Category: U.S. Politics
A Connecticut reader who describes himself as a paratroop veteran from the Korean War era who was lucky to be assigned to Germany, “rather than that slaughter house of Korea,” writes:
I find this convention that has developed of saying, “thank you for your service” off-putting. It immediately shuts the door. Nothing more to say except, “Thank you.” Puts us in a box. You will never hear veterans speak to each other this way.
Besides, the dirty little secret is most of us had the time of our lives. It was great fun.
Another reader sends along this message from his brother, a Vietnam vet. It originally appeared on the very active Facebook page of the Savannah, Georgia, chapter of Veterans for Peace, a veterans organization that promotes public awareness of the costs of war, and seeks to restrain governments from waging it.
There is no glory in war, no honor in victory. Every soldier is not a hero. Being a veteran I hope that one day youth will lay down their weapons, all youth across the face of the earth and refuse to fight the wars of old men. The rich make the wars the poor fight so the rich can become more rich. If war was not profitable there would be no war.
If you really want to honor a veteran, truly honor those who have served, do not thank us for our service, remove the ribbons from your cars, and promise all those who suffered and died and those who continue to suffer that no more veterans will be made. You see, I am a Viet Nam veteran from 1969-1971. In many ways I am still there. We carry it forever. It may dim but it is always there.
So, as a veteran, I beg you do not send your sons, your daughters, you spouses, your brothers or sisters off to die in someone else’s war. I close my eyes and look upon those horrors that we committed and those done to us by our own government. Hug your children, your loved ones and hold them near. Don’t let them die alone in some faraway country.
When you hear the drums of war and see the flags unfurl and the politicians making their speeches, grab you loved ones and say no more. Then you may say you have truly honored a veteran.
Pitch Interactive, a data visualization shop in Berkeley, California, has produced an interactive infographic illustrating the results of US drone attacks in Pakistan. I can’t embed it, but clicking on the link will take you to a 90-seconds chronological overview.
Clicking on the ATTACKS, VICTIMS, NEWS, and INFO links in the upper left corner of the infographic adds background information and sources.
Less than 2% of the victims are high-profile targets.
The rest are civilians, children and alleged combatants.
This is the story of every known drone strike and victim in Pakistan.
Since 2004, the US has been practicing in a new kind of clandestine military operation. The justification for using drones to take out enemy targets is appealing because it removes the risk of losing American military, it’s much cheaper than deploying soldiers, it’s politically much easier to maneuver (i.e. flying a drone within Pakistan vs. sending troops) and it keeps the world in the dark about what is actually happening. It takes the conflict out of sight, out of mind. The success rate is extremely low and the cost on civilian lives and the general well-being of the population is very high. This project helps to bring light on the topic of drones. Not to speak for or against, but to inform and to allow you to see for yourself whether you can support drone usage or not.
The number of “significant” natural catastrophes in North America causing more than $1 billion in losses of more than 50 deaths, 1950-2012:
Number of natural catastrophes in North America, 1980-2011:
For the climate change skeptics in the audience, these charts come not the Ecology Action Centre, the Natural Resources Defence Council, or the Pembina Institute, but from Munich Re, a $265-billion company that is one of the world’s leading reinsurance brokers. (A reinsurer is an outfit that re-sells insurance liabilities when the risk becomes too great for a single retail firm, so it is on the front lines when catastrophic events loom.)
Bear in mind, this is what has already happened, when the sea level rise and ocean warming forecast by climate scientists has barely begun.
Both charts originated in Severe weather in North America: Perils · Risks · Insurance, a 260-page report Munich Re produced on the rise in major natural events. Perhaps because our coastlines are so built up, the rise is occurring faster in North American than in other parts of the world. The top chart is reproduced in a 44-page report of a forum hosted by the Washington DC-baseed Urban Land Institute: Risk & Resilience in Coastal Regions: A ULI Global Policy and Practice Forum Report [PDF]. The bottom chart appears in a 12-page executive summary [PDF] Munich Re’s report, the full version of which is available from the company for $100.
Take a walk along the shoreline of any city in Atlantic Canada. The Gabarus Sea Wall ain’t the only thing we need to be worried about.
H/T: Richard Stephenson
In the summer of 1976, Tom Enders, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, and officials of the US State Department were negotiating the details of a meeting between Foreign Affairs Minister Allan J MacEachen and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Since Kissinger had called upon MacEachen in Ottawa the previous October, the assumption was that the next meeting would take place in Washington.
As recorded in a confidential August 7, 1976, State Department memo to Kissinger, one of more than 1.7 million U.S. State Department cables dating from 1973-1976 released last week by Wikileaks, MacEachen suggested an alternative plan:
AMBASSADOR ENDERS HAS ALSO INFORMED US THAT MACEACHEN HAS SUGGESTED THAT YOU CONSIDER COMING TO CAPE BRETON, NOVA SCOTIA (MACEACHEN’S HOME) FOR THE TALKS. CLEARLY, YOUR GOING TO CAPE BRETON WOULD BE A PERSONAL COUP FOR MACEACHEN AND WOULD ALSO BE A DELIGHTFUL SCENIC VENUE FOR THE TALKS. THE DISADVANTAGES WOULD BE THE ADDITIONAL TIME REQUIRED OF YOUR SCHEDULE BECAUSE OF THE REMOTENESS OF CAPE BRETON AND ALSO THE FACT THAT YOU WOULD AGAIN BE THE GUEST OF MACEACHEN RATHER THAN ALLOWING YOU TO REPAY HIS HOSPITALITY IN OTTAWA LAST FALL. ON BALANCE, WE BELIEVE THAT YOU SHOULD PROCEED WITH PLANS TO HOST THE MEETING IN WASHINGTON.
Kissinger accepted the staff recommendation, and the visit went ahead in Washington on August 17 and 18.
Image of HK visiting Meat Cove: Peter Barss
100? 500? 1,000? The correct answer is much higher: more than 22 fatal shootings per day in the first 98 days since the horrific elementary school massacre.
Huffpo has an interactive chart: (Please don’t just look at the graphic. Click on the link and then on “next.”)
At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams reviews the week’s celebrity apologies, and finds most wanting. Then she highlights this example of how to apologize with grace:
[L]est you think nobody knows how to own up to bad behavior, there have this week also been some fine examples of how to do it correctly. David Petraeus, the former head of the CIA/ladykiller appeared at a Los Angeles ROTC dinner and got the awkward part out of the way early. “I join you, keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago,” Petraeus said. ”I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing. So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret — and apologize for — the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters.” Gosh, he makes it look so simple.
Memo to disgraced MLA Russell MacKinnon… oh, forget it.
How often has the US attacked targets in Pakistan with unmanned drones, and how many of those killed have been children, civilians, putative insurgents, or “high-value” military targets?
Definitely worth a look. The bureau summarizes the results:
The justification for using drones to take out enemy targets is appealing because it removes the risk of losing American military, it’s much cheaper than deploying soldiers, it’s politically much easier to maneuver (i.e. flying a drone within Pakistan vs. sending troops) and it keeps the world in the dark about what is actually happening. It takes the conflict out of sight, out of mind. The success rate is extremely low and the cost on civilian lives and the general well-being of the population is very high.
The interactive graphic has two views. The Attack View pictured above shows each attack chronologically; the Victim View focuses on the people killed in each strike.
The category of victims we call “OTHER” is classified differently depending on the source. The Obama administration classifies any able-bodied male a military combatant unless evidence is brought forward to prove otherwise. This is a very grey area for us. These could be neighbors of a target killed. They may all be militants and a threat. What we do know for sure is that they are targeted without being given any representation or voice to defend themselves.
With increasingly sophisticated drones become ever more widely available, how long before the US regrets opening this particular Pandora’s box?
At Barak Obama’s second inauguration yesterday, American Idol star Kelly Clarkson added a poignant chapter to the storied annals of America’s least offensive patriotic anthem, My Country ‘Tis of Thee.
Seventy-four years ago, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Marian Anderson perform at the association’s Constitution Hall in Washington because the celebrated contralto was African-American. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her DAR membership in protest, and weeks of controversy ensued. On April 9, 1939, 75,000 people turned out to hear Anderson sing at an outdoor Easter Sunday recital on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Interior Secretary Harold Ickes introduced Anderson’s stirring rendition of My Country ‘Tis of Thee:
Martin Luthor King didn’t sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, but the famous speech he delivered from the place Anderson had sung 23 years earlier included a powerful allusion to the anthem’s lyrics:
A few days after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre, Joe M. Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called Dave Berg, a producer with NBC Television. President Bush wanted Jay Leno to help the country get back to normal by putting “The Tonight Show” on the air. The program resumed on September 18, a week after the attacks, with no monologue, and a guest appearance by Republican Sen. John McCain. Crosby, Stills, and Nash ended the show with an unusual version of My Country ‘Tis of Thee, accompanied by the haunting guitar work of Michael Hedges.
The great Aretha Franklin sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 (but her hat may be the element that sticks in people’s memories).
Clarkson had some daunting history to live up to when the stepped to the microphone yesterday. I think she performed beautifully. (Apologies for the Wall Street Journal’s triumphalist intro, but the camera work on this clip is better than the alternatives so far posted on YouTube.)
(Note: I have included video links her because embedded YouTube videos don’t show up in certain email programs. Email subscribers can usually see them in their browsers by clicking on the title of the post.)
Yesterday, White House press spokesman Jay Carney kiboshed the idea of minting a platinum trillion dollar coin to get around the Congressionally imposed debt ceiling that Republicans are using to ransom deep cuts in medicare and social security.
Some economists have urged President Barack Obama to exploit a legal loophole that would allow the government to print a single $1,000,000,000,000 coin, and deposit it with the Federal Reserve Bank, thereby enabling the US Government to pay bills Congress has already authorized.
MSNBC Host Chris Hays summed up the case for the coin this way:
If this seems surreal or ridiculous or magical to you, you are not wrong. It’s totally bizarre and unprecedented. Even if it’s legal, as many legal experts believe it to be, it seems to run against our expectations of how our government does and should behave. It’s the kind of thing that just isn’t done. But that, you see, is the entire point. Behaviour of individuals within institutions is constrained by the formal rules–explicit prohibitions–and norms–implicit prohibitions that aren’t spelled out, but just aren’t done.
And what the modern Republican party has excelled at, particularly in the era of Obama, is exploiting the gap between these two. They’ve made a habit of doing the thing that just isn’t done. Requiring a 60-vote majority for nearly every simple procedural vote just wasn’t done, and then the Republicans did it. Refusing to confirm any candidate for an open position because you object to the position’s very existence just wasn’t done, but Senate Republicans did precisely that with the newly created Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which they continue to boycott. And most clearly before the summer of June, 2011, opposition parties didn’t use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip with which to extract ransom, and they certainly didn’t threaten default as a means to gain political leverage.
The president has been extremely reticent to meet this extraordinary degradation of previous norms with innovations of his own. He is, at heart, an ardent institiuionalist. But there is no way to unilaterally maintain norms. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. And the only way to produce a new set of healthy norms is to do some innovating of your own.
And you can tell, I think, the trillion dollar coin idea spooks republicans precisely because it would be so out of character. It would so gleefully and flagrantly violate their own expectations about how democrats play the game.
I go back and forth on whether Obama is a leader of exceptional forbearance, or a patsy who can’t play hardball. In this case, I’m dismayed that the President has once again abjured what may be his strongest weapon on the eve of negotiations that promise to be not just difficult but fraught with potential harm to the United States and the world.
Since Contrarian readers may not have followed this looming crisis all that closely, I will follow the advice of James Fallows and include these two sentences in this discussion:
- Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize one single penny in additional public spending.
- For Congress to “decide whether” to raise the debt ceiling, for programs and tax rates it has already voted into law, makes exactly as much sense as it would for a family to “decide whether” to pay a credit-card bill for goods it has already bought.
For those who prefer to ingest their economic news visually, here is Hayes’s entire commentary on the Republican Debt ceiling fiasco (the coin discussion starts 25 seconds in):
And here is the bipartisan panel discussion that followed.
At first blush, this is a discussion about the intricacies of US politics. But in Canada, over the last two years, the Harper Government has been flouting Parliamentary norms in a manner that is, so far as I know, unprecedented in scope. Harper has cobbled together massive omnibus bills that change dozens of important federal laws touching wide-ranging spheres of Canadian affairs–ranging from National Parks to native rights to protection of waterways. Harper has used his parliamentary majority to force these laws through with a minimum of debate.
Just as Republicans can say Democrats used the filibuster too, Harperites can say Liberals used Omnibus bills, too. Yes they did, and sometimes in regrettable ways, but never on this massive scale.
What we’ve seen from Harper in the last two years is a flouting of norms, and as Hayes says, once norms are gone, they’re gone, and you can’t get ‘em back. Once Canada’s dalliance with the radical right ends, as inevitably it one day will, the most important task facing a moderate or progressive alternative will be to repair the damage Harper has done to Canadian Parliamentary Democracy.
Chasing Ice, a new film from director Jeff Orlowski, follows photographer James Balog’s attempt to catalog the climate change-induced melting of the north polar icecap, using time lapse photography. This scene, the film’s climax, shows the spectacular breakup of a Manhattan-sized chunk of ice from Greenland’s Ilulissat Glacier.
To appreciate the images, click the gear at the lower right edge of the film, and pick the highest resolution your monitor will support. Then view the clip full screen. The trailer for Chasing Ice is here.
H/T: Melanie McGrath