A Spinning Carousel Of Deception And Accusation

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It’s summertime, when kids ride carousels at amusement parks. Carousels were once for fun, but in the wrong hands, with the wrong operators, they can turn swiftly to dangerous business. . . . → Read More: A Carousel Spinning With Deception And Accusation

Hooking Up the Wrong Way

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Have Republicans forgotten they were elected to govern? Not when it comes to money and power. Money, especially. It’s being used in South Carolina to raise support for Lindsay Graham, up for reelection next year, by touting an immigration solution that matches his work with the Senate bill introduced by the Gang of Eight. Now in committee, the bill is the object of scorn by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions. But Graham says he, “believes in it with all his heart.”

The same 501(c)(4) money supporting Graham opposes Vincent Sheheen, a Democratic candidate for governor, a moderate from an established political family, the kind of Democrat that once won easily in South Carolina, as Bill Clinton once did in Arkansas. A 30-second commercial opposes Sheheen by saying he wants South Carolina to be the only Southern state to accept Obamacare. The spot openly touts the region’s solidarity with regression.

Win or lose, Republicans have put buzz words in place. Now at the state level, voters hear the bell and respond. This is one reason why Republicans repeatedly raise Benghazi. It’s not only to tie Hillary Clinton to the incident, but to pound into it a connotation of failure, weaknesses and cowardice. Hence the angry testimony of State Department officers in a recent hearing which added nothing to what was known except more reports and confessions of anger.

The white men expressed their anger at being told troops would add to the confusion, especially when conditions were not clearly understood. The Republican purpose is to add anger and fear—to turn Benghazi into a brand like Obamacare. All one need do is hear the word, and a parade of negatives immediately comes to mind for the uninformed majority.

If Benghazi is in, military sexual assault is out. Silence reigns about a problem so severe that both males and females in a US uniform are more likely to be sexually assaulted than killed in combat. The Republican concern for mission-readiness and discipline so displayed when gays were allowed to serve openly does not extend to violence and force within inter-gender (and intra-gender) relationships.

Any civilian organization facing year-on-year statistics for sexual assaults at the level of the military would be gravely criticized and shut down. Yet the focus of Congressional national security is on e-mails about Benghazi talking points, while the rampant, growing, out-of-control epidemic of military sexual assaults undermines military working order—widespread reports cite the difficulties of working with your rapist—and puts the nation’s security at risk. And brings home a lot of hurt.

Last year, 26,000 assaults were committed, by the military’s own score. The Air Force Chief of Staff discussed it in a Senate subcommittee hearing as the result of a “hook-up” culture. Yet the Air Force’s officer in charge of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention was charged two weeks ago with groping an unknown woman in a Virginia parking lot, and was arrested by civilian authorities. Yesterday, the Army reported the arrest of an officer at Fort Hood, a Texas base, who was the Sexual Assault Prevention Office Coordinator. He is being held on multiple charges of abusive sexual misconduct.

Outrage? The tempest over revised talking points and e-mails also ignores three of the most important global developments in recent weeks: the factory fire in Bangladesh that left more than 1,100 workers dead, calling into question issues of global working conditions and safety; the massacres in Northern Nigerian villages by the Nigerian army; and the conviction of Guatemala’s former president and military dictator, 86-year-old Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide. Continue reading Hooking Up the Wrong Way

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Fighting the Wrong War

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We like our victims pure. They never are. Which brings us to the latest round robin of characters whose mess is in the public square, inciting smiles, head shakes, and outrage, and returning us to the age-old debates about the relationship between women and men. Really, our ideas about relationships are telling not for the scandal unfolding, not for the overachievers at the center of the parody of power, but for how hard it is to talk when we agree.

We agree cheating on a spouse is bad. We agree the heads of organizations like the CIA and the European Allied Supreme Command, organizations whose major assets are personal integrity, singular commitment to missions, and a priority set that sidesteps distractions and turns aside temptations, should not be e-mailing civilians excessively, or circumventing national security by setting up a docs account online to describe what college students I know describe as “hot monkey sex.”

Where we disagree is who had the power. Do powerful men ever become weak? Do women ever gain the upper hand in those mutual but also one-sided relationships  of power? Do men in power use women? Do women use men in power?

This morning, online, one New York Times commenter sees it this way. First, she quotes from Maureen Dowd’s column:

the dangers of young ladies with exuberant, flirtatious, “unguarded and imprudent” manners visiting military regiments and preening in “all the glories of the camp.”

Then she writes:

I am appalled at you, Ms Dowd, for insinuating that the women are to blame for the generals’ own lascivious tendencies. Why, you sound as apologetic as McCain (who Charlie Pierce categorizes as post-menopausal), Lindsay Graham (I am tough too, look at me), and Peter King (panderer in chief) on how sad it is that Petraeus allowed himself to be led by ‘little Petraeus’ than he did matters of the Republic.
You have company, too, you know. You are right there with Pat Robertson who rationalized Petraeus’ behavior thus:
“Who knows? The man’s off in a foreign land and he’s lonely and here’s a good looking lady throwing herself at him. I mean, he’s a man.”
And yet, as we speak, there are now three top generals mired in sexual controversy. Shame on you for putting this on the women!

In the rush to defend women, I think it’s wise not to lose sight of two connected issues, one large, one small. The smaller issue: by saying it’s all the fault of men in power, women are permanently consigned to status as victims. I first ran into this paradox studying slavery, where scholars removed all power and wiles from the slave community and turned slaves into faceless minions. Gradually, I began to understand that a slave who leveraged the system in his or her own interest through cooperation was in the long run more likely to resist and act independently than those who simply accepted the system without challenge. The line to be watched and not crossed was cooperation never went against the interest of the larger community. Advance yourself, but don’t sell us out.

The differences of slaves in the house and the field really were a difference of the importance and value of of an observed group ethic. Whose interests must be protected? Mine or the group’s?

Women are a group whose status is hard to escape. A barrage of national name-calling, targeted legislation, and commercial ads target American women and divide them from their sisters worldwide, who are assaulted daily in the hundreds of thousands, from infancy to old age. In South Africa, a women is more likely to be raped than to be able to read.

But rape is not a part of the scandal of the day. No one denies the affair was consensual. No one denies the affair. But who had the power? How was power defined? And were women as a group violated by the acts of the men or women involved? Continue reading Fighting the Wrong War

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Digging Deeper: Are Government Fines a Firewall?

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Who thinks fines work? Large fines, in the millions and billions of dollars, do they really change the corporate culture of open corruption, criminal behavior, the rule-breaking practices, the willingness to cheat that they are supposed to punish and deter?  Or are they  the cost of doing business for many businesses, especially large, multi-national corporations, whose continued violations damage US security and policy and are a major theft of taxpayers’ money?

In May 2011, the Department of State levied its largest civil penalty ever, $79 million, against a subsidiary of a British firm, BAE Systems, for illegal arms trafficking, after the firm was convicted of conspiracy to violate two international laws an estimated 2,591 times. 2,600 arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Hungry, Tanzania and Sweden, among other countries, were a part of the violations. The State Department settlement was the civil case. BAE Systems paid a $400 million criminal fine.

The Department of State’s Office of Defense Trade Controls addresses civil violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the two acts most frequently violated.

After it was all over, BAE Systems issued a statement thanking the State Department for its help in bringing the company’s inventory, record keeping, and sales program into international compliance. Of course, it has “initiated the appropriate steps.” BAE System is one of the Defense Department’s Top 10 contractors.

Penalties and fines–paid to the Department of State? By military procurers? Yes, State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs investigates, charges and negotiates civil settlements of US and international violations of arms trade agreements and regulations. This March (2012) it settled nine violations by New Jersey’s Alpine Aerospace Corporation acts for $30,000.

In late June (2012), DDTC landed a bigger fish, a major Connecticut defense contractor, the bellwether United Technologies (UTC). According to a State Department announcement, UTC was fined $75 million “global settlement” for violations of ITAR with China, dating back to 2002, some involving military software. Its stock price rose 3.5% last Friday on the news. State said, “UTC’s numerous violations demonstrated a systemic, corporate-wide failure to maintain effective ITAR controls.” The investigation and fine addressed “arms export violations to China, false and belated disclosures to the U.S. Government about these illegal exports, and many other compliance failures.” But $20 million of the fine was suspended and returned to UTC to be used for remedial compliance!

What court or legal authority gives you money back? Especially after you have potentially damaged foreign policy and arms trade agreements involving software with a major power with whom we have major differences? This is not an intervention with a certificate of completion. These fines were not for acts that were inadvertent, causal or occasional. They were multiple, sustained, and intentional.

In many cases, they were corruption in plain sight, a complete failure of oversight.

Since 2007, the Justice Department has a 44 page list that summarizes its major indictments and arrests for defense exports. These include:

  1. ~A January 2011 arrest for possession of 300 automatic assault rifles, 150 grenades and other remote detonated explosive devices.
  2. ~A January 2011 $15.5 million fine and prison terms for providing China with restricted electronics including military phased array radar, guidance systems and satellite communication systems.
  3. ~A January 2011 attempted sale of an F-5 fighter plane to Iran.
  4. ~October 2010, 58 tons of weapons and ammunition to Sri Lanka.
  5. ~A $4 million arms ship to the Ivory Coast.

Are fines closing the gates on the commerce that daily seems to compromise US security? Are the variety of violators operating without fear, taking advantage of lax regulation and oversight to direct arms and technology worldwide while reaping spectacular profits? Media covers the financial markets and their stumbles are front page news. Defense is an ongoing market that represents a bigger and more deadly threat that accumulates daily violations as a matter of course, but is ignored and off the radar of public consciousness. Why? Continue reading Digging Deeper: Are Government Fines a Firewall?

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Digging Deeper: The Chief of the Profession of Arms

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One of the President’s most important appointments is his selection of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a nation that spends as much on its annual military budget as the rest of the world’s defense budgets combined, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, even without command authority, wields immense power at home and around the globe. He (and one day, she!) is the highest ranking military officer in the uniformed military forces. Yet we hear surprisingly little about the Chairman’s responsibilities, his vision of the present and future, his skill set, or his qualities as a person. In fact, given that the US is still actively engaged in armed combat in Asia, and edging closer to potential conflicts, how many readers know the name of the Chair? Moreover, what is his philosophy of war?

Whether you are committed to world peace or the use of military force as blunt force diplomacy, whether you think the beret is a bad idea for head gear, or the new assault rifles are ineffective and poorly made, that military spouses are marginalized, that health care for returning veterans is criminally inadequate, the person with direct responsibility for shaping the plans that direct our forces is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

The new Chairman had only served for three months as the Army’s Chief. He had a Master’s degree in English from Duke. He taught English at West Point. His early combat and field assignments were in the modern cavalry; he served with armored divisions. Most recently, before becoming the Army’s Chief, he directed the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. His selection was something of a surprise. He was not on the early radar of those who create lists and speculate. Continue reading Digging Deeper: The Chief of the Profession of Arms

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Eight Years to the Day after Mission Accomplished

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Somehow President Barack Hussein Obama managed to:

(1) make an announcement we can believe, and (2) did it without benefit of an aircraft carrier as a stage with (3) US service personnel as stage-props, . . . → Read More: Eight Years to the Day after Mission Accomplished