Monday, January 29, 2007

When does Hunger Not Mean Hunger? When the Bushies Rewrite the Dictionary!

Monday, January 29, 2006

I bet you thought that when poor folk in America did not have sufficient food to eat, that it was called “hunger”. No longer. The USDA, embracing compassionate conservatism, has determined that the word hunger has no “metric” value ( funny how that word keeps popping up…I thought metric was that other funny way of measuring). The new terminology is “very low food security”. I guess we can say that all those below the poverty line individuals who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina were also victims of very low food security. It’s some kind of gobbledegook language that sounds technically correct but really means “Mama…I’m hungry”.

The group of persons suffering from very low food security is growing larger by the year. Currently, 12 % of Americans…35 million… can be included in that group. Yep…the uniter has sure tackled the issues of poverty and hunger in his administration. Just one week’s worth of Iraq expenditures would have made a significant dent in helping to feed these persons. One month’s worth of Iraq expenditures would have made an even bigger difference.

The reality, however, is that this administration has turned a blind eye to the suffering of the poor, the marginalized and the disenfranchised. Yet, oil companies get kickbacks and subsidies, the pharmaceutical companies get sweetheart deals, and the wealthiest Americans get tax cuts. Uh huh…compassionate conservatism. The last State of the Union address not only did not mention poverty, it did not mention Katrina recovery. I seem to remember a promise that had been made…Oh yeah…the same promise George Bush made to help address the issues of poverty and “very low food security”.

This is just another example of the Bush administration’s obfuscation of the truth; very low food security instead of hunger…climate change instead of the more realistic term “global warming”…insurgency instead of civil war. And…we are told that everything is perfectly fine…a strong economy at home, a sensible foreign policy abroad, a war we are not “just wining” but “will win”. George Orwell should be turning over in his grave!!


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Vietnam, The Balkans, Iraq and The Sudan

Saturday, January 27, 2007

There has been much discussion, of late, regarding the similarities and differences between Vietnam, the Balkans, Iraq and The Sudan. The first three, of course, are areas of the world in which the U.S. has set military boots on the ground. The last three are parts of the world where human rights violations have been alleged. Many theories and opinions are bandied about, espousing this or that foreign policy objective and one is often left defending a position that appears to be undermined by a divergent position given another conflicted state or region. More to the point, I often find myself in a position in which I must defend that position with respect to U.S. involvement. I thought it might be helpful if I delineated my position regarding all four of these countries or regions and set out MY understanding of why and how our government should or should not have become involved.

Historically, the Vietnam conflict developed out of the remnants of French colonialism. The legacy of 19th and 20th century European colonialism left many regions either in a state of disarray, often requiring arbitrarily designated borders, or with internal conflicts, which spawned nationalistic movements. The latter was the case in Vietnam. The French had been losing control abroad and the former hegemony they exercised over many foreign states was slipping away. U.S. concern in the region was concomitant with McCarthyism and the dissemination of the domino theory. Asia, specifically China, had undergone political revolution and communism was the apparent victor. To make a long story short, Ho Chi Minh, the native born nationalistic leader of those seeking an independent Vietnam, was, essentially, refused help in his efforts from the West. He turned to China. The U.S. interest was fomented in that very same age of McCarthy and the domino theory. We replaced the French, first with advisors, later with troops, in order to stem the communist tide.

Vietnam, therefore, was a nationalistic struggle and basically a civil war between those who were dissatisfied with French Imperial rule and those who were not. The leaders supported by the U.S….Bao Dai, at first, Diem subsequently, followed by Thieu, were all essentially puppets of the West. They were despotic, detached from the people, and were basically clueless regarding the nationalistic goals of its citizens. Had we given the Vietnamese and Ho Chi Minh the aid they had requested, it is certainly dubious as to the question of state communism predominating in North Vietnam.

History has shown that U.S. involvement in Vietnam was misplaced for a number of reasons. Perhaps first and foremost was the fact that it was a civil war; but of almost equal significance was the fact that this was a guerilla war, something with which American forces were completely unaccustomed. We add in the faulty premise of domino theory and the analysis should have been that we were not only NOT trained to win this war, but that it had been entered using false premises.

There have been schools of thought regarding foreign policy that posit the need for the United States to stay out of the affairs of foreign nations and regions. That was certainly the case with Vietnam and prevailing attitudes at home finally convinced the U.S. to get out and cut our losses. Yes…this is rather simplistic and pages could and have been written with more detail. Many factors led to our leaving Vietnam, not the least of which was the antiwar movement, the actions of Nixon and his administration, Watergate and a host of other things too numerous to cite. Suffice it to say that Vietnam was a conflict that was not only unwinnable, but indefensible.

Fast forward to the Balkans...a completely different scenario. The U.S. ostensibly entered the Balkan conflict because of the evidence of genocide and the actions of Milosevic. Should we have put American troops in? Were we obliged to enter a conflict in which the goal was to be the extermination of a people? The answer given by those who stated we have no business in the affairs of another nation was “No”. Most certainly a case can be made in that regard, but one is left with an ethical dilemma. Is it our moral responsibility to interfere in the affairs of another nation or region when we see the wholesale slaughter of a people to the extent we saw in the Balkans? Perhaps the correct answer would have been to support U.N forces or to work for diplomatic solutions. I will honestly profess an ambivalence in that regard. I can state categorically, however, that standing by and watching would, in my estimation, be entirely unacceptable. Again, we can let the debate rage between use of U.S. troops and deployment of U.N. forces, but to do nothing is a choice I was unable to condone. I believe this concept to be important and will come back to it in the discussion of the Sudan.

Iraq. Where does one begin? The first step might be to read some of what has already been written…Fiasco, by Ricks and State of Denial, by Woodward are two commendable selections. Others abound…there has been no lack for the written word in this regard. Simply put, we were given misleading interpretations of faulty intelligence delivered by an incompetent administration. Some of the ostensible excuses included that Hussein was building a nuclear program and posed a threat to the U.S.-not only NOT the case, but predicated upon cherry picked intel we now know was juiced up to create an air of fear that would allow the government to do as it wished. Bear in mind…the ideas had already been in place. The Project for a New American Century, the neocon “bible”, had set out its goals and ambitions and the sacking of Bagdad was top on the list!!

Another common excuse we were told was…Sadaam Hussein was a Very Bad Man…part of the “axis of evil” (also coined to play on 9/11 and fear of future attacks), and had gassed the Iranians in the Iraq/Iran conflict. In fact, he had gassed his own people!! Yes…there is truth in this statement…but it is not the entire truth. Our country (The United States) played both sides of the table in the Iraq/Iran conflict. How can we forget the arms we gave Iran so we could raise money that would be funneled to our illegal involvement in Nicaragua? And…how can we forget the arms, ammunition and chemical weapons we gave the Iraqis? WE gave some of the weaponry that Sadaam used on his own people to him!!! Furthermore, this country had a cozy diplomatic relationship with Hussein. We must always keep our eye on the ball…the REAL interest we had in Iraq…40 years ago…30 years ago…20 years ago….10 years ago…today and the future…is a three letter word spelled OIL!!!!

Again…volumes have been written…already…about Iraq. Suffice it to say that even though the Bush Administration has tried to make the case for Iraq as a nuclear threat, Iraq as a part of the axis of evil, Iraq as a country that is ruled by a despotic tyrant, Iraq as a country that needs our help with democratization, Iraq as a model of what is possible in the Middle East…the real reason we entered Iraq was to secure OIL. And…isn’t it a coincidence that this administration’s ties to oil are extensive? We are not so altruistic as Bush, et al, would have us believe. The reality is that the machinations of this administration have been quite more transparent than it had ever intended or believed to be possible.

Out last stop in this worldwide tour is The Sudan. No oil there…unfortunate, perhaps, for those who live in Darfur, although it is reasonable to believe that WERE oil to be an issue in The Sudan, this administration would have invaded it an turned it into rubble. Regardless, there are catastrophic repercussions from Sudanese civil war and humanitarian concerns, just as there were in the Balkans. No…I do not, nor do most others who are sympathetic to the refugees’ plight in Darfur, suggest a U.S. military involvement. We DO, however, suggest that this administration put greater pressure on the African Union, on the Sudanese government, and on factions within the United Nations to end the genocide taking place in that country. The victims are innocent men, women and children. Those who stray outside the camps, if they are men, are killed. If they are women, they are raped. The children are killed if they are little boys and raped and then killed if they are little girls.

Anyone with conscience would feel for these people. Anyone with a heart could not go untouched by the extent of the genocide. Granted, our clout in the world has diminished as a result of Bush Administration policy, but it has not disappeared completely. We still have economic and political pressures we can impose and we still have the ability to affect world policy, especially if it is in an area of the world where we do not stand to profit. That would be the defining characteristic, which would differentiate what we might do in Darfur from what we have done in Iraq.

I believe that, in retrospect, history will look at the Balkans and The Sudan as analogous conflicts that posed dire threats to civilians without the motivation of U.S. profit. In the other two country’s case I cited, the U.S. stood to profit in Vietnam through the economics of the war machine and in Iraq from the control of oil. Altruistic goals in the first two examples, self-interested profit in the latter two instances.

We cannot, as a country with the ability to wield powerful weapons… military, economic and political, allow that power to go unchecked. We must exercise foreign policy tempered by good judgment. Yes…we have the right to serve our own interests, but in a world which has been constantly shrinking, in a world wherein global communications and trade have become second nature, a world in which no country can maintain a sense of isolationism and a world in which one country’s actions can and do affect every other nation, we have reached a crossroads. We can serve our own selfish interests, we can let the reign of corporatism which feeds on greed go uncontrolled, we can lead the people of our country through a campaign of fear and paranoia.
Or, we can see the broader picture. We can look at the impact of environmental decisions, economic decisions, and military decisions and reevaluate our position. We can begin to understand that fossil fuels are not unlimited. We can better understand the implications of population growth. We can look to a world where hunger, disease, disenfranchisement and genocide have no place. We can replace the war machine with the art of diplomacy. No…we do not dismantle the military. It has always been necessary and will continue to be so. But, we temper the use of military force in favor of diplomatic resources and empower the realization that communication precedes compromise.

What kind of world do we really want? We have the power to choose…


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Whoops!! He Did It Again

Saturday, January 13, 2007

I’m thinking of a number…between 750 and 850…very important to each and every citizen. What is that number? It reflects the number of signing statements President Bush has already foisted on the American public. Yes…other presidents have made signing statements that clarify an administration’s reasoning regarding the execution of a specific statute. But, the proclivity this administration has for creating a rationale to avoid from upholding U.S. statutes boggles the imagination. Unfortunately…there is no rationale…these signing statements are absolutely NOT rooted in ANY constitutional doctrine.

The latest in this seemingly never-ending progression of signing statements involves the U.S Postal System. It would seem that our President is claiming the right to examine first class mail without a search warrant. So much for the 4th Amendment!! Of course, the ostensible justification is the “war on terror” and the fact that Bush maintains the position that a breach of a citizen’s right to protection against unlawful search and seizure is necessary to ensure national security. As was the case with some of the previous signing statements, one is amazed that the FISA court and other measures already in place would not suffice in our efforts to keep track of alleged terrorists.

The brutal truth is that these signing statements are blatantly unconstitutional. They represent a further erosion of constitutional rights that the Bush administration has vigorously prosecuted. Furthermore, this policy serves to advance the Bush policy of leadership based upon the promulgation of fear, which has become the prevailing policy. Both domestic and foreign policy have been subsumed by this insidious fiat by paranoia.

We may well ask what the founding fathers would have had to say regarding this policy…a question which we have asked for each and every one of these bogus signing statements. Of course, the answer is obvious and is implicit given any understanding of constitutional law. We must always remember that this is a country governed by the rule of law. Those very same elder statesmen would consider signing statements designed to skirt the rule of law as illegal and it also follows that they would say that such an analysis was self evident. That this administration continues to obfuscate at every opportunity and mislead and befuddle the American citizenry is nothing short of an attempt to hijack that same rule of law and to hold it hostage in the name of their campaign of fear.

Given that we now have a Democratically controlled House and Senate, it is about time for Congress to reinstate oversight. It stands to reason that these signing statements fall within their influence. We have already seen the initiation of a series of hearings intended to let the light shine upon many of these previously ignored or overlooked breaches of constitutional law. I anticipate the Senate Judiciary Committee to be VERY active in this regard and I think we need to let Senator Levin and others on the committee know how we feel about this issue.

As the expression goes…the ball is in our court and it’s now up to us to change the direction of governance we have seen over the previous six years. If we take no action, we will be able to blame no one but ourselves!!


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2007 Thoughts on Iraq

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

As we embark upon a new year, it makes sense to review some of the salient details of the conflict in Iraq. Perhaps foremost in our minds is the fact that the U.S. military death count reached the 3000 mark…the vast majority of them having occurred after the end of hostilities announcement in 2003. Apart from the U.S. death figure stands the unknown and only speculated death count of Iraqis…insurgents and civilians. That figure is estimated at 50,000, conservatively, 300,000 on the other end of the scale.

Injuries sustained by the U.S. military have been estimated to be in the 20,000 range…a great number of these considered to be what may be called “devastating” or “life changing”. We have absolutely no estimate of Iraqi injuries. And, we really have no good idea regarding displaced or refugee Iraqis. These are the facts, as we know, or don’t know, them. It bears notice that the figure of U.S. casualties, alone, exceeds the death count from the attack on 9/11. It also merits notice that the Iraqi casualties dwarf those of the U.S.

The debate goes on…civil war or sectarian violence. “A rose by any other name…” seems to be apropos in this regard. Whatever we call it, it must remain an irrefutable fact that the course of life and politics in the Middle East has been forever altered, whether for good or for worse. It is, however, difficult to see that the former is a viable possibility and much easier to accept the latter. Even were there to be a successful conclusion to this conflict, the fact that our military has used depleted uranium on weapons may have completely unanticipated and devastating consequences. That there are effects of some nature is incontestable…and could be verified were we privy to some of the medical reports taken at veteran’s facilities such as Walter Reed Hospital or from Iraqi medical facilities.

Recent developments tend not to support a cessation of hostilities, but rather to enforce the belief in an escalating conflict. We can debate the merits and faults of condemning Sadaam Hussein to death, but in the wake of the execution, it is hard not to see the rift between Sunni and Shi’a worsening. The videos we have all seen have certainly exacerbated the situation. Again, we can question the sense of policy as exercised by the Al Maliki regime but we cannot make excuses for the way the execution was expedited in such a hasty and reckless manner. It certainly shows the weaknesses in this administration and equally detracts from its credibility. This is also a reflection of the U.S. policy and it’s relationship with this Iraqi regime.

Again and again…regardless of one’s stance on the correctness or viability of attacking Iraq…we see a series of endless missteps and blunders on the part of the Bush Administration and the designated Iraqi leadership, which has been all but in name propped up by the U.S. The sad truth is that those blunders will more than likely have long-term consequences. The legacy Mr. Bush will have left behind will be one marked by ineptitude and incompetence. His interference has so weakened the region that most analysts are at a total loss as to postulating a way forward. We are hearing talks of troop surge. If it were possible that this could in any way be efficacious, it would require more troops than are available. The aftermath of the Bush and Rumsfeld military policy is a weakened military with a depleted infrastructure.

All this being the case, I am certainly in no position to make recommendations. I am equally at a loss for a way forward. I, too, would like to focus on what we can do rather than what we have done, but because these blunders are ongoing and regular, it is difficult to look ahead. The unvarnished truth, however, is that we learn lessons from examining history and what has happened in the Middle East generally and in Iraq specifically must be able to stand up to scrutiny. The Bush doctrine of fear mongering must be seen for what it is…an attempt to alter the landscape of international policy abroad and to weaken constitutional authority at home.

No death is acceptable, but we can make a case for sacrifice in the name of a noble cause. We cannot, however, sanction needless death of our soldiers or of civilians of a foreign nation when it has been for naught but the whimsical speculations and ensuing actions of an inept administration that has, at every step of the way, made incorrect decisions. It must surely be evident that there is very little we can do to heal the wounds we have helped to tear open. It is time for us to call for an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq. We must let this civil war, or whatever it is, run its course. We must open ourselves to international dialogue even if we see no immediate benefits. We must become, once again, part of an international community that seeks to preserve peace rather than to destroy it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Tuesday, January 2, 2007

A few days ago I wrote about coalition building. As is sometimes the case when I write, a subject takes on a life of its own and leads me down a previously unanticipated path. I painted the case for coalitions in much broader strokes than I had originally intended. It was the global view, if that is an accurate descriptive. There is, however, another, shall we say, ”local” perspective that demands equal attention. The microscopic as opposed to the macroscopic, as it were.

These two different perspectives are certainly not mutually exclusive. That we need to look beyond parochialism and separatism does not belie the need to energize local, state, national, and global LGBTI groups to work together for change. We have common goals. We can effect greater change if we understand what makes each of us tick and accept our differences without letting them divide us.

As a member of the transgender community, I have seen many attempts towards unity, within our community, thwarted by ego manifestation. We quibble over details: who is in charge, who gets to sit at the table, where we should meet. We argue over which issue is more important and why this person or that person does not represent the other. We wonder why there is so much left unaccomplished and hurl acrimonious quips at each other. We question, amongst ourselves, why we have not received inclusion from gay and lesbian organizations in their quest for diversity and hate crimes legislation.

The truth is that things ARE changing, albeit slowly. Transgender persons are learning more about diverse groups within the TG umbrella. There is more solidarity between disparate communities than ever before. We are each learning what it means to be transgender, or gay, or lesbian. Organizations working towards equality legislation for LGBTI issues are more likely to include a spectrum of interests and a variety of representatives. One cannot ask to be included unless one is willing to sit down at the table. Of late, we are seeing this more as the rule than as the exception. As we become more inclusive, we build coalitions that really acquire a formidable sense of being able to contend against intolerance and disenfranchisement. These coalitions have strength in numbers, diversity of membership and therefore gain credibility and clout.

We see evidence that change abounds. Recent rulings in New Jersey and Ohio and the first ever transgender school board member elected in Hawaii are indicative of those changes. We have barely melted the iceberg of hate in the sea of intolerance but it is becoming more exposed each and every day. As the sun of equality rises higher and higher in the sky, that iceberg will continue to dissipate and the sea will one day run dry. What remains will be a fertile bed in which the seeds of acceptance and inclusion can take root and grow strong.

What is needed most is for us to leave our egos at the door and to see a broader set of goals. This movement is bigger than any of us as single individuals. This is not to say that we do not value individuality…we do. However, when we remove ego attachments, our possibilities become ultimately manifold. The potential energy of this movement can become kinetic energy that has the magnitude of power to bring about extraordinary changes: openness to diversity, a sense of tolerance and inclusion, and end to fear mongering and hate.

Let us dedicate ourselves, as we approach a new year, to setting aside partisan considerations. Let us make the commitment to not get bagged down in trivialities. Let us set a goal to be more inclusive, more tolerant of each other, more willing to accept each other’s points of view even if we do not completely understand them. Let us put into practice, amongst ourselves, those very same values and virtues we would choose to see all peoples embrace. It is time to put our money where are mouths are!!