Tag Archives: moammar kadafi

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Zero Salary for Congress

Why Not Link Pols’ Pay Level to Ours?

Most Americans don’t like Moammar Kadafi or Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. But that might change if they knew their paychecks. The leaders of Libya and Iran get $9,516 and $3,000 a year annually, respectively.

Obama collects $5,505,509—a whopping $22,022 per day.

Who’s the real out-of-touch dictator?

As the U.S. enters its third year of economic collapse, real unemployment has surged past levels that triggered revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Yet neither the President nor members of Congress seem worried. They’re not even discussing the possibility of a bailout for the one-third of the workforce that is in effect structurally unemployed. Do you wonder why?

Maybe they don’t know what’s going on. As the saying goes, it’s a recession when you’ve gotten laid off. For members of Congress, who are raking it in, these are boom times.

Congressmen and Senators are insulated by huge salaries—$174,000 and up—that put them out of touch with and unaware of the problems of the 97 percent of Americans who earn less. Out of 535 members of Congress, 261 are millionaires.

It can’t be easy for Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, to feel our pain. According to campaign disclosure documents filed in 2010, her net worth is somewhere between $46 million and $108.1 million—and she’s only the 10th richest member of Congress. The top honor goes to Representative Darrell Issa, also from the Golden State but a Republican. Estimates of Issa’s net worth range between $156.1 million and $451.1 million.

Years ago the SEC floated the idea of a maximum wage for the CEOs of publicly traded corporations. If their pay was capped at, say, 20 times that of the lowest-paid employee, it wouldn’t be long before the whole pay scale went up.

The SEC pay cap didn’t go anywhere. But there’s the germ of a smart—and fair—idea there, one that could help Congressmen feel what it’s like to be an ordinary American during a time of poverty and mass layoffs.

Our elected representatives set the minimum wage, work standards, healthcare benefits, union organizing rules and thousands of regulations that determine the salaries and working conditions for tens of millions of American workers. As things stand now, the president and members of Congress have no personal incentive to improve those things for us. After all, they’re all set. They’re rich.

Paul Abrams writes: “Many Republicans ran for office declaring they would run the government ‘like a business’…

If they are serious, however, there is one way [Congress] can operate like a business. Cut their base pay and provide large incentive bonuses should the economy hit certain goals.” A nice thought, but why not follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion?

It is high time to set a Maximum Wage for Congress, the president and other high-ranking elected representatives. The Maximum Wage for Congress should be set at the lowest pay received by an American citizen.

As long as one American citizen is homeless and unemployed, the Maximum Wage would be zero.

Similarly public officials ought to receive a Maximum Benefit set at the lowest/worst level received by an American citizen. If one U.S. citizen receives no healthcare benefits, so it would go for members of Congress. If one U.S. citizen does not have free access to a gym, members of Congress would lose theirs.

I have a hunch that our lives would get better in the blink of an eye.

Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s really true that America somehow can’t afford socialized healthcare (even though there’s always plenty of cash for wars). If that’s the case, personal incentives won’t convince Congress.

Still, that’s OK. It’s only fair that our leaders be forced to tough it out as much as we do.

We’re all familiar with the arguments for paying six-figure salaries to politicians:

They have to maintain two homes, one in D.C. and one in their home district. It reduces the temptations of corruption. They should focus on their jobs, not how to pay their kids’ college tuition. People who are not wealthy ought to be able to afford to serve. The best and brightest won’t want the job if the pay is terrible.

To which I say:

Live modestly. Couchsurf. If you take a bribe, you’ll be jailed—so don’t. Everyone worries about bills; shouldn’t Congressmen? The current salary structure has resulted in a Congress full of millionaires. As for attracting the best and brightest—look at the fools we’ve got now.

Besides, there is no reason why the president and his congressional cronies shouldn’t be able to keep their current wonderful salaries and perks under a Maximum Wage. All they’d have to do is create an economy that shared those bounteous treats with everyone else.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Devils We Don’t Know

Who Are the Libyan Opposition?

Hi. You don’t know me. See that big guy over at the bar? I’m going to pick a fight with him. Wanna back me up?

That’s what we, the American people, are being asked to do in Libya. We’re not picking sides. Picking sides implies that we know what’s going on. We don’t.

Give George W. Bush this: he respected us enough to lie us into war. Obama wants us sign a blank check, no questions asked.

“We do not have any information about specific individuals from any organization that are part of this [war],” Hillary Clinton said on “Meet the Press.”

“But of course, we are still getting to know the people [rebels] leading the Transitional National Council [TNC].”

“Of course.”

This was over a week into the war.

I don’t know what’s more frightening. That Secretary of State Clinton expects us to believe that the U.S. government is fighting, spending, killing—and soon, inevitably, dying—for a cause it doesn’t know anything about? Or that she may be telling the truth.

For all we know the Libyan TNC, also known as the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition, is composed of and led by noble, well-intentioned, freedom-minded people everyone can get behind. But that’s the point: we don’t know.

Obama’s defenders say he’s different than Bush. Look! No cowboy talk! He got an international coalition! Even the French are on board!

Big deal. Hitler had a coalition too. Which also included the French.

Remember how, after 9/11, we got a history lesson about Afghanistan? Remember “blowback”? Remember how Al Qaeda came out of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s? How, if it hadn’t been for the U.S. and its CIA, Osama bin Laden would today be working for his dad’s real estate development business in Saudi Arabia? The last thing U.S. policymakers should want to do now is replicate the 1990s, when they had to tramp through the Hindu Kush, buying back Stinger missiles from the Taliban.

Incredibly, in Libya today, the U.S. may be crawling back into bed with a bunch of crazy Islamists.

Who are the Libyan opposition? We have few clues. From what we can tell, the TNC is apparently a peculiar alliance of convenience between monarchists and Islamists.

One TNC leader is the pretender to the throne. The TNC uses the flag of the former kingdom deposed by Kadafi.

Western media outlets ridiculed the Libyan dictator for blaming unrest on Al Qaeda. On February 25th CNN’s Paul Cruickshank reflected this official line: “Militant Islamists have played almost no role in the uprisings in Libya.”

How much changes in a month.

As bombs were raining down on Tripoli, military officials began to concede an open secret: eastern Libya has long been a hotbed for Muslim extremism. “Al Qaeda in that part of the country is obviously an issue,” a senior Obama official told the New York Times on condition of anonymity. NATO military commander Admiral James Stavridis admitted to a Senate hearing that there were “flickers” of foreign fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah presence among anti-Kadafi insurgents.

Constitutionalists to return to the Founders’ original intent. They say Congress, not the president, ought to decide whether or not to go to unleash the military. Obama didn’t even bother to get the usual congressional rubber stamp for this latest invasion.

But never mind Congress. War should be voted upon by the citizenry. After all, we—not Congress—bear the costs. If a president can’t be bothered to explain why we should kill and be killed and spend billions of dollars on a conflict, too bad for him and his pet defense contractors.

Starting with Obama’s carefully calculated conflation of civilians and insurgents, everything about Obama’s Libyan war stinks. The U.N. has authorized military operations to protect “civilians.” How, no matter how likeable they are, do Libyan rebels armed with anti-aircraft guns qualify as civilians?

As does this nightmare of a president’s what-if scaremongering, so reminiscent of Bush during the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq. What if there are massacres? But there weren’t any. What’s next—WMDs?

Hillary cites Kadafi’s “history and the potential for the disruption and instability” as casus belli. Funny, Moammar’s history didn’t bother her in 2009 or 2010—when her State Department had full diplomatic relations with his regime. As for the “potential” of “disruption and instability”—aw, hell, that could happen anywhere. Even here.

“If Jeffersonian Democrats take over in Libya, he’s a hero,” Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future said of Obama. “If he gets stuck in an ongoing civil war, then it could be enormously costly to the country, and to him politically.”

Which outcome would you bet on?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Libya: Another War We Shouldn’t Believe In

Why Won’t Obama Explain His Third War?

U.S. forces fired 110 cruise missiles at Libya on the first day of the war. Each one cost $755,000 to build; $2.8 million to transport, maintain and shoot. Austerity and budget cuts abound; there’s no money for NPR or teachers or firefighters. Note to union negotiators: the government has lots of money. They’re spending it on war.

For people too young to remember Bosnia, this is what a violent, aggressive, militarist empire looks like under a Democratic president. Where Bush rushed, Obama moseys. No one believed ex-oil man Bush when he said he was out to get rid of the evil dictator of an oil-producing state; Obama, the former community organizer, gets a pass under identical circumstances. Over the weekend, also the eighth anniversary of the start of the Iraq quagmire, there were few protests against Obama’s Libya War, all poorly attended.

I spent the weekend in New York at Leftforum, an annual gathering of anti-capitalist intellectuals. “What do you think about Libya?” people kept asking. What passes for the Left is ambivalent.

In part this waffling on Libya is due to Obama’s deadpan (read: uncowboy-like) tone. Mostly, however, the tacit consent stems from televised images of ragtag anti-Qadafi opposition forces getting strafed by Libyan air force jets. We Americans like underdogs, especially when they say they want democracy.

Still, the President is not a dictator. He can’t declare war. And while he might be able to lie his way into one, he and his party will pay at the polls if he fails to explain why we’re attacking a nation that poses no threat to the United States.

There are a lot of questions we—and journalists—should be asking Obama. Obviously, we’re broke. Our military is overextended, losing two wars against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. How can we afford this?

Also:

1. Whom are we helping?

The U.S. and its allies are destroying Libya’s air force in order to tip the balance in the civil war in favor of anti-Qadafi forces. A similar approach, aerial bombardment of Afghan government defenses, allowed Northern Alliance rebels to break through Taliban lines and enter Kabul in 2001. It could work again in Libya.

But who are these anti-Qadafi forces? Rival tribes? Radical Islamists? Royalists? What kind of government will they establish if they win? What are their ideological and religious affiliations? If anyone in the media or the White House knows, they’re not telling.

Or perhaps, as in Iraq, the White House doesn’t have a governance plan for post-Qadafi Libya. Which, as in Iraq, could lead to chaos. No nation should go to war without considering the long-term consequences.

Before we pick sides in a conflict, shouldn’t we know for whom we are going billions of dollars further into debt?

2. Does Qadafi have the right to defend himself?

From Shea’s Whiskey Rebellion to Confederacy to the Red Scares to the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, the U.S. government has violently suppressed armed rebellions. How then can the U.S. claim moral authority to prevent other governments from doing the same thing? (“The U.S. is more moral than Libya” is not an acceptable response. Obama murders and tortures more people than Qadafi.)

3. What about self-determination?

If the Libyan people rise up and overthrow Qadafi, an authoritarian despot well past his expiration date, that’s great. Shouldn’t that struggle be a Libyan matter, to be settled between Libyans? Isn’t a government that emerges from indigenous internal struggle more likely to enjoy widespread support than one that results from outside intervention?

“Free men set themselves free,” said James Oppenheim. Can a people truly feel emancipated when they owe their freedom—and later, inexorably, their oil and gas—to a foreign superpower?

4. Why are we OK with some dictators, but not others?

Since the Middle East began blowing up we’ve heard a lot of talk about Obama’s dilemma: How do we reconcile American values with American strategic interests? In a good country—at least a non-hypocritical one—they are the same.

Obama is employing circular logic. “Why strike only Libya, when other regimes murder their citizens too?” asks Chris Good in The Atlantic Monthly. “Obama’s answer seems to be: because the UN Security Council turned its attention toward Libya, and not other places.” But the UN reacted in response to the U.S.

In other words: We’re agreeing to a request that we made ourselves.

Ideology and policy must be consistent to be credible. If we have a policy to depose dictators, then all dictators must be targeted. We can’t just take out those in countries with lots of oil. We ought to start with tyrants for which we bear responsibility: our allies and puppets. At this writing the U.S. supports or props up unpopular authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

5. Is Libya our geostrategic business?

The United States has no substantial historical ties with, innate cultural understanding of, or geographic proximity to, Libya. Even under the imperialist doctrine of “spheres of influence” that governed international relations during the Cold War, Libya falls under the purview of other would-be interventionists. Italy, and to a lesser extent Britain and France, are former colonial masters. The Arab League and African Union have interests there. Even if you buy the sentimental argument—”Are we going to stand by and watch Qadafi slaughter his own people?”—why us? Why not the Africans or Europeans?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL