Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The guns, not-very-far-below

The Trump Administration has directed the armed forces of the United States to violate the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385, original at 20 Stat. 152).
"The new “Cabinet order” was signed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, not President Donald Trump. It allows “Department of Defense military personnel” to “perform those military protective activities that the Secretary of Defense determines are reasonably necessary” to protect border agents, including “a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention. and cursory search.”
While unsurprising in its disregard of both legalities and governmental norms - after all, this is the President that seems to think that the job of the Department of Justice is to prosecute his political enemies - this is a reminder that this road to military-government-hell has been paved with the "good intentions" of the USAPATRIOT Act (public Law 107-56 and 115 Stat. 272).

For those of us who have been shutting our eyes very tightly and trying to pretend that the past couple of years have been about "economic anxiety", "shaking things up", and "telling it like it is" it's time to face up to the dangerous road we've been walking since 9/11/2001. We the People gave the Bushies these tools in our fear and anger. We've never taken them away.

Now we have a barely-hinged real-estate grifter in the Oval Office who has grasped them with both hands and the eager intent to swing them against his enemies.

Are you his enemy?

If so, you may find out and regret, too late, that...

So in the Libyan fable it is told
That once an eagle, stricken with a dart,
Turned about and said, when he saw the fashion of the shaft;
"It is with our own feathers, not by others' hands,
Are we now smitten.”

Update 11/23: And, as always, it's worth mentioning that this entire nonsensical business is founded on a concatenation of lies, ridiculous lies, and bullshit. Immigration, legal and otherwise, is still not an existential threat to the economic, social, or political life of the United States.

There ARE some vast and difficult issues facing this nation.

Climate change. That's gonna be a biggie, perhaps THE biggest challenge we will face in our lifetimes and those of our children.

Unfettered plutocracy, since you can have democracy or plutocracy, but not both.

The normalization, as mentioned above, of imperial war based on ludicrous ideas like "fighting terrorism". It's one thing to be an empire. It's another to try and pretend NOT to be an empire while being one; republican Rome discovered how destructive that is, both to domestic politics and economics.

The return of open white supremacy, which, in a nation at least notionally predicated on equal justice under law, is viciously toxic - if the United States intends to return to the sort of open racism that characterized it for much of its existence then it cannot afford to continue to pretend to offer equal citizenship to all its people based on their allegiance to the ideals of its foundational documents.

But immigration? Please.

It profits a man nothing to sell his soul for the entire world.

But for immigration..?

Friday, November 16, 2018

After the Armistice???

In my youth 11 November was touted as Armistice Day here in the States.  I still call it that in deference to my grandfather and great uncle.  I never understood why Ike changed it to Veterans Day.  We already honored veterans on Memorial Day and on Armed Forces Day.  Why have another?  Don’t bother to answer, I was only asking old Ike a rhetorical question.  Since World War One was touted as the ”War to end all wars”, then IMHO Armistice Day was honoring the stopping of war, any war; honoring ceasefires regardless of where or when; honoring a truce no matter how short; honoring peace.  The Veterans for Peace organization still honors Armistice Day as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated."
But unfortunately war never stopped on 11 November 1918.  In the period just after the 1918 Armistice there were at least 27 violent transfers of political power, many accompanied by violent civil wars.  Not just in Russia.  Winston Churchill in his arrogance commented sarcastically: "The war of giants has ended, the wars of the pygmies begin.Yet Europe between Armistice Day in November of 1918 and the Treaty of Lausanne July 1923 was the most violent place on the planet.  Four million people died during that period as a result of armed conflict.  Millions more died of the great influenza pandemic between 1918 and 1920, much of it had been spread by war.   And hundreds of thousands died of starvation due to those post-Armistice conflicts. 

There was the Greco Turkish War and the Polish Soviet War. 

Finn nationalist <i>”volunteers”</i> launched the Kinship Wars in Estonia, Karelia, the Murmansk Oblast, Ingria and Petsamo. 

The Aster Revolution broke out in Budapest.  Then Romanians and Czechs invaded Hungary; and also in Hungary there were periods of both Red Terror and White Terror. 

Yugoslavia sparred with Italy over Rijeka.  Poland did the same with Czechoslovakia over Cieszyn Silesia, and with Germany over Poznań, and with Ukrainians over Eastern Galicia.

There was the violent rise and fall of the Bavarian Soviet Republic in Munich, and the Spartacist Uprising in Berlin.  The Freikorps also fought against the communists in the Baltics, Silesia, Poland and East Prussia. 

Ditto for an attempted Communist putsch in Vienna.  And ditto for the Slovak Soviet Republic in Prešov.

Immediately after the Irish War of Independence, there followed a bloody Civil War.

The last Sultan, Mehmed VI, was overthrown in Turkey.  And Turks fought their own War of Independence against France, Italy, Britain, Armenia and Greece.

There was the well-known Russian Civil War between Reds and Whites with various interventions by French, British, Australian, Italian, Canadian & US troops in Arkhangelsk; British, Canadian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese & US troops in Vladivostok; Romanian troops in Bessarabia; Greek troops in the Crimea and Odessa and Kherson; Estonian troops in northwestern Russia; and the Czech Legion throughout Siberia.  Plus Russia repressed breakaway republics in the Caucasus and the western borderlands, and the kulaks, anarchists and moderate socialists.  Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians fought against each other and against the Russians.

In Bulgaria there was the coup against Prime Minister Stamboliyski by IMRO.  His hand that signed the Treaty of Niš was cut off.  Then he was blinded, tortured and his head cut off, which sparked bloody uprisings and repression.

I would guess I missed many more of the conflicts during that period.  And the above mostly speaks of Europe.  There was also much bloodshed in Africa, Asia and the Americas during that timeframe to include the Rif War in North Africa, the revolt in Egypt, the Amritsar massacre (and others) in India, the March 1st Movement in Korea, the Warlord Era in China; the continuation of the Mexican Revolution, and many more.  FDChief is correct: the hairless ape has never figured out a way to solve problems without violence.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Guns Below

At eleven minutes after eleven a.m., one hundred years ago today, one of the many great mass murders that have torn the European continent ground to a fitful stop.
As an American I do not have any real sense for the immense pile of death and suffering that was The Great War (and that in itself is pretty appalling - that the conflict those who fought and those who lived through thought had been, and would be, the most awful war in human history would within a generation be relegated to a mere number) even though my great-uncle was killed somewhere in the Aisne-Marne campaign while serving as a runner for his battalion in the 42nd ("Rainbow") Division. I'm like almost all Americans; any knowledge we have of the war is at a far remove. The trenches have no hold on me. I can read the accounts, the military histories, the poetry and the novels, and understand in a sort of distant way the horrific day-to-day reality of the war.

But it doesn't really affect me.

But for many of the peoples of Europe it was a stone in the chest. It wasn't just four years of ruin and merciless hatred; the Great War dominated political, and many personal, lives for decades.

And some places the War still has not ended; immense mines still lie in uneasy sleep beneath the soil of France.

And there is the Zone Rouge.

And that brings me to the tale I want to tell today.

As an American of the 21st Century I cannot do justice to the horrors that ended a century ago today So, instead, let me tell you the story of the village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont.

In August 1914 the village was just another little farming town in the wooded hills east of Verdun. The census of 1913 had recorded 422 inhabitants: Three innkeepers, a baker-confectioner, M. Simon - who was carpenter, cartwright and cabinetmaker - a shoemaker, three seamstresses, a builder, a tinsmith, five masons, a blacksmith, a baker, M. Tardivat the "inspector of works", a tobacconist (who may also have been the baker, the grocer, and one of the innkeepers or the brother of one of them), and six farmers who owned the land they farmed. And, of course, their wives, daughters, sons, and the various landless laborers who worked for them.

The village lived like the others around it; from farming and vinticulture, and timbering from the wooded hills where the lean gray wolves still watched from the shadows under the trees as they had in Merovingian times.

The fighting of 1792, 1814, and 1870 had passed Fleury by; all that touched it were the sons who returned with tales of battles far away...or never returned at all and were mourned in the old stone church.

Even the battles of 1914 were fought to the north and east, and the families continued to sow and harvest with, perhaps, no more than a nervous glance to where the night-horizon was lit with gunfire. All of that ended on 21 FEB 1916.

It was snowing that morning. The horizon lit with gunfire as the order came from the military district to evacuate. The villagers piled what belongings they could into carts and wagons and walked or rode southwest as the sky between the louring cloud and the frosted hills burned behind them.

They never saw their homes again.
The site of the village - since by mid-summer all that remained were rubbled heaps where the houses and shops had been - changed hands 16 times altogether.

The "powder magazine" (La Poudrière, described as " advanced artillery munitions dump to more quickly supply the field and fortress batteries between Douaumont, Thiaumont, Froideterre and Fleury-devant-Douaumont as well as some secondary munitions dumps...") located near the village was fought over again and again.The village site was finally retaken on 18 AUG, when after ten days of hard fighting Moroccan infantry went in singing the Marseillaise and held.

The site of Fleury is the photo at the head of this post. As you can see, the ruins of the little town have almost disappeared in the succeeding 100 years; only the shellholes remain.

The debris of warfare, particularly the massive amounts of unexploded ordnance including phosgene and chlorine gas shells, had made the entire area next to uninhabitable and certainly unfarmable.
It was included in what was called the Zone Rouge, the “Red Zone”, that portion of northeastern France too badly battered in war for human habitation.

After initial attempts to clear away the mess the Third Republic made the decision to let the Red Zone return to wilderness. Tree plantations were established, and the area let slowly regress into forest and meadow. The grass grew long in the cratered fields, the young poplars and maples formed doghair copses that welcomed back foxes and coneys.
Fleury, and eight other small villages around Verdun, were designated casualties of war – “villages that died for France” – and were honored by a representative in the Chamber of Deputies in Paris that served the memory of places that no longer existed save for as scattered stones in a tormented woodlot.

The area is now managed by a municipal council of three members appointed by the prefect of the Meuse department.

Much of the rest of the old Western Front has physically recovered from the wounds inflicted in the Great War. Even other areas within the old Red Zone have slowly been reclaimed, becoming farms and homes, towns, and even parts of cities as St. Quentin, Soissons, and Loos slowly grow with the new 21st Century.

The old days still take their toll, however; the occasional buried round - the "iron harvest" - is encountered by a disk harrow with unpleasant results, or, less violently, is seen placed carefully alongside the road verge to await the arrival of the Département du Déminage disposal teams.

The old border is a peaceful sort of place where the business of human life seems never to have paused. The old wars seem hard to imagine as lorries full of German machine parts roar west to Brest or French artisan cheese north to Brussels.
But Fleury-devant-Douaumont has never been rebuilt.

The village is tenanted only by the past, the only dweller the silent sleekness of the marten, the only passersby the ghosting wings of the thrushes.

The rustling passage of the hedgehog is all that recalls the lumbering walk of M. Body the grocer, and the owl-eyes the hooded glance of Mlle. Alpert the seamstress, gone these hundred years never to return.

And since the day wouldn't be commemorated correctly without some sort of poetry, here's a war song to listen to while you read the tales of battles long ago.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

GCHQ Anniversary

99 years ago on 1 November 1919 Britain established GCHQ, the
'Government Communications Headquarters' that provided SIGINT and crypto protection for the armed forces plus diplomats and spies of the UK. Prior to that each service had their own SIGINT & Crypto silos, MI-1 for the British Army and Room-40 for the Royal Navy.  Picture on the right is the first home of the British GCHQ, it was known as Watergate House.

The British centralization of SIGINT and Crypto preceded the American effort to do the same by at least 30 years.  The US founded AFSA, the 'Armed Forces Security Agency' in 1949.  But that effort was never completely centralized as there were several exceptions within plankholder Army and Navy intel units, plus it never coordinated with civilian agencies such as the State Department, the CIA, and the FBI.  So it took another three years before the NSA, also known as 'No Such Agency', was formed.  In my opinion one thing the Brits did very much better than the US was that they placed GCHQ under their Foreign Secretary, while we poor cousins still have the NSA as part of DoD.

During WW2 GCHQ was moved out of London into Bletchley Park about 70 kilometers NW of London in Buckinghamshire. Made famous by many books and movies it is now a museum open to the public.  You can spend the day gazing at an 'Enigma', or the Turing/Welchman 'Bombe' machine. Perhaps even 'Colossus', the world's first electronic, programmable digital computer, that broke the Lorenz cipher and was reading orders to the field from OKW and sometimes Adolf himself.

Nowadays GCHQ is based in the Doughnut in suburban Cheltenham in Gloucestershire.  5800(?) employees compared to 30 to 40000 for NSA; and they have only a fraction of NSA's budget.  But they reportedly still do a decent job - specialization by the crafty Sassenach boffins I assume.  Plus they have much closer relationships to similar intel organizations in former commonwealth countries.  I don't believe they'll let you visit though. 

Director since March 2017 is Jeremy Fleming formerly of MI-5, the US semi-equivalent of the FBI. 
Director Fleming denied strongly the spurious allegation by Fox News and later by Trumpy himself  that GCHQ spied on Trump Tower for President Obama.