State of the Union

Vets Score One Against DoD on Burn Pits

As Veterans Day approaches, a gift of some good news. Thanks to a lot of lobbying by members of congress and vet organizations, and backed up by great reporting by the Army Times and by hundreds of personal testimonies and affidavits by individual soldiers and veterans, Congress has passed some tough new guidelines regarding the frighteningly toxic burn pits on our military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I wrote about for TAC this month, individuals are returning from war with horrific, unexplained symptoms ranging from chronic breathing problems like sleep apnea to skin rashes, nerve damage, cancer and pulmonary distress. The Pentagon — so far — denies that these symptoms can be traced back to the burn pits, which have been burning in the middle of military installations like Camp Taji and Balad Air Force Base for as long as troops have been overseas and in some cases burn some 150 tons of mixed trash (including medical waste, hardware, chemicals, food, etc) a day.

Thanks in part to reporting by TAC and, Reps. Ron Paul, R-TX, and Walter Jones, R-N.C, joined Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., as the only Republicans to co-sponsor the Democratic House bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y, which made it through the conference committee and is headed to the President’s desk this week as part of the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.

It includes provisions that will:

  • Prohibit the use of burn pits for hazardous and medical waste except if the Secretary of Defense sees no alternative;
  • Require the Department of Defense (DOD) to report to the congressional oversight committees whenever burn pits are used and justify their use, and every six months to report on their status;
  • Require DOD to develop a plan for alternatives, in order to eliminate the use of burn pits; further, DOD must report to Congress how and why they use burn pits and what they burn in them;
  • Require DOD to assess existing medical surveillance programs of burn pits exposure and make recommendations to improve them;
  • Require DOD to do a study of the effects of burning plastics in open pits and evaluate the feasibility of prohibiting the burning of plastics.

This is definitely a first step – the Bishop bill would create a registry that would track all of the exposed troops, and that measure did not make it into the final legislation. Meanwhile, there is a massive class action lawsuit against KBR, for which soldiers are blaming for their illnesses, and other pending legislation, like the one proposed by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., most recently. He wants automatic priority health care and benefits for veterans suffering from toxic exposures on the battlefield. We’ll see how that goes over at the DoD.

Cross posted at

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A Party in Search of Its Soul

“Sometimes party loyalty asks too much,” said JFK.

For Sarah Palin, party loyalty in New York’s 23rd congressional district asks too much. Going rogue, Palin endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over Republican Dede Scozzafava.

On Oct. 1, Scozzafava was leading. Today, she trails Democrat Bill Owens and is only a few points ahead of Hoffman, as Empire State conservatives defect to vote their principles, not their party.

Newt Gingrich stayed on the reservation, endorsing Scozzafava, who is pro-choice and pro-gay rights, and hauls water for the unions.

Scourged by the right, Newt accused conservatives of going over the hill in the battle to save the republic, just to get a buzz on. “If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed, then I probably made the wrong decision.” How Scozzafava would prevent America’s being “crushed” was unexplained. Read More…

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Familia Values

An article in the October 23 Washington Times points to what I think may be the next important evolution in Fourth Generation war. The piece concerns Mexico’s third-largest drug gang, La Familia. La Familia is best known for beheading people it does not like. But according to the article, its real claim to fame may be as a pioneer in seizing the mantle of legitimacy previously worn by the state.

La Familia is based in a poor, remote Mexican province, Michoacan, where the Mexican state has long been little more than another gang. Unlike the state, La Familia actually provides services for the province’s people. According to the Washington Times,

The group has a strong religious background and proclaims it is doing God’s work, passing out money and Bibles to poor people.

A DEA agent…said cartel leader Nazario Moreno Gonzales sees his drug dealing as serving the best interests of the people of Michoacan.

The agent said Mr. Moreno doesn’t want meth users among his people (meth is La Familia’s specialty) and will take users off the street and pay for their rehabilitation…

La Familia has won the loyalty of the people of Michoacan. According to the DEA, the group…now gives some of the proceeds of its drug trafficking to schools and local officials.

All of this has made it very difficult for authorities to go to Michoacan to arrest members of La Familia.

In effect, it appears La Familia has replaced the Mexican state in Michoacan. The gang provides an export-based economy where locals actually receive the profits. It tries to protect the local population from the negative environmental effects of its industry, i.e., addiction. It offers a range of social services.

Importantly, it deploys one of the most powerful claims to legitimacy, religion. The fact that the Mexican state is rigidly secular makes the Christian identity La Familia seeks all the more effective. Very few peasants are agnostics. Read More…

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Dear Reader …

Underneath Dan’s post about our special books issue, somebody called Angela has suggested that we invite @TAC readers to join in the “Best books you’ve never read” symposium. Great idea. What follows is a list of our contributors’ choices. Please, dear readers, comment on their nominations and add the names of your own favorite obscure books below.

David Bromwich — Two stories by Elizabeth Bowen, “Mysterious Kor” and “Sunday Afternoon.”

Nick Gillespie — In the American Grain, by William Carlos Williams.

Jacob Heilbrunn — The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics, 1918-1945, by John Wheeler-Bennett.

Jeffrey Hart — Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Florence King — Star Money by Kathleen Winsor

Michael Lind — The Next Million Years by Charles Galton Darwin.

John R MacArthur — All the Time in the World, by Hugo Williams.

Justin Raimondo — Ex America: The 50th Anniversary of the People’s Pottage, by Garet Garrett

Alfred S. Regnery — Adopted Son: The Life, Wit, and Wisdom of William Wirt, by Gregory Glassner.

George Scialabba — Fantasia of the Unconscious, by D.H. Lawrence

Sam Tanenhaus — The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, by James Burnham

Alexander Waugh – Chaldean Account of Genesis by George Smith; Mozart and the Wolf Gang by Anthony Burgess; and Roger’s Profanisaurus.

Chilton Williamson Jr —Travels in Arabia Deserta, by Charles M. Doughty.

Peter W. Wood — The American Beaver and His Works, by Lewis Henry Morgan

Peregrine Worsthorne — The London Dialogues and other books by David Hirst (Copies can be obtained by writing to David Hirst, 24 Kidmore Road, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, RG4 7LU, England.)

Obviously, most of these titles are difficult to get hold of, but I’ve tried to help readers who want to buy copies by providing links. The author David Hirst has agreed that people who want to buy his books may write to him. Now over to you …

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Nixon and Obama: Soul Brothers?

Four decades ago, Lamar Alexander worked in Richard Nixon’s White House. Sen. Alexander today says Barack Obama’s White House reminds him of that place, that time, that mindset and those people.

Intending no disrespect to my old colleague, these days are not at all like those days, and this president and White House are nothing like the White House in which this writer worked from Inauguration Day 1969 to August 1974, when Marine One lifted off the lawn.

Richard Nixon had been elected in the most turbulent year since the Civil War.

Between New Hampshire and November, there was the Tet Offensive, LBJ’s announcement he would not run again, the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, race riots in 100 cities and Washington, D.C., the takeover of Columbia University by radicals, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, a Democratic convention in Chicago marked by rancor inside the hall and police-radical confrontations outside, and a campaign in which Hubert Humphrey was shouted down at rallies until he agreed to a bombing halt in Vietnam.

No, these times are not those times. Read More…

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Right Reads

A new issue The American Conservative went to press today — our Fall books issue. Highlights include:

— A symposium on the best books you probably haven’t read, featuring contributions from Alexander Waugh, Florence King, Sam Tanenhaus, Peregrine Worsthorne, David Bromwich, Justin Raimondo,
Alfred Regnery, George Scialabba, Michael Lind, and many more

— Daniel Hannan, British Conservative Party member of the European Parliament, on the literary failings of Ayn Rand

— John Carney on the rise and fall of conservative publishing (from Henry Regnery to Mark Levin is, as Richard Weaver might have said, a “fearful descent”)

— Plus Taki on Hemingway! Septimus Waugh on Henry Ford! R.J. Stove on Macaulay! Albert Jay Nock! And … Bernard-Henri Levy?!?

There’s much else besides, including a take on the late Irving Kristol by yours truly. Look for the new issue, dated December 2009, on newsstands in about a week. Or better yet — subscribe. You’ll get instant access to the new issue in PDF form when it’s uploaded at the beginning of next week. And, of course, you’ll never miss an issue of the paper mag. (TAC also makes a great gift for friends, students, and family members.)

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Operation Albion

Last week I had the pleasure of helping lead a staff ride of Operation Albion for the Baltic Defence College.  Especially for people with an interest in amphibious operations, Albion is one of the best case studies history offers.

In Operation Albion, which was carried out in early October 1917 – our staff ride duplicated its timing – Germany took three large Baltic islands, now Estonian, from the Russians.  In effect, it was Germany’s Gallipoli, though with very different results.

As a case study, Albion offers lessons on many levels.  Two are of special importance.  First, Albion illustrates a marriage of amphibious operations with the new German stormtroop tactics of late World War I, tactics that when combined with Panzer divisions created the Blitzkrieg.  Instead of doing what the U. S. Marine Corps still does and send in landing waves that take a beachhead, then stop and build up combat power for a further advance – the Somme from the sea – the Germans landed multiple thrusts which immediately advanced as far and as fast as they could, without regard for open flanks.  Speed was their main weapon, speed made possible because part of the force was equipped with bicycles. Read More…

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BNP on the BBC

Tomorrow night, the leader of the British National Party, nasty Nick Griffin, will appear on the BBC’s “Question Time”, a political TV show in which panelists field questions from a studio audience.

The country has worked itself into an absurd state of mass hysteria about this televisual showdown. Upper lips are wobbling throughout the Isles. There have been long and exhausting debates about whether the Beeb should let such a notorious creep espouse his unpleasant party’s policies on the air; nervous spokesman are warning of riots in the cities.

The three leading political parties, each of whom will have their own representatives on the show with Griffin, can sense an opportunity to score valuable PC points by fulminating against the BNP on prime-time. Expect lots of hammy expressions of outrage and pious odes about the blessings of multiculturalism. (The Conservative Party, eager to flash its progressive bona fides, has picked Baroness Warsi, a woman of Pakistani descent, to speak on their behalf.) Reports suggest that plans are afoot to plant holocaust survivors in the studio audience.

In short, the right-minded and silly people of the UK are getting very excited — salivating, even — at the prospect of being offended and disgusted by an even sillier man on TV. As a result, of course, tomorrow’s episode of QT is all but guaranteed to get the highest ratings of any political show in British broadcasting history. As Rod Liddle puts it,

This liberal chattering class terror … has succeeded in building up Nick Griffin’s appearance next week into one of the television events of the year – when it should be no such thing. The paroxysms over the initial BBC decision, the Labour Party’s desperate wrestling with its conscience over whether it should appear at all, the inordinate care taken in choosing over who should go up against Griffin within each party – hell, the man is being built up into a political colossus, an amalgam of De Toqueville and the Anti-Christ, when actually he is simply an affable but not terribly bright chap who is very easily thrown by the manifest illogicality of his party’s policy on race (and indeed on several other issues).


My prediction: the show will quickly degenerate into farce, as the non-extremists, frantically vying to outperform each other in the moral purity stakes, tie themselves into all sorts of hilariously self-defeating verbal knots.

PS Surely the best approach to handling nasty Nick would be to adapt Bertie Wooster’s wonderful rebuke to the fascist Spode, leader of the Saviours of Britain (his character supposedly modeled on Oswald Mosley) in P G Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters and apply it to Griffin:

The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Heil, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: “Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?

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So THAT’S FBI Integrity!

Word is the FBI is merchandising a new cologne for men. And it’s called Integrity.

This is what FBI integrity smelled like on April 19, 1993. Sort of like 76 burning men, women and children.

Sorry. I couldn’t help it. How we tend to forget.

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Alienated and Radicalized

In the brief age of Obama, we have had “truthers,” “birthers,” Tea Party activists, and town-hall dissenters.

Comes now, the “Oath Keepers.” And who might they be?

Writes Alan Maimon in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Oath Keepers, depending on where one stands, are “either strident defenders of liberty or dangerous peddlers of paranoia.”

Formed in March, they are ex-military and police who repledge themselves to defend the Constitution, even if it means disobeying orders. If the U.S. government ordered law enforcement agencies to violate Second Amendment rights by disarming the people, Oath Keepers will not obey.

“The whole point of Oath Keepers is to stop a dictatorship from ever happening here,” says founding father Stewart Rhodes, an ex-Army paratrooper and Yale-trained lawyer. “My focus is on the guys with the guns, because they can’t do it without them.

“We say if the American people decide it’s time for a revolution, we’ll fight with you.”

Prediction: Brother Rhodes is headed for cable stardom. Read More…

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