The special “super committee” tackling U.S. deficit reduction was meant to operate independently and free from outside influence — but Washington’s corps of high-paid lobbyists has found a way in.
They have descended on the Congress in recent days to persuade rank-and-file lawmakers to act as de facto lobbyists themselves, penetrating the committee and convincing their colleagues to protect the interests of special groups.
“It’s a strategy of turning members (of Congress) into lobbyists,” said Rich Gold, a partner at the Washington firm Holland & Knight.
As he spoke to Reuters, Gold was on his way to the Senate to meet with lawmakers and their staff on behalf of a client to discuss corporate tax reform, which will likely be part of the committee’s deliberations.
“Having a lot of support from the rank and file members in Congress and having them talk to the super committee members is going to be critical,” Gold said. “You are going to have to motivate groups of members to talk to the super committee members to get something in, to keep something out, or to prevent something from being cut.”
The special bipartisan committee, made up of six Republican and six Democratic lawmakers, was formed as part of the deal to raise the U.S. debt limit and is meant to operate free from pressure from Congress and outsiders.
It began meeting formally last week, will set its own rules and must come up with at least $1.2 trillion in savings for the next decade. It must report by November 23 but if it fails to reach a deal, or if Congress fails to endorse its plan, $1.2 trillion in mandatory cuts will be triggered in 2013.
With such massive potential cuts to the U.S. federal budget being decided by just a handful of lawmakers in such a short time, lobbyists say the situation is unprecedented.
So, scrambling to protect clients from budget cuts, lobbyists have swarmed to Capitol Hill to enlist help and gather what intelligence they can about what is happening inside the committee.
Jack Howard, a veteran lobbyist at Wexler & Walker with close ties to four of the committee’s Republican members, said he had already spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill, and elsewhere in Washington, talking to lawmakers and their staff about the panel.
“I see them in the hallways as they pass to go and vote, I see them at breakfasts, lunches, dinners, receptions,” Howard said.
At present, Howard added, he is conducting “a lot of intelligence gathering from lawmakers, their staff and the party leadership staff on Capitol Hill — pretty much anybody I can find. Based on that intelligence, down the road we will assess how best to influence the committee.”
Howard described the lobbying strategy for the committee as a “three dimensional game of chess” — talk to the party leadership on Capitol Hill and their staff; the super committee members and their staff; and rank and file lawmakers and other committee chairmen on Capitol Hill because if a deal emerges, it must pass both the House and Senate.
“The super committee members have to be responsive to the rank and file member because ultimately they have to pass something. The super committee cannot operate in a vacuum. The super committee members are accountable up to the party leadership and accountable down to the rank and file.”
MOST INFLUENCE So early in the process it is unclear which members of Congress will have the best chance of influencing committee members. But Howard said on the Republican side, John Boehner, the House Speaker, and Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, were keeping heavily involved in the super committee’s work. Both men handpicked the Republicans who sit on the committee.
“They will keep a tight rein on the process,” Howard said, making it important for him to keep in close contact with the Republican party leadership on Capitol Hill.
The effort to influence what gets cut and what get saved inside the committee will be unprecedented, and intense. According to a study released this week by LegiStorm, a watchdog group, there are 11,700 registered lobbyists in Washington — and 14,000 people who work on Capitol Hill.
In the past 10 years, the study added, more than 5,000 former congressional staffers and nearly 400 former lawmakers became federal lobbyists.
One lobbyist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “It’s not just going to be the 12 members who decide this.
There’s a dual strategy: you talk to members of Congress to get them to talk to the super committee members; and you talk to members with an eye on the vote they will take on whether or not they pass the deal.”
By Ilyas Sharfuddin
Fourteen (14) trillion dollars, i.e. Rs. 658 trillion approximately is the amount America owes to the nations of the world like China, Saudi Arabia, and India etc. This situation has forced Standard & Poor to downgrade America’s rating from AAA to AA+.
The situation has become so serious that Russian Prime Pinister Vladimir Putin in a recent interview called America a global economic parasite and recently Vice President Joe Biden had to visit China to assure them that their investments in American Bonds are safe and secure. The result of this crisis is that America could not generate a single job in August 2011, and the future of job market is looking bleak.
What makes a global super power with a budget surplus at the time of President Bill Clinton just a decade ago had to come to its knees before the entire world?
Let us examine its reasons and what lessons we can take from it.
There are not one, but many reasons. And, all are ironically more or less related to the same model of liberal economy which makes America a global super power in first place. Yes, I am talking about liberal economy, free market, capitalism or whatever name you give it.
Liberal economic policies in its initial days have given America an edge on the rest of the world. Soon after the First and Second World War, this resulted in an industrial revolution and economic boom.
Right from latest technological gadgets like TVs, tape recorders, transistors, computers, laptops, iPods and mobile phones – America produces everything and sells it to the world and earn billions and trillions, thanks to the liberal model of economy.
Along with this America’s economy policy also forced it to legalize alcohol, gambling, prostitution, strip tease clubs and all that which can make money, keeping very few options unavailable. This no doubt resulted in increase of revenues to the government and makes it richer.
Day by day the life of conman man in America started changing like anything, and the proof is an average American’s consumption of food is 8 times higher than an Indian. And, consumption of electricity is 38 times more than his counterpart in India.
Houses, cars, air conditioners, refrigerators and other electronic and electrical appliances along with air travel and other luxuries have become just another thing for an average person. American industrial houses and business community through its lobbying through hard cash and other benefits force American political parties to design and implement economic policies which could multiply their revenues irrespective of its effect on overall economic system of the country. Even today when American government is facing tough times in generating revenues, top notch American alcohol, tobacco, gambling and oil companies are earning billions.
What went wrong suddenly which brought America to this position? The answer is:
Too much of everything is bad.
When liberal economy becomes blind, when American corporate houses start dictating internal and foreign policies of America, things start going out of hand. First banking sector started behaving like a greedy farmer who wants to take all the golden eggs in one day. They started giving loans to every Tom, Dick and Harry for more commissions and more interest based revenues and started mortgaging the loans again to some third party and so on, resulting in surge in housing prices which resulted in the housing bubble which later on burst and gave the world its worst recession till date.
This housing bubble alone gave the loss of three times of the world economy estimating at US$60 trillion. According to world class economist and Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Chairman Umar Chapra, the second disastrous policy of American government is waging useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which forces the American government to spend more than US$3 trillion As per the War Committee Of American Congress, these wars not only never served the actual purpose of tackling global terrorism, but rather they tarnished the image of America which it has acquired through lot of sacrifices and good effort during the Second World War.
Then come the budgetary allocations of American government for various schemes which results in putting lot of pressure on the government with fewer revenues and much more expenditures.
And, last but not the least, American youth which once pioneered in scientific inventions is losing all creative skills in booze, sex and crime, forcing President Barack Obama to keep on warning them to study seriously in schools and colleges or else the jobs will move from Buffalo Cty to Beijing or Bangalore.
More or less these are the same reasons for the collapse or soon-to-be collapsing Europeon nations like Iceland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland etc.
Lessons to be Learned
Never ever be Greedy. Never base your economy on interest based formula. Never be Spendthrift. Never allow things in our society which are dangerous for youth and kill their creativity and destroy their lifestyle. And, never wage wars in a cowboy fashion just for idiotic adventurism because if you do so, then not only you take your nation or continent towards disaster but pin along the whole world with it sometimes. These lessons one can easily find in the final command of only god almighty Allah (swt), the glorious Quran and Sayings of the final Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Al Quran says in Surah Baqrah Ch 2 V 275-276
“Those Who Eat Riba (Usury) Will Not Stand (On The Day Of Resurrection) Except Like The Standing Of A Person Beaten By Shaitan (Satan) Leading Him To Insanity. That Is Because They Say: “Trading Is Only Like Riba (Usury),” Whereas Allah Has Permitted Trading And Forbidden Riba (Usury). So Whosoever Receives An Admonition From His Lord And Stops Eating Riba (Usury) Shall Not Be Punished For The Past; His Case Is For Allah (To Judge); But Whoever Returns [To Riba (Usury)], Such Are The Dwellers Of The Fire – They Will Abide Therein.”
276. Allah Will Destroy Riba (Usury) And Will Give Increase For Sadaqat (Deeds Of Charity, Alms, Etc.) And Allah Likes Not The Disbelievers, Sinners.
Surah Bani Isra Ch 17 V 26- 27
26. And Give To The Kindred His Due And To The Miskin (Poor) And To The Wayfarer. But Spend Not Wastefully (Your Wealth) In The Manner Of A Spendthrift. [Tafsir. At-Tabari, Vol. 10, Page 158 (Verse 9: 60)].
27. Verily, Spendthrifts Are Brothers Of The Shayatin (Devils), And The Shaitan (Devil – Satan) Is Ever Ungrateful To His Lord.
And the practical example of the above teachings to an extend we find in Islamic Saudi Arabia who in these tough of recession is at spending spree, higher in hundreds of thousands local and foreign work force, spending billions on infrastructure and giving billions in the form of humanitarian aid to poor and deserving people of the world.
so its is proven that old is gold, Islamic rules from quran and authentic ahadeeth , called medieval by the west, is proving to be the source of security and success , peace and prosperity.
China is shifting some of its massive foreign holdings into gold and away from the US dollar, undermining the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency, accoding to a recently released WikiLeaks cable.
“They [the US and Europe] intend to weaken gold’s function as an international reserve currency. They don’t want to see other countries turning to gold reserves instead of the US dollar or Euro,” stated the 2009 cable, quoting Chinese Radio International. “China’s increased gold reserves will thus act as a model and lead other countries towards reserving more gold.”
The cable is titled “China increases its gold reserves in order to kill two birds with one stone”. Taken together with recent policy announcements from Chinese banking officials, it may signal moves by China to eventually replace the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
Last week, European business officials announced that China plans to make its currency, the yuan, fully convertible for trading on international markets by 2015. Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of China’s central bank, said the offshore market for the yuan is “developing faster than we had imagined” but there is no definitive timetable for making the currency fully convertible. Presently, the yuan cannot be easily converted into other currencies, because of government restrictions.
China’s gold holdings are small compared to other major economies. It has 1,054 tonnes, the sixth-largest reserves in the world, according to data from the World Gold Council.
Buying gold and allowing the yuan to be traded freely would weaken the US dollar’s dominance as the international reserve currency. The move would have major implications, making it more expensive for the US government to borrow money and to run perpetual trade and budget deficits.
“The US is used to having the position of having the key reserve currency, but others are eager to replace it,” said Josh Aizenman, a professor of economics at the University of California and president of the International Economics and Finance Society.
As a reserve currency, the US dollar is the default for international transactions. If, for example, a South Korean company wants to buy wine from Chile, chances are they will carry out the transaction in dollars. Both companies must then purchase dollars to conduct their business, leading to greater demand. The value of global commodities, such as oil, is also generally demarcated in US dollars.
Being a reserve currency allows the US to borrow at low interest rates, as central banks around the world are eager to buy US government debt. “Any country that can finance its expenditures by printing money or selling bonds is essentially getting a free lunch,” Aizenman told Al Jazeera.
With China’s apparent change of heart, that “free lunch” now might come with a hefty tab. Given the massive US trade deficit, average Americans might be sent to the restaurant’s kitchen to wash dishes if the dollar loses its status as the world’s reserve currency.
“China, until recently, was focusing on buying the US dollar through bonds,” Aizeman said. Since the economic crisis, the US dollar has dropped compared to other major currencies, particularly the Swiss franc, Canadian dollar and Brazilian real. This leaves China in a bind, analysts said.
In March 2011, China held $3.04tn US dollars in reserves, Xinhua news agenecy reported. It is the largest holder of US treasuries, or government debt, with $1.166tn as of June 30, 2011, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Thus, major devaluation of the dollar would hurt China, as it would be left holding wads of worthless paper.
“If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100m, that’s the bank’s problem,” American industrialist Jean Paul Getty once remarked, in a parable that sums up China’s predicament.
“China is locked into a position where they cannot sell a big portion of their dollar reserves overnight without hurting themselves,” Aizenman said. “It is too late for now to diversify rapidly the stock they have already accumulated.”
The answer: Buy gold. Everyone seems to be doing it. The value of the glistening commodity, useless for most practical purposes, increased almost 400 per cent, from less than $500 an ounce in 2005 to about $1,900 in September.
“Gold has risen in value because of uncertainty in the world economy,” said Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, a think-tank in Washington. “Normally, gold would rise due to high inflation. It is a store of value that increases if there is inflation. But in this case it is going up because nobody knows where else to put their money.”
In the WikiLeaks cable, China alleged that “the US and Europe have always suppressed the rising price of gold”, but neither Weisbrot or Aizenman think such a policy is taking place or even possible.
Presently, China places strict controls on its currency, limiting foreigners from doing business in the yuan or trading it on foreign exchange markets. That could change in the next five years, according to governor Xiaochuan’s recent announcement.
By owning such large reserves of US currency, and through controlling the yuan, China can keep its currency lower than it would be if it floated freely. This makes Chinese exports cheaper.
The relationship, in which Chinese investment in US government bonds allows low interest rates for Americans to buy Chinese products, has worked well for the last 15 years. In 2010, the US ran a $273.1bn trade deficit with China.
“We pay our debts in dollars so we can print money to pay our international debts,” Weisbrot told Al Jazeera. Because of the dollar’s status as a reserve currency, the US ”can run trade deficits indefinitely” while borrowing internationally without serious repercussions, giving the world’s largest economy a “big advantage”, he said.
If gold, the yuan, or a combination of other currencies replaced the dollar, the US would lose that advantage.
Without a replacement in the near term, nothing will replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency in the next five years at least. But nothing lasts forever. “When they [China] want the dollar to fall, they will let it,” Weisbrot said. “The dollar will fall eventually but that could be a long time away.”
The fate of the dollar notwithstanding, a separate WikiLeaks cable outlines some of the broader ambiguities of the world’s most important economic relationship, or “ChinAmerica”, as it has been dubbed by historian Niall Ferguson.
“No one in 1979 would have predicted that China would become the United States’ most important relationship in thirty years,” the cable stated. “No one today can predict with certainty where our relations with Beijing will be thirty years hence.”
“The west was also heavily influenced by the Islamic preservation of Greek classics which became available after the fall of Constantinople,” Taliaferro, a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College said.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: What is the status of religion in our times?
A: Religion has proved much more resilient than many sociologists predicted. In the 1950s and early 1960s, it was widely predicted that religion would become less relevant in terms of belief and practice with the growth of modern education and science. While there has been a substantial drawing down of church attendance (at least of state sponsored churches) in western Europe, there has been a global growth of religions, especially Islam. While world-wide growth is occurring world wide for Islam, Christianity (the next religion in terms of growth) is expanding mostly in Asia and Africa. And much of the west is having to adjust to religious pluralism and tolerance. Philosophically, religious belief and practice was under heavy attack in various western academies immediately after the Second World War in the name of a scientifically oriented philosophy known as positivism. Positivism collapsed by the mid-1970s, however, when many philosophers concluded that the deep questions about value, purpose and meaning required more than science. We also need a philosophy of science, a philosophy of values, philosophy of religion and the like. Today in the English-speaking world, philosophy of religion is a growing area of focused work, with more journals, conferences, and the like than ever before.
Q: Do you think that we are entering a world without religious values? If so why?
A: I think that there is a perceived need today in the west to not impose one set of religious values over others or over secular values. This is because we are increasingly a diverse, pluralistic society. My neighbors in the city where I live in the northern part of the mid-west in the United States are Muslims. Across the hall is a Jew, and there is a Hindu upstairs, four Christians, and one atheist. In the classes I teach I also have Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and so on. And we all need to get along. That means that when making decisions in my neighborhood or classroom, we have to not impose our specific religious values on others. But it can also be said that many of the great world religions do share a common core of values, and so there are ways in which different religious citizens can come together. All the world religions condemn greed and promote the Golden Rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’; all of them promote care for the vulnerable. These are values that secular citizens can and do appreciate as crucial to a non-dogmatic, tolerant, pluralistic society.
And we all need to get along!
Q: Are you familiar with the ideas of Iranian philosophers such as Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Farabi?
I just finished teaching an advanced course on Middle Eastern philosophy at the special request of my students, and we studied many Iranian philosophers, including Ibn Sina and Al Farabi! Ibn Sina is probably the most important Iranian philosophers for the west historically. He was studied deeply in the west and some of the giants of medieval philosophy like Thomas Aquinas cannot be fully understood without knowing the work of Ibn Sina. I believe that his metaphysics is of enduring importance today. A very popular Persian thinker with my students is As-Suhrawardi, who was (as he is often known as) the eminent scholar of illumination. I am currently writing a paper defending his illuminationist philosophy. There is a wonderful online site for Islamic philosophy in English: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/
. In terms of philosophy today, probably my closest contact is Yasser Pouresmail, Department of Philosophy at the Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy in Quom. He directed a conference this spring that brought together many Muslim philosophers as well as some highly prominent Christian philosophers from the west (Lynne Baker and Edward Wierenga). I was to be part of the conference but a serious illness in my family prevented my attending. Some of my Iranian philosopher friends are particularly interested in the work of Mulla Sadra, probably one of the most influential Muslim philosophers since the 17th century. In a way, he developed a form of existentialism that pre-dated the existentialism that only developed in Europe after the Second World War.
Q: What is the status of these philosophers in the history of philosophy?
A: As I said, some of these thinkers such as Ibn Sina are monumental in importance but, sadly, many western histories of philosophy seem to underestimate his and others’ importance. That situation is changing.
I believe that the west has much to learn from “the Golden Age” of Islamic philosophy, especially in terms of Iranian philosophy then and today. We are now coming into possession of some excellent translations of Persian thought; see, for example: http://www.wordtrade.com/philosophy/asian/persian.htm
. This is allowing for a wonderful opportunity for engagement and growth of understanding between the west and Iran. I should add that Iranian philosophy has great diversity, for even when philosophers are united by their common Muslim identity, there is also a great variety of views in their philosophy of space and time, the nature and scope of knowledge, human nature, ethics, and so on. Iran has a (and rightly so) proud philosophical tradition of outstanding importance and resources.
Q: What is the main characteristic of Islamic philosophy?
A: This is a very difficult question, but if I had to come up with a single, main characteristic of Islamic philosophy it would be that there has been an on-going concern for finding what may be called the Archimedian point, a position from which one can get an objective view of the world and also take seriously our subjective experience. The idea of an Archimedian point stems from the Ancient Greek thinker Archimedes who is supposed to have said that if he found a place to stand, he could move the earth. Well, in philosophy we are often trying to find the best point of view to use in trying to think about the world and values: should we rely on reason alone? Or use reason and experience? When can we appeal to religious illumination or sacred revelation? Philosophy in the context of Islam has, I believe, approached such a set of questions with more deliberate, intelligent concentration than one finds elsewhere in the history of ideas. So, from the outset, some early Islamic philosophers thought we should rely on reason alone, others sought to combine reason, experience, religious illumination, and the like. In Islamic philosophy you can find highly sophisticated debates (for example, between Al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd) on the powers and limits of reason and the power of revelation and illumination. Much of this can be seen in terms of philosophers looking for that Archimedian point, that ideal from which to evaluate our lives and the cosmos.
Q: Is it possible to compare Islamic philosophy with western philosophy?
A: Yes. I believe this is especially useful and apparent today. In the west, there is a great debate over when to appeal to subjective, first-person experience and when to rely on an abstract scientific, third-person point of view. There are some philosophers who begin their thinking with contemporary, natural science, and then they ask the question of where can we find a place in the material world for subjectivity and experience. Others – such as myself —take as our starting point, the first-person point of view, beginning with the fact that we are experiencing, subjective, conscious subjects and only then seek to articulate our interaction with one another, the practice of science and the like. We are all, in a sense, looking for the Archimedian point of view. And those of us who are both philosophers as well as persons of religious faith (such as myself) debate the extent that faith can be taken as a basic axiom or starting point for our philosophical reflection or must we begin philosophy without religious belief and then introduce matters of faith only when the evidence calls for such an introduction. Such conversations in the west very much intersect with long standing, fruitful reflection in the world of Islamic philosophy.
Q: What are the main differences between the western and Islamic philosophies?
A: It might be worth first noting the similarities. Both Islamic and western philosophies have been very much influenced by the work of Plato and Aristotle. Both have been carried out in the context of balancing the insights of philosophy and the insights of revelation and thus both traditions have wrestled with what you might call the tension between reason and faith. Both have had strong wisdom traditions; that is, traditions of offering practical advise on how to live well and wisely. In the west, this is sometimes referred to as the sapiential (from the Latin term for wisdom: sapientia) tradition. I would say that the sapiential tradition was stronger in the Islamic world than the west; philosophy was often considered important in providing a kind of medicine or cure of the soul. Islamic philosophers seemed even more aware of the practical role that philosophy can have in the ordering of one’s desires and pursuit of fulfillment.
In terms of further differences, I suggest Islamic philosophies were earlier than their western counterparts in their rationalism, philosophy of mathematics and logic, and they have been more deeply reflective about mysticism and the process of illumination. Islamic thinkers were –ever since Al-Kindi, who is often considered the first Islamic philosophers, were more bold in their speculative reflections on the origin and nature of the world and in the philosophy of the soul. After Ibn-Rushd, there was a decline of philosophy in the Islamic world, but philosophy re-emerged in the 19th century and is going strong today!
Q: What are the impacts of Islamic philosophy on the western philosophy (if there are any)?
A: Islamic philosophy had a massive impact on medieval western philosophy, challenging (especially) the greatest western, medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas. The west was also heavily influenced by the Islamic preservation of Greek classics which became available after the fall of Constantinople. Some of the influence is hard to document, but I would be very surprised if Al-Ghazali’s work on causation in the 12 century did not influence the 18th century French philosopher Malebranche or the magnificent work of Ibn Tufayl in the 12 century did not influence Descartes in the 18th century. Ibn Tufayl actually wrote the first philosophical novel that we know about: Hayy ibn Yaqzan (“Alive Son of Awake”). This is a great story of a newborn child who finds himself on a desert island in the Indian Ocean. This is a profound philosophical story about how a human being grows intellectually over time, coming to know himself, animals, the world, and ultimately coming to seek Allah. This anticipates and may have influenced the most famous deserted island story we have in the modern west, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Ibn Tufayl also definitely anticipates and may also have influenced the French philosopher Jean Jacque Rousseau in the 18th century. I actually very much prefer Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan to Rousseau’s famous Emile.
Q: What is the role of Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi in history of philosophy?
A: He is a very important Iranian philosopher who is known as the “master of illumination.” He made contributions to the philosophy of logic, physics, metaphysics, politics, and ethics, but he is most widely known for his cultivation of a mystical philosophy of illumination whereby the soul comes to be purged of vice and, ultimately, to experience a kind of union with Allah. For someone who only lived for 37 years, he produced an awesome amount of work.
Q: Has he influenced western philosophers?
A: Surawardi’s work was not translated into Latin, and so while his work was studied in the Islamic East, it has not been until the mid to late 20th century that the west has engaged his important work. There are three new excellent translations of his work. This last spring, I worked with students through three of Surawardi’s works: the Philosophy of Illumination, The Shape of Light, and The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Surawardi. Sudents found The Shape of Light especially compelling. Surawardi’s use of combination of logic with allegory, metaphor, and poetry make him of great interest not only to the analytic philosopher, but to those philosophers who appreciate literary achievements that go beyond conceptual analysis. Here are links to some outstanding work now available in English. Their appearance promises to bring greater attention in the west to this important Iranian thinker.