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Posts Tagged ‘IRAQ WAR’

PRIORITIES OF THE POWERFUL

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 30, 2016 at 12:17 am

In the 1970 film, Patton, General George S. Patton is a man driven by his obsession to be the best field commander in the war–and to be recognized for it.

George C. Scott as George S. Patton

And he sees British General Bernard Montgomery–his equally egotistical rival–as a potential obstacle to that latter ambition.

So, in Algeria, he conjures up a plan that will sideline “Monty” while he, Patton, defeats the Germans–and bags the glory.

The trick lies in throwing a sumptuous dinner–in the middle of the African desert–for a visiting British general: Harold Alexander.

As Patton (George C. Scott, in an Oscar-winning performance) tells his aide: “I want to give a dinner for General Alexander. I want to get to him before Montgomery does.  I want the finest food and the best wine available. Everything.”

The aide pulls off the dinner–where, indeed, “the finest food and the best wine” are on full display, along with attentive waiters and a candelabra.

So think about it:

  • In the middle of the desert
  • while American and British forces are forced to subsist on C-rations
  • and are under repeated air attack by the Luftwaffe
  • and tank attack by the Afrika Korps

a handful of ultra-pampered American and British military officers find the time–and luxuries–to throw themselves a fine party.

Now, fast-forward from Algeria in 1943 to Washington, D.C. in 2016.

Returning to Congress after their traditional summer recess, House Republicans planned to cut $23 billion in food stamps for the poor. This would include include ending waivers that allow some adults to get temporary assistance, while they are in school or training for a job.   

The cuts could include drug tests of applicants and tougher work rules. As Republicans see it: There’s no point in “helping” the poor if you can’t humiliate them.

The food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, served more than 46 million Americans and cost $74 billion in 2015. 

A single person is eligible for food stamps if his total monthly income is under $1,265 ($15,180 per year).  A family of four is eligible if their total income is less than $2,584 per month ($31,008 per year).

Republicans claim the program is unbearably expensive at $74.1 billion a year.

Meanwhile, Republicans are eager to spend billions of dollars for another project: An unnecessary war with Syria.

One of these right-wingers is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard–and one of the leading instigators of the 2003 war with Iraq.

Related image

Bill Kristol

He–like senior officials on the George W. Bush administration–falsely claimed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them against the United States.

Another Kristol lie: Hussein planned 9/11 with Osama bin Laden.

He has never apologized for either lie–or the resulting war that killed 4,487 American soldiers and wounded another 32,226.

In a September, 2013 column, Kristol called for a return to slaughter–not only in Syria but Iran as well:

“…Soon after voting to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime, Republicans might consider moving an authorization for the use of force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

“They can explain that Obama’s dithering in the case of Syria shows the utility of unequivocally giving him the authority to act early with respect to Iran.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice–who also helped lie the nation into the needless 2003 Iraq war–is another big promoter of “give war a chance:”

“My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead–and one cannot lead from behind.”

Among Republican U.S. Senators calling for war are John McCain (Arizona) and Lindsey Graman (South Carolina), who issued a joint statement:

“Using stand-off weapons, without boots on the ground, and at minimal risk to our men and women in uniform, we can significantly degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missile capabilities and help to establish and defend safe areas on  the ground.

“In addition, we must begin a large-scale effort to train and equip moderate, vetted elements of the Syrian opposition with the game-changing weapons they need to shift the military balance against [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad’s forces.”

Except that there are no “moderate, vetted elements” of the Syrian opposition.  The opposition is just as murderous as the Assad regime–and eager to replace one dictator with another.

In addition: A major weapon for “degrading Assad’s air power” would be Tomahawk Cruise missiles.  A single one of these costs $1,410,000.

Firing of a Tomahawk Cruise missile

A protracted missile strike would rain literally billions of dollars’ worth of American missiles on Syria.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is spending about $27 million a week to maintain the increased U.S. Navy presence in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East region to keep watch over Syria and be prepared to strike.

Navy officials say it costs about $25 million a week for the carrier group and $2 million a week for each destroyer.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all this?

Yes.

Powerful people–whether generals, politicians or the wealthy–will always find abundant money and resources available for projects they consider important.

It’s only when it comes to projects that other people actually need that the powerful will claim there is, unfortunately, a cash shortage.

SCRAPPING–OR REVISING–OBAMACARE: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 9, 2016 at 12:04 am

Barack Obama is one of one of the most highly educated Presidents to occupy the White House.

When he took office, he intended to make healthcare available to all Americans–and not just the wealthiest 1%.

President Barack Obama

But he made a series of deadly mistakes:

  • In crafting the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare);
  • In building public support for it; In underestimating the venom and opposition of his Right-wing enemies;
  • In underestimating the opposition of the business community in complying with the law; and
  • In allowing himself to be cowed by his political enemies.

Obama is by nature a supreme rationalist and conciliator–not a rough-and-tumble street fighter.  

And his career before becoming President in 2008–or even the United States Senator from Illinois in 2004–greatly strengthened this predisposition.  

From 1985 to 1988, Obama worked as a community organizer, setting up a job-training program, a college preparatory tutoring program and a tenants’ rights organization.  

Such activities demand skills in building consensus, not confrontation.

He then taught at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years–as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, teaching Constitutional law.  

File:Medium chicagoreflection.jpg

University of Chicago Law School

Law professors spend their time in clean, civil classrooms–far removed from the rough-and tumble of criminal defense/prosecution.

If Obama had accused President George W. Bush of conspiring with Al Qaeda–as Republicans have repeatedly accused Obama–retribution would have been swift and brutal.  

(On March 10, 2003, nine days before Bush ordered the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the country music band, the Dixie Chicks, told a London concert audience: “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”  

(A Republican-approved boycott of Dixie Chicks music followed, as well as death threats  DJs refused to play their music, and President Bush refused to criticize the KGB-like tactics of his Right-wing supporters.) 

 Natalie Maines, left, of the Dixie Chicks 

But Obama could not–or would not–bring himself to attack his sworn enemies by attacking their own patriotism or invoking Federal criminal statutes against their extortionate and terrorist threats.  

In short: Obama–who believes in reason and conciliation–paid the price for allowing his sworn enemies to insult and obstruct him.

Obama Mistake No. 6: Failing to closely study his proposed legislation.

Throughout his campaign to win support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Obama had repeatedly promised: “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  Period.”  

But, hidden in the 906 pages of the law, was a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.

The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans–so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law.

If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain coverage that did.

It soon soon turned out that many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.

Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare–charged and ridiculed as a liar. Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show,” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise. 

Jon Stewart

The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor; since we can’t, you must be a liar.  

As a result, the President found his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–shattered.  

All of which points to a final warning offered by Niccolo Machiavelli:

Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil….  

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that, if she’s elected President, she will push for incremental changes in the ACA.  

Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has called for the implementation of a single-payer plan. This, in effect, would accomplish what Republicans have spent the last seven years trying to do: Repeal “Obamacare.”  

A single-payer plan would prove simpler and more comprehensive than the ACA. But the chances of its passing a Republican-dominated Congress are absolutely zero.  

The passage of the ACA was–as the Duke of Wellington said of Waterloo–“a damned, close-run thing.”

Right-wingers like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin flat-out lied that the ACA would create “death panels.” And millions of reactionaries, furious that a black man now occupied the Oval Office, eagerly believed it.

When Democratic politicians organized town meetings for public discussion of the Act, Rightist hooligans often used violence to break them up.

Republicans remained silent while President George W. Bush lied the nation into a bloody, budget-busting war in Iraq. But they have repeatedly damned the ACA as a lethal drain on the American taxpayer.  

Thus, any changes to come in the ACA will have to come as Hillary Clinton proposes, on an incremental basis.

The only thing that can be said with certainty about the ACA is this:

If any Republican wins the Presidency in 2016, the Republican-dominated House and Senate will send him legislation decreeing the death of affordable healthcare for all Americans.  And he will of course sign it.

REVISING–OR SCRAPPING–OBAMACARE: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics on February 8, 2016 at 12:15 am

On July 2, 2013, the Treasury Department announced a major change in the application of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more popularly known as “Obamacare”:  

“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively…We have listened to your feedback.  And we are taking action.  

“The Administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin.” 

[Boldface in the original document.]  

In short: The administration allowed employers an additional year to refuse providing healthcare to their employees–or to face fines for not doing so.  

And how did Obama’s self-declared enemies react to this effort at compromise?

On July 30, 2013, House Republicans voted to proceed with a lawsuit against the President–for failing to enforce the Affordable Care Act.

“In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement.

“That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

John Boehner

Thus, Boehner intended to sue the President to enforce the law that the House had voted 54 times to repeal, delay or change.

Obama Mistake No. 5: Believing that public and private employers would voluntarily comply with the law.  

The ACA requires employers to provide insurance for part-time employees who work more than 30 hours per week. Yet many government employers claim they can’t afford it–and have thus limited part-time workers’ hours to 29 per week instead.  

Among those states affected:

  • “Our choice was to cut the hours or give [employees] health care, and we could not afford the latter,” Dennis Hanwell, the Republican mayor of Medina, Ohio, said in an interview with The New York Times.  
  • Lawrence County, in western Pennsylvania, reduced the limit for part-time employees to 28 hours a week, from 32.  
  • In Virginia, part-time state employees are generally not allowed to work more than 29 hours a week on average over a 12-month period.  

President Obama and those who crafted the Act may have been surprised at what happened.  But they shouldn’t have been.

Greed-addicted officials will always seek ways to avoid complying with the law–or achieve minimum compliance with it. And what goes for public employers goes for private ones, too.

The Act doesn’t penalize a company for failing to provide health insurance coverage for part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours.  

The result was predictable. And its consequences are daily becoming more clear:

  • Increasing numbers of employers are moving fulltime workers into part-time positions; 
  • Refusing to provide their employees with medical insurance; and
  • Avoiding fines for non-compliance with the law.

Some employers have openly shown their contempt for President Obama–and the idea that employers have an obligation to those who make their profits a reality.

One of these is John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, who has been quoted as saying:

  • The prices of his pizzas will go up–by 11 to 14 cents per pizza, or 15 to 20 cents per order; and
  • He will pass along these costs to his customers.  

 John Schnatter

“If Obamacare is in fact not repealed,” he told Politico, “we will find tactics to shallow out any Obamacare costs and core strategies to pass that cost onto consumers in order to protect our shareholders’ best interests.”  

If President Obama were truly a student of Realpolitick, he would have predicted that most businesses would try to avoid compliance with the ACA.  

And the remedy would have been simple: Require all employers to provide insurance coverage for all of their employees, regardless of their fulltime or part-time status.  

This, in turn, would have produced two substantial benefits:

  1. All employees would have been able to obtain medical coverage; and
  2. Employers would have been encouraged to provide fulltime positions rather than part-time ones.  

The reason: Employers would feel: “Since I’m paying for fulltime insurance coverage, I should be getting fulltime work in return.”  

If the President ever considered the merits of this, he decided against pressing for such a requirement.

Obama is one of the most rational and educated men to occupy the White House. So why did he fail to expect the worst in people–especially his self-declared enemies–and arrange to counter it?

Niccolo Machiavelli provides a shrewd insight into the repeated failures of the Obama Presidency.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Writing in The Prince, his classic work on the realities of politics, Machiavelli states:

…He is happy whose mode of procedure accords with the needs of the times, and similarly, he is unfortunate whose mode of procedure is opposed to the times….

If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful  But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of this procedure. 

Put another way: A conciliator will prosper so long as he works with others willing to compromise. But facing uncompromising fanatics, he will be defeated–unless he can exchange conciliation for confrontation. 

REVISING–OR SCRAPPING–OBAMACARE: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 5, 2016 at 12:08 am

President Barack Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans.  

But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction. At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and re-read what Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved or feared, or feared more than love. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved.

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain.  

As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote.  But when it approaches, they revolt….

And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.  

Moreover, Machiavelli warns that even a well-intentioned leader can unintentionally bring on catastrophe.

This usually happens when, hoping to avoid conflict, he allows a threat to go unchecked.  Thus:

A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.  And therefore it is necessary, for a prince who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.

For Obama, such a moment came in 2011, when House Republicans threatened to to destroy the credit rating of the United States unless the President agreed to scrap Obamacare.  

Obama, a former attorney, heatedly denounced House Republicans for “extortion” and “blackmail.”  

Unless he was exaggerating, both of these are felony offenses that are punishable under the 2001 USA Patriot Act and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970.

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion. 

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.” 

The RICO Act defines “a pattern of racketeering activity” as “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years…after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.” 

And if President Obama believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11. 

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal: 

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” 

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place.  President Obama could have directed the Justice Department to apply them.

If violations had been discovered, indictments could have quickly followed–and then prosecutions. The results of such action could be easily predicted:

  • Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would have first had to lawyer-up.
  • This would have imposed huge monetary costs on them, since good criminal attorneys don’t come cheap.  
  • Obsessed with their personal survival, they would have had little time to engage in more of the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted. In fact, doing so would have only made their convictions more likely.
  • Those Republicans who hadn’t (yet) been indicted would have feared; “I could be next.” This would have produced a chilling effect on their willingness to engage in further acts of subversion and extortion.  
  • The effect on Right-wing Republicans would have been the same as that of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers: “You cross me and threaten the security of this nation at your own peril.”

It would no doubt have been a long time before Republicans dared to engage in such behavior–at least, while Obama held office.  

So: Why didn’t President Obama act to punish such criminal conduct?

Obama Mistake No. 4: He allowed himself to be cowed by his enemies.

In The Prince, Machiavelli laid out the qualities that a successful ruler must possess. There were some to be cultivated, and others to be avoided at all costs. For example:

Niccolo Machiavelli

He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute–which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger….  

[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude. As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.  

So how has Obama fared by this standard?

REVISING–OR SCRAPPING–OBAMACARE: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 4, 2016 at 12:10 am

One of the major differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton lies in their views about what should be the future of “Obamacare.”  

Sanders, the longtime independent Senator from Vermont, wants to scrap The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with a single-payer plan.  

Clinton, the former Secretary of State, wants to make “incremental” changes in the Act.  

The Sanders plan promises greater simplicity and comprehensiveness in providing benefits to those millions of Americans who previously could not obtain medical insurance.  

The Clinton approach promises to keep the best features of “Obamacare” and improve those that need changing.  

But neither Sanders nor Clinton has directly addressed certain unpalatable truths about the ACA.  

These stem not from any intended evil on the part of its chief sponsor, President Barack Obama. Instead, they spring from his idealistic belief that reasonable men could always reach a compromise.  

As a result, much of the Act remains seriously flawed. Here are the six reasons why.  

Barack Obama is easily one of the most highly educated Presidents in United States history. He is a graduate of Columbia University (B.A. in political science in 1983).  

In 1988, he entered Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude–“with great honor”–in 1991.  

He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, and president of the journal in his second year.

President Barack Obama

He then taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years–as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004.  

So where did he go wrong? Several ways:

Obama Mistake No. 1: Putting off what people wanted while concentrating on what they didn’t.

Obama started off well when he took office. Americans had high expectations of him. This was partly due to his being the first black to be elected President.

And it was partly due to the disastrous legacies of needless war and financial catastrophe left by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama entered office intending to reform the American healthcare system, to make medical care available to all citizens, and not just the richest.  But that was not what the vast majority of Americans wanted him to concentrate his energies on.  

With the lost of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, Americans wanted Obama to find new ways to create jobs. This was especially true for the 11.1 million unemployed, or those employed only part-time.  

Jonathan Alter, who writes sympathetically about the President in The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, candidly states this.  

But Obama chose to spend most of his first year as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which would soon become known as Obamacare–through Congress.  

The results were:

  • Those desperately seeking employment felt the President didn’t care about them.  
  • The reform effort became a lightning rod for Right-wing groups like the Koch-brothers-financed Tea Party.  
  • In 2010, a massive Rightist turnout cost the Democrats the House of Representatives, and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.  

Obama Mistake No. 2: He underestimated the amount of opposition he would face to the ACA.

For all of Obama’s academic brilliance and supposed ruthlessness as a “Chicago politician,” he displayed an incredible naivety in dealing with his political opposition.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Florentine statesman and father of modern politics, could have warned him of the consequences of this–through the pages of The Prince, his infamous treatise on the realities of politics.

Niccolo Machiavelli

And either Obama skipped those chapters or ignored their timeless advice for political leaders.

He should have started with Chapter Six: “Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One’s Own Arms and Ability”:

…There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.  

For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.  

This proved exactly the case with the proposed Affordable Care Act.

Its supporters–even when they comprised a majority of the Congress–have always shown far less fervor than its opponents.  

This was true before the Act became effective on March 23, 2010. And it has remained true since, with House Republicans voting more than 60 times to repeal, delay or revise the law.  

So before President Obama launched his signature effort to reform the American medical system, he should have taken this truism into account.  

Obama Mistake No. 3: Failing to consider–and punish–the venom of his political enemies.  

The ancient Greeks used to say: “A man’s character is his fate.”  It is Obama’s character–and America’s fate–that he is by nature a man of conciliation, not conflict.  

Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s winning of the White House in his 2009 book, Renegade: The Making of a President. He noted that Obama was always more comfortable when responding to Republican attacks on his character than he was in making attacks on his enemies.

A FADING GLORY

In Bureaucracy, History, MSNBC, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on February 2, 2016 at 12:01 am

Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted that, if elected President, he will “make America great again.”  

He would do well to re-watch Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s 1998 World War II epic.

This opens with a scene of an American flag snapping in the wind. Except that the brilliant colors of Old Glory have been washed out, leaving only black-and-white stripes and black stars.

And then the movie opens–not during World war II but the present day.  

Did Spielberg know something that his audience could only sense? Such as that the united States, for all its military power, has become a pale shadow of its former glory?

May 30, 1945, marked the first Memorial Day after World War II ended in Europe. On that day, the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, near the town of Nettuno, held about 20,000 graves.  

Most were soldiers who died in Sicily, at Salerno, or at Anzio. One of the speakers at the ceremony was Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., the U.S. Fifth Army Commander. 

Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

Unlike many other generals, Truscott had shared in the dangers of combat, pouring over maps on the hood of his jeep with company commanders as bullets or shells whizzed about him.  

When it came his turn to speak, Truscott moved to the podium.  Then he turned his back on the assembled visitors–which included several Congressmen.

The audience he now faced were the graves of his fellow soldiers.

Among those who heard Truscott’s speech was Bill Mauldin, the famous cartoonist for the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Mauldin had created Willie and Joe, the unshaved, slovenly-looking “dogfaces” who came to symbolize the GI.

Bill Mauldin and “Willie and Joe,” the characters he made famous

It’s from Mauldin that we have the fullest account of Truscott’s speech that day.  

“He apologized to the dead men for their presence there. He said that everybody tells leaders that it is not their fault that men get killed in war, but that every leader knows in his heart that this is not altogether true.

“He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive  him, but he realized that he was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances….  

“Truscott said he would not speak of the ‘glorious’ dead because he didn’t see much glory in getting killed in your teens or early twenties.

“He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out.  He said he thought it was the least he could do.

“It was the most moving gesture I ever saw,” wrote Mauldin.  

Then Truscott walked away, without acknowledging his audience of celebrities.  

Fast forward 61 years later–to March 24, 2004. 

At a White House Correspondents dinner in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush joked publicly about the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq.  

One year earlier, he had ordered the invasion of Iraq on the premise that its dictator, Saddam Hussein, possessed WMDs he intended to use against the United States.  

To Bush, the non-existent WMDs were nothing more than the butt of a joke that night.  While an overhead projector displayed photos of a puzzled-looking Bush searching around the Oval Office, Bush recited a comedy routine.  

“Those Weapons of Mass Destruction have gotta be here somewhere,” Bush laughed, while a photo showed him poking around the corners of the Oval Office.  

“Nope–no weapons over there! Maybe there’s under here,” he said, as a photo showed him looking under a desk.  

In a scene that could have occurred under the Roman emperor Nero, an assembly of wealthy, pampered men and women–the elite of America’s media and political classes–laughed heartily during Bush’s performance.  

Only later did the criticism come, from Democrats and Iraqi war veterans–especially those veterans who had lost comrades or suffered horrific wounds to protect America from a threat that had never existed.  

Then fast forward another 11 years–to February 27, 2015.  

The Republican party’s leading Presidential contenders for 2016 gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.  

Although each candidate tried to stake his own claim to the Oval Office, all of them agreed on two points:

First, President Barack Obama had been dangerously timid in his conduct of foreign policy; and

Second, they would pursue aggressive military action in the Middle East.

“Our position needs to be to re-engage with a strong military and a strong presence,” said Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida.  And Bush added that he would consider sending ground forces to fight ISIS.

Scott Walker, the current governor of Florida, equated opposing labor unions to fighting terrorists: “If I could take on 100,000 protesters (in Wisconsin) I can do the same across the world.”  

Neither Bush nor Walker had seen fit to enter the ranks of the military he wished to plunge into further combat.  And Bush and Walker are typical of those who make up the United States Congress:

Of those members elected or re-elected to the House and Senate in November, 2014, only 97–less than 18%–have served in the U.S. military.

Small wonder then, that, for many people, Old Glory has taken on a darker, washed-out appearance, in real-life as in film.

 

 

 

 

 

SECRET SERVICE–FULLL SPEED AHEAD TO DISASTER: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics on December 29, 2015 at 12:19 am

On the night of September 19, 2014, an Iraq war veteran, Omar Gonzales, jumped the White House fence, ran more than 70 yards across the north lawn, and sprinted just past the north portico White House doors.

Only then was he apprehended by Secret Service agents.

Gonzalez’ short-lived trespass onto White House grounds was one of 143 security breaches–or attempted breaches–at facilities protected by the United States Secret Service (USSS) during during the last 10 years.

Then, less than 24 hours after Gonzalez’s arrest, a second man was apprehended after he drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave.  This triggered a search of his vehicle by bomb technicians in full gear.  Other agents shut down nearby streets.  No bombs were found.

Asked for Obama’s reaction, White House spokesman Frank Benenati gave this boilerplate reply: “The president has full confidence in the Secret Service and is grateful to the men and women who day in and day out protect himself, his family and the White House.”

Yet not all is well in Presidential security.

A newly-released report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found the Secret Service to be “in crisis.”

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The White House

“Morale is down, attrition is up, misconduct continues and security breaches persist,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) publicly stated.

“Strong leadership from the top is required to fix the systematic mismanagement within the agency, and to restore it to its former prestige.”

But the blunt truth is that many of the problems now plaguing the USSS were on full display as early as 2009.

That was when well-known investigative reporter Ronald Kessler published his then-latest book, In the President’s Secret Service.

Kessler had previously pubilshed books outlining the inner workings of the White House, the CIA and the FBI.

Kessler praised the courage and integrity of Secret Service agents as a whole.  But he warned that the agency was risking the safety of many of its protectees, including President Obama.

He was particularly critical of SS management for such practices as:

  • Shutting off weapon-scanning magnetometers at rallies for Presidential candidates–and even for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. 
  • During a speech Bush gave at Tbilisi, Georgia in 2005, an assailant threw a live hand grenade–which failed to explode–at him.  
  • Despite 9/11, Secret Service agents are still being trained to expect an attempt by a lone gunman—rather than a professional squad of terrorist assassins.
  • The Service’s Counter Assault Teams (CATs) have generally been cut back from five or six agents to tworendering them useless if a real attack occurred.
  • Salaries paid to USSS agents have not kept pace with reality. Veteran USSS men and women are now being offered up to four times their salary for moving to the private sector, and many are leaving the agency for that reason.

Secret Service agents protecting President Barack Obama

  • While Congress has greatly expanded the duties of this agency, Secret Service management has not asked for equivalent increases in funding and agents.
  • Many agents are leaving out of frustration that it takes “juice” or connections with top management to advance one’s career.
  • USSS agents are being trained with weapons that are outdated (such as the MP5, developed in the 1960s) compared to those used by other law enforcement agencies and the potential assassins they face (such as the M4–with greater range and armor-piercing capabilities).
  • The Service refuses to ask for help from other agencies to meet its manpower needs. Thus, a visiting head of state at the U.N. General Assembly will usually be assigned only three agents as protection.
  • The agency tells agents to grade themselves on their physical training test forms.  
  • Agents are supposed to be evaluated on their marksmanship skills every three months.  But some agents have gone more than a year without being tested.
  • Some agents are so overweight they can’t meet the rigorous demands of the job. As a result, they pose a danger to the people they’re supposed to be guarding.
  • The Secret Service inflates its own arrest statistics by claiming credit for arrests made by local police.
  • Congressional members who visit the agency’s Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Maryland, are treated to rehearsed scenarios of how the agency would deal with attacks. If agents were allowed to perform these exercises without rehearsals, Congressional members would see they make mistakes like anyone else.

Kessler closes his book with the warning: “Without….changes, an assassination of Barack Obama or a future president is likely.

“If that happens, a new Warren Commission will be appointed to study the tragedy. It will find that the Secret Service was shockingly derelict in its duty to the American people and to its own elite corps of brave and dedicated agents.”

And the effects will be not only momentary but long-term.  As Kessler writes:

“By definition, an assassination threatens democracy.

“If Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, Andrew Johnson, his successor, would not have been able to undermine Lincoln’s efforts to reunite the nation and give more rights to blacks during the Reconstruction period.

“If John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated, Lyndon Johnson likely never would have become President.  If Robert F. Kennedy had not been killed and had won the presidency, Richard Nixon might never have been elected.”

SECRET SERVICE–FULL SPEED AHEAD TO DISASTER: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics on December 28, 2015 at 2:37 am

The United States Secret Service (USSS) is “in crisis”–a crisis that threatens President Barack Obama and his successors as President of the United States.

That’s the verdict of a review of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Since April, 2012, the agency has faced scandal–and scrutiny by the press and Committee. That was when reports first surfaced of agents buying the favors of prostitutes in Columbia.

Even more embarrassing for the USSS were a series of security breaches that potentially exposed President Barack Obama to danger.

As a result, during the last three years, three directors have headed the Secret Service. Numerous agents–including senior officials–have been disciplined, transferred or fired.

For decades, the Secret Service was seen by the press, public and other law enforcement agencies as an elite agency. And the Presidential Protection Detail (PPD) was seen as the most elite part of the agency.

No longer.

Secret Service agents guarding President Obama

Among the findings of the 438-page report:

  • The agency is understaffed and overworked.
  • Its staffing crisis started in 2011 owing to government-wide budget cuts demanded by Republicans.
  • The Secret Service has fewer employees today than it did in 2014, despite recommendations from an independent panel that staffing be increased.
  • There have been a number of undisclosed security breaches–such as in October, 2014, when an unauthorized woman gained access to a Congressional Hispanic Caucus event that Obama attended.
  • In February, two people gained access to the outer security perimeter of the White House.
  • There have been 143 security breaches–or attempted breaches–during the last 10 years at facilities protected by the agency.

“This report reveals that the Secret Service is in crisis,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) publicly stated.  “Morale is down, attrition is up, misconduct continues and security breaches persist.

“Strong leadership from the top is required to fix the systematic mismanagement within the agency, and to restore it to its former prestige.”

But the truth is that many of the problems now plaguing the U.S. Secret Service were on display long before the House issued its report.

On September 11, 2001, Secret Service agents literally grabbed Vice President Dick Cheney and hauled him from the White House to a secure facility beneath the Executive Mansion.

As for everyone else who worked in the White House, agents simply threw open the White House doors and ordered: “Run!”

“Women, take off your shoes!” agents shouted–so they could run faster. Frightened Presidential aides were told to remove their White House badges–just in case snipers were lurking nearby.

That was it.

With the World Trade Center and Pentagon in flames, and the White House seemingly next in line as a target, this was the sum total of protection offered White House staffers by the agency considered the elite in Federal law enforcement.

White House staffers fleeing on 9/11

Not knowing what to do, some aides walked home in a daze.

Click here: Amazon.com: Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (9780385525190): Peter Baker: Books

(President George W. Bush was not in the White House at the time.  He was reading The Pet Goat to a group of children at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida.)

Three days later, on September 14, Andy Card, Bush’s chief of staff, addressed White House staffers in Room 450 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the West Wing.

Card said he understood that “this is not what any of you signed up for when you joined the White House staff.”  And he offered them the chance to resign without anyone–himself or the President–thinking any less of them.

When no one offered to leave, Card let a Secret Service agent offer security advice:

  • Vary your routines to and from work.
  • Watch out for any cars that might be following you.
  • Go to different restaurants for lunch.

At least one member of the audience, Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel, knew he wouldn’t be taking that advice.

Like most of the others at the meeting, his name was listed in the local phone book.  A terrorist wanting to kill him need only lurk outside Berenson’s home and open fire when he appeared.

Click here: 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars: Kurt Eichenwald: 9781451669398: Amazon.com: Books

And that was it, as far as the Secret Service was concerned.

No offers of even temporary escorts by Secret Service agents. No offers to install “panic buttons” in their homes in case of emergency.

In essence: “We’re really glad you’ve decided to serve your country.  But don’t expect us to protect you.  You’re on your own.”

Fast forward 13 years later.

On the night of September 19, 2014, an Iraq war veteran, Omar Gonzales, jumped the White House fence, ran more than 70 yards across the north lawn, and sprinted just past the north portico White House doors.

Gonzalez appeared unarmed as he ran across the lawn–possibly one reason why Secret Service agents didn’t shoot him or release their service dogs to detain him. But he had a small folding knife with a three-and-one-half-inch serrated blade when he was apprehended.

According to a criminal complaint, when he was arrested he told Secret Service agents he was “concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing” and needed to contact the President “so he could get word out to the people.”

GETTING HELP FROM YOUR ENEMIES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 20, 2015 at 1:00 am

Sometimes your worst enemies aid you in ways you could never help yourself.

From July 10 to October 31, 1940, hundreds of badly-outnumbered pilots of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) fought off relentless attacks by Germany’s feared Luftwaffe.

For Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, it was a major setback.

He was forced to concede that he lacked the strength to destroy the British air force–thus making it possible for his navy to land German troop on English soil.

But Hitler wasn’t prepared to give up.  He believed he could so terrorize Britons that they would demand that their government submit to German surrender demands.

From September 7, 1940 to May 21, 1941, the Luftwaffe subjected England–and especially London–to a ruthless bombing campaign that became known as The Blitz.

The undamaged St. Paul’s Cathredal, December, 1940

More than 100 tons of high explosives were dropped on 16 British cities.  During 267 days (almost 37 weeks):

  • London was attacked 71 times;
  • Birmingham, Plymouth and Liverpool were attacked eight times;
  • Bristol was attacked six times; Glasgow, five; Southampton four; and
  • There was also at least one large raid on another eight cities.

Between 40,000 and 43,000 British civilians were killed.  About 139,000 others were wounded.

“London can take it” went the British slogan.  But, in the United States, Americans–including President Franklin D. Roosevelt–wondered: For how much longer?

Clearly, what Great Britain desperately needed most was a miracle.

Exactly that happened on June 22, 1941.

With 134 Divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more divisions for deployment behind the front, the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

German tank commander

Joseph Stalin, the longtime Soviet dictator, was stunned.  The invasion had come less than two years after Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

Hitler had turned on his partner-in-crime.  The two dictators had greedily split Poland between them when Hitler launched his invasion on September 1, 1939.

Now they were locked in a fight to the death.

People in England were also surprised–but also suddenly hopeful.   Britain now had an ally whose resources might tip the balance against Hitler.

In the United States, then-Senator Harry S. Truman spoke for many Americans when he said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

Today the United States faces just such an opportunity.

In Syria, two of America’s most deadly enemies are now waging war–with each other.

Yes, it’s Hezbollah (Party of God) vs. Al-Qaeda (The Base).

United Nations officials estimate that more than 70,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war since conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al-Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

On one side is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, whose allies include Russia, Iran, Hezbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

On the other side are a host of Syrians and thousands of foreign Sunni fighters some of whom have affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

And now that civil war has spread into neighborhing Lebanon.

On January 2, 2014, at least four people were killed and 77 injured when a car bomb exploded in a residential  neighborhood in southern Beirut.

The Shiite-dominated district, Haret Hreik, is known as a Hezbollah stronghold.

Two days later, an Al-Qaeda linked group claimed responsibility for the attack.

At a press conference for President Barack Obama on March 20, 2013, a reporter asked:

“Morally, how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians [in Syria] are being massacred and no one–the world, the United States and you–are doing anything to stop it immediately?”

That is entirely the wrong way to view this conflict.

There are solidly practical reasons why the United States should avoid this bloodfest–while cheering on each of its mortal enemies to do its worst.

First, the United States only recently disengaged from Iraq.

On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission there. The war–begun in 2003–had cost the lives of 4,487 service members, with another 32,226 wounded.

Second, the war in Iraq fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. 

The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But while Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran, the destruction of the Iraqi military created a power vacuum. Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 9, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Even confirmed imbeciles can sometimes get it right.

Or, in the case of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, partially right.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on June 15, 2013, Palin said the United States should not intervene in Syria while Barack Obama holds the Presidency:

“Until we have a commander in chief who knows what he is doing… let Allah sort it out!”

Actually, she got it half-right: “Let Allah sort it out”–regardless of who is President.

But noted draft-dodger and former President Bill Clinton had different advice for President Obama.

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Bill Clinton

Clinton urged Obama to intervene in Syria:

“Suppose I had let a million people, two million people be refugees out of Kosovo, a couple hundred thousand people die, and they say, ‘You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?’ And I say, ‘Because the House of Representatives voted 75% against it’”?

“You look like a total wuss, and you would be.”

This was truly heady stuff, coming from a man who has proudly boasted how he outwitted his draft board and thus escaped military service in Vietnam.

Apparently, for Clinton, it’s OK for other Americans to risk their lives in pointless military misadventures on behalf of foreigners who hate us.

It’s just not OK for bullet-shy chicken-hawks like Bill Clinton to do it.

Clinton doesn’t seem aware, or concerned, that, in Syria, two of America’s most deadly enemies are now waging war–with each other.

Yes, it’s Hezbollah (Party of God) vs. Al-Qaeda (The Base).

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.  Examples of sectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al Qaeda

In a June 1, 2013 column entitled, “Stop the Madness,” Dr. James J. Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, warns:

“What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody battlefield pitting sects and their regional allies against each other in a ‘dance unto death.’”

The Syrian conflict began on March 15, 2011, triggered by protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Since then, more than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war.

“On the one side,” said Zogby, “is the Ba’ath regime, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

“Arrayed against them are a host of Syrians (some of whom have defected from the armed forces and others who have formed militias receiving arms and support from a number of Arab states and Turkey) and a cast of thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (some of whom have affiliated with al Qaeda) who have entered Syria to wage war on behalf of their brethren.”

But Clinton isn’t the only one who has urged Obama to waste American lives in a cause that only Islamic terror groups and right-wing Americans find compelling.

Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain has repeatedly demanded that the Obama administration militarily intervene in Syria.

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John McCain 

He has demanded that the United States create a “no-fly” zone over Syria to deny Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad the use of his air force against his rebellious subjects.

McCain, unlike Clinton, did serve in Vietnam–as a U.S. Navy pilot.  In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese.  He remained a prisoner of war until his release in 1973.

Now McCain wants today’s young servicemen to have the same opportunities he did–to be blown out of the sky and taken prisoner for another worthless cause.

Just as Sarah Palin was partially correct in urging “let Allah sort it out,” so, too, was Clinton partially correct in his “total wuss” remarks.

President Obama can rightly be called a “total wuss”–but not for keeping Americans out of harm’s way in a war they have no stake in.

He can legitimately be called a “total wuss”–for surrendering to the demands of the same neocons who lied America into a needless 10-year war in Iraq. 

But it’s not too late for Obama to recover from his mistake.

He can establish an all-volunteer brigade for those Americans willing to fight and possibly die in yet another pointless war.  And he can offer to fly them to the border of Syria so they can carry out their self-appointed “conquer or die” mission.

If these armchair strategists refuse to put their own lives on the line in defense of a “cause” they claim to believe in, Obama should have the courage to brutally–and repeatedly–point this out.

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