Good soldiers know how to play chess

October 20, 2015

I’d like to start by stating my pride in WAMC and admiration of you, the listeners and members, who not only raised funds to keep the station on the air but also raised funds during the pledge break for the food bank, to help refugees and to retire pollution from the environment. That’s a lot to be proud of.

Turning to the Middle East, Russia wants to beef up Assad in Syria. And Putin seems to have confronted us with a fait accompli as it conducts bombing raids. No one wants war with Russia. So what to do?

Lots of people have their eyes focused on the Middle East, on Syria and its immediate neighbors. I think that reveals inexperience. Foreign affairs is a chess game. Chess was invented to train the mind for combat.

Now I’m no champion chess player. Oh I like to brag that I once beat someone who beat Bobby Fisher, which is true, but my friend hadn’t played in years and I have no idea how old Fisher was when my friend beat him. But just the same I do understand some things about chess. And one of them is that if the other guy attacks one of my pieces where it’s hard to defend, I can look for ways to take advantage of the position somewhere else on the board. Sometimes that forces my opponent to release his grip while dealing with my counter threat, or provide me with a counter-balancing advantage. Chess is often described as a game of position, but rarely is it all about one square or even one piece.

So I’m wondering what candidates you might have for places to put pressure on Russia? Ukraine anyone? Or posting troops in Poland? And how about recalculating the effects of Putin’s moves? The EU has been falling apart but a resurgent Russian bear may help put the EU back together. Arab anger has been directed against home grown Sunni regimes and against the U.S., but a resurgent Russian bear may put them in a war with ISIS and could inflame Muslims within Russia. Conservatives want America to be a player in world politics. But being a player is hardly a purpose. I’m more focused on the consequences.

People who only keep their eyes on one spot may be experts on that spot, or just naïve. But real foreign policy is global. Russia is not invincible. Putin is not a magician. The games he has been playing have answers. Keep cool.

But don’t look for lots of loud talk back. Real warriors don’t scream their intentions. Intentions become known after the fact. That’s what I expect from Obama or any president who is competent in foreign policy and not a big gasbag. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, we need to speak softly and carry a big stick. But it’s also important to remember that big sticks aren’t best wielded in frontal attacks – Picket’s charge lost at Gettysburg. Grant, by contrast, was happy to lay siege at Vicksburg and Richmond, and the soldiers under Sherman rarely fired a shot through a long campaign across Tennessee and then Georgia – except when Jefferson Davis replaced one of his best generals and his replacement immediately attacked the portion of Sherman’s Army he had left behind at Chattanooga. The Confederate Army was then promply defeated by that half of Sherman’s Army.

Good soldiers know how to play chess.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, October 20, 2015.

Carbon Certificates and Global warming

February 11, 2014

I was proud and delighted during the fund drive to find Joe Donahue and this station helping to prevent 600 tons of carbon emissions by offering carbon certificates so that the big power companies could not get the permissions those certificates represented to pollute our atmosphere.

The carbon certificates we all pledged for, or the solar panels we installed or the Prius we drive will not save the atmosphere by themselves. But they matter.

They matter because we are doing our part. But more than that, they matter because industries will not save our planet out of the goodness of their hearts. If they make environmentally sound products that we don’t buy, or sell them at prices we won’t pay, they will either have to make the same things and make them the same cheap but destructive ways that their competitors do, or they will go bankrupt and leave the field to others less honorable. Business is the crucial link. But they can’t do their part unless we do ours.

There are three ways. We can show by our buying habits that we have built a market and they must change or we’ll all switch to the first businesses that give us the chance to be environmentally conscious with our dollars. That takes time to build but it ultimately makes a difference. So keep up the pressure, retiring carbon certificates through WAMC, buying wind and solar power wherever we can and other environmentally sound products and practices. Keep up the pressure.

Another way is regulatory. We can get our elected representatives to “Just say no.” Of course we all know who’s on the other side and how much money they give to the politicians and how many lobbyists they throw at the legislators. But then some of us enjoy the battle.

And the third way is a carbon tax, or a BTU tax which is more comprehensive. Sure that’s a tax. It will make some things more expensive. But John F. Kennedy is still right when he told us not to ask what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country. This is about what we can do for our own future, our children’s and grandchildren’s future, and our country’s future. The consequences of global warming are enormous but we can and must deal with it. Our job as citizens is to support the steps that need to happen to curb the use of carbon based fuel. We need not to allow ourselves to be bamboozled by empty and ignorant shouts about government and regulation. This is a task that we can accomplish only with the help of government. It is the kind of thing that government is for – to organize our energies to protect our country, our future, our children and grandchildren. And answering President Kennedy’s call, supporting that effort is something we can do for our country.

We will want to use the tariff system to impose the equivalent of a BTU tax on imports from countries that don’t have one. This is a big international problem. The solution is one that only America can lead. Let’s get going.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, Feb. 11, 2014.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 266 other followers