Archive for May 2007

Guantanamo, Indonesia, Atlanta, and DC

May 31, 2007

There were four separate news reports today on four different subjects.  Let me describe them and then I will connect them to the 2008 Presidential Election and the process to select the standard bearers.

1. A Guantanamo prisoner was found dead in his cell yesterday.  The reports do not identify him nor do they tell why he was there.  All we can be sure is that he was denied his right to counsel, he was denied habeas Corpus, and he was denied due process.  We know that because everyone in Guantanamo is denied these rights we take for granted.  We do not know if he was a real bad person or was someone who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We do not know him and probably never would. 

What we do know is that Guantanamo will be seen again around the world as an American gulag.  We do know that the already tarnished national image got a healthy dose of new tarnish.  We can be fairly certain that the Bush Administration will scarcely notice this event and we can be almost certain that this man was not a threat to our security or anybody else’s. 

2. On different subject in a much different land, the Indonesian high court ruled 2/1 against a woman seeking to officially leave her Islamic religion and join the Catholic church.  The court’s ruling left standing the Islamic Sharia rule that says no one can leave the Islam religion with the Sharia court’s permission.  This strikes me as repressive and discriminatory but in a religion where caning and stoning are accepted methods of punishment, this decision should not surprise.  The important point is that American tradition would see someone who is a member of Islam (or any religion), that the rules of the religion should be the rules that person must live by unless they ceased to be a member.    And further, Islam (or any religion) should refrain from imposing their rules on those who do not wish to belong.

3. A Georgia resident who had contracted a rare form of TB was told by US health officials not to travel by air.  Shortly there after, this person traveled to Europe, to several countries in Europe, and return to Canada, and then drove to the US without anyone stopping or questioning him.  He is now in quarentine and about to receive the health care he needs.

The real story here is that we have home land security and “no fly lists”.  How did this person fly without being stopped?  The bureaucratic scare and fear tactics of this Administration’s approach to home land security is very apparent.  Airport lines, pat downs, hand baggage searches in no way translate to security and never have.  They were intended to impress the passengers that their government was doing something.  A secondary benefit was to drive fear into the voters that there must be a terrorist someplace on every plane.  What we see from this is the TSA has no idea who is actually flying. 

4. Lastly, the Supreme Court ruled 5/4 against a women seeking compensation due to discriminatory pay policies.  The Supreme Court reversed a favorable ruling by a lower court on the basis that the woman’s suit was not timely.  The decision shows little regard to the issues surrounding sex discrimination since they did not rule on the facts of the case and only on a technicality.  You are left with the impression that the Court favored business by using the Ostrich approach.

These four reports all underscore the need for careful consideration of the potential 2008 Presidential candidates.  Which candidates will continue Guantanamo and continue to drive down America’s image across the globe? (As our image sinks, so does our influence and our ability to negotiate!) Which candidates will embrace due process, habeas corpus, and the right to counsel?  Which candidates on the other hand will claim the ends justify the means?

Which candidates will tolerate the interferrence in the political process of any religious group?  Which candidates will stand up and say it is wrong when a church official to tell his followers how to vote, especially when it is directed against one or more candidates?  Which candidates will say I do not want the voters support if it is because a church has spoken against his opponent?

Which candidates will consider substance over sizzle when filling Administration positions?  Which candidates will choose to promote fear and silently leave the nation’s ports of entry unguarded?  Which candidates will hold their Administration accountable and take responsibility (with real corrective action) if things should go wrong?

Which candidates will choose  choose new Supreme Court members from the well qualified center?  Which candidates will likely work with the opposite party so that consideration of Supreme Court nominees can be fair.

These four reports underscore how many more issues there are to be considered rather than just how good the candidate looks or how much money they have raised. 

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Afganistan Another Iraq?

May 30, 2007

The US involvement in Afghanistan is a fully legitimate response to 9/11 and the attempted suppression of al Qaeda.  The US entered Afghanistan with the full backing of both the US voters and the international community through the the authority of the UN.  Regime change was accomplished quickly and the Taliban were driven into the hills.  A provisional government was establish and soon there were national elections and a permanent government was put in place.  It is now 5+ years and there is no end in sight.

The Afghan permanent government is just in name only.  It controls primarily the Kabul area and tries to influence the outlaying areas where local tribal leaders and their militias call the shots in the end.  Poppy cultivation and the ultimate exportation of opium presents a big problem.  It is worth a lot of money to local farmers although only a small fraction of the estimated $ 30 Billion worldwide revenue, and if it is stopped, the local farmers will become quickly disenchanted with the Afghan government.  Yet it must be stopped or at least sharply curtailed.

Afghanistan’s boarders are porous and with Iran to the west and Pakistan to the east (where the al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are said to be hiding), there is potentially big problems ahead that could destabilize the Karzai government.  And what is even more frightening is that the same crowd that has masterminded the quagmire in Iraq is also in charge of our US strategies in Afghanistan.  Can you describe what the US plan is for Afghanistan and how long we intend to be there?

If your answer is “we have no plan” and “we expect to be there a long time”, you are probably close to the correct, but unfortunately wrong headed answer.  Here is more what it should be:

1. Stop the poppy cultivation and rent the land from the farmers instead.  Have them grow something and use that to defray the “rent”.  Hire the local tribal leaders to supervise this process with suitable bounties for any poppy fields they find still planted.  Poppies represent a source of income and it will need to be replaced, both to the farmers and to the political figures that protect them.  This will be expensive ( maybe $ 3 Billion a year) but this money will tie in with other measures.

2. The world (US, EU, Russia, Japan, and China) need to assume a large economic development program where money (maybe $ 10 Billion a year) is poured into Afghanistan for infrastructure projects and light industry.  The money needs to flow through the central government and to the local tribal heads for actual supervision of projects.  The intent is to use excessive funding to keep the peace and rebuild the country.  There will clearly be corruption and some money will never reach the projects but it is far better than just shooting people.

3. Convene a conference of Afghanistan and its neighbors for the purpose of discussing regional issues and finding solutions.  The underlying message is that a stable Afghanistan is better for everyone since it would promote security for all.

4. The US should convene the world bank of countries (US, EU, Russia, China, Japan, and India, and possibly Saudi Arabia) and agree upon the desired future state for Afghanistan.  My assumption is that there would be consensus that Afghanistan should not return to be a breeding ground for radicals and extremists.  Since this is ultimately a war between the “haves” and “have nots”, it is only appropriate that the richest countries use money and not bullets to create a secure future state in Afghanistan.

5. This should be 5 year, renewable commitment.  If there is no progress, back out in 5 years.  During the 5 years, the US and other UN forces need to remain in Afghanistan and keep the peace against outside agents.  The money that leaks from the infrastructure projects should provide incentive to the tribal leaders to support the UN and reject the al Qaeda and Taliban groups.

Whendo you think Condi or George will bring something like this up in the light of public discussion?  Do you think Dick would allow it?  And for that matter do you think William Kristol and Frederick Kagan would contribute?    

The “Have a Beer” Test

May 29, 2007

It is still very early in the various campaigns to find the 2008 Democratic and Republican Presidential nominees but there are some important characterizations emerging.  While the winning candidate will likely not be the best in all characteristics, it will be critical to avoid being noticeable in one that really turns voters off.  Here is some observations:

1. Rudy Giuliniani has taken the lead in VFW and mobile home (read retirees) segments.  Rudy much like a broken record is all about terrorism and how good he will be.  He is so good that there is no one else in either party that could come close to him.  He laughs, he smiles, he is animated.  He is probably someone with whom you would like to have a beer, but be very careful about being President.

2. Mitt Romney is doing well with Americas narcissists.  Mitt looks as presidential as anyone (much better than Rudy) and gives the impression of being a very competitent executive.  His new found (and unfavorable) positions on important centrist issues (gay rights, women’s right to choose), and his support of the President’s Iraq policy spell real trouble for people who look beyond good looks.  I doubt Mitt would drink a beer but in any case I would not want to have one with him even if he did drink beer.

3.  John McCain’s candidacy is dying and he seems not to recognize it.  His largest anchor remains the Iraq War (and the surge) but he has kissed away a lot of voters with his NRA support and his abandonment of women rights.  John has kissed so many fundamentalist’s back sides that his clean, brave, and patriotic character of the 2000 election is simply not there.  Once John’s Presidential aspirations have ended, and only then, would I like to have a beer with him.

4. Hillary Clinton has settled down after what appeared to be panic driven reaction to Barrack’s fund raising successes.  She has acted consistently on the Iraq issues, has begun to address a key US need (a coherent health care policy), and clearly looks presidential.  Unfortunately it is looking more and more that you might want to have wine and cheese with Hillary but most likely not a beer.  This is a warning sign.

5. Barrack Obama does look good.  He puts you at ease with his poise and splendid rhetoric.  His voice masks what he is saying and the listener does not notice that Barrack is still learning the issues and the game.  He is certainly a pick to have a beer with, but do not expect to learn much about the big complicated issues.  Of all the candidates I would trust Barrack not to follow in George Bush’s steps and commit troops without imminent danger and broad world approval.

6. John Edwards is a troubling candidacy.  He looks good and talks very convincingly.  He seems to have done a lot of homework and speaks with reasonable clarity.  He has sought out the Union vote (potentially too much special interest future pull) and is championing the issue of our poor segment.  He is consistently against the war and yet there is an under tone of whether we can believe him.  I do not think I would seek John out for a beer.

7. Bill Richardson is hanging in there at number four position.  He is sort of folksy and looks you in the eye when he talks.  He lacks the money and broad based support to probably get the nomination but if he did, I think he would be someone I would think would make a fine President and who I would like to have a beer with.

The “Beer Test” is a troubling predictor of someone’s Presidential prospect.  In the past the test signified “down to earth” personality, trustability, and human appeal.  The candidate that had the most of this quality seemed to get their message across better and their weaknesses did not seems so bad as they might otherwise.  We all got that wrong with George Bush and how he got to run against two different people so few people wanted to have a beer with, I do not know.

We need, more than ever, our next President to have a broad agenda of truly strategic thoughts.  Our next President needs to unite and lessen the partisanship that has marked our Government for the last 12 years.  Our next President needs to see the connection betweeon clean air, global warming, global cooperation, healthcare with dignity, stimulation of math and science education, and an open and fact based decision making process to policy creation and execution. 

It is too soon to be certain that any candidate will paint a vision of the future that emcompasses these preferences.  It is apparent to me that Giuliani/Romney/McCain, despite their executive abilities, lack the real breadth of vision to be the next President.  We must await future decisions by Fred Thompson, Robert Gates, and Michael Bloomberg to know whether the Republican Party cares to nominate a more centrist candidate.

The Democratic Candidates all speak in a way that suggests they would be a uniter (and not a divider).  They all need to expand and refine their future visions and there is time for that.    While on a practical basis each candidate will stress one, two, or three key themes, how they handle the dicussions on other themes will give us a clue whether they will be broad based, or will more likely serve the interests of certain special interest groups. 

The Band That Plays One Tune

May 28, 2007

William Kristol and Frederick Kagan write this week in the Weekly Standard that finally the fighting in Washington (over the emergency war appropriation) is over, the fighting of the real war can begin.  After four years and over 3400 US and 10’s of thousands of Iraqi citizens deaths due to the needless US invasion of Iraq, Kristol and Kagan continue to beat the same drum as if it is a new idea. 

It makes you wonder what they are really thinking.  With 160,000 troops in Iraq, there is no way to seal the boarders and probably no way to police all the back alleys and side streets in the cities.  It seems clear that by September there will be nothing new other than a lot more dead US soldiers and Iraqi citizens.  Kristol and Kagan add their rejection of the White House approach by intimating that opening discussions with Iran and Syria is a waste of time and talks by Robert Gates within the Defense Department about possible withdrawal strategies are misplaced.

The neoconservatives (and Dick Cheney) to whom Kristol and Kagan write are painting the background for when the troops do come home.  These two chicken hawks will ignore what has actually taken place in Iraq and instead, sing about how democracy should rule the Middle East.  They will ignore the shameful behavior of the Israelis as well as the absence of any US leadership in the Middle East.  They will only spout war-like messages (tough guy talk) that despite what they claim, can not be implemented successfully.  In 2008 the US will elect someone who will follow a different course than Bush/Cheney regardless of what Kristol and Kagan write today.  But unfortunately history has a way of repeating itself, so as long as what Kristol and Kagan write is not challenged, there will be those who think it possible.

Iraq like Vietnam 40 years ago is a situation where the US applied a military solution when what was needed was a political one.  The administration went in both cases to war in a region of the world where theyknew very little about the geography, culture, or history.  Just as in Vietnam there is nothing to gain by “winning the war”.  When we leave Iraq, the citizens will align around this sheik or that one and eventually there will be relative calm.  All the dooms day warnings like Iran will invade Saudi Arabia after first occupying Iraq can be combated strategically without risking soldiers on the ground.  But we will need to

1. Adopt a diplomatic stance that sees each country in the region as a sovereign country deserving respect (including Syria and Iran).

2. Quietly tell the Middle East Arab countries that it is now or never with respect to the Palestinian situation.  The US will commit to use it good offices with Israel if the Arab States do the same with the anti-Israel forces.

3. The displaced Palestinians (from the formation of Israel) should be integrated into where they now live or transported to new homes in each of the Middle East countries including Israel.  The costs for either option should be born by all the Middle East countries, the US, and the EU.

4. The US should pledge that in the future it will limit its role in the Middle East to that of a cultural and trading partner.

It is possible that my proposal is not the best one.  But for sure simply saying “bring the troops home” is not sufficient either.  Without a vision of a future relationship with the Middle East, and that relationship is simply part of the greater picture of how the US sees itself versus the rest of the world, the likes of Kristol and Kagan will have wide range to write these “chicken hawk” commentaries and sooner or later there will be another Dick Cheney and a mindless George Bush.

Family Values vs Human Values

May 27, 2007

In the last two elections there was alignment of conservative Catholics along with a broad grouping of evangelical and fundamentalist protestant sects.  This aledged alignment centered on their belief that Bush/Cheney represented good old American family values and above all “anti-Roe v Wade” and “anti-gay and lesbian”.  Strangely this religious constallation overlooked the basic rights of people to live in peace without the threat of war.  Instead the Administration (they supported) had invade another and had opened an internal conflict where 100’s of thousands of Iraqi citizens have been killed.  These holier than thou religious people seemed to possess a view of human life and dignity that discriminated for some and against others.

Excuses have been offered that 9/11 and the fear of a new attack had caused many Americans to see Iraq as necessary, just as Presidents Bush and Cheney had aleged.  Certainly by now two things should be clear.

1. The Iraq War was not necessary and worse was most likely the result of purposely misleading justifications presented by the Administration.  There was no imminent threat and absolutely no connection with al Qaeda or 9/11.  Lying is not a tenant of most religions.

2. Pre-war intelligence predicted mass chaos with both sectarian and religious factions fighting following a regime change.  The Bush/Cheney cabal ignored that warning and later when it became true, had no plan and simply watched the killings take place.  While incompetence is human, the willful ignoring of these warnings and the willingness to allow the killing to continue amounts to a crime against humanity (just like driving your car to fast for the road conditions and losing control as it crashes into a crowd of people… you may never have intended to hurt anyone but your irresponsible behavior never-the-less enable the accident to happen… you are guilty).

Over the next few months, these religious fellow citizens will have an opportunity to look at Rudy, John, Mitt, and maybe Fred and measure where these candidates fall on the scale of family values.  Will Terry Shaivo antics ring the bell this time or will it be gay marriage bashing that appeals to them?  These candidates are already pro-war so it could be a repeat of 2004.  On the other side, Hillary, Barrack, John and Bill will need to reassure these pillars of Christian values that their support of Roe v Wade is not inconsistant with homeland security.  At this point that looks much easier than to defend a war and bash gays.

But what if the RNC decides there will not be enough votes with the formula of 2004.  Will we see a resurgence of the Log Cabin coalition?  Will Rudy, John, and Mitt champion gay marriage?  Will the Republican candidates agree with White House assessments that the Iraq war has been won and it is now time to bring the troops home? 

I can not see that happening with the current crop of candidates.  Undeclared candidate Fred Thompson and real long shot Robert Gates could run on a far more moderate platform.  Lest we not forget, Michael Bloomberg former Democrat and now Republican mayor of New York City could mount a very strong centrist campaign where common sense and human dignity would be the rule of the day.  

Surge-On.Com

May 26, 2007

George the Bush has his money and the “surge-on.com” is full speed ahead.  But the war is over and George knows it.  George and the real President Dick Cheney are scrambling to stretch the occupation out as long as possible with hopes to still find an end position where our troops (and US influence) will remain.  They are trying to fight a “cold war” (one good guy, one bad guy) in a region where alliances shift like the sand.

It is understandable that George is mystified since he has no clue to the right path forward.  Cheney on the other hand is truly stuck in the cold war thinking and since George can do nothing without Dick’s ok, George will be stuck there too.  There are other advisors that George listens too, the loudest is the political input coming from people like Karl Rove.  The political message is changing and that has really spooked George.

On his own, or when Karl was telling him the war was good for the elections, George found it relatively easy to look the other way and not see the 3400 plus deaths of American servicemen/women and the 100’s of thousands of Iraqi killed collaterally or as a result of sectarian violence.  So when he has the audacity to look America in the eye and say his job is to protect Americans, he is simply delusional if he is implying that invading Iraq was on the path to protect Americans.  And he is guilty of crimes against humanity for opening the insurgency (which he was warned would likely take place) by (1) invading Iraq, and (2) having no plan to secure the country once the initial fighting was over.

George and Dick along with Rumsfeld, Pearl, Wolfowitz, and Feith are chicken hawks of the first degree.  They spin the story and commit other people’s sons and daughters to fight an unnecessary war.  They have compounded their likely crimes against humanity by refusing to face up to the Iraqi civil war.  You can not win a civil war without picking a side and using unmatchable military force.  For George and Dick, standing in the middle was good enough since they concluded the American public would not “pay to play” and could be induced to sleep through 2008 with frequent al Qaeda reminders.

The forces of moderation are present too (admittedly a weak presence).  The Baker-Hamilton report and the appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense are welcomed examples.  I suggest you watch over the next three months how George’s handlers begin to spin the moderates’ positions in order to extracate themselves from the surge.  Discredited will be the Iraqi government (the same one Bush/Cheney installed) and possibly General Prataus (the man George said deserved a chance). 

For the country’s good, once the moderation begins (likely with announcements of large troop reductions and a claim that al Qaeda has been neutralized), it is time to turn up the heat on how the war actually began and what were the real reasons the George/Dick invaded Iraq (read money).   

2008 Presidential Outlook

May 25, 2007

There is a lot of talk about Al Gore entering the Democratic race for the nomination.  He of course denies it and then schedules another public appearance.  What is the case for Al?

1. Flash back to 2000 and his majority win but electorial college loss.  Al lost the election largely because (1) he was not the person you would go have a beer with and (2) he turned his back on Bill Clinton and would not accept his help.  When you compare Bill Clinton’s transgression with that of George Bush and his band of merry men and women, Bill once again looks like Sir Lancelot. 

2. Al has been emphasizing science and fact based decisions as we approach some huge problems facing the US and the world.  In contrast to George the creationist, this is a refreshing change.  Science usually makes Americans squirmish and confirms that they would not want to have a beer with Al.  Yet, we have seen where the “higher authority” has lead little George.

3. Al seems to be free of any fueds with other Democratic candidates and as a result looks like a statesman.  It will be a test when and if he announces his candidacy how he will handle the inevitable criticism that his Democratic competitors will throw his way.

4. Hillary and Barrack would today be the likely President/Vice President given age, experience, money, and backing.  But Hillary and Barrack will both be firsts if they run and firsts if they are elected.  On the other hand, Al and Barrack would be a tempered version and with Al’s experience and the charisma of Barrack, it would be a very attractive combination.

5. As with all other candidates, Al stands heads and shoulders above George Bush.  So much so it is a misleading comparison.  But looking at Rudy, John, and Mitt, Al would be in my opinion a much safer risk.  Whether Al would make a better President than Hillary, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, or Chris Dodd is hard to say and probably not important, Al would be competitive.

Al Gore might have much more difficulty running against Robert Gates, Fred Thompson, or Mike Bloomberg but these individuals are currently not declared candidates. 

It is not important at this time to worry whether Al will run or not.  It is refreshing, almost like baseball to know you have a relief pitcher like Al Gore waiting to enter the game if needed.  With George Bush self destructing each day, it is hard to see a way that the Democrats do not win in 2008 (but they have grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory before).