A 2012 Wish List

This Wish List involves changes that might conceivably be made, though I suspect it will be a frosty day in the nether regions, since most of them would have to be implemented by politicians, and they and the interests that own them would face losing the most.  But they nevertheless may be distinguished from the truly impossible, such as altering our political system to break the grip of the Democratic and Republican parties or requiring an intelligence test for holding national political office (good-bye GOP).

 

GET US OUT OF AFGHANISTAN (AND IRAQ) NOW

Why wait another two years?  Iraq is actually a country with an infrastructure, albeit damaged, and a serious potential revenue source in the form of oil, yet it is already collapsing, only weeks after the departure of our military.  Afghanistan is less a country than a space defined by the nations surrounding it, and virtually every one of the four major ethnic groups would like to lord it over the others or create its own country.  The last national election was a farce, corruption is an embedded Afghan tradition and any sort of real loyalty can be found only at the tribal level.  The only time Afghanistan has come even close to a national entity is under autocratic strong men, and while the locals might appreciate the odd school or clinic, they clearly do not like foreign military on their soil, especially when that military tends to be a bit casual about collateral damage.  Yes, we have pulled most of our military out of Iraq, but do we need a “diplomatic” presence of some ten thousand, guarded by five thousand of the mercenaries the locals have come to love?  What will all these people be doing as Iraq slides into civil war and/or Iranian control?  With Kuwait (and to a lesser extent Bahrain) being little more than a giant American military base, why do we need Baghdad?

 

REGULATE THE FINANCIAL INDUSTRY

This should be simple.  A relative handful of people almost brought down the global economy, yet very little has been done to correct this liability.  There remains a dangerous lack of transparency, especially regarding arcane financial instruments, and major banks are still finding ways to dodge what little regulation exists, especially given the increasing globalization of banking.  The EU is considering a tax on financial transactions, which would help against the growing number of parasites whose manipulation of markets produces nothing except wealth for themselves and helps distort the relationship between supply, demand and price.  But unless all the industrialized countries participate, this activity will simply move to New York.  Meanwhile, the income gap in America is reaching unprecedented levels.

 

IMPOSE TERM LIMITS

An incumbent in Congress, unless he is a complete fool, may essentially keep his seat until he dies, which means he can spend his whole life running for reelection.  In the eighties the turnover in the Soviet Politbureau was greater than that of the American Congress, and even in the unhappy year 2010 the Congressional reelection rate was 97%.  Polls indicate that the public feels that all these political lifers should be thrown out, but the feeling apparently rarely extends to their own Senator or Representative.  This reform is actually talked about, but it is hard to imagine someone in Congress voting to limit their own access to the federal gravy train.

 

PUBLISH CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

It is clearly impossible to limit campaign contributions and thus the power of big money to influence elections: even those laws that do not run afoul of the First Amendment are always easily sidestepped.  Instead, allow anyone or any entity, even foreign governments, to contribute money, but all contributions will be published on a dedicated website, on a periodic nationally broadcast television program and in major newspapers across the country.  Any violation would result in the immediate termination of the individual’s candidacy.  Monies spent by advocacy groups rather than by an individual will be treated similarly, and violations will be rewarded with huge fines.  If Americans cannot be bothered to avail themselves of all this information concerning who is buying whom, which is likely, then we get what we deserve.

 

DETERMINE OUR POLICY IN THE MIDDLE EAST ACCORDING TO AMERICAN INTERESTS

For reasons that have everything to do with domestic politics we have with Israel the sort of “passionate attachment” to a foreign power that George Washington warned against.  The interests of Israel are not always the same as America’s; they are in fact increasingly divergent.  Israel is permitted behavior that would immediately stir official outrage were it any other country, and our unqualified support for a state that routinely violates accepted international law, especially regarding Arab populations, contributes mightily to our reputation as self-serving hypocrites.

 

 

CONFIGURE OUR MILITARY RESOURCES ACCORDING TO REALITY

The size, nature and equipment of our military should be determined by realistic evaluation of the actual threats out there rather than based on outmoded thinking inherited from the twentieth century, the insatiable desires of the Pentagon and the needs of politics and the defense industry.  With economic globalization the chance of a real war with a major industrial and military power like China is becoming vanishingly small and with it the need for $100 million fighter aircraft and more attack submarines.  And any (for the moment inconceivable) war with a power strong enough to require all the systems the Pentagon wants must inevitably go nuclear.

 

HANG PIRATES

For several thousand years the approach to pirates has been summary execution.  Why are these people now being given trials, especially at a time when we are executing from above even American citizens if they are designated terrorists by the government/military?  Any man who attempts to hijack a ship clearly designates himself a pirate and should thus be liable to execution, preferably by the traditional hanging.  Make it clear to the denizens of Somalia and other places that any unidentifiable vessel found in certain delineated international waters will be immediately destroyed.

 

STREAMLINE NUCLEAR POWER

Nuclear fission is a proven non-fossil fuel source of power, requiring nothing more than easily produced fissionable material and water for cooling.  It produces no pollutants, and examined sensibly, the issue of what to do with the radioactive waste disappears.  We already have the technology to bury and secure this stuff for the next several centuries, by which time we will have better technology or more likely, no longer exist.  The imagined need to secure this waste for ten thousand years is simply silly.  Further, the industry must produce standardized designs and streamline the licensing process, as has France, which has for decades successfully generated some 75% of its power through fission.  Other green technologies are not yet developed enough, and nuclear power could easily carry us through until technologies like solar and even fusion are perfected.

 

SERVE THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST

A mature society should indeed look after its disadvantaged, but not at the expense of those who can contribute the most.  A major problem, among others, in our public education system is the waste of resources and time on those who simply will not learn, a waste exacerbated by the tendency of these same people to degrade the education of those who would learn.  There is of course the problem of what to do with the negative element, but keeping them in school is not the answer, inasmuch as they harm the educational environment of others and end up joining the underclass of the uneducated anyway.  And while we should look to the education of those with “special needs,” mainstreaming them clearly comes at the expense of those who have functioning intellects and bodies.  I cannot confirm this, but I have read that for every $1 spent on those who are in some way dysfunctional, about 3¢ is spent on the gifted.  This is no way to secure the future of our country.  Incidentally, it is of course impossible to remove big money sports and its corrupting influence from American higher education, but at the very least the NBA and NFL should be paying for all those athletic scholarships.

TELL THE “GREAT SUCCESSOR” TO PISS OFF

OK, this is emotion-based, but make it clear to the ruthless jerks in Pyongyang that any assault on South Korea or anyone else will result in their capital being turned to glass, China notwithstanding.

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An Evangelical Christmas (for Bachmann, Perry, Santorum and their Desert Shepherd God)

SET: fairly stark living room; a fireplace, an end table with a nativity crèche and Bible; on the wall a light switch, a cross, a standard tacky American Protestant portrait of Jesus and some framed homily like “God Bless This Home.”  Initially dimly lit (enough to make out characters) by a night light.

CHARACTERS:

SANTA CLAUS in traditional garb with sack

REVEREND in pajamas and robe

 

 

(Enter SANTA through fireplace with some difficulty and obvious effort; looks around in some confusion)

SANTA   This is the right address, isn’t it?  Now, where’s my book?  (searching about himself)

(Enter REVEREND with shotgun from side; takes up position near table facing SANTA)

REVEREND   (fumbling for light switch) Hands up or I’ll shoot!  What are you doing in my house?  Stealing?

SANTA   (putting up his hands in mock alarm)  Stealing?!  Ho, ho, ho.  Quite the opposite, good man, quite the opposite.  But where’s your Christmas tree?

REVEREND   Tree?!  Pagan rites and blasphemy!  (finally finds the switch and turns on the light; surprised, he drops the gun and picks up the Bible)  You!  Spawn of Satan!

SANTA   (lowering his arms)  Well, spawn of Mr. and Mrs. Johann Claus actually.

REVEREND   Do not try to ensnare me with your lies, Evil One.  Get thee behind me!

(SANTA starts to move around REVEREND to get behind him, but stops when REVEREND holds the Bible out before him)

REVEREND   Stop!  You are helpless before the Holy Writ, and Jesus resists you as effortlessly as he did by the waters of Galilee.  The signs of evil are manifest to the eyes of the righteous.

SANTA   The signs?

REVEREND   Do not play the innocent with me.  Do you not wear the suit of scarlet, the color of the Devil, the hue of revolution, communism and godlessness, the evil red of spilled blood and violence?

SANTA   (looking at himself)  I always thought it was merry.

REVEREND   Do you not possess the bloated body of the glutton?  Are you not a helpless slave of the flesh?

SANTA   (patting his belly and chuckling)  Perhaps I do carry a few extra pounds, but it’s come to be part of the image – “shakes like a bowlful of jelly” and all that.  And the table set by Mrs. Claus.

REVEREND   Bride of evil!  Whore of Babylon!

SANTA   Now wait a minute.  Mrs. Claus has never even been to the Middle East, and…

REVEREND   Of course she never leaves your vile palace.  She is the concubine of the Devil, barren and loathing the company of good women.  She shuns the light…like you, whom no man has seen abroad in the bright sun of the day.

SANTA   Well, it’s true that I work at night, and in any case it’s usually too cold at the North Pole for me and the missus to want to go out.

REVEREND   (contemptuously)  North Pole, you say?  In truth it is Hell wherein you dwell, the frozen waste that is devoid of light and warmth, that is the lowest circle of perdition.  Even heathens, deprived of the Word, have recognized Hell for what it is, a darkling plain of ice and cold and hopelessness.  And there you rule, served by your demons.

SANTA   (taking a seat on his bag and pulling out a traditional long white clay pipe)  Demons, you say?

REVEREND   Your evil minions.  Your elves.  The stunted misshapen creatures you have fabricated to toil in your workshops of greed and temptation.  (he strikes a match to light his pipe)

REVEREND   (holding up his arms)  In the name of Jesus, I command you to stop!

SANTA   Oops, sorry.  (he puts out the match)  I forgot I was in the United States.

REVEREND   You’ll not frighten those of God with your fire and brimstone, Sandy Claws.

SANTA   That’s Claus, Santa Claus.  Or old St. Nick, if you will.

REVEREND   (even more animated)  Behold, before the righteous he cannot but reveal his true name – Old Nick!  You are indeed the Beast, the Evil One who seeks to set his claws in the innocent and to corrupt, especially the children.

SANTA   I bring gifts to the children…

REVEREND   You fly through the night with your enchanted animals, sneaking into the houses of Christian folk and tempting our children to sin with the toys created by your demons.

SANTA   Not at all.  I judge who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, and then I…

REVEREND   (pointing at SANTA, triumphant)  You admit it then, you are the fallen angel!  You usurp the power of God, the power to decide good and evil!  You dare to judge peoples’ lives, to approve and condemn our deeds, a power that is God’s alone…  (he is interrupted by a stomping sound from the roof)

SANTA   (looking up)  Hold your water, Blitzen.  (rises and looks at REVEREND, speaking patiently)  It appears that you have never recognized the true spirit of Christmas.

REVEREND   (almost raving)  Christmas!  What blasphemy!  Celebrating the birth of the Savior with Mammon, with trees and logs and mistletoe, with greed and gluttony.  What have these to do with the Christ?  Sweet Jesus, the heathen Japanese even practice your foul rites.

SANTA   (gently)  Let me give you a gift.  (he pulls a toy train out of his bag)

REVEREND   (with a bitter laugh, but his eyes are riveted on the train)  You seek to tempt me with a child’s plaything?!  A toy made by demons?

SANTA   Oh, it’s the perfect present for you.

REVEREND   (his voice and demeanor are becoming softer, hesitation and doubt become apparent)  But I am become a man clothed in righteousness and serve the Lord.  I…I need no such silly amusements.  I have long ago put aside childish ways.

SANTA   Maybe that’s the problem.  (extending the train to Reverend, who follows it with his eyes and begins to reach for it)  Go ahead.  Take it.  It’s for you.

(REVEREND hesitates, looking sheepish and beginning to grin; with wide eyes and a big smile he finally, quickly snatches the train and goes down on his knees to play with it on the floor, making appropriate noises)

SANTA (watches for moment, smiling) Merry Christmas, then.

(SANTA picks up his bag and turns toward the fireplace, sizes it up, muttering, then turns back to REVEREND, who is completely absorbed in his playing)

SANTA   Hey, sonny, where’s the front door?

(not even looking up, REVEREND points off stage and SANTA exits; fade to black)

Ironies from Israel #3: Lessons of History

"We're here to help you!"

On March 27, 2002 Palestinian militants killed 30 Israeli civilians at the resort town of Netanaya, part of a wave of suicide attacks that accompanied the Second Intifada.  In response to this assault, on March 29 the IDF publically announced the implementation of Operation Defensive Shield, a large-scale military incursion into the West Bank that involved the activation of 20,000 Israeli reservists.  The operation had actually begun unannounced a month earlier, making the March 29 invasion the second wave to move into Palestine.

The IDF entered every Palestinian city, but the most serious fighting was in Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat was besieged in his presidential headquarters.  The most intense combat was in Jenin, where according to UN reports both sides engaged in excesses, though a rumored massacre in the Jenin refugee camp proved unfounded.  In the entire operation 30 Israelis were killed and 127 wounded, while the Palestinians suffered 497 dead and 1447 wounded, with 7000 detained.  The World Bank estimated the Palestinian economic losses at $361 million.

The Israeli goal, stated before the Knesset by Prime Minister Arial Sharon, was to capture or kill terrorists and destroy the infrastructure that supported them, which was to include anyone who resisted the Israeli troops.  Palestinian and neutral observers claimed that the operation was also directed against the police, officials and general infrastructure the Palestinian Authority. In its report Amnesty International stated that “the IDF acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians.”  Human Rights Watch determined that “Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

Urban warfare, particularly for the aggressor, is extremely difficult and destructive, especially when the defenders have the time to prepare, as in Jenin.  Though they used helicopter gunships, because of American pressure the IDF could not simply bomb the city into submission and was forced to conduct house to house fighting, resulting in more casualties than it was accustomed to when operating against Palestinians.  The IDF ultimately developed effective tactics employing armored bulldozers, and lacking heavy weapons, Palestinian forces were defeated.

With little experience in this type of intense urban warfare the IDF studied the accounts of other militaries that had engaged in such actions.  One of the most pertinent of these concerned an operation carried out in Poland from January to May 1943 by the German Wehrmacht: the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto.

I Fought in Iraq and All I got Was This (Bloody) T-Shirt?

On December 12 President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the end of the war in Iraq.  Those eight years of war came at a stiff price.  Approximately 4500 American troops were killed, and some 33,000 received significant wounds; how many thousands will suffer psychological problems in the future can only be guessed at.  The war cost taxpayers a trillion dollars, and the expenses continue despite the departure of our military.  The war quickly eliminated the world-wide support for America in the wake of 9/11, fomented more anti-American feelings in the Muslim world and distracted the US from operations against al-Qaeda.

The bill for Iraq is far greater.  Saddam is dead, but so are more than 100,000 (perhaps many more) Iraqis, and 1.6 million are still refugees abroad.  Over one million internal refugees were also created.  What little functioning infrastructure the country possessed before the invasion has been mostly destroyed, and 23% of Iraqis live in utter poverty, earning $2 or less a day.

And what do we all get in return for this massive expenditure by the American and Iraqi people?

It is clear now, as it was to many then, that Saddam was absolutely no threat to anyone except his own people, and rather than “protecting” America the conflict has only exacerbated the terrorist problem and immensely strengthened the position of Iran, beckoning the US into another armed conflict.  That the new democratic Iraq would be a beacon of freedom and hope in the region has not played out, and the present toppling of authoritarian governments in the Arab world owes absolutely nothing to American efforts.

Whether or not Iraq now has a functioning democracy remains to be seen, and in any case the current government is unable to provide even basic services for its people, who are still being blown up on a regular basis.  Unfortunately for the US, Iraq has also failed to become a compliant “ally” and serve American interests in the region.  Quite understandably, the Iraqis refused to continue granting the American forces immunity from Iraqi law and prosecution, which with the war officially ended would go a long way to marking the American military as an occupying force.  Predictably, Obama took credit for removing our troops, though he actually had no say in the matter, and the Republicans, seemingly unaware of the meaning of “national sovereignty,” complained that we were leaving without having finished the job.

It is not even clear if Iraq can succeed as a country, whatever the nature of its government.  The Kurdish north is already on the brink of becoming a separate state and is increasingly under the influence of Turkey.  Iraqi Sunnis are somewhat less than enthusiastic about the Shiite dominated government and its ties to Iran, and Sunni insurgent activity threatens to turn into an outright civil war, especially if the government proves unable to alleviate the miserable conditions in which most Iraqis live.  Being a province carved by the Ottomans out of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious area is hardly a strong foundation for a nation state.

And for all our blood and treasure and newly enhanced imperial reputation?  Iraq, once a bulwark against Iran (remember Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam?) is already falling rapidly under Iranian influence.  Only two states in the region have refused to go along with the Arab League and condemn the bloody Syrian government: Iran and Iraq.  Under the guise of a program of reconciliation Baghdad is even releasing prisoners accused or convicted of murdering Americans, and as the economic frosting on this ineptly baked cake, it is primarily non-American companies that are signing up to exploit Iraqi resources, should that ever be possible.  Few outside Washington would consider this a successful foreign policy outcome.

Meanwhile, American diplomatic personnel will be hiding out in the biggest and most heavily fortified embassy on the planet, a target so protected that even American journalists are not allowed to see it.  Bereft of troops, we will be hiring 5000 mercenaries to protect these people, further enhancing our wonderful image in the region.  We get to look like an imperial power without enjoying any of the benefits associated with such a status.

On the other hand, this ill-advised and ineptly conducted war of aggression appears almost sensible compared to our current hemorrhaging of lives and money for an unbelievably corrupt and ineffective government of an area that is even less of a country than the one time Turkish province: Afghanistan.

Hegemonic Folly: Defense Spending

With the predictable failure of the of the budget super-committee comes the blunt ax of sequestration, which is likely the only time the military budget will ever be threatened with cuts.  Such will never happen, of course, but the cries of putting our national security at risk are already flying, mostly from Republicans, but also from Democrats, since no politician wants to be accused of being soft on defense.  The military has naturally also chimed in, and who is a more impartial judge of the nation’s security needs?

Some figures on just how big our military is.  In 2010 we spent $687 to $698 billion (an exact total is not available to mere mortals) on the military, which is more than the next 17 nations combined and about 43% of the total world expenditure.  The next largest budget, that of China, is 7.3% of the world total.  Our expenditure was in 2009 4.7% of GNP; only five countries – Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Eretria – exceed that and for obvious reasons.  Only the UAE, with a population of only 8 million, exceeds us in per capita spending; in 2009 our military cost every man, woman and child in America $2141.  One specific and particularly relevant example: though our battle fleet has indeed shrunk in the last 20 years, it is still larger than the next 13 navies combined – and 11 of those are our allies.

The stated justification for this mammoth spending on arms are all the threats to our national security, but apart from sundry individuals, who are hardly any threat to the nation (see the article The Terrorist Nuisance), exactly who poses a serious threat to our motherland?  Only an advanced nuclear power could possible threaten our shores, and there are only two who are not our allies, Russia and China, and neither is likely to attack the US in the face of total devastation.  The truly dangerous nuclear states, North Korea, Pakistan, Israel and perhaps Iran, may threaten their neighbors, but for the foreseeable future they simply cannot deliver warheads to North America.

Of course a regional power could threaten to disrupt our supply of resources, but there is really only one that is absolutely vital to our welfare, oil, and it is hard to image that even Iran, unless pushed to the brink, could possibly be stupid enough to launch a war in the Gulf.  Rolling in money, the Gulf   states are already armed to the teeth with modern weaponry, and given the rapidly declining need of large ground forces to repel an invasion, how many carrier groups would it take to smash Iran?  A nuclear equipped Iran is a different story, but the real powers in that country, the Supreme Council and the Revolutionary Guard, have, unlike Ahmadinejad, not demonstrated the complete irrationality necessary to contemplate an action that would bring absolutely no benefit to Iran and lead to massive retaliation from virtually all the developed nations dependent on Gulf oil.

We want to protect our friends, but how many of them need protecting?
Europe? Japan? Canada? Australia? Mexico?  The Philippines do not want us there any more and are making their own arrangements with the other offshore Asian powers. Taiwan and China are forging more and more economic ties, and China’s economic relationship with the US makes it increasingly unlikely she will do anything that would seriously offend her most important market. China is seeking to increase her influence in Southeast Asia, but the only thing that threatens is American influence in the area.  Possessing nuclear weapons and the most powerful military (after Turkey?) in the region, Israel hardly needs American help, and given her behavior, one wonders how much of a friend she would be were it not for her seeming stranglehold on American politicians.  The one serious friend who is actually threatened is South Korea, and while an invasion from the north would result in immediate and extensive casualties, North Korea could be rapidly and utterly defeated by the South Koreans and minimal US forces.  And if the military is the real power in Pyongyang, would they sacrifice themselves for nothing?  Further, China, which ultimately controls the food and energy supply of her socialist ally, has absolutely no desire to see even temporary chaos in the Korean peninsula. They also can hardly be enthusiastic about the emergence of a seriously nuclear North Korea, since that could bring on the nightmare of a nuclear South Korea and Japan.

Not many military leaders, especially those who are quasi-political, have ever supported cutting their budget and reducing their forces, the major reason why threat assessments emanating from the Pentagon must be consumed with a boulder of salt.  For American politicians, who are achieving unheard of levels of self-serving behavior, reducing the military is virtually unthinkable, since they would suffer the wrath of sundry powerful lobbies and blocs of ignorant voters whipped up by their opponents.  After 60 years of having the most powerful military in the world and 20 years of virtual hegemony around the planet many Americans see any cut back in “defense” as a sign of surrender and decline.

We are no longer in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, and not only territorial but also military-based hegemonic empires are obsolete.  Gunboat diplomacy only works when the threat of military intervention is real, and although world opinion and international law did not stop the US in places like Grenada, Panama and Iraq, it is clear that military operations of any scale are incredibly expensive and self-defeating in the long run.  And against the backdrop of American arrogance, disregard for international law, increasing violation of other nations’ sovereignty and traditional inclination towards violence rather than diplomacy, our 13 carrier groups certainly appear to be the twenty-first century equivalent of gunboats.

Finally, not only is large-scale warfare rapidly becoming prohibitively expensive but with the emergence of a globalized economy it has also become counterproductive for the developed nations. Whatever their rhetoric or ideologies, they are all now inextricably bound together in a world capitalist web in which the economic misfortunes of one will inevitably affect the others.  At least in the industrialized world less and less does national security depend on huge military establishments and more and more on sound economies, which are ill-served by wasting treasure on weapons systems with no opponents and wars resulting in nothing but dead human beings.  Large scale violence must only be contemplated when there truly is no alternative, and given the increasing interconnectedness of the planet, there will almost always be an better alternative.

Then again, it is cool to be the baddest dude on the earth,  even though that might be at the expense of everything else.  Ask the Spartans how that worked out.