Tag Archives: Iraq

Why I Stand with Veterans For Peace-LA

I proudly stand with Veterans For Peace-LA in signing the organization’s Declaration to defund the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, except to bring our troops home safely.  To keep our troops in harm’s way, to spend 2 – billion dollars a week on these occupations is a war on America’s middle class.   We have money for bombs, but not for books – as 5,000 teachers in Los Angeles receive lay – off notices and community colleges close their summer school programs.

I ask my opponents Janice Hahn and Debra Bowen to reconsider their decision not to sign the Declaration. Congress has the power of the purse, which it exercised  to finally end the Vietnam War after an estimated 60,000 American soldiers and millions of Vietnamese lost their lives.

Let’s not wait for the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan to climb any higher. This week Veterans For Peace-LA carried coffins in downtown Los Angeles as the number of U.S. soldiers lost in Iraq/Afghanistan reached 6,000.  

We do not know how many Iraqis or Afghan troops and civilians have died because the Pentagon does not keep a record.

We must protect our troops.  Bring them home.  Spread this Declaration throughout the land – and ask every congressional candidate to sign it.

Marcy Winograd

Congressional Candidate, CA-36

“We, the under signed congressional candidates (CA 36), sign this declaration vowing to vote against Iraq and Afghanistan supplemental war funding, except for funding to bring our troops home safely.  We, the undersigned congressional candidates, do not wish to put our troops in harm’s way. To fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and occupations is to continue to endanger our troops. ”

Here’s a link to a video of Verterans for Peace of Los Angeles asking CA-36 Congressional candidates to sign the delaration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

Please watch it.


Marcy Winograd

Democratic Candidate CA-36 Congressional District


FEAR AND LOATHING IN O.C.: Bush Hawks His Wares in the Temple

For Hunter S. Thompson*, R.I.P.

Much as I hate to stray from the standards of objective journalism, you may as well know from the outset that I am writing this thing under duress, having been dragged out from under my bed by several thugs sent over by pencil-pushers in the editorial department – literal-minded bureaucratic types who do not appreciate my having spent three days straight in a coma, inhaling dust bunnies the size of small goats, instead of writing my article. This is a lamentable failure of imagination on the pencil pushers’ part, considering how on Monday I had to endure almost an hour and a half in the same room as George W. Bush, having to listen to him deliver platitudes and “jokes” to 3,100 devotees at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. It ought to be obvious that I have sustained lasting, severe damage from the experience, not least of all from the tension of sitting there, wanting to rush the stage, yet knowing that I’d be torn limb from limb by the Orange County multitude – and that’s just counting the old ladies. I was also afraid, as I sat there watching the whole Satanic ritual, that my eye sockets might get burned out of my skull. I have not yet precluded this possibility.

Ah, Jesus, I have to get a grip on myself. The apes sent by Editorial are watching me write this and they are not to be trifled with. More to the point, if I don’t finish, I believe they may take my liquor as a perverse form of compensation, and I’m not expecting a delivery for another two hours — so it will be very tough going if they do. The illicit substances I had in my pocket rolled out while I was under the bed and the dog may already have licked them up, so things are looking pretty dire. Come to think of it, where is that dog?

But I digress. The theme of the Bush appearance was “We are well and truly fucked,” although technically, it was called a “Saddleback Civil Forum on Leadership and Service”, and the devout crowd in attendance left with big smiles on their faces. Pastor Rick Warren, who is “America’s most powerful religious leader” per a 2008 Time magazine cover, hosted the ex-Prez on a talk show-like stage set, and webcast the chit-chat live via his “Purpose-Driven” network to 164 countries (which is more countries than have signed the land mine ban treaty, but who’s counting?). This is the same Rick Warren who Obama picked to give the invocation at his inauguration, pissing off the LGBT community early so he could get to work pissing off other progressives on his list once his presidency officially began.

I looked for the picketers from CODEPINK and the Orange County Peace Coalition at Bush’s book promotion, but the 50 or so protesters were banished to the outer limits of the sprawling mega-church grounds. Tickets were free to go hear Bush sell his memoir, Decision Points, but they had been handed out over a week in advance, so I gazed uncertainly at the hordes pouring in. I considered just skipping the whole thing and going out on the town, but I wasn’t sure if Lake Forest knew that Prohibition had been repealed. Five minutes before the doors were about to close, I asked the Will Call table if they had an extra ticket, and a woman smiled and handed me one with a flourish: “It’s your lucky day.” That was not exactly my sentiment, but I obviously had to attend now. I went into an adjacent restroom and hid the protest sign that had been in my satchel, and made it through the bag-check without incident.

After a woman sang an extreme vibralto version of the national anthem that would not have been out of place in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Rick Warren’s wife Kay expressed her gratitude that she was raised to love her country, and a video extolled Bush’s righteousness. Then Pastor Warren and the ex-Prez came out together.

Bush lounged comfortably in a recliner while the pastor all but drooled, asking him questions for which the word “softball” is inadequate – I’d call them “shuttlecock” questions but I think the LGBT community hates Pastor Warren enough as it is. The questions revolved around how to be a good leader, in ways that the audience could try at home or at the office, i.e.: “How do you deal with the egos of the people you are assembling?” (If there’d been more time, perhaps Warren would also have asked for tips on writing good memos and whether Casual Fridays are a good idea). I had gone in with a vague plan to guffaw loudly at every lame-brained thing the Crawford reptile said, but evidently the pastor was careful to only ask questions Bush was expecting, because the kind of stumblings and circuitous sentences we’re used to from Bush were in short supply. I also ended up changing my plan because my vocal chords are not in peak condition these days — for which I blame my attorney, who regularly insists that we go out after midnight to howl at the moon. I’ve noticed increasingly thick hair growing on his back, but I don’t like to be impolite.

Dammit, there I am on another tangent. Writing about politics has clearly sapped me of my moral strength, but the goons Editorial sent over are scratching up my wood floor with their jackboots, so I really do have to bite down and push through.

Bush kept describing what it was like to lead “an organization” – as if he’d been a high school principal, or the head of his neighborhood watch patrol. “There’s nothing worse than trying to lead an organization and be full of self-pity”, the Supreme Court’s anointed one remarked thoughtfully. “‘Why me?’ It just doesn’t work.”

The pterodactyl from Texas bragged that he did not believe in “surrounding” himself with “sycophants”, because there’s a “tendency for people to say ‘oh boy, you’re looking pretty’ when you’re not.” The audience took him at his word that he wanted advisors who were “willing to share opinions in an open and honest way”, conveniently forgetting about Colin Powell, Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neill, and others who apparently tried to share opinions. The CIA also comes to mind, people I don’t normally feel a lot of sympathy for – and people who may very well have tampered with my GPS recently, since it told me to turn right when I needed to turn left, and when turning right propelled me straight into oncoming traffic. But nonetheless, the CIA comes to mind, as an agency whose skepticism about Saddam’s alleged WMDs and the wisdom of invading Iraq were not welcome in the Bush White House. Oh yes, and then there were the U.N. inspectors. And critics of the Administration’s policies of surveillance, detention, and torture. Somehow, they all missed the Decider’s open-mindedness.

W. did actually wrap up his declaration of tolerance with: “once you decide, they need to say ‘Yessir,’ or they’re out”. One of the few scraps of honesty in the whole evening. But his audience got off on the display of power. As did the fundamentalist pastor, who was getting a little flushed sticking his tongue that far up Bush’s fundament, and who interjected at one point: “it’s a theocracy, and you’re Theo.”

The worshippers noticed no disconnect when Bush advised using “good judgment” to put “people around you who you can trust.” In that crowd, I didn’t think it was prudent to bring up Donald Rumsfeld, who sent the troops to war without enough body or Humvee armor, or Alberto Gonzalez, who ‘couldn’t recall’ details of the firing of federal attorneys, or Michael Brown, the former unsuccessful horse commissioner turned disastrous FEMA administrator, or Harriet Miers, who Bush trusted to be a Supreme Court justice until senators were appalled at her ignorance of the law. Besides, as I’ve said, my voice was a little too hoarse to carry in that enormous stadium. I may have to change my cigarette brand.

But let’s not be uncharitable. Who would want to be a downer, when Bush was being so upbeat? The conversation did touch on the low points of his presidency – Warren, channeling Barbara Walters for a moment, asked him very sympathetically: “You clearly weren’t listening to the polls. What kept you going?”, but Bush replied “Belief.” #43 admitted that “it’s hard to relive those days”, but his faith kept him going – allowed him to endure the hardships of…he didn’t say, but I guess you’d call it ‘democracy’. He told the Saddleback Church: “you’ve got to tune those people out. They’re acting out of spite and…emotions that are negative.” With an approval rating below 30% by the end of his presidency, he must have had some industrial strength earplugs.

The most important thing about leadership, he told us, is to have “a set of principles you will not violate.” One of his key principles was: “All life is precious”. Warren smiled and nodded, discreetly refraining to mention the 1800+ lives lost in Katrina, the 3000 lost on 9/11, or the close to 5,000 troops lost in Iraq thanks to Bush. The ex-Prez shared another heartfelt principle, reposing leisurely: “to whom much is given, much is required”. He did not, however, explain how this principle related to his lack of any response to direct verbal warnings that Hurricane Katrina would breach the New Orleans levees. In fact, when Warren even mentioned Katrina, Bush quickly changed the subject — and Laura has probably since struck the pastor from their Christmas card list.

A slogan that came up often during the evening, causing a tremor just below my right eye, was “it’s not all about you” – a slogan, apparently, that Warren favors and which Bush feels is the secret of good leadership. King George made sure we knew that he did not view his job as “serving George Bush” but “serving the United States of America.” This from the guy who oversaw eight years of troubled times, yet told his wife that “the worst moment” of his presidency was being called a racist by rapper Kayne West in a Katrina telethon. But the horrors of Katrina, 9/11, economic collapse, two occupations, deterioration between Israel and the Palestinians, and the vilification of America worldwide seem to have vanished from W.’s mind. He exclaimed to Pastor Warren with religious conviction that every day in the White House had been “joyous” for him.

It was at that point that DeDe Miller’s brain exploded. Cindy Sheehan’s sister, unable to take anymore, stood up and harangued Bush at length from the back of the hall. Without a mike her words didn’t travel far, but it’s safe to guess she was demanding how Bush could’ve been joyous during a bogus war that had taken the life of her nephew Casey and thousands of others. About 15 minutes later, a second woman, in a CODEPINK-style Statue of Liberty tiara, disrupted the event and held up a sign. And near the end of the event, a third woman also stood up near the front and yelled at Bush. Each was mostly ignored by those on stage and in the audience, although one guy seemed to think the third protester was a lamp at home – he kept clapping abruptly in her face. Each woman was soon pulled out by dark-clad personnel and vanished behind a mysterious row of black curtains, never to be seen again.

W. did explain his reasons for the invasion of Iraq: to combat a dictator “enriched by oil”, with “the capacity to build weapons”, and worst of all, an “aggressive attitude toward the United States.” Many in the audience nodded encouragingly. It was all the explanation they needed.

Bush Jr. also recalled his emotions on 9/11: “anger”, “unspeakable sadness,” and feeling “helpless”, but then his “instincts kicked in” – though not immediately, because “The leader of an organization cannot overreact…I made the decision just to wait.” He made the decision to wait and then overreact, I guess (starting a new Cold War-like era of belligerence against the entire world, and so on). But at least, while he was in that classroom, he avoided upsetting the children. And when he made that first speech about 9/11, he “wanted to console and help people try to heal” — it was only on the next day and subsequent seven years that he wanted to scare the bejesus out of everyone.

But this crowd had a special relationship with Bejesus: when Bush recalled using his 9/14/01 cathedral speech to “try to start the grieving process” and yet also to “let the enemy know we’re going to come and get them,” the congregation jumped to their feet in a thunderous ovation. It may have been their favorite part of the whole evening. Bush had actually been trying to say that he was worried in 2001 about expressing a war-like sentiment in a church, but he looked at the bloodthirsty throng of Orange County citizens in the Saddleback Church on Mon., and didn’t even bother to finish his sentence.

After about an hour, my teeth had been ground down to nubs and I was beginning to suspect that the relentless glare of the lights on the audience was emitting brainwashing rays, but I was afraid my only chance to make it safely to the exits would be to blend in with the crowd, so I endured. Meanwhile, the congregation was applauding madly again — Bush had mentioned his tax cuts. The pastor grinned: “we like those. We want them to continue.” I wondered what tax cuts have to do with Christianity, until I remembered that the gigantic Saddleback Church, which is spread out over an estate of vast parking lots, eateries, and other buildings, serves one of the 100 most affluent cities with a pop. over 50,000 in the United States.

In a gee-shucks way that his audience lapped up, Bush also stressed that he didn’t know much about economics, but when told of the fiscal crisis, “didn’t want to gamble on whether or not we had a depression.” And so, this former friend of Ken Lay, “decided to use your money to bail out Wall Street, and I was really unhappy about it, but nonetheless I do believe that decision saved the country from a depression.”

The Clowner-in-Chief spent a fair amount of time talking about humor and how important it is to him, since it’s a “sign of a relaxed personality” — quite evidently a priority for him in times of national crisis. He joked frequently during the dialogue, impressing the audience with his modesty and folksiness while turning it around at the same time. For example, he quipped that people are surprised he can write a book, since they don’t even think he can read one. Then he casually mentioned that the way he read 92 history books in one year was to read on the exercise machine and wherever he could. Warren did not ask if TinTin comics count as history books.

The evening was almost over when Bush proclaimed that “Everyone loves America.” His audience seemed momentarily confused, since after all he’d spent his presidency telling us that we were surrounded by people who hate us for our freedom. Then, a Middle Eastern-looking man in a somber suit, sitting by himself, stood up from the very back of the auditorium and began purposefully walking forward. It was at this dramatic moment that I remembered there had been no metal detectors at the entrance; security seemed to remember it at just that moment too. But the gentleman turned to the nearest exit and went to find the restroom. Later it turned out he was Latino.

When it was all over, a complete stranger said to me, beaming: “It doesn’t get any better than that.” By that point I had lost all ability to form words, so I merely glowered back. Before crawling into my car with its “Jesus called: he wants his religion back” bumper sticker, I checked all my tires and lights for damage. Then I realized that they would have had no need to assault my car. Decision Points is currently at #1 on the L.A. Times hardcover non-fiction list.

Our efforts to move the book to the True Crime, Fantasy, and Psychotherapy sections of our local bookstores have clearly been inadequate. And when a man that the Mayor of London has warned might be arrested as a war criminal if he shows his face in the borough can get away with telling such whoppers — and the public’s response is to think it would make a good Christmas gift – then it would indeed seem that we are well and truly fucked.

However, one small glimmer of hope struck me. Twice during the book talk, Bush referred to the time when “it looked like Iraq was lost.” Bush said that. As in, Mr. Chauncey Gardiner, who kept perpetually saying that the U.S. was just about to claim victory in Iraq, any minute now. He didn’t even believe it himself? It seems like a chink in the armor. Perhaps there are others. Of course he’s trying to resurrect his image, but he clearly is aware of his unpopularity; when the Saddleback Church audience stood and cheered one of his remarks, he ad-libbed “Thanks. I forgot what it was like.” That lifts the gloom a little, to hear that the delusional narcissist is aware he’s not universally admired.

Hell, I might even be persuaded to place a bet on justice being done and the old man getting a fair trial some day. Sometimes you just have to place your bets on principle. In any case, I’ve been known to back a few losing causes in my day.

(* by Jennifer Epps, in tribute to Dr. Gonzo)

Rohrabacher & McClintock admit “Iraq War Was a Mistake”

OC Congressman Dana Rohrabacher admitted this week what Democrats and, well, most thinking people knew for years now: the Iraq War was a mistake. Oh, and Tom McClintock seconds that:

Going into Iraq “was a mistake because I thought we had to finish the job in Afghanistan,” Rohrbacher told the panel, echoing a popular Democratic talking point at the time.

“In retrospect, almost all of us think that was a horrible mistake,” Rohrbacher said. “Now that we know that it cost a trillion dollars, and all of these years, and all of these lives, and all of this blood … all I can say is everyone I know thinks it was a mistake to go in now.”

Asked by panel moderator Grover Norquist what percentage of Republican congressmen agree with that view, McClintock said, “I think everyone in Congress] would agree that Iraq was a mistake.” ([Raw Story)

Well, several thousands American and many times that in Iraqi lives, and now we have that. Of course, it doesn’t do anything that helps at this point. Rohrabacher and his fellow Republicans laughed at the Dirty Hippies that would dare to say that the Iraq War was a mistake. Those of us on the left were apparently “not serious” for wanting to stay out of a morass from which we would soon pour large sums of money and terrifying amounts of blood into.

Do you think the media will notice now and think about how they covered the run-up to the war? Doubtful. Attack first, apologize later. It’s a stunningly audacious way to run the world’s richest nation, but for eight years, that’s how we rolled.

CA 10: Memorial Day and “The Ultimate Sacrifice”

(Some thoughts for Memorial Day from CA-10 Candidate Anthony Woods… – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Woods1The willingness to make the “ultimate sacrifice” in defense of our country stands as the enduring value which binds every active duty serviceman, servicewoman, and every veteran of the United States military.

Each Memorial Day we are reminded—and rightly so—of the courageous Americans who have given their lives in defense of our nation–between 1 million and 1.3 million since the American Revolution, depending on whose numbers you read.

Indeed the willingness to make that sacrifice is the pre-requisite-along with adherence to a strict code of conduct and respect for the chain of command—to joining an impenetrable fellowship as diverse as the nation every veteran has pledged their lives to defending.

As the son of a veteran, a West Point Graduate and Iraq War Veteran, Memorial Day will always be a day of gratitude, of solemn reflection, and remembrance for me.  

Gratitude for the courage and untiring loyalty of the 81 soldiers I was proud to command during my two combat tours in Iraq.  And a special appreciation for the fact that I was able to bring every one of them home alive.

Solemn reflection upon the near misses that are impossible to forget–like the roadside bomb attack 4 members of my unit narrowly survived during my first tour, the intensity of urban combat in Tal Afar, and the carnage of suicide bomb attacks on civilians in Baghdad.  

And remembrance of the friends I came to know at West Point, during officer training, or on the sands of Iraq—those who made the “ultimate sacrifice,” the families they left behind, and those who may have left Iraq, but are still a long way from really “coming home.”

At parades and ceremonies across our country this weekend, we will read names, recite stories of battlefield heroism, and recommit ourselves to the cause of keeping our nation’s promise to honor and care for all veterans, past, present and future.  And we must.

If we watch and listen closely this weekend, we’ll see that the capability to serve, and the willingness to make the “ultimate sacrifice” for America is not limited by era, branch, rank, age, gender, or the popularity of the mission they were called to serve.  The reading of the names of the fallen will make no mention of race, ethnicity, marital status, the number of children left behind, religion, political affiliation, or sexual orientation.

And why?

Because what matters in defending America has never been our differences, but the common cause, common values, common bonds and the shared sacrifices that unite all who serve.

That said, and in light of ongoing policy debates about who gets to serve in our military, it is important to remember, that among those who have given their lives for America, and among those who have stepped forward with a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice in defending America today, are large numbers of every conceivable demographic group…

…including members of the LGBT community.

For example, the Urban Institute estimates that of the 27.5 million living American Veterans, about 3%, or 1 million, are gay or lesbian.  

If we apply this trend over history, that means that at least 35,000 of the 1-1.3 million Americans that have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country since the American Revolution were gay or lesbian.  That’s more than the total number of Americans Killed in Action during Iraq, Afghanistan, Desert Storm, Pearl Harbor, the War of 1812 and the American Revolution COMBINED.

Military leaders have reported that approximately 65,000 members of the LGBT community are currently serving in the Armed Forces —substantially more than the total number of U.S. troops currently fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  

And every day, at great cost, two more servicemen and women who have volunteered to give their lives if necessary in defense of our country are forcibly discharged for reasons with no relation whatsoever to their capacity to fight for the freedom of others.

I would know.  I was one of them.

So as we honor our fallen heroes this weekend, and recommit ourselves to all who wear the proud uniform of our nation, I hope we can remember that for more than two centuries, protection of the land of the free has never been the responsibility of a narrow ideology, or a singular demographic—but by the willingness of brave Americans, from every walk of life, to step forward and if necessary, to make “the ultimate sacrifice.”

May God protect every single one of our troops.

Anthony Woods

Democrat for Congress, CA 10

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CA 10: Summoning The Courage of Our Convictions

All my life, I’ve heard politicians in Sacramento and Washington promise to change the way they do business, and to take action to solve our most pressing problems.

When I was born almost thirty years ago, millions of Americans lacked access to health insurance, millions of families couldn’t afford to send their kids to college, and the scourge of discrimination kept even more Americans from realizing their dreams.

Thirty years ago, tens of thousands of veterans who answered their country’s call in Vietnam were already calling the streets their home, and thousands more would soon follow.

Thirty years ago, the United States was coming out of an unprecedented energy crisis, vowing to change the way we powered our nation.

And thirty years later, despite year after year of politicians promising change, these problems haven’t just gone unsolved–just about all of them have gotten worse.

For me, like most Americans who live and work far from the halls of government, these are not issues that live in the political abstract or as talking points used to sell hastily crafted budgets.  They’re very real, very consequential, and very personal.

As the son of a single mother from Fairfield, I’ve lived the fight for a quality education (earning a Congressional Appointment to West Point), while facing the uncertainty of being without health insurance for most of my life.  I served two tours as a combat platoon leader in Iraq, led recovery missions to help rebuild the lives of fellow citizens abandoned by their government in New Orleans and challenged the military’s failed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” policy here at home-even when it meant my career.  

Ultimately, I’ve seen too many Americans pay a big price for the convenient choices of politicians.   And I believe the only way to break this vicious cycle is to elect leaders who are willing to make the courageous ones.    

That’s why I have come home to begin the process of forming a campaign to become the next Congressman from California’s 10th Congressional District.

In the weeks and months to come, I am looking forward to sharing my values, my vision, and my priorities for moving our district, our country, and our politics in a new direction.

And while standing up to an unjust policy cost me my dream of serving the country I love in the military just six months ago, that experience has only strengthened my resolve to fight for the solutions we all deserve—and with the real world sense of urgency that is too often missing from public debate on issues like universal healthcare, expanding economic opportunity, keeping faith with America’s veterans, and eliminating the cancer of inequality from the world’s greatest democracy once and for all.

I consider myself a proud member of the “Millenial Generation,” and though some will call me young, I have spent more time on the front lines of battles than most politicians do in a lifetime.  

Like the “Greatest Generation’s” battles against economic depression, segregation, and World War, the Millenial Generation also finds itself at the crossroads of history.  

I believe that we too have greatness within our grasp.  But to seize it, we must be willing to forego the convenient politics of the past, to hold one another accountable for the difficult choices that lie ahead, and most importantly, to summon the courage of our convictions.

Together, I know we can.

Anthony Woods

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CA-10: Exclusive Calitics Interview With Anthony Woods

The race to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher in Congress received a jolt yesterday with the announcement of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi that he expects to be a candidate for that seat.  And just today, Joan Buchanan has decided to enter the race as well.  But these are not the only candidates poised to jump into the race.  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Woods, a young West Point graduate who served two tours as a platoon leader in Iraq.  Woods was born in the district on Travis AFB in Fairfield, to a single mother who worked as a housekeeper.  He was raised in the area, and after his stint at West Point, he volunteered and took command of two separate platoons that shipped out to Iraq, once in 2004-05 and again in 2005-06, engaging in service for which he received the Bronze Star.  Returning to the states, he took graduate studies in public policy at the Kennedy School for Government at Harvard, and in his second year, he entered into a relationship that made him realize the absurdity of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  Tired of shutting down his gay identity and hiding himself, he came out to his commander – “I wasn’t going to lie about it anymore” – kicking off a lengthy investigative process that resulted in an honorable discharge (for “moral and professional dereliction of duty”) in December 2008.  Woods was also forced to pay back his education benefits. (A full bio on Anthony Woods can be found here.)

Here is someone willing to serve his country, able to perform honorably on the battlefield, yet because of his identity as a gay American cannot be a member of the military.  The insanity of this official policy has been well-documented around here.  What is striking about Woods is that he foregrounds the concept of service instead of the injustice of the policy, and would rather not dwell on that incident but instead find a new way to serve.  He is close to making a decision on whether to enter the 10th District race, and on the flip, you can read a paraphrase of the rest of my interview with him.

Calitics: I suppose there’s a tension between having this incredibly compelling story and not wanting to be pigeonholed into being “the gay candidate” or the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” candidate.  How will you smooth over that tension, if you choose to run?

Anthony Woods: I think it’s much more important to the people of this district that I didn’t have health care until I was 18 years old.  I believe the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is wrong, and I won’t shy away from taking strong stands, but I don’t want to be seen as a single issue candidate.  All of my life experience will help me, from being raised by a single mother to not having health care to having to strive for a good education to my experience with veteran’s aftercare to my service in Iraq.

Calitics: Let’s talk about Iraq for a second.  You served two tours there.  What do you think of the President’s policy, to honor the status of forces agreement and commit to a full withdrawal of all forces by the end of 2011?  Is that too soon, not soon enough?

AW: I think the President’s policy is right on point.  The end of 2011 gives us enough time to wind down this war.  I didn’t support the war from the beginning – I entered the conflict to bring my platoon home and to serve my country.  In 2008, at my commencement address at Harvard I questioned the war and some people didn’t like that.  But I have always believed that the longer we stayed, the longer we would delay that sense of urgency among the Iraqis to make the choices necessary to take responsibility for their country.  So setting a definite timeline of leaving will provide that internal pressure for the Iraqis to reconcile.

Calitics: The Senate Armed Services Committee released their long report about interrogation tactics by the military, and this is the latest in a series of disturbing disclosures about torture.  How do these reports make you feel, as someone who served, and what do you think ought to be done in the name of accountability?

AW: You know, I first got to Iraq shortly after the revelations at Abu Ghraib, right after our reputation in Iraq and around the world was sullied.  The tactics undertaken by the previous Administration directly put me and my soldiers at risk.  They did not make us safer at all.  I’m glad that the President put the memos out there, so we can all see the truth.  At first I agreed with the decision of the President not to go after CIA personnel who followed orders they believed to be legal by the Justice Department, but with the more facts that come out, I think there’s a major need for accountability.  Someone needs to have a reckoning for these actions committed in our name.  I’m very big on accountability and trust.

Calitics: Have you made a final decision yet on running in this race?

AW: I haven’t made a final decision, but I’m real close.  If I do decide to run, I will make this race about issues that are personal to me.  The challenges we face today are not new, you can see them over the last 30 years.  The struggles I faced early in life are the same struggles families are facing right now.  The fact that I didn’t have health insurance until I was 18, or that my mom’s premiums are skyrocketing today, these are all the same problems.  And I think there’s a need for some new leadership around them.

Calitics; Let’s talk about health care, since you have personal attachments to the issue.  What would you like to see in a major health care reform?

AW: I support universal health care with a public option.  I would like to see an increase in SCHIP to cover all children, an early buy-in for Medicare, maybe at 55 years of age, and subsidies for those in the middle, so they can purchase quality health insurance.  And everyone should have that public option so that they don’t have to rely on a private insurer that may deny them coverage for a pre-existing condition.  I think this is a major issue for families, but also a huge issue for businesses, who have such a burden of health care costs that it’s stopping them from being competitive.

Calitics: How has you experience with the VA system colored your sense of this issue:

AW: Very much so.  Veteran’s aftercare is in kind of an ugly state right now, so I wouldn’t want to model the VA system completely.  But I do think we can address a lot of the bureaucratic slowness in that system and apply it to the overall health reform.

Calitics: Another big issue we’re seeing debated in congress is energy.  The legislation being debated in Congress right now is massive, and includes renewable energy standards, cap and trade, etc.  I don’t want you to have to summarize the whole thing, but what parts of energy policy are important to you?

AW: You know, having been to Iraq, I would say it’s not out of the question that a big reason why we were over there instead of other trouble spots in the world is because of their oil reserves.  The case can be made.  And so I would like to stress that our national security is tied up with our energy security.  We have to move beyond the dependence on fossil fuels like oil.  Offshore drilling is just a band-aid, it will not solve the problem.  I think we have to look to other sources of energy like wind and solar and biodiesel, and it’s crucial to our national security in the future.

Calitics: One thing I see not mentioned in these debates is the need for more livable communities, so that people don’t have to commute such long distances to get from home to work.  The 10th has a lot of bedroom communities, do you think smart growth and livable communities make sense?

AW: Since I left the district, I’ve lived in places like Boston and Washington, DC, where there is a major focus on public transportation and mass transit.  California definitely needs to focus on that, and we need that right here in this community.  I also like what you’re saying about smart growth.  We can build commercial space closer to where people live, and through information technology we can increase telecommuting.  There are a whole number of ways to decrease commute times and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  We need to invest in things like high speed rail, in infrastructure projects that also have the added benefit of aiding our environment.  Obama did a good job in that aspect in the stimulus package.

Calitics: Last question.  Obviously, there’s a lot of attention in this race, from the likes of State Senators and State Assemblymembers and even the Lieutenant Governor of California.  You’ve never held elected office.  What will be your pitch to people in the 10th to give you the opportunity to serve?

AW: We’re at a time when we’re frustrated with the solutions we have, but we keep sending the same politicians back to Washington to work on those solutions.  That doesn’t make sense to me.  I have respect for everyone who will be in this race, but these are old problems that have not been solved by the same people.  It’s time for a fresh perspective, and new energy, and a new generation of leadership.  That’s what I believe we saw with Obama’s election last year, and that’s what I think people are still wanting to see.  And while I think that elected office is obviously important experience, I’m also coming at this with a different set of experiences.  I was a platoon leader in Iraq, I have taken strong stands in my life, things that cost me personally.  I have dealt with the health care system, the veterans aftercare system, the education system.  I believe I am ready to serve this district with courageous leadership drawing on my personal experiences.

Calitics: Thanks for your time.

AW: Thank you.

CA-10: Anthony Woods

We’ve been hearing rumors about this for some time, but Lisa Vordebrueggen went public, so now we can begin to tell this story.  Anthony Woods, an African-American, openly gay Iraq War veteran with two tours of service who publicly came out to challenge the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, may enter the race to replace Ellen Tauscher in CA-10.

Harvard Magazine’s January-February edition features a very interesting story about Woods’ decision to leave the Army. Woods has a masters degree from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Woods was born on Travis Air Force Base and attended high school in Fairfield, according to a spokesman. He is now considering moving back home and running for Congress.

Woods was traveling and unavailable for comment today but as soon as I have an opportunity to speak with him at length, I will file an updated post about him.

I was able to speak with someone knowledgeable about Woods and his decision-making process today, and he told me that he would figure out whether or not to run “in the coming weeks.”  With no timetable for Tauscher’s confirmation, certainly Woods, who also staffed for New York Gov. David Paterson, has some time.  

Everyone who I’ve talked to about this characterizes Woods as a deeply impressive individual.  He fought in Anbar Province and elsewhere in Iraq for two tours before deciding to take a stand on their discriminatory policy with respect to gays and lesbians.  Here’s a bit from that Harvard Magazine article Vordebrueggen cited:

In early November, Woods learned he would be “eliminated” from the army on the grounds of “moral and professional dereliction” and required to repay $35,000-the amount of his scholarship to attend the Kennedy School.

A military career may seem a curious choice for a young man who is gay or even questioning his orientation. But for the son of a single mother, growing up in an Air Force town in northern California, acceptance to West Point was an honor-and an opportunity-beyond compare. Woods focused on the professional to the exclusion of the personal; with the country at war, that wasn’t hard. But two years at Harvard gave him space to think-and to face his dismal prospects for upward mobility in an organization with an explicit homosexuality ban and a strong culture of marriage and children. Even if he had stayed closeted, he says, “It wasn’t going to be possible for me to fit the mold, and I knew that because of that, there was going to be a glass ceiling.”

Even after the invasive court-martial process-the military conducts interviews with friends and family to verify homosexuality, presumably to prevent fraud, for instance by soldiers who wish to avoid an additional tour in Iraq-Woods is reluctant to malign the officers who carried out his investigation. He says they are simply implementing a policy. Change might come from Congress, but Woods believes the Supreme Court is a more likely venue: “I think it’s going to take a landmark court case, like Brown v. Board of Education.”

That we would bar talented people who want to serve their country from that option makes absolutely no sense at all.  But perhaps this is a blessing.  Perhaps Woods can return to his hometown and find another way to serve – as part of a fresh group of lawmakers who have a new insight to these time-worn challenges we face and maybe some new strategies to tackle them.  I hope to interview Woods very shortly should he decide to enter the race.  Stay tuned.

Xe and the Private Security Re-Branding Hustle

Today in CREDO’s Bracket of Evil, Blackwater squares off against Karl Rove for the title of “Worst for America.” Compelling cases can be made for both, that’s for sure. But it’s a bit ironic that it comes at a time when both are finding it increasingly difficult to find a role in the post-Bush era. Rove hasn’t been able yet to figure out whether he’s trying to be credible media (presumably not), a GOP strategist (increasingly problematic as historians begin to see him as all tactics, no strategy), or just famous-name-for-hire (more difficult as the brand dies).

Blackwater though is going through an even more dramatic collapse and re-invention largely outside the public spotlight. In the past three weeks, four lawsuits have been filed against the company (recently rebranded “Xe”) over the conduct of employees in Iraq. On March 19th, the family of a slain Iraqi vice presidential guard filed suit against Blackwater and former employees, accusing Andrew Moonen of drunkenly murdering Raheem Khalaf Sa’adoon in December of 2006 and other Blackwater employees of attempting to cover up the incident and reneging on a deal to compensate the family for the death. “Xe – Blackwater also is accused of spiriting Mr. Moonen out of Iraq, bribing an Iraqi government official, and destroying documents and other evidence relating to the Moonen shooting and other Xe – Blackwater shootings.”

On March 26 and 27, two more lawsuits were filed against Blackwater related to shootings in September 2007 including the now-infamous Nusoor Square massacre in which Blackwater employees killed 17 civilians. Finally (for now), a lawsuit was filed on April 1st accusing Blackwater personnel in the shooting of three Iraqi security guards in February 2007 and subsequent attempts to cover up evidence and otherwise frustrate the investigation of the incident. All of this, of course, on top of a federal investigation into Xe/Blackwater’s role in the Nusoor Square Massacre which has targeted six former employees with gun and manslaughter charges. One has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter, the other five are scheduled to go to trial early in 2010.

But does it ultimately matter?

All this going on somewhat outside the public spotlight is exactly the idea. After more than a year in preparation, Blackwater has rebranded itself as Xe, founder Erik Prince has stepped down from his role as CEO and president Gary Jackson has retired. All because these brands had become so tainted that it seriously infringed on Blackwater/Xe’s ability to do business. As Prince said as he stepped down “Me [sic] not being part of the equation reduces the ‘X’ on the thing.”

But it hasn’t stopped there. In what one Xe/Blackwater employee termed “[t]he implosion in the swamp”, nearly every executive has departed in the past several months as the company has sought to reinvent itself in both image and purpose. Largely absent is the contracting and security operations that have drawn headlines around the world for violence and a consistent lack of oversight. In their place is a re-commitment to training and tactical instruction in facilities like the one opened last year near the U.S./Mexico border in San Diego.

Much of this shift in focus is indeed driven by concerns about public perception. Rumblings of exactly such a change began last summer when it was determined that Iraq would refuse to renew Xe/Blackwater’s license to operate in the country. But last week, on top of changes to name and leadership, it was announced that Chicago-based security firm Triple Canopy would be taking over Blackwater’s Baghdad security contract. As many- including Blackwater expert Jeremy Scahill- have long maintained, the size and structure of government security forces have been so dramatically transformed by the privatization model that contractors are simply required based on sheer size of the security needed, but Xe/Blackwater found it increasingly difficult to stay in the private security game, having become the international symbol of everything wrong with a poorly-overseen system of contractors.

So where is Xe heading now? Clearly the company has been working on international contracts for quite some time. Last summer, they began working to expand their surveillance air fleet (now at over 80 aircraft) and the successful opening of facilities in San Diego and Illinois have significantly increased their capacity to offer training to military and law enforcement personnel. Additionally, in the wake of growing piracy concerns in the Indian Ocean, the company has explored private maritime security and last year was exploring training and support contracts for Latin American countries. But how will this actually change things?

Small-scale local pushback has continued around the country. Efforts by Xe/Blackwater to expand the hours of its San Diego shooting range were recently thwarted by local residents, and a partnership with Southwestern College sparked pushback from Congressman Filner, faculty and local activists, inspired anti-Xe/Blackwater teach-in sessions at the school and prompted the college to rework its contract with the company. Life so far isn’t much easier for a rebranded Blackwater.

The prospect of being hired by other countries though, especially for combat purposes, raises all sorts of jurisdictional and legal concerns. Would employees working under foreign contracts be bound by U.S. law or foreign laws? What if those contracts ultimately included direct action against American companies, government agents or military forces? Involvement in foreign countries outside the aegis of the U.S. government has even more sinister possibilities. Accusations have today been leveled against “Blackwater gone underground” for recruiting ex-combatants from Liberia’s civil war to fight in Iraq. While the author has sources confirming the Blackwater connection, the broader concern doesn’t hinge on this particular accusation being true (awful though it is/would be). Whose responsibility is it to police U.S.-based private contractors who engage in this sort of behavior in foreign countries?

And despite losing its security contracts in Iraq, it’s expected that “many if not most of its private security guards will be back on the job in Iraq” working for other security firms in short order. And as Scahill notes, “Triple Canopy has its own bloody history in Iraq and a record of hiring mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records.”

Which ultimately leaves us with simply this: A bunch of new and less-familiar names for exactly the same problems that have plagued the Iraq debacle and U.S. military and security operations as a whole for a decade or more. Poorly-controlled private contractors with frightening records of violence and disrespect for human rights continue to be responsible for security throughout the world (Scahill notes Triple Canopy will also be operating out of Jerusalem as a private security force in Israel-Palestine) with no indication that anything but toxic brand names have been changed.

The whack-a-mole continues.

Blackwater Gets The Letter

I work for the Courage Campaign

After months of simmering, reports last week sounded rather certain that negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq to continue the American presence in Iraq would include the elimination of immunity for security contractors. Talk of a timetable for withdrawal- phased or complete- has been one sticking point, the Washington Post reported “Iraq’s insistence that its laws should prevail stems largely from the excesses of private U.S. security contractors, whom negotiators have agreed would be subject to Iraqi law.” Specifically the Nisoor Square massacre in which Blackwater agents killed 17 unarmed civilians without provocation.

The road towards some sort of justice for that massacre has been a long and torturous one (see here for a brief rundown of the attempted coverup). Despite a U.S. military investigation finding no evidence that Blackwater was fired upon, blanket immunity was immediately offered and counter-theories popped up all over the place. But after fighting through the courts for almost a year, there’s encouraging progress towards justice. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported six Blackwater agents received target letters from federal prosecutors, suggesting that indictments for at least some of them will be forthcoming.

It’s vital that the framework be established to govern security contractors in Iraq because there are simply so many of them. For the first time in U.S. history, the ratio of contractors to servicemembers is 1:1. And so far, there’s absolutely no mechanism to hold those 190,000 contractors accountable under any laws anywhere. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch reminds us “[t]his [Nisoor Square] is definitely the most high-profile case of contractor abuse in Iraq, but it’s certainly not the only one.”

With movement in both Iraq and the U.S. to start holding these folks accountable, it only bolsters the argument that Blackwater is not a good neighbor in San Diego or anywhere else. They simply don’t serve the community or the country and- no matter how much Don Rumsfeld wanted to completely outsource the military- have no business undermining the servicemen and women who actually perform these jobs with skill and honor. Once Blackwater is forced to accept the consequences for reckless barbarism, it’ll bolster the case of grassroots activists that have never given up the fight against Blackwater. One more step in the right direction.

Schwarzenegger Helps Launch EcoDriving Campaign, Embarrasses McCain

It wasn’t too long ago that the McCain campaign tried desperately to mock the Obama suggestion that people would be well served to keep their tires inflated properly in order to get better gas mileage. They went so far as to send out a fundraising email offering a “free” tire gauge in exchange for a donation to the campaign. They asked “[w]ill simply inflating your tires reduce the financial burden of high gas prices on your wallet?”

Turns out, the answer from every corner is yes. To the point that McCain had to back off it entirely and concede that it’s probably a good idea to properly maintain one’s car.

But as McCain and other Republican leaders continue to push the ridiculous on its face notion that only increased offshore drilling can address the current energy challenges in this country, Automobile Manufacturers and our own Governor Schwarzenegger are lining up to push car maintenance and better driving habits as a simple way to ease the hit at the pump. He was even good enough to put a video together to promote the new EcoDriving campaign. Echoing Obama’s statements on the issue, Schwarzenegger says in part, “You can reduce your fuel costs by more than 15%. And I am talking about simple things, like proper tire pressure, avoiding rapid starts and stops, and keeping your engine tuned.”

This is admittedly a mixed bag. Better driving habits and car maintenance does have a significant impact on gas mileage, and the more attention this gets, the more likely it is that consumers will receive the message. But it’s also incumbent upon auto makers and others to not use this as a cop out on their responsibility to keep working towards more eco-friendly cars. Informing consumers is fantastic, passing the buck to consumers in not. Either way, especially in a car-centric state like California this is a nice step.


It also serves as yet another reminder that consistently, nobody agrees with John McCain. He tries to belittle the advantages of better driving habits and gets smacked down by the people who know- AAA and car makers. He tries to run on his foreign policy brilliance and even tried to claim that Obama “has now adopted John McCain’s position” on Iraq. Which was almost immediately met by Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki saying McCain’s Iraq plan “would cause problems” as he endorsed Obama’s plan for withdrawal over 16 months. Which left McCain with the embarrassingly sad response: 16 months is now “a pretty good timetable.”

Every time McCain tries to lead on an issue, he’s promptly smacked down by the tag team of Obama and reality. If McCain hadn’t made such an absurd deal out of proper tire inflation, nobody would have said anything about it and we likely wouldn’t have a national push from auto makers advocating better driving habits led by one of McCain’s most valuable allies. But here we are, and McCain is left, once again, looking out of touch and unprepared to deal with the world as it is.