Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Paying By The Mile Is A Terrible Idea

September 25, 2013, 9:00 a.m. (And see, "Gas Tax Critics: A Response," Dec. 10, 2013.)

The Gasoline Tax Is Our Friend
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
-- Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"

As children we used to sing "London Bridge Is Falling Down." It involved a land far away, a fantasy, because none of us had ever heard of a bridge actually falling down.

Now we have.

We're told many of Iowa's bridges are in need of replacement or repair -- including our own Park Road bridge over the Iowa River. Roads, too, are crumbling and in need of replacement.

It all costs money. How to pay for it? For years it's been paid for with the federal and state gasoline taxes. Today "tax" is one of our few three-letter dirty words. Political rhetoric permits a discussion of "taxes" disconnected from a consideration of what we buy with them. Taxes are, after all, just another way of buying stuff we need -- like roads and bridges. Paying nothing for roads and bridges is not an option. One way or another we'll either pay for them or we won't have them. But in order for the gasoline tax system to work, the taxes need to be raised to a level that recognizes both inflation and current need for funds. Politicians who have convinced their constituents that taxes are evil are reluctant to do this, and are looking for alternatives.

Current proposals to substitute a kind of mileage tax, or toll road, for gasoline taxes are, unfortunately, gaining favor. Before these ideas go much further, it's time to explain why they are little more than a shell and pea game designed to further enrich the oll and automobile manufacturing industries.

One of the primary virtues of the gasoline tax is that it is what's called a "user fee." The more you drive on the roads, the more gasoline you'll buy, the more gasoline tax you'll pay, and the more you'll contribute to the building and maintenance of the roads you use. Unlike the railroads that must pay the whole cost of building and maintaining their roadways, the trucking companies have all of us pitching in to build their roadway system. [Photo credit: multiple sources.]

Ah, say the mileage fee advocates, but under our proposal the amount paid by drivers would also be tied to their usage.

To which I reply, "Yes, but . . .." Yes, but look at all we give up in the process. Abandoning the gasoline tax system, as Joni Mitchell reminds us, is going to leave us with the realization that we didn't know how good we had it before it disappeared.

Crumbling roads and falling bridges are not our nation's, and our state's, only challenges. (1) All Iowans, but especially our farmers, are discovering what "climate change" means in our day-to-day lives and business operations. We need to do everything possible to reduce our use of fossil fuels. (2) And, to the extent our dependence on fossil fuels will continue, we want to become as energy independent as possible. When "our oil" somehow gets beneath the sands of Middle Eastern countries, it costs us trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives, for our military to go get it out for us.

There are many reasons why the gasoline tax is not creating the revenue we need to keep an adequate vehicular infrastructure up to snuff. Mostly it's the failure to raise it to the levels required by inflation.

But it's also a good news, bad news story. You want the good news first? OK.

There are three other factors at play. (1) Higher gas mileage cars and trucks, (2) hybrids, and (3) electric vehicles (along with some other alternatives) all use less gas per mile than the averages when the gasoline tax was put in place. As a result, we are both (a) putting less volume of greenhouse gases into the environment than we otherwise would be, and (b) are less dependent on foreign oil supplies. There are many motivations and forces that support the growing interest in these three alternatives to low mileage cars and trucks, but a major one is the price of gas (including the gasoline taxes).

That's the good news. The other side of that coin is that, notwithstanding the benefits of our using less gasoline, the less gas we use the less revenue the gasoline tax produces, the less money we have for roads and bridges.

So why not substitute a mileage charge? There are many reasons. But whether you eliminate the gasoline tax, reduce it, or hold it at present levels, one consequence is that doing so reduces the marketplace incentive to produce and purchase better gas-mileage vehicles, including hybrids and electrics -- which is something we should want to encourage, not discourage.

By raising the gasoline tax to the levels necessary to maintain our road and bridges infrastructure we can actually increase the incentive to fuel efficiency.

It is difficult to change an entire nation's culture and habits -- as we have seen with tobacco use. But note that, in that case, we used all of Larry Lessig's four options for modifying human behavior (law, norms, market, architecture). We have laws that prohibit smoking in some places. The norm is that smokers ask permission to smoke in your presence (or simply refrain from doing so), rather than assuming it is of course OK, because, after all, "everybody smokes." And convenience stores have moved the cigarettes behind the counter, where they are more difficult for teenagers to steal (an "architectural" change). But one of the biggest factors has been a marketplace modification: teenagers are much less likely to take up smoking at $7.00 per pack of cigarettes than at $2.00.

When you pay by the mile, you can drive as low mileage a vehicle as you want -- a spiffy Hummer (some models get 9 mpg in city) or an inefficient old vehicle. You'll still pay more per mile for the gas, but at least you won't be paying a tax on top of that to maintain your roadway.

Another disadvantage to the mileage charge is the sheer administrative complexity of operating such a system, with its much wider array of possible fraudulent evasions than available with the gas tax.

My proposal? Continue to fund road and bridge construction and maintenance with gasoline taxes. Raise the tax rate to whatever level is necessary to do that. Continue to give the more efficient, and alternatively-fueled, vehicles the advantage needed by any new, socially beneficial technology when trying to change culturally embedded habits and (in the case of electrics' need for battery recharging stations) infrastructure. (That is, the advantage of paying less, or no, gasoline tax -- similar to what we've done during the early years of the Internet.) Years from now, when the alternative vehicles industries, and their necessary infrastructure, have crossed the threshold that make them sufficiently popular and profitable to stand on their own, design any one of a number of possible approaches for collecting a road-maintenance contribution from alternatively fueled vehicles.

But, please, think long and hard before adding, or substituting, a mileage fee system for the gasoline tax. Let's not wake up to discover that, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone."

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Is 'Moderately Honest' Enough?

September 20, 2013, 6:30 a.m.

When Is an Elected Official's Behavior Disqualifying?
Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
-- Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1791), p. 82
A moderately honest man, with a moderately faithful wife, moderate drinkers both, in a moderately healthy house: that is the true middle-class unit.
-- George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)

Background. An Iowa City attorney, upon discovering that he had overlooked the need to request documents from opposing counsel in a timely fashion, made a series of mistakes. He predated a letter of request, sent it to opposing counsel, and when called on it lied to the judge. In our recently digitized world, the letter contained code that recorded and revealed the actual date of the letter's creation.

The legal profession holds its members to detailed and high ethical standards embodied in formal rules and normally enforced by a state's supreme court. See Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. This lawyer's behavior was brought before the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission, which has recommended his license be suspended for six months. The Iowa Supreme Court can modify that, but it is clear he has been severely punished -- with the suspension of his license, the need to resign from his law firm, and the emotional and professional damage as a result of the widespread publicity surrounding the case.

Although there is no doubting, or excusing, the seriousness of the charged offenses, especially when done by someone within the legal profession, it is also notable for what it did not involve. He did not enrich himself at another's expense. He caused no firearm or other violence. He did not disparage anyone's reputation but his own. He didn't engage in sexual misconduct. His actions could not have benefited him in any way -- aside from covering up his forgetfulness. Indeed, his primary motive may have been to better serve his client. Obviously, his actions failed on both counts, as should have been obvious to him ahead of time.

Normally, there the matter would have rested. A local lawyer, caught in an ethical violation, has his license suspended. In a town the size of Iowa City, that is front page news: Adam B. Sullivan,"McGinness could face license suspension; Commission finds School Board member falsified documents, recommends 6-month suspension," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 5, 2013, p. A1. But that probably would have been the end of it. Actually, for two weeks it was the end of it. No more big stories; no editorials.

But the lawyer was also a school board member. And so gradually some community members, and journalists, began asking themselves, and others, whether it was appropriate to have someone serving on the school board who had been sanctioned for this ethical breach by his professional colleagues. There was an editorial in which the paper acknowledged that, "In the two years he has been in office, [he] has been a good School Board member. In meetings, he consistently brings his A-game and shows he has done his homework. He’s available and approachable to his constituents. And the board benefits often from his training as a lawyer." It did not directly ask for his resignation ("we’re of two minds on whether to call on [him] to resign immediately"), but noted "questions": "Ethics violations raise questions about McGinness," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2013, p. A13. And the next day there was a follow-up story on the responses from the school board members and others ("Iowa City Community School Board members aren’t saying much about a fellow board member’s legal woes that first were reported two weeks ago.") Adam B. Sullivan, "Legal woes bring mostly silence; School Board member: McGinness' troubles not connected to district," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 19, 2013, p. A1. [Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson; not the current board members.]

And that is what prompted this op ed column in the Press-Citizen. It was stimulated by the facts and issues in this case: "Should the fact of a individual's falsifying documents and lying about it, in his private capacity as a lawyer and wholly unrelated to his school board duties, be grounds for his removal from a local school board?" But that is not it's focus, which is directed rather more generally at an exploration of the factors that one might appropriately take into account when evaluating the consequences of behavior that violates community (or professional) norms. If, as George Bernard Shaw is quoted above as suggesting, the advice that we should "be moderate in all things" means that most of us are satisfied to be "moderately honest," how much higher a standard is it reasonable for us to set for our elected officials -- especially with regard to matters unrelated to their official responsibilities?

Working Our Way Through the McGinness Kerfluffle
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
September 20, 2013, p. A7

A Frenchman, asked why he kissed women on the hand, replied, “Because you have to start somewhere.”

But where should one start with the porcupine of prickly issues emerging from the kerfluffle surrounding Jeff McGinness’ difficulties? There’s little about it you’d ever want to kiss anywhere.

In law professor fashion, I’m not offering answers – just questions. McGinness, school board members, citizens, the Press-Citizen -- all of us need to think this through for ourselves.

But I do see some issues.

How should we go about judging what is, and is not, forgivable in others? Are there any normative principles? Or is every case a one-off?

We can start with Iago’s observation, “he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.” Othello, Act 3, Scene 3.

Reputation is a valuable possession. Corporations put a dollar value on goodwill. Spreading falsehoods is defamation. The unnecessary spread of truth can also be harmful. At a minimum, we should think twice before speaking ill of others.

Deserved or not, the publicizing of one’s faults is itself a serious punishment.

The forms of expressing disapproval extend over quite a range. It can take the form of a private thought, a whispered comment, public speech, or newspaper editorial. It can include a demand for resignation, or other punishment.

Suppose the irrefutable facts were that Governor Branstad regularly instructed his drivers to speed. (His Lt. Governor said they have a tight schedule – reminiscent of President Nixon’s explanation to David Frost that, “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.")

Would it be reasonable, or fair, to try to bring about his removal from office for this behavior? If he also served on a church’s board of trustees, should he be asked to resign?

Does disapproved behavior at work warrant harsher penalties than if done in a bar, or at home?

Is it less bad if no one has suffered any physical, financial or reputational harm – aside from the perpetrator?

Should we distinguish between a weekend problem drinker who’s a top employee, and one who shows up drunk, or drinks at work?

How serious would you consider a coach who covers up a valued player’s crimes? A businessperson who lies about their “need” for a TIF? A professor who raises the failing grade of an athlete to keep him eligible? The university’s administrator who requested she do so? Someone who files taxes late, and predates the check? A church official who moves a pedophile minister to another church? A negligent doctor, threatened with a malpractice suit, who forces his nurse to lie? An administrator who is known to be condescending and mean to store clerks, waiters, and trades persons working on his property?

Should these facts, if sufficiently proven, disqualify those persons from serving on the board of a local, non-profit, volunteer organization?

Does it make a difference whether a financial vice president embezzles funds from her company, or as treasurer of her church? What if she had an off-duty ethical lapse wholly unrelated to the kind of work she does? In short, does it make a difference that the wrongdoing involves a personal quality required by her job? That it was done elsewhere?

How far can one indiscretion fairly be stretched to general conclusions about character? During a trial, unless a party or witness raises character issues, there are limits on the introduction of past derelictions. Of course, in our day-to-day lives we have neither the resources nor the restraints of trial lawyers. One lie may not legitimately make one “a liar.” But we recall “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Finally, we’re voters. We can vote for or against elected officials for whatever fool reasons we want. But we’ll feel better about ourselves if we’ve been thoughtful and fair in our judgments.
Nicholas Johnson, a former member of the Iowa City Community School Board, teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains and

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Monday, September 09, 2013

School Board Election: Whom to Vote For?

September 9, 2013 2:15 p.m. [If you're looking for "Syria: Moral Imperatives and Rational Analyses," Click Here.]

Nine Candidates, Three Positions; How Can We Benefit From All?

A Win-Win Advisory Board for District

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 5, 2013, p.A7

Be sure to vote Tuesday for Iowa City Community School Board.

OK; but for whom?

We are blessed with this year’s offering: nine good choices. Each brings at least one quality that would benefit our board. [Photo credit: KWWL-TV; Iowa City Community School District Board, Feb. 5, 2013]

Study what the Press-Citizen brings us about them. There may be reasons for your preferences.

If you want a steady-as-she-goes board member — responsive to community pressure, soft spoken, able, collaborative — some candidates’ training and experience suggests they might be, by your standards, marginally preferable to others.

If you want a shake-’em-up board member — innovative, constructively abrasive, researching and advocating best practices, willing to take on the administration and special interests — you may find others marginally preferable.

If you think, however significant the district’s challenges and opportunities may be, the first task before taking up that agenda is for board members to understand board governance — the role of a board members and their interaction with the administration — there may be others who appeal to you.

But there’s no bad vote; no candidate who needs to be avoided at all costs.

When I was a School Board member, I used to say, “you may not get any pay, but at least you get a lot of grief.” Anyone who cares enough about K-12 education to be willing to serve deserves our encouragement and thanks.

It is mathematically impossible to put all nine on the School Board and still have a board of seven members.

So how about, this year, we create the opportunity to benefit from all of them, with a “School Board Advisory Board”?

No matter who wins, there will be six who don’t. There’s no way their votes on board business could be counted legally. Only elected board members can vote. But their comments at board meetings, and revealing how they would have voted on items, could be a significant contribution to board discussions and outcomes. Whomever they may turn out to be, it seems a shame to lose their commitment, enthusiasm and obvious abilities following Tuesday — if they would be willing to serve in that way.

Just a thought.

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Syria: Moral Imperatives and Rational Analyses

September 4, 2013, 9:15 a.m.
Spotting the Issues
"The fundamental shift in the character of war is illustrated by a stark statistic: in World War I, [for every] nine soldiers [killed there was one] civilian life lost. In today’s wars, [for every nine soldiers killed in battle] it is estimated that [90] civilians die . . .."
-- Greenberg Research, Inc., The People on War Report, International Committee of the Red Cross, 1999, p. iii; from "Civilian Casualty Ratio,"

"My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."
-- Edward M. Kennedy, "Address at the Public Memorial Service for Robert F. Kennedy," June 8, 1968, American Rhetoric Top 100 Speeches.

[Chart credit: Wikipedia Commons, "Casualties of the Syrian Civil War",]

We are genetically programmed to be physically and emotionally moved by suffering. "I feel your pain" is more than politicians' casual rhetoric. Animal rights activists are not the only ones among us with empathy for suffering animals, whether a beached whale or dolphin in the wild, or a pet cat or dog in our home. Especially is this so when it is humans who are hurting. We feel a special outrage when children are unnecessarily suffering from disease or starvation, and worst of all when they are the victims of deliberate, senseless and inhumane infliction of violence by adults. Photos move us more than text, videos more than still photos, and personal witness most of all. [Photo credit: multiple sources.]

Moreover, when there is the possibility that we might be able to do something to alleviate the suffering of others, there is at least a part of what Ted Kennedy saw in his brother Robert in all of us. We come together to try to right wrong, heal suffering, and stop war.

Indeed, many would say we have a moral, religious, or philosophical obligation to do so -- sometimes with the possibility of great harm to ourselves. That's why a swimmer may dive into a river to save a drowning stranger, or quickly remove someone from an onrushing car or train, or burning building. It is also a part of what motivates the vicarious helping, in the form of charitable giving by individual Americans -- for 2011, two-thirds of the roughly $300 billion total contributions, 12% of which went to human services, with a 15% two-year increase in giving to international affairs organizations. "Charitable Giving Statistics," National Philanthropic Trust (which see for additional data).

And so it is with our feelings for the people of Syria.

We spend more on defense than the next ten countries combined. If it was possible for us to use that overwhelming military might to heal the Syrian people's suffering, and stop their war, I for one think we would have a moral obligation to do so -- however unpopular that view may be in some quarters. There are already 90,000 dead, and two million refugees from this war. We may not have the responsibility, or resources, to be "the world's police force." But I do think, when it is within our power to prevent the killing of tens of thousands more, we have a moral obligation to do so, given that we still remain the world's most powerful nation at this time in history.

The problem on this occasion, as with so many in the past and future to come, is that saving their lives is not within our power. Indeed, it is highly likely that our intervention, whether with a single missile strike or a prolonged bombardment, would increase rather than decrease the suffering and death of the Syrian people.

Of course there are many other issues surrounding President Obama's desire to send missiles to Syria. I may later itemize some of them below. Although there is a case to be made, and that the Administration has attempted to make, for this action, I do believe that any rational benefit-cost analysis finds that case decisively outweighed by the likelihood of its doing more harm than good, with risks and costs orders of magnitude greater than any possible benefits.

But that will have to wait for later. This blog essay is deliberately narrowly focused on the moral issue.

There may be, and often are, cases in which the moral obligation to prevent human death and suffering is politically, or emotionally, overridden by other considerations -- such as the Allies decision to fight World War II. As a result of that decision, some 38 to 55 million innocent civilians were killed, many of whom might have lived had Hitler been left free to take over all of Europe and more. I do not believe a civil war within a single country, at least not today's Syria -- one that has neither attacked us, nor shown present intention and ability to occupy surrounding countries, Nazi style -- is such a case.

My conclusion: If it were possible for us to stop the Syrian civil war, prevent the deaths of thousands more, and the continued suffering of hundreds of thousands more refugees and others, I think we would have a moral obligation to do so. When that is not possible, as I believe to be the case, especially given the additional harm that would probably result from our intervention, the same rationale and analysis leads me to the conclusion that we have a moral obligation to stay out.

[More on other issues, below.]

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The Other Issues

Let's put aside the moral issues for the moment, however you came out on those, and look at some of the other troublesome aspects of this venture.

A Rational Analysis of the Military Option.

One way into war, seemingly popular with some elected officials, is shouting slogans like "USA! USA!" or "Nuke 'em!" or "Let's kick some butt!" or "These colors don't run!" While energizing and possibly emotionally satisfying, it lacks something as a precise analysis.

An alternative is an approach I used in a column prior to the Iraq War: Nicholas Johnson, "Ten Questions for Bush Before War," The Daily Iowan, February 4, 2003, p. A6. Not all of those ten questions are specifically applicable to sending missiles to Syria, of course, but the approach is similar.

1. What is our goal, our purpose, in intervening in Syria? As I used to put it to my school board colleagues, "How would we know if we'd ever been successful?" Our purpose seems to have included, at various times, regime change, humanitarian aid for the innocent suffering Syrians, providing weapons to the insurgents, creating a no-fly zone to protect Syrians from aerial attack, punishing the leadership for gassing its citizens while warning other nations never to do it, and most recently, knocking out the government's command and control facilities -- as the Senate puts it, "shifting the momentum on the battlefield," over a period of 60 days with a 30-day extension.

It's hard to critique a proposed attack of some kind on Syria without knowing the nature of that attack, the purpose it's designed to serve, and how long it's gong to last.

2. Whatever the answers to those questions may be, once those answers are obtained the next question is, "Why do we think the military exercise we've envisioned will produce the result we desire?" Are there alternative approaches that might be more effective, cheaper, and less likely to have negative consequences -- diplomacy, economic sanctions, charging Assad with war crimes in the International Criminal Court?

3. After our attack, will the people of Syria be better or worse off than they were before we took whatever action we end up taking? In particular, to the extent our goal is regime change, what is the likelihood that the new, replacement regime will be better for the Syrian people -- and us? Indeed, given all the disparate groups jockeying for dominant control, and likely to continue fighting if and when Assad is ever replaced, what are the odds of any "regime" emerging?

4. Do the American people, and their elected representatives, support this military action, and if they do now, how long can that support be sustained? Do the people of Syria? Does the Obama Administration have the support of the United Nations, NATO, the Arab League? It would appear not. The British House of Commons voted to stay out. Polls indicate most Americans are opposed, and the House of Representatives is unlikely to authorize the President's new "war." The Russian and Chinese veto pretty much prevents any United Nations action. The "Arab street" seems at best split over the desirability of "Western intervention."

5. The total costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, including lifetime support of those who've served, looks something like $2-3 trillion. What are the economic and political consequences of adding to that debt?

6. Once we have identified our goal, and if it involves the betterment of the Syrian people, and if we are successful in achieving it, what will be required to secure and maintain those gains? How long will we need to be involved in some way, even if it does not involve American military personnel inside Syria? It's not clear whether the promise to not put any "boots on the ground" only refers to "combat troops," or really means we will keep all American CIA and military personnel out of Syria.

7. And finally we come to "exit strategy." How do we get out? What happens when we do? Why will our gains, our achievement of our goal (if it was ever precisely identified and ultimately reached), be maintained after we are no longer there?

Inconsistencies and Other Troubling Features of the Operation

8. Why now? Put aside the chemical attacks for the moment. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has killed 90,000 of his people the old fashioned way. If a part of our motivation is to protect the Syrian people from their government, why did those deaths not move the Administration to action months ago? Why not wait for the report of the UN investigators regarding the cause of death, and whatever evidence can be found regarding who was responsible for it?

9. Now let's address the chemical warfare. I get it; that's a violation of international law. Conventional weapons are usually legal under international law. Personally, I find killing your own people, innocent civilians, to be pretty disgusting regardless of the means used. But even if the only thing that moves you to action is the use of chemical weapons, why was that not a concern the 14 prior times he used them? Why were we so totally unconcerned when Saddam Hussein used them on his Kurds and the Iranians, and suddenly concerned enough to go to war now? Why do we think it's OK for us to possess them?

10. What's with this "red line" of Obama's? If he's going to throw down challenges, doesn't he realize he needs to be prepared to act, and quickly, when Assad crosses his line? Why didn't he act the first time Assad used chemical weapons once the red line was drawn? How much of the "urgency of now" with regard to this attack on Syria is driven by the president's personal embarrassment from his new-found awareness that failing to follow up on threats is extraordinarily damaging to our national interests? Isn't this behavior reminiscent of President George W. Bush's complaint that Saddam Hussein "tried to kill my daddy" -- injecting a president's personal involvement, reputation, or embarrassment, into what ought to be depersonalized analysis?

11. Beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not enough for a jury to find a defendant guilty of a routine crime because "he probably did it." They need to find his guilt proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." Based on the photos and video we've seen, the likelihood is that chemical weapons were the cause of the recent death and suffering. But when it comes to finding Assad "guilty," basically all we have is "he probably did it." That may be enough for some responses, like diplomacy, and our intuition is certainly more solidly grounded in this case than when the last president wanted to go to war with Iraq because it was a "slam dunk" that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But is it enough to go to war?

12. Congress. So the president is asking Congress to sign off on his war. Never hurts to follow the Constitution from time to time. It would be nice if presidents would always do that. (It would also be nice if presidents and Congress would impose extra pay-as-you-go taxes to pay for wars before the wars, rather than putting them on our grand children's credit cards.) But I'm not sure it's accurate or fair to say congressional approval, if it comes, can be fairly said to represent the support of the American people. For starters all but about 10-to-15% of the American people are disgusted with Congress. And roughly two-thirds of Americans (depending on how they are asked the question) oppose going to war with, or lobbing missiles over, Syria.

13. Find a better place for war. The Middle East is probably the worst possible place to start lobbing missiles toward someone. It is as likely to harden Assad's resolve as to weaken it. It will certainly continue to accelerate our very successful program of increasing the number and ferociousness of al-Qaeda recruits -- who may very well be the ones to take over and rule Syria if we were to be successful at "regime change." And there is no credible scenario that I have seen as to why it is not likely to bring in the Russians and Iranians, possibly provoke attacks on Israel, and otherwise spread to other neighbors of Syria. On the assumption our actions don't provoke a World War III, and we just risk attacks on Israel, and further alienation of China and Russia, we next explore what other blowback is possible.

14. Blowback. How have those missile attacks been working out for us in the past? Not so well. (a) In 1983 we shelled military forces engaged in a civil war in Lebanon, in that case in an effort to support the Lebanese army. What was the reaction? A month later suicide bombers blew up our Marine barracks, killing 241 Marines. We brought the survivors home, and the civil war continued until 1990. (b) In 1998 al-Qaeda bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S. answered with missile hits on al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and, with erroneous intelligence (that it was a chemical weapons plant), a plant in Sudan producing medicine for the Sudanese people. The blowback? The USS Cole was attacked, and a year later we were dealing with 9/11.

It wasn't long ago we closed numerous embassies, especially in the Middle East and Africa, out of concern they might be attacked. After we lob missiles at Syria is it more, or less, likely that those concerns will prove to have been well-founded? (Apparently, intercepts have already revealed plans to attack the U.S. embassy in Bagdad if we attack Syria.) By what standard can an increased risk of attack on Americans, as we have experienced in the past, be said to improve our national security?

15. "Collaterally damaged" civilians. As the quote at the top of this blog essay reveals, war produces as many as ten times the number of civilian casualties as military. This is not a very effective way to "win hearts and minds."

There's more to be said -- but not by me. This is enough to give you a sense of my thinking on the matter. What's yours? "Not in my name" says little without the backup of some reasoning. American citizens still have some credibility and respect abroad on the part of those in other countries who are willing to say, "It's not the American people, it's their government." However, unless we all speak up, it will be done in our name, and it will be the American people who will be properly faulted, not just our government.

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