Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Charges? We Don't Need No Steen-king Charges

A federal appeals court ruled last week that inmates at Guantanamo have no legal right to hear the charges against them, or to plead innocent in an open court, otherwise known as the right of habeas corpus. The LA Times article states:
In a 2-1 decision, the judges said the Constitution did not extend the right of habeas corpus to noncitizens held outside the sovereign territory of this country. "Cuba — not the United States — has sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay," Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote.
Hmm. Have to get the tri-corder out for this one and scan for possible life forms. Do the judges mean to imply Fidel Castro can hear their cases? Cool! That'll be fun!!

Practically, the hundreds of inmates still held at Gitmo, most of whom (by the military's own admission) are probably innocent, can continue to age like fine cellared wines. Next stop, the Supreme Court, when they get around to ruling. In related news, a federal judge ruled US citizen and enemy combatant Jose Padilla is competent to be tried, for what it's still less than clear, despite a slew of mental health professionals who say he's lost his mind after years of solitary confinement in a Naval brig. Honestly, I don't know if Padilla was a bad guy or not. But I do know rulings like these will be routinely used against honest, law-abiding US citizens in the future. Must think of flowers, pretty flowers, and butterflies.

("Papillon" is French for butterfly. While writing this I had an idea for a movie, a loose remake of Papillon, in which a couple of inmates escape from Gitmo like Henri Charriere and Louis Degas did from prison on Devil's Island in South America.)

Council On Foreign Relations: "Time For Detente With Iran"

There's an important article coming up in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. Now, if I happened to be running an Open-Source Intelligence Agency instead of the Home For Interesting Women, I'd be sure to get every advance copy of that publication and read it from cover to cover. As it is, I prefer my beloved, cheeto-dust-stained issues of "Car and Driver," "Vibe," and "Video Gaming Monthly," thank you very much.

You needn't bother to read the article, other than to know that it's the lead piece in the March/April issue and is written by Ray Takeyh, who is probably the closest thing to an objective expert on Iran you're likely to find in this country. He's been running around saying the same thing for about three years now, basically that it would be better to negotiate with Tehran than nuke it. The difference is, suddenly he's saying the same thing on the cover of the "most influential periodical in print." It means the Other People who run the country (I mean besides the Office of the Vice President, PNAC, AIPAC, et al) are fairly united in their desire to normalize relations with Tehran.

If you insist on getting all wonkish, you could go read the transcript of Ray's interview with the managing editor of Foreign Affairs (Gideon Rose) at last week's meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, you know, the meeting where other important matters were examined, like voting to let Angelina Jolie become a member. Which she now is. I think we know which way Henry Kissinger voted on
that one.

(The pic recalls the scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail where the knights who say "neet!" run into the vulnerable bunny which turns out to be a vicious attack rabbit. Knightly blood spurts everywhere and the armored ones run away screaming, "Run away! Run away!")

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

CORRECTION: FOUR Carrier Battle Groups Around Persian Gulf (Not Five)

(Update: Good news. I'm wrong. Something major has changed. I saw three separately sourced stories placing the USS Reagan in the Persian Gulf, two with Rear Admiral Michael Miller quoted on February 21st describing the ship as actively supporting operations in Iraq, one with two destroyers rushed from Pearl Harbor to accompany the Reagan to the Gulf on short-notice "surge deployment" but it's all changed. The Reagan is now in port in Sasebo, Japan, on a "friendship building and goodwill-generating" mission. Something major has shifted, and I would suspect it has to do with Iran and Syria attending a summit in Iraq which will be attended by representatives from the United States and United Kingdom. They're going to negotiate. Please adjust the comments below accordingly, my apologies for not digging deeper and earlier. =))

I am now 90% certain the US will attack Iran during or before April. A 5% chance exists it won't happen because generals on the Joint Chiefs of Staff have threatened to resign if the attack is made. Maybe they're prepared to do more than just resign. And a 5% chance it won't happen exists simply because I want to be wrong.

The majority of analysts believe the forces off Iran are for mere saber-rattling; that majority is utterly, miserably wrong. The ships weren't parked there for purposes of negotiation. They are there because the policy of regional transformation followed by the Bush Administration and Israel, as expressed by its attack and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and many other aggressive steps, has always planned a take-over of Iran. Iran, in fact, is the whole point. Capturing Iran's hydrocarbons has long been seen by the Project for a New American Century as a way to manage the economic growth of China and India.

Some people have been searching through to this site recently via googling on the USS Nimitz and the Persian Gulf, so I wondered if it was heading there. Since it returned to base in Florida last September, that doesn't seem likely, but I've been unable to locate it yet. I tracked the source of these new hits back to an article in The New Statesman, "Iran-Ready to Attack," which claims the Nimitz is at sea. The article does not do a good job carrier-counting, so I went back and checked on the USS Reagan's status for Gulf duties, which I previously reported here as assigned to the Gulf (despite the official story it was headed to Japan) when it left Coronado Island. The World Tribune confirms the Reagan is patrolling near the Gulf. In addition to the Stennis and the Eisenhower, that makes three heavy aircraft carriers in the region. But there are more.

Two expeditionary strike groups (or ESGs, which means marines with amphibious landing gear), centered on the marine assault carriers USS Boxer and the USS Bataan (short-range jump jets and helos) which are attached to the Fifth Fleet and are off Iran. The Bataan went through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea on January 30th. Two ESGs there probably aren't enough, so there are probably more enroute. Technically, that totals five carriers. I would expect 2-4 more expeditionary strike groups, probably rotated in from Japan after North Korea's buy-off, to arrive near in the Red Sea or Persian Gulf before all hell breaks loose. They're preparing not to just bomb Iran. They're actually preparing to land Marines.

Harper's Weekly News Round-Up

I get this e-mailed to me every Tuesday, and it can be pretty good, depending on last week's news and the writer assigned to distill the witch's brew:
An appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the writ
of habeas corpus does not apply to prisoners in the
American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba. Americans celebrated the 275th birthday of George
Washington, and President George W. Bush compared the War
on Terror to the American Revolution: "General Washington
understood that the Revolutionary War was a test of wills,
and his will was unbreakable." British Prime Minister Tony
Blair announced that he would bring home more than 1,600
of the 7,100 British troops in Iraq. Vice President Dick
Cheney said that the withdrawal was "an affirmation that
there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty
well"; he also said that breaking "the will of the
American people" was Al Qaeda's strategy. "They win
because we quit." "Dick was always very realistic," said
Kenneth Adelman, an arms-control official in the Reagan
Administration and friend to Cheney. "I don't really
understand how month after month he gets briefings showing
Iraq's getting worse and worse, and he engages in all this
happy talk." The day after a Sunni imam in Fallujah issued
a condemnation against Sunni militants, a truck bomb
exploded beside his mosque, killing 36 worshippers and
wounding at least 62 more. A suicide bomber at a Baghdad
university blew herself up, killing more than 40 people
and scattering purses, pens, textbooks, and fingers. For
its temporary embassy in Washington, D.C., the Iraqi
government purchased a $5.8-million Tudor-style mansion
across the street from the home of Dick Cheney on
Massachusetts Avenue. The mansion features a built-in
espresso machine, heated floors, soft pistachio carpeting,
and a Jacuzzi. Ted Wells, Scooter Libby's defense lawyer,
gave his closing argument. "He's been under my protection
for the last month," Wells told the jurors, "now I'm
entrusting him to you." Then, he sobbed, "Give him back!
Give him back to me!" Wells then went back to his chair
and sniffled.

It was discovered that Abdul Tawala Ibn Alishtari, an
indicted terrorist financier, gave more than $15,000 to
the National Republican Congressional Committee. "We need
to be careful," said the NRCC in a statement, "not to rush
to judgment." An audit of the Justice Department's
statistics on terrorism released by the Inspector General
revealed that successful efforts in counterterrorism had
been inflated, and the statistics in general were
wrong. Satellite radio companies XM and Sirius announced
plans to merge but faced opposition from the National
Association of Broadcasters. "In coming weeks," said
Dennis Wharton, a NAB spokesperson, "policymakers will
have to weigh whether an industry that makes Howard Stern
its poster child should be rewarded with a monopoly
platform for offensive programming." Residents of New
Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with brass bands, parades of
Zulu warriors and Day-Glo feathered Indians, vats of
gumbo, and pounds of turkey necks and pigs' feet. "It's
back, y'all," Mayor Ray Nagin exclaimed. "It's back!" At
an ethanol-enzyme production plant in North Carolina,
President Bush slipped into a white lab coat and safety
glasses, hoisted a beaker of clear ethanol, and said that
he "quit drinking in '86." Scientists said
"quasicrystalline" designs in medieval Iranian
architecture indicated that Islamic scholars had made a
mathematical breakthrough that Western scholars achieved
only decades ago and concluded that ancient Iranian
culture was very, very smart.

Congress approved the Defense Department's request to
spend $18 million to convert, in preparation for a
post-Castro Cuba, a U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo into a
shelter that could house 500,000 fleeing Cubans. Children
at a circus performance in Colombia watched as an attacker
shot and killed two clowns, and in Guatemala a dozen homes
and two teenagers were swallowed up by a 330-foot-deep
sinkhole. Twelve senior citizens on a beach excursion in
Costa Rica during their Carnival Cruise Line vacations
drove off two muggers, while a 70-year-old American put a
third in a headlock, broke his clavicle, and strangled him
to death. With its new slogan "The Light is On for You,"
The Archdiocese of Washington launched a marketing blitz
that included ads on buses and subway cars, 100,000
brochures, and a highway billboard in an effort to get
Catholics to confess. Kentucky Fried Chicken president
Gregg Dedrick wrote a personal letter to Pope Benedict XVI
asking him to bless the company's 99-cent Fish
Snacker. Catholic leaders criticized New York City for
distributing 26 million subway-themed condoms, and José,
the first native beaver seen in the city in 200 years, was
spotted swimming up the Bronx River. After widespread
opposition from residents of Utah and Nevada, the Pentagon
canceled its plan to test a large non-nuclear bomb as part
of Operation Divine Strake. It was revealed that the
British Ministry of Defense once hired psychics to find
Osama bin Laden, and Defense Minister Des Browne announced
that Prince Harry, the 22-year-old son of Prince Charles
and Princess Diana, who is third in line to the throne,
would be deployed to Iraq. Phoenix International Airport
security officials using Smart-Check, the airport's new
X-ray vision scanner, could see travelers' weapons,
collarbones, and bellybuttons. Researchers at Johns
Hopkins University confirmed that mothers suffering from
heartburn are likely to give birth to hairy newborns, and
scientists in Senegal watched chimpanzees fashion spears
from sticks and use their weapons to stab sleeping bush
babies. Thousands of spectators at the Rose Monday parade
in Mainz, Germany, watched a float of President Bush being
spanked by the Statue of Liberty.

-- Claire Gutierrez

Cheney OK after Afghan blast; 23 killed


Monday, February 26, 2007

Video Of Blackhawk Downed North Of Baghdad

A Blackhawk crash which fits the description of the 8th chopper lost in a one-month period in Iraq was put up on Live Leak today. It was released by Jaish al-Mujahedin, a salafist insurgency group. The group which previously released videos of shooting helicopters down with SAMs was the Islamic State of Iraq, so this is different set of characters. This Blackhawk was forced down by massed machine-gun fire, not by a lucky RPG hit as Spokes-General Caldwell claimed in a press conference last week.

Warning, there is annoying propaganda music throughout the 11-minute video and and many, many Allaaah-hoo Akhbars, but most of the video time is helpfully devoted to showing the insurgents' tactical set-up. Also, no US troops are said to have been injured in the crash, so this footage is much easier to watch than the others.

The insurgents positioned at least five heavy machine-guns distributed along a skirmish line for a prepared ambush. They did so in broad daylight, with not much attention to concealment, in an unpopulated area not far from a well-traveled highway. Two Blackhawk helicopters fly at very low altitude in front of their positions. The range is difficult to estimate because of frequent use of the camera's zoom lens, but if forced to guess, the choppers probably pass within 300 meters of the insurgents, who open fire. One helicopter slows over a field, nearly completes a half-circle, and seems to lose power while hovering at a height of about 20 feet. The second Blackhawk circles above the site. In footage taken later, the Blackhawk has crashed sunny-side up, but the force of the impact has broken off all its rotors. The cameraman doesn't dare approach closer than 200 meters from the fuselage, and once again makes full use of his zoom function.

The striking features of this engagement are that the insurgents possess large, anti-aircraft grade machine guns, felt bold enough to transport them to a remote area to set up an ambush, and felt confident US helicopters would fly close enough to hit. Some of their gun positions are devoid of any cover, and one is set up in the back of a truck. This would indicate complete confidence in freedom to transport and set up the guns, to not be reported if observed, and to have enough time to withdraw undetected. They must have known the air route was in regular use and decided it was vulnerable. Remarkably, they didn't fear close coordination and rapid retaliation from covering air assets, and thought they had time to disassemble large, cumbersome weapons and safely withdraw. Footage was later taken of the downed helicopter at close range, which tends to confirm those assumptions. Sometime between the crash and now, the area was left unsecured.

The video illustrates the CENTCOM tactical advisory to its helicopter pilots to fly low to avoid missile fire has a bad weakness--it places crews and occupants at risk of lower-tech ambushes with machine guns. Responsible commanders would tell their pilots to get up beyond the range of ground fire and SAMs in unsecured Sunni-held areas. While it would burn more fuel and be hated for its inconvenience, flying at high altitudes would deny the Sunni insurgency its most vulnerable US targets, and save lives.
One More Notch Up On the Irano-mometer

Seymour Hersh's latest installment in his series on the Iran Shenanigans reports President Bush has created a Pentagon panel to plan an air campaign on Iran which can be kicked off within 24 hours of a White House order to attack. This means the US military is now shifting into its highest state of readiness. Along the way Hersh does a good job of explaining a revamped Mid-east policy which resembles an advanced case of diplomatic Strip Twister, an appropriate image for a "strange bedfellows" course in which the US is getting the Saudis intimate with Israel to tag-team Iran. The idea is to beat the Shiite-Iranian genie back into the bottle uncorked by, you guessed it, the US invasion of Iraq, a monumental screw-up which has implications for all of us who have grown fond of vehicles and food. As for the Shiites, you have to hand it to them in the dumb luck department. Population-wise, they make up only 10% of muslims, and are viewed as superstitious, barely civilized pagans by the Sunni majority. They had a strange knack for parking themselves over most of the world's oil.

Thus it comes to pass that Israel and Saudi Arabia are dating. Geopolitics is a lot like high school, only every student gets their own army, and Israelis and Saudis playing kissy-face does not make for a very convincing version of West Side Story. You just
know the romance will blow up, and even if you're not sure how, it's bound to be spectacular. You'd also think there would be some mainstream gossip generated over this unprecedented development, but sadly, you have to go read about it in The New Yorker, a snooty literary magazine no one west of the Hudson River can safely display in public. At the moment, I'm imagining Dick Cheney as my school principal, and it's not a pretty image.

Hersh's article also mentions that BushCo is pumping cash into Lebanon to undermine Hezbollah's influence there, so much of the moolah is winding up in the hands of radical Sunni groups under the philosophical banner of Al-Qaeda. Which means they're financially linked to much of the Iraqi insurgency. Yes, you read correctly. (What part of "pulchritudinous" do you not understand??) The US has started to actually fund the major insurgency in Iraq. Which, of course, is so stupid it makes an attack on Iran look sensible by comparison, and, in a twisted way, provides the geometric proof of its necessity in the minds of the White House, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Neo-Clowns. Otherwise known as the people who rule us and spend our taxes.

The London Telegraph reports Israel is asking Washington if it can fly over Iraq to make airstrikes against Iran. Hmm...funny, a couple years ago I heard it rather vehemently repeated that Iraq had won its sovereignty as a nation. The reporter filing the story, Con Coughlin, was a neocon mouthpiece for the neo-clowns in the run-up to the Iraq war, so the Bogosity Detector is buzzing, but a Kuwaiti newspaper reports that country has agreed to host Israeli fighters on their way to light up Iran. This is key, because in most scenarios, Israel will hit Iran before the US does.

The NeoCons and the State Department have managed to box themselves in to a very tight corner. Rather than admit they're raging, incompetent morons who are losing the very Clash of Civilizations they dreamt up. They'd much rather lash out in frustration.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Tin Soldiers

Below is an excerpt from one of the recent WaPo pieces about Walter Reed Hospital. SecDef Gates is on the warpath over the coverage, and his wrath will roll downhill. But nothing much is going to change there, because Walter Reed is on the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) list. Its commanding officer, whose name I will not give the satisfaction of printing here, should be immediately fired, dragged in front of Congress, and be exposed to court-martial. Here's the excerpt:

A Soldier Snaps

Deep into deer-hunting country and fields of withered corn, past the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the rural town of Ellwood City, Steve Justi sits in his parents' living room, fighting off the afternoon's lethargy.

A photo on a shelf shows a chiseled soldier, but the one in the chair is 35 pounds heavier. Antipsychotic drugs give him tremors and cloud his mind. Still, he is deliberate and thoughtful as he explains his path from soldier to psychiatric patient in the war on terrorism.

After receiving a history degree from Mercyhurst College, Steve was motivated by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to join the National Guard. He landed in Iraq in 2003 with the First Battalion, 107th Field Artillery, helping the Marines in Fallujah.

"It was just the normal stuff," Steve says, describing the violence he witnessed in Iraq. His voice is oddly flat as he recalls the day his friend died in a Humvee accident. The friend was driving with another soldier when they flipped off the road into a swamp. They were trapped upside down and submerged. Steve helped pull them out and gave CPR, but it was too late. The swamp water kept pushing back into his own mouth. He rode in the helicopter with the wet bodies.

After he finished his tour, everything was fine back home in Pennsylvania for about 10 months, and then a strange bout of insomnia started. After four days without sleep, he burst into full-out mania and was hospitalized in restraints.

Did anything trigger the insomnia? "Not really," Steve says calmly, sitting in his chair.

His mother overhears this from the kitchen and comes into the living room. "His sergeant had called saying that the unit was looking for volunteers to go back to Iraq," Cindy Justi says. "This is what triggered his snap."

Steve woke up in the psychiatric unit at Walter Reed and spent the next six months going back and forth between there and a room at Mologne House. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He denied to doctors that he was suffering from PTSD, yet he called home once from Ward 54 and shouted into the phone, "Mom, can't you hear all the shooting in the background?"

He was on the ward for the sixth time when he was notified that he was being discharged from the Army, with only a few days to clear out and a disability rating of zero percent.

On some level, Steve expected the zero rating. During his senior year of college, he suffered a nervous breakdown and for several months was treated with antidepressants. He disclosed this to the National Guard recruiter, who said it was a nonissue. It became an issue when he told doctors at Walter Reed. The Army decided that his condition was not aggravated by his time in Iraq. The only help he would get would come from Veterans Affairs.

"We have no idea if what he endured over there had a worsening effect on him," says his mother.

His father gets home from the office. Ron Justi sits on the couch across from his son. "He was okay to sacrifice his body, but now that it's time he needs some help, they are not here," Ron says.

A Convenient Oscar

Al Gore is going to take a triumphant walk down a red carpet tomorrow to the thunderous cheers and applause of the most famous people in the world. Where? At the Academy Awards, of course. 'An Inconvenient Truth' is going to win at least one Oscar, for best documentary film. It only brought in $24 million in theater release, making it the third-highest grossing documentary of all time, but the waves it has made all over the world keep getting stronger. A man who has spent his time in the wilderness will return as a hero, and entertainment will finally, literally be united with politics. It will be one of the great Oscars moments, and I hope to watch it.

Other films nominated for best documentary feature include Deliver Us From Evil, about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church; Iraq in Fragments, about the Sunni-Shiite conflict in that country; Jesus Camp, about a summer camp for evangelical Christians, and My Country, My Country, about the months leading up to the January 2005 elections in Iraq. Fine films, I'm sure. It's possible Gore will get edged out by one of them, demand a recount, and be overruled by a 5-to-4 Supreme Court vote. But I suspect this is Al Gore's year for Oscar; he'll take the adulation well, charming the crowd and the world. I'll go out on a rather sturdy limb and predict he'll win the Nobel Peace Prize this year, too.

There has been some speculation, as CNN reports, that Gore will use his Oscar speech to announce his candidacy for the Presidency. That would surprise me, but it would be a very pleasant one. I've previously speculated that Gore won't be able to avoid making a White House run, simply because people will be all over him to do so from now until the February primaries next year, and they won't give up even then. We desperately need his help, his vision is clear, and his solutions are acceptable to everyone but Big Oil. (Poor, poor Big Oil. "C'mon! Let's have one more war over it, and make it a big one! You've got one left in ya!) My un-famous voice is hereby added to the chorus: for god's sake, Al, RUN!

By the way, if you meet anyone (and you will) who is still on the fence about Global Climate Change, or openly poo-poos it, there are a couple simple ways to either open their minds or shut their yaps, both generally desireable outcomes. It's true: the science Gore presented in his movie and book has possible flaws in it, he is a politician, scientists are motivated to stir up fears for grant money, and climate change is scientifically unproveable anyway. But those points are pointedly irrelevant. Two realities make them so.

First, if the cause and effect relationships associated between emissions and climate change are unknown and Global Warming is unproven, then the dictates of common sense greatly favor conservatism in policy-setting, not radical optimism. Not having any policy at all is radical optimism, and that could get us killed because we're playing dice with the fate of our species while in a state of ignorance. Conservatism would be all for keeping the atmosphere the way it is, even for trying to set the clock back a bit. Second, when you burn a carbon-based material, you create waste products like CO2. Carbon dioxide goes up into the atmosphere. Too much carbon dioxide is the signature of a dead planet. Mars, for example, has plenty of it. As Elton John notes in his song Rocket Man, "Mars ain't the place to raise your fact, it's cold as hell."

If Gore announces his candidacy, his only viable competitor will be Barack Obama, whom he would gladly name as running mate. Yes, this is wishful thinking, but it would be both a brilliant way of bringing in the man with the magic and domestic policy passion and gain a bullet-proof vest at the same time. If some redneck hopped up on Rush Limbaugh were to shoot Gore, they would then have to endure the humiliation of seeing America's first black President. And we wouldn't want that, would we? Heavens, no.

Wishful thinking. I can already hear what the pundits would call a Gore-Obama ticket: Go-Bama. I checked the web sites for registration. They're already taken. And I'm hardly the only one wishing: there are a whole passel of people discussing the same thing over at right now.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Who Really Validates Al-Qaeda?

Dick Cheney accused the Democrats this week, in their playing origami with legislations which would place limits on further Deciderations in Iraq/n, of giving aid and comfort to Al Qaeda. OK. But who amongst us really knows exactly what Al-Qaeda is? Who knows its history, and all its branches? At this point Al-Qaeda is a manikin wearing a coat of many colors in anti-imperialist folds, not some fixed muslim monolith but a scarecrow of morphingly mythical convenience. In Dick Cheney's mind, Al-Qaeda isn't just a rag-tag bunch of RPG-toting muslims. Anyone who hates American policies enough to take action against them qualifies. Including Congress.

What is decidedly not mythical is that Al-Qaeda was nurtured by US foreign policy needs and financed by US greenbacks. In Afghanistan starting almost 30 years ago it was given billions of dollars of aid and weapons. Back when Al-Qaeda was known as the mujahedin, my first prospective, suit-and-tie job was to supply it with lethal arms against the Soviets. Al-Qaeda was the supply base in Islamabad, which was home to the largest CIA station in the world. Al-Qaeda was in large part funded by the efforts of an oil-friendly Congressman named Charlie Wilson. He was from Texas, and Al-Qaeda was funded as an anti-Soviet vehicle because Big Oil didn't want the Russkies in Afghanistan.

Many of those Pakistani and Afghani anti-S0viets are now called the Taliban. The Taliban is Al-Qaeda's three-headed step-child, and was created with the intention to fight it by idiotically hopeful managers of Big Oil. The Taliban was never a well-controlled asset, and it escaped from the laboratory like a muslim Frankenstein. But how could the Taliban be a creature of Big Oil? Jesus del Norte at Church and Empire explains how and why:
In April 1992, a prominent Mujahideen commander Ahmed Shah Masood (Lion of Panjshir valley) moved into Kabul. Najibullah then took refuge in the UN compound in Kabul. Between 1992 and 1996, Afghanistan was in semi-anarchy, as the country was carved into individual fiefdoms by the warlords.

In 1996, Unocal of the U.S. and Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia became interested in mineral wealth of Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. The ideal route to bring oil from the Caspian sea and gas from the Daulatabad gas field (in Turkmenistan) would have been via Iran. Because of US policy of isolating Iran, Unocal and Delta Oil thought of building a pipeline via Afghanistan.

Pakistan created the Taliban with funds from Saudi Arabia and UAE. They took into their rolls thousands of Pasthuns who had enrolled in madrasas adjoining Afghanistan. Because these men had never taken part in war, they were secretly trained and led by officers from the Pakistani army. Arms and ammunition including tanks, howitzers, and other military vehicles were provided by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In 1996, The Taliban crossed the border into Afghanistan. Initially, they were dismissed as a joke but in September 1996, they had captured Kabul.

However, the Taliban could not occupy all of Afghanistan. (They did occupy 90% of it at one time.) At one point when the Taliban was overstretched and the Northern Alliance was poised to attack, the Clinton administration despatched UN envoy Bill Richardson and Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth to Afghanistan to broker a ceasefire and an arms embargo.

U.S. media, led by the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek and others, has created a notion that the Taliban fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan by tracing its origins to the Mujahideen. The truth however is that the Taliban was not in existence at that time. Taliban was created to fight the Mujahideen, not the Soviets.
So, once again, another group of terrorists derided in Western media and being chased by ignorant armies was originally bank-rolled by oil and gas lobbyists. And if anyone came here fom the conservative wing and read this far, I'm not "blaming America first." I'm blaming dumb managers who should've known better. And guess who met with the Taliban when they traveled to Houston in 1996 to negotiate a pipeline deal with Unocal? That's right, folks. Mr. Aid and Comfort himself. The Pope of Hydrocarbons. Dick Frickin' Cheney.

A Deficit Of Honor, A Deliberate Dereliction

The all-volunteer army is being ground to bits by the politicians who incessantly claim to support our troops. Rather than having to deal with the physically or mentally wounded and undertake the expense and burdens of caring for them, I suspect those politicians wish the wounded would've died valiantly in the field. The truth is, the Bush Administration looks on its volunteer foot soldiers as the scum of the earth, and the evidence proves it. Every time someone in that Administration or its sycophantic husk of a political party utters the phrase "support our troops," you should think "Bullshit!!"

The deplorable state of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) has been subject to a number of exposees recently, with the Washington Post, NPR, and even the Army Times coming out with stories on black mold, rats, medical neglect, and withholding of aid to severely wounded and disabled armed forces personnel. What the WaPo and NPR stories failed to emphasize or point out is WRAMC takes its funding and its orders directly from the Pentagon. Unlike the Veteran's Administration hospitals, which treat veterans, WRAMC treats active-duty soldiers, most of them permanently disabled.

"Treat" definitely isn't the right word. The Pentagon is vigorously pursuing a policy of low-balling or denying disability classifications, particularly against soldiers with brain injuries. In one facility, Mologne Hotel, there is not a single counselor available for the 300 occupants, all of whom have either been blown up, have significant brain damage, or suffer from severe PTSD symptoms. The system is openly treating its servants, people who have been traumatized already by vicissitudes most sharp and hot, like shit. Can you imagine?

They're trying to give out the least amount of money possible, and are giving boys who are missing large chunks of their skulls and brains, and who will never be able to hold a job again, insultingly low disability ratings. One such example is the son of Lt. General Antwerp, as the Army Times article "Wounded and Waiting" points out. The younger Antwerp, blown up by an IED, has no colon. Nor a spleen. Nor parts of his skull and brain. He has short-term memory loss, and can't recall the names of his friends. His disability rating on discharge? 20%. An excerpt from the article:
"In 2001, 10 percent of soldiers going through the medical retirement process received permanent disability benefits" and 16 percent of reservists were granted permanent disability. In 2005, only 3 percent of soldiers and 5 percent of reservists were granted disability. Soldiers can go to the VA for more help, but "the department had a staggering 400,000-case backup on new claims in fiscal 2006."
The hard stats say soldiers were better treated before the Bush Administration came along. Remember, the quote above is from the Army Times; presumably, soldiers still read the Army Times. All the examples above are not functions of anectdotal incompetence. They arise from deliberate, systemic, mean-spirited stinginess. As a matter of policy, the government is saying it is not responsible for the mending of soldiers' minds, and that disability payments to them and their families are better spent elsewhere. In fact, Walter Reed was on Congress's list last year of bases to close. One wonders what will be done with the so-called "vegetable ward" there with people who have half or more of their brains missing.

Armies run on discipline, and the bedrock of discipline is honor. Careerism and corruption are well-known commodities in any Army, but this is too far out of control, and there's no question that morale is being systematically destroyed. The question is how much. Part of the answer is that the military has begun accepting convicts and felons as new recruits.

William Pfaff believes the Army is suffering from a deficit of honor, and has written a brief and damning article on the destruction of the volunteer army. Here's an excerpt:

[The Army's] officer corps has proven disinclined to assume responsibility for mistakes and crimes. There and in the lower ranks, the evidence in official dealing with scandalous incidents has been of lies, denial of responsibility, and scapegoated inferiors. No regular field grade officer appears to have been inconvenienced as a consequence of prison and torture scandals.
This is perhaps to be expected in an army serving an elected administration in which no high official has been held publicly responsible, or assumed responsibility, for any of the disastrous consequences of administration foreign policies of the past six years, and the president himself seems ready to defy the electoral judgement of the American public on his Iraq policies.
It is to the honor of the military that the main objections to abusive or illegal prisoner treatment, and appeals to higher courts for legal redress in such matters, have not come from administration civilians but from the professional legal officers of the services themselves. On the other hand there are accounts of assistance by military doctors at torture sessions and in prisoner abuse, undoubtedly demanded of them in the line of duty, but in contravention of their professional oaths.
Reports on the new army’s excellent material and personnel development do not outweigh evidence of a different failure in the military services, a deficit of honor. This seems the result, not only of individual failures, but of a corruption in the military system. As honor has always been held the quality redeeming the “servitude” of military life, and the violence of the military vocation, this is a serious matter.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

UK & Denmark Withdrawals From Iraq

There has been precious little value-added analysis about the announcements by England and Denmark to withdraw from Iraq. First, let's dispense with the Danes. Were they every really there in the first place? If so, where exactly were they? At any rate, I think we can take their withdrawal promise quite seriously. As serious as the saying, "Jeg er durstig," which is Danish for "Let's get the hell out of here and go drink some Elephant Beer!" Oooh, yeah. The Danes are good as gone.

But the English...I don't trust them, not when it comes to the mid-East. This is the third time in the past century and the seventh or eighth time this past millenium the Brits have withdrawn from there. And they always seem to linger on for a few decades with their withdrawal business, from the Crusades on out. In Iraq, for example, they were withdrawing from 1919 to 1956, when they finally announced their final-final withdrawal by the last ship out pinning up an official communique reading: "Piss on these buggers, you couldn't bloody pay us to come back here."

But here you have the Brits, in Iraq all over again and withdrawing again. It's almost as if they're doomed to stay there, really. And some of them are. You'll notice at least 5,000 are staying on, and only a couple thousand are leaving, rather, planning to leave. So is it withdrawal, or more the aspirations, the eventual phased-in hopes of one? Stay or go, the announcement seems more like an official abdication, a self-permission for a mental vacation. It's like they're saying, "It's not really our problem anymore, is it, Yank?"

Another analyses you won't hear much of, other than denials that the vaunted 49-country "Coalition" unravelling down to 22 countries means anything (Yep! Sound as ever! Hale and hearty is our Coalition.) are the consequences of the UK bugging out of Iraq's southern areas, or as the White House seems to call them, the Stable South. A guest poster over at Pat Lang's blog, Wayne White, provides some good analysis on the consequences of a UK withdrawal. Worth a read a full read, but here's an excerpt:
The south is not as has been portrayed in some upbeat UK and US official comments today. Southern Iraq is a very much troubled region where most localities are dominated by militias (sometimes rival militias), governance (to the extent governance linked to Baghdad exists at all beyond the symbolic in large areas) is tenuous, security forces are in most cases far more loyal to militias (often local, semi-autonomous militia elements) than legal authorities (such as the mayor of Basrah), criminality (including large-scale oil & fuel smuggling) is endemic, and low-level assassinations of the relatively few Sunni Arabs still present there is ongoing. When, late last year, British forces attempted to turn over a major base to the Iraqi military (and more bases are to be left behind as UK forces phase out), it was thoroughly looted.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Importance Of Being Early

You may have missed the artillery between the jilted Clinton camp and Hollywood mega-mogul David Geffen if you were either a) without an internet connection or b) in a coma for the past several days, and the sniping's continued re-verb serves as a kind of sonar with which we can already sketch the outlines of the 2008 Election. This election is the biggest in three-quarters of a century.

I'll recap the little picture briefly so we can move onto the Big Picture. Li'l picture: David Geffen threw a fund-raiser for Barack Obama and called out the Clintons about their gigantic hypocrisies in the New York Times; the Clinton campaign responded by demanding that Obama denounce Geffen's effrontery; Obama said he didn't think it necessary to apologize for someone else's opinions. Add lots of left- and right-wing spin, and a media corps which must fill 24 hours of empty, gaping airtime every day knocking over water-coolers, streaking down hallways and yelling, "Catfight! The Dims are having a cat-fiiiighhhht!!!"

But let's surface for some air. Big Picture Time. It used to be said of countries, "The land and the king are one," and I'm not sure the same notion doesn't apply to democracies. So let us look at future kings or queens, and, to use that Clintonian phrase, "parse the question."

1) Who here would like a President who isn't prone to reckless, unsavory behaviors, and who doesn't give so much ammunition to the enemy they have to adopt the opposition's agenda to stay in power? Again, the Geffen sonar shows the contours of those ravines correctly. Ahh, Roger-that. Pun intended. Check.

2) Who here thinks that the Reich Wing desperately WANTS Hillary Clinton to win the Dimocrat nomination so they can proceed to sadistically beat the snot out of her? Geffen put that moose out on the table, too. Roger wilco. Check.

3) Who here wants a President who voted for Big Oil and Spreading Dimocracy (translation: the Iraq War)? Geffen nailed the Clintons on Hillary's war vote. She's going to be equivocating around her vote to send in the clowns from now until the day she dies. Hillary can admit it was a terrible mistake, she can enter re-hab and say a serious heroin problem clouded her thinking at the time. She can become a Methodist minister, but she's never going to shake that vote. Politically, she is thoroughly deflowered. She's "icky." Check.

4) Finally, who here would like a president in 2008 with a different last name than the two we've had for the PAST TWENTY YEARS? David Geffen, our free man in Paris, said, "Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family." Right. Double check.

The reason the 2008 election is happening early is because everybody wants it to. Obama was able to already go to a Hollywood fund raiser and make out like a bandit. Why? Because nobody else could. Iraq is flopping around like a gaffed marlin in the bloody bilge-water of Gilligan's yacht, and everybody wants the Professor to walk across the pitching deck and calmly shoot the damned thing in the head. The Clintons' time has passed; they're mosquitoes stuck in 1992 amber. Admittedly, given my druthers, I'd trade these perilous times for those. But I can't, and like the Clintons, they're over. The rest of us out here in Sane World are ready for a New Direction.

Tides change in American politics, and we are at the point when the conservative counter-revolution, seeded by Goldwater in 1964 and birthed by Reagan in 1980, has crested. That revolution, intended to dismantle FDR's social-program nods to communism a half-century before, so burdensome to capitalists and corporations, has succeeded so well that an anti-consumer lobbyist now heads the Consumer Protection Agency and the EPA is quite literally run by the chemical industry. But speaking of chemistry. Politics is like a chemical reaction, with formulas which work until they don't. Karl Rove knew he could deliver the electronic votes in November 2006, you have to know he had every single county and turn-out figured in hard numbers. Republican corporations supplied the voting machines, which were set with vote-shaving or leavening subroutines, only Rove reckoned wrong. The normal rules no longer applied, the surveys were skewed, and voters just didn't do what he thought they would. That's why there were so many razor-close races and re-counts. Ground which had been stable, the loyal Base so proven and able, turned mushy underneath Karl's feet.

As de Toqueville observed, elections in democracies are really about how to apportion wealth. When one regime is installed, it naturally takes wealth from elsewhere and re-distributes plenty to its kinsmen and to its cronies. The losing side is aggrieved after every election, for now it must scrape and accomodate, holding onto whatever it can where once it succored and bathed like a flower in a sunny hothouse. Every once in a while, however, something more fundamental occurs connected to elections. An established mechanism of wealth generation, a currency if you will, over-leverages itself and fails. During such elections a whole economic basis is in question; these elections share a revolutionary tone, and not uncommonly the proverbial "whiff of grapeshot," or air of violence. Such an environment presages a serious re-shuffling of wealth factors, and also a re-ordering of basic ideology. Such was the state of affairs preceding FDR's election, and preceding the New Deal.

Post-1929, someone wrote a poem containing the line "One match to start the fire, one to light the funeral pyre." Government was required to not just posture and exist, but to come up with solutions to serious problems. As a woman wisely pointed out to me recently, FDR's New Deal was in large part a New Energy Deal. Like FDR, Obama is a symbolic actor of deep significance for our time. FDR was disabled, if you recall. He was a wheel-chair bound champion of the disabled. From a distance of 75 years, his detractors today tend to forget how the portent of that fact, and how psychologically important it was back then.

Obama is disabled in a different way. What do I mean by that? Race. He's black. He's even more diverse than black. He's half African. Half muslim. As such, he can help this country heal its race wounds. If you think the comparison with FDR's disability is frivolous, then listen to this: Obama's wife was asked on 60 minutes (I paraphrase), "If your husband wins the election, are you afraid he'll be assassinated because he's black?" Her answer: "As a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station." These people are very, very different political animals than the Bushes, the Romneys, the Richardsons, and the Clintons. They come from a fundamentally different place outside the failing Establishment, and they don't need to set a New Direction. They are the New Direction. To solve its greatest problems, those of equity, race, and energy, America needs to be led by a natural, by someone who didn't emerge from whatever insular chrysalis produces white CEOs. Someone who isn't given a king's sword by custom, but who can free it from the stone in which it's stuck.

Here's the Biggest Picture I can draw. Think "Camelot" as a movie directed by Cecil B. De Mille. In that movie, Obama is Arthur. Hillary is Morgana. He's a political messiah who will unite the kingdom. She's a sorceress with some serious baggage. She will extract a horrible price from Arthur, one which he must pay down the road, but she can't stop him from fulfilling his destiny. If Obama the actor is somehow struck down, central casting will find someone else an awful lot like him to play the same role. The movie gets made.

It's Not A Crash--It's A Gravitational Exchange

A Blackhawk was shot down yesterday, and all aboard were said to be safely evacuated by a second helicopter. The Army was in denial mode again, initially describing the crash as a "hard landing." Initially, the Reuters version of the story released here said all passengers were unharmed, and omitted a police captain's report that he witnessed a ball of fire explode from the chopper after it was hit with "some sort of projectile." Alternet then added the police captain's quotes back into the story. Note the careful wording in the Yahoo! version, which avoids mention of injuries or location of the crash, censored down to "north of Baghdad."

This is the eighth helicopter shot down since January 20th. CENTCOM generals have repeatedly said this past month they were altering tactics and upgrading countermeasures to avoid continued losses. For the record, the Soviets lost 330 helicopters in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan, with the rate increasing markedly after the introduction of CIA-supplied Stinger missiles in 1985/6. To put this in perspective, the US helicopter loss rate month-to-month is much higher than what the Soviets suffered in their worst years in Afghanistan. Obviously this could be an anomaly, but all the US helicopters shot down in the last thirty days were in a small Sunni zone of Iraq, "north of Baghdad." Afghanistan was five times the area of Vietnam.

Update: ThinkProgress has the CNN video of the story above, with Spokes-General Caldwell claiming the helicopter was hit with an RPG. That's possible and it has happened, but it would be like hitting an eagle with a water balloon launcher.
Video: Captain Jennifer Harris Memorial

The funeral service for Marine Captain Jennifer J. Harris happened this week. I started following her story after the Sea Knight (naval version of the Chinook) medevac helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq. It wasn't too hard to pick up on what a remarkable person she must have been. I went to check on YouTube this morning to see if there was any footage of her memorial services, and there is some video of the outside of her family's church in Swampscott, Massachusetts, along with a short audio recording of a eulogy given by her former Annapolis roomie.

A bunch of people and police are outside in the freezing cold, holding flags and waiting for her procession to come out of the church. I'm kind of old-fashioned, and don't think it's right to bomb women and children, so I don't really even know what to feel about a female pilot being shot down in a war zone. Nothing in my upbringing prepared me for the possibility...but here it is, and it's not good. This brave young woman represents the finest this country and picture-postcard towns have to offer. No doubt she wanted to make the world a better place, and did. Medevac pilots like her never have to pay for their own drinks in bars when there are soldiers or vets around, because they save lives and rescue the wounded. Her family has put up a Guest Book to sign and leave well wishes.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Imagine There's No Wild Side

It's easy if you try. Actually, no, it's not. I don't know how to introduce this brilliantly twisted bit. I'll start by admiring the miles of meticulous audio and video this masher massaged as she or he conjoined John Lennon's "Heaven" and Lou Reed's "Take A Walk On The Wild Side" with George Bush, his voice, and the iconic imagery of modern politics. It's too weird to explain, but it's incredibly skillful and nails our time up on the cross as some new sort of disturbing artistic achievement. I want to buy it, and hang it on my wall. But it's free, and doesn't need a frame. Click on the vid, and you'll see.
The Religious Wrong's Era

There's an article in Time Magazine by Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners. It's called "The Religious Right's Era Is Over," and while that may be a somewhat forward-looking statement, I've felt the earth tensing underfoot for a while. The article is as blunt as its title, and well worth a read. You might remember the Sojourners from Barack Obama's talk to them.

The Religious Right hasn't delivered on any of its promises. As the Apostle Paul said, they may speak eloquently with the tongues of men and angels, but they're like a sounding brass or tinkling cymbals, empty. Empty of love. (Corinthians 1:13) From the smallest, barely attended city church to the biggest suburban mega-temple, most people aren't looking for emptiness or the politics of hatred. They're looking for fullness and social love. People are tired of the fearmongering because it offers no social or political solutions, only pretend-protection from inflated boogeymen. The young are leaving that behind to look for something better. Next time Barack Obama speaks, check where his cheers are coming from.

Don't Know Much About Hydrogen

The 2009 Toyota Prius is worth thinking about. It'll get 80 mpg city, 100 mpg highway. Given my current driving patterns, that would mean I could get by with about a tankful of gasoline every three months, or about 60 gallons of gas per year. This seems like a better solution than my less-than-reliable project, a 1987 Mercedes diesel wagon, which is still waiting its intended conversion to bio-diesel because upkeep is a three-steps forward, random-number back sort of task.

For various reasons, oil production is in all probability at a functional peak. People who watch oil supply as a pastime are free to argue about whether Peak Oil occurred in 2006, or may occur in 2012 or 2020. The argument is a little rabbinical for my taste, because due to depletion of the biggest old fields and political conflict, Cheap Oil is over. Optimists think new finds or technologies will ameliorate the mess. They are wrong, at least temporarily. It's very hard for a society to transition from one energy source to another. As for new finds, if huge oil fields are discovered under Antarctica, well, that's not cheap oil. It would be very expensive to extract. As for new technologies like ethanol, otherwise known as food formerly grown by oil-powered machines and fertilized by nitrogen converted from natural gas, well, it makes hydrogen power look efficient. Hydrogen has a 12% energy-return ratio.

Calorically, a 20-gallon tankful of gasoline in an SUV is about equal to 60,000 hours of manual labor. That's a windfall. I've burned more than my share of gasoline on this earth, often gleefully so. I have reveled in the propulsion, and don't want to go cold turkey. So 100 miles per gallon whilst I figure out how to change my life sounds pretty damned good to me. Noted Hordie and friend Ann S bought a Prius and loves it as a cherished possession. When it comes to propulsion Ann's partner Al C. is more inclined to assemble bicycles from recycled parts, a laudable endeavor, but I suspect the privilege of the Prius has begun to win even him over.

Yeehad's World Tour

The BBC has finally leaked some knowledge of the battle plans against Iran. Contrary to positioning of "we have no plans" or "we would only strike to deter a nuclear threat," here's the skinny: a bombing campaign against Iran would be of greater intensity and duration than the ones undertaken against Iraq in Gulf Wars One and Two. The plan isn't to go in and destroy a few uranium enrichment facilities. The plan is to plaster it for weeks, to completely eliminate Iran's air defenses, ability to project force, and its directly supporting infrastructure.

For comparison, it might be helpful to examine operations against another WMD-bearing foe. On January 17th, 1991, the Gulf War One air campaign started with over 1,000 sorties flown in the first 24 hours, a pace which didn't slacken for at least ten days. Helicopters first took down outlying radar, then stealth bombers went through the gaps to destroy anti-aircraft defenses, then the airforce was eliminated, much of it unexpectedly fleeing to Iran. Thereafter, in preparation for the ground campaign, every target of any conceivable military value was destroyed: every power plant, bridge, supply depot, communications center, truck, and dummy SCUD site. That's right. The SCUD missiles and their launchers were never found, and they continued to launch through much of the conflict. (Mental note.)

Gulf War One was called a war, but it really doesn't fit the definition of one, in that Iraq was almost utterly helpless to fight back against overwhelming firepower. Lest anyone thinks that statement simply reflects my opinion, let's look at numbers. Total Coalition deaths were 382. Of those, at least 319 were due to accident, were from friendly fire, or from non-battle causes. And "friendly" fire incidents, for reasons which should be obvious, tend to be covered up. But let's say 63 Coalition troops died as the result of enemy fire. How did the Iraqis fare? Well, estimates vary...but most range from 80,000 to 200,000. The lethality of coalition firepower was so high that more of its soldiers were killed from friendly fire than by the enemy, a landmark in the history of warfare. 28 of those deaths were caused when a Patriot missile battery shot down a SCUD in the middle of the night, and its wreckage landed on a tent full of sleeping Pennsylvanian reservists. The sheer asymmetry of advantage was poorly comprehended even by those who possessed it: the Pentagon itself had expected to lose 30-40,000 casualites.

Since Vietnam, the United States military has followed a policy of only attacking when possessing an Overkill advantage. They didn't fight countries which could inflict heavy casualties, and didn't want to. The trauma Vietnam inflicted on the collective psyche was so severe that, for example, the island of Grenada was treated as a serious military threat and was invaded with more care than US planners used when landing Marines on Guadalcanal. It was believed (wrongly) that the US public ended the Vietnam War because of its distaste for war dead, so the doctrine was to avoid casualties. The Pentagon imagined Gulf War One would be an exception to the Overkill policy, but experience proved otherwise, in fact demonstrating America's Jupiter-like military prowess. This in turn gave birth to the "sole superpower" myth. The victories in Iraq have served to remove the last restraints of Vietnam Syndrome from the planners, and now Jupiter has trained its mighty gaze on Iran. The US leadership, and enough of its military, believes it can carry out a Yeehad.

There is a big problem with this overconfidence. No army is invincible, and each conflict is inherently situational, an outcome unto itself. Iran is probably being underestimated by both the US and Israeli command structures. First off, Iran presents greater logistical problems. It's is a lot bigger than Iraq in terms of population, geography, and capability. Another basic factor is that the technology gap between air defenses and bomber capabilities has had time to greatly narrow since Gulf War One. Iran has far better knowledge of US capabilities and tactics than Iraq ever did, and it has been given ample time to prepare. Finally, US intelligence on Iran is generally quite poor, and the country's characteristically rugged, mountainous terrain naturally favors concealment and dispersion. Coalition forces couldn't find Saddam's Scuds in the deserts of Iraq.
Completely eliminating Iran's military capability probably isn't possible through an air campaign, and crippling it might well require more than the 42,600 successful strike sorties flown in Gulf War One. Most such strike sorties will expose a plane to fire over urban areas possessing new anti-aircraft weapons, a formula for higher-than-expected air losses. US leadership decidedly does not want to hear of this is a real possibility, and they can point at recent experiences which refute the warnings. Wise generalship exploits complacency.

In 2002, the former commandant of the National War College, retired Marine Lt. General Paul Van Riper, was picked to lead the Red Force (the bad guys) in a thinly veiled wargame attacking Iran. In the computer-controlled game, he sunk 16 US ships in the Persian Gulf, and the exercise was stopped (i.e., he had won). Normally, Blue Team would devise a different, hopefully better strategy and re-play the game. But this time the Pentagon gave Van Riper a script and told him steps to follow so he would lose. He refused, walked off the exercise, and wrote a 21-page report criticizing its conduct. The Pentagon has classified his report, or I would publish it here. He was one of the generals who called for Rumsfeld's resignation in 2006.

More games were played. The referee and designer of the Iran wargames, Colonel Sam Gardiner, has been angrily warning that a confrontation with Iran can't be won, as I surfaced in "Teenage Mutant Special Forces" last September. He wrote a paper in 2006. Here's how he closed it:
When I finished the 2004 Iran war game exercise, I summarized what I had learned in the process. After all the effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers. "You have no military solutions for the issues of Iran. You have to make diplomacy work." I have not changed my mind. That conclusion made sense then. It still makes sense today.
Oh, and the plans for which there are no plans? According to Sam Gardiner, "they're on the Vice President's desk."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Thing To Know About Minneso-da

They told me, "Now that you're here, there's something you've got to get straight: every body of water here is a lake. You may think it's a pond, but in Minnesota, no matter how small, it's a lake. If you keep that straight you'll get along just fine." And I have; I have. In fact I've known many delightful people from Minnesota, and now know quite a few more.

Brrr. I'll be back Tuesday from a long weekend visiting relatives in the Land o' Lakes.

Friday, February 16, 2007

For What It's Worth

After four days of debate, the House of Representatives has passed a resolution opposing President Bush's plan to send 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.

The resolution passed by 246 to 182:

Concurrent Resolution on the President's Escalation Plan

This week the House of Representatives will be considering the following Concurrent Resolution.

Disapproving of the decision of the President announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That--

(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."

Senate Democrats are holding a vote on the resolution tomorrow. It's designed to be a relatively risk-free way for both Pugs and Dims to distance themselves from the war. However, it's something to build on. Next up will be Rep. Jack Murtha's much tougher troop readiness codicils in the White House war budget request, possibly along with changes designed to halt action against Iran without Congressional approval. The Army's middle managers have crafted the readiness standards language as a way of throwing a monkey wrench into the overheated deployment machine.

Captain Jennifer J. Harris Comes Home

The hearse containing the body of Marine Captain Jen Harris, 28, arrived in her home town of Swampscott, Massachusetts yesterday. The DOD released the names of five other passengers, Marines who were killed on the last flight of her Sea Knight medevac helicopter. The identity of the sixth victim was not released.

Capt. Jennifer J. Harris, 28, of Swampscott, Mass.
1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker, 25, of Big Bear City, Calif.
Sgt. Travis D. Pfister, 27, of Richland, Wash.
Cpl. Thomas E. Saba, 30, of Toms River, N.J.
Sgt. James R. Tijerina, 26, of Beasley, Texas

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Salt Lake City Mall Shooter Was Muslim Refugee

The Trolley Square Mall in SLC, Utah is a place I know well. It's in an old trolley warehouse, and the stores there can be funky, classy, cosmopolitan and folksy, sometimes all at the same time. It's a place of fond memories.

The boy who shot and killed a bunch of shoppers was Sulejman Talovic, a refugee from Bosnia, which would mean he was a young boy when some of the heaviest fighting and "ethnic cleansing" was going on in his city or village. He lived in a normal house in Salt Lake City.

As to the Republican mantra-meme that terrorists are going to follow us home? No, they're not. We're going to invite them here. They're going to be regular people who come here as refugees, people who carry terrible things inside them, and some of them are going to snap when they're subjected to a steady diet of entities like Ann Coulter suggesting America "should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." From Coulter, Malkin, Limbaugh and a snootful of other snot-blowers they'll hear people advocating a "mass deportation" of Muslims from America. That's odd, because 59% of school-age Muslims go to college and get a degree, and the rest of America graduates at less than half that rate. The numbers indicate American muslims believe it's better to spend time on studying and earning know-how than on hate.

Nobody forced that young man to pull the trigger. What he did was desperate and despicable, but we should seek to understand why he might've done it. I'm willing to speculate that the hatred and intolerance he heard here, openly spouted on TV, internet, and radio, felt very familiar to him, and he remembered hatred like that claiming the lives of his loved ones back in Yugoslavia, where intolerance of the sort peddled by our media ghouls morphed into snipers shooting women and children carrying shopping bags. Or maybe a neurotic Mormon girl broke up with him. Either way, it should give us pause that ten years later, a little bit of Sarajevo just repeated itself here.

Muslims who flee to America for protection are subjected to racist insults, religious xenophobia, ignorant comments and hate crimes all over again. I was at the coffee shop this morning and saw this scroll by on the CNN ticker, "US to admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees in 2007." They'll come with gratitude and expecting a safe and welcoming place, which America is, but I doubt they're prepared for what else they'll have to face.

When people snap in America, they aren't allowed to go riot, turn over cars, and spray grafitti on walls. Somehow, they're allowed to walk into malls and open fire with guns. Personally, I prefer the property damage philosophy. I sure hope the Coulter Dynamic which is allowed to exist on American airwaves is soon recognized for what it is. A hundred years ago, Jews from the East were demonized just like Muslims are being demonized now, they were anarcho-terrorists, communist and socialist agitators. Now they pretty much run Hollywood, amongst other things, despite the best efforts of people Ann Coulter's vitriolic forebears.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Un-Equal Time: Marine Captain Jennifer J. Harris

Seven helicopters have gone down in Iraq since January 20th, the most in a month since the invasion of Iraq in early 2003. Most of those I've posted about in connection with a growing SAM threat, but didn't delve much into the human tragedy.

Jennifer Harris was the pilot of the CH-46 Sea Knight which was hit by a missile and crashed near Taji, losing all aboard. Captain Harris was the first female Marine helo pilot to do a tour in Iraq as a member of the elite Purple Foxes unit. She was truly elite, and was one of only three officers chosen for an upcoming Senate mentoring program. She had quite an academic and family background, as related in her local Boston Herald.

She went to Annapolis after high school, and was also accepted at West Point. As an attack pilot, she was a star, yet chose to fly medical rescue missions to US and Iraqi wounded. In a few more days, after the completion of her third tour, she would've celebrated a delayed Christmas with her proud family and taught Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps classes at George Washington University. To quote the news article:
Soon, he will repeat the tender ritual he shared with his daughter. “I loved picking her up at the airport when she’d come home,” Ray said. “I had this special pillow so she could rest her head. Picking her up was always so much better than taking her back.”
In a few days, Ray Harris will proudly drive to Logan Airport to meet “my lovely girl” when she arrives for the last time. “I told the funeral director that I want the hearse to come straight here. This is Jen’s home. This is where her mother and I and all her family and friends will be waiting to welcome her home.”
We can't control when we're born, and don't have much control over when we die. Mostly, the best we can do is strive for excellence and keep picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off. Captain Jennifer J. Harris did that to the last. I saw the video of her Chinook after it was hit by a SAM. Improbably, she somehow held it straight and level all the way down, with the second rotor and the back half of the bird missing. A little less damage, a little more lift, and she might have set it down safely.

Update: Bruce from The River Blog gave me a heads-up on the NPR story about Captain Jennifer Harris:
NPR covered this story. It put a human face on how our potential, collectively, is so casually thwarted by the sick and the power-mad. My heart goes out to the family, and all the families.
Thanks, Bruce. Listened to the NPR story, got choked up, and am now very, very pissed off. She shouldn't have been flying in that area, not below 8-10,000 feet, and they goddamn well knew it was hot with SAMs. She and 6 others paid with their lives to maintain the denials of CENTCOM generals. Those filthy careerist shits.

The Leader With A Thousand Faces: Ancient Archetypes And The 2008 Presidential Elections

A prince wounded by the treachery of usurpers was banished to the wildernerness, where he became a hairy man. People said they could hear his voice sometimes out in the wilderness, prophesying nonsense. Only a curious little orphan who was hungry one day started going into his leaky old rowboat to fish and listen to his stories. Then one day the hairy man's prophecies started coming true, so the villagers hurried back to find him, and said, "Come, speak to us, tell us the secrets so that we may be saved. All else we ask of you is that you bathe." The prince thought about the villagers offer very hard, and finally said, "Ok. I'll bathe. But the beard stays," and he came back to claim his true throne.

The archetypes above are straight out of Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With A Thousand Faces," harking back to the tales little children have heard since stories were only remembered, and not written. It's a powerful archetype, a fable of leadership and wisdom watered down into our popular culture as the storybook comeback. Al Gore fits it.

He's going to have a hard time not running for President, because people are begging him to. Not just little people, either. Big people. Hillary Clinton is great at raising money from special interest groups, hundreds of millions, but each check has a ball and chain attached. Al Gore could raise $2 billion from just two individuals, with no strings attached other than "go get our democracy back." I don't mean to say an election is all about money, only to indicate how much it matters where the money comes from, and how much more energy and passion would be behind Gore. If he entered the Presidential race, money would not be an issue.

Back in late 2000, when only an election was in the balance, and not the earth, over lunch I told my entire development team that if the election was decided for Bush, they should seriously consider making plans to leave the country or obtain a second passport. It was something along the lines of, "I don't know exactly how bad it'll be, but Dubya's going to be worse than I can imagine." Never having voted in an election, and having little knowledge of GWB or Al Gore, and no qualifications as a political prognosticator, they were still kind enough to not laugh. But that's how portentous the 2000 election seemed to my intuition. It's impossible to say what would've happened if things had gone differently, and as another Gore (Vidal) says, there's only one political party in the United States, and it's called the Property Party. That may be. But good leadership matters. You can't have good governance with bad leadership.

The alternate reality game above is pretty powerful stuff, and if Gore steps up to run, I'm not the only one who will think, "No. Really. What would have happened if Gore had been sworn in back in 2001?" Here's what I wouldn't be alone in thinking: 9/11 wouldn't have happened. The Global War On Terror wouldn't have happened. We wouldn't be in Iraq. The United States would have an energy policy. We wouldn't be torturing US citizens. We wouldn't be playing the next rounds of "Double That Deficit" and "Flush The Country Down The Toilet." I'd probably be able to find a good set of solar panels, put them on the roof of my house, put a windmill in my back yard, and get a tax break for it. The floundering US car companies might even have developed some good hybrid vehicles by now.

Maybe that's all dreaming. The important thing is, it's natural conjecture which will occur if, and more likely when, Al Gore decides sometime in 2007 to run. Love him or hate him, believe you or not in inconvenient truths, Gore learned much in the wilderness, and he likes it there. He can take or leave the Presidency, and will only run on his terms, which means he'll be genuine. If he runs and is not shot, he will be elected President. And I don't think he would be: Gore offers what might be called "Better Energy," which is a solution corporate elites, public companies, private citizens, utilities, and politicians can all line up behind. It's a New Deal for what we'll use to power the country.

But back to our archetypes. What of the curious orphan? Barack Obama was born for the part, and would make an excellent Vice President. Indulge me for a moment. Ralph Nader as Energy Secretary. Dennis Kucinich as Secretary of Defense. Ha. I really am dreaming. There are a lot of hurdles here, and even more trenches. But what be dreamt, may be done.

Oh, and Hillary Clinton? I'm not sure what Joseph Campbell called her archetype. But there is a more recent perfect fit for her: she was was born to play Evita Peron. Or, if she would accept the role, a Secretary of State who could out-do Kissinger on his best day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I'm On Iranian Radio

The title above is a reference to the Wall of Voodoo hit, "I'm On A Mexican Radio." As in a warbly off-key Stan Ridgeway dead-panning, "I wish I was in Tijuana--eating barbecued iguana." At first blush the song has a no connection to Iraq's Mahdi Army leader Moqtada Al-Sadr fleeing to Iran. He was reported to have gone there today out of a distrust of US intentions, and as a public figure he'll probably end up giving some interviews on radio and TV, maybe even sing a few evening prayers. Al-Sadr thought a laser-guided 500-lb. bomb might land on his pillow in Iraq, so he went all topsy-turvy and headed South of the Border. Hey, you're not paranoid if everyone is out to get you. More lyrics:
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
And the touch of a world that is older
I turn the switch and check the number
I leave it on when in bed I slumber
I hear the rhythms of the music
I buy the product and never use it
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can't understand just what does he say?
The plot thickens past where I can see bottom, but I guess it was time for Al-Sadr to get the hell out of Dodge. In the context of history, this is pretty funny either way. In 1963, the Shah of Iran shipped the undesireable Ayatollah Khomeini to Iraq to fester for about 13 years like an infectious intellectual boil in Najaf. Now it's Iraq's leading Shiite cleric with the martyred forebears who has fled to Iran. If the story is true, then Al-Sadr's eventual return should reciprocally signal something akin to Ruhollah Khomeini's trip back to Tehran. The guy's trouble. Blowback and boomerang, with tons of turnabout, irony, and a big dose of "let my people go."

A Debate In Da House, And Unhinged Resolutions

To be frank, Congress inherently bores the cyclotronic piss out of me. It's about as exciting as a slit wrist in a hot bath. Really. I wouldn't know procedure there if all the Pugs and Dims pulled up their collars, put their ties around their heads, and started singing "I'm a little teapot, short and stout." If the Sergeant-at-Arms fired off a 15-round clip at the gallery for reading manga comics, I'd think, "Mental note: send Japanese porn to Newt Gingrich." The worst thing is, I've taken classes from Congressional staffers about how to write briefs, have had dinner in a notoriously conservative Senator's home (yes, the potted palm still remembers me), and I would've served as an intern if I had only known enough to deal crack to co-staffers to compensate for the crappy pay.

I'm coming clean here. Congress confuses me. I'm not ashamed to admit it. What's to understand? 99.99/100ths of Congressional discourse is fake, endlessly regurgitated, and it's bow-oo-oo-ring. All the juicy stuff goes on behind the scenes. and you can't see it unless you're behind the orgiastic veil. Sure, there are some points when humanity peeks out, like when that new insane Church Lady from Ohio, Mean Jean Schmidt, called out Jack Murtha as a treasonous coward and threatened to singe him with the wrath of Almighty God. That was some plain speaking, finally. (Conveniently, she wore a polyester Old Glory draped over her entire body, so we knew what to think.) But usually, in Congress, the truth is so precious it is protected by a panoply of lies.

It's been a looooong time, even for a neo-fuddy like me, since there was a real debate there. And this week, there was something drawing timidly near to debate, like a dewy fawn-specked Bambi thirstily emerging from the forest to taste a still, clear pond, only to be frightened back into the brush by the "Joust of the Well-Rehearsed Talking Points." The Dims: "We will never, ever cut funding for our beloved troops, but the sinkhole you've created is as deep as your distended rectums." The Pugs: "Halting escalation will blow up Lincoln, Nebraska, and the number of the Beast is six hundred, three score, and six."

The important thing for us is, we saw the fawn of debate. Though startled and justifiably frightened, Bambi still exists. Hope is not lost. Lots of folks fault the Dims for engaging in the talking points, but at least they're being tactically smart. Focusing on a non-binding resolution is focusing on something that can be won. And it's not non-binding. It's on the record. It sets a stake in the ground, and builds on the slimmest basis for impeachment. Do I think such a devoutly wished possibility likely? No. But I shelter the spark of hope, and that can be fanned into flames. Believe me, if I still have hope, the Dims are doing something right.

When a big wheel is rolling down a hill towards you, it's hard to stop. If you stop it, no small feat, the first push back up the hill is the hardest. If the Dims win this resolution, all they establish is stalemate. And stalemate is better than collapse. After this, they can look for the next little skirmishes which can be won, and built upon.