Obama and the Deficit

During this election cycle, much has been made of Obama and the Democrats fiscal irresponsibility when it comes to the budget and deficit. However, when you look at recent data it is apparent that the numbers don’t necessarily agree and the pot seems to be calling the kettle black.

— National debt increase during Republican administrations since 1980: Reagan, 189%; George H. W. Bush, 54%; George W. Bush, 86%.

— National debt increase during Democratic administrations: Clinton, 37%. Obama (as of September 30, 2012), 51%.

Perhaps the first year of each administration’s debt increase should be attributed to the prior administration, after all the budget for a new Presidents first year is passed by the previous administration. If so, then Republicans as a whole performed even worse compared to Democrats.

— Republicans: Mr. Reagan 186%, George H.W. Bush 72%, George W. Bush 107%.

— Democrats: Mr. Clinton 31% and Mr. Obama 31% so far.

Under the latter scenario — attributing each president’s first year of deficits to the prior administration — Republican administrations since 1981 have racked up $9.8 trillion in debt — 89% more debt than the $5.2 trillion racked up by Democrats. And the Republicans’ record would probably be even worse if their deficits were adjusted for inflation.

You can verify these fiures at the Treasury Department’s web site,http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/mspd/mspd.htm.

With a track record like that, how can Republicans accuse Democrats of fiscal irresponsibility?

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Democracy for Sale

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by the Supreme Court in 2010 is starting to have a profound effect on politics and, more specifically, the ability for individuals to have an impact. The Citizens United case has expanded the rights of corporate personhood to allow corporations, unions, as well as wealthy individuals to contribute unlimited amounts to candidate elections, essentially flooding campaigns with money. This graph below from the Center for Responsive Politics shows the immense shift that outside money has seen since this decision.

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Furthermore, a Republican party that has positioned itself as a party that will cut through regulations, lower taxes for the wealthy, and make cuts to many social programs (thus making it attractive for high-income individuals and corporations), has managed to have unparalleled success leveraging this new era of campaign spending. The immense disproportion in spending is shown below.

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Why does all this matter? There is a legal movement that has been ongoing over the last few decades in the United States to grant corporations the rights of personhood. The whole Citizens United decision is based on an idea that by limiting the contributions that individuals, corporations, and labor unions can make, you are also limited their access to free speech. In the Citizens United case, the Court, with  a conservative lean that shouldn’t be ignored, interpreted this as a principal violation of the First Amendment and significantly weakened the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that sought to limit contributions to $5,000 while preventing corporations from airing adverts in the 60 days up until a Presidential election.

The results have been incredible. In the first two weeks of October these outside groups on the election have spent a total of $180 million, with spending in favor of Romney outpacing that of Obama by over a 3:1 margin. Wealthy individuals such as Sheldon Anderson have threatened to spend as much as $100 million on these shadowy outside groups to defeat President Obama. Super PACs and welfare non-profit groups, neither of which were able to spend money on elections before the Citizens United decision, have spent a combined $113.6 million this election while unions, a long time enemy of the increasingly corporation funded right, have managed to spend only $3.1 million. To make matters worse, these contributions are allowed to remain anonymous by some shift accounting so that we never actually know who is contributing what.

In the end, campaign finance has turned into an arms race among the elite and corporations and is a situation in which we all lose. As if the plight of everyday Americans was already largely ignored, this new era of campaign finance now forces candidates to court the support of these wealthy individuals and corporations in order to have any chance at becoming elected. A Constitutional amendment has been put forth by Bernie Sanders of Vermont that would seek to state that;

  • Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.
  • Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.
  • Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.
  • Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.

Unfortunately, such an amendment will receive heavy opposition by the very groups it seeks to limit and as we saw with lobbying in regards to climate change and healthcare reform, what’s best for the citizenry is hardly in the interests of these well funded and powerful groups.

International Law Injustice

The state of international law is largely a tangled web of treaties and agreements between different states that often contradict various other agreements and representing a converging cesspool of confusion and, ultimately, inaction and non-compliance. The fact that the findings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) become optional through the ‘optional clause’ further illustrates just how little opportunity for enforcement exists by the international community. A prominent example mentioned is the United States v. Nicaragua court case tried by the ICJ. The Reagan policy of containing and preventing the spread of communism was to aid anticommunist rebels in various countries, and this battlefield reached Nicaragua in the early 1980’s. The ICJ rejected an onslaught of US jurisdiction inquiries regarding the ICJ’s right to hear the case and issued a preliminary opinion ordering the United States to stop mining the harbors of Nicaragua. However, due to the optional clause, the United States completely ignored the ruling. Two years later in 1986, the ICJ ruled that the United States had in fact violated international law. However, the United States again ignored the ruling. Finally, the matter was brought before the United Nations Security Council as to whether to impose sanctions on the United States for its explicit and complete ignorance of both the rulings of the ICJ as well as practices in Nicaragua and of course, the United States exercised it’s veto power and the matter was ended right there. There are other examples of this kind of behavior by the permanent members of the United Nations who have this veto power, but the point isn’t the infraction. The point is the attitude and power attributed to and wielded by these select five nations that is causing this imbalance in international law implementation.

How is this causing an imbalance in the implementation of international law? The answer is two-fold. First, there is no organization or body that can actually enforce what the ICJ decides in these cases. Secondly, as a result of the immense power the permanent members have on the Security Council, it has created a system in which these five significant members are the arbiters of not only if international law is to be followed, but also how it is going to be enforced. These five members have no greater power to check them than themselves, and even if a few of these five members want to act against another of the permanent members, the latter can always use the veto power given to it to end any inquiry or attempt at action. To go a step further, as a result of this model, there isn’t a group that can legally do anything about any international law violations by this group of five because any judgment or enforcement on international law is directly required to be confirmed by the potential aggressor. For example, US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan are surely a violation of a states sovereignty as well as arguably being a tool for civilian murder, yet besides a hollow condemnation or two, there is no remedial action taken and these drone strikes continue unabridged. The United States has a foreign policy in Latin America of shipping arms, supporting illegitimate and oppressive coups, as well as squeezing smaller Latin American economies all of which had a devastating affects on a humanitarian level for millions of people in the region. Yet there is no check or balance to this abusive exercise of power and frankly from the Gulf of Tonkin incident to Iraq, there hasn’t been one.

Invisible War; A Testament to US Foreign Policy

While there are several high-profile conflicts going on that the public is very aware of, namely Libya, Egypt and Syria, it is the covert and invisible conflicts that the United States are involved in that are the most damaging and concerning. While it seems that we are on an irreversible path to conflict with Iran over their nuclear facilities and the risk their program poses to Israel, many don’t know that we have been actively involved in Iran for years now. Over the past few years, the United States along with Israel have conspired to murder countless Iranian scientists who are suspected to be working on the nuclear program. This is a scary precedent that we’ve set. Essentially, we are using covert operations and drone attacks to murder those who we label as enemy combatants without due process.

In my opinion, the crossing of the Rubicon happened Sept. 30, 2011. Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was placed on a CIA “kill list” last year, died in a targeted strike in Yemen on Sept. 30 that also killed Samir Khan, an alleged propagandist for al-Qaida, in the Arabian Pensinsula. Al-Awlaki’s teenage son, Abdulrahman, was killed in a separate strike 200 miles away in which six others died two weeks later. While many argue that drone strikes violate the sovereignty of other nations, the most concerning part about this specific example is the fact that all three were U.S. citizens. Why is this troubling? The fifth amendment of the United States Constitution affords all citizens of the United States due process by stating, “No person… be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”

While it is indisputable that radicals who are part of a terrorist organization that is focused solely on pushing back against U.S. influence in Middle Eastern affairs through violence shouldn’t be treated lightly, the situation changes significantly when it comes to dealing with U.S. citizens. This is the invisible war. While the emotion of the argument can and usually does get in the way of our decision-making, we should step back and think of the logic behind this policy. In effect, the Obama administration is saying that it has the right to assassinate any enemy combatants abroad regardless of their nationality or rights to due process.

When you look at this development in the context of the Patriot Act and other developments, it’s evident that many constitutional rights are being trampled in the name of homeland security. This is the reality of the conflict we are in today; a lot of these drone strikes and assassinations are out of the public eye and the eroding of respect for the declaration of rights afforded to U.S. citizens by the constitution is largely kept out of the public eye. I encourage everyone to research and look into this issue as the warrantless phone tappings, secret searches and now assassinations of U.S. citizens without due process all set a worrying precedent for the future.