Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fat Princess: Sony's Sense of Humor

Imagine a video game where you win by burning crosses in people's front lawns or shooting white heterosexuals. Well, Sony's answer is Fat Princess, a game that you win by kidnapping and fattening the lead female character (so to make it more difficult for your competitors to take her).

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Feminists cry foul over Fat Princess

Does Sony's cartoony castle game cross the line?

She's plump, powerful and ready to cause more controversy than "SuperSize Me."

She's Fat Princess, the star of Sony's upcoming video game of the same name. Debuting at last week's E3 expo, the colorful Fat Princess is a capture-the-flag game with a twist: you can thwart capture attempts by locking the once-thin princess in a dungeon and stuffing her full of cake, thereby increasing her girth and making her harder for your enemies to haul back to home base.

According to popular gaming blog Joystiq, two feminist gaming sites have already voiced their displeasure with the weighty issue.

Feminist Gamer's "Mighty Ponygirl" rings in diplomatically, suggesting a new way to play the game altogether.

"Instead of running out into the forest to find cake to fatten up the princess with, why not go out and find gold (which is a lot heavier than cake) to stuff into a treasure chest. The more gold in the chest, the heavier it would be, and the harder it would be to carry," she said, before adding, "Oh, but that's not as "cute" as cake and fat chicks. Right."

Over at Shakesville, however, writer Melissa McEwan cuts to the chase, telling Sony she's "positively thrilled to see such unyielding dedication to creating a new generation of fat-hating, heteronormative ---holes."

Sony has yet to issue an official response, although Joystiq did receive a particularly informative update from James Green, Fat Princess' lead art director, who clued gamers in on the origins of the game:

"Does it make it better or worse that the concept artist (who designed the look, characters, everything) is a girl?"

Hmmm...hope the game's detractors don't mind eating a bit of crow.

http://videogames.yahoo.com/feature/feminists-cry-foul-over-fat-princess/1232315
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Of course, that it is going after females and fat people should be of no consequence to anti-PC sensibilities (as long as you do not threaten to harm any communion wafers, that is). Video games are probably, next to comics and maybe porn, the most blatantly misogynistic in their portrayal of women and girls (usually as sex objects or periodically as violence victims). The fat hatred is even more convenient, in a country overtaken by a societal backlash (by the aesthetic worshipers and our friends in the insurance industry) against folk of size. As noted by yours truly a few months ago, some states (like Mississippi) are even trying to ban overweight people from restaurants.

Then again, we do have the Evangelical version of this game, Left Behind, where future religionists win by killing non-believers. Such sweet and loving people, those Evangelicals.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Iraq "Victory": Crying Wolf

One of the surest ways you can tell the Republican Party and the US military leadership is lying through its teeth is when it starts talking about progress or success in Iraq. Since 2003, our President has declared that all major combat in Iraq over. Since 2004, we have claimed that Iraq is now sovereign. Since 2004, we have claimed Iraq either won or is progressing no less than a dozen times. When the scions at Fox 'News' wonder why the American people are so overwhelmingly anti-war, even after the latest propaganda effort to paint Iraq as the next city on the hill, the pathological dishonesty in the government's many proclamations about Iraq's success is why.

If you doubt this, just look at the recent stories, released by the AP Press, asserting that Iraq has been an unexpected success because of the "surge" offensive conducted last summer. The decrease in violence in the capital city is then touted as signs of that most precious and unheard of word in the last five years, progress. We are even talking about "handing back" Iraq its full sovereignty and control of its internal police by this fall (just in time for the elections, naturally). Remember, four years ago, Iraq was supposedly handed its sovereignty, so this will be the second time we are officially making Iraq "sovereign."

Here is what the Senator McCains, his 527 hit squad from the offices of Veterans for Truth, or even General Petraeus do not tell you. As of now, the US military and its so-called Iraqi allies continue to control less than half of Baghdad. The US military and its Iraqi allies still do not control Iraq's borders. What constitutes the Iraqi government, or the occupation government set up by the US, continues to hide within the confines of the Green Zone, as it is well known that if any member of parliament tried to hold session outside of the US-sealed Green Zone that MP would soon be dead. This is what we call success.

Why? Because there is a decrease in killings? Well, has anyone considered that there are fewer attacks because the attackers are regrouping? We should know this because since the offensive surge last summer, the US taxpayer has been subsidizing Iraqi insurgents who agree to a ceasefire with the US. In other words, we the American taxpayer are using our funds to pay blood money to forces who have killed our people. This is how we succeed, apparently, which has still yet to produce a situation whereby less than a hundred thousand of our soldiers must be used in perpetuity to bolster and maintain Iraq's occupation government.

For those who want to talk about the success of Iraq, how we are securing final victory, I will make this bet with anyone who so desires. On the threat of making an internet video apology to the American right-wing, I guarantee that by November (when President Bush and his man servant General Petraeus are declaring Iraq a victory for the ages) the Iraqi government will still be meeting inside of the Green Zone, and at least 100,000 American troops will be occupying Iraq (this is in light of the Iraqi government's promise, back in October 2007, to have a hundred thousand American troops sent home before the end of the year). And I guarantee that the Iraqi military and police will not have effective control over all of Baghdad by November, either (even after we claim they do). Of course, if any of you budding Jonah Goldbergs want to take me up, when you lose, you will have to make a video for YouTube apologizing for your stupidity.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Military-Industrial Complex: The Death of Empires

For those who have not read Chalmers Johnson's classic troika of the foibles of empire (Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis), you should do so (and read them in the succession they were written, as they will give you a proper context for what our government has become, as well as its future). For those of us in comparative politics and area studies, who have been reading Johnson since his writings on peasant nationalism, he is always an authoritative source of wisdom in the goings on of states. Without further ado.

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The Military-Industrial Complex
It's Much Later Than You Think
By Chalmers Johnson

Most Americans have a rough idea what the term "military-industrial complex" means when they come across it in a newspaper or hear a politician mention it. President Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced the idea to the public in his farewell address of January 17, 1961. "Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime," he said, "or indeed by the fighting men of World War II and Korea... We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions... We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications... We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

Although Eisenhower's reference to the military-industrial complex is, by now, well-known, his warning against its "unwarranted influence" has, I believe, largely been ignored. Since 1961, there has been too little serious study of, or discussion of, the origins of the military-industrial complex, how it has changed over time, how governmental secrecy has hidden it from oversight by members of Congress or attentive citizens, and how it degrades our Constitutional structure of checks and balances.

From its origins in the early 1940s, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was building up his "arsenal of democracy," down to the present moment, public opinion has usually assumed that it involved more or less equitable relations – often termed a "partnership" – between the high command and civilian overlords of the United States military and privately-owned, for-profit manufacturing and service enterprises. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that, from the time they first emerged, these relations were never equitable.

In the formative years of the military-industrial complex, the public still deeply distrusted privately owned industrial firms because of the way they had contributed to the Great Depression. Thus, the leading role in the newly emerging relationship was played by the official governmental sector. A deeply popular, charismatic president, FDR sponsored these public-private relationships. They gained further legitimacy because their purpose was to rearm the country, as well as allied nations around the world, against the gathering forces of fascism. The private sector was eager to go along with this largely as a way to regain public trust and disguise its wartime profit-making.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Roosevelt's use of public-private "partnerships" to build up the munitions industry, and thereby finally overcome the Great Depression, did not go entirely unchallenged. Although he was himself an implacable enemy of fascism, a few people thought that the president nonetheless was coming close to copying some of its key institutions. The leading Italian philosopher of fascism, the neo-Hegelian Giovanni Gentile, once argued that it should more appropriately be called "corporatism" because it was a merger of state and corporate power. (See Eugene Jarecki's The American Way of War, p. 69.)

Some critics were alarmed early on by the growing symbiotic relationship between government and corporate officials because each simultaneously sheltered and empowered the other, while greatly confusing the separation of powers. Since the activities of a corporation are less amenable to public or congressional scrutiny than those of a public institution, public-private collaborative relationships afford the private sector an added measure of security from such scrutiny. These concerns were ultimately swamped by enthusiasm for the war effort and the postwar era of prosperity that the war produced.

Beneath the surface, however, was a less well recognized movement by big business to replace democratic institutions with those representing the interests of capital. This movement is today ascendant. (See Thomas Frank's new book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, for a superb analysis of Ronald Reagan's slogan "government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.") Its objectives have long been to discredit what it called "big government," while capturing for private interests the tremendous sums invested by the public sector in national defense. It may be understood as a slow-burning reaction to what American conservatives believed to be the socialism of the New Deal.

Perhaps the country's leading theorist of democracy, Sheldon S. Wolin, has written a new book, Democracy Incorporated, on what he calls "inverted totalitarianism" – the rise in the U.S. of totalitarian institutions of conformity and regimentation shorn of the police repression of the earlier German, Italian, and Soviet forms. He warns of "the expansion of private (i.e., mainly corporate) power and the selective abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of the citizenry." He also decries the degree to which the so-called privatization of governmental activities has insidiously undercut our democracy, leaving us with the widespread belief that government is no longer needed and that, in any case, it is not capable of performing the functions we have entrusted to it.

Wolin writes:

"The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture, from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributory elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled." (p. 284)

Mercenaries at Work

The military-industrial complex has changed radically since World War II or even the height of the Cold War. The private sector is now fully ascendant. The uniformed air, land, and naval forces of the country as well as its intelligence agencies, including the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), the NSA (National Security Agency), the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), and even clandestine networks entrusted with the dangerous work of penetrating and spying on terrorist organizations are all dependent on hordes of "private contractors." In the context of governmental national security functions, a better term for these might be "mercenaries" working in private for profit-making companies.

Tim Shorrock, an investigative journalist and the leading authority on this subject, sums up this situation devastatingly in his new book, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. The following quotes are a précis of some of his key findings:

"In 2006? the cost of America's spying and surveillance activities outsourced to contractors reached $42 billion, or about 70 percent of the estimated $60 billion the government spends each year on foreign and domestic intelligence? [The] number of contract employees now exceeds [the CIA's] full-time workforce of 17,500? Contractors make up more than half the workforce of the CIA's National Clandestine Service (formerly the Directorate of Operations), which conducts covert operations and recruits spies abroad?

"To feed the NSA's insatiable demand for data and information technology, the industrial base of contractors seeking to do business with the agency grew from 144 companies in 2001 to more than 5,400 in 2006? At the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the agency in charge of launching and maintaining the nation's photoreconnaissance and eavesdropping satellites, almost the entire workforce is composed of contract employees working for [private] companies? With an estimated $8 billion annual budget, the largest in the IC [intelligence community], contractors control about $7 billion worth of business at the NRO, giving the spy satellite industry the distinction of being the most privatized part of the intelligence community?

"If there's one generalization to be made about the NSA's outsourced IT [information technology] programs, it is this: they haven't worked very well, and some have been spectacular failures? In 2006, the NSA was unable to analyze much of the information it was collecting? As a result, more than 90 percent of the information it was gathering was being discarded without being translated into a coherent and understandable format; only about 5 percent was translated from its digital form into text and then routed to the right division for analysis.

"The key phrase in the new counterterrorism lexicon is 'public-private partnerships'? In reality, 'partnerships' are a convenient cover for the perpetuation of corporate interests." (pp. 6, 13-14, 16, 214-15, 365)

Several inferences can be drawn from Shorrock's shocking expos?. One is that if a foreign espionage service wanted to penetrate American military and governmental secrets, its easiest path would not be to gain access to any official U.S. agencies, but simply to get its agents jobs at any of the large intelligence-oriented private companies on which the government has become remarkably dependent. These include Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), with headquarters in San Diego, California, which typically pays its 42,000 employees higher salaries than if they worked at similar jobs in the government; Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the nation's oldest intelligence and clandestine-operations contractors, which, until January 2007, was the employer of Mike McConnell, the current director of national intelligence and the first private contractor to be named to lead the entire intelligence community; and CACI International, which, under two contracts for "information technology services," ended up supplying some two dozen interrogators to the Army at Iraq's already infamous Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. According to Major General Anthony Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib torture and abuse scandal, four of CACI's interrogators were "either directly or indirectly responsible" for torturing prisoners. (Shorrock, p. 281)

Remarkably enough, SAIC has virtually replaced the National Security Agency as the primary collector of signals intelligence for the government. It is the NSA's largest contractor, and that agency is today the company's single largest customer.

There are literally thousands of other profit-making enterprises that work to supply the government with so-called intelligence needs, sometimes even bribing Congressmen to fund projects that no one in the executive branch actually wants. This was the case with Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Republican of California's 50th District, who, in 2006, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in federal prison for soliciting bribes from defense contractors. One of the bribers, Brent Wilkes, snagged a $9.7 million contract for his company, ADCS Inc. ("Automated Document Conversion Systems") to computerize the century-old records of the Panama Canal dig!

A Country Drowning in Euphemisms

The United States has long had a sorry record when it comes to protecting its intelligence from foreign infiltration, but the situation today seems particularly perilous. One is reminded of the case described in the 1979 book by Robert Lindsey, The Falcon and the Snowman (made into a 1985 film of the same name). It tells the true story of two young Southern Californians, one with a high security clearance working for the defense contractor TRW (dubbed "RTX" in the film), and the other a drug addict and minor smuggler. The TRW employee is motivated to act by his discovery of a misrouted CIA document describing plans to overthrow the prime minister of Australia, and the other by a need for money to pay for his addiction.

They decide to get even with the government by selling secrets to the Soviet Union and are exposed by their own bungling. Both are sentenced to prison for espionage. The message of the book (and film) lies in the ease with which they betrayed their country – and how long it took before they were exposed and apprehended. Today, thanks to the staggering over-privatization of the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence, the opportunities for such breaches of security are widespread.

I applaud Shorrock for his extraordinary research into an almost impenetrable subject using only openly available sources. There is, however, one aspect of his analysis with which I differ. This is his contention that the wholesale takeover of official intelligence collection and analysis by private companies is a form of "outsourcing." This term is usually restricted to a business enterprise buying goods and services that it does not want to manufacture or supply in-house. When it is applied to a governmental agency that turns over many, if not all, of its key functions to a risk-averse company trying to make a return on its investment, "outsourcing" simply becomes a euphemism for mercenary activities.

As David Bromwich, a political critic and Yale professor of literature, observed in the New York Review of Books:

"The separate bookkeeping and accountability devised for Blackwater, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, and similar outfits was part of a careful displacement of oversight from Congress to the vice-president and the stewards of his policies in various departments and agencies. To have much of the work parceled out to private companies who are unaccountable to army rules or military justice, meant, among its other advantages, that the cost of the war could be concealed beyond all detection."

Euphemisms are words intended to deceive. The United States is already close to drowning in them, particularly new words and terms devised, or brought to bear, to justify the American invasion of Iraq – coinages Bromwich highlights like "regime change," "enhanced interrogation techniques," "the global war on terrorism," "the birth pangs of a new Middle East," a "slight uptick in violence," "bringing torture within the law," "simulated drowning," and, of course, "collateral damage," meaning the slaughter of unarmed civilians by American troops and aircraft followed – rarely – by perfunctory apologies. It is important that the intrusion of unelected corporate officials with hidden profit motives into what are ostensibly public political activities not be confused with private businesses buying Scotch tape, paper clips, or hubcaps.

The wholesale transfer of military and intelligence functions to private, often anonymous, operatives took off under Ronald Reagan's presidency, and accelerated greatly after 9/11 under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Often not well understood, however, is this: The biggest private expansion into intelligence and other areas of government occurred under the presidency of Bill Clinton. He seems not to have had the same anti-governmental and neoconservative motives as the privatizers of both the Reagan and Bush II eras. His policies typically involved an indifference to – perhaps even an ignorance of – what was actually being done to democratic, accountable government in the name of cost-cutting and allegedly greater efficiency. It is one of the strengths of Shorrock's study that he goes into detail on Clinton's contributions to the wholesale privatization of our government, and of the intelligence agencies in particular.

Reagan launched his campaign to shrink the size of government and offer a large share of public expenditures to the private sector with the creation in 1982 of the "Private Sector Survey on Cost Control." In charge of the survey, which became known as the "Grace Commission," he named the conservative businessman, J. Peter Grace, Jr., chairman of the W.R. Grace Corporation, one of the world's largest chemical companies – notorious for its production of asbestos and its involvement in numerous anti-pollution suits. The Grace Company also had a long history of investment in Latin America, and Peter Grace was deeply committed to undercutting what he saw as leftist unions, particularly because they often favored state-led economic development.

The Grace Commission's actual achievements were modest. Its biggest was undoubtedly the 1987 privatization of Conrail, the freight railroad for the northeastern states. Nothing much else happened on this front during the first Bush's administration, but Bill Clinton returned to privatization with a vengeance.

According to Shorrock:

"Bill Clinton? picked up the cudgel where the conservative Ronald Reagan left off and? took it deep into services once considered inherently governmental, including high-risk military operations and intelligence functions once reserved only for government agencies. By the end of [Clinton's first] term, more than 100,000 Pentagon jobs had been transferred to companies in the private sector – among them thousands of jobs in intelligence? By the end of [his second] term in 2001, the administration had cut 360,000 jobs from the federal payroll and the government was spending 44 percent more on contractors than it had in 1993." (pp. 73, 86)

These activities were greatly abetted by the fact that the Republicans had gained control of the House of Representatives in 1994 for the first time in 43 years. One liberal journalist described "outsourcing as a virtual joint venture between [House Majority Leader Newt] Gingrich and Clinton." The right-wing Heritage Foundation aptly labeled Clinton's 1996 budget as the "boldest privatization agenda put forth by any president to date." (p. 87)

After 2001, Bush and Cheney added an ideological rationale to the process Clinton had already launched so efficiently. They were enthusiastic supporters of "a neoconservative drive to siphon U.S. spending on defense, national security, and social programs to large corporations friendly to the Bush administration." (pp. 72-3)

The Privatization – and Loss – of Institutional Memory

The end result is what we see today: a government hollowed out in terms of military and intelligence functions. The KBR Corporation, for example, supplies food, laundry, and other personal services to our troops in Iraq based on extremely lucrative no-bid contracts, while Blackwater Worldwide supplies security and analytical services to the CIA and the State Department in Baghdad. (Among other things, its armed mercenaries opened fire on, and killed, 17 unarmed civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, on September 16, 2007, without any provocation, according to U.S. military reports.) The costs – both financial and personal – of privatization in the armed services and the intelligence community far exceed any alleged savings, and some of the consequences for democratic governance may prove irreparable.

These consequences include: the sacrifice of professionalism within our intelligence services; the readiness of private contractors to engage in illegal activities without compunction and with impunity; the inability of Congress or citizens to carry out effective oversight of privately-managed intelligence activities because of the wall of secrecy that surrounds them; and, perhaps most serious of all, the loss of the most valuable asset any intelligence organization possesses – its institutional memory.

Most of these consequences are obvious, even if almost never commented on by our politicians or paid much attention in the mainstream media. After all, the standards of a career CIA officer are very different from those of a corporate executive who must keep his eye on the contract he is fulfilling and future contracts that will determine the viability of his firm. The essence of professionalism for a career intelligence analyst is his integrity in laying out what the U.S. government should know about a foreign policy issue, regardless of the political interests of, or the costs to, the major players.

The loss of such professionalism within the CIA was starkly revealed in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. It still seems astonishing that no senior official, beginning with Secretary of State Colin Powell, saw fit to resign when the true dimensions of our intelligence failure became clear, least of all Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet.

A willingness to engage in activities ranging from the dubious to the outright felonious seems even more prevalent among our intelligence contractors than among the agencies themselves, and much harder for an outsider to detect. For example, following 9/11, Rear Admiral John Poindexter, then working for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the Department of Defense, got the bright idea that DARPA should start compiling dossiers on as many American citizens as possible in order to see whether "data-mining" procedures might reveal patterns of behavior associated with terrorist activities.

On November 14, 2002, the New York Times published a column by William Safire entitled "You Are a Suspect" in which he revealed that DARPA had been given a $200 million budget to compile dossiers on 300 million Americans. He wrote, "Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every web site you visit and every e-mail you send or receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book, and every event you attend – all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as a ?virtual centralized grand database.'" This struck many members of Congress as too close to the practices of the Gestapo and the Stasi under German totalitarianism, and so, the following year, they voted to defund the project.

However, Congress's action did not end the "total information awareness" program. The National Security Agency secretly decided to continue it through its private contractors. The NSA easily persuaded SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton to carry on with what Congress had declared to be a violation of the privacy rights of the American public – for a price. As far as we know, Admiral Poindexter's "Total Information Awareness Program" is still going strong today.

The most serious immediate consequence of the privatization of official governmental activities is the loss of institutional memory by our government's most sensitive organizations and agencies. Shorrock concludes, "So many former intelligence officers joined the private sector [during the 1990s] that, by the turn of the century, the institutional memory of the United States intelligence community now resides in the private sector. That's pretty much where things stood on September 11, 2001." (p. 112)

This means that the CIA, the DIA, the NSA, and the other 13 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community cannot easily be reformed because their staffs have largely forgotten what they are supposed to do, or how to go about it. They have not been drilled and disciplined in the techniques, unexpected outcomes, and know-how of previous projects, successful and failed.

As numerous studies have, by now, made clear, the abject failure of the American occupation of Iraq came about in significant measure because the Department of Defense sent a remarkably privatized military filled with incompetent amateurs to Baghdad to administer the running of a defeated country. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates (a former director of the CIA) has repeatedly warned that the United States is turning over far too many functions to the military because of its hollowing out of the Department of State and the Agency for International Development since the end of the Cold War. Gates believes that we are witnessing a "creeping militarization" of foreign policy – and, though this generally goes unsaid, both the military and the intelligence services have turned over far too many of their tasks to private companies and mercenaries.

When even Robert Gates begins to sound like President Eisenhower, it is time for ordinary citizens to pay attention. In my 2006 book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, with an eye to bringing the imperial presidency under some modest control, I advocated that we Americans abolish the CIA altogether, along with other dangerous and redundant agencies in our alphabet soup of sixteen secret intelligence agencies, and replace them with the State Department's professional staff devoted to collecting and analyzing foreign intelligence. I still hold that position.

Nonetheless, the current situation represents the worst of all possible worlds. Successive administrations and Congresses have made no effort to alter the CIA's role as the president's private army, even as we have increased its incompetence by turning over many of its functions to the private sector. We have thereby heightened the risks of war by accident, or by presidential whim, as well as of surprise attack because our government is no longer capable of accurately assessing what is going on in the world and because its intelligence agencies are so open to pressure, penetration, and manipulation of every kind.

[Note to Readers: This essay focuses on the new book by Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Other books noted: Eugene Jarecki's The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril, New York: Free Press, 2008; Thomas Frank, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008; Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.]

Chalmers Johnson is the author of three linked books on the crises of American imperialism and militarism. They are Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006). All are available in paperback from Metropolitan Books.

Copyright 2008 Chalmers Johnson

http://www.antiwar.com/engelhardt/?articleid=13214

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Corporate Genocide Watch: Report #1

After chronicling the manner in which Bayer Corp. murdered in cold blood thousands of people by poisoning the population with a drug that it knew had deadly consequences, I think it best to cover the other areas of genocide committed by our major citizens--yes, citizens, because corporations are considered as such under contractual law in this country.

Meet Genwal Resources, the operators of the Utah mine last year that murdered six miners. It was murder because the mine operators flagrantly violated safety regulations, causing the collapse of the said mine, which led directly the deaths of the miners and the ones who tried to rescue them. Yet one more item you will never see covered in any of Ron Paul's speeches about the beauties of free enterprise.

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Feds blame mine operator for fatal collapse

(CNN) -- The U.S. government Thursday announced its highest penalty for coal mine safety violations, $1.85 million, for a collapse that killed six miners in Utah last year.

Insufficient pillar support and activity in areas that should not have been mined caused the August Crandall Canyon mine collapse, federal investigators found.

The government fined the mine operator, Genwal Resources, $1.34 million "for violations that directly contributed to the deaths of six miners last year," plus nearly $300,000 for other violations.

The government also levied a $220,000 fine against a mining consultant, Agapito Associates, "for faulty analysis of the mine's design."

The mine's owner had insisted that earth movement detected at the time of the collapse had caused the disaster. But investigators found instead that the collapse caused the earth movement.

"It was not -- and I repeat, it was not -- a natural occurring earthquake," said the government's top mine safety official, Richard E. Stickler.

Stickler, the acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said, "pillars failed under excessive load and ejected coal very violently."

Stickler also said the mine's operator "was taking more coal than allowed from the barrier pillars and the floor."

"This dangerously weakened the strength of the roof support," Stickler said.

In addition to the six miners killed in the initial cave-in August 6 in northwest Emery County, three would-be rescuers died 10 days later in a subsequent collapse. The bodies of the six miners killed in the initial collapse were never recovered.

Richard Gates, the lead investigator for the government, said the pillars in the mine "simply were not large enough to support the load."

That resulted in a "catastrophic failure of pillars over a broad area," as large as half a mile, he said.

University of Utah scientists said in June that the collapse was not the result of an earthquake.

"As seismologists, we're as certain as we can be that the seismic event registered as a magnitude-3.9 shock was due to the collapse of the mine and not a naturally occurring earthquake," said Walter Arabasz, director of the university's Utah Seismograph Stations, in a written statement.

Earlier this year, a Labor Department report criticized Mine Safety and Health Administration officials for approving plans for a risky mining technique, known as retreat mining, that was in use before the collapse. In the process, miners remove pillars of coal that support the roof of a chamber one by one, allowing the roof to collapse behind them.

Mine owner Bob Murray repeatedly denied in the days after the disaster that his company practiced retreat mining at Crandall Canyon. He later admitted that the practice had been used at the mine but said it was not being done at the time of the disaster.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/07/24/mine.collapse/index.html?eref=rss_topstories
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Six murdered miners in a company-induced mine collapse, three more from the rescue attempt, and the punishment for the killers? $1.86 million in fines, from a subsidiary whose parent company totals $468 million in annual sales. Such is the difference between Robert E. Murray (CEO of Murray Energy, the owners of Genwal) and Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer was not smart enough to kill his victims while in the act of commerce.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Cost of War: Institutionalized Misogynism

Here is something you will not see in a Veterans For Freedom ad. 15% of American female soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from "sexual trauma." This trauma includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.

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Sexually assaulted female troops struggle to recover

YORK, Pennsylvania (AP) -- It took Diane Pickel Plappert six months to tell a counselor that she had been raped while on duty in Iraq. While time passed, the former Navy nurse disconnected from her children, and her life slowly unraveled.

Carolyn Schapper says she was harassed by a fellow Army National Guard soldier in Iraq to the extent that she began changing clothes in the shower for fear he'd barge into her room unannounced, as he had on several occasions.

Even as women distinguish themselves in battle alongside men, they're fighting off sexual assault and harassment. It's not a new consequence of war.

But the sheer number of women serving today -- more than 190,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan -- is forcing the military and Department of Veterans Affairs to more aggressively address it.

The data -- incomplete and not up-to-date -- offer no proof that women in the war zones are more vulnerable to sexual assault than other female service members or American women in general. But in an era when the military relies on women for invaluable and difficult front-line duties, the threat to their morale, performance and long-term well-being is starkly clear.

Of the female veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have walked into a VA facility, 15 percent have screened positive for military sexual trauma, The Associated Press has learned. That means they indicated that while on active duty, they were sexually assaulted, raped or sexually harassed, receiving repeated unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature.

In January, the VA opened its 16th inpatient ward specializing in treating victims of military sexual trauma, this one in New Jersey. In response to complaints that it is too male-focused in its care, the VA is making changes such as adding keyless entry locks on hospital room doors so female patients feel safer.

Rape victim felt numb when returning home

Depression, anxiety, problem drinking, sexually transmitted diseases and domestic abuse are all problems that have been linked to sexual abuse, according to the Miles Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides support to victims of violence associated with the military. Since 2002, the foundation says, it has received more than 1,000 reports of assault and rape in the U.S. Central Command areas of operation, which include Iraq and Afghanistan.

In most reports to the foundation, fellow U.S. service members have been named as the perpetrator, but contractors and local nationals also have been accused.

Plappert, 47, said she was raped by Iraqi men in 2003 at a store in Hillah, when she got separated from her group.

By the time the Navy Reserves commander returned home, she felt "numb."

"I didn't feel anything," she said at her townhome in south-central Pennsylvania. When her kids, now 10 and 12, hugged her, "I felt like I was being suffocated."

Plappert's marriage fell apart. She credits treatment at the VA -- as well as her artwork depicting trauma and recovery -- with helping her reconnect with her children. She left the military and is studying at Drexel University to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner while continuing to work as a civilian nurse.

She said it's hard for people outside a war environment to understand how living in high-stress, primitive conditions can affect your ability to make decisions. She didn't report the attack immediately, she said, because she felt an obligation to continue the mission and not burden others. She also wondered how the report would be perceived.

"What I've got to try to think is that there's got to be some reason why this has happened," said Plappert, who first recounted the assault to a VA counselor and eventually told her story to Defense Department and VA task forces. "I try to find something positive in the event."

Moving the victim feels like punishment to them

Schapper, 35, of Washington, served with the Virginia Army National Guard on an outpost with few other women. She worked well as part of a military intelligence team with the men around her. It was in the down time that things got uncomfortable.

She shared a house with about 20 men, some of whom posted photos of scantily clothed women on the walls. She said her team leader, who lived in the house, frequently barged into her room and stared at her. The experience was unnerving, Schapper said, and she began changing clothes in the shower. But she never filed a formal complaint.

If she complained, Schapper figured, she'd be the one moved -- not the other soldier.

"In military intelligence, you work with Iraqis on a daily basis you get to know, and to move me would disrupt the team I was working with as well as disrupt the work I'd already done," Schapper said. "I didn't want to be moved, and basically I'd be punished, in a sense."

Schapper said other female troops she has spoken with described similar experiences. A picture of one was posted with "Slut of Bayji" written underneath. Another endured having a more senior enlisted soldier ask her favorite sexual position over a public radio, said Schapper, who has met with members of Congress on behalf of the nonpartisan advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Since returning to the U.S. in 2006, Schapper has gotten help for post-traumatic stress disorder at the VA in Washington. Group therapy with other Iraq veterans has been helpful, she said, but she wishes there were a women-only group.

Connie Best, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Medical University of South Carolina who retired from the Navy Reserves, said that people typically think of sexual harassment as someone making a comment about someone's appearance but that it goes well beyond that. In a war environment, living and working with someone exhibiting harassing behavior can potentially have long-term effects on troops' health and performance.

"There's automatically this thing that 'sexual harassment is not a big deal, it's not as bad as rape,' and indeed it often is not as distressing as a completed sexual assault, but it still can be something that highly affects a person," Best said. Research also has found that working and living environments where unwanted sexual behaviors take place have been associated with increased odds of rape.

After high-profile attacks in Kuwait and Iraq, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld convened a 2004 task force on the treatment and care of sexual assault victims. One change that followed was the creation of a confidential component in the military's reporting system, so a victim can come forward to get help without necessarily triggering an investigation.

In the fiscal year that ended October 1, 131 rapes and assaults were reported in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department's sexual assault prevention and response office. Comparing that to previous years isn't possible because of changes in the way data was collected, she said.

The actual number is probably higher than what's reported. Among members of the military surveyed in 2006 who indicated they had experienced unwanted sexual contact, about 20 percent said they had reported it to an authority or organization.

Female veteran warns daughter

This summer, the Pentagon is bringing experts together to come up with a more aggressive prevention strategy. It also is working with the nonprofit group Men Can Stop Rape to help teach troops how to identify warning signs of problems around them.

When victims do complain, too often the perpetrator is not moved out or punished, said Colleen Mussolino, national commander of the Women Veterans of America.

"You have to be able to trust fellow soldiers, and if you can't do that, you're basically on your own. So it's really rough, really rough for them," said Mussolino, of Bushkill, Pennsylvania.

A vast majority of women at war feel safe with their comrades in arms, "but for the ones who feel unsafe, it's hell," said Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain who directs the Women in Military Project at the Washington-based Women's Research and Education Institution.

At a recent women veteran's conference in Washington, Leanne Weldin, of Pittsburgh, who deployed in Iraq with the Arizona National Guard in 2003 as a 1st lieutenant, described arriving in the Kuwait staging area and seeing signs warning of rapes. She said she endured some minor sexual harassment while deployed and was groped by an Iraqi teen while sitting in a Humvee.

When her own daughter wanted to join the Army, Weldin said later, she didn't discourage her. But she offered some sobering advice.

"Watch out for yourself. Don't party with the soldiers in the barracks. You've got to watch out for date rape. Watch out for yourself. It's still a male culture. Don't let yourself get taken advantage of. Don't let yourself get sucked in. Don't let your guard down," Weldin said.

"But at the same time, go in there and show them what you're made of."

The VA now provides free care to any veteran from any era who has experienced military sexual trauma. That's a change from the 1991 Persian Gulf War and earlier wars. Since 2002, about 20 percent of female veterans from all eras and 1 percent of male veterans have screened positive for military sexual trauma.

"We believe that identifying people early and providing care early is going to be important and really make a difference in people's lifetime trajectory, but that story remains to be followed and told," said Antonette Zeiss, a psychologist who is the deputy chief consultant in the VA's Office of Mental Health Services.

It's unknown whether incidents of rape and assault are higher in the military population than the civilian population. One study, however, of 1991 Persian Gulf War veterans found that incidents of assault, rape and harassment were higher at war than in peacetime military samples, according to the VA's PTSD center.

It's only in recent years that the military and VA have kept comprehensive statistics, and even the two agencies define military sexual trauma differently.

What is known is that the effects of a military sexual trauma can be long lasting, particularly for those who don't seek early help.

The VA still sees veterans who experienced sexual attacks in Vietnam -- and even World War II.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/07/22/military.women.sexual.assault.ap/index.html
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One does not need to read Cynthia Enloe to comprehend the continued problem of sex crimes being habitually committed against female service members. Remember Tailhook or the story a few years ago indicating a fifth of female soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force were sexually harassed? Like torture, prostitution, and other crimes, a culture of violence, encouraged by having half of the world's military spending (and the continued use of that military by policy makers who, with few exceptions, have ever experienced real combat), has correlative consequences. The violation of women being high on the list of those consequences.

None of this should be surprising. The word rape was originally a military term, denoting the violent plunder of lands and peoples by an invading army. It became intertwined over the centuries with sexual violence because of the propensity of armies to use sexual violence as a weapon of war. Consider the recent stories of female soldiers being assaulted and murdered.

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Is There an Army Cover Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?

by Ann Wright

The Department of Defense statistics are alarming — one in three women who join the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped by men in the military. The warnings to women should begin above the doors of the military recruiting stations, as that is where assaults on women in the military begins — before they are even recruited.

But, now, even more alarming, are deaths of women soldiers in Iraq, and in the United States, following rape. The military has characterized each of the deaths of women who were first sexually assaulted as deaths from “non-combat related injuries,” and then added “suicide.” Yet, the families of the women whom the military has declared to have committed suicide, strongly dispute the findings and are calling for further investigations into the deaths of their daughters. Specific US Army units and certain US military bases in Iraq have an inordinate number of women soldiers who have died of “non-combat related injuries,” with several identified as “suicides.”

94 US military women in the military have died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). 12 US Civilian women have been killed in OIF. 13 US military women have been killed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). 12 US Civilian women have been killed in Afghanistan.

Of the 94 US military women who died in Iraq or in OIF, the military says 36 died from non-combat related injuries, which included vehicle accidents, illness, death by “natural causes,” and self-inflicted gunshot wounds, or suicide. The military has declared the deaths of the Navy women in Bahrain that were killed by a third sailor, as homicides. 5 deaths have been labeled as suicides, but 15 more deaths occurred under extremely suspicious circumstances.

8 women soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas (six from the Fourth Infantry Division and two from the 1st Armored Cavalry Division) have died of “non-combat related injuries” on the same base, Camp Taji, and three were raped before their deaths. Two were raped immediately before their deaths and another raped prior to arriving in Iraq. Two military women have died of suspicious “non-combat related injuries” on Balad base, and one was raped before she died. Four deaths have been classified as “suicides.”

19-year-old US Army Private Lavena Johnson, was found dead on the military base in Balad, Iraq in July, 2005 and her death characterized by the US Army to be suicide as a self-inflicted M-16 shot. On April 9, 2008, Dr. John Johnson and his wife Linda, parents of Private Johnson, flew from their home in St. Louis for meetings with US Congress members and their staffs. They were in Washington to ask that Congressional hearings be conducted on the Army’s investigation into the death of their daughter, an investigation that classified her death as a suicide despite extensive evidence suggesting she was murdered.

From the day their daughter’s body was returned to them, the parents had grave suspicions about the Army’s investigation into Lavena’s death and the characterization of her death as suicide. In charge of a communications facility, Lavena was able to call home daily. In those calls she gave no indication of emotional problems or being upset. In a letter to her parents, Lavena’s commanding officer Captain David Woods wrote : “Lavena was clearly happy and seemed in very good health both physically and emotionally.”

In viewing his daughter’s body at the funeral home, Dr. Johnson was concerned about the bruising on her face. He was puzzled by the discrepancy in the autopsy report on the location of the gunshot wound. As a US Army veteran and a 25-year US Army civilian employee who had counseled veterans, he was mystified how the exit wound of an M-16 shot could be so small. The hole in Lavena’s head appeared to be more the size of a pistol shot rather than an M-16 round. He questioned why the exit hole was on the left side of her head, when she was right handed. But the gluing of military uniform white gloves onto Lavena’s hands hiding burns on one of her hands is what deepened Dr. Johnson’s concerns that the Army’s investigation into the death of his daughter was flawed.

Over the next two and one-half years, Dr. and Mrs. Johnson, and their family and friends relentlessly through the Freedom of Information Act and Congressional offices requested the Department of the Army for documents concerning Lavena’s death. With each response of the Army to the request for information another piece of information/evidence about Lavena’s death emerged.

The military criminal investigator’s initial drawing of the death scene revealed that Lavena’s M16 was found perfectly parallel to her body. The investigator’s sketch showed that her body was found inside a burning tent, under a wooden bench with an aerosol can nearby. A witness stated that he heard a gunshot and when he came to investigate found a tent on fire and when he looked into the tent saw a body. The Army official investigation did not mention a fire nor that her body had been burned.

After two years of requesting documents, one set of papers provided by the Army included a xerox copy of a CD. Wondering why the xerox copy was in the documents, Dr. Johnson requested the CD itself. With help from his local Congressional representative, the US Army finally complied. When Dr. Johnson viewed the CD, he was shocked to see photographs taken by Army investigators of his daughter’s body as it lay where her body had been found, as well as other photographs of her disrobed body taken during the investigation.

The photographs revealed that Lavena, a small woman, barely 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, perhaps a weapon stock. Her nose was broken and her teeth knocked backwards. One elbow was distended. The back of her clothes had debris on them indicating she had been dragged from one location to another. The photographs of her disrobed body showed bruises, scratch marks and teeth imprints on the upper part of her body. The right side of her back as well as her right hand had been burned apparently from a flammable liquid poured on her and then lighted. The photographs of her genital area revealed massive bruising and lacerations. A corrosive liquid had been poured into her genital area, probably to destroy DNA evidence of sexual assault.

Despite the bruises, scratches, teeth imprints and burns on her body, Lavena was found completely dressed in the burning tent. There was a blood trail from outside a contractor’s tent to inside the tent. She apparently had been dressed after the attack and her attacker placed her body into the tent and set it on fire.

Investigator records reveal that members of her unit said Lavena told them she was going jogging with friends on the other side of the base. One unit member walked with her to the Post Exchange where she bought a soda and then, in her Army workout clothes, went on by herself to meet friends and get exercise. The unit member said she was in good spirits with no indication of personal emotional problems.

The Army investigators initially assumed Private Johnson’s death was a homicide and indicated that on their paperwork. However, shortly into the investigation, a decision apparently was made by higher officials that the investigators must stop the investigation into a homicide and to classify her death a suicide.

As a result, no further investigation took place into a possible homicide despite strong evidence available to the investigators.

Another family that does not believe their daughter committed suicide in Iraq is the family of Army Private First Class Tina Priest, 20, of Smithville, Texas, who was raped by a fellow soldier in February, 2006 on a military base known as Camp Taji. Priest was a part of the 5th Support Battalion, lst Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. The Army said Tina was found dead in her room on March 1, 2006, of a self-inflicted M-16 shot, a “suicide”, 11 days after the rape. Private Priest’s mother, Joy Priest, disputes the Army’s findings. Mrs. Priest said she talked several times with her daughter after the rape, and while very upset about the rape, she was not suicidal. Priest continues to challenge the Army’s 800 pages of investigative documents with a simple question. How could her petite daughter, 5-foot-tall daughter with a short arm length, have held the M-16 at the angle which would have resulted in the gunshot? The Army attempted several attempts explanations, but each was debunked by Mrs. Priest and by the 800 pages of materials provided by the Army itself. The Army now says Tina used her toe to pull the trigger of the weapon that killed her. The Army never investigated Tina’s death as a homicide, but only as a suicide.

Rape charges against the soldier whose sperm was found on her sleeping bag were dropped a few weeks after her death. He was convicted of failure to obey an order and sentenced to forfeiture of $714 for 2 months, 30 days restriction to the base and 45 days of extra duty.

On the same Camp Taji, 10 days later after Tina Priest was found dead, on May 11, 2006, woman US Army Private First Class (name known to author, but not identified for the article), 19, was found dead. She died three days after she suffered what the Army called “a self-inflicted gunshot”. The Army claimed that she too had committed suicide. In her room where her body was found, investigators discovered her diary open to a page on which she had written about being raped during training after unknowingly drinking a date rape drug. The person identified in the diary as the rapist was charged by the Army with rape after her death. Many who knew her did not believe she shot herself, but there is no evidence of a homicide investigation by the Army.

The September 4, 2006 death at Camp Taji of Private First Class Hannah Gunterman McKinney, 20, of the 44th Corps Support Battalion, Ft. Lewis, WA was investigated and rather than having been run over by a military vehicle as she crossed a road from a guard tower to the latrine as initially claimed by the Army, she fell or was pushed from and run over by a vehicle driven by a drunk Sergeant from her unit who had first sexually assaulted her. The Sergeant pleaded guilty to drinking in a war zone, drunken driving and consensual sodomy with an underage, incapacitated junior soldier to whom he had supplied alcohol. A military judge ruled that McKinney’s death was an accident and the Sergeant was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment, demotion to private, but he would not be discharged from the Army.

Other suspicious “non-combat related injury” deaths on Camp Taji include Fort Hood’s 1st Armored Cavalry Division PFC Melissa J. Hobart who died June 6, 2004, 1st Armored Cavalry Sergeant Jeannette Dunn who died November 26, 2006), 89th Military Police Brigade Specialist Kamisha J. Block (who died August, 2007), 4th Infantry Division Specialist Marisol Heredia who died September 7, 2007) and 4th Infantry Division Specialist Keisha M. Morgan who died February, 22, 2008. None of the deaths have been classified as suicides, but the circumstances of their deaths should be investigated further because of serious questions concerning their deaths.

The US Army has classified the deaths of four other women as suicides. In the space of three months in 2006, three members of the U.S. Army who had been part of a logistics group in Kuwait committed suicide. Two of them were women. In August 2006, Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez, was arrested at a restaurant in Kuwait and was accused of shaking down a laundry contractor for a $3,400 bribe. He was allowed to return to his quarters and found dead on September 4, 2006 with an empty bottle of prescription sleeping pills an open container of what appeared to be antifreeze.

Major Gloria D. Davis, 47, assigned to the Defense Security Assistance Agency which handles the sales of military equipment to other countries, reportedly committed suicide in Baghdad on December 12, 2006, the day after she allegedly admitted to an Army investigator that she had accepted at least $225,000 in bribes from Lee Dynamics, a US Army contractor, that reportedly bribed officers for work in Iraq. Major Davis had a daughter, son and granddaughter. She had worked as a police officer, was a volunteer at women’s shelters and helped get disadvantaged African-American students into ROTC programs.

New York Army National Guard Sergeant Denise A. Lannaman, 46, assigned to a desk job at a procurement office in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait that purchased millions of dollars in supplies. She received excellent performance ratings, her supervisor citing that her oversight eliminated misuse of funds by 36 percent. On October 1, 2006, Lannaman was questioned by a senior officer about the death of Lt. Col. Gutierrez and reportedly told by that officer that she would be leaving the military in disgrace. She was found in a jeep dead of a gunshot wound later in the day. While her family said that she had attempted suicide four different times in her life, the Army has not ruled on the cause of death of Lannaman.

US Army interrogator Specialist Alyssa Renee Peterson, 27, assigned to C Company, 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Ft. Campbell, KY, was an Arabic linguist who reportedly was very concerned about the manner in which interrogations were being conducted. She died on September 15, 2003 near Tal Afar, Iraq in what the Army described as a gunshot wound to the head, a non-combat, self-inflicted weapons discharge, or suicide. Peterson reportedly objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners and refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Members of her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Peterson objected to. The military says that all records of those techniques have now been destroyed. After refusing to conduct more interrogations, Peterson was assigned to guard the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards. She was also sent to suicide prevention training. On the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle. Family members challenge the Army’s conclusion.

US Army Sergeant Melissa Valles, 26, assigned to Headquarters Detachment, Company B, 64th Forward Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Fort Carson, CO, died on July 9, 2003, in Balad from a two non-combat gunshot wounds to her abdomen. The Army has not ruled whether her death was a suicide or a homicide. But Valles’ family stated that although small in stature at 5 foot 3, she was a tough person. “She really put people in their place. She did that since she was a girl. She would put little boys who were bullies in their place.” The family does not believe Valles committed suicide.

One suspicious non-combat death of a military woman occurred in Afghanistan.

On September 28, 2007, Massachusetts Army National Guard Specialist Ciara Durkin, 30, a finance specialist, was found lying near a church on the very secure Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, with a single gunshot wound to her head. She had recently told her relatives to press for answers if anything happened to her while she was deployed in Afghanistan. When she was home three weeks prior to her death, she told her sister about something she had come across that raised some concern with her and that she had made some enemies because of it. Members of her family also questioned whether the fact that she was gay played a role in her death. They believe Ciara was killed by a fellow service member, intentionally or accidentally, and they are confident that she did not commit suicide.

In Bahrain, On January 16, 2007, US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer A. Valdivia, 27, assigned to the naval security force for Naval Support Activity, Bahrain, was found dead 3 days after she was to report for duty on January 14. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has classified her death as a suicide. Valdivia was kennel master of the largest military kennel in the world. In 2005 she was named Sailor of the Year at the Bahrain Naval Base.

Although the data on the number of suicides in the military is vague and purposely underreported by the Veterans Administration, of 69 suicides of men in the military since 2002, 64 committed suicide in the United States, 1 in Kuwait, 2 in Iraq and 2 in Afghanistan. Men are much more likely to commit suicide once they return from a combat zone, than in the combat zone. Of the 8 alleged suicides of women in the military, 3 were in Iraq, 2 in the US, 1 in Kuwait and 1 in Bahrain. The question of why women would be more likely to commit suicide outside the US than once home should be investigated.

The circumstances surrounding each of these deaths warrants further investigation by the US military. Congress can compel the military to reopen cases and provide further investigation.

I strongly urge the Congress to demand further investigation of the deaths of these women.

US Army Reserve Colonel, Retired, Ann Wright is a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a US diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the US Department of State in March 19, 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” (www.voicesofconscience.com)

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/04/28/8564/
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Getting in Line: Dobson to Endorse McCain

There is not much to like about James Dobson. Whether it is advocating child abuse through so-called tough love, to denouncing gays and lesbians as biological and moral rejects, or using the last hours of serial killer Ted Bundy's life as a form of self-advertisement, Mr. Dobson is by all accounts your typical tax exempt, state-sanctioned hater. However, there was one issue he at least seemed to hold some principle (outside of worshiping fetuses), his opposition to John McCain--with was being the operative word.

Without further ado, the Paul de Lagarde of American politics.

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James Dobson might endorse John McCain

Barack Obama's 'radical positions on life, marriage and national security force me to reevaluate the candidacy of our only other choice,' the conservative Christian leader says.
From the Associated Press
July 21, 2008

Conservative Christian leader James C. Dobson has softened his stance against Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, saying he could reverse his position and endorse the Arizona senator.

"I never thought I would hear myself saying this," Dobson said in a radio broadcast to air today. " . . . While I am not endorsing Sen. John McCain, the possibility is there that I might."

Dobson and other evangelical leaders increasingly are taking a lesser-of-two-evils approach to the 2008 race.

In an advance copy of his Focus on the Family radio program provided to the Associated Press, Dobson said that though neither candidate was consistent with Dobson's views, McCain's positions were much closer to Dobson's.

"There's nothing dishonorable in a person rethinking his or her positions, especially in a constantly changing political context," Dobson said in a statement to the AP.

"Barack Obama contradicts and threatens everything I believe about the institution of the family and what is best for the nation. His radical positions on life, marriage and national security force me to reevaluate the candidacy of our only other choice, John McCain," Dobson said.

Earlier, Dobson had said he could not in good conscience vote for McCain, citing the candidate's support for embryonic stem-cell research and opposition to a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Of his new position, Dobson said in his statement, "If that is a flip-flop, then so be it."

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-dobson21-2008jul21,0,4923398.story?track=rss
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This should help McCain to shore up some of the timid support from Evangelical voters. Then again, this is also the same John McCain who, in a moment of candor, had this to say about the religious right.



In some circles, such changing of one's views would be called flip-flopping.