Friday, May 22, 2015

President Obama's response to a message I sent him opposing the TPP

Some time ago I sent a message to President Obama opposing the TPP and asking him to reconsider his position. I received the following email today from the White House. I have written and posted much against the TPP and in fairness, I thought I also should share the President's response:

Dear Dan:
Thank you for writing.  My Administration is pursuing a trade agenda that will place our workers, farmers, manufacturers, and businesses at the center of the 21st-century global economy—one that promotes both our interests and our values.  Trade done right is a critical part of my strategy to create jobs, spur growth, and strengthen the middle class.
With 95 percent of the world’s customers living outside our borders, our ability to access new markets is vital to our economic well-being.  The export of American-made products supports millions of jobs here at home that pay up to 18 percent more than non-export-related jobs.  And, 98 percent of the more than 300,000 companies that export are small businesses.  However, even though more American businesses are exporting than ever before, most businesses still don’t export anything—leaving an incredible amount of opportunity that can be unlocked for our middle class.  To take advantage of that opportunity and level the playing field for our workers and businesses, we’re moving forward with the most ambitious trade agenda in American history, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will knock down barriers that block American made goods and services while promoting high standards in the fastest-growing region in the world, including the strongest enforceable labor and environmental provisions of any trade agreement.
To protect our workers, the trade agreement will require countries to set a minimum wage, protect the freedom to form unions and collectively bargain, and work to end child and forced labor.  To preserve the environment, it will require countries to take tangible steps to curb wildlife trafficking, crack down on illegal logging, and prevent overfishing.  That’s why conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy agree that the enforceable provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are a critical step forward for environmental protection.
Some prior trade agreements, like the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, have not lived up to their promise.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership addresses these problems through strong enforcement mechanisms, including for the labor and environmental standards.  This means that if our trading partners, including Canada and Mexico, aren’t playing by the rules, we can hold them accountable.  The agreement also includes new rules that make sure our businesses and property owners are protected from having property taken by foreign countries, while making sure that foreign corporations can’t undermine or get around our own laws and regulations.  Because we know that unfair currency practices by some governments hurt our workers, businesses, and farmers, we are working with Congress on new tools and standards that will make it easier for us to protect American workers and firms from unfair competition.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is also America’s opportunity to lead in the Asia-Pacific.  The alternative to this agreement is to let other powers, like China, carve up the region and drive down standards through bad trade agreements.  We cannot stay on the sidelines while China and other countries write the rules of the road.  We have to seize this opportunity to help American workers and businesses compete on a level playing field in the world’s largest markets in the decades to come.
To help us secure the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we are working with Congress to enact Trade Promotion Authority, which allows Congress to put forward its priorities for negotiating trade agreements.  The new version of Trade Promotion Authority Congress is considering guarantees that future trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will have progressive, pro-worker, and pro-environment standards.  This gives us the leverage to bring home the best possible agreements for the American people.
The new Trade Promotion Authority mandates unprecedented transparency by requiring that any trade agreement be published online for 60 days before I sign it, and Congress will then have months to review, debate, and hold hearings on the details of the agreement before they vote on it.  And while we have not yet finalized the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the current agreement is available for all members of Congress to read and review, and we have conducted over 1700 regular briefings with members of Congress on the status of the negotiations and have provided full similar briefings for labor groups, environmental groups, and other interested parties.
With a highly educated workforce, an entrepreneurial culture, strong rule of law, and abundant sources of affordable, clean energy, the United States has what’s required to be the world’s manufacturing hub.  My Administration is working every day to help businesses locate, grow, and hire here so that our businesses ship goods all over the world stamped with "Made in the U.S.A." The good news is that this is already beginning to happen—over the last few years, our manufacturers have been steadily creating jobs in the U.S. for the first time since the 1990s.  Good trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership will continue that trend and ensure that jobs are not outsourced, but rather are created here at home.  We will continue to push forward on these efforts because we know that when the playing field is level, American workers and businesses don’t just compete, they win.
Again, I appreciate your message.  I am confident we can support job growth at home and boost exports while promoting our values and raising standards around the globe.
Sincerely,
Barack Obama

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Trojan Horse in the TPP that Should Make all Americans Oppose It

Also posted on DailyKos.com and democraticunderground.com

By Dan Riker

Opponents of fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership ("TPP") won one round, but lost the second in the Senate, and now appear unable to block it there. However, the battle is far from over. Passage in the House is far less certain. And even with the Republicans compromising on some  amendments progressives want attached, perhaps the most dangerous provision of the TPP will remain untouched, a possible "Trojan Horse" that could nullify much of federal, state and local environmental and consumer protection laws and regulations.

The actual provisions of the TPP are being kept secret, with only members of Congress allowed to see them. Of course, there have been many leaks of various details. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman wrote in Politico Magazine[i] last month: "One provision of TPP would create an entirely separate system of justice: special tribunals to hear and decide claims by foreign investors that their corporate interests are being harmed by a nation that is part of the agreement. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision would allow large multinational corporations to sue a signatory country for actions taken by its federal, state or local elected or appointed officials that the foreign corporation claims hurt its bottom line."

Consider what this means. Major multinational corporations, many of which moved their headquarters out of the U.S. to avoid taxes, would be able to evade American federal, state and local judicial and regulatory systems that currently have authority over them.  The implications are enormously dangerous to the American democratic system of government and justice, as well to environmental, consumer and health safety. Schneiderman describes exactly what could occur:

"To put this in real terms, consider a foreign corporation, located in a country that has signed on to TPP, and which has an investment interest in the Indian Point nuclear power facility in New York’s Westchester County. Under TPP, that corporate investor could seek damages from the United States, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars or more, for actions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Westchester Country Board of Legislators or even the local Village Board that lead to a delay in the relicensing or an increase in the operating costs of the facility."

The fast track temporarily was blocked in the Senate because supporters could not overcome the filibuster mounted by the progressives over the refusal of the Republicans to simultaneously approve three amendments to the bill that would mitigate some of the potential negative effects of the TPP. Strong arming by the White House and Mitch McConnnell compromising on the amendments led to a victory for fast tracking today. But Republican support in the House is weaker than it is in the Senate.

One of the amendments limits the ability of participating countries to manipulate their currencies. This is critically important because lowering tariffs does no good for American companies if other countries are able to manipulate their currencies to keep them worth less than the American dollar. That makes their products less expensive in the United States, thus giving them a competitive advantage over rival American products.

But none of the amendments deals with the TPP's new system of regulation that sidesteps American governmental and judicial regulation. As long as this provision remains in the TPP, the treaty, and, especially its "fast-track" should be opposed by all Americans.

That the actual provisions of the TPP are being kept secret and that this separate system of regulation is included are more than adequate reasons for Americans to be deeply suspicious of the real purposes of the TPP. It does not appear to be a real "trade" deal. It does not appear to have great benefits to the people of the United States. It appears to be the work of special corporate interests, multinational corporations already operating almost beyond government regulation. The TPP appears to be another case, a major case, of government largesse for major corporations at the expense of the people.

This is not a conservative vs. liberal issue. This should not be a Republican vs. Democrat issue. It is not an issue of federal vs. states' rights. This is an issue of preservation of the existing American federal system that provides states and local communities the powers necessary to protect themselves from hazardous behavior by corporations.

It is time for Americans to put a stop to the TPP.



[i] Eric T, Schneiderman, Don't Let TPP Gut State Laws: The partnership's potential to undermine state laws should concern Congress. Politico Magazine, April 19, 2015. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/04/trans-pacific-partnership-state-laws-117127.html#ixzz3a8JQvQGo

Monday, March 30, 2015

A New "Common Sense" Why We Need a New Progressive Movement

By Dan Riker

"There will always be conflict. There will always be competing interests that force us to engage in the hard job of governing ourselves. And so the anti-government thing strikes me as a perversity. I don't think the founding fathers would recognize it. They were constructing a government of the people....
Once we start regarding it (government) as some alien that we can't control, we're done. Democracy's done. That's the last stage of walking away from the responsibility of governing ourselves. It we can't control it, if it is going to be a purchased government, if we can't institute the reforms that are necessary, then we're done. We're done right now."
          -             David Simon, Bill Moyers & Company, Feb. 14, 2014.[i]

"The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all
mankind...
"We have it in our power to begin the world over again."
-            Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

 

Throughout American history there has been constant tension between two competing theories of government: the Jeffersonian vision of an agrarian democracy of semi-autonomous states with the federal government limited primarily to providing national defense; and the Hamiltonian view of a vibrant industrial nation unified by a powerful central government. By and large, the Hamiltonian view won out, but now the nation's ability to meet the challenges of the 21st Century is threatened by a resurgence of support for something approximating the Jeffersonian view.
Abraham Lincoln's statement that government should do for the people what they need done but cannot do for themselves is particularly relevant to the mass, urban, society of 320 million people of 21st Century America. But now we are embroiled in the argument over the proper role of the national government that is blocking virtually all progress toward solving contemporary problems. Indeed, we have one of our two major political parties wanting to significantly weaken the federal government by limiting its scope and reducing its functions, leaving much to private enterprise, or to the states already so financially stressed many have reduced vital services. If the Republicans prevail, what would be the outcome?
University of Oregon economist Mark Thoma provides a succinct answer:
 “(T)he private sector will not, on its own, provide the correct amounts of infrastructure, retirement security, health care spending, protection against monopoly and corruption, unemployment insurance, national defense, environmental regulation, education, food and drug safety, bank regulation, innovation, anti-trust action, safe working conditions, support of basic research, stabilization policy...”[ii]
Are these not necessary to a modern civilization? Are these what the people need to have done, but cannot do for themselves? If the private sector will not do them, or cannot do them, or should not do them, and the states cannot afford to do them, who can? The answer should be obvious, but to many it is not.
The arguments today over the proper role of the federal government in some ways seem no different from those between Jefferson and Hamilton, but there is a big difference between the opponents today. Even though Hamilton and Jefferson disagreed over the means by which it best could be achieved, those two shared with the other founders - the other authors of the American Dream - a vision of a nation that provided equality of opportunity and equality under the laws to all citizens, with no special privileges because of birth or wealth, and a nation that also protected the people from governmental violations of their basic rights, and personal freedom. 
The opponents in today’s struggle over the control and direction of the national government no longer share that vision. The Party that ended slavery no longer believes in the Constitution's concept of equality of citizenship, or even in the social contract, the fundamental basis of democracy. The wealthy and the big corporations now control the Republican Party to obtain greater wealth as well as to protect themselves against regulation and higher taxes, which are needed to solve many of the nation's problems. There is little concern for the middle class and contempt for the poor.
Many of the largest corporations exhibit the worst characteristics of capitalism. They have little loyalty to the United States, or to the communities where they are located, or to their employees, who are viewed almost the same as they were in the Gilded Age, as interchangeable parts that can be thrown away and easily replaced. They are interested only in increasing profits, as fast as possible, at almost any cost, higher and higher stock prices, and greater compensation for their senior managements.
There is a class war and the rich and the powerful are winning. As a result, the “American Dream,” a notion of equality of citizenship, opportunity and basic freedoms for all, is in great danger.
Republicans oppose all efforts to help the poor, or to restore the economic security of the middle class. They want government largesse for themselves and their backers, but none for anyone else. They are perfectly content with the fact that most of the great fortunes made in the United States now held by their most important benefactors largely are due to government largesse, and/or the corruption of American governments. They continue to press for greater government benefits for rich and powerful established interests: More mining or drilling on federal lands, or offshore; permits for pipelines; lower taxes on the rich and on corporations; government subsidies through tax loopholes and benefits; suppression of unions; restrictions on voting; and reduction of financial and environmental regulation. They even seek to make the fundamental bedrock of democracy, free public education, another source of profit for private interests.
Their height of irresponsibility is that they oppose all efforts to combat climate change. They refuse to accept the scientific evidence of climate change, and its causes, probably for two major reasons: their fossil fuel sponsors are trying to block any controls on their industry and its pollution of the environment; and some of Republicans either are religious fundamentalists, or are beholden to religious fundamentalists, who have scientific and common sense-defying views of the world, its history and its origins.
Sen. James Imhofe (R-OK), who has strong backing from the fossil fuel industry, and now heads the Senate Environment Committee, wrote a book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, [iii] that was published by one of the most extreme rightwing organizations, World Net Daily, through their book subsidiary, that argues, without any proof, that the entire climate change movement is an organized hoax among thousands of scientists around the world. His principal argument against the efforts to curb climate change is that it is an interference with God's work. In 2012 he said on a radio interview program:

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.[iv]

What climate change scientists are saying is that at the present rate of increase the world's temperatures could reach a point when no actions could stop continuing warming, and at some point man could not survive on Earth. However, that does not mean that various kinds of plant life and other forms of life may not be able to live. Thus, Sen. Imhofe does not seem to realize - if he actually is being serious - that there is nothing inconsistent with what climate scientists are saying and what was written in Genesis 8:22. There is nothing in that passage that guarantees that man will survive "as long as the earth remains."
Republicans supposedly stand for conservative ideals of greater personal freedom, expanded economic opportunities, and free markets, but they are skillful in hiding the fact that they really don't. They have made millions believe the falsehood that they are the party of smaller government, lower taxes, and a stronger economy. Using the “Big Lie” technique of repeating untruths over and over until they are believed, they have been very successful in stirring up the suspicion of government that is in the DNA of Americans. They employ various techniques of “dog whistle” politics to ignite some of the nascent racism, nativism and misogynism in their base, unifying them into a major force of opposition to virtually all progressive programs, even though many of the poorer members of their base are, or would be, major beneficiaries of such programs.
Even though Republicans repeatedly describe the Democrats as the “tax and spend” party, Republicans have not been better managers of the economy than the Democrats. Republican Presidents since 1980 have increased the federal budget substantially more than the Democratic Presidents and six of the eight tax increases since 1980 occurred during Republican presidencies.
Reagan increased federal spending by 68%, from an annual budget of $678 billion in his first year to $1.143 trillion in his last. In George H.W. Bush's last year the budget had increased to $1.4 trillion, an increase of 23% in four years.  During Bill Clinton's eight years, the budget increased 32% to $1.86 trillion. Then there was George W. Bush, who managed to nearly double the budget in his eight years to $3,5 trillion, an increase of 88.9%. In Barack Obama's six years, the budget has increased only 18% to $4.2 trillion at the end of 2014.[v]
The national debt under Reagan went from $997 billion in his first year to $2.86 trillion in his last, an increase of 186%. His deficits were dramatically larger than of any President since World War II. Instead of government revenues increasing as a result of the expected stimulus to the economy that his tax cuts were supposed to cause under the theories of the supply-side economists, revenues decreased, and did not recover until near the end of his presidency, after some tax hikes.
Even though Reagan's Republican successor, George H.W. Bush, was the last Republican President to increase taxes, he still increased the national debt in four years by 54%. In his eight years of enormous mismanagement in office, George W. Bush increased the national debt by 105%. It was $5.8 trillion in his first year and $11.9 trillion in his last, and the $1.4 trillion dollar deficit in his last year was the highest one-year deficit in the nation's history, even topping inflation-adjusted deficits during World War II.
By contrast, in his eight years in office, the Democrat Bill Clinton increased the national debt by only 31% and he had budget surpluses in his last four years. Barack Obama came into office at the height of the bank crisis and financial meltdown. Despite that, the increase in the national debt in his first six years has been only 49% and he has reduced the annual deficit from George W. Bush's last year by 65% to $492 billion.
Every one of the financial crises since 1900 that caused economic chaos in the nation occurred when Republicans held the Presidency. These include the Panic of 1907 that caused a huge recession and ultimately resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System, the Great Crash of 1929 that caused the Great Depression, and the bank crisis of 2008 that caused the Great Recession.
Republican economic policies of the past 30 years, which encourage companies to outsource to foreign countries, caused the losses of millions of jobs, most of them good-paying middle class jobs. Their tax cuts and their opposition to tax increases have caused the national government to be deficient of the revenue it needs to provide the services it has to provide.
The economy has grown better under Democratic presidents. Republicans have held the White House for 20 of the past 33 years and during those years the national economy grew a total of 52.5%, an annual average of 2.6%. In the 13 years Democrats have held the White House, the economy grew a total of 44.9%, an annual average of 3.2%.
Most of the federal government programs that have had the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people in the United States since 1900 were initiated during three brief periods: the Progressive period from 1901 to World War I; during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, prior to World War II; and in the very brief time before Lyndon Johnson's presidency was destroyed by the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Most of the programs of those periods are enormously successful and popular. Most Americans today view food and drug regulation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and many more as essential government services.
Each progressive period began as the result of a calamity. However, in each case, the conditions were ripe for change. Two of the three progressive periods were set off by Presidential assassinations, of William McKinley in 1901 and of John F. Kennedy in 1963. The election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 was the result the Great Crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression.
Each calamity brought in a dynamic leader with his political party in complete control of Congress, and each was in a position to have progressive legislation supported and passed. The programs of these th4ree progressive periods have been enormously successful and of great benefit to the vast majority of the American people.
The Nixon, Ford and Carter presidencies, between 1969 and 1981, were full of crises, scandals and economic disruption that included high oil prices, near-record inflation, and high unemployment. Government seemed incapable of coping competently with the nation's problems, and someone came along who said the New Deal and liberal ideas no longer worked, that there was another way, and, by a small popular vote margin - but a landslide in electoral votes - the people bought that argument. 
As it turned out, the radically conservative economic policies of Ronald Reagan - basically a return to the Social Darwinist “laissez-faire” policies of the Gilded Age - did not solve our problems. They made them far worse, but the extent of the damage only recently began to be fully realized. As with other periods of laissez-faire government, there was significant economic growth, but as with those other periods, the benefits of that growth went almost entirely to the rich and to the big corporations. While taxes on the rich were lowered dramatically, they actually increased on the middle class. The average hourly wage declined during Reagan's Presidency, and the huge movement of jobs out of the country began.
None of Reagan's successors significantly altered the nation's economic policies, and now we know that 30 years of these policies have hollowed out the middle class, increased poverty, created the greatest economic disparity in modern history, and weakened the economy of the nation, and, as a result, our security.
Barack Obama's slogan of "Change We Can Believe In," struck a powerful chord with millions of Americans. He did not bring the change he promised, and that has been disillusioning to many of his supporters, and has weakened the Democratic Party's appeal. But the fact that the people so clearly wanted change shows that we have reached another of those times in our history when the situation is ripe for change, and when change is necessary to our survival as a democratic capitalistic society.
The "common sense" answer to America's economic and political problems is obvious. There is only one type of government that will do what needs to be done: a progressive government. That can only come to pass if progressives take control of the Democratic Party and then win elections at all levels of government. Republicans must be driven out of office from the city council to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The opportunity exists once again, as it did in 1776, "to begin the world over again." The choice this time is better than it was in 1776. We do not have to have a violent revolution, but there is no guarantee we will not have one if the present course of the country is not altered. Peaceful change can occur, but it will take more than a political slogan, or one leader. This is not a campaign that can be fought once, in one election, with any expectation of lasting victory. A government run by progressives for an extended period of time on behalf of all the people will only come from a concentrated, long-term campaign that captures the minds and the hearts of the majority of Americans.


[i]  Simon, journalist and creator of the HBO series, The Wire and Treme, was the subject of a two-part interview by Bill Moyers, the first part on Jan. 31, 2014 http://billmoyers.com/episode/david-simon-on-america-as-a-horror-show/ and the second part on Feb. 14, 2014, http://billmoyers.com/segment/david-simon-on-our-rigged-political-system/
[ii] Thoma, Mark. “For Obama, State of the Union Means State of the People.” The Fiscal Times, February, 12, 2013.
[iii] Imhofe, James. The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. WND Books, 2012.
[v]  All of the figures in this section come from, or are calculated from, official federal budget data available at http://www.usfederalbudget.us/ and from http://www.whitehouse.gov/ (both last accessed on Jan. 10, 2015)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What would it be like to have a war with Iran? Obscenely expensive in cash and lives

It would be very refreshing, and unusually intelligent if, before the U.S. goes into another war, we know what we are getting into. With even a cursory look at what might be involved in a war with Iran it does not take military genius to see that it will be extremely painful and very costly in cash and lives with no guarantee of success. We already have suffered through this movie more than once. Do we need to do it again? This time it could be much, much worse.

The United States armed forces are vastly superior to Iran's, more than twice as large and far better equipped. Iran's air and naval forces don't even compare with the enormous firepower of America's. This is because Iran's military forces are not designed for conquest. No government of Iran, or Persia, has launched an offensive war since the Middle Ages. Their forces are designed for defense, and for that reason, Iran would be extremely difficult to defeat and occupy.

The intelligently reasoned and relatively good-humored response of the Iranians to the letter 47 Republican senators signed attempting to undermine negotiations with Iran shows that country is not in the hands of a lunatic like Saddam Hussein. However, we cannot expect them to be so polite if we bomb their nuclear sites. They will retaliate and they have the capabilities to inflict enormous damage on the region.

The United States would not be the first country to discover the difficulty of fighting the Persians. Iran is not a modern invention of Western imperialism, as are Iraq and a number of Middle Eastern countries. Its population identifies with the nation and has great pride in its history and heritage. Versions of the nation of Iran have existed for thousands of years. It is one of the oldest continuing cultures in the world. Its Persian language, Farsi, is one of the oldest languages spoken today. Seldom has the country been conquered by outside forces. The last was in the Middle Ages.

The demographics and various other statistics about Iran should make all policy-planners think very carefully about engaging this country in war. Iran would be the largest country the U.S. has fought since WWII.

The population is 80 million compared to Iraq's 30 million. Its people are 85% literate and many in urban areas are college educated. The urban areas have active middle class cultures, with western music and western food (even copycat McDonald's). Millions of Iranians have relatives in the United States. There is not nearly the hostility to the United States among the population in Iran that exists in many other Islamic countries that are "allies" of the U.S.

Iran has eight cities with populations greater than one million. Tehran is the largest, with 8.2 million. Iraq, by comparison, has only five cities with one million or more people, and the largest city, Baghdad, has a population of 5.7 million.

Iran is about the size of Alaska, with a land area of 636,000 square miles, which is about one-fifth the land area of the continental United States and more than twice the size of Texas, which has a land area of 268.000 square miles. Unlike Iraq, which is primarily desert and river watersheds, Iran is mostly high plateau and mountains. That terrain always has presented enormous difficulties to invaders.

If an all-out war breaks out that requires an invasion of Iran, consider the difficulty, the expense, and the forces required for occupation. It is four times the size of Iraq. About 200,000 soldiers were needed in Iraq and they were not nearly enough. How many more hundreds of thousands of soldiers would be needed to pacify and occupy Iran? Probably more than the U.S. has today. Without the support of many allies - and that support does not exist today - the Draft would have to be used in the U.S.

Iran is a very different country from Iraq, even though it controlled the land of Iraq for a very long time. The majority Shi'a population of Iraq is a result of the long term Iranian dominance.

The ethnic makeup of Iran is markedly different from Irag: 61% Persian, 16% Azeri, 10% Kurd, Lur 6%, Baloch, Turkmen, Turkic and Arab each 2%. Iraq is 75% Arab, 15-20% Kurd, and no other group greater than 5%.

The Shi'a sect of Islam is Iran's official religion, and 90-95% of the population are Shi'a. Sunnis represent only five to 10 percent. As a result of the U.S. conquest of Iraq, Shi'a is now the official religion there as well, but only about 60 to 65% of the population are Shi'a. Sunnis are most of the rest with very small populations of a number of other religions, including some very early Christian sects.

The dominant Shi's religion is not nearly as restrictive of women as is the conservative Sunni sects in countries like Saudi Arabia. Shi'a also is much more compatible with science and technology and modern culture. All three of the most extremist Islamic movements, ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are Sunni.

The official language of Iran is Farsi (Persian) but not everyone is fluent. About 18% speak Azeri Turkic dialects, 10% speak Kurdish and smaller percentages speak several other languages. Only about 2% speak Arabic. English is spoken by many of the educated people in the urban areas.

One of many of the problems encountered by the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan was the lack of knowledge of the languages. Many soldiers who served multiple tours of duty learned some Arabic. But it probably would be safe to say that the American military probably has very few Farsi speakers, and even fewer of the other dialects.

Iran's military forces have a dual purpose. National defense is one, and keeping the Ayatollah and the mullahs in power is the other. As a result their military forces of about 800,000 (twice the size of Saddam Hussein's military) are divided into the traditional military units and the Revolutionary Guards. The Guards have greater power because they report directly to the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah. The Revolutionary Guards frequently have been the forces used to put down anti-government demonstrations. The military is equipped with a combined total of several thousand tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery units.

Military forces are spread all over the country. There are more than 300 airports. Iran has an air force of several hundred planes and helicopters, some of them American made and more than 30-years old. Some they have built from Russian models. They also have drones.

There are numerous military installations along the Persian Gulf, equipped with many different kinds of rockets, some able to reach the Saudi oil fields on the other side of the Gulf, which almost certainly would be among the first casualties of a conflict. Other Iranian rockets are capable of sinking American warships, or shooting down intruding aircraft. The Iranian navy consists of hundreds of small speedboats capable of launching rockets and torpedoes. They have a small fleet of submarines, mostly mini-subs that can launch torpedoes. They have fairly sophisticated air defense capabilities, a good deal of which they purchased from Russia. They have tested ballistic missiles that may have ranges that could reach Israel.

If you read any of the several Iran-war scenarios that have been posted on-line, there is a fair amount of agreement that among the first casualties of a war with Iran will be the oil traffic through the Persian Gulf Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians have the capability of sinking enough ships in that narrow passage to block it off. That would decrease the world's oil supplies by about 20% and send oil prices into the stratosphere. Three-dollar gasoline would quickly disappear in the United States. Even though much of the U.S. oil supply now is coming from domestic sources, the pricing is done according to the world market prices. And the world market prices would multiply several times.

Another one of the scenarios that military writers have described is the possibility that Iran's allies in Palestine and Lebanon could launch an all-out ground and rocket attack on Israel. One writer calls it the "second front."  Iran has furnished Hezbollah in Lebanon with most of its armament including thousands of rockets and missiles. Hamas in Palestine had a falling out with Iran over Syria, but apparently that breach is in the process of being patched up.  In any case, it seems likely that the Iran war would not involve just the land area of Iran, but quickly could spread, with Israel in active combat with both Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.

The wild card would be Iraq, where the government is Shi'a and has close ties to Iran. In fact, Iranian forces are fighting alongside Iraq's forces against ISIS. If Iraq sided with Iran, the United States would not have access to Iraqi territory. It also seems likely that Kuwait then would become a prize target of an Iranian-Iraqi alliance

There also is the situation in Afghanistan, which shares a very long border with Iran. NATO forces are being withdrawn and only a relatively small force will be left. The Taliban has been increasing its attacks. Almost certainly they will attempt to regain control of much of the country. The U.S. could find itself fighting Iran and the Taliban at the same time, even though the two are enemies.

The Afghan government has a hostile relationship with Pakistan because it blames Pakistan for supporting the Taliban. Consequently, the Afghans have developed relationships with India. And an unstable situation in this region could exacerbate the already tense relationship between the two nuclear powers, Pakistan and India.

Iran could be the key player in resolving every conflict from India to Israel, or uniting them into all-out war that could escalate into a nuclear catastrophe. There is a great deal that needs to be thought about, and discussed, on a national level in the United States before any planes or cruise missiles are sent towards Iran.

Monday, March 9, 2015

47 Senators have committed a felony but they probably won't be prosecuted

The Republican congressional contempt for President Obama has gone beyond the point of insanity to something approaching treason. When 47 U.S. senators signed and sent a letter to "Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," they may have committed a felony by violating the Logan Act, which forbids citizens from corresponding with foreign governments with the intent to influence their actions towards the United States.

The letter, first reported by Josh Rogin of Bloomberg signed personally by 47 senators, including the leadership and several potential Presidential candidates, basically urges Iran's leaders not to do an agreement with President Obama because any deal they do may not last past his presidency. The entire letter can be seen here. The only Republican senators who did not sign the letter were Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Dan Coats (IN), Jeff Flake (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Rob Portman (OH).

This is an unprecedented act of disloyalty to the United States by members of Congress. They are endangering a delicate negotiation with Iran that is about to reach its climax. If they are successful in torpedoing the negotiations, the result may be another major war.

 Their actions clearly violate the express terms of the Logan Act, which was first enacted in 1799, but has been reaffirmed a number of times since then. The Act (1 Stat. 613, January 30, 1799, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 953 (2004), reads:

"Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."

The Logan Act was enacted when John Adams was President during the time of the "Quasi War" with France, an undeclared conflict that lasted several years in the 1790s because the United States stopped repaying its debts to France incurred during the Revolution. The United States took the position that the debts were owed to the French royal family, not to the nation in general. The French, who were at war with Great Britain, were properly outraged by the lack of loyalty of the Americans whose victory over the British in the Revolution was due in no small measure to French military and financial support. The French attacked and seized American merchant vessels. The result was an undeclared war, fought mostly at sea, and it featured the first combat by the new U.S., Navy's soon to be legendary, USS Constitution, ("Old Ironsides").

The situation today is remarkably similar to what was going on at the time the Logan Act was enacted. There is an intense debate going on today over what American policy should be towards Iran, with powerful interests, including foreign countries, lobbying intensively inside the U.S. as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu did before Congress last week. At the same time, diplomats from a group of nations, including the United States, have been negotiating with Iran in an effort to get them to end their nuclear program. A deadline for an agreement is coming at the end of this month.

In the 1790s British and French interests were very active inside the U.S., including involving themselves in American politics and whipping up crowds of support. A Pennsylvania state legislator went to France and urged the French to ease up on their aggression towards the U.S. and to release the many American prisoners they held. The French did both, but the interference by a private citizen in the country's foreign policy caused this Act, named after that legislator, to be enacted. It has been the law ever since that only the President conducts foreign policy.

While questions have been raised whether the Logan Act might be unconstitutional because of the vagueness of its wording, it never has been ruled on directly. However, in a 1936 Supreme Court decision, United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp that involved a different issue, Justice Sutherland wrote that the "President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude, and Congress itself is powerless to invade it."

As recently as 2006, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct of the United States House of Representatives wrote to members that while it questioned the Logan Act's constitutionality, the law still was in force and that it prohibited any citizen from trying to influence foreign governments in regard to "any disputes or controversies with the United  States, or to defeat the measures of the United States."

There have been many alleged violations of the Act over the years, but only one prosecution, and that one in 1803. In recent years, allegations of violating the Act were made against various prominent politicians who visited foreign countries and talked with their leaders, from Senators. George McGovern and John Sparkman to Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The State Department has taken the position that it is not a violation of the Act for public officials to have conversations with foreign leaders about issues relevant to their legislative duties.

Never has there been a clearer violation of the Act than this letter, which goes way beyond the State Department's limitation of the Act. However, it is impossible to imagine that the Senators will be prosecuted, even though they should be. What they have done is close to treason. Never before has there been an official communication from members of Congress to a foreign nation involving sensitive diplomatic negotiations being carried on by the President and the State Department.

But then there has never been a majority party in Congress as irresponsible and as disloyal to the United States as the current Republican Party. Their contempt for the President is so enormous that it has blinded them to the damage they potentially could do by writing this letter.

They well could be responsible for causing a war with Iran that could have horrible consequences far greater than any recent war. Consider all that is going on: The ISIS conquest of Syria and Iraq still raging; The Russian invasion of the Ukraine still underway, and the Europeans beginning to send in military aid; And the Taliban about to try to re-conquer Afghanistan.


A peaceful settlement with Iran could help bring ends to these other conflicts. A war with Iran will ignite a conflagration beyond anything seen since World War II. No rational, or person with the best interests of the United States at heart would try to disrupt a peaceful settlement with Iran. But that is exactly what these 47 senators have attempted to do. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The "Religion of Hell" Speech from A Light Not of This World

In my novel, A Light Not of This World, the United States is attacked with nuclear bombs by Islamic terrorists. Much of the national government is wiped out, but the President survives and so do a few members of Congress. A reconstituted Congress meets at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. During the Cold War this resort had an enormous underground bunker that was to be used by Congress in the event of a nuclear attack on Washington. That bunker still exists and now is a tourist attraction. In the novel, it is restored to its original purpose.

The President comes to speak to the first joint session of the new Congress. It is his first public speech after recovering from serious injuries. Much of the speech is devoted to his program for national recovery, for replacement of key officials and for retaliation against al-Qaeda. You can read ISIS in that without changing anything else. The philosophies of the two essentially are the same, even though they are bitter rivals now because they have different strategies for achieving the same result: a global Muslim caliphate.

This is the message I believe we should be saying publicly all the time, both to the Islamic extremists like ISIS and al-Qaeda, as well as to our own religious, and other extremists:

“We are both one people and many peoples. Immigrants from other countries created our nation, and we have continued to grow and prosper from the strength and the character of the many peoples who came to these shores, and still are coming, seeking freedom and opportunity.
“You can be from anywhere on earth, but when you come here and become a citizen, you become an American. No other nation on earth offers to freely share its heritage, its wealth, its culture, but most of all, its name and its identity, with all who come.
“Our Declaration of Independence set forth the principal that has guided this country ever since: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“No government can take away these freedoms and they cannot be bargained away. They are inherent in us as human beings. People who do not have freedom, yearn for it. America is the proof. Freedom is the powerful force that binds us together as Americans.
“America’s only demand is that its citizens abide by its laws. Our laws, derived from our Constitution, permit no discrimination against any citizen on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin. All citizens are free to believe, or not believe, in any religion they wish, and they may practice their religion up to the point where their practice infringes on the rights of others, or the laws of the land. This freedom of religion, freedom of belief, is fundamental to human liberty.
“We take our freedom for granted because it is so much a part of our culture and our heritage. We take freedom for granted so much that sometimes we lose sight of its foundation. Freedom depends on mutual respect. Each of us must respect the rights of others. Each of us must allow others to enjoy their freedom. And nowhere is it so important as it is with religion.
“The history of religion is a history of both goodness and evil. Religions have raised people from the darkness and given hope to millions. But throughout history millions of people have died in wars over religion. Millions of people have been persecuted because they believed in a religion opposed by others, or suppressed by governments.
“The foundation of freedom of religion in the United States is the separation of church and state. By providing that the government cannot impose any religious belief on the citizens, and by providing a clear right of individual citizens to the freedom of religion, our founders guaranteed that our nation would never suffer the internal repression and the destruction that the wars of religion brought to so many other countries and peoples for the past two thousand years.
“But today our country is suffering from an enormous tragedy because a group that wants to impose its religion on others has committed a monstrous atrocity against the United States. Al Qaeda’s goal is a global caliphate dictatorship in which the only law is Islamic law. It is attempting through mass murder to forcibly convert the world to its version of Islam.
“Believers in this fanatical, fundamentalist form of Islam do not believe in the unalienable right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Their ideal is a government like that of Afghanistan under the Taliban, who imposed on their country a murderous religious and political tyranny that shocked the world. That is their vision for the entire world.
“Although they cloak themselves in a religion, these people are no different from the Nazis who attempted to impose their racial and anti-Semitic views on the world through war and genocide, killing millions of people in the process. For civilization to survive, Nazi Germany had to be defeated and all vestiges of Nazism had to be eradicated.

“Al Qaeda, their allies, and their perverted version of Islam, are as evil as were the Nazis. They have unleashed on us a fire from Hades. Their beliefs could have only one origin. Their religion is the religion of Hell."

Friday, March 6, 2015

February Jobs Report Continues the Trend: More high paid and low paid jobs - not as much in the middle

The February jobs report released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics overall appears to be good news. There were 295,000 new jobs and unemployment dropped to 5.5%. That unemployment figure is slightly below the historical average unemployment. However, the types of jobs being created still are cause for concern.

The greatest number of jobs created were in the food service industry, 59,000, but as I showed in my article on www.Truth-out.org yesterday,  "What Trickle-Down Economics Has Done to the US: The Rich Get All the Money," hospitality has the lowest average pay of any job category. The second highest number of jobs created, 51,000, was in professional and business services, one of the higher paying categories, but also one where college education is required. Retail, with 32,000 jobs created, is the second lowest paying category.

There were only 8,000 jobs created in manufacturing, compared to 22,000 in January and a three-month average through January of 31,000 per month. Other sectors with substantial numbers of new jobs included 24,000 in health care, the fourth-lowest paying category, but one where education is important, and 29,000 in construction, down by 10,000 from January, but probably understandable given the brutal winter in many parts of the country.

Even though unemployment is down and job growth continues at a good pace, middle-class jobs remain the slowest growing area.