March 25, 2011

At this point in the life of our nation, there is a question we should be asking and a direction we should be considering:

Should we use our military power to intervene in the affairs of other nations?

Quite clearly we are neither physically nor financially able to use military force to make all other nations do what is in our national interest. Consequently, we have only done that in some situations and failed to do so in others. But the effect is for the U.S. to seem inconsistent and hypocritical. For instance, we intervened in Libya to protect the Libyan people from Muammar Gaddafi, who certainly is a ruthless dictator, but why, then do we not intervene in North Korea to protect its people from Kim Jong-il, another ruthless leader? Why did we invade Somalia where there was a humanitarian crisis, then reverse our action and leave? Why did we not intervene in Rwanda to stop the millions of deaths there?

One may answer that, in the case of Libya, the people themselves sought our intervention. It is true that some rebels there requested air cover, but do they represent the majority of the Libyan people? How many people, then, must ask for our intervention for us to be willing to go to war?

What will happen now as political upheaval spreads throughout the Middle East, if some call for U.S. intervention, and others warn against such action? The easy answer is that we will do what is necessary to protect the flow of oil from the region, and that is our real reason for any intervention. But if we look back to Vietnam, that was not the reason for that war.

The question of whether we should ever intervene should have been asked and answered in the negative many years ago. Non-involvement and non-intervention in the affairs of other peoples should have been our abiding foreign policy from the beginning. George Washington warned against a foreign policy that since his administration has entangled the U.S. in conflicts around the world, to the end that it is inconceivable to most Americans that we should not become involved in the internal affairs of other nations, or be willing to invade sovereign nations to force a desired outcome.

That posture must change. Our foreign policy should lead us in the direction of  a non-interventionist posture, with the guiding principle that of acknowledging the sovereignty of other nations. At a time when our nation is over $13 trillion in debt and piling on more debt every day, using our military to affect foreign policy not only is financially unsustainable, but in most cases it is counter-productive. We cannot afford to right the wrongs of the governments of other nations. Our own national government constantly abrogates the Constitutional rights of Americans. By what moral authority, then, do we tell other governments how to act toward their people? We must recognize our limitations and act accordingly.

I am not a pacifist. Our government exists to protect our rights and our lives. If we are attacked, then our government must respond to protect us. But there is no justification for our government’s military intervention in the affairs of other sovereign nations otherwise. Doing so escalates the need for continued intervention, as we create enemies throughout the world. It has been said that war is the failure of diplomacy. It will be much easier to carry on diplomatic relations with other nations if those governments know that our foreign-policy platform is neutral, that we will argue for our own interests with the tools available to us–short of military intervention in their affairs, and that our policy is applied consistently among nations.

In short, we can no longer afford–physically, morally, or financially–military intervention in other nations. While we must make it clear that military and terrorist attacks against the U.S. will not be tolerated, we can defuse much of the hostility toward us by conducting a consistent and neutral foreign policy without the we-will-invade-you attitude.



March 23, 2011

Smut leaned back in his favorite armchair, drew on his pipe and slowly exhaled a plume of tobacco smoke. He then laid his pipe in its holder on the end table beside his chair and crossed his paws.

Smut is the family black Labrador retriever, and frankly, sometimes is a smug, annoying ass. But I am patient with him most of the time.

“Mischief and I have been listening to the news,” Smut said. Mischief is our other black dog, a Lab-mix female. “We think that the reason people are so concerned with the trouble in the Middle East is that they worry about whether they will have gasoline to run their automobiles. Is that the crux of the problem, do you think? Have we analyzed the situation correctly?”

“OK,” I replied, amused at his precociousness, “y’all got it right.”

At that, Smut smiled smugly, and gave a nod to Mischief, who was sitting primly on the sofa. She nodded back. Both of them turned to face me.

“We know what to do about it,” Mischief said. “Smut thinks it’s so simple that you should have thought of it first,” she added, sitting very straight and proper. Smut pulled the sash on his smoking jacket a little tighter and adjusted his fez.

“We’ll tell you,” said Smut, “but could you please pour us each a bit of whisky first?”

Smut is so tiresome sometimes. His affinity for Scotch whisky leaves me with little for myself, and recently he introduced it to Mischief, who is so fastidious that one would think she would not appreciate whisky. But take to it she did, so now I have much trouble keeping any on hand. But to indulge him, I poured shots for both.

“And what canine wisdom will you impart this evening,” I asked, mocking him.

Smut gave me a reproachful stare and said, “You humans think that you’re smarter than you are. You offer complex, and often ineffective solutions to a great many problems that have rather common-sense solutions.”

“Alright, just tell me your idea,” I said shortly, reacting to his insolence.

Mischief still was sitting very straight, with her hind legs properly crossed. Smut settled back into his chair and very deliberately crossed his hind legs, tapped the burned tobacco out of his pipe and reached in his pouch for a pinch of fresh tobacco and stuffed it into the bowl of his pipe. He knew well that he was trying my patience.

“Let me ask you some questions first,” he said. “Haven’t humans known for a long time that it would become harder each year to find and process oil? Didn’t you know that the Middle East was politically volatile? Have you not planned for the eventual lack of supply due to political unrest? Why have you not drilled for more oil here, and why have you not built new refineries to increase the supply of gasoline? Why, knowing that access to oil could be interrupted at any time, have you not over the last 50 years developed alternative fuels for your noisy and dangerous machines?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I replied, “you’ve made your point. But what’s your solution?”

Mischief interrupted, “You’re not ignorant, are you? Then you must be stupid, we think. That’s not comforting, since we depend on you for our sustenance. We’re just trying to be helpful, and you seem ungrateful for our offering of a solution.”

“Well, for God’s sake, just offer it,” I retorted, my patience near an end.

Smut looked at me with pity in his eyes. “It’s so simple,” he offered. “Just walk.”

“That’s your solution, you exasperating dogs!” I shouted. “You’ve wasted my time and whisky to tell me that we should all walk? You’re skating on thin ice with me now, dogs.”

“That’s another idea,” Smut laughed, “Skating doesn’t require gasoline.”

I looked sternly at both silly canines. “Don’t offer me any more of your canine wisdom, either one of you. Walk, indeed.”

The two black dogs looked amused at my fury. “Think about it,” suggested Mischief, “it’s really a good solution.”

“How do you figure,” I spitted out, my rage not diminished.

“Take it easy,” Smut said calmingly. “You like to walk. You walk with us four times each day, and we can tell that you enjoy it. It seems to make you feel better. Sometimes you carry your camera with you and take pictures of flowers and things. Isn’t that a good thing?”

“Well, yes,” I said, assuaged somewhat. They clearly did not understand the implications of no gasoline, but they genuinely were trying to be helpful, I perceived. “But we can’t just park our trucks and cars, turn off our machines, and just walk. For one thing, the distances are too great between places just to walk.”

“Why do you want to go to a far-away place,” Smut asked. “Isn’t this a nice place? We like it.”

“Business requires travel,” I replied. “Of course I like it here, but I have to go to other places sometimes.”

“Couldn’t you just ride a horse—that’s what they are made for, I think—or ride a bicycle, or use the mail or the internet more?” Smut questioned.

“No, things have to be done faster,” I told them.

“Why faster?” Mischief asked. “You seem better when you do things more slowly.”

I was finding it difficult to counter their suggestions, because they made sense in a way, but…

Mischief sat, regarding me fondly. Smut puffed on his pipe and gave me an endearing smile. “Now that you’ve calmed down, just think about it some more. You may come to the conclusion that it’s not so silly a proposition as you think right now,” Smut suggested. “Don’t get me wrong, we like riding in your car, but it won’t bother us if you don’t drive it.” He drew on his pipe and stared serenely at nothing.

As I picked up their empty glasses, I thought: I love those dogs, but they just don’t understand human things like fuel, industry, transportation, economics and geopolitics. They’re only dogs.


March 22, 2011

Our politicians have come up with worse ideas.


March 9, 2011

I like National Public Radio and the Public Broadcast System. I really do. Although many criticize public broadcasting for its alleged liberal bias, the quirky news/feature stories on NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition generally are good journalism, informative and entertaining, much like the thoroughly engaging features on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. PBS has aired some of the best programs on TV over the years. Mystery (now Masterpiece Mystery) and Masterpiece Theater, well, they are just top-notch. But, unlike the Wall Street Journal, NPR (and PBS) is, in part, funded with money Americans pay in taxes to the federal government.

As David Harsanyi at says,

Though there is little to be offended by in most of NPR’s programming, public radio and television cater almost exclusively to the sensibilities of the urban liberal. Not that there’s anything wrong with being an urban liberal, of course.

Indeed. But if one is a taxpayer who doesn’t like NPR and PBS’s liberal bias (which they deny, but which is SO apparent)–it certainly rankles me, though for the most part I ignore it and take the good with the bad–one justifiably may question why he or she has to contribute (through taxes, not direct contributions that mainly support public radio and TV).

The federal government should not be funding radio and television programming. Is it National Propaganda Radio and Propaganda Broadcast System? It could be. In the event, would those who now defend public funding for NPR and PBS do so if they were broadcasting with a distinct conservative or right-wing bias? Of course not. The case now is that, as conservatives call for the government to defund public broadcasting, NPR and PBS have to feign unbiased journalism to try to save the money they get from the federal government. As Harsanyi points out, however, public broadcasting could be supported adequately by its listeners and viewers:

But this [urban liberal] demographic also happens to be blessed with the financial means to ensure that NPR remains a vibrant source of news.

So it should eschew public funding just so it can maintain its integrity. Go it alone, NPR and PBS! That way, you don’t have to pretend to be more centrist in your political viewpoints. In a free-market system, if demand is there for the likes of NPR and PBS, it will be met by private funding. Become National Private Radio and Private Broadcast System and I might even contribute (although I still will hold my nose when the liberal bias surges over the airwaves).