Monday, December 28, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

President Thomas Jefferson's likeness has a place of honor on Mount Rushmore for his great contributions to the development of the United States and for writing the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, especially the sentence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Upon a motion by Richard Henry Lee, the Continental Congress had appointed a committee to write a resolution of independence. Committee members were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman. The actual writing was entrusted to Jefferson; the revisions were made by Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson, then by the entire Congress.

The document is based on the Theory of Natural Rights, developed by avant-garde philosophers John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Their rational and secular view of the world was based on general belief in human progress and the ultimate perfectibility of man acting rationally in harmony with the universe. The supreme importance of the individual in the rational organization of society was a major element in The Enlightenment, sometimes called The Age of Reason that transformed Western thought.

These ideas had already been used by the rebellious colonists. The Continental Congress declared in 1774, that “the inhabitants of the English colonies in North America are entitled to Life, Liberty and Property.” Note the word property as a basic right: the colonists were indeed worried about the danger that the British Crown might seize their property by eminent domain or confiscatory taxation.

Nevertheless, “property” was eliminated and “The pursuit of Happiness” substituted. Property was a specific and measurable asset. Happiness is a general term subject to individual interpretation, various levels of self-consciousness, unachieved desires, and limitless aspirations, more personal than the goals of society.

“Pursuit of Happiness” is not defined in the Declaration nor in the influential commentaries of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers that explained and analyzed the U.S. Constitution as well as the Declaration to the American public. While 18th century thinkers, such as Adam Smith regularly used “moral statements” about the conditions of social classes in economic policies, happiness was not a category, but the Charles Dickens accounts of English poverty did affect policy. It is difficult to think of young Oliver Twist in pursuit of happiness.

Declaring “Property” a basic right put the union of the thirteen colonies in doubt. For the Northern colonies it meant ships and shops and farms, even if some of the ships transported slaves. But for the southern colonies, the prime assets were their slaves, millions of them, the very heart of their assets and wealth of the social organization that made their economic system intensely profitable and put the white plantation owners in absolute control.

We must remember that slavery was the norm during most of human history. The perennial institution of slavery was undermined in the 18th and 19th centuries by the moral attitudes fostered by the “Enlightenment” and by Adam Smith's argument that free labor made better products at lower cost than slave labor.

The “Pursuit of Happiness” was intended to solve the political problem of keeping the thirteen colonies united, to encourage Enlightenment tendencies while avoiding the national decision about slavery in the United States - another in the series of compromises that would continue until the Emancipation Proclamation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Averting Nuclear Annihilation

President Barack Obama has called for a major change in world policy on nuclear weapons, leading to eventual elimination. His initiative is supported by a powerful group of conservative and military allies led by former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz and Democrats former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Sam Nunn longtime Chair of Senate Armed Services Committee.

These leaders recognize that nuclear weapons are the most inhumane and dangerous ever conceived, that kill and maim without discrimination, the only weapons ever invented that could destroy all life on planet Earth. That must not happen. Disarmament is the only answer: If any country has nuclear weapons, others will want them. Then, some day they will be used by accident, mistake, or design - the ultimate catastrophe.

In The Wall Street Journal and other venues, these conservative leaders argue for their dramatic reforms.
1. No first use of nuclear weapons

2. Immediate reduction of all nuclear arsenals

3. Immediate elimination of short-range nukes

4. Eventual elimination of long-range nukes

5. Guarding nukes and nuclear materials

6. Phasing out production of highly enriched uranium

7. Enhanced verification and enforcement procedures

8. Bringing into force the universal Comprehensive Test-ban Treaty to monitor and discourage cheating

Additional points about nuclear weapons

a. The US does not need to test nukes to maintain its current arsenal

b. The US and Russia own 95% of the world’s nukes and are cooperating in guarding inventories

c. The US and Russia have reduced their ICBM nukes to 2000 and are now negotiating further reductions to about 1600.

d. The US has not tested nukes since September 23, 1992, when Bush senior was president

e. For the CTBT treaty to go into effect, 44 specified countries with nuclear capacity must ratify. Of those countries, the following have not ratified: China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and USA.

During President Clinton’s administration, the CTBT was sent to the US Senate for approval. It failed to reach the 67 votes necessary for ratification, but did attain a majority, 51- 49. In 2010, there will be another attempt to reach 67, hopefully by persuading seven Republicans to join 60 Democrats. Henry Kissinger et al should be helpful in this effort.

Some conservatives and military leaders believe that a worldwide policy of no nukes would be the most advantageous policy for the US, enhancing and protecting its status as the only military superpower with the capability to deploy overwhelming non-nuclear forces anywhere on earth in a matter of hours. It would legitimize US action against alleged rogue states and tighten control over the nuclear black market. It would support present US hegemony by eliminating the so-called suicide defense prepared by North Korea and Iran. Giving up nuclear weapons and accepting US hegemony may be the price that humanity must pay to avert the threat of total annihilation.

Several countries including Libya, Ukraine, Belarus, have given up their nukes as not worth the high cost of development and maintenance. Others have found the prestige of having nukes to be over-rated. And others have found themselves under an informal US nuclear umbrella: Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Israel, and others. And finally, nations that find US hegemony onerous and oppressive, with or without nuclear weapons, could ally themselves for resistance.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Over There, Over There

By Jerome Grossman

President Obama is sending 30,000 more American combat soldiers to Afghanistan to join the 68,000 now there. This formidable force is serviced by an equal number of support troops providing the fighters with the necessary food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical services, chaplains, intelligence, etc. These support troops are also at risk but were not listed in the president's speech so the public does not know the actual size of the risk and the commitment.

Not to worry about the number of fighting troops; 30,000 is merely a down payment. General Stanley McCrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan will surely be asking for more troops to meet Obama’s deadline for victory, July 2011, the date that Obama says he will begin to withdraw U.S. troops.

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has a different view. At a news conference with the Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Karzai said, “For another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain an adequate defensive force and will need to rely on the United States and other NATO countries for decades to come.”

And who is going to rule Afghanistan when the Taliban insurgents are crushed by US GI’s? The US puppet Karzai and his notoriously corrupt regime? Karzai’s brother, the big-time drug dealer and CIA agent? How many decades of US occupation before Afghanistan becomes a US protectorate?

The notion that the US homeland can be protected by occupying Afghanistan is flawed. None of the 19 criminals who perpetrated September 11 were Afghans. The plot was hatched in Germany and the weapons used were box cutters (to enter the pilot cabin) and credit cards (to pay for flight instruction at American airfields). Let me repeat, the 19 criminals were trained in America and were known by the FBI and CIA to be bad guys. The next attack on the US could originate anywhere, but our improved protection system will be our prime defense. And it has worked since September 11.

President Obama doesn't know how to end the war in Afghanistan so he is trying to pacify his main critics: the troop surge is for the military lobby and the civilian hawks who always find a reason to get into every fight, sometimes to spread US influence, sometimes to support US allies, sometimes to exercise US hegemony, sometimes just to show who is the boss.

The 19 month so-called exit strategy is also a political statement intended to pacify the Democrats who thought they were electing a peace candidate. But Obama says that war can be the road to peace, contrary to the views of his idols, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Obama has gained the support of John McCain and Karl Rove as well as a host of Republicans for his Afghanistan policy while losing many of those who regarded him as a modern-day prophet.

George M. Cohan, singer, dancer, playwright and American jingoist, understood this American tendency toward expansion made stronger by our enormous military power just as it affected previous super-powers. In 1917, he wrote the theme song for World War I, “Over There”, which might well apply to the US military effort in Afghanistan

Over There, Over There
Send the word, send the word,
Over There
That the Yanks are coming,
The Yanks are coming,
The drums rum tumming everywhere
So prepare,
Say a Prayer
Send the word,
Send the word to beware
We'll be over, we're coming over.
And we won't be back till it's over over there!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Razzle Dazzle on Afghanistan

When President Obama told the nation his revised policy on Afghanistan, he indicated that America's mission in that country is not open-ended in duration, that we will leave when our objectives have been accomplished, and that the objectives are worth the sacrifices. Obama’s primary goal is the destruction of the Taliban insurgency against the corrupt Karzai government.

The president should have addressed the problem of corruption within the government of Afghanistan President Hamid KarzaiHamid Karzai and explain why the C.I.A. had his brother on its payroll. Did the C.I.A. foster the widespread Afghan corruption that we are now criticizing? The same brother, Ahmed Wali KarzaiAhmed Wali Karzai, is widely believed to be involved in the highly profitable drug trade. When this was called to the attention of Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton, she said, "Every country makes compromises, and it behooves you to be humble about pointing fingers." This was hardly a denial, and it fits neatly with her comfort with the Karzai regime despite evidence of widespread fraud in the recent presidential election.

Another front requires a presidential explanation. The Obama administration prides itself on transparency in government operations but it hasn't told us about the U.S. Army providing security that will enable China to exploit in Afghanistan one of the world's largest deposits of copper, earn tens of billions of dollars and feed its insatiable appetite for valuable raw materials.

This U.S. troop deployment protects the Chinese investment-the largest in Afghanistan's history-from the Taliban and the impoverished locals. It saves the Chinese from having to send their own troops abroad to defend their economic interests. We seem to have no problem doing just that-even keeping our troops there-under fire-for a decade. Remarkably, we are doing this favor for the Chinese in spite of the fact that a qualified American corporation bid but lost the contract. When Chinese President Hu JintaoHu Jintao recently had dinner with President Obama, did they discuss the quid pro quo for this remarkable cooperation? Should we know the deal? Does it have any connection with the continuing purchase of U.S. government bonds by China in spite of the decline in the value of the dollar?

Beijing faces enormous challenges in completing the project and gaining access to the estimated 240,000,000 tons of copper accessible through surface mining alone. Taliban-led insurgents are likely to harass the Chinese project for nationalistic reasons to preserve this valuable Afghan asset from the foreigners. It is estimated that this project development will take decades. Is this another indication that U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely? Was Obama’s promise to leave Afghanistan merely a traditional Chicago-style Razzle Dazzle Act put together by his closest political advisers, Chicagoans David Axlerod and Rahm EmanuelEmanuel to deflect criticism with hocus pocus?

Monday, November 30, 2009

One Third of the Nation

One Third of the Nation
By Jerome Grossman

On January 20, 1937, in his Second Inaugural Address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Roosevelt, the wealthy aristocrat, was defending the economic and social policies he had introduced in 1933 in relief of the dire condition of the American worker. His New Deal established the federal government's responsibility for protecting farmers, workers, and the unemployed while actively regulating the economy to prevent another crash.

To avert national collapse, Roosevelt introduced legislation that he had worked for as governor of New York: minimum wage to lift purchasing power for those with bottom incomes; laws strengthening workers right to unionize thus raising incomes; unemployment insurance to avoid starvation; Social Security providing minimum income for the aged; farm policy guaranteeing a fair return to family farmers.

In retrospect, the Great Depression is a staggeringly unique event. But today's economic numbers show today’s workers in similar distress with about the same percentage of the population hurting, their situation made barely tolerable only by the Roosevelt reforms and initiatives.

Today the official unemployment rate is 10.2%. However, the unofficial rate accepted by most economists is 17.5%, the difference composed of workers employed part time in their regular jobs, those employed below their level of experience and training, discouraged workers unemployed for such a long period that they are no longer looking for work, and those formerly employed by businesses that have collapsed or moved abroad, etc..

Based on the 17.5% unemployment rate, figuring only one worker to a family, the number of unemployed are about 27 million workers. Assuming that each unemployed worker is the breadwinner for a family of four, the number of people “ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished”, is approximately 100 million, about the same percentage of our current population of 300 million as the “One Third of the Nation” described by Roosevelt.

Roosevelt and the social workers around him who helped make policy, Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, Harold A. Ickes, farmer Henry Wallace, focused on relief for “The Forgotten Man.”. They saved the banks from bankruptcy while installing serious regulations but spent most of their energies and assets on the workers. Today President Obama says his $787 billion stimulus is working but where are all the jobs? Since taking office, his administration, in contrast to the Roosevelt administration, has studiously avoided paying people to go to work, which could be accomplished by subsidizing private-sector employment or by creating new government paid jobs. There are programs in some states that financially compensate employees who cut their hours to prevent broader layoffs at their companies. Unemployed workers could be paid for going back to school to further their education and to learn new skills. The list of creative activities to support and improve the workforce is endless and requires only the will and orientation of the president’s advisers who seem to be more worried about Wall Street and banks “Too Big to Fail.”

Obama’s Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the president’s chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers are not oriented in the same direction as Roosevelt’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and Relief Administrator Harry Hopkins, and that's a pity.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Questions on Afghanistan

New Questions on Afghanistan
By Jerome Grossman

When President Obama tells the nation his revised policy on Afghanistan, he will surely indicate that America's mission in that country is not open-ended in duration, that we will leave when our objectives have been accomplished, and that the objectives are worth the sacrifices.

The president should address the problem of corruption within the government of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and explain why the C.I.A. had his brother on its payroll. Did the C.I.A. foster the widespread Afghan corruption that we are now criticizing? The same brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is widely believed to be involved in the highly profitable drug trade. When this was called to the attention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she said, "Every country makes compromises, and it behooves you to be humble about pointing fingers." This was hardly a denial, and it fits neatly with her comfort with the Karzai regime despite evidence of widespread fraud in the recent presidential election.

Another front requires a presidential explanation. The Obama administration prides itself on transparency in government operations but it hasn't told us about the U.S. Army providing security that will enable China to exploit in Afghanistan one of the world's largest deposits of copper, earn tens of billions of dollars and feed its insatiable appetite for valuable raw materials.

This U.S. troop deployment protects the Chinese investment-the largest in Afghanistan's history-from the Taliban and the impoverished locals. It saves the Chinese from having to send their own troops abroad to defend their economic interests. We seem to have no problem doing just that-even keeping our troops there-under fire-for a decade. Remarkably, we are doing this favor for the Chinese in spite of the fact that a qualified American corporation bid but lost the contract. When Chinese President Hu Jintao recently had dinner with President Obama, did they discuss the quid pro quo for this remarkable cooperation? Should we know the deal?

Beijing faces enormous challenges in completing the project and gaining access to the estimated 240,000,000 tons of copper accessible through surface mining alone. Taliban-led insurgents are likely to harass the Chinese project for nationalistic reasons to preserve this valuable Afghan asset from the foreigners. It is estimated that this project development will take decades. Is this another indication that U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Is the Afghanistan War Part of Obama's Stimulus Program?

Is the Afghanistan War Part of Obama's Stimulus Program?
By Jerome Grossman

For eight long months President Obama has been wrestling with the request of his commanding general in Afghanistan for at least 40,000 more American troops to reinforce the 68,000 already there alongside the 50,000 NATO soldiers. Virtually the entire foreign-policy establishment has been tied up in a series of eight long meetings on Afghanistan; papers have been researched, written, and discussed in excruciating detail.

As the nation awaits the president's decision, it seems clear that the enormous investment of time and study presages much more than a decision on the number of troops. The president must offer a game-changing strategy: either the application of irresistible force for victory within a reasonable time or a prompt exit strategy. The irresistible force might be assembled quickly by transferring U.S. forces now in Iraq to Afghanistan. The exit might be blamed on the corruption, ineffectiveness and drug dealing of the hopeless Karzai government.

Why has it taken Obama so long to decide? We should keep in mind that the Afghan war is not his prime problem. His administration will succeed or fail primarily on the economic situation in the nation, the level of jobs and business activity. Is there a relationship between the economy and Afghanistan? Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave a clue on November 12 as he commented on the president's many meetings on Afghanistan. Mr. Gates was talking to reporters on his plane en route to a Wisconsin factory that is churning out thousands of armored trucks for use by American troops in Afghanistan. Mr. Gates was in Wisconsin to visit the Oshkosh Corp. which is making 6000 trucks to help protect troops from improvised explosive devices (IED), which account for the vast majority of American and NATO casualties in Afghanistan. “Obviously, if the president makes the decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan", Mr. Gates said, "We would look at this in terms of whether we needed to buy more".

Is the war in Afghanistan indirectly part of the Obama stimulus plan to increase economic activity and employment? An exit from Afghanistan and the planned withdrawal from Iraq would mean wholesale cancellations of military contracts, expenditures that the Congress supports and welcomes. Such cutbacks would exacerbate the difficult business and employment situation. Will this be a factor in the Obama's decision? As a student of American history, he knows that FDR finally overcame the Great Depression with an armament program beginning in 1938-39 that stimulated the economy and put millions of workers back on the payroll. Will that be a factor in Obama’s decision about continuing the wars in Southern Asia?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Losing the Moral High Ground

Losing the Moral High Ground
By Jerome Grossman

Last week Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spent three days in Pakistan defending U.S. Policy before a variety of groups. Some of the audiences were blunt and combative, reflecting the dramatic decline in popularity of U. S. policy. The Pakistani criticisms include U.S. interference in Pakistan's internal affairs, U.S. failure to allow Pakistani textiles into American markets in desired quotas, and the growing U.S. relationship with India particularly on nuclear matters.

But the issue that drew the most attention and anger is the U.S. use of unmanned drone airplanes to kill people in Pakistan, a program guided offshore by civilians from as far away as western United States. Some Pakistanis told Clinton that the program amounted to “execution without trial”. Others asked Clinton if she viewed these drone attacks as terrorism. “No, I do not”, she replied, but refused to comment further.

This CIA program is aimed at terrorism suspects around the world including countries where U.S. troops are not based. The program was initiated in the Bush administration, continued by Obama, and is now one of the fastest-growing programs of the U.S. military. After September 11, Bush signed a secret memorandum of notification giving the CIA the right to kill members of Al Qaeda and confederates virtually anywhere in the world.

Targeted killing has become official U.S. policy although the U.S. has a law forbidding assassination. The CIA furnishes the intelligence and selection of victims. It depends on the quality of the intelligence and whether cash bounties to informers and personal revenge influence the execution decisions. Errors in targeting have led to civilian deaths of innocents especially members of families of the targeted.

The CIA keeps broadening categories of the condemned, from Al Qaeda to Taliban to insurgents. Opponents of the program say that it is more effective `to arrest suspects than to kill-in order to obtain intelligence from them. Dead men tell no tales.

The CIA has farmed out the killing to commercial contractors who hire and train civilians to make the life and death decisions under pressure, a system that makes many uneasy. Other critics point out that the drone is not a decisive weapon but its use is likely to inspire hatred of America and even create more enemies seeking revenge. And as Clinton found out in Pakistan, a longtime U.S. ally, the drone program could cause America to lose the moral high ground, from time immemorial an important asset in rallying the nation, attracting allies, and deterring rivals.

Friday, October 23, 2009

No Health Reform Until 2013

No Health Reform Until 2013
By Jerome Grossman

Most Americans are expecting big changes in our health-care system-and they want them fast. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that 49% of the people responding expected people without insurance would get help in buying coverage this year or next. Twenty-five percent said three years, and 11% said “further in the future”.

Most of them will be disappointed. Even if Congress passes a bill this year, most changes are not scheduled to go into effect until at least 2013 or much later, according to the New York Times.

The lawmakers say change will take a long time, the process is complex, and delaying some changes will make the overhaul seemed less expensive and less upsetting. Remember: five-sixths of Americans now have health-care and some may not be eager to support the subsidies for the other one-sixth. In any case, the long and agonizing debate and the deferred 2013 target date certainly don’t indicate an emergency. But it is an emergency for millions of Americans.

The more likely reason for the delay is political. In the 2010 election, incumbent senators and representatives can run on their health care legislation, even though it will not be operational and therefore temporarily cost free. None of the inevitable errors and inconsistencies of the reforms will annoy the voters..

The delay in implementation will also please President Obama. When he runs for re-election in 2012 his historic achievement will still be cost free and complaint free. He will point out that he has accomplished what no other president could including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. Mount Rushmore will be on the horizon to match the Nobel Peace Prize.

Health-care reform in the U.S., whether it turns out to be inadequate and marginal revisions or fundamental change overthrowing the insurance companies (a miracle) will have to wait at least two elections before implementation. In the meantime, many Americans will suffer from the acknowledged inadequacies of our unique system of care.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama Needs to Deliver Change

Obama Needs to Deliver Change
By Jerome Grossman

Obama's very effectiveness as a president is widely viewed as being in serious question. He is unable to convince people that the stimulus program is working. His health care reform program is under attack from a variety of interests. On the Afghanistan war, he seems indecisive.

Combined with his lack of executive experience, his seeming inability to resolve political problems affect his ability to govern. Obama’s quick trip to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago's bid on the Olympic Games-and then to be rejected-seemed to indicate poor staff work and a trivialization of priorities. Allowing General Stanley McChrystal to lobby the public to affect the president's decision on Afghanistan weakened Obama’s authority. A confident president would have fired the general as Truman did with MacArthur and Bush did with Shinseki. The situation blended into comic relief when Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while fighting two wars and planning on a third.

Around the world, supporters of Obama worry about his failure to change Bush policies and to solve pressing problems. They see demonstrations in front of the White House by Obama supporters disappointed that he hasn't changed the “don't ask, don't tell” military policy as he promised in the campaign. And those who want an end to the Afghan war or least an exit strategy are acting out in Congress and around the country.

The New Statesman, an authoritative British publication lists the problems that Obama has not solved. The whole world is watching.

1. He continued the Bush policy on narrow definition of “state secrets”, keeping information from the public unnecessarily.

2. He has retreated on a government-run health insurance plan.

3. He has failed to persuade Congress to take a substantive action on the emissions that affect climate change.

4. He has continued the Bush trillion dollar bank bailouts.

5. He failed to control bonuses for the executives of banks.

6. He made permanent the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003.

7. He has been unable to close the prison at Guantánamo; force-feeding operations have continued.

8. He has refused to release photographs of Bush administration “advanced interrogation” techniques and backed immunity for Bush officials involved in torture.

9. He has increased U.S. troops in Afghanistan and extended operations into Pakistan.

10. He has issued signing statements claiming the authority to bypass provisions of pills enacted into law.

11. Obama has failed to deliver to organized labor the changes in law promised for a generation.

Obama’s own supporters worry that he is not living up to his specific campaign promises and that when he tries to do so he does not seem to know how to use his power. Obama is a very popular leader of a party that won a landslide election in 2008. He has a team of centrist advisors headed by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, an experienced team that knows the political ropes and the pressures necessary to get things done in Washington. While they understand political hardball, they seem to be unwilling to use it to energize the serious change that Obama inspired in his sensational campaign. The alternative strategy would involve the development of a mass grass roots movement to promote very specific goals for peace and economic justice.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama Plays Hardball with the Russians

Obama Plays Hardball with the Russians
By Jerome Grossman

In 1981, at the height of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president of the United States. He immediately heightened tensions using belligerent rhetoric attacking the Soviet Union as "The Evil Empire" while authorizing an enormous military buildup against "the focus of evil in the modern world."

A significant number of Americans were worried about the harsh negatives of the Reagan initiatives. One manifestation was the Nuclear Freeze Movement that sought to decrease tensions as well as the nuclear buildup by limiting all nuclear arsenals at current levels as a first step toward their eventual elimination.

Reagan showed his annoyance criticizing "the placard carriers", giving little credence to the groundswell of support for the freeze campaign that swept America in 1981 – 82. This grass-roots uprising was a major factor behind Reagan's March 1983 speech that initiated the missile defense program (SDI) that continues to waste billions of dollars in the military budget.

Among the protesters supporting the Freeze was Columbia University senior Barack Obama, who in 1983 published a plea in a campus newsmagazine for "a nuclear free world" opposing SDI and military industrial interests “with their billion-dollar erector sets."

Reagan's attachment to the concept of missile defense started a very expensive research program that has produced meager results while leading to continued wrangling with non-communist Russia over their installation in Eastern Europe. Reagan's SDI simply will not defend against a sophisticated missile equipped with decoys.

Obama recently announced that he was cancelling the missile defense shield installations in Poland and Czech Republic. He has been severely and incorrectly criticized by military hawks for this “unilateral” concession, but it wasn’t unilateral and it was a deal, not a concession The SDI system was always a bargaining chip and Obama was the first president who knew how to use it.
He eliminated the ineffective shield in Eastern Europe in exchange for much more valuable Russian concessions and cooperation on a variety of issues. Here are some of the particulars

1. Russia allows U.S. military flights over its territory, planes carrying soldiers and equipment to Afghanistan.

2. Russia allows Kyrgyzstan to give the U.S. an important military base on the Russian border.

3. Russia acquiesces to the U. S. training local troops in the state of Georgia with which Russia is at odds

4. Russia promises that it will not help Iran develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S.

5. Russia agrees to support the U.S. position on North Korea

6. Russia acquiesces in the expansion of U.S. influence in the Ukraine.

These are the Russian concessions we know about. There may be more. The media has failed to make the connection and to evaluate their importance in the continuing U. S. wars in Southeast Asia. At the same time, this change in U.S. policy gives a significant political victory to Russian leaders Putin and Medvedev, strengthening their positions at home and around the world.

When will Obama take political advantage of his coup? Probably during his 2012 reelection campaign when his record will be before the electorate and he will boast of his accomplishments on health-care and obtaining Russian cooperation. At the same time, Obama has fulfilled the promise he made at Columbia in 1983 to change policy on missile defense and to work for a world without nuclear weapons. Obama has proven that he knows how to play political hardball-at least with the Russians.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Politics of Health Care

The Politics of Health Care
By Jerome Grossman

President Barack Obama has been pushing hard for his plan to overhaul the health-care system: speaking to all kinds of audiences across the country; seizing every opportunity on television, radio, newspapers, magazines, Internet; meeting with countless group leaders including Republicans and conservatives. He is everywhere, talking to everybody.

Pay attention to one of Obama's favorite lines: "We have been waiting for health reform since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. We have been waiting since the days of Harry Truman. We've been waiting since Johnson and Nixon and Clinton. We cannot wait any longer."

That riff stimulates tumultuous applause, shouts of "Yes, we can", supporters shouting "We love you!" and Obama responds," I love you back!" If this sounds like a political campaign, that is because it is actually-the beginning of Obama’s campaign for reelection to a second term in 2012. You can't begin too early. Every president has used this strategy in his own style

Remarkably, Obama has maintained his popularity with the voters even when they disagree with him on the issues: unemployment, bank bailouts, handling the economy, the federal deficit, war in Afghanistan, closing Guantánamo, etc.. His favorable rating is 53%, good for these times of trouble and far ahead of Speaker Pelosi and Senator Leader Reid as well as Republican leaders Senator McConnell, Representative Boehner., and Senator McCain.

Obama's political advisors know that love is a many splendored thing that can dissipate if he fails to deliver. But Obama's prospects for resolving Afghanistan and unemployment, the two biggest problems, are dicey at best. Republicans will challenge him saying, "Nice young guy, but what has he accomplished? What national problems has he solved?"

Obama needs a stunning victory in his political bank account, a victory that directly affects every American, an accomplishment that has eluded every previous president of either party in times of prosperity or recession. In 2012, Obama will declaim the names of his predecessors who failed on health-care reform, Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, while reminding the voters of his singular deed.

Health-care reform legislation is crucial for Obama: he must pass THE bill. That is why he is prepared to sacrifice content for political victory, better to pass a weak plan than no plan. Furthermore, Democrats have learned never to go to war against the combined forces of corporate America. Heeding the lesson of the Clinton failure on health reform, Obama has neutralized the pharmaceutical and insurance industries by negotiating concessions that will increase their customers and their profits while changing the system to include everybody. The White House has affirmed these deals so Harry and Louise are not campaigning against Obama's plan.

After many months of tortuous appeasement of the Republicans in and out of Congress under the rubric of bipartisanship, Obama has his deal but it is not with the GOP. He found that it is easier to deal with big business than to deal with the Republicans, out of power and cranky.

Obama recently told "60 Minutes" that if a health-care bill passes," I own it", but if it fails, the Republicans will own it. Fear not, America, there will be a health bill, it will be adopted by the Senate and House and President Obama will use it to prove his presidential mettle in the 2012 election.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Amateur Hour on Afghanistan

Amateur Hour on Afghanistan
By Jerome Grossman

A clash is coming on U.S. policy in Afghanistan. President Obama is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase there. One plan, advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, would "scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda there and in Pakistan." Greater reliance would be placed on drone airplanes attacking insurgent leaders and less on nation-building.

However, the 66 page classified report by the commanding general on the ground, Stanley McChrystal, assessed the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan "as a potential threat to the safety of American troops. “ He called for more troops and "other resources" that "would be required for victory." This approach is supported by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Can Obama resist the recommendations of his military leaders?

It is an embarrassment to the Obama administration that the secret report was leaked to newsman Bob Woodward and printed in the Washington Post. It forces the President's hand at a time when he is hard pressed to push health-care reform legislation through the Congress, giving the President another controversial issue to manage. It is hard enough to handle a single controversy. One observer called the chain of events and the leaked report, "amateur hour." Who slipped the secret document to Woodward? In the midst of the battle over health care, Congress must battle over troops again? Republicans are already on board for escalating the war, with more troops and money. The Democrats are divided but most want the administration to develop an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

It will be politically difficult for Obama, the leader of the only superpower on earth, to simply walk away from the war. But we did it in Vietnam, America is more secure and we gained a friendly customer. We have agreed to leave Iraq in 2011 and the political roof hasn't collapsed. If we leave Afghanistan to the people who live there, how would such a haven increase the danger in the United States? That case has not yet been made. We have learned how to protect ourselves: no attacks have been made on the U.S. since September 11.

The President’s sweeping reassessment has been prompted by deteriorating conditions on the ground, the messy and unsettled outcome of the Afghan elections, the widespread corruption, and the guerilla tactics of the Taliban. Nine months into his presidency and six months after announcing a new strategy, Obama is reconsidering his plan again. Does this indicate uncertainty?

The allies of the U.S. want out. At least half of the Americans polled have lost confidence in the war. There is division in the Obama administration. No strategy seems to work. Is it worth more American lives? Is it really necessary for American security?

Politically, the war is a loser. It is no longer the Bush war; it belongs to Barack Obama - to intensify or to end – halfway measures won’t do

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Don’t Let Them Do It Again

Don’t Let Them Do It Again
By Jerome Grossman

The same neo-conservatives who promoted the mistaken war in Iraq, are now urging President Barack Obama to greatly increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan and to stay there as long as it takes to conquer that country and defeat the native resistance.

Led by William Kristol, the same ideologues who insisted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass distraction and was involved with Al Qaeda, both not true, have sent an open letter to the White House describing Afghanistan as a "war we cannot afford to lose." Among the signers were a raft of prominent Republican politicians and military hawks as well as former Bush adviser Karl Rove and that "expert", former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

This effort comes as support for the war is falling. A CNN/ORC poll in August showed increased opposition to the war among 74% of the Democrats and 57% of Independents, with overall support down to 39%. Public opinion has been affected by the mounting U.S. death toll in Afghanistan, the multiple charges of election fraud, rampant corruption in the U.S. supported Karzai government, and the disinclination of the Afghan army to fight.

The American military forces in Afghanistan now number 62,000 in addition to the 70,000 contractors, mostly American, hired by U.S. corporations to provide food, clothing, shelter and other services for the troops. The suggested increase could bring U.S. forces and contractors as high as 400,000 at a cost that would exceed the trillion dollars we spent on Iraq. And we are still in Iraq in force. Our NATO allies won't help: they're cutting back their forces in Afghanistan.

Is the occupation of Afghanistan worth the effort? Al Qaeda is no longer there, Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan, if he is still living. It is difficult for the only superpower, bestriding the earth like a colossus, to admit a mistake, but the cost in lives and money is too great for the miniscule benefits. America, go home from Afghanistan. Ignore the failed advisors that wasted so many lives in Iraq. Don't let them do it again.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Thank You, George Will

Thank You, George Will
By Jerome Grossman

Suddenly, American popular opinion is turning against the war in Afghanistan. And the catalyst is the conservative columnist, George Will, who shook up the establishment by writing in his nationally syndicated column that U.S. “forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small potent special force units, concentrating on the porous 1500 mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”

That change may provide an American “success”, whatever that might mean, but at least it is a start toward disengagement in Afghanistan, an end to the American occupation, an end to the futile attempt to create a democratic and effective central government that Afghanistan has never had in its entire history.

George Will tells us that the Afghan government is corrupt, inept and predatory, the nominated Vice President is a drug trafficker, and that the people yearn for restoration of the warlords. In the current election, charges of ballot stuffing and fraud come from all sides.

U.S. forces are being increased to 68,000 bringing the coalition total to 110,000, a deceptive figure that does not include the 100,000 civilian contractors who do the logistical work for the troops. George Will writes that “Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.”

President Obama insists that this is a war of necessity, to protect the U.S. homeland from another criminal attack like the tragedy of September 11 that killed about 3000 Americans. Yet those 19 criminals were armed only with box cutters and credit cards, learned to fly at U.S. airfields. None of the 19 were Afghan, 15 were Saudis. Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive, is hiding somewhere in Pakistan. The Al Qaeda organization is diminished to a criminal conspiracy without a base in Afghanistan.

It is hard to see how taking sides in the Afghan civil war by sending an American army would prevent a similar criminal act by 19 other criminals. Yes, we can defend ourselves by smart police work, by protecting our places of entry and our installations all over the world – and we have done so.

The war in Afghanistan is a waste of lives and money. Pulling out of Afghanistan will not damage U.S. power and prestige around the world any more than did our departure from Vietnam. And the enemy in Vietnam had potent allies: the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, bristling with powerful armies and nuclear weapons. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are rebels with rifles and roadside bombs, without significant allies, hardly an existential threat to the United States.

Where are the sensible Americans who agitated for ending the Vietnam and Iraq Wars? Are they intimidated by the so-called war on terror that commits our country to intervene on behalf of dictatorial governments challenged by revolutionaries?

George Will is not intimidated. His conservative analysis says that America will be safer if we pull our troops out of Afghanistan. Thank you, George Will. You are half right, but your recommendation for offshore bombardment with the inevitable killing of civilians is hardly the way to capture the hearts and minds of the Afghans. But at least you are heading in the right direction.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

End Torture and Illegal Detention, Once and For All

End Torture and Illegal Detention, Once and For All
By Jerome Grossman

Amnesty International USA reports on the case of Mohammed Jawad, detained by U. S. intelligence five years ago at age 12 to 17 somewhere in the Middle East, sent to Guantánamo Bay prison, beaten, subjected to sleep deprivation and intense interrogation techniques, told his family would be killed if he did not confess, denied access to a lawyer. Recently the U.S. Supreme Court gave Jawad his day in court, he was ordered released, all charges were dropped and this week he arrived home.

This small positive step is encouraging but the bigger picture remains deeply disturbing:

• The CIA Inspector General's report revealed shameful stories about mock executions, death threats to detainees family members, a power drill placed to the head of the detainee, water boarding, as well as other CIA use of torture
• The CIA finally released two classified memos that then Vice President Cheney had insisted would justify the use of torture. Far from justifying torture in terms of effectiveness, the memos offer little evidence that attacks were prevented by obtaining intelligence through torture.
• While the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate alleged torture is a positive step, the scope of this investigation may be limited to the actions of a few mid-level personnel while the evidence puts responsibility for torture much higher up the chain of command. We need an Independent Commission of Inquiry to get the full truth and to prosecute all the miscreants.
• A negative development: the Obama administration will continue the Bush and Clinton practice of international rendition-sending detainees to other countries for interrogation, outside of U.S. judicial review. Obama officials say they will ensure that rendition detainees will not be tortured in the future, as they have been in the past. President George W. Bush made the same promise to no avail. Why use rendition at all? So that we can repudiate the brutal interrogation methods after-the-fact?
• CIA Director Leon Panetta recently told House and Senate leaders that he had only recently learned of a secret CIA program to kill top Al Qaeda leaders with assassination teams outsourced to Blackwater USA, a private company. Panetta has cancelled the contract

We must always remember that torture of any living creature is immoral and a sin against any society-and if that isn't enough to deter, reference the Federal Bureau of Intelligence(F.B.I) that warns us that torture is an ineffective method for obtaining actionable intelligence.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Big Business Loves Health-care Reform

Big Business Loves Health-care Reform
By Jerome Grossman

The liberals achieve their maximum political strength in the Democratic Party primary elections: they speak up at meetings, define the issues, make early political contributions, and rarely miss a vote. As political consciousness spreads slowly through the rest of the electorate, the liberal influence and vote diminishes in importance. They know that agreements on issues with candidates must be made early in the campaign and are likely to be modified under the pressures of the wider campaign.

In the 2008 presidential campaign, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton gave the liberals the health-care position they wanted: the transformation of the U.S. system of private insurance coverage to a single-payer expansion of Medicare that would include all Americans, a system paid for out of general tax revenues. Obama came the closest, saying that if he were to install a new system from scratch it would be single-payer. That was enough for the liberals to vote for him out of love and hope.

And indeed the Obama administration never proposed a health-care revolution challenging the insurance and drug industries. Such a challenge might have been successful if Obama was prepared to play political hardball, using political power to force compliance from Congress and business interests. Like Obama, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson won landslide victories in 1932 and 1964 gaining huge majorities in Congress. They knew how to use their political power generated by the landslides to force liberal legislation through an unwilling Congress by threatening the incumbents with loss of privileges, loss on their ability to pass legislation, loss of political contributions, loss of appointment of friends, etc. That was how they revolutionized the nation by installing the Social Security System, minimum wage, civil rights and voting rights legislation, Medicare, to name just a few, but not as defined by Chris Mathews on TV as merely talking tough.Chris Matthews worked for Speaker Tip O'Neill, a nice guy with no particular ideology whose idea of pressure was scotch and soda and a joke on the nineteenth hole.

Without hardball, President Obama will get a health-care bill but it won't be a revolution and it may not even be reform. His people have already made a deal with the pharmaceutical companies, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. The industry will offer $8 billion a year in consumer savings for 10 years out of its current annual profits of $300 billion a year. Industry benefits: the barriers against importation of foreign drugs will be maintained; the government's ability to use its enormous purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices is off the table; the government will subsidize more drug purchases by seniors.

Insurance companies are similarly delighted with other elements of "reform". The government will require the uninsured to buy health insurance, subsidizing them if necessary. These millions of mostly young and healthy customers will demand few services, increasing industry profits far more than the cost of the Obama changes. The oldest and the sickest will be on Medicare, the poorest on Medicaid, the young and healthy new customers must buy from the insurance companies. Looks like a good deal for the health-care industry. And Obama’s lieutenants have discovered that it is easier to deal with big business than with the Republicans and their Blue-Dog allies in Congress.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Devil in the Details

The Devil in the Details
By Jerome Grossman

Despite President Barack Obama's brilliant performance at his primetime press conference on health care, Republicans and some conservative Democrats are balking at the details of the proposed legislation. But the devil is not in the details. It is in the commitment of the nation to the national health. The president needs to activate the conscience of America to take care of all of its citizens.

The president needs to challenge the country to declare that health care is a natural right of citizenship, like the right to an education, the right to vote, the right to police and fire protection, the right to military defense of the homeland.

Once that principle is established, the Federal Government can determine implementation by examining the best practices on cost and efficiencies in other countries. It is no secret that dozens of nations deliver health care to their people at half of the per capita cost in the United States while attaining better health results than the U.S. in the standard measures of longevity, infant mortality, hospital stays, etc.

The cost of universal health care is unsustainable to the average private citizen. That is why the cost must be assumed by the Federal Government. Health care must be a national enterprise because diseases often spread from those without care to the most cared for sectors of the population. What begins as a moral question becomes an issue of self-defense for the total society.

Our political and moral leaders must emphasize the social aspects of taking care of everybody. If Texas or Florida or California or New York or Massachusetts were invaded by foreign armies, would we not rally to repulse the invader? If any army of microbes invaded the bodies of the 50 million Americans without health care shouldn’t we rally to repulse the invader?

The devil is not in the details. The devil is in our failure to act as one people, liberty and justice and health for all 306,985,793 citizens. We can find the money to defend the health of 50 million Americans the way we found the trillion dollars we spent to defend 28,221,180 Iraqis and the trillion dollars we are spending to defend 32,738,376 Afghanis, 6,930 miles from Washington,D.C.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Eliminate Unemployment

Eliminate Unemployment
By Jerome Grossman

7.2 million people have lost their jobs since the start of the recession. The effects of these layoffs have been horrendous on the workers and their families. The recession is making us sick, the employed as well as the unemployed. For most, losing your job means losing your health insurance. You drop your gym membership if you have one. You delay medical care to save the cost. You eat cheaper, less healthy foods. You roam the streets applying for jobs below your skill level, even part-time jobs at low wages just to bring something home. Your skills deteriorate. Your confidence in yourself, in your future and your country begins to melt away.

And it wasn't even necessary

At the office or factory that had trained you in their products and procedures, the decline in business was 20%, so 20% of the capable and trained workers or salespeople or executives were let go. All that experience, all that know-how put onto the street to worry and scrounge and beg the government or another employer for crumbs. Don’t break up an effective organization. Share the pain. Divide the available work among all workers. Prepare for a better future.

The cost reductions to the organization would be the same as the cost reductions realized with layoffs but the organization would remain intact poised for the eventual economic recovery. The cost to the government for unemployment relief would be much lower. Public and private morale would be higher. Increased hope and optimism would improve our mental and physical health. Crime induced by poverty and desperation would decline. Confidence would help to restore our economy. This is the America where we share the pain, help each other out, or do we?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Senator Frankenstein Goes to Washington

Senator Frankenstein Goes to Washington
By Jerome Grossman

Minnesota finally has a new senator. Al Franken, a professional comedian running for office for the first time, overcame Norm Coleman, a professional politician

Franken has a national reputation in show business. In his unique comedy style he covered the 1992 presidential conventions on Comedy Central TV and has delivered his blend of humor, disrespect and analysis at many universities and corporations. He is never at a loss for words, comments, insults and jokes. Franken keeps the listeners awake.

Liberal Democrat Al Franken's best friend and his partner in show business is Ben Stein, a political mirror image, a hard-line conservative. Stein is an actor who was also a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, and believe it or not, writes a column for the New York Times business section most Sundays.

In their performances, the pair is presented as Stein/Franken, because, as Al jokes, Stein is older and thus gets first billing. However, some critics say that a more descriptive name would be Franken/Stein as depicted in the original book and movie about a horrible creature composed of body parts taken from the dead and assembled by a scientist. Preparation for the Senate?

Of course, Ben Stein will not be a partner in the Senate, but the grimly humorless Republicans may choose to play with the Franken/Stein name of horror, making mistakes on purpose.
“Will Senator Frankenstein yield?”

Will the new Senator use his formidable nickname to intimidate his political opponents? Or at least get Senator Lieberman to behave? If Senator Al begins to strut around the Senate floor in imitation of the strung-together monster, will he be censured for disrespect? Or will the Republicans bring Vice President Cheney to shoot this caricature of a manufactured Senator? In any case, there will be no love interest in this movie as the Republicans try to get Franken to clown while he will be determined to be the most serious senator on the floor. A new day may be dawning in the U.S. Senate, a day with performances interrupting the tedium. And where is Senator Groucho Marx now that we need him?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Put another Frances Perkins on the Obama Team

Put another Frances Perkins on the Obama Team
By Jerome Grossman

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Frances Perkins to be his Secretary of Labor in 1932, she said she would accept only if he would support her social justice agenda: Federal relief and large-scale public works programs to help victims of the Depression, federal minimum wage and maximum hour’s law, a ban on child labor, and unemployment and old age insurance. The New Deal was born. These were revolutionary goals for the time, but Roosevelt agreed. “I suppose you are going to nag me about this forever”, he said. And she did, acting as his conscience when Roosevelt faced difficult political problems with his progressive agenda.

Perkins, born in Boston, raised in Worcester, Massachusetts in a middle-class Republican family, attended Mount Holyoke, majored in chemistry and physics, but a course in political economy changed her life. Sent into local mills to report on the lives of the workers, she was so moved by the experience that she became a social worker and reformer. She helped Jane Adams in Chicago's Hull House; worked with immigrants in Philadelphia, studied sociology and economics at Columbia before working for the Consumer’s League. Heavily influenced by the fatal fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, she became a key reformer for worker safety, was appointed by New York Governor Alfred E. Smith to the powerful State Labor Board. When FDR succeeded Smith in 1929, he named her head of the entire department...

Her role in the famous first 100 days of the FDR presidency has been under appreciated. She was the strongest advocate for a federal relief program, led the development of the plan that was implemented, persuaded FDR to support large-scale public works despite his skepticism, fought for the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Allied with Eleanor Roosevelt, she was effective in pushing her very political president to live up to his liberal reputation. Her imprint was so large that political opponents took to calling the FDR administration the Perkins New Deal. And she accomplished all this while being harassed as a liberal and the first woman Secretary of Labor.

President Barack Obama assumes office at a similar time of crisis: instability is in the air, large segments of the population are hurting, relief is needed at every level, unemployment is rising, banks are failing, and Wall Street has lost the confidence of the public. Relief and change are required, especially new approaches to rescue the workers at the sustenance level from the Hoover-like policies of George W. Bush.

But personnel defines policy and Obama’s liberal instincts cannot be implemented by appointees from the center, by definition. To achieve a national consensus, Obama’s selected helpers come from the center of U.S. politics, few from labor, almost none from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, some from the Republicans, most of them veterans of the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Obama needs advisers and appointees like Frances Perkins, people committed to rescuing the masses of Americans, whose horizons are not limited by corporate bailouts, who are willing to take approaches outside the conventional wisdom, ideas that will find ways to extend the benefits of the richest country in the world to all Americans. Obama understands this approach, the Perkins approach to social and political problems. He has repeatedly said that if he were constructing a health-care system for America from scratch, it would be single payer. Yet his multiple advisers are not even considering a single payer plan, not even putting a single proponent on the health care team.

Louis Gerstner, the former chief of IBM, praises Obama but criticized the way the White House handled restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler. “Who did we pick to figure out how to fix the automobile industry? We picked two investment bankers. It’s sort of like asking the arsonist to run the fire department.”

If Obama had Frances Perkins on his team, the president's proposals would be quite different.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

About Health Care

About Health Care
By Jerome Grossman

Dr. Marc Sklar, an endocrinologist in Washington, DC was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, “If we could prevent even a small percentage of people from becoming obese and developing these conditions (diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic problems) the cost of healthcare could go down far enough to cover everyone's insurance.”

Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and now at Harvard Medical School, wrote in the Boston Globe, “The reason our health system is in such trouble is that it is set up to generate profits, not to provide care. We rely on hundreds of investor-owned insurance companies that profit by refusing coverage to high-risk patients and limiting services to others. They also cream off about 20% of the premiums for profits and overhead.”

Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, wrote in the New York Times, “The insurance industry is busily lobbying Congress to block one crucial element of healthcare reform, the public option - that is, offering the right to buy insurance directly from the government as well as from private insurance companies.”

The United States spent more on health care than any other country as a share of gross domestic product in 2006, the most recent year for which totals are available. But the survival rates for American patients on infant mortality and population longevity lag behind other countries.

United States 15.2%
Canada 10%
Australia 8.7%
Brhain 8.2%
New Zealand (2003) 8%

Between 2000 and 2007, the 10 largest publicly traded insurance companies increased their profits 428%, from $2.4 billion to $12.9 billion, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings

Since its founding, Mayo Clinic has paid physicians with salaries to avoid financial conflicts of interest in clinical decision-making, and to promote multi-disciplinary coordination of care. Less well known, was its principle of billing based on patient’s means.

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, says,” Democrats always blame the insurance companies, and Republicans always blame the trial lawyers….. A new system also requires tough malpractice reforms….. Cost containment is the Achilles heel of the Massachusetts Universal Coverage plan.”

President Obama said on June 18, “There are already a bunch of liberals who are disappointed because I didn't propose a single payer plan….”

Former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.), Bob Dole (R-KS.) and Howard Baker (R-TN) on June 17 unveiled a bi-partisan blueprint for health-care reform that includes a public plan compromise and a requirement that all Americans must purchase insurance. All three men represent private-sector clients in the health-care debate.

The Washington Post wrote about health care holdings of federal legislators: “Nearly 30 lawmakers on committees drafting health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling at least $10.8 million dollars and as much as $26.8 million.”

Dr. Abraham Varghese, professor at Stanford University, has written, “All the marvels of science, all the advances of medicine don't replace what patients want of their doctors and what most of us wanted to offer when we felt the calling to medicine: The opportunity to be fully present at the bedside, to bring the human comfort that only the presence of an attentive physician can bring, to convey to patient and family the unspoken promise, I will stay with you through thick and thin.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Crisis in U.S./Muslim Relations

The Crisis in U.S./Muslim Relations
By Jerome Grossman

In Cairo, President Barack Obama addressed the world's billion Muslims preaching the values of political freedom, democracy and human rights. Remarkably, he virtually apologized for the repeated Western interference in the affairs of Muslim nations, citing the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 by the U.S. CIA and its British counterpart, then the installing of a dictator in that country. While this act of contrition was widely welcomed, it had already been performed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the Bill Clinton Administration without improving the relationship. Iran was placed on “The Axis of Evil”.

If President Obama was promising a policy of non-intervention in the Middle East, it did not reflect the operating situation there. The U.S., under Democratic and Republican presidents alike has gone to war, sometimes to protect, sometimes to oust regimes in the area: e.g. in 1991 to protect Kuwait from Iraq, in 2002 to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq. Another rarely discussed U.S. intervention but high in the consciousness of Iranians is the support the U. S. gave to Saddam Hussein when he attacked Iran in 1980. In this eight year war, Iran lost more than one million lives and suffered Saddam's repeated use of poison gas on civilians and the military.

Obama promises to change the historical behavior of the U.S. in the area. Will his preaching lead to the over-throw of America’s favored dictators? Apart from Israel, the countries we support there are dictatorships, any elections held are merely automatic endorsements of reigning corrupt dictators in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, etc. For generations, starting with the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our politicians, business leaders, military and intelligence staffers and diplomats have found it easier to deal with dictatorial establishments than with the messiness of prolonged negotiations involved in democratic procedures. Guarantees of military support or well-placed financial contributions often produce policies more quickly and efficiently.

Literal adoption of Obama’s good government recommendations would likely impede the U.S. system of dominance in the Middle East, opening it up to competition from other nations now frozen-out. The commercial position of the U.S. oil companies might be in danger. The price of oil might be driven to new heights. The Arab countries might decide to leave the U.S. dollar for better deals with rival currencies and to invest their surplus funds in venues other then American Treasury Bonds. Rival countries might try to play the game of bribing government officials. In a democracy, the possibilities for change and competition are endless when the pool of competitors is expanded.

The crisis in Iran highlights the possibilities for change in all Muslim nations by breaking established patterns of conduct. In Cairo, President Obama set forth the ideals that might not support the current system and world American hegemony. Is the U.S. prepared to sacrifice its preeminence for the ideals of openness and democracy? Will the dominant interests in America, big business and the military, allow such a sacrifice, such a transformation?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Ayatollahs of Washington

The Ayatollahs of Washington
By Jerome Grossman

As I write this blog on June 17, the streets of Iran's capital are jammed with demonstrators rallying to protest the country's disputed presidential vote. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians defied the country's religious leaders who have the final say on state matters demanding a new election replacing the election of June 12 tainted by charges of fraud and vote rigging.

The Ayatollahs of Iran have offered a limited recount, another concession to the sustained public rage, but reformist politicians would accept only a completely new election under the closest supervision. Public opinion in Iran may force such a solution despite the virtual dictatorial powers of the unelected religious leaders. The sheer size of the demonstrations has been impressive and the protests are not limited to students but include all generations and economic classes.

The United States of America had a similar crisis in the presidential election of 2000 when Florida's decisive 25 electoral votes would decide the contest. Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, filed suit in state court to begin a recount of ballots in several counties where voting machines were unable to determine the voter's selection. The Florida Supreme Court granted Gore's plea but the U.S. Supreme Court prevented the recount 36 days after the election and with that, Gore's chance of winning the presidency.

The Ayatollahs of Washington had decided and there was no appeal. Nor was there much of a protest. Hundreds of lawyers were involved in legal proceedings, thousands of media personnel carried the news reports around the world, but the American citizens remained remarkably calm. No marches in the cities, little anger on the campuses. The people were not involved despite the flouting of the Constitution, despite the closeness of the 5-4 decision, despite the pyramid of voting irregularities in Florida.

With all due respect to the government of Iran, the importance of their president does not compare with that of the U. S. president, controller of the arsenal of nuclear weapons, leader of a $14 trillion economy, commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world, controller of 737 military bases in 130 countries, whose word reverberates everywhere, almost the Emperor of the world.

The U.S. is the oldest democracy; proud of its inheritance, seeking to spread its values to other countries, but in 2000 it was passive. Iran, with a history embracing thousands of years, is a theocracy with a limited tradition of democratic elections mostly at the local level. Faced with the overwhelming power of the Ayatollahs and their control of the military and police, the citizens of Iran refused to accept this particular aspect of religions dictatorship. Whether or not they achieve their objectives, the Iranian people have shown how to overcome a government that has over reached and abused its power. Committed but pragmatic, insistent yet Gandhi-like in its tactics, they set an example of the use of people power.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Goodbye, General Motors

Goodbye, General Motors
By Jerome Grossman

For decades I was loyal consumer of General Motors products. It all began when I graduated from high school and was accepted by Harvard College. My father, who had to leave school after the fifth grade to help support his family, was so proud that he insisted on buying me a tiny Pontiac, “A Harvard man should have a car." I was 16 years old.

The Pontiac had an unusual history. It had been totaled in a crash and then a friend of my father rebuilt it from scratch, painted it startling bright silver with red wheels. The tiny convertible with the exposed rumble seat made me a very popular Harvard freshman.

It also made me a loyal "Buy American" consumer supporting U.S. businesses and the workers of Detroit by purchasing GM products year after year. However, years later, my wife returned from her bridge game with a message, "My friends love the Lexus; why don't we try it."

My answer was a resounding negative: “We must support the American worker and buy American.” But the bridge friends had an answer: "Does your husband know that many American cars are assembled in Mexico, Canada, South Korea and China, where the work is done for two dollars an hour instead of 20?" So I bought my first Lexus in 2001. I still have that automobile and it is a dream, a loyal and healthy horse that seems to go on forever.

Now GM is in bankruptcy, rescued temporarily by the U.S. government. My feelings of guilt for deserting were assuaged when I learned that low wage countries will manufacture at least 25% of GM output under the rescue plan.

While the U.S. government will be the majority stockholder and will supervise the restructuring plan, President Barack Obama says that he does not want to run the company and that it should be operated on classic business principles.

I believe President Obama but some Republicans and conservatives warn of political interference in operations. They may be right. Already Representative Barney Frank, my own Democratic congressman, has intervened with GM management to extend the life of a parts distribution center in his district that was scheduled to be closed. The political motivation is bipartisan. Republicans are just as likely to protect jobs in their districts: Republican Representative Steve La Tourette of Ohio wants congressional review of company and government decisions on the automakers. In the U.S. Senate, Carl Levin of Michigan said he will do everything he can keep the GM plants there open, as will senators across the country.. Their political existence demands it.

Some think that the reduced GM will not survive for long, that the Administration is keeping it alive for political reasons and to keep the United Auto Workers functioning in election years 2010 and 2012. But the world has changed; too many unrectifiable mistakes have been made. General Motors, once the preeminent American company, may become as much of a relic as my silver Pontiac convertible with the startling red wheels

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Expand the Supreme Court

Expand the Supreme Court
By Jerome Grossman

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court reminds us that politics is paramount in a democracy even when the control of the highest court in the land is at stake. Exercised by both parties, the politics obviously seeks control of the court and also appeals to major voting constituencies for support.

In selecting Judge Sotomayor, President Obama weighed a number of factors. The most obvious were to nominate a “clean” person with a personal record above reproach, a history proving the highest legal ability, membership in a major voting constituency, a record of liberalism that would guarantee support of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. In addition, Obama needed to be sure that the candidate had paid all her taxes. The President could not afford another tax delinquent after his unfortunate experiences with Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner and Katherine Sibelius.

The politics was easy. Nominate a capable Latino to recognize an ethnic group without a representative on the court, the fastest growing minority in the nation. This was actually a double benefit: to gain the appreciation of Latinos and to inhibit the Republicans from filibustering the nominee. President George H.W. Bush used the same tactic when he nominated Clarence Thomas, expecting little opposition to an African-American from the Democrats.

Representation in the leadership of a nation is a core value in a democracy. On the Supreme Court, there are six Roman-Catholic justices, two Jewish, two Italian Americans, far above their percentages in the American population. On the court, today, there is only one woman and one Protestant, far below their national percentages. Among these underrepresented groups there are dozens if not hundreds of qualified lawyers and judges. What are we to make of the fact that in the current court, five justices graduated from Harvard Law, two from Yale Law, and one from Columbia Law. Sotomayor went to Yale. Are all the abilities in the Northeast?

Some believe that there should be a larger Supreme Court to satisfy representation, to speed court action, to enable the court to hear more cases. Does the U.S. Constitution call for nine justices? It does not. Congress decides on the number by statute and has changed it repeatedly: 1789 (6), 1807 (7), 1837 (9), 1863 (10), 1866 (8), 1869 (9). Article 8, Section 1 of the Constitution requires that all federal judges retain office during “good behavior” and only one justice, Samuel Chase, was impeached in 1805.

We pride ourselves in our respect for the rule of law, a factor that has given the nation a high degree of stability. Of course, our record is far from perfect but in no other country does the highest court possess such far-reaching power including the interpretation of all congressional enactments and making sure that the federal and state laws conform to the Constitution. Expanding the Supreme Court might make it more representative and therefore even more effective. A Supreme Court with justices appointed to represent geographic areas, sexual populations, economic interests, etc. might unify the nation more than the current system of appeasement of political constituencies.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan

A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan
By Jerome Grossman

On May 22, President Barack Obama addressed the graduating class of United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He drew cheers when he proclaimed, " As long as I am your commander-in-chief, I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy and the well defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done."

Bravo. But I wish he had applied those sentiments to the United States invasion of Afghanistan. The President has dramatically increased the number of U. S. military forces there, has promised even more next year, and has warned of a multi-year commitment to a war already almost 8 years in duration.

• Is this war “absolutely necessary?”

• Do we have a “strategy” for fighting it?

• Do we have “well defined” goals?

• Do we have an exit strategy?

As recently as May 10, Hamad Karzai, the elected head the Afghan government, said, "Al Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan." When this was relayed to General David Petraeus, the American and NATO military Commander, he replied," I would agree with that." Obama's National Security Advisor Jim Jones said," I am not sure if Osama bin Laden is alive or dead." Prime Minister of Pakistan Zardari:, stated flatly," Osama is dead." On May 17, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Katie Couric of CBS that it will take at least two to four years before Afghan forces begin to take the lead in fighting, leaving unsaid when U.S. troops will leave.

Moreover, Karzai and Zardari have complained bitterly about U.S. military tactics, especially the use of air power resulting in the unnecessary killing of civilians and the consequent increase in anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What is victory in Afghanistan? Will it prevent another brutal tragedy like September 11? We should remember that this attack was made by 19 people, not one of them Afghans, armed with credit cards and box cutters. It is difficult to understand how the conquest of Afghanistan could prevent another group of nineteen from performing a similar criminal act. Defense of the U.S. mainland begins at home with effective police and immigration procedures.

U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, even Pakistan, coupled with our all-out support for Israel, might motivate some Muslims and citizens of those countries to irrational revenge, what the CIA calls “Blowback”, the unintended consequences of military action and especially of foreign military occupation.

President Obama, give us the answers to our questions. If you don't have them, at least separate yourself from the Afghan policies of George W. Bush and give us an exit strategy so that we can help these nations change their policies through diplomacy, economic help and our soft power while saving American lives and resources.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why the Soviet Union Gave Up in Afghanistan

Why the Soviet Union Gave Up in Afghanistan
This document is reprinted from Harper’s Magazine, June 2009

From a May 10, 1988, letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to all Party members. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan began on May 15 and was completed February 15, 1989. The letter is among documents related to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan published in February by the National Security Archive. Translated from the Russian by Svetlana Savranskaya.

The decision to invade was made when there was a lot of uncertainty in the balance of forces within Afghan society. Our picture of the real social and economic situation in the country was also insufficiently clear. We do not want to say it, but we should: at that time, we did not even have a correct assessment of the unique geographical features of that hard-to-enter country. This was reflected in the operations of our troops against small, highly mobile units, where very little could be accomplished with the help of modern military technology.
In addition, we completely disregarded the most important national and historical factors, above all the fact that the appearance of armed foreigners in Afghanistan has always been met with arms in the hands of the population. This is how it was in the past, and this is how it happened when our troops entered Afghanistan, even though they came there with honest and noble goals.
Babrak Karmal became head of the Afghan government at the time. His first steps in that capacity gave us grounds to hope that he would be able to solve the problems facing his country. Nothing new emerged, however, in his policies that could have changed for the better the attitude of a significant portion of the Afghan population toward the new regime. Moreover, the intensity of the internal Afghan conflict continued to grow, and our military presence was associated with forceful imposition of customs alien to the national characteristics and feelings of the Afghan people. Our approach did not take into account the country’s multiple forms of economic life and other characteristics, such as tribal and religious customs.
One has to admit that we essentially put our bets on the military solution, on suppressing the counterrevolution with force. We did not even make full use of the existing opportunities to neutralize the hostile attitudes of the local population toward us. Often our people, acting out of their best intentions, tried to transplant the approach to which we are accustomed onto Afghan soil, and encouraged the Afghans to copy our ways. All this did not help our cause; it bred feelings of dependency on the part of the Afghan leaders in regard to the Soviet Union, both in the sphere of military operations and in the economic sphere.
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan continued, and our troops were getting engaged in extensive combat actions. Finding any way out became more and more difficult as time passed. Combat action is combat action. Our losses in dead and wounded—and the Central Committee believes it has no right to hide this—were growing heavier and heavier. Altogether, by the beginning of this month, we had lost 13,310 dead in Afghanistan; 35,478 Soviet officers and soldiers were wounded, many of whom became disabled; 301 people are missing in action. There is a reason people say that each person is a unique world, and when a person dies that world disappears forever. The loss of every individual is very hard and irreparable. It is hard and sacred if one died carrying out one’s duty.
The Afghan losses, naturally, were much heavier than ours, including the losses among the civilian population.
One should not disregard the economic factor either. If the enemy in Afghanistan received weapons and ammunition worth hundreds of millions and later even billions of dollars, the Soviet-Afghan side also had to shoulder adequate expenditures. The war in Afghanistan has cost us 5 billion rubles a year.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Netanyahu's New Strategy for Israel

Netanyahu's New Strategy for Israel
By Jerome Grossman

As I write this blog, the new Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just left his meeting with Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, on his way to confer with King Abdullah of Jordan. On Netanyahu's schedule are additional meetings with leaders of the other authoritarian Arab leaders, all clients of the United States: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates.

Netanyahu has an important message for them, as original as President Richard Nixon's recognition of Communist China or Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. The message goes something like this. The critical struggle is not between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. The critical struggle is between the current regimes aligned with the United States on one side and Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah on the other. The Iran group seeks regime change in the American clients, the overthrow of their governments and the installation of religious insurgent governments or Shi'ite leaders.

Netanyahu would continue: Israel, on the other hand, has no such ambitions. Israel, also an ally of the United States, has no interest in the thousand year battle between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites. Israel has no desire to change the leadership in the Sunni countries. Furthermore, in response to Arab suggestions, Israel is prepared to ease the condition of the Palestinians on a triple track:

1. Political: To renew peace negotiations with the Fatah Palestinians

2. Security: To strengthen Palestinian police with training and authority

3. Economic: To increase the number of jobs in Israel for qualified Palestinians

Please note that there is no mention of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state which the Arab dictatorships and the Obama Administration support and which Netanyahu strongly opposes.

Netanyahu's strategy is to exploit the Arab fear of Iran’s military power and its subsidization of the insurgency movement against the Arab dictatorships. Complicating the future of the region is the agreement that the U. S. move its military from Iraq by the end of 2011. If and when that happens, the two biggest military forces in the area will be Iran and Iraq, both ruled by Shi'ites. The Sunni regimes will be vulnerable and may be forced to seek a better relationship with Israel, a dominant military power and the one backed by the U.S. as far as the eye can see.

The Saudi 2002 peace plan promulgated by Saudi King Abdullah remains an intriguing possible basis for U. S. - Saudi cooperation on the Israeli - Palestinian issue. Abdullah's proposal was endorsed by the entire Arab League at its 2002 summit. Israeli President Shimon Peres and then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have referred to it favorably, and Barack Obama praised Abdullah for making the peace proposal.

Netanyahu has strongly opposed the Saudi plan. His diplomatic offensive may be designed to prevent the U.S. and the Arab states from implementing the Saudi initiative in whole or in part

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Is Jon Stewart Just for Laughs?

Is Jon Stewart Just for Laughs?
By Jerome Grossman

Peter Orszag is President Obama's Director the Office of Management and Budget. Only 40 years old, he is the youngest member of the Obama Cabinet assigned the responsibility of developing and promoting the president's budget. In the rescue of the U.S. financial system, Orszag, Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury, and Lawrence Summers, the Director of the National Economic Council, are the most influential in determining policy. Of the three, Orszag may have the most liberal sensitivity.

Orszag recently appeared on "The Daily Show", the television program that offers the public Jon Stewart's version of raucous commentary, invoking laughter by skewering public figures and public policy, albeit in a non-confrontational style.In the warm-up Green Room before the program, Stewart, feigning innocence and ignorance of detail, asked Orszag, according to the New Yorker magazine: "This has nothing to do with the budget - it's this thing that I can't get out of my head. With all that bailout stuff, why are they bailing out the banks? Why not the borrowers? These mortgages went bad, and then they were securitized and blah, blah, blah. So why not fix the mortgages, not the securities?" When Stewart asked Orszag why the government didn't just bailout borrowers who have defaulted, Orszag replied, "The problem is, if you just focused on the people who defaulted you create this huge incentive to default.” Stewart looked at Orszag in astonishment, pointing out that the government is creating an equally huge incentive to default by bailing out the financial firms.

Behind all the complexities was a very simple fact. Monthly mortgage payments by millions of homeowners were what provided the money for the banks and financial institutions that bought mortgages from the banks and the Wall Street firms that created sophisticated securities based on these mortgages. Bailing out those who took out the mortgages would save millions of families from being foreclosed, would save entire neighborhoods, would eliminate the need for the bank bailout money, would revive the credit of the banks, would save the big bonuses paid to bankers, etc..

Why wasn’t this approach seriously considered? Politically and morally one would expect the Democratic Party officeholders to help the masses ahead of Wall Street. Are bailouts the special province of big business, highly paid executives, major donors to politicians and political parties? Is Jon Stewart right or is he just for laughs?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

So What If Texas Secedes?

So What If Texas Secedes?
By Jerome Grossman

Most politicians, analysts, and media are giving President Barack Obama good grades for his first one hundred days in office. With the general public Obama seems more popular than ever as measured by his standing in the opinion polls. And, in spite of the deepening recession, more than 50% of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction.

A notable exception is Governor Rick Perry of Texas who objects to Obama's policies so deeply that he has suggested that Texas might end its association with the United States of America and strike out on its own. Perry insists on the right of Texas to secede from the Union, violating the core principle of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.

So far Perry has not fired on Fort Sumter or any U.S. military installation in Texas but we should be prepared. His primary objection to federal policy is the stimulus package designed to energize the economy but it appears that he will still take the money for his state. At the same time, Perry is trying to persuade other Republican governors to talk of secession as a political tactic to rally the depressed conservative base.

So what if Texas actually secedes? We would still visit there, of course, and would be friendly, not as friendly as with Canada, but somewhat warmer than with Cuba and Venezuela. Would independent Texas give up NASA and the next voyage to the moon? In what league would the Dallas Cowboys play? Would they still be “America's team?” Governor Perry points out that Texas has the right to split into five separate states, each with its own president, enough for every member of the Bush family. And the two Bush ex-presidents of U.S.A. could cap their careers by running for president of an independent Texas. Then each could build second presidential libraries, at least one of them featuring mementos of torture.

Texas as an independent country would give the U.S. several tempting options. We could build a fence on the border to discourage immigration from Texas. We could invade Texas for oil or to change the regime there. And George W. Bush would be the last Texan to be president of the United States.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to Force Confession by Torture

How to Force Confession by Torture
By Jerome Grossman

After a closed-door trial, American journalist Roxana Saberi was found guilty in an Iranian court on charges of espionage. An Iranian-American, Saberi had been living in Iran and working as a reporter although the Iranian government claimed it had withdrawn her press credentials. She was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The harsh sentence handed down to this native of North Dakota has generated a global outcry. President Obama and other national leaders as well as a plethora of media outlets have called for the release of this lovely young woman, once a finalist in the Miss American contest.

The Iranian government has not released any evidence against Saberi. Clearly, she has become a pawn in Iran's relations with the United States. In the political maneuvering, Iran may wish to accuse the U. S. and Israel of planning an attack. A confession of a plot by this lovely American would fit the strategy of Iran. And it might even be true, but still no excuse for torture. The United Nations Convention Against Torture is absolute in its prohibition of torture: “No exceptional circumstances whatever, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

How to force the confession? Simply follow the tortures used by the C.I.A. as described by the experts on the International Committee of the Red Cross from their 43 page report on the treatment of fourteen "high-value" detainees in C.I.A. custody, published February 2007 on for more gory detail.

• Suffocation by water
• Prolonged stress in standing position
• Beatings by use of a collar
• Prolonged beating, kicking, slapping
• Confinement in a box severely restricting movement
• Prolonged nudity
• Sleep deprivation
• Exposure to cold temperature
• Prolonged Shackling
• Threats of ill-treatment to family
• Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food

Questions: If Roxana Saberi confesses, will the world believe it was not forced? Do the confessions forced by the C.I.A. on the grounds of national security set a precedent and valid excuse for using the same methods on Saberi and perhaps other Americans? How reliable and credible would Saberi’s tortured answers be? Enough for the Iranians to be sure of the confessed information? And how would the use of torture diminish the reputation of the government of Iran as it has diminished the U.S. government?


Odiogo allows end-users to listen to content either on their PCs or on portable devices such as iPods, MP3 players or cellular phones.