Category Archives: Editorial

Including Parental Alienation in DSM-5

The American Psychiatric Association is trying to decide whether to add “Parental Alienation” to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

One possible definition if it makes it into DSM-5 is being offered by DR. William Bernet from Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine:

“[A] mental condition in which a child, usually one whose parents are engaged in a high conflict divorce, allies himself or herself strongly with one parent, and rejects a relationship with the other parent, without legitimate justification.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that in some divorces one parent will turn the children against the other. I’ve represented clients on both ends of this. And I’ve been a guardian ad litem trying to salvage the children’s lives in some extreme cases. In one, the children’s psychologist recommended institutionalization because the damage was so severe.

Like most things, the inclusion is embroiled in politics. Women’s rights groups and activists for victims of domestic abuse argue against including parental alienation in DSM-5. They see this as an issue being pushed by men who abuse and men who want an extra tool in their fight for custody.

I agree with these opponents that in almost every case I’ve seen, the father claims the mother caused the alienation.

But my experience does not square with the objections they raise.

Regardless of who tries to gain advantage in a proceeding, my experience with these cases is that, when a woman alienates her child from the father, the woman is angry. She has one goal in mind. To win the war by punishing the father. And her child is the single most powerful instrument she has to do the punishing with.

Having said that, there are times when a woman will have actually been abused and engage in unfortunate behavior which results in the children’s alienation from their father. But that’s not justification for avoiding the repair her abuse has caused to the children, whether her abuse was intentional or a reaction to the father’s abuse.

As a general rule, children love their parents. Both of them. And even in the face of extreme physical and sexual abuse I’ve seen kids express love for the abuser and a desire to maintain a relationship. They obviously would rather have that relationship not include the abuse. But kids don’t easily write a parent off.

I’ve also seen a parent’s abusive behavior change with treatment, so much so that the formerly abusive parent proves to be the better parent to care for the children.

All of this causes me to question at least part of the definition being offered by DR. Bernet. The last three words in his definition “without legitimate justification” don’t make sense. Looking from the child’s point of view, there is always legitimate justification for the child’s behavior. One of two adults who the child trusts more than anyone else in the world has caused the child to not want to have anything to do with the child’s other parent.

It’s looking from the parents’ angle that there is no justification. There may indeed be serious behavioral problems that the other parent (usually the father) has which need to be addressed before a relationship with the child is safe. But turning a child against that parent is not helpful in resolving those issues. And certainly I’ve seen no indication that it’s in the child’s best interest.

What’s more, looking at whether or not there is justification raises all sorts of treatment problems. Was there really abuse? Or did the parent doing the alienation plant that idea. I’ve even seen the interview techniques used by mental health worker’s leave a serious question as to whether or not the child’s answers were more a response to the questioning than a disclosure of actual abuse.

And what about the other justification I hear so often: Abandonment?

Again, it’s impossible many times to figure out what’s actually happening. Did the father abandon the child? Or did the mother engage in a campaign to keep the father away. Move without telling the father. Not provide a phone number or other way of contact. Call DCFS or the police every time the father finally located her and the children and obtained a parent time schedule from the court.

No matter the mother’s “justification,” the alienation has still happened, and it’s been to the extreme detriment of the child. That’s what matters. That’s all that matters.

Parental Alienation is real. Including it in the DSM-5 will greatly assist everyone involved in these heart wrenching cases address the problem. The issue is not whether a mother can somehow justify her actions, or even as Dr. Bernet seems to suggest, that there’s a legitimate reason for the alienation looking at it from the child’s angle.

The issue is resolving problems between a child and one or more parents, as well as resolving problems between the parents themselves.

By including parental alienation in the DSM-5 the, expert’s testimony in this area can be given more credence in court. This aids the court, the guardian ad litem, the mental health professional who is called as an expert, the DCFS case worker, and by far most important, the treating mental health worker for the child and the child’s parents.

Our goal needs to be that every parent encourages a relationship between their children and the other parent. If there’s abuse, lets concentrate on resolving that issue. But let’s not try to say that parental alienation isn’t real. Or somehow suggest that it’s real but can be legitimately justified.

There is no justification for parental alienation.

Written by Waine Riches

Censoring Katy Perry

I’d never heard of Katy Perry till I saw an article that Sesame Street wasn’t going to air the video they made of her because they had complaints that her clothes were too revealing.

Intrigued, I watched the video on her website.

I don’t get it. The dress is cute. But there’s no overt sexuality that such censorship implies. The kids are going to be looking at Elmo. And the childish antics of Katy Perry.

Had Sesame Street decided to bag the video because the song will be over the head of their viewing audience, I’d understand that. The music drowns out the lyrics. It’s too fast paced for an age group that needs repetition.

But to pull the video because of the way she’s dressed doesn’t make sense. I seriously doubt there will be a single child anywhere in the world who will be bothered by the clothes she’s wearing. Or who will run out and commit crimes of a sexual nature, or have their lives destroyed because of what they see.

On the other hand, did you catch the article about Eddie Long, the Pastor of a Baptist megachurch near Atlanta. He’s charged with taking boys on trips to such places as New York, Las Vegas, and New Zealand, and while on these trips, having sex with them. This of course follows the downfall of Ted Haggard who left his megachurch in Colorado after a male prostitute accused him of paying for sex. And then there’s the Catholic church’s ongoing problem with pedophilia. . .

The reason I mention the proclivities of the clergy is that people who go around dressed head to foot in non-revealing clothes may be the ones who we should be worried about. People obsessed with morality just might be the ones committing the crimes against children. A healthy attitude towards the human body might be a far better thing to teach children than that it’s somehow healthy for everyone to be walking around in tents. Which of course, it isn’t

Just a thought.

President Terry Jones

Did you hear what Fidel said?

Fidel Castro.

You thought I was going to talk about Terry Jones.

I will in just a second.

Castro was being interviewed by Jeffrey Goldberg, told him that the Cuban economic system doesn’t work.

I like that. A guy being honest. More than just a guy. An ex-dictator of a country. It comes at the end of his dictator career. After a near brush with death.

The conversion of both Russia and China to capitalism (or at least systems pretty close to capitalism) probably had a little something to do with his honesty.

I wonder what would happen if this kind of honesty caught on. I mean, just imagine the impact in the United States if politicians and government leaders here started telling the truth.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully understand that it’s hard to be elected to public office in the U.S. if they tell the truth. Quite the contrary. Lying is such a proven way to gather a political base. People don’t really want the truth. Give them a lie that matches their ideology and they’ll march down Pennsylvania Avenue with you on their shoulders, praising your genius, insisting that you are qualified to be President, campaign for your elevation to the highest office in the land.

I mean, do you think Sarah Palin would have her current following if she simply up and admitted that she doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about.

Not likely.

But with Fidel it was more than just not telling the truth. Fidel staged a revolution, with guns and death and everything. Put himself in charge of a country. Even asked the Soviet Union to use atomic bombs on the United States. Something else that he is now saying was a mistake.

Which brings me to Terry Jones. He’s the Pastor of a tiny church in Florida. It has 50 members.

He’s caused an international stir by announcing that he’s going to burn copies of the Quran on September 11. This is not the first time he’s attempted to capture the public’s interest. He put up signs last year that said “Islam is the Devil.” The theological basis of his church appears to be the hate of Muslims.

I wonder if at the end of his life he’ll be able to look back and reflect on what he’s done. Admit it was a mistake. Wring his hands over the harm he’s caused.

If he burns a pile of Qurans, a lot of innocent Americans are going to pay the price.

Knowing this, why would he follow through with his act of hate?

The answer lies in the photos you see of him standing in front of the entire international press corps, and them pointing their microphones and cameras his way.

That’s why. This is his fifteen minutes. He’s someone important. This is his chance at the big times. It’s an easy step from here into politics, and the perks that come with politics, money and power.

He’s figured out, just as so many before him, both politicians and religious leaders (I often find it hard to tell the difference), hate is the shortcut to the top.

Nor do we have any way of dealing with people who climb their way to fame, fortune and power with hate. We learn the same lesson over and over. Hitler, Idi Amin, Joe McCarthy, Pol Pot, Samoza, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, on and on they come. And we are helpless to prevent their horrors.

The Muslim faith is an easy target for Terry Jones. So many of the Muslim faithful also preach the ideology of hate and commit acts of terror.

As the saying goes: Two wrongs don’t make a right. But in the case of religious wars, they keep the faithful riled up, keep the money and power flowing your way.

Makes one question the sanity of such things as religion. Well, and political systems that don’t favor politicians who go out of their way to make sure they are telling the truth.

Written by Waine Riches

Argentina Legalizes Gay Marriage

Kudos to Argentina for legalizing same sex marriage!

No audible crack in the universe was heard.

Conservatives lobbied heavily against the bill, the Catholic Church leading the charge. Which is healthy. It’s far better to hear everyone out. It allows the rest of us to understand the pros and cons of such decisions.

I’ll predict that at some point in the not too distant future this will all be behind us. Gays, like blacks and most other minorities, will achieve equal rights. Much as women have also done throughout most of the world.

However, the inevitable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t approach such things with caution. Caution in the face of potential change seems to be an innate quality with humans. We worried about allowing women the vote. We worried about blacks having the same rights as whites. We worried about both blacks and women serving in the military.

But for those who have grown up after these changes were made, the current status quo seems to be the normal course of things.

Look at it this way, not many of us would find slavery acceptable. It’s because we’ve never known a world with slavery.

Recent generations might also find the battles of the 60’s over civil rights hard to fathom. Not be able to readily grasp how it was that blacks and women would ever have been treated differently than white males.

But then, change is hard at the time it’s happening.

In the end, though, we will never go wrong if our guiding principle is equality. And like all of the other hard fought human rights, some day the younger generations will be amazed that anyone ever thought gays should be treated any different than anyone else. Whether in Argentina, or, as I predict, the United States.

Written by Waine Riches

Log Cabin Republicans vs. U.S.A.

Did you catch the news today?

The nation’s largest Republic gay rights organization, The Log Cabin Republicans (I love that name) began its opening statement in a suit they filed in the Federal District Court in California to end the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

Irony! Oh, Irony!

Obama campaigned on this. He’s made a feeble attempt to end the policy. But may not have the political clout to pull it off even though the Democrats have solid majorities in both houses. And now, a bunch of people from the Republican party are taking the first real concrete step to eliminate this harmful and repulsive policy.


Imagine that.

And guess who is defending the United States against the law suit! Obama’s Justice Department.

What a strange world we live in.

Obama wants the policy done away with. But his administration is defending it. The Republican’s want the policy to remain in place. But a cadre of Republicans are suing to have it held unconstitutional.

The House has already voted to end the policy. The Senate should vote before the federal District Court can issue a decision. Problem is, it’s an election year. And the Republicans are looking strong in the polls. It’ll take a good deal of courage for the Senate to vote to repeal the policy.

But kudos to The Log Cabin Republicans.

Somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 people have been expelled from the military as a result of the policy. A significant portion of them having fought for us. Gone to war. Put their lives on the line.

I mean, how odd of a concept is it when your own country tells you that you aren’t good enough to go to war, fight to defend your conservative Republican way of life, merely because you have a tendency to fall in love with someone they don’t approve of.

Written by Waine Riches

POST SCRIPT: The Log Cabin plaintiffs prevailed. U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips held that the “Don’t ask Don’t tell” policy violates the first and fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. On October 12, 2010 she ordered that the Military stop banning openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

The ball now moves to Obama’s Justice Department. The honorable thing would be to let the 60 day appeal time run, do nothing. That would mean Congress would need to act if the ruling were to be reversed. One would hope at that juncture that they wouldn’t have the votes.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

Remember the recent riots in Iran. A significant number of Iranians were willing to risk arrest, torture and death to air their grievances over the current Islamic regime (and what the rioters viewed as a rigged election). Unfortunately for those who were arrested, and tortured, and murdered, nothing changed.

If they had been successful, maybe things would be different for such victims of the current theocratic regime as Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43 year old widowed mother of two, convicted of adultery on the basis of a coerced confession, which she later recanted. She was tried without legal representation. There were no witnesses against her. And in yet another example of the barbarism of Islamic ideology, she was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Originally convicted in 2006, she was first sentenced to 99 lashes. Then later that year she was sentenced to death by stoning. This practice of trying people once, carrying out the punishment, then trying them again, and imposing a harsher punishment, appears to be business as usual in Iran. In fact, a quick check on the net shows that an almost identical trial sequence happened to both Azar Kabiri and Zohreh Kabiri, two sisters age 27 and 28, who were accused of adultery, sentenced originally to 99 lashes, then tried a second time, and sentenced to death by stoning.

Death by stoning is what it sounds like. A woman is buried in the ground, with part of her torso and head exposed. While she’s pinned there, people throw stones at her. They keep it up until she’s bloodied, her flesh ripped open, bones smashed, skull crushed, and all the life in her has been viciously pounded out. Until she is dead.

The horrors of this type of murder were depicted in the 2008 movie “The Stoning of Soraya M,” which was based on a true story about a married woman with four children living in Iran who in 1986 was falsely accused of adultery. The whole thing was concocted because her husband wanted to marry a 14 year old girl. In the movie, after his wife is stoned to death, the husband is unable to complete his liaison with the child because the father of the girl is himself executed by the regime.

Stoning seems to have lost much of its appeal in recent years, even in Iran. Though a fairly popular sentence right after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there hasn’t been a reported stoning carried out there since 2007. That’s not to say there weren’t any. Just none we know about. Most convictions have been commuted to death by hanging. The unfortunate victim is still dead, but perhaps murdered in a somewhat more humane manner.

Iran is reviewing the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. The most likely result will be to also commute her sentence to death by hanging.

The mere thought of a lonely widow being murdered by the state because she may have sought male companionship leaves a sick feeling deep down in my gut. This application of religious doctrine to the legal system of a country should give the rest of humanity pause. Any form of autocratic government carries with it such dangers. But a theocracy has a readymade script in its religious writings. Take for example both the Koran and the Bible, where stoning is mandated for such innocuous human behavior as consensual sex or a child talking back to a parent.

The worst of it is that we have nothing other than our sympathies to offer Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. International pressure has been applied. But Iran ignores such pressure when it comes to other issues, the worst of which is perhaps the development of nuclear weapons. Why would they pay attention when it’s about something far less monumental in their eyes, such as the life of a woman who they see as an abomination.

If I were a God fairing* man, I’d ask that whatever He’s doing, He stop for a moment, check out what’s happening in Iran, maybe reconsider a few of His harsher edicts.

But then I’m not.

So I’ll watch in horror as one more injustice occurs in His name – driven by outdated moral codes that we can’t seem to let go of, that are tenaciously held to, not because we know that God ordered them, but because some 2000 years ago a bunch of men wrote them in a book, then claimed that what they did was by God’s hand.

Unlike the current Iranian regime, I’ve yet to find a book anywhere on this planet which contains justification for the stoning of a human being, no matter how old the book, or the claim of authorship. Not the Bible. Not the Koran. Not a single book of any type.

Written by Waine Riches

*I use God fairing to mean a man who arranges his life by his belief in God. The correct term, however, is God fearing. I don’t use that term because I have a problem conceptualizing God as being so terrifying that He must be feared.

The Firing of Octavia Nasr

Did you hear about CNN’s firing of Octavia Nasr, their senior editor for Middle East News? She was fired because she said nice things about a Middle Eastern cleric named Fadlallah in a tweet. Such things as:

“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah”

Nasr referred to Fadlallah as one of Hezbollah’s giants, said she respected him a lot. CNN stated that it regretted any offence the tweet caused, made it clear it didn’t meet their editorial standards.

Like most of you I had no idea who Fadlallah was until I read the article about Nasr getting fired. Turns out he’s been around, was a spiritual leader for Hezbollah back in ’82. He supported Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the Iraqi Dawa Party which Nuri al-Maliki belongs to.

The U.S. has branded Fadlallah a terrorist.

Not the best thing, I guess, for the senior Middle East editor to be saying nice things about dead terrorists.

But then, what are we fighting two wars in the Middle East for, if not the right to freedom of speech.

Nasr’s firing bothers me on many levels.

It reminds me of the time right after 9/11 when entertainment personalities in the U.S. were being fired for criticizing George Bush and the decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. A huge chill fell over the national media, they appeared to be afraid of publishing anything smacking of real journalism. There was precious little which seriously explored the pros and cons of invading the Middle East. We ended up in two wars, one of which we’ve never been able to justify. And now, at the end of almost a decade of fighting, and not having even found Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11, the American public is fast losing patience over both of these wars.

As with Vietnam, there’s no honorable way out of either Iraq or Afghanistan. And when we finally do pull out, we will not leave behind a stable democracy in either country. The warlords who have been biding their time, and who have ceased hostilities because of massive payoffs from the U.S., will come to life as soon as the money stops flowing. There’s another Saddam Hussein waiting in the wings. Or worse, the Taliban. A decade of war, trillions of dollars spent, and thousands of lives lost, and we will have changed nothing.

There were people who knew this going in. They were silenced. We have caused a great deal of suffering both at home and abroad because their voices were not heard.

I have no idea how bad a guy this Fadlallah is. But I’ve seen the U.S. on the wrong side of enough judgment calls in my lifetime to know that I do not trust the mere listing of a person on a terrorist list. How many times have we backed the world’s worst terrorists, or even trained them and provided money and guns for their endeavors. Somoza in Nicaragua. The Shaw in Iran. Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Even Ho Chi Min was on our good guy list till he objected to us handing his country back to the French. When it’s politically expedient to back a terrorist, he’s our man. We arm them, train them, and give them our support in the international community. Then when the prevailing winds change, instantly they’re dubbed a terrorist and we set out to eliminate them.

Maybe this is the way we have to do business. I doubt it. But if so, it stinks.

I am not a religious man and find it hard to fathom that anyone would believe God has ordered them to commit war, genocide, rape, and murder in his name. The Middle Eastern Clerics seem barbaric, murdering children, mutilating the genitals of girls, forcing women to walk around in tents, stoning them for the smallest transgression of laws that should never exist in the first place. Every time I read about students or teachers being killed because the Taliban doesn’t think girls should be educated, my impression of these clerics is reinforced.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t clerics who are decent human beings. Maybe Octavia Nasr knows something I don’t. If so, I would like to hear what she has to say. Perhaps like Muammar al-Gaddafi (whom I remember as General Gaddafi), Fadlallah used to be bad but in his later years earned Nasr’s respect for some reason, became a force for democracy, civil rights, things like that. OK, it may be a far stretch to say such things about Gaddafi, but at least you no longer see the U.S. trying to assassinate the guy. There must be a reason for that.

As an example of what I’m trying to say, let’s look at someone closer to home, George Wallace, who in his inauguration speech as Governor of Alabama in 1963 said:

In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

Do you remember the pictures of Wallace standing in the school doors of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama that same year, confronting federal Marshalls who were escorting a black student who the federal courts had ordered to be enrolled?

Wallace was a pretty misdirected individual at the time. But some twenty years later he apologized for his stance, sought forgiveness, said he was wrong.

Occasionally people do change. Perhaps at some point in his life Fadlallah became a born again good guy. If so, someone should acknowledge that, say nice things about it.

Either way, I would like to have enough information to make up my own mind. This calls for a full and free debate. No one should be silenced. Especially not the Senior Middle East Editor for CNN who is in a far better position to know things than almost any of the rest of us.

Judge Learned Hand said it best:

The First Amendment presupposes that right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection. To many this is, and always will be, folly; but we have staked upon it our all.

United States v. Associated Press, 52 F. Supp. 362 (1943)

To CNN I would point out that we have just spent a decade fighting two wars to bring such things as freedom of speech to the Middle East. I would ask how the firing of Octavia Nasr for something she wrote furthers that purpose. In the least, she should have been given a chance to explain her position. More than just being fair to her, it would give those of us learning about this controversy from afar the opportunity to understand why she said what she said.

Written by Waine Riches

The Rhetoric of Failure

Political machines are an interesting phenomenon.

Obama’s stimulus package was signed into law on February 13, 2009. That’s a little over five months ago. Today’s news (July 23, 2009) shows that the DOW has once again broken the 9000 mark. The banking system is emerging on solid ground. Even the auto industry has a new lease on life.

And housing purchases are on the rise. If you recall, it was the toxic U.S. housing market that caused the collapse of the world wide economic system in the first place, too much easy credit with no regulation or oversight.

Back in February the right wing talking heads were screaming that they hoped the stimulus would fail – that they wanted Obama to fail. The rank and file of the Republican Party along with the more conservative factions outside of the party, have now picked up on this rhetoric, even though the economy has bottomed out, is showing solid signs of recovery, and is remarkably doing this after only five months.

Support for Obama’s handling of the economy is dropping. Dropping at just about the same pace as the noise from the right is rising.

Let’s see. It took the economic reforms put in place by Reagan 20 years to deplete the savings of the average American. We went from one wage earner households to a dead end service economy where more and more adults work two and three jobs, education to enter the higher paying job market is out of reach, and no one is at home taking care of the kids because both parents need to earn a living just to pay utilities and put food on the table.

The complete lack of oversight since Reagan has allowed the so called “market” to reward the already obscenely rich at the expense of everyone else and the overall economy. Adding to this, the right wing has no problems with taking money from the middle class, transferring it to the military industrial complex, and starting wars without provocation just to prove how necessary that transfer of wealth is.

And forget any concerns about the rest of the inhabitants of the planet. No regulation, so no worries over bothersome things like CO2 emissions either.

CEO’s are paid hundreds of millions and sometimes billions of dollars a year to run their companies into the ground, or pull up stakes and haul them overseas. We are told the high pay is needed to attract talent. Investors aren’t complaining because they get tidy returns.

The average middle class wage earner is in debt, has no savings, more and more is without health care, and many have lost their pensions, not as a result of anything that Obama has done, but because of supply side economics, tax cuts and deregulation put in place in the Reagan years and continued through the administration of George W. Bush as if they were religious dogma.

I guess it’s OK for people to buy into what the political right is selling. We do, after all, live in a democracy. People are allowed to believe whatever they want. I do find it odd, though, that given the long history of an economic policy that has lead to the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and in the face of all signs to the contrary about things turning around, people are buying into the rhetoric of failure.

I suppose the mess the Republican’s left us with would be considered success by comparison.

How soon we forget that they controlled the entire US government for the first three quarters of the last administration. And how soon we forget that, including the Clinton Administration, Reagan’s economic schemes have had a solid twenty plus years to prove effective.

What we see instead is failure. Not of Obama’s handling of the economy. But of supply side economics, tax cuts, deregulation, transfer of public wealth to the already obscenely rich, and the unwillingness of the public to pay for those things that would benefit the average citizen, create a sustainable economy.

Government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich doesn’t work. What works is a strong middle class which is where purchasing power is located. Lay people off, cut wages, produce goods at fifty-cents a day wages overseas, and there’s no one to purchase those goods. Keep taxes low, interest rates at rock bottom, and no one saves. The entire economy runs on cheap credit. If you place your investment bet just right, you become filthy rich. But with the layoffs and low wages, and no savings, there’s eventually no money for the masses to pay their loans. This is where the rhetoric of no taxes, low interest rates, deregulation, and supply side economics took us the first time around.

And the funniest part of it is that the current right wing rhetoric offers more of the same. Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes truth. People will have a hard time believing anything else.

Which I guess would account for the rise in people believing that after five months, the economic policies of Obama are a failure, even though it’s the past economic policies of the right that got us here, and indications are strong that Obama’s policies are turning things around.

As I said, Political machines are an interesting phenomenon. The Republicans have staked out the low ground, hoping and praying for failure, and when actual failure doesn’t come along, simply have used their political machinery to convince people that it’s happening, and that the one guy doing the most to turn things around is responsible.

Written by Waine Riches

Iran’s March for Freedom

This past week hundreds of thousands of marchers have taken to the streets of Tehran. Some have been shot, others arrested. They are protesting election results. They are also risking their life and the possibility of arrest, torture and imprisonment for something else, something more.

The response from the Revolutionary Guard seems pretty tame up to this point. My guess is that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the cleric who is currently at the top of the power structure in Iran, is taking a day or two to assess how serious the threat is to himself. Ahmadinejad, who supposedly won the election for president by a landslide, is, after all, expendable.

Ahmadinejad would be gone in a heartbeat if that would solve the problem, squelch the unrest. It’s simple, do a recount, give the election to Mousavi. But then Mousavi and his followers might get to feeling their oats, want to be able to read and write without government censorship, associate with whomever they desire, belong to whatever religion they choose, things like that.

The other option is to hold another election. But that seems risky. It allows people to organize in a quasi-legitimate fashion, adds fuel to the fire. And what does Khamenei do if the election comes out for Ahmadinejad? Now he’s got an even larger civil unrest to deal with. Or worse, what if Mousavi wins and the Iranians figure out that they really like their new found democratic powers, go after Khamenei?

The safest option from the vantage point of someone in Khamenei’s position may be to kick the international news media out then imprison, torture and kill as many people as it takes to settle the current unrest. That is, it’s the safest so long as everyone else in the country goes along with it.

Freedom is a funny thing. Once people taste it, it’s hard to go back. It’s why Savak existed when the Shah was in power. It’s why the Revolutionary Guard exists today. Like those before him without democratic legitimacy, the only way Khamenei can maintain his spot at the top is through force.

I wish it were different for the Iranians. I sincerely wish that Khamenei would decide it’s more important to be the historical figure responsible for giving Iran true democracy. He could be the Mikhail Gorbachev of Iran. Even better, he could stop the killings, let the reporters and others who have been arrested out of jail, allow civil freedoms to flourish. But I’ve not seen any indications that he could somehow be that insightful.

I stand in awe at the average citizen in Iran who, in the face of the crackdown that has already started, is risking everything to march down the streets of Tehran and demand basic civil freedoms. No matter the outcome, we are witnessing an unstoppable march towards freedom. Khamenei might stall the process with a brutal crackdown, but freedom is inevitable, even in Iran.

Written by Waine Riches

Cap and Trade? Let’s keep our eyes on the real issue.

The cap and trade bill favored by Obama and the Democrats is likely to become law.

The Republicans are predicting all sorts of bad if it happens. They’re pushing for the Bush era alternatives of nuclear power and drilling for more oil.

The folks at Greenpeace are against oil and nuclear power. But one of the original founders of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, says he’s changed his mind and we should now consider nuclear power.

France is all about nuclear.

In Germany they’re going solar, even though the sun hardly ever shines there.

And China is building coal power plants faster than you can say “CO2 causes global warming.”

It’s hard to know what to root for here in the US. The cap and trade system will most certainly not end global warming. The reason is China and India stand to surpass the U.S. in fossil fuel pollutants within the next few years and our cap and trade system won’t put the brakes on their pollution.

Don’t get me wrong, if cap and trade helps, I’m for it.

But it seems to me the real answer is keeping the pressure on the research, development and production of clean energy. We said we were going to do this in the 70s. But oil got dirt cheap, the US consumer fell in love with everything electrical for home and office, and decided to drive from one place to the other in gas guzzling SUVs and oversized pickup trucks. Nothing was done to solve our dependence on fossil fuel.

To make it happen now, we need fossil fuel to be expensive. The folks on the extreme right claim that the cap and trade bill will do just that. I find myself in the odd position of hoping they’re correct.

There’s never a good time to have expensive energy. During the middle of a recession it could cause the recession to deepen, pushing us into a depression. As we work our way out of our current recession, it could stall the recovery. If we wait until we’re in an economic boom, it could cause the economy to nose dive into another recession.

Dire predictions no matter what.

But I’m convinced we need to bite the bullet. This may sound strange, but each time I pull into a gas pump I hope the price has gone up. The reason is simple. Until the cost of fossil fuel is greater than clean alternatives, we won’t do what is necessary to make the transition. And if we don’t go through the transition now, it will be infinitely more painful in the future.

While it seems hard for many to believe, fossil fuel is a limited resource. Throughout the last century, consumers in the United States had easy access to fossil fuels at basement bargain prices. That’s no longer going to be the case. Even if gas were to go back down to a $1 a gallon, it won’t stay there. China and India are hungry. They are where we were in the 50s and 60s, on their way to global domination of the consumer markets.

Having gas at $1 a gallon might jump start the U.S. economy. Having it at $2 a gallon will allow our recovery to progress nicely. Even at $3 a gallon, we’re not likely to see any huge detriments.

But paying $5 a gallon in the not too distant future is inevitable. And from there it goes up. It seems logical to me that we’ll see $10 a gallon gas here in the U.S. within the next few years, as soon as the Chinese consumer begins feeling the successes of their capitalist system. There’s no scientist that I’ve read who says that we can drill our way out of this by putting up derricks on the few remaining pristine places in the United States.

In my lifetime I’ve seen country after country enter the world wide capitalistic markets, watched their economies go from third world poor to first world rich, start small, then bloom into economic powers in their own right. Japan’s post war ascension has been the most important. When I was a child we bought toys made out of tin cans from Japan. You could turn a toy car over and still read the old label. Now they are the second largest economy on the globe. Following suit, China and India will soon surpass both Japan and the U.S.

In the final analysis, it’s a matter of supply and demand. There’s a limited supply of fossil fuels, and China and India are demanding their share.

Which is to say, the cap and trade bill is just a minor debate in a seriously large problem. Let’s not stop the pressure to convert to clean energy, whether that be solar, which is my personal preference, or other alternatives.

I for one would support a direct federal tax on gas. It might slow down the economic recovery, but in the long run we’ve got to get past cheap fossil fuels.

The cap and trade system seems aimed at the same goal, but relies on capitalist concepts to get us there.

I hope it works.

We can either move to clean energy with planning and forethought, or we can wake up one morning in the not too distant future to $10 a gallon gas and wonder why no one warned us or did anything to plan for it, and how we’re going to deal with the sudden unexpected emergency that’s sending our economy into a tail spin.

Written by Waine Riches