Bob Broughton's Blog about British Columbia politics

Bombing My Son-in-Law

Lynn Moyers of Portland, OR, who has been a "guest blogger" here before, has another story to tell.

A bomb exploded literally next to the trailer where my son-in-law lives in Iraq, inside the "safety" of Baghdad's Green Zone. Fortunately, he is okay but to say he was scared s--tless is an understatement.

I wish all the people who love and support this war had their sons and daughters over there getting the s--t scared out of them, maimed, or killed. Imagine the Bush twins in fatigues instead of getting drunk and chasing boys in Argentina. Would change the calculus a bit, methinks.

Was very glad to see Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) stand up on the floor of the Senate and call the war "criminal". Finally, someone call this thing what it is.

God, I hate this stupid war.


The draft resurfaces as an issue

I've been traveling to Seattle frequently over the past couple of years for family reasons. I made a trip for U.S. Thanksgiving, and as usual, once I get as far as Ferndale, WA, my car radio stays mostly on AM 1090, Air America Radio's Seattle affiliate.

On this Thursday morning, the program was Thom Hartmann, and the subject was a bill that will be coming up in the next U.S. Congress to bring back the draft.

It's being promoted by Rep. Charles Rangell (D-NY), and Rangell will be the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. His point of view on this is pretty straightforward; he believes that white people should fight wars, too. His proposal is specifically for a year of universal military service.

Hartmann was editorializing in favour of this. He believes that if a larger area of the socioeconomic spectrum was in uniform, U.S. military actions like the one in Iraq would be less likely. Hartmann also likes the idea that Rangell's proposal differs from the last draft (discontinued in January, 1973) in allowing “alternative service” for conscientious objectors to military service.

Hartmann and Rangell make a pretty good case for this, but, having spent a good part of my life thinking about the draft (and sometimes even doing something about it), I disagree with them. Here are my reasons:

Civil liberty – I never got drafted, owing primarily to a student deferment that kept me out until 1972. I got close enough, however, to be called into the pre-induction physical. I say that any government that can herd you into a room full of people that you don't know, have you strip to your underwear, then make you bend over so that a doctor can stick his finger up your ass, is a very powerful government. If you believe that governments should generally be less powerful, bringing back the draft is an obvious step in the wrong direction.

Ways and means – People in uniform cost the government money. It isn't just the uniforms, the barracks, the food, and wages. You're also taking millions of people off the tax rolls for a year and making them postpone higher education.

You can certainly argue that there are benefits to this. I think that society could benefit from instilling the idea in young people that there's more to citizenship than going to the mall and buying stuff.

Governments have to set spending priorities, however, and the financial recklessness of the Bush administration has put the U.S. in a deep hole. It looks like there's an opportunity now for the U.S. to finally get universal health care, something that's very important, but also very expensive. I would like to put the question to Rangell himself, as the chairman of Ways and Means: can the U.S. afford both universal military service and universal health care, along with some other obvious priorities like fossil fuel alternatives? No, I don't think so. Would you really choose universal military service over universal health care?

There are additional costs for the alternative service. People doing alternative service would still have to be fed, clothed, and housed. There would also have to be a large bureaucracy to locate alternative service opportunities, and to monitor the people doing alternative service to make sure the alternative service requirement is actually met.

The Draft and armed conflict – Thom Hartmann argued that having children of the well-to-do (and specifically of members of Congress) doing military service would make adventures like the one in Iraq less likely; these people would be less likely to support wars if it meant that their own children might get killed or seriously injured. Maybe, but I argue that the opposite is the case. I think that the lesson of history is that having a large standing army increases the temptation for politicians to use it. Did the presence of draftees in the U.S. military in 1964 give Lyndon Johnson pause to consider the political cost of sending these draftees to Vietnam? I don't think so, although it certainly played a role in his loss of his job four years later.

And look at the present situation; if the U.S. had a significantly larger number of people in uniform, wouldn't that increase the likelihood of these people being sent to Iran or Venezuela? I think that in this day and age, having fewer people in uniform would make the world a safer place.

The difference between Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein

Kim John Il currently lives in an official residence in Pyongyang. Saddam Hussein currently lives in a jail cell in Baghdad.

Why? Because Kim Jong Il had weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam Hussein didn't.

If you were the dictator of a medium-size country that doesn't get along with the U.S. Government, the lesson here should be obvious to you; your personal quality of life will be much better if you have WMD.

Jong Il and the physicists who work for him have made the world a more dangerous place to live. They have had plenty of help in this, however. Jong Il's comrades in China didn't do much to discourage him from this adventure. However, the Bush administration played right into his hands.

Bush can't really talk to Jong Il about the “court of public opinion” when Bush's foreign policy has been “we'll do what we want, and if you don't like it, too bad”. Bush also has no grounds to talk about violations of international agreements, since he has thumbed his nose at several of them, including the Geneva Convention, and, more pertinent to the North Korean situation, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.

The breakage of the ABM treaty was a particularly stupid move on Bush's part, and he didn't get anywhere near the criticism he deserved for it. If any mainstream media reporters had bothered to actually read the ABM treaty, they would have learned that the treaty permits each party to set up one ABM installation. (The Nixon administration set one up, and it was shut down in 1978 because it was judged by Congress to be a useless waste of money.) So, if Bush had been truthful about his motive for continuing with ABM's (as in intercepting single missiles launched by rogue states such as North Korea), there would have been no need to abrogate the treaty. The abrogation made Russian President Vladimir Putin look bad, and this new problem with North Korea is exactly the sort of situation where The West needs the help of people like Putin.

So, how do we go about getting Jong Il to listen to reason? The United Nations would be the obvious organization to do it, but there we have another problem. The Neo-Con agenda has had the UN on the hit list ever since Reagan became President in 1981. Jong Il doesn't need to listen to the UN, because it doesn't have any clout. The reason it doesn't have any clout is because the Reagan and Bush Administrations have acted to weaken it.

Now, the fact is, there are a lot of problems with the United Nations. Anyone familiar with Gen. Romeo Dallaire's bad experience in Rwanda knows this. But if you hear anyone tell you that the UN should be put out of business, your first question should be, “what would you replace it with?” The Neo-Con answer to this question was, “everybody will just do what we tell them to.” We now see that this approach has failed, and it's a failure that is dangerous to all of us.

The foolishness of the Bush Administration has put us in a situation where we have to hope that the government of China will give Kim Jong Il a strong enough slap on the wrist so that he will stop testing nuclear bombs close to the North Korea-China border. We may get by this time, but we should hope that the next time a problem like this comes around (and it will), there will be more sensible people minding the store in Washington.

An inappropriate honour for Billie Jean King

At this year's US Open tennis tournament, the National Tennis Center on Long Island, New York was renamed to Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. I think that this is totally inappropriate, and not just because it waters down the recognition extended to the late Arthur Ashe when the stadium on the same site was named after him. And no, I'm not sorry for being a party-pooper.

"The Philip Morris executives I know... are enlightened people who understand and acknowledge the possible hazards of smoking." Billie Jean King, December 2,1993

Discount coupon autographed by Billie Jean King King was a member of the Philip Morris (renamed to Altria) board of directors from 1999 through 2003. Philip Morris is the world's largest tobacco company, and the World Health Organization estimates that cigarettes cause over four million premature deaths each year. No, smoking is not a possible hazard, and King has an ethical blind spot about cigarettes that you could drive a truck through. Click here to view a “free pack” coupon that she autographed in 2001.

The number of women who smoke increased dramatically during the 1970's, and this increase is attributable to one of Philip Morris' most successful ad campaigns: Virginia Slims and “You've come a long way, baby.” One the elements of this ad campaign was the Virginia Slims tennis tour, and King, along with Martina Navratilova, was an enthusiastic promoter of this tour.

If you don't see the hypocrisy of promoting tennis as an exercise activity and a grossly unhealthy activity like smoking at the same time, I'll make one more try. King is regarded as an icon by many feminists for publicly acknowledging her bisexuality, as well as for having an abortion in 1971. Well, actually, she didn't have much choice in the “public acknowledgment” part, because she was the target of a palimony suit by Marilyn Barnett. She apparently hid her sexual preference for women from her husband, Larry King, when they married in 1965. (They divorced in 1985.)

Philip Morris/Altria's record on this sort of thing is mixed. They certainly like to sell cigarettes to women and gays. However, they have a lot of friends in Washington. (If they didn't, they would have been legislated out of business years ago.) One of these friends was Jesse Helms, a senator from North Carolina who used the Senate floor to say all sorts of unkind things about the “homosexual lifestyle”, and even introduced legislation to prohibit the use of Federal money to combat anti-gay discrimination. Philip Morris did more than contribute several million dollars to Helms' re-election campaigns (thus effectively paying for his microphone); they even gave $200,000 to a dubious charity, the Jesse Helms Citizenship Center. (See From adversary to target market, from the British Medical Journal.)

Helms is only the most blatant example. At the same time that they were buying off King, Philip Morris/Altria was funding many other politicians who are no friends of gays or feminists, such as President George W. Bush and former Vice-President Dan Quayle.

I've written elsewhere about the inappropriateness of connecting the sport of tennis to the tobacco industry; see Canadian Open Tennis Hall of Shame. The “du Maurier Open” and “Players Open” no longer exist. The United States Tennis Association should give the National Tennis Center back to Arthur Ashe.

The Israel/Lebanon/Hezbollah conflict

It's on the news constantly, but what's going on there is so horrible, that I've been having a hard time getting a handle on it.

Terry Glavin wrote a column in the August 3 Georgia Straight, StopWar’s peace is about opposing Israel, that is a big help. Glavin spells out the obvious: Hezbollah is a group of racist religious fanatics, funded and provided with weapons by another group of racist religious fanatics in Iran. These racist religious fanatics are making the world a very dangerous place, especially because the racist religious fanatics in Iran want to get nuclear weapons.

Glavin also wrote, "You could fairly mark July 2006 as one of the most squalid months in the history of the 'left' in Canada." I'll leave it to you to click the URL in the previous paragraph to find out why. A lot of people aren't going to like some things that Glavin wrote, but it's time for them to take a hard look at themselves in a mirror. No, we are not all Hezbollah.

Update on August 11: Let's talk about war crimes. That's what Louise Arbour, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is doing. See this Green Party of Canada press release, Harris condemns Harper's delayed cease-fire call.

Terry Glavin's blog: