Letters From the January 28-February 4, 2019, Issue

Letters From the January 28-February 4, 2019, Issue

Letters From the January 28-February 4, 2019, Issue

Fuzzy math… Where there’s smoke… The real George Bush… Thanks, but no thanks (web only)…


Fuzzy Math

As a taxpayer, I’m appalled by the Pentagon’s inability to pass the full audit mandated by law. Dave Lindorff’s stunning article “Exposing the Pentagon’s Massive Accounting Fraud” [Jan. 7], which describes how the Defense Department can’t account for some $21 trillion in funds since 1999, should move Congress not only to freeze the department’s budget but also to open an official investigation. In the meantime, The Nation must continue to pursue the matter, including its FOIA request for the Navy’s financial statement.

Kudos to Lindorff and The Nation for bringing this shocking fraud to light.

Robert Ladendorf
los angeles

Lindorff’s story about the unaccountably strange financial practices at the Pentagon is important, especially within the larger context of military funding. History’s most expensive semantic coup was certainly achieved in the late 1940s, when the US War Department became the Defense Department. Wars are dangerous, but in a worried world, we can always be sold more defense.

After 9/11, the George W. Bush administration founded the Department of Homeland Security (current annual budget: $40.6 billion). I don’t recall anyone left, right, or center having had the courage to ask, “If the Department of Homeland Security keeps us secure, what does the Defense Department do?” (One answer, after we were attacked by a group of terrorists from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, was to invade Iraq to rid us of Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction. The logic and efficacy were indeed hard to follow—and, it turns out, so was the money.)

We must stop calling it “defense spending” and refer to it instead as “military expenses.” We should also put the Air Force back under the Army. The Air Force primarily exists to handle strategic nuclear arms—true weapons of mass destruction. We’d save lots of taxpayer money by downsizing the excess generals and cutting administrative costs. And we should demand honest and thorough congressional accounting.

I am not a pacifist. As a Vietnam veteran, I am personally familiar with overwrought military interventions. How about a fair, fit, and accountable military? I would also very much like to see a wiser, less impulsive, much less racist, much less misogynistic, much less greedy, much more honest commander in chief—someone without such a bad case of megalomania. That would also constitute a cost-effective way of strengthening our 

George Cartter
vacaville, calif.

Where There’s Smoke…

Those of us in Northern California who have escaped burning (so far) deeply appreciate Ben Ehrenreich’s thoughtful comment “The Fire This Time” [Dec. 17/24, 2018]. Hugely disturbing was this revelation: “In August, as fires raged through Northern California, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution to ‘welcome’ donations from the fossil-fuel industry, reversing a ban it had voted in two months earlier. This would be corrupt and cynical in the best of circumstances, even if the status quo wasn’t literally in flames.”

In the wake of the horrendous recent fires in both Northern and Southern California, as well as the publication of the dire United Nations and federal reports on climate change, it is profoundly unacceptable that the group that will in part be responsible for our 2020 national election is on record as welcoming money from the fossil-fuel industry. This must change!

Pat Kunstenaar
woodacre, calif.

Ben Ehrenreich made a strong case that California’s wildfires were a “climate-change reckoning,” but his article fails to recognize other contributing factors that also deserve a reckoning. While not all of the wildfires are in forests, many are. Nearly two decades ago, the Government Accountability Office warned of “large, intense, uncontrollable, and catastrophically destructive wildfires” that would result from “the overaccumulation of vegetation” in Western forests; then, in early 2018, an independent state oversight agency in California warned that the mismanagement of forests has “brought an unprecedented environmental catastrophe that impacts all Californians” and recommended proactive forest-management practices.

All of the factors related to the problem should be addressed, rather than trumpeting climate change as the only culprit. President Trump does listen to the scientists sometimes, as that is where he is getting his insights into “poor forest management.” This is not to say he shouldn’t listen to the climate-change scientists, too!

Thomas J. Straka
faculty of forestry
clemson university

clemson, s.c.

Ben Ehrenreich Replies

I am happy to defer to Professor Straka on the finer questions of forest management, but, as he points out, not all wildfires are in forests—indeed, nearly 40 percent of California’s wildfires last year were in other habitats, including chaparral, grasslands, and, in one case, a marsh. The Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and took 85 lives, spread through an area that burned as recently as 2008 and had subsequently been logged. There is no chopping our way out of drought and rising temperatures. To suggest otherwise is delusional—and profoundly irresponsible.
Ben Ehrenreich
barcelona, spain

The Real George Bush

Greg Grandin’s op-ed “Poppy’s Bloody Legacy” offers a refreshingly true record of George H.W. Bush [Dec. 31, 2018]. One additional fact: In July 1990, US ambassador April Glaspie had the following exchange with Saddam Hussein over his threat to invade Kuwait. [Editors’ note: The exchange appears in transcripts released by the Iraqi government; Glaspie has claimed that the transcripts were doctored.]

Saddam asks, “What is the United States’ opinion on this?” Glaspie answers, “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State) James Baker has directed me to emphasize the instructions, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles).” As Grandin suggests, the ensuing Gulf War, followed by W.’s Iraq War, broke the back of the Middle East.

Samuel Shem, MD
newton, mass.

Thanks, but No Thanks

The article “If Trump Wants to Curb Migration, He Shouldn’t Cut Foreign Aid” [Dec. 12, 2018] takes an uncritical look at State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID) programs in Central America, studiously avoiding any research, analysis, or perspectives that counter USAID’s convenient tale of success in reducing crime and violence in the region. Author Eileen Grench presents a narrative of US benevolence in the region, one that ignores decades of US support for coups d’états, death squads, and corrupt, murderous regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Without a mention of this dark history, there is no need for her to examine the legacy of this violence, oppression, and corruption manifest in failed institutions, dirty cops, rampant violence, and political persecution.

There is little statistical evidence demonstrating that USAID’s violence-prevention programs are having a significant impact. Grench presents dubious claims of success by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), while ignoring analysis of the LAPOP study that questions its conclusions. To bolster the argument that USAID is reducing crime and violence, Grench quotes Mark Feierstein, the former acting deputy administrator of USAID, while not mentioning this previous USAID affiliation. She also quotes Andrew Selee, president of the US government-funded Migration Policy Institute (Grench does not disclose the organization’s US government support) and former executive vice president of the US government-chartered and funded Woodrow Wilson Center. Two people affiliated with a recipient of USAID funds, Glasswing International, are quoted urging USAID funding for the programs. Go figure.

We took a close look at LAPOP’s 2014 impact assessment study (itself supported by USAID) of community-based violence-prevention programs in Central America and found significant problems with its methodology. We concluded that the study “cannot support the conclusion that the areas subject to treatment in the [State Department] programs showed better results than those areas that were not.” LAPOP disagreed with us, but their criticisms seemed to be largely based on misunderstanding and misinterpretation of our arguments, and failed to address our main findings.

Grench’s article would have benefited from some mention of debate around the effectiveness of these programs, rather than simply cheering them on.

David Rosnick
Center for Economic and Policy Research

Washington, DC


In Barry Yeoman’s “Is the World Bank Group Above the Law?” [Oct. 22, 2018], the Supreme Court is described as sitting “more than 12,000 miles from Tragadi Bandar.” The distance is actually in kilometers, not miles.

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