Saturday, July 02, 2005

Update On Last Post

this article has some pretty disturbing discriptions of torture in Iraq. which is why i include the link, but not the text. you can read by clicking, but you might not want to if you have a delicate sensibility or blindly believe that our government would never (tacitly or otherwise) condone this type of activity.,6903,1520136,00.html

Iraq. Where No One Feels Your Pain.

(the irony is that while i pass on this article i am ensconced in a weekend-long marathon of muhammad ali fight reruns, thereby promulgating the cycle of violence. but, dammit, i just love watching boxing when it's done artistically)

UK aid funds Iraqi torture units
Peter Beaumont in Baghdad and Martin Bright
Sunday July 3, 2005
The Observer
British and American aid intended for Iraq's hard-pressed police service is being diverted to paramilitary commando units accused of widespread human rights abuses, including torture and extra-judicial killings, The Observer can reveal.
Iraqi Police Service officers said that ammunition, weapons and vehicles earmarked for the IPS are being taken by shock troops at the forefront of Iraq's new dirty counter-insurgency war.
The allegations follow a wide-ranging investigation by this paper into serious human rights abuses being conducted by anti-insurgency forces in Iraq. The Observer has seen photographic evidence of post-mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle which demonstrate serious abuse of suspects including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and - in one case - the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee-capping.
The investigation revealed:
· A 'ghost' network of secret detention centres across the country, inaccessible to human rights organisations, where torture is taking place.
· Compelling evidence of widespread use of violent interrogation methods including hanging by the arms, burnings, beatings, the use of electric shocks and sexual abuse.
· Claims that serious abuse has taken place within the walls of the Iraqi government's own Ministry of the Interior.
· Apparent co-operation between unofficial and official detention facilities, and evidence of extra-judicial executions by the police.
The issue of increasing human rights abuses has been raised with the new Iraqi government by the Foreign Office, the US State Department and the United Nations. British Embassy officials in Baghdad have been briefed on the crisis by concerned senior Iraqi officials on several occasions.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that it has spent £27 million in gift aid on the Iraqi security services, which provided guns, ammunition, and public order equipment such as protective vests and armoured Land Rovers. An MoD source said the majority of this material went to the police. A further £20m went to the police from the government's Global Conflict Prevention Pool, jointly funded by the MoD, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.
Despite that, the British government has, until now, remained silent in public on the issue of the country's widening human rights crisis.
Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Michael Moore called on ministers to make an immediate statement in the House of Commons: 'These are serious reports that go to the heart of the question of the coalition's oversight of the security situation in Iraq. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence must urgently inform Parliament about the scope of their investigation into these allegations,' he said.
The Foreign Office said last night that it was taking the reports of abuse 'very seriously'. It issued detailed responses to the claims: 'We are aware and deeply concerned by reports of detainee abuse by Iraqi police officers and of men in police uniforms committing serious crimes, whether these men are genuine policemen or not. Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable.'
An MoD spokesman told The Observer: 'We are aware of the allegations. We have raised this with the Iraqi government at the highest levels in Baghdad and Basra.'
Privately, there is a growing belief that complaints are being stonewalled.
The investigation raises questions about the British government's commitment to denying aid to governments that tolerate or encourage human rights abuses.
International and Iraqi officials claim the use of torture has become more extensive since the country's first democratically-elected government was sworn in.
Steve Crawshaw of Human Rights Watch,said: 'There has been the attempt to suggest that because Saddam's regime is over now everything is rosy in Iraq. What is happening in official places in Iraq is simply horrific and must be stopped.'
The Foreign Office stressed: 'Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable. As soon as we become aware of any allegations of abuse we raise them at the highest levels in Basra and Baghdad.
'We would expect them to publish the findings of any investigations, prosecute those found to have carried out any abuse, punish those found guilty regardless of rank or background, and take all steps to prevent any recurrence.'

Rove/Plame/McClellan Update

From Americablog comes this nugget. Remember these words if Karl Rove is really the leak behind the Valerie Plame "outing", because the White House will do all it can to protect him from prosecution. And if he is the leak, then he not only committed that felony, but he lied under oath to a grand jury about it. Also, I'll put even odds on Rove or McClellan having had a sexual affair with Jim Guckert/Gannon and the info comes out during the course of this investigation (not that it really matters).
Notice that McClellan said "pursued" and not "prosecuted". I only hope he meant the latter.

McClellan said leaker should be fired, September 29, 2003:

McClellan said that if anyone at the White House leaked Plame's identity, he should be fired, and pursued to the "fullest extent.""No one was authorized to do this. That is simply not the way this White House operates and if someone leaked classified information it is a very serious matter," he said.

Karl Rove Got Loose Lips?

from Editor & Publisher:

MSNBC Analyst Says Cooper Documents Reveal Karl Rove as Source in Plame Case By E&P Staff Published: July 01, 2005 11:30 PM ET
NEW YORK Now that Time Inc. has turned over documents to federal court, presumably revealing who its reporter, Matt Cooper, identified as his source in the Valerie Plame/CIA case, speculation runs rampant on the name of that source, and what might happen to him or her. Friday night, on the syndicated McLaughlin Group political talk show, Lawrence O'Donnell, senior MSNBC political analyst, claimed to know that name--and it is, according to him, top White House mastermind Karl Rove.Today, O'Donnell went further, writing a brief entry at the Huffington Post blog:"I revealed in yesterday's taping of the McLaughlin Group that Time magazine's e-mails will reveal that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper's source. I have known this for months but didn't want to say it at a time that would risk me getting dragged into the grand jury. "McLaughlin is seen in some markets on Friday night, so some websites have picked it up, including Drudge, but I don't expect it to have much impact because McLaughlin is not considered a news show and it will be pre-empted in the big markets on Sunday because of tennis. "Since I revealed the big scoop, I have had it reconfirmed by yet another highly authoritative source. Too many people know this. It should break wide open this week. I know Newsweek is working on an 'It's Rove!' story and will probably break it tomorrow."Here is the transcript of O'Donnell's McLaughlin Group remarks:"What we're going to go to now in the next stage, when Matt Cooper's e-mails, within Time Magazine, are handed over to the grand jury--the ultimate revelation, probably within the week of who his source is. "I know I'm going to get pulled into the grand jury for saying this but the source of...for Matt Cooper was Karl Rove, and that will be revealed in this document dump that Time magazine's going to do with the grand jury."Other panelists then joined in discussing whether, if true, this would suggest a perjury rap for Rove, if he told the grand jury he did not leak to Cooper. Besides his career at a TV journalist, O'Donnell has served as a producer and writer for the series "The West Wing."According to published reports, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the case, has interviewed President Bush and Vice President Cheney and called Karl Rove, among others, to testify before the grand jury."The breadth of Fitzgerald's inquiry has led to speculation that it has evolved into an investigation of a conspiracy to leak Plame's identity," the Chicago Tribune observed on Friday, "or of an attempt to cover up White House involvement in the leak."Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller, held in contempt for refusing to name sources, tried Friday to stay out of jail by arguing for home detention instead after Time Inc. surrendered its reporter's notes to a prosecutor.Miller argued that it was pointless to imprison her because she will never talk. She submitted letters from soldiers and military officers with whom she was embedded during the war in Iraq attesting to that. (Miller's pre-war coverage of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has drawn much criticism.)She asked the judge for "very restrictive home detention," if confined at all, including an electronic bracelet and excluding Internet access and cellular phones. As an alternative, she asked to be sent to the federal prison camp for women in Danbury, Conn.Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said Friday that several unidentified Senate Republicans had placed a hold on a proposed resolution declaring support for Miller and Cooper. ``Cowards!'' Lautenberg said of the Republicans. ``Under the rules, they have a right to refuse to reveal who they are. Sound familiar?'' Lautenberg's resolution is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) It says no purpose is served by imprisoning Miller and Cooper and that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Rummie, Git Er Done

Rumsfeld Named Grand Marshal Of Pepsi 400
POSTED: 6:58 pm EDT June 30, 2005
UPDATED: 7:30 pm EDT June 30, 2005
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Instead of commanding troops, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will command drivers this weekend.
Rumsfeld has been named the Grand Marshal of this weekend's Pepsi 400.
His duties include delivering the famous command, "Drivers, start your engines," and riding in the pace car to lead the 43 drivers around the track.
Inside: More NASCAR NewsWatch WESH 2 News For Complete Pepsi 400 Coverage
More than 200,000 fans are expected in Daytona Beach for the race, WESH 2 News reported.
Local hotels are booked solid for the Fourth of July weekend.
The race festivities include a fireworks show and performances by stars like Lisa Marie Presley.
Tourism leaders say the races pump $460 million into the local economy.
Officials worry, however, about the threat of rain this weekend. The practice sessions for the Busch drivers and the Nextel drivers were rained out on Thursday. Organizers hoped to try again on Friday. The Busch drivers will hit the track at 8 a.m. and the Nextel Cup drivers are scheduled to get in some practice laps at 9:10 a.m.
The rain didn't keep the fans away. Many huddled under umbrellas and tried to make the best of the situation. WESH 2's NASCAR guru Buddy Pittman tried to keep things under control by hosing down some fans with a soaker gun.
"There's nothing dampening the spirits of a race fan?" Pittman asked one fan.
"Oh, no, no. Nothing does that. This is it. This is racing. Take it with the good and the bad," he said.
"It's better than doing dishes and I'm not doing laundry, so it's OK. This is fine," another said.
If Friday night's Winn-Dixie 250, which is part of the Busch Series, is rained out, it will be run at 11 a.m. Saturday. If the Pepsi 400 is rained out Saturday night, it would be run Sunday morning.
WESH 2 is the place to be for your Pepsi 400 coverage. Join Wendy Chioji, Pat Clarke and Pittman for Race Day Live starting at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Then, if you can't be at the track, watch it live on WESH 2 beginning at 7 p.m.

No Title

from We The People comes this note about a former IRS investigator who asked the wrong questions (vis-a-vis: is the federal income tax legal and/or enforceable). my smelly new jersey friend lisa (well, she lives in new jersey and it's supposed to smell) sent me an email a couple of weeks ago when this case first went to the judge. now the jury has decided and this guy won. the jury couldn't convict him of helping a company and its employees to circumvent what our governemnt tells is "the law". nicely done, makes me think, will have to look into this further since most of my taxes are being used to further a "war" that i find abhorrent and illegal and i could use the extra dough to fix my car and throw a hell of a 4th fireworks bash.
thanks lisa for the info and for following it to its end.

June 28, 2005Joe Banister:
He Challenged The Income TaxAnd Withholding Laws -- And He Won
Make no mistake: Joe Banister was indicted specifically because he took overt and very public actions that directly challenged the income tax and withholding laws.
In October of 2000, Joe Banister spoke to the employees of CENCAL, a company founded and controlled by Al Thompson. Banister told Thompson's workers that there was no legal authority that established that ordinary Americans, such as them, had to pay federal income taxes on the wages they made at CENCAL. During the meeting, Banister presented sufficient documentary evidence in support of his conclusions. Beginning in July of 2000, Thompson had stopped withholding the taxes from the compensation paid to the employees of CENCAL.
As detailed in one of the criminal counts against Banister, in 2000, Banister also prepared an amended 1998 individual income tax return for Thompson, representing that, per U.S. law, Thompson’s adjusted gross income and taxable income were “0,” (zero) not $66,192 and $42,251 as originally reported.
The government convinced a grand jury to indict Banister, setting the stage for a jury trial to determine whether Banister violated certain laws governing conspiracy and aiding and assisting in the filing of false tax returns. The government did not allow Banister to appear or present any exculpatory evidence to the grand jury.
Banister had, by his words and acts, directly challenged the legality of the operation and enforcement of the federal income tax system. He was acquitted in large part because the government chose not to confront or attempt to rebut Banister's plain assertions that there is NO law that requires most Americans to pay a tax on their wages and that most companies are NOT required to withhold taxes on wages and turn it over to the IRS.
Banister’s 2000 meeting with the CENCAL employees was video taped. A New York Times reporter, David Cay Johnston was present during that meeting.
Twice, Banister’s jury watched the full tape of the two-hour meeting. Once, at the start of the trial and again at the end of the trial. In other words, the jury twice heard Banister explain, in detail, citing various sections of the Constitution, law and regulations, why and how he concluded that wages are not taxable income.
The government chose not to put an expert witness on the stand to counteract what Banister told Thompson and the CENCAL employees about the fraudulent enforcement and operation of the income tax and withholding laws. We believe the government chose not to open this line of inquiry before the jury because Banister’s attorney, Jeff Dickstein, was more of an expert on the internal revenue laws than any government witness, and would effectively prove to the jury that Banister was correct in his understanding of the law and that there was no violation of the law.
Had the government been able to prove to the jury that there is a law that requires most Americans to pay a tax on their wages and a law that requires most companies to withhold the tax from the paychecks of their workers, Joe Banister may well have been convicted of the charges against him: conspiracy and willfully aiding and assisting the filing of false tax returns.
The government prosecutors did not controvert what Banister shared with Thompson and the CENCAL workers as he went about proving the absence of legal authority establishing any requirement to pay federal income taxes on wages. The government proffered no proof for the record, linking Banister’s actions to any laws that (allegedly) required the workers to pay the taxes and required Thompson to withhold the taxes.
If the government had any hope of convicting Banister of the charges of conspiring and willfully aiding and assisting in the filing of fraudulent tax returns, the government needed to first prove there is a law that requires withholding and filing. In addition, the government needed to establish that Banister, a highly educated, competent and decorated member of IRS’s law enforcement team knew what that legal requirements and duties imposed by the law were at the time he met with Thompson and his employees.
Not only did the jury not receive the required proof of such laws from the DOJ attorneys representing the government, the jury received exculpatory evidence from Banister’s attorney that the IRS fired Banister in 1999, rather than provide answers to Banister’s significant questions regarding the legal authority behind the IRS’s and CID's income tax and withholding enforcement activities. Beyond this, the jury also received evidence detailing a DOJ attorney’s failed attempt (in 2001) to get the government to respond positively to Banister’s request for a meeting to discuss the matter.
In the end, all this was too much of an obstacle for the government to overcome.
The jury obviously found it impossible to convict Banister of conspiring with Thompson in 2000 to violate a law that the government could not identify.
For the same reason, the jury obviously found it impossible to convict Banister of aiding and assisting the filing of fraudulent tax returns when no evidence had been put forth that they were, in fact, fraudulent. Finally, the jury obviously felt the government had an obligation to answer Banister’s well researched questions, and the IRS's decision to terminate Banister for asking the questions was clearly suspect. Even Banister's IRS CID supervisor, when directly asked, was unable to cite any law requiring Joe Banister to file an income tax return.
Joe Banister's case was no ordinary “tax protester” case. The government went after one of their own who had directly challenged the authority of the IRS and then acted openly upon that truth to expose the income tax fraud -- and it failed to convict him. That the government, which by our Right of Due Process bears the burden of proof, would fail to put forth, and aver for the court record, the essential, required legal elements of law and fact necessary to prove Joe Banister's acts were criminal speaks volumes.
Our Mantras
Certain words or phrases have become sacred to and are often repeated by People in the tax honesty movement as mantra.
“Show me the law” is one such phrase. We believe it was Sherry Jackson who introduced these words to the lexicon of the tax honesty movement when she took the microphone during the “Project Toto” conference at the Crystal City Hilton in February 2002.
“No Answers, No Taxes” is another. We were introduced to this phrase during the speech by Bob Schulz on the National Mall at the conclusion of Freedom Drive in 2002.
To the extent the post-verdict interviews with members of the Banister jury are an indicator, our mantras are being heard across the land and are being taken to heart by an increasing number of We The People.
Our work is making a difference. Joe Banister is proof.
An Apology
At the end of our previous article on the Banister trial we stated we would provide video of post-verdict interviews of Joe and several of the jurors. Due to a minor technical issue with the source video disk that required it be returned to California, we will be delayed in making the video available until later this week. We apologize for the delay.
Fundraiser For Banister AndThe RTP Lawsuit Continues
The Freedom Pin project is off to a good start, raising money to help Joe Banister and WTP pay the attorneys working on their court cases.
A Freedom Pin signifies the wearer is a supporter of the federal Constitution and those who are defending it such as Joe Banister and the named plaintiffs in the landmark Right To Petition lawsuit.
As of today, $32,100 has been received by WTP for 321 Freedom Pins. Of this amount, $16,050 has been sent to Joe Banister. Originally, in view of our obligations to the Lane Law Firm for the RTP lawsuit, we said we would be sending Joe 1/3 of the proceeds received for the Freedom Pins. However, we decided early on to share 50% of the proceeds with Joe.
In recognition and celebration of Independence Day, to further the distribution of the Freedom Pins and to enhance the proceeds of the fundraiser, we respectfully request People give serious consideration to the following suggestion.
For each $100 donation, we will send a Freedom Pin and one of the Foundation’s attractive 12-page, colored brochures to a person the donor asks us to send them to (preferably a young person of high school or college age).We will include a note letting the person know who the donor was and that the pin is the donor’s way of saying that the donor is a defender of our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights upon which our American Republic firmly rests, that, as Americans, our individual Rights to life, liberty and property are constitutionally guaranteed, and cannot be repealed or denied by majority vote, and that it is the sacred responsibility of every citizen to protect and defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights against all enemies both foreign and domestic, including those within our government who seek to deny our unalienable Rights.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Wednesday Wallow

from Star magazine, a weekly that embodies the best of journalism and the dedicated writers who will not stop until they've uncovered the dish that held the dirt:

Martha StewartMartha Stewart may be under house arrest, but her Bedford, N.Y., parties are a hot ticket. A source tells Star People, "She has huge dinner parties and entertains constantly. Everyone wants to be invited — she's just not allowed to have guests who are convicted felons." The source says Martha shows off her ankle bracelet at the soirees and jokes at the front door that if she takes a wrong step the alarms will sound.— SUZANNE ROZDEBA

from the Weekly World News comes this shocking heart stopper...and something i would encourage everywhere if only to make the workaday more bearable.

Summer of Truth...Why Not? Sounds Fun

It's easy, it's mostly free and it'll piss off your Republican and don't-want-to-know neighbors. What more could a person ask for in terms of entertainment? Come on, you know you want to...

...damn liberuls won't get off the meat

the liberal media posted June 29, 2005 (July 18, 2005 issue)
Lying Liars & the Presidents Who Employ Them
Eric Alterman
respective media flaps involving Senate Demo­cratic whip Richard Durbin and presidential consigliere Karl Rove invites a kind of admixture of awe and revulsion at the state of American political discourse and the media's inability to make the most fundamental kinds of distinctions to help citizens navigate it.
Durbin's offense, which set off a conservative fire­storm that eventually forced an apology, was to express alarm about an FBI report describing Guantánamo prisoners as "chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water...urinat[ing] or defecat[ing] on themselves...for 18-24 hours or more." Durbin allowed that such behavior struck him as less appropriate to Americans than to "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime." Clearly, Durbin was paying tribute to American ideals and expressing his dismay over their violation. But the mere mention of the words "Nazi" and "gulag" gave conservatives in the media the opportunity to decry an analogy he never made, beat their chickenhawk breasts about "dishonoring the military" and to tar all opponents with the same brush.
As Karl Rove's comments later demonstrated, however, Dur­bin's cave was pointless. Speaking to New York's Conservative Party, Rove all but termed Durbin--and every liberal--a traitor:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to submit a petition. I am not joking. Submitting a petition is precisely what did. It was a petition imploring the powers that be to "use moderation and restraint in responding to the...terrorist attacks against the United States."...Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: We will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: We must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags and the killing fields of Cambodia. Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantánamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot--three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the twentieth century? Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.
Rove's comments were purposeful lies. The petition he describes was written by Eli Pariser before he worked for the organization and was written before the perpetrators of 9/11 had been identified. (It says nothing about "therapy.") Moreover, itself supported military action in Afghanistan. Most significant, polling data demonstrate that 84 percent of self-described liberals, two weeks after the attacks, supported "military action" against the terrorists, and 75 percent supported "going to war with a nation that is harboring those responsible." The Bush Administration, in contrast, proved far more interested in going to war against people who had nothing to do with the attacks; in doing so, it invited Al Qaeda to regroup and bin Laden to run free.
Why Rove felt compelled to launch this particular McCarthyite missive now is not ultimately knowable. Perhaps he is growing desperate, as the President's popularity ratings spiral south, and Americans--by a 49 to 44 percent margin--tell pollsters that George W. Bush, not Saddam Hussein, holds the greatest responsibility for the horrific war in Iraq. But Rove is no dummy. He knows he can say just about anything about anyone and conservative pundits will bark "Amen." His vicious denigration of the patriotism of so many New Yorkers (and American soldiers, I might add, many of whom are liberals) was not so different from the false and malicious charges leveled not merely by Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh but also by allegedly responsible commentators, including Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and Peter Beinart. (It was Beinart, you will recall, who, in his famous "A Fighting Faith" article, introduced the redbaiter's well-worn tactic against of seeking to blame the organization for petitions it did not write and websites it did not control. He also sought to draw an equation between the questioning of the Administration's military strategy and the support of the communist side during the cold war.)
Rove's defenders, including White House press secretary Scott McClellan and New York Governor George Pataki, changed the subject to Durbin rather than offer even meek criticism of the second most powerful man in America (after Dick Cheney). But remember: Durbin paid tribute to America's ideals. Rove not only lied about liberals, he mocked the very concepts of "moderation," "restraint" and "understanding" as un-American. Durbin criticized no one but the torturers; Rove slandered more than 20 percent of Americans who proudly identify themselves as liberals.
And where were the mainstream media in all this? With just a few honorable exceptions they were passing along without prejudice Rove's slander and lies and the deliberate distortions of Durbin's words. Typically, Washington Post media cop Howard Kurtz adopted the White House spin with a report titled "Down­playing Durbin, Jumping on Rove." The smart guys at The Note explained that Democrats were asking for this kind of thing with their general wimpiness. Apparently, it's not a reporter's bus­iness to decide what's true anymore, just who sounds more macho.
There's a lesson for liberals in all this: American politics has become a game with no rules and no referee. Play by the old rules--fairness, honesty, good faith--and face political extinction.

A War Within

Pfc. Jacob Hounshell was classified as a deserter after he refused to return to Fort Hood. The Iraq war veteran has contemplated suicide and is losing his hair in spots.
A war within
A GI's story illustrates the challenges the military faces in delivering mental health services to troubled soldiersBy Chris VaughnStar-Telegram Staff Writer

BROWNWOOD - Pfc. Jacob Hounshell wrote his goodbye on notebook paper, wrapped it around a photo of himself in uniform, left it on his bed and climbed into his pickup.
He was supposed to be heading back to Fort Hood. But he had no plans to make it that far. He'd already figured out what he would do -- drive as fast as he could into an oncoming 18-wheeler. Less than three months after returning from a 14-month hitch in Iraq, Hounshell had come undone.
He could barely remember the excitement he carried to Iraq in early 2004. He was an excellent soldier, by most accounts, even though he was only 18 when he left. On one memorable night, his quick thinking helped his platoon defeat a group of insurgents in Baghdad.
Today, the same soldier, now 20, is wanted for desertion, a particularly loathsome act during wartime and one that could bring a prison sentence.
Hounshell's problems began after he returned to Texas in late February. He couldn't sleep, often wandering through Killeen's all-night Wal-Mart. He had panic attacks and sometimes exploded in anger at the slightest change in plans. He played chicken with other drivers on Central Texas highways.
When he asked the Army for help, he said, he was greeted mostly with indifference.
"I told them numerous times, 'I'm having problems here. I'm seeing ... [things] at night.' They didn't take it seriously," he said. "They did the minimum thing they had to do."
Finally, in May, at the end of an emergency leave, he vowed never to go back to Fort Hood.
It was May 15 when he wrote the suicide note. His mother found it before he could leave the driveway. She jumped in the pickup and wouldn't let him leave.
His family is desperate to get him help, but they have no idea where to turn.
"We're not trying to hurt our soldiers overseas, and we didn't want this fight with the Army," said his mother, Bobbie Hounshell. "But my son had problems when he came home, and all he was told was, 'Drive on.' "
An Army spokesman said Hounshell got help and should have taken the initiative if he needed more. His commander took his situation seriously enough to begin the process of discharging him early, Maj. Scott Bleichwehl said.
"The bottom line is, he got the counseling," said Bleichwehl, spokesman for the 1st Cavalry Division, to which Hounshell was assigned. "He had the attention of the command. He had access to all the services and counseling that all soldiers do.
"The vast majority of our soldiers make the right decisions, and they don't go AWOL."
Whatever happened to Pfc. Hounshell, his story illustrates a challenge facing the U.S. military amid the first massive, extended deployment of troops in a war zone since Vietnam.
Thousands of soldiers are returning home mentally and emotionally spent, some of them with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Pentagon is making unprecedented efforts to help them deal with the trauma, including sending counselors to the battlefield. But the military's culture keeps many troops from seeking help, fearful of being labeled weak or damaging their careers.
"Some commands are sensitive to the fact that not everybody is Superman," said Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center in Silver Spring, Md., and a retired Army Ranger. "But those soldiers that do need help should not be belittled. They should not feel as if the military does not support them.
"Because none of us should forget that the soldier supported the nation."
Soldiers' symptoms
American troops in Iraq are dealing with an unpredictable and unseen enemy, close-up urban fighting, complicated rules of engagement and yearlong deployments. The conditions have taken a toll on many soldiers and Marines on a scale not seen since the late 1960s.
One in six soldiers and Marines reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression or anxiety after deployment in Iraq, according to researchers at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine last summer.
Things might be worse now, some experts said.
Walter Reed conducted its survey in 2003, well before the insurgency escalated and before the deadly Sadr City uprising and the bloody attack on Fallujah in 2004.
The Army is trying new approaches in the field of mental health, including sending professionals to Iraq for on-scene counseling and quizzing every soldier about potential problems when they come home -- part of a process known as reintegration training.
But several advocates for soldiers said getting help still requires a sympathetic chain of command, which is not always present in the Army's warrior culture.
A majority of soldiers who reported mental health problems in the Walter Reed study said they had no intention of seeking help because they would be viewed as weak, their commanders would blame them or their leaders would treat them differently.
Martha Rudd, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said the Army's leaders are working to lessen the fear of stigma.
"Command influence is the most powerful tool," she said. "When a commander tells his staff that something is important to him, they will pay attention to it. That's the way the Army works."
Deploying to Iraq
Hounshell enlisted in June 2003, eager to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who fought in World War II. He selected the infantry, knowing that he would go straight to Iraq.
The thought of war excited him. He was, after all, a kid from a sleepy farming community north of Brownwood. His town, May, had one blinking traffic light.
Hounshell flew out of Fort Hood on Jan. 9, 2004, with a cast on his right foot. He had broken his ankle in a fight during Christmas break and needed crutches to climb the stairs to the plane.
He trained for almost a month in Kuwait until his unit -- D Troop, 9th Cavalry Regiment -- prepared to move into Iraq at the beginning of February. It took them three days to drive to Baghdad, escorting a group of non-combat Army units.
Hounshell drove a Humvee the entire trip, braking with his left foot because of the cast on his right.
In Baghdad, Hounshell monitored the radios and did desk jobs in the headquarters platoon until his cast came off in late March.
His commanders told him he'd be going to 1st Platoon and driving for a highly experienced combat veteran and sniper, Sgt. Daniel Osborne.
"Me and him got along great," he said. "We were both from Texas. He was older, probably in his late 20s, and he knew a lot. He'd been on, like, seven combat deployments. He was an ex-Marine. I didn't have to watch what I said with him. I trusted him."
Their newfound friendship was forged April 8.
Five trucks and 18 soldiers were patrolling an area north of Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, "an area in constant combat between Coalition and anti-Iraqi Forces," according to the Army's report of the incident.
At 9:15 p.m., the lead truck spotted 20 insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles preparing a roadside bomb. The platoon attacked. Osborne did not have a night-vision scope on his rifle and couldn't see.
Hounshell gathered all of the flares from the platoon and shot them into the air with his grenade launcher, a tactic that no one had taught him.
Osborne, suddenly able to see, killed six insurgents, and the platoon captured numerous weapons as well as bomb-making material.
"Hounshell was directly responsible for the platoon's victory," read the citation for an Army Commendation, signed by his company commander.
His picture appeared in Stars and Stripes after he and another soldier stopped a car carrying makeshift bombs, and his father proudly recounted his son's wartime exploits in the Brownwood Bulletin newspaper.
Louis Vivian was a sergeant in D Troop during the Iraqi deployment and remembers Hounshell favorably.
"I thought he was a good soldier," Vivian said. "He followed orders."
On his 19th birthday, Hounshell received a four-day pass to relax in the "Green Zone" of Baghdad, where he ate a whipped cream pie and called his mother during a mortar attack.
"I never had any problems over there," he said.
Still, it was a war zone, and 2004 was a tough year for the 1st Cav and its units.
Hounshell rolled down "IED alley" virtually every day, waiting to see which coalition vehicle would be the target of a roadside bomb, or "improvised explosive device," as the Army calls them. He picked up the rotting bodies of Iraqis killed for collaborating with the Americans.
He stood guard at roadblocks, wondering whether the next car might carry a suicide bomber or if he might get in trouble for shooting an innocent civilian who made a threatening gesture.
He killed people, too. He keeps a photograph of his first in the back of his scrapbook.
Seeking help
Once back home, in late February, he couldn't sleep or eat at first. Then, during his scheduled leave in March, he began jumping at loud noises. He screamed at his family for inexplicable reasons and had panic attacks in crowds.
"His 30-day leave here was a nightmare," his mother said.
In early April, he was hospitalized in Brownwood for a bacterial infection in his intestines, his family said.
About a week later, his mother met with D Troop's first sergeant, William C. Davis. Her son was under tremendous stress, she told Davis, struggling to adjust after Iraq and weighed down by a series of medical crises in his family.
The meeting, as she described it, did not go well. Davis, she said, was curt and seemed disinterested. Frustrated, she cursed at him and went with her son to a psychiatrist on post, she said.
Hounshell said he answered a series of questions on a computer and was told that he had three disorders, including paranoid schizophrenia. The doctor, he said, told him she would forward her recommendations to his company commander, Capt. William O. Hickok.
"I never saw any paperwork, though," he said. "She told me she couldn't let me see it."
Shortly after, he went to see an Army chaplain, at the suggestion of his commander.
"He told me the same crap -- you're OK. It'll pass. There's nothing wrong. If you need someone to talk to, call this hot line," Hounshell said. "It was the same crap they give you at reintegration training."
At the same time, family pressures were bearing down on Hounshell.
His older brother's first child was stillborn, and he didn't get permission to attend the funeral. His father had gallbladder surgery. His mother had to quit her job at a dry cleaners to handle the family's medical problems.
His commanders, he said, were unsympathetic.
"The Army says they support families," Hounshell said. "It's true, if you're married. They'll bend over backward to support a soldier who's married. But if your family is your parents, your family don't matter."
The Army declined to make Davis or Hickok available for an interview. Hickok responded generally to questions through Bleichwehl, the division's public affairs officer.
Bleichwehl said he would not engage in a "he said, she said" regarding Hounshell's account. But he said Hounshell's commanders communicated often with him and tried to help, including granting the emergency leave in early May.
"He's had access to all the same post-deployment training and services that all soldiers do," Bleichwehl said. "If he wasn't getting it, there are recourses other than going AWOL.
"You could call the IG [inspector general]. You could call the 800 numbers. You could go to the walk-in clinic. It's ludicrous to say that they prevented him from doing any of it."
Hounshell was also told that he was "being processed for separation," a non-punitive method of granting soldiers an early release from their enlistment, Bleichwehl said.
It sometimes happens, officials said, when a soldier is no longer fit for duty. They are told to seek care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Jaime Cavazos, a spokesman for the Army Medical Command in San Antonio.
"It's not a case of the military wanting to get rid of the individual," he said. "If the Army has done what it can, at some point the decision is made to refer them to the VA. ... We're interested in caring for soldiers. We wouldn't have all these programs in place if we didn't."
But Robinson, of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said that, too often, busy top sergeants and commanders in front-line combat units expect soldiers "to buck up and move on." Junior enlisted troops are in no position to say otherwise, he said.
"What the Army has to recognize -- and I was part of the Army -- [is] that we have this mentality that 'if I can't use you, you're not worth anything to me,' " Robinson said. "But you want these guys to recover. You want to help them recover. There is treatment and care to get these guys back on their feet."
Going AWOL
Hounshell went AWOL a few weeks before he probably would have been discharged.
After he contemplated suicide, his parents sought help at a hospital in San Angelo but said they were told that the hospital couldn't admit an AWOL service member unless given approval by the soldier's commander.
A hospital spokeswoman said last week that she was unaware of such a policy.
It's unclear what will happen now.
"I want my son back," Bobbie Hounshell said. "I'm a strong woman, but this is very hard. He deserves a normal life."
Hounshell mostly spends his days tinkering with electronics and doing odd jobs for petty cash. He began using methamphetamine, he said, because it's the only thing that helps him control his anxiety.
His family is in financial difficulty. Jacob Hounshell had been the primary wage earner, his parents said, and his father, Larry, is disabled and doesn't work.
His military health benefits and pay ceased when he went AWOL, so he has yet to see a mental health professional or drug treatment counselor. He probably ruined his chances of receiving care from the VA, which does not treat veterans who have been dishonorably discharged.
He knows there will eventually be other consequences.
"What happens to me, I don't care," he said. "But I want parents to know that the Army is not helping their kids the way they're supposed to. You're a piece of equipment to the Army. If you're broke, they throw you away."
Casualties of war
Conditions in Iraq -- including close-in urban warfare, harassment from a sometimes-invisible enemy and longer tours of duty -- have created tremendous stress for U.S. troops on the battlefield, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs and a study by Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"Taken together, these unique features of the war in Iraq create the conditions whereby stress hormones are released excessively, with unknown, but likely significant, consequences regarding health maintenance, restoration and coping capacity," said Brett T. Litz, author of a VA report.
Here are some facts about the toll on today's military:
• Almost 20 percent of soldiers and 17 percent of Marines qualified as having "moderate or severe" mental health problems when surveyed in late 2003 after returning from Iraq.
• Of those, 65 percent said they would not seek help because they would be seen as weak, and 51 percent said their leaders would blame them for the problem. "Rather than focusing on their medical needs, they must weigh the risk of self-reporting mental health concerns and the possible career stigma attached to it. The military is aware of service members' fears of career stigma, but to date has not broken down this crucial barrier to care," wrote Steve Robinson of the National Gulf War Resource Center in a report titled Hidden Toll of the War in Iraq.
• One of the most common illnesses is post-traumatic stress disorder, which results from exposure to an extreme stress involving threat of death or serious injury. The trauma, although most often associated with combat, can also happen after rapes or other violent crimes.
• Symptoms of PTSD include sleeplessness, extreme anxiety or hyperalertness, frightening dreams, depression, social withdrawal and outbursts of anger.
• Studies suggest that most people who experience even horrifying combat adjust, adapt and do well in life. But others, particularly if the PTSD is untreated, are more likely to be unemployed, have lower incomes, show poor problem-solving capabilities, express violent tendencies and use more government and medical services in their lives, a VA study said.
• Through April 2005, the Army had evacuated 1,118 soldiers from Iraq for psychiatric reasons, mostly depression, PTSD and suicidal thoughts. That represented 6 percent of the total medical evacuations. The Army prefers to treat and counsel soldiers in Iraq, as close to their units as possible.
• The Department of Veterans Affairs has treated and/or counseled 6,400 men and women for PTSD who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and are no longer in the military.
• The Army's suicide rate fell from 12.8 per 100,000 in 2003 to 11 in 2004. So far this year, the rate is 6.7. The Marine Corps' rate rose from 13.8 in 2003 to 16.6 in 2004. So far this year, the rate is 14.7.
• Forty soldiers and nine Marines have committed suicide in Iraq since March 2003. At least 20 soldiers and 23 Marines have committed suicide after returning from Iraq.
• Most of those troops commit suicide at their home installations, and the majority use firearms. The largest number of suicides were in two age categories -- 21 to 25 and 36 to 40.
• Desertions -- defined as being absent without leave for longer than 30 days -- have decreased significantly in recent years. In 2001, 4,597 soldiers deserted. In 2003, 3,680 deserted. In 2004, the number had dropped to 2,436.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Hell of a Book Report

Right-Wing Sucker Punch

By Richard CohenPostTuesday, June 28, 2005; A15

Edward Klein has written one hell of an exposé. His new book on Hillary Clinton, "The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President," insinuates epic mendacities, sapphic sex, fiscal improprieties and marital rape. All of that Klein documents either vaguely or not at all and is so beyond belief and good taste that the very fact his book is selling like proverbial hotcakes starkly exposes the anti-Clinton people as the village idiots of our time. It takes one to buy this book.
I did anyway. But I did so out of solemn duty and because I wanted to see if this book could possibly be as bad as its reviews -- not a single good one that I know of. The review in The Post, for instance, called it "a bad college term paper." And while that might be expected from the supposedly hyper-liberal Post, the same verdict was reached by the Economist, the vaguely right-of-center British publication. It began its review by letting its readers know just what it thought of Hillary Clinton: "There are lots of reasons to distrust or even dislike Mrs. Clinton." Then, having cleared its throat in such a fashion, it dismisses the tome and says that Klein "should be ashamed of himself."
The reviews are convincing. Klein has gone so far over the top that I, an acquaintance of lo these many years, am astonished. He is, after all, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and, by credential, a member of the august establishment press. He was also an editor at Newsweek, which is owned by the aforementioned Washington Post, so the magazine is next door to Pravda in the fantasy neighborhood where good right-wingers live. All this leads me to conclude -- Ed, you sly devil, you -- that Klein set out to expose the right wing for the gullible nincompoops they are. He has succeeded, and vast riches await him.
His book is flying off the shelves -- more than 350,000 shipped. The other day it was No. 4 on Amazon's bestseller list and was sold out at my sedate neighborhood bookstore when I checked. It has become a Rorschach of conservative madness -- proof that they will buy anything, no matter how badly done, that attacks the Clintons or liberalism. Klein's book is just the most recent example. He looked at conservatives the way P.T. Barnum looked over his audience: "There's a sucker born every minute," Barnum said. Ed is nodding all the way to the bank.
This calculating contempt for the IQ of right-wingers is not limited to opportunistic authors, of course. Last week it was demonstrated by Karl Rove, of all people. Speaking to the New York State Conservative Party, the president's most important adviser had this to say: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Actually, a Los Angeles Times poll taken in November 2001 showed Bush with an approval rating approaching 90 percent and Democrats almost as supportive as Republicans for going into Afghanistan and pounding the Taliban.
So Rove's crack is simply not true. I attribute it, possibly, to his deep, subconscious shame over never having served in the military or, more likely, a cynical appreciation that his audience would rather hate than think. So he patronized them, knowing that they would not for a moment connect such simplistic thinking to the quagmire of Iraq, the debacle of Social Security reform or the dash back to Washington from Texas so that George W. Bush could sign a bill attempting to keep the sadly brain-dead Terri Schiavo alive. The real reason such conservatives frequently wear Gucci loafers is that they cannot tie their own shoes.
If I were a right-winger, I would be offended by both Klein and Rove. But I am not a conservative, and so I can only wonder at their gullibility. Right-wingers are the useful idiots of our times and while they have their occasional left-wing counterparts, the lefties will not buy essentially the same book over and over again -- if only because they lack the funds. Maybe Klein has taken this as far as it will go. I hope not. My book on Hillary's romp with Paris Hilton will be out soon. It's hot


Would this constitute a crime? I don't know. But if our government is indeed doing this it would (at the least) raise even more serious questions about its truth-telling abilities and its "commitment" to a transparent administration. Not to mention its ability to shut off the leaks. This is one administration that has shown itself to be completely incompetent in the area of subservient unity. And you must remember that one of the first things they did after 9/11 was close ranks and begin dismissing anyone who even privately disagreed with an order. They must be pissing off a lot of career employees.

Charcoal, Anyone?

whenever there's a selloff of our public utilities, you can bet that politicians and the government are behind it to enrich their friends. just like they tried with the estate tax, social security, big tobacco fines that would have gone toward smoking cessation programs, the No Child Left Behind faith based groups that got the lion's share of the funding. now, both the House and the Senate are poised to pass an amendment that will open the doors to companies like Enron, Halliburton and other giant conglomerates so they can take over ownership of our electricity, water, gas. remember the "crisis" we had in California with electricity not so long ago in which a certain company shut down transfer stations for no reason, shuttled power to other states and then sold it back to us at obscene rates? with the passage of this amendment they won't have to. just as the telephone companies have won a huge victory by not having to share their broadband lines with the smaller competition (thereby ensuring competition, which in turn creates fair pricing), the power and gas moguls will ensure a new generation of robber barons.

From Rick "Man On Dog" Santorum

Fishers of Men
7/12/2002 - 3:30 PM PST

Fishers of Men By the Honorable Senator Rick Santorum

Like most American Catholics, I have followed the recent sex scandals in the Church with profound sympathy for victims, revulsion over priests who prey on minors and frustration at the absence of hierarchical leadership. Unlike most, I have been visited by the gift of hope; for I see in this fall an opportunity for ecclesial rebirth and a new evangelization of America. This "new evangelization," advocated strenuously by Pope John Paul II, has the potential for restoring confidence in the priesthood while empowering all American Catholics. The most obvious change must occur within American seminaries, many of which demonstrate the same brand of cultural liberalism plaguing our secular universities. My hope was rekindled last week as our American Cardinals proposed from Rome an "apostolic visitation" of seminaries emphasizing "the need for fidelity to the Church's teaching, especially in the area of morality." It is an arduous task. However, the Pope made it clear last week that he expects the strong appeal of the Cardinals to be followed by decisive Episcopal action. It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm. The cultural change needed cannot end with our seminaries. Most of the American Cardinals, while strong defenders of the faith , are from a different era with only a few responding to the new demands our decaying culture has place upon them. With God's grace, a new hierarchy must emerge that will be both faithful in thought and courageous in confronting all infidelity within the Church. Such Church leaders have a great example in Pope John Paul II's battle with communism's attempt to destroy the Church and human dignity. A new hierarchy must similarly fight against an array of "isms"-moral relativism, cultural liberalism-inside and outside of the Church. Most importantly, I hope this crisis in the clergy will remind the laity of the call of Vatican II, a call the Pope has re-echoed throughout his incredible papacy. This is not just the hierarchy's church; it belongs to all the baptized. Pope John Paul II reminds us time and again of Luke's Gospel: "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." We are all called to be "fishers of men." Both clergy and laity have mutually supportive and indispensable roles in the "new evangelization" through administration of the sacraments and proclamation of the Gospel and all Church teachings. Even now we witness this "new evangelization" through many ecclesial lay movements such as Opus Dei, the Neocatechumenate, Focolare, Regnum Christi, Communion and Liberation. The laity across America is also demanding faithful Catholic schools and colleges. The key to success, as the Pope stated in his 1999 exhortation, The Church in America, is to be "formed in the truths and values of the Church's social teaching and in the basic notions of a theology of the laity." A renewed, united effort of clergy and laity will transform the Church. That this does not already occur belies the greatest systemic failure of the Church in America where so many cradle Catholics have left the Church or go "unchurched" because of exposure to uninspired, watered down versions of our faith by those with deficient seminary training. In light of recent events, the laity must guide them back. We as the Church, the people of God, cannot and should not leave the mission of the Church to the clergy alone, nor should our role be limited to overseeing priestly training and conduct. The laity must assist the whole Church in America reclaim our nominally Catholic colleges, schools, hospitals and social welfare agencies for the sake of our souls. The Pope reminds us that Catholic educational institutions make possible "a wide-ranging evangelizing effort as long as there is a clear will to impart truly Christian education. Many Catholic social service agencies, while serving the human needs, have been co-opted by a secular culture. The Pope calls them also to "faithfully reflect the attitude of Jesus who came to proclaim good news to the poor." As a Catholic U.S. Senator, I am proud to see the Church, often alone, take one courageous stand after another on the great moral issues of the day: abortion, cloning, third world debt relief, AIDS and the breakdown of the family to name a few. The Catholic Church remains true to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the dictates of the natural law. Through 2000 years, the Church, built upon rock, has survived every arrow sinful man has shot at her from within and without. Another arrow has been loosed from within, piercing the Body of Christ. The time is now for the laity to come to her aid. We must heed the call of Christ through his Vicar on earth: Climb into Peter's boat and go into the deep!
Senate Republican DC, USSenator Rick Santorum - Senator, 202-224-9068

Monday, June 27, 2005

12 More Years! 12 More Years! 12 More Years!

The Washington POst has chimed in with its two cents about the "war". Although the writer's estimate of "collateral dead" might just be a bit of a misunderestimation.

Oil execs from all over will be meeting in Britain, possibly to carve out an early thanksgiving Iraqi turkey:

So, if the Alaskans don't want to deal with climate change and global warming, which is contributing to massive changes for the worse in their eco-system, but putting more rain and cooler temperatures in Central California...should I just keep my mouth shut and enjoy these nicer-than-normal summer months?

I disagree that Donald Rumsfeld is the brains behind the Iraq war as stated in this article, though having his name and the words "brain" and "behind" so close together in a sentence do "trend" well;

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Get Off The Meat And Win A Masturband

(from Rolling Stone magazine, current issue)

The Young & the Sexless
A new generation of young men and women is embracing celibate life By JEFF SHARLETWhat if the true face of the Christian right in America is not that of Dr. James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson; not that of an aging, comb-over preacher orange with pancake makeup, smiling orca rows of ungodly white teeth on The O'Reilly Factor or Hardball? Nor that of spittle-flecked Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, roaring that God hates fags? What if the true face of the Christian right is, instead, that of a twenty-four-year-old religious-studies graduate student at New York University?
Matt Dunbar is a handsome young man, though his face is still ruddy with acne. He has rounded cheeks, a soul patch beneath his lips and soft eyes that hold yours like he trusts you. He's not a prude. He will say the word "fuck," but he will never, not even in the wedding bed he hopes God has prepared for his future, embody it as a verb. He will make Christian love. What most of us call sex he calls communion, and he believes it can happen only within marriage.
Chastity is a new organizing principle of the Christian right, built on the notion that virgins are among God's last loyal defenders, knights and ladies of a forgotten kingdom. Sex outside of marriage is, in the words of D. James Kennedy, pastor of the influential Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida, "an uprising against God." But if sex is the perfect enemy of the blessed lifestyle, it is also the Holy Grail for those who wait: "A symphony of the soul for married couples," according to John Hagee, author of What Every Man Wants in a Woman.
"Abstinence," says Dunbar, "is countercultural," a kind of rebellion, he says, against materialism, consumerism and "the idea that anything can be bought and sold." It is a spiritual war against the world, against "sensuality," according to one virginity manual popular with men like Dunbar. This elevation of virginity -- especially for men -- as a way of understanding yourself and your place in the world is new. It's also very old. First-century Christians took the idea so seriously that many left their wives for "house monasteries," threatening the very structure of the family. The early church responded by institutionalizing virginity through a priestly caste set apart from the world, a condition that continues to this day within Roman Catholicism. Now, though, the Protestants of the Christian right are reclaiming that two-tiered system, only they're projecting it onto individual lives, making every young man and woman part of an elite virgin corps.
"The world hasn't yet seen what God can do with an army of young men free of sexual fevers," write the authors of Every Young Man's Battle, one volume in a hugely popular series of "purity" manuals. "You can remain pure so that you might qualify for such an army."
It's a never-ending war, and not one that can be fought alone. Which is why virgins like Dunbar tend to travel in packs, to church and to Bible studies but also to parties and even to bars. Dunbar and his friends help one another stay "pure," which they consider "authentic." He lives with three close friends in a warehouse apartment in Williamsburg, a Brooklyn hipster neighborhood of artists and slackers. Two of his roommates are virgins; the other, a Mormon named Edd Lewis, is a "recycled virgin." He's had sex but won't again until he's married.
All four are from Visalia, California, a small farming city far from the coast. Dunbar's best friend in the group is Robin Power, whom he met in the ninth grade. Power's whole family looked like the ideal of Christian authenticity Dunbar had begun desiring for himself since his parents divorced when he was seven. Dunbar grew up in an Episcopal church and entered evangelicalism only after the separation; Power's family had always been zealous for God. Power's dad recorded Christian rock albums and the whole family jammed together, not like the Partridges but like Christian Ramones. Power played around town in Visalia's punk scene; Dunbar practiced the drums at home and dreamed of joining one of Power's bands.
Then, when Dunbar was fifteen, he became "convicted of secular music," which means he decided it was causing him to be sinful. He had a lot of friends who were destroying their collections, hammering their CDs or burning them or snapping each in two, but Dunbar concluded that it wasn't the music itself that was wrong, it was his own shallow response. He couldn't distinguish between the mood of the music and the meaning of the lyrics. Rage Against the Machine were all right, because they were angry and their music told you so. Sublime, with their punk-ska beat married to brooding lyrics about heroin and whores, were too advanced for him. He tossed his copy and committed himself to a painful period of Christian music. Later, he bought another copy.
When I first meet Power, he's working a gutter-punk look, a thick, dark beard and layers of ratty hoodies and buttons advertising deeply obscure bands. Faith, to him, is an ascetic discipline, its purity polished by constant self-criticism. "I can get aroused looking at a stoplight," he says, his giant eyes leaving mine and following a woman down Broadway. They snap back to me and he says, "Anything can be inappropriate. If I look at some woman and undress her with my eyes, that's just as bad as going down on her."
After church one day, Dunbar, Power and I sit on a bench and lean back in the sun and watch Sunday morning stroll by. "Cleavage everywhere," notes Dunbar, not disapprovingly. Power holds up his right hand. Wrapped around his wrist, in a figure eight, is a black plastic bracelet. "This," he says, "is a 'masturband.' " One of their friends at college -- Pepperdine University -- came up with the idea. As long as you stay pure -- resist jerking off -- you can wear your masturband. Give in, and off it goes, a scarlet letter in reverse. No masturband? No one wants to shake your hand. "It started with just four of us," says Dunbar. "Then there were, like, twenty guys wearing them. And girls too. The more people that wore them, the more people knew, the more reason you had to refrain." Dunbar even told his mother. He lasted the longest. "Eight and a half months," he says. I notice he's not wearing one now. He's not embarrassed. Sexuality, he believes, is not a private matter.
Dunbar has started dating, a gorgeous blond actress named Anna Larson - also a virgin -- and Power is engaged to a makeup artist at UCLA. She's a virgin, too. Dunbar and Larson believe in kissing, but he'll always tell Power and his other housemates if he feels tempted to push it further. Power and his fiancee sometimes get hot talking on the telephone, but afterward Power likewise confesses to Dunbar or another Christian brother. On Sundays they attend services at the Journey, a floating evangelical church. The congregation is around seventy-five percent single, most of them under thirty. Not having sex means talking about it constantly; the topic of sex and why to wait for it comes up in nearly every sermon, under titles such as "Desperate Sex Lives," "Sex and the City" and "What a Girl Wants."
One spring Sunday, the church meets in a theater on Upper Broadway. (It's since moved to a larger venue. Only three years old, the congregation is growing so fast it doesn't want to commit to real estate.) The lobby is packed and loud right up to the beginning of the service, with well-scrubbed men and women greeting one another with chaste sideways hugs. Body to body, chest to chest, says Power, is just too enticing.
Church takes place on a stage set for a play. Half of every service features the Journey band, a competent ensemble that sets hymns to grunge and emo arrangements. During my visit, I can't take my eyes off the three female backup singers, especially a redhead on the right, swinging her hips in loose cargo pants that are nonetheless tight in the ass. She's braless and grooving, way too sexy for church, shooting a single finger over her head -- the "One Way" Jesus sign Billy Graham embraced more than thirty years ago.
Since then, the Christian right has steadily reinvented itself by co-opting the language of the sexual revolution. Pastor Nelson Searcy, a roly-poly thirty-three-year-old Jimmy Buffett fan who moved from California, "called" by God as a pastor to New York, preaches not in a suit or a collar but in a hipster's bowling shirt, and he references his Bible as often as he shows trailer clips from contemporary movies like The Stepford Wives and The Notebook. But the message remains the same: a laundry list of fundamentalist prohibitions rephrased in PowerPoint alliteration. The three proper passions -- God's presence, God's people and God's plan - combined with purity equals power. Power is the objective, the strength to stay "pure" in a world full of sexed-up heathens.
A few days earlier, Dunbar says, he'd gone to a bar with "secular friends." They all got a little buzzed -- the Bible is big on wine, he points out -- and began talking about sex. "Dunbar," volunteered one of the secular guys, "is a virgin." The guy was laughing. "By choice," the guy added.
Which was a huge mistake, notes Dunbar. All female eyes left the man who wanted their attention and rotated Dunbar's way. Four girls surrounded him, demanding to know everything. Was he embarrassed? ("I'd only be embarrassed if I was trying to get some.") Is oral OK? Anal? Hand jobs? (He doesn't like to be "legalistic," caught up in rules, and he has friends who had enjoyed anal sex and still call themselves virgins, but - no.) Has he always been a virgin? ("Uh, yeah. That's what 'virgin' means.") Why? (Jesus, romance, it all blends together.)
One of Dunbar's roommates once found himself in a similar situation, Dunbar tells me. He'd had a harder time deflecting the attention, until one woman had moved in for the kill. "Sex is something I just do," she'd said, and then took a chip off a plate of nachos. "Like eating." If she'd had a chance of bagging Dunbar's virgin comrade, she'd lost it there. "The whole sex/ nacho thing?" Dunbar tells me. "It just doesn't make sense to a virgin."
Food, in fact, is the opposite of sex among most Christian virgins. Food, after all, belongs to the material world. Sex, on the other hand, is supernatural. They read the biblical Song of Solomon -- lovers rhapsodizing over each other, he obsessed with her breasts like "two fawns" and her "rounded thighs like jewels"; she with his legs like "alabaster columns" and his lips like lilies, "dripping sweet-smelling myrrh" -- not as erotica but as a metaphor for the love between man and God. Sex that is just two bodies in motion strikes them as empty, even if love is involved. Every encounter must be a kind of threesome: man, wife and the Lord. Without that, it's just fucking.
Suckers for romance," leslee Unruh, the founder of Abstinence Clearinghouse, describes men like Dunbar and Power. She means that as praise, because she considers virgins revolutionaries. "We want authenticity," she says. "We want what's real." Unruh launched Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1997. She had been a self-declared "chastity" educator since the early Eighties, but it wasn't until the Clinton years that the Christian right fully discovered sex as a weapon in the culture wars, and Unruh began working with conservative politicians.
Abstinence Clearinghouse acts as a nexus for activists and as their voice in Washington, claiming as "our friends" a who's who of the GOP's hard-right edge, Karl Rove, Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Sam Brownback and a slew of officials with unrecognizable names and a great deal of money to work with, abstinence crusaders in the departments of Health and Human Services and of Education. Abstinence Clearinghouse brings these people together with activists at conferences, "purity balls" and abstinence teas. It sponsors "Faces of Abstinence" around the country, good-looking young men and women who work the Christian lecture circuit spreading the no-sex gospel.
The Clearinghouse has been working with the federal Centers for Disease Control, in part to establish a "gold standard" for abstinence-only sex-education programs in public schools. Meanwhile, this year the Bush administration is backing the movement with $167 million in public funds. By statute, these programs are secular, but Unruh considers herself broad-minded enough to work within those guidelines. If religion is to be kept out of the schools, she says, "shame and conscience" are important tools in its place. But romance, more than anything else, guides her understanding of sexuality. This is what she finds romantic: a father who gives his teenage daughter a "purity" ring, which will be returned on her wedding day and handed to his daughter's new husband, her virginity passed from man to man like a baton.
Therein lies the paradox of the virginity movement. It is at once an attempt to transcend cultural influences through the timelessness of Scripture and a painfully specific response to the sexual revolution. The "women's lib" movement, Dunbar believes, preached a message of self-satisfaction: "Do what you want." It is, in his view and that of many in the virginity movement, a product of the same cultural mindset that produced America's booming porn industry. Both are based on instant gratification: women obsessed with winning the privileges of men rather than learning to enjoy the pleasures of Christian submission, men demanding the fast-food sexuality of explicit imagery.
But it's not just feminism that's to blame. It's also what the Christian right sees as an effeminized church. "Christianity, as it currently exists, has done some terrible things to men," writes John Eldredge, the author of a best-selling manhood guide called Wild at Heart. He thinks that church life in America has pacified Christian men and made them weak. Women who are frustrated with their girlie-man husbands and boyfriends seize power, and the men retreat to the safe haven of porn instead of whipping the ladies back into line. What women really want, he says, "is to be fought for." And men, he claims, are "hard-wired" by God for battle; Jesus wants them to be warriors in the vein of Braveheart and Gladiator.
Wild at Heart and Eldredge's other best sellers, The Journey of Desire and The Sacred Romance (as well as "field manual" workbooks that can be purchased separately), address sexual "purity" as part of the fabric of Christian manliness. The most important of these books is Every Man's Battle, which, in the past five years, has become a powerful brand name unto itself, with dozens of Every Man spinoff titles: Every Young Man's Battle, Every Woman's Battle, Preparing Your Son for Every Man's Battle and on and on. There's also an Every Young Man's Battle movie filmed on actual battlefields from history and featuring an interview with former NFL player William White and a discussion between Christian-right leader Dr. James Dobson and serial killer Ted Bundy.
The Every Man premise is that men are sexual beasts, so sinful by nature that, without God in their lives, they don't stand a chance of resisting temptation in the form of premarital sex, masturbation and straying eyes. I first heard about the Every Man books from a volunteer at the Journey, a twenty-five-year-old man who said he'd slept with forty women before he re-virgined with the help of the series.
"Your goal is sexual purity," write Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. "You are sexually pure when no sexual gratification comes from anyone or anything but your wife." To achieve this, they argue, men must go to a kind of war. Citing Dobson, they note the "fact" that men experience a buildup of sperm demanding "release" approximately every seventy-two hours. For single men, wet dreams, if purged of sexual imagery, can act as "God's natural release valve." (Arterburn and Stoeker believe you can actually train yourself to remove the lust from such dreams.) "Your life is under a withering barrage of machine-gun sexuality that rakes the landscape mercilessly," they report. They encourage making lists of "areas of weakness." They seem particularly concerned with shorts: "nubile sweat-soaked girls in tight nylon shorts"; "female joggers in tight nylon shorts"; "young mothers in shorts, leaning over to pull children out of car seats." To avoid these temptations, men must train themselves to "bounce" their eyes off female curves. They recommend memorizing the locations of sexy billboards so that you can look away and switching your TV to ESPN or Fox News if a tempting commercial comes on the screen. And there's always Scripture. The authors hold up the books of Joshua and Ezekiel as armor against non-Christian women. "Mixture," they write, "can destroy a people."
The books' implicit disdain for non-Christian women - in Every Young Man's Battle, one name for a sexually active unmarried woman is "Betty Jo 'B.J.' Blowers" -- is matched by their reverence for the virtue of Christian womanhood. There are books that address the temptations faced by Christian women, but the Every Man series more often presents the decadence of the world as a result of men's failure to be guardians and servants of female purity.
Every Man operates a hot line, 800-NEW-LIFE, for men who've "threatened" their relationships through their use of pornography. When I called to confess that reading about tight nylon shorts in Every Young Man's Battle had aroused me, a professional masturbation counselor named Jason told me that pornography is "probably the number-one cause of divorce." Then he suggested I sign up for a five-day, $1,800 Every Man's Battle workshop (held monthly in hotels around the country) in which I would take classes on shame, "false intimacy" and "temptation cycles" and work with other men in small groups toward "recovery."
They also offer a two-day "outpatient program" for women, Every Heart Restored, to help wives deal with their husbands' depravity. The message there is that women are inherently more pure than men and thus simpler, and yet their sexuality is complicated and subtle. Husband and wife must play carefully scripted roles. "True manhood," promises one Christian manhood guide, gets "polished by the hand of God." True womanhood, meanwhile, requires the servanthood of a man devoted to his wife's pleasure, a dedication virgins believe will be diluted by men's premarital adventures. "Robin read a statistic," Dunbar tells me on the phone one day, "that men who have sex before marriage are something like 600 percent more likely to experience a drop-off of sexual passion once they are married." If you accept that number, the incentive for premarital chastity is stunning: a post-wedding life of sex that's 600 percent more awesome.
One night, Dunbar and Power show me a video of a party they hosted at their Williamsburg apartment. They and their two roommates were the entertainment, playing Eighties covers for a packed house. Since the last time I've seen him, Power has shaved his beard and taken to wearing eyeliner for no particular reason. In the video, he wore snakeskin tights and played a red guitar; Dunbar was a retro vision in white pants, white muscle shirt and a red, white and blue headband. They sang "Like a Virgin" and "I Want Candy." Power wailed "Roxanne," Dunbar closed his eyes and moaned "Tainted Love."
"You're so hot!" screamed a girl in the crowd.
After the video, we head out to a bar to meet a group of Christians celebrating a birthday. It's a low-ceilinged basement with dim light and a belly dancer. We sip our beers, hovering over a table of dancers and musicians, mostly women, about half of them, to the best of Dunbar's knowledge, virgins. I tell him I'd like to talk to one of them about her chastity.
He nods toward a brunette at the end of the table. "That's Hilary. She'd be good. She's a Rockette."
"How should I broach the subject?"
Dunbar looks confused. "Just tell her you want to talk about her virginity."
So I walk up to a beautiful woman in a bar and say, "I hear you're a virgin." And she looks up at me with eyes like blue velvet and smiles like I've just paid her the best compliment of the evening.
It turns out Hilary Rushford is an inch too short to make the official Rockette squad, but she performs backup with them. And she is, indeed, a virgin, twenty-five years old. Next to her sits her date, Chad Riley. It's their second time out together. He's twenty-seven, lean and muscled, a commercial photographer and also a "warrior," an "on-fire" Christian who describes himself as a "total virgin."
Rushford says that a friend of hers had sex and said it was awful.
"I hate fornication!" agrees Riley, who is still recovering from a relationship that lasted nine months without a kiss. But he doesn't want me to mistake him for frigid. "I love kissing," he says. "But I know my body and who I am." Riley, it turns out, is actually a "born-again virgin." In his early twenties, he strayed.
Rushford giggles. "Ephesians 5:3," she says -- the signal verse for Christians who prize chastity. " 'But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality. . . .' "
"A hint?" I ask. "How can you tell?"
"Once I get aroused, I know," Riley says.
"Do you ever wonder what you're missing?" I ask.
"How can you worry about what you're missing if you've never tried it ?" he says.
Not knowing, he explains, is the best part, the biggest selling point of virginity for both Riley and Rushford. They will each be their spouse's first lover, which means that she will not have to worry if her husband wishes her breasts were bigger, because he wouldn't know, and he will not have to worry whether size matters, because she wouldn't know.
Back in high school, Rushford dated guys who called themselves Christians who constantly pressed her for more. She kept her virginity, but only just, and when she left for college, she vowed to never let herself get used again. For her, virginity is the one truth about herself that no man can touch. But then, that's long been the case for Christian women. Riley regards his chastity, lost and regained, as just as precious. His feelings about it are, by traditional standards, almost feminine. That's what celibacy offers Christian men: the vulnerability of being a woman.
The closest Anna Broadway ever got to the "one flesh" of sexual communion were the busy hands of a secular man who took her on her first date in New York. She'd just moved here from Arizona, where she'd finished a master's degree in religious studies at Arizona State University, when she met a man she describes as a short James Gandolfini. Not exactly her style. Broadway is twenty-six, tall and slender, with eyes the color of aspen leaves and lush lips that enjoy what she calls "salty language." She's busty, and she likes to wear tight tank tops and baby-doll tees. This particular date was a chubby, balding advertising executive she refers to only as "Ad Weasel." Their evening went from dinner to his car to parking on the street outside her apartment, where Broadway, a virgin, felt for the first time a man's hands "down there." It felt good. Then he made his offer: His tongue, he said, would be more nimble. "That's when I realized," she tells me, "I don't have a battle plan." So she made one up on the spot. Chastity, she decided, could not include orgasm. She removed Ad Weasel's hands and informed him of her decision. Months later, he said to her, "Call me when you want to fuck," and left her, still -- by her definition -- pure.
Broadway (a writing pseudonym she created so she wouldn't shock her missionary parents) poured her frustration into her blog, "Sexless in the City," and revisions of a dense essay on John Cusack movies she'd written in graduate school, "The Cult of the Orgasm as Romantic Mysticism." "In a world that functionally operates on atheistic terms throughout most of its supposedly separate and autonomous spheres," she writes. "What kind of ecstasy is left us, even, but that which occurs in sexual release?" In the movies, she writes, secular romance leads only to orgasm, but the real answer to her question is, of course, Jesus.
Broadway was part of what she describes as the "first wave" of Christian home-schoolers, protected by her parents from the false teachings of evolution and all the attendant pornography of so-called alternative lifestyle education, but her sex life began at age eight, when she began fantasizing about Almanzo, from The Little House on the Prairie. At twelve, she began lulling herself to sleep every night with elaborate sexual scenarios in serial form. Always, she swears, in the context of marriage.
Now she is part of an intellectual avant-garde of the purity brigades, an elite made up mostly of women. Besides Broadway, for instance, there's Lauren F. Winner, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a religious-studies graduate student at Columbia and author of Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, and Dawn Eden, also a convert from Judaism who writes a blog called "The Dawn Patrol" and is working on a book about "becoming newly chaste."
Broadway views the Every Man books and Dobson's precise approach to sexual regulation (Dobson offers a ten-stage scale in which pretty much everything after stage one -- holding hands -- is off-limits) as bad theology. She doesn't want a sexuality that's controlled and contained, and after much consideration, she's decided that a sexless wet dream isn't very hot. Broadway longs for a chastity that isn't so much a denial of desire as its embrace. One of her favorite verbs is "savor," and she talks about sex like it's a food she is waiting for. In "Sexless in the City," she writes about sending a vagina made of chocolate to "Ad Weasel" in lieu of her taking him up on his offer of cunnilingus.
The world, she says, is pulsing with sex. Some of it ugly; some of it, like the Song of Solomon, very beautiful; and most of it stupid and sad. Most people, she says, can't help but look at the world through what she calls the "flesh-colored lens." But Christians, she says, see a different reality. Like The Matrix, she claims. The Wachowski brothers' trilogy of women in black latex and men with big guns have become cult films to Christian conservatives, drawn by the Christ story at the movies' core, the search for "the One" - i.e., the Messiah. The fact that the series portrays the everyday world as not only in a state of decay but ruled by evil forces makes for an easy parallel to the theology of Christendom.
Years ago, in college, Broadway participated in a Campus Crusade for Christ "infiltration" of the University of California at Berkeley, an attempt to plant covert evangelists in "subcultures" at the university so that they could gather information that could later be used to convert Bay Area heathens. It was, she says, a raid on enemy territory.
"The students were the enemy?" I asked. She thinks for a while. No, she said. Lust was. Evil is like an ocean, icy cold. Non-Christians are on the verge of drowning, but they don't realize their peril. Their minds are dulled by hypothermia. When a Christian pulls them out of the water, they struggle. The warmth makes their frozen nerve ends scream. "It hurts," says Broadway.
Before power became fully Christian - back when he cared as much about his guitar as he did about God - he dated a non-Christian girl. His voice gets husky as he remembers: "There were times, when we were naked, and my tongue was inside her, and she's whispering for me to go further." Dunbar is staring at him. He knows this story, but he doesn't mind hearing it again. It's not prurient for them, it's bonding. "There were times," continues Power, "when I had to ask myself, 'What do I believe?' "
"But you weren't alone with her," Dunbar says.
Dunbar turns to me. "He had responsibility to us." His brothers.
But Power kept letting them down. After high school, he stayed at home for a year while Dunbar and the rest of his friends went on to college. He joined a Christian punk band, Straight Forward. He started slipping. At Pepperdine he continued to slide. He began dating a woman only recently born again, still immature in her faith. She was thrilled by Power's attention: He was a man known to be on fire for God. The girl - a "baby Christian," in the lingo -- wanted to get closer to that warmth. She did so the only way she knew how.
"A blow job," says Power.
It had been one thing to go down on his girlfriend when he wasn't sure what he believed. It was another to let a girlfriend go down on him after he'd committed himself to God. But then, he says, that's how it works all too often when a man looks like he's devoted to Jesus. "It becomes more about giving than receiving" -- an implicit recognition of the sexism he knows permeates the best intentions. Even among Christians, the girls, he says, "will go down on you, but you don't have to go down on them."
The experience, he says, broke his heart. What it did for the girl, he can't even imagine.
In August, Power and his fiancee will be married back home in Visalia, where Dunbar will be his best man. Power feels like he has waited a long time. He didn't want to marry for sex, so he restrained himself from proposing until it did not even enter his mind. Soon he will experience his reward. A "sexual payoff," according to the authors of Every Man's Battle, that will "explode off any known scale."
Like the fundamentalists of old, today's Christian conservatives define themselves as apart from the world, and yet the modern movement aims to enjoy its fruits. To the biblical austerity of chastity, they add the promise of mind-blowing sex, using the very terms of the sexual revolution they rally against. And that's just the beginning. Sexual regulation is a means, not an end. To believers, the movement offers a vision grander even than the loveliness of a virgin: a fairy tale in which every man will be a spiritual warrior, a knight in the service of the king of kings, promised the hand and the heart and, yes, the sexual services of a "lady." That is the erotic dream of Christian conservatism: a restoration of chivalry, a cleansing of impurity, a nation without sin, an empire of the personal as political. "Power," as Pastor Nelson of the Journey promises, is the guaranteed result of "passions properly pursued."(Posted Jun 23, 2005)

Get Off The Meat, Nixon, uh, I Mean Schwarzenegger!!!

Program raises spying concernSTATE NATIONAL GUARD UNIT SET UP TO DETER TERRORISM MONITORED ANTI-WAR RALLYBy Dion NissenbaumMercury News Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO - Three decades after aggressive military spying on Americans created a national furor, California's National Guard has quietly set up a special intelligence unit that has been given ``broad authority'' to monitor, analyze and distribute information on potential terrorist threats, the Mercury News has learned.
Known as the Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence Fusion program, the project is part of an expanding nationwide effort to better integrate military intelligence into global anti-terrorism initiatives.
Although Guard officials said the new unit would not collect information on American citizens, top National Guard officials have already been involved in tracking at least one recent Mother's Day anti-war rally organized by families of slain American soldiers, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News.
Past abuses recalled
Creation of California's intelligence unit is already raising concerns for civil libertarians who point to a string of abuses in the 1960s and 1970s, when the military collected information on more than 100,000 Americans, infiltrated church youth groups, posed as reporters to interview activists, monitored peaceful protests and even attended an elementary school Halloween party in search of a ``dissident.''
``The National Guard doesn't need to do this,'' said Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer who first exposed the military's domestic spying operations in 1970. ``Its job is not to investigate individuals, but to clear streets, protect facilities and help first responders.''
Top Guard officers said they have no intentions of breaking long-established rules barring the military from gathering information on Americans and that the evolving program is meant to help California and the nation thwart terrorist attacks.
``We do not do any type of surveillance or human intelligence or mixing with crowds,'' said Lt. Col. Stan Zezotarski. ``The National Guard does not operate in that way. We have always had a policy where we respect the rights of citizens.''
Generally, the National Guard is called upon to help the state deal with natural disasters and riots. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put major strains on the military, which has started drawing more on Guard soldiers to fight overseas. And now Guard units are being integrated into anti-terrorism efforts in the United States.
The intelligence unit was quietly established last year by Maj. Gen. Thomas Eres, the National Guard leader who was forced by the Schwarzenegger administration to retire this month amid allegations that he failed to prove his shooting skills for a trip to Iraq, set up a questionable military flight for a Republican friend's political group and improperly used money meant to stem the flow of drugs for anti-terrorism programs.
Right before Eres retired, the Guard hired its first director for the intelligence unit who has ``broad authority'' and is expected to ``exercise a high degree of independent judgment and discretion,'' according to the job description obtained by the Mercury News.
``However, highly controversial or precedent-setting decisions, directives and policies are discussed with the appropriate senior leadership prior to implementation,'' the description states.
A one-stop shop
Col. Robert J. O'Neill, a veteran intelligence officer who started last week as director of the new program, said he envisions his team as being a one-stop shop for local, state and national law enforcement to share information. Intelligence officers will have access to sensitive national security information that they can analyze and potentially share with state and local law enforcement, he said.
``We are trying to integrate into their systems and bring them information that they don't have,'' O'Neill said.
He said his unit would not cross any legal lines into spying on Americans. But the Guard's role in monitoring at least one demonstration has already alarmed civil libertarians.
Last month, a group of anti-war activists, including the parents of American soldiers killed in Iraq, held a small Mother's Day rally at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the California Capitol to call for the return of all National Guard troops by Labor Day.
Three days before the rally, as a courtesy to the military, an aide in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's press office alerted the Guard to the event, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News.
The information was passed up the chain of command directly to Eres and other top Guard officials including Col. Jeff Davis, who oversees O'Neill's operation.
E-mail reveals actions
``Sir,'' Guard chief of staff Col. John Moorman wrote in the e-mail to Eres that was copied to Davis and other top commanders. ``Information you wanted on Sunday's demonstration at the Capitol.''
In response, Davis indicated that Guard intelligence officers were tracking the rally.
``Thanks,'' Davis wrote. ``Forwarding same to our Intell. folks who continue to monitor.''
That rainy Sunday, the protest organized by Gold Star Families for Peace, Raging Grannies and CodePink drew about three dozen supporters.
Guard spokesman Zezotarski said the monitoring did not involve anything more than keeping tabs on the protest through the media and that no one went to observe the demonstration.
But he said the military would be ``negligent'' in not tracking such anti-war rallies in the event that they disintegrate into a riot that could prompt the governor to call out troops.
``It's nothing subversive,'' Zezotarski said. ``Because who knows who could infiltrate that type of group and try to stir something up? After all, we live in the age of terrorism, so who knows?''
Civil libertarians scoffed at such defenses.
``That's ludicrous,'' said Joseph Onek, a former Carter and Clinton administration official who now heads the Liberty and Security Initiative for the Constitution Project at Georgetown University. ``That's not what the American people expect its military to be doing.''
Pyle, the Army officer who exposed the abuses in the 1970s and is now a professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, said that the evolving intelligence programs are susceptible to dangerous ``mission creep'' that led to overaggressive tactics during the Vietnam War.
Since the Civil War, the United States has tried to create firm barriers preventing the military from getting involved in domestic issues. The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prevents the U.S. military from taking part in domestic law enforcement.
Military role expands
The Army got involved with collecting intelligence on Americans in the 1960s when it was called in to deal with civil rights protests and riots. Its role expanded as the decade wore on and the anti-Vietnam War movement grew more confrontational.
At the time, according to congressional records, the military collected files on more than 100,000 Americans and embraced aggressive tactics to try to undermine anti-war groups, including attending a Halloween party for kids and infiltrating church youth groups.
In response, Congress and the military set up new rules to strictly regulate military spying in the United States.
But the Sept. 11 attacks raised concerns that the controls had gone too far. Since then, the FBI and military have been expanding their intelligence operations.
The notion of creating intelligence ``fusion centers'' is slowly gaining momentum. Massachusetts is setting one up, but it is housed in the state police headquarters, not its National Guard.
Currently, federal law allows the U.S. military to gather information on Americans under exceptionally tight restrictions. The intelligence must be essential to their mission, publicly available or related to national security issues.
The Pentagon has created a new operation in Colorado known as the Northern Command to help protect the nation from terrorist attacks. Its leader, Gen. Ralph Eberhart, raised some concerns among civil libertarians last year after telling a National Guard group that ``we can't let culture and the way we've always done it stand in the way'' of gathering intelligence.
Last year, the U.S. military came under fire after it was reported that two Army lawyers in civilian clothes attended a forum on sexism in Islam and later demanded a roster of those in attendance, along with a videotape of the conference, after being questioned by three Middle Eastern men during the event.
Army officials said the attorneys had ``exceeded their authority'' and ordered a refresher course for agents.