Point of View Columns

Playing with Fire (Part II)

It appears that, for the moment, the Obama Administration has avoided the potential twin disasters of involving this country in yet another war-not-war in the Arab-Muslim world while simultaneously being repudiated by a majority of the people who voted for President Obama in 2012. In a scene straight out of “The Perils of Pauline”, none other than Vladimir Putin stepped in and put forward a proposal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Fortunately, the Obama Administration put a leash on its military dog and agreed to stand down.

We will now witness a series of diplomatic and political maneuverings that may or may not result in the destruction of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction. In the meantime we cautiously hope that President Obama will not come to the conclusion that he has to declare another “red line” as justification for this country committing unilateral acts of war.

While we can slowly exhale as this country grudgingly retreats from the brink of yet another war without end, we should take a moment to determine how this dilemma came about. We have been told that somehow, after the death of over 100,000 Syrians, the use of chemical weapons finally made this multi-year massacre too horrible. The fact that the United Nations had not as yet come to this conclusion was brushed aside with talk of the “moral imperative” that makes this country “exceptional”.

It is always dangerous to believe in any person or any country being infallible. It is also dangerous for the President of the United States to seriously believe that the unilateral use of military force is justifiable even when the security of this country is not directly (or indirectly threatened). And it is definitely dangerous for us to believe that we won’t find this country slip sliding to another blood soaked precipice under this president or a future president, unless and until the people of this country start to rethink this whole business of “exceptionalism”.

Historically speaking there are certainly “exceptional” aspects pertaining to the establishment of representative government, however flawed that government was at the outset, even to this day. But there is nothing particularly exceptional about countenancing the slavery of black Americans.

And there is nothing noteworthy about a governmental policy of genocide committed against Native Americans or denying suffrage and basic rights to women for over a century or a legalized apartheid system that succeeded slavery and whose vestiges remain to this day. And there is certainly nothing “exceptional” about a country that acknowledges incredible economic and quality of life disparities as the “American Way”.

This country is made up of many good people who desire a just and fair society – however that may be defined. But the people of this country have an “exceptional” capacity for believing that unilateral American military action makes sense to the rest of the world. And Americans have the further “exceptional” capacity for believing that any retaliation is unjust, unwarranted and deserving of further retaliation. Of course, this is exactly how wars have been started since the beginning of time.

The United States of America should not be branded as either the Policeman of the Planet or the Global Bully. There is no reason for this country to undertake the Sisyphean task of ridding this world of cruelty and injustice by itself. Aside from the fact that it is virtually impossible to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in Syria or elsewhere, there are also legions of lobbyists and professional persuaders who will advance one cause or another based solely upon fees that are paid for their services.

Engaging in a bit of alternative history one wonders on whose side these United States would intervene in a war between its ally England and the colonist terrorists of America? And who would these United States support in a protracted civil war between the Confederacy that was committed to self-determination and the economically and militarily superior Union? Perhaps a negotiated settlement would have been preferable?

The point is, of course, that the world is complicated. Its problems are vexing. And solutions rarely come out of the barrel of a gun or at the tip of a Tomahawk missile.

We can hope that President Obama, and future presidents, have learned a lesson as this country has for now averted another potentially bloody disaster.

Standard
Point of View Columns

In Search of Mitt’s Millions

Ever since he was elected president, we knew that Barack Obama’s reelection campaign would be different. We had no idea……from Sarah “Lock and Load” Palin to Rick “Oops” Perry to Herman “Pizza Man” Cain, the Teapublicans have emptied the barrel in an effort to find the ABO candidate, Anybody But Obama. And scraping the bottom of the barrel, the G.O.Tea Party presents us with Mitt “Etch and Sketch” Romney, a political weather vane with millions of dollars stashed around the world. Really?

There are so many bizarre aspects of Mitt Romney and his overseas accounts. We could start with the fact that this is the first time in memory that a person has run for president of the United States with multiple multi-million dollar accounts in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and Lord knows where else. While it is not illegal for Mr. Romney to put his money anyplace in the world, one would think that the American people would be a little uncomfortable with a president who hedges his bets on America by placing considerable sums of money abroad.

And before Teapublican zealots begin to foam at the mouth because someone is besmirching the sacred cause of capitalism, think of the furor that would have consumed whole sections of this country if it turned out that President and Michelle Obama had Swiss bank accounts. This would have been seen as absolute proof that Barack Obama was some kind of Muslim Manchurian Candidate and calls for impeachment would ring from sea to shining sea.

It is also worth considering what the world reaction would be to a United States president who kept untold millions of dollars in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands (we just don’t know about the Isle of Man, Vanuatu and other havens for the tax averse, the secretive and the wealthy individuals who are obsessed with amassing great wealth and then hiding it). It may be perfectly legal but appearances mean something too.

It is doubtful that Angela Merkel of Germany and Vladimir Putin of Russia have Swiss bank accounts. We do know that former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha had Swiss bank accounts. We do know that Congolese president for life Mobutu Sese Seko had Swiss bank accounts. We can safely assume that former Liberian president, Charles Taylor (recently convicted of war crimes), had a Swiss bank account.

Other heads of state that have had Swiss bank accounts would include Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Juan Peron of Argentina and Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic. This would be truly strange company for the president of the United States to be keeping.

Mr. Romney and his cast of defenders and apologists will point out that all of his financial dealings are “perfectly legal” and indeed they may well be. But it is fair to wonder if the code of conduct for the president of the United States should simply entail his/her staying within the boundaries of the law pursuant to the advice of well-compensated lawyers who specialize in taking clients right up the line of legality.

There is no compelling reason for Mitt Romney and his wife to have millions of dollars deposited in accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands except to avoid tax consequences. Certainly Mr. Romney cannot be worried about the safety and security of American banks.

Mitt Romney has been quoted as saying that he pays all the taxes that he is required to pay “and not a penny more”. That doesn’t sound like the patriotic attitude that built this country, it sounds like someone who wants to get the benefits of living in the United States on the cheap.

And it is also worth asking what, if anything, is Mitt Romney doing with his great wealth aside from building more mansions than he can ever need and two Cadillacs for his wife? After all, he has claimed that wealthy people are the “job creators” of this country. But we have yet to learn of firms or businesses or start up ventures in which he has invested his personal wealth. It doesn’t seem like he has been pushing the job creation button for quite awhile, if he ever did.

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice once said “taxes are the price that we pay for a civilized society”. Clearly Mr. Romney either wants the discount version of civilization for you and for me or he just wants you and me to pay for it – not him and his family.

Remember November 6th!

Standard