“War, huh. What’s it good for?

On this Memorial Day, it seems like the United States has been at war for most of my lifetime. The cost in American lives has been unbearable. Parents of friends, and friends themselves, have died. The financial cost has been astronomical. The impact on our culture has been massive. The resulting erosion of trust in government has been substantial. What have we accomplished?

Vietnam

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson used reports of attacks on two American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin as political cover for a Congressional resolution that gave him broad war powers in Vietnam. There were only two dissenting votes, Senators Morse of Oregon and Gruening of Alaska.

As American involvement in the war and body counts escalated, so did anti-war protests at home. The end came when Saigon in South Vietnam fell to the communists in April 1975.

VietnamUStroops

David Halberstam wrote “The Best and the Brightest” about the overconfident people in leadership roles in the United States who pursued the war.

“The basic question behind the book,” he said, “was why men who were said to be the ablest to serve in government this century had been the architects of what struck me as likely to be the worst tragedy since the Civil War.” (The term “Best and the brightest “ has often been twisted since then to mean the top, smart people, the opposite of Halberstam’s original meaning)

Now, 41 years later, the U.S. and Vietnam are reconciling. The U.S. wants the business opportunities that are expected to open up in Vietnam and a counterweight to Chinese adventurism.

vietnamObama

President Obama reviewing a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at Vietnam’s Presidential Palace in Hanoi, May 23, 2016.

 

Cost of the Vietnam War to the United States                                            $173 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War                                             58,220

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War       58,220

 

Afghanistan

The Afghanistan war began in October 2011 to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

USTroopsInAfghanistan

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission in December 2014, according to the White House.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people, CNN recently reported. The result is thousands of refugees and a continued safe haven for ISIS.

The Taliban currently controls more territory than at any time since 2001, when it ruled from the capital, Kabul, Western defense officials say, and the United Nations says civilian casualties are at a high since it began keeping records in 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The United Nations said 3545 civilians were killed in 2015 as Taliban stepped up attacks after British and American troops left at end of 2014.

Furthermore, U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning the White House that the Taliban could seize more Afghan territory, including population centers, during this summer’s fighting season, in part because the Afghan government and its military forces are so weak, according to the Journal.

 

Cost of the war in Afghanistan to the United States                            $686 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the war in Afghanistan                          2,381

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties                                      2,381

Iraq

On March 19, 2003, the United States and coalition forces, began a war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the Sunni leader of Iraq.

When explosions from Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships in the Persian Gulf began to rock Baghdad, President George W. Bush said in a televised address, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”

husseinstatue

U.S. soldiers hold back crowds as the statue of Saddam Hussein falls in Baghdad, April 9, 2003, by Peter Nicholls

The Shia-led governments that have held power since Hussein was toppled have struggled to maintain order and the country has enjoyed only brief periods of respite from high levels of sectarian violence. Violence and sabotage have continued to hinder the revival of an economy shattered by decades of conflict and sanctions.

Politically and economically, Iraq’s trajectory is currently a negative one, Brookings said recently. The country is politically fragmented at all levels and the centrifugal forces appear to be gaining strength. This, in turn, has paralyzed the government, suggesting that the most likely paths for Iraq are toward a situation analogous to the Lebanon of today.

Cost of the Iraq War to the United States                                             $818 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War                                             4,491

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War       4,491

 

“War, huh

Good God, y’all

What is it good for?”

      “War” by Edwin Starr

 

 

Washout: Hillary’s foreign policy experience does her no favors

HillaryCaricature

Hillary Clinton and her backers figure she’s got at least one advantage, public trust in her foreign policy experience and judgment.

Hillary tried to highlight that factor when she told a questioner at a recent New Hampshire town hall meeting, “When you vote for someone for president, you’re also voting for a commander in chief.”

But why, exactly, does Hillary, or anybody else, think her foreign policy experience is a plus when you review her screw-ups.

Consider:

Libya

Then: Hillary Clinton urged President Obama to back a military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, over the opposition of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other national security experts.

Now: Libya has deteriorated into a virtual failed state run by hundreds of private militias. Eighteen months after the initial airstrikes, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in attacks by militants on a U.S. diplomatic post and a nearby CIA site in Benghazi. The North African nation has become a primary outpost for the Islamic State, which has exploited the chaos to take territory, train soldiers and prove its strength outside Syria and Iraq. Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2016

Iraq

Then: On voting in favor of a resolution to take military action against Iraq in the face of Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, “I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt,” Clinton said in a Senate speech the day before the vote. “It is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation…It is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein — this is your last chance. Disarm or be disarmed.”

“We’ve ended the war in Iraq,” Obama said on June 25, 2012, at a New Hampshire rally in New Hampshire. “I’ve kept the commitments that I’ve made,” he said in Iowa on Oct. 24, 2012. “I told you we’d end the war in Iraq. We did.”

Now:

Although the Iraq war has technically been over for more than four years, Iraqis are still dying in large numbers. The number of Iraqis seeking refuge in other countries has risen considerably as the conflict between the Islamic State and the Iraqi government and associated forces continues. The U.N. has described the violence as “staggering” and noted the Islamic State may be guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.

A Jan. 2016 report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq also accuses ISIS of holding an estimated 3500 people as slaves across Iraqi territory, using many as human shields, and pressing 800-900 children into military service for the conflict.

Meanwhile, animosity Between Sunnis and Shiites is threatening the Iraq’s stability. Neighboring Iran, home to the world’s largest Shia population, is behind the country’s support for Iraq’s Shia-dominated government.

Syria

Then: Hillary Clinton joined President Obama in declaring that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces would cross a “Red Line” if they used chemical weapons. On Aug. 11, 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Istanbul that it’s clear to the Assad regime the use of chemical weapons is “a red line for the world.” On Aug. 20, 2012, Obama said that the use or movement of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is a red line. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama said. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Now:

Under the banner of fighting international terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has reversed the fortunes of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which were rapidly losing ground last year to moderate and Islamist rebel forces in the country’s five-year-old crisis. Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2016

Today, 4.6 million Syrians are refugees and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria; half are children. World Vision

Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes. Mercy Corps

The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or against President Bashar al-Assad. It has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alewite sect, and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has added a further dimension. BBC

Russia

Then: In March 2009, Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red button with the Russian text “перегрузка”, which was intended to be the Russian word for “reset”. Clinton explained that she wanted to reset relations between Russia and the United States, to spur a new era of better ties. “The reset worked,” Clinton told CNN in August 2014.

Now: In March 2014, Russia decided “To hell with the reset” and annexed Crimea. This led to the installation of a pro-Russian government in Crimea, the holding of a disputed, unconstitutional referendum and the declaration of Crimea’s independence.

 Russia subsequently:

  • blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution on Crimea’s referendum
  • provided a Russian-made Buk missle to Ukrainian rebels who used it to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board
  • granted asylum to Edward Snowden, who’s wanted in the United States for leaking information about National Security Agency surveillance practices.
  • Provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hillary, a tested,  brilliant, strategic foreign policy expert the American people can trust? I don’t think so.

 

 

The faux fight against ISIS

dronesISIS

ISIS is on the run. Just read the headlines.

Official: local ISIS leader killed in western Mosul, Sept. 2015; US Airstrikes In Iraq Kill Three Senior ISIS Leaders, Including Baghdadi’s Key Aide, Sept. 2015; White House confirms key ISIS leader killed in US air strike, Aug. 21, 2015; Afghan agency: ISIS leader killed in drone strike, July 2015; U.S.: ISIS No. 2 killed in U.S. drone strike in Iraq, Aug. 2015; Pentagon officials: Prominent ISIS recruiter killed in airstrike, Aug. 2015; Top ISIS leader killed in coalition airstrike, July 2015; ISIS Leader Killed in Airstrike in Syria, June 2015; ISIS hacking leader killed by drone strike, Aug. 2015; Senior ISIS leader killed in extremist-held Hawija, July 2015; ISIS leader confirmed killed by U.S. forces, May 2015; Special Ops Kill ISIS Commander, Free His Family Slave, May 2015; Senior ISIS leader killed during raid, May 2015; Senior ISIS leader killed in U.S. raid in Syria, May 2015; U.S. special forces storm Syria’s Deir ez-Zor, kill senior ISIS commander, May 2015; Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘seriously wounded in air strike’, April 2015; CNN: US Has Secret ‘Kill List’ of Top ISIS Leaders, Feb. 2015; Iraqi police: new ISIS commander in Anbar killed, Jan. 2015; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announces that Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition have killed 50 percent of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) top commanders, Jan. 2015.

HAVE WE WON YET?

Disillusionment and despair: the Trump turmoil

Donald Trump isn’t a candidate.

Donald-Trump-Caricature

He’s a stand-in for the alienation and disillusionment so many Americans feel as both the Republican and Democratic parties have failed us.

How could it be otherwise when so much seems so wrong and fakery, misdirection, and outright lies by both parties have been so pervasive?

Consider:

  • The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality in the United States since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years.
  • The 2009 $830 billion stimulus package, with a claimed focus on shovel-ready projects, was supposed to fix things after the Great Recession. The legacy instead – a slow growth economy. The first 23 quarters of the recovery, which officially began in June of 2009, had an annual rate of growth of just 2.1 percent.
  • The distribution of wealth in the United States is even more unequal than that of income. The wealthiest 5 percent of American households held 54 percent of all wealth reported in 1989, rose to 61 percent in 2010 and reached 63 percent in 2013.
  • 71 percent of Americans say life has gotten worse for middle-class Americans over the past 10 years.
  • Today’s fifty-somethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience a lifetime of downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before.
  • There is now less economic mobility in the United States than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom one-fifth of incomes in the United States has only a 4 percent chance of rising to the top one-fifth.
  • Young Americans (ages 18-34) are earning less (adjusted for inflation) than their peers in 1980 ; the college graduating class this year left with an average student debt of $35,051.
  • In 1986, President Reagan signed legislation that was supposed to fix the illegal immigration issue once and for all. Three million applied for legal status and about 2.7 million received it. Today, about 11.7 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally. So much for the fix.
  • Despite all the “mission accomplished” and “victory is at hand” assurances, America has been at war in the Middle East for the past 15 years, with little to show for it, billions of dollars down a rathole, thousands of American soldiers dead and wounded, and continuing chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
  • Despite the billions the government has spent on poverty-related programs, half of children age three and younger live in poverty.
  • The White House wants to “press the reset button” on one of Washington’s biggest challenges: its increasingly troublesome relationship with Russia,” Vice President Biden, 2/7/2009; “We’re going to hit the reset button and start fresh (with Russia),” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3/6/2009
  • “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” President Obama, 6/6/2009.
  • “I ended the war in Iraq, as I promised. We are transitioning out of Afghanistan. We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us 9/11 and decimated al Qaeda.” President Obama, 9/14/2012
  • Despite assurances from some politicians that all’s well, the Medicare program has $28.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. Together with Social Security’s $13.3 trillion shortfall, the government has accumulated entitlement spending commitments that far exceed our capacity to pay for them.
  • In the 2012 election cycle, a tiny elite of the U.S. population, just 0.40 %, made a political contribution of more than $200, providing 63.5% of all individual contributions to federal candidates, PACs and Parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign to date, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.

As H.L. Mencken said, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

 

Obama insists “I’m OK, you’re OK” in response to global terrorism

President Obama, speaking to an audience that included unrepentant leaders from repressive countries who couldn’t care less and who regularly brutalize their people and deny them basic human rights, argued on Thursday that force of arms was not enough and called on all nations to “put an end to the cycle of hate” by expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue.

Barack_Obama_in_tank

“Oh sure, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen actively plots against us, terrorists have murdered ambassadors, Americans have been killed at Ft. Hood and during the Boston Marathon, in Syria and Iraq the terrorist group we call ISIL has slaughtered innocent civilians and murdered hostages, including Americans, and has spread its barbarism to Libya with the murder of Egyptian Christians, we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen, the Pakistan Taliban has massacred schoolchildren and their teachers, al-Shabaab has launched attacks from Somalia across East Africa, and in Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children,” Obama said. “But hey, shit happens.”

Calling the slaughter of thousands of Ukrainians by Russian-backed rebels supplied with Russian equipment “a hiccup on the pathway to peace”, Obama insisted that the cease-fire that came into effect in eastern Ukraine on Sunday was holding. “The Russians are honorable, peace-loving folks,” he said, “and I’m sure that if Putin and I got together he’d be overwhelmed by the force of my personality and insist that the rebels pull back.”

As the rebels raised their flag over Debaltseve, Ukraine and celebrated their humiliating defeat of the Ukrainian forces, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that this wouldn’t scuttle the peace deal.

Promising “swift, meaningful punishment for those who terrorize peaceful nations”, Obama called for another conference to be held at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. that would “offer more strong words in response to beheadings , immolations, child-killing, and other barbarities.”

“We’ll take an important step forward as governments, civil society groups and community leaders from more than 60 nations will gather in Washington for a global summit on countering violent extremism,” Obama said. “Our focus will be on community organizing, which I know a heck of a lot about, and empowering local communities.”

Dismissing concerns about his feckless foreign policy, Obama  said, ” Not to worry. I’m OK you’re OK.”

 

Hillary & Brian: two peas in a pod

Hillary Clinton surely knows how Brian Williams feels after his lie about being in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

WilliamsHillary

In March 2008, Hillary tried to embellish her foreign policy chops by reminiscing about a trip she made to Bosnia in 1996.

“I remember landing under sniper fire,” she said. “There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

The problem was, that never happened. Instead, she disembarked without any disruptions at all, unless you consider a charming little girl greeting her with a poetry reading.

The Washington Post’s Factchecker reported that the entertainer, Sinbad, who was also on the trip, refuted Hillary’s telling of the story, saying the “scariest” part of the visit was deciding where to eat.

Hillary not only dismissed Sinbad as just “a comedian,” but doubled down on the danger she claimed to have encountered. “I was moved up into the cockpit,” she told reporters. “Everyone else was told to sit on their bullet proof vests. We came in in an evasive maneuver. Those of you who have been on a C-17 or C-130 know that one of their great characteristics is that they can take off very quickly and they can maneuver agilely to avoid incoming fire. There was no greeting ceremony and we were basically told to run to our cars. Now that is what happened.”

Not so. Further media analysis concluded that Hillary and her plane were never confronted by any security threats.

Still, Bill Clinton defended his wife’s recollections on the campaign trail, attributing her possible error to her age.

Perhaps it was age that also led Clinton to claim she was instrumental in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. When challenged and accused of substantially inflating her role, including by Nobel Peace Prize winner Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvey who said her claim was a “wee bit silly”, Hillary dismissed the criticism as “nitpicking.”

Maybe Brian Williams should follow Hillary’s lead; just insist that all the uproar over his lying is nitpicking. Instead of being censured, he could end up a candidate for President of the United States.

Musings: cowardly snipers, Selma, the Oregon Cultural Trust and failing schools

Lot’s of random thoughts lately.

Cowardly snipers

That great progressive American patriot, Michael Moore, made another of his well-informed, well-reasoned comments the other day on his Twitter account. Speaking out about Clint Eastwood’s movie, “American Sniper”, Moore said, “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”

Current and former American soldiers alive today because of the effectiveness of American snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan had no comment.

AmericanSniper1

Selma

The hyperventilating critics of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrayal in the movie, Selma, need to chill out.

Joseph Califano Jr., a top assistant to Johnson, said, for example, that the movie took “dramatic, trumped-up license” with the truth and “falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965

It’s a MOVIE, folks, not a documentary. And, by the way, where were all you historical accuracy nuts when the idolatrous TV and theater movies about John F. Kennedy omitted scenes of his sexual escapades and the hagiographies about his brother, Ted Kennedy, skipped over his responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne?

Oregon Cultural Trust

The billboard on Broadway urges donations to the Oregon Cultural Trust. “Donate/Match, get the whole match back,” the billboard says.

CulturalTrust-Billboard

The way the program works is you add up your donations for the year to one or more of the participating cultural nonprofits and then make a donation to the Cultural Trust in an equal amount. Your donation to the Cultural Trust will come back to you dollar for dollar at tax time when you claim your cultural tax credit.

In 2009, the Legislature stole $1.8 million from the Trust for Cultural Development account of the Oregon Cultural Trust to deal with state budget pressures. The Senate tried to defend itself by claiming it just took money from Oregon Cultural Trust license plates, not public donations.

Horsepucky! It was out-and-out theft.

So don’t trust ’em. If they were willing to break the public trust over a lousy $1.8 million, they’ll do it again. Don’t donate a dime to the Trust this year, or next. We both know the Legislature will raid it again someday.

Failing schools

In his Jan. 20 State of the Union address, President Obama said he wants the federal and state governments to cover 100 percent of the junior college tuition for students who meet minimal standards. Of course, the program wouldn’t really be free. Obama wants to raise taxes to pay for the fed’s share.

And the proposal ignores the fact that the biggest problem at community colleges isn’t the cost, but the dismal completion rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, at 2-year degree-granting institutions, only 31 percent of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a certificate or associate’s degree in fall 2009 attained it within three years. This graduation rate was just 20 percent at public 2-year institutions.

Portland Community College graduation

Portland Community College graduation

Part-time junior college students don’t do well either. Even when given four years to complete certificates and degrees, no more than a quarter make it to graduation day, according to a Complete College America report to the nation’s governors. The rest wander aimlessly through too many class choices, get committed to jobs, relationships mortgages and more and end up with nothing finished and backbreaking debt.

Of course, it’s not just the junior colleges that fail. Too many students arrive ill-prepared by their K-12 educations to succeed at higher education and channeled into remedial courses that don’t work.