Friday, June 30, 2006

The Court, the People, and the President

“Where, as here, no emergency prevents consultation with Congress…”

Just this much of Justice Stephen Breyer’s concurring opinion in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld serves to reassert and restore the Constitution of the United States to its rightful place as the embodiment of the idea that a just society rests on the rule of law, not the rule of men.

By a majority of 5-3 (Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself as he had been a member of a three-judge U.S. Circuit Court panel that had ruled on the case in July 2005), the Supreme Court effectively ruled that the president cannot decree the existence of a state of war – especially a perpetual state of war as George Bush did in 2001 – and on this basis claim the authority to indefinitely suspend or restrict freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.

Legal analysts and constitutional lawyers agree that the ruling does not restrict the president from acting in the event of detecting an imminent threat of an armed attack on the U.S. or in the immediate aftermath of an attack. What the majority of the Court would not countenance is the idea that the president could declare perpetual war and, on this basis, govern not as a co-equal branch but as the preponderant branch with few, if any, checks and balances on his actions. According to the Court, “consultation does not weaken our Nation’s ability to deal with danger… [it] strengthens the Nation’s ability to determine – through democratic means – how best to do so.”

The Court’s decision leaves open the option for Bush to propose and for Congress to approve a procedural regimen similar to the courts-martial procedures specified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice governing investigations and trials of uniformed military personnel. In no small measure, this option was rejected in 2001 because the U.S. government – usually embodied by Central Intelligence Agency field operatives – had minimum information and accompanying evidence about the “enemy combatants” incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. In some cases, “evidence” was one person’s accusation against the denials of the prisoner, with apparently little attempt to discern the truth.

The Court’s decision also serves to highlight the inappropriateness of the administration’s long-term response to the challenge of terror. The United States is the only western country that has assumed a war footing in response to terror attacks on the “homeland” or to investigate potential threats. The attacks on rail lines and buses in Spain and Britain were treated as violations of law and responded to by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, not by deploying military forces to transportation hubs or creating a new “homeland military command.” Surveillance of individuals and groups suspected of planning acts of terror – and their apprehension – were police operations in Germany, Britain, and Canada.

In a phrase, the Court reminded the president that he might be commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but he is not commander-in-chief of the nation.

What awaits a future challenge is the administration’s claim that the president can hold indefinitely without trial those accused of committing acts of terror. Also left open is whether men who were seized on the field of battle in Afghanistan or in Iraq in the course of opposing U.S. or Afghan or Iraqi armed forces could claim full protection as prisoners-of-war under the Geneva Conventions . (The Court did affirm the relevance of Common Article 3 of the Conventions that guarantees trials conducted in accordance with universally recognized, “indispensable” judicial protections.)

Also to be deciphered yet is the extent to which the Court’s ruling serves to rein in the administration’s use of administrative rulings to circumvent Congress, the legal status of presidential “signing statements” to signal when and to what extent the executive intends to ignore provisions of laws passed by Congress, and the concepts of “inherent” presidential powers and the “unitary” presidency.

In the 18th century, colonists objected to George III’s “right” as commander-in-chief of Britain’s armed forces, to impose (via acts of parliament or royal decree) on the colonies a “war” tax, require the colonies to garrison and supply British troops, and participate in military forays that, at the time, seemed like continuous warfare.

When it was over, 2,500,000 people in 13 British colonies in North America had gained independence from an imperial monarchy.

With yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court, nearly 300,000,000 people in the United States regained their independence from an imperil presidency.

Now it is up to the people not to lose it again.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Messenger Does Matter

The numbers seemed impressive – and irresistible:

Sydney Australia registered more than 100,000 to start things off. Paris matched that, with Amsterdam claiming 70,000. The larger European countries turned out more. Barcelona, and Berlin each rallied more than 500,000, Madrid hit 660,000, London came in with 750,000 while Rome police said a cool million turned out to protest George Bush’s drive toward war in Iraq.

Other northern European capitols, wrapped in the bitter cold of February 2003, mustered a few thousand for anti-war rallies. Across the Atlantic in the U.S., Washington and San Francisco were said to have had the largest gatherings. Organizers in New York said 500,000 attended that city’s protest while in Los Angeles they said 100,000 came.

Still, a month later, war came, courtesy of the three B’s – Bush, Blair, and (rhetorically) Berlusconi – aided by Australia under Prime Minister John Howard, Poland under Prime Minister Leszek Miller, and (rhetorically) Spain under Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

There have been protests since, but the numbers attending have been lower. At the same time, various anti-war groups have become more adept at using technology to communicate among themselves and with grassroots and “grasstops” (activists) across the country and internationally. While the technology of the Internet, instant messaging, Ipods, Blackberries and – for all I know – Blueberries has made disseminating information as content (the message) easier, it may well have created the perception that the bearer of the content (the messenger) has become irrelevant. Or if not irrelevant, that volumes of electric messages on the same subject to the same electronic address is as effective as the presence of an assemblage of living, breathing, humans outside the official residences of political leaders.

In the technologically developed world, modern warfare seemed to be on a technological path that eventually might see the end of direct warrior-o-warrior contact. For air forces and naval forces, this indeed is the future as stand-off ranges for missiles extend further and further. But as Iraq has proven, wars are won or lost in the end by the presence of living, breathing people.

Perhaps the anti-war movement needs to look at itself again – both for its message and at the choice of the messenger.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Costly Earmarks -- Congressionally Speaking

On June 20, just before the introduction of Representative Hinchey’s proposal requiring the president to obtain Congress’ authorization before launching a preventive military adventure against Iran, the House of Representatives’ floor managers called up an amendment dealing with reforming “earmarks.

In anatomy, earmarks might be a term used for the number and placement of decorative studs on the ear – particularly in the lobe. Or it could refer to the shape of the lobes or the distance of the top of the ear from the head. If the ear is ill formed, the shape might be a contributing factor in restricting the ability to hear sounds.

In politics, earmarks are those special projects that a Member of Congress gets into a “must-pass bill.” According to the Congressional Record, during the debate on amendments aimed at controlling this process, Representative Jack Kingston (GA-1) revealed that in the last few years, the number of individual projects for which House members asked for funding has been 35,000. Appropriators for Labor-Health and Human Services alone were inundated by 10, 272 funding requests from 417 members – virtually 25 projects on average per Member. (One must wonder what happened to the other 18 House Members.)

Kingston then summarizes the decreased funding in eight pending pieces of legislation for FY2007:

Bill House version Conference agreement

Agriculture $35m below 2006 $277m below 2006

Defense $1B below 2006 $2.7B below 2006

Energy/Water $197m below '06 Not given

Interior $89m below '06 Not given

Military quality
of Life $40m below '06 $804m below '06

Labor-Health &
Human Services $100m below '06 Not given

Treasury-Housing $2.1B below '06 Not given

Justice $1.3B below '06 Not given

*Total FY06 funding, mostly for transportation projects, was $986 billion – yes billion.

Given the deficits of recent years, one can hardly argue with ending programs no longer needed or stopping programs that never were needed – except to insulate incumbents for re-election. But some cuts, if better publicized, would perhaps be considered harmful to society. Moreover, Members might actually learn what a specific program entails; Kingston admitted he didn’t know what the “Asia-Pacific Partnership” was.

Unfortunately, he seemed disinclined to find out.

Kingston helped here by numbering and then naming the programs terminated. Some that seem questionable are:
Bill # Ended and Name
Dollars Saved

Agriculture 8 $414m Child nutrition
contingency reserve fund

Energy-Water 3 $411m Geothermal R&D

Foreign Opns 4 $286m Conflict Response Fund
Congo Debt Relief
Africa Housing Facility
Asia-Pacific Partnership

Homeland Security 6 $154m Coast Guard Fast
Response cutter

Interior 4 $54m Bureau Land Manage-
ment rural fire program
Asia-Pacific Partnership

Labor-Health &
Human Services-
Education 56 $1.66B Math Now for elementary
and middle schools
Center for Disease Control
Pandemic flu base activity
CDC Bulk Monovalent
Early Learning Fund

Science-State- 8 $96m Public TV Facilities
Justice planning & construction

Treasury-HUD 6 $742m Housing Counseling

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Amnesty in Iraq?

This coming week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is expected to unveil a 28-point plan to jump-start the process of forgetting and reconciling that will be an integral part of any plan to end the carnage that – for the past 39 months – has been a daily fact of life for Iraqis.

Al-Maliki will reportedly offer full participation in the political process and amnesty for those Iraqis who end their rebellion. He will provide a timetable for the departure of all foreign troops and the end of coalition operations against rebel centers of resistance such as Anbar province.

Separating Iraqi civilians from coalition forces should significantly reduce human rights violations by cutting the frequency of the encounters between civilians and all the armed factions and armies. In addition, victims of attacks from any quarter will be offered recompense. And, while financial recompense will be afforded those summarily dismissed from government or the Iraqi army in 2003, the new government will pledge to crackdown on militias and death squads.

The most controversial element from the standpoint of the White House and Congress is the “general amnesty to release all the prisoners who were not involved in the shedding of innocent Iraqis’ blood.”

Undoubtedly there will be outrage in some circles to any suggestion that those who have attacked or wounded U.S. troops – let alone killed or mutilated U.S. service members – will not be, at least, called upon to confess their actions before being pardoned. For many who have lost loved ones in this war, amnesty by the Iraqi government may add to their sense of loss and to question whether their dead have died in vain.

History, culture, and tradition combine to chart the broad course of a nation’s existence. That is why there can be different solutions to ostensibly similar circumstances. One can only hope that al-Maliki’s proposals – taken as a whole – will achieve the short-term goal of ending the killing.

For the long-term, should politicians make time to study the expected proposals and their application and results, Iraq might well constitute a case study – and warning – that, in going to war, one can never be absolutely confident in calculating the costs of “victory.” And the reason for this is, quite simply, because of the variables of history, culture, and tradition that an outsider can never completely comprehend.

All of which is to say that East is East and West is West, and when they meet there must be respect, restraint, and regard for differences as each seeks reconciliation with others. The administration must allow Iraqis to deal with the questions and issues of national reconciliation that are before them, for this is the only way forward to an emerging, stable Iraq. U.S. attempts to “guide” the Iraqis can only complicate the process, thereby prolonging the U.S. presence and perpetuating the killing and destruction.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Remember the OAS?

As if the precarious state of UN financing were not reason enough to concentrate the minds of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her closest advisors on wrestling Congress to the mat to get full funding for UN dues, peacekeeping assessments, and contributions to international agencies.

Earlier this month at the 36th meeting of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), the OAS Secretary-General told the delegates that the organization’s finances were falling into disarray. The problem arose because assessments have been frozen at the same level for years, capping revenue, while new operational mandates and financial obligations (e.g., staff salaries) have increased budget outlays. In fact, some special projects rely on OAS observer nations for financing. For example, at this year’s OAS meeting, Italy pledged a further $355,000 for mine clearance action in Central America, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. Italy’s multi-year commitment stands at $1.4 million.)

Twenty-two Foreign Ministers attended out of a possible 34 countries in the OAS. Secretary of State Rice did not attend; Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick went instead. As I understand it, he is leaving the State Department for private life. Did the rest of the OAS representatives know?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Support the troops

More than once during last week’s stinging rhetorical exchanges about Iraq and Afghanistan in both the House and Senate were these three words hurled – one could almost say “fired” – like weapons across the proverbial partisan aisle.

Considering the frequency and almost reverential tone in which it is invoked, “support the troops” is a curiously ill-defined phrase. It seems to arise, like the phoenix from the self-immolating fire, from the ashes of failed policy – in this case wars that unexpectedly last longer than the politicians who committed U.S. lives, treasure, and prestige thought the shooting and the dying would continue.

The underlying psychology of those who insist that others “support the troops” is the hope that the country “will win” if the public would only give the administration in power a little more time, a little more money, and a little more unity. The implication –falsely drawn – is that anyone who breaks ranks by raising objections to the funding, the fighting, or even suggests forward planning to end involvement of armed forces is “providing aid and comfort to the enemy.” And under President Bush’s division of the world into those “with us or against us,” anyone who objects to the conduct of events falls under suspicion of being in the “against “camp.

Concealed under the shrill pleas for more time, resources, and unity is a fourth, largely unvoiced condition that the public is asked to accept or – more minimally – to quietly condone. This is to acquiesce in more lives lost, more blood spilled, more pain and suffering endured by those who are sent to do the fighting.

One wonders: were the public ever to have laid out explicitly all the elements that are subsumed by “support the troops,” would it make any difference?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fantasy Land

Somehow, somewhere, politics became theater, a fantasy land where anything – even contradictions – can happen, and frequently do.

This is far from an original observation. That admitted, I will not burden the reader with historical attributions or quote the comedians, whose number undoubtedly is legion, who have used the same idea in their routines.

What brought this equivalency to mind was a snippet of news that Elvis Presley, despite dying in 1987, earned $52 million last year. Or more accurately, I suppose, his estate earned $52 million. The comedian might easily work this around into some old chestnut that warns against spending it all in one place – or use the King’s demise of long ago to turn the trite into something original about having no choice but to spend it all in one place.

So how do I get to politics? Well, I have been watching and listening, albeit still intermittently, to more of what Congress has been about these last few days. For what they have been about principally is spending taxpayer dollars. Most of the money is headed for the Department of Defense, particularly for Iraq and with lesser amounts for Afghanistan and the general “war on terror.”

Congress likes to think of itself as the world’s greatest deliberative body. But I think that June 15 must have been the highest (most extreme) collective low point in the tone and tenor and conduct of many members in both parties in both chambers. Much of the day (indeed the week) was conducted at the level of what – with apologies to Disney – used to be called “Mickey Mouse. ” But since the main topic was Iraq and spending, it was expensive Mickey Mouse.

As an example, both chambers passed amendments to the 2006 emergency supplemental appropriations bill that said the U.S. would not build permanent bases in Iraq. When the joint committee met to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the legislation, the conferees dropped the amendment – even though each House had approved it. But – and this gets to the contradictions– on June 15, when the House appropriations committee reported out the 2007 Defense appropriations bill, there was in essence the same language barring U.S. bases in Iraq. And word is that a “no permanent bases” amendment will be offered in the Senate when that body resumes deliberating the Defense authorization bill.

The House also set aside 11 hours – one extended day of the 97 legislative days in all of calendar 2006 – for what was advertised as a “debate” on Iraq. But when the Republican-drafted resolution that served as the vehicle for moving the discussion forward was introduced, the rules governing the proceedings prohibited Members from offering amendments and conflated the war in Iraq with the war on terror and the war in Afghanistan. Any hope that the U.S. public (and the Iraqi public) would benefit from the day’s discourse disappeared. There was neither discourse nor debate, only discord.

Back in the Senate, John Kerry finally agreed not to offer an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that called for the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by December 31, 2006, except for trainers and necessary support personal (and undoubtedly the Pentagon would want “force protection” assets). When it became known that Kerry would not offer his amendment, the Republicans quickly submitted their own amendment that was a carbon copy of what Kerry had been ready to propose. A parliamentary ploy to “table” (postpone indefinitely) the amendment was put forward followed by speakers for and against the motion giving their views – including references by the Republicans to the amendment being discussed s “the Kerry amendment.” The motion to table was agreed 93-6.

Another extreme low point

To be fair, perhaps not all elected legislators know that the meaning of “tabling a motion” in the U.S. is the opposite of its meaning in Britain?

Can Congress find another day among their 97 to get beyond slogans and do what ordinary Iraqis want and what one Iraqi vice-president told President Bush is most needed in Iraq: a timetable to end the occupation?

Probably not.

And Congress wonders why it rates so poorly in the polls.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

2,500 U.S.Dead in Iraq

June 15 U.S. military fatalities hit 2,500 .

The interval between each 500 dead remained the same as the last interval. Cumulatively, these are:

First Death March 21, 2003
9 ½ months
500th Death January 8, 2004
8 months
1,000th Death September 6, 2004
6 months
1,500th Death March 2, 2005
7 months 3 weeks
2,000th Death October 23, 2005
7 months 3 weeks
2,500th Death June 14, 2006

Did anyone in Congress or the White House even notice?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Maliki or Bush -- Who is in charge?

First there was the flurry and the restrained self-satisfaction in the White House over the air strike that killed Abu Masab al-Zarqawi.

President Bush at Camp David with the visiting Danish Foreign Minister said to reporters: ”I’ve told the American people I’d like to get our troops out as soon as possible. But the definition of ‘as soon as possible,’ is depending upon victory in Iraq ... and victory in Iraq is a country that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself. “I do not want the American people to think that a war is won with the death of one person.”

Not necessarily the case. One very important instance occurred on October 14, 1066 when, at the Battle of Hastings, the English (Anglo-Saxons) army opposing the Normans disintegrated when King Harold was killed on the battlefield.

Regardless, one wonders whether Bush’s “as soon as possible” bears any resemblance to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s. The Prime Minister has expressed confidence that Iraqi forces can take over security in 16 of Iraq’s 18 provinces (Baghdad and Anbar excepted) by the end of this year and in all of Iraq by the end of 2007.

Bush’s formula fails because it continues to conflate military victory with a political resolution. As long as coalition military forces remain in Iraq, the Iraqi government will not be truly sovereign and self-governing. The departure of coalition troops first from the cities to the borders and then from the country will also advance the prospects for reintegrating those Iraqis engaged in “nationalistic” anti-occupation fighting. In turn, improved security can only reinforce the prospects for positive discussions on amending the constitution – again a political, not a military – outcome.

Taken together, these two avenues, advanced on the timetable described by Maliki, ought to provide enough assurance that donor countries will finally begin to honor their pledges of economic support, which – in a cascading effect – should give more confidence to private investors, triggering the economic growth by which Iraq can sustain itself.

There are many conditionals – shoulds, mights, oughts – in this scenario. But for the U.S. to retain 10,000-20,000 troops in Iraq for the next ten years, as some in the administration are suggesting, would transmute these positive possibilities into costly and negative actualities.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Of Twilight, Stealth, and Shadows in the Night

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s aim in Iraq was to drive the U.S.-led military coalition out of the country. In 2005, he called on Iraqi Sunnis to attack and kill Iraqi Shi’ites – “all-out war.” Experts analyzing the war in Iraq saw any number of reasons for this appeal to sectarian violence: historical enmity; restoration of the Sunni minority (a.k.a. al-Zarqawi) to power in an oil-rich nation; punishment of Iraqi Shi’ites for cooperating with the coalition authorities; curb the growing Iranian (Shi’ite) influence in southern Iraq.

Which of these, or which combination, is valid makes little difference now. Al-Zarqawi is dead, killed in a twilight air raid – a strike out of the blue. His demise may remove what had become a very unwanted complication for those Iraqi insurgents whose objective is to dislodge the U.S.-led occupation and who have little use for foreigners indiscriminately targeting Iraqis as well as coalition soldiers. I say “may” because it is still unclear who will emerge from the shadows to succeed al-Zarqawi and whether that individual will continue or abrogate ties to al-Qaeda. The “leading” candidate to take over is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who was active in Iraq before al-Zarqawi came.

Meanwhile, Congress handed the “nationalistic” insurgents what amounts to a validation – perhaps vindication is more appropriate – of one of, if not THE, reason for continuing their battle against western military occupation. During its June 8 conference committee session to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the 2006 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill for the Afghan and Iraq wars and post-Katrina rebuilding, the conferees removed a provision that prohibited the use of any funds appropriated by the legislation for establishing permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. This “stealth” vote by the conferees comes despite the fact that a majority in each chamber had voted to restrict the use of funds for building or making any arrangements to build permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.

Reportedly, the committee vote was along party lines. The deaths in Iraq will not be.

In sum: a death at twilight; a successor only now emerging from the shadows; a stealth vote killing legislative language that, by refuting the allegation that the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq to establish permanent bases and control Iraq’s “black gold,” could have further fractured the insurgency, buying time and reducing the number of battles with their inevitable death and destruction.

Instead, the perception is that U.S. military forces intend to stay indefinitely in a land whose people historically have fought and won against foreign occupation. Until this perception of a permanent U.S. presence is definitively refuted, the number of the dead – the “shades” and “shadows” of old, will continue to rise.

One can hear, echoing, Xerxes’ lament after Salamis (Aeschylus, “The Persians”):
“Thousands on thousands.
The numbers of the dead are awesome.
The mind reels at the magnificence of our destruction.”

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Military Kills Al-Zarqawi; Political Scene Filling In; Time for U.S. Focus on Exit

The news that Abu Masab al-Zarqawi and six aides and advisors were killed by a U.S. air strike yesterday afternoon (Washington time) is being hailed by some – again – as a “turning point” in the Iraq war.

By itself, al-Zarqawi’s demise does not directly affect the politics of Iraq. Nor does it guarantee any major shift in the intensity of the insurgency and the daily tally of fatalities. This is, of course, one possibility. But other factors, largely unpredictable, might well come into play.

One unknown is the impact on Iraqis who had joined al-Zarqawi of the latter’s recent video and audio tapes calling on Iraqi Sunnis to kill Iraqi Shi’ites even before attacking U.S. and coalition troops. As a Jordanian, al-Zarqawi was an outsider in Iraq. He was accepted because his opposition to the occupation coincided with the objectives of those nationalistic Iraqis who were fighting to rid their country of the invaders. But his call for civil war may have so undercut whatever support he had among Sunnis that he compromised a key tenet of insurgent warfare.

If al-Zarqawi had alienated Iraqis, the question becomes whether – if at all – the leadership of al-Qaeda-in-Iraq will be passed to another or the organization simply wither without its founder.

It is possible that al-Zarqawi will be seen as a martyr and thus become a new anti-U.S. rallying point for others, possibly even within (or infiltrating into) Iraq. However, because he was not fighting within his own country, he may leave no legacy. In this regard, one need only recall the Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was killed in Bolivia in 1967 as he tried to organize a resistance movement. Che today is celebrated as a cultural icon of revolution as romance but not revolution in practice.

Among the earliest indicators as to the effect of al-Zarqawi’s death on events in Iraq could be the number of fatalities, particularly sectarian-based fatalities. The BBC notes that in the first five months of 2006, the Baghdad morgue has received 6,000 bodies, most with evidence of violence as the cause of death. May, with 1,398, was the worst month, and many officials believe that the actual count is much higher.

Another possible factor in how events play out in Iraq is the announcement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that the Council of Representatives confirmed his selection of the Minister of Defense (a Sunni) and Minister of Interior (a Shi’ite). These appointments complete the “unity” cabinet after nearly seven months since the December 15, 2005 elections. Assignment of these ministerial portfolios should, in turn, allow the government and parliament to turn to the task that will make or break the “new” Iraq: discussions to amend the Iraqi constitution as was promised to the Sunni minority.

As might be expected, U.S. authorities are pleased with yesterday’s events. But all should remember that the death of al-Zarqawi does not address the underlying problems in Iraq or provide the political solutions Iraq requires.

Just two days ago, U.S. media carried the following lead paragraph:

“Military commanders in the field in Iraq admit in private
reports to the Pentagon the war "is lost" and that the U.S.
military is unable to stem the mounting violence killing
1,000 Iraqi civilians a month.”

That is a long way of saying that “war is not the answer.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Some Rides ARE Free

The contrast could hardly have been starker.

“Congressional aides took $30 million in trips paid for by private groups from 2000 to mid-2005.”

That sum, according to The New York Times (June 7), is 60% of the combined cost ($50 million) of these “free” junkets by Members of Congress and their staffs for this period.

The paper cited a just completed in-depth study by the Center for Public Integrity at Northwestern University and the American Public Media program which found that:

-- 90 trips were paid for by lobbyists – which is illegal;

-- 500 trips cost at least $10,000, and 16 were more than $25,000;

-- $20 million of the $50 million went for travel overseas.

And where did most of those “tripping” end up?

-- The City of Light (Paris – France, not Texas) 200 trips and counting. Perhaps there has been a need to discuss France’s opposition to the Iraq invasion, World Trade Organization findings in trade disputes, and how France is coping with its large North African Islamic population.

-- Hawaii, 150 jogs. I’m not sure what’s so unique and critical to learn that could not as easily be seen or briefed closer to Washington, DC). If these destinations had been Guam, which is to become the home port for a beefed-up USN forward presence, they might make more sense.

-- Italy, 140 trips. My favorite. The Times article does not single out any city – e.g., Naples, home of the USN European headquarters and right next to the Isle of Capri – as a destination. One can never see too much or learn too much in Italy.

The contrasting pictures are not in the Times or The Washington Post or any newspaper – at least not that I have found – but in emails.

-- On June 6th, Diana Cardon arrived at the Capitol in Washington DC. She had walked the roughly 600 miles from Walterborough, South Carolina to get the attention of and encourage ordinary citizens to contact their representatives in the Congress to act to end the war in Iraq.

-- Meanwhile, Marshall Massey, of Omaha, Nebraska, set out on May 13th to traverse the 1,150 miles from that city on the Missouri to Harrisonburg, Virginia. He has traversed Iowa and is across the Mississippi and at Monmouth, Illinois. His timetable puts him at his destination by July 31st, the last day of this year’s annual gathering of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He plans to meet with the various communities of Friends as he travels east to find common ground for dealing with ecological matters.

The theme of bringing peace to the earth and to humankind reminds me of something you can find, with minimal travel, in The Washington Post on-line for June 3rd – still free if you act quickly – or in the newspaper if you still have it or your local library subscribes (hence the minimal travel).

With a now-much faded sign reading “Wanted: Wisdom and Honesty,” for 25 years (June 3, 1981) William Thomas and (almost as long) Concepcion Picciotto have kept a vigil for peace in Lafayette Square, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Their story can be found in David Montgomery’s “Long Wait for Peace” starting on page C01 or on the Post’s website at

They have, I fear, at least a few more years of waiting.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Retrospective on Memorial Day 2006

Unless you subscribe to you would have missed this item. On Memorial Day, Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq war veterans went to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument with signs reading "Veterans Remember Our Fallen Soldiers, Soldiers of the Other Side, and Innocent Civilians." Although their presence the day before at the community's Annual Veterans Commemorative Assembly had not elicited adverse reaction, on that Monday one of the "dignitaries" at the Monument's remembrance tried to force the veterans across the street from where the ceremonies were taking place.

Setting aside that one individual who, for reasons unknown, was so incensed, the reception given to the veterans of the last three U.S. wars on the Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day suggests that at least those who have been through the crucible of war understand the universality of the experience and the horrible devastation that war brings to those who participate on all sides and to the innocent civilians who are caught in the middle.

After all, when the shooting starts, the "why" becomes as irrelevant for the soldier as for the noncombatant; survival becomes the paramount and universal goal.

Would it were possible that, after the first hundred rounds each army fired at the other, a truce would be called, during which the ruling men and women who thought that going to war was such a good idea would have to confront each other between the armies and explain -- not to their soldiers but to the other army -- why this war would be so wonderful.

Chances are that the war would not restart.