From The Editor
Bill Girdner
Story Date:   
Week 38

     One good thing happened in Week 38.
     Attorney General Eric Holder resigned.
     He was described as "a champion of civil rights if not civil liberties" -- naively I thought they were the same. He attacked racial inequality while eroding the rest of the Bill of Rights by approving mass surveillance of Americans and subpoenaing more journalists than any past administration.
     The rest of the news was mostly bleak.
     The environment continued to get worse, with carbon emissions hitting new records that included a 2.9% increase in the U.S. last year. President Obama urged the countries of the United Nations to combat global warming but the Republicans have stopped any effort to do something about it.
     Ebola continued to spread, with the World Health Organization saying last week that the contagion was far worse than previously thought. A look at a map of the affliction shows hot spots in Sierra Leone and huge zones where the disease has started to spread.
     And in the Middle East, the U.S. continued its turn back into the theatre we just left.
     Islamic State, described by UN monitors as committing "acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale," was making headway across an enormous front from the north of Syria to the towns around Baghdad. While Iraq Army units were left short of ammunition and support.
     All of it was bleak but not surprising.
     One story, however, turned my head around.
     Our man in Iraq, the new president Haider al-Abadi, told a group of journalists that he supports the bombing of IS forces in Syria, with a condition.
     I figured the condition was the same as that expressed by our president who says he does not want the bombing of IS positions to help the Syrian government which we oppose. Iraq's president would therefore be echoing the position of his benefactor and bomber in chief.
     I was part way through the story and realized I had better go back and start over.
     It turned out that, no, the Iraqi president took the opposite position. He wants to make sure the bombing does not hurt the Syrian government. Because he supports the murderous Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
     In the British Parliament, which unlike our Congress debated the decision, one parliamentarian heatedly compared bombing to an attack on a barbarian to aid a butcher.
     But our man in Iraq wants us to be careful on how we go about attacking the barbarian at his gate because he supports the butcher next door. He prevaricates. He dithers, as his army loses battles.
     And the butcher of Damascus, it turns out, has had a working relationship with the barbarian of the north, refraining from bombing his positions and paying him to keep oil pipelines intact while also refining some of the oil shipped from the wells he controls.
     Meanwhile, our president snubs our natural ally in the region, Iran, which opposes the barbarian of the north but also supports the butcher of Damascus, as does the fool of Baghdad.
     Into that hot mess along comes our government with drones and warplanes dropping bombs.
     As the admiral in the movie Hunt for Red October says, "This business will get out of control."

Coyote Speaks
Robert Kahn
Story Date:   
What Would Machiavelli Do?

     What would Machiavelli do about ISIS?
     It's a question worth asking, not just because Machiavelli was a political realist, but because his professional experience was in organizing militia for a republic in an age of tyranny and widespread war.
     Also because Machiavelli was very smart, and U.S. policy in the Middle East for two generations has not been smart at all.
     Machiavelli has had a bad reputation for 500 years, though his Original Sin was simply to describe accurately the rules by which politics has always been played.
     Machiavelli was not immoral. His sin was to say clearly that the morality of politics has nothing to do with personal morality.
     They are different games, played by different rules.
     And if you want to win, Machiavelli wrote, here's how to do it.
     My information comes from Machiavelli himself, in "The Prince" and "The Discourses," and from an excellent recent biography by Robert Black.
     Machiavelli laid out many principles that U.S. policy makers have ignored for years, to our cost. Among them:
     + Mercenaries will never win a war against indigenous fighters. Not in the long run.
     + A foreign state might be able to control another state by supporting an armed faction in a time of peace, but it will not work in a time of widespread war.
     + In an honestly run state, "tumults and other disorders do no harm;" but in a corrupt state, "well-ordered laws do not help."
     + A successful state must be smart like a fox and brave like a lion. "One must be smart like a fox, to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Those who simply act like lions are stupid."
     That pretty much sums up the failures of the past 60 years of U.S. policy in the Middle East, ever since the CIA overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, and re-installed the shah.
     In the short run, our bombing campaign against ISIS will win. They don't have the power we do.
     As a bleeding-heart liberal, let me say that I support the bombing campaign against ISIS. I don't care if it's "legal" under international rules or not.
     But as Machiavelli said, it won't work in the long run unless indigenous troops fight for themselves, and for their own governments that are not notoriously corrupt.
     There are no such governments in the Middle East today.
     Our so-called allies in this fight - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates - are all oil kleptocracies. President Obama was right to get them to officially sign on as our allies, but Machiavelli would see it as the fraud it is.
     A prince must appear virtuous, though he is not.
     A prince may - and should - break his promises at any time, for the good of his state.
     Our Middle Eastern "partners" understand that, though we do not.
     The United States is a lamb over there. A lamb with money.
     Did you hear what Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said about the United States as he left office this week, after stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from us?
     Machiavelli wrote that a republic would never last unless it took the side of its middle class against its super-rich. That's something we should think about at home, before we wander overseas again.
     The super-rich will "delay public business" and crush public liberty unless the government reins them in, Machiavelli said.
     "The ambition of the great, if by various means and in various ways is not crushed in a state, will always bring it to ruin."

From The Courts
Milt Policzer
Story Date:   
Trials of Faith

     I'm at a loss to explain why we keep hearing there's a shortage of courtrooms in California.
     Just turn on the TV during the day. There are courtrooms and trustworthy judges everywhere!
     Soap operas are pretty much gone and annoying people arguing over dogs and damage to apartments fill the airwaves (or cable bands).
     There are more than enough judges here to solve the court crisis if we could just convince those guys to spend more than half an hour a day on the bench.
     I discovered this last week after reading a lawsuit by a producer over a new court show that debuted last week called "Judge Faith."
     After visiting the new show's website, I had to check it out.
     This is the astonishing statement you'll find on the Judge Faith site: "From a Louisiana beauty queen to a Wall Street attorney to a tough New York City prosecutor, Faith Jenkins has traveled nearly every walk of life, fighting adversity every step of the way."
     I can't even imagine how hard it must have been going from beauty pageants to a Wall Street law firm.
     Really. I can't imagine it.
     Adversity comes in many guises. And, apparently, walks of life come in very few guises.
     Judging (so to speak) from the judge's photos, she's held up pretty well under these hardships.
     We're also told to "Put your faith in her AND her decisions, because she is ... JUDGE FAITH."
     The capital letters are on the web page. I'm picturing her bailiff shouting the name at us.
     Naturally, I had to sample some episodes. So I went to my TV and found myself watching (in progress) something called "Hot Bench."
     I kept watching because I assumed people would soon be taking their clothes off (though I was kind of wondering why this was on a regular channel).
     If you haven't seen this program, picture this: a blonde, a brunette and a lecherous-looking guy in robes standing around a table.
     OK, maybe he wasn't lecherous-looking, but he was standing (not sitting) there with a blonde and a brunette on a program called "Hot Bench."
     The robes had to be coming off soon.
     Imagine my disappointment when, after a commercial, the three of them appeared behind a courtroom bench to render a verdict.
     Then another case began - a woman complaining that after she co-signed on a car loan for a friend with lousy credit, the friend stopped making payments and the plaintiff had to pay for the car to protect her own credit.
     It wasn't exactly a difficult issue - but apparently it required a three-judge panel. I have no idea why.
     My favorite part was when they went into their chamber to discuss this - standing around the table - and the guy judge, after saying they should award the car to the plaintiff, said "We don't have the jurisdictional basis for that."
     A TV judge show has jurisdiction?
     Apparently what he really meant was that they couldn't award more than $5,000 (which I'm pretty sure the show's producer pays). Justice only gets served if it's not too expensive.
     I got around to watching a couple of episodes of "Judge Faith" next. Aside from the courtroom audience getting to laugh and applaud, it seemed strangely similar to all the other judge shows.
     Favorite line from Judge Faith on one of the episodes I watched: "I see a lot of deadbeat dads come through this court."
     This was after two days on the air.
     The woman packs a lot of hardship into a short period of time.