Arming The Rebels? Laughable Nonsense

Give Tom Friedman his due.  His response to the recent Hillary Clinton slam on President Obama’s decisions years ago to not arm Syrian rebels against Dictator Assad, not only has a great soundbite, it has 6 questions to be understood:

“The notion that the only reason that the Islamist militias emerged in Syria is because we created a vacuum by not adequately arming the secular rebels is laughable nonsense.”

and the questions, here.

Those hoping for an HRC presidency had better get her thinking about the real world and less about the campaign trail.

Shameless GOP at it Again

Many will say that the narcotic of violence, through games and movies, is doing the worst damage to the American body politic. Maybe so.  But for my money, shamelessness comes a close second.  What ever happened to it?

We’ve all seen what a natural part of human development shame is as our young ones grow.  How did it get decided that it was an unnecessary restraint on human activity, especially in the advanced western countries?  Not only has it been buried beyond sight by public exhibitionism of every kind, by soft-core copulation in almost all Hollywood movies, it is completely absent from political discourse.

People, mostly Republicans, will say any crazy thing that pops into their minds (or perhaps it hasn’t popped, but festered for a long time) and then, when called on it, double down.

Really!  Virginia Republicans sneak through a re-districting plan while a Dem is at the Inauguration.   A GOP legislator in New Mexico wants abortion to be banned on the basis that ‘it would destroy the evidence of a possible rape.’  Paul Ryan says that ‘no one’ would suggest that earned entitlements, like Social Security, would put someone in his ‘taker’ class — even though, he of course, has said so.

And then there is Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) who didn’t even attend a classified briefing on Benghazi heatedly criticizing Secretary of State Clinton about matters he knew nothing about. Here’s Juan Cole on Top Ten Republican Myths on Benghazi that Justify Hillary Clinton’s Anger

for example: 1. Republican senators keep saying that it should have been “easy” to find out what happened on September 11, 2012, by simply debriefing US personnel who had been there. John McCain, Ron Johnson and the others who make this charge are the most cynical and manipulative people in the world. The Benghazi US mission was very clearly an operation of the Central Intelligence Agency, and that is the reason that the Obama administration officials have never been able to speak frankly and publicly about it. McCain and the others know this very well, and they know that their public carping cannot be “simply” answered because the answers would endanger sources and methods. The consulate was amazingly well-guarded by some 40 CIA operatives, many of them ex-special forces, in a nearby safe house

Then there’s this: The More Republicans Know About Politics, the More They Believe Conspiracy Theories

excerpt: …the idea that everybody is equally biased, but in different directions, continues to have a key weakness—namely, the data. And if these results—and they’re not the only ones of this ilk, see for instance here and here—are really true, then it may not be a good thing for democracy to perpetuate this idea that everyone has equal biases. As Obama begins a second term after four years of implacable resistance, that’s something to ponder.

Laos: A Moral Man at Work

Lee Thorn is a Vietnam War veteran, a bomb loader on the aircraft carriers that sent the likes of John McCain screaming over Vietnam and Laos to unleash the fires of hell on those b elow.  In both Vietnam and Laos most of the victims were not active combatants in the war.  Laos was not even party to the war. Yet the bombs fell.  When they didn’t fall to decapitate and burn they fell so the aircraft would not have to land with them; they were dumped.

For years Thorn had PTSD dreams of the hell he had been part of sending down on the villagers.  In 1998 he took a trip, as did other vets, to try to come to grips with their demons, and with what they had done.  Thorne fell in love with Laos, and returned, where he lives to this day.  Among other things. he helped set up, and is on the board of the Jhai Foundation.

This is is opinion piece in the SF Chronicle today:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Laos on Wednesday. Laos is a small, beautiful, landlocked country, which I first came to know when I served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and have since come to love.

I hope that the secretary will make a significant, long-term commitment to remove bombs that the United States dropped during the secret war in Laos and that are still killing people to this day. I hope that Americans can truly reconcile with the people of Laos and our own brutal past there.

This visit by Secretary Clinton was the first time a senior U.S. official acknowledged that we committed a secret crime against humanity in Laos. Of course, she did not put it this way. But that is what it was.

We never declared war on Laos, yet we carried out military operations there. In 1966, as an “emergency” bomb loader on the aircraft carrier Ranger, I loaded cluster bombs, napalm and high explosive bombs that fell mainly in the Plain of Jars. There was an “emergency” almost every day.

Bombing killed more than 30,000 non-combatants during the war. More than 20,000 people, a large percentage of them children, have been killed in Laos since then by unexploded ordnance, according to Legacies of War, a U.S. nonprofit. …

There is more in his piece, which you can read here.  I was particularly struck by his closing.

I try to work for peace on a daily basis now.

I must.

Sometimes it is just mentoring a younger person or holding my grandson. Other times I write or speak publicly.

I must do service or the dark memories of the bombing in Laos come back to haunt me.

But I also do service for Lao people because I have learned so much there. Lao people have something I think we all need: They know how to reconcile. They taught me how to reconcile.

Now we Americans need to reconcile with our history and the people we have harmed and to make amends. Our secretary of state’s visit is a start.

Other stories about Thorn can be found on-line.  Here are a couple:  from 2000;  about his coffee project, 2001;  in a geek blog ‘since 1968” about the Remote IT Village project; about growing coffee in Laos, in 2003;  he, and the rugged Jhai-PC  appears in a 2010 posting from the International Telecommunications Union.

Thorn is also on the advisory board of Legacies of War, a site to click on often.  Their release today, calls on SecState Clinton to honor her promise to address past legacies.

“It’s remarkable to see the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Laos since the end of the war come face to face with the devastating effects of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Now, she must keep her promise to Phongsavath and the people of Laos, who will otherwise live on dangerous land for generations to come,” remarked Channapha Khamvongsa, executive director of Legacies of War, further adding, “We agree wholeheartedly with Secretary Clinton that we can and should do more to end these past legacies.”

 Thorn is one of few in the world who have the moral imagination to grasp what has been done in his name, and in which he participated.  He found his road to healing by admitting: yes, I did this thing.  And then he had to courage to go to the land of the crime.  There was no reason to think this would turn out well.  His demons could erupt full force.  People could turn on him.  He could have walked  in shame and never emerged.  But he had the courage to put himself there.  He was rewarded.  As he says: The Laotian people “know how to reconcile. They taught me how to reconcile.”

His work there is small, in the big scheme of things.  In the big scheme of things, everything we all do is small.  Even big wars are small in the big scheme of things.  To Lee, and those he works with, what he does is large.  May it grow larger, and send many seeds.

What we need desperately in this world is an answer to the question of how to produce more Lee Thorns.  Ideally, before the fact of loading the bombs, but even after, to find a moral center and connection to others through the act of aggression come back in repentance and healing work is a wonderful thing. It wasn’t easy for him.  He didn’t let that stop him.

How do we encourage more to stand up and say no to the terror they are asked to participate in, the corruption they are players in, the cruelties they witness and walk away from? Way too many sit down, turn away, turn up the music and tell themselves it’s ok to ignore what they can’t change.  Lee Thorn changed, and so can we all.

Friday Morning Quarterbacks Calling for New Obama Team

Since the election hasn’t happened yet we can’t call the pundits Monday Morning quarterbacks, but more are weighing in prior to The Big Game! to give Obama unsolicited advice.  Bill Keller of the NY Times joins Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary, in proposing that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden switch seats — and they aren’t the first, or only ones.  Maybe there is a market for Fantasy Politics, to go along with Fantasy Football…create your own line-up and place your bets!


She would bring to this year’s campaign a missing warmth and some of the voltage that has dissipated as Obama moved from campaigning to governing. What excites is not just the prospect of having a woman a heartbeat — and four years — away from the presidency, although she certainly embodies the aspirations of many women. It’s the possibility that the first woman at the top would have qualifications so manifest that her first-ness was a secondary consideration.


Well I don’t know.  She might add some spine to the Obama team, but it might be just were it is least needed — Iran? Bomb ’em.  Would she shore up Obama’s nauseating weakness on civil liberties?  Would the presidential right to gun-down Americans abroad or to hold indefinitely those who’s strange last names make them likely terrorists, be rectified?  My fantasy team doesn’t start with her.  But the Democratic bench doesn’t offer very much and Bernie Sanders would/should refuse the post if offered, as a kind of power painted prison he would languish in…..