Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tit for Tat

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return 
 --September 1, 1939,
W. H. Auden

Everyone is in agreement that ISIS must be destroyed. Everyone except Ranger.

To be clear, this is no apologia for the Islamic State. Rather, it is a down-and-dirty perspective on why the United States should not set its sights on destroying the group. The reason for this lies in the group's genesis.

The origin can be traced to the Battle of Fallujah, an action which was more punitive than military. There, the U.S. wanted to prove a point to the Sunnis: U.S. forces can destroy the city anytime they want to.

Then the U.S. left the theatre.

Enter the new Iraqi leadership which alienated the Sunnis from influence in the Shia-dominated government. Add in the Iranian influence and the Kurds and the Sunnis were left with few options. The logical result? The disaffected Sunnis formed their own power structure, ISIS. When your back is against the wall, there is little to lose; possibly, there is gain.

The U.S. totally ignored its usual pretensions to being culturally sensitive and politically correct in almost all actions taken. Going in with no clear mandate other than retribution, we were left to fumble for one. Nation-building, American style, against which the disaffected said, "No thanks".

Not being stupid (if not atrocious), ISIS marshaled all resources at hand. NGO's swanning about the wreckage?  "News people" sniffing about to satisfy our need for salacious images? Contractors with a myriad of agendas and loyalties? All fair game for ISIS target practice, and their OWN shot at media platform fame.

You want gore (they correctly divine)? We got gore (they say). In fact, they say, we will out-gore you (a pretty tall order against The World's Biggest Military.) Orange is the new black, and Leni Riefenstahl could not have scripted ISIS's images any better.

ISIS may seem rusticated to our refined sensibilities, but they have television. They see our Guantanamo Bay prisoners (= "themselves") in orange jumpsuits, so they put their prisoners in the  same. As Wilde wrote, "The vilest deeds like poison weeds / Bloom well in prison-air."

They play the great Mohammedan warrior swathed in black, the ur-Outsider in our Bad Guy-Good Guy construction. They are the outsiders and the outlaws. It is Hollywood perfection, and George Lucas could not have done better.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the black-clad Darth Vadar tells white-clad Luke, "I am your father." In a nutshell, that is this morality play, and the players may swap costumes. Destruction breeds destruction, ad infinitum.

Ask yourself: if you were a Sunni in Fallujah, what good options would you have? ISIS became a militia that became an army that everybody swore to destroy.

The U.S. has bombed them, assassinated their leadership and killed 26,000 of them. Then we wonder why they conduct operations in Europe.

Every action has a reaction. This is all perfectly understandable.

Yet every night before the news we pull a disingenuous Captain Renault."Shocked!", we collectively mumble, as we consume voraciously the snuff films before us. (No one even need risk jail time for watching these state-sanctioned violence porn grotesqueries presented to us on the evening news with the furrowed brow of the news person trying really hard to convey a personal sense of gravitas.)

Shocked, we are . . .


--Jim and Lisa

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Ranger Haiku: Beauty and The Beast

--Matsuo Basho,
17th cen. Haiku master

 Lisa thought our readers might enjoy this prototypical email exchange shared between RAW writers one recent rainy day.

Not that either of us conformed to correct syllabification, but it shows a good-faith effort at externalizing our internal thoughts:

Dear Jim,

I am enjoying the silence of the rain (which has it's own sound.) Evey day there is a weed whacker or leaf blower shouting from some part of the neighborhood.

But then, I just heard what sounded like a buzz saw starting up.  Then I realized it was the squeal of a city truck wheezing and whining down the road.

I am motivated to compose a Haiku:

The rain quiets human noise
Now the city truck
Bird song and rain reclaim space



To which Ranger replied less than a minute later, simply:

And a well placed grenade
In seconds silences all

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Sign of Hope, II

We don’t submit to terror.
We make the terror 
--House of Cards

The sailors and pilots
The soldiers and the law
The pay offs and the rip offs
And the things nobody saw 
--The Smuggler's Blues, 
Glenn Frey

As a follow-on to the previous piece on Medal of Honor (MOH) recipient Clinton Romesha, Ranger asks, "Why such a paucity of MOH's to living recipients from the wars of the last 13 years?"

In comparison, the United States awarded 20 MOH's to living recipients for the small 1890 engagement the Army called "The Battle of Wounded Knee" (or, "The Massacre of Wounded Knee"), more than have been awarded in the entire War on Terror.

Why have more awards not been issued to non-elite type units? They, too, carried this war on their backs. Since so many Reserve and National Guard units have also fought to the legal standard, why have they gone unrecognized?

The MOH is a symbolic award that serves to ennoble and revitalize the institution. Without such recognition, the fighting and dying seems paltry and trite. Does the National Command Authority understand this military nuance?

The institution needs these medal recipients, yet they are saluting smartly and route-stepping into history. That many of the living recipients of this highest service recognition have chosen to leave the active service is a curious phenomenon, considering the institutional deification that is traditionally accorded these recipients.

But that is a topic for its own study and one would have to dialog with these men to understand their decision. Ranger imagines that their turning away is an indictment and rejection of the stated goals of the wars.

Does anyone else wonder why?

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Monday, May 16, 2016

A Sign of Hope: Clinton Romesha

--Medal of Honor recipient 
SSG Clinton Romesha

Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha was interviewed recently on CBS Sunday Morning. He spoke about the action at Fire Base Keating for which he earned the honor, and about which he has recently written a book (A Medal of Honor Recipient's Ongoing Burden.)

SSG Romesha has openly expressed the futility of Command Outpost Keating where his action took place; like some of his fellow MOH recipients, he has since left the Army. But what struck Ranger during the interview was Sergeant Romesha's deep authenticity and sorrow as he spoke from his heart.

He shed tears as he humbly spoke of his fellow soldiers that were killed in action. Romesha stated clearly stated that every soldier killed and wounded at COP Keating also deserved and passed the bar to have been awarded the MOH.

Romesha said that he didn't do anything any other soldier would not have done:

"I think you could have replaced me with any other red-blooded American soldier," Sgt. Romesha said. "There would have been another one that would have stepped up and done the same thing."

No doubt, this is true. That is what United States soldiers do when the cards are down. It is called "fellowship" and "loyalty", and it speaks of respect for one's self and one's fellows. It is rejuvenating to hear a soldier express this.

The soldiers at COP Keating were not Special Operators, and did not necessarily claim to be warriors. Romesha did not beat his sword upon his shield.

He showed the true humility of soldiers, and Ranger's heart overflows with pride to witness such honesty.

Our soldiers deserve the best we can offer them. To watch Mr. Romesha one can see his soul is damaged and that trauma is his companion. However, he shows, too, that his humanity is intact.

The coda to the interview: "After the battle, all of the soldiers were ordered to abandon Keating, and the outpost they had fought so desperately to defend was leveled by American bombs."

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Cleveland and the RNC, 2016

The ocean is a desert with it's life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love 
--A Horse With No Name, 
  You take your world
and I'll take mine 
--On the Road

When they're beset and besieged
The folk not noblessly obliged
However do they manage to shed their weary lot?
Oh, what do simple folk do, that we do not? 
--What Do Simple Folk Do? 

Why is the Republican party holding its convention in Cleveland, a former staunchly working middle-class, pro-union city (when there were factories in which unions could operate)? Née "Best Location in the Nation", may she R.I.P.

Dare any delegates walk the inner cities to meet-and-greet the locals on their home turf, a dicey proposition by day, a free-fire zone at night? The Cleveland of Ranger's youth is gone (though walking many streets still required carrying a baseball bat even then, if one were smart about it.) But life has proceeded well beyond those halcyon days.

Ranger reckons the contingent won't venture beyond the Green Zone, i.e., a highly-secured convention center. Despite peeps of "gentrification" not everyone's feeling the craft food and beer boom outside of that cordon; not by a long chalk.

There's still no groceries or urban-sized chain stores downtown as there are in other gentrifying areas, the true signs of a living urban area. The cameras will show a few blocks of Tower City, and mostly before dark, and they'll call it all good.

However, if one Googles the search words "safe" + "Cleveland", one won't gain much heart. The best advice is to stay at The Renaissance, from which you can go to Tower City "and you don't even have to go outside." 

The winner for most optimistic online comment was, "Cleveland is much safer than Detroit". Well okay, then.

The water is poor, but surely the conventioneers will be drinking only bottled from their room bar. And on this account Ranger would add his own hopeful slogan, "Cleveland -- at least we're not Flint." So there's that.

Does either party have a plan to renovate and reinvigorate this once-proud, now decaying Rust Belt city? Will the indigenous be a protest presence? Probably not, knowing the history of trigger-happy police, and the enervated condition of too many in the blighted zones who begin drinking their morning Ripple out of bags on their sagging front porches before noon.

If Ranger were to operate as presumptive nominee Trump's George Stephanopoulis, he would suggest the following as must-do's, cameras in tow:
Secure some armored-up Humvees from party diehards and enter those off-limit zones, the neighborhoods of Ranger's young adulthood. Have Mr.Trump flanked by both locals with concealed-carry permits and a police escort, but have the latter be as inconspicuous as possible.
Mr. Trump should breach the forward operating bases (FOBs) of the city, the places where your talking heads will not. He should wear a Kevlar vest, not because he is a white Republican male, but simply because he is a human moving target.
For some down-home feel-good moments, the Trump party should stop at the Slovenian Home on 185th in honor of his wife's heritage.  Moreover, since he missed a lot on his recent trip to the Old Country, he should eat some cabbage rolls at the American-Croation Lodge on Lakeshore Blvd.

After a good meal, the cortege could re-enter The Zone (any zone) and disburse needful things like Pampers, bottled water and Apple Jack as a goodwill gesture. A sort of Clintonian, "I feel your pain" (a la monsieur, not madame.)
A la Reagan to Gorbachev, Ranger says, "Leave that Green Zone, Mr. Trump, and offer something real and constructive." Please highlight the results of 60 years of robust Civil Rights legislation. 

Anything will be a start.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

From Prussia, With Love

 --Emad Hajjaj (Jordan) 

We'll sign some trashy treaties
And protocols galore,
(They won't make any difference
If I decide for war)  
--Stuff and Nonsense: A Book of War Verses, 
Sir Ian Malcolm

If I listened long enough to you
I'd find a way to believe that it's all true 
--Reason to Believe,
Rod Stewart

The first assumption of United States' nation-building protocol is to build up an army and a militarized police force as the basis for establishing the nation we wish to create. The idea is, the government will fall into place if backed by sufficient force.

As a recent New Yorker piece on the Sykes-Picot treaty observed: "[Iraq and Syria] trained plenty of men in uniform. But both had weak public institutions, teeny civil societies, shady and iniquitous economies, and meaningless laws. Both countries were wracked by coups and instability . . . (t)he glue that held both countries together was repressive rule and fear."

But the balled-up belief in democracy issuing from force is echoed all 'round. Lieutenant General (ret'd) James M. Dubik allowed in a recent BBC America interview that Iraq was terribly off-balance, but stated that the army would not hold if the government falls.

We need only look back 40+ years to Vietnam, the modern prototype for counterinsurgency warfare, to see the failure of  this approach. And since this model failed so spectacularly in the Republic of Vietnam, why do we think it would work in Iraq or Afghanistan today?

The U.S. operates in bad faith, as though armies buy freedom, but the shallowest tour of history debunks that theory. In the most charitable reading, we optimistically operate on that misbegotten template because the Continental Army was created by fiat to expulse the British army and create a new democratic union.

In contradiction, the armies the U.S. creates in Iraq and all of the other oil countries exist simply to quell internal threats. They subdue their citizens and don't even pretend to be democratic. When an army is habitually used to suppress its citizens, this defines a totalitarian regime. 

The late, great Prussia serves as a cautionary example of a state which existed for the benefit of its army. This attitude is the opposite of democratic thought, and since the U.S. fought Prussia in two World Wars, it could be inferred that we opposed the construct.

Sadly, 21st century U.S. thought has devolved to the Prussian template: the U.S. invades, destroys, then nation-builds upon the assumption that out of strong armies and police will grow a democratic  nation. Not.

While this is the statehood pattern followed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, et al., there is no reason to believe that the equation will endure when the state is placed under extreme stress. An army plus militarized police do not ensure statehood, and especially not when they are simply uniformed militias dedicated to a sect opposed to the concept of nation statehood.

The state does not exist for the army; the army exists to defend the state. When the U.S. builds strong armies and police in foreign ventures, it is creating the conditions for repression, not democracy.

Could somebody remind our leaders why we fought two world wars, and why conventional wisdom warns against secret and entangling alliances?

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Monday, May 02, 2016

Naughty Boyz

 Bad bad, bad, bad boy,
you make me feel so good
You naughty, bad, bad, bad, bad boy 
--Bad Boy, Gloria Estefan

 A bad little kid
Moved into my neighborhood
He won't do nothing right
Just a sitting got to look so good 
--Bad Boy, the Beatles

 Bad guy (slang) n.:
a morally bad person or character. 
A villain
 --Merriam-Webster online  

Welcome to hell  
--Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Three bona fide terrorism subject matter experts speaking in a recent Charley Rose round table all referred to the Islamic State as the "Bad Guys", reflecting the general consensus of United State's government and military leaders. So this is what the Phony War on Terror (PWOT©) has devolved to -- getting bad guys.

You know what Ranger is going to say: in what code book, Hague Convention or United Nation guidelines is "bad guys" defined? When did being a Bad Guy earn you a death sentence?

"Since August, 2014, the United States has invested more than eleven million dollars a day in military operations, including almost nine thousand airstrikes on Iraq and more than five thousand on Syria" (How the Curse of Sykes-Picot Still Haunts the Middle East). The U.S. is dropping bombs faster than they can make 'em, hoping that we will hit a bad guy in the bursting radius.

The problem with "Bad Guys" is that the descriptor depends on which side of the fence you house your goats. To some people, President George W. Bush is a very Bad Guy -- war crime sort of bad. To others, he is a hero. Go figure.

How do you define Bad Guy? Is he a fundamentalist who likes terrorism? Is he a guy who will torture someone whom his government calls a Bad Guy, with nary a qualm of conscience? Do they trade in oil and deceit? Are they the arms dealers represented by U.S. interests?

Know this: the fundies and terrorists of ISIS would not exist without a U.S. foreign policy that affects oil and arms in the region. 

What color is your bad? 

When the objectives of war are the killing of bad guys, we have entered a vague moral ground and left a legal, political or military one. Bad guys is a concept a religious person can utter with certainty: "bad" or "evil" is something which is not them. Moreover, it must be destroyed. The problem is, only gods do battle with amorphous concepts like evil. 

When secular states like the U.S. kill on the basis of eradicating "badness" or "evil", we should recognize the futility of the mission. All of the evil in the world cannot be bombed into submission or non-existence. 

Know this, too: we are playing the devil's game, and there will be hell to pay.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mission Impossible

 --The bloom's off the rose 

 His stop-loss odyssey 
went Kabul, morphine, 
   Ramstein, Stateside, 
and back—round-robin   
desert wrestling,
tag out, tag in 
--Welcome Home, Troops! 
 Amit Majmudar

 Cause I gonna make you see 
There's nobody else here 
No one like me
 I'm special, so special
--Brass in Pocket,
The Pretenders

One step forward and two steps back
 Nobody gets too far like that
 One step forward and two steps back 
This kind of dance can never last 
--One Step Forward, 
The Desert Rose Band    

Let us do a check-in on the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) at lucky year 13, as President Obama sends more advisers to Syria in what looks very much like JFK's adviser gambit in the early years of the Vietnam War, the poster child counterinsurgency (COIN) failure.

First, a review: After the initial conventional invasion stage, the PWOT© became a COIN war, for lack of a better term. General Petraeus and his post-Vietnam thesis guided our participation, as if this time, we would really nation-build and win hearts and minds.

Hearts and minds, as if Vietnam could be redeemed and made into something of worth. COIN theory redux would modernize Galula, make what they tried to bury count, make it relevant for a new day.

But then the New COIN started looking like its own danse macbre. We forgot that it wasn't a war, and we were fighting the very people we came to democratize. COIN  really isn't a very good way for the U.S. to win a war, or to help a people.

You cannot both fight people and nation build concurrently. Probably, we still do not realize that it is possible to nation build and to fight insurgents, but the process must occur consecutively. It is impossible to fight, kill and destroy while also attempting to build; the concepts are mutually exclusive.

The luster fell away from the erstwhile Golden Boy, General Petraeus, and his vaunted COIN theory has been folded and put back under the trundle bed, like an old Mission Impossible VHS tape. So where does that leave hearts and minds and nation building, as the United States trudges on in the quagmire that is the Not-Arab Spring?

The mask of nation-building has fallen away, as the U.S. realizes that was merely pretense for our frenzied occupation of places in which the U.S. had no legitimate reason to be. "Asymmetrical warfare" has also died a protracted death on the trash heap of a failed policy.

The U.S. is currently yoked to a slug-fest that makes less sense than did the tarted-up, new-and-improved COIN of once-wonder boy, Vietnam vet-manque, Mr. Petraeus.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Earth Day + 4

--It's not nice to fool Mother Nature
In making war with nature, there was risk of loss in winning
Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/author/9897-John_McPhee
In making war with nature, there was risk of loss in winning
Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/author/9897-John_McPhee
 In making war with nature,
there was risk of loss in winning 
---John McPhee 

The warm, the richly coloured,
the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday.
 How kind, how good-looking,
how delightfully amusing every one was! 
--Brave New World
Aldous Huxley 

It is a fiction that science can save us
--Ranger thought

If you live in a lovely part of the world, mazel tov. However, if you are drinking water in Flint or Cleveland, not so much.

"Better living through science" was the mantra in the 1950's, and one cannot watch commercial television or read a magazine without exposure to copious advertisements of drugs which will cure what ails you (if it doesn't kill you, first). The scientists can offer fixes, but they are more reticent on the topic of what made you sick to begin with.

The despoiling of our water sources will probably be mankind's undoing. But the water still comes out of the faucet, so it mustn't be all that bad, right? Florida is experiencing the slow catastrophe that is the fouling of its aquifer, but Governor Scott has seen fit to remove most protections and solutions.

Lake Apopka in the center of the state, once a pristine bass fishing area, has been fouled by decades of fertilizer runoff from muck farming by the A. Duda company. (Agricultural interests get a pass in Florida.) Now, it is the home of hermaphroditic frogs, and it has rendered as dead zones the entire Chain of Lakes which emanate from it.

Lisa lives near a Superfund site which, after the top six feet of contaminated earth was scraped and sent up to Georgia, has been converted into "Cascades Park", a capital showpiece. Of course, when she moved into town she read about clusters of illness in the vicinity, but also that doctors were not required to report these observations to any clearinghouse as there was no clearinghouse.

The money today is on chronic illness and lifetime "maintenance drugs". As Ranger observes, there are "well baby" doctor visits, but no "well adult" visits. People are too busy to stop and smell the roses, so they take antidepressants at unheralded levels as a stop-gap measure to keep them working, and working too long without rest and good food, they break down,.

A kindly friend gave Lisa a bottle of COSTCO sublingual B-12 the other day, for nerve health and energy. The pill was unpalatably, sickeningly sweet, creating a radioactive red color in the saliva advertised as a "cherry" flavor. She then read the ingredient list: Sucralose -- a neurotoxin -- and Mannitol, even worse. There is a contradiction here between intent and execution. 

The best medical innovations in the last century have probably been antibiotics and vaccinations, which eradicated scourges like polio (something which the privileged anti-vaxxers forget, and village people in Afghanistan and Pakistan never understood, anyway; just don't trust whitey . . . usually sound advice.) But besides those, how do we know that the things that afflict us are not caused by the things that we have created to "better" our lot? We foul and fix, like a dog chasing its tail.

It will be interesting to see the results of lives lived on smartphones, up until the wee hours updating and trolling Facebook and Instagram feeds. Surely Darwinism will remove many of the driving-texters from the gene pool.

We are already noticing young teens demonstrating nascent Dowager's humps as their faces tilt preturnaturally downward, and "Together Alone" is becoming the norm as all 'round the table get their fix on the smartphone.

Will we be able to stay ahead of the power curve resulting from the destruction which lies in our wake?

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

You Wanted Dead White Males, You Got 'Em

 --And away they go
(Jackie Gleason as Ralph Cramden)

 A dirty white boy
I've been in trouble since I don't know when
I'm in trouble now and I know somehow
I'll find trouble again
--Dirty White Boy,

Twenty five years ago they spoke out and they broke out
Of recession and oppression and together they toked
And they folked out with guitars around a bonfire
Just singin' and clappin' man what the hell happened
--Walking on the Sun,
Smash Mouth

The only thing that's left to fear is too late to ever start again
They rape us over and over and over and over
But I'm still alive, but I'm still alive in this dead space 
--Dead Space, Sick Puppies

Subtitle: Requiem for a Heavyweight

The academie has been calling for their heads for decades.  De-center the white male -- eject his works from the canon! And while it is true that society has historically failed to recognize and include females and minorities, the white male artist should not be the whipping boy for society's failures.

Especially white males of the lower and middle strata today, who largely have no power to oppress anyone in society. Yet among the liberal crowd, it is with glee and snarkiness that they -- largely young to middle-aged white males -- express their schadenfreude against the meth-heads and Oxy fiends in Kentucky, largely young to middle-aged white males.

Scapegoats needed, and the bedraggled Khalid Sheikh Mohammed-looking guy in Appalachia in the wife-beater, gaze affixed to the rabbit-eared t.v. will do nicely, thanks. 

Well, we now have the result of this denigration and disdain: the white male young to middle-aged cohort is the only demographic losing in the longevity race in the United States. In addition to alcohol, drug abuse and liver cirrhosis is cited depression, as though the latter were a discrete phenomenon from the former.

After the previous gains had plateaued for several years, they have now begun to dip. Every other cohort continues to gain annually.

This trend should be very concerning to anyone who cares about a well populace. One group need not lose in order for others to gain. There is no penance that need be paid. This is not the bible, and offspring do not pay for the sins of the fathers.

But these dead and dying they are no one's pet project, they are simply lost like so much detritus along the highway that used to be paved with hope. Their jobs have been outsourced and off-shored, their towns, dying due to the outflux of industry. Good union jobs are scarce, once the route into the middle class for the vocational track student. There are few apprentices or journeymen anymore.

Clothes and socks and appliances are bought cheaply from abroad, and disposed of as befits their value. Human's valuation and a sense of pride also landed on that trash heap. These are the designated losers in the sweepstakes of modernity, not educated enough to innovate or escape the dead ends into which they were born, not qualifying for any particular charitable cause.

The last time an administration took note of their plight was back in the 1930's when FDR's administration began improvements like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Works Project Administration (WPA). President Obama's Promise Zones plans to bring federal dollars to regions with persistent poverty, like those in Kentucky (the first rural pilot), but it will probably be as successful as Johnson’s War on Poverty and Clinton’s Empowerment Zones. Not.

The causes du jour, gay marriage and LGBTQ rights, have no space for the floundering straight white male. As in The Dark Tower, time has moved on. The People Who Mean Well will bring places like rural Kentucky online, but sans leadership, they will play video games and grow more unfit to do anything but get to the end of the driveway for their monthly check to keep the Mountain Dew flowing.

The too-young dying white males should be seen as a bellwether for the future of any hopeless cohort in our country. Simply as a matter of expediency, we should be utilizing all of our manpower into building a more robust society; forget morals and ethics.

We amuse ourselves with programs like "Justified and "The Walking Dead", but the reality which props up the artifice is anything but amusing. Witnessing large swathes of desolation throughout the land which used to be centers of production -- now become rat holes -- we should all be concerned if for naught else than the corrosive effect upon on our own piece of the puzzle. The contagion spreads from the epicenters of the disease.

Epitaph of the dead white male: I can't go on, I'll go on.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Chinese Fire Drill

--The New Europeans 

The greatest patriotism is to tell your country
when it is behaving dishonorably
--Julian Barnes

Islam is a beautiful harmless happy daffodil 
--Earth (The Book),
Jon Stewart, et al. 

I don't wanna hear your talking, boy
Your words don't mean a thing 
--Wings, Little Mix

Watching the news today is like watching a Chinese fire drill. Inscrutable Middle East / Arab / Muslim people lead each news hour. If it is not the bedlam in their own countries, than it is their effect upon the others. It is a contagion we are led to believe cannot be contained.

The intellectuals tell us, "refugees are the price we pay for a globalised economy in which commodities – but not people – are permitted to circulate freely", like it or lump it [ "The Non-Existence of Norway".]

When we make a foray into out own nation's news, it is to strike the alarum against Things That Cannot Be, like presidential front-runner Trump. In a democratic nation, Trump's facticity mortifies us. Yet his success is a bellwether for the condition of our electorate. 

In addition, he is not sui generis. We have had businessmen and an actor (a business of sorts) serve as President. In addition, wrestlers, comedians, and everyone in between have served in representative positions.

Rather than The Powers That Be scrambling to pull the plug on the farrago that is Trumpmania, why not look with fascination and concision at that very real phenomenon. No, sadly, that sort of truth-telling we cannot allow. 

We do not ask the right questions because we are too busy constructing the images that tell the story we want to tell.

A recent story-topper in the New York Times was masterful: "The New Europeans" re-constructed Grant Wood's iconic "American Gothic" for a world which is told it must absorb the illegal Arab immigrant (see above). ("Look -- they are just like you", the carefully constructed image tells you. "No worries".)

The clean-cut Middle East couple newly arrived in Bavaria could be in an American Outfitters advertisement, with the photo's appealing bright pinks and yellows. And, it's got kids -- kids in matching little construction boots! Future workmen -- what's not to like?

In addition to the variously imaged immigrants, we see the same news footage nightly regarding the latest Islamic State (IS) outrage, but we never see pictures of IS fighters who have been captured alive. Why?

Does the Iraqi Army, Iraqi militias or the Kurds have enemy prisoner of war (EPW) units? Do these forces abide by the Geneva Conventions (GC) when dealing with IS?

The immediate reply will be, "Well, IS doesn't abide by the GC's". While clearly a true statement, hopefully United States tax dollars do not finance IS. The Iraqis are a different matter since they were created in our image and likeness by our greenbacks.

You won't hear it on the news, but the real Rubik's Cube is a U.S. policy which supports allies who are not allies, and who do not share our values. Allies who practice ethnic cleansing and Genocide Light, something which is opposed to the 1988 Genocide Treaty signed by the U.S. 

What we are given instead are graphics, things we can scroll on our media feed while stopped at traffic lights, possibly even while driving, a little something to enhance that otherwise mundane experience.

We took our eyes off of the road some time ago.

--Jim and Lisa

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Leaving Gitmo

 --Except if you are in Gitmo

 “Who are you? Just another American
who saw too many movies as a child?
Another orphan of a bankrupt culture
who thinks he’s John Wayne?
--Die Hard (1988)

People react to fear, not love.
They don't teach that in
Sunday school, but it's true
--Richard Nixon

If it doesn't fit
you must acquit
--Johnny Cochran

President Obama visited Cuba this week like a shining white knight, a la President Reagan vis-a-vis Gorbachev. "I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas," he said.

In his not quite so soaring rhetoric, Mr. Obama pledged to take down the wall that has separated the two nations for 50 years, proclaiming that is what a democracy does -- it engages in free and open debate. For a little extra oomph, he threw in some Kennedy spit polish, suggesting the universality of man in an "Ich ein Berliner" rip (he chose José Martí's, “Cultivo una rosa blanca”). 

What he failed to do was to address the rights of the men that the United States continues to detain in Guantanamo Bay 14 years into a misbegotten war, a prison joint that the President had vowed to close several years ago.

The New York Times ran a laughably disingenuous editorial on the visit, to wit:

" . . .they saw a cantankerous autocrat who failed to [answer] a journalist [who] asked why his government continues to detain people for their political beliefs."

Were they talking about Mr. Obama or Mr.Castro? Hard to tell. Obama is preaching democracy while practicing totalitarianism. Like all good preachers, you tell the flock what makes them feel good.

The problem of Gitmo seems intractable. The hard core faction wants to bring the prisoners to the U.S. and throw them into Supermax. They face a problem, though: before we throw prisoners into  jail and throw away the key, we must conduct a nicety called a "trial". The individuals must then be convicted.

Instead, the Gitmo detainees have been rendered a stateless people in a pre-Magna Carta state, beyond the reach of legality. Some have been released with no trial, others remain in a prison limboland.

Since they are denied Prisoner of War status -- which would afford them certain protections -- they must be convicted or released.

If it doesn't fit . . .

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

In the Name of the Rose

I say father, and you say pater,
I saw mother and you say mater 
--Let's Call the Whole Thing Off,
George Gershwin

A rose by any other name  
would smell as sweet 
 --Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

 Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose 
--Sacred  Emily, Gertrude Stein 

Terrorism is like a tiger that changes it's stripes, and everyone is grasping for its tail, but he eludes capture. Like a game of musical chairs, each government agency must find a chair at the money feeding trough, and so must make a case that terrorism is something they can best confront.

Although terrorism is an observable fact, the way we interpret the facts leads to different theories regarding how to confront it.

Simply put: Terrorism is a CASH COW.

Many agencies share the task of defining and confronting terrorism, and so each must define it slightly differently in order to justify their viability qua agency. When the failed War on Terror began, the FBI had proponency under their counterintelligence functions. Terrorism was a legal concern under United States code and practices. Terrorists are civilians, and criminal law covers their actions.

Then there is the CIA, a civilian intelligence agency which has a paramilitary branch. Therefore, it is to their benefit to mold the subject into a military plus civilian concern.

Next is the Department of State, which can trump the CIA because they can get the Department of Defense  (DoD) to do their bidding. The DoD speaks of bringing freedom and liberty to countries, while breaking and destroying the same countries. But the DoD also has some intelligence agencies at the strategic level, so why not employ them for terrorism counteraction?

It behooves certain agencies to define the symbolic violence of terrorism as "warfare" for funding purposes. But the criminals acts of 9-11-01 were different in scope and nature than the activities of ISIS, which are warfare. Further, as ISIS does not abide by the accepted rules of war this confounds the issue, making them look like terrorists.

This inter-agency one-upmanship creates a dynamic tension which seldom facilitates good long-term results.

The problem facing us is to define terrorism and decide the correct approach to confronting it. Each agency is disingenuousness in the name of defending their corner of the pie.

The DoD has the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) and use them they must, even when there is no foreign government to target in their collection cycle. In such a pickle, they can also turn their alphabet monitoring apparatuses on U.S. citizens and sell that function as a security concern. DoD will target anything in their need to find a niche in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©).

The CIA doesn't even bother with such cover stories to mask their dirty work, and the Homeland Security Agency (HSA) is rife with political appointees coordinating with courts composed of political appointees.

So, the DoD, Department of State, HSA, CIA, Special Operation, the President, the Attorney General and the Pope all have conflicting theories on what the term "terrorism" actually means. 

After 14 years of war we still cannot define the problem because it remains theoretical.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Good News Day

--Died for Nothing,
 Andy Singer
I heard the news today, oh, boy,
The English army had just won the war 
--A Day in the Life, The Beatles 

Come on, baby
Jump up
Jump back
Well, now, I think you've got the knack 
--LocoMotion, Little Eva 

Here war is simple like a monument:
A telephone is speaking to a man;
Flags on a map assert that troops were sent;
A boy brings milk in bowls. There is a plan 
--Here War is Simple, W. H. Auden

The Big News a few days ago was that United States Delta troops had captured an ISIS chemical weapons expert who specialized in the manufacture and use of mustard gas, a "Chemical Ali" for our times.

Yet despite the Good News of Good Guys triumphing over Evil, here we are 14 years into the Middle East war project and not one millimeter closer to an endgame. The capture and killing of an individual is meaningless effort, signifying motion with no progress.

But Perhaps Good News is relative -- what is good for the talking heads and Hollywood filmmakers and contractors is not good for us taxpayers in the homeland.

As RangerAgainstWar has said from the inception of the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©): there is nothing for the U.S. to win, and all is effort with no benefit. Our soldiers are not fighting for our freedom (though they may be fighting for the freedom of the war profiteers to profit.)

Iraq and Iran will never be bastions of liberal democracy; meanwhile, freedoms in the U.S. wane daily. So what is the soldier's mission? 

We were sold The Surge and The (fill-in-the-blank) Spring as worthy soldierly goals. Yet historically, surges and springs come to no good end. Stalingrad, Kursk, the German efforts at The Bulge, the Prague Spring. Sounds good, but they had no staying power.

The Surge was a media event, the Sunni Awakening and the Sons of Iraq being bribed to pretend to fight for U.S. goals when in reality it was Sunni fighters consolidating and reorganizing for their next effort . . . with the help of U.S. weapons and training. Add a spoonful of sugar and the result?

That's right -- ISIS. And the conclusion: all of the troops killed, wounded and mentally unbalanced by these wars were used for no good thing. What do they see when they look into the mirror now?

For a war to be just, the sum of the good must exceed the evil, suffering and death required to achieve it. What good has been achieved since the U.S. invasion in 2002?

Ronald Reagan's question holds: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" 14 years ago?

The War on Terror isn't tough on terrorism, it's tough on the everyday working American. We are spending our treasure on no Good Thing.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

An Untenable Situation

Americans love to drill holes
in other people's countries
--Syriana (2005)

--Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
--Whadda you got?
--The Wild One (1955)

 --Why do we do this?
--You've gotta do something.
Don't you?  
--Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

In Clausewitzian thought, war is considered an extension of the political process. War is deadly politics.

Here we are in 2016 and this 19th century thinking is still taught in our military schools and guides our geopolitical behavior. But post-Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©), Arab Spring and the lot of it, the dichotomy no longer seems so relevant.

Using Syria as an example: There is no political goal that can be applied to the military endeavor, and vice versa. The military effort will not sustain a politically successful conclusion for any of the players. Politics and military violence are not mutually supportive, nor is one an extension of the other.

For the United States there is no political solution that will be won by force of arms. There is also no military treatment that will effect a political decision. If we accept this, then the solution to the Syrian Civil War is outside of the rules of war and of politics.

If the U.S. uses military power we can destroy the current iteration of the Islamic State (IS), but that will not end the civil war. Neither Iran, Iraq, the U.S. nor the Russians will allow such a thing. Additionally, IS will be re-born under another sobriquet.

The political entente cannot be achieved because none of the players – including the U.S. – can impose its political will short of a decisive war. The problem is that the U.S. Department of State (DoS) cannot achieve a political consensus, and the CIA cannot achieve a military success.

Possibly, I have this reversed, and the DoS cannot achieve a military victory and the CIA does not have a political solution of any value. The CIA and the DoS have contradictory goals, and their efforts are cancelling one another out. Why did the U.S. support rebels when this war started? Lose/lose is a far piece from win/win.

Neither politics nor military action have produced any results in Libya, Syria or Iraq. Iran remains the wild card sitting in the catbird’s seat. Saudi Arabia is also outside of the military – political sphere of influence.

So, why did the U.S. get enmeshed in the Syrian Civil War to begin with? What will the U.S. gain by throwing its lot in with the rebels – any of them?

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Muslim 2.0

 I'd like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves
--Coke commercial, The New Seekers 

Why can't we all just get a long neck,
And make a toast to peace and harmony? 
--Why Can't We All Just Get a Long Neck?
Hank Williams, Jr.

 Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be 
--Sonnet 138, Shakespeare

President Obama recently forcefully rebuked the rise of "inexplicable political rhetoric" against Muslims, decrying the fact that the entire Muslim community was being blamed for the violent acts of a very few. Strange days indeed, as this was spoken by a president who has killed Muslims worldwide, both observant and secular.

Besides being hypocritical it is disingenuous, for the violence perpetrated by Muslims who have recently invaded Europe makes the anti- Muslim rhetoric very explicable. Saying the reaction to Muslims is "inexplicable" does not make it so, even if it perpetuates the finely-honed image of inclusion and liberalism which we have embraced as an American self-definition.

One thing is certain: devout Muslims do not share Western Enlightenment values. Muslims are homophobic and misogynistic (which is not to say that die-hard Christians are not, but to a lesser degree and in a less public castigation), among many other beliefs they hold which do not jibe with Western protocol.

Especially dissonant at the President's talk was the presence of women in hijabs and burkas gazing agog at this president, Lewinsky-like, while he argued for the inclusivity of Muslims into Western society.  Meanwhile their bodies were hidden beneath bag-like 13th century garb. How can these women pursue happiness and the American dream when their very exclusion violates the separate-but-equal clause of the U.S. Constitution?

Is importing such reactionary foreign behaviors into America really wise? Is not the United State's the great "melting pot", into which all newcomers throw themselves in order that they might emerge from that cauldron tempered and defined as a new entity, that of the "U.S.citizen"? The modern U.S. ideal is rational thought which promotes individualism, freedom of religion, and all associated freedoms, rights and responsibilities.

While no American can deny the use of controlled immigration as a national tool, should we allow immigration of peoples en masse whom opposes the very values of our national life. Creating Enlightenment values was a hard road to hoe, but it is precious and should be defended against those who would revel in its dissolution.

Islam is not the problem, because they are very clear. No, the problem is that we Judeo-Christian types extend charitable thoughts and actions to those who neither deserve nor want this largess. U.S. charity and immigration policy should address the welfare of our nation and apply only to those willing to integrate into our value system.

The U.S. government is clamping down on social benefits across the board for our own citizens, yet we espouse bringing people in to the country who can't say with a straight face that they want be Americans.

 And we say with a straight face that they will enrich our nation. 

"You lie with me, and I with you ..."

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