Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grover Norquist vs. the Pentagon

Grover Norquist vs. the Pentagon from The American Conservative

I must be getting old. Now I agree with Grover Norquist. Mr. Norquist is the man who first emerged in the 1980's and who's best known quote is that he doesn't want to eliminate government, just to

“shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Now I listen to him, and he's making perfect sense
GN: Conservatives should insist that defense spending be examined with the same seriousness that we demand in examining the books of those government agencies that spend taxpayer money in the name of welfare, the environment, or education. We laugh at liberals who declare that their favorite spending programs should be exempt because the spending is for a noble cause.

A Spanish socialist once declaimed: Spending too much money is not left wing—it is stupid. Ditto wasteful spending in zones conservatives tend to favor because they are actually mentioned in the Constitution.

Spending should be transparent. All spending by the Pentagon should be online. Every check. Exceptions should be made for legitimate national security issues. But military and civilian pay and retirement benefits are not state secrets. This has already been done in many state governments.
I agree with both the anonymous Spanish socialist who's name apparently can't be mentioned in the American Conservative, and Mr. Norquist.  Spending too much is just stupid.

We've literally have been throwing money at the Pentagon for the last decade.  We've been doing exactly what conservatives normally decry, throwing money at a problem.  In this case, the 'problem' was the terror attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.  I don't know the exact number, but I'd guess we've thrown something in the neighborhood of ten trillion dollars, that's $10,000,000,000,000.00, at the 'problem'.  We spend somewhere in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars a year on 'defense'.  It was less a decade ago, but you can also add in several hundred billion dollars a year in the wars that the Democrats and Republicans have both kept "off-budget".  So, ten trillion dollars from 2001 to 2012 is probably not a bad guess, and maybe a little on the low side.

What do conservatives normally think about trying to solve problems by throwing money at the problem?

GN: One should look at the charts that compare tax dollars spent per pupil on education to SAT scores, or high school graduation rates. Spending is not caring. Spending is what politicians do instead of caring. Spending more does not guarantee success. Politicians like to measure spending because it is easier than measuring actual metrics of accomplishment.

Then one should ask why defense spending is exempt from the laws of politics.

For a decade now, we've had politicians who have spent trillions of dollars on 'defense' in order to show they 'care' about 'security'. The one thing that Democrats and Republicans have agreed on consistently for the last decade is that we must 'show we are tough' by increasing defense spending. Obama and Romney both agree that the defense spending should continue to rise, even while they both agree that harsh austerity measures like those in Simpson-Bowles should be imposed upon the American people because of the 'deficit' that's come from spending ridiculously more on 'defense' than the rest of the world.

The Economist, hardly a left-wing journal, wrote in 2011, in a post called "Defence spending: Always more, or else"

All of which isn't to say that America's generals should rest easy, or that the president should disband the army. It is merely a plea to start viewing the defence budget in more realistic terms, where proposed cuts, or small increases, are not viewed as doomsday scenarios
Here's The Economist's chart of defense spending from that article.

Does it look like we spend too little on 'defense'?  Remember, that chart is only the official Pentagon budget, and not the other 30% or so that's hidden in other agencies that bring the total up to nearly a trillion dollars a year.

And also remember that from the stack on the right side of that chart, Turkey, Canada, Australia  South Korea, Italy, Germany, Japan, France and Britain are official allies of the USA.  And that Brazil and India could be considered friendly neutrals that would be very unlikely to attack the US.  That leaves Saudi Arabia, which is realistically the last country to attack the US, which it did on Sept. 11, 2001, and Russia and China.  And frankly, neither Russia nor China is saying a word these days about any sort of attack on the US.  The days of the Soviet Union having tank armies in East Germany aimed at NATO are long, long, long gone.

To understand how absurd this all is, try to picture this chart, but with the USA side some $300 billion (or approx 40%) higher, and then imagine the right side with only Saudi Arabia, Russia and China on the list.  Add a couple of small slivers for North Korea and Iran.  To spare your sanity, don't even try to think about that giant barrel of pork that is the Department of Homeland Security, or what might be in the NSA's black budget.

When was the last time you heard of an audit of the Pentagon?  If you are somewhere in age between myself and Mr. Norquist, you may remember the many stories in the past of over-priced hammers and toilet seats that inflated costs paid out to defense contractors.  But these days, you never hear those stories.  No one is taking a close look at exactly what we spend and how we spend it.  Asking that the Pentagon efficiently use the money that we the people provide to them is now considered "unpatriotic".  Somehow, what's become "patriotic" is to continually raise the defense budget and throw more and more and more and more money at the problem.  Romney and Obama are fighting during the debates about who can raise the defense bill even higher.

What have we gotten from all of this?  Back to Mr. Norquist.
GN: Ask advocates of the decision to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan after the Baathist and Taliban regimes were overthrown what their goal was. What would define winning or succeeding? How much did it cost? In dollars and in lives. And how much will continuing the occupations cost? When will they end? Someone sure of the virtue of his decisions will welcome answering those basic questions. Those who cannot answer those questions now should have been forced to answer them before lives were spent towards an unarticulated purpose.
Reagan asked in 1980: are you better off than you were four years ago? Are American interests in the world more secure today than before the decision to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan?
We've spend 10 trillion dollars on 'defense' in the last decade.  We're currently spending a trillion dollars a year.  Are you more secure than you were a decade ago?  Almost certainly not.  We are told now that we have to give up more civil liberties to be secure.  That the threats are so serious that the President and the Pentagon need the authority to lock up any American indefinitely on their say so.  You are currently so insecure that the NSA is building a massive center in Utah to monitor and store for later investigation all of your communications, and probably this blog post.  You are so insecure that you need TSA to expand their airport checkpoints out to trains, buses and even along the highways.  You are so insecure today that Mitt Romney wants to win your vote by spending an additional $2 trillion dollars over the next decade, and that's on top of the $10 trillion or more that's already planned.

Of course, this is the ultimate wasteful government spending.  Because if it ever succeeded, if it ever did make you feel more secure, then it would have to end.  And, in the world where the government takes your money and spends it, stopping that practice is simply not an option.  The people in charge of the programs, and the people getting rich from the programs both want the spending to go on and on and up and up.  Thus, the one thing that is absolutely certain is that none of this spending will ever make you feel more secure.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Pakistani Family Wants Murder Warrants Over Drone Deaths

CIA chiefs face arrest over horrific evidence of bloody 'video-game' sorties by drone pilots
 By DAVID ROSE from the Daily Mail in the UK
The plaintiff in the Islamabad case is Karim Khan, 45, a journalist and translator with two masters’ degrees, whose family comes from the village of Machi Khel in the tribal region of North Waziristan.
His eldest son, Zahinullah, 18, and his brother, Asif Iqbal, 35, were killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone that struck the family’s guest dining room at about 9.30pm on New Year’s Eve, 2009.
Asif had changed his surname because he loved to recite Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet, and Mr Khan said: ‘We are an educated family. My uncle is a hospital doctor in Islamabad, and we all work in professions such as teaching.
‘We have never had anything to do with militants or terrorists, and for that reason I always assumed we would be safe.’
Mr Khan said: ‘Zahinullah, who had been studying in Islamabad, had returned to the village to work his way through college, taking a part-time job as a school caretaker.
‘He was a quiet boy and studious – always in the top group of his class.’ Zahinullah also liked football, cricket and hunting partridges.
Asif, he added, was an English teacher and had spent several years taking further courses to improve his qualifications while already in work.
Mr Khan said: ‘He was my kid brother. We used to have a laugh, tell jokes.’ His first child was less than a year old when Asif was killed.
Included in the legal dossier are documents that corroborate Asif and Zahinulla’s educational and employment records, as well as their death certificates. Killed alongside them was Khaliq Dad, a stonemason who was staying with the family while he worked on a local mosque.
To me, there's no difference in how a human being is killed. Killing an innocent human being by blowing them up with a missile with a high explosive warhead isn't any different from killing an innocent human being by shooting them. Or from killing an innocent human being by flying a plane into their building.
Its not the method that creates evil, its the act of killing an innocent human being that is evil.

According to the legal claim, someone from the Pakistan CIA network led by Mr Banks – who left Pakistan in 2010 – targeted the Khan family and guided the Hellfire missile by throwing a GPS homing device into their compound.
Mr Rizzo is named because of an interview he gave to a US reporter after he retired as CIA General Counsel last year. In it, he boasted that he had personally authorised every drone strike in which America’s enemies were ‘hunted down and blown to bits’.
He added: ‘It’s basically a hit-list .  .  . The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head.’
According to the article, we've killed somewhere between 2,500 and 3,300 people in Pakistan by our drone strikes. To put that number in perspective, just under 3,000 people died in the Washington DC and New York City terror attacks on 9-11.
The US and NATO claim that pretty much every person killed by a drone strike is a 'terrorist'. Its pretty much by definition, if you were killed by a drone, then you had to have been a terrorist.

Last night a senior Pakistani security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Pakistan’s own intelligence agency, the ISI, has always been excluded by the CIA from choosing drone targets.
‘They insist on using their own networks, paying their own informants. Dollars can be very persuasive,’ said the official.
He claimed the intelligence behind drone strikes was often seriously flawed. As a result, ‘they are causing the loss of innocent lives’.
But even this, he added, was not as objectionable as the so-called ‘signature strikes’ – when a drone operator, sitting at a computer screen thousands of miles away in Nevada, selects a target because he thinks the drone camera has spotted something suspicious.
He said: ‘It could be a vehicle containing armed men heading towards the border, and the operator thinks, “Let’s get them before they get there,” without any idea of who they are.
‘It could also just be people sitting together. In the frontier region, every male is armed but it doesn’t mean they are militants.’
One such signature strike killed more than 40 people in Datta Khel in North Waziristan on March 17 last year. The victims, Mr Akbar’s dossier makes clear, had gathered for a jirga – a tribal meeting – in order to discuss a dispute between two clans over the division of royalties from a chromite mine.
Do you really believe the generals and the politicians when they say that such a process is so perfect that absolutely everyone they kill is always a terrorist? Lets see what the people on the ground think. As part of a longer statement, one resident of the region says ...

He added that schools in the area were empty because ‘parents are afraid their children will be hit by a missile’.
We've created a world where mom's are too terrified of our drone strikes that they won't send their children to school.  How many mom's have you met who didn't want their children to be educated?  Not many, but in this region, the mom's of the region obviously feel that its better to have their children alive and at home.

Does that sound like the people who live in these areas can obviously see that the only people who die in these strikes are terrorists?

If you think this is wonderful, vote for Romney or Obama in this election, and they'll both continue and probably expand this facet of America's Terror Wars. If you think this is just plain wrong, try voting for someone else.