Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Notes and Observations from the 2nd half of the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate on National Security
I just could not bring myself to watch and write a blog on the first half of the debate as this took so long and it was already late at night.
In general, this was a really bad debate because, as is usually the case, instead of answering the specific question they were asked, almost without exception, the candidates talked about something that either had occurred when they were in office or for legislation which they had supported at some time long ago. They habitually criticized the President for, if relevant, the issue about which they were questioned, and if not relevant, for anything and everything else, whether relevant or not to the issue before them. It never mattered if the President was deserving of criticism, and he even was criticized for the inaction of Congress.
Some of the questions asked were not difficult, yet these candidates still failed to answer them. I can not fail to wonder why the candidates seemed to have so much trouble answering the questions. Perhaps, and this is pure speculation, it is because some of the candidates are getting desperate On the other hand, the answers were boring generalities and conclusions as opposed to desperate answers designed to stir the voting public. IN fact, I watched the 2nd half of the debate, before the first half, and can't even bring myself to waste time watching the first half (with the exception of a small part thereof.)
Wolf Blitzer says that the economy is a National Security Issue. It is one thing to hear Republicans talk about how they will [mis]handle National Security. It is another to listen to the people who actually threaten our National Security, as the Republicans in Congress and the Republican leadership has done.
In their opening remarks, almost everyone attacked our President for harming our National Security. Yet, they fail to mention the harm done to our economy and National Security done by the Bush administration and the Republican leadership due to: 9/11; the mishandling of the Afghanistan invasion (due to the military being spread to thin because of the war in Iraq); and, the war in Iraq itself. They also fail to mention that in a mere three years President Obama has crippled Al Queda.
Michele Bachmann mentioned that she served on a Senate committee or sub-committee on Intelligence. How can a Senator serve on a committee on intelligence when that Senator lacks any? I guess it is possible, since Republicans love to prove their points by anecdotal stories instead with real evidence or logic (Michele Bachmann is especially fond of this since she used this method of proving how dangerous it is to vaccinate women against cancer.
In the first half of the debate, Michele Bachmann complained (like an idiot) that the underwear bomber got Miranda warnings. First, it is a long standing and well settled principal rule of law that all defendants are entitled to them. Second, almost every person knows about the rights set forth in the “75% to 80%” of what he wanted.Miranda warnings (right to remain silent, right to counsel, etc.) Lastly, what difference did it make as he was convicted anyway
Mitt Romney claims that "we have a President who pursued an agenda of being friendly to our foes." I don't know who he is referring to, unless he is referring to Ronald Reagan and his administration, many of whom served both Bush administrations, when they delivered a cake to Iran and sold arms as well to Iran [remember the Iran-Contra scandal?], or was he referring to giving surface to air missiles to the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan who merged into the Taliban and became allied with Al Queda? These are the type of weapon which can be used, and have been used, to try to cause large civilian aircraft to explode in mid air killing hundreds of innocent civilians).
Newt Gingrich actually said that, if we [America] were serious, we could open up enough oil fields to make the price of oil collapse [which means that the supply of oil would greatly outstrip demand]. Pay attention everyone, as Newt making this statement was history in the making. This is one of the top ten most absurd political statements of all time. Where, Newt, do these oil fields exist anywhere in the world, let alone in a place that a "serious America" could "open them up?"
Aside from a few oil reserves which have gone untouched in Alaska due to the potentially catastrophic harm to the environment of tapping these reserves, no such oil fields exist. Even the fields in Alaska, if fully utilized, would do nothing but provide a temporary source for a fraction of the oil this country needs to import. The truth is, Newt, that you would have us permanently destroy this pristine environment, permanently deplete this reserve of oil, while you and a handful of oil companies get even richer, and once everyone has "pocketed" their riches, and we still are dangerously dependent on expensive imported oil from hostile countries scattered all over the globe, it will be too late to undue the damage you have induced us to do. You will then probably tell us that Exxon and the other companies need further tax break to subsidize the opening of these oil fields.
But if your statement were not absurd enough, you claimed that this could all be achieved in a year. Two things are equally clear: (i) no oil fields exist in America or which can be accessed by America which will have a meaningful effect on the the price of oil or which would reduce our dangerous dependence on imported oil, which dependence threatens our national security. It is the continued lack of a long term, far reaching plan to decrease our dependence on oil by both developing alternative sources of energy and also by increasing the energy efficiency (conservation) of existing usage of energy; and, (ii) no combination of stupidity and intellectual dishonesty can explain this particular statement. After making this absurd statement, Nest continued with an incomprehensible babbling and unsupported statements such as "opening federal lands" will bring jobs... leads me to the conclusion that reality altering drugs must be a critical part of the strategy behind his performance in this debate.
Huntsman was asked about whether cuts to our military and defense spending should be considered as a means of helping to solve the problems with out budget deficit. His answer was circular in reasoning and thus did not answer the question. He claimed that our defense policy needs to follow economic policy. This is not an answer as to whether defense spending should be affected by economic concerns. Each one, according to Huntsman, should depend on the other. We might have some trust for a politician who can answer a simple "yes or no" question with a simple answer of either "yes" or "no."
Rick Perry was asked if he would compromise with the Democrats on the budget issue to avoid the congressional"gridlock which polls reveal that Americans hate.” The specific issue dealt with the fact that, in the absence of Congress passing a budget which cut the deficit by 1.2 trillion dollars, the budget would be cut automatically, across the board, resulting in a 600 million dollar cut in defense spending.
Wolf Blitzer should also have told him that Americans hate politicians who don't answer the question which was asked of them but instead answer the question which they wish was asked of them. Perry started talking about his signing into law budgets for the state of Texas as though those state budgets somehow supported his criticism of President Obama. First, a state budget uis different then the national budget. They have different expenditures, different revenue sources, and different economies. Second, a state may prosper or suffer due to factors totally unrelated to the incompetence of the elected officials who govern that state. A state's natural resources are one example of such a factor. Another factor are the demographics and socioeconomic factors which were in existence at the time the elected official took office. For example, a governor who is elected to lead a state with a skilled labor force which is underpaid will see higher economic growth rate compared to a state which has already seen prosperity which caused its population to achieve high rates of education and high wages. In other words, the failure of one's predecessor can have more effect on a later governor's success than the competence and/or success of the later governor's economic programs.
Rick Perry also ignores the fact that it is up to the legislature to enact the budget, not the executive branch. So the budget problems in America are the fault of Congress, not PREsident Obama. Perry then blames Obama for agreeing to the "across the board" automatic budget cuts. It was this which both parties agreed to in order to avoid the catastrophe of allowing this country to default on its obligations (an unheard of scenario with catastrophic consequences.) There can be no doubt that the failure to reach agreement on a budget belongs exclusively to Congress. In my opinion, it is the Republicans in Congress, especially the Tea Party and those who refuse to consider any tax increases. These extremists include to consider tax increases on people who earn more than one million dollars per year and only on the portion of their income which exceeds one million dollars per year. They also mislabel the failure to renew temporary tax breaks as "tax increases" even though those tax breaks were clearly temporary and were also enacted at a time when economic conditions were very different. For example, the budget was much closer to being balanced, and unemployment was much lower while economic growth was much higher At the same time, other conditions were very different. For example, oil was ten dollars per barrel around the time that tax breaks were enacted to make it profitable for oil companies to explore for and drill and recover oil in areas where the per barrel cost for oil was more than ten dollars per barrel It made sense. But oil prices have exceeded, now, ten times that price and have exceeded One Hundred ($100) Dollars per barrel
So, let's make this picture real simple. Unemployment was low, the budget deficit low, the economy booming, and oil was around Ten ($10) Dollars per barrel There existed areas accessible in the USA where oil could be located Two reasons existed, however, why it was not feasible to get that oil. Some of that oil was located on places like offshore, where it would be expensive to do exploration to find that oil. Other oil was in existing wells, but the wells had become "unproductive." A well was "unproductive" because the oil could only be obtained by using expensive methods and procedures which made the per barrel cost of recovering that oil higher than the price of oil on the market. It was cheaper just to buy oil then get it from existing well. Instead of the picture we see in the movie, where oil comes gushing out of a new oil well, nothing was "gushing." Either the oil was deep in the well requiring more expensive drilling and pumping or the pressure was low which required special methods to get the oil out of the ground.
In that scenario, it made sense to enact temporary tax breaks to get the oil out of the well. But now that oil is well over One Hundred ($100) Dollars per Barrel, oil companies hardly need those tax breaks. In fact, oil company profits are at insanely high record levels of profits, with many companies racking up tens of billions of dollars in profits per quarter.
So now, not only do the tax breaks sever no purpose, but given how bad the economy is, and how large the deficit is, we can not afford to give these oil companies tax breaks. The breaks serve no purpose, and to let them expire will cause no harm.
But the Tea Party and other Republicans, desperate to regain the presidency by calling these super rich oil companies and individuals the “job creators,” don't care whether it is reasonable and necessary to allow these temporary tax breaks to expire or whether it is reasonable and necessary to to enact new taxes, such as the President's proposed tax on individuals who make more than One Million ($1,000,000) Dollars per year. They don't care about the social fairness if someone who works at minimum wage and needs to support a family can't afford health insurance while a super rich person pays a fraction of the taxes that he/she would pay elsewhere in the world or would have paid 20 years ago in this country.
So Rick Perry said, “We would have never gotten in this place if I were President of the United States.” He was asked whether the automatic spending cuts should include defense spending. Once gain, his answer shows that self-serving rhetoric will triumph over real answers (truth and facts) every time.
Santorum was next. He is a disgrace from my own state who was very lick to get into office under unique circumstances and proceeded to distinguish himself by quickly becoming known for his right wing extremism (which, politically, was probably a good move for him because he lacked the ability to distinguish himself from mainstream politicians because, on his best day, he was just another mediocre politician, but on most days, he was truly lacking in intelligence, experience, or anything else which should cause a politician to be elected.
Because I truly dislike the Republicans running in this election, the reader might come to the conclusion that I dislike all Republicans. In fact, I have liked and voted for Republicans, including Republicans like Senator Spector (when he was a Republican). In the beginning of the race for President four years ago, I even though, for a moment, that I might support Senator McCain, before his candidacy imploded and President Obama's exploded. But let me be clear that I particularly dislike Santorum. I also think this is an absolutely horrible slate of candidates. While I would not vote for him, the only person running whom I consider to be a reasonable candidate is Romney who is despised for being somewhat moderate. He is also hated by the religious fanatics and religious nuts who have helped destroy the Republican party because they would never elect anyone who was not a white male non-catholic Christian. They definitely would not elect a Mormon whom, despite the reputation of Mormons for being excellent citizens who have served this country with the utmost of morality, sense of public duty, and honesty (and in times of war with bravery).
Santorum was asked whether he would compromise with Democrats if he got “75% to 80%” of what he wanted. I will give him credit for giving an answer that was honest. Unfortunately, it showed he could not comprehend a simple question and further that he was not willing to compromise even if, by the words of the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, “75% to 80% of what he wanted.” Santorum proved that he, (as I contend all of these Republicans are) unreasonable to the point that they will not compromise even if they get most of what they want and even when the alternative is catastrophic damage to this country. He talked about his “record of bipartisan accomplishments.” Without discussing what his accomplishments were, he is admitting he is not now willing to reach a bipartisan agreement, even if that agreement grossly favors his beliefs and stands.
Newt Gingrich was asked a specific question by a participant which Wolf Blitzer noted was a good question,
What entitlement reform proposals would you make to address our long term structural deficit? He should have started listing X program, Y Cut to Z program, etc. Instead, he started talking about Chile and Galveston Texas and their programs and changes involving retirement (which for the reasons noted above are totally not applicable to the United States federal Social Security Program). He finally answered, “ You can have a series of entitlement reforms which make most of the problems go away without the austerity and pain.” He avoided mentioning a single cut to any program whatsoever. Here is a Republican who refuses to raise taxes, wants to blame the President for the budget deficit (which reflects expenditures and obligations incurred, wars entered into, and an economy already gone south all before he was elected) but will not mention a single expenditure cut. If I were an anti-Obama, anti-tax increase hard core Republican, I would want to lynch him. Surely there must be some program which Democrats like which Republicans don't like which he could have mentioned. He could have attacked public broadcasting,any or all of the programs which help the arts. Surely there must have been a single liberal backed program which is hated by the Republican mainstream. Yet, this man is so desperate to get elected he feared mentioning a single program for fear of alienating a single voter. He is to stupid to realize he has no chance of winning in the first place and no voters to alienate.
On top of his statement about our oil fields, it is clear that Newt Gingrich, regardless of your individual beliefs and opinions, can not, should not, and will not be elected.
Michele Bachmann talked about “drawing a line in the sand, rambled on about the general budget deficit problems and said “... all we need to do is balance the budget.” She then attacked China. How can someone who is known for her opposition to raising any taxes, who attacks the President venomously for the budget deficit, pretend that it is easy to balance the budget and fail to mention a single expenditure cut? What does China have to do with this? They lend us money when we are spending more than we take in? No one forces us to borrow money from China. These people scare me, and I pray that the Chinese understand that people like Bachmann represent a fringe minority attempting to play off the fears of the population and get elected and that they do not represent the American public or her leaders. If China (who is continually portrayed as a malicious enemy of America when all she does is lend us the money which we will be bankrupt without) should get tired of these endless attacks and lend her money (or even a portion thereof) to one of the many other countries who desperately need loans (countries like Greece, Spain, France, and Italy) every American individual and company will suffer as taxes will increase just to pay the increased borrowing rates for the existing budget deficit.
Next, the topic changed to the border situation, an area of debate about which I am extremely conservative. I will give my specific substantive thoughts on this topic since the candidates refused to do so. I have traveled the border and extensively throughout Mexico, speak Spanish, and while I have a great love and respect for the people and culture of Mexico, I recognize that times have changed dramatically from my first trip to the border (in which I was shocked at how easy it was to sneak across the border) when most of the people who crossed the border did so only to find jobs. Unlike many democrats and liberals, I disagree about the desirability of the legal restrictions on the use of the military along the border and even believe that, when armed cartel members cross over the border (or fire from Mexico across the border) the military should have certain rights to enter or fire into Mexico pursuant to some variant of the “Hot Pursuit” doctrine which allows law enforcement officers from one jurisdiction in this country to enter another jurisdiction.
I believe that the US should attempt to negotiate such rights with Mexico, but failing that, should reserve such rights to herself. I note that the drug smuggling and armed violence by cartel members affects Mexico and Mexicans and the biggest detriment to Mexicans who want to cross the border to work are the actions of these armed drug smugglers who have created irrational prejudice and legitimate fear in public opinion as well as create a more militarized border in which well funded smugglers are still able to operate freely but people looking to work are forced to take increased risks to their lives to be able to cross the border. These people are also often used by the smugglers, at the point of a gun, to create diversions where they cross in a way whether it is expected that many of them will get caught but which distracts the Border Patrol agents who spend their time chasing down the migrant workers while the smugglers wait until the Border Patrol and ICE agents are busy.
Lastly, I note that the Swift boat campaign in Vietnam was one of the only campaigns which worked in that war, and our helicopter gunships are our most effective weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan. Helicopters are proving very effective, but costly to acquire and maintain, by the Border Patrol and ICE. As we wind down our involvement in Iraq, we will have many extra helicopters and pilots. I am certain that many of the pilots and support personal that do not want to serve in Iraq would happily serve if based in the USA. Coupled with some of the Swift boats used in Vietnam (or their successor) we could give desperately needed jobs to veterans and quite easily patrol our border.
I would couple that program with a guest worker program which makes it easier for Mexican citizens to come to America and work at low paying jobs which Americans don't want to work at. There is no reason why our laws can't be amended to clarify which rights, benefits, and obligations accrue to people here by virtue of such program.
I would also enact stricter legislation which increases both the penalties for and enforcement of those who exploit workers simply because they lacked a “Green Card” (known as “Illegals”). Illegals should have the right to sue employers and certain classes of people/companies (who are known to exploit illegals) without fear of being deported.
While one group of people engaged in illegal border crossing are dangerous criminals, a large percentage are hard working honest people looking merely to work hard, stay out of trouble, and eventually return to their country of birth. In fact, in my first trip to the border, in the mid 1980's, I was shocked to learn that in parts of this country, many workers crossed every day, worked all day, and returned to Mexico each night, with the then tacit acquiescence of the farmers who employed them, local police, and border patrol agents, who ignored, in certain location, the border and concentrated their efforts at illegals who attempted to travel from the border regions to the interior through a small number of highways and roads which connected the border cities and farms in the USA with the rest of the country.
Most certainly, I would make certain that fear of deportation was no reason that a woman should not report and participate in the prosecution of rapists and human traffickers. Obviously, in certain cases, people who report and participate in the prosecution of such crimes would need to be protected against retaliation by being certain they would not be deported. But there is a difference between allowing someone who has been the victim of a crime or otherwise exploited to report same and participate in a legal action. Even if their status as a victim/exploited person does not warrant the granting of residency, a small numbers of individuals who only wanted to work in the first place and are participating in a legal proceeding against a criminal could at lest be “ignored” by ICE before, during, and for a short time after a legal proceeding (giving that person time to move so they are no worse off for having reported a crime or exploitation of illegal aliens and participating in legal proceedings).
That is my opinion, and I have expressed it before I even watched that portion of the debate. Now lets see what the candidates say.
Rick Perry portrayed Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran as major players in Mexico for the purposes of doing harm to the USA. While I agree that the loose border does present a major security concern, so far it has not been exploited It could be exploited and probably will be exploited, which are reasons it has to be addressed before harm is done. But Perry lied because so far, the terrorists have not come in through Mexico. In fact, Canada has so far proved to be the greater problem. Additionally, it is not Hamas and Hezbollah who present the reasons for worry. It is Al Queda and similar groups.
Perry then lied about the Venezuela Iran connection. While Hugo Chavez is openly hostile to the USA and presents legitimate security concerns, as most clearly does Iran, there is no evidence to date that Mexico has anything to do with either country. Their alliance is a direct economic, political, and military alliance. Only Rick Perry, and a select few, could accurately state that we have a legitimate need for border security and then absolutely misstate the reasons and groups responsible for that. Finally, he says that “Within 12 months that border would be shut down.” This is on par with Gingrich's 1 year ability to cure our dependence on foreign oil. The border is so large so porous that it can not be “shut down” within one year. He notes that he is from Texas, so he must have some knowledge of the border. He must know how close the border is to town in Texas, in some places, a few hundred yards. There are literally, in other places, a fence with a city on both sides of the fence. While there is much we can do, and must do, and we can, with the assistance of the military, do much to solve the problem, it will require money and time.
Ron Paul said we should “Cancel the drug war.” He then rambled on without making sense. He started deflecting the issue by talking about states being mandated to give benefits to illegal workers. His answer made no sense, but since he is not a probable candidate, what does it matter? He did note, correctly, that the war on drug was a failure, but did not explain what should be done about it. He did not answer whether drugs should be legalized.
Herman Cain accurately described the problem, but only vaguely spelled out the solution in terms like, “Enforce the laws.”
An interesting exchange occurred between Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann Gingrich said that some people who have been here for decades and have been law abiding citizens might be able to become legal, but he never said he would endorse “Amnesty.” Michele Bachmann kept insisting that Gingrich did endorse amnesty for 11.2 million people and all of the benefits that went along with it. He never said that.
Mitt Romney was finally given a chance and he jumped on Michele Bachmann's false criticism of Gingrich and complained that giving people amnesty was a magnet for more illegal immigration. But he never said that. He used the example of someone who has been here for 25 years, paid taxes, been a productive member of society, had family here, should not be deported simply because they were illegal.
The next topic was Syria
Herman Cain's answer to Syria was unremarkable except that part of his solution was to urge countries to stop buying oil from Syria. Considering that Syria has no meaningful oil exports, this statement revealed his ignorance on the topic and the fact that he probably ignorantly grouped all “Arab” countries together. The part of his answer which was not unremarkable somehow involved the US economy. It is absolutely crystal clear that growing the US economy will not pressure the Syrian government.
Rick Perry is in favor of a “No Fly Zone” for Syria. Not a bad idea except that I do not believe that Syria has relied on air strikes to combat dissenters. It seems that machine guns and mortars have done the job, so far.
Little else was said that was comprehensible, responsive, or noteworthy, until Perry made the absolutely absurd, irresponsible, and aggressive statement that “Communist China was headed for the ash heap of history.” China is growing economically and politically and growing in a way which makes them more and more an ally and friend of the United States. So Perry's scapegoating and rascist statement was wrong and irresponsible. Someone who wants to be President of the United States of America has to be "presidential." Leaders are supposed to be careful, diplomatic and save such rhetoric for despicable enemies like Al Queda, not a nation with a population of 1.5 billion people which is growing, economically, like a powerhouse, and has history to back its claim that it is a peaceful country which wants to be left alone, something which the western countries and Japan and Russia have historically refused to do.
We want and need China to play a greater role in the “community of nations” instead of playing the isolationist role they desire. But there is no comparispon between a country which wants to be an isolationist, as China does, and a country which seeks to invade and dominate the entire world, as the Soviets did (especially under Stalin.) If Perry were elected President, which fortunately seems like a very low probability, he would have to deal with China in an entirely different manner then he has. Statements like the one he made might make that impossible, and all of America would suffer for his fear mongering ambition. Rick Perry and the rest of the Republicans need to realize that George Bush played a major role in running up a bill which has put America into poverty. China did not put us in that position, but they are keeping us out of bankruptcy. Many conservative Republicans are calling this group of Republicans “irresponsible fanatics.” That has been true on many areas of their platform, including economic. Richard Nixon, Ford, both Bush presidents, and even Reagan found it necessary and advisable to engage China. Nixon and Ford were dealing with a far more conservative, far less powerful, and far further left China under Mao Tse Tung. If these conservative Republicans saw that it was in America's interests to have good relations with that China, who does Rick Perry think he is, and what does he think he knows, that he would make such a reprehensible comment, which I personally disavow.
Michele Bachmann said, “We won the peace in Iraq.” Which Iraq was she referring to? Which peace? We invaded Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction. The same Republicans who criticize President Obama for the fact that the budget needs to be cut by one trillion dollars ignore the fact that the Iraqi war cost about the same amount.
4,000 lives were lost in Iraq. While it is not as high as Vietnam, it is not an insignificant number. Additionally, one big difference between Vietnam is the percentage of casualties as opposed to permanently and seriously injured. Our ability to save lives, when someone is permanently and seriously injured, increased greatly. So the number of people missing a limb or suffering another similarly serious and permanent injury is much higher vis a vis the number of casualties.
Furthermore, the war is not over, and the final chapter is not written. It is clear that Iran is stronger for our intervention, and many suspect Iran is just waiting until US troops leave Iraq to really begin regional hegemony in Iraq.
The peace Michele Bachmann claims we won certainly cost a tremendous number of Iraqi lives, and destabilized the entire country. Many were made homeless or placed in poverty. To claim that we won the peace in Iraq, or that we won anything, is self serving wishful thinking which is false.