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War Is the New Normal

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Posted on Jun 1, 2011
U.S. Army

U.S. soldiers arrive at an Afghan National Police checkpoint in Helmand province in January 2010.

By Bill Boyarsky

Remember the war, the one in Afghanistan? The recent Memorial Day weekend forced the news media to briefly focus on it. But otherwise the war and its heavy toll have faded from our national consciousness, leaving President Barack Obama free to continue the combat without much pressure to get out.

Just how forgotten the war has become is revealed in the latest news coverage report of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The project gives its findings in a nonjudgmental, just-the-facts manner, no how maddening they are. The Afghanistan War didn’t make the top five stories covered in newspapers, online or on cable and network television for the period May 16-May 22.

I wish Pew would go a step farther in these monthly reports. I’d like a few paragraphs on the harm being done to the United States by the longest war in our history, both to the country as a whole and to the women and men fighting it.

The war costs grow, adding to a national deficit estimated at $1.5 trillion this year. The website Cost of War reported that the Afghanistan War has cost $418 billion. Iraq’s $781 billion brings the figure for war costs to $1.2 trillion for a nation that won’t pay for decent health care for all, is firing teachers and has become resigned to a 9 percent unemployment rate.

For veterans of the two wars, the toll includes unemployment, serious physical injury, mental illness and suicide.


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The New York Times reported that the unemployment rate for veterans who joined after Sept. 11, 2001, was 10.9 percent in April, almost two percentage points above the national rate. “The problem is particularly severe among young male veterans, ages 18 to 24, for whom the unemployment rate is nearly 27 percent,” the Times said.

The situation is worse for veterans who are mentally or physically disabled. A RAND Corp. study in 2008 found that roughly 300,000 servicemen and servicewomen back from Iraq and Afghanistan—nearly 20 percent of the number who served there—reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression. About 19 percent said they suffered from possible traumatic brain injury while overseas.

After dispatching Americans to war, the federal government is supposed to take care of the sick and wounded through its Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Criticism of the VA has been well publicized over the years. Early in May, a federal appellate court delivered a savage critique of VA care of those with psychological ailments. The court ordered a major VA reform.

In his majority opinion, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave an eloquent and disturbing summation of neglect of all vets, a situation made worse by poor policy and practices regarding those injured psychologically and physically in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

“On an average day, eighteen veterans of our nation’s armed forces take their own lives,” Reinhardt wrote. “Of those, roughly one quarter are enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system. Among all veterans enrolled in the VA system, an additional 1,000 attempt suicide each month.”

He said, “Veterans who return home from the war suffering from psychological maladies are entitled by law to disability benefits to sustain themselves and their families as they regain their health. Yet it takes more than four years for a veteran to fully adjudicate a claim for benefits.”

Reinhardt noted that the “influx of injured troops returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan has placed an unprecedented strain on the VA. … For some veterans, most notably those suffering from combat-derived mental illnesses such as PTSD, these delays may make the difference between life and death.”

“… The VA’s unchecked incompetence has gone on long enough,” he declared. “No more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligation.”

When historians look back upon this time, they may wonder why the nation was not enraged by the many years spent on two useless wars. Perhaps as they dig through the remains of our era, they will stumble upon what professor Andrew J. Bacevich, who teaches history and international relations at Boston University, wrote in The Daily Beast two days before this year’s Memorial Day:

“Americans once believed war to be a great evil. Whenever possible, war was to be avoided. When circumstances made war unavoidable, Americans wanted peace swiftly restored.

“Present-day Americans, few of them directly affected by events in Iraq and Afghanistan, find war tolerable. They accept it. Since 9/11 war has become normalcy. Peace has become an entirely theoretical construct. A report of G.I.s getting shot at, maimed or killed is no longer something the average American gets exercised about. ...”

President Obama, meanwhile, has pledged to begin withdrawal of American troops in July. But he’s vague about the pace of the withdrawal. In fact, he can’t or won’t clearly explain why we are there, especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader. Al-Qaida operates from many places, including in the territory of our so-called ally Pakistan, where bin Laden was found. And Afghanistan may be starting negotiations with elements of the Taliban. The stated reason for getting into this war was to wipe out al-Qaida and its Taliban allies. So, why are we still in Afghanistan, fighting a voluntary war with no time limit?

Most House Democrats and a few Republicans wanted an answer to that question when they asked Obama to accelerate the withdrawal. But they lost 204-215 in a vote that attracted minimal attention.

This leaves Obama plenty of room to continue the war that America has forgotten, no matter how terrible its cost.

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By IceNine, June 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm Link to this comment

Ran out of characters. To Sole Prop and clearwaters: I have been really trying to get my head around what the difference is between how this country is viewing or understanding or reacting to our wars now and the very different atmosphere in the US during VietNam. I have grabbed hold of things one after another - things that are indeed different - and then said, no, that’s not really it. I think I’m clear on it now, at least for myself.

The sixties and seventies could be thought of as post WWII (and post Korea) America I guess. The parents of the boomer generation were the soldiers and families of soldiers who fought in WWII. And this country, unlike today, had experienced much more real hardship over the course of that war. When things began to improve, when foods and material goods were again plentiful because every resource was not being diverted to the war effort, our parents’ generation really took off. My family, for instance, started out poor, while my parents were going to college - but they WERE going to college.

And then my dad joined the army as a Chaplain and my family was suddenly upwardly mobile. Upward mobility was available to many, many families, not just military families and not just a few. Middle class America had arrived. And that ability to accumulate “stuff” took over to such an extent that many of us as teenagers and young adults were repulsed by it. It seemed so much that for our parents’ generation ownership of “stuff” was the number one reason for being. It felt empty to so many of us.

And right in the middle of that VietNam happened. War protest, social protest, racial unrest, and just general all around commotion was all mingled together, as if it were all one and the same thing. And maybe in some ways, it was all the same thing.

Because what I see today, the generation my grandkids are a part of, materialism, in the form of technology, is the purpose of life. Ipods, ipads, ianything for that matter - these are coveted items and they are worth more than I can calculate to the kids and young people who have them. Cell phones are ubiquitous - not even worth noting anymore. But so-called smart phones are worth stealing for. It’s the better part of a generation being hypnotized by the shiny apple. (Sorry for the pun, but I won’t delete it.)

I read a news article yesterday - can’t remember where - about a teenage boy in China who sold a kidney to get the money to pay for an ipad. The buyer was unscrupulous, of course, and the hospital was not up to snuff. The boy got his ipad I think, but is also quite ill now with an infection resulting form the surgery. This is really an extreme example, but it speaks loud and clear to the power of things right now to divert people, especially young people, from sane values and choices. The power of “stuff” to make us forget the value of life.

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By IceNine, June 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment

An earlier comment gives the figure of approximately 700,000 US men and women in our army and marines (no mention of navy and air force). I haven’t checked that figure for accuracy, but it reminds me that I live in a state of 700,000 total population, more or less.

No matter which state you live in, imagine one of the sparsely populated states being suddenly depopulated. We wake up one morning and the entire population of a US state has simply disappeared from view.

I hope that would be front page news and I hope it would continue to be front page news until some very serious light was shed on the matter and those 700,000 people were accounted for - just as the continued US wars ought to continue to be front page news.

Anyway, that should lend some perspective to how many American lives are potentially at risk, how many families are potentially in mourning, how many promising lives are potentially to be cut short, whether by death or dismemberment or long-lasting psychological damage.

As for the people living and dying in the countries we are still busy bringing democracy to, the numbers are no less painful, but are also too big for me to make any sense of or to create meaningful analogies for.

I have spent quite a bit of time on this site today, much more than usual. Following the articles I’ve read, I have been trying to slow down and really attentively read through all the comments that follow. Some are very well reasoned, some nearly incoherent and difficult to follow. One thing is clear throughout, though - there is no one commenting here who is at ease with, comfortable with, happy with where we find ourselves as a country today.

There are not many feelings worse than the feeling that one is completely powerless, that there is nothing one can do in the face of unbearable wrongs, especially those ordered in our name by our own leaders. It’s easy to feel hopeless when the problem is huge and we are all individuals alone. But the groups that eventually become the most effective agents of real change always start small and there are no end of small groups, and a few larger ones as well, that do want real change in this country, that do want to see an end to the wars and a renewed focus on cleaning our own national house, so to speak.

Doing even the smallest thing is better than doing nothing at all. Doing even the smallest thing gives you a place to stand to do something just slightly bigger, slightly bolder. Mr Boyarsky’s column provided a link to the Cost of War ( It is worth following and exploring. From there you can find your way to the National Priorities Project:

The NPP site offers many articles (which may be worth exploring for a better understanding of what the Sam Hill our government is up to) and a Resources tab that includes a “Take Action” section. There are many websites offering such resources; this one is as good a place as any to start.

While another article on truthdig today deplored the way the WWW funnels us into like groups with no awareness of opposing views, sometimes it’s very helpful to find the like-minded folks so you can quit spinning your wheels in the mud and get something done for crying out loud. And the web is good for that. One site will inevitably lead to another and perhaps if you feel helpless right now, you will find a place to get started and feel and BE less so.

I still don’t buy the notion that the average American either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what is going on in the many arenas of conflict right now - war, budgets, union busting, civil liberties, what’s a vote worth, etc, etc. I believe the average American is so overwhelmed with so much discouragement and the sense that none of us have a real voice, that they are on the verge of giving up. Or else, they have been deceived by another shall-remain-nameless political outfit promising change. And it’s deja-vu all over again.

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By hiwaar, June 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I should be most grateful should you allow me to post one sentence comnet; “It is about a system and not a leader”!!!!

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By herbsierra, June 5, 2011 at 5:03 am Link to this comment

of course war is normal for 18 year-olds ... but video game war and not the real thing.

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By David J. Cyr, June 5, 2011 at 4:44 am Link to this comment

Well, the masses have learned, and they do act accordingly.

Approximately 25% of the masses have learned that their regularly supporting the evil Republicans will continue to maintain mindless militarism that makes them feel like they are vital members of a big strong powerful gang, like a fat fan of a smash mouth rugged football team thinking their presence in the stands drinking beer and cheering was what scored the goals on the blood spattered field.

Another approximate 25% of the masses have learned that their regularly supporting the greater evil Democrats will continue to maintain the continuum of neoliberal policies of military assisted global exploitation, so they can feel the relief of having no change ever resulting from any of their cowardly callous (D) votes for “change” cast, while claiming that their being “intelligent” doesn’t make them fools when they vote for the same thing that the “ignorant” fools have voted for.

Approximately 50% of the masses have learned that it don’t matter which of the corporate party’s “electables” are installed, but having been convinced by liberals that their votes are “wasted” if they ever vote for any good they want to be done they’ve acted by regularly passively resisting — not participating in the “elections” held to determine the degree of mass complicity in corporate (R) & (D) party crimes.

A miniscule portion (about half of 1% of the masses) have learned that their attempts to provide the masses with a non-fascist electoral alternative have gained no affirmative support from the masses. Yet that tiny cadre keeps on trying to get some significant sized minority to insist that elections should begin to serve some good purpose, rather than always resulting with war being the only answer.

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By big bear, June 5, 2011 at 1:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I cut them off years ago.  I have no interest in a sideshow of celebrities (this sorry excuse for a government has no legitimacy anymore) who want my money to play whack-a-mole in the distant deserts while leaving our border open.  I want no part of their handouts to billionaires and bums.  I will not let them turn the fruits of my labor into funny money for their global bankers.

I have seceded.  There are millions like me.

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By AmEx, June 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Extremely good commenting.  Why can’t any of us get the masses to learn and act?

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By gerard, June 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment

I beg to differ—war is not “normal”, new or otherwise.  War will never become “normal” and to believe or name it so is a step toward the betrayal of humanity.  It is promoting (by intention or not) an idea of inevitability —that there is nothing that can be done. By the mere statement it lends legitimacy, condones, excuses.

On the surface of our social “face” it may seem that our wars are “forgotten” or “don’t matter” or have become “boring” and “inconsequential.”  But look deeper and see the growing anxieties that haunt “the American soul”—if indeed you can unmask the hidden frustrations, the disappointments, the heartbreaks,
the feelings of loss of a national reputation that will be very difficult to reclaim.

Observe the dire poverty of courage at the heart of the American people who are learning what it feels like to accept abuse, denial and dishonesty in silence, and to allow fellow-human beings to be abused, exploited and killed by weapons they are partially responsible for producing.  Smell the sick odor of decay of democratic rights where everyone quivers for fear of what their own government might do in a moment of madness, power become abusive, honor and honesty forgotten. 

WARS THE NEW NORMAL?  Evidence of the opposite is clear everywhere one lifts the thin veil of self-deceit.

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By David J. Cyr, June 4, 2011 at 5:09 am Link to this comment

There’s nothing “new” about war being acceptable to “normal” Americans. Perpetual wars of aggression are what “normal” Americans keep voting for.

In the 2008 election there were antiwar POTUS candidates. Did Boyarsky vote for an antiwar candidate — for McKinney or for Nader — or did he vote for Obama to **CHANGE** “dumb” wars into “necessary” wars?

We have perpetual war because the “normal” Americans keep free-will supporting the corporate party’s really retrograde Republican and deeply depraved Democrat candidates.

Boyarsky complaining about how much the wars he has supported having are costing and harming the collaterally damaged Americans (with no mention of the cost to the targeted victims of American aggression) is a typical manifestation of the mental illness of liberals.

Fascist nations allow elections when the people reliably vote for fascists.

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By zonth_zonth, June 4, 2011 at 12:53 am Link to this comment

american president still posing and posturing.  The suit is wearing him indeed.  Ran on change to get elected and the individual transmogrified by Power and influence of corporation.

Take more and more from its citizenry but keep the WARS and MIC going. Idiocracy will fester out like a dying amber.

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By John R., June 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm Link to this comment

And now - guided by the UN - the U.S. is sending in helicopters to Libya to help
kill more.

1.4 trillion in debt to China, and this is the move our government makes.

I need to self medicate, I believe I may be feeling what some of the population felt in Germany, just before it all began. I’m getting a terrible feeling of dread, of hopelessness.

This is all quite scary.

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By scotttpot, June 3, 2011 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

For those 18 and under , war and torture are simply normal .
That puts us on sound footing to ensure that endless war remains our policy.
What pathetic ‘‘patriots’’ we are.

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By Richard J. McKenzie, June 3, 2011 at 11:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

- So, why are we still in Afghanistan, fighting a voluntary war with no time limit? -

Because of Public Law 107-40, the ideal stealth war law that most everyone ignores.

P.L. 107-40 declared war against enemies to be named later (what morons in Congress!). It also set as the US military’s mission the preventing of future terrorism. This is an unmeasurable and unachievable goal - you’ll notice it’s been 10 years and we’re still in Afghanistan and we’ll be there, uh, until all future terrorism is prevented. Don’t hold your breath.

If you want to end this insanity, do something about Public Law 107-40.

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By Salome, June 3, 2011 at 6:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I would love to see an ethnic/religious breakdown of our military troops.  I wonder how many of the banksters’ children/relatives have put themselves in harm’s way to protect the greed of Wall Street?

With the “American Dream” now turned into the “American Nightmare” (every avenue to social mobility, i.e., the opportunity to educate/work your way out of poverty, closed), the only option left to the working-class is to become poorly-paid members of the death machine that is the American military.  And tread stagnant water for your entire life.

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By clearwaters, June 2, 2011 at 6:49 pm Link to this comment

I spent 42months in federal prison for refusing to participate in the illegal and
immoral war in Viet Nam.If you did not believe in the geopolitical killing, because
of the draft, we had three choices: Canada, underground or prison. Thats the”
level playing field ” your talking about.If you don’t believe in the current wars we
are engaged in, those will be your choices as well. With the exception of Canada of
course, no more haven there.If you believe in the wars, then go for it. You don’t
need a draft to lead you the way.

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By davidtalks, June 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm Link to this comment

Since the first Iraq War by daddybush, I have been observant in this one single fact: never before have we fought so many wars without a draft. It is close to being immoral. 1 percent of our population is fighting 100 percent of our wars. It is a recipe for ........

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By LT, June 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ll take a harder line. Those working soldiers are hostages to the MIC. Fund us or else they die.

But you can’t fix stupid, especially stupid that thinks it’s bold and brave.

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By Laws456, June 2, 2011 at 10:50 am Link to this comment

The underlying problem with our society is that too many believe the official story behind 9/11. If more people were open to investigating that day and the months and years preceding it, we wouldn’t be in Afghanistan or Iraq right now.

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By DavidByron, June 2, 2011 at 10:21 am Link to this comment

Right.  Because the US never fought any wars when there was a draft did it?

“There’s no draft.  Until the kids of middle and upper middle class families end up being forced to fight wars of choice en masse, the American public will remain apathetic to this issue.”

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By DavidByron, June 2, 2011 at 10:19 am Link to this comment

“They are overwhelmingly drawn from the lower middle class, the working class, and the unemployed.”

As is true of the country as a whole.

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By Sole Prop, June 2, 2011 at 10:13 am Link to this comment

There was another war called Vietnam that caught my
own generation’s attention. How long did it take to
end that one even with a draft and a whole lot more
people involved with skin in the game?

In an odd and one small way I miss Ronald Reagan.
Invading Granada at least didn’t involve killings in
the hundreds of thousands. (Beyond saying that I bite
my tongue.)

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By SarcastiCanuck, June 2, 2011 at 9:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bill,the normal is not new.Mankind has been warring and killing each other since the dawn of time.The only difference is that we do it so much more efficiently now.We are a cruel,merciless and blodthirsty lot,and always have been.The fact that war destroys not only the vanquished but the victors as well is repeatadley ignored.

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By California Ray, June 2, 2011 at 8:13 am Link to this comment

Why let the bear out of the trap?

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By James P. Levy, June 2, 2011 at 7:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We are a nation of 310 million. About 700,000 of those people are soldiers or marines. They are overwhelmingly drawn from the lower middle class, the working class, and the unemployed. Their moms and dads, brothers and sisters, are not the news anchors, reporters, pundits, Senators, Congressmen, Executive branch officials, bankers, brokers, or corporate executives who either make decisions in this society or report them.

In fact, our military personnel are props, objects to be pointed to, lauded, and invoked to silence opposition and end discussion. American technology and fire power largely protect the soldiers from harm (not always, but compared to soldiers in Vietnam or World War II, immensely). So the costs of war are more than ever transferred to the slobs who get invaded, not the invaders. As for the monetary price tag—the corporations who supply the military, which are overwhelmingly American (unlike the companies that make most of the stuff consumers buy) are raking in the dough, the white, male, unionized workforce in the military-industrial-surveillance complex make six figure salaries, and the politicians get their campaign contribution kickbacks (while the Chinese purchase America’s shitty Treasury paper that, given its insanely low rate of interest and the falling value of the dollar, not to mention normal inflation, loses them money). So where is the locus of powerful push-back to come from? Who will demand the unmaking of an imperial project that rewards all the most powerful interests in society? If 90% or more of the people who own the country and make government policy are for something, what the hell are the 295 million or more people who don’t going to do about it? Unless and until the elite splits, and we can vote for one clear faction over another, we are powerless.

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By eugene, June 2, 2011 at 6:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t know many people but the few I do know pay attention to nothing.  It’s like they’re disconnected from reality.  They plod along bitching about taxes, reading crazy Internet messages and mesmerized by mass TV shows.  If I say anything, eyes glaze over or they say “don’t want to hear about it”. 

We can complain about “not a democracy” but if no one is paying attention, democracy is just another word. 

As far as the VA, we’ve been bitching about that for decades.  Meantime, myself and many other PTSD vets get by as best we can.  The suicides and destroyed lives are just another story.  Not long ago, a man with a PhD in Counseling Psychology asked me what PTSD was.  As I told him, a bit of emotion.  He simply couldn’t cope and became very distracted stating we needed to talk about something else.  The invisible vets of forgotten wars.

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By JJW, June 1, 2011 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

War is Peace… Obama’s acceptance speech for Nobel Peace Prize.

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By Anarcissie, June 1, 2011 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment

SoTexGuy—if you take poison, like what you’ve described, you’ll get sick.  First thing, throw out your TV.

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By litlpeep, June 1, 2011 at 6:31 pm Link to this comment

Obama loves giving stirring speeches.  He also loves sleazing himself out of campaign promises.  There are so many similarities between his and GWB’s policies, it is very difficult to remember that Obama can actually talk in complete sentences.

It is terribly frustrating to be a responsible citizen and have no party with which to associate, except the totally unorganized “nonpartisan” grouping of voters (where the state’s laws even allow that as a voter registration choice).

If we as a nation wanted more public decency, at least we could demand a parliamentarian democracy, and dump the bipartisan hack parade.  It routinely insults our national intelligence (not to be confused with our national intelligence agencies).

Alas, maybe it is time to rediscover, and reinvent the declaration of independence, and deliberately declare independence from the whole national nonsense, in one community at a time, and one county at a time, and one state at a time, until it is obvious we are ready to reinvent the whole nation, or not, as we see fit at that time.

After all, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the sleaze “governing” our nation.

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By Samson, June 1, 2011 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

I love it when reporters and columnists who’s job it
is to cover stories like this and keep them in the
national news then turn around and complain that no
one is covering this and keeping it in the national

Uh, dude, look in the mirror. 

Boyarski’s recent column titles:
—“Cleaning Up California’s Cruel Prison System

—“Obama Gets No Credit for Courage

—“Three Strikes and Civil Rights”
—“Watch Out for Ryan, Not Trump”
—“America, by Way of the Antelope Valley

So, Mr. Boyarksi, why don’t you try writing about
Obama’s wars a little more often?  Maybe that would
be more useful than whining and complaining that
others aren’t doing what you aren’t doing either.

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By Gary Gurney, June 1, 2011 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There’s no draft.  Until the kids of middle and upper middle class families end up
being forced to fight wars of choice en masse, the American public will remain
apathetic to this issue.

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By surfnow, June 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm Link to this comment

I’ve been enraged since March, 20, 2003 and War Criminal George Bush’s ” shock and awe.”  And a lot of friggin good it’s done me.

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By Marc Schlee, June 1, 2011 at 5:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

War is the same old illness.

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By SoTexGuy, June 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm Link to this comment

This Monday I watched with alarm the female anchor on a top network news slot aggressively advocate the continued killing of Afghan civilians.. The story was about the Afghan president’s renewed calls for an end to collateral killings of women and children and non-combatants.  The news readers disagreed with

She was into the role.. her whole body thrust forward across the desk at her counterpart.. her face a hatchet.. brows drawn and furrowed.. threatening the camera and unknown doubters and nay-sayers in the studio or wherever.. (emphatically) ‘they have to continue these air strikes’ .. ‘security’ .. ’ the safety of our troops’.. and more.

Understand, she was not quoting a Pentagon spokesperson.. she was speaking first-person.. plaintive, demanding.. unquestioning.

I don’t know what happened to cause me to so closely watch what is being publicly said and done.. or when.. I wish it would happen to many others.. soon.


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