Friday, June 20, 2008

What About Iraq?

In his NYT op-ed column on June 18th, Thomas Friedman writes:

"Iraq has become one of those subjects that so many people now come to with so much emotional scar tissue that it is very hard to have a sober discussion about the actual situation there today. So much is colored by how you feel about George Bush or whether you were for or against the war. As a result, what we do next in Iraq — how and why — is barely getting discussed in the presidential campaign."

According to a CNN report from late last month:

Notable progress" has been made in Iraq despite persistent problems, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday at an international summit to promote peace in the violence-wracked country.

"If we were asked to use just one word to describe the situation in Iraq today, I would choose the word 'hope,' " Ban said at the Stockholm, Sweden, conference. "Iraq is stepping back from the abyss that we feared most."

Yet Iraqis continue to suffer from terrorism, sectarian violence and criminality, he said, and "essential services are still sorely lacking.

Forced displacement and human-rights violations remain problems, particularly for women and minorities, he said, but the level of violence has declined from that of 2006 and part of 2007.

"There is new hope that the people and government of Iraq are overcoming daunting challenges and working together to rebuild their country after years of war, neglect and dictatorship," Ban said.

Confusing leadership in the United States has been a problem since the war began. American citizens were asked to sacrifice nothing. Life went on in this nation as if nothing was happening of any great significance on foreign soil. Public protests and critics of the Bush administration's rush to war were either ignored or buried in the back pages of American newspapers. There was enough guilt to go around. Factors involving mainstream media, certain bloggers willing to sacrifice truth and reality to score cheap political points, extreme partisanship and fear-mongering in the halls of Washington, D.C, the discouraging rubber-stamps and roadblocks from so many Republican Senators and House Representatives...each played a part in the emotional scarring that Mr. Friedman, whose own judgment disappointed me many times over the past few years, now humbly talks about.

None of it was a U.S. soldier's doing nor was any mistake a soldier's fault.

There has been a disturbing lack of leadership at the very top - from those in the U.S. Executive branch who were charged with solemn responcibilities to the American people and who failed miserably. For these past five excruciating years during which our soldiers have sacrificed life and limb in Iraq, the Bush administration - often adamantly - failed at every step to reasonably explain to the American public what victory might look like when it was achieved. Seeing them making excuses and moving the "victory" goalposts at every convenient political juncture for the sake of empowering one political party is, for me, unforgivable.

Why did the Bush administration take the American public for fools?
Didn't they realize that you can only fool the people for so long?

Bottom line, Mr. Friedman is right.

It's high time Americans got a glimpse of the reality on the ground in Iraq and it's high time our leaders trusted and respected the intelligence of each and every American and start talking about Iraq in a way that intelligent people can actually understand. President Bush has appealed to the pariotism in each of us in a disrespectful manner in that he's asked us citizens to take too much on faith alone. This isn't a church. It's a nation of people who, from the time of our nation's founding, has existed on the basis of each soul having an opportunity to make crucial and informed choices. As Robert McClure, Senior Associate Dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University said in 2001 about being an intelligent patriot:

"If democratic citizenship involves both rights and responsibilities, then patriotism is found on the responsibility side of the equation. Patriotism is a citizen’s duty—a debt owed—to the larger community, ….not an individual prerogative reserved for personal use. In a democracy, patriotism is part of our responsibility to protect and defend one another, because — if for no other reason than the most self-interested of reasons — it is the national community that bestows and protects our individual rights."

In my own activism, I've acted because I owe a debt to the soldiers who've taken and followed the command of their Commander-in-Chief on faith and in loyalty to the larger American community and the U.S. Constitution. A quote was on my blog's sidebar from the time the Iraq war began: "This blog, out of love and respect for our citizens who serve in the armed forces, supports the brave men and women who do their duty for this nation. This blog does not support the current policies of G.W. Bush. May Providence grant us all the wisdom to know the difference. "

AP photo from March, 2004 - Yes, that's our President George Bush mockingly looking for WMD under his desk. The old joke has gone rancid. He doesn't seem to know it yet.

Iraq is more than just a mess that our poor and deceptive leaders got us into. And it certainly isn't a joke.

I was floored to learn, thanks to Dan Froomkin, that, even after being criticized for other times he's done it, President Bush still considers the absence of WMD in Iraq as some kind of a joke:
" an interview [today] with Ned Temko of Britain's Observer, [President] Bush actually joked that he was "still looking" for the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that were the main reason he gave to the public for going to war.

I believe that Barack Obama and John McCain are going to have to talk about the gains achieved because of the surge in Iraq. I want to hear no political posturing from either side because, after shock and awe in 2003, there was a four-year blunder of historic proportions and Obama's claim to having been against the war from Day One, although noble in its own light of judgment, doesn't really matter anymore, to be quite honest. We are where we are. John McCain should take no great pride in having championed this war, voting with the Republicans for the four years for which his party can only claim a wrong course of action in U.S. Foreign policy. Fast-forward to "the surge" and some gains can be claimed...but for how long? Is maintaining the few gains achieved in the past eight months considered to be what victory looks like as we amble toward an end game (still with no time-frames in legislation)? Are those gains enough? We know, from experience, that whenever we've left a city like Mosul or Basra or Fallujah, we've left a vacuum for militia groups and oil smugglers to fill. If we pull our soldiers out one brigade at a time, how long will it take for the vacuum caused by their leaving to be filled with those who would cause the Iraq government to lose a grip on their fragile situation?

How long do we keep this up?

I am expecting to see a meaningful and respectful debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. Anything less will surely disappoint.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Muhammad Yunus Gives Commencement Speech at MIT

"Poverty is not created by the poor. It is created by the system.

Poverty is an artificial imposition on people.

Once you fall outside the system, it works against you.

It makes it very difficult to return to the system.

How do we change this?
Where do we begin?"

- Professor Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, speaking at the 2008 MIT commencement ceremony.

In his best-selling book, "Banker to the Poor", Nobel Peace Prize-winner Professor Muhammad Yunus talks about the role of business in promoting social reform. He was head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong when he began to feel that the words included in his teachings seemed empty when he saw people in his nation of Bangladesh starving all around him. He consciously decided to take time away from teaching, launching an action research project while living among rural villagers. Taking all he'd learned about the way they lived and understanding how the existing economic/power structure held them back and kept them from being able to meet their basic needs, Professor Yunus created innovative business model that blended the power of the free markets with a humane, egalitarian set of ideas that helped alleviate poverty, inequality, and other social problems...particularly among women in his country. He designed a credit delivery system to provide banking services targeted to specifically benefit the rural poor. Starting his Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Professor Yunus wished to show that a goal of prosperity and lasting peace can't be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is the means by which Profeesor Yunus has proven, through his great caring, economic expertise, and ingenuity, that not only does microlending help once-destitute people rise to be able to feed their families and succeed in building better communities, but also that development from the grassroots up will serve to advance democracy and human rights.

He recently told a group of graduating students at MIT that the choices those grads make about their careers will decide the fate of mankind, even though they are not actually aware of it. He asked them, rather than simply committing themselves to being creative when thinking about their future careers, that the students decide be a socially conscious creative generation.

An Excerpt from the Commencement speech:

[...] Your generation can bring a breakthrough in changing the course of the world. You can be the socially-conscious creative generation that the world is waiting for. You can bring your creativity to design brilliant social businesses to overcome poverty, disease, environmental degradation, food crisis, depletion of non-renewable resources, etc. Each one of you is capable of changing the world. To make a start all that each one of you has to do is to design a business plan for a social business. Each prototype of a social business can be a cute little business. But if it works out, the whole world can be changed by replicating it in thousands of locations.

Prototype development is the key. In designing a prototype all we need is a socially-oriented creative mind. That could be each one of you. No matter what you do in your life, make it a point to design or be involved with at least one social business to address one problem that depresses you the most. If you have the design and the money, go ahead and put it into action. [...]

The Commencement speech can be seen here []

You can read the transcript of the speech at: Commencement address by Muhammad Yunus, "Each of you has the power to change the world"

Yunus draws record numbers at MIT commencement [Indepedent Bangladesh]

Yunus tells MIT grads they can 'change the world' [MIT News]..


Intel, Nobel Laureate to Bridge Tech, Finance Divides [Andrew Burger, E-Commerce Times]..

Professor Muhammad Yunus and The Green Children to Open First Grameen Eye Hospital in Bangladesh on May 12, 2008

A Google interview video featuring Professor Yunus from January, 2008: