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Trump’s failure to honour fallen Americans at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery in 2018 speaks volumes.

Trump’s failure to honour fallen Americans at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery in 2018 speaks volumes.

Given his general vileness, it is easy for those of us who loathe and despise Donald Trump to readily believe the allegation that he uttered deeply disparaging remarks about World War I American dead whom he was scheduled to honour at a centennial ceremony on 10 November 2018 at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery and Memorial. Trump, and his flunkies have mounted a furious campaign of denial that he said what has been reported, first by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and then confirmed by other media. But rather than argue over what he said, which is a matter of dispute, the focus should surely be on what he did, which is not.

First, some background. More than 2,000 Americans fell at the battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918 and are buried in the cemetery. They were part of a force composed of the 2nd and 3rd United States Infantry Divisions rushed to reinforce French troops on the Marne River front who were fighting desperately to stem a final German offensive to end the war. Belleau Wood became the focus of the German thrust in this sector but they ran smack into the US 4th Marine Brigade, comprised of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, part of the 2nd Division. The Marines had arrived just in time to see French troops retreating. When urged by the French to do the same the legendary reply came back from US Marine Captain Lloyd Williams: “Retreat? Hell we just got here!” The Marines dug in and repulsed the German attack. 

From the 3-26 June the ferocious battle raged back and forth until the Germans were finally ejected from the wood. In that time the Marines endured thunderous artillery, devastating machine gun fire as they advanced through open wheat fields, hand-to-hand fighting using bayonets, knives, rifle butts and fists and, perhaps most frightening of all, poison gas. During one gas attack, Gunnery Sergeant Fred W. Stockham gave his gas mask to a wounded Marine whose own had been shot off. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some 10,000 Americans were casualties of whom over 1,800 Marines were killed. In their honour the French renamed Belleau Wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” or Wood of the Marine Brigade and awarded them the Crois de Guerre.

Against this backdrop and some 100 years later Donald Trump, when confronted with the prospect of a two-hour road trip and a rainy, possibly windy day that would play havoc with his hair, declined to attend the ceremony honouring the American fallen of Belleau Wood. To his chagrin, travel by helicopter had been nixed owing to inclement weather and rather than sucking it up as any other president would have done Trump, true to form, cancelled his appearance and hid behind the fiction that the logistics of moving his motorcade to the cemetery was beyond the organizational ability of his entourage; this despite the fact that several world leaders attended centennial events in the rain that day. There was strong criticism at the time, none more eloquent than this piece from Eliot A. Cohen in The Atlantic.

Not that the day was wasted. Trump apparently shopped for art at the residence of the US Ambassador to Paris and had several works of art shipped back to the White House.

So Trump skipped an event to honour our heroic soldiers and Marines who had given everything they had to give in service to their country to avoid a bad hair day or maybe simply because he couldn’t be bothered. Trump doesn’t need words to show his contempt for those who have served and sacrificed for their country. His actions speak far more loudly than his words. 

In his Atlantic piece, Cohen includes a poem from Alan Seeger as a sort of rebuke to Trump from beyond the grave. Seeger was an American who volunteered with the French Foreign Legion prior to the entry of the US into the Great War. He died of his wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme on the 4th of July 1916 at the age of 28. I can think of nothing more appropriate:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It maybe that he will take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear …
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Christian Crusader Assault Rifle for Killing Muslim Terrorists

Christian Crusader Assault Rifle for Killing Muslim Terrorists

photo from seller's website
photo from seller’s website

What dedicated follower of the Lord Jesus Christ wouldn’t covet this beautiful weapon designed for killing people in a gloriously efficient manner?

This semi-automatic rifle manufactured by Spike’s Tactical isn’t just any old secular assault rifle though, this one is emblazoned with the cross of the Knights Templar, a religious order that fought Muslims in the 12th-century Crusades.

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Songs for your Summertime Soundtrack

Songs for your Summertime Soundtrack

Today is the first full day of summer, so you need a list of songs that sound great on a hot sunny day. I’ve been listening to summer-themed songs and music that just feels right on a sunny day, and here’s my final list with a few comments and videos.

Where is the Sun? – Stag (2014)

I heard this song on Quilty’s show on KEXP a few weeks ago on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. Seattle is normally cloudy and damp until July 5th every year. So it’s no wonder a Seattle band would ride a somewhat melancholy song asking when the sun will show up. I stayed away from most songs that were a bit of downer, but this one works for an opening track because by the end it’s pretty upbeat. I should also mention that Seattle has had a great summer so far, even though summer didn’t officially start until today. We’ve already had seven days with high temperatures over eight degrees in June. We don’t normally get this kind of whether until July.

Pipeline – The Chantays (1962)

Perhaps my all-time favorite surf song. I never get tired of this classic.

Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys (1966)

Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues – Eels (2000)

Summertime Boy – Seasick Steve (2015)

I hadn’t really listened to Seasick Steve until this year when he put out Sonic Soul Surfer. Here’s the video.

Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

Low Rider – War (1975)

Yes I know they have a song titled “Summer”, but I like this song in this set because it feels like summer, and if you are a fan of War, then it makes you think of “Summer”.

Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo (1983)

Driving and listening to the radio, and sometimes not understanding a word that is said.

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini – Brian Hyland (1960)

Got to have at least one cheesy summer song.

Rockaway Beach – Ramones (1977)

Aloha Steve and Danno – Radio Birdman (1978)

Radio Birdman’s tribute to the 1960’s TV show, and it includes them playing the theme song in the song. Double fun!

Misirlou – Dick Dale and his Del-Tones (1962)

Another great surf song made even more famous when Quentin Tarantino included it in the soundtrack for Pulp Fiction.

Soft Hand – Willard Grant Conspiracy (2003)

This song just feels like summer to me.

Double Vision – Houndstooth (2015)

From the great new album, No News from Home, that will probably make the Best of 2015 list.

On My Balcony – Flunk (2004)

A perfect summer song. About summer, feels like summer, and I just want to hear it over and over.

Plastic Radio – Viva Voce (2011)

This song might not have anything to do with summer, but it sounds like it does.

Who Loves the Sun – The Velvet Underground (1970)

Summer Nights – Marianne Faithfull (1964)

Blue Sunshine – Blue Giant (2010)

Summer Wine – Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood (1967)

I wasn’t familiar with this song. I found it searching for songs about summer, and I think it’s the best find for this setlist. Here’s the video.

Coconut – Harry Nilsson (1971)

Doctor! I love this song. Another one that just sounds like summer.

Working on My Tan – Tim Curry (1981)

A staple during my college years. It’s a song that has to be on every summer compilation.

Stupid Marriage – Specials (1979)

Naked woman, naked man,
Where did you get that nice sun tan?
You live in a castle built of sand
Naked woman, naked man…

Mr. Moto – The Bel-Airs (1961)

This had to end with a surf song, and this was the perfect one.

Iraq mess is the inevitable result of Bush-Cheney’s calamitous blunder.

Iraq mess is the inevitable result of Bush-Cheney’s calamitous blunder.

We are seeing in Iraq the inevitable fruition of the Bush-Cheney ordered invasion of Iraq in 2003 – the dismemberment of the country.

We expended 4,500 American and over 100,000 Iraqi lives, and more than a trillion and a half dollars on one of the greatest strategic blunders in United States history. About $20 billion was spent on training the Iraqi army only to see it dissolve on contact with an irregular force it massively outnumbered and outgunned.

The Iraqi army and its Shia militia allies seem able to hold Baghdad and the south against the onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its allies, but there is little chance they can recover the ground lost in Anbar and in provinces to the north, unless the Sunni tribes once again turn on the Islamists and support the government. Thanks to the sectarian antics of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of a governing Shiite majority government who first came to power during the Bush years, that outcome appears highly unlikely.

Laying this mess on Obama is like blaming the captain of the Lusitania for not bringing enough buckets. The Iraqi ship of state was torpedoed and taking on water the moment we overthrew the old order. We convinced ourselves that training and equipping the Iraqi military and establishing a democratic system would mean a new and brighter future for Iraq. Now we see clearly how doomed our hopes were by that nation’s sectarian divisions and the inability of our guy Maliki to rise above the petty games and maneuvers that have maintained his power but at the expense of national unity.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Abrams, David Brooks, William Kristol, Brit Hume and the rest of them were dead wrong about all of it.

Yet this crowd has the unmitigated gall to blame Obama for not leaving a residual force of US soldiers behind, as if doing so could possibly have prevented the collapse of the Iraqi army, which was rotten from within. They also seek to rewrite history by ignoring the fact that Maliki’s government and the Iraqi people wanted all US troops gone in 2011, and gloss over the fact that it was Bush who signed, however reluctantly, the original agreement for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq in 2008.

There is an emerging narrative, particularly among those who excoriate Obama for not supporting the moderate rebels in Syria sooner and more substantively, that we should have bombed ISIS whilst it was building in eastern Syria before it started tearing through Iraq; as if bombing alone could achieve anything useful. In fact, following the absurd logic of those who see ISIS as the biggest threat to civilization, we should be supporting the Assad regime in Syria since it has far more military power with which to take on ISIS than do the moderate rebel groups.

There were sound reasons for not intervening militarily in Syria. It’s unlikely that we could have done anything to mitigate the awful bloodshed of the Syrian civil war as opposed to simply adding to it. And Obama’s detractors need to get their stories straight: Should we have been bombing Assad (who is actually fighting the Islamists) or ISIS which is now attacking Iraq? Or should we simply have been bombing everybody in Syria?

Obama has so far refrained from rushing back into the Iraq imbroglio. Acting in haste would be a mistake. We have time to sort out an appropriate strategy.

ISIS cannot take all of Iraq and is not a short-term threat to the US no matter the hyperbole of conservatives. Taking vast areas of Iraq is one thing; holding them is another. And the longer they rule, the more likely they will resort to their murderous ways, thereby alienating Sunni tribes.

One thing we must do, though, is ignore the ravings of the idiots who got us into this mess in the first place.

Iraq War Reckoning

Iraq War Reckoning

The last American units withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011. Most of us breathed a sigh of relief while others believe it was premature to leave and that we’ll pay for it later. Who’s right? And what’s the final reckoning?

In a nutshell I think our troops were magnificent, our politicians awful and our national security overall has been diminished.  And as for Iraq itself, we won’t know whether we set it on a new path to a unified and democratic future or a dead-end of sectarian fracturing and possible civil war for a generation.

It’s fair to say that the 30% of us who opposed the invasion from the outset,  because it was unnecessary, unjustified and would create a messy aftermath to the successful toppling of Saddam Hussein were completely vindicated.  On the biggest thing, in other words, we got it right.

On the other hand, those of us who opposed the so-called “surge” got it wrong, I’m happy to say, and it would be sour grapes not to admit it. In truth, we should celebrate the fact that the army was able to show sufficient flexibility to reassess its strategy in Iraq and, rather than reinforce failure, produce not only a winning formula for success but the man to implement it. General David Petraeus’s introduction of sound counterinsurgency principles, along with the modest boost in troop strength helped to turn the tide. 

Of course, this success would not have been possible without the Sunni Awakening, for which we can thank al-Qaida-in-Iraq’s own murderous extremism, which drove the Sunni tribes of Anbar to make peace with the Americans and turn on the terrorists. This meant that 70% of the Sunni insurgents stopped shooting at us and, instead, provided valuable intelligence and other assistance which led to the effective defeat of al-Qaida.  Of course this too was part of the American counterinsurgency strategy but let’s not underrate the role it played in the US victory.

Yet the cost of this “victory” was horrendous.  It is now accepted that 100,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the invasion and the awful chaos and violence that followed. A tad under 4,500 Americans were killed and scores of allied soldiers, mostly Brits, were also lost. The toll in wounded including maimed civilians and soldiers hardly bears thinking about. The damage done to Iraq’s infrastructure was enormous; even now, for example, Iraqis only enjoy a few hours of electricity on any given day.

In strategic terms the invasion has to be viewed as a disaster since one consequence has been to significantly enhance the power of America’s nemesis in the region, Iran, since Iraq is no longer the counterweight to Iranian influence it once was in its pre-invasion days.  

Even our long term relationship with Iraq cannot be taken for granted. There was no festoon of flowers along the route into Kuwait taken by the last American units to leave. Iraqis are at best ambivalent about the US invasion. Even those who benefit the most from Saddam Hussein’s fall wonder at the price they paid in terms of lives lost or ruined, and a broken country that we leave still in need of serious repair.

Back in America one of our major political parties obsesses about budget deficits whilst protecting our wealthiest citizens from overdue tax increases. This, when we face a huge and looming bill for the life-time care of thousands of former American servicemen and women who sustained permanent physical or mental injuries from this war and the one still waging in Afghanistan.  We can only hope that the GOP will one day soon return to the reality that most of us live in and leave their alternate, fantasy world behind.

Finally, we learned that our volunteer military is both blessing and curse: A blessing because it performed with incredible professionalism, bravery and military competence even as the war increasingly and bitterly divided the country. Our servicemen and women never faltered in fulfilling their duty and it’s hard to find the words to praise them enough.  But the volunteer military is also a curse because it enables idiot presidents with their own agenda to send it into unwise and unnecessary wars with few political consequences because most of us have no loved ones at risk. The few risked all while the many risked nothing.

The “Little Boy” Atomic Bomb Explodes in Hiroshima – August 6, 1945

The “Little Boy” Atomic Bomb Explodes in Hiroshima – August 6, 1945

Little Boy Exploding in Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

From a column by Kenzaburo Oe in today’s New York Times:

Sixty-five years ago, after learning that a friend who was reported missing after the bombing of Hiroshima had turned up in a hospital there, my mother put together a meager care package and set out from our home in Shikoku to pay a visit. When she returned, she shared her friend’s description of that morning in August 1945.

Moments before the atomic bomb was dropped, my mother’s friend happened to seek shelter from the bright summer sunlight in the shadow of a sturdy brick wall, and she watched from there as two children who had been playing out in the open were vaporized in the blink of an eye. “I just felt outraged,” she told my mother, weeping.

From a speech delivered by President Barack Obama in Prague, April 5, 2009:

Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be stopped, cannot be checked -– that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction. Such fatalism is a deadly adversary, for if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.

Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. (Applause.) And as nuclear power –- as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.

Frontline – Bush’s War

Frontline – Bush’s War

This edition of Frontline is incredible. It’s causing me to reconsider my opinion of Bush and his administration’s handling of the Iraq War. It’s not an unstoppable freight train of bad decision making, with Bush at the helm, it’s several unstoppable freight trains helmed by the megalomaniacal power brokers Bush unwittingly empowered. And they’re all racing for the Iraq War Central junction, at which Bush is the signalman.

It’s his weak leadership that has led to this train wreck. It seems there may have been good intentions on several fronts that I had never guessed were there. But the infighting, the egos, and the political positioning, among other forces, are directly at odds with the occasional demonstration of competence and thoughtful concern for the consequences of their pursuits.

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The Downward Spiral of the Bush Years

The Downward Spiral of the Bush Years

Some happy thoughts from Bob Herbert today:

Maybe now we can stop listening to the geniuses who insisted that the way to nirvana was to ignore the broad national interest while catering to the desires of those who were already the wealthiest among us.

Former Senator Bill Bradley, in a conversation the other day, described the amount of public and private indebtedness in the U.S. as “ominous.” In his book, “The New American Story,” Mr. Bradley said:

“For almost a generation, America has cheated our future and lived only in the here and now. Economic growth depends on the level of investment in both physical capital — machines, infrastructure, technology — and human capital, which consists of the combined skills and health of our work force.”

Instead of making those investments, we’ve neglected our physical and human infrastructure, squeezed the daylights out of the work force (now a fearful and demoralized lot) and tried to hide the resulting debacle behind the fool’s gold of debt and denial.

Read the whole column here and remember we didn’t have to end up where we are today.  We did not have to start this three trillion dollar war, we did not have to cut taxes for the super rich, we could have used a portion of the trillions spent on the war and the billions in additional tax revenues to provide health insurance for every child in America, to provide a base level of health insurance for those of us who cannot afford it, to invest in our decaying infrastructure, to improve our schools, to invest in alternative forms of energy, to clean up our environment, and the list goes on and on…

These are things that the most citizens of the United States want.  Bush didn’t deliver to most citizens.  He delivered billions to “his base” in the form of tax cuts, and he delivered what will end up being trillions to the military industrial complex.

The question now is whether or not we can reverse direction and start making up the lost ground of the Bush years.  Certainly not if we elect McCain as our next president.  He campaigns as if a continuation of Bush’s war and making permanent Bush’s tax cuts for the rich is the right direction.

Take a good look around and see where Bush has led us:  The financial markets are headed for a meltdown, unemployment is on the rise, we’re entering into a recession, the dollar is way down, the price of oil is over $100 a barrel, the earth is heating up, the number of uninsured is on the rise, the war won’t end, our civil liberties have been curtailed, and our country’s reputation has been sullied by Bush’s use of illegal detention and torture.  Bush has been a miserable failure in every regard.

If the Democrats can’t take advantage of the current situation and win the November presidential election, you might as well kiss this country goodbye.  You won’t recognize it in four more years.

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Their story of lawlessness, mayhem and murder in Iraq.

U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are planning to descend on Washington from Mar. 13-16 to testify about war crimes they committed or personally witnessed in those countries.

“The war in Iraq is not covered to its potential because of how dangerous it is for reporters to cover it,” said Liam Madden, a former Marine and member of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. “That’s left a lot of misconceptions in the minds of the American public about what the true nature of military occupation looks like.”

Iraq Veterans Against the War argues that well-publicised incidents of U.S. brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of an entire family of Iraqis in the town of Haditha are not the isolated incidents perpetrated by “a few bad apples”, as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. They are part of a pattern, the group says, of “an increasingly bloody occupation”.

“The problem that we face in Iraq is that policymakers in leadership have set a precedent of lawlessness where we don’t abide by the rule of law, we don’t respect international treaties, so when that atmosphere exists it lends itself to criminal activity,” argues former U.S. Army Sergeant Logan Laituri, who served a tour in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 before being discharged as a conscientious objector.

Laituri told IPS that precedent of lawlessness makes itself felt in the rules of engagement handed down by commanders to soldiers on the front lines. When he was stationed in Samarra, for example, he said one of his fellow soldiers shot an unarmed man while he walked down the street.

“The problem is that that soldier was not committing a crime as you might call it because the rules of engagement were very clear that no one was supposed to be walking down the street,” he said. “But I have a problem with that. You can’t tell a family to leave everything they know so you can bomb the shit out of their house or their city. So while he definitely has protection under the law, I don’t think that legitimates that type of violence.”

Read the whole article here.

Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds

So this is how we are winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people:

The committee staff report said Blackwater guards had engaged in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, and in the vast majority of cases the guards fired their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded. In at least two cases, Blackwater paid victims’ family members who complained, and the company sought to cover up other episodes, the report said.

The staff report said that State Department officials approved the payments in the hope of keeping the shootings quiet, and in one case last year, helped Blackwater spirit an employee out of Iraq less than 36 hours after the employee, while drunk, killed a bodyguard for one of Iraq’s two vice presidents on Christmas Eve.

The report by the Democratic majority staff of a House committee adds weight to complaints from Iraqi officials, American military officers and Blackwater’s competitors that the company’s guards have taken an aggressive, trigger-happy approach to their work and have repeatedly acted with reckless disregard for Iraqi life.

In the case of the Christmas Eve killing, the report said that an official of the United States Embassy in Iraq suggested paying the slain bodyguard’s family $250,000, but a lower-ranking official said that such a high payment “could cause incidents with people trying to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family’s future.” Blackwater ultimately paid the dead man’s family $15,000.

In another fatal shooting cited by the committee, an unidentified State Department official in Baghdad urged Blackwater to pay the victim’s family $5,000. The official wrote, “I hope we can put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly.”

And we thought Abu Ghraib made us look bad.  Our government hired mercenaries at Blackwater along with their pals in the State Department are doing their best to make us look even worse.

The price for murdering a guy started at $250,000 (pretty low by U.S. Standards) and quickly dropped to $15,000 so as not to encourage people to commit suicide to enrich their families after they willingly provoke Blackwater security guards to kill them.

That kind of reminds me of some scenes in the Hearts and Minds documentary where they talked about how the government and the media spread propaganda about how the people of Vietnam did not value human life – that their lives were worth nothing.  It was bullshit of course, just like this is. 

Do they really think that there would be a rash of Iraqis volunteering themselves to get shot for a couple hundred thousand dollars?  I don’t think so…

So the price went down to $15,000 and then to $5,000 at the urging of an anonymous State Department official.  That’s great.  Our military doesn’t count Iraqi fatalities, and our hired guns aren’t accountable to anyone, until now I guess, and when they start shooting, they pretty much unload and leave any wounded innocent bystanders to fend for themselves.

When they are confronted by grieving family members, they hand out $5,000.  Not even enough to buy a decent used car.

They don’t seem to be following their own “Core Values.”

P.S.  Says here that Erik Prince, Chairman and CEO of Blackwater, is a fundamentalist Christian.  Guess that means God gave him a license to kill.