Saturday, August 21, 2010

Obstinance and demagoguery

By Don Klein

The strange outburst of invective over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque not far from ground zero in lower Manhattan is unlike anything we should expect to hear in an American city, especially one so liberal as New York.

Religious institutions are usually given wide berths in the United States, the land where freedom of expression – and in this case, religious expression, is considered a sacred birthright. It is such an important aspect of American law that the first line in the Bill of Rights states:

"Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." What could be clearer. The government must keep hands off religion.

But instead of clarifying this knotty problem, the religious admonishment which is so dear to the hearts of most Americans, has created a dilemma that has engrossed too many people for too long. It has invited headstrong obstinance on one side of the issue as well as ugly political demagoguery on the other.

It is not the fact that the proposal has to do with a religious structure. No not at all. If it were a proposed synagogue or church or even a Shinto temple there would be little, if any, objection. The problem is that it is a Muslim center.

It is too soon for people to forget the violent destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers almost nine years ago in which more than 2,700 New York workers, firemen and policemen were incinerated by the act of hate-driven Muslims who carried out their deadly act in the name of Allah, the Muslim deity.

It is irrational for people to believe that all the world’s 1.5 billion plus Muslims were of the same ilk as the radicals behind the slaughter. And certainly the overwhelming majority of American-Muslims are not of that violent persuasion. Granted there are pockets of anti-Western thought among some Muslims even in this country but few have manifested into attacks.

The world has heard time and again that Muslims are peace lovers and are not fairly represented by terrorists groups as al Qaeda or the Taliban or Hamas or Hezbollah. What disturbs most Westerners is the silence of so-called moderates in the Muslim world. They have been mysterious mute as one Muslim organized terror attack after another is reported.

There is a large number of Westerners who wait in futility to hear these moderates speak out against the violence generated by Muslims around the world. There seldom is anyone with the courage to do so. This becomes a true silent majority and often that is equated with approval of the ugly acts.

That is why so many otherwise reasonable thinkers in this country have raised objections when the thought of building a Islamic center close to the site of the worst foreign attack on the United States since the War of 1812.

The silence of the American Muslim community for whatever reason is often cited as the grounds so many non-Muslims object to the location. Sensibilities of many Americans, especially New Yorkers, are being frayed by the idea.

Westerners recall the wild overreaction to the publication by a Danish newspaper of a carton featuring the prophet Mohammad. It was explained to have offended the sensibilities of Muslims everywhere. Other western publications refused to run the pictures in order, they claimed, not to further pique Muslims.

Now we come to the mosque situation in New York. Many Americans are offended by the thought that this shrine would be built so close to the now hallowed ground of the 9/11 tragedy. Many feel that it would be wise for Muslim-backers of the plan to show the same kind of respect to the feelings of injured Westerners. Back off as many Western institutions did in the Mohammad cartoon matter. Move to less sensitive locale, they urge. The Muslims will not.

That’s the obstinate part. Now let’s look at the demagoguery taking place. We don’t have to look far. Newt Gingrich, in an attempt to appeal to the lowest elements in society, has hocked his title as a Republican intellectual, and started sounding like the village idiot.

On Fox News he suggested that building a mosque near the WTC site was like putting a Nazi emblem adjacent to the Holocaust Museum in Washington or a Japanese memorial at Pearl Harbor. Gingrich no doubt is hoping to gain the title of baron of inflammatory remarks.

Statements like that just diminish the justifiable feelings of those opposed to the mosque-cultural center. I can see both sides of the argument and nothing has anything to do with the Nazis or Tojo's Japanese of World War II vintage.

Personally, I would bow to the sensitivities of those who lost loved ones in the WTC attack and hope that the mosque-cultural center would move somewhere else. But in the end it doesn’t really matter that much where the center goes. It is up to the people of New York to decide and wherever it is acceptable to them is all that matters.

Actually the only thing that interests me right now, and I suspect many other people around the country, is for the story to go away. I feel it is a tempest that is getting more attention than it deserves. We have too many really important issues to be concerned with relating to the poor national economy and wide scale unemployment to be tangled up in this controversial nonsense.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Eating their own, GOP style

By Don Klein

Are the Democrats really headed for a fall at this November’s midterm elections? At lot of pundits seem to think so, which makes anyone who thinks differently subject to heaps of ridicule.

I may be putting my crystal ball in mortal danger but I am going to tell you why I think Obama’s party will not only retain control of both houses of Congress, but could actually improve their numbers in one or both of them.

There are four reasons skeptics contend the Dems will falter this election:

1. The party in power traditionally loses seats in off-year elections.
2. The economy is bad, joblessness is rife and the public thinks a change in the Washington power grid will work wonders.
3. The Republicans have played a callous anti-Democratic routine from the first day of this administration thwarting many positive programs with their negative stance, especially in the Senate.
4. There is a not too subtle campaign on the part of his bottom feeding detractors to appeal to the lowest possible denominator to smear Obama with ugly racial innuendoes.

I have a slightly different take on these assumed undeniable political consequences. I think at least three of these four maxims are refutable.

To begin with, the economy is bad and lots of people are out of work but I doubt if the public is so simple-minded they hold Obama to blame for the fiasco. Everyone who votes this November was around during the 2001-2009 period when the country was handed over to the big money people.

It was during the Bush administration that Wall Street was given an unregulated hand in doing whatever it pleased to make a profit no matter what it cost the rest of us. They took the regulatory policeman off the beat during that time and, in doing so, induced the horrendous financial meltdown with which we are still suffering.

By the same token I doubt if the majority if Americans are satisfied with the disreputable behavior of the GOP in the Senate by threatening endless filibusters on every piece of corrective legislation offered. The Democratic majority was ineffective in overcoming the maneuver requiring 60 to pass anything in the Senate as long as every Republican stood shoulder-by-shoulder shaking their heads "No."

It is clear the Republicans, also known now as the "Party of No," wished to sabotage every measure designed to improve circumstances for ordinary people during this period of strife. Despite that the majority party passed a health care bill and put badly behaving Wall Street under stricter financial regulations.

With a few exceptions the Party of No put a crimp in numerous bills designed to help ordinary Americans while at the same time announced they are determined to keep alive the preposterous Bush tax cuts for the two percent of the wealthiest in the nation.

They blocked the extension of unemployment checks to those who have been out of work so long their payments had expired. They supported the Arizona immigration laws and even proposed rescinding that the 14th Amendment to the Constitutional guaranteeing citizenship to anyone born within American borders.

In those two acts alone they have antagonized two large blocs of American voters – the 25 million who either are out of work or are employed at reduced hours and the 40 million Latino population. They also ticked off that large number of first responders to the World Trade Center attacks by denying them necessary extended health coverage.

But the worst damage the Republicans have done, was to cannibalize its own. It used to be that the Democrats were such a rebellious assemblage of independent minded people that they ate their own. Now it is the GOP that seems determined to devour all Republicans who stand this side of Ivan the Terrible.

The vicious internal battle to purge all moderate Republicans (non Tea Party types) and at the same time to paint Obama as some kind of Black tyrant in charge of a "gangster" socialist government is bound to backfire. The best polls give the Tea Party bunch only 25 percent of the Republican mass. Obama’s national popularity will take care of the ugly smears. You cannot win elections with only a smidgen of your base behind you.

Also you cannot win elections by always being against something. You need a positive plan and most of all you need an acceptable leader. The GOP has neither, unless you consider Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as standard bearers. We have yet to hear a single notable Republican reject any of the grotesque off-the-wall comments made by these two Right Wing gargoyles.

Finally the Dems can point with pride to the passage of the first Health Care bill in history, the avoidance of a serious depression by massive bailouts, the salvaging of the automobile industry and the enactment of legislation to control Wall Street from onerous behavior. All with little help from Republicans.

The Republicans by their deliberate action (or inaction) have made the first two years of the Obama Administration a one party show. They can claim no victories. They did nothing for the public. Anything positive that occurred was accomplished by Democrats.

With all this, the acclaimed political factor that the party in power always takes a hit during the first mid-term election is the only thing that stands in the way of a solid Democratic victory this year. But thanks to Republican intransigence on so many important issues, even that principle may go by the boards. We will see soon enough.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Too big to manage?

By Don Klein
In recent discourse we have heard lots about businesses that are too big to
fail. That was why the government charged in with billions of bailout funds
to help foundering enterprises on Wall Street and in Detroit. I am beginning
to wonder if the emphasis is in the wrong direction.

I get the impression there is a much worse problem. Could it be that this
country is too big to manage. It seems that America is too overblown in every
way and too diverse, for any administration to be supervised skillfully.

Take an objective look at the country. It stretches from the Atlantic to the
Pacific over a multitude of miles of mostly fertile land and is the home of 310 million people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicity. Russia has twice the land mass with half the population and a population density of 8.2 per square
kilometer. Canada has slightly more land than the US with merely ten percent
of the population .

The US stands third among land masses on Earth with 9,629,091 square
kilometers and a population density of 31.6 per square kilometer. The
average population density for the entire world is 13.1. And it will worsen as
the US gets bigger, and we will because we have the largest expanding
population among the world’s industrialized countries.

In a mere 40 years the United States Census Bureau projects the country’s
population will be 440 million, or a 46 percent increase over today. It appears
to be impossible to run the country today, how are we going to handle 130
million more residents?

A growing population in a finite land area puts all kinds of strains on
government. People need water, food and space to live comfortably. We
already use a larger space footprint per person than any country in 2010, what
can we expect in another few decades?

Another problem, if you can call it that, is the tradition of freedom that exists
in America. The population may be derived from different backgrounds but
the ultimate goal of most people is doing what they want, where they want to do it and when they want to do it. How is that going to be possible when we will be falling all over each other in the not too distant future?

Twenty-five years ago I was in China departing a Hangchow to Shanghai
passenger train and stepped onto the platform of the busy station. All I could
see was an endless mass of Orientals streaming to the exits. I was with a
small group of Americans heading for our chartered bus and had to walk
against the flow of human traffic to get to our awaiting vehicle.

It is impossible to describe the feeling of smallness in that situation. The
crowd was hardly belligerent, just curious at the sight of us, as they
maneuvered by. The impact of the shear multitude in such a small area made
me feel intimidated. It was a dreamlike vision, even frightening to share such
a small space with so many others.

The thought of that as the future of the United States, even on a smaller scale,
is enough to provoke nightmares. But that seems to be where the country is heading.

We don’t have enough roads, nor enough bridges and tunnels to traverse our waterways, there are times we don’t have enough water for all our needs, and who knows how long our food supplies will keep us all fat and happy.

There are forest fires that burn down homes, floods that wash away our
towns, hurricanes that damage our cities, tornadoes that level our villages. All
have a human element. The forest fires are often caused by careless campers,
floods are caused by the lack of trees cut down to make room for expanding
home sites and hurricanes and tornadoes wreak much of their damage
because population density results in the inability of people to escape their paths.

But the failure to manage the country lies in the inability to get things done in
Washington. It has become not a question of governance, but the challenge to govern at all. Gridlock in Washington is monstrous as the minority party
votes as one against anything the majority party sponsors.

Recent examples: The unemployed lose of extended benefits, the ailments of
first responders to 9/11 attacks go untreated. But there are worse signs of
mismanagement. Reportedly about 6,000 graves at Arlington National
Cemetery are misplaced, the Department of Defense routinely cannot find
billions of dollars of its budgeted funds, and there are times the government
cannot even deliver a letter in reasonable time and without great expense.

We heard about wounded veterans not getting proper treatment at Walter
Reed Hospital, the icon of American military medical facilities, and we learn
that suicides among fighting forces are higher than ever and specialists in the
field blame the military for not recognizing the problem early enough and
treating the people in need.

Then there is the two worst aspects of US government. One is the outlandish
corruption of officials. Every year there is another series of scandals
involving present and former congressmen and senators. Then we also have
the endless problem of protecting the country from illegal aliens entering
across our borders. We don’t seem to have the gumption to do anything about

They say they can save billions of dollars if they rid Medicare of its
inefficiency. The same is true of every government function. The military
wastes more money than any other agency because it gets more. There is
Social Security fraud and mismanagement, and other entitlements that could
be trimmed without reducing benefits, and education funds go astray, but
government thrives on waste and incompetence.
Is there another country with all these problems ? I don’t know , but I doubt
it. The problem is size and wealth. America is simply too big and getting
bigger every year, and too wealthy, even though it is a debtor nation.

They used to say New York city was too big the manage. That’s peanuts
compared to the nation. Places with the largest population are the hardest to run. Think of California’s money problems. Maybe we should not worry about that and just amble along in our incompetence.

I was fortunate to live through the Golden Years of America – from World
War II through the end of the 20th century. I am glad I will not be around to
see what’s in store for the people the next half century.