Monday, May 27, 2013
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
STANFORD, Calif. — AFTER fighting two wars in nearly 12 years, the United States military is at a turning point. So are the American people. The armed forces must rethink their mission. Though the nation has entered an era of fiscal constraint, and though President Obama last week effectively declared an end to the “global war on terror” that began on Sept. 11, 2001, the military remains determined to increase the gap between its war-fighting capabilities and those of any potential enemies. But the greatest challenge to our military is not from a foreign enemy — it’s the widening gap between the American people and their armed forces.
Three developments in recent decades have widened this chasm. First and most basic was the decision in 1973, at the end of combat operations in Vietnam, to depart from the tradition of the citizen-soldier by ending conscription and establishing a large, professional, all-volunteer force to maintain the global commitments we have assumed since World War II. In 1776, Samuel Adams warned of the dangers inherent in such an arrangement: “A standing Army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the Liberties of the People. Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a Body distinct from the rest of the Citizens.”
For nearly two generations, no American has been obligated to join up, and few do. Less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II. Even fewer of the privileged and powerful shoulder arms. In 1975, 70 percent of members of Congress had some military service; today, just 20 percent do, and only a handful of their children are in uniform.
In sharp contrast, so many officers have sons and daughters serving that they speak, with pride and anxiety, about war as a “family business.” Here are the makings of a self-perpetuating military caste, sharply segregated from the larger society and with its enlisted ranks disproportionately recruited from the disadvantaged. History suggests that such scenarios don’t end well.
Second, technology has helped insulate civilians from the military. World War II consumed nearly half of America’s economic output. But in recent decades, information and navigation technologies have vastly amplified the individual warrior’s firepower, allowing for a much more compact and less costly military. Today’s Pentagon budget accounts for less than 5 percent of gross domestic product and less than 20 percent of the federal budget — down from 45 percent of federal expenditures at the height of the Vietnam War. Such reliance on technology can breed indifference and complacency about the use of force. The advent of remotely piloted aircraft is one logical outcome. Reliance on drones economizes on both manpower and money, but is fraught with moral and legal complexities, as Mr. Obama acknowledged last week, in shifting responsibility for the drone program to the military from the C.I.A.
Third, and perhaps most troubling, the military’s role has expanded far beyond the traditional battlefield. In Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders orchestrated, alongside their combat missions, “nation-building” initiatives like infrastructure projects and promotion of the rule of law and of women’s rights. The potential for conflict in cyberspace, where military and civilian collaboration is essential, makes a further blurring of missions likely.
Together, these developments present a disturbingly novel spectacle: a maximally powerful force operating with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension. Technology and popular culture have intersected to perverse effect. While Vietnam brought home the wrenching realities of war via television, today’s wars make extensive use of computers and robots, giving some civilians the decidedly false impression that the grind and horror of combat are things of the past. The media offer us images of drone pilots, thousands of miles from the fray, coolly and safely dispatching enemies in their electronic cross hairs. Hollywood depicts superhuman teams of Special Operations forces snuffing out their adversaries with clinical precision.
new york times
Throwing Money at Nukes
Published: May 26, 2013
The United States has about 180 B61 gravity nuclear bombs based in Europe. They are the detritus of the cold war, tactical weapons deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey to protect NATO allies from the once-feared Soviet advantage in conventional arms. But the cold war is long over, and no American military commander can conceive of their ever being used. Even so, President Obama has put $537 million in his 2014 budget proposal to upgrade these bombs. When all is said and done, experts say, the cost of the rebuilding program is expected to total around $10 billion — $4 billion more than an earlier projection — and yield an estimated 400 weapons, fitted with new guided tail kits so that they are more reliable and accurate than the current ones.
This is a nonsensical decision, not least because it is at odds with Mr. Obama’s own vision. In a seminal speech in Prague in 2009and a strategy review in 2010, Mr. Obama advocated the long-term goal of a world without nuclear arms and promised to reduce America’s reliance on them. He also promised not to field a new and improved warhead.
But the B61 upgrade would significantly increase America’s tactical nuclear capability and send the wrong signal while Mr. Obama is trying to draw Russia into a new round of nuclear reduction talks that are supposedly aimed at cutting tactical, as well as strategic, arsenals.
Even if there is a case to be made for keeping the bombs in Europe as a sign of America’s political commitment to NATO (allied opinion is divided on whether the weapons should stay), many experts doubt that the B61 warheads need to be rebuilt now, if at all. Government-financed nuclear labs have a rigorous program for testing them to make sure they still work.
Moreover, as Congress slashes spending on far more defensible programs like food stamps and Head Start, Mr. Obama’s $537 million request for the B61 bomb in 2014 is 45.5 percent higher than the 2013 figure; the $7.86 billion request for all weapons-related activity in the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-independent agency within the Department of Energy that oversees the nuclear warhead programs, is 9 percent above the amount Congress appropriated in 2012.
Mr. Obama’s profligacy apparently has its roots in 2010. That is when the president made a Faustian bargain with Senate Republicans who demanded that he invest more than $80 billion in the nuclear labs as a condition of their allowing the New Start arms reduction treaty with Russia to be approved. It is a mystery why he would feel bound by this commitment at a time when limited dollars should be directed toward real needs, and when Republicans have obstructed him at every turn on those needs.
In addition to overspending on warheads, Mr. Obama has cut the Global Threat Reduction Initiative program, which reduces and protects from terrorism vulnerable nuclear material at sites worldwide, by 15 percent from 2013 levels. His budget is being rewritten by Congress, but in the nuclear area it is a disappointing, and befuddling, measure of his priorities.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
FROM MOTHER JONES
Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" Is On HBO And Not In Theaters Because It's Too Gay
—By Asawin Suebsaeng
| Sun May. 26, 2013 3:00 AM PDT
Courtesy of HBO
Behind the Candelabra
Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra(which premieres Sunday, May 26 at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO) is as good as you've heard. It's a moving and beautifully made film that traces the clandestine half-decade romance between Vegas showman and pianist Liberaceand his much, much younger live-in boyfriend Scott Thorson, who co-wrote the 1988 memoir on which the film is based. (My colleague Maggie Caldwell has a good reflection on, among other things, meeting the flashy and famous entertainment icon when she was a babyhere.)
The whole cast does a superb job; as Liberace, Michael Douglas crafts a portrait of celebrity isolation and capriciousness worthy of an Oscar nomination—if only he were eligible.
The reason he is not eligible is because Behind the Candelabra, aside from competing in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, will not be released in US theaters. And the reason you will be watching this film (which could very well be Soderbergh's last before he retires from movies and moves on to making TV shows full-time) on cable television instead of at your local multiplex is because of its conspicuous gayness.
During a press tour in January, Soderbergh explained how he was turned down by every studio he approached with his Liberace project because executives deemed it "too gay" to turn an acceptable profit:
Nobody would make it. We went to everybody in town. We needed $5 million. Nobody would do it...They said it was too gay. Everybody. This was after Brokeback Mountain, by the way. Which is not as funny as this movie. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us...[The people at HBO are] great and they're really good at what they do, and ultimately I think more people will see it, and that's all you care about. Studios were going, "We don't know how to sell it." They were scared.
The film does indeed have its share of gay love and intercourse, including a sweaty, grunting sequence in which Scott (played by Matt Damon) is taking Liberace from behind while the aging performer offers him drugs to take during sex. But the Hollywood rejection shouldn't have been all that shocking to Soderbergh and company. Hollywood and mainstream cinema have a long and well-documented history of not "knowing" how to "sell" and market movies featuring explicit gay sex to a wide audience.
Films starring big names that also deal with gay sexual content—such as the sweet 2009 comedy I Love You Phillip Morris starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as prison lovers—typically do not fare too well at the box office. (And it's worth noting that Brokeback Mountain, the 2005 Oscar-winnerthat Soderbergh referenced on his press tour, included a marketing and publicity strategy that went out of its way not to mention even the word "gay.")
Again, nobody should be too surprised. This is the same Hollywood and big-money film industry that still hasn't come to terms with showing a black man and a white woman having passionate sex or dating on-screen.
But if you personally are cool with watching a very good movie that is also supposedly "too gay," then Behind the Candelabra is definitely one to check out. Here's its trailer:
Click here for more