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Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Richard Lee, was posted to The Rag Blog, November 11, 2009
To Barack Obama:
Let’s have a military buildup! You can show those crazy-ass generals at the Pentagon that you aren’t just a chicken-shit weenie from Harvard.
You gotta do it right, however. Stop waffling about a measly 40,000 or 44,000 troops and do it like you mean it! I know you have never fought for or against anything. (That squabble with the Court Clerk to get your papers filed doesn’t count.) But you can do it! Don’t forget to keep that HOPE and CHANGE thingy going, so we won’t see what is really happening behind the curtain.
Since you don’t have a clue how to go about it, you should go back and dust off the template that the power-drunk cowboy used way back when. Turn to the record of his build-up, covering March 8, 1965, through, say, the end of January, 1966. Yep, that’s right I’m talking about Vietnam (they told me you were smart); don’t let that slow you down, a buildup is a buildup and you can do it in Afghanistan just like Lyndon and Waste-more-land did it back then.
You’ve already got 68,000 troops and an untold number of mercenaries... uh, contractors there so maybe you can forgo the photo op of the Marines stomping ashore like at Da Nang, or maybe you can arrange something like that, it was a good photo. No one will call you on it; the ignorance of the American people knows no limits. Don’t forget to include the Afghani ARVN; they’ll do you a lot of good.
That done, throw caution to the wind, fire anyone who counsels caution, and begin a real buildup!
Expect casualties. Lyndon was told to expect civilian casualties of 25,000 dead, about 68 men, women and children a day, mostly from “friendly fire” and 50,000 wounded. That was an estimate for the one year the generals said it would take to bring the Vietnamese “to their knees” and initiate their surrender; one year, or maybe 18 months at the most. That number was good enough for Lyndon, so don’t let anybody’s numbers scare you. In 1968 there were 85,000 civilians wounded.
Next, establish free fire zones. Once you get all those troops there, they will need some place to fire off all their ordnance. Go to an inhabited area, drop leaflets or have USAID workers visit and tell the population to get on the road and become refugees. Those who are too old or too infirm to go, or who come up with the excuse that Afghanistan is their country and they ain’t going; well, those are Viet Cong... I mean, Tally Band.
What good is a free fire zone if it doesn’t have any targets to shoot at anyway? While you are busy changing “Viet Cong” to “Taliban," change the name “free fire zones” to Specified Strike Zones; those pesky Congressional liberals will feel better about it. It worked when Lyndon did it.
Get an air war going. Crank up the SAC B-52’s, they don’t have anything to do now that the Russians opted out of the Cold War. One B-52 at 30,000 feet can drop a payload that will take out everything in a box five eighths of a mile wide and two miles long. You can still call it “Operation Arc Light”; no one will remember that’s been used before.
Don’t forget to let the other planes in on the fun! Fighter bombers can deliver ordnance too. Lyndon, in that first 10 months, got it up to 400 sorties a day, add in the B-52’s and they were able to drop 825 tons of bombs a day. Some even hit their targets.
Drop more than bombs. I hate to suggest a return to Agent Orange. Military science must have come up with better stuff in the last 50 years. If not, then use the leftover Agent Orange, the residual effect is worth it. Not only will those enemy Afghanis (or friendly ones, for that matter) not be able to plant food crops in target areas for decades, but “Taliban fighters” will keep dying from it for years after we’re gone.
During the 10-month Vietnam build-up, specially equipped C-123’s covered 850,000 acres, in 1966 they topped that, “defoliating” 1.5 million acres. By war’s end they’d dropped 18 million gallons of Agent Orange, in addition to millions of gallons of less notorious but still deadly poisons code-named for other colors -- Purple, White, Pink, and more -- over 20% of the south of Vietnam.
To help keep the buildup affordable, take no costly precautions with our own troops; it’s hot in Afghanistan, so let them take off their shirts while spraying. The afflicted Vietnam vets sued the government over it, they won! My brother Tommy was one of them. What did they win? Well, when they die, they get $300.00 from the government. You can forget about the vets anyway when the war is over, that’s S.O.P.
Now, a buildup ain’t all in the air. Howitzers, Long Tom Cannons and mortars expended enough high explosive and shrapnel in Southeast Asia to equal the tonnage dropped from the air.
And it’s not just troop strength that you’ll need to build up. Your friends The Masters of War have probably already told you that. A build-up is troops and MATERIAL. See how Waste-more-land did it, and more or less copy that. Brown and Root are still in business; have a sit down with them; they can help you sort it out.
Build airfields. With hundreds of thousands more troops you will need lots of airfields. Jet airfields are best for business. Lyndon had three in Vietnam before he started, he quickly built five more. So, discount what you have and get cracking! A 10,000 foot runway to start, and then add parallel taxiways, high speed turnoffs, and tens of thousands of square yards of aprons for maneuvering and parking. Use aluminum matting at first; you can replace it with concrete later. You gotta build hangers, repair shops, offices and operations buildings, barracks, mess halls, and other buildings. Don’t stint on the air conditioning!
Build deep water ports. What? Don’t have an ocean? Kee-rist, what kind of a country are we liberating anyway? Well, you still gotta build ports! Guess you can build them in Kuwait and other countries and truck all the shit through Iraq, they will be pacified by then and welcoming us with open arms and goofy little dances. Pakistan might like one or two, it would be good for business and we can just pay them to be our friend like we do now... only more.
Ports were dredged to 28 feet back then, but the newer boats draw 40 feet. It may be only mud to you, but its gold to the contractors. Half a dozen new ports should get you started.
But wait, there’s more. Four or five central supply and maintenance depots and hundreds of satellite facilities, build them along the lines of the prison gulag you are building in the U.S.
Build thirty more permanent base camps for the new combat and support troops you are sending. Another fifty or so tactical airfields long enough to hold C-130’s. Build two dozen or more hospitals that have a total of nine to ten thousand beds. Be sure there are new plush headquarters buildings for the brass and about four or five thousand staff. Everything has to be connected by secure electronic data systems, secure telephones, two or three hundred communications facilities around the country. Tens of thousands of new circuits will be needed to accommodate the built-up war machine.
You are a smart guy, Mr. President, so I won’t belabor an explanation of each thing. But here is a quick list of bare necessities: Warehouses, ammunitions stowage areas, tank farms for all the petroleum, oil and lubricants, new hard top roads, well ventilated and air conditioned barracks with hot water and flushing toilets (think 6-10,000 septic tanks). Food, not just MRE’s, but for all those REMF’s who will need fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products. Thousands of cold lockers to store this, and you need to build a milk reconstitution plant, maybe two or three, and ice cream plants.
All this is going to take a lot of electricity, so you will need thousands of permanent and mobile gas-driven generators (better add another tank farm). PX’s, not just for cigarettes and shaving cream, but all the things that the consumer army you will be sending is used to having: video game consoles, blackberries, microwave ovens, computers, slacks and sport shirts (to wear on R&R -- could omit that by having no R&R), soft drinks (better build a bottling plant), beer, whiskey, ice cubes (more generators?). Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, steaks.
Be sure to stock candy, lingerie, and cosmetics to improve the standard of living of the local women. They will also need to buy electric fans, toasters, percolators, TV’s, CD and DVD players, room air conditioners, and small refrigerators.
Movie theaters, service clubs, bowling alleys... will the list ever end? No!
Well, that will get your buildup started. I haven’t even addressed the more and more and more troops the generals will want, that is way too heavy for me!
In re-creating Johnson’s buildup, it will be better to skip over the second week in November, 1965, and all that stuff about the Drang River Valley, that’s just for historians. Close the book when you get to the end of January, 1966. Don’t read through April, with all those dreary reports from Khe Sanh. Don’t read about Tet 1968. Just remember it was the press and the Congress and the people who lost their will that lost that war, and not the stupid blundering generals or the presidents who didn’t give a shit how many they killed on either side.
One last thing: get your architects busy designing the Bush/Obama wall to put opposite ours on the Mall. Maybe you can even have your vets pay for it themselves like we had to.
I go there whenever I am in that stinking city. I sit on the edge of the grass just before sundown and sometimes I talk to the wall. The wall stands silent then; they are still waiting for an answer to the question of why we went to Vietnam. When it gets dark, sometimes the wall talks back. They say a lot of things, but they never say, “God bless my Commander-in-Chief.”
Richard Lee, Vet (Veterans Day, 2009)
This article, by Stephanie Mencimer, was originally published in the July/August 2009 issue of Mother Jones
ONE DAY in April, a 19-year-old sailor named William Kirkgaard was walking to the store at the Norfolk naval station when a man in a black Ford Mustang pulled up and asked for directions to the main gate.
Kirkgaard indicated the way, whereupon the man, who said he was a former Marine, began asking questions: Why don’t you have a car? Are you a member of the Navy Federal Credit Union?
Claiming he worked there, Kirkgaard says, the man then offered him a ride to the credit union to open an account—the first step toward buying a car.
So the sailor got in.
But an ominous feeling overtook him as the Mustang drove on and on. "I kinda thought I was gonna die at that point," he says.
The real destination, it turned out, was Tidewater Auto Brokers, a used car dealership in Virginia Beach, about 14 miles away.
Mustang Man didn’t work for the credit union, and the Marines say they have no record of his having served, either. He was a used car salesman.
Kirkgaard had maybe $20 to his name — not enough to get a taxi back to the base, much less buy a car.
He’d only been in the Navy 10 months and had never bought a car without his parents. He didn’t even have a driver’s license on him, which meant he couldn’t legally drive off the lot.
Still, Mustang Man, whose real name is Jesse Neely, eventually persuaded him to test-drive a 2005 Dodge Stratus with 78,000 miles and a $10,000 sticker price. It shook violently and the "check engine" light flashed.
Kirkgaard told Neely he didn’t want the car, he says, but he naively agreed to give the dealership his personal information. Afterward, employees asked him to sign some paperwork; the sailor obliged without much thought.
"Congratulations," they told him. "You just bought a car."
Kirkgaard says he tried to return the Dodge the next day, but the dealership told him (falsely) that it was illegal to cancel a sales contract in Virginia.
A saleswoman did offer to reduce the price to $7,900—hardly a deal given the car’s roughly $6,000 blue-book value.
Kirkgaard, out of desperation, signed the new contract. He then left the car in the parking lot with the keys inside and sought assistance from a lawyer back at the base. He was legally on the hook for the full price, plus 15 percent interest.
"I’m screwed," Kirkgaard told me soon after.
Mustang Man has been busy, apparently. Kirkgaard knows another sailor who was delivered to Tidewater after Neely allegedly offered him a ride to the movies.
That sailor ended up paying $11,000 for a 2005 Dodge Neon he didn’t want. He, too, abandoned it at the dealership the next day, prompting Tidewater to phone the sailor’s superior, Chief Electrician’s Mate Larry Gordon.
"They called me up saying they wanted to press charges against him because he left the car there," Gordon told me. "They are really preying on these sailors."
Tidewater’s owner did not return calls seeking comment. When I informed Neely of the complaints, his immediate response was, "Jesus, are you serious?" He admitted he’d picked up the sailors, but claimed they came voluntarily and seemed eager to buy.
"If he’s over 18 years of age and he’s willing to sign a contract," the salesman argued, "I don’t see how you can be forced."
So many young enlistees have been targeted in recent years that some officers now call predatory dealers a threat to national security. Yet authorities ranging from local prosecutors to state regulatory boards to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to the military itself have done relatively little to address the proliferation of dubious auto sales-and-credit tactics. (Many used car dealers make more money selling loans than selling cars.)
"I wish there were some aggressive enforcement of the consumer protection laws, especially where military personnel are involved," says Steve Lynch, a Coast Guard attorney who has seen many a Coastie get stung.
Beyond saddling service members with debt, sour car deals can result in bad credit, making it hard for soldiers to obtain the security clearances they need to get promoted.
Hard-sell tactics can even affect unit cohesion, says Dwain Alexander II, a Navy Legal Services lawyer at the Norfolk naval station, if a superior officer lures recruits to a dealership for a fee — a common occurrence.
"If you can’t trust the guys who your life depends on," he says, "that’s really bad."
THE HAMPTON ROADS region of southeast Virginia, home to 14 major military installations, is overflowing with used car dealers.
They hang their shingles here by the dozens, feeding on a steady supply of 18- to 22-year-old enlistees giddy at the prospect of their first real paycheck. "The guys buy the cars as soon as they get here," says Alexander. "There’s a beach. They can’t pick up girls without a car."
One showroom a stone’s throw from the Little Creek naval base lures sailors with pool tables and the promise of free lunch for those who bring a few friends.
Others feature video games and big-screen TVs, bikini car washes and Hooters nights featuring all-you-can-eat wings. (The slogan on Tidewater’s website: "All Military. All Ranks. 0 Down.")
When such promotional strategies fail to put boots on the lot, some dealerships resort to more aggressive methods like bird-dogging —t he illegal tactic of paying service members and others to drag their buddies down to the lot, or local cabbies to bring in kids who arrive at the airport fresh from boot camp.
One local dealership even convinced a USO volunteer to forward contact information for the newbies coming in at Norfolk International Airport.
Salespeople would then call and claim, say, that the recruit had won a prize, and would he like to come down and collect it?
Kirkgaard’s story isn’t even the worst of it.
In 2004, a Norfolk-area dealership called Carland lost its license for essentially kidnapping young Marines from bases in North Carolina and northern Virginia.
The victims had made the mistake of calling "Kim," a name listed on business cards someone had sprinkled around Camp Lejeune and other bases. (It stood for "kids in the military," military lawyers later discovered.)
The card promised discounts, and when Marines called, Carland sent an employee to pick them up and drive them to its lot nearly four hours away.
It was a one-way trip; the hapless grunts were told that they’d have to buy a vehicle in order to get back to base and not be declared AWOL. One stressed-out Marine paid $23,000 for a 1997 Civic, nearly quadruple its value.
Navy lawyer Alexander sees a steady stream of sailors trapped in bad car deals.
They make particularly good targets for credit shenanigans, since the government makes it easy for dealers to garnish wages when an enlistee defaults on a loan.
The upshot, Alexander says, is that his clients typically overpay by at least $2,000, often enough to trigger chronic money woes.
FOR ALL ITS war-fighting skills, the military is ill equipped to take on a bunch of unscrupulous businesspeople.
While its lawyers can help individual soldiers, litigation is expensive and time-consuming. Alexander says his office sued a dealer called Hollywood Wholesale Inc. a few years ago, but the owner simply changed the business name and transferred the property to his brother. Alexander won a $50,000 judgment plus $25,000 in attorney’s fees, but only managed to collect $3,000. "Getting a judgment against a car dealer is extremely difficult," he says.
The military isn’t without options. Most bases have disciplinary control boards that can declare a dealership off-limits, making it a crime for service members to patronize it. But while effective — it wreaks havoc on sales — this off-limits designation is rare.
Commander Art Record, vice chairman of the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board for the Hampton Roads area, says the board first gives dealers the opportunity to change their practices.
In the last year, seven Norfolk-area dealers have appeared before the board, but only one is currently off-limits, and that dealership has closed its doors.
The brass has also taken steps to educate enlistees, who now get some financial literacy counseling in boot camp.
"It’s so unfair to put all of the burden on the troops," says Rosemary Shahan, president of the California nonprofit Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, who has been fighting sleazy dealers since the 1970s. "They have enough to worry about. They’re protecting us. We need to step up and protect them."
FEDERAL LAWMAKERS have been more inclined to protect the dealers, a politically savvy bunch who doled out more than $9 million to federal candidates during the 2008 election cycle alone.
In 1982, after the FTC ordered auto dealers to post signs on used vehicles, disclosing any known defects, the dealers squealed and Congress eviscerated the new rule.
The commission hasn’t tried anything so bold since.
In any case, the feds have limited authority. Regulation of auto sales falls largely to state dealer boards. But the dealers, who have even more clout in local and state politics, tend to dominate.
Virginia, for instance, requires that dealers hold 16 of the 19 seats on its board.
The current board can, and occasionally does, revoke a dealer’s license or impose fines for illegal practices, but it has only 11 investigators to monitor nearly 3,600 dealerships. In most cases, it doesn’t take action until after a consumer successfully sues the dealer, and even then, only if the dealer fails to pay.
People in the industry "know what they need to do to stay legal," says Bruce Gould, the board’s executive director. "There’s a moral problem with it, but not a legal one."
The regulatory vacuum has allowed notorious operators to flourish.
Take Charlie Falk, a Virginia used car legend with a lot on the highway that runs between the Little Creek naval base and Oceana naval air station.
In 1977, Falk served several days in jail for rolling back odometers. In the 1990s, his business was the target of a racketeering suit that accused him of "churning" — selling at inflated prices and quickly repossessing the vehicles after customers missed even a single payment.
His dealerships would then resell those cars while suing the original buyers to collect on their high-interest loans.
Falk ultimately settled the racketeering case, which involved thousands of customers, by paying $400,000 in damages and writing off $10 million in loans.
Despite all this, state regulators have never shut down any of Falk’s lots, nor has the military ruled any of them off-limits.
Local politicos have also left Falk alone, although Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) alerted the Navy last year after a Falk dealership unleashed a 30-minute infomercial featuring hot chicks in military uniforms. (The dealership yanked the ads when the military threatened to charge it with improper use of a uniform.)
Tom Domonoske, a Virginia lawyer who specializes in consumer credit, says better policing is needed, not just of dealerships but also of the finance industry. Here’s why: Suppose a customer with decent credit is eligible for a loan at 7 percent interest. If a salesman can convince the customer to accept a 10 percent rate — a feat Domonoske says many dealers accomplish by lying — he can then sell the loan to a bank or finance company and pocket the extra 3 percent as a perfectly legal kickback.
This percentage cut encourages dealers to inflate sales contracts with pricey add-ons and even to falsify loan documents so that customers qualify for more loan than they can afford.
Banks and finance companies have largely turned a blind eye to these practices, Domonoske says. Many sell the loans to Wall Street, so what does it matter if the customer defaults? The easy credit, Alexander argues, "funds criminal conduct, bird-dogging, and provides incentives for the overpricing of vehicles for massive profit to dealers."
CASE IN POINT: In April 2008, Raenitra Mackingtee, then a 19-year-old enlistee at the Norfolk naval station, wanted to trade in her 2006 PT Cruiser for something with better mileage. She visited Diamond Motorcars, a Virginia Beach dealer, and settled on a 2002 Honda Civic priced at $15,000.
But Mackingtee still owed more than $19,000 on the Cruiser. No problem, the salesman said. He’d pay off her loan, credit her $10,000 for the trade-in, and get her a bigger loan to cover the balance on the Cruiser loan plus the price of the Honda. After taxes, fees, and add-ons, the grand total came to nearly $27,000.
The salesman had her log in to her account at the Navy Federal Credit Union—which, despite its name, is a private company.
Then, Mackingtee says, she let him fill out an online loan application on her behalf.
The credit union approved her loan at 12.25 percent interest, but when she picked up the loan check, something was wrong.
The promissory note listed a 2006 Dodge Charger. "I was like, I didn’t get no Dodge," Mackingtee told me later. When she phoned the dealer to see how this phantom car had ended up on her loan application, the salesman obfuscated. He insisted she bring in the check anyway, because they’d already sold her trade-in.
If she didn’t buy the Honda, she’d have no way to get to work on the base. So she did.
A few months later, the credit union sent Mackingtee a letter seeking the Charger’s title as collateral. She couldn’t produce it, of course, so the bank jacked up her rate to 18 percent. This raised her monthly payments from $515 to $600—not insignificant for someone making $1,680 (plus a housing allowance) before taxes. Desperate, she contacted Alexander at Navy Legal Services, who explained that no bank would make a $27,000 loan for a Honda with a blue-book value of $9,800.
The salesman knew she wouldn’t qualify, Alexander believes, which is why he listed a $25,000 Dodge on the loan application.
While Mackingtee’s problem might seem clear-cut, the dealer has refused to make things right.
Alexander hasn’t been able to help much, either; since she allegedly let the salesman use her account, it’s her word against his. Diamond’s sales manager insists his staff did nothing wrong. "If anyone’s lying, she is," he says. The credit union, meanwhile, won’t budge on the interest rate—if Mackingtee, who recently gave birth to her first child, defaults, the lender can simply garnish her wages.
And though she notified the Virginia Beach police of the incident, nothing has come of it.