Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The GOP Has An Uphill Fight & Not Just Because Of Idiots Like Ted Cruz

In the last two-plus decades as the Republican Party's drift to the right morphed into a full-blown gallop and the party's base came to be dominated by Bible thumpers and angry white men -- and frequently Bible thumping angry white men -- the GOP has won only two of six presidential elections, one because the Supreme Court gave the Constitution the finger and the other because Republicans had perfected their fear machine message and the Democratic candidate was weak. 

It is probable that Republicans will not halt their losing streak in 2016.  This is less because the first joker out of the gate in the quadrennial clown car race known as the party's presidential primary is Ted Cruz, soon to be followed by Marco Rubio, than good old mathematics.  While Cruz, Rubio and many other GOP stalwarts may insist global warming is a hoax, not even these junk science devotees can deny that despite Hillary Clinton's vulnerabilities, the probable Democratic standard bearer begins the 2016 race a mere 24 electoral votes shy of the 270 needed to win.

The Democrats have 246 electoral votes more or less in the bag: California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), District of Columbia (3), Hawaii (4), New Hampshire (4), Illinois (20), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Maine (4), Minnesota (10), Michigan (16), New York (29), New Jersey (14), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Wisconsin (10) and Washington (12).  Sure, you can quibble about a couple of these states, but the fact remains that the Democrats' traditional political base remains as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar and although the eventual Republican nominee will be a conservative in moderate drag like Jeb "Gator" Bush or Mike "We've Got a Perception Problem" Pence, the hardcore right-wing tail wagging this flea-infested dog helps insure that retaking the Oval Office will be illusory.
The conventional wisdom has it that another divisive cage match with Cruz, Rubio and perhaps Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and, if there really is a God, the good doctor Ben Carson not unlike the 2012 Republican primary benefits Democrats generally and Clinton in particular.  But whether the 2016 primary is another battle for the soul of the party, yada yada yada, methinks that whomever gets the nomination (more likely Jeb Bush than not) will need to have a well-oiled campaign machine in order to prevail at the party convention (July 16-21, 2016 in Cleveland), which should toughen him for the fall slugfest against Hillary, while voters (who have notoriously short attention spans) will be more focused on stuff that really matters.

This stuff includes the economy, which could be a winner for the Republican nominee if President Obama's impressive stewardship of the economic recovery necessitated by the (Not Jeb Bush) Bush Recession craps out.  Then there are sure losers for the Republicans, including reproductive rights and racial and gender equity, same-sex marriage and immigration, as well as the inconvenient reality that the U.S. is becoming browner and blacker, which is to say less and less Republican.

But back to the cudgel-wielding Cruz, an egomaniac whose chief credentials are that he has an incurable case of Obama Derangement Syndrome, is widely loathed by his fellow U.S. senators, has repeatedly tried to shut down the U.S. government in actions bordering on the traitorous, and is unrelenting in trying to ram his religion and extremist views down everyone's throats to win brownie points with Tea Partiers and Evangelicals.
If having virtually no public sector experience is a requisite for becoming president, then the Canadian-born (shhh!) Cruz is a natural. 

If embellishing on his credentials to drive the clown car by reading Dr. Seuss's classic Green Eggs and Ham and its "I do not like it" mantra while filibustering a Democratic move to block defunding Obamacare, then he'll fit right in at White House events like the annual Easter egg hunt. 

If opposing net neutrality because it would be another example of "government tyranny," as he puts it, garners big buck donations from Comcast and Time Warner, then he's smarter than I have been willing to give him credit for. 

And if leading opposition to Obama's eminently able surgeon general nominee amidst the ebola public-health crisis because the nominee once had the temerity to suggest that the carnage from gun violence is something of a public health crisis itself, his tenure as a darling in the Fox News echo chamber is guaranteed.
Never mind that "it would take a coordinated series of 16 or so lightning strikes to make Ted Cruz the 45th president of the United States," as my friend Will Bunch puts it.  Cruz is an idiot.  No, make that a dangerous idiot.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rick Chamberlain (1952-2015)

There is a common denominator to the tributes that have poured in since the passing of Rick Chamberlain: Beyond his public face as a master trombonist, music teacher and jazz festival organizer, Rick gave selflessly to both those whom he loved and those he merely knew.
In my own case as jazz fan and journalist, Rick not only blew my socks off during many a Delaware Water Gap (Pa.) Celebration of the Arts performance and at the more intimate Deer Head Inn, he opened many doors for me when I set out to write a book about the life, times and unsolved 1981 murder of his dear friend, Eddie Joubert, the beloved owner of a Delaware Water Gap bar where Rick played as a member of the psychedelic-tinged rock band Asparagus Sunshine and sat in at after-hours jams.
From the Foreword to The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of  Love, Devotion and Cold-Blooded Murder:
"Back in the day, Eddie and two musicians -- trombonist Rick Chamberlain and alto saxophonist Phil Woods -- were known as the 'Unholy Three.'  They came up with the idea of the jazz festival as a way to raise money to fix the Gap's decrepit sewer system on a boozy night on the front porch of the Deer Head Inn jazz club in 1978.  Chamberlain, who Eddie later talked into successfully running for Gap village council, which in turn jumpstarted a lifelong dedication to community service, was eager to talk to me.
"That was such a formative part of our lives," is how Rick put it.
Long story short, some people were reluctant "to open their Eddie boxes and be interviewed" two decades after the murder, as I put it.  That was until word got around that Rick had talked to me -- several times, in fact.  This was a de facto seal of approval for my mission -- to remember Eddie and shame a Poconos law-enforcement that could care less about a heinous crime that had robbed the Gap of so special a man -- for the tight-knit jazz, arts and crafts and Vietnam veteran communities of which Eddie had been so supportive, and the book took off from there.  Five years on, it remains in print and sells steadily if not spectacularly.
Rick, who was 63, never made a big deal -- or any kind of deal, for that matter -- about all that he gave, and some of his more noble kindnesses and philanthropic gestures are know only to the recipients and a few others.
Rick finally succumbed to pancreatic cancer on March 27 at his Stroudsburg home with family and friends at his side.  A memorial service is being planned.
He was a fighter to the end, and while his illness prevented him from taking his chair as principal trombonist for the New York City Ballet Orchestra for the first time in many years for the ballet's annual holiday production of the The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, he continued to play, conduct and teach.
This included leading the Deer Head Inn Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece ensemble of COTA All Stars that will be playing on Monday night for the first time without the peerless Rick Chamberlain. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Danny Schecter (1942-2015)

At the end of each broadcast, Schechter exhorted his listeners: 
“If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” More here.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

As Frank Zappa Famously Remarked, You Can't Be A Real Country . . .

. . . unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, 
or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer. More here. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Dalai Lama And A Gaggle Of Chinese Officials Walk Into A Bar . . .

Do you remember that uproarious Monty Python sketch where the Dalai Lama, played by John Cleese, sits cross-legged in saffron robes in a mountaintop cave and declares that he won't have an afterlife, throwing into an uproar the exhausted Chinese Communist Party functionaries who have hiked to the cave?  The officials, played by the other Pythons dressed identically in Mao jackets and clutching little red books, demand that the Dalai Lama reincarnate, dammit, after he dies, but only on their terms.
"You have no say over whether you will be reincarnated!" splutters the official played by Michael Palin. "That is for our government to decide."
Don't remember the sketch?   That's because there never was one.
But in an astonishing example of Life Imitating Python, or something, Chinese party leaders meeting this week in Beijing are in high dudgeon over the 14th Dalai Lama's recent speculation -- think of it as a cosmic cream pie aimed at the party's collective face -- that he might end his spiritual lineage as the most prominent leader of Tibetan Buddhism and not reincarnate.  The party has repeatedly warned the 79-year-old holy man that he must play by its rules--  or else. 

The Dalai Lama's obdurance would confound the Communist government's plans to rig a succession that would produce a putative 15th Dalai Lama who accepts China's deeply unpopular presence in Tibet, which it invaded without provocation in 1950.  The Dalai Lama fled into exile nine years later and remains deeply revered in his restive homeland, which has never accepted -- and never will accept -- the communist yolk.
Beijing already has rigged a succession following the 1989 death of the 10th Panchen Lama, another senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism.  The Dalai Lama confirmed a Tibetan boy as the next reincarnation in 1995, but the Chinese government hid away the boy and his parents and installed its own choice as the Panchen Lama, a fate that the Dalai Lama has indicated he does not want.

The idea of Communist Party officials defending the precepts of reincarnation and calling the Dalai Lama a heretic, to boot, is deeply comedic because the party is atheistic to its red core, but beyond the Python riffs and inevitable late night TV show witticisms, the standoff is deadly serious.  Waves of protests and self-immolations in Tibet and abroad have repeatedly brought to the surface deep discontent with the Chinese gulagization, including its attempts to micro-manage Tibet's culture and control the Buddhist tradition.  And Tibetans are sure to reject any future putative Dalai Lama picked by the Chinese government.
If Americans were asked what foreign country they most admired but never visited, doubtless many would answer Shangri La. But since it was foreclosed in the subprime mortgage meltdown, the second choice probably would be Tibet.  Indeed, the mountainous nation nicknamed "The Roof of the World" holds a special place in the popular imagination because of multiple gauzy Hollywood treatments and, of course, the Dalai Lama.
If you don't want to disturb your Richard Gere version of Tibet, move along please.  But with Tibet back in the news because of the reincarnation brouhaha, it is worth remembering that Tibet's own history is riven with wars between competing Buddhist sects, sexual exploitation, usurious taxation, serfdom and other forms of economic enslavement that extended well into the last half of the 20th century; in other words, on the current Dalai Lama's watch.
This does not forgive the Chinese occupation, which has cost well over a million Tibetan lives, the jailing of millions more and destruction of most of the country's 3,000 monasteries, but does provide some perspective. 
And let's face it, the Dalai Lama is who we want him to be: Head of state. Leader of the best known exile movement on earth. Prolific author. Metaphysician. Cross-cultural icon. Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Oh, and caricature, as well.
Veteran journalist-novelist Pico Iyer offers perspective aplenty in The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, a book that I would highly recommend.
The apothegems of the Dalai Lama that appear on buttons, bumper stickers and t-shirts make no more sense "than a single thread taken out of a Persian carpet, an intricate web, and pronounced to be beautiful," writes Iyer, and one of the Dalai Lama's longtime translators shouts to him that "It's nonsense! All these things you see ascribed to him, others are just making up!"
Indeed, one of the conundrums that the Dalai Lama faces on his world travels (he's in Australia at the moment) is that it is the magically esoteric side of Tibetan Buddhism that is the primary source of fascination for non-Tibetans who want to turn away from their own religions. 
I've always been a worship at home guy, so the contradictions don't bother me, while I'm deeply admiring of the Dalai Lama for his stubborn pacifism.  And Tibet has produced some ass-kicking incense as well as a commonsensical pharmacopeia, including a kidney-cleansing compound that may well have saved if not prolonged the life of one of our beloved dogs. 
I do have to note that while the 14th Dalai Lama has been moving the world by example for almost half a century, he has not moved China and now Tibet is almost gone.
But as he has said, "Until the last moment, anything is possible."

Monday, March 09, 2015

For Robert Hunter, 'Song Is A Naked, Living And Amorphous Creature'

Think Burt Bachrach and Hal David.  Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.  Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.  Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter.
Robert who?
While even the most casual listener knows Garcia's name if nothing else beyond him being the face of the Grateful Dead, that love 'em or hate 'em psychedelic-tinged juggernaut, Hunter remains a virtual unknown. Despite his prodigious songwriting skills and vast catalog of lyrics, including some 75 songs  written to be sung over Garcia's powerful melodies, his name is not likely to come up even among people familiar with the Great American Songbook, the canon of the most influential and important popular songs of the 20th century. 
The Great American Songbook is, for my money, the paragon of American musical culture, but how Garcia and Hunter fit into it is not immediately apparent even if they are being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame later this year.  (Other new inductees include Toby Keith, Cyndi Lauper, Linda Perry, Bobby Braddock and Willie Dixon.)
Garcia and Hunter are naturals for the Songwriters Hall of Fame not because they collaborated on a lot of stuff, but because that stuff is uniformly good and some of it is undeniably great.  Their songs mine rich veins of Americana -- Appalachian folklore, New Orleans mythos, Memphis blues and Wild West balladry, as well as some biblical narrative, dollops of generational angst and celebrations of the Sixties counterculture from which the Dead evolved, but only very rarely anything overtly political. 
Their songs have been covered by artists ranging from Suzanne Vega to Los Lobos to Burning Spear to Jesse McReynolds to Bob Dylan, in whose hands they  sometimes shine even brighter and seem even more appropriate to the times years after they were written.
Although Hunter occasionally drops clues, he avoids labeling his lyrics and never -- as in never -- explains in any depth what a song is about because, don't you know, he believes that the lyrics themselves say all that needs saying.
"I also believe, through experience, that beneath the window dressing of metaphor and rhyme, song is a naked, living and amorphous creature" he has said.  "Where some assume that song is the transcription of self, my more intimate belief is that one goes out in the woods and ketches one, dresses it up and trains it to talk. 
"How the brute is trained is a matter of personal style, but beneath the window dressing the song remains elusively itself, prevented from full expression by the limits of its intended use.  The writer's prejudices, blindsides, and occasional strengths are all utilized in the disguising of the primordial beast into form adequate to its specific purpose."
There also is the small matter of some Garcia-Hunter songs never being played the same way twice, "Dark Star" being a prime example. 
"Dark Star" is a psychedelic infused modal vamp that could run 20 minutes or longer, always toward the end of the second set and usually woven into extended jams.  It includes some of the first lyrics Hunter wrote for the Dead.
Garcia and Hunter met in the early Sixties. 
"We both came from the same place musically," he once told an interviewer.  "We started out as a folk duet and went on to become a bluegrass trio and all kinds of different bands, and I know what songs Jerry liked the best, and I know why he liked them the best.  Lines like, I forget the name of the song, but it’s got this line, 'Ten thousand were drowned that never were born.'  Wow.  It’s got the mystery and a rhythm and a beautiful image.  Jerry was a sucker for that sort of thing, not that there was much of that sort of thing around.
"I knew what he liked, and it was the same thing I liked, and I think a lot of our songs had that quality in it, like almost an ancient folk touch of some sort.  It’s hard to put it into words, but it’s what makes most of our songs unique."
Hugh Cutler, a journalist who first heard the Dead in their infancy, found them too rough around the edges and anything but professional. 
But the more Hunter wrote, Cutler explains in a Kiko's House guest post, "the subtler and more intertwined his images and narratives became, until soon he’d created a unique hybrid of poetic borrowings. And Garcia provided the sweetest sonic envelopes in which to seal them."
Hunter's lyrics seldom referenced current events.  "New Speedway Boogie" is a notable and haunting exception, penned after a star-crossed December 1969 rock concert arranged, in part, by the Dead and headlined by the Rolling Stones during which four people died, one at the hands of a Hell's Angel, a grim event immortalized in the documentary film Gimme Shelter.
Garcia left this mortal coil in 1995, some eight days after his 53rd birthday.
"Unlike many stars, Garcia did not seek out fame," is how I once summed up his life.  "At heart an unassuming man who just wanted to play music, fame found him. And despite a long career as an extraordinary composer and guitarist that brought him adulation, gold records and eventually wealth, happiness remained elusive. He was never able to get the addictive drug monkey off his back for very long once it climbed on. Technically, heroin finally killed him, or rather his heart, but I believe that fame was the real culprit." 
Hunter, 73, has worked with Jim Lauderdale, Warren Haynes, Little Feat, Los Lobos and Bob Dylan, and on rare occasions done solo concert dates, since Garcia's death.
"Hunter is an old buddy,” Dylan has said.  "We could probably write a hundred songs together if we thought it was important or the right reasons were there.  He's got a way with words and I do too.  We both write a different type of song than what passes today for songwriting."
Which brings us to "Box of Rain," which along with "Eyes of the World" is one of my two favorite songs with lyrics by Hunter.  And words to live by.


Musing On Hunter's Hybrid Poetic Borrowings & Garcia's Sonic Envelopes


When I first saw the Grateful Dead at the Avalon Ballroom in the early summer of 1966, it was because a housemate in the Haight-Ashbury who helped with the Avalon’s light show had proselytized for them – raved, in fact. I was already a Jefferson Airplane fan, having seen them at the Fillmore Auditorium and found them melodic, dynamic and, crucially for me, professional.
The Dead at the Avalon were anything but. They were largely fronted then by vocalist-harmonica man Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, an occasional organist who would not have looked out of place on a Harley hog amidst the Oakland Hell’s Angels, and had, in fact, already befriended them. Pigpen, I thought, growled in a fashion that sought to imitate both South-of-the-Border deejay Wolfman Jack and Chicago bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, with a bit of gruff boogie guitarist John Lee Hooker.

The acne-riddled lead guitar man, Jerry Garcia, stood back a bit, grinning Cheshire-like, and played rather pedestrian rhythm and blues licks, while the pretty-boy rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and foppish bassist Phil Lesh seemed more like extras for a high school production of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Only drummer Bill Kreutzmann seemed competent.

At the end of each Stax or Motown cover tune – and I say that advisedly because they bore slight lyric resemblance and the tunes meandered via extended noodling until the band members’ limited improvisational skills seemed to exhausted – the band would halt and then retune their instruments for nearly as long as the song itself had lasted. Dancers sought either to recoup their breath or recapture lost momentum in the wait between songs.

To say I was unimpressed would be kind. I found the Grateful Dead largely repugnant to my eye and dissonant and amateurish to my ear.  Still, I saw the Dead several more times during that period, usually as they joined neighborhood bands in free outdoor concerts in the Haight’s Panhandle, and grew to appreciate the leaps forward they seemed to be making both in their musicianship and in reducing their retuning time.
Within the year, though, I had left San Francisco, returned home to the East Coast and enlisted in the Air Force, which sent me to San Antonio, Texas; Indianapolis; and eventually to Tokyo, Japan. When I stopped in San Francisco again while homebound two years later, I learned that virtually all the bands had moved out of the city, usually to bucolic Marin County across the Golden Gate, and the scene in the Haight had been collapsed by hard narcotics and an overwhelming influx of young homeless.

Yet the Airplane and the Dead, along with a few other bands, soldiered on, landing recording contracts and starting to tour nationally.

The Dead’s self-titled debut album had come from Warner Brothers in March 1967, and I defy any fan to say it faithfully reflected what their shows were like. The vocal sound was muddy and instruments sonically constrained. Still, I bought it as a faint replica of my time in the Haight.
I encountered Live Dead, their first live album and fourth overall, almost immediately upon my October 1969 Stateside return. By this time, Robert Hunter had signed on full-time as the Dead’s chief lyricist, and the band’s original songs were growing shapely because of his collaborations with Garcia, whose melodies were increasingly masterful and his improvisations on guitar and pedal steel more focused. “China Cat Sunflower” and “Dark Star” became permanent parts of the repertoire, and elevated everything else, as well. Even Weir, the rhythm guitarist who fancied himself a rock-star singer by imitation long before he became one, was learning to pen original tunes and to actually provide compelling counterpoint guitar backup.
Hunter’s verses cross-referenced an array of source material, from Western cowboy lore to Eastern mysticism, astrology to mythology, the I Ching to voodoo magic, Elizabethan balladry to Mississippi blues legends, T.S. Eliot to Jack Kerouac. And then he’d mix and match. The more he wrote, the subtler and more intertwined his images and narratives became, until soon he’d created a unique hybrid of poetic borrowings. And Garcia provided the sweetest sonic envelopes in which to seal them.

Once David Crosby taught the band how to blend their voices for Workingman’s Dead and then American Beauty, both released in 1970, the Grateful Dead gained a whole new level of vocal and musical acumen. And those two albums’ songs, largely Hunter lyrics that traded in deep pioneering grit, framed its live shows for the rest of the band’s days.

The next two years saw more live recordings, especially the epic Europe ‘72 three-disc set, which showcased the enhanced harmonic possibilities once they’d added the majestic keyboard stylings of Keith Godcheaux and the mellifluous backup vocals of his wife, Donna.
But by 1973, it was time for a new studio recording, on their own label, after they’d been performing most of the songs for several months. Five of the seven tracks on Wake of the Flood are by Hunter-Garcia, and a sixth is by Hunter with Keith Godcheaux. Six of the seven album tracks became career mainstays — the whirlwinds that carried Deadheads onto their psychic waves.
Wake has many worthy and beautiful tunes, but one shone above the rest.

Hunter has said he wrote “Stella Blue” in 1970, in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, where Bob Dylan wrote “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and Arthur Miller penned “After the Fall,” two other masterpieces that have had potent impact on many and me over the years.
UC Santa Cruz archivist David Dodd, in his online version of Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, has much to say in musings and references related to the song’s verses. The first is to note that “stella” is Latin for star, hence “blue star,” harking back to “dark star.” But then, more plausibly to me from the first, Dodd notes that Stella guitars were popular among blues players such as Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell.

 When I first dropped the needle on “Stella Blue,” I conjured a poignant image of a woeful and weary tunesmith, beaten but once proud -- his battered, chipped and rustic ax stuck off in a corner of a dusty downtown lodging as its owner mulls better days and imagines one last chance to relive them. I only read of the Chelsea link later, and didn’t meet Hunter until much later, but the picture fits, though he was then a much younger man (28 or 29).

I like that Dodd also quotes a Wallace Stevens poem:

They said, ‘You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.’
The man replied, ‘Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.’
Hunter has had a special way of putting us (me) into his scenes, be it holding a pat hand at a poker game, riding the range with desperadoes or, in this saga, smacked with the realization you can’t win for trying, once more sunk with smashed hopes in a fleabag with an eerie blue cast to your even bluer surroundings. The song somehow reminded me, too, of a Wyeth painting I wrote about in my high school days, when a print of it hung on a school wall: “The Blue Dump,” a gravel cart Andy saw at his Maine getaway; its peeling veneer is sort of how I imagined that guitar might look.

When Garcia first sang “Stella Blue,” the renderings were delicate and yearning on the early verses, frustrated and then stoically determined on the bridge, then wistful as he closes it out. That seemed to change, though, as he tackled the lyric again and again, finding fresh nooks to explore.

I read one online reviewer underscoring its “gentle melody and dreamy environment,” even as he suggested it could put some listeners to sleep like a “boring, sappy lullaby.” Yet he saluted it as “absolutely the most downright gorgeous song the Dead ever wrote.”

After mainlining the vinyl version, I’m glad that my first “Stella Blue” concert experience was at the Philadelphia Civic Center show that Kiko’s House blogger Shaun Mullen and I shared on August 5, 1974. It was certainly no lullaby, but more pained and compelling. It drained me.
I discovered in auditing various versions chronologically from my home collection that “Stella Blue” churned anthem-like as years passed, perhaps as its title chorus in concert more constantly elicited a rousing cheer – at every chorus. By the 1990s, Garcia sang and played the song emphatically, even stridently, and the once-shimmering guitar-solo coda eventually morphed to bombastic. My sense was that the later stylings no longer fit Hunter’s initial atmospherics, though Garcia may have decided he was indeed “dust[ing] off those rusty strings just one more time [to] make them shine.” Or perhaps he was just seeking to avoid presenting a “boring, sappy lullaby.”
For me, delicacy and wistfulness, dreaminess and “downright gorgeousness” better suit the tale. How better to come “crying like the night” or “crying like the wind,” as Hunter envisions twice?
That final verse smacks of every Zen Buddhist koan I’ve ever read:

It all rolls into one, and nothing comes for free;
There’s nothing you can hold for very long. …
It seems like all this life was just a dream.

I can almost hear the Master then intoning: "Go wash your bowl."
And if I were to be fully transparent, “Stella Blue” rests today all the more emotionally, almost clairvoyantly on Hunter’s part, on that opening figure, that Cheshire China cat at the mike through all the vanished years: “A broken angel sings from a guitar. . . . ”

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Plain Talk On The Criminal Justice System, Obamacare & That Bad Old CIA

On March 3, 2015, there was brutal cold and the hangover from several major snow storms to contend with in the Northeast and Midwest, unseasonably chilly weather in Florida that had natives and tourists alike bundling up, and intermittent rain and fog in the Pacific Northwest, but none of this kept the American criminal justice system from grinding along -- from sea to shining sea -- as it does no matter the weather.
In Spokane, Washington, a white family of three medical marijuana patients -- father, mother and daughter -- faced several years in prison after being convicted of growing more pot plants than the law allowed.  In Panama City, Florida, a 21-year-old black man was expected to be sentenced to prison after being found guilty of selling a small quantity of marijuana to an undercover agent, while in Washington, D.C., the Justice Department announced that an investigation had concluded that the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black teenager was shot dead last summer by a white officer, regularly uses force almost exclusively on blacks and stops them without probable cause.  In fact, although blacks make up 67 percent of Ferguson's population, blacks account for 95 percent of all arrests. The city's court system, the report found, routinely jails blacks for even the most minor infractions.
But the big criminal justice news on March 3 was that David H. Petraeus had reached a plea deal after admitting that he had provided his highly classified personal journals to a mistress when he was CIA director, a crime that in another day and age would have been considered treasonous and in this day and age would have resulted in a court martial and hard time in a brig -- if not an appointment with a firing squad -- for a lesser ranking soldier.  
The family in Spokane and the young man in Panama City, neither affluent or socially connected, are facing prison time, their lives effectively put on hold if not destroyed, while Petraeus, the ultimate insider with many politician friends, including the man in the White House, coped a misdemeanor plea and will pay a $40,000 fine and serve two years of prison-free probation while keeping his job as a lavishly compensated financial industry mover and shaker.  
The contrast between the fates of these marijuana malefactors and a highly decorated four-star general who is the best-known military commander of his generation, speaks volumes about how deeply dysfunctional American society is in a most fundamental respect -- that courts and juries, aided and abetted by their police and prosecutorial helpmates, as well as attorneys who get filthy rich off of this cancer, dispense "justice" according to social rank, influence and affluence, outdated mores and, of course, race.
Any clear-eyed student of American jurisprudence knows that the way the law is applied in these United States has always been skewed, but that view is profoundly short-sighted in a contemporary context.  Of course it always has been skewed, yet despite laws and policies of recent vintage prohibiting favoritism toward certain defendants because of their standing and wealth, your chances of being treated fairly is more of an abstraction than ever.
The conservative wing of the Roberts Supreme Court, too often joined by Justice Kennedy, has jumped the shark as throwing the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush and the Citizens United decision have shown.  So when the high court agreed against good sense to hear King vs. Burwell, in which the right-wing litigants argue that four errant words in the Affordable Care Act demand that this highly successful program be gutted, those of us of the left-of-center persuasion started casing out windows to jump from.
But oral arguments last week -- despite some of the silliest legal posturing in modern court history and nary a mention of the more the 8 million people who would lose access to health insurance because of the "death spiral" that would result if the absurdist architects of the King case get their way -- provided a glimmer of hope.
So here's my prediction: King will be thrown out in a 6-3 ruling with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy joining the four justices who believe that access to affordable health care trumps reverse-engineered legal flapdoodle. 
While Roberts and Kennedy are not cut from the altruistic cloth that Justices Breyer, Ginsberg, Kagan and Sotomayor might be, perhaps they don't want those 8 million-plus people, a goodly number with life-threatening conditions, on their consciences.  That Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas have no such scruples -- and perhaps have no scruples whatsoever -- is what the King litigants counted on. They're just going to fall a couple of rifles short of a full firing squad.
CIA Director John O. Brennan's bold plan to reassign thousands of spies and intelligence analysts into new departments to make it more successful against modern threats and crises (the Cold War really is over, lads) is brilliant because it is so bloody logical.  Getting spooks and analysts on the same page, instead of being in their own compartmentalized worlds as they long have in the agency's troubled 67-year-old history, is bound to get results.
But won't.
That is because the CIA, like Britain's MI5, is first and foremost an old boy's club where the independence of the individual is more important than fealty to president and country, or queen and country.  And that law of nature is not about to be revoked.
Had the CIA been organized along the lines that Brennan envisions, the 9/11 attacks probably would have never happened.  But CIA operatives were hunkered down in their various compartments, vital information was not shared within the agency, let alone with the FBI, and despite myriad warnings of an impending attack using commercial airliners as weapons, Osama bin Laden's henchmen pretty much had clear sailing. 
As will the next bunch of terrorists who still will have little to fear from the CIA.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Memo To GOP Wingers: Keep Your Goddamned Religion Out Of My Life

A new study puts a face -- and a particularly ugly one at that -- on what was been increasingly obvious for many years: Christian conservatives, the folks who use their God like a cudgel to bludgeon we heathens with their neanderthal social agenda, exert an inordinate influence on the Republican Party even if their numbers are relatively small and their agenda is outside the electoral mainstream.
This perversity is on display in that quadrennial scrum known as the Republican presidential primary as otherwise mostly sane presidential wannabes suck up to Christian conservatives to win their favor in primaries in states with outsized blocs of holier-than-thou voters because they can be easily motivated to turn out to vote, especially in the Deep South where they predominate, only to inch away from them and back toward the political center as the nominating convention rolls around.  (Exhibit A in this regard is the shameless Paul Ryan, who has done a 180-degree turn on abortion to appeal to Christianist primary voters.) 
And then, with the fall campaign underway, these wannabes abandon Christianists altogether.  George W. Bush did it in 2000 and 2004, John McCain in 2008 , and Mitt Romney took his turn in 2012, while the hapless eventual 2016 nominee will do it again on the way to likely slaughter under Hillary Clinton's sword.
The outsized influence that censorious Christian conservatives have on the GOP -- and by extension the national debate -- is starkly obvious in data compiled for the new American Values Atlas from 50,000 interviews conducted last year by the Public Religion Research Institute.
The institute quizzed people on the issues of same-sex marriage, abortion and immigration, among others, and analyzed the responses based on their religious faiths. 
Not surprisingly, white evangelical Protestants, who make up 18 percent of all Americans but an outsized 36 percent of Republicans, were the most conservative. But if you striped away this group, the results were starkly different.
Among all Republicans, 35 percent favored the legalization of gay marriage, while 58 percent opposed it. But without white evangelicals the spread is 45 percent to 47 percent, a heck of a lot closer to Americans in general, although you wouldn't know that given the way GOP congressional leaders suck up to white evangelicals.
On abortion, only 39 percent of all Republicans said that it should be legal, while 58 percent said that it should not be. Subtract those white evangelicals  and the spread is 48 percent to 49 percent, again closer to Americans in general.
On immigration, the religious group in which the fewest people (36 percent) said that immigrants "strengthen" the country were . . . you, guessed it, white evangelicals.  Among all Americans, the spread was 55 percent "strengthen" and 36 percent "burden."
We live in a golden age of cowardice.  People of all political stripes cower behind the flag in the name of an ersatz patriotism rather than defend true American values, and Democratic congressfolk cower when they should be defending their president and his signal accomplishments.   But they pale in comparison to Republicans who cower in the presence of intolerant Christianist nut jobs whose intolerance would be right at home with radical Islam.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The True Story Of The Most Powerful Men In America & A Gang Rape

This is the story of how the three most powerful men in America were responsible for the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl, who was burned to a blackened char, and the murder of her parents and sister.

The enablers of these heinous crimes were President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick
Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who conspired to invade Iraq for bogus reasons, then starved the Army of the men and materiel to get the job done, which led to a lengthy occupation that triggered an Al Qaeda insurgency and a protracted civil war.

Journalist Jim Frederick describes the scene that Abu Muhammad came upon when he was summoned to his cousin's house on March 12, 2006:

"Abu Muhammad had seen what the insurgent death squads could do, but he had never witnessed anything like this. Each body was a different sort of travesty. Qassim, the father, was facedown in the far corner of the bedroom, in a lake of his own burgundy blood. His shirt was brightly patterned, striped with white, orange and brown. The front of his skull had been blasted off. Gore and large chunks of gray matter stippled the walls in a wide, V-shaped pattern. A large amount of Qassim's brain, about the size of a fist, lay nearby on an intricately woven rug.

"Not far from Hassim was Hadeel, just six years old. Wearing a bright pink dress, she was beautiful, her face almost pristine like a death mask, except that she was covered with blood, liters of it. It was everywhere, matting her hair, soaking her dress, covering her face in a thin dried sheen. A bullet fired from behind -- perhaps she had been running away from her assailant -- had blown the back right quadrant of her skull apart, A piece of it was lying several feet away, covered in skin and hair. Her hair band had been thrown across the room by the whiplash of the impact. In her right hand she was still clutching some plants she had just picked, a kind of wild sweet grass that Iraqi children frequently gather and eat for fun.

"Closest to the door was Fakhirah, the mother, wearing a black abaya and an emerald velveteen housedress embroidered with white flowers. She was lying on her back with her eyes wide open. Abu Muhammad thought his cousin might still be alive. He reached down to feel her pulse. Nothing. She was dead. He turned her over, and then he saw the hole. She had been shot in the back, but the rich, dark hues of her clothing obscured the full extent of her wound.

"Shaken, Abu Muhammad moved into the living room. There was Abeer, only fourteen years old. What they had done to her, it was unspeakable. Her body was still smoking; her entire upper torso had been scorched, much of it burnt down to ash. Her chest and face were gone with only the tips of her fingers sticking out from the purple scraps of her dress sleeves, recognizably human. The lower half of her body, however, was mostly intact. Her thin, spindly legs were spread and, rigid in death, still bent at the knees. She was naked from the waist down, her tights and underwear nearby."

Why dredge up a nearly nine-year-old incident in a war that effectively ended in December?

The answer is that today would have been Abeer Qassim Hamza's 23rd birthday. And that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have never been called to account for masterminding the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history. And never will be. Absent a deathbed confession, we cannot expect any member of this troika to acknowledge that the deaths of nearly 4,000 Americans, Abeer and her family and perhaps 100,000 Iraqis in all was because of their politically-driven neocon blood lust.

The vast majority of the soldiers sent to Iraq performed and behaved admirably, and that was true of most of the troopers in 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

There was only one other known atrocity of this magnitude in Iraq -- the Hadifa Massacre, and rapes and murders were extremely rare in Iraq despite the fact that they happen in every war and by one estimate U.S. troops raped 18,000 women in the European theater between 1942 and 1945.

First Battalion was assigned to the Triangle of Death, an area south of Baghdad that only weeks after the March 2003 invasion already was becoming the most restive hotbed of the insurgency. There were far too few boots on the ground to effectively deal with the task at hand, pleas for more troops went unheeded, and when commanders complained to the Pentagon about troop levels they effectively short-circuited their careers.

The travails of Bravo Company, home to the men who went on the rape and murder spree, were especially severe. They were physically isolated and had no knowledge of how their efforts were fitting into the war's broader strategy, let alone what that strategy might be.

The rape and murders were singularly heinous because they were so calculated. But to lay the entire responsibility for them on Private First Class Steven Green, who was the ringleader, and Sergeant Paul Cortez and Privates First Class James Barker, Brian Howard and Jesse Spielman is wrong because others up the chain of command all the way to the Pentagon and White House also were culpable.

By the time 1st Battalion deployed to the Triangle of Death in November 2005, the people whom Cheney had declared would welcome Americans with open arms were longing for Saddam Hussein. Iraq had become one big killing field with armed militias roaming the cities and countryside, and Shiites and Sunnis killing whomever they pleased at will.

The Georgia National Guard unit that the 1st Battalion replaced had become so cowed that it had stopped patrolling roads where IEDs (improvised explosive devices) had detonated, meaning that pretty much the entire area went uncovered as the guardsmen cowered in their barracks.

Despite boasts by Rumsfeld, that the troops in Iraq were the best equipped in the history of warfare, the conditions that 1st Battalion had to endure were deplorable.

As Frederick writes in Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent Into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death, there was no chow hall or even a kitchen to cook meals except at Camp Striker, the battalion headquarters. At bases "away from the flagpole," in military parlance, all food was either MRE combat rations or hamburger patties and steaks that had to be grilled on storm
drains. There were no dishes or cutlery so the men had to eat MREs and grilled meat with their hands.
There was no electricity and no lighting that wasn't battery operated, no air conditioning during the day and no heat at night. There were no showers and no toilets, and troopers defecated into so-called WAG Bags, garbage bags with solvents inside that were tied off, thrown in a pit and burned. First Platoon's first major casualty was to be a soldier who suffered bad burns when he threw a match into a diesel fuel-soaked pit filled with the bags.

Humvees were inadequately armored and there wasn't enough body armor to go around, a situation that was not corrected until later in the war and only then because of an expose in a stateside newspaper. And there were no coordinated night recognition signals, resulting in troopers firing on the trucks of other troopers, sometimes with fatal results.

Then there was battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Tom Kunk.

"His reaction to everything was the same," a company first sergeant told Frederick. "If you lost a soldier, or if you had cigarette butts on the FOB [forward operating base], it was the same reaction. He would explode on you. He would just lose his mind, which made his whole leadership style just totally ineffective."

Said one captain: "If you continually crush their spirit, they are going to be timid, wondering if everything they do will earn them another ass chewing. It had an impact on the way those guys operated."

Kunk also whitewashed the reports he sent up to brigade headquarters.
"They would call three guys a squad," a first sergeant said. "But you can't turn three guys into nine unless you're lying."

"It's not like one little piece of information is going to lose the war," a company executive office said, "but when you see the cumulative effect of information becoming whitewashed in order to tell a story that a battalion or brigade commander wants to tell to their highers, then you got real problems. That's the more sinister side of it."

Meanwhile, the Iraq Army was useless and 1st Platoon troopers quickly came to loath the civilian population. The one member of the platoon who took a liking to Iraqis, becoming nearly fluent in Arabic as he got to know the locals, was called "an Iraqi cock sucker."

And the enemy was everywhere.

"What that company is going through would turn your hair white," an officer at Camp Victory in Baghdad told Frederick. "I'm only twenty miles away, and most of the people on Victory have no idea how bloody the fight is down there."

IEDs were cleared with the help of Iron Claw bomb-sniffing teams riding in massive armored vehicles, but as soon as a road was cleared it was reseeded by insurgents. The battalion resorted to parking Humvees at one- or two-mile intervals along a key road that was a resupply route, but the ideal relief in the form of Iraqi soldiers manning these checkpoints never came. They simply refused to operate in so dangerous an area.

The parked vehicles evolved into poorly defended Tactical Check Points surrounded by concertina wire where soldiers would be assigned for six-day intervals, further depleting the
platoon's patrol and combat power, and most troopers felt like they were school crossing guards when manning them. When six-foot cubed mesh baskets that when filled made excellent defensive barriers finally arrived, there were no backhoes to fill them.

It was at one such checkpoint at the edge of Mahmudiya that Steven Green helped hatch the plan to rape Abeer and kill she and her family.

With the Army strapped for personnel, Green had been granted a moral waiver because of prior convictions for drugs and other bad behavior when he enlisted in the Army, and by 2005 such waivers were granted to almost one in five recruits.

He was not a bad soldier, but he was crazy. He was a racist and white supremacist who was unable to control his impulses and railed about "niggers," Jews, northerners, foreigners and Iraqis. And he occasionally drooled, a childhood habit that he had not completely broken.
Green, who became the first former U.S. soldier to face the death penalty for war crimes in a civilian court because he had been discharged before he was arrested, had matter of factly explained to a journalist three weeks before the rape-murders that "I came over here to kill people."

By December, 1st Platoon was losing men at the rate of about one a week and an already fraying platoon that lived "outside the wire" -- a term for the outposts -- was unraveling quickly, while Bravo Company's 2nd and 3rd Platoons seemed to be humming right along with few problems. Frederick attributes this to those platoons outstanding sergeants and active efforts to combat the hate that 1st Platoon had succumbed to.

Iraqi civilians were now being beaten routinely by 1st Platoon troopers, drinking increased and became more open, and men would burst into tears while eating their lunches. And after being continuously told that they were screwups, Frederick said the platoon subconsciously decided to live up to its outcast status.

Meanwhile, none of the basics essential to maintaining morale and welfare of combat soldiers had been provided and officers and NCOs who complained about this state of affairs were
considered whiners.

Two platoon mates who had disobeyed one of Keck's orders and had taken off their helmets at one of the checkpoints were fatally shot in the head by an Iraqi civilian. This was followed by the deaths of two men in an IED blast and then two more in another blast. Later a forward operating base widely considered to be a firetrap burned to the ground because there were too few fire extinguishers.

The carnage prompted Green to tell Keck that "I just want to get out there and get some revenge on those motherfuckers. They all deserve to die."

"Calling them that is like calling me a nigger," interjected Command Sergeant Major Anthony Edwards, Keck's senior NCO. "This sounds like you hate a whole race of people."

"That's about it right there," said Green. "You just about summed it up."

Green had finally snapped.

"Most of the men by this point hated Iraqis and many would offhandedly opine that the whole country needed to be leveled, or the only good Iraqi was a dead Iraq," writes Frederick. "But only Green talked about killing Iraqis all the time. . . . Only he talked about burning them alive so they had to smell their own flesh cooking. Everybody was frustrated that the enemy was cowardly, but Green had a harder time accepting that this was simply the nature of this war: U.S. soldiers had to behave more honorably than the enemy. Why, he sincerely wanted to know, did Americans have to restrain themselves when the insurgents did not?"

Bravo's company commander sent Green to see a combat stress nurse who diagnosed him with Combat and Operational Stress Reaction, an Army term to describe the typically and usually transient stresses of warfare. The nurse noted Green's obsession with killing Iraqis and then sent him back to Bravo.

His next appointment with the nurse would be on March 20, eight days after the rape-murders.

On March 12, Green was pulling predawn guard duty in a gun truck at Tactical Command Post 2. He had been up for 18 hours. Two of 2nd Squads sergeants were elsewhere and Paul Cortez had been rotated in and left in charge although the sergeant was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

"When I'm on guard next time," Green told Cortez and James Barker, "I'm going to waste a bunch of dudes in a car. And we'll just say they were running the TCP."

"Don't do that!" Cortez exclaimed. "Don't do it while I'm here. I'm supposed to be running this shit."

Barker agreed and said he had a better idea.

"We've all killed Hadjis [Iraqis], but I've been here twice and I still never fucked one of these bitches."

Cortez's interest was piqued, and so was Green's. They talked more about it as the morning wore on and Barker said that he had already picked the target -- a house not far from the checkpoint where a man and three women lived, one a teenager or in her twenties whom he thought was pretty hot. The family had an AK-47 assault rifle, which was allowable under Iraqi law, and he said he knew where it was hidden.

Witnesses were a problem, however, but Green said he would take care of that.

"You'll kill them, right?" Barker asked.

"Absolutely," Green replied. "It don't make any difference to me. A Hadji is a Hadji."

At around noon, the three men and Jesse Spielman sat down outside the TCP with a cardboard box as a table to play Uno. They drank Iraqi whiskey mixed with Rip It, a carbonated energy drink, and soon became very drunk.

Cortez finally said, "If we are going to do this, let's go before I change my mind." Cortez and
Barker would take the girl, Green would kill the rest of the family, Spielman would pull guard and Bryan Howard, who was newly arrived in the platoon, would stay behind and man the radio.

Some of the men changed into clothing that made them look like insurgents. Green grabbed a shotgun, Barker took Howard's M4 carbine and Spielman picked up an M14 rifle.

The targeted house was the home of Qassim and Fakriah Hamza al-Janabi. They were poor but dreamed of building a big family and sending their children -- daughters Abeer, 14, and Hadeel, 6, and son Muhammad,12, who happened to be at school that afternoon -- to university.

With the arrival of the Americans in Mahmudiyah and the quick deterioration of relations between the occupiers and locals, Wassim and Fakriah had become concerned about their daughters, whom they took out of school.

Abeer was of special concern. She had big doe eyes, a small mouth and gentle features. On the verge of womanhood, she was tall for her age and her fragile beauty was attracting a lot of unwanted attention. Soldiers would give her the thumbs-up and say, "Very good, very nice," and Muhammad had once watched a soldier run a finger down terrified sister's cheek.

By early March, the harassment of Abeer had become so bad that cousin Abu Muhammad told the family that he would take her to live with him at his secluded house. Abeer stayed there only one night, March 9 or 10, and Qassim came the next day to bring her back home.

Frederick describes what transpired in a few short minutes:

"Sneaking up to the dingy home, Cortez and Barker broke to the right around a small shack in the front. Spielman and Green broke left. Spielman and Green found little Hadeel and father Qassim in the driveway. Green grabbed the man and Spielman grabbed the girl and they marched them inside. Barker and Cortez cleared the house, checking the foyer, the hallway, and moving plast the kitchen, where Cortez stopped to grab the woman, Fakhriah, and Abeer. Green and Spielman entered the house while Barker continued with the sweep, checking the bathroom and the toilet room, the bedroom and the living room. Then he headed up the stairs to the roof, checked the roof, and went back down the stairs.

"The others had corralled the whole family into the bedroom. After they had recovered the family's AK-47 and Green confirmed that it was locked and loaded, Barker and Cortez left, yanking Abeer behind them. Spielman pulled the bedroom door shut and then set up guard in the doorway between the foyer and the living room while Cortez shoved Abeer into the living room. Cortez pushed Abeer down on the ground and Barker walked over to her and pinned her outstretched arms down with his knees.

"In the bedroom, Green was trying to get the man, woman and child to lie down on the floor. They were scared, screaming in Arabic. Green was shouting back, 'Get down, get down now!'

"Back at the TCP, Howard was trying to get Cortez on the radio, each time saying there was a convoy coming and they needed to come back. They never responded. No Humvees actually came during the ten to 15 minutes that they were gone, but Howard was panicked. [Private Seth] Scheller and he were out there all alone.

"In the living room, Cortez pulled Abeer's tights off. She was crying, screaming in Arabic, trying to struggle free as Barker continued to hold her in place. Cortez was masturbating, trying to get an erection. He started to make thrusting motions. 'What the fuck am I doing?' he later recalled thinking at the time. 'At the same time, I didn't care, either. I wanted her to feel the pain of the dead soldiers.'

"In the bedroom, Green was losing control of his prisoners. They weren't getting down on the ground. Terrified, they were yelling, and they weren't responding to Green's orders. The woman made a run for the bedroom door. Green shot her once in the back and she fell to the floor. The man, agitated before, now became unhinged. Green turned the AK on him and pulled the trigger. It jammed. He tried to clear it several more times, but it kept sticking. Panicking, as the man started advancing on him, Green switched to his shotgun.

"Green couldn't remember if there was anything in the chamber, so he pumped once and a full shell ejected. Then, Green said, 'I shot him the way I had been taught: one in the head and two in the chest.' The first shot blasted the top of the man's head off. He dropped backward to the floor as buckshot from the following shots continued to riddle his body.

"Then Green turned toward the little girl, who was spinning away from him, running for a corner. Green returned to the AK and tried to clear it again, and this time it worked. He raised the rifle and shot Hadeel in the back of the head. She fell to the ground. . . .

"As Green was executing the family, Cortez finished raping Abeer and switched positions with Barker. Barker's penis was only half hard. Despite all her squirming and kicking, Barker forced himself on Abeer and raped her.

"Green came out of the bedroom and announced to Barker and Cortez, 'They're all dead. I killed them all.' Barker got up and headed toward the kitchen. He wanted to look outside the window, see if anything was happening outside. As he did that, Green propped the AK-47 he was carrying against the wall, got down between Abeer's legs, and as Cortez held her down, Green raped her. . . .

"The men were becoming extremely frenzied and agitated now. Spielman lifted Abeer's dress up around her neck and touched her exposed right breast. Barker brought a kerosene lamp he had found in the kitchen and dumped the contents on Abeer's splayed legs and torso. Spielman handed a lighter to either Barker or Cortez, who lit the flame. Spielman went to the bedroom and found some blankets to throw on the body to stoke the fire. As the flames engulfing Abeer's body grew, Green, hoping to blow up the house, opened the valve on the propane tank in the kitchen and told everybody to get out of there."

The Iraqi Army began interviewing neighbors and family members the morning after the rape-murders. Some said that it was the Iraqi Army, others said it was the Americans and still others said that it was a family feud gone bad, while 1st Platoon said it was Sunni insurgents. The Hamza Al-Janabi family was buried in a nearby cemetery and there was little or no physical evidence beyond a few AK-47 shell casings.

On March 20, 2006, Green kept his appointment at the Combat Stress office in Mahmudiyah. He confessed to having recently thrown a puppy off of the roof of a house that was being searched and said that was no big deal. In subsequent meetings over the next few days, a combat stress nurse concluded that he wasn't registering the moral implications of what he had done.

She concluded that Green had a preexisting antisocial personality disorder, a condition marked by indifference to the suffering of others and recommended to Kunk the he be discharged. Even though Green had committed rape and quadruple homicide just 11 days earlier, the nurse's mental-health-status evaluation sheet that initiated the personality order discharge stated that his current potential for harm to others was "low."

Green remained at Mahmudiyah for a few more weeks for observation and processing. By April 14, he was headed back to the U.S. and was honorably discharged at Fort Campbell, Kentucky on May 16.

The cover-up of the rape-murders began to unravel in mid-June.

On June 16, the checkpoint where Green and the others had hatched the plot
was attacked and overrun. Specialist David Babineau was killed and Privates First Class Thomas Tucker and Kristian Menchaca were captured.
The bodies of the two troopers were found on June 19, and judging from a video shot by the insurgent abductors, both were eviscerated and half naked, dirty with caked blood and mud, just as one would appear after being dragged behind a truck. Tucker was decapitated and a man, after holding his severed head aloft like a trophy, placed it on Tucker's body. Al Qaeda in Iraq later said the attack was in retaliation for the rape of Abeer and murder of her family and the leader of AQI had slaughtered the two men himself.

While the search for Tucker and Menchaca was on, Sergeant
Tony Yribe remarked to Private First Class Justin Watt that "It just drives me crazy that all the good men die and the shitbag murderers like Green are home eating hamburgers."

"Murderers?" Watt asked.

Yribe told Watt about the rape-murders and that Green had confessed to him that he had acted alone. The less you know about it -- the better, Yribe had said.

Watt was horrified. He began obsessing on Abeer's father for reasons he didn't understand and couldn't sleep. When he ran into Howard he insinuated that something really messed up had happened in March. Convinced that Watt knew the whole story, Howard filled in many of the missing pieces and implicated Barker, Cortez and Spielman.

Watt called his father, who had been an airborne combat engineer in the 1970s, and asked him what he would do if his brothers in arms had done something really bad.

"You should let your conscience be your guide," his father had replied. "If it is as heinous as you say, you can't let your loyalty to your men get in the way of doing what is right."

Wanting to bypass what he believed would be a skeptical command structure, Watt revealed the crimes during a psychological health counseling session on June 22.
Meanwhile, rumors about the rape-murder began to percolate through 1st Platoon and eventually reached Kunk after two troopers went to their superiors.

While skeptical of the allegations, Kunk ordered an investigation. Then, a few days after the memorial service for Babineau, Tucker and Menchaca, the commanding officer called a kind of town hall meeting.

Frederick writes that Kunk began by telling them, with complete unconcern for the men who were brave enough to speak up, "You are right to think that there is a lot of suspicion and finger-pointing going on because [two men] came forward to tell the chain of command that five of your shitbag friends probably raped a girl and killed her whole family. And these guys are cracking, it looks like they are guilty."

"We thought we were going to get the 'Keep your heads up' speech," said one soldier. " . . . He just crushed us."

The four active-duty soldiers involved were arrested and were court martialed.

Barker pleaded guilty to rape and murder as part of a plea agreement requiring him to testify against the other soldiers to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison and must serve 20 years before being considered for parole.

Cortez pleaded guilty to rape and murder as part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to 100 years in prison and must serve 10 years before being considered for parole.

Spielman was convicted of rape and murder. He was sentenced to 110 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years.

All three men are being held at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Howard was sentenced under a plea agreement to a dishonorable discharge. He served 27 months in prison for obstruction of justice and being an accessory after the fact.

Green was arrested as a civilian and was convicted in the U.S.District court in Paducah, Kentucky. In September 2009, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison with no possibility of parole and was being held in the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona when he died in February 2014 from complications from hanging himself.

Kunk, who was investigated because of reports of numerous acts of complacency and a lack of standards at the platoon level, received a letter of concern, the least serious form of admonishment and one that carries no real punitive weight or negative long-term implications for an officer's career. Two of his NCOs received letters of reprimand.

Justin Watt, the whistleblower, received a medical discharge. He said that he has received death threats.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are retired and except for Cheney, are little in the news. All three have published memoirs that whitewash their roles in starting and utterly screwing up America's longest war.

Abeer's next-of-kind received a $30,000 check from the U.S. government in compensation for the rape-murders.
PHOTOGRAPHS (From top): Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld; Abeer; Blood-splattered wall of the Al Janabi home; Map of the Triangle of Death; Tactical checkpoint where rape-murder plot was hatched; 1st Platoon trooper on patrol; Green, possibly with the shotgun he used in the murders; Barker; Cortez; Spielman; Watt; Babineau; Menchaca; Tucker; Green at sentencing.