The Real Reason To Worry About Gen. Michael Flynn


Excerpt from: The Nation

It’s not his alleged ties to Russia so much as his plan to wage global war for global peace.
By James Carden
NOVEMBER 18, 2016
Michael_Flynn_ap_img.jpg
Then–Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 11, 2014. (AP Photo / Lauren Victoria Burke)

Reports surfaced yesterday that President-elect Donald J. Trump has offered the role of national-security adviser to retired three-star Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Flynn had been among a number of controversial advisers to the Trump campaign, including alt-right media mogul Steve Bannon, who will serve as chief strategist in the Trump White House. Nevertheless, the reaction inside the Beltway to Flynn’s appointment is revealing of the foreign-policy establishment’s preference to antagonize, contain, and demonize Russia, Syria, and Iran (for all intents and purposes the new and improved neocon Axis of Evil) rather than focus on the Salafist terror threat that has struck in as varied and far-off places as Baghdad, Beirut, Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino.

Nevertheless, in Flynn, Trump has found someone who clearly shares his penchant for indulging in dog-whistle rhetoric. He once infamously tweeted “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” No surprise, he also boasts ties to some of the more unhinged elements of the neoconservative movement like the author Michael Leeden. A neoconservative polemicist who is currently “Freedom Scholar” at the rabidly neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Leeden was Flynn’s co-author on book Field of Flight, which was praised by none other than former Senator Joe Lieberman as a “strategic plan by General Flynn of how to win the global war against radical Islam and its big power supporters. The leaders of the next American administration would benefit from reading The Field of Fight.” In an op-ed in (where else?) the New York Post promoting the book, Flynn stated his belief that the United States is in “a global war, facing an enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela. Along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organizations such as Iran, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State.”

In other words, we must wage global war for global peace. What could possibly go wrong?

In addition to Flynn’s manifest militarism and his controversial comments on Muslims, his alleged ties to Russia have also been the focus of much speculation. In July, Clinton campaign mouthpiece Vox explained, “There’s one other important thing to know about Flynn: He is weirdly, strangely friendly with Vladimir Putin’s regime.” The proof Vox trotted out for this assertion was a December 2015 dinner Flynn attended in Moscow to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the state-run media outlet RT. Still more damning, Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, “sat at the head table, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and had delivered a talk on his view of foreign affairs today beforehand.” Fans of Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein may remember that so-called “liberal” media outlets like MSNBC made similar play over Dr. Stein’s attendance at the same dinner.

Flynn came under fire for his “pro-Russia” stance by Politico’s Michael Crowley, who sneered, “Flynn now makes semi-regular appearances on RT as an analyst, in which he often argues that the U.S. and Russia should be working more closely together on issues like fighting [ISIS] and ending Syria’s civil war.”

Yet despite the braying of the Beltway media class, Flynn’s Russian connections are likely nonexistent; yet there are other very real reasons to be concerned with his appointment. One often overlooked contradiction at the heart of the Flynn’s alleged pro-Russian bias is his repeated condemnation of the Iran nuclear deal, behind which Russia was a driving force. After the deal was signed, Flynn observed, “Russia is the big winner in this deal as they are backing an Iranian program knowing that they can also sell to the Iranian antagonists in the region and make double the money on arms and nuclear technology.” According to Flynn, with the Iranian nuclear deal, “The U.S. gets nothing but grief.” In his view, “the U.S. and others were too anxious to get any deal. We gave up all our leverage.” Sounding a lot like candidate Trump, Flynn continued, “We got beat by a nation of expert negotiators who got everything they wanted and needed from the deal for only making promises of allowing future observations.”

In the end, Flynn’s appointment is yet another worrying sign that the administration of Donald J. Trump will, like the Obama administration, be held captive to the reigning foreign-policy orthodoxy of interventionism and militarism that has done such damage to America and the world over the past 15 years.

Tell Congress: Audit The Pentagon


Excerpt from: CREDO Action

Over $1 trillion for a fighter jet that’s been in production for over a decade that has yet to see the light of day, and $150 million spent on private villas in Afghanistan for a “handful of staff and visitors” — those are just two examples of the waste, fraud, and abuse that led a story from U.S. News and World Report to call this the “Golden Age of Pentagon Waste.”1

The Department of Defense (DOD) receives more than half of the country’s entire discretionary budget — an astounding $500 billion in taxpayer money per year. But unlike other government agencies, the DOD is the only government agency that cannot be audited, and it has never produced a financial statement that can pass an independent audit.

In the wake of the recent and tragic terrorist attacks in Turkey, Belgium, Pakistan, and Afghanistan it’s more important than ever for elected officials in Washington to realize that the security of Americans can’t be bought with billions in unaccountable taxpayer dollars being thrown at defense contractors and weapons programs that can’t be justified. And when they do that, it comes at the cost of the strategic priorities and programs that will actually keep us safe.

With almost 60 cents of every taxpayer dollar going toward defense spending, it’s a situation that’s ripe for waste and fraud. The Pentagon’s spending deserves the same careful scrutiny as other government programs, and it’s time to do something about it. Fortunately, progressive champion Rep. Barbara Lee has been spearheading legislation in the House of Representatives to audit the Pentagon and impose a fee on any unit that remains unauditable. Sign the petition now and tell Congress to co-sponsor her bill.

The Audit the Pentagon Act would cut by 5 percent the budget of any federal agency that does not produce a financial statement for the previous year that can be audited by an independent auditor.

Auditing the Pentagon already has bipartisan support. When Rep. Barbara Lee introduced her Audit the Pentagon Act of 2015, she had several Republican co-sponsors. And when Rep. Lee introduced the bill in 2014, even Grover Norquist, the conservative founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, was there to voice his support.2

In 2013, the Pentagon’s own Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction revealed that the Defense Department had “lost” at least $8 billion in Iraq and that it was impossible to track how a large portion of the $53 billion the U.S. spent rebuilding the country.3

It is outrageous for the Pentagon to evade the same standards we apply to other programs. This double standard contributes to the Pentagon’s out-of-control budget and culture of waste by sending the clear message that the Department of Defense department won’t be held accountable for its wasteful spending. It’s time for that to end.

  • Stand with Rep. Barbara Lee: Tell Rep. Mark E. Amodei to co-sponsor the Audit the Pentagon Act.
  • Tell your member of Congress:
    “Co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Lee’s Audit the Pentagon Act. Defense and military spending deserve the same scrutiny as other government programs.”

Go to CREDO Action to sign the petition.

Thank you for your activism.

Murshed Zaheed, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

William D. Hartung, “A Golden Age for Pentagon Waste,” U.S. News & World Report, February 3, 2016.
“Bipartisan Coalition Introduces Bill to Bring Greater Transparency and Accountability to Pentagon Spending,” Rep. Barbara Lee.
Neil Gordon, “SIGIR Says “At Least” $8 Billion Lost in Iraq,” Project on Government Oversight, March 8, 2013.

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.

Tell President Obama: Block The Biggest GMO-Chemical Merger In History


Excerpt from: CREDO Action

If you thought Monsanto was bad, this could be even worse: Chinese chemical giant ChemChina has begun a $43 billion merger with Swiss-based seed and pesticide company Syngenta to create one of the largest chemical and GMO seed companies in the world.

This proposed merger could have huge ramifications in the U.S. and across the entire global food system, where only six companies now control 75 percent of the world’s seed and agricultural chemical business.1 Further consolidation would put our food production system in the hands of even fewer multinational corporations, with the potential of unchecked use of more toxic chemicals and GMOs in our food supply.

A bipartisan group of members of Congress is calling on the Obama administration to more aggressively scrutinize the merger, with the potential of stopping it from moving forward.2 We must act now to pressure the Obama administration to stop this dangerous merger before it’s too late.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which is made up of 16 separate agencies from across the Treasury, Homeland Security, and Defense Departments, is preparing to review this proposed mega-merger for potential risks to national security. A group of lawmakers has voiced their concerns that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have been left out of the oversight process. It makes little sense to exclude from this vital investigation these agencies tasked with overseeing our food system.

The slow, yet persistent takeover of the U.S. food system presents a huge risk to food security and food safety, as many Chinese food companies are government-owned and operate with fewer safety guidelines than American companies. Just in 2014, a Chinese company bought the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Farms, in a massive $4.7 billion deal – the largest acquisition by a Chinese company of a U.S. corporation in history. The ChemChina-Syngenta merger is a further consolidation of the corporate stranglehold on our food chain.3

The risks to the American food system are far too great, and that’s why the Obama administration must do whatever it can to prevent this merger from going through and threatening our fragile food system any further.

Tell President Obama: Stop the ChemChina-Syngenta merger.

  • The petition to President Obama reads:
    “The unprecedented merger of ChemChina and Syngenta will put much of American and global food production in the hands of a single major multinational corporation. Block this proposed merger and protect our food system.”
  • Go to the link below to sign the petition:

http://act.credoaction.com/sign/chemchina_syngenta?t=6&akid=17732.7785905.vSU88_

Thanks for all you do.

Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

References

“Sino-Genta?” ETC Group, February 4, 2016
Jacob Bunge, Lawmakers Raise Concerns About ChemChina’s Purchase of Syngenta,” Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2016.
“Who’s behind the Chinese takeover of world’s biggest pork producer?” PBS Newshour, September 12, 2014.

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.

Tell Congress: Audit The Pentagon


Over $1 trillion for a fighter jet that’s been in production for over a decade that has yet to see the light of day, and $150 million spent on private villas in Afghanistan for a “handful of staff and visitors” — those are just two examples of the waste, fraud, and abuse that led a story from U.S. News and World Report to call this the “Golden Age of Pentagon Waste.”1

The Department of Defense (DOD) receives more than half of the country’s entire discretionary budget — an astounding $500 billion in taxpayer money per year. But unlike other government agencies, the DOD is the only government agency that cannot be audited, and it has never produced a financial statement that can pass an independent audit.

In the wake of the recent and tragic terrorist attacks in Turkey, Belgium, Pakistan, and Afghanistan it’s more important than ever for elected officials in Washington to realize that the security of Americans can’t be bought with billions in unaccountable taxpayer dollars being thrown at defense contractors and weapons programs that can’t be justified. And when they do that, it comes at the cost of the strategic priorities and programs that will actually keep us safe.

With almost 60 cents of every taxpayer dollar going toward defense spending, it’s a situation that’s ripe for waste and fraud. The Pentagon’s spending deserves the same careful scrutiny as other government programs, and it’s time to do something about it. Fortunately, progressive champion Rep. Barbara Lee has been spearheading legislation in the House of Representatives to audit the Pentagon and impose a fee on any unit that remains unauditable. The Audit the Pentagon Act would cut by 5 percent the budget of any federal agency that does not produce a financial statement for the previous year that can be audited by an independent auditor.

Auditing the Pentagon already has bipartisan support. When Rep. Barbara Lee introduced her Audit the Pentagon Act of 2015, she had several Republican co-sponsors. And when Rep. Lee introduced the bill in 2014, even Grover Norquist, the conservative founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, was there to voice his support.2

In 2013, the Pentagon’s own Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction revealed that the Defense Department had “lost” at least $8 billion in Iraq and that it was impossible to track how a large portion of the $53 billion the U.S. spent rebuilding the country.3

It is outrageous for the Pentagon to evade the same standards we apply to other programs. This double standard contributes to the Pentagon’s out-of-control budget and culture of waste by sending the clear message that the Department of Defense department won’t be held accountable for its wasteful spending. It’s time for that to end.

  • Stand with Rep. Barbara Lee: Tell Rep. Mark E. Amodei to co-sponsor the Audit the Pentagon Act.
  • Tell your member of Congress:
    “Co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Lee’s Audit the Pentagon Act. Defense and military spending deserve the same scrutiny as other government programs.”

Go to CREDO Action to sign the petition.

Thank you for your activism.

Murshed Zaheed, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

William D. Hartung, “A Golden Age for Pentagon Waste,” U.S. News & World Report, February 3, 2016.
“Bipartisan Coalition Introduces Bill to Bring Greater Transparency and Accountability to Pentagon Spending,” Rep. Barbara Lee.
Neil Gordon, “SIGIR Says “At Least” $8 Billion Lost in Iraq,” Project on Government Oversight, March 8, 2013.

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.

Tell Congress: Stop The Dangerous New Anti-Encryption Bill


Excerpt from: CREDO Action

“This draft bill is the most ludicrous, dangerous, technically illiterate tech policy proposal of the 21st century so far.” – Kevin Bankston, director of New America’s Open Technology Institute.1

Last week, privacy advocates and security experts widely denounced draft encryption legislation leaked to The Hill newspaper as a radical assault on privacy that would make the American people less safe.2, 3

The Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 (CCOA) would undermine Americans’ privacy, make encryption illegal and force companies to weaken the security of their products and services. We need to make sure this dangerous legislation doesn’t gain any traction in Congress.

The CCOA, which is being drafted by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-AL) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), is bad policy for a number of reasons. It would:

  • Make end-to-end encryption illegal by requiring companies to provide “information or data” to the government “in an intelligible format” anytime they are served with a court order. It would also require companies to decrypt secure communications “in a timely manner” or give technical assistance to law enforcement agencies attempting to do so. As Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement, “for the first time in America, companies who want to provide their customers with stronger security would not have that choice – they would be required to decide how to weaken their products to make you less safe.”4
  • Undermine Americans’ privacy by increasing the risk that their private information and information entrusted to businesses is accessed by criminals, hackers and government entities, both domestically and abroad.< sup=””><>
  • Make American technology companies less competitive by making it illegal for them to offer secure communications protected by end-to-end encryption, which is currently relied upon by Google, Apple, Facebook, WhatsApp and countless other companies.6 Foreign companies would not be bound by this constraint. As the executive director of a trade group that represents thousands of app developers put it, “the senators might as well take a hatchet to the entire Internet economy.”7
  • Force platforms to censor applications by requiring license distributors to ensure that all “products, services, applications or software” they distribute are able to provide the content of communications to law enforcement agencies “in an intelligible format.” This would put Apple, Google and any other company that operates a platform for software applications in the untenable position of vetting every app to make sure they aren’t secure, and censoring those that are secure.8

As we saw with the FBI’s recent attempt to force Apple to create a backdoor to access San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone, law enforcement agencies are determined to undermine Americans’ privacy and security, and gain access to encrypted communications. The Obama administration’s sudden reversal in that case in March – which came only after it said a third party had helped it access the content of the phone without Apple’s help – doesn’t change its desire to force companies to weaken the security of their own products. Indeed, in an April 8 letter to a district court judge presiding over a separate case, the Department of Justice maintained that “the government continues to require Apple’s assistance in accessing the data that it is authorized to search by warrant.”9

As this debate continues to play out over the coming weeks and months, we need to forcefully reject the dangerous language in the draft Burr-Feinstein bill and any other legislation that would put Americans’ privacy and security at risk by undermining encryption.

Stop the Burr-Feinstein attack on privacy and security.

  • Tell Congress to Stop The Dangerous New Anti-Encryption Bill by signing the petition below: 
  • “Stop the Burr-Feinstein Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 and any other legislation that would put Americans’ privacy and security at risk by undermining encryption.”

Go to CREDO Action to sign the petition.

Thanks for fighting to protect our privacy and security.

Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

“Anti-Encryption Bill from Senators Burr and Feinstein Would Be Disastrous for Cybersecurity, Tech Economy,” Open Technology Institute, March 31, 2016.
Cory Bennett, “Senate encryption bill draft mandates ‘technical assistance’,” The Hill, April 7, 2016.
Jenna McClaughlin, “Bill That Would Ban End-to-End Encryption Savaged by Critics,” The Intercept, April 8, 2016.
“Wyden Statement on Draft Bill Requiring Companies to Undermine Strong Encryption,” April 8. 2016.
Max J. Rosenthal, “Tech and Privacy Experts Erupt Over Leaked Encryption Bill,” Mother Jones, April 8, 2016.
Andy Greenberg, “The Senate’s Draft Encryption Bill Is ‘Ludicrous, Dangerous, Technically Illiterate’,” Wired, April 8 2016.
Dawn Chmielewski, “The New Encryption Bill Isn’t Finished and Silicon Valley Already Hates it,” Recode, April 6, 2016.
Andy Greenberg, “The Senate’s Draft Encryption Bill Is ‘Ludicrous, Dangerous, Technically Illiterate’,” Wired, April 8 2016.
Julian Chokkattu, “Apple vs. U.S. isn’t over yet; Feinstein-Burr ‘encryption bill’ draft surfaces,” Digital Trends, April 8, 2016.

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.

This Ex–Army Ranger Goes on Missions to High Schools—but Not to Recruit


Excerpt from: The Nation

08.04.16, 17:45

Early each New Year’s Day I head for Lake Michigan with a handful of friends. We look for a quiet stretch of what, only six months earlier, was warm Chicago beach. Then we trudge through knee-deep snow in bathing suits and boots, fighting wind gusts and hangovers. Sooner or later, we arrive where the snowpack meets the shore and boot through a thick crust of lake ice, yelling and swearing as we dive into near-freezing water.

It took me a while to begin to understand why I do this every year, or for that matter why for the last decade since I left the military I’ve continued to inflict other types of pain on myself with such unnerving regularity. Most days, for instance, I lift weights at the gym to the point of crippling exhaustion. On summer nights, I sometimes swim out alone as far as I can through mats of hairy algae into the black water of Lake Michigan in search of what I can only describe as a feeling of falling.

A few years ago, I walked across the United States with 50 pounds on my back for the Pat Tillman Foundation in an obsessive attempt to rid myself of “my” war. On the weekends, I clean my house similarly obsessively. And it’s true, sometimes I drink too much.

In part, it seems, I’ve been in search of creative ways to frighten myself, apparently to relive the moments in the military I said I never wanted to go through again—or so a psychiatrist told me anyway. According to that doctor (and often I think I’d be the last to know), I’m desperately trying to recreate adrenalizing moments like the one when, as an Army Ranger, I jumped out of an airplane at night into an area I had never before seen, not sure if I was going to be shot at as I hit the ground. Or I’m trying to recreate the energy I felt leaping from a Blackhawk helicopter, night vision goggles on, and storming my way into some nameless Afghan family’s home, where I would proceed to throw a sandbag over someone’s head and lead him off to an American-controlled, Guantánamo-like prison in his own country.

This doctor says it’s common enough for my unconscious to want to relive the feeling of learning that my friend had just been blown up by a roadside bomb while on patrol at two in the morning, a time most normal people are sleeping. Somehow, at the oddest hours, my mind considers it perfectly appropriate to replay the times when rockets landed near my tent at night in a remote valley in Afghanistan. Or when I was arrested by the military after going AWOL as one of the first Army Rangers to try to say no to participation in George W. Bush’s “Global War on Terror.”

I’m aware now, as I wasn’t some years back, that my post-war urge for limits-testing is not atypical of the home-front experiences of many who went to war in Afghanistan or Iraq in these years and, for some of them, judging by the soaring suicide rates among “Global War on Terror” vets, the urge has proven so much more extreme than mine. But more than a decade after leaving the army as a conscientious objector, I can at least finally own up to and testify to the eeriness of what we all brought home from America’s 21st-century wars, even those of us who weren’t physically maimed or torn up by them.

And here’s the good news at a purely personal level: The older I get, the less I’m inclined toward such acts of masochism, of self-inflicted pain. Part of the change undoubtedly involves age —I hesitate to use the word “maturity” yet—but there’s another reason, too. I found a far better place to begin to put all that stored up, jumpy energy. I began speaking to high school students heavily propagandized by the US military on the charms, delights, and positives of war, American-style, about my own experiences and that, in turn, has been changing my life. I’d like to tell you about it.

FILLING IN THE BLANKS

The first time I went to speak to high school students about my life with the Rangers in Afghanistan, I was surprised to realize that the same nervous energy I felt before jumping into Lake Michigan or lacing up my gym shoes for a bone-shaking work-out was coursing through my body. But here was the strangest thing: when I had said my piece (or perhaps I really mean “my peace”) with as much honesty as I could muster, I felt the very sense of calmness and resolution that I’d been striving for with my other rituals and could never quite hang onto come over me—and it stayed with me for days.

That first time, I was one of the few white people in a deteriorating Chicago public high school on the far south side of the city. A teacher is escorting me down multiple broad, shabby hallways to the classroom where I was to speak. We pass a room decorated with a total of eight American flags, four posted on each side of its door. “The recruiting office,” the teacher says, gesturing toward it, and then asks, “Do they have recruiting offices in the suburban schools you talk to?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t spoken to any on this topic yet,” I reply. “They certainly didn’t have an obvious one at the public high school I went to, but I do know that there are 10,000 recruiters across the country working with a $700 million a year advertising budget. And I think you’re more likely to see the recruiters in schools where kids have less options after graduation.”

At that moment, we arrive at the appointed classroom and I’m greeted warmly by the social studies teacher who invited me. Photos of Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and other revolutionary black leaders hang neatly on a wall. He first heard about my desire to talk to students about my wartime experiences through Veterans for Peace, an organization I belong to. “There is no counter-narrative to what the kids are being taught by the instructors in Junior ROTC, as far as I can tell,” he says, obviously bothered, as we wait for the students to arrive. “It would be great if you could provide more of a complete picture to these kids.” He then went on to describe the frustration he felt with a Chicago school system in which schools in the poorest neighborhoods in the city were being shut down at a record pace, and yet, somehow, his school district always had the money to supplement the Pentagon’s funding of the JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training) program.

The kids are just beginning to filter in, laughing and acting like the teenagers they are. I’m not encouraged. “

Okay, everyone, settle down, we have a guest speaker today,” the teacher says. He oozes confidence of a sort I only wish I possessed. The volume in the room dies down to something approaching a hush. They clearly respect him. I only hope a little of that will spill over in my direction.

I hesitate a moment and then start, and here’s a little report from memory on at least part of what I said and what happened:

“Thanks,” I begin, “for having me in today. My name is Rory Fanning and I’m here to tell you why I joined the military. I’ll also talk about what I saw while I was in that military, and why I left before my contract was up.” The silence in the classroom stretches out, which encourages me and I plunge on.

“I signed up for the Army Rangers to have my student loans paid for and to do my part to prevent another terrorist attack like 9/11… My training was sometimes difficult and usually boring… A lot of food and sleep deprivation. Mostly, I think my chain of command was training me in how to say yes to their orders. The military and critical thinking don’t mix too well…”

As I talk on about the almost indescribable poverty and desperation I witnessed in Afghanistan, a country that has known nothing but occupation and civil war for decades and that, before I arrived, I knew less than nothing about, I could feel my nervousness abating. “The buildings in Kabul,” I was telling them, “have gaping holes in them and broken-down Russian tanks and jets litter the countryside.”

I can hardly restrain my amazement. The kids are still with me. I’m now explaining how the US military handed out thousands of dollars to anyone willing to identify alleged members of the Taliban and how we would raid houses based on this information. “I later came to find out that this intelligence, if you could call it that, was rooted in a kind of desperation.” I explain why an Afghan in abject poverty, looking for ways to support his family, might be ready to finger almost anyone in return for access to the deep wells of cash the US military could call on. In a world where factories are few, and office jobs scarce indeed, people will do anything to survive. They have to.

I point out the almost unbearable alien quality of Afghan life to American military officials. Few spoke a local language. No one I ever ran into knew anything about the culture of the people we were trying to bribe. Too often we broke down doors and snatched Afghans from their homes not because of their ties with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but because a neighbor had a grudge against them.

“Most of the people we targeted had no connection to the Taliban at all. Some even pledged allegiance to the US occupation, but that didn’t matter.” They still ended up with hoods over their heads and in some godforsaken prison.

By now, I can tell that the kids are truly paying attention, so I let it all out. “The Taliban had surrendered a few months before I arrived in Afghanistan in late 2002, but that wasn’t good enough for our politicians back home and the generals giving the orders. Our job was to draw people back into the fight.”

Two or three students let out genuine soft gasps as I describe how my company of Rangers occupied a village school and our commander cancelled classes there indefinitely because it made an excellent staging point for the troops—and there wasn’t much a village headmaster in rural Afghanistan could say to dissuade history’s most technologically advanced and powerful military from doing just what it wanted to. “I remember,” I tell them, “watching two fighting-age men walk by the school we were occupying. One of them didn’t show an acceptable level of deference to my first sergeant, so we grabbed them. We threw the overly confident guy in one room and his friend in another, and the guy who didn’t smile at us properly heard a gunshot and thought, just as he was meant to, that we had just killed his friend for not telling us what we wanted to hear and that he might be next.”

“That’s like torture,” one kid half-whispers.

I then talk about why I’m more proud of leaving the military than of anything I did while in it. “I signed up to prevent another 9/11, but my two tours in Afghanistan made me realize that I was making the world less safe. We know now that a majority of the million or so people who have been killed since 9/11 have been innocent civilians, people with no stake in the game and no reason to fight until, often enough, the US military baited them into it by killing or injuring a family member who more often than not was an innocent bystander.”

“Did you know,” I continue, quoting a statistic cited from University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape, “that ‘from 1980 to 2003, there were 343 suicide attacks around the world, and at most 10 percent were anti-American inspired. Since 2004, there have been more than 2,000, over 91 percent against US and allied forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.’ I didn’t want to be part of this so I left.”

FULL DISCLOSURE

Chicago-area high school students aren’t used to hearing such talk. The public school system here has the largest number of Junior ROTC students—nearly 10,000 of them, 45 percent African American and 50 percent Latino—of any school district in the country. And maybe so many of these kids are attentive exactly because the last thing JROTC instructors are likely to be discussing is the realities of war, including, for instance, the staggering number of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans unable to assimilate back into society after their experience overseas.

When I urge the students to join me in a conversation about war and their lives, I hear stories about older siblings deluged by telemarketer-style calls from recruiters. “It’s so annoying,” one says. “My brother doesn’t even know how the recruiter got his information.”

“Recruiters have contact information for every junior and senior in this school,” I say. “And that’s the law. The No Child Left Behind act, signed soon after 9/11, insists that your school hand over your information to the Department of Defense if it wants to receive federal funds.”

Soon enough, it becomes clear that these students have very little context for their encounters with the US military and its promises of an uplifting future. They know next to nothing, for instance, about our recent history in Iraq and Afghanistan, or our permanent state of war in the Greater Middle East and increasingly in Africa. When I ask why so many of them signed up for the JROTC program, they talk about “leadership” opportunities and “structure” for their lives. They are focused, as I was, on having college paid for or “seeing the world.” Some say they are in JROTC because they didn’t want to take gym class. One offers this honest assessment: “I don’t know, I just am. I haven’t given it much thought.”

As I grill them, so they grill me. “What does your family think about your leaving the military?” one asks.

“Well,” I respond, “we don’t talk about it too much. I come from a very pro-military family and they prefer not to think of what we are doing overseas as wrong. I think this is why it took me so long to speak honestly in public about my time in the military.”

“Did other factors weigh on your decision to talk openly about your military experience, or was it just fear of your family’s response?” an astute student asks.

And I answer as honestly as I can: “Even though, as far as I know, I did something no one in the Rangers had yet done in the post-9/11 era—the psychological and physical vetting process for admission to the Ranger Regiment makes the likelihood of a Ranger questioning the mission and leaving the unit early unlikely—I was intimidated. I shouldn’t have been, but my chain of command had me leaving the military looking over my shoulder. They made it seem as if they could drag me off to jail or send me back into the military to be a bullet stopper in the big Army at any time if I ever talked about my service in the Rangers. I did after all, like all Rangers, have a secret security clearance.” Heads shake. “The military and paranoia go hand in hand. So I kept quiet,” I tell the kids. “I also started reading books like Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living, a reporter’s brilliant story of our invasion of Afghanistan as told from the perspective of actual Afghans. And I began meeting veterans who had experiences similar to mine and were speaking out. This helped boost my confidence.”

“Is the military like Call of Duty?” one of the students asks, referring to a popular single-shooter video game.

“I’ve never played,” I respond. “Does it include kids who scream when their mothers and fathers are killed? Do a lot of civilians die?”

“Not really,” he says uncomfortably.

“Well, then it’s not realistic. Besides, you can turn off a video game. You can’t turn off war.”

A quiet settles over the room that even a lame joke of mine can’t break. Finally, after a silence, one of the kids suddenly says, “I’ve never heard anything like this before.”

What I feel is the other side of that response. That first experience of mine talking to America’s future cannon fodder confirms my assumption that, not surprisingly, the recruiters in our schools aren’t telling the young anything that might make them think twice about the glories of military life.  

I leave that school with an incredible sense of calm, something I haven’t felt since my time began in Afghanistan. I tell myself I want to speak to classrooms at least once a week. I realize that it took me ten years, even while writing a book on the subject, to build up the courage to talk openly about my years in the military. If only I had begun engaging these kids earlier instead of punishing myself for the experience George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their cohorts put me through. Suddenly, some of my resident paranoia seems to melt away, and the residual guilt I still felt for leaving the Rangers early and in protest—the chain of command left me believing that there was nothing more cowardly than “deserting” your Ranger buddies—seems to evaporate, too.

My thought now is full disclosure going forward. If a teenager is going to sign up to kill and die for a cause or even the promise of a better life, then the least he or she should know is the good, the bad, and the ugly about the job. I had no illusions that plenty of kids—maybe most of them, maybe all of them— wouldn’t sign up anyway, regardless of what I said. But I swear to myself: no moralism, no regrets, no judgments. That’s my credo now. Just the facts as I see them.

A NEW MISSION

I’m on an operation and that feels strangely familiar. Think of it as a different way to be a Ranger in a world that will never, it seems, be truly postwar. But as with all things in one’s mind: easier said than done. The world, it turns out, is in no rush to welcome me on my new mission.

I start making calls. I create a website to advertise my talk. I send out word to teacher friends that I’m available to speak in their schools. I’m prepared for my schedule to fill up within weeks, but a month passes and no one calls. The phone just doesn’t ring. I grow increasingly frustrated. Fortunately, a friend tells me about a grant sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union and designed to expose kids to real world educational experiences they may not hear about in school. I apply, promising to speak to twelve of the forty-six schools in Chicago with JROTC programs during the 2015/2016 school year. The grant comes through in September and better yet it promises that each student I talk to will also get a free copy of my book, Worth Fighting For.

I don’t for a second doubt that this will ensure my presence in front of classrooms of kids. I have nine long months to arrange meetings with only 12 schools. I decide that I’ll even throw in some extra schools as a bonus. I create a Facebook page so that teachers and principals can learn about my talk and book me directly. Notices of both my website and that page are placed in teacher newsletters and I highlight the Chicago Teachers Union endorsement in them. I’m thinking: slam dunk! I even advertise on message boards, spend money on targeted ads on Facebook, and again reach out to all my teacher friends.

It’s now April, seven months into the school year, and only two teachers have taken me up on the offer to speak. “He was comfortable and engaging with the students and in the students’ reflections the following day he was someone that the students clearly enjoyed talking with. I will definitely ask him to come back to speak to my classes every year,” wrote Dave Stieber, one of those teachers.

It’s finally starting to dawn on me, however. In our world, life is scary and I’m not the only one heading for Lake Michigan on cold winter mornings or gloomy nights. Teachers out there in the public schools are anxious, too. It’s dark days for them. They are under attack and busy fighting back against school privatization, closures, and political assaults on their pensions. The popular JROTC program is a cash cow for their schools and they are discouraged from further rocking a boat already in choppy waters.

You’ll bring too much “tension” to our school, one teacher tells me with regret. “Most of my kids need the military if they plan on going to college,” I hear from another who says he can’t invite me to his school anyway. But most of my requests simply go out into the void unanswered. Or promises to invite me go unfulfilled. Who, after all, wants to make waves or extracurricular trouble when teachers are already under fierce attack from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his unelected school board?

I understand and yet, in a world without a draft, JROTC’s school-to-military pipeline is a lifeline for Washington’s permanent war across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. Its unending conflicts are only possible because kids like those I’ve talked to in the few classrooms I’ve visited continue to volunteer. The politicians and the school boards, time and again, claim their school systems are broke. No money for books, teacher’s salaries and pensions, healthy lunches, etc….

And yet, in 2015, the US government spent $598 billion on the military, more than half of its total discretionary budget, and nearly ten times what it spent on education. In 2015, we also learned that the Pentagon continues to pour what, it is estimated, will in the end be $1.4 trillion into a fleet of fighter planes that may never work as advertised. Imagine the school system we would have in this country if teachers were compensated as well as weapons contractors. Confronting the attacks on education in the United States should also mean, in part, trying to interrupt that school-to-military pipeline in places like Chicago. It’s hard to fight endless trillion-dollar wars if kids aren’t enlisting.

Just the other day I spoke at a college in Peoria, three hours south of Chicago. “My brother hasn’t left the house since returning home from Iraq,” one of the students told me with tears in her eyes. “What you said helped me understand his situation better. I might have more to say to him now.”

It was the sort of comment that reminded me that there is an audience for what I have to say. I just need to figure out how to get past the gatekeepers. Believe me, I’ll continue to write about, pester, and advertise my willingness to talk to soon-to- be-military-age kids in Chicago. I’m not giving up, because speaking honestly about my experiences is now my therapy. At the end of the day, I need those students as much as I think they need me.

RORY FANNING, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of The Military and Across America and co-author of the forthcoming book Long Shot: The Struggles and Triumphs of an NBA Freedom Fighter.

Rubio To Flint: Drop Dead


 

Excerpt from: The New Republic

Republican candidates can’t be bothered with the mass contamination of an American city—not when the public is potentially, hypothetically endangered by ISIS.

BY DAVID DAYEN
January 20, 2016

People laughed at Jeb Bush for his ludicrous comment in a September debate that his brother “kept us safe” while president. Most snickered that Jeb was ignoring thousands of dead from the September 11 attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hurricane Katrina. But George W. Bush’s policies of neglect affected far more than that. How many died between 2001 and 2009 from lacking access to medical treatment; from exposure to harmful chemicals or pollution in the atmosphere; from unregulated corporate harm; from persistent, grinding poverty?

Republicans profess to believe that the primary responsibility of the president is to keep Americans safe. But they aren’t actually interested in our safety.

This disconnect raises a fundamental issue for Republicans. They profess to believe that the primary responsibility of the president is to keep Americans safe. But they aren’t actually interested in safety. They misalign the risks to Americans and put their energies toward the most remote threats, while ignoring the real threats people face. And Marco Rubio offered the perfect example of this on Monday.

A reporter in Coralville, Iowa, asked the senator to comment on Democratic calls for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, to resign over his handling of the water crisis in Flint, which has poisoned tens of thousands of Americans. Rubio replied, “I didn’t watch the debate so I have no idea what they said.” The reporter asked him to comment more generally on Flint, where President Obama has declared a state of emergency. “That’s not an issue that right now we’ve been focused on,” Rubio said, sprinkling in some boilerplate about the federal government’s role. “I’d love to give you a better answer on it, it’s just not an issue we’ve been quite frankly fully briefed or apprised of.”

This is a man whose presidential campaign is largely predicated on threats to the homeland from outside. Rubio told Face the Nation that he bought a gun to protect his family from Islamic State militants. But he couldn’t be bothered to bone up on a direct threat to an entire American city from within—the deliberate poisoning of Flint’s water supply.

Let me give Senator Rubio a refresher course. Michigan officials, who commandeered control of Flint’s local government through a disenfranchising emergency-manager process that suspiciously lines up with the main concentrations of African-Americans in the state, decided to temporarily use water from the Flint River for residential consumption while awaiting a new pipeline to Lake Huron. This was done to save money—to balance Flint’s budget, much like the persistent calls from Rubio and his Republican allies with respect to the federal budget.

The water from the Flint River was dirty, unfit for drinking or washing, and it corroded the lead-based service lines distributing water to 99,000 citizens. Residents immediately complained about the foul-smelling, bad-tasting water. It turned out the entire city suffered lead poisoning, as research demonstrated, for well over a year, with toxicity levels 13,000 times above a safe reading. The emergency manager in Flint, state environmental officials (who failed to properly treat the water), and Governor Snyder ignored this as long as they could, even withholding information from the public.

It took 18 months for Michigan to switch back the water to Lake Huron, despite a succession of votes from Flint’s elected officials to stop the poisoning, all of which the emergency manager overrode. Even after the switch, the lead pipes delivering the water remain damaged, and the public-health effects that will linger for decades remain unknown. The National Guard has been sent in to distribute bottled water and filtration. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette plans to investigate, as does the Department of Justice.

None of this is worth knowing about, according to Marco Rubio. He can’t be bothered with the mass contamination of an American city—not when the public is potentially, hypothetically unsafe from ISIS! Never mind the fact that you’re more likely to be hit by lightning or crushed by furniture than killed in a terrorist attack.

Indeed, as the Flint crisis shows, you are far more likely to be killed as a result of conservative austerity and deregulatory policies. Not only are they self-defeating when it comes to infrastructure—Michigan has already paid far more for the Flint disaster than it ever saved from temporarily re-routing the city’s water supply—but basing policy priorities on cost-cutting rather than human need inevitably leads to choosing winners and losers, and not in a benign way.

  • When you cannot be bothered to ensure that the sick can access health care, people die. When you cannot be bothered to stop corporations from polluting the earth, people die. When you cannot be bothered to monitor workplaces for the hazardous practices under which their employees operate, people die. When you cannot be bothered to protect citizens from a law enforcement apparatus charged with protecting them, people die.

But we rarely hear about these aspects of keeping Americans safe until a crisis like Flint emerges. The ongoing notion of safety in politics, absent something headline-grabbing like poisoning an entire city, is relegated to the foreign-policy sphere. And playing up threats from abroad, often of dubious relevance, numbs the nation to the numerous other ways in which Americans are put in peril every day. And of course, there are fewer special interests clamoring to protect water supplies and workplaces than there are defense contractors wanting to go to war against a foreign threat.

  • Indeed, one political party considers these concepts of safety to be so insignificant that they won’t even contemplate them. It’s not just Rubio: Donald Trump yesterday told reporters that what’s happening in Flint is “a shame,” but added, “I don’t want to comment on that.” No 2016 GOP hopeful has released a single statement on the water crisis. (On Tuesday, Ben Carson did offer his thoughts on Flint in an interview with the Huffington Post, but only to blame local leaders and the EPA.)

Obviously, the role of Michigan’s Republican governor is causing some reticence among conservatives. But Rubio’s pathetic claim that the Flint crisis is a nondescript state issue reveals his weakness on this. Hillary Clinton, in sharp contrast, sent staffers to Flint, demanded that Michigan pay for clean water delivery, and proposed a federal health monitoring system. Bernie Sanders called for Snyder’s resignation. And President Obama freed up emergency resources as soon as Snyder belatedly requested it. The federal government has a clear role to play, not just providing funds but also accountability.

It flatters people’s ideological beliefs to see this as only an issue for the poor and the vulnerable. In Sunday’s debate, Clinton said, “If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would’ve been action.” But I’ve been to Porter Ranch, an upper-middle class community in Los Angeles (many of the developments are gated) where methane gas has leaked from a storage facility for more than three months, and officials (including the Democratic governor and his regulatory agencies) have been similarly slow to respond.

Underfunded regulatory agencies and corporate cost-cutting caused the Porter Ranch crisis, as surely as government austerity and regulatory failure caused the tragedy in Flint. We all are put at risk every day by a policy apparatus that shunts human needs to the background. While tough-guy politicians speak darkly of bombs and soldiers in the name of “keeping people safe,” they leave no room for real public safety threats. They don’t even have the time to be briefed about them.

This article has been updated.