28 September 2010


AFGHANISTAN / PAKISTAN. The parallels to the Vietnam war continue to escalate. We are fighting a guerrilla insurgency with outmoded tactics, and relying too heavily on technology rather than special forces units on the ground. Our military effort in Afghanistan appears increasingly to be running off the rails.

In a report reminiscent of the My Lai Massacre on a smaller scale, we learn today that soldiers are being ordered to deliberately kill civilians who pose no threat. Have we learned nothing?? Mindlessly following illegal orders, whether out of fear of reprisal or simply because that is how thorough military brainwashing can be, is inexcusable. Every single human being wearing a uniform and carrying a weapon is still ethically responsible for his/her own choices. Period. It turns my stomach that the military does not include individual ethical responsibility in its training. I've long thought that the minimum age for military service should be 30, not 18. At least that way low-ranking soldiers would have attained (hopefully) a minimal level of judgment. What a sad commentary on the American way of life that morally intact individuals like Hugh Thompson, Jr., are the exception and not the rule within the military.

Similarly, the CIA is stepping up its use of drone attacks on Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, a non-combatant nation. Can you say "Cambodian invasion"? Like ground soldiers set loose with no clear operational guidelines and half-baked leadership, the use of airstrikes is more likely to kill civilians than actual terrorists -- partly because hard intelligence on the location of targets is quickly outdated, and also because terrorists use civilians as human shields. We continue to generate more and more enemies who (rightly) see us as armed invaders, when the surgical use of special forces operatives (Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and Green Berets, and especially Delta Force, which is trained specifically in counter-terrorism operations) would be infinitely more effective against terrorists .... wherever they may be.

"Just following orders." Ugh. We cannot get out of Afghanistan soon enough.

PUBLIC LIBRARIES. Outsourcing is metastasizing, and the results are rarely beneficial to the consumer. When you base a domestic production or service in a foreign land, you lose accountability for the quality of the product or service (not to mention the loss of jobs locally). When you farm out a legitimately govermental function to private enterprise ("enterprise" being a euphemism for the concentration of wealth among a few, rather than sharing of wealth among many), you also lose accountability for both quality of service and for controlling costs.

Consider the example of privatizing prisons. Our tax dollars are still paying for the operation, but there's a hitch. We either have to pay more to maintain the same level of service (since we're now contributing to a corporation's profit margin), or we pay the same for a lower level of service (to maintain that same profit margin). Either way, we lose and CEOs gain. The same applies to contracting military operations to private companies like Blackwater.

I recognize that governments often contract with companies for specific services -- say, a construction project or the manufacture of equipment. That should NOT be confused with letting the company take over the decision-making process without the oversight of government, which represents the interests of citizens, not stockholders.

Today's NYTimes reports that the management of more and more public libraries is being farmed out to private companies. I am furious. The public library is a sacred institution. Here too, accountability is removed from the hands of taxpayers, and placed in the hands of corporate officers and stockholders. No good can come of this. Some company wonk is going to decide which books, electronic media and other library services to purchase, and which to deny to the public? That's not a public library, that's a private library. WTF is WRONG with us? Why are we letting our local, state and national political leaders get away with passing the buck?

There are services which only government should be providing -- military defense, incarceration of criminals, maintaining the national parks, improving infrastructure (roads, dams, bridges, rail lines, energy production, clean water and clean air), providing and regulating health care options, and yes, public libraries. That's why they call it government. Those among us who are so mypoic that their motto is "get government out of our lives" have only a surface understanding of how the world works. The key is not less government. The key is efficient and responsible government. If you don't want to pay taxes, just remember -- you get what you pay for.

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