Forgotten Soldiers

The 26th Cavalry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts. They made the last mounted charge in the history of the US Army.

This past Saturday I went to the Museum of Flight for a special screening of a documentary called Forgotten Soldiers. It tells the story of the Philippine Scouts, US Army soldiers recruited from native Filipinos and led mostly by American officers. The Philippine Scouts were some of the first US soldiers to fight in World War II, since the Japanese began their invasion of the islands on Dec. 8, 1941 (the day after Pearl Harbor).

Forgotten Soldiers is competently made, akin to something you’d see on the History Channel. What makes it rise above such fare is the story itself and the number of surviving vets who tell their own stories. I’ll happily overlook rough transitions and overuse of reenactor footage if the story is compelling and it certainly is.

When the Japanese invaded, the Philippines was in the midst of an 11-year transitional period to full independence as a commonwealth (which was completed in 1946). The raising and training of the Filipino Army went slower than planned, so when the fighting started it was the Philippine Scouts who were the best trained and equipped troops available. They went into action quickly, blunting the Japanese attacks. They then fought a series of rearguard actions as General MacArthur ordered his forces to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula. The fighting was furious. The first 3 Medals of Honored FDR awarded during World War II were to men of the Philippine Scouts for actions in this campaign.

The Scouts then defended Bataan for four months with other American and Filipino troops. In this period, their 26th Cavalry Regiment made the last horse mounted charge in the history US Army, successfully recapturing a village from the Japanese. The food situation was so dire on the Bataan Peninsula though that the regiment was order to hand over its horses for slaughter shortly after their epic charge. This is one of the most poignant moments in the movie actually. Over 70 years later the vets are still broken up about the horses who had served them so well meeting such a fate.

The troops on Bataan waited for a relief convoy that was never dispatched. After the Japanese brought fresh troops and mauled their defenses, US Major General King surrendered 75,000 Filipino and American troops went into captivity, including the Scouts. Although exhausted and starving already, the troops were sent on the soon infamous Bataan Death March. Thousands died on the way to an overcrowded prison, where more died of disease and starvation.

About a year later the surviving Filipinos were released from prison, providing they signed a pledge not to attack the Japanese. At this I would have considered my duty done, but many of the Scouts joined guerrilla bands as soon as they regained their strength. They fought their occupiers until MacArthur came back and defeated the Japanese. Then many of the Scouts returned to formal duty and served on subsequent campaigns until the Japanese surrender in 1945. The Filipino veterans were offered American citizenship in recognition of their efforts and many came to the US and settled here.

So yes, great story and one worth telling. The early events of America’s war are often glossed over quickly because people don’t like to dwell on defeats. The bravery and endurance of the Philippine Scouts is worth recognition though, so I hope Forgotten Soldiers finds a wider audience.

I would have been happy enough to just see the movie, but there was a panel afterwards put together by The Philippine Scouts Heritage Society. The President of the group, Jose Calugas Jr., was there. His father (Jose Sr.) won the first Medal of Honor in WWII and passed away in 1999. The greater surprise was the presence of Dan Figuracion, one of the Philippine Scout profiled in the movie. He survived the war, stayed in the army, and then fought in Korea and Vietnam. He’s 93 and lives in the Seattle area.

A Q+A followed. I got to ask Dan something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Namely, how did the troops feel when Gen. MacArthur took off for Australia and left them behind for capture, brutality, and privation? “I have returned,” is a great tale, but I figured it didn’t look so noble to guys on the ground. Dan’s answer? “I didn’t even know he was gone! I didn’t hear anything about MacArthur until he came back.” Ha!

A few minutes later this women in the audience took the mic and introduced her father. He was 95 and also a former Scout. He had been in one of the engineering units. The guys on the panel waved him up and he joined them onstage. It was a surprising and touching moment.

I’m glad I had the chance to go to the screening. The Museum of Flight is a great place and I’m happy I’m a member so I hear about events like this. If you are a history nerd like me, seek out Forgotten Soldiers.


Election 2012: A Progressive’s View

Most of the time, I try not to post about politics too much. I will post a link or make a comment or tweet sometimes, but I try not to make that the majority of my online presence. For one thing, most folks follow me because of gaming and not politics. For another, it’s easy to tune out the person who relentless beats the same drum every day and I don’t want to be that way.

This essay has been building for a long time and I decided that the day before the election was the best time to post it. Before I get into it, let me make two quick points. First, this should not be construed as the political statement of Green Ronin Publishing. Our staff has diverse opinions and we work with freelance writers, artists, and editors from across the political spectrum. If you want to hate me, that’s fine. Just don’t take it out on the folks who work for GR. Second, I’m going to say some very unkind things about the GOP. If you are a Republican, I want you to understand that my anger is not directed at you, but the current leadership of your party. America can and should support many political points of view and I’ll fight for your rights to believe what you want. I will not, however, stand mute while all the progress that was achieved at such cost in the last century is undone.

Honest Debate

One of the things that is most frustrating about the current mediascape is that there is little room for honest debate. We go from fake outrage to fake outrage and rarely get at the underlying truths. We can’t have an honest discussion about what’s been going on in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip because no American politician will give Israel less than 200% of their unconditional support. We can’t have an honest discussion about guns because of the massive power of the NRA and complete unwillingness of modern Democrats to even engage on the issue. And most ridiculous of all, we can’t have an honest discussion about President Obama.

Like many progressives, I am indeed disappointed in Obama. If we could have a critique of his performance that was based on reality, he would have faced a primary challenge from the left. My biggest problem with him is that instead of drawing a hard line between the Bush administration and his administration, he continued some of Bush’s most shameful practices. I wasn’t some wide eyed optimist in 2008 but I thought there was a reasonable chance we’d see a clean break from W’s disastrous presidency. Turns out not so much. While Obama did ban the use of torture and say the CIA black sites were going to be closed, the practice of rendition has continued. Instead of refuting the Bush era power grab of “executive privilege,” Obama went even further with the creation of  “kill list” and the execution of American citizens without trial. And he has presided over a drone war which is presented to Americans as focused and surgical but in fact has terrorized the whole border region of Pakistan and killed hundreds of innocent people.

All the while the Obama Justice Department has done nothing to bring Bush era war criminals to justice. Men who lied us into war in Iraq, got thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, and squandered billions of dollars are not in jail where they belong. They are writing books, giving speeches, and appearing as pundits on TV. Obama said we should look forward not back. Well hey, I’m going to try that defense if I’m ever arrested. “Sure, I did those crimes but we should look forward, not back. Now where’s my book deal?”

These are all legitimate reasons that Obama should have faced a serious challenge for reelection. Instead of having that debate on what he’s actually done, the right wing noise machine has been fear mongering about Imaginary Obama (or IO). IO is a shared hallucination of the right, a bogeyman they have created that has little in common with Actual Obama (AO). He’s a dangerous radical! He’s both a communist and a Nazi! He’s a secret Muslim from Kenya! He’s going to create death panels and brainwash your children! And all his crazed plans will come to fruition unless we rally together and give the ultra-rich more tax cuts!

IO has been a real growth industry. It’s hardly possible to keep up with all the baseless scandals that have been whipped up and repeated ad infinitum on Fox News, talk radio, and so on, but the truth about AO is surprisingly ordinary: he’s a corporate friendly centrist who is left of Bush but right of FDR and sometimes even Reagan. Hell, even his supposedly socialist health care reform was birthed in a conservative think tank and first implement by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Do you think that’s what any progressive really wanted? We wanted the public option (AKA Medicare for All), but the Democrats (the world’s worst negotiators) took that off the table before the negotiation even started. Nice job, AO!

As I hope is clear, I have serious problems with Obama. I would have liked a different choice, but in our two party system he’s my leftish option. So am I going to show my disaffection by switching my vote and going for Romney?

No. In fact, hell no! Let me tell you why.

The Madness of the GOP

I have some friends who are not going to vote for Obama or Romney. They are either voting for a third party (like I did in 2000) or not voting at all (like I did in 1996, when I felt Clinton was not sufficiently progressive). There’s an article about this very thing in the Atlantic called “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama.” Many people are so disgusted with politics generally and with Congress in particular that they feel that both of the major parties are the same so they refuse to vote for either.

Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve laughed along to Bill Hicks talking about the puppets on the left and right. If you’ve paid attention to politics at all in the 12 years, however, you have to know that there is a difference. If you don’t vote at all, you reward the worst actor (the GOP in this case). If you vote for Romney because you are disappointed in Obama, you baffle me. It’s like saying, “This coffee I ordered is lukewarm. Give me a cup of poison instead!”

Americans, it seems, don’t like to remember how we got here. Conservatives have taken this to new heights with full on amnesia about the years 2000-2008. It’s the only way Mitt Romney can possibly say, “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” with a straight face. Certainly Mitt and his super rich friends shouldn’t be complaining: 93% of the growth from the recovery has gone to the 1%. And the Wall St. bankers who almost blew up the world economy with their reckless gambling and huckster tricks? They are not only escaped jail, they are making money hand over fist.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As soon as Obama became president, the Republicans became very concerned about the deficit. Why, this deficit was outrageous and it was all Obama’s fault, with his tax, borrow, and spend liberalism! What they fail to mention is that Clinton left office with a surplus and it was the Bush administration who piled up most of this debt. Two disastrous sets of tax cuts for the rich and two unfunded wars together with a recession that was almost a depression account for most of our debt. Take a look at the chart here that spells it out quite clearly. Yes, GOP, you truly built that and throughout the Bush administration you didn’t give a shit about the deficit. Dick Cheney famously said, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” He should have added, “when Republicans are in charge.” When a Democrat is president, they miraculously become super important again.

You’ll note the enormous effect that Bush tax cuts have had on the economy. And yet in 2010 and again this year the Republicans have fought tooth and nail to extend them and hope to make them permanent. Obama and the Senate had a perfectly reasonable plan to keep the middle-class tax cuts during the recession but let those for the rich expire as they should have two years ago. But the GOP said in essence, “Screw the middle class. Rich people get tax cuts or no one does!”

This was a revealing moment. This was the GOP fighting for its real constituency: the super rich. The big corporations and the greedy billionaires pay them very well to do so. And fighting so hard to protect and enrich the 1% by advocating policies that are a detriment to 99% of Americans? They call that patriotism.

The root of this, and it can’t be repeated enough, is the zombie lie of trickle down economics (AKA supply side economics). In a rare moment of truth telling, Bush the Senior called it “voodoo economics” and he was right. This is not an economic theory but a charlatan’s trick. If only we give the rich more and more tax cuts, money and jobs will rain down on the rest of us! We’ve seen little but this sort of magical thinking for the past 30+ years, so where is the promised utopia? Well, what do you know, it turns out most gains went to the super rich! Who could have predicted?

The increase in worker compensation from 1978 to 2011 is 5.7%. Think about that for a minute. How much more expensive is every goddamn thing in the world now than it was in 1980? Wouldn’t it be nice if wages kept pace? Well don’t worry because the increase is CEO compensation in the same period was a whopping 726.7%. Yes, you read that right: 726.7% growth for CEOs vs. 5.7% for workers. Suggest in any way that this is unfair and you are accused of class warfare. Well, my not so wealthy conservative friends, I’ve got news for you: the 1% and your party’s leadership have been engaged in class warfare for decades and we the people are losing.

All that is stark enough, but the real lunacy comes in the realm of social issues. The Christian Right, including the frightening Dominionists, have come to the fore here and all of a sudden we are re-litigating fights that the rest of America thought were settled.

Unable to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the GOP has opted to try to make it as hard as possible for women to have a medical procedure that has been legal in America since 1973. The hypocrisy here really shines. The party that says it wants government off our backs has been passing or attempting to pass a series of laws in the states that mandate a transvaginal ultrasound for any woman wanting an abortion. This is an invasive medical procedure that they want women to go through for no medical reason. This is bullying and intimidation pure and simple.

But wait, there’s more for you, ladies. There are pious nutjobs like Rick Santorum who not only want to end a woman’s right to choose, but also want to ban contraception. If you have a baby, well that’s just God’s will! Then there are the increasing number of GOP rape enablers. There have been so many of these frightening statements from the mouths of Republican politicians, you’ll need to consult this handy GOP Rape Advisory Chart to see them all.

The Elephant in the Room

At last we come to the Tea Party, the supposedly grassroots movement that is of course nothing of the sort. I clearly remember, though the media does not, that at the very first Tea Party rally in DC Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks was ready with buses too transport protesters to the capital. Yes, nothing says grassroots like a corporate lobbying group “guiding” your movement.

I feel bad for the Tea Party people. I really do. Most of them are poor and middle class folks who’ve been fed a steady diet of lies so they march in the streets for their corporate masters while cutting their own throats. This is a movement that is outraged by high taxes (Taxed Enough Already) when taxes are at their lowest rate in 30 years.

Rather than fight tyranny, what the Tea Party has really done is let the most extreme elements of the right take over the GOP agenda. They have welcomed back with open arms paranoid conspiracy theorists like the John Birch Society, who were famously kicked out of the conservative movement by William F. Buckley. Their leader, Buckley said, had views on current affairs that were “so far removed from common sense.” The right likes to present the Tea Party as something new but it’s not. They are recycling the same nonsense the lunatic right has been peddling since the early 60s. The difference is that the Republicans have no one like Buckley to tell them they’re full of shit. The GOP thought they could use these people but the joke has been on them.

In 2010 the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, and a wave of of new Tea Party candidates came into the government. Naturally they all signed loathsome toad Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. This pledge, which most GOP Congressmen–and one Mitt Romney–have signed, says that signers will never vote to raise any tax for any reason. Now remember that the GOP is also the party that says the government should be run like a business and that’s one reason Mitt Romney is supposedly a great candidate. So taxes are how the government raises revenue to run the country. How would you react if the members of your company’s upper management signed a pledge to never increase the amount of revenue the company brought in? And if they told you that, better yet, the company should strive to bring in less revenue? Makes no sense at all, does it? And yet, Norquist and his allies have used this pledge to prevent Congress from doing anything sensible in the face of the financial crisis. Remember, the hallowed saint Ronald Reagan himself raised taxes 11 times.

The GOP takeover of the House better enabled them to execute on what had been their strategy from Day 1 of the Obama presidency: hysterically oppose anything Obama proposes–even when he tries to adopt Republican ideas–and work for a continued economic disaster for most Americans so they can take back the presidency this year. Or as they call it, patriotism.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” That’s the game in a nutshell. They have massively abused the filibuster rule in the Senate to block a long stream of bills, including the American Jobs Act. They cry about the deficit while refusing to allow the government to raise new revenue. Instead, they demand that we cut more social programs because austerity is the only solution. Yes, so convenient that they want to save money by getting rid of things they hate (like funding for Planned Parenthood and PBS, even if the “savings” would be paltry) while demanding even more money for the military (even when they say they don’t want it).

Meanwhile in the house, Speaker John Boehner “relentless focus on jobs” looks an awful lot like an attempt to set the social clock back 100 years. Lots and lots of bills about repealing health care reform and controlling women’s bodies, but very little on the job creation front. You can see their laser-like focus here.

Enter Mitt Romney

Honestly, I’m not going to waste too much time on Mitt Romney. He is probably the worst candidate the Republicans could have picked for this election. He’s a Yankee, formerly pro-choice governor from Massachusetts whose signature achievement–Romneycare–he must disown because it was the template for evil socialist Obamacare. He’s also the living, breathing embodiment of the 1%. The GOP might as well have nominated Richie Rich. His vaunted business experience was the predator capitalism of his company Bain, which destroyed companies–often previously profitable companies–by loading them up with debt and then riding off into the sunset with millions of profit. You want to see that template applied to America? I sure don’t.

On top of all that, Mitt is the lyingist candidate I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to say anything about Mitt except that he really likes, money, power, and Mormonism. Other than that, what does he really stand for? He acts like a businessman, telling each crowd what they want to hear. The Mitt we saw in the Republican primaries was a completely different guy than the one who appeared in the presidential debates. All politicians do exaggerate and lie to some degree, but 616 verified lies in 30 weeks? That’s some kind of record. Just recently while campaigning in swing state Ohio, Romney claimed that Chrysler was going to send American jobs on Jeep to China. Only problem with that claim: it’s totally false. This has not, of course, stopped Mitt from repeating it, just as he repeated the lie that Iran needs Syria for access to the sea line many times (most recently in the debates).

Mitt promises real change but that is nonsense. His policies and his advisers all come straight from the Bush administration. Mitt and his allies want you to forget that the GOP is responsible for the terrible shape of the country. They want you to forget that they have done everything in their power to prevent an American recovery because they’ll be damned if Obama gets credit for fixing their mess. Are things great now? Absolutely not, but things have improved since the the worst president in US history (that’s George W. Bush to be clear). Do you want a do over? Do you want to invade Iran this time? Or maybe you prefer different unfunded wars? Do you want more tax cuts for the rich? I sure don’t.

Vote Because They Don’t Want You To

This is all a long way of saying that Democrats and Obama have their problems, but they are by far the lesser evil. Please go out and vote, no matter what your party or views. When you vote, you are exercising your democratic rights and that is always important. You should also vote because fundamentally, the GOP doesn’t want a high voter turnout. Historically, high turnouts favors Democrats and low turnouts favors Republicans (that’s why they won in 2010). So in addition to all the other corrupt and morally bankrupt things they’ve been up too, the GOP has been busy trying to disenfranchise voters across the country.

The Republicans made up a phony threat–in person voter fraud–and then passed a series of voter ID laws to restrict voting. Actual number of verified in person voter frauds since 2000? Seven. Seven! Number of citizens they want to deny the vote to? Possibly more than 5 million, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In Florida Governor Rick “Crypt Keeper” Scott refused to extend early voting hours and attempted a voter purge earlier this year. Republican Secretary of State in Ohio John Husted made an 11th hour rule change that may lead to countless provisional ballots being thrown out. In person voter fraud is bunk but voter suppression is very real and one party is behind it: the GOP. This a direct attack on our democracy and we should not stand for it.

Get out out there and vote to end this madness. I lived through 8 years of Bush and I don’t want to go back there. I want Obama to win and then in 2016 I want a real progressive to become president. I don’t want big government or executive privilege; I want good government. I want a government that doesn’t try to impose its will on other nations without just cause (and without sidestepping a formal declaration of war). I want a government that ends the bloated budget of the Pentagon and makes a leaner, smarter military. I want a government that will build and maintain infrastructure like roads and bridges, and plan for the effects of climate change. I want a government that will invest in science and education and leave religion where it belongs: in churches. I want a government that ends the disastrous and ineffective War on Drugs and the prison industrial complex that’s grown up because of it. I want a government that prosecutes war criminals and white collar criminals with vehemence, so we end the abuses of Wall St. and stop something like the Iraq War from ever happening again. I want a government that reforms the tax code so it’s truly progressive and easy to understand, with no tax special tax rates, loopholes, or deductions for the super rich. I want a government that is interested in social justice and the prosperity of all.

Let’s make it happen, Americans. Step one is not just defeating Romney but sending the Republicans in the Senate, House,and (very importantly) the State Houses packing as well. They have earned our contempt: let’s show it to them.