Category Archives: Military

Russia now spends more of GDP on military than we do

In Putin's worldview, a small price to pay to recapture former glory...

In Putin’s worldview, a small price to pay to recapture former glory…

That’s attention-grabbing, but it shouldn’t be all that shocking, given that a), the Russian economy is smaller than ours and b), the United States itself spends less of GDP on the military than it did for most of my lifetime.

But still, as things ratchet up in Ukraine, this is worth taking note of…

Oh, and what’s my source for this? Is it some warmongering neocon publication, trying to drum up sentiment for increased U.S. military spending? Nope, it was The Guardian, which is hugging itself with delight today for winning a Pulitzer for aiding and abetting Edward Snowden. So there.

An excerpt:

Russia spent a higher proportion of its wealth on arms than the US last year for the first time in more than a decade, according to figures published on Monday by a leading international research body that highlights Moscow’s resurgent military ambition as it confronts the west over Ukraine.

Western countries, including Britain and the US, reduced defence budgets, but Russia increased arms spending by 4.8% in real terms last year to almost $88bn (£52m), devoting a bigger share of its GDP to the military than the US for the first time since 2003, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri)….

Art imitating life imitating art imitating life imitating…

USS Nimitz

USS Nimitz

Hollywood makes a movie, a year or so ago, about the Iran hostage crisis. It tells the true story of how the CIA pretended to be making a movie in Iran in order to sneak a handful of the American hostages out of the country.

The real movie about the fake movie that hoaxed the Iranians wins the Best Picture Oscar, which Iran could not have failed to notice.

So… now we see that Iran is building a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier — or rather, a vessel that looks like a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. They do it in plain sight, so we can’t fail to notice. Our intel guys watch it being built ever since last summer, and we finally get to the point that we can’t stand it anymore, and have to say something.

Then, when the United States raises questions as to what in the world Iran is up to, they respond, Uhhh… it’s for a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket… we’re making a movie… ya know, like ‘Argo.’

Which makes us wonder what they’re really up to. What could be the actual purpose for which making a movie is the transparent cover?

Whatever it is, when they spring it on us, I half expect the Iranians to say, “Argo ___ yourself!”

"I'm, uhhh... making a movie! Yeah, that's the ticket..."

“I’m, uhhh… making a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket…”

They got old Guarnere this time

wbg_landingimage_web

Joe Toye: “You got a smoke?”
Donald Malarkey: “Yeah.”
Toye: “Jesus. What’s a guy gotta do to get killed around here?”
Medic Eugene Roe: “Bill, you’re going first.”
Bill Guarnere: “Whatever you say, Doc. Whatever you say.”
Roe: “Over here! Take this man.”
Guarnere: “Hey, Lip, they got old Guarnere this time.”
Stretcher bearer: “We got you, soldier. Just lie back.”
Guarnere: “Hey, Joe, I told you I’d beat you back to the States.”

– Band of Brothers

That light-hearted scrap of badinage occurred on January 3, 1945, between two soldiers of Easy Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, Joe Toye and Bill Guarnere. Just seconds before, each had lost his right leg to German artillery, and they lay bleeding profusely into the snow among the trees of the Ardennes. Toye was hit first, and despite the barrage Guarnere rushed out to try to pull him to safety, and was doing so when his own leg was blown off.

The dialogue, which I’ve taken from the TV series “Band of Brothers,” may seem like typical Hollywood B.S. — guys lying around cracking wise and bumming cigarettes after receiving horrific wounds. But it follows fairly closely the account in Stephen Ambrose’s book, based on interviews with men who were there. Joe Toye and Bill Guarnere were a couple of tough monkeys.

Both had been wounded before. Toye had been knocked about by two hand grenades within minutes of each other that should have killed him on D-Day, but walked away unmarked. That same day, his buddy “Gonorrhea” earned the sobriquet “Wild Bill” for the ferocity with which he attacked the Germans — he had just learned, hours before jumping into Normandy, that his elder brother had been killed at Monte Cassino.

A native of South Philly, Guarnere was sort of the guy in Easy (or one of them) who filled the role of the stereotypical brash, streetwise Italian city boy from war movies.The kind of guy who alleges that his commanding officer who chews him out for killing Germans before being given the word to fire is some kinda Quaker or something, elaborating that without a doubt “He ain’t Catholic… he don’t even drink!”

Bill may have beat Joe back to the States, but Joe was the first to leave on life’s final evacuation, passing away in 1995.

Over the weekend, just a month shy of his 91st birthday, Bill Guarnere followed him.

There are only 18 members of Easy Company left alive.

1779152_433840376718335_1293024483_n

Claire Underwood’s proposal fails in real-life Senate

Sen. Gillibrand

Sen. Gillibrand

OK, technically, it wasn’t the fictional Mrs. Underwood’s plan. It was pushed instead by the real-life Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — who, as tacky as it may be in the context of talking about sexual crimes (but it’s true), is also a rather striking blonde.

A more relevant coincidence is that her proposal was the very same one that caused the majority whip to stop the Underwood bill on “House of Cards.” To wit, according to The Washington Post:

The Senate rejected a controversial proposal Thursday to remove military commanders from decisions on whether to prosecute major crimes in the ranks as the concerns of Pentagon leaders trumped calls from veterans groups to dramatically overhaul how the Defense Department handles assault and rape cases.

Congress has already voted to revamp the military’s legal system by ending the statute of limitations on assault and rape cases, making it a crime to retaliate against victims who report assaults and requiring the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of sexual assault or rape.

But on Thursday senators rejected a plan by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would go further by taking away from military commanders the power to refer serious crimes to courts-martial. The decision would shift instead to professional military trial lawyers operating outside the chain of command.

The proposal fell five votes short of the 60 votes necessary to clear a procedural hurdle and proceed to a final vote. In a reflection of the complexity of the issue, 10 Democrats voted against Gillibrand’s plan, while 11 Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — joined her in voting to proceed….

I think the Senate acted wisely. It moved to toughen the law without undermining the military system of justice. I realize the Underwood/Gillibrand approach has attracted growing support — witness how close it came today. But while I’d like to throw military rapists under the treads of an Abrams tank, I don’t think it’s right to take commanders out of the equation. In other words, I agree with the position taken by the fictional Jackie Sharp, and I really identified with her discomfort when she broke the news to Claire. Although it might have been easier for her, as a woman, to take that position than it would for a man.

I know I, for one, hesitate to voice it. But I thought it would be a copout to mention the issue without doing so….

ad_126949220

The fictional Claire Underwood.

I’d like to have a Kalashnikov lawnmower

AK-47

For me, Mikhail Kalashnikov is one of those “You mean he was still alive?” people. I had not known he was still among us. But he was, until today, when he died at 94.

It’s ironic that he survived so long, since his invention was the cause of the premature deaths of untold thousands around the world.

Mikhail Kalashnikov/www.kremlin.ru

Mikhail Kalashnikov/www.kremlin.ru

His AK-47 (and its variants) was made to supply soldiers of the Red Army with a reliable modern rifle, but it became the weapon of choice of “national armies, terrorists, drug gangs, bank robbers, revolutionaries and jihadists,” as the WashPost put it.

Kalashnikov was a former Red Army sergeant with little technical training, who ended up leading the effort to create a rifle that met the requirements of a weapon that was cheap to produce, easy to maintain and operate, and reliable. He was wildly successful.

He produced an automatic weapon that took next to no maintenance, and would work under the most demanding conditions. There are stories of Kalashnikovs found buried in mud under rice paddies in Vietnam that still fired.

The AK enabled almost anyone to put a tremendous amount of lead (30 rounds to a magazine) on a target in a big hurry. And by anyone, I mean anyone — it’s the ideal weapon for child soldiers in Africa because it takes relatively little upper body strength to use.

And so we have the paradox of Mikhail Kalashnikov — hardly anyone in the past century has produced a product of any kind that performed as well as his rifle, and was so universally sought-after and used.

But hardly anyone has been the cause of more death.

He noted the paradox of tremendous achievement vs. tremendous harm himself:

“I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists,” he said on a visit to Germany, adding: “I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work – for example a lawnmower.”…

If he had, I definitely would have wanted one of those lawnmowers. It would have started immediately every time, run on very little gas, and you’d only have to clean the filters once a year. And it would have lasted a lifetime.

Graham, Mulvaney: Nativity scene back up at Shaw AFB

This came in a little while ago from Sen. Graham and Rep. Mulvaney:

Nativity Scene at Shaw AFB Restored

WASHNGTON – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with 5th District Congressman Mick Mulvaney, today made this statement on the Nativity scene at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina.

“We are pleased the Nativity scene has been restored at Shaw Air Force Base.  From the start, our offices have been in touch with Shaw officials expressing our concerns about this matter.  We appreciate the Air Force for listening to our complaint, keeping the Nativity scene on base, and moving it to the Chapel.”

#####

In case you had missed this issue, here’s a Fox News report.

An Armistice Day reflection

Doughboys of the 64th Regiment celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918

Doughboys of the 64th Regiment celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918

I originally posted the below material as a comment on the “Top Ten War Movies” post from over the weekend. Bryan suggested that today, it should be a separate post. I suppose he’s right.

The context is that I was responding to two previous comments — one by Rose praising the TV series “Band of Brothers,” and the other from Phillip about “anti-war” messages. This lies in the larger context of a long debate of several years’ standing, in which Phillip takes the position that all sane people oppose war, and I take the armchair-warrior position of “not always”…

“Band of Brothers” was the best thing ever made for television.

And it had the kind of anti-war message in it that I appreciate [as opposed to the kind of anti-war message I hate, which I had described earlier as "one that beats you about the head and shoulders with the idea that war is futile and stupid and anyone who decides to involve a nation in war is evil and unjustified, and we should never, ever engage in it"]. It’s very similar to a powerful one in “Saving Private Ryan.”

There’s this great scene in which the actor portraying David Kenyon Webster — the writer, from Harvard — is riding past thousands of surrendering Germans being marched toward the rear (the opposite direction from which he and Easy Company are traveling) and he spots some senior German officers. He starts shouting at them (excuse the language):

Hey, you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin’ Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives… For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?

To explain what I mean by this… I grew up with shows like “Combat,” which gave a sort of timeless sense of the war. Sgt. Saunders and his men were soldiers, had always been soldiers, and would always be soldiers. And they would always be making their way across France in a picaresque manner, doing what they were born to do.

Well, what Webster is shouting at those Germans is that NO, we were NOT born to do this. This is a huge interruption in the way life is supposed to be.

That lies at the core of Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan.” His men think HE was born to be a soldier, and can’t imagine him in any other role (as Reuben says, “Cap’n didn’t go to school, they assembled him at OCS outta spare body parts of dead GIs.”) — hence their intense curiosity about what he did before the war. And their stunned silence when they learn the reality:

I’m a schoolteacher. I teach English composition… in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I’ve been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it’s a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. The man means nothing to me. It’s just a name. But if… You know if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that’s my mission.

There, you learn this this is NOT supposed to be where he is. This was not the way his life was supposed to go.

Now… on the other hand…

Dick Winters was a real-life guy who had no desire to be a warrior. After surviving D-Day (having led his men in an action that should have gotten him the Medal of Honor, but he “only” received a Distinguished Service Cross for it), he took a quiet moment to pray that “I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace.”

That’s all he wanted.

And yet, by having been forced to be a soldier, he and everyone around him found that he was superbly suited to it. He was one of those rare men who thought quickly and clearly under fire, and communicated his calm and his self-assuredness to his men. He knew what to do, and how to give orders so that it got done. He had a gift.

And that gift actually was a thing of value — to his society, and to the world. And here’s where we separate. Here’s where we draw a line between being “anti-war” as an absolutist position — that war is always wrong and evil and has no redeeming qualities — and my position, which is that sometimes nations need people like Dick Winters to step forward and exercise those abilities that they have. In other words, the warrior is a valuable member of society like the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker (actually, nowadays, perhaps more valuable than the candlestick-maker).

Which seems like a good place to stop, a little more than an hour before 11 o’clock on Nov. 11.

 

Another primary opponent for Graham: Bill Connor

Bill Connor is still playing it rather coy with his Facebook peeps:

Friends, I have a major announcement to make on Monday, but this weekend I plan to focus on military obligations (spending time with my Citadel teaching team) and spending the other time with my family. I appreciate that many calls and texts, and e-mails and will be in touch with everyone next week. In the meantime, I will make a special request for your prayers for my family. “The Lord is my Shepherd” and I follow Him.

But The State reports that he’s actually already filed:

Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, who lost the 2010 Republican runoff for lieutenant governor to Ken Ard, has filed to run against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in next June’s Republican primary, according to federal election documents.

Connor becomes the fourth Republican to oppose Graham in the primary, joining state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, Easley businessman Richard Cash and Charleston public-relations executive Nancy Mace…

When I saw him a couple of weeks back, Lindsey Graham indicated that as far as he was concerned, he loved having three opponents.

But four could be one too many. Also, i think he has a little more reason to worry about Bill Connor than about the others who have previously jumped into the ring.

Bill Connor

Bill Connor

He’s a somewhat more traditional conservative than his opponents — more the values-voter, God-and-Country type than the SC-should-print-its-own-money-again sort. Or at least, in the statements I’ve seen so far. He’s paid some dues in the party, currently serving as the 6th-District chairman. He’s got a solid military record, having served in a combat role in Afghanistan. He’s run a statewide primary race before (losing the lieutenant governor nomination to Ken Ard). And he’s just gone out and had new portraits taken of his family. (I still remember how deeply impressed John Courson was when Mark Sanford sent out family portraits as Christmas cards before running for governor: “Fine-looking family — Kennedyesque… Kennedyesque!” You have to imagine it in Courson’s distinctive voice and accent.)

Lt. Col. Connor could be a more likely vote-getter. That doesn’t mean the incumbent’s in trouble. But it does make things a little more interesting.

Bradley Manning escapes, having been replaced in his cell by someone named ‘Chelsea’

Are any of y’all watching “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix? No, wait, that’s an archaic question in the age of binge-watching, and of series being released all at once. It should be more like “Have any of y’all watched all or part of ‘Orange is the New Black’?”

Well, we have been, and we’ve seen it through the third episode, which centers around a transsexual — a former fireman named Burset, now living as a woman, specifically as the inmate hairdresser — in the women’s prison in which the series is set. It’s a sympathetic portrayal in the fullest sense — sympathetic to him as a him (in flashbacks) and her as a her, as well as to Burset’s wife and child and the pain they’ve dealt with through the process. I also found myself feeling a bit for the criminal justice system and prison authorities, because of the questions they have to deal with: Do you put Burset in a women’s prison? If so, is the state obligated to provide continued hormone treatments? If the state withdraws such treatments (which it does, allegedly for medical reasons), should Burset still be kept in a facility for women? If Burset commits suicide because all that personal and family sacrifice was for nothing, is the state liable?

But at least in that case, Burset came to the system having already made the big change, and having paid $80,000 for it. (We are given to gather that the imprisonment has something to do with how that money was acquired.) Everybody knew what they were dealing with.

Now, we have the real-life case of Bradley Manning, a young man who served in the U.S. Army as a man, and was convicted and sentenced as a man, and now wants to become a woman. Or is a woman, as his missive on the subject states.

Wow. This has to be frustrating for the Army. Here they went to all this trouble to try and convict and sentence this guy named Bradley, and now there’s some dame in his cell instead.

That’s one of the slicker escapes I’ve ever heard of.

The afternoon they drove Old Dixie down

Gettysburg

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago…

– William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

Above, you see a picture I took, right about this time of year in 2005, of the high water mark of the Confederacy — the stone wall at the top of the ridge.

I had just looked out over that wall, and was stunned by what I saw. It wasn’t really anything my camera could capture, because what I was looking at was vast, flat, open space — the space across which Pickett’s men walked, suicidally, into a hailstorm of lead. It looked to be two miles across. The high ground was not only well-defended by infantry, but crammed with artillery. It was the worst place in the world to attack, and the world possible ground to attack across.

What could they have been thinking of during that long walk? What ran through their heads?

I’d never seen anything before that made history seem so immediate. I was in awe. How brave they were. How stupid they were. How mad they were. And they just kept coming, until there was only a trickle left to try to fight their way over the wall, and then… it was over. And with it, the South’s hope for having its way — although the South being the South, that wouldn’t be fully acknowledged for almost two years.

And it happened 150 years ago today.

CO at Fort Jackson suspended

This just moved a few minutes ago:

COLUMBIA, SC — Fort Jackson’s commanding officer has been suspended following allegations of misconduct, according to a spokesman with the US Army Training and Doctrine command.

Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts was suspended by Gen. Robert W. Cone after learning about the allegations, which included claims of adultery and physical altercations, said Harvey Perritt, the spokesman. The exact circumstances of the claims are immediately unknown…

That’s about all I know right now. On the bright side, for those who take solace in such things, the fort now has its first female commander, with Brig. Gen. Peggy C. Combs stepping in as interim.

You know, if we’re going to keep having scandals involving generals, I’d sort of like to have one that didn’t involve sexual allegations. Just for variety. Maybe they could bust a brigadier for calling his rifle a “gun,” or something.

And “physical altercations”? Generally that’s usually more of a problem with the more junior ranks…

… no matter what Rand Paul may tell you

This headline on thestate.com just cracked me up:

Don’t be alarmed by the helicopters, National Guard says

You really need to look at the picture with it.

I couldn’t help thinking of all the people who would not be reassured by those words. Starting with all those folks who thought Rand Paul’s filibuster about drone attacks in the U.S. was the greatest thing since Daniel Webster.

I’m further reminded of summer maneuvers that were conducted up in the Pee Dee one summer when I was a kid, and staying with my grandparents in Bennettsville. I guess I was 8 or 9. Everywhere you went, there were military convoys and soldiers bivouacking in farm fields. I seem to recall the sounds of the titanic struggle between the Red and Blue armies out on the edge of town — artillery, small arms fire — but that may be my memory making it seem more exciting than it was.

Of course, we kids were inspired to play war, too. One day, I was lying in wait in a ditch just off Jordan Street, ready for an ambush, when an open jeep with a couple of soldiers pulled up at the stop sign not six feet from me. The guy in the passenger seat looked down at me in the ditch, with my helmet and toy gun, formed his thumb and forefinger into a mock pistol, pointed and me and went, “Bang.”

He got me. I guess I should have found better cover.

I suppose I knew I was being condescended to, but being a kid, I was sort of flattered to have been included in the adults’ game, however fleetingly…

Distinguished Warfare Medal finds itself (ironically) under fire

I was reminded of this today by this release from Joe Wilson:

(Washington, DC) – House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel Chairman Joe Wilson (SC-02) and 48 other members of the House of Representatives today sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.  The subject of the letter was the Department of Defense’s recent decision to create the new Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM) and place it above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the order of precedence. Recipients of the DWM are recognized for their extraordinary service that directly impacts combat operations, while not being physically present in a combat zone.

 

“The brave men and women in our Armed Forces dedicate their lives to serve this great nation and often times put themselves in harms way to protect the freedoms and liberties all Americans are able to enjoy.The recent Department of Defense decision to rank the Distinguished Warfare Medal higher in precedence than the Bronze Star and Purple Heart does a disservice to our service members and veterans who have severed overseas in hostile and austere conditions. It is my hope that Secretary Hagel will change the Department’s decision so that our veterans who have earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart will receive the appropriate recognition they deserve.”

Which wouldn’t have told me much if I hadn’t talked with my Dad about it the other day. Here’s what Stars and Stripes had to say about the issue

WASHINGTON — Critics have dubbed it “the Nintendo medal” and “the Purple Buttocks.” Veterans groups are lobbying the White House against it. Lawmakers are working to downgrade it.Distinguished_Warfare_Medal

Pentagon officials, ignoring the criticism, are moving ahead with the new Distinguished Warfare Medal, designed to honor “extraordinary actions” of drone pilots and other off-site troops performing noteworthy deeds on far-away battlefields.

It’s months away from being awarded. The military has to mint the new awards, establish guidelines for processing nominations and find heroic operators to receive the honor.

That gives detractors time to wage their own war against the “distant warfare medal,” inside top military offices and from remote locations outside the Pentagon.

It will be a tough fight.

“This Pentagon, they’ve been immovable on fixes and mistakes in the awards system,” said Doug Sterner, military medals expert and archivist for the Hall of Valor awards database. “They’re closed-minded when it comes to outside criticism. They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”…

My Dad wasn’t as dismissive as those critics the Stars and Stripes cites. But, as a recipient (more than once) of the Bronze Star for his actions under enemy fire in the Rung Sat Special Zone (a.k.a. “Forest of Assassins”) in Vietnam, he was at least taken aback by this development.

Surely, drone operators employ their skills in performing a war-fighting function that is increasingly central to our nation’s defense policy. And thousands have received medals for far less martial contributions.

But placing that honor above those for valor under actual enemy fire is just bizarre, and sort of turns on its head our traditional definition of heroism. Which is what medals are supposed to be for, right?

In the end, Graham voted against Hagel for SecDef

Senators voted 58-41 to confirm Chuck Hagel. Not exactly a ringing consensus.

In the end, Lindsey Graham voted against Hagel:

Graham Opposes Hagel Nomination

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) made the following statement on his opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense.

“I oppose the nomination of Chuck Hagel to serve as our next Secretary of Defense.  The position of Secretary of Defense is one of the most important jobs in our government.  There were other, more capable choices available and I regret President Obama did not choose one of them. 

“Having said this, I do believe it is the President’s prerogative to pick his Cabinet and I will work with Senator Hagel to ensure our defense at home and security around the globe is not diminished. 

“I’m disappointed not one Democrat stepped forward to express concerns about Senator Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran.  I believe from his past actions, he has shown antagonism toward the State of Israel.   In these dangerous times, his nomination sends the worst possible signal to our enemies in Iran. 

“I continue to have serious questions about whether Chuck Hagel is up to the job of being our Secretary of Defense.  I hope, for the sake of our own national security, he exceeds expectations.”

####

Under fire, Gen. Turner quits state employment agency

This broke at about midday today:

SEANNA ADCOX
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP, WLTX) – The director of South Carolina’s unemployment agency has resigned, effective March 1.GeneralTurner2

Department of Employment and Workforce Director Abraham Turner turned in a hand-written resignation letter to the governor Friday.

In the letter, Turner says he’s resigning for personal reasons. His resignation follows questions from legislators stemming from the agency’s decision to eliminate one-on-one help for people seeking benefits in 17 rural offices statewide…

It first came to my attention because of this emailed comment from state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland:

“Governor Haley has allowed her agency, SC DEW, to become an absolute embarrassment. In the last two weeks the governor’s agency has made news because of crippling layoffs, massive pay raises, lavish taxpayer funded beach retreats, the closing of seventeen unemployment centers in rural counties, and now the resignation of the Executive Director. Governor Haley must regain control of her agency before it is too late. Millions of South Carolinians depend on this agency to be functional and effective. As it stands today, it is the opposite.”

But not only Democrats have been complaining about how the agency has been run under the retired general. As thestate.com reports:

The employment agency’s woes have become a subject of almost daily criticism in the Legislature.

State Sen. Ken Bryant, R-Anderson, took to the floor Thursday to blast what he said were outlandish raises — some of more than 50 percent — recently given some agency employees. Bryant also said the agency was claiming victory for lowering jobless benefits improperly paid to $50 million from $90 million.

Other senators joined in a bipartisan display of frustration.

At one point, Bryant and Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, exchanged criticisms of the agency, with Setzler, a moderate Democrat, and Bryant, a Tea Party Republican, both ripping the agency and its leadership, citing recent cuts in its staffing and the raises, the closing of rural offices and an oceanside management retreat…

Graham and Senate GOP block Dems’ attempt to push Hagel vote

At least, I think that’s accurate. This WashPost story doesn’t actually mention Lindsey Graham, which surprised me:

Senate Republicans blocked a vote on Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense on Thursday, launching a filibuster whild demanding more information and more time to study their former colleague’s speeches and finances after he left the Senate in late 2008.

Falling one vote shy of the 60 needed to move forward on the nomination, the Hagel filibuster brought stark condemnations from President Obama and Senate Democrats for its precedent-setting nature — the first time a defense secretary nominee had been filibustered. The setback came during what many believe is a critical period for the Pentagon as it winds down troops from Afghanistan and implements costly budget cuts.

Republicans predicted they would relent to a simple majority vote, guaranteeing confirmation, later this month — but only if they see more information about Hagel’s post-Senate foreign policy speeches and his work in private investment groups. Senior Republicans initially scoffed at those demands, first raised by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), as unnecessary, but now party leaders hold them up as the main cause for delay…

But it made it clear that all Republicans except for three — and none of the three (no surprise here) is Graham — are standing against an early vote on the Hagel nomination. And a WashPost blog post earlier in the day — when it was believed the vote would not come on Friday, before the Democrats made the tactical mistake of trying to move it up — had made clear what I was pretty sure I already knew about Graham’s central role in the delay-Hagel movement:

At  the center of this drama are Graham and McCain. McCain is likely to support his “amigo” Graham if Graham feels he is still getting stiffed by the White House. Graham has every reason to hold out for the information and to further endear himself to conservatives whose support he will need in his reelection bid. Once we see how Graham and McCain are leaning, we’ll know which way the vote is going to go on Friday.

Anyway, we have a bit of an impasse here. Democrats are understandably upset, although their claims that this delay puts the nation’s security in danger are a bit overwrought. When Harry Reid said:

“This isn’t high school, getting ready for a football game or some play that’s being produced at high school,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said during an angry floor speech Thursday morning. “This is – we’re trying to confirm somebody to run the defense of our country, the military of our country.”

I thought, Exactly. And if one has sincere doubts about the nominee’s fitness — which I believe Graham and McCain do — it’s not responsible to rush into confirming him.

Yeah, I know, a lot of my friends here on the blog are sick of Graham and McCain and all their doings. Well, to them I say that it’s not like they are alone on this. Moderate Republicans who are less likely to preen on the national talk shows on this subject are also reluctant to be rushed on this. Such as my old Tennessee source Lamar Alexander:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters that cutting off debate is “premature.”

“When we come back from the recess 10 days from now, senators should have had sufficient time to consider Senator Hagel’s nomination, and I will vote to have an up-or-down vote,” Alexander said. “I know of many of my colleagues who think that’s enough time. It would be better for the institution and the country if we had enough time to consider Senator Hagel and then have an up-or-down vote, so we don’t get into a habit of making it look like we’re suing the filibuster to block Cabinet nominees. That’s not the case here.”

Anyway, I think a delay is worthwhile. For the very reason that, as Sen. Reid says, this decision is crucial to the nation’s security, I don’t think we need to be doing this on a party-line vote, when by waiting a few days we might get something closer to consensus. What do y’all think?

The Man Who Shot Osama bin Laden

As Hollywood depicted it -- an image from "Zero Dark Thirty."

As Hollywood depicted it — an image from “Zero Dark Thirty.”

I don’t have time to read it all right now, but in case you do, I thought I’d share this extraordinary piece of long-form journalism provided by Esquire and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

It’s an intimate portrait of the man who fired the shots that killed Osama bin Laden. The critical moment described first-hand:

I had my hand on the point man’s shoulder and squeezed, a signal to go. The two of us went up. On the third floor, he tackled the two women in the hallway right outside the first door on the right, moving them past it just enough. He thought he was going to absorb the blast of suicide vests; he was going to kill himself so I could get the shot. It was the most heroic thing I’ve ever seen. I rolled past him into the room, just inside the doorway.

There was bin Laden standing there. He had his hands on a woman’s shoulders, pushing her ahead, not exactly toward me but by me, in the direction of the hallway commotion. …  I’m just looking at him …. He’s got a gun on a shelf right there, the short AK he’s famous for. And he’s moving forward. I don’t know if she’s got a vest and she’s being pushed to martyr them both. He’s got a gun within reach. He’s a threat. I need to get a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off [blow himself up].

In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he’s going down. He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, Bap! same place. That time I used my EOTech red-dot holo sight. He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out. I watched him take his last breaths, just a reflex breath.

And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done? This is real and that’s him. Holy shit.

The piece goes on to say that now that this man is leaving the Navy, his future is cloudy because he has no pension, and no health benefits. (As I said, I haven’t read it all, but I’m supposing that’s because he was in less than 20 years.) As the report says:

But the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation:

Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family.

I thought y’all might be interested.

Hagel nomination hearing begins, against a backdrop that is pretty far from ‘peace in our time’

I knew all these things from following the news, but I was impressed to see them listed together in a WSJ editorial this morning challenging the nomination of Chuck Hagel as SecDef:

In the week since President Obama declared “a decade of war is now ending” at his inauguration, a few things happened.

• Israeli warplanes on Wednesday struck a truck convoy outside Damascus and headed to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, according to news reports, amid concern about the spread of chemical and advanced antiaircraft weapons from convulsive Syria.

• The U.S. commander in Kabul predicted a tough spring of fighting and “an uncertain future” for Afghanistan.

• The French retook northern Mali from Islamist militias.

• Egypt’s military chief warned of the “collapse” of the Arab world’s largest nation.

• China moved ahead with naval exercises around Pacific islands disputed with Japan.

• And the Pentagon announced plans to boost American cyber defenses and set up an air base in north Africa (near Mali, Libya, Algeria, etc.)….

The Journal’s point was to wonder whether Mr. Hagel would be supportive of President Obama’s plans to cut defense spending to a percentage of the U.S. budget not seen since before Pearl Harbor (2.7 percent by 2021, compared to the current 4 percent).

By the way, Hagel’s confirmation hearing has begun, and you can watch it live here. The NYT’s report on the proceedings thus far make it sound like the nominee is doing his best to assuage concerns such as those expressed in the editorial quoted above:

WASHINGTON — Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, on Thursday morning said that the United States must lead other nations in confronting threats, use all tools of American power in protecting its people and “maintain the strongest military in the world.”

In an opening statement at his Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Hagel presented a broad, forceful endorsement of American military power aimed at answering critics who say he would weaken the United States. He offered strong support for Israel, said he was fully committed to the president’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and said he would keep up pressure — through Special Operations forces and drones — on terrorist groups in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.

“I believe, and always have, that America must engage — not retreat — in the world,” Mr. Hagel told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee….

But he’s facing some tough questions, such as one from Sen. Inhofe asking why his nomination has been endorsed by the Iranian foreign ministry:

“I have a difficult enough time with American politics,” Hagel says. “I have no idea.”

Congratulations to Col. (soon to be Gen.) Elam

This came in from the S.C. National Guard today:

COLUMBIA – Colonel Calvin Elam becomes the South Carolina Air National Guard’s first African American general officer when he is promoted to the rank of brigadier general this Sunday.col-elam

 

South Carolina’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., will promote Elam during a 3 p.m. ceremony at McEntire Joint National Guard Base on Jan. 13.

 

“Cal has had a long and distinguished career in the Air Force and the South Carolina Air National Guard and this promotion to brigadier general culminates many years of hard work and dedicated service to his state and nation.  He is the epitome of the Citizen-Airman,” said Livingston.

 

Elam currently serves as the Assistant Adjutant General for Air for the South Carolina National Guard. As a civilian, he is Chief Executive Officer for Elam Financial Group.

 

The Greenwood native began his military career in 1980 and spent six years in the active duty Air Force as an enlisted contracting specialist. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1988 after graduating from the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business with a degree in business marketing.

 

Elam since has served in several key leadership positions with the South Carolina Air National Guard including Chief of Supply, Commander of the 169th Maintenance Squadron and Commander of the 169th Mission Support Group. Elam, his wife Mary and their three children reside in Irmo.

-30-

This takes me back to memories of the first black general in the Air Force, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. (whose father had been the first black general in the Army). He was the former commander of the Tuskegee Airmen, and my Dad worked for him at what is now called Central Command in Tampa back in the late ’60s.

Gen. Davis first became a general officer in 1954. That just puts SC about 59 years behind, but better late than never.

In any case, congratulations to Col. (soon to be Gen.) Elam…

Graham’s on Hagel’s case (and he’s not alone)

As Washington media gather the soundbites on the Obama administration’s nomination of Republican Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, one of the first gathered is Lindsey Graham’s:

“This is an in-your-face nomination by the president. And it looks like the second term of Barack Obama is going to be an in-your-face term.”

Of course, that quote is distinctly lacking in substance. Here’s what Graham said further on CNN’s “State of the Union”:

“Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be the secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history,” Graham said. “Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won’t work, that Israel should directly negotiate with the Hamas organization, a terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel. He also was one of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union that Hezbollah should be designated as a terrorist organization.”

Beyond Graham, those Republican senators vocalizing opposition to Hagel include Roger Wicker of Mississippi,  John Cornyn of Texas, Ted Cruz of Texas, David Vitter of Louisiana, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.Chuck_Hagel_official_photo

In the plus column are Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Dianne Feinstein of California, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

That’s all according to The Washington Post.

Much of the animus toward Hagel dates from his opposition to U.S. involvement in Iraq. Then there’s his opposition to Iran sanctions. Then there’s his “Jewish lobby” quote. And gay rights advocates are still mad about something he said in 1998.

Evidently, the Susan Rice experience didn’t diminish the president’s willingness to engage in a nomination fight as his second term begins…