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Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

This morning I was chatting with a Facebook Friend about finding a suitable blog platform. She’s a professional writer, so she’s a little pickier than me. She’s looking not just for an audience but for the right audience. Professional writers need the exposure that could lead to a paid gig. And, of course, all professional writers write to be read widely. Otherwise, why write.

I’m not a writer myself. I write basically for my family and friends. A blog is a good way to reach them beyond the bounds of E-mails and letters. Oh, sure, it’s nice when others write nice comments about the things I write, and I have met some fine people through my blog. Can’t deny that, and I hope to meet more good folks with interesting things to say.

My own approach to blogging is simple. I am not at all good at writing about myself. My inner feelings are boring even to me, and I am sort of bored right now. That’s why I tend or have tended to write about external events. And since my interests are quite broad, I am inclined to write according to no particular pattern. Today, I might write about a political event, tomorrow a blurb about an article I ran across in GQ magazine. Whatever strikes my interest at the moment will likely be the topic for the day.

I also like to add a humorous touch to most of the topics I am interested in. That doesn’t mean everything is funny. Some topics are absolutely without humor, child abuse, domestic violence, murder, and suicide, for example, are devoid of laughter.

That’s why the current run of murders in this country is disturbing. Thirteen soldiers murdered at Fort Hood, Texas, one murdered and mayby 15-plus wounded in Orlando, Florida; these are just two of the most egregious examples of recent violence in America today.

Of course, the perpetrators of these crimes will always have an excuse. The guy in Orlando was fired from his job two years ago and he was mad at the company. Oddly, the individuals he murdered are not, “the company.” But somehow in the mind of this deranged individual, the employees who worked for “the company” became “the company.” So, he decided to murder as many human beings as he could.

He may or may not have known or cared that he was shooting individuals rather than “the company.” Is this insanity, or is it a failure of the ability of some people to understand distinctions?  One individual is dead but “the company” lives on. Similarly, thirteen dead but the United States Army survives.

In addition to the damages done to the survivors of these monstrous acts, the perpetrators have harmed the United States in more ways than one. Globally, they’ve added to the perception that this is the most violent country in the world. Say what you wish, but the perceptions of other nations are important within the global system when it comes to the achievement of the vital national interests of the U.S.

Domestically, the current rash of violence has exacerbated the feelings of fear and parnoia among ordinary Americans.  Who among us might be the next mass murder? That guy down the street who looks odd with his little round glasses and close-set eyes? Or a respected Army psychologist?

The most disgusting cipher in the equation is society’s failure to deal with the violence that seems to be a part of our cultural DNA. Why are we as a country so reluctant to tackle the issue? Is it because we feel helpless? Maybe we think its someone else’s job. Or have our leaders failed us? We have a justice system that excuses criminal behavior and a penal system that has become a breeding ground for violence and gang activity.

Whatever the answer may be, it’s a puzzle. As far as solutions go, my own personal impression is that the violence has largely missed the elites of our society. As long as people below the elite level murder each other, as long as the elites do not find themselves the targets of random and mass violence they will continue to largely ignore the issue, appearing on television and uttering meaningless words after a mass shooting or an especially egregious murder.

Somehow, in America, we tend to look at the moment and at the situation. Broader ramifications seem beyond our comprehension.

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If Gavin Newsom isn’t careful, he’s going to be branded the Sarah Palin of the Democratic Party. If you recall, Sarah was selected by John McCain as his running mate in the last presidential election. The Republican Party immediately embarked on an odd odyssey, pumping up Sarah’s “foreign policy” experience. The most ludicrous of the claims emanating from the usually disciplined Republican machine was that Alaska was just across the Bering Straits from Russia and Sarah could see Russia. Hence, she qualified as Commander in chief.

Now we have no less a Democratic leader than Bill Clinton recently calling Newsom “a national leader in green technology.” Considering that Newsom is relatively unknown even in his home state of California, not to mention the rest of the United States of America, that statement seems a stretch. Of course, politicians are always saying things like this. It’s a part of the game of politics, and sometimes it actually works. People begin to believe outrageous statements.

But will it work in the case of Newsom? Who knows? But maybe a little context will help us understand. Newsom isn’t running for national office. He wants to be the Governor of California. A citizen of Arkansas couldn’t vote for him even if he were a nationally recognized fan of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. Therefore, why mention things that are irrelevant to his campaign for Governor of California?  Why not say something like, “Look at what Gavin Newsom did to San Francisco. He can do the same for the State of California.”

All of this may become idle chit chat before the campaign starts in earnest. Newsom is so far behind undeclared candidate Jerry Brown in money and popularity that he’s in danger of being lapped even before Jerry gets out of the starting gate. Isn’t that pretty much what happened to Sarah?

The Stars have Dimmed

Former super power broker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom Delay, has withdrawn from Dancing with the Stars. That’s sad. As much as I disagree with Tom’s politics, I admire his courage in exposing his ineptness in a very delicate and public way. Besides, his dancing wasn’t really that bad compared to the happy feet of a few other contestants.

If nothing else, Tom deserves our credit for working at close quarters with some really attractive females. I mean, those girls are, in street level vernacular, “bilt.” What real man could retain his composure with one of them in his arms?  Even a man with the power to shape the laws of the United Stares would melt under t?he charms of those beauties.

Tom said he didn’t have time to practice. That’s why he withdrew. Yeah, right, Tom. We believe you, pal. But in politics, the publicly stated motive is never the real motive. My take is simplicity itself. Today’s modern television technology is pretty quick to pick up those underarm sweat stains that seem to appear magically the moment we stand near a gorgeous girl. It’s kind of embarrassing, isn’t it Tom?

The Stars will dime without you.

But life will go on.

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Let me see if I have this right. North Korea fires another missile that fizzled and all of a sudden the United Nations Security Council calls an emergency meeting to meet the “threat.”

Help me count the number of times the following script has played out. I’ve lost track, but never mind. It’s so predictable. Kim Jong Il blusters. No one pays any attention. He blusters a little more. Same response. Finally, he fires off another dud, and the world goes berserk.

Or does it? Is it just media hype? Is the big ole United States and all of the industrial states of the world, most of whom have the nuclear capacity to destroy the world a thousand times, really frightened of an obsolete and irrelevant dictator? I doubt it. And if I am right, what is our purpose in reacting to an irrelevancy?

I think it’s expected of us. We’ve been reacting similarly toward North Korea since the end of the Korean War. We’re in a rut. We don’t know what else to do. We have to chase the remnants of communism to the gates of hell and destroy them all.

Never mind that North Korea is not now and never has been a communist state. It’s merely a petty dictatorship much as Cuba is. Neither has achieved the vaunted Marxist ideal utopian condition, pure (or even partial) communism, in which the state withers away and dies and everyone lives happily ever after.

If anyone believes humans will live peacefully together as equals without governments (or God, in Heaven) to scare the pants off of them when they dissent, see me. I have a vault in an Army fort in Kentucky that I’ll sell for a dollar, cash. Some sucker named Knox sold it to my granddad when Nixon was elected President and it’s been in my family since then.

For those who doubt my insight into North Korea, consider: Kim Jong Il has long been a lover of American movies, and according to those who know, he has a supply of roughly 20,000 of the latest tapes  and DVDs. Periodically, he dispatches a few trusted aides to Tokyo where they stock up on new releases and replenishes his store of Scotch whiskey.

Would Kim actually chance the destruction of his coveted semi-Western life style by firing a working missile armed with a real live atomic warhead at the U.S. or one of its allies? He may be insane, but no one has certified him as suicidal. There should be no doubt that the result of such an action would be catastrophic for North Korea. The country would cease to exist.

Knowing what we now know, how should the U.S. handle Kim’s threats and fizzled missiles? Enter into intensive diplomatic negotiations with the Government of Japan to place an embargo on Kim’s supply of movies and Scotch? As an alternative proposal, should the U.S. offer him a beach villa in Hawaii with a lifetime supply of porn and booze if he will abdicate.

On the other hand, and realistically speaking, we could continue with our predictable responses. After all, Kim’s actions serve a domestic U.S. political purpose by firing up the kill-’em-all crowd. Newt Gingrich, who said he would have intercepted Kim’s missile, is the perfect politician to lead his third party (if he ever forms one) into the second half of the 19th Century, while Democrats run around in circles, bemoaning Kim’s aggressive acts at the top of their chirps.

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One of our esteemed California Senators, Dianne Feinstein, was prominently on display during Barack Obama’s inauguration as our 44th President. Ordinarily, that would be a meaningless occurrence except as a photo op. But Dianne was one of the Democratic Senators who voted in favor of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General in the Bush Administration, even though Mukassey testified before Congress that he didn’t know if waterboarding is torture or not.

Dianne’s rationale for supporting Mukassey seemed odd. Mukasey admited that he is as dumb as dirt. Why would Dianne want a person in office who lacked the smarts to read a comic strip much less the U.S. Constitution? Well, she said, the Office of Attorney General has been vacant too long. The office neededs an effective leader.

We all agreed then and agree now with the second part, but the office had effectively been without leadership for the past seven years at the time of Mukassey’s hearing. So, what’s another year? Why couldn’t Dianne have waited for a new president? Only Dianne can answer the question and she doesn’t seem inclined to expand on her original “reasoning.”

However, if she wants a few facts to help her see the light, I refer her to Evan Wallach who wrote a compelling opinion piece for the Washington Post about waterboarding titled Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime.

As an ex-Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the Nevada National Guard, he cited a number of legal precedents for the argument that torture in general and waterboarding specifically are illegal under both U.S. domestic law and international law.

He recounted the case of two American soldiers court-martialed in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War for waterboarding two Filipino guerillas.

He also described in detail the process of waterboarding and its effects on the victims, including excerpts of testimony from the records of the Tokyo War Crimes Trial by two Americans who were waterboarded by Japanese interrogators during World War II.

And as late as 1983, a federal jury convicted a Texas sheriff and three deputies of civil rights violations for waterboarding a prisoner. The four were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

These are sketchy examples, to be sure, but the point is that waterboarding has a long history of illegality and any fool ought to know it. Maybe the fools in Congress didn’t, but clearly, the legal record cannot be ignored by any rational person. Not only is waterboarding a form of torture, United States courts have consistently held it to be a crime.

Now, today, we have Dianne Feinstein standing next to Obama and acting as if the whole thing never happened. And right in there among the power group was Nancy Pelosi who has vowed to take no crap from the commander in chief. Plus, there was Barbara Boxer in the mix. She’s an enigma to me, but if she follows in the footsteps of her Bay Area cohorts, look out, Barry.

We ought to be scratching our heads at the thought of any lawmaker waffling over the issue of torture. We further ought to be perplexed at Nancy for her sudden display of guts after her possum-like career as Speaker of the House of Representatives when Bush was President. And we need to watch Barbara Boxer closely for signs that she may have decided to join the Opposition Wing of the Democratic Party.

Then when election time rolls around, all good citizens should take into account any and all recalcitrant behavior by these individuals. If one or more of them stands for any future political office, whether the office is another term as a Senator, a Representative, the Governor of California, or dogcatcher, the voters should summarily dispatch one or all to the furthest reaches of political purgatory as the evidence may suggest.

I realize that America is in a joyous mood at the moment (except Republicans), and  I recognize my tendencies here toward negatives. I don’t wish to cast cold water on Barack’s vision of a new beginning for our country. But we need to recognize at the outset that Barack is going to face Congressional opposition on many fronts from members of his own party. We should be watchful for signs  that Pelosi, Feinstein, and Boxer may coalesce into an Axis of Opposition. Such an occurrence would be the coldest water of all.

However, our daughter is optimistic. She remarked succinctly, “I have a hunch Obama will not take any crap from those two (referring to Dianne and Nancy Pelosi). I hope she is right.

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Servicemen and women often spend Christmas away from their families. Some are away from home a couple of Christmases in a row, depending on the state of the world at any point in time as viewed in Washington, D.C.

I understand the feelings of longing of those serving in foreign countries. I’ve spent my share of time away from my own family because I happened to be assigned overseas over the span of two holiday seasons.

I don’t regret those years at all because I was doing what the men in my family had always done, proudly wearing the uniform of a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman. Still, I missed my family.

Today, American men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan proudly wear their uniforms just as I did.  Like me, they feel the pain of separation from their families, pain which becomes more acute during the holiday season.

But not all of today’s service people are in Iraq or Afghanistan. The last time I bothered to count them, there were more than 300 American overseas military bases. Some are large bases but most are small.

No matter. Whether a serviceman or women is assigned to a large base or a small one, each is away from home through no wish of their own (a slight variation of a line from the Bobby Vinton oldie, Mr. Lonely).

And someday, ages and ages hence (Robert Frost), today’s generation will look back at their own Christmases elsewhere and wonder.

Is it world peace, or a piece of the world that lies behind a nation’s foreign policies?

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According to the latest news out of Iraq, the Iraqi journalist who threw a couple of shoes at George Bush during a news conference in Baghdad, has been arrested and beaten by Iraqi policemen.

President Bush seemed to derive so much glee from his ability to dodge the shoes that he ought to exercise his constitutional power of pardons and order the guy released before Iraq erupts in widespread demonstrations and riots. Already, demonstrations have occurred in Baghdad.

Compassionate conservatism demands action, Mr. Bush. Drawing on your vast experience and knowledge of the Middle East, do the right thing. Hire the Shoeman as a consultant on how to improve Secret Service screening procedures.

Speaking of experience, the power structure of the Republicrats is bemoaning Caroline Kennedy’s “lack of experience” for the Senate seat vacated by Hillary.

That seems ironic given the shape of the U.S. today, a condition caused by the actions and failures to act by the current crop of “highly experienced” Senators and Representatives in Congress. If their kind of experience is desired, I’ll take a 5th grader.

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The shoe thrower of Iraq has become an instant folk hero in the Middle East and beyond as a result of having thrown a shoe at George Bush during a Baghdad press conference.

The thrower, an Iraqi journalist, was quoted as saying, “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!”

Apparently, throwing shoes at and labeling people dogs are the ultimate acts of disrespect in the Middle East.

Similar sentiments exist in Asia where showing someone the soles of one’s shoes is considered highly disrespectful, and Americans in Asia have been accused of insulting Asians by casually lifting their feet up on a desk, thus exposing the shoe soles as they talk to an Asian visitor.

Oddly, propping the feet on a desk and leaning back in a chair are signs of manhood in America, and more frequently these days a sign of womanhood. People of rank are free to prop their feet up, but lower-level apparatchiks in the presence of their bosses do so at their own peril.

In America, too, it’s no insult to call someone a dog. We used to do it regularly in days of yore. Mainly, it was a man thing as when someone wanted to compliment another guy by saying, “You dog!” while smiling of course to make sure your friendly intent was apparent.

“You son of a bitch!” was another manly expression of friendship, a kind of backhanded compliment after a friend just cleaned you out at poker. I recall a television show, The Virginian, in which the hero said to the villain, “Smile, when you say that, pard.”

I wonder if the Iraqi journalist smiled when he committed his act. I suspect that he did. How else could we explain Bush’s own smile and jocular demeanor? Unless the President was merely demonstrating his natural Alfred E. Neuman personality.

In any event, I imagine that ages and ages hence, the Tate Gallery will display a pair of encased gold-plated shoes with soles up labeled simply “Shoes with Dirty Soles.”

And, if a connoisseur of art is interested, the shoes may be listed in Tate’s on-line shopping guide along with a map of directions to a secret grotto in Baghdad where a marble statue of the shoe thrower is enshrined.

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