The Draft vs. Patriotism Lite?

[Updated] The possibility of resurrecting the military draft was briefly a campaign issue, but with politicians of all stripes swearing that bringing back the draft would be impossible, it went away. The reality that we are overextended in Iraq remains, but politicians are keeping their heads firmly implanted in the sand.

Salon.com’s War Room pointed me to an article on the possible return of the draft. The War Room also pointed to a New York Times article on the difficulty recruiters are facing.

    At least 37 members of the Army Recruiting Command, which oversees enlistment, have gone AWOL since October 2002, Army figures show. And, in what recruiters consider another sign of stress, the number of improprieties committed – signing up unqualified people to meet quotas or giving bonuses or other enlistment benefits to recruits not eligible for them – has increased, Army documents show.

In a symposium held Wednesday (30 March), Lawrence Korb, a draft opponent and assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information and Phillip Carter, a conscription advocate and former Army captain, now an attorney who writes on military affairs for Slate.com and other media, agreed on a couple things: First, “[w]ith recruitment lagging and no end in sight for U.S. forces in Iraq, the ‘breaking point’ for the nation’s all-volunteer military will be mid-2006.”

    “What keeps me awake at night is what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007,” Richard Cody, the Army Vice Chief of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 16.

    Korb, assistant secretary defense for manpower from 1981 through 1985, said the current rotation is unfair to the “patriotic” men and women who volunteered for military service and are stuck on a cycle in and out of Iraq. Since only a tiny segment of the populace is sacrificing, there is no political pressure to change the system, he said.

    “If you had a draft right now, I think you’d be out of Iraq,” Korb said.

    The American society “hasn’t gotten the message that we’re at war,” agreed Carter.

    “Those at peril are completely divorced from those in power,” said Mark Shields, a syndicated columnist and TV commentator who moderated the symposium. “It’s ‘Patriotism Lite’ — you put a sticker on your SUV.”

A draft may be politically unpalatable. “‘Today, no leading politician in either party will come anywhere near the idea — the draft having replaced Social Security as the third rail of American politics,’ wrote Carter.” But there are a couple scary questions here:

  1. What happens when the current military force “breaks?”
  2. What happens when the politically unpalatable meets the reality of a “broken” military force?

According to the New York Times, “[t]rying to refill the ranks solely through recruitment in wartime is rare. Historians say the Spanish-American War, Mexican-American War and Gulf war were the only major conflicts since 1775 that did not rely, in part, on conscripts.” But the Bush administration has been trying anyway.

One idea, advocated by Rep Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, to fill the ranks is to require “all 19-year-olds to do a year or two of national service. Military service would be one of their options.”

A bipartisan group put together by the Project for the New American Century, a group that reflects the thinking of the neoconservatives who have been so influential in determining President Bush’s military and foreign policies, sent a letter to congressional leaders in late January. In it, the signatories wrote, “it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.”

Politicians seem to be resting their hopes in Iraqi forces being able to take charge of their own security. The Pentagon claims “there are 142,472 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces,” but according to a Reuters story, there’s little basis even to establish current capabilities. This makes it hard to see how anyone can forecast future capabilities.

“Data on the status of Iraqi security forces is unreliable and provides limited information on their capabilities,” Joseph Christoff, of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told a House of Representatives Government Reform subcommittee.

Pentagon projections do seem over-optimistic. As recently as January, a State Department report painted a bleak picture:

In some of the most violent areas of the country, Iraqi forces have been ”rendered ineffective,” the State Department wrote in the report dated Jan. 5. Due to intimidation and attacks by insurgents, ”large numbers” of police, highway patrol, and border enforcement personnel ”have quit or abandoned their stations,” it said. And many units are still waiting for key equipment such as rifles and ammunition, the report said

While President Bush promised “an assessment team, headed by a retired general, will go to Iraq next week to review the training and recommend ways to ensure they can more quickly take on a greater role battling insurgents,” it doesn’t seem plausible that these forces can be anything like ready in time to relieve American forces.

“This is like fantasy land. This is as fictive as the weapons of mass destruction,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, told [Rear Adm. William] Sullivan of the Pentagon’s figures. “I’m embarrassed for you that you would come to a congressional committee with this kind of a phony report.”

WMD intelligence ignored — so what else is new?

[Updated] In February 2003, while Colin Powell prepared for his UN Security Speech documenting US charges against Iraq relating to its supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction, the CIA was buzzing with doubt about a key charge Powell was going to make, and “a senior intelligence officer warned then-CIA Director George J. Tenet that he lacked confidence in the principal source of the assertion that Saddam Hussein’s scientists were developing deadly agents in mobile laboratories.” Tenet never relayed these concerns to Powell. Tenet instead described the case against Iraq to President Bush as a “slam dunk.”

According to a Washington Post summary of a report released by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities, this was only one example “of fruitless dissent on the accuracy of claims against Iraq.”

But the New York Times described the report saying, “It found no evidence that intelligence had been politically twisted to suit preconceptions about Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs, and made no formal judgments about how top policy makers had used that intelligence to justify war. Yet in its own way, the presidential commission on intelligence left little doubt that President Bush and his top aides had gotten what they wanted, not what they needed, when they were told that Saddam Hussein had a threatening arsenal of illicit weapons.” Another Washington Post story cites instance after instance where the CIA discounted IAEA and UN evidence that didn’t support the Bush administration ideology. Tenet bears some blame:

The clearest casualties of the Iraq intelligence failures – and the most direct targets of the commission – were the top leaders of the C.I.A., beginning with George J. Tenet, who resigned as director of central intelligence last summer in the face of rising criticism. President Bush later awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Referring to a series of highly publicized charges, “secret purchases of uranium from Africa, biological weapons being made in mobile laboratories, and pilotless planes that could disperse anthrax or sarin gas into the air above U.S. cities,” the Washington Post reports that “[b]y the time President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein of the deadly weapons he was allegedly trying to build, every piece of fresh evidence had been tested — and disproved — by U.N. inspectors,” but “[t]he work of the inspectors — who had extraordinary access during their three months in Iraq between November 2002 and March 2003 — was routinely dismissed by the Bush administration and the intelligence community in the run-up to the war.”

“U.N. inspectors are boots on the ground,” said David Albright, a nuclear specialist who accompanied the International Atomic Energy Agency to Iraq in the mid-1990s. Albright and others think the IAEA should be given greater access in Iran, and returned to North Korea….

The Bush administration tussled with inspectors before the Iraq war and maintains a hostile relationship with the IAEA, whose director, Mohamed ElBaradei, the United States is trying to replace this year. The administration also wants to shut down a U.N. inspection regime led by Hans Blix that was set up to investigate biological, chemical and missile programs in Iraq.

Why? Baldly because, even though they were right, the IAEA and the United Nations failed to produce results which were in accord with Bush administration ideology. And for that reason, the Bush administration wants these organizations out of the picture. Even our own intelligence agencies should support the ideology, as US Director of Central Intelligence Peter Goss made clear in November 2004. (The CIA claimed “that Mr Goss’s note was not a call for partisan support but rather ‘intelligence support’ intended to help policy-makers in their decisions.”)

The administration doesn’t seem to be able to come to grips with the reality that it was a stupid thing to do to invade Iraq… If it goes too far like this into the political realm our fortunes overseas are going to be hurt.

–Michael Scheuer, a former head of the CIA’s “Bin Laden station”

The nomination of John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN makes clear that we still aren’t merely faced with unilateralism, but with a very dangerous sort of unilateralism. Bolton has said repeatedly that the UN should follow the US lead. Salon.com quotes him saying, “As you know, I have, over the years, written critically about the U.N. … American leadership is critical to the success of the U.N., an effective U.N., one that is true to the original intent of its charter’s framers. This is a time of opportunity for the U.N., which likewise requires American leadership to achieve successful reform.”

Why is any of this news? It isn’t, really. But it illustrates in a smaller arena what also happened in the larger arena of public opinion. Dissent and contrary evidence were suppressed in favor of ideology, in public, in intelligence agencies, and in the Bush administration. International voices are just more voices — voices which should hew closely to the Bush administration line, right or wrong.

Rather, that sort of politically motivated twisting of intelligence — misrepresentations about unmanned aerial vehicles that posed a threat to the United States, about metal tubes that could only be used for nuclear weapons, about Saddam’s attempts to buy uranium in Niger — was the specialty of Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush. And their misuse of intelligence that was faulty in the first place was beyond the scope of the commission’s charge. “We were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the intelligence community,” the commission wrote.

And as in this instance, the Bush administration has been wrong — terribly wrong. We went to war the following month, killing possibly over 100,000 Iraqis, even before virtually levelling Fallujah, and failed to find any weapons of mass destruction. And we’ve found ourselves in a violent quagmire of a Sunni insurgency.

And Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are still free. And Al Qaida is still a threat.

But those who opposed the invasion of Iraq are terrorist-lovers.

On the edge of plagiarism: Hazards of Blogging

First I see the story on Slashdot, looking like this: “An anonymous reader writes ‘It didn’t seem to me like any single company had the stomach to keep after the scum that are ruining the Net for the rest of us. Unless that company is Microsoft. Since the beginning of 2003, Microsoft has filed 96 lawsuits against spammers, and 119 lawsuits against phishers. By any measure, 215 lawsuits constitutes a legal juggernaut.'” Posted by CmdrTaco himself, one would think this might be real. But follow the link

The link is to a ZDNet blog post by David Berlind. This contains the source of the quote: “Second, it didn’t seem to me like any single company had the stomach to keep after the scum that are ruining the Net for the rest of us.” Not exactly an anonymous reader.

Berlind links to a story written by Matt Hines, which makes clear that Microsoft has been targeting phishers who have imitated Microsoft sites. Laudable to be sure, but Microsoft is certainly behaving much less altruistically than CmdrTaco’s “anonymous reader” suggests. Berlind mentions Microsoft’s focus in its lawsuits as well, but buries the information much further down.

If I got caught doing this in a university class, I would flunk the class and I could be expelled. I try to be so careful in writing academic papers that even if I think I have an original thought, I do a search on it, to try to see if someone else has written it as well, so I can cite them. Because no one will blame me for giving credit where credit is due.

I’ve been contemplating the issue of citations in blog postings. In theory, hyperlinks offer an improvement over traditional citation styles, in that they point you directly at the source document — which you can generally retrieve instantly. And an academic citation style wouldn’t have solved the problem in this case anyway, since CmdrTaco’s “anonymous reader” failed to cite the source for what was actually a quote at all, let alone do so properly.

But it is much too easy to get sloppy.

No, I’m not blowing up the gas station

And you thought that academics were incapable of common sense? I’d level that charge at some oil companies instead.

The Sydney Morning Herald offers this:

Adam Burgess, a sociology lecturer at the University of Kent, . . . delivered a paper, Risk, Rumour and Precaution: The Story of Cell Phones Causing Gas Station Explosions to the British Sociological Association conference in York, England….

[T]he consensus among academics is that the odds of a mobile phone battery igniting petrol vapours is “so remote that any restriction on their usage (is) effectively groundless”.

The reason it’s supposed to be dangerous is because of static electricity–at least according to the notices I’ve seen at Chevron stations. But “[s]liding across a car seat can generate such electricity.”

Dr. Burgess advises grounding oneself by touching the body of the car before returning to the vicinity of the fuel tank.

Relief for cat allergies?

Admiral Janeway (my cat) wants you to know about this Reuters story: “A new chemical compound, part cat and part human, may provide an end to misery-making cat allergies, U.S. researchers reported this week in the journal Nature Medicine.” The story did not say how long it might be, before treatments are widely available.

Hentoff too late to save Schiavo, never too late to jump in bed with evangelicals

[Updated] Nat Hentoff alleges that Terri Schiavo “is not brain-dead or comatose, and breathes naturally on her own. Although brain-damaged, she is not in a persistent vegetative state, according to an increasing number of radiologists and neurologists.” How does he know? On Democracy Now, he claimed that at the trial, five neurologists testified. Two of these testified for Michael Schiavo’s side, two for Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, and a fifth was a supposedly neutral, court-appointed neurologist, who joined with the neurologists on Michael Schiavo’s side. Which means that Nat Hentoff doesn’t know.

Given cherry-picking by both sides, we can devalue the neurologists called by Michael Schiavo and by Terri’s parents. The court, then really based its ruling on the testimony of one neurologist, who happened to fall on the side of Michael Schiavo. Hentoff alleges that “Terri Schiavo has never had an MRI or a PET scan, nor a thorough neurological examination” and quotes Republican Senate leader Bill Frist, a specialist in heart-lung transplant surgery:

“I would think you would want a complete neurological exam” before determining she must die.

Frist added: “The attorneys for Terri’s parents have submitted 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals,all of whom say that Terri should be re-evaluated.”

Nat Hentoff claims, “Ignoring the absence of complete neurological exams, supporters of the deadly decisions by Judge Greer and the trail of appellate jurists keep reminding us how extensive the litigation in this case has been—19 judges in six courts is the mantra. And more have been added.”

Neurologists disagree:

Although credible neurologists frequently dispute the accuracy of a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, some cases are open and shut. The case of Terri Schiavo is one of those, says neurologist Ronald Cranford, MD, who has examined her.

In emphatic tones, Dr. Cranford, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said in an interview that the real take home message from the Terri Schiavo case is this: “no credible neurologist came forward to challenge that diagnosis.”

Meanwhile, a social conservative judge on the 11th Circuit Court, in response to yet another Schindler petition, went “out of his way to directly criticize the Congress and President Bush for what they’ve done,” David J. Garrow, a legal historian at Emory University, said. According to the New York Times,

    Judge [Stanley F.] Birch wrote, a provision of the new law requiring a fresh federal review of all the evidence presented in the case made it unconstitutional. Because that provision constitutes “legislative dictation of how a federal court should exercise its judicial functions,” he wrote, it “invades the province of the judiciary and violates the separation of powers principle.”

As if in response, “House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Thursday blamed Terri Schiavo’s death on what he contended was a failed legal system and he raised the possibility of trying to impeach some of the federal judges in the case.”

Hentoff is clearly outraged. Appearing with him on Democracy Now was Jamin Raskin, professor of Law at American University, whose last intelligible words on the program were an attempt to extract from Hentoff an answer to a simple question: Would Hentoff, if Terri Schiavo were known to be effectively brain-dead, agree to let her die? At that point, both spoke over each other, rendering themselves unintelligible.

In the unlikely event a mistake has been made, it is now moot. According to a UPI report,” Terri Schiavo’s body was loaded into a white van Thursday and taken to the Pinellas County, Fla., medical examiner’s office for an autopsy,” which had been agreed to both by Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers, but that “Doctors are divided over how far the autopsy would go to settle the dispute. Many say it is not expected to do much more than confirm what brain imaging has already shown.” [emphasis added]

Brain imaging? What would be the point of an MRI or a PET scan if not to image the brain? According to the Los Angeles Times, a CT scan was taken in 2002. “[D]octors said it was probable that pathologists would find severe damage.”

The physical state of a brain is no clear evidence of consciousness. Patients can have relatively normal-looking brains, yet suffer from profound brain damage, said Dr. Martin A. Samuels, chairman of the department of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Hentoff raises serious-sounding questions. But he jumps from an absence of evidence to a presumption that Terri Schiavo was indeed in a minimally conscious state. And, being wrong about the absence of brain imaging, he denies the existence of evidence which has already been submitted to the judiciary and reviewed in so many courts.

Immaculate STD infections

This took way too long to find its way to me, and much of it is not terribly surprising:

Young adults who take virginity pledges as adolescents are as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases as those who do not take virginity pledges, Yale and Columbia University researchers report in the March 18 issue of Journal of Adolescent Health.

The research reiterates what was already pretty well established about abstinence pledges:

One reason is that sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms at first sex than non-pledgers. Because most pledgers are sexually active (88 percent of the pledgers), lower rates of condom use increases STD risk. [Hannah] Brückner, [assistant professor of sociology at Yale University,] and [Peter] Bearman, [professor of sociology at Columbia University,] also note that pledgers were less likely to seek and obtain STD-related health care, possibly because of increased stigmatization or misperception of infection risk among pledgers. Because pledgers are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for STD infections, they may be more likely to have those infections for longer periods than non-pledgers.

And, of course, going untreated raises the likelihood they’ll pass their nasty social diseases onto someone else. Something I hadn’t heard before was that pledgers were more likely to engage in non-vaginal sex:

Pledging may lead some young adults to engage in alternative sexual behaviors in order to preserve their virginity. Among virgins–those who have not had vaginal intercourse–male pledgers are four times more likely to have anal sex; male and female pledgers are six times more likely to have oral sex than non-pledgers. Condom use for anal sex is very low; for oral almost non-existent. Therefore, Brückner said, virgin pledger engagement in riskier behavior may be a factor in higher than expected STD rates.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services has put up a new website which, according to the The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, “presents biased and inaccurate advice to parents on how to talk to their children about sex and emphasizes abstinence.”

Said Bill Pierced, a spokesman for the Department, “One thing we do know about abstinence is that if you practice it, you will not have an unintended pregnancy or risk catching a sexually transmitted disease.”

Documented chain of responsibility in Abu Ghraib reaches higher

Der Spiegel is reporting that, “General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the US forces in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, authorized interrogation techniques that included putting prisoners in stressful physical positions and changing sleep patterns, according to an internal US memo obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Tuesday.” The memo was rescinded about a month later, “because of objections raised by military lawyers over its legality.”

The ACLU and Human Rights First have sued Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and are seeking to establish that, “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody.”

Not an April Fool’s joke

Early this morning, I announced to the crew of the San Francisco chapter of Starfleet International, the USS Augusta Ada my intention to step down at the end of my present term, in October. It has been a pleasure to serve as captain for this crew, but I have reached the end of my effectiveness in this position, and I frankly need to focus on my studies at CSU East Bay (formerly CSU Hayward) and on my own life.

The timing of the announcement, being on April Fool’s Day, is unfortunate, but should give the crew ample time to come up with a successor.