Archive for September 2007

The Future?

September 30, 2007

Imagine the following headline.  President George W Bush offers to include al Qaeda representatives in his Government as a means to stop suicide bombings taking place throughout the US.  Stranger than truth?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered Taliban leader Mullar Omar a chance to meet and discuss how the Taliban could be included in the Afghan Government.  The offer followed a suicide bombing that took the lives of 30 people.  Karzai’s offer seems a bit reactionary and more than a bit naive.  The Taliban have no history of sharing power nor do they hold values in common with the modern world.  Karzai’s offer does indicate a lack of confidence that military action will succeed in containing and controlling the Taliban.

Afghanistan is another trophy on the the Bush fireplace mantle.  It lines up nicely with the plaque citing the lack of any progress with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the center piece award for pursuit of peace and democracy in Iraq.  It difficult to imagine how one administration could encounter so much bad luck… unless of course they really do not care.

Afghanistan is the one place in the world where keeping the Taliban out of power is really important and related to inhibiting worldwide terrorism.  Afghanistan should have always been the number one focus of the US Government but, alas, the Bush Chicken Hawks needed something more action filled to fulfill their wonderlust.  Now we are faced with a gradually decaying Afghan Government and an insurgency that just won’t go away. 

Columbia, the UN, and the Wall Street Journal

September 27, 2007

What do Columbia, the UN and the Wall Street Journal all have in common?  This week plainly stupid events took place and you must scratch your head wondering why?  But there is was right in front of us and all in such a short time.

1. First, Lee Bollinger disgraced two fine institutions of higher learning, Columbia where is now the President and also the University of Michigan where he was President before coming to Columbia.  One can argue whether the Iranian President Mahmoud Armadinejad should have been invited to the school but once the invitation was extended, there were few options for the University.  They could have withdrawn the invitation or they could have honored it.  But you can’t have it both ways.  Bollinger tried by introducing the Iranian head of state with cheap and insulting language.  In the end, all he accomplished was to drag down Columbia and himself.  When you play in a gutter with a skunk, you end up smelling like one.

2. If Bollinger was not enough, our top diplomatic professional, George W Bush, found it in his wisdom to condemn the Myanmar government for the descent current showing itself in demonstrations there.  If ever there was a pot calling the kettle black, it was little Georgie pointing a finger and crying “human rights violations” towards the rulers of Myanmar.  The question is not so much whether Bush’s comments were correct, but that he of “guantanamo, disregard the Geneva Conventions, NSA spying, forget habeas corpus, rendition and enhanced interrogations, and no due process for some” has no credibility to point a finger at anyone (other than Dick Cheney).

3. The trifecta comes to us compliments of the Wall Street Journal.  It seems their editorial staff must have been sleeping for the last 6 years and was not aware of the mess the Iraq has become.  In any case the WSJ thinks that Bush must do something including military force immediately with respect to the potential nuclear development threat posed by Iran.

  • Doesn’t the WSJ recognize that GWB and company are incapable of walking and chewing gum?
  • Iraq is a mess because this administration are faith based leaders and do not believe that facts or current events are relavent.
  • Our military is stretched so thin that it would be probably impossible to take on an invasion of Iran and to simply bomb it into the rock age will have repercussions that would make Iraq look like a Sunday picnic.

It is simply amazing what people will say and do when there is a perfectly normal and acceptable alternative course available.  The high and neutal ground is always better than the gutter.  And the WSJ editorial is  sickenly similar to the hype leading up to the Iraq War.  The only thing you can conclude is that wars make better copy than business and financial details.


September 24, 2007

Last week the 2008 Republican Presidential candidates made a pilgrimage to the NRA Convention in order to speak to the assembled group and hopefully escape any outright rejection.  As you might expect it was “groveling city” with lots of folksy chat and no substance.  The message was “guns are good, terrorists and liberals are bad”.

It is a small blessing that the Republican candidates can boil this complex subject down and package it in so few words.  Now everyone should be able to understand that.  The right to bear arms is vested in the Constitution we are told and everyman has a right to own firearms.  The Constitution actually refers to State militias and not to individuals but that is a small point.  In the late 1700’s most everyone living in the country side owned firearms to protect themselves against Indians or used them to hunt for food.  Thoughout modern history firearms have also been used for sport and today there are certainly lots of people who engage in sport and hunting with firearms.

The issue with guns is not sport or hunting or collecting, it is guns in the wrong hands and the wrong guns in any hands.

1. There is no reasonable right for any civilian to possess a military type weapon above a suitable caliber for hunting and in no case, semi or full automatic.  These weapons when available for some, are available for all, and “all” includes some irresponsible or darn right dangerous people.

2. Possessing guns is a privilege and in certain juristritions there ought to be be very strict regulations.  Cities for example should be able to regulate who can possess a firearm within city limits.  While “none” is probably not the right answer, registration and certified safe keeping procedures are reasonable in face of the uncontrolled use of guns in altercations and robberies.

3. The current NRA position of no restriction no way is dangerous and shows a deep lack of consideration for where guns are a problem.  The NRA needs to become proactive or face ever increasing regulations and restrictions.

The 2008 Presidential Candidates need to think more clearly about this issue.  There is plenty of room for middle ground but there is no room for a NRA position of no movement, no way.


September 22, 2007’s recent full page ad calling General David Patraeus “General Betray Us” has been condemned and praised and has unfortunately confused the conversation about the surge status.  The General is certainly not a supporter of the Insurgents, and he is doing his best to improve the US military position in Iraq.  But the point of the ad is quite different.  The General is not a neutral observer and his message bears too close a resemblence to the Bush Administration spin to be viewed entirely independent.

However, accepting that point, General Patraeus’ testimony was beside the most important point.  What is or should be the US strategy in Iraq.  The original surge words were “to provide some breathing room for the Iraqi government”.  For what?

  • to enjoy the Iraqi parliament summer vacations?
  • to work out deals on splitting oil revenues cutting out Iraqi citizens?
  • to enable American oil interests to gain favorable positions?
  • to run out the clock on the Bush Administration?
  • to enable secret negotiations with Iraq’a neighbors?
  • to seek a grand solution for Middle East peace?

Each of these possibilities has some feel of an underlying US strategy.  They are listed in order of most likely to less likely.   The first four are completely operable but something the General could not say.  The last two, however, strike at the only legitimate justification for continued military action.  The General was silent on both of them.

Wait, you say!  The General spoke a lot about eliminating Al Qaeda in Iraq (and George Bush is quick to connect 9/11 to them).  John McWho also speaks to anyone who will listen that troop reductions will lead to chaos and a steady line of terrorist marching down main street USA.  Certainly the General is doing his duty to protect us from that.

1. The Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds will squash Al Qaeda in Iraq if we simply get out of the way.  There is no interest in cutting anyone else in on the oil revenues.

2. Leaving Iraq with a Government that is sympathetic to the US interests is an understandable goal.  But winning the lottery is also.  Iraq is a country that has not had a reoresentative Government in modern history is simply not likely to produce one in short order.

3. Maintaining a visable presence in Iraq and waiting for the “right” Government to emerge will be thankless and indeterminent task.  The General did not testify to this either.

The problem as always with Bush and Iraq is that he has no policy and therefore no strategy.  The General should only be testifying to what military strategies (and how they are working) that he is using to achieve the political policies that reflect the US goals in Iraq. 

1. To the extent that Patraeus was not clear that he was succeeding against the US political goals as he understood them is unfortunate.  Congress should have dismissed him and pressed Ambassador Crocker, or better yet Secretary of State Condi Rice, what was the US policy.

2. When Crocker or Rice then regurgitated the pap “to make Iraq safe” or “to root out the insurgents”, Congress could press to find out why these goals were important and then return to Patraeus and ask for evidence of progress.

The actual way the testimony proceeded begged the question of what policy or goals the US was pursuing.  Questioning the General’s data, while easy to spot inconsistancies, was a useless exercise since it was qualitatively suggestive of progress but not knowing the US goals, one can not be sure whether Patraeus was taking a step forward or side ways.  Cynically, that may have been the administration’s purpose and if General Patraeus suspected that, then he did betray us.

Who Is Our Man of La Manche?

September 21, 2007

Man’s inhumanity to man is as old as the hills.  It took the enlightenment to give it a proper name but man has been beating up on other men since they first stood up.  But when Cervantes wrote of Don Quixote and his endless tilting with windmills, he described for all of us the near impossibility of trying to make wrongs right and what happens to those who try.  This is a sad conclusion and seemingly dead ending.  Surely in the enlightened age there is a much clearer understanding of what is right and an abundance of those who can show us the path.

Wrong again.  Who can you say when you look around is the Don Quixote of today?  Who of your “would be” political representatives takes the side of fairness, inclusiveness, and justice against all comers?  Who is it that speaks to us of the Impossible Dream?

George W Bush is a man of the Bible he tells us.  He reads it everyday and when faced with difficult decisions (I assume he means decisions other than which bike trail to ride), he speaks to a higher authority.  Certainly George can see right from wrong.  Oh, I wish that was true.

We must begin by recognizing that all churches and the preacher or priest, at the end of the day, are or represent businesses.  They thrive and grow as long as there is someone to pay.  Since there is no free lunch there must be something that these churches or preachers give back.  All to often, what they give is a feeling of righteousness and in the hands of those with a conservative bent, this is the super natural support for what ever they may think is necessary to achieve their ends.  How else can you explain invading Iraq and incurring the loss of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of Iraqi civilian lives for no purpose of comparible value.  But we were told, after all the lies that were first used to justify the invasion were shown false, that Sadaam Hussein was evil and we were left to conclude that religious beliefs justified eliminating evil.  But how many lives of people who had no say in the decision can be justified?

With George W Bush, the support of his religion has reinforced his shallow analytical powers and offset this absence of thinking with a bravado of cockiness.  George is not alone, Dick has it and so did Rummy.  And behind each of these men was a pastor who told them they were right because they believed and “belonged” (read paid money) to the pastor’s church.

The Man of La Manche we are looking for could belong to a church but would have the level headedness to only listen to a balanced message.  If the pastor spoke of Christian charity and then disavowed the rights of gays and lesbians or spoke of healing and then claimed that Intelligent Design was a scientific theory, this would not likely be our man.  Our Man of La Manche must balance the vitality of competition with the necessity of charity.  Our health care system must have a competitive aspect but for those who can not afford the premiums, there must be a way to provide coverage with dignity.

Our Man of La Manche may be a woman as well.  He or she may be a Republican or a Democrat or a realist or idealist but he/she will not be an idealogue.  It is time for our Man of La Manche to step forward and shine a light on the hypocracy of this Administration.

Robert Gates the Moderate

September 19, 2007

It has been reported that Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, is opposing the upcoming next Senate attempt to influence troop levels in Iraq.  Gates has said he opposes restriction that would limit the time between redeployments.  This is understandable if you want to maximize your flexibility in the war zone.  The more fixed the US withdrawal timetable, the surer we will be of enemy action.  But of course as any good business man knows, if you enter a deal, you must have a clear exit strategy or you take enormous risks.

Our Courtry’s CEO, George W Bush, who fancies himself as a stellar business executive, is finding out the hard way the virtue in having an exit strategy as he sees the quagmire Iraq has become.  The Bush/Cheney team were more at comfort with Snow White or some other fairy tail than the harsh realities of the real world.  Unfortunately, George’s blunder is not just confined to him.  We are all getting a share of the rewards.

1. Over 3700 dead and still counting.  (For what reason?  The lame excuse is that things will really be bad if we pull out.  So once again, why did we go into Iraq in the first place?)

2. Over $ 500 Billion in cost and still counting.  (Think about all the lost opportunities from doing positive things like healthcare, education, social security, roads, etc to reducing the debt or granting even more tax reductions.)

3. A strategic position in Iraq where there are no good options and no one interested in helping the “go it alone” gang.

Now we are hearing that suprise of surprises, Robert Gates is doing something new.  He is pulling together a long term plan for the Middle East which will minimize exposure of US troops but at the expense of long term presence in the region.  He has indicated that there will be no permanent US bases in Iraq which is great news if he does it.  There is no hope or faith in Robert Gates.  He may personally have strong religious beliefs but as a public servant he is reality based and pragmatic in his approach.  It is simply a shame that it could not be President Gates.

What Keeps Me Awake At Night

September 16, 2007

Living in a large city I hear plenty of sirens each night that could keep me awake.  But actually these cries from Ambulances, Fire Trucks, and Police Cars do not disturb my sleep.  Here is my top 5:

1. President Bush will remain in office until January 20, 2009 !  What dangers lurk ahead?

2. Vice President Cheney will continue to be one heart beat away from becoming the Chief Executive, and we all know what danger will come with that.

3. With little or no hope of any form of stable Iraqi government emerging in the next 16 months, the temptation to do something stupid and militarily against Iran remains a distinct possibility.  Darth Vader Cheney would see such a military move as a win-win.  It would fit his Iran containment strategy and it would totally defocus the Country’s attention on Iraq.

4. There could be another Supreme Court opening through death or sudden retirement.  While it is likely the Senate would not approve another ideologue, the bitter fight would be a preview of the Presidential race with both Democrats and Republicans pandering to extreme special interest groups.

5. The neoconservatives will push the White House to continue its unwise policies towards Russia.  This will provide plenty of cover for the Kremlin hawks to jump start their military leveraged Moscow government, and march towards “Cold War II”.  It is one thing if that is what Putin actually wants, but it is quite another if CWII results from a reaction against the star wars program that is certain to not work and equally certain to cost too much.

Crowded out by these big worries are things like

  • Reducing Green House gas emissions
  • Sharply reducing our dependence on imported oil
  • Dealing with the social issues that interfer with health care coverage for all
  • Ensuring the social contract with all Americans and working to secure Social Security.
  • Returning to a fiscally sound management of the budget
  • Engendering a spirit of inclusiveness for all those in America.
  • Demonstrating a respect and value for science

I wonder how many of these worries are shared by the 2008 Presidential candidates? 

Efficiency versus Effectiveness

September 15, 2007

The Government has consistently claimed the need for wide and unchecked powers in order to protect America from terrorists.  For six years a Republican controlled congress granted the President what ever he wished regardless of whether the legislation would pass a Constitutional test or not.  Regrettably a large number of Democrats voted with the majority and unfortunately gave the legislation the appearance of legitimacy.  Time will show these pieces of legislation (Patriot Act, NSA spying, Rendition and Enhanced Interrogation, Military Commissions for example) to have been counter productive, and therefore inefficient and ultimately ineffective.

The American system of laws and due process affords everyone both a deterrent and a remedy for those who would violate our peace.  In cases where technology offer enemies the potential of secrecy while planning or executing crimes, the Government should be allowed updated or even in some cases, extrodinary means to gather information… but only under four condidtion:

  • Torture is not permissable under any circumstance. 
  • The Government actions must be approved by an appropriate court, even after the fact.
  • The information gathered can be kept secret for only a finite period (less than 12 months).
  • The information can be used for only the intended purpose and not shared with other branches of Government.

The Bush Administration’s grab for unchecked powers was made under various justifications.  But at the end of the day, their argument was “we are the Government, we know best, and we need it to protect you”.  These same words could have been said by Mussolini or Hitler, or any number of South American dictators.  As we know power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

In the waning hours of this abysmal Administration, we need to open a second front and mount an attack to regain through democratic means our full rights. 

Not On My Watch

September 14, 2007

Last evening President Bush said what he was expected to say, “there will be no change in Iraq Policy on my watch”.  Correctly he should have said, “there will be no Iraq Policy on my watch, and oh by the way our troops who went to Iraq with no realistic Policy will remain in Iraq with no Policy at all.

The President’s political hand goes like this.  Leave the troops in Iraq, argue about whether it is safe to reduce them all the while scaring the heck out of Americans.  This way the fortunes of Republican candidates is optimized because we do not need to admit defeat and the candidates can appeal to the public desire for safety and fear of terrorists.  The President’s position assumes the usual short memory of the public and the need to campaign on something in 2012. 

This gutless stand on Iraq shows clearly how shallow the Bush Administration is.  Their view of the future is about 12 months.  He had the opportunity to admit invading Iraq was a serious mistake and seek the public’s support to exit Iraq without making it even worse.  True to form, George looked the other way.

Beyond Troop Withdrawal

September 13, 2007

The news media has been filled with reports on General Patraeus’ testimony before the House and Senate.  Tonight the man who made this all possible, President George W Bush will provide his assessment and his plan for the next year or so.  While it is fully expected that Bush will rubber stamp Patraeus’ recommendations, it is what Bush will not say that should get our attention.  What about “due process”, habeas corpus, spying on civilians, and the ugliest American symbol “Guantanamo”?

The 2008 candidates, regardless of where they stand on troop withdrawal, must be held accountable for their positions on basic American values.

1. Due process is what every American expects.  If charged with a crime, we all expect to be presented with the charge and shown the witnesses and evidence.  We expect to be able to mount a defense and be tried by our peers.  If this is not what America has also stood for, I do not know what else.

2. Habeas corpus hails back to the 1500’s and was the turning point of English law.  It has always been a priniciple in American law and, along with due process, marks American justice as built on human rights and dignity.  The thought that you can hold someone in prision without every charging the person or in the extreme even admitting that the person has been detained, is thoroughly un-American.

3. Spying on civilian Americans even if suspected as a terrorist is a very slippery slope if not outright illegal.  But there is no room for spying without court approval.  Empowering the Justice Department to spy on its own initiative is like asking the fox to put the lights out in the hen house so the chickens can sleep.

4. Guantanamo is the ugliest and probably the most foolish act of the Bush Administration.  Some would say Abu Ghraib was the ugliest and while it was a sad example of “tone at the top” gone wrong, Abu Ghraib was a one time event and was not tolerated.  Guantanamo is a symbol to the rest of the world that there are Americans who do not respect the rule of law nor do they respect the dignity and rights of other men.  Guantanamo is like dumping nuclear wastes in Harlem and wondering why the world would think we were cruel and stupid.

Candidates…  You need to speak to these fundamental issues and not allow them to be glossed over in the rhetoric about troop withdrawals.