Thursday, May 31, 2007

More Bang for Your Buck


Unfortunately, we continue to concentrate on the obvious mismanagement of a war
promoted by false information and ignore debating the real issue, which is this:
Why are we determined to follow a foreign policy of empire building and preemption,
which is unbecoming of a constitutional republic?

--Ron Paul (R-TX)


''The Marlboro man was angry: He has a war to fight, and he's running out of smokes.

"'If you want to write something," [20-yr-old Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller] tells an intruding reporter, 'tell Marlboro I'm down to four packs, and I'm here in Fallujah till who knows when. Maybe they can send some. And they can bring down the price a bit.'"

If iconic Lance Cpl. Miller continues his habit, he'll have more than the after-effects of war to deal with. It's as good a way as any to start another installment in our FDA-Iraq linkages series.

A government advisory panel, the Institute of Medicine, called on Congress last week to "reduce the health burden of tobacco, which kills 490,000 Americans a year" by allowing the FDA free rein to regulate all aspects of cigarettes and tobacco ("FDA Should Aggressively Regulate Tobacco".)

"The report's authors say tobacco is a
unique product, because it kills more Americans than AIDS, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, homicides, suicides, car accidents and fires combined. Almost half of the USA's 44.5 million adult smokers will die prematurely of a tobacco-related illness if they don't stop. About 21% of adults now smoke.

A unique product indeed. Did you get that? And that number of deaths is hundreds of thousands of times greater than the 3,000 victims of 9-11. Most estimates indicate 440,000+ Americans die annually from tobacco-related diseases; secondhand smoke kills another 50,000 ("Ending Our Tobacco Addiction,")

With this egregious mortality rate being inflicted upon good Americans, will the U.S. initiate a bombing campaign against Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina? Perhaps a crop-eradication program, based on the poppy annihilation in Afghanistan, or Coca eradication in Latin America.

Maybe we should be laying more subsidies on the tobacco growers, and dumping pallets of cut-rate Marlboros at the bazaars.
Perhaps the current U.S. administration will increase tobacco-related cancer and cardiovascular -related disease research?

It looks like we're spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year supposedly fighting no more than 5,000 Al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seems strange that medical research doesn't get such funding priorities.

If you do it by the numbers, you'd get more bang for your buck solving known endemic medical blights than you would on a goose chase for
potentially lethal targets. Heart disease will kill you just as assuredly as a potential terrorist attack. Percentage-wise it is the risk to bet on, and the costs--both in long-term care and human suffering--trump the latter scenario.

It seems that U.S. tax dollars are always available to kill people, but the funds for life-saving research are dear. No funds for stem-cell research, but building better bombs is always well-funded.

In 1971, President Nixon requested $100 million to be added to the NCI budget for cancer research, declaring a War on Cancer. He was answering a call from an organized electorate, who wanted the second deadliest killer stopped. In October 1971, he converted the Army's Fort Detrick, Maryland, biological warfare facility to a cancer
(Now AIDS and cancer) research center.

When he signed the National Cancer Act into law on December 23, 1971, he said, "I hope in the years ahead we will look back on this action today as the most significant action taken during my Administration." Though a cure remains elusive, much progress has been made, and that is a worthy legacy.

This administration shows no such will today with it's retrograde stance on stem cell research and crony entitlement programs.

Just like violence, war and killing, another major export of America is the cigarette. Exporting the death stick is a fine subversive marketing technique. It's the American way.

--by Lisa and Jim

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Made in the U.S.A.

Tony: Well, justa by accident I think I gotta one right here
Dr. Hackenbush: A lotta accidents around here for a quiet neighborhood
A Day the The Races (1937), Marx Brothers

Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night
--Woody Allen


Ranger would like to point out that all these martyrs are armed with U.S.-manufactured rifles. Also note that they follow our recommendation, and use Brownell's 30-round mags and the Thunder Ranch Urban Illumination System.

Thank you America for once again arming both sides of the conflict.

If you are interested in the characters who broker these sales, check out a PBS Frontline special on International gunrunners, specifically U.S. friend, the infamous, Sarkis Soghanalian.

It makes picking a winner so much easier.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thin Red Line


We're living in a world that's blowing itself to hell as fast
as everybody can arrange it

--First Sgt. Edward Welsh,
Thin Red Line (1998)

Attack! Attack!

of the peacekeepers attack!

Is it really you, NATO is here to protect

With Berlin type walls when they came to visit?

-Attack of the Peacekeepers, Jello Biafra

Why are the missiles called peace keepers

When they're aimed to kill

Why? Tracy Chapman

Eminent Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis recently wrote a thoughtful piece in the Wall Street Journal, ''Was Osama Right?''

In it, he argues our problems in the Middle East stemmed from two Cold War object lessons: If you upset the Russians, punishment would be ''swift and dire,'' but if you moved against the Americans you would not only forgo punishment, you might even gain some reward from the ''usual anxious procession'' of apologists.

It takes a lot to follow Lewis, and my intention is only to amplify and extend some ideas pertaining to technicalities on the ground.
As a quick historical gloss, he explains the Muslim perception of the struggle between Islam and Christendom for the ''opportunity to bring salvation to the rest of humankind.''

''This struggle against the West explains the widespread support in the Arab countries and in some other places first for the Third Reich and, after its collapse, for the Soviet Union. These were the main enemies of the West, and therefore natural allies.''

But by the 70's and 80's, the situation had changed:

''The more immediate, more dangerous enemy was the Soviet Union, already ruling a number of Muslim countries, and daily increasing its influence and presence in others. It was therefore natural to seek and accept American help. As Osama bin Laden explained, in this final phase of the millennial struggle, the world of the unbelievers was divided between two superpowers. The first task was to deal with the more deadly and more dangerous of the two, the Soviet Union. After that, dealing with the pampered and degenerate Americans would be easy.''

''We in the Western world see the defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union as a Western, more specifically an American, victory in the Cold War. For Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a Muslim victory in a jihad, and, given the circumstances, this perception does not lack plausibility.''

Lewis describes the 1983 attacks on U.S. forces in Beirut and concurrent Soviet responses to kidnappings and other violence to their diplomats. I suggest that it is possible the kidnappers mistook the Russians for Americans.

It is further possible that the perpetrators had no reason to target the Soviets since they did not have a horse in the race. By this I mean, though U.S. forces were there as ''Peacekeepers,'' they actually took sides in this internecine warfare, in violation of the neutrality peacekeepers should exhibit. Hence, they became targets.

It is doubtful that they were simply targeted because they were Americans. They became targets only after they entered a horse in their race, unlike the Russians who were not siding amongst the opposing factions.

Mr. Lewis seems to insinuate that the U.S. now show strength through kidnapping and assassinations; if so, he is on the wrong track. This is what distinguishes the U.S. from the Soviet regime. The U.S. can not adopt lawlessness in order to combat lawlessness. It is a fetching idea, but it is ultimately impotent. And it is a day late and a dollar short. We need a cohesive approach which abides by the rule of law, and transcends partisan affiliations.

In Mogadishu, the same was true. The U.S. forces sided against Farrah Aidid and therefore entered the race. The same reaction came from the Somalians, leaving 19 U.S. servicemen dead. The U.S. deaths resulted from U.S. forces acting aggressively upon foreign soil.

The way to avoid these incidents is to not enter into unilateral U.S. peacekeeping missions, and to keep behavior while in multilateral missions within the auspices of U.N. mandates. The military is not arrayed for peacekeeping; we are organized for ground combat.

Reagan put the troops into Beirut, and Bush 41 put them into Somalia. The lesson is to keep your eyes on the Republicans. The Arabs are doing what is expected, which is living within their own borders.

The Thin Red Line should not have to serve as the world's Thin Blue Line.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Muzzling the Watchdogs

The New York Times reported yesterday that reportage from the front lines in Iraq is in jeopardy (''Not to See the Fallen is No Favor.''):

“Many of the journalists who are in Iraq have been backed into fortified corners, rarely venturing out to see what soldiers confront. And the remaining journalists who are embedded with the troops in Iraq — the number dropped to 92 in May from 126 in April — are risking more and more for less and less.”

The military has severely tightened restrictions on what images are allowable, disallowing any pictures with clear name, unit designation or facial recognition. ''And memorials for the fallen in Iraq can no longer be shown, even when the unit in question invites coverage.” In addition,

“If Joseph Heller were still around, he might appreciate the bureaucratic elegance of paragraph 11(a) of IAW Change 3, DoD Directive 5122.5:

“'Names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without the service member’s prior written consent.'”

“James Glanz, a Baghdad correspondent. . . (said) some military leaders seem determined to protect something besides the privacy of their troops.

“'As the number of reporters there dwindles. . . the kind of work they are able to publish becomes very important,' Mr. Glanz said. 'This tiny remaining corps of reporters becomes a greater and greater problem for the military brass because we are the only people preventing them from telling the story the way they want it told.'

“Capturing the brutal realities of war is a tradition in this country dating back at least to Matthew Brady, and it is undoubtedly part of why Americans, regardless of their politics, have come to know and revere the sacrifices that generations of soldiers have made on their behalf.”

“When this war began, the government attempted to manage images by banning photographs of coffins returning to United States soil. If the government chooses to overmanage the wages of war in Iraq, there is a real danger that when this new generation of veterans, whose ranks grow every day, could come home to a place where their fellow Americans have little idea what they have gone through.”

Let us hope that enough Americans back home have the stomach and inclination for a reality which is not quite as pretty as those they are fed via Hollywood's un-reality show circuit.



Monday, May 28, 2007

Gotta Draw the Line Somewhere

I bet there's rich folks eatin',
In a fancy dining car,
They're probably drinkin' coffee,
And smokin' big cigars,
But I know I had it comin',
I know I can't be free

--Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself; there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

--John Adams

Money and Corruption
Are ruining the land.

Crooked politicians

Betray the Working Man.

I am Your Man, The Kinks


Randy ''Duke'' Cunningham, ''one of the slimiest guys to come through Congress in recent memory,'' gets an annual Congressional pension of as much as $64,000, even as he sits in jail serving an eight year felony corruptions charge. So do more than 20 other convicted members of Congress. So you may lose your seat, and you may have to hang up the deacon's robe for a while, but you won't go without bread.

Just ask sleazeball Dan Rostenkowski, who continues to draw an approximately $126,000 annual pension after facing a slew of corruptions charges and receiving a 15-month mail fraud conviction.

Michael Crowley, editor at The New Republic, writes this month at Reader's Digest, ''It's infuriating that we have to pay for the retirement of these crooks, but it's just as scandalous that lawmakers aren't doing anything about it (''Pension Plan for Cons.'')

''There has been little political will," says Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, probably because each feels his head will be next on the chopping block, according to Rep. Mark Kirk (D-IL).

''The lesson here is that Congress can't be trusted to police itself. Need one more bit of proof? In 2005 an attempt at reform never made it out of the House committee that would oversee a change in pension rules. The committee's chair that year: Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. The same Bob Ney who pleaded guilty last fall to doing illegal favors for a lobbyist in return for things like a lavish golf junket to Scotland. And even though Ney sold his influence, he'll still be eligible for a $29,000-a-year pension when he turns 62.''
''Probably the only thing that will get Congress to act is public outrage. A good first step: Go to congress.org to send an e-mail to your representatives. Tell them it's time they passed a new crime bill -- one that takes Congressional convicts off the dole.''

Since they are so keen to strip entitlement programs for the average citizen to the bone, this is one bit of pork none of us will miss.


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One Degree of Separation

[Following is a guest posting by Tom Baxter, head of our local Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW)]

Why I Fight

We're now at the forth anniversary of the proclamation of ''Mission Accomplished''
and the ''end of major combat operations'' of ''Operation Iraq Liberation.'' Meanwhile, I have been standing on Thursdays and Sundays in front of the Capitol with my antiwar signs for almost six years in the ''Eternal Peace Vigil.''

People ask,
"Why?" Some of the reasons are the lives and deaths of Dwight H. Johnson, David Funchess and Jeffrey Lucey.

Three brave men. Three men who believed our government's lies. Three dead
men, Killed In Action in a combat zone. Three men whose names will never be engraved on a war memorial's marble wall because the mortal wounds they bore were not visible.

Dwight, AKA Skip, a few months younger than I, was born in
Detroit and raised in the projects by a single mother. A good soldier, a draftee, made E-5, on his first enlistment as a tank driver. A month after I arrived
in Vietnam and a few miles North on my base, Dwight, trying to catch up with his platoon, came upon them being destroyed by an enemy battalion.

stopped the battalion. When reinforcements arrived they took him off the battlefield pumped full of morphine and in a straitjacket. A few days later, he was on the streets of Detroit, wandering jobless, teased because he
missed TET. Months later, an MP asked him if he had been arrested since he got out. He said no. The MP said, then come to DC and we will give you a Medal of Honor.

He reenlisted, his first job out of the service. Got married. Used as a
recruiter and public relations flack, he tired, started acting out. Wife in the hospital. Home and car being foreclosed. Walked into a liquor store, pulled a gun. Popped some caps, missed every time. Shot four times. Died on the table. His mother said, "Sometimes I wonder if Skip tired of this life and needed someone else to pull the trigger."

His wife received a raise in her pension
as he was not conscious of his actions.

I might have met Johnson in
Vietnam. Guys from his company came into my compound to pick up trucks and parts. We both drove the hairpin cure in the An Ke pass. One degree of separation.

David Funchess, also a few months younger than me, was a Marine. I would have
never met him in Vietnam, though I might have met in Jacksonville where we both grew up. I did meet some black guys while working construction and the shipyards. Young gofers that had more in common with me than with the mechanics.

His step
father was a vicious and mean bastard. David came back from Vietnam with a Purple Heart, scars from an IED, PTSD and a heroin habit, later he got a dishonorable discharge, i.e., no VA benefits.

Twitchy, he slept in foxholes
under his mother's house, later in cars. I asked politically correct friends and they said I could call David, ''nuts.'' You would not let your daughter go out with him. Ted Bundy would be OK. But not David.

David also was involved in a liquor store robbery, except he killed two
folks. Bad luck for David; PTSD had not been legally discovered. Since it was not mentioned in trial, it could not be used in appeal. So, David died
in ''Old Smokey,'' the same place as Ted Bundy, becoming the first of many Vietnam veterans judicially murdered in the United States. I worked on appeals for his clemency and shook his lawyers' and friends' hands. One degree of separation.

As Dwight and David died in
Vietnam, Jeffrey Lucey died in Iraq.

He was my
daughter's age. He had a lot going for him. He was white, middle class, with parents that were willing to pay his way through school. He did not need the service to get out of the ghetto.

Like Dwight he killed face to face. Couldn't
get over it. A year back from Iraq, after a few visits to the shrink and some involuntary confinement, Jeffery hanged himself with a garden hose in his parent's basement. His death is the results of my failure. I failed stop the war.

I did not talk to him as I do every
Iraq veteran and veteran to be that comes up to talk or argue in front of the Capitol. I tell them, I don't know what your particular hell looked like, but we did stuff our mothers, our fathers, our teachers, our preachers told us never to do: Kill people and destroy things.

It messes with your mind. I may not look like very much,
ugly, wrinkly, white haired, balding, running to fat, old fart, but I'm what you want to be forty years from now. I'm alive. I can bounce kids on my knees. I can make them laugh. I buried a bunch of guys over the years who can't.

If you ever think about thumping yourself, your wife, your
girlfriend, your kids, remember your parents want you to bury them, not the other way around. Your wife doesn't want be a widow. Your kids don't want to be orphans. When it gets real serious, folks want to talk to you. They want to help you.

I can tell you meds work. I stopped having nightmares, thirty
years ago. They came back five years ago. Meds stopped them again. I'm not very happy. But I've got a job, and I'm trying to stop the creation of more folks like Dwight, David, Jeffery and me. And I haven't been doing too good of a job of it.

Tom Baxter

Fiat justitia; ruat coelum
USAV 1967-69
Tallahassee, Florida

Write on my gravestone: "Infidel, Traitor." --infidel to every church that
compromises with wrong; traitor to every government that oppresses the
--Wendell Phillips

"He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why?
Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid
injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust."
--St. Thomas Aquinas


Cop Out II

And if you're feeling cross and bitterish

Don't sit and whine

Think of banana split and licorice

And you'll feel fine

--Put on a Happy Face, By Bye Birdie

Why must I be surrounded by frickin' idiots?
--Dr. Evil,
Austin Powers (1997)

This is a follow on to yesterday's ''Cop Out.''

In the 1970's, Army protocol was that Captains fight the battles. Wars are won or lost at the company level. The caveat is that Colonels and Generals get the company to the right place at the right time to fight the right enemy.

Colonels and generals are also responsible for beans and bullets. This allows Captains to fight their units, but they do not function as independent units. They simply fight; the interrelationships are envisioned and implemented by ranks above them.

If the responsibility for this war has devolved to Lieutenants and Captains, then Colonels and Generals are not doing their jobs.

The situation in Iraq seems similar to that at Chosin Reservoir. Although the units at Chosin were division level, I believe the situation present some valid analogies to what is going on in Iraq at lower echelons.

Following are some likenesses, as I see it.

Enemy situation:

  • The enemy can maintain the initiative
  • There are unknown enemy elements operating. These units are of unknown strength.
  • The enemy is willing to sustain casualties
  • The enemy is motivated
  • The population supports the resistance fighters with new recruitment, intelligence and resources
  • The enemy can remain unidentified until the point of actual engagement, on both a personal unit level
  • The resistance do not need sophisticated battle methods, as they can apply decisive combat power at a point and time of their own choosing

Friendly situation:

  • Units are not tied together, and lack extensive fire planning and mutually supporting fires
  • There are no friendlies to the right, left or rear. Troops are isolated in unsustainable positions
  • The troops are overextended
  • The commanders at Chosin did have control over all Combat Support and Combat Service Support Units. This is not true in Iraq, since contractors are independent of the military chain of command.
  • The units believed that they could defeat the enemy through fire and maneuver. However, this is not true in either Chosin or Baghdad. Concentration of firepower and combat assets eventually stabilized the ChiCom threat; massive firepower will never solve the resistance/civil war in Iraq, though it may buy temporary local successes. Succeses which are abandoned the next day are not successes.
  • The overall commander at Chosin thought that the had the initiative, although massive unidentified ChiCom formations were about to attack him in devastating strength. The same blindness hampers realistic threat assessment in Iraq. There may be unidentified enemy formations that are capable of extreme violence.

The U.S. does not have the initiative, nor do our commanders control the battlefield. U.S. policy is totally defensive and reactive.

Wars are won only through offensive operations, to include insurgencies or guerrilla wars.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cop Out

Basil: Austin, the Cold War is over!
Austin: Finally those capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh? Eh comrades? Eh?

Basil: Austin... we won.
Austin: Oh, smashing, groovy, yea capitalism!

--Austin Powers (1997)

Somebody somewhere had another plan
Now he’s got a rifle in his hand

Rollin’ into
Baghdad wonderin’ how he got this far
Just another poor boy off to fight a rich man’s war

--Just Another Poor Boy, Steve Earle


The Army handed out punishment recently to a company commander and a platoon leader following a 2006 ambush by insurgents upon an isolated observation post south of Baghdad (''Army Punished 2 Officers in '06 After Failures in Iraq Ambush.'').

''An Army investigation into the circumstances of the attack. . . concluded that they had been left for up to 36 hours without supervision or enough firepower or support to repel even a small group of enemy fighters.''

The Army's investigative report concluded, ''The shortcoming of standards at the platoon level was compounded by company leadership that was not engaged in enforcing standards.''

And Ranger asks, ''Where were the Battalion and Brigade Commanders during this period?'' Platoon leaders must always be over-supervised since they have only been in the Army for a short time. This is especially true of a platoon that has recently lost a platoon leader and members to hostile action.

''Although the leaders of this platoon care and are staying in the fight, the platoon is frayed,'' Colonel Daugherty wrote [in the Army's report.] He recommended that the platoon be given immediate down time to recuperate.''

This platoon is, in microcosm, a representation of the problems plaguing the entire Army both in Iraq and elsewhere. The troops are over-committed and understaffed.

''In his interview, Sergeant Gallagher called Captain Goodwin ''a good man'' who did not have enough soldiers or equipment to fulfill missions ordered by superiors. ''I felt it was the command above him,'' he said. A captain is not going to tell a battalion commander that he cannot complete a mission based on personnel and based on assets.''

There must be realistic leadership objectives at Brigade and higher. Of course, a company commander will not and can not exhibit anything other than a can-do attitude, and this gets soldiers killed.

'''This platoon needs to take a hard look at its standards and discipline,' the report said.''

Wrong. The entire Army in Iraq must look at its standards and discipline. Putting this problem onto a Second Lieutenant's shoulders is an institutional cop-out.

Ranger can only commiserate with the Company level soldiers in contact with enemy personnel. The only leadership that is possible is to fall the troops in and give them a ''rear march'' out of Iraq.


Next: Situation analysis.

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Facts vs. Intelligence


The search for the two missing GI's continues, and the effort illustrates the quagmire quality of the entire war effort (''Hunt for 3 G.I.'s in Iraq Slowed by False Trails.''). I realize one body has since been found, but my comments here are not directed to breaking news, but rather U.S. military conduct, in general:

''Thousands of soldiers are searching for (the) missing Americans taken during the attack, and sifting through the tips has become the hub of the manhunt. A few have panned out, while most have led nowhere — deliberately so in some cases, many Americans suspect.''

''Separating fact from fiction, good intelligence from bad, has defined the war in Iraq
since it started.''

The problem is, utterances from prisoner under duress is not intelligence--they are simply statements. Intelligence is raw data that has been refined and authenticated, and rated as to its reliability. All else is just unverified facts, and this it seems is what the U.S. military is calling ''intelligence.''

''Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and a number of other Sunni insurgent groups, have become so interwoven into the rural towns and villages here that separating disinformation from fact or rumor requires the skill of prosecutor, interrogator and cleric combined.''

Obviously, the perpetrators have the hearts and minds of the people. Taking 700 detainees for interrogation is not a measure designed to win hearts and minds. What right do U.S. soldiers have to arrest legitimate citizens? This is an Iraqi police function.

Sadly, these soldiers are missing, but taking 700 detainees could be construed as hostage-taking, which is a violation of the rules of war.

Then again, so are preemptive invasions.

''They confessed to taking part in the attack, he said. But there was a problem: their description of what had happened did not fit with what the Americans knew from forensic evidence.''

From the description of this operation Ranger believes that the resistance fighters executed a
phased ambush. This indicates a high level of military sophistication. This fact also bodes poorly for the captives, since taking prisoners may have been an intentional outcome of this event.

“The searching helps,” [Sergeant Panpradith] said. “Knowing that we’re doing something to help find our guys. It compensates for the feeling of helplessness we felt when we got to the site that morning.”

The old rule in the Army is, ''Do anything, even if it's wrong.''
Ranger predicts more U.S. personnel being captured if the surge keeps employing combat outposts manned by small units. It is inevitable.

A follow-up article at Truthout.org offered this:

''Mustafa Hatem, 35, said (recent gunfire) had set fire to his electrical goods store, causing more than $10,000 worth of damage. . .

"I was expecting good things from the government succeeding Saddam's, but unfortunately things have gone in the opposite direction to our hopes and dreams," he said. "I wonder, how has the security plan benefited us?"

We were wondering the same thing, Mustafa.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Like Water for Chocolate


Were fighting a war we can't win
They hate us--we hate them
We can't win--no way
--Police Story, Black Flag

''No question the enemy has tried to spread sectarian violence.
They use violence as a tool to do that.''

As for Black Flag's lyrics, more specifically, all hate all, and the U.S. military machine is not the Kofi Annan to effect a conciliation between the warring factions. And what is it we were going to win again? And just what is it this president understands?

MSM often presents reports which may seem cheerier than they actually are, presenting the latest statistics as signifying positive trends. What underlies the behavior is often predictable, and not so hopeful.

''Raids Quell Copter Attacks'' tells us, ''Coalition forces have broken up a network of insurgents behind a string of deadly attacks on U.S. helicopters this winter, the Army's top aviation officer in Iraq said.''

Simply killing enemy personnel does not mean that the network has been broken up; that is wishful thinking.

The fighters killed represent the tip of the spear. Trust Ranger when he says the organization is not compromised. The events of the last five years indicate the veracity of this statement.

The resistance fighters have all the advantages, and they don't need helicopters. They have interior lines of communication, they control the local population either through fear or loyalty, and they have no evident recruitment problems. Their losses are are absorbed through new membership.

Killing is not the correct yardstick with which to measure progress in this war, and the military should know this. So why brag about killing less than 100 people?
''The raids came as the United States boosted troop levels in Iraq. However, violence has not declined.

''Coalition forces have increased the use of helicopters to reduce the number of ground convoys, which are vulnerable to roadside bombs.''

Consider the cost of using helicopters for supply purposes. If they are carrying beans and bullets, then they are not being tactically employed. This indicates that U.S. forces have lost the initiative.

If you can not drive supply vehicles safely in the area of operations, which is Baghdad, then the area is not secured. A statement like this is about as trenchant as some made by GWB this past Thursday in the Rose Garden. So why does MSM hail these failures as success?

A historical analogy comes to mind--the air supply effort to the Nazi Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Of course, it is not snowing in Baghdad. But armies in contact with the enemy can not be supplied or sustained totally via air assets.

Why would America want to expend resources doing this?

The security of Baghdad is not the mission of the U.S. military, nor is the political capital of the U.S. there for GWB to expend.

Something About the Job?

You'll like it here. We're a pretty disobedient bunch.


Submitted for your consideration (''Study: 1 in 4 Vets in Prison are Sex Offenders.'') Ranger has no comment.

Military veterans in prison are more than twice as likely to have been convicted for sex offenses as nonveteran inmates, federal researchers say. They cannot say why.

A study released Sunday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics compared the populations of inmates who served in the military and those who did not

Veterans are half as likely to be incarcerated as those without service experience in the first place, researchers found, but 23 percent of the veterans in prison were sex offenders, compared with 9 percent of nonveteran inmates

"We couldn't come to any definite conclusion as to why," said Margaret E. Noonan, one of the study's authors.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Walley World II

I got laid off when they closed that asbestos factory,
and wouldn't you know it, the
army cuts my disability pension
because they said that the plate in my head wasn't big enough

--Eddie, Vacation (1983)

If you build it, they will come
--Field of Dreams (1989)

The movie Vacation could serve as a cartoonish morality tale for this story because of the hideously bloated imaginary theme park, Walley World, which was the Griswold family's monomaniacal goal--even though it was closed to him, and he had to breach the gates to enter.

Estimates for the cost of the newest U.S. real-world monstrosity-- the boondoggle that will be the U.S. Embassy in Iraq--range from $592 million to $1 billion dollars (''U.S. Embassy in Iraq Will be World's Largest.'')

Field of Dreams, for the obvious. Such ostentation will be a suicide-bomber magnet. So the question is, WHY?

''The new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will be the world's largest and most expensive foreign mission, though it may not be large enough or secure enough to cope with the chaos in Iraq.

''The $592 million embassy occupies a chunk of prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington's National Mall, with desk space for about 1,000 people behind high, blast-resistant walls. The compound is a symbol both of how much the United States has invested in Iraq and how the circumstances of its involvement are changing.

''The complex quickly could become a white elephant if the U.S. scales back its presence and ambitions in Iraq. Although the U.S. probably will have forces in Iraq for years to come, it is not clear how much of the traditional work of diplomacy can proceed amid the violence and what the future holds for Iraq's government.''

Imagine what $592 million could do for your community. And did the U.S. pay the Iraqi government for this sprawling compound, or did we just commandeer it?

If the U.S. forces will be in Iraq for years to come, then why is this embassy required? Forces are controlled by headquarters that should be sandbagged and tactical. Embassies are for diplomats, not soldiers. Using the troops as an excuse for the behemoth is a non sequitur, but of course, supporting our troops is always a reliable cover for any crazy and venal policies of the administration.

''Morale is at an ebb among the embassy staff, most of whom rarely leave the heavily fortified Green Zone during their one-year tours in Iraq.''
And of course, since the embassy personnel rarely interact with Iraqis, it is obvious that winning hearts and minds is not the order of the day. As always, Iraqi goodwill is purchased with U.S. combat power in urban street warfare. Welcome to the neighborhood.

''The second-most expensive embassy is the smaller $434 million U.S. mission being built in Beijing.''
Doesn't it seem strange that the Moscow embassy isn't the second largest U.S. embassy? Why does Iraq supersede Moscow in U.S. policy priorities?

''[The International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts] notes that the embassy is a sore point with Iraqis who are fed up with war, violence and roadblocks and chafing under the perception the U.S. still calls the shots more than four years after Saddam's ouster.''

Again--why are we building this?


No Rose Garden

The words of wise men are heard in quiet
more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war:
but one sinner destroyeth much good

Ecclesiastes 9:18

Jim Rutenberg (NYT): "Mr. President, why is [bin Laden] still at large?"
GWB: ''Why is he at large? Because we haven't gotten him yet, Jim.''

--White House Press Conference, 5/24/07


Ever on the lookout for your safety, Ranger passes along this latest FDA food warning, with a sniffle that the late great Jerry Falwell is not here to impute the proper godly interpretation of this event:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- Austin, TX -- May 22, 2007 - Whole Foods Market is voluntarily recalling 365 Organic Everyday Value Sesame Tahini 16-oz, with a Best By Date of 10/02/07 or earlier because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

The first thing that crossed my mind in these perilous times is: the Creator is smiting us for attempting to adulterate our wholesome American palates with
Middle Eastern cuisine. Even eating organic won't save you from that transgression.

Resist ye all who are tempted to drink of another well. Yes, well, I think I'm ready for the pulpit now. . .


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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Too Sexy

President William Howard Taft

I'm too sexy for my shirt too sexy for my shirt
So sexy it hurts
And I'm too sexy for Milan too sexy for Milan
New York and Japan
--I'm Too Sexy, Right Said Fred

Just musing here upon Ashcroft and the Night Visitors--Jim Comey's damning recent Senate testimony on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's uber-unctious 2004 ''bedside ambush'' of a hospital-ridden Ashcroft, in which he attempted to railroad the ill then-Attorney General into okaying illegal eavesdropping plans.

When WaPo writer Milbank stated ''
Gonzales preyed on the infirm,'' I realized how swept up in this crazy GWB administration mindset I had become, for my mind first perceived what was written as, ''Gonzales prayed on the infirm,'' like some kind of latter-day Jerry Falwell.

Still a frightening prospect from your Attorney General, but that I read prey as pray is telling of how the propaganda machine has infiltrated and commandeered our expectations.

Where do we find these people that are leading America? Are we so morally bankrupt as a society that this is the best we can do? What does this bode for our future as a nation? I wonder, what is the critical mass of avarice, corruption, vanity and shallowness a society can bear before it implodes?

The selection and election process is not mindful of the needs of the average taxpaying American. Ranger knows that something is seriously wrong when Mitt Romney fronts a major news magazine cover which touts, ''He Looks Presidential.''

Think about it. Did General Grant look like a general? Would Grover Cleveland have had a chance in today's world of pretty boy politics? Surely FDR in his wheelchair would never have passed the virility test, which demands clearing brush off the ranch.

John Kerry lost his pretty boy chance in his tight, frou-frou lycra biking shorts. Too pretty boy. Yes, he has a Silver Star, but that signifies real-world action; the proof is, he looks like a pansy, and in the metrics of electability, he fails.

Electability is such a precarious quality. The candidate must seem like us, which means he must dissemble (as Bush taught us) to begin with. Pugilistically patriotic, in insecure and xenophobic times. In our newly pious times, the wife (and he must have a wife) must not be too threatening, possessing just enough stand-by-her-man -ishness.

Yet she must strike the balance, too. She must be seen as trying to do something, like advocate for children's literacy, for instance. Something close to the hearth, and cute. We can indulge her aspirations in that arena. Something motherly, or teacherly, or librarian.

Laura Bush strikes it, and Al Gore's wife, too, with her worries over naughty song lyrics. Lady Bird did with her wildflower prettification projects. Hillary did and does not, though it remains to be seen whether Bill will. Jackie Kennedy would be too French for our current times. Refinement is outre.

Appearances have trumped reality, image trumps essence, but maybe this is not new. Reminds me of my Texan grandma, who loved James Garner and Dean Martin (I'm certain it was only because she had lived with my Air Force grandfather while he was stationed in Italy, she could brook Martin) --the hale, well-met fellows with swagger, and feet of clay.

She always said what a ''good looking man'' Reagan was before his election, with nary a word on his politics. That did not much matter. He looked presidential. Tough, but with an aw-shucks demeanor. You could see the boy beneath the man (but not in a Mark Foley way, you see.)

In the way that Romney looks like Ted Danson, who looks like he could play a president; in the way that Danny DeVito looks like he could not.

What is the value of democracy and free elections if there are no clear differences between the candidates? If it is a beauty contest, where $400 haircuts happen, but they must not seem to be $400 haircuts. And if that is what we want, that is what we will get. The blame gets shared all the way 'round for this failure.

In U.S. elections, the choices benefit the corporations and not the taxpaying electorate. Why can't we see that, and demand better?

--Jim and Lisa

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Happy Trails

"Nuther load of tobacco money headin' North, Ma."

Some Trails are happy ones
Others are blue,

it's the way you ride the trail that counts--

here's a happy one for you

--Happy Trails, Roy Rogers Show theme


David Pogue, the New York Times tech guru, has posted an important piece today on how Congressmen's voting records corroborate with lobbyist money received on a new site -- Maplight.org (Following the Money Trail Online):

The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that you have one.

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway, to avoid becoming depressed by Maplight.org.

It's a new Web site with a very simple mission: to correlate lawmakers' voting records with the money they've accepted from special-interest groups.

All of this is public information. All of it has been available for decades. Other sites, including OpenSecrets.org, expose who's giving how much to whom. But nobody has ever revealed the relationship between money given and votes cast to quite such a startling effect.

If you click the "Video Tour" button on the home page, you'll see a six-minute video that illustrates the point. You find out that on H.R.5684, the U. S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement, special interests in favor of this bill (including pharmaceutical companies and aircraft makers) gave each senator an average of $244,000. Lobbyists opposed to the bill (such as anti-poverty groups and consumer groups) coughed up only $38,000 per senator.

Surprise! The bill passed."

Though most payola is predictably effective, Pogue notes that a few lawmakers are "deliciously contrary":

Jim Brulte has accepted over $67,000 from the tobacco industry, but hasn't voted in their favor a single time. Is that even ethical -- I mean, by the standards of this whole sleazy business?"

I probably sound absurdly naive here. But truth is, I can't quite figure out why these contributions are even legal. Let the various factions explain their points till they're blue in the face, sure -- but to cut checks for millions of dollars?

Alas, poor David.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

War World

Gordon Dreher, injured Iraqi contractor, with dog, Dancer

We're in the money,
We're in the money;
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!
We're in the Money, 42nd Street

By keeping the knowledge of this [contractor] force hidden, it changes one’s perception and one’s evaluation of the war. There are almost a thousand dead and a large number of injuries. I think it masks the fact that we are privatizing the military in this country

This whole shadow force that's been operating in Iraq, we know almost nothing about. I think it keeps at arm's length from the American people what this war is all about."
--Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)

The large number of injuries the Rep. refers to is 3,430 for the first three months of 2007, according to the Labor Department (in addition to 146 dead.)

"The contractor deaths earlier this year, for example, came closer to the number of American military deaths during the same period — 244 — than during any other quarter since the war began, according to official figures."

"The number of casualties, though, may be much higher because the government’s statistical database is not complete," reports a
New York Times article, "Death Toll for Contractors Reaches New High in Iraq." No one knows the actual number of contractor injuries and deaths.

We've featured Mr. Dreher's picture, which accompanied the Times article, because of his T-shirt.

We think the death's head logo over knife and cross bones, under banner "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in gothic script, is instructive of what is probably the ethos of the average contractor in Bush's private army, as the Times calls it. Cute, no?

As an aside, note the troubled look on his face, and the cherubim figurine behind him. It all adds up to a scene of conflict, both external and internal, which might sum up this war endeavor to a T.

I have also seen photos of Blackwater vehicles in Fallujah with the death's head stenciled on the doors. What is the message here?

Ranger speculated last year about this administration's tactic to diminish the number of casualties in Iraq on the books, hence buying time with a public which has only a certain tolerance for loss before showing unrest. Now the MSM seems to be noticing, too.
The Nation also ran a recent piece on the topic--"Bush's Shadow Army.''

The quotes below are taken from the Times piece on the "hidden casualties of war":

"Casualties among private contractors in Iraq have soared to record levels this year, setting a pace that seems certain to turn 2007 into the bloodiest year yet for the civilians who work alongside the American military in the war zone, according to new government numbers.
"(T)he total number of contractors killed in Iraq [is] at least 917, along with more than 12,000 wounded in battle or injured on the job.

"Nearly 300 companies from the United States and around the world supply workers who are a shadow force in Iraq almost as large as the uniformed military. About 126,000 men and women working for contractors serve alongside about 150,000 American troops, the Pentagon has reported. Never before has the United States gone to war with so many civilians on the battlefield doing jobs — armed guards, military trainers, translators, interrogators, cooks and maintenance workers — once done only by those in uniform.

"But at the end of the cold war, Congress and the Pentagon were eager to seize on the so-called peace dividend and drastically scale back the standing Army. The Bush administration expanded the outsourcing strategy to unprecedented levels after the invasion of Iraq.

The figure of 126,000 contractors is murky, since secrecy seems to be a contractor, as well as an administration, virtue.

"Companies that have lost workers in Iraq were generally unresponsive to questions about the numbers of deaths and the circumstances that led to casualties. None acknowledged that they had seen an increase this year.
"The new contractor statistics suggest that for every four American soldiers or marines who die in Iraq, a contractor is killed."

Ranger is hard-pressed to understand how the U.S. taxpayers benefit from contracting out the war. Weekly pay varies from $60 for Iraqi translators and laborers, to $6,000 for private security guards (USD). The average weekly contractor salary, according to a recent NPR report, is about $900. And dear friends, where does that money come from? Compare these rates to that earned by a Sergeant E-5 to see that contractors are paid more than soldiers.

The Nation
quotes Senator Jim Webb, "This is a rent-an-army out there. Wouldn't it be better for this country if those tasks, particularly the quasi-military gunfighting tasks, were being performed by active-duty military soldiers in terms of cost and accountability?"

When a contractor is wounded, who pays for his care? Social Security benefits, available to these now disabled personnel, will be absorbed by the taxpayer. Is this what they are calling a
peace dividend?

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