Google, Haiti, and Taxachusetts

Saturday, January 23, 2010

There have been so many juicy topics to cover, it’s been difficult to keep away. Every time I’m moved to write, though, I really have something else to do or simply don’t want to devote the time to it. That said, here is, in summary, how to think about the following issues:

Google/China: Yes, if Google was #1 in China this wouldn’t have happened, but they’re not and it did. As a result, this is one of the great humanitarian corporate moves of all time. Perhaps the greatest (there’s not a lot of competition, I’m guessing). Google should follow through and close their business there. As arguably the most important corporation in the world, the move will properly shame China and the many companies that remain in that authoritarian country. Here’s a question that any one doing business there should ask: Would I want to live here?

Haiti: Nothing to do in the aftermath but help. In the long term, I’m with David Brooks and Bret Stephenson. Let’s stop giving money to countries “in need.” It does nothing, and may actively do harm. It’s difficult, because it is human nature to try to help fellow humans in need, but it’s also the right thing to do. Certainly, what the first world has been doing for decades has not worked.

Taxachusetts: I would have voted for Scott Brown too. Seriously. I would have voted for a cardboard cutout against Coakley. Although she was inept, I would have done it to send the message. I have said, many times, that if Obama and this Congress can’t get it done, then there is no hope for us. Year one has been an epic, unmitigated failure. Iraq, Afghanistan, secrecy, deficit spending, bank coddling, and worst of all, the healthcare nightmare. I blame Obama for not using his robust post-election strength to strong arm Pelosi (failure) and Reid (failure) immediately. Weak, poorly managed, pathetic. Obama, where are your balls? It’s time to lead.

And, btw, why do you need the 60 votes? Make an exceptional bill and let the GOP filibuster. Call their bluff. If they do it, and the bill dies, you hang it around their neck. Now, the bill dies, and it’s a Dem failure. Disgraceful.

(But then there would be no healthcare bill, someone wails. So fucking what? Paul Krugman can cry to his cats. This is not the most pressing issue in America. Budget restraint, financial reform, and confiscatory, punitive taxes on very wealth bankers, should be the priority. Followed by a 10% spending cut across the entire government, no exceptions.

We are going to have to suffer, period. Let us start suffering already so we have a shot at not fucking our children.)

The bottom line for me, in all this, is that I have really given up hope. I don’t believe our Congress (and the state legislatures) are capable of introducing the change (ethics, responsible spending) that is necessary.

Something very, very bad is going to happen in the next ten or twenty years. War with China, epic depression/inflation/default, or, in the best case scenario, a benevolent military coup (and a draft) that reforms the government in a way that makes it possible for America to function properly.

David Petraeus, are you out there? Rome needs you. Cross the Rubicon. Cast the die!

P.S. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Nevertheless, letting it stand.


Zardari Elected President of Pakistan

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Asif Ali Zardari was elected president of Pakistan today. He’s corrupt and dishonest, but he’s probably America’s best bet for that country. Afghanistan/Pakistan is, of course, the new front against al-Qaeda (the only real front to begin with) and he has vowed to fight them.

He is Benazir Bhutto’s widower.

Look for their recent terrorist troubles to continue.

Pay Attention to Pakistan

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pakistan is arguably the most important country in the fight against terrorists. It is a predominantly Muslim nation with nuclear weapons and out-of-control frontiers (including Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan).

At the moment, a political scrum has brought near chaos to the country.

The latest news is that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani came under fire in an assassination attempt on his motorcade. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Pakistan. In the last few years alone, Pervez Musharraf was nearly assassinated a number of times and former president Benazir Bhutto died at the hands of assassins.

Gilani is a member for the Bhutto’s political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, which is led by Asif Ali Zardari (Benazir Bhutto’s husband).

This assassination attempt, which the government attributes to al-Qaeda linked militants, is likely part of the power struggle now taking place; the outcome of which will have vast and important ramifications in the “War on Terror.”

More on Pakistan later…

Benny Morris and the Inevitable in Iran

Friday, July 18, 2008

The famed Israeli revisionist historian Benny Morris has penned a piece in the New York Times today basically stating that war with Iran is inevitable. Either Israel or America (more likely Israel) will bomb them, he predicts, in the Bush lame duck period between November 2, 2008 and January 20, 2009.

Israel, believing that Iran is building a bomb, is under intense pressure to launch an attack before Bush leaves office. This is a shame. The channels of diplomacy have not been given a chance to work. This timeframe is too short. Israel must hold off until real and serious negotiations can take place, likely after an Obama administration takes office. Provoking a broader war in the region that will certainly draw in the U.S. while America is still under the thumb of an despised and unpopular lame duck (who will support the attacks) may seriously backfire with the American people.

Will Israel be able to count on U.S support? Probably. But just how much is the question. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve got plenty of troubles of our own, and Americans have no appetite for expanding our war in the Middle East. Bombing Iran will mean, truly, the beginning of full blown regional war.

Let’s not go there just because Bush is leaving office. If, as Morris states, the Iranian’s are really one to four years away from the point of no return, then we still have time to talk. On this front, it’s time for Bush and Olmert to get on the ball.

In Praise of David Petraeus

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gen. David Petraeus was confirmed by the Senate last week to take over CENTCOM, the U.S. Central Command that puts him in charge of the military in the entire Middle East. Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno will take over the direct command of operations in Iraq. The senate approved the promotion by a vote of 95-2. And rightfully so.

David Petraeus deserves all the praise we can give him. He has taken an Iraq situation that was near chaos and turned it into the groundwork for a functioning state. By almost every measure, Petraeus has had enormous success. He deserves the Medal of Freedom that Bush gave to Tommy Franks. In fact, he deserves the three medals Bush farcically gave out that day. Franks, Tenet, and Bremer should all hand their medals in, especially Tenet and Bremer.

It is possible, as I have, to make the argument that Iraq is ultimately an intractable quagmire that offers America no good options. We’ll be lucky if we get another Saddam Hussein out of the deal. But the reasons for this are almost all political. And the fact that that can be said can be directly attributed to Petraeus’s strategy for the country. McCain likes to talk about the surge, as though sheer numbers solved everything. But throwing troops at the wrong general wouldn’t necessarily yield results. There is no question that our troops have made the surge a success. Their brave fighting and, yes, diplomacy, has worked. But all of their hard work and sacrifice might have been wasted if it weren’t for the facile brilliance and flexibility of their commander. Petraeus’s multi-pronged strategy in dealing with Sunni, Shia, and Kurd was masterful.

Wherever you are on the political spectrum, this fact is indisputable. We are on the cusp of salvaging a near stable state from what was an impossible situation and, as a result, there is now serious talk on the Iraqi side of an American withdrawal by as early as 2010 (no matter when we leave there will be a civil war). I don’t know if Petraeus is our best general, but he is certainly one of the best. Personally, I would like to see him run for president. He is a brilliant man, and my sense is, a decent man. I’m not sure of his politics, but I would be predisposed to vote for him if he threw his hat into the ring.

The Iraqi Timetable for Withdrawal

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

As the negotiations continue over the agreement for the continuing presence of American troops in Iraq, the Iraqis continue to make trouble for the Bush administration. According to Sally Buzbee of the AP, Iraq’s national security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said today,

“We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn’t have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq.”


Best case: three years until Iraq assumes control over all 18 provinces (they currently control 9), and another three years to make sure the peace holds. That means, 2014, at the earliest. And, the best case, as anyone who has paid the least attention to Iraq knows, is unlikely to come to pass.

So what is the story here? That the Iraqi government wants America out eventually? That someone on the Iraqi side used the previously verboten word “timetable?” How about that al-Rubaie spoke to reporters

“after briefing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf on the progress of the government’s security efforts and the talks.”

The big question is who is pulling the strings on this deal with the U.S. and why, after all the blood and billions, are we having such a hard time getting our way? Aren’t we supposed to be winning in Iraq?

McCain’s Republican Hysteria

Monday, June 16, 2008

What is it in the conservative soul that makes Republicans so panicky? Sure, 9/11 was scary and spectacular, and almost 3,000 people died. But by the time 2003 rolled around, many of us had put the event in perspective. It was a shockingly effective surprise terrorist attack – not an act of war. There was no state actor behind the plan, no military massing on our border, not even, it turned out, an inkling of an idea of a plan to build a weapon of mass destruction.

What was needed after 9/11 was a cool, sober, and intelligent reaction to the circumstances. Instead, we got the Rumsfeld/Cheney plan for Iraq. Yes, they’d planned to whole thing in advance, but they were able to sell it because it played to our fears. Now you could see this as an utterly cynical ploy on their part, but I don’t believe that. I believe that they were really afraid too. In short, they were panicking. A natural enough reaction in the next couple of months after 9/11, but not by March of 2003.

So what is it about conservatives that makes them so irrationally hysterical? Why do they see America destroying boogeymen in a loose confederation Muslim terrorists?

Someone will say nukes, or some other kind of weapon of mass destruction. And this is a real fear. But it is also the kind of fear that should lead to an aggressive, well thought-out plan involving allies, the U.N., diplomacy, monitoring, international pressure, and covert (or overt) targeted military operations. Instead, we got Iraq. And attacking Iraq has done far more to create a threat than it has done to prevent one. Lots of people foresaw that that would happen (including Obama), but few of them were conservatives.

No, I think Republicans acted the way they did because of something inherent to conservatism: fear of the unknown, fear of the future. Conservatives favor tradition and seek to uphold the virtues of what they consider to be a better past. Faced with the unknown after 9/11, rather than take stock of the situation and their fears, they came out guns blazing. The result? The intractable quagmire of Iraq.

So what does this have to do with McCain? Well, the guy is an exemplar of the type. A fearful, shoot-first, hot-head who can hardly be expected to face an unknown future with a sense of composure and decisive restraint. He will attack the flies immediately and he’ll do it with a hammer.

But hammers don’t work against flies (they never do). What we need is a fly-swatter.

Barack Obama will bring a fly-swatter for the terrorist flies.