Slog tipper Hart Viges, an Iraq War vet, sends this photo of a National Guard recruitment effort at the Great Urban Race near Denny Triangle on Saturday. The big red banner shows the Superman and National Guard logos together—in between it says, "One American icon inspires another." Later, I saw runners on Capitol Hill wearing red capes emblazoned with the two logos. The joint Man of Steel movie and National Guard promotion is called Soldier of Steel.
As the Soldier of Steel website says, "Superman's worldwide heroics are invaluable. But he can't be everywhere at once. The National Guard needs recruits like you."
To make matters worse, Cracked breaks down a hokey new National Guard/Man of Steel commercial and says it depicts Superman "as one big crazy jackass."
Viges says he approached the recruiters holding the banner in his Iraq Veterans Against the War hoodie—he's a member of the anti-war group who's been tabling at local high schools promoting alternatives to military service. Viges says he tried to explain that Lex Luthor, Superman's arch-nemesis, was an arms dealer, corporate executive, and US president, and they're twisting the hero's narrative.
Obvious question: If it's not okay to use comic book characters to sell cigarettes, why is it okay to use them to sell war?
That's not counting veterans and it's not counting "National Guard and reserve troops who were not on active duty when they committed suicide," according to this haunting piece of reporting in today's New York Times, entitled "Baffling Rise in Suicides Plagues U.S. Military." But make no mistake: Suicides among veterans have risen too. The number of veterans who kill themselves is an unbelievable 22 per day, according to the Department of Vetern Affairs.
As for the active-duty soldiers, a "dauntingly complex web of factors" figures into the data about why they commit suicide. While "troops with multiple concussions were significantly more likely to report having suicidal thoughts" than others, "deployment and combat by themselves cannot explain the spiking suicide rates."
Pentagon data show that in recent years about half of service members who committed suicide never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. And more than 80 percent had never been in combat.
That doesn't fit the assumptions I had about military suicides. After reading the story I texted my brother—who was an officer in the Army for three years, ending in 2011, including a tour of duty in Iraq—to get his perspective. Why would the suicide rate be so high even among guys who'd never been in combat? My brother responded:
Because regardless of what they're called or what "stage" we're in, we're still at war. Being in a war zone for 9+ months is unbelievably stressful even if you're not in combat. Not to mention, you work 15 hours a day and get 0 days off, which is tough even in a regular job for that amount of time. You have no social life, and people are social beings. You just become numb mentally and emotionally. I was for months after I came back and my deployment wasn't that bad compared to some. One of my guys killed himself a week after we got back. He seemed fine.
The Long Island Press has noticed that the US military has quietly given itself the power to police Americans and "quell... civil disturbances."
The lines blurred even further Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.
The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule:
Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.
Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”
... Michael German, senior policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), noted in a 2009 Daily Kos article that, “there is no doubt that the military is very good at many things. But recent history shows that restraint in their new-found domestic role is not one of them.”
So... does this mean America is now living under the hair-trigger threat of martial law? And what rises to the level of "civil disturbance"?
Remember yesterday's Headline of the Day? I'll refresh your memory: It was "Air Force sex assault prevention chief charged in sex assault." Then today comes the release of the Pentagon's annual report on sexual assaults in the military. Says USA Today: "Pentagon estimates of how many troops are sexually assaulted show the numbers increased by more than a third since 2010, from 19,300 servicemembers believed to be victims that year to 26,000 in 2012."
Senator Patty Murray's had enough. In a press release today, she says, "Not only are we subjecting our men and women to this disgusting epidemic, but we’re also failing to provide the victims with any meaningful support system once they have fallen victim to these attacks." So she and fellow senator Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) introduced a bill today called the Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013.
The bill, according to Murray's office, will:
• Provide victims of sexual assault with Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) – a military lawyer who will assist sexual assault victims throughout the process.
• Enhance the responsibilities and authority of DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office so that it can better oversee efforts to combat MSA across the Armed Forces and regularly track and report on a range of MSA statistics, including assault rate, number of cases brought to trial, and compliance with appropriate laws and regulations within each of the individual services.
• Refer cases to the general court martial level when sexual assault charges are filed or to the next superior competent authority when there is a conflict of interest in the immediate chain of command.
• Bar sexual contact between instructors and trainees during and within 30 days of completion of basic training or its equivalent.
• Ensure that Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC) are available to members of the National Guard and Reserve at all times and regardless of whether they are operating under Title 10 or Title 32 authority.
It's always great to remember how badass your senators are. (Full bill is here, if you wonk that hard.)
If you've never seen the documentary about it, The Tillman Story, you must. As Schmader wrote in a 2010 review film:
What The Tillman Story exposes are the grotesque machinations undertaken by military officials to bamboozle Tillman's family and co-opt the tragedy for their own ass-covering ends. The engines of this exposé are the surviving Tillmans themselves—Pat Tillman's mother, father, brothers, and wife, whom we see being driven to obsession by the shameless prevarications of military officials and who present a portrait of their son/brother/husband that is shockingly at odds with so much of what's come before. Rather than a heavenly patriot or ego-driven sports star, Tillman was a well-read, intellectually curious atheist who grew to openly question the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hoped only to make it out alive. He didn't, and The Tillman Story is the closest thing America has produced to a proper tribute, offering a maddening, heartbreaking, fittingly complicated portrait of a real-life American hero and the country that failed him.
As long as we're talking about drones and how the Obama administration has deliberately misled the American public about how and when they kill people with them, I thought I'd point to a 2012 Stanford/NYU study that dismantles the myth of the "surgical" strike.
Some commenters on yesterday's post say drones are great because they're more precise and less violent than invasions, so (they seem to infer) drones reduce the overall amount of violence in the world. This is flawed thinking for a few different reasons—not least because armies using drones are more likely to engage in deadly hostility because their risk is so minimized.
Furthermore, drones are obviously becoming weapons of psychological warfare. They hover noisily above villages, sometimes 24-7, and occasionally spit missiles that often kill unintended targets, including rescue workers. That's a pretty effective, if inadvertent, terrorist recruitment tool.
From the opening paragraphs of the 2012 NYU/Standford report:
In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.
This narrative is false.
Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.
If you're going to argue for drones, at least understand that the "surgical strike" myth is just that—a myth. And that all kinds of unintended targets do die as a result, which might inspire more anti-US sentiment and action than the drones manage to deter.
Investigative reports and on-the-ground testimonies have made it public knowledge that far more people than al-Qaida leaders are killed by drone strikes. The U.K.’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) estimates that in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia over 1,o00 civilians may have been killed by U.S. drone strikes. The Obama administration has long maintained, however, that strikes are only ever authorized to target “specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaida and associated forces.” Documents obtained by McClatchy newspapers suggest that these claims are false.
From McClatchy, which apparently got a boatload of leaked documents:
In a response to questions from McClatchy, the White House defended its targeting policies, pointing to previous public statements by senior administration officials that the missile strikes are aimed at al Qaida and associated forces.
… The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.”
… At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts. Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida,
An obliquely related quote from David Graeber's new book The Democracy Project:
In 2008, young Americans preferred Obama to John McCain by a rate of 68 percent to 30 percent—again, an approximate two-thirds margin. It seems at the very least reasonable to assume that most young Americans who cast their votes for Obama expected a little more than what they got.
As parents have been saying to their children since time immemorial—it's bad enough that you did it, but what's really bad is that you lied about it.
Looks like somebody's watched The Mouse That Roared a few too many times:
The North Korean army said Thursday it had final approval to launch “merciless” military strikes on the United States, involving the possible use of “cutting-edge” nuclear weapons.
In a statement published by the official KCNA news agency, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) said it was formally informing Washington that reckless US threats would be “smashed by ... cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means”.
The eurozone crisis, which has led to austerity (stupid, stupid austerity) for Europe, now also means austerity measures for other countries as foreign aid budgets get slashed.
According to the Guardian, the 2012 drop in aid from the 33 wealthiest nations in the world was "the biggest in 15 years and was the first back-to-back drop in development assistance since 1996-97."
Spain cut its aid budget by 50%, Italy by 35%, Greece by 17% and Portugal by 13% as the single currency suffered its most severe crisis since monetary union was founded in 1999. But other big donors – including the United States, Japan and the UK – also reported small falls in aid spending in 2012.
Bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa – the world's poorest region – dropped by 8% in 2012, while assistance to the least developed countries (LDCs) was down by 13%.
Austerity for one is austerity for all! (Except, of course, for the already-rich.)
In other austerities, the US military is cutting down on its perks for soldiers in Afghanistan:
No more surf'n'turf overlooking the Hindu Kush, no more salsa classes on the Kandahar boardwalk or mocha frappes in the Helmand desert.
The US army has decided to cut back on catering, morale, welfare and recreation services as it starts the $6bn (£4bn) relocation of a nearly 70,000-strong force, who must all leave by the end of 2014...
The shift will begin on 1 May and be rolled out across Afghanistan by 1 October, although soldiers living in cramped conditions and working round the clock warned that the change, which could spell the end for treats including regular steak and lobster feasts at some bases, will dent morale.
You're not alone, US soldiers—austerity is denting morale all across the globe.
On the back of an SUV:
On a Capitol Hill utility pole:
The New York Times has an interesting look at the effects of sexist language North Korea is using against South Korea's first female president, Park Geun-hye, whose "venomous swish of skirt" North Korea recently called out as partly responsible for rising tensions between the countries:
The North Koreans, masters of outrageous propaganda, no doubt picked their phrase carefully for the South’s first female president. “Swish of skirt” was long an insult in Korean culture, directed at women deemed too aggressive, far from the traditional ideal of docile and coy.
“North Korea is taunting and testing her,” said Choi Jin, head of the Institute of Presidential Leadership in Seoul. “It’s an important test for her at home, too. People supported her for being a strong leader, but they also have a lingering doubt about whether their first female president will be as good in national security as she sounds.”
The sexist barb is one small piece of the early challenge the North has posed for Ms. Park, who came into office just after Pyongyang detonated its third nuclear test and has spent her first three weeks in office managing increasingly fraught relations between the two countries.
Does her gender matter to leaders in North Korea? To citizens in the South? Experts in the article disagree.
The nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation has released hour-long audio and a transcript of Pfc. Bradley Manning, in his own words, to the world—about his time in the military, his dismay at the kill-and-capture attitude towards entire nations of people the US was ostensibly trying to "liberate," and why he decided to work with Wikileaks.
The court-martial proceeding of Bradley Manning has, rather ironically, been shrouded in extreme secrecy, often exceeding even that which prevails at Guantanamo military commissions. This secrecy prompted the Center for Constitutional Rights to commence formal legal action on behalf of several journalists and activists, including myself, to compel greater transparency. One particularly oppressive rule governing the Manning trial has barred not only all video or audio recordings of the proceedings, but also any photographs being taken of Manning or even transcripts made of what is said in court. Combined with the prohibition on all press interviews with him, this extraordinary secrecy regime has meant that, in the two-and-a-half years since his arrest, the world has been prevented, literally, from hearing Manning's voice.
Huh. Sounds similar to a certain legal situation in this week's news section.
Manning seems to disclose pretty much everything, including his rocky relationship with his boyfriend in the states ("he did not seem very excited about my return from Iraq"). Manning is human. And the government informant who turned him in claimed to be a journalist and a pastor who'd promised him confidentiality.
Talk about a chilling effect.
But more to the point, Manning talks about why he did what he did—after seeing videos of soldiers merrily shooting civilians and journalists, a lack of critical thinking about why certain people were on "target lists" (which might have had more to do with domestic beefs than terrorism), and how the American people were being kept in the dark about what the US was doing in these highly publicized wars.
Manning's tone is clinical but what he describes is damning—the US military working against democracy, against the exercise of speech and political dissent, against the purported reasons our military invaded in the first place.
Last week, top Air Force commander Lieutenant General Craig Franklin did something incredibly unusual and, frankly, scary: He dismissed a lieutenant colonel's rape conviction after a trial by jury.
According to the AP, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, who was stationed on an Air Force base in Italy, was convicted in November on charges of "abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman," in an incident that "involved a civilian employee." Wilkerson was dismissed from the military and sentenced to a year in prison.
But Franklin then turned around and dismissed the conviction, citing insufficient evidence—even though, according to this story in the Air Force Times, Franklin was the one who sent the case to court martial and he selected the all-male jury himself. As that AFT article explains, "in the military justice system, the convening authority—in this case, Franklin—can single-handedly reduce or set aside sentences or overturn a jury conviction."
Here's the good news: A group of female US senators aren't taking that bullshit lying down. Senators Claire McCaskill, Barbara Boxer, and Jeanne Shaheen caught wind of the case, and while McCaskill sent a scathing letter to the Air Force demanding an explanation, Boxer and Shaheen contacted newly minted defense secretary Chuck Hagel, asking him to investigate.
That resulted in the Senate hearing today, containing this exchange, according to the AP report:
"Do you really think that after a jury has found someone guilty, and dismissed someone from the military for sexual assault, that one person, over the advice of their legal counselor, should be able to say, 'Never mind'?" Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, the top officer at U.S. Central Command, at a Senate hearing.
Mattis explained that commanders, including female commanders, have the authority to act for a reason. "And I would just tell you that I would look beyond one case," he said.
After the hearing today, the Air Force Times laid out the stakes:
Some have heralded the commander’s decision as an act of justice in a military system that has become over-zealous in its pursuit of sexual assault convictions. Others have said the reversal does untold harm to future victims of military sex crimes who are already hesitant to come forward.
Now that Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War has been shining a glaring spotlight on the epidemic of rape in the military, it seems insane for something like this to happen. I'll confess I haven't seen the film, only because I keep hearing it's a harrowing experience just to watch and I haven't steeled myself for it. But it seems from reviews and interviews that an important part of the story it tells is how incredibly difficult it is to even report rape in the military and be taken seriously. For a sexual assault case to go all the way through a court martial and get a conviction and then for that conviction to be thrown out by a single commander is mind-boggling. It's insane. Here's hoping those pissed-off senators keep holding military feet to the congressional fire.
David Frum at Daily Beast:
Only half of Americans believe the United States is "No. 1 militarily," according to the National Gallup Poll. This news comes as the sequestration cuts hit the Department of Defense, the United States continues preparations to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, and a rising China invests in its own military.For reasons that are a complete mystery to me, Frum doesn't point out how far China has to go before it's spending anything like the US on its military.
Jane's Defence Forecasts in 2012 estimated that China's defense budget would increase from $119.80 billion to $238.20 billion between 2011 and 2015. This would make it larger than the defense budgets of all other major Asian nations combined. This is still smaller than the estimated United States defense budget of $525.40 billion for 2013.
This NYT article is heartbreaking:
Even as the Pentagon lifts the ban on women in combat roles, returning servicewomen are facing a battlefield of a different kind: they are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, an often-invisible group bouncing between sofa and air mattress, overnighting in public storage lockers, living in cars and learning to park inconspicuously on the outskirts of shopping centers to avoid the violence of the streets.
While male returnees become homeless largely because of substance abuse and mental illness, experts say that female veterans face those problems and more, including the search for family housing and an even harder time finding well-paying jobs. But a common pathway to homelessness for women, researchers and psychologists said, is military sexual trauma, or M.S.T., from assaults or harassment during their service, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sexual trauma set Ms. Jackson on her path. At first she thought she could put “the incident” behind her: that cool August evening outside Suwon Air Base in South Korea when, she said, a serviceman grabbed her by the throat in the ladies’ room of a bar and savagely raped her on the urine-soaked floor. But during the seven years she drifted in and out of homelessness, she found she could not forget.
Please, go read the whole thing.
Of course Cheney supports Obama's drone program. WaPo reports...
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says the Obama administration’s policy of targeting terrorists abroad with unmanned drone strikes is “a good policy,” even though he disagrees with most of President Barack Obama’s views on national security.If you're doing something that kills people, Cheney will always be there for you.
In an interview that aired Tuesday on “CBS This Morning,” Cheney dismissed the need for “checks and balances” against the drone program. He says Obama “is getting paid to make difficult, difficult decisions.”
I'm not saying it's easy to acquire anti-tank weapons, but, you know, I now have one, so how hard could it be?
Slog tipper rob! sends along this fascinating-yet-horrifying report of male German soldiers spontaneously growing solitary boobs:
Dozens of soldiers it the Wachbataillon (German for man with one breast, you know how concise German words are) unit, which performs drill displays at official events, are developing breasts on their left side because of the way they drill. It turns out that repeatedly slapping your chest in the same exact spot with heavy rifles can stimulate glands to produce hormones and cause a condition called one sided gynecomastia. (I'm sure the Germans have a single word for it but I don't know what it is.) The condition has been diagnosed in 74 % of Wachbataillon members who have gone to army medics because of their "developments."
The NRA is right: Barack Obama is a total fucking elitist. The fact that his kids get armed guards wherever they go while he opposes armed guards in schools for all the rest of us little, non-presidential people is just the tip of the iceberg.
*He lives in the White House. I live in a beige apartment. ELITIST!
*When he goes to Canada, a prime minister shakes his hand. But when I go, no handshake for me. ELITIST!
*If he hates a new piece of legislation, he can veto it. But I cannot. ELITIST!
*He gets to fuck Michelle Obama all the time and I get to get fuck her never! ELITIST!
Now you try!
It's like I hardly know you anymore, Slog. It's like you're a different blog now.
Or, as BuzzFeed puts it, "Mission (Almost) Accomplished."
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai Friday discussed plans to vastly reduce — if not entirely end — the American troop presence in Afghanistan by 2014, the White House said..."The reason we went to war in the first place is now within reach," Obama said of denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan and announcing that in the coming months Afghan forces will take over responsibility security for their country.
"Starting this spring our troops will have a different mission — training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces," Obama said.
Weirdly, this statement was not delivered by President Obama from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Nor was he wearing a tight-crotched flight suit, or standing in front of a big, red-white-and-blue banner. How does Obama expect anyone to take him seriously, I ask you?
That's the latest news in the case of Sergeant Bales, who is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (just south of Tacoma). As you have probably heard, he is accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan:
The Army has charged that Sergeant Bales, 39, who was serving his fourth combat tour, walked away from a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan and shot and stabbed members of several families in an ambush in two villages in the early morning hours of March 11. At least nine of the people he is accused of killing were children.
Sergeant Bales has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers have cited post-traumatic stress and a head injury. (Also note: four combat tours.) For the death penalty to be imposed, "the court-martial panel must unanimously find Sergeant Bales guilty" and then the death sentence must "be approved by the president to be carried out."
Ten girls were killed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday when a landmine exploded as they were out collecting firewood — the latest casualties in one of the most mined countries in the world.What is this world coming to? No. More like: What this world is and has been for too long.
@dronestream is a Twitter feed that documents every single reported United States drone strike. After 153 tweets, they're not even halfway through 2010.
I get Kristoff's point about "soul-crushing dependency," and I don't deny that well intentioned social programs sometimes (though sometimes anecdotally) have unintended consequences. Just not sure that this is the best example.
This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.
Some young people here don’t join the military (a traditional escape route for poor, rural Americans) because it’s easier to rely on food stamps and disability payments.
Rich people sometimes forget that they need poor people—to cut their lawns, to pick up their garbage, to fight their wars. Yet another reminder that one of the biggest American myths is that we live in a classless society.
The Free Bradley Manning support network is encouraging supporters to send him letters for his birthday. The military whistleblower turns 25 on December 17. He is the reason we have all seen that "Collateral Murder" video from Iraq, of civilians being gunned down. He plans to plead guilty to releasing that video. But he's also just a kid who fucked up while trying to do good, and he has had a hell of a time in detainment. He has been "subjected to forced nudity, 24-hour camera surveillance, harassment under the guise of concern for his well-being, and months long solitary confinement, despite model behavior," as Jake Blumgart wrote in The Stranger back in August. Blumgart visited a pretrial hearing and pointed out: "Manning's case has struggled to maintain sustained public interest since day one." He added:
Whether Manning is guilty or not, whether he should be prosecuted or lauded, whether he is a whistle-blower or an indiscriminate dumper of information, it is clear that Manning's case is an example of a larger trend in American society: The powerless and economically vulnerable are held to punishingly harsh standards, while the rich and powerful get away with a slap on the wrist (if that). Steal $100 of food from the grocery store? You go to jail. Steal $10,000 from your employees through shady employment practices? Worst thing that happens is you might have to pay them back (but probably not). If an antipoverty organization is involved in a scandal, Congress cuts off its funding. But if a big bank indulges in racist lending practices to line the pockets of its executives, it gets a stipulation-free bailout.
According to Manning's lawyer, "his dream would be to go to college, go into public service, and perhaps one day, run for public office. And I asked Brad, why would he want to do that? And he said, ‘I want to make a difference. I want to make a difference in this world.'"
If you feel like writing to Manning, here is the address:
Commander, HHC USAG
Attn: PFC Bradley Manning
239 Sheridan Ave, Bldg 417
JBM-HH, VA 22211
His court martial is scheduled for March.
To clarify: I'm not saying he deserves to be free. I'm saying he sacrificed his life to sound the alarm with "Collateral Muder," and he deserves respect.
THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. This is a holiday disaster. This is worse than the botched New Year's Eve fireworks show of 2008!
A Christmas tree that does not light up at night? Who is in charge here? THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS IS REAL.
Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time to start my annual war on Christmas! (Give me a call, Bill, if you want a rematch.)