Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dr. Martin Luther King

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day. Many people like me were either very young (In my case, I was 8 years old when he was shot) or weren’t born when Dr. King was alive. Many of us don’t appreciate the work he accomplished and the framework he laid for equality and justice.

On April 4, 1967, one year to the day before he was killed in Memphis, Dr. King has one his most important speeches of his career to the congregation at Riverside Church in New York. Some of you may not know, but the Riverside Church was lead by another hero in the anti-war movement of the 1960’s. That person was the Reverend William Sloane Coffin. Dr. King’s speech was titled: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence”. An excerpt follows. Ironically, simply substituting he word Iraq for Vietnam brings this speech into startlingly relevance to today’s situation.

“This Madness Must Cease
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours. "

"This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:"

"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

Dr King continues: "If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play. “

Martin Luther King, like Gandhi and like Jesus, espoused a philosophy of non-violence. Each was eventually assassinated for their beliefs. Dr. King’s life has the most impact to me because he was a contemporary of mine. Dr. King was very human. He had faults, he recognized his flawed nature, but looked beyond his faults and the faults of pretty much everyone else to see a better future. Dr. King’s leadership set forth an example to everyone who sees injustice and desires to do something about it. He never committed acts of violence in response to those done to him. He was continually threatened and eventually believed he would not live long. His vehicle for the delivery of his message was religion. Using the pulpit, Dr. King energized thousands of young black Americans to step up and defy conventional wisdom and authority. Hundreds went to jail. Hundreds were killed. Thousands were most likely the victim of some type of assault, physical or otherwise. Dr. King’s example set in motion a power that could not be stopped. Even in his death, Dr. King’s message continued to ring true. When the country was about to devolve into riots and chaos, soul singer James Brown pleaded with the black youth of the community to pay heed to Dr. King’s message of non-violence. Dr. King is a hero the true sense of the word. He gave his life in order for others’ lives to improve. What more can one ask?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mr. President, You are passionate, but you do not persuade...

So. We are changing strategy in Iraq. We are concentrating on securing the city of Baghdad. You will send additional troops to Anbar province to find Al-Qaeda. We will spend an additional $1B on a jobs program to reconstruct the infrastructure in Iraq. You have decided to deploy 21,500 more soldiers to the country that your former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was sure we would pacify in 6 months.
Mr. President, your speech offered no new strategy, only new tactics. There was nothing in your speech that gave any indication that you or your advisors had a real plan that would affect the region in a positive manner. In the end, you are putting 21,500 more US sons and daughters in harms way with no real plan to quell the violence between the Sunni and the Shia.
I don't believe you can fix this problem with soldiers. You can't fix the problem externally. The Shia and the Sunni have to do it themselves. You are correct when you talk about the worst-case scenario that Iraq could become a terrorist base-camp with significant reserves of oil at their disposal. Still, not enough reason for us to send more troops into harms way.
The Sunni and the Shia have to work themselves through this. It will require conflict, blood, death and then exhaustion from the fighting and a recognition that peace is what they want after all. The conflict is happening now. We have soldiers in the cross-fire. Get them out of harms way and allow "all the poisons to hatch out". Only until the Shia and Sunni have had their fill of the violence will it stop. There is absolutely no reason for another US Soldier to be killed in this conflict.
You didn't persuade Mr. President, you convinced me that you don't have a plan and you aren't the right person for this job. It is now my belief that you should be removed from office through impeachment. The level of incompetence that you and your administration have shown in dealing with this conflict has resulted in over 3,000 US deaths and 45,000 plus wounded Americans.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's Simply Time to Stop

Tomorrow evening the President will address the nation and give his direction for the war in Iraq. Early information indicates that he will direct a "surge" of up to 20 thousand additional troops to be added to the approximately 140 thousand currently on the ground in Baghdad.
The article this post is linked to is a report on Senator Edward Kennedy's preemptive response to the President's expected address. He has introduced legislation in the Senate that will require approval from the US Congress prior to any additional troop deployments. It is high time that the Congress retake their Constitutional authority with respect to deciding when we go to war. They gave that authority away when they voted to authorize the President to use force if he saw fit to do so. Now, at least an attempt to rectify this mistake has been put in motion. God help us to see that it comes to pass.
It is simply time to stop the involvement of US soldiers in Iraq. I know all the counter arguments that say if we leave chaos will reign and Al-Qaeda will gain control. We've been told that Iran will step in and establish a Shia Crescent across the region effectively gaining control of the massive oil reserves in Iraq. I've heard these arguments over and over and time and again they ring hollow when I look at a picture like the one posted in this article. I become incensed at the notion that oil, strategy, Shia or Sunni ethnic complaints are worth one US Soldier. Yet, it seems that this President has not yet reached that point. Of course we expect him to be sympathetic to the parents and loved ones of the fallen. He is a human being after all and I know he doesn't like the deaths. However, he has developed a blind-spot relative to Iraq. He has as "The Decider" given over to the idea that only he is right and everyone else is wrong and if he just hangs on long enough, then his view will rule the day and we will be victorious.
Mr. Bush is delusional in my view. His desire for victory in Iraq has clouded any judgement that might say a different path or strategy is warranted. Oh, he will listen to advisors, experts and friends who tell him it's time for something new. He'll give the impression that he is seriously thinking about a new approach. In the end, we'll get the same George Bush that decided to go to war in the first place. He is absolutely convinced of the rightness of his approach as he is in his religious beliefs. And that my friends is the problem. I sincerely believe that the President of the United States is doing God's bidding with this war. I really think he believes the central focus of his presidency is to free oppressed people and to interject democracy into a region that is no more ready for democratic governance than the Sahara desert is ready to grow corn.
Mr. Bush, you have lost the country, you have lost your allies, and you are now losing your political party. It should be plain to you that a time for continued conflict has passed. It's simply time to stop.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Egg on Your Face

Today, ABC News reports that 28 Senators, knowing what they know today would not have voted to authorize the President to go to war in Iraq. Mostly Democrats, it's not a surprising statement, because we've been hearing several members or former members of the Senate (e.g. John Edwards) say their vote was a mistake.

Indeed it was. We now know that Iraq had no WMD, that Saddam was not a threat and that the Iraqi government had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks on America on September of 2001.

The mistake the Senators have confessed to is the wrong mistake. One wonders how many of them would have come to the realization of the mistake had things taken a different turn in Iraq. What if we had indeed been greeted as Liberators? What if democracy had taken root in Iraq and the Shiite and Sunni factions put all their ethnic differences aside and started to rebuild Iraq in a harmonious manner? Would they still consider it a mistake? Would they have voted differently based on the outcome?

No, that wasn't the mistake. The mistake, which is why the Senate and House have egg on their faces is that they weasled out of their responsibility identified in the Constitution to declare war. By voting to give the President these powers to use force as he see fits, they were attempting to establish a "defense shield" that keeps them from harm if things went poorly. And Boy, did they! If things went well, it would also allow them to pat themselves on the back and say "We were right their with you Mr. President!" Isn't it great we rid the world of a notorious dictator and freed a people and brought Democracy to the middle east!

Well, now they are playing the distancing game. As the George Bush Presidency crashes and burns, the US Congress is stepping all over themselves trying to put distance between them and the White House. It's disgusting really, that this body of government shirks its constitutional responsibility for political cover.

I cannot stand George Bush. I think he is without a doubt the worst president in my life time, and I've lived through every president since Eisenhower. I will say this for him though, he's stayed true to his belief that this is right. In this case he's significantly more admirable than the Congress. At least he continues to support his decision, no matter how wrong-headed it is. The US Congress (excepting those who voted against the war from the outset) are a bunch of two-faced weasels who tried to have their cake and eat it too. A pox on all of them.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Movie Review - Everyone Needs to See This

The opening of Eugene Jarecki's fascinating documentary "Why We Fight" features an excerpt from President Dwight Eisenhower's 1961 farewell address. The president, saying goodbye to the nation, left a warning about the growth of something he was all too familiar with: The growth of the defense industry in the United States. The President said the following:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment.
Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential
aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction...
This conjunction of
an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the
American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual —
is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.
We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to
comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all
involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of
government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence,
whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential
for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must
never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic
processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable
citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military
machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and
liberty may prosper together.

The movie moves on to describe the growth of the "military-industrial-congressional" relationship that has seen companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton growth into mega-sized multi-national corporations who have earned trillions of dollars from the US Taxpayer over the last 50 years.

The eye-opening and frightening reality presented in this movie is that the defense industry is so embedded in the fabric and conscience of our country's being that we may never see the end of continued development of weapons and armaments. The defense budget figures cited in this movie are astronomical. The control over congress the lobbyists and the pentagon have is apalling. The language of the defense industry has been acutely honed as to potray anyone who questions the growth, expense and commitment to the industry of war as non-patriotic or weak.

Major figures from our history, both past and present day actors such as Richard Perle, Gore Vidal, John McCain, as well as ex-CIA and defense industry veterans provide a wide point of view regarding these actions. A heartbreaking arc in the story is that of a retired New York City Policeman, who was a combat veteran of Viet Nam. He lost his son in the 9/11 attacks and understandably was angry and wanted vengeance. He discusses his attempts to gain some level of justice by imploring defense officials to write the name of his dead son on one of the bombs to be dropped in combat operations in Iraq. A related segment of this story shows two Air Force pilots who fired the opening salvos in combat operations in 2003 by bombing an area of Baghdad known as Dora Farms. They were told a "high-value" target was in a particular area and targeted their "smart bombs" at the site. The only trouble was that the smart bombs weren't so smart and they wound up bombing civilian habitats killing civilians. The story winds its way back to the father who lost his son and showing his anger at being duped by the government regarding the lies told about WMD in order to justify the war.

This movie has an agenda of course as all documentaries do. It attempts to portray the defense industry, that "military-industrial" complex as almost shadow government doing everything possible to strengthen and perpetuate itself. Is it an accurate portrayal? I'm sure that depends upon the viewer's perspective. I know I am seriously troubled by what I say and I'm afraid we've seen what President Eisenhower warned us about come to fruition. At the end of his warning, he says "only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry" can maintain control of this and keep a balance between defending ourselves and liberty. I fear we've not been as alert as we needed to be. Go see this movie. Rent it out and watch it with your older kids and family. It's that important.


Goodbye Mr. President

Mr. President, you were one of my favorite Presidents. Not because of any New Deal or New Frontier, or opening China, or anything major, but because you were a real guy. The faker in office right now always attempted to portray a home-spun, folksy way about him, but everyone knows he is just a poser.
No, Mr. President, you were real. You took the job when you really didn't want it. You stepped into a cesspool of corruption and incredibly harsh events (oil embargoes, inflation, Viet Nam, etc.) and you handled it with a kind of grace that is evident in people comfortable in their own skin. I know, much has been made of your lack of grace and Chevy made a career out of hyping that, but your grace was a calm and comfortable presence that gave us an assurance that someone decent was in charge. I was only 15 when you became President, but even then I thought you were a decent guy. I liked that you were an athlete and played football. I liked that you aspired to be Speaker of the House and not President. I liked you, your wife and your dog (Liberty). When you ran against Reagan in the primary I rooted for you. I thought Reagan was a hack and still do. When you lost the election against Carter, I was disappointed, but thought you handled the transfer of power with grace and professionalism. Your eventual friendship with President Carter has solidified the opinion I had that you were a good guy. Mr. Carter is a good guy as well. The work you two did together after you both were out of office was an example of how to behave as an ex-president. Thanks for being a role model for future presidents. I only hope they will reach back into history and learn from you and emulate the class you had.
So long,


Welcome Back and Good Luck. Now, Get to Work

To Speaker Pelosi and the incoming Democratic majority. Congratulations on your victory. Now, a word of advice:

1. Be Humble. Recognize that this is a temp job and you can and will eventually be replaced.
2. Remember who sent you to Washington. The American people deserve decent representation and not just those guys living on K Street.
3. The Republicans shot themselves in the foot (and some in the face, but that's another story). You didn't win this based on your better ideas. Be Humble (I repeated number 1, so sue me.)
4. If you screw up, admit it and fix it. Don't try and blame it on the Republicans. They do that better than anyone and you'd look like idiots if you tried.
5. Get us the hell out of Iraq.

Best wishes,

your constituency