Monthly Archives: July 2013

What’s Up July 11, 2013?

· George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Our Era of Bipartisan Ineptitude – by Lloyd Green Jul 7, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

Bush 43 and Obama have brought us back to the unhappy era of Johnson, Nixon and Carter, writes Lloyd Green.

Who says that the bipartisan spirit is dead? Just last week, Pew Research listed incompetent as the word most frequently associated with President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama. A day later, the administration announced that it was putting Obamacare’s much-vaunted employer mandate on hold for a year, until January 1, 2015, even as television cameras steadily streamed pictures from Cairo of the lethal tumult once known as the Arab Spring.

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Being Republican or Democrat doesn’t save a President from being incompetent. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Bush’s incompetence was born of excess idealism. Rather than seeing a region mired in muck, he envisioned a world created anew and ignored the question of what happens the day after? As for Obama, he has treated legislative victory as an end in itself, while ignoring the reality of actual implementation. If Americans needed any further evidence that the respective signature “achievements” of Bush and Obama were failures wrapped in untidy and costly bows, there they were in plain sight.

The latest events from Tahrir Square reminded us that Bush 43’s freedom agenda was a chaotic and bloody mess that left America worse off, with thousands of American soldiers dead and tens of thousands wounded. Apparently, the former president stubbornly clings to his dream of democracy sprouting from the soil of the Arab world, telling ABC News on Tuesday that democracy is an evolutionary process that takes time, much as he had proclaimed ten years earlier that the war in Iraq was the latest front in the “global democratic revolution.” On Wednesday, Morsi was history and democracy had moved irresistibly forward.

For the record, potentially democratic revolutions have come and gone. According to Freedom House, the number and percentage of electoral democracies in 2012 are both lower than in 2001, when Bush 43 took office, while the greatest jump in democracy occurred between 1989 and 1999, coinciding with the end of the Cold War. These days, instead, we witness elections, followed by majoritarian mob rule—what Fareed Zakaria has called “illiberal democracy.”

Obamacare? The public finds itself justified in its long-standing visceral opposition to a wholesale overhaul of our healthcare delivery system, while the president and his supporters struggle to defend a grotesquery of their own making. A program designed as a payoff to Obama’s political core is now morphing into a costly nightmare, with insurers heading for the exits, corporate America and its lobbyists winning a brief reprieve, and younger Americans left holding the bag as the economy grinds along at a snail’s pace.

According to the Bible, pride goes before the fall. And so it repeatedly has. Bush the Younger once quipped, “Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called ‘walking.’” Mission accomplished, anyone?

For his part, Obama told his 2008 campaign political director Patrick Gaspard that “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

“Know more about policies”? Sure you do, Mr. President.

The fact is that Obamacare has been in trouble for some time. During the spring, Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman rightfully acknowledged that Obamacare, aka the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), was a “huge train wreck” coming down the tracks. Baucus’ critique is particularly damning because he authored ACA, and was boss and mentor to Jim Messina – the former White House Deputy Chief of Staff who led Obama’s reelection effort.

Mission accomplished, anyone?

The delay in implementing the employer mandate is just another in a series of policy missteps. Previously, the roll-out of small business insurance exchanges had been postponed; long term care, a piece of Obamacare central to gleaning support from baby-boomers, had been jettisoned; the Medicaid Mandate had been struck down by the Supreme Court; and healthcare insurance premiums for healthy Americans – the demographically valuable cohort upon which ACA rests – were projected to double or even triple. To top it off, popular uncertainty surrounds whether the federal government will have exchanges ready to enable individuals to purchase mandated insurance coverage beginning this October. uncertainty

Taken together, Obama and Bush 43 are reminiscent of who and what preceded the two decades of presidential competence, running from 1981 until 2001. When you think of Bush 43 and Obama, think Johnson, Nixon and Carter, not Reagan, Bush 41 or Clinton.

In Reagan, Bush Senior and Clinton, America was fortunate to have presidents who had what it took to get the job done, did more good than harm, and left the country in better shape than they found it. Each adapted to the demands of the job and the tasks at hand. They could shape events, and respond to the unexpected with a degree of deftness, not everything needed to be scripted or read from a teleprompter. Politics mattered, but so did country.

During their terms, the Cold War came to a peaceful end, we became reacquainted with prosperity, and our position in the world was restored. After enduring Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam, Richard Nixon and Watergate, and Jimmy Carter and disgrace, America could finally exhale in 1981 and did so for twenty years. Not anymore.

These days, we have no sense of when and how our current spate of bipartisan ineptitude will end. Yes, January 20, 2017 will mark the end of Obama’s time in office. But what’s next and what until then?

Obama barely talks to the Democrats and is incapable of communicating with congressional Republicans (for his part, House Speaker John Boehner can’t corral his caucus). But beyond the mechanics of legislation, Obama appears to be over his head. Winning the hearts of the Democratic donor base is one thing, but imposing America’s will on foreign governments, gaining Vladimir Putin’s respect, or mastering the implementation of signature legislation are different challenges, and right now Obama seems lacking. Story Continued

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· We’re Not a Christian Nation –  Despite what many on the Christian right claim, America was not founded as a Christian nation. Author Fred Rich on why we should be afraid of their agenda on our Independence Day.

Most Americans saluting the flag this Independence Day grew up being taught that the nation for which that flag stands is a constitutional democracy. As Lincoln put it, the United States was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. But a significant number of your fellow citizens have a very different vision as they hoist the flag. They were raised to believe—or have now been convinced—that our Founding Fathers gave us what they call a “Christian Nation.”

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A tattered American flag sits on top of a wooden cross at a roadside memorial in Lafayette, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

On this July 4, 2013, we live in a country where our fellow citizens have a dazzling diversity of religious beliefs (and non-belief), and most of them do not present any threat to our democracy. But one influential strain of Christian fundamentalism, which insists most loudly that we are a “Christian Nation,” has a vision for America that is profoundly theocratic. So if you want to engage in a small but meaningful patriotic act this Independence Day, you might want to educate yourself about what the “Christian Nation” movement means, and what our country might look like if the “Christian Nation” vision were to be realized.

It’s tempting to think that those who call America a “Christian Nation” simply mean that Christianity historically has been the majority religion and the basis for many elements of our national culture, which of course is true. But that is not what they mean. Evangelical preachers and conservative politicians calling for America to be a “Christian Nation” mean something very different: a country uniquely favored by the Judeo-Christian God, founded to create a “Godly Kingdom” in the new world, and destined, as the shining “city upon a Hill” envisioned by the Puritans, to be a just and pious land dedicated to drawing all the nations of the world to the redemptive message of Jesus. And some of them believe that realization of this destiny is a condition for the second coming of Christ.

In the “Christian Nation” these Americans envision, Christianity enjoys a uniquely privileged legal and political position; separation of church and state is anathema. Christian pseudo-historians like David Barton, together with fundamentalist legal “scholars,” thousands of home-schooling educators and many Christian broadcasters, relentlessly promote the message that church-state separation is a “myth” concocted by liberal elites to deflect America from realizing its true destiny as a “Godly Kingdom,” where the Bible is the highest law of the land, and our political leaders talk to God and tell the rest of us what He says.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates that groups representing these citizens spend about $390 million each year to lobby the government to impose their religion-based agenda on the rest of us.

Millions of non-fundamentalist evangelicals are increasingly bombarded with the fundamentalist message that the architects of our Constitution really intended to give birth to this sort of “Christian Nation,” a message that is usually supported by highly selective quotations from the “Founding Fathers.” This message is manifestly untrue. Our Constitution does not contain a single mention of God. Instead, the great innovation of our Founding Fathers was to abolish the Old World system where deviation from the religious beliefs of the State or monarch was not tolerated. Rejecting this model, the founders gave us a secular republic where religious minorities benefit from guarantees of freedom of worship, conscience, and speech.

Despite its patent fallacy, the impact of the “Christian Nation” revisionist history on American attitudes is substantial. Recent evidence of its success includes a YouGov Poll conducted in April, which found that 34% of Americans were in favor—and 20% were strongly in favor—of establishing Christianity as the official religion in their state. You read that correctly: 34% in favor of establishing Christianity as the state religion.

These numbers were no surprise to me. In the course of researching my novel, Christian Nation —a work of speculative fiction in which McCain/Palin win the presidential election in 2008 and Sarah Palin becomes president when McCain dies in 2009—I learned that the religious right’s base of support remains remarkably steady, virtually uninfluenced by the ups and downs of national politics. For over a decade, polls consistently report that 30-40% of our fellow citizens self-describe themselves as “born again” or “evangelical,” and report their belief that all of the Bible is literally true and that Biblical prophecies set forth a specific sequence of end-times events, likely to occur within their lifetimes. Their leaders control both the vast Christian broadcasting movement and much of the Republican Party at the precinct and state level. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates that groups representing these citizens spend about $390 million each year to lobby the government to impose their religion-based agenda on the rest of us, making the Orwellian argument that their own religious freedom requires the rest of us to live our lives in accordance with the dictates of their own religious beliefs. This strain of Christian fundamentalism is not disappearing and, despite the recent successes of the marriage equality movement, in great swaths of the country they are winning the “culture war” they have fought for 30 years.

Although the “culture war” debate centers on abortion, contraception, gay rights, school prayer, creationism, and what are often referred to as “social issues,” the primary agenda of the Christian fundamentalist movement is political. Americans living in cities and states where the evangelical influence is minimal consistently underestimate both the ambitions and power of the religious right. We need to wake up and pay attention: for those of us who value civil liberties and the separation of church and state, the most serious mistake we could make would be to think that “it can’t happen here.”

Our Founding Fathers knew how dangerous theocracies could be. They gave us a constitutional democracy in large part to protect minorities from the yearnings of a religious majority. This Independence Day, their design of a secular state, with no religious belief receiving preference over any other, should be celebrated common ground for all Americans, whether conservative or liberal, religious or secular. Story Continued

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· At least 42 killed in Egypt, Islamists call for uprising At least 42 people were killed on Monday when Islamist demonstrators enraged by the military overthrow of Egypt’s elected President Mohamed Mursi said the army opened fire during morning prayers at the Cairo barracks where he is being held.

But the military said “a terrorist group” tried to storm the Republican Guard compound and one army officer had been killed and 40 wounded. Soldiers returned fire when they were attacked by armed assailants, a military source said.

The emergency services said more than 320 were wounded in a sharp escalation of Egypt’s political crisis, and Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood urged people to rise up against the army, which they accuse of a military coup to remove the elected leader.

At a hospital near the Rabaa Adawia mosque where Islamists have camped out since Mursi was toppled on Wednesday, rooms were crammed with people wounded in the violence, sheets were stained with blood and medics rushed to attend to the wounded.

As an immediate consequence, the ultra-conservative Islamist Nour party, which initially backed the military intervention, said it was withdrawing from stalled negotiations to form an interim government for the transition to fresh elections.

The military has said that the overthrow was not a coup, and it was enforcing the will of the people after millions took to the streets on June 30 to call for his resignation.

But pro- and anti-Mursi protests took place in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, and resulted in clashes on Friday and Saturday that left 35 dead.

It leaves the Arab world’s largest nation of 84 million people in a perilous state, with the risk of further enmity between people on either side of the political divide while an economic crisis deepens.

SHOTS DURING PRAYERS

Abdelaziz Abdelshakua, from Sharqia Province northeast of Cairo, was wounded in his right leg with what he says was a live round.

“We were praying the dawn prayer and we heard there was shooting,” he said, adding an army officer assured them no one was shooting, then suddenly they came under fire from the direction of the Republican Guard.

“They shot us with teargas, birdshot, rubber bullets — everything. Then they used live bullets.”

A Reuters journalist at the scene saw first aid helpers attempting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a dying man.

Al Jazeera’s Egypt channel showed footage from inside a makeshift clinic near the scene of the violence, where Mursi supporters attempted to treat bloodied men.

Seven dead bodies were lined up in a row, covered in blankets and an Egyptian flag. A man placed a portrait of Mursi on one of the corpses.

Footage broadcast by state TV showed Mursi supporters throwing rocks at soldiers in riot gear on one of the main roads leading to Cairo airport.

Young men, some carrying sticks, crouched behind a building, emerging to throw petrol bombs before retreating again.

State-run television showed soldiers carrying a wounded comrade along a rock-strewn road, and news footage zoomed in on a handful of protesters firing crude handguns during clashes.

The rest of the city was for the most part calm, though armored military vehicles closed bridges over the Nile to traffic following the violence.

The military overthrew Morsi on Wednesday after mass nationwide demonstrations led by youth activists demanding his resignation. The Brotherhood denounced the intervention as a coup and vowed peaceful resistance.

POLITICAL IMPASSE

Talks on forming a new government were already in trouble before Monday’s shooting, after the Nour Party rejected two liberal-minded candidates for prime minister proposed by interim head of state Adli Mansour.

Nour, Egypt’s second biggest Islamist party, which is vital to give the new authorities a veneer of Islamist backing, said it had withdrawn from the negotiations in protest at what it called the “massacre at the Republican Guard (compound)”.

“The party decided the complete withdrawal from political participation in what is known as the road map,” it said.

The military can ill afford a lengthy political vacuum at a time of violent upheaval and economic stagnation.

Scenes of running street battles between pro- and anti-Mursi demonstrators in Cairo, Alexandria and cities across the country have alarmed Egypt’s allies, including key aid donors the United States and Europe, and Israel, with which Egypt has had a U.S.-backed peace treaty since 1979.

The violence has also shocked Egyptians, growing tired of the turmoil that began two-and-a-half years ago with the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.

In one of the most shocking scenes of the last week, video footage circulated on social and state media of what appeared to be Mursi supporters throwing two youths from a concrete tower on to a roof in the port city of Alexandria.

The images, stills from which were published on the front page of the state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper on Sunday, could not be independently verified.

On Sunday, huge crowds numbering hundreds of thousands gathered in different parts of Cairo and were peaceful, but nonetheless a reminder of the risks of further instability.

BITTER BLOW

For many Islamists, the overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president was a bitter reversal that raised fears of a return to the suppression they endured for decades under autocratic rulers like Mubarak.

On the other side of the political divide, millions of Egyptians were happy to see the back of a leader they believed was orchestrating a creeping Islamist takeover of the state – a charge the Brotherhood has vehemently denied.

Washington has not condemned the military takeover or called it a coup, prompting suspicion within the Brotherhood that it tacitly supports the overthrow.

Obama has ordered a review to determine whether annual U.S. assistance of $1.5 billion, most of which goes to the Egyptian military, should be cut off as required by law if a country’s military ousts a democratically elected leader.

Egypt can ill afford to lose foreign aid. The country appears headed for a looming funding crunch unless it can quickly access money from overseas. The local currency has lost 11 percent of its value since late last year. Story Continued

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