Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where Things Stand...June 28, 2011

June 28, 2011

I'm beginning this ongoing series of posts called 'Where Things Stand' as a way of allowing myself to put down the general 'lay of the land' in terms of politics, economics, foreign policy, social policy--whatever comes to me. It's my personal version of the NYT's 'Week in Review'.  I'm not sure how often I'll do it, but here goes.

The big story for a week now has been the emergence of Michele Bachmann as a candidate for President.  The debate in New Hampshire gave her a huge boost, as she came across as an articulate, intelligent Tea Party conservative.  I can't imagine that she'll get very far in terms of really winning the nomination, but the cat fight between her and Sarah Palin could become interesting, if Palin ever seriously enters the race.

Jon Huntsman entered the Presidency race last week and barely made a splash.  I get the feeling he's getting things in order behind the scenes, which at this point is where they need to happen.  So it still seems like he could have a good fall and winter into the electoral process, what with the debates in which he will participate and the primaries in January.  He does seem to have high-level elite support from the likes of Henry Kissinger, for example, who seems to like having a true (and experienced) foreign policy 'expert' in the Republican field.  But will that help or hurt Huntsman is anyone's guess.  We'll just have to wait and see how things develop.  Romney is clearly the leader now, but I think he has a tendency to shoot himself in the foot whenever he's in a debate or campaigning.  At some point, I think Huntsman will begin to challenge him for the lead among the Republican 'moderates', whatever that means.

President Obama has been dragged into the negotiations on the Debt Ceiling, something he had been avoiding before, which is his tendency.  How that will turn out is anyone's guess.  I don't have a strong feeling either way.  I suppose the odds are that they'll come to a last minute agreement and avoid a formal default.  But even so, something else will most likely come out of the blue--something we don't see now--and clobber the American economy, rile the financial markets, and throw us into an even more severe economic crisis.  And THAT could bring both rioting in the streets AND a most interesting election campaign.  And who knows, perhaps even the declaration of martial law, if it got bad enough.

June has been a horrible month in terms of economic reports, with weakening across the board.  It appears that the 'new normal' in our economic state has truly occurred, as I feared, with stagnancy and decline dominating.  The superrich are still doing fine, while the middle class and those below in increasingly tough shape.  How long can this go on in what seems to be a steady, grinding kind of spiral downward?

'Same-sex marriage' has been approved by state legislation in New York, and the gay/lesbian movement is ecstatic.  Frankly, I'm not sure where I stand on the issue, but I do know that whenever something like this happens, it sets up a counter-reaction, leading to more strength for social conservatives in the electoral process (think abortion and Roe v. Wade).   And that is almost never a good thing, in that it tends to be a distraction from the really important economic and foreign policy issues that confront us (not that this signal cultural issue isn't important;  it's just that I don't think it should be at the center of our political agenda).

President Obama has announced the beginning of a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, it will still leave almost double the number that were there when he took office through 2014.  Here's my take: he (and the foreign policy Establishment) want permanent military bases there, and he's working toward making that possible.  Everything else is just an excuse or obfuscation.

At the same time, the war in Libya seems to have entered a very strange state of stalemate, and it could be doing politically for the anti-war movement what nothing else has been able to do: expose the insanity of our current foreign policy.

My favorite recent movie was 'Rabbit Hole', and second, 'The Company Men'.

Finally, here's my favorite blog post: Our War President.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Vikings Win Again

The Washington Post ran a story on how Sweden has had the best recovery from the 2008 recession of any Western nation:

(Photo by Carl Lindquist, Isle of Ven, 2005)
 This Scandinavian nation of 9 million people has accomplished what the United States, Britain and Japan can only dream of: Growing rapidly, creating jobs and gaining a competitive edge. The banks are lending, the housing market booming. The budget is balanced.

Sweden was far from immune to the global downturn of 2008-09. But unlike other countries, it is bouncing back. Its 5.5 percent growth rate last year trounces the 2.8 percent expansion in the United States and was stronger than any other developed nation in Europe. And compared with the United States, unemployment peaked lower (around 9 percent, compared with 10 percent) and has come down faster (it now stands near 7 percent, compared with 9 percent in the U.S. ).

The overarching lesson the Swedes offer is this: When you have a financial crisis, and Sweden had a nasty one in the early 1990s, learn from it. Here are Sweden’s five lessons for a crisis-stricken nation.

1. Keep your fiscal house in order when times are good, so you will have more room to maneuver when things are bad. The nation [had in the1990s] set a goal of averaging a 1 percent budget surplus over time and held to it — which left the government with lots of flexibility to engage in deficit spending when the economy went south.

2. Fiscal stimulus can be more effective when it is automatic. Sweden didn’t do much in terms of special, one-off efforts to spend money to combat the downturn. There was some extra infrastructure spending and a well-timed cut to income tax rates, but the most basic response to the government was to do what the nation’s social welfare system — lavish by American standards — always does: Provide income, health care and other services to people who are unemployed.

3. Use monetary policy aggressively.  Like the Fed, the Riksbank lowered its target short-term interest rate nearly to zero. But it also expanded the size of its balance sheet more than the Fed did relative to the size of its economy, flooding the financial system with even more cash during the height of the crisis.

4. Keep the value of your currency flexible.  Sweden has declined to adopt the euro currency, and in hindsight that looks wise. The changing value of the Swedish krona was a helpful buffer against the economic downdraft of the past few years.

In the depths of the financial crisis, the krona fell in value against both the dollar and the euro, as global investors sought the safety of putting their money in the most widely circulated currencies. That helped make Swedish exporters more competitive at a time when global demand was collapsing, working as a sort of pressure valve.

And now that the Swedish economy is looking up, the free-floating nature of the Swedish krona could hold a different advantage: Neighbor Finland, which also is experiencing solid economic growth, uses the euro. With other parts of Europe in deeper economic distress, it could face inflation, because the European Central Bank sets policy based on the whole of the 17 nation currency zone. By contrast, Sweden’s monetary policy is based only on Swedish economic conditions.

5. Bankers will always make blunders; just make sure they don’t doom the economy.

Swedish banks didn’t make it through the 2008 crisis without major losses. To the contrary, they had lent heavily in the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which suffered an economic collapse.

Swedish financial officials don’t point to any single magic bullet in their regulatory approach. Rather, the Swedish banking system seems to have held up okay because the pain of the early 1990s was severe enough as to scar both bank executives and regulators, leaving them with little temptation to go into risky real estate lending in the mid-2000s, even when the rest of the world was doing just that.

“After the crisis in the ’90s, it was clear we needed to be more conservative and careful,” said Cecilia Hermansson, chief economist of Swedbank. An aphorism often cited, she adds, has been “burn your tongue once on hot milk and you will start blowing on yogurt.”
I especially loved that last line!! Gotta love them Swedes!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

War Weary America

Conservative columnist George Will writes about conservatism and foreign wars:
Elevating the fallacy of the false alternative to a foreign policy, John McCain and a few others believe Republicans who oppose U.S. intervention in Libya’s civil war — and who think a decade of warfare in Afghanistan is enough — are isolationists. This is less a thought than a flight from thinking, which involves making sensible distinctions.

Between wishing success to people fighting for freedom and sending in the Marines (or the drones), there is as much middle ground for temperate people as there is between Buchanan, a sort of come-home-America conservative, and McCain, a promiscuous interventionist. When asked his response to those, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who say there was no vital U.S. interest at stake when the Libya intervention began, McCain said: “Our interests are our values” and “our values are that we don’t want people needlessly slaughtered by the thousands,” as Moammar Gaddafi seemed to threaten to do, “if we can prevent such activity.” Under the McCain Doctrine, America’s military would have just begun to fight, and would never stop.

Americans are, however, war weary — which is a good thing: What kind of people would they be if they were not? U.S. involvement in the Second World War lasted 1,346 days. U.S. fighting in Afghanistan reached that milestone six years ago (June 14, 2005). America is fighting there, in Iraq, in western Pakistan, in Yemen and in Libya. Where next? Under the McCain Doctrine, wherever U.S. “values” are affronted — and those who demur from this global crusade are isolationists, akin to those who, 70 years ago, thought broad oceans and placid neighbors guaranteed America’s security from Hitler and Japan.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Libya, the Latest Folly

Thoughts on our Libyan intervention by Salon's Glenn Greenwald:
The war in Libya is starting to resemble virtually every other war: commenced with claimed humanitarian justifications; supported by well-meaning people convinced by the stated, official objectives; hailed as a short and easy task ("days, not weeks"); and then warped into a bloody, protracted conflict far from the original claims and without any real end in sight. Earlier this week, one of the war's most vocal supporters, Juan Cole, produced a list he entitled "Top Ten Mistakes in the Libya War," including Obama's failure to get Congressional approval, that "NATO has focused on a ‘shock and awe’ strategy of pounding the capital, Tripoli," and that "NATO put its emphasis on taking out command and control in the capital instead of vigorously protecting civilian cities under attack."

Perhaps that's because "vigorously protecting civilians" was the pretext for the war, not the actual aim. Yesterday, NATO admitted it killed multiple civilians -- apparently including children -- by bombing a house in a residential area. It's difficult to know exactly how many civilians NATO has killed thus far because Western armies don't count their victims and the Gadaffi government's claims are obviously unreliable, but whatever is true -- including the fact that such killings are not intended -- they are the inevitable by-product of invading and bombing other countries. The logic of war ensures that almost every conflict becomes more and more about such killing and less and less about the original lofty excuses for why they were started.

It's thus not a surprise that 39 neocons -- hilariously calling themselves "foreign policy experts" (including John Podhoretz, Liz Cheney, Gary Bauer, Marty Peretz, Karl Rove, Marc Theissen, and Bill Kristol) -- issued a letter yesterday urging steadfast support for (and escalation of) the Libya War. Lofty justifications notwithstanding, this is exactly what they favor: long-term, endless domination of the Muslim world through military force and control over their governments. That's what the war in Libya, intended or not, has become.

Our War President

Andrew Bacevich, Professor of International Relations at Boston University and prominent critic of American war policy, has a weird take on Obama's Presidency.  He gives him credit for wanting to do the right thing, but then acknowledges that he just can't bring himself to do it.  Then he admits that Obama won't get his vote next time (join the club).
To my mind, Obama's speech once again showed that he does not really wish to be a "war president." He understands—correctly—that the imperative of the moment is not to rebuild Afghanistan, but to rebuild America. He knows that the outcome of the war in Afghanistan will not determine the course of events in the 21st century. What happens in China or India, Europe or Russia is of far greater importance to our well-being. So there is something fundamentally absurd about a cash-strapped nation spending more than $100 billion per year in hopes of pacifying a country that lacks a legitimate government and that views Americans as unwelcome infidels.

Yet for whatever reason—politics? an unwillingness to overrule his generals?—Obama prefers to temporize rather than to make the tough call. So with his announcement of a barely more than symbolic plan for withdrawal, he allows a mindless war to continue. The presidential election of 2012 will reveal whether his calculation is a correct one. This time around, he won't have my vote.
In the case of Afghanistan et al, I actually think that Obama loves being a war president.  His model, as has been frequently pointed out, is Abraham Lincoln, who was American's greatest war president.  His heart is definitely in it (but he's afraid that the American people aren't). 

I've become to believe, again based not on his words but on his actions, that Obama prefers to deal with foreign policy rather than domestic issues.  Whereas Lyndon Johnson was obsessed with the Vietnam War, even picking the bombing targets, he didn't neglect domestic issues, serving up huge programs like the Civil Rights Act, the Great Society, Medicare.  I get the feeling with Obama, however, that he really doesn't care all that much, despite his speeches, for the nitty-gritty of domestic policy.  He's glad to leave all that stuff to his neo-liberal subordinates to work out, if they can.  He's not going to waste his leadership chits on those things when he can be the great world leader.  That's why he takes so much time and effort with his Afghan (Pakistan, Libyan, Yemeni, etc.) war strategy, huddling with his generals and staff to go over all the options, like some Churchill in his WWII bunker in London.  I would imagine that he knows (though doesn't necessarily clear) the details of every drone strike that he authorizes, and he's authorized many!

Obama is clearly a disciple of Reinhold Niebuhr, and I imagine that he discovered his favorite theologian when he was studying at Columbia University.  After all, Niebuhr taught moral ethics across the street at Union Theological Seminary 40 years earlier and was the most influential ethicist of his time with regard to the Cold War foreign policy.  I first noticed this when Obama--in his unscripted answers--quoted Niebuhr back in 2008 during the campaign when he took part in that discussion in Rick Warren's church, and that impressed me.  And then, again, in his Peace Prize Speech, he quoted Niebuhr more than anyone else.

As a amateur theologian myself (and pastor), I've actually studied Niebuhr quite a bit over the years and considered myself a Niebuhrian for a while (and still do some), especially during my neo-conservative years in the 80s.  What I've come to see is that, paradoxically, Niebuhr's writings gives someone of Obama's intellect the moral worldview to bless war, in all its folly, and pursue it with great vigor.  The Nieburhian trick is that you always do it with protestations of humility, a great deal of hand-wringing, and of course the expression of  your great desire for world peace and reconciliation, though that's always down at the end of the road somewhere, out of sight.

It is no accident that the hawkish Christian neo-conservatives of the last 30 years--people like Michael Novak and Richard John Neuhaus--have all considered themselves disciples of Niebuhr too.  And Novak, for example, was very happy to work at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the heart of the neo-con beast, and bless its work with an outpouring of God-talk.

Of course, Reinhold Nieburh would have been somewhat uncomfortable with the way that Obama ends his speeches: "May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America."   But, that's politics, you know.  Gotta do what you gotta do.

Ps.  One more thing.  I'm coming to believe that our most aggressive and hawkish national leaders tend to be those who did not serve in the military (aka 'chickenhawks).  On the other hand, war heroes like Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, and George Bush Sr. were a little more careful about matters of war, having seen it up close and personal. 

Maybe we should draft Colin Powell to be President.  At this point, I'd definitely be in favor of that!

Lame Speech

Progressive Joshua Foust wrote in The American Prospect:
As pleasing as President Obama’s speech is, how we actually go about this process will matter tremendously. For the time being, all we have is Obama’s inspiring rhetoric and the dramatic shift in focus.
Pardon me? Inspiring rhetoric?  Dramatic shift?  That was one of the most canned and pedestrian speechs I've heard Obama give.  There was NO doubt he was reading that off the teleprompter.  And so blatently political too, as in shifting from national security to all the 'nation-building' that we must/can/will do at home.  Oh really?  With what money exactly? 

There was no dramatic shift...none, nada, zip, zero.  Same old, same old.  More war, more bloodshed and death, more money wasted, more lies and deceptions.

As a writer for FireDogLake put it so well:
Dude, your speech was so lame and wooden you make Al Gore in 2000 look exciting. Pathetic. I could also see your eyes move when you read the teleprompter. You’re losing your touch.  But you lost me long before.

The Drawdown

"We Stand Not For Empire": More Obama Hooey.

Andrew Sullivan (of whom I remain a loyal reader) remains loyal to President Obama through thick and thin.  After last night's latest Afghanistan speech by Obama, Sullivan wrote:
There is, as with the Iraq withdrawal, no triumphalism. But destroying half of al Qaeda's leadership, including Osama bin Laden, as Americans struggle in a stubbornly sluggish economy, is good enough. The longest war in the history of America will come to an end ... in three years' time. It will have lasted thirteen years. And Obama's pragmatism - his refusal to embrace either the Full McCain Jacket or the impulse to just get the hell out of there ASAP - has helped him.
Sullivan is an Obamanian true believer, of which there remain many.  But not me.

Why would anyone believe that Obama intends to end the Afghan War in three more years?  After all the evidence that this is just another political stalling tactic, that's crazy.  The American Establishment and the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Presidential Complex fully intend to pacify and occupy Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, because that's what it sees as being in the best interest of the American Empire. 

And yes, Obama, we ARE an empire, the world's greatest since we inherited the mantle from the British after WWII.  And the Establishment doesn't really want that to end, because it has been the primary source of our massive wealth and power.  Afghanistan does so many things for us: it gives us a place from which to squeeze the Iranians, oversee Chinese activities, prevent Russia from reconstituting its empire, provide passage for Central Asian oil, etc.  'Zbig' called it the lynchpin of our foreign policy in the new century (The Grand Chessboard). 

Forget Al-Qaeda, they're our guys.  That's the big secret that few people get, but it's the key to this whole puzzle.  Truth be told, our covert operatives have controlled them like pawns since we first oversaw their creation in the late 70s and early 80s--that was (again) Zbigniew Brzezinski's big idea.  (Hell, that's not even a controversial statement, everyone admits that, though few people actually remember it now.)  And frankly, A-Qaeda has done very little without our approval (including, in my opinion, 9/11, which very conveniently served our imperial purposes). 

Al-Qaeda--with or without Bin Laden--remains our convenient pawn and scapegoat.  They ramp up fear in our people so that we can continue our imperial ways around the world without populist opposition.  And predictably, Obama used them once again last night as part of the rationale to remain the occupiers and destroyers of Afghanistan.  And he'll use them the same way wherever he needs to around the world.  They're the big 'Boogie Man' that our government uses to scare the American people when they start getting uppity.  In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised that an Al Qaeda 'attack' within the US occurs very soon, so as to pacify and immobilize the increasingly frustrated American people.

The face of Pax Americana--the US President--can (1) never admit that we are an empire, and (2) never act to end our imperial ways, because of the tidal imperial forces that control and dictate his/her actions.  But in the case of Obama, I've come to believe that, far from opposing the empire, he is fully in agreement with it.  I felt that the moment I saw him oohing and awwing over the accoutrements of Air Force One.  He loves it.  And of course, why wouldn't you, if you have no real identity.

We were sold a bill of goods with this guy.  He was supposed to be our black Franklin Roosevelt (Jonathan Alter, The Defining Moment), the magnanimous, selfless Savior of our country and the world.  I believed it (although there was always a place in my heart that remained skeptical).  The Nobel Peace Committee sure got sucked into this story line, giving him a Peace Prize before he had even had a chance to do anything to earn it.  At the time, I suggested that he refuse the prize until he earned it.  I hope the Nobel Committee is ashamed of itself now.

I Will Not Vote For Barack Obama Again

After mulling this over a long time, I have finally reach the point where I can say with conviction (and not a little passion) that I will not vote for Barack Obama again.  If I don't find the Republican candidate acceptable, then I will vote for a third-party candidate or I will write in someone that I can support in good conscience. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Signs of Hope

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com reports on a growing bi-partisan movement in Congress to challenge establishment thinking on such things as our Libya intervention, the Patriot Act, and the Federal Reserve. Now, that's what I'm talkin' about!! (And it's why I supported last election such Tea Party libertarians as Rand Paul.)
When Dennis Kucinich earlier this month introduced a bill to compel the withdrawal of all American troops from Libya within 15 days, the leadership of both parties and the political class treated it the way they do most of Kucinich's challenges to establishment political orthodoxy: they ignored it except to mock its unSeriousness. But a funny thing happened: numerous liberal House Democrats were joined by dozens of conservative GOP members to express support for his bill, and the White House and GOP House leadership became jointly alarmed that the bill could actually pass; that's why GOP House Speaker John Boehner introduced a Resolution purporting to rebuke Obama for failing to comply with the War Powers Resolution, but which, in fact, was designed to be an utterly inconsequential act. Its purpose was to protect Obama's war by ensuring that Kucinich's bill failed; the point of Boehner's alternative was to provide a symbolic though meaningless outlet for those House members angry over Obama's failure to get Congressional support.

Still, Kucinich's bill attracted an extraordinary amount of support given that it would have forced the President to withdraw all troops from an ongoing war in a little over 2 weeks. A total of 148 House members voted for it; even more notable was how bipartisan the support was: 61 Democrats and 87 Republicans. Included among those voting for mandatory withdrawal from Libya were some of the House's most liberal members (Grijalva, Holt, Woolsey, Barney Frank) and its most conservative members identified with the Tea Party (McClintock, Chaffetz, Bachmann). Boehner's amendment -- demanding that Obama more fully brief Congress -- ultimately passed, also with substantial bipartisan support, but most media reports ultimately recognized it for what it was: a joint effort by the leadership of both parties and the White House to sabotage the anti-war efforts of its most liberal and most conservative members.

A similar dynamic asserted itself during the joint efforts by the White House and the GOP Congressional leadership to ensure an extension of the Patriot Act without any reforms. What The Nation correctly described as a "Left-Right coalition" blocked the joint GOP/Democratic scheme to force the extension through on an expedited basis, without any debate. Similarly, opposition to ultimate enactment of the Patriot Act was led by some of the most conservative GOP members of the Senate (Rand Paul, Mike Lee) and some of its most liberal (Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley). Like the Libya War, the Patriot Act was protected by a union of the White House and GOP Congressional leadership against this dissident, bipartisan coalition. Much the same occurred when Alan Grayson and Ron Paul joined with members from the Right and Left -- and against the establishment of both parties -- to pass a bill compelling an audit of the Fed.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Economic Tornado Headed Our Way...Again

All of a sudden, a veritable gale of economic indicators are all turning negative.  It's like a faint cloud in the distance has suddenly turned into this black churning cloud, bearing down on us...again.  No surprise to me.  (You can read all 170 of my blog posts on the economic crisis here, beginning in chronological order with this most recent post and ending with my post of September 15, 2008, as the Great Recession was hitting us full force.  I am consistent, if nothing else.)

Last January, in response to President Obama's State of the Union speech, I wrote the following (as part of a larger post here):
The last thirty years of 'growth' have been a disaster for America, in that it was illusory and not true growth at all. It was based primarily on debt and a 'casino' economy, with the mostly non-productive finance sector (along with the super rich in general) gobbling up whole portions of the nation's wealth, leaving the ordinary person slowly sinking below the waves of higher debt, lower wages or no job at all, little in the way of retirement and a housing crisis that has crippled people's wealth and mobility.

What in the President's proposals will change this? Despite his boast of change, he has fundamentally left the financial sector to continues in its greedy ways, which is probably my primary gripe with his first two years in office (seconded by his Bushian policies on Afghanistan and terrorism). But I am encouraged by his rescue of GM and the auto industry (but even that was started by the Bush administration before him). He is also making an effort to increase exports, which could go a long way toward resolving many of our problems. Also, his clean energy policies are a step in the right direction, although I'm somewhat skeptical that reducing our reliance on foreign oil can be halted in this way, without a major increase through taxation on oil importation, which politically can't be done. Unfortunately, I don't see many people being able to afford a Volt or putting solar panels on their roofs in the near future. And the high-speed rail, that just isn't going to happen. I'd be happy for just regular old rail that runs regularly, on time, and where you actually need to go. But that probably isn't going to happen either....

Maybe we can muddle through the next thirty years on huge military/intelligence expenditures, clean energy expenditures, and a bloated health care and higher education industries. But frankly, I doubt it. I think our economic woes are going to come back and bite us in the arse, through a monetary/debt crisis, continued high unemployment and rising poverty, private and public bankruptcies, a continuing housing crisis, increasing commodity/consumer goods inflation, a possible military confrontation with China, and worst of all, a possible BIG terrorist incident in one of our cities, which will turn America into an armed camp and would mean the real loss of our liberty, perhaps forever.

Sorry to be so pessimistic, but that just seems to me to be the more likely outcome. I hope Obama's right, but I fear that I am.
And in another post a month or so before that, in December 2010, I quoted someone who wisely wrote that Obama's economic change was a change of style rather than substance:
In 2008 President Obama captured the nation with a message of change, yet in office he has chosen to deliver change of style rather than change of substance. At the headline level this choice was reflected in his call for bi-partisanship that looked to split the difference with Republicans. In economic policy, it was reflected in the wholesale reappointment of the Clinton administration team led by Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, a case of continuity not change.

Now, the administration is sinking under failure of its economic policy. That failure is due to its attempt to revive a 1990s paradigm that never worked as advertised and can only deliver stagnation. Painful though it is for Democrats to acknowledge, the reality is the economic policies of President Clinton were largely the same as those of President Bush. On this the record is clear for those willing to see. The Clinton administration pushed financial deregulation; twice reappointed Alan Greenspan; promoted corporate globalization through NAFTA and China PNTR; initiated the strong dollar policy; spoke of the “end of the era of big government”; contemplated privatization of Social Security; and struck down a core element of the New Deal by ending the right to welfare.

President Obama’s fateful decision to go with Clintonomics meant the recession was interpreted as an extremely deep downturn rather than a crisis signaling the bankruptcy of the neoliberal paradigm that has ruled both Republicans and Democrats for thirty years. That implied the recession could be fully addressed with stimulus, which was the same response as the Bush administration to the recession of 2001.
Exactly. And then 18 months ago, in November of 2009, I wrote this:
On the way into the office this morning, the NPR news break announcer proclaimed the recession over. Happy days are here again, or to arrive shortly!

Oh really?

Mainstream economists and the media are really pathetic. They are living in a dream world of wishful thinking and wide-eyed optimism, totally divorced from reality.

The only people I know of for whom the recession is over are the Goldman Sachs bankers receiving their bonuses for Christmas.

Of course, even the optimists don't really mean we're on the path to recovery, they just mean the economy has bottomed out. Which may or may not be true, given all the uncertainties still looming. But we are by no means starting to recover. If anything, we're just digging ourselves deeper in a hole, having replaced private debt with public debt.

And the worst of it is, nobody is leveling with the people about our true condition. It's too politically unpalatable. The truth is too unpleasant.

Or perhaps they've just deceived themselves. Denial is one of our biggest vices here in the USA.
So, why is it that I am able to see these things when most mainstream, Establishment economics are blind to them? It's certainly not because I'm smarter than they are, or know economics as well as they do.  I believe it has to do with the fact that conventional economics is too narrow and constricted a lens from which to actually understand the economic realities around us. It's like looking through a red piece of glass and thinking that the everything is actually red.  It's only when you take the lens off and look at things from the wider and more honest perspective, that you see the truth of the matter.

Bless his heart.  President Obama probably meant well, but he turned to the wrong people to give him the economic advice he needed: Summers, Geithner, Bernanke, and their ilk.  And now he's paying the price.  And unfortunately, and more importantly, we are too.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Anti-Establishment Jon Huntsman

There is something wrong with calling Jon Huntsman a 'moderate', as if he is just, as Paul Gottfried wrote recently, a "low-octane Democrat".  This has been bothering me for several days now.

For example, it seems to me that the Washington Establishment (in both parties) is at the center of the political spectrum, and therefore appropriately called 'centrist' or 'moderate'.  These are the career politicians who, year in and year out, take the PAC and lobbyist money and vote for the kinds of economic and foreign policy measures that have gotten us in the mess that we are in here in 2011.  These are the politicians that I'm beginning to hate for what they have done to this country.

Now, despite the crazy labeling of Barack Obama by Republicans and Fox News and others as a 'socialist' or worse, he is of course nothing of the kind.  Barack Obama is as centrist and moderate a politician as you can possibly find in Washington.  He supported the bipartisan bailout of Wall Street bankers, and has basically refused to reform our corrupt financial system (appearances to the contrary notwithstanding).  More recently, he has gone along (at the least) with NATO in the bombing of Libya, and both of these things are very typical of the centrist/moderate Establishment.

And again, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is a Republican establishment that is as every bit as guilty of dragging our country into the mess that it's in as those allegedly freespending Democrats.  Take the Bush administration, for example.  They took us into the Iraq War, as illegal and unnecessary a war as you will ever find.  They gave enormous tax cuts to the wealthy, dramatically raising the national deficit in the process.  And they completely failed in their responsibility to safeguard our financial system, allowing a housing and debt bubble to expand then collapse, creating economic havoc in the process.

So, in the current field of Presidential candidates in both parties, it seems to me that you have Establishment candidates and those that are not (at least as much).  I'm against the former and for the latter.  Here is what I want as President: I want someone whom Wall Street and the Pentagon will be afraid of. 

Since Barack Obama is the Democratic and, as I said, clearly Establishment, we can only really look at the Republicans.  The first obvious Establishment Republican is Mitt Romney.  I doubt anyone will disagree with that.  If you want to elect a candidate who will in all likelihood continue the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama policies, elect Mitt!  Wall Street, Business Roundtable, and the Military-Industrial Complex will love him, I feel sure.  Ditto Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain.  And Tim Pawlenty sure seems proto-Establishment, unless he can prove to me otherwise. 

Now who is anti-Establishment?  Of the Republicans running, Ron Paul certainly constitutes that kind of a threat, which is why I would actually vote for him for President, if I could.  The problem is that he is unlikely to get that far.  As for Sarah Palin, I really don't have the foggiest idea what Sarah Palin believes, and frankly, I DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT, because, first and foremost, she seems to me to be a complete and utter narcissist.  Michele Bachmann could possibly be an anti-Establishment candidate, though something about her bothers me  (perhaps it's her strange political fundamentalism and lack of subtlety.)

The one Republican candidate running who I think is both anti-Establishment and electable is Jon Huntsman.  The 'electable' part I've talked about in previous posts, so let's focus in on the anti-Establishment part.

Why do I think he's anti-Establishment?  First of all, he comes from Utah, for god's sake!  You simply can't come from Utah, including its Mormon Church, and see things the same way that Washington does!  Salt Lake City could be the other side of the moon, for all the Washington insiders know.  And when they look at someone from that god-forsaken place (in their opinion), they must think they're looking at an alien being.  I mean, at least Mitt Romney is a Mormon from Massachusetts, where he's had time to have that Mormon culture bled out of him by the secular puritanism that is Massachusetts liberalism.

Second, Huntsman didn't just grow up in Utah.  He's actually run a business there and been governor there.  (I know, he's served several years in the two Bush administrations in minor administrative commerce/trade positions, as well as Ambassador to both Singapore and China.)  So he's been immersed in the unique and uniquely conservative culture of Utah, and more importantly, Utah is an integral part of his heart and soul.

Third, Jon Huntsman has lived in Asia, most recently two years in China, and speaks Chinese fluently.  And frankly, the only thing more strange to Washington than Utah might be China (as Henry Kissinger made very clear the other night on the Charlie Rose show talking about his new book On China).

Fourth, Jon Huntsman has so much money (which he didn't make on Wall Street like Mitt did) that he doesn't give a damn what the Wall Street and Hedge Fund tycoons think of him.  He doesn't need and probably doesn't want their money, thank God.  So, guess what, THEY CAN'T BUY HIM OFF, which is probably really bothering them right about now (or will be shortly).

Fifth, Jon Huntsman leans toward libertarianism, in my opinion.  (Not liberalism, libertarianism.)  You can see this in his sense of fiscal responsibility, his respect for real business (not the parasitism of Wall Street), and his true respect for the right of individuals to make real choices about their life (he dropped out of high school to play in a band and earned his diploma through the GED).  You can also see it in his leaning toward anti-interventionism abroad, which he has demonstrated with his recent criticism of Obama's Libyan policy.

I could on for a while, but let me end here.  I could be wrong about this, and it could end up (like it so often does) that Huntsman would be co-opted by the Washington Establishment.  And I will say this: if 'moderate' means that Huntsman is 'electable', because he has qualities that appeal to folks, then, okay, he's moderate.  BUT only in that sense of the word.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why Jon Huntsman Can Win the Social Conservative Vote

In response to my post "Why Jon Huntsman Will Win The Republican Nomination", Abe emailed me with this: "If you get a chance sometime, you may want to write an article on how Huntsman can get the social conservative wing of the party to go along. Although he is pro-life, he did support civil unions in his state. For independents like me that's a plus, but it will hurt him with the religious base."

Good question. George Will wrote this week in the Washington Post that with 'Cool-hand Huntsman' "it is difficult to chart Huntsman’s path to the Republicans’ Tampa convention...." Really? I don't think it is. Here's my answer.

First of all, he was elected as Governor in Utah twice and was popular even as he resigned to become ambassador to China. That is prima facie evidence that he can win among social conservatives, because Utah may well be one of the most socially conservative states in the US. In fact, many conservatives from outside Utah will give Huntsman the 'benefit of the doubt' in this matter simply because he was the governor of Utah. That may be why the former chairman of South Carolinians for Mike Huckabee is reportedly going for Huntsman.

Second, Huntsman doesn't have any divisive or problematic family issues, at least that we know about. He has a good, long-term marriage with many children, which fits the conservative Mormon mold. This again gives him credibility on the culture issue.

Third, social conservatives have always given candidates they like a 'pass' on certain things. For example, Ronald Reagan was divorced and remarried to another actor. You would think that that would be a disqualifying factor for a 'conservative' but apparently it's not. Or take Dick Cheney and his gay daughter. The Cheney's have always supported their daughter, and it apparently never hurt them with conservatives. Sarah Palin had a daughter get pregnant out of wedlock, but that never seemed to hurt her with social conservatives. So social conservatives are not as consistent in this matter as one might think. Whether or not they will give Huntsman a pass on his support for 'civil unions' for gays is a big question mark, but it is possible they will--they did so in Utah.

Fourth, Jon Huntsman has strong fiscal conservative credentials, an understanding of foreign policy, and governing experience. These all speak in his favor. Also, he appeals to the younger generations, with his hopeful, positive, civil approach to the politics, as well as that 'rebel streak' which is appreciated by the younger folks. All this to say, I think he's the most well-rounded candidate in the Republican field right now, and over time--if he pulls the trigger and gets in--will be able to overcome the Romney lead. If he does this, he'll get much of the social and religious right vote, because (1) they won't have anywhere else to go, and (2) they REALLY want to see Obama defeated.

Fifth, as I stated before, Huntsman has the potential support of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, iconic figures on the religious right. Glenn Beck has great affection for the Huntsman family, and Huntsman gave a speech at the 2008 Republican convention introducing Sarah Palin as the VP nominee. These are potential chits that he can hope to collect if he catches fire in the party.

Sixth, there are only a few persons who can win the Republican nomination, and that doesn't include Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, or Newt Gingrich. So the question is: who is the potential nominee that these conservatives might be able to support? I think that it's more likely to be Jon Huntsman than Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, for all the reasons stated above.  Add to that a VP choice who would be acceptable to the social conservatives, and you have a winner.

Proviso: there is one big unknown in the room who could suck out the air out if he got in the race, and that person is Jeb Bush. (Chris Christie and Rick Perry are not significant factors, in my opinion, despite what some thing.) The Bush dynasty is still alive and kickin' in our country.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Obama and Israel

And now the rest of Jack Smith's piece, this time dealing with the Israel/Palestininian issue. This too seems to explain the odd dynamics of the Obama/Israel relationship.

Before mentioning the Obama/Netanyahu brouhaha in late May, we'll touch upon why the Israel-Palestine situation is central to America's MENA/Central Asia policy, and note why the U.S. seeks a two-state solution to the Palestinian question and why the present Israeli government won't go along.

The U.S. and most of its European allies view Israel as an important "Western" political, military and intelligence outpost in a resource-strategic, volatile and now "unstable" region of the world populated almost entirely by Arab Muslims. It will not allow Israel to go under.

Washington's superpower influence has convinced most Arab governments to mute their criticisms of Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinians, (Syria and Libya have been exceptions), but the Arab masses have always supported the cause of the Palestinian people and denounce both Israel and its American enabler. Now that these masses are beginning to speak for themselves the Palestine question is more important than ever.

The oppression of the Palestinian people is the main cause of anti-American attitudes throughout the Islamic world of about 1.4 billion people, mostly in 47 countries with majority Muslim populations. This number will grow to 2 billion by 2030.

At this time the U.S. is fighting in five Muslim countries, and seeking to seduce several resource-rich Central Asian Muslim countries while retaining its Arab satellites in MENA. Meanwhile, Washington is presiding over a debt-ridden ailing economy, its world leadership is declining, and several developing countries, led by China, are rising and seeking a more equitable world order than that put into place at the end of World War II when half the globe was subjugated to the big colonialist and imperialist powers.

Obviously, something has to give — and "resolving" the Palestinian crisis with two states seems to be the quickest and least expensive way for Washington to win the good graces of a fifth of the world population at a time when U.S. "leadership" is losing clout.

A fairly broad section of Israeli opinion also sees two states as a way out of the Palestinian dilemma — but the country is presently in the hands of a right/far right government led by Netanyahu's Likud Party, the anti-democratic and racist Yisrael Beiteinu extremists led by Avigdor Lieberman, and the ultra-orthodox religious party Shas. Most of these right wing extremists will do everything possible to stall an agreement with the Palestinians in hopes that in time something — anything — will happen that will allow the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to be annexed to Israel proper.

The ultra-orthodox community (10% but growing fast), backed by many other religious citizens, adhere to the superstition that the deity "gave" Israel to the Jews, and that the Arabs are interlopers who should emigrate elsewhere. Many in Yisrael Beiteinu also want the Arabs to leave, but for ultra-nationalist reasons. Likud seems less fanatical but depends on the far right to retain power.

Since the U.S. government has made it clear for decades that it will defend, support and subsidize the State of Israel under all conditions, what's behind the headlines in recent days about a sharp disagreement between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama?

Frankly, during his visit to the U.S. — where he met with Obama, addressed Congress and delivered a speech to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC — Netanyahu made a mountain out of a molehill to divert attention from his government's refusal to take the basic steps required to resume negotiations with the Palestinians leading toward creation of two states.

The "molehill" was Obama's call for the resumption of talks between both sides based on the boundaries that existed before the June war 1967 with "mutually agreed land swaps."(Israel still occupies and is building settlements upon the land it seized in contravention of international law.)

The "molehill" was Obama's call for the resumption of talks between both sides based on the boundaries that existed in 1967 with "mutually agreed land swaps."

Actually, this has been the basic U.S. position for nearly two decades in discussions with Israel and talks between both sides. The Clinton and Bush 2 Administrations were in general agreement. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank agrees with it, and now Hamas in Gaza as well, as did previous Israeli governments. They understood — as Obama made sure to articulate to the Israeli leader — that the "mutually agreed swaps" of land would be part of a final boundary agreement.

This means that a method would be found for Israelis to obtain much of the Palestinian land where it has illegally settled 500,000 of its citizens in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in exchange for swapping some of its own land and other concessions. Naturally, land would be exchanged to make it possible for the two parts of Palestine to be connected, even if just a narrow corridor.

The "mountain" was Netanyahu's intentional misunderstanding that as a result of talks Israel was being told to return to the 1967 borders, which he charged were now "indefensible." All that was missing from his distortion was the allegation that Obama was now adding one more "existential" menace to the plethora of dangers facing Israel, but it was implied. Both AIPAC and Congress focused on protecting Israel and genuflecting to Netanyahu. Obama's cautious and weak call for talks was brushed aside, as Netanyahu had planned.

The House and Senate — Democrats and Republicans, in a rare display of bipartisanship — gave the Israeli leader a tremendous welcome replete with a score of standing ovations. Congress has been even more pro-Israel than the White House over the last decades. Part of the reason is the remarkable effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobbies on election campaigns. Some politicians owe their careers to AIPAC, and some have lost their careers when they publicly questioned Israel's sanctity.

Another part stems from the political power of tens of millions of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists who not only accept the supernatural theory that a divine being "gave" Israel to the Jews but believe the Christian superstition that the Jews must be in full possession of Israel (Palestine) before Jesus Christ will return to Earth for the "Rapture."

Aside from Obama's 1967 borders remark, all his comments just before and during Netanyahu's self-serving visit were paeans to Israel and pledges of America's support. He also displayed a dismaying inability to recognize a difference between oppressed and oppressor.

Obama (1) refused to call on Israel to stop building settlements in Palestinian territory; (2) omitted mention of Israel's illegal demand to annex all Jerusalem; (3) did not refer to the Palestinian refugee situation; (4) insisted that the PA withdraw its application for statehood set to be debated at the UN in September, with a good chance of General Assembly approval (though an inevitable U.S. Security Council veto will obviate the vote); (5) opposed the unity moves between Fatah/PA in West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

In addition Obama argued that the Palestinians must not only recognize the existence of Israel but should acknowledge "Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people." In normal diplomatic exchanges mutual recognition is sufficient, without all the bending over backward expected of the Palestinians.

As far as state and homeland are concerned, there are more than a million Palestinians who have been living in what is now Israel since 1948 and for many generations earlier, in addition to refugees whose demand for a "right to return" has not been addressed. This is a matter for the negotiations, not dismissal beforehand by defining Israel in such fashion.

Many demands on both sides will be negotiated — but any commitments take place after, not before, negotiations. One more point on recognition. Much is made out of the fact that Hamas (and Fatah as well, but this usually is not mentioned) does not "recognize" Israel. But according to international law, recognition is between two states, not between a political party and a state.

Even when the right/far right coalition led by Netanyahu is defeated in a couple of years by the center right Kadima Party, it will be somewhat easier but still very rough going for the Palestinians. The political left is very small. There is no powerful center or center left party (though the weakened center-right Labor Party, which would join the new ruling coalition, sometimes thinks of itself as center left), and Kadima would have to make concessions to its coalition partners, then to the powerful right/far right in parliament, and then to the settlers and the die-hards.

Kadima, an offshoot of Likud, is led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who calls for negotiations with the PA, including land swaps, leading to a Palestinian state. But both Obama and Livni have made it clear in the past that the state they envisage for the Palestinians would be extremely weak, dependent on conservative Arab countries and the U.S., and probably not even allowed to have its own defense forces.

Right now, even that hurdle seems to be a long distance down a road that resembles an obstacle course, but the Palestinian people have shown themselves to be extremely persistent in the face of great odds, and whatever their final objective in the struggles to come they just might get there.

Maintaining Our Foothold in Central Asia

Last week, I wrote a post about the bipartisan geostrategic perspective of the American foreign policy establishment, whose number one goal for many decades now has to been to remain 'the dominant global hegemon.' Jack Smith has written a helpful article explaining what this means in terms of both our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. First his take on Iraq and Afghanistan, which rings very true to me.

The U.S. inherited this position two decades ago upon the implosion of the
Soviet Union and the socialist camp and is hardly prepared to step aside. The
policy Washington adopted at that time, and which remains in force today, is to
prevent the emergence of any powerful rival or military force potentially able
to undermine American dominion.

No other country is grabbing for the global supremacy, but a number of states with advanced and developing economies think it's time for a new international construct with multipolar leadership.

The Obama Administration's sacrosanct mission, as with earlier Washington governments, is to keep the political and geographic ground gained by the U.S. in the 66 years since the end of World War II, when it became leader of the capitalist world's Cold War contention with communism.

This ground was extended in the post-Cold War period mainly through U.S. control of global economic institutions, the political absorption of the states of Eastern Europe that had been in the Soviet orbit, unequaled military power, and for the last
decade the "war on terrorism" launched by former President George W. Bush.

President Barack Obama took over from Bush in Iraq, greatly enlarged the
Afghan war and extended fighting to western Pakistan, Yemen and now Libya. In
addition, Obama seeks to retain smaller but substantial U.S. military forces in
Iraq and Afghanistan years beyond their anticipated pullout dates at a time when
public opinion backs a total withdrawal.

Washington has had its eye on dominating MENA [the Middle East and North Africa] for its energy resources for over 70 years and attracted several key regional nations such as Saudi Arabia to its orbit many decades ago. In more recent years, U.S. hegemony has been extended throughout the entire region with the exception of Iran, the acquisition of which was postponed because of the military-political debacle caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the decade since 9/11 Washington lengthened its imperial reach into Central Asia by projecting its formidable military power into Afghanistan, one of the poorest
countries on Earth. The ostensible purpose was to capture bin Laden and defeat
al Qaeda, the organization he founded in the 1980s with support from Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. during the civil war against a progressive government
in Kabul and its Soviet military protectors.

The Obama Administration is anxious to retain military bases and thousands of troops in Iraq, which it is supposed to leave entirely at the end of this year, and in Afghanistan as well, when the U.S. is scheduled to depart at the end of 2014. President Obama is applying heavy pressure to Baghdad and Kabul to "request" the long-term presence of U.S. troops and "contractors" after the bulk of the occupation force withdraws.

Why keep troops in Iraq? The neoconservative Bush White House invaded Iraq, which was considered a pushover after 12 years of U.S.-British-UN killer sanctions, not only to control its oil but as a prelude to bringing about regime change in neighboring Iran, thus providing Washington with total control of the immense resources of the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi guerrilla resistance destroyed the plan, for now.

Thus, the upshot of the war — in addition to costing American taxpayers several trillion dollars over the next few decades in principal and interest — is that Shi'ite Iran's main enemy, which was the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad until 2003, has been replaced by the Shi'ite government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a politician who usually bends the knee to Washington but is quite friendly to Tehran, as are many Iraqi politicians.

Most importantly the U.S. has no desire to completely withdraw from its only foothold in Central Asia, militarily positioned close to what are perceived to be its two main enemies with nuclear weapons (China, Russia), and two volatile nuclear powers backed by the U.S. but not completely under its control by any means (Pakistan, India). Also, this fortuitous geography is flanking the extraordinary oil and natural gas wealth of the Caspian Basin and energy-endowed former Soviet Muslim republics such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Lastly, Iran — a possible future imperial prize — is situated between Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east. The U.S. wants to keep troops nearby for any contingency.

Washington's foothold in Central Asia is a potential geopolitical treasure, particularly as Obama, like Bush before him, seeks to prevent Beijing and Moscow from extending their influence in what is actually their own back yard, not America's.

Both former Cold War adversaries are acutely aware of Washington's intentions and are trying to block U.S. maneuvers through the regional Shanghai Cooperation
Organization and other means, such as Beijing's recent warm and supportive
gestures toward an appreciative Islamabad. While China and Russia have supported
the U.S. war in Afghanistan, they both — and no doubt Pakistan and India as well
— strongly oppose the prospect of a long term U.S./NATO military presence in the

The White House has been twisting the Kabul government's arm to sign a "status of forces" agreement allowing a relatively large American contingent of troops, special forces, CIA operatives, paramilitary contractors, military trainers, etc. — perhaps between 10,000-20,000 occupying up to six military bases — to remain in Afghanistan after the end of the 2014 pullout date. President Obama might then claim that the Afghans requested the forces for their own security. So far the Karzai government is holding out, but eventual agreement is probable.

The closest Obama has come to publicly acknowledging the partial withdrawal effort was on 60 Minutes May 8 with the obscure comment that "we don't need to have a perpetual footprint of the size we have now."

The main problem in keeping a smaller "perpetual footprint" is that the Taliban insists on a total withdrawal and abandonment of all U.S. bases as well as troops. Otherwise they won't agree to the truce that is necessary to justify Obama's "honorable" withdrawal. The U.S. seems intent upon pounding the Taliban militarily until it agrees. Eventually, Washington may prevail by offering the Taliban more money and more political and administrative power in the new arrangement. Perhaps the troops might be renamed "contractors" and the U.S. could transfer the bases to Kabul, which would lease them back to the Americans.

Choosing to Reform Our Fiscal House

Jon Huntsman published this 0p-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on May 31, 2011. He seems to be aiming at gaining the support of the fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party.

This year marks the centennial anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth—and America finds itself at a crossroads that brings to mind the title of that great man's famous speech in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy: "A Time for Choosing." We should not underestimate the seriousness of the responsibility. This is the moment when we will choose whether we are to become a declining power in the world, or a nation that again surpasses the great achievements of our history.

We are over $14 trillion in debt, $4 trillion more than we owed just two years ago. In 2008, the ratio of public debt to gross domestic product was 40%. Today it's 68%, and we are fast approaching the critical 90% threshold economists warn is unsustainable, causing dramatic spikes in inflation and interest rates, and corresponding declines in GDP and jobs.

Unless we make hard decisions now, in less than a decade every dollar of federal revenue will go to covering the costs of Medicare, Social Security and interest payments on our debt. We'll sink even deeper in debt to pay for everything else, from national security to disaster relief. American families will fall behind the economic security enjoyed by previous generations. Our country will fall behind the productivity of other countries. Our currency will be debased. Our influence in the world will wane. Our security will be more precarious.

Some argue for half-measures, or for delaying the inevitable because the politics are too hard. But delay is a decision to let America decline. The longer we wait, the harder our choices become.

The debt ceiling must be raised this summer to cover the government's massive borrowing, and we must make reductions in government spending a condition for increasing the debt ceiling. This will provide responsible leaders the opportunity to reduce, reform, and in some cases end government programs—including some popular but unaffordable subsidies for agriculture and energy—in order to save the trillions, not billions, necessary to make possible a future as bright as our past. It also means reforming entitlement programs that won't deliver promised benefits to retirees without changes that take account of the inescapable reality that we have too few workers supporting too many retirees.

I admire Congressman Paul Ryan's honest attempt to save Medicare. Those who disagree with his approach incur a moral responsibility to propose reforms that would ensure Medicare's ability to meet its responsibilities to retirees without imposing an unaffordable tax burden on future generations of Americans.

These aren't easy choices, and we must make them at a time of anemic economic growth and very high unemployment. That's why we must also make sweeping reforms of our tax code, regulatory policies and other government policies to improve our productivity, competitiveness and job creation.

The United States has the second-highest corporate tax rate in the world. We are losing out to countries that make it more attractive for businesses to invest there. Our tax code should encourage American businesses to invest and add new jobs here. We need a tax code that substitutes flatter and lower rates for the bewildering and often counterproductive array of deductions and loopholes, and that provides incentives to encourage savings, investment and growth.

We also need to pursue, as aggressively as other countries do, free trade agreements. Ninety-five percent of the world's customers live outside the U.S. We won't remain the most productive economy in the world if we embrace the mistaken belief that we can prosper by selling and buying only among ourselves, while other countries seize the extraordinary opportunities for economic growth that the global economy offers. Finally, we must reform public education, so that it prepares our children for the economic opportunities of this century, not the last one.

When I was the governor of Utah, we cut and flattened tax rates. We balanced budgets and grew our rainy-day fund. And when the economic crisis struck, we didn't raise taxes or rely on accounting gimmicks to hide obligations. We cut spending and made government more efficient. We increased revenues by facilitating a business environment in which innovators and job creators could expand our economic base. Utah maintained its AAA bond rating, and in 2008 it was named the best-managed state in the nation by the Pew Center on the States. We proved that government doesn't have to choose between fiscal responsibility and economic growth.

We should not accept that election-cycle politics make it too hard to make the decisions that are necessary to preserve the most productive and competitive economy in the world. This is not just a time for choosing new leaders. This is the hour when we choose our future.