Oh!pinion Rotating Header Image

National security

Enhanced border security that crosses the line

Post-9-11, most Americans appreciate the need for stepped-up security along our nation’s borders, north and south alike – provided people’s rights aren’t trampled routinely and with impunity in the process.

Huge sums are being spent on enhancing security, with more to come along the border with Canada, including more drones, electronic surveillance and manned checkpoints in places that once were “guarded” only by plastic highway cones.

This is all detailed in an excellent piece of journalism by Todd Miller at Mother Jones: US Quietly Ramps Up Security Along the Canadian Border.

Evenhandedly, Miller describes things you’ll probably deem necessary and worthwhile security measures, as we do. But you’ll also learn about some disturbing routine practices that cross the thin line that separates due caution and blatant harassment.

The abuse is insidious because if you’ve got red hair, blue eyes and your name is Tim O’Brien, Ben Willis or Guy Sturdevant, your chances of being subjected to it are probably on par with being struck by lightning. But if your first name is Mohammed, one of your parents hailed from the Middle East and you’ve got that sort of Mideast-type look about you, you’re a cinch to be treated as guilty until proven innocent of . . . apparently, being a suspicious type of person.

If you’re a suspicious-type person, all you have to do to wind up in the harassment trap is travel to Canada and go through a U.S. Border Patrol/Customs Service checkpoint on the way back.

How much stepped-up security is too much? Where is that line between due caution and the trampling of a citizen’s rights? What constitutes reasonable cause for suspicion?

If those questions matter to you, take the few minutes required to read Miller’s piece, but be prepared to be disturbed by what you’ll learn.

And if you do that, please swing back by here and share your thoughts in a comment.


Better gun control will make little difference
if actual mental health care needs aren’t met

AR-15 rifleWe can’t go on this way in America, with people meeting their congresswoman in a parking lot, attending a Sikh temple, seeing a movie in a theater, shopping at a mall, or young people in a college or elementary school classroom being gunned down by homicidal maniacs.

We Americans send our best, brightest and bravest to dangerous places around the world to keep us safe, spending hundreds of billions a year on national security — more than all other advanced industrial nations combined. We spend billions more on law enforcement at all levels of government.

What good is all that risk, sacrifice and expense if we — innocent men, women and even children — are so clearly vulnerable to individuals in our society who are so mentally ill or emotionally damaged they can become mass murderers at any time?

Now, in the aftermath of a horrific massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, there is serious talk among congressional Democrats of banning semiautomatic weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle Adam Lanza, 20, used to murder his mother at her home, then 20 children and six adults at the school. President Obama has spoken twice in three days of seeking tighter gun control and addressing mental health problems.

Both measures are long overdue and absolutely necessary — especially meeting mental health care needs. For the fact is, no amount of gun control will prevent these tragedies if people like Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza aren’t identified as needing help, and given the help they need, before they go completely haywire and start killing.

Sure, guns are these killers’ weapons of choice. But someone with Lanza’s reported intelligence can easily commit mass murder with a few bottles, rags, some gasoline and matches.

This inescapable conclusion about meeting mental health care needs isn’t something public officials want to deal with. That’s especially so now, given the state of our economy and current obsession with debt reduction. We’ve cheapskated mental health care needs for a long time. Short-term, lick-and-a-promise outpatient mental health care is hard to come by and afford for most Americans. Longterm, definitive outpatient care is beyond the reach of most. That goes double where full-time and perhaps longterm hospitalization is required.

Providing necessary mental health services to all in need of it is an expensive undertaking. But even if officials were suddenly prepared to fund adequate care and taxpayers were willing to pay the tab, it would take years to make this happen.

A study of national needs vs. resources, if done, will show we don’t begin to have enough mental health care professionals, clinics and hospitals.

As a result, America’s jails and prisons are obliged to take up the slack. A huge percentage of the incarcerated are where they are due to substance abuse and crimes committed under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. But behind that fact lies a rarely discussed reality: many of them become drug users and alcoholics because of serious unaddressed or inadequately treated mental and emotional problems.

America entered World War II with a woefully inadequate military. In four short years America had the strongest, best-trained and equipped military the world had ever seen. And our enemies, Germany and Japan, lay vanquished and in ruins. That happened because of total commitment to meeting a mortal threat.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy called for an all-out effort to put a man on the moon. Again, our full commitment made that happen, in 1969.

Now, we need an all-out commitment to make America safe from an enemy within. Yes, we need more and better control of guns. But most of all we need to identify those with serious mental and emotional illnesses and deficits, and see to it they get the care they need, whatever it takes. For some, that will mean expensive longterm care as outpatients or in hospitals.

If we refuse to make this commitment and pay its cost we will have ourselves to blame as the number and severity of mass killings grows. There is no quick, cheap, easy way out.


Mystery: China curbs economic growth
while increasing military spending

Chinese submarine

Modern missile-firing submarines are part of China's increasing naval capability. / China Daily

While chickenhawks beat the drums for war with Iran, garnering headlines and guest shots on Sunday-morning talk shows, China is making moves that warrant attention and reasonable concern.

Having tamped 6.5 percent inflation down to a more comfortable 3.1 percent over the last year, China is reducing its economic-growth target to 7.5 percent to keep inflation in check, which makes sense.

But China’s continuing military spending increases — reportedly 11.2 percent, to $105 billion in the latest announcement — are harder to fathom. What’s more, the government’s figure is likely being understated.

. . . China analysts said the true figure was probably significantly higher and was underreported because much of the military’s decision-making is kept opaque.

So, China continues to beef up its military in the face of reduced future revenues due to somewhat slower growth and despite racking up the biggest trade deficit with the U.S. and European Union in a decade.

China’s trade balance plunged $31.5 billion into the red in February as imports swamped exports to leave the largest deficit in at least a decade and fuel doubts about the extent to which frail foreign demand or seasonal distortion drove the drop.

Import growth of 39.6 percent on the year in February was the strongest in a year, well ahead of the 27 percent expected and more than twice the rate of export growth of 18.4 percent that was barely more than half the pace forecast — albeit at a six month high.

What we would like to know about China’s decade-long military buildup is, why?

Chinese soldiers

These soldiers serve in the world's largest standing army. / Chad J. McNeeley, DoD

China has the world’s largest standing army, estimated at 4.59 million troops, with a replenishment capability that can’t be matched anywhere. A member of the nuclear-arms club for 48 years, China has advanced missiles, space satellites, a modern air force and considerable, and growing, naval capability.

While it’s true that even with the latest increase, if you go by the official figure, China’s military budget is only about one-fifth of the $5.5 billion U.S. military budget, the trend is still cause for concern.

China’s government explains its military spending generically, citing the need to protect its sovereignty. That begs the question, from whom?

China seemingly has no natural enemies even remotely likely to challenge its sovereignty. Since its 1949 inception, the People’s Republic of China has fought a surreptitious campaign in Korea, and openly battled at various times in the years since along its borders with India, the Soviet Union and Tibet. China has at times menaced Taiwan and occupies Tibet, considering both provinces. China has otherwise refrained from military expansionism.

To maintain social stability and the economic growth that requires, China needs to raise the general level of wages and make very large infrastructure investments — seemingly better uses for its extra billions being spent on a military buildup. So again, why?

The only reasons we can come up with are both troubling.

One is to enhance China’s ability to deal forcefully with civil/political unrest, should the government fail to keep up with rising expectations in its 1.3 billion population.

The other reason is an expectation of future resource wars, especially for the fossil-fuels China heavily depends on.

If anyone has additional or better ideas, feel free to weigh in.


China’s continuing military buildup raises one other question we’d like to know the answer to: Given the PRC’s far greater size and strength, why do U.S. news media persist in flogging the relatively minor potential threat posed by Iran, while all but burying news about, and rarely commenting on, what China is up to?


Bachmann should face censure
for advocating an illegal practice

thumb downMembers of the U.S. House and Senate — lawmakers — shouldn’t be able to get away with publicly endorsing lawbreaking, as Rep. Michelle Bachmann did during the latest Republican candidates debate.

Bachmann responded to a question from a Vietnam veteran about torture, saying:

If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country.

As Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, pointed out, waterboarding is illegal under U.S. and international law, is immoral, and responses gained from use of it are unreliable — none of which is new news.

Bachmann seemingly wasn’t alone, though. Ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, without mentioning waterboarding specifically, said he favors use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and any techniques to “save young American lives.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry also endorsed enhanced interrogation techniques.

Herman Cain underscored, again, why he’s not qualified to be a presidential candidate, much less a president, with an answer that would be at home in a Saturday Night Live segment. From the transcript:


President heralds some good news
about Libya and our forces in Iraq

This was a banner week for President Obama and his administration, with back-to-back Thursday and Friday announcements, respectively, of the death of Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi and imminent end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

Obama’s deft approach to relieving Libyans of the likelihood of mass slaughter on Gadhafi’s orders, in concert with NATO allies France and the United Kingdom, could serve as a model of how to intervene in a country wracked by civil strife without getting caught in a quagmire.



Whether Libyans who fought Gadhafi’s forces bravely and with dogged determination since last spring will be able to transition peacefully to a stable, popularly elected government remains to be seen. But at least the dictator’s brutal 41-year grip on the country is over, so Libyans have that chance.

Reports out of Libya indicate the people are jubilant and grateful to those who helped secure their freedom. Americans can be grateful no U.S. troops were involved on the ground, and that there were no casualties.

Today, the president said U.S. troops will be on their way home from Iraq by the holidays, honoring a promise made during his 2008 campaign. It bears mentioning that this development was precipitated by Iraq’s unwillingness to agree not to try U.S. troops in Iraqi courts, if a residual force remained there.



We hope Iraqis will be able to maintain their freedom and independence. Overcoming religious and ethnic divisions in Iraqi society is as vital to the country’s future as is dealing with homegrown insurgents and foreign infiltrators. Iraq’s leaders could also face challenges from neighboring Iran.

As in Libya, only time will tell whether gains made in Iraq will endure. We hope they will, especially for the sake of family and friends of the more than 4,000 uniformed Americans who gave their lives serving in Iraq.


Small in the saddle: Various Republican politicians reacted to both pieces of good news with the lack of grace and class we’ve come to expect from them. Some, like Sen. John McCain, stressed how deserving of praise France and the U.K. are. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney reportedly made a generic statement about it being good Gadhafi is gone, then literally ran for cover when asked if the president deserves kudos as well.

Republicans never seem to learn that one way to make Obama look extra tall is for them to act small.


Obama mimics Bush, sidestepping Congress
to continue war operations against Libya

ObamaPresident Obama makes a good case for joining the NATO air campaign to dislodge Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, but chooses to emulate his predecessor’s high-handed, “I’m the decider,” way of blowing off Congress instead of winning its support for the effort.

U.S. military participation in ongoing air-ground attacks include reconnaissance, refueling and operation of armed aerial drones capable of strafing, bombing and firing missiles.

U.S. military operations against Gadhafi’s forces seeking to annihilate rebels on the ground are supposed to be limited to 60 days, plus 30 more to withdraw, by the War Powers Resolution Congress passed in 1973. The withdrawal deadline is almost at hand.

Today we learn that instead of seeking Congress’ OK as recommended by top Justice Department and Pentagon attorneys — the ones routinely consulted on such matters — Obama went lawyer shopping to get opinions from others supportive of his preferred approach.

Jeh Johnson, Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline Krass, acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the administration they believed that the U.S. military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

But Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including White House counsel Robert Bauer and State Department legal adviser Harold Koh — who said the military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.

That’s just what the worst president in U.S. history, George W. Bush, did in seeking legal cover for torturing terror-war captives. Not surprisingly, his lawyer of choice, John Yoo, came close to being disbarred for his perverse, bizarre justifications that amounted to saying a president can do whatever he wants – even order the massacre of a village.


Memorial Day, 2011: the Navy Hymn

In honor of all those in all services who have given the last full measure of devotion protecting America’s freedom and independence, we present this beautiful, moving hymn traditional to one branch, the United States Navy.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

We honor with deepest respect and gratitude as well all who have lost a loved one or friend in the service of our country.

Time to stop playing let’s pretend with Pakistan

brass screwLike some old horror movie in which a delusional weirdo keeps his long-deceased mother hidden in the attic so he can hold her hand and talk to her, the U.S. keeps insisting Pakistan is a reliable ally and full partner in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and close Obama administration friend, is on a mission to Pakistan he hopes will clear up U.S. misgivings about how Osama bin Laden managed to hole up in a major Pakistani military communityn for years with no one being the wiser. Kerry also hopes to talk the Pakistanis into being a better ally.

Shades of mama’s boy Uncle Sam in the attic, pleading for her to be more responsive to his emotional needs.

However, with our Pakistani so-called allies the situation is worse. Their military is said to be humiliated by the revelation bin Laden was discovered next door to their West Point and offed by Navy SEALs while the Pakistanis were going about their business, fat, dumb and happy.

Pakistan’s parliament, meanwhile, is in high dudgeon because the U.S. perpetrated a brilliant surgical strike deep within the country, with minimal violence except to bin Laden and no collateral damage outside his compound. Or, maybe what sticks in the Pakistanis’ craw is that the U.S. didn’t ask “pretty please” beforehand, thus averting any chance bin Laden would be tipped off and gone before the raid took place.

In retaliation, Pakistan’s parliament has passed a nonbinding resolution demanding the U.S. stop launching missile strikes against terrorists in Pakistan and threatening to cut off supply routes used to transport non-lethal supplies to NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

But that’s not all.

Washington also has been unable to get Islamabad to go after militant groups, such as the Haqqani network, who use its soil as hideouts but stage attacks only inside Afghanistan. Analysts say Pakistan may be maintaining ties to some insurgents because it wants leverage in Afghanistan — and a wedge against archrival India — once the U.S. pulls out.

Pakistani officials deny links to militant groups, saying they are too stretched battling insurgents attacking the Pakistani state to go after those fighting in Afghanistan right now.

This is definitely worse than having a mama who’s only good for a blank stare and eerie silence.

We’re sure Kerry means well in trying to make Pakistan a solid, reliable ally and so does the Obama administration. Nevertheless, it’s time to face facts and deal with the reality that having Pakistan for an ally is not working.

A weak, divided, ambivalent ally is worse than no ally at all. Worse because at the very moment that ally’s help is needed most, its help will either not be forthcoming or could amount to nothing but outright betrayal.

Like long-gone mama in the attic, this delusional, make-believe alliance with Pakistan should be laid to rest. To those who insist Pakistan’s help is vital for our ongoing war in Afghanistan, we say Pakistan’s unreliability as an ally is one more reason to wrap things up in Afghanistan and bring the troops home.

Bin Laden episode demonstrates once and for all
Democrats’ willingness and ability to defend U.S.

“Everyone who feels pride and satisfaction in bin Laden’s fate must also acknowledge the bold action and sound priorities of President Obama, who has coolly and cleanly fulfilled a promise he made during his campaign. Maintaining the nation’s dignity and his own, he has handled the aftermath of the mission with precise correctness and stayed focused on the policy goals that guide his administration.

“Getting rid of bin Laden won’t mean the instant disappearance of terrorism or the alienation that its perpetrators always exploit — the issues that he sought to symbolize will remain. But in this country, the performance of the president and those around him should permanently dispel the perennial right-wing slur against Democratic leaders as deficient in the strength and courage to defend our security.”

—Joe Conason, in his Creators Syndicate column,
Tough Enough,” Friday, May 6, 2011

U.S. force finds, finishes off Osama bin Laden

OBL skullExcellent news tonight that Osama bin Laden finally got what was coming to him, and the decent people of this world have one less evil fiend to contend with.

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the most devastating attack on American soil in modern times and the most hunted man in the world, was killed in a firefight with United States forces in Pakistan on Sunday, President Obama announced.

In a dramatic late-night appearance in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama declared that “justice has been done” as he disclosed that American military and C.I.A. operatives had finally cornered bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda who had eluded them for nearly a decade, and shot him to death at a compound in Pakistan.

Not a national, political, military or spiritual leader, bin Laden spent the last decade living, and ultimately dying, like the criminal fugitive he was.

Bin Laden’s demise will surely be demoralizing for his Muslim-extremist, anti-Western followers. However, it probably won’t ensure the end of al Qaeda; there’s plenty more where he came from. And, this development could trigger reprisals — a possibility Obama took care to mention in his announcement.

It’s meaningful that what finally got this millionaire sociopath wasn’t a large-scale military invasion. Rather, it was a surgical strike that combined accurate intelligence and careful police-type surveillance leading to a commando-style assault by two-dozen Navy Seals. We’ve long believed Western efforts against terrorism are most efficient and effective when pursued as intelligence and law enforcement operations, with the military only being called in when and where specifically needed because of a rare large-force confrontation.

All Americans, indeed decent people the world over, owe a debt of gratitude to the brave U.S. personnel who tracked Bin Laden down and put an end to him. More details of the operation will probably emerge in the coming days and weeks, and it should make for a remarkable story.

For a lengthy but well done recap of Bin Laden’s life and crimes, see the New York Times’ obituary.