Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Surge of Folly

Last week, George Bush informed General David Petraeus, commanding general in Iraq, that he will “have all the time he needs” to achieve success in Iraq.” Success in Iraq was recently defined by Petraeus as the achievement of “sustainable security” in that country. In order to accomplish this goal, Petraeus maintained that it would be necessary to keep nearly 140,000 American troops fighting there for the foreseeable future.

Despite the fact that there was no legitimate reason for invading Iraq in the first place or that over one-million Iraqis and 4000 American soldiers have died as a result of this war, I would grant that many Americans might actually begin to support the Iraq War, if in fact it could be demonstrated that our efforts would lead to “sustainable security” in that country and the possibility of establishing some kind of stable democratic government.

No one would like to see stability in Iraq more than I would, but the sad truth is that stability—whether military or political—will be impossible as long as our fighting forces remain in that country. The vast majority of the Iraqi people, after all, view us as an alien occupying power rather than as liberators. As long as the infidel is occupying an Arab country, there will be no peace in Iraq.

The Bush administration has argued that stability can be achieved through a surge of American troops placed “temporarily” in Iraq to secure troubled hotspots in the country. Admittedly, for several months after the initiation of the surge, the amount of violence in places like Baghdad seemed to have been slightly reduced. Now Bush and Patraeus are arguing that significant forces need to remain in place in Iraq in order to consolidate military gains and to give the Iraqis times to achieve some kind of political progress.

Let’s grant that Iraq could become a flower of democracy blooming in the desert of the Middle East if only we could keep those 140,000 American troops stationed there. The problem with this scenario is that right now we don’t have enough U.S. military personnel to maintain order in Iraq and Afghanistan and at the same time meet our military needs in other parts of the world. We could try to bribe or manipulate more low-income adolescents into joining the military to increase manpower, but the black and hispanic youth who have been the targets of the military’s recruitment campaigns seem to have caught on that this war is a losing proposition. Military recruitment levels, subsequently, remain flaccid and show no signs of improving in the foreseeable future.

Given the current economic crisis in the US, it also is doubtful that we can sustain 300-billion-dollars a week to pay for this war indefinitely. Right now the deficit of the United States stands at $9,410,608,896,562.00 and is growing by one million dollars every minute. That $30,974.22 of debt for each American citizen. Very soon we will have to decide whether we want to continue to pump billions of dollars into the sinkhole that is Iraq or put these funds to better use (e.g., improving our failing schools, shoring-up our crumbling national infrastructure, providing universal healthcare for Americans, etc.). As Lyndon Johnson discovered, you can’t have guns and butter at the same time.

But even if we could miraculously find enough troops to meet our military needs in Iraq and elsewhere and could find enough funds to continue to subsidize the war for as long as is necessary to achieve “sustainable security,” we could still never win in Iraq. In the end, no matter what efforts we make to control Iraq, we will eventually be forced to leave the country in defeat. The reason for this is quite evident to anyone who has studied world history: time and again it has been demonstrated that a foreign occupying force can never succeed in subduing a native population intent upon its removal. Just ask the British in India or Ireland, the Russians in Afghanistan, or the Americans in Vietnam. It may take five or ten or fifty years, but eventually homegrown insurgents like those in Iraq and Afghanistan always win. Time is on their side, after all.

Not being students of history, George Bush and the other flunkies in his administration will never understand this fact. The best that Bush can hope for is to prevent disaster in Iraq until he can leave office in January. Then the unsolvable problems of that sad country will be passed on to the next administration. Let’s just hope that President Obama proves to have a better grasp of history than his intellectually challenged predecessor.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sandy Chapin Endorses Barack Obama -- and Harry Would Too

When Harry Chapin died in 1981, no less a Republican than Kansas Senator Bob Dole eulogized him in the Senate. "He could have been a millionaire," Dole said, "instead Harry Chapin chose to try to make a lasting mark on the world by upholding his commitment to a higher moral order."

I met Harry Chapin in 1975 as news director of my college radio station (WNYT Old Westbury, the voice of New York Institute of Technology). I was one of a group of college news directors to visit Harry Chapin at his home in Huntington, Long Island, to interview him about his role as founder of the "World Hunger Year."

Last year I had a brief correspondence with Jen Chapin, who I met at the time. She was about five years old. Harry Chapin was the kind of person who, if you ever met him, made you feel right at home e-mailing his kids thirty years later. "Just one of the family."

Anyway, I ended up on Jen Chapin's mailing list. I received this just minutes ago:

Dear Friends,

Hello! All of you are people who have somehow identified yourselves to me as "Chapin Fans,” and some of you have indicated that my dad and his life and music have made and continue to make a great impact on you all. Some of you I know well, some not at all. Some are politically and progressively engaged in the way passionately advocated for by my dad, and some have other ways of keeping his memory alive. In any case, I wanted to share this with you.

My mom, Sandy, and I share a deep interest in and concern about our democracy. We talk a lot and exchange articles, insights, etc. Recently our exchange has been almost entirely about the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. We are constantly strategizing on how we can collectively and individually help this movement that his candidacy has sparked and organized. A few weeks ago we took my son Maceo down to Philadelphia with us as we went door to door to register voters. Next week we are making some calls at a phone bank together. We will do more. It’s an exciting time for us.Part of this excitement is the way that Obama’s philosophy, intelligence, words and deeds so resonate with those of my dad’s. “Yes we can!” is the chant of the day, and this was a refrain my dad repeated some 30 years ago when he spoke of the great challenges facing our democracy, and the urgent need to energize our youth and citizenry to fight hunger, support the dignity of work, protect our environment, and support the arts as essential building blocks of dialogue. The words of Harry, and Obama, speak of the ability of each of us to make a difference, and indeed, the necessity that each of us become “armchair experts” - not passively waiting for some heroic leader to tell us the facts and what to do with them, but instead taking responsibility for being informed and engaged ourselves.

Words do matter — for as much as Harry blazed a frontier of musician philanthropy and activism with his deeds, it was his words — in song and speech — that still burn in our brains and inform our days. Obama’s words -- and his sincere belief in our common intelligence and the fact that we do in fact have power -- have already moved millions across the generations. His record as an activist and legislator is deep and impressive (I am happy to direct you to details) and the substance is there in his biography and policy proposals.

Sandy stays away from the internet (bless her) but she asked me to help share her thoughts with you. Feel free to pass this around to your friends and family, and to respond to me with any questions or comments. Thank you!


Here's the text of Sandy Chapin's endorsement of Barack Obama:

On Barack Obama and Harry Chapin
By Sandy Chapin

I am so excited about Barack Obama as a candidate for President of the United States that I am compelled to share my thoughts with you. I learned from Harry that when you really believe in the power of individual people you can accomplish great things. I learned that when you are young with boundless energy, initiative and sheer determination to pursue the impossible dream you can empower others to galvanize their own energies, ideas, and determination. Remember, Harry said that out of every six or seven tasks he tried, “I might fail at three, but if I hadn’t tried I would have accomplished nothing.”

Harry founded an organization to end hunger at home and abroad with the realization that he must not compete with, but partner with all the existing, dedicated anti-hunger groups and he would make a life-long commitment in order to ride on past the occasional hurdles that lead to doubt and despair.

I have been waiting a long time to see someone light the fire to inspire individuals to act, to see a universe beyond self-interest and to fulfill his potential to be the best that they can be.

Yes, I believe Barack Obama is like Harry- standing tall for his country with intellect, stamina, and desire from the depths of his being, not to divide and conquer, but to seek a better tomorrow. I believe Barack Obama defines compromise not as concession, but as seeking and combining the best qualities out of differences. I believe Barack Obama defines strategy, not as tactics, but as preparation plus iimagination. Imagine what we can do, acting all together, doing our best!

Yes, my intuition says Senator Obama is a new kind of leader who can lead us, as Harry said, “Onwards and Upwards.” But I have also read and watched and listened and studied and I believe Barack Obama is the best person for this new era of a new generation, a new economies and a new world order. He understands our disaffected youth are a generation starving for direction and for a sense of purpose. They want to address the huge gap between the rich and poor caused largely by the explosive power of special interests. And they are more aware of the profound and complex issues facing this new world where we are intricately bound whether or not we choose to be. He is the best person to enlist a majority of citizens to address the new economic order – no longer the 19th century where a factory owner with tax breaks in his pocket would buy new machinery and hire more workers. It is workers who alleviate poverty; it is workers who are the engine of the economy. Workers with incentives from government can repair our collapsing infrastructure, can assist in teaching the under-schooled, can develop the new companies for energy efficiency and innovation. And I believe Barack Obama can move America into its appropriate relationship with the rest of the world, a position that has been essentially altered during two terms of George W. Bush.

China has consolidated at home and set out prongs of power on every continent abroad. The European Union has steadily strengthened and enlarged. India and Turkey and Brazil and Russia and Vietnam and Venezuela and Morocco will be our allies and partners or not. The present administration has taught us that who is president does make a difference, a difference of life and death. Peace comes, not from threats, but from understanding -- understanding that today’s world and tomorrow’s is multi-nuanced, multi faceted, multipartite.

Some people called Harry Chapin a visionary. He knew that you had to have a vision, to stretch toward a goal, but you had to engage in the streets to structure the best plan to achieve it.

This is a pivotal election. Our country is crying out for change. We need Barack Obama to lead us back to our roots in the constitution and moral character and forward to active and responsible citizenship in the nation and the world.

Thank you, Jen Chapin. Thank you, Sandy Chapin. And thank you, Harry. Keep the change -- change that we can believe in.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Anti-Intellectualism of Denial

Now hear this, America:

"Liberal fascism" is behind the concern for global warming. This is what the right -- and many "Libertarians" -- would have you believe about anyone who is concerned that we Americans be responsible stewards of God's creation. We "liberals" who voice a concern about the quality of the environment are not Christians, but rather "fascists."

Wow. I'm a fascist. Far out.

Despite the fact, however, that in July 2001 President George W. Bush stated clearly that "my Administration’s climate change policy will be science-based," the record of his administration has been one of resisting science, obfuscating scientific facts, and denying the reality of climate change. Despite a report of the National Academy of Sciences (commissioned by the Presaident) which affirmed and supported the findings of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climater Change, the Bush administration dug in its heels and denied the best science it had at its disposal. White House aides who were recruited from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade groups representing the oil industry, re-wrote US Government climate reports to obscure obvious links between fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas build-up.

Why? Simple: environmentalism is bad for business. So much for responsible Christian stewardship.

Federal agencies, under pressure by the Project for a New American Century and its functionaries in the Bush Administration have distorted science for political purposes. The Environmental Protection Agency’s main global warming website and its Global Change Research Program site have both been censored in recent years, even thought the US State Department's own website dealing with climate change has admitted that global warming is a real phenomenon caused by human consumption.

But after four years of internal censorship, the pressure of truth has overwhelmed the political pressure to lie about climate change, and the EPA has offered us some facts about global warming. Let me repeat this: the Environmental Protection Agency, right now, under the Bush regime is saying the following things about global warming:
  • Human activities are changing the composition of Earth's atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.

  • The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.

  • An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007).

  • The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.

  • Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.

What explains this craziness? Nothing new, actually, in American history; we've all seen this movie before. It's just good old-fashioned American anti-intellectualism.

This is the same anti-ntellectualism that says creationism is a "science." The same anti-intellectualism that says (as David Horowitz says) that academia is a haven for left-wing, revolutionary rhetoric. The same anti-intellectualism that said, in 2000, Al Gore is a boring snob, and George W. Bush is "regular folk." The same anti-intellectualism that fuels our image-driven (and therefore money-driven) political system.

Don't buy into this, folks. Read the science, which even the Bush administration concedes is real. Global warming is actually happening. So what do we do about it?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Oh, Let Us Turn Our Thoughts Today to Martin Luther King..."

Nearly forty-five years ago, a prophet for our time was given to us who held up a mirror in which we could see ourselves, our goodness, our weaknesses, and our ugliness.

Forty years ago, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last major speech, a speech that many (myself included) consider prophetic.

The next day, April 4, 1968, Rev. King was murdered in Memphis, Tennesee by James Earl Ray.

NY Senator Robert Francis Kennedy was campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination in Indianapolis, IN, when word of King's murder arose.

Less than six months later, he, too, would be dead.

In a sermon called "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" given at the National Cathedral in Washington less than a week before he was killed, Rev. King presented us with his last moral challenge, a challenge to which Americans have not yet risen.

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: "No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." And he goes on toward the end to say, "Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution...

We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty.

In the space of five years, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy were taken from us. JFK was an anti-Communist cold-warrier who grew in office to be the kind of President who could see the need for civil rights and an end to an unjust war; King was a prophet and a warrior for peace -- America's Gandhi -- who stood racial stereotypes on their head and brought people together; Bobby was the hope of a new generation of Americans. When they died, the sixties died, and hope was, for many Americans, shattered. But the hope never died, and lives today.

It is only my opinion -- one man's opinion, one imperfect, idealistic man's opinion -- but I believe that in many ways Barack Obama embodies the charisma and judgment of JFK, the hope and determination of MLK, and the Heart and judgement of RFK.

May God keep him safe.