Obscenities of Negligence in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil Wars Come Home to Roost: Looking for the Moral Equivalent of a President, Still

CounterPunch / DissidentVoice

By Greg Moses

Even the birds are pissed. Whether it’s the Mockingbird who guards the footpath down by the bus stop. Or the Blue Jay who cusses across my back deck. Or even the frigging Grackle who buzzed me early morning at the grocery-store parking lot. This week I‘m a Hitchcock player and these birds come straight for my neck.

AP says 333 birds have been found dead along the Gulf Coast with no oil on them. Well, the birds I know are telling me what their fellows died from. The lead weight of grief. As if the oil companies hadn’t wrecked every other week this century. As if this must be nothing but the century of dirty oil. Suddenly the oil wars have come home to roost and there is nothing to do about it except what everybody else has done who gets smacked by this dark force of history. You just stand there and cry.

It’s like shock and awe bounced back off the dark side of the moon. All the wealth and brains and power of the mighty American empire sucked into a vacuum of arrogant corruption and relayed back to earth in the form of a blob that will not be stopped until the death of it all finally sinks in. You call this stinking mess democracy?

“I would be betting the plan is to let us die,” says St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro. And Plaquemine Parish President Billy Nungesser tells a wicked little story about what happens when your messenger comes back from the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The grassroots people were ready to defend their shores, Nungesser says to CNN’s Campbell Brown, but the Corps of Engineers was not. The American people expected to see ships and uniforms lining the shores with resources and action, but the Coast Guard did not. Everyone who loves the waters and sands and skies and breezes of the Gulf of Mexico expected a moral equivalent of war to be mobilized by the White House, but the President of the United States did not.

A boot heel on the neck of BP? Is this how Democrats have come to brag about what real power feels like? The US Navy has a fleet of nuclear submarines that can erase all human life from the planet in 90 seconds or less but only BP can be trusted to lead the world when the water gets that deep? And even in this emergency the only thing that Constitutional authorities know how to do is look for some neck to stand on? No wonder even the birds have had enough of this nonsense. If it’s necks that count for power these days, I can tell you, even the birds are ready to go.

No doubt a lot of good folks feel they have to behave properly in front of the television cameras, but thank god for Billy Nungesser cussing right in the Governor’s face. I know he spoke for me. Even the vaunted James Carville is stupefied at the obscenities of neglect that are killing our dearly beloved Gulf of Mexico. If the plan is not to kill the Gulf, why did the President spend the weekend at West Point– ideological home base of The Corps? If the plan is not to let it die, why wasn’t West Point spending the weekend with Nungesser and Taffaro? I paid my taxes so that West Point could keep its frigging graduation schedule? Somebody ought to go up there to Newburgh, New York and take pictures of all the new cars on the West Point campus this week.

If Plaquemine and St. Bernard Parishes secede from the union this week, you can count me in. The world is badly in need of a moral equivalent of a President. And today, the Parish Presidents of the Gulf Coast are working for me.

Editor’s Note: Corrected to properly identify Billy Nungesser as the Parish President who appeared on Campbell Brown’s CNN program.–gm

A King’s Easter

Pausing to Reflect on Jesus and Eggs

CounterPunch / DissidentVoice / TheRagBlog

by Greg Moses

This year–for the second time–the sad anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. falls on Easter, a day that according to Google Trends brings annual peaks of interest in the search terms Jesus and eggs.

Easter is a perfect context for thinking about King’s death in a Kingian way because as a preacher of Easter sermons he would insist that after we pay death its due we should not neglect the fact of life which after all makes death possible in the first place.

Likewise with movement. For King life was movement. And half the hope for life was bound up in hope for the next movement which in his case would have been the Poor People’s Campaign of summer 1968. I say half the hope because as a Sunday preacher King warned against placing your whole hope in human effort.

Paradoxical as it sounds, the great maestro of social movement insisted that human effort could never completely do for itself. That would be like saying Jesus resurrected himself or the egg laid itself. There’s something besides all the things you can do–which you should do–for yourself. Something the movement needs which is not the movement itself.

David Rovics sent out an email yesterday reflecting upon the growing anticipations that people are having. Something is badly needed which is not being provided. Or as the Secretary of the Treasury says, unemployment will remain at unacceptable levels for many more years to come.

A movement of some kind is in the making. What’s not so clear is how people are preparing their half of the responsibility for it. King died while doing too much. Paradoxically the preacher of Easter sermons who said human effort was only half the ingredient of movement was exhausting himself in that half trying heroically to make up for the rest of us who exhaust ourselves doing too little.

In a book of spiritual teachings I recently ran across the term “personal work” and I think King would have liked that term. In the process of nonviolence as practiced by King, “personal work” was required. During the Easter campaign of 1963, protesters were required to meditate on the life of Jesus. They had to sign cards saying they had thought deeply about the example of Jesus. Jesus was required reading.

With our common life scooped out and replaced by mass media velocities–and considering the pattern of our recent debates about health care–there is reason to think that movements have been replaced in the internet age by virtual flame wars. And the thing about flame wars is that they lack all evidence of “personal work.”

Capitalism, once again, has imploded out from underneath millions of people whom it pretended to serve. And socialism even under these conditions finds underwhelming support. Between the cracks of two deflated ideals, a necessary movement grows roots. With so much death around us, King’s Easter reminds us that if we don’t neglect “personal work” there is always hope for birth and rebirth through righteous, organized, and disciplined social movements.

Retired Generals Campaign for Health Care Equity for all Children

Operation Tiny Tim

by April Z. Fool

April 1 — A new association of retired military generals plans today to announce “Operation Tiny Tim” to secure the dignity of affordable health care for all children, not only in the USA but in all countries where US bases are located.

“Whether we have to open up our military hospitals or extend the Pentagon budget for health care to civilian facilities, we are determined to share with the children of the world nothing less than the quality medical care that our own children received as military dependents,” said General Samuel “Upright” Justice from his home in northern Virginia.

General Sawyer “True Blue” Edgemont, who served three years as Director of Medical Operations for the Joint Chiefs, said he couldn’t be more proud of the record that the military has established for quality, accessible, and affordable health care for American soldiers, spouses, and dependents around the world.

“Medical care is mission critical for us in times of war and peace,” said Edgemont. “Assuring the right to a healthy body is something we can be honored to stand for wherever Old Glory flies”

Speaking from Pasadena, California, where he serves as volunteer coordinator for a food bank, Edgemont said the idea for Operation Tiny Tim came up in a casual conversation during a Dickens reading circle last summer.

“We have the experience and commitment to excellence in federal health care,” he said. “Why not build from the strengths that we already have?”

General Lucinda “Boots” Billingame said the idea comes at a time when Americans are needlessly divided over health care reform.

“Nothing succeeds like success,” said Billingame, “so I think we can make a lasting contribution to authentic patriotism if we show ourselves and the world that America is very much a can-do country when it comes to efficient delivery of best practices in health care for coming generations.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was unavailable for comment at the time of this report, but a spokesman for the Pentagon, on condition of anonymity, suggested that the active-duty uniformed services would respect whatever mission that Congress and the President should decide to order.

“We’re here to serve the national interest,” said the Pentagon spokesman.

Meanwhile, reporters and producers at the international finance channel CNBC were rumored to be scouring sources and experts to determine which companies would be most likely to secure lucrative federal contracts when the campaign goes operational.

Aides for Republican Congressmen who opposed recent reforms known as “Obamacare” were quick to point out that the program proposed by the retired Generals would be expensive.

“War is not cheap,” said one well-placed aide. “Especially when you consider that the war they’re talking about will never end.”

Aides for Democrat supporters of “Obamacare” expressed concern that the Generals’ proposal would raise the spectre of a “public option” during the upcoming election cycle.

“We’ll be lucky enough to survive voter wrath for the modest expansion in health care insurance coverage,” said one insider, referring to the health insurance bill that passed in March. “I’m not sure the American people will tolerate the idea of No Child Left Behind applied to health care.”

“There is a lot of anger and mistrust out there,” added the insider. “But if an association of Generals says that they can win this Operation Tiny Tim, people on both sides of the aisle might give them a hearing.”

When he is not writing April Fool’s fantasies, Greg Moses is Editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and a lifetime student of what William James called the “Moral Equivalent of War.” Moses can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

Why Blackwater Will Not Go Away

by Gene Stoltzfus

From his Peace Probe Blog
March 3, 2010, 11:52 am

In April 2004 the world was awakened to a horrible scene in Fallujah, Iraq. Insurgents had ambushed a vehicle carrying civilian U. S. Government mercenary contractors and killed them. Two of the burned corpses were hung from a bridge in downtown Fallujah where they dangled for several days as photos of them flashed around the world. Commentators immediately compared the Fallujah footage to that of dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. The victims in Somalia were American soldiers. The victims in Fallujah were American mercenaries employed by Blackwater Inc., renamed XE in 2007.

In this century we are entering a new era of mercenary warriors. From the strategic point of view, modern mercenaries fulfill a crucial requirement. They provide logistical and selected security support for invading forces in the field, and in addition on the political level they allow policy makers to engage in off-the-record, arms length and clandestine activities on the margins and outside of the law. This was formally called “plausible deniability”. In the recent past mercenary soldiers for profit have also served in Bosnia, Liberia, Pakistan, and Rwanda. They have guarded the Afghan President Karzai and built detention facilities in Guantanamo and elsewhere. On February 10, 2010, the Iraqi government ordered all Blackwater Inc. including subsidiaries out of Iraq or risk arrest. The order includes anyone involved with Blackwater in the deadly shooting incident in 2007 when they killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

Due to a hostile local population the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have required heavily armed guards, escorts, and sharp shooters to provide logistical protection for the millions of tons of military supplies. It is dangerous work and requires people who have been trained. The contractors, some from third world nations like the Philippines also staff the kitchens, the PXs (tax-free general stores for soldiers that offers rock bottom prices) and provide thousands of other support activities. Most mercenary contractors who carry out security related functions are former military. The Pentagon argues that despite lavish salaries, using military contractors is cheaper than training soldiers for the work. What is not said is that if the American armed forces were to carry out all these tasks the U. S. Government would have to implement a military draft which would be unpopular and set up the sons and perhaps the daughters of the privileged classes for the danger and inconvenience of military service.

Paramilitary units in Colombia, Philippines, Haiti, Afghanistan and many countries around the world perform similar functions to what private sector mercenary contractors do for the U. S forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. U. S. Operatives sometimes together with mercenaries have been involved in strategy formation, training, and sometimes in financing usually in conjunction with local government military groups. Even the Taliban got its start in the early 1980s as a paramilitary project developed and financed by U. S. personnel in conjunction with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Like the mercenary soldiers of Blackwater, virtually all of whom have had careers in the U. S. military, the Taliban grew up fighting and to this day this is the only profession they really know.

The Taliban and Colombian thug-like paramilitary units function at the margin of traditional customary law. Modern mercenary contractors often also function outside constitutional law. Both blur the lines between judicial process and police activity arrogating to themselves life and death decisions that any responsible society must legislate. These soldiers know the law of the gun. When or if constitutional government is restored they seek a place within the institutions of security work, but rarely leave their habits of threat, killing and improvised seat-of-the-pants law making. Former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld insisted that war by mercenary contract is cheaper but his calculations failed to include the re-education of the first generation of Taliban fighters back into civilian life from combat with the Soviets in the 1980s. Nor did his calculations include the cost to the American people of the expansion of its imperial culture of security.

Mercenaries working under private corporations also have carried out specialized tasks for the CIA including the loading of Hellfire missiles onto Predator drones. They have engaged in search, capture or assassination of enemy leaders in areas like the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Officially, the Blackwater mercenaries killed in the 2004 events in Fallujah were in the line of duty “to protect food shipments.” However there is apparently some doubt if there were in fact any food shipments on that day.

In 2003-4 I made several trips to Iraq. At the close of the first trip, an Iraqi with whom I had consulted extensively, rushed to the CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) apartment. He insisted that I must meet with some very important people for an extended lunch 16 hours before I was to depart from Baghdad. Our CPT schedule was piled full of planning and projects. I didn’t want to go to the dinner because I suspected I was about to be the recipient of a mountainous request that CPT had neither the personnel nor the money to respond to. But I agreed to go with other CPTers. The dinner turned out to be a gathering of representatives from some of the senior families of Fallujah. I figured it out about two thirds of the way through introductions. The entire group was made up of leaders. I waited knowing that they wanted something.

They asked about CPT. I knew that they already knew a great deal because two persons in the circle had spent extended time with us. We explained our decision to focus on detainees, house raids and the rights of Iraqis. We gave two examples of cases we were working on. We were frank about our limitations. There was some silence, and then one person asked if we ever do anything outside of Baghdad. We said, “Yes.” Have you every been in Fallujah? “Yes we have visited Fallujah.” I thought I knew where the conversation was going so I didn’t ask anything further so that the conversation about Fallujah could not develop. I didn’t want them to ask if we could put a team in Fallujah. They persisted with broad hints about the needs of Fallujah.

As I left that meeting, the spokesperson of the group took me aside. He identified himself as a senior police officer in Iraq. As he prepared to say something to me his cell phone rang. It was his counterpart, a U. S. Colonel. I waited and tried not to listen to what was being said. The call ended. He looked at me and said, “The U. S. Forces detained my nephew some weeks ago. We can’t find him. Could CPT help us find my nephew?” I said we could try although our team was already over committed. We tried but we were not successful. I don’t know if his nephew survived detention. I don’t know if the police officer survived the last seven years.

This encounter took place six months before the first battle of Fallujah which followed the killing of Blackwater contractors. As I write this I wonder how many of the people in that circle on that day are still alive, still live in Iraq or have any normalcy in their lives. I wonder if an unarmed peacemaking team in Fallujah might have made a real difference to the U. S. strategy, leading not once but twice to the destruction of that city. I believe trained and disciplined unarmed peacemakers in good numbers could have done without arms what armed soldiers could not accomplish — protect the people of Fallujah.

The story does not have to end here. We are not condemned to surviving in a world where the law is decimated by successive generations of paramilitaries. But the answer will probably not come from the Pentagon nor from the White House which may not be able to escape the grasp of a citizenry whose houses of worship celebrate the institutions of violent intervention. Congressional efforts to rein in support for paramilitaries or mercenaries have been timid. We will know if unarmed spiritually based peacemakers can do this when we become even more resolved to create a corp that can be in the Fallujahs that are waiting to happen.

Every one of us is impacted by a dominant culture that insists that military or police force will make things right. Every day that culture tells us that dirty tricks usually done in secret are required for our survival. After all, it’s argued, someone has to do this dirty work. It’s called a noble work and the Blackwater mercenaries are required for the work. It will take an expanding world wide but grass roots culture reaching beyond national borders to fashion a body of Christian peacemakers to be an effective power to block the guns and be part of transforming each impending tragedy of war. Little by little there will be change.

Open Letter to Obama on Afghanistan

Open letter to President Obama,

You have been struggling with a dreadful task: deciding what the US should do with the war you inherited in Afghanistan. You are properly taking your time and analyzing anew what our country’s goals should be and how to accomplish them. You are being strongly pressured by military officials who have much invested in the tasks they have been doing for the last eight years. It must be hard to resist the entreaties of such a respected coterie when it is not balanced by strong pressure to drastically change course.

An analysis of what we should do in Afghanistan should include, what
legitimate reasons a country may have for militarily intervening in another country, what goals we have in Afghanistan, how likely we are of our achieving those goals, what negative effects may result from our actions, and the likelihood of those effects. The arguments pro and con for our initial attack on Afghanistan should be examined in terms of how subsequent events supported or refuted them and how applicable they are to the current situation.

Mission creep is a perennial problem in military missions and should only be accepted if based on a proper balancing of international law with advantages and disadvantages to our vital national security. A recognition that no people like foreign troops on their soil or bombing of their homeland, accompanied by an analysis of how this general principle plays out in Afghan society, must by incorporated into the analysis.

So why did the Bush Administration take us to war in Afghanistan?

On September 11, 2001, we were horribly attacked by a group of people funded and otherwise supported by an organization (al Qaeda) based in Afghanistan. With almost 3,000 dead and a fear that more attacks may be forthcoming, the American people not only rightly wanted our government to prevent further attacks and to bring those responsible to justice, they also (to a great extent) wanted revenge. Since those who carried out the attacks were dead, those who intentionally supported the attacks were the targets of our fury. And since those who supported the attacks supported the attackers, what about others who supported the attackers? … and those who supported those who supported the attackers, etc.?

The Bush Administration immediately requested and received authorization from Congress to use all “necessary” force against “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the attrocity of 9/11 or who “harbored” anyone the administration deemed responsible, “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against” the US. Such an open ended authorization was unprecedented and arguably not Constitutionally authorized, but in the emotions of the moment sailed through Congress with only a single vote in opposition.

The Bush Administration, which is now recognized to have been poor in
making international judgements, opposed to diplomacy, and not very
understanding of cultural differences, determined that al Qaeda was
responsible for the attacks and demanded that Afghanistan hand over Osama bin Laden, the leader of that organiztion for trial. They presented an ultimatum, not an extradition request. Not only did we not have an extradition treaty with Afghanistan, but we did not even recognize their government.

The Afghan government started to negotiate. They said that they would try Osama in Afghanistan, as he had been charged with engaging in conspiracy to murder while in country, and asked for evidence in support of the charge. An extradition request necessarily provides a certain amount of evidence supporting its charge, but the Bush Administration would not provide this, but merely repeated its demand.

What went on behind the scenes is not publicly known, but the Afghan
government is known to have explained their obligation under their
culture’s responsibility to protect a guest and later to have offered to
submit Osama bin Laden to trial in a court in a third country. The US
government, at least publicly, would not negotiate, but stuck to its
demand while rapidly building up a military force near Afghanistan.

During this period, some Americans outside the government presented a case that the US was unlikely to capture Osama bin Laden through war, but that through negotiation he might be brought to trial. Police action against al Qaeda could bring about the capture (and later trial) of others involved in the 9/11 attacks and that information gained could lead to further disruption and destruction of the organization. As this approach was not taken, we do not know if the claims were valid, but their prediction that war would not capture Osama has held true so far.

George Bush deemed that Afghanistan and its ruling party, the Taliban,
“harbored” al Qaeda, and thus could be attacked under the “Authorization for Use of Military Force.” However, the government we installed in Afghanistan is not covered by this authorization. In order to legally stay in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban under this resolution, you have to determine both that the Taliban as an organization, not just Afghanistan as a country, “harbored” al Qaeda AND that military action against the Taliban is necessary to prevent future acts of terrorism against the US. The first finding could go either way, but the second is hard to make. On what basis does warring against the Afghan Taliban prevent terrorism?

You must consider that US military action in Afghanistan, with its not
infrequent killing of dozens of civilians, increases violent opposition to
the United States and may thus itself increase the likelihood of terrorist
attacks. Unless you find that such a war prevents, instead of promotes, terrorism against the US, you have no Congressional authorization to war against the Taliban.

Al Qaeda is on the run. Military analysts have publicly opined that
less than 200 members (of an organization of at most a few thousand) are currently in Afghanistan. Most are deemed to be in Pakistan, while other members have scattered across at least the Muslim world. A military force of 28,000 or 60,000, or 94,000 is neither appropriate nor necessary to go after 200 people. Unless you find that such a large force is necessary to prevent these few people from engaging in terrorism against the US, you are not legally authorized to have them in Afghanistan.

You are authorized to use necessary force against individual al Qaeda
members who aided the 9/11 attacks. While this would include remotely
targeted killings, standard jurisprudence suggests that arrest and trial
would be more appropriate. Not only could information be gained from such detainees, but some persons you personally “found” to be responsible might actually be innocent. Also, an arrest (by police or special forces team) could prevent innocent people from being “collaterally” killed or injured.

On top of this analysis, the situation in Afghanistan must be analyzed to determine what is in our national interest. Afghan culture is very local. People are loyal to and protect guests, but resist uninvited visitors. They have never had a strong central government; those who have ruled with some success from Kabul have always accepted significant local control of local affairs. When someone from outside the local area tries to exert authority over a region — whether from abroad or another part of Afghanistan — the local populace resists. The British learned this in the 19th Century, the Soviets in the 20th Century, and we are slowly learning it in the 21st.

You are being urged to increase our forces in Afghanistan to support the Afghan government (which is not a Congressionally authorized use of force). This government is seen as corrupt and illegitimate by the people, being initially forced on a loya jirga by outside powers and having stolen the recent election through massive ballot stuffing and fraud.

Matthew Hoh, who resigned from a high State Department position in Zabul province last month wrote a very telling letter. He learned from
experience on the ground that we do not belong there. He concluded that “[s]uccess and victory, whatever they may be, will be realized not in years … but in decades and generations.”

I urge you to judge what possible purpose we may have in remaining in
Afghanistan, talking with opponents as well as supporters of the war, and when you determine that continuing the war does not serve our national interest, nor is in keeping with international law, to start a careful draw-down of troops, and to redirect our campaign against al Qaeda in the direction of police action.

doug foxvog

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Doug Foxvog is a longtime peace advocate and activist who now resides in Ireland.