Belaboring the Obvious

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sometimes, War Is a Racket....

There's been some comment on Toad-In-The-Hole's speech at the West Point commencement exercises yesterday, most of it centering on the pasty-faced old fart's apparent dissing of the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution. The notice is well-deserved, but there ought to be mention of something else.

What goes almost unnoticed these days--precisely because it is so common to this White House--is the rank jingoism of everyone's least-favorite fascist. Not only does he perpetuate this absurd "war on terror" nonsense, but his point in doing so is to emphasize that a good part of the rest of the world simply doesn't measure up to us:

As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for.

I note, with some cynicism, that the Wacko from Wyoming doesn't say, "fighting for and dying for." (I will also but mention that the cretinous trolls residing in the White House speechwriters' office have a peculiarly colloquial way with words destined for a very formal event... yet another means by which to distinguish Cheney and Bush from their presidential betters.) However, let us gloss over those minor quibbles and return to the main point. Here's a fellow who actively and repetitively evaded military service during the last "long war" lecturing newly-commissioned Army officers on the utter depravity and monstrosity of the enemy. Not only does this have the smell and feel of the sort of propaganda film shown to enlisted men and the public in WWII, it encourages these new officers to do something no professional soldier should ever do, for his own sake and the sake of his men: fail to respect one's enemies.

Such talk is designed to inflame passions, rather than to stimulate thoughtful contemplation of one's military purpose. For that reason, this address was directed not toward the new soldiers, but to the general public, and yet, those soldiers will take with them some measure of Cheney's words, given his place in the civilian structure controlling the military.

These days, it's the sort of talk that seems to spring from an enormous well of stupidity and racism, and is intended to appeal to the basest instincts of those in society who would prefer not to think for themselves and who find such simplistic stereotypes comforting. If that's what this administration thinks of its military leaders, lord, help us.

Beyond that, it's rather clear from this sort of barroom bullshit that Cheney is being his usual manipulative self, and that such talk is part of a calculated effort to mold public and military opinion to corrupt ends. He would very much like to see the present wars expanded throughout the Middle East, particularly, into Syria and Iran, and Cheney's dishonesty--in failing to reveal his true intentions and the cronyism behind those intentions--is particularly diabolical given his audience, for it is they who will eventually suffer physical, mental and moral wounds as Cheney's agents in the pursuit of his and Bush's corrupt ambitions. It is they who will find themselves in moral and legal jeopardy if they take Cheney's advice to heart.

Toward the end of his The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War, Andrew Bacevich writes:

Enthusiasts (mostly on the right) who interpret America's possession of unrivaled and unprecedented armed might as proof that the United States enjoys the mandate of heaven are deluded. But so too are those (mostly on the left) who see in the far-flung doings of today's U.S. military establishment substantiation of Major General Smedley Butler's old chestnut that "war is a racket" and the American soldier "a gangster for capitalism" sent abroad to do the bidding of Big Business or Big Oil.

Professional soldiers never want to consider seriously the possibility that their service has been used for corrupt purposes. And yet, the mere presence of Bush and Cheney in the White House ensured that they would be. Bush and Cheney are not the first to have done so, but they are the most brazen and mendacious and outrageous in doing so. They are the inevitable consequence of a political process that has been progressively cheapened--in large part due to the influence of the corporate news media--to the detriment of both soldiers and society at large. If one needs any proof of that, the recent capitulation of Democrats to Bush's demands--after the clear import of the 2006 elections--is evidence enough that the system is broken.

In 2005, Bacevich likely thought that Smedley Butler was wrong about how Butler and the military of this country had been used, or, alternately, that Butler's lessons did not apply to the modern military. I don't know if, in that estimation, he was considering that Butler's experience included being asked by the corporate enemies of FDR to overthrow the government on their behalf because they felt that Butler's reputation was sufficient to bring the military rank-and-file to the cause. They were wrong in their errant presumption that Butler valued Wall Street over the Constitution, but, the conspiracy clearly showed, beyond any doubt, that Wall Street viewed the military as its cat's paw.

In 2007, it would appear that Bacevich's opinions have changed somewhat, and the reasons for that change, and the results of that change are, frankly, tragic:

... responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.

To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove -- namely, wealthy individuals and institutions. Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.

Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.

This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.

There is, in this, an undercurrent of frustration and helplessness that transcends the expected emotional depths of grief. Prof. Bacevich has had an unhappy epiphany, provided to him by Democrats, the very same Democrats handed a mandate, only a few months ago, to clean up all the messes that Bush and Cheney and their wrecking crew have made. One wishes that Bacevich's remarks will induce a similar epiphany in the Democrats, but, that seems doubtful in the instant.

No matter if one voted to turn over Congress' right to declare war to the idiots and the insane in the White House, simple recognition now that the war was based in deceit and motivated by greed should be enough to revoke that right, should promote the understanding in the leadership of Congress that their first obligation is to respect the wishes of the country's majority and end the war, using all means available to them. It is the country's foremost problem at the moment and no other work should be done until that problem is ended.

If Bush threatens to veto a bill that forces him to obey the will of the people, send that bill up to him, anyway. Then do the political work necessary to override that veto. If not successful, craft an even more direct and forceful bill and send that to him. He and Cheney are as stubborn and stupid as mules, and that's the political equivalent of whacking them between the ears with a two-by-four. Do it over and over and over again until they get the point. Initiate investigations into Cheney's energy task force secrets and expose the true reasons for the war. Put a general call out to the whistleblowers still lurking in the woodwork of government. Guarantee to protect them from retaliation and get their testimony about the corrupt workings of this administration.

If the members of Congress--and particularly, the Democratic members--do not stand together to resist and check this administration's willful usurpation of power, Bush and Cheney will do to this country what they have already done to the military. Quite simply, if their political power is not blunted, they will destroy the country's foundations.

If the Democrats do not act forcefully to carry out the will of the people--the purpose for which they were elected--they will simply confirm Prof. Bacevich's observations and will enable further use of the military by Bush and Cheney for corrupt purposes. Anything less than such an effort is to aid and abet racketeering on an international scale.

And, on edit: if you ladies and gentlemen of Congress, having sunk too deeply into the morass of Washington politics to find yourselves in view of a satisfactory role model for the above task, I suggest you consider this young lady. You, too, have criminals in your midst.

(photo of Arlington West, via

Monday, May 14, 2007

No Good Words....

The DoD released the news today that the son of Prof. Andrew Bacevich of Boston Univ., Andrew J. Bacevich, was among those U.S. troops killed on Sunday by an IED in Balad, Iraq.

Bacevich's most recent book was The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War, and it's worth reading, perhaps especially so, right now.

The Bacevich family has my condolences, and my fervent wishes that this war, which has claimed so many lives unnecessarily, now including Andrew's, be brought to a prompt end. Would that our politicians had the will to do so.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Fooled You Once, Fooled You Twice....

Sen. Dick Durbin's recent--and not particularly convincing--lamentation that he was prevented from telling the public of the Bush administration's deceptions leading to war--because of his sworn secrecy--points, yet again, to the dilemmas implicit in a system of institutionalized secrecy.

Nothing actually prevented Durbin from making a general assessment of what he was told under seal of secrecy, or kept him from suggesting that what the Senate Select Intelligence Committee heard and saw was not what the public was being told. That the two versions were different shouldn't have been a deep, dark, essential secret. Such would be a characterization of the evidence, rather a breach which might reveal sources or methods.

That Durbin's assessment was restricted to his vote on the war resolution didn't help the public at all in its evaluation of the evidence--especially when considering that the news media cheerfully reported every dire prediction emanating from the Bush administration. What was done in the name of security was, in point of fact, a silence which served to make legitimate the sleaziest sort of propaganda.

So, lame excuse or principled silence? Probably more of the former than the latter. The administration forced the vote only a few weeks before the 2002 election (by contrast, the vote authorizing the first Gulf War came only days before the attacks began, was greatly closer than in 2002, and in 1991, was greatly affected by quite open lies about the behavior of Iraqi troops in Kuwait). Nevertheless, the invocation of state secrets made it easier for the war to proceed--and for the public to be convinced that the war was a matter of necessity, rather than the war of ill-advised choice that it was from the outset. Selective leaks by the Bushies from the same documentation Durbin refused, on principle, to discuss at the time--in even general terms--enabled the administration to twist both the context for and underlying reasons for war.

Ever since its inception, the modern security system has accreted more and more power to limit the flow of information, and, often, that accretion has been spurred by political concerns. For example, the legal basis for the now much-abused and so-called "state secrets privilege" rests in the litigation of a civil case against the government--United States v. Reynolds. In that, the litigants were family members of military contractors who had died in the crash of an Air Force plane. They argued that the reason for those deaths was inadequate and shoddy maintenance of the aircraft by the government. The government petitioned the Supreme Court in 1953, arguing that national security concerns outweighed any constitutional right to individual relief through the courts. The Court ruled in favor of the government after hearing, in camera, the security reasons offered by the government. It was over three decades later that the government was forced to release the maintenance records at issue in the case, and those records showed that, indeed, the litigants were correct in their assertions, and that, very likely, the national security issues were contrived, or inflated, to save the government embarrassment. Despite this obvious bamboozlement of the Court, the Court has not seen fit to revisit the issue, even though it has had opportunity to do so, as recently as November, 2005.

Over the years, the state secrets privilege was used sparingly, until the Bush administration suddenly had the excuse of terrorism to expand its use, as it has done with a host of other procedures, including the also much-abused national security letter (which is invariably accompanied by a gag order preventing the recipient of the letter from revealing the existence of the letter or its demands for document production). Although U.S. Code explicitly disallows the classification of documents--or the withholding of documents--for political purposes or to hide incompetence or wrongdoing, it has been easy for the government to do so because of the acquiescence of the lower courts in matters described by the administration as impinging upon national security. The so-called "war" on terrorism has greatly expanded the number of opportunities for the government to use very minor players in that matter around the world for poltical advantage. (Tangentially, consider the process employed by the government in the detention and prosecution of Jose Padilla. Padilla was questioned in Chicago after his return from overseas. Only when he refused to incriminate himself and ceased answering questions was he detained, in secret. A month later, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made a dramatic statement in the midst of talks in Moscow that Padilla had conspired to produce a "dirty bomb" for use against American citizens. Despite being a U.S. citizen, Padilla was refused habeas corpus rights and was eventually not charged with the highly-publicized crimes on which he had been held originally. Given that Padilla's education in the nuclear sciences was considerably lacking--he averred that he could enrich nuclear materials by swinging them in a bucket over his head--and that Ashcroft's announcement was artificially sensational, it's not difficult to surmise that all the genuinely pertinent aspects of the Padilla case were submerged in secrecy for political advantage.)

Unfortunately for an uninformed citizenry, all this means that those most able to understand and manipulate the national security system--those that make classifications and do investigations under the rubric of national security--are also able to politicize the system in ways unbeknownst to the average man on the street (or the average federal judge), if they are so inclined. If anything, the current Congressional investigations into the politicization of the Department of Justice should stand as fair warning of the likelihood that the rest of the national security system has also been politicized in ways we do not yet understand for lack of knowledge, even though we should, by now, know better. It was, after all, the greatest of Nixon's secular sins that he tried to use the CIA and the FBI for political purposes, to destroy his political enemies. To maintain that the hordes of sleazy, wholly unprincipled fucks working for Bush and the RNC are above using the CIA, the NSA, the DoD and the FBI for similar political purposes is like saying the sky is green. Nixon gave `em the roadmap, and they're cruising down it at a hundred miles an hour.

And yet, we're in the fiftieth month of an unnecessary war precisely because this administration politicized the national security system, protestations by Dick Durbin notwithstanding. By now, keeping history in mind, it's unconscionable that either the press or the public--or the not-yet-stark-raving-bonkers in Congress--give this administration a pass on any attempt at secrecy on national security grounds. If one needs any reminder of the likelihood of the Bushies using every tool at their disposal to screw their detractors, recall Bush's exceptional refusal to allow security clearances to the investigators of the DoJ's Office of Professional Responsibilty when they sought to investigate DoJ approval of the NSA warrantless surveillance program.

These guys are dirty, and they're using the bogus war on terror to hide that fact. They're not the only ones in history to have used "national security" to cover their asses, but, dollars to doughnuts, they've done so more brazenly and more extensively than any other administration in modern history--including Nixon's band of pirateers.

The Dick Durbins in government have been their useful idiots, yes, but it's time for that to stop, now that subpoena power can be used for something other than investigating Socks the White House Cat's fan club. Maybe Durbin will finally get the big picture when he figures out that Karl Rove has been keeping tabs on all his phone calls courtesy of the NSA....

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

42, the web, and everything....

Dunno which, but between Netscape and Blogger, couldn't post for weeks.... Every time I tried to enter the Blogger front end (`cept for once), the browser crashed.

What's a lad to do, when Blogger has no help facility for such nastiness (probably `cause it's free)? Well, convert to Firefox, and see what happens, and that's what I did tonight, and I can, at the very least, get in to post.

More, in the nonce....