Archive for June, 2013

In their rush to protect America from terrorism, Bush administration officials employed counterproductive tactics that verged on torture

June 26, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 26, 2013

In many ways, the United States was unprepared for the battle against terrorists that was triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The nation’s leaders had to implement new objectives and policies geared to fighting al Qaeda and its ilk. This enemy, unlike others faced and vanquished by America, did not control a nation; had no formal government; dispatched warriors who wore no uniform. Yet American soldiers and spies would have to capture, interrogate and possibly send to trial these new foes.

This is one of many threads tracked by Kurt Eichenwald in his 2012 book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. As is now well known, officials in the administration of President George W. Bush took extremely expansive views of the powers that a wartime president and his delegates could wield legally. Unfortunately, Eichenwald’s book shows, that perspective was one of several factors that helped facilitate the torture of detainees by Americans and American allies.

Around the time the U.S. began invading Afghanistan, in October 2001, several lawyers met to lay groundwork for handling captives. Attending were John Yoo, a Justice Department lawyer from the group tasked with providing legal advice to the executive branch; Alberto Gonzales, the chief White House counsel; Gonzales’ deputy, Tim Flanigan; and David Addington, senior counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney. Yoo was shown a draft presidential order modeled on one President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had issued.

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In ‘500 Days,’ Kurt Eichenwald outlines critical decisions and events that followed 9/11

June 25, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 24, 2013

In 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, veteran journalist Kurt Eichenwald sets out a history of the turmoil triggered by al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. This impressive 2012 book is focused on how the administration of President George W. Bush responded to the terrorist strike, although its scope is hardly limited to that.

Eichenwald retells many events that are both terrible and familiar. In the prologue, CIA and FBI officials find themselves frustrated as bureaucrats and Bush appointees, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, show little to no reaction to various signs that some kind of terrorist operation is in the works. (500 Days implies, and Eichenwald has explicitly argued elsewhere, that chances to foil the 9/11 attacks were squandered due to Bush administration inattention.) The first chapter begins with a spontaneous evacuation of the White House following the second collision between an airliner and the World Trade Center in New York City.

That impact triggered an immediate and massive response, setting in motion events that continue to have ramifications to the present day. We see this, for instance, in the reaction to recent revelations about the scope of data collection by the National Security Agency. As Eichenwald demonstrates, the NSA’s efforts were hastily and significantly expanded in the Stellar Wind initiative just weeks after the terrorist strikes.

One storyline in the book involves the largely ineffectual efforts by the British prime minister, Tony Blair, to channel the Bush administration’s preparations for war with Iraq in ways that will be acceptable to the British public and the international community. Tellingly, U.S. officials began considering Iraq involvement within hours of the tragedy.

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A species’ survival and a housewife’s future hinge upon the ‘Flight Behavior’ of Barbara Kingsolver’s latest outing

June 18, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 18, 2013

Dellarobia Turnbow is a woman with a kindergartner, a toddler and a problem: She feels trapped and bored by her marriage. What she doesn’t realize at the opening of Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 novel, is that her life is about to undergo an amazing transformation.

The change is prompted by the migration of monarch butterflies to the Tennessee mountaintop owned by her husband’s family. The unexpected winter visitors attract the attention of one Ovid Byron, lepidopterist extraordinaire, and trigger all sorts of upheaval in the Turnbow clan.

Kingsolver, a former scientist, is a tremendously gifted writer with twin specialties: The American makes both complex biological systems and rural American culture seem equally understandable to outsiders. Both subjects receive prominent play in Flight Behavior, which takes place during one winter outside the fictitious village of Feathertown.

This book makes a fascinating companion to Kingsolver’s 2000 outing, Prodigal Summer, which was set in the Virginia mountains in, obviously, a much warmer season. But whereas the earlier book was told from the perspective of three different characters, Flight Behavior never strays out of Dellarobbia’s head. Read the rest of this entry »

‘The Comedians’ play against a backdrop of Haitian poverty and corruption

June 11, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 11, 2013

Some readers might say that there’s very little humor to be found in The Comedians. The opening line of this 1966 novel by prolific and accomplished British author Graham Greene conjures images of dreary monuments to forgotten personages, including “the modest stone that commemorates” a key character in the novel. The narrator, a hotelier named Brown, is ambivalent, impotent (literally, on occasion) and also cynical.

As the novel’s action begins, Brown has failed to sell his hotel in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and is sailing back to “the future of my empty hotel and of a love-affair which was almost as empty.” His hotel is without guests because of the oppressive rule of (the democratically elected) Papa Doc Duvalier and his violent paramilitary loyalists, the Tontons Macoute, who have driven away the foreign tourists that once powered the economy of the impoverished Caribbean island-nation.

Brown’s shipmates include an obscure American third-party presidential candidate named Mr. Smith and a con artist named Mr. Jones. Jones, Smith and his outspoken wife want to establish a center to promote vegetarianism in a city and country of striking poverty. Jones is determined to enrich himself in Haiti’s climate of corruption. But Brown — all but unable to draw guests other than the Smiths to the hotel that he genuinely loves — is more or less adrift. For most of the book, the hotelier mainly strives to serve the Smiths, to intervene on Jones’ behalf with the authorities, and to rendezvous with his lover, the wife of an ambassador. Read the rest of this entry »

BR25C: Return of the Fighting 69th

June 3, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 3, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

“Return of the Fighting 69th” — Season 1, Episode 8

Originally aired ———————————

Synopsis

Our story begins with four starfighters pursuing a stolen freighter. Buck Rogers, Col. Wilma Deering and two trainees are in the hunt, but when enemy fighters engage, the freighter escapes into the Necrosis asteroid belt. Against orders, the cadets fly after it, but they are destroyed almost immediately, presumably by asteroids.

Back in Dr. Elias Huer’s office, an upset Rogers demands to know what was so important that two badly underprepared pilots were exposed to danger and death. Huer has a chilling answer: The ship was loaded with nerve gas and other ancient weapons that had been slated for destruction. Based on the freighter’s destination, those instruments of death are in the hands of gunrunners Korless and Trent, who are undoubtedly determined to use them against Earth.

A pre-emptive strike against the Necrosis asteroid base is imperative, Huer declares, and Noah Cooper — a retired pilot intimately familiar with the deadly Necrosis asteroid belt — must lead it. Deering balks, but Huer orders her to attempt to recruit Cooper.

It emerges that Cooper and his surviving squadron mates from the Fighting 69th were mentors and pseudo-family to a young Deering, whom they affectionately refer to as Dizzy D because of her antics in the pilots’ ready room. But recently, the colonel disqualified all the squadron’s members from flight duty because they flunked their physicals. Read the rest of this entry »

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