Friday, December 24, 2010

Chrismas Questions

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, December 23, 2010

This special time of year demands a departure from the usual. In that spirit, my brother and I have decided to break from the routine nature of our friendly but spirited debate of current issues and to offer instead our personal thoughts and wishes for the Christmas season.

So, as opposed to the standard fare of offering my opinions about the latest legislation or topic du jour, I decided to challenge you to consider some Christmas Questions.

1. Was there really a record producer somewhere who thought “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” would be a good investment of his time and effort? – And did he really think it would be funny after it was heard the first time?

2. Why do people get offended by the appearance of a Nativity Scene on public property? What are they afraid of?

3. What are children being protected from when the word “Christmas” is removed from public school calendars and assembly programs?

4. What is it about this holiday that inspires so many songs, stories, poems, lectures, sermons, paintings, movies and family traditions?

5. Could it be possible that the reason this day is so unique is because the person whose birth it represents is so unique?

6. What if all the songs about Him are true? What would you do differently if you knew He really was “God with us”?

I hope each of you finds some quiet time during these hectic days to admire a Christmas display, to listen to a child giggle, to read a Christmas story, to sing a Christmas Carol to yourself, to watch Jimmy Stewart or Ebenezer Scrooge “figure it out”, to give a special gift to someone you don’t even know and to say a solemn prayer of gratitude for our great nation.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good and prosperous 2011!

Looking Past Our Differences

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, December 23, 2010

I am not terribly unique. I, like most people (even those who claim they are not “political”), have strongly held positions on many issues. I passionately embrace debate and relish spirited discussions. Few who know me would deny my voice is among the loudest when I am standing on my soapbox or upholding my opinion in the face of challenge.

But this time of the year is a special time. Often, we put aside our differences when we gather with our family and friends in celebration of the season. Certainly, my brothers see me as their ultra-liberal kin, but they are as likely to throw an arm around my shoulder or share a joke with me as they were before I began filling their email boxes with left-wing rants. When we gather around the table or the tree we tend to avoid conversations about things upon which we disagree.

In the din of opinion, commentary, and voiced outrage that we continually find ourselves surrounded by, it is sometimes difficult to see that we largely share common values. We world citizens tend to cling to bonds of family and friendship. Most of us celebrate our disparate holiday customs and traditions without contempt for others. For the most part, there is peace on earth and goodwill extended to all men (and women, and children), regardless of race, creed or religion.

This is true despite the inclination of many who insist on manufacturing the “War on Christmas” every year from thin air. Jon Stewart from the satirical fake news show The Daily Show recently led off a Christmas special parody demonstrating this phenomenon by saying “the season just wouldn’t be the same without people going out of their way to be offended by nothing”. The point he was making was that in spite of the fact that most of us celebrate our holidays with nary a thought to those who practice a different religion or none at all, there are those who wish to resurrect the same conflict year after year.

As intently as Fox news and Glenn Beck strive to convince me otherwise, the high school my son attends still hosts Christmas concerts featuring songs about Christian traditions and themes. At the choral concert you’ll hear the words, Christmas and Messiah as well as a whole list of other Christmas-related terms. The audience members of varied backgrounds and ethnicities applaud and cheer in unified ovation. I have not seen one person walk out in disgust.

When I finish a transaction at a store or bank this time of year I say “Merry Christmas” and hear the sentiment returned in more cases than not. If someone wishes me “happy holidays” I don’t take offense and I have not yet had someone twist my arm and force me to change my similar greeting to one that honors their Christian celebration.

Political correctness isn’t the enemy of holiday cheer. Media personalities and pundits who benefit by inspiring rage and discontent among their viewers, listeners and readers are.

As corny and cliché as it may sound, this is my most favorite time of the year. I look forward to friends and family enjoying food and drink around my table. I love the anticipation and delight in the faces of my children on Christmas morning (even now that they’ve grown into young adulthood). I admire the light displays that grace the neighborhood houses as I drive at night. Every Christmas Eve, I savor the emotion and serenity of my church’s annual candlelight service. Most people I know celebrate the season in similar ways and don’t notice any assault on their belief system.

My wish for all who read this column is that you enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate. I wish you a belated Happy Hanukkah. I wish you a belated Happy Solstice. I wish you a merry Christmas. I wish you a happy New Year.

Lessons Learned: the Value of the WikiLeaks Dump

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, December 9, 2010

All right-wing attacks on liberals like myself (and accusations of America-hating treason) aside, the fact is that an overall concern for national security is a bi-partisan value. I care as much about threats posed by our nation’s enemies and as much about the protection of lives and operations conducted by our troops, ambassadors and diplomats as do conservatives like my brother Gordon and his heroes Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

That said, I cannot bring to myself assign much negative consequence to last week’s dump by media organization WikiLeaks of hundreds of thousands of pages of classified documents for public consumption.

Obviously, the State Department and the Obama administration have been quick and harsh in their condemnation of the leaks uncovered and published by Australian WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Cable communications that they assumed were private correspondence have been made public, embarrassing officials and complicating diplomatic relations. To be fair, some of the information that has come to light has presented potential game-changers for at least a few missions abroad.

But I think it is valuable to take an honest and candid look at what we have really learned from this massive revelation, instead of simply jumping on the political bandwagon, labeling WikiLeaks a terrorist organization, and calling for the arrest of an international whistle-blower.

First of all there were documents that were released that told us little we didn’t already know. We have always known that the State Department and American officials attempt to operate covertly and secretly. This is part of the business of foreign policy and is no shocker. It was also no surprise that the leaders of Middle Eastern countries have called Iran a threat. Those nations have a vested interest in security and a madman like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the neighborhood would make most people nervous. Many facts that came out may have elicited an interested “hmmm” but were largely assumed or were accepted public knowledge.

There were also items of embarrassing humor. For instance, we “learned” that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi is a paranoid prima donna who hates to fly over water and requires that his “voluptuous” blond Ukrainian nurse accompany him everywhere. Again, this is no shocker. We have seen the spectacle of his 2009 visit to the U.S.

But there are other gleanings that have real utility to us all as citizens of the United States. There are facts that are aligned with what we already know or suspect, but which bring nuances and specifics that are vital to important discussions that must be had.

Saudi Arabia, long considered an ally in the Middle East, has also been eyed with some suspicion, especially during the George W. Bush administration. WikiLeaks documents imply that Saudi King Abdullah has urged the U.S. to bomb Iran in order to stop her nuclear program. However, Saudi funding of groups like Al Qaeda casts shadows on the intentions of this so-called ally. With growing talk over how to deal with Iran, it is imperative to consider the influence the Saudis may have in the matter.

On the subject of Iran, cables were released last week that implied that while the Obama administration outwardly advocated diplomatic strategies to change the behavior of Ahmadinejad and of the Iranian state, there was little belief that those measures would be successful. This revelation told us two things. First, we learned that there was little concrete commitment to a diplomatic resolution; second, we learned that the Bush era tactic of carrots and sticks had remained in place and is the sole mode of operation for the current administration. Not only does this fact refute the assertions of Obama critics that his departure from Bush policy points to his weakness on national security (since there is no policy change at all), it opens up dialog about how the United States should approach relations with Iran going forward.

I found the documents discussing the corruption and graft, rampant within the Afghan government, particularly interesting. While I wasn’t surprised in the least to hear once again that corruption reached the very top of Hamid Karzai’s administration, the sheer magnitude of the corruption is sobering. With the recent admission by Obama that combat troops will be committed to Afghanistan until 2014 (an extension over the original 2011 estimate), I think that further dialog about the chances for success of the mission and the risks of prolonged involvement in the region is necessary. This new information confirms old suspicions and reminds a war-wearied U.S. populous of the dire nature of this conflict.

The WikiLeaks website has been the victim of attacks on its servers and the technology on which it operates. Julian Assange is under investigation and has been targeted for prosecution by several world governments. The leadership in the United States has shown rare bi-partisan unity in its condemnation of the leaks. It is difficult to say what the final outcome of the WikiLeaks “scandal” will be. But whatever our opinion of the organization, its founder and its intent, it is undeniable that the WikiLeaks dump has contributed to the political discourse already, and I feel that is an asset to our democracy.

Wikileaks Exposes Need for New Plumber

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, December 9, 2010

As you may have guessed already, I find myself disagreeing with my brother’s assessment of the Wikileaks scandal. Keith concludes his column with the idea that an indiscriminate “dumping” of classified documents and confidential communiqués is an “asset to our democracy”. I do not agree. I believe it is a dangerous and costly liability – one that should be dealt with quickly and completely so as to stem the unrestricted flow of protected communications, prevent further leaks and to protect the identity and welfare of valuable informants.

In fact, many corporations and other governments have moved to restrict Wikileaks’ access to the Internet. However, our “Plumber-in-Chief” has decided to send his Attorney General, Holder, on a mission to coax the organizers of the World Cup to bring a soccer tournament to America. Priorities, man, priorities.

I think we need to make an example of Julian Assange the way our forefathers made an example of Benedict Arnold. Perhaps, if he was dealt with properly, (some have suggested execution, I prefer life imprisonment with no electronics) future generations would not be warned against “being a Benedict Arnold” but instead, they would be admonished: “Don’t make an Assange of yourself.”

Keith opens with a claim that he “cares about the lives of… our troops, ambassadors and diplomats.” Yet, he seems to downplay the significant damage done and enhanced risk being placed upon those very lives.

There are reasons why people must speak “off the record” and there are reasons why some secrets must remain secret. In fact, a very wise world leader (King Solomon) once said “…do not reveal the secret of another, lest he who hears it reproach you, and the evil report about you not pass away.” (Proverbs 25:9,10 NASB)

We live in a very dangerous world. We have terrorists plotting against us, we have rogue leaders seeking weapons of mass destruction, and we have allies that depend upon us for their safety. Therefore, we need an Intelligence network that can operate with the assurance that its communiqués are secure. People in our Intelligence community and in our military risk their lives to acquire and maintain contacts in foreign lands and those contacts take similar risks to keep our men and women informed. If there is no sense of security, there will be no more information.

In dangerous times we must take advantage of every source of information we can find. We must be assured the information is accurate and untainted by fear of disclosure. Secretary of State Ms. Clinton, was rightly distressed and troubled by the revelations, which did not disclose specific wrongful acts by the U.S., but did divulge intimate conversations; that divulgence will inhibit frankness and candor in the future.

Among the many ironies being played out by this scandal is the fact that many on the Left who saw the Valerie Plame ordeal, which centered around the disclosure of a CIA Operative’s identity, as a serious breach of National Security and classified information, see no similar breach in this case when we have the potential for far greater risk. Conversely, those on the Right who tried to downplay the risk to Plame, are now screaming for the head of Assange on a platter. I felt then, as I feel now, that state secrets should and ought to be secret. Not because I feel the state is always right and the citizens should leave the governing to the “experts”, nor is it because I feel the press should be fettered in its investigations of government. It is solely because I believe in the rule of law. The law is what separates us from anarchy and despite Keith’s attempt to claim that somehow the means used to “open political discourse” is justified by that end, I believe Wikileaks, its founder, and many of his sympathizers have anarchy on their mind.

The other irony in this mess is the statement made by Assange in which he claims that his intent is to create a “better world”. I suppose his definition of a better world is one in which no secrets are safe and no one dares to confide in another. I do not think that world would be better.
However, I do believe he may have ushered in a better world if this experience causes us to think twice about the safety of electronic communication. Perhaps we will return to face-to-face conversation and perhaps we will be more wary of the “send” button, for we have to realize that once a message hits cyberspace, it is no longer between just two people.

The final irony is the most humorous. According to a Reuters report from London, dated 12/2, Assange – who claims that Wikileaks is “an organization devoted to revealing secret documents” – was working on the next document dumping project from a “secret, undisclosed location”. Pardon me, but if this story wasn’t so serious, I’d be laughing milk through my nose right now.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

An Exercise in Futility, or an Open Door for Change?

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, November 25, 2010

The President’s Deficit Commission, AKA National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, has finally delivered a Draft Proposal that outlines in a brief (by Washington terms) 50-plus page report, their plan for reducing our deficit and – as the name optimistically describes – bringing fiscal responsibility and reform. I read the report and I glanced at the many charts and tables they provided. It was an interesting exercise.

The commission was created earlier this year by an executive order of President Obama. Its charge was to incorporate ideologies from both Republicans and Democrats and to deliver a bipartisan solution to the very real and present danger of our runaway deficit. It was co-chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles, a former Clinton Chief of Staff, and Republican Alan Simpson, a former U.S. Senator from Wyoming.

They worked with sixteen other members of the commission and came up with some bold steps that, according to their projections, would reduce the deficit/Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the current 9.1% to 1.6% by 2020 and increase revenue/GDP levels from the current 14.6% to 21.6% the same year. It also predicts a balanced budget by 2037 and a positive deficit/GDP (i.e. a budget surplus) by 2040.

It is at times like these that I wish I could be as naïve and gullible as my leaders think I am. I wish I could believe they really could look ahead to 2040 and see our budget in perfect balance, our spending under control, and our revenues increasing. I also wish I could believe in the tooth fairy, the lottery commercials and hair growth products.

However, I am bound by the constraints of reality and I know these figures and projections are as reliable and as likely as the global warming figures and projections.

Any attempt to inject responsibility and reform into any institution will most certainly be met with resistance and protest – to do so in a governmental budget is to invite screams and squeals from every corner.

Before I add my own screams and squeals to the din, I feel I must be fair and offer up a few words of praise.
First of all, I am pleased to see that they are at least looking at the dangerous storm clouds on the horizon and they are cognizant of the need to address this threat to our national security and solvency.

I agree with the premise made in their opening “values” statements, in which they give ten defining principles that guided them as they sought solutions. Among these are the principles that we must start slowly, we must protect the truly vulnerable who are dependent upon social aid programs, we must cut waste, we must look at every program – including defense spending and even Social Security and Medicare spending – for cuts and savings.

I am in favor of putting everything on the table, and removing the Sacred Item – Do Not Touch! label from programs and subsidies that have failed to produce the desired effects, or have – like the misdirected welfare policies that destroyed the family structure – produced deleterious effects.

The commission recommended several cuts, which I approve. Among those were:
- Freezing Defense Dept. salaries and bonuses and non-combat pay
- Cutting Cost-of-Living increases for all Federal programs – including Social Security
- Cutting Federal work force by 10%
- Eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
- Cutting some redundant weapons programs from Defense spending

The increased revenue would supposedly come through some new taxes such as a 15 cent/gallon gasoline tax and by eliminating certain tax credits such as the Mortgage Interest Deduction and Child Tax Credit. Of course, we know how the travel industry, housing industry, and the pro-family lobbyists will respond to each of those proposals. I won’t even mention the idea of raising the Social Security retirement age they are recommending, for fear of sparking the howling protests we have seen from those across the pond.

As you can guess, this commission is making few friends and its chance of getting any serious consideration of passing these proposals through a divided legislature is paper thin. However, it has opened the door to a room we must all enter sooner or later – no matter how chilly and dark that room may be now – we have to walk in and sit down to the table and offer some sacrificial offerings.

I am in favor of a strong defense and I believe we should be the strongest military force on the planet, because I believe we are the most moral force on the planet. But I also believe our military can still be strong while cutting costs. I am opposed to most taxes, but I am aware that the privilege of living in a great nation requires something from every citizen.

The cost of doing nothing is far too great. Our deficit must be brought under control. Nothing should be held sacred and beyond the reach of the golden scissors – including that monstrous health care bill passed through bribery and manipulation last spring.

Let’s Get Serious

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, November 25, 2010

When one looks at the current national debt and deficit dilemma it is undeniable that the assertion of President Obama’s appointed panel that a real solution must include both spending reduction and increased revenue rings true. Regardless of one’s political affiliation one must accept the fact that only a combination of tax increases and spending cuts will prevent leaving the tragic legacy of our irresponsibility to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So, when a bipartisan commission makes a public statement that nothing is off the table it sounds hopeful that there is serious commitment to this end.

Unfortunately, a quick review of the draft proposal that was released last week reveals that not everything is on the table.

The most glaring omission from the proposal is the much-politicized Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The $700 billion in revenue that would be generated by allowing the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent is a bold step indeed. Apparently it is one that is an untouchable sacred item. My brother Gordon would argue that the tax cuts were necessary to bring jobs and speed economic recovery. Ironically, the cuts created zero net jobs during Bush’s terms of office, which saw unemployment nearly double during their span.

Apparently corporate welfare is the only acceptable form of government assistance to both parties in Washington. The commission lists, as one of its goals, the reform of the tax code to make “America the best place to start and run a business and create jobs”. However, one of the proposals under the tax code section is the elimination of a credit for domestic production. Once again, it is plain to see that the commission lacks serious commitment toward its stated goals if it is eliminating incentives to create local jobs. The only local employment we are insuring by offering the proposed breaks to corporations is at the executive level. Meanwhile the working class continues to suffer while the wealthy are once again the beneficiaries of government spending and legislation.

It is heartening to see cuts in defense spending on the table (and to see them receiving a nod of approval by my fellow columnist). In fact, I was happy to see a reduction in overseas bases was the second largest line item in the commission’s proposed cuts. Unfortunately again, many cuts effect those who can least afford them. Cuts designed to “modernize” the health benefits of soldiers and veterans will hurt military personal at the lowest incomes and the veterans who have bravely served their country. A freeze on non-combat military pay will add to the suffering of those low-income families who turned to military service in a time of economic crisis.

And even with a $100 billion reduction in military spending, the U.S. expenditure on defense far outweighs that of other countries. China (the number 2 nation in defense spending) spends only 1/6th of the U.S. expenditure and our defense budget is more than the next 23 nations’ combined budgets.

It is good to see the out-of-control military spending addressed, but reigning in the Pentagon’s budget is far from serious reform. Unless we look at the impact of supplemental military spending on the deficit and upon the foreign lending that allows us to sustain it, the discussion is simply rhetoric. An appeal must be made to tailor foreign policy with a mind toward constraining spending. Neither side of the political aisle denies that the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the deficit and to our dependency on foreign aid. Yet few have suggested including these costs in the current debate. Even the president has ignored the cost when recently admitting that our military commitment in Afghanistan will last at least three years longer than expected (at undeniable economic expense, as well as the human toll). A bloated military, beholden to no-bid contractors, with wasteful spending makes us no safer.

Recent efforts to improve national security through the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia were blocked by Senate obstructionism. Despite the Obama administration’s contradictory promise of billions of dollars in investment toward modernizing weapons systems, Republicans still oppose reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. The military-industrial complex continues to hold our nation and its leaders hostage nearly fifty years after President Dwight Eisenhower made reference to it.

I found the commission’s words disingenuous when it mentioned that “Throughout our history, Americans have always been willing to sacrifice to make our nation stronger over the long haul.” Yes, it is true that during points of our history citizens have made great sacrifice to preserve the common good. The “Greatest Generation” is a testament to selflessness and a true spirit of patriotic commitment. However, this spirit is largely dead in modern America. We would rather ignore or dispute the facts of global warming than give up our luxuries or our SUVs. Those at the top of the income pyramid refuse to sacrifice even 3 percent of their millions and billions. The cry of “no compromise” is the loudest in our capitals and in our political discourse.

Still, this commission is applauded for making the “tough” decisions of asking those who can hardly afford it to make further sacrifices. Two of the biggest targets for cuts in this proposal are Social Security and Medicare, which provide vital support to the neediest among us. Is this really the best that 18 experts can come up with? Shouldn’t we get serious about the real issues?