Friday, July 31, 2009
Hey, I'm a patriotic American and, as such and as advised by my news organs, elected representatives and other Real Americans in the Talk Radio profession, love and revere my President as a living God. But...but...
Bud Light? Fucking Bud LIGHT? Not even the regular Spudwiser but the LIGHT version of this weak-ass high school keg party piss?
Mine Leader, Bud Light is Satan's cloudy urine. It is to be avoided as an occasion of Sin, and shunned like the anathema it is, fit only for aphasic octogenarians and incontinent small boys. Would The Father of Our Country asked for a Bud Light? Honest Abe? FDR?
My country, my country...I am speechless with grief.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Mike Gordon of the New York Times reviews a memo written by the O-6 currently responsible for what in former times would have been called "Military Assistance Command, Baghdad". In this document, the colonel says that "...the Iraqi forces suffer from deeply entrenched deficiencies (including corruption, poor management and the inability to resist political pressure from Shiite political parties) but are now capable of protecting the Iraqi government, and that it is time “for the U.S. to declare victory and go home."
The author of the memo, one COL Reese, goes on to reveal some shocking Secret Truths About Iraq: that the Iraqis don't like having a bunch of heavily armed foreigners wallying about their country, that they are increasingly cool towards us and show a stunning willingness to catch-and-release their countrymen who are guilty of doing nothing more than attacking the American occupiers.Of course, the PAO for the Desert Bull, LTG Ray Odierno, CIC of the No-Longer-Multinational-Force-Iraq, says that
“The e-mail reflects one person’s personal view at the time we were first implementing the Security Agreement post-30 June. It does not reflect the official views of U.S. Forces in Iraq. Since that time many of the initial issues have been resolved and our partnerships with Iraqi Security Forces and G.O.I. partners now are even stronger than before 30 June.”Suuuuure they are.
What was it Kipling said about the fool who tried to hustle the East?
Update 7/31: Here's an example of the crack Iraqi forces, in this case, taking down the MEK camp at "Camp Ashraf".Jesus wept!
I sure to hell wish I hadn't been on sick call that day we got the frigging "Death Race 2000" bloc of instruction on how to handle civilian rebels. What are these gomers, nuts? Good job, MAC-I. You've trained these goobers to the peak of...WTF???
y inclinations.../sigh...[inputing fix for link, thanks for the catch Ael!] Read it and weep...
Update: Apparently the link isn't working, but just so you get an idea...it's from the Bloomberg site, Karen Freifeld's update #4, "Banks Paid $32.6 Billion in Bonuses Amid U.S. Bailout" with the key graph...
"The top 200 bonus recipients at JPMorgan Chase & Co. received $1.12 billion last year, while the top 200 at Goldman received $995 million. At Merrill the top 149 received $858 million and at Morgan Stanley, the top 101 received $577 million. Those 650 people received a combined $3.55 billion, or an average of $5.46 million."
That would be your tax dollars...hard at work...making the "rich richer, and the everyday Joe and Jane that much poorer."
Sunday, July 26, 2009
What I am attempting with this post is to discuss the concept of strategy and contrast it a bit with strategic theory, but focusing more on how our concept of strategy is inseparable (or was) from certain concepts popularized by Clausewitz and others. I’ll attempt to connect this with certain changes that have taken place in US strategy formulation, or rather what passes today for strategy. Finally I’ll put this within a larger perspective of language and how it reflects a specific culture and changes in that culture.
How to start? When we think of the word “strategy” two related activities come to mind, the first planning – usually more long-term - followed by execution.
Webster’s defines strategy as “a plan of action encompassing the methods to be adopted from beginning to end of a task or endeavor, focussing on the general methods; contrasted with tactics, which is a plan for accomplishing subgoals of lesser extent than the primary goal. Thus, a strategy is a plan for winning a war, and a tactic is a plan for winning a battle.” Here we have the contrast of strategy and tactics which is important.
It is important to consider that words do in fact have meanings, contrary to the experiences of the last eight years in the US, that in times past they were considered to actually influence behaviour, that is influence how we acted in a complex world. The US has had, since the Truman Administration, a government body which is specifically tasked with analysing threats, considering policies and formulating strategy as defined above. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are part of this body – The National Security Council - and have no command authority precisely for this reason, they are to advise and provide the military’s role in strategy formulation, especially the connection between political purpose and military aim – more on this below - arguing when necessary that no connection exists, but do not actually command the troops in the field which is left to the civilian commander in chief.
Returning to our definition of strategy, there are still some important points missing, especially if we limit our definition of strategy to the implementation of state policy specifically (as in the NSC) and not just any plan of action.
Some time back on Thomas Huynh’s site a thread on defining strategy in one phrase came up. My definition was “focused adaptation over time in reference to a purpose through methodological theoretical construct” which sounds a bit intimidating and confused, but puts the elements I wished to in place, especially contingency and adaptation. There is also the implied distinction between praxis and theory since the adaptation is conducted “through a theoretical construct”. This need not be the case, one could simply do strategy as in praxis alone as the ancient Greeks saw it when they developed these various concepts: “strategia” being simply the conduct of the “strategos” or army commander. For Clausewitz as well, the military genius operates outside the realm of theory in dealing with the specific character of the conflict in question. Theory provides more a way of looking at the problem and a language for discussing/analyzing it. Here I’m referring to theory as aid to ongoing strategy, not theory as a means of historical analysis, or critique, which is something else altogether.
To tie together and expand on my definition and launch this post properly let’s proceed with a clearer and longer definition/description from Hew Strachan. This article is btw worth a careful read:
Strategy, as opposed to strategic theory, has two principal tasks. The first is to identify the nature of the war at hand. A misidentification is pregnant with consequences: it would be just as mistaken to fight a major war on the assumption that it is a smaller, more limited war, as the other way round. Moreover, what begins as one sort of war can turn into another. Recognising and understanding the nature of a war is a constant interrogative process, and one where strategic theory comes into play, not just something to be undertaken at the outset. The second task, once the nature of a war has been plumbed, is to manage the war and direct it. It is perfectly possible for the policymakers of one belligerent to decide to escalate a war, to make a local conflict into a global one. But neither common sense nor common humanity suggests that that is very sensible.
You will notice that this definition sees a very close interplay between strategy and strategic theory, which is by definition here Clausewitzian strategic theory, or more specifically Clausewitz’s general theory of war. The first question deals with the complex and dynamic nature of war, so we require a theory that deals with this nature, defines it in some intelligible and useful way. If we do not see war has having any nature or a whole range of unrelated natures that are subjective and related to cultural proclivities, then strategic theory as an aide to strategy becomes very problematic. In fact strategy as commonly defined, or as approached in Strachan’s quote would not exist.
Strategy in this view concerns a balance of political purpose, military aim and military/political means connected in harmony and blending into one another. Strategy in other words is simply the application of military/political means in support of a military aim which instrumentally provides the situation where the political purpose can be achieved, this is the basic concept behind the establishment of the NSC in the late 1940s. Seen another way strategy works in tactical ways to achieve the means (military victory) for political ends. The goal of tactics is military victory, whereas the goal of strategy is the return to peace with the political purpose fulfilled. Thus strategic theory provides the fundamental elements of strategy, the language of strategy so to speak, defines the various elements and describes how they are related.
Without this strategic theory, strategy becomes simply a wishlist of goals disassociated from the nature of war, or a question of capabilities (or tactics) operating against identified target sets (but in essentially a political vacuum). What this all assumes is the unlimited capability for humans to change not only their physical, but social environment.
Ron Suskind documented this attitude clearly in his article, "Without a Doubt":
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." [my emphasis]
Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: "Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you." When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, "Look, I'm not going to debate it with you."
Here we see that our traditional views of strategy and strategic theory were about limits, about the limits of humans to influence their own environment and how intentions – no matter how noble – could have totally unforeseen consequences. Strategy, going back to its Greek roots was firmly related to the basic tragic nature of human existence. It should also be noted here that for Thucydides, the break down of language, as in the meanings of words, reflected political turmoil (see Chapter 3 of link).
We see that the new concept of strategy is quite different and reflects profound political and cultural changes which have taken place even if they remain unacknowledged.
From what has been presented so far, I can develop a list of assumptions we have from the earlier concept of strategy and what it can tell us about US policy since 2001:
First, war has a complex and dynamic nature that is common to all wars. War is part of political intercourse, politics defined (following Max Weber) as “striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state”. Notice that we can replace “state” with “political community” or even “family” and this definition for politics would still apply. Weber’s definition for power is "the probability that one actor in a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests". Notice, there is a close similarity between “power” and “war” in that war is also defined as imposing our will on the enemy through organized violence. Using a metaphor to explain the subordination of war to politics, if we compare political relations to the weather, war would be violent weather, but not all weather.
Second, and this being a natural result of the first, changes in political conditions provide for changes in the nature of war. Each war is thus going to be unique, but still recognizable in terms of the complex nature that all wars share. Once again it is the assumed existence of this shared nature that makes not only strategy, but strategic theory possible. In addition, if one assumes that the nature of war has changed significantly, look to the changed political conditions between the hostile communities as to the basis for this change. Change can come from other sources – tactics, technology, psychology of specific leaders, new ideas – but will always take place within a specific political context. As Clausewitz tells us, it is within the context of the relationships between political communities that the embryo of war forms.
Third, war commences with the action of the defender. An aggressor achieving his goals without resistance is not war, nor is the aggressor slaughtering unarmed civilians, war starts when the defender resists. The attacker has the positive goal of conquering the defender, imposing his will, whereas the defender need only deny the attack his goal (a negative purpose) in order to win. An insurgency or guerrilla group need no political program beyond the defeat of the occupying force, that is the restoration of the status quo ante (however defined).
Fourth, strategy assumes a close interaction between tactics and strategy, the tactics used being supportive of the achievement of the military aim (military victory) which provides the means for the strategic aim (achievement of the political purpose and the return to peace). Success at the tactical level can lead to strategic success providing that the military aim supports the political purpose, but strategic confusion negates tactical success, while strategic clarity can compensate for tactical inadequacy.
Fifth, since not all politics is war, not all policy can be achieved through military means. Some policy goals are not achievable by military means in any way, rather are subverted and made impossible by the use of organized violence. This is the question for the political leadership to decide, does the political purpose lend itself to a military solution, or is this approach counter-productive? Obviously if the decision for war is based more on interest and opportunity than a threat assessment, this will influence planning. Also if the language used by the strategic culture in question requires a certain structure of discourse - the use of certain terms which may not fit the new political realities will only confuse the issue. The language itself can cease to have meaning.
Sixth, strategy assumes that there is an enemy or opposition which is human and interacts with our side over time, that is war as a conflict of opposing human wills. One cannot wage war against a “method” (Terrorism or Counter-Insurgency) or abstract concepts (Evil). Rather, such rhetoric obscures the actual political purpose and can confuse those tasked with implementing military strategy. Furthermore the character of the attacker's political purpose influences the level of resistance the enemy employs. A limited purpose would call on limited sacrifice, whereas a totally radical purpose, say the redefinition of the enemy's political identity would provoke extreme resistance and would demand of the attacker the dedication of significant moral and physical resources.
Seventh, each war is distinct. A war in one theater of operations must be handled as a separate war regardless of the fact that the same military is involved in both. Conflating regional conflicts into a global struggle confuses the issue and creates links which do not correspond to reality. Notice how this assumption is linked to five above.
And finally, there is a distinction between “war” and “peace”. This goes back to Thomas Hobbes, who in Leviathan saw the human situation as being essentially violent chaos which was only ended by people ceding power to a sovereign who held the monopoly of legitimate violence within the demarcated physical area (which we could refer to as the state). Absent this political entity we have (civil) war, or interstate war should the political entity be in armed conflict with other political entities. So war is not so much the absence of peace, but the absence of order which precedes the establishment of political authority. This would cover political entities which have never been states.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
22 percent of the privately insured people found that their plan did not pay for care that they thought was covered, compared to 9 percent of elderly Medicare beneficiaries
9 percent of the privately insured people had difficulty getting a referral to a specialist, compared to 2 percent of elderly Medicare beneficiaries
Medicare beneficiaries were one-third as likely to report access problems such as not visiting a doctor when needed, not getting recommended specialist care, skipping recommended test or follow-up as those covered by employer plans.
Medicare beneficiaries were twice as likely to be very confident in their ability to get care in the future as those covered by employer plans.
33 percent of privately insured people were unable to pay their bills or had been contacted by a collection agency, compared to 18 percent of elderly Medicare beneficiaries.
Yeah, it would really suck to have the government make healthcare more affordable, more reliable and more accountable to consumers.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
You can read all about it in the linked LA Times editorial, but even that supposedly liberal news organ seems to have developed collective amnesia about a couple of salient points.
1. The "we're broke, we just don't have any money, we HAVE to cut your food stamps (AFDC, Head Start, fill-in-the-blank...) or die, you silly Negroes..." meme goes all the way back to the toxic little property tax time-bomb the California GOP wired up in 1978, Proposition 13. We here in Oregon then devised our own little suicide pact, Measure 5, clearly on the conviction that if California was going to be Tom Fool and lead the best plan for us was to be Jack Fool and follow.
The direct result of this was to save Ma and Pa Goober a couple of hundred dollars a year on their rancho deluxe out there near McMinnville while giving Pacific Gas and Electric, Flav-R-Pac, and Megacorp Development an immense windfall of untaxable largesse, which, of course, they immediately rushed out to donate to the widows, orphans, disabled, and mentally ill that the now-tax-strapped state government had to chuck off the welfare rolls and out of the state institutions, colleges and job training programs they could no longer fund, so that the poor devils didn't have to beg for change at the top of the on-ramps of the roads the state could no longer maintain.
2. California compounded their own stupidity by then crafting a 2/3rds supermajority rule for passing legislative revenue measures, which has effectively prevented the state from passing any NEW revenue measures since 1996.
I love this little cartoon because of what it says about the mindset of the people who are fond of this situation. The cartoonist wants us to see that the Republican elephant is a simple but wise old soul, doing his math like a good householder and making his expenditures meet his income, and the Democratic donkey is a maddened policy wonk, all goofy for taxing everything moving to fund kooky-spooky crunchy granola frills.
But the cute little exercise fails when you realize that Jumbo's "a = b" is a logical fallacy. "a" isn't "a", it's "x", and "b" is "y". The animals in the legislature can - unlike the prudent household - change their income and outlays to meet their needs. So, in a sense, it's the donkey's frantic figuring that represents what a real government has to do: try and figure out what it needs versus what it wants, and then what it can take in versus what it would like to take in. The elephant isn't being simply honest; he's being simpleminded, he's using an axe to craft a budget rather than a woodcarving tool. Which explains a LOT about how Republican "governance" has gotten us here.
And so, here we are.
Imagine a nation in which a small handful of wealthy people live a First World lifestyle.
Their homes are nicely maintained, their roads well paved, their neighborhoods patrolled by polite, competent, professional police officers. They and their neighbors get First World medical care in daintily appointed medical clinics, shop at the best locations, dine, party, work and generally live as well as any human society in the 21st Century can arrange.
Then imagine that the bulk of the nation lives in precarious, decaying cities, towns and countrysides, prey to the collapsing, badly maintained public roads, buildings and utilities around them. Their lives are made more random by the capricious nature of their public "servants": seldom present and, when appearing, typically bribeable or even worse, merely indifferent. A fraying middle class lives squeezed between the wealthy, who despise them and the poor, who envy and hate them. Their political power is notional, their involvement in their own government negligible, they are useful only as fodder for the wealthy.
But you don't have to imagine this. All you have to do is travel south, east or west, to find dozens of impoverished Third World nations where this condition is the standard. Every craptacular little dictatorship or oligarchy the U.S. Army helped me vacation in, from Panama to Egypt and points between, featured this vast disparity between the rulers and the ruled. This wasn't a bug; it was a feature.Democracy cannot exist in a feudal society. It dies, or is killed, by the desperation, foolishness and ignorance of the peasants and the greed, venality and indifference of the nobles.
California has now chosen, rather than to even mildly discommode the wealthy, to disadvantage the disadvantaged. Rather than even attempt to close the gap between the rulers and the ruled, it chooses to allow the public weal to fall victim to private wealth.
There is a name for this sort of system.
But "republican", it's not.
Ever since the Elevation of Saint Ronnie, our public discourse has been dominated by the idea that "taxes are bad". In this sense, the conservatives that lost the Battle of Watergate won the larger war. They wanted to concentrate power in the nation's elite, and, largely, they have. They wanted to move the nation's laws - if they could not move the nation's people - to the right and, largely, they have.Well, California has reached the conservative state of grace; the state, and those in the care of the state, now exist to serve the needs of the wealthy. We shall see if the result is beneficial for the state and her people as a whole. We shall see.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Normandy Sailing, Leroy Neiman
Men are disturbed not by things,
but by the view which they take of them
First, allow me to say I am pleased this project has grown in the ashes of the old IntelDump. Perusing Phil Carter's last post at the WaPo [23 April], I found the following typical gem from friend "fasteddiez" (Arrabiato was one of the hapless commenters):
RE: the cost of success
At least with the old "Intel Dump" crowd, inbred, foul mouthed, etc. as it was/is, you did not have to deal with the kind of Drool Cuppers you now seem to host here. "Arrabiato"? is that some kind of coffee? Is it served in a silver drool cup?
As ZZ Top said, You're Bad, You're Nationwide! It does not seem to be cost free, however.
That spirit is what we are after. To me: I've not been in the military, don't know strategy or tactics, yet I have landed among some really fine military thinkers through the magnanimity of our barkeep. It is serendipity for a military groupie, but how did I become one?
Blame it on an eccentric mother, psychological glitches and Larry Burrows.
The explanation does not reside with my father, who is from a long lineage of conscientious objectors (his father deserted the Russian army.) But members of mom's family have served honorably in all military engagments up through Korea, on both the British and American sides.
Each morning as she packed my kit (lunch), she would belt out rousing choruses of war tunes, from both sides: "Over There, Over There / Send the word, send the word, Over There. . ." Her grandfather sat under a portrait of Lord Kitchener. To be English is to have some minor quirks.
Vietnam was in full swing when a child, and I saw the turmoil through my parents' responses. My father would banish me from the room when Walter Cronkite broadcast war footage. There was a sense of deep mystery surrounding the thing, and terrible violence. My mum's heart swelled with pride over the heroic actions of "our boys," but she did not support the war. And she had nothing but disdain for the "dirty hippy drop-outs" we'd pass on our daily travels.
Early on I also had a yearning for protection, and was drawn to men of honor and duty, who would leave no comrade behind. Men with a sense of duty and responsibility. It was my particular Cinderella fantasy that a soldier could fit that bill.
Combined with Larry Burrows' war photos in Life, I felt steeped in this very distant foreign excursion. As I grew older and the other girls developed crushes on rock stars or movie stars, I could not transfer my admiration from the haunted soldier's faces in the magazines to the likes of a fey Peter Frampton or Billy Idol. I wanted to meet these brave men and thank them. I could only imagine the scope of their sacrifice, but I was separate from them. It was my secret hope one day to talk with them.
Until 2002, I had only known "Vietnam era" vets, but then came a fateful meeting with Ranger. As expected, much discussion centered around the WTC attacks and the ill-advised responses, but I was hopeful I could indulge my long-held desires to enter the thoughts of a Vietnam soldier.
While I have been honored to meet several of his fellows who fought in Vietnam -- all fine people who have indulged me to one degree or another -- Ranger himself is a very focused man. He would probably not mind my saying that his perimeter is rather tight in. Alas, the hoped-for incursions into his psyche were not to be had. But with the blog's inception (2006), oh the variety of soldiers and other men I have met!
Once the initial vulgarians were cleared, there were poets and bards, bakers and thinkers, mystics and humanitarians. There was sensitivity, generosity and grace. I have been truly humbled at the excellent people we have been privileged to meet via this medium. (As mum always said: so many men, so little time!)
Though I am generally a pretty serious and analytical person, I'm not going to lie: One of the big attractions here is the testosterone (well, and the occasional gin and tonic.) Most women have so little, so I feast on it vicariously at the few reasoned military sites. Please don't think me a total ninny, though. Mostly, I marvel at the informed, impassioned and sometimes wicked debate. I've learned much.
So thanks to FDChief -- a man of extraordinary ferocity and refinement -- and the other denizens, I look forward to entering the fray as your thoroughgoing civilian distaff rep.
To the ramparts!
Monday, July 20, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
One ﬁnal comment. It is common for opponents of health care rationing to point to Canada and Britain as examples of where we might end up if we get “socialized medicine.” On a blog on Fox News earlier this year, the conservative writer John Lott wrote, “Americans should ask Canadians and Brits — people who have long suffered from rationing — how happy they are with central government decisions on eliminating ‘unnecessary’ health care.” There is no particular reason that the United States should copy the British or Canadian forms of universal coverage, rather than one of the different arrangements that have developed in other industrialized nations, some of which may be better. But as it happens, last year the Gallup organization did ask Canadians and Brits, and people in many different countries, if they have confidence in “health care or medical systems” in their country. In Canada, 73 percent answered this question affirmatively. Coincidentally, an identical percentage of Britons gave the same answer. In the United States, despite spending much more, per person, on health care, the figure was only 56 percent.
Living in a land of public health care, augmented by private care, I share the "confidence" of Canadians and Brits. I would add that the dozen or so Americans I know who have lived in the UK and been cared for by their system prefer the Brit system. Of course, the curtains aren't as pretty in the offices or hospital rooms, and the chairs in the waiting area aren't cushioned.
At the rate the US medical industry is moving, we will soon find it impossible for anyone other than those earning more than the median wage to afford health care.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
So tonight I’m watching the All Star Game. But it was kind of ruined for me during the pre game show when the two drivelers of Fox Sports, Joe Buck and his sidekick, the inept Tim McCarver, hosted something called “People Who Make a Difference.” As an aside, one of the things that always irks me is that the two mediocrities—Buck and McCarver—make more than a million dollars a year apiece. For doing a poor job of broadcasting sports. On the field were 30 great people, people who’ve gone out of their way to actually help others, and who don't come anywere near a million a year, making a difference; they deserve all of the credit in the world.
But here’s what really got to me. They did a little cute thing where five of the 30 “Difference Makers” were showcased in videos narrated by the current president and the four living former presidents. With the exception of Jimmy Carter, for whom I have the utmost respect, all I could think of while listening to these “great men” drone on in extolling the virtues of volunteer work, was “humma-humma-woof-woof,” an expression I picked up in from the many cynics with whom I served in the military whenever a “great man” made some sort of pronouncement about how "we're all in this together." Substitute “motherhood and apple pie” if you don’t like my expression.
As I was watching the extravaganza, I was wondering just why I got a bad taste in my mouth watching these presidents hold forth on the virtues of these individual Americans and how we (you and me) can really make a difference in our nation. And then it struck me: these guys can sure talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? Are "we all in it together" with these men? Can I actually identify with them?
The current occupant, Barack Obama, was elected—and let’s be honest here—with votes from middle and lower class folks who believed his speeches about “making a difference” and who believed that would translate into a difference for them personally. Yeah, I voted for him, but to be honest, inasmuch as I’d already bailed from the stock market, a McCain victory wouldn’t have affected me too much personally. So what have we seen from Mr. Obama? I see lots of stuff about how Goldman Sachs and other bankers are already back making money. I see where Bank of America won’t give a home loan, but is sure interested in raising the salaries of its executive. All of this after the American people ponied up the money to rescue these ungrateful bankers. It seems Mr. Obama never met a banker he wouldn’t save, but isn’t overly concerned about continually rising unemployment, most of it among those who voted for him. Oh, and then there are the wars and the defense of the unlawful actions of the Bush Administration. Mr. Obama now believes in the national security state. He also believes in nation building and in commitment of U.S. troops in godforsaken foreign lands into the far future, for objectives that are difficult to discern. It doesn’t escape my notice that most of those who actually fight and die in the wars are not exactly what one would term “upper class.” Obama’s friends won’t die in any wars, they’ll just keep making money. I don't need your lectures, Mr. Obama. Just do what you said you would do.
Then there is George W. Bush. I laugh when this contemptible man has the effrontery to lecture me on “making a difference.” Fortunately, I think (hope) we’re resilient enough to rebound from this man’s offenses, but it’s going to be a close call. He enriched the already rich and he put the nation in severe peril through his tax cutting and his stupid wars. He deserves the "worst president" label. Yeah, he sure made a difference.
Although Bill Clinton has done much good since he left office, we still need to look at how he actually performed as president. Yes, the economy grew and the stock market went up, but hidden in there were the loss of American jobs and, notably, the relaxation of sound banking regulations. The latter turned into a time bomb and it’s noteworthy that many folks who sold Clinton on the beneficial aspects of the relaxation now occupy leading positions in Obama’s administration. What else? Oh, yeah, the best chance ever for a national health plan. Bill Clinton submarined the opportunity by putting his wife and other ideologues in charge. One wonders if this was a quid pro quo for his history of personal weaknesses. And Clinton didn’t reform: he actually ensured the election of George Bush as his successor through his inability to keep his pants zipped. I don’t want Clinton lecturing me either.
The patrician “Poppie,” George H.W. Bush, who wants to be everybody’s grandfather. Not mine, thank you. Doesn’t seem to have done much of a job with his own kids; why would I want him near mine? Never met an oil man or banker he didn’t love. Loved what his wife said about Hurricane Katrina refugees. I voted for Ross Perot, in hopes that he was launching a viable alternative to our current corrupt party system. Unfortunately, Perot turned out to be wacko with no staying power, but even in 1992, I knew the truth. No lectures from Poppy, thank you.
Jimmy Carter, a truly admirable man, way over his head as president. I wish he’d never been president—he gave us Reagan—but I’m glad he was born. He tried, but he failed, so he did us no favors. I'll listen to this man.
So there you have it. Five presidents, only one whom—Carter—has actually tried to walk the walk. The rest of ‘em are great talkers, but that’s all they are. Check their bank accounts.
Unlike most of us, presidents, by definition always make a difference. So why is it that the difference presidents have made during our lifetimes has unfailingly been negative? They kill us, they bankrupt us, they put us out of work, sometimes a combination of all. Why do the American people end up the big losers in the game these monied people play to be anointed president? With the exception of Carter, every one of these presidents is a believer in "trickle down economics," the theory that enriching the rich will redound to the benefit of the lower classes. Yes, the theory has worked temporarily, sometimes through true economic growth (rare), but more often through extensive borrowing. They're all Reaganites! Given economics and wars, our nation is in a disgraceful state, thanks to the cumulative effects of the efforts of these presidents and their political henchmen. Congress? Sure, but the president has the power of suasion and the veto. I don't identify with these dudes. No way, no how.
Final score: American League 4, National League 3. Damn it!
Monday, July 13, 2009
"Pearls before Swine" for a title? No way.
So, "Open Thread", got any Pearls to drop off?
What prompted this was Channel Surfing. Usually happens when an ad comes up during a show on TV, and tonight I caught a featured PAC-10 game of the past, ASU vs Nebraska ( my alma mater ), September 1996, halfway through the 3rd quarter. I remember watching it 13 years ago, Nebraska was shut out 19-0. NU had a pretty good defense, but the offense sucked majorly that night in Arizona, due in part to #42 for ASU. Some of you might know who that was by now.
Punt returner, tackled by #42, Pat Tillman. Fumble recovery ( at the end of the game, sealing the victory ) by Pat Tillman, #42.
Who could have known in 1996?
While Bishop avoids openly lauding the merits of mass destruction, he does clearly believe that the extraordinary bravery and resilience of the men who carried out this campaign deserve our lasting recognition and respect.
Redressing this 'wrong' is a mission statement declared at the outset. The men of Bomber Command were never properly thanked for their significant part in the Allied victory - neither by Churchill in his victory address, nor with a specific campaign medal. Nor is there a national memorial. Bishop hopes that Bomber Boys will mark the first step in rectifying this.
I would never question the bravery of the aircrews who faced extraordinary odds against survival while flying the missions of the RAF's Bomber Command.
However, back in the early 70's, I read a very detailed account of the firebombing of Hamburg. To be frank, it made my skin crawl. Bomber Boys not only tells the story of the men of Bomber Command, but catalogs many of the civilian targets leveled by the RAF's area bombing campaign.
The task assigned via the Casablanca Conference was "the progressive destruction of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their armed resistance is fatally weakened". That the area bombing of Greman cities by the RAF actually accomplished none of these objectives, while killing some 600,000 civilians and very few uniformed military, might explain why no campaign medal, memorial or glory was established once the war had ended. In short, the RAF took 600,000 German civilian lives in return for the some 32,000 Brits killed in the Blitz of London and other cities, and obviously the political leaders exhibited some remorse once the job was done.
Of course, the 125,000 men who flew in Bomber Command were never really told what was going on. Rather, they were told that they were crippling the German war machine. Some 47,000 crewmen died on these missions.
The moral dilemma I see is that the British leadership pursued a path no less barbaric than their Nazi foes. The target list reached a point where a city with no more strategic target value than a rail junction would be obliterated. And, by obliterated, I mean its population, which would generally be the elderly, women and children.
Of course, no rose can be pinned on the USAAF. Their daylight "precision bombing" was no more precise than the RAF's area bombing. But, however, the 8th US Air Force did tend to target cities with more military value than their Brit cousins. The civilian deaths, however, were equally staggering.
One can build a case that based on the intel available, the two nukes dropped on Japan ultimately hastened the war's end, saving significant lives. Unfortunately, no such immediate or tangible result can be attributed to the area bombing of Germany. Of course, while it was going on, it did provide a sense of "striking back" for the people of the Allied nations.
But, more than anything else, Bishop conveys a very realistic picture of small unit relationships during the rigors and uncertainty of war. Having flown a crew served aircraft in combat, the material rings true.
There is so much to respond to here that one doesn't know where to start.
In Section 28, Chapter 1 of Book 1, in On War, Clausewitz describes the "remarkable" or "paradoxical trinity". . .
War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case. As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity --composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.
The first of these aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army; the third the government. The passions that are to be kindled in war must already be inherent in the people; the scope which the play of courage and talent will enjoy in the realm of probability and chance depends on the particular character of the commander and the army; but the political aims are the business of government alone.
These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another. A theory which ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them, would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.
Our task therefore is to develop a theory that maintains a balance between these three tendencies, like an object suspended between three magnets.
In On War, Clausewitz describes different types of theory: a theory of the art of Napoleonic war, a theory of politics and the general theory of war. This section is the capstone to the entire general theory of war, which is a theory of war, not warfare, and able to cover all wars since it deals with social and moral, not material elements. In fact the mention of "people", "army" and "government" are the first mention of any material elements in the entire chapter, this being the most important chapter in terms of the general theory. To spell it out once more, the Clausewitzian trinity is "primordial violence, hatred and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone." To these can be matched material elements (which are not of course "the trinity"), but can be used to help explain it. Whereas the moral elements are common to all wars, the material elements make each war unique. One could replace people, army and government with tribe, warriors and chief and the general theory would still apply. So the trinity is about war as subordinated to politics/policy, not about the state. War is seen as part of political/social intercourse which is not limited to actions between states.
Thus "trinitarian warfare" is not a Clausewitzian concept, but a 4GW concept, so let them take it on as their own, FINALLY. That is except THEIR concept for what it is, essentially a strawman to which they compare their competing concept of non-trinitarian warfare.
Then perhaps we can actually start to discuss how 4GW links tactics with operational art and gains a military aim in support of a political purpose, but that of course is not possible if one rejects Clausewitz, since Clausewitz is and remains the basis for strategic theory.
Imo 4GW is simply a reified concept, which its promoters see as actually existing in reality, something which is an absurdity from a Clausewitzian perspective. This essentially puts the cart before the horse since strategic theory is seen as drawing concepts from military history, not "existing" before the history actually occurs.
Strategic theory is about a "system" of concepts used to analyze war, not conflict (such as the metaphorical wars on drugs, between the sexes, on poverty, against dandruff, among parents and teenagers, etc). War is the organized use of violence within or between political communities. Robbing a bank is not warfare and neither is a lone gunman shooting unarmed people. Both are violent crimes since neither criminal represents a political community in any legitimate (as judged by the political community involved) way.
This is one of the greatest inconsistencies of 4GW. Its proponents claim that 4GW is just about anything ("the tactics of non-trinitarian conflict"), but if it is just about anything, how is there to be any pattern that could form the basis of theory? It is precisely these patterns present in war as a social phenomenon that Clausewitz used to form the general theory.
The war in Afghanistan is not a "4GW war", but a war of distinct political communities confronting an occupying foreign coalition which wishes to impose its will on some of the locals, who resist. The Taliban, far from being a "4GW entity", represent the former government who are fighting to regain political power. A foreign occupier imposing his will has never succeeded in Afghanistan before, using buzzwords like "4GW" or "COIN" to describe military operations and confusing the issue, isn't going to make it happen this time.
Until we rediscover the basic truth, that wars occur within a political (broadly defined of course since "politics" is defined as the struggle for power and resources within a political community) context we will continue to misread and misunderstand the conflicts in which we have become engaged. Who benefits? Perhaps those for whom the reified concept conceals the actual political purposes. Notice that 4GW takes no account of the distinction between "Empire" and "State", focusing instead of the patently false assumption that all states are in some deterministic death spiral. This distinction, more than that between "dying state" and "4GW entity" is something important for all those interested in US foreign policy to consider today.
Changes in political conditions lead to changes in, an evolution of the nature of war. War being an interaction causes these changes to affect both sides but in different ways.
I have been working on a post on the development of operational art which will come up soon. For those interested in following up on the weaknesses of 4GW, one of the best articles is Matt Armstrong's The misleading theory of fourth generation warfare.
and of course LtCol Echevarria's 4th GW and other Myths .
Saturday, July 11, 2009
It really all boils down to the following:
Most intelligence officials interviewed “had difficulty citing specific instances” when the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program contributed to successes against terrorists, the report said.
So the Bush Administration's "absolutely vital" program could not be readily credited with any specific results!
A later article said that the scope of the Bush programs was far more extensive than just the wiretapping, and was subject to little or no oversight. In fact, many parts of the whole program were so secret that many FBI and CIA personnel were never privy to the information gathered. So who was using this information to protect us?
Well, it seems that David Addington "could personally decide who in the administration was ''read into'' -- allowed access to -- the classified program", so we can be certain that it was routed to the people most likely to protect us from whatever it was that we were being protected from. Of course, still no real specifics as to what we were being protected from and how the programs protected us from the unspecified things it was protecting us from.
Isn't hard to imagine why the intelligence officials interviewed couldn't offer up a laundry list of national security accomplishments resulting from all this surveillance.
If I recall my adolescence correctly, we kids did a better job of "Cops and Robbers" than all those high paid Bushies!
One wonders if the eight years of Bush were scripted by Monty Python.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
First, I want to explain the intent of my post on McNamara.
Mike: Although I do agree that this has mostly turned into a trash-the-man-but-learn-nothing-from-his-mistakes post.
Well, Mike, it wasn't meant to turn into a "trash-the-man" post, it was always intended to be a "trash-the-man" post. I did not take the time to note this evil man's passing to prompt a lessons-learned discussion. I did it to express my everlasting contempt for the man and I'm glad I did it. I like to think a lot of other guys, now long gone from this planet, might agree with me.
My friend the Ranger wants to put the past behind, thinking it matters not other than as something to learn from. He doesn't want to judge McNamara. He wants to focus on the present. All well and good, Ranger, but in that case, what do we do about Hitler? About Stalin? Mao? Pol Pot? Do we just say "move on" and let's hope we've learned something? Santayana noted that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, which is why knowing history and making the appropriate judgments is all-important. If those of us who lived in the times of these "great men" who've failed the public trust don't go out of our way to express our opprobrium for them, we ensure that current and future "great men" will feel free to betray us again.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
Ranger also seems to think that in my focus on McNamara, I'm somehow giving his bosses (Kennedy, Johnson) and succeeding presidents and sundry other politicians a free ride. Not so, Ranger. The day I made the post on McNamara was his turn in the barrel. The others have gotten theirs and will continue to get theirs from me. I'll note that I could not agree more with you in your jaundiced opinion of the American people and our collective failure to learn from the past. I am frankly often disgusted by many of my fellow citizens, but I, for one, will keep on truckin'.
Ael is another "judge not, lest ye be judged" or "walk a mile in another man's shoes" person. Ael also claims to have never had to truly test personal honor and dignity. Ael, not knowing who you are or what you do, I'll limit myself to observing that I doubt that. We are all tested throughout our lives. But government service, particularly at the level occupied by McNamara, requires a well developed moral compass, along with knowledge of and wariness of the pitfalls waiting to happen when dealing with powerful men. Contrast McNamara, Powell and countless others with Elliot Richardson, who, understanding where his loyalties properly lay, helped rid of us the scabrous Nixon and the rest of that motley crew. Officers under the Constitution take oaths to that Constitution. Nowhere in that oath is there any mention of personal fealty to any other person. The intent of the oath is to bind oneself to the American people, not to a politician.
Ael, you and Ranger don't want to judge. Me, it's my belief that part of my standard equipment as a human being is the gift of rational thinking and judgment. I do judge people and I will continue to do so. In my judgment, McNamara came up short.
Al explains the culture whence Colin Powell came, noting properly that the military protocol is to voice objections to the chain of command and then to keep one's mouth shut. Yes, Al, but Powell was no longer in the military. He had transcended the military and had moved into that sphere where action or inaction can grievously wound the nation. Those of who perhaps once greatly admired Powell can only be disappointed in his placing president and party over nation. I'm especially disgusted with Powell for his use of his bat man Wilkinson as a surrogate to tell the truth. Ever seen what Wilkinson has said? We should have heard that from Powell himself and we should have heard it when it made a difference. If I'm still around when Powell goes—doubtful because all of these perfumed princes live long lives—I'll pen a post about him. And I'll include his time in the Americal Division.
FDChief and Pluto get it. He provides the historic context and explains the opportunity that was lost. The Chief is a vengeful dude; he and I are of like mind. Pluto mentions Nuernberg. Yep, following orders just won't cut it. At least it didn't once upon a time in our fair nation.
Having writ, the moving finger moves on.
Around this time of the year we see lots of war movies on our Tee Vees starring John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood and other familiar faces. And I know many of our vets with experience in combat stay away from them, much like people whose families have suffered through childhook leukemia would avoid movies like My Sister's Keeper.
So just what do War Movies do for us? Many were blatant propaganda, but many helped give mom and pop back home a glimpse of what their sons and daughters in uniform overseas were facing. Some, like The Best Years of Our Lives made us see what our fellow citizens returning from war often wounded and damaged had to face in trying to reassemble a normal life. Others were, simply put, entertainment. The Rambo series comes to my mind here, although IMO "First Blood" has redeeming qualities.
Rarely did any of these movies, the serious ones of the genre at least, give us civilians back home a truly realistic description of what war does to the body. The mind and sould received all kinds of dramatic treatment, inside and out, but censorship would never allow us a view of the inside of a blown tank or a naval turret opened up with shellfire or human bodies shot to pieces or hit with a grenade blast. And so for most of us Americans, except for those with close personal experience, of course, the mental image of war is limited to some sort of "cool" video game or childhood Cops and Robbers.
Ignorance breeds unsuspected consequences all too often.
That's why I put Saving Private Ryan at the top of my list of ten. Hard to believe 11 years have gone by since it came out. As a civilian whose only experience in shooting anything dead was hunting, it's my belief that SPR is the closest Hollywood has ever come to presenting the viewing public with a true version of life and death in war. The rest fall in no particular order.
My second pick is We Were Soldiers, for realism and a glimpse of the enemy and his family, contrasted with the home-grown version.
Schindler's List, the Red Dress and human suffering and next to it ( yes, I know, I'm cheating by sticking in a few more ) The Empire of the Sun.
The Sand Pebbles, for Steve McQueen in one of his best roles and Mako.
Paths of Glory, for the bureauocracy of war, the good ol' boy network, and the girl's song at the end that still makes me well up.
Dr. Strangelove, another Kubrick classic and a continuing source of quotes for all seasons.
Glory, because in high school I read all I could on the War between the States and because of the eternal question, "Why am I doing this?"
Good Morning, Vietnam, although I'm sure it's greatly fictionalized, a good story on could happen when you live among the enemy.
Battle of Britain, if only for Susanna York's Maggie Harvey "Don't you yell at me, MR Warrick!" and Spits, Hurricanes, Messerschmidts, Heinkels and Stukas. And along with that, I need to include Wings with its early look at Gary Cooper.
Tora Tora Tora, for its contrasting views from the American and Japanese side and for it's decent attempt at historical accuracy. And with it for the same reasoning, I'd include Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima.
There are other movies I could have included in my list, but I'll leave that to my readers to suggest and discuss.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Acton came to mind while I was digesting the news that Robert McNamara died today, at the ripe old age of 93. McNamara lived to be 93-years-old. There are families throughout America who wish that the sons they sent off to the Vietnam grinder might have had the chance to live anywhere near as many years. I knew too many young men—we were all young—whom I personally believe to have been more deserving than McNamara of such a lengthy life. But he made it; they didn’t. And his fingerprints are all over their graves.
Of course McNamara was corrupt. No, he didn’t take any bribes that we know of, but he was corrupt in the sense that he placed himself and the political system over his country and his fellow man. His betrayal of all that is, or should be decent in us as humans is corrupt in the truest sense.
Tim Weiner has a good piece about McNamara in the NY Times today. By Spring of 1967—when I was in Vietnam—McNamara had decided that the war could not be won; he advised Lyndon Johnson to negotiate with the North Vietnamese. Instead of heeding this very good advice, Johnson fired McNamara. So did McNamara then go public with his reservations? Nah, he kept his mouth shut out of some misbegotten loyalty to the president, a deeply flawed individual whom McNamara apparently conflated with the nation. As an aside, there is too much of that going around. Somehow or other, we’ve allowed our president to be elevated to such a lofty level that none dare observe that the emperor has no clothes.
Weiner makes a good catch in his article when he cites this, written when McNamara wrote his mea culpa in 1995: “Mr. McNamara must not escape the lasting moral condemnation of his countrymen,” The New York Times said in a widely discussed editorial, written by the page’s editor at the time, Howell Raines. “Surely he must in every quiet and prosperous moment hear the ceaseless whispers of those poor boys in the infantry, dying in the tall grass, platoon by platoon, for no purpose. What he took from them cannot be repaid by prime-time apology and stale tears, three decades late.”
What’s truly unforgivable about McNamara’s silence about his misgivings is that only (only!) 16 thousand Americans had died in Vietnam at the time he left the government. The final tally is more than 58 thousand. One can only wonder what might have happened had McNamara possessed the moral fortitude to tell the truth to the American people. One can only wonder how many American military personnel and Vietnamese, north and south, died as a result of his silence. His silence enabled the evil Nixon and Kissinger to continue the butchery for many years thereafter. McNamara was also a truly evil man.
Another Acton quote fits McNamara: “The man who prefers his country before any other duty shows the same spirit as the man who surrenders every right to the state. They both deny that right is superior to authority.” The older I get the more I understand the wisdom in these words. McNamara, and countless others, chose country or party over the right. But now that I am older—about as old as McNamara was in those tumultuous times—the more I understand that one’s country can indeed be seriously wrong, and that one betrays one’s humanity by refusing to do the right thing and by continuing to support the wrong. That McNamara waited until 1995 before he told the truth tells us that he was a lesser man, a man not fit to hold a position of trust with our our nation or deserving of respect.
As an aside, when I think of McNamara, I think of another man, a man too many still admire, a man who is still making money by speaking at various events attended by the rich and famous. This would be one Colin Powell, a man for whom I have boundless contempt, just as I do with McNamara. Imagine if you will the cowardly Powell resigning as secretary of state in early Summer of 2004. Imagine the cowardly Powell ever telling the truth about Iraq, rather than hiding behind surrogates. Imagine a President Kerry now in his second term, and imagine what might have happened with our misbegotten military adventures and with our economy. Imagine how our nation and the world would be if McNamara and Powell hadn’t been cowards.
Howell Raines was an interesting guy. If memory serves, he was a native Alabaman, but he was in now way a stereotypical Southern conservative. Raines, a truly enlightened man, also noted this about McNamara: “By then he wore the expression of a haunted man. He could be seen in the streets of Washington — stooped, his shirttail flapping in the wind — walking to and from his office a few blocks from the White House, wearing frayed running shoes and a thousand-yard stare.”
From this, one infers that McNamara suffered for his silence. I hope so. I hope he suffered every day for the rest of his undeserved very long life. And I also think of another observation from Lord Acton: “To be able to look back upon one's past life with satisfaction is to live twice.” It's not much, but maybe we can take some solace from thinking that McNamara just perhaps had the remnants of a conscience and may have been haunted by his past. Maybe Powell has the same problem. We know many others don't.
So here’s my eulogy for you, Robert Strange McNamara. May you burn in hell. You certainly have my moral contemnation.
BTW, just to let everyone know just what a smart fellow Lord Acton was, here's another quote: "The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks." We still haven't fought that one. We're being prevented from doing so by the moneyed and comfortable class, and yes, that includes you and your retainers, Mr. Barack Obama. We have a long way to go before we can say that we are afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. McNamara was merely one of many who aspire to positions of leadership, but who then betray those whom they purport to lead.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
"The Marines have also been vexed by a lack of Afghan security forces and a near-total absence of additional U.S. civilian reconstruction personnel. Nicholson had hoped that his brigade, which has about 11,000 Marines and sailors, would be able to conduct operations with a similar number of Afghan soldiers. But thus far, the Marines have been allotted only about 500 Afghan soldiers, which he deems "a critical vulnerability."Emphasis mine.
State has added only two officers in Helmand since the Marines arrived. State has promised to have a dozen more diplomats and reconstruction experts working with the Marines, but only by the end of the summer."
WTF? The Karzai Kids Klub can't find more than a short battalion to fight their own damn war?Fuck 'em. If this is it, after seven years, I don't care what else is involved, they're toast. It's time to piss on the fire and call in the dogs. If the ANA is this ate up now they'll never be any less useless than a tampon in a typhoon.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
And now, God save me, I'm following Publius, at least at the time of this writing.
But I do plan to write about what I know and what I am interested in. That's all an author can really hope to do well.
I have been thinking about the varied connections that bind us all to each other and to the structures of our society. One of these connections, my 30+ years in public education is beginning to wither away and, although I will be continuing part-time, my full career is at an end. Another connection is appearing to develop, a part-time position at our local movie theater as a projectionist.
Movies have always interested me. They certainly are topics of conversation with friends or even complete strangers, whose notice often can be caught with a simple, "So, what did you think of the flick?" And many times fine conversations can begin. Family connections are vitally important, too. So, after a family get-together last Saturday in Nebraska with all my family to celebrate Mom & Dad's 60th wedding anniversary from this past January, I've been busy training to run the theater's 8 projectors.
This is the link to a couple of pictures and a short video of the family ( I'm the one kneeling in the group picture with my parents, brothers and sister, in the yellow shirt ) and another link to the type of work I'm now doing this summer. The video at the top of the site is what I'm doing now.
These are hard times. If those out of work and given up and those who are working part-time at less pay are added to the official unemployment rate, we have an unemployment rate above 15%. I feel I am lucky. Unless the State of Kansas goes completely belly up, I'll have a steady source of income for the rest of my life. My chances for a continuing part-time gig as a teacher, without any benefits, however, look iffy as the state continues to undershoot ( last week by 120 million ) its revenues and more educational cuts seem likely.
The oft-quoted Chinese proverb/curse: "Living in interesting times". I have never suffered an extended length of unemployment; I do not know what that is like, having a family with kids and no reliable steady source of good income. But I do know what it's like to scrape by on next to nothing.
As I wrote, "Lucky".
Back to my headline, "Connections". It seems to me our societal connections are disconnecting. My 2 Kansas senators and my representative are Republican, and are toeing the party line. No vote from them for the stimulus money, but we took it anyway, since we are blessed with a Democratic governor, a blessing indeed compared to the poor folk in Texas, Alaska & South Carolina. Certainly no vote from my CongressCritters for the new Cap and Trade bill that recently passed nor will they likely vote for any meaningful and effective reform of healthcare. As the "Democratic" senator from Nebraska, Ben Nelson, once proclaimed not too long ago, we need to care for the poor insurance companies. Another of our Democratic senators, Joe Lieberman, just a couple of days ago released himself from his campaign's support for a public healthcare option.
Our current President made many personal connections with us his fellow citizens during the campaign last year and before. Some more significant than others, that's how our political leaders gain a following and get their chance at leading the country. I always try to catch Jon Stewart's show, and tonight's version was very apt for my discourse here. At the time of this writing, his July 2 show is not online, but his opening was along the lines of "Pretty speeches are fine, now fix the damn economy!" I'm afraid Obama has cut many of those connections he made with us. The "fierce advocate" for the rights of gays, hasn't been so fierce, yet, but indeed, his Department of Justice could call these fellow citizens of ours "incestuous pedophiles". Transparency in government, but the CIA can't seem to get that report on torture promised many times to be released to the public. Can't let the transcripts of Bush and Cheney concerning Valerie Pflame be released either.
It seems Obama is busy making connections to the previous administration to the detriment of those connections he made to us while on campaign.
I hope for the sake of his presidency and the good of the country that he is not. A good test of that point will be the final result of wrangling over healthcare later this year. Will it be true, that "Change we can believe in!" will become more than a smile and a verbal commitment?
FACTA, NON VERBA
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
As the kid and I were hoofing it from the Capitol along the Mall back towards the Smithsonian (we'd let Mom rest on a park bench), she remarked that the whole show here must be kind of intimidating to foreigners when they visited. In fact, she said, one can see where it would overwhelm many Americans. I thought about it a bit and then agreed, remarking that if one thinks about the history of our capital city, one can easily see that those who think that early American leaders were somehow these kind, gentle, pastoral types of guys, don't know their history very well. Just taking in the federal area in Washington makes it pretty clear, at least to me, that being the biggest and baddest kid on the block has always been part of the agenda. L'Enfant knew it. Tocqueville knew it. The rest of the civilized world has always known it. I'm not prepared to say I'd want it any differently. I just wanted to highlight what's always been clear to me: Washington, D.C. isn't about pretty monuments, etc. It's about power.
It took us about eight hours drive-time to reach Northern Virginia. As anybody who's driven around the nation's capital recently knows, we encountered something very much like rush hour traffic (on a Saturday afternoon) once we got near the Beltway. I first drove on I-95 in the stretch known as Shirley Highway something like 40 years ago. It was under construction then (it's in Springfield, VA) and it used to be called the mixing bowl); it's still under construction.
We reached the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City at cocktail time. The kid, who'd flown in earlier in the day, was waiting. Her conference was being held in this hotel, so against my better judgment I'd agreed that we would stay there as well. Here's why I say "against my better judgment": $81 per night for Saturday and Sunday; $200+ per night for Monday and Tuesday. Smacking myself in the forehead, I said, "Well, shit dummy, what'd you expect? It's a business hotel." So here I am, the retired schmuck, fighting the guys on expense accounts—as I used to be—for a not so great room. Oh, and then the guy from whatever foreign country who greets us as we drive up says, "I'll just unload your bags and take the car to valet parking. And it'll only cost you $25 a day." Wow. Welcome to D.C. I figured I'd go along with this for the first night, but then find something cheaper. Well, a parking garage around the corner was $20. Welcome to D.C. indeed. I don't want to overdo the whining about the hotel, so my final word on cost will be to note that breakfast for the three of us Sunday A.M. was about $65 with tip. Next time, we're staying at a motel a ways out.
The main point I wanted to make about being a visitor to D.C. is that it's just like visiting almost any other seat of government in any other developed nation. I used to make the rounds a lot—from a D.C. base—and I know my foreign capitals. Ours is pretty much like London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Seoul, you name it. Lots of very self-important people running around, lots of expense account folks trying to suck money out of the government stiffs they visit, and third worlders doing all of the service work and heavy lifting.
Sunday was a splendid day. It was Father's Day (and the first day of Summer to boot) and I was with the kid and the wife. Additionally, the Gods cooperated and we did not have to endure one of those miserable, steamy D.C. summer days. Sunday and the next two days saw highs in the low 80s. After our $65 breakfast, we caught the (free) shuttle to the Crystal City Metro station, where we caught the subway on over to the Washington Navy Yard stop, where one emerges from the underground cavern only a couple of blocks away from the magnificent new ball park the taxpayers of D.C. (and us, of course) built for only around $700 million. A mere drop in the bucket in our fair federal city. We scalped some decent tickets from a self-employed businessman working the streets and enjoyed ourselves drinking $8 beers and eating overpriced foods. The game was not memorable and the Nationals, owners of the worst record in baseball, looked every bit as bad as one might expect. This was the second lousy Washington team (out of three) that I've seen in person. The first was the now-Texas Rangers, then Washington Senators, whom I saw in RFK stadium in the late 60s. I missed the first Senators team, the one that's now in Minnesota, but by all reports they were every bit as bad as incarnations number 2 and 3. In fact, I'm happy to report that I was able to educate some forlorn Nationals fans by reciting something I learned as a youth: "Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." They hid it well, but I know they appreciated my recollection of this immortal baseball phrase.
If you want really good Italian food, you can't go wrong at Ristorante Filomena in Georgetown. It's a typical D.C. power place, to include photos of the rich and famous, along with their recommendations regarding entrees. Figuring that with his girth and well-known love of fine food, he'd know, so I went with the pasta dish that Bill Clinton always had. The slick one did not disappoint; I had a fine meal. The martinis were delicious as was the red wine. All in all, a great dining experience, none of it paid for by me.
We spent Monday hanging around the Mall, with most of the time spent in the Smithsonian and the National Gallery. This was kind of old home week for the kid and I because we used to spend countless weekend days doing just that. A little background here: I was first in the D.C. area (actually Baltimore) back in the 60s when I attended a lengthy training course at the Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, in the Dundalk section of Ballmer. I was single then and I have many fond memories of the D.C.-Baltimore area. I was back just a few years later, this time with a bride, and this time going to school right in D.C. It was during this time in D.C. that I first met the kid who treated me so well during this visit, greeting her as she made her debut in the world at Fort Belvoir, VA. I left the bride and the new family member only one month later, going off overseas. A year later, it was back to D.C., actually Northern Virginia, where I even got the very rare opportunity to work in this nasty old building. I suspect I am one of the very few military folks in history who did not mind working in The Pentagon whatsoever. "Why?" you might ask. Well, I actually had an operational rather than staff job, something that makes all of the difference in the world to intelligence workers. I'll see if anyone can figure out why I didn't mind working in the five-sided monstrosity all that much.
In addition to working in The Pentagon, I also worked on the second floor of a shopping center in a strip mall in a suburban Northern Virginia city. This was another of those places I've worked that didn't have identifying signs on the door. We bought our first house during this time in D.C., in the small town of Ocoquan, VA, about 15 miles south, which was just then beginning to boom. More on this house later. But then we left again, this time headed to Monterey, CA, where I went to school for a year. Then came Germany.
Back to D.C. in the late 70s, this time for a long stay. Bought the second house and the kid stayed in one place all the way from 3d grade to high school graduation. Which leads me back to the daughter and I and D.C. We were actually living in Maryland, near Fort Meade. I had one of those jobs that saw me on the road, in the U.S. and overseas, on just about a weekly basis. So the weekends belonged to the kid. She absolutely loved the Smithsonian and all of those monuments. Dragged me there almost every Sunday, it seemed. We had a great time, but those years, as well as all of the obligatory tour guide stuff one must do for visiting family and friends, kind of made me think I'd never have to do the touristy stuff again. Not so. Despite my whining, the kid made me do it and I'm glad I did. More thoughts on that later.
I'm going to break this up at this point. It's getting too long. So we'll call this the end of Part One. Part Two, which will include more meditations on the nature of American life and how our capital city fits into that will follow soon.