• It’s Personal Now: Apologizing to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War

    September 30, 2016 // 8 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

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    I recently sent my last kid off for her senior year of college. There are rituals to these things, and because dad-confessions are not among them, I just carried the boxes and kept quiet.

    But what I really wanted to say to her — rather than see you later, call this weekend, do you need money? — was: I’m sorry.

    Like all parents in these situations, I was thinking about her future. And like all of America, in that future she won’t be able to escape what is now encompassed by the word “terrorism.”


    Everything is OK, But You Should Be Terrified

    Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. We have more of a chance of being hit by lightning, though fear doesn’t work that way. There’s no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or “see something, say something” signs that warn about reporting thunderstorms. I felt no need to apologize for lightning.

    But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most frightened country on Earth.

    Want the numbers? Some 40 percent of Americans believe the country is more vulnerable to terrorism than it was in 2001, the highest percentage ever.

    Want the apocalyptic jab in the gut? Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said earlier this month the threat has not lessened. “Those people, those enemies, those members of that terrorist group, still intend – as they did on 9/11 – to destroy your freedoms, to kill you, kill your families, they still intend to destroy the United States of America.”

    All that fear turned us into an engine of chaos abroad, while consuming our freedoms at home. And it saddens me that there was a pre-9/11world her generation and all those who follow her will never know.


    Growing Up

    My kids grew up overseas while, from 1988 to 2012, I served with the State Department. For the first part of my career as a diplomat, wars were still discreet matters. For example, though Austria was a neighbor of Slovenia, few there worried the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s would spill across the border. Suicide bombers didn’t threaten Vienna when we visited as tourists in 1991. That a war could again consume large parts of the world and involve multiple nations would have seemed as remote to us vacationers that year as the moon.

    Even the big war of the era, Desert Storm in 1991, seemed remarkably far away. My family and I were assigned in Taiwan at the time, and life there simply went on. There was no connection between us and what was happening in the sand far away, and certainly we didn’t worry about a terror attack.

    It’s easy to forget how long ago all that was. Much of the Balkans is now a tourist destination, and a young soldier who fought in Desert Storm would be in his mid-forties today. Or think of it this way: either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump entering the Oval Office next January will be the fifth president in succession to bomb Iraq.

    On September 11, 2001, I was assigned to Japan, and like everyone, as part of a collective trauma, watched the terrible events on TV. Due to the time difference, it was late at night in Tokyo. As the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I made sandwiches, suspecting the phone would ring and I’d be called to the embassy for a long shift. I remember my wife saying, “Why would they call you in? We’re in Tokyo!” Then, of course, the phone did ring, and I remember running to grab it not out of national security urgency, but so it didn’t wake my kids.

    My daughter’s birthday falls on the very day that George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq. I missed her celebration in 2003 to stay at work preparing for the embassy to be overrun by al-Qaeda. I missed her birthday again in 2005, having been sent on temporary duty to Thailand to assist the U.S. Navy in setting up a short-term base facility there. When the naval officers mentioned the location they wanted to use to the Thai military liaison accompanying us, he laughed. That’s taken, he said, but you didn’t hear it from me, better ask your own people about it.

    Later, I would learn the location was a CIA black site where the country I then represented was torturing human beings.

    Looking back, it’s remarkable to realize that, in response to a single day of terror, Washington set the Middle East ablaze, turned air travel into a form of bondage play, and did away with the best of our democracy.

    Nothing required the Patriot Act, Guantánamo, renditions, drone assassinations, and the National Security Agency turning its spy tools inward. The White House kept many of the nastiest details from us, but made no secret of its broader goals. Americans on the whole supported each step, and Washington then protected the men and women who carried out each of the grim acts it had inspired. After all, they were just following orders.

    Protocols now exist allowing the president to select American citizens, without a whit of due process, for drone killing. Only overseas, he says, but you can almost see the fingers crossed behind his back. Wouldn’t an awful lot of well-meaning Americans have supported an aerial drone killing in San Bernardino, or at the Pulse club in Orlando? Didn’t many support using a robot to blow up a suspect in Dallas?


    Back in the Homeland

    The varieties of post-9/11 fear sneak up on us all. I spent a week this summer obsessively watching the news for any sign of trouble in Egypt while my daughter traveled there to visit some old embassy acquaintances. She had to risk her life to see a high school friend in a country once overrun with tourists.

    So, I want to say sorry to my daughter and her friends for all the countries where we Americans, with our awkward shorts and sandals, used to be at least tolerated, but are now dangerous for us to visit. Sorry that you’ll never see the ruins of Babylon or the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq unless you join the military.

    Arriving back in the U.S., my daughter called from the airport to say she’d be home in about an hour. I didn’t mention my worries that she’d be stopped at “the border,” a new name for baggage claim, or have her cell phone confiscated for having traveled to the Middle East. She was, in fact, asked by an immigration agent her purpose in going there, something that even the Egyptians hadn’t bothered to question her about. We don’t yet say “papers, please,” but we do refer to America as the Homeland.

    I also wanted to apologize to my daughter because she will never really know what privacy is in our new surveillance world. I needed to ask her forgiveness for how easily we let that happen, for all those who walk around muttering they have nothing to hide, so what’s to worry about. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was that she’s now afraid of the police, not just for herself but especially for her friends of color. I wanted to tell her how badly I felt that she’d only know a version of law enforcement so militarized that, taking its cues from the national security state, views us all as potential enemies and so believes that much of its job involves repressing our most basic rights.

    I’m sorry, I want to say to her, that protesting Americans can be confined in something called a “free speech zone” surrounded by those same police. I want to tell my daughter the Founders would rise in righteous anger at the idea of the police forcing citizens into such zones outside a political convention. And that most journalists don’t consider such a development to be a major story of our times.

    As I sent her off to college, I wanted to say how sorry I was that we had messed up the world, sorry we not only didn’t defeat the terrorists the way Grandpa did the Nazis but, by our actions, gave their cause new life and endless new recruits. Al-Qaeda set a trap on 9/11 and we fell into it. The prison American occupiers set up at Camp Bucca in Iraq became a factory for making jihadis, and the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib remain, like Guantánamo, an infomercial inviting others to pick up a weapon.


    The New Normal

    My daughter is not naïve. Like most of her classmates, she is aware of most of these things, but she has no point of comparison. What fish truly sees the water around it? And it’ll be even harder for her kids to try and do so. Her adult life has been marked by constant war, so much so that “defeating the terrorists” is little more than a set phrase she rolls her eyes at. It’s a generational thing that is too damn normal, like Depression-era kids still saving aluminum foil and paper bags in the basement after decades of prosperity.

    I’m truly sorry that her generation copes with this by bouncing between cynicism and the suspension of disbelief. That allows many to accept the idea that invading Iraq was a reasonable response to an attack on America by a group of Saudis funded by Saudi “charity donations.” And by now, “well, it wasn’t actually a crime” is little short of a campaign slogan for acts that couldn’t be more criminal. That’s a world on a path to accepting 2+2 can indeed equal 5 if our leaders tell us it’s true.

    We allow those leaders to claim the thousands of American troops now stationed in Iraq are somehow not “boots on the ground,” or in the newest phraseology, “ground troops.” Drone strikes, we’re told, are surgical, killing only bad guys with magic missiles, and never on purpose hitting civilians, hospitals, children, or wedding parties. The deaths of human beings in such situations are always rare and accidental, the equivalent of those scratches on the car door from that errant shopping cart in the mall parking lot.


    Cleaning Up After Her Dad

    If anyone is going to fix this mess — I want to tell my daughter — it’s going to have to be you. And, I want to add, you’ve got to do a better job than I did, if, that is, you really want to find a way to say thanks to me for the skating lessons, the puppy, and for me not being too mad when you almost violated curfew to spend more time with that boy.

    After the last cardboard boxes had been lugged up the stairs, I held back my tears until the very end. Hugging my daughter, I felt I wasn’t where I was standing but in a hundred other places; I wasn’t consoling a smart, proud, twenty-something woman apprehensive about senior year, but an elementary school student going to bed on the night that would forever be known only as 9/11.

    Back home, the house is empty and quiet. Outside, the leaves have just a hint of yellow. At lunch, I had some late-season strawberries nearly sweet enough to confirm the existence of a higher power. I’m gonna really miss this summer.

    I know I’m not the first parent to grow reflective watching his last child walk out the door. But I have a sense of what’s ahead of her. Fear is a terrible thing to be sorry for. And that can be scary.


    (Photo is for illustration only; it is not my daughter)



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  • Does Free College Threaten Our All-Volunteer Military?

    September 27, 2016 // 46 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Military

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    Does free college threaten our all-volunteer military? That is what writer Benjamin Luxenberg, on military blog War on the Rocks says. But the real question goes deeper than Luxenberg’s practical query, striking deep into who we are as a nation.

    Unlike nearly every other developed country, which offer free or low cost higher education (Korea’s flagship Seoul National University runs about $12,000 a year, around the same as Oxford), in America you need money to go to college. You need the bucks for tuition and books, and for most students, you need the bucks to not work full-time for a couple of years. Typical of America’s top end schools, Harvard charges $63,000 for tuition, room, board and fees. That’s more than a quarter of a million dollars for a degree. Even a state school wants $40,000 a year.

    Right now there are only a handful of paths to higher education in America: have well-to-do parents; be low-income and smart to qualify for financial aid, take on crippling debt, or…

    Or join the military.

    The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to $20,000 per year for tuition, along with an adjustable living stipend. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard is located, that stipend is $2,800 per month. There is also a books and supplies stipend. Universities participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program make additional funds available without affecting the GI Bill entitlement. Some 75 percent of those who enlisted said they did so to obtain educational benefits.

    And in that vein, Luxenberg raises the question of whether the free (Bernie Sanders) or lower cost (Hillary Clinton) college education is a threat to America’s all-volunteer military. If so many people join up to get that college money, if college was free or cheaper, would they still enlist?

    It is a practical question worth asking, but raises more serious issues in its trail. If people are enlisting in significant part because college tuition is not affordable, does that imply tuition costs need to stay high to help keep the ranks filled? That an unequal college costs playing field helps sustain our national defense?

    Of course motivation to join the service is often multi-dimensional. But let’s look a little deeper, and ask what does it say about our nation when we guarantee affordable higher education to only a slim segment of our population. About seven percent of all living Americans were in the military at some point. Less than 0.5 percent of the American population currently serves. Why do we leave the other 99.95 percent to whatever they can or can’t scrape together on their own?

    The issue of money always comes up, and was used by Hillary Clinton to knock down some of Bernie Sanders’ education proposals. Donald Trump may bring up the same question in the upcoming debates about Clinton’s more modest proposals.

    Money matters, but what the country can get for its money is also important. Let’s round off the military higher education benefit, tuition and living stipend, to $53,000 a year. An F-35 fighter plane costs $178 million.

    Dropping just one plane from inventory generates enough money for 3,358 years of college money. We could even probably survive as a nation if we didn’t buy four or five of the planes. A lot of people who now find college out of reach could go to school, even more if we reduced the stipend to where the difference could realistically be made up with 20 hours of minimum wage work a week.

    The final question many people will be asking at this point is one of entitlement. What did those civilians do that makes it so the United States should give them college money?

    Leaving aside the good idea of expanding “service” to include critical non-military possibilities, the answer is nothing. Nothing, but maybe it is more important than that.

    Security is defined by much more than a standing military (and that does not even touch the question of how say an eight year occupation of Iraq made America more secure.) The United States, still struggling to transition from a soot and steel industrial base that collapsed in the 1970s to something that can compete in the 21st century, can only do so through education. More smart people equals more people who can take on the smarter jobs that drive prosperity. It is an investment in one of the most critical forms of infrastructure out there.

    No one suggests veterans should have their benefits reduced. But for a nation that can clearly afford to pay for a broader base of accessible higher education, it seems very wrong to simply leave that process — or the nation’s future — to a Darwinian system of financial survival of the richest.




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  • Here’s How Clinton (or Trump) Can Win Tonight’s Debate

    September 26, 2016 // 28 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Questions for Clinton

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    Don’t miss tonight’s first presidential debate, starting at 9 pm EST. Two will enter, one will emerge victorious. Who will it be?

    Clinton Wins!

    For Hillary to win, she has to:

    — More than anything, convince people she is not a liar. This is her last chance to clear the air, even a little, over the deadly, lingering doubts about her email, the Clinton Foundation, her speeches, all of it. If Hillary dismisses this pile of stuff, or otherwise panhandles her usual non-answers, she may lose. If Trump comes armed with specifics, dates, and facts, Hillary has to deal with them with specifics, dates, and facts.

    — Not collapse on stage and not appear severely medicated. If she can say something convincing about her health, she can win. If the warfarin blood thinners hit her too hard tonight as they did at the 9/11 memorial, the election is over.

    — Not stumble into Trump. If Hillary keeps to the high road, maybe limit herself to one burst of faux righteous anger as she did in the Benghazi hearings (“What does it even matter anymore!”) she wins. If she gets into name-calling with Trump, she loses. She cannot out-Trump Trump and should not try.

    Of all of everything, it is the first item above that will sink or allow Hillary to swim on.


    Trump Wins!

    For Trump to win, he has to:

    — Rattle Hillary. Needle her. Get her to act “unpresidential,” i.e., more like him. Her criticisms of him evaporate if she breaks character.

    — Stay on the offensive. Ask her hard and if possible, fact-based questions about her email, the Clinton Foundation, her speeches, all of it. Don’t let her sidetrack this with calls for his tax returns. Take the hit on that and keep punching. She has more to hide than his tax returns.

    — Not get dragged into some policy wonk discussion. That’s Clinton’s home turf.

    — Be Trump, but maybe just a little less Trump. Don’t abandon what has worked and brought him to this stage, but give enough room for some undecided voters to think “Well, I’ve heard a lot of crap about this guy, but he doesn’t seem as bad as people have said.” Don’t let it look to moderates like Hillary is debating an a*shole. Use the fact that expectations are low to his advantage.

    — If at all possible, a big if, show a flash or two of humor. Turn any Hillary accusation back. Let her try some sophomoric crap like calling him “Donald” and make her seem silly and childish.

    — Stay away from Bill’s sexescapdes. The base knows all about them, and the undecideds don’t want to hear about it.

    — Have a really good answer when Hillary attacks him on being Putin’s man. Maybe throw her love affairs with the Saudis at her.



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  • Help Me Choose a Nominee for the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award

    September 24, 2016 // 16 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy

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    The Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards were established in 1979 to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans. They are looking for nominees for this year’s awards, and I’d like to send them a name.

    Who should it be?

    Nominees traditionally come from the fields of journalism, arts and entertainment, education, publishing, and law and government. They are honored at a reception at the Playboy Mansion, and receive $5,000 to continue their work. Readers here know some of the past awardees: Whistleblowers Thomas Drake, Morris Davis, Norman Lear, Michael Moore, Bill Maher — the whole list back to 1980 is here.

    I suspect Edward Snowden and those connected to him as journalists and lawyers will already have a long line of people ready to nominate them. Any would be people who deserve the honor. But let’s put our heads together and see if we can come up with someone not so much in the public eye, someone working for our rights who could really use the attention that even being nominated will bring.

    Ideas? Put them in the comments. If the person is not well-known, a link would be helpful.




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  • Department of Homeless Security

    September 23, 2016 // 37 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America

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    Busy weekend for terrorism. Nine people stabbed in a shopping mall in Minnesota (meh), and the big one in New Jersey/New York.

    It was there Afghan American Ahmad Rahami made up a bunch of pipe bombs and pressure cooker IEDs, distributed them in four separate locations, and set off two explosions. The one detonation in New York’s Chelsea area injured 29 people.



    What We’re Told Happened

    In the 15 years since 9/11, the United States has spent trillions of dollars on security, created a new cabinet agency that memorialized an odd term of reference to America, the Department of Homeland Security, and convinced far too many Americans that they had to choose between security or freedom, safety or privacy. Along the way our air travel experience is now a form of bondage play.

    And we are watched.

    For example, the city of New York boasts it has more than 8,000 cameras pointed at Manhattan streets. The NYPD calls it the city’s “Ring of Steel.”

    Images from those cameras feed into the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. Officers there also keep track of biological, chemical, radiation, and shot-spotter sensors (which detect gunfire), throughout the city.

    Data from the cameras and the detectors, as well as 911 calls, license plate readers, and crime databases is fed into a map-based Domain Awareness System, which analyzes information. The NYPD also has a “Dashboard” system that receives alerts on unattended packages, stolen vehicles crossing tunnels and bridges, and suspicious odors of hazardous materials.

    In addition, the Lower Manhattan Center maintains a “vehicle of interest” listing to track vehicles utilizing license plate readers, and can go back 30 days to find suspect vehicles. More than 200 license plate readers within the city triangulate information with GPS systems.

    That is a helluva lot of watching, all keeping us safe. Except it didn’t.



    What Really Happened

    What really happened is a guy built multiple explosive devices, and deployed them in public areas, without being detected. All that stuff above, plus the NSA, FBI, DHS, CIA, et al, missed him.

    No one got killed and no one was seriously injured only because of two factors: an inept terrorist and America’s homeless.

    Ahmad Rahami had a string of pipe bombs lined up along a marathon run route. One went off early (the start of the race was delayed) and the others failed to explode. If Rahami had used a command detonator triggered by the runners or himself, not a timer, and/or if all of the bombs had exploded when people were around, it would have been carnage.

    One of Rahami’s Manhattan bombs failed to go off, even after two passersby shook it out of the suitcase Rahami had hid it in. His other bomb was set on a timer and randomly no one happened to be in its kill zone went it went off.

    One is reminded of America’s other inept terrorists: the underwear bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode, the shoe bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode, and the Times Square car bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode. We’ll throw in the Minnesota mall guy, who failed to seriously injure anyone despite his multiple stabbings of unarmed people.

    As for the bombs planted at a New Jersey train station, they were found by two homeless guys who were looking to steal (the media now uses the word scavenge because they’re heros) the backpack one of the explosives was tucked into.



    How to Respond

    The response the day after the New York bombings was swift — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed an additional 1,000 New York State Police and National Guard people to Manhattan’s bus terminals, airports, and subway stations. The NYPD turned out in force in similar locations, with officials boasting Manhattan on the Monday after the weekend explosions had more security personnel on its streets than at any other time in New York history.

    Of course all of the previous security did not stop the bomber, and he did not target any bus terminals, airports and subway stations. Nor has any other terrorist.

    So maybe it is time for a better solution.

    The homeless guys who found the bomb at the New Jersey train station were rewarded by social services finding them a place to stay and getting them signed up for food stamps. Someone set up a GoFundMe page for the two that has raised $16,000. A kind citizen even gifted both men new backpacks, as the bomb backpack was blown up by police. They are happy guys.

    So why not deputize our army of zombie homeless into terrorist hunters? The poor dudes are out on the streets all the time in all sorts of weather anyway, and they’re always digging in trash cans. If the homeless know that free housing and food stamps await them if they can bring in some terrorist booty, well, the terrorists don’t stand a chance.




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  • We’re Winning the War Against ISIS! Maybe? On Social Media?

    September 22, 2016 // 23 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq

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    Now if we can just stop them from blowing stuff up all the time, this thing is in the bag.



    Social Media Uber Alles

    Despite the reality that propaganda in wartime is as old as dirt, America collectively is freaking out because a lot of ISIS’ takes place on social media. The elderly and feeble who run our government do not understand The Online gizmos and thus are terrified of them and declare they must be turned off with a big switch somewhere.

    The young who serve them and understand little outside their own online bubbly life, all want to get ahead and so are eager to “engage” in online warfare with ISIS as if it was all just a cooler version of Pokemon Go.

    So it was without meaning or surprise that the Obama Administration announced that Twitter traffic to pro-ISIS accounts has fallen 45 percent in the past two years.



    American Strikes Back in the Twitter Wars

    See, two years ago the administration put together an international coalition that’s mostly just America to fight ISIS, with one of the goals being to discourage the popularity of the group online. The “coalition” has been unsuccessful, making “gaffes” that seem, um, amateur. For example, a lot of the content was written solely in English, which sort of didn’t help in that a lot of ISIS people read only Arabic or whatever Chechens speak.

    The State Department, who is in charge of all this media-ing, also spent $1.5 million of your taxpayer money earlier this year making a TV drama for Afghans saying ISIS is bad. Silicon Valley executives even met with top government officials to “game out” strategies to counter Islamic State online.

    There’s been ever so much “messaging” over the last two years. One example is that in honor of #HumanRightsDay 2015, the State Department’s “Think Again Turn Away” program Twittered and Facebooked out the message of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a discredited Islamophobe who says things like Islam itself is a death cult. In 2007, she called for the west to destroy Islam using military force.

    Also, in a whole-of-government effort, everyone calls ISIS “Daesh,” which supposedly is a meany word in Arabic. I guess the idea is that in a war for minds, sending every ISIS fighter to bed angry at being called a name by the Secretary of State is a thing.



    But It’s All Better Now

    According to an Administration spokesperson, the coalition now uses “memes” — like a teddy bear that says ISIS “slaughters childhood” — written in Arabic. And Anonymous declared war on ISIS with, most recently, a member shaming ISIS by hacking their accounts and posting sexy photos of women. The same group once hacked an ISIS web site and replaced it with a Viagra ad. Laffs!

    The only problem of course is that ISIS seems to have no problem recruiting people to replace those killed by the “coalition.” Could it be… that U.S. actions on the ground stomping on Muslims, and U.S. actions from the air droning women and children, and U.S. actions garrisoning Muslim lands, could possibly play more of a role in ISIS recruitment than 140 characters on Twitter?




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  • Florida Forces Students Without Parent Note To Stand During Pledge, National Anthem

    September 21, 2016 // 14 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

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    Florida’s Orange County Public Schools announced this week students must have parental permission if they want to kneel during the national anthem at football games or otherwise silently protest, such as refusing the say the pledge of allegiance.

    The move comes after students in a single school district knelt in solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against social injustice in America.

    Exercising First Amendment rights in Florida now requires parental permission.



    As Unconstitutional as They Come

    The school announcement is so wholly unconstitutional as to be laughable, except that it is Florida, the state immune from reality.

    Previous decisions in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals already found the portion of Florida law requiring students to “stand at attention” during the anthem violates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has long upheld not participating in the pledge, or remaining seating during the anthem, is protected speech under the First Amendment.

    West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), was the courageous wartime decision by the Supreme Court holding that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the pledge of allegiance in school. The Court stated constitutional rights are to be “beyond the reach of majorities and officials.” It held that the state did not have the power to compel speech for anyone.

    Barnette overruled a 1940 decision on the same issue, Minersville School District v. Gobitis, which said dissent was to try to change a school policy democratically — i.e., through the same system that imposed the restraints being challenged.

    The Court has also upheld that the Bill of Rights applies to students in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969).


    Florida, 2016

    Officials claim they are following a state law regarding the pledge of allegiance that requires participation in patriotic gestures (they are of course following the exact law the 11th Circuit has ruled unconstitutional, which makes it not really a law anymore, but whatever, Florida uber alles.)

    And so in sweaty Collier County one principal is telling students that they’ll be sent home if they don’t stand during the anthem at sporting events.

    “You will stand and you will stay quiet,” Lely High School Principal Ryan Nemeth announced. “If you don’t, you are going to be sent home and you’re not going to have a refund of your ticket price.”

    Ouch! No refund of the ticket price for you, commie ISIS terrorist students, unless you have a note from home.


    I want to read about the first student, who, when asked for his note giving him permission to remain seated during the pledge, hands over a copy of the Bill of Rights and says f*ck you, Florida.



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  • How Trump May Win Ohio and Pennsylvania

    September 18, 2016 // 52 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Economy, Minimum Wage

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    The every-four-years parade of east coast journalists trooping out into the Rust Belt of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and their neighbors has begun.

    Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have run their stories. You can Google them (fine, here’s one), and the articles from smaller outlets that will follow, but I can save you some reading time, because they are all basically the same:

    Oh my God, the Midwest is a freaking mess. Nobody has jobs, middle-aged white people are doing heroin and meth, and everyone is on food stamps. These people are angry as hell at, well, they say the government.

    Trump and Hillary have been through (name the one small town you stopped in) and promised to bring back the old industrial jobs (Trump) or some hi-tech something (Hillary.) I stopped by a (diner, bar, waffle house, VFW hall) and talked to (name of the one guy you talked to.) He told me times are tough, but these people are tough. They built the mills, they pulled America up by its bootstraps. They’ll make it. Quote some Bruce Springsteen song you heard that afternoon driving east as fast as you could. Done.

    The reporter then rushes back to New York to bathe in Purell and drown his/her disgust in warm PBRs and Starbucks spiced lattes. Next story is about a new start-up in Brooklyn that is creating a social media platform for dogs or something.


    Understanding the Heartland

    Most reporters act shocked to find people “out there” so angry. They can’t understand why the “folks” take food stamps but think handouts are for lazy people. They can’t understand why someone without health insurance, coughing up chunks of the asbestos they breathed in every day at the factory, opposes Obamacare.

    The people the reporters speak with feel they got cheated. They worked hard, they paid taxes, they sent kids off to war (every small Midwest town has a memorial stone, if not three, to the local people who died in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq…) Then they got screwed by, well, someone. The lucky ones now work for minimum wage at a local Walmart full of junk made overseas. The rest visit the charity pantries and spend their food stamps not because they are lazy like “those people” (a code word for urban African-Americans; the few people of color in these towns tend to feel the same way), but because they are hungry. They wait like a cargo cult for the boom years to return, someday, somehow.

    Trump gets this at a visceral level. He tells them it is not their fault, or his, though both share blame. It was the Japanese, or the Chinese, or some mythical Big Government, or regulations, or even the unions that gave the same workers higher pay and good benefits. It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to play to a crowd angry and confused looking every four years for some answer, and some hope.



    I Saw Them, The Ghosts of Tom Joad

    I grew up in Ohio during the 1970s and 80s, and watched the industrial heartland fall apart in front of my eyes. Our town had a huge Ford plant. It was sold to Toyota, who cut jobs by half before closing it all down because they got better tax incentives in Kentucky. I don’t know what happened in Kentucky, but I can guess.

    I wrote a book about all this, the last fifty years of the Midwest. When you look at it as a historical event, today’s state of things is as inevitable as sunset.

    The book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent. Close to four years ago I tried to sell it to a couple of the larger publishers in New York. No literary agent wanted it, no publisher was interested. As one put it, declining me, “You’re saying there’s poor people in Ohio?” Another was clearer: “Who wants to read a book about unemployed whites?”

    The first publisher outside of New York I approached, one located in Indiana, immediately took the book.



    How Trump May Win the Swing States

    I fully doubt Donald Trump has read my book, or many books at all for that matter. Someone on Trump’s team, however, is very aware of the unfocused anger in the Midwest I wrote about, and is working hard to use that to get some votes. If Trump takes the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, it will be because of that staffer’s insight. Maybe s/he’ll write a book about it.

    Until then, here’s more about my book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent:

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  • Let’s Watch U.S. Government *ss Clowns Spend Your Money on Pakistani Dancing Videos

    September 17, 2016 // 18 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State


    This one’s a double play: the U.S. government is wasting your tax money on stupid videos while at the same time no doubt angering the very people they are somehow trying to impress.



    So the video above was made, using your tax dollars and on official government time, by the Public Diplomacy staff at the American Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. As you can see, a Pakistani traditional dancer was hired, and alongside him were placed various overweight American State Department officials to act like *ssclowns.

    See, they can’t do the dance right, so it’s a funny! It’s on YouTube! It’s groovy social media! And it has all of 380 hits!


    The saddest part is that the stated mission of Public Diplomacy staff abroad is to enhance America’s image, make us some friends, that hearts and minds stuff. So it is only in a parallel universe that the staff could imagine the video above could be helping with any of those goals. Indeed, in many parts of the world, fat American’s mocking a local tradition is not seen as funny at all, but actually as a serious insult.

    Oh yeah, the Taliban are like a big problem in Pakistan and they are no doubt seriously in favor of the Americans creating their propaganda videos for them.

    Maybe not in Pakistan. Maybe the Pakistanis have a wacky sense of humor roughly the same as a 28-year-old ex-sorority member now employed by the State Department who cannot conceive of how a skit that went over so well during senior year Rush Week would fail overseas.


    FUN FACT: Foreign governments with offices in the U.S. do not seem to make these kinds of videos. They seem almost exclusively, uniquely, the product of American diplomacy.



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  • Oliver Stone’s New Movie ‘Snowden’ Tackles the Myth

    September 14, 2016 // 37 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    snowden


    Snowden is a helluva movie, kicking an audience’s ass on a number of levels. I had a chance to see the film last night at a preview event; it opens everywhere on September 16. Go see it.


    On one level the film presents Snowden’s story as a political thriller. A brave but frightened man, certain he is doing the right thing but worried if he can pull it off, smuggles some of the NSA’s most secret information out of a secure facility. He makes contact with skeptical journalists in Hong Kong, convinces them of the importance of what he has to say, and then goes on the run from a U.S. government out to arrest, or, possibly assassinate, him. In interviews Stone has made clear that he has dramatized and/or altered some events, and that his film is not a documentary. It does keep you on the edge of your beliefs, watching a story you know as if you don’t.


    The next level of the film is a carefully constructed vision of the national security state, seen through Snowden’s eyes. For many Americans, this may be the first time they will react emotionally to the way our government spies on us. It is one thing to “know” the NSA can access webcams at will, it is another to watch a technician “spy” on a Muslim woman undressing in her bedroom.

    When Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) slaps a piece of tape over his own webcam before an intimate moment with his girlfriend (played by Shailene Woodley), he has the wool taken from his eyes, his trust in government shattered. He is all of us.


    The final level of Snowden is perhaps the most important.

    Director Oliver Stone is in the business of creating counter-myths at critical points in time, and his work is best understood in that context.

    Even as most Americans still believed the myth that while the Vietnam was bad, the warriors were not, Stone showed us the dark side in Platoon. In the 1980s, when making money was seen as the best of America, Stone gave us Wall Street, and turned the myth “greed is good” from an instructional line out of an MBA program to a condemnation of how we all suffered when the bubble broke in the financial markets.

    And so with Snowden, which makes clear the myth of a benign national security (“nothing to hide, nothing to fear,” they’re the good guys protecting us) is anything but. The NSA and other agencies want to vacuum it all up, every communication, everywhere. They then move on to controlling our communications; the movie illustrates the depth of NSA’s penetration into the Japanese electrical grid by imagining a black out of Tokyo, and shows us how an NSA technical mistake reveals how they could shut down the Internet across the Middle East.

    In what is the most Oliver Stone-like scene in perhaps any of his movies, Snowden’s CIA boss confronts him, suspicious of wrongdoing. Their video conference discussion starts with Snowden at one end of the table, the boss’ face on a monitor at the other. As the scene unfolds and the intensity increases, Snowden moves closer to the screen until his head is a small dot, and the boss’ face takes over the audience’s whole field of view. The government itself has morphed into Big Brother before your eyes.


    For many aware viewers, a lot of this may seem old hat — of course the NSA is doing all that.

    But imagine the impact of Snowden. Thoughts that have largely been laid out only on blogs and left-of-center, non-main stream media, are now in suburban multiplexes, all carefully wrapped inside a thriller Tom Clancy fans will enjoy.

    You can’t get much more radical than that.






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  • Was Bin Laden Right About 9/11?

    September 12, 2016 // 20 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq

    9-11


    #NeverForget911 . Wait, did something happen yesterday besides #ClintonCollapse ? I forgot.


    OK, ok, serious now. It’s been 15 years now people, so we can talk about this kind of thing, ‘kay? That’s what anniversaries are for, after all.


    Peter Bergen, at CNN, who is often the sanest clown in the CNN circus, tell us that al Qaeda really blew it on 9/11.

    “Like the attack on Pearl Harbor,” says Bergen, “9/11 was a great tactical victory for America’s enemies. But in both these cases the tactical success of the attacks was not matched by strategic victories. Quite the reverse.” He goes on to remind us the U.S. totally kicked Japan’s butt.

    Now it can get a little fuzzy when you try to jam 9/11 and al Qaeda into the Saving Private Ryan narrative framework. So it’s important to understand what Bergen thinks al Qaeda’s goal was with the attacks 15 years ago. I’ll quote him so when I call him an idiot a bit later, you’ll understand my reasoning:

    “Bin Laden believed that al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington would result in an American withdrawal from the Middle East. Instead, the United States quickly toppled the Taliban and al Qaeda… The United States not only did not reduce its influence in the Middle East, but it also established or added to massive bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. And, of course, it also occupied both Afghanistan and Iraq. Bin Laden’s tactical victory on 9/11 turned out to be a spectacular strategic flop.”

    Um, OK.


    Bergen is an idiot. Al Qaeda got much, much more than it ever hoped for out of 9/11, and Bergen’s silly retelling of al Qaeda’s goals is part and parcel of what drives American foreign policy off a cliff on a daily basis in the Middle East.

    Japan was a nation set on territorial conquest in WWII. It bombed Pearl Harbor to destroy as much of America’s Navy as it could to buy itself as much time as it could to conquer as much as it could across the Pacific before America got back on its naval feet. Standard war as it has been since Caesar.

    Terrorists fight a different war, a political one. They don’t have navies. They have guys who hijack planes.


    Quite the opposite of what Bergen says, al Qaeda did not want America to withdraw from the Middle East, he wanted to pull America into a Middle Eastern quagmire as deep and sticky as possible. This would drive recruits to al Qaeda’s cause, establishing with global certainty the west was at war with Islam.

    That worked; see Islamic State, and the way war and chaos has spread from edge-to-edge in the region, as well as the presence of so-called lone wolves in the U.S. and Europe. And remember, on 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Libya were all stable countries and there were no lone wolves in California and Florida.

    Bin Laden did almost blow it. He expected the west to bog down in the graveyard of Afghanistan very quickly, but that didn’t happen. The early successes that drove the Taliban out of governing and into the mountains were done with very few troops and relatively clean bombing attacks. It was after that the Afghan war grew messy, when reconstruction and democracy and all that became the new goals interlaced with the U.S. having new tolerance for the nasty bastards running Pakistan.


    And, of course, the crown jewel of bin Laden’s success, the invasion of Iraq.

    Bush’s invasion of Iraq was so transparently pointless to everyone but most Americans that it made concrete all the things bin Laden was saying: America was at war with Islam, America sought to conquer the Middle East, America wanted the oil, and so forth. But even bin Laden could not have hoped for the free gifts his cause got out of the invasion: the chance for al Qaeda to set up shop in Iraq, the massacre at Fallujah when the Marines reduced the city to medieval rubble, the images of torture from Abu Ghraib, the jihadi training grounds at prison Camp Bucca, and, of course, the overall Sunni-Shia clusterf*ck the invasion ended up as. You know, the one that is driving the current ISIS war today.

    And never mind the U.S. destruction of the Libyan state, America’s clumsy hand in crushing the Arab Spring, the growth of Islamic State and the little wars between the Turks and the Kurds, in Yemen, and more to come. Chaos and failed states favor the terrorists.

    As Canadian historian Gwynne Dyer, a guy we all should be listening to said, “It is hard enough for Westerners to recognize that their attackers actually have a coherent strategy and are not simply mad fanatics motivated by hatred. To accept that these terrorist attacks are not really about Western countries at all, but merely an attempt to use the overreaction of Western countries to create change in the Middle East, is beyond their understanding.”

    What Peter Bergen cannot seem to understand himself is bin Laden was practicing a kind of tough love when he staged the 9/11 attacks, to bring the wrath of the United States down on innocent Muslims to radicalize and politicize them. It is, bin Laden (and now ISIS) believe, for their own long-term good.


    We’ll need to wait longer to find out if the U.S. will ever get it. See you next year for the next anniversary of 9/11.



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  • What You Really Should #NeverForget on 9/11

    September 11, 2016 // 23 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    eagle_weeps


    Happy 9/11 Day, our fifteenth anniversary together. If it was a child, she’d be almost ready to drive. They do grow up so fast, don’t they?

    We’re instituted full background checks, body scanners and cavity searches at my home for all guests and pets (can’t be too careful!), which keeps me pretty busy, so this will be a short post. Because they hate our freedoms, we’ve taken them away for safekeeping.

    So here’s our fun thing for today: reflecting. So let’s get started:

    State of Things September 11, 2001

    — There was no Islamic State.

    — Syria and Libya were peaceful places more or less.

    — There was no global refugee crisis.

    — There was no Saudi war ongoing in Yemen.

    — Iraq opposed Iran, helping establish a balance of power in the Middle East. Any danger Saddam was worth was contained by the no-fly zones and had been, successfully, since 1991.

    — Iran’s plans were cooled by an enemy on its western border, Iraq, and one on its eastern border, the Taliban.

    — The Taliban controlled much of Afghanistan.

    — The U.S. was not at war, and 4,486 Americans had not died in Iraq and 1,935 had not died in Afghanistan. A bunch o’ brown people were still alive. Suicide was not the most common cause of death in our military.

    — The U.S. was not known as a torturer, a keeper of secret prisons, an assassin with drones.

    — The Saudis were America’s friend and helped finance jihad (in Afghanistan.)

    — America was represented abroad primarily by diplomats.

    — Americans at home were secure, protected from abuses by their government by the First and Fourth Amendments.


    State of Things September 11, 2016

    — There is an Islamic State (and still an al Qaeda) that makes war across the Middle East and commits terrorism in Europe.

    — Syria and Libya are failed states, at war, and sanctuaries for Islamic State and al Qaeda.

    — There is a global refugee crisis that threatens the stability of Europe.

    — There is a Saudi war ongoing in Yemen.

    — Iran has become a dominant power in the Middle East, with well-established ties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    — The Taliban control much of Afghanistan.

    — The U.S. government actively and continuously spies on Americans, particularly through electronic means. Once aimed only abroad, the NSA now devotes a substantial portion of its mighty resources inside the U.S.

    — The U.S. government drone assassinates American Citizen abroad without trial.

    — The Saudis were America’s friend and help finance jihad (in Afghanistan, Syria, maybe for a day in New York.)

    — We’re all scared as hell about terrorism all the time.

    Crystal is the traditional material of the 15th anniversary gift. Fitting, in that it breaks easily.


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  • U.S. Added 177,000 jobs in August, All of Them in the Service Industry

    September 9, 2016 // 7 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Economy, Questions for Clinton



    In portraying herself as a virtual Barack Obama third term, Clinton ties herself not only to a foreign policy that continues to inflame the Middle East, but also to his domestic economic record. A key element is job creation, the cornerstone of any real growth.


    For example, during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton praised Obama’s efforts to steer the nation’s recovery.

    “Now, I don’t think President Obama and Vice President Biden get the credit they deserve for saving us from the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes,” she told the crowd in Philadelphia. “Nearly 15 million new private-sector jobs… And an auto industry that just had its best year ever.”

    Leaving aside some fuzzy math to get to that tally of 15 million new jobs, Clinton purposefully passes off quantity with what we’ll call quality.

    A quality job is one that is sustainable, with full-time status and benefits, the kind of work that both rebuilds America’s soul while at the same time makes work more profitable than unemployment benefits and aid. Most importantly for the greater economy, a quality job is one that allows the worker to put money into society. Rising tide lifting all boats.

    The latest job statistics show that is not what is happening.


    While the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the U.S. added some 177,000 jobs in August, all of them were in the low-paying service industry. Fast food, store clerks, that sort of thing. Basically Americans not making anything, but simply passing existing money around in some zero-sum game. A cashier earns a dollar which she turns over to the dry cleaner who later buys a Big Mac. At some point a corporation pulls that dollar out of the hands of its workers as “profit,” perhaps to offshore it to avoid taxes.

    And if the job stats reporting only new service jobs were not dismal news enough, Bureau results show that in the same time period some 2,000 construction and 5,000 goods-producing jobs evaporated. In July, mining and logging companies dumped 7,000 positions. Those thousands of workers were thrown into the pool seeking employment.

    No one is saying we should revive so-called dead industries, or that America revert fully to a 1950s style heavy iron economy. But economics is about people, and those people need jobs they can earn a living doing.


    BONUS: Clinton’s solution? Hillary claims during her first 100 days in office she will launch “the biggest infrastructure and jobs program that we’ve had since World War II.” That mirrors the huge stimulus program that President Obama signed into law in 2009, during his own first 100 days in office.

    Clinton’s plan would see $300 billion in spending on transportation projects spread over five years, $60 billion per year. She plans to raise the money via new taxes on the wealthy that Congress is highly unlikely to agree to.



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  • Clinton, Trump, Lauer, All Lose Battle of the MSNBC CINC Forum

    September 8, 2016 // 13 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Questions for Clinton

    lauer


    In the end, it was actually America who lost last night at the MSNBC Commander-in-Chief forum, because one of these people will be our president in a few months, and the other two will no doubt live forever on our TVs.


    Clinton

    Hillary Clinton dug her own hole that much deeper, failing in front of a skeptical audience of mostly military veterans to push aside any of their skepticism, or ours. Given, once again, the chance to swing for the fences and put at least some of her bad decisions and scandals behind her, Clinton went for the safe grounder every time.

    Clinton came off as defensive and lawyerly.

    She said her vote for the Iraq War in 2003 was a mistake but would not say in front of the assembled vets the war itself was a mistake. She added a new excuse to her litany of email excuses — none of the information typed into her unclassified system had classification headings on it (like TOP SECRET), as if someone who was knowingly typing in such information would, sure, also document the felony by adding the header. She said hundreds of people at State violated classification rules with email, so presumably she was OK doing it, too. She stressed her long years of experience handling classified without mentioning that she said “I don’t know” 40 times to the FBI in answer to questions about how to handle classified information. She noted that State’s unclassified email system was hacked, while there was “no proof” hers was also broken into, a very lame defense when her communications should have been nearly 100% on a classified system to begin with.

    Clinton finished her self-mutilation by telling a veteran who questioned her handling of sensitive information: “I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will.”


    Trump

    Trump then came out and did Trump, all Trump, hugely Trump, I can tell you, Trump, Trump, Trumpy Trumpster. He has a plan for ISIS, but won’t tell us what it is. He doesn’t like generals who lose. He thinks Putin is a helluva leader and Obama isn’t. He insulting female combat troops in remarks about sexual assault, and corrected a veteran with an incorrect figure about soldier suicides. Trump just kept Trumping and no one was very surprised.

    Lauer

    The major fail of the night was moderator Matt Lauer, to the point where #LaueringTheBar is trending on Twitter. Lauer tossed questions to the candidates and then took a nap as they answered, failing to follow-up or challenge most points. He was unable to control the length of answers given, and he allowed Clinton to violate her pledge to talk about herself and not use her answers to smear Trump. At one point Clinton actually stood in front of the seated Lauer, basically sending him off to bed while she handled the forum for awhile.

    Lauer also spent far too much time fishing for faux-controversy and ignoring the stated point of the forum, to explore how each candidate would act as commander-in-chief. And so we heard about the emails, we heard a lot of Trump’s man-boy love for Putin, and we had Lauer try and bait Trump into revealing something, anything, he’d heard in his classified briefings. When a veteran in the audience asked Clinton to describe her plan to defeat Islamic State, Lauer interjected “to keep it brief” before the candidate even began her reply.




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  • Nobody Asked Hillary Last Night About the Messed Up Veterans Hiring Preferences at Her State Department

    September 8, 2016 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Military, Questions for Clinton




    Last night’s MSNBC Commander-in-Chief Forum featured two candidates who couldn’t be more in love — with “The Troops.”


    The troops were spoken of as if they were a they, maybe that group huddled outside smoking or something. Both Trump and Clinton made it clear they are ready to do anything to support the troops. Good, we owe the troops a lot for having to take the big hits for some dumb foreign policy decisions.

    But it is only Hillary who cites her “experience,” so let’s take a look at that. Specifically, during the years she was secretary of state, how did her organization implement veterans preferences in hiring new Foreign Service Officers (FSOs; America’s diplomats)?

    Bottom Line Up Front: Vets got the short end of the stick at State.


    Veterans preference as we talk about it here is a set of laws and regulations within the Federal government that gives eligible veterans preference in hiring over many other applicants. In accordance with Title V, United States Code, Section 2108 (5 USC 2108), veterans’ preference eligibility is based on dates of active duty service, receipt of a campaign badge, Purple Heart, and/or a service-connected disability. It can get complicated, but the basic idea is to give vets a leg up in the hiring process over other applicants.

    While most Federal agencies apply a points-based preference system to veterans right at the time of first application, where it will do the most good, Hillary’s State Department said no. Her leadership basically negated most of the preference and all of the goal, as well as maintaining several vet-unfriendly policies.


    State’s FSO hiring process is slow, employing a number of steps/hurdles to thin down a large pool of wannabe-diplomats. Let’s see how it handles vets.

    FSOs are not political appointees, but rather professional career positions. The steps to are pass a long written exam, then if you do that pass an essay test (“QEP”), then if you do that pass a full-day oral exam, then if you do that pass medical, security and “suitability” tests. The few applicants left at that point are placed on a register, a rank ordered list based on intended job title. So a person who makes it through all of the hurdles can end up number 23 on the list of future economic officers. If State only needs 22 people, you’re SOL my friend. Usually 18 months after entering the list, if you aren’t hired, you’re dropped and can do nothing more than start over.

    The thing that dilutes the concept of veterans preference to the max is that it is only applied by State at that very, very last step, the rank ordering.

    In other words, the vet gets no preference for the written test, the essay test, the oral test, and the medical, security or suitability tests. During those s/he competes with the masses of college students who typically make up the applicant pool.

    State’s veterans preference basically amounts to “not much.”


    There’s more.

    On November 9, 2009, Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13518, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, which established the Veterans Employment Initiative. The Initiative is a strategic approach to helping the men and women who have served our country in the military find employment in the Federal Government. State’s contribution? All of an aging website populated with generic links.

    Oh, sorry, State also set up an online forum for vets. There are all of nine threads. To the extend that State answers inquiries, the responses are generic links or suggestions to email someone else.

    As you can imagine, the process for all applicants to become an FSO takes a l-o-n-g time, 12-18 months for most. In order to have a job when s/he leaves the service, a military person has to figure out a way to do all those required steps while still in the military. Maybe not so hard if you’re stationed to a Navy facility outside Washington, DC, real hard if you’re sitting in the sh*t in Afghanistan.

    And that oral exam? Needs to be done only in person on an assigned day, and almost always at a single location in Washington. College kids hop on the bus from Boston; military folks, well, hopefully First Sergeant will loan you his frequent flyer miles to get there.

    State also does not offer any special credit for foreign languages earned in the service, even with a Department of Defense official score, over another applicant self-reporting her wonderfulness in Chinese. Same for any military skills, included very applicable things such as intelligence work, civil affairs, judge advocate and the like. State loves to talk about the value of leadership skills, but does not offer vets any special treatment even if they’ve lead a brigade in combat. Nope, same line for everyone, take your place in the back, soldier.


    BOTTOM LINE TIME: What did Hillary do as secretary of state for the troops? Not a hell of a lot.

    And here’s Hillary with some troops she really loves, Libyans:




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  • Your Tax Dollars, Creating Jobs (in Afghanistan)

    September 8, 2016 // 2 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, PRT Life

    sign


    The United States government spent over $42,000 per Afghan to create 500 jobs over there.


    And that’s the good news. The ever-cheerful Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR; we have been paying to rebuild Afghanistan for the past 15 years with no end in sight) just released their inspection report on the State Department/USAID-funded Bagrami Industrial Park.

    The inspection notes:

    — USAID awarded a $10 million contract to Technologists, for the development of the industrial park. After modifications, the contract’s value increased to $21.1 million. So sorta more than double what it was supposed to cost you, the taxpayer.

    — As a result of some missing documents, including the record of final payment, USAID could not say when Bagrami Industrial Park was “completed” or when the park was transferred to the Afghans.

    — The contractor, despite doubling the cost, did not include adequate water and sewer systems. So, the Instead, the Afghan Ministry of Finance had to use additional U.S. funds to buy water from a nearby textile factory.

    — Because of the lack of proper sewage systems, the park’s remaining factories release industrial contaminants into the streets. This creates ongoing health risks to workers as well as to the local residents in the surrounding neighborhood.

    — In 2011 the park employed 2,200 people, still short of its 3,000 employee goal. By 2015 the number of employees had decreased to about 700. That dropped in June 2016 to about 500 workers.

    Rebuttal: On its website, contractor Technologists states the Bagrami Industrial Park “is professionally managed and offers investors clear land titles, perimeter security and entry-control points, secure parking, electrical power, clean water, and wastewater removal [and] the park has already attracted almost $50 million in investments and has created more than 30,000 direct and indirect jobs.”

    No details are available on the cost of the Bagrami sign, shown above.




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  • U.S. Blocks Former British Ambassador From Entering America to Honor CIA Whistleblower

    September 5, 2016 // 24 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Post-Constitution America

    craig murray



    The United States over the weekend denied travel to a former British ambassador, Craig Murray, who was also a British diplomat for some 30 years, and is the author of several books.

    Murray has stood twice for election to the House of Commons. He was “honored” by being thrown out of Uzbekistan by its repressive government after risking his life to expose appalling human rights abuses there. He is not a terrorist and is not a social media jihadi. He has no criminal record, no connection to drug smuggling, and does have a return ticket, a hotel reservation and ample funds to cover his expenses.

    He is however seen as a threat to the United States.

    Ambassador Murray was headed to the U.S. this week to be Master of Ceremonies at an award ceremony honoring John Kiriakou, the CIA torture whistleblower. Kiriakou was the only U.S. government official to go to jail in connection with the torture program, and all he did was help expose it to the media. The event is sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (of which I am a member.)

    Murray has also spoken in support of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. Hmm. Might have something to do with this visa problem.

    No one has told Murray why he cannot travel to the U.S., though he has been here numerous times over the past 38 years. Murray learned of his travel bar when applying for the online clearance the U.S. requires of all “visa free” travelers. Murray was electronically informed to contact the State Department to see if he might qualify otherwise.

    Ambassador Murray was stopped by what the State Department and Homeland Security calls “a hit.”

    What happens is dozens of American intelligence agencies pour names into a vast database, which includes everyone from Osama bin Laden (his name has allegedly never been removed in some sort of reverse tribute) to the latest ISIS thug to all sorts of others who have little or no actual reason to be there, such as Murray.

    The likely salient part of the database in Murray’s case is called CLASS, part of the Consular Consolidated Database. It is the largest known data warehouse in the world. As of December 2009, the last time information was available, it contained over 100 million cases and 75 million photographs, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35,000 records per day.

    When one of those persons labeled a bad guy applies for entry or a visa to the U.S., the computer generates a hit. A hit is enough to deny anyone a visa-free trip to the U.S. with no further questions asked and no information given. Technically, the traveler never even officially knows he was “a hit.”

    Bang, you’re dead.


    If Murray chooses to follow the process through and formally applies for a visa to the United States, the State Department in London will only then examine the hit. In 99.9999 percent of the cases, all the State Department official will see in their computer is a code that says “Contact Washington,” officially a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO.

    The State person abroad will most often have no idea why they are refusing to issue a visa, just that they can’t. They sign their name to a blank check of a refusal. They make a potentially life-altering decision about someone with no idea what the evidence against them, if any, is. The traveler of course has no chance to rebut or clarify, because they too have no idea what is being held against them. There is no substantive appeal process and of course everything in the files is likely classified.

    The “contact Washington” message triggers a namecheck process in DC that rumbles around the intelligence community looking for someone who knows why the U.S. government wants to keep Murray out of the United States next week. That process can take anywhere from weeks to forever, and taking forever is one strategy the U.S. uses when it just wants some troublesome person to go away. For politically motivated cases such as Murray’s, that is what is most likely to happen: not much. Murray may thus never learn why he cannot travel to the United States.

    That is what free speech (and free speech covers not only what people say, but what people, Americans in this case, in America may choose to listen to) is about in 2016.

    America is now afraid of people like Ambassador Craig Murray.


    BONUS: Murray has only been denied travel to one other country, Uzbekistan. Such is the company America now keeps.


    MORE BONUS: Those who think this is the first time the U.S. has used a visa denial to stop free speech, please see the case of scholar Tariq Ramadan, denied the opportunity to teach at Notre Dame. There have been many more such cases, albeit less mediagenic. This is policy now for America, not an exception.






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  • Some Hindsight: The Lies that Dumped America Into the Syrian War

    September 2, 2016 // 40 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military, Syria

    assad


    Checking out the news these days, it might seem pretty clear why the U.S. is at war in Syria: destroy ISIS. That is almost certainly the way the two main presidential candidates will see it during their upcoming first debate, in a rare point of agreement.


    The funny thing is that ISIS did not become the reason for what now is a major regional war until late in the game.

    If we rewind about three years, the original justification was to “rid the world of the dictator,” Syrian president Bashar Assad. The U.S. involvement was started under the pretext that Assad was using chemical weapons against the other side in what was once confined to a civil war. American declared Assad thus had to go to avoid a genocide and humanitarian disaster.

    FYI: If you read no further, remember anytime a politician uses the word “genocide” these days we’re about to be dragged into another conflict that will morph into a quagmire.

    So here’s a reprise of something I wrote three years ago. Let’s revisit it and see whether or not any of the current disaster, political and humanitarian, could have been anticipated.


    From Three Years Ago:

    As for intervening in Syria, the United Nations does not say to do it. The United Kingdom voted against it, the first time in two decades the UK has not supported U.S. military action [the UK later changed it’s policy and is now involved across the Middle East again]. The U.S. Congress will not have an opportunity to vote on it, though many members have reservations. Many in our own military have doubts. Half of all American oppose it. Why does the president insist America must attack Syria?

    Obama’s reasons seem vague at best, something from the 19th century about “firing a shot across Assad’s bow” as if this is a pirate movie. Or maybe protecting the U.S., though Syria (and others) have had chemical weapons for years without threatening the U.S. Even Saddam did not use chemical weapons against the U.S. during two American-led invasions of his own country. To protect the women and children of Syria? If that is the goal, the U.S. might best send doctors and medicine to the refugee camps, and nerve gas antidotes into Syria itself.

    Vagueness is a very poor basis for the U.S. entering into another war in the Middle East, throwing itself deeper into a chaotic and volatile situation it little understands.

    So let’s reprise our handy questions summary:

    — The U.S. is intervening in Syria’s civil war because maybe it was Assad who used poison gas.

    — The poison gas killed a couple of thousand people. A horrible thing by any measure.

    — Close to 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war to date [in 2013; the death toll is now likely in the millions].

    — The U.S. is thus going to war again in the Middle East because a tiny percentage of the deaths were caused by gas instead of artillery, aerial bombs, machine guns, tanks, rockets, grenades, car bombs, mines, bad food, or sticks and stones.

    Because it seems Obama is not asking himself some important questions, here’s a list he may wish to consult:

    — Is it Iraq again? That went well.

    — Does it have oil?

    — Does it pose a direct threat to America, i.e., knife to our throat?

    — Can you define specifically what U.S. interests are at stake (no fair just citing generic “world peace” or “evil dictator” or a magical “red line”)?

    — Does the Chemical Weapons Treaty say it is the U.S.’ job to take punitive action against violators? [Trick question; it does not.]

    — Is Syria’s evil dictator somehow super-worse than the many other evil dictators scattered across the world where the U.S. is not intervening?

    — Did Syria attack any U.S. forces somewhere? Kidnap Americans? Commit 9/11?

    — Does the U.S. have a specific, detailed follow-on plan for what happens if Assad departs or is killed?

    — Does the U.S. have a specific plan to ensure weapons given to the rebels, some of whom are openly al Qaeda [Now ISIS], won’t migrate out of Syria as they did in Libya?

    — Does the U.S. believe its secret deal with the “rebels” whoever the hell they are to hand over Syria’s chemical weapons after they take power is airtight?

    — With that in mind, can the U.S. tell with accuracy the “good” rebels from the “bad” rebels?

    — Has the U.S. considered in detail what affect a rebel (Sunni) victory in Syria will have on chaotic Iraq next door and the greater Middle East?

    — What are the possible unintended consequences of another military strike? Are they worth whatever is hoped to be gained by the strike?

    Obama, if the answer was “No” to any of the above questions, you should not intervene in Syria.

    NOTE: Obama did intervene, and golly, who could have thought it, look what happened!




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  • Some Important Things That Really Do Matter About Hillary Clinton

    August 31, 2016 // 24 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: 2016, Questions for Clinton

    hillary


    Even if everyone does it, that does not make it right. That excuse did not work for you in 6th grade when you were caught smoking in the girl’s room and it should not be accepted from a presidential candidate or her supporters in the media.

    Many politicians do crappy things. That is not an excuse for you to also do them. See above.

    “Well, at least I wasn’t indicted” is not a very high standard for the presidency.

    “There is no proof of quid pro quo.” What do you mean by proof? A notarized statement “This guy gave us money, so let’s sell him weapons?” Reality doesn’t work that way so spare us the strawman argument. Phone calls are made. Conversations happen. Minions learn quickly what their boss wants. People at the Clintons’ level rarely leave paper trails behind and when they do, they delete them before the FBI arrives to pick up the server.

    If someone offers you millions of dollars for essentially no work (i.e., a speech) they are going to want something in return. If you want more money, you will need to give something to them.

    “All they wanted was a meeting with the secretary to offer their views.” Sure, maybe. But in Washington the currency is closeness to power. For a wealthy person, buying just material things loses its charm after a while. They buy access, they buy the appearance of power, they buy chances to take those photos of themselves with prominent world leaders all rich people have on their walls. You look like a sap, arm candy in return for cash. Quid pro quo can mean a meeting, a visa issued, an arms deal made.

    How do you feel when you find out your doctor prescribed you medication from a pharmaceutical company that paid him large speaking fees? Appearances do matter and it is likely that such money does not impact judgement.



    Follow the money. Always follow the money.


    If the secretary of state’s name is Clinton and the foundation receiving the money is named Clinton, they are part of the same thing.

    If you put classified material on an unclassified server, that is wrong. It exposes that material to America’s adversaries. Presidents should simply not do that. No one else in government has ever knowingly been allowed to do that.

    There is such a thing inside the U.S. government called retroactive classification. You may not like it, and you may have convinced sops in the media to pretend with you it does not exist, but it is real. I’ll Google it for you, here, and here. Retroactive classification was tested at the Supreme Court level; see DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY v. MACLEAN. Someone please call CNN and pass them those links.

    The Clinton Foundation as a charity has done some good deeds. But do not conflate those with its role as a money laundering tool. The two are very separate functions of the same organization. And you can have the first without the second. In fact, that’s how good charities work.

    Avoiding even the appearance of unethical behavior is important. Persons throughout the government watch what their senior leaders do as signals as to what they can get away with. Leadership matters, and that means staying clean and making sure everyone sees that you are clean. You lead by example, one way or the other.

    When global leaders come to wonder if you can be bought off for some “donations,” they will either lose respect for you, or want to buy you off themselves. They will not simply ignore it.

    Putin could really not give a sh*t which assclown is elected president. He’ll go on acting in his country’s best interests no matter who is in the White House, as he has done through multiple administrations already. Get over yourself.

    Hiding from the press and not holding press conferences seems like the behavior of a petulant six-year-old.

    It is not leadership nor is it presidential to be caught as a liar and a prevaricator on a regular basis. People do not trust you; not voters, not the Congresspeople you will need to work with, not other world leaders you will have to negotiate with.

    The lesser of two evils is still evil. Why do you want to knowingly vote for evil?




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  • Tell Us Why We’re At War, Candidates

    August 29, 2016 // 24 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen

    20090218221111!Vietnam_war_memorial




    When I was a kid, successive presidents told us we had to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, because if we didn’t fight them over there, we’d have to fight them on the beaches of California. We believed. It was a lie.

    I was a teenager during the Cold War, several presidents told us we needed to create massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, garrison the world, maybe invade Cuba, fight covert wars and use the CIA to overthrow democratically elected governments and replace them with dictators, or the Russians would destroy us. We believed. It was a lie.

    When I was in college our president told us that we needed to fight in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua or the Sandinistas would come to the United States. He told us Managua was closer to Washington DC than LA was. He told us we needed to fight in Lebanon, Grenada and Libya to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.

    When I was a little older our president told us how evil Saddam Hussein was, how his soldiers bayoneted babies in Kuwait. He told us Saddam was a threat to America. He told us we needed to invade Panama to oust a dictator to protect America. We believed. It was a lie.

    Another president told us we had to fight terrorists in Somalia, as well as bomb Iraq, to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.

    The one after him told us that because a bunch of Saudis from a group loosely tied to Afghanistan attacked us on 9/11, we needed to occupy that country and destroy the Taliban, who had not attacked us, for our own safety. The Taliban are still there 15 years later, and so is the American army. We believed. It was a lie.

    After that the same President told us Saddam Hussein threatened every one of our children with weapons of mass destruction, that the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud, that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda. We believed. It was a lie.

    In 2011 the president and his secretary of state, now running for president herself, told us we needed regime change in Libya, to protect us from an evil dictator. We believed. It was a lie.

    In August 2014 the same president told us we needed to intervene again in Iraq, on a humanitarian mission to save the Yazidis. No boots on the ground, a simple, limited act only the United States could conduct, and then we’d leave. We believed. It was a lie.

    That same president later told us Americans will need to fight and die in Syria. He says this is necessary to protect us, because if we do not defeat Islamic State over there, they will come here, to what we now call without shame or irony The Homeland. We believe. We’ll let history roll around again to tell it is again a lie.

    The two main candidates for president both tell us they will expand the war in Syria, maybe Libya. Too many of our fellow citizens still want to believe it is necessary to protect America more. They want to know it is not a lie.

    So candidates, please explain why what you plan is different than everything listed above. Tell us why we should believe you — this time.


    (This article is a reimagining of a piece I wrote about a year ago, when the war in Syria was less so, and the U.S. has not re-entered the fight overtly in Libya. I’ll update it from time to time as new wars happen.)




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  • How I Was Blacklisted at CNN, and How Easily America Goes to War Now

    August 26, 2016 // 14 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria



    It was about two years ago to the day I was blacklisted at CNN.

    I don’t want to remind them they were sadly wrong, but they were. So write this off however you prefer, but understand that we were lied to again to drag us again into an open-ended war in Iraq-Syria. Last time it was Bush and those missing Weapons of Mass Destruction. This time is was Obama and saving the Yazidi people from genocide.

    Wait, what? Who are the Yazidis? How they get us back into Iraq?

    Ah, how fast time flies.


    Two years ago a group of Yazidis, a minority spread across Iran, Iraq and Turkey, were being threatened by a group called ISIS few American were focused on. Obama declared a genocide was about to happen, and the U.S. had to act. U.S. officials said they believed that some type of ground force would be necessary to secure the safety of the stranded members of the Yazidi group. The military drew up plans for limited airstrikes and the deployment of 150 ground troops.

    No Congressional authorization was sought, no attempt was made to secure UN sanction, no effort was made to seek Iraqi military help to save their own people inside their own country. However, promises were made by the White House of having no American “boots on the ground” and that the airstrikes to kill people were for a humanitarian purpose.

    Two years later the U.S. has some 6,000 troops on the ground, including artillery units and aircraft based inside Iraq and Syria. The limited airstrikes have expanded to a 24 month broad-based bombing campaign, which has spread into Syria, with the sideshows of complete collapse of democracy in Turkey, a Russian military presence in Syria, and an Iranian military presence in Iraq. For the record, the Yazidis are pretty much fine, as are ISIS and Syrian president Assad. The Yazadis do occasionally show up in fear-mongering, unsourced stories about ISIS sex slaves, usually spoon-fed to American media, and only American media, by pro-Yazidi ethnic groups safely in the west.

    In fact, other than a massive regional death toll and no progress toward whatever the actual goal for the United States is (um, whatever, “destroy” ISIS), things are pretty much the same after two years, +chaos. And whomever is elected this November will be the fifth U.S. president to make war in Iraq.


    Back to CNN.

    As the Yazidi situation was unfolding, I was invited to tape a discussion there alongside the usual retired U.S. military colonel. I was asked a single question, explained in my answer that the U.S. was in fact using the Yazidi “humanitarian crisis/faux genocide” as an excuse to re-enter the Iraq quagmire, and equated it to George W. Bush’s flim-flam about weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

    The host literally said I was wrong. I was not asked another question, though the colonel was given several minutes to explain the urgency of the situation, demand America act where no one else would, and assure the public that Obama planned only limited, surgical strikes and that was it, one and done.

    My question was edited out, the colonel’s lengthy answer was played on air, and my very brief moment in the glow of CNN was ended even though I wore a nice suit and a tie. Oh well, we still have each other here, and hey, CNN, my number’s still the same if you wanna call.



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  • Did an ISIS Fighter Try to Sell Sex Slaves on Facebook?

    August 25, 2016 // 3 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    slave


    Well, maybe. It is amazing how these horrific stories about ISIS just happen to appear on global social media, and then are instantly picked up by the mainstream media as fact.

    Why, it is almost as if someone is creating them, and then calling the mass media’s attention to them on obscure sources, for anti-ISIS propaganda purposes. Hmm.


    Well, don’t be shocked, but…

    “To all the bros thinking about buying a slave, this one is $8,000,” began the Facebook posting attributed to an Islamic State fighter who calls himself Abu Assad Almani. The same man posted a second image a few hours later, this one a pale young woman’s face with weepy red eyes.

    “Another sabiyah [slave], also about $8,000,” the posting reads. “Yay, or nay?”


    The photos were taken down within hours by Facebook but of course still were coincidentally captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit group with unclear funding sources that monitors jihadists’ ­social media accounts. That Institute then pumped the story out across the web.

    “We have seen a great deal of brutality, but the content that ISIS has been disseminating over the past two years has surpassed it all for sheer evil,” said a researcher for the Institute. “Sales of slave girls on social media is just one more example of this.”

    Uh huh. It must all be true.


    BONUS: Selling sex slaves violates Facebook’s Terms of Use, so ISIS that did wrong thing too. Bastards have no respect for our American social media.



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  • Coming in May 2017: My New Novel, Hoopers War

    August 23, 2016 // 6 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Hooper's War

    9781941311127

    Luminis Books will publish my next novel, Hooper’s War, in May 2017.


    Here’s the back cover kind of blurb for the new book:

    There’s no prosthetic for a soul that’s dying faster than its body. You have to heal it. And to do that, you’re going to have to fight Hooper’s War.

    In this anti-war novel set in WWII Japan, Lieutenant Nate Hooper isn’t sure he’ll survive. And if he does make it home, he isn’t sure he can survive the peace. He’s done a terrible thing, and struggles to resolve the mistake alongside an unrepentant Japanese soldier, and a Japanese woman trying to save both men.

    War can be about a lot of things but it is always about what happens to people. The characters face a decision that will forever define them not by their war against each other, but by their war against themselves. A tale of moral complexity, of decisions that last longer than people do.

    With allegorical connections to America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reverse chronology telling of Hooper’s War turns a loss-of-innocence narrative into a tale of why that loss is inevitable.

    Think Matterhorn and The Things They Carried, crossed with Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five. Some parts funny, some deadly serious.


    That’s an early mockup of the cover, above. You can read some early excerpts from Hooper’s War here.




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  • Russia Teams Up With Iran to Continue to Bomb Syria

    August 22, 2016 // 12 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Military, Questions for Clinton, Syria

    pokemongo_syria

    Ho, ho, ho, here’s a scenario no one could have possibly anticipated: some complex thing in the Middle East as a temporary patch to some previous complicated thing in the Middle East turned out to backfire for the U.S. because of a lack of any semblance of an actual policy as opposed to a series of random actions linked only in temporal order. Soon a new thing will be needed to counteract the lastest old thing, but that’s for next week.


    The most current thing is that Russia deployed bomber and fighter aircraft to Iran for air strikes on rebels in Syria, the first time in 37 years that Iran allowed foreign forces to base and deploy from its territory. The new basing dramatically cuts into the number of frequent flyer miles the Russian air forces needs to bomb Syria. Flying out of Iran instead of from inside Russia means more sorties a day, maybe lower maintenance burdens, maybe heavier payloads.

    Iran has, for now, walked back the arrangement, apparently embarrassed at the publicity. The larger issues still remain.



    So a review, to put things in context. We’ll go quick here, kind of like the opening song of the Big Bang Theory, where they cover the history of the whole universe in 30 seconds of jaunty song:

    — About 13 years ago Iraq was a stable place, just another crappy Mideast stinkhole run by the same dictator it had been for decades. U.S. invades to “free Iraq,” chaos ensues through two presidencies with a third teed up. The more or less stable Iraqi-Syrian border became a porous sore for Sunni baddies to enter and leave the fight, precursor foot soldiers to ISIS. The Sunni collaboration with (then) al Qaeda to protect themselves from Shiite militias spread into Syria.

    — Five years ago Syria was a stable place, just another crappy Mideast stinkhole run by the same family of dictators it has been since the 1960s. The U.S. had tolerated, dealt with and cooperated with the Assad family during much of that time. Why, post-9/11, the U.S. even outsourced some torture to them. There were no Syrian aid agencies, no orphaned kids of Aleppo, no global refugee crisis.

    — The Arab Spring starts in 2011, U.S. sees an opening, fans the flames in what started as a legitimate people’s revolt in Syria. Assad fights back, U.S. keeps intervening just enough to keep the fires burning but not much else, chaos ensues. Hillary and David Petraeus demand more U.S. war in Syria, end up instead getting a new U.S. invasion of Libya as a consolation prize from Obama and another failed state is created in another crappy Mideast stinkhole that had been run stably by the same dictator for decades. But we digress.

    — Blah blah, time passes, people die, U.S. declares Assad an evil dictator who “must go,” thinks it negotiates the Russians into the new war to help “free Syria.” Russians grin wildly as they establish new full-force, on-the-ground military footprint inside Syria without a shot fired. They’re back into the game in the Middle East, half-invited by the U.S.!

    — The oops! It turns out the sneaky Russians support Assad (who knew???), as America used to, and aren’t fighting him, like America wants them to. Bad, bad. John Kerry flies around Europe ignored by the White House (“sure, John, off you go, don’t forget to write and let us know how it’s going”) with his trademark Muppety “cautious but optimistic” face.

    — But oops! Things change; the U.S. doesn’t like Assad, no sir, evil dictator kills his own people genocide barrel bombs poison gas save children, but isn’t going to attack him either like the Russians won’t attack him, because the war isn’t about “taking him out” per se except when asked to say that on TV news in America, it is about defeating destroying ISIS. So, the U.S., Russia and hey, sure, why not, Iran, are all on the same side, fighting ISIS.

    — BONUS: The U.S. and Iran are also “fighting ISIS” in Iraq. Iran, the big winner of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is grinning wildly as it establishes a new full-force, on-the-ground military footprint inside Iraq without a shot fired. They’re back in the game, half-invited by the U.S. Iran had been training and equipping the people who had been fighting the U.S. in Iraq 2003-2011. Now they are helping U.S.-supported Iraqi Shiite militias who had been fighting the U.S. in Iraq 2003-2011 retake the same cities U.S. soldiers died taking 2003-2011.


    And that brings us to this week, where Assad is still around, ISIS is still around, Iraq is still a sectarian mess, Iran more or less controls the Iraqi government and the powerful Shiite militias except for the ones who might just rebel and/or slaughter Sunnis to complete a slow-burn civil war, Turkey a newly-collapsing crappy Mideast-ish stinkhole run by a new dictator and Russia and Iran, always a bit wary of one another, are cooperating militarily to attack ISIS (U.S. thumbs up!) in support of Assad (U.S. thumbs down!)

    And that’s all before we get to the Kurds, who are well on their way to creating a confederacy of Kurdistan carved out of parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. That will be the impetus behind the next war inside the Middle East, with most of the same players now in Syria joining in. Figure maybe a year from now or so.




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  • Arrrgh! I Speak With the Pirate Party of Iceland

    August 19, 2016 // 5 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    0810161956b


    My thanks to the wonderful people at Iceland’s Pirate Party for allowing me to speak to a group of their supporters in Iceland last week.

    Special thanks to Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir (above), Sunna Ævarsdóttir, Sara Oskarsson, and to Icelandic state television Ruv for the interview (below).

    The audience was remarkably well-informed on whistleblower issues, with questions not only about high-profile folks like Ed Snowden and Chelsea Manning, but also important whistleblowers like Tom Drake, Bill Binney, John Kiriakou, and Jeff Sterling, who may not be as well known to many Americans.

    There was also among the people present an overt fear of the direction the United States continues to head, beyond the symptoms of Hillary and Trump. The endless wars of the Middle East progulated and/or encouraged and supported by the U.S., the global pestilence of the NSA, and the lashing out of America against Muslims and human rights were all of deep concern.


    As for Iceland’s Pirate Party itself, it is poised to gain control of the government this October. Recent polls suggest the Pirates lead with about 30 percent of the votes.

    Some attribute this success to Icelanders’ growing dissatisfaction with the political establishment, exacerbated when former Prime Minister Sigmunður Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign over the Panama Papers-money laundering scandal earlier this year. Among the Pirate Party’s platform are plans for greater use of direct democracy and Icelandic citizenship/asylum for Snowden.

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  • I Do Jury Duty

    August 18, 2016 // 11 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    jury

    I just wrapped up a couple of days of jury duty.

    Note “jury duty,” which is very different than serving on a jury. I didn’t do that. Being on an actual jury involves making a careful judgment on someone’s life. I did jury duty, which involves waiting and sitting and waiting, while watching your last hopeful images of democracy fade away.



    You Are Summoned

    Jury duty starts with a summons. The government officially demands you show up at a courthouse on a specific day and time. Not asks, not invites, demands. You, with the big mouth all about rights and the Constitution and racism in the justice system, time to get real. So I showed up on the specific day and time, actually about 15 minutes early to allow for security.

    Security. Even more so than at the airport, people showed up with an impressive array of personal electronics, like the shipping computer at Amazon had a glitch that flung new products at them even as we stood in line. And we did stand in line. For 45 minutes, mostly outside on the sidewalk. And learned in the end there were two courthouses and many of us (me) were in line for the wrong one.

    To the end of a new line for you, Sparky. Freedom isn’t free.

    The Waiting Game

    I got to the jury room over an hour late only to learn that because so many people make the line mistake and because security is slow, the 8:45 stated arrival time with threats of fines if you are late is kind of an artifact from 1856. It was about 10:30 before a guy who said he’d been doing this exact same job for 34 years began speaking to us as if we were slow children or fairly smart puppies. The bulk of his explanation was about how most of us would get our $40 a day jury payment, and the many exceptions to that. It was then lunch.

    Several of us went out together. The only consistent topic of conversation was how each planned to avoid serving on a jury.

    After a nice lunch, we gathered to learn that about half of us would be siphoned off for jury selection. The other half would spend the next four hours in that room, enjoying listening to two lethargic window box air conditioners try and cool a room big enough for half court basketball. The other thing was a death struggle over the handful of electrical outlets, and to try and get on to the limited WiFi. Part of the problem was that there seemed to be no filters or restrictions, so the guy near me streaming Frozen sucked about more bandwidth than the entire row behind him trying to get to Gmail. Yeah, First World problems, but we were indeed in what was rumored to be a First World city.

    The hours ended. We were unneeded. We were dismissed until re-summoned tomorrow morning.



    Tomorrow is Another Day

    The next morning we all knew what line to be in and how security worked, so there was a hive mind decision to not come on time. Instead, the gang from the day before drifted in over the course of the morning. I got there early enough to open four simultaneous WiFi connections and begin downloading multiple torrents of movies I could care less about. I had a moment of pleasure hearing some guy say “Please God, I just need to log on to the trading site, London is closing.”

    And then for my sin I was given a mission. I got called to jury selection, along with about 20 other waiters.

    We were brought to an unventilated hallway to wait for 30 minutes before entering an actual courtroom. Behind the judge were gold metal letters about 10 inches high that read IN GOD WE TRUST, and many flags. We did an olde timey swearing in, and then were invited to visit the judge and explain any “issues” we might have that would prevent us from serving on a jury.

    It was pathetic.

    Nearly everyone bitched, whined, begged and complained that they could not do it. Who knew everyone in the courtroom had both a special needs child and a sick mother and had to work nights and took medications and felt they could not faithfully follow the law due to some special need, or conviction, or conscience, or whatever, please your honor, whatever will work. The judge turned down some, accepted some. If anyone needed some stock footage to hit on the search term “cynical,” this would do.

    I got bounced out of the jury selection in the next phase. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney asked us questions about our jobs, our thoughts on law enforcement (especially if we trusted police to testify honestly) and the like. I answered every question completely candidly and was thrown back to wait three more hours until “jury duty” was over. The only way I could have served would have been to lie. And I could have, and in what way does that make sense?



    This is a Mess

    So look, this system is a mess. I’m not sure how to fix it all, but here are some ideas.

    The 19th century notion that everyone simply must find a way to put their life on hold does not work. I’m really sorry and I get the civic duty part Jefferson and Madison intended, but telling single parents to just figure out child care, Wall Street brokers to just not care about millions of dollars, students to just miss class, and people who work freelance or hourly to just suck it up and lose their already limited income is not 2016.

    If assigned to an actual jury, you stay with the trial until it is done. Might be a few days, might be a few weeks, or if you pull a murder case or one of the many medical malpractice suits, it could be a month+. You don’t know. You just have to figure out how to be there. For $40 a day.

    That money thing is not a small deal. $40 a day, minus the minimum five dollars commuting to court and back costs, means you are getting about half the minimum wage in New York, and even that takes six to eight weeks to be sent to you by a check I am somewhat skeptical will ever arrive. If you are already living on the margins, you cannot afford to serve on a jury.

    It seemed that the better dressed and more educated a potential juror sounded, the better excuse s/he had for the judge on why s/he could not serve. Why, it was almost as if they prepped for this. Meanwhile, a lot of folks whose English was poor or who sounded as if they did not get much of an education had no excuse the judge would accept. There were magic words and some knew them and some did not.



    I Don’t Feel So Good

    And there was where democracy died. I had a hard time identifying anyone present who wanted to sit on a jury. It seemed almost everyone wanted out, though only some figured out how to do it successfully. I don’t feel good saying it, but my limited window into all of this suggests juries might just be made up of people who can’t get out of it. Hard to say how bitter that makes them feel listening to an actual case.

    I believe in this stuff. But it was very hard for me to give up a week or a month’s worth of income. I work 100% freelance and if I am not around to write I do not get paid. Half minimum wage is not helping me meet expenses. I hate that but it is true. I went home angry at myself. I don’t feel better now.




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  • Trouble Follows When the U.S. Labels You a ‘Thug’

    August 16, 2016 // 13 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Military, Post-Constitution America

    hillary and putin.resized

    There is a nasty pattern in American political speech, going back into the 1980s at least: when a senior U.S. official labels you a thug, often times wars follow. Thug is the safest word of American Exceptionalism.

    So it is with some concern that lots of folks are pushing each other away from the mic to call Putin a thug (fun fact: Putin has been in effective charge of Russia for 15 years. As recently as the Hillary Clinton Secretary of State era, the U.S. sought a “reset” of relations with him.)

    While the current throwing of the term thug at Putin is tied to the weak evidence presented publicly linking a Russian hacker under Putin’s employ to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computers, there may be larger issues in the background. But first, a sample of the rhetoric.

    Putin the Thug

    Obama on Putin: “a thug who doesn’t understand his own best interests.”

    Mario Rubio on Putin: “A gangster and a thug.”

    Paul Ryan’s spokesperson on Putin: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug.”

    John McCain on Putin: “A bully and thug.”

    And for fun, Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. in 2014, on Putin: “A thug and a liar.”

    Thugs in American Military Adventurism

    That word, thug, seems to be a sort of dog whistle that when blown signals Americans and their media to psyche up for a new fight. For example:

    John Kerry on Bashar Assad: “A thug and murderer.”

    John Kerry on Islamic State: “Daesh [ISIS] is in fact nothing more than a mixture of killers, of kidnappers, of criminals, of thugs, of adventurers, of smugglers and thieves.”

    George W. Bush on al Qaeda: “If we let down our guard against this group of thugs, they will hurt us again.”

    George W. Bush on Saddam Hussein: “He is a thug.”

    Bernie Sanders on Gaddafi: “Look, everybody understands Gaddafi is a thug and murderer.”

    Madeline Albright found Somali thugs and thugs in the Balkans for her era’s wars.

    More Thugs

    There are also North Korean thugs, Iranian thugs and Ukrainian thugs. And Sudanese thugs and Panamainian thugs.

    But Why Putin, Now?

    Perhaps what we’re seeing here is a realignment for the next iteration of America’s perpetual war. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Cold War (“the end of history”, as one author called it), there was no global enemy. No big nasty to spur weapons procurement, or to justify a huge standing military with hundreds of bases around the world, or to pick fights with to allow a boring president to morph into a superhero war president.

    A lot of people had a lot of power and money in play that demanded some bad guys. An attempt was made in the 1980s to make narco lords the new major bad guys, but they were too few in number and the popularity of drugs among Americans got in the way. Following 9/11, the bad guys were supposed to be “the terrorists.” The George W. Bush administration riffed off that theme, appointing Saddam a massive weapons of destruction threat and tagged on Iran and North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil, because, well, no one knows, things sound good in groups of threes.

    Saddam turned out to be a bust, and the Iraq War ultimately very unpopular. Bin Laden never launched a second attack on the U.S., and the Taliban were hard to picture, coming and going as they do. The U.S. made a good faith effort trying to label all sorts of others, Gaddafi, Assad, ISIS, et al, as global enemies worthy of perpetual war but they either were defeated, or are just plain are kicking American butt. Meanwhile, the Middle East in general turned into a huge, complicated, sticky clusterf*ck quagmire.

    A New Hope Emerges

    Like Batman, Washington needs an Arch Enemy, preferably one poster-child kind of guy who can be shown on TV looking like a Bond villain. With actual nukes (Washington spent years trying to convince us the terrorists were a 24/7 nuclear threat [smoking gun = mushroom cloud] and the damn terrorists never complied.)

    Enter Putin The Thug.

    Americans are already well-prepared by the old Cold War to see Russia as an evil empire, and Putin does look the part. A new Cold War with Russia will require lots of expensive military hardware, plus a large standing army and new areas of Europe to garrison. It might breathe new life into a NATO wondering why it still exists.

    For politicians, shouting about Muslim threats has proven to have a downside, as it has enflamed many Muslims and pushed them toward radicalization. It turns out also there are Muslim voters, and people who like Muslims, in the U.S. Putin doesn’t vote, only a handful of hippies think he’s a good guy, and he can be slapped around in sound bites relatively without risk.

    It is a political-military-industrial complex wet dream.

    And so I predict in the coming Hillary regime a tamping down of terrorism stuff and a ramping up of a new Cold War. After all, isn’t that what her mentor Henry Kissinger would do?

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  • If Anyone Runs Out of Guns and Grenades, Here’s a Shopping Market in Baghdad That’s Well-Stocked

    August 12, 2016 // 27 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iraq

    sadr city


    You know how it is. You just get back from a trip to the store and your significant other says “Honey, I just realized we are all out of AK-47s. And while you’re at the market, could you also grab a couple of mortars and some grenades in case your mother stops by again unexpectedly?”


    Yes, it could be Texas, but it actually is what’s going on in Baghdad.

    Iraq news site Niqash tells us about a market in Baghdad’s Sadr City, where masked men display their wares on open tables the same way vegetable sellers do in other city markets. Next to grenades on the tables are rockets, mortars and plenty of other weaponry, with markings that indicate they come from a number of different sources. Welcome one and all to Maridi market, one of Baghdad’s, if not, Iraq’s, most famous “illegal” arms markets.

    (The photo above shows beautiful Sadr City back in the good old days, when America liberated it.)

    There are a lot of ways he obtains weapons, said one trader in the market. The most significant route is across unguarded border crossings from NATO ally Turkey. The guns and other weapons enter Kurdistan (another American ally) and are then brought to Baghdad; checkpoints (manned by Iraqi security forces the U.S. pays for) don’t seem to be a problem and if they are, counterfeit ID cards or a bribe will often work.

    “Most of the weapons come from the military, especially those located near the front,” a vendor told Niqash. “Soldiers who lose their weapons during fighting are not questioned as to why. If a soldier dies fighting, lost weapons are registered in their name. So a lot of the lost weapons are registered in dead soldiers’ names. And those weapons go to the arms dealers.”

    Thanks to many Iraqis wanting to leave the country, soldiers and members of the state security forces also sell their weapons as part of efforts to raise funds. Some soldiers simply want to supplement their income.

    This all could have something to do with why the U.S. can’t seem to win the war in Iraq, but I just can’t put my finger on it right now.



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  • Apple Patents Remote ‘Kill Switch’ for iPhone Cameras

    August 10, 2016 // 16 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    apple


    What to do about all those darn videos showing cops murdering people?


    They make it much harder for law enforcement to lie about their own actions, and just get everyone all fired up. Why not ask Apple (for starters) to build in a “feature” on a future generation of iPhones that will allow cameras to be disabled remotely?


    A patent granted to Apple this month details technology that remotely disables iPhone cameras using infrared sensors. Someone you do not know and cannot see will be able, without your permission, to disable the camera on a phone you own and are legally using, perhaps to take video of your son’s Little League game, perhaps to take video of a police officer choking to death an innocent man.

    Apple’s patent application used the example of a rock band wanting to prevent audience members from recording a concert. Nasty bootleggers and their darn YouTubing!

    While the First Amendment, backed up by much case law, guarantees the right of citizens to record the actions of government employees, including the police, conducting their duties in public places, the Amendment does not guarantee corporate America has to sell you the technology to do so. It is Constitutionally unclear if a police force using such technology to block video would violate the First Amendment (hey, you could switch over to your Dad’s camcorder that’s in the basement), but knowing the way things work, the cops would try it first, worry about court cases later.


    And indeed you can hear the arguments terrorism, national security event, blahblahblah. Perhaps the police could designate First Amendment Video Zones outside any large event where citizens could shoot video of each other to their heart’s content?

    Another interesting legal question would be the effect of citizens using some other technology to disable the technology used by police to disable camera phones. Would that become illegal, the way some states have made the use of radar detectors in your car illegal?

    So as the cops like to say, “Hey, nothing to see here folks, move along.”



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  • Afghan Maintenance Program You Pay For Wastes $423 Million

    August 8, 2016 // 8 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Military, PRT Life

    afghan

    So, Afghanistan. America’s longest and wackiest war will soon enter its 16th year, and is scheduled to run through the next administration, as no one can remember why the U.S. is fighting there anymore and so no one knows when this thing is over. Did we win yet? How would we know?


    None of that matters of course, because plenty of American contractors are in their 16th year of getting filthy rich, thanks to extraordinary amounts of money being spent with no effective oversight by the Department of Defense. Let’s have the latest example.

    Our friends at the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are the poor b*stards charging with keeping track of all this waste. Once upon a time the point of an Inspector General was to point things out to upper management, like generals or Congress, so problems could be addressed. In 2016, the point of the Inspector General is to be ignored because no one in Washington actually care to fix anything.

    Nonetheless, SIGAR has its job, and so has published an audit of America’s Afghan National Army Technical Equipment Maintenance Program, designed to maintain Afghan army vehicles at our expense and develop a vehicle maintenance capacity within the army.

    It has not gone well. The audit notes:

    — The five-year contract, originally valued at a fixed price of nearly $182 million, increased to $423 million due to contract modifications. The thing is still amusingly referred to as a “fixed price contract,” because words mean something else in the land of fairies and procurement.

    — The failure of the contractor, Afghanistan Integrated Support Services, to meet its most basic contract requirements and program objectives, and Department of Defense inaction to correct contractor deficiencies and seek repayment of funds, has resulted in not only the waste of U.S. taxpayer funds but in the need for a new maintenance contract that is projected to cost more than $1 billion over the next five years.

    — The contract was originally structured based on the assumption that the Afghan army had the capability to provide spare parts when and where they were needed, and that the Afghan army was capable of performing higher-level maintenance tasks, even though it had ample evidence that such capabilities did not exist.

    — The U.S. placed orders for spare parts for Afghan army vehicles without accurate information as to what parts were needed or already in stock.

    — The contract performance metric did not accurately assess contractor performance or progress toward contract objectives.

    — The contractor was cited 113 times for failing to fulfill contract requirements.

    — SIGAR found a number of instances where DOD could have demanded, but did not demand, repayment for services not rendered or inadequate services rendered.

    — The contractor was compensated for repairs it made based on the number of vehicles in the Afghan vehicle fleet and not on the actual number of vehicles repaired. Payments to the contractor based on Afghan army vehicle inventory and not vehicles actually repaired resulted in escalating per-vehicle repair costs from a low of $1,889 to a high per-vehicle repair cost of $51,395.

    — The Afghan army continues to suffer gaps in vehicle readiness, accountability, maintenance management, and supply chain management, and that these gaps affected their ability to execute military operations.

    Some of this could possibly explain why the U.S. keeps losing the war.




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