Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:

 

Conservative:

Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.

 

Liberal:

Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.

 

Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.

 

Reactionary:

Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.

 

Radical:

Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.

 

The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.

 

The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.

 

Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income

 

Capitalism:

Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

 

Socialism:

Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

 

Communism:

Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.

 

Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.

 

Democracy:

Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.

 

Republic:

Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.

 

Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President

 

Fascism:

Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

 
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Monday, March 26, 2007

Insurgency

The "insurgency" killed more than 1500 people in 2005, more than 2000 in 2006, and as many as 500 by only March of 2007. Dozens die every day and the numbers are rising out of control this year. But even with thousands of Americans on the ground here, most remain unaware of the extent of the bloodshed.

Victims include prominent reporters, newspaper editors, police, the family of army officers, and simple townsfolk. Anyone who speaks out to the press and anyone who cooperates with the government or the military risks assassination.

These deaths include bodies chopped up and left in fields and severed heads left in the street. Children at play are gunned down in drive by style shootings. Religious festivals and school vacations are prime targets.

The killers are sometimes professionals or the militias of local warlords. Some dress in military or police uniforms and at least 1000 may actually be members of these armed services. Any government official who attempts to clean house risks their lives and those of their families.

Piles of cash have been confiscated, as much as $200,000 in one bust last week. Truckloads and boatloads of drugs are also collected. The drug trade here goes directly into gun sales and vice versa.

President Bush has met with this country's political leaders to work out joint military and security cooperation. Special forces patrol the border and new "clean" recruits are trained daily. At least 30,000 additional troops have been sent to the most troubled regions.

Federal officials have made brave promises of victory and local politicians state that they are with the government "100%". Even religious figures have expressed their solidarity with the government's battle; warning that if the terrorists win, everyone loses. However, experts have expressed doubts that the government can ever win this battle.

This country is not Iraq. It is Mexico. These thugs are not "insurgents" or "freedom fighters", they are criminals. Any American who attempts to lionize the killers as "rebels with a cause" should be ashamed.

An NPR report this morning let an Iraqi reporter explain how he witnessed a truck of men pull up to a vacant lot used for soccer, machine gun a dozen boys, and then blast a few more rounds into the bodies just for good measure. They managed to turn a long mixed Shia and Sunni neigbhorhood onto eachother's throats.

Around the globe there are issues of poverty and ethnic tensions just waiting to morph into open bloodshed. In some countries a brutal dictator suppresses the conflict, usually to the extreme detriment of one side or the other. They also suppress the news, gaining an accomplice in even CNN, to maintain blissfull ignorance in the West.

Democratic countries can be put in a bind, not wanting to support such tyrants, but unwilling to remove them and be blamed for the ensuing violence. And so Darfur, Zimbabwe, and other regions in crisis are ignored and their thugs further enabled.

Iraq is indeed a mess. Burried hatreds have been unleashed and are being fanned by internal and external forces (Iran). Lots of people are dying and the government is under extreme pressure and, even with US support, it might fail to hold the country together.

But just as we should not abandon Mexico we should not sacrifice Iraq. Trouble in either country can make its way across our borders just as easily (an Iraqi was recently caught at an airport with a grenade in his, ahem, pants).

What the nations on the edge of civilization need most is support, not benign neglect or tolerence for their dictators, but active support in military and economic cooperation.

Sean: Monday, March 26, 2007 [+] |
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Monday, March 19, 2007
What War Is Good For

In 1969 Motown asked America what war was good for. Edwin Starr's version of "War" made it to no. 1 on the Billboard chart in 1970 in protest of Vietnam. Bruce Springsteen remade the song in 1986 in protest of Reagan's involvement in Latin America. The song has been remade again today in protest of the Iraq war.

The question is simple and seems to have only one answer "Absolutely nu-thing!". Then the Slovenian band Laibach did a cover in 1994 in which they gave the ironic counter answer listing IBM and CNN as direct benefactors of war. Either answer is too facile, ignoring any complications.

As it turns out, war might be good for quite a lot. War does indeed benefit capitalist corporations, the industrial-military complex, and media conglomerates. But it has also led to developments in governance, medicine, and engineering. These advances save and improve billions of lives around the world.

Under the Roman Empire war brought lands formally ruled by despots and warlords into a democracy. Military service in the Roman Legions was open to anyone from any country and was the fastest (and perhaps only) route to full citizenship and landholding (veterans earned a small farm on the hinterlands after 25 years of service).

Military success convinced the Emperor Constantine to convert to Christianity n 313 ad, ending centuries of persecution and spread the peaceful teachings of a renegade Jewish rabbi to millions in the Empire. A similar battlefield miracle around 500 ad convinced Clovis and the Franks to convert to Christianity and led to the "progressive" rule of Charlemagne and saved Christianity in Europe during the Dark Ages.

The Crusades later combined military conquest and religion in the most brutal of fashions and was very expensive in lives and treasure for conquered and conqueror alike. However, it also brought back to Europe advances in medicine, science, and art. Meanwhile the Arabs were finally united under Saladin in an effective counter empire in which ideals of honor, tolerance, and chivalry were enshrined (Saladin's example may be one of the few counters to bloodthirsty terrorism today).

Europe during the ensuing centuries saw nearly constant warfare as Protestantism spread across northern Europe limiting the arbitrary power of the Catholic Church. Violent urban unrest brought popular rule to France, Holland, and Germany. In 1653 Cromwell's revolt in England forever limited the rights of the monarch. Meanwhile the American Revolution brought about the first codification of civil rights, including freedom of religion. The later rampage of Napoleon across Europe in the 1850's spread his advances in military organization but also solidified numerous nation state's and established a universal legal code across the continent.

The American Civil War ended slavery in America with the death of millions. However, it also saw major developments in surgery and anesthesia. Technical advances in transportation and communication such as the railroad and the telegraph were also spurred by this conflict.

Military doctors during the Spanish-American War were the first to prove that mosquitoes carried disease (one of the doctors was Walter Reed). This lead to major advances in the treatment and prevention of many diseases, especially in the tropics of Africa and S. America. Swamp drainage, sanitation, and inoculation eventually saw the near eradication of malaria and small pox and saved the lives of tens of millions.

WWI saw major advances in battlefield triage and treatment. Horrific advances in chemical and biological weapons led to later treatments and major advances in chemical engineering and pharmacology. Industrial advances necessary to equip massed armies led to inexpensive textiles, plastics, and other goods that brought decent clothing and consumer goods to the masses of Europe and America. The League of Nations was a first international attempt to formalize foreign relations and avoid war.

WWII saw developments in wireless communication, sonar, radar, jet aircraft, atomic energy, geography, geology, and meteorology. It also lead directly to the de-colonialization of Africa and the Middle East. A new monetary system allowed governments to continue to function and feed their people during recessions. A new trade organization allowed dispute resoltions other than war. The failed League of Nations was replaced with the more robust (although still deeply flawed) United Nations.

Cold War innovations famously led to space travel, satellites, digital computing and the internet, and the rise of science research centers like MIT and JPL. With the conclusion of the contest, Western ideals of democracy and the freemarket were finally spread to former Soviet states. Meanwhile, the tension of the Cold War is now recognized as responsible for keeping the lid on many regional conflicts in Africa, Asia, and S. America.

The Korean and Vietnam Wars led developments in medical evacuation by helicopter, field hospitals developed extensive trauma care, and the military further developed responses to sexually transmitted disease. Along with Kosovo and Somalia, these conflicts proved that West would at least attempt to defend smaller democracies, developing nations, or ethnic minorities from foreign and home-grown threats.

The War on Terror is responsible for thousands of dead soldiers and perhaps tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, there are medical technical advances such as a bandage made from shrimp parts that helps control bleeding, a laptop heart and lunch machine, and the use of whole blood or blood parts to assist in clotting and healing. And a government run by illiterate students was replaced by an international protectorate and a regime run by a mob-style family that fed its critics feet first into plastic recyclers was arrested, tried, and punished (executed).

No one wants to go on record as "advocating war". One of the silliest bumper stickers has to be "No War!". One might as well urge free college and universal health care for all, or call for an independent Tibet. A recent anti-war rally here in Portland gave aging Boomers, who long since sold their moral high ground for a Volvo and a Starbucks card, the opportunity to once again revel in being "right".

But the decision not to fight, not to support wars, also means abdicating on issues such as Darfur, Thailand, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Rwanda, Kosovo, etc. Ignoring such problem spots kills people just as dead as any bomb.

Meanwhile, serving in the military of a liberal democracy such as in Denmark, the UK, or the USA trains millions of young people in the real cost of their independence. And their support helps keep the balance of military power, technical know-how, and economics fully on the side of freedom and democracy.

I am not arguing that war is a wonderful shinny thing. I am noting that the question is much more complex than fits on most bumper stickers. War has both positive and negative outcomes, for different people, that reveal themselves at different times.

On this fourth year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq we should indeed look at it critically and ask ourselves if we are in this fight for the right reasons, and if this is the best way we can fight it. A serious, critical look. Not a Motown anthem.

Sean: Monday, March 19, 2007 [+] |
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Friday, March 09, 2007
With Your Shield Or On It

The long awaited (by me, at least) film adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel "300" is in theatres today. I saw it last night at midnight with a full theatre of eager fans. And (of course) I loved it!

Unfortunately (for them), almost half the critics have panned the film as homoerotic, violent, and unrealistic. And those on the left decry it as "Nazi war propaganda". Neither such critic should be given much weight, they simply don't understand the film (or don't want to accept it).

Yes, the main characters are mostly naked most of the time. Yes, there is a lot of violence. And yes, the cinematography is mostly CGI.

But these are Greek soldiers (a culture that reveled in the (mostly male) nude form in sports and warfare), it is specifically about a time of existential war, and it is adapted from a comic book.

While I can understand how a 50-something film critic could reject the movie, my own generation grew up on comic books and video games. We can take the visuals and we revel in ironic humor. So we can accept a few "boss level" villains and rock music during a historic drama.

Ultimately I stopped noticing that the sets were CGI, it was no more annoying that watching stage hands change the sets and props of a play.

The violence and ugliness of the fight scenes was also easy to keep at arms length. It is an accepted, formalized rendering of the brutality of war (at least my generation grew up with both WWII and Vietnam as reference points, we do not expect, nor want to see, war depicted as anti-septic).

As for the history of the storyline... some critics have scoffed at the idea of 300 Greeks holding off hundreds of thousands of Persians. I might agree, except for the fact that it actually happened. Classical Era military historian Victor Davis Hansen gave the movie's presentation of the events his approval (with noted artistic license).

The grotesque villains and "boss level" combat sequences were required by the story line and format. Some have complained that it "dehumanizes the enemy", because they are trying to translate the film into a direct commentary on today's War On Terror. They want the Persians to be depicted as "equivalent" to the Greeks in the film -not as giants, not as horned beasts, and not darker of skin.

Forget about it. This is a movie based on a comic series that began 3 years before 9/11 and was inspired by a 1962 movie, based on 2500 year old histories by and about the Greeks. The Greeks were the story writers, the players, and the audience for the tales. So, of course the Greeks are the heroes.

Besides which, for all those who love politically correct moral equivalence... there was none in the battle between Greece and Persia. The historical facts are that the Persians were an empire gathered from many ethnicities and locations by one mighty military force, a conscript army of the previously vanquished.

Generations of Persian rulers continually tried (with varying success) to subjugate the "free city states" of Greece. Yes the Greeks had slaves, but it was "free men" from farms and workshops (ok, in the case of the Greek city of Sparta they were more professional soldiers) who fought to defend their own homes not to conquer fresh lands for their master as with the Persians.

Even though Frank Miller never intended, years ago, for "300" to be a call to arms for Western Civilization, it does function that way. Although the speeches in the film are a bit corny, they do effectively remind us what values are at the core of our own civilization and that they are every bit worth fighting for.

And there is a parallel between the stentorian senators in their lofty capital wishing to keep any "clash of civilizations" at arms length... the Greeks didn't cause themselves to be attacked by Persia, they simply were an irresistible target. And not engaging the enemy would never ensure that the enemy would not attack them.

In fact, the war against Western Civ was an inevitable contest of incompatible values, then and now. We value individual freedoms over group security, sometimes this comes very close to leading us to our doom, then and now. But the enemy would subjugate all people to the will of one man, in the name of God, then and now ("islam" actually means "submission" in Arabic).

This movie may have its cheesy moments, its repetitive dialogue, and overly "arty" sets. But is is beautiful and moving, and it does have a message for our age (for all times). It is ok to recognize differences in cultures, to pick sides, and to defend your choice... mostly, that it is ok to kick ass!

Sean: Friday, March 09, 2007 [+] |
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Walter Reed Disgraced

I am not completely up on the scandal surrounding Walter Reed, the US Army hospital located between Washington DC and Bethesda, MD. I understand that some soldiers housed off base in a rented building have complained to the press about rats, mold, and leaks.

There are some mundane possible explanations... I was just living in Denmark recently, one of the richest countries in Europe, and I was reminded that old cities have old buildings that have pests and rot.

This being said, it is unacceptable that our all volunteer soldiers should have to live in rotten conditions as they recover from wounds taken in our service. We all owe them much more.

However, we are "reaping what we have sown". America has never settled its ambivalent attitude about the military.

We still fear full time armies as potentially oppressive agents of the state or a leader. And we fear the economic engine behind such a military as well, Eisenhower's dreaded "military-industrial complex".

We would rather disband our soldiers between wars, except for a limited professional officer class. Even after WWI we sent our soldiers home and less than two decades later we were calling them back up. After WWII we maintained our standing army through the Cold War - Korea and Vietnam actually recalled the draft.

But when the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union most Americans thought that we could finally send our "dough boys" back to the fields and factories. We would get to pocket our "peace dividend" by not spending so much on our military (the defense budget did fall from 7% during Reagan to just 4% under Clinton).

Today we have an all-volunteer fighting force that is recruited like any Fortune 500 company - with signing bonuses, promises of on-the-job-training, attractive opposite sex co-workers, and exotic job sites.

Many of the soldiers in the official army are career oriented "salary men", but this is only the "backbone". When real fighting starts we always need more soldiers. With out a draft this means calling up the reserves and the national guard.

This leads to complaints of misleading advertising and aggressive salesmanship by recruiters. But it also makes the laments about "racist wars" and our "boys and girls" being shot-up overseas seem a bit ripe... many of our soldiers are 40-year-old computer software engineers from Cleveland with kids of their own in college.

But back to Walter Reed... it seems from the longish piece that I read at the WaPo that the hospital was simply unprepared for a long commitment in Iraq and even the moderate numbers of casualties it has received [actually it appears that the hospital was maxed out back in 2001 with Afghanistan].

This scandal serves a valuable service in reminding the rest of us that the War on Terror does not fight itself, it is not "cost effective", and we cannot win it with out some sacrifice.

At a time when China has announced a 16% increase in military spending, the purchase of 50 new fourth generation fighter jets, and scores of Kilo class subs we need to take our neighbors seriously.

At a time when state-less terrorists can attack NY and DC via a corporate air force and rogue regimes such as Iran and Korea develop nuclear weapons unhindered by the UN or the IAEA we need to take our enemies seriously.

We need a larger military budget, we need a larger army, we need to better staff and equip our facilities, and we need to treat our soldiers much better.

And now the Army Times reports that the soldiers that broke the Walter Reed scandal are being punished for blowing the whistle. Their officers have been canned (that was to be expected), they have been moved back on base (out of the rundown buildings is good), and told to be ready for inspection at 7am and not to talk to the press ever again.

Hey, Army, I have sympathy for your woes, read above, but you need to do your part too. Leave our boys (and girls) alone when they complain and instead get busy on your todo list (which will be handled, of course, by our boys and girls).

UPDATE: According to the Wiki article on WR it appears that the hospital was slated for closure last year and a new facility is being planned to replace it by 2011. This might explain why work has been put off and also suggests that the Army (and Congress and the White House) was aware of the poor conditions and was planning to do something about it eventually.

UPDATE 2: before bashing the right over the current scandal we should remind ourselves of the lefty protestors who harrased the families of the wounded at Walter Reed back in 2005.

Hat Tip: Armed Liberal at Winds of Change.

Sean: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 [+] |
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