Tag Archives: self-rule

So called “Pledge to America”…

… and why no one who advocates for smaller government should fall for it.

Today the House Republicans issued their so-called “Pledge for America“.  It is merely another source of worthless pandering from a party that likes to think it still has some shred of fiscal conservatism left to it.

In the first page, it manages to raise the specter of tyranny, creates ghosts of “an unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary” which have “combined to thwart the will of the people”.  So let me get this straight: President Obama has managed to pass every bit of legislature he wanted to, there have been no filibusters in the Senate, and the CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Roberts is overreaching? (Okay, I’ll agree to this last point, but not as something that is leaning in the direction the House Republicans who drafted this document would want you to believe.)

For all the fact that the document raises these issues, it is worthwhile to note that I have heard tell that about the only thing the Founding Fathers feared as much as tyranny was the uneducated masses, and some probably would have sided with tyranny.

Assorted pledges take up the bottom half of the first page and roll on the second.  However, when looking at the track record of unethical “family-values” behavior (how many sex scandals do you need?), lack of transparency (how many millions were “misplaced” or “lost track of” under President Bush and the Republicans?), and honest in its dealings (again, how many WMD did we find in Iraq?), this document is nothing more than wool that is being pulled over people’s eyes.

It talks about “job killing tax hikes”, yet taxes were higher under Reagan and Clinton (and boy were those Clinton years good economically).  It offers vague platitudes about stopping “out-of-control spending” when the Republican record on massive growth of government (don’t forget the military budget folks) actually has changed, almost flipped, over the last few decades.  I haven’t vetted this source, but I’d recommend checking it out (also check here).

It talks about the horrors of government run health care: Fine, be honest, get out there and start talking about repealing Medicare and Medicade.  That same crappy government run health care that had conservative protesters out on the street telling the government to not take it away.  That is the will of the people.

The “tax hikes” that are coming are an end is the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts that were deceivingly set to end after 10-years, so that their impacts wouldn’t need to be analyzed and the impacts to debt shown.  While the GOP focuses often on GDP, I agree with many that a better measure is median and mean average income.  This Times article is quite informational on the topic, and the charts here on State of the USA also paint a picture that the GOP doesn’t like to bring up.  Yes, the USA as a whole has increased GDP quite drastically.  However, for the average person, you were better off, substantially, a decade ago (before the tax cuts) than you are today.

The most infuriating issue with the “Pledge” is that it has few to no concrete details about what programs will be cut.  It talks suddenly about the need for fiscal constraint, during a recession, after 8 years of reckless spending.  It talks about how much we are spending on the paying debt for the US having more in debts than in income.  Yet, when one looks at a chart on US debt, such as this one on Wikipedia, there is a decided trend.  President Regan enters office… debt skyrockets, dips in the latter Clinton years, and then explodes under Bush.  But maybe this is why the “Pledge” likes to couch things in terms of “non-security” discretionary spending.  Maybe it is because of the amount of money (ignoring the literal human cost) poured into Iraq (a war we didn’t need to go into), to the tune of, about $750 billion in roughly the last 8 years.  That’s money that’s not going towards better roads, better education or health care.  Money not going towards the American people that the disingenuous Republican party leadership would have you ignore in the accounting.

All of these falsehoods, burying of true costs, yet the document at the beginning would have you believe it was going to be more transparent.  It’s another pack of lies that the Party leadership would have us believe.  Instead they should come clean and support PRECISE programs they would cut and their impacts.  Otherwise it’s nothing but more hot air.

Bin Laden, Climate Change, and Extremism

A new Bin Laden tape strikes out against the US… on its environmental platform?

He comes out against industrialized countries for not halting climate change, and then goes into the usual blame game.  This time however, his intent was “to inflict harm on the US economy” by encouraging nations to switch away from the greenback to other currencies.

While undoubtedly true, it is also hard to deny that those “other currencies” also come from the largest polluter (China), and one of the top exporters of GHG emitting fuels in the world (Russia), so it’s not really an accurate portrayal of the world.  Not to mention the hypocrisy of Bin Laden (with the size of the Bin Laden family construction business) coming out against climate change, when I am fairly certain most of the ardent followers of Bin Laden probably don’t believe in climate change (not that I know this for certain, religious-types tend towards lack of trust in science).

However, the more important part of the announcement is the shift towards environmental topics.  I believe it indicates that Bin Laden’s core ideology is losing strength, support, and relevance due to his isolation in Afghanistan/Pakistan.  This is an attempt to expand his reach and scope, despite the fact that a great deal of existing environmental damage is due to overpopulation and poor management of existing resources.

It is interesting to see Al Qaeda/Bin Laden adopt an environmental plank to their platform, however, ultimately the logic fails.  Shifting from the greenback to another currency will do little to nothing to affect or impact climate change.  Instead it merely promotes the misunderstanding and self-gratification, based on a slender kernel of truth, that extremists so largely operate under.

Copenhagen: trials and delays

The climate talks in Copenhagen have ground to a halt, for the usual litany of reasons that have derailed any real action since the Rio Conference (Earth Summit) in 1992. 

  • It’s too expensive.
  • It’s not our fault – it’s yours.
  • We don’t want to delay economic development.
  • It’s not really happening / God makes it happen / Denial

Those are four of what I consider to be the top reasons that states choose not to act in the face of overwhelming evidence for climate change.  As I have said before, I do not care the causes for climate change.  They are real and they are happening.  At the best case, the chemicals societies spew into the air, water, and land are causing health impacts.  At the worst, they are causing climate change that will devastate millions, if not billions of people. 

However, the skeptics in the US are joining skeptics across the globe in an interesting Christian-Muslim alliance (sorry, couldn’t resist throwing that out there) — Senator Inhofe (whose Senate homepage, as of 12/15 had a nice pictorial icon for a link to a Senate Minority report) and Mohammad Al-Sabban (Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator) are on the same page.  Now, what has inspired this close alliance between these two parties?  A love of black gold – OIL.  Saudi Arabia, as many of you know, is the top exporter of oil.  According to Sourcewatch.com Senator Inhofe received a meager $662,506 from oil companies between 2000 – 2008.  Or, to put it in perspective, Senator Inhofe receives nearly twice as much per year on average from oil companies than the per capita GDP of the US (The CIA’s World Factbook puts US GDP/capita at $46,000).

Does the US, Europe, and other advanced economies bear the lion’s share for polluting the air with greenhouse gasses?  Yes.  Do we have a collective responsibility to help others deal with the impacts / help reduce the impacts of climate change? Yes.  Does the developing world need to sit by and do nothing? No.

Developing countries need to do as much to reduce their contributions of greenhouse gasses as possible.  This does include the need for clean technologies such as solar PV, and small wind and hydro to create clean electricity.  But the developing countries need to realize that a political solution will never be possible unless they too are willing to abide by some metric for containing their emissions and environmental damage.

To think that others will do what you will not is the height of folly.  It is why I believe the GOP arguments about climate change policy in the US being against national security is the height of stupidity.  Most measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US revolve around moving away from fossil fuels and on to renewables.  A situation which will only reduce dependence on foreign oil, not increase it.  Additionally, it is possible to imagine a situation where the US would become a net exporter of renewable energy sources — making foreign countries dependent on us, not the other way around.  Why?  Because last time I checked, the Arabian Peninsula was a pretty sunny place.

Afghanistan, 18 months, or bust

In his speech on Tuesday, President Obama outlined the new strategy for Afghanistan.  He outlines the efforts undertaken against al Qaeda, the responsibility for the attacks, the shielding of terrorists by the Taliban, the new surge of 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, and how to deal with the insurgency in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.

Where I feel the strategy falls short is in its treatment of point #2 and #3 – “Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.”

“Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.”

Addressing the 3rd point, I do not believe there can be a true partnership with Pakistan.  Their efforts, are too strongly linked to their national security and the perceived threat from India.  The wars and conflict in Afghanistan provide perfect training grounds to send Mujahideen against Indian soldiers in Kashmir.  They are cheap, fanatical, and willing to die.  The ISI (Pakistan’s Intelligence Service) has long had its own hands in the deck, steering American policy through actions and intelligence on Afghanistan.  Instability in Afghanistan has helped provide Pakistan with billions of dollars in US aid.  Why break the piggy bank that keeps on dropping money willy-nilly? 

The third point should be a responsible relationship with Pakistan. 

Regarding point #2, I feel that if we truly seek prosperity for Afghanistan, it will require a far greater number of soldiers than even the surge will provide.  The legitimacy of the Afghani government is questionable given the election results.  Lastly, the key, in my mind, to countering the impacts of insurgency is economic development. 

I am not talking about the piddling amounts of money being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq now.  I am talking economic development funding on the order of magnitude of the Marshall Plan.  It is important to note, that the Marshall Plan only had to rebuild European economies.  For Afghanistan we are talking about creating infrastructure wholesale.  I remember reading a number of years ago, that with the construction of the Kandahar-Kabul Highway, transit between the two major cities was reduced from days to a single long day.  Sadly, that is the first, last, and only major infrastructure project I have heard of in Afghanistan.  And it was completed (phase I), in 2003.

If there is to be effective change in Afghanistan, the government must become transparent and trusted alongside economic development, and the elimination of al Qaeda.  The Taliban is another problem, but I believe we must remember that they are separate from al Qaeda.  For their various crimes against humanity, the Taliban will be judged.  However, it was al Qaeda, terrorists from our “allies” in the Middle East, who attacked us.  The Taliban only provided them shelter.

Afghani elections

Mullen Issues Caution on Afghanistan

Wading into the “Safe Haven” Debate

Karzai, Abdullah Teams Both Expect Election Win

Hamid Karzai accused by rival candidate of rigging Afghanistan election

As the titles above indicate, Afghanistan is once again all over the headlines.  This time for the elections recently held.  Accounts of fraud are being bandied about, although observers expected some level of fraud, but nothing that should drastically change the election results.  There have been some calls that Afghanistan should have been re-founded as a constitutional monarchy under the old King of Afghanistan. These concerns, aside from fraud, strike me as largely immaterial.

What is far more concerning is the resurgence of the Taliban, as well as the current government’s pandering towards hard-line conservative elements.  Issues such as starving wives who do not give their husbands sex, closure or attack on secular schools, and the lack of stability are all key problems facing Afghanistan.  The sheer fact that elections have been held throughout the country, however, is a major milestone.

The American military is paying in lives and blood, as are the American taxpayers.  Similarly, the Afghans have been paying this price.   Going on three decades now.  It is not the time for us to grow faint, even as Robin’s article (2nd link at top) points to a poll showing the majority of Americans support withdrawing from Afghanistan.  The chief problem I see to letting instability settle into Afghanistan is the domino effect it will have on the region.  Pakistan has already witnessed this through the increased attacks and unsettled northwestern borders.  Militants from there have been involved with violence in the Kashmir region, and elsewhere where al-Qaeda and its related organizations exist.

If, however, Afghanistan is made strong, most likely as a federation of states with a weak central government, it could very well serve to stabilize the border with Pakistan, and allow the country to focus its efforts more specifically in the troubled border regions.  I do not mean this as an answer to all of America’s problems in the region, but Afghanistan is definitely a problem we helped create, and we need to help the citizens of Afghanistan develop their government and institutions so that moderates have a chance for success in the country.

Independence Day, Liberty, and Freedom

Today is the 4th of July. For some, it is just another day. For others it is a day which means there was a shorter work week, a BBQ, some fireworks. Or it is a day for introspection.

233 years ago today, a struggle officially started in a backwards part of the world, along the eastern shores of a land, contested by the European Powers and the native population, a war few thought could be won by those who had declared independence from Great Britain. However, over several years, the colonials eventually managed to win, scraping together a country, clinging to the Atlantic coast. Even the Founding Fathers themselves thought their attempt to form a government would not last altogether that long, maybe fifty years at most. They were wrong on that account.

The Declaration of Independence might be one of the two most important documents ever drafted, the other being the Magna Carta issued in 1215. Like most great works, the problem was in the execution. For its grand tone and intent, the failure to allocate all the rights entombed in this document would lead to strife and hardship for millions through slavery, would lead to the US Civil War, and take decades to rectify the natural place of African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Women, and many other groups marginalized in practice.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This sentence is probably the pinnacle of Enlightened thinking, enshrining almost a century of thought which had swept across Europe, causing the old order to crumble.

The question is what do these “self-evident” truths mean?
The first is straight forward. All men are created equal. There is no reason why birth should give one special qualities, such as rank or title. There is no divine right of kingship, no reason instituted by man for superiority. This is not the same as men being disallowed from being superior for other reasons, such as greater physical strength, greater guile, or greater intellect.

“certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are not boundless rights, each in some way shaping and molding the others.

Life is the right to exist, to not have genocide conducted against you, be killed, or murdered.

Liberty is the right to exist free from coercion, to exercise ones own free will. It also means accepting the responsibility for ones own actions, and should not infringe upon others rights to Life or the pursuit of Happiness. There is a great deal of discussion and debate about what the bounds of actions, given that liberty exists, are allowed. Socialism generally construes that one should have equal wealth distribution. Libertarianism generally takes the view that greater freedom leads to stronger liberty.

Pursuing Happiness is the right to do what you will. Generally I view this as the right to pursue what you will as long as it does not overly impact the liberty of others, and does not take away the right of others to life. If it makes me happy to sit in the sun and read, then that is something others should allow (pending that I choose not to do said reading in the middle of a freeway for example, which would restrict others liberty and literally their pursuit of happiness if they are driving somewhere they wish to go).

Together, these three unalienable rights constitute “freedom”. It is the grand gift of the Declaration of Independence. Freedom from kings, from an oppressive government, the rights to do with your life as you will. No grand determination of role in society, instead allowing those with the skills and merit to rise. It is the inspiration and the hope of the Declaration and Independence. It is why many people might hate the policies of the United States, but love America at the same time. It is what we, Americans, must always safeguard and hold close. In a time of shadowy wars against those who would see America fall, it is ultimately a cry out for the freedoms that are represented, because those who would perpetuate violence and fear inevitably fail in the face of liberty.

Revolutions, Iran, and attempting Analysis

As has been pointed out repeatedly, by some media sources, there is no real way to try and view the current events in Iran through the lens of the 1979 revolution. This viewpoint has been consistently proven as attempts are made to assess why countries undertake the actions they do, and has failed repeatedly.

I believe this is because one does not consider what they would do in the same situation. Below is my take on what is going on and why. I have no special inside access, only what is available for anyone in the news, as well as my own background in international relations and analysis to draw upon.

1) Is it logical for the Iranian regime to crack down on protests?
Yes. It is logical, but only if the regime is weak. Say what you will about elections in open countries, but almost universally, protests are allowed as part of a functioning civil society.

2) Who is cracking down on the protests?
Republican Guard, Basij militiamen, and portions of the senior clergy.

3) Who are they going after?
Students, opposition leaders, opposition leaders families.

4) Why go after these targets?
Because they fear the influence and strength that these groups have in actually getting society to fully function.

5) Why are these groups performing the attacks on civilians?
Because they have the most to lose. Under Ahmadinejad, the hard-line elements of Iranian politics have gained a great deal of power and influence. In a government run by the opposition, they might lose their close ties to the public face of the regime, as well as funding for pet projects such as the nuclear developments occurring in the country.

6) What is at stake?
The potential stability of the Republic, influence for some senior clergy and the militant elements of society.

and, for most of my readers, the key question:

7) Why should I care?
I feel that it is the role and responsibility of all people to take interest in the world and international affairs. In the case of Iran, it is a country with a highly educated population, oil rich, bordering countries such as Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, and Pakistan.

It is also an interesting case in democratic development, and helps illustrate what we all can take for granted in America: an open political process, freedom of speech, and freedom from oppression. Like in every time and place, the quality of these varies, but it is a general statement. I could walk out in the front yard right now, and odds are that I’m not going to get beaten for supporting one candidate or the other.

My take away point is this: I have done some analysis (very brief and cursory) above, and it is, ultimately, my opinion based on what I have read and understand to be going on in Iran.

Any number of people could look at the same issues and come to different or similar conclusions. However, I have strictly tried to eliminate any portion of my analysis relating to the Iranian Revolution because I do not feel that it is productive in understanding what is occurring now.

Your thoughts and ideas, are as always, welcome.