Monthly Archives: December 2013

Let’s Roll: Unraveling the Pentagon’s Toilet Paper Budget

By Dave Gilson, Mother Jones, Dec. 19, 2013

They say that an army marches on its stomach, but another measure of a military’s power may be how it protects its rear. The prospect of running out of government-issued TP has become a talking point against trimming defense spending. Former Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work cautioned that if sequestration was allowed to continue, “we will go back to 1975 where I’m buying toilet paper for my Marines.” Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) warned of the bad old days before 9/11 when “we did not have enough money to get toilet paper for some of our soldiers.” So far, budget austerity does not appear to have seriously affected strategic toilet paper reserves, though the Air Force Academy went into a temporary holding pattern when its tissue procurer was furloughed.

Just how much TP the military goes through is a bureaucratic enigma. (Grunts in Vietnam were reportedly issued 19 squares a day.) According to contracting data, the Pentagon bought an average of $2 million worth of “toiletry paper products” annually between 2000 and 2010. Yet that figure jumped to $130 million in 2012. A closer look at the numbers reveals about $58 million of paper products you might conceivably wipe with, plus a ton of padding—including $2.7 million of lightbulbs and $9.6 million of canning supplies. Let’s just chalk up those to the Pentagon’s infamously sloppy accounting system.

So who is getting flush on the military’s bathroom budget? In 2012, the Pentagon’s—and the government’s—biggest vendor of toiletry paper products was Georgia-Pacific, a.k.a. Koch Industries.

see more links at Mother Jones

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Filed under Peace, Security, Terrorism, War, Right Wing

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist

The Mason Missile, The E-Newsletter of John Oliver Mason, December 29, 2013

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson


I honor the life and work of Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years during the fight against the Apartheid regime in South Africa; then, after his release from prison and his election to the Presidency of his country, worked to reconcile the racial groups of South Africa-Black, White, Colored (mixed-race) and Asian-into a “rainbow nation.” Much work still needs to be done; there is still a great economic gap in that country (like here is the US of A) between a wealthy elite and workers and other low-income people, due to a reliance on the “free market” , along with a grave crime rate, also like here.

Still the fact that the Apartheid system has been overturned is amazing, due to the perseverance of brave and dedicated activists. I have been impressed by the mile-long lines of people of all races getting ready to vote in the first multiracial election in 1994.

Alas–Our own government has done whatever it could to prop up the Apartheid state. There is evidence that the CIA helped the South African police to capture Mandela and other ANC activists. The Reagan administration’s policy of “constructive engagement” meant that there would be no pressure on the Apartheid state to change or end the system, or to release Mandela and other ANC leaders.

Conservative journalists and activists in this country worked to make excuses for the regime, acting like the only alternative to the Apartheid system would be a Communist takeover. Plus there was the attitude, sounding like Tarzan movies and Donald Duck comics, that the Africans were not ready for democratic self-government-as if the regime would allow them to be! The government and the conservative movement in this country refused to take seriously the horrors of Apartheid, with a “What’’s the big deal?” attitude.

Thus, with the fall of the Apartheid system, conservatives have been, once more, on the wrong side of history, siding with a regime that did nothing but hold off the inevitable. William F. Buckley described a conservative as “a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop! ‘“ Well, conservatives have proven to be no more than speed bumps, slowing down the advance of freedom for downtrodden people (maybe), but the conservatives get run over anyway.

Case in point-so far 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. This is almost a decade after the 2004 election, and the strategy of George W. Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove to have ballot initiatives in certain states concerning gay marriage, which brought out the religious conservatives to vote against them and for Bush, thereby “proving” that the US of A is a “conservative” nation where people are only motivated to vote on “moral” issues. Still, same-sex marriage is now being acknowledged as a civil and human right, with even conservative states like Idaho, Utah, and New Mexico legalizing them.

However in Utah, it has been a federal court that struck down Utah’s laws against gay marriage, and the conservative argument has been to have the public, rather than the courts, decide the issue; but do people really need other people’s permission to have equal access to public facilities, education, housing, veterans’ benefits, health care, etc.? How is the existence of a gay-lesbian-transgender-bisexual-whatever-else person working with you, or shopping at your local store, a danger to you?

Once again I performed at PhillyCAM, on the show “Conversations Across Time”; this time I portrayed George C. Wallace, the legendary segregationist Governor of Alabama. From my reading of his career, as a judge he was “moderate” on racial issues, speaking respectfully to African-American attorneys; but after losing election as Governor to a hard-core segregationist, Wallace vowed, “I’ll never be out n—-red” again!”

It was out of political opportunism that Wallace became the symbol of racial animus he is remembered as now, with the image of him standing at the entrance of the University of Alabama to prevent Black students from attending-which was a big show, since he had no power to stop them. Still, his fame as a segregationist hero grew, and in 1968 he ran for President under the American Independent Party, and there was the possibility that his candidacy would put the election into the House of Representatives, since he could have had some Electoral College votes.

But after the attempt on his life in 1972, which put him in a wheelchair and in great pain for the rest of his life, he had a change of heart, becoming moderate again and even appointing Blacks to his cabinet. Still, the damage was done to our politics; Richard Nixon saw Wallace’s appeal to racist whites, and played into those sentiments during the 1972 election.

How it affected the running of government, and to whose benefit, it didn’t matter to Nixon or Wallace; instead of trying to govern for the benefit of all the people, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, whatever, the idea was to rile up one group against another, not using racial slurs-they could not even do that, which in itself was a victory for liberals-but the tactic was to use such phrases as “welfare bums,” “crime in the streets,” “excessive government spending,” while knowing their core constituents would, in their minds, associate minorities with these things. (At this writing, I recall how Newt Gingrich referred to President Obama as a “fried chicken” President and a “Food Stamp” President.)

I believe the tide is turning in progressives’ favor; rolling over and playing dead, or even trying to meet the Republicans half way or trying to reason with them, is no longer an option. In this new year, I myself will continue the good fight, and I know you will too.

Happy New Year!

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Filed under History, John Mason, Progressive, Race, Ethnicity, Immigration

A Small Step Toward More Mercy

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times, December 22, 2013

President Obama’s decision on Thursday to commute the outrageously long drug sentences of eight men and women showed a measure of compassion and common sense. But it also served to highlight the injustice being done to thousands of prisoners under federal sentencing laws.

In issuing the commutations, Mr. Obama blamed the “unfair system” that is keeping thousands behind bars solely because they were sentenced before August 2010, when Congress reduced the vast disparity between the way federal courts punish crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. The three-year-old federal law, the Fair Sentencing Act, allows prisoners to petition a judge to shorten their sentence, but it does not apply to nearly 9,000 prisoners who were already serving time when it was passed. While Congress is considering legislation to make the law retroactive, any such fix is far from assured.

In addition, thousands more federal drug prisoners are serving unjust sentences for other reasons, including mandatory minimums that punish anyone connected to a sales or trafficking operation based on the overall weight of the drugs, regardless of how minor a role that person played. For many of these people — including Clarence Aaron, who received three life sentences for a first-time, nonviolent drug deal, which Mr. Obama commuted — there is no prospect of helpful legislation on the horizon. Their only hope is executive clemency….

read more at New York Times

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An Open Letter to the People of Brazil

By Edward Snowden, Reader Supported News, 17 December 13

n open letter to the people of Brazil, from Edward Snowden Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I went in front of that camera with open eyes, knowing that the decision would cost me family and my home, and would risk my life. I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.

My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me, and Brazil is certainly one of those.

At the NSA, I witnessed with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and it threatens to become the greatest human rights challenge of our time. The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own “safety”—for Dilma’s “safety,” for Petrobras’ “safety”—they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own.

Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world. When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target’s reputation.

American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not “surveillance,” it’s “data collection.” They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever. These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power….

continue reading at Reader Supported News

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