Monday, May 27, 2013




Americans and Their Military, Drifting Apart

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.
David Plunkert
Opinion Twitter Logo.

Connect With Us on Twitter

For Op-Ed, follow@nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow@andyrNYT.

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
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.

Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general, was the United States commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 and the ambassador there from 2009 to 2011. He is a fellow at Stanford, where David M. Kennedy is an emeritus professor of history. They are, respectively, a contributor to and the editor of “The Modern American Military.”


Showdown at the Airport Body Scanner

Anxiety: We worry. A gallery of contributors count the ways.
I have never walked through an airport body scanner — or, as I think of it, “the cancer machine.” In the years since these radiation chambers began appearing in airports across the United States, I have developed a variety of tricks to avoid submitting myself to them.
At checkpoints that use a combination of cancer machines and traditional metal detectors, it is just a matter of choosing the right queue. Often, however, a single line feeds into both machines, making the Transportation Security Administration officer responsible for directing passengers to one or the other. Since the officer gives priority to the cancer machine, relatively few passengers end up walking through the metal detector.
Wren McDonald
Confronted with this situation, I create delays, futzing with my shoes or laptop, until the line has bottlenecked at the cancer machine. At that point I walk confidently — or as confidently as one can possibly walk without wearing shoes — to the metal detector, at which point the officer usually waves me through.
Sometimes, however, there is no escape. In these cases I look directly into the eyes of the officer and explain that I refuse to go through “that machine,” or “that radiation machine,” or “that hateful cancer machine.” The official term for this is “opting out,” a phrase that suggests a reluctance to honor a simple, reasonable request. The suggestion is that the unwilling passenger is the unreasonable one. But I don’t think the United States government’s insistence on using these machines is reasonable. And if you think I’m crazy, then I have one thing to say to you: You’re crazy.
There have been various civilian protests against the X-ray machines, but most of them were inspired by concerns over privacy; the scanners, after all, showed agents what we look like naked.
In response, the Department of Homeland Security announced several months ago that it had terminated its contract with the X-ray scanners’ manufacturer — a company that actually calls itself Rapiscan (pronounced, I originally assumed, with a long “a”) — because it did not meet a deadline to deliver a less revealing technology. The Rapiscan machines have recently been replaced with scanners made by another company, which produce less graphic images. They also employ millimeter waves, which produce a significantly lower amount of radiation than X-rays. But those lower doses may be temporary. In October the T.S.A. signed a contract, potentially worth $245 million, with a third company that supplies a variety of “X-ray detection solutions.” It shouldn’t be too long before their machines begin appearing in airports.
The T.S.A. assures us that neither the X-ray scanners nor the millimeter wave machines pose a heath risk. But frankly I’d prefer to avoid being irradiated, even a little bit.
T.S.A. officers seem to take it personally when I opt out. They sigh, they roll their eyes, they snort derisively. I always have the impression that, at some point in their training, they have been told that passengers who opt out are foolish and selfish, because that is how I tend to be treated — with disgust.
After my refusal, the officer yells, “Male assist!” But nobody ever seems to hear him. I am ordered to stand to one side and wait, sometimes for as long as 10 minutes, for a second officer to appear. This person usually has been standing within five feet of me the entire time, eyeing me with irritation. Sometimes the frisker is even the original officer himself.
Once, running late, I expressed concern to an officer that I might miss my flight. It was my own fault, he replied, adding that, in the future, if I plan on opting out, I should arrive at the airport three hours early.
When the frisking officer finally appears, he rolls on a pair of latex gloves (a particularly ominous gesture, that) and leads me to a designated frisking area, which is in full sight of those passing through the security gate. I am offered the option of enduring my rubdown in private. I always refuse: Civil disobedience is worth nothing if it’s not done in public.
The frisk is needlessly, superfluously sensual. The officer runs his hands slowly over every inch of my clothed body. (Another trick: whenever I go to an airport, I make sure to wear a sleeveless undershirt and, if possible, shorts, so as to reduce the extent of the frisk.) The officer slides his hands over my chest and my back, then up the inseam of each leg — all the way — and back down. Recently, at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, a particularly truculent officer repeated this part of the frisk twice, with unusual vigor.
“Two times?” I asked. “Really?”
“That’s how we do in Atlanta,” said the agent.
Never once has a frisker made eye contact with me while rubbing his hands over my body.
More From Anxiety
Read previous contributions to this series.
Often officers make a point of questioning my decision to opt out. I have several responses ready for them. I speak loudly so that other passengers in security can hear me. I note that there is a correlation between radiation absorption over a lifetime and cancer rate. Even if the machines release an extremely low amount of radiation, significantly lower than the cosmic radiation one absorbs during the course of any flight, why not avoid it if possible? I tell them that an investigative report in 2011 by ProPublica and PBS NewsHour concluded that the X-ray scanners, then still in use, could cause cancer in 6 to 100 United States airline passengers every year, and that the European Union banned those machines because of health concerns. “Come on,” said one officer at New Orleans’s Louis Armstrong airport, “You’re going to take directions from the Europeans?”
I point out that the manufacturers of body scanning machines have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress to ensure their deployment. Finally, for good measure, I ask my frisker whether he has heard about the “cancer cluster” at Boston’s Logan airport. Security workers there have argued that their cancers were caused by standing close to the X-ray baggage scanners. T.S.A. officers do not like to hear about the Logan cancer cluster.
There are studies that show a correlation between extremely low-level, non-ionizing forms of radiation and cancer, just as there are many studies showing the opposite. Many scientists will insist that the low levels of radiation absorbed in airport security checks have no deleterious effect. That’s wonderful — I’m happy to concede that my fears are most likely baseless. But as long as there is any question of risk, no matter how small, I will continue to avoid the machines.
Airplane travel is disquieting, as is dealing with peevish federal officers, as is life. Even the slightest gesture of assertiveness can create the pleasing illusion that you control your fate. Besides, I’ve come to treasure this particular anxiety. It has hardened into something stronger: it has become a habit, a question of principle, a ritual. As I watch fellow passengers walk into the machines, posing with their arms raised over their heads like prison inmates submitting to a strip search, I feel proud of my small act of protest. Then I spread my legs and await my public groping.

Nathaniel Rich is the author, most recently, of the novel “Odds Against Tomorrow.”


new york times


Throwing Money at Nukes

  • SAVE
  • E-MAIL
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.
Opinion Twitter Logo.

Connect With Us on Twitter

For Op-Ed, follow@nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow@andyrNYT.

Readers’ Comments

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



Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" Is On HBO And Not In Theaters Because It's Too Gay

| Sun May. 26, 2013 3:00 AM PDT
Behind the Candelabra HBOMichael Douglas, left, and Matt Damon, playing lovers in the '70s and '80s. 
Behind the Candelabra
HBO Films
118 minutes
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.
This is the same Hollywood that still hasn't come to terms with showing a black man and a white woman having passionate sex on-screen.
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