CNN, Shocked: There Are No US Troops in Haiti!

It wasn’t 15 minutes into the coverage of this afternoon’s massive and certainly disastrous earthquake just 10 miles from Port-au-Prince on CNN, when Wolf Blitzer cut off the weeping Haitian ambassador to the US to go to a CNN staffer who spent another 2-3 minutes blathering about the lack — surprising, apparently — of United States troops on Haitian soil. But not to worry, he assures, Southcom, the US military’s bureaucracy for meddling in the internal affairs of our Latin American neighbors, could wrangle some firepower to help out our Haitian friends in their hour of need. More evidence of our society’s cultural embrace of military solutions to every problem.

Sen. Dorgan Raised the Issue of War Profiteering

I’m not sure why Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D, decided to surprise everyone and announce his retirement Tuesday. I’ll admit right up front that I am not an expert on North Dakota politics, nor a thorough observer of  the man’s nearly-30 year career (17 years in the Senate;  11 years in the House of Representatives) in Washington. I’m not sure if he’s leaving to become a lobbyist for the energy industry, as some have suggested. I suspect it’s just plain politics — he had a tough opponent on the horizon and today’s political winds are against so-called Blue Dog Dems in Red Meat States.

What I do know is that Sen. Dorgan held over 21 hearings in the Senate on private contractor fraud and abuse, including war profiteering, the physical and mental harassment of whistle-blowers in-theater, and most recently on Nov. 6, the constantly burning open-air pits of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan that have made countless veterans sick and looking to the Pentagon for answers. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, is being charged in 22 different class action lawsuits with purposefully burning toxic waste in the open-air pits to save a buck on not installing incinerators. There are now more incinerators at U.S bases today than there were a year ago, but the alleged victims contend that KBR, which has the contract for waste management services, plus practically everything else in its multi-billion LOGCAP contract, could have installed more incinerators years ago (a charge KBR officials vociferously deny).

But even aside from burn pits, Dorgan was one of those rare members of Congress who actually gave a flying fig about exposing not only the abuse that private contractors were perpetuating in the war zone, but the over-use of private contractors in the war zone, period. Aside from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, on the House side, Dorgan, as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, was the only one to use his leadership post as a bully pulpit against abuses — even when there weren’t cameras on to report it — from very early on in the post-invasion occupation(s).

When I first started covering Dorgan and his hearings, his committee was literally scrambling around for space to meet. Let’s face it, whether the Republicans were in charge or the Democrats, most of these politicians hate to talk about war profiteering and all the money that has been bled from our treasury by private contractors who now hold the fate of our soldiers in their hands overseas (they feed them, clothe them, house them and protect them), and, as we know now thanks to Dorgan’s many hearings, they have put our personnel in harms’ way. From dirty water to faulty wiring in barrack showers, contractors have been responsible, but rarely held accountable, Dorgan has said more than once.

When the Democrats took back the majority in Congress in 2006, Dorgan’s committee stopped scrambling for space and announced it would make government oversight a key priority,a centerpiece. Government watchdogs were thrilled. But it didn’t take long to realize that reformist movements were marginalized even when the Democrats were in charge, and while plenty of Democrats liked to get in front of a camera to lash out against the Bush Administration’s use of contractors in the past, they have largely lost their gumption under the year-old, Democratic administration.

Still, Dorgan fought for, but never won the 60 Senate votes necessary to get him an investigative committee with real subpoena powers in 2008. “All you can do is dig and disclose … and keep pushing, because I think this is all an unbelievable scandal,” Dorgan said. “The American taxpayers have a right to be pretty disgusted about what’s going on.”

Dorgan got his wish, sort of, when the Commission on Wartime Contracting starting holding its hearings in 2009, traversing much of the same ground that the DPC had for years. It was a “compromise” because the panel, like Dorgan’s committee, doesn’t have subpoena or enforcement powers. And, in DPC fashion, the commission has already held a number of explosive hearings on contractor abuses — with all the effect of a tree falling in a forest.

Dorgan has not minced words, especially in disappointment:

From DC Bureau, in October:

..But since regaining control of Congress, including control of all standing committee agendas, Senate Democrats have failed to authorize the kind of sweeping probe that they criticized their Republican counterparts for avoiding in 2006. Instead, the DPC remains the central front for combating contractor corruption, where Sen. Dorgan has watched his investigations, many of them corroborated by the Pentagon Inspector General (IG), go unheeded by the Justice Department and the military.

“It’s one of the most disappointing and frustrating things that I have been involved with,” Dorgan said. “This is the most significant waste and fraud in the history of our country …When you have contractors that have demonstrated that they have fleeced the government agency or the taxpayer, I don’t think there should be a slap on the wrist or a pat on the back. They should be debarred.

I appreciate his trying, especially at a time when members of Congress are so concerned with keeping their heads down, being good team players. Playing nice with the defense industry.  Dorgan was curious, creative and responsive when it came to this contractor issue — it’s now been estimated that at least $10 billion has gone down a black whole, missing, unaccounted for — he even deigned to talk to me on a story or two, that’s how important it was for him to get the message out.

While it was a good day for the KBRs and DynCorps and Blackwaters (Xe), it was surely not a good day for the watchdogs.

Historians Against the War: Progressives Only Need Apply

When Historians Against the War was created back in 2003, libertarian historian David Beito was excited about the opportunity to forge alliances across ideological lines and pursue an agenda of peace above all else.

Having purged Beito and fellow libertarian Thaddeus Russell from the HAW blog last spring over their slamming of America’s current dictator, the organization’s leadership is now making it official: Only progressive historians oppose war and only they know how to “positively influence” Our Great Leader.

Too bad.

Read Beito’s Liberty and Power article all about this sad saga here.

Worst Wife in the World?

Normally I’m not a reader of those advice columns in newspapers, but this one caught my eye on the basis of the title alone.

Hello Ms. Vicki,

My husband is refusing to re-enlist in the Army in March. I think he has lost his mind. He claims that he is tired of all the deployments.

I’m not buying it. I told him he should man up and stop acting like a scared little boy.

Incredibly, it goes on like that for quite awhile, including suggesting that they could “maybe even take a vacation” with the re-enlistment bonus. Perhaps the real kicker was this:

I’ve learned to cope with deployments, and he has, too. There’s nothing to it.

The “advice” for what has to be one of the worst requests for advice ever is priceless too… she recommends that the wife join up and let the husband be the military spouse for awhile.

Daniel Ellsberg on Mordechai Vanunu’s Arrest

Dear friends:

I just learned, late this New Year’s Eve, of my friend Mordechai Vanunu’s outrageous arrest, facing further imprisonment, for “meeting with foreigners” (of which I have quite openly been one, on several occasions). I plan to do whatever I can to bring international pressure to bear on the Israeli government to free him. My views about him are expressed adequately in the op-ed below which appeared in the LA Times (and elsewhere, including Common Dreams) on the day of his release having served 18 years in prison, five years ago.

Mordechai Vanunu–my friend, my hero, my brother–has again been arrested in Israel on “suspicion” of the “crime” of “meeting with foreigners.” I myself have been complicit in this offense, traveling twice to Israel for the express purpose of meeting with him, openly, and expressing support for the actions for which he was imprisoned for over eighteen years. His offense has been to defy openly and repeatedly ,conditions put on his freedom of movement and associations and speech after he had served his full sentence, restrictions on his human rights which were a direct carry-over from the British Mandate, colonial regulations in clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such restrictions have no place in a nation evincing respect for a rule of law and fundamental human rights. His arrest and confinement are outrages and should be ended immediately.

My perspective on Mordechai and his behavior was expressed as well as I could do it today in the following op-ed published in 2004 on the day of his release from prison. I can only say that I would be proud to be known as the American Vanunu: though my own possible sentence of 115 years for revealing state secrets was averted by disclosure of government misconduct against me which pales next to the Israeli misconduct in assaulting, drugging and kidnapping Vanunu in the process of bringing him to trial, let alone the eleven years of solitary confinement he was forced to endure.

Nuclear Hero’s “Crime” Was Making Us Safer
by Daniel Ellsberg
[Published 4/21/04 in the Los Angeles Times — Links added not in original]

Mordechai Vanunu is the preeminent hero of the nuclear era. He consciously risked all he had in life to warn his own country and the world of the true extent of the nuclear danger facing us. And he paid the full price, a burden in many ways worse than death, for his heroic act — for doing exactly what he should have done and what others should be doing.

Vanunu’s “crime” was committed in 1986, when he gave the London Sunday Times a series of photos he had taken within the Israeli nuclear weapons facility at Dimona, where he had worked as a technician.

Continue reading “Daniel Ellsberg on Mordechai Vanunu’s Arrest”

Neocons Worried That Sanctions Might Not Kill Enough Innocent Iranians

Wednesday’s Washington Post contains a rundown of the Obama administration’s current thinking on Iran sanctions. The bottom line: administration officials are increasingly open to sanctions, but want to find ways to target the Revolutionary Guard and other hardline elements within the regime without inflicting needless suffering on the civilian population. For that reason, the administration shows “little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran,” whose brunt would be borne by the most vulnerable segments of the populace. (”Look, we need to be honest about this,” neoconservative foreign policy guru Fred Kagan admitted this spring. “Iranians are going to die if we impose additional sanctions.”)

Even these more finely targeted sanctions appear to be more than the Iranian opposition desires. Spencer Ackerman, in his useful discussion of the Green Movement’s position on sanctions, notes that some elements of the opposition have come to view sanctions that specifically target the Revolutionary Guards in a more favorable light, but it appears that most continue to oppose sanctions in any form. (And of course, it appears that virtually no one in the Green Movement supports refined petroleum sanctions, which opposition leaders have repeatedly denounced.)

But targeted sanctions are evidently not gratuitously destructive enough to satisfy the “bomb Iran” crowd. Thus we see Commentary’s Jennifer Rubin complaining that such sanctions reflect the administration’s misguided desire to “avoid being too harsh, too effective, or inflict too much damage”. Instead of genuinely “crippling sanctions,” the weak-kneed administration “[doesn’t] want to topple the regime nor inflict much damage, just target those ‘elements’ they think are the really bad guys.”

Rubin is rather vague about fleshing out what kind of “damage” she is hoping for. This is hardly surprising, since the unpleasant truth underlying all the chest-beating talk about “crippling” sanctions is that their primary effect would be to inflict suffering upon precisely the civilians on whose behalf she claims to speak. The logic endorsed by sanctions proponents dictates that once the civilian population is sufficiently ravaged and impoverished, they will rise up in earnest and overthrow the regime. A far more likely outcome, however, is that crude sanctions like the refined petroleum bills will merely inflict gratuitous suffering on the population without harming the regime itself — as we saw in Iraq, where “crippling” sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of civilians (at the very least) without weakening Saddam Hussein’s hold on power.

Of course, the fact that she is calling for innocent civilians to be starved and immiserated does not prevent Rubin from engaging in pompous and self-congratulatory rhetoric about her great devotion to “the Iranian people, who are risking life and limb against a regime they know all to [sic] well is evil.” It would be hard to think of a better example of the profound dishonesty underlying what Glenn Greenwald has aptly called “the ‘bomb Iran’ contingent’s newfound concern for The Iranian People”.