Monday, November 30, 2009

So how's the 'anti-war' president doing?

One of the big hopes for the current occupant of the White House was that he'd end his predecessor's saber-rattling ways and bring the boys (and girls) home to live their lives in relative peace.

As it turns out, of course, President Barack Obama isn't anti-war -- he's anti-the other guy's war. He may get around -- eventually -- to scaling things back  in Iraq, but that's only so he can raise the stakes in Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the White House has officially committed itself to a troop hike in the graveyard of empires. An estimated 30,000 more American soldiers will be sent over to bring ... democracy? ... peace? ... gender equality? ... well, something, anyway, to the Afghans.

Don't worry, they won't kill and die alone. At least bloody-mindedness is once again multi-lateral -- the Brits, Italians, Macedonians (Macedonia? Really?), Australians and other politicians with an apparent surplus of healthy young people to spare are also putting more boots on the ground.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Rep. Ron Paul on liberty and the need for a revived anti-war movement

Rep. Ron Paul in an interview by Time magazine. You have to love a guy who can coherently link a denunciation of the income tax to a denunciation of conscription.

By the way, Alexander Cockburn has made the same (accurate) point about how the anti-war movement has neutered itself now that Bush is out of office.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Oh, so you mean that whole 'peace candidate' thing was BS?

Anti-war protesters and other activists who hoped that the passing of the old Bush administration meant an end to domestic surveillance of peaceful political activity may have to give up their illusions. Democracy Now reports on the exposure of a government spy in the midst of an anti-war group in Olympia, Washington.

From a public records request, Brendan Maslauskas Dunn, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World discovered that a trusted activist with Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance, John Jacob, was feeding vast amounts of information to the government.

According to Dunn, when confronted:

[H]e admitted to several things. He admitted that, yes, he did in fact spy on us. He did in fact infiltrate us. He admitted that he did pass on information to an intelligence network, which, as you mentioned earlier, was composed of dozens of law enforcement agencies, ranging from municipal to county to state to regional, and several federal agencies, including Immigration Customs Enforcement, Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, Homeland Security, the Army in Fort Lewis.

Towery, who actually works for the Force Protection Service at the Fort Lewis military base, was co-administrator of the group's listserv, so had access to internal communications and membership lists. And, according to him, he wasn't the only government informant infiltrated into these political organizations.

See an excerpt of the Democracy Now broadcast below.

The full report, including a transcript, is available here.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

So that's why there's a tank at the DUI checkpoint

Rightfully so, attention after the recent mass shooting in Alabama focused on the trail of blood left by Michael McLendon, a former police officer on a rampage. But several Reuters photos taken after the incident, showing Army troops from nearby Fort Rucker patrolling the streets of Samson, Alabama, are starting to draw attention. The use of military personnel in a police role often raises concerns given their different missions and training. The practice is also, despite loosening of statutes in recent years, almost certainly illegal under federal law.

Passed in the wake of Reconstruction, when formerly rebellious regions of the country chafed under military occupation, the Posse Comitatus Act reads:

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

The motivation for the law is clear. Military personnel are trained and equipped to wage war against an enemy. Police are trained to maintain order and keep the peace among their neighbors. The two roles don't interchange very well -- as has been amply demonstrated by the carnage resulting in recent years from increased police use of military tactics.

The Posse Comitatus law was specifically crafted to prevent the federal government from exercising direct, armed control over states and localities. As such, it doesn't apply to the National Guard, unless those state troops are federalized and placed under the command of the Army.

The Posse Comitatus Act "remains a deterrent to prevent the unauthorized deployment of troops at the local level in response to what is purely a civilian law enforcement matter."
-- Major Craig Trebilcock, a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the U.S. Army Reserve

The federal government has also moved in recent years to erode restrictions on the use of the military's vast assets for law enforcement operations. The military is now explicitly authorized to participate in drug enforcement efforts, as well as to help control immigration and collect tariffs. States can also call on federal troops to put down insurrections or help with natural disasters. The federal government can send troops of its own accord to suppress rebellions or when "major public emergencies" render state and local authorities incapable of protecting people's constitutionally guaranteed rights.

That's a lot of exceptions, but the Posse Comitatus Act remains in force. Even Major Craig Trebilcock, a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the U.S. Army Reserve, in an article otherwise dedicated to defending the domestic use of the military in anti-terrorism operations, conceded the law "remains a deterrent to prevent the unauthorized deployment of troops at the local level in response to what is purely a civilian law enforcement matter."

And the mass murder of ten people, horrible as it is, is a civilian law enforcement matter that simply doesn't rise to the level of a natural disaster or a regional insurrection.

Acknowledging the political tempest and tricky legal issues stirred up by sending troops to patrol civilian streets, the U.S. Army has released a statement acknowledging that military police were in fact dispatched to the city after the mass murder there, and that an inquiry into the use of those troops is under way.

On the Tenth of March, after a report of the apparent mass murder in Samson, 22 military police soldiers from Fort Rucker, along with the Fort Rucker Provost Martial, were sent to the city of Samson.

The purpose for sending the military police, the authority for doing so, and what duties they performed, is the subject of an ongoing commander's inquiry, directed by the commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, General Martin Dempsey.

In addition to determining the facts, this inquiry will also consider whether law, regulation and policy were followed. Until those facts are determined, it would be inappropriate to speculate or comment further.

In the aftermath of this horrific crime spree, the military community of Fort Rucker joins the greater Alabama Wiregrass community in its grief and concern for the victims and their families.

Well, an inquiry is a nice start -- if it goes anywhere.

The fact remains that there is a law restricting the use of military personnel in a law-enforcement capacity, and that law is based in sound reasoning. Troops trained and equipped for combat are a less than ideal choice for filling the roles of civilian police. If it turns out that the Army did, indeed, patrol the streets of Samson, Alabama, we should be concerned about the government's willingness to stretch or exceed the law to put troops where they don't belong.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

From now on, you're all our 'very special guests'

They're not called "enemy combatants" anymore, but that may be the Obama administration's only real change in policy with regards to military detainees. Whatever they're called, anybody said by the U.S. government to give "substantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban will still be held without charges or a trial in which American authorities have to prove their accusations.

In a statement accompanying a filing with the federal district court for the District of Columbia, administration officials said:

[T]he Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."

Essentially, then, the administration is dropping a single bit of terminology, retaining the previous administration's claim to have a right to hold people seized around the world without charges, and shifting the basis of its assertion of that authority from a nebulous appeal to executive authority to a tendentious interpretation of congressional actions as viewed through an equally questionable spin on international law.

In the formal document filed with the court, Respondents’ Memorandum Regarding the Government's Detention Authority Relative to Detainees Held at Guantanamo Bay (PDF), the Justice department argues that habeas corpus petitions by detainees should be viewed in light of the administration's position regarding suspected terrorists:

The President has the authority to detain persons that the President determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, and persons who harbored those responsible for those attacks. The President also has the authority to detain persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al-Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act, or has directly supported hostilities, in aid of such enemy armed forces.

The problem, of course, is that, in the absence of specific charges and trials, the government never has to prove its claims that the people it locks up ever truly "engaged in hostilities against the United States." It simply makes assertions against people it doesn't like and locks the cell door.

This position is essentially indistinguishable from the one taken by the Bush administration. In the memorandum, Obama administration officials cite the same precedents (Ex parte Quirin) dredged up by their predecessors.

In fact, the old Bush position still applies beyond the gates of Guantanamo. As Lyle Denniston, writing for SCOTUSBlog, notes:

The memorandum expressly noted that the new definition would only apply to individuals now held at Guantanamo Bay. That leaves out, among other detention sites, the U.S. military jail operated at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Earlier, the Obama Administration told Judge Bates that it was not changing the Bush Administration view that the Bagram detainees have no rights to challenge their captivity there.

No wonder Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, responded, "It is deeply troubling that the Justice Department continues to use an overly broad interpretation of the laws of war that would permit military detention of individuals who were picked up far from an actual battlefield or who didn't engage in hostilities against the United States."

Human Rights Watch objects, "Rather than rejecting the Bush administration's ill-conceived notion of a 'war on terror,' the Obama administration's position on detainees has merely tinkered with its form."

Coupled with the Obama administration's adoption of the Bush administration's "state secrets" position to shield government misdeeds from public scrutiny or legal challenge, Attorney General Eric Holder's assertion that the Guantanamo detention facility is "well run," the dispatch of additional troops to Afghanistan and the continuation of economic policies based on bailouts and massive government spending, President Barack Obama is starting to look an awful lot like President George W. Bush, with fewer smirks and more friends in the press.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pain can be fun -- if you're a sick bastard who works for the government

As part of its Guantanamo Testimonials Project, the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas interviews guards, prisoners, investigators, interrogators, physicians and others about the conditions that prevailed at the U.S. detention center at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Among those interviewed was Specialist Brandon Neely, a military policeman stationed at Camp X-Ray. There's plenty to be horrified about in the United States government's treatment of prisoners held as terrorism suspects, but the following struck me in particular because of its casual, purposeless nature:

I talked about the detainee who came to Camp X-Ray wounded from a .50 caliber. His bicep had attached to his forearm due to the fact his arm was in the sling for so long. I escorted this detainee to medical a couple times for physical therapy as he could not bend his arm down at all. On one occasion, when I escorted him there the medic began to massage the area that was attached and he keep rubbing harder and harder to the point the detainee started to cry and squirm all over the bed. The medic stopped massaging and started to stretch the detainee's arm down a little at a time. You could tell this was very painful and uncomfortable for him. The medic said "You really want to watch him scream." Then he stretched the arm all the way down until it was straight out on the bed. The detainee started screaming loud and crying. The medic finally put his arm back up and did it again. And then he said he was finished with the physical therapy. The whole time the medic just laughed at what he was doing. We then escorted the detainee back to his cage.

Note that pain was inflicted on a disabled prisoner in the course of physical therapy for an injury. The pain served no punishment purpose and there was no intention to elicit information or compliance. The prisoner was abused by a medic for ... fun.

Neely admits to participating in one incident abuse, so he exposes himself to liability with his testimony. He also talks of acts of kindness by some of the guards who pitied the prisoners and were ashamed of conditions at the detention center.

President Barack Obama has promised to close Guantanamo -- in a year. Well, that's a start. So is his promise to "review" detention and interrogation policies, provided that the review results in reforms. We don't need more of the same, which is what we're getting with the new administration's protection of "state secrets."

But official policies are one thing. What do we do about a culture of casual cruelty toward detainees for entertainment prurposes?

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Not anti-war; anti- the other guy's war

President Barack Obama, the great hope of the anti-war movement (remember campaign-era headlines like, "Obama's Antiwar Message Receives Cheers in Nashua, Durham"), is ordering 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, with an additional 30,000 on order should the latest shipment ... get damaged in transit? Chewed up on arrival?

However it works out, lots more American soldiers are headed to a conflict-ridden part of the world for reasons not so clear, except that they "will contribute to the security of the Afghan people and to stability in Afghanistan." Oh, goody. It's nice that Afghanistan will get some security and stability for the first time since ... umm ... ever? Glad we're the guys up to the job.

If we are.

The Christian Science Monitor has a nice take on the troop movements, writing:

President Obama's decision to deploy 17,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan may be a defining move that will either reverse the deteriorating situation there or mire the new administration in a war with no foreseeable end. ...

It is as yet unclear exactly what the new force will do. But it will face a determined insurgency operating in a vast, mountainous country. Despite seven years of US operations in Afghanistan, the bulk of the American fighting force is steeped in Iraq operations and will have to learn or relearn an entirely new culture, language, and battlefield conditions.

At the same time, the Obama administration still has not settled on a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and does not yet know its endgame. That strategy is being debated by senior US military and civilian officials. A decision isn't expected for another two months.

Yes, it's change you can believe in. I believe that soon, more body bags will be coming from Afghanistan than from Iraq. That is a change!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Old hatreds surface in some 'anti-war' protests

In Chicago, four synagogues and a Jewish school were vandalized, suffering broken windows and graffiti screaming anti-Israel/pro-Palestine sentiments. A Jewish pre-school was defaced twice in one week in Camarillo, California. Protesters in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, ordered Jews "back to the oven." A synagogue in London, England, was set afire, as was one in Brussels, Belgium. In St. Denis and Strasbourg, France, Jewish places of worship were attacked with fire bombs -- just days after a burning car was rammed into a synagogue in Toulouse. All of this, and more, to protest the actions of a government thousands of miles away, that shares nothing more than a common faith with most of the worshippers, students and regular folks targeted by these attacks.

It's not that the actions of the Israeli military are beyond reproach -- there isn't a government on the planet that should escape criticism. That's especially true when weapons are pulled from the racks and people are dying. To engage in war -- justified or otherwise -- is to invite scrutiny and criticism. That scrutiny and criticism may well serve to moderate the tendencies of all governments to threaten life, liberty and property.

But even Israelis are divided over their government's actions in Israel. Many support the military's actions in Gaza, others oppose them, and still others thought they were justified at first but the situation has gone too far. Members of Jewish congregations in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere don't, by and large, hold Israeli citizenship, most have probably never been to Israel, and they hold a range of political opinions more representative of the issues and ideologies in their actual home countries than those in a tiny land in the Middle East.

In fact, of all the religious adherents in the world, it's only Jews who are consistently asked to answer for the actions of a foreign government whose officials just happen to share their faith. Roman Catholics aren't called on the carpet over Irish or Italian government policies, Episcopalians aren't formally requested by local officials to denounce Britain's missteps (something that Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez demanded of his nation's Jews with regard to Israeli policy). And Hindus aren't penalized when India's government does something bloody-minded.

Perhaps the closest parallel, ironically, is the plight of some Muslims who were victimized by bigots in the United States and elsewhere in the wake of the 9/11 attacks carried out by fundamentalist terrorists.

Judaism isn't even a centralized religion with ties of authority to Israel. There's no kosher pope in Jerusalem exhorting the faithful to hold to a non-existent party line.

What is it that makes so many people around the world insist that adherents of this one religion accept collective responsibility for the actions of co-religionists who live in a far-away country under very different circumstances?

Whatever the causes -- and better-equipped thinkers than myself have delved into the mysteries of anti-semitism -- much of the world's population, even in well-educated, liberal democracies supposedly beyond this sort of thing, needs little excuse to react violently to the sight of a star of David. Harsh policies by the government of the world's only mostly Jewish country are more than enough to strip away civilized restraints from at least a few thugs in France, the UK, Belgium, Germany, the United States and elsewhere around the world, raining violence on local people who just happen to be Jewish.

So far, the anti-semitism has only rarely strayed into official action; it's mostly involved freelance bigotry. Local officials responsible for responding to attacks in Europe and the U.S. have promised prosecution and penalties for the guilty. That's refreshing, given the history in some nations (Who knows? Maybe vilifying Scientologists acts like methadone to counteract an addiction to traditional hatreds.)

But enough incidents in enough places have jaded old-timers even in the U.S. heartland muttering to themselves, "here we go again."


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Don't buy real estate in Tehran if McCain wins the election

Y'know, if I joke that exporting cigarettes to Iran is a "way of killing 'em", it's tasteless but funny. If a guy actively seeking the power to wage war and conduct America's foreign policy says it, maybe it's a ... well ... pretty frigging stupid comment.

Oh, and let's not forget that blast from the past, "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

I think maybe this guy is ... umm ... not quite right.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Don't ask, don't tell shoots blanks

The potential for man-on-man sex in the trenches apparently is no pressing threat to the fighting ability of the U.S. military, according to a new study (PDF). Prepared by a panel of former military officers, the report for the Michael D. Palm Center, part of the Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, finds that the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy costs the military talented personnel and puts many commanders in a position in which they have to choose between obeying the law and maintaining the cohesion of their units. It points out that "[m]ilitary attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing" and concludes that "[e]vidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion."

The officers who prepared the report, Brigadier General Hugh Aitken, USMC (Ret.), Lieutenant General Minter Alexander, USAF (Ret.), Lieutenant General Robert Gard, USA (Ret.) and Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, USN (Ret.) recommend that the military adopt "uniform standards that are neutral with respect to sexual orientation" and simply deal with inappropriate conduct as inappropriate conduct without worrying whether it's straight or gay.

Interestingly, the report notes that not a single expert who opposes allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military was willing to be interviewed by the panel preparing the report.

Overall, the report is a strong nudge in the direction of doing with gay and lesbian soldiers what the military did with black soldiers in 1948 (officially in 1954) -- treat them as full members of the armed forces and punish the folks who can't deal with that fact, not the blacks or gays. If Southerners (by which I mean residents of South Boston, of course) could be expected to work alongside African-American soldiers, even the straightest arrow can learn to not care who his or her fellow jarheads or GIs are dating.

Then we can move on to squabbling about important stuff -- like Wiccan chaplains.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Abuses in Afghanistan dwarf those at Gitmo

McClatchy Newspapers reports the grim -- and under-publicized -- story about the beatings and torture to which suspected (often mistakenly) Al Qaeda members were subject while being held prisoner in Afghanistan.

Former detainees at Bagram and Kandahar said they were beaten regularly. Of the 41 former Bagram detainees whom McClatchy interviewed, 28 said that guards or interrogators had assaulted them. Only eight of those men said they were beaten at Guantanamo Bay.

Because President Bush loosened or eliminated the rules governing the treatment of so-called enemy combatants, however, few U.S. troops have been disciplined under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and no serious punishments have been administered, even in the cases of two detainees who died after American guards beat them. ...

The most violent of the major U.S. detention centers, the McClatchy investigation found, was Bagram, an old Soviet airstrip about 30 miles outside Kabul. The worst period at Bagram was the seven months from the summer of 2002 to spring of 2003, when interrogators there used techniques that when repeated later at Abu Ghraib led to wholesale abuses.

The article points out that the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996 imposes penalties up to and including death for the sort of abuses committed at Bagram. But President Bush suspended the rules in 2002, denying detainees POW status and the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

Not only did these abuses violate standards of decency and justice, not only did they likely turn otherwise neutral or even friendly prisoners against the U.S., but they also set a precedent for the treatment of future American POWs held by hostile powers. How will we object to U.S. personnel being given the same treatment the U.S. deals out in its own prison camps?

The abuses of Bagram, Kandahar, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo are going to hang over the U.S. military for a long time to come.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

From Gerard Baker in the Times of London:

As an adviser to Mr Obama noted recently at a transatlantic conference in Washington, the differences for Europe between a first Obama administration and the second Bush Administration will probably be smaller than the differences between the first and the second Bush terms.

My biggest worry, in fact, is that Mr Obama wins and the Democrats get a huge majority in Congress. The new president will be focused hard on two big policy challenges in Washington - dealing with Iraq and reforming US healthcare. He won't have a lot of political capital to spare to stand up to a resurgent Democratic Party in Congress over trade policy, and the US could slide further towards protectionism.

Meanwhile, a big Republican defeat in November is quite likely to result in a very nasty isolationist turn inside the opposition party. The neoconservatives - those bad guys who believe that the US should spend blood and treasure trying to bring democracy to the great unwashed - will be discredited. President Obama could find himself under pressure from both parties in Congress to put US interests first.

All of this means that the new president will have to spend a fair amount of time on trips to Europe explaining to his admirers why he really isn't able to deliver that much.

A new president constrained by politics to perform much as his predecessor on the international scene? That's an interesting premise. I've been working on the assumption that Obama would bring some significant change to foreign policy -- OK, on Iraq and Afghanistan if nothing else.

I still think that a President Obama's overseas priorities would be somewhat different than those of President Bush, but it's quite possible that Europeans (Baker's main audience) might not find him as welcome a change as they anticipate. That's especially true if the next president simply substitutes a preoccupation with Pakistan and (trendy) Sudan for the current administration's obsession with Iraq. And nobody will be happy if the next White House occupant succumbs to protectionist pressures.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thumbs up for tax resisters

It's April 15, the day on which Americans ritually submit to a mugging by federal and state governments. It's an especially painful day for those people who not only resent being deprived of their hard-earned money, but have to watch as the cash is then spent on programs they bitterly oppose -- which, in their opinions, do harm rather than good. Prominent among this segment of the population in these days of seemingly eternal war are people who oppose the government's military adventures. Democracy Now! has a timely interview with Pat and John Schwiebert, a Portland, Oregon, couple who refuse to pay federal income tax in protest of military expenditures.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s good to be back here. John, how long haven’t you paid taxes?

JOHN SCHWIEBERT: Well, it’s been over thirty years. I’m not exactly sure. I think it was 1977 when we stopped paying.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your decision thirty years ago.

JOHN SCHWIEBERT: I think we just pretty much together came to the realization that we’re conscientious objectors to war, and if you object to war, you don’t participate. The only way we could participate at our age at the time is by refusing to support it. And so, we just said, well, we won’t send in the military portion, the military percentage of our taxes.


AMY GOODMAN: And in terms of the percentage, what are you calculating, for example, this year, the percentage that would go to the military? What percentage aren’t you paying?

JOHN SCHWIEBERT: Actually, we’ve gotten to the point we’re so upset by the direction the country has taken and the demise of democracy in this country, that after the Iraq war broke out we completely stopped cooperating. So we’re paying nothing now. So the percentage that’s estimated by the War Resisters League is more like 50 percent. But I haven’t paid any attention to it this year, because we—

PAT SCHWIEBERT: We don’t care.

JOHN SCHWIEBERT: —we just didn’t give anything. We’re in total non-cooperation with the federal government.

There are other reasons to hate taxes, of course, and other harmful government programs funded by the money raised through taxation. But whatever their reasons, I think it's worth saluting folks who go out of the way to avoiding feeding the beast.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

U.S. government wastes 4,000 American lives

The count only includes American service people and Defense Department civilians: 4,000 dead since the war in Iraq began in March 2003. To that you can 175 Britons and 133 casualties from other U.S. allies.

And let's not forget the Iraqis themselves: 8,057 Iraq security forces and 40,935 civilians, according to conservative reports.

That's a lot of blood, and a lot of mourners for ... well ... what?

Yes, Saddam Hussein is out of power, and his secret police are gone, but the current relative freedom enjoyed by Iraqis is heavily dependent on a continued occupation by the U.S. and (decreasingly so) the U.K. What comes after coalition forces are inevitably withdrawn is anybody's guess.

Is Iraq really going to transform into a liberal democracy? You're probably better off hoping for a somewhat tolerant dictatorship, with a less-psychotic version of Saddam at the helm who only jails you if you directly challenge his power instead of torturing and murdering people who inadvertently antagonize members of his extended retinue.

That would be an improvement. Of a sort.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Washington Post: anti-war is anti-American

In today's paper, The Washington Post's editorial board takes a few brief and well-deserved shots at some of Ron Paul's populist weak spots: his views on the Civil War, the NAFTA superhighway, the Federal Reserve Board and, of course, the racist newsletters.

But all of this is a lead-up to slamming Paul -- and presumably all non-interventionists -- because of his support of fair dealing with other countries and his opposition to the war in Iraq. It seems that opposing a bullying foreign policy and an imperial presence in a host of nations is strange, suspect and ... well ... damned un-American.

Mr. Paul goes so far as to express understanding of Osama bin Laden's antipathy toward U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, which, Mr. Paul says, created the "incentive" for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "It's sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit," he told Mr. Russert. "Who caused the trouble?" During the Cold War, the late Jeane Kirkpatrick chided Democrats for "blaming America first" in foreign policy. That may or may not have been apt. But in 2008, there is one candidate to whom her words definitely apply: Republican Ron Paul.

So now the Post is echoing Jeane Kirkpatrick's smear of anybody who doesn't support aggressive use of military force to impose American will overseas? Wow. I guess that's because it's just too late in the game to sling "commie sympathizer" as an insult, and "islamo-fascist-symp" just doesn't trip off the tongue as easily as "blaming America first."

Why debate your opponents over the risks and benefits of military intervention when you can just accuse them of being anti-American?


Thursday, November 29, 2007

More loot for the war machine

Oh, good God. Forget about making any game attempt to withdraw troops or block funding for President Bush's overseas adventures, congressional Democrats are actually looking forward to hiking taxes to pay for endless war -- and their favorite domestic programs, of course.

Democratic leaders seem willing to accept military escapades they supposedly opposed when they ran for office, just so long as they get to squeeze Americans a little harder.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Congress almost grows a pair

The U.S. Senate is squabbling over competing measures to fund the bloody morass in Iraq. House Democrats have already passed a measure that provides $50 billion in "emergency" funding for the war, but which sets a timetable for bringing troops home. The Senate is ... well ... not exactly rushing to follow suit. A similar proposal failed to muster enough support to advance in the upper chamber, although a rival Republican measure to give the president carte blanche also went down to defeat.

The Democrats won Congress largely on the strength of their promise to curb the Bush administration's military adventures. The great power of Congress is the power of the purse -- the president may want to go mucking around overseas, but Congress can cut off the funding for such crusades to keep the White House under control. That's why it was a pleasure to see the House -- however belatedly -- follow through on the promises that Democrats made last year.

But now it's anybody's guess whether Congress will finally address the big issue that determined last year's mid-term election, and which still dominates headlines.

Democrats still have the option of simply refusing to provide any funds for the Iraq fiasco -- if they have the nerve to keep their word.

I'm not holding my breath.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A bargain at twice the price ...or not

America's military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are running up quite a price tag.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost the U.S. economy $1.6 trillion through 2009, about double the amount directly requested by the Bush administration so far, according to a report released Tuesday by Democrats on the House-Senate Joint Economic Committee.

Admittedly, the report includes some arguable figures that might or might not be reliable, depending on your assumptions.

The report includes costs not included in the administration's funding requests, including the interest on money borrowed to finance the war, an estimate of the impact on oil markets, and costs tied to treating the wounded and disabled and other related costs.

But whether or not $1.6 trillion is a precise figure, it's beyond doubt that President Bush's overseas crusades are sucking money out of the U.S. economy at a prodigious rate, with consequences yet to be determined.

Not included among the costs detailed in the report is the toll in human lives that has been accumulating since 2001 (Afghanistan) and 2003 (Iraq). To-date, that adds up to 3,863 U.S. dead, 171 Britons and 133 from other countries. That's a pretty hefty price too.

And what do we have to show for these costs? Is Osama bin Laden in custody? Is Iraq a model democratic state?

Or is the Middle East even more profoundly destabilized than it was before this mess began?


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What anti-war protests?

We could have used a little more news coverage of last weekend's anti-war protests across the U.S. on the fifth anniversary of a Senate vote to authorize the Iraq invasion.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

First-hand experience

Is the occupation of Iraq a resounding success? Is it a bloody failure. Well, I know what I think, but why don't we ask some folks who have spent time on the ground there?


Friday, September 14, 2007

Those hippy, peace-nik troops

When it comes to raising contributions from military personnel, the Republican presidential candidate raking in the most cash is ... Ron Paul! He comes in second among all presidential candidates, after Barack Obama.

Yes, that Ron Paul--the one who wants to end the war and bring the troops home.

It makes you think, doesn't it?


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Doomed youth

Staff Sgt. Yance Gray and Sgt. Omar Mora, two of the soldiers who signed an op-ed piece in The New York Times critical of the war in Iraq, died in a truck accident in that ravaged country.

Read the full text of "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and other antiwar poems by Wilfred Owen here.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

You mean there's a war on?

As part of their campaign to demonstrate that they're no better than the Republicans they replaced, congressional Democrats have backed off efforts to set a firm date for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Granted, the Democrats don't have the votes to override a presidential veto, but wouldn't it be nice if they made even a symbolic effort to win through on the one issue that most clearly differentiates them from the GOP and which won them the backing of American voters last year? I mean, c'mon, they should at least pretend that they give a damn.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Newsflash: War in Iraq is a balls-up

According to the Washington Post, a new report from the Government Accountability Office (not yet available on the GAO Website) finds that "Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress." The report stands in stark contrast to the blowing-sunshine-up-our-collective-asses version of events emanating from the White House. Of course, anybody who bothers to follow the news knows that the Bush administration's take on the ongoing occupation of Iraq reeks of well-ripened bullshit, but the GAO report adds a detailed, well-researched gloss on the increasingly obvious fiasco that is the U.S. intervention in Saddam Hussein's old bailiwick.

I'm increasingly astonished that anybody remains capable of supporting Bush's war. It's marginally understandable that administration apparatchik's remain wedded to their little overseas adventure--it's hard to admit that you've pissed away lives and money in a fruitless cause--but why do some members of the public-at-large remain in cheerleader mode? It's not like they bear responsibility for the bad choices made by the clowns in Washington.

I suspect the continued support for the war (and for other bad policies of various and sundry politicians) is a manifestation of tribal behavior. People tend to identify themselves as members of groups and to adopt the trappings of the groups with which they've affiliated. I think that's why some of the folks we all know seem to become stereotypes of themselves over time, adopting a whole package of values and attitudes as if they've signed up for a premium cable TV deal. In the case of a lot of war supporters, I'm not convinced that they actually believe the occupation of Iraq is a good idea; they've just accepted a figurative membership card with the group that's gung-ho for putting boots on the ground, so they adopt that position to be good members of the tribe.

I'd like to think the new GAO report will help to shake that tribal conviction. We'll just have to wait and see.


Monday, August 6, 2007

Telling it like it is

Here's Rep. Ron Paul in fine form at the latest debate. I'm more impressed each time I see him.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Whose property is it?

Gee. How broadly do you think the categories in this executive order will be interpreted?

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

That'll show those profiteers

The mob-pleasing scolds in the Arizona state legislature, along with their counterparts in Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, have banned the use of the names of the war dead in loosely defined "commercial speech." In the process of violating the First Amendment, they've launched the most effective marketing campaign ever for the vendor of the anti-war t-shirts that are the target of the legislation.

Full story here.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A taxing conflict

The latest argument against war-tax resisters? The bastards are making pro-war "patriots" cough up more moolah to Uncle Sam to keep the troops in bullets and beer. At least, that's the line taken by Nathan Tabor at The Conservative Voice.

Anti-war zealots are refusing to pay their taxes because they say they don't want their money to pay for the war in Iraq. That means the rest of us are forced to make up for the shortfall. In other words, if you support our troops, you could face the prospect of an even greater tax burden, because some ideologues are refusing to pay their fair share.

Fair share? I thought that was liberal-speak. Since when do conservatives talk about the tax burden as paying our "fair share?"

Actually, I would have little problem with this argument if it was true. If the saber-rattlers are so sold on the wisdom of Bush's adventure in the Middle East, let them foot the cost and keep the rest of us out of it. That seems to me to be a fair allocation of the hefty bill for the foundering occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But taxation doesn't work that way. The government doesn't come up with some carefully considered total tax number needed to pay for its oh-so-important programs that it then divides among the taxpayers--and then divides once again to make up for those naughty individuals who evade their "fair share." In fact, spending is largely unrelated to what the IRS takes in taxes, which is why the government runs semi-permanently in the red. And taxes are set at whatever members of Congress and the Executive Branch believe they can get away with--minus the occasional token tax cut to keep taxpayers from becoming too ticked off.

The portion of taxes evaded by war resisters--or tax rebels of any sort--just aren't collected. Nobody's tax bill rises as a result.

This fallacy that we're somehow all splitting a dinner check and leaving honest Cousin Bill holding the bag if we skimp on our portion pops up every April 15 when newspaper editorialists and goo-goo pundits wag their fingers at us, urging us to do our duty. It's usually so-called progressives who tut-tut when the IRS announces that tax compliance has dropped below 85%, warning that honest folk will have to shoulder a heavier burden as a result. Now conservatives have joined the scrum, substituting "patriotic" for "honest," but otherwise coming off every bit as nannyish and self-righteous as their supposed ideological opponents.

I take the convergence of nagging as strong evidence that liberals and conservatives alike are drinking Uncle Sugar's Kool Aid. Whatever differences they may harbor, they share a deep-seated desire to keep the government fat and happy--and that means convincing us poor sheep to cooperate in our fleecing.

Sorry, but I'm not buying the sales pitch. I've always admired tax rebels for denying a few morsels to the government's maw, and I especially admire war tax resisters for holding back even a few dollars from the funds allocated to a bloody business.

Let's starve the beast, if we can.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

War tax resistance

Via Claire Wolfe, here's an excellent AP article about the courageous people who are putting their liberty and property on the line to withhold money from the government's war machine.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

No more Constitution-free zone?

Via the A.P. comes this bit of good news:

The Bush administration is nearing a decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and move the terror suspects there to military prisons elsewhere, The Associated Press has learned.

President Bush's national security and legal advisers are expected to discuss the move at the White House on Friday and, for the first time, it appears a consensus is developing, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The advisers will consider a new proposal to shut the center and transfer detainees to one or more Defense Department facilities, including the maximum security military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where they could face trial, said the officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal deliberations.

This isn't a total repudiation of the Bush administration's Soviet gulag-style of dealing with accused terrorists, but it is a significant step in the right direction. The suspects may get actual trials? Now anything is possible.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

No peace, more spending

Tell me please, what value was there in tossing the Republicans out of the congressional majority and handing the Democrats control if donkey party leaders are going to use their new position of power to roll over on the war in Iraq?

Of course, that's not all they did; they also managed to trade away any hope for a timetable on ending the war for billions of dollars in spending on their pet programs.

Hooray for the new boss; same as the old boss.

And so much for the promises of fiscal discipline and anti-war passion the new crop of Democrats offered up during the last election cycle.

I'm at a loss for a suggestion as to where the majority of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq should turn to get us out of that mess. Even worse, people who oppose the war in Iraq and think the federal government is spending money like a drunken sailor are completely out of luck.

At this point, the main differences between the two major parties seems to be their disagreement over how to manage a war that most Americans don't want to be involved in at all, and their choice of which programs are most deserving of excessive amounts of the taxpayers' money.

Well, there's also still the hope that Democrats might be a tad better on civil liberties, but I'm not holding my breath on that one.

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