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The Unraveling of America

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Wade Davis, an anthropologist who holds the Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia and author of award-winning books including Into the Silence and The Wayfinders and his new book, Magdalena: River of Dreams, writes in Rolling Stone:

Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.

In a single season, civilization has been brought low by a microscopic parasite 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt. COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.

Our interventions to date have largely focused on mitigating the rate of spread, flattening the curve of morbidity. There is no treatment at hand, and no certainty of a vaccine on the near horizon. The fastest vaccine ever developed was for mumps. It took four years. COVID-19 killed 100,000 Americans in four months. There is some evidence that natural infection may not imply immunity, leaving some to question how effective a vaccine will be, even assuming one can be found. And it must be safe. If the global population is to be immunized, lethal complications in just one person in a thousand would imply the death of millions.

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed close to half of Europe’s population. A scarcity of labor led to increased wages. Rising expectations culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an inflection point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal order that had dominated medieval Europe for a thousand years.

The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

COVID’s historic significance lies not in what it implies for our daily lives. Change, after all, is the one constant when it comes to culture. All peoples in all places at all times are always dancing with new possibilities for life. As companies eliminate or downsize central offices, employees work from home, restaurants close, shopping malls shutter, streaming brings entertainment and sporting events into the home, and airline travel becomes ever more problematic and miserable, people will adapt, as we’ve always done. Fluidity of memory and a capacity to forget is perhaps the most haunting trait of our species. As history confirms, it allows us to come to terms with any degree of social, moral, or environmental degradation.

To be sure, financial uncertainty will cast a long shadow. Hovering over the global economy for some time will be the sober realization that all the money in the hands of all the nations on Earth will never be enough to offset the losses sustained when an entire world ceases to function, with workers and businesses everywhere facing a choice between economic and biological survival.

Unsettling as these transitions and circumstances will be, short of a complete economic collapse, none stands out as a turning point in history. But what surely does is the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.

In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.

For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington. For more than two centuries, reported the Irish Times, “the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the U.S. until now: pity.” As American doctors and nurses eagerly awaited emergency airlifts of basic supplies from China, the hinge of history opened to the Asian century.

No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. Bled white and left bankrupt by the Great War, the British maintained a pretense of domination as late as 1935, when the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. By then, of course, the torch had long passed into the hands of America.

In 1940, with Europe already ablaze, the United States had a smaller army than either Portugal or Bulgaria. Within four years, 18 million men and women would serve in uniform, with millions more working double shifts in mines and factories that made America, as President Roosevelt promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese within six weeks of Pearl Harbor took control of 90 percent of the world’s rubber supply, the U.S. dropped the speed limit to 35 mph to protect tires, and then, in three years, invented from scratch a synthetic-rubber industry that allowed Allied armies to roll over the Nazis. At its peak, Henry Ford’s Willow Run Plant produced a B-24 Liberator every two hours, around the clock. Shipyards in Long Beach and Sausalito spat out Liberty ships at a rate of two a day for four years; the record was a ship built in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes. A single American factory, Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the whole of the Third Reich.

In the wake of the war, with Europe and Japan in ashes, the United States with but 6 percent of the world’s population accounted for half of the global economy, including the production of 93 percent of all automobiles. Such economic dominance birthed a vibrant middle class, a trade union movement that allowed a single breadwinner with limited education to own a home and a car, support a family, and send his kids to good schools. It was not by any means a perfect world but affluence allowed for a truce between capital and labor, a reciprocity of opportunity in a time of rapid growth and declining income inequality, marked by high tax rates for the wealthy, who were by no means the only beneficiaries of a golden age of American capitalism.

But freedom and affluence came with a price. The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” Since 2001, the U.S. has spent over $6 trillion on military operations and war, money that might have been invested in the infrastructure of home. China, meanwhile, built its nation, pouring more cement every three years than America did in the entire 20th century.

As America policed the world, the violence came home. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, the Allied death toll was 4,414; in 2019, domestic gun violence had killed that many American men and women by the end of April. By June of that year, guns in the hands of ordinary Americans had caused more casualties than the Allies suffered in Normandy in the first month of a campaign that consumed the military strength of five nations.

More than any other country, the United States in the post-war era lionized the individual at the expense of community and family. It was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. What was gained in terms of mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of common purpose. In wide swaths of America, the family as an institution lost its grounding. By the 1960s, 40 percent of marriages were ending in divorce. Only six percent of American homes had grandparents living beneath the same roof as grandchildren; elders were abandoned to retirement homes.

With slogans like “24/7” celebrating complete dedication to the workplace, men and women exhausted themselves in jobs that only reinforced their isolation from their families. The average American father spends less than 20 minutes a day in direct communication with his child. By the time a youth reaches 18, he or she will have spent fully two years watching television or staring at a laptop screen, contributing to an obesity epidemic that the Joint Chiefs have called a national security crisis.

Only half of Americans report having meaningful, face-to-face social interactions on a daily basis. The nation consumes two-thirds of the world’s production of antidepressant drugs. The collapse of the working-class family has been responsible in part for an opioid crisis that has displaced car accidents as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

At the root of this transformation and decline lies an ever-widening chasm between Americans who have and those who have little or nothing. Economic disparities exist in all nations, creating a tension that can be as disruptive as the inequities are unjust. In any number of settings, however, the negative forces tearing apart a society are mitigated or even muted if there are other elements that reinforce social solidarity — religious faith, the strength and comfort of family, the pride of tradition, fidelity to the land, a spirit of place.

But when all the old certainties are shown to be lies, when the promise of a good life for a working family is shattered as factories close and corporate leaders, growing wealthier by the day, ship jobs abroad, the social contract is irrevocably broken. For two generations, America has celebrated globalization with iconic intensity, when, as any working man or woman can see, it’s nothing more than capital on the prowl in search of ever cheaper sources of labor.

For many years, those on the conservative right in the United States have invoked a nostalgia for the 1950s, and an America that never was, but has to be presumed to have existed to rationalize their sense of loss and abandonment, their fear of change, their bitter resentments and lingering contempt for the social movements of the 1960s, a time of new aspirations for women, gays, and people of color. In truth, at least in economic terms, the country of the 1950s resembled Denmark as much as the America of today. Marginal tax rates for the wealthy were 90 percent. The salaries of CEOs were, on average, just 20 times that of their mid-management employees.

Today, the base pay of those at the top is commonly 400 times that of their salaried staff, with many earning orders of magnitude more in stock options and perks. The elite one percent of Americans control $30 trillion of assets, while the bottom half have more debt than assets.  . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Finns live longer and are less likely to die in childhood or in giving birth than Americans. Danes earn roughly the same after-tax income as Americans, while working 20 percent less. They pay in taxes an extra 19 cents for every dollar earned. But in return they get free health care, free education from pre-school through university, and the opportunity to prosper in a thriving free-market economy with dramatically lower levels of poverty, homelessness, crime, and inequality. The average worker is paid better, treated more respectfully, and rewarded with life insurance, pension plans, maternity leave, and six weeks of paid vacation a year. All of these benefits only inspire Danes to work harder, with fully 80 percent of men and women aged 16 to 64 engaged in the labor force, a figure far higher than that of the United States.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2020 at 11:36 am

Exploiting GPS vulnerability

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Greg Milner has an article in the New Yorker on that describes how the GPS system is vulnerable and how that vulnerability is being exploited by Russia and China, among others. From the article:

G.P.S. is now crucially important for reasons that are unrelated to providing geolocation. Because the G.P.S. clocks are synchronized to within nanoseconds, the network’s signals are used to unify time-dependent systems spread over large areas. G.P.S. time helps bounce calls between cellular towers, regulate power flows in electrical grids, and time-stamp financial trades on the major exchanges. If a spoofer were to feed erroneous information that confused the clocks in even a few nodes of these systems, the damage could be widespread: as time errors multiply, communications systems could fail, wrongly apportioned power flows could result in blackouts, and automated trading programs could yank themselves out of the markets, causing crashes. And those are just a few scenarios. We still have not figured out exactly how to safeguard a technology that is so crucial yet so porous.

In 2001, the Department of Transportation released a report warning that G.P.S. could become a “tempting target” for enemies of the U.S. The joint study was the first official acknowledgment that spoofing was a real and significant threat. Humphreys heard about the report while at Cornell. The worst-case spoofing scenario it described seemed like something he could do himself—in fact, like something he could do better himself.

. . . Four years later, in June, 2017, a French oil tanker, the Atria, sailed across the Mediterranean, through the Bosporus strait, and into the Black Sea. As the ship approached the Russian city of Novorossiysk, the captain, Gurvan Le Meur, noticed that the ship’s navigation system appeared to have lost its G.P.S. signal. The signal soon returned, but the position it gave was way off. The Atria was apparently some forty kilometres inland, shipwrecked at the airport in Gelendzhik, a Russian resort town.

Le Meur radioed nearby vessels, whose captains reported similar malfunctions in their navigation systems: all in all, twenty other ships had been “transported” to the same inland airport. Meanwhile, something similar had been happening in Moscow—this time to Uber customers, not ship captains. Passengers taking short trips discovered that their accounts were charged for drives all the way to one of the city’s airports, or even to locales thousands of miles away.

The activity attracted the interest of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a Washington-based think tank focussed on security issues. Using data from ships, which are required by maritime treaties to continuously broadcast their location, researchers discovered that the spoofing problem was much larger than anyone had realized. According to a report released in March of 2019, there were ten thousand spoofing incidents at sea between February 2016 and November 2018, affecting about a thousand and three hundred vessels. Similar data are harder to come by for land vehicles, but C4ADS used heat maps from fitness-tracking smartphone apps to confirm that drivers near the Kremlin and in St. Petersburg encountered similar spoofing.

Once they had logged where and when the spoofing incidents occurred, researchers cross-referenced this information with the travel schedule of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. On a fall afternoon in 2017, six minutes before Putin gave a speech in the coastal town of Bolshoy Kamen, a nearby ship’s G.P.S. coordinates showed it jumping to the airport in Vladivostok. In 2018, when Putin attended the official opening of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, at least twenty-four ships in the area reported their location as Anapa Airport, sixty-five kilometres away. What was going on? It seemed increasingly likely that the President’s security detail was travelling with a portable software-defined spoofer, in the hope of protecting Putin from drone attacks.

The strange specificity of the spoofing—the relocation of ships and vehicles to airports—has a cagey explanation. Most drones contain geofencing firmware, which prevents them from entering designated areas, including the world’s major airports. If a drone senses that it’s near an airport, either because it actually is or because spoofed G.P.S. coordinates make it believe that it is, it will either return to its starting point or simply down itself.

For one of the world’s most prominent politicians, spoofing may not seem like an unreasonable precaution. In August, 2018, a speech by the Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, was interrupted when a pair of drones detonated above one of Caracas’s largest thoroughfares. A few days later, French secret-service agents destroyed a mysterious drone that flew too close to the summer home of the French President, Emmanuel Macron. But for those who’ve fallen prey to spoofing incidents—the befuddled captains at sea, the overcharged passengers in Moscow—it may be difficult to accept that they are merely collateral in attempts to shield a head of state. And the same technology that might seem like a strategic security system in some circumstances contains within it an ominous potential for subterfuge.

. . . In July of last year, the captain of a container ship registered in the U.S. noticed something strange with his navigation system as he entered the port of Shanghai. The ship’s G.P.S. placed the vessel several kilometres inland. When Humphreys and C4ADS heard of the incident, they doubted that it was an isolated event. “We looked at more data, and, by golly, we saw the same thing popping up in areas around China’s coastline,” Humphreys said. Three hundred other ships had been subject to spoofing in Shanghai on the same day, and thousands of others in the same year. What was unusual about the Shanghai spoofing was that the vessels, rather than being “transported” to the same fake location, were all reporting different coordinates. Further analysis by Bjorn Bergman, at the watchdog group SkyTruth, showed a similar pattern in twenty other locations in China.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2020 at 11:31 am

“Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” @50

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Jeremy Adelman writes in PublicBooks.org:

For two turbulent years, General James Mattis was President Donald Trump’s defense secretary. It was little secret that Mattis had profound disagreements with the president’s foreign policy decisions and strongly disapproved of his character, which ultimately led to the general’s resignation, in late 2018. But after leaving the DOD, Mattis went silent and refrained from publicly critiquing Trump. Until June 3. In the midst of a pandemic, and after days of watching the militarized suppression of legal and peaceful protests in cities across America, Mattis finally spoke out. “I have just watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” he wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic, alluding to the dispersal of peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square with tear gas and rubber bullets. “Never did I dream that troops … would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Mattis’s outrage spurred many other establishment figures and organizations to denounce the repression and side with America’s homegrown, Black-led democracy movement. In what will surely go down as a critical moment in recent times, Mattis exhibited the power of voice—in this case the voice of a decorated, hard-to-dislike onetime loyalist—in shaping history.

Voice is to modern politics what DNA is to genetics. The strength of a democracy—and the measure of autocracy—can be gauged by the extent to which citizens are able to express themselves. One work that has deeply influenced how we think about voice is Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States. Now enjoying its 50th anniversary, it is a classic in the history of human sciences. But can a classic book of the fevered 1960s speak to us in our modern fevered times?

As Facebook and Amazon partition the attentional marketplace and politics turns tribal, the institutions governing modern life appear deaf to the clamor. What is so agonizing about the global street protests today is that there is a sinking feeling that the police will not change their ways, that gun lobbies will continue to pump the marketplace with ammunition, and that carbon-based fuels will dominate our energy options. When the Trump presidency ends, and the toll of years of toxicity and mismanagement becomes clear, we are going to need guidance on how to move forward. Can Exit, Voice, and Loyalty help us?

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty was conceived when the United States was at the height of its global power. It was the 1960s; civil rights, feminism, and consumer movements were on the march. Hirschman was optimistic about what lay ahead. He assumed that governments and firms would take heed of what they were hearing from the citizens who were agitating for change.

But by the late 1960s, as Hirschman traveled to Stanford for his fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), there were early warning signs that all was not well. He had recently published a study of the World Bank. One of the case studies was a project in Nigeria. His field notes were full of jottings about farmers complaining about freight rates, merchants grousing about cheating tax collectors; the air in Nigeria in 1966 was thick with tension. Yet Hirschman’s observations made little difference in his hopeful analysis. Soon after, a horrible civil war erupted in Biafra. Hirschman was shocked and dismayed. What was the value of social science if it failed to heed its own evidence of a looming crisis? He went to CASBS in search of understanding. During his stay, the great French psychologist Serge Moscovici delivered a paper on the role of small groups (including early Christians, suffragists, and the first Nazis) in swaying majorities. How did people who were marginal, disenchanted, and persecuted convince others of the value of their perspective? And what about the opposite: cases where people remained loyal to institutions (such as governments waging unpopular wars in the Mekong Delta) that had stopped listening to their constituents?

At the time, one example of how small groups could influence larger ones was the rising consumer movement. Hirschman struck up a correspondence with the crusading consumer activist Ralph Nader; they formed a mini mutual-adoration club. Nader became famous for his campaign against Chevrolet and its Corvair model, which had been implicated in a series of deadly accidents. Nader used testimonies from lawsuits against Chevrolet to mount a public campaign to indict the model and its maker. His work led to the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, a milestone in government commitment to consumer safety and the creation of the (now disarrayed) protectionist state. Later, “Nader Raiders” mobilized successfully to reform the Federal Trade Commission and get it to pay more attention to consumer safety. Hirschman took note. This expression of consumer citizenship struck him as a model for reforming capitalism.

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty was influenced by all of these inputs: Hirschman’s misjudgment in Nigeria; Moscovici’s analysis of the power of small groups that speak loudly; and Nader and the consumer movement. The book is like a road map through the intricacies of disappointment. What to do when your government stops listening, your car dealer sells you lemons, or the local public school cuts after-school music to save some money? For Hirschman, there were three options. One was exit. You could leave your country. (Hirschman was familiar with this option. He had fled tyranny, war, and intolerance on many occasions, starting in the spring of 1933, when he fled the Nazi takeover in Germany at age 17.) You could give up on Chevy and buy a Ford. You could withdraw from the public school and opt for a private one. In our day, examples of exit include General Mattis’s resignation from Trump’s cabinet, the decision by the majority of Britons to part ways with the European Union, and the flight of 70 million refugees worldwide from persecution and obscene neglect.

Another option was voice: expressing anger in a letter to the editor or making a complaint to the sales rep or, as many of the students at Stanford were doing the year Hirschman was in residence, protesting the Vietnam War. When demonstrators clashed in the streets of Paris and outside the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in 1968, or marched on Washington in the summer of 1963 to push for equal rights for African Americans, they exercised what Hirschman called voice: proclaiming one’s discontent loudly and publicly, in the hope that rulers got the message and changed their ways. In our day, we see voice when citizens hang a banner over a police station in Seattle declaring, “This Space Is Now Property of the Seattle People,” or pressure the governor of New York to make public the records of abusive police officers, or take to the streets of Beirut to denounce a corrupt and kleptocratic regime.

There was a third option: stay loyal. Hirschman didn’t think too much about loyalty. It wasn’t really an active option, more like a default setting. To this day, it remains the weakest conceptual leg of his famous tripod.

In the five decades since its publication, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty has been viewed as a guide to understanding how and why people squared up to the disappointments in their ruling institutions. It’s how I read it as a graduate student observing the explosion of voice in a democratizing Latin America in the 1980s. Indeed, it was how Hirschman himself read his own book amid the stream of essays that reprised its concepts to explain the fall of East Germany or the jostling between private and public medical systems. It was a book that helped us think about how to force institutions to change. We did not read it for insights about institutions themselves.

Nowadays, it’s our institutions that are in deep, deep trouble. Too often their leaders resist change, waiting for the outcry of the moment to blow over. Big organizations go through the motions of listening, make the right noises, but usually do nothing.

How can we get the ossified organizations of modern life to respond? Doing so requires a different reading of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Sure, we remember the famous trifecta of concepts mentioned in the title. But there are other recurring words all through the text that are equally important: “recuperating,” “recovery,” and “renewal.” They are the counterpoints to the decay and decline that figure in the book’s subtitle.

Whether organizations can swing from decline to recuperation depends on . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

For decades, the takeaway was that we needed effective voice. But over time, market solutions to common problems became the policy orthodoxy. We let rulers extol the virtue of exit options: if you don’t like your school, start a charter; if you don’t like public health systems, enjoy the manifold benefits of private insurance; and if you don’t like your state, leave (though good luck getting a visa). So we watched as institutions developed artful ways to dodge their civic and public commitments.

There was an additional step in Hirschman’s argument. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2020 at 2:20 pm

And for a less rosy view of military culture: The Pentagon Wasn’t Ready for Gamers to Push Back

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Matthew Gault reports in Vice:

Last week, House Democrats almost stopped the Pentagon from using Twitch as a recruitment tool. The House voted down the measure, but that Congress discussed cutting Military funding at all signals a change in the relationship between civilians and the military. The Pentagon, facing a shortage of skilled recruits, turned to video games and online streaming to find new troops. As is so often the case with the U.S. Military, it was unprepared for the theater it was operating in.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. military became sacrosanct in American life. Celebrities who were critical of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan paid a heavy career price. Movies critical of the war were box office failures, even if they even made it to theaters at all. Video games like America’s Army —another attempt by the military to recruit via video games—passed through the culture with little criticism. People could criticize then-President George Bush, but the sense was that we should leave the military out of it and let them do their jobs.

After almost two decades of blank checks for the military and little critique even in the face of abject failure, the real costs of the United States’ open-ended wars are still coming into view. The war in Afghanistan has cost trillions of dollars and killed more than 100,000 Afghans. Civilian and Military leadership have known for years that the Afghanistan War is a lost cause that’s cost untold lives, but the war grinds on. Add to this the U.S. military’s use of torture, the expansion of the domestic surveilance state using technology pioneered in conflict zones, and the ongoing use of drones to assassinate enemies and it’s easy to see why many people have lost trust in the American military.

In the chaos that is a Twitch chat room, the U.S. Army and Navy esports teams encountered something they weren’t used to: some skepticism. There’s a diversity of views and opinions on Twitch that more closely map the real world than the sheltered world of the media the Pentagon is used to dealing with. On Twitch there is no deferential news mediaflag-waving entertainment media, or sports leagues taking money to “salute service”.

As the U.S. Military struggles to train and retain skilled soldiers, especially as COVID-19 has killed traditional avenues of recruitment, it has increasingly looked to digital spaces—and especially those inhabited by gamers—to fill the ranks. According to the military, it needs gamers. Drones aren’t easy to operate and, increasingly, all branches of the armed forces need skilled soldiers to do complex tasks. According to the Navy’s Twitch recruiting guide, the skills of the gamer are “the same skillsets used in fields in nuclear engineering, aviation, special warfare, cryptology and counterintelligence.”

The Air Force, Navy, Army, and National Guard are all fielding esports teams and running Twitch channels. The U.S. Marines Corps, alone among the branches, has said it wouldn’t field a team. But the Marines Corps is still involved. It sponsors tournaments and has a partnership deal with Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas. The Pentagon wants gamers but it doesn’t understand how to talk to them.

The various branches of the military have been working esports programs for years, but trouble started in July when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2020 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Games, Memes, Military

Why the US Military Usually Punishes Misconduct but Police Often Close Ranks

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An interesting article on cultural differences between two hierarchical organizations. I think one should also consider the strongly hierarchical church organizations — for example, how the Catholic church protected pedophiles in the organization through extensive (and well-funded) coverups. Dwight Stirling writes in The Conversation:

Many U.S. military members publicly disavowed President Trump’s decision to pardon Edward Gallagher, the former SEAL commando convicted of killing a teenage detainee in Iraq in 2017.

Gallagher’s alleged war crimes were nearly universally condemned up the chain of command, from enlisted men to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. Indeed, it was Gallagher’s SEAL colleagues who reported the former commando’s actions.

This insistence on holding fellow service members accountable for bad behavior sharply differentiates the military from the police.

When police are revealed to have killed an unarmed suspect or used excessive force during arrest, police generally defend those actions. Cops who report wrongdoing are routinely ostracized as “rats” and denied promotions, according to a 1998 Human Rights Watch study. Researchers identify this so-called “blue wall of silence” – the refusal to “snitch” on other officers – as a defining feature of U.S. cop culture today.

Yet both soldiers and police officers put their lives on the line for their team every day. So what explains these two armed forces’ divergent attitudes toward bad behavior?

Military ethics

As a military lawyer and scholar, I’ve studied this unique aspect of American military ethics.

U.S. military culture stresses organizational, rather than personal, loyalty. When Gallagher’s SEAL colleagues reported him, they were doing what Navy SEALs are taught to do: They put the good of the institution before the individual.

And the pride Marines famously feel, for instance, comes from being part of this well-respected corps. Personal relationships with other Marines are of secondary importance.

Accountability for individual misdeeds is written into U.S. military law. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, culpability for criminal conduct is not avoided simply because a superior ordered a criminal act to be committed. Only lawful orders are to be followed.

“A soldier is reasoning agent,” a military court explained in the 1991 case U.S. v. Kinder, in which a soldier who killed a civilian was convicted of murder on the grounds that his superior’s order to do so was obviously illegal and should have been reported.

“It is a fallacy of widespread consumption that a soldier is required to do everything a superior officers tells him to do,” the ruling concluded, referencing the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II.

Playing politics

Not every soldier follows the rules, of course. The U.S. military has covered up atrocities.

The most notorious of these cases include the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, in which women and children were killed. In 2003, U.S. soldiers badly mistreated detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

But deeply ingrained military ethics generally make military members wary of the kind of group think that holds up the “blue wall of silence” in police departments.

The police detective Frank Serpico made the power of the blue wall infamous. While working for the NYPD in the 1960s, Serpico observed his colleagues running racketeering operations and punching suspects for fun. When he brought the corruption to light, he was shot in the face in a setup orchestrated by fellow officers.

This ethic is alive and well today, as former Baltimore detective Joe Crystal learned in 2011. Crystal was a rising star in the Baltimore police department. But after telling his superiors that a fellow officer brutally beat a handcuffed suspect, he was demoted, threatened and harassed until he quit.

“If you snitch, your career is done,” he was told, according to a 2011 lawsuit Crystal filed against the department for failing to protect him from retaliation.

Police reluctance to report a fellow officer stems from the politicization of police brutality incidents and the widespread perception among police that nobody outside law enforcement understands their dangerous jobsresearch shows. Frustrated at being judged by civilians and public officials who don’t face the life-and-death decisions they do, cops tend to close ranks when things go wrong, police monitors find.

No political interference

The military is also wary of political interference in military matters. That’s why it takes internal justice seriously.

The Department of Defense is the only governmental organization allowed to operate its own internal criminal justice system – a privilege as remarkable as it is fragile.

The civilian judiciary has long been skeptical of the military’s judicial system. The courts used to worry about due process, particularly the ability of military commanders to improperly influence the outcome of trials. In 1969, the Supreme Court severely restricted the jurisdiction of military courts.

“Courts-martial as an institution are singularly inept in dealing with the subtleties of constitutional law,” the court wrote in O’Callahan v. Parker.

That ruling limited the military justice system to handling purely military offenses, such as abandoning their post or behaving insubordinately. Serious allegations like murder and rape had to be tried in civilian courts.

After Congress and the American Bar Association made significant structural changes to strengthen due process in the military, the Supreme Court in 1987 restored the jurisdiction of the courts-martial. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2020 at 12:06 pm

Inside the Quest for Documents That Could Resolve a Cold War Mystery

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The US military really does not want people to see documents about possible use of biological weapons in the Korean War. I wonder why. Nicholson Baker writes at Literary Hub:

March 9, 2019, Saturday

In 2012, when I was hopeful and curious and middle-aged and eager for Cold War truth, I sent a letter to the National Archives, requesting, under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, copies of 21 still-classified Air Force memos from the early 1950s. Some of the memos had to do with a Pentagon program that aimed to achieve “an Air Force-wide combat capability in biological and chemical warfare at the earliest possible date.” This program, which began and ended during the Korean War, was given a code name: Project Baseless. It was assigned priority category I, as high as atomic weapons.

All twenty-one of these memos, numbered and cross-referenced, still exist, stored at the National Archives’ big building in College Park, Maryland—but they are inaccessible to researchers like me. At some point a security officer removed them from their original brown or dark green Air Force file folders—where they’d been stored alongside thousands of other, often fascinating documents that are now declassified and available to the public—and locked them in a separate place in the College Park building, in a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, where only people with security clearances can go. In place of the actual documents, the security officer inserted pieces of stiff yellow cardboard that say “Security-Classified Information” and “ACCESS RESTRICTED.” After filing the FOIA request, I waited. A month later I got a letter from David Fort, a supervisory archives specialist at the National Archives’ National Declassification Center. Fort said that my request letter had been received and that it now had a number, NW 37756. “Pursuant to 5 USC 552(a)(6)(B)(iii)(III), if you have requested information that is classified, it will be necessary to send copies of the documents to appropriate agencies for further review,” Fort wrote. “We will notify you as soon as all review is complete.”

After that came months of silence. A year went by. Then two. In May 2014, David Fort, now deputy director of the Freedom of Information division at the National Archives, wrote me an email. “Periodically our office contacts researchers with requests older than 18 months to see if they are still interested in us processing their requests,” he said. “If I do not hear back from you in 35 business days I will assume you are no longer interested and we will close your request.”

I wrote back that I was definitely still interested, and I asked Fort why it was taking so long. “Unfortunately,” he replied, “because of the large number of cases we receive there is a large delay in being able to process requests.”

In June 2016 I asked for another update. “We sent your documents out for a declassification review back in August 2014 and are still waiting for agencies to get back to us with determinations,” Fort wrote. “As soon as that happens we can send you the documents.”

Isn’t it against the law for government agencies to delay their responses to FOIA requests? Yes, it is: the mandated response time in the law is twenty days, not including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, and if one agency must consult with another agency before releasing a given document, the consultation must happen “with all practicable speed.” And yet there is no speed. There is, on the contrary, a deliberate Pleistocenian ponderousness. Some responses, especially from intelligence agencies, come back after a ten-year wait. The National Archives has pending at least one FOIA request that is twenty-five years old. “Old enough to rent a car,” said the National Security Archive, a group at George Washington University that works to get documents declassified.

So what should I do? Write more letters? Sue the Air Force? Sue the National Archives? Give up? Do these particular Pentagon memos even matter, when there are many thousands of declassified Korean War–era documents readily available to historians?

I did the simplest thing. I sent another email to David Fort. “Hi David—I hope all is well with you. I’m still hoping to see the twenty-one Air Force documents I requested in March 2012 (NW 37756). Seven years ago.” I deleted the words “seven years ago.” Then I typed them again. Seven years I’ve waited. I sent it.

For good measure, I also sent another email to David (who is a nice man) asking for information on a different request, a Mandatory Declassification Review that I’d submitted in March 2017. A Mandatory Declassification Review request, or MDR, is subject to different rules than a Freedom of Information Act request, and it can move along faster, or so I’ve heard. “Hi David—This MDR (# 57562, for two Air Force RG 341 documents from 1950) is now close to two years old. What should I do? Many thanks Nick B.”

Yesterday my wife, M., and I got two middle-aged, very small dachshunds from the Bangor Humane Society—possibly stepbrothers, one with long hair and one with short hair. They whimper and yowl and wag their tails so hard they make bonging sounds against the oven door. They’re rescue dogs. M. saw them on the Humane Society website.

March 10, 2019, Sunday

The two dogs slept in our bedroom last night. The cat, Minerva, is getting used to them. It was so cold outside at six this morning that one of the dogs, Cedric, simply stopped walking in the middle of the street. He wouldn’t move. I had to carry his shivering self home, while the other dog, whom we’re thinking of calling Brindle, or Briney, or Bryn, trotted along next to me.

This afternoon, I heard back from David Fort.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2020 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Military

Political Correctness Is Destroying America! (Just Not How You Think.)

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Jon Schwarz has an interesting piece in the Intercept:

AMERICA TODAY faces a terrifying danger: political correctness. It is an existential threat not just to the United States, but all of human civilization.

By this, obviously, I mean right-wing political correctness.

Maybe you’re surprised to hear this. In the U.S. media, there’s no shortage of lamentations about political correctness and how it chills debate — but they’re almost always about the threat of left-wing PC.

In reality, political correctness, or cancel culture, or whatever it’s called, is not a phenomenon of the left, right, or center. It’s a phenomenon of human nature. All humanity’s infinite tribes are prone to groupthink and punishing heretics. That’s why the principle of free thought has to be defended: It is, unfortunately, a weird and unnatural fit for humans.

There absolutely are examples of ugly political correctness from the U.S. “left,” whatever that means in a country that, by historical standards, doesn’t have a left. But the vast, vast majority of political correctness in America is conservative. Conservative PC is so powerful in the U.S. that much of it is adopted by both political parties and all of the corporate media. Indeed, right-wing political correctness is so dominant that it’s politically incorrect to refer to it as political correctness. Instead, we call it things like “patriotism,” or simply don’t notice its existence.

A full examination of America’s conservative PC culture would take the rest of your life to read. So let’s limit this to four areas where the right’s PC causes some of the most harm: religion, foreign policy, the Republican Party, and police.

Religion

It probably doesn’t surprise you that exactly zero U.S. presidents have been open atheists. But since Congress first convened in 1789, it’s only had one openly atheist member: Pete Stark of California. Stark retired in 2013, so there are currently none.

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 23 percent of Americans identify as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” This means, Pew says, that “by far the largest difference between the U.S. public and Congress is in the share who are unaffiliated with a religious group.”

So there are likely many members of Congress right now who are “in the closet” when it comes to not believing in God. The only explanation? They’re all too cowed by PC to come out.

This isn’t surprising, since the U.S. still demonstrates informal and formal discrimination against atheists. A recent poll found that 96 percent of Americans said they’d vote for a Black candidate for president; 95 percent for a Catholic; and 66 percent for a Muslim. Only 60 percent said they’d vote for an atheist. While it’s unenforceable, the constitutions of eight states actually prohibit atheists from holding office. This includes Maryland, one of the most liberal states, whose constitution also declares that “it is the duty of every man to worship God.” (Maryland women are seemingly free to putter around ignoring the Almighty.)

Pro-religion PC is practiced on both sides of the aisle. In one of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails published by WikiLeaks in 2016, the DNC chief financial officer suggested forcing Bernie Sanders to go on the record about whether he believes in God. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage,” the CFO argued. “My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

Even if, someday, a few national politicians screw up enough courage to admit that they’re atheists, it’s impossible to imagine any announcing that they’re actively anti-theistic. No member of the House is going to go on the CBS morning show and say, “I think all religion is pernicious, it’s a gross form of brainwashing children, and every religious leader is a con artist, including the Pope.”

No one on this plane of existence can say whether or not atheism is correct. What we can be sure of is right-wing PC has sharply limited free political speech in this area, and that’s made us less skeptical and more prone to authoritarianism.

Foreign Policy

America’s ironclad political correctness on religion plays into another aspect of our PC: The ferocious conservative restrictions on discussions of U.S. foreign policy. Since 9/11, many powerful Americans have demonstrated openness, perhaps even eagerness, for war between Christianity and Islam. Before the invasion of Iraq, then-President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac that he saw “Gog and Magog at work” in the Middle East. President Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon has spoken about “the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam.” When the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether God sent Trump “just like Queen Esther to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace,” Pompeo responded, “I certainly believe that’s possible.” The right’s yearning to mix religion and violence is incredibly dangerous, yet is a staple of our daily political diet. Few politicians or powerful figures notice, much less attack this.

But our conservative PC on foreign policy goes much further. Everyone in the foreign policy establishment is aware that 9/11 and almost all Islamist terrorism is direct blowback from U.S. actions overseas. As a Defense Department report explained, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’” — i.e., what Bush claimed in front of Congress on September 20, 2001 — “but rather, they hate our policies.” The problem from the establishment’s perspective is that they like those policies, and don’t want to change them just because they get Americans killed. Top members of the military apparently say in private that our deaths are “a small price to pay for being a superpower.”

Yet perhaps the only national-level politician who’s spoken clearly and openly about this is former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. In 2004, a senior Bush administration official was willing to say that without U.S. actions in the Middle East, “bin Laden might still be redecorating mosques and boring friends with stories of his mujahideen days in the Khyber Pass” — but without his or her name attached. The 9/11 Commission’s report makes glancing reference to reality, but as one member later wrote, “The commissioners believed that American foreign policy was too controversial to be discussed except in recommendations written in the future tense. Here we compromised our commitment to set forth the full story.”

As with the conservative PC about God, Democrats also obey the conservative political correctness about foreign policy. For instance, in then-President Barack Obama’s famous 2009 speech in Cairo, he was too PC to tell the truth. Instead, he mumbled that “tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims,” whatever that means exactly. In 2010, when Obama’s then-counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was asked why Al Qaeda was so determined to attack the U.S., he responded, “I think this is a, uh, long issue.” He did not elaborate.

The PC line on foreign policy extends far beyond terrorism. Israel is one of the most powerful examples. Every American politician who cares to know is aware that of Israel’s dozen or so wars, it was clearly the aggressor in all but two — the 1948 War of Independence and the 1973 Yom Kippur War — and even those are arguable. They also understand that Israel has rejected numerous offers to create a just, two-state solution with the Palestinians. In private, U.S. officials say that Israel has constructed “apartheid” in the West Bank. While a minor glasnost on this subject is currently in progress, this clear reality remains inexpressible by U.S. politicians.

And what about the media, that hotbed of freethinking radicalism? Even rich, famous TV hosts who deviate from the right’s PC line must issue groveling apologies or get canceled, literally. Sometimes they issue groveling apologies and get canceled. After Bush called the 9/11 hijackers “cowards,” Bill Maher took issue on his old ABC show “Politically Incorrect.” “We have been the cowards,” Maher said, “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.” Maher immediately said he was sorry, but it was too late: His show lost big advertisers and was taken off the air the next year. In other words, the moment “Politically Incorrect” was genuinely politically incorrect, Maher was yanked off-stage.

Next, in February 2003 just before the invasion of Iraq, Phil Donohue’s MSNBC show got the ax. It had the highest ratings on the network, but as executives fretted in an internal memo, it could become “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” In other words, since all of the rest of American TV was ultra-PC, and they had to be too. The same channel soon signed Jesse Ventura to a three-year contract for a new show but then found out he was anti-war and so paid him to do nothing.

Other TV figures made sure not to suffer similar fates. “I remember,” Katie Couric later said, “this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this? And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? … Anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.” At the time, when it actually mattered, Couric chirped on “The Today Show” that “Navy SEALs rock!”

Then there’s Chris Hayes, another MSNBC host. In a broadcast just before Memorial Day 2012, Hayes expressed exactly the kind of sentiment you’d expect to hear in an honest debate on war: “It is, I think, very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor. … I feel uncomfortable about the word ‘hero’ because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. And I obviously don’t want to desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen. … But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic.” The freakout from the right was so intense that Hayes immediately said he was “deeply sorry” because “it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots.”

Even opinions on events from a lifetime ago must be politically correct. After Jon Stewart said on “The Daily Show” that he believed Harry Truman was a “war criminal” for using atomic weapons on Japan, he came under immediate attack, and quickly came crawling for forgiveness. “I walk that back because it was in my estimation a stupid thing to say,” Stewart pleaded in a tone recognizable from any of history’s struggle sessions. “You ever do that, where you’re saying something, and as it’s coming out you’re like, ‘What the fuck?’ And it just sat in there for a couple of days, just sitting going, ‘No, no, [Truman] wasn’t, and you should really say that out loud on the show.’”

With no critiques about specifics permissible, a broad discussion about U.S. foreign policy is light years away. There won’t be any politicians or TV hosts anytime soon who’ll consistently emphasize Martin Luther King Jr.’s position that America is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

No one knows what foreign policy Americans would choose after an open debate. But it’s manifestly true that the current one, shaped overwhelmingly by right-wing PC, has caused gigantic damage to the U.S. and the world.

The Republican Party

Today’s GOP often enforces internal ideological purity more strictly than the Chinese Communist Party. This matters because the U.S. political system is so sclerotic it requires some buy-in from the opposition party for almost anything to change. So as long as Republicans stay in lockstep with each other, nothing will happen.

The GOP’s PC has been particularly disastrous with the climate crisis. The Republican president of the United States constantly calls it a “hoax.” For a decade, GOP politicians and the party’s apparat have almost all refused to acknowledge that it even exists. Newt Gingrich said in 2008 that “our country must take action to address climate change” — but when GOP PC changed, so did he. When Gingrich ran for president in 2012, Rush Limbaugh horrified listeners by telling them of a rumored chapter in a forthcoming Gingrich book that addressed global warming honestly. Gingrich obediently cut it. Then he began posting pictures on Instagram with captions like “More evidence of global warming, the Potomac iced over last night.”

Things are slowly shifting now as younger Republicans begin to understand the frightening future staring them in the face. Currently the party’s split between a faction that wants to continue denying reality, and one which wants to stop denying reality while doing nothing effective about it.

The GOP’s political correctness on climate change flows from a broader rejection of Enlightenment methods of figuring out reality. Limbaugh, whom Trump recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has famously proclaimed that science is one of the “corners of deceit” used by liberals to create “The Universe of Lies.” No prominent Republican politician has ever disavowed Limbaugh’s view.

Beyond this is further rigid GOP political correctness on almost all issues. A Republican politician must publicly profess belief in American exceptionalism. Cutting taxes causes government revenue to go up. Any increase in taxes on the rich and corporations will cause economic devastation. Evolution is a lie. Abortion is a titanic moral evil. Trump is a super-duper president. They have a great idea for bringing low-cost, high-quality health care to every citizen but don’t want to mention it right now and ruin the secret.

But facts don’t care about conservatives’ feelings. Our Republican-led coronavirus carnage is a preview of what’s coming with the climate crisis.

Police

With millions of people turning out in demonstrations against police brutality, there are some obvious questions we should be asking ourselves: Why are cops acting this way? Why are the so-called bad apples never removed? No politicians or TV hosts are providing the simple answer: political correctness.

Police officers will almost never report another officer mistreating a civilian. This is understandable, since the best case for these “snitches” is usually having their careers destroyed. Some, such as the NYPD’s Adrian Schoolcraft, fare even worse. In 2009, after Schoolcraft found that his supervisors were manipulating crime statistics, his fellow cops broke into his apartment, abducted him, and committed him to a psychiatric hospital. Whatever you want to say about Oberlin’s student council, they’re not doing that.

Police department PC has been enabled by another layer of conservative political correctness on top of it. Until recently,  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2020 at 9:55 am

There’s No Way Trump Didn’t Know About the Russian Bounties

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James Bruno, a former US diplomat, writes in the Washington Monthly:

One of the perennial lessons of the Trump presidency is that you can never put anything past him. There is no bottom—he will go as low as he can. That became painfully apparent once again last week, when we learned that Trump has sat on his hands for months and did nothing in response to reports that Russia paid bounties for the targeted killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported that Russia’s military intelligence arm has offered a bounty to Taliban fighters for every confirmed kill of U.S. and coalition fighters serving in Afghanistan. The CIA reportedly confirmed the veracity of the information after interrogating prisoners and recovering a large stash of U.S. dollars at a captured Taliban base. Former national security adviser John Bolton reportedly briefed Trump on the information in March 2019, and U.S. intelligence officials told the Times that Trump was presented with a list of options in March 2020, but no action has yet been taken.

This came with devastating consequences. The Washington Post reported that the Russian bounties “are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members,” although General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Tuesday that he did not find a “causative link” tying alleged Russian bounties to American fatalities. Unsurprisingly, Trump denies having been briefed and dismissed the news stories as “just another HOAX!”

Of course, there are still a lot of questions to be answered: Why wasn’t Congress informed of these developments? What action, if any, will the administration take now? But as someone who spent many years working in the State Department, putting together and being present for the kind of briefings the New York Times reported on, I want lawmakers, journalists and the public to fully understand: There is no way President Trump could not have known about these explosive reports. He knew—and he chose to do nothing.

I look at this latest episode through three lenses: policy process, Afghanistan, and our troops.

In a normal administration, there is a “policy process”—that is, a series of briefings and meetings of senior officials that eventually lead to policy decisions, the most important being signed off by the president.

When I was senior State Department officer for Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation years, we sent briefing and policy memos to the National Security Council (NSC), and, as necessary, the president, almost daily. Any major policy decision came back with his signature. It therefore rings untrue that the commander in chief would not be informed of something as outrageous as a foreign government paying bounties for dead American soldiers.

Former U.S. ambassador Luis Moreno, who helped coordinate the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, concurs. “Alarming intel reports, including raw human intelligence, would make it to the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), or be briefed or discussed in some manner,” he told me in an email. “Something so sensitive and involving force protection issues, would involve a number of inter-agency discussions, a Deputies meeting and eventually a Principals meeting. There would be options papers developed.”

Moreno is not the only former official to note the implausibility of Trump’s account. Barack Obama’s ex-NSC senior director Jon Wolfsthal tweeted: “I had a personal intelligence briefing Every. Single. Day. I could not do my job otherwise. The idea that the President was not briefed is, on its face, incredible, as in falls outside the range of what is believable.”

But while Trump all but certainly had to know of the situation, it’s also true that the administration did away with a serious, effective policy process from the get-go. The president doesn’t read. He doesn’t listen to the intelligence community. He shuns experts. This has had a cascading effect. “Principals” and “Deputies” meetings of cabinet and sub-cabinet officials, respectively, are rarely held. Instead, policy is pretty much set in a virtual vacuum by presidential tweets.

At the same time, they don’t call Afghanistan the “graveyard of empires” for nothing. Afghan tribals play rough. In the 1980s, the Mujahideen were not kind to their Soviet captives, whom they often tortured before executing.  After reports of the mistreatment, including that some Mujahideen skinned their Red Army captives alive, the U.S. intervened to try to rescue them. Appealing to Islamic tenets, we set up a multi-agency program to get the Afghans to release their POW’s and allow them to resettle abroad, if they so wished. Many chose this way out of misery and almost certain death, being resettled in North America and Europe. Some, if not most, eventually made their way back home to their families. In other words, we rescued Russian soldiers. The shrewd and ruthless Vladimir Putin, by contrast, pays to have ours killed. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2020 at 9:57 am

“The Cursed Platoon”

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One of the many horrific acts of Donald Trump was to pardon a convicted war criminal. The way the US no longer heeds the rule of law is another sign of decline. Greg Jaffe has a feature report in the Washington Post:

Only a few hours had passed since President Trump pardoned 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and the men of 1st Platoon were still trying to make sense of how it was even possible.

How could a man they blamed for ruining their lives, an officer the Army convicted of second-degree murder and other charges, be forgiven so easily? How could their president allow him to just walk free?

“I feel like I’m in a nightmare,” Lucas Gray, a former specialist from the unit, texted his old squad leader, who was out of the Army and living in Fayetteville, N.C.

“I haven’t been handling it well either,” replied Mike McGuinness on Nov. 15, the day Lorance was pardoned.

“There’s literally no point in anything we did or said,” Gray continued. “Now he gets to be the hero . . .”

“And we’re left to deal with it,” McGuinness concluded.

Lorance had been in command of 1st Platoon for only three days in Afghanistan but in that short span of time had averaged a war crime a day, a military jury found. On his last day before he was dismissed, he ordered his troops to open fire on three Afghan men standing by a motorcycle on the side of the road who he said posed a threat. His actions led to a 19-year prison sentence.

He had served six years when Trump, spurred to action by relentless Fox News coverage and Lorance’s insistence that he had made a split-second decision to protect his men, set him free.

The president’s opponents described the pardon as another instance of Trump subverting the rule of law to reward allies and reap political benefits. Military officials worried that the decision to overturn a case that had already been adjudicated in the military courts sent a signal that war crimes were not worthy of severe punishment.

For the men of 1st platoon, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, the costs of the war and the fallout from the case have been profound and sometimes deadly.

Traumatized by battle, they have also been brutalized by the politicization of their service and made to feel as if the truth of what they lived in Afghanistan — already a violent and harrowing tour before Lorance assumed command — had been so demeaned that it no longer existed.

Since returning home in 2013, five of the platoon’s three dozen soldiers have died. At least four others have been hospitalized following suicide attempts or struggles with drugs or alcohol.

The last fatality came a few weeks before Lorance was pardoned when James O. Twist, 27, a Michigan state trooper and father of three, died of suicide. As the White House was preparing the official order for Trump’s signature, the men of 1st Platoon gathered in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the funeral, where they remembered Twist as a good soldier who had bravely rushed through smoke and fire to pull a friend from a bomb crater and place a tourniquet on his right leg where it had been sheared off by the blast.

They thought of the calls and texts from him that they didn’t answer because they were too busy with their own lives — and Twist, who had a caring wife, a good job and a nice house — seemed like he was doing far better than most. They didn’t know that behind closed doors he was at times verbally abusive, ashamed of his inner torment and, like so many of them, unable to articulate his pain.

By November 2019, Twist, a man the soldiers of 1st Platoon loved, was gone and Lorance was free from prison and headed for New York City, a new life and a star turn on Fox News.

This story is based on a transcript of Lorance’s 2013 court-martial at Fort Bragg, N.C., and on-the-record interviews with 15 members of 1st Platoon, as well as family members of the soldiers, including Twist’s father and wife. The soldiers also shared texts and emails they exchanged over the past several years. Twist’s family provided his journal entries from his time in the Army. Lorance declined to be interviewed.

In New York, Sean Hannity, Lorance’s biggest champion and the man most responsible for persuading Trump to pardon him, asked Lorance about the shooting and soldiers under his command.

Lorance had traded in his Army uniform for a blazer and red tie. He leaned in to the microphone. “I don’t know any of these guys. None of them know me,” Lorance said of his former troops. “To be honest with you, I can’t even remember most of their names.”

The 1st Platoon soldiers came to the Army and the war from all over the country: Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Indiana and Texas to name just a few. They joined for all the usual reasons: “To keep my parents off my a–,” said one soldier.

“I just needed a change,” said another.

A few had tried college but quit because they were bored or failing their classes. “I didn’t know how to handle it,” Gray said of college. “I was really immature.”

Others joined right out of high school propelled by romantic notions, inherited from veteran fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, of service and duty. Twist’s father served in Vietnam as a clerk in an air-conditioned office before coming back to Michigan and opening a garage. In his spare time Twist Sr. was a military history buff, a passion that rubbed off on his son, who visited World War II battle sites in Europe with his dad. Twist was just 16 when he started badgering his parents to sign his enlistment papers and barely 18 when he left for basic training. His mother had died of cancer only a few months earlier.

“I got pictures of him the day we dropped him off, and he didn’t even wave goodbye,” his father recalled. “He was in pig heaven.”

Several of the 1st Platoon soldiers enlisted in search of a steady paycheck and the promise of health insurance and a middle-class life. “I needed to get out of northeast Ohio,” McGuinness said. “There wasn’t anything there.”

In 1999, he was set to pay his first union dues and go to work alongside his steelworker grandfather when the plant closed. So he became a paratrooper instead, eventually deploying three times to Afghanistan.

McGuinness didn’t look much like a paratrooper with his thick, squat body. But he liked being a soldier, jumping out of planes, firing weapons and drinking with his Army buddies. After a while the war didn’t make much sense, but he took pride in knowing that his soldiers trusted him and that he was good at his job.

Nine months before 1st Platoon landed in rural southern Afghanistan, a team of Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden.

Samuel Walley, the badly wounded soldier Twist pulled from the blast crater, wondered if they might be spared combat. “Wasn’t that the goal to kill bin Laden?” he recalled thinking. “Isn’t that checkmate?”

Around the same time, Twist was trying to make sense of what was to come. “I feel like the Army was a good decision, but also in my mind is a lot of dark thoughts,” he wrote in a spiral notebook. “I could die. I could come back with PTSD. I could be massively injured.”

“Maybe,” he hoped, “it will start winding down soon.”

But the decade-long war continued, driven by new, largely unattainable goals. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and many photos.

I wonder when President Trump will take notice of the fact that Russia has placed (and has paid) a bounty for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump doesn’t seem to care.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2020 at 9:54 am

Heather Cox Richardson on June 30, 2020

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Richardson writes:

Today’s big story was the increasing spread of the coronavirus across America. Yesterday, Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC) said in an interview that the virus is spreading too fast and too far for the United States to bring it under control.

Today, when Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified to a Senate committee on the coronavirus and the reopening of schools, he said he was “very concerned.” “We’re going in the wrong direction if you look at the curves of the new cases,” he said, “so we really have got to do something about that and we need to do it quickly.”

The country is now seeing more than 40,000 new infections a day while the European Union, which has more people, is seeing fewer than 6,000. About half the new cases are coming from California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Florida’s cases increased by 277 percent in the past two weeks; Texas’s by 184 percent, and Arizona’s by 145 percent. As our national confirmed deaths are approaching 130,000 people, Arizona recently released a new triage scoring system to help healthcare providers decide how to allocate resources if they must make choices about which patients to treat.

Nonetheless, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) did not want to hear Fauci’s evaluation of the crisis. “It’s important to realize that if society meekly submits to an expert and that expert is wrong, a great deal of harm may occur,” he lectured Fauci, who turned away Paul’s jabs with good humor. Paul told Dr. Fauci, “We need more optimism.”

I expected serious pushback today from the White House about the Russia bounty scandal, but their reaction was weirdly subdued. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany first suggested that the president hadn’t been “briefed” on the story, apparently using the word “briefed” to suggest it only means an oral report, rather than a written one. Multiple sources have confirmed that the information was indeed, in the President’s Daily Brief– the PDB– the written document of security issues he receives every morning.

Sources today also confirmed that it was a large money transfer from a bank controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to an account associated with the Taliban that alerted intelligence agencies that something was up, and that Trump was briefed on the information. This afternoon, in a press briefing, McEnany changed course, saying that “The president does read and he also consumes intelligence verbally. This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on Planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face.”

The White House tonight assured us that Trump has now been briefed on the bounty scandal, but while this story has consumed headlines since Friday—four full days ago—he has done and said nothing to condemn Russia’s actions. In a New York Times op-ed today, President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice points out that instead, Trump has dismissed the evidence as “possibly another fabricated Russia hoax, maybe by the Fake News” that is “wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!” Rice notes that if, indeed, Trump’s senior advisors thought there was no reason to inform Trump of the Russia bounty story, they “are not worthy of service.”

As a former National Security Adviser, she outlined what she would have done in their place after immediately giving the president the information. “If later the president decided, as Mr. Trump did, that he wanted to talk with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at least six times over the next several weeks and invite him to join the Group of 7 summit over the objections of our allies, I would have thrown a red flag: ‘Mr. President, I want to remind you that we believe the Russians are killing American soldiers. This is not the time to hand Putin an olive branch. It’s the time to punish him.’”

Rice called out the elephant in the room: Trump’s “perilous pattern” of deference to Russia.

He urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016, then praised Wikileaks for publishing them. He denied Russian interference in the 2016 election, undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of that interference, and accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word over that of our intelligence community when Putin denied Russian interference at a conference in Helsinki.

Trump “recklessly” pulled U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria, allowing Russian forces to take over our bases in the region. He has recently invited Putin to rejoin the international organization called the G7—from which Russia was excluded after it invaded Ukraine in 2014—and has suddenly announced that the U.S. will withdraw nearly a third of its troops from Germany, harming NATO and benefitting Russia. And now we know that Trump looked the other way as Russia paid for the slaughter of U.S. troops.

What does all this mean?

Rice doesn’t pull any punches: “At best, our commander in chief is utterly derelict in his duties, presiding over a dangerously dysfunctional national security process that is putting our country and those who wear its uniform at great risk. At worst, the White House is being run by liars and wimps catering to a tyrannical president who is actively advancing our arch adversary’s nefarious interests.”

The president’s weakness toward Russia was on the table today in another way, too, as Republicans stripped from a forthcoming defense bill a requirement that campaigns must notify federal authorities if they receive any offer of help from foreign countries. Accepting foreign money or help in any way is already illegal, as Federal Elections Commissioner Ellen Weintraub continually points out. The provision in this bill was a rebuke to the president, who told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos a year ago he would be willing to take such help, and then set out to get it from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. It also put on notice Attorney General William Barr, who in his confirmation hearing hedged his answer to whether he believes a campaign should alert authorities to foreign interference, finally saying he only considers help from foreign governments to be problematic.

For his part, the president continued to . . .

Continue reading. She includes all relevant links following her column.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2020 at 9:44 am

Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says

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And I just started (re)reading Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon. Wonder what Trump thinks of his good buddy Putin now? Charlie SavageEric Schmitt, and report in the NY Times:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

An operation to incentivize the killing of American and other NATO troops would be a significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban, and it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops.

Any involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the deaths of American troops would also be a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news and covert and deniable military operations.

The Kremlin had not been made aware of the accusations, said Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. “If someone makes them, we’ll respond,” Mr. Peskov said. A Taliban spokesman did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Spokespeople at the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A. declined to comment.

The officials familiar with the intelligence did not explain the White House delay in deciding how to respond to the intelligence about Russia.

While some of his closest advisers, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have counseled more hawkish policies toward Russia, Mr. Trump has adopted an accommodating stance toward Moscow.

At a summit in Helsinki in 2018, Mr. Trump strongly suggested that he believed Mr. Putin’s denial that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite broad agreement within the American intelligence establishment that it did. Mr. Trump criticized a bill imposing sanctions on Russia when he signed it into law after Congress passed it by veto-proof majorities. And he has repeatedly made statements that undermined the NATO alliance as a bulwark against Russian aggression in Europe.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the delicate intelligence and internal deliberations. They said the intelligence has been treated as a closely held secret, but the administration expanded briefings about it this week — including sharing information about it with the British government, whose forces are among those said to have been targeted. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2020 at 1:09 pm

Federal judge who thinks it “madness” to rename bases honoring Confederate officers who took up arms against the US gets schooled by a clerk

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Ryan Grim reports in The Intercept:

THE BATTLE OVER renaming U.S. bases that currently honor Confederate officers broke out in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Monday. But the argument was not in the courtroom; rather, it was launched, and settled, over email.

In an email sent Circuit-wide on Sunday, Judge Laurence Silberman, a Reagan appointee, lambasted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for her amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the military to strip the names of rebel officers from any military assets.

“Since I am about to be interviewed I thought it would be appropriate to unburden myself in opposition to the madness proposed by Senator Warren: the desecration of Confederate graves,” Silberman wrote.

The interview Silberman referenced was part of a series of chats judges do, open only to court staff. Silberman went on to explain that his great-grandfather had fought for the Union as part of Ulysses S. Grant’s army and was badly wounded at Shiloh, Tennessee. His great-grandfather’s brother, meanwhile, joined the Confederate States Army and was captured at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “It’s important to remember that Lincoln did not fight the war to free the Slaves Indeed he was willing to put up with slavery if the Confederate States Returned,” he wrote (lack of punctuation and errant capitalization in the original, and throughout). “My great great grandfather Never owned slaves as best I can tell.”

Silberman’s post, which went out widely to scores of Court staff and judges, sat unanswered over the next day, until the first volley was sent back not by a fellow judge but by a clerk: courtroom employees who work directly with judges to research and write their opinions.

“Hi Judge Silberman,” began the career-risking reply-all email, “I am one of only five black law clerks in this entire circuit. However, the views I express below are solely my own,” they went on. “Since no one in the court’s leadership has responded to your message, I thought I would give it a try.”

[M]y maternal ancestors were enslaved in Mississippi. While the laws of this nation viewed my ancestors as property, I view them as hostages. In a hostage situation, when someone does something that leads to the freeing of the hostages, I am not sure if the hostages would be concerned as to whether the person that saved them, actually intended to save them. In this instance, as people considered to be property, my ancestors would not have been involved in the philosophical and political debates about Lincoln’s true intentions, or his view on racial equality. For them, and myself, race is not an abstract topic to be debated, so in my view anything that was built to represent white racial superiority, or named after someone who fought to maintain white supremacy (or the Southern economy of slavery), see Photo of Liberty Monument attached, should be removed from high trafficked areas of prominence and placed in museums where they can be part of lessons that put them in context.

In your message, you talked about your ancestors, one that fought for the confederacy and one that fought for the Union. This seems to be a true example of a house divided. However, it is very clear what the Confederacy stood for. In 1861, at the Virginia secession convention, Henry L. Benning (for whom Fort Benning is named) in explaining the reasoning for Georgia’s decision to secede from the United States stated, “[it] was a conviction … that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery…[I]t is probable that the white race, being superior in every respect, may push the other back.” Unfortunately, in this scenario, no matter how bravely your uncle fought for the Confederacy, the foundation of his fight was a decision that he agreed more with the ideals of the Confederacy, than he did with those of the Union. And in the end, he chose the losing side of history.

Finally, I will note that the current movement to rename Government owned facilities is in line with your previous opinions on the importance of names and what they represent. In 2005, you publicly advocated for the removal of J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI Building due to the problematic material you came across in your review of his FBI files after his death. You equated it to the Defense Department being named for Aaron Burr. In view of your opinion of J. Edgar Hoover’s history and your advocacy for renaming the FBI building because of the prominence it provides Hoover’s legacy, it is very strange that you would be against renaming our military facilities, since the legacy of the Confederacy represents the same thing. This moment of confronting our nation’s racial history is too big to be disregarded based on familial ties.

The correspondence was provided to The Intercept by a member of the Court staff on the condition the identity of the clerk (who was not the source) and judges who replied be kept confidential.

The ice broken, others weighed in, with two federal district judges, both of them black as well, replying all to thank the clerk for their thoughtful note. A third worked to do clean up for Silberman, noting that, while he couldn’t speak for Silberman, perhaps he only meant to refer to the possibility that the legislation may have applied not just to base names, but also to gravesites.

Indeed, during the debate over the amendment, which took place behind closed doors, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., offered an amendment that would . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2020 at 10:54 am

National Guardsmen struggle with their role in controlling protests

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Daniel Lippman reports in Politico:

Pvt. Si’Kenya Lynch, a member of the D.C. National Guard, was on duty at Lafayette Square near the White House last Monday when U.S. Park Police cleared the area of protesters ahead of President Donald Trump’s now-infamous photo op.

Lynch said she supports the protests, and that her brother was among the demonstrators on the other side of the line, adding that “he coughed a lot” due to the tear gas fired into the crowd.

“I was happy to see him out there … to walk for me when I couldn’t,” she said, adding that if she hadn’t been activated as a citizen-soldier, she would have been among the protesters “to support the people, and I wanted to support what was right.”

POLITICO spoke to 10 National Guardsmen who have taken part in the protest response across the country since the killing of George Floyd while in police custody. Many Guardsmen said they felt uncomfortable with the way they were used to handle the unrest because demonstrators lumped them in with the police. They felt that while they swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, their presence at times intimidated Americans from expressing their opinions and even escalated the tension.

And in the case of Guardsmen involved in the Lafayette incident, some felt used.

“As a military officer, what I saw was more or less really f—ed up,” said one D.C. Guardsman who was deployed to Lafayette Square last Monday and who, like some others, spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely. The official line from the White House that the protesters had turned violent, he said, is false.

“The crowd was loud but peaceful, and at no point did I feel in danger, and I was standing right there in the front of the line,” he said. “A lot of us are still struggling to process this, but in a lot of ways, I believe I saw civil rights being violated in order for a photo op.

“I’m here to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and what I just saw goes against my oath and to see everyone try to cover up what really happened,” the Guardsman continued. “What I saw was just absolutely wrong.”

Lafayette Square

Since the protest on Lafayette Square last Monday, much of the public’s attention has been focused on the decision to clear the area so Trump, flanked by advisers, could pose for photos in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a bible.

In the days following, the debate shifted to whether the police used tear gas to break up the protests. The White House insisted they didn’t, yet a spokesperson for the park police later acknowledged to Vox that it was a mistake to be that definitive, since tear gas is an umbrella term covering a number of chemical irritants.

One of the Guardsmen at the scene said the White House isn’t being truthful.

“I’ve been tear gassed before. I was there the night before when we got tear gassed, there was tear gas there” on Monday evening, he said. He added that he and some of his soldiers felt the effects of the tear gas from their colleagues because they didn’t have masks on.

In a statement, Capt. Chelsi Johnson, a spokesperson for the D.C. National Guard, responded to accounts of Guardsmen who had been accidentally affected by tear gas.

“They were instructed to put their gas masks on if/when they were ordered to or they noticed the police were putting theirs on. Every Guardsman was issued a gas mask,” she said. The U.S. Park Police has acknowledged firing pepper balls into the crowd, which is also a chemical irritant.

While the Park Police cleared out the protesters, some Guardsmen said they felt they were there to actually prevent the police from beating up protesters, instead of the other way around.

“I felt that we were more protecting the people from the police,” said D.C. Guardsman Spec. Isaiah Lynch, who’s unrelated to Si’Kenya Lynch.

In a statement to POLITICO, Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, stressed that during the unrest, the Guard’s priority is to protect citizens’ right to peaceful protest.

“Providing that assistance and security to the people of Washington, D.C., is an honor for every D.C. National Guard member and not a tool for theatrics,” he said.

This event and others have taken a toll on some Guardsmen.

“We have a lot of National Guardsmen who are struggling with this, because unlike in combat when you have an enemy, these are our neighbors, our friends, our family,” the first Guard officer said.

The officer said he even told Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just before the Park Police moved in that the protests had been peaceful that day, a sentiment that was shared by three other Guardsmen who were there.

Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), a Guardsman who was activated for the coronavirus pandemic but not the unrest, said using the National Guard during a peaceful protest for deterrence value “is not really the correct way” of employing the forces, which should instead be used as partners with local law enforcement and as a deescalating force.

Torrie Osterholm, the D.C. National Guard’s director of psychological health, said in an interview that many Guardsmen have reached out to her in the past week to express the pain and confusion they struggled with during and after the mission, both for what they witnessed and how the protesters reacted.

One Guardsman told her, “ . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2020 at 3:13 pm

The Common Seaman in the Heroic Age of Sail 1740–1840

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Come Hell or High Water, by Stephen Taylor, seems a book useful to read in conjunction with Patrick O’Brian’s series of British Naval novels that begin with the trilogy:

Master and Commander
Post Captain
HMS Surprise.

Matthew Lyons reviews the book in Literary Review:

Early in the 19th century, there were some 260,000 of them across Britain’s naval and merchant fleets. People called them Jacks, but they are mostly nameless – or nameless to history. Even on surviving muster lists, seamen’s identities can be hidden behind pseudonyms. Some of these – George Million or Jacob Blackbeard, say – express a degree of wish fulfilment. Others are more whimsical: a Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar could be found on board the Calcutta-bound Tyger in 1757.

To join them was to enter another world, with its own laws (the thirty-six Articles of War, read to them every Sunday, besides whatever strictures a captain thought fit to apply), its own rituals and its own argot. ‘All seemed strange,’ one former ship’s boy recalled of his first days on board, ‘different language and strange expressions of tongue, that I thought myself always asleep, and never properly awake.’

There were, of course, distinctions among them. The lowest of the low were the waisters, comprised of old men, boys and the most inexperienced landsmen, good for nothing but drudgery. Then came the afterguard, consisting of ordinary seamen and more skilled landsmen, who trimmed the after yards and the sails. Above them were the forecastlemen, able seamen who handled the lower ropes and saw to weighing and anchoring. Princes over all of them were the topmen (or Foremast Jacks), who went aloft to bend or reef the sails, even in the highest of seas.

As Stephen Taylor argues in this enthralling new book, it was men like these who, in the great age of sail, made the British Empire possible. He tells the story of Britain’s rise to maritime supremacy in roughly the century from 1750 to 1850, using first-hand accounts of life on the lower decks, official records – ships’ logs, muster rolls, court martials and so on – and other contemporary sources.

Because of the immediacy of these sources, and Taylor’s deft, incisive use of them, it is the men, not the nation, to whom Sons of the Waves belongs. ‘Out of the King’s service they are in general citizens of the world,’ one officer wrote of them. Jacks might have made the British Empire possible, but they were only circumstantially loyal to it.

When their personal discontent became intolerable, they deserted in their tens of thousands. Nelson himself reckoned that 42,000 deserted between 1793 and 1802 alone, a figure Taylor believes may be on the low side. Their skills made them highly prized commodities and they were happy to sail under any flag, towards any compass point. The institution that valued that commodity least was the Royal Navy.

Perhaps the most resented British naval practice in this period was . . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2020 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Military

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James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution

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This is highly unusual. Jeffrey Goldberg writes in the Atlantic:

James Mattis, the esteemed Marine general who resigned as secretary of defense in December 2018 to protest Donald Trump’s Syria policy, has, ever since, kept studiously silent about Trump’s performance as president. But he has now broken his silence, writing an extraordinary broadside in which he denounces the president for dividing the nation, and accuses him of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis writes. “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.” He goes on, “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”

In his j’accuse, Mattis excoriates the president for setting Americans against one another. . .

Mattis’s dissatisfaction with Trump was no secret inside the Pentagon. But after his resignation, he argued publicly—and to great criticism—that it would be inappropriate and counterproductive for a former general, and a former Cabinet official, to criticize a sitting president. Doing so, he said, would threaten the apolitical nature of the military. When I interviewed him last year on this subject, he said, “When you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity as possible to defend the country. They still have the responsibility of protecting this great big experiment of ours.” He did add, however: “There is a period in which I owe my silence. It’s not eternal. It’s not going to be forever.”

That period is now definitively over. Mattis reached the conclusion this past weekend that the American experiment is directly threatened by the actions of the president he once served. In his statement, Mattis makes it clear that the president’s response to the police killing of George Floyd, and the ensuing protests, triggered this public condemnation. . .

Here is the text of the complete statement.

IN UNION THERE IS STRENGTH

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

See also: From the June 2020 issue: We are living in a failed state

And: From the July/August 2020 issue: History will judge the complicit

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2020 at 4:54 pm

“I’m a priest. The police forced me off church grounds for Trump’s photo op.”

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Gina Gerbasi, the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Georgetown, writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

When I arrived in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square on Monday, bringing granola bars and cases of water, the mood was upbeat. I couldn’t have imagined the grotesque scene that would unfold hours later — that the police would shove us out of the way with riot shields, pepper balls and smoke canisters, to clear a path for President Donald Trump.

It was 4 p.m. by the time I got to the church. People were milling about the St. John’s patio: 20 to 30 protesters, who sat on the steps, or drank some water, watching the action across the street, and 20 clergy and parishioners from churches around the city. Our plan was to be there until 6:30 p.m., offering peaceful, prayerful support. A team from Black Lives Matter had set up a first aid area, with boxes of bandages and first aid supplies and bottles of eyewash.

Demonstrators packed H street, Lafayette Square and the end of 16th street. Heading north up 16th, they were scattered in clumps and pairs, carrying signs and chanting: “Say his name: George Floyd!” It wasn’t quiet — you could hear cheers from the protests — but it was peaceful. My colleagues and I passed out water and snacks. People exchanged prayers and elbow bumps. Things were so calm that, by 6 p.m., most of my colleagues had left. I decided to stay until I could no longer be useful; so did my church’s seminarian, Julia, who is also a trauma nurse. The BLM medical folks taught me how to do an eye wash and gave me medical gloves. We waited, hopeful our services wouldn’t be needed.

The curfew wasn’t due to take effect until 7 p.m. But around 6:15 p.m., everything shifted. The crowd grew tense as police started to move out of the park. Trails of smoke come from Lafayette Square, followed by clouds of acrid smoke billowing through the crowds. People began to run north on 16th street and onto the St. John’s patio, some coming for eyewash, wet paper towels or water. The first flash grenade rang out, sounding like gunfire, and some people dropped to the ground, thinking that the police were shooting.

People ran toward us, and there was yelling and panic. We called out, “Water! Eyewash!” Julia and I were washing out protesters’ eyes and feeling it ourselves. I was coughing; Julia’s eyes were red, swollen and tearing. There was a shout that someone was hurt, and Julia ran to help. When she came back, she told me that she had seen police on horseback approaching. The seminary team decided it was time to leave.

Minutes later, the intensity of the flash grenades and gas clouds increased, as the police began pushing protesters out of the park and onto H Street. More people ran in our direction, crying from the smoke, and from fear. Someone yelled “rubber bullets,” and I looked up from washing someone’s eyes to see a man holding his stomach, bent over. He moved his arms, and I saw marks on his shirt. When I looked over his shoulder, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A wall of police, in full riot gear, was physically pushing people off the St. John’s patio, maybe 15 feet away from me.

The BLM team, far more experienced than I, said, we’ve got to go. They picked up what they could of the medical supplies and quickly dropped back, around 30 feet to the north. I was so stunned, all I grabbed was a few water bottles. I was still clutching my bottle of eyewash, and I rushed to join the medical volunteers. What was happening? It’s not even 7 p.m., I thought. Why were they doing this?

I walked through the crowds — “Water? Eyewash?” — and bent over folks, washing eyes or pouring solution on paper towels or handkerchiefs. We got pushed back again. We had not intended to be on the front lines, but the police had literally pushed the front line across the park, then H street, then the patio of St. John’s. More flashes, more smoke, more panic. I ran out of water and found the BLM medical staff at K street, which was now the “back of the line.” I gave them the rest of my eyewash bottle. I was scared. I had had enough. They were so brave.

As I walked to where I’d parked, I could still hear occasional bangs. I peeled off the two layers of blue medical gloves and put them in my pocket to throw away later. My phone started to ping. In their messages, colleagues, friends and family asked where I was, and whether the president was really going to speak in front of St. John’s. No way, I replied. It’s crazy out here. I can still hear it. I got to the car. My sister texted, Gini, they’re showing him on the news right now, walking across the park!

I drove home. Then Julia texted me: Did we really just get gassed for a PHOTO OP? My revulsion was immediate and strong, the reality of what happened sinking in: The president had used military-grade force against peaceful protesters, so he could pose with a Bible in front of the church. I sat in my driveway and wept.

Before taking my current position as the rector of St. John’s in Georgetown, I had served as assistant rector at Lafayette Square. I understood the symbolism of its location, steps away from the White House. It’s known as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2020 at 11:43 am

The Pillage of India

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I found this book review interesting because I’m getting the feeling that the US is being pillaged as well. Christopher de Ballaigue writes in the NY Review of Books:

The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire
by William Dalrymple
Bloomsbury, 522 pp., $35.00

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
by Shashi Tharoor
Melbourne: Scribe, 294 pp., $17.95 (paper)

In the eighteenth century a career with the East India Company was a throw of the dice for unattached young British men. Arriving in India wan and scurvy after a year at sea, many quickly succumbed to disease, madness, or one of the innumerable little wars that the company fought in order to embed itself on the subcontinent. The salary was hardly an incentive. In the 1720s junior clerks, or “writers,” received just £5 per year, not enough to live on in Bengal or Madras and a pittance when set against the handsome 8 percent annual dividend the company’s shareholders awarded themselves back in London. Such drawbacks tended to put off all but those whom circumstances had already disfavored: second sons, members of the down-at-heel Anglo-Irish gentry, dispossessed Scottish landowners who had backed the losing side in a rebellion against the crown.

Being on the company payroll was rather a means to an end; moonlighting was where the money lay in one of the richest places on earth. In 1700 India is estimated to have accounted for 27 percent of the world economy and a quarter of the global textile trade. A considerable number of company employees who survived the shock of arrival went on to make fortunes from off-books trading in textiles, saltpeter, indigo, opium, salt, tobacco, betel, rice, and sugar; sidelines also included selling Mughal-issued tax exemptions and lending money to distressed Indian grandees.

The wills of company officials in the early 1780s show that one in three left their wealth to Indian wives, or as one put it, “the excellent and respectable Mother of my two children for whom I feel unbounded love and affection and esteem.” Others went home. Newly enriched returnees elbowed their way into high society and were rewarded with a moniker, “nabob,” which derived from an Indian word for prince, nawab, and signified an Indian-made plutocrat of boundless amorality.

Neither the directors in Leadenhall Street, the company’s headquarters in the City of London, nor the Mughal authorities who had granted the company its trading privileges in return for “presents” and taxes, approved of the nabobs’ freelancing. But the directors didn’t particularly mind, provided that the thirty-odd ships that sailed east every year from England’s south coast returned laden with luxury imports, along with a share of the taxes collected from the Indian enclaves that the company controlled. All the while the authority of the emperor, the unwarlike Shah Alam, was crumbling under the pressure of repeated Maratha, Afghan, and Iranian incursions into the Mughal heartland of the Gangetic Plain. These and the foragings of another group of armed Europeans, the French Compagnie des Indes, turned what the Mughal chronicler Fakir Khair ud-Din Illahabadi called “the once peaceful abode of India” into “the abode of Anarchy.”

Through adroit use of its well-trained, disciplined armies, over the course of the eighteenth century the company expanded its influence inland from the three littoral “Presidencies” of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay. By the 1750s, William Dalrymple tells us in The Anarchy, his new account of the rise of the company, it accounted for almost an eighth of Britain’s total imports of £8 million and contributed nearly a third of a million pounds to the home exchequer in annual customs duties.

Awell-known historian both in his native Britain and his adoptive India, where he cofounded what may be the world’s biggest literary festival, at Jaipur, Dalrymple has influenced the scholarly as well as the popular understanding of South Asian history through his use of both European and Indian sources, thus uniting the halves of a previously bisected whole. (To pick just two examples from the extensive company literature, both John Keay’s 1993 book, The Honourable Company, which also deals with its extensive involvement in Southeast Asia, and Nick Robins’s commercial history, The Corporation That Changed the World, from 2012, are entirely reliant on British sources.) Dalrymple’s ability to present events from an Indian as well as a European perspective owes much to his mining of the National Archives in Delhi and his collaboration with the late Bruce Wannell, a waspish global flaneur and gifted linguist who lived in a tent on Dalrymple’s lawn in South Delhi while translating Mughal-era texts for him.

The company was transformed into an instrument of imperialism under Robert Clive, a terse, pugnacious delinquent from Shropshire. After arriving in Madras as a writer in 1744, Clive distinguished himself on the battlefield, making up in daring what he lacked in experience. In 1752 he and a fellow officer led a company force that took prisoner almost three thousand troops from the Compagnie des Indes, for which he was rewarded with a lucrative sinecure.

In 1756, after a spell back home, Clive’s taste for conquest and treasure took him to Bengal, whose production of silks and muslins made it the biggest supplier of Asian goods to Europe. In 1757 Clive led the company’s forces to victory against both the French and the uncooperative local nawab; from defeating the latter the company received what Dalrymple calls “one of the largest corporate windfalls in history”—in modern terms around £232 million. Clive himself pocketed an astronomical £22 million, with which he went on to acquire a string of desirable British properties, including an estate outside Limerick to go with his Irish peerage, while Lady Clive, as the Salisbury Journal informed its readers, garlanded her pet ferret with a diamond necklace worth more than £2,500.

Besides his military exploits Clive was admired by the directors for his administrative vigor, and he ended his Indian career as governor of Bengal. In 1765—two years before he returned to Britain for good—he secured his most substantive legacy when he forced Shah Alam to recognize the company’s financial authority over three of his richest provinces, Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. A Mughal chronicler lamented that the British “have appointed their own district officers, they make assessments and collections of revenue, administer justice, appoint and dismiss collectors…heaven knows what will be the eventual upshot of this state of things.”

The baneful consequences of a commercial concern enjoying political power but answering only to its shareholders became apparent during the Bengal famine of 1770–1771. Company officers exacted dues from a dying populace as diligently as they had from a healthy one. Tax evaders were publicly hanged. The following year Calcutta informed Leadenhall Street that “notwithstanding the great severity of the late famine…some increase [in revenue] has been made.”

While at least one million Bengalis were dying of the famine and its effects, some company employees enriched themselves by hoarding rice. According to one anonymous whistleblower whose account was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine back in London:

Our Gentlemen in many places purchased the rice at 120 and 140 seers a rupee [a seer was about two pounds], which they afterwards sold for 15 seers a rupee, to the Black [Indian] merchants, so that the persons principally concerned have made great fortunes by it; and one of our writers…not esteemed to be worth 1,000 rupees last year, has sent down it is said £60,000 to be remitted home this year.

In Calcutta, the same source went on, “one could not pass the streets without seeing multitudes in their last agonies,” while “numbers of dead were seen with dogs, jackalls, hogs, vultures and other birds and beasts of prey feeding on their carcases.”

Back home, denunciations of the company’s conduct equaled in vehemence anything that would be uttered by nationalist Indians in the later stages of British rule. One satire attacked the directors of the company, among them “Sir Janus Blubber,” “Caliban Clodpate,” “Sir Judas Venom,” and “Lord Vulture,” as a “scandalous confederacy to plunder and strip.” But when Clive was investigated by Parliament on charges of amassing a fortune illegally, his achievements in defeating the French and increasing company revenues counted for more than the regime of plunder he had overseen—and Parliament included company shareholders and men who owed their seats to his largesse. Clive was exonerated in May 1773. The following year he committed suicide. He had, Samuel Johnson wrote, “acquired his fortune by such crimes that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat.”

The company was now a permanent subject of controversy in Britain, which was, in strenuous, unemphatic fits, moving from absolutism to accountability. But only rarely . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2020 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law, Military, Politics

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Kent State and the War That Never Ended

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Jill LePore writes in the New Yorker:

Phillip Lafayette Gibbs met Dale Adams when they were in high school, in Ripley, Mississippi, a town best known as the home of William Faulkner’s great-grandfather, who ran a slave plantation, fought in the Mexican-American War, raised troops that joined the Confederate Army, wrote a best-selling mystery about a murder on a steamboat, shot a man to death and got away with it, and was elected to the Mississippi legislature. He was killed before he could take his seat, but that seat would have been two hundred miles away in the state capitol, in Jackson, a city named for Andrew Jackson, who ran a slave plantation, fought in the War of 1812, was famous for killing Indians, shot a man to death and got away with it, and was elected President of the United States. Phillip Gibbs’s father and Dale Adams’s father had both been sharecroppers: they came from families who had been held as slaves by families like the Jacksons and the Faulkners, by force of arms.

In 1967, after Gibbs and Adams started dating, he’d take her out to the movies in a car that he borrowed from his uncle, a car with no key; he had to jam a screwdriver into the ignition to start it up. After Dale got pregnant, they were married, at his sister’s house. They named the baby Phillip, Jr.; Gibbs called him his little man. Gibbs went to Jackson State, a historically black college, and majored in political science. In 1970, his junior year, Gibbs decided that he’d like to study law at Howard when he graduated. He was opposed to the war in Vietnam, but he was also giving some thought to joining the Air Force, because that way, at least, he could provide his family with a decent apartment. “I really don’t want to go to the air force but I want you and my man to be staying with me,” he wrote to Dale, after she and the baby had moved back home to Ripley to save money.

The Jackson State campus was divided by a four-lane road called Lynch Street, named for Mississippi’s first black congressman, John Roy Lynch, who was elected during Reconstruction, in 1872, though a lot of people thought that the street honored another Lynch, the slaveholding judge whose name became a verb. It was on Lynch Street, just after midnight, on May 15, 1970, that policemen in riot gear shot and killed Phillip Gibbs. He was twenty-one. In a barrage—they fired more than a hundred and fifty rounds in twenty-eight seconds—they also fatally shot a seventeen-year-old high-school student named James Earl Green, who was walking down the street on his way home from work. Buckshot and broken glass wounded a dozen more students, including women watching from the windows of their dormitory, Alexander Hall. Phillip Gibbs’s sister lived in that dormitory.

That night, as the historian Nancy K. Bristow recounts in “Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College” (Oxford), students at Jackson State had been out on Lynch Street protesting, and young men from the neighborhood had been throwing rocks and setting a truck on fire, partly because of something that had happened ten days before and more than nine hundred miles away: at Kent State University, the Ohio National Guard had shot and killed four students and wounded nine more. They fired as many as sixty-seven shots in thirteen seconds. “Four dead in Ohio,” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young would sing, in a ballad that became an anthem. “Shot some more in Jackson,” the Steve Miller Band sang, in 1970, in the “Jackson-Kent Blues.” In the days between the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State, police in Augusta, Georgia, killed six unarmed black men, shot in the back, during riots triggered by the death of a teen-ager who had been tortured while in police custody. At a march, on May 19th, protesters decorated coffins with signs: 2 Killed in Jackson, 4 Killed in Kent, 6 Killed in Augusta.

Two, plus four, plus six, plus more. In 1967, near Jackson State, police killed a twenty-two-year-old civil-rights activist—shot him in the back and in the back of the head—after the Mississippi National Guard had been called in to quell student demonstrations over concerns that ranged from police brutality to the Vietnam War. And, in 1968, at South Carolina State, police fatally shot three students and wounded dozens more, in the first mass police shooting to take place on an American college campus. Four dead in Ohio? It’s time for a new tally.

This spring marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Kent State shootings, an occasion explored in Derf Backderf’s deeply researched and gut-wrenching graphic nonfiction novel, “Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio” (forthcoming from Abrams ComicArts). Backderf was ten years old in 1970, growing up outside Kent; the book opens with him riding in the passenger seat of his mother’s car, reading Mad, and then watching Richard Nixon on television. “Kent State” reads, in the beginning, like a very clever college-newspaper comic strip—not unlike early “Doonesbury,” which débuted that same year—featuring the ordinary lives of four undergraduates, Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Sandy Scheuer, and Bill Schroeder, their roommate problems, their love lives, their stressy phone calls with their parents, and their fury about the war. As the violence intensifies, Backderf’s drawings grow darker and more cinematic: the intimate, moody panels of smart, young, good people, muddling through the inanity and ferocity of American politics yield to black-backed panels of institutional buildings, with the people around them saying completely crazy things, then to explosive splash pages of soldiers, their guns locked and loaded, and, finally, to a two-page spread of those fateful thirteen seconds: “boom!” “bang!” “bangbangpow!”

Backderf’s publisher has billed his book as telling “the untold story of the Kent State shootings,” but the terrible story of what happened at Kent State on May 4, 1970, has been told many times before, including by an extraordinary fleet of reporters and writers who turned up on campus while the blood was still wet on the pavement. Joe Eszterhas and Michael Roberts, staff writers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, both of whom had reported from Vietnam, reached campus within forty-five minutes of the first shot—they rushed in to cover the growing campus unrest—and stayed for three months to report “Thirteen Seconds: Confrontation at Kent State,” their swiftly published book. Eszterhas went on to become a prominent screenwriter. Philip Caputo, a twenty-eight-year-old Chicago Tribune reporter who later won a Pulitzer Prize and wrote a best-selling memoir about his service in Vietnam, was driving to Kent State, from the Cleveland airport, when the news about the shots came over the radio. “I remember stepping on the gas,” he writes, in the introduction to “13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings,” a series of reflections on his earlier reporting. “I entered the picture late,” the best-selling novelist James A. Michener wrote. “I arrived by car in early August.” He stayed for months. The Reader’s Digest had hired him to write “Kent State: What Happened and Why,” providing him with reams of research from on-the-spot reporters. The political commentator I. F. Stone cranked out a short book—really, a long essay—titled “The Killings at Kent State: How Murder Went Unpunished.” So many books were published about the shooting, so fast, that when NBC’s “Today” show featured their authors the result was a screaming match. Before introducing them, the host, Hugh Downs, gave a grave, concise, newsman’s account of the sequence of events:

On Thursday, April 30th, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced that American forces were moving into Cambodia. On Friday, May 1st, students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, expressed their displeasure at the President’s announcement. That night, there was violence in the streets of Kent. On Saturday, May 2nd, the R.O.T.C. building was burned, National Guardsmen moved onto the campus. On Sunday, May 3rd, students and Guardsmen traded insults, rocks, and tear gas. On Monday, May 4th, the confrontations continued. There was marching and counter-marching. Students hurled rocks and Guardsmen chased students, firing tear gas. The Guardsmen pursued the students up an area called Blanket Hill. Some Guardsmen pointed their rifles menacingly. And suddenly, it happened.

Nearly all accounts of what happened at Kent State begin the way the “Today” show did, on April 30, 1970, when, in a televised address, Nixon announced that the United States had sent troops into Cambodia, even though, only ten days earlier, he had announced the withdrawal of a hundred and fifty thousand troops from Vietnam. Students on college campuses had been protesting the war since 1965, beginning with teach-ins at the University of Michigan. By 1970, it had seemed as though U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam was finally winding down; now, with the news of the invasion of Cambodia, it was winding back up. Nixon, who had campaigned on a promise to restore law and order, warned Americans to brace for protest. “My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home,” he said. “Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed.”

Nixon’s Cambodia speech led to antiwar protests at hundreds of colleges across the country. Campus leaders called for a National Student Strike. Borrowing from the Black Power movement, they used a black fist as its symbol. The number of campuses involved grew by twenty a day. Most demonstrations were peaceful, but others were violent, even terrifying. In some places, including Kent, students rioted, smashing shop windows, pelting cars, setting fires, and throwing firebombs. In Ohio, the mayor of Kent asked the governor to send in the National Guard.

Nixon hated the student protesters as much in private as he did in public. “You see these bums, you know, blowing up the campuses,” he said the day after the Cambodia speech. He had long urged a hard line on student protesters: antiwar protesters, civil-rights activists, all of them. So had Ronald Reagan, who ran for governor of California in 1966 on a promise to bring law and order to Berkeley, a campus he described as “a rallying point for communists and a center for sexual misconduct.” In 1969, he ordered the California Highway Patrol to clear out a vacant lot near the Berkeley campus which student and local volunteers had turned into a park. Patrolmen fired shots, killing one student, and injuring more than a hundred. Reagan called in the National Guard. Weeks before Nixon’s Cambodia speech stirred up still more protest, Reagan, running for reëlection, said that he was ready for a fight. “If it takes a bloodbath,” he said, “let’s get it over with.”

May 4, 1970, the day of that bloodbath, fell on a Monday. The Guardsmen at Kent State started firing not long after noon, while students were crossing campus; there seems to be some chance that they mistook the students spilling out of buildings for an act of aggression, when, actually, they were leaving classes. Bill Schroeder, a sophomore, was an R.O.T.C. student. “He didn’t like Vietnam and Cambodia but if he had to go to Vietnam,” his roommate said later, “he would have gone.” Schroeder was walking to class when he was shot in the back. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 May 2020 at 6:40 pm

Is China preparing for war?

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Maajid Nawaz’s article describes a grim (and real) possibility, and the evidence he presents is sobering. Of course, if China should indeed launch a war, the US will be led by President Trump and his cronies and minions. Think about that. The article begins:

China is on a war footing. While the Covid-19 outbreak has exposed some grave political miscalculations behind decades of international strategic relations with Beijing, the depths of our problem are only just beginning to dawn on us.

Fuelled by our desire for ever cheaper goods, the world has collectively sleepwalked into a supply-side dependency on the People’s Republic.

The gamble had been pitched as a trade-off. China was expected to evolve democratic norms and embrace relations with the international community, while we got richer from globalisation. But we have been played.

Whether it’s clothing and factory-fashion, personal protective equipment or hardware parts, too many of our manufactured goods today rely on a ‘Made in China’ supply-chain. At the same time as it was busy taking control over our manufacturing, China was busy cloning western software, via her lackadaisical respect for international copyright rules.

And while the world relies on China for hardware, China avoids software dependency on outsiders by creating substitutes: TikTok to replace snapchat, Weibo instead of Twitter, WeChat & RenRen for Facebook. Indeed, there is an alternative Chinese version for almost any platform.

With manufactured goods and hardware ‘Made in China’, and software increasingly ‘Cloned in China’, what of natural resources? Through the ‘Belt & Road’ initiative — a ‘21st century Silk Road’ connecting China to Europe over a network of land and sea trade routes, the People’s Republic has embarked on huge infrastructure projects in 60 countries, including loans and construction projects that secure key ports and mines as collateral to China for payment.

Look to Pakistan, African or southeast Asian nations to see China’s rapid expansion in ownership of mines and ports. Look to the UK and China’s attempts to secure our telecoms industry via the Huawei deal, her recent purchase of British Steel, and her quest to secure the nuclear power industry. Beijing even secured a deal to develop British nuclear station Hinckley point C in Somerset, thus paving the way globally for China to enter the global market to dominate nuclear power.

Over decades, we have naively outsourced or lost manufacturing, software, natural resources and critical infrastructure to China. The economic benefits of globalisation are well trodden, yet as Covid-19 has shown, it has left our society vulnerable during a major crisis, unable to manufacture the most basic of necessities such as PPE. Meanwhile, China has achieved self-sufficiency.

While pursuing economic dominance abroad, China’s communist one-party state has centralised political power at home, gained unprecedented command over her own population via wide ranging and well-documented spy-tech, and placed anything between 1 to 2 million Uigur Muslims in gulags.

Considering what we know of colonial history, there is little room for doubt that China is at a pre-colonial stage. States at this stage attempt . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2020 at 9:24 am

The Naval Academy’s War With a Professor Who Sends Shirtless Pics, Offends Women and Minorities—and Somehow Came Out on Top

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Because my undergraduate college was just across the street from the US Naval Academy (and because occasionally there was a class or course with students from toth institutions), I found a Washingtonian article by Benjamin Wofford of interest. (I wonder whether he’s related to Harris Wofford — a grandson?) The article begins:

The US Merit Systems Protection Board—the judicial dustbin where the United States does battle with employees it wants to fire—is one building no bureaucrat ever wants to see. The jig may well be up by the time you arrive: Terminating a civil servant is so comically burdensome that the very fact of anyone assembling here means Uncle Sam has judged him worthy of the exertion. Certainly that was true last year when the court heard the case of US Naval Academy professor Bruce Fleming.

The Academy’s commandant had arrived that day in his Service Khakis—gold clipped belt, shined black shoes, collar insignia denoting rank. Across the aisle, in a Corneliani jacket and yellow bow tie, was the flopping marlin the school had spent years trying to spear: Fleming, a longtime English teacher. Or, as the Navy would argue, a threat to order and discipline, a corrupting influence, and, reading between the lines, a profound pain in the ass.

A grudging civility hung in the air. After three military investigations, one department inquiry, a three-year-long federal lawsuit, and one whistleblower complaint, most everybody knew everybody by now. This time, the Navy had brought allegations on behalf of five students: that Fleming had discussed oral sex and transgender surgery in class, lobbed a political epithet at two midshipmen, touched one inappropriately, and, among other things, deliberately mispronounced an Asian student’s name and told the student to “f— off” (Fleming denied the last accusation). The charge that had garnered the most attention was a photo: a shirtless selfie Fleming had sent to students.

Some of the allegations would set off alarms anywhere, not least at the storied service academy, where future officers are shaped by the Honor Concept and Uniform Code of Military Justice. Fleming, though, barely raised a brow behind his tortoiseshell glasses. Over years of fighting the Navy, he’d proven impossible to fire, even as he’d acknowledged—proudly, in fact—many incidents the brass described.

It was true, for instance, that he’d told a student to fix his lisp—he said he had been “doing the Navy a favor” by pointing it out, according to the findings of one Academy investigation. And he’d happily admitted discussing anal sex in class. He was fond, too, of lampooning Academy traditions, such as the famous Herndon ritual, in which shirtless plebes climb a greased obelisk. “Talk about homoerotic! This is, like, jacked-boy mud wrestling!” he exclaimed before outlining to me his theory of Annapolis’s culture of sexual repression.

Fleming called this most recent attempt to fire him “the most skewed, the most horrible, the most demeaning” ordeal of his career. He described Academy officials to me as “assholes” and “shits.”

This year, the Naval Academy was ranked highest among public liberal-arts college in America—an honor owing to its unique arrangement in which military and civilian instructors teach side by side. Fleming, beloved by his defenders as a refreshingly contrarian voice in a chauvinistic military culture, is exhibit A for anyone who sees preserving that arrangement as important. Yet he’s also the worst spokesman imaginable for just about any cause.

Which is strange because, after all these years of sparring with the higher-ups, a larger cause is precisely what he has inspired.

Fleming is 65 but looks closer to 45, a feat he owes to a lifetime of physical fitness. Mornings often consist of an hour of jogging in place while classical music pipes from his record player. His pedigree is impressive—Haverford degree at 19, dozens of books on an array of topics. A notoriously harsh grader, he simultaneously inspired a measure of devotion: Students who took to him were sometimes called the Fleming Faithful.

Not even the most faithful, though, would ever confuse him with a naval officer. Fleming spoke frankly and cursed frequently, interspersing his lectures on Tennyson and Shelley with what he called “life lessons” about things like condom use and gay relationships. He discouraged students from standing for “attention on deck” when he entered. He dressed in a different Italian suit every day, letting students try on the jackets. A male model well into his thirties, he began his courses with . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2020 at 2:46 pm

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