Monday, March 19, 2007


what is the difference between a democratic society and one that lives under fascist tyranny? an important part of the answer to that question concerns the matter of culpability, oversight, and basic checks and balances. these precious commodities, critical to a free society, are slowly being eroded in this great nation of ours. an interesting article illustrating an example of this fact was recently published in The Nation. It deals with war profiteering Y2K style - corporations building, training, and arming small armies that it rents to the government for big $$$. You can read it here.

for those of you who missed it the first time around, you should check out my homage to Gandhi. you can read that here.

for one among a multitude of good reasons why China should not be eligible to host the Olympics go to a LiveJournal entry I wrote while in India here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Entitled to Happiness: the (mental) State of the Union

"Ugh, I am truly unhappy" she said. "In fact I am painfully miserable. I am suffering when it is my very right to be free from such. Somebody must be to blame. Somebody is responsible for this condition. My husband perhaps. Could be my third grade teacher. Well, I may not be certain just yet, but I'll find out. And when I do I am going to sue their ass off."

somewhere along the way, the great paragon of rights and democracy became a great cesspool of gluttons who have confused rights with privileges and who have traded democracy for plutocracy. somehow egalitarianism gave way to egoism and now every one of the tragic lot is lost in a whirlwind of accusation and blame. the right to the pursuit of happiness has been edited. without the problematic responsibility of pursuit, the fools are free to indict one another when the sun doesn’t shine all day every day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Who is King Abdullah II and why was he in the United States recently?

Don't Panic... your war questions answered


Devoted fans of the 1990s TV series "Star Trek: Voyager" may have noticed a familiar face on their televisions last week. One of the nonspeaking extras from season two was in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday night, he and his wife had dinner at the White House with President Bush. On Wednesday, he addressed a joint session of Congress from the same podium President Bush uses for the State of the Union address.

Trekkie's name is Abdullah. He'd probably prefer that you call him King Abdullah, or Your Majesty King Abdullah II. I like to call him Trekkie.

King Trekkie is the king of Jordan. Jordan is wedged between Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel. It's roughly the size of Indiana and takes its name from the Jordan River (of biblical fame).

Trekkie was born in 1962 in Amman, Jordan. According to his official website, he is the "43rd generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad" which is the equivalent of great-grandson if you said "great" 41 times. Neat.

Trekkie's father was the late King Hussein and his mother was an English woman. Her real name was Antoinette Avril Gardiner, but after she married Hussein, she was called Queen Muna.

King Hussein did not seemingly intend for Trekkie to become king. Hussein didn't declare Trekkie his official heir apparent until just a few days before his death. The first 37 years of his life were spent being a rich, feckless prince with a kick-ass toy collection. Here's how the British celeb magazine Hello! describes him:

"A man of action, Abdullah is a scuba diving and automobile racing fan – he's a former Jordanian National Rally Racing Champion – plus a qualified frogman, pilot and freefall parachutist. He's also a keen collector of ancient weapons and armaments."

Trekkie actually spent so much time dicking around England that he speaks with a posh English accent. He's like Jordan's Madonna, but worse. At least Madonna speaks her native tongue well. By all accounts, Trekkie speaks his country's native Arabic with an accent that makes him sound like a foreigner.

Trekkie is married to an ethnic Palestinian named Rania. Rania went on "Oprah" last year and said that Trekkie loves to barbecue. She also gave an interview to India's Delhi Times newspaper in December where she evoked the spirit of Kermit the Frog by declaring that "It's not easy being a queen."

Trekkie is one of those Middle East leaders that the U.S. government and the news media call a "moderate." Moderate is an exceptionally vague word, but it's meant to imply goodness, decency and level-headedness. In fact, when the United States calls a Muslim leader a "moderate," that means he's our friend. Jordan is a dictatorship. The only thing moderate about it is that it's moderately less fascist than its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt.

Trekkie's visit to the United States is the most recent in a series of high-level back-and-forthing between the United States and Jordan. Trekkie and Dubya are talking so much these days because they're desperately trying to figure out a way to turn Iraq into a working country again. Trekkie is concerned that chaos in Iraq will lead to war throughout the Middle East.

Trekkie is working with Dubya to halt the formation of what Trekkie calls the "Shiite Crescent". The Shiite Crescent is a stretch of land from Iran to Lebanon populated by Shiite Muslims. If Shiites get too much power, Trekkie warns, U.S. interests in the Middle East will be damaged. By U.S. interests, Trekkie means Israel and oil.

Trekkie's keenest interest is, naturally, his own job. U.S. policy in Iraq and the Bush administration's uncritical support of Israel has helped radicalize his people. Trekkie implored Congress to pressure Israel into helping relieve the suffering of Palestinian people. A workable peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians will probably draw energy and support away from the Islamist radicals who want to see Trekkie's head on a stick.

Congress did not react warmly to Trekkie's requests. Expect Trekkie to seek solace on the back of his new Alabama-made Hellcat motorcycle. The $70,000 bike was Trekkie's 45th birthday gift to himself.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Is the United States preparing to go to war with Iran?

Don't Panic... your war questions answered


Cue up your Daryl Worley CDs. Stock up on patriotic car magnets. Get ready to start referring to your Persian cat as a freedom feline. The United States is planning to go to war with Iran.

I'm not saying the United States is certainly, most definitely, undoubtedly going to launch a military strike against Iran. I'm saying the Bush administration is putting all of the necessary military pieces in place to launch an enormous and sustained bombing campaign against Iran as early as this spring.

Although the Bush administration has denied that it intends to go to war with Iran, the rhetorical and military buildup has unmistakably begun.

Just before Valentine's Day, anonymous U.S. officials held a dramatic, secretive press briefing to show off Iranian-made roadside bombs being used in Iraq to attack U.S. troops. It was followed by a presidential press conference during which Bush repeatedly stated his intention to protect American troops in Iraq from Iranian weapons.

The briefers and the bombs said nothing new about Iraq. Administration officials have been complaining about Iranian military support for Iraqi Shiites since 2003. The episode's only news value was to reveal how the Bush administration will attempt to justify a war with Iran by claiming, among other things, self-defense. Like Dubya said: "My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we're going to do something about it." If you argue with that, you must be against the troops.

Though the rhetorical war just recently got hot, the military buildup against Iran started last year when the Pentagon ordered the aircraft carriers U.S.S. Eisenhower and U.S.S. Stennis to swim in lazy circles near Iran's southern coast. It's the first time since 2003 that two U.S. carriers have been deployed there at the same time.

In addition to carrying approximately 60 strike aircraft, U.S. carriers are accompanied by cruisers, destroyers and submarines capable of firing hundreds of guided missiles at land targets over a sustained period. Bombs and guided missiles are the weapons that the Bush administration would use if it chose to attack Iranian military and nuclear installations.

Seymour Hersh reports in the March 5 issue of the New Yorker that some in the military believe the carriers will stay even after their scheduled replacements arrive this spring. Four U.S. carriers off Iran's southern coast would be one-third of the U.S. Navy's carrier strike-force capability.

In addition to all the naval airpower moving into place, there are already 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, which borders Iran to the west, 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran to the east, and several U.S. bases in countries to Iran's north and south. Iran is also quite close to the joint U.S.-U.K. airbase on the Indian Ocean island Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia bases several of the biggest long-range bombers in the U.S. military. The United States would need British permission before using Diego Garcia for an attack on Iran. In the event that the Brits don't grant that permission (Tony Blair might, but his successor this spring will likely not) the United States has moved several of its long-range bombers from Diego Garcia to Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Qatar is right off Iran's coast.

Speaking of the Brits, the conservative and pro-Iraq War British newspaper the Telegraph reported last month that the United States has already started a ground war of sorts in Iran.

Quoting a CIA official and a former U.S. diplomat, the article claims that the United States is funding terrorism perpetrated by Iran's ethnic minorities in an effort to pressure Iran from the inside into surrendering its nuclear program. Terrorist attacks inside have increased sharply over the past two years.

You read that correctly. The country presided over by the man who famously said in November 2001 "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror," is funding terrorism in Iran. The U.S. Department of Irony continues to outdo itself.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Has there been any progress in the United States' effort to stop Iran's nuclear program?

Don't Panic... your war questions answered


Like my career, the United States' nuclear standoff with Iran doesn't ever seem to progress.

Since 2003, the Bush administration (with international support) has been demanding that Iran halt its nuclear fuel enrichment program. And since 2003, Iran has been telling George W. Bush to take his demands, roll them tight and cram them up his axis of evil. Iran insists that its fuel enrichment is solely for treaty-approved nuclear power production and it will therefore continue.

The main reason this dispute seems to be going on and on: the aggressive ineptitude (and the inept aggression) of the concerned parties.

The Bush administration insists that it's willing to sit down with Iranian diplomats to negotiate about Iran's nuclear program, but only if Iran agrees to give up its nuclear program before the negotiations start. Translation: "We'll negotiate with Iran on the condition that Iran agrees to give us exactly what we want before negotiations even start." Apparently, the Bush administration's $35 billion fiscal year 2007 diplomacy budget doesn't include the $5.99 (plus tax) needed to buy a dictionary that includes the definition of the word "negotiate."

Even stupider, the Bush administration turned down an offer made by Iran in the spring of 2003 to negotiate a comprehensive settlement of all the two nations' disputes.

Try to let that sink in for a second. In 2003, just after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein but before Iraq began its steady decline into chaos, Iran sent a note to the United States essentially saying that, in exchange for security guarantees and normalized relations, Iran would be willing to give up its nuclear program, stop funding Hezbollah and Palestinian militants, and work with the United States to help stabilize Iraq. The Bush administration didn't just ignore the offer, it admonished the Swiss diplomats who delivered it to us from Iran.

Not to be out-stupided by the Bush administration, the mullahcrats in Tehran have seemingly gone out of their way to give the world the impression that their dictionaries are missing the word "sane."

In 2005, Iran's real leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allowed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to become Iran's president. Ahmadinejad has undermined Iran's previous claims that its nuclear program is peaceful by repeatedly stating Iran's intention to eliminate Israel. Because Iran doesn't border Israel and because Israel is by far the dominant conventional military power in the Middle East, official Iranian references to eliminating Israel are interpreted to mean nuclear holocaust. And if one had any doubt that Iran's president is thirsty for angry confrontation with the West, late last year he hosted a conference of holocaust deniers in Tehran.

The current best hope for a peaceful settlement of the nuclear fuel enrichment standoff is that the stupidity of the United States and Iran has thus far united the international community in pursuit of a peaceful solution.

Annoyed and frightened by Iran's posturing and by the Bush administration's colossal bungling in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nations of the U.N. Security Council have united to try to rein in Iran before the United States attempts another ill-conceived bombing campaign.

In December, U.N. Resolution 1737 froze the assets of companies with ties to Iran's nuclear sector. And the United States has used its economic leverage to get international banks to stop doing business with Iran. The result has been an economic squeeze in Iran that has prompted a wave of public criticism of Ahmadinejad for turning the world community against Iran while turning his back on the promises he made to improve Iran's economy. Ahmadinejad didn't win Iran's presidency by campaigning on a platform of holocaust-denying and high-fiving Hugo Chavez. He won promising economic reforms that would improve standards of living and budge Iran's 20-percent unemployment rate.

Public criticism in Iran of Ahmadinejad is significant. The government of Iran regularly imprisons and kills people who complain. If thousands are bold enough to speak up, Iran's government knows there are millions more who are angry but scared to complain. If the United States, the EU and the United Nations stick together, it's likely that Iran can be coaxed into negotiating a settlement similar to the one it offered in 2003.

In the meantime, will someone please teach the Bush administration the definition of the word "negotiate"?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Barack Obama and The Experience Factor


"The Experience Factor." The words resonate wherever pols and pundits congregate, sipping and opining at watering holes along the campaign trail.

"The Experience Factor." It comes up right after someone mentions "The Obama Phenomenon" _ and it sets the wise heads to nodding, figuring that concerns about his lack of experience will doom what many think is a premature run for the presidency by this talented man who has only been a U.S. senator for two years.

But before joining the Wise Nodding Bobble-Heads, we need to take a hard look at The Experience Factor. After all, searching for presidential experience ought to be a bit like candling an egg, because before passing judgment and then discarding it, it is good to figure out what is really inside.

We begin in October 2002. Congress was deliberating what to do about Saddam Hussein, who was refusing to cooperate with U.N. inspectors of weapons of mass destruction. In the club that is the Senate, smart liberals _ including Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., now the Armed Services Committee chairman _ were fashioning alternative resolutions that would authorize President Bush to invade Iraq, but with important caveats, and so on.

Of all the words legislators spoke in that crucial month, none proved more prescient than these, uttered on Oct. 26, 2002:

"I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. ...

"So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. ... Let's finish the fight with bin Laden and al Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings."

Those words were spoken not in the U.S. Senate, but at an anti-war rally in Chicago. The speaker was not a U.S. senator, but Illinois state Sen. Obama. He began by boldly attacking the notion of being anti-war.

"Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances," Obama said.

He spoke eloquently of the importance of the Civil War, World War II ("My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton's army.") and the War on Terror.

"After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this administration's pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again," Obama said.

"I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war."

What made Obama's speech rather remarkable wasn't just that his warnings proved true. It was that this was a state legislator who had developed a conceptual framework of how world issues are intrinsically linked _ that actions in one place can have far-reaching consequences.

So Obama urged Bush to fight terror by vigorously fighting for nonproliferation and the safeguarding of poorly secured weapons in the former Soviet Union (the Nunn-Lugar program, named for former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who would become Obama's mentor and partner in policy initiatives). He warned about nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and urged us to press Middle East allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to ease repressive practices that turn citizens into "ready recruits of terrorist cells."

On that day, Obama ended his uncommon anti-war-rally speech not with a fist-shaking warning but with a heart-tugging reminder about who would pay the ultimate price for a federal folly. After warning us not to "travel down that hellish path blindly" by invading Iraq without global consensus, he added: "Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain."

Those who were in Chicago's Federal Plaza on that 2002 day heard a voice of experience that was neither heard nor heeded in a nation's capital hell-bent on fighting the wrong war.

How might a troop-level increase in Iraq affect U.S. military operations elsewhere?

Don't Panic... Your War Questions Answered


With President Bush calling for a troop-level "surge" in Iraq and Iraq's insurgents no doubt stocking up on surge protectors, politicians and talking heads are busy debating the effect a troop buildup might have on the outcome of the war. Will the escalation be an unmitigated disaster, they wonder? Or will it merely be a dismal and tragic failure?

The discussion about how the surge will affect Iraq is an important one, but it's obscuring another equally important discussion. How will the troop buildup in Iraq affect U.S. military operations outside of Iraq? The U.S. military has important commitments all over the globe. It conducts operations on every continent, including Antarctica. Just because penguins are cute doesn't mean we don't need to be vigilant.

Of the military's 39 active combat brigades, 15 are already in Iraq. If the Bush Push happens, that number will increase to 20. Numerous reports, from both inside and outside the Pentagon, have warned for a few years that the war in Iraq has dangerously overstretched the U.S. military. If 15 of 39 brigades in Iraq is overstretched, what's 20? Circus contortionist? Yoga instructor?

The problem that this troop escalation will create is that the more soldiers the Bush administration sends to Iraq, the fewer there are available for other vital missions.

Nowhere is the shortage of U.S. military manpower more apparent than in Afghanistan.

Baltimore Sun reporter David Wood recently reported that the Pentagon is redeploying U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan to Iraq at the same time that U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are begging the Pentagon to send more.

Taliban forces made a dramatic comeback in Afghanistan last year. According to Wood, their attacks on U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces tripled last year. It's not just guerilla attacks, either. Taliban fighters are mounting frontal attacks against U.S. and NATO forces, a sign that they're confident in their ability to win battles.

The United States' unwillingness to commit the military resources necessary to stabilize Afghanistan and the economic resources necessary to rebuild it has helped drive a wedge between Afghanistan's government and its people. Instead of rebuilding Afghanistan, like it promised to, the U.S. turned its attention to Iraq and allowed Afghanistan to collapse into the same pit of chaos and warlordism that helped incubate the Taliban the first time around. In the words of a report by the International Crisis Group published in November, "The desire for a quick, cheap war followed by a quick, cheap peace is what has brought Afghanistan to the present, increasingly dangerous situation."

U.S. commanders expect Taliban forces to mount a spring offensive aimed at severing the road link between Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, and its second-largest city and the Taliban's spiritual hometown, Kandahar.

The Bush Push into Iraq also cannibalizes the military's ability to protect U.S. homeland security because of the workload it has placed on state National Guard units.

The National Guard is a branch of the Army comprised overwhelmingly of part-time soldiers. Unlike the full-time, active-duty military, they are intended as a reserve force to be used in the event of emergencies. In peacetime, they are commanded by their state governors and are often among the first responders to local emergencies and disasters that are too big for police, fire and rescue workers to handle on their own. In a time of war, however, the president has the authority to commandeer the state National Guards and send them overseas. National Guard soldiers make up about one-third of the U.S. force in Iraq.

The National Governors Association complained to the Bush administration last year that the Iraq war has significantly hampered the National Guard's domestic readiness. In addition to taking up vital personnel, the war has also used up vital National Guard equipment. The Louisiana National Guard's slow response to the flooding of New Orleans that followed Hurricane Katrina was in part due to the fact that more than one-quarter of the state's National Guard personnel, and most of the state's best National Guard vehicles, were in Iraq.

On the day after Bush announced his troop-level increase plan to the nation, the Pentagon announced that it was abandoning its limit on the time National Guard and Reserve soldiers can be required to serve on active duty. That means more Guard units and more Guard equipment in Iraq, and less of it here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What are the details of North Korea's nuclear deal with the United States?

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered


North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-il just had what the hipsters at VH1 might dub the "Best Week Ever."

Last week, the Dear Leader celebrated his 65th birthday with an over-the-top, nationwide, multiday celebration that makes me wonder if Kim hired Martha Stewart, Dr. Evil and Henry Kissinger to head his planning committee.

Among the highlights, last week saw the debut performance of a symphony titled "Glory To Kim Jong-il." I checked: iTunes doesn't have it yet.

Last Friday, a group described by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency as a "dancing party of youth and students" performed several dance numbers for the Dear Leader, including "May the Leader Receive Blessings from the People," "The Korean Nation Is Best" and "Our General Is Best."

Hundreds of thousands of people, from all over the world apparently, visited the festival of Kimjongilia, a flower named for the Dear Leader. Quoth the KCNA, "The military attache of the Egyptian embassy here said that there are many flowers in the world but none of them is as beautiful as Kimjongilia." If Egypt's military attache to North Korea likes it, it must be lovely.

Kim's biggest birthday gift came from the unlikeliest of givers, President Bush.

On Feb. 13, the United States, along with China, South Korea and Russia, agreed to give Kim fuel and food aid worth about $400 million. In exchange, Kim's government has agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor and open North Korea to international nuclear inspectors.

You may recall reading or hearing about a similar agreement in September 2005. So similar, in fact, that, when asked, the White House described last week's agreement as "the first step toward implementing" the 2005 agreement. In essence, this agreement agrees to reagree on what they've already agreed.

Implementation will proceed in stages. The more North Korea gives, the more fuel and food aid they'll get.

I describe the deal as a gift to Kim because, if implemented, the deal is effectively an admission by the Bush administration that its policy toward North Korea since January 2001 has been a failure. Since 2001, Bush's policy toward North Korea has been all stick and no carrot. The Bush policy was an explicit rebuke of Clinton's willingness to negotiate with North Korea, which the Bushies to this day criticize as all carrot and no stick.

The Bush administration's mistake all this time was to overestimate U.S. ability to simply scare Kim into doing what we wanted, while at the same time underestimating his ability to dangerously thumb his nose at us.

In 1994, when North Korea threatened to convert fuel from its nuclear power reactor into fuel for nuclear weapons, Clinton threatened North Korea by ordering a military buildup around the country, but he also offered negotiations. The result was the Agreed Framework of Oct. 21, 1994, in which North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear-weapons fuel program in exchange for fuel aid and two nuclear power plants that could not be used for weapons fuel.

Both sides failed to do what they promised (North Korea cheated and the United States didn't deliver the power plants), but the agreement nevertheless delayed North Korea's nuclear-weapons program by nearly a decade.

When Bush took office, he explicitly rejected the idea of negotiating with North Korea. He called Kim Jong-il a pygmy and called his country part of an "axis of evil," which North Korea interpreted as a threat of invasion.

When, in late 2002, North Korea threatened to once again convert fuel from its nuclear power plant into nuclear-weapons fuel, the Bush administration refused to negotiate seriously. North Korea kicked out international inspectors and proceeded full steam ahead on its nuclear program. North Korea now has somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 nuclear weapons. Last October, it tested one.

Former Bush administration hardliners, such as John Bolton, are furious about the deal. They criticize the new Bush deal as a repeat of the 1994 Clinton agreement that they spent six years mocking. They're only half right. Giving aid in exchange for North Korea verifiably shutting down its nuclear-weapons fuel operation is exactly what Clinton gave Kim in 1994. The difference between then and now is that six years of phony tough talk and refusal to negotiate gave North Korea the time and the motivation to build a small nuclear-weapons stockpile that it's not likely to give up any time soon.