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A Step Away From Democracy; Marketing The Military

4:48 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Military Coup

Military Coup by TheYoYoMaN

At what point does being respectful of those who volunteer to wear the uniform of our nation become a fetishization of the military are a whole? For me a clear warning sign is when we start to see products like the ones in this Washington Post article.

It seems that there is money to be made by selling all things military, from Tough and Tiny backpacks (holds your child’s treasures in military style, don’t ya know) to Devil Dog the official licensed sent of the USMC.

Let’s be clear, I have a lot of respect for those who serve or have served. My Dad and all his brothers were Army vets, two of my Uncles on the other side served in Vietnam (though it should be said they were both drafted) one being pretty severely wounded there.

For all of that second hand association with the military, I don’t see the need to have military branded products to declare my respect for them or pride in their service. That might be a little different if they were active members serving overseas right now, but it still would not extend to buying cologne to smell like a Marine.

Maybe I am just being a grump about this but I think it is a dangerous thing for a society to over hype pride in the military. There is nothing wrong with giving respect to those who serve but there is something troubling to me about treating that respect as a consumer marketing opportunity.

The issue is that marketing always goes the extra mile. To some wearing a branded product like a Coca Cola tee-shirt might be just a fashion statement. But it is also a not so subtle endorsement of the product itself. When we are talking about a choice of beverage, who cares? But a nation’s military is not a brand to be pushed.

The United States spends more on its military than any other nation in the world. In fact we spend more than the next ten biggest spending countries, combined. For all of that we have been able to resist militarization of our nation as a whole, but that has been changing for a while.
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Is The CIA Drone Program A Threat To Democracy?

4:54 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

drone predator

drone predator by RG1033

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? This literally translates to “Who will guard the guards themselves? Or more commonly “Who watches the watchmen?” it is an important question for any democratic government. Force of arms is generally reserved to the State, to a greater or lesser degree, and it is the responsibility of the State as a whole to maintain control of its various armed forces.

One of the things that differentiate a democracy from a dictatorship is the civilian control of its intelligence and armed forces. Anytime these forces become a power onto themselves there is a danger to the idea of democracy.

Which is why today’s article in the Washington Post about the growing Counter Terrorism Center at the CIA is so troubling. Since the 9/11 attacks the CTC has increased 7 fold, from 300 in 2001 to over 2000 today.

If this new “agency within an agency” was merely performing the traditional intelligence gathering of the CIA in a counter terrorism role, it would not be so troubling. However this group is in charge the CIA’s drone program as well as working very closely with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Last year the CIA was in command of 118 drone strikes on suspected terrorist targets. Or at least that is the number we think as the CIA never officially acknowledges its drone program, consisting of 30 or so Predator and Reaper drones. Whatever the number of strikes and drones this is a major change in mission for the CIA which is an agency that was created for intelligence gathering rather than operations.

The functions of intelligence analysts have begun to change at the CIA. Now there is a new career path there called “targeters”. While they are still intelligence analysts at the core their primary job is to develop information that allows the CIA to recruit weak links, find meeting places and, of course, find and target so called High Value targets for drone strikes.

While there will be many who don’t have a problem with “killing the bad guys” this is a very troubling development to me. Leaving aside for a moment the legality of assassinating people in other countries who have not been convicted of a crime, even American citizens, the issue for me is one of control.
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Meanwhile, In Syria: Mass Resignations By Ba’ath Party Officials

5:49 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

While we’ve been distracted by tons and tons and tons of Birther and Afterbirther coverage and the cracks filled in with the ramp up for the wedding of Kate Middleton and William Windsor there have been events going on in Syria that are increasingly pointing to more trouble in that Arab State.

Over the last few days tanks have been deployed in Deraa and other cities inside Syria. The various security forces have opened fire with live ammunition on protesters with more than 400 reported dead. It is hard to know exactly what is going on in Syria as the Assad government had expelled all foreign journalists. However in the days of the internet reports and video are leaking out.

Today there is a major development. The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that 400 members of the Ba’ath Party have resigned the government and the party over the killing and oppression of the protesters. Here are excerpts from two of the mass resignation letters:

From the Deraa officials:

“In view of the negative stance taken by the leadership of the Arab Socialist Baath Party towards the events in Syria and in Deraa, and after the death of hundreds and the wounding of thousands at the hands of the various security forces, we submit our collective resignation.”

From officials in Banias:

“Considering the breakdown of values and emblems that we were instilled with by the party and which were destroyed at the hand of the security forces … we announce our withdrawal from the party without regret,”

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Syrian Cabinet To Resign! Assad Attempts To Appease Protesters

5:25 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Day of Rage

Day of Rage by freestylee, on Flickr

With an active war in which the US, NATO and other nations participating raging in Libya it is easy to get distracted from the other prodemocracy protests happening in the world. One place in particular that is of great interest but not very much reporting is Syria.

The Baathist Party of the Assad family has ruled this Mediterranean nation since 1963 with Hafez Assad ruling from 1970 until his son Bashar took over after his death in 2000. Al Jazeera is reporting that today that the Cabinet is likely to resign and there will be some kinds of reform implemented.

These reforms come in response the continued and growing protests in Syria. Like Egypt Syria had been under and emergency law that allowed the government to basically suppress dissent with impunity. There are closed courts, a ban on public gatherings, restrictions on the press and political parties other than the Baath Party.

This regime has long used these powers to keep a very tight lid on its control of the nation, but the so-called Arab Spring seems to have arrived there as well. Over the last month or so protesters have gone to the streets demanding change like they see in Tunisia and Egypt. Even when security forces have fired on the crowds with live ammunition, they not only kept coming out and protesting but have grown in size.

All this presents a very difficult position for Assad and his party. They can try to crack down on the protesters even more aggressively, after all the amount of confirmed news that comes out of Syria other than its state run media is small and they could stonewall. This, of course, risks going the route of Libya and to some extent Yemen, with the possibility of Generals and other members of the government defecting and perhaps an all out civil war.

On the other hand, reform and loosening the reigns has its own perils. Once things begin to loosen at the top level it is very hard to tighten them up again. Worse, from an authoritarian point of view, when you open the door to more freedoms there is an expectation established that there will be more and more freedoms.

For a group of men who have run a nation on their own say so for nearly 50 years the idea of having to listen to the rabble and to actually be responsive to their demands is not one that sits easily. The lesson of the Soviet Union has to be in their minds. Perestroika started the ball rolling for the end of one party communist rule in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In an attempt to placate their people the communists instead empowered them and lost control.
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Haven’t Heard About Revolution In China? There Is A Reason

6:35 am in Media by Bill Egnor

Freedom of the press in Italy.

Freedom of the press in Italy. by Zingaro. I am a gipsy too., on Flickr

If you are wondering why you’ve not really heard much about the call for a “Jasmine Revolution” style protests in the Peoples Republic of China, well there is a reason for that. The Chinese authorities are not waiting around for the protests to grow and become something like Tiananmen Square or Tahrir Square in Egypt.

As I posted about before they have been taking strong steps to crack down on pro-democracy activists for a couple of weeks. They have been preventing text messages from being sent to an entire list and have blocked all websites with key words like Jasmine Revolution.

This combined with flooding the urban areas where the protests were proposed with security forces and actually placing pro-democracy advocate under house arrest and even
disappearing more than one attorney for these groups apparently is not enough for the Communist Government in China.

In a move that shows just how worried the “workers paradise” is about its workers getting together to insist on a real voice in the governance of their nation, the Chinese government is now putting restrictions on foreign reporters inside China.

NPR is reporting this morning that the Chinese government is saying that you must have pre-approval to talk to any one in Beijing in advance. Think about that for a second; this means that if you wanted to do a “man on the street” interview about anything even say the weather, you would be in violation.

Already foreign journalists are claiming that they are having their e-mails hacked and that plain clothes police are watching them movements and their apartments. This is the kind of things that the state security apparatus use against home grown militants.

It is pretty clear that the government in China is doing all it can to keep its people from an uprsing as has been seen in the Arab world. Sadly it seems they have learned the lesson of not letting things get started. They are also learning the lesson that any kind of international reporting means, in these days of the internet, that the story will get out, no matter how hard the technological curbs come down.

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Not All Revolutions Keep Their Gains, Just Look At Ukraine

6:39 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Maidan Election Protests
Pic courtesy of Chris Motes, via Flickr

It is rare that I am happy to say I might have been wrong about something. After all when one spends all their time writing about politics there is a certain level of near absolute confidence in ones opinion that develops. On Monday I wrote a post asking if the Egyptian uprising was running out of steam. It seems that events have answered that in a big fat no and I couldn’t be happier.

Still revolution is a very tricky thing. Even a successful one does not necessarily mean that things will really change in the long run. Take for example the Ukrainian Orange Revolution. Back in 2004 the run off election between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych (the two Vic’s) was seen as being deeply flawed and fraudulent. It was felt that Yanukovych had stolen the election.

The uproar about this fraud led to massive street protests and general strikes, which paralyzed the nation for nearly two months. Eventually there was a new run off election and Yushchenko was declared the winner. The peaceful Orange Revolution had won.

Or so it seemed at the time. A mere six years later Viktor Yanukovych is once again the President of the Ukraine. He won in what was probably the crowning achievement of the Orange Revolution, a free and fair election where the people were allowed to choose. So far so good.

The thing is now that he is back in power President Yanukovych is taking the gains of the Orange Revolution apart. His government under the guise of rooting out corruption has been harassing opposition leaders for their official actions during the Yushchenko (it would be a lot easier to write this is they did not have such similar names!) administration.
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Secrecy And Democracy, The Hard Balancing Act

6:41 am in Government by Bill Egnor

The Wikileaks story is going to be the big news for a while, but I thought I’d talk about the need for balance in terms of secrecy. The release of the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic communications is going to be more than a little embarrassing. How could it not be? These are internal communications where frank and perhaps overly blunt observations will be shared or statements by our government or foreign governments might be contrary to publicly stated policy.

Secrecy is a tough thing in a democracy. Democracy requires a well informed electorate to function. There is a real need for a free people to have the facts when they are deciding on their elected representatives. Knowing what our government really means when it states it policy publicly is a critical factor.

However there is also a need for internal candor and the ability to speak bluntly at time and even, though it pains me to say so, keep the information from the public. Some things like military movements or the efforts of our covert agents need to remain secret, at least as long as they are relevant.

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Tea Party In The Military; A New Danger To Democracy

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

One of the most important things for a successful democracy is civilian control of the military. The power of a standing army to take over a nominally democratic society can be seen in the multiple coups and handovers of power in Turkey and the more recent reign of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. Those are the best case scenarios, where the power that was seized by the military was returned to the civilian governments, that is not always the case. Burma being an example of when the military takes over and does not relinquish power.

"Originally posted at"

All this makes the recent establishment of the Armed Forces Tea Party Patriots is so troubling. Talking Points Memo is reporting that active duty marine Gary Stein has formed the group at his Camp Pendleton base.

By doing so Sgt. Stein is breaking long standing policies about active duty military members and partisan activity. Here are a couple of quotes by Sgt. Stein from the TMP article

"People in the military need to be heard," the group’s prime organizer, Gary Stein — a Marine Corps sergeant stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California — told TPMmuckraker in an interview. "Our opinions do count."
Many people in the military "feel like they can’t speak out against Obama or Congress," said Stein. "The armed forces should have a little bit more say than we think we do," he said.


My oath was to the Constitution, not to the politicians, and that oath will be kept. I wont’ "Just follow" orders. There is at this time a debate within the ranks of the military regarding their oath. Some mistakenly believe they must follow any order the President issues. But many others do understand that their loyalty is to the Constitution and to the people…

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The Overton Window On Political Violence Has Moved

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

I have few absolutes in my life. This is by design, the fewer things that you have no bending on the greater the chance that you can find common ground and get progress on issues or even have a happy life. The two I’ll talk about today are torture and political violence.

We have seen a disturbing trend in the last few months of violence based on political views. The man who flew his plane into the IRS, the assassination of Dr. Tiller for performing legal reproductive services, the killing of police officers for the supposed plan by the Obama administration to seize the guns of private citizens, the brick throwing at Democratic political offices and the cutting of gas lines at the family home of the brother of a U.S Representative whose address was posted on the internet by mistake.

"Originally posted at"

Then there are the credible threats; just yesterday a man was arrested for making credible threats against the life of Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and a man was arrested for threatening to use deadly force to prevent the operation of an abortion clinic. Pictures of nooses have been faxed to African American Representatives, and many other have had anonymous calls to their homes and offices.

While the level of violence and threats of violence is very troubling, what is more troubling is the ho-hum attitude about it. Political violence is a particular horror of mine. I find no romance in revolution or armed struggle. When it happens it is the last and worst possible choice. When it starts in democracies it is one of the hardest things to end, with the cycle of tit-for-tat violence going on and on and on. Being Irish I have an innate ability to form and hold a grudge (you know what Irish Alzheimer’s is? You forget everything but the grudge), so perhaps I have a lower threshold for this than others.

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Iranian Democracy 31 Years From Revolution

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Today is the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. I was 12 years old way back then and remembers his impressions of the time. Without knowing all of the history and politics behind the revolution the impression to a tween was that the Shah was not someone who you could like, but the students around Ayatollah Khomeini were really happy and joyful.

"Originally posted at"

That impression changed when members of the Revolution stormed our Embassy and took the diplomats there hostage for so long. Being a kid on the cusp of puberty, my emotions were easy to swing and jingoism has a dark luster that even adults find hard to resist. So Iran and Iranians became an evil enemy, they were bad people who could not be trusted.

For most of my life, the impressions of Iran and its political system have come from the outside. The view of a country, which underwent a revolution that was religiously based, taints the point that it was a revolution against a monarchy and in favor of a form of democracy. True it is a theocratic democracy and that makes an atheist from the country that which founded the idea of separation of church and state shudder in horror, but it is a democracy none the less.

Over at the Washington Note Shane M. has a great essay about what the celebration of this day has become in Iran. He makes a great point that the Revolution is viewed from the outside world as a fact of history, while inside Iran, it is a work in progress. From his article:

We watch this history replayed every year on television, but the Revolution is not about history. It is a thirty-one-year old story cut out of sequence, edited back into the programming, made current. One thing that must be understood about Iran, about living here, is that the Revolution is never officially discussed as a finished event. Here, revolution is transitive, a work still in progress. Last year a reporter asked a young man-on-the-street regarding his opinion about the Revolution on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. The man replied that he wished to be around in 90 years to see the Revolution at 120. One hundred twenty. Such talk is surely dissonant to ears conditioned to think of revolutions as conclusions. It is perfectly normal here. Here, revolution is transitive.

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