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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What if we pre-empt the Korean missile?

As the Iran Monologues drone on, North Korea has recently reminded the world it exists by preparing to test their shiny new long-range ballistic missile: the Taepodong-2. And since "long-range" means "long enough to reach non-Alaskan US soil," this has raising significant cause for alarm in our little hemisphere. As Bush stated (with surprising eloquence), you don't want "non-transparent regimes, who have announced they have nuclear warheads, firing missiles."

So while Europe, China, Russia and South Korea are all politely asking the North to ease off this test launch, Bush is presented with a different set of options. He can try to employ diplomacy to belay the launch (the current public line, though "diplomacy" is a vague term that often has vague consequences); he can pre-empt the destuction of the launch site before the missile goes up (at the suggestion of two former Pentagon officials under the Clinton administration); or he can attempt to shoot the missile out of the sky with our not-quite-ready missile defense system.

Now, the Vegas line must be around 100-to-1 against America doing anything drastic. But since diplomacy is slow and rarely yields any decisive conclusions, let's play a little "What If?" with some more action-packed alternatives.

What if the United States takes out their launch site before the missile goes up?

According to a recent poll conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, most Europeans believe the United States poses a greater threat to global security than does North Korea or Iran. So with the world already on edge about our pre-emptive policies, we can't exactly expect a round of applause. Without that missile ever becoming airborne, most of our allies and critics will question whether America jumped the gun when another round of talks would have sufficed (sound familiar?). And while most governments will be secretly breathing a sigh of relief (much as they did when Israel took our Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981), the streets of Seoul, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East will be chanting for Bush's head.

At the same time, China (still an official ally of North Korea) will know they have a get-out-of-jail-free card for any equivalent exercise, possibly in the form of some limited aggression in Taiwan. The six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme will likely dissolve almost instantly in favor of China--who comes off as the gentle giant--and North Korea itself, which will play the role of the victim to perfection.

And let's not forget that Iran will be watching closely. When the smoke clears, Iran will be back to Square One, ignoring the E3 and Security Council completely and getting right back to work. Granted, they've never stopped in the first place, but suddenly they'll have sympathy on their side; and in an all-talk world where we can't consider invading Iran, global sympathy (however misguided) goes a long way.

Ridiculous as it may seem, around 75% of the world will see America as the villain in this North Korean nuclear saga, which ties our hands in the future (we have considerably more room to maneuver in a world that sees America as the good guys). All so we could take out one long-range missile--not their short-range arsenal or nuclear capabilties as a whole. Big price to pay for such a small reward.

What if the United States shoots down the missile mid-flight?

Now here's a more interesting option. With the impressive heroics of a cowboy who shoots second and still wins the duel, America can flex its defensive muscles while quieting all criticism that we didn't try diplomacy first. That's how Americans, Japan and parts of Europe will see it, anyway. But there will undoubtedly be large populations who criticize America for any act of force, even one we view as self-defense. Critics will claim that because the missile was not aimed at America, we have no right to respond.

That's what they'll say on the street, anyway--but governments will view such action in an entirely different light. Our allies will be happy to see that the United States is still willing to take a bullet for them. Our enemies will talk big about American aggression (as always), but may suddenly find themselves in a position where obtaining nuclear arms is no longer an end in itself--after all, what good is an all-powerful weapon if it can be stopped short?

Two world players who will take particular notice are Iran and China. Iran may find itself rethinking their whole nuclear gamble; they likely won't stop what they're doing, but they may slow down a little, or at least consider a few carrots. China, on the other hand, will have to publicly denounce the action as cheap bullying, but in the backrooms of power they'll be recharting their plans for next two decades. While not nearly on the same scale of destruction or significance, shooting down the Taepodong-2 will send a message to China much as Nagasaki was a message to the USSR: like it or not, this is still our game, and we still make the rules.

In the end, we'll be a bigger hero to some, a bigger bully to others, and an all-around force to be reckoned with. We just have to remember that American power today is considerably more feared than loved, and any action against North Korea--even in perceived self-defense--will showcase that power for all to see.

What if the United States attempts to shoot down the missile, but misses?

This is the nightmare scenario.

On top of all negative global reaction covered above, missing our target makes America come off as weak and incapable. North Korea will escalate their activity, possibly now with secret funding from the Chinese in a move of Machiavellian sophistication. Iran will step away from the E3, whose American muscle is now stripped of considerable status. Japan will follow through with its talk of removing all pacifist restrictions written into its constitution and rearm, while Taiwan (an American Protectorate in nearly every sense of the word) may find itself in a state of emergency. And amidst the noise and panic, Israel may plan to do something drastic against Iran before that window of opportunity completely slips away.

Back home, Bush will watch his approval rating plummet to the mid-twenties, and the strong-on-defense Republicans will be out for blood from their broken leader at the insistence of their constituency. With only a few months to go before mid-term elections, Bush will have to do something drastic to show America's strength in the world--he'll owe it to his allies and to the American people. But what could he possibly do? Bomb North Korea? Invade it from the South? Or find a new enemy that's easy to take out in a few months time, like Syria or Venezuela?

Interesting as they may be, not one of these scenarios is likely. Still, it's fun to play the "What If?" game, knowing full well our world leaders do the same thing every day. What do you think they've concluded?

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Rick Santorum timeline

The junior senator from Pennsylvania is in the news again. Here's Rick, courtesy of Anonymous Liberal:
This is an incredibly — in my mind — significant finding. The idea that, as my colleagues have repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass destruction, is in fact false.

We have found over 500 weapons of mass destruction. And in fact have found that there are additional weapons of mass — chemical weapons, still in the country, that need to be recovered.
Holy schnikees! We finally found them! That's big news. What do you have to say about that, Mr. Senior Defense Department Official?
"This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," the official said, adding the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war."
Errr... What about you, unnamed intelligence sources?
...the weapons were produced before the 1991 Gulf War and there is no evidence to date of chemical munitions manufactured since then. They said an assessment of the weapons concluded they are so degraded that they couldn't now be used as designed.

And this guy has a problem with gay people?For those of you who might not have followed his exploits, this is not exactly the first time Santorum has embarrassed himself. In tribute to little Ricky, here's a timeline of his greatest hits (tip of the hat to Santorum Exposed):

May 26, 2006: Santorum gets bitch-slapped by the Pittsburg Post-Gazette

In an editorial taking Santorum to task for his actions in the Pennsylvania senatorial campaign, the paper uses the phrase "He doesn't live here anymore" no fewer than four times. Seems Santorum has been basically living in Virginia for the past few years, which would seem to present a problem for someone seeking to represent the people of the Keystone State.

Read the editorial, it's pretty funny. But Rick makes it so easy.

April 20, 2006: Santorum the least popular senator

According to a SurveyUSA poll.

Aug. 4, 2005: Santorum flip-flops on intelligent design

Sounds reasonable:
I think I would probably tailor that a little more than what the president has suggested. ... I'm not comfortable with intelligent design being taught in the science classroom.
But wait, on Jan. 14 of the same year:
The Dover Area School District has taken a step in the right direction by engaging in the debate and attempting to teach the controversy of evolution.
Ah, yes, "teach the controversy". Sounds like a good idea. Complete bullshit, though. Hell, a few years before that, Santorum wasn't even bothering with the "teach the controversy" stuff. On March 14, 2002:
Therefore, intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes.

April 23, 2003: Ricky hits the big time

From an interview with the Associated Press:
SANTORUM: ...In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality —

AP REPORTER: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.
Now, you'd normally think that comparing homosexuality to getting it on with a border collie would be a good career move to someone courting the vote of the religious right. But Santorum drew the ire of syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, leading to a successful campaign to have a new term he developed become the No. 1 search result for Santorum:
santorum (san-TOR-UM) n.
1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.
2. Sen. Rick Santorum
Remind me never to piss off Dan Savage.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Who's the next Hitler? (Not who you think!)

How many times have you heard somebody dub an unpopular world leader "The Next Hitler?" These days, seems like there are as many Next Hitlers trotting the globe as there are Next Jordans in the NBA.

Granted, there are good reasons to keep a close eye on any upcoming Fuhrer. Considering just how many opportunities there were to stop Hitler early on without much difficulty or expense, it seems like every watchdog wants to play the prophetic Churchill to the world's shortsighted Chamberlain — because ideally, identifying The Next Hitler can prevent The Next World War II.

When sniffing out The Next Hitler, it's important not to focus too much on the mass murder of the 1940's. Horrible as his six-year romp through Europe was, the world was already far too late by the invasion of Poland in 1939 or even the annexation of Austria in 1938. The seeds of the Third Reich were planted years before, when a mass feeling of betrayal and resentment steered a powerful nation ready for a scapegoat and a hero.

So the question is, which current world leader best fits the path Hitler was on in the 1930's? Who has the potential to lead his country to globally disastrous ends?

Let's take a closer look at some popular choices:

Kim Jong-il, North Korea. He's an out-of-touch loose cannon with nuclear potential, a large standing army and an invasion-worthy neighbor, but North Korea is no Nazi Germany. Limited by less-than-nil resources and a starving, backward population, Kim's delusions of grandeur are reduced to little more than poorly planned blackmail.

Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda. If by The Next Hitler you mean The Next Big Villain, then sure, Osama's it. But besides a few overlapping items of ideology, they have very little in common. Dictators who run countries have to deal with countless phony votes, bullshit treaties and irresponsible governance that independent terrorists need never worry about.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran. Now this guy's not too far off. With his consistent flouting of "international law and order," Ahmadinejad is certainly steering Iran down a path of high risk and high reward. But for as scary as a nuclear Iran may be, it commands nowhere near the power Nazi Germany had relative to the rest of the world.

Fidel Castro, Cuba. The only people who consider Castro a potential Hitler are Florida congressmen on an election year.

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela. Sure, he's loud, volatile and likely to stir up some trouble for the US, but it ends there. Chavez is nothing without bigger, stronger allies to back him up — kinda like that little shit with the big brother on your block growing up. In other words, Mussolini.

Saddam Hussein, Iraq. Saddam only makes this list of "world leaders" because A) he still considers himself the president of Iraq, B) he has followers on the street who believe the same, and C) he's still alive, so anything's possible. But Saddam's always been a self-styled Stalin, right down to the moustache.

George Bush, United States. This is the one that gets everyone all riled up, so I'll keep it short and sweet. Yes, Bush commands a scary amount of power, and yes, he uses it in ways that the majority of the world — and his country — opposes. But our democracy (damaged as it may be) is not nearly a dictatorship, racial profiling at airports is not genocide, and the war on terror doesn't even count as a war compared to what the world saw 60 years ago. You hate and/or fear our president? Fine. But he's not remotely Hitler, so take it down a notch.

Vladimir Putin, Russia. Bingo. He leads a broken country that was once a global empire. He's consolidated power and now has near-total control over the media and local government. He's also a leading partner in the war on terror — much like Hitler was a bulwark against Communism — so we let him get away with a lot, particularly in Chechnya. Russia's half-assed capitalism has done nothing to curb corruption, so when the Russians have had enough humiliation and poverty, they'll follow anyone who'll promise their empire back; and unlike Hitler, Putin has a UN Security Council seat and a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons to fall back on.

So there you have it. In five to ten years, when Russia starts making claims on Georgia and Uzbekistan and Ukraine and Latvia, don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Time to break out the grill

Old GloryWhew, that was a close one. The summer must be getting away from me, because I almost missed one of my favorite holidays. That's right, it's flag burning time!

Every year around now, Congress tries to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag burning, and I like to celebrate by tossing Old Glory on the coals. Ah, the sweet stench of burning nylon — smells like freedom.

I'm going to especially enjoy my flag roasting this summer, because it looks like the amendment might actually pass the Senate this time. Who knows, by this time next year my favorite holiday could be illegal!

Anonymous Liberal thinks this might be the dumbest law ever, but I disagree. The Bill of Rights has never been amended in the 214 years since it was first ratified, and I think there's a lot of ways it could be improved. Take the Third Amendment, for example:
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Bor-ing. How about:
No Professional Team shall, in times of baseball, keep quartered on their Squad a player designated solely for hitting.
The Second needs to go, too. There are more important things than arms nowadays:
A well contented populace, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and watch Oprah, shall not be infringed.
What about you, got any suggested improvements to that musty old Bill of Rights?

The new Dixiecrats

If you've been paying attention to our national discourse over the past few years, you've heard liberals called traitors, Democrats compared to terrorists and a whole lot about how opposing the war hurts the troops.

Maybe no one has taken more heat over that time than the Dixie Chicks. After Natalie Maines' infamous comment about Bush (which the Chicks refer to as "the incident"), things went far beyond a few accusations of treason. Not only were they widely boycotted, but their lives were threatened. Album sales predictably plummeted.

The country music world waited more than three years for the Dixies' next album, to see if they would make nice and come back to the fold. The Chicks' response came through loud and clear:

"Fuck you."

Taking the Long Way is a protest album, make no mistake about it. It's not protesting the war, or Bush, or conservative policies. It's protesting a political environment in which they were told they were traitorous sluts for speaking their minds, told they should sit down, shut up and look pretty.

It's impossible to listen to "Not Ready to Make Nice", their deliberately inflammatory first single, without thinking: "This is how you do it. This is how you stand up for yourself, how you refuse to be silenced." These three women, subject to so much unjustified hate since they had the temerity to criticize the president, are not done by a long shot.

They're not bitter. They're not vengeful. They're indignant, and that makes all the difference in the world.

The Democratic Party could learn a lot from the Dixie Chicks. Aside from a few strident voices like Russ Feingold, Democrats still haven't learned to stand up against Bush.

As Glenn Greenwald discusses in a long and rather depressing post, the Democrats are so afraid of being tarred with the "weak on national security" brush that they continually roll over for whatever the Bush administration wants, whether it's preemptive war with Iraq, warrantless spying on Americans or the Patriot Act. Digby points out that Republicans have been using this tactic for going on 40 years now.

Ann Coulter, who has basically advocated the execution of liberals, appeared on Today and The Tonight Show last week. Where was the outrage from Democrats? Where was the condemnation of this outspoken bigot being given such wide and uncritical exposure? (Peter Daou has an interesting analysis of what these appearances really mean.)

It essentially comes down to this: How are the American people going to trust Democrats to defend the country if they won't defend themselves?

Though some conservatives have tried to spin it like the Dixie Chicks' defiant stance was a pose to sell records, the truth is they had no idea how this album would be received and if it would sell at all (Times Select required for article):
The Dixie Chicks and their manager insisted to their record company that "we need to approach everything like not one radio station is going to play one single song," Ms. Maines said. Asked about country radio, she said, "Do you really think we're going to make an album for you and trust the future of our career to people who turned on us in a day?"
That is how you do it. Have faith in your message and yourself. Speak fearlessly and stand up for yourself, and you will be rewarded: Four weeks after its release, Taking the Long Way is already one of the top-selling albums of the year, despite virtually no radio play. It has been the No. 1 seller on Amazon since well before its release. It's an amazing album.

The American people are desperately hungry for new leadership, but simply waiting for the Republican Party to implode is not enough. If the Democrats would stand up for themselves, speak the truth about what Bush is doing to our country and the reality of the situation in Iraq, they would find an audience they never knew they had.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Int'l Power Rankings | 06.19.06 Edition

The following is a list of countries in order of current global significance — about as subjective a measurement as can be imagined, but a fun exercise nevertheless.

Based on a number of global power factors (military, economy, politics and culture), these nation-states play the biggest roles in shaping world events.

Like college basketball rankings — in which trusted coaches and media experts are asked to pluck the top 25 teams from a pool of hundreds — these rankings are largely based on speculative performance and are apt to change at any time.

1. United States. An empire so powerful they had to create a new name for it, this hyperpower may soon come to grips with a waning power it never really wanted in the first place. Now to convince the world that one hyperpower is better than none.

2. China. Up Arrow Everybody's favorite spoiler. The question these days seems to be when — not if — the Middle Kingdom will overcome America either economically or militarily. What nobody seems to know is what that will mean for the rest of the world.

3. Russia. Down Arrow A shadow of the former USSR, Russia remains a force to be reckoned with. Commanding a large sphere of influence and a growing presence in the Middle East, Vladimir Putin is keeping Moscow very much in the game.

4. Great Britain. Chalk it up to Tony Blair for masterfully straddling the Atlantic, with one foot on the dollar and the other on the euro. His involvement in Iraq notwithstanding, the Limeys have done one hell of a job staying both relevant and respected.

5. Japan. This economic juggernaut may be mere moments away from removing the "no-war" clause in their pacifist constitution. Good news for America, bad news for China and big news for the Korean peninsula.

6. Germany. Berliners have played their political hand to perfection, becoming that coveted "plus one" to the UN Security Council's permanent five. But in a world where employment and armies count, Germany's playing a losing game.

7. France. Down Arrow World-class economy? Check. Nuclear arms? Check. Seat on the Security Council? Check. Willingness to check its disastrous game of chicken with demography? We'll see.

8. India. Up Arrow I am utterly convinced that within two generations India — not China or the US — becomes the world's most powerful nation (one billion voters can't be wrong). But first they have to stave off AIDS, hold back in Kashmir, and get over that detail called mass starvation.

9. Brazil. Up Arrow Has all the ingredients for a future world-class nation: progressive economy, regional political influence and a soccer team that beats up on Europeans. Just a matter of time before Brazil steps up as leader of the global southwest.

10. Pakistan. President Musharraf must be one hell of a chess player. Taking a large Muslim nation with an unsanctioned nuclear arsenal and teaming up with Bush against the wishes of 90% of your people? Brilliant! Don't get shot now, y'hear?

11. Italy. Down Arrow Poor Italy — always getting left out. For EU issues, three's a crowd for France and Germany. When it comes to global politics, E3 may as well stand for "minus Italy." And when's the last time they ever joined the winning side of a war?

12. Israel. The front line of civilization or the front line of barbarism, depending on whom you ask. Either way, the Promised Land always makes for front page news. Now for some allies whose names don't start with "United".

13. Iran. Up Arrow Been a hell of a year for Ahmadnejad, but his bluffs are bound to catch up with him at some point. Just don't expect a US invasion. Or an Israeli airstrike. Or economic sanctions. Or a Security Council-supported scolding. Remember — bluffs only lose when somebody calls you.

14. Saudi Arabia. They've got oil. They've got cash. And they've got the United States in their corner. Now if they can just keep their disowned son Osama away from his fan base, they'll be fine.

15. South Korea. Up Arrow Influential China plus activating Japan plus nuclearly-unstable North plus American soldiers equals hotbed of fun! But until it all escalates to the point of no return, a strong economy with cutting-edge technology keeps the South on top.

16. Canada. Down Arrow Zzz.

17. Turkey. Up Arrow If only everyone were more like Turkey. Here we have a large Middle-Eastern nation that somehow remains stable, secular and peaceful to the point of approaching European entry. And they even get along with Israel? Unfuckingbelievable.

18. Poland. Up Arrow You can't really envy anyone living between Berlin and Moscow, but America's New European friend now enjoys a large stake in the EU, and they're ready to play with the big boys. Gotta love anyone who makes the French uncomfortable.

19. Egypt. Gaza's favorite neighbor may be an official ally of America and Israel, but Egyptians on the street chant otherwise. Even in fake democracies like Egypt, that counts for something.

20. Mexico. Enough of this "good fences make good neighbors" bullshit. Know what really makes good neighbors? Speaking the same language. Sure, they can pick up English — but God forbid we try to learn Spanish at the same time.

21. Australia. Up Arrow The British Empire's forgotten son is today's up-and-coming entrepreneur. These offshore Anglos are making all the right moves in the Pacific — including a bold outreach to Indonesia — and within ten years, we'll be glad they're on our side. Maybe.

22. Venezuela. A loud, nutty ruler spewing anti-American slander from atop his vast oil reserves? How did a Middle Eastern country spring up in Latin America? And should we be concerned that his neighbors — not to mention China — are playing along?

23. Spain. Down Arrow How to make yourself irrelevant: join a war. Get bombed. Retreat.

24. Indonesia. If it weren't for all those pesky natural disasters, Indonesia would have cracked the top 20 by now. No matter. Demography and geography make the world's most populous Muslim nation a virtual lock on international significance within a generation. Maybe Australia's onto something.

25. North Korea. Down Arrow Nuclear blackmail only works so long as someone's paying attention. Get in line.

Just missed: South Africa, Palestine, Vietnam, Ukraine, Argentina.

Notably absent: Iraq. By any standard of international power, Iraq is not a "nation of significance". Regardless of where its future lies, Iraq is not so much a nation-state as a territory in which world-altering events are taking place — and its government is just one of the many key players. A country whose political, economic and military leaders are exerting every resource on internal struggle cannot be expected to be a player on the global stage.

Goddamn those conniving Katrina evacuees!

This is what is takes to get Congress outraged and off its ass about misspending? Seriously?
Lawmakers expressed outrage Wednesday over a federal audit report that debit cards handed out to hurricane victims last year were used to buy such items as a $200 bottle of champagne from Hooters and $300 worth of "Girls Gone Wild" videos.
Something like $50 billion was distributed to private companies in Iraq with little-to-no oversight, and a large chunk of it is unaccounted for. But some Katrina evacuee spending $400 on gold chains is "an affront to the American taxpayer"?

Don't get me wrong, government waste is always a bad thing. Thousands went wanting for necessities, and some are still homeless, while others have had government cash to splurge. There surely could have been better oversight of how aid was distributed and what it was spent on.

But are we seriously calling them "these criminals"? Someone who has lost everything they own and been displaced to a foreign city isn't exactly thinking rationally, and I'm not going to judge them if they thought some booze and porn was what they needed to cope. Who knows what the hell I might have spent that money on if Chicago had, I don't know, burned to the ground. I'm not exactly responsible with my income right now.

And, more to the point, it's not like these people are living high on the hog right now, whatever they chose to spend the money on at the time. You think anyone who lost all their worldly possessions last September is walking around with a bunch of diamond rings? Shit, even those Girls Gone Wild videos got sold back in March.

Call it racism, classism, whatever — you can see Rep. Michael McCaul just aching to break out a few "welfare queen" comments. The government can waste taxpayers' money by the billions, but God forbid a member of the underclass should engage in a little misspending of their own.
Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.