Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

We have celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
I was too young to remember that day. But I do remember when MLK was killed.

It was a spring day in New York City’s Morningside Heights. The neighborhood has since been gentrified, but back then it was a working class neighborhood – with expensive apartments overlooking Riverside Drive on the west side of the neighborhood, and the inner city of Harlem on the east side.
I was six years old. The day was clear so you could easily see down to the end of our street on Amsterdam Avenue. A portion of the grounds of the Cathedral of Saint John the Devine covered the eastern portion of our street so that you could not drive through. In those days there was a very tall flag post that stood there flying a huge American flag. (In later years it was replaced by a rather hideous statue – I don’t know if that is still there.)
That day, my six year old eyes saw the flag was half way down the flag post. Someone had explained to me that this was called “Half-mast” and it was done to honor someone who had died.
My friend Roger was riding his five-speed Stingray bicycle, with the Monkey handlebars and the Banana seat. Roger was a year younger than me and his older sister Francine was in the same grade as my brother Leo. Roger’s older brother Bryan was in the same grade as my brother Roman. Roger’s Mom worked for Columbia University in the computer department. Columbia University was my Mom’s employer too. They lived in the building next door. I even remembered the day they moved in, excited about seeing that there was a family with kids the same ages as our – kids we could hang out with.
Our families were close.
I looked at Roger and said, “They are flying the flag at Half-mast,” showing off my new vocabulary.
Roger said, “I know. It’s for Martin Luther King. They killed him.”
In the living room of Roger’s family apartment there were pictures. Almost like the ones that my parents put up of Catholic saints and being Polish, the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa. But the pictures in the “shrine” area in Roger’s house weren’t reproductions of paintings; they were black and white photographs: of the youthful President John F. Kennedy and of Martin Luther King. These were their heroes.
Roger started to ride away on his bicycle in slow turning loops looking down the street at the flag. Usually Roger would race his bike quickly down the street – peddling fast and then braking hard to make the tires squeak. That day he was just not in the mood.
Roger was Black. That’s what we called it in those days rather than African-American. It was a bit of an odd term for Roger because his Afro was not entirely dark like his siblings, it was highlighted with Auburn. This made Roger stand out in any crowd and the consensus in the neighborhood was that he was just the cutest boy around. Since Roger was raised to be very polite by his parents, most adults liked him immediately.
I remember looking at Roger slowly ride his bike that day and feeling bad. I knew that killing a famous man, a good man like Martin Luther King was wrong. But now it was personal. Whoever had killed MLK had made my friend sad. They had hurt Roger. That made it worse.
Over twenty years later I would be fortunate enough to meet Coretta Scott King, MLK’s widow, at a charity event. In the brief time I got to spend with her I tried to express my admiration for her and her husband. I’m sure I feel short.
While nothing I felt could have compared to what Mrs. King must have suffered in 1968, my six year old mind could comprehend a simple thing.
Someone had hurt Roger – and that was wrong.

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Syria: Standing Steadfast or Slippery Slope?

Mark Salter, who used to write for Sen. John McCain, is advocating that President Obama get tough on Syria.

Bill O’Reilly advocates a strike on Syria even though two of his guests, both retired military officers disagree.

The point being made is that if President Obama does nothing, then the “Red Line” of chemical weapons use that was drawn a year ago will mean nothing. President Obama and the US will lose respect around the world.

Okay, that is a valid point. But what credibility does the US have in the Middle East right now anyway?

We abandoned Egypt’s President Mubarak after decades of mutual support. Mubarak was a dictator for sure, but he was co-operating with US interests. We abandoned him to the famed “Arab Street” in the Arab Spring.

It led to the Muslim Brotherhood being elected to power, and now overthrown by the self same Egyptian military we supported with training, weapons and financial aid for years. Only now they don’t trust us. (Proof of who is behind the military crackdown in Egypt is the fact that Mubarak was released from prison – these are the folks who propped up Mubarak for decades.)

A side note – the military crackdown in Egypt included invading a Mosque to capture a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood. This is precisely that type of action that the US military was forbidden in Iraq or Afghanistan for fear of arousing the “Arab Street.” What result in Egypt? The “Arab Street” has quieted down. US diplomats have been more afraid of the “Arab Street” than the Arab leaders.

The Saudi Arabians are now backing the military in Egypt – which puts us at odds with the single Arab county with real clout that has been quietly been backing our policies for the past twenty years.

We bombed Libya to achieve regime change – even though Dictator Kaddafi had given up his WMD programs and started giving us intelligence in the war on terror.  What did that get us? It got us Libya as a no-man’s land and a dead US Ambassador in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, Russia has stayed faithful to Assad. Yes, they are backing an unsavory character, but they are showing themselves to be a faithful ally. Plus, they have the reason of having a port in Syria – a legitimate strategic interest. If I were a Middle-Eastern leader, I would place more stock in Russia as an ally, than the US.

This, along with the Snowden affair, has put a damper on US-Russian relations. It is really a shame. Right now, the Middle East tensions are shooting up the price of oil – the whole reason the entire world cares about the region.

With the recent advancements in Shale Oil production and discoveries in the United States and elsewhere (along with the political will to create infrastructure such as the Keystone pipeline and ports that can support large Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tankers) the US can become a large exporter of energy.

With Russia and the US cooperating – as large energy exporters – they can make the Middle Eastern oil states much less important. Together, Russia and the US cooperating on energy strategy can also hold the ambitious Chinese in check. But those considerations seem not to be considered by the media and Washington.

Humanitarian concerns are important. But this is a civil war. There are bad people on both sides (Al Qaeda partisans are a large part of the Assad opposition.) As crass as it seems, aren’t we better off with them focusing their violence on each other instead of us or Israel?

If we just launch a few cruise missiles (at the cost of several million dollars and possible civilian casualties) and Assad survives, then what was the point? If we go all in to remove Assad’s regime we risk igniting the region. A third war in the Middle East in twelve years. And all we have to gain is the respect of President Francois Hollande of France?

It does not seem worth it.

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Dan Brown’s Inferno vs. Peter Diamandis’ Abundance: Two Different Views of the Future

It is always interesting when smart people look at the same set of data and come to two different conclusions.

That is what we have between the views of author Dan Brown and Space Entrepreneur Peter Diamandis.

Both have written books in response to projections that we are rapidly moving towards a global population of nine billion human beings, while not having the food, water, energy and public health resources to manage such a population. Brown’s book is the novel Inferno, and Diamandis’ book  is a non-fiction treatise called Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think.

Brown is, of course, the bestselling author of such books as the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. His protagonist in Inferno is the same as in the previous novels, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor that is an expert in deciphering symbols. Brown leads the reader down a path where the statistics about our coming nine billion person global population and the possible ramifications are all part of the plot. There are even graphs provided.

Dan BrownBrown carefully touches upon many of the “Third Rail” issues that such thinking brings up: Malthusianism, Eugenics, and forced population control. While he is careful to make sure that Robert Langdon and the other ”good guy” characters in his story are on then “correct” side of these issues – he leads the reader to what is at least an ambivalence, if not a resigned acceptance of a radical, involuntary, forced solution (which always seems to echo the Nazi’s “Final Solution”) to the problem. (I would expound further but I do not want to spoil the novel for those who have not read it.)

While Brown has not been a stranger to controversial views in his novel – in fact he seems to thrive upon them – in Inferno Brown has gone down a dangerous path. The fact that he is an effective and accomplished writer makes it all the more disturbing – his views will be read by many and he leads the reader carefully down the path.

While it would not make as good a novel, I wish Brown had read Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Kotler is a well respected journalist. Diamandis is an M.I.T. trained micro-biologist and aerospace engineer and, like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, has a Harvard connection: Diamandis achieved an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

Kotler and Diamandis look at the same graphs and projections that Brown does and decided that technology can answer many of these problems. In food and water, emerging technologies and the efforts of the new generation of philanthropists are coming up with novel and low cost solutions. Similar events are happening in energy and healthcare.

Peter DiamandisDiamandis points out that much of this innovation will come from Do It Yourself Inventors and the new tech billionaires who have turned their finances and keen minds towards solving global problems – rivaling the efforts of the Carnegie’s and Rockefellers in previous generations. He also points out that the continuing multiplication of computing power (Diamandis is a Co-founder along with Ray Kurzweil of the Singularity University) will combine with the innovators to lower the cost of education and information not just in the developed world, but in the developing world too. In fact, Diamandis views the coming new billions of people in developing nations as an economic opportunity – as cell phones come on line for these people; they will be part of the global economy.

Diamandis is not wrong in this outlook – one of the wealthiest men in the world is Carlos Slim – who made most of his money in providing cell phone service in Mexico- who would have guessed that twenty years ago?

Interestingly, most of the solutions provided by Diamandis come not from governments but from the private sector. Diamandis himself is trying to take space Exploration private as a Co-founder of a asteroid mining company called planetary resources. In his future, it is private individuals and not politicians or governments that will solve problems.

Chances are more people will read Brown’s book than Diamandis’. They both deserve respect. The fact that two bright men have written books where the underlying theme is the coming challenge of a world population of nine billion means that this will be the subject of public discussion for years to come.

Let’s hope that we choose to go the route of Diamandis’ Abundance, rather than down towards Dan Brown’s Inferno.

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Who Are the Players in Commercial Spaceflight Part 2: Jeff Bezos, David W Thompson, Robert Bigelow, Art Dula

Here’s the next set of Commercial Spaceflight players:

Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin. The Founder and current head of Amazon.com (one of the few tech startup billionaires from the 1990’s who still heads his own company) has a facility in Everett, Washington where he is focusing on how to make commercial spaceflight much cheaper. He appears to be focused on making the one component of space vehicles that has mostly been expendable, the initial launch booster – be a reusable component as well. Bezos has also purchased land in West, Texas for launch operations. Many of his competitors tout each milestone in testing they make along the way. Not Bezos. When one of his test vehicles went down in Texas in late 2011 it was the first time many even realized that he was that far along in flight tests. This fits Bezos’ pattern that helped him become so successful with Amazon. He uses metrics to analyze shirt term progress, but uses gut and instinct when forming long term goals. Bezos went many years with Amazon not turning a profit while he perfected the online service. With his deep pockets, he is capable of following the same strategy with Blue Origin. He is following a childhood dream of building space stations and hotels in orbit. When Bezos actually does his big roll out- don’t be surprised if it is a fully functional spacecraft with the bugs worked out. That would be how he operates. When everyone was wondering who would be the big competitor to the Apple iPad, it was Bezos that surprised the world with the Kindle Fire Tablet. He is likely engineering a similar shocker with spaceflight.

David W. Thompson of Orbital Sciences. The Founder and CEO of Orbital Sciences could well ask, “What’s so new about Commercial Spaceflight? We’ve been doing it for three decades.” Indeed he and his crew at Orbital have. Impressed by Paul Allen and Richard Branson’s White Knight 1, which used an air craft to air launch a space vehicle, all done on a commercial basis? Orbital did it in the 1990’s with their commercial built Pegasus rocket air lifted by a modified L1011. They have used that launch system as well as others developed by them such as the Taurus, Antares, and various Minotaur models to launch satellites for the military, NASA and various commercial customers. They are currently developing the Cygnus advanced maneuvering spacecraft, capable of transporting pressurized cargo, that is slated to perform several resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Orbital is a “one-stop-shop” for a commercial space customer in that they can design the orbital vehicle and/or satellite, build the launcher and execute the launch and spaceflight control for you. While outsourcing pieces of the mission can be useful, a space customer can deal with Orbital and get all phases of the mission accomplished. Thompson has degrees in aeronautics from M.I.T. and CalTech, along with time at NASA, including the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) the Langley Research center and the Johnson Spaceflight Center. Along with all of this engineering background he has an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He has never sought publicity and has had a passion for space that has lasted decades.  An ace up the sleeve of Thompson and Orbital is that they have been the lead on the first two phases of the Defense Advanced Research Projects  Agency (DARPA – all they have ever done is come up with such things as…The Internet) Fractional Satellite project. Fractional satellites, by having different small satellites communicate with each other for power, communications, navigation, etc could do for satellites what networks of smaller computers did for computing – eliminate the need for one large machine. With Orbital on the cutting edge of the Fractional Satellite technology, Thompson and Orbital may be decades ahead of everyone else yet again.

Robert Bigelow and Bigelow Aerospace. A self-made real estate magnate and owner of the Budget Suites hotel chain has started Bigelow Aerospace which is addressing the need of “what if we have all these rockets and they have no place to go?” The owner of a hotel chain has the answer – affordable commercial built space stations. He is using inflatable technology and already has two stations, Genesis I and Genesis 2 successfully in orbit. Right now, the ISS is the only place for humans to go in low earth orbit. Bigelow is proposing his BA 330, which can accommodate six for a long term basis as an independent space station, or connecting a series o BA 330’s as modules of a longer station. NASA is looking at this as an option to expand the current ISS. Bigelow has launch agreements with Elon Musk’s Space X  (See Part 1) and Memorandum of Understanding with various Asian and Middle Eastern Governments. Bigelow also has its own Mission Control center already operational in North Las Vegas. Bigelow may have been inspired to think about space by some relatives who apparently had a “Close Encounter.” The real estate entrepreneur also sees the US as having blown the opportunity to claim a large chunk of Real Estate – the Moon. Bigelow already sees China as staking claims on the Moon. He views it as the responsibility of the American private sector to do what a hapless government has failed to do: secure the American foothold in Space. Bigelow believes that it may be too late to keep the Moon from the Chinese, but the US commercial sector can secure an America future on Mars.

Art Dula and Excalibur Almaz. Unique among the Commercial Spaceflight pioneers Art Dula has a legal background as opposed to the usual technical or engineering background. Dula’s company, Excalibur Almaz,  has secured Reusable Reentry Vehicles and space station components from the former Soviet military program called Almaz (Russian for “diamond”). This strategy has a precedent in the Commercial Airlines that started after World War II with US Army Air Corps surplus planes (Braniff Airlines comes to mind.) Dula is following this pattern with Cold War surplus spacecraft. They make the point that the technology is already proven in space and that the Salyut, Mir and ISS space stations used the very Almaz orbital unit that they have in stock. Incorporated on the Isle of Man, a British territory with favorable corporate regulations, most of the company principles are American with some former Russian cosmonaut advisors, initial financing came from Japan. By updating the Soviet era analog communications, navigation and life support monitoring systems with new digital electronics they have gained several hundred kilograms of lift capacity from the original Russian missions. Excalibur Almaz promotes trips to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and intends to have Moon missions using the larger space craft powered by ion pulse engines. While such a trip would take months to the Moon, it would be done in a spacecraft the size of a three bedroom apartment, not a capsule.  After the recent announcement of Planetary Resources with their intent to asteroid mine (See Part 1), Excalibur Almaz has added asteroid mining to their intended space missions. Dula has been involved in space ventures throughout his career. He is a Literary Trustee of the Robert A. Heinlein estate, which may indicate where his appetite for space flight was whetted.

In Part 3 of this series we will look at some of the smaller, but no less exciting players in Commercial Spaceflight.

Note: None of this should be viewed as investment advice. Dan Godzich is not an investment advisor and does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned above.

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Who Are the Players in Commercial Spaceflight Part 1: Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Eren and Fatih Ozmen, Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis

In a previous post we posed the question if Commercial Spaceflight is the next big boom. Then we compared it to the growth of Steam ship and railroad travel in the 19th century.

But who are the players in today’s Commercial Spaceflight boomlet? What motivates them? There are more than most people imagine so this will be Part 1 of a several part series on these Space Flight Players.

So in no particular order:

Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard BransonSir Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic. The flamboyant mobile phone, music and airline entrepreneur is taking to commercial space with Virgin Galactic. He already has more than 200 tickets sold for sub-orbital tourist flights aboard his SpaceShipTwo space craft. Flight testing for the White Knight Two (the aircraft that carries Spaceship Two initially) and SpaceShipTwo are under way. He has also built, together with the state of New Mexico, Spaceport America in Sierra County New Mexico. Branson intends to offer orbital flight as well in the future. Branson’s motivation seems to be his spirit of adventure that has always led him to ventures where he could claim to be “first.”
Elon Musk and Space Explorations (Or Space X as it is called). Space X is the first commercial company to successfully launch a capsule that docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Space X Falcon 1 Rocket and the larger heavy lift Falcon 9 rocket in development launch capsules that later splash down in the ocean upon reentry to the atmosphere – reminiscent of the Gemini and Apollo missions.  By having a private company replicate what it took NASA and the Cold War efforts of the Us Government was doing  several decades ago, there is a Back to the Future feel about this enterprise. The South African born but now American Musk was a co-founder of the online payment company Pay Pal. With degrees in both Economics and Engineering his personality was the inspiration for the Tony Stark character in the Iron Man and Avenger movies. Musk seems to want to solve problems that others have yet to tackle – one being mankind’s eggs all being in the Earth basket. Musk has the goal of eventual Mars exploration and settlement. Musk also is working to bring innovative electric cars to market with his Tesla Motors.

Paul Allen and Stratolaunch Systems. The Microsoft Co-Founder and Venture Capitalist (Vulcan Inc.) announced the start up Stratolaunch Systems, together with Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites. The Allen/Rutan team had collaborated previously on Spaceship One, which won the Anzari X prize for being the first commercial space craft to successfully launch and re-launch civilians into space. Stratolaunch Systems will be a mobile  air launched system with the carrier craft built by Rutan’s Scaled Composites, then with Space X (see above) providing a multi stage launch vehicle and finally a docking and integration system made by Dynetics. Allen, considered in the top five wealthiest men in the world, is also the owner of NFL, NBA and Major League Soccer Franchises. He has real estate and philanthropic interest primarily in the Seattle, Washington and Pacific Norwest region. Allen is a Science Fiction and Rick and Roll fan as well as a fan aviation history – he has opened museums for all three. The Stratolauncher, which will be the largest aircraft in the air when ready, has a similar name to the Stratocruiser which was the largest commercial aircraft of its time when another Seattle based Allen announced the aircraft that featured a spiral staircase and cocktail lounge in the post war 1940’s. (William Allen head of Boeing at the time, but no relation to Paul as far as I know.) Paul Allen being such an aviation history buff, this name selection is not likely accidental. Paul Allen appears to being living out his science fiction and aviation dreams together in his commercial space ventures.

The Ozmens and Sierra Nevada Corporation. No, not Donnie and Marie (those are Osmonds) rather Eren and Fatih. This dynamic wife and husband duo took a small engineering firm in a suburb of Reno, Nevada and turned it into the largest government Defense, Intelligence and National Security Contractor that you probably never heard of. Both have engineering degrees and Sierra Nevada Corporations Space Systems division already delivered the hybrid (green) rockets used by Rutan’s Scaled Composites Space ShipOne. They have also already drop tested (dropping the spacecraft from a carrier aircraft) the Dream Catcher space craft a shuttle-like craft they are developing as a people and freight transport to the ISS. They are also involved in developing other space technologies, such as the actuators that power the Mars Rover. Publicity shy and very focused this couple benefitted from the past decades defense build up – as defense dollars are looking to go down, it will be interesting to watch them venture into the world of commercial space.

Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis of Space Adventures and Planetary Resources. Anderson and Diamandis co-founded Space Adventures which successfully sold space tourism flights aboard Russian space craft and have now launched Planetary Resources – a company developing low cost orbital telescopes with the goal of identifying and eventually mining asteroids. Many heavy hitters are investing in their company including Google Co-Founder and CEO Larry Page, H. Ross Perot Jr., Avatar Filmmaker James Cameron and Former Goldman Sachs Chairman John Whitehead. Anderson is the current chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry association, and has helped found several space start ups. Diamandis is co-founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation which awarded the first prize to Burt Rutan and Paul Allen’s SpaceShipOne (see above) for successful commercial space flights.  Diamandis, with Biology and engineering degrees from MIT and an MD from Harvard Medical has many futuristic interests including the Singularity University with Ray Kurzweil. Anderson and Diamandis seem to have had a life-long passion for promoting space flight. Diamandis’s love of rockets goes all the way back to his days as a youngster in the Bronx, NY when he won the Estes model rocket design prize.

These five are just a start. There will be several more parts to this series, as there are more players than folks are aware of. I know I was surprised when I started researching the number of players in this new and up and coming industy.

Note: None of this should be viewed as investment advice. Dan Godzich is not an investment advisor and does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned above.

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Commercial Spaceflight: The Next Big Boom?

If you are looking for an investment opportunity, how’s this for size?  An industry where a founder of Google, a founder of Microsoft, a founder of Pay Pal, a founder of Amazon, an airline and cell phone magnate, a former head of Goldman Sachs, and the highest grossing filmaker of all time are all investing – some heavily.* Some are creating new start ups or investing in the start ups of others. That’s a lot of smart money all in one place.

What is this new potential boom?

In 1824 the US Supreme Court case Gibbons vs. Ogden, the court nullified a monopoly for steam ship travel along the Hudson River. One of Mr. Gibbons’ employees, a river captain called “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt ran with the result of this decision. He went on to fame as a Steam Ship builder and operator and eventually a railroad magnate. He also became the richest man in America. The transportation revolution he helped spearhead changed America and the world.

In the last few years, the NASA based government monopoly on space travel in the United States has been nullified. We are now in the Steam Ship phase of commercial spaceflight. There will be later the equivalent of railroads (right now the concept is called a space elevator – it is a vertical railroad.) But that will be the topic of a future column.

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Somebody is going to be the Cornelius Vanderbilt of Space. Somebody is going to be the Henry Ford of Space (hopefully with all the inventive genius minus the bigotry.) Somebody is going to be the Jay Gould of Space. Somebody is going to be the Andrew Carnegie of Space materials. Somebody is going to be the Guggenheim (Copper mining Barron) of Space mining. Somebody is going to be the Alexander Graham Bell of Space. Hopefully we will have the Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison of Space as well.

We are entering into a period of innovation and exploration done by the private sector on the first true frontier since the American West. All of the NASA missions up until now were just Lewis and Clark. We are entering into a time of great expansion – also a time when fortunes previously unthinkable are made.

I’ll be exploring this new horizon in a series of articles.

* If you are wondering who the investors referred to are: Larry Page (Google), Paul Allen, (Microsoft), Elon Musk (Pay Pal), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), John Whitehead (Goldman Sachs) and James Cameron (Titanic and Avatar.)

Next up: Who are the current players in commercial spaceflight?

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International Criminal Court, Gaddafi, Libya and Exile

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Muammar Gaddafi, which will just cause him to dig in deeper. That is why I am re-issuing the blog post I wrote last December and then updated when NATO started the “kinetic military action” in Libya.

Generally, I don’t want to make a habit of reissuing old posts. Recent events have made a strong case for the premise of this piece and it deserved a revisit. This post was originally written weeks before the Tunisian Revolution, the Egyptian Revolution and the Libyan Revolution. President Zine El Abadine Ben Ali of Tunisia wound up in exile in Saudi Arabia. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has peacefully retired to a palace along the Red Sea. Yet that did not happen in Libya.  According to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:

“Once someone put forward the idea of bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, I think the idea of staying in power became entrenched with him and I don’t think anyone can make him change his mind,” he told reporters.

Granted Berlusconi certainly has his own share of political and legal problems. But of all the European countries Italy has been the closest to Libia and Berlusconi probably has the best read of the Libyan strongman’s mindset. His statement gives credibility to this post that I originally made last December.

Why haven’t the two Korean nations united as did East and West Germany?

Perhaps it is because there is no way out for North Korea’s ruling Kim family. If the Korean nations unite, who can doubt that a prosecutor or judge in Europe will indict them for crimes?

This was the same dilemma that faced Saddam Hussein. He knew the US invasion was coming. Days before the start of military action in 2003, Saddam was offered a life in exile. Why not live out his days with his wealth and Viagra?

But Saddam only had to look at the situation of his friend, former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Four years earlier Milosevic, after having left power in Serbia, was arrested and held in a jail cell. He was placed on trial. He died in prison.

Saddam knew Milosevic well. The Iraqi’s had their bunkers built by the Serbs who had learned from the US bombing in the 1990’s.

They were kindred spirits. So when Saddam was offered exile, he had only to look at Slobodan’s fate and conclude that he was better off trying to stick it out in Iraq. We all know the rest.

Contrast this to the Exile of Chilean General and dictator Augusto Pinochet several decades earlier. Pinochet was allowed to live in exile in Spain with some of his ill-gotten gains. The transition in Chile to democracy was relatively smooth and peaceful when compared to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The Kim’s of North Korea have no doubt watched what happened to Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. They knew them both. People who are used to leading entire countries can conceive of retirement with their wealth, but living in a prison cell is worse than death.

The European courts and judges mean well. The idea of dictators living out their years in the lap of luxury without being brought to justice is distasteful. No civilized human being likes that idea. Part of the idea is making sure that dictators and others know that there is an international watch on their doings and that this would encourage good behavior.

But reality has us working in a world with paranoid dictators at a time that nuclear technology is achievable. Dictators and repressive regimes are turning to the Korean model of buying time and respect by acquiring nuclear weapons. Wounded dictators with nowhere to go are as dangerous as cornered animals.  They will fight to the finish. Now they can do so with nukes.

The exile option is far from perfect (Europeans know this from the Napoleon experience, where his return from exile led to another war.) The alternative, attempting regime change against dug in despots with atomic weapons (think North Korea, and soon Iran) and suddenly exiled dictators playing in their retirement palaces doesn’t seem so bad.

The world and European courts need to reexamine their prosecutorial zeal and allow the exile option to reemerge.

After the recent events in Lybia and Berlusconi’s remarks the last sentence above is more relevant than ever.

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