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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The UN needs an Army. Actually, several of them. Ask Egyptians.

Many US political, intelligence and military leaders are apprehensive if not adamant in stating that ‘terrorism cannot be defeated militarily’.  Yet military operations against ISIS and Al Qaeda remain overwhelmingly the primary tool for combating ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas or any other violent threat against civility.  The attack on 9-11 forced our federal government to reorganize its structure more than the threat of Germany and Japan combined during World War II.  While the cost in American lives have been far less than a world war, the global war on terrorism is approaching the economic cost of WWII and will certainly surpass it given the endless nature of a war against an undefeatable tactic, and the growth of that tactic in response to military forces that any conventional army cannot defeat.
Few Americans want the US to be the world’s police man.  Yet, increasingly, the rest of the world’s people and even some Americans see and feel the need for a world police force.  Any subjective analysis of mass kidnappings, mass murders, beheadings, genocidal threats, collateral damage, WMD proliferation, biological extinction, loss of privacy, cyber security, refugee needs, disease eradication, pandemic prevention or outbreak response, would lead any thoughtful and compassionate individual to demand the immediate creation of a specialized global force to immediately tackle each of these threats.   They would also insist that each force be adequately staffed with voluntary individuals, fully trained, funded and supplied with whatever tools their force needs to accomplish its mission. 
The emergence of a new ISIS outbreak in Libya needs an immediate response.  Chaos there started in 2011 when NATO backed forces toppled dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi shattering Libya into tribal fiefdoms ruled by armed militias.  These chaotic forces coalesced into roughly two camps, one extremist in which ISIS is now germinating.  The recent ISIS beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians needs an immediate response given their strategic location for acting on their insane pledge “to conquer Rome”.  The ISIS murder of 32 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai earlier is motivating an Egyptian response that would open up a two front war for this already unstable and lethally repressive government.  Meanwhile Freedom House recently reported 2014 as the ninth straight year of backsliding of democracy in nation states.  Chaos is on the march.  And globally, there is no police and no protection of fundamental human rights.
Many American cities have questionably armed their police forces with military equipped SWAT teams to deal with potentially dangerous criminal suspects, but there is no such force on the global level to consistently deal with persistent, horrific and accelerating crimes against humanity that are already being perpetrated against millions of innocent men, women and children – and often just because they exercise their fundamental right to speech, religion or pursuit of fair political systems.
An all-volunteer UN army of specialized swat teams…police,  teachers, health workers and environmental laborers, would do much to relieve some of the worries the ‘Black helicopters’ crowd has had in fearing the UN will try and take away their guns and light bulbs.  But any rational individual in the land of the free and home of the brave has no such fear.  Our Second Amendment will never be threatened by an outside or inside force.  It would take a police state to enforce it and the domestic resistance alone would cause a violent civil war.  And now that Al Shabab is threatening to attack US shopping malls, the sincerity to those defending the American’s right to own and carry guns -- and buy lots of stuff we don’t need -- has only been confirmed.
The most compelling point however may be the cost savings of such UN forces protecting humanities freedom and security.  Economic minded Americans arguably claim that our nation’s deficit is our greatest national security threat.  Even with a 100% tax on the incomes of all Americans could our nation pay for all the defenses, infrastructure, protections and reconstruction we need to deal with the growing array of threats we now face from global sources.  Few American’s remember that Osama Bin Laden’s original plan was to break us economically and divide us politically. He obviously didn’t understand Americans enough to know we didn’t need any help with either.  But now, any honest evaluation of our economic predicament dictates a wise investment in prevention, rapid response and ‘walking our talk’ on the global level.  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is more than an American dream.  It is humanities destiny.  And denying it, or ignoring it, will cost us everything.   The UN needs a standing army.  Several of them.   We can no longer maintain our own freedoms and security without them.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Grand flaw in the UN

This week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged members States to recommit to “collective security” and human rights.  He claimed the UN prevented another war but those who suffered from the lethal consequences of the Cold War or the current violence and loss of human rights as a result of an ongoing and predictably endless global war on terrorism might disagree.

Peace, or the absence of war, particularly a nuclear war, was the original motivation for the creation of the UN.  But it’s increasingly clear to those who deal with threats to individual and national security, and others concerned about human rights and the environment, that effectively protecting human security, national security and the environment will require more than just “peace”. 

What the vast majority of ‘we the people’ of the world really want is security without the loss of the freedom, and the prosperity that comes from maximizing both freedom and security.  Threats like Ebola, Climate Change, violent extremism and WMD proliferation in a world where the rights of nations remain superior to the rights of ‘we the people’, will never see nations, people or economies free from threats and violations of the most fundamental of human rights -- the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Encouragingly, the UN Secretary General specifically stated that UN Member States needed to fortify a sense of unity on the meaning of the term ‘collective security’, which he stressed was the core purpose of the Organization.  He also noted that Nation States have been falling short of their responsibility to prevent conflict, something the UN Charter is very clear on.   What he didn’t mention was the grand flaw of the UN’s original design of giving sovereign equality to all member states with absolutely no means of enforcing that equality, short of war, or sanctions -- which can be more deadly than war.  And, worse yet, the universal protection of human rights is only an afterthought.  A grand gesture with absolutely no muscle other than words (in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), accusations (frequent UN reports), powerless courts (ICC and ICJ) and noble promises (R2P).

There should be no doubt that violations of human rights eventually weaken state sovereignty and national security.  But not a single organization in the world is actively demanding or even offering solutions to resolve this grand flaw.  If anyone is looking for such solutions a new book lists them along with detailing rational means for achieving them. The book is titled “Transforming the United Nations System” written by Jopeph E. Schwartzberg and endorsed by former UN Secretary General as “an essential reference work for all…concerned…”.
Ban states “In today’s world, the less sovereignty is viewed as a wall or a shield, the better our prospects will be for protecting people and solving our shared problems…”  But, in fact, it is the belief that national sovereignty is the key to protecting national security and human rights that is the grand flaw in the current UN system.
Human rights abuses kill, maim, and displace people, divide communities, undermine economies and destroy cultural heritage.  Ban called for “a conceptual shift” in international understanding of UN human rights action in order to transform the Security Council’s role in peace and security.  Yet no organization today boldly takes the stand in support of such needed transformation.
Ban said “We must ask whether, for example, earlier efforts to address human rights violations and political grievances in Syria could have kept the situation from escalating so horrendously,” He went on to say “We must be willing to act before situations deteriorate. This is both a moral responsibility and critical for the maintenance of international peace and security. We cannot afford to be indifferent.”  Anyone adding up just the economic costs of our indifference would have to agree.
Noting that the distinctions between national and international were beginning to disappear, Mr. Ban cited commerce, communication, public health and climate change as areas of transnational concern. Terrorism and extremism were also serious issues and he highlighted the need to respond decisively, and to combat extremism without multiplying the problem and with full respect for human rights.  What he was saying without actually saying it is ‘we need enforceable international laws’ (ie. the ‘force of law’ instead of the ‘law of force’ for dealing with our individual, religious and national differences.
Regarding many other important issues of international concern, the UN’s 70th anniversary should serve as a chance to seriously reflect on nation states’ common enterprise and to take transformative actions like those detailed in Mr. Schwartzberg’s book. 
And high on any list should be the newest, laudable, affordable and achievable goals soon to be affirmed for sustainable development and climate change.   But we must recognize that any hope of actually achieving these vital goals will require three fundamental tactics.
1.      A holistic and global approach.  (global enforcement of UDHR)
2.      A new source of secure and adequate funding  (a global financial transaction tax0
3.      The context of national security and protecting fundamental human freedoms in advocating for both of these.
The world still awaits an organization (or movement of organizations) that will stand for and passionately advocate for any or all of these fundamental prerequisites to having the world work for everyone.
The bad news is that time is not on our side.  Those with the power to make such change appear to be emotionally detached from actual deaths, torture, diseases, disabilities, pain and other suffering of hundreds of millions of innocent men, women and children.  Some would say there is a lack of political will to do what is humanly doable.  I’m beginning to think it is a lack of empathy and courage. 
We know what needs to be done.  We know it’s the moral thing to do.  We know we cannot bare the economic cost of not doing it. 
Nearly 40 years ago I attended a presentation on climate change.  The title of that talk was “Is there intelligent life on earth?”  In hindsight, knowing of all ‘smart’ technologies we have at our finger tips and the massive “intelligence agencies” our government funds  I would have to answer “yes” to that questions.   If asked “is there wisdom in our application of that intelligence?”  The answer would be as self-evident as our God given universal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Blow up our Malls? Now they are really asking for it.

Al Shabab, the 4th most lethal violent extremist group in the world is promoting a specific threat to shopping malls in the US and other developed nations.  They posted pictures of America’s biggest shopping mall in Minnesota, a state with a high Muslim population, and encourage independent home grown extremists to carry out such attacks. 
Al Shabab was responsible for the brutal shopping mall attack in Kenya last year that claimed dozens of lives and most terrorist experts believe its threats should be taken seriously.
High level security experts are calling for a “whole of government approach” in addition to military efforts.  They see police, increased surveillance, community outreach, education and economic opportunity efforts will be essential in preventing such attacks.
One expert claimed that global threat of violent extremists is now in a new phase.  If true, wouldn’t a “whole of government” approach also be valuable in each nation.   Unfortunately we have too many holes in global governments making a global ‘whole of government approach” difficult.  Some governments actually support violent extremists. Some unintentionally create them with non-democratic and repressive regimes.  Some create them by supporting those same abusive and often murderous and repressive regimes.  
But the biggest hole in any ‘whole of government approach’ is the absence of any government on the global level.   Sharing intelligence between independent government agencies can be difficult even in democratic nations.  Sharing intelligence between ‘independent’ nations is a monstrous road block.
There should be no doubt that in the face of genocidal leaders and mass murdering criminals the world needs a legitimate policeman.   Most Americans are clear the US should not be the world’s policeman.   The question to ask now is what do Americans fear most?  A global police force capable of going after mass murderers, or mass murderers gunning (or bombing) for consumers in every nation’s shopping mall.
And, if a global intelligence agency doesn’t exist to ferret out potential mass murderers - each nation’s intelligence agencies will be responsible for prying into the private lives of their own citizens to hopefully locate the home grown independent extremists within their own borders, and even beyond.  Goodbye to the US 4th Amendment.   Will we then rely on citizen arming themselves to protect their loved ones against mass murderers.  Hello to the 2nd Amendment!  And perhaps American vigilantes taking the war on terrorism into their own hands.   ‘Stand your ground’ laws will take on a whole new meaning…and far greater body count.
This will undoubtedly lead to an endless war on terrorism with collateral damage increasing as the means of mass murder, destruction and disruption increase with the exponential growth of dual-use technology, it’s increasing affordability and global availability. 
The wiser option appears to be a less longer war against the ideology of violent extremism.
As our President said, calling them Islamic extremists only validates their self-image.  It also improves their public image as devout holly warriors fighting the great Satan.
And waging a “war on terrorism” only validates their self-image as warriors, also aiding their recruitment efforts.
Within this context using the terms “Islamic extremists” or “war on terrorism” only aids and abets these mass murdering psychopathic/sociopathic criminals.
It may be too late now to get much ahead of the wave of violence these ideological extremists are dedicated to waging worldwide, but it’s not too late to recognize the value of putting human rights above the rights of nations that freely abuse their citizens, or support other governments that do the same or worse.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Capitalism creative destruction. And its negative side.

Robert Samuelson only examined the positive half of capitalism’s “creative destruction” in early American history (High tech, low value, Feb 16, 2015).  He then missed the positive and profound benefits of new technological advances spurred by capitalism in our modern era.

The great negative outcome in the last two centuries came in the form of increased killing capacity as new technologies were applied to weapons development yielding the capacity for mass murder well beyond any previous means.   And while new era technology will have far greater  mass murder capacity (bio, nano, cyber, robotics, even car bombs) the “ internet” provides humanity with the capacity for transforming centuries of human conflict, injustice and environmental destruction in a more livable, secure, prosperous and sustainable world.   Our capacity to communicate virtually anywhere in the world virtually instantaneous and for free, should not be undervalued.

Combating humanities greatest threat, new and re-emerging infectious diseases (email moves faster and far wider than pandemics), eradicating global ignorance and with it extremist beliefs, or sharing vital information to stop those committed to mass murder -- offers profound benefits to our species.

But the greatest benefit yet untapped is our increasing capacity for organizing an efficient global federal government to manage or prevent other threats.   One where technological advances in cell phones and cameras facilitate the protection of human rights globally-- if that is the popular will of ‘we the people’ --now easily quantifiable with global communications. 

Technology and capitalism are tools. They can be used for great good or unprecedented harm.  Their end use will be determined by the hearts of the users.  If we users fail to create a world government devoted to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, there won’t be any tool that can limit the abuse and destructive capacity government, technology or capitalism.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

War against terrorism has failed.

Downgrading the Global War on Terrorism to a counterterrorism war hasn’t worked.  That should be self evident to any studious following of the news and the trends in brutal killing and mass murder.  Targeted killings with Drones and special forces units still manage to kill enough innocent people to inflame Muslim opinions and boost ISIS, Al Qaeda or other global (or even domestic) fringe groups recruitment efforts. 
Today, US Special Forces operations are being conducted in 133 nations (70% of the world’s sovereign states) sometimes without that states permission.   These would be acts of war if done on US soil but many Americans still believe such hits are justified to ‘fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them here’.
Problem is, ‘them over there’ know we are here.  And with each passing day, more are recruited (there and here) than we can kill or affordably/effectively locate.
We have three fundamental paths ahead to chose from. 
1)      Surge back into full war mode getting even more war like.   Some hawks believe mass bombings or even the use of WMD to bring our enemies to their knees as we did against the Axis powers is the only path to victory.     
2)      Back out completely.  Remove all US forces from the Middle East and let them fertilize their sand with their own blood while exhausting their own treasures to resolve their differences.
3)      Halt any war like actions and adopt a new strategy that allows the use of force to preserve civilization but does not accept the loss of any innocent life.   Essentially, global police work. 
Most Americans say they don't want Americans to be the world's policeman.  But without such police, chaos, mass murders (genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity) tend to spread.

A fair amount of debate exists on the first two options. 
I believe the strongest argument for avoiding the first option is calculating the short, medium and long term economic and moral costs to our nation.  In the medium to long term the costs to our nation in blood and treasure here at home will be catastrophic.  The US isn’t the only entity with the capacity to inflict mass casualties.  Every day the power of dual use technology is putting unprecedented killing capacity affordably into the hands of individuals.  Almost any post grad student in biology can create biological toxins or weapons capable of inciting fear or mass casualties.   Globally, Cyber skills can also create weapons of mass disruption and destruction.  The know-how to use widely available chemical compounds (like fuel oil, fertilizer or pesticides) for making poisons or explosives can be found on-line globally.  Without creating a Nazi like police state enormously limiting the movement of individuals, essential products and personal privacy, there would be no possibility for lasting security over there or here.   Worse yet, this hawkish mindset could eventually lead to genocidal engagements.  Even short of that, this path is a dead end road for our freedoms, our values and maybe even our civilized existence. 
The second path, isolationism, also contains the seeds of its own destruction.    Our borders and shores cannot be closed to commerce and travelers without crippling our economy and our capacity to fund our standard of life of abundant food, energy, and other resources for infrastructure and national security.   Unfortunately, the momentum of hate that our continued violence in both covert and overt interventions have generated over the decades will not be forgotten overnight.  Vengeful and determined minds and bodies cannot be easily stopped at our borders, or in our cities where they may already be making plans.  Our nation’s increasing dependence on vulnerable technologies and systems provides too many easy targets to affordably and successfully guard.  And, I'm pretty sure a heavily armed US civilian militia taking security into their own hands will inevitably end badly.  

Osama Bin Laden had two fundamental goals.  An Islamic State was not one of them according to documents captured at his killing.  He knew his forces were to puny to win against the US and our combined allies.   He took another path.   He understood at least two of our greatest weaknesses.   Our love affair with our military and it’s unmatched fire power.  And, our increasingly inflexible national political differences.   He set two goals.  Breaking us economically and dividing us politically.  We didn’t really need help with either.  But his plans certainly nourished both weaknesses,    He cleverly or instinctively understood that most Americans would want revenge for the 9-11 attacks.  His previous declaration of war against America were virtually ignored.  He had to provoke us.  He did.  And then we gifted him with our invasion of Iraq.   Since then American blood and treasure has been gushing and our domestic political discourse grown increasingly uncivil.
 I’m wondering if he was also wise enough about our American dogmas to know that we would continue to ignore the only rational path capable of defeating his ideology.  To move away from war, away from national pride and away from our mythical ideal of independence.  Independence, our fantasy ideal increasing American’s division from one another and from other nations.  It seems only when the needs are immediate and clear we can come together.    OBL saw that we only ‘walked our talk’ regarding human rights and our most cherished phrase ‘the rule of law’ when it was in our special short term interests to do so.  
Our nation’s history of saying one thing about human rights at the UN and defending the international law system that we helped create (and keep frozen in place) post World War II, and then doing the opposite at will, is no secret globally.  To many Americans are oblivious to this wide gap between we say and stand for at the UN.  And how the UN is structured to make it impossible for us to walk our talk, or it's talk.   As is, the UN legitimizes every states right to do as it pleases within it’s own borders.  To act in it’s governments own short term interests with little or no concern for its population or it's impact on the world.   And, on the Security Council, a few nations put there by history without accountability, do as they want independent of all others, or veto the majority vote of any UN proposal that might differ from any of their individual interests.   

War, war crimes, genocide, pandemics, destructive sanctions, international economic instability, WMD proliferation -- all persist virtually unabated.   Arguably nuclear weapons had more to do with averting World War III than the UN.   There is even more reason to believe the UN is a failed system.  The great news is that it is a system that could be transformed.   Transformed into a functioning body for making enforceable world laws.  Just laws where the protection of human rights would be firmly placed above the system of international law that now permits nation states to do whatever they want -- particularly if they are nuclear states - giving increasing incentive for other states to go nuclear.
It’s rather ironic that the nation created by the federation of 13 independent states over 200 years ago, is now the one most resistant to federating the 200 current nation states to defeat lawlessness of terrorism..   E. Pluribus Unum.  We must turn the many different approaches to combating terrorism (or fighting disease, genocide or WMD proliferation) into one.   One path the greater majority of the world’s people would gladly take.  Law over war.  Their rights over the rights of nations and corporations.
Woody Allen once said ‘humanity stand at cross road.  One road leads to utter hopelessness and despair.  The other to complete annihilation.  He hoped we had the wisdom to choose the right path.   It appears we have taken the path of defending our flawed Constitution.  A suicidal document that ignores the founding document that lead to it’s original creation, the Declaration of Independence.  A document based on a global idealism of “self-evident” truths “that all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”.
Until we live up to those ideals in the world, our freedoms and our security will be endangered.  Terrorism is a tactic that cannot be defeated by war because both terrorism and war are a violation of human rights.  World law dedicated to protecting those rights won’t make a perfect world, but it’s our only real weapon against mass murder.