May 18th, 2004 ~ With our economy, our environment, our very lives all hanging in the balance, doesn't it seem imprudent to cut off ANY federal program which offers our nation a serious possibility of freedom from the insanity of Middle East oil?  Yet this is exactly what our President is proposing in his FY 2005 budget.
      In trade for America's commitment to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), President Bush has stripped funding in next year's budget for ALL federally funded fusion energy research except weapons-related programs.  By this time next year, America will no longer have a publicly funded domestic fusion energy program.
      Is this a bad thing?  Frankly, I don't know.  If ITER proves to be a successful program, leading to a real fusion powerplant within the next five to ten years, then it's a good deal.  If ITER is not successful, however, we have no "Plan B".  This fact alone disturbs me.  The Inertial Fusion Energy (IFE) research at Livermore's National Ignition Facility (NIF) has produced some impressive results and recent improvements in driver efficiency could produce a net energy surplus in the not too distant future.  But if this budget is approved, we will never know.
      Back during the mid-1970's recession, a similar deal was struck between Congress and NASA to allow the Shuttle program to continue.  NASA had to abandon all heavy-lift, single-use, launch vehicle programs like the Saturn rocket which took men to the Moon.  It was a deal driven by economic necessities, but at least we had already put several sets of footprints on the Moon.  We can claim no equivalent fusion energy accomplishments.
      Fast forward to the year 2004.  Our human space program, with an aging and tragically depleted shuttle fleet linked to the International Space Station, is the biggest money pit in the NASA budget; completely unsuited to the new "Mars or Bust" direction our President has layed out.  We now need heavy-lift rockets capable of human interplanetary travel.  We now need the type of launch vehicles scraped back in the 1970's.
      This year, with the costs of the Iraq War rivaling several lunar programs, many worthwhile federal programs will be feeling the axe, so justifying a big-ticket research program such as Livermore's IFE is especially difficult.  I can only point out, once more, the critical need our nation has for an industrial-strength, securely domestic, intrinsically safe, and environmentally friendly source of energy.
      EVERY barrel of Middle East oil we import jeopardizes our national security; funding the sun-crazed psychopaths bent on murdering us all.  EVERY domestically produced barrel of oil and ton of coal, turns some patch of our beautiful land into a nightmare.  EVERY spent fission reactor fuel rod remains DEADLY for THOUSANDS OF YEARSEVERY squeeze by OPEC costs our nation thousands more jobs.  These are the very real, life and death stakes if we don't find an alternative to Middle East oil.
      With this in mind, I ask you to write your Senators and Representatives today to demand a "Plan B" should ITER not pan out as we hope.  Our government is always encouraging us to "be ready" in the event of a terrorist threat.  Think of our continued dependence on Middle East oil as the ultimate terrorist threat and IFE as the ultimate portable-radio-flashlight-bottled-water-face-mask-first-aid-kit.  Where else will you find an insurance policy costing each policyholder LESS than $30 per year and offering the assurance to future American generations that we've done EVERYTHING in our power to safeguard their lives and their way of life?

      May 11th, 2004 ~ An Islamic militant website, purportedly linked to al Qaeda, posted a grizzly video today.  The video appears to show the beheading of U.S. civilian Nicholas Berg, age 26, of West Chester, PA, at the hands of masked men in Iraq.  Berg's decapitated body was found Saturday near a highway overpass in Baghdad.  A voice on the video claimed this butchery was in retribution for abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.  It also invoked the name of one of al Qaeda's most rabid dogs, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
      Berg's family last heard from him April 9th, but it is unclear when and where he was abducted and whether his masked murderer on the video is actually al-Zarqawi, or a lieutenant acting on al-Zarqawi's orders.  What IS clear is that Berg was a target of opportunity.  He was in Iraq on his own; a small telecommunications business owner, not a contractor with a multinational company; not protected as such contractors are by their own security personnel.  It is also clear, from family and friends, that Berg was a "free spirit".
      As a student at Cornell, he traveled to Ghana to teach villagers how to make bricks out of materials at hand.  Nick's father said his son returned from Ghana with only the clothes on his back and emaciated because he had given away most of his food.  His reasons for being in Iraq were along these same lines.  He supported the liberation of Iraq and wanted to help the Iraqi people rebuild their country.  It seems especially cruel and ironic that this gentle and helpful soul should be made to pay such a terrible price for the cruelty and inhumanity of others.
      Berg's family said he spoke with his parents on March 24th and told them he would return home on March 30th.  That same day, however, he was detained by Iraqi police at a checkpoint in Mosul, turned over to U.S. officials and detained for an additional 13 days.  His father, Michael, said his son wasn't allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer.  On April 5th, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military.  The next day Berg was released, but little is known about his movements during the three days leading up to his abduction.
      If there is anything good to come out of this tragedy it is that the terrible resolve airline passengers now board each plane with will be felt by foreign workers in Iraq from now on as well.  Since September 11th, 2001, no aircraft hijacking will go unchallenged.  The ever present assumption is that ANY hijacking will end in a flying bomb, regardless of assurances to the contrary, so we might as well kill as many of the bastards as possible.  The same assumption now holds true for abductions.  Since May 8th, 2004 (the day Nick was murdered), the assumption must be there will be no prisoner exchange; no hope for pity or humanity.  The assumption MUST be that it will end with a brutal butchery on video, regardless of assurances to the contrary, so we might as well die fighting.
      Now, here's another irony...  When one is prepared to die fighting, it's surprising how many times life is the reward.  I, therefore, pray that whole legions of masked men meet their reward in Hell with great surprise on their faces.  It's not what Nick would want, but it is now what this world demands.

      May 7th, 2004 ~ It's sad and curious how many analogies have been drawn between the Viet-Nam war and the current Iraq campaign.  Even the Viet-Nam era military service of the two Presidential contenders have been grist for the mill.  Certainly oil played a major if covert role in America's Cold War moves on the Gulf of Tonkin, just as Iraq's oil is a key element in our present conflict.  Beyond that, however, the analogies don't really fit.
      The Viet-Nam war began as a revolutionary war, by the Vietnamese people themselves, against French colonialism.  Cold war brinksmanship turned that into a proxy engagement for ideologs sitting thousands of miles away.  The Vietnamese remained a homogenous culture artificially torn in half by that conflict.  Reunification at war's end was relatively swift and bloodless.
      Iraq is much more like the Soviet Afghan war, with elements of the deep cultural divisions which flared up after the collapse of the old Tito regime in Yugoslavia.  The modern "Iraq" is every bit as artificial a political construct as Yugoslavia had been.  There is NO Iraqi culture.  There are ONLY tribes and tribal loyalties.  That's how Saddam came to power; that's how existing warlords hope to replace him.  That's why we're stuck in Baghdad the same way the soviets were stuck in Kabul.
      Now, we are faced with the photos of Iraqi prisoners abused by American "contractors" (mercenaries hired expressly to exclude their activities from the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions) and a few misguided soldiers at Baghdad's infamous Abu Ghraib prison.  First exposed on American television and since circulated worldwide, these photos have fueled a firestorm of outrage as much at home as throughout the world.  They have also, once more, raised the spectre of atrocities committed in the name of the American People during the Viet-Nam war and photos from that war which galvanized the anti-war movement; ultimately leading to our withdrawal from that conflict.
      Even though today's military brass have an implicit policy of discouraging Westmorelandesque "body counts", no one can avoid the growing number of American troops and civilians killed in Iraq.  Combined with this week's photos (and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's testimony that even more shocking photos as well as videos exist), the Viet-Nam analogies have been thicker than ever on the 24x7 news channels.
      The question on everyone's mind is whether these developments will create a popular groundswell of support for an earlier withdrawal from Iraq than the administration wants.  I fervently hope it will not.  Yes, you read that right.  Like it or not, our President has committed us to a course we MUST finish.  Thanks to this President's idiotic move against Saddam when he should have been focusing on Afghanistan, we STILL do not have bin Laden in our sights and we now have a fertile field for the same sociopaths who murdered nearly 3,000 one morning in 2001 and nearly 200 another morning earlier this year.
      If Bush is replaced in November by Kerry, then Kerry will have no choice but to finish what Bush started.  Iraq is NOT Viet-Nam; it is NOT an episode of Cold War brinksmanship; it is an exercise in Presidential arrogance which now has every element necessary to be a Homeland Security Code Red.  We had the option to abandon a failed game of dominoes in the 1970's.  Iraq is no game and early withdrawal is NOT an option.