Monday, December 24, 2007

“We Can’t Leave Until We Win” ~ Part II

Do you remember the old songs we used to sing in “The Nam”? Lately I particularly remember the Boy Scout song “We’re here, because we’re here, because … etc.”, and , “We’ve gotta get out of this place” by The Animals.
We can’t just tell our soldiers in Iraq that they are “There because they’re there”; that is not fair and makes no sense. Also, I’ve got to think that they want to “get out of [that] place, if it’s the last thing [they] ever do.”
For their sakes, we need a definition of victory that they can live with; it would be nice if we as a nation could live with too.
We have to separate military victory from national victory if we are going to make any sense of this at all. Clearly, military victory is sufficient for the military to come home, while other agencies and associations work to complete “national victory.”
There is a story, probably apocryphal, that President Ford asked for an independent analysis of US involvement in Vietnam post-WWII, that is, from 1945-75. When he was given the report the title was, “US Wins Vietnam War”, but the subtitle was, “War was won in 1964, but subsequently lost in 1965-75”.
Using that logic, President Bush may have been very nearly right, if a bit premature, when he gave his “Mission Accomplished” address on the USS Lincoln. If the objective was to rid the world from the menace of a Hussein with WMD, then the absence of that risk was proven. If the objective, as later stated, was to dethrone Hussein – regime change – then the objective had been reached. All we needed to do militarily was to consolidate, clean up, and come home. If the objective was to establish a democratic Iraq, then with the State Department and the United Nations left to help Iraq get back on its feet after many years of economic sanctions that was perhaps possible, but not a military objective.
It is the subtitle of the Iraq War that is the problem: it might very well be, “War was won in 2003, but subsequently lost in 2004-2007 and beyond.” But that is not the military’s fault – that does not constitute a military defeat, although it may ad up to a national defeat.
The forces’ first mission in 2003 was: “Find and neutralize WMD in Iraq, and neutralize any WMD production and research facilities.” Result: 9 April 2003; MISSION ACCOMPLISHED (or if you’d rather) VICTORY.
The second mission was: “Depose Saddam Hussein and his government, allowing for a new regime in Iraq; find him, arrest him, and turn him over to the sovereign Iraqi government for prosecution.” Result: 14 December 2003; MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ~ VICTORY.
Unfortunately, since then the mission seems to have been: “Keep on keepin’ on.” Result: 2005-2007; STAGNATION, but not DEFEAT. There has been no appropriate military mission, therefore there has been no defeat.
So now we are faced with the task of redefining the objective to fit the situation. Let’s start with the four original goals for the future of this piece:
1. Stop the loss of US lives as soon as reasonably possible.
2. Stop the loss of Iraqi lives at the hands of US forces.
3. End the occupation by US forces of another sovereign nation.
4. Leave Iraq a chance to stabilize itself through its own efforts, with outside economic and political help.
Add to that a reasonable description of the situation at hand. By the common account, “The U.S. troop buildup has brought down violence, but that has failed to spark cooperation among politicians. If anything, the country appears more balkanized into ethnic and sectarian enclaves.” LA Times The decrease in violence to Iraqis is reported to be a combination of the Balkanization of all of Iraq into many ethnically “clean” zones (read sectarian turf), and a lack of legitimate reporting on violence occurring daily throughout the country as the Iraq war fades from the news. The general atmosphere in the countryside and in most of the cities seems to be small-to-large turf wars among the various factions, much like the Italian Mafia families with the Sicilians or Cosa Nostra (Shia), the Calibrians or ‘Ndrangheta (Sunni), the Camorra (Kurds), and the Sacra Corona Unita (Uzbeks and others). US Forces do not belong in the middle of such a fight, and have no acceptable mission there.
The military and governmental situation is that the Maliki government, strongly influenced by Iran and strongly pro-Shia, is making the occupying forces’ policy decisions; this is unacceptable to any American. We ought to remember this situation from the Vietnam War when local ARVN military commanders and province chiefs forced us to withhold missions and fires because their friends and relatives in the Cong and the PAVN were in the area. The Sunni militias are running their turf and we are paying [bribing] them to support us, a situation that will last only as long as the bribes last.
What should we do?
After almost five years of war we ought to say officially, “We’ve gotta get out of this place.” We need to say that our military goals have been met and then some. We cannot provide security by pretending that dealing with a central government without influence is the solution. We cannot continue to fight where the our tactical security decisions are being made by local tribal leaders and private militia bosses. Most of all, we can no longer be involved in a religious war where the multiple combatants care only for their own power and the supremacy of their ideology. In short, we cannot make a nation when the local leaders don’t really want one.
Thus we propose a new military objective which includes the premise that there will be no permanent stationing of forces in Iraq.
First objective – Disengage and move into secure enclaves. There is no need to continue losing allied lives, and there is no positive result by continuing to provide neighborhood security through search and destroy missions which at the least enrage, and sometimes destroy the neighborhoods we are trying to secure. After five years this job has to be turned over to the Iraqi police and military, regardless of their willingness, and regardless of their views on democracy, justice, due process, or religion.
Second objective – Provide national not neighborhood security by establishing the enclaves toward the borders of Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and committing to 6-12 months of providing border security.
Third objective – Withdraw after one year at the most, and regardless of the internal situation at the time. We cannot build a nation by beating the Iraqis into submission, and we don’t have the forces to do it if we could. We cannot continue to operate in an environment where critical policy decisions are made by any chief or bandit who wishes, when those decisions profoundly affect our forces. Withdrawal should be accomplished in the best military manner, with troop security the paramount consideration.
At the end of this editorial is their new “five-paragraph field order”
What then of Iraq? Don’t we have an obligation to them after all this time? Well yes we do, but it is not a military obligation. We ought to be firing up to aid reconstruction, to the extent that the Iraqis themselves can provide security to their reconstruction efforts. Those efforts should be international, involving our world partnerships, and not just the US alone. The bulk of the funding will have to come from us, and rightly since we have done most of the damage, but it should be in the form of grants, and should not involve US contractors unless the Iraqis request them.
But won’t the money be misused? Well yes, by our definition, but our definitions don’t always work. If you have ever worked in the Middle East, as I have, you know that an American’s “bribe” is a Middle Easterners “commission” or “fee for services”. That’s the way they do things, whether we approve or not. Guess what? They don’t understand or approve of our view either.
So by giving grants, we don’t have to worry about the “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” except when US contractors are involved. We can continue to fund them at the rate we have been pouring money into the war for another two years or so, and then pull the plug. After that, it’s all their show.
Finally, when the troops come home, honor them for MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ~ VICTORY!
As for the future, try reading "Restoring American Military Power: Toward a New Progressive Defense Strategy for America”, by Lawrence Korb and Max Bergmann. [Ed.]

Sandy Cook

Putin as Man of the Year

Russian President Vladimir Putin has just been chosen Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Now aside from any quarrel with the idea that he has been the most influential man in the world for 2007 (what about Al Gore?), the selection and the report on Putin on the Lehrer News Hour leaves me seriously concerned for the Russian people. The main concern is this: once again, Russians seem to be placing their faith in a leader who not only rose to power from the secret police, but one who makes no secret of his aspiration to be leader for life. He has selected his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and seems a cinch to become Prime Minister under this hand-picked president. When asked to explain how the Russians feel about the possible recurrence of yet another supreme ruler, one of the pundits on the News Hour explained that most Russians seem to have been willing to give up a “little” freedom in exchange for stability.

All this seems, especially after having read Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope, a terrible case of ‘déjà vu all over again.’ Hope Against Hope is Mandelstam’s account of her years with the poet, Osip Mandelstam, as they struggled to survive the series of purges instituted by Josef Stalin after the Russian Revolution, purges which resulted in the deaths of millions. Though she survived to write her memoir, Osip Mandelstam did not: he was arrested for the second time in 1937 (presumably for a poem he wrote criticizing Stalin, but no one really knows), and perished shortly thereafter (no one really knows when). As Nadezhda Mandelstam writes, in the days of the Stalinist terror, with arrests occurring without notice or reason at any time, arrest meant not simply incarceration for a time, but a literal death sentence. Almost no one returned from the labor camps.

What is most chilling with regard to Putin are Mandelstam’s thoughts on why the Russian people put up with all this. Why did they tolerate a dictator who turned on his own people, his allies, his friends, anyone and everyone? Why did they act like such helpless sheep? Mandelstam attributes their behavior, in the first place, to fear of chaos. Here is what she writes:

There had been a time when, terrified of chaos, we had all prayed for a strong system, for a powerful hand that would stem the angry human river overflowing its banks. This fear of chaos is perhaps the most permanent of our feelings—we have still not recovered from it, and it is passed on from one generation to another….I remember Herzen’s words about the intelligentsia which so much fears its own people that it prefers to go in chains itself, provided the people, too, remain fettered. (p. 96)

When we think of the economic and social collapse Russia suffered beginning in 1990, we see history repeating itself. Once again, with the memory of the chaos and deprivation of those years of meltdown still fresh, it appears the Russian people have opted for “a powerful hand,” the hand of ex-KGB man Vladimir Putin. For an idea of the type of massive indifference to human suffering this can lead to, consider the story Mandelstam tells of the woman she encountered in a Prosecutor’s Office. The woman was desperate to find out about her son, who had been arrested by mistake: he had the same name as the person supposed to be arrested from the same building, and was therefore hauled off to camp. Still, “though it meant moving mountains,” the woman had actually managed to convince an official of the mistake, and obtained an order for her son’s release. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the woman now heard that her son had been killed in an “accident.” She began to scream and sob, but not only was she yelled at by the Prosecutor, she was also set upon by her fellow supplicants in the office, all trying to get their own cases heard:

“‘What’s the use of crying?’ asked one long suffering woman who was trying to find out about her own son. ‘That won’t bring him back to life, and she’s only holding us up.’ The disturber of the peace was removed, and order was restored.” (p. 285)

Thus does terror involve everyone, make victims of everyone. As Mandelstam puts it, “Anybody who breathes the air of terror is doomed, even if nominally he manages to saves his life.” This is because the reign of terror, the logical consequence of absolute rule, takes its victims beyond fear to what Mandelstam describes as “a paralyzing sense of one’s own helplessness to which we were all prey, not only those who were killed, but the killers themselves as well.”

Now we have Vladimir Putin, the man whose “soul” our insightful President once claimed to have seen as benign, placing himself in position to become yet another leader for life, with all the consequences in power and terror that position implies.

There was a time when we in the United States could contemplate such developments from afar. No longer. Especially since 9/11, what Americans no less than Russians have to fear is the self-same willingness of many of us to put ourselves in the hands of a power-hungry leader, to exchange just a “little” loss of freedom for the promise of security. Given the underlying shakiness of the economy and the U.S. dollar, the fallout from global warming, and much else besides, one can only imagine what further losses we might all be willing to tolerate in exchange for stability. In that regard, we should heed what Nadezhda Mandelstam has written, especially about the need to rage against such losses, to resist.

“If nothing else is left,” she says, “one must scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, December 14, 2007

How Could they Do It?

            Increasingly, we humans are faced with acts that seem unexplainable. How, we ask, could the Nazi Holocaust, the genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and elsewhere, and most recently, the torture committed by United States troops at Abu Ghraib, have happened? With this in mind, I recently read Iris Chang’s disturbing account of yet another genocidal killing spree, that of Japanese troops against the residents of the Chinese city of Nanking in 1937, all of it detailed in Chang’s The Rape of Nanking (Basic Books, 1997). And the question that Chang poses in at least two places in her book is the one haunting us all these days: How could they do it? How could otherwise rational human beings lose all sense of respect and restraint in order to torture, humiliate, dismember, and violate in every way fellow human beings, and on such a grand scale? Chang offers not one but several answers to explain the events in Nanking—where as many as 300,000 Chinese were slaughtered in a matter of weeks. Among them are the absolute deadliness of absolute power; the specific training which the Japanese military imposed on its soldiers, training them with exercises meant to instill killing instincts; the suppressed rage of those soldiers, themselves treated like dirt by their officers; the “frightening ease” with which all of us can witness and accept genocide as long as the danger is perceived to be far away. All these, and others, especially the training which portrays the enemy as “sub-human,” no doubt operate. But I think there is one more, a usually unspoken one, which relates to some recent thoughts of mine on betrayal (see the blogs, Traitors I and II).
            I am referring to a sense one can get when reading about truly unspeakable acts—the vindictive manner with which Japanese soldiers cut off the heads of all Chinese, including women they had just savagely raped; the torture and brutality imposed on little children, pregnant mothers, helpless old people, none of whom could have possibly represented a threat—that more than the numbing of civilized behavior or empathy is at work, that some unspoken animus is at play here. It is as if the soldier, the perpetrator, is blaming his victims, blaming them for being what they are. There is the distinct sense in this, in all sadism perhaps, that the perpetrator is blaming the victim for being something disgusting, something humiliating. The soldier/torturer, that is, first puts the victim in a situation of complete powerlessness, and then blames him or her for being powerless. For groveling. For not standing up to defend himself, but rather begging for his life, demonstrating his willingness to submit to any humiliation in order to be spared.
            And what we hear is the interior monologue of the torturer: you disgust me. You are beneath contempt, and therefore do not deserve to live. But why? we want to ask. What is so disgusting? And I think the answer is that you, as a victim, my victim, remind me of what I am, of what I am trying desperately not to be: completely vulnerable, a being who is a hair’s breadth away, always, from dying, from groveling in shit and humiliation myself. This, I think, is the deep fear that is raised by the sight of a completely helpless victim. And, at the same time, what is also raised is an exhilaration that I can, at least for the moment, rise above that horribly rejected condition by treating you as dirt. By destroying you, sending you back to that nothingness from which you came. That is to say, we, our conscious selves, always yearn to be invulnerable, always strive to position ourselves above the mess and perilous brevity of our existence, to see ourselves as somehow not the barely cobbled-together, watery beings we know we are. And the yearning runs on fear.
            In a real way, I think, this fear is connected to the fear of reversion I’ve referred to in my ‘Traitor’ series. We all know we are mud and dirt and slime, disgusting from the point of view of so-called “civilization” where we do everything to mute and disguise that origin. We also all know that our determination to pretend to be substantial, permanent, solid, to make our civilized works permanent and solid, stems from our evanescence, from the paltry nature of what we are and how pitifully brief and shaky is our appearance here. Iris Chang refers to this several times in her book, when she comments again and again on the “thin veneer of civilization” that can vanish so easily and quickly in a genocide. And that is true. And we all know it. And it terrifies us, the knowledge that any of us, all of us, can so easily revert to a state of anarchy, powerlessness, shapelessness. And again, it is precisely that terror which is turned on the victim, turned into rage against the victim who reminds us of our terror. Of the imminence of our reversion to mud and slime and liquefaction.
            This, then, is what I think lies at the heart of all this horror and brutality, this exultation in rape and dismemberment and torture and murder in the cruel fashion of which only humans are capable. ‘Don’t remind me of what I am. I hate you for reminding me of what I am. And therefore I will reduce you to the most abject piece of shit and trash imaginable.’ The Nazis did this constantly, routinely to the Jews in concentration camps. And, as Iris Chang demonstrates with chapter and verse, the Japanese in Nanking did this just as routinely. It wasn’t just killing soldiers or civilians who might be dangerous. It was humiliating them even after death. Most were dumped into the Yangtze River, which ran blood for weeks. But the most vivid depiction of what I am referring to occurred in the revolting story of the Japanese dumping the bodies of dead Chinese into pits—the pits which the Chinese had earlier dug in most roads in the vain hope that they could hinder the advance of Japanese tanks. The conquering Japanese responded with the genocidal cruelty which Nanking symbolizes: they filled the pits with Chinese bodies, some still alive, and took pleasure in running over these pits of piled-up bodies now functioning as dirt, with their tanks and trucks. Horror. But more than horror, this cruel inversion of decent burial turned the Chinese bodies into the deepest form of humiliation: ‘You are nothing but roadfill. Roadkill. Inanimate shapeless matter of the most worthless kind.’
            Something more than the numbing of civilized behavior in war is needed to explain such horror. Something, I would submit, like what I have referred to above. Something that all of us, however well trained, ignore at our peril.
Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Meaning of IS

It all depends on the meaning of “is”
Clinton said with measured reason
And annoyed us with a fizz
Just short of national treason
But now we face more lies
Than truth can possibly uncover
In Dana Perrino’s blinking eyes
Or a news helicopter’s hover

There is an irony in the news recently that Barry Bonds is being charged with perjury for denying that he used performance-enhancing drugs because it is competing with the news that Bush lied about the nuclear danger posed by Iran. Sports are important and I do not mean to diminish the impact of a role model for our youth. One could argue that President Bush has long ago given up the role of being a person to emulate and perhaps nobody expects the truth from him any longer. If Barry Bonds lied, then the sport of baseball is diminished. He is going to trial. If Bush lied, then Democracy is diminished. He is not going to trial. Today, the LA Times and several news organizations are carrying the story of the CIA destruction of video demonstrating their use of methods that the world calls “torture.” Bush has repeated the mantra that the “United States does not torture.” I guess that it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is.

As a simple example, we have charged and convicted perpetrators of waterboarding as torturers at least since the Spanish American War. We convicted Japanese for that offense during war crimes trials for WW II. Not incidentally, we held leaders responsible for the actions of their followers. Does it really depend on what the meaning of “torture” is when we have longstanding precedent and we have isolated ourselves from the civilized world in defining it? Does the CIA destroying evidence constitute vindication in our neocon world? Does it matter that the evidence was requested by a Federal Court? An earlier presidential spokesman, Scott McClellan has recently written a book decrying the fact that he was lied to and made to lie, in turn, to the American people.

The specific reference by McClellan is the treasonous act of outing an undercover agent and the following perjury. McClellan repeated the lie that Bush, Cheney nor anybody else in the White House participated in the process. Recall that Bush said that he would dismiss anybody in his administration involved, including White House members? Bush hardly waited for the jury to reach a verdict before he commuted Scooter Libby's jail sentence. Does it really matter that Bush communicated that he would fire anybody involved? Maybe he crossed his fingers and we failed to notice. Does it matter that Bush’s Brain “turd blossom” Rove is writing a book to revise the history of the rush to war in Iraq? Rove now claims that it was Congress and not the President that rushed to war despite dozens of video clips that demonstrate that both he and the President urged and chided the Congress for not acting fast enough. Does it matter?

We have long criticized the Russians and Chinese who brazenly used propaganda during the Cold War. We laughed at their attempts to cover up failures and blunders in politics and science. We winced at their human rights abuses when they minimized their crimes as essential to maintaining justice. Their lies were transparent to us. It seemed to matter then. We have now outsourced some of our propaganda and are spending millions annually for the Lincoln Group to propagandize Iraq through the press. Does it matter? Don’t the ends justify the means, after all?

If the end was to attack Iran by building up the tempo and drum beat, then it did matter that the intelligence community collectively decided not to cave in to pressure from the White House. Distorted intelligence from an alcoholic “Curve Ball” was used to get us into Iraq and it appears that intelligence providers did not want a repeat that scandal. It does matter. It matters to the thousands who may have been killed or injured and it matters to each of us that at least one of our checks and balances worked for reason instead of rashness. It matters to our Army and to the Marine Corps that have been depleted by repeated deployments. It matters to our friends who may have lost faith in the United States. It matters to our enemies who have seen us as a justifiable target for retaliation. Reports indicate that the Vice President delayed the report for a year, but it matters that the report was made. That is progress from an administration that has been singular in promoting secrecy and hiding truth.

Baseball will survive the Barry Bonds trial. The sport will not be severed from our culture. We need to follow that example and see that justice is served and not severed from our culture.
George Giacoppe
7 December 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

NIE Report on Iran

 Is it not astonishing to watch the smarm coming out of the White House in response to the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which reported that Iran is NOT working on a nuclear weapon, and in fact ended its nuclear weapons efforts in 2003?  Is it not mind-boggling to see the President at a news conference assuring us that far from contradicting the saber-rattling blather that he has been hyping for months-recently raising the specter of WW III if Iran were to get the "knowledge" to build a bomb--the NIE report just confirms and reinforces his suspicions of Iran?  And further to see, in response to a question about the timing of his WW III comment, the President smirking (as he always does when he's lying) and insisting that he didn't know about this report when he made his remarks because he only found out last week?
I mean, have they no shame?  No discomfort to be caught lying through their teeth, to the point where their whole Iran policy is revealed as yet another fraud?  Apparently not.  Because in the first place, has just rerun a story dated Nov. 9, 2007 by Inter Press Service that literally doubles the fraud:

"A National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program, and thus make the document more supportive of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's militarily aggressive policy towards Iran...."

In other words, the report that the public just read about yesterday was not only ready to be published a year ago, but the President knew it and tried to quash it entirely.  Failing that, he had sent it back three times to modify it as to conform with the administration's attempt to create enough fear about Iran to justify a military strike on its "secret" nuclear-building operations.

And now that the intelligence experts have refused to bow to administration pressure, and have directly (though a year late) contradicted the administration's propaganda about those "secret" operations, the President and his minions in Congress,  without batting an eye, contend that the report actually substantiates their view that Iran was working on nukes before, and will be working on them again.

So, where any rational human being would interpret the NIE report as exposing Cheney and his neocon henchmen as the fools they are, the report is tortured to resemble new evidence against the alleged nuclear devils in Tehran.

In short, evidence means nothing to the adolescent fascists in the White House.  Determined to paint Iran as a rogue nation deserving of a pre-emptive strike, they will reinterpret, undermine and make up their own intelligence to do it.  And, of course, one of the ways they do this is to keep repeating the other durable lie--that President Ahmadinejad of Iran "intends to wipe Israel of the face of the earth."  In regard to which Marjorie Cohnpointed out recently,

"According to University of Michigan professor Juan Cole and farsi language analysts, Ahmadinejad was quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, who said the "regime occupying jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."  cole said this "does not imply military action or killing anyone at all."

Rather, it means that the Iranians predict (and devoutly hope) that the Zionist regime will sooner or later disappear.  Anyone familiar with the history of Israel and the Middle East would be hard pressed to disagree.  But language, like truth, means nothing to these people.  Or rather, it represents just another tool to be tortured and twisted to create the impression of constant crisis, to instill fear in the populace, and to use that fear to justify the loss of liberty  at home and "pre-emptive" aggression abroad.

So beware.  Even though its own intelligence has confirmed that the so-called nuclear danger from Iran was and is pure bullshit (as was the similar hype over Iraq's WMD), the sociopaths in this White House have proven that they not only have no shame, they lack even the minimal conscience needed to be embarrassed,  much less dissuaded from their criminal designs.

Lawrence DiStasi
6 December 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Defend the Constitution or Bush: Your Choice

Recall that swearing in
And reach beyond the grin
Of satisfaction
For attraction
To a vow to defend
Without an end
Our Constitution’s words
From all herds
Without and within
Including next of kin

I have a brief but true story that needs to be told, but first I want to comment on the recent words by General Ricardo Sanchez. When I first read them, I was flooded with mixed emotions. While I firmly believe that he had every right to criticize his civilian leaders and I agree with many of his conclusions, I was annoyed if not angry that he said nothing when he had the power to influence events in Iraq and I could not help but wonder why. Could it be that his job was so important that he said “Yessir, yessir, three bags full" during his tenure as Commander in Iraq, but felt that he could not speak truth to power without punishment of some kind? I have lost my anger and I feel that I understand that he may actually be doing some good by enabling discussion of leader performance in Iraq.
My story begins when I was a major leading several instructors at an Army school. One instructor, CPT S. came to me and reported that the class commander had asked a question and that he had answered truthfully. The class had been on break when the guidon bearer got careless and placed the class guidon in a spot where it was picked up by one of the cadre. After the break, the cadre leader asked the class commander where the guidon was. When he stated that he did not know but that the class had it at the break, he was told that the entire class should produce 5 cases of beer for the cadre in order to get it back. The question the student commander asked my instructor was simply: “Is that my only choice?” CPT S. correctly stated that if the guidon was misappropriated to extort beer from the students that, indeed, there were other choices.
I supported CPT S. without reservation and called JAG to be sure that it was a matter of record and that I would not tolerate retaliation against the class or its student commander. My boss, LTC R. supported me and the lines were quickly drawn with his boss, COL H. in strong opposition. Soon, this tempest in a beer glass escalated to the point where CPT S. was threatened. I asked for a summit conference with COL H. with my boss being present to defuse the situation. There was no mollifying the colonel and soon there were threats against the student commander and I again called JAG to investigate the threats of dismissal for him. JAG interceded and the student graduated from the basic course despite the anger of the colonel and the cadre. My boss later protected me in his rating but could not shield me from my endorser (the colonel), nor could he protect himself from the same colonel.
Colonel H. invoked “tradition” as his written reason for a lowered endorsement for me and also for my boss’ lowered rating. I do not regret my actions nor would I choose to change my decision. I have lost no sleep over it because extortion is illegal and if that is a tradition, it is not a tradition worth maintaining. I refused an order from the colonel to support the cadre and simultaneously violate my oath as an officer and he refused to put the order in writing as I requested at the summit conference, so I took the hit along with my boss. Stuff happens.
Return to the Iraq war and General Sanchez. General Sanchez had Abu Ghraib happen right under his nose as well as on his watch and it appears that he chose to minimize it as documented in the Taguba Report. He accepted the troop number limitations, deployments, and other high level decisions without public comment. Would Sanchez have lost his job if he had commented publicly or even privately? Absolutely! Did he lose his job anyway? Yup…he never lost the smell of Abu Ghraib and he was retired without getting that fourth star. The satisfaction of making the right moral and ethical decision is not in the reward that you might get, but in being at peace with yourself for living up to your oath. You may take a hit…even a big hit, but if General Sanchez felt the nation was ill served by the national policy and the decisions, was it his choice or was it his duty to say so clearly and maybe even in a summit conference with the boss’ boss? I vote for duty. General Sanchez was a little late, but he finally made roll call. Don’t expect kudos, General Sanchez. Expect punishment from those who disagree and you will never be disappointed. By the way, the cadre never extorted for beer again, so maybe my own little decision had some positive effect in that small way.
George Giacoppe
LTC, USA, Retired

The Great Disobedience

I have been thinking a lot lately about why people obey. More
particularly about why people obey bad leaders. Think of them all: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Shah of Iran, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Idi Amin, Augusto Pinochet. The list is endless. And in each case it's one insane fool somehow getting masses of people to do his insane bidding. Nor is it just politicians who manage to amass enough power‹usually the power of armies
they control‹to enforce their decisions. It's the CEOs of predatory corporations as well: the Waltons of Wal-Mart, the nameless CEOs of Chevron and Halliburton and General Electric and Disney and Microsoft and Boeing and Monsanto. I mean, what is it with people? The information surely gets out
there‹that the dear leader, as Korea's Kim Jong Il styles himself, is a paranoid schizophrenic delusional asshole whose policies are killing millions, poisoning millions, amassing offshore fortunes for this psychopath to pass on to his equally psychopathic offspring and cronies after he's gone. And yet. People obey. They shoulder their rifles, they salute their
officers, they go off to war and likely death or maiming without a whimper. Standing tall. Proud to serve the cause. Or less grandly, we obey the traffic signals, pay our taxes that go to enrich scoundrels, support with our dollars the useless products that are destroying people and planet alike, and never stop to think why? Why do we do this? Why do we contribute to our own destruction?

I mean, no ruler rules out of absolute strength. Each one relies on the cooperation and collusion, the support and forebearance, tacit or otherwise, of millions. In China, to take the most extreme example, a few bureaucrats control the movements and lives of more than a billion people. Does it not ever occur to that billion that they could rise up and sweep away those heartless, pompous bureaucrats with one breath? Does it not ever occur to all of us in the United States that it is within our power, written in our founding document that if those in power become too deceptive, too intoxicated with their own grandiosity, too royal or tyrannical, it is our
right, our duty, to overthrow them? Or at least to disobey? To refuse to shoulder that rifle, refuse to kill that innocent family in Iraq, refuse to credit any more slick propaganda about the latest incarnation of evil allegedly threatening our homeland?

Apparently not. Partly, it must be, because disobedience, revolt can be messy. Can cost lives. As we see in Burma right now. And the mess can get even messier when disobedience triumphs, as it did in the French Revolution, when thousands of nobles lost their heads. Terror. The terror is never
pretty. Never without loss. Though these days, with the monsters in power, with CEOs raking it all in without concern for starvation or murder or the destruction of the planet, the idea of such a terror begins to seem more and more appealing, for what else can be done with monsters?

But it's not just the fear of consequences that keeps the masses obeying. It must also be training. Training beginning in childhood that inculcates obedience to those in charge. Those who are in charge must be right, the training seems to say, or they wouldn't be in charge. And where disobedience can mean loss or injury or even death, it's prudent to train the children in obedience to the wise and powerful Father.

Still. When the evidence becomes so overwhelming that the Father is a psychopath, that he countenances not only mass murder via Shock and Awe, and mass torture via Guantanamo, and mass exploitation and profit for his oilmen cronies, but is leading the nation to the brink of environmental and
economic disaster‹-is there any way to understand continuing obedience? I mean only recently we have been treated to the spectacle of mothers of soldiers slain in Iraq screaming their support for their leader, screaming their rage at those who question that support, screaming that their sons have died for a noble cause. And all we can say is that surely there is
nothing quite so sad as a mother who has lost her son in battle. Unless it be a mother who remains ignorant of the real truth about that loss: that her son's death, far from being a sacrifice for the freedom we all allegedly enjoy, was really a sacrifice for megalomaniacs who never served, who are capable only of mouthing platitudes and staging photo ops while they enrich
themselves and their friends‹-all those CEOs who are quite willing to sacrifice obedient slobs in uniform in order to protect their precious corporate investments.

And all we can hope is that the great disobedience that is the people's right and duty is building and will arrive soon‹-or soon enough, at least, to cripple the current fool playing at leader long enough to prevent the next disaster he is surely, even now, drooling over.

Lawrence Di Stasi

Friday, October 19, 2007

New Orleans: Deja Vu All Over Again

The more we hear about the attempt to "cleanse" New Orleans of its poor black population (while reconstruction and recovery from Hurricane Katrina
proceeds rapidly for the white, heavily-touristed areas), the more we realize that history runs in repetitive cycles. For the truth is, Americans
have always been suspicious of the exotic denizens of that most fascinating of all American cities. Were it not for its position as indispensable port
city at the mouth of the Mississippi River, it probably would have been abandoned to floods and tides long ago. But it is important. And so Hurricane Katrina has been turned, in the rah rah atmosphere post-Katrina,
into an "opportunity." And the opportunity, again, is not to rebuild New Orleans better, but to rebuild it cleaner, more like what Americans seem to prefer these days‹a theme park without the problem of messy, unsightly poor

Sadly, this is not new. From the time when New Orleans was transformed from an outpost of the French and Spanish empires to an American possession,
many Americans have cast a disgusted eye on this outpost of foreignness. I am referring to the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The port of New
Orleans, not all of Louisiana, was really the issue for President Thomas Jefferson. New Orleans was what he sent his envoys, James Monroe and Robert
Livingston, to France to procure. Stunningly, Napoleon Bonaparte offered the Americans not just the port city, but the whole of the Louisiana Territory. And in history classes, we learn that Jefferson took the deal, paid $15 million, and doubled the size of the nation in one stroke. At 4 cents an acre, the Louisiana Purchase has gone down as one of the greatest real
estate bargains in history.

What we are not told, however, is that there was great American resistance to the deal. Northerners worried that their influence in the new nation would be diminished by the addition of so large a western and
southern territory. They also worried that slavery might be extended into the new territories. But the worry went beyond that. That was because in
Article III of the treaty Napoleon insisted that the inhabitants of New Orleans‹-the French, the Spanish, the free Blacks and part-Blacks and part Indians‹-must all become citizens of the United States. To many Americans,this was like giving the keys of the city to the half-civilized, to "savages and adventurers." New Orleans, to them, was "a place inhabited by a Mixture
of Americans, English, Spanish and French, and crowded every yearŠ.with two or three thousand boatmen from the back country" Others found the denizensof New Orleans and the whole West beneath even that. Josiah Quncy, who would become president of Harvard College, predicted that "thick skinned beasts will crowd Congress Hall, Buffaloes from the head of the Missouri and Alligators from the Red River."

In the end, Jefferson prevailed, and the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was ratified. And with it, came New Orleans and all its people. Clearly, however, what has been happening there since, and especially since Katrina, demonstrates that many Americans, in particular our conservative brethren of the heartland, have never quite accepted New Orleans as a place fit to be included in the lily-white, squeaky-clean America of their dreams. It¹s too colorful, in every sense of that word, by far.

And so the bleach job goes on.

And most Americans watch it happen, maintaining all the while their dominant cover story: that America is indeed the land of the free and the home of the equally color-blind‹-except, of course, where property values are concerned.

Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Privatized Murder and No-Bid Contracts

What means to what ends
As the country defends
Her borders
On orders
Using soldiers for rent
With sovereign consent
From a puppet on strings
And a cowboy on wings
Raising hell and disorder
In the name of Blackwater
Forgive me for repeating my wails on the outsourcing of the military effort to contractors. To review the facts, KBR, Cheney’s Halliburton subsidiary, provided logistics services to our troops on a cost plus basis much as other services by other contractors. In the case of KBR, they provided contaminated water from 63 of 65 water purification stations. One might feel that KBR should not be paid and you would be correct. They were paid, despite protests of the GAO. The count goes on for Parsons that was paid for constructing Iraqi police barracks that were not only unusable, but were a health hazard and had to be destroyed. Both those jobs were well suited to combat engineers or Seabees who do not work on a cost plus basis.
I highlight KBR because that company became the model for privatizing logistics in a war, declared or not. As an old military logistician, I am awestruck by the KBR rules for where they would or would not provide services. They did not provide hot meals for outposts with fewer than 1800 soldiers. In worst case thinking, they got the big bucks no-bid contracts without real risk and were not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Our troops got MREs when they were lucky and, if we are to believe the media, supplements from families back home. If we had a matter of non-performance, we had contract discussions (probably not in theater). Contractors like KBR do not take orders. To date, despite several findings of overcharging, dangerously contaminated water and general under-performing, their car on the gravy train remains firmly on track
But KBR is not the only contractor in Iraq. In fact, a recent estimate places the contractor share of “military” expenses in Iraq at 40%. They outnumber the military by about 50,000 in aggregate although many are low scale workers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, etc. With cost plus contracts in their pockets and no requirement to perform to a standard, no oversight and immunity from both Iraqi and U.S. law, what’s not to like about this deal? The immunity is a legacy of the Proconsul Bremer who unilaterally eliminated the entire Iraqi Army by fiat thus creating opportunity for outsourcing jobs to American firms and simultaneously creating a motivated, armed and trained insurgency. Records show that Triple Canopy, DynCorp, Blackwater, Aegis (UK) and Armor (UK) all hold huge contracts as security companies directly competing for military roles against our uniformed services that have a less capable lobby. Of course, it did not hurt that Erik Prince (Blackwater CEO) contributed $160,000 (reported) to the GW Bush election campaign.
The nature of cost plus contracts is to minimize financial risk for contractors, and physical risk is a kissing cousin. In the TV documentary “Iraq for Sale,” contract employees stated that they were instructed to destroy trucks with flat tires on logistics runs rather than replace the tires. This meant that the cost plus was applied to an $80,000 truck instead of a $400 tire. Why conserve or take a risk if you are going to be paid more for destroying the truck? In life, some things are mysteries. A cost plus no-bid contract isn’t one of them. The KBR rationale was risk reduction. Not incidentally, the military was called upon to destroy the abandoned trucks.
My verse invoked Blackwater hired by the State Department to provide security for U.S. officials. Unfortunately for hundreds of innocent bystanders, records show that Blackwater fired first 84% of the time when violence erupted. While other companies hovered around the 50% mark, no company came close to Blackwater. Some of the encounters are difficult to explain such as when a Blackwater employee was drunk from a Christmas party and he shot and killed an Iraqi presidential security guard. That employee was flown out of Iraq the next day on State Dept. instructions and fired by Blackwater. The State Department also suggested that Blackwater pay $15,000 to the family of the guard in order to make the situation go away.
I have a simple set of questions that cry out for answers. In addition to paying Blackwater $1 B for the contract, are we reimbursing them for hush money? Do they get a percentage for that unexpected cost? If it is a cost plus 10% contract, did we as taxpayers pay $1500 in bonus money for a drunk to kill an Iraqi security guard?
Well we may never know. Similar records have been classified SECRET because corruption in Iraq is now a security threat if we disclose or discuss it. Shh. I hope that includes the Texan, Ray Hunt that was just with Kurds for an oil contract without the Iraqi Central Government. Hunt is not only a Bush friend and major contributor, but he sits on the National Petroleum Council and the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Please don’t see this as a conflict of interest by either Hunt or Bush. Primary interest? If you feel that this is counter to the president’s purpose of supporting a strong Central government, you are paranoid. Shh. They will take you away.

George Giacoppe
03 October 2007

Words Are Important and worth Defending

Words keep losing their meaning.
One of my grandmother’s favorite descriptors was “gay”. By that she meant someone, male or female, who was happy and carefree, light-hearted and friendly. I do not begrudge the GLBT community the use of the word, but I do miss, just a little, my grandmother’s felicitous use of the word also.

“Hero” was a word, used universally, and somewhat in awe, to describe valorous action, so remarkably beyond normal human character as to be elevated and admired. I do begrudge the loose application of such a wonderful word to just anyone in uniform.
“Freedom” meant not license, but individual sovereignty in all thought and in all actions except where societal sovereignty superseded, and that only when agreed to in common understanding. I hate the use of “freedom “ to mean subordination of others to my country’s world view.

“Intelligence” used to mean the unbiased product of the processing of the best information available, coupled with the best understanding of the total environment and the specific problem. It did not mean finding information that proves someone’s point.

“Truth” meant simply both “not false” and “complete”, as in “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. Truth did not mean “my extremely heartfelt and/or faith-inspired opinion”.
Faced with these and other important words that have slipped away from us, along with their attendant concepts, I want to defend one word in particular, that holds such importance for serving military and veterans. That word is “trust”.
Trust is what holds military service together, and it is not a simple concept.
Civilians often cite “camaraderie” as a defining characteristic of those groups of usually underpaid public servants who band together and swear an oath of public duty such as soldiers, firemen, and police. But that is a weak concept for the glue that binds them together. Football teams have camaraderie as do social clubs and others. Camaraderie isn’t deep enough a concept to fully embody trust.

“Friendship” is a wonderful concept but it is insufficient to describe soldiers’ feeling of trust for each other. They can trust each other without even truly being friends.
Trust is both broad and deep. Trust involves an extraordinary level of confidence that those above you, next to you, and below you will keep foremost in their minds the safety and well-being of the group, which means your safety too.
Trust is an expectation that your superiors will do everything possible to train you well, to equip you with the best that is available, and will never send you into an impossible situation; not because they might fail, but because you might be harmed without reason.

Trust is a belief that when the going gets tough, everyone around you will strive with you to get through it. Trust is a conviction that if the going gets impossible, your leaders will reinforce you to a level where the mission is achievable, or will honestly, and without fear for their personal reputation, declare the situation untenable and will pull you out, perhaps to fight another day.
Trust is a reliance, not on some “system”, but on the real people around you every day. In battle that focuses mostly on the people in your fire team, your platoon, your company. It this trust that lets soldiers obey orders that they might not always understand completely.

Most of all, soldiers have to trust that they will be sent into danger only if it is absolutely necessary. They trust that their leaders will make every effort short of war to avoid war, and that when war comes, they trust that it is truly the only choice. If they come to think otherwise, trust starts to crumble.
Both before and after the battle that reliance expands broadly to include not just your boss’s bosses, but everyone responsible including the nation as a whole. After the battle, soldiers who have depended only on the guys close around them transfer that dependence to you and me.
Soldiers trust that the nation and its leaders will prepare them, will share completely in their sacrifice, and will provide whatever it takes to make them whole upon their return to society.

We don’t send them enough help, or equip them with the best equipment, then let contracts to commercial firms to put others next to them who are paid a great deal more, get better treatment, get the best of weapons, and who never have to make a moral decision. If soldiers fail we court martial them, fine them, imprison them, and disgrace them for life. If the mercenaries we send in place of real reinforcements commit the same or worse crimes, we spirit them out of the battle zone – no fault, no foul – and give them a bonus to boot. The inequity causes trust to tremble.

They know that their buddies will never leave them on the battlefield, but they have to trust that we will not leave them on the post-conflict, everyday battlefield.

Unfortunately, that is what is happening, and trust is getting very shaky.
If they are hurt in body we patch them up and try to get them back into the battle. If they can’t get back in we try to cover up their wounds, hiding them in substandard conditions in out of the way places. We don’t even count them as wounded if we can find a way around it. Trust fragments.
If they are killed, we hide them from their nation, and dishonor their families by refusing them the public honors they deserve. Trust disintegrates further.
If they are hurt in mind we try to ignore it; if we can’t ignore it we try to deny it; and if we can’t do that, we blame them for it. We cut them off without benefits, claiming their deep wounds are the product of a “preexisting condition”, blaming their genetics or their upbringing. Trust shatters.
If they try to re-start their lives, we quibble with them over what they are owed in education and other benefits. We use technicalities to deny them what we have promised them, and excuse ourselves for what we characterize as their failure to prove their case.

When they seek help we tell them “get in line”, and we make the line impossibly long. If we have managed to get them to agree with our diagnosis of a “preexisting condition” there is no place in line for them at all. Trust is gone forever.
We have not yet completely lost the meaning of the word “trust”.
If you want to know, ask a soldier – but ask him or her very soon.
True trust may not last much longer.
[Sandy Cook.]
“For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together. Our friends seldom profit us but they make us feel safe.”
H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

All the Protection that the Law Allows

In 1994 the Congress passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA); it was updated in 1996 and 1998. The purpose of the act is:
Ҥ 4301. Purposes; sense of Congress
(a) The purposes of this chapter are--
(1) to encourage noncareer service in the uniformed services by eliminating or minimizing the disadvantages to civilian careers and employment which can result from such service;
(2) to minimize the disruption to the lives of persons performing service in the uniformed services as well as to their employers, their fellow employees, and their communities, by providing for the prompt reemployment of such persons upon their completion of such service; and
(3) to prohibit discrimination against persons because of their service in the uniformed services.“
In 2003 Congress passed the “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act” (SSCRA), a restatement and updating of the old Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act”. The intent of Congress is stated in Section 2:
‘‘(1) to provide for, strengthen, and expedite the national defense through protection extended by this Act to servicemembers of the United States to enable such persons to devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation; and
‘‘(2) to provide for the temporary suspension of judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that may adversely affect the civil rights of servicemembers during their military service.”
Good, brief explanations of the details are available for USERRA and SSCRA. In the broadest sense:
· USERRA protects your employment and protects you from discrimination because you are in the service – any component
· SSCRA makes it possible for you to serve without ;losing leases, eases the burden of installment contacts, and can even, in some cases, give relief from judicial proceedings.
So why aren’t these laws working for many veterans (see related stories later in this issue)?

A law does not work if it cannot work on a human scale. Years of waiting for resolution doesn’t help if you need a paycheck this Friday.
Statistics are not people. The government touting reduced response time (whether true or false) by 10% doesn’t help the veteran who is at the wrong end of the distribution. People are not “means and medians”.
No matter how much a free-marketer you are, business concerns must not trump human concerns, and the law should apply equally to all.

Finally – the veteran does deserve special treatment. By virtue of his or her honorable service, his or her needs are more important than the needs of those who stayed home and sacrificed nothing.
Unfortunately, neither the Department of Labor nor the Department of Justice see it that way. They give more credence to an employer’s unsupported claim of irreparable harm to his business than they do to the veteran’s legitimate claim under the law.
Back from Iraq? Want your job back? The USERRA protects you, doesn’t it?

Wait just one minute, buster! That law apparently only applies to you if your former employer says that it does.

Don’t worry. We have set up appropriate alternatives. You lost your job as a $25/hour tradesman because your former employer didn’t want to give it back? We have a job for you providing in-home care of the elderly at $9/hour. Or another as a management trainee at McDonalds.

Don’t like that? Then appeal to the Department of Labor. Oh, wait a minute. Sorry. Your former employer sent in a fax saying that rehiring you would destroy his business (Did he prove it? He isn’t required to.) Since he sent us the fax we have to turn this over to the Department of Justice. They’ll get back to you in 30 months.

And don’t forget, that relief of your mortgage and your credit debt under the SSCRA while you were activated has expired, so pay that mortgage you qualified for under your previous employment or we’ll take your house; you don’t expect us to let a mortgage company lose money do you? What kind of an American are you?
So, thanks for your service, and have a nice day.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cosmic Crimes

I¹ve been thinking a lot lately about crimes for which there is no parallel,
and thereby no adequate punishment. How do you punish someone for genocide?
What is the punishment to fit the crime of the Holocaust?

But in truth, the punishment was really only an afterthought. What I¹m
stewing over is the cosmic nature of our current crimes themselves. I¹ll
address only three: the crime of governments that refuse to properly address
global warming; the crime of George W. Bush in invading a country, Iraq,
which had done nothing to the U.S.; and the crime of U.S. agribusiness in
not just poisoning the soil, but also in imposing its several other
practices which assault the very basis of life.

Let¹s look at agribusiness first. Since roughly the end of World War II,
chemical companies have promoted industrial-scale farming with horrific
consequences for the food supply, and for the topsoil upon which all life
depends. Huge machinery that requires special breeds of vegetables (like
tomatoes with hard skins and delayed ripening schedules) that can survive
the assault of automatic picking machines is only the beginning. Allied
with these monsters are the pesticides that have been piled in increasing
tonnages onto crops to combat the ever-evolving bugs and molds and fungi
that feed upon them (about 400 gallons of gasoline per year per citizen--17%
of our national energy use‹goes to agriculture, with more than 1/4 of all
farming energy going into synthetic fertilizers [see Barbara Kingsolver,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, p. 5]) The problem is that these poisons are
lethal not just to the bugs, but to us as well. And though the chemical
companies and our FDA have assured us that these poisons are benign, the
truth is that our rivers, our groundwater, our oceans, and our soil are all
becoming more and more lethal to life. The worst part may be the latest
chapter in this war. Now, seed companies like Monsanto and DuPont have
produced genetically modified varieties of crops whose chief advantage
inheres in a gene that makes them "Roundup-ready." Corn, soybeans and canola
with the new gene implanted can withstand what would otherwise be lethal
doses of the pesticide Roundup. Mostly hybrids, these plants do not
reproduce from their own seed. And so dependent upon pesticides have farmers
become that most cannot survive without buying new GM seed each year from
Monsanto (those who try to use seed from Monsanto crops are sued).

Manipulating life in this way, making seed a patented commodity rather
than the basic mechanism of life itself (six companies now control 98% of
all seeds), is a cosmic crime. Alarmingly, it is matched in the farm-animal
world as well. Farm animals no longer reproduce on their own. Artificial
insemination does the job. As Barbara Kingsolver points out in Animal,
Vegetable, Miracle, the ability to reproduce has been bred out of most farm
animals, particularly fowl. So, when she tried to get even her
heritage-breed turkey hens to lay eggs, and then sit on them to incubate
them, the hens were mystified and had no idea what to do. "Normal" turkeys,
of course, never even get the chance to breed; for one thing, they¹re so
top-heavy from big-breast genes that they can hardly stand up. Kingsolver
sums it up this way:

"The longer I think about a food industry organized around an animal that
cannot reproduce itself without technical assistance, the more I mistrust
it." (p. 322)

To my mind, this is putting it mildly. The corporate way of breeding farm
animals‹the cruelty involved in raising chickens, cattle, and other animals,
the arrogance involved in seizing animal reproduction and molding it to the
lust for profit‹amounts to a cosmic crime. In a real way, this arrogance
regarding the most fundamental acts of any form of life, eating and
reproducing, leads inevitably to all other cosmic crimes.

The next crime is easily stated. The nation of Iraq had nothing whatever
to do with the assault on the Twin Towers on 9/11. No Iraqis were among the
hijackers. No link between the hijackers and Iraq has ever been found. And
yet, the Bush administration consistently tries to link Iraq with this event
in order to justify its war of aggression. Attacking a defenseless nation is
an international crime, but it¹s not quite cosmic. What makes the fiasco in
Iraq cosmic in its criminality are the catastrophic impacts upon the Iraqi
people. Even before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Iraq was a nation
reeling from a dozen years of brutal sanctions that even Madelyn Albright,
the U.S. Secretary of State under Clinton, admitted had resulted in the
deaths of upwards of 500,000 Iraqi children. These child deaths directly
followed the embargo on hospital equipment and all other materials that
would allow Iraq to repair its infrastructure devastated by American bombing
in 1992. Water treatment plants could not be repaired. The result, in a
country that prior to 1992 had boasted of the highest standard of living and
education levels in all the Middle East, was a reversion to Stone-Age
conditions. Then in 2003 the U.S. invaded again. The death toll since then
has been estimated at upwards of 600,000 Iraqis, with over 2 million Iraqis
fleeing their country and another 2 to 3 million displaced within the
country. This in a population of only 26 million. To call this anything but
a war crime is pure propaganda. Add to it the devastation that will follow
forever from the uranium-tipped munitions our forces have spread throughout
that sorry country, not to mention the destruction of a wealth of art and
artifacts testifying to the very birth of civilization, and you have a
cosmic crime. It should be borne in mind, incidentally, that the United
States is the only nation ever to drop a nuclear weapon on civilians, its
sanctimonious hectoring of nations like Iran and Iraq for even considering
the development of such weapons notwithstanding. U.S. hypocrisy is itself

Cosmic crime number three: global warming. It has taken me a long time
to view Al Gore¹s An Inconvenient Truth. Even after all that has been
written and said about it, however, its effect is still shattering. While
the whole world and each one of us shares responsibility for the carbon
released into the atmosphere, the criminality enters only when a nation not
only refuses to do anything about it, but works night and day to confuse the
public by ridiculing and undermining the scientific evidence. What more
needs to be said? The Bush Administration chiefly, but every single member
of the U.S. Congress which collectively colluded in refusing to sign the
Kyoto Treaty as well, is guilty of a cosmic crime. This is not simply a
crime against an individual committed by a criminal looking to feed a drug
habit. This is not "mere" murder, or even the murder of 3,000 innocent
civilians in the 9/11 attack. This is the murder of an entire planet, of
that planet¹s life-support system. The data visually attested to by Gore¹s
film was shocking, infuriating, conclusive. The planet¹s ice is melting. The
water upon which billions depend is in jeopardy. The climate upon which life
itself depends is changing, has changed in clearly measurable ways. To
fiddle while the planet burns is a crime. It is the ultimate cosmic crime.

And yet. We tolerate an administration which concerns itself more with
the sex habits of teenagers than with the melting of the planet. We tolerate
an administration which the record shows has consistently lied about this
issue, has consistently suppressed and distorted the information upon which
the public depends to make a decision. We tolerate world leaders who refuse
to address the greatest challenge to life humans have ever faced. The cosmic
crime is theirs. But, in the end, it is also ours. For we sit in our
comfortable living rooms allowing ourselves to be "entertained" by cosmic
crap on our flat-screen TVs, our ever more powerful
music-and-video-downloading computers, our Ipod-delivered "personal" music,
rather than attend to the crisis threatening our very existence as a

How else to describe such crimes other than to say they are cosmic, they
are terminal, and as such may be the last ones we will ever be allowed to

Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Your Choice: Sex or Sense

Men’s room tapping action
A curious distraction
From the bloody war
That eats away our core
We know sex will sell
But who will end this hell?

Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is only the most recent of a long series of conservative “family values” Republicans to titillate the nation over the past two years. Why is it that we can’t look away from a train wreck like Duke Cunningham or Mark Foley but we cannot focus of a war that has challenged our core values as Americans? We have stood fascinated by the parade of Senator David Vitter, Senator Ted Stevens, Scooter Libby, Jeff Gannon (male prostitute and frequent White House guest), evangelist Ted Haggard, Jack Abramoff and Democrat “cold cash” Jefferson, but we have looked away from the flag draped coffins of our returning soldiers. I don’t mean to make light of the crimes or even the hypocrisy they uncovered, but is it right to dwell on the speck in the nation’s eye or the log of a pointless war and its impact on our people?

As Americans, we consider ourselves guardians of liberty and yet we have watched President Bush wiretap without court orders and state “The Constitution is just a goddam piece of paper.” We have heard the nation’s former top cop AG Alberto Gonzales call the Geneva Conventions “quaint.” We have long considered ourselves leaders in fair play, but don’t have to go back to the Sacco Venzetti case to find grossly unfair legal prosecution. Although torture policy was pushed from the very highest levels of the administration, nobody above the grade of Lieutenant Colonel has been tried for crimes up to and including murder of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. We prosecuted the little people and then collectively washed our hands. Have we forgotten our pivotal role in the war crimes trials at Nuremberg? How can we hold other nations to a standard that we are not meeting? What would happen if our leaders were led to war crime trials by some other nation? Perhaps a better question is: do we have the courage to do it ourselves?

I am suggesting that we have created a double standard where we preach the ideals of the far right, but allow unlawful official action by our elected government and the far right. We are fascinated with the ideals of our nation and with sex. We simply do not associate our departure from our ideals with the reality of crime and, yes, sin executed in our name as a nation. We appear to have bought into the notion that the president can do no wrong. We are endorsing the “unitary executive” and all the baggage that goes with it. Conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh described the sexual aberrations at Abu Ghraib as college fraternity pranks. They were crimes and spinning them as trivial is a serious injustice to the victims and to us as Americans. We “code-word” an unnecessary war in Iraq as “protecting democracy and our way of life,” while simultaneously removing our own cherished rights such as the 1st and 4th Amendments by executive fiat. Where is the courage of the right or of the left to challenge this perversion of our rightful national image? The left has decried the hypocrisy of the right and the right retorts that Clinton did it first. We all get distracted and the war bleeds on. Soldiers bleed on. Our nation bleeds on.

Our response must be to stop the bleeding, just as we would in performing first aid. The argument that we cannot remove our troops from Iraq because chaos will result is irrelevant because we are only timing our withdrawal so that we minimize our participation in the chaos. In the past year, the number of Iraqi civilians being killed has doubled. Shiites are killing Shiites and Sunnis are killing Sunnis. Local Muslims killed over 500 Yazidis in Kurdish Iraq only a few weeks ago. They are all killing each other and our soldiers. And at least 95% are Iraqi killers, not outsiders. If we leave tomorrow there will be chaos. If we leave next year, there will be chaos. If we leave next decade, there will be chaos. The only significant variable is whether we permit slaughter of Americans to continue. Iraq was a horrible mistake, but there are mistakes that cannot be undone and Iraq is one. As I write this, the president is out selling more death and is searching for a way to whitewash the dreadful lack of political progress despite the GAO report that Iraq has met only 3 of 18 political goals. The Petreaus Report is now the Bush report. Bush of the “You’re doing a heck of a job Brownie” fame. Bush of “Mission Accomplished” fame. Bush of the “one last chance surge” fame. Withdraw from bases now, one by one, before we need the troops for another Katrina or, worse yet, a 21st Century Pearl Harbor beyond the Twin Towers of 2001.

Unfortunately, the current political progress in Washington is not much better than that in Baghdad. A razor thin plurality in the House and essentially parity in the Senate guarantees that the war will continue because most Republican politicians support it and most Democrats are afraid of being called soft if they bring it to the people. Democrats do not have the votes to do this unilaterally and Republicans do not have the desire to fight the White House. We need to encourage Republicans on the floors of Congress, not in the closet or from the closet.
George Giacoppe
29 August 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Motivation: The Bottom Line

Life is so uncertain
Except for Halliburton
With top notch contacts
And cost-plus contracts
Where losing pays better than winning
And CEOs keep grinning

T. Christian Miller wrote an insightful article on the 4th of July that outlines a major obstacle for leaving Iraq. Miller, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, obtained recent data through the Freedom of Information Act that demonstrates that our outsourcing policies have resulted in the build up of contractor numbers “fighting” the war to the point where contractors exceed the military. Those of you with good memories recall that I have written about this in prior essays that covered outsourcing and the panoply of costs that include dollars, control of human resources, corporatism, corruption and the myth that Congress controls the purse strings.
According to Miller, the US Military has contracted for about 130,000 that support the military directly and approximately 53,000 for the Agency for International Development (USAID). The State Department has likely hired a few thousand and is unable or unwilling to break down the numbers. For those of you who might think that this policy is a good thing, let me review the hazards. First, in the area of command and control, the contract is not an effective instrument to provide immediate response or ultimate responsibility. If KBR does not want to deliver food or munitions to the troops corporations, a contract review or lawsuit is not a good way to get the stuff where it is needed when it is needed. If Blackwater commits an illegal act such as murder in support of operations (even as some unnamed contractor may have at Abu Ghraib), there is no system of accountability. Worse yet, the cost-plus contract virtually ensures that you will pay the highest price possible so that even from the standpoint of cost effectiveness, the joke is on the taxpayer. By the way, we exempt these corporations from most taxes for earnings in Iraq, so there is not even the redemption value for the bottles after the corporations have drunk the money down. Robert Greenwald's documentary, "Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers" illustrated how contractors burned trucks with flat tires and replaced the trucks rather than the tires to maximize profits. As a guess, I would suggest that it would take less time to retrieve a truck and replace a tire than replace a truck, but why worry when there is a war on? Most nations would find that unacceptable. We call it “supporting the troops.” As recent reports and investigations suggest, we not only have paid too much, but we have gotten too little in return. The Parsons Project (forgive me, record artists) resulted in Iraqi police barracks that were uninhabitable and worse, were a health hazard due to plumbing that leaked onto living areas. That Parsons firm (Pasadena) has not given back the millions it received, and the job had to be redone completely after the barracks had to be destroyed. I suggest that the Corps of Engineers would have done a better job with uniformed soldiers rather than a contract.
I trust that Miller wrote the truth and did so in a way that is not attempting to deceive us. The administration, on the other hand, has continued to justify the augmentation and replacement of uniformed soldiers and has implied that it is cheaper and more effective when clearly, it has been more expensive and less effective than advertised. I mention all this, incidentally, because there has been such a focus on numbers. Recall that Secretary Rumsfeld said that we had enough troops. If we did, then why hire all these contractors? Could Rummy be part of the “corporate outsourcing” or was he not telling us the truth? The outcome will not change with the answer, but I am curious, aren’t you? More about lies in a moment, but first I want to get to the core problem for fighting the war in Iraq with contractors. They are less visible than the military and we all know how hard the administration has been working to hide the coffins of our brave military. That provides the administration with an active shroud of ignorance that takes a lot of work to penetrate. More important, there is no reason for contractors to blow up the gravy train. What right thinking CEO would countenance ending the war and cost-plus contracts? “I have a responsibility to my stockholders, and reducing our support is unthinkable!” “Management bonuses are pretty good, too.”
There is no motivation to end the war by the corporations contributing the greatest numbers and making the most money. Remember that when you listen to all the rhetoric about the money we save by outsourcing. The money is a myth but the blood is real.
Re: using truth in very small pieces: Alberto VO 5 used to be well known in hair products, but it now relates to Veritas Obscurata by the Attorney General at 5 or so hearings. Alberto may not be not lying, but parsing the truth. The FBI Director has contradicted the AG except in the eyes of Tony Snow who is the Tooth Fairy Princess urging us to suspend disbelief. Yes, truth has become stranger than fiction.
George Giacoppe
29 July 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

Baghdad or Stalingrad

Stalin had his purges
And Bush has his surges
As the Unitary Exec
Strutting on deck
What matters the losses
They know who the boss is

Again we are stunned at the sheer incompetence matched only by the arrogance of this administration. They cannot get it right whether it is the Katrina recovery or the war in Iraq. As the losses mount in Iraq, our unitary executive has changed the strategy from maneuvers we do best to filling up Baghdad with US forces. If he had had the courage to go to war or the energy and intelligence to at least learn how to fight a war, Bush might have discovered that we have become the easy targets. We have canalized our forces into a hot Baghdad instead of a cold Stalingrad. Military strategists aim at making the enemy become canalized to lead to a “battle of annihilation.” We speak of Cannae in ancient times, or perhaps Tannenburg in WWI. We whisper “Iraq” today.

In this era, indirect fire weapons are plentiful and the perfect weapons to attack the “Green Zone.” We have canalized ourselves willingly if not eagerly. Puppet generals pretend that this can result in victory. Rockets and mortars are the new weapon of choice for the enemy and who could have thought? Well, just about everybody experienced in the military on both sides, that’s who. Well maybe not the ideologues. Ideologues find intrinsic rewards in the “good fight;” in the crusade and some banner under heaven. Now if they actually committed their bodies to battle, we could give them high grades for courage if not wisdom. In truth, they have neither. The Vice President (newly estranged from the Executive Branch of government to some tree of his own) sought and acquired five deferments from Vietnam service because he “had better things to do.” Worse yet, we are building Bush’s Baghdad Palace in the 104-acre embassy that has already cost in excess of $1 Billion and is not complete. I hope that it has lots of helicopter landing pads. Recall the last helicopter from Saigon? You don’t have to wait for the helicopter to know the White House East is a target and disaster in process. We have spawned an un-Military-Industrial Complex that Eisenhower could not have imagined. We have no industry, just consultants and cheap imported labor.

We have been embarrassed by a new low in world opinion of our wonderful United States based on repeated evidence of torture and “extraordinary rendition.” We see Guantanamo as a national black eye that is so offensive that even the most conservative Supreme Court in history is unable to justify or support it. We see an Attorney General that has soiled the merit system for appointment of federal attorneys and have witnessed, in our lifetime, the unwillingness of politicians of the ruling party to avert the takeover of our nation and the timidity of the opposing party to do any more than whisper about the Mad King George. In the sixties, we had people in the streets and politicians understood that, but today, the demonstrations are tame and ineffectual. We have seen our government abandon our soldiers and their families. There should be no need for Fisher House or the Soldiers Project, but we need them and others because our administration has “other priorities” just as Cheney in the sixties. The president recently even had the gall to reduce a military raise from 3.5% to 3% despite the fact that approximately 20% of soldiers qualify for food stamps. He does not support the troops. He screws the troops while saying that he supports them.

Awake from your sleep and rise up in anger. Don’t take to the gun, but take to the pen and the electrons and join up virtually if not on the streets. We need to stop the insanity and to tell our hired hands (elected leaders) where we need to go. Stalingrad and or Baghdad are not where we need to be. Halliburton may be making a killing, but so is a determined and newly enabled enemy at the Green Door. There is no princess behind that door in the Green Zone, but more death and destruction of our American families and the growth and prosperity for our politically connected corporations. Again, it is time to cherish people over corporations, and it must stay that way until corporations undergo anusectomies without anesthesia.

If you were still stewing about the comparison of Baghdad to Stalingrad, perhaps you would like Dien Bien Phu a little better.
George Giacoppe
27 June 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

While You Were Sleeping

“Don’t Worry – We’ll Take Care of You and Your Family”

Am I a traitor to say that there are times when I am ashamed to be an American? Does it make me less of a patriot to believe that both as individuals and as a nation we must keep our promises?

Am I a terrorist to believe that some of what we do as a nation can be classified as terrorism against our own? Am I a “commie” to believe that we have to take care of not only those who serve, but those who wait for them to come home?
If all of these things are true about me, then I accept them, because when I read some of the headlines lately I am ashamed, and I want us to do a lot more; to keep our promises – all of them.

Here are a few of those headlines almost at random from the last two weeks. There are more, and we’ll talk a little bit about these and the others throughout this issue.
1. “Camp Pendleton: Rats Invade Base Housing”
2. “Camp LeJeune: Marine Families Tie Tainted Water to Illnesses”
3. “Boston: Missing Soldier’s Wife May be Deported”
4. “Pentagon Rules Will Leave Military Families Unprotected
5. “Veteran Homelessness on the Rise
6. “Insurance cuts, red tape thwart soldiers who need therapy”
7. “Government Struggles to Cope With Wounded GIs”

How can we let our soldiers, marines and their families drink contaminated water FOR THIRTY YEARS without doing anything about it? Now we can do something, since a group of them have sued the Marine corps for $4Billion. Couldn’t we have solved that problem for less than $4B? Shouldn’t we have done so?

How can we let marine families live in rat-infested quarters, force them to go to the media for relief, and then condemn them for “not using the system”, the same system THAT LET IT HAPPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE AND GAVE THEM NO REDRESS.
How can we be so insensitive that we would allow anyone to threaten the wife of a soldier, let alone a missing soldier, with deportation? Why doesn’t the service take care of it? Why did two Senators have to weigh in to get it stopped?

Why does the five-sided-funny-house believe that it is most important for them to protect predatory lenders at the expense of under-paid and under-appreciated service members?
Why do we let veterans live under bridges and behind dumpsters?
Why do we allow bureaucrats to administer programs “by the book” when the book is wrong and our veterans suffer as a consequence?

Why - in a country that can pay CEOs hundreds of millions of dollars in one year, and can pay outrageous subsidies to farmers and oilmen - why do we allow the military and VA medical systems to fail because of insufficient funding? Our priorities are only too obvious.
Why do we reelect people who believe that the way they should support the troops is to introduce (but not yet pass) H. Res. 189? What is H. Res. 189? It is not even an act rather it is a resolution ”Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that a "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day" should be established.” Good for you! Hello! WE CAME HOME 35 YEARS AGO!

But we shouldn’t be too hard on our representatives, after all, almost none of them have any idea what the troops are going through today. Fewer than 20 of 535 are combat veterans. Of course, that doesn’t stop most of them from pontificating about the need to “stay the course” and to “fight them over there instead of over here”. If “they” came over here, these guys would find a job in Europe, keeping them as close to the results of their inaction as they are today.
A neighbor thinks that there is too much coverage of the war. Others wish that there would be none so that their children wouldn’t have to see those disturbing photographs. One fellow in the next town thinks that, “All this PTSD stuff is crap. They are just a new kind of welfare cheat.” Guess which war he or his son served in? NOT!

These same folks believe that our soldiers are not doing anything wrong when they commit the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere – “After all they cut off heads over there, so making them stand on a box for a while is nothing.” I guess neither is forced buggery, or electric shock, or prolonged sleep deprivation. After all, we pride ourselves not being quite as bad as the other guy, don’t we? We are comfortable with letting the worst define our moral character, I guess.
Meanwhile we let our soldier’s families live in squalor while we make sure that Burger King and KFC get their fair share of the soldier’s pay in the combat zone. We rush supplies to our allies in Israel and “examine the supply situation in search of a good solution” for our own in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We used to be proud to stand tall – to set the example – even to “be all that you can be”. We believed in the right and the good, instead of just the toughest and the baddest. We soldiers were supposed to be reluctant warriors, not members of a warrior caste. We were not cowards! We knew that being the good guy, even in combat, entailed risks, but risks that were worth it if we were to retain our humanity.

I don’t know when the United States changed, but I am pretty sure that it happened when I wasn’t looking – and shame on me.

How could we have let this happen? How could we have let the cowardice of inaction, the soul-debilitating meanness of torture, the lying masked as valid reporting, the spinning of inconsequence to make it appear meaningful, the deprivation of real benefits; the theft of national treasure, all of the products of this current time – How could we have let all this occur?


Friday, May 18, 2007

Your Lyin' Eyes


In this strange new land of OZ
The image is the cause
Reality is equated to a story
While myth becomes the glory
Trust ME and not your lying eyes
Enjoy the dark behind the curtain
Where truth is twisted into lies
And lies are all that’s certain

If Animal Farm were written today, it would appear to be a documentary of the Bush Administration instead of allegory. In our last installment, we outlined some of the lies proffered by Paul Wolfowitz to explain away his unethical behavior at the World Bank. He claimed innocence because “everybody” knew about his decision to hire his “domestic partner.” Further, he stated that he was advised that the hiring was legitimate. Robert Danino, the World Bank General Counsel disputed that, saying that he personally advised Wolfowitz not to hire Riza for obvious ethical reasons and prohibitive rules. Wolfowitz countered that a man and wife both worked at the bank. Rules permitted nepotism through marriage but not through a demon domestic partnership. Xavier Coll, VP for human resources, testified that Wolfowitz asked him (Coll) to keep the hiring secret from Danino. That was uncovered as a double lie by the overpaid and oversexed Wolfowitz who then had the temerity to demand that his resignation be accompanied by “everybody made mistakes” and “I achieved great things as World Bank President.” I hope the bank issued barf bags at that press conference.
We knew Wolfowitz as the Iraqi War architect that sketched out the neocon “strategy” that depended on the Iraqis to greet us as liberators instead of invaders. His lies, leading up to and after the war began, are legend, but they are beginning to pale compared to the whoppers being told by Alberto Gonzales in recent weeks. The video clips of the AG’s testimony before Congress are astounding. Three weeks ago, he specifically exempted his deputy McNulty from knowledge of who made the decision to fire the eight (or is it 26?) federal attorneys. On 17 May, a day after McNulty resigned, Alberto suddenly recalled that it must have been McNulty since only McNulty had the intimate knowledge required. McNulty tried to protect the administration by claiming that he needed to resign in order to afford college tuition for his kids. As Jon Stewart noted: that is what each of us would do…quit a job when the kids need tuition.
I will concede that the obvious lies by the nation’s top law enforcement officer are disturbing, but they are less disturbing than the Gonzales assault on the Constitution on the night that he attempted to get John Ashcroft to sign a document to authorize domestic eavesdropping despite the Constitutional restriction to the same without court authority. That was doubly disturbing, because James Comey was acting AG and Ashcroft was in a serious postoperative and drugged condition in an ICU. This was at about the time that GW Bush made a Buffalo, NY presentation on 20 April 2004. “Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, Constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.” At that time, GW Bush had already authorized illegal wiretaps in flagrant violation of the Constitution that he swore to defend. Bush’s bosom buddy Gonzales was desperately trying to retro some authority as though that would preserve the Constitution. This was a clear attempt by Bush to deceive and a shameful attempt by Gonzales to cover GW’s tracks. I wonder why Bush named Gonzales as the replacement for Ashcorft? Could it be their shared deep disregard for the Constitution? Perhaps it was their shared love for the “unitary executive?”
Bush talks as the champion of the Constitution but walks as the guardian of secrecy. According to Henry Waxman “The records at issue have covered a vast array of topics, ranging from simple census data and routine agency correspondence to presidential and vice presidential records. Among the documents that the administration has refused to release to the public and members of Congress are (1) the contacts between energy companies and the Vice President’s energy task force, (2) the communications between the Defense Department and the Vice President’s office regarding contracts awarded to Halliburton, (3) documents describing the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib, (4) memoranda revealing what the White House knew about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and (5) the cost estimates of the Medicare prescription drug legislation withheld from Congress.” Make no mistake. Bush has an image generator that is essentially a smoke screen to cover up the reality of the hidden images. He has prohibited disclosure of even the most ordinary information not only now, but long after his death. Even his library will contain only the puff pieces and “breaking news” from FOX.
The problem with this arrangement is that we may never live long enough to know the truth. If the truth shall make us free, and we may never learn the truth, then we may never be free. Even this week, Bush rejected a pay raise for soldiers and recommended a lesser one; increased individual medical payments by the soldier and otherwise made a mockery of “supporting the troops.” Twenty percent of enlisted qualify for food stamps, but the pay raise was too high for George W., the compassionate fraud. Don’t peek behind the curtain. I think that Cheney is there and I don’t want to shatter the illusion.

George Giacoppe
19 May 2007

Saturday, May 05, 2007

American Mercenaries

The word “mercenary” evokes unsavory images—first of individuals who care only about money—as much money as they can wheedle out of whatever job they perform, no matter how repulsive; second of hired guns—professional killers who do the lethal work of soldiering not out of patriotism or honor, but, again, for the greenbacks. No wonder, then, that the Bush Administration and its Pentagon have been so careful to describe the current incarnation of the type as “contractors.” The implication then becomes: Iraq needs American know-how, and our 130,000 “contractors” are doing the necessary and dangerous work of nation-and-infrastructure building.
Trouble is, it’s all a sham, a cover story we wouldn’t know much about were it not for Jeremy Scahill’s recent book, Blackwater. Blackwater is a name familiar to many Americans, but again, with connotations of innocent Americans, “contractors,” four of whom were viciously attacked, killed, mutilated, and strung up from a bridge in Fallujah. This outrage became an instant cause celebre, an act for which the whole city was righteously punished, destroyed by righteously vengeful American marines. Yea for our side! Only that Jeremy Scahill explains that the cruelty and disproportionality of that response really marked the beginning of the full-scale insurgency that has turned Iraq into a graveyard of American hopes. In doing so, he portrays a reality that most Americans would rather deny.
America is, after all, the good guy nation fielding not just a good guy military, but one so lean and efficient and high-tech that it can conquer an entire country with only 140,000 troops, all volunteers, not a draftee among them, hence no need for complainers, no need for big mouth, pampered, college-educated draft dodgers with pampered parents and friends to demonstrate against the good and just wars that must be fought.
Except that, once again, the “good boy lean mean military” sham fails. It fails because there’s Blackwater, Scahill tells us, one of more than 100 private “security forces” operating in Iraq. And these are decidedly not volunteers, or patriots. These are mercenaries—paid thugs, as many as 100,000 of them, who do the sensitive jobs the military either cannot or will not do. Guarding the VIPs who come to see Iraq’s progress themselves. Guarding, when he was our bumbling pro-Consul in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer. Guarding, even today, the Commanding General in charge of the surge, General Petraeus.
Wait? Is this a joke? The head of our vaunted military, the putatively most powerful military machine ever assembled, being guarded by private mercenaries?
That’s right. The land of the free, the land of the liberty-loving patriot willing to die for his country, the land distinguished by a military which is, because of its control by civilians and its corps of citizen-soldiers, the fairest and most intelligent and inventive armed force in the world—that land has become the land of the mercenary. Where once our revolutionary founders condemned the nations of Europe as despotisms headed by cruel monarchs who led their huddled masses into war and death for their own profit and glory, now our putative leaders betray that tradition by “privatizing” their vicious little wars for profit and glory. And they privatize for the same reasons monarchs once did: citizens soon grow sick of dying for the exclusive benefit of their rulers. Only by paying their troops can kings and emperors maintain their military machines. Hence the term, “mercenary.” It was, and is a term of opprobrium, a term that conjures up images of cold-hearted killers engaging in slaughter purely for the money.
So we have Blackwater. An army for hire. An army of ex-special forces, green beret, navy seal rejects who now command salaries many times that of a poor volunteer in our all-volunteer army. And they have roamed free of oversight and accountability not only in Iraq, though that is their defining mission. They also showed up on the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, strutting their stuff as self-defined protectors of property allegedly endangered by the riff-raff rendered homeless and desperate. According to Scahill, these Blackwater guards were making $350 a day, while their blackguard company was picking up $950 a day from the United States Government for their services.
A nice little windfall for their founder and CEO, Erik Prince—as well as for George W. Bush, one of Prince’s major beneficiaries, along with the Christian Right’s Gary Bauer and James Dobson. All of which makes for a nice circular windfall. Because it’s not only that our American empire now hires mercenaries to bilk the public into thinking its military’s losses are less than they are, its footprint smaller than it is, its war expenses orders of magnitude less than they really are. It’s that the circle of nepotism and collusion and privatization and political payoffs runs deep into the heart of the entire crooked, putrefying enterprise. Including the fact, Mr. and Mrs. America, that this private mercenary army includes not just the profiteers siphoned from our own military, but also gangs of imported killers trained by our infamous allies in places like Colombia and Chile. Chile, which refused to participate in our disastrous venture into Iraq, but whose support is secured through the back door by the now-rejected military spawn of Disgusto Pinochet—all hired and cozy with Blackwater.
So beware. When a republic is transformed from a citizen army to an army of mercenaries—as Rome was late in the days of its rotting empire—the end is near.
PS: a late news story on Friday April 27 in the McClatchy newspapers reported that “House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri and Rep. David Price of North Carolina, both Democrats, asked the Government Accountability Office to provide details on the use of private security contractors in Iraq,” this because Congress has literally no idea what these people are doing.

Background Notes:

Both foreign and domestic—New Orleans, Iraq, Afghanistan.
Protect Gen. Petraeus and Nancy Pelosi.
Bertelli, hired by Schwarzenegger.
130 K private contractors in Iraq and CA. 48,000 armed. 100 private armies.
Eric Prince head of it Christian fundamentalist. Father funded Bauer, Dobson.
CA $4 billion spent on these guys so far.
In New Orleans, paid $350/day, but govt paying Blackwater $950/day.

Fallujah—4 blackwater guys killed and strung up—Marine response, 2nd, which devastated the city, effectively started the insurgency.
Have hired Chileans (Pinochet killers) and Colombians (right wingers) as well. Chile especially refused to support Bush in Iraq (90% opposed), and so this gets around that inconvenience.
Just launched new private intelligence company, Private Intelligence Solutions.

Questions: no accountability. Can’t be tried by military courts. No civilian control either.
Main: can pretend to have this small military force. Contractors do all the things that in previous wars were done by GIs like cooking , laundry, cleaning barracks, and god knows what else, which is why so many were required.
Compare to pinkertons.
From Wikipedia:

Pinkerton guards escort strikebreakers in Buchtel, Ohio, 1884

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was a private U.S. security guard and detective agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850. Pinkerton had become famous when he foiled a plot to assassinate President-Elect Abraham Lincoln. Pinkerton's agents performed services ranging from security guards to private military contracting work. During its height, the Pinkerton Detective Agency employed more agents than the standing army of the United States of America, causing the state of Ohio to outlaw the agency due to fears it could be hired out as a private army or militia.
During the labor unrest of the late 19th century, businessmen hired Pinkerton agents to infiltrate unions, and guards to keep strikers and suspected unionists out of factories. The most notorious example was the Homestead Strike of 1892, when Pinkerton agents killed several people in a battle with strikers, who also injured several agents, while enforcing the strikebreaking measures of Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie, who was abroad. The agency's logo, an eye embellished with the words "We Never Sleep" inspired the term "private eye." The "Pinkertons" were also used as guards in coal, iron and lumber disputes in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as the railroad strikes of 1877.
Formed mainly in response to businessmen trying to control employees.
In the 1870s, Franklin B. Gowen, then president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad hired the agency to investigate the labor unions in the company's mines. A Pinkerton agent, James McParlan, infiltrated the Molly Maguires using the alias James McKenna, leading to the downfall of this secret organization.
In July 2003, Pinkerton's was acquired along with longtime rival, the William J. Burns Detective Agency (founded in 1910), by Securitas AB to create Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., one of the largest security companies in the world.

Lawrence DiStasi