Tag Archives: Pentagon

Pentagon: Mistakes Were Made. Zany, Zany Mistakes.

Last week, we learned that the Pentagon accidentally sent live anthrax to nine states and a US military base. One day later, we learned that it was actually 11 states, 2 countries, and a military base. A few days later, they upped the number to 51 labs in 17 states and three foreign countries. A spokesman said they the Defense Department is certain that there are states that did not receive live anthrax spores, but they can’t confirm which ones. They’re pretty sure they might have sent live anthrax to themselves, though.

Oh, Pentagon, Pentagon, you’ve done it again! The Defense Department’s hijinks, mistakes, and inability to learn from them are what make it our most beloved and adorable government bureaucracy. We’re like Ricky and the Pentagon is our Lucy, with all the naive hijinks and mischief-making. Americans invest a kajillion dollars a year hoping that someone will keep us safe from biological weapons, and those same people end up shipping them out like AOL CDs? You have to laugh. The most expensive military in the world has lost three of their last four wars? We can just can’t stay mad at their cute little faces.

Top Pentagon Officials Meet

Remember a couple of months ago, when the Pentagon misplaced $500 million in military aid in Yemen? It was just a few things: 200 pistols,  200 rifles, 1.2 million rounds of ammunition, and 250 suits of body armor. Also, 160 Humvees, four helicopters, and two boats. You’ve probably never heard of a CN-235 airplane. There’s a picture of one below. Each one is 70 feet long and weighs 22,000 pounds. The Defense Department misplaced two of them in Yemen. Whoops!

Have You Seen Me?

Have You Seen Me?

Perhaps It’s not fair to single out the Department of Defense. It’s hardly the only giant federal bureaucracy to make darling little mistakes. They weren’t the ones who accidentally give 1,400 guns to drug gangs in Mexico. That was the ATF. The Pentagon also didn’t once lose 449 guns and 184 computers. That was the FBI. And then those lovable screw-ups did it again!  And it wasn’t Defense that failed to keep explosives and weapons off of planes 95% of the time. That was the adorable TSA. Soliciting Colombian prostitutes? The Secret Service. Seems like there’s lots of agencies looking to be Ethel to the Pentagon’s Lucy.

Still, who can forget last year when the military accidentally airdropped weapons and supplies to ISIS? That was really funny. Then the  Pentagon was then nice enough to let US weapons go to the Iranian-backed militias who are fighting ISIS, so it’s probably a wash. Did you that Hezbollah was so grateful for receiving an M1A1 Abrams tank that they posted a picture of it on Facebook (below)?

hezbollah tank

Most of the weapons the Department of Defense distributes probably go to the right place.  Except for that one time in 2012, when it let $200 million worth of weapons go to Islamist rebels in Libya. In 2011, the weapons sent to Uganda to fight al-Shabaab in Somalia accidentally ended up being used by the al-Shabab militants themselves. But they were probably going to blow up malls and commit massacres anyway. Bygones, right?

At least we know where those weapons ended up. We have no idea what happened to a bunch of weapons in Afghanistan. That’s not as bad as in 2004-2007, when we couldn’t account for 30% of the weapons we gave to Iraq. But let’s be positive: not being able to account for 30% means they could account for 70% of the weapons. If this were baseball, they’d have a .700 average! Sports similes are awesome! (Side note: the general that failed to account for the Iraqi weapons was David Petraeus, famous for the failed “surge” strategy in Iraq and successful “let’s have sex” strategy with his biographer).

By the way, there is absolutely no reason to be concerned about the $90 billion worth of weapons we sold to Saudi Arabia from 2010-14. We have no better repressive, theocratic friends than the Saudis. And it’s not like we’re selling Predator drones to the UAE. Oh, actually, we are. But don’t worry, it’s been at least a couple of weeks since a Middle Eastern country collapsed and rebels seized all of their weapons. And why would they go to all that effort, when the Saudis are generously sending them American weapons already?

Nothing can stop our dear, sweet, befuddled defense establishment. I still smile at the time an arms dealer was caught buying surplus F-14 parts to sell to Iran. The parts were confiscated by customs agents and returned to the US. Then, five years later, they were on the market again. And headed to Iran again. When customs agents seized them the second time, the fighter jet parts still had the evidence tags on them from the first incident. I’m crying over here!

Between 2003 and 2011, the sweet, ditzy Army lost track of 5.8 billion dollars worth of supplies. That’s small beans in an annual defense budget just shy of half a trillion dollars. Still, you’d think someone would want to provide some oversight. But that someone would be Congress, and it’s hard to provide oversight when you go cross-eyed pleasuring yourself at the mention of the words “defense,” “security,” or “troops.”

Senator Graham Readies His Hand for the Mention of

Senator Graham Readies His Hand for the Mention of “Troops”

The Pentagon was supposed to be audited in 1996. It wasn’t. Between then and when Reuters reported on their lack of accounting in 2013, Congress gave the Defense Department $8.5 trillion. That’s a big number, so think of it this way: all 8.5 million residents of New York City would have to win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to come up with that amount of money. Late last year, the Pentagon finally said it was ready for an audit – just 24 years after the law calling for one passed.

It will be interesting to see what the audit reveals – if it’s ever done. Last month, an audit of just the Pentagon’s travel credit cards found that in a single year, $952,000 was spent at casinos and $97,000 at “adult entertainment establishments.” Maybe they were paying for dancers to dress up like Senators. Oh, Pentagon.

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Imaginary Action Heroes, Real Wars, and Failing to Show Up for the Bechdel Test

The cold and snow has moved my running to a treadmill lately. To break up the monotony of watching numbers tick slowly higher, I’ve been watching action movies on Netflix while I run. So far, I’ve enjoyed such classics as Jack Reacher, Olympus Has Fallen, The Expendables 2, The Last Stand and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. They’re fast paced, don’t require close attention, and I can view them in 35 minute pieces over a period of days without having to keep track of an intricate plot. Good idea, huh?

I’m finding them kind of upsetting.

It’s not the obvious things, like the racial stereotypes. Yes, very few of the East Asian men I’ve met have genius level intelligence, martial arts mastery and a unbearable grudge against the United States. Usually it’s just one of those. I’ve found, too, that East Asian women are also not martial arts masters, nor are they leather clad dominatrices with ice in their veins. I suppose it’s possible that I’m meeting the wrong sorts of Asians. But I didn’t marry the wrong sort of woman – my wife has agency, an identity free of mine, and common sense. That is, my wife would be a terrible action movie wife. But I think I’m used to the gender problems in action movies. Let’s face it: these films not only fail the Bechdel test, they don’t even sit for the exam.

The graphic violence isn’t helping, both the violence itself and violence packaged as entertainment.  I don’t think that movies or video games motivate violent behavior.  I recognize that these movies aren’t supposed to be taken seriously. They’re entertainment for 15 year old boys. But there’s some evidence that if movies don’t shape our behavior, they do seem to shape our view of the real world. The films show violence as a means to an end, and I can think of at least two examples where that’s impacted actual events. First, an an actual general publicly worried about the influence that 24 was having on troops respect for the rule of law and the usefulness of torture. Second, intelligent, rational people – and Alan Dershowitz – believe in a ripped-from-the-screen “ticking time bomb” scenario to justify torture, in spite of the fact that both the likelihood of the scenario occurring and the likelihood of the torture working are both pretty close to nil.

Is it entertainment to watch innocent people get blown to bits in a film world that’s supposed to plausibly resemble our own?In Olympus Has Fallen, terrorists fly a gunship over Washington, indiscriminately firing on pedestrians and motorists prior to attacking the White House. This sequence was incredibly difficult to watch. If I were the 15 year old target audience, scenes of national monuments under attack and planes crashing into DC wouldn’t trigger any memories of 9/11. But I’m not, and I wondered what sort of nutjob would make a movie that resonates 9/11 so much.

Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus Has Fallen

Then I realized: that’s the point.

In action movies like Olympus Has Fallen and Jack Ryan, Americans – really, American men – are the smartest, strongest, and most clever beings in the world. The heroes are free of lingering doubts from the recent wars America hasn’t won and the terrorist plots we haven’t stopped. In the movies, the North Koreans and Iranian regimes are bumbling ideologues, undone by their monomaniacal fixation on revenge. In the real world, North Korea and Iran developed sophisticated nuclear programs right under our noses, undermine regional stability and threaten our allies. The fictional Jack Ryan figures out an elaborate Russian scheme to bring the US economy to its knees, but his real world CIA counterparts couldn’t forecast Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year or his ability to pull the rug out from under Obama on Syria the year before that. The closest reality came to action movies in the last few years was the raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. As a movie, this would have been the climax. As history, it will be a footnote in describing the declining role of al Qaeda and the metastatic spread of the uberviolent nihilists of ISIS and Boko Haram.

These movies are escapist fantasies, perpetuating an illusion of America that’s faded precipitously over the last 15 years. I suppose I could’ve figured this all out on my own. As fate would have it, though, while I was incrementally watching these movies on the treadmill, I was incrementally reading James Fallows’ piece, The Tragedy of the American Military, in the bathroom. Fallows describes an American public and their elected officials tragically detached from and uncritical of their military. In his words, the military benefits from “(O)verblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money.”

Are the movies really useful in sustaining a myth of American might, righteousness, and indestructibility? The Pentagon hopes so, carefully checking scripts for maximum PR value before deciding whether to cooperate. A quick search of the IMDB page of the Hollywood liaison during the Bush Administration shows the kind of movies that passed muster: The Day After Tomorrow, War of the Worlds, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Among the Pentagon-approved films was also Saving Jessica Lynch, based on the “true story” of the 19-year old private captured in Iraq in 2003. Yes, the Pentagon prefers to have the military fight in cartoonish disaster films and, when possible, cartoonish “true” stories in which the truth is something it engineered in the first place.

Easier to deal with than IEDs

Easier to deal with than IEDs

One could argue that the Pentagon could have made actual great strides for American might and indestructibility if they had put more effort into providing adequate body armor, supplying properly equpped Humvees, and a ensuring a functional Veterans Administration. But there wouldn’t be any glamor, giant robots, or aliens in that.

Since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been plenty of action movies – some more successful than others. There have also been movies about the wars, almost all of them unsuccessful (the exception is The Hurt Locker). That is, until now, with the success of American Sniper. We now have a movie that takes the action movie highlights – the stoic, driven, supremely talented tough guy hero and purports to place him in a “true” story. People focused on pre-beatification Chris Kyle see the film as heavy handed propaganda. The population that is already inclined to unconditionally celebrate the American military finally gets the lightly fictionalized war movie they wanted, with the rough edges of the Iraq war and Kyle sanded away.   I haven’t seen the movie myself, and I don’t think I want to. I much prefer to get my propaganda wholly fictionalized.

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We Suck At Wars in the Middle East

The US Congress has authorized arming Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State, and the US has started its bombing campaign. It’s about time. I mean, it’s about time for an election so of course Congress had to look like it was doing something. And they had to do something because there were two American journalists who suffered gruesome, horrible deaths. Americans by and large supported this doing of something, because after three years of the Syrian Civil War, they finally discovered what much of the world already knew: there was a civil war in Syria.

Americans paid attention to the execution of the journalists more than any other story of the past five years. That’s to be expected: James Foley and Steven Sotloff died horribly, whereas the 191,000 Syrians who met their demise before them presumably did so in a wacky, lighthearted, and utterly charming way. Chemical weapons and cluster munitions are well known as the Laverne & Shirley of ways to die. Strategy suggestion to the ten million Syrian refugees: have you thought about dumping buckets of ice water on your heads? Also, being Arab isn’t helping.

The same survey that revealed Americans now know that Syria isn’t the thing you pour milk on for breakfast also showed we feel less safe. This makes sense: the Islamic State is a whole lot more frightening than Count Chocula, though possibly less anti-Semitic than that particular cereal. Speaking of Muslims, President Obama now has an approval rating lower than his forehead at Friday prayer (zing!). Thus we find ourselves with a weak President, a Republican party with its eyes on taking the Senate, ghastly deaths, and a sort of non-specific fear. Sounds like as good a time as any to get into a non-specific war in the Middle East.

blog on gwotWe’ve been here before. Charging into a troubled region to restore order when no one else has the will or the means. The only problem is this: the American military sucks at Middle East wars. Really, really sucks. You may remember something called the Global War on Terror, the official term for the various American overseas adventures of the 21st century. The GWOT cost $5 trillion in the first 10 years, or $16,000 for every American. That’s a staggering amount of money. We could have bought every American a new car, though if that car was a GM they might actually have felt safer fighting in Iraq. To be clear, President Obama changed the name of GWOT in 2009 and declared it over last year. Though he declared he’d close Gitmo at the same time. The guy makes a lot of declarations. It doesn’t change the fact that we suck at Middle East wars.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing our troops, or the men and women I prefer to call Future Neglected Veterans. I’m criticizing our military leadership, commonly called “the brass” because of their tendency to be tarnished by insubordination, poking their biographers, and covering up widespread sexual abuse. And I’m not just some weak-kneed liberal sitting on his couch banging out a stupid blog while watching America’s Test Kitchen. I’m some weak-kneed liberal banging out a stupid blog while watching America’s Test Kitchen who can turn the Joint Chiefs of Staff words against them.

This is thanks to a document published eight years ago, “National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism.” This is the real deal. You can tell – it has a giant picture of an eagle on it. As the cover letter from General Peter Pace notes, the document was produced as the US was entering its 5th year of fighting the GWOT. The five year mark must have seemed like as good a time as any to finally come up with a strategy for the war (though we continued to fart around in Iraq until the “Surge” of the following year.) Here are the objectives for the GWOT, as described in the document:

1. “Deny Terrorists What They Need to Operate and Survive”
2. “Enable Partner Nations to Counter Terrorism”
3. “Deny WMD/E Proliferation, Recover and Eliminate Uncontrolled Materials…”
4. “Defeat Terrorists and Their Organizations/Counter State and Non-State Support for Terrorism…”
5. “Contribute to the Establishment of Conditions That Counter Ideological Support for Terrorism”

You know how members of Congress get themselves all hot and bothered about accountability and measurable results in public education? Wouldn’t it be great if they could find themselves in a comparable  froth about accountability from the military when it sets clear objectives and then clearly fails to meet any of them them? Look at that list. I don’t think that in the summer of 2014, ISIS felt particularly denied of their operational or survival needs. Iraq is a partner nation of ours, and countered ISIS by cleverly losing part of their country to them. North Korea still has nukes. Iran still has nukes. Syria has used at least two kinds of chemical weapons. States and non-states have supported terrorist groups without much hesitation. Why are we going into another war with the military and the military strategy that screwed up the last one?

buckner1No, really. Where we really, truly, and horribly Bill Bucknered the War on Terror is on #5. Because here’s the kicker: remember how we made sure there were no Ba’athists left in the Iraqi military in 2003? And then remember how after that al Qaeda was able to establish a foothold in Iraq because it took us four years to realize we weren’t being welcomed as liberators? Remember how how no one in America – not the president, not the military, and definitely not the public – wanted to get involved to stop the slaughter in Syria? It’s a historic joke: disgruntled ex-military men and radical Islamists walk into a rapidly destabilizing country.  The punchline: The Ba’athist and ISIS from an alliance to take over part of Iraq. Ha! Get it? The other funny part is that after the US decided not to take military action against the Syrian government, we now are giving the Syrian government — the one that is responsible for the deaths of almost 200,000 people – advanced warning that we will be bombing their country.

But the Syrian government shouldn’t worry, because we’ll be bombing the other party responsible for gruesome deaths and the suffering of thousands.

This will likely be over soon. In his address to the nation on ISIS, President Obama promised a limited effort. The President also claimed that “this is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom.” The President is right. We stood with the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets, until we lost interest in 1989. We stood with the Shi’a and Kurdish rebellion against Saddam in Iraq, and then we didn’t. The United States stood with Sunni Arabs during the “Awakening” in 2007 until we pulled out of Iraq completely in 2011. We promised Syrian civilians the Assad government would face consequences for using chemical weapons, and they didn’t.

All of our previous efforts in the greater Middle East seem to lead to one conclusion: no matter how badly this war goes, the next one will probably be worse. Which is great, because we suck at wars in the Middle East.




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One Day in Afghanistan

taliban-fighters“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans…” Joint statement of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-CA) and  ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (OK) – May 31, 2014.


Somewhere in Wardak province, Afghanistan. Dusk. Two Taliban scouts, Khaseb and Omar, are squatting behind a ridge overlooking a small US Army outpost. 

Khaseb: “…so she says to me, I don’t care if you go…Can you believe it? Like I’m no good to her after the poppies are harvested. Anyway, what are you going to do? Fighting season couldn’t come soon enough this year.”

Omar: “I know, right? I used to be like poppies first, jihad second. But now, I don’t know. The last three or four years, I’ve been thinking…”

Khaseb (interupting): “Hey! Look! The Americans are out on foot patrol again!”

Omar: “No shit! So close to dark?”

Khaseb: “Hey! Whaddya say we kidnap one?”

Omar: “Are you kidding? You know how much Americans eat? Keeping an American hostage is crazy expensive. Plus, the Americans will never negotiate with us to get one of their soldiers back.”

Khaseb: “DUDE! Haven’t you heard? The Americans are totally negotiating with us now!”

Omar: “No way! The Americans? They say they never negotiate with ‘terrorists’  (Both laugh). Plus, the American government’s words always match their deeds! Except for when they’re talking about torture, or spying on themselves, or how if you like your health care plan you can keep it.”

Khaseb: “What? What in the name of Allah the most merciful is health care?”

Omar: “I don’t know. Just something I heard. So wait, Obama will negotiate with us now?”

Khaseb: “Yes! He’s bargaining like a rug salesman in Kabul…Guess how many Talibs he traded for one Army sergeant?”

Omar: “Two.”

Khaseb: “Keep going.”

Omar: “Three.”

Khaseb: “Here’s a hint: how many Pillars of Islam?”

Omar: “Obama traded FIVE Talibs for ONE SERGEANT?”

Khaseb: “This is what I’m saying. Exciting, huh? Makes me feel all…what’s the word?”

Omar: “Emboldened?”

Khaseb: “Yeah! I’m totally emboldened. FIve talibs for one guy! It’s a huge emboldening! (throws his hands up excitedly) Whoo!”

Omar and Khaseb go to high five, then realize awkwardly that they are supposed to be hiding.

Khaseb: “So, what do you say? Should we nab one?”

Omar: “Yes! Kidnapping one of their soldiers will destroy American morale!”

Khaseb: “Well, I don’t know about that…”

Omar: “What do you mean? We will crush the American spirit with his ordeal! Americans love their soldiers! Don’t you ever listen to their ‘country music?'”

Khaseb: “What?! No!…Does HARAM mean anything to you? Anyway, this last one – most Americans had never heard of him until last week. We had him for five years and they didn’t even notice!”

Omar: “You’re kidding! Maybe he should have kicked Jay-Z’s ass in an elevator.. (Khaseb looks at him quizzically). Still, if we capture one, we could get five more of our brothers released. It will be glorious!”

Khaseb: “No way! There’s going to be congressional hearings and investigations, and the mid-term elections coming up. Obama’s not going to do a deal like this again.”

There’s a long pause as the two men consider their options. The excitement has abated.

Omar: “So, what, Obama is just going to keep using those flying death robots on us now?”

Khaseb: “Probably. He LOVES those things. I guess he never had toy planes when he was a boy in Nairobi.”

Omar: “Hey — I have an idea! While the Americans are out on patrol, let’s go raid the base and steal their weapons! We will chase them out of our country once and for all!”

Khaseb: “I dunno. It’s pretty risky. Plus, the Americans already said they’re leaving. We can just wait and take their weapons when they’re gone. That’s what they did in Iraq. And in Libya. Even in Mali. Seems safer that way.”

Omar: “I don’t get it. The only place Americans DON’T want us to have their weapons is in Syria? They didn’t used to be so picky. My uncle still has the crate for a Stinger missile launcher in his garage.”

Khaseb: “Yeah, my dad used his as a coffee table. Nice green color. Went good with the rug…so, what should we do?”

Omar: “I’m feeling a whole lot less emboldened than I was a few minutes ago.”

Khaseb: “Yeah, I was feeling emboldened, too — but now I’m disemboldened. Or deemboldened. Whatever. It’s not worth it.”

Omar (sighs): “Hey, you got a cigarette?”

Khaseb: “Dude! HARAM!”

Omar: “You know, for Taliban, you’re not much fun.”





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What’s the Point of Rachel Maddow?

I was a senior in college when Al Franken’s book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot came out. As a 21 year old flaming lefty, I loved it. Why, I wondered, wasn’t there a lefty answer to Limbaugh – someone who could magnetize the left and marshal young footsoldiers like myself into a talking-point equipped political force?

Twenty years later, Franken is a senator, Limbaugh has been replaced in the mainstream by Bill O’Reilly, and the left has Rachel Maddow.  I’ve learned that I should be careful what I wish for. I have friends who really like her, presumably because her Whole Foods hair and enthusiastic gesticulation remind them of their favorite TA in Intro to American Government. I think she makes it hard for me, as a smug lefty, to argue that it’s the conservatives who have mistaken their own spin and talking points for reality, and who alternate between riding high horses and beating dead ones. And where’s the fun of being an ivory tower liberal if I can’t feel morally and intellectually superior to conservatives?

I thought of all this because Maddow recently released a “documentary”  on the Iraq War, Why We Did It. Maddow’s in depth, thorough, exhaustive forty-four minute documentary concludes that the US went to war for our own oil interests. I kept waiting for something bigger, but that was it: the US went to war for oil.

Rachel-Maddow-screengrabI remember doing lectures on the Iraq War, and some repentant Nader voter in the room would smugly say “well, we only invaded Iraq for the oil.” To which I would say this: OF COURSE we invaded Iraq for the oil. And not just for Iraq’s oil, but for the security of oil production in the Middle East. Why is that a bad idea? Our economy runs on petroleum and petroleum products.  And this was more than a decade ago, before we decided to go frack ourselves in North Dakota. What would be a better reason to go to war? Because we suspect a ship was blown up in Havana harbor? Because we were worried that countries were like dominoes that would fall to the Soviet Union? Because we really wanted Texas? Or because it was our mission to rescue a princess from Bowser, leader of the Koopa? Those are, in order, the causes of the Spanish-American, Vietnam and Mexican-American Wars, as well as the plot to the original Super Mario Brothers. I threw it in there because it’s the most noble of all of them.

Why We Did It puts forth the black-and-white argument that the Bush Administration said the war was about weapons of mass destruction, but it was secretly about American interests in Iraqi oil fields. This is giving Bush short shrift. He made a lot of other lousy arguments about going to war with Iraq: violation of Security Council resolutions, human rights abuses, support for terrorism, as well as threats to the world oil supply. If you were paying attention at the time, you would know this. In 2003, you might have noticed that Halliburton was given the contract to rebuild Iraqi oil fields.  In 2007, you could have read Alan Greenspan’s book.  Unless you were paying attention to cable news, which has to keep it simple between commercials for cash for gold outfits and personal injury lawyers. Luckily, Maddow has made up for being simple minded in the past by being simple minded in the present.

Why is Rachel Maddow doing a documentary on the Iraq War in 2014? Why We Did It relies heavily on talking head quotes from Ron Suskind and information from Paul O’Neill, who were beating this drum TEN YEARS AGO.  The left long ago concluded that Iraq was a disastrous war, started under false pretenses, and executed by bumbling incompetent ideologues. They’re not wrong, but what does Maddow’s documentary accomplish? I mean, aside from generating ratings – and therefore ad dollars – for the moribund MSNBC, which justifies the project by noting that Maddow’s  previous hard hitting forty-four minute “documentary” on Iraq was the channel’s highest rated documentary in a decade.

As near as I can tell, Rachel Maddow has very little audience that isn’t ideologically aligned with her, just like every other empty talking head on cable news. Given that Iraq has become a symbol for all that the left hated about the Bush Administration and by extension Republicans, releasing a wholly unnecessary documentary in an election year can only be to chum the water for her lefty base. Maddow can also simultaneously position herself as hero and flatter her audience by revealing that the “conspiracy” they suspected all along is actually true. Even though there was no conspiracy, none of the information is new, and Bush has been out of office for five years.

If you had all of the resources, production staff, and researchers to make any documentary for a guaranteed audience of lefties, what would you do? Assuming you wanted to throw your fans more chum, you could spend at least forty-four minutes on how Bush ignored the pro-Western president of Georgia and allowed Russia to occupy part of the country. You might also investigate Bush’s treatment of countries that violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and how he undermined the whole thing by agreeing to support India’s civilian nuclear program even as it flagrantly violated the NPT. Both of those issues would seem to impact current foreign policy concerns more than than the umpteenth rehash of the lead up to the Iraq War.

The documentary might just be a piece of escapism. Surely, one of the reasons that Maddow’s blowhard counterparts on Fox so vehemently attack Obama is to provide a cover of unity as the Republicans pull themselves apart. Is Maddow doing the same thing? In 2008 and 2012, her core audience elected and re-elected a president that has deported illegal immigrants, resorted to extra-judicial executions, and persecuted leakers at rates far higher than his predecessor. Where’s the documentary on that? I can suggest a title: Why We Did It.

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The Post About Rambo, Jesus, Burma, and Rand Paul You’ve Been Waiting For

Last Monday was Veteran’s Day, and like most Americans, I love two things about our country: our veterans and our wars.  Our veterans are so nice we celebrate them twice. If they lived, they get Veteran’s Day and if they fell, they get Memorial Day.Everything else in America gets celebrated only once. Except Jesus. We celebrate his life on the day with the presents and his death on the one with the chocolate. If aliens wanted to know what things Americans really care about, they could look at which things we celebrate twice and conclude that we love soldiers and Jesus. And we especially love soldiers for Jesus. I’ll get to that in a minute.

We also like wars. Especially World War II. No war is as good as World War II – fought by the elderly to free the world from tyranny and earn them a lifetime pass to call black people “shvartzes” and nag about why you didn’t go to law school (I only know elderly Jewish people). But we’re generally warming up to all wars old people fought in – the anger over Vietnam has subsided as its veterans get older and we realize the rich cultural legacy the war left in the form of John Rambo, James Braddock, and Country Joe and the Fish.

We love wars so much, we make things wars even when they aren’t military. President Johnson declared war on poverty, Reagan on drugs, and Bush on terrorism.

Ok, so we went 0 for 3 on those. But you don’t even have to President to declare war. Atheists declared a War on Christmas (lost) and fetuses declared a War on Women (draw). Sometimes, wars pop up when you’re just standing around being a shmuck. Senator Rand Paul discovered a War on Christianity. All this time, there’s been a war on the world’s most practiced religion, and it took Rand Paul to call our attention to it. According to Paul, Christians are under greater threat now than they were in the Middle Ages, when they were threatened with exhaustion from all the Crusading, stake-burning, and Inquisitioning.

Rand Paul is right. Or, whoever he plagiarized the speech from is right. He’s also right in that it’s better to crib the plot from Gattaca on Wikipedia than to actually watch it. But what the person whose ideas he stole may not know is that Christians are finally going on the offensive. We have soldiers for Jesus and they’ve picked their battlefield. It’s called the 10/40 Window. 10/40 is like WD40, only instead of stopping the squeaks of door hinges, it stops the squeaky prayers of brown people to figures other than Christ. No, really. 10/40 refers to a band of Africa and Asia from ten degrees north of the equator to forty degrees north. Apparently, evangelicals have been aware of this long neglected area – where 60-odd percent of the world lives – since the term was coined in the early 90s. There are literally billions of “spiritually impoverished” Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus engaging in a War on Christianity by using a cunning strategy of not giving a damn about it.

Every American war needs a man who lives by his own code. A man outside the system who fights for justice. A man who lives by the motto “No Rules, Just Right.” A man who doesn’t care that this is the slogan for Outback Steakhouse, because nothing is more American than a crappy slab of meat served in a family casual restaurant chain in the parking lot of a mall.

And that brings me to the Father of the White Tiger, the nom de guerre (but not in a French way) of the leader of the Free Burma Rangers, a real life A-Team in The War on Christianity. Father of the White Tiger is the son of former American missionaries, a former Army Ranger, and a guy who compares himself to the Hobbits. His name refers to his young daughter, who accompanies him on his missions, because soldiers in the War on Christianity don’t care about being charged with reckless child endangerment.

If you’re like me, you probably can’t stop following the news about Burma. One hundred thirty five ethnic groups, a military junta that may be opening up after decades of repression, and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – a woman so powerful and charming she even got Hillary Clinton to dress like her.

Unfortunately, Burma and Congress still have two things in common: they both fetishize the military and they both like screwing minorities. I once dated a girl who took a single comparative religion class in college and concluded that Buddhism was a universally peaceful religion with lots of cool ideas about reincarnation. That girl was an idiot. The Buddhist ethnic Burmans who run the country are beating the snot out of the Muslim and Christian minority groups.

Thank God for Father of the White Tiger and the Free Burma Rangers. They work with Christian guerilla fighters in the jungles of Burma  to document human rights abuses by the Burmese army, provide medical assistance, and assist the hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Also, they bring the Lord, in the form of counselors from the Good Life Club. Because why wouldn’t you? There’s none of the of squishiness of traditional missionary work, as the leader says: “We stand with the villagers; we’re not above them. If they don’t run from the government troops, we don’t either.”

This kind of thing gets my American blood pumping. I love inspirational stories about proud American warriors persevering against incredible odds. Remember Jessica Lynch, emptying her rifle before becoming a hostage to barbarous Iraqis and then being rescued by US Special Forces? And Pat Tillman, leaving the NFL to fight in Afghanistan only to be killed by enemy soldiers? Remember how both those stories weren’t, strictly speaking, true? Doesn’t matter. Kicking ass matters, whether it’s real or fictional. A small team of Christian soldiers righteously fighting evil in the jungles of Burma is powerful stuff, and it almost sounds like the plot of a Rambo movie.

And here’s where the fiction of Hollywood and Senator Paul and reality come together. It IS the plot of a Rambo movie. The one you didn’t see that came out in 2008. It opens with documentary footage shot by the Free Burma Rangers. The film is officially banned in Burma, but a huge hit with the various rebel groups who especially like Rambo’s slogan, “Live for Nothing, Die for Something.” It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense – the slogan was actually one of three things they loved. The other two were his giant pectoral muscles and the complete denial of the fact he’s 61 and looks every year of it. What could be more American than that?

Well, one could make a terrible sequel in a 30 year old movie franchise and then retroactively claim that your goal was to draw attention to one of the world’s most repressive regimes. That’s the kind of cashing in we love in America. Like when Rand Paul, a US Senator, can plagiarize a speech and then claim himself as a victim of a shadowy organization known as the Footnote Police. Interesting that the Footnote Police made themselves known so soon after Paul revealed the War on Christianity.

I guess we know which side attribution, accuracy, and the truth are on.


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Social Science is Depressing

No one has ever been poisoned by Halloween candy from a stranger.

I first learned this from an NPR story about the research of Joel Best ten years ago, and I think about it all the time. Since publishing his original research in 1985, he has been “unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick or treating.” Of the five cases that seemed to point to poisoning, three were health related, one turned out to be a child who ingested drugs stashed in his home and another boy was poisoned by his own father. So unless you’re a junkie or a murderer, the kids will be fine. If you are a junkie or murderer, maybe you should rethink having kids and just concentrate on your NFL career.

This research gets a decent amount of press coverage every October. Still, I bet that most people think they know of or heard of this one kid somewhere – probably Wisconsin – who was poisoned once. It’s probably in the same part of our brain that stores fake Gandhi quotes. It’s staggering to think about how much parents and children all over the country have altered their behavior based on a myth. On the other hand, no one seems all that alarmed that American boys are growing boobs from eating breakfast cereal that is basically candy and thus facing serious bodily harm from purple nurples in the locker room after gym class. But I digress.

When I was a kid, the local hospital used to offer to x-ray your candy. As far as I know, people took the hospitals up on this ridiculous offer, even though x-rays can’t detect drugs or poison. We might as well have brought their candy to a psychic or Jenny McCarthy. My local police station still hosts a trick or treating thing that takes place entirely in the station parking lot. No one makes homemade treats anymore. Poisoning by candy has become part of the story of Halloween. Every parent tells their kids not to take candy from a stranger, even though I’m certain that we’d be doing a lot more for their health and wellbeing if we told them never to eat Fruity Pebbles, GoGurt, or Lunchables.

I had Professor Best’s work on my mind when I learned of a study examining the way people respond to survey questions.  It turns out that party affiliation has a measurable impact on your understanding of facts. Yes, people were paid fat academic salaries to verify this. The authors mention surveys that showed Republicans were much more likely to believe that Obama was born abroad or that WMDs had been found in Iraq. The cool part of this new research (which again, four professors and a bunch grad students got paid good money to do) is that it turns out people might not actually believe these things, but they tell survey-takers they do because they believe it portrays their party in a favorable light.

In other words, rather than making their Republican “team mates” look stupid for making stupid assertions, people tell pollsters they believe the crap their leaders are peddling to show unity, support, maintain the status quo, etc. The researchers call this behavior “cheerleading” (curse this academic jargon!) and seem to show that people do this because there’s no incentive NOT to support your favorite team when someone from a polling organization interrupts dinner and asks if you believe whatever whack-a-do thing Marco Rubio just said. If you like Marco Rubio, you say yes.

Here’s the best part – the research found that if you offer respondents an incentive for giving a factual answer OR admitting they don’t know the answer, it reduces the partisan bias in response by EIGHTY PERCENT. In other words, people may not actually believe the stupid things they hear, and they may not even know what the truth is, but they’ll still give a partisan answer when asked to show what good Republicans they are.

Implicit in all this is a recognition that polls matter — politicians twist and turn them for their nefarious purposes, and news organizations cite them as an ostensibly truthful index of public opinion. This got me thinking about a 2006 study on Fox News. As a new cable channel, Fox was introduced in twenty percent of US towns between 1996 and 2000. Using voting data from almost 10,000 towns, the researchers wanted to see if there was an increase in voting for Republicans once Fox was available. Ok, ok, you don’t have to read the paper. Not only did they see an increase between 1996 and 2000, they also conclude that Fox News convinced 3 to 28 of its viewers to vote Republican, though this is likely due to increasing turnout, not actually convincing any more people.

So we have three studies that paint a pretty picture for us. If these studies are true, it means that you could put a bunch of jackasses in front of microphones and have them bray the same bullshit over and over again. Some folks would believe it. Some folks would say they believe it, even if they knew better or had no idea at all. You could then have a media outlet with fancy graphics and eye candy “anchors” repeat the original garbage and cite surveys that apparently show that the American people strongly support said bullshit. Some significant percentage of people would ingest this information and go out and vote because of it.

Gosh. According to this research, it would only take a  a small group of bullshit slingers and bullshit believers could shut down the whole government. If only we could test that theory.


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Are You Ready for Some Bombing?

We’re going to bomb Syria! This is great! Not because it might stem the violence that has already killed 100,000 people and sent many, many more to live in squalid refugee camps. Because it won’t. And certainly not because we need to demonstrate that the US won’t tolerate the use of chemical weapons, because we’ve been totally cool on the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East when it suited us. Worse, we’ve made it clear that you can kill 100,000 people by conventional means, and we’ll look the other way – as long as the other way is towards Miley Cyrus, and not at a crisis elsewhere in the Middle East. Say, in a place that enjoys kushary and just had a non-coup.

From an economic point of view, I figure we might as well bomb Syria. Wouldn’t it be a waste if we spent 20% of the federal budget on defense and didn’t bomb the crap out of somewhere every so often? The only thing we spend more on is healthcare, and I’m personally committed to getting fatter and less active so that I get my taxes’ worth (I’m writing this on my phone, sitting on my Rascal in the drive through line at Taco Bell).

The only thing I love more than the US bombing the crap out of stuff is news coverage of the US bombing the crap out of stuff. So many cool videos, graphics, and analysis. But for lack of a theme song, it’s like a less gay Monday Night Football. Sports and war are great for American television – there’s winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, underdogs,and heaps of human interest. All you really need is a side to cheer for.

Usually, I root for the United States. Because it’s where I live, and it’s the country where the faithful have most closely realized Jesus’ vision of preserving wealth for the wealthy. If the US isn’t fighting, then I cheer for whatever English-speaking country has skin in the game, because English is the language of the Bible. Sometimes I honor the debt of gratitude incurred by the Greatest Generation and root for our former allies in World War II. But not the French, Russians, or Chinese. Because the French are from France, Putin is a jerk, and they never taught us about the Pacific theater in high school.

Every so often, though, I like to root for the smaller teams. Like when no one I care about is playing, or when there’s nothing on and I just want to see some destruction. Among the great things about the War on Terror – and there are many – are the number of teams. It’s like the World Cup! And that’s what got me into thinking about my favorite terrorist groups.

Oh sure, you’ve got your fan favorites, the big franchises like al Qaeda or underdog champions like Hezbollah, who beat league powerhouse Israel in the Lebanon Games in 2000 and again in 2006. I’ve also get Hezbollah in my office pool for the upcoming Syria Finals. Go Green!

Sometimes, you just love a team for it’s name, like the way I loved the Pittsburgh Pirates when I was a kid because their uniforms were so cool.  This is why I always follow the MILF. Sure, I’m not particularly interested in Islamist militants fighting for independence in the southern Philippines, but they’re called MILF! I imagine them running through the jungle in form fitting tank tops and capri pants taut over their shapely legs, their long hair no less lustrous for having just a hint of gray.

What if a group that has killed 2,000 people since 1999 in Nigeria was also responsible for one of the great anthems of the Summer of Love in 1967? It wasn’t, but Boko Haram is so close to Procol Harum it makes me turn a whiter shade of pale. Boko Haram actually means “Western Education is Sinful” in Hausa but that doesn’t mean  that they can’t skip a light fandango and turn cartwheels across the floor. Though they should probably take the Ak-47s off their shoulders first.

But if you’re really into the Global War on Terror, there’s no better team than the Mujahedeen e Khalq. The MEK is the true fan’s terrorist group. If you’re new to this, you might think they have to choose between nationalist, Islamist, Marxists, or messianic personality cults. What if you could have all four? That’s right, a quadruple threat – they’re like the Bo Jackson times two of terrorists, if Bo Jackson had attacked American servicemen, sided with Khomeini, turned against Khomeini, been part of the case for war against Iraq, and then become an ally of the US in the fight to thwart Iran’s nuclear program? Bo Jackson looks like kind of uninteresting now, doesn’t he? The guy could catch and throw an oblong piece of pigskin or a round piece of cowhide. Big whoop. You get your own Nike commercial for that?

As I’m sure you’ll remember, President Bush made a well-reasoned and air-tight case for war in Iraq. Among the many charges against Saddam was that he supported terrorist groups. One of the two groups the White House cited was the MEK. The MEK killed six Americans in Iran in the early 1970s. Once the Shah was gone the MEK spent 30 years targeting Iranians. You read that right, sports fans. We invaded Iraq because Saddam supported a group that was attacking Iran. Iran, our enemy that actually had nuclear weapons. Unlike Saddam, who turned out to be only stockpiling facial hair.

When was the last time you said “are you f$%king kidding me?” You feel like saying it now? Good. Because the terrorist group that was a motivation for the US invasion of Iraq then tipped off the US that Iran had restarted uranium enrichment in Natanz in 2002. We were so happy to find this out that we brought militants from the group to Nevada in 2005 for training. Actual training in combat, weapons and tactics. And the sauce on this bullshit barbecue sandwich? They were still on the State Department terrorist watch list at the time. Sure, they were a nationalist Islamist Marxist cult of personality that killed thousands of people. But then they started working with the Mossad to kill Iranian nuclear scientists. After all, you’re an Islamist terrorist group, it’s only natural that you would work with ISRAEL. This is a nationalist Islamist Marxist cult of personality that knows how to play big time ball! They leave it all on the field and other sports cliches, too!

The MEK got themselves off the terrorist watch list last year. Unlike your AAA league terrorist groups, the MEK could maim and kill AND hire high powered DC insiders to lobby on their behalf. They paid the former governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, $150,000 to speak on their behalf. And then they got Newt Gingrich on their side. The man who looks like an angry baby’s face was stuck on the front of a giant horndog marshmallow was caught on video bowing to the leader of the group. The MEK had lots of other help getting off the terrorism list, but Newt is the only one who is also a tireless advocate for space sex.

I wonder if he knows about the MILF. He’d be totally into them as long as they didn’t get cancer.

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Time to get a little inaction!

The nation is staring down the obscenely expensive, manufactured with contracts in thirty states barrel of major defense cuts of eight to thirteen percent.  Eight to thirteen percent. That’s a lot. In the decade ahead, we could find ourselves eight to thirteen percent less able to bring two wars to an inconclusive end. Worse,  the 730 professional musicians the Marine Corps deploys for tactical Sousa advantages might find their bass drum logo screen-printing budget cut to the bone.

But of course, like most Americans, I unquestioningly support a giant military. In this time of political divisiveness, what else do we have that binds us together – I mean aside from Tom Hanks and Funyons? Sadly, try as he might, even armed with an unlimited supply of those delicious onion-like snacks, I don’t think the delightful Mr. Hanks could induce traumatic brain injuries in 250,000 people in just 12 years. For that, you would need Cool Ranch Doritos, or a giant fusterclucking effort of the kind only the Pentagon could provide.

What do to with this gleaming giant military machine parked in our garage? Why, sustain global leadership of course. But aside from war not-winning, band marching, and head injuring what does this leadership actually mean? Could we possibly take this thing out for a spin and do something when more than 60,000 people are killed and 800,000 refugees are created in Syria?

President Obama says no.

The deadwood from Kenwood figures it might be messy. It might not work. How could be sure we wouldn’t arm or empower jihadists, trigger a crisis with the Russians or Iranians, or just completely fail to unseat Bashar al-Assad at all? I’ve never slept with Paula Broadwell or been a losing Democratic Presidential contender, so maybe I’m not qualified to comment on this. But jihadists to some degree rely on popular support, and I assume that letting a million people die or be displaced isn’t going to raise the average Syrians’ opinion of us. Don’t we already have a crisis in relations with Iran and Russia anyway? And are we really banking on Assad just dying of autoerotic asphyxiation someday soon? I mean, that long lovely neck is practically begging to have nylons tied around it…

The argument from the White House is that because we’re unsure of what might happen, we shouldn’t do anything. If taking action doesn’t have guaranteed results, then we should take no action.

Oddly enough, our same handsome pregnant pausing President has decided that we can do something about violent deaths at home. Gun maximalists and other people who ignore the first two clauses of a sentence argue that gun control won’t work. Criminals (because there are no such things as crimes of opportunity or passion), won’t get background checks. We’ll have neighbors who sell their neighbors assault weapons (this happens?) facing criminal charges. Instead of shooting themselves, suicidal people will go back to writing crap music and turgid poetry. Strictly speaking, I’m the only one making that last argument.

So what gun maximalists are saying is that because any action on gun control isn’t guaranteed to work, we should take no action.

My son is playing basketball this winter. He’s not really very good. I find myself deploying all the usual parental cliches: work hard, do your best, try letting go of your penis for a couple of minutes.  As it happens, at least one Nobel Prize winning economist believes that skills we teach young kids – attentiveness, persistence, and impulse control have important add-on effects later in life. Evidently, no one  in public office went to a very good pre-school.

We spend an awful lot of time encouraging our kids to try new things, and to try their best even if they know they’re not going to win. We say it builds character, learning how to stand up, dust yourself off and get back in the game. My son’s basketball team hasn’t won a game yet – they lost the first one 19-2. There’s one kid on the opposing team who’s a whole lot bigger than all of the other kids. In a game last week, this giant kid tried to take the ball from a kid on my son’s team. But the boy wouldn’t let go of the ball. The giant kid yanked and tugged on the ball, and the smaller boy was lifted off the ground, his legs waving in the air like the rope on the end of a dog’s chew toy until the ref blew the whistle. In a game with positively no stakes, a seven year old boy held on – knowing he couldn’t win but not willing to go down without a fight.

Why the hell do we try to teach our kids the virtue of doing their best? Why tell them that it doesn’t matter if you win, it’s how you play? We are doing a terrible job as a nation of preparing children for a job in politics.

Ok, it’s not really a fair point. You can’t teach kids how to be venal, mock outraged, scheming, sound-bite issuing publicity hounds. What a disaster that kindergarten would be. Six year olds calling press conferences all day and taking calls from casino moguls trying to avoid prosecution.  Better they learn these skills in college, where they can attend a multi-million dollar Institute of Politics and study at the knee of the guy who probably convinced Obama that intervention in Syria was a political loser in the first place.

So rather than arm the rebels (or allow others to), create no-fly zones, attack command and control facilities, require background checks, limit the size and type of magazines, ban assault rifles, etc. my guess is that we’re going to do nothing. Or the practical equivalent of nothing (I should copyright the acronym PEN, as I bet it’s going to come in handy).

Maybe the reason that Congress funds defense so much more loosely than it does education is that all that shiny hardware and whiz-bang technology makes them feel tough, while any first grader knows exactly what to call the kid who won’t play the game because he might not win.


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