Friday, May 30, 2008

Freedom of the Very Expensive Press

From the NYT:

Katie Couric, the anchor of “CBS Evening News,” said on Wednesday that she had felt pressure from government officials and corporate executives to cast the war in a positive light.

Speaking on “The Early Show” on CBS, Ms. Couric said the lack of skepticism shown by journalists about the Bush administration’s case for war amounted to “one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism.” She also said she sensed pressure from “the corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent or any kind of questioning of it.” At the time, Ms. Couric was a host of “Today” on NBC.

Another broadcast journalist also weighed in. Jessica Yellin, who worked for MSNBC in 2003 and now reports for CNN, said on Wednesday that journalists had been “under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation.”....

Mr. Williams, who was an anchor on MSNBC at the time, emphasized the climate of “post-9/11 America.” In the early days of the war, he said, he would hear from the Pentagon “the minute they heard us report something they didn’t like.”

Not everybody agreed the press had failed America:

“I think the questions were asked,” Mr. [Charles] Gibson, who was a host of “Good Morning America” before the war began, said in response to Ms. Couric. “It was just a drumbeat of support from the administration. It is not our job to debate them. It is our job to ask the questions.”

Is that the same Charlie Gibson who along with George Stephanopoulos were the moderators of a Democratic debate and spent most of that time asking about American Flag lapel pins? He is right - he asked very important questions. Here is part of an article about that debate:

For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with....

Gibson sat there peering down at the candidates over glasses perched on the end of his nose, looking prosecutorial and at times portraying himself as a spokesman for the working class. Blunderingly he addressed an early question, about whether each would be willing to serve as the other's running mate, "to both of you," which is simple ineptitude or bad manners. It was his job to indicate which candidate should answer first. When, understandably, both waited politely for the other to talk, Gibson said snidely, "Don't all speak at once."

For that matter, the running-mate question that Gibson made such a big deal over was decidedly not a big deal -- especially since Wolf Blitzer asked it during a previous debate televised and produced by CNN.

Thanks for your input, Chuck. I am sure your corporate masters are pleased with your response. Here is a pat on the head, and run along and play now. Good Boy.

I am not sure Ms. Couric's or Brian William's corporate masters are pleased with them, though:

A spokeswoman for General Electric, which owns NBC and MSNBC through its division NBC Universal, declined to speak about the specifics of the comments but said, “General Electric has never, and will never, interfere in the editorial process at NBC News.”

Well, GE, Ms. Couric just said that was not true. Are you lying, or is she? You can't both be right, you know. Either GE is lying, or Ms. Couric and Brian Williams - two of NBC's premier anchors - are liars.

Not all journalists drank the kool-aid. Some took brave stands and spoke truth to power. Some paid a high price. And many journalists have died in Iraq trying to bring the truth home to the People - more reporters have died covering the Iraq war than any other. And Phil Carter, a lawyer and a journalist, volunteered for a year-long tour in combat in Iraq with the 101st Airborne, and he did not cheerlead this war and has questioned authority. He and I disagreed about the war before it began (I always thought it would lead to disaster and was not justified) but he never once questioned my patriotism and admitted he was unsure about it. Not all journalists drank the kool-aid.

But most did. Some were like Charlie Gibson - they chugged down gallons of the stuff, wallowed in it, swam in it. They enabled this war. And they still are.

So here in the USA we have a free press. As long as you have millions of dollars to pay for it, it is free for you to buy and manipulate how you want. Our press is pretty much just like our federal government these days - free to the first buyer, and the price is very high.

And the price for us allowing that to happen? Our freedom.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Secret Plan to End the War? Nooooo........

From CNN:
Sen. John McCain strongly criticized Sen. Barack Obama Wednesday for not visiting Iraq in more than two years and for turning down the Arizona senator's suggestion that the two should make a joint trip to the country....

McCain's comments come the same day the Republican National Committee launched a clock on its Web site noting how many days it has been since Obama traveled to Iraq, and three days after his supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, suggested the presumed Republican nominee and Obama tour the country together.

Gee, thanks for not trying to score cheap political points off of the war, Senator McCain. Sure, Mr. Bush might try to make unseemly and shameful partisan political attacks while overseas to score a few votes. But not Senator McCain. Oh, no. Not him. He would never stoop to cheap partisan tricks like Mr. Bush, instead he puts America first.

When two US Senators who are the presumed nominees of their respective parties and are actively campaigning against one another for the presidency spend several days "touring" the combat zone together there would be no chance of partisan politics and unseemly campaigning overseas, correct? Can you think of a better way to ensure we don't bring our messy partisan disputes into another country than by having the two leading candidates tour the combat zone together to present a united front? After all, what could go wrong? Neither would try to use such a visit to score cheap points, instead they would put our nation and our soldiers first and display national unity and patriotism, right?

McCain later said he agreed the Democratic presidential contender should accompany him on an upcoming trip, adding that he would "seize that opportunity to educate Sen. Obama along the way."

Sen. McCain didn't even finish out the day without trying to score points off of his proposed visit. Way to show you are the anti-Bush, Senator McCain! What better way than to follow the Rove playbook and make our soldiers and their sacrifices merely another shameful 30-second sound bite again, the war merely a "gotcha" event suitable for dividing our once United States yet again. Way to support the troops, Senator! Just like with his opposition to the GI Bill, Senator McCain supports the troops all the way.... to yet another tour in Iraq.

Perhaps on your trip you can educate Mr. Obama on economics, Senator McCain? Maybe by visiting a market and talking about how safe it is? As you do so, be sure to share your expertise with him. Mr. Obama's inexperience and lack of military training foolishly and naively led Mr. Obama to warn the invasion of Iraq was not a good idea. Yep, what a fool he made of himself, right Senator McCain? Share your "expertise" and "educate" him, Senator McCain.

Before the invasion McCain was one of the most prominent voices telling the American people that Iraq would be “easy” and that Americans would be "welcomed as liberators." Now he wants to "educate" Senator Obama. Here is how Senator McCain tried to "educate" the American people before we invaded Iraq:

“And I believe that the success will be fairly easy.” [CNN, Larry King Live, 9/24/02]

“I believe that we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.” [CNN Late Edition, 9/29/02]

“Do you believe that the people of Iraq or at least a large number of them will treat us as liberators?” “Absolutely. Absolutely,” replied McCain. [MSNBC, Hardball, 3/12/03]

“There’s no doubt in my mind that once these people are gone that we will be welcomed as liberators.” [MSNBC, Hardball, 3/24/03]

Ahhh, the expertise, the experience, the just plain being as wrong as one can be.

But don't think Bush or McCain are the only ones to use a war to gain cheap votes. Nixon was elected in part because he claimed he had a "secret plan to end the war." Of course there was no plan., Although he was elected in 1968 we didn't pull out combat troops until 1973. Eisenhower famously said he would go to Korea, and that helped elect him - but did nothing to end the Korean conflict. Guess who Eisenhower's running mate was? Richard "secret plan to end the war" Nixon. McCain is merely following a shameful and despicable precedent.

What a straight-talking maverick. Now imagine if he somehow wins the election and becomes president.

'bout time you admitted what we all know

via CNN:
The spokesman who defended President Bush's policies through Hurricane Katrina and the early years of the Iraq war is now blasting his former employers, saying the Bush administration became mired in propaganda and political spin and at times played loose with the truth.

In excerpts from a 341-page book to be released Monday, Scott McClellan writes on Iraq that Bush "and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war."
Really? Gosh, what a shock that all of the critics turned out to be right, and all of the defenders of the administration turned out to be wrong. Well, not a shock exactly, five years into this war, post-Katrina, with Bush and Osama Bin Laden now battling it out for who the American People are more disgusted by (I vote Bush, Osama never lied to us and killed fewer Americans, and he admits he despises us and admits the harm he has done).

My question is this: why should we allow those who betrayed our nation and furthered policies they KNEW to be wrong and dishonorable to profit from such tell-all books? In some states so-called "Son of Sam" laws prevent people from profiting from their crimes, such as murder, by selling books recounting the gory details - instead all the profits are taken away and given to the relatives of the victims. We can't ban free speech, but it would be nice if the relatives of the dead soldiers could sue those like Scott McClellan, who watched the administration betray the People, could have done something about it but instead helped that betrayal, and who now wants to sell books and make money off of his crime.

I hope somebody on his book tour asks him why he did not speak out or resign, and keeps pressing if he tries to avoid the question like he did all questions in his press conferences - if he doesn't answer the question, the host should say "the book sucks, don't buy it."

But I know I am dreaming. The truth is, they got away with what they did to America.

At times they played loose with the truth? Yep. And the rest of the time they just lied their ass off.

Update: Stephen Colbert puts it nicely: "Scott McClellan's new book accuses Bush of lying to get us into Iraq. That took balls, Scott... FIVE YEARS AGO."

That's one reason the man has his own show. I write pages and pages, he says more in single sentences.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Sign of the Times

After seven years of observing what I thought was repugnant political manipulation of and pandering to the military, I am heartened to see that ADM Mike Mullen has begun to tell the troops to stay out of partisan politics.

Mullen said he was inspired to write the essay after receiving a constant stream of legitimate, if troubling, questions while visiting U.S. military personnel around the world, including, "What if a Democrat wins?" and, "What will that do to the mission in Iraq?"

While his writings address his spot-on guidance, sure would like to know how he handled this on the fly, and, if he answered in a manner consistent with his "all hands" message, whether intermediate commanders had the courage to fully reiterate this important guidance.

During the Clinton impeachment, there was a desire amongst some of the more vocal Republicans to see if the service chiefs would be willing to testify as to whether the troops willingness to obey the president had been weakened by the scandal. Since none of the chiefs took the stand, it would appear that the then serving crop of generals were not about to get sucked in to what I would call a pure and simple mutiny. Perhaps ADM Mullen's Navy roots helped him stand up to the plate and caution the troops to avoid mutiny and preserve one of the most sacred ideals of our American military.

It does offer a bit of hope.


A Call To Arms and Minds

I sure hope we pay attention to this short essay by Ben Stein, "Running Out of Fuel, But Not Out of Ideas".

I'll quote part of it:

imports supply nearly two-thirds of our daily needs, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Most of this oil comes from countries that are either unstable (Nigeria) or whose leaders or people dislike us (Venezuela, Saudi Arabia).... If there were another oil embargo, we would be in real trouble. If Mexico fell into chaos, if Venezuela stopped sending us oil, there would be extreme hardship.

Beyond that, what if we are close to peak oil — that point at which we have pumped out more than half the oil on the planet? What if supply slips and demand continues to skyrocket, as they are already doing, and these trends continue indefinitely? What if the world has a bitter fight over its remaining oil? Even if this battle is fought with money and not guns, we are at a disadvantage with our pitiful currency and our budget and trade deficits.

In my humble view, we are now in a short-term oil bubble. It will pass and correct, as bubbles do. And speculators will make millions, whichever way it goes. But the long run is terrifying. If we are at or past peak oil, if oil states stop or even hesitate to send us the juice, if Canada decides not to fill our needs, we are in overwhelming trouble....

He suggests we provide incentives to the oil companies. Most of us may not agree that oil companies need "incentives" other than profit. Profits are incentives. They need not be windfall profits to be effective incentives. Still, the profit margins of the oil companies are not relevant to the amount of, and finite nature of, the supply of the oil they sell. They don't make it, they just go and get it. When it runs out they can't make any more - and it will run out regardless of what they charge us for it.

He doesn't view global warming as a crisis on a par with running out of gasoline, but whether we go green or risk disaster from global warming we will still stop using fossil fuels. That is the nature of a finite supply - it will not remain abundant.

I agree with Mr. Stein that we are in a temporary oil bubble - there has not been a slow-down in production world-wide, all trade routes are open, and while demand continues to rapidly rise as China and India industrialize, it isn't rising faster than predicted. There is a record price in oil but no record shortage to go along with it. But the price of oil today, high or low, is not the point.

Mankind - and this may include our great-grandchildren in the near future - is going to stop using fossil fuels like it or not. I don't know if the needle on the gauge of the world's gas tank is closer to F, at the half-tank mark, or closer to E. That low-fuel light might be blinking, I don't know. We could argue about how much is left in the tank all day long. What should concern us is there are no filling stations with more gas for us ahead. Not "no gas next 100 miles." No gas for forever.

The Oil Age will end. The solution, hopefully, is to develop alternative energy. Mr Stein cites Glenn Beck, warning "we need a new moon-shot mentality here."

Sort of. I think we need to treat it as a national crisis to a larger degree. We need to plan for what to do in case of emergency, and we need a long-term plan to ensure our standards of living do not fall. We need to think in terms of the Cold War, yes, but not just the moon-shot - this effort will need to be much greater than that. The moon shot was only part of the Cold War. Think of the entire effort. We face our own tsunami, typhoon, hurricane, earthquake, whatever you want to call it - and this is not dismissive of the tragedy of events like the current tragedies in Burma and China. A worldwide and persistent fuel crisis has the potential to cost more lives, to reduce standards of living even lower, than any earthquake or flood or storm. Unlike a storm or earthquake, though, this threat might be and should be preventable.

And if not, then we prepare for it and carry on as a republic and a civil society - but we must face this crisis with more courage and more wisdom than we have used so far.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


“I take a back seat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans,” Mr. McCain said. “I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.”

This was in response to Sen. Obama's criticism of Sen. McCain due to his opposition to the new GI Bill. When Obama learned McCain opposed the New GI Bill he said:
“I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country. But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill.”

And thus Sen. McCain's response, above.

Given that when Sen. Obama turned 18 there was no draft and, like today, we had an all-volunteer military, my first of two questions is this:

Is there anything wrong, in a time of an all-volunteer military, with Sen. Obama - like the vast majority of Americans - not choosing to enlist?

If there is something wrong with that, why does that just apply to Sen. Obama and not to the vast majority of American citizens who have not volunteered to serve since the draft ended in 1973? Of course it would apply to all of them too. Sen. McCain just insulted the majority of the American voting public, implying that they did wrong when, just like Sen. Obama, they did not voluntarily enlist in the military.

And if a citizen is not doing wrong if they don't enlist, how is Sen. McCain's response in any way relevant to the debate over the New GI Bill - a bill designed to help those who DID volunteer, in a time of war, to serve in the military? Why does Sen. Obama's not enlisting - like 98% of his peers and all young men since then - mean that Sen. McCain is right to oppose this New GI Bill to help those who have served since 9/11? Of course the answer is IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE NEW GI BILL.

Most people don't voluntarily enlist. I chose to do so, and I am glad I did so, but I never thought less of my fellow citizens who did not want to join the Army. I never thought they were second-class citizens or that they lacked patriotism. Apparently Sen. McCain does.

So on to my second question, with a quick fact for those who don't know me: I am a US Army infantry veteran who enlisted, served as a rifleman, drill sergeant, and commissioned infantry officer. I am proud of my service.

I don't know why my second question should only come from veterans, but it seems important to Sen. McCain. So here it is, Senator McCain: from someone who did choose to serve in uniform:

Why is Sen. McCain opposed to providing the same opportunity and recognition to this generation of combat veterans as our nation provided for our World War Two veterans?

It seems to me that this generation of veterans deserves it - especially since they are ALL volunteers, and this generation of soldiers has seen more combat - MUCH MORE - than did the generation of soldiers who fought World War Two.

This is not (or should not be) a conservative/liberal question, a red state/blue state question. This should be about whether this new GI Bill is something today's new veterans deserve.

I think they deserve it. Why don't you, Senator McCain?

FYI I am not speaking out of self-interest. I am not a veteran who will benefit from this new GI Bill - I was out of the military and a civilian attending law school on 9/11, and Sen. Webb's new GI Bill only benefits those veterans who have served in wartime since 9/11 - thus not me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Chain of Blame

From a comment I made at Phil's new blog:

I am so sick of hearing how the Army was unprepared for counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq. It is BS. It is not true.

We had full-spectrum capability in March of 2003. We trained to fight in full-scale "high intensity warfare" using tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, heavy artillery, etc. We did it too, and successfully, in the first Gulf War and again in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. We knew how to do that in March of 2003.

We trained in mid-intensity combat as well, prepared to fight modern foes in urban terrain with more limited heavy forces and with noncombatant civilians on the battlefield - we trained for it for years at the JRTC. And we did it too, in Panama for instance (and what we did wrong we discussed - such as not having enough civil affairs, relief supplies, etc.) We knew how to do that in March of 2003.

We trained in low-intensity combat scenarios as well, including counter-insurgency. It was part of every rotation at the NTC (during RSOI week) and at the JRTC, and we even have an entire branch expected to master it - the Special Forces branch. But SF is not expected to wage such wars alone. Many units had FID/UW mission on their METL, and our experiences in Vietnam left a whole host of literature on the shelf - something I was expected to know as a junior "conventional" infantry officer. We even had debates about "nation-building," remember, long before the "election" of 2000? And we did it too, or were prepared to do it, in places like Macedonia, Bosnia (SFOR for instance), and Columbia (advisors and aviation only for the latter). And we watched as other nations struggled with such missions, including European nations in the former Yugoslavia, or Russia in Chechnya. We knew how to do counter-insurgency in March of 2003.

We even trained for smaller-scale contingencies, which used to be called "OOTW" - operations other than war. And we did it too, in places like Haiti, or with Cuban refugees, and in disaster relief operations after earthquakes and hurricanes. We knew how to do that in March of 2003.

And in Iraq the Army was ordered - ORDERED - not to plan for the post-war occupation and EXPECTED insurgency. Why? Because each time the Army began to plan for it the result was clear: the Administration was lying to Congress and the People about what it would take to win in Iraq. And the Army, through the Chief of Staff, warned that it would take hundreds of thousands of more troops, and billions more dollars, and many more years, to succeed in Iraq - and he was ignored. When he retired he was snubbed. Turns out the Army was exactly right.

The story that the Army did not know what to expect and did not understand what was coming and did not possess the capability to respond is false. It is a lie. It is a way to blame the Army for the sins of the president - and the sins of a rubber-stamp, cowardly congress that cared little about anything but avoiding being painted by Rove as weak on national security after 9/11.

And why would they fear that? Because a frightened and uninformed public refused to pay attention to anything other than 30-second commercials and 10-second sound bites. In short, ALL OF US ARE TO BLAME. We were a stupid electorate, and we got a stupid government in response. That is how democracy worked. We are to blame.

But not the Army. Had it been allowed to do what it knew best to do, what it said must be done, without partisan political interference by this worst-ever of all administrations, it would have and could have succeeded - but only at great cost. There was never a way to easily succeed in Iraq - the nation is too large, and our presence too unwelcome, to be easy. But it was possible - even probable - if resourced and fought properly. We have done it before - in the Philippines. In Occupied Germany and Japan (and don't forget Italy, which was even more quickly successful). And in our own nation after our terrible civil war. And at least the cost of success in Iraq would have been known upfront, before we invaded, and the American People could have made a knowing and informed decision about whether they were prepared to make sacrifices to win in Iraq, or instead preferred other options.

Instead the president lied. And ordered the Army not to plan so that the public would not find out the true cost of success. And our reaction at learning there were no weapons of mass destruction? We re-elected Bush in 2004. Hell, why not lie to the public? There is apparently no cost in doing so, they don't seem to recall they were betrayed and lied to and ended up in a terrible and bloody war by mistake. In 2004 we returned Bush to office. We might have been lied to, but we subsequently authorized the lies, telling our children and generations yet to come that it was ok with us that we were betrayed and lied to and manipulated. That is, apparently, just fine with us. Start a war on false pretenses after ignoring all professional military opinion, and then lose that war due to gross incompetence and interference with the military and serial neglect and old-fashioned stupidity? Get re-elected. Cut taxes. Don't draft. Send the same men off to die, year after year after year. Our Army today has more combat experience, on average, than any Army in American history. Think about that. Our soldiers, on average, have spent more time under fire than in any war we have ever fought. Their reward? PTSD and a neglected and underfunded VA.

And still many blame the Army for this war because men like Gen. Sanchez and Petraeus and Pace wear a uniform and parrot the administration and betray their own, sending others to risk lives while they won't even risk their career. And why not? Those officers who spoke out, like Gen. Shinseki, were ignored anyway. (Thank you Gen. Shinseki for honoring your oath. Men like Gen. Pace or Casey or Miller can kiss my ass).

Quit blaming the damn Army for our own mistakes. This mess was not the result of an unimaginative, incompetent Army, nor the result of a hide-bound, unimaginative, plodding officer corps. It was the result of partisan, petty, stupid politics. The idiot generals that parrot the administration and betray their oath have always existed. In every service, in every nation, in every society, throughout human history, you can always find an ass-kissing yes man if you look hard enough. Such men are not in the majority in our Army - but they were the only ones rewarded during this war. Case in point? Sanchez, who should be court-martialed for dereliction of duty. But fools like Sanchez are ALWAYS available. The key is to pick others - to pick the best men - while weeding out those who do not succeed, even if they kiss your ass all day long and you personally like them because they tell you what you want to hear.

Now think of how many generals, or colonels, who have been relieved of command during this war. Contrast that with now many were cashiered in WWII. We won WWII. See the difference? It is called "accountability." It is called taking responsibility. It is called leadership. And we don't have it, and have not since January 20, 2001. Why? Because the electorate did the same thing as Bush did - rewarded those politicians that told them what they wanted to hear, and fired those who told them what they needed to hear, who spoke unwelcome truths. Bush did the same with his generals.

The Army was put into an impossible situation after warning it would be a mess. Now some want to blame the Army for the mess. They want to talk about how "conventional" officers didn't understand insurgent warfare, how the Army paid too much attention to high-intensity armored combat, and not enough to light-infantry combat and insurgencies. How if the Army had smarter people a lot of this would not have happened.

And it is another lie, one of many in this failure of a war.

In March of 2003 the Army had the institutional expertise and experience to successfully wage insurgent warfare. It was forbidden from doing so. Soldiers were even forbidden from describing the situation in Iraq honestly - the use of words like "guerrilla war" and "insurgency" and "civil war" - all technical military terms, yet made partisan by this administration. Remember that? Civil war is a technical term, a military term, and you are either in one or you are not. Insurgency, same thing. Instead the Army had to use incorrect terms like "terrorist" to describe insurgents - and insurgents fight differently, and respond differently, than terrorists do, but the Army had to fight against "Terrorists" while being attacked by insurgents. And then people who are smart enough to recognize "hey, that is stupid" wonder why the Army can't figure out it simply won't work that way.

Blame Bush. Blame the Republican Party. Blame those many (MANY, including Hillary) Democrats who enabled and often actively supported Bushco. Blame ourselves.

But stop blaming the Army. Hasn't our nation betrayed the soldiers enough, still today fighting a holding action without proper resources or manpower five years later while we all go shopping? Haven't we learned that our Army will do what we order it to do - and if we issue stupid orders, the Army will do stupid things even if soldiers die in the process? The Army obeys our orders. We issued those orders. We own it.

We were warned. We allowed this to happen. And the Army pays the price, not us.

What a tragic and unnecessary and entirely-avoidable F'ing mess. But we get the government we deserve. And when we aren't paying attention, or when we do stupid things, we deserve exactly what we get. For good or ill, in a democracy the People get what they deserve. That can even be tyranny, if the People are foolish enough to prefer safety from a small bunch of fanatics over freedom and civil rights.

We get - or will get - what we deserve. Not the soldiers though.

They deserved - and deserve - better.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blackwater is indispensible?

This article from the IHT is almost frightening. Blackwater Worldwide is still going strong as a contractor in Iraq because State Department officials say they do not believe they have any alternative.

"We cannot operate without private security firms in Iraq," said Patrick Kennedy, under secretary of state for management. "If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq."

This is worrisome from a couple of viewpoints. If there are no other contractors willing or capable of taking over State Dept security (a force of some 800 guards), then we need to seriously reconsider our total dependence on contractors for such a necessary mission. If this is simple laziness or cronyism by State, then a good, old fashioned purge is in order. I would suspect the latter, as the article says neither DynCorp nor Triple Canopy were ever approached to see if they could pick up the mission.

What I find amazing, is a statement that claims that private security is the only answer. Placing this mission into the for-profit versus government employee sector is a policy decision, not an operational necessity. The resources consumed in just trying to determine whether or not the US government has jurisdiction over these clowns when they ran amok could probably have financed a training program for civil service guards.

To me, the sensible scenario, following the Iraqi concerns raised by the "gunfight at the Baghdad Corral", would have been for the ambassador to call Condi and say, "Look, Boss, as a display of good faith, we need to suck it up and convert the security mission to one conducted by US federal employees. Might cost a few more bucks and sweat at first, but it would show a touch of sensitivity." But then, expecting sensibility or sensitivity from "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight" is a fool's errand.

Many years ago, I heard a tongue-in cheek saying, "The key to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you are on your way." Could it be that this has become administration policy?


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Where Is Everybody?

Some of you may have heard about Helen Thomas' recent question "where is everybody?" referring to the lack of inquiry about Mr. Bush's recent admission he knew and approved of the use of torture. As the same old lies poured forth from Dana Perino's mouth, Helen appeared alone, although in a room crowded with "reporters."

But other reporters were there, and they were holding the Bush administration to account, demanding answers. Try to imagine a questioner of Stalin, Mao, Hitler, or the Dear Leader in North Korea asking a more fawning question:

Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The AP in Kuwait quotes Secretary of State Rice as saying, "The United States is not going to deal with Hamas. And we had certainly told President Carter that we did not think meeting with Hamas was going to help." And my question: Since the result of this telling was that Mr. Carter proceeded directly to violate this U.S. policy and meet with these terrorists, what is President Bush prepared to do to put an end to this one-man defiance of our policy which so gratified the terrorists?

MS. PERINO: Well, former President Carter is a private citizen, and he made a decision to not comply with what the State Department asked him to do. What I think the President would focus on is, if you go back to what reportedly Hamas said to former President Carter, that they were willing to take these steps for peace, that the very next day, that they went ahead and murdered many people at the Gaza crossing. And I think actions speak louder than words, and we remain very concerned about the situation. That's why Secretary Rice was in the region.

Q If the President, as our nation's chief law enforcer, fails to order Mr. Carter's passport revoked, how many more people like Carter may want to plot U.S. policy in this regard, do you imagine?

MS. PERINO: I don't know, you'll have to take a national survey.

Left is right, white is black, war is peace, and we're all free. Imagine revoking the passport of a former President of the United States - could anything be a clearer signal of how out of control and dangerous this Bush administration truly is, how threatening Bushco is to our liberty, to our freedom, to our United States? Ms. Perino should have angrily denounced the very idea of Bush revoking President Carter's passport merely because he disagreed with Bush policy. She did not.

This reveals how radical and extremist the Bush administration has become in its last months in office. We all hope that Bush won't harm us even more - but that is all we have to prevent him from doing so, mere hope.

But of course my saying that only helps the terrorists win.......

The Pentagon vs. America

I had to share this essay. If the name Scott Ritter sounds familiar, it should.

As we enter what will likely be the worst crisis since the 1930s/1940s, one we may not come out of successfully, we need to be aware of the dangers we face. This is real and this is scary. If we make the wrong decisions, or make the right decisions too late, then our experiment with democracy will end. Our generation faces a growing, and possibly fatal, crisis.

By Scott Ritter

May 5, 2008

I recently heard from an anti-war student I met while I was speaking at a college in northern Vermont. The e-mail included the following query:

“I told you about how I wanted to build a career around social activism and making a difference. You told me that one of the most important things was to make myself reputable and give people a reason to listen to you. I think this is some of the best advice I’ve received. My issue however is that you mentioned joining the military as a way to do this and mentioned how that is how you fell into it. ... We talked extensively about all of our criticisms of the military currently and our foreign policy. ... What I don’t understand is, how can you [advise] someone who wants to make a difference with the flawed system, to join that flawed system?”

The question is a valid one. Throughout my travels in the United States, where I interact with people from progressive anti-war groups, I am often confronted with the seeming contradiction of my position. I rail against the war in Iraq (and the potential of war with Iran) and yet embrace, at times enthusiastically, the notion of military service. It gets even more difficult to absorb, at least on the surface, when I simultaneously advocate counter-recruitment as well as support for those who seek to join the armed services.

The notion that the military and citizens of conscience should be at odds is a critical problem for our nation. That confrontation only exacerbates the problems of the soldier and the citizen, and must be properly understood if it is to be defeated. Let us start by constructing a framework in which my positions can be better assessed.

First and foremost, I do not view military service as an obligation of citizenship. I do view military service as an act of good citizenship, but it can under no circumstance be used as a litmus test for patriotism. There are many ways in which one can serve his or her nation; the military is but one. I am a big believer in the all-volunteer military. For one thing, the professional fighting force is far more effective and efficient than any conscript force could ever be.

There are those who argue that a draft would level the playing field, spreading the burdens and responsibilities associated with a standing military force more evenly among the population. Those citizens whose lives would be impacted through war (namely those of draft age and their immediate relatives) would presumably be less inclined to support war.

Conversely, the argument goes, with an all-volunteer professional force, the burden of sacrifice is limited to that segment of society which is engaged in the fighting, real or potential. Two points emerge: First, the majority of society not immediately impacted by the sacrifices of conflict will remain distant from the reality of war. Second, even when the costs of conflict become discernable to the withdrawn population, the fact that the sacrifice is being absorbed by those who willingly volunteered somehow lessens any moral outcry.

I will submit that these are valid observations, and indeed have been borne out in America’s response to the Iraq war tragedy. However, simply because something exists doesn’t make it right. The collective response to the Iraq war on the part of the American people is not a result of there not being a draft, but rather poor citizenship. An engaged citizenry would not only find sufficient qualified volunteers to fill the ranks of our military, but would also personally identify with all those who served so that the loss of one was felt by all. The fact that many Americans today view the all-volunteer force not so much as an extension of themselves, but more along the lines of a “legion” of professionals removed from society, illustrates the yawning gap that exists between we the people and those we ask to defend us.

Narrowing this gap is not something that can be accomplished simply through legislation. Reinstating the draft is illusory in this regard. There is a more fundamental obstacle to the reunion of our society and those who take an oath in the military to uphold and defend the Constitution. Void of this bond, the inherent differences of civilian and military life will serve to drive a wedge between the two, regardless of whether the military force is drafted or volunteer.

Lacking a common understanding of the foundational principles upon which the nation was built, a citizenry will grow to view military service as an imposition, as opposed to an obligation. Simply put, one cannot willingly defend that which one does not know and understand. The fundamental ignorance that exists in America today about the Constitution creates the conditions which foster the divide between citizen and soldier that permeates society today. America must take ownership of its military, not simply by footing the bill, but by assuming a moral responsibility for every aspect of military service. The vehicle for doing this has been well established through the Constitution: the legislative branch of government, the Congress, which serves to represent the will of the people.

Congress, especially the House of Representatives, was never conceived of as separate and distinct from the people, but rather as one with the people, directly derived from their collective will via the electoral process. Unfortunately today, few Americans identify with Congress. An “us versus them” mentality pervades. This mentality creates the crack in the moral and social contract which exists regarding a citizenry and its military. Congress is responsible for maintaining the military. Congress is the branch of government mandated with the responsibility for declaring war. When the bond is strained between the people and Congress, the bond between citizen and soldier is broken. Congress, left to its own devices, will begin to view the military not as an extension of its constituents, but rather as a commodity to be traded and used in a highly politicized fashion.

This is the reality we find ourselves in today (and indeed which has existed for some time). The 2006 midterm elections highlight this reality, where a strong anti-war sentiment upon the part of the voters resulted in a Democratic majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Having assumed the mantle of legislative power, however, those who were elected on the coattails of anti-war sentiment were able to shun their anti-war constituents. They did so by taking full advantage of the reality that the anti-war movement was in fact not a movement at all, but rather a concept pushed forward by a disparate mass without much political viability.

Where anti-war sentiment did in fact cross over from the ranks of the progressive left and into the mainstream of American society, it was quickly quashed through the dishonest logic that if one truly supported the troops (as most red-blooded Americans swear they do), then one must by extension support the mission. This flawed connectivity empowered Congress to sidestep the issue of withdrawing American forces from Iraq, and enabled it to continue rubber-stamping funding for a war which long ago lost any connection, perceived or otherwise, to the general security of the American people.

And so U.S. service members continue to fight and die in Iraq, a conflict which grows more unpopular with the American people each passing day. The question thus emerges: What is the appropriate response on the part of the American citizenry? While we insulate ourselves from political duplicity, the soldiers ultimately pay the price for the cowardice of those whom we elect to represent us in higher office. This seems to be the path taken by most Americans, who have grown numbly indifferent to the incessant stream of disappointment over the continued failure of Congress to truly represent the will of the people. We have therefore built a wall which separates we the people from the one aspect of republican governance which is, by design, supposed to give us voice.

In doing so, we likewise create a buffer between citizen and soldier, as those who are constitutionally mandated to fund the care, equipping and utilization of the military now operate in ambiguity created by the vacuum of citizen apathy. Thus liberated from the moral compass provided by the people, Congress has lost its ability to defend its own role in governance, and over time has demeaned its constitutional mandate by transferring powers inherent to the legislative branch to an executive branch which has assumed the role of caretaker of the military. By vesting absolute power in the hands of the executive, Congress has all but assured that America has become a nation no longer governed by the rule of law, but rather the rule of man. This sort of tyranny is what Americans fought a revolution to free themselves from 233 years ago.

An executive that operates in accordance with a unitary theory of governance is one that views the capacity to defend the state as being in fact the capacity to defend the realm. As such, one sees a gravitation of emphasis: Rather than focusing on external threats to the collective, the realm becomes obsessed with internal threats to its ability to retain power. The Patriot Act is a clear-cut example of how a unitary executive has undermined and corrupted the legitimate law enforcement mechanisms of the land by vesting the executive with powers normally associated solely with the legislative branch. In this regard, we see the armed forces similarly abused, with the creation of military command structures (namely U.S. Northern Command) which exist not to protect the people, but rather protect the realm from the people. This is not a stated objective, but rather one inferred from the fact that, for the first time since the imposition of posse comitatus in 1876, the United States has positioned its armed forces so that they can participate in normal state law enforcement. In short, instead of serving as a force of protection for the American people from external threats, the military views the American people as the threat, “targets” which need to be investigated as potential threats to the military.

An example of just how far off track the executive branch, facilitated by an all too complicit legislative branch, has strayed when it comes to the common defense is the Pentagon’s controversial Counterintelligence Field Activity, ostensibly created in a post-9/11 world to “… protect the [Defense] department by supporting the detection and neutralization of foreign espionage.” The CFA operates under the umbrella of U.S. Northern Command, created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to ostensibly safeguard the American homeland. A major aspect of the CFA’s work is something known as the Joint Protection Enterprise Network, or JPEN.

The JPEN network enables the Defense Department to share unverified information with civilian police departments, the FBI and other government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). Originally dubbed Project Protect America, the JPEN system came into being in July 2003 with the full support of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The heart and soul of the JPEN system is the “Threat and Local Observation Notice,” or TALON report, the brainchild of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. In the conduct of its work, the CFA created and distributed thousands of TALON reports via the JPEN system on the activities of private U.S. citizens, with a particular focus of those engaged in anti-war protests.

The CFA is slated in the near future to be morphed into a larger Defense Intelligence Agency-run Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence activity. Far from limiting the scope and scale of the activities currently undertaken by the CFA, this new organization will simply increase the level of illegal and unconstitutional activities currently undertaken by the CFA against the American “target.” The fact that the U.S. military now views the American citizenry as its target, as opposed to the object of its defense, shows just how broken the circle of trust is between citizen and soldier. Additional TALON reports are being assembled on anyone deemed to be a potential threat to the U.S. military, including all who are involved in “counter-recruitment” activities designed to provide alternatives to military service for today’s youths. This myopic approach toward installation and facility security undertaken by the Pentagon is not only intellectually weak but constitutionally prohibited. The legislative branch, operating amid constituent apathy, continues to fail in its mission of upholding the rule of law.

In similarly deplorable fashion, the Pentagon has allowed itself to be hijacked by the radical right wing of the Republican Party. The fact that Fox News has become the channel of choice for the U.S. military speaks volumes about the mind-set which has gripped those who lead it. The military has always been a conservative institution. Yet when wearing the uniform of the United States serves more as a front for defending a political ideology (a rabid one at that) rather than upholding and defending the Constitution, the military does itself a disservice. The disconnect between those who serve in the military and those whom they are sworn to protect can be fatal when one realizes the recruiting pool no longer identifies with the military as a legitimate expression of patriotism and citizenship.

The scope of this ideological hijacking is broad, yet barely recognized. One can glimpse just how deep and nefarious this ideological shift is when one considers the extent to which evangelical Christians have infiltrated the U.S. Air Force Academy, proselytizing their heavily politicized religion to the future officers and leaders of that service. The past comments of Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a decorated Army Special Operations veteran who described America’s post-9/11 “war on terror” as a conflict between “Christian” America and “radical Islam,” are widely embraced within the U.S. military. President Bush has echoed Boykin in his speeches and statements, and the military’s favorite presidential candidate, Republican Sen. John McCain, has become the embodiment of Boykin’s philosophy. The Constitution prohibits the notion that America be defined as a Christian nation. To allow the military, sworn as it is to uphold and defend that document, to posture itself as Christian, becoming in effect the “sword of God,” is unthinkable and unforgivable.

The implications of such posturing are far-reaching, especially from the military recruitment standpoint. The all-volunteer military succeeds when it attracts to its ranks those who have a sincere desire to serve their nation. It succeeds greatly when those it attracts come from the broadest possible cross section of the American demographic. There has always been an economic aspect to the all-volunteer force; service is not slavery, and the military has always promised the security of a middle-class lifestyle to those who choose to enlist. But military service, properly motivated, has never been solely about the money. It is about defending a greater good, the people of the United States of America and their values and ideals as defined by the Constitution.

It has become increasingly difficult to motivate enough of today’s youths to serve in the armed services based upon the call of duty alone. One of the primary reasons for this shortfall is the unfortunate perception, not improperly derived, that military service is not in keeping with the concept of “doing the right thing.” This perception, born of an unpopular war and the dishonest foreign policies of successive administrations, is further exaggerated by the reality that the military not only operates as a separate and distinct part of American society (this has always been the case) but, due in large part to post-9/11 hysteria, has been positioned to view the American people as a threat. The inherent problems of the military trying to recruit from a population base which is under attack from the military are self-evident. Genuine patriotism was once a viable recruitment pitch. Now, economic incentives, false promises and pseudo-patriotism are used as the bait to lure the youths of today into America’s legions. Like the legions of the past, these new warriors march not on behalf of the citizens they are sworn to protect, but rather the emperor who commands them. This may be viewed as an overly harsh statement, but there is no other way to describe the abuses of a unitary executive who positions himself above the Constitution and Congress in a time of war.

Having described the current state of the military and military service in this manner, why would I ever encourage a citizen of military age to consider service in the armed forces? First and foremost, one needs to understand that the entire military system has not been corrupted. There are still men and women of honor who serve with dedication and pride. They are, in fact, in the majority. It takes only a few bad apples to spoil the lot, however, and our military today, thanks to a nebulous mission and lower recruiting standards, is full of bad apples. Likewise, to quote a Russian general, “a fish stinks from its head,” and nothing smells worse today than the “head” of the United States. Our commander in chief has disgraced the office he was entrusted with, and in doing so has severely damaged the foundation of American civil society as well as the institutions sworn to uphold and defend it.

The solution, however, cannot be “cut and run.” Simply identifying the problem and pointing a finger at the perpetrators will do nothing to resolve these critical issues. Our military cannot change unless we the people re-establish the link between ourselves and the legislative branch of government and rebuild the bond of trust between citizen and soldier. This cannot happen in stages, but rather must occur simultaneously. While the vast majority of America struggles to regain its moral and ethical compass through the re-establishment of the rule of law as set forth by the Constitution, we need to continue to maintain a military which is capable of defending us.

This requires good people to serve, even if the conditions of their service are not ideal. Do I want to have an intelligent, morally grounded soldier on the front line in Iraq, making the decisions about the use of force in the framework of an illegal and unjust occupation, or do I want to relinquish that job to a former felon lacking even a high school diploma? Do I want the troops of today led by Bible-wielding zealots or Constitution-wielding patriots? While we struggle to re-establish the bond between citizen and soldier, we have an absolute requirement to ensure we continue to field a military composed of citizen soldiers. The only way to prevent our military from becoming the new Roman Legion is to staff it with citizens of principle who reject such an abominable label. We are a nation at war, not just abroad, but with ourselves. Now, more than ever, we need citizens of standing to answer the call to service, not in the name of a criminal president or an illegal war, but rather in defense of the Constitution and all that it stands for, against all enemies, foreign and domestic.