Fred Branfman Dies at 72; Exposed U.S. Covert Bombing of Laos

The peace activist and author Fred Branfman has died of ALS at the age of 72. Branfman exposed the covert U.S. bombing of Laos. In the 1960s and 1970s, in what became the largest bombing campaign in history, the United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs on the small Southeast Asian country. Branfman interviewed refugees and helped illuminate their plight for other journalists and activists, including world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, who traveled to Laos in 1970. Speaking at Harvard University last year, Chomsky praised Branfman’s work.

Noam Chomsky: “He’s the person who worked for years, with enormous courage and effort, to try to expose what were called the ‘secret wars.’ The secret wars were perfectly public wars which the media were keeping secret, government. And Fred — this was in Laos — he finally did succeed in breaking through, and a tremendous exposure of huge wars that were going on.”

More at Democracy Now

Laos: Still Clearing American Bombs

Un effing believable

“Women are on the frontline of the effort to find and destroy millions of unexploded cluster bombs which are still claiming lives decades after being dropped on Laos.

The US dropped up to 260 million cluster bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War – the equivalent of one bombing mission every eight minutes, for nine years.

It left Laos as the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world.”

ABC News

Gun v Gun

Target says no to Guns and Diapers

Target interim CEO John Mulligan said in a statement published by Target’s in-house online magazine on Wednesday. “But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law.”


Open Carry Texas says it’s not a ban but a request which they will honor (until some radical faction ups the ante…)

“Open Carry Texas regrets Target’s decision to ‘respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target,'” Open Carry Texas, the group most associated with the fight over guns in chain stores, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “While this is not a ban on legally possessed firearms in its stores, we will continue to honor our months long policy of not taking long arms into Target stores or any other business.”

This is a distinction without a difference.


In a Georgia convenience store two guys with guns showed what happens when armed belligerence is the norm.

“Essentially, it involved one customer with a gun on his hip when a second customer entered with a gun on his hip,” Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress said.

According to the Daily Times, the first man, Ronald Williams, approached the second man in the store and demanded to see his identification and firearms license. Williams also pulled his gun from his holster, without pointing it at the second man. The second man responded by saying that he was not obligated to show any permits or identification — then he paid for his purchase, left the store, and called the police.


When May I Shoot A Student?

Greg Hampikian, a professor at Boise State, asks the most obvious question in the world, though never asked by those fantasists of a New Gun Order:  When May I Shoot a Student?:


BOISE, Idaho — TO the chief counsel of the Idaho State Legislature:

In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?

… I assume that if a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot?

The problem is that those who need to prodded into thinking about the question will no doubt miss the irony of the Q&A.

Aha! Fewer Checks on Gun Buyers, More Deaths By Guns

The 2007 repeal of a Missouri law that required background checks and licenses for all handgun owners  appears to be associated with a significant increase in murders there, a new study finds.

What the study found

The law’s repeal was correlated with a 23 percent spike in firearm homicide rates, or an additional 55 to 63 murders annually from 2008 to 2012, according to the study conducted by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and to be published in the Journal of Urban Health.





Ethics for Wars to Come

[This posting more properly belongs in my All In One Boat blog, where ”today’s news” is not a feature as it is here. However, since the origins are in a NY Times weekly column I’ll put it here as well.]

Samuel G Freedman in his always interesting once-a-week column On Region in the New York Times, features Robert H Latiff, known to his old friends as a Major General (that’s two stars), now co-teaching an ethics class at Notre Dame. And good for him.

But before appreciating what he is now doing I had to chew on and spit out unhappily his inability to act on his own ethical beliefs as Bush invaded Iraq in 2003.

Three years after Robert H. Latiff received his star as a brigadier general in the Air Force, the United States prepared to invade Iraq. A military man since 1974 … he harbored enough doubts about the wisdom and logic of assaulting Iraq that he considered retiring in protest. His mentor, a four-star general, told him not to bother. Nobody would notice the act of conscience of a mere brigadier.

So General Latiff stayed in the active military until 2006, earning the rank of major general and the Distinguished Service Medal. Meanwhile, he winced at the photographs of atrocities at Abu Ghraib and reluctantly signed stop-loss orders extending soldiers’ deployments. “I didn’t act on my deeply held disgust,” he recalled recently. “And that still claws at me.”

At least he recognizes in hind-sight that another course of action was open to him. I wish he had once read In Solitary Witness, Gordon Zahn‘s slim biography of Franz Jagerstatter who was guillotined by the German army for his refusal to be inducted in 1943. Priests, neighbors and even military men tried to convince Jaggerstatter that no one would notice his protest. It did not matter to him, as the only ones to whom he had to answer were himself and his God. The war went on, of course. But Jaggerstatter’s name, in Zahn’s telling, came to be a touchstone for many war resisters as the United States sent 500,000 to fight in Vietnam, giving them the sense that they were not alone, that other brave men had risked much more than several years in prison.

Latiff’s resignation in protest, by contrast, would have raised storms of attention and perhaps led others to act on their beliefs which, like him, they kept under cover until after retirement. A welcome addition to his course, or indeed a complete course on its own, would be to inquire why so many answer the call to war and so few answer their consciences warning them away.


Back to the course he is offering. It is not about the ethics of war in general, or even war in the 20th century. His main concern is what about the wars to come:

Contemporary warfare is often far removed from the clash of large, standing armies on the open battlefield. In the United States’ use of targeted killings via un-manned drone in Pakistan and Yemen (which are not, otherwise, theaters of war) to the deployment of the Stuxnet computer virus (most likely by Israeland the United States) designed to target the computers that operate industrialequipment in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, we already see examples of this new kind of warfare. The future promises that ever more remote possibilities will become reality  entirely autonomous robotic weapon systems are already under deployment in Iraq and Korea, non-lethal electromagnetic- and sound-based weapons are under development, and research continues actively on automated, armed vehicles and biologically or robotically enhanced soldiers.

Fair enough, I suppose. We have to start somewhere. Perhaps by getting planners, military leaders, weapons designers to think about weapons before they are designed or used some restraints can be put in place — instead of, for example, waiting to see what mustard gas does to the the human respiratory system before thinking, ‘not such a good idea.’ [Among other things, the gas the British released in WW I to impair the Germans often blew back from whence it had come, and vice-versa.]

I’m glad at least a few are thinking about such things. I hope many go on to policy positions of power — without forgetting what they believed as undergraduates. I do think, however, that the weapons and decisions about their use, are only the latest embedding of today’s war-doll into yesterday’s and that real progress is not likely to come until the making and stacking of war-dolls as a human project is understood and tapered off.

I’m glad to see that early in the reading list are writings of Gandhi and Dorothy Day as well as the expected readings of Aquinas and Kenneth Walzer. For the root question of war and human savagery I could suggest many others. The rest of the reading material is directly related to his concerns: technology and human distancing from the facts on the battlefield. I don’t know if he goes into it during the course, but several recent writers on war and warrior health post war, have wondered about the nature, if any, of PTSD on those who pilot drones, kill a dozen, and drive home to pick up the kids from nursery school. Human evolution has not even caught up to the great militarized charnel houses of WW I. I’m afraid we’ll be falling further behind as this century wears on.

Anyhow, here is Freeman’s overview of Latiff, the man, and his course and here a WSJ article he wrote. Here, some excerpts from the WSJ article.

Another writer offers this:

I would go farther than the authors of the [Latiff – McCloskey] op-ed do. I would contend that developing robotic weapons with “full lethal autonomy” is inherently a war crime.

There is a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which you can find here.

I’d like to know if you follow the course on-line, or have done something similar. Are not only the ethical questions sharpened , and answers come to, but is the will-to-act strengthened, and will it endure?

Shot Dead for Texting in a Movie

Yep, you read it right.

An argument over texting during a screening of Lone Survivor ended in a fatal shooting at a movie theater in Tampa, Florida today.

A couple was texting during the film, which led to an argument with a man sitting behind them. Witnesses say the argument escalated until the suspect pulled out a firearm and shot the texting man and his wife. The husband died from his gunshot wound and the wife’s wounds are reportedly non-fatal.

AND, it turns out that the shooter is a retired police officer. (Who is planning to use Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law…)(

If only a GOOD guy with a gun could have anticipated the BAD guy drawing a gun, and in the dark, taken him out — which in NRA fantasies would have been a cinch….

A Drone Operator Speaks Out

Many issues arise over the use of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] aka drones in killing operations.  The highest must be the non-combatants killed, despite constant assertions of care taken and proper controls.  Not too far below is the impact on the operators, themselves.  In the Guardian, one such operator,  Heather Linebaugh, speaks about the impact on her.

But here’s the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

She doesn’t say whether she is still working as a drone operator.  She doesn’t reveal how many were discovered to have been killed my operator error (not a gun, a shovel).  She doesn’t make a call for others to speak out.  But, it’s a start.

For another article on a drone ‘warrior’ see this in GQ

US Nuclear Teams Leaking Competence, Morale

In April of 2013 some 17 officers out of 150 at the North Dakota nuclear missile site were removed from their normal duties for a range of behavioral and attitudinal problems.  The Colonel in charge in a memo he wrote complained about ‘rot in the crew force.

On Friday a RAND study, commissioned by the Air Force, was released after repeated requests by news organizations.  It confirms what was reported at the time of the April suspensions.

Trouble inside the Air Force’s nuclear missile force are significantly worse than officials have let on.

An unpublished study for the Air Force cites “burnout” among launch officers with their fingers on the triggers of 450 weapons of mass destruction. Also uncovered, evidence of broader behavioral issues across the intercontinental ballistic missile force, including sexual assaults and domestic violence.

The study says that court-martial rates in the nuclear missile force in 2011 and 2012 were more than twice as high as in the overall Air Force. Administrative punishments, such as written reprimands for rules violations and other misbehavior, also were higher in those years.

This is the same base, and presumably the same problem, implicated in the August 2007 flight of a B-52  armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Minot in North Dakota to Barksdale in Louisiana.
These are Nuclear Weapons!  You remember the dropped socket wrench that pierced the skin on a rocket’s first stage fuel tank — which began to leak.
Time to take these puppies to Zero.  Give the bored troops something to focus on, do right, and get our thanks for a job well done.
Global Zero

A Great Democracy

Credo signAspirational of course.  Great democracys don’t do any number of things the less-than-great currently do,  but help move towards a better  reality with Credo