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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

www.NationalView.org's Note From a Madman

July 22, 2008


Can't Drive 55? - Get Used to it or Get Used to Paying Up

Just yesterday I noticed some headlines which read something like this:

"Return of the 55-Miles-Per-Hour Speed Limit?"

The idea is that the 55-Miles-Per-Hour speed limit will give our thirsty SUV's, pick-em-up-trucks and eight-cylinder performance muscle cars a few more miles-per-dollar than the current speed limits which vary around the nation.

I'm not for it at all, and let me tell you why.

A 55-Miles-Per-Hour speed limit truly might save us a few gallons of gas a year, but it's an option that wreaks of pandering to big insurance companies. You see, when you get a ticket for speeding (among other things), your auto insurance company gets to assign you something called "insurance points". In New Jersey, just one insurance point could cost a good driver with no accidents - one who never cost his insurance provider a dollar, but one who has spent thousands of dollars every year to insure their vehicles - one hundred dollars, or more, for each and every point. When one considers that a five-point speeding violation would then cost an additional five-hundred dollars a year; and that the insurance companies usually keep the points on your record for three to five years, the new speeding ticket could end up costing you an additional $2,500.

And that's simply a windfall for the insurance industry.

So far under the Bush administration, we have bailed out Big Insurance time and time again. Certainly this is simply another gimmick to give away our hard-earned dollars.

Today's cars drive fast. Today's trucks, SUV's and performance muscle cars go fast AND drink gasoline at a pace where the few pennies-per-mile we should be saving will seem like nothing to most of us.

For his part, Senator John Warner (REPUBLICAN-VA) wants the new 55-Miles-Per-Hour speed limit put into effect. He noted in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, that the 167-thousand barrels of oil a day saved after 1974's Drive-55 speed limit was put into effect (an estimate I couldn't find anywhere else) that, "one could assume that the amount of fuel that could be conserved today is far greater."

But would it? And if it would be "far greater", is it the absolute best option to fix our energy woes today?

An examination of who pays Senator Warner's bills reveals an inordinate amount of money spent by America's insurance companies on the GOP Senior Senator from Virginia. There can be no doubt that Senator Warner will be looking towards that industry after he leaves the Upper House of Congress.

The real fix for "our addiction to oil" isn't in making sure that those of us in the poorer classes (as opposed to the Bush "base of haves and have mores") who drive to work, drive for a living or simply drive pay more in premiums to Big Insurance. And it shouldn't be our job to support towns whose treasuries have been decimated by high gas prices and the loss of jobs and dollars to overseas manufacturers. No, there are better ideas which I would rather see our federal government implement:, such as higher CAFE standards, something that Big Oil and truck and SUV manufacturers don't want to see. Bit Oil doesn't want it because the more they sell, the more they make. Truck and SUV manufacturers don't want to see it because cars are much, much less profitable than the big, thirsty behemoths with the big price tags.

Today, as we drive our nation's highways and byways, we see more and more radar police cars pulling over more and more drivers. The mandate is obvious: Give out more tickets and collect more money. It comes from municipalities and state governments alike. And if the big dollar violations aren't bad enough, states like New Jersey add an additional $250 per violation as a "surcharge" on top of it.

The tickets are the gift that keeps on giving as it takes away from our bank accounts. The next time you get a ticket, you'll notice a barrage of advertisements from lawyers telling you that they can get you out of "the points". They say that they'll plea bargain your fine down to a no-points violation and all you'll have to pay is the fine on a lesser charge; the state surcharge; and their fee.

In other words, you can pay it up front or on the back end to your insurance company.

If you want a 55-miles-per-hour speed limit then make cars that can only go up to 55-miles-per-hour. But that won't get Big insurance, lawyers and our towns and states more of our money which they so crave.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal Register Newspapers, Inc.

What do Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia have in common? All lie within the range of Iranian missiles and all are allies of the U.S. and thus, according to the Iranian military, subject to attack.

The Persian Gulf, where the U.S. has had battleships stationed since before the first Gulf War, is also subject to similar attack, as is the Strait of Hormuz, the route through which all oil shipments from the Middle East must pass.

Conversely, the U.S. does have nuclear weaponry on board those battleships. Which means if Iran keeps doing what it did this past week, tensions could flare to a danger point from which there will be no retreat, simply war.

The saber-rattling from Iran has been alarming, yet anyone paying attention would presume it was goaded in no small part by concomitant saber-rattling from the U.S. and Israel.

American leftists, myself among them, have contended for several years that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been looking for ways to start a war with Iran. The Bush Administration has already started two other wars–Afghanistan, now in its seventh year, and Iraq, in its fifth year. That doesn’t leave much manpower left to fight a third war, particularly not one with a country that actually has a military.

But desperate times call for desperate measures and there are desperate men involved in the Iran situation.

At times it’s difficult to know who is the more dangerous character, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or President George Bush. Both have made a complete mess of their presidencies and both will go down in history as having done terrible to damage to their countries. Both are warmongers, neither has any sense of diplomacy and neither should be in a position of power.

Unfortunately for the world, they are. Neither will remain in power for long–Bush leaves office in January 2009 and Ahmadinejad will be voted out soon after, as he’s one of the only world leaders with a lower approval rating than Bush.

Even though both Bush and Ahmadinejad will be gone from the world political landscape soon, they can do tremendous damage in the interim, as can another lame duck leader, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, likely to be voted out in September.

Olmert is currently under investigation for corruption and suffering from myriad problems on the domestic front. The threats from Tehran are causing him more political headaches. He’s looked to the U.S. for support and gotten it. But to what end?

Ahmadinejad has been a problematic character since his election in 2005. While Ahmadinejad does not actually rule the Iranian theocracy–the leader is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the ultimate control over every diplomatic and military effort from Tehran–Ahmadinejad is the face shown to the world of Iranian leadership.

And dangerous leadership it is. While the Bush Administration has shaken its fist, Iran has made every effort to gain increased control the Middle East. Iran has expanded influence in Iraq by arming Iraqi Shiite militias. Iran has armed Hezbollah in Lebanon and subsidized Hamas in Palestine. It is also incredibly repressive of its own citizenry. Torture and imprisonment are regular tools of Iranian “leadership.”

One of the perils of the Bush Administration’s lack of diplomatic skills over the past seven years is that tensions with loose cannons like Ahmadinejad have intensified. Where the Clinton Administration put international diplomacy at the forefront of its concerns, the Bush Administration has tossed diplomacy aside in favor of saber-rattling and threats.

The result is obvious: two wars, neither apparently winnable, escalating terrorism and a serious loss of international political capital for the U.S.

But just because President Bush is a failure as a leader does not mean that Ahmadinejad isn’t dangerous.

Ahmadinejad has certainly earned the international condemnation he has been getting since he gave the order for two ballistic missile tests last week.

Bush may have been stoking the fires with his commentary as he traveled throughout Europe last month, but Ahmadinejad proved him right with the missile firings. While North Korea has been responding to diplomatic efforts regarding their nuclear weapons build up, Ahmadinejad has simply flouted all international law and gone for the outright threat to the region.

France’s major oil conglomerate, Total, pulled out of all investments in Iran last week after the ballistic missile tests. Total CEO Christophe de Margerie withdrew from a proposed gas project there which would have helped bolster the failing Iranian economy citing the risks due to Ahmadinejad’s “unpredictability” and the “incipient dangers.”

True to incendiary form, the Iranian foreign minister responded by saying that Iran didn’t need France’s money. So there.

This tone of belligerence and bravado has made world leaders outside the U.S. wary. The EU has already discussed further sanctions for Iran and last week’s missiles brought new concerns into play.

One reason for the international concern is the dramatic sense of pride the Iranians have shown over their missile testing. Photos of the missiles pointed in the air and going off simultaneously were plastered all over the front pages of the Iranian state newspapers. The same “so there” attitude evidenced in the comments to France’s Total were echoed in the media coverage of the missile tests: Pay attention–we can do what we want.

Iranian military leaders are clearly in threat mode, issuing edicts and warnings of violence to come. Any proposed attack will be met, they have said, with force of the most dramatic kind and the first targets would be Tel Aviv and any and all U.S. connections in the Gulf region. According to other sources, Iranian soldiers have been ordered to dig 300,000 graves–in preparation for the deaths of invading U.S. forces.

A crisis is brewing with Iran, and whether the U.S., EU, UN and other members of the world community decide to ignore or inflame or negotiate is ripe for consideration. Indications are, however, that diplomacy is not the first thought on anyone’s mind.

Israel has said that it, too, will respond to threats from Iran in kind.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that any threats to America’s allies–Israel or any other nation in the region–would be met with force from the U.S.

This tit-for-tat commentary culminated on July 10th with Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which the U.S. has labeled terrorist, threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz–which would effectively cut off the majority of the world’s oil supply. In the July 8th issue of the New Yorker, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the Abu Ghraib torture story several years ago, published a piece stating that sources in Washington, D.C. had informed him that the White House recently requested the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw longstanding plans for a possible attack against Tehran.

The Hersh story details how the Bush Administration’s original rationale for bombing Iran has shifted from Iran’s acknowledged nuclear weapons program to Iran’s current role in Iraq. (Iran has been fueling the insurgency in Iraq for the past four years, courtesy of the Bush Administration opening the door to terrorism in Iraq with its own invasion of the country.)

The major question raised by all of this is why would anyone intentionally provoke an unstable leader like Ahmadinejad whom everyone has acknowledged has nuclear capabilities?

Yet the provocations abound. Bush spent his entire European tour last month talking about the dangers of Iran. Despite Hersh’s assertions, however, Bush focused entirely on the nuclear threat, never mentioning the instability in the region caused by Iran’s involvement in the war in Iraq. Or Lebanon or Palestine.

During Bush’s tour of Europe, Israel decided to engage in a provocative military exercise of its own, flying over Iraq in strategic areas. Israel has previously bombed nuclear weapons installations in the region and several officials in Israel have said that bombing Iran’s alleged nuclear facilities is definitely being considered.

The U.S. has a complicated history with Iran, having spent years backing the corrupt and dictatorial regime of the former Shah of Iran which was overthrown in 1978 during the Islamic revolution that turned Iran into a theocracy.

Jimmy Carter lost his second bid for the presidency largely due to the capture of 52 American diplomats who were held hostage for 444 days by anti-American Islamist students. The incident began the anti-American tide in Iran that persists today.

The U.S. has, under several presidents, attempted to regain power in the Middle East, in no small measure due to the huge oil reserves there. The U.S. has backed a series of dictatorial leaders–in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq. But now the U.S. finds itself in a war of words with Tehran that could lead quite easily to war if someone does not back down.

It’s obvious that the U.S. has to take the lead here. Maintaining the current level of tension is nothing more than political insanity. If George Bush wants to leave a legacy of something other than destruction, he should negotiate with Tehran now, and with caution, not threats.

No one is suggesting capitulation to Ahmadinejad. But one can have reasoned discourse without capitulation.

Ahmadinejad has done his fair share of creating the problem. His flouting of international law, his insistence that Israel be wiped off the map, his denial of the Holocaust, his engagement in Iraq–all these things have enraged leaders in the region itself as well as the U.S. and Israel.

Nevertheless, this does not mean negotiation can’t be done. Iran has already been sanctioned by the UN, the U.S. and EU. In June, Javier Solana, foreign policy representative of the EU, suggested incentives to lure Tehran into negotiations. Whether Tehran will respond, having previously refused such overtures, is unclear. But the effort has been made. At least by the EU.

The U.S. is another question. Bush spoke harshly last week after the Iranian missile display and there is no reason to believe his bellicose tone will change.

But there are two other potential leaders on the horizon: Barack Obama and John McCain, presumptive nominees of their respective parties. McCain has repeatedly taken a hard line with Iran, but Obama has pledged diplomacy. Both candidates have the opportunity to prove themselves distinct from Bush with whom both agree far too often by making efforts–or exhorting the Bush Administration to make efforts–at diplomacy. One of these two men will inherit whatever new mess Bush creates with Iran; it would behoove them to make overtures of some sort now.

The question of Iran’s nuclear proliferation interests has not dissipated. Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued conflicting statements, noting that Iran should accept the EU proposals while also stating that Iran should not back off its nuclear program.

The EU is not, however, all warmth and fuzziness. While Solana has offered a way out for Iran from continued sanctions, the EU has also imposed financial sanctions on Iran, making every effort to isolate Tehran from the world financial stage.

Hillary Clinton had suggested during the primary that the Bush Administration’s refusal to deal directly with Tehran had ratcheted up the tensions between the U.S. and Iran. She also said recently that Bush had ostensibly outsourced diplomatic efforts with Iran to the EU–which recent events make abundantly clear.

There are divergent ways to go with Tehran, but only one avenue makes sense. The American people have no stomach for yet another war and while the international community is united against Iran, there’s no push from any quarter but the Bush Administration and Ahmadinejad for violence.

For decades the U.S. had a policy of diplomacy first, which is how we were able to pull back from the brink of nuclear war on more than one occasion. Rationality has never been the strong suit of the Bush Administration, but waging a nuclear war in the Middle East is something the world will not be able to recover from. Iran has no interest in retreat, which means the U.S. has only one realistic option: dialogue and diplomacy. For the world’s sake.

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-Noah Greenberg