Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
I blogged the video that attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau yesterday—there are some big business that most definitely do not want consumers to have any financial protection, and in particular don’t want a government agency to work to protect consumers. Pam Martens and Russ Martens offer a good comment on the video and its source:
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal agency created after the 2008 crash to protect the little guy from Wall Street predators, which has done a top-flight job of it, was portrayed as a commie organization in a advertisement that ran repeatedly during the Republican Presidential debate on November 10. To enhance the communist theme of the ad (see full video below) giant banners of CFPB Director, Richard Cordray, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who pushed for the creation of the agency, hang on the wall in a nod to Soviet dictators.
The advertisement is grossly misleading, overtly suggesting that the job of the CFPB is to deny car loans and mortgages to regular folks seeking credit. The agency, in fact, has absolutely nothing to do with approving credit applications. Its job is to root out and punish financial institutions that are ripping off customers. For example, in July of this year, the serial looter, Citigroup, was ordered by the CFPB to reimburse an estimated $700 million to 7 million of its credit card customers for deceptive marketing and billing for services that were never provided. The agency has also recently gone after student loan and mortgage servicers for ripping off borrowers with excessive fees and unwarranted interest payments.
The CFPB’s main threat to Wall Street’s padding of its bottom line through ever-creative frauds against millions of small borrowers is that the CFPB is both educating consumers and making it easy for them to file a complaint on how they’ve been fleeced. Even more dangerous, the CFPB is actively inviting whistleblowers inside financial corporations to blow the whistle directly to them on the lawbreaking.
There is one more reason that a much broader swath of corporate America is fighting the CFPB than just financial firms. According to the New York Times, a corporate front group that funded the ad has admitted that keeping private justice systems alive for corporations, known as mandatory or forced arbitration, is one reason behind the $500,000 outlay for the ad. The Times notes:
“Its sponsor wants to rein in the agency in part because of its efforts to restrict arbitration — the widespread practice in corporate America of requiring customers and employees to resolve disputes not in the courts, but in private proceedings with neither judge nor jury. In fact, arbitration is one of the reasons the ad’s sponsor, American Action Network, wanted to blast the agency with the $500,000 campaign, the group said.”
The American Action Network, which launched the $500,000 ad campaign, has the fingerprints of all the likely suspects: Koch money, Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Wall Street operatives. Its tactics look like a replay of how a former Koch-funded front group, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), targeted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Wall Street On Parade, using a data trove available at the Center for Responsive Politics, drilled down to the source of some of the money funding the American Action Network in the past. (Most of its donors are allowed to hide in the dark under current law.) A Big Pharma group called Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PRMA) has given over $6 million to the American Action Network. PRMA donors in 2012 included Merck, Amgen, Pfizer, Abbott Labs, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca.
Donors Trust, a group we previously connected to Charles Koch, is another funder of American Action Network. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Donors Trust has given at least $150,000 to American Action Network. As we reported in 2010, a sister front group to Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund, financed a $17 million campaign that unleashed 28 million race-baiting, fear-mongering DVDs through 100 newspaper and magazine inserts just seven weeks before the 2008 Presidential election which brought Barack Obama to the White House.
We reported at the time:
“There are shades of Charles Koch all over Donors Capital and Donors Trust. Two grantees receiving repeat and sizeable grants from Donors Capital are favorites of the Koch foundations: George Mason University Foundation and Institute for Humane Studies. Another tie is Claire Kittle. A project of Donor’s Trust is Talent Market.org, a headhunter for staffing nonprofits with the ‘right’ people. Ms. Kittle serves as Talent Market’s Executive Director and was the former Program Officer for Leadership and Talent Development at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Then there is Whitney Ball, President of both Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust. Ms. Ball was one of the elite guests at the invitation-only secret Aspen bash thrown by Charles Koch in June of this year, as reported by ThinkProgress.org. Also on the guest list for the Koch bash was Stephen Moore, a member of the Editorial Board at the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Moore is a Director at Donors Capital Fund. Rounding out the ties that bind is Lauren Vander Heyden, who serves as Client Services Coordinator at Donors Trust. Ms. Vander Heyden previously worked as grants coordinator and policy analyst at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
“Legal counsel for the Kochs has declined to respond to two emails with a week’s lead time seeking clarification of the relationship the Kochs have to Donors Capital and Donors Trust.”
The Kochs’ involvement in corporate front groups dates back at least three decades. In 2013, the health professionals’ journal, Tobacco Control, published a detailed report on the origination of the Tea Party, dating it to the 1980s. The research was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), a Federal Agency and titled ‘To Quarterback Behind the Scenes, Third Party Efforts’: The Tobacco Industry and the Tea Party.
The report reveals that Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which split into Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks in 2004, “was co-founded in 1984 by David Koch, of Koch Industries, and Richard Fink, former professor of economics at George Mason University, who has worked for Koch Industries since 1990.” According to the report, “CSE supported the agendas of the tobacco and other industries, including oil, chemical, pharmaceutical and telecommunications, and was funded by them.”
Long before the modern-day Tea Party gained attention, CSE started the first online Tea Party in 2002, calling it the US Tea Party. The Tobacco Control report shows that between 1991 and 2002, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies gave CSE at least $5.3 million.
CSE was seen as an integral part of the Philip Morris strategy to thwart Federal regulation of cigarettes and second hand smoke. The study states that Philip Morris designated CSE a “Category A” organization for funding and it was assigned its own Philip Morris senior relationship manager.
Very similar to the current attack on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in 1994 and 1995, Big Tobacco launched an assault, using corporate front groups including CSE, to undermine the credibility of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA at the time was attempting to regulate second-hand smoke.
A Philip Morris memo in late 1994 documented that CSE and other front groups were working “to define the FDA as an agency out of control and one failing to live up to its congressional mandate regarding regulation of drugs and medical devices.”
Beginning in December 1994, the memorandum stated, . . .
Corporations very much like arbitration because they pick and pay the arbitrators, whose decisions are thus extremely predictable: arbitrators find against the consumer almost always, since an arbitrator who finds against the corporation tends to be blackballed. Jessica Silver-Greenber and Mike Corkery report in the NY Times:
A television ad during the Republican presidential debate last Tuesday depicted pale bureaucrats rubber-stamping the word “DENIED” on the files of frustrated Americans, beneath a red banner of Senator Elizabeth Warren evoking a Communist apparatchik.
The ad attacks the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created with Ms. Warren’s strong backing after the 2008 mortgage crisis. What the ad did not say: Its sponsor wants to rein in the agency in part because of its efforts to restrict arbitration — the widespread practice in corporate America of requiring customers and employees to resolve disputes not in the courts, but in private proceedings with neither judge nor jury. In fact, arbitration is one of the reasons the ad’s sponsor, American Action Network, wanted to blast the agency with the $500,000 campaign, the group said.
The consumer agency’s stance on arbitration, while difficult to convey in a TV spot, “is a perfect example of how government is taking away the power of individuals and handing it to the trial lawyers,” said Mike Shields, president of the American Action Network and a former top aide at the Republican National Committee.
Last week’s ad is one of multiple efforts across the country in recent weeks by both advocates and opponents of arbitration to revisit the much-debated practice, which, in two powerful decisions beginning in 2011, has been affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. The most significant moves came in Washington, where regulators, lawmakers and the Justice Department pushed for new restrictions on arbitration.
At the same time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the most powerful business lobby in the country, started a new effort to block the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by lobbying lawmakers to attach a rider to the federal budget bill that would force the regulator to conduct a new study before issuing any rule, according to people with direct knowledge of the strategy.
“If the Chamber of Commerce thinks they are going to slip a provision into a spending bill that cuts off consumer rights without a fight, they are very much mistaken,” Senator Warren said.
Matt Webb, a senior vice president of the chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, called the bureau’s work “deeply flawed and incomplete.”
The flurry of activity follows the publication by The New York Times of athree-part series showing how corporations across the spectrum of the American economy — phone companies, credit card providers, nursing homes — use mandatory arbitration to circumvent the court system and derail legal claims alleging predatory lending, wage theft, discrimination and other violations. The reporting detailed how arbitration proceedings tend to favor businesses over individuals. In some instances, arbitrationclauses require disputes to be settled in Christian arbitration, a process governed by the Bible rather than state or federal law.
Proponents of arbitration, who say it provides an efficient alternative to courts, view the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as among its biggest threats. They say a new rule proposed by the consumer agency, which would prevent financial services companies from including class-action bans in consumer contracts, could in effect kill arbitration altogether.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department issued a proposal to protect military service members from arbitration requirements. Earlier this month, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota and a longtime opponent of arbitration, renewed his push for Congress to pass a bill he introduced this year that would prevent companies from requiring employees to go to arbitration.
Several Democrats are expected to introduce bills intended to more widely curtail the use of arbitration clauses, according to the people. But with Congress deeply divided, some Democrats are calling on President Obama to use his executive authority to prevent federal contractors from including arbitration clauses in their contracts with customers and employees.
San Francisco’s city attorney, Dennis Herrera, sued American Express this month over what he claimed were “illegal and anti-competitive rules, policies and practices.” The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court, will probably help small businesses whose contracts with the credit card company prevented them from filing a class-action lawsuit. . .
Bernie will put a stop to this (if he has a Democratic Congress).
Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo report in the NY Times:
A Senate security officer stepped out of the December chill last year and delivered envelopes marked “Top Secret” to the Pentagon, the C.I.A., the State Department and the Justice Department. Inside each packet was a disc containing a 6,700-page classified report on the C.I.A.’s secret prison program and a letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein, urging officials to read the report to ensure that the lessons were not lost to time.
Today, those discs sit untouched in vaults across Washington, still in their original envelopes. The F.B.I. has not retrieved a copy held for it in the Justice Department’s safe. State Department officials, who locked up their copy and marked it “Congressional Record — Do Not Open, Do Not Access” as soon as it arrived, have not read it either.
Nearly a year after the Senate released a declassified 500-page summary of the report, the fate of the entire document remains in limbo, the subject of battles in the courts and in Congress. Until those disputes are resolved, the Justice Department has prohibited officials from the government agencies that possess it from even opening the report, effectively keeping the people in charge of America’s counterterrorism future from reading about its past. There is also the possibility that the documents could remain locked in a Senate vault for good.
In a letter to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch last week, Ms. Feinstein, a California Democrat, said the Justice Department was preventing the government from “learning from the mistakes of the past to ensure that they are not repeated.”
Although Ms. Feinstein is eager to see the document circulated, the Senate is now under Republican control. Her successor as head of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, has demanded that the Obama administration return every copy of the report. Mr. Burr has declared the report to be nothing more than “a footnote in history.”
It was always clear that the full report would remain shielded from public view for years, if not decades. But Mr. Burr’s demand, which means that even officials with top security clearances might never read it, has reminded some officials of the final scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when the Ark of the Covenant is put into a wooden crate alongside thousands of others in a government warehouse of secrets.
The report tells the story of how, in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the C.I.A. began capturing people and interrogating them in secret prisons beyond the reach of the American judicial and military legal systems. The report’s central conclusion is that the spy agency’s interrogation methods — including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other kinds of torture — were far more brutal and far less effective than the C.I.A. acknowledged to policy makers, Congress and the public.
For now, it is the most comprehensive chronicle of one of the most controversial counterterrorism programs after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the C.I.A. for access to the document, and at this point the case hinges on who owns it. Senate documents are exempt from public records laws, but executive branch records are not. In May, a federal judge ruled that even though Ms. Feinstein distributed the report to the executive branch, the document still belongs to Congress. That decision is under appeal, with court papers due this month.
Justice Department officials defend their stance, saying that handling the document at all could influence the outcome of the lawsuit. They said that a State Department official who opened the report, read it and summarized it could lead a judge to determine that the document was an executive branch record, altering the lawsuit’s outcome. The Justice Department has also promised not to return the records to Mr. Burr until a judge settles the matter.
“It’s quite bizarre, and I cannot think of a precedent,” said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. He said there are any number of classified Senate documents that are shared with intelligence agencies and remain as congressional records, even if they are read by members of the executive branch.
The findings of the report on the secret prisons remain the subject of fierce debate. A group of former senior C.I.A. officers published a book in September challenging its conclusions and methodology, and Senate Republicans have derided the investigation as shoddy and partisan. . .
It’s pretty clear that what happened is something the American public deserves to know, and the intensity of resistance to revealing what happened shows that it must have pretty bad.
Eric Holder as Attorney General acted as though he were a protector of the banks and finance industry (and of course he did return to his lucrative position at his white-shoe law firm). He could have done much more, as indicated by David Danyen’s report in The Intercept:
A Texas jury’s recent decision to award over $5 million in damages and fees for the fraudulent foreclosure of a single home suggests that the big banks could have been on the hook for as much as $32 trillion — before the Justice Department and state attorneys general settled for $25 billion, or less than on tenth of a penny on the dollar.
In the trial in Harris County district court, the jury awarded Houston foreclosure victims Mary Ellen and David Wolf $5.38 million on November 6, on the grounds that Wells Fargo Bank and Carrington Mortgage Services knowingly submitted false documents to kick them out of their home.
The Wolfs had taken out a $400,000 home equity loan from Carrington (then known as New Century), which was immediately sold into a mortgage-backed trust administered by Wells Fargo. The loan was never properly placed into that trust, however, breaking the chain of title and making it impossible for Carrington or Wells Fargo to legally enforce the lien.
They put the Wolfs into foreclosure anyway, relying on a transfer document fabricated (or “robo-signed”) by Tom Croft, a New Century employee. New Century did not own the promissory note or deed of trust and could therefore not legally transfer the lien, and Croft signed off without personal knowledge of the underlying loan.
The jury agreed with the Wolfs that this made the foreclosure invalid, and awarded the family $150,000 in financial injuries, $40,000 for mental anguish, $5 million in punitive damages and $190,000 in attorney’s fees. Wells Fargo can seek a new trial, ask the judge to reduce the damages, or appeal the case, though they haven’t done so yet.
Numerous court depositions released in 2010 revealed that robo-signing of mortgage documents in an attempt to prove ownership of loans and secure foreclosures – in other words,foreclosure fraud — was a widespread industry practice. Two years later, the five leading mortgage servicing companies, including Wells Fargo, paid $5 billion in fines and $20 billion in credits in return for federal and state prosecutors agreeing not to pursue civil charges.
With the jury award in the Wolf family case, we can now assess the true financial exposure on these banks and mortgage companies. There have been roughly 6 million foreclosures since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, and virtually all of them were completed with robo-signed, fabricated or fraudulent documents in one form or another. If we apply the $5.38 million jury award to all of those loans, you have a potential cost from the foreclosure fraud scandal of $32.28 trillion. . .
Another puzzling nomination by Obama: Nominee to Oversee Wall Street Works at Think Tank Dedicated to Blocking Regulation
President Obama put Mary Jo White, a lawyer who has worked on Wall Street’s behalf at a prestigious law firm, in charge of the SEC, whereupon she promptly exercised the power of her office to protect Wall Street. And now Lee Fang reports on another puzzling nomination by Obama:
President Barack Obama recently nominated Hester Maria Peirce to fill a Republican seat on the Securities and Exchange Commission.
His announcement included her formal title — senior research fellow and director of the Financial Markets Working Group at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University — which sounds a lot like an academic post.
But Peirce, new disclosures show, received 98 percent of her salary directly from the Mercatus Center, a “think tank” that provides an academic façade to a radical anti-regulatory agenda. The Center’s so-called research reflects the lobbying priorities of its corporate funders — chief among whom is Koch Industries.
Asked about any potential conflicts of interest given her work for the Mercatus Center, Peirce told The Intercept, “I appreciate you reaching out but I cannot comment at this point.”
The Mercatus Center has been described by the Wall Street Journal “as a coordinating center for lobbyists trying to block a flurry of regulations.” Congressional records show the think tank routinely cited in over a dozen hearings over the last two years by lawmakers seeking to rollback regulations on business interests.
Financial reporters say the nomination of Peirce to fill a Republican vacancy on the commission comes as no surprise, especially given the nominee’s close ties to congressional Republicans, who now control the U.S. Senate confirmation process. Peirce has appeared on Capitol Hill as an expert witness on financial reform issues, and is a former staff member to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
Although Peirce has been referred to in media reports and government websites by her George Mason University affiliation, forms recently disclosed through the Office of Government Ethics reveal that over the last year, Peirce earned $203,114 from the Mercatus Center and only $3,847 from George Mason University for her work as an adjunct professor.
Through the Mercatus Center, Peirce has penned a number of pieces arguing against regulations concerning Wall Street banks, including the Volcker Rule, which is designed to limit risk by forcing investment banks to spin off proprietary trading.
The Mercatus Center is one of the first think tanks formed by the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers to influence government policy. Richard Fink, a close advisor to Charles Koch and an executive with Koch Industries’ lobbying division, is a founding board member. Charles Koch himself still occupies a board seat. Foundation documents show that entities controlled by the Koch family have provided over $35 million to the Mercatus Center over the years. . .
GREENWALD: This is Glenn Greenwald with The Intercept and my guest is the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with The New York Times, Charlie Savage, who has a newly published book, the title of which is Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency. And I think the best way to describe this book is that it’s really a comprehensive history on all of the many civil liberties and war power controversies that have taken place over the last seven years under Obama and especially the extent to which Obama has or has not, as one chapter put it, been acting like Bush in these areas.
One of the things I found most valuable about the book, Charlie, is that you have access to a lot of sources who have been inside these controversies – White House lawyers, lawyers in the Justice Department, key Pentagon officials – who we haven’t heard all that much from on these controversies until your book. It gives some great insight into what a lot of these people who have been responsible for these decisions have been thinking about; why they made the choices they made. I want to begin by taking a step back and asking you the history of these issues. Of course these issues were very controversial after 9/11.
Under George Bush and Dick Cheney, there were a lot of accusations that they were constructing what was called “an imperial presidency,” and yet as you point out, this kind of model and concern about the imperial presidency dates back to the end of World War II when all of these war agencies and militarized policies were implemented, and then after the war they weren’t deconstructed. And it was Arthur Schlesinger the historian who coined the term imperial presidency. How did those events create the conflicts that ended up being so controversial first under Bush and now under Obama?
SAVAGE: Sure. Thank you very much for having me on, Glenn, I really appreciate it. In some ways, what you’re asking me to do is summarize my first book about the growth of executive power, especially from Watergate to the present and especially under the Bush administration at that time.
You’re absolutely right that it was typical in American history, up until World War II, that when there was a war, there would be a tremendous growth in executive power. There would be the creation of a big army, and the president would have all kind of tools at his disposal and things that he was in charge of – that when the war was over would be dismantled again. The army would be largely decommissioned and the people would come home and the special powers that had been asserted would lapse.
And that changed after World War II because we segued from that war into the Cold War, and we’re right away in a major global cold, but sometimes hot, conflict with the Soviet-driven Communist empire. We keep our large standing army; we keep standing bases all around the world. Agencies like the NSA and the CIA are sort of created out of predecessors that were invented sort of for the purpose of winning World War II.
At the same time the massive administrative state that had grown up in the New Deal becomes entrenched as the first Republican president since FDR takes office and keeps it rather than scrapping it. Because of this climate of perpetual emergency, you see the executive branch, under presidents of both parties, increasingly making claims of great power that puts them beyond Congress and the judiciary in matters of secrecy, and so forth, that largely the other branches acquiesce to, and for that reason, what Schlesinger calls the imperial presidency grows up and peaks with Nixon, although certainly LBJ and Democratic presidents – JFK – were also as involved with it.
GREENWALD: It almost seems like we do have this vision of the country as it was supposed to exist that has become pretty distant from the role that the US government actually plays in the world. And yet at the same time, we’ve retained those founding documents, particularly the Constitution, that is supposed to govern how everything functions.
And so you have this document, the Constitution, that was created with this very limited vision of what the president’s powers and authorities would be and yet now we’re trying to kind of take this Constitution and squeeze it into this vastly expanded role where the US in the dominant power in the world. Where it’s more or less permanently at war. Where the president has these vast powers.
Do you think that that is a significant part of what generates the tension in these areas?
Brian Castner writes a piece for Motherboard that is definitely worth reading, especially today:
On April 9, 2011, Captain Jaymes Collin Uriah “Yuri” Hines drank a beer with a friend at a brewery in Bruges, Belgium, and tried desperately to relax.
Yuri was a Weapon Systems Officer on an F-15E, a backseater who dropped the bombs, and he was exhausted. Just back from a combat tour, he had been conducting airstrikes only two weeks before.
His brother Reese was deployed to Afghanistan, and something in his voice, the last time they had talked on the phone, still haunted him. Yuri would soon leave for US Air Force pilot training, to move to the front seat of a fighter jet and fulfill a boyhood dream. He was newly married, but had barely seen his bride. He was only 29, and the stress of so many significant life events in so short a period of time was taking its toll.
Yuri was relieved to finally just sit and have a drink. Then his phone rang. It was his mother. His mother never called.
“It’s Reese, he’s been hit,” she sobbed. “They don’t know if he’s going to survive.”
***Yuri spoke to his mother for only a moment. Then he hung up, walked out of the Belgian brewery, got in his truck, and with no other planning or preparation, drove directly to Germany. If Reese lived, the Landstuhl military hospital would be his first stop out of the war zone. Yuri drove 110 miles per hour the entire way. It took him six hours on the autobahn, and he didn’t arrive until after midnight.
All the next day, Yuri was beset by rumors. On Facebook someone said that Reese had died. It took time to prove that wasn’t true, but the initial wrong report traveled fast, and many of Reese’s family members only learned he was injured at all from this incorrect post. Yuri got, as he put it later, “pretty fucking pissed,” so frustrated that he begged favors from every colonel he knew, ultimately discovering the phone number of the hospital room in Afghanistan that mostly likely held his brother.
A doctor answered the phone. He sounded hesitant and suspicious. “I’m sorry, who is this?”
“Captain Hines. Reese Hines is my brother.”
“I don’t know if I can talk to you right now,” said the hesitant voice. “I’m kinda in the middle of something. Can I call you back?”
“Sir,” pleaded Yuri, “I’m in Germany. I just found out my brother got hit. Can you please tell me what the hell’s going on?”
The voice took a deep breath. There was a muffling passing of the phone. A woman began speaking. “We’re in the middle of surgery,” she began, and then calmly explained every injury that Reese had endured.
“That’s the exact opposite way of how notifications are supposed to happen,” Yuri reflected later. “And I’m pretty sure I broke a million rules.”
Reese finally arrived from Bagram the following day, on a massive KC-135 refueler that had been chartered just for him; he and the medical staff were the only passengers in the cavernous belly of the aircraft. Yuri talked his way onto the flight line, helped carry his brother off the plane and onto a bus that would take them to the hospital. Reese was strapped down, face and arms a mass of bandages. No one knew if he would live.
“What do I do?” Yuri begged of a doctor accompanying Reese. “I don’t know what to do.”
“He’s your brother, just talk to him,” the doctor said.
So Yuri did. He told Reese he was there and that he was going to make it. Reese was in a drug-induced coma, but Yuri swore his wounded brother turned his head toward his voice, and it was in that moment that the strain of the previous two weeks finally overcame him. Yuri put his head in his hands and cried so hard, so uncontrollably, that he shook until he couldn’t breathe.
“They had to escort me off the bus, until I could be a person again,” Yuri said.
***Some now call it the Forever War, and every day that name grows more appropriate.
Soldiers are dying again in Iraq. President Obama extended the mission in Afghanistan through 2017 after the city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban in October.Leaked classified documents reveal a barely acknowledged drone war in Somalia and East Africa. Plus strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, direct action raids against ISIS leaders, a proxy war in Syria and al-Anbar. Between 1975 and 2000—in Grenada, Panama, the First Gulf War and Somalia—the United States fought a total of twelve days of conventional ground combat. Since October of 2001, it hasn’t ceased.
This longest war in American history has created a warrior caste. Less than one percent of the US population, the “Other One Percent,” served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly half of those veterans completed two or more tours, and 51,000 of them, a Spartan-esque subculture than would barely fill Yankee stadium, have deployed six or more times. The Delta operator who fell in Iraq in October was on his fourteenth tour.
Our professional military is staffed entirely by volunteers. Returning to combat this often is a choice, and our culture has turned to explanations from camaraderie to adrenaline to economics to explain this drive.
But this Veterans Day, it is worth considering another reason, unique to our current conflict: saving a life within a very small world. So small, in fact, that using small world theory, the math tells us that statistically they are not saving the lives of strangers, but of known quantities.
Over dozens of interviews with men and women about why they continue to volunteer to fight the Forever War, the only universal motivation I encountered was the desire to protect. To clear an improvised explosive device (IED) threatening a patrol, to helicopter in for a medical rescue, to patch up a wounded Marine, to drop a bomb to keep a platoon from being overrun. Surely, most rescuers must assume that the soldier they are helping—from another unit, another service—is a stranger; Joseph Campbell and Arthur Schopenhauer wrote volumes of essays about the mystical empathy present at such a moment of rescue.
But the science of modern social network research tells us something different about these lives that are saved. In previous American wars, soldiers bonded over a single definitive experience and went home. Today, these 51,000 veterans have spent years building an extensive social network in harm’s way. When they go back to war, they know the soldiers in their new units as well as former comrades still fighting throughout the battlefield. In the modern US military, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game needs a new name. Only one or two degrees separate these men and women.
This phenomenon is embodied in the tale of Reese and Yuri Hines, two brothers in two wars, and all of the ways coincidence and fate and loyalty and purpose bind together those very few soldiers who deploy to fight over and over and over again.
***The brothers have a story. They call it “our story,” and they will tell you that the story starts in Libya. . .