Saturday, January 07, 2006

American Hero

Hugh Thompson died yesterday. He was not well known but to me he, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Anrdreotta, were THE great heroes of the Vietnam war. Thompson was a helicopter pilot who saw American forces shooting civilians at My Lai in 1968 and intervened to stop the killing. Thompson landed his helicopter between the Americans and their victims; his crew, Colburn and Andreotta, turned their guns on their own countrymen to bring an end to the My Lai Massacre. Thompson and his crew evacuated the wounded civilians, including an infant. In an event that encapsulates the best and worst of wartime events, Hugh Thompson stands out as a man of courage and integrity.

Thompson’s acted in the finest military tradition. He was a soldier who knew the boundaries of combat. That tradition has been all too often ignored and discounted in our history. Certainly in Vietnam and more recently in Iraq. I cannot imagine how difficult Thompson’s actions were. He clearly saw that what was happening on the ground was wrong and, at great risk, acted to stop it when he could have just ignored it. For his heroism, Thompson was shunned by the military establishment. A commentator on NPR said that Thompson was deeply distressed by the hostility he faced for what doing what was in fact the right thing. The US government finally recognized their heroism in 1998 when Thompson, Colburn and Andreotti (posthumously) were awarded the Soldier’s Medal for their actions at My Lai.

As a soldier in Vietnam, I never faced anything remotely as difficult as My Lai. I can only hope that I would have acted as courageously as Hugh Thompson and his crew. I hope that I would do so today as well.


Although it took America 30 years to recognize Thompson’s, Colburn’s and Andreotta’s heroism, their actions were celebrated in the 1968 song “Pinkville Helicopter” by Thom Parrott. I find it more than a little ironic that while conservative “support the troops” America marginalized these heroes, they were recognized by an anti-war musician.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Maybe Devo Was Right

Reading Stirling Newberry’s Daily Kos diary about resource wars started me thinking about the future of our species on this planet. His thesis is that the competition for limited energy supplies will escalate and create conflict among nations. Our near term prospects may be stormy.

It also reminded me of a post I saw at skippy the bush kangaroo some time ago about prospects for life on this increasingly polluted planet. I can’t locate a link to the post but its substance was that all life on this planet is part of an unintended genetic experiment resulting from the constant release of chemicals and other compounds into our environment, the long term effects of which are unknown.

This “background pollution” is pervasive and persistent; it includes all the substances that are either unregulated or allowed under existing regulations, especially trace amounts of substances like polychlorinated biphenals, volatile organic compounds, mercury and arsenic to name only a few. Although their immediate impact is largely unnoticed, their slow accumulation in plants and animals may have serious long term impacts. No matter how careful any of us are about our food and water, we cannot escape exposure. We are all guinea pigs in this vast experiment.

Many of these compounds can cause neurological damage in larger doses; I wonder what their impact may be over generations. One possibility could be a gradual retardation of homo sapiens’ intellect, which has allowed our species to overcome the natural limits that control other populations. Our advanced brains have allowed humans to perform amazing technological feats that seem to control nature. If the persistent environmental poisoning degrades our intellect, humans may once more be subject to nature’s whims. If so, our future will be tenuous at best.

So perhaps humans will devolve into creatures more at the mercy of nature. If 2005 demonstrated anything, it showed that even with our advanced brains and technology, humans are still at risk from environmental catastrophe. Losing our intellectual edge will only leave us more so. Perhaps that will be the ultimate solution to overpopulation, wasteful consumption and resource scarcity. We will do ourselves in through our own greed and stupidity. I guess that’s appropriate.

Of course, we always have the option of using our advanced intellect to anticipate trends and make the necessary changes. As a society we look to our leaders to exercise foresight and wisdom. Facing a future where fossil fuels may be in short supply and their continued use may irrevocably change the planet’s climate, we should be looking for alternatives. Sadly, America’s leaders are stuck in the 20th Century, trying to perpetuate a fossil fuel based economy that is increasingly unsustainable.

If BushCheney had any real foresight, he would endorse the Apollo Alliance, a program that promotes energy efficient research and development in much the same way that the Apollo program focused efforts on landing a man on the moon in the 1960's. That Apollo program generated immense technological and economic benefit for America. The Apollo Alliance seeks that same level of investment and dedication in meeting the challenges posed by dwindling fossil fuel supplies and increasing hydrocarbon emissions. The Apollo Alliance homepage is here. William Greider’s excellent article in The Nation is also good introduction to this project.

In the meantime we can always listen to Devo.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Iraqi Voices

Dahr Jamail posts a letter from an Iraqi to George Bush. Riverbend speculates on 2006 in Iraq. Abu Kahleel wonders about America.

Orwell Only Got the Date Wrong

Tom Englehardt writing in Asia Times Online reminds us that the United States faces a fundamental crisis in the expansion of executive power under King George the Worst.

"For these cultists of an all-powerful presidency, the holy war, the 'crusade' to be embarked upon was, above all, aimed at creating a president accountable to no one, overseen by no one, and restricted by no other force or power in his will to act as he saw fit. And so, in the Bush White House, all roads have led back to one issue: how to press ever harder at the weakening boundaries of presidential power.

This is why, when critics concentrate on any specific issue or set of administration acts, no matter how egregious or significant, they invariably miss the point. The issue, it turns out, is never primarily - to take just two areas of potentially illegal administration activity - torture or warrantless surveillance. Though each of them had value and importance to top administration officials, they were nonetheless primarily the means to an end.

This is why the announcement of (and definition of) the 'global war on terror' almost immediately after the September 11 attacks was so important. It was to be a 'war' without end. No one ever attempted to define what 'victory' might actually consist of, though we were assured that the war itself would, like the Cold War, last generations....[snip]

As you push the limits, wherever they may be, to create a situation in which all control rests in your hands, the odds are that you will create an uncontrollable situation as well. From torture to spying, such acts, however contained they may initially appear to be, involve a deep plunge into a dark and perverse pool of human emotions. Torture in particular, but also unlimited forms of surveillance and any other acts which invest individuals secretly with something like the powers of gods, invariably lead to humanity's darkest side.

The permission to commit such acts, once released into the world, mutates and spreads like wildfire from top to bottom in any command structure and across all boundaries. You may start out with a relatively small program of secret imprisonment, torture, spying or whatever, meant to achieve limited goals while establishing certain prerogatives of power, but in no case is the situation likely to remain that way for long.

This was, perhaps, the true genius of the US system as imagined by its founders - the understanding that any form of state power left unchecked in the hands of a single person or group of people was likely to degenerate into despotism (or worse), whatever the initial desires of the individuals involved...."

The Cold War gave rise to the National Security State that led to the excesses of Lyndon Johnson (undeclared war) and Richard Nixon (criminal acts against critics). Even though those excesses were checked in the post-Watergate era, they were not elimiated. The end of the Cold War eliminated the rationale for the national security state only to see it revived for the Global War on Terror. Unlike the Cold War, this war has no end.

So remember that when BushCheney and his apologists talk about the Framers'"original intent", that it is merely a term of convenience and certainly does not extend to executive powers.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Money Talks

CLB at Just Another Cranky Little Blog has a good piece on environmental values at Goldman Sachs. A small ray of hope in an increasingly beleaguered world.


Another American recognizes the reality of the Iraq War.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A New Year

A New Year's perspective, forward or back, is traditional for those of us who commenton events. In that spirit, I can't offer better advice for 2006 than Josh Marshall, who tells us to attack with informed thought and understanding. Nor can I offer a better analysis of what the year has to offer than this Daily Kos diary.

During 2005 I wrote about my core beliefs. Those essays helped me better understand what I believe so that I can write and speak more clearly and precisely about the things that matter to me. I will continue to speak out in 2006.

Many thanks to those of you who read here. I appreciate your support and comments.

Another NeoCon Failure

BushCheney is pulling the plug on Iraqi reconstruction. Major infrastructure remains damaged and unreliable–electricity output and oil production are still below pre-invasion levels despite the fact that 80 percent of our promised $18.2 billion reconstruction is gone. “The US never intended to completely rebuild Iraq,” says the commanding engineer general. “It was supposed to be a jump start.” In 2003 BushCheney promised Iraqis the best infrastructure in the region.

US officials attribute the lack of reconstruction success to the insurgency. They had not anticipated the difficulties of Iraqi resistance; much of the money has been eaten away by security priorities. They don't mention waste, fraud and abuse by overpriced contractors and corrupt officials that's cost several billion dollars. (The former Iraqi defense minister alone stole almost 1$ billion.) Anyone with even a passing understanding and familiarity with Irag history could have seen the insurgency and chaos coming. I did and so did a lot of others. Hell, Saddam Hussein predicted it. But BushCheney and his simple-minded neo-con allies missed it entirely. Ignored it actually, preferring their own fantasyland of version of reality. Oh, yes, the war was also supposed to pay for itself.

Contrast America’s performance with Iraq’s reconstruction after the Gulf War. Mahdi Obeidi reports in The Bomb in My Garden that Iraq restored electricity and energy production to pre-war levels within a year of the war’s end, despite international sanctions. Obeidi, no friend of Saddam Hussein, takes pride in this Iraqi national accomplishment. Perhaps the best perspective is that of an Iraqi merchant.
"It is easy for the Americans to say, 'We are doing reconstruction in Iraq,' and we hear that. But to make us believe it, they should show us where this reconstruction is," said Mustafa Sidqi Murthada, owner of a men's clothing store in Baghdad. "Maybe they are doing this reconstruction for them in the Green Zone. But this is not for the Iraqis."
"Believe me, they are not doing this," he said, "unless they consider rebuilding of their military bases reconstruction."

Promises without performance. That's BushCheney all over.

Juan Cole’s observations on this announcement event are also worth noting.