Friday, November 30, 2007

November's War Toll -- Lower But Still Grim

Following October’s 38 U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq, November’s 38 fatalities marks the first time since August – September 2003 that U.S. fatalities have been under 40 for two consecutive months. And this comes in a year in which fatalities for each month of the first calendar quarter were over 80 and for each month in the second calendar quarter were 100 or more – reaching 126 in May. Total U.S. military deaths in Iraq stand at 3,882 at month’s end.

Over the same two month period, other coalition countries lost five military personnel, two in October and three in November. Overall, coalition fatalities in Iraq since March 19, 2003 stand at 4,188; of these, 3,402 were killed by hostile fire. Of the coalition total killed, 100 were women (93 U.S., six UK, and one Ukrainian). Total U.S. wounded stands at 28,451 (through October 1, 2007).

Five U.S. soldiers who have died from wounds after evacuation from the combat theatre are not counted in the Pentagon’s number. The U.S. lists another four soldiers as missing in action, and acknowledges 130 suicides.

Albeit usually underreported by the Baghdad regime, fatalities among Iraq civilians and security forces during November also have fallen sharply from just a few months ago: 460 and 84, respectively. The day-by-day breakout for November shows only five days during the month in which there were more than 30 killings and one of these days involved discovery of a mass grave of uncertain date containing 30 bodies.

Both Baghdad and Washington will not say that a “corner has been turned,” but officials cautiously suggest that the last two months have the “feel” of turning a corner.

Contributing factors include apparent Iranian cooperation with Iraqi authorities to prevent weapons and fighters from getting into Iraq. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army has gone to ground, albeit still in possession of its weaponry. U.S. troop leaders have been given more leeway in dividing their resources between combat patrols and raids and training Iraqi troops and police. With unemployment running at 60 percent and underemployment even higher, U.S. commanders are luring young men away from the insurgency by paying them more than they can get from insurgents to join what some call a local “neighborhood watch with guns” – a kind of informal militia whose loyalty may extend only as far as the dollars they get. So far, 60,000 have “joined.”

In Afghanistan, U.S. fatalities in November and fatalities for all other coalition countries were eleven each, bringing the total killed for the first eleven months of 2007 to 111 U.S. and 112 for all other coalition partners. To date, since October 8, 2001, 469 U.S. military personnel have died in Operation Enduring Freedom while allies have suffered 271 deaths. Total U.S. wounded since hostilities began to November 1 number 1,472.

Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard lost last Sunday’s general election to Kevin Rudd and his Labour Party. Rudd pledged to remove Canberra’s remaining 550 combat troops from Iraq by the end of June 2008. With the British also leaving next summer and the 900 Polish troops due to go home before the end of 2008, Bush will have to be nimble the last two to three months of his term so as not to get rundown by everyone rushing for the exits.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Annapolis Analysis

“An occupying army cannot expect to find friends…but
[it must] give the uninvolved population every opportunity
to have some kind of a quality of life.”
MGEN Yair Naveh (Ret.), Israeli Defense Force
Defense News

Last week, as participants in the latest international peace conference on Israel- Palestine prepared to wend their way to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, in Tel Aviv senior Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officials were wrapping up a three-day headquarters exercise focusing on urban terror. Media reports said the drill was the largest in eight years to test reactions to and prevention of terror incidents.

The IDF “won” the exercise, which should have heartened Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after the debacle in summer 2006 when Hezbollah stood its ground in southern Lebanon against attempts by the IDF to break the back of the U.S. - designated terror organization. Nonetheless, “unidentified sources” who participated in the drill concluded – again – that this type of warfare is extremely costly, people-intensive, and highly interactive with the local population.

Albeit unstated, the results also pointed to the need for political, economic, and environmental action to reduce and if possible eliminate the causes of terror.

Such results, if they were conveyed to Prime Minister Olmert, would have been in line with his state of mind as he prepared for Annapolis. On November 4, he spoke publicly about the coming summit, invoking the memory of Yitzhak Rabin whose courageous steps in the 1990s toward finding a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians was cut short by an Israeli settler’s bullets.

Olmert also spoke of Bill Clinton’s 2000 summer-autumn effort to find a breakthrough – which collapsed, and even of Ariel Sharon’s 2005 unilateral “Disengagement” plan. In the end, Olmert said the goal must be “two states for two peoples” and that he would not entertain any negotiation about “the right of existence for the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”

This phraseology was picked up by President Bush in his opening remarks at Annapolis: “This settlement will establish Palestine as the Palestinian homeland, just as Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people.” And again moments later Bush reiterated the formula: “And the United States will keep its commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people.”

This emphasis strikes me as unwarranted and unnecessarily divisive -- almost amounting to a pre-condition. Palestinians as a whole probably don’t care whether Israel deems itself a Jewish state; their interest is in attaining their own viable, independent, and sustainable homeland.

In his remarks, President Bush read the text of the agreement struck between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The agreement declares that the two parties will attempt to “conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues including all core issues without exception.” Tellingly, the agreement makes no mention of any of the three “core issues”: borders, right of return, and the status of Jerusalem.

Perhaps the most telling remark from Bush, one which indicates just how much of an uphill fight Abbas faces in the coming months, was on the core issue of borders: ‘Palestinians…must show the world that they understand that, while the borders of a Palestinian state are important, the nature of a Palestinian state is just as important.”

For Olmert, what he did not say was as telling as what was said. While he mentioned Jerusalem twice, neither context was the present or the future. Olmert pledged the Israeli negotiators “will not avoid any subject [and] will deal with all the core issues.” He speaks of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, but not UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 194 (December 1948) which speaks of Jerusalem as an international city and of the return of refugees who could be either Palestinians or Israelis who had fled the warfare that engulfed present day Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Although the text of UNGA Resolution 194 does not specify a “right” of return, Israelis do not see it as relevant – a position at odds with the Palestinians. From the Palestinian perspective, too much reliance on UNGA 194 as the basis for a “right of return” could backfire when the issue is the status of Jerusalem whose “eastern” part Abbas wants for the capital of the new Palestinian State but which Olmert may not be able or willing (or both) to cede any more than he could make it an international city.

Abbas, who spoke after Bush and before Olmert, voiced the bottom line for the Palestinians: “I must defend…the right of our people to see a new dawn, without occupation, without settlement, without a separations walls, without prisons…without assassinations, without siege, without barriers around villages….”

These are the agonies endured for six decades by Palestinians at the hands of Israelis as well as, somewhat surprisingly, at the hands of fellow-Arab neighbors. Deftly, Abbas turns the recitation of these failures into a mirror that he holds up to Israelis to show them how “occupation” -- “our [Palestinian] holocaust that has been running for too long” – has changed Israel and those who live therein.

I wish both sides success.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Do Nothing or Much Ado About Nothing?

Congress returns to Washington next week after its Thanksgiving Day “break.” Normally, the legislature would be “in recess.” But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, suspecting that President Bush might try to use a formal break in the congressional calendar to appoint administration nominees who have been unable to garner Senate confirmation, employed Senate rules to technically keep the Senate “in session” even though virtually all senators were in their home states.

This is but one example of the poisonous atmosphere that has pervaded Washington for more than a decade and hardened the chances for reasoned debate and principled action in doing the public’s business. It is compounded by the narrow majority the Democrats have in the 110th Congress, particularly in the Senate. Should the White House or 40 or more Republicans oppose legislation or any part of any legislation, nothing will be signed into public law.

You may recall that in October and early November, President Bush publicly castigated the Congress for failing to send him any of the 12 annual appropriations bills or the war supplemental for 2008. Now without an appropriation, the federal government legally cannot spend money. To avoid a government shut-down October 1, when the 2008 fiscal year began, Congress passed and sent to the president a Continuing Resolution (CR) that Bush signed September 29 (PL 110-92) funding the government at 2007 levels through mid-November. Congress extended the CR to mid-December with Bush signing the extension that keeps the government going to mid-December. (Actually, this CR funds at the 2006 level because the federal government operated throughout Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 on a CR based on FY2006 levels.)

If you sense a contradiction in the last paragraph, you would be correct. When legislation becomes law, it is assigned a number in sequence for each Congress. Thus the CR of September 29 is the 92nd piece of legislation that has become law in the 110th Congress.
In fact, through November 19, the President has signed into law 120 bills passed by Congress – that according to the authoritative Congressional Quarterly (CQ) dated November 26, 2007. Yet Bush accuses the 110th Congress of being a “do nothing” assembly.

Between September 14, when Congress returned from their summer-Labor Day recess, and November 19, when the House recessed and the Senate “broke” for Thanksgiving, Bush signed 38 pieces of legislation passed by the Congress and vetoed two. Congress successfully overrode one veto, on water resources, which became law (PL 110-114), but failed to override the veto on the Labor-HHS-Education legislation.

But now look at what Congress did in terms of the substance (my take) of the legislation sent to the White House.

Government reform 3 (lobbying; drug and pesticide safety)
Treasury 3 (coinage; increase debt ceiling; Internet tax)
Education 5 (U.S.-Poland parliamentary youth exchange;
three on college funding; Higher Education Act)
Peace Corps 1 (contractor funding)
Appropriations 2 (CR; Defense Appropriations)
Trade issues 2 (trade assistance; emergency economic powers)
Veterans 2 (suicide prevention; disability pay)
Water resources 1 (rivers and harbors; passed over veto)
Other/Mixed 7 (medals; monuments; museums; 9/11 victims;
Naming post offices, 14
highways, Veterans

Mote than half – 21 public laws – are essentially aimed at ceremonial issues. This is considered “good use” of congressional time? Hardly, I submit.

And what of the eleven remaining appropriations bills that are still pending? Bush has threatened outright to veto eight as too expensive, has demanded funding offsets on one (Military Construction), has made no comment on one (legislative branch funding), and is apparently waiting to see what changes will be made in any revamped Labor-HHS-Education bill.

He has also threatened to veto the congressional version of the “War and Disaster Supplemental Appropriations for Fiscal 2008” because the Congress has attached conditions to the bill.

Next year voters will elect a new president, a new House of Representatives, and one third of the Senate. It might be worthwhile in October 2008, when Congress will have gone home to campaign, to see what the members accomplished in the 110th’s second session – what substantive bills were proposed, who blocked action on bills within Congress and why, what bills President Bush vetoed and their fate in any override attempt.

And in the same month, the electorate needs to make sure that every incumbent running for re-election can provide to those paying the bills – the taxpayers – straight answers about why he or she voted for or against substantive legislation and justify why the electorate should return them to Washington. Nor would it be unwise to let new candidates running for office know what voters expect of those sent to Washington – and what will not be tolerated any more, either in the White House or in Congress.

Indeed, it’s not a question of Congress “doing nothing” as it is both parties trying to lay responsibility for nothing getting done on the other. The only legislation that seems to move are ceremonial items (the “other/mixed” and “naming” entries above) while gridlock blocks debate and action on such vital issues as war, peace, the environment, education, and health.

November 2008, the people will have the opportunity to make “Much Ado about [Do] Nothing” politicians.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Annapolis Unsummit

The Bush administration has predictably hailed as a success the acquiescence of Saudi Arabia to attend the Middle East Conference next week in Annapolis.

But there is little enthusiasm in the Saudi capital of Riyadh for attending, In fact, the Cairo pre-conference hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to coordinate an Arab position was decidedly downbeat about the prospects for new momentum on resolving Israeli-Palestinian issues after seven years of what many see as a pronounced anti-Palestinian tilt by this White House.

Tel Aviv and Washington have for many years complained that there was no “partner for peace” on the Palestinian side. While that might be credibly disputed when the United States really put its shoulder to the wheel and pushed the two antagonists to the negotiating table, it clearly is the reality in 2007.

Today there are two Palestines: the West Bank under the “control” of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and “his” post-June 2007 Prime Minister Salam Fayyad; and the Gaza Strip, since mid-2007 dominated by Ismael Haniyeh and Hamas. Abbas has the backing of Jordan and Egypt -- the two countries in the Arab world that have signed peace treaties with and have normal diplomatic relations with Israel -- as well as the “Quartet”: the UN, the EU, Russia, and the United States. Hamas is backed by Iran, which has not been invited to the summit, and Syria, which has been invited and is expected to attend if allowed to bring up the continued Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.

Clearly, until the two Palestines are once more united, anything Abbas and Sayyad concede to Israel will not be accepted by Hamas -- unless the Saudis and the Arab League representatives come down on Haniyeh or the people of Gaza are allowed a new election as part of an overall new ballot for Palestinians.

Most telling of all, the U.S. heads into the Annapolis summit without an agreed draft communiqué -- a sure sign that this summit is starting off on unsure footing and that the chances for any real success are less than half.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dysfunctional DoD

Jordon Fox – does the name mean anything to anyone other than his family and personal associates? Probably not, unless you happened to be listening to yesterday’s news summaries when his name was mentioned.

What about Tyson Johnson III or Robert Loria? No? Not surprising.

They are but three of the more than 29,000 U.S. service members wounded in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. They are also among the thousands of separated war veterans who have had to wrestle with a dysfunctional military medical bureaucracy to receive the medical and rehabilitative care to which they are entitled. Many have also had to wade, with little or no help, through the swamp of directives and forms associated with the military’s convoluted process that determines whether an injured soldier should be medically discharged and referred to the Veterans Administration for continuing medical treatment.

They are also three of an unknown number of injured service members who have been hit with debt notices from the Defense Finance and Accounting Office (DFAS).

Jordan Fox’s case is but the latest to break, briefly, above the media’s “human interest” horizon – and only because his mother was one of the prime movers behind “Operation Pittsburgh Pride,” a volunteer effort to send “care” packages to Pittsburgh-area service men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush noted and thanked her for her part in the project. Moreover, when Fox was seriously wounded by an improvised explosive device, Bush sent a letter to the family expressing his hope that the young soldier would recover.

Well, Jordan Fox did recover; so did Johnson and Loria. But they then found themselves struggling with serious financial wounds inflicted by the Pentagon – garnished wages, bad credit reports, and even pursuit by civilian debt collection agencies hired by the Pentagon if the money “owed” had not been completely paid back before the soldier was discharged.

It should be noted that DoD is required – as are all federal departments – to enforce a system that, at its roots, is optimized not to help individuals but to enforce bureaucratic accountability and conformity to the provisions of the Federal Claims Collection Act (1966), the Debt Collection Improvement Act (1982), and the Debt Collection Improvement Act (1996). These statutes are optimized for general and “impartial” application across a wide spectrum of contingencies. However, regardless of how wide the spectrum may be, it cannot even begin to deal with the universe of possible causes for these debts – including the mistakes of the bureaucracy.

In late April 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on military pay entitled “Hundreds of Battle-Injured GWOT Soldiers Have Struggled to Resolve Military Debt.” The GAO discovered that 1,300 former service members – including 400 who died in combat – were carried in military financial records as debtors to the federal government to the tune of $1.5 million.

Between the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan in October 2001 and September 30, 2007, Congress has appropriated $604 billion for war and war-related activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Specifically, Congress directed spending for:

Military Operations and Other Defense Activities: $533 Billion
Indigenous Security Force: $30 Billion
Diplomatic Activities and Foreign Aid: $39 Billion
Veterans Benefits and Services: $3 Billion

The $1.5 billion that the Pentagon wants to make soldiers pay back won’t even break the radar screen of Pentagon auditors looking for fraud, waste, and abuse in major acquisition programs. Pursuing the wounded and the fallen is not only churlish but confirms the negative image that many have of the military.

The real, long-term solution, if there is still a solution to be found, is to stop creating more wounded and more fallen soldiers by stopping the wars that create more veterans.

For that, everyone could give thanks tomorrow – Thanksgiving Day 2007.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Speaking of People

For some time, various military analysts and anti-war pundits have claimed that the Pentagon has been purposefully under-reporting fatalities among U.S troops serving in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility that includes, inter alia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now the Bush administration has done everything it could to prevent the media from taking pictures, creating videos, or asking embarrassing questions about the relationship between the number of U.S. fatalities and the strategy and tactics being employed. But when the subject focuses on the number and rate of accumulated fatalities, the Pentagon does seem to include all who die from hostile causes as well as from accidents, illness, and other non-hostile causes, including suicide, regardless of where death officially comes – on the battlefield, in a logistics base, en route to the U.S via medical evacuation flights, or at a hospital in the U.S. itself.

Currently, deaths associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom stand at 3,871, of which 130 have been classified as suicides. The number of U.S. troops that have died in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) is 468, but the Pentagon has not provided an easily accessible summary of suicides among U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Working from on-line data and assuming that entries such as “non-combat-related wounds” or “non-combat-related injuries” as well as two or three actual cases where “suicide” is listed, I estimate between 15-20 suicides in Afghanistan among U.S. troops.

What does not show up in Pentagon statistics are the number of suicides among the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who, having completed their service obligation, were able to leave the armed forces or were discharged for medical reasons or for “the good of the service.” This number may never be known, but what is known is the number of veterans who, after discharge from the service, sought help from the Veterans Administration (VA) – for depression, for symptoms associated for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for PTSD – but still committed suicide.

Not that this figure was volunteered. CBS News investigative reporter Armen Keteyian spent five months studying data provided under a Freedom of Information Act request to the Pentagon that also turned up a separate accounting record from 45 of the 50 states on the fate of veterans who were known to the VA as potential or actual mental health risks.

The Pentagon data claimed 2,200 suicides between 1995 and the beginning of 2007 among armed forces personnel on “active duty” – which would include National Guard and reservists who were called up for Iraq and Afghanistan. That works out to 200 suicides on average for each of the 11 years.

But when statistics from the 45 VA offices are included, the number of suicides just for one year – 2005 – soars to 6,256. That’s an average of 521 suicides every month of 2005. And within that statistic is another: the suicide rate among veterans age 20-24 who have left service, is twice the non-veteran rate for men and women of the same age.

No matter to whom CBS went for comment in the VA, in Congress, in the administration, almost no one wanted to listen – like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. Yet the existence and the scope of these mental health problems are not going to go away.

The war veterans of today with two, three, even four tours in the combat zone have paid enough. An unknown number, at an unpredictable time, and with unknowable consequences, are going to pay again; how m any will depend on how well the country can marshal mental health resources.

What is clear already is that many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans will repeat the cycle of Vietnam – becoming homeless, hopeless, and eventually dead, both figuratively with regard to family and friends, and literally.

And when the U.S. experience is replicated among the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the coalition troops in those countries, the real human costs finally begin to emerge.

And the U.S. Army wonders why 4,698 soldiers deserted in Fiscal Year 2007, the highest total since before 9/11..

Friday, November 16, 2007

To Be Moral or Secure

Another Thursday night, another “debate” featuring the Democrats running for their party’s nomination for the presidency.

From the beginning, it was evident that this would be an unmanageable free-for-all because the format allowed the candidates to “intervene” if they felt that one of their competitors and leveled a personal attack or mischaracterized a position on one or more of the substantive issues brought up by the moderator or his associates.

One of the more arresting questions posed was, initially, about continued military aid to President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan who ahs suspended the Pakistani constitution, arrested a number of opposition politicians, “fired” the Chief Justice and other jurists, and imposed martial law – all in the name of preserving the Pakistani state. (Undoubtedly, Musharraf has drawn an exact replica of himself as the state.)

After pursuing the Pakistani situation with Senator Biden and Governor Richardson, moderator Wolf Blitzer came to what I see as the key question of the night – addressed first to Richardson in the form of a clarification: “What you’re saying, Governor, is that human rights, at times, are more important than national security?”

Richardson replied, “Yes.”

At such times, with a clear, concise question eliciting conditions “on the ground,” the listener/viewer must be careful not to mix context. Last night in Las Vegas, the choice presented to the candidates at this juncture was a very familiar one even if it seemed new: whether a U.S. president ought to ignore documented reports of human rights abuses in other countries that are close allies (e.g., the “global war on terror”) but whose government is not a democracy.

The question is one of moral expediency: what is the level of abuse beyond which the price of “doing business” with a tyrannical system actually damages the nation’s moral and legal standing with other countries? One cannot ask this question without thinking of the extreme efforts of the Bush administration to justify non-torture torture.

Blitzer then asked Senator Edwards, who avoided that question and talked about the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons – something that would make the United States truly secure.

Senator Obama, with the substantive points in the same sequence, averred that human rights and national security “are not contradictory” but “are complementary.”

When Senator Dodd was asked the question, there was a slight twist: “What’s more important when they clash, human rights versus national security?” Dodd’s answer was “Well, obviously, national security, keeping the country safe.”

At this point Senator Biden interrupted and said “That’s right.”

Dodd then concluded “The security of the country is number one, obviously, yes, all right?”
Blitzer reversed the choices when he asked Senator Clinton, mentioning national security
which he termed “more important” – before human rights. Clinton replied “I agree with that completely. I mean the first obligation of the president of the United States is to protect and defend the United States,”

For whatever reason, Representative Kucinich was not asked the question, and then when he did allude to the point a few minutes later, did not indicate a choice.

I worry that those so ready to overlook human rights abuses in other countries for what are often questionable “advantages” for U.S. national security will be just as quick to attack the human rights and civil liberties of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

And you can bet the farm that they will justify curtailing domestic liberties as a matter of “national security.” -- Governor Richardson excepted.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Civil Disobedience for Peace

On November 5, the USNS Brittin arrived at Washington State’s Port of Olympia, one of the access points for surface transport of equipment belonging to the 2nd Infantry Division whose home station is Fort Lewis, Washington. The ship was carrying the 3rd Brigade Combat Teams Stryker wheeled vehicles -- or at least those that were worth shipping to Fort Lewis after 15 months in Iraq.

Over the ensuing week, groups of anti-war protestors affiliated with the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance (OPMR) descended on the port to block the transfer of the vehicles from the port to Fort Lewis. From Wednesday night, November 7, through Saturday November 10, the protestors succeeded in blocking transfers of vehicles out of the port by forming human chains across the road just outside the port gates. On November 10, police used pepper spray and batons to try to clear a path for trucks carrying the equipment while at the same time other truck carriers used an alternate gate that was not blocked. Protesters and police and counter-protesters continued to intermingle through the weekend but tapered off on Monday and Tuesday. Nonetheless, members of OPMR were still blocking vehicles carrying military equipment from exiting the port’s main thoroughfare on Wednesday noon, November 14.

Similar blockades were attempted in March and May at two other Washington State ports, Tacoma and Grays Harbor. The March protest was directed against the movement of 1,000 Strykers from Fort Lewis to Iraq.

The events described, which cover a week-plus of anti-war actions, was noteworthy for its duration. Yet I cannot help but think, since the vehicles were coming back from Iraq to Fort Lewis, that the pressure on the local authorities and the Army to move the equipment to Fort Lewis was not as great as in March when the equipment flow was into Iraq. The port authority would be anxious to get the military equipment moved, but their interest is primarily commercial. Clogged wharves cannot handle newly arrived shipments of commercial imports.

It seems, finally, that some people who oppose the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are ready to take direct, non-violent acts of civil disobedience on a growing scale because elected politicians are not -- perhaps can not -- curbing the insanity that the White House and the Congress created and sustained.

By sheer coincidence, the address by Representative John Lewis (GA) to the General Committee (Board of Governors) of the Friends Committee for National Legislation on November 10 had as its theme, “Stand in the way for peace.”

For more details on the Washington State events, follow the links below or call up the Olympia newspaper’s online web site at

Here are some videos from the actions last week: Speech and rally on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Speech by Phan Nguyen of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance:

SDSers and others form human blockades Wednesday night to block Stryker vehicles:

Dozens form human blockade Friday afternoon, successfully forcing two trucks back inside the port:

Police unleash pepper spray, batons on peaceful protesters and bystanders Saturday morning:

m%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Ddgi5ESpueX8&Horde=704e175a31d56ffd224b94626fceea9c KIRO TV has a pretty good clip about police brutality following a community meeting Sunday night about it:

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Trust Me" Again

Donald Kerr, principal deputy director for National Intelligence, wants the U.S. public to accept another one of those “trust me routines” that the Bush White House is so fond of foisting on the country.

This time it’s “let government and business decide what personal information will be protected -- that is, will remain private -- and what information will be available for release outside of government and corporate entities.

If you have only been concerned about what kind of information government was entitled to collect -- beyond what it demands for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, for public service (e.g., military or Peace Corps), and of course occupation and income-related data -- or had been collecting since 2001 in the “global war on terror,” it’s time to recognize that this is no longer the question. Big Brother already is collecting everything sent by electronic means and even some communications that are more direct. They are now deciding how to sort out and catalogue everything they collect with what they expect will be expanded powers from Congress to collect foreign intelligence without getting court approval beforehand.

Kerr’s position essentially is that in the age of global terrorism, claims of privacy are being brought forward to try to thwart legitimate government attempts to strip away the anonymity terrorists need to go about their planning for new atrocities. In short, he is equating anonymity with privacy. Moreover, because the former is unacceptable to the executive branch, the latter is a luxury the United States can no longer afford. be accepted by government in today’s world.

So, does this mean no more books by “Anonymous“; no more use of a nom de guerre or nom de plume; no more satire from the heirs of Voltaire and Swift? What about all the quotes by the original “Anonymous.” and all his followers?

More importantly, what about all the government bureaucrats who are “anonymous” in terms of their relationship with the public, especially the bureaucrats working within the intelligence community?

Remember, political dissent often requires anonymity if it is to survive in its early stages. And it is also in the anonymity of thought that the spirit lives and the light of freedom cannot be extinguished.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Annual Meeting and Armistice Day

This is the last blog entry before the observance of Armistice Day, November 11. As happens every year, the time around this most melancholy of memorial days is also when the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) has its annual general meeting of its governing board.

According to the most knowledgeable attendees at this year’s annual meeting, the conjunction of Armistice Day, when the guns on the Western Front of World War I fell silent, with the gathering of the governing body of the “Quaker lobby in the public interest,” is pure happenstance.

That is not to say, however, that the choice of the second week of November for the general meeting was not considered carefully by those overseeing the affairs of and choosing or developing the tactical approaches for advancing positions on policy issues important to FCNL constituents.

In fact, the meeting period was chosen to ensure that Election Day every year would have come and gone and most if not all the results would be known. It is less a question of strategy or planning – these grow out of long-standing Quaker testimony and practice –and more being able to inform the governing board of what nuances or tendencies will emerge at the national level without letting a full year pass.

There is one other consideration that comes to mind. In the old days, once an election was over, politicians used to “bury the hatchet” and come together to work for the country, not their party or not themselves. Such an ending to the electoral battles of today would be a welcome development indeed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mukasey Nomination

The nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to be the next Attorney General of the United States has been reported favorably from the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the full Senate for its advice and consent.

The swing votes -- Democrats Feinstein and Schumer and Republican Specter -- voted to confirm Mukasey on the grounds that, if this candidate were to be rejected by the Senate, President Bush would either leave the position vacant or wait for a congressional to go home and then make a recess appointment that would carry him through most of the last 12 months of his term.

Bush can only hope that the forbearance of trial lawyers and the judiciary in the U.S. surpasses that of the lawyers in Pakistan who have taken to the streets to protest the firing and house arrest of Pakistan’s Supreme Court by General Mushariff.

One wonders, if Judge Mukasey is unable to declare unambiguously that water boarding is torture and is therefore illegal, whether there is any act that is so “objectively and inherently” criminal that even with a hypothetical scenario it would the act would be illegal prima facie.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Funding the Wounded, Funding the War

A reporter's query suggested a different way of looking at the classic “support the troops – support the war” dichotomy that scares and scars politicians. In an age of 15 second sound bites, all that need be said is “senator (or representative) X voted against funding our troops in the field,” letting the silence of the syllogistic “therefore” be completed by the voter that the congressional incumbent doesn’t care about either the dead or the living.

Regardless of the precipitating event, once the armed forces are “on the ground,” the president is in the enviable position to blackmail the Congress and the public into providing funds for the troops fighting for “God, country, and the American way.” It doesn’t seem to make any difference which party controls Congress or occupies the presidency. The worst political sin is to be susceptible to the charge of “not supporting the troops.”

Ironically, presidents are able to blackmail the American people the same way – and they get away with it for the same reason: no one wants to be accused of not standing up for the troops or appear to be unwilling to give them the best of everything. This stems from the belief that the Unitd States is always justified in going to war, that God is on “our side” (or at the very least, is not on the “other side). But in accepting the demise of the conscript army and the emergence of the modern military professional, the American public assigned the responsibility for military defense to a class of people – the Warriors – and in typical fashion, turned their attention elsewhere. This left the main advocates for the military, outside of the formal institutions of government , the traditional veterans’ groups.

Until recently, that is, when the real state of affairs became apparent.

It’s what might be called the “Walter Reed effect.” The revelations of the bureaucratic hoops through which wounded veterans had to jump, compounded by the seeming indifference of the general officers and the administrative personnel toward even those with psychological trauma or more evident brain injuries rekindled empathy among large segments of the population.
egments of the population.

Initially, this concern for the warriors and the questioning of why care for those injured in the wars was so remiss did not cross into questioning the war itself. This left the field of effort to the traditional veterans groups – VFW, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Gold Star Wives – most of whom are pro-war oR neutral on the war.

As the extent of the problems became clearer, as more and more Members of Congress became acquainted with the nature of the injuries and the woeful underfunding of veteran’s health and rehabilitation costs, and as veterans of the Bush wars became more vocal about the war, the public re-engaged.And since the wounded remain distinctive personalities, they are less susceptible to being treated as a class – unlike those who are killed and become, other than for their loved ones who remain, more of a statistic than a memory.

This is the inevitable battle between the collective – how we cope with the flood of sensations and information – and our culture of individualism – the philosophical bedrock of modern democratic theory that our Constitution embodies and on which our national myth rests.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Death and Security Or Death or Security?

“Everyone in our neighborhood is Sunni, even the birds
flying above us are Sunni.”
Mohammed Azzawi
Baghdad resident

“Our destiny is to co-exist. Because we’ve done this for
the last 6,000 years.”
Raad Mullah Jameed al-Tamimi
Diyala province governor

At the three star military and ministerial level of government in Baghdad, October was a banner month. Total coalition force fatalities were 40 – including 38 U.S. service personnel – the lowest figure since March 2006. Iraqi fatalities for the month were put at 905. Considering that the official (and inevitably incomplete) reporting nine months ago (February 2007) registered 2,864 Iraqi civilian fatalities, this drop of just over two-thirds is welcome – as is the four-month trend of falling deaths from violence.

This “good news,” of course, is of scant consolation for the relatives and acquaintances of these 945 Iraqis and coalition forces – and for the 15 coalition troops killed in Afghanistan last month. But for the experts, the pundits, the spin-meisters who will appear on the weekend talk shows, the issue will be the living – specifically, why the rate of fatalities for October dropped off and can the causes underlying the decrease be extended further.

The most common explanation undoubtedly will be the 28,500-strong “surge” in U.S. troop strength that President Bush announced on January 10. The deployment of troops was completed in June, and with additional units rotating into Iraq in the normal replacement cycle, at one period (at least) the surge actually reached 171,000 U.S. military personnel, fully 39,000 over the pre-surge “steady state” average.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi political aspirants certainly would not disparage the effects of the Bush administration’s temporary reinforcement of this 132,000 steady-state status. But ministers and senior Iraqi military and police officials would and have attributed the decrease in fatalities in part to the improved effectiveness of Iraqi security forces. And as of this week, the Iraqis can substantiate this claim by simply pointing to British Defense Secretary Des Browne’s statement when he announced that responsibility for security matters in and around Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, would be returned to Iraqi forces by mid-December: “Unequivocally, I can see progress.”

Others, less sanguine about the reasons for going to war, remain skeptical. All too often in the past, military officers and civilian officials from Bush and Blair on down have proclaimed “mission accomplished,” victory is coming, or “a corner has been turned” and that “conditions” have improved, only to find two or three weeks later that conditions are actually worse.

And then there is Mohammed Azzawi, who lives in the Ghazaliy neighborhood of Baghdad. This was, under Saddam Hussein, one of the mixed Sunni-Shi’a areas that is now a stronghold of the Sunnis, patrolled by militia groups intent on keeping this part of the city “pure” – and Sunni.

Reading a wide range of domestic and foreign press reports, listening to interviews and speeches by administration officials, and watching the changing statistics, one could almost believe that the coalition and the current Iraqi government were, indeed, “winning” the security struggle. Yet the picture is incomplete; something (with apologies to Shakespeare) still smells “rotten in Iraq.”

The evidence for this comes not from Washington or Baghdad but from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Its latest estimate is that 4.4 million Iraqis have been displaced by the fighting, with 2.35 million internally displaced and the remaining 2.05 million – including most of the country’s educated and professional classes – classified as refugees. Iraqis now constitute the largest displaced population of any nationality that has its own internationally recognized country.

(Considering the large number of displaced Iraqis, it is ironical that 15,000 Palestinians displaced when Israel was created are still in Iraq where they are provided basic necessities by the UN.)

One can hardly fault Azzawi for feeling satisfied with the status quo. At least he can experience a sense of security, even if he and other “concerned citizens” must be the backbone of the forces protecting the neighborhood. A similar pattern is unfolding in Anbar province where tribal sheiks, most of whom are Sunni, are working with U.S. forces and have asked for U.S. assistance in upgrading the province’s police units.

And what of Governor al-Tamimi? His is a more comprehensive vision, but not one seen through rose-colored glasses. Few weeks ago, he was wounded when a bomb exploded at a meeting of provincial leaders, 24 of whom were killed.

The question is who will be the “last man standing.”