Sunday, September 21, 2014

AGAIN?

Americans have been called a nation of sheep, easily frightened and quick to look for a leader who will promise to conquer those fears.  They have an even more troubling tendency and that is how they refuse to learn from history and keep repeating the same mistakes with the misguided belief this time America's military might can defeat the boogey man and everyone can get back to watching men beat themselves into an early grave on Sundays and beat their significant other or progeny on Monday.

     I want to scream.  5,000 dead in Iraq and a couple hundred thousand wounded and broken.  1,000 dead in Afghanistan and tens of thousands wounded or broken.  Iraq and Afghanistan are dysfunctional and failed nations where religion and tribe are more important than nationalism.  We were told after September 11, the way to conquer our fear of terrorists...the way to strike back at those who attacked us...the way to prevent the bad guys from getting over more deadly weapons was to invade and conquer Afghanistan and Iraq.  We were told we could turn them into western democracies and that the people would welcome our assistance.  We were told the citizens of those two nations just needed our help to train them and then they would be able to defeat their enemies.

     Over 70% of Americans now say Afghanistan and Iraq were not worth the effort.  Pundits declared a new period of isolationism in this country.  Americans want problems here at home fixed...create more jobs...open up access to college...a payroll tax holiday...rebuild our crumbling infrastructure..stop being the world's policeman.  President Obama has been using this playbook for the last six years.  What a maroon!  Americans now say the President is too soft, and not aggressive enough in his foreign policy.  He is weak and after being horrified by videos of some gruesome executions by ISIS, the majority of Americans now want us to strike back.  Being no fool, Obama declares a long, open-ended campaign against the terrorist threat.  We are even told these terrorists represent a direct threat to this nation's security.  Lest anyone get too concerned, despite this imminent threat, we are told we aren't going to start Iraq War 3.0...no boots on the ground by the president.  Really?  Do you believe him?  Have you ever heard of the concept of incrementalism?

     It started with extra soldiers to guard American embassies and consulates in Iraq.  (150-300) Then, we needed troops on the ground to coordinate air attacks, identify targets, liaison with Kurdish and Iraqi forces.  (400?)  Then we are told about Special Forces being used to identify more targets and help train Iraqis (300) and all of a sudden there are as many as 1,000 American combat soldiers in Iraq.  They are there to defeat ISIS despite the fact no one can define what either victory or defeat would look like.

     Now, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has testified in front of the Senate that if the fighting in Iraq grows more difficult, we will need to put more combat troops on the ground in Iraq serving on the front lines alongside Iraqi military forces.  Gee.  I wonder what will happen then?

     What will John McCain, Lindsey Graham, every Republican presidential candidate, Dick Cheney and the gang say if ISIS kills American soldiers?  What will the American people do if an American soldier is executed horribly by ISIS?  If a battle is going badly, will the Pentagon hesitate to send in the cavalry?  How many?  For how long?  At what cost?  If ISIS retreats into Syria with American prisoners will the military be ordered to invade to get them back and defeat ISIS?  Are you sensing a pattern yet?  Regressive Republicans are frothing at the mouth at the thought of another fight...another bite at the Iraqi apple and they will clamor for another use of force vote in Congress.  Remember the last one?  Remember how Hillary, John Edwards, John Kerry and all but 23 Democratic senators voted?

     The Pentagon has issued an assessment of Iraqi military forces and essentially says they are useless.  They couldn't beat the Little Sisters of the Poor at Parcheesi.  They won't fight to save their own country.  (Much the same situation exists in Afghanistan)  Dempsey says American boots may be needed on the ground in Iraq "...if the fighting grows more difficult."  What do you think are the odds ISIS will kick Iraqi ass and we will be told the only thing that will save them, and of course save the United States, is for American combat troops to turn the tide.  This would be great satire if it wasn't so tragic and a recipe for disaster...again.

     The cherry on the top of this particular cake is a statement last week by Moqutada Sadr saying if American troops return to Iraq, his Sadr brigade will fight them again.  American soldiers would be caught between Sunni ISIS and Shiite Sadr and once again would be in the middle of an unwinnable civil war.

     You have it in your power to stop this in its tracks now.  It's an election year.  American politicians have to be gob smacked about the head and arms by constituents telling them there will be no vote on the use of force.  Obama has to hear loud and clear there is no grey area...no wiggle room...incrementalism will not be allowed.  Will Americans once again be frightened into wasting blood and treasure on a fool’s errand?

   Stop it now!  Write, call or email Hillary and ask her what her position are vis-à-vis Dempsey’s comments.  Will she once again cave to political expediency like she did in 2002?  Is she afraid of being accused of being soft on ISIS?  Didn't she say in an interview in the Atlantic Obama is too soft and not aggressive enough and she would arm "moderate" Syrians (whatever that means) and support a more focused Iraqi response?  Let the White House know how dangerous this incremental ratcheting up of force truly is.  We already know what the Republicans will say.  Are we going to stumble and bumble and create monsters in the night so that once again we will commit America to an unwinnable strategy?


     I sit here amazed, aghast and agog to be writing about a new military adventure in Iraq because Americans are pissed at the brutality and immorality of ISIS.  Is it possible they have publicized all of this brutality just to evoke this exact response and lure us into an intractable situation?  Are they using Iraq and Syria as a tar baby?  When will we ever learn...when will we ever learn?

Friday, September 12, 2014

QUESTIONS...

I watched the President address the nation and announce a new strategy for dealing with the Islamic State (ISIS).  It is not lost on me that as I write a response to it today on September 11, eleven years after this nation was attacked, it was an attack which was used to justify two wars and a dismantling of American values as we know them.  By the time the president asked God to bless America (do you think ISIS asks Allah for the same thing?) it seemed there were more questions raised than answers given.

_____"...there will be no American combat troops in Iraq."  "...we will not be dragged into another ground war in this area."  We have over 600 troops in Iraq now and are flying hundreds of missions over the country.  What will we do if these troops are attacked...get trapped...taken hostage...killed?  Will we send in a rescue force and will we fight to get out people back?

_____"...Americans will train Iraqi troops."  Didn't we spend over 10 years and $100 billion of our tax dollars training and arming the Iraqi army?  At the first instance of a shot fired in anger, didn't they run like hell?  Most of ISIS's weapons are American taken from the "well trained" (in the opinion of the Bush and Obama Pentagons) Iraqi forces?  Why will they fight better this time?  If they can't, or won't defend their own land, what can we do to help?

_____"...this is a long term commitment, but we will continue until ISIS is degraded and destroyed."  The Powell Doctrine says you don't use military force unless it is overwhelming...you have a clear concept of what victory means...you have a clear and definable exit strategy...in other words you can define success and when you have won.  What does victory look like in this case?  If ISIS is pushed out of Iraq, but is still occupying Syria is that victory?  If we attack ISIS in Syria and destroy its infrastructure, but it still exists as an Al Qaida-like guerilla force is that a win?  How do we know we won and can stop this commitment?

_____"...we have a coalition which will bear some of the heavy lifting in this effort."  Who is in this coalition?  Will Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the U.A.E. (United Arab Emirates), Egypt and other Arab nations be putting actual boots on the ground in Iraq?  Is this a coalition similar to the phony one Bush told us he had for the Iraq war?  What about money?  Who will help to pay for all of this?  Iraq is producing millions of barrels of oil a day.  Will they put up the billions necessary to save their own nation?  (remember when Paul Wolfowitz testified to Congress how the Iraq war would pay for itself?)

_____"...we will attack anyone, anywhere who is a threat to our national security."  If we attack and degrade ISIS in Syria, won't this allow the Assad regime to then turn their focus on the rebels and crush them?  Will our actions help keep Assad in power thus benefitting Iran tremendously?

_____"...I will ask Congress for permission and funding for moderate Islamic rebels fighting the Assad government in Syria."  What moderates?  Recently, Farid Zachariah wrote a piece about the myth of the moderate Islamic fighter and movement.  He says there is no such beast as a moderate Islamic fighter or militia or army.  The "moderate" are consistently overpowered and chewed up by the extremists time after time.  If we arm so-called moderates, how long before those same weapons are used against us or our allies?

_____The President says we also want to arm the Kurds.  What do we do when these well-armed Kurdish militias are used to back up a demand for Kurdish independence in northern Iraq?  Is this the beginning of another Iraqi civil war with us in the middle of it again?

_____What about Iran in all of this?  If we "degrade and defeat" ISIS, doesn't this benefit Iran directly?  Do we arm Hezbollah militias if they join us in fighting ISIS?  If we prop up the government in Baghdad, which is still closely linked to Tehran, are we playing right into Iran's hands?

_____Can we "win" in Iraq if we don't get some sort of resolution between the Israelis and the Palestinians?  Israel just announced it is illegally seizing more land on the West Bank for Jewish settlements.  How is it we don't connect ISIS and Syria and Iraq with what is going on in Israel?

_____These are just some of the questions the President's speech raises.  There are so many others.  Will we demand that Germany, France, Italy, and the rest of the NATO countries increase their military budgets and shoulder some of the burden caused by Putin and Russia and Iran and ISIS?  Can we afford to take on ISIS, Russia, put troops into Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland as a hedge against Russian aggression?  If they won't pony up, what should we do?

     Maybe the biggest question is raised by those who claim it is an incontrovertible fact that ISIS represents a direct, imminent threat to the security of the United States.  Really?  In what way?  Well, Americans, or others with European passports could come to this country and commit acts of terrorism.  I thought we already assumed this was a possibility we have to confront every day.  Isn't this the justification behind the Patriot Act and the destruction of the 4th amendment?  Isn't this the stated defense of the massive illegal actions of the National Security Agency?  Don't they tell us they need to hear every cell phone call...read every email we send...see everywhere we go online in order to protect us from these fifth column assassins?  We have lost most of our privacy and constitutional protections based on the premise we are being protected from the very attacks we say we now have to go back to war to stop, aren't we?  What is the new threat ISIS represents to our nation?  They can't attack us militarily.  They can't send troops over here.  They can't harm our institutions or culture or democracy.  Yes, they killed two American journalists in horrific fashion and I would love to get the guy or guys who did that, but that is not a threat to the integrity of this nation.

     We are told ISIS is a danger we have never seen before.  Really?  Wasn't that what we were told about Afghanistan...about Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.  Then, everyone was sure...there was no doubt...the threat was real...it was scary...we couldn't afford to wait for mushroom clouds over Manhattan remember?  Aren't we told the same thing about Iran and its attempt to get a nuclear weapon?  ISIS is a new immanent threat to us, yet Russia which has thousands of nuclear weapons and has directly threatened us and our neighbors...Russia which is invading allies and crushing democracies...Russia is a foe we can't even impose strict economic sanctions on and the president has completely ruled out any military action whatsoever to deter them.  We soft peddle Russia's actions and the threat it represents and fan the flames of the more "serious" threat in the form of ISIS.  Does this make any sense?

     A new Wall Street Journal poll says more and more Americans want us to attack ISIS.  Why?  Is it the outrage we feel about what they did to the two journalists?  What is the outcome Americans want?  The same regressives who refuse to pass legislation to rebuild this country...repair our crumbling roads and bridges and an electricity grid which is one transformer away from blacking out half the nation...lower interest rates and principal on student loans...provide more money for basic research and job training for Americans, are the same regressives now calling for pouring money back into the War Department so we can ramp up our military efforts against ISIS just as they did when they wanted to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The American people seem once again to have been frightened or steamrolled into agreeing with them.

                                                                    BAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

COMING HOME...

  When my oldest son and I talk, he frequently reminds me there are only two dates that matter...the day you go to prison and the day you come home.  As my time as a guest of our government come to an end, I anticipated all kind of feelings and reactions.  As I played it in my head, it would be a time of great celebration...an explosion of freedom...a cornucopia of foods missed over the years...a welcome home party of epic proportions...a moment of unrequited joy for my family and for me.  Reality, as is usually the case, is far more messy and complicated.

     I haven't been writing as much as in the past and I was perplexed as to why.  Midterm elections and the control for Congress are up for grabs in November.  Russia has invaded Ukraine.  ISIS continues to roil Syria and Iraq committing unspeakable crimes against innocent men, women and children. (The same chicken hawks that lied us into Afghanistan and Iraq now want us to do it all over again.)   A new report confirms the top 1% are vastly richer today then in 2010 or before.  Every cell phone call we make is being monitored by the government and mysterious cell towers are appearing all over the country and no one seems to know who owns them or what purpose they serve, but the suspicions are ominous.  All of these items should be grist for my mill and yet my pen lays silent.  Why?

     It dawned on me the answer may lie in the fact I have a little more than three months left before I go home.  Since I have already served over 72 months, 3 ought to be a walk in the park.  The next 3 months should be a joy-filled, smile-inducing, countdown to an event worthy of an epic party.  It's known as being," short to the door" in here and most of those in my housing unit would be thrilled to switch places with me and have such a short time left.  For me, not so much.

     Please don't misunderstand.  I don't want to spend one more day in here than necessary.  I take full responsibility for the actions which put me in here and once again offer an apology to anyone I have offended, but will always bristle at a sentence which in no way reflects or was commensurate to the crime committed.  However, as the door approaches, my fantasy about going home has run smack dab into reality.

     The reality of going home has caused a whirlwind of thoughts and concerns and more than one sleepless night.  For over 6 years my job has been to survive.  My obligation has been to make it day to day and to do the work necessary to fulfill my promise to my wife to come home healthier and better than I left.  Dealing with bills and jobs and children and an economic disaster of historic scope was the responsibility of my wife and family and you.

     Responding to, and caring for, my son's cancer, my wife's health emergency, my daughter's pulmonary embolisms, my brother's heart crisis, my sister-in-laws fight with cancer, my sister's neighborhood in San Bruno destroyed by a natural gas explosion and the harm to her family, my son's loss of sight and much more, which all occurred while I have been here in exile, fell to others and all I had to do was worry and pray and hope they could handle it all.

     In a little more than 3 months, the weight and reality of the world will slam squarely back down on my shoulders and there will be many people with expectations for me and the life they will expect me to begin to live.  What about earning a living?  How do you re-introduce yourself to your wife after 6 plus years in which she has had to be the bread winner and family glue...6 years where she had to face fear and loneliness and terror by herself with no shoulder to lean on and no partner...6 years of anger about how she was let down and betrayed and disappointed by a man she married.  I've missed six years of my children's lives as well as the fact that all of my family has been embarrassed and humiliated publicly by my actions.

     When I come home, do I fade away into the ether, slink away silently into the night and hope people forget what I did?  What job or jobs will I be allowed to hold and will anyone hire an ex-felon with my crime?  Will society allow a second chance or a shot at redemption and even if it does, how does one go about securing such outcomes?  Is there a media company out there which would be willing to endure the heat and controversy which would be associated with hiring me?  (although I guarantee the shows would be electric and dynamic and entertaining as hell from a host who is chastened and humbled with so much to say)  All of this and more has crowded into my head and now I can't stop thinking and wondering and speculating and it seems to be crowding out everything else.

     I find myself obsessed with two concerns.  First, I want to be in physically as good a condition as possible.  This means taking a very disciplined approach to exercise every day without fail as well as a focus on what I'm eating, and not eating, to get down to as good a weight as possible.  Second, approaching the door forces me to assess me and to make sure any progress I have made turning myself around...progress getting pride and ego under control...progress in understanding how my actions affect others...progress in walking out the door a better husband and father and friend...progress in my relationship to a God who gave me so many talents and gifts and now wonders if She may have made a mistake...that I can bring all of this with me back to a world which will try to distract me and derail me and tempt me and fool me if I let it.

     I cannot promise this mental quagmire or thought storm makes as much sense as would overarching joy at coming home...getting away from this dysfunctional system designed to encourage recidivists not deter them...spending these last months planning the huge welcome home party.  I could be writing this to an audience of one, but I wanted to articulate to you why my production has slipped and why I am not as motivated right now to write about Obama et.al.  I apologize for the naval gazing but it seems to be increasing as the days drop away.


     There is much more to write.  There is more to say.  I have learned so much and want to pass it on.  Please bear with me over these last few months as I try to sort through all these feelings and questions.  We have all been on this journey together and I owe so many of you, and especially the minders of this site, for your friendship and support over these six plus years.  I have used this space to think and explore and to reveal to you what has been going on with me along this path.  We have some more roads to travel together I believe.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I'D TAKE A BULLET FOR YOU...

  Imagine being able to board a train in San Francisco and three hours later be in Los Angeles.  Comfy seats...club car...WiFi...no overhead bins...no sitting on the tarmac for hours waiting...no airplane at all.  It's the stuff of great fantasy and Jerry Brown says he wants the state of California to build this bullet train.  I can't think of a worse idea.

     I don't get to see local papers very often.  (who would have thought I would miss the Chronicle?)  Once in a while one will cross my bunk and I get to see what's going on in the Bay Area.  One story seems to jump off the pages.  It is the disaster that is the construction of the new part of the Bay Bridge.  It is an on-going series of revelations revealing a comedy of errors and outrageous incompetency on a grand scale.

     From the snippets I get to read, CALTRANS chose a Chinese company to make the steel for the bridge even though it had never been involved in a bridge project before.  The company balked and failed to follow stringent requirements for the manufacture of the steel and for the quality controls needed and instead of firing them and finding someone new, CALTRANS granted the exemptions and made excuses.  Now inspectors are finding corrosion and bolts which are shearing off and evidence the company did not manufacture the steel up to standards.  The steel is exposed to elements and water and salt and reacting to them when there shouldn't be a reaction.  There are also reports of suspect concrete used in pilings and other places on the bridge as well as well as innumerable other problems and all of this plus a price tag which isn't even close to any original estimates and gives a new definition to the term sticker shock.

     The latest outrage is the accusations that employees of the state who raised red flags about many of these concerns or warned about problems with the steel, concrete, structural plans, incompetence or criminally bad engineering were fired or demoted by CALTRANS.  A report issued in January confirms an environment in which critics or whistleblowers, or just people trying to do their jobs, were intimidated and brow beat into shutting up and looking the other way or else.  In the last few weeks, three more employees have come forward to accuse CALTRANS of firing them because they dared to raise questions about the quality of the work being done.

     This is typical of the government's reaction to criticism.  This happens on Pentagon procurement all the time.  (the colonel who blew the whistle on the Bradley Fighting vehicle that it hadn't been tested and would kill everyone inside if struck by a rocket propelled grenade, was transferred to Greenland until Congress stepped in)  Companies get government contracts and then cut every corner possible to maximize profit including shoddy material, poor construction and bad design.  When someone raises questions about the practices, they are the ones attacked by a government bureaucracy which reflexively circles the wagons to protect itself.  It is exactly what CALTRANS appears to have done in this case.  As far as I can see, and I don't have all the data, no one in the upper echelons of CALTRANS or anyone in the state government, has lost their job because of this debacle.  No one has been brought up on criminal charges, charged with obstruction or for cheating California taxpayers.  As is typical, the whistleblowers lose their jobs while the higher ups stay untouched.  Brown, of course, has done nothing and held no one accountable.  No one has been fired nor has the leadership of the agency been shaken up and in fact he denies there are any serious concerns about the structural integrity of the bridge.  At the very least taxpayers and commuters will both have to pay more through higher tolls and more tax revenue, and will be on the hook for billions in repairs and maintenance costs far into the foreseeable future.

     Now this same governor...this same CALTRANS...this same incompetent group of state employees, contract supervisors, engineers and designers want to spend more than $60 billion to build a bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Really?  Given what we know about how badly they blundered on the Bay Bridge and given how the costs were out of control...given their willingness to ignore or cover-up problems with materials, design, construction and other key facets of the project, you are being asked to let them have at another major construction undertaking?  What is the definition of insanity?

     "They" say it will cost about $60 billion.  This means it will cost at least twice that, or more, when it is finally completed.  "They" say it will be constructed with the best materials...the most advanced designs...using advanced high tech engineering.  You know they will hire an incompetent company to save some money (which you will pay for at the back end when it's poorly completed).  The company will try to cut every possible corner to maximize profit and if anyone raises an alarm, they will be fired or demoted as CALTRANS, or whoever is in charge, protects their own jobs at your expense.  "They" say safety will be their highest priority just as it was with the Bay Bridge.  How safe does that make you feel?  "They" say this will create much needed construction and other jobs.  Why not spend far less money repairing the state's infrastructure of roads and bridges which are in terrible condition and actually create more jobs right now in the construction industry and related fields?

     It is impossible to look at the debacle of the new Bay Bridge and then rationally hand these same people over $60 billion of your tax dollars to do it again.  The State of California, and the governor, (perhaps any governor) is incapable of building this train on-time, on budget, safely and they will stick taxpayers with the tab and it will never live up to even half of the promises being made about how it will perform and how much prosperity it will bring to the state.
 

     My grandmother used to say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  If you use the Bay Bridge as an example, it tastes like ass and smells just as bad.  I would never vote, nor support anything which involves CALTRANS in a big construction project and the bureaucrats who come with it after watching how poorly they performed on something as vital as this bridge.   Would you?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF SECTION "A"...

Reading Section A of the Wall Street Journal for Thursday, August 7th, left me wanting answers...full of thoughts and comments...aghast.agog and wanting to throw it all into one Mulligan's stew of a literary meal.

 ___ Bank of America is going to pay $17 billion for ripping off people with bogus sub-prime mortgages and securities which were issued by Countrywide Financial Bank and Merrill Lynch and Co., companies which B of A purchased at the height of the depression of 2007.  This follows $13 billion which J.P. Morgan paid in fines, $7 billion by CitiBank, and numerous other banks who have admitted to committing fraud and theft and malfeascence on a global scale.  Not one bank official will be charged with a crime and the fines are perceived as just the cost of doing business.  (It almost reminds one of a mob operation where payoffs and bribes to cops and judges is just a cost for doing their business too)  Fearing the beating of an expired equine, how is it possible these "banks" could commit such egregious fraud and do serious damage to the nation's economy, causing millions of Americans to needlessly lose their homes, exacerbate the income gap between the 1% and everyone else, and yet not one person is punished.  How can Eric Holder et. al. go to sleep at night with any sense of being part of a "Justice" department?  The gang at Justice trotted out the cheerleaders and pom poms trumpeting their latest triumph, a triumph which solidifies once and for all the reality if you are rich enough and steal big enough, you can pass Go, collect your $200 and not ever even need a get out of jail free card.  Compare this to the federal prison system where more than 200,000 people are incarcerated, not one of whom can be claimed to have wrecked our economy, stole hundreds of billions of dollars, (hell Maddoff only stole about $20 billion maybe), threw millions of Americans out on the street and saddled our children's generation with debt and the probability of not being able to achieve any where near the economic success of their parents.  How does that equate?

___ If you want to know where you stand vis a vis privacy, the N.S.A. (National Security Agency), government spying and constitutional protections, it appears we are all totally screwed.  A federal judge, who used to sit on the secret F.I.S.A. (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court, has written letters to a congressional committee opposing reform legislation aimed at curbing the electronic rape which has been going on in this country since 2001.  Federal District Judge John Bates, doesn't like a bill by Sen. Patrick Leahy which, among other things, would advocate creating public interest advocates who would represent you and me, in front of the secret court, when the government is asking to give you or me a cyber colorectal exam.  Currently, the F.I.S.A. court grants about 99% of the government's requests.  (so much for judicial review)  The idea that someone ought to be looking out for us to prevent a government fishing expedition into your most personal information seems to offend Judge Bates.  He seems to find transparency un-American.  He has written at least three letters opposing reforms championed by Leahy, the A.C.L.U., 4th amendment defenders and those concerned about an intelligence community run amok.  My question is why he is allowed to write and lobby on this issue at all?  The judiciary is supposed to be a check on the executive and legislative branches...it's supposed to be blind taking up neither side in a dispute. It’s supposed to be an impartial arbiter.  So, how can it be in anyone's best interest when federal judges want to shape legislation they might later have to review?  What's worse, given what Bates has written, how would like to have your case of government spying allegations come before him?  How do you think he would rule?   Bates went so far as to argue a lawyer representing you and me would create an adversary to fight the government.  He doesn't like that concept.  What?  We want it to be adversarial...we want the government to have to defend its actions...we want someone challenging their assumptions and demanding a show of probable cause...we want it to be hard to get permission to shred the 4th amendment.  Apparently Judge Bates finds the concept abhorrent and thinks judges should be writing, and then reviewing, the laws of the land.  This is 1984 scary.

___ Currently, the United States is threatening Iran with possible war if it develops, or gets close to developing, a nuclear weapon.  Crushing economic sanctions have been justified as a means to convincing them not to continue to push to be a member of the nuclear club.  Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty which allows it to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. says that is not what they are up to and they will suffer until they knuckle under.  The president says military action is possible if the status quo doesn't change.  (President Bush got the American people to support a war in Iraq by claiming Saddam was trying to build a bomb and that could not be allowed...even if it was a lie)  A new report say Israel stole over 200 lbs. of bomb-grade uranium from a Pennsylvania company in the 60's, from which at least two Hiroshima-sized bombs could be fashioned.  We know they did it.  We kept it a secret.  (from us)  Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and by law the U.S. should be imposing economic sanctions as well as refusing to sell them military equipment and other assistance.  We ignore the law for them.  We allow them to deny they have nuclear weapons.  We turn a blind eye as they modernize them and as they threaten to attack Iran, and drag us into a disastrous war we could not win.  This is the same Israel we condemn for killing women and children in Gaza, and then resupply them with the very ammunition and weapons they used to carry out those attacks.  This is our ally about whom we conveniently ignore their flaunting of our laws and about whom we know they got their bombs by stealing from us.  People then wonder why we are not seen as an honest broker in the Middle East.

___ Women prefer Democrats and their economic plans over Republicans.  Women are more concerned about income inequality and the growing gap between the 1% and the rest of us and thus believe Democrats will do more to address this problem than will Republicans.  If women vote in decent enough numbers, they could blunt the Republican effort to take over control of the Senate.  Men love the GOP...love the gap between the 1% and everyone else or at least aren't troubled by it...love the idea of a pro-business, anti-labor Congress.  The midterm elections in November could result in the largest gender gap in any national election.  Here's to hoping it's a women's world in November.


___ From the bat-shit crazy department...President Obama's popularity is at an all time low and Americans give him poor marks in his handling of foreign policy.  They say it's not "muscular" enough.  However, the same polls say these Americans don't think the crisis in Syria, Libya, the South China Sea, Egypt, even the Ukraine are any of our business as a nation and do not support any use of American forces in those arenas.  Can you tell me based on these opinions, what course the President should steer internationally which would garner approval from the American public?

Monday, August 4, 2014

PROPORTIONALITY...

  Subject to new updates, at least 1,400 Palestinians have been killed in the latest battles with Israel.  According to international agencies, from one third to one half of those killed are children and over 80% of the dead are civilians.  Israel has lost 53 soldiers, which are too many, and 3 civilians so far.  (also too many)  Gaza has lost its only power plant which not only produces power for homes and lighting and air conditioning, it also is needed to run pumps which produce drinking water for Gazans.  The Palestinians are thus left in the dark, sweltering and without potable water.  Israeli infrastructure is secure with no damage from thousands of rockets which have been launched.  Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-rocket defense system is said to shoot down over 80% of the rockets which represent the most serious threats to person and property.  Thus, while Israelis face stress, psychological trauma, fear and the rare chance someone might be killed, Palestinians face imminent death, privation, and the destruction of most of their societal infrastructure.  Without debating right or wrong, the above facts point to a serious moral problem.  The threat to Israel and Israelis is not in any way proportionate to their military response.

     The Roman Catholic Church, and to an extent most Christian denominations, has promulgated over hundreds of years what has become known as the "just war" theory.  It is a moral approach to the question of whether any war can be morally justified.  While I find the theory lacking, and while the Church has rarely put any moral force behind it's decisions on just wars, it can be a starting point to examine armed conflict between states and people.  (the Church condemned the Iraq war because it violated the "just war" theory, but refused to sanction or condemn Catholic members of Congress who voted to use force...a reluctance it has never had for members who vote to protect a woman's right to choose.) 

     One of the key criteria in judging the just cause of any war is the concept of proportionality.  Is the alleged grievance caused by one nation, justification for the response of another?  (it was on this criteria the Church, along with most mainline Protestant churches in this country, condemned the Iraq war.  The United State's response was disproportionate to the provocation represented by Saddam Hussein.)

     It is clear to me; Israel's ongoing aggression in Gaza is morally disproportionate to the threat represented by the rocket attacks by Hamas.  Hamas rockets are incapable, due to their own shortcomings and the Iron Dome system, of causing the death and destruction which Israel has brought down upon Gaza.  Even the tunnels, which Israel says Hamas uses to smuggle weapons into Gaza as well as use to sneak attackers into Israel, have not resulted in significant property damage or loss of Israeli lives.

     1,400 dead vs. 3 could not be any clearer.  While Gaza loses its power plant, hospitals, schools and even open-air market places, Israel loses very little.  There is no moral equivalent between the damage and carnage Israeli forces are raining down on Gaza vs. the damage being done by Hamas to Israel and its citizens.

     Despite all the rhetoric from the Palestinian side, Israel has a right to defend itself, but it does not have a moral right to use self-defense as an excuse to try to force the Palestinians to abandon their political support for Hamas.  The truly immoral and disproportionate aspect of Israel's actions is they continue to attack civilians and children who could not and cannot stop the launching of the rockets even if they agreed with Israel's position.  Justifying innocent deaths by accusing Hamas of using human shields doesn't get Israel off the moral hook.  Knowing that, and attacking anyway, puts the onus on the Israelis even with the immoral actions of Hamas.  As their homes and towns are laid to rubble, the people in Gaza are not in a position to do anything affecting Hamas' strategy or military decisions.

     Even though Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies it, the only explanation for the destruction in Gaza is an attempt by Israel to cause regime change.  Israel appears to believe that by punishing the population of Gaza...killing them...destroying parts of cities and towns...shelling beaches filled with children...the people will remove Hamas from governing Gaza and replace it with something more acceptable to the Israelis.  This is the same mentality which President Bush was guilty of in Afghanistan and Iraq and you see how well that has worked out.

     Netanyahu is on the record as opposing a two state solution.  His cabinet is full of advisors who refuse to ever accept such a possibility.  Even as 16,000 more reservists are called up to pursue a ground war, Netanyahu's government reveals plans to expand illegal settlements on the West Bank and Jerusalem. (settlements which the United Nations, United States and Europe all agree are illegal and steal land from the Palestinians)  To think Palestinians will reject Hamas in the face of a continual Israeli occupation is to ignore reality.

     Israel does have the right to defend itself.  It has the right to close or destroy tunnels which allow for Hamas to attack within the country.  Israel has a right to exist and to live without fear of attack.  Israel has the right to respond to provocation, but the response must be proportional to the provocation.

    The United States has been an enabler for Israel since its inception.  We arm them and ignore their development of nuclear weapons while threatening war with other nations who attempt to get a nuke of their own.  We have refused to sanction Israel for disproportionate responses in the past.  We turn a blind eye as more and more Palestinian land is stolen by Israelis and settlements built.  Israel knows it can get away with virtually anything, particularly in an election year.  The current humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not matched by an equal humanitarian crisis in Israel and the U.S. is silent on the disparity.  Israel sees no downside to their current offensive.


     I don't have an ounce of Solomonic wisdom in me and don't know how to split this baby to bring about peace.  I do know it has to involve a two state solution...it has to involve an end to settlements and giving back the land...it has to recognize Israel's right to exist in peace with secure borders...it has to represent hope for both sides.  I do know the only thing Israel is doing now is sewing the seeds of future wars and deep-seated hatred along with more destruction and the current offensive is immoral.

Friday, July 25, 2014

HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE...

There is a knock on your door and you open it to discover a 7 year old child alone, cold, hungry and in shock.  What do you do?  Do you slam the door?...tell her to go away?...sic your dog on her?...call the National Guard?  Or do you invite her in and wrap her in a blanket, give her some food and drink?  Do you make her feel safe while trying to figure out where she came from?  You do call the police and social services in the hope they can find her family and knowing she will be kept warm and protected.  Questions about how she got to your door and why she is alone and where she came from would all be secondary to meeting her immediate needs.  Right?

     It’s baffling to me how a humanitarian crisis has morphed into an existential threat to our nation's security, and yet it is what is happening since thousands of unaccompanied minor children began washing up on the shores of this great country seeking asylum.  The rhetoric and hyperbole from regressives borders on the maniacal.  One Texas congressman likens the children to an invading army while invoking images of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day and calls on the state's governor to use all force, including warships, to stem this human tide.  Another southern member of Congress claims the children are carrying the Ebola virus and could cause an American pandemic.  Regressive talk radio talks in dystopian terms of the end of all our borders and the collapse of American culture if these children are not stopped and force used to deter any future attempts to enter this nation.  Our infrastructure and institutions are on the verge of imploding due to this children's crusade.

     Huh?  These flights of fancy and fact-less frenzy would be the stuff of great satire were it not for the serious crisis occurring and the fact some Americans are buying into this nightmare scenario.  The conspiracy theories are flying fast and furious.  These children are coming here at President Obama's behest to become a new voting block for the Democratic Party.  (considering the average age is about 9-11, those elections they will tilt Obama's way would appear to be quite a few years hence)  This human tidal wave is a result of a 2012 law signed by Obama slowing the deportation of some children by this nation.  (in reality it is a 2008 law signed by George W. Bush which mandates that undocumented children be protected and placed with any family which can be found in this country)  This crisis is a result of borders which are not secure and they are not secure because Obama wants more and more new immigrants to bolster his political power.  (under this president, the budget for the Border Patrol has increased dramatically to its highest level ever and there are more border patrol agents now than at any time in history and the numbers continues to climb)  There is even talk by the likes of Sarah Palin and others that this is an impeachable offense because Obama is deliberately undermining the strength and security of the nation by encouraging or ignoring all these children at our border.

     When the real facts are examined, the reason for this mass movement of children is readily apparent.  The highest percentage of children are coming from nations like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  These also happen to be the most violent and unstable nations in Central America.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says Honduras has the highest murder rate in the entire world.  Crime and mayhem from drug gangs and criminal wars, along with crushing poverty, has trapped these children and their families in the middle of it all.  (as proof look at a nation like Nicaragua which has a low homicide rate and rate of violence...very few of the children appearing at our borders are from there or from other more stable and less violent nations in the area)

     Texas governor Rick Perry wants to put the National Guard (with fixed bayonet's?) on the Texas border.  Under questioning on Fox News of all places, Perry had to admit the Guard could not arrest anyone or hold these children and it was unlikely they were going to shoot them (right?) so what good would they do?  Perry said they could scare the kids and send a message back to their homes so no more will venture forth.  I'm sorry?  These unaccompanied minors, some as young as three years old, have trekked over thousands of miles of mountains and deserts, against all odds, to escape abuse and violence, but the sight of some soldiers is going to frighten them enough to get them to turn back or not to leave in the first place?

     The U.S. has facilities to handle about 8,000 children and families at any given time.  There are not enough camps and bases and old prisons to hold them all right now.  There are not enough medical personnel to evaluate them for illness and disease and not enough food and beds.  Obama is asking for billions to remedy this, but regressives say it's too much money and are refusing to pass his request.  (Perry, along with El Rushbo have shouted about a looming health crisis because these children haven't been vaccinated against things like measles and chicken pox.  Ironically, because of free health care, the children from Guatemala are more likely to be vaccinated than children in Texas)

     Perhaps the most disturbing image among all the news footage, more disturbing than shoeless, hungry, emaciated children begging for help while some of their companions lie dead on the desert floor, is the picture of crowds of angry white Americans attacking buses carrying the children, screaming at them and refusing to allow them to be sheltered in their communities.  (this is happening all over the nation from California to Michigan)  What is it they are so angry about?  What threat do these children represent?  Who have they offended by risking their lives to escape violence, abuse and poverty?

     All of these children need to be kept safe, warm, fed and clothed.  They then need to be evaluated to see if they have family in this country and why they fled and what dangers they would face if repatriated back to their homes.  It is not going to be quick or clean but it is the right moral choice to make in a "Christian" nation.


     The "invasion" of these children shows the real moral fault lines in this nation and again they fall along racial and economic concerns.  These are the same racial and economic concerns which created the No Nothing Party, the Klan, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, Japanese internment camps and the signs saying" no Irish need apply".  Lady Liberty carries a torch to light the way for those children.  Who among you wants to snuff that out?