Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama & Labors of Hercules

Obama has decided to wrap himself in the cloak of The Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. Why he chose such a low threshold of personal comparison, when the ancient Greek hero Hercules was on the shelf just for the taking, remains a mystery to me. Perhaps, as with his recent, cautious and limited stimulus package, he was just too timid to reach for Mt. Olympus.

FIRST LABOR OF HERCULES was to kill the Nemean Lion and bring back its impervious pelt. His determined political strangulation of the Clinton Machine, and later to use its minions in his quest for electoral victory completed his FIRST LABOR.

SECOND LABOR OF HERCULES was to slay the Lemaean Hydra. The Hydra had nine heads and exuded a poisonous breath which killed its victims. Obama overcame the fact that, though he was black, he was just not another on-issue civil rights agitator. He had to: declare his opposition to the radical views of Rev. Wright; prove he was an American citizen and did not pal around with terrorists; show he was decisive enough to be Commander an Chief; demonstrate he was astute, profound enough to carry himself in competitive debates; finance a campaign; be clever enough to to carry off a 50-state strategy; and finally, he had to wear the robes of a Christian and not those of a Muslim. He certainly completed the SECOND LABOR.

THIRD LABOR OF HERCULES was to capture the Ceryneian Hind – a super fast deer with golden antlers and hooves of bronze. As with Hercules, it took Obama about three years to capture the presidency and with it, he completed the THIRD LABOR.

FOURTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to capture the Erymanthian Boar – a vicious pig that was laying waste to the fields of Greece. My interpretation of this labor is one of ending wasteful wars and in this case, Obama is yet to succeed. So the FOURTH LABOR remains incomplete.

FIFTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to clean the Augean stables in a single day. The stables were a centuries long accumulation of filth and manure from the sacred bovines. Hercules accomplished the task by rerouting two rivers through the stables, to wash them clean. Obama so far has not demonstrated an intention to clean up the Washington, DC stables. For example, he has picked seriously flawed members for cabinet positions and has no taste for punishing Bush administration officials for possible war crimes. I do not expect Obama to even come close to accomplishing the FIfTH LABOR

SIXTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to kill the Stymphalian Birds that ravished the fruits of mankind for their own satisfaction. I call the these birds todays lobbyists. Obama has had pretensions to rid Washington of this scourge, but has failed. THE SIXTH LABOR is ongoing, but badly faltering.

SEVENTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to capture the Cretan Bull – Hercules captured it by strangling it, but when it was sent the gods, it was freed, much like the way Bomb Bomb McCain was generously freed from marginalization by Obama after he soundly defeated him. THE SEVENTH LABOR was completed.

EIGHTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to capture the the Mares of Diomedes – these mares in the gods' stable breathed fire and devoured humans – Hercules bound their mouths and contained them much as Obama has thus far done to Congress... So the Eighth Labor is accomplished for the time being.

NINTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to capture the Amazon's Queen Hippolyta's golden girdle – mission accomplished by having Hillary Clinton work for him as Secretary of State. NINTH LABOR finished.

TENTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to capture the sacred cattle of Geron. For Obama, these sacred cattle constitute the members of the US Supreme Court. At this stage he cannot get to the herd unless their is a vacancy; so the TENTH LABOR is on hold.

ELEVENTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to steal the golden apples of Hesperides. He did just that by seizing the presidency, the head of the Democratic Party and the role of Commander and Chief. The ELEVENTH LABOR is completed.

TWELFTH LABOR OF HERCULES was to capture the three-headed dog Cerberus which means he must control Congress, the Executive and Judicial Branches of the US government; so far he has two of these heads under control. Justice still escapes him. TWELFTH LABOR is incomplete.

By now you must realize historical and mythical metaphors used to draw conclusions on Obama's rule are preposterous. None of these settings conform to Obama's world situation. For him to be Lincoln, the Confederacy must rise again. For him to have the character and physical strength of Hercules, he must have begun life by strangling serpents in his crib, sent by the gods to destroy him.

Obama has been in office less than a 100 days. His energy and intellect has left bungler Bush in the dust. Whether he can ride to the rescue of our country, delivering it from economic disaster remains to be judged by history. At least he has the spunk to try, rather than as have the stalwart Republicans, ride helplessly on a foolishly perceived cyclical wave. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blackwater Seeks Whitewater

For things to remain the same, we must change.” This quote is from an aristocratic Italian landowner who painfully attempts to adopt to socioeconomic change wrought by Garibaldi's revolution in 19th century Italy. Well, to be perfectly honest, it was uttered by Burt Lancaster in his role of a powerfully rich magnet in the film THE LEOPARD, based on Lampedusa's novel by the same name.

This week the mercenary guns-for-hire, paramilitary, private corporation Blackwater, decided to change its name to Xe, pronounced zee. It even changed its logo from an aggressive, in-your-face imprint of a bear's paw to an innocuous abstract presentation of the Xe. Too bad it did not use Runic letters to project the Xe, as was done sometimes in the Third Reich; at least, it would honestly embody its tarnished history. Its new almost algebraic formulation attempts to shift attention from its grizzly past. Previous to its bear's paw logo, Blackwater used a depiction of cross hairs on a rifle scope to intimidate more – surprised they never used a necklace made of human ears.

Though Blackwater was founded in 1997, it was for the most part dormant, in a cocoon stage, until it was hatched by GW Bush for combat in the Iraq War. It is now history that the Pentagon had over committed US forces by fighting two wars simultaneously. To deepen the depth of its forces, it turned to civilian contractors to man nearly all logistic missions; the logistic train had to be secured and contractors adapted easily to this additional security function.

Right now there are roughly 150,000 troops in Iraq; there are over that many contractors. Though Blackwater is a small percentage of these, it is by far the most controversial. So controversial that it has become the bête noire for contractors in Iraq.

We first hear of Blackwater in Iraq in the initial Coalition Government. It served as a Praetorian Guard to the lost soul, Bremer; the American Caesar. During this period it had four members killed in Fallujah, Iraq. Their bodies were burned by insurgents with parts dangled from a steel bridge across the Tigris river. Still today, Blackwater cannot explain sufficiently why their men were in Fallujah. Members of the victims' families have sued Blackwater for failing to protect the men.

As a response, Bremer ordered punitive action against the populace of Fallujah. This was followed later by a second battle by the USMC that killed over one thousand Iraqis and effectively razed the city. The damage was so extensive that it ranks with the destruction category given to Grozny and Stalingrad. The careless, gruesome initial Blackwater incident was to spark a whole chain of dreadful actions. The deadly smashing of Fallujah still remains as a brooding cause célèbre among the Iraqi insurgent Sunnis.

Blackwater remained in Iraq after Bremer's departure, working under a State Department contract to provide security for the embassy and State Department projects. It replaced the customary USMC embassy guards. It is estimated that each private contractor costs six times that of a US enlisted man in Iraq.

Blackwater gorged itself on no-bid contracts and as other contractors, it operated in Iraq with immunity from legal restraints by the US military, US government or Iraqi authority. For example, though not members of Blackwater, about 50% of the interrogators at Abu Ghraib were private contractors.

Blackwater was associated with arms smuggling, but the straw that broke the camel's back was its slaughter of at least 12 Iraqi civilians at Nisour square in Baghdad. The Iraqi government was enraged over the incident and the US State Department did not renew its contract that ends May of 2009. At least four Blackwater members are in legal jeopardy, but under what jurisdiction remains questionable. Congress has investigated the issues, but has failed to take action. However Blackwater, over a period of time, has fired 25-30 people for drunkenness and other disciplinary problems, some of which involved violence.

Though the concept of privatization of government functions by the Republicans is well understood, this theory when applied to armed security organizations remains especially contentious. In Iraq, Blackwater operations, along with other contractors, destroyed the effectiveness of the unity of command and caused enormous coordination problems with military operations as it skirted command and control. Blackwater competitively attracted skilled special forces personnel from the military with much higher pay. Their presence, serving alongside military personnel with similar missions at considerably lower pay, caused morale problems and friction with service personnel.

The surprising thing was that General Powell and his deputy Armitage at the State Department, both having served as military men, signed contracts with Blackwater without its inclusion in the command structure of the Iraq theater of operations. Both were graduates of the chaos in the command structure of the Vietnam War; they should have understood the detrimental implications.

Blackwater also was to provide US internal security during the anarchy of Katrina, mainly against looters. In this case, I prefer to let the constitutional lawyers to grope with the issue of using private forces against public criminals under the aegis of the US government.

By changing its name and logo, Blackwater has also foresworn the mission of serving as guns-for-hire. It will concentrate instead on just training guns-for-hire; their clients will include foreign nationals. As soon as a Xe advisor is shot at and returns fire, the company is right back in its past blood-letting security game. For me, it will always be Blackwater a.k.a. Xe –"for things to remain the same we must change" and that is what happened at Blackwater.

The Blackwater men consciously risked their lives for federal pay; there is nothing noble about this and no one questions their bravery. Doubt the USA got their money’s worth when balanced against the harm they caused. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII & Red Vs. Blue

To paraphrase the Prussian military strategist Clausewitz: Sports are politics continued by another means. This was driven home recently by Super Bowl XLIII when Arizona red state senators McCain and Kyle rejected an invitation by blue state President Obama to join him at the White House to view the game. Neither of these red state senators actually attended the game in Tampa – apparently, like Greta Garbo, THEY VANTED TO BE ALONE.

Apart from this, there were other aspects that gave this particular super bowl a political twinge that did not seem apparent in past games. The Pittsburgh Steelers were from blue state Pennsylvania and the Cardinals were from red state Arizona. The owner of the Steelers, Dan Rooney, though historically a Republican, was an unabashed Obama supporter. Both Obama and Biden, neither from Pennsylvania, were outspoken, public rooters for the Steelers.

There is speculation that the owner, Irish American Rooney, is slated to become US ambassador to Ireland. It would be an error as it would be a matter of time before Rooney started batting for Ireland rather than home team US. Blood still is thicker than water.

The Steeler team was led by a young black coach, M. Tomlin, with two senior, over sixty, white offensive and defensive coaches – a politically correct teamwork fusion. It seemed to work, albeit the Steelers won just by the skin of their teeth in a very exciting game.

General Saveus Petraeus was there saluting, in a full class A uniform and flipped the coin at the opening of the game. His presence, a symbol of pro war Iraqi sentiment was spooky, especially in a time of draw-down; it was as if it was a crass propaganda ploy by the discredited Pentagon to extend the foolish war.

To honor the military and their sacrifices at such a stupendous event with a serviceman's representation is certainly appropriate. Rather than have General Petraeus who has the reputation, at least in the Army, as a hound for publicity, a decorated enlisted person would have been far more apolitical to toss the coin.

Many Americans focus on the Super Bowl TV ads that have become a highlight, because of their ingenuity. The US beer ads were there this time, but US automobile ads were not. It was vexing to me as an American to witness the promotion of foreign auto manufactures at the highest viewed annual national event in the US with no competition from Detroit. You would think the football league would have thrown the distressed US auto makers a bone – either out of national pride or for past loyalty,

The mother of all sports/politics combination remains the the international summer and winter olympics. There is always some political dust-up in these events that come every four years. For the US, it was the Moscow Olympics when our country declined to participate because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; there was the black power resentment on the award stand with raised, clenched firsts at Mexico City; and who would have heard of Mitt Romney had he not rescued the winter olympics in Salt Lake city from corruption and mismanagement? The most hideous example of political murder at a sports event remains as the slaughter Israeli olympic athletes in Munich.

The US has used sporting events for diplomatic openings; remember ping pong with China? The most recent is a ploy backfired when a US female badminton team was rejected to play in Iran. To make matters worse, the team was denied visas after they had already reached the Gulf area on the door step of Iran. Uncertain why sweating females chasing shuttle cocks would pose a threat to the xenophobic ayatollahs. Doubt it was a headscarf issue. According to FOX TV NEWS the Iranians made the move to express their displeasure over the US appointment of Dennis Ross, the pro Israeli Jewish American as US envoy on Iran.

Obama now finds boosting the Steelers at Tampa, much easier than picking cabinet people free from tax dodging and passing a stimulus package that has a prospect for success. Obama is now scrambling to win the greatest game in his life – to save the US from political and economic disaster. It is obvious now that he can not do it with people who brought us the disasters. Tax cutting Republicans and spending Democrats agree the compromise pending stimulus bill will not rescue the US economically.

All now agree the bailout was a debacle. The dumb and smart money both have ironically also concluded that the projected stimulus bill will fail in its objective. But Obama pointlessly succeeded in a thin bipartisanship – process triumphed over substance in this case. Please, Mr. President no more such Pyrrhic victories. You must grind the Republican bones to make your bread. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Enemy of the People

Take your choice. There are two interpretations to Enemy of the People. In Russian, there is the one conceived by Jozef Stalin that defined anyone who disputed his rule in any form as VRAG NARODA. From attacking spys and counter-revolutionaries, it quickly expanded to anyone who spat on a sidewalk or failed to meet his industrial norm, whether it was a kolhoznik milking a cow or miner filling coal gondolas. Once branded, the poor soul was sent to a Gulag near the Arctic Circle where he was starved, and worked to death as slave labor.

The other is based on an 1882 play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen called Enemy of the People. A totally different meaning was developed in his play, the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone.

The dramatization involved a small Norwegian village that at high cost developed a spa to attract tourists from throughout the world. Successful, but soon it became evident the tourists fell ill once taking the cure. A town doctor discovered that a local tannery contaminated the waters. He proposed an expensive solution to the problem to the civil authorities, but was excoriated for spoiling the town's success. The honest doctor was branded as an ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE for his well-intentioned effort.

Fast forward to the world today and one finds variations of both Jozef's and Henrik's outlooks by authorities. To keep it simple, let's define it with a broad brush as any group or person who destroys the interests of the majority for the interests of the minority as ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (EOTP). Here are my candidates.

Most recent are Wall St. and other US bankers who scammed the American people by diverting 18 billion in federal bailout funds for personal bonuses; other money was cynically used for expansion of their enterprises rather than toward the intended bailout. Squalid congressmen, Bush administration officials, and politicians permitted this to occur. Some of the EOTP in this instance were Federal Reserve Chairmen Greenspan and Bernake, congressional financial committee chairmen Franks and Dodd, Treasury Secretary Paulsen and of course, our former DECIDER GW Bush.

Greedy financial institutions encouraged the promotion by the sale of toxic, valueless fiscal instruments as investments. US government institutions failed to observe due diligence and carelessly insured these artificially valued equities. Standard and Poors inflated high rating of firms peddling these instruments and shares the blame as it compounded the misrepresentation – the fix was in. Just look for the names of CEOs of major Wall St. firms to add to the list of EOTP.

One group that deserves the contempt of the American people are lobbyists. These private influence peddlers help write laws for befuddled congressmen who dutifully pass them for a free lunch and campaign contributions. There are about 35,000 of these people creeping around Washington, DC. As that little bird that picks the crocodiles' teeth, the lobbyist and the congressmen enjoy a symbiotic relationship. In the process, it is public interest be damned. Jack Abramoff with his pal Tom Delay were both nailed hard during the GW BUSH regime for their over exuberant lobbying.

But the most egregious lobbyists are those Americans who sell themselves to foreign interests to promote foreign interests. Legally, they are registered, but this does not make it ethical... Who checks up on them? In this category, the ones most damaging to American national interests are the Chinese, Israeli, East Indian, and Mexican.

The Chinese Lobby aims to limit tariffs and to keep US borders open to their substandard, sometimes toxic imports. They strive to keep their currency undervalued to spur exports; and, there is a great push for technology transfer from the US. Though not directly linked to their lobbying, the Chinese are also heavily engaged in espionage against the US.

The East Indian lobby hopes to violate US immigrant quotas with special visas by exporting high-tech computer talent that undercuts the US labor force. It advocates technology transfer and relaxing restrictions on US business to export jobs to India. Most recently, it curbed Obama's special envoy Holbrook by eliminating India and Kashmir from his portfolio when working with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most importantly, it managed to have the US provide uranium ore for peaceful purposes – net result was that the Indians could use their limited reserves to make nuclear weapons. This move helped to destroy US relations with the Pakistan military.

The Mexican lobby wants unrestricted US borders to solve its unemployment problems. It seeks to advance the cause of Mexican illegal immigrants in the US; American agribusiness supports this as well as US politicians seeking Latino votes.

The Israeli lobby seeks to ensure that US foreign policy favors Israeli interests over Arab countries. It contributes to US politicians who favor Israel and tries to defeat those who do not. It successfully advocates over 3 billion dollars in US arms aid with advance weapons systems. It expects the US to defend Israel diplomatically even when it ruthlessly deploys white phosphorous and cluster bombs on civilians. It fosters espionage against the US with at least three cases linked directly to the Israeli lobby, i.e.: Rosen, Wasserman and Franklin. This is in addition to Israeli spys Pollard and Kadish who were convicted, but not linked to their lobbies.

Now that some problems have been identified, what can be done? The institutionalized and compromised two-party system is guilty, up to its ears in all these issues; so without a viable third party or without realistic political alternatives, the Americans are forced to endue their own self-destruction.

Interest groups in protest could resort to putting up billboards all over the USA with the photographs of the guilty individuals with a banner reading- THESE RATS STOLE FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE OR SOLD OUT TO FOREIGN COUNTRIES.

This would certainly raise political awareness, perhaps even provide a raw genesis for change; however, there is an equal chance that those who erected the billboards would be accused of being an ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE... Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

*Photo: Painting Saturn Deouring his Son by Francisco Goya