Archive for August, 2011

Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times Argus

We are now getting close to the 10th anniversary of the al-Qaida attacks of 9/11. Although a decade is an insufficient period for most historians to comfortably draw firm conclusions about anything, it is possible to look at our world today and see how it appears to have been affected by that disastrous event and the ensuing decade. 

It is critical to remember that terrorism is not designed to overwhelm. It is designed to undermine. In that context, whatever it does to cause or initiate anxiety in targeted populations and governments, it relies on the reaction of those populations and governments equally as much to achieve its final goals. And America has reacted in ways that have haunted us and will continue to haunt us for decades. Al-Qaida could not have wished for more.

Domestically, we have seen major changes in our lives. Think of our color-coded terrorist warning system, our current airport controls, our paranoia over anyone who “looks like a Muslim” (whatever that is), or “acts differently.” What is that paper bag doing in the subway? Airport? Train station? Movie?

In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans were clearly prepared to and ultimately did surrender their civil liberties and individual rights in the hope that doing so would add to their own physical security. We forgot Benjamin Franklin’s injunction that “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The Patriot Act, where it was designed ostensibly to increase our security here at home, did many other things that have negatively affected the way we lead our lives. It increased the government’s ability to spy on us, to monitor our activities in a very broad and general way. It introduced warrantless wiretapping and the monitoring of fund transfers and Internet communications. It also initiated the national security letter process that required any person or organization to turn over records and data pertaining to individuals without warrant, and all this without probable cause or judicial oversight.

The other major domestic impact of the decade has been financial. During that period, we have gone from what was verging on a national surplus to a deficit that is now approaching $15 trillion and increasing at the rate of $3.95 billion every day. We got there through a combination of factors, including tax cuts, the “War on Terror,” and unfunded military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and now Libya. Brown University’s comprehensive June 2011 “Costs of War” project, factoring in all the costs associated with the decade, arrives at close to $4 trillion. Tax cuts add $2.8 trillion. There seems virtually no doubt that in the absence of our reaction to 9/11, we would be fiscally relatively healthy.

In addition to the foregoing difficult domestic situation, which we largely created for ourselves in the aftermath of 9/11, the changes we have seen in our foreign policy will haunt us for years to come. In that arena, our move to military-based, unilateral policy was a radical change. Yet our invasion and defeat of Iraq and the ascendence to power of the Iranian-allied Iraqi Shiites will likely prove to be our most egregious blunder.

It’s not that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was in any sense enlightened; it is very simply that Saddam’s Iraq was the only effective impediment to Iranian control over the Persian Gulf. From 1980-88, Iran and Iraq fought a war for supremacy in the gulf. In the absence of a clear resolution of that conflict, the fact that Iraq survived served as a critical deterrent to Iranian dreams for hegemony there.

Our invasion and defeat of Saddam’s Iraq was something the Iranians could never have accomplished on their own. With Shiites now assuming power under our new order in Iraq and Iran threatening the old Sunni positions in the Gulf States, Iran has come even closer. We have destroyed the last real impediment to Iranian dreams for the gulf.

We have had our chances to deal with 9/11 in ways that would have better favored our own national interests. Instead, we panicked, invoked questionable practices at home and became involved in military adventures abroad that will almost certainly ultimately be viewed as disasters.

Without the active, witless involvement and acquiescence of our government and Congress over the past decade, al-Qaida terrorism would have caused us far less pain than it ultimately has and we would be a great deal safer, richer, wiser and internationally more powerful and respected than is now the case.

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Originally published in The Herald of Randolph

By Haviland Smith

On August 5, Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, did it again.  He let his mouth get way out in front of whatever brain he actually has. In a discussion of the Tea Party on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, he made the following statement:

“The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual, it doesn’t deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do.”

Apparently Kerry not only wants the media to ignore the Tea Party, he wants Congress to ignore it as well, for he continued with the following comment on Republican appointments to the upcoming joint debt ceiling committee which will (or won’t) decide our immediate economic future:

“And if the joint committee, the joint committee cannot be, I mean John Boehner, please, Mitch McConnell, please, don’t appoint people with a preconceived idea of exactly what they’re going to do. That will not serve the nation. It may serve Party, but that’s not leadership. They need to put people on that committee who are going to work for the interests of our country so we can decide how to deal with our long-term structural problems and put people to work now.”  In other words, they have to do it the Democrats’ way!

There are two ways to look at Kerry’s statement.  To be charitable, the Republicans and their Tea Party, have completely changed the rules in Washington.  Votes on virtually anything and everything are now political, with little care or attention being paid to the wellbeing of the nation or its people.  Everything is now for the party.  My way or the highway!

In that context, Kerry can be seen bewailing the change to a totally dysfunctional congressional environment, while at the same time not accepting any of the responsibility the Democrats have for its existence.

But what kind of naïve ideological claptrap is that?  Kerry, in the eyes of the Tea Party, can be added to the list of Americans who have not found their truth, i.e. that U.S. debt problems have to be solved now, irrespective or what the Democrats and over half the country want, or of any harm that solution may bring to the wellbeing of the country.

National polls now indicate that a solid majority of Americans would like to see more immediate Federal investment in job creation, greater taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and continued support for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – all of which programs are on the Tea Party death list!

Quite apart from the absurdity and unconstitutionality of Kerry’s position, has it not occurred to him that if those polls are true, he and his fellow Democrats desperately need the Tea Party?   In the Tea Party, we have a new political movement that is challenging everything we know about the state of the world and the conduct of government.  Fiscal policy, immigration law, gay and lesbian rights, climate change, the role and intentions of government, tax policy and foreign policy have all come under the scrutiny of the Tea Party, almost invariably producing new policies at odds with Democrats as well as many Republicans, not to speak of science and reality!

If poll results hold where they now are, frightened Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, should want to be sure that absolutely nothing inhibits the Tea Party, or particularly, its leaders.  If you are not a believer in the Tea Party platform, you desperately need the active, involved presence of people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and just now, Governor Perry from Texas.  You need their informational and intellectual shortfalls. They are the Tea Party equivalents to Kerry, but without much feel for history or reality and without his Yale-trained eloquence and respect for English language and grammar.

No, at a time when nothing much of interest is coming from their leadership, Democrats are in desperate need of political help.  President Obama is increasingly viewed as weak and ineffective and Pelosi and Ried seem unable to accomplish much of anything for their party in the Congress.

The best hope Democrats have of holding what they now have, or of even regaining political power in Washington, lies very much in the ability of the Tea Party to display itself as the twenty-first century “know-nothings” who are out of step with facts, reality and, incidentally, grammar.

Without such Republican candidates, the Democrats haven’t much hope.  Eloquence alone never wins the day!

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