Saturday, February 09, 2008

Beloved Leader's Quote Of The Day

"The stakes in November are high. This is an important election. Prosperity and peace are in the balance," Mr. Bush told about 2,000 people attending the Conservative Political Action Conference. "So with confidence in our vision and faith in our values, let us go forward, fight for victory and keep the White House in 2008.
"Link.

Which begs the question:

This peace of open-ended unnecessary wars that do, at most, little for our security, and certainly do nothing in proportion to their expense and weakening of our security?

The prosperity of decreasing wealth for most?

For most people can we say they're better off than they were eight years ago? (Now that's putting on the Raygun mantle!)

Nah! We'll pass on Beloved Leader's peace and prosperity!

Another One Of Our Leaders' Favorite, Freedom-Loving Allies

Perhaps, in their final year in overt power, Our Leaders can bring freedom to this ally as they have to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Travellers to the United Arab Emirates are being warned about its severe drug laws which have seen dozens detained for apparently minor offences.
Fair Trials International said arrests were being made over tiny quantities of drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

British tourist Keith Brown was sentenced to four years in prison after Dubai customs officers found a 0.003g trace of cannabis stuck to his shoe.

Fair Trials, a legal charity, said it has seen a steep rise in such cases.

Golden beaches

Possession of painkillers like codeine and some cold and flu medication could result in a mandatory four-year prison sentence, Fair Trials International said.

In one of the most extreme cases, it reported a man being held after poppy seeds from a bread roll were found on his clothes.

In recent years, chic hotels, skyscrapers and golden beaches have turned Dubai and Abu Dhabi into popular tourist destinations.
Many have no idea what risks they're taking or their vulnerability to this very strict approach
Catherine Wolthuizen, Fair Trials International chief executive
Businesses too have flocked to the UAE, which promises a high standard of living because of its oil wealth.
However, while it is considered one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, the Muslim country's drugs laws are severe.

Last year, 59 Britons were arrested in the UAE on drugs-related charges, according to the Foreign Office.
HELD IN THE UAE
Keith Brown, 43, Middlesex: Four-year jail term for possession of 0.003g of cannabis
Robert Dalton, 25, Kent: On trial for alleged possession of 0.03g of cannabis
20-year-old, West Yorkshire: On trial for alleged possession of 0.02g of cannabis
Tracy Wilkinson, 45, West Sussex: Held in custody for eight weeks for possession of codeine before release
Swiss national: Four-year jail term after poppy seeds found on his clothes
Source: Fair Trials International
Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said customs authorities were using highly sensitive new equipment to conduct thorough searches on travellers.

"So many people now travel to Dubai and, as we're seeing, many have no idea what risks they're taking or their vulnerability to this very strict approach," she said.

"If they find any amount - no matter how minute - it will be enough to attract a mandatory four-year prison sentence.

"What many travellers may not realise is that they can be deemed to be in possession of such banned substances if they can be detected in their urine or bloodstream, or even in tiny, trace amounts on their person."

Jet-lag tablets

Keith Brown and his wife had been on their way from London to Ethiopia when they were stopped and searched at Dubai airport.

At first customs officers found nothing, but then a roll-up cigarette was spotted caught in the tread of his shoe.

The 43-year-old, from Middlesex, was charged with possession of 0.003g of cannabis and was sentenced to four years in prison.
I suppose there's a sense of disbelief more than anything else
Cat Le-Huy, held in Dubai
British resident Cat Le-Huy was arrested in Dubai for carrying Melatonin jet-lag tablets, which are sold over the counter in the US and Dubai.

Mr Le-Huy told BBC News he was forced to sign a document in Arabic and was refused a translator.

He said once the tablets were proved to be Melatonin, police took what he described as dirt from his bag and said they were now testing it to see if it was cannabis.

Speaking from inside the prison, he said he knew nothing of any drugs in his bag.

"I suppose there's a sense of disbelief more than anything else. I miss my friends and family back in London and I'm also aware of the other stress this is causing to friends and family.

"As far as my welfare, I'm being treated relatively well and I have to go through the system and whatever path that takes, I'll just have to deal with it."

Bread roll

Aside from illegal substances, travellers have also been held for possession of prescription drugs.

Tracy Wilkinson was held in custody for eight weeks before customs officers accepted the codeine she was carrying had been prescribed by her doctor for back pains.

Meanwhile, a Swiss national is serving a four-year jail term after three poppy seeds from a bread roll he ate at Heathrow airport were found on his clothes.

Fair Trials International has published a full list of banned substances on its website.

The Foreign Office is advising all travellers carrying any prescription drugs to take a doctor's letter detailing exactly why they need the medicine and the exact dose.
Link.

Will The Wingnuts Come Out For McCain In November? Will The Sun Rise Tomorrow?

War Room:
With Mitt Romney's departure from the Republican presidential race yesterday, it's clear that John McCain is all but his party's nominee. While McCain has had a history of poor relations with some of the more conservative members of the party, some prominent conservatives are quickly accommodating themselves to McCain, and exhorting their ideological allies to do so as well. But others favor self-immolation for the greater good, and are suggesting that conservatives should stay home in November or even vote for the Democratic candidate; their argument is that a short-term Republican loss will mean long-term conservative gains.

In a column Wednesday in the Washington Times, conservative columnist Tony Blankley suggests that he's considering whether it might not be better for the Republican Party's future if conservatives stayed at home this fall instead of voting for McCain. Blankley states that hardcore conservatives gained dominance over the Republican Party in the wake of Barry Goldwater's doomed 1964 presidential bid. They won the future by losing the present, and by refusing to give in to the more moderate members of their party, such as George Romney, Mitt's father. Blankley asks, "If conservatives sit on our hands this November as moderates did 44 years ago, will we marginalize ourselves within the party (as the old Romney moderates did)? Or will we be saving the party for the grand old cause?" While Blankley is not ready just yet to commit to voter suicide, apparently some other Republicans are.

Ann Coulter fumed about McCain's nomination in a column Thursday, presenting the upcoming election in these stark terms: "If Hillary is elected president, we'll have a four-year disaster, with Republicans ferociously opposing her, followed by Republicans zooming back into power, as we did in 1980 and 1994, and 2000. (I also predict more Oval Office incidents with female interns.) If McCain is elected president, we'll have a four-year disaster, with the Republicans in Congress co-opted by 'our' president, followed by 30 years of Democratic rule."

Rush Limbaugh is also lamenting the McCain nomination. On Wednesday, he responded to a caller to his radio show who said they were considering a write-in vote in November by saying, "That is clearly an option. The write-in is clearly an option. It's clearly permitted. Whether it will be counted is another thing."

However, the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger wants to stop all this talk about Republican political suicide. In an Op-Ed published Thursday, he wrote, "There are reasons, though, why a principled political retreat won't make conservative prospects better. The point of a principled retreat would be to rediscover coherence amid doctrinal confusion. The exact opposite is likely to happen."

Also on Thursday, the New York Post -- which had already endorsed McCain -- exhorted its readers to buck up and support the presumptive nominee. In an editorial, the Post said, "John McCain may never win the presidency of the American Conservative Union -- but he's no Nelson Rockefeller, either. He may be just what is needed to attract the independents needed to keep the Democrats out of the White House -- and the true believers at CPAC would do well to keep that in mind."
Fox Bidness Journal:
Coming off of a string of Super Tuesday primary wins that gave him a near lock on becoming the Republican Party's presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain turned his attention toward gaining the trust of rank-and-file conservatives who eye him warily.

The Arizona senator acknowledged past disagreements in a speech alternately self-assured and self-effacing at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference this past week. His speech came hours after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told the same audience he is suspending his campaign. Mr. McCain amassed a solid delegate lead earlier in the week against Mr. Romney and both remaining contenders, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
POINTS OF VIEW

"I do hope that at some point we would just calm down a little bit and see if there are areas that we can agree on for the good of the party.
-- John McCain
"McCain thinks he can thumb his nose -- poke a stick in the eye of conservatives -- and not pay a price for it."
-- Rush Limbaugh
* * *
But Mr. McCain's electoral gains have been shadowed by hostile fire from conservative partisans, and in particular, influential radio talk-show hosts, who have threatened to sit out the election and are upset that a man who has often challenged conservative orthodoxy emerged the favorite. That resentment was on display during his address earlier this week, where he received scattered boos.

He now faces twin challenges: rallying disaffected conservatives (Mr. Romney won the vote of self-identified conservatives by a seven-point margin this past Tuesday, according to exit polls) without estranging himself from moderates and independents.

Here's a closer look:

How conservative is Mr. McCain? During his quarter century in Washington, the senator has assembled an 82% rating from the American Conservative Union, placing him 39th among senators in 2006, while drawing a 25% lifetime rating from the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has a 75% ACLU lifetime rating. A scorecard by the antitax Club for Growth, a conservative political-action committee, ranked him 29th among 55 Republican senators in 2006.

In his conference address, Mr. McCain highlighted his solid credentials on issues such as abortion, limited government and national defense. His message sought to remind conservatives that "on the really important ones, we're on the same page," says Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation.

Why are conservatives skeptical? While the senator has a solid record of supporting free trade and cutting government spending, he opposed President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts as too tilted to the wealthy. Despite his staunch opposition to abortion rights, social conservatives oppose his support for funding embryonic-stem-cell research and his resistance to a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and recall his description of some evangelical leaders as "agents of intolerance." Most damaging was his support of last year's failed immigration overhaul to provide illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Also unpopular: his championing of campaign-finance reform and a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions that contribute to global warming.

Can he win conservatives' trust? Mr. McCain has garnered endorsements from supply-side economics icon Jack Kemp and legal luminary Theodore Olson. Former critics such as the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land came to Mr. McCain's defense amid attacks from radio host Rush Limbaugh this past week. But some independents have been turned off by his wooing of the conservative religious leaders he had clashed with in 2000.

In the past two presidential contests, conservative voters have played a key role in Republicans' get-out-the-vote effort, and critics warn that their decision to stay at home on Election Day -- or their willingness to vote but not mobilize to walk precincts -- could make a difference in a close race.

Facts

• A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Mr. McCain running in a statistical tie with either Democratic candidate. He leads Sen. Hillary Clinton 49% to 46%, and he trails Sen. Barack Obama by the same margin.

• In his victory speech on Super Tuesday, Mr. McCain used the phrase "I am a Republican" six times.

• Mr. McCain broke with his party in 1983 when he opposed a resolution that extended President Reagan's deployment of U.S. Marines in Beirut. One month later, a suicide bomber killed 241 servicemen in their barracks there.

• In 1986, President Reagan vetoed a bill that would have imposed sanctions on apartheid South Africa. Mr. McCain broke with his party to overturn the veto.

• Many believe Mr. McCain's zeal for campaign-finance reform was born of his involvement as one of the "Keating Five" senators who tried to intercede in the case of a savings-and-loan operator who was ultimately jailed. An ethics investigation cleared Mr. McCain of wrongdoing but chided him for "poor judgment."

• Mr. McCain has admitted to being superstitious. Before winning last month's New Hampshire primary, he slept on the same side of the bed in the same hotel room he had stayed in before his 2000 primary win there.

• Growing up in a military family, Mr. McCain had no permanent home. Tagged as a carpetbagger during his 1982 congressional bid, he responded, "I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and...spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things."
Then look at this graphic. I see it as Republicans who would be comfortable voting Dem, no? With a Dem, you get similar positions (unless of course the Straight Talker now tacks hard to the right for the election) but a distance from the crazier elements of the current administration.

And, of course, even though the flip-flopper appears as something of a centrist, there cannot be any doubt or faith that he would govern from anywhere but the hard right.

And then there's this, the voice of rightist reason, such as it is:
There's an old Groucho Marx riff in which he launches a new career as a stick-up artist -- while worrying that his native cowardice may not induce the requisite fear among his victims. Sure enough, after a little time in a dark alley he springs out to confront his first victim, points his gun to his own head and says, "Take one step closer and I'll kill myself."

Such is the posture today among pundits on the far right of the Republican Party as Sen. John McCain moves closer to receiving his party's nomination. Consider the destructive implications of their pledge to work against Mr. McCain's nomination and even -- in the event he is nominated -- not to vote in the general election. Start with where it would leave our country -- presumably under the leadership of either Democrat candidate -- in the two domains where we will face critical challenges in the years ahead: our national security and the threat of an economic meltdown.

Notwithstanding the reversal of trends in Iraq of a year ago, we face a long and difficult struggle in the war to turn back the nihilistic crusade being waged by radical Islam. By my reckoning after 25 visits to Pakistan, over a half-million adolescents willing to blow themselves up have "graduated" from more than 1,000 Wahabbist madrassas in that country.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are on the threshold of sinking into violent chaos as failed states unless new, experienced American leadership can conceive and launch an effective strategy -- and convince allies to join in its execution -- to turn matters around and cut off the Taliban and al Qaeda at their roots. Such a victory is feasible under competent leadership by introducing a classical counterinsurgency strategy.

Concurrent with the conflict on the battlefield, the new administration must tackle the complex task of fostering long-term economic and political stability in these forlorn countries. Here again, such a strategy is complex but not difficult to conceive. Its successful execution is only imaginable, however, in the hands of a knowledgeable, experienced leader -- who enjoys respect among allies -- who will be sorely needed to win this struggle.

Clearly John McCain fits the bill. To choose anyone without the vital knowledge, experience and leadership skills for this role is to invite disaster.

The nonmilitary cost and impact of these national security challenges form a natural segue to consideration of major economic challenges we must overcome in the years ahead. Today we are spending more than $300 billion annually to purchase foreign oil. It is well known that some of that money is passed on to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Indeed, it is fair to say that we are funding both sides in this war.

We spend $500 billion each year on our military forces. One of their most vital missions is to protect the flow of Persian Gulf oil which fuels the global economy. The disruption of those oil flows -- such as by terrorists disabling a major Saudi processing terminal -- would bring down economies throughout the industrialized world.

Here again, one can conceive a strategy for neutralizing this threat. It involves moving urgently to introduce a profoundly different national energy policy designed to do the following:

- Provide market-based incentives to justify the essential re-tooling of our automobile industry to enable it to produce flexible-fuel, plug-in hybrid electric cars and trucks, using carbon composite materials (as Boeing is doing in the new 787 airliner);

- Accelerate the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol, butanol and other bio-fuels; and

- License new nuclear power plants.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, our next president must prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by any of the more than 40-plus nations that are capable of that step within five to 10 years. Of course we must also prevent terrorist groups from gaining access to nuclear materials -- not a task for someone learning on the job.

Surely Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter can agree that these challenges are terribly demanding and cannot be left to luck or divine providence. Finally, there is the cost of their extremist rhetoric to the Republican Party. As President Reagan once told me, "Going over the cliff, flags flying, is still going over the cliff."

Our Leaders' Failure In Making Our Nation Safer

Of course, this could just be (could be??) Pentagon posturing for more money but there's certainly more than, like, a kernel of truth to it.
A classified Pentagon assessment concludes that long battlefield tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with persistent terrorist activity and other threats, have prevented the U.S. military from improving its ability to respond to any new crisis, The Associated Press has learned.

Despite security gains in Iraq, there is still a "significant" risk that the strained U.S. military cannot quickly and fully respond to another outbreak elsewhere in the world, according to the report.
Link.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Election 2008 And Big Media's Insistence On Reporting Fiction

Every week, a new Big Media meme that turns out to be a complete crock with no basis in reality.

This week's #1, now that the Mittster's pussed out: Conservatives have issues with McCain.

Yeah, well. We'll see whether they stay home depressed in November. And who they vote for when they don't stay home.

And McCain/Huckabee get elected.

Today's Parents Of The Year

From whence Britney first cometh. Or something.

What You Do After Creating The World's First Significant Browser?

Start a New York Times deathwatch, of course.

McCain-Huck 08: We Have Our Next Leaders

Mitt's run for the roses, as it were, was always a trifle bizarre, detached in his inability to be a successful rightist panderer, and so on and so forth.

This, though, even by his standards, is pretty whack.

Don't you miss him already?

What we're losing....

War Room:
Those in the audience to hear Mitt Romney's concession speech Thursday -- seemingly, even radio host Laura Ingraham, who introduced him -- didn't know what was coming. Neither, reportedly, did some of Romney's campaign staff.

And if you were one of the people there, listening to a speech larded with red meat for the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, you could be forgiven for not seeing the train barreling down. Romney was supposed to be the star of the show, the candidate anointed by conservative heavyweights, while conference organizers had to ask attendees not to boo his main opponent, John McCain.

In the early parts of his speech, Romney showed why he has been embraced by conservatives, making his main points a scathing denunciation of the evils of and ills caused by liberalism. (He even threw in a joke about how calling a Harvard professor a liberal is redundant.)

"The threat to our culture comes from within. The 1960s welfare programs created a culture of poverty. Some think we won that battle when we reformed welfare, but the liberals haven't given up. At every turn, they try to substitute government largess for individual responsibility ... Dependency is a culture-killing drug -- we have got to fight it like the poison it is," Romney said, to wild cheers.

But he wasn't done excoriating liberals yet. "The attack on faith and religion is no less relentless," Romney said. "And tolerance for pornography -- even celebration of it -- and sexual promiscuity, combined with the twisted incentives of government welfare programs, have led to today's grim realities: 68 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock, 45 percent of Hispanic children, and 25 percent of white children ... A nation built on the principles of the Founding Fathers cannot long stand when its children are raised without fathers in the home."

Then he pointed to the inevitable boogeyman: Europe. "Europe is facing a demographic disaster," he said, a reference to declining birthrates among whites there and an influx of immigrants from elsewhere, especially Muslim countries. "That is the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life and eroded morality. Some reason that culture is merely an accessory to America's vitality; we know that it is the source of our strength. And we are not dissuaded by the snickers and knowing glances when we stand up for family values, and morality, and culture."

And finally, it was liberals who caused Romney's decision to suspend his campaign. Romney compared himself to Ronald Reagan in 1976, invoking Reagan's decision to stay in the presidential race through the convention that year to applause. Then he dropped the bombshell: "But there is an important difference from 1976. Today we are a nation at war. And Barack [Obama] and Hillary [Clinton] have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror: They would retreat, declare defeat."

This, Romney said, he could not allow. And so he would be dropping out. "If I fight on, in my campaign, all the way to the convention ... I'd forestall the launch of a national campaign and, frankly, I'd make it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win. Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," he said.

Finally, to shouts of "No!" Romney delivered the capper. "I entered this race because I love America," he said. "And because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Definition Of Terrorism: Lies Our Leaders Tell Us About The Terrorism Threat Solely To Remain In Power

As Campaign 2008 reaches a critical point, George W. Bush’s top intelligence officials are raising new alarms about a revitalized al-Qaeda recruiting Westerners, possibly including Americans, to carry out terror attacks inside the United States.

At a Feb. 5 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bush’s Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said al-Qaeda was refining “the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.” by training Western recruits, who could blend in with American society and carry out attacks on U.S. targets.

In a later interview with the New York Times, an unnamed “senior intelligence official” added that these Westerners – “most likely including American citizens” – were undergoing training at al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan, though the official added there was no evidence that the operatives had yet reached the United States. [NYT, Feb. 6, 2008]

These warnings of a worsening al-Qaeda threat coincide with key congressional votes on whether to restrict the Bush administration’s claimed authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps of Americans and to subject prisoners to “coercive interrogation techniques,” which have included simulated drowning from “waterboarding.”

One administration goal appears to be to soften up Democrats with the suggestion that they are going “soft on terror” if they try to impose some court oversight of Bush’s wiretapping or if they prohibit interrogation tactics that may cross the line into torture.

Already, some Democrats have joined Republicans in transforming a bill designed to put some constraints on Bush’s wiretapping authority into legislation that gives Bush another major concession, legal immunity for U.S. telecommunications companies that cooperated with Bush’s earlier warrantless wiretapping.

Administration officials also are making clear to Congress that limiting CIA interrogations to standards set for the Army and the FBI could leave the United States more vulnerable in a future crisis.

At the Intelligence Committee hearing, CIA Director Michael Hayden stated publicly for the first time that waterboarding had been used against three senior al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003 – and that aggressive techniques were employed against about 30 detainees in total.

Though Hayden did not spell out these additional techniques, they are known to include forced nudity, putting detainees in painful “stress positions,” subjecting detainees to extremes of hot and cold, long-term sensory deprivation and denial of sleep.

Hayden told the senators that if they prohibited the CIA’s harsh tactics, interrogators would not risk violating the congressionally approved standards, whatever the future emergency.

“We will play to the edges of the box that the American political process gives us,” Hayden said. “If the American political system draws the box making it equivalent to the Army Field Manual [prohibiting abusive interrogations], we will play inside the box. …

“One should not expect them [CIA interrogators] to play outside the box because we’ve entered a new period of threat or danger to the nation. There’s no wink and nod here. If you create the box, we will play inside the box, without exception.”

Revived Specter

This revived specter of a worsening U.S. vulnerability to a major terrorist attack will surely hover over the congressional debate on reining in Bush’s assertion of unlimited presidential authority, but it may well spook the presidential campaign, too.

On the Republican side, as frontrunner John McCain begins to position himself for the November general election, the terror fear should help him since he has embraced Bush’s Iraq War even if the U.S. occupation of Iraq lasts 100 years or more. The Arizona senator also has vowed to wage an open-ended war against Islamic militants, calling it the key “ideological struggle” of this era.

So, assuming that Americans still take Bush's terror warnings seriously, McCain could get an advantage. However, the administration’s stoking up fears about another 9/11 represents a more difficult challenge to Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Both Democrats have argued that Bush’s diversion of U.S. forces from the Afghanistan theatre to Iraq contributed to the continued U.S. vulnerability to al-Qaeda’s terrorism and they have advocated direct military retaliation against al-Qaeda. But they have differed significantly in their personal reactions to Bush's “war on terror.”

Sen. Clinton generally has finessed Bush’s bellicosity rather than challenge the premises of his arguments. Her desire to “look tough” often has drawn her into political alliances with congressional neoconservatives like Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut.

In 2007, for instance, Clinton voted for a Lieberman-sponsored resolution calling on Bush to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist” organization. Her vote drew criticism from other Democratic presidential hopefuls as indicating that she had not learned much from her 2002 vote to authorize Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Many Clinton critics suspect that if she secures the Democratic nomination, she would start tacking again toward a neocon-lite position on national security, and that if she wins the White House, she would pursue a foreign policy course not that much different from the belligerent one that Bush has followed. She would never want to look “weak.”

Obama Test

For Sen. Obama, the administration’s ramped-up rhetoric about an impending terrorist threat on U.S. soil represents a different kind of challenge. He has argued for a revolutionary rethinking of how the United States conducts its foreign policy – and might have to defend that position amid a climate of fear.

“I don’t want to just end the war” in Iraq, Obama said at the Jan. 31 debate in Los Angeles. “I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.”

Obama’s reference was to his advocacy of unconditional negotiations with enemies, as opposed to Bush’s approach of issuing ultimatums to unfriendly states and demanding major concessions before negotiating with them.

If Obama means what he says, he would be pointing the way toward a very different kind of U.S. foreign policy, one that relies more on American “soft power” influence than on “hard power” military might.

While sounding fairly radical after nearly three decades of escalating military buildups -- and neoconservative dreams of permanent U.S. hegemony around the globe -- Obama’s position actually harkens back to presidential goals from the early 1960s.

Obama is echoing Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the undue influence of the “military-industrial complex” as well as John F. Kennedy’s appeal for a world peace that is “not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Where Would Obama Take the Nation?”]

But that could be a tough sell if Americans are fearful again about another 9/11. Already, Hillary Clinton has mocked Obama’s call for direct talks with enemy states as naïve and proof of his inexperience.

Should the new terror warnings gain traction with the American public, Obama’s reaction could be a test of his mettle, whether he can stand up to the extraordinary pressures – sometimes bordering on hysteria – that have dominated the U.S. political process since the late summer of 2001.
Link.

American Justice

Got a new link up over to the side there:

The Tortellini.

And then, because we're fair and balanced and let you decide, over here is a site that think only victims should be kept out of the courts and they should be left available only to the frivolous penny-grabbing suits of the wealthy and Big Bidness.

Sad, Sad, Sad

Amazingly, she doesn't seem to take a scintilla of responsibility.... Link.

Do This Now!!

Do it here.

These Are Who We Depend On To Win The Total War Against Terror

This is not an endorsement of the following. It's posted just as something to ponder and think about and consider.
The increasing crisis of governance in Pakistan over the past several months has triggered many queries from Stratfor readers, most wanting to know how events will ultimately play out. Would a collapse of the Musharraf regime lead to a jihadist takeover? How safe are the country’s nuclear weapons? What are the security implications for Afghanistan? Topmost among the questions is whether Pakistan will remain a viable state.

Globally, there are fears that the collapse of the current regime could lead to an implosion of the state itself, with grave repercussions on regional and international security. Pakistanis themselves are very much concerned about a disaster of national proportions, particularly if the Feb. 18 elections go awry.

Although there are conflicting theories on what will happen in and to Pakistan, most have one thing in common. They focus on the end result, seeing the unfolding events as moving in a straight line from Point A to Point B. They deem Point B — the collapse of Pakistan — to be an unavoidable outcome of the prevailing conditions in the country. Such predictions, however, do not account for the many arrestors and other variables that will influence the chain of events.

Though there are many, many reasons for concern in Pakistan, state breakdown is not one of them. Such an extreme outcome would require the fracturing of the military and/or the army’s loss of control over the core of the country — neither of which is about to happen. That said, the periphery of the country, especially the northwestern border regions, could become an increasing challenge to the writ of the state.

We have said on many occasions that Islamabad is unlikely to restore stability and security any time soon, largely because of structural issues. In other words, the existing situation is likely to persist for some time — and could even deteriorate further. This raises the question: How bad can things get?

The answer lies in the institutional cohesiveness of Pakistan’s military establishment and the geographical structure of the country.

The Army

Stratfor recently pointed out that the army — rather than any particular military general — is the force that holds the state together. Therefore, the collapse of the state would come about only if the military establishment were to fracture. For several reasons, this is extremely unlikely.

Pakistan’s army is a highly disciplined organization made up of roughly half a million personnel. This force usually is led by at least two four-star generals — the chief of the army staff and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The leadership also consists of nine corps commanders and several other principal staff officers — all three-star generals. Beneath these approximately 30 lieutenant generals are about 150 two-star generals and some 450 one-star generals.

Moreover, and unlike in the Arab world, the Pakistani army has largely remained free of coups from within. The generals know their personal well-being is only as good as their collective ability to function as a unified and disciplined force — one that can guarantee the security of the state. The generals, particularly the top commanders, form a very cohesive body bound together by individual, corporate and national interests.

It is extremely rare for an ideologue, especially one with Islamist leanings, to make it into the senior ranks. In contrast with its Turkish counterpart, the Pakistani military sees itself as the protector of the state’s Islamic identity, which leaves very little room for the officer corps to be attracted to radical Islamist prescriptions. Thus, it is extremely unlikely that jihadism — despite the presence of jihadist sympathizers within the junior and mid-level ranks — will cause fissures within the army.

In the absence of strong civilian institutions, the army also sees itself as the guardian of the republic. Because of the imbalance in civil-military relations — there is virtually no civilian oversight over the military — the army exercises nearly complete control over the nation’s treasury. Having directly ruled Pakistan for some 33 years of the country’s 60-year existence, the army has become a huge corporation with massive financial holdings.

While these interests are a reason for the army’s historical opposition to democratic forces, they also play a major role in ensuring the cohesiveness of the institution. Consequently, there is no danger of the state collapsing. By extension, it is highly unlikely that the country’s nuclear assets (which are under the control of the military through an elaborate multilayered institutional mechanism) would fall into the wrong hands.

Although a collapse of the state is unlikely, the military is having a hard time running the country. This is not simply because of political instability, which is hardwired into Pakistan’s hybrid political system, but rather because of the unprecedented jihadist insurgency.

While civilian forces (political parties, civil society groups, the media and the legal community) are pushing for democratic rule, jihadists are staging guerrilla-style attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the rural Pashtun districts of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Moreover, they are mounting a campaign of suicide bombings in major urban centers. The military does not have the bandwidth to deal with political unrest and militancy simultaneously — a situation that is being fully exploited by the jihadists. The likely outcome of this trend is the state’s relative loss of control over the areas in the northwestern periphery.

Geography and Demography

From a strictly geopolitical point of view, Pakistan’s core is the area around the Indus River, which runs from the Karakoram/Western Himalayan/Pamir/Hindu Kush mountain ranges in the North to the Arabian Sea in the South. Most areas of the provinces of Punjab and Sindh lie east of the Indus. The bulk of the population is in this area, as is the country’s agricultural and industrial base — not to mention most of the transportation infrastructure. The fact that seven of the army’s nine corps are stationed in the region (six of them in Punjab) speaks volumes about its status as the core of the country.

In contrast, the vast majority of the areas in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan province, the Federally Administered Northern Areas and Pakistani-administered Kashmir are sparsely populated mountainous regions — and clearly the country’s periphery. Moreover, their rough terrain has rendered them natural buffers, shielding the core of the country.

In our 2008 Annual Forecast for South Asia, we said the country’s Pashtun areas could become ungovernable this year, and there already are signs that the process is under way. Pakistani Taliban supported by al Qaeda have seized control of many parts of the FATA and are asserting themselves in the districts of NWFP adjacent to the tribal areas.

While Islamism and jihadism can be found across the country, the bulk of this phenomenon is limited to the Pashtun areas — the tribal areas, the eastern districts of NWFP and the northwestern corridor of Balochistan province. Unlike the vast majority of Pakistanis, the Pashtuns are disproportionately an ultra-conservative lot (both religiously and culturally), and hence are disproportionately more susceptible to radical Islamist and jihadist impulses. It is quite telling that in the last elections, in 2002, this is roughly the same area in which the Islamist alliance, the Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), won the bulk of its seats in the national legislature. In addition to maintaining a large parliamentary bloc, the MMA ran the provincial government in NWFP and was the main partner with the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League in the coalition government in Balochistan.

Social structures and local culture, therefore, allow these areas to become the natural habitat of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Because of the local support base, the jihadists have been able not only to operate in these parts, but to take them over — and even to project themselves into the more settled areas of the NWFP. In addition to this advantage by default, security operations, which are viewed by many within the country as being done at the behest of the United States, have increasingly alienated the local population.

Given the local culture of retribution, the Pashtun militants have responded to civilian deaths during counterinsurgency operations by increasingly adopting suicide bombings as a means of fighting back. (It was not too long ago that the phenomenon of suicide bombings was alien to the local culture). The war in Afghanistan and its spillover effect on the border regions of Pakistan have created conditions in the area that have given al Qaeda and the Taliban a new lease on life.

Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

Resentment first toward Islamabad’s pro-U.S. policies and then the security crackdown that began in early 2004 to root out foreign fighters has developed into a general uprising of sorts. A younger, far more militant generation of Pashtuns enamored of al Qaeda and the Taliban has usurped power from the old tribal maliks. Not only has the government failed to achieve its objective of driving a wedge between foreign fighters and their local hosts, it has strengthened the militants’ hand.

One of the problems is the government’s haphazard approach of alternating military operations with peace deals. Moreover, when the government has conducted security operations, it not only has failed to weaken the militancy, it has caused civilian casualties and/or forced local people to flee their homes, leading to a disruption of life. When peace agreements are made, they have not secured local cooperation against Taliban and al Qaeda elements. The lack of a coherent policy on how to deal with the jihadists has caused the ground situation to go from bad to worse. At the same time, on the external front, Islamabad has come under even more U.S. pressure to act against the militants, the effects of which further complicate matters on the ground.

On a tactical level, while the Pakistani army has a history of supporting insurgencies, it is ill-equipped to fight them. Even worse, despite the deployment of some 100,000 soldiers in the region, the bulk of security operations have involved paramilitary forces such as the Frontier Corps, which is mostly made up of locals who have little incentive to fight their brethren. Furthermore, Pakistan’s intelligence capabilities already are compromised because of militant penetration of the agencies.

In addition to these structural problems, the Musharraf government’s battle for political survival over the past year has further prevented the government from focusing on the jihadist problem. The only time it acted with any semblance of resolve is when it sent the army to regain control of the Red Mosque in the summer of 2007. However, that action was tantamount to pouring more fuel on the militant fire.

President Pervez Musharraf, by stepping down as army chief and becoming a civilian president, did not resolve his survival issues. In fact, it has led to a bifurcation of power, with Musharraf sharing authority with his successor in the militaryGen. Ashfaq Kayani. While Musharraf remains preoccupied with making it through the coming election, Kayani is increasingly taking charge of the fight against jihadism. The assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto further complicated the regime’s struggle to remain in power, leaving very little bandwidth for dealing with the jihadists.

What Lies Ahead

With the army’s successful retaking of the district of Swat from militants loyal to Mullah Fazlullah, Kayani has demonstrated his abilities as a military leader. Despite this tactical victory, however, the situation is far from stable. From a strategic point of view, Kayani’s plans to deal with the insurgency depend heavily on the outcome of the Feb. 18 elections (if indeed they are held). The hope is that the political turmoil can be brought back within acceptable parameters so the army can focus on fighting jihadists.

That would be an ideal situation for the army, because the prevailing view is that the military needs public support in order to be successful in combating religious extremism and terrorism. Such public support can only be secured when an elected government comprising the various political stakeholders is in charge. The assumption is that the policies of such a government would be easier to implement and that if the army has to use a combination of force and negotiations with the militants, it will have the public’s backing instead of criticism.

But the problem is that there is an utter lack of national consensus on what needs to be done to defeat the forces of jihadism, beyond the simplistic view that the emphasis should be on dialogue and force should be used sparingly. Most people believe the situation has deteriorated because the Musharraf regime was more concerned with meeting U.S. demands than with finding solutions that took into consideration the realities on the ground. Islamabad knows it cannot avoid the use of force in dealing with the militants, but because of public opposition to such action, it fears that doing so could make the situation even worse.

Moreover, regardless of the election outcome (assuming the process is not derailed over cries of foul play), the prospects for a national policy on dealing with the Islamist militancy are slim. Circumstances will require that the new government be a coalition — thus it will be inherently weak. This, along with the deteriorating ground reality, will leave the army with no choice but to adopt a tough approach — one it has been avoiding for the most part.

Having led the country’s premier intelligence directorate, Inter-Services Intelligence, Kayani is all too aware of the need to overhaul the country’s intelligence system and root out militant sympathizers. This is the principal way to reduce the jihadists’ ability to stage attacks in the core areas of the country, where they have limited support structure. While this lengthy process continues, the army will try to contain the jihadist phenomenon on the western periphery along the border with Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government also needs to address the problems it has created for itself by distinguishing between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” Taliban. Islamabad continues to support the Taliban in Afghanistan while it is at war with the Pakistani Taliban. Given the strong ties between the two militant groups, Islamabad cannot hope to work with those on the other side of the border while it confronts those in its own territory.

Further complicating matters for Islamabad is the U.S. move to engage in overt military action on Pakistani soil in an effort to root out transnational jihadist elements. The Pakistanis need U.S. assistance in fighting the jihadist menace, but such assistance comes at a high political cost on the domestic front. The ambiguity in the Pakistani position could allow the Taliban and al Qaeda to thrive.

What this ultimately means is that the Pashtun areas could experience a long-term insurgency, resulting in some of these areas being placed under direct military rule. With the militants already trying to create their own “Islamic” emirate in the tribal areas, the insurgency has the potential to transform into a separatist struggle. Historically, the Pakistani army tried to defeat Pashtun ethnic nationalism by promoting Islamism — a policy that obviously has backfired miserably.

The Bottom Line

The good news for the Pakistanis — and others interested in maintaining the status quo — is that the ongoing jihadist insurgency and the political turmoil are unlikely to lead to the collapse of the state. The structure of the state and the nature of Pakistani society is such that radical Islamists, though a significant force, are unlikely to take over the country.

On the other hand, until the army successfully cleans up its intelligence system, suicide bombings are likely to continue across the country. Much more significant, the Pashtun areas along the Afghan border will be ungovernable. Pashtun jihadists and their transnational allies on both sides of the Durand Line will continue to provide mutual benefit until Pakistan and NATO can meaningfully coordinate their efforts.

Imposing a military solution is not an option for the Pakistanis or for the West. Negotiations with the Taliban in the short term are not a viable alternative either. Therefore, a long-term insurgency, which is confined to the Pashtun areas on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, is perhaps the best outcome that can be expected at this time.
Link.

Your Formerly Free Secret Ballot

The company formerly known as Diebold showed it's respect for the secret ballot by revealing it's master security key on its website where it was easily found. This is not a joke. The full story is here.

Another example of e-machine security, or utter and complete lack thereof, is here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Meet the Straight-Talker

According to the latest Washington Post poll, there's been a dramatic shift towards John McCain following his victory in the Florida GOP primary, and he now leads Mitt Romney by 24 points nationwide. With a number of winner-take all primaries on the Republican side, he has a very good shot at wrapping up the nomination on February 5. It looks like conservatives -- with a few raving-mad, mouth-breathing exceptions -- have gone through denial, anger, bargaining and depression and come finally to accept their insubordinate nominee. Modern conservatives are the philosophical heirs of the monarchists of a previous era; despite months of grumbling, most will, ultimately, rally around the king come November.
McCain is also the candidate most Democrats and progressives have feared facing in the general election. According to RealClearPolitics' rolling average of head-to-head polls, McCain would beat Clinton today by a slim margin of just under 2 percent and would edge out Obama by a razor-thin half-point. Eight months out -- and months before the first debate between the nominees -- these data mean little, but they are causing some concern on the left.

McCain is, however, an extremely weak candidate. The senator's been showing his age throughout the primaries, and there is still a long and exhausting slog ahead. His wooden delivery of stump speeches -- sometimes offered while staring at his notes -- and some incidents in which he's appeared "confused" -- he referred to Vladimir Putin as the president of Germany -- are vulnerabilities for a 71 year-old candidate. Most people still haven't had a chance to see and hear from these candidates at length this cycle, and while we all decry the fact that people often make political decisions based on the candidates' mannerisms or appearances rather than on the issues, in a race against a cranky, old-looking and somewhat out-of-it McCain, the War of Appearances is likely to be won handily by either of the potential Dem nominees.

The affable and avuncular image McCain's worked so hard to cultivate may also be difficult to maintain as voters focus more attention on the candidate. As Sidney Blumenthal wrote for Salon:
McCain's political colleagues … know another side of the action hero -- a volatile man with a hair-trigger temper, who shouted at Sen. Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor to "shut up," called his fellow Republican senators "shithead," "fucking jerk," "asshole," and joked in 1998 at a Republican fundraiser about the teenage daughter of President Clinton, "Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? Because Janet Reno is her father." [In 2006], McCain suddenly rushed up to a friend of mine, a prominent Washington attorney, at a social event, and threatened to beat him up because he represented a client McCain happened to dislike, and then, just as suddenly, profusely and tearfully apologized.
And McCain's problems run far deeper than his irascibility and some gaffes on the stump. His real challenge is that his popularity -- his viability -- rests almost entirely on two narratives that have absolutely no connection with reality: his reputation as a straight-talking "maverick" and a moderate, and his "brave" support for Bush's troop escalation, a policy that's led to the widely-embraced but wholly false idea that "the surge is working."

These narratives have only gone unchallenged thanks to a compliant press; the commercial media are McCain's most dedicated constituents, and he's spent a career fostering that country-before-party image, even while walking in lock-step with Republicans on all but a few over-reported issues.

This means that Democrats are not so much running against McCain, the candidate, as McCain, the myth. The Republican Party will be a serious obstacle for the Democratic nominee, but ultimately election 2008 will be as much a battle to overturn the conventional wisdom as it will be a fight with the senator from Arizona. It should be a source of some encouragement then that the progressive movement, with its blogs, social-networking space and alternative media outlets, is far better prepared to fight and win that kind of battle than it has been at any other time in recent memory.

The Twists and Turns of the "Straight-Talk Express"

McCain's strongest selling point was summed up well by Matt Welch in the L.A. Times last week. "It's no mystery why independents gravitate toward McCain," he wrote. "He's a country-first, party-second kind of guy who speaks bluntly and delights in poking fellow Republicans in the eye on issues such as campaign finance reform and global warming."

The reality is that John McCain is the antithesis of the principled straight-talker. When he was asked in a recent debate whether, as president, he would sign into law the comprehensive immigration reform bill that he's championed for the past three years, he responded: "No, I would not, because we know what the situation is today." Yes, the situation today is that he's running for the Republican nomination.

As journalist and blogger Steve Benen noted, that's only one of a number of measures that McCain has worked hard to pass and is now saying he'd oppose:
  • McCain used to champion the Law of the Sea convention, even volunteering to testify on the treaty's behalf before a Senate committee. Now, if the treaty comes to the Senate floor, he's vowed to vote against it.
  • McCain was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants' kids who graduate from high school. In 2007, to make the far-right base happy, he voted against the bill he had taken the lead on.
  • In 2006, McCain sponsored legislation to require grassroots lobbying coalitions to reveal their financial donors. In 2007, after receiving "feedback" on the proposal, McCain told far-right activist groups that he now opposes the measure he'd backed.
  • McCain used to support major campaign-finance reform measures that bore his name. In June 2006, McCain announced his opposition to a major McCain-Feingold provision.
As Benen points out, it's one thing to change one's mind about a piece of legislation, "but these aren't just random bills that McCain voted on -- these are bills that he personally championed -- recently."

That's long been the trend with McCain, who claims that he's spent decades "fighting for the unborn" when stumping in socially conservative states, but has at least tacitly defended Roe V. Wade in the past. He voted against the temporary Bush tax cuts -- saying at the time that the nation has never cut taxes "in a time of war" -- but is now pledging to make them permanent as a central promise of his campaign.

But, ironically, of all the issues that McCain has embraced over the years, it's been his take on the occupation of Iraq that has possibly been the least consistent -- he's "flip-flopped" on various aspects of Bush's Iraq policy dozens of times. The only consistency in his record is that each and every prediction of what would come to pass in Iraq has been proven consistently and terribly wrong.

The Realities of Occupation

McCain has said "that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for 'a thousand years' or 'a million years,' as far as he was concerned," and based much of his pitch for the White House on the fact that he backed the troop "surge" despite the fact that it was highly unpopular at the time.

The problem for McCain is that he's betting his career that the situation in Iraq is as likely to remain as it is or improve as it is to decline. That assumption's problematic, and if the decline in violence proves temporary between now and November, it will only expose the failure of the symbolic troop escalation on which McCain's hung so much of his campaign.

The "surge is working" narrative's not reality-based, and when it comes to Iraq, we've seen the spin give way to the ugly facts time and time again.

That the troop escalation has been anything but a success is not an ideological claim, as supporters of the occupation charge, but numerical and chronological. The surge began last February, and there was something approaching a consensus at the time that the addition of about 20,000 combat troops -- the rest were support personnel -- would be a drop in the bucket in a country of 25 million people. Retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey said at the time: "I personally think the surge of five U.S. Army brigades and a few Marine battalions dribbled out over five months is a fool's errand." But the troop build-up continued in March, April and May.

The period that followed was a bloodbath -- last June and July were the most violent summer months of any year of the occupation. August was one of the bloodiest months, period. Then, that month, the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mehdi Army to stand down. The number of Iraqi civilian deaths fell by about 50 percent the next month and decreased again in October and November. The militia is estimated to be 100,000 strong and is arguably the most powerful ground force in Iraq after the U.S. military. While the change can't be wholly ascribed to any single factor -- the violence has also decreased as a result of communities that have been fully "cleansed" of one or another ethnic or sectarian group -- it's clear that al-Sadr's order, not Bush's "surge," was responsible for most of whatever "success" there may have been.

Finally, there is the masterpiece of propaganda known as the "Sunni Awakening." Spun as a sign of success, the reality is that the U.S. military turned over some of the areas where they'd encountered the most violent resistance to local Sunni authorities -- many of whom they had condemned as "terrorists" previously -- and started paying their fighters to stop shooting at U.S. troops. In other words, the U.S. was defeated and surrendered territory to the "enemy," effectively paying reparations to local populations and suffering fewer casualties as a result. There are many ways to define success, but defeat and surrender are not among them. Yet, in perfectly Orwellian fashion, after four years of saying that Iraq was mostly stable aside from a few local areas and the Sunni "Triangle of Death," the administration simply stopped using the phrase and replaced it with talk of a "Sunni Awakening." We've always been at war with Eurasia.

The stated goal of the escalation was to "provide space" for political progress that might lead to a lasting and sustainable peace. But there's been no move towards political consensus on any of the Iraqi political class's most divisive issues, not has there been any reconciliation of ethnic and sectarian tensions in the streets.

Dissatisfaction with the Iraqi leadership will continue to increase. Tensions in the South between Shia nationalists and separatists have been on a straight upward line since the Brits pulled back. A growing rift has developed between the national army and U.S.-backed Sunni militias. Mosul has become the latest city to catch fire. The referendum for the future of Kirkuk has been delayed because the question of the oil-rich city's future is too explosive.

Every day, the stress on Moqtada al-Sadr's ceasefire, which is scheduled to expire this month, continues; it's unlikely that it will hold through November. There have already been a number of instances in which Mehdi Army units have gone freelance; if the ceasefire holds, that number will no doubt increase.

Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government are at odds over oil contracts. The country's infrastructure is still in tatters, and there are 4 million displaced Iraqis. If the 2 million or so who are refugees in other countries return, nobody knows what to do with them and inadequate food supplies will be further strained. If they try to return to neighborhoods that have been successfully "cleansed," a new wave of violence will likely ensue. A terrible drought is decimating Iraqi agriculture. Public health officials say that while the cholera epidemic that swept the country last year is under control now, they expect it to return with a vengeance as the temperature rises this summer. I could go on -- Iraq is a disaster of epic proportions, and no amount of spin can conceal that reality indefinitely.

Remember that the troop escalation is scheduled to end in July, three months before Americans go to the polls. At that point, even a docile media is going to have to either report that violence -- and the all-important U.S. casualty rate -- is on the rise again, or they'll be forced to examine the escalation's success or failure in terms of political progress as well as the level of violence. Either storyline shifts the debate significantly (as would a cancellation of the long-planned summer draw-down).

The Politics of Occupation

Unfortunately, even in the midst of a heated election campaign, the Democratic candidates have so far deprived voters of a fair and open debate about one of the most important issues of our time. Both Clinton and Obama have been coy -- dishonest, really -- about their plans for Iraq, claiming, for example, that they will remove "combat troops" but retain some "non-combat" troops for training, counter-terrorism missions and to protect, in Clinton's words "the more than 100,000 Americans civilians who are there, working for the embassy, working for businesses, working for charities."

It's a tragic reflection of our political culture that they can get away with these vagaries on an issue of such great concern to their constituents. The dirty truth is that "non-combat troops" are troops with orders to stay in their bases when the shit hits the fan unless said shit involves our contractors and infrastructure. It's profoundly immoral given the propaganda laid out for staying in-country; it effectively continues the occupation but abandons even the pretense of protecting vulnerable Iraqi civilians.

Both candidates have refused to put a hard number on the amount of "non-combat" troops that would be required for their missions, forcing us to essentially read the tealeaves to glean what they would actually do if elected. Both have proposed missions similar to that laid out in the Center for American Progress' "Strategic Redeployment 2.0" plan (PDF), which calls for about 50,000 troops to fulfill. According to an analysis by historian Stephen Zunes, "most estimates of the numbers of troops needed to carry out [the mission Clinton has described] range between 40,000 and 75,000." NPR reported that senior advisors to Obama have privately said that he would likely retain 50,000 troops in-country. These are exactly the same number of troops that George Bush has tried to lock in by signing a "cooperation agreement" with the Iraqi government his military installed.

This is a grim reality for the "anti-this-war" movement, but it's important to understand that it is the perception that matters, and with an abundance of low-information voters, a candidate who says he or she wants to end the "war" will have a distinct advantage over John "1 Million Years Is Fine By Me" McCain, regardless of his or her sincerity. According to the Jan. 18-22 L.A. Times-Bloomberg Poll (PDF), 66 percent of independents agree with close to 90 percent of Democrats that the U.S. should withdrawal from Iraq within a year.

Match-ups

According to the Washington Post poll cited above, a slim plurality of Democratic primary voters believe Clinton has a better shot at defeating McCain than does Obama, although her lead on that poll question has eroded in recent weeks. A good argument can be made that Clinton, whose team has more experience pushing back against the GOP smear machine than any other, is tougher than Obama, and therefore has a better chance. Clinton's backers also have the highest intensity of support among any of the top three candidates.

Obama's strengths, however, play perfectly against McCain's narratives. His "post-partisan" rhetoric is appealing to a whole generation of new voters -- young people have come out for him in droves in the early primaries -- and he has done extremely well with self-identified independents, the same group that's delivering the nomination to McCain (so far, he's tended to split the partisan GOP vote with Romney and won with the indies).

On Iraq, Obama has the advantage of having opposed the invasion from the beginning, which means that he'd have significantly less difficulty drawing a contrast on the issue with McCain than Clinton, who will have to explain why she voted for the war before she "opposed" it.

Finally, Clinton has the highest "negatives" -- disapproval rating -- of any candidate in the race. Modern American elections are won in large part by turning out "your guys" and keeping your opponents' supporters at home. McCain, despite the grudging acceptance of many Republicans in recent weeks, still has the softest support of any of the three candidates -- fewer than one in four of those voters who back him tell pollsters that they "support him strongly." So, while there would be a lot of people who would want to take part in history and elect the first woman to the Oval Office, there are also going to be voters who don't support McCain, and might stay on their couches against an Obama (whose negatives are very low), but who would be motivated to get to the polls to vote against Clinton. So while most on the right will hold their noses and vote for McCain, it's likely that others -- some anti-immigrant hardliners, some Christianists -- will simply stay home against Obama whereas they may be motivated to beat "Hitlery." That doesn't need to be a very large number in those swing states to make the difference.

Beating McCain

Whoever becomes the eventual Democratic nominee will enjoy a structural advantage over McCain. The Democratic candidates are "crushing" their GOP rivals in terms of fund-raising, there have been record turn-outs in primary after primary on the Democratic side, and there's clearly a burning desire among partisan Dems and many progressives to take out the Republican trash after 8 long years of war and Bushenomics.

All that will mean little, however, if the race is against McCain, the man, as opposed to the media myths he's created. Ultimately, this will be a test of the communication infrastructure progressives have labored to build over the past ten years; we have 8 months to chip away at the twin towers of McCain's candidacy -- his ostensible independent streak and the success of the Bush "surge" that he championed.

That means it's time for some message discipline. McCain is not a "straight-shooter," he's a "Bush Republican" who will say anything to get elected. He has a different message for every crowd. He's a flip-flopper on all the issues that he supposedly bucked his party over in the past.

Branding the troop escalation the "McCain doctrine" -- as John Edwards has done -- ties him to a policy that has a very good chance of going south, visibly and undeniably, before the end of summer.

Moreover, the 'surge is working' narrative itself has to be challenged, forcefully, before Election Day. As blogger Chris Bowers argued recently:
The simple truth is that, starting with the explosion of blogosphere traffic during the invasion of Iraq and with the rise of Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2003, over the past five years, the rising and declining fortunes of the contemporary manifestation of the progressive movement have been inextricably tied to winning and losing the Iraq debate nationwide. Right now, because we are losing that debate, we are losing pretty much every other fight, too.
As Joe Brewer and Scott Parkinson of the Rockridge Institute suggest, the key to that is reframing the debate from the question of whether the escalation of troops has had an effect, to a simple story of betrayal. America was betrayed by leaders -- like John McCain --who led it into a destructive imperial war and who continue to spin a web of lies and half-truths to maintain the occupation.

The popular "straight-talking" McCain? Bring him on. We have eight months to chip away at a leviathan of spin.
Link.

Who Do We Trust?

Who do you think? Not that it matters so much....

See Big Brother's Eyes

Look here.

Brave New World: Text to Go to the Bathroom

What will the old, technologically inept, and the desperately poor do?? For the former, maybe there'll be a Boy Scout around....
Finland's Road Administration has started locking its isolated roadside toilets - and unlocking them via SMS. In response to incidents of arson and thefts, the transport authority came up with the novel solution which increased security, without reducing access for the public.

The new system was introduced in last month in the rest areas along Highway 1 in Paimio and Salo near Turku.

The toilets have been secured, and a sign outside explains that the user just sends the word "open" (in Finish) to a short code and the door will be unlocked remotely. The company managing the service will keep a short term record of all users phone numbers, simply so that if the toilet is then damaged by criminals, they can be traced by the police.
There is no premium charge for the SMS.Link.

No Comment -- Yet

Link.

Bill Gates does not Believe in What he's Preaching

Yeah, yeah, what else is new. M$ is built on lies. Why should he stop now?
The Redmond company makes products here but records software sales to PC makers and high-volume customers through an operation in Nevada, where there is no corporate tax. So Washington is missing out on revenue it could use for badly needed infrastructure needs — like replacement of the 520 bridge.

By Jeff Reifman

When I heard that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates had invoked the phrase "creative capitalism" at last month's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, it reminded me how Microsoft avoids paying taxes on Washington-made software by selling it through Nevada. Since 1997, I estimate, the company has avoided paying more than $528 million in state taxes while racking up $92 billion in profit and distributing more than $42 billion in dividends to shareholders. Microsoft's creative capitalism has deprived Washington state a lot of tax revenue it needs to pay for critical infrastructure such as replacing the aging 520 bridge that many of its employees use to get to and from corporate headquarters in Redmond.

In 2004, I wrote about Microsoft's tax practices in Seattle Weekly. Since then, the process has continued unabated as Microsoft's revenues have continued to grow.

Here's how the practice works: Microsoft's product teams, based mostly in Redmond and Issaquah, build software products such as Windows Vista, Windows Server, SQL Server, and Office. But sales of these products to PC manufacturers and corporate customers are conducted from a License and Operations office in Reno, Nev., where there is no corporate income tax. Microsoft records the revenue for these sales (traditionally about 31 percent of overall revenue) in Nevada and does not pay the Washington business and occupation tax required on software reproduction.

I estimate that for the past 11 years, Microsoft has used this practice to save $48 million annually, cumulatively more than half a billion dollars. If the Washington Legislature had not reduced the software tax rate from 1.5 percent to 0.484 percent in 1998, Microsoft's tax savings would be more than triple that. As the company's revenues have grown, so have the savings. Last year, I estimate, it avoided $76.7 million in taxes.

In 2004, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith told me, "The reality is that in the scheme of things, the impact is not very significant — either for the company or for the state government or the state economy. ... The law is actually structured in such a way so as to permit a company to do precisely what we are doing."

Maybe, but maybe not. As the lost tax revenue adds up, it's up to Attorney General Rob McKenna and the Washington Legislature to decide whether Microsoft should be required to pay taxes for selling software from Nevada that was created by 35,510 employees on its 11.2 million square feet of real estate here in metro Puget Sound.

Software license codes are unique in that they can generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue by unlocking hundreds of thousands of copies of software for a PC manufacturer like Dell or a large company like General Electric. While shipping a DVD with a replication code might not attract the same kind of scrutiny that trucking timber products or delivering an airplane does, Microsoft accomplishes an astonishing sleight of hand by recording the licensing revenue in Nevada from products made here in Washington.

There will be a lack of equity and fairness as long as state leaders allow Microsoft to operate with a different set of rules than other businesses that pay the taxes on all of their Washington-made products. More importantly, the state will be left without vital revenue from its most successful company. How large does our infrastructure deficit have to become before our elected leaders find the political will to challenge this practice?
Link.

Why Big Media Journalism Sucks; They Have No Problem Being Chilled by Our Leaders

Good journalism is a de facto crime, that simple. Freedom of the press is limited to the freedom to kiss Our Leaders asses and pass on their lies.

Greenwald:

Ever since the President's illegal warrantless eavesdropping program was revealed by the New York Times' Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau back in December, 2005, there has been a faction of neoconservatives and other extremists on the Right calling for the NYT reporters and editors to be criminally prosecuted -- led by the likes of Bill Kristol (now of the NYT), Bill Bennett (of CNN), Commentary Magazine and many others. In May, 2006, Alberto Gonzales went on ABC News and revealed that the DOJ had commenced a criminal investigation into the leak, and then "raised the possibility [] that New York Times journalists could be prosecuted for publishing classified information."
That was one of the more revealing steps ever taken by Bush's DOJ under Gonzales: the administration violated multiple federal laws for years in spying on Americans, blocked all efforts to investigate what they did or subject it to the rule of law, but then decided that the only real criminals were those who alerted the nation to their lawbreaking -- whistleblowers and journalists alike. Even Gonzales' public musing about criminal prosecutions could have had a devastating effect -- if you're a whistleblower or journalist who uncovers secret government lawbreaking, you're obviously going to think twice (at least) before bringing it to light, given the public threats by the Attorney General to criminally prosecute those who do.
Eighteen months have passed since Gonzales' threats, and while there have been some signs that the investigation continues -- former DOJ official Jack Goldsmith, for instance, described how he was accosted and handed a Subpoena by FBI agents in the middle of Harvard Square, demanding to know what he knew about the NSA leak -- there had no further public evidence that the DOJ intended to pursue Risen and Lichtblau. Until now.
Yesterday, the NYT reported that Jim Risen was served with a grand jury Subpoena, compelling him to disclose the identity of the confidential source(s) for disclosures in his 2006 book, State of War. The Subpoena seeks disclosure of Risen's sources not for the NSA program (for which he and Lichtblau won a Pulitzer Prize), but rather, for Risen's reporting on CIA efforts to infiltrate Iran's nuclear program. Nonetheless, Risen's work on State of War is what led to his discovery that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans without the warrants required by law.
The issuance of a grand jury Subpoena to a reporter seeking the disclosure of confidential sources is one of the most serious steps the DOJ can take. If the reporter refuses to disclose his source(s) -- as reporters feel duty-bound to do, and, independently, as their future ability to uncover government secrets requires -- the reporter can be held in contempt and consigned to prison (Risen has indicated he will not comply). Judy Miller's refusal to disclose her sources in the Libby case, in response to a grand jury Subpoena, is what led to her imprisonment for 85 days, until she finally relented and revealed her sources. Had she not done so, she could have (and likely would have) remained imprisoned indefinitely.
Risen's book, State of War, was published in early January, 2006 -- more than two years ago. Why is it now, suddenly, that he is being subpoenaed to reveal his sources?
Issuing a Subpoena to a journalist poses such serious First Amendment threats that the DOJ has promulgated guidelines for what must occur in order for that to happen. Pursuant to Section III(A)(2)(l) of those guidelines -- "Subpoenas to the Media":
If the investigation involves media news gathering functions, the staff should first attempt to obtain the necessary information from non-media sources before considering subpoenaing members of the news media. If these attempts are unsuccessful and news media sources are the only reasonable sources of the relevant information, the staff should attempt to negotiate with the news media member or organization to obtain the information voluntarily. If such negotiations fail, the staff must seek the express approval of the Attorney General before issuing a subpoena.
Although one can't say for certain, it seems rather likely that what has led to the issuance of this grand jury Subpoena to Risen is that Michael Mukasey has apparently decided to make criminal investigations of such leaks one of his top priorities, and is prepared for a massive First Amendment fight with Risen and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, which likely will include a willingness to imprison Risen if he fails to comply -- just as the Neoconservative Right, still seething over Risen's role in exposing the President's NSA lawbreaking, has been demanding for some time.
One of the leading theorists of the "Imprison-the-NYT" movement has been Gabriel Schoenfeld of Norm Podhoretz's Commentary Magazine. He wrote a widely-cited article back in March, 2006 arguing that Risen, Lichtblau and even NYT Editor Bill Keller should all be criminally prosecuted under the Espionage Act and other statutes for publishing the NSA story:
The real question that an intrepid prosecutor in the Justice Department should be asking is whether, in the aftermath of September 11, we as a nation can afford to permit the reporters and editors of a great newspaper to become the unelected authority that determines for all of us what is a legitimate secret and what is not. Like the Constitution itself, the First Amendment's protections of freedom of the press are not a suicide pact. The laws governing what the Times has done are perfectly clear; will they be enforced?
On his Commentary blog yesterday, Schoenfeld gloated about the Subpoena to Risen and suggested a possible connection to not only Risen's work on the NSA story, but also Schoenfeld's own agitating for the imprisonment of these journalists. Schoenfeld wrote (referring to himself in the third person by the name of his blog, "Connecting the Dots"):
Finally, action. A federal prosecutor has issued a subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times, one of two reporters at the paper who compromised the National Security Agency's (NSA) Terrorist Surveillance Program in December 1995 (sic). . . .
Why is this investigation proceeding now? Connecting the Dots has no inside information. But Connecting the Dots was seated at the same table as Michael Mukasey and his wife at two dinners in the last three years, back when the future Attorney General was still a mere federal judge. The leaks in the New York Times did not come up for discussion, but Mukasey made plain he was a close reader of COMMENTARY.
Did he read a certain article in COMMENTARY entitled Has the New York Times Violated the Espionage Act? That's a question James Risen -- and Bill Keller, too -- should be thinking about.
It's entirely unsurprising that Michael Mukasey sat socially with our nation's most extremist neoconservatives and declared himself a "close reader of COMMENTARY." After all, before his nomination was formally announced, the White House chose Bill Kristol to announce his selection and, in a lengthy article, to vouch to conservatives for what a fine AG Mukasey would make.
Mukasey was a long-time supporter of the neocons' favorite candidate, Rudy Giuliani and, prior to becoming Attorney General, was part of the Giuliani campaign. And it was Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer -- both with neoconservative leanings (war supporters both, among other things) -- who jointly enabled Mukasey's confirmation by becoming the only Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in his favor.
Although there are still facts missing -- such as whether this Subpoena was actually approved by Mukasey rather than Gonzales -- it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Grand Jury Subpoena was done at least with Mukasey's assent. It seems rather clearly to signify the intent of his Justice Department to more aggressively pursue reporters who disclose information embarrassing to the President.
It's hard to overstate how threatening this behavior is. The Bush administration has erected an unprecedented wall of secrecy around everything it does. Beyond illegal spying, if one looks at the instances where we learned of lawbreaking and other forms of lawless radicalism -- CIA black sites, rendition programs, torture, Abu Ghraib, pre-war distortion of intelligence, destruction of CIA torture videos -- it is, in every case, the by-product of two forces: government whistleblowers and reporters willing to expose it.
Grand Jury Subpoenas such as the one issued to Risen have as their principal purpose shutting off that avenue of learning about government wrongdoing -- the sole remaining avenue for a country plagued by a supine, slothful, vapid press and an indescribably submissive Congress. Mukasey has quickly demonstrated that he has no interest in investigating and pursuing lawbreaking by high government officials, but now, he (or at least the DOJ he leads) seems to be demonstrating something even worse: a burgeoning interest in investigating and pursuing those who expose such governmental lawbreaking and turning those whistleblowers and investigative journalists into criminals.

UPDATE: An emailer sums up the situation nicely:
So, let me see if I get this straight. The Congress issues subpoenas to former [and current] Bush officials to testify about administration conduct. Said officials ignore the subpoenas. Nothing happens.
Administration, via grand jury, issues subpoena, Risen is threatened with jail.
What's wrong with this picture?
That's rather accurate.
One other notable aspect of this is that every time the administration attacks press freedoms, the newspapers' Editorial Pages are virtually mute. The only commentary I could find concerning the Risen Subpoena is this appropriately concise reaction from Spencer Ackerman, writing at the new online newspaper, Washington Independent. Neither the Post nor the Times' Editorial Pages has bothered to weigh in.

Clip (Clips) of the Day

This is like the scariest thing I've seen since... a long time....

Quote of the Day, Something to Live by

All the passions make us commit faults; love makes us commit the most ridiculous ones. -- La Rochefoucauld

Music Video Of The Day

This is so not an endorsement; I am already so disenamored, at the least, of all of the remaining candidates. I don't think any of them capable and/or inclined of doing anything good for the country.

But good music, we endorse that.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Word of the Day

Rightard. Use it well and often....

Collected Lies of Our Leaders: False Terrorist Threats

Link to a compendium (or "load of shit").

And are Our Leaders' G-Men creating fake threats for the rightists to exploit?

TILF

Link.

Collect Them All!!

Link.

Against the War, for the Troops

Another victim of madmen's pointless, unnecessary war.
Marine Lance Cpl. James Jenkins is buried in the same New Jersey cemetery that he used to run through on his way to high school, stopping at the Eat Good Bakery to get two glazed doughnuts and an orange juice before heading off to class. When his mother, Cynthia Fleming, visits his grave, she looks over the low cemetery wall at not only the bakery but the used-car lot where James used to sell Christmas trees during the winter and the nursing home where he worked every summer and says, "Lord, son, you're on your own turf." James, who died at 23, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery; the owners told Cynthia they're proud to have him there.

During his short career as a marine, Corporal Jenkins received many commendations recognizing his "intense desire to excel," "unbridled enthusiasm" and "unswerving devotion to duty." It was for heroic actions performed during a fifty-five-hour battle with the Mahdi militia in Najaf that Jenkins was awarded a Bronze Star for valor. The fighting, which began on the city streets in August 2004 and moved into the Wadi al Salam Cemetery, was ferociously personal. Marines and militiamen were often only yards apart, killing one another at close range. When the battle was over, eight Americans and hundreds of militiamen were dead.

After that tour, his second in Iraq, Jenkins could barely sleep. When he did, the nightmares were horrible. He was plagued by remorse and depression, unable to be intimate with his fiancée, run ragged by an adrenaline surge he couldn't turn off.

Back at San Diego's Camp Pendleton the following January, Jenkins took to gambling, or gambling took to him; he became addicted to blackjack and pai gow, a fast-moving card game where you can lose your shirt in a minute. The knife-edge excitement felt comfortingly familiar. Jenkins went into debt, borrowing thousands of dollars from payday loan companies. Busted for writing bad checks, he was locked up in the Camp Pendleton brig that spring pending court-martial. In the months that followed, he was released, locked up and released again. He spoke often of suicide. The Marines never diagnosed his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When his mother called his command seeking help, Jenkins's first sergeant, who had not served in Iraq, told Fleming he thought James was using his suicidal feelings to his advantage. "I have 130 marines to worry about other than your son," she recalls the sergeant saying. When his command decided to lock him up a third time, James Jenkins ran.

On September 28, 2005, eight months after returning from Iraq, Jenkins found himself cornered in the Oceanside apartment he shared with his fiancée. A deputy sheriff pounded on the front door, while a US Marshal covered the back. The young man with the "intense desire to excel" decided he could not go back to the brig or get an other-than-honorable discharge. He would not shame his family or have his hard-won achievements and his pride stripped away. And he was in pain. "He said, 'I can't even shut my eyes,'" his mother says, recalling one of his calls home that month. "He said, 'I killed 213 people, Mom.' He said, 'I can't live like this.' He said, 'Everything I worked for is down the drain,' and he was crying like a baby." While the officers waited for his fiancée to open the door, Jenkins shot himself in the right temple.

In the wake of Jenkins's suicide, the Marine Corps attempted to deny death benefits to his mother by claiming he'd died a deserter; but in a report based on that eligibility investigation, Thomas Ferguson, a special agent from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, described the young man as a "salvageable marine" whose untreated PTSD had led to his suicide.

"LCpl Jenkins was a bona fide war hero," Ferguson wrote. "Unfortunately, it is clear that when he most needed help from the military, the military failed him."

James Jenkins is a casualty of the war in Iraq as much as his fellow marines who died in that cemetery in Najaf, abandoned by an organization that has little tolerance for broken marines and is itself under tremendous stress from sustaining multiple deployments. "They didn't do anything," his mother says. "They just kept locking him up."

According to civilian and military defense lawyers, mental health professionals and veterans' advocates, the trajectory of James Jenkins's postdeployment life, with untreated PTSD leading to misconduct and then punishment, is all too common in the Marine Corps. A marine endures one, two, even three tours in Iraq, serves honorably and well, but returns suffering from combat trauma and starts to drink or abuse drugs or becomes violent at home, and suddenly finds himself ostracized, punished and drummed out of the Corps with an other-than-honorable or bad-conduct discharge. A history of service is tarnished, and the marine is denied benefits--even the treatment necessary to recover from combat trauma--and left with only a bitter sense of betrayal. A Corps review in 2007 of 1,019 other-than-honorable discharges issued to combat veterans during the first four years of the Iraq War found that fully a third of the discharged marines had evidence of PTSD or another combat-related mental illness. Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, the Marine Corps's legal defense counsel for the western United States, estimates that of all the Iraq combat veterans his office defends, one-third have PTSD or another combat-stress mental health issue. Many of these clients have served at least two tours in Iraq.

The factors leading to the abandonment of combat-broken marines are both cultural and operational. The Marine Corps is the youngest, most male, most junior and least married of all the services. Sixty-six percent of the troops are 25 or younger; 13 percent are teens; and 39 percent hold the rank of private, private first class or lance corporal. Fewer than 7 percent are female. The Corps's deeply macho culture, which values stoicism in the face of pain and disdains "weakness," makes it hard for marines to seek help. Judith Broder, a civilian psychiatrist who treats Iraq and Afghanistan vets, says, "They all know of stories where buddies have asked for help and have been ridiculed by the chain of command or given some kind of treatment that is not really adequate and told they have to go back."

This harsh culture is exacerbated by the relentless tempo of training and deployment, which pressures commanders to quickly replace broken marines with deployable ones. "You read the Marine Corps values and you'll find that anybody that gets hurt isn't courageous or doesn't have honor," Judith Litzenberger, a civilian defense lawyer and twenty-one-year Navy veteran, explains. "That's how the marines interpret it: 'I went to Iraq and I didn't whine and I didn't claim that I had a mental disorder, and damn well marines don't do that--we suck it up.' And it has to be that way because they have a mission that's bigger than the number of people they have. They can't spend all their time taking care of people who have mental disorders. They've got to wash them out quickly and move on."

The Corps also places more emphasis on discipline than any other branch of the military. According to USA Today, the Corps prosecutes close to the same number of troops for misconduct as the Army does, though it is one-third the size. "I don't think the legal system is being used improperly according to regulations," Lieutenant Colonel Vokey says. "The problem is I don't think the system accounts for these folks with PTSD. There's got to be another way to handle this without lumping them in with every other marine who commits misconduct. They were fine when they went to Iraq, we broke them, this is what combat did to them, and I think we should feel some responsibility for what happens to them."

Add to these factors the political and financial pressures surrounding the Iraq War, which have resulted in a mental health system so underfunded that last year a Pentagon Mental Health Task Force termed its staffing "woefully inadequate." The Navy, which provides psychological healthcare to the Marines, has filled only 72 percent of its psychologist billets and 62 percent of its psychiatrist billets.

"The funding has just been awful, the worst I've ever seen in my twenty years in the military," says Dr. Katherine Scheirman, a retired Air Force colonel who served as chief of medical operations in the Air Force's Europe headquarters from July 2004 to September 2006. Scheirman says the current political environment has made it "impossible" to give wounded soldiers proper care. "It's all about money," she says. "Every kid that gets kicked out with PTSD is gonna be a lifetime of disability payments for the government. Every kid who gives up and kills himself, nothing." Scheirman's unit was in charge of evacuating the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan and transporting them to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and on to the United States. She says politics infused every aspect of care. When she tried to beef up the hospital staff at Landstuhl, she was told, "No, we can't put more doctors or nurses in there because it will look like we expect more casualties." She was not allowed to send the visibly wounded home on commercial planes. "The rule," she says, "was they couldn't fly commercial if they had injuries that showed because it would upset the American people." The military planes were so cold the Air Force ended up running clothing drives for hats, scarves and mittens--a situation that continues today. In one e-mail requesting donations, a lieutenant colonel wrote, "Mittens are preferred because they often fit better over wounded hands/fingers."

"What kind of Army doesn't provide mittens for its wounded soldiers?" Scheirman asks. "What's sad is this isn't the way it's ever been before. I came into the military under Reagan, and George Bush's dad--they treated people well. The Clintons treated people really, really well. It's only this Administration that acts like the lives of these soldiers are expendable."

When the fourth Army Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT IV) traveled to Iraq in 2006 to assess the mental health of soldiers and marines in theater, they noted the intensely "personal" nature of duty there--that is, the high percentage of soldiers and marines who knew someone seriously wounded or killed and could describe an event that had caused them "intense fear, helplessness or horror": seeing a friend liquefied in a tank, being attacked by IEDs, being caught in the open under sniper fire, "seeing, smelling, touching...dead people." Last June the Pentagon's Mental Health Task Force reported that 31 percent of the marines who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are suffering from traumatic stress, and Marine Corps suicide rates have been above average since the United States invaded Afghanistan. In 2004 the Corps reported thirty-two active-duty suicides, six of them from Camp Pendleton.

Marines have not only been heavily deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom; they've been sent into some of Iraq's most volatile areas, and they suffer 25 percent of the casualties, though they make up only 16 percent of ground forces there. "It has long been recognized that mental health breakdown occurs after prolonged combat exposure, a considerable number of Soldiers and Marines are conducting combat operations everyday of the week, 10-12 hours per day...for months on end," the MHAT IV report explains. "At no time in our military history have Soldiers or Marines been required to serve on the front line in any war for a period of 6-7 months, let alone [a] year, without a significant break in order to recover from the physical, psychological, and emotional demands that ensue from combat."

Their deployments generally run seven months, though last year 4,000 marines had their tours extended. Once home, they are given up to thirty days of leave to reconnect with their families, though many cannot even adjust to sleeping in a bed. Then they are back in training for their next deployment. The average break between tours is only six months. According to a mental health counselor at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, who requested anonymity, marines suffering from combat trauma often decide not to seek counseling because they simply don't have time. Moreover, they tell the counselor, since they'll just be sent back into combat, what's the point? "In some way it is miraculous if someone doesn't have PTSD with these repeated tours," says Judith Broder, the psychiatrist. She founded The Soldiers Project, which provides free psychological services to Iraq and Afghanistan vets and their families, including, currently, several active-duty marines. "There's this heartbreaking sense these guys express of, 'I don't know who I am or what I did over there, and I have to hold myself together because I'm going to have to do it again, so don't try to pull me back into something soft and sweet. This is not going to do me good.'"

"Maybe we have to recognize that after a deployment or two, you're not able to deploy anymore because the stresses on the mind are just too great," says Maj. Haytham Faraj, the lead defense counsel at Camp Pendleton. The case that made Faraj "the angriest I've ever been at the Marine Corps" involved a 19-year-old who was severely wounded by a rocket attack during his first tour in Iraq.

The marine's wounds left him unable to control his bowels, and he lost sexual function. After being treated at several military hospitals, he was sent home to his parents on convalescent leave. His military counsel, former Marine Capt. Melissa Epstein Mills, now in private practice, says that during those months, the teen was "falling into the depths of depression dealing with these truly traumatic injuries and the death of his best friend, who died shortly after he was hit. [Then] his wife served him with divorce papers while he was in the hospital. His parents described it as a downward spiral."

When they found themselves unable to help their son, his parents asked his command at Pendleton to come get him. The 19-year-old confessed to his company commander that he had been smoking pot while convalescing.

"He had been on some pretty heavy painkillers and was being transitioned off," Epstein Mills explains, "but it was [also] a coping mechanism." The young man's regimental commander recommended him for an other-than-honorable discharge for drug use, which, Epstein Mills says, would likely have meant denial of his veterans' benefits--including mental healthcare--for the rest of his life.

"What a lot of people miss is that, in general, it's totally up to the commander what happens to their troop," says Scheirman. "They can send him to the hospital and say, 'Hey, this guy isn't able to do his work. Would you look at him for PTSD?' Or they can just kick the guy out." A medical discharge, which is generally under honorable conditions, can take many months, sometimes longer, and all the while the commander is stuck with an undeployable marine. An administrative separation usually takes a few weeks, at most. "If you kick the guy out, you'll get somebody to replace him," she says. "So that's the incentive for the commanders."

Epstein Mills and the 19-year-old's Marine Corps lawyer won him a general discharge under honorable conditions. Unlike an honorable discharge, it will not qualify him for educational benefits from the GI Bill, but he'll probably get some medical benefits.

Before Lt. Col. Andrew Horne left Iraq in 2005, where he was the civil military operations officer for western Anbar province, he and every marine under him above the rank of staff sergeant attended a briefing on PTSD given by the division psychiatrist, a Navy officer. "They said it's been determined that it comes from a feeling of helplessness, and elite units like Marines don't get it," Horne says. "And the ones who do get it have usually been discipline problems before or have a pre-existing problem. So it was really designed to, one, make you not report it yourself and, two, be suspicious of anyone who was reporting it."

More than two years later, despite a growing acknowledgment within the Corps of the mental costs of war, PTSD remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. At Twentynine Palms, some of the civilian counselors on base avoid sending marines to division psychology because at least a dozen marines they referred there for treatment were given "personality disorder" diagnoses and kicked out of the service [for more on the personality disorder scandal, see Joshua Kors, April 9 and October 15, 2007]. Mary Jo Thornton, a licensed family therapist and former base counselor, remembers one Marine sergeant coming back from his appointment with the naval psychologist, saying, "Thanks, you ruined my career. Now they're ad-sepping [administratively separating] me out of the military. The little guy talked to me for a half-hour and told me I had a personality disorder." Many active-duty marines go off base to veterans' centers for counseling, because only there do they feel safe from punishment.

When Cpl. Michael Cataldi, who served with the Third Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion based at Twentynine Palms, returned from his first deployment, he was angry and depressed. "Helicopters scared me because I picked up a helicopter crash," he says. "Thirty marines and one Navy corpsman all died, and we were the first four people there. I did a body count when I was 20 years old." The pilot was on fire, and Cataldi had to put him out with a shovel. "I smell burning flesh when people grill chicken. I can't be in crowds," he says. "This all happened before I went over the second time."

It took months between deployments for him to get an appointment with the regimental psychologist, and when he did he sensed the doctor was trying to talk him out of his symptoms. "He kind of told me, as I was telling him what I was feeling, that I wasn't really feeling that," he recalls. Cataldi was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, not PTSD, given anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants, and sent back to Iraq. There he was put in charge of the guard at Camp Apache.

After four months the medical officer left Iraq, and suddenly Cataldi had no more meds. "I had a breakdown," he says. "I even defecated all over myself, and I don't remember doing it." Cataldi was evacuated to the combat stress center at Camp Al-Assad, where he was diagnosed with PTSD and given three weeks of treatment. When he returned to base, he began to get disciplinary write-ups: one for an unauthorized absence, the other for allegedly threatening his executive officer. "They were trying to take my rank and call me a horrible marine," he says. Cataldi ended up facing a nonjudicial punishment proceeding and losing half a month's pay. "They thought I was trying to go home," he says.

When Cataldi returned to the States at the end of his second deployment, with only a few months left on his service contract, he stayed low to the ground, afraid his commanders would take his rank or kick him out. In his last evaluation before leaving the Corps, Cataldi had a fifteen-minute appointment with the naval psychiatrist on base, who told him he had "anxiety disorder."

Unlike the Army and the Air Force, almost every Marine and Navy base has a brig on board, and that makes it easy to use the brig as storage for a troubled marine. "We think pretrial detention is overly prescribed," Faraj says. "More often than not it's used as a tool, because the command doesn't want to deal with someone." Consequently, marines with mental health problems are not only locked up in a brig without adequate mental healthcare but are asked to make serious legal decisions while actively suffering from mental disorders. "I think doing a court-martial at that time is a setup," Judith Litzenberger, the civilian defense lawyer, says. "It's totally devoid of due process. You don't have a client there that you can talk to. We need some long-term psych hospitals that can treat these guys." The hospital at Pendleton lost its psych treatment certification a few years ago and never worked to get it back, so the camp no longer has an inpatient psychiatric facility. Marines who attempt suicide in the brig are sent to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, but the naval hospital offers only acute care to marines, so once the suicidal marine is stabilized, he is sent back to jail. Though commanders do not purposely use pretrial detention to break a marine, that is often the effect on a marine suffering from PTSD--as it was in the case of Sgt. Patrick Uloth.

Uloth's command thought "he walked on water," Faraj says. After two tours in Iraq, they even recommended him for an officer-training program. "I thought the Marine Corps did no wrong," Uloth recalls. "I could watch you do something and if the Marine Corps told me you didn't do it, I believed it. I loved the Marine Corps that damn much." But untreated PTSD, pretrial detention and official callousness destroyed his career in the Corps.

It began during his second deployment to Iraq, when Uloth and members of his unit manning a vehicle checkpoint fired on a car speeding toward them. "When they went to see what they'd gotten, in the car were a father and three young kids," Faraj says. "That troubled him so much that he began to have nightmares, and that's when the PTSD set in." Two weeks before his tour ended, an explosive-filled truck detonated at another checkpoint, where Uloth saw two of his marines die. Under heavy fire, he retrieved the decapitated head and body of his best friend. Then he held the hand of a dying 19-year-old marine and told him he was going to be OK.

Once Uloth's unit returned to Pendleton, he began to suffer from PTSD, depression and "conversion disorder," characterized by flashback-related seizures. Each time he tried to see the unit psychiatrist, he was given an appointment weeks away--a typical wait, according to Faraj. Uloth decided to go home to New Orleans, where he checked himself into the psychiatric ward at a nearby Air Force hospital. After forty-five days, the Marines sent chasers to pick him up. Back at Pendleton, he was charged with unauthorized absence (UA) and thrown into the brig.

There, Uloth was put in isolation, stripped to his underwear for up to twenty-four hours a day and was so heavily medicated he felt like a "zombie." Once a month he was taken in handcuffs and leg shackles to see a psychiatrist. Faraj wanted to go to trial, sure that they could beat the charges. But after two months in the brig, Uloth told him, "I can't take it anymore. You got to get me out." Faraj's plea agreement included a reduction in rank to corporal and a general discharge under honorable conditions.

While Uloth waited for his discharge to come through, he was transferred to a new unit. When a marine faces misconduct proceedings, he is often transferred from his parent company to a headquarters unit. The people he served with in Iraq were busy training for redeployment or were back overseas, and the rear command knew him only as a marine charged with substance abuse or UA, another one of "the broke, lame and lazy." In the new unit, Uloth, an experienced sergeant, was subject to daily ridicule and assigned to pick up trash.

Uloth told Faraj he couldn't take it. Faraj told him to hang in there, but a few days later, Faraj got a call from the unit's first sergeant, asking if he knew where Uloth was. Six months after that, Uloth was picked up again in New Orleans, this time on a DUI, and thrown back into the Pendleton brig.

The previous terms of his discharge were voided, but Uloth told Faraj, "Any way you can get me out, I just want out." Uloth was separated with an other-than-honorable discharge, with all direct medical benefits denied him, his history of faithful service erased.

Now Uloth cannot afford medication to control his seizures, so he just "wings it" and has ended up in various emergency rooms. He uses alcohol to put himself to sleep. Recently, several of the marines who served with him in Iraq tracked him down. "We all served in combat together and all of them have the same problems," Uloth says. "They've all been diagnosed with PTSD, their lives are upside down, a lot of them have tried committing suicide, a lot of them are alcoholics, they can't keep a marriage or a relationship, everybody's lives are shitholes."

The Marine Corps has always taken pride in caring for its own, but its efforts to take care of mentally wounded marines have overwhelmingly failed, plagued by denial, machismo, an unrealistic war tempo and a severe shortage of resources. In the spring of 2007 the Corps set up the Wounded Warrior Regiment, where marines suffering from physical and mental injuries could be tracked and supported. "I spoke with the guy at Quantico who was going to be running this warrior regiment," says Steve Robinson, a Gulf War veteran and veterans' advocate. "And one of the first things he said that made me sit up in my chair was, 'Look, we don't want to diagnose marines with PTSD. We need them to get back into the fight. Call it something else, whatever you want to call it, and then we try to retrain them.'"

Robinson told him, "Well, that's great, but the DSM-IV [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] clearly states that if they have these signs and symptoms, they should be diagnosed."

When members of President Bush's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors visited Pendleton last spring, they spoke with a group of marines housed in the wounded warrior barracks who said they felt they were being punished for being wounded. The marines pointed to the sterile living environment, rigid rules banning rest in their rooms during the day and menial tasks assigned to those well enough to work. In his report to the President's commission, Lt. Col. Leslie Chip Pierce said visitors from the commission "were taken to a location in the barracks known to these wounded warriors as the petting zoo." At the camp's Behavioral Health Clinic, the staff expressed "frustration" too, saying, according to the report, that "line commanders are not always committed to PTSD identification and treatment once they have returned to home base."

After the Marine Corps conducted its review of less-than-honorable discharges, Navy Capt. William Nash, who coordinates the Marines' combat stress program, recommended, according to USA Today, that "any marine or sailor who commits particularly uncharacteristic misconduct following deployment...be aggressively screened for stress disorders and treated." Almost a year later, the Navy and Marine Corps have yet to implement these screenings. They simply don't have the manpower.

More than two years have passed since James Jenkins's death, which Lieutenant Colonel Vokey describes as a "terrible tragedy" that should never have occurred. It was three months after returning from Iraq, in April 2005, that Jenkins first complained of depression and was referred to Division Psychology. There he was diagnosed with "adjustment disorder," which meant he would not receive treatment for PTSD. He was then given Ambien to help him sleep and an antianxiety drug, Ativan--and declared fit for duty.

The Ambien didn't help, and he took himself off Ativan. On May 5 he asked for help with his depression again. He was told to continue taking Ambien.

At the end of that month, Jenkins was confined to the brig to await his court-martial. While there, he filled out a Chronological Record of Medical Care, checking the "yes" box after the question "Have you had any thoughts of injuring yourself or others?" Beside that box, Jenkins wrote, "Combat, Kill the enemy." Still he received no mental healthcare. The medical officer merely noted, "PT [patient] has hx [history] of Adjustment D/O [disorder] with depression and anxiety."

Cynthia Fleming kept calling the first sergeant, trying to get her son help. "I told him my son was going to kill himself. They told me the brig was a form of suicide watch. I said, 'That's a jail.'"

Inside the brig, the situation took a bizarre turn. Another jailed marine, a gunny sergeant, tried to hire Jenkins to kill five people and kidnap another sergeant's daughter. Jenkins informed his lawyer and was released in order to work as an informer. But when he began to gamble again and cash worthless checks, he was rearrested. Because his life would have been at risk inside Pendleton, Jenkins was locked up in the Miramar brig instead. A judge quickly released him, but his command decided to send him back to the brig at Pendleton. "Of course, he's petrified of the guy who he's reporting on and being back in the brig with him," Vokey says. "That's when he took off."

Jenkins stole a gun from an Oceanside pistol range, a gun with one bullet, he told his mother on the phone. She called his unit; the defense lawyers called, too. "We had talked to the unit, trying to get them to go find this kid because he was going to kill himself, and didn't get a lot of compassion," Vokey says. "They were just fed up with him."

Fleming told her son she could fly out to California the next day. "Tomorrow will be too late," he said. "Tell everybody I'm sorry. Tell my sisters, tell my brother, tell my nieces, I'm so sorry. All I wanted to do is make you proud."

When Fleming arrived at Scripps Memorial Hospital, James was brain-dead. Two noncommissioned officers were in the room with her, one of them James's first sergeant. Fleming told the nurses, "See that sergeant right there? He said my son was using this to his advantage. But look at my baby now."

His command gave up on him, but Jenkins never gave up on the marines--not when it counted. The citation accompanying his Bronze Star reads, in part, "With the squad pinned down under intense enemy fire in the Najaf cemetery, he moved along the lines to reestablish communication with Company B. When he reached their position, four enemy militiamen located to his direct front attacked. Without regard for his own well being, Lance Corporal Jenkins climbed on top of a tomb and fired directly down at the enemy.... After eliminating the four militiamen, he returned to the squad's position and directed an attack that destroyed four additional enemy combatants. He continued to risk his own safety as he covered the withdrawal of his fellow Marines to friendly lines."

These days, Cynthia Fleming rarely goes into the storage room where she keeps James's belongings; the scent of him lingering on his clothes is too painful. "But one day I went out there and I picked up his boots that were in a box, and when I picked up his boots, the Iraqi sand fell out, and I lost it," she says. "His boots was so worn you could tell that boy did some fighting and running over there in Iraq."
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