Tilting at Windmills

May/June 2011 Supreme Amnesia…A slam Dunc…Your thoughts, please…

By Charles Peters

Take a load off, Army

One of the problems with our educated elite’s failure to serve in the military is their ignorance of the problems of the average soldier, and their resulting inability to pressure the Pentagon to take remedial action. A study by a Navy research committee in 2007 found that Marines carried loads of ninety-seven pounds. In the Army, according to Hal Bernten of the Seattle Times, upon whose reporting I rely for this item, the load is seventy to eighty pounds. Yet the Army Science Board recommends that soldiers carry no more than fifty pounds.

The consequences are not surprising. Thirty-one percent of combat evacuations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been for musculoskeletal, connective tissue, or spinal injuries. Of these, about 80 percent do not return to combat duty. An example is Spc. Joseph Chroniger, who returned from Iraq “with bone spurs in the vertebrae in his neck caused by a degenerative arthritic condition.”

Chroniger is only twenty-five years old. “What’s it going to be like,” he asks, “when I’m fifty or sixty?”

Obviously the services need to find a way to lighten the load. Unfortunately, without outside pressure to do otherwise, the Pentagon tends to concentrate on big-ticket items that make for big budgets, aided and abetted by congressmen who want to land big defense contracts for their districts.

The buck stops with…that little guy over there

In April 2010, Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine exploded, killing twenty-nine coal miners. Now a grand jury has indicted the mine’s foreman for obstructing investigation into the disaster by the FBI and U.S. mine safety inspectors. According to the Charleston Gazette, the indictment alleges that the foreman lied about the company’s policy of “warning mine personnel when federal safety inspectors arrived on site.”

What I am looking forward to is the indictment not of more underlings like the foreman, but of Massey executives, including its head, the former CEO Don Blankenship, who I strongly suspect were responsible for the policies that led to the disaster.

Supreme Amnesia

Did you see the New Yorker cartoon showing a lawyer pleading before the Supreme Court, “If you prick a corporation, does it not bleed?” It captures the absurdity of the court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which held that, for purposes of making a political contribution, a corporation is a person. That the Court itself may be at least a bit embarrassed by that ruling is suggested by its recent ruling in Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T. The telephone giant was pleading that it had a right of personal privacy. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the Court’s opinion, but, incredibly, managed to do so without mentioning Citizens United, or how it makes sense for a corporation to be a person in one case and not in the other.

With a name like Curve Ball …

60 Minutes recently tracked down Curve Ball. You will recall that he was the source of the “intelligence” about mobile biological weapons laboratories, which the show’s anchor Bob Simon accurately described as the “crown jewel” of Colin Powell’s statement before the United Nations that was crucial in persuading so many Americans to support the Iraq War.

On the show itself, Curve Ball admitted that he lied. But when he suggested that someone else was involved in concocting his fiction, and Simon pressed him about the identity of that person, Curve Ball rose from his chair, ripped off his microphone, and terminated the interview. In general he was so shifty and evasive that it is incredible that anyone ever believed him. It seems clear that the CIA was so desperate to please George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that it took the word of an obvious fraud.

Clever like a Fox

If you have from time to time found reason to doubt the fidelity to truth at Fox News, your misgivings will not be allayed by a recent revelation in the New York Times: Roger Ailes, the head of Fox, urged a woman to give false testimony in a legal proceeding. The conversation was caught on tape, so there seems to be no question as to its authenticity.

I have to say that I have long suspected Ailes of being fully aware of the lying that occurs so frequently on his network. Everything I’ve ever heard about him suggests that he is way too smart not to know better.

One way the past decade wasn’t utterly depressing

Ten years ago, I knew the time for me to retire from running the Monthly was drawing near. I also knew that Paul Glastris was leaving his job as a speechwriter for Bill Clinton’s White House.

I had first met Paul when, as a very young man, he came to a conference we held on neoliberalism in 1983. His interest in our obscure ideology of course caused me to think of him as a potential soul mate, an impression that became a firm conviction after he served as a summer intern a year later and then as editor from 1986 to 1988.

When I retired from the Monthly, I wanted to be sure to turn it over to someone who shared what we called the “gospel.” So I immediately began talking to Paul about becoming my successor. The result was that he became editor in chief on May 15, 2001. Ten years later, I could not be happier with my choice.

Paul has displayed in full measure the skills of a great editor. Most important of all, he has a nose for talent that has resulted in his unearthing one gifted young journalist after another to help him put out a magazine of which I am very proud.

Something tells me these guys aren’t serious

If congressional Republicans are so anxious to cut federal spending, why did they reject Representative George Miller’s bill to eliminate generous subsidies to the big oil companies that are racking up huge profits?

Subprime U.

Speaking of good television, in case you missed the recent Frontline episode about for-profit higher education, it revealed that though these institutions enroll only 12 percent of the nation’s students, they account for 44 percent of the students who default on their loans.

Why so many defaults? The schools rely on these loans to finance themselves. The largest of the for-profits, the University of Phoenix, gets 86 percent of its revenue from the federal government, according to Frontline. To maintain that financing, at least until it was stopped by a lawsuit last year, Phoenix paid its enrollment counselors solely on the basis of the number of students they recruited. This of course meant that the counselors were tempted to enroll, as one critic put it, “pretty much anybody.”

How do such schools get accredited? One technique is to buy an existing accredited college that has fallen on hard times. That way they acquire a veneer of respectability that makes it easier for the high-pressure recruiters to enroll the gullible.

The Fourth Estate clears its throat

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


  • clarence swinney on May 11, 2011 9:45 AM:

    OLDUGLYMEANHONEST madmadmad at Inequality in America

  • acura cake on May 25, 2011 10:18 AM:

    Greetings from your ex neighbor, the one who wore a flight suit to work. Just wanted to let you know I read the site everyday, and even though I don't agree with everthing on it, the writing is better than anything else about poitics on the internet. The piece about New Orleans a few months back is the best account of present local politics in my new hometown I've seen anywhere.
    Take care up there. I'll continue to peruse this site. Make me miss DC just the slightest bit.
    Oh, and great ariticle as usual. I've come to expect nothing less.

  • Gerald on May 27, 2011 4:16 PM:

    I agree we should help those who are less fortunate, and my family and I try to help in several ways. I also agree with many of your points in this commentary. But I don't agree that caring for others and for our society extends to willingness for myself or my children to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Serving in the past decade, and for that matter during any other wartime period, demands far more than I am willing to sacrifice, particularly when I do not support our military's conflicts, spending, policies, etc.

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