Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How I'll Single-Handedly Save the Universe From the Writer's Strike

What with the writer’s strike going on in Hollyweird, the late-night talk shows are already into reruns, Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert are silent, and in a couple of weeks the regular television series that were in production are going to run out of shows that were “in the can” and be forced to likewise play previously seen episodes. Pretty soon, all that’ll be left are reality shows, and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to embrace more inane crap like what’s already being aired.

Ergo, theretofore, I am taking it upon myself to personally rescue the American television viewing public from terminal boredom. I am your salvation, Sheeple. Harken to me, huddled masses, and I shall entertain thee. Feast thyne eyes upon my new offerings:

America’s Next Top Gardener—Tune in each week as contestants vie in the dog eat dog world of competitive gardening. See who cracks the week they try to grow orchids in low lighting conditions.

CSI: Smoaks--- Reconstruct the crime scenes on the mean streets of Smoaks, South Carolina, population 150. A special season-ending cliffhanger will leave you wondering just who left a bag of burning doggy doo on the steps of the General Store…..

Extreme Makeover Afghanistan Edition--- Ty Pennington and crew remodel a cave for a needy goat herder, only to have it blown up by a laser guided bomb when the locals turn out to be Talibans.

Are You Smarter Than a Pornstar?---Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson co-host this hilarious game show where average Joes are pitted against average Hoes to see who’s dumber.

Fear Factor: Crackhead Edition---There’s no telling what demeaning stunts a crack addict will do for a little rock! Hilarity ensues.

Phone Sex With The Stars---They can sing, they can dance, they can act…but can they make you pay $3.99 a minute? Tune in to find out!

Vatican Bloopers and Practical Jokes---It’s “Mass” hysteria when MTV pimps the Popemobile!!! Watch the shenanigans when the cardinals replace Pope Benedict’s zucchetto with a propeller-beanie!!! Rubber duckies in the holy water!!!!

Dancing With The Dictators---Tension mounts week by week as contestants Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Kim Jong Il (North Korea), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Omar al Bashir (Sudan), and crowd favorite Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya shake their groove thangs with professional dance partners.

COPS: Baghdad---Ride along with the fellows who patrol the mean streets of the most dangerous city in the world. Whether or not you speak Arabic, arresting a shirtless idiot with a mullet translates to any language.

Rehabs of the Rich & Famous---Tag along with Britney, Lindsay, and all the regulars as they go in and out of exclusive day-spa rehab centers, quit, and then go back again.

Mike Tyson’s 24---Each hour-long episode is a real-time minute by minute journey through Mike Tyson’s recent 24-hour sentence in the Maricopa County Detention Facility.

Earthworm Environment---From the makers of Meerkat Manor comes this touching family show about the trials and tribulations of an adorable colony of common earthworms in a Kentucky back yard. Feel the sadness when colony leader Billy Joe is picked up and put on a fish hook….and feel the excitement when top girly-worm Betty Boop escapes becoming the early worm for breakfast after a sparrow tries to eat her. After the bird’s beak snips her in half, both parts grow back into two new worms, Betty and Boop!

Or....you can continue watching A Flavor Shot of Rock Knows Best.....

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Veterans Getting Shafted Again

Being a military recruiter isn’t easy. Being a military recruiter during a very unpopular war is damn near impossible. In light of this, Uncle Sugar keeps offering lucrative signing bonuses to recruits now to lure them into the services.

Back when I enlisted, I was able to get the GI Bill for college money just like all enlistees, but since I was going into the Military Police and not into something else that was under-manned, I wasn’t offered the Army College Fund. Nowadays recruits still get the GI Bill and certain college money benefits, but a lot of enlistments into certain specialties are coming with up to $40,000 in combined bonuses. Needless to say, the military branches are finding it easier to make their recruiting goals when offering scratch like that. When you’re young and think you’re indestructible, someone waving 40 grand plus free college in your face is like tossing a big hook loaded with fat worms to a trout. Then these kids get all trained up and sent to the Sandbox, and unfortunately, Bad Things can happen. It’s not just young kids, either. In some cases, older recruits with a heavy burden of financial considerations enlist to use the bonus money to help out their family’s situation and take advantage of the healthcare benefits.

When I was a soldier, I used to sleep easier knowing that if something happened to me in the function of my duties that the Gummint™ would take care of me. Not so these days, it seems.

The military has started demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments. Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, or hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

One of them is Jordan Fox, a former soldier from the Pittsburgh area, in whose name
Operation Pittsburgh Pride was started. The group sends care packages to troops serving in Iraq. Fox was seriously injured when a roadside bomb blew up his vehicle, injuring his back and taking all vision in his right eye. A few months later Fox was sent home; his injuries prohibited him from fulfilling three months of his commitment. A few days ago, he received a letter from the military demanding nearly $3,000 of his $10,000 signing bonus back.

This is not a new problem. As far back as October 2004, Brian Ross of ABC News reported an similar story. Army Specalist Tyson Johnson III, who lost a kidney in a mortar attack last year in Iraq, was still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he received notice from the Pentagon's own collection agency that he owed more than $2,700 because he could not fulfill his full 36-month tour of duty. In addition to the lost kidney, shrapnel damaged Johnson's lung and heart, and entered the back of his head Field medical reports said he was not expected to live more than 72 hours. Johnson said the Pentagon listed the bonus on his credit report as an unpaid government loan, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment or obtain credit cards. At one point, Johnson was living in his car so as not to burden his family.

In a more recent example a couple months ago, NPR radio reported on Army Specialist Ronald Hinkle, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after an IED explosion cut short his military career. He now is unable to think clearly and tires easily. He suffers from seizures and cannot be left alone. Not only was Hinkle owed $2,500 in back salary, but two months after NPR's story aired, he was notified that a $3,000 enlistment bonus would not be paid because he "failed to fulfill his contract" — by way of suffering serious injury in the line of duty. Multiple bureaucratic screwups have gypped Hinkle’s family out of thousands of dollars in medical benefits, and the family is so strapped now that they may lose their family ranch.

What an absolute crock. How can you take the best & brightest of your nation’s young people, run them on a rotating basis through a crappy meat grinder, send them home less than whole, and then ask them to give back the bait you used to lure them into it in the first place? I could see if a kid signs up, collects a bonus, and then just up and quits or goes AWOL. But to lose a limb or a bodily sense, or suffer a traumatic brain injury, and then be BILLED? That’s just insane. How about you give those kids back their eyes, legs, arms, and hearing, and then ask for the money back.

Sure, the military has since recanted their bills to Johnson and Fox after coming under fire, claiming their billing letters were sent in error, but Hinkle’s case is still in limbo. Legislation has been introduced to protect wounded soldiers from having to pay back their bonuses, but it never should have had to come to this in the first place. You have to support your soldiers from start to finish, including after they get back. I just read somewhere that there are something like 20,000 brain injuries from the war not being listed as casualties, and these numbers don’t include all the cases of PTSD out there that sometimes take months to manifest after returning from the war zone.

A country that forgets its veterans will soon be forgotten. Wake up, Sheeple!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Filthy Excess, Oil Prices, and Hamburger Helper

I guess when you’re not rich, it’s easier to thumb your nose at those who are. But even rich people would have to flip the bird to this kind of filthy lucre.

The world’s 13th richest person, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, is buying an Airbus A380 to use as his own flying palace. The 380 is not like a Learjet, I promise you. The Airbus A380 is the largest passenger airplane in the world. I’m not kidding.

The plane, a double-decker behemoth that can only land at certain airports because of its ginormity, can hold up to 850 passengers in its most basic economy configuration. However, bin Talal is the first person to purchase one for private use, and while Airbus will not say what the actual price tag is for the jet, they were willing to state only that it would cost more than the aircraft's list price of $320 million. Yeah…I’m worrying over adding a couple grand in options to the new car I’ll hopefully buy next year, and this guy is dropping perhaps 350 MILLION dollars…yeah, 350 with six more zeroes after it.

That doesn't even include the money the prince will spend to custom fit the nearly 6,000-square foot plane to include whatever he wants. The options include private bedrooms, a movie theater or even a gym with a Jacuzzi. He'll also need a flight crew of about 15 to operate this beast.

It's all just spending cash for bin Talal , who is Citigroup Inc.'s biggest individual shareholder, with personal assets around $20 billion. Yes…lots & lots of zeroes. As a member of the Saudi royal family, he benefits from the country's vast oil wealth, but much of bin Talal's huge fortune comes from his investment firm, the $25-billion Kingdom Holding Company. The company has stakes in Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, Time Warner, Apple, PepsiCo, and Walt Disney Company, to name a few major corporations. By the way, he also owns a 281-foot luxury yacht formerly owned first by Adnan Kashoggi and then Donald Trump. Perhaps you saw this little fishin’ boat in the James Bond film “Never Say Never Again”? And among his fleet of cars is a pair of Rolls Royce Phantoms.

The German company Lufthansa Technik, which specializes in maintenance, repair, and overhaul of commercial jetliners and is also the world leader in customizing VIP jets, has created a general rendering of what a VIP A380 jumbo could include: spacious bedrooms on the plane's upper deck, separated by a reception area and a bar next to central stairway. The master bedroom could include an office, private dinning room, a gym featuring a steam bath and exercise machines. The lower decks could feature a lounge-type quarters equipped with a conference area and dining room. A third level, normally used for cargo, could be transformed into another passenger space or cinema.

This type of custom design does not come cheap, obviously. Experts say it could rack the price up by another $50 million to $150 million. So let’s add another few zeroes, and this plane could very well top out at over half a billion clams. Again, chump change, and that chump change is why you and me are being bled dry at the gas pump. I’m eating microwaveable singles from Hamburger Helper on my lunch break at work because the gas for my daily commute is three bucks a gallon, and this assclown has a flying palace with three times the square footage of the average American home. And hey, America, gas is supposed to go up nearly 20 cents MORE a gallon next week just in time to screw all the holiday travelers.

Note To U.S. Gummint™: China will soon be drilling for oil off Cuba. Yes, Cuba. That little country in our back yard. So then why aren’t we drilling more off Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico? When will we open up the North Slope of ANWR to drilling? The answer is not, as Hillary Clinton suggested, to just tap into more of our Strategic Petroleum Reserve; the answer is NOT to use more of what we already have so that we’ll have less. The answer is to GO GET MORE. It’s out there and we won’t go get it because we’re worried about upsetting all the tree-huggers. China will be drilling off the Florida Keys, people. They’re going to suck dry the oil fields off of our shores before we can get to it, while we sit on our thumbs and continue to pay out the nose or foreign oil instead of GETTING OUR OWN. China’s re-opening an abandoned refinery that the Russians built in Cuba, making gas 90 miles from the US of A, and we’re just…gonna…let…them…do it.

Do you know why we’re going to Hell in a hand-cart? Because we can’t afford the gas to drive to Hell.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Okay, Fall retreated for a day...

A boy and his dog......

I think perhaps I misspoke the other day when I said Fall was here, because today was positively GORGEOUS.

Normally on a Wednesday, things are so insanely hectic at work that I’m totally wiped at the end of the shift and bail out as soon as the second-shift guys appear. I fight Highway Hypnosis along 17-A (after fighting Road Rage on Dorchester) and lapse into a vaguely comatose state after I get home. Not today…

It was simply too nice to not get outside today. It was 81ยบ at 1:00 PM as I was headed home (I worked 4AM till 12:30) and it was just wonderful riding down a fairly deserted 17-A with the windows down and the sun in my face. After a quick a quick shower, on went the shorts and sneakers, and I grabbed a bottle of water for both me & the dog, and we headed out to walk the paths of the Great Swamp Sanctuary here in Walterboro.

The dog was ecstatic. He’d been so restless & bored the past few days, needing some outdoors time with Daddy. He’s really portable and loves to ride in the car, and it’s a riot to watch his little ears flapping in the wind when he stands up to stick his head out the window. Dachshunds rock!

Of course, like any male dog, he had to make sure he marked every blade of grass, tree, rock, bench, leaf, and twig along the trail. Those stubby little legs were working overtime as he scurried along the trail, making sure he explored everything …twice…and then a back leg would hike and he’d look up at me as if to say, “Hey, do you mind?”

We took a few pictures and shared a bottle of water (I love those collapsible travel bowls) before turning around and heading back. Of course, he was so wound up that I couldn’t get him to stand still long enough to get any really great shots. I honestly don’t know how Bill Wegman made a career out of photographing dogs. Of about 20 pictures, only two were usable.

According to Rob Fowler’s weather forecast on TV a minute ago, it’s due to start getting noticeably colder again tomorrow afternoon. That in part was my impetus for getting outside today. Both of us needed some extra exercise, and it very well could have been the last hurrah of Indian Summer. It would have been a shame to waste it semiconscious on the couch.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Veteran's Day 2007

Click the picture to read the text...

This Sunday marks the passing of Veteran’s Day. Sad to say, most people will go about their lives as normal without any real thought to what the holiday means. They’ll go shopping, since everybody’s running special sales. They’ll watch football, since that’s what Americans do on Sunday. Some of them will enjoy a day off from work or school on Monday, and give no further thought as to why.

Some of us, though, are well aware of the sacrifices endured by this nation’s military veterans and their families throughout our 231 years as the United States of America.

The military as a whole does not care if you’re a Democrat or Republican. It does not care if you are a Catholic, a Baptist, a Jew, a Pagan, or even an Atheist. It does not care if you’re from a wealthy Harvard background or if you’re from a hardscrabble farm out in the boonies. The military serves all, protects all, and embraces all.

I myself come from a VERY long military tradition in my family. One line of my mom’s family goes back to the crusader knights under Richard III of England. Also on mom’s side, my great-great grandfather died in the Boer War in South Africa fighting against the Dutch Afrikaners who eventually instituted Apartheid. My great grandfather served in the 75th Highlanders of the Canadian Army. Both of my mom’s parents served in the Canadian military during World War Two. My grandmother’s brother spent a career in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Two of my mom’s brothers served in the US Army during Vietnam, neither of them American citizens at the time. My stepfather served 24 years in the US Navy’s submarine fleet, starting as an enlisted man & retiring as a Lieutenant Commander.

My father served briefly in the Army during Vietnam but was injured before deploying and was medically retired. Two of his brothers each served over 20 years in the Army and another brother is a Navy chaplain. My paternal grandfather was a nose-gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber during World War Two.

My father-in-law is an Army veteran. Two of my cousins have done tours in Iraq. The brother of one of my closest friends is there on his third tour right now. Of my high school circle of friends, pretty much all of us entered the services. Of my current friends, many are veterans. And then there’s me, who for four years served likewise as a Military Policeman in the US Army.

So, yes, I take service to our nation quite seriously.

In college, they scheduled Columbus Day as a day off and had classes scheduled for Veteran's Day. I warned my instructors ahead of time that I'd not be there or Veteran's Day, and when one of them questioned me as to why, I just flatly stated: "It's MY holiday and I earned it."

A sad news story making the rounds this week proclaimed that veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population. That’s insane. If you’re an employer reading this, hire a veteran. You’ll be getting a self-motivated employee who doesn’t need to be babysat and has built-in leadership skills and attention to detail. Give a little back to those who give so much. This weekend, take a second or two to reflect on all that you have because of the service of our vets. Have YOU hugged a veteran today?

A favorite bumper sticker of mine reads:” If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.”

I salute my fellow vets. You are all my sisters & brothers, my comrades, and the true heroes of this great nation. Thank you all for your service and your sacrifice.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Happy Birthday, U.S.M.C.!!!

If you see a Marine, past or present, this weekend, wish them a happy birthday.Trust me, they’ll understand, and they’ll be highly appreciative.

Deep down, I sorta have a soft spot for Marines. I’ve always had the utmost respect for my comrades-in-arms from my sister service, and I’ve always been surrounded by Marine vets for as long as I can remember. This weekend we celebrate Veteran’s Day, but the day before that, the United States Marine Corps will celebrate its 232nd birthday.

Formed at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia by an act of the Continental Congress, and organized as the Continental Marines on 10 November 1775 as naval infantry, the Marine Corps has served in every American armed conflict from the Revolutionary War to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Some Famous Marines:
Actors Don Adams, Bea Arthur, Brian Dennehy, R. Lee Ermey, Glenn Ford, Mike Farrell, Scott Glenn, Gene Hackman, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo!), Harvey Keitel, Judge Mills Lane (People’s Court), Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, Ed McMahon, George Peppard, Robert Remus (Sergeant Slaughter), George C. Scott, Burt Reynolds, and Montel Williams, Baseball Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Ted Williams, and Roberto Clemente, astronaut John Glenn, musicians Freddie Fender, both of the Everly Brothers, George Jones, CJ Ramone (The Ramones), Shaggy, and Josh Gracin, boxers Ken Norton and Leon Spinks, lawyer F.Lee Bailey, golfer Lee Trevino, radio pariah Don Imus, and news broadcasters Dan Rather and Bernard Shaw.

If you’ve never had the privelege to see the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon perform, then you have missed out on one of the coolect things in the known universe. What the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels do in the sky, the Silent Drill Platoon does for close-order drill and ceremony, all without verbal commands.

Some Marines who impacted my life:
While in high school my neighbor Don Ares, a retired Gunnery Sergeant, often told me funny stories of his travels with the Corps. One of the most colorful and funny Marines I ever met was Staff Sergeant Pat Curley, a recruiter in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the late 80’s. He recruited two of my best friends in high school, Chris Cunningham and Mike Dunham.

While on leave prior to going to Germany, I got to hang out with Chris and some of the guys in his platoon and had a blast. I still talk to one of his platoon-mates from time to time; Chris Hembree is a successful attorney in Washington, DC and visits down this way a few times a year.

And of course, there’s Chris Cunningham himself. Chris has been one of my two closest friends for 24 years. After high school, I went into the Army and Chris went into the Marines. It’s probably the longest period of time that we’ve lived more than 50 miles from each other. Over the years we’ve teased each other in a good-natured inter-service rivalry that usually sees me losing a 6-pack bet on the annual Army-Navy football game.

I also want to take a moment to recognize a fallen Marine on this Marine Corps Birthday. I never really knew Gunnery Sergeant Jeffrey Bohr, but Chris served with him and always held him in high regard, and by all accounts, Gunny Bohr was a Marine’s Marine. I met him briefly before I went to Germany, when he was a Corporal assigned to King’s Bay Submarine Base, but Chris would mention him now & again over the years. A native of Ossian, Iowa, Jeff was felled by a sniper on April 10, 2003. He was 39 years old .

Gunnery Sergeant Jeffrey E. Bohr, Jr. was posthumously awarded the military’s third-highest medal, the Silver Star, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving with Company A, 1st Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment.

With his company assigned to seize a presidential palace in Baghdad and concerned that logistical resupply might be slow in reaching his fellow Marines once they reached the objective, Bohr volunteered to move in with the company’s main armored convoy.

While moving through narrow streets toward the objective, the convoy came under intense small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Throughout this movement, Bohr delivered accurate, effective fires on the enemy while encouraging his Marines and supplying critical information to his company commander.

When the lead vehicles of the convoy came under enemy fire, Gunny Bohr continued to boldly engage the enemy while calmly maneuvering other Marines to safety. When word came down that there was a wounded Marine in a forward vehicle, Bohr immediately coordinated medical treatment and evacuation.

Moving to the position of the injured Marine, Bohr continued to lay down a high volume of suppressive fire, while simultaneously guiding the medical evacuation vehicle, until he was mortally wounded by enemy fire. One account stated that Jeff had the radio handset in one hand and was firing his M-16 with the other when he was hit.

Jeff’s wife Lori accepted the medal during a ceremony on May 3, 2003 at a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, California. Semper Fi and God Bless. The sacrifices of the Bohr family are not forgotten.

So today I want to take a minute and salute my comrades from my sister service. Yours is a long and proud tradition. However, the Army’s is longer, so there! Happy 232nd birthday, Devil Dogs!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Village People 2007

Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time in sports arenas around the region for hockey games (North Charleston Coliseum, Florence Civic Center, Carolina Coliseum, Cricket Arena) and have listened to games being broadcast from many others, and one of the constants that you can always count on is the music.

Pretty much every stadium broadcast booth is stocked with the ESPN Jock Jams cd collection, because you’ll always hear the same songs at every event. No matter the sport, you’ll be hearing “Get Ready For This” by 2 Unlimited, “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation, and “Cotton Eye Joe” by the Rednex.

Of course, pretty much every team plays the exact same song when a goal is scored, and that’s “Rock & Roll, Part Two” by Gary Glitter. Amazing that we celebrate our team scoring by chanting along to a thirty-five year old song recorded by a convicted pedophile currently in a Vietnamese prison.

And then there’s “Y.M.C.A.” by The Village People. Great track, catchy as hell, and rapidly approaching its 30th birthday. No, this song is NOT about the Young Mens Christian Association and how cool it is to go learn to swim there or play in a rec-league hoops tourney. Underneath that fun chorus and doofy dance is a song that extols the virtues of cruising for gay sex at the Y. Yeah, bet all you Macho Man types didn’t know that didja? I can hear the homophobes backpedaling all the way from here.

The Village People were disco’s boy band, pre-packaged and gift-wrapped. Only one of them could actually sing lead, kinda like N’Sync, and they did throwaway pop music written and produced by studio people. (Although in their defense, I must note that the lead singer, Victor Willis, did write the songs on their three follow up albums, and the other guys did sing the backup harmonies)They were only popular for a short time, a flash in the pan really, but their legacy lingers. It was like a gay disco version of KISS, but instead of hard rock and Kabuki makeup it was theme costumes and dance beats. You had The Cop, The Construction Worker, The Gay Butch Biker, The Indian, The Cowboy, and The Soldier/Sailor, with occasional costume variations among them.

The Village People also had a huge hit with “Macho Man”, which was as thinly disguised a come-on song as you can get. Check these lyrics: “You can best believe that, he's a macho man ready to get down with, anyone he can…” Something tells me their hit “In the Navy” did nothing to help post-Vietnam War recruiting woes: “If you like adventure, don't you wait to enter the recruiting office fast. Don't you hesitate, there is no need to wait; they're signing up new seamen fast…” Yeah, I bet they are, big boy.

Other songs included “Fire Island”, “San Francisco”, “Hot Cop”, “I’m a Cruiser”, “I Am What I Am”, “Sodom & Gomorrah”, and “Action Man”, but perhaps the cleverest of all was “Go West”, a song that only achieved minimal success at best for the band, but was a #2 UK single when it was covered by the Pet Shop Boys in 1993. My ex-wife almost choked on her self-righteousness when I played the song, an anthem of gay liberation to be found out west in the Bay Area, and she said it was almost note for note a copy of a 1978 Christian song called “Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart”. I still laugh at that.

Maybe we need a new Village People? Boy Bands have crapped out, and pop music as a whole is pretty abysmal. We could do a Village People 2007, updated and ready to go.

•The Cop, well more like The Fop---Flavor Flav. Why not? A Viking helmet’s not too far a cry from a cop helmet…

•The Indian---- A New York City cab driver. Makes more sense, since all the Native Americans I see these days own casinos and wear Armani suits.

•The Cowboy----All the cowboys are gone. Bring in Juan Valdez!

•The Sailor----Trust the Gorton’s Fisherman. He’s got your back.

•The Token Gay Icon----Chris Crocker. Is there any doubt?

•The Inventor----Al Gore invented the Internet, and invented Global Warming too.

Perhaps they can redo an old classic and call it “In the Army” to bolster flagging recruiting numbers in today’s Iraq War climate?

“In the Army, spend 15 months outside Baghdad.
In the Army, combat really ain’t that bad.
In the Army, come back from Iraq and then
(In the Army) turn around and get deployed again…”

Oh yes, I smell a hit……

I guess it's really fall after all...

Okay, I’ll finally say that Fall is here. The temperature reading on my little Windows Sidebar gadget thingie says it’s 56 degrees here in Walterboro at 1:45 PM, and there’s a brisk wind blowing the debris around outside. I say debris rather than leaves because down here, the leaves are never quite sure when to all off the trees. I have a hot cup of coffee in hand and can reflect on Autumn as I relax on a week’s vacation.

As a Yankee transplant to the Lowcountry, the Autumnal season is a bit strange to me. My coworkers are showing up at the plant wearing fleece pullovers and skully hats, and I’m still in short sleeves. The weather that we’re having today is what I’m used to seeing in early September back in Maine. The year I moved back down here, in October 2000, I’d already had my first snowfall by the second week of the month. My first frost was in mi-September. Now here we are at the end of the first week of November and I finally had to break out a hoodie. I’m certainly in no way ready to break out my snowboarding parka.

I really had to laugh when the company I work for released the Pumpkin Spice Egg Nog the first week of October. C’mon….just because the calendar says fall is here doesn’t mean it really is. I know that egg nog is a very competitive market product and it has a very small sell-window, but let’s be realistic; no one wanted a big thick glass of nog on a 95 degree day.

There’s not much I miss about living up north. In fact, I really didn’t like it all that much up there at all. But watching the leaves turn brilliant shades of red and yellow and orange was a gorgeous sight. Down here, things just go from green to sickly jaundiced yellow to brown, and then the next 5 months is spent trickling off the branches in dribs and drabs.

Of course, up north, no one wants to brave a 20-degree day to stand outside frying a turkey. Up north, the shorts & t-shirts have been packed up, not to be seen again till May. (Although a lot of us die-hard stalwarts would break out the cargo shorts with a sweatshirt and hiking boots as soon as the temps broke 40, just to thumb our noses at winter)

Fall means hockey season starts up again, and the weather here means that it’s not a hardship to stand outside after a game to chat with the players, and it also means you aren’t dragging heavy coats & what not to games. Tailgating isn’t a body-numbing experience. If you’re a football fan, it means that you don’t need to bundle up like the Michelin Man to watch a game outdoors. And I assure you, falling down on FROZEN ground, especially when being tackled, sucks with a capital OUCH.

Back in Maine, if you die after Columbus Day, you probably aren’t getting buried till after Memorial Day. The ground freezes and becomes too hard to dig a grave in, so they keep you in the cooler till it’s warm enough to dig the hole to put you in and have a graveside service come spring.

So Fall has finally come to the Lowcountry. Good, maybe my grass will stop growing now and I can keep the weeds at bay till March.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Who pulled the strings at Abu Ghraib?

Yes, this all happenned several years ago...but it's been weighing on my mind ever since. It's a VERY long blog. Please bear with me.

There really aren’t a lot of things that I call myself “eminently qualified” to give an opinion on. Most of the time that doesn’t stop me, though. I generally am pretty content to spout off with my relatively-informed opinions at the drop of a hat without being a qualified expert on the topic. Most of the things I talk about aren’t exactly rocket surgery either. However, occasionally a topic comes up where I have special qualifications, such as a commercial driver’s license, or specific experience, such as being there in Germany first-hand to see the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism. There are a lot of things that I can engage in an intelligent discourse over without looking like a complete rube, but few things I would be so bold as to call myself an expert on. But on a select few topics, yes, I am eminently qualified. This is one of those topics.

For the sake of background, I spent four years as a military policeman in the US Army. My primary specialty as an MP was Combat Support and Law Enforcement, and my secondary specialty was that of Corrections. The wartime mission for my unit in Germany, the 285th MP Company, was that of Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) operations. In the event of an armed conflict, we were to set up and operate a prison camp as well as process and guard EPW’s and CI’s, or Civilian Internees. In addition to frequent classroom training on the subject, I had several excellent field training exercises specifically tailored to EPW ops to give practical application to the classroom theory. In one exercise I role-played the part of a prisoner, and in a longer 21-day event, we ran a camp whose prisoners were members of the Army’s elite 10th Special Forces Group.

In Kansas, I was assigned to the US Army Correctional Brigade, and as part of my duties apart from Law Enforcement, I was responsible for prisoner custody & control in a military correctional environment populated by as many as 3,000 convicted offenders. Once the First Gulf War started to ramp up, my unit helped train National Guard MP units in EPW operations prior to their deploying to the front lines.

Additionally, while in college I served an internship at the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor, Maine, working in part with prisoner intake and classification for a semester. So yeah, I guess it’s safe to say I know a thing or two about jails in general and military prisons in particular. This said I felt that I had finally procrastinated long enough, and that I should make my opinions on the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal known, in as much as I was not there first-hand to witness the events.

Personally, I think things got way out of hand, but also that things got blown way out of proportion, too. What should have been administratively handled at the unit level instead made it to the press, and the drive-by media blew it all over the place, and everybody proceeded to boo-hoo over it. There, I said it. Now start calling me a torturing war-monger.

Look, be realistic, people. Occasionally alternative interrogation methods need to be employed to get valuable intelligence from people who are doing their level best to KILL US. Yes, us. Not just American troops, but the entire country. These extremist Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and insurgents want to wipe us as a nation off the map and start over from scratch as an all-Islamic world state. How big of an idiot does someone have to be to not see that? And note that I said “extremist Islamic fundamentalists” and not “everyday Muslims”. Not everyone who follows the Koran is a terrorist.

I’ve asked time & time again, why is it seemingly okay for insurgent scumbags to behead our people on live streaming webcasts, to mutilate the burned corpses of contractors and hang the remains from bridges, and to put IED’s inside the remains of dead women and babies on the side of the road to blow up people coming to try and render aid? But when anyone wearing an American flag does something even remotely non-Hearts & Flowers it’s suddenly an international war crime? Riddle me that, why don’t you? That double standard is a load of crap. Don’t feed me any lines about the Geneva Convention, the Hague Accords, the Code of Conduct, et cetera. Nobody follows them any more. Sure, we should try to hold ourselves up to a higher standard of ethical & moral conduct, I agree. However, war is nasty. War is dirty. War is a blurred-line gray area with murky situations, where young people are forced to make instantaneous decisions on life & death. For most of us the toughest decision we make all week is “cash or charge” or what to make for dinner.

Early in the war, LTC Allen B. West, a veteran officer working to facilitate elections, fired his pistol into the ground a foot away from the head of an Iraqi policeman who refused to give up information about a plot to assassinate West in a large-scale ambush. The Iraqi then gave up all the relevant information he had, and many lives were saved. Was it extreme? Maybe, but I’d rather see some corrupt enemy operative crap his pants in fear than see American troops come home in a flag-draped box. West was quoted as saying, “"If it's the lives of my men and their safety, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can." Colonel West was reprimanded, fined around $5,000.00, and relieved of command pending his forced retirement. His career was ruined by Army staffers looking for a convenient example to set. That’s a shame, since we need more officers like him who are willing to make tough decisions and save American lives. If you’re reading this, Colonel West, I’d personally carry your gas can, sir.

The MP’s at Abu Ghraib prison screwed up. That much is glaringly obvious, and I’ll easily give it that much. They did a bunch of stupid, juvenile grab-ass pranks at the expense of prisoners who would gladly have done worse to them had the roles been reversed. It was dumb and childish to dog pile naked prisoners and dumber still to take pictures of themselves doing it. But humiliation of that nature is not what I consider torture. It really wasn’t even severe abuse. It was childish hazing but it actually served a purpose. No one was found to have bamboo splinters under their nails. No one had cinder blocks dropped on them to break their bones, and no one was being hooked up to live wires attached to their scrotums. Allegations of abuse and torture were made by the New York Times, but nothing truly substantial was able to be proven. Again, there was childish hazing that actually does in the end serve a purpose. Hazing and harassment serves to break down a prisoner’s will to resist and makes them despair enough to crack and eventually talk during interrogation.

I should know; I’ve done it myself.

Yes, you read that right. I’ve done it myself to American soldiers during a training exercise.

During a multi-unit Joint Combat Readiness Exercise called Coronet Rodeo in 1989, my unit operated a mock POW camp and our prisoners were members of the 10th Special Forces Group. Under orders from the 511th Military Intelligence Battalion, we made sure the “prisoners” got no more than 2 hours of sleep at a stretch, sometimes giving them as little as 45 minutes between wakeups and roll calls. The lights were always on to ensure they never had a darkened area to sleep in. We kept them silent, and didn’t allow them to bathe but every few days. (The stench in the main tent was special). At night they were stripped to their skivvies and t-shirts to sleep in. But in the case of their leader, a Special Forces Captain about to be promoted to Major whose name I will not reveal due to Operational Security concerns, he wasn’t wearing any skivvies when “captured” so he got the added perceived embarrassment of standing at attention for all the roll calls with his junk in the breeze in front of his subordinates. Southern Germany is cold and wet in late October so he was quite miserable in addition to be humiliated such. After about a week, we gifted him with a pair of pink panties donated by a female trooper, again for the humiliation factor, assisting in breaking the subordinates respect for their leader and in breaking down the officer for interrogation.

The interrogations themselves were an amazing learning experience to see, even though I don’t speak Russian, the primary language used during the sessions. (This added realism to the exercises). There was a lot of yelling, banging on tables, the ubiquitous single light bulb overhead, and implied threats of a very personal nature, judging from the interrogators’ body language. Some of the “prisoners” were graduates of the military’s SERE School, so the stuff we were told to do by the Intel staffers were a walk in the park for them. SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) is a program that provides military personnel with training in the Code of Conduct, survival skills, evading capture, recovery and dealing with captivity. Please look it up for a full overview.

So, to reiterate, under the orders and supervision of intelligece personnel, I embarassed/humiliated prisoners, deprived them of sleep, and ensured that they were tired, cold, miserable, and smelly, all in a training environment.

So these guys at Abu Ghraib took a buch of pictures of naked Iraqis in a dog pile, were parading naked prisoners around female soldiers, and told a couple guys that if they moved off their chairs they’d get electrocuted. They harrassed some prisoners and did a bunch of stupid childish hazing. I do not see where they themselves tortured anybody. From what I’ve seen, their behavior was directed and orchestrated by civilian interrogators contracted by the CIA. I find that scenario highly plausible and believeable given my prior experience with military interrogators and the rampant use of civilian contractors by the CIA to do their dirty work. The MP’s, Army Reservists who were not full-time soldiers and had not been assigned to the prison for very long, have been scape-goated by the entire Western world. If indeed there was any torture at all, look to the civilian contract interrogators, not the MP’s.

Of the soldiers involved in the case, the Army removed seventeen soldiers and officers from duty, and seven soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault, and battery.

•Colonel Thomas Pappas was relieved of command of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. He was in charge of military intelligence personnel at Abu Ghraib. He was fined $8000 under the provisions of Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (nonjudicial punishment). He also received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR) which effectively ended his military career.
•Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan became the highest ranking Army officer to have court martial charges brought against him in connection with Abu Ghraib. LTC Jordan, a reserve civil affairs officer, was director of the Joint Interrogation Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib prison.On August 28, 2007, Jordan was acquitted of all charges related to prisoner mistreatment and received a reprimand for disobeying an order not to discuss a 2004 investigation into the allegations. His career is effectively ended.
•Specialist Charles Graner was found guilty of multiple charges and was sentenced to ten years confinement, forfeiture of all pay, a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private.
•Corporal Joshua Lee Betts, of the 321st Military Intelligence Battalion, Detachment 9, pled innocent to his charges. CPL Betts was later cleared of all charges due to lack of evidence.
•Staff Sergeant Ivan “Chip” Frederick pled guilty to multiple charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison, forfeiture of all pay, a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank to private. He served 3 years and was paroled on October 1, 2007 .
•Sergeant Javal Davis pled guilty to multiple charges. He was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank to private, and a bad conduct discharge.
•Specialist Jeremy Sivits was sentenced by a special court-martial to the maximum one-year sentence, in addition to being discharged for bad conduct and demoted, upon his plea of guilty.
•Specialist Armin Cruz of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion was sentenced to eight months confinement, reduction in rank to private and a bad conduct discharge in exchange for his testimony against other soldiers.
•Specialist Sabrina Harman was sentenced to six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge after being convicted on six of the seven counts she was charged with. She had faced a maximum sentence of 5 years.
•Specialist Megan Ambuhl was convicted and sentenced to reduction in rank to private and loss of a half-month’s pay. She was allowed to remain in the military.
•Private First Class Lynndie England was convicted of multiple charges. England faced a maximum sentence of ten years, but was sentenced to three years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction in rank to Private and received a dishonorable discharge. She was paroled on 3 March, 2007, after having served 521 days. She will remain on parole through September 2008, when her three-year sentence will be complete.
•Sergeant Santos Cardona was convicted of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault and served 90 days of hard labor at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. He was transferred to a new unit and was eventually promoted to Sergeant. He is currently with a unit selected to train Iraqi police.
•Specialist Roman Krol pled guilty to multiple charges. He was sentenced to ten months confinement, reduction in rank to private, and a bad conduct discharge.
•Specialist Israel Rivera, who was present during alleged abuse, was under investigation but was not been charged and has testified against other soldiers.
•Sergeant Michael Smith was found guilty of multiple charges and sentenced to 179 days in prison, a fine of $2,250, a demotion to private, and a bad conduct discharge.

For those unfamiliar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a Bad Conduct Discharge is a punitive discharge that can only be given by a court-martial as punishment to an enlisted service member. Bad conduct discharges are often preceded by a period of confinement in a military prison. The discharge itself is not executed until completion of both confinement and the appellate review process. Virtually all veterans' benefits are forfeited by a bad conduct discharge. A Dishonorable Discharge is a punitive discharge that can only be handed down to an enlisted member by a General Court-Martial. With this characterization of service, all veterans' benefits are lost, regardless of past honorable service. This type of discharge used to carry a heavy stigma as it made obtaining gainful post-service employment extremely difficult. Also, many states will prohibit ownership of firearms from those who have been discharged dishonorably, as does Federal law.

The commanding officer at the prison, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, was reprimanded, and demoted to the rank of Colonel on May 5, 2005. Her demotion was not officially related to the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. General Karpinski ( I refuse to acknowledge her demotion) has denied knowledge of the abuses, claiming that the interrogations were authorized by her superiors and performed by subcontractors, and that she was not even allowed entry into the interrogation rooms.

Karpinski claims the particular wing of the prison where the events took place was under the control of military intelligence "twenty-four hours a day." She claims Army intelligence officers encouraged guards to torture prisoners as an aid to interrogation, and that she was a scapegoat. A June 2004 BBC article said, "Gen Karpinski believes the soldiers had not taken the pictures of their own accord." It quotes her as saying:

"I know that the MP unit that these soldiers belonged to hadn't been in Abu Ghraib long enough to be so confident that one night or early morning they were going to take detainees out of their cells, pile them up and photograph themselves in various positions with these detainees."

In an interview with BBC Radio, Karpinski claimed that Major General Geoffrey Miller, who was sent from Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay to improve interrogations at the Iraqi prison, told her to treat prisoners "like dogs" in the sense that "if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you've lost control of them". General Miller denies that he ever made the remarks.

In November 2006, Karpinski told a Spanish newspaper she had seen a letter apparently signed by now-former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that allowed civilian contractors to use techniques such as sleep deprivation during interrogation. She stated, "The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation ... playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably ... Rumsfeld authorised these specific techniques." According to Karpinski, Rumsfeld's handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished."

If you want to blame people, blame the CIA and Department of Defense for playing dirty. Blame Donald Rumsfeld for letting things get out of hand and for not policing his cronies. Granted, “I was just following orders” is not a reasonable defense for misconduct, but trust me when I say that intelligence personnel are very persuasive in the ways they phrase their orders to guard personnel and phrase things so that they sound perfectly legal. I can guarantee that with civilian CIA contractors in the mix, the MP’s were made to feel pretty much helpless to do anything other than what they were told. A bunch of reservists pulled from jobs at pizza places and Wal Marts, and newly assigned to the prison, in my humble opinion, aren’t likely to question the CIA.

Again, I don’t have any real issue with harrassment and hazing in a controlled manner to break down prisoners for interrogation. Ocasionally, alternative measures have to be employed. People are not just going to cough up valuable intelligence by us asking “Pretty Please”. Let’s be adults here. Sleep deprivation, loud music, bread & water, yelling and shouting, naked parades, those are fine. Beatings are not okay. Breaking bones is not okay. Complete lack of sanitation is not okay. Sexual assaults are not okay. I’m not sure yet where I stand on waterboarding.

Scapegoating American soldiers so that the CIA can slide their dirt under the rug is also not okay. Do not sacrifice your soldiers for the supposed greater good of secrecy, because pretty son you’ll run out of soldiers willing to serve. Nobody wants to get thrown under the bus. Lynndie England may have been photographed holding a prisoner on a leash, but who was holding her leash?