Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

So, I'll admit it. As a kid this was my favorite holiday. Even better than Christmas since I usually knew what I was going to get anyway. But Halloween? You just never knew how it was going to turn out. What would you experience? How much booty would end up raking in? What would everyone dress up as? Would something really weird happen? What if it rained! What a horrible thought! That would have ruined everything! Still, as a kid I can't remember a single rained-out Halloween, they were all dark, relatively dry and moon-lit, or that is how I remember them.

I also remember the old Halloweens when you'd come back home with a sack bulging with great home-made sweets, before the great scare of the late 1960s after which all parents were instructed to sort through their children's bags and throw away (THROW AWAY!) all the stuff that wasn't individually packaged, that is all the great home-made stuff went in the trash and you got to keep all the not-so-great store-bought stuff. In retrospect can we possibly argue that it was the beginning of the end of community and the ramping up of corporate control . . . ?

I never understood what all the parental fear was about. Halloween was suppose to be scary, right? So why throw out all the best stuff we had amassed trick or treating (which was hard work for a kid btw) . . . ?

By the beginning of the 1970s it had all changed and had some how become common wisdom that sickos (could be anyone) were just waiting for 31 October to roll around so they could poison or seriously injure some unsuspecting kid. If you weren't scared to death you weren't a serious parent, or so people thought. I was above trick or treating age by then (which was 13 in our family) but I was still expected to take my sisters out ("only to people we know well, and check what they get!"). This I usually accomplished by talking one or two friends to go with me on my supervisory duties, which usually included trying to scare the bajesus out of the kids we were responsible for, ya know older brother stuff.

So, still kinda fun, but in a different way and nothing like it had been before. Some purists of course say that you have to go all the way back to the 1950s to get the real "old Halloween", but my experiences in the 1960s in the small town South (and once in the Midwest when visiting my mother's family in Iowa) seem to be essentially the same as what my older friends and family experienced. In all I consider myself lucky.

So what was the whole scare about?

An article from 1987 introduced us all to the sociological concept:

The cause of our exaggerated fears about children are not well understood. Social scientists might explain them by pointing to the radical transformation of the American family that has taken place during the last 15 years.

The two-career family has given rise to "latchkey children", that is children who return home from school to empty houses. As we spend less and less time with our children we have become more and more fearful for their safety.

The easy psychiatric explanation is that we are merely projecting our fears of an uncertain world on to our children. While the actual causes still remain an intriguing social mystery, there can be little doubt that there is a growing sense in America that our children are no longer safe.

One of the surprising things about the myth of the Halloween sadist is how few copycat crimes it has inspired.

The most harmful effect of the myth seems to be the emotional difficulties it has caused both adults and children. The social production of unrealistic fears concerning child safety has approached the point where it now threatens to produce an entire nation of anxiety-ridden parents, and, more importantly, a generation of paranoid kids.

What about our kids? Did seydlitz pass on this very important element of American culture to his children? I tried to, but with the kids growing up in Berlin and later in Portugal it was difficult to get the old feel, but then we also had some advantages. My wife, who had no connection with Halloween was a great help and got into the whole spirit of the thing. Also once in Portugal we joined the local American club and then had a Halloween party for the kids every October 31st. So, yes ours have hopefully happy memories connected with this "holiday".

So, what about you, fellow barkeeps and loyal readers? Would you care to exchange your Halloween experiences with us? I'm very interested to know your memories of the event and what you do today to celebrate this great American tradition . . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Strategic Stupidity and Unequal Treaties

Our man seydlitz has a post up asking questions about the U.S. geopolitical strategy in the Middle East and the impact of the continuing drone strikes on that strategy.

While an interesting question, I would opine that as a matter of strategic veterinary dentistry, it's looking at the wrong end of the horse to figure out what's the matter with the teeth.

Instead, I offer this, the supposed final note of the Looney Tune melody we've been playing on the Iraqi barrel organ:
"But what about the extensive negotiations the administration has been engaged in for months, regarding U.S. offers to leave thousands of uniformed soldiers in Iraq past the deadline? It has been well reported that those negotiations, led by U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and White House official Brett McGurk, had been stalled over the U.S. demand that the remaining troops receive immunity from Iraqi courts."
So. I'll be the first one to say - I wouldn't want to be tried in an Iraqi court. I suspect that things are a little less...predictable...shall we say? than ending up in the Multnomah County justice system.

But the bottom line for any Western power in the Third World is that you're always going to be working in the shadow of colonialism.You don't like that? Don't commit your maneuver units to fucking Third World countries.

Despite what 99.7% of the U.S. public - including its leadership, apparently - believes, most of the rest of the world remembers that for about 200 or 300 years being a white guy meant never having to say you were a brown, black, or yellow guy. Most of the rest of the world has some ugly memories - still - of being booted around by people who were uniformed and armed like our GIs. The Iraqis were beat up pretty thoroughly in the Twenties by the Brits, who placed great faith in this sort of "unequal treaty", where you got to pimpslap the wogs...but they couldn't do the same to you.

And you don't quickly forget stuff like that.

One of the things that helped make the Bushie Mess-o-potamia such a mess was the reinvention of this sort of horseshit.

I've said for years that we would have saved hundreds of U.S.troops if the FIRST time some GI had shot an Iraqi by accident he'd have had a speedy trial and been handed ten years in the USDB. And the first time some GI shot an Iraqi for fun, or to hide a rape, or some other truly heinous thing, that he would have been handed over to whatever had replaced Saddam's secret police and hanged in Firdos Square. I don't think that would have been just or fair...but it would have been smart. Cunning. We would have gone a long way to distancing ourselves from the Bad Old Days of extraterritoriality, colonial immunity, and the sort of collective anger that a hell of a lot of the world still has for their former imperial masters.

But we didn't.

Instead we made it crystal clear that the Unequal Treaties were still in force and still unequal. Throw a grenade at a U.S. patrol? End up in Abu Ghraib. Shoot a pregnant Iraqi at a checkpoint? Get a downcheck on your "failure to follow proper checkpoint procedures" block in your NCOER.

That's strategic stupidity.

It doesn't take a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of drones, missiles, satellites, and computers.

All it takes is some high level negotiators who don't get that granting your troops "extraterritoriality" (regardless of whether you call it that, or "immunity"...) doesn't fly in the Third World and assumes that because we're just speshul snowflakes the wogs will be happy to give in on this massive collective grudge they carry about that because...well, because we WANT them to soooooo bad.

's strategic stupidity.


Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Strategic Stupidity Incarnate?

Reaper Drone (aka Predator B)

On 8 October this month, FB Ali posted a thought provoking essay on the US use of drones and how that constituted "a new kind of war" . . . Please take the time to read FB Ali's essay which sets the initial stage for this discussion.

Coming from a Clausewitzian perspective of course I take a different view and don't see where war has changed at all . . . whereas warfare on the other hand goes through a constant process of change/innovation/reaction, the interplay of technology and technique. If it looks like war is changing, then it is the political glass we are attempting to gaze through that is distorting our vision, making it seem that the process of organized violence as a contest of wills has changed when in fact it is the politics/political relations which is/are simply confusing events, making us focus on the smoke, shadows, noise and flashes which distract us from realizing what is actually going on.

Military means used to achieve a military aim supporting a political purpose. Strategy - both in terms of decisions made and process experienced - can simply be defined as linking the military aim with the political purpose. Once the military aim has been achieved, or as Clausewitz tells us, military victory is the means to achieving the strategic end, we enter into the task of achieving peace, making it in the former enemy's interest to conclude peace through coercion/incentive and other non-military means available. War is the most serious undertaking a political community can take on and achieving the political purpose through the use of the military instrument is perhaps the most difficult undertaking in social relations, that is achieving a lasting peace with the political purpose attained.

I responded to FB Ali's post with this:

FB Ali-

Very much a thought-provoking post.

Just a few questions: First, are we not talking about "warfare" and not "war"? You use the terms interchangeably in your post but are they different concepts? War is the political instrument of organized violence of one political community at odds with another. Warfare is the utilization of the means of war for a particular epoch which is in turn influenced by the political conditions/characteristics of the entities involved.

Naval warfare is "without boundaries" and submarine warfare as practiced first in the First World War, expanded the dimensions possible even further. Could we see a parallel between the submarine of 1914-18 and the drones of today in that the machine/instrument achieves a level of autonomy which could endanger/run counter to the very political interests it is meant to serve?

Submarines at the time were considered "terror weapons", are drones by their very characteristics also "weapons of terror"?

Finally does not the employment of drones attack the legitimacy of the state the US is supposedly wishing to support? The basis of state legitimacy being its monopoly on the use of legitimate violence within its borders? By condoning the use of drones over its territory targeting its own citizens, does not the host state become by definition a "failed state"?

To which FB Ali was kind enough to respond:


I think I used the two terms (war and warfare) discriminatingly. Space constraints prevented me from dealing with each separately.

The development of military robots will, in the future, create a new type of warfare, in which machines do the fighting and killing (and ‘dying’) instead of humans. To that limited extent, the development of this kind of warfare could be welcomed.

What I expressed concern about was the new type of war that these machines would make possible. Hitherto, the achievement of any significant results through military power required the exercise of considerable force across national borders, which also could not be concealed. The availability of highly capable, potent machines would tempt powerful countries to apply significant force against others without overtly violating borders, even secretly. This would invite a response in kind, if not degree, from states and even non-state entities.

If such a type of war were to become prevalent, it would tear up the present international order, and force even powerful countries to become ‘security states’.

To tie this all together allow me to make a series of statements which hopefully will indicate a coherent view:

First, drones are simply the latest and most advanced example of what technology has been able to achieve since around 1840. The development of steamships carrying cannon - the classic gunboat - and operating contrary to the elements and this type of weapon system since has provided political communities, specifically states, with this means of coercion for some time. These weapons systems allow the side with the technology to inflict pain and damage, but not to occupy or hold. There also exists a basic tension between this capacity and the achievement of the political purpose, since these systems can coerce and destroy, but only that. The British gunboat in China, the German Uboat in the mid Atlantic and the Reaper Drone over Yemen all share a basic autonomy which may or may not support the overriding political purpose. Thus there is a tendency for the capability to become the focus, not what this instrument is expected/suppose to achieve in terms of military aim/political purpose.

Second, due to this autonomy there is a tendency for this type of weapon to be seen as an instrument of terror. The simple fact that they apparently operate outside the norm reinforces this tendency. The negative propaganda associated with their presence has to be taken into consideration.

Third, the capability and character of these weapons invite inordinate responses from the side under attack from them.

For these reasons weapons of this type need to be deployed carefully with a clear intent in terms of strategy. There also exists the possibility that their employment actually creates more problems than are dealt with.

These above statements refer to these weapons as a class.

Specifically in regards to the drone wars currently being conducted by the present US administration, I have a series of specific questions:

First, specifically what military aim/political purpose are these weapons expected to achieve? How exactly?

Second, if the goal is simply national security, how does undermining the legitimacy of the host government where they are deployed, making them appear to be unable or unwilling to protect their own people, support US interests?

Third and finally in terms of evaluating effectiveness, it seems impossible to separate wishful thinking/endless claims of precision from operational security/legitimate secrecy, that is the line between foreign and domestic propaganda and/or actual reporting has been compromised. In other words, the spin is universal.

Fourth, drones are different from the other weapons of this type I mentioned above in that the future capacity for actual autonomy exists, that is there would be no human element at all. How exactly is this progress? Or is it rather hubris of a rather dangerous sort reflecting our political dysfunctions more than anything else? Given the possible flaws . . .

There is more I could add, but I'm interested first to know what ya'll think . . .


Seems that some US officials at least are worried about the unintended consequences of this weapon system . . .

Saturday, October 22, 2011

As It Was and Ever Shall Be

Basil's posts on Occupy Wall Street got me thinking "Hmmm...didn't I write something about that..?" and eventually I went rummaging around in the back of the packrat portion of my mind and, sure enough, here it is from August, 2008.

"The Public Be Damned"

Every so often I run across something that reminds me so forcibly, so violently, of the present desuetude of our republic that I lose my wind just for a moment.

Here's Glenn Greenwald describing the scene at the current Democratic National Convention, where the telecom giant AT&T throws an intimate little shindig for the very people - imagine that - who helped them evade lawsuits for their lickspittle subservience to the criminals in the Bush White House and the NSA who believe that the laws of the land are, in the immortal words of Leona Helmsley, "for the little people".

I challenge you to read it and not throw up a little in the back of your mouth. It's sickening. It's the real face of "American politics".

It's not like this is something new in American politics. The rich are always with us, and the only difference between the New Gilded Age and the Old was that back then, a man like Mark Hanna could openly say; "Come on, you've been in politics long enough to know that no man in public life owes the public anything."

Today we have to pretend to "care" about the Great Unwashed, but the reality of America is that unless we're in the top 1% of all American incomes many of us have much of the freedom of a polled Hereford being prodded up the chute towards that dark building where we await our political and economic fate. Are we better off than some Ukrainian peasant or Zimbabwean prole? Sure. Will that mean much when our job is offshored, or we get sick and run through our insurance, or the highway to our parents' falls apart and we have to drive a 40-mile detour to visit?


Here's Andrew Bacevich talking some hard, cold sense that most of us will close our ears to:
"The military-industrial complex will inhibit efforts to curb the Pentagon's penchant for waste. Detroit and Big Oil will conspire to prolong the age of gas guzzling. And the Israel lobby will oppose attempts to chart a new course in the Middle East. The next commander in chief will inherit an intractable troop shortage. The United States today finds itself with too much war and too few warriors. That alone will constrain a president conducting two ongoing conflicts. A looming crisis of debt and dependency will similarly tie the president's hands. Bluntly, the United States has for too long lived beyond its means. With Americans importing more than 60% of the oil they consume, the negative trade balance now about $800 billion annually, the federal deficit at record levels and the national debt approaching $10 trillion, the United States faces an urgent requirement to curb its profligate tendencies. Spending less (and saving more) implies settling for less. Yet among the campaign themes promoted by McCain and Obama alike, calls for national belt-tightening are muted.

Will we listen? Will we act? No.

Because, in the end, short of violent revolution, with the monetary grip on the levers of power, what CAN we do?

And because, in the end, we'd rather pretend that the future holds "freedom" and green pastures and sunny skies and try not to hear the cries of the other steers and the whisper of the killing knife.

Update 10/23: I was listening to the kiddos play LEGOS and eat seaweed for breakfast (the Little Girl, anyway - anyone else have a child that likes dried nori for breakfast?) and blogreading when I came across this, from David Atkins at Hullabaloo, which is so good that I have to quote it at length. To wit:
Simply put, in the 1970s America was hit with an inflation crisis that quickly became a stagflation crisis. There were also oil shocks involved. Simulataneously, the world was becoming increasingly globalized, which made it more difficult for American corporations to compete using American labor. Finally, as Hacker and Pierson have persuasively argued, big business banded together to begin more aggressive and cohesive lobbying efforts. These four trends were devastating politically for the middle class.

American public policy on both sides of the aisle reoriented itself away from a focus on wages and toward a focus on assets. Specifically, the idea was that wage growth was dangerous because it led to core inflation in a way that asset growth did not. American foreign policy became obsessed even more than it had been with maintaining access to oil, both to prevent future oil shocks and to prevent inflationary oil spirals. Wage growth was also dangerous because it would drive increasing numbers of American corporations to employ cheaper overseas labor.

But that left the question of how to sustain a middle class and functional economy while slashing wages. The answer was to make more Americans "true Capitalists" in Reagan's terms. Pensions were converted to 401K plans, thus investing about half of Americans into the stock market and creating a national obsession with the health of market indices. Regular Americans were given credit cards, allowing them to take on the sorts of debt that had previously only been available to businesses. Most crucially, American policymakers did everything possible to incentivize homeownership, from programs designed to help people afford homes to major tax breaks for homeownership and much besides.

Low prices on foreign-made goods were also a policy priority. This had a dual benefit for policymakers: lower prices offset stagnant wages, while keeping core inflation low. Free trade deals were also a major centerpiece of public policy in this context. Few politicians actually believed that these deals would help increase wages and jobs in America. But what they were designed to do is keep low-cost goods coming into America, while increasing the stock value of American companies exporting goods overseas, thus raising asset values.

Low interest rates were also important. Renters and savers suffer in a low-interest rate environment, but borrowers and asset owners do very well. Tax cuts, of course, are also helpful in offsetting the impact of wage stagnation.

Houses and stocks, then, are assets that rise independently of wages. Low-cost overseas goods and the easy availability of loans and credit provide offsets to low wages. Low interest rates and tax cuts help as well keep assets afloat as well. The bipartisan idea from a public policy standpoint was not simply to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. The idea was to make the American middle class dependent on assets rather than wages. I was at a conference many years back, the purpose of which was to bring corporate bigwigs together in defense of free trade against what they feared might be a protectionist backlash. One executive told me point blank that if only enough Americans were invested in the stock market, they wouldn't gripe about Halliburton and other similar companies because they would say, "Hey, I own part of that company!" When I objected that that only half of Americans were invested in the market at all, and of that figure far fewer had significant assets invested, he retorted that more Americans were invested in the market than I thought, and that policy needed to be designed to push more Americans to invest.
I've often looked at our public policy and tried to figure out "What sane polity would enact policies seemingly designed to return itself to what may have been the least-stable political conditions (the openly-oligarchic period between about 1870-1930) since before the Civil War?" And here's the answer. And Atkins has a simple and exceptionally sane solution:
"The recklessness and stupidity of this sort of approach to public policy should have been proven by the 2008 financial crisis that saw the rapid destruction of asset values in stocks, bonds, and housing. Predicating economic health on asset growth is a pipe dream: most people will never have enough assets to make it work, and asset growth is far too unstable to serve as the basis for a functional economy.

Whether they can articulate it or not, what has most progressives most incensed about the Obama Administration's domestic policy is that it has ultimately hewed to the same asset-based economic model. When the Administration could be progressive on cutting costs or ensuring equality without negatively impacting assets, it did so. That's what the ACA, the Ledbetter Act, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and numerous other left-leaning Administration moves were designed to do. But the Administration has been very reticent to take any actions that would negatively impact the value of assets.

America will only return to real economic health when the asset-crazed insanity of the last 30 years is brought to heel, and America returns to a public policy that is far more interested in wage growth and economic stability than it is in asset inflation. Until then, we can expect continued political and economic shocks from an angry electorate and an economy that has run off the rails due to 30 years of deeply misguided anti-inflation, pro-asset-growth ideology."
But sane or not, my skepticism remains. The wealthy have their hands around the neck of the government; they will not be pried loose. And they are no more prescient that their counterparts were in St. Petersburg in 1917 or Paris in 1789. They will destroy the village in order to save their privileges. And the extraordinary coalition that pulled our nation away from the totalitarian abyss that awaited it in 1932 - Soviet communism on the one hand, Italian (and, later, German) fascism on the other - shows no signs of being there to ride to the rescue.

In other words?


Friday, October 21, 2011

Now, the hard part

So today is the first day of post-Gaddafi Libya.Good on them.

Now for the really hard part.

As the columnist for Al Jazeera reminds us:
"...the NTC has been unable to secure a country awash with armed men. Libya is also a country shot through with rivalries, jealousies and blood debts, among individuals and groups. Some of these divisions are of historic vintage, many arise from Gaddafi's rule, and the war will have added a new crop. Like Iraq, Libya was assembled through histories of empire and its aftermath. It has been torn apart by war. Now it has lost the one thing that united much of the country: hatred of Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. Libyans are left to face the legacy of his mastery of the art of divide and rule. The involvement of Western air forces meant that the rebels never had to form a unified force. Only to a limited extent did they learn the habits of cooperation under fire.

That is why they now lack an army with which to bring the country under control."
The thing that drove and still drives me crazy is the calm assumption that has dominated much of U.S. foreign policy "debate" that the bomb-y, kill-y part is the "hard part". I have no idea where this springs from - watching war films, I suspect - but it's in complete opposition to the actual conduct of damn near every war the U.S. has ever fought, where the worst fuckups always seem to spring from political gaffes made either in hope of winning the war or in post-war inattention to detail.

Thus with Libya. I honestly have very little hope for anything good. The "country" has never been well-ruled, its people have little or no experience in or proven skill at self-government, and its economy and polity are not far above the tribal level. Post-colonial experience suggests that whatever emerges will not be pretty.

But...and this is my point; I cannot see how U.S. fiddling will be helpful. It is up to the Libyans to do what they can for themselves. A "solution" imposed from outside is no real solution at all, and for all that there appear to be significant portions of the U.S. "leadership" congratulating themselves on how much we had to do with the current outcome I hope that we all recall that.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Update on the OWS ( Class Warriors ) thread

One Marine showed up to defend his fellow Americans.

Marine Sergeant Shamar Thomas confronted a small group of NYPD and decided to speak up after watching some protesters get knocked around.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

If it ain't broke.....

We are all familiar with the old saw, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

As we watch our foreign and domestic polices flounder, I have begin to wonder about the definition of the word "broke", primarily with both sides of the aisle claiming virtually everything is indeed broken! If such is the case, I'm still waiting for someone to define exactly what "unbroke" looks like.

So, sitting on the front veranda this AM, enjoying a cup of steaming joe, a cigar and the sun rising over the blue Aegean, my mind wandered back to grad school, and two of my premier public policy profs, Floyd Durham (Economics) and Barry Epstein (Program Evalustion). Both of them had their act together.

Of the many approaches to social program evaluation, two are ever so intuitively attractive, yet really bankrupt. They are called "The Charity Model" and "The Pork Barrel Model" of program evaluation.

The "Charity Model" is pretty straight forward. It simply looks to see if a "need" exists, if the program in some way addresses the "need", if the actors in the program are sincere and diligent in addressing the need and if no one is seriously and involuntarily inconvenienced by the program. If those four criteria receive a "Yes", then that's all that is needed. Sort of like Ron Paul's idea of the community rising up to voluntarily see to the health care needs of the needy, rather than any "government program".

The "Pork Barrel Model" is equally straight forward. If the constituency receiving the benefits is satisfied, and no one is seriously and involuntarily inconvenienced by the program, that is also a sign of a successful program. Take, for example, "progressives" turning a blind eye to sub-prime mortgage abuses because it was getting more Americans into homes and millions of borrowers and lenders seemed to be happy - for a while.

Of course, neither model looks at inputs versus outcomes or "cost/benefit ratios" as it is commonly called. Further, neither model addresses whether or not all of the potential "needy" population is being served, if the number of "needy" is reduced or even if the "need" is valid as defined. Nor is there any evaluation of long term consequences. It's just a subjective, close cropped snapshot.

Both of these approaches fuel what I would call the "Fat, Dumb and Happy" model of society. In doing some searches on the web to brush up on program eval methodology, I found a paper from 1984 with the ever so apt title "Evaluating Programs the Whole World Already Calls Wonderful". While the content of the paper goes far beyond what I offer here, the title does parallel my "Fat, Dumb and Happy" issue. In short, just because no one is calling for something to be fixed, that doesn't mean it isn't, in many ways broken.

Back to the two examples given above. Ron Paul's "Charity Model" does indeed show that communities and institutions have, on occasion, risen to the task of caring for the some of needy in health care, and that can seem to meet the "Whole World Already Calls Wonderful" test, and can make selected people feel good about themselves. What it fails to address is the question of whether the general population of needy receives health care every time it is needed, no less routine or preventative care. All he is demonstrating is that some sincere people, without seriously inconveniencing others, provide some care to some needy. Of course, this approach has come crashing down on some 50 million or more uninsured Americans who now are effectively outside the "system" and cannot make life decisions based on an unpredictable and random "charity model".

As to the sub-prime fiasco, well, a lot of people were made happy in the short run. Both borrowers and investors. From a "Pork Barrel" view, all was well, for a while. Of course, since it met, for a time, the "Whole World Already Calls Wonderful" principle, no further thought was needed. However, once "reality" set in, probably more Americans lost their homes than new owners were created.

In foreign policy, there is the Bush invasion of Iraq, which was carefully crafted to avoid serious inconvenience for most Americans, and bolstered by "sincerity" in the justifications ("Charity Model"). And, of course, lots of "Pork Barrel" for the defense industry. Best of both worlds. And, a total fiasco, domestically and for Iraq.

How can we, as a society attempt to operate in the long run when our policies and programs are subjected to "evaluation" techniques so short sighted, deficient and totally debunked decades ago? Or, are we not only "Fat, Dumb and Happy", but intellectually lazy as well? In fact, wasn't one of the alleged handicaps of GWB identified as being "intellectually incurious"? And a fresh supply of darlings of the Far Right (Palin, Bachman, Perry, Cain) exhibit this same intellectual laziness, and Progressives have counterparts as well. They simply mirror society.

Think about these two models of "evaluation, and I'm sure you can add dozens of other policy decisions that are made using these simplistic measurements.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

MilPub Book Club: Q4 2011 Selection" "The Accidental Guerrilla" (Kilcullen)


We talked a little earlier about discussing some written work of geopolical or military import. Jim at "Ranger Against War" has volunteered to be our Master of Ceremonies for the first outing and has selected the David Kilcullen work "The Accidental Guerilla".Fareed Zakaria, who for all his wide-ranging geopolitical views seems to know about guerrilla war what a cow knows about the Council of Trent, says of this work: "This book should be required reading for every American soldier, as well as anyone involved in the war on terror. Kilcullen's central concept of the 'accidental guerrilla' is brilliant and the policy prescriptions that flow from it important. And that's not all; the book has many more insights drawn from various battlefields." But nevermind.

Kilcullen was a fairly critical player in the Bush Administration formulation of our current "strategy" - if that is the correct term for the congeries of tactics and politics that the United States is employing in central and southwest Asia - and has had the ear of the "COIN" faction at the Pentagon for some time. Regardless of one's views on his ideas it is difficult to deny that they have been influential.So here's the plan. If you want to participate hit your library, or your Kindle, or bookstore, or whatever (I have a copy reserved at Portland Public Library already) and start reading.

In mid-November jim will post his thoughts here and open the dance.

Sound good?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

365 Bottles of Beer

--A license to do something

--I help people with problems
--Problem solver?
--More of a problem eliminator
--License to Kill (1989)

How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart
and let me live again
--How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,
The Bee Gees

We are here to help the Vietnamese,
because inside every gook
there is an American trying to get out
--Full Metal Jacket (1987)

And the day came when the risk to remain
tight in a bud was more painful than the risk
it took to blossom
--Anais Nin

Below is an excerpt from "365 Bottles of Beer", the story of a young troop's drop into the COIN zone (published @ RAW in its entirety. Links are HERE and HERE.)

Any personal observations are appreciated:

"Like every other soldier, whether draftee or enlisted, [I] was fully prepared to do whatever my Army required to win the war. Every last one of us were willing to kill or be killed in the process of doing what our country required of us, but therein lies the crux of the biscuit: What was required?

When I stepped off that airplane wearing jump boots, crossed rifles, junior jump wings and a Ranger tab with a Green Beret on my high and tight head, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing on the ramp of that airplane, stepping into a war that almost everyone knew was lost (it was 1970). What I did possess was every infantry skill required to kill people, be it on an organizational or personal level.

After I stepped off that plane, 18,000 soldiers died for a policy that was as dead as an old man's dick, but we soldiered on because that is what soldiers do. We are not quitters.

Hmmm. This could end badly

This may possibly be the stupidest piece of foreign policy business I've heard of since Dubya the Conqueror decided to go all macedonian in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates.I'm the last person to say that the United States needs to load up to cockpunch yet ANOTHER Middle Eastern country. But...if a military arm of a foreign country caught actually planning to assassinate allied diplomats and attack allied embassies on your soil isn't a casus belli...what the hell is?
"The men accused of plotting the attacks were Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, both originally from Iran, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan. Mr. Holder said the men were connected to the secretive Quds Force, a division of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that has carried out operations in other countries. He said that money in support of the plot was transferred through a bank in New York, but that the men had not yet obtained explosives."
It's a sad commentary on the degree to which I believe my own government has utterly fucked up its conflict with Islamic groups including the government of Iran along with its credibility with regards to "terrorist plots" that I am inclined to be skeptical that these mooks were really under orders from Tehran.And the downsides of an open war with Iran make it nearly impossible to believe that the bombs are about to start falling.But...assuming that the DoJ is correct and someone in Tehran sent these guys out to commit mayhem in Washington, D.C., I'd say that this says something pretty disturbing about the levels of either stupidity, or aggression, or both, in the IRGC, the Quds Force, or some other faction in the Iranian government.We know the levels of stupidity and aggression on our own side.The last thing we need is to find ourselves playing chicken with another outfit with a chicken-like brain for international relations.End badly? Y'think?


Monday, October 10, 2011

Will Work for Votes

--Vote early and often, Thomas Nast

As people do better, they start voting like Republicans --

unless they have too much education and vote Democratic,

which proves there can be too much of a good thing

--Karl Rove

An election is coming.
Universal peace is declared,
and the foxes have a sincere interest
in prolonging the lives of the poultry
Felix Holt,
George Eliot

You and me

we're in this together now

none of them can stop us now

--We're in This Together
Nine Inch Nails


Hello pub denizens. We saw the "No Solicitation or Sailors" sign out front, so figured we're half in the good. We wouldn't crash an otherwise peaceful Monday afternoon at the bar, but we're canvassing for votes for our brother site, y'see?

It's that time of year again. The time we ask you to show RangerAgainstWar some love and take a moment out of your busy schedules to VOTE RANGER BEST PROGRESSIVE FLORIDA BLOGGER in the 2011 Florida Netroots Awards!

It is almost an oxymoron: Florida + Progressive. But there are a few -- very few --of us out there on the frontiers showing that not all Floridians suffer the sclerotic brains that follow wallows in Sunday fish fries and hog roasts and pound rashers of bacon and Velveeta cheese grits. A few. (Hey -- do you eat pork? It's OK, we do too -- it's the NEW white meat. Cheese grits? Not so much, thanks.)

Here's the skinny on how to cast your ballot (because this is Florida, and
The Rules are Different Here.) Please go to the Florida Progressive Coalition (FPC) Blog awards slate HERE.

Ranger is running in FOUR (4) categories:
Best Blog on National Issues, Best Writer, Best Post and Best Series (on terror). So tick RAW for questions #1, 10, 19 and 20.

Easy Peasy . . . but wait, there's MORE! You must also vote for the asterisked categories --
#2, 11 and 14. We are not shilling for anyone else, so we can't give you any tips. Just vote and someone will appreciate your largesse.

To recap:
Go the FPC online ballot. VOTE FOR RANGER in categories 1, 10, 19 and 20. Vote for someone else in #2, 11, 14. Type in your email and mash the "FINISHED" button.

Only one vote per email, but you could lobby others! We will be trolling our email lists, you betcha!

The election looks to be fair this year so RAW has a real chance of winning. Unlike previous elections, there are no politicos stuffing the ballot in any of the categories for which we are competing -- so YOUR VOTE MATTERS! The FPC awards are often won or lost by only a few votes (when a whole congregation's not voting), so we ask you to do your patriotic duty online.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, Ranger thanks you and I thank you. Really, we do. We approve this message.

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Class Warriors

Sitting and percolating about in my head for the past few days was a post about "Culture Warriors", the "DFH"s who've been giving Wall Street and Mayor Bloomberg some inconvenience over the past fortnight.

And there are CopyCat OWS in other cities, even down south of me an hour in Wichita Ks.

Our military gets all the honor and glory for their very visible struggles for the country and they deserve that and more, but there are other fighters, too. We all can do our small part in the great struggle for the USA.

Show these protesters some love, at least send a pizza their way.

Some Marines are coming to the aid of their countrymen & countrywomen.

“I’m heading up there tonight in my dress blues. So far, 15 of my fellow marine buddies are meeting me there, also in Uniform. I want to send the following message to Wall St and Congress:I didn’t fight for Wall St. I fought for America. Now it’s Congress’ turn.

My true hope, though, is that we Veterans can act as first line of defense between the police and the protester. If they want to get to some protesters so they can mace them, they will have to get through the ( *** ) Marine Corps first. Let’s see a cop mace a bunch of decorated war vets.I apologize now for typos and errors.

Typing this on iPhone whilst heading to NYC. We can organize once we’re there. That’s what we do best.If you see someone in uniform, gather together.

A formation will be held tonight at 10PM.

We all took an oath to uphold, protect and defend the constitution of this country. That’s what we will be doing."


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nation Bulding II: The Never-Victorious Army

My friend seydlitz recently posted an excerpt from an article in which a U.S. officer lauds the performance of the Afghan troops he has worked with."I watched them run toward the sound of gunfire..." he writes, ""...despite often having only a Vietnam-era flak vest or less to protect them. These men are Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks and, increasingly, Pashtuns — former rivals now working together. They are the beginnings of a nation."And yet MAJ Lujan worries that his nation is going to abandon these hungry young soldiers; "Rather than resignation, America should show empower those Afghans willing to lead and serve."

I don't want to use this post to take one side or another about whether the Afghan soldiers should or shouldn't get more or less support from the U.S. First, nothing I will say will have any affect one way of the other, and, second, I don't have anything near enough information about the Afghan troops involved or the tactical situation on the ground to be able to make an informed judgement about whether such U.S. investment will produce a commensurate return.

But one thing that DOES give me heartburn - and I do want to offer a comment about - is the question of how long it should and can take to create an army.One constant meme we U.S. citizens are fed is how long it takes for the training and equipping the U.S./NATO has been doing to take effect. Overall foreign forces have been in Afghanistan for a decade. Even discarding the first eight years - which, we are reminded, were the Afghan National Army's "lost decade-minus-two" - the intensified effort to create a viable fighting force has been going on for two years.

And at this point we are informed that a thundering two out of 180 maneuver battalions in the ANA are capable of combat without direct ISAF direction.

Only...they're sort of not. "Those two “independent” battalions still require U.S. support for their maintenance, logistics and medical systems,” LTG Caldwell (commander of the ISAF training command) admitted when Pentagon reporters pressed him on Monday morning. “Today, we haven’t developed their systems to enable them to do that yet,” Caldwell said.

Now that's fine. The ANA is having a tough time getting their shit together. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you, and sometimes the bear pulls your shirt over your hear, pulls your pants down and bloops you up the bunghole until the eyes pop out of your head. There are just days like that.

But can we fucking stop saying "Building up foreign armies isn’t easy."

It's not "easy". But it's not fucking rocket science, either. And because the Western publics now have very little experience with going through military training - and have NEVER had a decent grasp of history - they are inclined to believe this statement about how hard it is to build an Afghan Army and are nodding their heads rather than asking hard questions about what the hell is going on.

In fact, Western officers have relatively quickly built foreign levies into effective armies since Hernan Cortez drafted a bunch of Tlascalans to help him skin the Aztec Empire.

To take just one example. Back in 1860 the European powers were in a tight space in China. The Qing government was a shambles, and what may well have been the most terrible insurrection in history, the Taiping Rebellion, was rampaging all over the part of China that the Westerners were living in.

So a character named Frederick Townsend Ward - American sailor, filibusterer, mercenary, and general adventurer - doped up a bunch of ex-Taiping rebels and assorted random coolies into a European-style force that was eventually tagged with the awesome title "Ever-Victorious Army" by the Qings. Formed in 1861, three years later the little Army had a force of some 5,000 including infantry, artillery and even its own little brown-water Navy. Ward and his successor Charles "Chinese" Gordon, a British officer led the EVA into a series of beatings of the Taiping rebels, who were at that time the most formidable force in Qing China. The Qings rallied, the Rebellion fell apart, and the European powers continued their bitch-slapping of the Chinese "government" on their way to colonial sexy-time.

The thing is, the raw material for the EVA was no better, and probably worse, than the raw material for the ANA. And the resources Ward and Gordon had to make this rabble into a fighting force was certainly slimmer than that available to ISAF. And yet, in roughly a year - the EVA was beating the Taipings by 1862 - and certainly by two years this shake-and-bake Army was equal to or better than the toughest insurgent force in China.The ANA doesn't need to meet Manstein on the plains of the Ukraine, for cryin' out loud. They need to be able to execute the simplest Infantry 101 missions; security, cordon-and-search, movement to contact, combat and reconnaissance patrols. The Afghan peoples are among the fightingest on Earth, and the U.S. has organizations like the Special Forces that are supposed to be some of the finest trainers of foreign soldiers in the world.

So can we stop repeating how haaaaard it is to make an Army and, instead, start asking why is has taken so long to take a bunch of fierce fighters into...units that can fight fiercely?

Because every time we say it Fred Townsend and Charlie Gordon and the ghosts of the ex-coolies and peasants of the EVA flip us the bird in Hell.