Bahrain, Tehran hopes to see its allies sweep to power through mass demonstrations and terrorist operations. Bahrain’s ruling clan has arrested scores of pro-Iran militants but appears more vulnerable than ever. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has contacted Arab heads of states to appeal for “urgent support in the face of naked threats,” according to the Bahraini media.”
King Hamad and Hosni Mubarak – good: Qadaffy (and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad) – bad. This kind of moral calculus is determined by the degree of the dictator’s complicity with American (and Israeli) plans for the region.
The War Party hopes to make lemonade out of the enormous lemon handed to them by the youthful revolutionaries of the Middle East – and an alliance of neocons and liberal “humanitarian” interventionists will make it happen if and when it does.
US intervention in Libya would short-circuit the Libyan revolution, prolong Qadaffy’s inglorious career, and lead to more and not less anti-Americanism even in the short run. It would, in brief, be a disaster – just the sort of blunder that could suck us into yet another quagmire from which there is no early release.
Protesters wrest control of more cities as unrest sweeps African nation despite Muammar Gaddafi's threat of crackdown.
Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's long-standing ruler, has reportedly lost control of more cities as anti-government protests continue to sweep the African nation despite his threat of a brutal crackdown.
Protesters in Misurata said on Wednesday they had wrested the western city from government control. In a statement on the internet, army officers stationed in the city pledged "total support for the protesters".
The protesters also seemed to be in control of much of the country's east, and an Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from the city of Tobruk, 140km from the Egyptian border, said there was no presence of security forces.
"From what I've seen, I'd say the people of eastern Libya are the ones in control," Hoda Abdel-Hamid, our correspondent, said.
She said there were no officials manning the border when the Al Jazeera team crossed into Libya.
'People in charge'
"All along the border, we didn't see one policeman, we didn't see one soldier and people here told us they [security forces] have all fled or are in hiding and that the people are now in charge, meaning all the way from the border, Tobruk, and then all the way up to Benghazi.
"People tell me it's also quite calm in Bayda and Benghazi. They do say, however, that 'militias' are roaming around, especially at night. They describe them as African men, they say they speak French so they think they're from Chad."
Major-General Suleiman Mahmoud, the commander of the armed forces in Tobruk, told Al Jazeera that the troops led by him had switched loyalties.
"We are on the side of the people," he said. "I was with him [Gaddafi] in the past but the situation has changed - he's a tyrant."
Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, was where people first rose up in revolt against Gaddafi's 42-year long rule more than a week ago. The rebellion has since spread to other cities despite heavy-handed attempts by security forces to quell the unrest.
With authorities placing tight restrictions on the media, flow of news from Libya is at best patchy. But reports filtering out suggest at least 300 people have been killed in the violence.
But Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, said there were "credible' reports that at least 1,000 had died in the clampdown.
Amid the turmoil, a defiant Gaddafi has vowed to quash the uprising.
He delivered a rambling speech on television on Tuesday night, declaring he would die a martyr in Libya, and threatening to purge opponents "house by house" and "inch by inch".
He blamed the uprising in the country on "Islamists", and warned that an "Islamic emirate" has already been set up in Bayda and Derna, where he threatened the use of extreme force.
He urged Libyans to take to the streets and show their support for their leader.
Several hundred government loyalists heeded his call in Tripoli, the capital, on Wednesday, staging a pro-Gaddafi rally in the city's Green Square.
Fresh gunfire was reported in the capital on Wednesday, after Gaddafi called on his supporters to take back the streets from anti-government protesters.
But Gaddafi's speech has done little to stem the steady stream of defections from his side.
Libyan diplomats across the world have either resigned in protest at the use of violence against citizens, or renounced Gaddafi's leadership, saying that they stand with the protesters.
Late on Tuesday night, General Abdul-Fatah Younis, the country's interior minister, became the latest government official to stand down, saying that he was resigning to support what he termed as the "February 17 revolution".
He urged the Libyan army to join the people and their "legitimate demands".
On Wednesday, Youssef Sawani, a senior aide to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, one of Muammar Gaddafi's sons, resigned from his post "to express dismay against violence", Reuters reported.
Earlier, Mustapha Abdeljalil, the country's justice minister, had resigned in protest at the "excessive use of violence" against protesters, and diplomat's at Libya's mission to the United Nations called on the Libyan army to help remove "the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi".
A group of army officers has also issued a statement urging soldiers to "join the people" and remove Gaddafi from power.
Poverty, Food Prices and the Crisis of Imperialism
The Revolutionary Rebellion in Egypt
By FIDEL CASTRO
Several days ago I said that Mubarak’s fate was sealed and that not even Obama was able to save him.
The world knows about what is happening in the Middle East. News spreads at mind-boggling speed. Politicians barely have enough time to read the dispatches arriving hour after hour. Everyone is aware of the importance of what is happening over there.
After 18 days of tough struggle, the Egyptian people achieved an important objective: overthrowing the main United States ally in the heart of the Arab nations. Mubarak was oppressing and pillaging his own people, he was an enemy to the Palestinians and an accomplice of Israel, the sixth nuclear power on the planet, associated with the war-mongering NATO group.
The Armed Forces of Egypt, under the command of Gamal Abdel Nasser, had thrown overboard a submissive King and created a Republic which, with the support of the USSR, defended its Homeland from the Franco-British and Israeli invasion of 1956 and preserved its ownership of the Suez Canal and the independence of its ancient nation.
For that reason, Egypt had a high degree of prestige in the Third World. Nasser was well-known as one of the most outstanding leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement, in whose creation he took part along with other well-known leaders of Asia, Africa and Oceania who were struggling for national liberation and for the political and economic independence of the former colonies.
Egypt always enjoyed the support and respect of that international organization which brings together more than one hundred countries. At this precise time, that sister country is chairing NAM for a corresponding three-year period; and the support of many of its members for the struggle its people are engaged in today is a given.
What was the significance of the Camp David Agreements, and why do the heroic Palestinian people so arduously defend their most essential rights?
At Camp David ―with the mediation of then-President of the United States Jimmy Carter―, Egyptian leader Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin signed the famous treaties between Egypt and Israel.
It is said that secret talks went on for 12 days and on September 17th of 1978 they signed two important treaties: one in reference to peace between Egypt and Israel; the other having to do with the creation of the autonomous territory in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank where, el-Sadat was thinking – and Israel was aware of and sharing the idea –the capital of the State of Palestine would be, and whose existence, as well as that of the State of Israel, was agreed to by the United Nations on November 29, 1947, in the British protectorate of Palestine.
At the end of arduous and complicated talks, Israel agreed to withdraw their troops from Egyptian territory in the Sinai, even though it categorically rejected Palestinian participation in those peace negotiations.
As a product of the first treaty, in the term of one year, Israel reinstated Sinai territory occupied during one of the Arab-Israeli wars back to Egypt.
By virtue of the second agreement, both parties committed to negotiate the creation of the autonomous regime in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The first of these included 5 640 square kilometres of territory and 2.1 million inhabitants; and the second one, 360 square kilometres and 1.5 million inhabitants.
The Arab countries were offended by that treaty where, in their opinion, Egypt had not defended with sufficient energy and resolution a Palestinian State whose right to exist had been the focal point of the battle fought for decades by the Arab States.
Their reactions reached such a level of indignation that many of them broke off their relations with Egypt. Thus, the United Nations Resolution of November 1947 was erased from the map. The autonomous body was never created and thus the Palestinians were deprived of their right to exist as an independent state; that is the origin of the never-ending tragedy they are living in and which should have been resolved more than three decades ago.
The Arab population of Palestine are victims of genocidal actions; their lands are confiscated or deprived of water supplies in the semi-desert areas and their homes are destroyed with heavy wrecking equipment. In the Gaza Strip a million and a half people are regularly being attacked with explosive projectiles, live phosphorus and booby-trap bombs. The Gaza Strip lands are being blockaded by land and by sea. Why are the Camp David agreements being talked about to such a degree while nobody mentions Palestine?
The United States is supplying the most modern and sophisticated weaponry to Israel to the tune of billions of dollars every year. Egypt, an Arab country, was turned into the second receiver of US weapons. To fight against whom? Another Arab country? Against the very Egyptian people?
When the population was asking for respect for their most basic rights and the resignation of a president whose policy consisted of exploiting and pillaging his own people, the repressive forces trained by the US did not hesitate for a second in shooting at them, killing hundreds and wounding thousands.
When the Egyptian people were awaiting explanations from the government of their own country, the answers were coming from senior officials of the United States intelligence or government bodies, without any respect for Egyptian officials.
Could it possibly be that the leaders of the United States and their intelligence agencies knew nothing at all about the colossal thefts perpetrated by the Mubarak government?
Before the people were to protest en masse from Tahrir Square, neither the government officials nor the United States intelligence bodies were uttering one single word about the privileges and outrageous thefts of billions of dollars.
It would be a mistake to imagine that the people’s revolutionary movement in Egypt theoretically obeys a reaction to violations on their most elementary rights. Peoples do not defy repression and death, nor do they remain for nights on end protesting energetically, just because of merely formal matters. They do this when their legal and material rights are being mercilessly sacrificed to the insatiable demands of corrupt politicians and the national and international circles looting the country.
The poverty rate was now affecting the vast majority of a militant people, young and patriotic, with their dignity, culture and beliefs being trampled.
How was the unstoppable increase of food prices to be reconciled with the dozens of billions of dollars that were being attributed to President Mubarak and to the privileged sectors of the government and society?
It’s not enough now that we find out how much these come to; we must demand they be returned to the country.
Obama is being affected by the events in Egypt; he acts, or seems to act, as if he were the master of the planet. The Egyptian affair seems to be his business. He is constantly on the telephone, talking to the leaders of other countries.
The EFE Agency, for example, states: “…I spoke to the British Prime Minister David Cameron; King Abdala II of Jordan, and with the Turkish prime minister, the moderate Muslim Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
“…the president of the United States assessed the ‘historical changes’ that the Egyptians have been promoting and he reaffirmed his admiration for their efforts …”.
The principal US news agency, AP, is broadcasting some reasoning that we should pay attention to:
“The US is asking Middle Eastern leaders leaning towards the West, who are friendly with Israel and willing to cooperate in the fight against Islamic extremism at the same time they are protecting human rights.”
“…Barack Obama has put forward a list of ideal requisites that are impossible to satisfy after the fall of two allies of Washington in Egypt and Tunisia in popular revolts that, according to experts, shall sweep the region.”
“There is no hope within this dream scenario and it’s very difficult for one to appear soon. Partially this is due to the fact that in the last 40 years, the US has sacrificed the noble ideals of human rights, that it so espouses, for stability, continuity and oil in one of the most volatile regions of the world.”
“‘Egypt will never be the same’, Obama said on Friday after praising the departure of Hosni Mubarak.”
“In the midst of their peaceful protests, Obama stated, the Egyptians ‘will change their country and the world’.
“Even as restlessness persists among the various Arab governments, the elite entrenched in Egypt and Tunisia has not shown signs of being willing to hand over the power or their vast economic influence that they have been holding.”
“The Obama government has insisted that the change should not be one of ‘personalities’. The US government set this position since President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunis in January, one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned the Arab rulers in a speech in Qatar that without reform the foundations of their countries ‘would sink in the sand’.”
People don’t appear to be very docile in Tahrir Square.
Europe Press recounts:
“Thousands of demonstrators have arrived in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of mobilizations that caused the resignation of the president of the country, Hosni Mubarak, to reinforce those continuing in that location, despite the efforts of the military police to remove them, according to information from the BBC.
“The BBC correspondent stationed in the downtown square of Cairo has assured us that the army is appearing to be indecisive in the face of the arrival of new demonstrators …”
“The ‘hard core’ […] is located on one of the corners of the square. […] they have decided to stay in Tahrir […] in order to make certain all their claims are being met.”
Despite what is happening in Egypt, one of the most serious problems being faced by imperialism at this time is the lack of grain.
The US uses an important part of the corn it grows and a large percentage of the soy harvest for the production of biofuels. As for Europe, it uses millions of hectares of land for that purpose.
On the other hand, as a consequence of the climate change originated basically by the developed and wealthy countries, a shortage of fresh water and foods compatible with population growth at a pace that would lead to 9 billion inhabitants in a mere 30 years is being created, without the United Nations and the most influential governments on the planet, after the disappointing meeting at Copenhagen and Cancun warning and informing the world about that situation.
We support the Egyptian people and their courageous struggle for their political rights and social justice.
We are not opposed to the people of Israel; we are against the genocide of the Palestinian people and we are for their right to an independent State.
We are not in favour of war, but in favour of peace among all the peoples.
Lying America Into War
When Will George W. Bush be Tried for His War Crimes?
By SHELDON RICHMAN
We should take a small measure of satisfaction in former President George W. Bush's cancellation of his trip to Switzerland after human-rights groups threatened to bring legal action against him for authorizing torture. Persons detained by the U.S. government after 9/11 were subjected to what the Bush administration euphemistically called "enhanced interrogation," including waterboarding. In reality those methods constituted torture, violating U.S. law and international agreements.
Under those agreements charges can be filed against members of the Bush administration in jurisdictions outside the United States. The Center for Constitutional Rights along with European groups said they will ask Swiss authorities to initiate a criminal case against Bush. They also planned to file their own complaint.
If all that Bush and members of his administration suffer for their crimes are travel restrictions, it will be a mild penalty indeed. (Alas, the U.S. government can and probably will obtain immunity for him.) They deserve far more, starting with a public criminal investigation in the United States, followed by trials. But President Obama says there will be no investigation of top officials. Wishing to "look ahead," he has decided to treat Bush & Co. as above the law, embracing Richard Nixon's maxim, When the president does it, it's not illegal. In Germany that used to be known as the Führer Principle. Many of us naively thought it was repudiated at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. How wrong we were. The stain that Bush and Obama have left on America won't fade anytime soon.
It would have been bad enough to torture people actually suspected of wrongdoing, but the Bush administration went well beyond that. Many people subjected to hideous treatment were picked up on the flimsiest of "evidence." People were offered bounties to turn others in; naturally, some saw that as a chance to settle old scores having nothing to do with terrorism. Absence of evidence (as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might say) was not considered evidence of absence. In at least one case, a man was tortured — by the U.S. government's helper in Egypt, Omar Suleiman — to get the prisoner to say that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had trained al-Qaeda agents. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney badly wanted to justify their preexisting wish to effect regime change in Iraq by tying Saddam to 9/11. But there was never any evidence of Iraqi complicity.
That reminds us that torture was not the only crime committed by the Bush administration. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were also (and still are) outrages because, among other reasons, they were based on lies. Bush officials, such as Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, now acknowledge "misstatements," but that can hardly be taken seriously. We know that back then grave doubts were expressed over the quality of the so-called intelligence about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction. Rumsfeld's excuses are pathetic. When he beat the drums for war, he said he knew where Saddam's WMDs were. Now he says he meant he knew the location of "suspected sites." Did he step out of Orwell's 1984?
As many people long have believed, the Bush administration's defector/informants were lying, but their American handlers didn't care. The one known as Curvevball, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, admits he lied about Iraq's biological weapons. "I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that...." Janabi said, according to the Guardian.
Is he proud of the million Iraqis who died, directly and indirectly, because of the war he helped bring about? How about all the maimed children? Are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Condoleezza Rice satisfied that they relied on Janabi? Did they really have no reason for skepticism about his claims and motives?
Americans are forced to spend billions of dollars on intelligence-gathering every year. Yet many insiders doubted what the administration was told about Iraqi WMDs in 2002. So what? Bush & Co., hell bent on killing Arabs after 9/11, weren't interested in evidence or the lack thereof. They needed a way to scare the American people into war, and nothing was going to stop them.
Let us hope the retribution against this evil bunch is only just beginning.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of The Freeman magazine.
Why Europe Fears the North African Uprisings
The Spectre of a Black Europe
By BEHZAD YAHMAIAN
While millions in the world are celebrating the popular uprisings in North Africa, Europe is watching with skepticism and fear. The fall of the African dictators will deprive Europe of valuable allies in the fight against irregular migration. The political vacuum and the social and economic instability that follows will create a new wave of desperate migrants daring the high seas to reach the coats of Europe. This will deepen the immigration crisis Europe has been trying hard to manage in recent years. Europe is responding with an increased use of force. A new humanitarian crisis is looming.
Devastated by war and poverty, thousands of Sub-Saharan Africans have been leaving home on a torturous and long journey north every year. Arriving in Morocco, Tunisia, or Libya, they recuperate from the journey fatigue, pay human smugglers, and climb aboard flimsy boats heading to Italy or Spain. Many fall victim to high waves and deadly storms. The survivors join the army of asylum seekers, or undocumented workers in big cities across the continent.
In a bilateral agreement with Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, Italy pledged financial support in exchange for help in preventing African transit immigrants and Tunisians from leaving for Europe. Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali's fall ended the agreement. Border control collapsed in Tunisia and 5000 Tunisians arrived in the Italian port of Lampedusa. Although in much smaller numbers, Egyptians have been leaving their homes and heading to Italy. Egypt remains politically and economically unstable. The continuation of the situation will only increase the number of Egyptians opting for survival in Europe.
In a 2003 agreement between Spain and Morocco, Moroccan authorities pledged full cooperation in migration control in return for $390 million in aid. Two years later in September 2005, Moroccan soldiers and Spanish guards fired at hundreds of Africans trying to enter the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Gun shots killed 11 migrants and injured many more. The North African protest movement has already reached the streets of Morocco. Here too, the future of the bilateral pact to stop African migration is at jeopardy.
The most notable of the bilateral agreements with North African dictators was the "Friendship Pact" signed between Italy and Libya on August 30th, 2008. The two countries pledged increase cooperation in "fighting terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration." Muammar Gaddafi agreed to keep African migrants from leaving its frontiers for Italy, and readmit to Libya those intercepted in international waters. The price tag for this service was $5 billion Italian investment, and six patrol boats to police the waterways between Africa and Europe.
On May 6, 2009, the Italian coastguard and naval fleet interdicted a migrant boat in high seas and forcefully returned the passengers to Libya. Italy's interior minister Roberto Maroni hailed the act an "historic day" in the fight against illegal immigration. Among the passengers were vulnerable women and children, those in need of medical assistance, and those with legitimate cause for asylum and international protection. The Human Rights Watch has reported widespread abuse, physical violence, torture of returned migrants in Libya. In some cases, the Libyan authorities sold the Africans to human smugglers who kept them in private jails and released them after receiving money from their families.
The political turmoil in North Africa is also threatening the future of the "Friendship Pact." Mummar Qaddafi has threatened his unilateral cancellation of the agreement if the European governments did not stop criticizing his violent suppression of the Libyan protesters. Qaddafi's armed forces killed hundreds of protesters in recent days. Meanwhile, the anti-government protests are raging in different parts of Libya. The future of the Libyan dictator remains unclear.
On February 15th, the Italian Ministry of Interior sent a formal request for help to Frontex, the European Union's border security agency. On February 20th, Frontex launched the Joint Operation Hermes 2011 with the deployment of additional aerial and maritime assets from Italy and Malta to combat the flow of illegal immigrants from North Africa.
Muammar Gaddafi may succeed in crushing the uprising by the use of extreme force. The dictator's fall will be, however, an irrevocable blow to Europe's current migration policy. The loss of Europe's hired gun in the fight against irregular migration will lead to a more open confrontation between the EU armed guards and the African migrants in high seas. How far will Europe go to stop the African from reaching its frontiers?
Behzad Yaghmaian is a professor of political economy at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and the author of Embracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West and the forthcoming The Greatest Migration: a People’s Story of China’s March to Power
How the GOP Can Win the Budget Battle
Democrats will bewail every domestic program cut. Can Republicans convince the public we can't afford to play this game any longer?
Republicans won a blockbuster victory in November's election after a campaign focused on cutting government spending and reducing debt. Then they got the bad news: Americans are leery of cutting specific programs.
These include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, national defense, veterans' benefits, education, highways, mass transit, unemployment benefits, agriculture and the environment. A post-election poll by YouGov/Polimetrix found that the public favors cuts only in foreign aid.
So since House Republicans decided that their 2012 budget, to be released in April, would take on a wide range of popular programs as well as entitlements, Democrats have been elated. They believe Republicans have foolishly walked into a trap.
Perhaps not. Republicans have a better chance of succeeding with an agenda of budget cuts than at any time since President Ronald Reagan pushed significant reductions through Congress in 1981. Yes, their task will be arduous—but they have grounds for optimism.
To be sure, Republicans will need to organize far more support for cuts—high-profile, high- decibel support—than they have. They must be persuasive in countering the Democratic argument that preserving individual programs is more critical to the well-being of Americans than is rolling back overall spending to keep the country from decline. And, like Reagan, they must sound positive and upbeat to offset the nation's anxious mood.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), left, and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.)
The situation Republicans are in has been compared to the 1990s. Back then, Republicans had a mixed record of cutting spending, and fiscal issues were not front-and-center in their campaign to capture Congress in 1994. But fiscal issues (including repeal of ObamaCare) were central to their midterm campaign last year. In 1994, state and local governments were not suffering as shockingly from mounting debt as they, and Washington, are today. "It's a different day," says Bill Paxon, a key House Republican leader in the 1990s. People realize there is a fiscal crisis, he says. "It's pervasive. They know you can't kick the can down the road."
Mr. Obama has acknowledged as much, although his 2012 budget scarcely deals with the problem. By keeping cuts to a minimum and ignoring entitlements, he's all but dared Republicans to move first. Once they do, they'll be criticized for imposing cruel cuts and impeding job creation.
This age-old Democratic strategy has worked before, which is why Republicans need a political juggernaut to overcome it. The worst that can happen is a repeat of President George W. Bush's bid to enact Social Security reform in 2005. His year-long crusade attracted little support, even from Republicans.
One can imagine Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the architect of the GOP spending cuts and entitlement reforms, making the same mistake this year. To avert that, Mr. Ryan needs a broad coalition to surround his spending initiative with visible support. That would give the cuts and reforms credibility. They would look not quixotic but achievable, as they indeed are.
House Republicans—having united behind spending cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year 2011 budget—are ready to back Mr. Ryan's 2012 budget. But the Senate is another story. The GOP budget should get strong backing from Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl. Mr. Kyl believes a handful of Democrats may be ready to vote for "a certain number" of spending cuts. If all 47 Republican senators vote for the House Republican budget, or major parts of it, only four Democrats would be required for passage.
But for now Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is not fully on board. He has said repeatedly that entitlement reform "will not be done except on a bipartisan basis with presidential leadership." Such a basis doesn't exist today, but that may change. A bipartisan group of six senators—Democrats Richard Durbin of Illinois, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia—is devising a plan to impose mandatory spending caps and corral entitlement costs in a proposal similar to the $4 billion in debt reduction urged by the president's debt commission last year. The Democrats hope Mr. Obama, who declined to endorse the commission's recommendation, might sign on if they reach a deal.
An indication of where the Senate may be headed occurred on Feb. 1. Nearly 40 senators from both parties gathered in the Capitol Visitors Center to listen to two hedge-fund managers, one a Democrat, the other a Republican. Their message: Soaring debt threatens growth, job creation and America's preeminence in the world. Asked what single thing Congress could do to relieve the anxiety of financial markets, their answer was "fix Social Security."
Outside of Congress, it will be easy to recruit Republican governors to promote spending cuts and an overhaul of entitlements. Many of them, such as New Jersey's Chris Christie and Wisconsin's Scott Walker, are already involved with this struggle on the state level. But the GOP will also need the active support of its presidential candidates, movement conservatives, tea party folks, libertarians and political independents.
And their message is critical. Bragging about painful but necessary cuts to Medicare scares people. Stressing the goal of saving Medicare won't. Talking about the need for austerity is a loser. The idea here is to produce prosperity. Pain isn't the issue. Relief is.
Mr. Ryan insists that he won't be deterred by bad poll numbers. But better poll results, from asking good questions, would be reassuring. Instead of asking about Medicare cuts, ask if reforms rather than tax hikes and borrowing should be used to make Medicare sustainable. Ask if billionaires should get the same Social Security benefits as the middle class. Ask if bigger deficits and more debt should be incurred to protect every individual program.
Republicans have a second objective beyond restoring proper fiscal priorities: setting the stage for electing a Republican president in 2012. With Democrats in charge of the Senate and Mr. Obama in the White House, deep spending cuts and real entitlement reform may not happen this year or next. But a serious and very public effort to get them can improve the chances of Republican presidential candidates next year.
The Democratic strategy of bewailing cuts in every domestic program has become an anachronism. The public knows there's something larger at stake. Rarely has there been a better opportunity to do the right thing for the country. And Republicans have a chance to seize it.