Saturday, January 14, 2006

From the Sewer Yet Again

The Republican Noise Machine is cranking up against Representative John Murtha (D-PA). You may remember him as the Marine veteran and strong supporter of all things military who challenged BushCheney’s war in Iraq in November 2005 by offering a resolution to withdraw and redeploy American forces. The reaction was swift and immediate. The Republican majority in the House cobbled together a parody of Murtha’s resolution to embarrass the Democrats and attempted to smear Murtha as a “cut and run coward”. It was about as ugly a piece of political theater as I’ve witnessed, complete with derogatory attacks from another Marine who happened to be a long time Republican activist.

Apparently, those attacks weren’t sufficient. Representative Murtha did not wilt and fade. He continues to question BushCheney’s policy in Iraq. As a career Marine, he is particularly damaging and must be silenced. The latest salvo in that campaign is Murtha’s Purple Heart Medals. A conservative web site now claims that those medals are not real–awarded for minor wounds after he pushed the issue. Hell, Murtha wasn’t even evacuated for his wounds; it’s not like he lost a leg or an eye or his balls. Remember, John Kerry? His wounds didn’t count either. In fact, he was just showboating and trying to get out of combat

Coming from a bunch of chickenhawks who never risked their lives for their country, these slime attacks are despicable. It’s not so much that military decorations are questioned. I know from experience that there’s a certain amount of hype and embellishment when it comes to these awards, especially among the career military. But more important than the degree of injury for which a Purple Heart is awarded is the fact that the individual was in harm’s way. Let me repeat that so that you can hear it above the static from the Noise Machine: THEY WERE IN FUCKING HARM’S WAY! They risked their lives for their country even though some, like John Kerry, questioned the policy they were fighting for.

These men served. THAT is the source of their credibility, not how many medals they won or how badly wounded. There’s nothing like combat to clarify one’s understanding of policy. In combat you see that for all the highfalutin speeches, war is simply the brutal dominance of one person over another. Whether a veteran has a chest full of medals or none at all, the point is that he (and more recently, she) experienced the inhuman crucible of combat, that he knows what it is like to kill and destroy and to risk everything. A thoughtful veteran knows that at times there’s no avoiding this horror but is able to weigh these costs against the threats to his nation.

That’s what makes Murtha, so dangerous. Not only does he have the experience that BushCheney so noticeably lacks, he has long supported the US military and is well regarded by them. Now that he no longer supports BushCheney’s war he must be destroyed. And so we have the latest smear campaign. What distresses me most is that the attacks succeed. Look what happened to John Kerry in 2004 and in 2002 to Max Cleland, the triple amputee who was smeared as an ally of Osama bin Laden. Maybe Murtha will be the exception, that Americans finally realize that BushCheney and his minions have neither honor or integrity.

I take a lot of this personally because I am a combat veteran. I have a bunch of medals and will state publicly that they are pretty marginal. My Bronze Star is for service, not valor. My Air Medal is for riding in a helicopter 25 times on combat assaults, not one of which was ever “hot”. (A “safe driving award for being a passenger in a taxi,” according to one skeptical first sergeant.) My RVN Service Medal and my Vietnamese Cross of Galantry are “been there” awards; you get them for setting foot in-country. The only medal I take seriously is my Combat Infantryman’s Badge. That, too, is a “been there” award but “THERE” was actual combat; I walked into the belly of the beast, something most Americans, even most veterans, have never done. I live every day with those memories. I am at once proud and disturbed by that experience, even though it was relatively uneventful as combat goes.

One reason I went was so that I could be a veteran witness against war. Now I see that it means nothing in the present debate. Not when real heroes like John Murtha, John Kerry and Max Cleland are denigrated and disparaged by a bunch of armchair warriors who never risked anything for their country and now claim the warrior’s mantle.

How silly of me. I should have asked my daddy’s friends to get me into the National Guard.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Bring It On

From Hunter at Daily Kos:

A filibuster would be appropriate because even when given many, many opportunities to do so, Judge Alito has made it perfectly clear that he has no intention of denouncing the extremism of his past statements -- only momentarily obfuscating them. That obfuscation may be the best option available to this nominee and his supporters, but it is an insufficient response to his actual, demonstrated judicial record. The nominee may be a Bush supporter; he is also, like other rejected nominees, of insufficient stuff for the highest court in the land.

As Iraqis Stand Up...

America's security legacy in Iraq leaves looting in its wake. Sounds like an inside job, yet another self-serving Iraqi official, this time looting a palace newly returned to Iraqi control. His troops picked the place clean. Not a good omen.

Police first entered the palaces about 20 days after the Americans left, said Maj. Subhi Nadhum, a deputy commander of a police emergency unit in the area. "Iraqi forces were the only forces inside the presidential palaces after the Americans left," Nadhum said. "During those 20 days the deputy governor and members of the governing council were going back and forth" among the army commanders at the palaces.

Hiazza, the provincial police commander, said he started investigating immediately after police first entered the palaces. "I found everything was looted, even the electrical switches," he said.

When Hiazza formally accused Jabara and some members of the provincial council in connection with the alleged looting, authorities abruptly transferred Hiazza north to Baiji, an insurgent hotbed. "The reason they transferred me is definitely I will get killed there," Hiazza said. He resigned instead.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Final Word on Alito

georgia10 sums up Samuel Alito:
"...The burden, from the start, was on Alito to counter his record as a idealogue. Alito walked into that hearing room saddled with a record as one of the most pro-government Republican judges in the nation. He walked into that room with his objective memorialized in black and white: overturning Roe. He walked into that room already having established his contempt for our system of checks and balances.

The burden was on him to explain his record. And he didn't. Because there's no explaining away the fact that he believes the government can do whatever the hell it wants when it comes to stripping of our rights. To succeed in these hearings, Alito had to counter record, and he didn't....[snip]

Three days of mind-numbing testimony and all I get is this: Alito is simply not credible. There is a impassable canyon between the old Alito--who was undoubtly an extreme conservative bent on restricting individual liberties--and this brand spankin' new Alito whose views were dipped in bleach and sterilized for public consumption. There is a uneasiness in his constantly shifting explanations and his inconsistent application of his "judicial philosophy." Alito had a chance to embrace his record; instead, he shrank from it. If Alito is indeed confirmed, the question becomes which Alito do we get on the Supreme Court?"

Shoot First, Pacify Later

This (pdf document) via Juan Cole explains why Iraq is such a mess.

12 January 1971

On this day thirty-five years ago, I made my first combat assault in Vietnam as an infantry riflemen. My company flew out from Firebase Silver somewhere in the Jungle and dropped into the jungle somewhere else. We were pursuing the 320-somethingth brigade or battalion. What really stuck in my mind was knowing they were North Vietnamese regulars and had heavy weapons. “Oh my fucking god. I am in the shit now.” would pretty much sum up my feelings at that moment.

My pack was ungodly heavy, the day was hot and I was scared shitlless. We flew in Hueys, the workhorse helicopter of the Vietnam War, high above the green canopy where the air was cool. The ride was jarring. The chopper shuddered under its big rotor; screaming turbines created a chaos that pieced my brain. I sat on the floor, as far away from the open doors where the more experienced troops sat. Outside of this fragile machine was the void, waiting to swallow me. I wanted no part of it. I held on tight.

As luck would have it, we landed with no opposition. I didn’t have to dodge bullets and rockets or worry about accidently becoming the electrical ground between a hovering chopper and the earth. When the final chopper left, the jungle was quiet. Not entirely–75 or so Americans loaded with equipment (not to mention saddled with 12 to 15 “newbies”, or "fucking new guys" to the vets)create some commotion. But without the engine noise, the slap of those big rotors or the commotion of soldiers scrambling for the tree line, the land felt calm.

I was still scared shitless. I was also still alive.

Chain of Command

In the military, someone is always responsible. It’s called chain of command. Chain of command fixes responsibility for carrying out orders and it runs all the way to the commander-in-chief. Commanders may debate the clarity or precision of those orders and may execute them poorly. Those are points for debate. But responsibility in a chain of command is almost always clear, fixed by the organization and the individual’s place in that order.

Despite the fixed nature of responsibility in the military, it rarely extends too far up the chain for the more egregious acts committed by American forces. During Vietnam only three officers faced charges for killing 500 civilians at My Lai Massacre; only the lieutenant was convicted. Abu Ghraib has only netted a few low ranking soldiers who have been convicted of abuse. The general commanding the prison lost a star and and a couple of soldiers are on trial for threatening detainees with dogs. That’s about it.

That’s why I was pleased to read that the general responsible for introducing much of the “harsh interrogation methods” at Abu-Ghraib took The Fifth yesterday.

“Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, a central figure in the U.S. detainee-abuse scandal, this week invoked his right not to incriminate himself in court-martial proceedings against two soldiers accused of using dogs to intimidate captives at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, according to lawyers involved in the case...[snip]

Miller's decision came shortly after Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, accepted immunity from prosecution this week and was ordered to testify at upcoming courts-martial. Pappas, a military intelligence officer, could be asked to detail high-level policies relating to the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib....[snip]

Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington expert in military law, said that Miller's decision is ‘consistent with his being concerned that he may have some exposure to worry about.’ Fidell added: ‘It's very unusual for senior officers to invoke their Article 31 rights. The culture in the military tends to encourage cooperation rather than the opposite’...."

Abu-Ghraib is more than a few out of control enlisted men. Officers were responsible for that facility. They are fully accountable for what took place on their watch. I applaud General Miller for recognizing that his actions may have created a liability on his part. That is a first step toward acknowledging responsibility.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Quote of the (insert appropriate time period here)

From Swopa at Needlenose:

Somewhere, Orwell is kicking himself for having understated his case.

Continued Service

One hopeful sign in these dark times is Fighting Dems, military veterans running for office as Democrats. Nearly every one of 14 veterans running for Congress in 2006 are Democrats. That tells me that even BushCheney's military, the working part of it, the ones who take the casualties, recognize how the Iraq war has damaged America and the Armed Forces.

I am pleased to see these veterans continuing to offer their service to America. The strength and judgement they brought to their military duties will surely benefit this nation. With that experience will come, I hope, good judgment.

And I do wish them well in removing Republicans from office. That, too, will do this nation great good.

Update: Today's Fighting Dem post at Daily Kos says 31 Democratic veterans are running against Republicans for Congress. Even better.

Bork Lite

Glenn Greenwald cogently tells whey Samuel Alito is not acceptable as a Supreme Court Justice. He is Robert Bork without the nasty arrogance.

Thanks to Armando at Daily Kos for the tip.

Inspired Silliness

The other night I participated in a birthday bash for Jim Kloss in Talkeetna, Alaska. Jim celebrated in a small but dedicated group of musicians and music fans as the founder of Whole Wheat Radio, an internet radio station that plays an amazing variety of independent music not heard in most places, certainly not in Phoenix, Arizona.

Jim, known to wheatheads as Jimbob, turned 50 on January 8. About 80 people around the US, one in Tokyo and a few in the UK listened to a live broadcast that was often chaotic, not at all scripted and lots of fun. Forty or so people, including me, participated in a live chat with Jim, his partner, Esther and each other. We offered comments, posted photographs and drawings and called in phone messages (known as wheatgrams) to thank this strange man who has created a most amazing space. Esther wrote a moving tribute to the man she met while hiking the Appalachian Trail 16 years ago. It was a lot of fun. J-Walk has a couple of posts about the event on his blog. One is a collage of photos. The second is one of many photos posted to the Whole Wheat site during the event.

Whole Wheat Radio is a godsend for me.It is one place where I can hear the music I want to hear. I can also link to the artists’ web sites, find lyrics and buy their work. Jim and Esther also host "in-house concerts" with musicians touring the area. These are informal events held in the Wheathole constructed next to the 12'x 12' plywood shack that is jim and Esther's home where Whole Wheat Radio was born. Thanks, Jim and Esther, for giving me and other music lovers this opportunity.

Check it out at

More Casualties

This time it's the uncle. And America's reputation. One more "victory" for Hearts and Minds.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Legal Gambling

Confirming a justice to the Supreme Court is a crapshoot with serious consequences. Senators can question and all of us can parse a nominee’s background and record but if a qualified candidate, widely regarded as a nice guy, says “Yes, I believe in the rule of law.” how can I say he won’t be a good justice? Samuel Alito may become a justice whose legacy will be greater than his conservative advocacy now suggests. Or he could be another Clarence Thomas, who acknowledged a right to privacy during confirmation hearings and has ruled against that right as a justice. Alito has the intellect and experience to be a good justice but I question that he is the right person to fill Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat.

A great justice will protect the civil liberties and rights of all Americans. Someone who recognizes that the US was designed to restrain the executive that had all too much potential (and history) for usurping power. O’Connor played this role when she wrote that “...war is not a blank check for executive power.” Nothing in Alito’s record suggests that he would ever write such words. O’Connor balanced conservative ideals and action to protect rights inherent in the US Constitution; she skeptically reviewed assertions of public authority over individual actions but recognized also that in some cases, evidence and law supported those assertions. Alito, in contrast, has accepted assertions easily. O’Connor was pragmatic and independent. Alito has been pragmatic in the service of his Federalist Society ideals. Ideals which he and his supporters say do not fully reflect his beliefs..

The disavowals trouble me. Why should I believe them? What do the disavowals say about the man or the depths of his beliefs? No, I will take Alito on his record, the words he wrote as a lawyer and a judge. He IS a conservative activist who has performed as appropriate to his opportunities. In the Reagan-Meese Justice Department he wrote memos for his clients. As a circuit judge, he has defrerred to the executive over Congress repeatedly. So don’t go telling me he didn’t believe the ideas he has supported for three decades. He WILL be a conservative justice.

But so was O’Connor. The question now is whether or not this crusader can look beyond his ideology and preferences to the law and legal tradition. Can Alito become another O’Connor? More like another Rehnquist, I think.

Like I said, it’s a crapshoot. But when a qualified, experienced professional says he will respect the law, when is it reasonable to say you don’t believe him. When you can make the case, that’s when. Michael at AMERICAblog makes a strong case against Alito. If the Democratic party is to mean anything to the future of this country, the Democrats must also make that case.

Monday, January 09, 2006

On Saving Democracy

georgia10 calls for principled Democratic opposition to BushCheney at Daily Kos:

“Democrats can either surrender this government to a party which seeks to destroy it, or we can take Lincoln's advice and play our available cards. To those who say filibusters--judicial, patriot act, etc--are too politically costly, I say that failure to filibuster is conceding that this nation isn't worth fighting for. Instead of worrying that we will be labeled "obstructionist," I say we filibuster Alito, filibuster the Patriot Act, filibuster time and time again until this crazy government comes to a screeching halt. Enough is enough. The list of scandals is overshadowed only by the list of names of the 2,190 whose deaths have yet to be honored by this administration.... [snip]

As Lincoln noted, our nation will never be destroyed from the outside. We are the world's greatest military power. No terrorist or rogue nation will ever be able to destroy us. Not with hijacked planes or nukes or cavalries. No, if we are to be destroyed, it will be from within--because we destroyed ourselves. It will be because we, as a party, were too afraid, too complacent to stand up as the Constitution is being pried from our clenching hands.... [snip]

Now is the time for courage. Now is the time for our party to realize the enormous task before us: saving this government. If we embrace that theme, we will once again know victory. And that victory will not just be defined by how many congressmen have a "D" after their name. It will be defined, ultimately, by restoring America to the nation it once was: a nation with a government for the people, by the people, and the greatest country on earth.”

More Iraq News

Dahr Jamail reports the rest of the news from Iraq.

Day of the Justice

Samuel Alito should not be confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court. He will be a conservative activist, limiting and restricting personal liberties and slavishly deferring to a president who acknowledges no limits on his power. Samuel Alito will support the unchecked presidential power and limit Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government.

Alito is all the more dangerous because he is so qualified. His background and experience are everything I could ask in a Supreme Court justice: education, prior service as a prosecutor and judge, intellectually curious and pragmatic. He can write. No doubt, a Justice Alito would be an intellectual force on the Court.

Not a force that a civil libertarian and believer in Constitutional government would welcome. I sure don’t. Jonathan Schell writes in The Nation about the dangers of dictatorship in much of BuschCheney’s unprecedented assertion of the right to executive action without review or limit. A Justice Alito will do nothing to protect America’s history as a government of laws, not men.

The Washington Post profiles Alito today. Samuel Alito comes across as an intelligent, pleasant individual who has performed capably in a variety of public positions. He also comes across as a legacy of Edwin Meese, who sought to propagate Reagan’s legacy by appointing conservative judges. But for my reservations about his beliefs, I can easily see Alito as a good addition to the Court.

Perhaps Samuel Alito can establish his credibility as a judge to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Perhaps.... He has a record as a conservative activist; as a judge he has supported governmental authority at the expense of civil liberties. Disavowing long held beliefs and former actions don’t enhance Alito’s credibility in my book. He should tell us who he is, what he believes and how he interprets the tConstitution, separation of powers, law and precedent. Then Senators can fairly judge him. I think Alito should be rejected. He is not the justice that this Court needs to protect Americans from unbridled

The Democratic minority and thoughtful Republican senators have a solemn obligation to fully explore Samuel Alito’s record and background. In doing so, they will be able to show why he will not protect Constitutional government in this country. Reason enough to filibuster.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Support Our Troops

Everyone, left and right, supports The Troops. Our brave men and women putting their lives on line for their country. Some may question the mission but NEVER the troops. Nope. They are sacrosanct. We'll have no spitting in this war.

But that support does not always translate into meaningful action. The recent reports that failure to provide adequate body armor has increased fatalitieis makes me wonder about that support.

Support is questionable when the Transportation Security Agency seeks to identify veterans with Post Tramatic Stress Disorder as "mental defectives" to be placed on the No Fly List.

Maybe those little magnets and bumber stickers are really all there is.