Friday, March 03, 2006

Vietnam Evolving

Interesting development in Vietnam as citizens debate the role and effectiveness of their government. As in China, the internet provides a medium for communication and information. My long-time interest in Vietnam will keep me following the debate to see where it leads.

I greatly admire Vietnamese dilligence, endurance and energy. They have maintained a distinct culture and identity for centuries, often against their great neighbor, China. For this reason I have often thought that the architects of a truly nationalist movement could also forge a truly popular regime. So far they have not and perhaps they never will. But circumstances may create opportuniies for change in that direction. The current debate is a small spark that can ignite broader discussion and change. I hope so.

Read the last sentence and remember how Vietnam defeated the United States. (Hint: it involved patience and long-range thinking.)

Dismantling America

Knight-Ridder reports yet another BushCheney attack on competence in government. This time the target is the arms control and international security bureaus.

"State Department officials appointed by President Bush have sidelined key career weapons experts and replaced them with less experienced political operatives who share the White House and Pentagon's distrust of international negotiations and treaties.

The reorganization of the department's arms control and international security bureaus was intended to help it better deal with 21st-century threats. Instead, it's thrown the agency into turmoil and produced an exodus of experts with decades of experience in nuclear arms, chemical weapons and related matters, according to 11 current and former officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder...."

For the administration, the loss of expertise and knowledge may not matter much since it has little interest in cooperating with the world in nuclear weapons matters. But for the rest of us, the loss means less ability to cope with the real weapons of mass distruction that threaten the world.

Thanks to Karen Kwiatkoski for the link. She is posting again at

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Post Traumatic Stress Blog

Came across a new blog, PTSD Combat, that focuses on post-traumatic stress among combat veterans, many now returning from Iraq. The site’s purpose is to provide resources for recognizing, understanding and dealing with combat PTSD. In addition, the site is compiling a record of PTSD related incidents, the timeline, with the intent of documenting this long ignored cost of war.

PTSD Combat also presents the results of the Zogby poll of active duty military in Iraq. The results show that the overwhelming majority of troops want out of Iraq within the year. As many soldiers the US to withdraw immediately as support BushCheney’s “as long as it takes” strategy. Almost 60 percent say their mission is clear yet 77 to 85 percent believe the war’s purpose is to retaliate against Saddam for 9-11 and prevent him from further aiding al-Qaeda.

Check it out.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Depths of Disaster

Knight Ridder reports on an intelligence estimate prepared in October 2003 showing that the Iraqi insurgency was indigenous, likely to strengthen and could lead to civil war. The intelligence estimate contradicts BushCheney’s assertion that the resistance was merely “dead-enders and Saddamists”, soon to be swept into the dustbin of history.

History’s dustbin may be filled these days with detritus from Iraq but the insurgency is not among the scraps. The dustbin is filled, rather, with BushCheney’s many, many lies, errors and omissions in Iraq. Unfortunately, that trash still plagues America and Iraq in the form of deadly violence and destruction.

From the article:

In Congress on Tuesday, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified that the insurgency "remains strong, and resilient." Maples said that while Iraqi terrorists and foreign fighters conduct some of the most spectacular attacks, disaffected Iraqi Sunnis make up the insurgency's core. "So long as Sunni Arabs are denied access to resources and lack a meaningful presence in government, they will continue to resort to violence," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Looking back to October2003, BushCheney’s failure to see reality in Iraq ignored the necessary tasks at had. Robert Hutchings, who chaired the committee that prepared the analysis, said that top political and military officials focused on ways of dealing with foreign jihadists and disaffected Saddam loyalists, rather than with other pressing problems, such as growing Iraqi anger at the U.S.-led occupation and the deteriorating economic and security situation.

The rest is history, the dismal reality of America’s bolloxed Iraq adventure in all of its grim and bloody glory.

Nothing here is surprising. America already knows the quality of BushCheney’s intelligence and interpretation from his insistence on weapons of mass destruction. More recently, the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia wrote about administration “cherry picking” intelligence information to support their march to war. What amazes me is that this administration has ANY credibility at all or that there is any doubt that Republicans will go down in flames because of BushCheney’s wongheaded, disastrous policy in Iraq.

Remember, he’s been wrong before. America can count on him to be wrong again.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Universal Panacea

BushCheney prescribes democracy for all that ills the world. Democracy will make us SAFE! and has been a mantra for much of his crusade in the middle east, even if it was a secondary or tertiary reason and even if it doesn’t quite work out as promised. In fact, it hasn’t worked at all. I have something better. Unlike BushCheney, mine is real, simple and actually works: freedom of information, access for ALL about ALL matters. Give the people accurate and complete information, they will make good choices when democratic opportunities arise. So many decisions and ideas are the product of ignorance and fear that changing the dynamic, allowing people to actually know about the events, people and institutions that affect their lives will lessen conflict and promote cooperation to the benefit of all.

Information is power, which makes it dangerous and valuable. That’s why throughout history governments and, more recently, corporations have always tried to control information. In war, keeping secrets protects the strategy. At other times, limiting information offers advantage and creates opportunities for control. If people are free to inquire and understand, they will act wisely, with complete respect for all others. That’s why information is dangerous; people may not act in ways that serve me or my group. If I limit and control their information, they will willingly follow me even at their own expense. I will have an advantage. That’s what it’s all about now, about who controls what we know and understand.

Like BushCheney, I claim a universal truth for my idea: Freedom of information will always lead to The Good. All will be happy and secure when all can act on knowledge and not from fear. Unlike BushCheney, I recognize that achieving my ideal is far from immediate and that, like any action, it will create a new reality that may bring new challenges. But the IDEA is so right. It merges both poles of my political conscience, combining the individual freedom of my conservative youth with the empowered citizen of my liberal consciousness: Free Individuals, choosing their lives.

In the scheme of things, fully informed people would be more able to meet their needs for survival and beyond. They would more readily build their lives and societies to achieve the higher as well as basic human needs. Informed, knowledgeable people could do this because they would know what they are doing, not driven to act from fear. For me, no idea is more appealing.

Getting to full information for all is no mean task. Major barriers include government, corporations, churches political parties and myriad interest groups, all claiming to have the truth, all providing only information that serves their own interests. Education and literacy, essential for acquiring, understanding and evaluating information, are limited for many, rendering them less able to exercise their freedom. Poverty also circumscribes freedom; the struggle for survival leaves little energy for other pursuits. All these things render full information for all unlikely any time soon.

Unlikely, yes but not impossible. Definitely important. Simple, even. Full information can be achieved in steps, big ones where possible but in small ones, too. The goal will always push for more access, more distribution and more education so that all can use information wisely. BushCheney’s universal panacea, democracy, is far more cumbersome. It requires institutions, organizations, cooperation and coordination, not to mention information. Democracy is a matter of tradition and culture, not always amenable to constructive influence from outsiders. Democracy has a way of producing uneven results, an Iranian-influenced Iraq, a Hamas-controlled Palestine, for example.

Information is much simpler. Like water, information spreads wherever it is allowed. By eliminating all restrictions on information, on what people can access, read and think, we provide the basic tool of free individuals who know how to think and choose. We don’t need to create constitutions and restructure governments, we simply need to remove the barriers to the free flow of information and peoples’ ability to use that information. They will invent institutions to support their freedom and security. Other nations, including America, have done the same.

Ronald Reagan famously challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down that wall.” Gorbachev’s reforms did, indeed, destroy longstanding barriers. At the dawn of the 21st century another wall keeps the world in bondage: ignorance and fear. It’s not a new wall but the world has new tools to tear this wall down.

Free information for free individuals. That’s my Universal Panacea (tm). I’ll match it against BushCheney’s any day.


This was inspired by an article about the internet’s ability to challenge the control of information in China. The article presents both the opportunity for free information and the challenges posed by controlling authorities. It was part of a series about information in China. Links to the other articles are in the story. I thought it was particularly interesting that the fired editor was able to circulate information quickly under the censors’ radar long enough to achieve widespread circulation. A similar event occurred in Maryland where a student’s emailed questions about the value of a Peace Studies elective generated a massive discussion. In both cases the internet opened systems that where otherwise closed so that people could know and discuss. That’s a good step.

The Road to Window Rock

Wednesday, February 22, 2006. I’m heading for Window Rock in northeast Arizona, almost New Mexico. Bright sunny day. Leaving Phoenix is always a joy. I like to see the city and its blight drop over the horizon in my rearview mirror. Phoenix recedes in stages. Off the freeway on to the Beeline Hiqhway north across the Salt River Reservation. The immediate landscape is sparse and open, reservation houses on my left, sand and gravel operations and, farther north, the big landfill. Lots of red tile roofs in the distance to the east. North of Shea Boulevard and the Fort McDowell casino, I cross the Verde River, leaving most city signs city behind me. Not all, scattered houses are still visible. But soon even those intrusions are gone. Now the Superstition Mountains stretch east and south. North and east is Four Peaks, the southern rampart of the Mazatzal Mountains.

North of Four Peaks road, I cross into the Mazatal Mountains. Phoenix is well out of sight and mind. As if to celebrate, cresting the ridge offers a panoramic view of Round Valley, the wide, rugged basin cut by Sycamore Creek. The landscape is open and expansive. The many rocks, crags, peaks and canyons give the valley a feel of greater depth and scope. Yet this is only a small space in the scheme of things. How truly massive is this planet of ours. I climb over ridges, in and out of basins, gradually working up the Sycamore drainage, snaking my way through. Crossing Sycamore Creek for the last time, the road follows Kitty Jo Creek as it climbs the southwest face of Mount Ord on the Mazatzal Divide. Now these mountains are to my left as I head into Rye Creek drainage.

The Mazatals are my mountains. I’ve walked this range many times beginning in 1983. Mostly four and five day trips and mostly without seeing others. Although the wilderness area is within a couple hours of a major metro area, few venture here. The Mazatzals are rugged and difficult walking. Solitude and grandeur. Worth the effort but it’s a big effort.

The long climb from Rye to Payson goes quickly. I head east on Route 260 on a combination of new and old roadway. The road runs under the Mogollon Rim, a long escarpment that is the southern end of the Colorado Plateau. New construction has all but obliterated the old two lane route. Driving is much easier on the big, new road. Climbing again, this time to the top of the Rim, with views of the Mazatzals to the south and west. On the Rim, I stop and nap for a while.

Through Forest Lakes and Heber before heading north toward Holbrook. Still climbing. Landscape is sandy, rocky and brushy. No big vegetation, juniper and pinon pine, open range. Nearing Holbrook, I see the buttes and mesas north of the Little Colorado River–Navajo country. To the west I catch a glimpse of the San Francisco Peaks, a small blue-gray jagged bump on an otherwise flat horizon. Turning east on I-40 now. Traffic’s not too bad. Moving fast. Across the Painted Desert, north of the Little Colorado and then the Rio Puerco. The land is wide open, mostly empty except for the railroad tracks that parallel the highway and scattered Navajo Homes. East of Holbrook is the Dinosaur Park with its life-size beasts posed along highway. Big as they are, the dinosaurs look small against this land. Near Petrified Forest National Park the land turns strange, undulating bands of red, gray and their infinite permutations wrap around hoodoos and other surreal formations.

Farther east, I am heading toward the sandstone ramparts that mark the Arizona-New Mexico border. The sheer cliffs shine brightly, tinged with a red. At Lupton, two miles shy of the state line, I turn north on Indian 12, heading into the Rez. The road is narrow, two lane but good. The land is bent, uplifted and eroded, mostly forested. A few dwellings and buildings are along the way but they are pretty spread out, often family compounds. I see houses of all shapes and states of repair. Mobile homes, stock pens and derelict vehicles. A small human presence on a vast land. Oak Springs is a community of buildings and home sites clustered around the Chapter House. Now I climb the final ridge. I can see Window Rock in the distance, across a rocky, tilted landscape.

In Window Rock, I am back in a city but it is small in scale. The town sprawls across Black Creek Valley, homes, businesses, livestock, government all together in this remote space. The land is open under an infinite sky. The sandstone cliffs on the east glow fiercely in the late afternoon sun.

Checked into my motel, I eat and then walk, following a bike route from when I lived here. It climbs to the ridge overlooking the Window Rock, a solitary natural arch formation in the sandstone. As I climb I pass what I call BIA Hill, an area of finely built stone homes that must have housed officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs who oversaw the Navajo Nation in the pre-sovereignty days. The stone is red sandstone cut into broadly faceted blocks, the style is distinct and common among the older buildings in town. One is noticeably larger than the others–the superintendent’s, no doubt–and has arguably the most spectacular view in the area. The view looks down the valley and encompasses the cliffs, now exploding with light at sunset.

About half of the houses, including the big one which looks renovated, are boarded and vacant. Others are occupied, many with large gray-blue shipping containers nearby. Several houses have been well restored. Dogs bark at my passing. The few who come forward to challenge me retreat at my sudden increase in size as I raise my arms and hands. At the top of the hill, I see the Window Rock. My position is almost as high as the arch and overlooks the Navajo Nation government buildings surrounding the Council chambers.

Twilight as I descend. The sun is behind the Defiance Plateau in the west. Horses graze alongside an abandoned road. Two, both white, turn toward me as I pass. One looks like it is coming to check me out but it cuts behind me with its companion. The air cools quickly. This day is done.