Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peace Poofters en Regalia

by Jeff Huber

An interview with a segment of the foreign media brought home to me why the peace movement has completely lost whatever traction it may have had.

The call came: could I tape and interview about the recent atrocity in Afghanistan.  Which one? I said.  Wait, we’ll send you the story, they replied.  So I got a link in the email and clicked and up popped a story at the web site of the UK’s Daily Mail
The phone rang again.  Yes, I got the link and found the story.  Could I be ready to tape the interview in five minutes?  No, I needed at least half an hour to read the story and see what else has been written about the incident before I cared to go on record with any sort of opinion about it.  The news babe at the other end seemed disappointed by that, but okay, she’d call back in a half hour. 

“U.S. bombing wipes out  Afghan village from map,” read the Daily Mail headline (the headline has since been changed to “The Afghan village that’s been wiped from the map - with 25 tons of coalition bombs”).   

Wikipedia says the Daily Mail was Britain’s first daily newspaper aimed at the “lower-middle-class market.”  According to a December 2004 survey, Wikipedia tells us, 53% of Daily Mail readers voted for the Conservative Party, compared to 21% for Labour and 17% for the Liberal Democrats.  Wikipedia also informs us that Science writer Ben Goldacre of The Guardian has described the Daily Mail as "the home of the scare story."

So we can tentatively surmise that the Daily Mail is at best as credible as FOX News.  A lot of people say as much about Wikipedia, but a lot of the people who say that aren’t happy with what Wikipedia says about them.  Moreover, authors of Wikipedia articles tend to cite their sources—the article on the Daily Mail has 73 footnotes, the vast majority of them hyperlinked.

The author of the Daily Mirror story, Lewis Bazwell, cited zero sources, at least zero sources who have any real knowledge of what actually happened to the Afghan village—Tarok Kolache, a small settlement in Kandahar—that the U.S. bombing reportedly obliterated. 

“After two attempts at clearing the village led to casualties on both sides,” Bazwell writes, “Lieutenant Colonel David Flynn, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force 1-320th gave the order to pulverise the village.”  Bazwell tells us that Flynn’s unit employed a mine clearing charge that “hammered a route into the centre of Tarok Kolache using rocket-propelled explosives.”  The destruction “escalated” Bazwell goes on to say, “with ’49,200lbs of ordnance’ dropped on the village via air strikes and ground-launched rockets, which saw it swiftly blown off the face of the earth.”

The quotes around “49,200lbs of ordnance” make it sound like Bazwell is citing some reliable source verbatim, but he doesn't say who or what that source is.  And characterizing the mine clearing system in question as having “rocket propelled explosives” is misleading. 

Bazwell does identify two sources by name, but not to support anything he’s presented as fact.  One source is Erica Gaston, who says “I think this property destruction has likely reset the clock on any nascent positive impressions.”  Erica is an Afghanistan based “researcher” for the Open Society Institute.  There’s no telling from the article where her knowledge of “this property destruction” came from.  Odds are that her source was Bazwell. 

Bazwell’s other source is Paula Broadwell, a “West Point graduate” who wrote that Lt. Col. Flynn’s men were “terrified to go back into the pomegranate orchards to continue clearing [the area]; it seemed like certain death.”  Ms. Broadwell wrote the comment in a blog run by formerly credible Pentagon correspondent Tom Ricks, who years ago became senior media concubine for David Petraeus.  According to Ricks, Broadwell is a “friend of the blog” who is “knocking around Afghanistan, checking out operations and visiting some West Point buddies.”  So Broadwell is an amateur journalist working with pseudo-journalist Ricks whose credibility is on par with Bazwell’s.  (She might be the source of the “49,000lbs of ordnance” statement, but it’s hard to say, and if so, where did she get that number?)

Bazwell stuffs a mountain of a straw man when he states that “General David Petraeus has reportedly told his commanders to follow the destructive model seen in Tarok Kolache,” but only offers inferential evidence that Petraeus said anything of the sort.  (“Inferential evidence” generally involves taking a third party’s words out of context, trimming them to suit your purposes, and then planting them in a fourth party’s mouth.)

The piece’s piece of resistance is a before and after picture of the village, which may not have been photo shopped, but if the Daily Mail is above photo-shopping a picture like that to support its agenda or sell bandwidth I’m a monkey’s weight-loss coach. 

So I google “Afghan Village wiped out” and everything that pops up, included a blurb in Wired, cites the Mail story, so Bazwell and The Mail have created a lovely echo chamber out of skewing a report originally made by a hobbyist (Broadwell) and supported by a picture that might have come from the Disney animation studio for all we know.  

The foreign news babe calls back and she asks me what I have to say about the latest U.S. atrocities in Afghanistan.  I read her the riot act about giving credence to an incredible news story and tell her that she and the rest of the international have enough legitimate complaints to make against U.S. policy and strategy and tactical execution in the Bananastans without mucking around in crap of this kind.  So she asks if I’m saying there are more important war crimes to investigate than this one, and I do an Ozzy Osborne number on her head.  I suspect the interview never aired.

Now, there’s a one-in-a-thousand chance that Bazwell’s Mail story is a hundred-percent true and it just sounds like a lie because Bazwell and his outlet are so used to lying they don’t know how to sound like they’re not.  The problem is that every cock-and-bull story like this that goes around the circuit makes every responsibly reported and legitimate story in this vein sound like cock-and-bull roar too. 

So if the stupid bloody peace poofters who ring their hands and cry like rivers over every war atrocity fable that crawls out of the polluted information swamp really want to help the peace movement, they should just shut the f*ck up.  

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is the author of the critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a satire on America’s rise to global dominance. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Everybody’s a Comedian

by Jeff Huber

Few people abuse power and authority worst than an executive officer (XO) of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier who is a bully and a bigot and a mean spirited egotist.  I’m not sure if Capt. Owen Honors, the former XO of the carrier USS Enterprise who just got the deep six as the ship’s commanding officer (CO), was one of those, but he displayed most of the symptoms. 

I wasn’t sure if the affair of Honors (heh) was worth disbursing a thousand words on until I saw Jon Stewart’s Daily Show take on it.  As is often the case, funny man Stewart didn’t quite grasp the matter’s gravity, and when Stewart doesn't get something, his Generation X, Y, Z, etc. fan base doesn’t get it either. 

Capt. Honors (right) leads a
damage control party.
Many of these candidates for adulthood are in the military and they don’t see what the big deal was with the skits Honors aired on the ship’s TV station four years ago.  Heck, you see professional comedians like Jon Stewart do those kinds of things all the time.  The painfully obvious distinction they fail to make is that comedians like Jon Stewart aren’t executive officers of nuclear aircraft carriers.  And, oh yeah, from the looks of the video that’s been crisscrossing the information highway the past few weeks, Capt. Honors is no comedian.

In a more unfocused than usual segment on his Jan. 5 program, Stewart attempted a send-up of, well, one isn’t sure just who the satiric target was—Honors or the Navy or Navy brass or maybe the sad state of American humor in the major media.  Stewart’s bit, well, it bit, but he was on the mark in noting that Honors’ skits totally chewed it, man, and they mostly consisted of jokes stolen from Caddy Shack.  Honors at one point in the infamous video notes that professional comedians get a lot of laughs from dropping the f-bomb, so he and his zany band of merry maritime players do a bit where they drop the f-bomb a lot, almost as much as Stewart has taken to dropping it lately when his facial and vocal mugging fail to cover for the weak material he and his fleet of writers crank out.  In all, Honors’ comedic efforts were on par with the dreck we saw in the heinous Porky’s films and only barely superior to what Saturday Night Live has been shoveling at us for the past several years.  

But were XO Honors’ bad skits unfunny enough to warrant that CO Honors be fired four years after they aired?  Stewart implied that Honors was relieved of command for having tried to improve crew morale.  I’m not sure if Stewart’s understanding of the issue is that shallow (sure, John, and Hitler was just trying to improve the Germans’ morale).  But we can be reasonably confident that Stewart is unaware that XO Movie Night has been a tradition of most Navy aircraft carriers for decades—since 1981 that I personally know of.  And it’s a dead cert that Stewart doesn’t realized that Honors is one of the first, if not the first, CO of a U.S. aircraft carrier to get reassigned to Naval Air Station Palooka over the skits he put on as XO of a U.S. aircraft carrier. 

Some who are critical of the decision to relieve Honors say it reflected the Navy’s overzealous sense of political correctness in the touchy-feely 21st century.  Let me tell you something.  In the late 80s, before we had women on Navy ships and things at sea were still as salty as a Philly pretzel, I did an unflattering impersonation of a Filipino officer in a skit on ship’s TV.  That skit darn near kept Lieutenant Huber from becoming Lieutenant Commander Huber.  If I had pulled one of the stunts Honors pulled week after week on his XO Theater, I would have been flown home from the middle of a deployment that day, not four years from that day

In his video, XO Honors makes what must be intended as a joke about how the CO and the admiral knew nothing about his little ship’s TV skits.  Ha.  Ha.  There’s no way the top brass on that sip couldn’t have known about Honors’ shenanigans, and they clearly approved of them if only tacitly.  I don’t even care to know who the CO and the admiral were, but it would be interesting to find out if they’re still on active duty and why nobody is grilling them about the Honors escapade.  That the Navy did nothing about Honors’ programs until the Virginian-Pilot did an expose on them four years after the fact reveals everything you need to really know about how seriously the service’s top leadership takes the Navy’s phony-baloney “core values.”  That Honors would likely have risen far higher than he did if the Pilot had not blown the whistle on him also tells you tomes about the Navy’s institutional atmosphere.

I’m perfectly willing to grant for the sake of argument that while there isn’t a funny bone in Honors’ body, there isn’t a mean spirited one either, and that he honestly thought everyone on board the ship understood that he was just fooling around.  But on a ship that big, much of the crew, especially the younger sailors who couldn’t know The Big XO very well, would likely think he’s as mean as Jon Stewart is when he has his Daily Show crew punk perfectly sincere little people who big-shot comedians like Stewart shouldn’t be picking on (what’s the point of telling truth to the powerless, Jon?)  If Honors thought the whole crew would perceive his slurs and obscenities in their intended jolly context, then he suffers from a clownish inability to make sound judgments. 

But given what we’ve seen of top military leadership throughout the New American Century’s Long War on Evil, being a clown who makes poor judgments qualifies one for accelerated promotion to the four-star level.  So yeah, why fire Honors? 

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is the author of the critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a satire on America’s rise to global dominance. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Uncle Bob and Bullseye Barbie and The Daily Show

by Jeff Huber

I’ve tentatively concluded that people who do destructive things in this world fall somewhere on a continuum that contains “true believers” at one pole and “bad apples” at the other.  In between, in no particular order, come the likes of Jesuits, Doublethinkers, sociopaths, lunatics and blind rats.  For the time being, we’ll call this continuum the “Malevolence Syndrome.” 

People at the extremes are one way or the other.  True believers, say the kinds of Catholics who have no qualms whatsoever about protecting a pedophile priest, are the kinds of fanatics who, though otherwise sane enough to roam the streets, will believe whatever madness their masters tell them is true. 

Bad apples are the closest things to evil that can exist in this world, and maybe in the next one as well.  I’m enough of a Taoist to refuse to label human beings “evil,” not even Dick Cheney.  Labeling people as “evil” grants them, at least in the mind of the person applying the label, extra-natural powers that they do not possess. 

Any time you hear political leaders and their spin physicians refer to adversaries as “evil ones” or “evildoers” or call a competing regime an “evil empire” or an “axis of evil,” those leaders are trying to frighten you into going along with shenanigans you wouldn’t otherwise tolerate.  If there’s a hint of anything remotely resembling evil in bad apples, it’s that unlike most of us, they don’t fear retribution for their actions, even in the afterlife.  Dick Cheney, in fact, relishes his prospects for descending straight to the ninth level of hell upon his demise, immediately taking over as Satan’s number two man and re-shaping perdition from the bottom up.  Maybe when Bill Kristol joins him in the beyond they’ll collaborate in forming a Project for the New American Hell. 

Jesuits, like the order of lawyer-priests who cooked up the arguments that justified the Spanish Inquisition, can fabricate a means-justify-ends scenario to rationalize any course of action they care to take.  Orwellian Doublethinkers are capable of simultaneously holding diametrically opposed beliefs.  Sociopaths lack consciences and don’t feel normal emotions, but unlike bad apples they do fear the consequences of their actions and unlike true believers they’re crafty enough not to get talked into doing things that will get them into trouble.  Lunatics are easily manipulated crazy people and blind rats carry baggage that causes errors in their moral vision, that blinding baggage usually being an ego the size of John McCain’s. 

Young Mr. Bush’s dwarf-star psyche pretty much covered the entirety of the malevolence spectrum short of qualifying his as a truly bad apple, which as we’ve noted was a role aptly filled in that administration by Big Dick.

A major mitigating aspect that plays into macro-antisocial behavior is one that I call the “family factor,” and it’s a close relative of the Jesuit phenomenon.  The family factor says that one may justify sins both venial and mortal if as long as they somehow dovetail into the rubric of taking care of one’s family.  This explains the behavior of so many or our high-profile news stenographers and spokesmodels.  They could refuse to copy or read verbatim the propagandistic pap our ministries of truth feed them, but then where would the mortgage payment on the dream house come from, or the Ivy League tuition?  I’m willing to guess that at least ninety percent of the world’s misery is a direct result of the general public going along with the mad schemes of megalomaniacs because of the family factor. 

Sociopathy seems to be the dominant trait in the public behavior of Uncle Bob Gates, our Secretary of Peace.  A bureaucratic-savant milquetoast, Gates has risen to the highest levels of the American power paradigm by massaging subordinates and superiors alike in all the right places, taking credit for the accomplishments of those more talented than he is and delegating blame for his transgressions to bystanders whose self-preservation instincts are inferior to his.

Gates has garnered hosannas for his performance as head of our “defense” department, but what he’s actually done is allow his corps of loose-cannon generals run amok, bombing the bejesus out of Muslim weddings and performing other deeds of derring destruction that will ensure have a steady enough supply of bad guys to sustain the Pentarchy’s cherished Long War in perpetuity.  Gates had also solicited laurels for his shows-of-effort at trimming the defense budget.  His headline grabbing “decision” to close the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia will have had about as much impact on the deficit as flushing your toilet has on the ocean temperature off the coast of Peru, and that’s assuming the Command ever really closes.   His recently announced plan for $78 billion of proposed cuts over five years won’t survive five weeks of Congressional molesting and he knows it. 

Then there’s Gates’ whackadoo promise that he will find $100 billion in savings if Congress gives the money back to the military for “modernization.”  Jesus, Mary and Curly Joe.  That’s like picking up a group of addicts at rehab, handing them the money they’ve saved by being off drugs, and then dropping them off in front of a crack house.

That Gates will parachute from a high-flying career as a betrayer of the public trust into a platinum sunset typifies the polluted moral environment that produced the recent escapade where the Crosshair Kid, twenty-something lunatic, opened fire on an elected Democrat and a liberal judge and more than a dozen other people who had the poor sense to be seen in public in Arizona with an elected Democratic and a liberal judge.  

We get Bullseye Barbie protesting that noooooooo, the animations on her web site of crosshairs aimed at Democrats in close political races couldn’t possibly have motivated that kind of behavior.  Then we get Barbie’s Tea Bag co-quack Glen Beck ranting on the air about how, nooooooo, neither Barbie nor he nor anyone else on rabid radio or FOX News ever imagined they could incite such violence, even though Beck himself is celebrated for having said on the air that he was thinking about killing liberal film maker Michael Moore.

But what upset me most about this incident was national ass Jon Stewart coming out on his Daily Show Monday night and talking about how nooooo, the right-wing media hate merchants can’t be held responsible for things like what happened with the Crosshair Kid.  They’ve just been funnin’ around for the last decade or so with all that hat and violence talk.  Nobody ever takes them seriously, do they? 

I don’t think Stewarts’ a bad apple, but he displays numerous symptoms of Malevolence Syndrome, particularly Jesuit traits, Double-thought patterns, family factoring and a self-image bigger than McCain and Joe Biden’s egos put together. 

Unfortunately for the future of American ethics, Generation X, which will someday become America’s adult population, has adopted Stewart as its combination Mark Twain and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Wise up, kids.  Don’t let the little man with the cable comedy program flick your moral compass.  He’s not that wise, and he’s more concerned  in getting yuks than he is with the welfare of humankind. 

One other thing to keep in mind about Stewart: when you have as many writers as he has and you have to mug as much as he does to get laughs from the sympathetic audience that staggers off the street and into his studio like the one he plays to every night, you’re not that funny either. 

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is the author of the critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a satire on America’s rise to global dominance. 

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Yellow Peril Goes Ballistic

by Jeff Huber

The U.S. Navy, in its latest stab at fabricating a veneer of relevance in the War on Evil era, is going to general quarters over developments in China.  Or at least it’s trying to make us, and more importantly Congress, think there’s a real and present peril percolating. 

The klaxon is sounding in a series of press releases camouflaged as news stories and planted throughout the Pentarchy friendly news media—which these days is every news outlet with a budget bigger than the price of an Oldsmobile—about how “China is moving closer to deploying a ballistic missile designed to sink an aircraft carrier.”

Providing the main testimonial piece of this information campaign is no less an authority than Adm. Robert Willard, head of U.S. Pacific Command.  That sounds pretty impressive.  After all, being PACOM makes him a direct descendent of Adm. Chester Nimitz, the officer who commanded allied forces to victory in the Pacific during World War II and who was, in many opinions including mine, the last four-star American officer who was worth following.  But the shine fades from Willard’s stars the second you find out he’s an old F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot. 

I’m loathe to pigeonhole people, but decades of working closely with Tomcat Divas taught me the hard way that you want to get to know one of those guys pretty well before you loan him money or let him drive your daughter to school.  Plus, fighter pilots, who ostensibly fly air superiority aircraft, only really concern themselves about superiority over the airspace within about a 20-mile radius of wherever they happen to be flying.  So I’m hesitant to bow before Willard’s credentials and you should be too.  

Dr. Erickson and
Mr. Peabody
Flying wing on Willard’s “expert testimony” is Dr. Andrew Erickson, a Boy Sherman with a PhD in war from Princeton who’s presently an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the United States Naval War College.  Dr. Erickson, who speaks Chinese and looks 12-years old, is a Fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, a Fellow in the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations’ Public Intellectuals Program, and a bunch of other things that qualify his as the very model of a major modern neocon. 

The Hindenburg falls prey to
a Chinese surface-to-air
Together, Adm. Willard and Dr. Erickson have generated enough gas over the latest China revelation to float a fleet of Hindenburgs.  Willard’s public affairs commandos told AP and the rest of the free world’s press to tell us that Willard told “Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper that he believed the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile program had achieved ‘initial operational capability,’ meaning that a workable design had been settled on and was being further developed.”

The propaganda ruse of telling the press that you “believe” something became common practice during young Mr. Bush’s administration, and Bush and Big Dick and the rest of the war mongrels used it extensively to make claims that couldn’t be proven or, better yet, were patently untrue.  But by saying they “believed” something to be true, they couldn’t be called out for lying when it turned out not to be.

I must have heard wrong.
Applying the “initial operational capability” label to China’s carrier killing kahuna implies that the thing is deployed in the fleet and is ready to start killing carriers today.  By the U.S. military’s definition, initial operational capability is “attained when some units and/or organizations in the force structure scheduled to receive a system 1) have received it and 2) have the ability to employ and maintain it.”  We apparently apply lower criteria to other militaries—out of kindness, I suppose.  Those poor kids, they just can’t be expected to keep pace with us, can they?
But Willard doesn't exactly mean that the carrier killer is either “operational” or “capable” per se, initially or officially or otherwise.  Because AP says that Willard says that, “years of tests are probably still needed before the missile can be fully deployed.”  Or at least that’s what he believes

I find it hard to believe that Willard’s recent announcement means that China’s carrier killing missile is any more operational or capable than it was back in March of this year, when prodigy Erickson reported in Wired that Willard had told Congress that China was “developing and testing” it.  Erickson gushed that Willard’s testimony was the “first official confirmation” that China’s carrier killer program had advanced to the actual testing stage. 

That’s a bit confusing in light of a report from by the United States Naval Institute, the Navy’s long-time go-to propaganda mule, that said “information” from “Chinese sources” indicated the system was “operational” back in March of 2009.   

None of this explains how much more “operational” China’s carrier killer ballistic missile is than it was back in the 90s when I first heard about it, and when many of us had a little chuckle speculating as to what sort of con artist had made the Chinese believe they could make a ballistic missile capable of going 900 miles and sinking a moving aircraft carrier.  Since the missile we’re talking about, the Dong Feng 21, is designed to carry a conventional warhead, it would have to hit a carrier on the skin to do any appreciable damage.  Without atoms running amok on impact, a near miss is as good as a mile—or 900 of them.  The thing might as well blow up on the launch pad for all the good it’s likely to do the Chinese. 

Willard’s spin physicians say the missile “would be a game-changer in the Asian security environment.”  Don’t think for a microsecond that the use of the word “would” was accidental.  One would believe that the missile would probably be a game-changer if it would ever actually become operational or ever actually work.

Navy Public Affairs Office mascot "Bully"
The steaming pile of recycled oats that the likes of Willard and Ericson are trying to feed us implies that carriers and their escorts are defenseless against ballistic missiles like the Dong Feng 21, but the fact is that the The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (Aegis BMD) is already up and running—whether you believe it is or not.  21 of our cruisers and destroyers already have BMD capability and more will be refitted with the technology.  We actually have more sea-deployable defense against the new-fangled ballistic missile than we have against old-fangled ship killers like cruise missiles and torpedoes and mines.  Against the old gizmology our ships are still essentially helpless, despite having had decades to develop effective measures to counter it. 

So the only “game” the Chinese ballistic missile has changed is the old bull game the Navy keeps playing to make it sound like it needs more money to keep its increasingly extraneous fleet from becoming a trillion-or-so dollars’ worth of sitting ducks.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is the author of the critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a satire on America’s rise to global dominance.