Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Column 81 (National) - Iran

Try out this scenario: In the Middle East there is a country populated almost completely by Muslims. The political leader of that country is notoriously intemperate in his public remarks, including being publicly committed to his country’s right to develop, own, and if need be to use weapons of mass destruction, though the evidence that the country has, at present, more than trace amounts of WMD materials is scanty at best. What should the US do?

Based on past experience, the answer for President Bush might well be a preemptive strike.

Preemptive warfare by presidents is not a new phenomenon. In 1848 a young congressman expressed his opposition to going to war against Mexico in this way: "Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us'; but he will say to you, 'Be silent; I see it, if you don't.' “ That congressman was Abraham Lincoln.

As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. points out in a recent article in the Washington Post, this is precisely how George W. Bush sees his presidential prerogative: Be silent; I see it, if you don't .The guiding strategy during the Cold War was the formula developed by George Kennan of “containment plus deterrence.” Remember, our enemies in the Cold War had real WMDs. For those keeping score at home, we won the Cold War without invading anyone. Now George Bush has changed US strategy from the Kennan formula to Be silent; I see it, if you don't and the 33% of Americans who still support him blindly follow.

There is no question that nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands would be a disaster. The Iranian President has called for the destruction of Israel, has denied the Holocaust, and is an avowed enemy of the West. But Iran does not have nuclear weapons now and has a long ways to go until they have them (even the Bush Administration is not pretending that WMD’s currently exist this time). This means plenty of time to bring international pressure to bear and if that fails to put together a true military coalition so that turning Iran from a destructive path is a world, effort, not another US solo adventure.

Unfortunately we have an election coming up in November, one in which the Republicans stand to lose a lot of their power and that will be seen as a referendum on the Bush Administration. With Karl Rove now giving his full attention to politics and Bush’s demonstrated win at any cost mentality, we can expect lies, dirty tricks, smears, and the probability of an “October surprise” is high. Some think that surprise will be the resignation of Dick (the mighty hunter) Cheney and his replacement with someone more popular to gain votes in ’06 and tee up a candidate for ’08. I fear, however, that there will be “evidence” produced in August or September that will lead to the bombing and/or invasion of Iran in October, and that will be a disaster that will cost thousands of lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world.

It’s time for Americans to stop buying “'Be silent; I see it, if you don't” from an president and an administration that has consistently lied and distorted the facts. The Kennan formula was good enough for Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and even Nixon, in the face of a genuine nuclear threat, and it is what will work now – contain Iran in a circle of international pressure and deter them by threat of worldwide retaliation. Preemptive war is not a viable option.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Column 79 - The Nevada Races

With the primaries about four months off and the election not until November, you wouldn’t expect things to be heating up in the state races quite yet, but you’d be wrong. Maybe it’s because we have the unusual situation of every constitutional office being up for grabs with no incumbents running this year (the first time since statehood), or maybe it’s just the tenor of the times, but things are already starting to get interesting.

Apparently Senator Bob Beers or his campaign sent out an April Fools Day press release saying that Jim Gibbons had come out in favor of Beers’ pet initiative, the TASC (Tax and Spend Control) amendment. Now Gibbons, displaying his characteristic lack of humor and tendency toward overreacting has demanded that Beer retract the joke release and has threatened legal action. To be fair, one of our local TV stations (who hereby forfeit the “sharpest tool in the shed” competition) thought the release was straight and aired it as fact, but having read the release I think that is more of a comment on the political savvy of the news editor than on the plausibility of the release. You can read the release at and judge for yourself.

I have to admit that as a Democrat it’s fun to see GOP candidates tearing at each other for a change. Here we have the delicious spectacle of Gibbons taking his usual loud and pompous umbrage at Beers suggesting that he (Gibbons) is a fiscal conservative! As the regular reader of this column (there must be one) will know, my first priority in this year’s race for governor is ABG (anybody but Gibbons), but between Beers’ ill-advised advocacy for TASC and his apparent lack of judgment (and a sense of humor – the release is sophomoric), I’m not sure he’d be that much better.

Fortunately we have some good alternatives on the Democratic side and, so far at least, the two main candidates have refrained from the kind of internecine warfare that has killed off so many Democratic candidates in the past few years. Both Dina Titus and Jim Gibson have spoken to the Incline Democratic Club in the past months, and I was very favorably impressed by both of them. Senator Titus has some very creative ideas on how to approach state issues, and Mayor Gibson has good ideas of his own as well as a solid track record as Mayor of the state’s third largest city, and both would, I think, make excellent governors.

Gibbons, on the other hand is the perfect representative of the Republican Party in 2006. He is arrogant, not very bright as far as I can tell, and ready to respond to any opposition with guns and epithets blazing. The simple fact is that America is getting sick and tired of the neoconservative GOP’s culture of cronyism and corruption, and their hiding, from the President on down, behind the 21st Century version of red-baiting and spurious arguments about national security to justify actions that would have gotten any pre-9/11 president impeached.

We in Nevada have before us this year a unique opportunity to send a clear message to the Republican Party in Congress and to the President that, like at least two-thirds of the people in the country we are mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it any more. We are spending billions of dollars on a war that was, at best, ill-advised, the President holds himself above the law, authorizing surveillance on Americans without benefit of due process (e.g., by obtaining a FISA warrant), authorizing the leak of classified material, directly violating the law, and top GOP members of Congress have been caught up in corrupt relationships with a lobbyist that and other corrupt activities, and the American people are sick of it.

My only concern is that if there is a clear off-year shift toward the Democratic candidates Bush will have to do something desperate to try to salvage the ‘08 elections. Like invading Iran. But that couldn’t happen, could it? Could it?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Column 78 - Democracy in Action

Having lived in Incline for almost 11 years now, I’ve seen my share of community controversy. We’ve had the Chateau controversy, the skateboard park, issues over the beaches, golf and tennis personnel, and of course the perennial dog park issue.

The recent debate over IVGID’s purchasing 5 acres of land at Incline Lake for $1 million was a controversial as any I’ve seen, but was different in some important ways that, I think, show how much we’ve grown as a community.

I don’t know how many people attended the IVGID Board’s meeting last Wednesday, but the room was more than packed, with a significant number of people standing in the lobby. The debate began (or continued, actually) with the Board discussing the pros and cons and asking questions of IVGID staff and others that were clear and thoughtful, however pointed they may have been. The debate among the Trustees was respectful without losing any of its force. Then, when Chairman Bohn opened the floor for public comments he divided the room with pros lined up on one side, cons on the other and neutral commenters in the middle. The comments went on for some two hours, and the tenor of the debate was again rational and respectful, though by no means dispassionate. The Board sat until 10 pm and when everyone present who wished to be heard had been heard, they voted in favor of the issue 3 to 2, a margin that, I think, reflected the community’s sentiment.

I have not always been a fan of IVGID Boards. In my early years here I was “asked to leave” more than one Board meeting after loudly objecting to what I felt were unfair or high-handed interactions with the residents who were present. This Board, however, went out of its way to hear every voice on the issue and their internal debate reflected not only their own views, but the input they had received. It was a show of participatory local government at its finest.

One complaint I have heard from time to time around controversial local issues is that the Board didn’t listen. I don’t think anyone can claim that about this Board on this issue, unless their criterion for listening is agreement. Personally, my criterion for listening is learning – if I walk away from a conversation having learned something, I have listened. If the person with whom I am speaking has learned something from my view, I have been listened to. Realistically, I think this is a more realistic criterion for listening than agreement, particularly on complex issues where a variety of views are being expressed. By my observation, this Board learned and listened, and whether you agree with their decision or not, they gave it their best and I congratulate each of the 5 Trustees.

Now the real work begins. As Trustee Gene Brockman pointed out at the meeting there has been, from the beginning, a ‘chicken and egg” problem that has complicated debate on the purchase. One often-heard objection has been that no concrete plan has been submitted for the use of the land (though many ideas have been advanced). On the other hand, the Board was loath to commit staff time and IVGID funds to the creation of a business plan before it was decided whether the land would be bought. Arguments could be made for planning first versus purchasing first, and the Board opted for purchasing first. Now, assuming the purchase will be consummated (this depends in part on approval from the State), we need to see which of the possible uses provides the best return on investment and that will be the occasion for another round of decision making. While a Nordic Ski Center has been the idea that has been heard the most, consideration must be given to year-round uses and to business issues including profitability and ROI. Other ideas have been advanced, including leaving the land in its natural state, perhaps selling the coverage to recoup the purchase price. Here again all voices should be heard and, based on the Board’s exemplary performance in making the purchase decision, we can, I think, expect a clear and participatory process.

Ain’t democracy grand?