Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Apple, The Serpent, and the Tree of Knowledge

Note - Not Starving Farmers
You just gotta feel a sense of pride in the incredible outpouring of concern and compassion for those Chinese electronics workers.  Those poor, miserable bastards slaving away at Foxconn and similar mega-factories, under the most horrific conditions imaginable to assemble our iPads and MacBooks.  Well.  I guess we showed them what's what, didn't we.

Of course, one thing you can always count on with Americans is a thoughtless stampede to accept the simplest emotional narrative. Whether it's Foxconn or the Lords Resistance Army, Americans prefer to remain blissfully unaware of local conditions and the cultural, political and economic realities in these exotic, far-off places, instead embracing these simplistic and largely inaccurate tales that captivate us for minutes, sometimes even days before we return our attention to American Idol and March Madness.

So the Marketing geniuses at Apple, sensing a public relations nightmare that could perhaps be turned into public relations gold in the aftermath of the Mike Daisey/NPR kerfuffle, suddenly joined the FLA and brought pressure on Foxconn to treat their workers better.  And as a direct and immediate result of this pressure, Foxconn agreed to limit the number of overtime hours an employee can work.  Another blow for human rights and the dignity of the worker, right?

Well, once again, it seems that nobody quite got around to asking those very workers for their opinion on these issues.  It turns out that many of them came to work at Foxconn precisely because of the large amount of overtime hours available, and many of them are not happy to see their income substantially reduced.  You see, it is often misleading and even counterproductive to see foreign workers rights strictly through the prism of the American workplace.

All poverty is bad.  And poverty in America, with it's cruel sink-or-swim capitalist mentality and the resulting lack of any kind of social safety net, is its own special kind of brutality.  Urban homelessness, sub-standard housing, unhealthy food, sickness and the lack of basic care - all of this creates a kind of "permanent poor", people who simply do not have access to the basic resources they would need to improve their lives and take care of their families.  It is nothing less than shameful that the wealthiest nation in the world should offer so little to help her own citizens when they are in need.

But all that said, poverty in America is NOTHING like poverty in emerging nations or the third world.  In places like Nigeria, Congo, Vietnam, and yes, China, there are simply huge numbers of desperately poor people, people who are hungry and sick and unprotected in ways that Americans can't comprehend,  mostly because Americans won't even look.  These people, particularly the rural poor, die very young, in large numbers, from malnutrition, poor sanitation, disease, and yes, your occasional war or rebellion.

Conditions in these factories may offend our delicate sensibilities, but it is worthwhile to note that this labor-intensive kind of manufacturing is the first incremental step to increasing national wealth and raising the quality of life for entire generations.  As the quality of life improves, a healthier, better educated workforce is able to build a more advanced economy, wages rise and the low-end manufacturing jobs based on cheap labor move to the next tier of developing nations.  These factories don't have to indulge in any coercion to get people to work for them, because, as hard as the work is, a real apartment with indoor plumbing, clean drinking water, enough food to eat, and access to health care and education represents such a quantum improvement in human life and dignity that it almost cannot be measured.

People want to improve their lives, especially when their lives are almost universally awful.  I'm sure they'd love to live just like you and I do, but that is simply not an option that is available to them.  So we have to be careful when we try to overlay our values on their lives, that we aren't actually creating conditions that limit those quality-of-life improvements.  There are incremental steps between subsistence farming and and a high-tech information economy, and those steps are necessary to get from where they were to where we are.

In so many cases, it is our hubris that is our biggest failing...

Poison Da Hood

Nope, you're right.  I haven't had much to say about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida.  There just isn't very much to say.  In fact, it's fair to take the position that all the endless analysis is the major part of the problem.  It seems to have opened the door to many pointless and specious diversions into whether Trayvon was a good student, or even whether he might, at some point, have thrown a punch at Zimmerman.

Look - this is all that matters.  A white dude found a black kid in his neighborhood frightening and suspicious and, despite the fact that the black kid was unarmed, the white dood took out a gun and shot the black kid dead.  This is murder.  Even if the black kid did throw a punch, the appropriate response to that is not gunfire - it's a punch of your own.  Maybe if Zimmerman was a 66 year old lady she could use a gun to defend against a barehanded attack, but of course a 66 year old lady would not have followed, challenged and intimidated Trayvon Martin.

It was obviously racially motivated - Zimmerman didn't seem to have a great deal of fear or suspicion of the white people in the neighborhood.  It was obviously excessive - there was never at any time a need to draw a weapon.  It was obviously unnecessary - even the 911 operator told this racist bully to stand down.  And it is obviously a horrific injustice - as a simple thought experiment, just reverse the races of the participants and try to imagine a black George Zimmerman still free, still legally ARMED, after killing a white Trayvon Martin.

So no.  There just isn't anything to say about this crime.  Except perhaps as it contributes to a conversation about how desperately America has lost her way.  About the society we have become, and even more frightening, about the society we are becoming.  I have no doubt that George Zimmerman will be prosecuted - either by the State of Florida or in a civil rights case brought by the US Attorney. Somebody will make it right because it is so patently egregiously wrong.  It has become a political liability to everyone, from Sanford to Washington DC. But that's really not the point.  The important thing, the critical thing, is that it happened at all.  And similar things happen all the time, with increasing frequency.

More hatred, more fear, more racial and sectarian acrimony.  Standing side-by-side with crazed, genuinely ignorant lawmakers making laws that put more guns in more hands in more places with less control.  How can this be a good idea?  How can we find a way to stop the slaughter in the midst of this insane sociological experiment gone amuck, where we encourage the worst of our culture, the bullies and the bigots, not only to carry firearms but to use them.

If you look objectively at America in this foul year of our lord 2012, you see a surreal place, a place that could never come into being, a place that could never be allowed to come into being.  It is nothing short of a perfect storm, a collapse in governance, skyrocketing greed and inequality, an utterly corporatized media concerned only with it's own profits, and an organized system of political corruption on such a massive scale as to be unprecedented.  And in a stroke of criminal genius, by codifying that corruption into the very fabric of law, the entire system made itself impervious to reform.

Yeah, Trayvon Martin is a cause célèbre today, but that will quickly fade from our attention.  But what is important here is that Trayvon Martin is a symptom.  Our system's immune system is telling us how sick it is, and we are refusing to provide treatment.  The story of the decline of the US will be one of warnings ignored, symptoms undiagnosed, damage unrepaired.

There is a well known apocryphal tale of Nero playing his Lyre and singing while the city of Rome burned.  When the historians write the story of the collapse of the United States, how will they describe our unwillingness, indeed our inability to face our own problems and work together to solve them?  There will be lessons plenty, but I have my doubts they will be learned.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Can We Learn From This? -- An Occasional Series

Americans, now too fat and lazy to even count their money, rush to an automated service that counts it for them - well, at least it counts 90% of it or so.  The rest it keeps.  Sure, up until now one of the things that was simply understood about money is that having it meant you would, at some point, have to count it.  You cannot buy something if you don't know how much money you have.  But in 2012 America that is simply an unacceptable chore.  It is better to pay someone to count your money, even if when the counting process is complete they don't actually return it all to you.  Hey, that's the free market in action, right?

Think about the context here.  Think about the women who gather firewood in Darfur at the risk of their lives.  Think about the people in Syria or Iran or Palestine, who want some kind of chance to live their lives, raise a family, go to work and offer something to the next generation. Think about the lives we've thoughtlessly and pointlessly ruined in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia.  Think about the people, just now, tonight, aching for a chance at nothing more than a job and a future, a roof, clean water and something that their children might recognize as a better life.  Then look at us.

Bloated, struggling with our excesses, unaware of the world, we rain anonymous death from the skies and threaten to turn entire regions into smoking rubble.  We offer aid, but only if the nations in such desperate need are willing to put OUR interests above their own.  We demand endless, unlimited fealty but reserve the right to walk away at any time, to declare our allies terrorists, to insist that democratic votes go a certain way and UN powers are never exercised.

This is what freedom looks like today.  People, standing in line, to pay a robot to count their money.  All the while with earbuds tightly in place and the world's increasing desperation nothing more than the rustling of a dove's wing.

American Exceptionalism.  Feel it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Table - Upon Which Everything is (Not)

All options are on the table.  We've been hearing this clumsy, ham fisted trope for well over a decade now. It's supposed to be a clever exercise in diplomatic ambiguity, government doublespeak for "yes, of course we'll start another war if we decide we should".  It gets used so often leaders often even use it without thinking, as the final yeah, but statement when they talk about diplomacy or containment with Iran.

Politicians are political, of course, and they fear angering or alienating any large or particularly vocal group of citizens.  But more than that they fear saying something that can be played over and over again, that classic "Gotcha" gaffe that allows them to be portrayed as uncaring, soft on crime, or often in the United States, insufficiently willing to rain death and destruction down upon any nation, provided that nation lacks the ability to retaliate against us directly.  All one must do is realize that we are still freaking out, shredding our civil liberties and fighting pointless wars over the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington - 3000 dead over a decade ago and we still quiver in fear.

But the options on the table, according to a literal reading of the statement, include everything.  All options are more than one option - we learn that in First Grade.  So when the President wants to say he's willing to use the military to attack Iran under some set of circumstances, he chooses instead to say there's nothing he's not willing to consider.

But waitaminute.  Here's President Obama, at his press conference on March 6th:

And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon
So, let's see.  Right here are at least two options that are not on that table where everything supposedly is.  Living with a nuclear-armed Iran is not on the table.  Containment of a nuclear-armed Iran is not on the table.  It would seem that there are a lot fewer items on the table than we have been led to believe.  Certainly, we can now be certain that some options have been taken off the table, meaning "All options are on the table" is a bald-faced lie.

Then, think about this.  The US Government could do its actual duty and put American interests first in its international relations.  SecState Clinton could go to Iran and forge a separate peace - "Look, we know you don't have a nuclear weapons program, and for the most part you guys are adhering to your agreements under the NPT, unlike some people we could mention, so look.  Let's just end this charade that we have anything to hate or fear from each other.  We're gonna stay in your face about human rights and democracy, but this whole nuclear thing is just stupid and wasteful".  Hmm. That doesn't seem to be on the table either.

In fact, instead of "All Options" being on the table, it seems that exactly TWO options are on the table.  Either the table is very small, or the CGI guys from "Avatar" are making it look crowded as a political exercise.  Other than "Crippling Sanctions" and "War", I'd like somebody to explain to me what options ARE on that table.  Oh wait.  There's also "Iran's abject surrender to illegal and irrational demands".  I'm pretty sure we'll keep that one on the table right to the end.

I once had to take the gas tank off my motorcycle and put it on the table.  Well, first I had to put it in the bathtub, but THEN I put it on the table.  The table was never the same again.  The point here is that if all you put on your table is death and suffering and brutality in the name of some imaginary goal, you ruin the table and your own international reputation at the same time.  It's time to start being a little more honest about the table, and the things that are on it....

Brief explanation - this goes back to my very first post at Sadly No!  And yeah, I miss those guys, and I miss those days.  In a weird, inexplicable way, I even miss George Bush.  Maybe it was just easier when the other side was responsible for the evil.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Good Time to Take Up the Fiddle - Casually Documenting Our Collective Descent Into Madness

So despite a vanishingly small signal-to-noise ratio, a couple of things have managed to seep into my consciousness in the last couple weeks that would seem to call for at least a mention.  I suppose if I'd seen either of them discussed in any more general forum I wouldn't feel quite so compelled to bring them up here, but the fact that they are sliding in under the radar causes me to worry that they are being accepted rather than challenged.  I come here today to challenge them.

First, our old friend and everybody's favorite animal loving Mormon, Mitt Romney.  Now, sure, it's not a terribly high bar, but one could easily make the case that Mitt is the smartest and, perhaps more saliently, the least truly foaming-at-the-mouth insane of all the GOP Presidential candidates.  But if this is the case, then it hardly serves as a ringing endorsement, because it demands the conclusion that he is also the most outrageously dishonest among them.  Does anyone, at this point, actually question Rick Santorum's sincerity when he expresses his loathing for human sexual behavior?  After all the books and speeches and a Congressional term that included the Contract on America, the impeachment of a sitting president for getting a blowjob and a full Congressional shutdown of the American Government, can anyone truly question Newt Gingrich's bona fides?  But instead, here we have the establishment Republican party promising everyone that Romney's just saying crazy stuff to get the nomination, he's really not insane.

I dunno.  There's really no place for crazy in a position that includes the power to release nuclear weapons, but if I had to make a choice, I think I actually prefer crazy and honest over some kind of algorithmic calculation of the appropriate application of crazy.

But, as I say, that discussion has played out day in and day out since this Primary campaign began back during the Napoleonic wars.  It has been discussed to the point where nobody on earth is left with a shred of respect for Romney's integrity or dignity.  That's not what I need to speak about today.

Romney's primary campaign message is that he is a Businessman, and as such will do a better job of managing the American economy than Barack Obama.  Well, let's think about that.  Setting aside the KIND of businessman that Romney was, and overlooking the unfortunate fact that it is Congress, not the President who make economic policy, the assumption here is that the economy would be doing better if America was run more like a business and less like a government.  And I wonder: Why do you never see that assumption challenged?

The purpose of the government is to raise revenues and deliver services.  The purpose of a business is to make a profit.  A government should spend all its revenues delivering services, because those revenues were raised from the governed, and there would be no reason for the government just to keep them.  A business, when run properly, should have more money at the end of the fiscal year than it did at the start. I'm not sure how expertise at one translates into competence at the other.  Do we want the US Government to become a for-profit entity?  The only way I can see that working is to start charging market rates for services.  Build roads and bridges on a cost plus basis, and then negotiate a maintenance agreement for them.  Sell citizenship to the highest bidder.  Charge Japan and South Korea market rates for the American Military presence in the Western Pacific.  But then, what would the government DO with those profits?  Would the US acquire Mexico?  Perhaps a hostile takeover of Iraq - oh wait.

This is just silly.  Governance is hard - you know that because you see so few nations doing it well - and the expertise that is necessary to provide effective government services is nothing like the expertise required to buy stuff, add value and sell it at a profit.  What Romney is actually doing is making a powerful case that he is poorly qualified to serve as President, and would very likely make a dog's breakfast out of it.

Ok, we already knew that.  But still...

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Which brings us to our other under-discussed topic.  It's in Paul Ryan's budget.  I know, you're thinking "PAUL RYAN'S BUDGET?  That piece of crap is under-discussed like I'm underweight, fer crissakes."  But bear with me here - this all comes back around to the acceptance in so many circles of basic wingnut doctrine.  One of the details in the newest Ryan budget that gets overlooked is it's caps on revenue.  You see, if you set aside Medicare, Social Security and Debt Service, current US domestic spending is at about 12.5% of GDP.  With the caps on revenue in the Republican budget document, this would be reduced to just 4% of GDP in 2050.  That's everything - defense, education, aid to states, infrastructure, R&D, Law Enforcement - literally everything.

It's actually kind of an interesting exercise to try and imagine the consequences of this kind of radical, draconian spending limitation.  One can easily imagine an urban dystopia, with very little in the way of electricity, people dying in the streets from easily cured diseases and pandemics no longer monitored and managed by a public health infrastructure, sanitation facilities breaking down and going unrepaired as clean drinking water becomes harder and harder to find, gangs in the streets as first responders have to triage the calls they get because of a limit on manpower and fuel, while independent for-profit "security" organizations offer neighborhoods a kind of safety based on frontier justice - for the right price.

Here's the problem.  The American political right loves to frame deficit spending as robbing from the next generation.  But by refusing to pay for necessary government services like energy security, infrastructure maintenance, education and basic R&D, THEY are the ones bequeathing something awful and frightening and unsustainable to the generations to come.  THEY are the ones who are letting personal greed prevent the government from building a nation and protecting its citizens.  And if that's not the role of government, then I'd like to hear them explain what is.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sauce for the Gander

OOooohh.  Feel the Sexual Tension
A few weeks ago a Resolution was brought before the UN Security Council demanding that Bashar al-Assad step down and end the violence against his own people.  That Resolution had enough votes to pass, but was vetoed by Russia.  The United States was livid, and has been conducting a campaign both diplomatically and in the Media to try to bring shame to the Russians who would act so unreasonably in defense of their ally in the Middle East.

Then, again yesterday, the US sought to introduce a UNSC Resolution demanding an end to the violence in Syria.  And once again, the Russians have promised to veto it to protect their client state.  And again, predictably, the, US is apoplectic.  US Secretary of State Clinton has stated her "...hope that Russia will play a constructive role..." and appealed to "...the International Community to come together to take action..." to protect the lives and freedom of the Syrian people.

Now perhaps these political machinations in the Security Council are beginning to take on an air of familiarity to many of you.  Perhaps the specter of a major power using it's veto to protect a client state from the near-universal opprobrium of the International Community has a Déjà vu sense about it, like a movie you've seen before.  Perhaps you're thinking of the way the US has used its own veto to shield Israel from United Nations condemnations, even in cases, such as the West Bank Settlements, where American policy stands in complete agreement with the Resolution.

Ahhh, but you recoil in shock, crying out "FALSE EQUIVALENCE" and quickly pointing out that settlements, and even the inhuman collective punishment of the people trapped in Gaza nowhere near rise to the level of the crimes the Assad regime is committing against his own people.  And while you'd be right about the differences in degree, you would be entirely wrong about the falsity of the equivalence.  Because in all these cases a large enough segment of the International Community found the behavior of the given regime to be unacceptable to the point where there were more than enough votes to pass the resolution, and the US veto, like the Russian one, appears as nothing more than a single benefactor nation using its arbitrary power to shield a client state from justice.

For the United States, this should serve as a teachable moment.  First, that the day when the UNSC veto served any genuine purpose is over, and very much like the filibuster in the US Senate should go the way of the steam locomotive and the Soviet Union.  But second, that it feels wrong when a major power shields a criminal from accountability merely because it is their criminal, that the diplomatic, military or economic relationship is more important than lives and justice - and it feels wrong because it IS wrong.

The US has a credibility problem in any event, because the American government has historically brought to power and supported any number of murderous, distasteful authoritarian dictatorships, but that credibility problem increases tenfold when compounded by the grossest of hypocrisy.  If SecState Clinton were to stand up and say "Well, we certainly don't approve of the Russian veto of this Resolution, but we understand it because we regularly do the same thing with our client states - let's just move on to other business" then the other, weaker nations would have to at least recognize that the US wasn't completely blind to the consequences of its own actions, and was capable of seeing the unfairness inherent in these policies.

Ultimately these resolutions don't matter one whit anyway, because there's just no way for the International Community to act in Syria in any manner that would actually be constructive.  Any direct action at all would immediately trigger a larger slaughter and would probably lead to a regional war.  In addition to the geo-political alignments of Syria and the surrounding nations, there is the sad fact that it's win or die for Assad.  Once you have an adversary who can't quit and survive, then you can't expect anything you do to cause him to quit.  The best outcome from a minimizing casualties standpoint would be for the Loyalists to quickly crush the rebellion, and the best outcome from a justice standpoint is a long, grinding civil war.  When those are the best outcomes you can hope for, it's probably not a situation you want to get any more deeply involved in.

The Wide, Wide World of Sports

Let's open the sports page and see about getting caught up with the latest news.

First, it's spring, and a young man's fancy turns inevitably to Baseball.  The Giants collapsed in August last year in an epically pathetic demonstration of inept and incompetent offense.  The formula they rode to the championship in 2010 was great pitching and JUST enough offense to make it hold up - but in 2011, they were exposed, and their offensive numbers were well below the previous year's.  This left them with great pitching, wasted, as there was simply NO offense.

The off-season saw four major changes.  The team moved Andres Torres, a likable but ultimately flawed outfielder and Jonathan Sanchez, a tremendously gifted left-handed starter who was an irredeemable head case.  So far, so good.  Then they added Angel Pagan, a veteran outfielder with speed and a lifetime .280 average, and Melky Cabrera, who had a breakthrough 200-hit season last year.  And with Freddy Sanchez apparently unable to play a full season at second, Ryan Theriot provides a competent and reliable backup.

They didn't acquire a middle of the lineup RBI threat, mostly because power-hitters don't want to play half their games in AT&T park, where home runs go to die quietly.  But the Giants have some kids with potential - Buster Posey is back, Brandon Belt and Brett Pill look likely to make the roster, and despite his disastrous season last year, Aubrey Huff may be able to demonstrate that, even at 36, he's just not ready to hang 'em up.

This is the formula, especially playing in the cavernous AT&T Park.  Great pitching - and Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Voglesong constitute the best staff in the Division, if not the League - and as close to four runs per game as possible.  Of course, one can never predict injuries and luck, and hope springs eternal when every team has the same record, but there is no National League team better constructed to win it all than the Giants.  They just have to find a way to make the playoffs, and I'll take their chances.

          *          *          *          *

Then there's the whole Peyton Manning circus.  I normally don't bother commenting on football, mostly because I don't have the same passion or expertise I have for baseball, but in all the conversations about Manning there's something that I think keeps being overlooked.  And as a result, the entire conversation makes no sense.

We're told that Peyton Manning is a GREAT quarterback, and if you plug him into a team that has most of the pieces in place, his leadership, brilliance and precision passing will get you over the hump and into the Super Bowl.  The only question, we're reminded over and over, is his health.  Can he throw with the same velocity and accuracy?  Can he soak up some big hits and stay in the game?  Can you surround him with the above average receivers that can get open so he can throw to them?

These seem to me to be the wrong questions.  They are all based on the assumption that Peyton Manning is a GREAT, elite quarterback.  But IS he?  He did something in Indianapolis that has never been done before in the NFL.  He created and built a unique offense, specifically structured around his reads at the line of scrimmage.  He, along with the team management, assembled the personnel and provided the instruction to operate an offense like no other in recent memory.  He would come up under center, look at the defense, and call out a complex and elaborate set of adjustments.  All the players, from the Offensive Line to the Ends and Backs had to understand and be able to adjust to instant changes to their responsibilities on EVERY play.

Was it successful?  Absolutely.  Why don't other teams do it?  Because it's HARD.  When Peyton joins a new team, they won't have five years history developing the abilities required for this kind of offensive scheme.  In fact, they won't have five minutes with it.  If he has to quarterback a more conventional offense, even if he makes those great and perceptive reads at the line, how great will he really be?  I guess the question is, was it Peyton that was great, or was it Peyton plus this utterly unprecedented offensive game plan that generated the success?  My concern would be that removed from his carefully developed special tactics, he's an aging, somewhat above average pocket passer with greatly restricted mobility and some serious injury liability.

There might be some teams he'd make better, but I just don't see how he makes them THAT MUCH better.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

One of These is Very Much NOT Like the Others

Whoops - he did it again.  Obama, speaking before AIPAC this morning, used a closed-end, zero sum policy formulation that puts the US squarely in a corner, with events in control of US actions rather than the US in control of those events:

“I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”

Although to be fair, this still leaves the US policy toward the Iranian nuclear program short of the Israeli position.  The US has stated that it will not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon, while the Israelis regularly state that they will not allow Iran to develop the capability to build a nuclear weapon.  But even so, it is foolhardy for the leader of a nation to put that nation in a position where, when confronted with a specific event, he has no options but to take a particular action or lose all credibility.  Indeed, when the US President says "all options are on the table", as he repeatedly does, he is being dishonest.  The option of living alongside a nuclear-armed Iran has been clearly taken off the table.

But here's the question.  Why Iran?  Some might say it is because they are our enemies, and they would threaten us.  But there was no real thought of going to war to stop North Korea from building nuclear weapons.  Some might say it is because we cannot allow the risk of an "Islamic Bomb", as religious sympathies might place it in the hands of terrorists.  But we stood by passively as Pakistan not only developed an advanced nuclear capability, but provided expertise to other programs all around the world. And there are, of course, those who would say it is about oil.  Iran has lots of oil.  But Iran is not withholding her oil from the West - indeed, there are sanctions in place predicated on the strategy of preventing Iran from selling her oil in order to cause economic collapse.  Iran would be more than happy to provide crude oil to any buyer.  Does anyone actually believe for a minute that the US would go to war against Saudi Arabia if the Kingdom was to initiate a nuclear weapons program?  Of course not.  It is simply not a viable policy for a nation, no matter how powerful militarily, to take another nation's resources by force of arms.

There are also, it must be said, those who say that Iran is different in another way.  They say the Iranian leadership is mad, that they would happily embrace the destruction of their entire, ancient nation to simply bring nuclear fire to Israel.  To this stupid, bigoted, self-serving argument there is no response.  I cannot provide empirical evidence that the Iranian leadership wants to continue to lead, and wants to continue to have a nation and a population they can lead.  I can only insist that anyone who disagrees with me on this issue bring rational, well-founded arguments to bear.  And to refuse to engage with delusional war-mongers.

It is quite interesting, if you think about it, that the nation that represents the most real and profound threat to the United States, both militarily and economically, is Israel.  No matter what constitutes stated US Policy, Israel can turn it all on its head with a unilateral air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.  Israel is far too weak militarily to accomplish much more than to start a regional conflagration - the US would have to step in almost immediately to suppress the Iranian military response, keep the Strait of Hormuz open to Gulf shipping and attempt to complete the destruction of the Iranian nuclear facilities.  So in a matter of weeks Israel will have caused the US to become an active participant in a major war, and as the price of crude oil soars, she will also be directly responsible for crushing the nascent global economic recovery and driving the US and European economies into deep recession.

And it's worth mentioning when people point out that this will be primarily an air war, that it will very likely be necessary for the US, probably the Marines, to occupy over a thousand square miles of Iran centered on Bandar-e-Abbas to try to suppress the missile and small boat attacks on Gulf shipping that would be used to close the Strait.

And, finally, at the end of it all, after all the death and destruction, ruined lives and stunted futures, will we at least have destroyed Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon?  Of course not.  We will have destroyed stuff.  Stuff the Iranians built.  Stuff they will be uniquely energized and motivated to build again.  We might have bought time - very, very expensive time - or just as likely, we might have provided the impetus for the Iranian leadership to do something they might otherwise never have chosen to do.

And this - at least implicitly - provides an answer to the question "Why Iran?"  That answer is "Israel".  Because the radical right-wing extremists currently constituting the political leadership in Israel find it not just politically expedient, but politically necessary to have a major external enemy that constitutes an existential threat to tiny, vulnerable Israel.  Because the political survival of the Likudniks is impossible without the Iranian threat.  Because Netanyahu can't control the religious extremists driving the settlements, and he can't provide economic answers to his population when they demand them, and he can't prevent the rising tide of global opprobrium for the brutal apartheid state he is building in the occupied territories.  Simply put, Likud NEEDS the Iranian threat.  But at some point the Iranian response and the increasing pressure of their own rhetoric might very well force the Israelis into an ultimately self-destructive act of war.

And once again today, the American President readily and voluntarily signed us up to go along on that one way trip.