Tuesday, January 31, 2006

IAEA to "Report" Iran to Security Council

A hollow victory was achieved overnight with all five permanent members of the UN Security Council agreeing that the IAEA should "report" Iran to that body. Unfortunately, there is no agreement that Iran should be "referred" to the Security Council. While subtle, there are differences between the two, and this latest move does not yet give the Security Council sufficient authority to chastise Iran. (Washington Post: Iran to Be Reported To Security Council).

Also under the agreement reached with China and Russia, Iran still has 60 days to comply with the IAEA requirements including the termination of their enrichment program before the matter is reported to the council. Russia has pledged to spend that time attempting to negotiate a deal in which they would enrich uranium for Iran, thus guaranteeing (according to them) that weapons grade enrichment would not be possible. Forgive me if I don't quite trust any such deal with Russia.

On the home front, 70% of Americans support economic sanctions against Iran, a step that will most certainly be taken before any military response is considered. Obtaining the backing of Russia and China for economic sanctions, especially an oil embargo, is highly unlikely. China has a minority interest in Iran's oil fields and they obtain a significant amount of their growing oil needs from Iran. At least one veto on the security council is all but assured.

Americans are sending mixed signals on support for military strikes, however. The latest poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC news show support for military strikes only at 42%. Last week an LA Times and Bloomberg poll showed support for military strikes at 57%. The discrepancy may well be due to the wording of the question, however, since the Bloomberg poll included the phrase "if Iran continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons." (Washington Post: Most Americans Back Sanctions on Iran).

Before Iran begins to take the issue seriously, those poll numbers will need to increase significantly. While actual military action will not be determined by the polls, the need for action in the first place might be. Only if Iran is faced with imminent military strikes is there any chance Russia and China will agree to at least abstain on sanctions. Only if they are convinced that strikes are imminent will Iran seriously consider negotiating in good faith. The current polls do not send that message, and that is bad news for any chance of a diplomatic solution.

In the meantime, every day that passes brings Iran one day closer to obtaining nuclear weapons technology. While the world dithers, Iran develops. Let's hope we don't leave this in the hands of the diplomats until it's too late.


Monday, January 30, 2006

Sheehan Embraces Chavez

All you ever needed to know about Cindy Sheehan can be summarized in this single photograph:

In case you don't recognize the mug with her, that's Hugo Chavez, the socialist dictator of Venezuela. The same Hugo Chavez that's been picking a fight with anyone that will listen. The same Hugo Chavez that is allied with Iran and Cuba.

Chavez, in this same rally where he embraced Sheehan, announced, "Down with the U.S. empire! It must be said, in the entire world: Down with the empire!" That, apparently, is the type rhetoric Cindy Sheehan supports.

This woman is an absolute disgrace. Why she still carries US citizenship is beyond me. People wonder why I consider Sheehan and her ilk traitors. This photo tells it all. When you openly embrace enemies of the United States, in my book that falls under the constitutional definition of "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." You only need 2 witnesses for a charge of treason to stand. In this case, Sheehan has 70,000. What an absolute disgrace.


Ban Protests?

A small but vocal group of religious extremists have taken to staging protests at, of all places, funerals. The move is prompting at least five midwestern states to consider a ban on such protests, respecting the grieving families their right to privacy. (Washington Post: 5 States Consider Bans On Protests at Funerals).

The group, lead by Rev. Fred Phelps and consisting mainly of his parishioners at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, claims that war casualties, mining accidents, and just about any other untimely death is God's wrath resulting from US tolerance for gays. I'll pause for a moment so you can think that one through.

That's right. Not only do we have the likes of Pat Robertson claiming to the world that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for sinful behavior, but now we have Phelps and his ilk staging protests at the memorial service for 12 miners killed in the West Virginia tragedy. There have always been crackpots like this, but is there a reason we must give them air time?

What concerns me, though, is the move by five states to ban protests at funerals. Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate protesting at emotionally charged, private events where grieving families are gathered. I do object to anything that tampers with the right of the people to peacefully assemble, however. That's the reason I never advocated law enforcement officials preventing Cindy Sheehan from staging her protests, as much as I disagree with her message and think she was hurting our troops. People have a right to protest and stage demonstrations, regardless of their point of view. What most people need to realize, though, is simply having the right to do something does not mean that you should do it.

I'm sure everyone agrees that there is a line that should not be crossed. I'm also positive that none of us will agree on where that line is. All I can tell you is that, as a constitutional originalist, I certainly do not want the government drawing that line. That means that we must put up with people like Reverend Phelps, regardless of how ridiculous his views may be, regardless of how tasteless his methods are, regardless of how insensitive and downright offensive his protests are.

That's the challenge of our Constitutional Rights. It's all too easy to demand "there ought to be a law" when we see this type of outrageous behavior. For those with common sense, it's easy to see that Phelps has clearly crossed the line and is abusing his First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. Unfortunately, any attempt to ban his nonsense weakens, not Phelps, but rather the Constitution of the United States.

As to what to do with Phelps, simply start your stopwatch. His fifteen minutes should be up shortly.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Standoff Brewing Over Arctic

For once it's not about oil. Still, there is a stand-off brewing between the US, Russia, and Canada over use of the Arctic. At issue this time is the status of the Northwest Passage. For three decades, Canada has asserted that the waters surrounding their archipelago belong to Canada. For those same three decades, the US and Russia have recognized the Northwest Passage as international waters. (Washington Post: Harper Tells U.S. to Drop Arctic Claim).

After three decades of disagreement, the status of these waters is now becoming an issue. As the glaciers in the arctic continue to recede, the ice flows in the Northwest Passage grow thinner, making that waterway a viable navigation route for longer periods throughout the year. Melting ice has revealed major pockets of prime fishing grounds, and the passage alone shaves about 2800 miles off the one-way trip from Europe to Asia. Control of the passage is going to be politically and economically significant over the course of he next couple of decades.

Since the advent of the nuclear submarine, the US - and presumably Russia - has used the Northwest Passage when sailing under the north pole. Neither nation has ever asked permission to do so, emphasizing its status as international waters. Canada's new Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears ready to push that issue, however. Harper announced that he intends to expand Canada's military presence in the region, and will build and deploy three new armed ice breakers to patrol the passage.

The brewing standoff is reminiscent of Egypt's attempt to close the Suez Canal in the 1950's. As you may recall, the US response was to repeatedly sail a pair of destroyers up and down the canal daring Egypt to fire on them. Egypt didn't (which is fortunate since my father was on one of those destroyers several years before I was born.) It is likely that any attempt by Canada to enforce claims on the northwest passage will meet with a similar response.

This latest move by Harper comes at a time of growing discord between the US and our northern neighbor. Canada is not pleased with US plans to require passports to cross the border, nor is Canada supportive of our efforts in Iraq. Canadians have even taken their anti-American sentiment to the ice rink, on at least two recent occasions booing the American National Anthem at youth - yes, YOUTH - hockey games!

Canadians would do well to reconsider their growing anti-American attitudes. Both nations share the overwhelming benefits of free economic trade and the luxury of not having to defend a border that stretches the width of the continent. Does Canada truly want to jeopardize that? Both economically and militarily they cannot afford it. Most of the Canadian population borders the US, and many Canadians are dependent upon cross-border trade. Economically, Canada has far more to lose by increasing tensions than does the US.

Harper would do well to avoid forcing a confrontation with US subs bound for the arctic. That's not a standoff he can win, and it's not in his best interests to force it. It's not Canada's northern border that is at risk, it is their southern border. Neither the US nor Canada will benefit from a standoff over the Northwest Passage. Harper would be well advised to continue doing what Canada has done for the past three decades when US ships traveled through the Arctic. Look the other way. The alternative does not benefit anyone.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Palestinians Choose Terrorist Government

Dealing a death blow to the peace process, the Palestinian people overwhelmingly elected the terrorist group Hamas to leadership positions in yesterday's elections. President Bush, in a televised news conference, today said that Hamas is "a party with which we will not deal." (Chicago Tribune: Bush: U.S. won't deal with Hamas).

These elections effectively eliminate any credibility the Palestinian Authority once had in establishing a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel. As long as Hamas is in power, there is simply no chance of there being peace in that region. The primary tenet of Hamas' philosophy is the destruction of Israel.

Clearly, President Bush is disturbed by these developments and has stated that the US cannot deal with Hamas. The EU is similarly disturbed, although their ties to Israel are not as tight as the US'. What needs to happen, however, is for both the US and the EU to formally withdraw recognition of the PA. As long as the Palestinian people choose to embrace a terrorist entity, they cannot be entitled to international recognition.

The mere fact that terrorists can be elected in the first place is a sad commentary on the attitudes and philosophy of the Palestinian people. Significant progress was being made in pursuit of a lasting peace with Israel. Major concessions had been made by Israel in the Gaza, with similar hope for the West Bank. Instead, the Palestinian people have chosen to back a militant approach, preferring to put their fate in the hands of terrorists. One can only conclude that the Palestinian people do not want peace.

This development can only put Israel on alert. As long as Hamas is in charge, Israel can no longer afford to be restrained in their dealings with terror attacks by the terrorist entity. Now that Hamas represents the government of the Palestinian people, the only acceptable response from Israel would be a full military assault. Occupation of all territories held by Hamas are now justified.

The only question I have at this point is addressed to the Palestinian people: What the hell were you thinking?


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mexico Aids Illegal Border Crossings

Using data obtained from the Mexican government, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission will issue detailed maps showing potential illegal immigrants the safest routes to take when crossing the border into Arizona. (LA Times: Maps Show Illegal Migrants Best Routes).

This latest move is one more example of Mexico's blatant disregard for border security. It also underscores our own need to close and secure our southern border by whatever means necessary. A bill was approved in the House of Representatives that would extend a fence some 700 miles across the border, and would also make illegal immigration a felony. That bill is scheduled to move to the Senate where it will likely meet some opposition.

The Mexican government opposes stronger US enforcement of the border, citing the impact on the many Mexicans that cross illegally into this country for work. What I don't understand is why Mexico should have any say whatsoever in how we secure our border.

There is one potential good to come from these maps. They will also show our own border patrol where illegals are most likely to come across. There is no excuse at this point not to heavily patrol those crossing points, at least until they can be fortified.

What Mexico must be made to understand is that their citizens have absolutely no right to illegally cross into the US. The assistance they are providing for these illegal migrants must be addressed by our own government. Pressure must be applied to Mexico to secure their side of the border. We've given Fox a free ride for too long. The Mexican border is wide open, allowing anyone from any nation to cross into the US without our knowledge. With the technology available to us, this is inexcusable. The border can be secured and it must be secured. The status quo is simply unacceptable.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Profits Up; Workforce Cut

Ford announced a major corporate overhaul in which they will cut up to 30,000 jobs and close 14 plants. This comes on the heels of GM's announcement that they will cut 30,000 jobs and close 11 facilities. The net result is that the US auto industry is poised to lose 60,000 jobs and 25 manufacturing plants in an effort to further increase the profits of these two automakers. (USA Today: Ford will cut 25,000 to 30,000 jobs, close 14 plants).

Even in a year marred by soaring gas prices, Ford reported a net income of $2 Billion, $1.04 per share, for 2005. It's the third consecutive year of profitability for the car manufacturer, so it's not like the company is hurting financially.

What is hurting, however, is the cost of manufacturing in the US as opposed to overseas. Ford's operations were all extremely profitable in South America, Asia Pacific, and Europe, however the North American division offset much of this profitability with significant losses. Hence the reason for the significant plant closings here in the US.

This is the problem we face as we continue down this path of globalizing the US economy. Trade deals such as NAFTA and CAFTA may help our foreign policy and they may help corporate bottom line, but they cripple the American worker. Now we see the auto industry facing the same type crisis that devastated the steel industry a couple of decades ago.

The auto industry, and more specifically the towns that are built entirely around that industry, can ill afford the loss of 60,000 jobs. 25 plant closures effectively means 25 towns plunged into an economic depression. Unfortunately, corporations such as Ford or GM care little for the workers and their families that are now faced with unemployment. They care nothing for the towns that will fade into memory as these large plants close.

Economically, we are our own worst enemy. Profitability is no longer enough. Rather, ever increasing short-term profitability, and an ever increasing rate of short-term growth is the current trend in the corporate world. Corporations are no longer in it for the long haul. Instead, the primary focus of the corporate world is this quarter's fiscal reporting season. Long-term planning doesn't extend much beyond the next quarter.

How did the market respond to the loss of 30,000 jobs at Ford? Their stock surged 8% on the news. Shareholders love a good layoff, again for the same short-sighted view of profitability. The fact that there are now 30,000 families that no longer have any buying power, that there are now 14 Ford factories scattered around the country that will soon be closed, doesn't factor into this short-sightedness. That it severely and negatively impacts the economy, at least on a local level, has little bearing so long as Ford's bottom-line improves.

This is the growing problem in corporate America. We are faced with an increasing number of baby boomer CEOs that are obsessed with instant gratification. Providing a steady long term stream of profitability that will last a generation is no longer the goal. Their attention span isn't that long. Rather, the goal of most CEOs today is to make sure this year's fiscal numbers look great since that is what drives their own bonus structure. Next year is somebody else's problem.

When we look at the challenges facing the US economy, it is not the price of oil that will be our downfall. It is not the war in Iraq, it is not instability in the Middle East. The greatest challenge facing our economy is the surging wave of corporate consolidation, acquisition, and merger. Each one puts more Americans out of work. Each one, while good for the temporary bottom line, is a long-term disaster. Each one further weakens the overall economy.

Ours is a consumer based economy. What corporate America has yet to realize is that someone who is out of work is no longer a consumer. Put enough people out of work and the economy crumbles. Ford and GM have just taken major steps in that direction.


Monday, January 23, 2006

Elections Threaten Palestinian Peace Process

Inclusion of members of the terrorist organization Hamas in this week's elections threaten the viability of the Roadmap to Peace. Israel has already warned that they will not deal with members of Hamas, an organization that has set a goal of eradicating Israel, even if those members prevail this week. (News 24: 'Israel won't deal with Hamas').

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, "Israel made clear in the last few months that the participation of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority elections is totally against any kind of democratic values. Israel cannot communicate with terrorist organisations."

Indeed, neither can the United States accept Hamas since they certainly qualify as "a terrorist organization of international reach." Neither would any elected Hamas individuals be inclined to continue the peace process. Their goal is to eliminate Israel, not make peace with them.

With Ariel Sharon out of power and the election of members of Hamas seeming imminent, it appears that the Roadmap to Peace is effectively dead. Granted, it's likely the entire peace process would ultimately be killed by the growing tensions between Israel and Iran over Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology, but now it seems that the Palestinian people are poised to elect representatives that would scuttle the process regardless of external factors.

None of this should come as a surprise. Israel and the US have both been warning for months that Hamas militants would not be acceptable if elected. That they are being allowed to run and that there appears to be widespread public support for their candidacy demonstrates just how wide the rift is between the Palestinian Authority that is negotiating peace and the will of the people they allegedly represent.

2006 will be a time of increased strife in the Middle East. Any "land for peace" deal will end the moment Hamas terrorists are elected to any public office this week. With hope for peace with the PA eliminated, Israel will likely seek to reestablish their settlements in Gaza. They will also be free to assume a more aggressive stance with Iran, no longer feeling constrained to avoid hurting the fragile peace process.

Watch this week's elections carefully. The outcome will set the tone of conflict in the Middle East for the next several years. Electing terrorists to public positions will be a sure sign that the peace process has ended.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Alleged bin Laden Tape Surfaces

The world's most hated terrorist was allegedly heard from yesterday in an audio tape broadcast by al Jazeera. If authentic, it would be the first time anyone has heard from the displaced head of al Qaeda in over thirteen months. The rhetoric remains the same, threatening more attacks on the US, telling us to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and this time even having the audacity to offer a truce. (Washington Post: Bin Laden: Attacks on U.S. Being Prepared).

Let's talk about the truce offer for a moment. For openers, bin Laden is in no position to make such a ridiculous offer. Al Qaeda is being systematically destroyed. The majority of his leadership is either dead or captured. Their training camps in Afghanistan have been destroyed. Funding to the organization from around the world continues to be disrupted. Certainly a truce would be in al Qaeda's best interests but it's simply not going to happen.

The only acceptable proposal is the complete and unconditional surrender of al Qaeda. That includes the surrender of bin Laden, Zarqawi, Zawahiri, and all of al Qaeda's top deputies to face immediate trial before a military tribunal. It includes bin Laden's revelation of all remaining al Qaeda training camps, storage facilities, and safe houses. It includes a disclosure of all al Qaeada support organizations world-wide.

The US and allies would not accept a truce with Hitler. We would not accept a truce with Emperor Hirohito. We most certainly will not accept a truce with Osama bin Laden. Scott McClellan, speaking for the President, said it best, "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We put them out of business."

That should effectively put this truce nonsense to rest. Europe laughed at a similar offer last year, and the concept is even more laughable when presented to us. There can be no truce so long as a single al Qaeda terror cell remains anywhere in the world.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pakistan's Duplicity

Local Pakistanis continue to rage against a US air strike this weekend that killed as many as 13 civilians. Reports coming out of the Pakistan government now show that senior al Qaeda members were among those killed, however. The US has consistently maintained that top al Qaeda leaders were expected to be at that location and that they were the target of the strike. (Washington Post: Pakistanis Say Airstrike Killed Al Qaeda Figures).

Included in the reported deaths were Abu Khabab al-Masri, a training camp leader and an explosives and poisons expert, Abdul Rahman Maghribi - the son-in-law of al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman Zawahiri and the head of propaganda in that region - and Abu Ubayida Misri, a chief operative in the Konar province. Once confirmed, those deaths alone validate the military nature of the target.

The issue underscores the duplicity of Pakistan's tenuous relationship with the United States. While President Pervez Musharraf is an open supporter of the US lead war on terror, his views are the overwhelming minority on that topic. The general population openly supported the Taliban in Afghanistan and are strong idealistic supporters of al Qaeda and especially bin Laden. Musharraf's government is often at odds with its people with regards to support for the war-on-terror.

This lack of popular support in Pakistan has severely hindered US efforts to destroy al Qaeda camps on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border. Musharraf continues to deny access to US troops, and Friday's raid was conducted by the CIA using a Predator aircraft. The strike allegedly occurred without the approval of Pakistan's government, although they are not pressing that issue.

What seems to be overlooked in this particular case is the fact that top al Qaeda leaders, including Ayman Zawahiri, had been invited to that gathering in Pakistan. All of the participants were fully expecting that leadership to be there. There were no "innocent" civilians involved in this strike given their open support for the al Qaeda leadership they were hoping to entertain. Given the disappearance of bin Laden for over a year, Zawahiri is now the de facto head of al Qaeda. It should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all the Pakistanis, that the US will launch strikes against any location where Zawahiri is expected to be.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lobby Reform Lacks Substance

House Republicans floated a series of lobby reform bills yesterday, following a series of bribery related scandals that are tarnishing the party's image heading into a critical mid-term election. On the surface, the bills would restrict privately funded travel, meals, and gifts to lawmakers. Yet, when you dig a bit deeper into the actual proposals, they seem to fall somewhat short of the mark. (Washington Post: Republicans Propose Restrictions On Lobbying).

The plan unveiled by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is one such bill, however it leaves a gaping loophole that makes the bill essentially worthless. Under this proposal, legislators would not be eligible for private travel or lobbyist funded meals unless the travel or meals were accompanied by a campaign donation. Let me think about this for a second because I somehow fail to see how that's going to curb the problem.

Let's face it, Congress has absolutely no incentive to do anything to curb the problem of lobbyists. Special interest groups are the life-blood of politicians and their political campaigns. To cut access to lobbyists would force politicians to actually take issues to their constituents and raise money themselves rather than taking what amounts to legalized bribes in exchange for votes. The entire system is flawed and the people taking in the cash have no incentive to correct it.

The practice of making campaign donations or providing any other perk in exchange for vote consideration is unethical at best. I call it bribery. Yet, that is precisely how Washington operates on a daily basis. The only acceptable reform to the lobbyist issue is to ban them outright. Legislators should not receive free meals, private travel, or "gifts" under any circumstances. That's called a conflict of interest and it should be illegal.

Think about this for a second. An NCAA Division One athlete on scholarship cannot accept a free meal in his school cafeteria but someone responsible for writing the laws of this country can be wined and dined all over the country in exchange for his vote. Are we serious?

Speaker Hastert said, "We need to reform the rules so that it is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what is ethically acceptable." I'm sorry, congressman, but first you're going to have to find someone in Congress that is qualified to talk about ethics in the first place. I'm hard pressed to find one.

There are more loopholes in the campaign finance bills and in the proposed lobbyist reform bills than you are likely to find in a roll of Velcro™. Make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt? Not a chance. There's not a politician out there willing to do that. Color me skeptical, but I don't expect to see this issue fixed in my lifetime.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

World Events Further Strain Oil Prices

Events around the world continue to conspire to drive up oil prices. In addition to the crisis in Iran, which threatens oil supplies to Asia and parts of Europe, Nigeria has had their oil output reduced by 10% thanks to a series of attacks on oil rigs in that African nation. Several oilmen were taken hostage, prompting Royal Dutch/Shell to evacuate 330 of their workers. (AlJazeera: Shell pulls workers from Nigeria).

Rebels belonging to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta vowed to disrupt all oil flow out of Nigeria, the 8th largest oil exporter in the world. The Niger Delta has become increasingly unstable as the region prepares for the 2007 elections. Local politicians are often at odds with the military and federal government over control of the rich oil fields in the region, each wanting their share of the wealth.

Nigeria becomes the latest in a long series of conflicts threatening oil supplies around the world. Iraq's oil production was down for the better part of a decade due to economic sanctions followed by the Iraq war. Kuwait's oil production was devastated after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Hussein's subsequent burning of their oil wells. Neither of those countries have returned to 100% production. The escalating tensions in Iran further strain Middle Eastern oil pressures, leading to yet another rise in prices.

In South America, Ecuador's output is only at about 50% capacity due to a political coup that damaged or shut down many refineries. Venezuela continues to pump oil, however they have threatened to shut off supplies to the west based on any number of issues that seem to vary with the day of the week. Bearing in mind that Chavez is closely allied with Iran, any actions taken by the west against Iran will likely ripple down to Venezuela. Bolivia has aligned itself with Chavez, raising questions about the reliability of oil reserves from that land-locked nation.

Russian oil supplies, while stable, have been impacted by the on-going dispute between Russia and the Ukraine. Two weeks ago, supplies to the EU were cut when Russia closed a pipeline through the Ukraine, a move that sparked a dramatic rise in price world-wide.

It would be far easier to list oil producing nations that are not in the midst of crisis. With demand world-wide continuing to rise and supplies world-wide increasingly threatened by political unrest, it's easy to see gas prices well over $3.00 per gallon come the summer. One must wonder how much further we will allow this to go before getting serious about alternative fuel sources. It is pure folly to hinge our entire economy on the backs of an energy source in the hands of unstable and often hostile governments, yet that is precisely what we are doing. The oil market is not going to stabilize anytime soon, if ever. Developing and deploying a viable alternate source - one that is not dependent on any foreign resource - must be a national priority. Until then, our economy is in the hands of governments that may not be around by noon the next day.


Monday, January 16, 2006

ElBaradei Sets March 6th Deadline for Iran

In an uncharacteristic show of strength, IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei has issued an ultimatum to Iran, giving them 7 weeks to respond to all outstanding questions or face sanctions and possible military action. (Telegraph: Nuclear chief gives Iran a deadline).

In a Newsweek interview, ElBaradei used the sharpest tone he has to date, saying, "We are coming to the litmus test in the next few weeks. Diplomacy has to be backed by pressure and, in extreme cases, by force. We have rules. We have to do everything possible to uphold the rules through conviction. If not, then you impose them. Of course, this has to be the last resort, but sometimes you have to do it."

The deadline set for Iran is March 6th, after which ElBaradei will declare his investigation closed and recommend that Iran be referred to the UN Security Council for sanctions and possible military action. The IAEA alone does not have the authority to order either, however their support will make it more difficult for Russia and China to block the actions.

Both of those nations are the keys since they hold veto authority in the Security Council, and both have a lot to lose if Iran is hit with either sanctions or is the target of military action. Russia is a major supplier of military equipment to Iran and would not want to jeopardize that relationship by supporting sanctions. They are also the primary supplier for Iran's nuclear research facilities. They have a lot to gain economically if Iran is allowed to enrich uranium on Russian soil and have no desire to see Iran's research curtailed.

China is heavily dependent on Iranian oil and they have a non-controlling interest in many of Iran's oil fields. Sanctions against Iran would be tantamount to sanctions against China and would have a financial impact on China's 9.8% economic growth rate. There's little chance of China voting to approve sanctions against Iran. Just getting them to abstain is highly improbable.

Still, the comments from ElBaradei are the most useful statements to come out of the IAEA in over a decade. In this case, he's absolutely correct. Diplomacy must be backed by strength, both economically and militarily. Without a legitimate threat of force, no diplomacy will ever bring Iran to heel. The challenge now is to convince Russia and China. As long as Tehran continues to receive private assurances that nothing will get through the Security Council Iran will continue to act with impunity.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hussein Trial Judge Submits Resignation

Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, the head judge in the Hussein trial and the only one publicly identified, submitted his resignation citing "personal reasons". He denied being under government pressure to resign, however he has been under increased criticism over the way he has handled the trial. Many believe he has allowed the trial to spin out of control. (USA Today: Tribunal confirms Saddam judge wants out).

That Amin has been unable to keep order in his courtroom cannot be questioned. Hussein has repeatedly been responsible for disruptive outbursts that have made a mockery of the trial. Amin has been unable to control Hussein's outbursts and has yet to impose any penalty for the disruptions. Certainly nothing that has occurred in this trial would be permissible in a US court.

Given the inexperience of the fledgling Iraqi judicial system, it seems quite clear that they are incapable of conducting this trial. Not only do they not have justices with the experience necessary to maintain order in such a high profile case, but they are also incapable of providing for the security of all parties involved in each of the trials. There have already been several assassinations, and attorneys have already resigned due to death threats.

This is precisely the reason a trial of this nature is normally conducted by a military tribunal comprised of the victors. That is what should have happened in the Hussein case. There is sufficient precedent to permit such a trial, and moving it off-shore would guarantee the safety and security of all involved. Instead, there was a feeble attempt to add the illusion of legitimacy to the trial by having the Iraqi people conduct it. The way this has been handled, however, has paved the way for all sorts of criticisms regarding the legitimacy, the fairness, and the authority of the court.

Amin's resignation is certainly a positive development. He is far too incompetent to conduct this trial. While I doubt a more competent judge will be found in Iraq given the history of their judicial system and the grave security concerns surrounding this trial, they would be hard pressed to find anyone worse than Amin. It's too late now to turn this over to a military tribunal, unfortunately, so we're going to have to make the best of what's left. Hopefully, this trial will end soon, Hussein will be found guilty, and his execution will be swift. I would hate to think we're going to have to go through this travesty all over again for the next set of charges.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Syria Heading Back to Security Council

Five UN resolutions are already being ignored by Syria, and it appears that a sixth resolution may be added to the mix. The US is considering whether or not to raise in the Security Council the issue of Syria's lack of cooperation in the Hariri probe. (Al Bawaba: US sends stern message to Syria).

In a statement issued yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "Syria must cease obstructing the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Hariri and instead co-operate fully and unconditionally, as required by UN Security Council resolutions. We call upon the Syrian regime to respond positively to the requests of UN Independent International Investigation (UNIIIC). We intend to refer this matter back to the Security Council if Syrian obstruction continues."

Prepare the draft, Madam Secretary, because Syria has no intention of cooperating with this or any other probe. Consider well how that UN referral is worded, however. The previous five are essentially worthless, and on the surface, the sixth resolution will be equally useless. None of the prior resolutions include any threats or punishments for non-compliance. Without some teeth, these resolutions are a waste of time.

The Secretary of State also took issue with Syria's support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah. "Continuing assassinations in Lebanon of opponents of Syrian domination, including most recently the murder of journalist and Member of Parliament Gebran Tueni on Dec 12, 2005, create an atmosphere of fear that Syria uses to intimidate Lebanon," she stated.

2006 looks to be a busy year for the UN Security Council, at least so far as the Middle East is concerned. Iran is about to start its own UN Resolutions collection, and Syria appears eager to add to its collection. The outstanding question surrounds the willingness of the world body to enforce those resolutions. Every resolution passed that goes ignored and unenforced further weakens the credibility of the UN. It has reached the point now where UN resolutions are laughable and are typically ignored.

There are only two methods available to the UN for resolution enforcement: sanctions and military force. The former has proven ineffective time and time again. Not only does it require a tremendous amount of time to have any impact at all, but it also requires the cooperation of member nations. That cooperation is rarely available, and all too often member nations seize the financial opportunity and sell banned goods and services to the nation under sanction. It's like providing an underground bread and water concession to a castle under siege. It prolongs the effort and renders the sanctions effectively useless.

Hollow threats are worthless and only undermine the UN's already tarnished credibility. It's no wonder both Iran and Syria continue to thumb their noses at the rest of the world and at the UN in particular. They are both well aware that time is on their side. They are both well aware that consensus for military action is hardly likely (although in the case of Iran I doubt the US and Israel will wait for that consensus) and they are both well aware that sanctions will be ineffective against them.

So prepare yourselves for another round of useless discussions in the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, it will be business as usual in Iran and Syria. When - or rather if - any resolution does pass against those nations, just put it in the pile in the corner with the rest of them. Six resolutions are as easy to ignore as five.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Russia To Abstain on Iran

The US has secured Russia's assurance that they will not block an IAEA resolution to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. This agreement removes a major hurdle in moving the Iranian nuclear issue forward on the world stage, although no such agreement has yet been reached with China. (Washington Post: Russia Won't Block U.S. on Iran).

The agreement with Russia does not extend to any votes in the Security Council, however, indicating that a strongly worded resolution that invokes Chapter 7 (authorizing the use of force) would likely meet strong resistance. The current tact being taken by the US, France, Germany, and Great Britain is to transfer the issue from the IAEA to the Security Council and then to impose UN sanctions on Iran unless that nation halts all efforts to procure nuclear technology.

This now becomes a race between Iran's nuclear research, the ability to bring any meaningful resolution through the UN, the ability for economic sanctions to have any impact, and the ability to bring a use of force resolution through the council. If it were a horse race, my money would be on Iran's research far outpacing any of the other steps. This slow-motion crawl through the UN process most certainly works in Iran's favor.

Consider the amount of time Iraq resolutions took tow work their way through the security council. Economic sanctions had been in place for twelve years before any use of force resolution went through, and even after 1441 was approved (which authorized the use of force in Iraq) there was still debate as to whether additional resolutions should be imposed. The world cannot afford to wait for this process to play out with regards to Iran.

Nothing that is happening on the world stage right now will deter Iran. Russia's IAEA agreement is relatively meaningless since we technically do not need IAEA support to raise the Iranian issue in the Security Council. We also know that the real opposition will be there, not in the IAEA, and Russia has not agreed to step aside when the matter comes up there.

Russia clearly has its own interests at stake in this venture, too. Several times, Russia has floated propositions that would allow Iran to obtain enriched uranium from facilities operating on Russian soil. I seriously doubt Russia plans to donate those services. With a financial interest on the table, Russia is certainly going to do whatever it takes to steer the security council towards a resolution that would entice Iran to accept their proposal. They have absolutely no incentive to do any more than shuffle their feet and delay any meaningful resolutions that could surface at the UN.

Iran and the rest of the world need to learn that we are serious about preventing them from obtaining nuclear technology. Iran's uranium enrichment site in Isfahan is above ground and relatively isolated. Take it out. Now. That's the only way we're going to get their attention and potentially prevent an all-out war with Iran. It is also in our best interests to do this before Israel does. We don't have the luxury of waiting months for the process to be watered down in its slow crawl through the UN. Take action now, eliminate the above ground sites, and then put strict controls into preventing Iran from continuing their program elsewhere. It's time to prove that we're serious about preventing this proliferation.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Afghan's Overwhelmingly Support US

An independent non-partisan poll conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes showed overwhelming support for US efforts in Afghanistan. 5 out of 6 people polled expressed a positive view of the US military and President Karzai enjoys a 93% approval rating. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the poll was a 90% disapproval rating for both the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. (VOA: Afghan Poll: Big Support for US Military Presence).

What the poll demonstrates is the overwhelming success of US policy in the region. Four years after the US went to war in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and disrupt and destroy al Qaeda's terror cells operating in that region, Afghanistan is now experiencing the fruits of their first successful democratic elections. Afghan women have new-found freedoms including the right to vote and a right to an education. While pockets of Taliban resistance remain, the war of public opinion appears to have been won.

Bin Laden's loss of support in that nation cannot be overlooked, either. Just four years after local warlords helped him escape the trap laid by Operation Anaconda, bin Laden is now a hated figure in the region. The policy of making al Qaeda homeless is succeeding. Assuming he's still alive - and that is not necessarily a valid assumption, given his silence for more than a year - bin Laden has lost a significant refuge that sustained him through three US presidential administrations.

What will be interesting to watch is the impact this has on neighboring Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan was once a staunch supporter of the Taliban, and there is still popular support there for al Qaeda. Of course, Pakistan has yet to experience the wave of freedoms that are sweeping through Afghanistan.

The same holds true for Iran where there is an undercurrent of support for western ideas and western culture among the more educated youth; a youth already chafing to get out from under the thumb of the very restrictive religious regime that has controlled Iran since the Islamic Revolution.

The fruits planted by the US in the war on terror, both in Afghanistan and Iraq will take some time to grow to maturity, however they most certainly are growing. Our policies in that region are proving successful, our enemies are growing increasingly isolated. While I'm sure there are those that will attempt to paint a negative spin on this, as is typical whenever US policy appears successful, the facts remain that there are now two more democratic societies in the Muslim world than there were pre-9/11. 2006 will be most interesting since the next battle grounds in this war on terror are shaping up to be Iran and Syria, both of whom are doing their best to antagonize the rest of the world.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Belafonte Gives Aid and Comfort to the Enemy

Harry Belafonte, traveling with his misguided posse of Hollywood misfits, met with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez yesterday. During Chavez's televised speech on Sunday, Belafonte trashed most aspects of American life. Said the aging singer, "No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we're here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your [Chavez's] revolution." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Belafonte calls Bush 'greatest terrorist').

Millions support Chavez's socialist revolution? It would be interesting to see Belafonte name two outside of the idiots traveling with him. Unfortunately, Belafonte and his ilk have easy access to the media and they enjoy playing to the cameras. Harry Belafonte and Pat Robertson represent both sides of the same coin - a coin that should have been recycled or discarded a decade ago.

What part of "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" does Belafonte not understand? It was precisely this type of unAmerican rhetoric that prompted the wave of McCarthyism in the 1950s. People like Belafonte, people that hate everything this country stands for, are a cancer in our society. They don't represent the values of free speech, they represent irresponsible speech. They represent a fringe element that exploit the freedoms in a nation they apparently loath, and given their easy access to the microphone, they provide ammunition to repressive dictators like Chavez who put the Belafontes and Fondas of the world out on display like last year's trophies.

Call it free speech if you want, but I don't buy it. People like Belafonte are enemies to the US. They do not deserve to be traveling overseas on an American passport. In fact, I view it as hypocritical of them to claim to be US citizens while constantly trashing everything this country stands for. Of course, I also find it extremely hypocritical of most of Hollywood everytime one of these prima donnas claims to be a socialist while raking in millions for their latest movie. People like Belafonte sicken me. Where's Joe when you really need him?


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Iran Calls West's Bluff

Iran announced that they will remove the IAEA seals from their nuclear research facilities on Monday, pledging to restart research that had been suspended for almost two years. The removal of the seals is in direct violation of UN regulations, and has prompted yet another round of warnings form the West. (Reuters: Iran to remove U.N. seals at atomic research sites).

While on the surface, the issue of Iran's nuclear research would appear to be a staring contest between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, the undercurrent in the entire dispute is the authority and credibility of the UN. The crisis with Iran has been ongoing for almost two years and we are no further along today than we were in early 2004. The UN has been powerless for that entire period, stymied by weak resolutions and delaying tactics forced primarily by Russia.

To date there are no resolutions that threaten Iran with military action. On the contrary, every resolution passed to date has tiptoed gracefully around the topic, only threatening further resolutions if Iran does not comply. Describing the current set of resolutions as useless seems too much of an understatement. Iran has already thumbed its nose at the UN with removal of some seals earlier this year. Now they are prepared to go the rest of the way, removing the remainder of the seals and restarting their research. When will the UN get the message? When will the UN actually show some backbone and actually enforce their own regulations and directives?

The credibility of the UN is on the line. The organization has historically proven impotent in the face of these challenges, but if ever there's a time for them to grow a spine it's now. A nuclear equipped Iran is the greatest threat to peace the world has ever faced. No, that's not being a sensationalist, it's being realistic. A nuclear equipped Iran guarantees war with Israel - a war that would involve all of the Middle East. The likelihood of that being a nuclear conflict is extremely high. It's a war Israel cannot afford to lose and they will most certainly take ever measure to see that they prevail. Such a war will certainly involve the US and our allies. It may well involve Russia, though which side they'd be on is anyone's guess.

So where is the UN in all this? It's been months since the UN addressed the issue and there are no sanctions scheduled for debate. They've been conspicuously silent. Again, the stumbling block is Russia. What needs to happen immediately is clear. Sanctions including the threat of military action must be introduced - and approved - in the UN Security Council immediately. The US must begin Predator overflights of Iran's key military installations. Iran doesn't have the ability to hit the Predators and it will send a stern warning that military action is imminent. Our B52 and B2 bombers are already forward deployed in Diego Garcia, however it would be worthwhile to make a public show of their readiness. Finally, US troops should be positioned near the Iranian borders both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The only way to convince Iran to halt their nuclear activities is to convince them military action is imminent. Until they believe that, they will continue to defy the UN and the IAEA. Every day we do nothing brings us that much closer to war. It's time to convince Iran that we're serious.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Robertson Comments Offensive To All

Once again, the White House has had to publicly condemn the remarks of television evangelist Pat Robertson after the religious extremists made inflammatory comments regarding the medical condition of Ariel Sharon. (CNN: Robertson suggests God smote Sharon).

Robertson made his ridiculous remarks on the 700 Club, saying, "He [Sharon] was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America.' God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone.'"

This is the third in a recent string of embarrassing comments made by the aging evangelist. Earlier, he had suggested that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez should be assassinated. That prompted a series of statements from the White House distancing themselves from Robertson's public pronouncements. Following a series of hurricanes that plagued the East Coast, Robertson then claimed that towns should not turn to God if they had rejected Intelligent Design since God would refuse to hear their prayers.

Robertson is increasingly an embarrassment for conservative Republicans, and if nothing else, he provides constant ammunition for those that would portray all conservatives as religious "wing nuts". The fact is, Robertson does not speak for the Republican Party, he does not speak for the Bush Administration, and he has no more political sway among conservatives than does Phil Donahue among the Democrats. Even to members of the Religious Right - and I consider myself to be a very conservative Christian - Pat Robertson is nothing more than a vocal crackpot with a TV show. The folks taking this guy seriously are the same ones reporting Elvis sightings in the local supermarket.

I find it hard to believe that the 700 Club has much in the way of ratings, but it apparently has enough to keep it on ABC Family, TBN, and FamilyNet. I look forward to the day this crackpot is taken off the air for good. What he preaches has very little to do with Christianity and his message certainly does not represent the views of the Christian majority in the US. He's very good at selectively quoting the Bible - typically out of context - but he has no concept whatsoever as to the message being revealed in that same Bible. The man is an embarrassment for Christians everywhere. He's an embarrassment for the United States. Someone sound the gong and get this crackpot off the air. His 15 minutes are up.


Friday, January 06, 2006

Won't Pledge? Revoke Citizenship

The squabble over the Pledge of Allegiance has entered my home state of Rhode Island. Coventry High School senior Joseph S. Marketos Jr has taken center stage for his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, an act of defiance he claims started when he was in the 6th grade. According to Marketos, he doesn't believe in God, believes the minimum wage is too low, and doesn't like President Bush. Therefore, he refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (Providence Journal: Student standing up for not standing up - Projo.com requires free registration).

Not surprisingly, the ACLU - an organization founded in 1920 by card-carrying communist Roger Baldwin - has championed Marketos' case. According to Rhode Island ACLU chapter head Steven Brown, "A student's right to silently dissent form a coerced patriotic exercise like this lies at the heart of the First Amendment." Brown is technically correct. The First Amendment does grant Marketos the right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I wouldn't argue with that. In fact, any pledge or oath recited under coercion is a non-binding oath in the first place. So certainly, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance should be optional.

Let's stop and look at the very title of the oath, however. It is a Pledge of Allegiance. It is an oath that we, as Americans, take that represents our allegiance to the United States of America. Anyone who refuses to pledge allegiance to the United States, by definition, effectively renounces their US citizenship. You can't have it both ways! Either you are a US citizen and therefore pledge allegiance to the United States, or you refuse to pledge allegiance and therefore are not a citizen.

Should reciting the Pledge of Allegiance be required in our schools? No, I don't believe it should. Requiring it would actually cheapen the oath itself. Rather, our schools should do a much better job of teaching what that oath means and what the Pledge signifies. What should be required, however, is a Pledge of Allegiance by every American citizen. One who refuses to pledge allegiance to this nation should - and must - be stripped of US citizenship.

Citizenship in this great nation is something too many Americans take for granted. They believe that citizenship is a right, not a privilege. They flaunt their right to free speech, while at the same time spit on the very principles that forged the document that grants Americans that right.

The Pledge of Allegiance is not about the phrase "under God." It's not about minimum wage, or whether or not you support the current president. It's about your allegiance to the United States of America. If you're not willing to make that pledge, then you are undeserving of US Citizenship.

There is an oath that is required of everyone when they become American Citizens by any method other than birth. I believe that oath should be professed by ALL Americans, not just foreign born ones. To take that Oath of Citizenship, raise your right hand and repeat after me:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature.

Of course, that's a bit long to recite on a daily basis. Feel free to use the short form:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Abramoff - A Thief's Thief

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff plead guilty to fraud charges stemming primarily from his purchase of SunCruz casinos. As part of his plea agreement, Abramoff is expected to finger numerous legislators on both sides of the aisle that received millions of dollars in campaign donations in exchange for legislative considerations. (Miami Herald: Abramoff pleads guilty to bogus purchase of SunCruz Casinos fleet).

Dictionary.com defines the noun "Bribe" this way:

1. Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person's views or conduct.

2. Something serving to influence or persuade.

Isn't this precisely what a lobbyist does? Isn't that the purpose of a lobby in the first place? Again, dictionary.com defines the verb "to lobby" as:

1. To try to influence public officials on behalf of or against (proposed legislation, for example): lobbied the bill through Congress; lobbied the bill to a negative vote.

2. To try to influence (an official) to take a desired action.

How do lobbyists do this? By making significant campaign donations on behalf of their clients. By wining and dining legislators in an attempt to influence their votes on a particular topic. By providing non-monetary perks to legislators, again with the intention of influencing their votes. The only difference between a successful lobby and a bribe is that the former is legal.

Now, in Abramoff's case, what he did certainly crossed the boundaries between legal lobby activities and criminal activities. What his actions underscore, though, is a fundamental problem with the entire concept of lobbying in the first place. As long as this system of legalized bribery is in place, large special interest groups will always have a far greater voice in our government than the people the government is allegedly in place to serve.

Eddy Murphy's satirical look at insider politics in The Distinguished Gentleman actually provides a chillingly accurate view into the corruption that surrounds everyday legislation. The voice of the people is seldom heard in Washington. Too often, it's drowned out by the roar of the lobbyist.

Right now, there's a lot of "harrumphing" by the talking heads over the Abramoff case. Analysts, in typical "The End is Near" fashion, are trumpeting the downfall of many a politician as Abramoff starts to name names. The truth is, however, nothing is going to come of this other than a stint at the government's expense by Abramoff. There is not a person in congress that has not dealt with lobbyists, and the full extent of their dealings with lobbyists is not something any congressman wants their constituents to know. The Abramoff case is going to be swept aside as fast as anything can possibly move in Washington.

Will there be any legislative changes forthcoming? Obviously not. There's no way congress is going to vote away their cash cow. So for the moment, enjoy the hoopla being generated in the media, but expect nothing other than a side-show to come of this. It's not in any legislator's best interests to modify the rules or to change the legalized bribery that occurs, and after all, it's their best interests that come before all of ours.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Iran Moves Closer to Military Strike

Iran notified the IAEA that they were resuming uranium enrichment research, pushing the west and Israel significantly closer to a military strike against the rogue nation. (AlJazeera: Iran to resume nuclear fuel research). When asked how far Israel would go to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear technology, Sharon responded, "About 2000 miles."

The official response from ElBaradei was that the IAEA, "recalls the importance placed by the IAEA Board that Iran maintains its suspension of all enrichment-related activity as a key confidence building measure". Analysts believe Iran's announcement is the death knell of negotiations involving Germany, France, and Russia to head off the crisis.

Mohammad Saidi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy agency stated, "In a letter, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has been informed that Iran will start research on the technology of nuclear fuel in a few days, with the cooperation and coordination of the agency. We think our experts have undergone lots of losses during this period (of suspension). Many of our researchers have lost their jobs." Given the increased likelihood of military strikes, the loss of jobs should now be the least of their researchers' worries.

Earlier last month, Sharon had implied that Israel could not afford to wait much beyond March before dealing with the issue of Iranian nuclear research. Given my view that it will be the US, not Israel, that strikes Iran, it would seem that time is running out for any type of diplomatic solution. One way or another, Iran will not be allowed to enrich uranium for any purpose. Whether that is enforced diplomatically or militarily is now up to Iran. So far, it would appear that they've chosen to have it enforced militarily.