Member since: Sun Aug 17, 2003, 10:39 PM
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I wrote in 2009 that, in electing Barack Obama, America had advanced an authentic leader to the White House. Although he's an accomplished academic - a former president of the Harvard Law Review; though he's served in the Illinois State Legislature and in the Senate; Mr. Obama's most productive and important qualification was his skill in inspiring and organizing which began with the choice he made after college to go into the communities and work to bring people together to help make a positive difference in their surroundings and in their lives.
Hope was the mantra he chose as his organizing point. Throughout his campaigns and elections Barack Obama has been ridiculed and even scorned for promoting that one motivating principle, as if that represented the totality of his platform and initiatives. Hope can't feed the hungry, care for the sick and injured, end wars . . . but he wanted us to believe in our ability to come to solutions and remedies for these issues and concerns by facing them together without the obstructing veils of cynicism and corrupting self-interest.
With his inaugurations unfolding alongside the celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Obama's message of hope reminded us of the nation's reaction to the 'dream' that Dr. King expressed in his address at the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the March on Washington. Martin Luther King, Jr. will always own that moment where he inspired the nation to move past the personal and institutional bigotry, racism, and discrimination which had marked centuries of oppression for people of color in America. Likewise, it is reasonable to argue that the moment and the challenges we face are no less perilous or consequential to the citizens of our country and abroad than the ones we faced in the '60's.
In as inclusive a manner as our nation is capable of, Barack Obama offered his echo of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream in his national campaign - rallying a nation to join him in pulling the levers of political action and reform; rallying us to believe and to have hope for the future.
There had been so much of a feeling of despair among those of us who worked to change the direction and make-up of our government and the White House over the eight years before he came to office; so much hopelessness. There was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment in electing our first black president which each and every supporter of Mr. Obama's candidacy can revel in - not the least of which has been his candidacy's ability to make Americans believe in their ability to change the direction of our country through our political action and votes.
Barack Obama managed to advance himself to the presidency with legislative goals in front of his appeals to hope. Advancing legislative solutions which adequately confronted the republican minority and pulling the nation out of the economic mess his predecessor put us in has certainly been a remarkable achievement.
I can sometimes appear to be an optimist, but I'm often deeply cynical about politicians and government. It's easy to mistake my confidence and positive persona for optimism, or for some kind of naivete. Hell will freeze over, I believe, before I see all of the changes I want enacted by government realized in my lifetime.
There are, however, transformational moments in our history which usher in progress which can't be reversed or erased. I believe that President Obama's announcement, in a calculated interview, that he now fully supported marriage equality, was one of those earth-moving political decisions which ushered in a new generation of civil rights for those individuals in the LGBT community who have been deliberately denied basic citizenship rights because of who they love; who they choose to have sexual relationships with; and, who they choose to marry.
We don't need to dwell too long on the utter immorality and political timidity of the president's earlier position which he had said was 'evolving' over time. There was no justification to be had for his insistence on sticking to his position against marriage equality and rights for gay Americans. There isn't any mitigation of those views to be had in his welcome and correct support of many other precepts of our LGBT agenda. There wasn't any justification for waiting so long to express this change of heart -- no letting the powder dry; or waiting for the next election; or defending his reelection could justify maintaining such a selfish and hurtful stance.
Yet, there wasn't any more need to dwell on those transgressions when he made a decision to move forward to help change attitudes and the law. There's no more need than there was to dwell on the faults of President Lyndon Johnson -- a man who ushered in a new era of civil rights for black Americans and others; yet, couldn't keep himself from calling blacks 'nigras.' -- after he had his own epiphany and embraced the civil rights fight; enlisting every instigation of democracy he could manage to further the historic progress he ultimately achieved in making the federal government responsible and accountable for the defense of those rights.
What the President did with his statement -- just a couple of paragraphs; a few sentences -- was to make himself the primary target for those who would oppose these rights he advocated. through election years, President Obama was forced, challenged to defend his position on marriage equality as integral to the defense of his entire candidacy.
Fortunately, this President had already demonstrated his capacity and ability to express empathy, compassion, and understanding on many issues in ways which welcomed all Americans to join in and participate. Indeed, President Obama used this issue as a measure of our commitment to each other; employed his defense in ways which ultimately united many of us. It's hard to understate the importance of this sitting president's embrace of these basic, but denied, rights.
It may surprise some that I hold out my most critical judgments of Barack Obama's leadership in response to his efforts and initiative on issues of race in America. It's not uncommon, as many folks so breathlessly want to express, to find blacks succeeding and operating at almost every level of opportunity, industry, or occupation.
Yet, that advancement of black Americans did not occur in some vacuum of 'colorblindness,' nor, will the progress of black Americans in our political system be served by a revisionism which automatically suggests the playing field has been fair or accommodating to the interests of the individuals -- or, even, to the black communities which are assumed to have advanced along with those, like President Obama, who manage to get elected to public office.
In this day and age, the persistent racism directed against President Obama has not allowed many in the black community to feel secure in this one advancement. That racist insecurity recalls the immediate wake of Reconstruction and the election of a handful of black lawyers, ministers, teachers, college presidents to the national legislature where there was a concerted campaign by their white peers and other detractors to challenge their seats and to construct discriminatory barriers to the election of other blacks which persisted for generations and generations. The 'birther' movement is no stranger to those who recall that 'Jim Crow' past.
For most of John McCain's campaign against Barack Obama, the republican and his running-mate took great relish in distorting the record and character of their Democratic opponent. Their campaign also benefited from a deliberate campaign to characterize Barack Obama as someone who's values and intentions were, somehow, un-American and dangerous. Much of that sentiment, deliberately proffered up from the actual republican campaign and candidates, still hangs around President Obama's neck today. Indeed, Mitt Romney's own campaign did what they could to capitalize on that sentiment among their 'tea party' supporters, like one of their major promoters, Donald 'Birther' Trump. There was no apparent limit to Mitt Romney's ambition for the presidency. He saw no need to temper or reject the more extreme factions of his republican party in their character assassination of the president; or repudiate their deliberate lies and distortions about this Democratic president and the government Barack Obama oversees and manages.
The lie that's perpetuated by the republican right-wing is that blacks have already achieved enough recovery from the institutionalized racism and discrimination of our nation's past, so that they should now be made to compete on an 'equal' level with their white counterparts for government assistance and benefit.
Despite the persistence of disproportional percentages of black individuals - despite the remarkable economic recovery - in states of poverty; with insubstantial health care; inadequate housing; criminal profiling and higher rates of incarceration for similar crimes as non-blacks; lack of resources for education; etc., the republican stance would never favor the views of the African-American community that these are issues which need to be addressed with specific attention to their impact on black Americans.
In fact, republicans only seem to recognize that a black 'community' actually exists around election time; and even then, only to posture as if 'responsibility' and 'accountability' were challenges for African-Americans alone, and, that poverty, joblessness, crime, and other deficiencies of their community were the product of all that they would deny them legislatively. For their own good, the contemporary republican dictum goes, the community that they'll admit is suffering proportionally to the rest of the nation (if they can somehow blame our black President), should not receive benefits or government remedies which don't carry some punitive or corrective measure to induce desired behavior.
The attacks on prominent black Americans in this generation - and, by extension, against the black community of supporters - are not to be taken lightly, even though we may assume the nation is past all of that. The attacks need to be openly and loudly defended against by Democrats and Republicans alike. They can't just be brushed aside as some sort of acceptable standard of discourse. For the most part, they've been responded to with dispatch and sincerity. For the other, there's a glaring silence -- and even a rhetorical encouragement by some in the political arena who are leveraging age-old stereotypes to serve cynical campaigns for office and opportunistic punditry.
From where I sit, blacks in America, as a political force still cannot control the agenda to positively affect the issues which have a disproportionate impact on their world, as they see fit. Although there is the obvious need of legislators and leaders who appeal to voters across the racial, social, and political lines which divide us, many whites don't see a great need to make broad appeals to the black community, and, consequently, the needs and concerns of blacks are often ignored. Black Americans have a real need for candidates and elected officials (especially presidents) who aren't afraid to say to them, I'm one of you and I recognize, understand, and will actively and directly respond to your particular concerns.
Unless you're a youth in trouble or looking for leadership, if you are a black (or other) American anguishing over the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, it's unlikely that you were going to be satisfied with Barack Obama's first and foremost statements in August directly addressing the events in MO.. As if it was somehow a matter of assuaging our own anger out here in the nation at police forces which regularly and deliberately treat our black youth like thugs and criminals, President Obama said he wanted us to change the "perception and reality" of our children and family members by trying to "understand" and to "listen" to more of the law enforcement establishment's deprecating and duplicitous defenses, and incredibly, "unite" with them.
"I’ve said this before," President Obama lectured.
"In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear. And through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I’m personally committed to changing both perception and reality. And already, we’re making some significant progress, as people of good will of all races are ready to chip in. But that requires that we build, and not tear down. And that requires we listen, and not just shout. That’s how we’re going to move forward together -- by trying to unite each other and understand each other, and not simply divide ourselves from one another. We’re going to have to hold tight to those values in the days ahead. And that’s how we bring about justice, and that’s how we bring about peace."
His remarks demonstrated, to me, that he's out of touch with the reality that it is these very police officials in Ferguson and elsewhere who have "divided" themselves from the people they are supposed to serve and are doing little more than defending their own positions of authority over us; and abusing that power we've invested in them with our votes and with our hard-earned contributions to our democratic system of governance; how very separate and different many life and death experiences of black Americans are today from their white counterparts.
It's not the demonstrators of Ferguson who've neglected to "hold tight to those values." It's these abusive and self-protective officials and officers who have let go of any modicum of respect for these communities under siege and under fire from canisters of smoke and tear gas hurled from a distance behind the protection of their taxpayer-sponsored armaments. Those are the ones who I expected the President to rebuke. The black community needed much more than a lecture on togetherness; they needed a warrior in the nation's highest office for their cause. I'm still waiting for that.
Elon James, an entertainer who came to Ferguson to lend his presence and support to the people in the community daring to demonstrate against such incredible resistance from police and military forces, did so because, as he tweeted, he "wanted to expose the reality of what was happening in Ferguson . . . That's why I went down there to broadcast and why I kept updating y'all," he wrote.
"Folks don't understand that it wasn't just a protest at times. The police move like an army. Armed. Aggressive. And we were their enemy . . . it makes my head hurt: people mourning a man shot for walking in the street are threatened for walking in the street." he tweeted.
I'd certainly like to see much less confrontational, and much less violent tactics by police, for what is essentially jaywalking or standing in the street. These young folks are simply, understandably, testing the boundaries they are setting for these protests and it would be a wise move to make the state troopers and police less of an obstacle to those. They are being punished, over and over, for their authentic and historically valid expressions of self-determination and justice.
What I think has actually garnered our attention in Ferguson, - beyond the very real and tragic death of a jaywalking youth at the hands of a policeman, and the failure, so far, to move decisively to prosecute the killer - are the sparks of hope which have flashed from the edges of the smoke, gas, and rubber bullets hurled at the very conscience of the town as we watch the people in that community scatter and then regroup, over and over, and return again and again with the same demands for accountability from their elected and appointed officials and officers that are being so deliberately and actively ignored.
I don't think we'd be having this discussion if they weren't in the streets to begin with, and it's become clear that there's still need for even more protest actions to raise awareness and organize attention around their plights and challenges. Heck, even here at a political-centered forum, you can't get much attention to strictly policy-based posts and threads. There often needs to be a spark or obvious catalyst to attention and action.
I'm not sure if many people realize that moderation and complacency is what's brought that community to this point - even before the shooting(s) the strife and outright indifference to this community's concerns is what marked them for the type of conflict that's highlighted today. Many articles have spelled that out in detail, but the bottom line is that Ferguson's return to 'normal' is a return to a whole host of problems which have plagued that community for decades.
It's never a clear line between where activism and action collide. It is clear though, this community needed to shout in the streets to finally be heard. Theirs is a lasting brand of hope and aspiration which will always stand and regroup long after the cynical and opportunistic blasts of smoke and gas have dissipated into the compromised air. We are fortunate to witness such courage and resilience in the face of such unbelievable and unimaginable anguish. We are inspired by it, and challenged to stand firm in our own beliefs, and to regroup our values with every deliberate diversion and deliberate distraction. We're inspired to hold fast to our own principles in the face of derision and ridicule for not adhering to some petty political motivation or motive.
The protests and demonstrations in the streets may well, eventually, dwindle down to a trickle - I think that's perhaps inevitable, understandable. People in that community have more to accomplish in their lives than this very necessary defense of justice and their own humanity.
It's that reality which has me disappointed beyond repair that President Obama - having neglected to visit Ferguson even once; or significantly acknowledge the peaceful protests which endure and have intensified since the early demonstrations - still can't bring himself to vocalize more than the equivocating pablum he offered during his SOTU about youth 'harassed' by nameless assailants; couched beside a curious concern about armed and sometimes armored police returning home.
That's not just a slight to those who are now mourning lost family members killed at the point of a police weapon or assault, it's a far cry from the conversations our black community has been engaged in for months and months about the unequal state of justice in America which affects our community at rates high above those of white Americans in arrests, incarcerations, and police killings
History has shown that it takes leadership at the level of the presidency to initiate and carry through important changes in our society. It has been said by Edmund Burke that, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Or, perhaps, more accurately, ""When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
Among more pointed remarks, Martin Luther King made a similar, important observation about equivocating:
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy," he said.
Color me frustrated with the leader we have in the White House; puzzled by the persistent equivocating on race by our nation's first black president.
Posted by bigtree | Wed Jan 21, 2015, 10:54 AM (9 replies)
I read some reviews of the new Clint Eastwood film, 'American Sniper,' which immediately meshed in my mind with a conversation I had this week with a veteran of the Iraq invasion and occupation under Bush. I had steered my veteran conversationalist into a revealing discussion of the roots of his own visible anger and antipathy he expressed often toward the people of the nation where he was deployed and tasked with defending his own troops, along with American interests, against whoever resisted our military's strident advance. In his view, admittedly grossly simplified in my interpretation, American forces represented all that was right and good; and Iraqis, resisting or not, were despicable enemies who deserved whatever retribution our nation's defenders imposed on them.
Lindy West, in The Guardian, describes the real-life individual in the new film who is portrayed by actor Bradley Cooper:
"Chris Kyle, a US navy Seal from Texas, was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and claimed to have killed more than 255 people during his six-year military career. In his memoir, Kyle reportedly described killing as “fun”, something he “loved”; he was unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a “bad guy”. “I hate the damn savages,” he wrote. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina, though that was never substantiated..."
My young veteran discussant is remarkably in agreement with me about the foolishness and folly of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, yet, even as he expresses agreement that Americans have no business committing soldiers to fight and die in that country, he's just as adamantly convinced in a remarkable and appalling dehumanization of the Iraqi people that they all deserve to die; in his estimation, at the point of a U.S. nuclear attack which would 'wipe them all out.'
Delving deeper into his reasoning this week, he makes clear to me where the seeds of his revulsion for Iraqis lies. It appears that he lost quite a few of his close comrades in arms during the Iraq deployments in nearly 10-year enlistment in the Army; many of those under his command while serving as a Staff Sgt. in the infantry. That's enough said from him, to me. I'm not going to make broad judgments about the righteousness or banality of his personal view. I wasn't there and I can't put myself anywhere near his own experiences to make those judgments for him. I can only express my own revulsion toward any killing; justified, rationalized, or not; certainly opposed with all of my heart and mind to any suggestion that the entire country of Iraqis deserve to die to assuage American fears or any perceived defense of our nation or interests.
Yet, it is precisely those same kinds of vengeful and defensive sentiments expressed by this young veteran which compel many Americans to support continued military attacks against Iraqis and others in the region where our troops are deployed which are faceless, even nameless, to the vast majority of us. I would imagine its that same dichotomy between fearful Americans and our new Iraqi-based nemesis which inspires the similar storyline in this latest war film from Eastwood.
Lindy West writes in the The Guardian:
That same sentiment runs through the reasoning of my young vet who, despite anguishing about the time spent away from his family, even now, with his civilian job, expressed a desire this week to re-enlist; to go back to Iraq to 'kill more Iraqis.' Not surprisingly, he's also looking forward to viewing this new war film - enamored, no doubt, by the notion of an 'American hero' employed in decidedly righteous executions, in his mind, of the 'enemies' our government and military define and promote there.
More ominously, our Democratic president is said to be poised to ask the republican-led Congress for a new authorization to use military force in Iraq which includes actual and open 'boots-on-the-ground' which he's been opportunistically avoiding as a way of forestalling any judgment by legislators under the War Powers Act clock (right now, he's advantaging authorization of his military force in Iraq and Syria under the 9-11 AUMF which is supposed to be for the 'war' he's straining to portray as ending in Afghanistan).
I expressed my own objections to my young vet of viewing portrayals like the ones billed in 'American Sniper;' expressed my concern that these types of films romanticize war to the extent that convince many young Americans to join the cause, convinced within their own naive rationale that they would be able to overcome the odds that their own lives would be sacrificed; not to mention the loss of other innocent lives in the way of their military and government-sanction violence. I probably won't see the film.
I strongly urged this young veteran to reconsider his desire to join the military again; to try and find other ways (other than the alcoholism which he admits plagues him) to suppress and allay the anger he feels daily, even now, years after his deployments which have injured him both physically and mentally. I have genuine sympathy for this former soldier. He frequently laughs about and ridicules my 'bleeding heart;' I tell him that my heart 'bleeds' for him, as well.
Lindy West writes:
The patriots go on, and on and on. They cannot believe what they are reading. They are rushing to the defence of not just Kyle, but their country, what their country means. They call for the rape or death of anyone ungrateful enough to criticise American hero Chris Kyle. Because Chris Kyle is good, and brown people are bad, and America is in danger, and Chris Kyle saved us. The attitude echoes what Miller articulated about Kyle in her Salon piece: “his steadfast imperviousness to any nuance, subtlety or ambiguity, and his lack of imagination and curiosity, seem particularly notable”.
I wholeheartedly agree with that. Even as I grieve and anguish for the victims of U.S. military aggression, I sincerely wish my young veteran discussant, and his fellow compatriots-in-arms, healing and success in their lives. I weep for their future, and for their past, as well.
Posted by bigtree | Sun Jan 11, 2015, 12:26 PM (20 replies)
Pilgrims in the parking lot
Arteries clogged with blood clots
Pushing through the aisles of department stores
Neon crosses and Christmas lights
Credit card debts and brand new bikes
The holidays are here and we're still at war
-Brett Dennen, The Holidays Are Here (and We're Still At War)
I've had this earworm by Brett Dennen in my head every Christmas season, for 7 or 8 years now. It's not something I envisioned becoming a permanent fixture to my holidays, but its looking like it'll be a solid standard for years to come. Yes, as Brett reminds us, America is still at war.
From the time of Poppy Bush's opportunistic defense of Kuwait's territory and ports (at the behest of the Bush/Cheney obligations to their Saudi Arabian friends and allies) against Saddam Hussein's army's advance; through his son, Junior Bush's deployments to 'fight them there' in Afghanistan after the 9-11 attacks; to Junior's 'preemptive invasion and occupation of Iraq; through Barack Obama's 'surge' and escalation of force in Afghanistan; to Pres. Obama's re-escalation of military force and attacks in Iraq after completely withdrawing there (and attacks inside Syria, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan, and deployments to Yemen), America is still at war.
This week, Americans were told by President Obama that the 'longest war in American history,' as he called it, is ending. Well, not exactly 'ending;' rather, 'our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending;' well, not exactly 'ending...'
President Obama's statement on the End of the Combat Mission in Afghanistan -December 28, 2014
Today's ceremony in Kabul marks a milestone for our country. For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan. Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.
If the president is referring to success in his succinctly defined mission that Afghanistan is 'never again used as a source of attacks against our nation,' he's not only engaging in sophistry, but challenging the intelligence of the American people into accepting that the planning and orchestration for 9-11 attacks (or any other attacks on our nation) was, or reasonably would be, limited to the geographical confines of Afghanistan.
We know that the planning and orchestration for the attacks were executed in Germany, Pakistan, and even in the United States by 'sleeper cells' of terrorists funded by a network of Osama bin-Laden's and Ayman al-Zawahiri's associates and partners. We know that through the coordination of efforts of fellow terrorist conspirators like Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, Walid Muhammad Salih Bin 'Attash (Khallad), and Abu Bara al-Taizi; and of others like captured Zacarias Moussaoui and those who actually participated in the hijacking and crashing of the airplanes, the plot spanned several geographical locations which were only conveniently endemic to Afghanistan.
Are we really to believe that 'more than 13 years' of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan will actually deter someone in the future from plotting some attack on our nation from that or any other location in the world by virtue of our posture or activity there? It's unbelievable, on its face, but all the more incredible when considering that it has been the very U.S. and military presence and activity in Afghanistan and Iraq which has fueled and fostered more individuals bent on violent expressions of retaliation to our advance across sovereign borders than our military forces are able to put down; a mushrooming of support from around the globe for al-Qaeda's 'jihad' against America and our interests and allies.
It's all the more incredible when you consider that even before bin-Laden was located and killed across the border in Pakistan, the U.S. military and intelligence agents admitted that there was little, if any, remnant of al-Qaeda still left in Afghanistan; most having fled to Pakistan and elsewhere early in the initial invasion.
Quite a bit of print has been cast in the past decade about 'Orwellian-speak' in regard to our government officials' justifications for and explanations of military and intelligence goals and operations related to the Bush-era's coinage of our 'war on terror' (and President Obama's fealty to the notion, if not by name, by deed) against agents, operators, architects, associates, forces, remnants, and specters of the original al-Qaeda nemesis which was determined responsible for attacking the nation on Sept. 11, 2001. That 'enduring' commitment which Pres. Obama refers to in his statement makes an absolute Orwellian lie out of any assertion of his that the 'longest war in American history' is ending with his duplicitous statement heralding the withdrawal of a majority of troops deployed to Afghanistan.
The mission of our forces in Afghanistan drifted, as in Iraq, to the desperate defense of an Afghan regime which was installed behind the 'shock and awe' of our invasion following the 9-11 attacks. Like the privileged regime in Iraq which was enabled into influence and authority with votes cast in a dubious election by a minority of citizens under the heavy-hand of their country's invaders, the regime in Kabul relied on their own 'Green Zone' of defense of our military forces as their seat of power to lord over the impoverished country.
It was precisely that opportunistic area of concern surrounding the defense of the Afghan regime that the Pentagon designated to receive the bulk of forces, culled from the Iraq occupation, to 'surge' into Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of additional troops were sent from Iraq to Afghanistan to escalate the occupation of the cities and towns surrounding the Afghan capital and to aid in the desperate defense of the regime against the myriads of separate factions which evolved out of NATO's cynical attempt to dominate the millions of Afghans with their relatively puny, destructive forces.
When the newly-seated Obama administration began to direct their new assaults on whatever they decided was vital to defend in Afghanistan and Iraq, they unleashed every instigation of resistance there was to the presence and activity of the U.S. military on Muslim soil which originated as motivation behind the first bombings the US embassy Africa in 1998 and the USS Cole bombing in Aden in 2000, in addition to the 9-11 attacks. When those terrorist attacks were perpetrated, there was only isolated resistance and violence directed against U.S. interests and allies in the region. In the bloody aftermath of the Bush administration's provocative invasion of Iraq, and Pres. Obama's adoption of that 'terror war,' acts of violence increased and expanded across the globe.
As early as May of 2003, the Brookings Institute found that the invasion of Iraq had "increased the risk of attacks in the United States and Europe by increasing the level of Islamist and anti-American rhetoric, by diverting the attention of political leaders from the central issue of the war on terrorism, and by encouraging the view among the public that the war on terrorism is nearly won."
A Brookings study found that, "The rate of fatal terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups, and the number of people killed in those attacks, increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq. Globally there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks (28.3 attacks per year before and 199.8 after) and a 237 percent rise in the fatality rate (from 501 to 1,689 deaths per year). A large part of this rise occurred in Iraq, the scene of almost half the global total of jihadist terrorist attacks. But even excluding Iraq and Afghanistan—the other current jihadist hot spot—there has been a 35 percent rise in the number of attacks, with a 12 percent rise in fatalities," it concluded.
At the apex of the results and effects of that resistance to the increased and proliferating U.S. military presence and activity in the region over the years since the initial Iraq invasion, Pres. Obama sought to stage some sort of sustaining defense in Afghanistan of our government's own representation of 'democracy' in Kabul against whoever would resist the codifying of America's swaggering advance on their territory.
The increased occupation was designed to facilitate Afghan elections and to provide the same sort of 'with us or against us' choice that our invading and occupying forces in Iraq offered the citizens there. The plot which which emerged in this Potemkin defense of democracy in Kabul is one which is already well-know to Afghans. Opposition communities would be occupied and intimidated by our forces while supportive communities would be protected and enabled in the run-up to the balloting. The outcome of the vote resembled whatever minority composition of the Afghan population felt unencumbered by the regime's heavy-hand to cast their ballot in their favor. The result may well have bolstered whatever legitimacy the West wanted to place on their enabled rule in Kabul, but the effect of the increased military activity had a predictable effect of aligning the myriads of Afghans once led to oppose one another, to band together in resistance against their country's foreign invaders.
Whatever the goals of the new Obama administration had in their deployments in Afghanistan, they had already been corrupted by a mindset which assumed our ability to seize and hold territory impressed more than it repelled. The next strategy was an attempt to thread the needle of resistance to the U.S. advance on Afghan territory with a promise of 'stability' of their installed regime.
The counter to that bunk is that nothing at all had been done to address the original complaint of Muslims and Arabs in the way of our nation's swaggering advance across their sovereign borders; that the very presence of our military on their soil is an intolerable aggravation to their religion, values and their wishes - as well as a threat to a great deal of their own safety and security. The devastating effect of our military intervention in the region, which has cost so many lives caught up in the way of America's government-building folly so far, only deepened itself with every tweak and correction that intended us to 'win' some sort of 'victory' outside of the pursuit of the original 9-11 suspects.
The announcement by then-defense secretary Leon Panetta to reporters while on the way to the 2012 Munich Security Conference that the U.S. is looking to end combat operations in Afghanistan may have come as a surprise to our NATO allies, also en route to the gathering, but no one looking at the failed military and political ambitions of both the Obama and the Bush administrations in the war-torn nation could reasonably have expected anything else.
As far back as November of 2011, senior officials in the administration had signaled the President was exploring a speedier transition of our troops' combat role to training Afghans to provide for their own defense of their dubious government. Tentative plans were said to have been made for President Obama to unveil his revised strategy before the annual NATO summit that May. Even before the signals and leaks from the White House, there were key developments which made it clear that to continue in Afghanistan, either the President would need to undergo another ambitious campaign to rally allies away from their almost certain plans to turn away from their part in the U.S. folly, or the administration and Pentagon would have to devise a way to overcome the mounting problems with logistics, getting supplies to the troops, and the apparent outer limits of the President's belief in what the military forces can accomplish on the offensive against a scattered and determined insurgency.
As if to underscore the folly of their escalated military offensive, U.S. troops all but withdrew from Kandahar, the Pentagon's self-proclaimed center of their terror war in Afghanistan, in a posture of retreat which began that October. The administration had hoped to double down on the occupation, and try to effect a knockout blow to the Taliban resistance. The premise behind President Obama's initial 'surge' of U.S. troops into Bush's Afghanistan quagmire was to 'push back' resisting Afghans enough to allow some sort of political reconciliation. That effort was predictably bogged down by the difficulty in getting the disparate tribes and factions to accept the central authority NATO has set up in Kabul. There's even more difficulty in getting their installed government to accommodate the interests and demands of the resisting rest of the war-split nation.
Even our would-be puppet, Karzai, had bristled and balked at the prospect of more destructive NATO conquest in Afghanistan on his behalf. The once-willing accomplice saw the political writing on the wall and appeared to be looking to settle for the assumption of power wherever the Taliban would allow. His reported outburst at the beginning of the Kandahar campaign, threatening to 'join the Taliban', was a open-warning to the U.S. that he recognized there is no 'political solution' that can be reasonably carved out of the devastating, withering military campaign.
The military and the President quietly hoped we don't notice that they didn't actually transform their Afghanistan misadventure from the leveling of homes in Kandahar, the taking of resistors lives, and the destruction of farmland and livestock into the government-building success that they intended for the 'surge' to highlight. In fact, the UN has reported the civilian death toll in Afghanistan was at its deadliest that year with over 3,000 killed, despite the presence and activity of their would-be NATO protectors. An October 2011 Pentagon report to Congress indicated that Afghan civilians were dying in record numbers. "Civilian casualties -- most caused by the Taliban -- reached an all-time high this summer with approximately 450 civilians killed in July," it said. "Attacks using homemade bombs, or IEDs, also reached an all-time high this past summer, with about 750 IED detonations recorded in July."
Predictably, resisting Afghans had avoided the areas where U.S. troops have masses and have scattered their violence around the capital and elsewhere, killing former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani that September. The planned drawdown was not born out of any political success or victory, but out of a certain realization that there will never be a defining end to the resistant violence there which will transform the country politically. The only course left for a stalemated and faltering U.S. invasion force was to pull back to the capital from their offensive positions in the south of the country and stage a desperate, last-stand defense of their propped-up, yet insolent regime.
The U.S. military offensive against the Taliban was an abject failure in achieving the goals behind the offensive. What happened to the promised ability of the U.S.-led NATO forces to protect the residents of Afghanistan against Taliban blowback from their invasion? The ability to protect innocent civilians from NATO attacks, or insulate them from the negative consequences and effects of the NATO military advance? The ability of NATO to provide and deliver the services and amenities of the central government to the displaced residents? Nonexistent.
President Obama and his republican Pentagon holdovers led our nation to this retreat. They were content to tolerate the continued deaths of our our soldiers as our troops eventually hunkered down there; tolerate the thousands drastically wounded; waiting for some declared 'victory' to materialize out of our their desperate defense of their own lives against the Afghans that the President and the Pentagon claim we're liberating.
They were content to push the 'end of combat operations' beyond the midterm elections; all the while, most of the original threatening figures in our terror war have been killed -- their violent spawns made witness to the worst of al-Qaeda's warnings about U.S. imperialism, and more than satisfied to have the bulk of our nation's military forces bogged down and fighting for their lives in Kabul. "Our bottom line in Afghanistan is ‘in together, out together'." Panetta had told reporters in Feb. 2012.
"As an alliance, we are fully committed to the Lisbon framework and transitioning to Afghan control by 2014 . . . We hope Afghan forces will be ready to take the combat lead in all of Afghanistan sometime in 2013. . . .
We've been in Afghanistan longer than our country fought WWII. No matter to our leaders, though. 'Freedom's' cause for occupation supporters is nothing more than a repression of one group or another within the sovereign nation we invaded into accepting our military forces' false authority over them; and cynical manipulation and control the Afghan government lords over the people of Afghanistan by the intimidation of our military occupation.
Our nation's possessive militarism in Afghanistan and elsewhere has divided our nation from within, and, from without, against our restive allies. The escalated occupation has ignored whatever Afghans might regard as freedom in our insistence that their country be used as a barrier against the terror forces we've aggravated and enhanced in Pakistan. Yet, the soldiers the President insisted on continuing to commit to his retreat to Kabul are mostly fighting and dying because they're not wanted there by the majority of the Afghan people. Our soldiers have been fighting to control the Afghans, and they've been busy fighting to get the U.S. to release that control.
Ready or not, its becoming increasingly clear that President Obama can't leave Afghanistan fast enough to outrun the mission's devastating failure...but, we're not really leaving, are we? Almost 11,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for the first few months of 2015 and then drawdown to about 5,500 troops by the end of next year; 'training' Afghan military forces and conducting 'counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.'
"Our personnel will continue to face risks," President Obama admitted in his statement. Understated, I think, given that he's re-escalated his terror war in Iraq and expanded U.S. attacks to Syria in a military offensive which the administration and military has justified and defined as an extension of their 13 year terror war by stressing dubious and tangential ties between their new nemesis and enemy and al-Qaeda. Notwithstanding approval by the new republican Congress of President Obama's pursuit of a new authorization to use military force, they're still relying on the original 9-11 AUMF to recommit our forces to their perpetual war. Only in the most evasive and contradictory terms can Pres. Obama claim that the "longest war in American history" is coming to a an end.
"The Afghan people must know that our commitment to their future is enduring, because the security of Afghanistan and the United States is shared." Barack Obama said on July 15, 2008.
"I think Afghanistan is still winnable, in the sense of our ability to ensure that it is not a launching pad for attacks against North America. I think it's still possible for us to stamp out al Qaeda to make sure that extremism is not expanding but rather is contracting. I think all those goals are still possible, but I think that as a consequence to the war on Iraq, we took our eye off the ball. We have not been as focused as we need to be on all the various steps that are needed in order to deal with Afghanistan," the president had said.
I don't believe there was ever anything to 'win' in Afghanistan, as the president suggested. There has been, however, much to lose in this repeated flailing of our military forces against the Afghan people; against the remnants and ghosts of al-Qaeda. We have already been shown, repeatedly, that our government-building efforts behind the force of our military in the Middle East has produced more individuals inclined or resigned to violent expressions of resistance than it's succeeded in establishing any of the 'democracy' or 'stability' promised.
There's absolutely no hint of lessons learned from the President's tragic escalation of Bush's Afghanistan deployment in which he sacrificed over 1000 more troops' lives in his ''surge' than Bush lost avenging 9-11. Over 2200 U.S. troops have been sacrificed in Afghanistan - 630 of those deaths occurring in 8 years under George W. Bush. Illustratively, the top three deadliest years of the war -- 2010 (497 deaths), 2011 (362), 2009 (303) -- occurred under President Obama’s tenure. Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. fatalities in the war in Afghanistan have occurred during the Obama administration, in a quarter of the war's duration.
One would hope that the American public would demand accountability from this administration on the goals they establish behind these new deployments. It should be remembered that the Iraq 'surge' began as a trickle, and, in a year, over 800 U.S. troops had lost their lives as a result of that escalation. What we need to hear from the administration is a clear mission for our nation's defenders in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, which is actually directed toward fulfilling the original authorization to use military force which Congress approved for prosecution against "those responsible for the (9-11) attacks launched against the United States."
"That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
If we are really serious about 'democracy' in Afghanistan we should let Afghans sort out those conflicts they have with resistant communities and provinces by themselves. Unfortunately, with any continued U.S. military presence there, that means more armed conflict for our assisting troops, and the reality is, democratic governance from the protected regime won't happen in any truly representative way while the Afghan military is operating behind our heavy-handed presence which carries with it our decidedly retaliatory and destabilizing agenda. We should let Ashraf Ghani (or whoever manages to assume authority in the future) prosecute those defenses without our compromising influence.
What we need in Afghanistan is a true end-point to the occupation. That isn't likely to come with the President's announcement, but it's something which Congress should demand from the administration before they hand over another wad of borrowed cash to continue. If they're not prepared to draft a more defining and relevant authorization for the use of our defensive forces in Afghanistan they should, at least, endeavor to compel the administration to adhere to the limited mandate in the original one.
The President and our legislators need to craft and direct policy in Afghanistan which is 'enduring' but, not merely an extension of this self-perpetuating flailing of our military forces at every expression of resistance to their self-serving presence; or against their self-serving political agendas. Both Bush and Obama made dubious and tenuous representations of the threat to the U.S. in order to declare and secure their unilateral authority to use our military forces (at least initially) any way they see fit, without congressional pre-approval - justified almost entirely in their view by their opportunistic declarations that our security is threatened.
That was the slippery slope that Bush used to war. That's the slope that Pres. Obama used to escalate Bush's Afghanistan occupation far beyond the former republican presidency's limits - with the catastrophic result of scores more casualties than Bush to our forces during this Democratic administration's first term and scores more innocent Afghans dead, maimed, or uprooted.
In pressing forward with a re-escalated U.S. military response to the atrocities committed within Iraq, this Democratic president is losing almost all of the ground we thought we'd covered in repudiating the opportunistic Bush wars. Bush's were waged, certainly, for oil and other greed; but just as certainly to effect U.S. expansionist ideals involving regime changes and 'dominoes.'
In President Obama's recent representations of a future threat to the U.S. from this new enemy in Iraq, we see echoes of Bush's 'preemptive doctrine' which many believed this new president's election was repudiating. The results, worldwide, of contemporary U.S. interventionism, speak for themselves. The Obama administration, almost blithely, is hoping their own military steadfastness in Afghanistan - and their new offensive stand in Iraq says something uniquely democratic and inspiring to the world. I'm afraid that all anyone outside of this country will hear is 'empire.'
The only lesson that our military invasions have imposed on the region is the one which the authors of the deployments purport to oppose; that of the efficacy of military force and violence as an ultimate avenue to power and authority. In Iraq and Afghanistan, those who support the U.S. military-enabled regimes and seek protection behind our dominating forces are considered 'democratic' and legitimate -- while those who choose to be or find themselves outside of that imposed influence are to be opposed as 'insurgent' or 'radical' in their opposition and defense of their chosen territory against NATO's selfish advance.
Bush wrote the script for the U.S. in the region; cast the antagonists in his kabuki play - erected Potemkins of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan to defend in contrived protection schemes where we create the 'enemies' we then claim to protect and defend against.
The Taliban is an imposture in our government's terror war. Our own invading and occupying military forces are the most aggravating element in the perpetual violence in Afghanistan and the region. Deliberately so. The resistant unrest in Afghanistan hasn't abated; it's actually intensified, even as our forces are angling to leave; even the military commanders have recently predicted that violence and deaths will likely continue in the future. I'm at a loss to imagine how that prospect will enhance or relationship with Afghans or others in the region and encourage them to adopt and carry our nation's banner of war against their resisting country-folk. But, that's been the plan . . .
Deception of democracy
Posted by bigtree | Tue Dec 30, 2014, 03:20 PM (15 replies)
Charles Dickens, author of a story so very popular this time of year, 'A Christmas Carol,' had a life which was almost as complex, tragic, and profoundly interesting as the subjects in his novels. A brief examination of his life would make one wonder at the optimism he expressed, but leaves little doubt about the source of his chartable descriptions of the less fortunate in society. His father ended up in debtors prison and at 12 years-old Charles was removed from school and put to work at a boot-blacking factory to support his family. He lost his his infant daughter Dora, his sister Fanny, and her crippled son Henry Jr. and, shortly thereafter, published a remarkable and touching essay in the 1851 Christmas edition of his weekly magazine, Household Words.
Dickens published four other Christmas novels, but 'Christmas Carol' was an instant hit, if not a large money-maker for the author. The form of his novels was elaborate and his pricing was deliberately low. I own a volume of his works which he re-published for income a few years before his death in 1870 which includes his Christmas favorites. The books are still in amazingly good condition and a joy to handle and read.
David Perdue, a member of The Dickens Fellowship in London and board member of the American Friends of the Charles Dickens Museum re-published Dicken's article on his website and offers its reposting for non-commercial, informational purposes. I offer it here in the spirit of the holiday and hope it touches the same chord with folks at DU that it did with me.
What Christmas Is as We Grow Older
TIME was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and every one around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.
Posted by bigtree | Mon Dec 22, 2014, 09:43 AM (13 replies)
Peter Van Buren @WeMeantWell 9m
And a Merry Christmas to all: 1,500 More American Troops Headed to Iraq http://cnsnews.com/news/article/susan-jones/dod-1500-more-american-troops-iraq-isil-resilient …
Approximately 1,000 paratroopers from the Army’s famed 82nd Airborne Division will deploy to Iraq early next year to help the Iraqi security forces take on the Islamic State, the Pentagon announced Friday.
1,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne headed to Iraq
MintPress News @MintPressNews 3m3 minutes ago
Guess How Many More Troops Are Being Sent Into #Iraq http://bit.ly/1w9bcXv via @TheAntiMedia1 #EndlessWar
ron fullwood @ronfullwood (bigtree)
Are There Any Limits On The President’s Ability To Wage War? by @ronfullwood @MintPressNews on #MyMPN http://bit.ly/1qYaYqm
Americans concerned with our U.S. presidents’ ability to unilaterally wage war have to be shaking their heads. President Obama has authorized war in Iraq and Libya, not only to defend Kurdish civilians besieged in the Iraqi mountains but also against forces in Syrian territories. Attempting to curb this new escalation seems utterly futile.
I take the view that the U.S. forfeited our moral authority to wage war in Iraq after our previous conduct there. Bush perpetrated an opportunistic and devastating military misadventure which ran roughshod over our own constitution and over the rights and safety of Iraqis, as well.
To many Iraqis subject to our bombs and airstrikes, we must seem scarcely less pernicious or dangerous than the violence from any insurgent group attacking them. I’ll allow that our nation’s violenc there under President Obama is likely less devastating to the general population than Bush’s violent attacks; we are now less deliberately barbarous than the current combatant insurgents featured in his justifications for his latest military strikes against ISIS. However, in their counterproductive nature — fostering and fueling even more resistant violence in response — I believe that’s a matter of degree, but not effect; its also of little comfort to the residents of these sovereign nations caught in the way of our bombs and missiles.
I’ve been mulling over ways in which someone in America who shares my concern would be able to — collectively, of course, in our legislative system — prevent the President from launching the types of limited airstrikes that he’s outlined in Iraq and elsewhere. I’ve concluded that it’s almost impossible.
The authority the President, as commander-in-chief has in his reach to wage limited war (which, by most definitions would cover airstrikes) is effectively unchecked. Even if Congress specifically prohibited a president from initiating such attacks, a president could defend his actions with authorization gleaned from several different authorities.
Observe that whatever authority President Obama is considering in his re-deployment of troops into Iraq; more importantly, his order for airstrikes to defend American positions and personnel in Baghdad, Irbil, and in defense of the besieged Kurdish civilians, was an amorphous and shifting affair.
The initial deployment of troops could be justified, as he did earlier in the summer, as protection of embassy personnel. It gets trickier when defining the goal of military ‘advisers’ and their support troops, but President Obama has justified that action is authorized under a broad and certainly expansive reading of the 2001/9-11 AUMF against al-Qaida; or under the nebulous and autocratic declaration of our ‘national security interest’ which can be either a short term concern or a long-term one which is speculative and subjective to whatever view there is of a future threat.
Conor Friedersdorf argues in the Atlantic that Barack Obama has “dramatically expanded” the notion of when presidents can use force without permission. He cites three precedents:
First, Obama’s reliance on Article 2 in airstrikes against Libya and Syria to claim it empowers the president to take unilateral action to “protect regional stability” & “enforce international norms.”
Second, Pres. Obama’s claim as he waged war past the two-month period contained in the War Powers Act- beyond which, congressional authorization is required — that ‘limited’ airstrikes don’t count as ‘hostilities’ under the provisions of the under-utilized legislation.
Third, Obama’s assertion that the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaida gives him authority to wage war against tangentially related combatants, like those who comprise the leadership of ISIS who have long ago renounced allegiance to, or affiliation with al-Qaida.
There isn’t any argument that the President has the ability and need to protect and defend American military and civilian personnel he’s inserted into Iraq. There’s certainly room to argue that defense of troops deployed is a self-serving, self-perpetuating rationale, but there’s little doubt that he has that authority.
It gets a bit more complicated when considering the actions of military advisers who he’s ordered to help Iraqi forces direct attacks against whoever they deem a threat to Iraqi or U.S. interests in the country. The authority for that military deployment and activity are being conjured from a number of Bush-era authorizations to war in Iraq, and elsewhere, which haven’t expired or been voted out of existence by Congress. Most notably, Bush’s 2001 AUMF is still in effect. Or, justification of that authority could be drawn from the nebulous ‘national security’ concerns described above. At any rate, President Obama really hasn’t settled on any one tenet of that authority for Americans, or our legislature to measure or approve.
From June 12 Roll Call:
When asked about getting Congress’s permission (to take initial action in Iraq), WH spokesman Carney was noncommittal.
Roll Call again, June 18:
Pres. Obama met for about an hour in the Oval Office with McConnell, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
It’s a bit slippery for the president to give lip service to the idea of repealing an authorization to war that he may well be advantaging authority from in Iraq. He actually has as much authority to wage war as Congress allows. Still, even though a formal declaration hasn’t been made, the administration does appear to be leaning to the CIC defense of their authority to launch strikes.
Bernadette Meehan], a spokesperson for the National Security Council, August 08, 2014:
As to the domestic legal basis, we believe the President has the authority under the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief to direct these actions, which are consistent with this responsibility to protect U.S. citizens and to further U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. Specifically, the protection of U.S. personnel and facilities is among his highest responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief, and given the threats that we see on the periphery of Erbil, he has authorized the use of targeted military action.
In the case of limited war, or limited airstrikes as President Obama has ordered in Iraq, his ability to claim authority, as Commander-in-Chief, appears unlimited. If he relies on the Bush-era authorizations already in place — the one specific to Iraq, and others related to the broader ‘war on terror’ — in a legal sense, his actions never need be scrutinized by Congress for approval or disapproval, until they decide to repeal them.
If he relies on his constitutional powers as commander-in-chief — albeit under the War Powers Resolution enacted by Congress in 1973 and intended as a limiter on a president’s ability to wage war without Congress’ approval; passed in response to Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia — he has historically demonstrated broad powers to wage limited airstrikes without any weighing in from Congress at all.
Under the WPR, under Article Two of that act, “in the absence of a declaration of war, the president must report to Congress within 48 hours of introducing armed forces into such circumstances and must terminate the use of U.S. armed forces within 60 days unless Congress permits otherwise.”
That provides more than enough opportunity for a president to launch the types of airstrikes President Obama has ordered in Iraq without relying on any of the Bush-era documents, with virtual impunity.
I’m obviously dismayed that there doesn’t seem to be a lever for the public, or for our elected representatives and senators, to automatically or quickly restrain any president from warring on a limited basis. I’m certainly dismayed over our ability to legally or legislatively restrain President Obama from waging limited war, or otherwise, in Iraq.
That’s the way it goes. Notwithstanding a major uprising by Americans in opposition, it’s highly unlikely that there’s anything that can or will be done to actually cause President Obama to limit his military ambitions.
I believe that, no matter what one’s view of his actions are there, it should be a concern just how easily a president is able to wield the devastating force of our military abroad. So much for trying to figure a way out of this mess.
Why do we allow the President of the United States to make war based off of a stale, open-ended AUMF? Bush’s AUMF, at that … the one we opposed with marches and protests!
In the wake of the republican takeover of the Senate, reports say President Obama intends to double the U.S. military force in Iraq. That autocratic and reflexively Bushian surge of force is just the latest installment in our present creep toward irreversible perpetual war.
Anyone worried about Obama’s ability to unilaterally wage war should also remember that every successive president will hold the same open-ended authority. That way lies our future
ron fullwood @ronfullwood
Posted by bigtree | Fri Dec 19, 2014, 12:45 PM (5 replies)
Common dreams has an article outlining the Obama administration's bid for a new AUMF for their new military efforts in Iraq which they describe as a push for 'endless war.' That's the reality of the present re-involvement there - perpetual war - and given the politics that compelled this President to return to the country he withdrew all of our troops from just a short while ago, it's a sure bet that we will likely never leave Iraq without some U.S. military presence; at least in the next decade.
What this push for a new AUMF really represents is Pres. Obama's desire to shed the appearance that he's fighting Bush's wars. As his present military ambitions and actions stand, he's either bound to use Bush's AUMFs as 'authorization' for his warring in Iraq, or he's bound using his CiC authority which has limitations under the War Powers Act provisions which would trigger a time limitation and possible rejection of his mandate to continue.
It's telling that he increased his efforts to obtain a new AUMF with a majority republican Congress; undoubtedly aware that his support for perpetual warring in Iraq and opening a new front in Syria faced opposition from his own Democratic legislative caucus. To date, Obama has relied on slippery interpretations of 'boots on the ground' - characterizing special forces as 'trainers' or 'advisers' to avoid triggering a congressional responses under the WPA law. For now, he's been resigned to operate under unexpired Bush-era authorizations of force (mostly, the 2001 AUMF against al-Queda) and strained to associate the present ISIS leadership with the al-Qaeda organization they publicly split from years ago.
What a new AUMF would do for him is to release him from the political acrobatics he's had to engage in and allow him to place U.S. troops directly in harm's way without dancing around whether they are 'advisers' or any other euphemism used to obscure their direct role in the fighting he wants the U.S. to engage in.
This isn't about 'narrowing' the mission or any other limiting factor that supporters are justifying this ambition as; it's a direct appeal for an entirely new front in an obvious extension of Bush's 'pollyandish misadventure' in Iraq. It portends what this article correctly terms an 'endless' or self-perpetuating war which will never resolve itself or release the U.S. military from obligations to engage our troops or resources for any foreseeable future.
Even Obama's own leadership is insisting that this will be a 'long' endeavor, so, there's really no denying that this AUMF is intended to serve well beyond this presidency.
What proponents of this action, and their challenge to critics to formulate their own response to ISIS ignore is that U.S. military involvement in Iraq is a self-perpetuating morass which has had the effect of fueling and fostering even more individuals with the ambition of fighting our forces or our interests there than we are able to put down.
That was the sobering reality when Bush's own intelligence agencies collectively made that exact judgment during his own commitment of troops to Iraq, and it was the judgment earlier on in this present commitment of troops and resources by Obama's own intelligence agents that individuals were abandoning al-Qaeda to engage the forces he sent to Iraq.
Moreover, the U.S. has long ago forfeited any moral authority it had in Iraq with our opportunistic invasion and occupation. The expectation that a 'limited' force with 'targeted' airstrikes could resolve the civil conflict in Iraq, or anywhere else, is a myopic and ignorant disregard for the effect of Bush's deployments which, despite their number and activity, oversaw record numbers of massacres of Iraqis in spite of our massive troop presence, or in spite of any political solution we helped impose on Iraqis.
It's no accident that the leadership of ISIS includes former Baathists who our military insisted disband when we imposed our 'interim authority' headed by Chalabi, the man who lied us into Iraq. The Shiite government that we promoted and enabled into power's brutality and barbarism against the Sunni minority created the landscape for the forces we're engaged fighting today. And, so it goes. We never learn.
As Saigon became Ho Chi Min City after the U.S. bugged out, Iraq’s Baghdad was always destined to reflect the designs of those Bush had identified as our ‘enemies’ — more so than the captured, occupied, and overthrown capital city will ever resemble any of the grand designs that Bush hawked to the American people to get their initial approval to invade. It becomes more of a conundrum than anything akin to the democracy American troops are pledged to support and defend.
The Iraqi prisons became more efficient torture chambers to crush the new junta’s political opposition who they locked up indefinitely without charges or counsel. The police forces re-assumed their duty as deadly enforcers with the summary judgment of their U.S. supported violence. The military devolved into bands of death squad militias, complete with United States’ weapons and para-military training. As the Iraqi government drew closer to the main spoke of Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil,’ Iran — Iraq was set to rival any of our other purchased regimes in its brutality and oppression.
Indeed, no more evidence is needed to demonstrate U.S. responsibility in creating this latest terror group — which President Obama has opportunistically conflated with our number one nemesis, al-Qaida — than Izzat Ibrahim. A Baathist leaders in the ISIS forces, Ibrahim was deposed in the initial invasion and occupation of Iraq along with other Baathist supporters of Saddam Hussein, and has been in active warfare with the Shiite-dominated Iraqi regime ever since they were enabled into power and began using their U.S.-supplied weapons to stage barbaric attacks against the Sunni minority population.
None of that, of course, is an excuse for any of the craven, power-driven violence on either side; it’s certainly not an excuse for the senseless displays of savage terror that ISIS has used as its tactic of intimidation. Yet, to Iraqis, the violence from U.S. cluster bombs and drones — or from the U.S.-protected Iraqi regime — is virtually indistinguishable from any other attack on their population.
There is no country in the world which threatens democratic progress in Iraq more than the United States. The Iraqi regime has been under siege from resistance forces in Iraq since the U.S. first pulled out its troops — forces whose cause has been fostered, inflamed and aggravated by previous American military activity in the country.
Sadly, the calculation by Pres. Obama that he could apply a limited number of troops with a flurry of airstrikes to contain the self-perpetuating folly has our forces destroying armaments left from the last engagement, while shoveling even more into Iraq in the vain hope that more war will translate into peace.
Bush’s equation for troops in Iraq went like this: More violence = need for more troops. That’s the same equation President Obama has acquiesced to with his campaign of airstrikes and steadily escalating military presence and activity today. With that prescription, we will leave Iraq by … never. Iraq’s forces will always be challenged by some militarized resistance, even more so as they remain aligned with our aggravating military presence.
President Obama will never be able to encircle Baghdad with enough air power to crush the resistance to the U.S.-enabled Iraqi rule. The best he can hope for as he lobs missiles against what he identifies as our ‘enemy’ is an artificial prop of an unpopular junta. So why bother?
Possibly, the answer lies in the political pressure from his opponents to ‘do something.’ The chickenhawk-infested Republican majority have meshed the sacrifices of our soldiers into their ‘smear and fear’ campaigns to make themselves look like they’re the ones defending our security, and Democrats like the ones preventing us from ‘winning’ in Iraq. It’s a cynical mission, a shameful one.
What Republican critics fail to understand and acknowledge is that U.S. military activity in Iraq greatly heightened the violence instead of reducing it. It’s ludicrous to expect that more bombings, and the introduction of more weapons into Iraq will bring about any different result, no matter which Iraqis we identify and attack as enemies of our compromised and threatened junta.
Now we have a new U.S. warlord fomenting his own politically-driven violence in Iraq; mindless of the conflating consequences and blind to the legacy of perpetual war he once decried in his pushback against Bush policies to assume the presidency.
from the article:
In his opening remarks, Kerry said, "It will be years, not months, before is defeated."
That's a bid for 'endless war,' a war hopelessly perpetuated by our own military's aggravating influence, as demonstrated by Bush's own folly. Such a stark change from what Pres. Obama said on the eve of his order to end that sad Bush war:
"What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals. We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq’s streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq’s union is perfected. We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military, and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars. America’s men and women in uniform have fought block by block, province by province, year after year..." Pres. Obama had said.
Now comes an appeal for a war without time limitation or boundaries against yet another ideological enemy. We never learn.
ron fullwood @ronfullwood
Posted by bigtree | Mon Dec 15, 2014, 04:16 PM (9 replies)
I've been reading some comments here which suggest that some posters' concern and outrage expressed about the Obama administration's tepid response and defenses of the Bush-era torture policies and practices are merely an extension of some campaign against his presidency and disassociated from similar criticism of the Bush administration in the past. What I've discovered, looking back over numerous posts from myself and others (some dating back to 2004), is a progression of concern and outrage expressed here which began with revelations about the Bush administration's renditions; black sites; tortures revealed in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere; and torture and detention legislation which sought and provided retroactive cover for abuses ordered and practiced by Bush administration officials and agents.
What has brought us to this spillover of blame into the Obama administration was a series of events in 2009 when the ACLU sued and successfully forced the new administration to produce documents showing that Bush directly ordered and authorized specific interrogation techniques (which he had denied in 2006 constituted torture and claimed results disproved in this latest release). President Obama, at the time, made a statement claiming to the effect, that the barbarous and inhumane practices had already been 'widely reported,' and that he had 'already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order;' memos revealing 'facts that have been in the public domain for some time,' he had said.
It wasn't as if President Obama had willingly released the 'memorandums of notification;' he had been ordered to do so by the court after fighting the ACLU to keep them secret. In those memos and the orders contained within, there were/are authorizations which President Obama and his administration and agents use today to carry out covert acts of rendition, detentions and interrogations of U.S.-captured suspects in torture-lenient countries and on vessels in international waters.
from @emptywheel “The Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification
Bob Woodward provides an extensive discussion of what George Tenet (Obama CIA's Brennan's boss at the time) and Cofer Black requested in a critical MON in Bush at War.
Tenet had brought a draft of a presidential intelligence order, called a finding, that would give the CIA power to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force. For more than two decades, the CIA had simply modified previous presidential findings to obtain its formal authority for counterterrorism. His new proposal, technically called a Memorandum of Notification, was presented as a modification to the worldwide counterterrorism intelligence finding signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986. As if symbolically erasing the recent past, it superseded five such memoranda signed by President Clinton.
By President Obama's own admission, only 'some' objectionable (and arguably inhumane) interrogation practices, tortures, were outlawed in his Executive order. Other interrogation practices, such as force-feedings and sleep deprivation have continued in his administration, falling outside the President's definition in his EO of what constitutes torture. Those loopholes in his order, in and of themselves, should be enough to question this president's sincerity in eliminating torture from our national security agencies' lexicons. Yet, there is much more in this president's policy and stance to challenge and object to.
from Marcy Wheeler (Some Torture Facts):
(12) Obama’s role in covering up the Bush White House’s role in torture has received far too little attention. But Obama’s White House actually successfully intervened to reverse Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s attempt to release to ACLU a short phrase making it clear torture was done pursuant to a Presidential Finding. So while Obama was happy to have CIA’s role in torture exposed, he went to great lengths, both with that FOIA, with criminal discovery, and with the Torture Report, to hide how deeply implicated the Office of the President was in torture.
The very same strategy for authorization of military and intelligence activity against targets believed associated with al-Qaeda which was engineered by George Tenet, Cofer Black, and Dick Cheney, has been used by President Obama to justify his ordering of drone strikes and renditions. They have a definite basis in the 2001 AUMF, as admitted by Obama's CIA chief nominee Brennan in his 2013 hearing, but the assumed authority is based in memorandums of understanding which are used as 'notifications' of Congress for blanket authority to conduct operations - operations like the drone strikes which increased under the Obama administration.
from the National Journal:
(Chief architect of Obama's counterterrorism policies during his first campaign) Brennan gives one of his most extensive answers (to the Senate committee]) on the explicit question of drone strikes -- when, how, and where the United States can carry them out. Note the last paragraph where he lays out the specific legal justification for conducting strikes in non-theaters of war.
from “The Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification:
Woodward describes other things included in Tenet’s request:
Certainly all of those policies can be debated and resolved in some way through making those actions available to the legislature to mitigate and judge. That’s not a course this administration has chosen to take on a number of remnants from Bush’s ‘war on terror;’ like renditions, detentions of suspects in torture-friendly nations, ‘extra-judicial killings, and the like. Authorization on all of these may well be successfully mitigated through Congress, but the President has made a determination to hold back accountability for whatever authority he’s assumed to carry out these policies and actions (to order them).
Those are areas where the Bush-era abuses and the present activities of the Obama CIA collide. Those are the prerogatives of President Obama which he shares with the former administration that he’s fought to obscure and keep secret through many questionable moves.
That obstruction, that collusion with the prerogatives of the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ may well have withstood legislative attempts to delve deeper and demand more public accountability, but the Senate was spurred to investigate the CIA activities under Bush because of deliberate, and admitted destruction of key videotaped evidence depicting tortures. Ninety-two interrogation tapes were destroyed. George Tenet was CIA chief when the tapes were made, and Porter Goss headed the agency when the tapes were destroyed.
Confronted about their obstruction by Congress, the agencies involved agreed to provide dual paperwork which they claimed contained the same evidence that had been discarded. That’s where the present investigation took over, first under Jay Rockefeller, then under Sen. Feinstein in 2009.
Consider that there had been no effective challenge of the past administration's actions during Bush's term in office. With the election of Barack Obama, there was a reasonable expectation that, not only would there be a full accounting of the actions of the previous administration, but there would be an effort to hold the principle authors and those who ordered the tortures legally accountable.
Yet, President Obama took the position right from the start that his intention was to look forward and away from prosecutions. Indeed, his Justice Dept. made a half-hearted show of investigating the abuses and closed their inquiry without any charges at all; except for prosecuting and jailing former CIA officer John Kiriakou who had brought many of the abuses to light.
Understand, if you will, that this is a string of events which has sparked outrage for a decade now, only to meet with an attitude of 'been there, done that' from this President. In no way can anyone claim that justice has been served by the mere (albeit, extensive and detailed) summary of accounts of past practices, without some sort of measure of accountability and assignment of legal responsibility.
The American people are being treated like dupes; deemed by the president we elected to hold our government accountable undeserving of the justice we seek; selfish in our expectation that our Congress act to actually outlaw the practices through legislation, or that our courts be enlisted to outlaw the practices through prosecutions.
Worse, President Obama has not been as forthcoming and attentive to our right to be informed about the actions of our government, our military, our intelligence agencies and agents as he postures in these statements made AFTER he is forced past YEARS of repeated objections and defenses to reveal a smidgen of his and the past administration's actions and the authorities they've assumed to carry them out. How can we ignore the foot-dragging and outright refusals to be forthcoming with evidence and justifications - objections made by his Secretary of State Kerry right until the final hour against even releasing this incomplete and redacted summary?
Are we to just brush past the fact that one of President Obama's choice for leading the CIA, John Brennan, was an intelligence official under George Tenet; chosen by Obama early in his presidency to lead the review of intelligence agencies and helped make recommendations to his new administration? Brennan had supported warrantless wiretapping and 'extraordinary rendition' under Bush. It’s understandable that he would seek to stifle and obfuscate from anything he and his former employers might have had a hand in.
In the course of the Senate investigation, there was systematic and blatant interference, obstruction, surveillance, and intimidation of committee staffers by the Brennan/Obama CIA. It was first denied by the director when confronted in March; later admitted by him in July. Added to that, the President put this same interfering and obstructing CIA in charge of editing the ‘executive summary’ of the Senate Intelligence Committee findings which is to be the ONLY public accounting of the actions of the former administration.
Right after the President addressed reporters on the imminent (turned out, delayed) release torture report, it was revealed by Senate committee members that the documents they submitted to the White House, to the President, for approval for release had been heavily redacted and had “eliminated and obscured key information” which supported the report’s conclusions.
That editing process was led by Brennan, who admitted his agency’s role, the agency he oversees, in obstructing those findings. Further, an effort to rebut the report was, reportedly, directly aided by all three former CIA directors under Bush (Tenet, Porter Goss, Hayden) and others who participated in or ordered the activities and abuses in question in the report’s findings.
Are we to ignore the fact that more than 200 CIA employees who were involved in the torture program are still employed at the CIA?
I know that many here who regularly defend criticisms of President Obama by questioning and demeaning the motives of his critics will brush past these facts and revert to the 'Obama knows best' stance which is sickeningly reminiscent of the 'government knows best' defense that characterizes the darkest days of government secrecy and misdeeds practiced before Watergate (and later, Iran-Contra) made investigatory journalism and public accountability the norm. Yet, consider that the pursuit of justice in these acts of torture has spanned a decade, only to be met with the same paternalistic and self-protective roadblocks that we decried before this Democratic administration decided to sign onto the defense of the past republican one.
here are some posts I made over the years tracking the Bush-era abuses:
U.S mercenary running torture chamber in Kabul "worked for Rumsfeld" -2004
Cheney wants to torture prisoners. He said so. He didn't mean a dunk in the pool. -2004
Was Torture at Abu Gharib Like Under Saddam? How Do We Know? -2004
Bush Appeals for Permission to Torture and Railroad Gitmo Prisoners -2006
US backed Iraqi force seen as death squad-linked to secret torture prison -2005
No torture? Then why are we hiding these prisoners from the Red Cross? -2005
Is U.S. using others for abusive interrogations? On Abu Ali and others? -2006
Just because Congress makes a torture law doesn't mean it's constitutional -2006
The U.S. is Helping Pakistan Torture 'Terror' Suspects -2006
Bush Regime Asks Judge To Gag Gitmo Detainees To Prevent Disclosures On CIA Torture Prisons -2006
Gitmo Detainees Challenge Torture And Detention Law -2006
The torture legislation takes away the presumption of innocence -2006
US: Pentagon Spends Billions to Outsource Torture -2006
Inspectors Find More Torture at Iraqi Jails-US isn't protecting prisoners -2006
(including this one from symbolman in which I sound much like DU defenders of Obama today)
Anyone who sanctions torture should be removed from office -2006
ron fullwood @ronfullwood
Posted by bigtree | Sat Dec 13, 2014, 02:38 PM (13 replies)
I'd like to take a moment to express some thoughts about the decision yesterday not to indict the cop who killed Eric Garner, and I want to do it here on this forum because I'm able to make it lengthy - and also, because I know it'll get a good read from a community that I respect and admire.
I want to first express how disappointed I've been in President Obama's responses to the police killings in Ferguson which I believe brushed right past where I think many folks like me have found ourselves this morning - dismayed and disillusioned, perhaps beyond any repair or healing that any president's words could possibly achieve. What I'd personally (albeit, unrealistically) like to hear from President Obama are judgments about the state of the judicial system and conclusions about these prominent cases of police abuses and killings which I well know would go beyond where it would be prudent or even serve to advance the justice I seek. Nonetheless, I've been without any real anchor of hope to moor my ship of despair - and, the president has appeared in recent months, deliberately adrift from where I'm sinking.
I'm watching, listening, as the highest official in the country, a black man, equivocates and equalizes the Eric Garner decision yesterday by raising concerns over 'trust.' Trust in our justice system; trust in police practices; is such a remote and unlikely possibility to me right now that I'm almost ready to just tune the president out, along with every other public official or officer who purports to speak down to me from their positions of authority and influence.
Yet, there was something refreshingly direct in President Obama's statement which, perhaps, wasn't made as clear in the snippets offered along with news reports of the non-indictment of the cop filmed committing what was ruled a homicide, a murder of Eric Garner, by the city coroner. There was something in his statement which finally connected with my own thoughts and determination this morning. The president used the word, "accountability," to buttress his concern about Americans "being treated equally under the law."
"I'm absolutely committed as president of the United States to making sure that we have a country in which everyone believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law," President Obama said at the White House Tribal Nations Conference.
That sentiment, so eloquently expressed, I believe, is directly on point. To me, there is nothing short of accountability from these police officers and police departments which will assuage my concern and commitment. I don't see any way that 'trust' will ever be achieved without a clear avenue for accountability, both within the institutions and from our courts. Standards, training, and even cameras on officers are essentially meaningless without accountability for the actions of these officers and officials of the law. In the case of Eric Garner, strangleholds were already against police policy, and it's clear that filming the killing did little to effect accountability and justice for the assailant.
Moreover, there really isn't any provision of law which mandates 'trust' - or even understanding, or respect for each other - as a condition of our rights to equal treatment under the law. Those are certainly fine aspirations, but our rights are inherent in the Constitution which (improbably, at the time of its inception) asserts that we are all created equal. That's where our rights are drawn from, not from any expectation that we love or respect each other before they are administered fairly.
The only way to ensure proper management of departments and policy is for individuals employed to 'protect and serve' to fear for their own liberty or job security if they violate provisions or laws in their duties. There's far too much comfort in these police departments and impunity in the actions of their officers, creating an authoritarian atmosphere where officers feel safe in using excessive force without repercussions or serious rebuke.
The law is where our protests and demands originate and reside; the rest of those aspirations should flow from that demonstrated understanding of equal treatment in any legal reprimand from police or adjudication in court. We begin with our demands and exercise every instigation of democracy (and civil disobedience) to achieve them.
I was told a while back by an individual that the actions of some blacks allegedly involved in some criminal activity 'hold us back' from getting the justice we want. I believe we're long past the point where blacks need to prove their worth to anyone to expect equal justice under the law. We need to force the system to adhere to justice, to respect our rights, no quarter.
As encouraged as I am by President Obama's statement, I'm in a particularly dark place right now. I've seen calls for 'civil rights' investigations before, and I'm not convinced, yet, that without results they're more than pacifiers and stopgap proclamations designed to take some of the heat out of our dissent and protest. However, I'm still watching and listening for our government to get it right.
We are going to need to keep raising our voices above their sonic cannons and their lecturing from the elevation of the offices we've gifted them with; HOLLER if we must, until our voices are plainly heard and our demands addressed. THAT'S how "we bring about justice," and THAT'S how we "bring about peace;" by not allowing ourselves to be cowed into believing that these same indifferent officials and officers can be made to listen and bridge that "gulf" they've deliberately created to neuter our voices and place themselves outside of the reach of their own responsibility and accountability to us by our muting or repressing the VOLUME of our own protests.
No one looking at the police armies arrayed and attacking protestors and demonstrators in Ferguson and in hundreds of other cities around the nation can ignore or dismiss the fact that these forces purporting to 'protect and serve' are armed and armored for repression of dissent against them and positioned to completely suppress the very people President Obama wants to imbue with trust for cops. What we expect from our President and other leaders is to amplify our voices DEMANDING justice - not co-opting officials and officers in their attempts to choke them out with barrages of gas and smoke; materially or rhetorically.
President Obama may just now be waking up to the reality that it is these very police officials in Ferguson and elsewhere who have deliberately and systematically alienated themselves from the people they are supposed to serve and are doing little more than defending their own positions of authority over us; abusing that power we've invested in them with our votes and with our hard-earned contributions to our democratic system of governance.
It's not the demonstrators of Ferguson and elsewhere who've neglected to engender trust - it's these abusive and self-protective officials and officers who have let go of any modicum of respect for these grieving communities under siege and under fire from canisters of smoke and tear gas hurled from a distance behind the protection of taxpayer-sponsored armaments.
I'm a big fan of the 'shut the shit down' movement which has grown out of the Ferguson movement to obtain justice for the killing of Mike Brown, and I look to the future for an escalation of those very direct confrontations which both raise awareness and pressure pols and officials to respond to protesters very specific and aggressive demands for the justice and accountability the president says he believes in.
"...it is incumbent upon all of us as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem, this is an American problem, when anybody in this country is not being treated under the law that’s a problem and it’s my job as president to help solve it,” President Obama asserted.
Posted by bigtree | Thu Dec 4, 2014, 11:13 AM (6 replies)
It's my 36th wedding anniversary and I dragged out up this true story I wrote out a few years back, hopefully finding room this weekend to share it with folks here again. . . I loved relating this story here, and just can't help living it again with such a caring and generous community that resides here at DU. So, fwiw..
____Is there someone you met in the past who so captivated you that their image and the event was permanently planted into the recesses of your memory to be measured against all others? I'm not talking about some consummated meeting or relationship, but a brief, almost casual encounter which left you imagining what life would have been had you said or done something differently or pursued them more aggressively.
I was eighteen and making my first stand away from home in Cumberland Md..when I met her. I had just been released a few months earlier from what the State called a forestry camp atop Mt. Savage outside of Lonaconing, Md.. I had stolen some stuff the summer before (as a juvenile) gotten caught, and had been granted the benefit of an alternative to the frightful detention center by a judge exasperated that I'd spurned his home detention ruling and skipped town to pass my eighteenth birthday with two of my best friends in a barn on the property of a girls school on an old Shaker community property right across the Mass. border in upstate N.Y..
We had taken a train ride to visit my buddy Gary's girlfriend who was in residence there; an impulsive decision to travel made after a night which began with a Neil Young concert which opened with Neil sitting cross-legged atop a massive box singing 'Silver Mountain' to a crowd which didn't stop cheering from beginning to end - and finished off with a gallon bottle of port wine shared between us in a church parking lot.
We spent five glorious, life-transforming days in N.Y. drinking brandy by day and Southern Comfort every night. One of the memories which sticks out was stumbling upon what I believe was a grave site in the middle of an overgrown woods with several short stone columns arranged in a rectangle, linked by an enormous iron chain, and a short monument or marker at one end. I tripped over the chain, and unable, somehow, to regain my feet, I crawled over to the stone obelisk to read the inscription. I memorized it:
"In loving memory of the members of the Shaker community," it read, "who dedicated their lives to humanity, passed on to immortality. Hands to work, hearts to God."
That evening I took my friends to the top floor of one of the aging barns and showed them where I had taken my pocket knife and scratched each of our names into the wooden wall at one end. Underneath them I had carved, "Lest We Forget."
I eventually surrendered and called home to face the music right after we were discovered in the barn and escorted to a truck stop at the state line by a school administrator. Dad arranged passage for me on a plane home and I literally said goodbye to my youth (and my friends) right then and there at the airport as they went on to spend more time in Mass. and I went home to jail.
I did my court-ordered time in a state-run forestry camp cutting dead trees down with a crosscut saw and cutting them into cords with the same aggravating tools. We split the $10-$12 dollars we earned between the 11 of us . . . I took the time to study botany out of a book one of the bus drivers for the camp gave me. I made plans to be a forester and I spent my nights reading and studying from this advanced botany book.
I got myself admitted to Allegheny State College while I was still locked-up and, after I was released, I had my Dad drive me to Cumberland and drop me off at the Y.M.C.A. in the middle of town. It was dingy and had a weird smell, but, when the old man put $75 dollars in travelers' checks in my hand and drove off, I was at the top of the world . . . for about an hour or so.
The small town was indifferent to downright hostile to my presence. That was something that took this suburban boy a while to get used to. I had imagined working and going to school, but it quickly became apparent that there wasn't going to be work to be had anywhere I could travel to in that miserable place.
I ended up staying on the Y.M.C.A roof for a few nights until I got caught. Desperate and running out of cash, I talked a nice lady into letting this would-be student rent a room. I got lucky. I got a nice place with a sink, stove, a bed, and a bath. I readjusted myself and headed out into town the first night.
Center Street runs down the middle of Cumberland with the hospital and graveyard up above and the railroad tracks down below. I headed up there with the few bucks I had left to see if I could buy some weed or anything other than beer. I had just turned 18 that year, but I had no ID at all, so I wasn't even in a good position to buy alcohol (even if I wanted it). So, I took a good position against the wall outside of one of the string of bars and waited . . . and waited. After awhile, a few folks came by and walked over to me, hoping the the stranger had better connections than they did. Good luck with that. I got a few promises that they'd come back if the guy they knew came through . . . I waited some more.
After an eternity, something was finally happening across the street. There came a girl, in a hurry past a group of guys who were walking on the same side. They hooted and cajoled at this chick, and, all at once, I realized that if I wanted any action at all I was definitely on the wrong side of the street. I could've been over there hooting and whistling at the only decent girl I'd seen in the entire time I had been in town.
I was kicking myself, when suddenly, she was right beside me! The girl from across the street had gone by and doubled back to where I was leaning against the wall.
"Can you please do me a favor?" she asked. "Can I just stand here by you until they leave? I can't handle it when they do that," she said, "and I'm scared of them. Can I just stand here until they're gone?"
I was in shock, because I hadn't had more than a few minutes of casual conversation with any female in my life. Now this girl wouldn't shut up. She went on and on about how she hated it when men did 'that' -- how she hated to be treated like an object, and so on, and on.
"Don't you?" she asked, not waiting for the answer. "You looked like a kind person and I knew I'd be safe standing here, I hope you don't mind."
Truth is, I did sort of mind. Here was, perhaps, the girl of my dreams, asking me to come to her house to meet her brother who played guitar and might know where to get some weed . . . "Are you coming?" she asked, now walking away toward the street where she lived. I waited until she was a ways down the street before I resigned myself to give up my vigil for weed and follow. She looked back and I waved her on.
"I'm, coming, I'm coming," I waved her on again and followed her home. Sure enough, her brother was there with a friend. No weed, but this girl was growing on me. She was staying in a one floor building (shack) at the rear of another larger home. Her painted art was scattered all over the place and there was a quirky self-portrait hanging right by the front door. It was the perfect hippie haven -- even without the weed.
We talked for a few hours, her brother left, and eventually, so did I - with just a memorable and careful kiss goodbye in the moonlight - but, after a long sleepless night with the impression of that kiss spurring me on, I went back to her house the next day with a couple of Grolsh beers and some carnations that I blew the last of my money on. I threw away the tacky paper they were wrapped in and presented them and myself, once again, to my future, surprised, but pleased, wife-to-be.
I remember she put a Steve Miller album on her simple stereo and our mutual tastes for music immediately put me at ease. It was my very first time in a young adult's home, however, and I marveled at something as simple as a refrigerator full of food, and that she actually cooked.
We'd been eating and talking awhile and I heard this noise from the backroom. She played it off, but there it was again! I got up and opened the back bedroom door and there he was -- a little bitty baby boy. She had been thinking the kid was some kind of deal-breaker and had kept the lid on him, I was totally cool with it, and I wondered if she would let me stay and hang out with them. I was still such a kid, myself, she being 4 years my senior. I lied to her about my age . . .
Later that evening her landlord delivered a letter in which he had tripled her rent. The call we got that night with a woman whispering 'n****r-lover, n****r-lover over the line put the sudden rent increase into perspective. One night and a day in her house and the townfolk had revolted against us. I resolved to stay one more night.
I was supposed to go to my first day of college the next morning, but after a night of my first real lovemaking, we both heard a rooster crow and realized then that her blackout curtains had hidden the full morning and afternoon which had unfolded away from our view. I had blown my first day of college. We both decided we would leave town together and set up another house in College Park Md.. She packed up the next day, gave me her last $175 dollars, put me on a bus and we promised to meet the next day when her friend brought her and her son to College Park, I guess to stay with my sister until we got settled.
What a crazy plan, as I look back on it. She was leaving the town where her mother, father, and her younger brother were living; practically her home town, given the years she had lived there after moving from Falls Church Va.. She was going to meet me at the entrance of the University of MD that next afternoon with a car full of everything she owned. Insane. Yet, there I was on the bus back to my hometown of Bethesda, Md.. There I was, back on the street, out drinking with my buddies.
There I was, in jail for trespassing when she arrived the next day; me, nowhere in sight. By a hair of luck, she reached my sister, practically minutes before just heading back to Cumberland. I wrote her a poem in jail which I held up to the window between us in the visitor's room:
We married a couple of months later -- poorer than when we arrived, but deeper in love.
Now my wife is certainly my dream girl, but I'd be lying if I said she was the only girl etched into my memories of my youth. There was one particular encounter that burned into my memory and flooded my imagination with things that might-have-been on one of those glorious summer days which never seemed to end; then ended way too soon.
My friends and I used to pile into a van or car and just head out, barefoot, to the country with our guitars, our weed, and our craziness. We'd go down to Great Falls and climb around on the rocks or track through the woods before settling in a circle somewhere and passing the bowl around. We'd go to Sugarloaf Mountain and we'd climb to the top to just look out and ride the world.
Funny thing was, my wife had also taken day-trips during her youth to most of the same spots my gang liked to hang out -- like Sugarloaf, the Falls (on the opposite Virginia side), or the quarry at the base of Sugarloaf Mt., full of amazingly blue spring water with frighteningly high cliffs to dive off.
In fact, we seemed to live dual lives, even though she lived in Falls Church, Va. and I lived in Bethesda, Md.. We both lived like our hippie idols; already (happily) out of touch with the rest of society before we met and married. We both grew up listening to James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Rod Stewart played over and over again on WINX radio. Later, we both grew up further listening to WHFS; me, enjoying their station situated in my home town, and she, listening to the alternative folk-rock from her town in Falls Church. It kind of shaped us the same way. Kind of folky and artsy. . . hippie wannabes.
We'd seen some of the same concerts and both had enjoyed Georgetown's then-bohemian weekends in their heyday. We'd talk about those days as we grew older together as if we'd lived them together and not from opposite states. It's a blessing to share similar memories to recall together. We'd climbed the same mountains, swam the same lakes; albeit, apart from one another; oblivious to each others existence. We'd both swam the crystal-blue waters in Dickerson Quarry at the foot of Sugarloaf, braving the high cliffs and having the time of our lives partying with the dozens who showed up there every summer.
In fact, it was at Dickerson quarry where I met one particular girl - one I obsessed on; a girl I measured all others against; a momentary encounter I had recreated and embellished in my head a thousand times a year thereafter.
I still remember that summer afternoon as clearly as if it was yesterday. Two guys I knew, Peter and Alex, had gotten wind of a fellow who was going to drive the motorcycle that had killed his buddy off of the highest cliff at Dickerson. A bunch of us piled into Peter's van and drove to the quarry so we could see the happening and so they could film it with their new video camera. A pretty large crowd gathered on the banks of the quarry and watched the spectacle unfold. The biker revved his engine a couple of times, hesitated, and then drove straight off the cliff into the water. He fell for what seemed like an eternity, then finally, flipped forward over the handlebars as the bike fell out under him. Big cheers all around as he surfaced, mostly unharmed.
Not to be outdone (I was actually outdone), I took my first 'dive' off of the next-to-longest drop. I got out of the water and took a second dive off of '14', the tallest drop (not anywhere close to 14 anything - more like 100 or something). Well, I got bored and decided to show-off for my indifferent hosts just one more time. I headed through the woods to the cliff we called the 'running-jump'. The trick to this cliff was that it sloped outward so far that you had to get a good run up before jumping way out to avoid the cliff and the little pine growing out from the rocks underneath.
I got to the top of the cliff and looked out. By that time I was shivering so badly that I could feel the ground shaking beneath my trembling legs. I was both cold and scared. I thought of giving up, but the folks I had told to watch were at '14' waiting. I paced around in the woods awhile, shivering and shaking uncontrollably now. I resigned myself to give up and walk away.
I had just hit the path when I spotted someone running towards me and the cliff. It was a girl! Yes. Exclamation point, girl!
"Hey man!" she said to me, as if she knew me. She was at least a head taller than me, and real aggressive. My sister was the only girl that tall who had EVER bothered to say more than a word to me; especially not "hey man" like I was cool or something. But, I was cool. Cool as shit. Damn cool. But, my hair had gotten wet and I had on my uncontrollable clown hair with one side inevitably sticking up higher than the other. I felt like an idiot there, bare bird-chested, shaking like a leaf.
She didn't seem to care. "So, you gonna jump, man?" she asked me, with respect and attention that I'd never really experienced from a girl before; especially not an older one.
"Yeah, but I'm chickening out, I think." I said, not bothering to care how wimpy I sounded. "I'm cold and shivering . . . are you going?" I asked her.
"Yeah man," she said. "It's not hard. You just have to jump out way far."
"I've been practicing jumping as far as I can into the woods to get ready." I said.
"You don't have to do all that, man. Just get back as far as you can to get a good run. It's easy." And with that, we both went to the edge and looked out and down. "I'm going," she told me. "I'll wait for you at the bottom if you decide to go."
With that, she went as far back into the woods as she was able, ran to the edge of the cliff and propelled herself out and down into the water. There she waited, wading water as she called for me to go next. There was no way I wasn't going, so I loaded up whatever courage I had, made myself realize that could be my last moment alive on earth, and I jumped . . . I landed right beside her.
"Cool, man," she had said to me, or something like that. I thanked her briefly and she said goodbye and swam over to 'Beetle' -- the smallest drop in the quarry; where most of the girls drew the line if they were inclined at all to jump off of cliffs into crystal-blue water.
So, from that brief encounter, I had experienced the most time with a girl in my entire 14 years on the planet -- and she was taller and older, at that! Silly, I know, but, you see, I'd had just a few close encounters with girls before I met my wife, and, whenever I thought of Dickerson quarry, I also fantasized about what that moment would have been like; if I had just taken more advantage, perhaps.
I fantasized about that moment for so many years, that there I was sitting listening to music with my wife of 25 years on day long removed from that iconic summer of my youth; thinking of Dickerson quarry and remembering that wonderful girl who had made me feel less of the gangly kid I was and more the way I'd imagined myself to be. I relived the magical afternoon that moment and tracked the distance in my mind across the quarry and back to where my friends had been watching.
I remember that I got back to the top of '14' and the guys that gave me a ride were nowhere to be found. I had waited until, finally, they came out of the woods with their camera and sheepish grins on their faces. As I recalled in my daydream, they'd found two girls in the woods by 'Beetle' rock and had filmed them in their immodesty. . .
Pink Floyd was playing the same song on the stereo that had consoled me in the van on the way back home that summer day way-back-when, daydreaming along with 'Breathe' of my ultimate romantic encounter with a girl.
Breathe, breathe in the air
I turned off the music. Silence.
"Honey. Listen . . . I have something I want to ask you," I said to my wife. "Listen, it's important."
"Okay," she replied, not certain what confession was forthcoming; not sure if she should be interested or angry.
"Do you remember," I asked, "that you told me once that you'd seen a guy ride a motorcycle off of the cliff at Dickerson Quarry. Do you remember that?" I asked.
"Yes," she answered. "I'd driven up there with Becky because she told me this guy was going to do it, so we went to see him."
"How many times did someone ride a bike . . .," I thought to myself. "Honey," I asked slowly, taking a deep breath as I waited for the answer. I had something . . . "Did you see a couple of guys with a video camera that afternoon (so very rare in those days) trying to take your picture?" I asked her.
"Yes I do," she said, after a short pause. "I was hiding in the woods because my shirt was wet and see-thru," she explained. She had to get it by now . . . That persisting vision of Peter and Alex at the end of my mind-reel of memories from that day was the missing piece of the puzzle. Why hadn't we realized this earlier?
"I knew those guys," I told her. "They brought me to the quarry that day to see the motorcycle jump. Honey," I said, "I've got something to tell you. We met that day. No, really met, in a big way."
I told her about the running jump; the tom-girl a head taller than me, and my years of daydreaming on that magic moment in the woods . . .
"You're kidding . . ."
It was absolutely true. Turns out, the woman I had married 25 years earlier, without realizing it, was the very woman I had spent almost 30 years daydreaming about -- in fact, dreaming about at that very moment.
Much to our surprise and my chagrin over cheating on my wife with the memory of that youthful encounter - memories I had held as precious and defining of my youth for years and years - I had, in fact, actually married the girl of my dreams.
Happy anniversary, my dear.
Posted by bigtree | Sat Nov 22, 2014, 04:33 PM (28 replies)
However, I'd like to ask for a selfish indulgence from those here who are still interested, still anguished (perhaps) over the continuing crisis of justice and humanity in Ferguson, MO..
As some here may well know, the tragic events there, and the unimaginable, but very real and unsettling response by the officers and officials there to the efforts by that community to exercise their free speech rights to protest and be heard have shaken me to the core and I'm still unable to discuss them, write about them, or even listen to or read about them without weeping uncontrollably.
Those who know me personally understand that it's not only out of character for me to be so traumatized to weep (much less, uncontrolled - I really don't fully understand my reaction, myself), and that it's likely a reflection of a mental illness brought on by the stress of previous experiences, triggered by events in Ferguson which I've engrossed myself in, by choice; by necessity. It's also a reflection and effect of my unsettled view of my personal heritage; my citizenship; and perhaps, my own self-worth; to view the tragic events in Ferguson which residents there are experiencing as integral to all of those in my own relatively secure life.
*I had noticed seriously abnormal reactions from myself to the back and forth between members here in which I had become undeservedly abusive towards posters, and, although it's a cinch to post, I'm not mentally balanced enough for the discussions which are integral to actual participation here. It's really not fair to others more dedicated to discussions for *me to hit and run, but I'm not mentally able to engage fully, so... this post is somewhat of a more detailed explanation for my exit as much as it is cathartic for me. I see that some question this approach, but I'm convinced it won't disrupt them too much or affect them too much - me, on the other hand, I still have some very real mental health issues that I'm receiving care for and working on. I hope DUers can bear this indulgence without too much disdain or resentment.
Anyway, I want to just share this video of what is correctly labeled as, 'A skin-tingling speech which speaks to the heart of #Ferguson -- Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal on Missouri Senate floor Sept. 10, 2014. Chapelle-Nadal delivers a gripping speech calling Gov. Nixon to the carpet for allowing Senators and constituents to be stripped of their 1st Amendment rights while being tear gassed and treated like animals. She details how MO Governor Nixon allowed the state of emergency to escalate while he did nothing. Senator Chapelle-Nadal brings it all into perspective, detailing personal experiences as well as the racist history of #Ferguson which culminated into the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting when the MO Governor treated Ferguson like foreign enemy territory.'
I'm going to post it here without much comment (and no response) because I believe it will be helpful for some to understand just what this community in Ferguson has been experiencing, and what they're facing right now, and in the future.
Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal has placed herself on the front lines of this important struggle for justice and the rights of her constituency and has served, in her words, as a 'mother, a teacher, and a sister' as she has spent countless hours among the people 'as Jesus would have done' to help citizens cope with the challenges they've faced. Tear-gassed for three days in a row, along with other protesters, while her governor 'sat in his home,' Sen. Chappelle-Nadal has been a tireless advocate and deserves a complete listen to her emotional and powerful address.
Thanks, in advance, for your attention and dedication to this crisis in Ferguson, and I wish everyone the very best of luck in your endeavors and extend the very best regards from me for your friendship and commitment.
*I regularly retweet on Ferguson and St. Louis from an extensive network of folks who follow these issues and developments from direct connections to the state and local government and community.
You can follow me here: ron fullwood @ronfullwood (be certain to follow the folks I retweet... that's where you'll get connected to up to date events and developments)
Thanks again, y'all. We protest, we share... joy. Love for the people.
Posted by bigtree | Sat Sep 13, 2014, 03:59 PM (82 replies)