Is America Burning - a Forum To Discuss Issues

All comments welcome, pro or con. Passionate ok, but let's be civil. ...Pertinent comments will be published on this blog. Air your viewpoints.


Skyline - Houston, Texas

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dr. Mary Walker

This story from Women's eNews interests me; partly because of the way this woman was treated and partly because she was born about 30 miles or so from where I grew up in central New York.

Possibly my progressive streak was due to something in the water.

I was a little disturbed, however, by the need to dress her up for the postage stamp. She's probably still spinning.


Iconoclast Walker Honored for Wartime Courage

By Louise Bernikow
WeNews historian

June 10, 1977: Dr. Mary Walker gets her medal back.


In the 19th century, northern New York state was a progressive hotbed of anti-slavery opponents and advocates for women's rights, encompassing everything from female education to dress reform to voting. Into such a community Mary E. Walker was born in Oswego in 1832. By the time she was 23, she had graduated from Syracuse Medical College, the first such institution in the country. Early on, she adopted the controversial "Bloomer" costume, wearing pants and shorter dresses. Attired in trousers and a frock coat, she married a fellow physician and kept her own name.

When the Civil War broke out, she tried to join the Union Army as a medic, an impossibility for a woman. So she volunteered, first as a nurse at the battle of First Manassas in Virginia, then as a surgeon in Tennessee as the battle of Chickamauga raged nearby. In 1864, in full military uniform, she was taken prisoner and imprisoned at Richmond, Va., but won release in time to help during the Battle of Atlanta. President Andrew Johnson awarded her a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1866.

After the war, she lectured on women's rights, wearing full male evening dress--wing collar, bow tie and top hat--and that medal. Her costume got her arrested several times and by 1917, when the government decided to review Medal of Honor recipients and requested the return of hers because she had never officially been in the military, many believed it was really the clothing that did it. Walker refused and wore the medal until the day she died in 1919.

All but forgotten until the late 1960s, Walker was resurrected by a great grandniece, Ann Walker, who campaigned for restoration of the medal. Presumably riding a tide of feminist enthusiasm, Ann Walker gathered support and was successful. On June 10, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed an order restoring the award. Five years later, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in Dr. Mary Walker's honor. The stamp pictures an exceedingly feminine young woman in a lovely dress.

Louise Bernikow is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles. She travels to campuses and community groups with a lecture and slide show about activism called "The Shoulders We Stand On: Women as Agents of Change." She can be reached at

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at


AlterNet: Tyranny of the Christian Right

The Christian Right - destroy secular society

Tyranny of the Christian Right

The largest and most powerful mass movement in the nation -- evangelical Christianity -- has set out to destroy secular society.

I plan a post or series of post about this movement later in the summer, prior to the elections.

AlterNet: Frist has lost the plot/ Frist is Loony Tunes!

Is Worried American loony tunes also? At various times in person, in emails, and in response to comments left on others' blogs, I have been derided, denigrated and insulted in various ways. I've been called crazy, stupid, senile, rabid, obsessed, and a fear monger, among other things. I am not sure about the insults regarding my mental health, but I plead guilty to rabidity and obsession concerning certain subjects - the accursed wars; the deaths and maiming of our troops; the destruction of nations, deaths and maiming of other human beings; the violation of and contempt for our Constitution; the eroding of our rights; the creation of corporate fascism as the rule of America; the cruelty of our government towards our neediest citizens...on and on.

YOU BET YOUR SWEET BIPPY I AM RABID AND OBSESSED, OR RABIDLY OBSESSED. But a couple of issues I do NOT place as top priorities are gay marriage and flag burning. I am an old WWII "mom, the flag, and apple pie" type of patriot and personally I think desecrating our flag is disrespectfull, not to "a piece of cloth" but to what it symbolizes and the blood that has been shed for the principles that symbolism embodies. So I don't like flag burning and other desecrations. But it is not a top priority with me.

Gay marriage? I once socialized extensively with a circle of arty-intellectuals and a number in the circle were gays. I was friends with some of them as well as in other social circles. We had an unspoken pact: I didn't pry into their sex lives if they didn't pry into mine. That went for my heterosexual friends too; to me, ones' sex lives were private business and I am aghast at the way people today publically disclose the most intimate aspects of their sex lives. But, different strokes for different folks. The times they are a-changing, and I am tolerant of differences. I believe that government should stay out of the bedrooms of consenting adults.

With all the truly important issues confronting America today, Frist - FRIST! - comes out against these minor issues! Obviously pandering to the Christian Right. ( and before someone starts accusing me of being anti-Christian, I state firmly I am a Christian but I do NOT agree with those radicals.)



Frist has lost the plot

Calls gay marriage and flag-burning "pressing national priorities" . Give me a break.

Furthermore, Frist wants to amend the Constitution to cover man-woman marriage. The Marriage Police are ready with their batons.

For crying out loud!

Worried and I are Doomed, I Tell You, Doomed!!

From Women's eNews today:


Alarmist Demography Stalks Women Over 60

By Margaret M. Gullette - WeNews commentator

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's Enews.

(WOMENSENEWS)--OK, here's the news that broke on the day when the main thing on my mind was figuring which champagne I could afford to celebrate my 65th birthday: the Medicare-Social Security birthday.

I had a girlfriend flying up from New York and we were going to eat rich desserts and kill the bottle.

That's the day two male bio-ethicists at the National Institutes of Health published an article in Science declaring who should and should not get the flu vaccine first during the next pandemic. As the Boston Globe writer phrased it, should it be "the 60-year-old grandmother with a weak heart and lungs or the healthy 4-year-old with decades ahead of her?"

The Globe writer got the gist of the doctors' move, pitting life against life by age, but personifying that contrast with two females was her decision.

When it comes to triage by age, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel and Dr. Alan Wertheimer think the government should opt first for 13 to 40-year-olds, then 7 to 12-year-olds, then 41 to 50-year-olds. Presumably those over 50 are out of luck.

"Not because the lives of older people are less valuable," say Emanuel and Wertheimer.

Oh right!

Leave aside that not every 60-year-old is a grandmother. Leave aside that 60 is way young to die for someone whose life expectancy is still measured in decades. Poor woman, just when she's finally got the kids out of house and is able to do something for herself.

I know "grandmother" is a place-holder for any "old woman," and plenty of younger people think 60 is old.

For a woman.

Granny Death Stakes

To be fair, the NIH doctors would also leave an ailing grandfather without flu protection. But no one singles out "grandpa" for death stakes the way they do "granny." Maybe they don't think 60 is old for a male. Or maybe they know that in advance of a pandemic a lot of 60-year-old men in Congress would indignantly start cutting funding for "bioethicists" and start stockpiling vaccine for themselves.

What amazes me is this thought experiment, pitting women and men over 50 against everyone else. The Science authors complain because government guidelines about flu vaccines now put sicker and older people--the most vulnerable--near the head of the line. "Step aside, grandma," as one Internet site puts it.

It turns out that how long granny lives is a big issue. Our schizoid age culture celebrates longevity and deplores it at the same time, drawing a grim picture of the elders who are causing the "graying" or "aging" of America.

But elders are mostly women, since women live longer than men. So by extension, it is older women who are going to break the bank on Social Security. Older women are going to exhaust the supply of hale younger workers to support them. Sickly older women who insist on receiving life-giving medicine and surgery are going to destroy Medicare.

Everywhere, scarcity is being constructed to strike fear into the hearts of younger people.

"Alarmist demography" is what age theorist Steven Katz calls this form of ageism.

Debunk Alarmist Demography

Factually, alarmist demography is wrong. Social Security is not in danger until 2042, and a little tinkering with what richer people pay is all it will take to fix it.

A nation is not necessarily worse off because the ratio of workers to retirees has dropped. Economist Paul Krugman pointed out in an article last year in the New York Review of Books that the current 3-to-1 worker-retiree ratio has been the American situation for decades and Social Security has stayed in surplus.

A nation is not better off simply because it has an age pyramid bottom-heavy with youth: that is the demography of the most impoverished developing countries, as Christine Overall notes in her 2003 book, "Aging, Death and Human Longevity."

The anxiety and depression of older people may not get treated properly because of misconceptions that being old is inherently miserable. A 2005 report by the Alliance for Aging Research found "too many physicians and psychologists believe that late-stage depression and suicidal statements are normal and acceptable in older patients." This is part of America's decline ideology; the belief that decline rather than progress is natural once we age past midlife, or perhaps even past youth.

Many people, especially women, born between 1954 and 1964--still in midlife, supposedly our prime--already live in poverty. According to a Harvard study released in late May, reported by Women's eNews, 30 million-plus of our country's 40 million-plus boomer women will not be able to afford to retire, will fall below the poverty line and experience poorer health in their later years with limited aid from traditional safety nets.

Reducing Will to Live

Vicious stereotypes, additionally, can reduce the will to live in older people formulating life-and-death decisions, according to psychologists Rebecca Levy, Oris Ashman and Itiel Dror in an essay in Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying some years ago. It is widely stated that the burden of old people is going to be a drain on society and fall on "the children and grandchildren."

People are even given hints that their suicides in later life will be understandable. "Nor, given the aging of the population, is the topic of rational suicide likely to disappear," wrote Barron Lerner recently in the Washington Post.

Will "suicide" sound more "rational" when elderly women and men do it? Will American decline ideology turn so harsh that suicide comes to seem rational for us in later life? Philosophers now debate whether there is a "duty to die."

Morally and politically these new forms of ageism are evil as well as wrong. They train younger people to think in terms of generational wars. They encourage the young to give up on Social Security rather than battle to improve it.

At midlife nowadays people are supposed to be able to find purpose and pleasure in aging-past-youth. How can we, when the culture is offering people lower wages and ageist stereotyping? Ageism makes those who are forced out of the workplace in their middle years unconsciously ashamed to be cumbering the earth. People who are aging-toward-old-age become vulnerable to mean-spirited ideas about becoming "burdens."

All this discards and diminishes the contributions of people past 65. Doris ("Granny D.") Haddock, who marched across America for campaign reform at age 89, is one of my heroines. But old people shouldn't be required to be heroic to warrant being left alive. The ethical issue is not who is "valuable"--that leads us to fascist eugenics. The issue is who is most vulnerable, just as the current guidelines recognize.

That there can be debates about "the duty to die"--that younger people are made to fear and disdain their elders--is shocking.

The slide toward demonizing longevity and pitting the generations against one another demonstrates an escalation in the already-vexed process of being aged by culture. This is another culture war we ignore at our peril.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette is the author of "Aged by Culture," chosen a notable book of the year by the Christian Science Monitor. She is a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center, Brandeis University.





Universal National Service Act of 2006 introduced to the House. HR4752IH. Any way you title it, it is D-R-A-F-T. Not just your sons, your daughters too. And if you are between the ages of 18-42, that means YOU TOO. Both men AND women. For military duty and CIVILIAN duty as determined by the President. Drafted for civilian duty? Just what duty do you think the Decider can dream up? Where? Doing what?

If this on again, off again, gone again government url doesn't work, go to , scroll down, WAY-Y-Y down to a one line title "A Bill for a Military Draft Already Making Its Way Through Congress" and click on the title. So far it has worked each time.

Note "...military service or...civilian service...national defense and homeland security, and for OTHER PURPOSES." What other purposes? " defined by the President." He's the Decider. Now he's the Definer. Says so several times in the text.

Thanks to Granny for this:

News article re: Rangel and the bill. Check links at end of article for more info.

Don't be misled if the Repub. Congress defeats the bill to make themselves heroes right before the election in order to boost themselves at the voter booths. This is the second time this has come up and sooner or later it WILL pass. The third time may be the charm. Bush and the Neocons' war policies and drive to control the world's oil demand an expanded military. Recruitment has plummeted so the draft is the only alternative.

During WWII civilians took over many jobs and duties that had previously been filled by the men who went off to war. They did so voluntarily because they supported the war against Germany and Japan and did all they could to support the war effort. Today, civilian support is very low so drafting civilians is an alternative.

What about my job? What about my kids? What about my college? These are questions every soldier has asked when about to be deployed. Now it appears anyone, citizens and RESIDENTS (how about you immigrants?)
can ask the same questions. But don't worry, the Decider will decide for you.

Read it and weep. And start deluging your Congressperson with protests, for what good it will do.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006



'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Discharges Increase 11%

Those that are discharged for being gay will at least be spared the fate of the troopers depicted in the post above. I am in favor of getting every man and woman out of that cursed war. The problem with this treatment from the military is that their careers are destroyed and they are robbed of accrued benefits.

What are the authorities afraid of if a military person is gay? Are they afraid that a sexual attraction or romance will develope between the gay man and another man? So what? Doesn't that happen between the women and men who serve together? Are they afraid of violence against the gay men by the heterosexual men? Doesn't that happen against the women who serve with heterosexual men? Sexual harrassment and rape seem to be common. So are they going to discharge all the women troopers?

From the Associated Press

May 25 2006

WASHINGTON ; The number of military members discharged under the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals rose by 11% last year, the first increase since 2001, officials said Wednesday.

The complete article can be viewed at:,1,4095755.story?coll=la-headlines-nation

Visit at

Monday, May 29, 2006



No matter if a war is unjust or illegal, we honor the men and women who serve, who perform their duties, who honor their committment, who struggle and fight and die in service to our country.



I Changed My Mind

I was going to leave what I said earlier as my final thought for the day. Then I ran across this in The Nation. From Walt Whitman after the Civil War:

The last sunbeam

Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,

On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,

Down a new-made double grave.


Lo, the moon ascending,

Up from the east the silvery round moon,

Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,

Immense and silent moon.


I see a sad procession,

And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,

All the channels of the city streets they are flooding,

As with voices and with tears.


I hear the great drums pounding,

And the small drums steady whirring

And every blow of the great convulsive drums,

Strikes me through and through.


For the son is brought with the father,

(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,

Two veterans son and father dropt together,

And the double grave awaits them.)


And nearer blow the bugles,

And the drums strike more convulsive,

And the daylight o'er the pavement quite has faded,

And the strong dead-march enwraps me.


In the eastern sky up-buoying,

The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd,

('Tis some mother's large transparent face,

In heaven brighter growing.)


O strong dead-march you please me!

O moon immense with your silvery face you soothe me!

O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!

What I have I also give you.


The moon gives you light,

And the bugles and the drums give you music,

And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,

My heart gives you love.


Memorial Day 2006

A little later today, my three young great-granddaughters and I will head for our Courthouse Square with its memorial to all our brave servicemen and women.

We will honor their bravery and their sacrifice. We will think about the servicemen and women from other countries as well.

Then we will honor the innocent victims.

And we will pray for an end to the destruction everywhere.

I want my girls to know Memorial Day is not just another holiday from school.

I won't be posting anything else here today. I can begin ranting again tomorrow.


After I wrote this brief post, I saw this at Jay Lassiter's site.

A fitting tribute and one we should all remember.







Sunday, May 28, 2006

More on Signing Statements

The Boston Globe today has a lengthyarticle on signing statements. Bush has issued more than the previous four administations combined.

The article goes on to say that legislation is routed through Cheney's office before Bush ever sees it.

Sure. Why veto a bill and let Congress decide when you can just ignore it.

Just noticed the Globe requires free registration. I didn't see it before because I'm already registered.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Sorry - I Couldn't Resist

My younger son just sent this to me. Not our usual PG rated fare, but I guess we're all adults here.

Official Announcement:

The government today announced that it is changing its emblem from an Eagle to a CONDOM because it more accurately reflects the government's political stance. A condom allows for inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects a bunch of pricks, and gives you a sense of security while you're actually being screwed!

Damn, it just doesn't get more accurate than that!


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Skilling and Lay - More

Sorry, but it's so seldom good news shows up around here.

From The Nation


Lay and Skilling Guilty!! Update


Bush and Co have issued a statement congratulating themselves.

Republicans are jumping on board.

While I wonder if they'll receive as much prison time as Martha or if they'll be given community service.


Update - Here's more from Truthout today

Lay Convicted, Bush Walks
By Greg Palast
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 25 May 2006

Don't kid yourself. If you think the conviction of Ken Lay means that George W. Bush is serious about going after corporate bad guys, think again.

First, Lay got away with murder - or at least grand larceny. Like Al Capone convicted of failing to file his taxes, Ken Lay, though found guilty of stock fraud, is totally off the hook for his BIG crime: taking down California and Texas consumers for billions through fraud on the power markets. Lay co-convict Jeff Skilling and Enron did not act alone. They connived with a half dozen other power companies and a dozen investment banks to manipulate both the stock market and the electricity market. And though their co-conspirators have now paid $3 billion to settle civil claims, the executives of these other corporations and banks get a walk on criminal charges. Furthermore, to protect our president's boardroom buddies from any additional discomfort, the Bush Justice Department, just days ago, indicted Milberg-Weiss, the law firm that nailed Enron's finance industry partners-in-crime. The timing of the bust of this firm - the top corporation-battling law firm - smacks of political prosecution, and is a signal to Big Business that it's business as usual. Lay and Skilling have to pay up their ill-gotten gains to Enron's stockholders, but what about the $9-plus billion owed to electricity consumers? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Bush's electricity cops, have slapped Enron and its gang of power pirates on the wrist. Could that have something to do with the fact that Ken Lay, in secret chats with Dick Cheney, selected the Commission's chairmen? Team Bush had to throw the public a bone, so they threw us Lay and Skilling for the crime - note - not of ripping off the public, but of ripping off stockholders - the owner class. This limited conviction, and the announcement of only one more indictment - of the crime-busters at Milberg-Weiss - is Team Bush's "all clear!" signal for the sharks to jump back into the power pool.

That leaves one question: If Bush's Justice Department let Ken and company keep the California loot, what about that state's own government? If you want to know how Californians' $9 billion went bye-bye, read on...

When Ahnold Got Lay'd

Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Hills. May 17, 2001. The Financial Criminal of the twentieth century, not long out of prison, meets with the Financial Criminal of the twenty-first century, who fears he may also have to do hard time. These two, bond-market manipulator Mike Millikin and Ken Lay, not-yet-indicted Chairman of Enron Corporation, were joined by a selected group of movers and shakers - and one movie star.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had been to such private parties before. As a young immigrant without a nickel to his name, he put on private displays of his musculature for guests of his promoter. As with those early closed gatherings, I don't know all that went on at the Peninsula Hotel meet, though I understand Ahnold, this time, did not have to strip down to his Speedos. Nevertheless, the moral undressing was just as lascivious, if you read through the 34 page fax that arrived at our office.

Lay, who convened the hugger-mugger, was in a bit of trouble. Enron and the small oligopoly of other companies that ruled California's electricity system had been caught jacking up the price of power and gas by fraud, conspiracy and manipulation. A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon it was real money - $6.3 billion in suspect windfalls in just six months, May through December 2000, for a half-dozen electricity buccaneers, at least $9 billion for the year. Their skim would have been higher, but the tricksters thought they were limited by the number of digits the state's power-buying computers could read.

When Ken met Arnold in the hotel room, the games were far from over. For example, in June 2003, Reliant Corporation of Houston simply turned off several power plants, and when California cities faced going dark, the company sold them a pittance of kilowatts for more than gold, making several million in minutes.

Power-market shenanigans were nothing new in 2000. What was new was the response of Governor Gray Davis. A normally quiet, if not dull, man, this Governor had the temerity to call the energy sellers "pirates" - in public! - and, even more radically, he asked them to give back all the ill-gotten loot, the entire $9 billion. The state filed a regulatory complaint with the federal government.

The Peninsula Hotel get-together was all about how to "settle" the legal actions in such a way that Enron and friends could get the state to accept dog food instead of dollars. Davis seemed unlikely to see things Ken's way. Life would be so much better if California had a governor like the muscle guy in the Speedos.

And so it came to pass that, in 2003, quiet Gray Davis, who had the cojones to stand up to the electricity barons, was thrown out of office by the voters and replaced by the tinker-toy tough guy. The Governator performed as desired. Soon after Schwarzenegger took over from Davis, he signed off on a series of deals with Reliant, Williams Company, Dynegy, Entergy and the other power pirates for ten to twenty cents on the dollar, less than you'd tip the waitress. Enron paid just about nothing.


On June 6, Penguin Dutton will publish Greg Palast's new book, Armed Madhouse: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Class War, from which this is taken. Armed Madhouse includes the Project Censored Award-winning story of George Bush and the Enron chief, "Power Outage Traced to Dim Bulb in White House." Order it today.

Palast, an internationally recognized expert on Enron and electricity market manipulation, is co-author of Democracy and Regulation, the United Nation's guide to control of the utility industry.

Special thanks to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, Los Angeles,, who first uncovered the confidential Peninsula Hotel documents.

View Palast's investigative reports for Harper's Magazine and BBC Television's Newsnight at


Article from Tom Dispatch Part 1 (part 2 follows)

This article and the one following are a little long but are good reads and very pertinent to today's issues. I recommend them.*********

You can read many more dispatches and join our mailing list so they come directly to your e-mail inbox daily by visiting, your antidote to the mainstream media.

posted May 22, 2006 at 4:54 pm

Tomdispatch Interview: Bacevich on the Limits of Imperial Power

[Note to Tomdispatch readers: This is the tenth in an ongoing series of interviews at the site. The last three interviews were with Chalmers Johnson (1 and 2), Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Mike Davis (1 and 2). Tom]

The Delusions of Global Hegemony

A Tomdispatch Interview with Andrew Bacevich (Part 1)

I wait for him on a quiet, tree and wisteria-lined street of red-brick buildings. Students, some in short-sleeves on this still crisp spring morning, stream by. I'm seated on cold, stone steps next to a sign announcing the Boston University Department of International Relations. He turns the corner and advances, wearing a blue blazer, blue shirt and tie, and khaki slacks and carrying a computer in a black bag. He's white haired, has a nicely weathered face, and the squared shoulders and upright bearing of a man, born in Normal, Illinois, who attended West Point, fought in the Vietnam War, and then had a twenty-year military career that ended in 1992.

Now a professor of history at Boston University, he directs me to a spacious, airy office whose floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the picturesque street. A tasseled cap and gown hang on a hook behind the door -- perhaps because another year of graduation is not far off. I'm left briefly to wait while he deals with an anxious student, there to discuss his semester mark. Soon enough though, he seats himself behind a large desk with a cup of coffee and prepares to discuss his subjects of choice, American militarism and the American imperial mission.

Andrew Bacevich is a man on a journey -- as he himself is the first to admit. A cultural conservative, a former contributor to such magazines as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, a former Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, he discovered sometime in the 1990s that his potential conservative allies on foreign policy had fallen in love with the idea of the American military and its imagined awesome power to change the world. They had jumped the tracks and left him behind. A professed cold warrior, in those years he took a new look at our American past -- and he's not stopped looking, or reconsidering, since.

What he discovered was the American empire, which became the title of a book he published in 2002. In 2005, his fierce, insightful book on American dreams of global military supremacy, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War, appeared. (It was excerpted in two posts at this site.) It would have been eye-opening no matter who had written it, but given his background it was striking indeed.

Forceful and engaged (as well as engaging), Bacevich throws himself into the topic at hand. He has a barely suppressed dramatic streak and a willingness to laugh heartily at himself. But most striking are the questions that stop him. Just as you imagine a scholar should, he visibly turns over your questions in his mind, thinking about what may be new in them.

He takes a sip of coffee and, in a no-nonsense manner, suggests that we begin.

Tomdispatch: In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, you said the revolt of the retired generals against Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld represented the beginning of a search for a scapegoat for the Iraq War. I wondered whether you also considered it a preemptive strike against the Bush administration's future Iran policy.

Andrew Bacevich: The answer is yes. It's both really. Certainly, it's become incontrovertible that the Iraq War is not going to end happily. Even if we manage to extricate ourselves and some sort of stable Iraq emerges from the present chaos, arguing that the war lived up to the expectations of the Bush administration is going to be very difficult. My own sense is that the officer corps -- and this probably reflects my personal experience to a great degree -- is fixated on Vietnam and still believes the military was hung out to dry there. The officer corps came out of the Vietnam War determined never to repeat that experience and some officers are now angry to discover that the Army is once again stuck in a quagmire. So we are in the early stages of a long argument about who is to be blamed for the Iraq debacle. I think, to some degree, the revolt of the generals reflects an effort on the part of senior military officers to weigh in, to lay out the military's c! ase. And the military's case is: We're not at fault. They are; and, more specifically, he is -- with Rumsfeld being the stand-in for [Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara.

Having said that, with all the speculation about Bush administration interest in expanding the Global War on Terror to include Iran, I suspect the officer corps, already seeing the military badly overstretched, doesn't want to have any part of such a war. Going public with attacks on Rumsfeld is one way of trying to slow whatever momentum there is toward an Iran war.

I must say, I don't really think we're on a track to have a war with Iran any time soon -- maybe I'm too optimistic here [he laughs] -- but I suspect even the civilian hawks understand that the United States is already overcommitted, that to expand the war on terror to a new theater, the Iranian theater, would in all likelihood have the most dire consequences, globally and in Iraq.

TD: Actually, I was planning to ask about your thoughts on the possibility of an Iranian October surprise.

Bacevich: You mean, attacking Iran before the upcoming fall election? I don't see Karl Rove -- because an October surprise would be a political ploy -- signing off on it. I think he's cunning, calculating, devious, but not stupid. With the President's popularity rating plummeting due to unhappiness with the ongoing war, it really would be irrational to think that yet another war would turn that around or secure continued Republican control of both houses of Congress.

TD It seems that way to me with gas assumedly soaring to $120 a barrel or something like that�

Bacevich: Oh gosh, oh my gosh, yes�

TD But let me throw this into the mix, because I've seen no one mention it: If you look at the list of retired commanders who came out against Rumsfeld, they're all from the Army or Marines. We always say the military is overextended, but only part of it is -- and I note the absence of admirals or anybody connected to the Air Force.

Bacevich: That's a good point. One could argue that the revolt of the generals actually has a third source. If the first source is arguing about who's going to take the fall for Iraq and the second is trying to put a damper on war in Iran, the third has to do with Rumsfeld's military transformation project. To oversimplify, transformation begins with the conviction that the military since the end of the Cold War has failed to adapt to the opportunities and imperatives of the information age. Well before 9/11, the central part of Rumsfeld's agenda was to "transform" -- that was his word -- this old Cold-War-style military, to make it lighter, more agile, to emphasize information technology and precision weapons.

Well, if you're in the Air Force, or you're a Navy admiral, particularly one in the aviation community, that recipe sounds pretty good. It sounds like dollars, like programs being funded. But if you're in the Army or the Marine Corps, becoming lighter and more agile sounds like cutting divisions or like getting rid of tanks and artillery; it sounds like a smaller Marine Corps.

Both the initial stage of the Afghanistan War and the invasion of Iraq were specifically designed by Rumsfeld as projects to demonstrate what a transformed military could do. Hence, his insistence on beginning the Iraq War without a major build-up, on invading with a relatively small force, on having the ground intervention accompany the air campaign rather than having a protracted air campaign first as in the first Gulf War. All the literature about both Afghanistan and Iraq now shows that the war-planning process was filled with great civil/military tension. The generals argued, "Mr. Secretary, here's the plan; we want to do a Desert Storm Two against Iraq," and Rumsfeld kept replying, "I want something smaller, think it over again and get back to me" -- reflecting his intention to demonstrate his notion of how America will henceforth fight its wars.

Well, now we can see the outcome and it's at best ambiguous. That is to say, the early stages of Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be smashing successes. The smaller, agile forces performed remarkably well in demolishing both the Taliban and the Baath Party regime; but in both cases, genuine victory has proven enormously elusive. This gets us to the third basis for the generals' gripe. When they talk about Rumsfeld's incompetence and micromanagement, they're arguing against the transformation project and on behalf of those services which have footed most of the bill.

TD: Just to throw one other thing into the mix, if there were a campaign against Iran, it would be a Navy and Air Force one.

Bacevich: It would begin with a Navy and Air Force campaign, but it wouldn't end that way. If the Army generals could be assured that we know exactly where the Iranian nuclear program is, that we have the targeting data and the munitions to take it out� Well, that would be one thing, but we don't have that assurance. From the Army and Marine Corps perspective, an air attack might begin a war with Iran, but the war would not end there. As is the case in both Afghanistan and Iraq, some sort of ugly aftermath would be sure to follow and the Navy and the Air Force aren't going to be there, at least not in large numbers.

TD What about the Iraq War at present?

Bacevich There are a couple of important implications that we have yet to confront. The war has exposed the limited depth of American military power. I mean, since the end of the Cold War we Americans have been beating our chests about being the greatest military power the world has ever seen. [His voice rises.] Overshadowing the power of the Third Reich! Overshadowing the Roman Empire!

Wait a sec. This country of 290 million people has a force of about 130,000 soldiers committed in Iraq, fighting something on the order of 10-20,000 insurgents and a) we're in a war we can't win, b) we're in the fourth year of a war we probably can't sustain much longer. For those who believe in the American imperial project, and who see military supremacy as the foundation of that empire, this ought to be a major concern: What are we going to do to strengthen the sinews of American military power, because it's turned out that our vaunted military supremacy is not what it was cracked up to be. If you're like me and you're quite skeptical about this imperial project, the stresses imposed on the military and the obvious limits of our power simply serve to emphasize the imperative of rethinking our role in the world so we can back away from this unsustainable notion of global hegemony.

Then, there's the matter of competence. I object to the generals saying that our problems in Iraq are all due to the micromanagement and incompetence of Mr. Rumsfeld -- I do think he's a micromanager and a failure and ought to have been fired long ago -- because it distracts attention from the woeful performance of the senior military leaders who have really made a hash of the Iraq insurgency. I remember General Swannack in particular blaming Rumsfeld for Abu Ghraib. I'll saddle Rumsfeld with about ten percent of the blame for Abu Ghraib, the other ninety percent rests with the senior American military leaders in Baghdad�

TD: General Ricardo Sanchez signed off on it�

Bacevich: Sanchez being number one. So again, if one is an enthusiast for American military supremacy, we have some serious thinking to do about the quality of our senior leadership. Are we picking the right people to be our two, three, and four-star commanders? Are we training them, educating them properly for the responsibilities that they face? The Iraq War has revealed some major weaknesses in that regard.

TD: Do you think that the neocons and their mentors, Rumsfeld and the Vice President, believed too deeply in the hype of American hyperpower? Ruling groups, even while manipulating others, often seem to almost hypnotically convince themselves as well.

Bacevich: That's why I myself tend not to buy into the charge that Bush and others blatantly lied us into this war. I think they believed most of what they claimed. You should probably put believe in quotes, because it amounts to talking yourself into it. They believed that American omnipotence, as well as know-how and determination, could imprint democracy on Iraq. They really believed that, once they succeeded in Iraq, a whole host of ancillary benefits were going to ensue, transforming the political landscape of the Middle East. All of those expectations were bizarre delusions and we're paying the consequences now.

You know, the neoconservatives that mattered were not those in government like Douglas Feith or people on the National Security Council staff, but the writers and intellectuals outside of government who, in the period from the late seventies through the nineties, were constantly weaving this narrative of triumphalism, pretending to insights about power and the direction of history. Intellectuals can put their imprint on public discourse. They can create an environment, an atmosphere. When the events of September 11, 2001 left Americans shocked and frightened and people started casting about for an explanation, a way of framing a response, the neoconservative perspective was front and center and had a particular appeal. So these writers and intellectuals did influence policy, at least for a brief moment.

TD: Here's something that puzzles me. When I look at administration actions, I see a Middle Eastern catastrophe in the midst of which an Iranian situation is being ratcheted up. Then there's China, once upon a time the enemy of choice for the neocons and Rumsfeld, and now here we are this summer having the largest naval maneuvers since Vietnam, four carrier task forces, off the Chinese coast. Then -- as with Cheney's recent speech -- there's the attempted rollback of what's left of the USSR, which has been ongoing. On the side, you've got the Pentagon pushing little Latin American bases all the way down to Paraguay. So many fronts, so much overstretch, and no backing down that I can see. What do you make of this?

Bacevich: My own sense is that this administration has largely exhausted its stock of intellectual resources; that, for the most part, they're preoccupied with trying to manage Iraq. Beyond that, I'm hard-pressed to see a coherent strategy in the Middle East or elsewhere. In that sense, Iraq is like Vietnam. It just sucks up all the oxygen. Having said that, before being eclipsed by 9/11 and its aftermath, China was indeed the enemy-designate of the hawks, and a cadre of them is still active in Washington. I would guess that large naval exercises reflect their handiwork. Still, I don't think there's been a resolution within the political elite of exactly how we ought to view China and what the U.S. relationship with China will be.

Why the hell we're extending bases into Latin America is beyond me. Rumsfeld just announced that he has appointed an admiral as the head of U.S. Southern Command. Now this has almost always been an Army billet, once or twice a Marine billet, never a Navy one. I got an email today from someone who suggested that this was another example of Rumsfeld's "boldness." My response was: Well, if he was bold, he'd simply shut down the Southern Command. Wouldn't it be a wonderful way to communicate that U.S.-Latin American relations had matured to the point where they no longer revolved around security concerns? Wouldn't it be interesting for Washington to signal that there is one region of the world that does not require U.S. military supervision; that we really don't need to have some four-star general parading around from country to country in the manner of some proconsul supervising his quarter of the American Empire?

Now, I have friends who think that [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez poses a threat to the United States. I find that notion utterly preposterous, but it does reflect this inclination to see any relationship having any discord or dissonance as requiring a security -- i.e. military -- response. I find it all crazy and contrary to our own interests.

TD: One thing that's ratcheted up in recent years is the way the Pentagon's taken over so many aspects of policy, turning much of diplomacy into military-to-military relations.

Bacevich: If you look at long-term trends, going back to the early Cold War, the Defense Department has accrued ever more influence and authority at the expense of the State Department. But there's another piece to this -- within the Defense Department itself, as the generals and the senior civilians have vied with one another for clout. When Rumsfeld and [Paul] Wolfowitz came into office they were determined to shift the balance of civil/military authority within the Pentagon. They were intent on trimming the sails of the generals. You could see this in all kinds of ways, some symbolic. Regional commanders used to be called CINCs, the acronym for commander-in-chief. Rumsfeld said: Wait a minute, there's only one commander-in-chief and that's my boss, so you generals who work for me, you're not commanders-in-chief any more. Now the guy who runs US Southern Command is just a "combatant commander."

Also indicative of this effort to shift power back to the civilians is the role played by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which has been nonexistent for all practical purposes. Accounts of the planning and conduct of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars make clear that they had virtually no influence at all. They were barely, barely consulted. Ever since Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs and became a quasi-independent power broker, presidents have chosen weak chairmen. Presidents want top officers to be accommodating rather than forceful personalities who might hold independent views. I'm sure General Myers of the Air Force is a wonderful man and a patriot, but he served four years as chairman after 9/11 and did so without leaving any discernible mark on policy. And that's not accidental. It reflects Rumsfeld's efforts to wrest authority back towards the office of the Secretary of Defense.

TD: Isn't this actually part of a larger pattern in which authority is wrested from everywhere and brought into this commander-in-chief presidency?

Bacevich: That's exactly right. I've just finished a review of Cobra II this new book by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor. A major theme of the book is that people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz saw 9/11 as a great opportunity. Yes, it was a disaster. Yes, it was terrible. But by God, this was a disaster that could be turned to enormous advantage. Here lay the chance to remove constraints on the exercise of American military power, enabling the Bush administration to shore up, expand, and perpetuate U.S. global hegemony. Toward that end, senior officials concocted this notion of a Global War on Terror, really a cover story for an effort to pacify and transform the broader Middle East, a gargantuan project which is doomed to fail. Committing the United States to that project presumed a radical redistribution of power within Washington. The hawks had to cut off at the knees institutions or people uncomfortable with the unconstrained exercise of Am! erican power. And who was that? Well, that was the CIA. That was the State Department, especially the State Department of Secretary Colin Powell. That was the Congress -- note this weird notion that the Congress is somehow limiting Presidential prerogatives -- and the hawks also had to worry about the uniformed military, whom they considered "averse to risk" and incapable of understanding modern warfare in an information age.

TD: And you might throw in the courts. After all, the two men appointed to the Supreme Court are, above all else, believers in the unitary executive theory of the presidency.

Bacevich Yes, it fits. I would emphasize that it's not because Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz are diabolical creatures intent on doing evil. They genuinely believe it's in the interests of the United States, and the world, that unconstrained American power should determine the shape of the international order. I think they vastly overstate our capabilities. For all of their supposed worldliness and sophistication, I don't think they understand the world. I am persuaded that their efforts will only lead to greater mischief while undermining our democracy. Yet I don't question that, at some gut level, they think they are acting on your behalf and mine. They are all the more dangerous as a result.

[Note: Part 2 of Andrew Bacevich's interview, Drifting Down the Path to Perdition, will be posted on Thursday. Those readers who want some background on the issues discussed in this interview are advised to pick up a copy of Bacevich's remarkable book, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War.]

Copyright 2006 Tomdispatch

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posted May 23, 2006 at 10:13 am

Tomdispatch Interview: Bacevich, the Arrogance of American Power

[Note to Tomdispatch readers: In The Delusions of Global Hegemony, Part 1 of the latest Tomdispatch interview, Andrew Bacevich took up military scapegoating over the Iraq War, the strains between the military and civilian sides of the Pentagon, the possibility of an air assault on Iran, and especially the way the Iraq War revealed both the limits of American military power and the dreamy, fantastical, triumphalist thinking that, these last years, accompanied the Bush administration's attempt to expand American global hegemony. Now, Bacevich turns to cheap oil and energy wars, life in uniform, the evolution of his own thinking, and the American way of life. Tom]

Drifting Down the Path to Perdition

A Tomdispatch Interview with Andrew Bacevich (Part 2)

TD: I'd like to turn to the issue of oil wars, energy wars. That seems to be what holds all this incoherent stuff together -- minds focused on a world of energy flows. Recently, I reread [President Jimmy] Carter's 1979 energy speech. Isn't it ironic that he got laughed out of the room for his sweater and for urging a future of alternative fuels on us, while we latched onto his Rapid Deployment Force for the Persian Gulf? As you argue in your book, The New American Militarism, this essentially starts us on what you call "World War IV."

Bacevich: I remember the Carter speech. I was a relatively young man at the time. In general, I have voted for Republicans, although not this Republican in 2004. But I did vote for Carter because I was utterly disenchanted with [President Richard] Nixon and [his National Security Advisor Henry] Kissinger. [President Gerald] Ford seemed weak, incompetent. And I remember being dismayed by the Carter speech because it seemed so out of sync with the American spirit. It wasn't optimistic; it did not promise that we would have more tomorrow than we have today, that the future would be bigger and better. Carter essentially said: If we are serious about freedom, we must really think about what freedom means -- and it ought to mean something more than acquisition and conspicuous consumption. And if we're going to preserve our freedom, we have to start living within our means.

It did not set well with me at the time. Only when I was writing my militarism book did I take another look at the speech and then it knocked me over. I said to myself: This guy got it. I don't know how, but he really got it in two respects. First, he grasped the essence of our national predicament, of being seduced by a false and even demeaning definition of freedom. Second, he understood that cheap oil was the drug that was leading us willy-nilly down this path. The two were directly and intimately linked: a growing dependence on seemingly cheap foreign oil and our inability to recognize what we might call the ongoing cultural crisis of our time.

Carter gives the so-called malaise speech, I think, in July '79. The Russians invade Afghanistan in December '79. Then comes Carter's State of the Union Address in January 1980 in which he, in a sense, recants, abandoning the argument of July and saying, by God, the Persian Gulf is of vital interest to the United States and we'll use any means necessary in order to prevent somebody else from controlling it. To put some teeth in this threat he creates the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, which sets in motion the militarization of U.S. policy that has continued ever since. So, July 1979 to January 1980, that's the pivotal moment that played such an important role in bringing us to where we are today. But of course we didn't understand that then -- certainly I didn't. In July 1979, Carter issued a prescient warning. We didn't want to listen. So we blew it.

Fast forward to 2006, and President Bush is telling us, thank you very much, that we're addicted to oil. I heard [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi on the radio over the weekend saying that the Democrats now have a plan to make us energy independent by 2020. She's lying through her teeth. There's no way anybody can make us energy independent by then. We needed to start back in 1979, if not before. Even to achieve independence from Persian Gulf oil will be an enormously costly, painful process that none of the politicians in either party are willing to undertake. Gas is now roughly $3 a gallon. I heard some guy on a talk show the other day say: "Whaddya think we should do? I think we should all park our cars on the Interstate and stop traffic until the government does something." What does he actually want the government to do, I wondered? Conquer another country?

We Americans are in deep denial, unwilling to accept that we're going to have to change the way we live for our own good. Empire does not offer the recipe for preserving our freedom. Learning to live within our means just might. Jimmy Carter was the one guy, back in July of '79, who really had the guts to say that. Unfortunately, he didn't have the guts to stick with it.

TD: I always wonder what would have happened if we had dumped a bunch of money into R&D for alternative fuels back then.

Bacevich: The funding for the Iraq War is now in the hundreds of billions of dollars. [Economist] Joseph Stiglitz projects that total costs could go to $2 trillion. What would a trillion dollars have done for research into alternative fuels? I don't know, but something� something! What do you get for a trillion dollars in Iraq? Nothin'. It's just nuts!

TD: I was amused, by the way, that you were born in Normal, Illinois�

Bacevich: �because the Normal School of the State of Illinois, the teacher's college, was there.

TD: I was also thinking about stereotypes of military men. You know, rigidity of mind and the like. What strikes me in your writings is that you seem more open to rethinking your worldview than almost any scholar around. So I was curious about the evolution of your thought.

Bacevich: Two key moments for me were the end of the Cold War and the Iraq War. The simple story would be that, for the first twenty-some years of my adult life, which coincided with the latter stages of the Cold War, I was a serving officer. I was a cold warrior in uniform. I therefore accepted the orthodox narrative of the Cold War and of the postwar era more generally. I was not oblivious to policy errors we had made and some of the sins we had committed, but as long as I was in uniform I was willing to accept that these were peripheral to the larger narrative. I did retain this notion that the Cold War was an emergency, a very long, serious one in which we as a nation had been called upon to depart from the norm. This was not the way things were supposed to be, particularly in regard to a globally deployed military establishment.

TD: Let me back you up for a moment to Vietnam. You fought there�

Bacevich: 1970-71.

TD: ...and how did you come out of Vietnam?

Bacevich: For a variety of personal reasons, my wife and I decided to stay in the Army after my obligation was up� [He hesitates.] For those who are not familiar with military service, it may be difficult to appreciate the extent to which that life is all embracing. It's like being a monk. It's a calling. Soldiers work real hard. And much of that work is peculiarly satisfying. For most of my time in the service, women were few in number and on the margins. So it was a very masculine environment. This might seem retro, but men living among men and doing manly things [he laughs], there is a peculiar savor to that. At any rate, I bought into the institutional view of Vietnam -- that we had been screwed. The politicians had screwed us; the media had screwed us; the American people had screwed us. They had let us down, and so my commitment was to an institution that, after Vietnam, was engaged in a comprehensive effort to reconstitute and restore itself -! - and its standing in American society.

In that context, the questions I was willing to ask about Vietnam or about U.S. foreign policy more generally were fairly narrow. Since getting out of the Army, since trying to make sense of the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy from a different perspective, I've come to see the Vietnam War differently as well. I can accept to some degree the argument that the meaning of Vietnam is to be found in the-military-gets-hung-out-to-dry, but that's not sufficient. And I've come to see the war as just utterly unnecessary, misguided, and mistaken. A monumental miscalculation that never should have happened, but that did happen due to some deep-seated defects in the way we see ourselves and see the world.

In any case, the Cold War essentially ends in 1989 when the [Berlin] Wall goes down; in '91, the Soviet Union collapses. I get out of the Army in 1992 and I'm waiting with bated breath to see what impact the end of the Cold War is going to have on U.S. policy, particularly military policy. The answer is, essentially, none. We come out even more firmly committed to the notion of U.S. military global supremacy. Not because there was an enemy -- in 1992, �93, �94, there's no enemy -- but because we've come to see military supremacy and global hegemony as good in and of themselves.

The end of the Cold War sees us using military power more frequently, while our ambitions, our sense of what we're supposed to do in the world, become more grandiose. There's all this bloated talk about "the end of history," and the "right side of history," and the "indispensable nation," politicians and pundits pretending to know the destiny of humankind. So I began to question my understanding of what had determined U.S. behavior during the Cold War. The orthodox narrative said that the U.S. behaved as it did because of them, because of external threats. I came to believe that explanation was not entirely wrong but limited. You get closer to the truth by recognizing that what makes us behave the way we behave comes from inside. I came to buy into the views of historians like Charles Beard and William Appleton Williams who emphasize that foreign policy is an outgrowth of domestic policy, in particular of the structure of the American political economy.

So I became a critic of U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s, a pretty outspoken one.

TD: You wrote a book then with the word "empire" in the title...

Bacevich: Yes, because I became convinced that what we saw in the 90s from both Democrats and Republicans was an effort to expand an informal American empire. Fast forward to 9/11 and its aftermath, and the Bush doctrine of preventive war as implemented in Iraq, and the full dimensions of our imperial ambitions become evident for all to see.

I have to say, I certainly supported the Afghanistan War. I emphatically believed that we had no choice but to take down the Taliban regime in order to demonstrate clearly the consequences of any nation tolerating, housing, supporting terrorists who attack us. But the Iraq War just struck me as so unnecessary, unjustifiable, and reckless that... I don't know how to articulate its impact except that it put me unalterably in the camp of those who had come to see American power as the problem, not the solution. And it brought me close to despair that the response of the internal opposition and of the American people generally proved to be so tepid, so ineffective. It led me to conclude that we are in deep, deep trouble.

An important manifestation of that trouble is this shortsighted infatuation with military power that goes beyond even what I wrote about in my most recent book. Again, it revolves around this question of energy and oil. There's such an unwillingness to confront the dilemmas we face as a people that I find deeply troubling. I know we're a democracy. We have elections. But it's become a procedural democracy. Our politics are not really meaningful. In a meaningful politics, you and I could argue about important differences, and out of that argument might come not resolution or reconciliation, but at least an awareness of the consequences of going your way as opposed to mine. We don't even have that argument. That's what's so dismaying.

TD: You've used the word "crusade" and spoken of this administration as "intoxicated with the mission of salvation." I was wondering what kind of "ism" you think we've been living with in these years?

Bacevich: That's a great question, and it's not enough to say that it's democratic capitalism. Certainly, our "ism" incorporates a religious dimension -- in the sense of believing that God created this nation for a purpose that has to do with universal values.

We have not as a people come to terms with our relationship to military power and to the wars we've engaged in and the ways we've engaged in them. Now, James Carroll in his new book, House of War, is very much preoccupied with strategic bombing in World War II and since, and especially with our use of, and attitude toward, nuclear weapons. His preoccupation is understandable because those are the things we can't digest and we can't cough up. You know, at the end of the day, we, the missionary nation, the crusader state, certain of our righteousness, remain the only people to have used nuclear weapons in anger -- indeed, to have used them as a weapon of terror.

TD: Air power, even though hardly covered in our media in Iraq, has been the American way of war since World War II, hasn't it?

Bacevich: Certainly that "ism" that defines us has a large technological component, doesn't it? I mean, we are the people of technology. We see the future as a technological one and can't imagine a problem that doesn't have technological solutions...

TD: ...except when it comes to oil.

Bacevich: Quite true. In many respects, the technological artifact that defines the last century is the airplane. With the airplane came a distinctive style of warfare. The Italians dropped the first bomb in North Africa; the Japanese killed their share of civilians from the air as did the Germans, but we and our British cousins outdid them all. I've been thinking more and more that our record of strategic bombing is not simply an issue of historical interest.

We are not who we believe we are and, in some sense, others perceive us more accurately than we do ourselves. The President has described a version of history -- as did Clinton, by the way -- beginning with World War II in which the United States is the liberator, Americans are the bringers of freedom. There is truth to that narrative, but it's not the whole truth; and, quite frankly, it's not the truth that matters a lick, let's say, to the Islamic world today. Muslims don't give a darn that we brought Hitler or the Third Reich to its knees. What they're aware of is all kinds of other behavior, particularly in their neck of the woods, that had nothing to do with spreading democracy and freedom, that had everything to do with power, with trying to establish relations that maximized the benefit to the United States and American society. We don't have to let our hearts bleed about that. That's the way politics works, but let's not delude ourselves either. When President! George W. Bush says, "America stands for freedom and liberty, and we're coming to liberate you," it's absurd to expect people in that part of the world to take us seriously. That's not what they've seen and known and experienced in dealing with the United States.

TD: And, of course, within the councils of this administration, they threw out anyone who knew anything about the record of U.S. policy in the Islamic world.

Bacevich: Because those experts would have challenged the ideologically soaked version of history that this administration has attempted to carry over into the 21st century. Only if we begin to see ourselves more clearly, will we be able to understand how others see us. We need to revise the narrative of the American Century and recognize that it has been about a host of other things that are far more problematic than liberation. There can be no understanding the true nature of the American century without acknowledging the reality of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Hanoi, and Haiphong.

TD: Do you, by the way, think that the reality-based community is catching up with the Bush administration?

Bacevich: It's catching up, but is it in a way that has political consequences? If we just toss Bush out and bring in... Who? Senator Clinton or John McCain? Will things be different? Somehow, I don't think so. Of course, there is something to be said for competence even in implementing a bad policy. Right now, we have incompetents implementing a bad policy, but the essence of the problem is the policy -- not just the Iraq War but this paradigm of a Global War on Terror, this notion of unconstraining American power. That's what we have to rethink.

TD: Your thoughts on three military matters: what might be called the religionizing of the military; the Bush administration's setting up of a Northern Command in 2002 for the so-called homeland, which I find disturbing; and finally, what do you make of the now-normalized practice of presenting the costs of war-fighting as a non-Defense Department budget supplementary item?

Bacevich: I think the last thing in your list is outlandish and irresponsible. It's as if we're keeping two sets of books. But again, the administration abetted by the Congress plays these games and nobody seems to care. Still, it doesn't change the facts -- that we're spending more on defense than the rest of the world put together. That has no precedent. And are we becoming safer and more secure and more prosperous? If we're not yet secure, does that mean we should be spending twice again as much? I have friends who think we should, or who at least believe that the defense budget is inadequate. I myself think that the flinging of money at the Defense Department ought to prompt Americans to reconsider the notion that the solution to our problems is to be found in the realm of military power.

I think the evangelizing issue reflects at least three things. Number one, the elite disengagement from the military after Vietnam. The Episcopalians don't sign up any more, or the Presbyterians. Number two, the heightened political engagement of Christian evangelicals who, by the 1960s, had embarked on a crusade to save America from itself. Evangelicals have long seen the U.S. military as allies in that cause. American society may be going to hell in a hand basket with its promiscuity, its pornography, its divorce rates, its abortion, its women's rights, all these things evangelicals lament, but the military's a bastion of traditional virtue. Now, they misperceive soldiers in that regard, but I think that's one reason military service has a special appeal for evangelical Christians.

Third comes the politicization of the military. When I first became an officer, the tradition of being apolitical was still deeply rooted. As one consequence of Vietnam, that went away. The officer corps came to see its interests as lying with the political right. Evangelical Christianity is just part of a larger mix.

TD: So, you have an all-embracing world that has become more politicized, that's moved south, and that has few new streams of blood heading into it, unlike in the era of the draft or of the World War. What are the results of the military becoming less and less like American society?

Bacevich: I think it's bad news. The only good news -- this is pure speculation as there's no evidence for it -- might be that since the Iraq War is the handiwork of a conservative, evangelical, Republican President, perhaps members of the officer corps will begin to rethink where their loyalties should lie and will come to the realization that hitching their flag to the Republican Party is not necessarily good for their institutional interests. The officer corps loved [President Ronald] Reagan. He saved the military. And here we have, according to some people, the most Reaganite president since Reagan who seems to be doing his darnedest to destroy the military. That might have some impact.

TD: About a year ago you said, "The only way I can envision a meaningful political change along the lines that I would like to see would be in reaction to an awful disaster." Would you like to comment?

Bacevich: A disaster like that could go either way. One hates to speculate on this, but were there another 9/11, the likely result could be that Americans would rise up in their righteous anger and say, let's go kill them all. But it's at least possible to hope that such a disaster might offer an opportunity for people who are advancing alternative views to be heard.

One of the strange things about the Iraq War and other post-9/11 policies is that, except for gas being at $3 a gallon, who the hell cares? Part of the cunning genius of the Bush administration has been the way it's insulated Americans from the effects of their policies. You know, 9/11 happens and they seize upon it to declare their Global War on Terror. The President says from the outset that this is a long war, that it may take decades, that it's comparable to the world wars. On the other hand, he chooses not to mobilize the nation. There are no changes in our domestic priorities; no significant expansion of the armed forces.

Well, why was that? In their confidence about how great our military power was, they calculated that what we had would suffice. That was a major miscalculation. But I think they also calculated that by telling Americans, as President Bush famously did, to go down to Disney World and enjoy this great country of ours, they would be able to buy themselves political protection. Even though opinion polls show that public support for the President has dropped tremendously, in a sense events have proven them right. They have not been held accountable for their egregious mistakes because average citizens like you and me don't really feel the pain in any direct way.

Now, if the President had said: We're going to cut back on our domestic programs; we're going to raise taxes because this is an important war and, by God, we need to pay for it; we need a bigger Army and so we're going to impose a draft. Then I think Americans might have been more attentive to what's been happening over the past four years. But alas, they've not been. Instead we've drifted down the path toward perdition.

[Note: Those readers who want some background on the issues discussed in this interview are advised to pick up a copy of Bacevich's remarkable book, The New American Militarism.]

Copyright 2006 Tomdispatch

Honest Abe Said It.

"Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our [1787] Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us."

Abraham Lincoln
Source: in an 1848 letter to William Herndon

Thanks to Marty at On The Home Front for the quote.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

WARNING! RED ALERT! Veterans' personal information stolen


WARN ALL YOUR VETERANS. PASS IT ON!! This misuse and subsequent theft of records is a danger to all the millions of veterans affected. All of us know how this personal information can be abused by identity thieves and defrauders.

Veterans' personal information stolen

Names, SSNs, DOBs, and more stolen and now missing

Another Petition

This one asks the United Nations to intervene in the case of a Iranian woman sentenced to death for defending herself and her niece against three rapists. She killed one of them but the Iranian court would not consider her action as self defense.

Thanks to Gary for his post.


Action Request from the ACLU

If you'd like to protest the NSA's spying, here is the ACLU with a petition to the FCC.

Once you get to the cover page, you'll see a Title on the side bar called "Take Action". Click on "spying". It will take you to the petition.


Women Journalists and Hate Mail - Update

This article from Women's E-News, talks about the difficulaties women journalists face, espcialy the political writers.

I don't consider myself a journalist but I've received a little hate mail and I'm sure some of you have as well.

Interesting reading.


Stephanie said the link took her to her own mailbox.

Here is the entire article. I don't know why that happens sometimes.

Female Pundits Could Use Help With Hate Mail

By Heidi Schnakenberg - WeNews commentator

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's Enews.

(WOMENSENEWS)--As a young woman, I stepped out into the treacherous waters of opinion journalism, and was amazed by the lack of civil discourse and the intensity of personal attacks that I received via e-mail, letters to the editor and on Web postings.

Subjects such as women's issues, racism, anti-war politics, environmental matters and virtually any topic deemed "liberal" inspired some vitriolic comments from readers that I will mention here.

I was called everything from "bitch" to "whore" and was often addressed as "sweetie" or "honey" before a launch of expletives. Most attackers took the position that I was just a cute, dumb college student (even though I was in my late 20s) in an effort to discredit me and I was most reliably attacked by a collection of right-wing Web sites and right-wing men who sent me letters.

Needless to say, I ran out of the gates, trail-blazing, and came back a wounded animal.

The experience solidified my "attack and retreat" explanation of the low numbers of women in opinion journalism.

The presence of female opinion journalists has remained virtually unchanged over the past 25 years, with only 10 percent to 20 percent of all op-eds in the country being written by women. Only about a quarter of nationally syndicated columnists are women and they tend to be white and right-wing.

While numerous professions--science, medicine and even journalism--have seen a sharp rise in female participants, opinion journalism doesn't seem to budge.

In my case, I was attacked, and then retreated into self-censorship for a period of months and in that darkened room I found no mentors and little support from editors.

Fear of Appearing Vulnerable

The psychic impact of hate mail is something female writers don't often talk about in fear of appearing vulnerable in the male world of opinion writing. I believe women can take the heat of opinion journalism as well as any man; the problem is that the heat we take and the reasons why are very different.

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times discussed reactions to female opinion in her column last year. "While a man writing a column taking on the powerful may be seen as authoritative, a woman doing the same thing may be seen as castrating." She went on to say she called Alan Dundes, a renowned folklorist, to ask about it. "Women are supposed to take it, not dish it out," Dundes told her.

Rekha Basu is the civil liberties voice at the Des Moines Register in Iowa, and she is a woman, liberal and Indian. She's been called a Hindu-worshipping slut, an Arab terrorist, a whore, a lesbian, a cunt, a skanky Muslim. Most insults are via e-mail and on Web sites, where attackers can remain relatively anonymous.

She's been stalked and followed on the highway and told readers can't wait to read her obituary in the newspaper. But nothing hurt like the time a reader said they hoped her husband, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, would hurry up and die so she would leave the country.

Rekha used to be scared, and is still hurt by some of the more malicious letters. But after a while she realized "I have the opportunity to change lives. If I censor myself, what's the point?"

Do Men Get the Same?

Do men get the same? I asked David Yepsen, who is white, male, centrist and also a columnist at the Register. He says he is called an asshole from time to time and received a death threat once, but Yepsen felt readers had paid their quarter and were entitled to an opinion. "I've heard Rekha was called a Hindu-worshipping slut and things like that. I've never gotten anything on par with that," he said.

Katherine Kersten is a conservative voice at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and gets a lot of grief from the liberal population. But it doesn't seem the same over-the-top, bone-chilling stuff that Rekha receives. Kersten said some readers harassed her for going against women's interests and she was accused of being dishonest and greedy. However, Kersten felt men and women received equal treatment from readers, noting that Nick Coleman (a liberal voice at the Star Tribune), gets as many attacks, if not more than she does.

Coleman thinks there is a gender gap in the hate mail. "My wife is also a columnist at the St. Paul Pioneer, and there is a huge difference between the types of abuse I get, and what she gets. It's much worse for her," he said.

Michele Weldon, a contributor to Women's eNews who has also provided columns to the Chicago Tribune, recalled the time a hostile reader of a column read her memoir on the domestic abuse she experienced and wrote to tell her she deserved everything she got.

Sasha Kemmet is a young, budding liberal writer for The Des Moines Register's Young Adult Board. She has been stalked by critics who have accused her of everything from racism to elitism. She describes her detractors as deeply misogynist.

"I was surprised by the viciousness of the attacks and it was extremely disappointing. My goal in writing was to initiate dialogue, not bring about petty personal attacks." Kemmet thinks "society wants women to have opinions as long as they don't speak them too loudly . . . as long as this persists, women will believe it themselves."

Year-Old Debate

A year ago, the debate about female pundits was blazing.

In February of 2005, Susan Estrich ignited it by launching an e-mail campaign that blasted the Los Angeles Times for hiring few women to write columns.

A discussion of the situation then bounced around from Estrich to Maureen Dowd to Katha Pollitt of The Nation and included scores of columnists across the country.

I was emboldened by what Pollitt had to say on the topic last December. "Women buy the crap about women being too shy-weak-polite to express themselves," she wrote. She added that this is "not the fault of women themselves . . . women are discriminated against, not groomed or mentored."

In Dowd's column on the topic, she said that after six months writing op-eds, she retreated into submission and nearly walked away from the job, just "wanting to be liked."

Young women, like Kemmet and me, tend to go into this profession with a lot of hope and passion. But we sometimes retreat without an adequate support network.

When new female writers are bolstered by the moral support needed to survive the onslaught of anti-female sentiment flooding their inboxes, more women's by-lines will show up on the opinion pages.

Heidi Schnakenberg is a part-time columnist for the Des Moines Register, and her work has appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Ghanaian Times, the Algona Upper Des Moines and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Heidi is also a published screenwriter for American Zoetrope.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at .

For more information:

Female Op-Ed Journalists Should Ignite Fireball: -

The Nation-- - Invisible Women: -

The Washington Post-- - Writing Women Into a Corner: -