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Thursday, September 26, 2019

A Vet in a World of Never-Ending Wars and IEDs


















Afghan security personnel conduct an inquiry at the scene of a suicide car bombing near the police headquarters in Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Dec. 22, 2017. (AP)

By Maj. Danny Sjursen
TomDispatch

Recently, on a beautiful Kansas Saturday, I fell asleep early, exhausted by the excitement and ultimate disappointment of the Army football team’s double overtime loss to highly favored Michigan. 

Having turned against America’s forever wars and the U.S. military as an institution while I was still in it, West Point football, I’m almost ashamed to admit, is my last guilty martial pleasure. Still, having graduated from the Academy, taught history there, and spent 18 long years in the Army, I find something faintly hopeful about a team of undersized, overmatched, non-National Football League prospects facing off against one of the biggest schools in college football.

I awoke, though, early the next morning to the distressing — if hardly surprising — news that President Trump had spiked months of seemingly promising peace talks with the Taliban, blocking any near-term hope for an end to America’s longest, most hopeless war of all. My by-now-uncomfortably-familiar response was to go even deeper into a funk, based on a vague, if overwhelming, sense that the world only manages to get worse on a near-daily basis. For this longtime skeptic of U.S. foreign policy, once also a secret dreamer and idealist, that reality drives me toward political nihilism, a feeling that nothing any of us can do will halt the spread of an increasingly self-destructive empire and the collapse of democracy at home.

Looking back, I can trace my long journey from burgeoning neoconservative believer to Iraq War opponent to war-on-terror dissenter to disenfranchised veteran nonbeliever. Thinking about this in the wake of Army’s loss and those cancelled Afghan peace talks, during a typically morose conversation with Tom, of TomDispatch, I realized that I could tell a story of escalating military heresy and disappointment simply from the three years of articles I’d written for his website. It mattered little that, at the time, I imagined them as anything but the stuff of autobiography.

If all this sounds gloomy, writing itself has been cathartic for me and may have saved me on this strange journey of mine. So, join me on a little autobiographical fast march through a world increasingly filled with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, as seen through the eyes of one apostate military veteran. Maybe some of you will even recognize aspects of your own life journeys in what follows.

'Hope and Change' in Iraq

In October 2006, when Second Lieutenant Sjursen arrived in Iraq, Baghdad was still, at least figuratively, aflame. It took only a few months of repetitious, useless “presence patrols,” a dozen IED strikes on my scout platoon, the deaths of three of my troopers and the maiming of others, as well as ubiquitous civilian deaths in marketplace bombings, to free me from a sense that the war in Iraq served any purpose whatsoever. 

Hearing again and again, even from long oppressed Shia Iraqis, that life under Sunni autocrat Saddam Hussein had been better, it became increasingly apparent that the U.S. invasion, launched by the Republican administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on thoroughly bogus grounds in the spring of 2003, had shattered their nation and perhaps destabilized a region as well.

Just 23 years old (and, by my own estimation, immature at that), I — and a surprising number of my junior officer peers — started cautiously acting out. I grew my hair longer than regulations allowed and posted World War I-era antiwar poems by British veterans like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen on my locker. I eventually even began “phoning in” my patrols, while attempting to avoid dicey, ambush-prone neighborhoods whenever possible.

And yet, despite a growing sense of darkness, I’d yet to lose all hope. At home, the Democrats (many of whom had once voted for the Iraq War) won back Congress in November 2006, largely thanks to a sudden burst of antiwar, anti-Bush rhetoric. In 2007, I began using my limited Internet time to ingest transcripts of every speech by or article about an upstart young African American Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama. Unlike anointed frontrunner Hillary Clinton, he seemed inspirational, an outsider, and — as an Illinois state senator — an early opponent of the very invasion that had landed me in my macabre predicament. I quickly decided he was my man, buying into his “hope and change” rhetoric, while dreaming of the day he’d end my war, saving countless lives, including possibly my own.

Sadly, if predictably, despite the new Democratic majority on Capitol Hill and monthly U.S. military fatalities that regularly hit triple digits, nothing could stop the Bush administration from continuing to escalate the war. I remember the moment in April 2007 when I heard that, thanks to President Bush’s announced troop “surge” in Iraq, my squadron was designated to stay three months past our scheduled year-long deployment. It felt like a gut punch. Steve, my fellow lieutenant, and I chain-smoked a pack of cigarettes in silence, while leaning against the brick wall of our Baghdad barracks. Then we faced the music and broke the news to our distraught soldiers.

In that bloodiest year of the war, my squadron would lose another half-dozen men in combat, while nearly 1,000 U.S. servicemen and women would die. Yet that famed, widely hailed surge would, of course, ultimately fail. Not that most policymakers thought so at the time. The Bush-anointed, media-savvy new commander in Iraq, Army General David Petraeus, sold a temporary drop in violence to a fawning Congress, including most of those Democrats, as a profound success. It scarcely mattered that the announced purpose of the surge — to create space and time for a political reconciliation between Iraqi sects and ethnicities — failed from the start. My long-shot dream that an “antiwar” Congress would cut off funds for the conflict remained just that.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

'We Must Learn to Live Together as Brothers or Perish as Fools'



As we face endless wars and the climate emergency with dwindling resources available to humanity, and while famines and lack of water become paramount as facts of life in ways we are not prepared for, those of us who hold to an ideal of a common humanity will have to confront these greatest of challenges. (Photo: Steve Eason/Flickr/cc)


By uniting as a common humanity, we can ultimately address the enormous challenges facing us.


By Mary Hladky and Thea Paneth
Common Dreams

Sept 10, 2019 - We are living in a profoundly dangerous moment. 

We write as members of the coordinating committee of United for Peace and Justice, a national network of peace groups.  We are long time activists and mothers of grown children.  We worry that violence in America is spinning out of control.  There are a multitude of alarming crises facing our country and the world which can overwhelm and paralyze us, preventing us from taking action. But there are things we can do.  We want to address some of these issues and suggest positive actions we can take.   

Across the U.S., hate speech emanating from a resurgent white nationalist movement is further dividing our country and erupting in violence.  

There is tremendous inequality in our country; 40% of Americans struggle every day to make ends meet and have legitimate fears about their future. The white nationalist movement capitalizes on these fears and emotions with rhetoric that demonizes “others.”  This movement spreads the idea that these undeserving “others” are working the system and depriving “real” Americans, when, in fact, the economic struggles people face are due to the rigged system that overwhelmingly showers financial benefits on the ultra-rich and corporations. 

Too many people are falling prey to this language and its powerful but misguided message.  FBI Director Wray recently told lawmakers that the majority of domestic terrorism involved some sort of white supremacist ideology.  

After so many mass shootings people are nervous about shopping, going to the movies, attending religious services, night clubs or large outdoor events.  And many are terrified to send their children to school.   The epidemic of mass shootings puts at risk the lives of anyone living in or visiting the United States.  

At political rallies and on Twitter our President uses “us versus them language” stoking fear, resentment, and anger to rile up his base.  It also has emboldened the white nationalist movement.  

Unfortunately, the President’s language, and the quiet acquiescence it receives from Republican leadership, provides the movement with a veneer of respectability, persuading many of its validity.   

Demeaning and dehumanizing language is the first step in creating a justification that some people are “sub-human” and may be legitimately mistreated, attacked or killed.  This language has a long history and deep roots in America.  It is difficult to acknowledge this uncomfortable reality, but it is something we must face and then dismantle. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

'Unprecedented, Wasteful, and Obscene': House Approves $1.48 Trillion Pentagon Budget














"Wanna know how broken and captured Washington is by the Pentagon and the corruption of our nation's 'defense' budget? Well, look no further than the soon to be enacted budget 'deal.'"

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

July 26, 2019 - In a bipartisan deal that one anti-war critic said demonstrates how thoroughly "broken and captured Washington is by the Pentagon," 219 House Democrats and 65 Republicans on Thursday voted to approve a budget agreement that includes $1.48 trillion in military spending over the next two years.

Just 16 Democrats—including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)—voted against the two-year, $2.7 trillion budget agreement. Largely due to expressed concerns about the deficit, 132 Republicans and Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) also voted no.

The final vote was 284-149. (See the full roll call.)

"For the love of god, can we all stop pretending like this is somehow anything other than a continued orgy of unprecedented, wasteful, and obscene spending at the Pentagon."
—Stephen Miles, Win Without War
The House passage of the budget deal, which President Donald Trump quickly applauded on Twitter as a victory for the military, comes after the Congressional Progressive Caucus threatened in April to tank the measure in opposition to its out-of-control Pentagon outlays.

But most of the Progressive Caucus voted for the agreement on Thursday, pointing to increases in domestic spending.

"It's not a perfect deal by any means," Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement ahead of the vote. "This deal does not address the bloated Pentagon budget, but it does begin to close the gap in funding for families, by allocating more new non-defense spending than defense spending for the first time in many years."

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Russian Blast Points to Danger of New Nuclear Arms Race


By JEREMY KUZMAROV

Counterpunch

On Thursday August 8th, an explosion at the Nenoksa Missile test site in northern Russia during testing of a new type of nuclear propelled cruise missile resulted in the death of at least seven people, including scientists and was followed by a spike in radiation in the atmosphere.
Analysts in Washington and Europe are of the belief that the explosion may offer a glimpse of technological weaknesses in Russia’s new arms program.
The deeper concern, however, should be of the perilous consequences of the new Cold War and arms race that is developing between the United States and Russia.
In February, the Trump administration pulled out of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), an arms control treaty considered to be among the most successful in history by former U.S. ambassador to Russia John Huntsman, which banned land-based ballistic missilescruise missiles, and missile launchers with ranges of 500–1500 kilometers.
The United States accused Russia of violating the treaty, though did not wait for this accusation to be verified by international inspectors.
Russia previously accused the United States of violating the treaty through its adoption of drone warfare, and by stationing missile launchers in Deveselu Romania.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

To Understand the El Paso Massacre, Look to the Long Legacy of Anti-Mexican Violence at the Border



The El Paso shooter wasn’t a “lone wolf.” His act of white supremacist terror is part of a century of racial violence targeting fronterizo communities.


In the immediate aftermath of the El Paso shooting—the largest massacre of Latinx people in the history of the United States—politicians of all stripes stood before the cameras and gave their diagnosis of what just happened. They sounded like the proverbial blind men who touched one part of the elephant and confused the different fragments for the whole. El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican who once praised the “freedom fence” for keeping out “riff raff,” emphasized that the atrocity was committed by an outsider. Other voices blamed mental health, video games, and the lack of gun control laws.

But none of these diagnoses went deep enough, looking only at the symptoms. Before we know how to fight back effectively against white supremacist terrorism like the El Paso massacre, we have to know exactly what we’re up against. History offers an important instrument to determine the root causes of what I characterize as a deadly epidemic.

The chilling manifesto reportedly posted online by the alleged shooter tapped into entrenched narratives with deep roots in the history of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s unlikely that the 21-year-old from Allen, Texas, knew just how utterly repetitive his words and actions were.

The shooter wrote that he was protecting whites in America from “cultural and ethnic replacement” brought on by “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He claimed that “Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.”

According to one witness, as the perpetrator gunned down people in each aisle, he allowed anyone who “didn’t look Mexican” to walk away unharmed. Individuals with brown skin had no such pass. It didn’t matter to the alleged killer whether his targeted victims had legal papers or on what side of the barbed-wire fence they were born. He couldn’t have cared less whether the eight Mexican nationals among the 22 people he murdered had permits to shop in the United States.

The manifesto explains why distinctions of legal status were irrelevant to him: “Even though new migrants do the dirty work, their kids typically don’t. They want to live the American Dream which is why they get college degrees and fill higher-paying skilled positions.” In other words, brown people with college degrees threaten the racial purity of white America.



I am a third-generation native of El Paso. One of the Mexican Americans killed by the assassin’s bullet was Art Benavides, a friend of mine from high school, a happy-go-lucky guy who served for 23 years in the U.S. Army and Texas National Guard. He and I had been co-captains of the Jefferson High School swim team. El Paso, population 700,000, has been described as one of the largest small towns in the United States. Here, everyone seems to be connected by only one or two degrees of separation, and a tragedy such as this one is very personal.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

America’s Deadly Stealth War on the Mexico Border Is Approaching Genocide



A Democracy Now Interview with John Carlos Frey on deep roots of the crisis, its militarization, and ongoing causalities.

For a powerpoint useful for a study group on the book by Carl Davidson, go HERE. Carl is also available to do deliver the presentation, via Zoom or face-to-face.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

America’s Indefensible Defense Budget















By Jessica T. Mathews
New York Review of Books 

JULY 18, 2019 ISSUE - A parable, to begin: in 2016, the 136 military bands maintained by the Department of Defense, employing more than 6,500 full-time professional musicians at an annual cost of about $500 million, caught the attention of budget-cutters worried about surging federal deficits. 

Immediately memos flew and lobbyists descended. The Government Accountability Office, laying the groundwork for another study or three, opined, “The military services have not developed objectives and measures to assess how their bands are addressing the bands’ missions, such as inspiring patriotism.” Supporters of the 369th Infantry Regiment band noted that it had introduced jazz to Europe during World War I. How could such a history be left behind? A blues band connected effectively with Russian soldiers in Bosnia in 1996, another proponent argued, proving that bands are, “if anything, an incredibly cost-effective supplement” to the Pentagon’s then $4.5 billion public affairs budget.

When the dust cleared, funding for the bands was not cut, because the political cost entailed in reducing the number of them by, say, half would have been enormous. The resulting $250 million in annual savings, on the other hand, while a significant sum for most government agencies, would have produced the almost unnoticeable difference of three one-hundredths of one percent in the Pentagon budget.

The sheer size of the military establishment and the habit of equating spending on it with patriotism make both sound management and serious oversight of defense expenditures rare. As a democracy, we are on an unusual and risky path. For several decades, we have maintained an extraordinarily high level of defense spending with the support of both political parties and virtually all of the public. The annual debate about the next year’s military spending, underway now on Capitol Hill, no longer probes where real cuts might be made (as opposed to cuts in previously planned growth) but only asks how big the increase should be.

The political momentum that drives this annual increase, disconnected from hard thought about America’s responsibilities in a transformed world, threatens to become—or may have already become—unstoppable. The consequences are huge. At home, defense spending crowds out funds for everything else a prosperous economy and a healthy society need. Abroad, it has led us to become a country reflexively reliant on the military and one quite different from what we think ourselves to be or, I believe, wish to be.

If you have read anything about defense spending in recent years, it was probably expressed as a percentage of GDP. At roughly 3–4 percent (it was more than 40 percent in 1944, 15 percent during the Korean War, and over 10 percent in the early 1960s), it seems eminently affordable.

But this almost universally used measure is close to meaningless, except to make rough international comparisons. It makes no sense to expect that external threats will expand in parallel with a country’s economic growth. A country whose economy has grown by, for example, 30 percent has no reason to spend 30 percent more on its military. To the contrary, unless threats worsen, you would expect that, over time, defense spending as a percentage of a growing economy should decline.

Instead, the valid measure of affordability is defense spending’s share of the federal discretionary budget: that is, of all federal spending other than the mandatory allotments to entitlements and interest on the national debt. Discretionary spending is everything else the government does: pay not just for the military but for the federal judiciary and law enforcement; support infrastructure, education, and agriculture; invest in science and technology; protect the environment, wilderness, and National Parks; manage relations with the rest of the world and with international organizations overseeing everything from trade to arms control; fund the National Weather Service; police the border; explore space; develop energy resources; ensure the safety and soundness of food, drugs, communications, airline travel, consumer products, banks, the stock exchanges, and on and on.