Saturday, September 29, 2007

Some Thoughts on the American Crisis, Part Two

I saw a graph this morning of this year's third quarter showing the daily close of the Dow Jones. The stock market took a major dip in August but is now almost back to the highest point reached in July. I can't help feeling that the recovery of the stock market is either an illusion or is seriously disconnected from the economy that most Americans are experiencing. Everyone, myself included, wants the economy to do well. Recessions, economic malaise, higher monthly mortgage payments, lower real wages, higher health insurance premiums and other economic twists and turns are not fun. Of course, some of these things have been happening for some time.

In general, I am unable to ignore the growing sense that we are in a period of illusion. One illusion is that everything is going well. The other illusion is that we have to attack others out of fear of another 9/11. It is a schizoid time.

Let me mention briefly one illusion. I keep hearing that American industry is getting a handle on pollution of various kinds. But this is not really the case. I grew up in Southern California at a time when heavy industry still existed in the greater LA area. Smog was bad because of the area's geography, weather and prevailing winds. Slowly, the industries that were the heaviest polluters began to move out of the area. Although cars were one of the primary culprits behind smog and were dealt with to some extent over time, there's no question that when the heavier industries left the area, cleaner air was left behind. But those heavy industries were still polluting. They were just doing it elsewhere, though I have to admit I'm not certain where they were doing it. We weren't paying close attention in those days.

Of course, today, there's no question that much of America's pollution has been exported overseas, sometimes by our own corporations, sometimes by foreign corporations who, by proxy, handle much of the pollution once generated by our own companies. Now there's a point here that gets overlooked as other countries are getting a reputation for pollution. A significant portion of that pollution is being driven by the needs of 300 million Americans, not just by the new economies that are emerging. So what's going to happen if another 1 or 2 or 3 billion people around the world start living like Americans and generate the same amount of pollution? It's been a practice of conservatives for the last thirty to forty to fifty years to ignore issues like this. But in the last fifty years the world has been changing. Sometimes we forget just how much the world has been changing.

I was born in 1950; the world population at that time was roughly 2.5 billion people (there are different estimates and here's a table of some of those estimates). The world population today is about 6.6 billion. That's more than double the number in 1950. I realize those numbers are almost incomprehensible but it's important to get our arms around them. Since 1950, the world has added roughly 4.1 billion people; that's almost 14 times the current population of the United States. Does the world have the resources for 14 new economies the size of the United States? Can the world safely absorb the pollution from 14 such new economies?

I'm an American and I like living where I am. To a large extent, I like the modern world. I like computers and eating out. I like borrowing books from the library and turning on the heater in the winter. I know perfectly well that I would not have survived childhood in the 19th century. I very much appreciate penicillin. I have no desire, in general, to go backwards, but I'm not so sure anymore how much we're going forward when we add up all the factors. Now it's in my temperament to be optimistic about the future, but reality is coming up fast on us. As things now stand, it's probably a fact that we cannot sustain the population growth of the last century. There's growing concern that a world population of 6.6 billion people is simply not sustainable.

Let's back up a moment and look at the world population for 1900. By 1900, the Industrial Age was more or less a century old. But there was enormous disparity of wealth in the world. Most of the wealth was in Europe and the United States. The Industrial Age was still decades away from reaching much of the rest of the world. Despite the abuses of the 19th century, there were still enormous resources in the world. Resources like petroleum had barely been touched by then. In 1900, there were 1.6 billion people spread around the globe.

Again, we have a number: 1.6 billion. It's abstract. It's even from a long time ago. But in reality, a hundred years isn't all that much time in human history. I have a great aunt who was born in 1901; at 106, she's still alive. My aunt's older sister, my grandmother, used to tell stories about their father; their father was born in the middle of the 19th century but I retain numerous stories about his life and the wilderness he came to when he arrived in California in the 1860s. In California, then, there seemed to be a lot of room, and plenty of resources. In 1860, there were almost 380,000 people in California. In that era, there was a lot of room per person. Today, there are over 37,000,000 people. California has achieved one of the fastest growth rates in the world. In 147 years, California grew nearly 10,000 per cent!

To be honest, California had a lot of room to absorb people. But for those willing to observe, California has changed enormously, and not always for the better. One change alone should give pause for thought for rest of the world. For 147 years, the water table in California has been getting lower and lower. And more polluted. In some areas, ground water is not usable without expensive treatment. California is constantly on the search for new sources of water but new water is not cheap. Sometimes there are unpleasant surprises. A few miles north of San Francisco is a body of water called Tomales Bay; until fifteen to twenty years ago, it was considered one of the most pristine bodies of water in the world. Then the algae and bacteria count started going up because of fertilizer and other chemicals used by ranchers in the surrounding hills that were being flushed by rain into the bay. A nastier surprise was the appearance of mercury in the water from an old mercury mine up in the hills that everyone thought had been properly contained and sealed after being mined out. These may seem minor incidents but they are canaries in a mine in a state that pays close attention to limiting environmental damage.

If California can handle its water and smog problems, it will probably continue to grow. It is not among the most densely populated places in the world (though it's getting closer). And of course if one flies over the US, it's hard not to notice all the empty land as well as sparsely populated agricultural areas. But if one looks at a map of China showing population densities, there are large areas of China that have low populations per square mile, particularly in Tibet and the Gobi Desert. Looks, however, can be deceptive. Some years ago, a single building in Hong Kong was famous for having some 10,000 residents who entered through the basement by using the produce elevators situated in the sidewalk. We need to remember that agricultural lands have to be matched to the large populations they support elsewhere.

Let's go back to that figure in 1900 of 1.6 billion people in the world. How much land was available in that era per person? The estimates for the land surface of the earth vary somewhat but don't differ by significant amounts. Let's settle on the figure of 57,393,000 square miles. We're talking about the amount of land available to humans. Immediately, since nobody is going to live there in large numbers anytime soon, we better subtract the 5,100,000 square miles of Antarctica. That leaves 52,293,000 squares miles. Let's convert that into acres; an acre is something that can be seen easily with the naked eye (when I was a kid, we lived on a quarter acre lot; four of those lots made an acre). Rounded off, there are roughly (we're being generous here) 33.5 billion acres of usable land in the world for humans. That means in 1900 there were about 21 acres per person available in the world. A family of four, on average, had 84 acres available to them (of course it rarely worked out that way). It was far short, though, of the acreage available per person just two centuries ealier but by 1900 the industrial age was in full bloom. Still, 84 acres for a family of four was not bad.

Let's jump to the year I was born, 1950, when the earth's population had grown to 2.6 billion people. There were billboards in that era that showed a happy family of four driving a brand new American car. The modern world was in full swing. It was the age of oil and the automobile. A few years earlier, major oil reserves were found in Saudi Arabia, and the United States itself seemed awash in oil. Oil was expected to last a long time. In 1950, there were almost 12.9 acres of usable land per person available in the world (remember, the definition of usable land is generous at this point). For a family of four, there were more than 50 acres available in resources. Actually, there was real concern at the time whether agriculture could keep up with the world's growing population. Fortunately, the green revolution would soon arrive and there were still food sources in the ocean to be exploited. The green revolution, however, was to a large extent driven by tools and chemicals that oil and natural gas made possible.

Now we come to the year 2007. The picture is not quite as rosy. There are 6.6 billion people in the world. The world is still growing and there is no immediate prospect that the growth will end anytime soon. But still, there are troubling signs. There are now a little more than 5 acres available per person in the world. And a little more than 20 acres for a family of four. From a little more than 80 acres for a family of four in 1900, we have dropped to 20 acres for a family of four. And that's if we continue with the generous definition of usable land.

Some areas of the world are harsh and yet they are able to sustain low numbers of people. How many more people can the following areas sustain?
Sahara: 3,500,000 square miles (or 2,240,000,000 acres)
Australian Deserts: 1,300,000 square miles
Gobi Desert: 1,295,000 square miles
Greenland: 831,109 square miles
Tibetan Plateau: 604,000 square miles
Canadian Tundra: 300,000 square miles
Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter: 225,000 square miles

This is far from an exhaustive list though it covers some of the largest areas. Notice that I omitted Siberia only because I couldn't find a consistent number, but any population density map shows, for the most part, the vast emptiness of the northern part of Siberia. Also, I omitted considering the hodgepodge of deserts in the western United States. Subtract all these areas from the Sahara to the Gobi Desert to Greenland that are unlikely anytime soon to have large populations and the land available per person drops significantly. One should also point out that large areas are being turned into deserts by poor agricultural and grazing methods.

What about the ocean? Can the ocean be a source of future growth? Perhaps. But the sad truth we've been discovering for the last few decades is that the ocean's natural supply of food is not inexhaustible. Just as we have overgrazed large areas of the earth, we have also overgrazed the oceans and there are now restrictions in many areas of the world on what can be harvested by the fishing industry.

Population alone is a problem. The earth's ability to absorb the pollution of the last hundred years, and particularly the last fifty or so, is limited. The damaged ozone layer was proof that there are sufficient numbers of humans to affect the environment on a global scale. When it comes to carbon dioxide alone, the earth is simply unable to handle the excessive load put out by human behavior. And now a problem is clearly on the horizon that has been ignored, for the most part, by the United States for the last thirty years: there may not be enough oil or alternative energy to sustain our current way of living.

I'm optimistic that some kind of modern living can still exist but not if we continue to ignore the abyss that lays before us. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska is famous for wanting massive federal funding to build a 'bridge to nowhere.' That is a perfect metaphor for the way business in our country is being conducted these days. But we in the United States are not the only ones facing the abyss. Fortunately, the Europeans and the Chinese are far more aware of some of these problems than we are, though the Europeans are the ones who seem to be the most forward thinking.

US leadership is needed on a growing list of issues facing the world. Rather than face these problems, we have an incompetent president and an ideologically rigid political party caught up in a war, and possibly a series of wars, that our country and the world do not need. Time is becoming critical. Our economy at this time is not capable of turning on a dime though that is nearly what happened during World War Two. We forget that change takes time. It took decades to build the railroads. It took years to get an interstate highway system built. It will take years to make changes simply to survive the next twenty years with our economy reasonably intact.

We are entering an era that will still have its billionaires and multimillionaires who don't see what the problem is and who will fund ridiculous campaigns for whatever nonsense they seem driven by, but average Americans are the ones who will lose the most if our country doesn't find a way to take more responsibility for its future. Responsibility cuts many ways and perhaps the most important area for responsibility is the individual and family and local level. I'm going to admit something terrible: I don't have the answers and I don't really know anyone who does. But there are hundreds of small answers that may help all of us get through the coming years. Many of us, including myself, are going to have to change habits. We're going to have to think about what we're doing and learn new tricks for survival and new tricks for simply being a human being.

The US economy has enormous momentum. Metaphorically speaking, if someone turned off the locomotive that drives the US economy, the economy would go on for miles before anyone would likely notice something was wrong. But something has been wrong for many years. Is there really hope for the future? Maybe. But the terrible truth is that no one really knows. But if there is hope, we're already on the wrong track. And that has to change. Maybe we're not so much on the bridge to nowhere as on the bridge to the exhausting turmoil of some past era like the 17th century. If so, there are already many Americans who want to get off and find a way, if possible, to build a bridge to the 22nd century.

This is not an abstract situation. It is real. Almost everyone knows a child or people who know a child who is in grammar school. The children of those children will live to the 22nd century. If there's a way, we need to give them a chance. But it's not a certain thing. That's how close we are to the abyss. That's how much things have changed in the last fifty years.

Humans have always thrived when they help one another. This doesn't mean the powerful scratching each other's backs while ignoring millions of people. It's clear that there are some Americans and people elsewhere who would choose a much harsher course for the future; such a course would mean losing the best of what we are; it would mean ignoring the valuable lessons since the founding of our country. In World War Two, the American people won the war. Roosevelt may have been the president but he is one who unlocked the genius of our people. That genius was found everywhere from assembly line workers to army engineers to decent business people who discovered their companies could do far more than they had ever dreamed. The kind of largely incompetent wheeler-dealers who whine about taxes or buttonhole politicians for favors or try to fatten their wallets at the expense of flawed products that kill our soldiers or our workers or our children did not win that war. And yet, today, more and more of these self-centered cavaliers are in charge of our country. There will be no future with such people in charge. We need reform. Our future requires reform. We are in crisis and it's time we admit it.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Bush and Neocons Still Obsessed with Iran

The most dangerous development in the last few months has been the failure of Congress to hold President Bush accountable; given Bush's litany of failures, it's also been alarming that Congress has been unable, once and for all, to rein in his reckless behavior. I'm perfectly aware of the slim majority that Democrats hold and how counterproductive the obstructionist behavior of even the more reasonable Republicans can be; and yet, while there's a realistic limit on what Democrats can do, there's no doubt in my mind that much more can be done and would be done by the majority of Democrats. Unfortunately, weathervane Democrats, like Senator Schumer, talk a good game but seem to believe it's more important to lay low and play safe until the 2008 elections. I don't know what's going to happen between now and January 2009, but it's time to restore some sanity to our nation before the compound blunders of the Bush Administration do more damage to our nation than they already have.

More than likely, the war in Iraq is going to blunder along until next year when possibly Bush will reduce troop numbers in Iraq to help Republicans in the elections. But this is not Bush's only option. Major military action against Iran remains on the table if Bush feels he can get away with it.

Truthout has an important and powerful article by Scott Ritter, the former American arms inspector who knew a long time ago that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction and was no imminent threat to the United States. It is still a fact that our war in Iraq was fraudelently sold to the American people and that fact has still not been dealt with by the legal mechanisms of Congress (and may never be, which shows the dangerous state of our nation). Read the whole article but I offer this excerpt:
...This, of course, brings us back full circle to the immediate period after the attack in [the Iraqi city of] Karbala, when U.S. military sources speculated that such an attack had to have been planned by Iran given its complexity. Nothing else is directly attributed to [the Lebanese Hezbollah member Ali Musa] Daqduq, leaving open the question of sourcing and authenticity of the information being cited by the U.S. military.

From speculation to speculation, the case against the [Iranian] Quds Force by the Bush administration continues to lack anything in the way of substance. And yet the mythological Daqduq has become a launching platform for even graver speculation, fed by the media themselves, that the highest levels of leadership in Iran were aware of the activities of Daqduq and the Quds Force, and are thus somehow complicit in the violence. Not one shred of evidence was produced to sustain such serious accusations, and yet national media outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post both ran stories repeating these accusations. ....


.... Unlike the lack of evidence brought to bear by the U.S. to sustain its claims of Iranian involvement inside Iraq, the Iranian government has captured scores of MEK and Jundallah operatives, along with supporting documents, which substantiate that which the U.S. openly admits: The United States is waging a proxy war against Iran, inside Iran. This mirror imaging of its own terror campaign against Iran to manufacture the perception of a similar effort being waged by Iran inside Iraq against the U.S. has been very effective at negating any Iranian effort to draw attention to the escalation of war-like activities inside its borders. After all, who would believe the Iranians? They are only trying to divert attention away from their own actions inside Iraq, or so the story goes.


Continued war in Iraq is a tragedy. Having the conflict spread to Iran would be a disaster. No one can claim to possess a crystal ball showing the future. There are many who, when confronted with the potential for conflict with Iran, choose to brush these warnings aside, noting that such a conflict would be madness, and that the United States currently lacks the resources to fight a war with Iran. Such wishful thinking borders on irresponsible foolishness. If the headlines from this month tell us anything, it is that war with Iran is very much a possibility. The Bush administration has been actively planning war with Iran since the fall of 2004. Since that time, several windows of opportunity have presented themselves (most recently in spring 2007), but the Bush administration found itself unable to pull the trigger for one reason or another (the Navy's rejection of the presence of a third carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf scuttled the spring 2007 plans).

The administration always heeded the justifications for aborting an attack, primarily because there was time still left on the clock, so to speak. But time is running out. Israel has drawn a red line across the calendar, indicating that if Iran has not pulled back from its nuclear ambitions by the end of 2007, military action in early spring 2008 will be inevitable. The attack on Syria by Israel sent a clear message that attacks are feasible. The continued emphasis by the Bush administration on Iran as a terror state, combined with the fact that the administration seems inclined to blame its continuing problems in Iraq on Iran, and not failed policy, means that there is no shortage of fuel to stoke the fire of public opinion regarding war with Iran. Add in the "reality" of weapons of mass destruction, and war becomes inevitable, regardless of the veracity of the "reality" being presented.

The antiwar movement in America must make a strategic decision, and soon: Contain the war in Iraq, and stop a war from breaking out in Iran. The war in Iraq can be contained simply by letting war be war. There is no genuine good news coming out of Iraq. There won't be as long as the United States is there. As callous as it sounds, let the war establish the news cycle, and let the reality of war serve to contain it. The surge has failed. Congress may not act decisively to bring the troops home, but it is highly unlikely that Congress will idly approve any massive expansion of an unpopular war that continues to fail so publicly.

Iran, however, is a different matter. Congress has already provided legal authority for the president to wage war in Iran through its existing war powers authority (one resolution passed in 2001, the other in 2002). Likewise, Congress has allowed the Bush administration to forward deploy the infrastructure of war deep into the Middle East and neighboring regions, all in the name of the "global war on terror." The startup costs for a military strike against Iran would therefore be greatly diminished. Sustaining such a conflict is a different matter, but given current congressional reticence to stand up to a war-time president, it is highly unlikely any meaningful action would be taken to stop an Iranian war once the bombs start falling. And we should never forget that Iran has a vote in how this would end; once it is attacked, Iran will respond in ways that are unpredictable, and as such set in motion a string of cause-effect military actions with the United States and others that spins any future conflict out of control.

The highest priority for the antiwar movement in America today must be the prevention of a war with Iran. ...

We are already engaging in military activity against Iran. The level of our activity in Iran would provoke war in many places around the world. Because of the size of our military strength, the Iranians have shown restraint but there should be no doubt that any country, including the Iranians, would have a line in the sand that will lead to war if any particular nation, including ourselves, cross that line.

The Iraqis fought us when we invaded their country and they have less than half the population of Iran. Already, we have no clear purpose for being in Iraq except perhaps to clean up Bush's mess. Once again, if Bush and Cheney can get away with it, their possible attack on Iran would also have no particular purpose, at least in terms consistent with our history and democracy. It will be a disgrace if Bush leaves the White House while handing three wars to his successor. The war in Afghanistan, which should have been finished a long time ago, is now beginning it's seventh year.

One should note that the existence and possible progress of the Iran nuclear weapons program is far from proven and Iran may in fact be more or less in compliance with international law ('more or less' is the reality but also the wriggle room that right wingers seem anxious to use to justify war; just about every nation that has nuclear power (or nuclear weapons) can fall under the ambiguity of 'more or less' when it comes to adherence to the rules that govern such situations (the recent 'accident' that allowed armed nuclear weapons to be mistakenly transported by air to Louisiana were clearly a violation of US rules but they may also have been a violation of international rules as well). The neocons have not been straight with the American people on why we're in Iraq and they're clearly not being straight with us about their promotion of a war with Iran. Scott Ritter is right. The critical issue at this time is Iran.

One last note. This is unconfirmed and I wish I knew someone who could confirm the story or put it to rest; apparently there was a woman who called in to the Ed Schultz radio program and mentioned that there was considerable increased activity at Moffett's Field, located south of San Francisco. If true, we may be seeing an alarming buildup of supplies reserved for a potential conflict with Iran (though I should add that Ritter happens to point out that most materiel that might be used against Iran is already in the Middle East). Moffett Field in recent years has developed multiple uses but is still used by the military. In the fall of 1990, my wife and I were living in the Santa Cruz mountains about fifteen miles west of Moffett Field and watched dozens of planes at night, one after another, as they carried supplies to the Middle East for the buildup for the Gulf War. The woman who called in said there was similar activity at Moffett Field in the months before the current war in Iraq. Something may be afoot.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Republicans Get Shrill As Their Party Implodes

As some readers know, I grew up in and around Orange County, California. The hysteria over the visit by the president of Iran is similar to the hysteria at the time over Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the US just a year or two before the Cuban Missile Crisis. In Orange County, the John Birchers led the way in protesting the visit by Khrushchev to the United States and claimed victory when Khrushchev was unable to visit Disneyland. Khrushchev, of course, was his own public relations nightmare just as Ahmadinejad is. The Iranian president is clueless about history and the effect of his words on the public. In foreign policy, however, letting idiots speak in public can have the effect of defanging them. Suppressing them is more likely to make heroes of them and to make hypocrites of America's long-standing support of diplomacy and dialogue.

I mention Khrushchev because there are some weird historical parallels. In the early 1960s, the John Birchers and other right wingers liked to spout the nonsense: better dead than red. There seemed to be a fear of the Soviet Union far out of proportion to the reality; that fear ignored the considerable strength of the United States. The Soviet Union was a dangerous foe, far more dangerous in fact than Iran, but it is fortunate at the time than right wing conservatives did not dominate our government.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was a real danger of nuclear war and there were calls from the far right, if you'll pardon the expression, to bring it on. President Kennedy, in fact, had a couple of advisers advocate action that would likely have led quickly to such a war. Cooler heads prevailed, the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, and Kennedy later eased out the hot heads. In the end, despite a number of mistakes, including Vietnam, the United States won the Cold War, largely because there existed for most of that period a bipartisan policy on dealing with the Soviet Union.

Iran would not do well if there was a war with the United States. But given how overextended our own military is, given the high price of oil, given our own credit crunch caused by Bush's dismal economic policies and given the growing impatience of the world with Bush's wars, the damage to the United States would be considerable. In the war with Iraq, we are doing nothing more at this point than cleaning up Bush's two trillion dollar folly. Potentially, in a war with Iran, we risk losing a great deal. Potentially, we could knock Iran back into the stone age but it will not be a three-day war or a seven-day war or, like the Israel's war with Hezbollah, a summer campaign, or anything of the sort despite nonsense coming out of neoconservative think tanks. There will be more killing and casualties on all sides. People will be killed who today are not at war with us. The price of oil will soar out of sight. Inflation, always the bane of war, will begin to bite. The value of the dollar will continue to fall and we'll begin to find it difficult to acquire essential goods and resources that are no longer made or found in our country. And the Middle East will erupt, not because we have left, but because we will be insisting on staying. And the same incompetent gang will be in charge at the White House.

Bush's unending fiasco in Iraq has created a strange and dangerous situation. Right wingers sometimes refuse to pack it in when their more boneheaded ideas explode in their faces. I believe a risk of war with Iran still exists but only under one condition: if Bush and his right wing colleagues think they can get away with it. Hence, the environment is getting very shrill. It is up to Congress and the American people to head off any war with Iran that may be instigated by the right wingers. Americans should also keep in mind that this would be another war that Bush would start and not finish.

It is unfortunate but there is a real possibility that the future of our country is now in the hands of a few Republicans in the Senate and House who must decide whether to join the Democrats in a return to sanity or join wholeheartedly the right wingers who would lead our country to the abyss. In times of crisis, it's those with cooler heads that lead the way back to sanity, not the shrill voices of either the right or left. Even America's business community better think long and hard about the consequences of a war with Iran: such a war would not be good for business. India stopped short of a potential war with Pakistan when its business community spoke up. That's an important lesson to remember.

It's time for a lot of people to speak up. But firmly. And without fear.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Some Thoughts on the American Crisis

First, let me say that the American Crisis has two parts. The first part is a leadership crisis that can be traced largely to the Republican Party and its habit of talking tough while obstructing any reasonable proposal to deal with a long list of problems; no one excels at this form of failed leadership more than George W. Bush. But the Republicans are not the only part of the leadership crisis. Democrats have not led as well as they might have over the last eight years though many Democrats can deal very effectively with various problems if given the chance; part of the problem with Democrats is that the party is slowed down by elements who pay more attention to polls than to leading. Many Democrats have also been somewhat paralyzed by the Republican Noise Machine that is heavily financed by right-wing elements. The other leadership problem in the United States is a media that lives for the next quarterly report and no longer acts as a balance against the political nonsense that will always come out of Washington or any other national capital.

Leadership is one side of the American crisis and it overwhelmingly affects the other part of the crisis we are facing. First of all, the American Crisis (yes, it's time for caps) is also, in many respects, the World Crisis. We are facing a rather daunting list of growing problems that are largely going unaddressed. And that itself is a major component of the crisis. Global warming, pollution, overpopulation, food resource issues, water shortages and a very serious and growing energy problem are just a few of the issues that are far from getting the attention necessary in Washington. And these problems are certainly not getting the attention from American businesses that they should despite the somewhat irrational belief that free enterprise can, all by itself, deal with these issues. If the media is more concerned with its quarterly reports, most American corporations are no better. I see signs of some business people beginning to think more seriously about a range of issues but we have to judge these things by action and not by words. Words have been used too often by politicians and business people to put off actually doing something.

The dog and pony show put on by President Bush to postpone once again any serious decisions regarding Iraq was embarrassing. It was words designed to change the subject, avoid realistic decision making and wave the flag as a way of avoiding responsible action. Americans are becoming less susceptible to this kind of nonsense and yet Bush's numbers went up a notch or two. Of course, a week after the nonsense, we see a headline like this that completely gives the lie to Bush's phony optimism:
US officials were barred on Wednesday from travelling by land outside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone amid fears of attacks after the alleged killing of civilians by private security firm Blackwater.

The suspension came as Washington grappled with ways to curb the damage from Sunday's clash in which Blackwater guards escorting US embassy officials opened fire in a Baghdad neighbourhood, killing 10 people and wounding 13.

Blackwater denies any wrongdoing but a top Iraqi judge has said the US firm, one of the largest private security operators in Iraq, could face trial.

The president and his Republican friends in Congress are still unable to answer two straightforward questions: what are we doing in Iraq and what realistic, doable goal are we trying to accomplish? A majority of the country still awaits an answer.

In spirit, at least much of the time, I favor some of the things that has been doing over the last seven years. But playing the Republican game of overly cute snark doesn't get our country focused on any particular element of the many problems we are facing, the fiasco in Iraq simply being just one of those problems. The ad on Petraeus ignored the fundamental problem of Iraq: the problem is Bush. This is Bush's war. If wanted to expand on that, the problem then is Bush and Cheney and their mutually reinforcing political philosophy that is at odds with what this nation stands for. Bush and Cheney have not only given us a war our nation did not need, but they have ignored a host of other problems largely by insisting the problems don't exist. A little further expansion on relevant criticism would include the obstructionist Republicans in the House and Senate who have chosen to ignore a majority of Americans demanding a change in course and some serious reform in Washington. General Petraeus is far down the list of issues that might be raised; he wasn't even a major figure until the last year. President Bush has the option of ignoring experienced generals and finding new generals who suit his purposes. Read that last sentence again because it's all one needs to know that the problem is Bush. Bush, of course, would like nothing more than to pin his problems on a general. I understand quite clearly the frustration felt by many progressives as the leadership of our nation continues to drift but it is important to stay focused.

The American Crisis is very much about an inability to come to grips with the issues of our times. If got carried away with its rhetoric, the Republican far right offers ten times the nonsense every day of the week. The actress, Sally Fields, is now the latest to suffer the slings and arrows of the Republican Smear Machine. Think Progress has the story:

Since actress Sally Field won an Emmy and spoke out against the Iraq war in her acceptance speech, the right wing has been on the attack. In addition to Fox censoring her speech, conservatives continue to criticize Field for speaking out.

Taking the slander to a very personal level, right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin attacked Field’s parenting skills with a column in the National Review entitled “Sally Field Does Not Speak For Me.”

Here's a case where right wingers are becoming caricatures of themselves. I started reading the post and burst out laughing. Republican right wingers are attacking "The Flying Nun!" They're smearing Gidget! They're trying to body tackle a slim five-foot woman! Suffice to say, much of our nation has gone stark raving mad.

Meanwhile the price of oil is $83 a barrel. Healthcare is a mess. Real wages are falling as fictitious numbers are posted on inflation. The president is deliberately kicking the can down the road on Iraq. Global warming is real and much of our nation refuses to acknowledge the reality of the problem. American innovation, while still leading the world, is actually slipping (see this month's Discover). Wheat prices are sky high. Corn prices too are going up as we gear up for an ethanol industry that is far from solving a host of problems. Mortgages, despite a significant rate drop, are going to continue to be a problem. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Various nations are increasingly making noise that suggests we're on the verge of a new arms race. And throughout the world, including inside our own country, American leadership is AWOL.

Until Republicans repair their party, I expect nothing from them. In the meantime, it's vital that the rest of the nation recognize that we have a crisis and a host of problems. We are in need of major changes and reform just like the changes and reforms that have moved our nation forward every twenty to fifty years since our founding. What I'm writing here are just quick notes and I hope to elaborate more on these thoughts over the next few months. My time is limited but there are two themes I offer to those with more time, particularly those who are bloggers. First, protect your credibility. Don't let Republicans drag you into exasperation and hyperbole. Second, focus on the essential problems that are mounting. There is profound pathology in our country right now and much of that pathology can be found in people avoiding the real problems facing us so that they can enjoy their illusions or make a few extra bucks. The Republican Party talks tough and then hides its head in the sand. One advantage to Republicans of the war in Iraq is that it's a convenient issue to talk about appeasement while appeasement on a host of much more serious problems defines much of the Republican Party's behavior these days. So stay focused on the bigger problems. They are coming. And they will bite. But there is much we can do, if we are willing.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

President I'm the Decider Becomes President Kick the Can

President Bush is determined to finish his presidency without doing anything for the American people or for our future. He is a failed president too blinded by ideology and pride to admit how deeply flawed his political philosophy has become and how much damage his decisions and sometimes lack of action have done to our nation. Like other authoritarian failures, Bush will spend much of the next ten years blaming others for failures even he cannot avoid.

The White House dog and pony show starring a compliant General Petraeus is designed to kick the can all the way to the next president. It is embarrassing. It is a travesty of a once reasonably functional (though at times flawed) bipartisan foreign policy.

Visualize this cartoon I wish someone would pen: there are two panels of a White House ceremony featuring President Bush. In the first panel, near the end of his presidency, Bush hangs another Medal of Freedom around yet another official who has given in to his White House public relations machine: in this case, it's General Petraeus and Bush says, "Thanks for your service." In the second panel, Bush hangs something quite different around a displeased Uncle Sam: this time it's the proverbial albatross with the word 'Iraq' in bold letters on the dead bird and Bush says, "Sorry, but I gotta go. It's all yours."

On one level, I'm not too interested in what General Petraeus has to say. A general does not set policy: he implements it. And there is no course at West Point that explains how to handle a dysfunction presidency whose only skill is a bizarre public relations machine that has helped an inept president far more than it should have. Petraeus seems to have a better idea of how to fight an insurgency that those who have preceded him but then, knowing an insurgency was like to result after the fall of Baghdad, where were the two dozen or so colonels and generals like Petraeus that we needed from day one when they might have been useful?

But then I forget. This is a war that never had much of a purpose. After five years of public relations to sell the war, no one is certain why we're there at this late date. What is wrong with Washington? We can put a considerable amount of blame on President Bush but he has had a host of enablers. Even today, most Republicans in Washington, being the odd right-wingers that they are, still support an Iraq policy that was never justified and that makes no sense. I don't blame the Democrats, an overwhelming majority of whom seem to get it for the most part. But the Democrats barely control the Senate and there's just enough confused Democrats in the House to make a slim majority more fragile than it ought to be. The only solution is to retire what has become a dysfunctional Republican leadership and give Democrats the numbers they need to prevail and to steer this country away from an authoritarian abyss from which this country may never recover if Republicans continue to dominate our national politics in the next five years.

Our nation, indeed the world, is facing major problems that requires capable people in Washington. We need more than the public relations illlusions provided by the usual right wing political machine that has become the Republican Party. Both parties, however, suffer from an affection for power that does not serve our country well. You cannot solve what are considerable problems facing our nation unless everyone has the facts. Real facts. If Democrats sometimes get caught up in the politics of the moment, they can respond if given the chance. Today's Republican leaders, however, now specialize in power, corruption and digging deep holes in the sand to put their heads in. Damage is being done and will continue if the behavior continues. We need reform. It doesn't get any more basic than that.

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