Monday, January 17, 2005

The Brownshirting of America


James Bovard, the great libertarian champion of our freedom and civil liberties, recently shared with readers his mail from Bush supporters (, October 12). For starters here are some of the salutations: "communist bastard," "asshole," "a piece of trash, scum of the earth." It goes downhill from there.

Bush's supporters demand lock-step consensus that Bush is right. They regard truthful reports that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and was not involved in the September 11 attack on the US--truths now firmly established by the Bush administration's own reports--as treasonous America-bashing.

As well, Bovard is interpreted as throwing cold water on the feel-good, macho, Muslim butt-kicking that Bush's invasion of Iraq has come to symbolize for his supporters. "People like you and Michael Moore," one irate reader wrote, "is (sic) what brings down our country."

I have received similar responses from conservatives, as, no doubt, have a number of other writers who object to a domestic police state at war with the world.

In language reeking with hatred, Heritage Foundation TownHall readers impolitely informed me that opposing the invasion of Iraq is identical to opposing America, that Bush is the greatest American leader in history and everyone who disagrees with him should be shot before they cause America to lose another war. TownHall's readers were sufficiently frightening to convince the Heritage Foundation to stop posting my columns.

Bush's conservative supporters want no debate. They want no facts, no analysis. They want to denounce and to demonize the enemies that the Hannitys, Limbaughs, and Savages of talk radio assure them are everywhere at work destroying their great and noble country.

I remember when conservatives favored restraint in foreign policy and wished to limit government power in order to protect civil liberties. Today's young conservatives are Jacobins determined to use government power to impose their will at home and abroad.

Where did such "conservatives" come from?

Claes Ryn in his important book, America the Virtuous, explains the intellectual evolution of the neoconservatives who lead the Bush administration. For all their defects, however, neocons are thoughtful compared to the world of talk radio, whose inhabitants are trained to shout down everyone else. From whence came the brownshirt movement that slavishly adheres to the neocons' agenda?

Three recent books address this question. Thomas Frank in What's the Matter With Kansas, locates the movement in legitimate conservative resentments of people who feel that family, religious, and patriotic values are given short shrift by elitist liberals.

These resentments festered and multiplied as offshore production, jobs outsourcing, and immigration took a toll on careers and the American dream.

An audience was waiting for rightwing talk radio, which found its stride during the Clinton years. Clinton's evasions made it easy to fall in with show hosts, who spun conspiracies and fabricated a false consciousness for listeners who became increasingly angry.

Show hosts, who advertise themselves as truth-tellers in a no-spin zone, quickly figured out that success depends upon constantly confronting listeners with bogymen to be exposed and denounced: war protesters and America-bashers, the French, marrying homosexuals, the liberal media, turncoats, Democrats, and the ACLU.

Talk radio's "news stories" do not need to be true. Their importance lies in inflaming resentments and confirming that America's implacable enemies are working resolutely to destroy us.

David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine lacks the insights of Thomas Frank's book, but it provides a gossipy history of the rightwing takeover of the US media. Brock is unfair to some people, myself included, and mischaracterizes as rightwing some media personalities who are under rightwing attack.

Brock is as blindly committed to his causes as the rightwing zealots he exposes are to theirs. Unlike Frank, he cannot acknowledge that the rightwing has legitimate issues.

Nevertheless, Brock makes a credible case that today's conservatives are driven by ideology, not by fact. He argues that their stock in trade is denunciation, not debate. Conservatives don't assess opponents' arguments, they demonize opponents. Truth and falsity are out of the picture; the criteria are: who's good, who's evil, who's patriotic, who's unpatriotic.

These are the traits of brownshirts [fascists]. Brownshirts know they are right. They know their opponents are wrong and regard them as enemies who must be silenced if not exterminated.

Some of Brock's quotes from prominent conservative commentators will curl your toes. His description of the rightwing's destruction of an independent media and the "Fairness Doctrine" explain why a recent CNN/Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 terrorist attack on the US and 32% believe that Saddam Hussein personally planned the attack.

A country in which 42% of the population is totally misinformed is not a country where democracy is safe.

Today there is no one to correct a lie once it is told. The media, thanks to Republicans, has been concentrated in few hands, and they are not the hands of newsmen. Corporate values rule. If lies sell, sell them. If listeners, viewers, and readers want confirmation of their resentments and beliefs, give it to them. Objectivity turns listeners off and is a money loser.

In his book, Cruel and Unusual, Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at New York University, explains how rightwing influence has moved the media away from reporting news to designing our consciousness. "The Age of Information," Miller writes, "has turned out to be an Age of Ignorance."

Miller makes a strong case. His description of how CNN and Fox News destroyed the credibility of Scott Ritter, the leading expert on Iraq's weapons, reveals a media completely given over to propaganda. Ritter stood in the way of the neocon's invasion of Iraq. See Patriotism.

CNN's Miles O'Brien, Eason Jordan, Catherine Callaway, Paula Zahn, Kyra Phillips, Arthel Neville, and Fox News' David Asman and John Gibson portrayed Ritter as a disloyal American, a Ba-athist stooge on the take from Saddam Hussein, and compared him to Jane Fonda in North Vietnam.

With this, the rightwing talk radio crazies were off and running. Anyone with the slightest bit of real information about the state of weapons development in Iraq was dismissed as a foreign agent who should be shot for treason.

By substituting fiction for reality, the US media took the country to war. The CNN and Fox News "journalists" are as responsible for America's ill-fated invasion of Iraq as Cheney and Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle.

With a sizable percentage of the US population now addicted to daily confirmations of their resentments and hatreds, US policy will be increasingly driven by tightly made up minds in pursuit of unrealistic agendas.

American troops are in Iraq on false pretenses. No one knows all the fateful consequences of this mistaken adventure. Bush's reelection would be seen as a vindication of aggression, and more aggression would likely follow. A continuing expenditure of blood, money, alliances, good will, and civil liberties is not a future to which to look forward.

Paul Craig Roberts is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions

WMDs? so what.

Bush abandons WMD search?

THE PRESENCE OF WMD’S WAS NOT A REASON TO INVADE. Even if Saddam had tons of nerve agent sitting around, it was NOT a good reason to invade? Why? Because I’m a weak-kneed pacifist? No. Because invading Iraq was bound to HARM our national security even if he had tons of WMDs laying around.

Forgive me for shouting, but few people on either side of the political spectrum seem to even ask the right questions about WMDs, much less give the right answers. So here is my try:


WMD's – “Weapons of Mass Destruction” is a terribly inaccurate way to describe chemical or biological or radiological weapons. Only one type of weapon deserves such a scary name – nuclear weapons. And we KNEW Saddam didn’t have them and wasn’t on the way to getting them, which I will discuss below. So WMD should be replaced by a more accurate term, such as SWLD - "Sucky Weapons of Little Destruction." That would be more accurate.

Here is why:


Chemical weapons are World War One technology. All armies came to the conclusion during WWI that chemical weapons sucked, and stopped using them. In WWII Hitler had a large inventory and didn't use them. Because he was a nice guy? I doubt it. Because he was terrified of our response? Of course not. Japan at first used both chemical and biological weapons on China, but found, like everybody else, that they suck. And Japan put a lot of vital resources into developing chemical and biological weapons, but after much effort came up with nothing. The United States COULD have put a lot of resources into chemical or biological weapons research during WWII, but our government wisely followed the advice of scientists and military experts who told them chemical and biological weapons suck, and instead developed the first WMD – the atomic bomb. It is still the only type of weapon that is a WMD. Chemical and biological weapons should never be described that way. The only reason to do so is to scare people.


Boo. Did I scare you? No? Well how about this? WMD. Stop crying, I was just kidding. I promise I won't use that term again to try and scare you. Too scary.

How about this instead: “Nerve gas.” “Blood agent.” “Blister agent.” “Mustard Gas.” “Sarin.” “DX or DN or VX” and on and on and on.

Are you scared? Don’t be. The government should tell you this, but they seem to have a vested interest in fear. I don’t. Read on.


you are often exposed to WMDs without ill effect. Any country that can make chlorine for swimming pools has a "WMD program” and could make mustard gas (lots of it) almost immediately if it chose to do so. And LOTS of countries can and do make industrial chemicals like chlorine or bleach. High school chemistry labs often are equipped with the makings of deadly chemical weapons. But you don’t see the Dept. of Homeland Security worrying about them, so neither should you. If you still don’t believe me please read on.


If you have a can of RAID under your sink or in your garage - you are in possession of deadly nerve agent. Not much of a threat – unless, of course, George W. Bush launches a pre-emptive invasion of your kitchen because of the “lessons of September Eleventh.” Deadly and destructive industrial chemicals and gases such as hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen selenide travel our freeways every day – possibly right by your house TONIGHT. That is a WMD. It can easily be “weaponized” by terrorists. So why don’t they do it (or, if you think they will, why don’t we secure all that stuff as we sought to do with the non-existent WMDs in Iraq?)


Conventional weapons are much more effective at killing people than the “WMDs” I just mentioned. Conventional weapons such as gunpowder, dynamite, or a fertilizer bomb are also easier for terrorists to acquire. Well, actually, chemical weapons are sometimes much easier to acquire, but still those who might acquire them usually know that dynamite will cause more damage and is much easier to use.

Chemical weapons are not as terribly destructive and all-powerful as you probably thought. But would I want to be caught in a cloud of mustard gas? Hell no. Still, I don’t think I would be any better off being blown up by TNT or any other conventional explosive. And my chances of survival would be much higher if terrorists foolishly believe what most Americans seem to believe – that chemical or biological weapons can cause “mass destruction” on a grander scale than conventional weapons. Well, technically, they can. But so can gunpowder, or, if you think about it, 19 evil men with nothing more than boxcutter Exacto-knives.

Even Saddam stopped using chemical weapons against Iran during that war - because he found, like every other military force in the world already knew, that they suck. His infamous attack on the Kurds with chemical weapons doesn't look so scary if you consider that the same number of HE artillery shells would have killed as many, and conventional air-strikes more, and a fuel-air explosive device even more, so chemical weapons were actually less destructive than many, many other things he might have used. Plus, civilians have little defense against hot shrapnel or firestorms unless they live in bunkers, but a simple gas mask can protect civilian populations in the event some group is stupid enough to begin chemical attacks. You just carry one around – as the British civilians in London did during WWII. But as I said, even Hitler didn’t use them because they are so ineffective.


Ahh, but you say “military use is one thing, but in the hands of terrorists…” Let’s pretend that there was some connection between Saddam’s Iraq and terrorists that pose a threat to the United States (there isn’t, and wasn’t, and it was well-known there wasn’t, and it was well known that groups like Al Queda hated secular rulers like Saddam as much or more than they hate us – but pretend anyway). We HAD to invade because otherwise Saddam would have provided WMDs to Osama and company, right? Right?

Wrong. Because even if he DID share his WMDs with Osama, there was no threat to the United States – or, indeed, to Kuwait. At least no larger threat than there was if we knew for sure what turned out to be true – that there were no WMDs. But, for the sake of argument, assume some terrorists got their nasty hands on nerve agent.

So what.

In the hands of terrorists chemical weapons are no more effective than in military hands. The Japanese cult “Aum Shiriko” terrorists spent over a decade and millions of dollars to engineer the most sophisticated and deadly terrorist chemical weapon attack in history, with delivery devices at least as good as any in Saddam's inventory. They placed deadly Sarin nerve agent dispensers at numerous locations throughout the Tokyo subway system. Sarin is about as nasty as chemical weapons get. It’s nasty. And the Aum Shiriko had a LOT of Sarin.

Result: 19 dead, a few hundred hospitalized, and the trains were up and running again in a short time. Contrast this with Madrid. 191 dead, hundreds more wounded, and the rail system suffered extensive damage. Yes, it is true, I prefer terrorists to try chemical attacks - they will do less damage, and we will all be safer. But call them "WMD"s and they scare the heck out of people. “A car bomb killed 19 people in Iraq!” “So. What’s for lunch?” “Terrorists may have nerve agent!” “Oh my God, head for the shelter!!!!!


Then there is the "death math." Hysterical pundits proclaim "one drop of nerve agent can wipe out 1,000 people" or "NYC" or "the Western hemisphere." It's BS of course. Using their math, the Aum Shiriko attack should have killed thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people. It killed 19, with no major infrastructure damage. Tim McVeigh killed a lot more than that, and destroyed a federal building, with a bomb made out of fertilizer. Don't you wish he had tried chemical weapons instead? Fewer Americans would have died in Oklahoma City.

Using the same kind of rules that pundits use to calculate the deadly effects of chemical weapons, 10 lbs of gunpowder can kill thousands of people. It just has to be delivered the right way - a few grains of powder at a time, just enough to propel a fatal bullet in the head. Of course we don't call gunpowder a WMD, even though more people have died because of it than will ever die from chemical weapons.


Then there are biological weapons - a true BS bogeyman story. We have had bio warfare since the first time a well was deliberately poisoned, probably in Ur thousands of years ago. And the anthrax attacks? How many died in the deadliest biological weapons attack in US history? Five. The Unabomber killed 3 by himself, and he injured many more. 223 died in the embassy attacks in Africa. A Navy warship (USS Cole) was almost sunk by conventional explosives on a rubber boat that pulled up alongside. So what do we freak about?


More people died from unbuckled seat belts yesterday than have died in the worst bio attack in history. Yet as reputable a source as the BBC reports that an anthrax attack on a major us city could kill 123,000 people, basing it on a missile containing 1 KG of antrhax spores. Sure, if the spores somehow were able to distribute themselves equally over the entire city, so that every human in the city inhaled enough to become infected, and no spores died from the heat of the blast, or that killer of anthrax spores, sunlight. Perhaps the terrorists could hire Fedex and UPS to hand-deliver the spores, they would stand a better chance. Oh, and the US anthrax "terror" was from a US strain developed by our government, not from any “rogue” regime.


Then there is nuclear - yes, that is the only one deserving of WMD status. Truly terrifying. No, not the "dirty bomb" that would freak people out (but probably kill less than anthrax.) Dirty bombs use things like medical waste and the like to scatter radiation. Again, it would kill and be destructive, but conventional explosives could do much more damage. No, not a dirty bomb. I mean the terrible atomic bomb. A terrorist could smuggle a crude nuclear weapon into a major American city in a variety of ways. In a truck, the back of a van, or in a boat just as large drug shipments are smuggled. Even more likely, they just ship it in a shipping container. Imagine if one went off in the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach: hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, dead, and the economic impact from the LA port shutting down would be devastating. Nuclear weapons are REALLY weapons of mass destruction.

So what do we worry about? Not nuclear. Pakistan, an unstable nation with MANY Islamic terrorists and “Madrasa” schools that teach young boys to grow up and kill Americans and Jews, develops nuclear bombs. Our response? We are ok with that. Gen. Musharif is a “key ally in the war on terror.” India gets it too. Cool, we don’t care. Pakistan's chief nuclear scientist admits selling atomic secrets to Libya (and probably others) and Pakistan punishes him by, uhh, by... they called him a hero and forgave him. We were ok with that too. After all, as I said, Gen. Musharif is a “key ally.” Iran works toward one, and we grumble a little. And North Korea works on one (the nation most likely to sell completed weapons to terrorists, or use one against us themselves) and what do we do? Invade Iraq of course. Because if we don't WMDs will kill us all, right?.


So, yes, no WMDs were found and Bush has finally given up (AFTER the election of course.) But he actually told the truth recently when he said that WMDs didn't matter when deciding if the invasion of Iraq was a good idea. And he is right. Because even if we had found tons of nerve agent or anthrax AND proof that he was giving it away free to terrorists THERE WAS STILL NO THREAT FROM SADDAM. He presented less of a threat to us in March of 2003 than he did in 2000, or 1995, or 1992, or 1988. He grew weaker every year since the first Gulf War, and was weaker the day we invaded than he was the minute Schwarzkopf stopped the advance in '91. If we did have a good reason to invade, it sure as heck wasn’t WMDs or any “threat” Saddam posed to us.

WMDs? How about LMDs. Lies of Mass Destruction. And most of America bought it, and still buys it. Bush knew better at the time, because hell, I did. It was well-known in professional military and national security circles that WMDs in Iraq presented little to no threat to us. But nobody addressed the issue of whether "WMDs" were truly a threat, just the issue of whether Saddam had them or not. And they still don't.

How about “W” of Mass Destruction. George W.

Talk about terrifying and dangerous to the USA...

Links on the subject:

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Reefer Madness

Today I was perusing the NY Times online edition (because I am one of "them thar librals" who prefer the NY Times over Fox news).

I was shown an anti-marijuana ad when I clicked on one story, and I clicked on the website. It is at

Lies. Lies. And more lies.

Why are so many people so determined to keep Pot illegal, but care nothing about the terrible effects of alcohol on our youth - indeed, on our entire society?

Well, I don't know, but that isn't what this topic is about. It is about the "dangers" of marijuana use.

In the interests of candor, I will admit (as I did on every security clearance I ever filled out) that I have used it. Not while on active-duty, but that is because I took an oath to obey the UCMJ and the UCMJ forbids it. I always felt it stupid to outlaw it though, as I watched my peers drink themselves into a stupor every weekend, as I watched Regimental Calls and Prop Blasts and Rotor Washes and Hail and Farewells (all kinds of military parties) constantly degenerate into drunkfests, often with the blessing of commanders and senior NCOs. Sure, guzzle Tequila every night, you are ok as long as you don't report to duty intoxicated. Smoke a joint during your leave back home and you become a "bad" soldier and your career ends. I never thought that made much sense.

But maybe I was just lucky that Marijuana didn't destroy my brain. Those who feel any "libral" has a destroyed brain can rest assured that intelligence tests place me in the top 2% nationwide, technically a "genius." My opinion is that I am very good at taking tests written by people who think like me, and people who don't score as high on standardized tests can and often are twice as smart as me. Intelligence tests are crap, but I can point to them to show that smoking pot did not destroy my brain. But as I said, maybe I was lucky. So lets get the "facts" from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.

"Effects of Marijuana on the Brain. Researchers have found that THC changes the way in which sensory information gets into and is acted on by the hippocampus. This is a component of the brain's limbic system that is crucial for learning, memory, and the integration of sensory experiences with emotions and motivations. Investigations have shown that THC suppresses neurons in the information-processing system of the hippocampus. In addition, researchers have discovered that learned behaviors, which depend on the hippocampus, also deteriorate."

Ok, that sounds bad. But look at it closely: "THC changes the way sensory information" is "acted on by the hippocampus." Wow. But if it didn't you wouldn't get high. You know what else changes the way your body processes sensory information? Cocaine. Heroin. LSD. Of course it should be illegal. Oh, and beer. Scotch Whiskey. Wine. Tylenol 3. Over the counter pain-killers to a small extent, prescription pain-killers to a large extent. The change to the way the body processes sensory information is just a fancy, scary way of saying "getting high." Changing the way you feel is not harmful in and of itself, and in the case of pain relief, it is a positive good. If you expect somebody who is intoxicated - whether with legal or illegal substances - to NOT have trouble with learning, memory, or the "integration of sensory experiences with emotions and motivations" then you are intoxicated yourself. As for "emotions" and how they are affected by pot, I would much rather hang out with a stoned "I love you man" dude than either a crying drunk or a drunk who thinks he can kick the entire world's ass. Give a bunch of rednecks some dope and they get high and act stupid - by themselves, and usually the biggest problem is they are laughing too loud. Give them whiskey and get ready for a brawl. So the key to all this is how long does the effect last? Is it permanent? Does it do lasting damage? This scary paragraph presents absolutely no facts that indicate marijuana is harmful, only that it makes you high.

"Effects on the Lungs. Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers have. These individuals may have daily cough and phlegm, symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and more frequent chest colds. Continuing to smoke marijuana can lead to abnormal functioning of lung tissue injured or destroyed by marijuana smoke. Regardless of the THC content, the amount of tar inhaled by marijuana smokers and the level of carbon monoxide absorbed are three to five times greater than among tobacco smokers. This may be due to marijuana users inhaling more deeply and holding the smoke in the lungs."

Ok, this is bad. It appears smoking harms your lungs. Surprise. Yet tobacco is legal. Well, dope smokers absorb three to five times more tar and carbon monoxide, which "may be due to" holding the smoke in the lungs and inhaling deeply. Still, we don't see anything here that suggests it should be illegal. And the "may be due to" is crap. The government says that so that it can't be proven a liar. Legal tobacco is consistent, manufactured to an industry standard, with few impurities and with quality control in place. Marijuana is illegal, thus it varies widely in its quality and its delivery mechanism. If dope were legal then it would be legal to study ways to lessen the effects of smoking on the lungs. For instance, a higher THC content coupled with higher-quality leaf could result in faster, more efficient delivery of THC to the smoker, coupled with much, much less a percentage of impurities. With more powerful joints that contain fewer impurities it is totally concievable that smoking dope can be made much less harmful than smoking cigarettes. But we will never know, will we?

In addition, marijuana can be ingested in many other ways than smoking. It can be reduced into pill form, with absolutely NO effects on the lungs. It can be baked into brownies - no effect on the lungs. Thus this paragraph is no reason to keep dope illegal, but MAY be a reason to include that "Surgeon General's Warning" on packs of joints sold legally. Maybe.

"Effects of Heavy Marijuana Use on Learning and Social Behavior. A study of college students has shown that critical skills related to attention, memory, and learning are impaired among people who use marijuana heavily, even after discontinuing its use for at least 24 hours. Researchers compared 65 "heavy users," who had smoked marijuana a median of 29 of the past 30 days, and 64 "light users," who had smoked a median of 1 of the past 30 days. After a closely monitored 19- to 24-hour period of abstinence from marijuana and other illicit drugs and alcohol, the undergraduates were given several standard tests measuring aspects of attention, memory, and learning. Compared to the light users, heavy marijuana users made more errors and had more difficulty sustaining attention, shifting attention to meet the demands of changes in the environment, and in registering, processing, and using information. The findings suggest that the greater impairment among heavy users is likely due to an alteration of brain activity produced by marijuana."

Wow. So dope makes you stupid. Doesn't it?

Read it again. "A" survey? After years of research by a government eager to prove dope is harmful we have "a" survey? One? Which compared 65 "heavy" users to 64 "light" users? That is it? No wider study? Hmmm.

Then there is the nature of the study itself. It compared "stoners" to the occasional "toker." Have we any data comparing heavy drinkers to social drinkers? Why was there no control group which didn't use marijuana at ALL? My guess is that "drunks" also suffer impairment to their learning and social behavior. Don't you think so? This "scary" paragraph shows that people who get stoned every day have greater difficulty processing information than those who don't. Duh. We needed a study? The same holds true for alcohol, or narcotics, or any mind-altering substance. This "study" simply shows that people who overuse dope have "issues." People who have too much water DROWN. That doesn't mean you should blame the water, because the cause is TOO MUCH WATER, not WATER. Same for dope.

Then, as I said, why didn't they compare the light users to non-users? I'll bet they did, but the government simply didn't report what the study surely found - there was no difference.

And there is the "chicken or the egg" question. Did heavy users have trouble processing information because they smoke dope, or do they smoke so much dope because they have trouble processing information? At my high school the champion stoners were almost always those who were laggards academically and/or socially from elementary school onward. They had "issues" well before they ever smoked a joint. The few exceptions (me being one) who smoked a lot of dope but were "good" students and fit in socially seemed to suffer no ill effects. I myself was a national merit scholar, graduated a top-20 law school, and smoked dope. Isn't it possible, even likely, that those who decide to smoke dope heavily may have had their problems BEFORE they smoked dope, and this study's findings actually can be interpreted in reverse? By this I mean "a study of marijuana use has shown that those who have problems with learning and social behavior are more likely to be heavy users of marijuana." There are several ways to determine this, but it has not been done? Well, at least it wasn't reported on the's website.

So this paragraph doesn't give any reasons why the drug should be illegal, or that it is harmful to society. It says that those who smoke too much have problems. So do those who drink too much. Or eat too much.

"Longitudinal research on marijuana use among young people below college age indicates those who used have lower achievement than the non-users, more acceptance of deviant behavior, more delinquent behavior and aggression, greater rebelliousness, poorer relationships with parents, and more associations with delinquent and drug-using friends."

"Longitudinal" research? WTF does THAT mean? Maybe I'm just too much of a "stoner" to understand such fancy language. Oh, wait, I'm a damn lawyer, I LIVE for fancy language. So what is "longitudinal research" mean? It simply means the study followed the young people over a period of years. I wonder why a website designed to communicate with the public used such a fancy word. My guess is to make it sound more clinical and "truthful" and convincing. So anyway, this "longitudinal study" found that non-users had higher achievement than users. Again we have the chicken and the egg problem, but remember, this study deals with people below the drinking age. Those that engage in any form of law-breaking are more likely to be non-achievers, aren't they? The same results could be found in studies of alcohol use - and have been found. The same results could be found when comparing those who abide by a curfew when compared to kids who don't, or when comparing strict parents with those who aren't. The study does NOT show that dope causes less achievement. Less achievement may result from factors that also make it more likely to smoke dope, though. Or drink. Or have sex. Or get arrested. Getting arrested doesn't cause lower achievement any more than smoking dope. All of the factors listed (more delinquent behavior and aggression, greater rebelliousness, poorer relationships with parents, and more associations with delinquent and drug-using friends) are not CAUSED by smoking dope, but a result of other issues that LED to smoking dope before the kid was old enough to legally drink.

Then there is the shocking relevation that non-users were less accepting of "deviant behavior" than users. Well, doesn't that make sense? If the non-users were more accepting of "deviant behavior" wouldn't they be more likely to engage in it, and the fact that they don't engage in deviant behavior, such as smoking dope, is because they don't accept deviant behavior? Duh? Classic chicken or egg problem.

That is it on the's "health hazards and effects" page. that's all. In short, the government's website designed to communicate the health hazards of dope was a mish-mash of mis-information and misdirection. No wonder kids that have tried dope are more rebellious. They know the adults lecturing them on the "dangers" of pot are full of crap.

Oh, but it is the "gateway" drug, right? If you smoke dope on Monday, by Friday you are smoking crack, right? Well, maybe not on Friday, but you are LOTS more likely to use hard drugs, right? right?

Well, that little-respected think-tank always involved in loony research, High Times has - ooops, I mean THE RAND CORPORATION, has done a study that shows this simply isn't true. Here is a link:

The study says that "associations between marijuana and hard drug use could be expected even if marijuana use has no gateway effect. Instead, the associations can result from known differences in the ages at which youths have opportunities to use marijuana and hard drugs, and known variations in individuals' willingness to try any drugs, researchers found." It goes on to say that when "enforcement resources that could have been used against heroin and cocaine are instead used against marijuana, this could have the unintended effect of worsening heroin and cocaine use."

Hmm. So efforts to prevent marijuana use are a misuse of resources. Those Rand guys are all stoner freaks anyway, right? No, I don't think so - and if they are stoners, it should pretty well dismiss all the claims that smoking dope makes you stupid. also says "Kids who use marijuana weekly are four times more likely to engage in violent behavior than those who don't." Well, does marijuana cause the violence? This is simple to determine. The effects of THC on the brain are well-known, and a tendency toward violence is NOT an effect of THC. In fact, THC seems to have the opposite effect. Smoking dope does NOT make you more likely to engage in violent behavior. Hard alcohol, on the other hand... Plus, I wonder what the rate of violent behavior is among kids who drink alcohol weekly. See how they twist the truth? "Kids who use marijuana weekly" - how does that relate to "adults" or less than "weekly" or the use of other illegal substances (and both alcohol and tobacco are illegal substances for kids, remember). As an adult I don't even drink weekly. Any kid who smokes dope weekly is engaging in illegal behavior on a weekly basis. Surprise - they are also more likely to engage in violent behavior. Did marijuana cause this? No. No way. As anybody who has been around somebody stoned (or have been stoned themselves) knows, you are more likely to end up with somebody who thinks the Cartoon Network is the funniest thing ever (try Aqua-Teen Hunger Force if you want to see them die from laughter while stoned. It's pretty funny when you are sober too.) More violent? No way, dude. Again, simply more disinformation and scare tactics by our government.

What other scientific studies does the have to buttress their case of the dangers of dope? See Count how many of these studies either include alcohol (legal) or other actually-dangerous drugs in the study, meaning dope is guilty by association rather than anything directly related to marijuana's "harmful effects."

The government even goes so far as to say "Research shows that marijuana use can lead to addiction." What research is that? This "research" shows that dope "can" lead to addiction. Well, tobacco DOES, and it is legal, and alcohol is much more likely, and there are LOTS of studies showing that dope is NOT addictive. Google this if you want "research" to prove me right, or want to attempt to prove me wrong. You might even find the "research" that shows dope can lead to addiction, because I couldn't.

I'm not suggesting kids should be allowed to smoke dope legally any more than I would suggest they should be allowed to drink or smoke tobacco or drive without a license or any other potentially risky activity. But I am not a kid, and I don't like my government telling me I can't grow or smoke dope because kids might come to harm - especially when their data is scant, misleading, or simply wrong.

In a supposedly free society, shouldn't it be the government's job to prove my use of dope harms others, instead of my job to prove it doesn't? Well, even if there are no studies to support it, if the people have passed laws then that is the way it is - which is why I never smoked dope on active duty. I promised the nation I wouldn't.

That isn't the point, though. It seems very dangerous to me that our government would seek to justify keeping dope illegal through misinformation, deception, lies, and misdirection. Giving an honest assessment of the harms of marijuana, or lack thereof, is not harmful to democracy. The truth never is. Having a government that doesn't mind misleading us, or lying to us, seems much more of a "harmful effect" than anything that can come from your lighting up a joint on your porch and watching the sun set while BB King plays on the stereo and Pasadena traffic passes by below. But then, I'm a hippie radical don't you know.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

"Military" correspondents - why are so many so stupid?

I am not criticizing all "military" correspondents. Some are quite good. My friend and classmate Phil Carter of IntelDump is an excellent military blogger, and some reporters such as Christiane Amanpour are excellent and accurate. Amanpour is in fact quite brilliant and ruthlessly truthful and accurate.

But SO MANY "military" correspondents are SO IGNORANT of the military that they are supposed to report about, and it is dangerous to our republic.

For instance, the identification of a soldier in the Army Times as a marine, despite his US Army clearly visible and his unit patch clearly visible.

The problem of course goes beyond the difference between the Marines and the Army. It isn't that identifying a soldier as a marine hurts anybody - it is that the "military correspondents" are shown to know next to nothing about the military, which means they will either believe everything they are told, dangerous to our republic which does not rely on trust of those in power, in uniform or not, or instead they will not understand what they hear or even how to verify what they hear. In short, it is dangerous. To us.

For example, this from the Navy Times (part of the same company that publishes the Army Times) showing a typical instance of staggering ignorance that civilians won't catch, but those who are reporting on the military should understand: " A Marine with the 3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Division, secures a position as other Marines carryout house-to-house searches in Fallujah, Iraq, on Tuesday." Civilians see nothing wrong in this report. But the identification of the unit goes "Bravo Company, 3rd Division." Apparently the entire 3rd Marine division has only one Bravo company? I think not.

In the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division there are at least two infantry Bravo companies alone: B company, 1st battalion, 327th infantry regiment, and B company 2/327th infantry (notice how I worked in the way the military writes unit designations down (B 1/327 IN) - you get it now, in one sentence, and yet reporters don't). There is also a Bravo battery, a Bravo troop, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the "slice" elements such as engineers or medical have bravo companies assigned to the 1st Brigade. There are other brigades in the 101st. They also all have "Bravo" companies. So imagine how little information is provided by a reporter who says "Bravo Company, 101st Airborne Division" when there are well over a dozen "bravo" companies. Or "Bravo Company, 3rd Division" of the USMC (although there are fewer "bravo" companies in a Marine division since they wisely letter their companies like the Army used to do, with every line company in a regiment having a different letter - but still there will be at least three Bravo line companies in a Marine Division, plus Bravo engineer companies, aviation, etc, just as in my 101st example.)

Some might claim "perhaps it was deliberate for operational security reasons." Nope. First, if the enemy is shooting at you then they probably know you are there. Keeping that info from the folks back home won't protect you. And, from the same paper, same day, a military correspondent that seems to know what he is doing - a USMC reporter in fact, not a civilian:

"Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Chris Johnson, assigned to Headquarters Platoon, L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, holds an Iraqi child while Marines in the battalion conduct a "cordon and knock" mission outside Fallujah, Iraq, on Dec. 6 during Operation Al Fajr. " There is only one HQ platoon, L co, 3/5th Marines, in all of the world. The division id was nice, but not even needed to identify this unit completely and accurately. This Marine probably learned his journalism skills in high school, and then attended a brief USMC course, and yet is obviously much more capable than Wolf Blitzer. And he reported the entire id, so "opsec" was not the reason the other correspondents didn't get the unit id right. They are simply incompetent. Much like Tom Brokaw who reported on "the Army's 2nd Battalion." Period. No further information provided. And no, it was not the 2nd Ranger battalion either, which Rangers would consider the only second battalion that could be referred to that way without confusion. No, it was simply "the Army's 2nd battalion." I guess there is only one "2nd battalion" in the entire Army.

I could be wrong. Perhaps there is only ONE bravo company in all of the USMC. From the Navy Times, same exact day as all of my other examples: "Marines from Bravo Company drive their Armored Personnel Carrier outside their camp near Fallujah, Iraq, on Thursday." Oh, Marines from BRAVO company. Now I know who they are. Of course they were not even in an APC but were in an Amtrack. Which leads to my next example:

Bradley fighting vehicles are NOT TANKS. Self-propelled howitzers are NOT TANKS. APCs are NOT TANKS. But in the world of "military" correspondents, if it has tracks it is a tank. Even with no gun at all, and a giant red cross on the side so that the enemy knows it is not a tank. Either the reporters are too stupid to know the difference, or they assume Americans are too stupid - which, again, shows that the reporters are stupid.

And why did I not use the 3rd Marine Division in my first example, but used the 101st Airborne? Because the 101st does NOT JUMP FROM AIRPLANES. THEY ARE NOT PARATROOPERS. They are an "air assault" division and quite proud of it. But "airborne" means to "military" correspondents only parachute troops - paratroopers. Even those who don't use parachutes, of course. Even though the Army has NEVER used "airborne" to identify only parachute units, even back in WWII when airborne units were first created (the glider troops had the most hazardous jobs of all - and never jumped with parachutes - and were part of the airborne divisions.) Yet in the first gulf war Wolf Blitzer breathlessly reported that the "101st Airborne is jumping behind enemy lines from Apache helicopters." Wow, how brave of those troopers to jump without parachutes from Apaches that can't even carry troops. I guess they were hanging on to the wheels and just let go over enemy territory. What was Wolf's punishment for being CNN's "military" correspondent yet being so totally ignorant of the military? He now has his own show. Imagine that. He reported that the 101st was "jumping" - but they don't use parachutes and aren't paratroopers and pretty much EVERYBODY in the Army knows this - and he said they were jumping from "Apache helicopters" which only carry a gunner and a pilot, which anybody who has watched the Discovery channel (we used to call it the "Defense Contractor channel" can tell you. My "Dodgers beat the Rams" example isn't so far-fetched now, is it? He also reported on the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and said it is "mounted on the back of a Bradley tank." Bradleys aren't tanks, of course, and the MLRS launcher is about twice as big as a Bradley IFV (they are HUGE). This same guy (Wolfie baby) interviewed some smartass PFC who was on a range firing an M2 .50 cal machine gun, and asked him what it was. The guy was shocked (doesn't everybody know what this is?) and made up a wise-ass response on the spot. "It's a new anti-tank weapon that can destroy tanks" he said with an impish grin. Wolf breathlessly reported this. Of course firing a .50 cal at even the weakest tank is not 'habit forming,' and the M2 .50 cal has been used by the Army from WWI to today. No, that is no typo. I said World War One. Yet Wolfie knew nothing about it. Well, it isn't like it is his job was to know such things. He was only CNN's top "Military" correspondent at the time. Well, I guess it would be too much for him to know about EVERY Army division, right, since there are something like 101? The most divisions we have had since the end of the Vietnam war is 18. How many MLB teams are there? Do sports reporters have ANY trouble knowing that the Dodgers are in LA, the Yankees in New York? Do they have any trouble telling the difference between the White Sox and the Red Sox? Do LA reporters confuse the Lakers with the Clippers? But Wolfie, well, he can't be expected to know that the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is in fact an Air Assault division that is helicopter-borne, or that .50 cals are common weapons throughout the world, or that the MLRS is NOT "mounted on the back of a bradley tank." And he came out of the first gulf war a star, instead of being seen for a clown.

You may ask what difference it makes that so many reporters who report on the military are so woefully ignorant about the military.

It makes a HUGE difference.


Because of the incredible ignorance of the American people when it comes to even the most basic military concepts, the decisions that affect the lives of our military personnel, and the survival of our nation, are often flawed. At great cost in lives and money. Any politician that votes against ANY weapons system is labeled "weak" on defense. Even though the purchase of the weapon can in fact weaken our military. We spent billions and billions on the "SGT YORK DIVAD" anti-aircraft gun in the '70s, and it never, ever worked. And the Army never wanted the damn thing. The tests of the system were rigged when it was shown to Congress. And the defense contractor still made a profit, and nobody went to jail like they should have. We spent billions on "star wars" during the Reagan era, despite the knowledge in the military that it would not improve our defenses one little bit, not one bit. The result of such wasteful spending? The politicians who wisely opposed it were castigated as weak on defense, most notably in the famous Dukakis "tank" commercial.

Of course it isn't just republicans who make wasteful decisions. Carter was the one who approved the purchase of the B1 bomber at a cost of billions and billions. A weapon that sits unused today, yet still is in the inventory at enormous expense. We spend $$$ training pilots, mechanics, etc, maintaining and training with the B1. So what bomber do we use when we go to war? We use the B-52. Imagine if the B1 weapon system had NOT been purchased. We might have already had a viable replacement for our aging B-52 fleet, as that ancient airframe reaches the end of its useful life and metal fatigue causes fatal failures, not to mention exhorbitant maintenance costs.

Now we have "National Missile Defense." I compared NMD to the Maginot Line recently. The "military" expert I was chatting with said "what's that?" Jeez.

For those who can't be bothered with history, the Maginot Line was a series of forts and underground bunkers that the French built, at huge national expense, to protect themselves from Germany after WWI. Politicians who opposed it were called "weak" on defense and voted out of office. The huge expense made some French contractors incredibly rich, while the French army was denied the money for troops and training and tanks they desperately needed to prepare for the war they knew was coming. The project in effect forced the French army to commit most of its manpower to static defensive positions, even though many (most?) French army officers knew better. Those that spoke out were destroyed, their careers ruined, many forced into early retirement or second-class assignments - including men like Charles de Gualle and Gen. LeClerc, who understand "blitzkrieg" warfare before "military" correspondents coined a name for it. Politicians who tried to correct the situation were sent packing. And France fell, despite spending a fortune in time and money on defense, despite the economic sacrifices the nation made to protect itself by purchasing the Maginot Line defense. The Maginot Line presented a strong point, and thus the Germans simply didn't attack there, so I guess it did succeed, but didn't help (although, in fact, in some places the Germans did attack the line - successfully.) Had the French NOT built the Maginot line they would have had resources available to build a stronger, more capable, flexible army. The Maginot Line weakened them - at great expense.

Well, that was France, right? We are America, not weak lily-livered wussy France. Except that prior to France's fall in 1940 the French had the reputation of having the best military in the world. And they deserved it. The French people and the leaders they elected were to blame, not the French military, who actually fought like hell in impossible circumstances (Gen. LeClerc and his French 2nd Armored Divison fought with distinction at Normandy, and they were given the honor of entering Paris to "liberate" it along with the US 4th Division; much of the French Navy escaped or scuttled their ships rather than let them fall in to German hands). But we never seem to learn from the experience of other countries, especially the French. We ignored them in Vietnam, and ended up just like they had, and 58,000 American soldiers died. We also ignored their lessons from Algeria, and now we have our own in Iraq. But how many "military" correspondents even know about the Algerian war and can draw conclusions and/or educate the public? By the way, there is another reason I bring up the heroism of Gen. LeClerc: (see it and learn from history). And now back to NMD - if it works (doubtful) we will have spent untold billions on a system that defeats incoming missiles. Are we safe from nuclear attack then? Of course not. It just won't come from a missile - and meanwhile, the huge NMD project will suck up valuable resources that won't be available to do something really useful, like better security at our nation's ports. Imagine the damage not just in lives, but to our economy, if one of the many huge shipping containers unloaded every day at the Port of Los Angeles contained a nuclear bomb? Or hell, even a "dirty" bomb? But no, we will spend the money on defending ourselves from a missile threat - which won't make us any safer even if it works, which it probably won't. The Maginot Line.

Why are we buying the F-22 stealth fighter at the same time we face a manpower deficit on the ground? Will twice, or five times, or 100 times as many aircraft overhead change the situation on the ground? Will more aircraft carriers improve our national defense at all? No. Why do we spend so much money then? Because few civilians have any idea that buying unneeded, expensive equipment detracts from our national power, both militarily and economically, even aside from what good that money could do elsewhere. After all, there are no "infantry" lobbyists trying to get Congress and the people to understand that we need more trained riflemen, and that we should raise the pay of infantrymen in order to recruit more qualified troops. Defense contractors, on the other hand, have LOTS of well-paid lobbyists, and they make huge contributions to political campaigns. Thus we have the most technologically advanced military in the world, but have weapons systems that cost billions that we don't (or can't) use. We don't have enough infantrymen or MPs or Civil Affairs soldiers, but we have 12 aircraft carrier battle groups and are buying the F-22 stealth fighter (which can evade the radar of the enemy - except that there is no force in the world that can even begin to challenge our air superiority, including China, Russia, or the entire European Union combined - in short, it is unneeded. Research yes, procurement no.) We spend large amounts of money on batteries that soldiers have to lug around, and batteries run out, and they are toxic to dispose of (lithium or magnesium batteries) but we could have hand-cranked chargeable batteries that could power much of our equipment, never run out (you just crank them back up) - and that technology exists NOW. But we buy more batteries. The Defense Department buys millions of dollars of coal every year. We don't have anything in the inventory that burns coal. Nothing. Not a thing. Why aren't we all informed of this, and pissed off about it?

And of course we are buying more expensive aircraft (including the joint strike fighter (JSF), the largest military procurement contract in history) at a time when it is clear the next generation of fighters should be unmanned aircraft controlled from the ground, so our incredibly expensive fighters will be obsolete before the end of the production run because modern fighter aircraft are limited in how they can turn by the human factor of the pilot inside - too quick and sharp a turn pulling too many "gees" and the pilot can black out and die, or die from the forces of the turn alone. Thus the first nation to field unmanned fighters will be able to defeat any manned fighter in the world, skill of the pilots notwithstanding. And we are leading the world in this research, and shortly we should be able to field unmanned fighters, well before our current generation of fighters even begins to approach the end of their useful life. So what do we do? Buy the manned JSF at nation-breaking, mind-boggling expense. As a result we will be forced to use them well into the year 2050, while our potential enemies leapfrog us with unmanned aircraft that can destroy any JSF regardless of the skill of the human pilot. Oh, and at much less expense, since much of the cost (and weight) of the planes today are devoted to keeping the pilot alive. No cockpit needed, no displays/gauges needed, no windshield, no ejection seat, no need to build the aircraft large enough to fit a human (also with corresponding advances in flight time due to less fuel consumption), and no worry about pilots being shot down over enemy territory, meaning aircraft can fly lower than we do today, etc. etc. etc. Does buying the JSF help or hurt our national security? It hurts, but any politician who opposes it will be "weak" on defense and lose office. I mentioned "ADA" before - Air Defense Artillery. We are desperately short of MPs, Civil Affairs, and most of all, trained infantry, yet we still have ADA. Not a single American soldier has died from enemy aircraft fire since the Korean war (and it wasn't much of a threat then either). Few even died in WWII from enemy air, and in any case the most effective protection was gaining air superiority, which we did in 1944 and have never lost since. So why are there tens of thousands of soldiers in the Air Defense Artillery branch? Does this improve our military capabilities, or harm them? By the way, don't even think of trumpeting the "success" of the Patriot Missile System. That is a GREAT example of the ignorance of the general public and the incompetence of the media when it comes to military affairs. The Scud missile attacks were "barely" guided missiles, not much better than the V1 and V2 German weapons of WWII. They pretty much landed at random. So what do we do to "protect" our troops? We spend billions on the Patriot, which shoots into the air and blows up the Scud - and as a result, MORE flaming wreckage (from the Scud AND the Patriot) drops at random below than would if we just ignored the damn Scud in the first place. MORE damage is done. At a cost of billions. But hey, we felt like we did something. It kind of reminds me of a time when I was subject to less than accurate "cover fire" during a live-fire exercise. My team (I was a fire-team leader at the time) had to run for cover from our "support" team. They almost killed us. Pissed off, I confronted the weapons squad leader and demanded to know why he was shooting at my team. He said "we couldn't make out where you were, but we had to do something." Well, no, he didn't. And we don't need the Patriot.

You can, of course, like many people, blame those politicians (remember how so many people cheered Oliver North and his open hostility to Congress, not understanding that Congress represents the people?). But that would be wrong. We have a representative government, and the people decide. And those people are ignorant when it comes to making such decisions, and thus make the wrong decisions - such as thinking that any time a politician opposes a weapons system he is "weak" on defense. Why? Because "military" correspondents know next to nothing about the military, which shows when they can't even do simple things like understand the way the military identifies units - or when they call anything with tracks a tank - or when they don't know the difference between the Marines and the Army. And they thus don't inform the public about things like spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the JSF will actually harm our national security, and any politician who votes for it is weak on defense. See, it makes a huge difference.

Recently most Americans were unpleasantly surprised to learn the Army was overstretched in Iraq, despite so many generals warning against that very thing. Why? Don't you know the Army is HUGE? Don't we have like 101 divisions or something? Of course not, but many thought so. Most Americans also assumed that this second gulf war would be like the first, with a quick battle that made everybody proud, and then there would be a parade, and then the History channel and the Discovery channel could make more documentaries about how awesome our military is, and it would all be over. This despite the Chief of Staff of the Army (Gen. Shinseki) raising so much hell about how dangerous this would be that he was replaced, his designated successor (Gen. Bud Keane) refused the job in protest and preferred to be "acting"
chief of staff while a replacement was selected (first time ever that has happened) and no other active-duty general would take it (first time that has ever happened) and a general (Gen. Schoomaker) had to be recalled from retirement to take the most senior Army post (first time that has ever happened, ever.) How many of you knew about that? That the Army's senior leadership were so opposed to the invasion of Iraq (because they KNEW it would harm our national security - as it has) that several ended their careers in protest? It seems the only people who clearly saw that invading Iraq would be a mistake were senior Army officers who have devoted their entire lives to our national security and a mastery of land warfare. But what do they know?

The result: Since then Rumsfeld has prematurely ended the careers of numerous brilliant officers in place of less capable ones who toe the "party line." This will harm our national security for decades to come. How many of you heard about that? How many of you knew that Rumsfeld personally decides on general officer promotions and assignments, the first Secretary of Defense in history to do that, a job normally done by the respective service chiefs instead of political appointees like Rumsfeld? How many of you knew that Rumsfeld considers the political inclinations of the officers before he decides on promotions? Well, what harm could come from that, right?

The Soviet Union did much the same, but even at the height of the Cold War we didn't. Remember, it was a lawyer representing the US Army who bravely asked McCarthy "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?" and brought an end to McCarthy's reign of terror. I can't imagine that today. Can you? Well, actually, it happened. Judge Advocate General officers (military lawyers - JAG) contacted the American Bar Association and warned about the "torture memo" and Rumsfeld's flouting of the Geneva Conventions long ago, well before Abu Ghraib Guantanamo Bay degredations came to light. This included many of the most senior JAG officers in the military. They were desperately trying to stop such counter-productive, harmful, shameful policies. Yet most of you have never heard about this, and now our nation's chances of success in Iraq have been damaged, not to mention the additional harm that has been done to our influence in foreign affairs throughout the world and the increased risk to our own troops from such shameful and illegal acts committed at the behest of the President and the Secretary of Defense over the objections of uniformed military officers. And of course, the previous heroism of Gen. Shinseki, who informed Congress of what Iraq would take - and was publicly castigated by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Shinseki, of course, has been shown correct. You know why? Because the facts were clear, and it didn't take much knowledge to know Iraq was a mistake and that it would take years, billions, and tens of thousands of troops to reform/rebuild/transform Iraq, which was NOT a WMD threat or linked to the war on terror. Hell, I said so at the time in editorials published as early as November 2002, months before the March 2003 invasion - not because I am a seer or an incredibly gifted analyst. Because it was shockingly obvious what the outcome would be to those who understand national security policy and the limits of American power - obvious to all but those who made the decision to invade, that is. On a side note: for what people knew, when they knew it, and what was said at the time.

Why has such important information either been ignored or reported simply as ammunition in the "left v. right" propaganda wars during the recent election? Why are such issues considered political at all?

Because "military" correspondents who have the job of informing us on vital issues of national security don't know the difference between the Marines and the Army, that's why. If they don't know that, how the hell can they know deeper issues that impact our very survival as a nation?

I guess it isn't as important as sports. And we have only ourselves to blame.

Good luck to the only Bravo company in the Marines. They will need it.

Too much, with too little, for too long

January 2, 2005


The Army We Need

The nation mourns the men and women in uniform who are killed or wounded in Iraq, one by one. But the public needs to be aware, and be worried, about the larger picture too. Our military and our military readiness have been strained and risk real, permanent damage.

Twenty-five years ago, America's Army was a lot larger and had a lot less to do. Now, a substantially smaller force is struggling to cope with the demands placed on it by Iraq, where boots on the ground are in chronically short supply. For much of the past two years, the bulk of America's frontline ground forces have been tied down in an open-ended counterinsurgency war they were not expected, or given the resources, to fight. These soldiers and marines, active-duty and Reserve, have shown courage and determination, despite shortages of armor and other equipment, involuntarily extended enlistments and accelerated rotations back into combat.

Their fortitude has allowed the Pentagon to sustain a situation that everyone recognizes cannot go on indefinitely, even though no end to the Iraqi conflict is yet in sight. The extended unplanned deployment of American forces is taking a heavy cumulative toll, especially on the Army and Army National Guard. It is undermining readiness and morale, and limiting America's ability to send substantial ground forces elsewhere to back up its diplomacy or respond to emerging threats.

The Pentagon is beginning to resemble a desperate farmer who feeds his starving family the seed corn meant for sowing next year's crop. To keep enough boots on the ground now, it is sacrificing the ability to retain the leaders of tomorrow. As overdeployment has become chronic, promising young officers are opting not to re-enlist. When new crops of young people graduate from school, they will be less willing to combine their civilian careers with service in the Army National Guard; recruitment is already down almost 30 percent. The Regular Army is hurting too. Despite enlistment bonuses, it has had to speed up its reporting schedules, sending new recruits straight into basic training.

This growing crisis is not due to a lack of preparedness on the part of military brass, but to the ideology on which preparedness was based. Before Iraq, Pentagon dogma - supported by most Republican politicians and many conservative Democrats - held that United States troops were war fighters. Peacekeeping and nation-building were jobs for Old Europe. Well, that was then.

Now, more than half of the Regular Army's fighting forces have either served in Iraq, are currently there or can expect to be on their way soon, along with a substantial fraction of the Marine Corps and historically high proportions of the Army National Guard and Reserves. Rotations are being accelerated, with units that have already served in Iraq returning for second tours. These faster rotations are degrading readiness, wearing down equipment and leaving less time for normal training exercises. Reservists, including police, firefighters and other homeland defenders, are spending lengthy tours overseas. Four out of 10 Americans now serving in Iraq come from Reserve or National Guard units.

None of this should lead Americans to worry that the United States - with the world's premier Air Force, Navy and nuclear strike force fully intact - is defenseless. If a new threat suddenly arose - if, for example, Al Qaeda threatened Saudi oil fields, radical Islamist officers got control of Pakistani nuclear weapons or China attacked Taiwan - Washington could respond forcefully and decisively. But that does not mean that broader American security interests are not paying a price. Any additional foreign engagement that dragged on beyond a few months and required large numbers of ground troops would require a wider call-up of reserves and perhaps a return to the draft.

Many potential enemies overseas doubt that the public would have the appetite for that kind of sacrifice. As a result, America's diplomatic clout is being subtly undermined. Iranian mullahs weighing whether to give up their nuclear programs may conclude that Washington is in no position to face them down. North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Il, may also feel freer to proceed with his nuclear plans and move troops closer to the South Korean border. Chinese leaders may see this as an opportune time to escalate their bullying of Taiwan.

Listing all the dangers is much easier than coming up with solutions. But there are some obvious short-term answers. Barring any unexpected breakthroughs in Iraq, Washington needs to increase its recruitment quotas sharply for active-duty service in the Army and Marine Corps. The current Army recruitment ceiling of just above 500,000 ought to go up to nearly 600,000, still substantially below the levels of the late 1980's. The Marines' ceiling should go up from the current 178,000 to around 200,000. Attracting those recruits will require offering financial and other inducements on top of the added payroll costs.

Most of the additional money required for this could come from elsewhere in the military budget. The Pentagon is taking a big step in the right direction by proposing sharp cuts in the unneeded F-22 stealth fighter program. As the military raises recruitment targets for the Army and Marines, it can reduce recruitment for the Air Force and Navy, which have more active-duty members than they now need. America's ground forces have been asked to do too much, with too little, for too long.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Why Bush wants lower taxes and wants to "reform" Social Security

Happy New Year!

From Jared Diamond's NYT's editorial today:

Other lessons involve failures of group decision-making. There are many reasons why past societies made bad decisions, and thereby failed to solve or even to perceive the problems that would eventually destroy them. One reason involves conflicts of interest, whereby one group within a society (for instance, the pig farmers who caused the worst erosion in medieval Greenland and Iceland) can profit by engaging in practices that damage the rest of society. Another is the pursuit of short-term gains at the expense of long-term survival, as when fishermen overfish the stocks on which their livelihoods ultimately depend.

History also teaches us two deeper lessons about what separates successful societies from those heading toward failure. A society contains a built-in blueprint for failure if the elite insulates itself from the consequences of its actions. That's why Maya kings, Norse Greenlanders and Easter Island chiefs made choices that eventually undermined their societies. They themselves did not begin to feel deprived until they had irreversibly destroyed their landscape.

Could this happen in the United States? It's a thought that often occurs to me here in Los Angeles, when I drive by gated communities, guarded by private security patrols, and filled with people who drink bottled water, depend on private pensions, and send their children to private schools. By doing these things, they lose the motivation to support the police force, the municipal water supply, Social Security and public schools. If conditions deteriorate too much for poorer people, gates will not keep the rioters out. Rioters eventually burned the palaces of Maya kings and tore down the statues of Easter Island chiefs; they have also already threatened wealthy districts in Los Angeles twice in recent decades.

In contrast, the elite in 17th-century Japan, as in modern Scandinavia and the Netherlands, could not ignore or insulate themselves from broad societal problems. For instance, the Dutch upper class for hundreds of years has been unable to insulate itself from the Netherlands' water management problems for a simple reason: the rich live in the same drained lands below sea level as the poor. If the dikes and pumps keeping out the sea fail, the well-off Dutch know that they will drown along with everybody else.


I sometimes wonder how people can support lower taxes at at time of record deficits that our children will pay for, or how they can still support Prop. 13 in California (which destroyed the property tax base that California's school system relied upon in exchange for lower property taxes) when it moved California's schools from the best in the world to among the worst in only 20 years. This explains Bush voters and their motivations. Those that pay the cost in bad school systems, or huge national debts, or avoidable and mistaken military misadventures, aren't those that voted for Bush. Schools going to hell? "It is those nasty poor people and their kids. Our kids go to private schools." High unemployment? "Well, the stock market went up and I just made $200K on the sale of my house - tax free!" Dead soldiers in Iraq? "We support the President and our troops. But no, I never served myself, but I love the military and always have." See, they can justify the destructive policies to themselves easily, because it isn't destructive to them.

Oh, and Jesus apparently supports the invasion of Iraq and deficit spending while college funds are cut and the social safety net collapses. Just ask Dr. James Dobson.

"James C. Dobson, the nation's most influential evangelical leader, is threatening to put six potentially vulnerable Democratic senators "in the 'bull's-eye' " if they block conservative appointments to the Supreme Court.

In a letter his aides say is being sent to more than one million of his supporters, Dr. Dobson, the child psychologist and founder of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, promises "a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea" if President Bush fails to appoint "strict constructionist" jurists or if Democrats filibuster to block conservative nominees."


Interestingly enough for a "strict constructionist" point of view, but he supported the nutbag Alabama Supreme Court jurist that insisted on the ten commandments in the courthouse, despite the evidence of Founding Fathers like Jefferson, who wrote Virginia's "Declaration of Religious Freedom" and would surely have agreed with the court who found the display a violation of the US Constitution's separation of church and state ("Congress shall make NO law respecting... religion, or the free establishment thereof.") Apparently "strict constructionist" applies only when it goes their way, and of course "strict constructionists" ignore the actions of the men who wrote the US Constitution and how they interpreted the document they themselves wrote, seeing it as a flexible document. Marbury v Madison would never have been written by Scalia or Thomas. But who cares? The key is "what would Jesus do?"

Just for fun, google "Father Coughlin" and learn about one of Dr. Dobson's infamous predecessors who also felt he spoke for Jesus.

In my opinion, having READ THE NEW TESTAMENT, Jesus was as liberal as they come. He fed the masses, spoke of the poor and meek inheriting the earth, cared for the disposesed, was tolerant and loving, spoke of "turning the other cheek," and of course was nailed to a tree by the religious leaders and government leaders of His day for suggesting that we all be nice to each other and be less judgmental. But what do I know? I vote Democrat, so in a "red" state I'm unpatriotic and certainly not a "good" Christian.

But I forgive them, for they know not what they do. And I support their right to be willfully, deliberately ignorant, because I understand what is great about America, and it isn't our land or our wealth or our "Christianity." It is self-government and freedom, freedom even for those who are different from us, whom we don't agree with, whom we don't like.