I used to smoke cigarettes. At one point in my life I smoked about 3 to 4 packs a day. Fortunately for me, I didn’t smoke that much for very long. For most of the time that I smoked, it was about a pack a day.

I would occasionally run into to people who claimed they didn’t smoke but who did use marijuana. In some cases, they were quite proud of the fact that they didn’t smoke cigarettes. “I’d never harm my body that way.” Inituition told me that smoking one substance had to be the same or at least similar to smoking most other substances. It seemed to me that sucking the smoke from burning leaves into your lungs on purpose probably did the same or similar damage regardless of the type of leaf. A lot of the dope smokers who did not smoke cigarettes I met seemed had an air of superiority about them in relation to us cigarette smokers.

Turns out, smoking mary jane is not only as bad as smoking cigarettes. It worse.

aloha

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Senator Clinton, a Democrat of New York, skated between the shades of anti-war sentiment in her party by promising not to defund the war but threatening to defund the Iraqi government. “I would never cut off funding for our soldiers in harm’s way,” she said. “But I would sure cut money for Iraqi troops. I don’t know how else to get their attention.” [Source: The New York Sun]

This should probably frighten me but Senator Clinton’s position is the most sensible that I’ve heard. Senator Clinton does not support President Bush’s troop surge. Fine. That’s a political necessity. She has to say that for political survival. However, Senator Clinton will not support defunding of President Bush’s plan. Good. Pulling funding, freezing funding, messing with funding in any way will ultimately cost the soldier, sailor, marine and airman on the ground. One way or the other.

And then comes the kicker. The part I think is actually unique and original in this debate. Senator Clinton sends a very clear message to the government of Iraq. Figure it out and straighten out or the money will dry up. Senator Clinton proposes action in the arena where she and the other politicians should be focusing their attention. Iraqi politics. Say what you will about Senator Clinton, I believe that she is on the right track here.

I believe that the vast majority of Iraqis would like to just get on with their lives. They’d like to have a job or a business where they make enough money to provide for their family and are able to afford the occasional luxury. I believe that the majority of Iraqis are trying desperately to find some sense of normalcy amidst the chaos of extremists, insurgents, Coalition forces, a completely collapsed economy, a failed infrastructure and all the rest that is Iraq today. Whose fault is the current situation? We could probably draw a fault line all the way back to the Ottoman empire. Maybe farther. That will not help us significantly in resolving the issues we face today.

The way forward in Iraq can be reduced to two issues. Regional security, internal and external and the development of a viable government. President Bush’s proposed troop surge is an attempt to address the issue of security. Parallel to improving security within Iraq, the government of Iraq must be held accountable for its action and its progress toward true independence. Senator Clinton is the first that I have heard of to offer a proposal that would force the Iraqi government to account for its actions.

Ultimately, I believe that the United States is responsible for the safety and welfare to the Iraqi citizens. The United States created an environment in which sectarian militants are able to operate. Through the actions of the current administration the United States become responsible for the Iraqi people. Withdrawing US troops from the region might end US deaths there. It will not end Iraqi deaths. It will only make it easier for the United States to ignore what is happening there. Moreover, the instability that will follow will very likely have a negative affect on the world economy. With instability, oil production will be put at risk. This is the American interest that has the United States involved in the region in the first place.

President Bush. Members of Congress. Put the politics aside and find a united way forward! That was the message of the last election.

aloha

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We’re losing the war in Iraq. That’s what a majority of Americans think according to a recent Washington Post article. Do you suppose that Americans think we’re losing the war in Iraq because that is what has been coming out of the media since May 1, 2003? It amazes me that the Bush administration cannot muster a communications department that can get better control of the message.

The stated goal of the invasion by Coalition forces was to remove Saddam and his party from power. A ramification of that stated goal is the necessity to put a new government in place. The war was over when Saddam and his government no longer held power. A new government has been established. While it can be said that the initial representatives were picked by Americans, in the elections since those people have been replaced. The current Iraqi government might still show some American finger prints but the process is in place for the Iraqi people to remove those finger prints if they wish.

Coalition forces remain in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and by a resolution of the United Nations. The same United Nations that everyone wanted us to involve in the Iraqi process. Transfer of power in the middle east is typically an extremely violent process. Leaders in the middle east typically lead through fear and violence, to one degree or another. If the government of Iraq is to survive it will need assistance in dealing with the violence until it has its own forces that can provide security, internal and external. This is and should be the criteria for Coalition forces exiting Iraq. An Iraqi force that is capable of defending Iraq against all foes, foreign and domestic.

And what is America’s national interest in Iraq? Oil. The world economy runs on oil. We can deny it, we can cuss it, we can talk about how it needs to change but in the world we live in, the world economy runs on oil. Gain control of a significant portion of the world’s oil reserves and you have undue influence on the world economy. It is in America’s best interest to make sure the world oil reserves remain readily accessible to the world. Even after we have weaned ourselves off of oil, it will still be in America’s best interest to protect the world’s oil reserves.

aloha

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[This was written in reply to a post from my friend Jessica, the bulk of which was a letter from Michael Moore.]

MIchael Moore and the rest are using two different methods of calculating involvement in this “longer than World War II” thing. For WWII they are counting the time from 07 Dec 1941 to 15 August 1945. This is the time period from US entry into WWII until the government of Japan announced unconditional surrender. If we use that same criteria with regard to Iraq, US forces invaded on 19 March and by 01 May, the government of Iraq cease to exist. Therefore, if we use the same standard to measure the Iraq War, it was so much shorter than WWII as to be completely insignificant. There were battles in WWII that lasted longer than the Iraq War.

If we measure the time of involvement in WWII by including the occupational periods, US involvement in WWII was about 10 years. In the period from 1945 to 1952, US occupational forces were providing security and support for the rebirthed governments. And that is what US forces in Iraq are doing today. You get people’s attention when you draw a comparison of almost anything to World War II. This comparison is disingenious.

Most of Michael Moore’s “history” throughout this letter is equally sketchy. Comparing Saddam Hussein to King George, calling improvised explosive devices constructed from 155mm artillery shells, priming mechanisms that are triggered by cell phones “two tin cans in a pothole”, and completely overlooking the fact that we did indeed try to dictate government to Japan, writing their Constitution for them. Mr. Moore grabs the sensational sound bytes and polls that serve his cause, provides ‘references’ to make it appear official and accurate, and completely ignores whatever facts do not suit his cause.

Among those that actually know something about what is happening in Iraq — Michael Moore clearly does not — the vast majority do not support a withdrawal of Coalition troops. To do as Michael Moore suggests is to destine Iraqis to a return to rule by some one like Saddam. The Iraqi government went before the UN and asked that Coalition forces remain in Iraq for another year. The UN agreed. Coalition forces are now in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and the United Nations.

The simple fact is, there is no easy road into or out of Iraq. The American public suffers from hindsight bais and believes that we should have seen this going in. Democrats try to claim they knew, yet they voted in support of the invasion of Iraq. And now, there we are. There is a UN Resolution that calls on the United States to provide security for the Iraqi government for another year. Shall we simply thumb our noses at it and the UN? We should have worked with the UN going into this thing. We should work with the UN now.

Yes, US involvement in Iraq is about oil. The world economy runs on oil. Not just the US, the world. We can deny it, we can wish it wasn’t true, we can talk about how it shouldn’t be, we can talk about what should change. But in the world that we live in today, the world economy runs on oil. Iraq is sitting on a huge pile of it and Saddam had designs on gaining control of more of it. That is the US interest in Iraq.

Michael Moore — like Rush Limbaugh — is an entertainer passing himself off as a political pundit. He should be taken as such.

The American education system is a product of the society that made it. Some schools are better, some are worse. Schools here in the bay area suck. That is one of the primary reasons that we home school our children.

I think the Democrats are in trouble. It is very easy to point a finger and say, you suck. It is far more difficult to state clearly what is wrong and devise a plan for correcting it. The Democrats are united on only one thing. They are united on the fact that focusing on the Iraq war is very likely to get them elected. Now they’ve been elected and everyone is watching them. I suspect that in 9 to 14 months time the American public will realize them for what they are and, in 2008, we will see voters simply vote out the incumbant, regardless of their party. It has happened before.

An aside: Kosovo is still on the list of exotic places I might get an all expenses paid, one year trip to, courtesy of the United States government. The Dayton Accord in 1995 supposedly ended that conflict. What the hell is the US interest there??

Smittie

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Had an interesting conversation with a co-worker this afternoon. He told me that Donald Rumsfeld had said that “we are not in Iraq to engage in nation-building…” Ben’s use of the quote is slightly misleading. The complete statement was, “We are not in Iraq to engage in nation-building — our mission is to help Iraqis so that they can build their own nation.” Ben’s use was only slightly misleading. Suggesting that we will help the Iraqis build their own nation is a lot like me offering to help my dad write his own computer program. My dad is a smart man but he’ll be the first to tell you he knows jack about writing computer software. This got me to looking around the web, to see what was out there on the topic of nation building. Nation-Building 101, published in the Atlantic Monthly in the January/Febraury 2004 issue hits the nail on the head.

Criticizing the current administration for the situation in Iraq is very nearly a national pastime and I have to guess it will grow in popularity as we close in on election day in November. However, all those who want to criticize the current policy on Iraq need to provide an reasonable and believable plan that takes into account the issues raised in the Atlantic Monthly article. Secondly, they will need provide a reason that we should believe the plan will actually work. In the military we believe that any plan, no matter how well devised, will only be good until boots actually hit the ground. Once boots are on the ground, it’s a crap shoot with the odds not in your favor.

I mentioned this article earlier in the month. Given the prevailing rhetoric, it is an extremely important article. Many campaigns are taking as their central point the situation Iraq. Yet, no one is offering a viable alternative plan. If not the current course, then what? And let’s be clear what the current plan is. Because the administration is doing a pathetically poor job of articulating it. The current plan is that Coalition Forces will continue to be responsible for security in Iraq until Iraqi forces are properly prepared to take over for the internal and external security of their state. It is not a date driven timetable, it is an event driven timetable. It is still a timetable.

We are very much in the business of nation building. Bosnia and Kosovo at the very least. And it looks like North Korea will be next though we might be able to pass that responsibility off on South Korea and bill it as a re-unification. I will be surprised if we don’t end up with a very different political landscape in the new year. I hope we’re careful in what we wish for.

aloha

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The American public thinks U.S. taxes are unjust. They think that middle and low income families pay too much and the rich pay too little. This while the rich pay as much as 35% of their income to the government and individuals pay, on average, about half of that. In my opinion what is missing from this article is some indicator of how well the same sample of the American public understands the current tax code. Or even, how accurately the American public understands what “the rich” pay in taxes. The U.S. tax code might well be unjust but public opinion has little to do with where it is or isn’t.

Polls and the collective American opinion has become the de facto standard by which all things are judged. In a time when the American public seems to consider Attention Deficit Disorder to be a desirable quality. The American public seems quick to express opinion and even believes that opinion should be respected despite the fact that the giver of that opinion understands little or nothing about the subject. Acknowledged experts in economics are at odds about whether the economic growth during the Clinton years was the result of Clinton’s policies or those of President Reagan before him. Understanding the complications of the affects of taxation on the national economy is, in my opinion, beyond the realm of Joe Six Pack.

Likewise the war in Iraq and the current reconstruction is unpopular. The American public would like a sound byte explanation of the reasons for the war. “It’s all about oil.” That’s simple to say and seems obvious on the face of it. Yet, people like Kenneth Pollack, who has spent a life time studying Iran and Iraq doesn’t think it is so simple. Pollack believes that a war with Iraq was inevitable and that oil was one of several causes. Now we are entangled in the process of building a government in Iraq. This is difficult task in the best of circumstances. Iraq is far from the best of circumstances.

Understanding America’s opinion is an important aspect of American politics. The people elected to office have the responsibility of representing their constituents in matters of law and policy. However, I think we need to be cautious when it comes to consideration of public opinion. It would be unwise to make financial decisions based on the thoughts and opinions of a stranger who has not proven her expertise in finance. Likewise, the details of national fiscal, foreign and domestic policy should not be guided by the inexpert opinions of the American public. The will of the people should be reflected in national policy but the details of those policies should be defined and guided by those more knowledgeable than the general public.

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On a completely different note, I managed to run twice this week. Felt good to run but today I’m really sore. I swear, this time, once I get into shape, I’m going to stay in shape.

Aloha

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My wife decided to turn off cable television about six years ago. For six years we have not had commercial TV in our home. One of the many great decisions my wife has talked me into over the years. As a result of this decision I get my news from the Internet. Which means, I have a lot of control over what I read about and what I don’t. Since I consider politicians a large waste of time, I seldom bother reading ‘news’ articles about them. News is in quotes because it seems a misnomer to me. What politicians do or say is very seldom news.

This past week I enjoyed an all expenses paid trip to San Diego, courtesy of the United States Navy. Living in the Bachelor Enlisted Quarters with little to do I ended up watching the TV network news. The timing was impeccable as it allowed me to follow in some detail the antics of one Cynthia McKinney, Congress Person from the 4th district of Georgia.

McKinney attempted to pass around the metal detectors in a Capitol building while not wearing the lapel pin that is required by protocol. When the Capitol Police called after her to stop she ignored him. Three times. When he touched her (apparently grabbing her arm) she spun around and struck him with her cell phone. For a week McKinney cast disparaging remarks on the officer, accusing him of racial profiling, racisim, stupidity, incompetence and that’s just the short list. Then, in a sudden about face, McKinney goes to the floor of Congress and, sort of, apologies for the whole thing. Pick any one or several of these articles for verification of my retelling.

So much that surrounds this story embodies the very epitome of the public face of American Politics. McKinney held news conferences almost daily, appeared on news shows as often as invited, not to tell her version of the events. She wouldn’t answer those questions. Rather, she repeated over and over her allegations that the officer involved was racist and the Capitol Police department as a whole, incompetent. Incompetent in that they should require members of their force to know by face and name all 535 members of the Congress and do away with all other processes of identification for members of Congress.

I got a real kick out of this Op-Ed piece which blatantly states, US news should be paying attention to all the Republicans who are in trouble and ignoring this Democrat who is making a fool of herself and a mockery of Washington. They blame the media for attending and televising the press conferences that McKinney called. I suppose they have it half right.

Finally, after being shunned by fellow Democrats, openly ridiculed by Republicans, told to clean up the mess by the Congressional Black Caucus (is there a Congressional White Causcus? Hum?), and the start of a grand jury investigation, McKinney offered an ‘apology’ that would have made Bill proud. In her statement she says that she regrets the incident occurred (no ownership), regrets its escalation (no ownership of that escalation) and that there should have been no physical contact (which sounds like yet another accusation). “And,” she said, “I apologize.” For what? It doesn’t sound like you think you did anything to apologize for.

The issue here is that a very small woman who is overly impressed with the office she has managed to ascend to had her pride injured and tried to restore her ego on the backs of the men and women who make it their career to protect our elected officials, with their own lives when necessary. She backed down from her childish and racist behavior only after it became apparent that it was detrimental to herself and others.

Aloha

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The new government in Afghanistan is at an interesting crossroad. I have to wonder why this particular man has been brought to trial and that trial is being made so public. Surely this is not the only Afghan who has converted from Islam to some other religion. While I think the International community most definitely needs to condemn the state sanctioned religious persecution that is happening, it is also important to allow the government of Afghanistan to find its own way in this matter.

I think it is important that the young government of Afghanistan be given the opportunity to make the right choices. Further, I think it is an important lesson that the government of Afghanistan learn the ramifications of making the wrong choices. From the various articles about the situation it appears that the government is trying hard to find the win-win solution by which they can maintain credibility with the populus at home while at the same time escaping the condemnation of the International community.

The expectation that, in four short years, Afghans would forsake their deeply held religious beliefs and adopt utterly foreign beliefs and customs is ridiculous on its face. Especially when Afghans believe that the very values they are expected to adopt are the values that their religion teaches are so utterly heinous. The process of moving any people group to a new set of beliefs is generally long and slow. Some parts of that process might go more quickly. Afghan women have, in four years, gained remarkable freedoms. They still have a long way to go but they’ve come quite far from the barqa coverings required by the Taliban. Moving to even more moderate positions within Islam can be expected to go more slowly.

Ultimately, I think the International community needs to respect the will of any people that have chosen their government through free and fairly held elections. The International community has the right to decide whether it will support, through trade and cooperation, that government. It is my understanding that the current government of Afghanistan was elected by the people. If that is the case, that government must be given the opportunity to govern. That government and the people it governs, must be allowed to learn through the ramifications of the decisions made.

The world is watching. I pray that Abdul Rahman does not die. I would like the government of Afghanistan to come out in support of his freedom to chose his religion. That will not happen. I pray that the government is able to make one small step toward religious freedom for the Afghani people. That might happen.

Democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nation-states in the middle east will probably not look anything like the democracies of the West. Democracy will need to blossom and flower within the context of Arab Islamic culture which is significantly different from Western culture. It is entirely possible that the resulting governments will look not at all like a democracy to the West. However, in the end I think the West and indeed the world must respect the right of any given people group to choose the government that will govern them. A government of the people, by the people and for the people will necessarily be significantly different across different people groups.

Aloha


——————–
Today’s run stats:

  • 4 miles in 38:26
    Yes, I finally got back out there.
  • Pulse one minute after finish: 148
  • Pulse five minutes after finish: 116

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Iraqi’s are discovering the cost of freedom, the difficulty of democracy, and the hard work of getting along. Reading the quotes from Iraqis in this article, I am struck by what seems to be an underlying notion that everything is the fault and responsibility of the United States. It seems that only Sardar Muhsin Maheed understands that at some point the Iraqis themselves must stand up and take control. It is a bit like a spouse in an abusive relationship. The start of real change is when the abused spouse decides to take control and change the situation.

I think Fakhri Fikry Kareem also gets it. He understands that the freedom he is living now, the freedom of speech and freedom of the press that he has made the center of his life comes at a very expensive cost. We can wish that such freedoms were free. We can demand that these freedoms be granted but these freedoms are only guaranteed to those who are willing to defend them at all cost. Freedom is not free. Freedom is guaranteed by those who are willing to take up arms and die in their defence.

Iraqis have been subjugated under despotic and tyrannical rule for as long as anyone can remember. Since the notion of freedom is new to them so also is the notion that with freedom comes the responsibility of one’s own future. However, the future of Iraq depends on Iraqis stepping forward and taking charge of their destiny. Freedom is not free. Coalition forces made the initial purchase of freedom for Iraqis. Iraqis themselves must now step up and take over the maintenance of that freedom.

aloha

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What does the birth of a democracy look like? What happens when a society – that has lived under despotic rule for as long as most can remember – attempts to transform, to evolve itself, to a higher form?

Shiites Told: Leave Home Or Be Killed (registration required)

The Iraqis are working out their future, slowly. Some times they degenerate to the only behavior they know in sorting out the transition and distribution of power. It will get worse before it gets better but I think it at least has the potential for getting better. It was mentioned in the article that religious leaders are making efforts deal with the tensions peacefully. Even giving the Shiites two days to vacate is a step up from simply killing them in place.

It is the popular thing to use each and every news article out of Iraq to bash the current administration anew. I think that’s cheap and easy. Few people really understand the complexities of Iraq. Many people seem to think they do. “It’s all just so obvious, isn’t it?”

Some time ago I listened to an NPR show Fresh Air when they had L. Paul Bremer III on the show. He was on to promote his book “My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope”. It was interesting to hear his telling of events in that first year after the fall of Saddam. He talked about things that never made it into the press. Everything is so clean, easy and unambiguous to us, here in the comfort of our homes.

William F. Buckley, Jr. believes, like many, that It Didn’t Work. That’s definitely the easy view. There will be plenty to cheer and support him. I’m not so sure. In the follow on article, Next Step, Buckley attempts to draw a comparison between Japan and Germany of World War II and Iraq but the comparison is disingenuous. Buckley is comparing apples to oranges and he knows it.

Iraq has no history of democracy that anyone can remember. Iraq has no history of respect for human rights that anyone can remember. What is being attempted in Iraq today is to craft something for which there is no plan and no one knows what it will look like when it is done. The US knows what democracy looks like in Western society but it is foolhardy to think that democracy in Arabic society will look the same. The Iraqis really have no idea what it will look like. They’ve never seen an Arabic democracy before. Not one that works. However, if this article from the Economist is to be believed, democracy is coming to the middle east. They will figure it out, sooner or later.

At this point, the Iraqis have head start. I hope we stay the course as they continue to work out what an Arab democracy looks like. They have some big problems to resolve. Problems that have existed in that society long enough to have hair and teeth. Those problems will not be solved simply.

aloha


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Today’s run stats:

  • 4 miles in 44:14
  • Pulse one minute after finish: 140
  • Pulse five minutes after finish: 116
  • Times are headed the wrong way here but there is progress and improvement being made.

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