Monday, July 27, 2009

The Desparate Duo

Two lame duck governors of two debt-ridden states are going into business. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has the largest prison population in the country, (and the largest budget deficit.) Jennifer Granholm of Michigan has the highest unemployment rate—over 14%.

To help remedy their problems, Granholm is offering to house California prisoners in Michigan for a fee. (That’s right America human beings once more have become a commodity to be swapped and traded.) Theoretically, this proposal would save California money, while enabling Michigan to hire more prison guards, thus easing unemployment.

The rub: California is in such bad shape, it is now issuing billions of dollars in I.O.U.’s to its creditors. Not only is Michigan likely to receive an I.O.U. for its dubious services—housing prisoners; (is that all you got?)—but it will have to go to the back of the line to receive that.

"Blood Diamond"

Last night I watched the movie, “Blood Diamond”, a disturbing account of the diamond trade in West Africa. More compelling than the trade, itself, were the child soldiers of Sierra Leone—children forced to wage a war of devastating cruelty against their own people.

Interesting that two days earlier, in our own Detroit, young gunmen shot seven children in front of a public school.

Blood Diamond: On the face of it, Africa in all of its utter chaos. Beyond it, inner America and its own child soldiers, murdering and maiming on a similar scale.

We watch the movie and are appalled at the brutality of the child soldiers of Africa, like something out of the Dark Ages. But do we think our children are any better? They are the same children—the same senselessness, the same callous disregard for human life. The only difference: our children here in the States do it with less coercion.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Back, Back, Back..."

Barack Obama is “in a war of words with Ahmadinejad.” So says the media. And the Republicans are loving it. Obama has finally lowered himself to their level.

“I strongly condemn your actions!” Obama declares to the Iranian president. The Republicans say, “Go on.”

“Outrageous!” Obama cries out. The Republicans nod, “you’re getting warmer.”


“Now you’re sounding like a real American president.”

No, Mr. Obama is sounding like someone he did not want to sound like.

The Republicans accused Obama of being weak when he refused to get into a shouting match with the Iranians. Now that he has—and in so doing, succumbed to the will of the Republicans—they feel assured that he is weak.

The Republicans know how to get at Obama. Whether he realizes it or not, he is consistently responsive to their negative pressure. The Republicans are a backward-thinking lot. They are determined to pull our president back into the past. The surprise is that our president continues to take the bait.

Monday, July 13, 2009


North Korea’s Kim Jong II threatens to “wipe the U.S. from the face of the Earth.” Sounds amusing, even funny, at first.

Perhaps we should not take him so literally. Arrogance makes us do that—take things literally—because our strength (military, financial, etc.) is a literal matter. We are literally the most powerful nation on Earth. So, when someone makes such a threat as Kim’s, we prefer to take it literally because that makes it sound all the more ridiculous.

What if the danger Kim poses is figurative? Would we be so quick to laugh then?

9-11 proved our vulnerability and our fragility. Our psyche has been damaged by it, and by Iraq; and to an extent greater than we seem to realize, by Abu Ghraib. It is these types of blows that can change the face of a nation, and erode its confidence and its influence. Kim’s threat, when seen in this light, might not be as hollow as it first appeared. Certainly, no matter what Kim does, the U.S. could, literally, wipe North Korea off the map. But would we ever be the same?

Perhaps Kim has a coup in mind—something that won’t work, but that he thinks will work; something that will work, but not in the way, nor in the time that he has planned.

Perhaps we’d better stop thinking so literally, and star thinking figuratively—wondering if stopping a barge possibly loaded with millet for Myanmar is worth chancing being wiped off the face of the earth.

Perhaps we don’t believe we can be “wiped off the face of the earth.” Perhaps we’re not taking into account that our face could be so drastically altered that we won’t ever so readily want to show it again.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Poor Man’s Posse

A stock of ballistic missiles is to today’s nations what the Colt .45 was to the Old West—“the Equalizer.” It is the poor man’s posse; his air force and artillery rolled into one.

The Germans engineered missile technology toward the end of World War II. And while it was too late to win the the war, its potential to wreak havoc terrified everyone.

Nothing is so frightening as the prospect of a missile—armed with Lord-knows-what—hurtling towards our homes. North Korea knows this, and it is that knowledge that drives their missile program. For them, it is a matter of survival. That they are a paranoid state is underscored. But perhaps we are all a bit paranoid, and if not, then perhaps we should be. Missile technology will proliferate, even if nuclear technology does not; (though I fear it will, too.) It is a matter of real (and imagined) threats that drive the development of both.

Today, America is bracing for a North Korean missile launch in the direction of Hawaii, likely around the Fourth of July. Secretary of Defense, Gates, has declared that the “U.S. is ready against North Korea strike.”

Before our paranoia starts to show, let us back p a bit and look at this in real terms: Look at the map, folks. North Korea is literally boxed in. China commands his northern and western borders: behind China, hulking Russia. South Korea straddles its southern border. And Japan, America’s main ally in the region, stretches across Korea’s entire eastern front.

To test-fire a missile, North Korea, basically, must fire it over Japan, and into the vast Pacific beyond. Of course, Japan doesn’t want missiles fired over its territory. That is reasonable. But what other option does North Korea have? They must test-fire their missiles. Why? Ask the U.S. why it must test-fire its missiles. Ask Russia and China and France the same question. Because test-firing missiles, is the only way to know if they work.

Why have missiles at all? Ask the aforementioned nations that same question. To a nation, they will respond, “National security.” So, the real question becomes, “Does North Korea have a ‘National security’ interest, too? Of course they do.

That we are pretending to fear a missile strike on Hawaii is as absurd as Sarah Palin claiming North Korea might try to strike Alaska. (What, to kill a moose?) Let’s be real. Any strike at American territory—anywhere—would virtually end North Korea’s existence as a sovereign state. They know this. If they were to strike American territory, (which they will not, unless America strikes them first,) it would be a real target—like L.A., New York, or Washington D.C. They do not yet have that capability.

There is, however, a narrow stretch of open water between Japan’s Hokkaido and Russia’s Sakhalin islands. It would go a long ways toward easing tensions in the region if North Korea simply advised all parties involved—China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S.—of the exact coordinates of their missile launch. They might still make a mistake, but at least we would know their intentions.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hitler called it "Lebensraum"

Israel is the only nation on Earth who can take land from its neighbor when it gets the urge to expand. No one else is allowed.

President Obama sees this, and on a world stage in Cairo, said to Israel: “No more settlements.” But already, the forces of irrationality are gathering against him. Friends of Israel in the U.S. House and Senate are saying, “The president has gone too far. He is asking too much of Israel.” One Israeli organization, Yesha Council, a settler lobby group, accuses the Obama administration of “political terrorism”. Others in Israel accuse Obama of seeking to overthrow the Netanyahu government. Are they all mad?

Nothing is so important to a man as his land—nothing except his family, itself, which without land, has no future. In the wild, animals stake out territory. Without territory, they know they cannot survive. When others intrude into that territory, they fight. It is a fight for survival.

So, how irrational is it to tell the Palestinians to, “be nice” while the Israelis steadily and systemically chip away at their small parcel of land? They are forbidden to fight back—which they must—and when they do, they are called “militants” and “Islamic extremists.”

Each one of us in America knows that if his neighbor decided that his yard was not big enough for his growing family and so began to extend his property into the neighbor’s yard, that neighbor would fight. That is the “nuts and bolts” of the settlement issue: Men taking the land of other men.

During Hitler’s rise to power, he called the German need to expand “Lebensraum” or living space. The Israelis call it “natural growth,” which is the exact same thing.