Quote of the Day: Barack Obama

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.

— President Barack Obama (United Nations)

Quote of the Day: Glenn Greenwald

The U.S. has long had Iran virtually encircled as a result of the American occupation of Afghanistan on Iran’s Eastern border, its invasion of Iraq on its Western border, its NATO ally Turkey hovering on Iran’s Northwestern border, some degree of military relationship with Turkmenistan on Iran’s Northeastern border, and multiple U.S. client states sitting right across the Persian Gulf (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, where the massive U.S. Fifth Fleet is stationed). Additionally, some combination of the U.S. and Israel has bombarded Iran with multiple acts of war over the last year, including explosions on Iranian soil, the murder of numerous Iranian nuclear scientists (in which even one of their wives was shot), and sophisticated cyberattacks… In the past decade, the U.S. and/or Israel have invaded, air attacked, and/or occupied Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (to say nothing of the creation of a worldwide torture regime, a system of “black site” prisons around the world to which people were disappeared, and a due-process-free detention camp in the middle of the Caribbean Ocean where many people remain encaged for almost a full decade without charges). During this same time period, Iran has not invaded, occupied or air attacked anyone. Iran, to be sure, is domestically oppressive, but no more so — and in many cases less — than the multiple regimes funded, armed and otherwise propped up by the U.S. during this period. Those are all just facts.

But — despite all of these facts — all Serious people in the U.S. know that Iran is the Aggressor, the Modern Nazis, a True Menace, while the U.S. and Israel are its innocent peace-loving victims.

— Glenn Greenwald (Salon)

What to Read on Perry vs. Romney

Republican Front-Runners Mitt Romney, Rick Perry Come From Different Worlds — Philip Rucker

One was born into a privileged family in a tony Michigan suburb; the other, onto a flat expanse of West Texas dirt with no indoor plumbing. One spent his youth tooling around his father’s car factory; the other, selling Bibles door to door so he could afford to buy a car. One excelled at Harvard University, simultaneously earning law and business degrees and swiftly climbing the corporate ladder; the other, his hope of becoming a veterinarian dashed when he flunked organic chemistry at Texas A&M University, joined the Air Force.

Where Mitt Romney is obedient and cautious, Rick Perry is bombastic and spontaneous.

“It’s populist against patrician, it’s rural Texas steel against unflappable Romney coolness, conservative versus center-right establishment, Texas strength versus Romney’s imperturbability, Perry’s simplicity versus Romney’s flexibility.”

Romney is campaigning as a steady, capable grown-up who can fix anything that needs fixing; Perry, as a passionate, principled leader who can channel the ire of a frustrated electorate.

Romney represents both the party’s upper-crust establishment and the state — Massachusetts — that for so long has been the GOP’s boogeyman. Perry represents the angry grass roots that are giving the party new energy and he personifies the state — Texas — that for a generation has been the GOP’s soul.

Romney, a former consultant who founded a successful private-equity firm, seems at his best discussing the intricacies of how businesses grow.

It’s when Romney tries to relate to average folks or banter about trivial things that he can struggle.

It’s in relating to people that Perry seems most at ease. He routinely puts down elites.

Perry, Romney Offer Contrasting Approaches to Job Creation in GOP Race — Philip Rucker

Romney’s view of the economy is shaped by his time as a management consultant and venture capitalist. Perry’s frame of reference is his family’s cotton farm and his state’s oil and gas boom.

Despite both candidates’ focus on the economy, neither has offered more than standard Republican positions.

Romney talks more about his business career than his four years as governor of Massachusetts, when the state’s job-creation record was among the worst in the nation. The state did add jobs, about 1 percent, but it bested only Louisiana, devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and Michigan and Ohio, both beset by declines in manufacturing.

Although he is partially responsible for big success stories — for instance, the founding of Staples, the office supplies superstore — he also was involved in controversial decisions, including the laying off of hundreds of workers.

Just the (Tax) Facts: GOP Candidates Parade Terrible Tax Ideas — Citizens for Tax Justice

Perry [supports] the radical balanced budget amendment (BBA)…, [which] would tie the hands of lawmakers to react to changing economic conditions and force immediate catastrophic cuts to critical government programs like Social Security, food inspection, and housing. Although Perry is one of the BBA’s most outspoken advocates, all of the GOP presidential candidates have voiced their support for it in principle.

Romney did reject the claim that 47% of Americans pay no federal income taxes (a popular conservative talking point) when prompted by the moderator. Instead, Romney rightfully noted that every American feels that they are contributing “through the income tax or through other tax vehicles” and that he does not want “to raise taxes on the American people,” presumably even on those on low end who pay very little.

Although Romney signaled his intention to not raise taxes on the poor, his recently released economic plan provides insignificant token relief for lower income Americans and heavily favors tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

Fact Checking the Tea Party Debate: Republican Candidates Stumble on Tax Issues — Citizens for Tax Justice

Romney made misleading statements about President Barack Obama’s tax record, claiming that Obama “had raised taxes $500 billion.” What’s deceptive about this is that while Obama raised taxes by $500 billion dollars (mostly through the progressive tax included in the healthcare reform bill), he has simultaneously cut taxes overall by more than double that. Specifically, Obama cut taxes by $243 billion as part of the economic recovery act in 2009, $654 billion as part of the tax compromise he signed at the end of 2010, and is now proposing $240 billion in additional payroll tax cuts, to say nothing of his proposal to continue 81 percent  of the Bush tax cuts and other smaller tax cuts at a cost of an additional $3.5 trillion.

Romney expressed skepticism toward the [so-called Fair Tax (a proposed national sales tax)] saying that it would decrease taxes for the “very highest income folks” while increasing taxes for “middle income people.” An analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy confirms this point showing that a Fair Tax would primarily benefit the super-wealthy, while increasing the taxes paid by the bottom 80 percent by more than half.

While rejecting the radically regressive Fair Tax may seem like a logical move for any presidential candidate who wants to be taken seriously, Romney is actually bucking at least half of the Republican field (and most notably current front-runner Texas Governor Rick Perry) who have come out in favor of it.

Perry Struggles To Make His Foreign Policy All That Different From Obama’s — Benjy Sarlin

“I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don’t think so at this particular point in time,” Perry said…, calling for a transition to Afghan forces.

But the next day,…an unnamed adviser [said] that “a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending.” But the same adviser also mentioned that Perry might entertain using only 40,000 troops in Afghanistan — far below numbers either Obama or his generals have suggested is doable so far.

Previously he had been called out for condemning “military adventurism” while also urging Americans to “renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are before they strike at home,” employing two loaded and contradictory phrases associated with the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Mitt Romney [said,] “One lesson we’ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence.” He quickly followed up by indicating that he would first consult with generals on the ground before coming up with any timetable for withdrawal. Later that month, he criticized President Obama for planning to reduce troop numbers…

Romney simultaneously supported the Libya mission, criticized Obama’s “tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced” foreign policy, and offered no suggestion as to what he would have done instead as president. The next month he accused the White House of “mission creep and mission muddle” for expanding airstrikes beyond their stated goal of preventing civilian deaths, and quoted former Bush aide John Bolton warning that Obama was setting himself up for “massive strategic failure” by demanding Qaddafi’s removal. Qaddafi’s regime appears to be gone for good, a development that Romney celebrated with no reference to Obama’s policies.

As a general policy, Romney has consistently condemned Obama as a wuss on the world stage… Obama has heavily escalated the Afghanistan war, initiated a second military conflict in Libya, and ordered a raid into an allied nation’s territory to kill Osama Bin Laden…

Rick Perry’s Crotch Shot — William Saletan

Perry attacked the Massachusetts health care law signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney. Perry said the program showed “what will not work, and that is an individual mandate in this country.” People “don’t want a health care plan like what Governor Romney put in place in Massachusetts,” Perry concluded. “What they would like to see is the federal government get out of their business.”

Half an hour later, Perry defended a 2007 executive order in which he ordered girls to be vaccinated against HPV, a sexually transmitted virus.

Perry can’t continue to denounce mandatory health insurance while defending mandatory vaccinations for a sexually transmitted virus…

Perry’s Immigration Problem: Even Bigger Than It Looks — Byron York / David Frum

Start with the border fence. Perry opposes it. “Building a wall on the entire border is a preposterous idea,” he said recently in New Hampshire. “The only thing a wall would possibly accomplish is to help the ladder business.”

Perry opposes E-verify, which is a program requiring employers to check the legal status of new hires.

Then there is taxpayer-subsidized, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Perry signed the Texas Dream Act in 2001 making it the law in Texas. [He] still supports the measure

“I support a guest worker program that takes undocumented workers off the black market and legitimizes their economic contributions without providing them citizenship status,” Perry said in 2006. “A guest worker program that provides foreign workers with an ID removes the incentive for millions of people to illegally enter our country.”

By contrast,…Romney articulated something almost never said in a Republican primary: much, much, much more important than a fence or “boots on the ground” is tighter enforcement of labor laws inside the country.

What to Read on the Fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi

The Libya War Argument — Glenn Greenwald

[Gaddafi’s] demise [tells] us very little about the key questions surrounding the war: how many civilians…died and [will] die in the future? What [will] be required to stabilize [Libya]? How much more fighting [will] be unleashed? What precedents did the attack set? What regime [will] replace [Gaddafi] and what type of rule [will] it impose, and to whom [will] its leaders be loyal?

Of course the U.S. participation in [the Libya] war is still illegal. It’s illegal because it was waged for months not merely without Congressional approval, but even in the face of a Congressional vote against its authorization. That NATO succeeded in defeating the Mighty Libyan Army does not have the slightest effect on that question, just as Saddam’s capture told us nothing about the legality or wisdom of that war.

[The] real toll of this war (including the number of civilian deaths that have occurred and will occur) is still almost entirely unknown, and none of the arguments against the war (least of all the legal ones) are remotely resolved by [Gaddafi’s fall from power].

History Repeats Itself, with Mistakes of Iraq Rehearsed Afresh — Robert Fisk

No one is going to make the same mistakes we made in Iraq. And no boots are on the ground. No walled-off, sealed-in Green Zone Western zombies are trying to run the future Libya. “It’s up to the Libyans,” has become the joyful refrain of every State Department/ Foreign Office/Quai d’Orsay factotum. Nothing to do with us!

But, of course, the massive presence of Western diplomats, oil-mogul representatives, highly paid Western mercenaries and shady British and French servicemen — all pretending to be “advisers” rather than participants — is the Benghazi Green Zone. There may (yet) be no walls around them but they are, in effect, governing Libya through the various Libyan heroes and scallywags who have set themselves up as local political masters. We can overlook the latters’ murder of their own commanding officer — for some reason, no one mentions the name of Abdul Fatah Younes any more, though he was liquidated in Benghazi only a month ago — but they can only survive by clinging to our Western umbilicals.

How to Avoid Bush’s Iraq Mistakes in Libya — Juan Cole

  1. No Western infantry or armored units should be stationed in the country.
  2. As much as possible of the current bureaucracy, police and army should be retained.
  3. Some Libyans are complaining about the prospect of retaining the same police as in the old regime, and want local security committees instead. A compromise would be to establish a strong civilian oversight over police,
  4. Avoid being vindictive toward former Qaddafi supporters, and avoid purging all but the top officials from the body politic.
  5. Avoid a rush to privatize everything.
  6. Consult with Norway about how it is possible for an oil state to remain a democracy.
  7. Use the Alaska dividend system to share the oil wealth with Libya’s 6.5 million people.
  8. Democratization and economic growth cannot be attained through oil exports alone. …use the petroleum receipts to promote other industries and services.
  9. Recognize Berber as a national language.
  10. Once it gets on its feet socially and economically, Libya should go forward with bruited plans to get into solar and wind energy big time.

Obama’s NATO War for Oil in Libya — Robert Dreyfuss

[The] rebel leader who heads the opposition Libyan oil company, which was formed with support from the Arab Gulf kleptocrats, says that Libya’s new leaders, a combination of wealthy defectors, tribal chieftains, and Islamists, plan to favor their NATO backers when handing out access to Libya’s oil.

Helpfully, the Times points out: “Colonel Qaddafi proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies, frequently raising fees and taxes and making other demands. A new government with close ties to NATO may be an easier partner for Western nations to deal with.”