Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Law is superior to war in solving differences

Dear Editor,

The title “War can’t be legislated away” printed above Patrick McGinn’s (Jan.30) letter in response to Deborah Metke’s earlier letter may be accurate, but Mr. McGinn’s reasons why law can’t replace war misses Ms. Metke’s main points that are extremely relevant and urgent in today’s world.

McGinn’s correct in that nothing can be legislated away. But laws and legal systems do provide people, groups and even nations a viable, proven alternative to using violence to solve differences.

Law won’t “stop” war, but with a global legal system that conflicting nation states can appeal to there would be a far lesser chance of states going to war. Mr. McGinn fails to realize that we in Maryland don’t have to maintain an army or draft our children into service to protect our water rights to the Potomac from our chief competitor Virginia. We have a superior legal system for dealing with the ‘sovereign’ difference between our states. After two massively bloody, violent and destructive world wars the nation states of Europe finally adopted a legal system to avoid future wars to settle differences. There is no reason why this civilizing concept that allows the European Union to avoid war can’t be expanded globally.

What Mr. McGinn doesn’t seem to realize is how much advances in powerful technology has changed everything. Super power states can now be brought to their knees by super powered individuals. We can no longer rely on a powerful military and the law of force to maintain our security. The force of law is a viable option.

The use of military force may very well be needed to respond to, or deter a future aggressive state, but that force would be used in the context of law enforcement that the vast majority of nations and peoples of the world agree with. We might use military weapons and armed forces against international drug cartels but that doesn’t mean it’s a war where the loss of innocent lives in the form of collateral damage is going to be acceptable.

Imagine what the world would be like today if the US had used international law to mobilize a global police action to arrest Saddam Hussein for his mass murder of Kurds or Iranians instead of unilaterally invading his nation under the pretense of disarmament. Iran’s President should be indicted today for inciting genocide. Bombing the nation of Iran because they might have nuclear weapons in the near future is a war no one in the world can afford.

Felix Rosenthal, Annandale VA.

“The abolition of war is no longer an ethical question to be pondered solely by learned philosophers and ecclesiastics, but a hard core one for the decision of the masses whose survival is the issue. Many will tell you with mockery and ridicule that the abolition of war can only be a dream – that it is the vague imagining of a visionary. But we must go on or we will go under…We must have new thoughts, new ideas, new concepts. We must break out of the straightjacket of the past. We must have sufficient imagination and courage to translate the universal wish for peace –which is rapidly becoming a necessity –into actuality.” General Douglas MacArthur, July 5th, 1961.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Economic stimulus for who?

The most likely proposal to become U.S. law to stem the worsening of the 2008 recession relies on giving cash to those most likely to spend it locally. This plan helps at least four constituencies; Low to medium income voters, incumbent politicians, local businesses and China. It will have only a momentary and limited effect on improving the health of our nation’s economy, our people or our children’s future job prospects.

There is one simple idea that would. It would reduce economic instability, improve national security, meet the most basic needs of needy people here and abroad, and put every nation’s economy on a sound foundation -- a healthy and educated population.

Implementation of this simple idea won’t be simple. But a micro-tax on the $1.8 trillion dollars worth of currencies being traded daily across international borders is doable. This microtax is not a new idea. Economics Professor James Tobin offered this economic tool over 30 years ago, and, it helped win him the Nobel Prize in economics. The genius of the proposal is that it would essential create a ‘new’ source of money for public goods and wouldn’t add to inflation like the current proposal requiring the ‘printing’ of new government money. Second, it would assist in reducing a significant threat to our national security - the free flow of currency across international borders. Few people remember that in the first report of the Hart/Rudman commission (a bipartisan Presidential Commission on National Security in the 21st Century that 6 months before 9-11 said Americans should prepare to die in large numbers on American soil) called ‘global economic instability’ the “second” greatest threat to our “national security”.

There appears to be only two means of reducing this instability factor . A single global currency (not even comprehensible by today’s politicians), or a micro-tax to slow the movement of currency. Something acceptable to most of the world’s politicians today -- except those in the US.

The vast majority of currency trading is from profit seeking speculators like George Soros. Currency trading is essentially, high stakes gambling attempting to milk easy profits from fluctuating currency differences between nations. And a microtax – a .02 percent fee on each cross border transaction -- could generate between $100 and $200 billion a year in new resources – not new printed money – without taxing 99.99% of the American people.

And, if we split this previously untapped resource to both developed and developing nations it would provide an economic stimulus that wouldn’t go away anytime soon.

Even better, if we were wise, kind and bold enough to devote a significant portion of this windfall to primary health care and basic education infrastructure in every community, state and nation, it would be a stimulus that would stimulate the most valuable asset known to all economists – human capital.

Health and education are the twin engines of any healthy and prosperous economy. Reducing poverty related deaths and illiteracy would also have two other profoundly helpful means of improving our nation’s security while boosting our economic health. The global emergence of new and mutated infectious diseases is arguably our greatest national security threat. A pandemic sparked by nature, terrorists or a laboratory accident is inevitable. A bird flu mutation or weaponized small pox release could potentially be more catastrophic than 9-11 and hurricane Katrina combined, times ten. And, like hurricanes, pandemics are a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

A global network of community based primary health centers fully staffed, trained and equipped would provide the most immediate and cost effective means of prevention, early detection and rapid response to any source of pandemic threat.

Globally networked health facilities combined with cyber linked community schools in every village would also be extremely helpful in winning minds and providing useful intelligence that could aid us in reducing terrorist threats and prevent other violations of basic human rights.

Implementation of such a global tax scheme wouldn’t be as problematic as imagined. British Prime Minister Brown this week suggested the IMF consider the role of reducing global currency instability. And, ‘The Global Fund’ combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB has proven to be a nearly ideal structure for distributing humanitarian funds. The existing global network of faith and non-faith based non-governmental charities are more than capable of effective use of new resources and have been begging for additional funding for decades.

Banks who handle large currency sums were once unwilling to provide governments with client financial data…but after 9-11 and the vital need to track money flows, such banking disclosers are now law.

The only thing we will need to sacrifice to implement this profoundly simple and effective stimulus package is to abandon our outdated notion of ‘national sovereignty’. We cannot independently protect Americans from the growing array of threats we face. It’s time for a global tax, and, universal health and education for all. This is the best economic stimulus package imaginable. On that goes way beyond short term benefits to low income people, local businesses, politicians and the government of China.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Recession is here. Unfortuantely, so is hope.

(just a rant -- Americans are more hopeful than Haitians. Maybe we shouldn't be.)

It’s now all but official. The ’08 recession has started. Its going to get bad. And, it will likely last a year or more before the weight of the global economic pendulum corrects itself -- because God only knows --we can’t correct it ourselves -- or won’t. And, the economic pain will spread globally. We used to have the global economic instability handed to us from other careless economies. Now, we’re the ones dishing it out.

It’s an odd thing about our species -- that we have survived so long with this inherent fault -- of failing to do what we know we should do – combined with our ability to believing anything -- except the truth -- in how to make things work.

After a recent trip to Haiti, the poorest nation in our hemisphere, I believe I got to experience a whiff of their culture of hopelessness. A way of believing that keeps their nation’s economy, environment and political system wallowing in filth and disrepair – while most Haitians (unemployed and illiterate) dress in the cleanest and well kept cloths imaginable under such conditions -- everywhere in Haiti is something to fix -- a road, a roof, a power line, a pipe... Nothing but opportunity everywhere…next to trash, disrepair, corruption, intense poverty, hopelessness and a few thousand Blue helmeted UN Peacekeepers. Haitians are incredibly creative and resourceful people…with virtually no financial resources to make important things happen.

I asked an American aid worker and diplomat, each whom had been there for years, what were Haiti’s prospects for the future. Both shrugged …about 50/50? They couldn’t say if it would get worse, before it gets better.

And, that ‘s the difference between there and here. In America we all know it will get worse – a lot worse -- before it gets better. And, given the money we spend on alcohol, tobacco, gambling and sports (not to mention our military) we even have the resources to change that. Yet, most of us simply wait for the pain of recession, so we can wait for the pain to pass, so we can feel optimist about things eventually getting better. We are a hopeful bunch. It’s in our cultural DNA.

In Haiti they aren’t so hopeful. They don’t have their SUV’s, cable TV, iPods, American Idol and extreme sports to keep them in denial of the real world around them. We do. The same world that will increasing come crashing down on our comfortable lives in the forms of pandemics, climate change, illegal immigration, terrorism, tech support calls from India, identity theft, a weakening dollar, increasing debt, and toxic goods from China -- or any other nation that is so evil that it has to sell us their tainted products to overcome their own poverty.

Not a single economist believes our politicians can keep the promises they make regarding the welfare of our children, our Medicare or our social security obligations to the growing number of aging baby boomers.

We don’t have the current funds to pay for our war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the wounded soldiers coming home, or to prepare for our next war with Iran, China or UFO’s. Then there is the increasing demand to keep our borders secure, our infrastructure (roads, sewers, transit systems) safe, our schools functional, or our food and water pure…and affordable.

We’re spend trillions torturing and trying to kill suspected terrorists but cringe at every billion authorized that might convince a Muslim fence sitters that we are better than their extremist brethren.

The best news is that Republicans and Democrats alike – at least now – ‘want’ to find enough funding to wean our nation from its dependence on foreign oil. But the key word there is ‘want’. Where will that come from. A new gasoline tax?

Only a moron would believe that our children don’t face a future of rising taxes, tightened -- and likely falling -- public services, less national security and mountainous debt.

There is a good hearted lot among us however, that are trying to help the poor beyond our shores. The most affordable solutions (vaccines, micronutrients, microcredit, basic education) imaginable. And they are spiritually optimistic that they are sincere enough that they can squeeze enough new aid funding out of our federal budget to meet some moderately inspirational humanitarian objectives for the poorest 5th of humanity better know as the Millennium Development Goals, or MGDs.

I’d say there is a better chance of Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul joining in holy matrimony and winning the Presidency and vice Presidency as there is of global humanitarian aspirations securing enough funding to actually meet the MDGs.

But, what if? What if there was a way to generate a new source of funding, a significant source of resources, that could meet and even exceed the MDGs with some left over for domestic humanitarian needs (including alternative energy research) without taxing 99.999% of Americans. It’s a proposal that actually won a Nobel Prize in economics over 30 years ago.

And here’s the kicker. It’s original purpose was to stabilize the global economy. The hundreds of billions in revenues generated from a currency exchange micro tax is just an unintended byproduct of this creative economic safety valve.

Am I optimist about the future? Having been inside the workings of liberal non profit organizations lobbying for grand global causes and experiencing first hand their reluctance to do what they know needs to be done…No. I’m not optimistic about the immediate future. I am hopeful about what follows all the pain and suffering.

I think it was Winston Churchill who once said, you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing. But only after they have exhausted every other possibility…(and I will add – “repeatedly”).

Time is way past for such a workable and creative solution as the Tobin tax. (Professor James Tobin was the economist receiving the Nobel Prize for his idea).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Col. Stephen Hatch can't read.

Retired Army Col. Stephen Hatch should have read my letter in the Washington

Times Jan.5 with more focus.

I didn't say or imply that "all death and destruction in Iraq is the fault of the United States in general and President Bush in particular". I would say that our nation (and our President) is both directly and indirectly responsible for most of the death and destruction since the invasion. No invasion… and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis’ would still be alive.

Saddam's murderous habits combined with President Bush's father's Administration's generous contributions of weapons (both conventional and chemical weapons with targeting information) undoubtedly share responsibility for the mass murder of Iraqi's and Iranians before Desert Storm.

Saddam is clearly responsible for the intentional murder of untold thousands of his own people after the first Gulf War and before the 2003 invasion. But, there is no doubt that the US military is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqi's leading up to Desert Storm. Our war planners deliberately targeted water and sanitation facilities full well knowing these strikes would result in the deaths of innocent men, women and children from infectious disease and other hardships resulting from a lack of clean water and sanitation. The plan was to make Iraqi life so uncomfortable that they would overthrow Saddam.

I would say that our nation is also somewhat responsible for the thousands of deaths of rebelling Iraqi's who were led to believe the US would support their regime change effort -- but were then left to the mercy of Saddam's gunships.

Last and not least is the statistical evidence of an estimated 500,000 innocent Iraqi children who died as a result of US military enforced sanctions on Iraq between the two Iraq wars. Saddam clearly let thousands of children die even after an 'oil for food" policy was arranged. But the fact remains -- it takes two to tango -- and the US has been death dancing with Iraq for decades.

For Col. Hatch to imply we are ‘innocent’ is to ignore history that even President Bush acknowledges.

Our solders do go to '"great lengths" to avoid collateral damage...but with the Petraeus surge they are going to even greater lengths. And, extra effort appears to be paying off. That strategy should have been adopted much earlier than the "Shock and awe" policy that was not so great at protecting innocent Iraqi’s. In the fog of war innocent people die regardless of the lengths we go. That’s why war in a Muslim nation is a bad idea from the start.

Col Hatch claims that I said "the war was our fault because we overestimated Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities." No. The war is our fault because we invaded Iraq. The decision was based on understandably faulty

intelligence. But Hatch misses the point ‘what if our WMD intelligence had been correct? And, Saddam released his weaponized smallpox as was feared. Remember that prior to invasion President Bush pushed for all US troops and our nation’s first responders to be vaccinated against smallpox. And remember that these efforts failed miserably. Yet he decided to invade anyway. Hatch’s imaginary threat of a "rail car full of the chemical weapon VX” exploding “in Rockville" is insignificant to a global weaponized smallpox outbreak. Instead of thousands dead in Rockville there would have been hundreds of millions if not billions dead worldwide. Bush ignored this grave risk. It would have been far wiser NOT to invade but to deal with Saddam another way.

Col. Hatch would be wise to note that Bin Ladin's two goals were to break the US economically and to divide us politically. Bush's decision to invade Iraq helps both of Bin Ladin's goals -- and increased his recruitment efforts to boot.

I agree with Col. Hatch’s that there were "other reason for moving forward" with our policy in Iraq and the Middle East. But waging war isn't a step forward. This war may have set us back decades in defeating terrorists. Imagine where we would be if the half a trillion dollars so far spend on the Iraq war had been invested in weaning our nation from our dependence on foreign oil.

I’m as hopeful as the retired Colonel that "a free Iraq will" someday be "a beacon of hope for other oppressed people in the region (such as Syria and Iran) and a dagger in the heart of the Islamo-fascist movement". But that won't likely come as a result of invasions and violent occupations. It’s more likely to come from our Presidents walking our founding father’s talk about human rights and the rule of law for all. Not waging war on weak intelligence.

Chuck Woolery. (In response to the letter below published today in the Washington Times.)


Don't blame America, (Washington Times 1-15-08).

I have heard variations on the "blame America" theme on the Iraq war before, but few quite as obtuse as Chuck Woolery's in his letter "Haditha and the law of war" (Jan. 5).

According to Mr. Woolery, all death and destruction in Iraq is the fault of the United States in general and President Bush in particular. He conveniently overlooks the fact that innocent civilians in Iraq had been and were continuing to be routinely butchered by Saddam Hussein and terrorists he supported were killing innocents elsewhere in the region prior to our intervention.

Moreover, our soldiers go to great lengths to avoid injuring noncombatants, in stark contrast to our enemies, who deliberately murder them or use them as human shields. To imply otherwise is a vile insult.

Saddam indisputably had used gas weapons in his war with Iran and against his own people, killing tens of thousands. He had also actively sought nuclear and biological weapons for decades.

More recently, he wanted people to believe he had them, regardless of his immediate ability to deploy them. This was one of his tyrannical tools to cow his own people and intimidate his neighbors and was completely consistent with his past behavior.

It is therefore not surprising that before the war, every significant intelligence agency believed he had them and would use them again.

Mr. Woolery says the war was our fault because we overestimated Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities. But most outrageously he claims that even if we had been right, we still would be guilty of an "atrocity" if we had tried to do anything about it. So, what should we have done? Should we have waited until a rail car full of the chemical weapon VX exploded in Rockville?

The Bush administration may have oversold the imminent WMD threat issue as a casus belli, but it was far from the only reason for moving forward.

I believe history will show that, for all the difficulties and second-order problems generated, a free Iraq will be at once a beacon of hope for other oppressed people in the region (such as Syria and Iran) and a dagger in the heart of the Islamo-fascist movement.

COL. STEPHEN J. HATCH Army (retired) Centreville, Va.

Friday, January 11, 2008

War is obsolete.

Major Daniel L. Davis misses the target in advocating for his modernization of our military (“Modernize the US Military “ 1-10-08 Washington Times). He remains stuck in the kinetic war paradigm where armor is important. He may have a valid point regarding Germany’s rapid defeat of France in spite of France’s superior technological advantage but he then argue s that future wars are winnable if we adopt the right technologies and armor up.

Essentially, he and many in our nation are still fighting the last wars where airpower, smart bombs and armor played significant roles. What he and others are ignoring however is how vastly the world of technology has changed and will only accelerate to make war as they know it obsolete.

First, weapons used to be ‘used up’ when used. Fire a gun, drop a bomb or launch a missile and it was gone. Expensive manufacturing and delivery processes pose significant barriers to quickly or affordably rearming. Today there is a new class of weapons that are replicable. When a biological virus or computer virus is released…it multiplies by itself with no further economic expenditures needed except by those who are trying to defend against them.

Second, trying to defend a nation against the power of such technologies is prohibitively expensive and labor intensive. A few individuals with limited funding can develop a biological or cyber weapon in a few weeks or months that an entire nation cannot detect or defend against with the most powerful military in the world. It only took a few dozen men with a simple plan and a few razor knives and about $100,000 of funding to hit us on 9-11. Beyond the precious American lives lost that day the damage done costs us only a few billion dollars. Our immediate response to 9-11 cost us hundreds of billions of dollars and our continued response to that day is costing us trillions as well as some of our most cherished freedoms and ideals.

Third, our dependence on military power for defense of our nation is doomed to eventual failure. Even today the Chinese might have the capacity to blind our satellite intelligence and communications efforts, or effectively infiltrate them and deceive our own forces into destroying each other in a conventional war.

Last, and maybe most important, we used to be able to identify an enemy by their uniform and we could deter their aggression with unimaginable fire power. Neither are true to day. The next WMD attack could come from the basement next door and their fear of retaliation or death isn’t an issue. They may want both. Retaliation, because our use of blunt force, even when we try to limit ‘collateral damage’ only helps them recruit more to their own ranks. Death, because it validates their religious belief, their courage, and the depth of their personal commitment.

Major Davis and others like him just don’t seem to understand that war as they knew it is obsolete. The only valid and sane war we can wage now is one for hearts and minds of humanity. It will be in large numbers of people working together in every nation of the world that will provide all of us with the best intelligence, technology and dare I say wisdom, to find and neutralize those who are committed to destroying our level of civilization. A civilization where justice, the rule of law, and the protection of human rights is more important than converting others to our religious beliefs or mass murdering them because of real or perceived grievances.

War is essentially the law of force. And the power and affordability of technology today gives almost anyone the power to wage destructive war. What we need now is the force of law. Laws democratically made and enforced, to protect the basic rights of all. That will require a modernized global police force but modernizing the military is a sure route to eventual defeat.

Haditha and the Law of War (printed Jan 5, 08)

Article published Jan 5, 2008
Letters to the editor

January 5, 2008

Haditha and the law of war

Diana West's assertion that the U.S. Marines accused of murdering 24 Iraqis in Haditha are actually innocent victims themselves may be correct, but as she also notes, it is hard to swallow. Only those men who survived that day really know what crimes may have been committed in Haditha.

However, Miss West is far off the mark if she believes false accusations are the "defining atrocity" of Iraq. The war itself is the defining atrocity, and, I will add, a war crime worthy of investigation and punishment.

It is an atrocity for us not to know how many innocent Iraqis have been killed and not to know within 100,000 deaths what the real number may be. Estimates range from 60,000 to many more than 600,000 deaths.

It is an atrocity for an even greater number to be wounded and 2 million more to be displaced from their homes because of the false accusations of the Bush administration and others (including myself) who assumed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at the time of our invasion.

It would have been an atrocity if we had invaded and Saddam, in retaliation, had released WMD in the form of weaponized smallpox. Such retaliation would have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people, including millions of Americans.

It is an atrocity that although everyone insists the war in Iraq can't be won militarily and that helping the Iraqi people find jobs, clean water, reliable electricity and a safe place to live should be front and center, 95 percent of our expenditures in Iraq have been devoted to kinetic force instead of benevolent kindness.

The real atrocity is believing there is a "law of war."

War by definition is lawlessness and ensures the mass murder of innocent people even when significant efforts are made to avoid the loss of innocent life. Law implies enforceability. There is no means of enforcing against global violations of war ... except by more lawlessness in which innocent people die as a result of war or sanctions.

The U.S. Marines who were "doing their job" in Haditha may not be guilty, but our president and those who elected him (and then re-elected him) are not innocent bystanders. Someone should be held accountable for the massive loss of innocent life, liberty and property. And I don't mean in the next election.

Impeachment should not be off the table. War crimes are crimes, no matter who commits them. What we need is the global rule of law, in which evidence is considered and differences settled in a courtroom, instead of the fog of war.