Saturday, December 30, 2006

Three Names Three Deaths

Gerald Ford, James Brown and Saddam Hussein
Brandon Read, J.R. Spears, and John Sullivan (ed. 01-03-07)

Deaths come in threes. That's the myth, and this time it's reality.

The first group of three names, everybody knows. All three did things that they were proud of, and things that they were ashamed of. They are all dead. Two are being honored in death, one is scorned in death, at least in the United States. Enough is being written about them.

The second group of three names are not so well known, the third name of that group, is in fact, not yet known. The third name was revealed today (ed. 01-03-07)

Specialist Brandon M. Read
United States Army Reserve

Brandon was killed by an IED September 6, 2004 near Qayyarah, south of Mosul.
He was from Greeneville Tenessee, he was 21 years old, and he was a computer/internet enthusiast. He helped to get his high school's website started. Once he graduated he joined his dad in the Army Reserve.

He had volunteered to take the more dangerous gunner position on the return trip during a convoy mission, even though he had already served in that post on the first leg, and was originally supposed to be the driver on the way back. He never made it back.

He was the 1,000th member of the United States Armed Forces to be killed in Iraq.

Lance Corporal Jonathan R. Spears
United States Marine Corps

J.R. was killed by hostile small arms fire in Ramadi, Anbar Province, on October 23, 2005.

He was from Molino, Florida, and he was a football player in high school. He wanted to join the Marine Corps so much that he lost over 60 pounds to be able to do so. His best friend, Chris Smith, also a Marine, was able to be at his funeral, and was somehow able to stay at attention, while simultaneously holding J.R.'s mother's hand. His whole home town came to his funeral.

J.R. loved his country, the Marine Corps, and his family, which included his parents, and his two sisters, Jennifer and Jessica.

He was the 2,000th member of the United States Armed Forces to be killed in Iraq.

This evening, as I write this, the toll of U.S. casualties stands at 2,998. I know that tomorrow, or the day after at the latest, there will be a 3000th American servicemember killed. I wish that I did not know this. I wish that an American family was not going to have New Year's ruined for them for all time. I wish that all the men and women in Iraq, many of them so young, could come home without some of them having to die.

Sgt. John M. Sullivan, 22, of Hixon, Tenn., died Dec. 30 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle while on combat patrol. I was wrong in my estimate, Sgt. Sullivan was killed the same day I wrote the original post. I would like to again extend my deepest sympathy and respect to his family and loved ones. (ed. 01-03-07)

The fact that each of these men's death marks a milestone in the Iraq war is tragic. These soldier's deaths are not more or less significant than the deaths of any other soldier in this war. Each death shatters a family, ruins a Christmas, devastates real human beings, cuts short a human life. The fact that I am listing these men here, along with the circumstances of their deaths, and some details of their lives, is in no way an attempt to diminish their sacrifice, or to dishonor them. I am deeply sorry for their families loss. I hope that listing them here, as the heroes that they are, in some small way shows honor to them and their families, and conveys my deep respect, and shared sorrow.

There are some other milestones that we have passed recently. 25,000 total U.S. Casualties. Iraqis, well, that's anybody's guess. Bush said 30,000 a year ago, but estimates go much higher.

The above figure is counting only those killed in Iraq, whether in combat or by other means, and those wounded in combat. If you count those who have fallen ill, been wounded or injured by any means, as well as those killed, the number is over 50,000. (ed. 01/07/07)

Monday, January 1st, starting at 4:00pm, there will be a candlelight vigil here in San Diego to honor our fallen in this war. It will be a peaceful, non-violent vigil, and it will be held at Balboa Park, in the grassy area on the Park side, opposite Balboa Naval Hospital.


John Lennon


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Military increases and the draft

In recent days, the Bush administration has put forward two ideas.

The first idea is to surge troop strength in Iraq by 20,000 to 30,000 troops, a full division, in order to stabilize the region and help train the Iraqi forces & police to take over the security of the country.

This plan is really frightening. He is clinging to his original vision of the Iraq conflict like a drowning rat, even against the advice of all but his inner circle of advisors. Secretary Condoleeza Rice said on Friday, December 22nd 2006, about Iraq that "once it emerges as a country that is a stabilising factor, you will have a very different kind of Middle East." I find it personally incredible that the Secretary of State of the United States is still singing this tired neo-con theme song.

The fact is that we can't continue to support the war with our current force strength in Iraq, and nobody, including the former Secretary of State, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell seems to understand how we would be able to credibly increase our force strength there without breaking the back of the army.

The fact is that increasing our current force would do nothing to stabilize the region, and would only escalate the conflict to a level of violence, and American casualties, which the American people have not seen since the Vietnam War.

Even Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, initially made a statement supporting the increase. Fortunately, largely due to backlash from people across the U.S., including some peace activists locally, he has backed off that statement.

The morale of both the Army and the Marine Corps is plummeting, because many of them either have realized, or are beginning to, that they are being asked to die for a lie. Bush's incapacity to recognize reality, even now, still stuns me.

It's clear that the man just won't give up, and is so committed to his original vision, that nothing, not even the abandonment of his most ardent supporters, will change his mind.
(thanks to Jon for the video link)

The second proposal that Bush is putting forward, is to increase the overall size of both the Army and the Marine Corps. How he is intending to do this, with the recruitment trouble that the military has had recently, I don't know. Maybe he will start loosening up enlistment standards, or just have military recruiters start lying to potential recruits. Oh wait, that's right. Never mind.
(thanks to Dave for the lying recruiter link)

Or they could bring back the draft. Also on Friday, the U.S. Selective Service announced a comprehensive test of the military draft systems, starting in 2009.

Now, recently, there's been quite a bit of controversy about the draft. People talk about it, they get pissed off about it, they support it for political reasons, they oppose it for political reasons. Some people are in support of it based on their principles, others oppose it based on their principles. Many times this comes about for different reasons.

Newt Gingrich has recently implied he supports bringing back the draft. (see below) Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel supports bringing back the draft. Pelosi says she doesn't support it. The Bush administration is against it:
"The president's position has not changed," said Trey Bohn, a spokesman for the White House. "He supports an all-volunteer military, and the administration is not considering reinstating the draft."

There are several arguments here, and there is no consensus whatsoever. Conservatives tend to be in support of the draft, if they are, because they feel we need it to fight the Global War on Terror. Mr. Gingrich, for example, has called it "World War III", and has implied that a war economy and reinstating the draft would be a part of his vision for the future.

Gingrich's ideas about the use of American military force are as dangerous as his ideas about the suppression of free speech.

On the other side of the aisle, Charlie Rangel believes that there is already an implicit draft in this country. By that he means that for a large segment of our population, the opportunities to improve yourself are limited. Many people in our country come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and have very few choices after high school, sometimes coming down to choosing between the Army and WalMart.

I agree with his point, that a formal draft, without deferments, would level the playing field. This might force people who have more economic opportunity to see the war in a different light. What if young people from middle-class backgrounds had to face the possiblity of compulsory service, war, and death? Would they, or their parents, be so quick to support the idea of a war?

I also feel that the idea of some sort of compulsory service, regardless of the nature of that service, is a good idea. There is a difference between involuntary servitude, as some have termed it, and the idea of compulsory service.

Many nations have mandatory military service, or other civil service, as a required part of adult life. Switzerland, for example, requires two years of service of every adult. Service to one's community, state, or nation is a valuable experience that unites people from different backgrounds, in a common cause. Compulsory service need not be military in nature, a draft such as Congressman Rangel suggests could include the option to work in the Peace Corps, or do work in the community. His proposal includes those ideas, and those who object to war, if his ideas are adopted in toto, would have the opportunity to choose from several options.

"Having our young people commit themselves to a couple years in service of this great republic, whether it's our seaports, our airports, in schools, in hospitals -- and, at the end of that, to provide some educational benefits -- it's the best thing for our young people and the best thing for our country."

Congressman Charles Rangel on Face the Nation, November 19, 2006

Jim Nicholson, the current Secretary for Veteran's Affairs, recently said that "society would benefit" if the draft was reinstituted, but then quickly backed off his statement. Interestingly, Secretary Nicholson's original position seems not too far from Congressman Rangel's.

In my own experience, I spent two years in the California Conservation Corps as a young man(hard work, low pay, miserable conditions!). That experience of service is something that I will value for my entire life. Following that, I enlisted in the military, and my experiences there also shaped my attitudes, my work ethic, and my ideas about the world and the people in it. Of course, in my case, I volunteered both times, even though at least in part that was due to no money, no job, and no prospects.

Some of the statements made from the left in recent months have been clumsy attempts to capture some of the reality about military life in a soundbite. Kerry's botched joke, for example, was true, but does not (and was not intended to) completely describe reality. In addition to those that are in the military due to economic disadvantages, are those that have volunteered because of their personal ideals. My own military service was a combination of the two sides of this coin.

All that said, the draft today is not politically feasible. The emotional content, pro and con, of the idea of the draft is so overwhelming that most people can't keep their minds on what might really happen if it were brought back.

The military is a mixed bag of people. It already is a cross-section of our society, and it is wrong to attempt to label people, or indulge stereotypes. That said, today's circumstances are different from the time when I was active duty. I am a peace-time veteran, and my experiences in the military are different from those of combat veterans.

To say I am proud of the quality job that our young men and women are doing overall, in Iraq, would be an understatement. To say I am ashamed and disappointed with the quality of the job that the military and civilian leadership is doing overall, especially with regards to the Iraq war, would be equally understated.

The ideas of some members of the officer corps are quite good, and the fearlessness of many of them in stating those ideas is heartening. Most often in retirement is when general officers become the most outspoken, but sometimes active duty generals are not afraid to speak out, or to do their duty and tell the truth, as in the case of General John Abizaid.

The level of dissent is historical in scope, and is most often in direct contradiction of the civilian leadership. The fact that Bush is now disregarding the advice of his "Commanders on the ground" publicly, is a sign of how far the deterioration has come.

The number of conscientious objectors has been increasing steadily since early in the war. I have no doubt it will continue to rise.

The discontent with the course of the Iraq War will continue to grow. The disillusionment of the American people with the Bush Administration, over the repeated lies, scandals, cronyism and opportunistic greed will spread. We will take our country back, peacefully, within the rule of law. The tide has turned in public opinion, but how many of our men and women in uniform will have to die first, is the question in my mind.

2,964 so far.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

New congress, death, and monkey-boy

2,946 today.

This interim period before the swearing in of the 110th congress is maddening. It is only a few more weeks, I know, until January 4th when the new congess takes its seats.

I am heartened by some things, and disappointed by some things, which are all happening at once.

First, the scrutiny by the house promises to be intense. Congressman Waxman and the Ethics Committee are looming over the Haliburton contracts, the White House, and the Pentagon like a gathering cloud, about to let loose a downpour of subpeonas.

On the other hand, John Conyers with the Judiciary Committee appear to be taking a more cautious approach. Pelosi and Conyers both have stated that impeachment is "off the table", and apparently they are not even going to issue any subpoenas, to start with. This is disappointing, but I think I understand what's going on. Pelosi and Conyers have both stated that there will be rigorous oversight from now on, and it would seem like the worst sort of self-serving politics for her to press for impeachment right from the start, since she is next in line for the presidency if Bush and Cheney both go.

The case for impeachment is already strong, but the administration's ability to "catapult the propaganda" under the direction of Karl Rove, who unfortunately seems to be acting as the equivalent of Joseph Goebbels (the Propaganda Minister for the Third Reich) in our government, albeit with the official title of Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning. As Congressman John Moss (D-CA) said on April 30, 1973, leading up to the Watergate investigations, "...before we even suggest impeachment, we must have the most uncontroverted evidence."

This means to me that while there will be no articles of impeachment approved by the 110th Congress in its first hours or days, the notion of impeachment is for now, "tabled", or put aside until evidence begins to mount. Soon enough it will become clear, not only to those of us who have been paying attention for some time now, but to the American people in general, the depth of impropriety, scandal, and opportunism that lie at the heart of the Bush administration.

The day is coming when Monkey-boy

and Darth Sidious

(i dunno - you decide)

will both be marched out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in shackles and orange jumpsuits. This has to be done by the book, completely in accordance with the law, or we are no better than they are.

In the meantime, our responsibility is to continue to bring pressure to bear on the administration and congress, and to continue to make sure that the war is present in the minds of the American people. 2007 is a crucial year.

2,946 American servicepeople killed
22,057 American servicepeople wounded

That's over 25,000 U.S. Casualties

The above figure is counting only those killed in Iraq, whether in combat or by other means, and those wounded in combat. If you count those who have fallen ill, been wounded or injured by any means, as well as those killed, the number is over 50,000. (ed. 01/07/07)

The total confirmed deaths for Iraqis is over 25,000, while one estimate puts the median (middle range) estimate of Iraqis killed as over 650,000. There are, in addition, over 1.5 Million refugees.

How many have to die?


Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Beginning of the End

This is a video of Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, broadcast earlier this year, the day after the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Warner National Defense Act of 2007 was signed. I was surfing around, looking for some politically oriented video, and this one came up in about the first 10 seconds. The name of the segment, aptly, is The Beginning of the End.

It's so powerful, I'm sharing it.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Non-violence, fearless dissent, and hard work

During a conversation at work the other day, a woman that I work with said something that bothered me a little bit at the time, and has grown on my mind since.

I was talking about my military service, in the U.S. Coast Guard, and some of my experiences while I was active duty. I was telling a sea story about a really hairy search & rescue op that happened in 1988 while I was stationed in the Bay Area as a radioman (yes, we saved the guy). She was interested, asked some intelligent questions about things, and we were pretty much done with the topic. I mentioned that I was now working as a peace activist. She rolled her eyes, seemed disappointed, and said, "I wish it were that simple."

The conversation was cut short because of work, and I never had a chance to respond to her statement. At first I didn't know what she meant. Simple? What about being a peace activist or working to end the war is simple? After considering it, I have come to realize that she really doesn't understand what peace activists do, and doesn't understand how much thought and consideration is put into things.

How does mainstream America view the peace movement? This is an important question, especially since we in the movement have been frustrated for so long by the seeming inability of many people to even acknowledge (with more than a bumpersticker) that there is a problem. Does the average American see us as a group of Pollyanna daydreamers, singing songs and hoping that the sun will just come out tomorrow? Do people really think that we don't understand that there are no simple solutions to this problem, or at least, no simple solutions that would not also exponentially increase the bloodshed?

Long hours spent just trying to get one more person to really think about the cost of war, or see past the fog of materialism, is not easy. The Arlington West memorial tomorrow alone will be several hours of hard work, as we will be setting up and taking down almost 2,500 markers representing American fallen. The figure of 2,500 is correct, unfortunately we don't have the resources or people to continue to put up a cross, star, or crescent for each death anymore, our trailer only holds that many. As of this morning, the count was 2,922.

The Iraq Study Group Report by The Baker-Hamilton Commission was released recently, and there still seem to be no easy answers. The report rehashes suggestions that have been proposed by progressives, and others, for the last year or two. It comes as no surprise that Bush has already rejected (or at least snorted at) two of the key proposals: engaging Iran and Syria in dialogue, and troop withdrawals.

Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of The House for the 110th Congress has already pledged to not cut funding for Iraq. Her motives are understandable, and she does promise oversight of funding, which is a welcome change, but an outright promise seems to me to be premature. She spun her response to be not cutting off funding for "the troops" but clearly it is our responsibility as peace activists to keep up the pressure. Hard.

Progressive members of the house such as Dennis Kucinich, who should now get at least some media attention, could force at least the discussion of peace initiatives, including the Department of Peace. A local group working towards the Department of Peace is unafraid of approaching local conservative politicians, and confronting them with their message.

Peace work is not simple, and it is not easy. The principles of non-violence and fearless dissent are central to the message of peace. These principles are extraordinarily difficult to uphold.

Speaking truth to power is difficult, and scary. I have personally passed on an opportunity to do this myself, when I felt overwhelmed. For a while it felt to me like nothing we were doing was making any difference, and I failed to follow through on some commitments I had made to support the peace movement. I've stopped beating myself up over it, but am committed to following through on things in the future, and not taking on more than I can handle.

I have lost my temper many times over the injustices and excesses perpetrated by the Bush administration. I have yet to become violent, and it is important that that never happen. Any kind of violence or even implied violence must be avoided if we are to maintain the integrity of the peace movement.

Just stuff on my mind, all for now...


Thursday, December 7, 2006

Peace Resource Page

Hello all,

This is a foundational post, and could be considered a building block, so to speak. This page will be continually updated with downloadable document resources that may be useful to the activist community.

United States Constitution

USA Patriot Act

Military Commissions Act of 2006

John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007
I know, I know, it's huge. Pay special attention to section 1076.

Talon Report
(documents obtained by the ACLU on the surveillance of
Veterans For Peace by Homeland Security)

Iraq Study Group Report
(Baker/Hamilton Commission report)

U.S. House of Representatives, 110th Congress

U.S. Senate, 110th Congress

Congressman Dennis Kucinich's proposal to end the war by cutting funding

Below is all the video and audio of the events in Washington January 27th and 29th, 2007.

For a summary of the event, please read my post: Ripples in the Pond

Here also is a link to my webshots site, which includes very many stills taken throughout the event.


Cirino's recordings:
Recording 1
Recording 2

We Will Not Be Silent (Claudia)

Vigil at Rayburn (Claudia)

Courtyard at Rayburn & Vigil (Paul)

Capitol Police Arrests Part 1 (Cirino)

Capitol Police Arrests Part 2 (Cirino)

Lobby Day videos

Planning in the Rayburn Cafeteria (Claudia)

March & Rally

Peace March past the Supreme Court (Claudia)

Crowd shot at Peace Rally A (Barry)

Crowd shot at Peace Rally B (Barry)

Crowd shot at Peace Rally C (Barry)

Crowd shot at Peace Rally D (Barry)

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Veterans For Peace - Upcoming events

Hello all,

I just came back from a Veterans For Peace meeting, and once again I am energized. There is so much committment from these folks, and such true compassion for our men and women in harm's way.

The annual elections were held, and the slate of officers for the next year is ready to take the helm.

Several things are coming up of importance:

Arlington West
The next event is on December 9th. This is in Oceanside either just north of or just south of the pier, depending on foot traffic, and how crowded the beach is. We really need volunteers for this, especially veterans, to interact with the public, and especially with active duty people.

The following are a few pictures from the last Arlington West held in Oceanside:

It is important to emphasize that this is a non-political event, supporting our troops active in Iraq, and honoring those that have fallen.

Truth-telling in a Time of War: A Call to Civic Courage
with guest speaker Daniel Ellsberg
This is not a VFP event, but is sponsored by the Peace and Democracy Action Group.
This will be Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 7:30pm, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest. Please click the link for more details.

Candelight Vigil
San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice (SDCPJ) is planning a candlelight vigil near Balboa Naval Hospital when the toll of those of those Americans killed in Iraq reaches 3000. This will be soon, probably late December or early January. Please click the link above for a map to the location.

San Diego Veterans For Peace is encouraging as many of our members as possible to attend. In the meeting tonight it was emphasized that a strong presence by our group will strongly demonstrate respect for our troops. In addition, the Navy Hospital Corpsmen working out of Balboa will be reassured by a visible presence of Veterans For Peace, and counter-protest is sometimes diffused if we are seen as a large part of any gathering.

We will be setting up a very small version of Arlington West, with thirty markers, each marker representing 100 people. What was finally decided on was 28 crosses, 1 star & 1 crescent, to fairly represent the fallen.

It has been mentioned that there is a possibility of counter-protest, and it is important to remember our Statement Of Purpose:


We, having dutifully served our nation, do hereby affirm our greater responsibility to serve the cause of world peace. To this end we will work, with others

(a) Toward increasing public awareness of the costs of war.
(b) To restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations
(c) To end the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons
(d) To seek justice for veterans and victims of war
(e) To abolish war as an instrument of national policy.

To achieve these goals, members of Veterans For Peace pledge to use non-violent means and to maintain an organization that is both democratic and open with the understanding that all members are trusted to act in the best interests of the group for the larger purpose of world peace.

We urge all people who share this vision to join us.

That's all for now. My next entry is planned (for now at least) to be more generally political, and will look at the makeup of the House of Representatives for the 110th Congress.