Thursday, October 12, 2006

Oct. 3 - October 11, 2006

October 9, 2006

Free Wheeling

When the history of this era is written, historians will report there was no one at the wheel. No one at the wheel in the US Congress. No one at the wheel in the volatile Middle East. No one at the wheel in the dying continent of Africa. No one at the wheel in fastest growing Asia. No one at the wheel at the United Nations. They may dub it the "Do Nothing Era." But only if we survive it.

Let's face it, the human race has put itself on auto pilot, and no one has the foggiest idea where it's taking us. All we know is where it has taken us over in the past decade, an itinerary that can best be described as "unsettling."

North Korea: The craziest nation on earth just went nuclear. Almost every major nation in the world agrees this should not be allowed, but it will be. The US, Russian, China, Japan and South Korea are to North Korea like milquetoast parents. They just keep moving the punishment goal posts further down the field with each deliberate challenge to their authority. “Okay, but if you do it again....” When it comes to dealing with North Korea's nuclearization, no one is at the wheel.

Radical Islam: Arab governments know fundamentalist Islam is eating away at their societies like termites on steroids. Still they refuse to confront it for fear it has already become more powerful than they are. So instead they issue statements denouncing radical Islam as “un-Islamic,” and then they go right back to ignoring the problem. When it comes to dealing with the spread of fundamentalist Islam within the Arab world, no one is at the wheel.

Islamic Terror: The success of Western societies has been due largely to embracing open societies, secular governance that tolerates religious without codifying it into law. Suddenly the West is faced with a religious movement that has no tolerance for tolerance -- or the secular governments that embrace tolerance. Instead fundamentalist Muslims have declared a world wide war against both. Rather than than treating this as the threat it is, the West thinks it can reason it's way out of trouble. So the West continues talking the talk of tolerance to a growing enemy that has no word or use for tolerance in its language, customs or theology. Therefore the West talks to itself. In the war on Islamic terror, no one is at the wheel.

Iran: Combine the "all-talk-no-action" policies that frame the North Korean nuclear crisis with the West's la-de-da, la-de-da response as radical Islam metastasizes with its own societies, and you have the no-one-is-at-the-wheel policies towards Iran. Once again the world's grown-ups keep warning, “Don't do that, or else...” Then, when the Iranians lock themselves in their room and continue developing nukes, the world's grown-ups puff themselves up and warn, “Okay, but don't do it again, or else...” Of course, there never is an “or else,” because no one is at the wheel – and the Iranians know it.

Global Warming: Every (sane) person in the developed world now understands global warming is real, advancing at a frightening rate and could exterminate a good hunk of humanity – potentially all of humanity – if not reversed in our lifetimes. Even with such terrifyingly high stakes, slashing greenhouse gas emissions has generated more hot air than action. Because, when it comes to fighting the man-made causes of global warming, no one is at the wheel.

Iraq: George W. Bush is not the only reason for the mess in Iraq. The United Nations and the United States Congress are equal partners in creating that mess. Congress delegated it's constitutional responsibility to either declare war or refuse to declare war. Instead they signed a blank check to Forrest Gump's evil twin and walked away from the problem. Then, when the US went to war against the UN's wishes, the UN did nothing about it. Nothing. Neither Congress nor the United Nations wanted to be the designated driver, so no one is at the wheel.

Torture: Never in the history of warfare has the world had more graphic or ironclad evidence of torture; torture by Iraqi insurgents, by Iraqi police, by US soldiers, by US intelligence agents. Yet no one has been brought to account, not before the World Court, not by the UN, not by US courts. Why? Because, no one is at the wheel.

Wealth: Money is the blood supply of civilizations. When it's evenly distributed, the body is healthy. But when one part of the body monopolizes that blood supply the rest of the body whithers. If such restriction continues for too long, the body dies from depression. Over the past decade the world's rich have gone from being comfortably wealthy to grotesquely wealthy. The average CEO now earn nearly 500 times what one of their workers earns. (Except at Wal-Mart where the CEO earned nearly 1500 times more than his average worker last year.) The middle class struggles harder each day just to maintain it's past vigor, while the working class and poor wither. As the rich became richer, they have also became more powerful. When it comes to the economy, they have the wheel.

I know pundits can tease out a host of geopolitical and realpolitik issues to explain why nothing is getting done, or likely to get done, about the above problems. Talk is usually cheap. But, when it comes to the magnitude of the problems facing us talk could cost us big time. It could cost us our livelihoods, our environment, our peace, even our lives. Whatever the reasons, it's the job of leaders to come up with solutions and then take action; though negotiations, accommodations, sanctions, prosecution and, in the worst case, militarily when justified.

Instead no one is taking truly curative action on any of these daunting problems. Pick the problem and take a good look, no one's at the wheel. Humanity has always been an iffy proposition – a ship of fools. But, until now at least, whenever most endangered, genuine leaders seemed to appear out of nowhere to take the control and steering mankind clear of the shoals; Abe Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt, Mikhail Gorbachev.

So far though, no leaders are in sight. No one has grabbed for the wheel. Instead we're adrift, all of us, Americans, Europeans, Arabs, Asians – fools, huddled together in steerage, aboard the same ship as it plow full speed through hazardous seas. The band plays on, but no one's at the wheel.

Risky Business

Democrats are shorting the GOP. If they're right they will win big this November. But if the GOP's stock, now in free fall, should reverse, the Dems will be toast.... milquetoast.

Here's the deal. In the stock world a short seller doesn't actually buy the stock they short. Instead they contract to supply that stock to a long buyer at the other end of the transaction at the price the stock was selling the day the contract was signed. If the stock keeps going down the short seller is able to buy it at a lower price and the long buyer is obligated to buy it from the short seller at the higher price set the day the made the deal. The difference if the short seller's profit. If the stock goes up instead of down, then the guy at the long end of the contract gets to buy the stock the low price and sell it at the current high price.. the difference being the long buyer's profit, and the short-seller's loss.

In short, shorting is risky business.

Democrats are doing just that. They are not investing any of their political capital in policies for fixing all the things GOP and Bushies have broken; the bank, Iraq, the environment, America's international prestige, the US Constitution. Instead they have bet all they have on the GOP's stock dropping like a rock and then, come Nov. 7, collect their gains.

That could happen, but it's gamble -- a gamble that, if they are wrong, could cost us two more years of GOP rule, at least.

Right now shorting the GOP looks like a smart move.

But what if...

* The nuclear standoff with North Korea goes – well, nuclear,
* Ditto Iran,
* There's a mass-casualty terrorist attack on US soil,

If any one, or any combination, of the above occurs between now and November 7 Democrats have no policies on the table telling voters, if they were put back in power, how they would respond.

I'm not suggesting that Democrats are incapable of dealing with such emergencies, or that they wouldn't do a better job than the GOP. I just don't know. I haven't a clue because Democrats haven't given me a clue.

And if someone like me, who wallows daily in political news and trivia doesn't have a clue, then I assume normal voters out there don't either.

Which is why I think Democrats should hedge their investment, take some of their eggs out of that short-sellers basket and invest them in some actual policies. You know, just in case. Because the investor at the other end of Democrat's short contract is Karl Rove – a guy with a nearly unbroken record of suckering Democrats.

So, I ask, exactly what would Democrats do if they retake Congress in November, and the White House in '08? What would they do about:

Terrorism: It's clear that the GOP's all-military all the time, solution hasn't worked. In fact, it's made things worse. So, would Democrats take a different course? Something more along the lines Europe has chosen. In other words, if terrorists are operating on US soil, they are a law enforcement problem. If overseas, they are an intel problem. And if terrorists are being supported by a foreign country they are State Department problem and if that doesn't work, a military issue. Are Democrats ready to take the predictable heat for reinstating that kind of sane balance to the mess the GOP has made with it's fuzzy, global “war on terrorism?”

North Korea: No one doubts that a nuclear North Korea, with missiles that could reach New York, is not something the US should be ready to live with. Democrats and Republicans agree on that. But Republicans have done nothing (effective) to make that reality less likely. So, what's the Democrat's plan? We know what doesn't work, but what would Democrats do if we vote for them?

Iran: The guy running Iran is smarter than the nut running North Korea, but may be even crazier. At least Kim Jong Il doesn't believe he's doing Allah's work on earth. All Kim wants is to be allowed to continue lording over his serf-like population, drink an endless supply of Hennessey's and have sex with underage girls. Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to pick up were the Germans left off with the Jews. By going nuclear he figures he can do better at it too. Instead of having to haul all those Jews to the ovens, he could bring the ovens to the Jews.

And that's just for starters. Iran views the Arab states around them pretty much the same way the French view everyone else. Iranians are quick to remind the world that, while they are Muslims, they are decidedly NOT Arabs, but Persians. And they are Shiite Muslims, not Sunnis, (whom they feel towards the same way the Catholic Church feels about Mormons.)

Iranians believe they are the rightful leaders of the Muslim Middle East. And, now that Saddam is out of their hair, thanks to George W, they are getting about that job. Once they “deal” with Iraq's Sunnis, the Syrians will be next. Then Egypt. After that it's just a short hop across the pond to southern Spain to reclaim their former luxurious digs at Alhambra. After which the European left will revamp their old, “better red than dead,” Cold War slogan, to “better Islamic than catatonic.”

And with nukes, the missiles to deliver them, coupled with a mind set that dictates, “if we win, great – if we lose, bring on the virgins,” – just who's going to confront them?

So, Democrats, what's your plan for making sure the world never faces such a Hobson's choice?

Iraq: Talk about a mess needing a solution! We know what GOP's plan is, “stay the course.” That's not a plan, it's stalling for time. The GOP has the proverbal tiger by the tail – they don't want to hold on but they dare let go either.

So, what's the Democrat's plan besides the mushy “phased withdrawal,” idea. Withdraw to where? With what goals? What about Iran? Are Democrats ready to just let Iran do to Iraq what Syria tried to do to Lebanon – turn it into a defacto vassal state? I'm not saying that's good or bad. I'd just like at least some idea what Democrats would do in such a case. Because it is highly likely that sometime over the next four years that's precisely what our national leaders, whomever they may be by then, will face. So far we know the GOP has the wrong solutions. What we don't know is if Democrats have any right ones.

The economy: We are now nearly $9 trillion in the hole. Baby Boomers are retiring by the thousands each day and both Social Security and Medicare hang by a thread. Middle class and working class income has shrunk, inflation is on its way back -big time -- 48 million Americans can't afford health insurance, high-paying jobs are still being shipped off-shore and low-paying jobs are being snatched up by legal and illegal Mexican immigrants flooding across a wide open border.

What's the Democrat plan for fixing those ticking time bombs? Those of us who live in the physical world understand what needs doing. Taxes need to be increased and spending has to be cut. Duh.

But the devil is in details on both, and I'd like some of those details before I vote. Would Democrats repeal the portions of the Bush tax cuts that benefit just the top 1% of wage earners? Do they have the balls to withstand the GOP's predictable “tax and spend liberals” slander? Or will the weasel off into the shadows like they usually do?

And then there's the thing Democrats fear most – cutting programs. Democrats would rather die from gangrene than amputate a popular, but dysfunctional social program. To get such programs passed in the first place they give them the warmest, fuzziest titles possible, making it dangerous to even think about cutting something named “The Mothers' Milk Protection Act,” or “The Crippled, Blind Children of Wounded Veterans Relief Act. (Not real programs – yet.)

So, will Democrats cut programs to get our national checkbook back in balance? Yes? Which ones. No? Why not?

The Patriot Act: Is that constitutional obscenity permanent? Or would Democrats revisit that laws most un-American features? Yes? Which ones? No? Why not?

Energy: What would Democrats do to get us off oil – not in a few decades, but in one decade? Would Democrats create a Manhattan Project for energy independence, and fund it? Would Democrats declare America's dependence on oil what it really is, a full blown national security emergency, a crisis waiting to happen? Then act accordingly? Yes? When and how? No? Why not?

The environment: Would Democrats reopen talks on the Kyoto Treaty, this time insisting that all nations, including China and developing nations, participate fully in it's greenhouse gas limits? Will Democrats set an example by slapping CO2 standards on US industry and sharply increase CAFE standards on automakers? Yes? How much and how soon? No? Why not?

Voting: Would Democrats outlaw any voting device that does create a certified and secure paper audit trail in the even a recount is required?

Health Care: Will Democrats back a single-payer national health care system that blends the best of the private sector with the buying power of government to assure every American, regardless of health or social status? Yes? When and how soon? No? Why not?

I have more questions, but that covers the biggies. I hope the Democrat's short selling strategy pays off in November because America needs a change. After six years of Neocon rule, even voting for a Democrat pig in poke seems a safe gamble.

But I worry. I worry about what Karl Rove is up to. I worry about what that fruit basket in North Korea has up his sleeve. I worry that Iran might push matters beyond the point Israel can tolerate and ... well, you know.

If “s---t happens Democrats -- and it usually always does -- Dems might be in trouble. With all their capital riding on shorting the GOP, and no investment in policies of their own, I worry it's the Democrats who could come up short on Nov. 7.

In Defense
Cut & Run

You don't have to be a coward to cut and run from a battle. Even a casual study of military history shows that cut and run comes in more flavors than the cowardly rout. Sometimes cutting and running is simply strategic or tactical retreat.

Strategic retreat: a partial solution to the bitter-end problem. When confronted with a losing situation, the losing party accepts defeat in a way which allows them to preserve as much of their resources, (both moral and physical) as possible.

Tactical retreat: not a bad response to a surprise assault. First you survive. Then you choose your own ground for response and/or counterattack.

The North Vietnamese and their VietCong insurgent allies in the south were masters of both the tactical retreat. By retreating “to live and fight another day,” they wore down superior US fire power.

Of course, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney wouldn't know anything about that, since both successfully avoided fighting in Vietnam. But, had they spent a few months chasing the “cut and run” Viet Cong through the jungle they'd have more respect for cut and run as a tool of war.

Military history is also filled with cautionary tales about stubborn commanders who refused to cut and run, and instead “stayed the course.”

General Custer, for example. Cutting and running would have been the right thing to do at Little Big Horn. But Custer stayed the course instead, and ended up dead. No fighting another day for Custor or his troops.

But what if Custer had cut and run? Would it have been such a disaster? Would it have emboldened the Indians? Probably, at least for a while. But would it have significantly changed the course of American history? Forget about it.

Napoleon is another guy who would have been a lot better off cutting and running at Waterloo rather than staying the course.

But let's talk more about Vietnam, because it's now obvious to anyone paying attention that we are repeating that deadly mistake. (Hey, even Dr. Very Strangelove, Henry Kissinger is back pulling the strings and getting American kids killed. During the Vietnam war Henry told Nixon that there simply was "no substitute for victory." Today Henry is telling George W. Bush that "the only acceptable exit strategy from Iraq is victory."

“All the wrong people remember Vietnam. I think all the people who remember it should forget it, and all the people who forgot it should remember it.” -- Anand Singh

Back in the 60's and early 70's I was a “cut and runner,” on Vietnam. I wanted us out of there at a time when "only" 10,000 GI had been killed, then 20,000, then 40,000. But Henry Kissinger would have none of it. The Nixon administration and their conservative supporters in Congress and private sector warned an increasingly restive public that what we were fighting for in Vietnam was nothing less than civilization as we knew it.

“This war in Vietnam is, I believe, a war for civilization. Certainly it is not a war of our seeking. It is a war thrust upon us and we cannot yield to tyranny.” (Francis Cardinal Spellman)

Today we hear the same from this administration about the war in Iraq:

“Iraq is no diversion. It is a place where civilization is taking a decisive stand against chaos and terror, we must not waver.”&nbs George W. Bush

We kept fighting in Vietnam until the US death toll exceeded 60,000. Then we cut and ran.

Did civilization as we know it end? Forget about it.

Today American corporations are tripping all over themselves to get a piece of a growing, prosperous Vietnam. Sure it was messy in the beginning. But no more messy than having US aerial tankers spraying Agent Orange over their country's fragile rain forests, burning entire villages to the ground and fathering an entire bastard generation.

Anyway, things are just fine in Vietnam now. And today the US Chamber of Commerce and State Department can't say enough nice things about those little buggers.

“The biggest lesson I learned from Vietnam is not to trust our own government statements. I had no idea until then that you could not rely on them.”
J. William Fulbright

Bob Woodward's new book, “State of Denial,” is simply codification of what has been painfully obvious for months. We've been lied to. We are still being lied to. And this administration and it's Neocon advisors started a war they can't win. Since the war in Iraq is the only thing of historical consequence these guys have accomplished while in power, they're loath to admit it was a mistake and now a failure. Instead they are furiously trying to run the clock, finish Bush's second term, leave town and then blame the inevitable failure in Iraq on their successors.

“The Democrats’ response is, well, we’ll just leave,’’ Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “That would lead to a humanitarian disaster...(and) would be devastating to the preservation of civilization.’’

Ah yes, Mitt Romney, the devout Mormon -- who wants to be the next president -- testifying that, while incarceration without representation and torture have been the only fruits of this war, it would be leaving that would be “devastating to the preservation of civilization.”

“The war in Vietnam poisons everything. It has disrupted the economy, envenomed our politics, hurt the alliance, divided our people...” James Reston

So here we are, about the same place we were 40 years ago when I became a Vietnam War cut and runner. Had we cut and run in 1967, instead of cutting and running in 1974, tens of thousands of American kids would have survived to live another day. And how many Vietnamese? A million dead, maybe more.

That war, the lies that led us into it and the lies that kept us there long after it was clear it was a mistake, hurt America in ways it took four decades to heal.

“Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet here we are again, fighting, dying, torturing, burning, only this time in Iraq. It was called Mesopotamia 86 years ago when T.E. Lawrence penned these fateful words about his government's colonial war there:

"The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. We are today not far from a disaster". T E Lawrence (of Arabia), The Sunday Times, August 1920:

But Democrats, like John Murtha who are urging a strategic redeployment from Iraq, are accused of wanting to "cut and run," by George W. Bush.

Richard Nixon had his own way of accusing American's who urged a strategic retreat from Vietnam as cut and runners:

“Let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.” Richard M. Nixon, 1969

Nixon had it quite backwards. It was not the the American people, but bad leaders who defeat and humiliate the United States. Nixon did, and now George W. Bush has done so. The only question now is how many kids will have to die for George before someone calls for an utterly predictable and inevitable strategic withdrawal from Iraq? The longer it takes to do so, the larger the crime.

“Using the Oval office to cheat on your wife makes you a bad husband and an irresponsible leader. Using the Oval office to lead your troops into a war born of blatant deception makes you a murderer and a war criminal.” Jules Carlysle

Which in no way let's the rest of us off the hook. We are either members of a genuine representative democracy, or we're kept pets. You will have a chance November 7 to decide which.

“Numbers have dehumanized us. Over breakfast coffee we read of 40,000 American dead in Vietnam. Instead of vomiting, we reach for the toast. Our morning rush through crowded streets is not to cry murder but to hit that trough before somebody else gobbles our share.” Dalton Trumbo, Introduction, Johnny Got His Gun, 1970.

Quote of the Year (so far)

"Woodward's book claims we are in denial. We deny that."
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.