Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Karma Presidency

While President Obama and his Republican challengers rev the engines for the 2012 Presidential race and worry about the decisions they’ve made as President, Senators, and Representatives. I have a much simpler formulation when it comes to analyzing Mr. Obama’s chances for reelection. As a disclaimer, I borrowed pretty liberally from a discussion I had with my friend Ryan Nelson-graduate student in history at University of Illinois-Springfield a few years ago.

We came to a pretty interesting formulation actually. I’m not an expert on karma obviously, but the gist would be something like: A president does good and bad things during his term in office. If the good things he does, outweigh the bad, than he will achieve the political form of enlightenment and be re-elected, but if he has done more bad things while in office, than he will be defeated, and returned to civilian life as an arguably lower life form. Of course, I could also be wrong and have just offended a billion people in India and my best friend in the process.

There’s one big problem with my theory of a karma presidency though. It would seem to require a thorough and rigorous airing of a presidents complete record successes and failures and in the sound bite culture we currently live, the odds of it occurring are virtually none. The campaign will most assuredly be dominated by the economy and jobs, maybe entitlement reform and so called Obama-care, and if there’s any breath left over: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But maybe if we used something like a karma system, our leaders wouldn’t continually disappoint us.

Corporate Godzilla

Deregulation of many industries in the United States was sold to us as an engine that would create competition and keep costs low and choices high for the American consumer. With the spates of big companies buying up smaller companies like the proposed AT&T/T Mobile merger that is currently being fought by the Justice Department through an anti-trust lawsuit.

We’ve instead created an economy of a select few large behemoth companies that will soon control the market on basic services meaning that they can set their own prices without anyone to challenge them. Of course this syndrome has stricken the American economy over the last few years.

We apparently have learned nothing from the financial failure and the circumstances that created banks too big too fail. Now we’ve apparently decided that creating companies too big too fail is an appropriate business model for the big multinational corporations.

Maybe next we can have the telephone industry bailout, to go along with the automotive and bank industry bailout. Mergers are also bad for the economic health of an already fragile country as two companies become one…redundant people are laid off creating even greater unemployment numbers.

Bottom line: This game of Corporate Godzilla doesn’t improve things for the consumer, but rather, creates gigantic corporate profits at the expense of consumers…yeah what else is new.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Category Five Hype Machine?

I have often been quite critical of the media on this blog [Hell or CNN Effect, What would terrorists do without CNN?] But the criticism they are getting in the wake of the lesser than expected Hurricane-Tropical Storm Irene is wrong and misplaced. Even though we didn't expieriance hurricane armageddon, 40 people died, floods rage throughout the northeast, and millions of people are without power. To  these people, the so called Media Hype wasn't hype, but a representation of reality. Just because it didn't prove out for everyone this time doesn't mean that it wasn't some media hyped exaggeration.

Look at it the other way, if they don't sound the alarm and a category two-three hurricane smashes into NYC. Then everyone would be moaning about not being prepared...its' Katrina all over again etc. Would you rather have over-hyped storm that didn't live up to hype? The media does not win here because your trying to outpredict nature and if it wasn't clear enough already, that's often a losing proposition. You should always err on the side of caution because a lack of caution is how Katrinas' happen.

A Note on the Blog

My school has started back up, so it's unlikely i'll be able to continue blogging at the current rate. You'll probably only hear from me a couple days a week through December. Hoping for an alternating 4-3 schedule where I blog one week Mon, Wed, Fri., Sun. the next week Tue., Thur. Sat. etc. Please stick with me and help me determine what i'm doing right and wrong with comments and feedback.

When Diplomacy Blows

From a Christian Science Monitor story post on August 23, a six day bombing campaign by the Turkish government has killed up to 100 Kurdish Rebels in Iraq, perhaps signaling a shift away from the negotiating table to military means as tensions with the countries Kurdish minority.

In Turkey’s June elections, candidates backed by the Kurds, 20% of the population won 36 seats. However, after several members were barred for parliament for Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) related convictions, the Kurdish bloc instituted an ongoing Parliament boycott. For years, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has vowed to redress Kurdish grievances.

The Kurds want greater political and cultural autonomy. The government responded by relaxing restrictions on the Kurdish language and launching a Kurdish state television channel. A backlash among Turkish nationalists has led to increasingly harsh government rhetoric lately, however.

The Kurds have a right to request some autonomy in their affairs given their history of persecution and the genocidal activities of Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq. I’m very concerned that by bombing away on militants, while at the same time ramping up on the anti-Kurdish rhetoric in order to appeal to the Turkish base.

 You’ll alienate the Kurdish population, driving them into the arms of opportunistic terrorist groups and then you have an insurgency. A negotiated redress with the Kurds, while explaining why you have to carry out bombing campaigns may help to retain a base of moderate Kurds. There is no way to make every nationalist happy, but you can retain the average Turk by attempting to provide him security.

What I would do is provide the Kurds with the increased political and cultural autonomy through mediated negotiations. A program of Kurdish schooling and increased Turkish and Kurdish cultural studies programs in Turkey’s schools. Their cultural rights should be respected throughout all of Turkey, not just a small area of Kurdistan.

 Turkey has multiple groups within its’ borders, its’ time to face the facts. There is no logic or reason to irritating 20% of your population to appease a group of Turkish nationalists unless you want to be a fractured society forever.

Why John Huntsman is Right

John Huntsman, former Utah Governor, Ambassador to China, and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 has taken aim at Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman arguing that they are candidates on the far right of the political spectrum, while Barack Obama is holding down the far left.

Huntsman argues that this has created a void of candidates who can govern true to America’s center-right character. I’m not here to debate Huntsman credentials of being a centrist, just to say that he has a point here. The common thought among political commentators is that the United States has made a far swing to the right embodied by the Tea Party Republicans.

Lets accept the above statements as truth for a moment, the general election than pit’s a leftist Barack Obama verses a far right candidate, [I’ll let you pick] If Barack Obama is defeated for a lack of economic growth and pushing the country too left. Then we’ve elected a far right candidate. If the American voter believes that far right politicians are going to solve our problems, than I’m going to need to learn the easiest route to sneak across the Canadian border because that type of thinking is ignorant.

The problems the United States has lack of jobs, health care, debt, etc. will not be solved through extreme views and radical solutions that place a disproportionate burden on either the extremely poor or very rich.

Anyone voting for a radical right wing candidate thinking they can fix our problems, get ready for more disappointment.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Please Remember Me In an Hour

The twenty four hour news cycle has done wonders at focusing issues of human suffering like Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, and the African famine for people throughout the world. In the immediate aftermath of catastrophe when we have news cameras affixed to the scenes of destroyed buildings and abject human misery, its’ easy to rouse money and donations for the cause of relief and rebuilding. But the twenty four news cycle remains stationary for no more than a few moments and the tragedy of one moment is quickly shuttled to the background as another more gruesome event takes its’ place as the lead story.

This masks the truth about natural disasters…they aren’t over and done with during the span of a newscast or whenever the media gets tired of them. Six years after Katrina, houses are still being rebuilt and citizens are still living in temporary housing. Haiti is the same disaster of governance and infrastructure it was, before the earthquake flattened everything and after the cameras fade from Africa, there will still be crises of bad governance, lack of resources, crop failure, and whatever else contributed to the problem in the first place.

It’s great that global citizens are so reactive when there’s a crisis, but if we’re going to do better for humanity, than we need to think about what happens when its’ not such a sexy news story.

Debating Infrastructure

The reality is inescapable and has been stupidly ignored for decades. The American infrastructure is crumbling before our very eyes and not just under the weight of hurricane wave and creaking earth either.

This past week of disasters has illustrated that America’s roads, bridges, and vital buildings are ill prepared for the strains of our modern world. Realizing we just came out of a debt debate, this opinion will be unpopular, but we need to spend to repair our creaking roads, bridges, subways, and schools and begin programs to build earthquake and hurricane resistant buildings, so that we have a shot at creating something other than brick and mortar tombs for residents faced with natural disasters.

A new infrastructure is not available at Wal-mart and we may need a NASA calculator because the cost will be so astronomical. But it would create something we don’t have enough of right now: jobs.

There’s the basic construction work of laying the foundations and other building activities, we’ll need more materials everything from vehicles to sheetrock which creates manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing and construction workers need to eat, meaning that new restaurants will spring up and existing ones have a new customer base and retail outlets pop up as more people have income to spend on something more than base necessities.

An infrastructure program is not cure all, our housing markets are still oversaturated and weak, and the stock market continues to have more loop to loops than anything at Six Flags, but at least we’d be walking in the right direction.

The Politics of Disaster

It has been said that there can be a political angle to virtually everything and natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes are not exempt from political scrutiny just ask George W. Bush and former FEMA director Michael Brown. Bush himself in his memoirs called his plane ride over New Orleans one of the biggest regrets of his presidency. Disasters can make or break political careers. Rudy Giuliani became a national figure and presidential candidate in 2008 largely on the strength of his leadership post 9-11. Other leaders have appeared disengaged from reality and have been whipped by a cavalcade of political commentators for it.

The logic here is painfully simple. Lets say your seeking the Presidency of the United States and you’re the Governor of California, which has just been ravaged by a massive 9.2. Earthquake, buildings and roads toppled, with 750 deaths and thousands more injured. The earthquake is of course not your fault, but how you respond is. If you appear strong and in command demanding hourly updates, clearing roads yourself if need be, and checking with suppliers to make sure supplies find a way to get to the survivors, you’ll be looked upon favorably. But if your caught unaware of the situation or are caught sipping mint juleps on a beach in Cozumel, as your state burns, then my God have mercy on your political career. If we can’t trust you in a natural disaster, how can we trust you in an economic crisis or terrorist attack?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Democracy We Distrust?

Russell Dalton at the beginning his book Citizen Politics mentions that trust and satisfaction with democracy has been on the decline in recent years. This finding is not exactly the earth shattering revelation that some people have made it out to be. Democracy is a messy phenomenon and as the saying goes “the people get the government they deserve.” Collectively as a country, if we vote for a divided government than a divided government we shall have. This has been no more borne out than by the struggles the United States Congress has had in doing much of anything since it was sworn in after the 2010 elections.

People all over the world have similar complaints with fractured parliamentary systems that have to accommodate three, four, and five parties, leading to deadlocks and/or smaller parties being labeled kingmakers in the parliamentary system. Is this a failure of democracy or people though?

 Democracy as an institution isn’t broken, the choices people make within the system are the problem, if your so dissatisfied with divided government and slow parliamentary processes than you need to use the democratic process to get one party in a position to do everything…BUT WAIT! If we do that then the minority voice is held down and the majority is accused of sledge hammering an agenda through Congress or Parliament and people are than mad at democracy because it produced a dominant party that doesn’t respect the minority view.

Democracy doesn’t equal perfection, far from it. The question that needs to be asked is “If not democracy, than what governmental system would you want”? I know maybe we should all admit we where wrong all these years and that Communism with all its’ repression and censorship was the right form of government or maybe Gaddafi and Mubarak weren’t such bad guys after all.

The Danger of One

Government systems based largely on the personalities of one person are the most dangerous political systems that the world has produced. The genocidal monsters of history and strongmen that exist throughout Latin America, Asia, Middle East, and Africa have brought riches and prestige on themselves while bringing ruin and misery on everyone outside their inner circle. The greater damage may occur though after the dominant leader has passed away. Institutions in dictatorships and one party states are often weak or non existent, creating a power vacuum that is often filed by another strongman who is cunning enough to rise above the free for all.

One man rule is prone to the dreaded cult of personality, which never leads anywhere good. Many of these states are also heavy handed police states, with large police forces to crush any descent against the ruler they serve. The states themselves become very personalized around the thoughts and ideas of that one man, who in some cases demands to be approached with god like reverence. The advantages to such a system are largely exercises in self interests, while disadvantages can linger for decades following the rulers death through economic stagnation, lack of vital social services, and mistrust of government.

Why Only One Islamic Republic?

Knowing my luck, I’ll post this and some Iranian style Muslim Revolution will break out in Asia tomorrow or something. But the question is fairly open: Why is Iran the only true Islamic Republic?

 Khomeini in his writings seems to indicate that the form of government that he proposed for Iran would sweep the globe. Though Islamist figures have made gains throughout the Middle East and Asia, there’s no government that quite rivals Iran with their Western style institutionalized President and legislative houses on one hand, and their religious Coucil of Elders and Mullahs on the other. Why hasn't this governmental form flurished throughout the Islamic world?

First most obviously, Iran is a country that is predominatly made up of Shia Muslims. The Shias' are a minority in most nations throughout the Middle East. Perhaps Khomeini’s conception isn’t the governing vision most Sunni Muslims. Or maybe nationalizing such a government proved far too huge a task for countries with leaders not as rhetorically or organizationally gifted as Khomeini.

 History is ripe with examples where new forms of governance (Islamic Republics, Communism) sprung up and was quickly copied as an en-vogue governance. Rarely do the sequels live up the original and are marred by great failings.

Perhaps there aren’t more Khomeini spawned systems because future generations have seen the inherit problems with such a system. Just because it persists in Iran does not mean people are thrilled with the system, which has to rely on brutality just to remain upright. Furthermore, transplanted systems often don’t meet local realities as exemplified by the British electoral systems adopted in Africa after colonization ended.

There’s no guarantee that a pure Iranian system would work anywhere other than the Iran that spawned it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is Blowing up an Empty Building still Terrorism?

This last selection for today is based off of an section from the Voices of Terror anthology by Walter Laquer on the original IRA. Terrorism as an academic discipline is usually concearned with motovations of terrorist groups and prevention of future terrorist attacks. Rarely does one stumble upon philosophical questions when discussing terrorism. I mean to most people the calculis of terrorism is pretty simple: terrorist sets of bomb, there’s an explosion, structure comes down, and people are injured or die. But the IRA presented me with a perplexing question “If a terrorist group blows up an empty building can we still call it terrorism?

The IRA has splintered into many different groups over the decades, but for this exercise we are considering the IRA that protested domination of Northern Ireland by Great Britian. The scenerio goes like this: the IRA would select a targeted building and then call in a bomb threat and say “we’re going to blow up this building in half an hour,” or something. This would than give the people inside the building time to flee to safety, while securing what we would secure a propaganda victory without costing innocent lives. But is it terrorism or criminal destruction of property?

Consider this, maybe the threat is ignored and the bomb goes off killing scores of civilians. This would definitly be considered a terrorist attack. What we have here is an attack on a specific target to protest a specific action by a government with the potential of human casualties, if you get a particularly intransagent fire inspector or police chief. There’s no way to call one action terrorism, and the other not because of the mere addition of subtraction or people.

 Every attack is a separate incident with unknown variables from detonator malfunction, failure to evacuate the building, and strength of materials, so that we cannot assure either a perfect detenation or even an imperfect one. In my opinion, the intent to committ terror is still very much alive, even if your not seeking human casualities. If the terrorist intent exists, therefore you’re a terrorist…at least that’s my judgement.

Should the Lockerbie Bomber Go Back to Jail?

This blog post borrows its’ title from a Christian Science Monitor article of the same title available here:

United States and British politicians want the Libyan rebels to extradite Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbe bomber released by Scottland in 2009 on compassionate grounds after doctors gave him three months to live. As far as I’m concearned, he needed to rearrested yesterday.

 Compassion is a luxary best reserved for good and decent people not barbaric murders who take it upon themselves to kill 270 people. Giving him compassion implies something that he doesn’t deserve. If the Scottish government gave a crap about having compassion, they should’ve thought about the thousands of lives ruined by Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. Yet he’s the one who earned compassion [shakes head.]

The man deserves to die, placed firmly behind the cement walls of a jail cell. Scottland can deny it all day long, but this is just another example of the Wests two faced nature of the so called “War on Terror.” You don’t release a guy like Abdel Baset al-Megrahi unless you secured something from the Qaddaffi’s government.

 He should never have been released in the first place and this is a chance for the Scottland leadership and whomever takes control in Libya to show the international community and the Libiyan people that things really have changed.

Government Chicken?

My mother found a gem on CNN Money last Tuesday. In this current era of government bailouts, it feels like everyone, but the middle class and poor have received some form of government bailout. This however, is one of the most bizzare things I’ve heard of.

Apparently, the government is going to make a $40 million dollar purchase of chicken in an effort to stabalize a shaky chicken farming and meat processing markets. Although I have a great deal of respect for our chicken farmers these numbers and reality don’t have any grounding in either economic or rational logic.

The government has taken this step before…making a thirty million dollar purchase last year and spending forty-two million in 2008. The poor economy has caused people to skip buying chicken leaving these vast supplies of surplus that the farmers and processors need to sell at a break-even or even loss point.

The logical though hard to stomach solution to the problem would be to simply produce less chickens to accommodate the sagging market at the expence of fewer producers.

The fact that the government has to continue to buy chicken for three of the last four years speaks to a broader problem within the industry at large. From my estimation, there appears to be a sense of entitlement among the chicken farmers and meat processors to government bailouts, hence the increase in supply that it should be apparent they can’t sell.

 This may be just another example of the do anything for corporate attitude that is driving our country to ruin. Corporations and so called vital industries get generous government bailouts, while the little man on Main Street has uncertain job prospects, flat wages, and surging prices on gas, food, and clothing.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Political Memory

I've been reading the noted Orlando Figes book The Whispers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, despite its’ weighty heft is a moving account of life for the common people during Stalinist rule from the late twenties through 1952.

This lead me to consider the impact that both democratic and authoritarian leaders can have on a society, even years after their death or disposition. Examples such as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Milosevic are renowned for their brutal campaigns of genocide, and Gadhafi is known for his terrorist actions and far reaching excentricites.

Democratic societies are not immune from having historical figures that cast a long shadows over their parties. The Republican party in the United States continues to invoke the memory of Ronald Reagan, while the Democratic party has been lost in the shadow of the Kennedy’s. In order to achieve electability, you have to prove that your either a proper conservative or have the liberal zeal of a Kennedy. Sometimes, figures cast such a shadow that it consumes politics itself.

This occurs often in post-genocidal and civil war societies. A figure emerges with the task of either reconciling the country or letting the country fall back into civil war. If you can pull the task off like Nelson Mandella in post-appharteid South Africa, you’re a nationwide hero and global legend. If you fail, your just another man who couldn’t get the job done when it mattered. To offer a Brittish analogy, your either the Winston Churchill or Neville Chamberlain.

The Never-Ending Conflict

The world has a number of conflicts that appear to be blessed with eternal life. Just to cite a few examples: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Russia-Chechnya, Kashmir, are multigenerational conflicts. The question for today is: What makes these conflicts have such a long range shelf life. Religion is the biggest force in extending out conflicts because how do you tell a group of people that their religion is wrong, while another religion is right when both religons teach that their religion is the absolute divine truth.

Ethnicity and race can be key triggers in some societies as we’ve seen in genocidal societies like in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. Other examples include the Tamils and Shinalese in Sri Lanka. These conflicts have roots in decades and centries of procieved and actualized racist policies by colonial powers and those chosen to govern following colonalization. This conditions often are difficult to reconcile and often reconcilion is often achieved after an exhaustable blood letting.

There’s a very human factor beyond ethnicity or religion, in order for conflicts to remain hot for decades or centries, there has to be powerful and charasmatic leaders who have their root policy point and won’t deviate from it. As long as leaders dig in their heals on a set point there is always that central point of intransagence that can be used to rally support for their cause. Without hardend human beings, convinced that their position is correct, unwilling to accept anything less than ideal…the conflicts will always burn.

The Bomb Proof Potty

Stunned, I waited so long to post this. I’m all for new ways to combat terrorism, but the Russians may have taken the cake here. They claim they have built a bomb proof toilet. Yes, I said bomb proof toilet. I guess the premise would be that it would be useful on airliners which are common terror targets in Russia. But beyond that, what exactly would one do with a bomb proof toilet. I’m picturing the average Moscovite sitting on their toilet reading whatever newspaper is popular with the masses as their waiting for a bomb to come up through the toilet. Personally, I couldn’t move beyond the image of hundreds of disembowed toilets used during the test process.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hiking Along the Border

Before I begin, I hope the two young men being held in Iran return to the United States really soon because I truly believe that the Iranian leadership has proven its’ point here, whatever it is. Warning, if your sensitive these comments are likely to offend you. The last thing I want is a comment box filled with comments about what an insensitive, cruel, person I am . But a question has been gnawing at me, since the Americans were detained in Iran. What is the thought process that would lead one to go hiking along the Iraq-Iran border?

Lets accept the idea that they got lost and ended up on the Iranian side. They had to know if that happened they would be in big trouble given our perilous relations with Iran. There are millions of great hiking spots in the world, located on borders of countries that are friendly with the United States where you would probably be detained for some type of immigration violation, but you would’ve been home months ago.

 Now right or wrong, you’re a human political bargaining chip that Iran is going to use as long as it can. I realize this sounds like I’m blaming them, but the question has been bothering me. Why would a group of logical sounding people take such a gigantic risk?

The Republican Cafeteria

No there’s not a highly priced food cafeteria joke here. Watching the Sunday Morning political shows it sounds like the Republicans still don’t have a candidate they are elated about. Rick Perry is the hot name of the moment, but now Sarah Palin has this announcement planned for September 3rd, is she in the race? Michelle Bachman won the Ames Straw Poll and what momentum went with that. Of the main declared candidates, Perry, Bachmann, Romney, Republican voters have their choice of base picks. But I’m baffled as to what the Republican plan for the general election is.

In a national presidential election, both Barack Obama and the TBD Republican candidate will need to appeal to the middle ground independent voters. If the Republican candidate only manages to appeal to the base, than they will lose. Barack Obama has the same dilemma, if he only energizes the democratic base, he loses. Who are “independent voters”? You obviously can’t stereotype any voter, but my guess is that their fairly moderate with some combination of liberal social values and conservative fiscal policies and vice versa. If you move too far in either direction you lose that voter, but yet if your seen as betraying the base you’re a dead duck in the general election. Ah, its’ hell being a presidential candidate.

Rebooting the Global Order

One of my all time favorite discussions in Intro to International Relations was the twenty minutes we spent discussing all the various scenarios for reforming the United Nations. If I ever dig through my six hundred piles of notebooks and find them I’ll dedicate a series of posts to the subject. The criticisms of the United Nations are quite well known. Critics argue that its’ Eurocentric institution that serves the self interest of the few members of the Security Council.

The United Nations was formed out of World War II and has had few changes since China replaced Taiwan in the 1970’s. The United Nations static nature has created stability at the expense of ignoring the changing reality of the world. There are no Latin American or African members on the Security Council, which is a must in my estimation for the institution to remain global. Further, China might not be the best advocate for the entirety of Asia’s interests. But any reform has problems attached.

Jorge G. Castaneda in “Not Ready for Prime Time” published in Foreign Affairs September/October 2010 isolates Brazil, China, India, and South Africa as potential new members of global leadership councils.

 On one hand, this solves the African and Latin America problems of representation, but none of these groups has the greatest human rights record: India still lags in women’s rights, Brazil has a problem of charcoal mill slavery, South Africa is still emerging from apartheid, and China is well China. Admitting these powers to the larger global order brings questions upon global commitments to human rights and there’s no guarantee that these powers speak for entire continents.

It is equally wrong to exclude some of the largest populations within these regions from representation. I don’t know the answer here, if I did, I’d probably have a completed Master Thesis and a job at the U.N. or government think tank, instead of a blog. The global order needs a reboot, lest it be labeled an out of touch relic of the past, a sorrowful thought indeed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Diving in the Artic

A Christian Science Monitor story posted on Monday describes the “bold” moves Russia is preparing to make to secure a large share of the suspected natural resources within the Artic. Russia is expected to make its’ claim to annex 380,000 square miles of internationally owned Artic to Russian control, which would give them access to unopened fisheries hydrocarbon reserves, and a freshly opened Asia to Europe shipping route that cuts shipping time by a third. Canada, Russia, the U.S., Denmark, and Norway own Artic coastlines that could theoretically extend to the North Pole. However, there is no regional deal, which will lead to tensions. Credit:

The broader issue here is the scramble this may set off as other countries put in claims on Artic lands. Expect similar free for all scrambles occur as various state actors chase after a shrinking supply of fuel resources. The common axiom of “Drill Baby Drill”, isn’t a realistic solution to the long term problem of energy security. This isn’t a problem that we can or should answer absolutely with drilling. We need alternative sources of power like wind, solar, and electric and we needed them yesterday. It’s a fundamental matter of national security and preservation of our planet. We are addicted to crude oil, which has in turn held us hostage to murderous Middle Eastern dictators whose citizens are recruited by Al Qaeda to attack American interest throughout the world.

If we don’t break the stranglehold, we’ll be nothing more than slaves to $4.00 gas and the same terrorists who wish to kill us. That cannot and should not be allowed to occur, but sadly it will until our politicians buy a clue and understand that our problems don’t end with “Drill baby Drill.” Any candidate for the elected office who believes that it does should have their forehead tagged with another catchphrase “Ignorant baby Ignorant.”

The Notion of Sexual Terrorism

When I first heard the term sexual terrorism attached to persons who have been enslaved in the global sex trade, it sounded a bit…out of place. When I think of terrorists in the conventional sense, I think Bin Laden, McVeigh, the Unabomber, people like that. I had never considered human trafficking as a form of terrorism and now I’m almost ashamed that I hadn’t. I’ve read many a human trafficking book over the last several years and the process of recruiting a women into sex trafficking is not unlike the premise behind most terrorist organizations.

Most Hollywood depictions of the practice emphasize brute force abductions. The most common procurement method reported by the experts I’ve read is to place false ads in newspapers throughout the developing world for nannies, models, etc. Then their told they have to travel to a location where their documents are often confiscated, meaning that their trapped in a foreign country without papers, fear or are made to fear going to the police because of corruption in many police departments throughout the world. Then these woman are locked away from civilization in apartments that often have bars on the windows and other elaborate security procedures.

Then the “breaking” begins. Once their behind closed doors, they are burned with cigarettes, brutally beaten, and in many cases given drugs in order to make them compliant prostitutes. No isn’t an option, if a girl says no it is quite likely she will die or be beaten into compliance. Once their prostitutes, they are made to service as many men as possible to make the most money for the pimps and traffickers. Failure to make enough money will result in more beatings. Some former trafficking victims tell stories of being pregnant and being given drugs to abort the baby, and then being made to return to servicing clients.

Where does the terrorism fit in? Well we have violence against a targeted population, designed to instill fear in that population. They are held against their will and coerced into being prostitutes with the threat of beating. The trafficking business is very profitable, they can make thousands of dollars off of just one girl. That’s the rationale behind the practice. Terrorism doesn’t have to occur on a large scale, like how an attack in Israel can be seen as an attack on all Israelis. Trafficking women is an attack on all women for sexual exploitation and human greed and the practice cannot be condemned sternly enough.

The Social Network Depression Machine

This summer has not been for me on Facebook. Between the emotionally charged aftermath of the Casey Anthony trial, to the debt ceiling debate, and the generously worded “wobbly” economy, posting an opinion on Facebook has become an action taken at your own peril. Lest you end up in an Facebook or Twitter smack down with one of your friends of a differing political persuasion. Everything is starting to wear just a little bit thin.

I even embroiled myself in a controversy by linking a post from this blog faintly tied to Harry Potter to my Facebook, which led one of my friends to post a comment back that left me feeling as though I wanted to crawl underneath the covers and never blog again because I’d rather have my friends than ten million page views on my blog. She’s a really sweet girl, strong in her opinions, and very passionate. These beautiful qualities that occasionally have unintended consequences. I now concede it was a mistake to post such a thing to Facebook in the manner I did.

I was therefore, less than stunned to see the study linking extended Facebook use to all these bad long term things. The reality is that words hurt, no matter what the old nursery rhyme says. And when your not meeting one on one to have the actual conversation things and intentions get read into things that may or may not be true. Furthermore, and I know I’ll be lampooned in comments for this, since I have this blog, but not everyone needs to know your opinion on every issue of the universe, how trashed you got last night, or how much you hate your family, boyfriend, and or husband.

The best Facebook conversations I had all summer where sitting with my friends Ryan and Jerrod talking baseball. Draw your own conclusions.

Why do we Praise Hannah Teter?

Full disclaimer: Hannah Teter, the two time Olympic Medalist in halfpipe snowboarding (Gold in 06‘, Silver in 10) is my not so secret Olympian crush. Setting aside that she’s a hell of a snowboarder and really beautiful. She has earned my respect and admiration her philanthropic work in Kirindon Kenya, with World Vision and support of other causes like Doctors Without Borders in Haiti among others.

I’m not saying that she doesn’t deserve the praise or the attention that she gets for her efforts. But why does the media go out of their way to publicize the efforts of Hannah Teter and other celebrities? The answer is simple because their actions are more than we’ve come to expect from an increasingly self centered, populace that has grown more concerned with material things than human suffering, both globally and in their own backyard.

There are millions of problems that confront us, both locally and globally. If even thirty-forty percent of us would engage within our own communities or take the time to study a global issue and DO SOMETHING about it, maybe this world wouldn’t be such a bad place to live anymore.

You don’t have to be a globe trotting snowboarder flush with cash like Hannah Teter to make a difference. You can volunteer time or if your passionate about a global issue, find an organization that does such work, research carefully, and then give whatever you can.

We should not need celebrities to act as our moral compasses. Many of these problems that celebrities champion existed way before they decided to lend their voices to the cause. I’m calling on everyone who reads this blog to lend yourself to a cause because celebrities can’t save the world alone. Even if they are super accomplished snowboarders J

Economies and Foreign Policies: A Question of American Presidents

At the risk of over-simplifying the complex phenomena of American presidents and their re-election successes and failures, modern American presidential elections have fallen squarely within the confines of two central issues: the economy and aspects of a particular presidents foreign policy.

This framework is not absolutist, as a couple presidents (Nixon and Clinton) had tremendous personal scandals, while other presidents were cursed with both economic problems and foreign policy issues (Carter and George W. Bush.) Overall though, presidents generally win or lose election of the basis of economic or foreign policy strength or weakness, lets run some examples:

Jimmy Carter- The Democrat from Georgia rose to the presidency as the voters grew distrustful and resentful of Republican leadership following the Watergate scandal. Carter’s own reelection bid was derailed due to a combination body blow of the Iran Hostage Crisis and a putrid 1970’s oil embargoed economy. Carter was one of the two presidents who was tagged with dual gremlins of economic and foreign policy weakness.

Ronald Reagan- Inherited an economic downturn from Carter, but was elected for his tough talk and the feeling that he would do something about the issues of the moment whether it was the Iran Hostage Crisis or the Cold War. He re-stood in front of the electorate in 1984 with strong foreign policy credentials. The question for Reagan was the economy and by 1984, it had shown enough growth that he was able to brush aside the Democratic challenge from Walter Mondale.

George H.W. Bush- Sitting VP under Reagan and continued many Regan era policies. The big foreign policy success of Bush I was a quick and decisive victory over Saddam Hussein in Iraq and a liberation of Kuwait, which at one point netted the elder Bush a ninety percent approval rating. In the face of a sluggish economy, his approval rating melted despite his foreign policy successes and he was defeated by a governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton- Bill Clinton will be most remembered for his personal conduct with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent impeachment. Personal failings aside, the tech boom of the 1990’s created an economic boom, which probably made him strong enough to withstand the 1996 election challenge from the legendary Bob Dole. Good thing it wasn’t a foreign policy contest given the American government wide failure in Rwanda. But you’ll often find the American voter is perhaps wisely self interested in his own economic well being ahead of an African genocide.

George W. Bush- Not personally a Bush fan, but many people unfairly blame him for some things. He inherited a slowing economy from the Clinton years, so the “George Bush wrecked the economy isn’t an absolute truism.” Presidency obviously deeply impacted by 9-11 and War on Terror led to two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Economy had something of a jobless recovery by 2004 reelection campaign. Advisors widely turned it into a values contest, which George W. Bush won over John Kerry as the two sparred over issues like gay marriage and each others service record, that probably under whelmed most of the still jobless electorate, weary of war casualties.

Barack Obama-His reelection is of course an open question. May be categorized alongside Bush and Carter as a economic/foreign policy double dipper. But we shouldn’t count Obama as reelected or defeated yet. There’s still a year before the elections and even though its’ a Rick Perry love-fest for some Republicans, political fortunes change in the blink of an eye. If the economy picks up substantially, Obama wins it, if it doesn’t well then its’ an open question.

Mohammad Yunis and The Poverty Museum

I’m a big fan of the Nobel Prize Winning Economist Mohammad Yunis and have read every single one of his books most notably Development as Freedom and the subsequent books that built off the ideas of social entrepreneurship. Yunis has done yeomen’s work in attempting to alleviate poverty in Bangladesh and for that work alone, he should be celebrated and revered as a national hero, even if the ruling government there doesn’t think so. But one idea repeated throughout Yunis’ work has puzzled me for awhile now.

Mohammad Yunis speaks of social entrepreneurship as a road out of poverty and of wanting to create a global poverty museum, where poverty is a relic of the past like dinosaurs. As a committed Yunis supporter, I’m concerned that the progress he has made in the global poverty not just in Bangladesh, but around the world, will reverse itself in the choppy tides of the current economy.

Yunis never claimed his social entrepreneurship would make Wall Street esque millionaires. Just pay the bills and stem the tide of abject poverty. The idea isn’t that complex: use the unique talents inside every individual to create unique services within their community that people will pay a nominal fee for. The catch is keeping the prices low enough so that the often impoverished citizens can afford the services.

That’s what I worry about because in economic downturn, entrepreneurs may have to lower prices to avoid pricing themselves out of the market, decreasing their own revenue…leading to their own potential economic downturn. Then there’s material costs sure to increase with the rising food and durable good prices throughout the world. All could spell trouble for Yunis Poverty Museum as noble as the idea may be.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Twenty Minutes of Honesty

I’ve been an awkward, shy, kid most of my life. My shyness has gotten in the way of many opportunities and well meaning people who have attempted to influence my life in the positive and its’ lead me to chase many people who I thought could be the goddess-savior from my lonely life. This chase has often led to a great deal of disappointment and tears over people who I so heavily idealized that they could’ve never lived up to the billing that I gave them.

This frustration with my own life has caused me for years to blame others for own personal failings. Everyone from my mother, to a laundry list of government agencies, my own disability that makes me feel like a freak sometimes, and countless others.

The blame for my life belongs with me and me alone.

That realization feels good. I’m in graduate school now and the same old shy Michael just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

I’ve made many mistakes in my life, trusted people who never earned that trust, and given people the opportunity to change my life, often for the worse.

My patience is none for pretend a friends and wannabes, who think they know me just because they know random bits of information about me. I’m about the truth now and for those who can’t handle said truth “There’s the door, don’t let it smack u in the behind on the way out.”

No one can fix my life, but me and its’ about time I got around to it. I’ve been accused in the past of doing anything to get people to like me, and instead ended up with few friends and shattered expectations. But whose expectations were shattered? Namely my own for thinking that one person was going to change a mess that was my creation.

I have plenty of critics who think that I’m a jerk and I can’t really blame them for this because its’ true sometimes. I can’t be a perfect person…sorry, but I’m ready to try to be a better person for myself.

My past is my past…let it lie down and die away. I’ve wronged a lot of people in my brief time on this planet, and to those people for acts long forgotten: I’m sorry.

Why this open note? Because in order to make a clean break with the past, I felt the need to confront said past and acknowledge some of my failings as a friend, son, and man.

Technology: A microcosm of the world?

Last night as my mom and I were trying to figure out how to get our 2003-4 era VHS/DVD player to work with our recently purchased television. Still working on the solution to that one, but anyhow it lead me to think about the rather disposable nature of modern technology within our world.

 For example, lets say you buy a new IPOD, doesn’t it just figure that five minutes later, the NEW AND IMPROVED IPOD will debut making your device “the last season” of the technology. This influx of new technology constantly going one step higher than the previous edition is a microcosm for the world at large and more specifically American consumer culture.

This desire to have the newest, latest, greatest, thing creates a culture where nothing is good enough.

Some people have even carried this into their personal relationship opting for the guy who looks like a Tommy Hilfiger model, but treats them like garbage. While the perfect guy for them is left pining because he can’t deliver the physical chemistry that the mega hottie can. Some people just gotta have the Bentley when a station wagon will meet their needs just as easily and ultimately provide them more happiness. The topic has been the focus of many first rate songs of every genre over the years.

So ladies, like my trusty circa 2003 VHS/DVD player…if your dissatisfied with the guys you attract, maybe you should consider the where and how your meeting them. The club scene is not the best place for deep and meaningful conversation, but there’s probably an awesome guy at your public library reading Aristotle or Plato, who will find you just as hot as that club guy.

It goes both ways, nice guys should not fundamentally alter themselves just because they want the girl who is hopelessly under the spell of some muscle head. Nice guys need nice girls who can respect them for who they are, not some fake depiction of what the girl wants…because it never works.

Religion does not equal morality

Religion has for centuries advised and comforted everyone from the President of the United States down to the modest shopkeeper in small town America.

 Religion has shown itself to be good and reasonable to ninety-five percent of the world’s population, unfortunately, its’ the other five percent of “religious” people that I am taking dead aim at today.

My mother stopped watching FOX News because of the assertion by some of their hosts that religion equaled morality. One look at the news headlines and that notion is blown sky high.

If religion always equated morality, how come we have pedophile priests? There’s nothing Biblical or moral about preying upon the innocence of children. People all over the world use religion to justify polygamy and terrorism and everything in between.

For some people, religion is just a mask of convenience worn on Sundays, Wednesdays, or whenever the congregation meets, while the rest of the week they act less than moral because they can claim forgiveness from God later.

This is leaving aside all the religious terrorists who have found justification from their gods and scriptures to kill innocent men, women, and children. To them, these actions are moral justified by an interpretive reading of their holy books, while others deride them as fanatics.

My message here today: Do not assume a person pleading religion is a person of strong moral fiber automatically because religion while its’ brought much good to this world has also brought pain and terror to it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Postcard from the Berlin Wall

Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the erecting of the Berlin Wall. I was very surprised when I went on the Christian Science Monitor website last night and found an article saying that some Germans wanted at least some of the wall reproduced.

 At first blush, the idea seemed like an asinine fantasy of nostalgic communists. I mentioned my problem with structures like the Berlin Wall in a post entitled “When has partition Ever Been a Good Idea? Available in the July Archive.

 I described the Berlin Wall as family breaking, among other notable words. I couldn’t believe anyone would want the Wall back because it would just serve as a relic of repression that would bring back bad memories…then I read the article, and the logic made sense.

Most people who advocate rebuilding the wall are not nostalgia communists, but rather people who wish to remember the repression that the Berlin Wall represented for a generation of Germans. This was not an idea that I had considered.

 But the Berlin Wall was a powerful symbol of mass repression of humanity. As time passes for the first post-wall generation of unified Germans, the idea that they would forget the lessons of the wall is indeed a possibility, and before my German readers scoff, history is lined with instances where political leaders have rehashed history against populations who had forgotten or were ignorant towards it.

Therefore, I think the Berlin Wall should be returned to Germany as a teaching tool to illustrate what cruelties humans can unleash against each other.

Why no ICC indictments in Syria?

There’s a Christian Science Monitor article asking that question, as they were so quick to paper Kaddafi with charges as the Libyan civil war was ramping up international press coverage in March or April.

 I take much the same view of the article, as the International Criminal Court appears afflicted with similar problems to the United Nations, which I discussed in July.

 Consider the two leaders: Kaddafi is largely an international pariah with few friends throughout the global community, while Al-Bashir is an important economic friend to China and Russia who are less than willing to pursue charges against Al Bashir.

 Similar actions have held up meaningful action against the military leadership in Sudan for Darfur. The ICC needs to stand tall if it is ever to be taken as a legitimate institution.

Otherwise it runs the very real risk of being held hostage by the global powers and justice shouldn’t be held up to the whims of powerful at the expense of the weak.

 If Kaddafi committed crimes against humanity than surely Al-Assad has done the same with his disproportioned crackdown on protesters.

 If the ICC allows Assad to remain unpunished than every madman dictator will be racing to get behind the skirts of a powerful global actor who can shield them from the pale glare of the ICC.

Even in the best of circumstances, ICC justice is gradual and takes years, without members of the international community protecting the butchers of humanity, creating a culture of injustice for all.

Does China Have a Challenger?

Lets assume that China is the next global superpower for the next exercise.

 No superpower has ever gone unchallenged for long. The ten years or so following the Soviet Union collapse and 9-11 is a historical anomaly.

 The United States was challenged by the Soviet Union for forty six years. In previous centuries, Brittan and France had a lengthy rivalry for domination of the globe. A challenger to China’s dominance doesn’t appear readily apparent.

As China is an authoritarian government rooted in communism, it is likely its' challenger will be a liberal democratic regime as no other type of regime seems to be enough of a counterweight to China.

Considering the economic struggles of United States and the uncertain outcome of the European debt crisis, I didn’t feel comfortable putting them into the equation, leaving us with India and Brazil as growing democratic powers.

Neither of these societies has achieved the gains on human rights issues, some experts would like to see.

Brazil has a problem with bondage type slavery inside of charcoal mills, while India has a problem with many types of slavery from debt bondage to a flourishing human trafficking industry that swallows up scores of Indian women every year.

 Like it or not though, these are the most likely contenders with democratic governments and solid growth rates.

Of course, I’m not an economist and who knows…maybe a catastrophic episode brings China crashing down to Earth leaving no true superpower…just a bunch of weakened, equalized, actors in the global financial system.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Talking Straw

The Ames Straw Poll in Iowa doesn't tell us who is going to win the Republican nomination for President in 2012, but is read by the media as an important first shot in the process. However, given Iowa's less than graceful record at actually picking the eventual nominee, as pointed out in my previous post Caucus in the Corn available in the June archives, how much stock should we put in the results of last nights straw poll won by Michelle Bachman, with Ron Paul, and Tim Pawlenty in second and third respectively? Given that Mitt Romney didn’t really campaign and Rick Perry and Sarah Palin are either just entering the race or undecided, I’m not really sure it does much other than give political junkies something to talk about.

What the Iowa straw poll can do is end campaigns as mentioned by many news outlets last night. But given the current crop (no pun intended.) of Republican candidates would anyone be surprised, if say, the campaigns of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or Herman Cain ended given their regional and/or marginal appeal throughout the Republican electorate? The takeaway: The top three Bachmann, Paul, Pawlenty have support on August 14th of 2011, but the Caucus is months away yet, and as we know political fortunes can change in a moments notice…FMR. Vermont Governor Howard Deans’ state screaming rodeo of 2004 comes to mind. So don’t hang the entire race upon one informal poll.

Problem Solver

Going in line with the superhero thing posted yesterday, I’m often frustrated by the seemingly endless supply of global conflicts that seem immune to solution. As a hypothetical, if you had the magical ability to end one conflict, anywhere on the planet, which would you choose and why?

For me, I would probably choose the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because after sixty years, there have been no winners. Generations of Palestinians and Israelis have grown up in mutual cultures of hatred for the other. Palestinian moms have lost their children to suicide bombing missions and on again/off again war and peace cycles. Israelis have lost their children to war and suicide bombings. Meanwhile leaders on both sides of the conflict remain entrenched in their hard-line positions, unwilling to give an inch, while the violence and settlement building continue for another generation.

The Cold War: A Question of Governments, not People?

Just suppose with me for a moment that an Ivan and an Anya could find themselves, oh say, in a waiting room or sharing a shelter from the rain or a storm with a Jim and a Sally. And there was no language barrier to keep them from getting acquainted.

Would they debate the differences between their respective governments? Or would they compare notes about their children and what each other did for a living? Before they parted company, they would probably have touched on ambitions and hobbies and what they wanted for the children and the problems of making ends meet.

And as they went their separate ways, maybe Anya would be saying to Ivan: “Wasn’t she nice. She also teaches music.” And Jim would be telling Sally what Ivan did and didn’t like about his boss. They might even have decided they were all going to get together for dinner some evening soon.
Above all they would’ve proven that people don’t make wars….


The Cold War was a grand ideological conflict between capitalism/democracy and communism. The United States won the ideological struggle over the Soviet Union, as democracy and freedom triumphed over Communism. Lately though, I’ve been troubled by the question: While our two governments were jostling over the future direction of the world, what were the average American and the average Soviet citizen EVER truly fighting over? Our governments butted heads over ideology, but at the most basic levels of humanity were the Soviets really that different than us? Or was it just our governments and our own ignorance of each other that kept us apart?

My thought here is that most Soviets wanted the same basic things in their lives that Americans wanted. Things like security and a meaningful living wage and for their children to grow up with the opportunity for a better life than they themselves enjoyed. Some people still view Russians as though they are alien life forms. The reality is that most Russians have many of the same basic hopes, goals, and ambitions as we in the United States do. A people should never be judged by their government because in my experience…our feelings towards a government don’t often compute when one actually sits down and talks a citizen from Russia, for example.

The U.S. Debt Downgrade: Why we shouldn’t be surprised.

The White House and many lawmakers railed angrily against the recent Standards and Poor’s downgrade of the United States credit rating from AAA to AA+. This anger at the S&P misses the fundamental point of the entire debate. This “debt crisis” was a crisis of our own making due to two decades worth of government mismanagement and a “Spend Baby Spend attitude that would’ve filled the biggest Vegas gambler with pride. This attitude has afflicted both parties, which is why it humored me greatly when some Republicans and Democrats who’ve voted for any spending bill they can get their hands on over the last twenty years, suddenly became these great fiscal conservatives during the debt debate.

If a private household did this badly at debt management, they’d be living in a cardboard box on a street corner somewhere. The bigger question is why our government leaders are so surprised about the S&P’s actions. We’ve seen two years of government dysfunction where they can’t even pass a funding bill for the FAA without being ordered back to Washington by the President and Congressional leaders and a debt deal that took until the eleventh hour, frying numerous nerves in the process. That coupled with twenty years of overspending on everything from repetitive social programs and pork barrel projects has put the United States in a questionable state of credit worthiness. Instead of blaming the S&P, maybe our politicians should take a good long look in the mirror.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Searching for the World’s Superhero

Realizing that not everyone is into all this political stuff…I decided to post this in the hopes of attracting some comic book fans to the blog. Given all the problems in the world today from war, terrorism, food shortages, and disease, the world could really use a superhero, but which one and what qualities or powers would he have? Would he be “faster than a speeding bullet like Superman or would he or she be some sort of mutation like one of the X-Men, or would he be some combination of three or four superheroes…like a new millennium style Justice League or something? I’d be really curious what everyone thinks.

Let’s Bankrupt Europe!

How much longer can the nations of the European Union continue to pump cash and debt deals into the ailing economies of Europe before the whole thing goes bust? Just recently, the European Union came together to come to a deal on Greek debt, while Portugal, Ireland, and Spain remain grave concerns to the European community. The European Union is a good idea of paper, but I’m not quite sure, if it will end up being a good idea for the long term European future. Many European economies have been hurt by the years of global economic downturn and several economies are knee deep in debt. By these large scale debt deals brokered by the power players in the EU are a recipe for a depressed union.

Working out a debt deal for Greece is one thing, but Spain and Portugal have much larger economies that are “to big to fail” without creating a major economic and social flu. The European powers in the form of Germany, France, and Great Britain cannot absorb the costs of a debt deal for Spain or Portugal, without seriously impacting their own financial health. I feel these bailouts of Greece created bad precedent, but I’m unsure what the alternative would’ve been, as most people with half a soul wouldn’t just let Greece fall into the ocean. The European debt debacle actually illustrates a fundamental problem with the European Union, which I will discuss below.

Union - 1. act of joining together: the act of joining together people or things to form a whole. 2. result of joining together: a result of joining together people or things 3. agreement: agreement or unity of interests or opinions.

I provide the dictionary definition here because the European Union upon formation and ongoing expansion efforts is going to inherit the problems of its’ member states, which pose a very significant threat to the idea of one European community. Although the idea is nice in theory, what if Europe’s powers become weighted down amid debt deals and sluggish economies to the point where the France and Germany become as impotent as Greece or other debt ridden states within Europe?

Why London Ain’t Exactly Calling

The ongoing riots throughout portions of London don’t exactly lead one to make London a top tourist destination at the moment. While the violence has largely been undertaken by youth under the guise of protesting an police shooting of an unarmed black man.

 In my view, this event is merely the pretext for a wider problem within Britain and Western Europe as well as the U.S. as their economies teeter, budgets tighten, and hard cuts are made. Societies of Western Europe are known for their generous and far reaching social programs including health, education, and unemployment benefits and in the face of an economic downturn, these benefits have faced an increasingly sharp budget ax.

For decades, large social benefits have been an expectation throughout Europe, but with the recent downturn these benefits have become a weighty albatross to fragile economies. So now, we have a large youth population that cannot find the jobs worthy of their education credentials and needs and some of these disaffected people are reacting with aggression towards the instrument of state power: the police. Some among the mob are just raging looters looking to get their hands on free stuff amid the chaos, but there is beneath the surface a legitimate problem affecting Western Europe and The United States as well, lack of jobs for the population that exists.

In many countries throughout the world, college is presented as this holy grail of opportunity and knowledge that will give a person the chance for a job that doesn’t involve hard labor embodied through construction and waiting tables. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with these jobs, a lot of people work hard in them and are very proud of their work. I will never disparage any man or woman who is trying their hardest to support their family.

 But when you’ve spent four years, or in my case, five or six in college, and then go out to search for a job that your qualified for, and instead end up working the drive thru at McDonald’s or the Wal-Mart down the block just to survive, what the hell was the point of college again, since we may have gotten the same or similar jobs with high school diplomas.

Europe needs to fix its’ economic woes or I am very much afraid the London riots will be repeated in capitals throughout Europe and we really can’t afford to lose our greatest asset: human capital.

Does Terror Lead to Militarized Societies?

The recent terrorist attacks in Norway pose an interesting dilemma for the Norwegian government. Norway has been historically reluctant to have a militarized society because it doesn’t represent a political value for them. Refusing to becoming a militarized society would be bucking the common impulse after a terrorist attack to militarize that other countries have fallen into, including the United States and Russia. Even the European Union has had to reexamine their liberalized immigration and defense policies in the wake of terrorist attacks within the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain, among others.

The fact that several societies have become more militarized in the face of terrorist attacks is actually counter-active to the message a democratic society should send to terrorists. By revving the engines of war and decreasing the freedoms that people enjoy and moronically suggesting things like people invest in duct tape and plastic sheeting creates a culture of fear, which basically proves the terrorist point.

 That terrorist whether he uses an airplane bomb, truck, or dirty bomb wants to instill fear within his targeted population. Democratic societies, by applying increased restrictions on their own populations give terrorist organizations a victory, that is wholly undeserved.

Did terror itself lead to a militarization of society though? The United States needed a larger military force to cope with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with all the other obligations, so we can say yes. But Russia and many other nations have broad programs of military conscription, indicating that any threat will be met with a large force that would’ve existed anyway, terror or not.

 But with every attack comes new restrictions on freedom and protections as terrorists change tactics, indicating that democratic societies often do become more security oriented. Therefore, if Norway retains their cultural values of a non militarized society, they’ll be bucking the common wisdom of more security and restriction.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Globalized Terror?

Globalization has made the world more connected than before, for better or worse. Entire books have been written on the positives and negatives of globalization. For today however, I’d just like to address the effect globalization has had on terrorism throughout the world.

Globalization has made it easier to internationalize a business as many Western companies now do business in exotic locales like Hong Kong, Mumbai, and Dubai. Like any good Western corporation, terrorists adapted to the new globalized world by forming a group named Al Qaeda, that now has affiliated or inspired groups on every inhabited continent throughout the planet. Al Qaeda has also used globalization as a rationale for attacking areas as diverse as the United States, Spain, Russia, among others because Western business interests are plundering the resources of Middle Eastern and Islamic countries for their own materialistic gains, while repressing Muslim beliefs under puppet rulers.

Al Qaeda has also exploited the Visa systems within the United States and Europe to place their operatives in major European and American cities under the guise of students and others seeking greater opportunities. Furthermore, the increased globalization of business has expanded the range of targets terrorists on the increasingly international battlefield. The terrorist is looking for a target that he or she can attack in order to cause the most fear and panic among a target population. Why bomb a European capital when there are scores of hotels in Mumbai that cater to Western tourists that are lightly guarded and susceptible to bomb blasts? With globalization, any target that represents Western modernization can be targeted no matter where its’ located. Increased opportunity for terrorism is definitely a downside of globalization.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What Would Terrorists Do Without CNN?

Terrorists execute attacks like 9-11, the Madrid Train Bombings, and the Mumbai bombings to attract international or regional media attention to their cause because they understand the old media axiom that “if it bleeds it leads.” I wanted to ask a completely hypothetical question today: What would today’s terrorists do, if there wasn’t a CNN or a twenty four hour global news cycle?

 Of course I know that cable news cannot be repackaged and marked return to sender, but without the twenty four hour news cycle, terrorists would be limited in one of their key sources of propaganda and recruitment.

 Through repeated airplay on CNN on other networks, terrorists have a captive audience for their deeds and a ready recruitment tool among alienated populations because Al Qaeda can say to a youth “The West is the cause of all your problems and were the only ones who can do anything about it.” It’s hard to argue with the visual.

Without the global news cycle embodied by CNN and others, that produces heroes and villains at a moments notice, this would force terrorist activities onto the vast wasteland of the Internet and turn terrorism into a far more regionalized activity that would be covered by state media and satellite television stations like Al Jazeera, potentially decreasing the global reach of its’ tentacles and audience.

 Of course, if one knows what their looking for…locating propaganda and information about terrorist organizations online is not exactly rocket science, so it probably wouldn’t do much to prevent the spread of hateful ideology on both sides of the Western/Islamic Extremism divide.

“You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” Where many Western observers see a flaming building, bus, or train, Al Qaeda sees themselves as standing up for an ideal. By continually displaying images of property destruction and wounded victims, the news media is offering a free victory lap for Al Qaeda and like minded individuals.

This I concede has got to be a tough call for news bureaus because one has to cover the news without appearing to glamorize the very action their supposed to be reporting upon.

Hell or the CNN Effect?

Is anyone else who views this blog post almost afraid to turn on the news or read a newspaper these days?

This morning, the top news stories on ABC were: The S&P downgrade of U.S. debt, the death of the Navy Seals in Afghanistan, and the Warren Jeffs trial in Texas.

 Good lord, those three stories right there are enough to make one reach for the bottle of anti-depressants. Factor in the riots in London over that police shooting, the spate of local robberies and shootings and I’m pretty well in the dumps before ten in the morning.

 Some with a more religious bend are prophesizing that the end of times are coming. I’m not a scholar of religion and ill equipped to wage any sort of a theological debate with anyone, but are we witnessing the Biblical End of Days or are we just feeling the consequences of having a 24 Hour news cycle?

The advantage of having the 24 Hour news cycle is that one can know exactly what is going on at any exact moment in time.

The disadvantage? One can know exactly what is going on at any exact moment in time, creating a heavy information culture while serving up steady doses of depression on the half-hour. Every bit of bad news gets magnified ten thousand times through repeated airings and analysis, meaning that it has a place within the human consciousness whether we want it or not.

 Things are clearly bad throughout the world right now, but I wonder if the news media isn’t magnifying this into greatest all time crisis proportions.

We really don’t have a parallel here, as the Great Depression/Dust Bowl and World War II generation was largely experienced through the radio. The turbulent sixties brought about a new role for the media embodied by Cronkite reporting from Vietnam, the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Bobby perhaps served as a model of what was to come.

 There’s no way to know how any of these decades or events would have been changed or altered had the news media been more active in those days.

War of Inches

Christian Science Monitor has recently posted a list of five island territorial disputes in Asia. For academics and pundits who argue that the next century will be an Asian Century these disputes will need to be resolved peacefully and diplomatically otherwise, the Asian Century has the potential to be more war-like and barbaric than the last. The article is available here:

Before anyone chafes at the suggestion that war can be waged over reletively small island chains, we must remember the Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008 over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the conflict between India-China in 1961, Israelis and Palestinians continued fighting over settlement building in the West Bank, and countless others that haven’t been fought over large swathes of territory, but rather just a few miles of territory that both sides claim.

While some academics, political pundits, and fiction writers have been focussed on the notion of another world war, thousands of smaller wars continue without attention for years. The pretense for war doesn’t have to be a big issue defending national security interests against a belligerent neighbor state complete with large battalions and tank movements, it can be over just a few miles.

The modern description of war has been focused on conflicting ideologies like Western vales verses fundamentalist Islam and capitalism/democracy verses Communism. But wars over disputed territory that often though not always has religious significance can be just as devastating as any war of conflicting ideology or religion. While these territory wars are not as deadly or well known as the bigger conflicts, they still have a profound impact on citizens daily lives and a states foreign policy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Not another Personality Cult

The personality cult has been a menace to mankind throughout modern history. From Bin Laden and Hitler to Lenin and Stalin, men who have been able to achieve an almost god like reverence among populations have rendered untold destruction and misery on their populations.

 We have an entire historical catalogue ripe with illustrations of the failings of cults of personality from Russian revolutionaries to state Shinto in Japan, to Pol Pot in Cambodia and Hutu Power in Rwanda, but still we continue to have cults of personality that exist throughout the world…the question is why, given that they often end in disaster?

I have a theory, every one of these personality cults has sprang up when a country was under threat either from a neighboring power or its’ own government who had become corrupt and unjust in the eyes of the population. Many of these men were gifted orators and propagandists who seized upon a populations grievences and anger at the ruling party.

 In the case of the genocidal regimes of Pol Pot and Hutu Power were able to prey upon elements of ethnic insecurity and inferiority bred over decades and convince their followers that there is an other among them that needs to be destroyed before society can be rebuilt.

These men present themselves largely as hope salesman, promising to liberate an oppressed people from an oppressor regime. Hope is universal in the human heart as something every downtrodden person wants to grab onto. If a person is economically or socially disadvantaged and a person comes along and promises a better life, if the people follow him, its’ going to be hard for the disadvantaged masses to resist him, particularly if the ruling government is viewed as a cause or enabler of the people’s problems.

 In conclusion, we have personality cults because there are still disadvantaged people in this world who crave hope and salvation and charasmatic charming speakers willing to use them for their own gain.

Normalizing the Ayatollah

Mark Bowden has written a lengthy though easy to read book on the Iranian hostage crisis entitled Guests of the Ayatollah. It is with the respect of the memory of the Iranian hostage crisis that I ask the question: Should the United States normalize relations with Iran and accept the theocracy there as the legitimate form of government?

 Leaders in the United States face a tough quandary because Iran has provided assistance to Hezbollah and Hamas organizations that the United States has branded terrorist organizations and then there’s the further issue of the last disputed presidential elections that led to days and weeks of large scale protests that needed to be beaten back by security forces loyal to the governing ayatollahs.

 Then there is the matter of the 1979 takeover of the United States embassy in Tehran. Any embassy throughout the world is considered territory of the state who occupies said embassy, so in occupying the U.S embassy, Iran in effect invaded America and held our citizens hostage.

None of these incidents should ever be forgotten, especially since we are still dealing with first and second generation revolutionaries in Iran. But today we conduct foreign relations with states that would’ve been unconscionable thirty years ago.

Russia as part of the Soviet Union engaged in large scale spying and espionage and we almost had a nuclear disaster over the Cubin Missile Crisis. China keeps sending us cheaply produced, lead paint coated, hazardous goods that kill our children and pets and we’re still friendly with them. Up until his very last breaths in power, we were friends with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and are often game to support any general in Pakistan as long as he’s not a radical Islamist. My point being that we’ve given shadowy characters this basic respect before, why not Iran?

Several countries mentioned above have killed American citizens and they still get diplomatic recognition. Such recognition may actually prove to be a benefit to the United States. At last report, the United States was receiving word on our two detained hikers through the Swiss embassy. Maybe if we had diplomatic ties, we could be pressuring towards their release. Diplomatic recognition could also be helping on other issues like the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. Recognition could make the United States more forceful within the six party talk structure the nuclear program talks demand.

Getting Beyond Democratic Sentiment in Revolution

The world has been greatly encouraged by the democratic uprisings throughout the Arab world throwing off corrupt dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and continued struggles in places like Syria and Iran. People want democracy and democratic governments and are willing to go to the streets and survive often savage beatings from security forces loyal to the old regime. That is a sacrifice that should never be ignored, just like soldiers in democratic societies die to keep their countries free, the soldiers of revolution in places like Tunisia and Egypt are often the shopkeepers, cab drivers, and textile workers rather than large mechanized forces. Transition to democratic regimes have been en vogue over the last decade from the Colored Revolutions throughout East Central Europe and Asia to the recent Arab Spring, but what makes some revolutions successful, while others flounder?

It’s one thing to protest in the streets screaming “We want democracy and freedom.” Democracy and freedom are powerful ideas with a broad based appeal, but once the hated previous regime is kicked out, someone has to have a plan for the future. There often isn’t as big an appetite for the messy and complex task of governing as there is for the mass street demonstrations and people often grow frustrated with an unfulfilled promise of democracy, which can lead to a military coup or the reelection of the former dictator under democratic processes like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Other revolutions like the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon or the Denim Revolution in Belarus fail because either the leader remains strong enough to survive the protests or because the revolution itself does not have great support among the masses. The ladder occurred in Lebanon where the United States backed the so called Cedar Revolution, which brought into power forces more moderate than Hezbollah. Unfortunately, the infighting between the tenuous coalitions within the Lebanese government created conditions where nothing got done allowing Hezbollah to provide services the government wasn’t/couldn’t and thereby gain the favor of the population.

I present these comments as a caution to democratic friends among the oppressed people of the world. It is one thing to chant in the streets, it is quite another to govern the street.

Friday, August 5, 2011

When the world goes BOOM!

In 1987, Men Without Hats best known for their song “Safety Dance” reemerged briefly with a song called “Pop Goes the World” complete with a bizarre looking music video.

 What the hell does a forgotten song from the 1980’s have to do with a political blog? Nothing, except it led me to think about the many times people have predicted the end of the world. Some people have claimed a special audience with God that enabled them to know when Jesus was going to rise again, while others have indicated that are increasing use and reliance on technology will do us in. Right now the world is going to end in 2012 because the Mayan calendar stops there, and they vanished without a trace. Please allow me with some humor to reconstruct some of these for you guys.

Let me first offer you disclaimer: If anyone tells you a date for the end of the world, there’s a 99.9% chance that the world will still be spinning after that date.

The 2012 Mayan Thing- It’s the subject of Hollywood movies, books, and was featured on a episode of Wife Swap. The theory is that the Mayan calendar, which is related to our own calendar stopped in 2012 and the Mayan civilization disappeared, therefore, our world will end. There’s one big problem with this theory, those who believe in this theory are placing a Mayan conception of their own world onto our modern world. Perhaps the Mayan world did end in 2012, but maybe it was their 2012. We can’t place a Mayan conception of time upon our own and accept it as accurate.

Harold Camping- May 21st was supposed to be the end of times for the followers of Harold Camping an 89 year old California pastor, who already miscalculated the date once before his latest miscalculation that has now pushed the end of the world into October. God has never been one for tardiness, why would we expect his son to be late. It’s Jesus here people, why would he send down inexact calculations, unless he’s just trying to keep us honest here?

Y2K - How many of my blog readers still have a kings ransom in Spam tucked away in crawlspaces and spare rooms after the Y2K debacle leading into the new millennium? All our computers were going to crash, banks, everything was going to reset itself back to 1900 and we where all going to need lots of food and water to fend off starvation. I was on a vacation in Alabama watching news footage of people lined up with cart after cart of food in the checkouts of the Winn-Dixie. While others filled their bathtubs with water and bucketed it into storage containers. Of course, the Y2K scare flopped, begging the question : what happened to all those Y2K stashes?

A Syrian Stalemate?

Weeks of protest and brutal crackdowns by the military forces loyal to Bashir al-Assad have left us with something of a stalemate between the two sides as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan continues. As most Western governments hold hearings or offer condemnations, the assaults on Hama continue to cost lives on a daily basis. Despite the crackdown by Assad, the will of the protesters remains undeterred. Hama has a history of opposing the Assad family dictatorship back in the mid eighties. Assad has the military muscle here, but increasing civilian casualties, which numbered more than 2000 will increase anger and dissatisfaction in the streets and has drawn the ire of Western governments.

What will break the stalemate? Don’t look for much help from the UN. Syrian buddies Russia and China will block any meaningful sanction from the security council should we get to that point and NATO is still trying to get a handle on situation in Libya, so they are also probably a no go. It’s likely at this point that the opposing forces in Syria will be left to settle the conflict among themselves. What will be interesting to watch is the other regions within Syria. If they back Assad, than I expect an eventual Assad victory with thousands of further casualties. If they rebel against Assad, then its’ really up to the armed forces because per the old historical saying “Whomever controls the army, is the one who will remain in charge.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An RVC Farewell ?

We all places that stamp our lives. Mine is Rock Valley College in my hometown of Rockford Illinois. Many of my adult memories, joys, and sadness has occurred in those hallways over the last six years. From 2005’s less than stellar debut as a Mass Communication major to my latest visit just a few hours ago that ended with me standing outside Classroom Building I pondering the state of my life, there have been many more good days than bad. As I remember all the good with the bad, I realized that there comes a time in every person’s life when they have to let go and stop holding on to what once was, if their ever going to discover what might be.

That is why with a conflicted heart and mind, I have decided that as much as I love the old community college, there comes a point when you just have to say goodbye and realize that your time great as it was needs to come to end before I’m branded a nostalgic freak who is hopelessly stuck in a past, that I can’t recreate. With tear stained eyes and a myriad of second thoughts, I announce my intention to “let go” It’s time to grow up and accept that it’s okay to move on, even if I don’t know what I’m growing up to.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What does Suicide Terrorism Really Accomplish?

In the last few years, there has been an increasing focus among terrorist scholars on suicide terrorism because of the United States wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the conflict between the Russians-Chechens, and the ever present Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among others. There are several good books on the subject including: Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror by Mia Bloom and Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Robert A. Pape. These books offer various rationale for why suicide bombing is so alluring to various groups that practice it and in some cases what we can do about it.

The prevailing axiom is that suicide terrorism is a weapon of the weak against a stronger better armed force. No doubt the images of torsos upper bodies and severed heads are gruesome and stomach churning to a public unaccustomed to such violent images, but what does suicide terrorism really accomplish? Even though it creates great propaganda for groups looking to recruit worldwide like Al Qaeda, or draw attention to a cause like Palestinian liberation or an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka, suicide terror really isn’t all that effective. Please consider the following examples:

The United States in Iraq and Afghanistan - Lets start with terrorist successes…their actions have led an increasingly war fatigued America to question our involvement in both conflicts and our leaders have agreed to withdraw limited numbers of troops within the coming months and years. But this process has taken at least a decade and often alienated segments of the Iraqi and Afghan population.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict - Three decades of suicide bombings have netted the Palestinians greater exposure for their grievance, but not much else. For the piles of Israelis and Palestinians killed or disabled, Israeli is still building settlements along the West Bank, the two sides still share a healthy disdain for one another, and we are only now going to have discussions about Palestinian statehood.

Russia and Chechnya - Chechens have launched a series of high profile attacks throughout Moscow and the North Caucasus against perceived Kremlin injustices, seeking independence. They lose on two accounts: 1. Attacks such as Beslan in 2006 largely alienated the international support they had and 2. The Kremlin reacted with even more repressive policies to pacify the insurgency, which made the situation for the average Chechen worse. There’s a healthy hatred that’s intensified between some Russians and Chechens.

Sri Lanka - At one time, they were seen as the legitimate voice of the Tamil people controlling much of the North and Eastern portions of Sri Lanka. But they overreached creating a culture of fear among the Tamil population, using them as human shields during the Tigers final days in the Summer 2010. All that was left was an increasingly fractured country that just wanted peace after a thirty year civil war that killed 50,000 people.

There are many other examples of suicide terrorism, but I hope that I’ve illustrated that the weapon of suicide terror is a cumulative one that often takes years to bear fruit, if it ever does. The tactic may have difficulty gaining traction where ethnic hatreds are deeply entrenched (Sri Lanka, Russia, Israel) because its much easier for the democratic side to keep fighting if there’s an enemy to be put down, or if there’s a divine justification for mission. Suicide terrorists are failing in three of the four cases to achieve their goals and other suicide campaigns have resulted in fragile peace deals that could go up in smoke at any moment.  

Gun Controls Missed Reality

Advocates of tighter gun control standards that inevitably emerge following an tragedy like those committed at Virginia Tech and my own Northern Illinois University have the best of intentions in preventing mentally disturbed people from having access to dangerous weapons. Advocates of tighter gun control however, are failing to grasp a fundamental point. By making it more restrictive for law abiding citizens to carry or possesses guns, rather than providing a deterrent to crime and senseless bloodshed, gun control advocates are creating a societal situation where only the criminals have guns and where stretched too thin police forces are the publics only defense against being held hostage by criminal gangs.

This missed reality occurs because advocates of tighter gun control often ignore the black or underground market that exists for handguns and firearms that criminal elements and those with the right connections can easily tap into. If we as a society want the safer streets with less gun violence, these are the markets that must be cracked down upon. Otherwise, we’ll have tougher gun control laws barring law abiding citizens from having weapons while an element of criminals and mentally deranged, who don’t care about our laws continue to terrorize our inner cities with their illegal guns that exist beyond the touch of our gun control laws.