OK, Mister Boehner, Let's Really Cut the Budget

This huge and confusing thing we call the United States of America is in the midst of a major epochal reality check, not your usual, garden-variety recession. The roots of today’s crises go back at least 60 years or more.

Politics in such a crisis state is naturally volatile, swinging this way, then that way, affected by fear and pride and all the usual human emotions. Like the stock market, electoral politics operates with rapid, shifting en-mass movements like a school of little fish into which one throws a rock.

At times like these, it’s interesting to look at what’s not being said – the large elephants in the room going unrecognized. To talk about these things would take courage, self-awareness and humility, like the hard stuff shrinks and counselors try to get troubled patients to look at.

In our current climate of fear, courage is too often translated into military bravery and the capacity to do violence, and humility is virtually against the law, on par with being a “socialist,” a “communist” or a “terrorist.” Or else humility is seen as what the Tea Party has just done to the Democrats, which is humiliation.

Xbox versus WikiLeaks

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
-Opening line in William Gibson’s Neuromancer

I recently took a tour of Best Buy to see what’s going on in the world of consumer electronics. Technology was on my mind. I had just been reading up on computer hacking and was getting to know a website called 2600.

It was all because of the latest WikiLeaks revelations and some email conversations I’d been having with fellow anti-war veterans about Bradley Manning. the young army intelligence specialist arrested and now imprisoned in Virginia for allegedly releasing the computerized trove of secrets. Some of my antiwar vet allies were finding it difficult to support Manning.

I agree with Daniel Ellsberg that Bradley Manning is an American hero who needs to be supported and defended. His private life is irrelevant. The same goes for the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.

Whether or not the WikiLeaks revelations put anyone in danger is also irrelevant. It’s a red herring. Those who chose to go to war over other options and those who keep the wars going instead of ending them are the ones putting our soldiers and local Iraqis and Afghans in danger.

Selling the 'Founding Principles” Like a Used Car

The government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights we hold as fundamental today.
– Thurgood Marshall on the bi-centennial of the Constitution, 1987

On Saturday, October 9th at 7:31 in the morning, Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, picked up her phone and dialed Anita Hill’s Brandeis University office phone and left a taped message asking Professor Hill to pray and, then, apologize and explain “why you did what you did with my husband.”

Mrs. Thomas later described her call as an “olive branch.” Hill saw it differently and called the campus police and the FBI.

The phone call led to a front-page story in The New York Times and stories in other papers and on the web. It raised many questions as to why Mrs. Thomas did what she did. It also resurrected the sordid controversy of her husband’s appointment to the US Supreme Court.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Think

Psychoanalysis enables us to point to some trace or other
of a homosexual object-choice in everyone. … It can be traced
back to the constitutional bisexuality of all human beings.
Sigmund Freud

If Sigmund Freud is right that all humans are “innately bisexual” and if Alfred Kinsey’s research is right that all humans fall somewhere on a bisexual continuum – then it’s clear the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is a matter, pure and simple, of un-Constitutional repression.

I realize I may not have a very developed appreciation for the nuances of bureaucracy and government. But if one values honesty over repression, this policy just doesn’t make sense.

Alexander The Great, one of the greatest military leaders in history, swung both ways. Lawrence of Arabia was the homosexual military genius instrumental in forming the Sunni-ruled Iraq we invaded and turned upside down in 2003.

President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen all say they are ready to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy put into law 17 years ago.

The House passed a repeal law in May by a wide margin. The Senate was expected to follow suit, but last month the bill was defeated.

“The whole thing is a political train wreck,” Richard Socarides, a gay rights advocate from the Clinton administration, told the Associate Press after the Senate loss.

But even if it had passed into law, effective repeal was still up to the military. A “trigger” amendment tacked to the bill would have allowed the top brass to drag their feet on repeal or veto it indefinitely.

Afghanistan: Incubator for green energy

The only way to survive such an insane system is to be insane oneself.
– Joseph Heller

When the going gets weird, the weird go pro.
– Hunter Thompson

The Pentagon has its hands full in Afghanistan trying to make the debacle there look like a success for the December assessment it must provide President Obama.

The brilliant counterinsurgency theorist General David Petraeus is “pulling out all the stops,” according to The New York Times. He has expanded hunter/killer special-ops raids to a dozen a night, and he has pressured the CIA to ramp up its already heavy rate of drone attacks.

We no longer have body counts as in Vietnam, but the killing pace is on the rise to clear out insurgent leadership – or anyone, in COIN parlance, who is “irreconcilable” to US interests.

 Lou Ann MerkleA 20-ton MRAP begins its long, expensive journey to Afghanistan on the I-95 corridor in Virginia. Photo: Lou Ann Merkle

At the same time, a contrite Petraeus is apologizing profusely to the leaders of Pakistan for a cross-border helicopter raid that chopped up several Pakistani soldiers. This is in addition to the usual denial-then-apology cycle for the almost-weekly civilian deaths from the special-ops raids and drone attacks.

The Pakistanis are so furious over the cross-border helicopter raid they stopped US convoys delivering vital fuel into Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass, leading to at least 35 fuel trucks being torched and destroyed by either organized insurgents or members of the large and growing population of Pakistanis who hate our guts.

Then, there’s the case of outright psychopathic murderers in US uniform, such as Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs who stands accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport and collecting souvenir fingers.

Petraeus has pressured the reluctant Pakistani military to attack insurgent elements in the Pashtun border areas, and now Pakistani soldiers have been caught on video lining up six young, blindfolded civilian males and gunning them down. We find this offensive, since we do our killing discriminately – or by killing people who get in the way of our super lethal weapons, then apologizing.

“I am appalled,” says Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. He has threatened this “could have implications for future security assistance to Pakistan.”

Rafael Correa stands up to a police insurgency for his people

At least fifty people were injured and several killed in struggles around Quito’s National Police Hospital where Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa was taken Thursday after being injured by a tear gas canister shot at him by a protesting police officer.

Insurgent police kept the president in the hospital for 12 hours until army units arrived and fought gun battles with the police elements. After some struggle inside the hospital, the army grabbed the president and swept him away to the national palace in an SUV.

For a good video of the struggle and Correa’s post kidnapping remarks, look at the Associated Press video report.

During the hectic hours Thursday, it was unclear who was with and who was against the president. From the beginning, General Ernesto Gonzalez, the top army commander, declared support for Correa, but it was not until after midnight that the army began to move against the rebel police.

The Fog Rolls in for the Afghanistan Assessment

At the beginning of the Iraq “surge” in 2007, Senator Barack Obama was leery of General David Petraeus, but now, we learn, he has warmed to the four-star Pentagon celebrity and calls him “Dave.”

In meetings, according to an anonymous White House official, when the talk is of Afghanistan, Petraeus “always brings up Iraq” and the surge there, The New York Times reports.

By all accounts a very savvy politician always aware of his image, it is not strange that Petraeus would remind people of the thing he is most revered for, which is the so-called “surge” in Anbar Province of Iraq, the strategy that turned a hemorrhaging disaster into a stabilized, suppurating wound.

The Fog of War is Thickening in AfghanistanThe Fog of War is Thickening in Afghanistan

Now, he is doing the same thing in Afghanistan – except Afghanistan is politically and culturally about six centuries behind Iraq.

The farce that keeps on giving in Afghanistan

“The Obama administration is debating whether to make Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, a more central player in efforts to root out corruption in his own government, including giving him more oversight of graft investigations and notifying him before any arrests.”

This was the lead paragraph in a front page New York Times story on September 15 by reporters Mark Mazzetti and Rod Nordland.

President Obama, they wrote, has instructed key players in his administration to come up with more “sophisticated” guidelines for dealing with Afghan corruption. Specifically, they want to attack only that corruption that drives Afghans into the arms of the insurgency. All other corruption is OK.

The country that overthrew duly-elected moderate governments in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, sponsored a bloody 1973 coup in Chile and connived with France to bring down 40 years of war on the people of Vietnam is now “debating” whether to notify the elected president of a sovereign nation before it arrests members of his government?

What other than hubris gives us the right to do this kind of thing?

The Corruption Conundrum

Corruption is more and more being built up as our greatest problem in Afghanistan. It’s all over the newspapers and the TV. At the epi-center of this corruption, the Kabul Bank we helped create and maintain has run aground and there’s talk in the air of a financial bail-out.

Meanwhile, the $250 million commission created to buy off Taliban fighters is “almost dead,” according to a top Afghan official at the commission. We have no trouble giving US tax dollars to the government and banking system in Afghanistan, but we can’t seem to get the Taliban to take our money.

“In Kabul, politics is all about money,” a prominent Afghan businessman recently told New York Times reporters in a story on the political connections between President Hamid Karzai and the Kabul Bank. It seems the bank gave $14 million for Karzai’s re-election after he agreed to name a bank shareholder’s brother – the fearsome Tajik General Muhammad Fahim — as his vice presidential candidate.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Afghan President Hamid KarzaiUS Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Looking for a Straight Answer

Last Saturday, I pondered America’s soul.

I was in Portland, Maine, attending the annual Veterans For Peace convention, which featured Chris Hedges as its keynote speaker. Hedges, a Harvard divinity graduate who worked for many years as a war correspondent in El Salvador, Bosnia and other very violent places, gave a take-no-prisoners speech that prophesized the end of America as we know it.

The way Hedges saw it, the forces of militarized capitalism organized a coup in America, and that coup has been successful. The party’s over and things are going to get a lot worse. He spoke of a land fallen into barbarism and a dictatorial state in power.

It’s becoming pretty widely understood that America is in the midst of a major, epochal reckoning that does not seem to be letting up. Few in Portland would have disagreed with this. The issue was in the degree of unpleasantness one could stand as one contemplated the future. Some felt Hedges had come too close to hopelessness.

As Dylan said: “Somethin’s happenin’ here, and you don’t know what it is … do you, Mister Jones.”

Veterans For Peace march through Portland, MaineVeterans For Peace march through Portland, Maine