Tuesday, July 28, 2009

#135 Obamacare Update--Sell-Outs in the Senate and Raleigh NC

  • Last Friday's post (#133) "What shall it profit ... ?" wasn't meant as a prophecy, but it might as well have been. Sure enough, yesterday's headlines pictured the partners in Big-Med graft, Baucus and Grassley, side-by-side, congratulating themselves on dumping the Public Option from Finance Committee consideration. Recall that these two most powerful members, Chairman and ranking Republican, were also the most heavily endowed by the Pharmaceutical and Insurance industries Not only are these folk on the wrong side of history, they're almost on the wrong side of the law. Doesn't the Senate have an Ethics Committee?
  • Meanwhile, as mentioned, President Obama will visit Raleigh's Broughton High School to a "sell-out" crowd tomorrow (it's free, but ticketed in advance) to hold a "Town Hall" forum on Health Care Reform. I just learned why, presumably, he chose this unlikely site. Not so unlikely after all. It is a collegiate looking place, within view of the state capitol, and has hosted Edwards, Gore, Powell, even Helms. But before and because was Martin Luther King's historic 1958 speech on segregation, presented at Broughton to a mixed white/black audience. Appropriate enough, but in that speech he delivered this famous health-based metaphor on the evils of segregation: "It is a cancer on the body politic, and until it is removed our democratic health cannot be realized." A wonderful coincidence, and I wonder if Obama will take some advantage of it. I'll be listening.

Monday, July 27, 2009

#134 Health-Care and the Economy

With a nod to last post ... No, not everything in this country need conform to the profit motive. But, okay, if you want to believe in the basic free-enterprise profitability of the US Economy, which I do, and can believe in our President and the consensus of expert economists (including a Nobelist or two), which I do, then we must perforce DUMP private health care as we know and love it. A totally free market hasn't been able to control what I call the "50% equation"--wherewith collectively we pay 50% more for health care than any other First World country ... and get 50% less health care. Or as Obama put it in his press conference last week, "We spend much more on health care than any other nation, but aren't getting any healthier for it." All true, and all a colossal drain on our resources, let alone our sense of security and general well-being. He continues (with some addenda of my own):

That is why I've said that even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health insurance reform is central to the effort.

This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance [or 25 million more who are UNDER-insured]. Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick ["recision"], or lose their job [and face the exorbitant and only temporary COBRA], or change their job [and face a potentially dangerous waiting-period or, worse, no employer-provided insurance at all]. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it's about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid [caused by Big-Med].

So let me be clear: if we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit [a good ol' Republican hobby-horse]. If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket [the Big-Med monopoly]. If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction. [Bad business practices, even from a free-market standpoint.] These are the stakes of the debate we're having right now.

Alas, the President disappointed the Blogman in this respect: He did not mention Public Option by name. His handlers may have thought it too "volatile" at this point. I don't know. I know that's what he wants, and it may lurk later in the speech beneath this: "If you don't have health insurance, or are a small business looking to cover your employees, you'll be able to choose a quality, affordable health plan through a health insurance exchange [?]--a marketplace that promotes choice and competition." I just wish he had spoken more plainly. For--short of Single-Payer--the Public Option is the only way we can even start to break the stranglehold of the Big-Med monopoly. Which is tantamount to Fraud in my Libertarian book.

Friday, July 24, 2009

#133 Health-Care--"What shall it profit a man ... ?"

Today in my adopted hometown of Raleigh NC, the Chamber Of Commerce hosted what were called "industry experts"--Pharmaceuticals and Insurance--to present their views on Health Care Reform. They met at the Sheraton on Hanover Square, a tall-building business center, across from the Bank of America, where picketers from the State Employees Association held up signs lettered, "Honk 4 Better Health Care" and "Public Option Now." They needn't have worried: the representatives from Big-Med affirmed the need for controlling the costs of Health Care and making it more available to more people, or so it was reported afterwards. They said the best way to do that was with a SINGLE-PAYER system.

Just kidding about that last part. No, the best way to fix the system, the "experts" said, is through the system we got. For-profit, private insurance, not public option. And the "business leaders" in attendance agreed. I'm just shocked. Isn't the Chamber a non-profit organization? (It is, actually, for tax purposes.) Well, the poor picketers didn't have a chance, and seemed to know it. One sad-faced lady, cowed maybe by the cathedrals of free enterprise surrounding the Square, said this to a reporter: "We're just trying to plant a seed, you know ... it's hard to change people ... they're gonna do what they have a mind to, I guess."

Big-Med is in the business of making big money. And the benign "cost cutting" that the so-called experts promised would inevitably involve more "money-making." Here's the deadly reductio ad absurdum: The people "entrusted" to provide health care coverage are the same people making money by denying it. By simple definition, it can be no other way. The equations are these: a profit-driven health insurance industry is not going to insure people who can't pay. Likewise, those who can't pay enough will be under-insured. And even for those who think they've paid enough, the company will find ways to diminish or deny their claims. It's politely called "recision" (L. re + caedere = to cut)--and the companies spend millions paying folk to come up with new wrinkles on how to "cut-back" and cancel existing policies.

Big-Med spends millions elsewhere, as well. Who's blocking Public Option? Congressional Republicans and "Blue Dog" Democrats paid off directly or indirectly by Drug and Insurance companies. Surprise. First of all, the lobbyists. According to a July 6th WashPost analysis, the largest insurers, hospitals, and medical groups have hired some 350 former government staff members and retired members of congress to influence their old bosses and colleagues on health-care (non) reform. Among them, two Dicks named Armey and Gephardt.

Direct payments, too. According to another WP article just this week, Big-Med gave nearly $170 million to congressmen in 2007-08, and the money keeps flowing to, in particular, those federal lawmakers on key committees who can pull strings on the health-care debate. For example, Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has received $2 million from health and insurance sectors (since 2003), and you know he will be an "Obama-care" obstructionist on principle alone. But since the Democrats took over in 2006, the majority of Big-Med money has shifted (very shiftily indeed) to moderate key Democrats, like House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, who's received $1.6 million over the last two years. Can we resist calling these folk foxes in the hen-house of health-care reform?

Biggest fox: Democrat Max Baucus, Chairman of the Senate Finance Commitee. He has received over $3 million from such corporate contributors as New York Life, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Schering-Plough, and Merck. And while he purports to be an advocate of reform, he throws up specious roadblocks like private/public "co-ops" whenever he can. Little wonder. He's been bought off.

Next Wednesday in my adopted hometown of Raleigh NC, Broughton High School Auditorium will host President Obama hisownself ... and his health-care plan. "Town Hall" style. Could there be any starker contrast with the Chamber of Commerce meeting above, in almost every way? The Blogman is hoping he'll rise above the profit motive, and get down to moral imperatives.

What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

#132 Dulce et ... etc. V--"Flound'ring ... in Fire and Lime"

Returning for a moment to the truly iconic (see #130) Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America"--he could be trusted to give us the straight dope on the Vietnam War. As "anchor" (a term coined for him) of the CBS Evening News during the whole of that tortured era, he along with correspondents like Dan Rather in the field SHOWED us the front-line horrors of that war, up close and deadly personal. Many have said that this TV "reality show" was THE deciding factor in turning the American people against the war. We watched it every night; I believe it. Though I give a strong second to the army of anti-war MOTHERS marching and picketing all over the place. But, then again, they would have shown up on "Cronkite." An unbeatable combination!

We just haven't had that kind of coverage of the bloody mess in the Middle East. Bush/Cheney knew better. And now Obama. Only lately have we been allowed to see the coffins returned. No body bags in the field , though. You have to go somewhat "underground" to get a kind of Wilfred Owen look at how our soldiers die, literally "floundering .. in fire and lime." Get on the internet and go to, for example, liveleak.com. Click on some of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) videos from Iraq and Afghanistan. In one, we see the fireball expelling a soldier from his Hummer about two stories into the air, silhouetted by flame, cartwheeling akimbo through his trajectory, and falling back into the burning wreck.

Another video clip supplies some gruesome audio commentary by two American soldiers, sentries maybe. They witness an IED conflagration, presumably with binoculars--we see the smoking "Bradley" truck at some distance through their fixed surveillance camera. Breathless and helpless they angrily describe the action:

They're fuckin' dead, man ... Two guys burning to death on the road ... That motherfucker is burnin' up in the road ... Two guys burnin' up in the middle of the street ... These guys are still alive man ... He's crawlin' away from the fire ... Still on fire, man ... movin' ...

We must assume the worst, since the the only witnesses were too far away to assist, and perhaps couldn't leave their posts anyway. Burned to death, unmourned and alone, by the side of the road. THIS is what happens to our mothers' sons and freedom-fighters in AfganIraqiStan.

Good news: they're replaceable! Defense Sec. Gates announced yesterday that he is increasing the size of the US Army by 22,000 troops, "temporarily." He told reporters that the increase is "intended to cope with strains from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ... The Army faces a period where its ability to deploy combat brigades at acceptable fill rates [?] is at risk." Maybe he'll even get volunteers ... after all,

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

Monday, July 20, 2009

#131 Dulce et ... etc. IV--A Dirty Little War

Modern technology allows us to share in some of Walter Cronkite's posthumous wisdom. (In fact, CBS announced today that his voice will continue to introduce the CBS Evening News, in aeternitatis I guess.) Through the miracle of the printed word, Wilfred Owen"s "findings" on WWI are preserved in his most famous poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est," introduced back at the beginning of this series (#127ff.). The full line from Horace's ode comes at the end of the last stanza, most relevant for my purposes here, and quoted below.

To set the context: After a nighttime engagement with the enemy "Huns," the speaker's company is shelled with poison gas as it withdraws. One soldier, deafened by gunfire perhaps, doesn't hear the alarm, "Gas! GAS! Quick boys!" and didn't get his mask on in time--"But someone still was yelling out and stumbling / And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ..." Here is the aftermath of that "helpless sight"--

If in some smothering dreams' you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Owen was no coward: he was actually "blown up" by an exploding shell--the death du jour in Iraq or Afghanistan--but after treatment for concussion and shell-shock, he was returned to the front, won the Military Cross for heroism in action (Audie-Murphy style: he killed a bunch of Germans with their captured machine gun!), and wrote his poetry ... only to be shot and killed in the last week of the war. His beloved mother received the news as the Armistice bells were ringing.

The poet's point is that in modern warfare there is nothing "sweet and decorous" anymore about dying for one's country (though the Horatian line is still the motto of England's famed Sandhurst Academy). No mano a mano flashing of swords and genteel swashing of buckles on this battlefield. No, much to his mortification (in every sense), Owen finds the war a craven subhuman slaughterhouse, where ignorant armies clash by night, and where a once-gallant soldier can be "flung" onto the ignominy of a meat-wagon.

Nonetheless, Wilfred Owen fought on to the end ... because for him at least (1) there was a clearly defined "enemy"; (2) his homeland across the the channel was already threatened by German submarines, blockades, and future invasion; and (3) the French allies were not such a bad lot to be fighting for. Now, the Middle East is no less a craven blood-bath than Owen's WWI France--our soldiers are literally "floun'dring ... in fire and lime"--but where are those casus belli for keeping our soldiers at war, or for them to keep fighting? Take the Blogman's quiz: go back to nos. 1, 2, and 3 above and try to apply them to AfghanIraqiStan. Give up?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

#130 Wisdom of the Week--Walter Cronkite

Old words of wisdom, to be sure ... a bit over forty-one years. But their impact on the times and their relevance to our state of war today and the last eight years cry out for their reprise. In fact, I can't help but wonder IF--close to death and hearing reports (he would have been a newsman to the end) about our escalating presence and increasing loss of American lives in the Middle East--"Uncle" Walter might not have thought and wished, "I hope they replay my Vietnam editorial for the people, after I'm gone. I'm still proud of it. It changed the minds of many about our involvement in that war, and may do the same today for those who allow the past to teach us about the present."

He got his/my wish, as we have seen and heard snippets of that Feb. 1968 broadcast over the last few days after his death at 92. (Small hooray for outliving Bob McNamara, chief architect of the Vietnam War, if only by a couple of weeks.) I've heard no overt connections made so far, however, between that speech and our situation today. I'm sure there will be. Here are salient excerpts with addenda and emphases mine:

  • Tonight, back in the familiar surroundings of New York, we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam [after the Tet offensive] ... Who won and who lost? ... The referees of history may make it a draw... On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the [South] Vietnamese government can cope with its problems [like the US puppets in the Middle East] ...
  • We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders [Bush, Rumsfeld, Obama] ... to have faith any longer in the silver linings ["Mission Accomplished" "Sovereignty Day"] they find in the darkest clouds ... For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate [after six more bloody years under Nixon] ...
  • To say that we are closer to victory [or "withdrawal" from the Middle East] today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past [mainly Republicans, but now too many Democrats]. To say we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic yet satisfactory conclusion [as it will always be in an insurgency war] ...
  • This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
What a bombshell that was. LBJ knew it caused more damage to his cause than all the ones he was dropping in Southeast Asia. After the broadcast he reportedly said, "If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost Middle America." Later, Johnson would not seek re-election; the Democrats lost; Nixon won, promising "Peace with Honor"(read: more bombing); but it took post-Watergate President Ford to begin unconditional withdrawal from the ghastly wastelands we had created. Delayed though it was, Walter Cronkite's words of wisdom had a lot to do with it.

Let's hope President Obama is listening, because ... "That's the way it is."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

#129 Dulce et ... etc. III--Aggression and Occupation

To continue: let's all do a little basic-Libertarian-think here. We're sending our young men and women to be killed on foreign soil that's worth nothing more than--face it--a few drops of oil. Certainly the people there are not worth the sacrifice, and they don't want us there anyway. We're fighting a war of aggression (wrong: founding-father-wise) that is un-winnable (wrong: Vietnam-101-wise). We shouldn't be in Iraq to begin with--even far-right Republican chicken-hawks and interventionist Democratic do-gooders are together on that now. Yet BOOM goes Afghanistan again. Golly whiz, Billy Pilgrim, we don't even have to invoke Vietnam--Obama has the Iraq mistake to learn from. (Reminder: the US has never won a modern "insurgency-war"--see DM #60 for me and Sir Michael Rose on this--and cannot now.)

And yet our President is ready to throw good money (and human beings) after bad into where the "real" war, he says, should have been concentrated in the first place. Bin Laden and 9/11 and all that. Well, where is the odious Osama--Afghanistan ... Pakistan ... Malaysia ... Newark? Let the local authorities deal with him, if local authorities exist ... and if they want to. Martyred by death or imprisonment, he becomes even more dangerous. Leave him in hiding, bounty-haunted maybe, along with his scant band of Arab exiles and non-Arab uber-Muslims. They are no threat to us.

And this needs to be put on the table: Sure, whatever Afghan or Pakistani government is in place--if and when Bin Laden is caught--would hang him in a New York minute, as the Iraquis did Saddam Hussein. But in real-life post-9/11 (notwithstanding) New York USA ... he'd not only slip the noose, but with a good lawyer get off with only some jail-time for accessory before the fact. And even that would trumped-up. Of course Mr. Al Quaeda himself took credit for the whole thing; that's his job. But fiendish crime though it was, let's be objective: Osama didn't do it. The 9/11 perpetrators were European-Muslim engineers from one place or another linked to Al Quaeda only by their fanatical brand of religion and Bin Laden's money. So we're going to throw the weight of most of our military might against this guy? He's worth nary a single American life.

As for fighting the nasty old Taliban, here the US is guilty of unabashed interventionism. It's a tribal, sectarian, CIVIL WAR over there, just as in Iraq. Once upon a time we thought the Taliban were just peachy when they were fighting the nasty old interventionist Russkies. We went so far as to secretly send them guns and bullets and missile-launchers and other what-nots of war (see DM #24-25 for "Charlie Wilson's War) that they could be using against American troops right this minute. LOL. The Taliban won; took over; and immediately began to demonstrate their fun forms of religious ritual: amputating various body parts; flogging, branding, stoning, and beheading fellow citizens; and blowing up Buddhist statuary. Tough luck for the Afghans. But like Mark Sanford for the benighted South Carolinians, they get what they deserve.

But speaking of "blowing things up" (especially Russians--it gets in your blood, evidently): the Taliban get such a kick out of maiming and dismembering and detonating anything that moves, their main source of entertainment these days seems to be watching American soldiers explode and burn by the side of the road.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

#128 Dulce et ... etc. II--"There Will Be Blood"

No, it is not sweet and decorous (noble or right) to die for Afghanistan--or for any of these benighted territories in the Middle East that only most kind would call nations ... patriae. And what is morbidly ironic is that THEY don't want us too, either. Over and over the polls show that our military presence is almost universally reviled, always by a majority, and usually topping the 80% mark throughout the areas involved. That's true even in Saudi Arabia, our specious "ally," where the presence of US military directly caused 9/11. No, I'm not taking that back ... we shouldn't have had bases there to begin with, and we pissed-off just "one" rich Arab too many.

Okay, but what about the OIL? Well, that's why we're there; that's what our mother's sons are fighting and dying for ... black gold, Texas tea. We must to our shame admit it. The various medieval tribes who sit on that oil know it too, and they don't--to their credit-- believe any of our bullshit about bringing freedom and democracy to their homelands. For good reason they consider us an occupying force, no less so than the Russians (Afghanistan) and the British (Pakistan) before us.

Besides that--and here's the fatal misconception (one that comes uncomfortably close to the truth) that puts us in an absolutely no-win situation all over the Middle East--they believe that we're also there to kill Muslims. How can we blame them, when Bush and Palin maintain that we're over there on a mission from God (the Christian one, I assume) ... when southern politicians proclaim that the best thing to do is convert them all to Christianity ... when one of our combat generals (with a bad case of pareidolia) sees the devil's face (no kidding) in the smoke rising from a ruined village. Most telling for them, though, is seeing innocent Muslim civilians being killed by the minute. Day after day.

They can do a good enough job of that on their own. And yet we read yesterday (AP) "July is shaping up as the deadliest month of the Afghan war for US-led international [Hah!] forces, with the number killed already matching the highest full-month toll of the nearly eight-year conflict ...." In fact, says the report, the death toll for American troops--about three per day--is now equal to what it was at the height of the Iraq war. Not to mention--and they did not--the "collateral damage" in civilian casualties. Madness.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

#127 Dulce et Decorum Est--AfghanIraqiStan

This is the sardonic title of Wifred Owen's WWI poem, taken from Horace; the full line cross-translated as "Sweet and decorous [it] is" pro patria mori "for [your] country, to die." Prophetic. Owen was killed in the last week of the war. He was a Brit, fighting gallantly, and winning medals in a a "foreign" war along with French and American allies against the common German enemy. He hated every minute of it, nonetheless, and in his many letters to his mother he urged her to organize "agitation" against the war.

I'll quote the defining last verses later, but let's return to those other mothers (#125) trotted before the cameras every day, and constrained to give some sort of rationale for their son's death. You can't blame them: they come up with pretty much the same thing--"He was fighting for his country" ... his patria. Or worse, the bruxistic "He was fighting for our freedoms." It would be cruel to point out that the root cause of all the Middle East Wars is RELIGION, and when we get involved ... OIL. Okay, but at least our sons and daughters are dying for democratic freedoms for these people, the kind we enjoy in this country, a mother might say. That's a good cause, isn't it? President Bush said it was.

The problem is ... these people are BARBARIANS. By modern Western standards, they haven't progressed much past the 14th century on the moral/social scale of human values. Let the following sample headlines (among many more) coming out of Afghanistan speak to the issue of just WHOM our mothers' sons are really fighting and dying for. We know of the unspeakable inhumanity of the Taliban--these stories come AFTER the democratically elected government of Hamid Karzai took over in 2006:

  • Abdul Rahman, 41, sentenced to death for converting to Christianity ...
  • Afghan journalist faces death penalty for blasphemy (printing a translation of the Koran) ...
  • Father murders university-student daughter for falling in love with British soldier; police release and congratulate him ...
More on this last horrendous example: according to the Guardian (UK) May 2008 article, the father, Abdel-Quader Ali, works as a government employee in Basra. He was not charged, but rather put on salaried leave because of "bad publicity." He is still a free man. In an interview, he takes pride in an act that he says any Muslim would do, if he honored his religion. "God is blessing me for what I did. Death was the least she deserved." Actually, she got more. Torture. Mr. Ali beat, stomped, suffocated, and finally stabbed the 17-year-old to death. When her mother screamed in horror for her brothers to save her ... they instead joined in the carnage. "My sons were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours."

OUR sons are giving up their lives for this?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

#126 Obama's War III--McNamara's Ghost

He's dead, and he's had to writhe in his guilt for half of his 93 years--just watch the Errol Morris documentary, Fog of War (2003--where he looks positively ghost-worthy). Punishment enough? Hell no. In our grad-school bull-sessions of the late Sixties and early Seventies we wanted to pointedly HANG Robert McNamara and his people for war-crimes (a la Nuremberg) committed against the people of Southeast Asia, America , and hell yes ... Humanity.

Okay ... McNamara top of the list ... Dean Rusk, Walt Rostow, the Bundy brothers [all household names in those days]. Hunt 'em down; string 'em up. LBJ probably out of reach ... death's door anyway ... JFK already dead ... had something to prove after Bay of Pigs ... hey, Karma, man ... he sort of paid for getting us into Vietnam--killed same month after the Diem brothers' assassinations [bull-session straight talk]. But listen, if Nixon doesn't get our asses out as promised--time's running out--we'll haul his ass in, along with Melvin Laird and all those other guys.

They all got away scot-free. McNamara was awarded a distinguished career as head of the World Bank. Nixon went ahead and killed another 30.000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians as he expanded the war ... only to be stopped by Watergate. President Obama is dangerously close to becoming another Nixon, if not an LBJ. As he expands the conflict from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan (thereby further destabilizing all the rest of the volatile Middle East), his policies invoke the spectral images of Vietnam.

At the risk oversimplifying--but listen, the Blogman went through those long frustrating years until that Hip-Hip-over-the-radio-top-down-speeding-along-the-highway-open-beer-can-HooRay! day, 30 April 1975, when it was announced that the last Marines escaped by helicopter off the US Embassy building in Saigon--some strong and straight-up words need to be spoken:

  • They dare not call it "Iraqization," but the Obama brand of troop "withdrawal"--turning over the war to Iraqi forces when "ready" (beginning with the bogus Day of Sovereignty a couple of weeks ago)--rehashes Nixon's "Vietnamization" strategy that went on for about as long as the our entire Iraq War. After all, it only took fifteen years of American presence in Vietnam for ARVN to be ready enough to be easily overrun by Northern armies.
  • The new escalation in Afghanistan replicates LBJ/Nixon's "search-and-destroy" and "pacification" (Orwell-speak for blowing up villages). Find the Taliban/al Quaeda strongholds; attack with ground troops; fail; call in air support; bomb everybody. Except the "enemy," who will slip away to fight again from desert caves (or the tunnel-bunkers of Vietnam).
  • But now we've got a new weapon against innocent civilians: the DRONE (robot-plane) BOMBER. Can't have American ground-troops in Pakistan, officially/technically, so let's just attack by remote-control. I wonder if there's much chance of "collateral damage" in that.
The ghost of McNamara stalks. MSNBC headline just today: U.S. Commander: Afghan Forces Insufficient--Obama strategy may need more funds, U.S. troops, say military officials. "General Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that ... if President Obama's [time-warp alert] WINNING THE WAR is to succeed ... [it] would require spending billions more ... and the likely deployment of of thousands more U.S. troops ..." [emphasis and ellipses mine]

And so it goes, Billy Pilgrim ...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

#125 Obama's War II--Meat Packing

... and more deadly by the hour.

My adopted home state of North Carolina has some of the largest hog "farms" and pork-processing plants in the world. Owned by giant Smithfield Packing Company, they have polluted the state's rivers and ground water for years with "pig-matter" of one kind or another. One of their plants in Mexico may have started the Swine Flu epidemic. Forever in litigation with state and federal agencies, paying fines and indemnities, fighting unionization for decades (the biggest plant, in Tar Heel NC, finally went union just a few weeks ago)--Smithfield nonetheless ships tons o' hams all over the country (they are tasty), and its operation impacts hugely on the NC economy ... pays a lot of bills ... and, like that other toxic "cash-cow," Tobacco, is more than tolerated (#1 cash crop, though, is marijuana!).

And speaking of "pork-barrels," another large chunk of the NC state economy involves a disproportionate number of military bases, established and maintained through the good offices of our congressional delegation over many, many years. We ship people to the Middle East: soldiers from Ft. Bragg, marines from Camp Lejeune, national guardsmen from their NC home-towns, and so on. They all become our native sons on the local news, however, when they're killed, and their corpses are shipped back ... packed in body-bags.

And the mothers are inevitably interviewed, every day as the reports come in. "He died fighting for our freedom," as if from a prepared script. Who can blame them? The true meaninglessness of their sons' (and a few daughters') sacrifice would be too much to bear. More than halfway around the world, How would the mother of a killed-in-action "insurgent" respond (as if a Muslim woman could ever be caught on camera)? "He died fighting for our freedom." An easy case can be made that the latter response is far more justified--her son was fighting an invading and occupying army. And how in the world can a Pakistani mother come to terms with a son or daughter killed by an American drone-bomber? "He died walking to school." What does she know of "collateral damage"?

Several times during his campaign for President, both here and his one time abroad, Obama made apologies to all for the civilian casualties incurred in the Middle East War. (I was listening.) Almost as a "campaign promise." After all, he didn't start it, was against it, didn't vote for it, didn't have to (wasn't in the Senate yet)--he could still implicitly blame it all on Bush/Cheney ... with absolutely righteous justification. But it's his Vietnam now.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

#124 Obama's War

As I said in last post: The only good way to "withdraw" from a Vietnam or an Iraq is to have already done it. Don't shovel me more piles of "timetables," "strategic deadlines," etc.--no, no, no ... I've heard all of that before. Everybody agrees now that we shoudn't be there in the first place. And President Obama could have invoked something called the "American System of Government" the moment he took his hands off Lincoln's bible. "World ... we made a colossal mistake; I'm the new Commander in Chief; we're bringing the troops home. The American people who voted me in and gave me a majority Congress cannot be held accountable for the insanity of the past administration. This is how our representative democracy works. Clean slate. Suck it up." Of course, he didn't do that ... and to be fair he promised no such (not so) radical notion in his campaign.

Obama got my vote in '08, as Robert Kennedy would have in '68, because he promised to make the War his top priority after the election. Understandably, the Economy got in the way, and goodnessgracious I'm cheering him on in his fight to get Heath Care in order. (He's smart enough to know he CAN do it all.) But "Sovereignty Day" in Iraq was a total scam, and now the Death Toll in Afghanistan rises daily. Those politicians who've denied the the exact parallels between the Middle East Wars and Vietnam are just self-servingly crazy. We've never won an "insurgency war," and cannot now. (I'll give Bush the Elder credit here: he fought a defensive war against an aggressor nation; won it; and withdrew.)

More of that later, but the important point is that The War now belongs irretrievably to Obama. He owns it, and all its hellish spawn, because ...
  • He didn't bring the troops home the day after his inauguration;
  • Setting that aside, he keeps putting total withdrawal further and further into the future;
  • He's pushing for more and more funding--the US House just approved $106 billion (strange bedfellows Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich voted against);
  • He's attacking Afghanistan/Pakistan.

Hate to say it, but Obama's war is spreading, and getting ever more deadly by the hour.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

#123 Independence Day--Iraq?

Happy Fourth for us, and Happy "National Sovereignty Day," in Iraq--as June 30th was declared as American combat troops "withdrew" from the major cities. The Yankees are going! The Yankees are going! What a colossal FRAUD. I'm tempted to go unpatriotic here, and brand both holidays as shams--ours because this July 4th as in 1776 we find ourselves very UN-independently entangled with, and even tyrannized by foreign powers in the Middle East (this includes Israel). But I won't. As for their so-called step toward Iraqi independence? Odoriferous Bullshit! All of this foofoorah reminds me of Dubya's several semantic feints at "withdrawals" that never were. We ended up "surging" (Orwell-speak), instead. Hauntingly, all of this reminds me, too, of LBJ's and Nixon's dilatory "pacification" and "Vietnamization" policies that never ended that miserable military epoch but with a sputtering "cut and run" under Ford.

The sad facticity is that these troops are simply deploying from the cities to the suburbs, and like a county sheriff, they will remain on call to rush in with six-guns blazing. And they'll have to. Here's a bit of anecdotal "inverse proof" that this just ain't gonna work: the mother of a North Carolina soldier (a Nat'l. Guardsman) rejoiced in a local TV interview yesterday that her son may have a chance to come home. But at the same time, against her own self-interest, she was stunningly skeptical. "They aren't ready. I'd hate to go through him coming home and then have to go back again." Most all the experts would agree with her indirect, from-the-heart assessment of the situation. She just wouldn't have used the word "bullshit."

Not only are these troops not REALLY leaving the cities, other military personnel are NOT really leaving the cities. According to the NY Times, unknown numbers of "contractors" (mercenaries) and advisers will stay. Who's gonna notice, after all?--the Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) signed by the Iraqis allows the US to occupy the country indefinitely, and to intervene when any external or internal threat arises. C'mon ... it's still full-scale WAR. Cut it any way you like, we've still got 130,000 soldiers over there killing Muslims and Kurds, women and children, and, on occasion ... themselves.

The "festivities" celebrating the non-event were just as bogus. Again, according to the Times, the Iraqi "people" being sovereign-ated weren't even there. Within Baghdad's restricted Green Zone, the only party-goers in sight were cops, military, dignitaries of whatever ilk (I'm paraphrasing), and reporters. Big whoop ... in other words. In fact it borders on the macabre. Rather it might as well have been a festival on the order of the Latin American "Day of the Dead"--a "celebration " of the hundreds of thousands killed, maimed, tortured, and refugeed as a result of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The only good way to "withdraw" from a Vietnam or an Iraq is to have already done it. To that end, I'll invoke the old mantra that is forever relevant: BRING THE TROOPS HOME NOW!