Monday, September 28, 2009

think tanks advise our military?

talking points memo carried an article on neocon fred kagan advising general mcchrystal on afghanistan policy. what opened my eyes what not the specifics about this political hack advising our military leaders, but the general fact that lots of think tanks are busy advising them! how is this accepted and normal? what does this trend do to the view of the military as 'non-political' or even above politics? i think this is very dangerous, since our democracy rests partly on the notion of a military outside of politics. is it already the elephant in the room, leaking to the media in order to get what it wants politically, an escalation in afghanistan? (which it got successfully in vietnam decades ago). quoting TPM:

We followed up by asking if it was accurate to describe the Kagans as "McChrystal advisers" -- as the AP and NPR have in recent days (AP mentions both Kagans, NPR only Fred). Sholtis responded:

"If you're just going to say they're advisers in some kind of neutral way, then yes. If by saying they're advisers you're going to imply that we're in some kind of neocon thrall, then no. Like I said, he takes advice from all sides."

It's been observed that no one who advised McChrystal on the review "thinks the war effort is adequately resourced." This list of the dozen advisers gives a sense of how "all sides" is defined. Besides AEI, other organizations represented include: the RAND Corporation, Brookings, the Center for Strategic & International Studies, and the Center for a New American Security.

in other words, ALL the groups advising the general are pushing for more troops. the military-industrial complex has a well-developed lobbying arm, apparently, apart from legislators.

muslims, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

i invited two iraqi friends to dad's 80th birthday party yesterday. most of the attendees were my parent's church friends. i greeted a couple of men who openly profess extremist views. one of them, named ed, got me really angry a couple of years ago by informing me out of his deep learning that all muslims are commanded to (and accept the command to) kill non-muslims. when i argued the absurdity of this point, he simply responded that the (seemingly) peaceful ones were just 'biding their time.'

people like this are not amenable to reason and evidence: their 'arguments' are no more than acts of faith. they know what they know because they believe in it hard enough.

i wondered as i saw these good christians sipping punch and nibbling cookies whether they really believed the bilge they spew: were they sure that my two friends, sitting together in the living room smiling at and chatting with others in their new english, were merely here to case the house for a terrorist attack?

the only reason these good people are here is because their country was ripped apart by terrorism and war after we invaded for reasons of (nudge nudge, wink wink) 'national security.' not everyone who comes here comes because they worship our country; some come because a parent is assassinated and the whole family's life is in danger. . . which might have occurred because our president decided he wanted to try on the uniform of 'commander-in-chief' and to do that, he needed a war. national security, my ass.

but i do not think these good christian men are interested in the real consequences of their cynically patriotic wars. they are content to attend their parties and ask no questions of the muslims in the corner. this way they can still imagine that america is the only and eternal victim.

even true believers in fantasy must work hard to maintain their fantasies.

fortunately there are members of my parent's congregation who are more inclined to thought rooted in reality. a kind old woman, kay, when my friend F. told her he was from Iraq, put her hand over her mouth and shook her head and said, with real pain, "I'm sorry." and F's face showed the sadness of his lost country -- a look allowed because of the kindness and honesty of an old woman named Kay. "They are war criminals," she said. and F. said, more generously than is warranted, "some people crazy."

but to call these perps crazy is to deny the cynical calculations that went into their evil plans.

the best men are haunted (for dad's 80th)

See his work pants, speckled with the paint
of a dozen dogged summers,
projects in wood and brick, bitter with detail;
his shoes, shredded and gouged
by nails, splinters, snags,
doubts, duties: have I really done enough?

In old pictures he’s delicately eared
and nosed, small of smiles, a colt gentle in
the eyes, but in the sinews

See him now, decades done, craggy and laconic,
shuffling head down on agendas never done,
see him and try to believe the stoic has not won.
It has not -- it has not: gentleness is never done.

Those eyes could not not see
Goya’s shadow-people wedged, writhing,
beneath Power’s gorgeous building.
For a tower this proudly
starred this fine
their bones must crack; marrow
must grind for
the mortar tomorrow. Best to just not
think about it, people say. Such people
are not followed.

But even gone he saw them – and saw them,
haunting him, mouthing their stories at him.

Consider this.
Guatemala City, 1950: Machine guns
are popping, the good guys lost, they said;
a young missionary hid under his bed
and went home with stories. In 1954, our
boys finally won:
Then looted the land for forty years,
snuffing out the brown folk he had loved.

It’s the nineties. See him now – the man grows old.
He wonders at the root of evil, and
empire’s fruits. He does
not retire. He stakes
out the perps. He
reads books. He
learned who pulled the strings, who
pushed the coup. He’s a
tough detective soul in Jesus shoes.


Friday, September 18, 2009

the pathos of a job app

the other day i accompanied an iraqi friend to apply for a job at Willoughby's, a popular cafe in town. 36 years old and struggling to learn english, with a strong limp from a gunshot wound to the leg, he painstakingly wrote his name and address in child-like script. when it came to 'previous work experience' i took a deep breathe. 'what was the name of that boutique you ran?' i asked. then i told him how to spell the name in roman letters. finally he looked at me for help and i took the pen and filled the lines in for him.

he was once a son of one of the big men of a big clan in Diyala, Iraq. he ran a chicken farm, several stores, who knows what else. no doubt his dad was close to Saddam Hussein's regime. he walked on top of the world until 2003. now he is a refugee in the country that did his father in.

with a smile at the absurdity, i wrote down the phone numbers for those businesses. under reasons for leaving, i wrote 'civil war.'

oh the pathos of trying to shoehorn any real person into a job application, not to mention someone whose life was broken cleanly off in the recent past and has no record here. at least he had a social security number. he pulled a card from his pocket and translated the modern Arabic numbers into the old-time Arabic numerals we use here.

at the bottom i wrote an asterisk, and then 'i'm great with people!' hoping with this comment to cut across the foreignness of his experience and back to the human heart of the matter: a once-exalted man, still able to smile, in need of a job.