Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Insight into the President's thinking on Libya

I've been capitvated by the back-and-forth about President Obama's decisions with respect to Libya.  Unlike most of my friends, I'm not sure that our military involvement is the right - or the wrong- thing to do.  For now, I"m still in listening mode.

As such, I found "First Thoughts: Searching for Clarity" from NBC's Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro, Ali Weinberg, and Carrie Dann in MSNBC's First Read blog to be good input:
The president on the final leg of his Latin America swing in El Salvador yesterday said he has “absolutely no doubt" that command of the Libyan operation will be handed over to an international coalition. And said nothing’s changed his mind on that being in “days not weeks.” He added that "clarity" would come in days. (By the way, it’s now been five days since “days not weeks” first appeared in print.) President Obama said there are already fewer U.S. planes involved in the Libya operation and added, "We've already saved lives" in Benghazi. "Unless [Khaddafy] changes his approach" and there are significant reforms in Libyan government, he's a threat to his people, Obama said. What would the U.S.’s role be once control is handed over? "It is not going to be our planes" enforcing the no-fly zone, Obama said; it's not going to be "our ships" enforcing the arms embargo. In what may be a recognition of the political difficulty back home, the president heads back to Washington earlier than scheduled. He’ll skip touring Mayan ruins -- and a political beehive awaits. (NBC’s Pete Williams examined whether President Obama violated the Constitution with his action on Libya.)

America's national interest in Libya: In response to a question from NBC's Savannah Guthrie, the president offered a rather expansive rationale for his actions in Libya. The first part of his answer was familiar: "[T]he American people and the United States have an interest first of all in making sure that where a brutal dictator is threatening his people and saying he will show no mercy and go (inaudible) hunting people down and we have the capacity under international sanction to do something about that, I think it's in America's international-- America's national interest to do something about it. That doesn't mean that we can solve every problem in the world. It does mean that when you have not only the United Nations but also the Arab League and also other countries in the Gulf who are saying we need to intercede to make sure that a disaster doesn't happen on our watch -- as has happened in the past when the international community stood idly by -- it is in America's national interest to participate in that."

It's the SECOND part of his answer that was new: "Now we've already seen what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, peaceful transitions. We have a huge national interest in making sure that those are successful, because if Egypt can make a transition from a[n] autocratic regime to a democracy, if Tunisia can make those same changes, they become models for a peaceful transition that at some point may be adopted by other countries in the region. If on the other hand, they spill into chaos, in part, because they've got a million … Libyans who are pouring into these countries, and their borders become less secure, and there's a breakdown of order -- that could have spillover effects in the entire region. So not only do we have a humanitarian interest, but we also have a very practical interest in making sure that the changes that are sweeping through that region are occurring in a peaceful, non-violent fashion, and when we can have some impact on that, with a relatively modest contribution as part of a broader international effort, then I absolutely believe that the costs are outweighed by the benefits, and that is what drove my decision, and that's why I think that we need to make sure that we see this through effectively."

This second rationale actually resonates with me.  A variation of it was a topic of discussion at a dinner with friends Sunday night.  It was suggested that our involvement is important because it could help ensure that the current momentum toward democracy in the Middle East not be halted by the massacre of people standing up to their repressive leaders.  Should that happen, we could be in for a long period of time before such efforts are made again.

I'm curious to know what my readers think about the military action in Libya.  I hope some of you will find a few minutes to post a response.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Poll Shows Budget-Cuts Dilemma

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll came out Thursday.  The Journal reports:
"Poll Shows Budget-Cuts Dilemma; Many Deem Big Cuts to Entitlements 'Unacceptable,' but Retirement and Means Testing Draw Support"
From the Journal article:
In the poll, Americans across all age groups and ideologies said by large margins that it was "unacceptable'' to make significant cuts in entitlement programs in order to reduce the federal deficit. Even tea party supporters, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security "unacceptable."

More than 60% of poll respondents supported reducing Social Security and Medicare payments to wealthier Americans. And more than half favored bumping the retirement age to 69 by 2075. The age to receive full benefits is 66 now and is scheduled to rise to 67 in 2027.
As a snapshot of public opinion, the poll highlights some of the perils ahead for Republicans as their core voters and tea party supporters demand big reductions in federal spending to tame the deficit.
More than seven in 10 tea party backers feared GOP lawmakers would not go far enough in cutting spending. But at the same time, more than half of all Americans feared Republicans would go too far.
Amid the union protests in Wisconsin, the poll found that 62% of Americans oppose efforts to strip unionized government workers of their rights to collectively bargain, even as they want public employees to contribute more money to their retirement and health-care benefits.
The results suggest that public opinion may be tipping against Wisconsin Republican governor Scott Walker in his prolonged faceoff with the unions.
I was surprised to read these poll results, in that they suggest that -- contrary to the crazy talk we are bombarded with day after day -- most Americans are thinking rationally.  It sounds like the Republicans may be over-reaching ... which bodes well for the federal budget negotiations ahead. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


My post yesterday titled "Absolute power" contained a statement sourced from the Florida League of Women Voters' Capitol Report that requires clarification. The Capitol Report said:
"Republicans have enough votes in both chambers to pass constitutional amendments by a 3/5ths vote and to override a veto by the Governor with a 2/3rds vote."

In fact, while the Legislature can place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot by a 3/5ths vote of both chambers, the amendment must still be approved by at least 60 percent of the voters.

Here are the actual citations:

From the Florida Constitution, Article XI - Amendments, Section 1 - Proposal by legislature:
Proposal by legislature.—Amendment of a section or revision of one or more articles, or the whole, of this constitution may be proposed by joint resolution agreed to by three-fifths of the membership of each house of the legislature. The full text of the joint resolution and the vote of each member voting shall be entered on the journal of each house.

And from Article XI, Section 5 - Amendment or revision election:
(a) A proposed amendment to or revision of this constitution, or any part of it, shall be submitted to the electors at the next general election held more than ninety days after the joint resolution or report of revision commission, constitutional convention or taxation and budget reform commission proposing it is filed with the custodian of state records, unless, pursuant to law enacted by the affirmative vote of three-fourths of the membership of each house of the legislature and limited to a single amendment or revision, it is submitted at an earlier special election held more than ninety days after such filing.
(e) Unless otherwise specifically provided for elsewhere in this constitution, if the proposed amendment or revision is approved by vote of at least sixty percent of the electors voting on the measure, it shall be effective as an amendment to or revision of the constitution of the state on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January following the election, or on such other date as may be specified in the amendment or revision.

It would be pretty bad - but I guess not inconceivable - if 60 percent of the Florida Legislature were able to amend the constitution without voter approval. Fortunately that is not the case. I apologize for any confusion.