Thanksgiving 2010 ~ What’s There to be Thankful For?

Is it too early to say, “Bah Humbug?”

November 25, 2010 — Yeah, I know, it’s practically un-American not to smile big and wide and count all our blessings on this traditional day of thanks. But it’s difficult for me to be upbeat this year.

Yes, the misses was busy all day long yesterday preparing for the big day, is still busy this morning making everything just right and the house is already smelling yummy. But nobody’s happily driving over-the-river-and-through-the-wood to be here with us. Most of them live too far away — like in Utah, Colorado and Singapore for crying out loud.

Oh well, at least we can count on our little great granddaughter to liven things up for us. She and her mom have been living with us for months while mom gets back on her feet — a victim of the Great Recession. If the little girl likes nothing else that Oma has fixed, I anticipate that she’ll love Ms. Dee’s fabulous Bing Cherry jello salad.

While the retailers are all hoping for a great shopping season, it just isn’t going to happen. Too many folks are counting their nickels and dimes and praying for the economy to turn around faster. Too many folks are still out of work or underemployed. But the economy’s already turned around. What hasn’t turned around is the jobs situation, and that’s not going to turn around anytime soon, if ever.

Jobs in America depend on demand for American-made goods and services, and most of the things we buy are now made elsewhere. While we have opened our markets to almost every other country in the world, the biggest markets are still closed to us or largely so. Other nations and regions are more concerned, as our president has just discovered, about their own economic problems than they are about pulling together and helping us. It may now be a “world” economy, but it’s still a world made up of self-serving nations, trading alliances, oligopolies, corporations, and individuals. Besides, the Cowboys are having their worst season ever.

Having retired from teaching this year, I’m already missing the classroom — already missing my students’ bright and inquisitive faces even as I’m missing family so many miles away. No, retirement’s not all it’s cracked-up to be. So, as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is being beamed to our satellite receiver this morning, I apologize for raining on your personal parades. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and put aside the problems of the world if you can, if only just for one day. Enjoy your turkey and be grateful if you have anyone with whom to share it. Hmmmm… perhaps I should take my own advice.

I think I might be feeling less glum if our nation’s leaders would just come together and agree on something. Let’s all pray about that, okay? And while we’re praying, let’s not forget our young men and women in uniform, especially those overseas, especially those in combat zones and the 28,000 or more stationed in South Korea. I can just imagine how they are spending their Thanksgiving. Turkey in the field. Yum! So, if we can find nothing else to be thankful for, we can at least be thankful for their service.

Amen?

Please feel free to comment.

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Published in: on November 25, 2010 at 8:09 am  Comments (1)  

Welfare and Poverty ~ Is it a Chicken-or-Egg Relationship?

The real reality check here is that some people are willing to distort the truth or just make stuff up in order to spread their beliefs. This is called propaganda.

May 2, 2010  —  I recently received a forwarded copy of what I like to call a viral disinformation email. It was shared with me by a good friend of conservative persuasion. Yes, I do have conservative friends. The title of the message, which is currently making the rounds, is “This is an Interesting Reality Check.” It purports to be a history lesson about the Second World War and its aftermath. It includes pictures of what was left of Nagasaki and Hiroshima after the atomic bombs that were dropped on these cities in August of 1945. Additional pictures show how these cities look today – brightly-lit, towering skyscrapers and modern, efficient highways contrasted with recent scenes of the blight that has taken over Detroit, Michigan since the end of the war.

The bottom line of the message read: “Why, you ask?…… real simple…… Japan doesn’t have welfare…..and you are damn sure not going to be in their country illegally…..”

The message offers an interesting premise, but the conclusion is fallacious. It’s a prime example of the “questionable cause” fallacy. This fallacy is committed when a person assumes that one event must cause another just because the events occur together. The mistake being made here is that the causal conclusion is being drawn without adequate justification. The conclusion seems valid to some because it enforces an already-held opinion or bias. But, in addition to the logic issue, the author of this message has either knowingly misrepresented the facts or knows nothing of Japanese economic/social organization (Alliance Capitalism).

The real reality check here is that some people are willing to distort the truth or just make stuff up in order to spread their beliefs. This is called propaganda http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda. You see, Japan actually does have a welfare system. It relies more on family and corporations and less on the government, true enough. But government in Japan does chip-in failing assistance from the primary sources. Japanese, culturally, are more committed to family honor and respect for their elders than Americans ever thought about being, and Japanese companies care about and for their employees, whereas American companies, by in large, do not. Labor in America is expendable in the face of profit pressures, and many employers here have no qualms against hiring illegals so as to reduce labor costs at the expense of citizens. The truth is never quite so simple.

Read all about Japanese capitalism if you have the time and inclination at http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=wMeir3lIbq8C&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=japanese+capitalism+versus+american+capitalism&ots=gNBsd7gYK3&sig=jBegXFwFJxg1wZZiirEsygBHALo#v=onepage&q&f=false

Please feel free to post a comment on my blog about this. And, if you’d like to receive a copy of the referenced message including the photos, indicate so in your comment. I will forward a copy to you.

Published in: on May 2, 2010 at 8:08 am  Leave a Comment  

A Comprehensive Energy Plan ~ Thinking Out of the Box

We must tighten our belts – we must evolve both socially and economically if we are going to survive.

One of the most serious limitations of economics, as every teacher of the subject is aware, is that the study defaults to using money as its bottom-line measure and storehouse of value. We can’t easily factor-in quality-of-life, happiness, or the environment and other so-called subjective considerations. It’s not that we can’t. It’s just that we find it easier to stick with dollars, pesos, renminbi, euros and yen. For these we have exchange rates, and it is for these that investors clamber. But how many Chinese renminbi is the life of a single child worth having succumbed to arsenism, fluorosis, or any number of respiratory illnesses that result from the combustion of low-grade coal? Who will compen- sate the family for this loss?

These questions are almost like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We may not be able to know, but we must be able to decide if the world as we know it will long survive.

All Presidents since Richard Nixon and the oil crisis of the 1970s have included energy considerations in administration policies. Nixon gave us the National Maximum Speed Limitof 55 mph. Carter deregulated domestic oil production and gave us the Federal Department of Energy, then pushed Congress to increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards. In 1978, the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created and the National Energy Act was introduced. Ronald Regan, in 1983, pushing for more nuclear energy, attempted to get government out of the energy business by merging the Department of Energy with the Commerce Department, which Congress refused to go along with. He was, however, able to get Congress to approve initial steps in building the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Storage Facility on Federal lands in Nevada. George H. W. Bush put together an impressive international force to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1990 – 91 and his son, George W. Bush, took us back to Iraq in 2003. Now, while one will still get some argument over this, most Americans are convinced today, as are the Iraqis, that Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom had/have more to do with the oil found in Kuwait and Iraq than they did with the freedom of Kuwaitis or with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). What did Bill Clinton do for us? Overruling Treasury Department Antitrust concerns, his administration approved the merger of Exxon and Mobile oil companies, making it the single largest private corporation in the world at that time.

Why has so much of our energy policy emphasis been on oil? It’s because the United States gets approximately 80% of its energy from fossil fuels, and 17% of this is from oil, two-thirds of which is imported. In coal and natural gas, we are self-sufficient, but it’s not economically feasible to fuel cars, trucks and airplanes with coal and natural gas. That’s why most of the oil we use is consumed by the transportation sector.

Americans, who constitute less than 5% of the world’s population, consume 26% of the world’s energy. We account for about 25% of the world’s petroleum consumption, while producing only 6% of the world’s annual supply. So… increase U.S. oil production, right? Wrong, we have only 3% of the world’s known reserves. Even with ANWR and other coastal areas opened to drilling, we would still be dependent on foreign sources to sustain our current life styles.

A new, comprehensive energy policy is needed, one that has two goals:  1) the reduction/elimination of dependency on foreign sources of oil, especially sources other than North American, and; 2) avoidance of environmental calamity owing to Global Warming, a calamity the vast preponderance of climate scientists in the world are predicting. You’ve heard enough about this already and you’re either convinced this threat is real or you’re not. But I am convinced, and I am very much afraid for the future of mankind.  According to Dr. James Hansen, head of the NASAA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the father of climate change research at that agency, we must reduce our atmospheric concen- tration of CO2 from its current 385 ppm (particles per million) to 350 ppm or less to avert disaster in our lifetimes. That means cutting way back on our consumption of fossil fuels, especially dirty coal and petroleum.

If we do not change our consumption habits, world demand for energy from all current sources will only increase as our populations grow and emerging economies become more affluent from free trade. Therefore, a comprehensive national policy will not be enough to address the second goal, that of avoiding a global warming catastrophe, which, in the long run, truly is the bigger problem. Accordingly, our new comprehensive energy policy must be coordinated with the rest of the world. This means returning to the negotiating table – revisiting the Kyoto Accords, which we could never satisfy now, or hammering out a more demanding protocol as part of a successor accord. For the U.S., this might mean committing to a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050 as our “fair” share of the contri- bution. Can we afford to do this? Can we afford not to do this?

Pay me now or pay me later.

How do we get there? Well, I’m sorry folks – but policies aimed at bringing down the price of gasoline and other fuels so that we can continue on the same path we’ve been on since the end of WWII address neither goal of a “comprehensive” energy policy. They won’t make us any safer and they sure won’t make us any healthier. We must tighten our belts – we must evolve both socially and economically if we are going to survive.

Not indifference to Senator McCain’s thoughts on energy policy announced last week, here are my recommendation for the next administration to pursue with the American people through their representatives in Congress. First, convene a bipartisan panel for “long-term” energy policy that includes energy, environmental and economic experts who are not representatives of energy industries’ profit interests. Energy policy this time around should be motivated by the moral equivalency of survival rather than profit. Second, leave nothing off the table for consideration… nothing, not new nuclear power plants, not carbon cap ‘n trade regulations, not conservation or moratoriums on new coal-fired electric plants, not the drilling in ANWR and new coastal areas, and not even nationalization of energy production or considerations of eminent domain. Too much is at stake here: national survival — nay, even the survival of our civilization.

This new energy panel might consider the following: 

1. new tax subsidies for urban area mass transit systems and the expansion of interstate, rapid rail transportation systems;

2. Federally-funded alternative energy research with a national goal such as that established by President Kennedy in 1961 to put a man on the moon (industry seems to be more interested in exploiting current geo-political circumstances and lobbying Congress so that they can produce more oil for profit than in seriously considering alternatives);

3. backing-off subsidies for bio-fuels until technologies are available at a sufficient scale to make the production of ethanol and other bio-fuels from non-food sources practical;

4. the regulation or nationalization of energy and transpor- tation industries seeking cost containment and efficiencies (I know, I know, this smacks of socialism, but these things are working for other, mostly-market economies like our European and industrialized Asian friends);

5. tax incentives to help people transition from gas-guzzlers to hybrid and electric cars as they become more widely available, and the acceleration/expansion of CAFÉ requirements for new vehicles to discourage both production and demand for energy- wasting vehicles (certainly, pickup trucks and SUVs should not be excused from the same mileage and environmental standards as sedans);

6. “New Deal” style government work programs and tax incentives to insulate older homes, replace outdated, energy-hog appliances, and install decentralized, renewable energy sources such as wind generators and solar panels.

It is my personal belief that nothing short of an “all-court” press is going to salvage the energy situation that we find ourselves in today. This means that we’re all going to have to get on the same team, because the opposition is not China or OPEC. The opposition isn’t even al Qaeda. The opposition is inertia (resistance to change) and greed.

I invite your comments, pro or con, and would be very much interested in hearing of any ideas to expand my list for the next administration to consider (I don’t have all the answers; nobody does).

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 12:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Everyday Heroes and Veterans Too

After learning that I had been a guest speaker at a high school Veterans’ Day assembly last week, one of my sons expressed regret that he could not have been present to experience it.  He asked if I had a transcript.  “Nope,” I responded…”no transcript, son — I spoke from the heart using a PowerPoint presentation to keep myself from rambling.  Because I wish too that you could have been there, I’ll try to recall what I said for you.”  This, I think, is pretty close to what I said.

Slide OneI opened with Jefferson’s quote saying that much has changed since 1803 with respect to advantage and happiness sought and gained by some in return for public service, but that one thing is a constant.  Serving one’s country is still honorable. 

Slide TwoAfter the opening slide transitioned to this one, I thanked the school for asking me to speak, saying that it was a true honor to be allowed to represent all veterans, including one of my own sons who served in our first war in the Persian Gulf, Desert Storm.  But I emphasized that one need not wear a uniform to be a hero, that there are EVERYDAY heroes, and they are all around us. Those who sacrifice and serve quietly on a daily basis are heroes, moms and dads taking time off to support extra-curricular school activities for example… volunteers in church and civic organizations… teachers who might be making a lot more money in other careers.

Slide ThreeThen from the picture of me marching, I recalled my grandmother’s words of admonishment when she dropped me off at the induction station at Camp Douglas east of Salt Lake City in June of 1966. “Do what you have to do, Kent,” she said, “then come home.”

 I told my audience that I later came to understand that my grandmother wasn’t telling me to go be a hero.  She was telling not to be a coward just as the Spartan mother of ancient Greece was telling her own son not to be a coward when she said, “Come home carrying your shield or be carried home upon it.” 

I explained to my audience that I wasn’t a hero just because I wore a uniform and served honorably in combat, for true heroism goes beyond serving reluctantly as I did.  My service was reluct- ant because I didn’t want to be judged to be a coward.  I could have done as others did and left to live in Canada to avoid the draft.  I might have done so too, but I didn’t want to be judged by others to be a coward.  No, true heroism means at a minimum, volunteering, and all our servicemen and women today are volunteers.  Therefore, they all come closer to deserving the hero’s moniker than I did.  I was not a hero.

I explained how, as a draftee, I went on to become a Field Artillery officer, then a helicopter pilot, then an aircraft maintenance officer and maintenance test pilot, volunteering for one school after another thinking that the longer I stayed in school, the longer I could stay HERE and avoid going over THERE.  I told them how, after graduation from flight school, the majority of my class went straight to Vietnam and found themselves smack in the middle of the Têt Offensive of ’68, the bloodiest year of the whole war.  I read about it each morning in the Army Times while sitting in classrooms at Ft. Eustis, VA learning how to administer aviation maintenance units and oversee aircraft repair efforts.  From the obituaries each week in the paper I read name after name of fallen comrades, young men with whom I had flown, studied, and partied on weekends.  I wrote letters to families of the fallen I had known, but I was feeling less and less heroic as the days and weeks passed by before it would finally be my turn to see combat.

At this point, I showed a YouTube slide-show video put to music by a 15 year old girl named Lizzy Palmer.  I had downloaded it and converted it for showing in my PowerPoint using third-party software.  While YouTube.com probably wouldn’t like my having done this, I’m pretty sure that Lizzy would be most happy knowing that I shared her work with my audience.  Click on the play button twice, once to load and once to view.

Following the video, I asked for a show of hands by those who have a family member or friend currently in uniform and serving overseas.  About one-third of my audience raised their hands.  Then I told everyone else to look around.  “Most of us,” I said, “are going about our business day after day, so far unaffected by this war.  The only ones bearing the burden are the volunteers themselves and the people who, like those who had their hands in the air, are waiting and praying for their loved ones’ safe return.  Our nation,” I said,” while legally at war, is not on a wartime footing — hasn’t been from the beginning of it after 9-11.  The price of the war, in terms of blood, sweat and tears, is being paid by only a few of us.  The cost of it, in terms of dollars, is being added to the national debt for future generations to have to deal with.”

Slide Four“When I came home from Vietnam,” I said, “we were told to change out of our uniforms before leaving the airport terminal and to leave from side- and rear exits.  Vietnam was a most unpopular war and many then were blaming those of us in uniform for perpetuating it.  No victory parades for us.

On Veterans’ Day 1971, after having visited the parents of one of my fallen flight school comrads, a Second Lieutenant named Johnny Benton, I was determined to wear my uniform on the University of Utah campus.  I had returned there to finish my undergraduate degree so that I might be able to make the Army a career.  Despite the boo’s and jeers doing so provoked, despite the spittle and rude body-block bumps endured, I carried myself proudly for Johnny’s sake and I finally felt somehow patriotic.  Please,” I said, “don’t let our veterans today have to go through anything like that.  No matter how unpopular this current war may become, don’t blame the troops for fighting it.  They didn’t start it!”

Slide fiveI told my audience that perhaps the most heroic thing I did while in Vietnam was to sacrifice my front row seat to see the Bob Hope Christmas show at Camp Eagle, the division base camp for the 101st Airborne/Airmobile Division.  As a Transportation Detachment commander for the division, I knew that seats to see the show were limited, and that my going would mean that some other enlisted man couldn’t.  So I volunteered to fly a mission on Christmas Eve of 1969 transporting a Division Chaplain from one fire support base to another.

“Bob Hope here,” I told my audience, “was a hero for all of us, dedicating himself year after year to entertain troops away from home at Christmas and other special times of the year.  He never wore a uniform, at least not officially.  But no serviceman or women ever resented his penchant for wearing unit patches and qualification badges; he was an honorary member of every unit in every service, and his passing in 2003 marked the end of an era.  There’ll never be another quite like him.”

Slide Six“The Chaplain and I flew together the entire day, returning to Camp Eagle to refuel only once,”  I said.  “This is a picture of Fire Support Base Eagle’s Nest overlooking the Asha Valley.  It’s one that I took weeks before my Christmas Eve mission on a day that was not overcast.  On Christmas Eve, 1969, the clouds were hanging low in the late afternoon when we arrived, and before the chaplain finished his worship service and offered sacrament to those who wanted it, we were completely ‘socked-in’.  We spent the rest of the evening filling sand bags and singing Christmas carols.  C-rations and mud — it remains my most memorable Christmas experience.”

Slide SevenOne-by-one I recalled some examples of modern-day heroes who, except for President Kennedy, were not heroes by virtue of military service.

First, Dr. Martin Luther King who, by his efforts we have the Civil Rights Amendment making discrimination illegal whether by race, creed, religion or national origin.  He was a hero.  Then I asked my audience if, despite the Civil Rights Amendment, we still have discrimination in America.  I heard a resounding, YES, in response from many.  Then I responded to them saying, “Then be heroes and put an end to it.  Each of you.  Grow beyond the prejudices you harbor in your own hearts and stand up for fair and equal treatment whenever you encounter injustice.  Every time you do so, you will be a hero.”

Second, Mother Jones who organized a children’s crusade in the 1930s that led to laws making child labor illegal in America.  Her efforts contributed greatly to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which in-turn lead to government passing laws to ensure safety in working places and the people’s right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions.  She was a heroine.

Third, Mother Teresa who saw crushing poverty in the world and went to the heart of it in Calcutta, India alleviating suffering where she could and moving many others to do likewise.  She was a heroine.

Fourth, Cesar Chavez who saw inequity and unfair treatment of migrant workers, gave his life to make things better for unskilled laborers.  He was a hero.

Fifth, Princess Diana showed us all that privilege and wealth does not put us above giving more than just money to correct injustices in the world where we find it.  She worked tirelessly to promote efforts to rid war torn regions of the world from landmines which made and continue to make it impossible for farmers to raise food to feed their families in relative safety or children to play outdoors.  She was a heroine.

Sixth, President Kennedy, already a hero by virtue of military service above and beyond the call of duty during WWII, inspired a nation of young and old alike when he said at his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”  He energized thousands to join the Peace Corps.  It still exists today as an independent federal agency and is still helping to turn hatred and resentment toward Americans into gratitude and respect.  But it lacks the numbers today that it once had.

In closing I asked the students what they could do for their country, not after graduation from high school or college but right now… today.  After a five count of hushed silence, I said:  “Go back to class and learn all you can — that’s what you can do.  Stay in school and prepare yourselves for a better tomorrow.  There’s much to be done.  Me and my generation, your parents’ generation too, we’ve managed to make a pretty big mess of things.  So, if new leadership in today’s generation cannot set aside political, social and economic differences long enough to get something lasting done, it’ll be up to you and your generation to straighten it all out.  But you will not be up to the task if you are not educated and if you do not stay well-informed.”  Then I thanked them for their kind attention and told them that I would look forward to having them in my economics class when they become seniors.

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Published in: on November 11, 2007 at 4:59 pm  Comments (12)  

What It’s Going to Take to Win in Iraq

To win in Iraq, depending on your definition of winning, I believe that the Iraqi people must first be convinced that a western-style democracy is superior to an Islamic-republic.

Are more troops — another surge — the solution to this quagmire that has gone on in Iraq now longer than any other war in the history of our nation?  Some may think me unpatriotic for saying so, but I think not.

As a retired, career Army officer and an avid reader of military history, I have come to believe that the Allies won a lasting peace in Western Europe following World War II because the German and Italian people, long before our defeat of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s armies, recognized that fascism was an inferior form of government.  We won the war with Japan for the same reason; the Japanese people, by the end of the war, were fed-up with military imperialism and were ready for something better.  They were open to embracing democracy.  Likewise, the people of South Korea, after years of domination by the Japanese, were open to all that democracy promised. 

By contrast, we lost the war in Vietnam because the people there believed that communism offered more than did the “democracy” they had come to know under the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.  To the Vietnamise, Americans were foreigners, occupiers of their country not unlike the French colonists had been before us.  Many Iraqis feel this same way about our presence in their country.  We may have liberated them from Saddam Hussein — thank you very much — but now we are occupiers.  Therefore, to win the war in Iraq, depending on your definition of winning, I believe that the Iraqi people must first be convinced that a western-style democracy such as ours is superior to an Islamic-republic.  And be not confused.  There is nothing whatsoever democratic about Islamic-republics.  Since I do not believe that that this is ever likely to happen, I agree with with those who think it’s long past time to stop sacrificing our youth and spending future generations of Americans’ money over there.

I’m sorry Mr. President, but you’re wrong, as usual.  Wars are not won on the offensive — battles and campaigns are.  Wars are won only after the reasons for them being fought are resolved.  Like World War I, the War to End All Wars, it didn’t really end in Europe 1918 like the history books say.  The aftermath just fomented more war; the years between 1918 and 1939 were just a lull in the killing.  The aftermath of the first and second rounds of this war sowed the seeds of what we are dealing with now in Southwest Asia.  So, unless we are willing to annihilate all in the Islamic world who oppose us on religious and moral grounds, and that won’t leave very many, we’d best be saving back something for a defensive round.  We’d best be about the business too of rebuilding the “Coalition of the Willing” that your policies and bullheadedness have undone.

According to a small sampling of American opinion on the war in Iraq done by CNN a year ago this very week, only one in five believed back then that the United States was actually winning.  Sixty percent of those polled said that they thought no one was winning.  Notwithstanding, most of number polled agreed with President Bush that we had no choice but to “stay the course.”  Today, according to a more substantial poll recently conducted by CBS News, fifty-nine percent say that they want to end the war — to bring the troops home.  A full two-thirds say that if we must stay in Iraq, they do not support doing so financed by deficit spending.  So, opinion on the war has completely reversed itself over the past year.  Despite this fact, Republican candidates vying to be the next President of the United States are all saying that we can win the war and that we cannot afford to, as Senator McCain has put it, “choose to lose.”  Therefore, if the war continues to be the number one concern in the minds of voters leading up to the elections in November next year, it looks to me like we’re about to have our first female Commander-In-Chief.

Senator McCain, the most outspoken advocate for the war among Republican candidates, now a full 13 percentage points behind the leader, Rudi Giuliani, was asked on the Jim Lehrer show last night how he defined winning the war in Iraq.  But, as I read a transcript of his dialogue with the show’s host this afternoon, I don’t find where he ever really answered the question.  So, if Senator McCain cannot define it, can we? 

Could winning simply be a matter of stabilizing the situation there long enough for the “democratically” elected government of Iraq to make some kind of political progress toward sharing the nation’s oil wealth equitably among its diverse ethnic groups and guaran- teeing us future access to it?  Does winning have to mean the eradication of all fundamentalist Muslims there, AKA “terrorists?”  Is winning in Iraq a matter of our somehow training and enabling an Iraqi self-defense force so that they might deny Iran from claiming a huge share of the country after we have left and cutting us off from the oil there?  Is winning all these things, or is it simply a matter of our staying in Iraq forever?  Hmmm….

Vice President, Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense during the Persian Gulf War from early  August 1990 until the end of February 1992, waxed very eloquently after that war on reasons why the United States chose not to pursue the Iraqi military driven out of Kuwait all the way back to Baghdad so as to depose Saddam Hussein then.  Click on the “play” button twice, once to load the video, once to play.

 

After watching this video, I was left wondering what convinced Mr. Cheney that regime change in Iraq in 2001/2002 was such a good idea when it was such a bad idea ten years beforehand.  Even after the revelations of “cooked up” intelligence on WMD in Iraq and Collin Powell’s resignation as Secretary of State, I do not believe that President Bush, all by himself, could have hatched such a hair brained idea.  Read about Thomas P.M. Barnett’s book, “The Pentagon’s New Map.”  Further, with all of his influence, I do not believe that Mr. Cheney could not have dissuaded the President from such a foolhardy course of action?  Hmmm… have you checked the price of Halliburton stock lately?

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Published in: on October 20, 2007 at 2:04 pm  Comments (2)  

Supporting the War and Supporting the Troops — Not Necessarily the Same Thing

We have a tiger by the tail with respect to our War on Terror.  Not only do we have a determined enemy spread across most of the world and alienated former allies, but now we have a divided citizenry as well.  This is a mess that perhaps only new leadership in the White House can resolve, uniting the people once again in a broader strategy in the greater war effort. 

We who do not believe the current strategy in Iraq is the best use of our nation’s resources to combat World Terrorism are not saying that we don’t support our troops who are fighting and dying there.  They are, after all, our own sons and daughters.  So we do not deserve to be called, “unpatriotic”.  But I understand how some could think so, those who are still committed in their hearts and minds to the President’s priorities in this war, thinking that he, as Commander-in-Chief, knows best.  However, in my heart and mind, it is one thing to not be in support of the war, as it is being waged, and something else entirely different to not be in support of our troops. 

Let’s analyze this issue a bit — see if we can’t find some common ground here.  First, we are at war, there’s no denying this.  It’s a war unlike any that we’ve ever had imposed upon us before.  It’s not a war against another nation-state or a coalition of aggressor states as in all previous wars we’ve had to fight.  It’s a war against pan-Islamist hate.  We can be against the war if we choose to be.  But if we choose not to defend ourselves, we and our way of life, our democratic ideals and capitalism are doomed.  Would many of us willingly choose to live in an Islamic Republic?  I hardly think so.  So, how can we be against the war? 

Second, the War on Terrorism is not a war being fought solely in Iraq, although most of our efforts and almost all of our attention is currently “riveted” there.  Iraq is but one theater of the war.  So, when we speak of “the” war, we should be clear in our minds about this distinction.  When we eventually leave Iraq, and we will someday, the war will not be over.  Unlike Vietnam, which was a terriorial conflict, Iraq is only part of a much larger conflict. 

Third, we should understand the nature of this war.  It’s different, one that cannot be won by military force alone, not unless we are willing to annihilate most of the Islamic world then keep the rest of it forcefully contained ever after.  This is because, at its core, it is a war of ideas not a war of resources and territorial conquest, as much as our current administration may want to make it one.  We know that our ideas are better than their ideas, but they know the same about their ideas.  Israel is a microcosm of this reality today and we have seen how successful military force has been in that part of Southwest Asia.  The “shooting” war between Israel and her neighbors is perpetual, as so might our own war with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups become.  Accordingly, some with whom I have discussed this believe that there is no option other than to kill everyone in the world who hates us, and then to kill all their sons and daughters who will grow up hating us too because of what we will have done. 

This leads me to my final point.  The Blue Ribbon Iraq Study Group that met last year submitted 79 proposals to the admini- stration on how we might be more successful there.  Their report included a suggestion that we should engage in talks with neigh- boring Syria and Iran to help stabilize strife-ridden Iraq.  Presi- dent Bush rejected this, of course, and the Iraqi government certainly isn’t working overtime to do their part to quell the violence either, which was identified by the group as another important part of ultimate success.  Now, while some of the study group’s ideas, in hindsight, may not have been as realistic as they sounded to some at the time, the fact that they were made at all illustrates that there are ways to resolve differences other than by killing each other.

Rejecting the idea of killing everyone who hates us, given the two remaining choices of either killing each other slowly but unend- ingly, or surrendering ourselves to the will of Allah, I’m thinking that maybe we need to come up with some new, non-lethal weapons for our nation’s arsenal.  Something like goodwill, perhaps?  Maybe some improved diplomacy and economic assist- ance in the poorest countries of the Islamic world, places like the Darfur region of Sudan, would help.  I’m talking about places that have never before been seen as being in our national interests to be involved.  And I don’t mean just throwing money or arms at despotic leaders for their political support, which is what we seem to be doing in Pakistan.  I mean rolling up our sleeves and helping the people where they live — helping them secure sources of fresh drinking water, helping them fight diseases, helping them produce more food, helping them discover economic alternatives to growing poppies for the opium trade.  “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day…”  Remember? 

This is not a new idea.  We used to call it the Peace Corps.  Maybe it’s time to bring it back, emphasize it more in terms of national service for our young men and women, an alternative to military service.  Maybe emphasizing this more than regime change would make a difference in the way that we are perceived by the rest of the world.  Maybe, if we were not seen as occupiers exploiting resources and imposing foreign ideas on the people of the Islamic world, moderate Muslims would not be so easily won over to extremism.  But changing perceptions will take a long, long time.  Better that we should get started now.  We have, in my opinion, long neglected our higher calling as a world leader.  A good temp- late for this kind of effort on a national level has been provided to us by the William J. Clinton Foundation.

In the meantime, I think that we need to foster an attitude of respect and appreciation for our sons and daughters who have answered our nation’s call to arms. 

I recently received an email from a reader who cannot seem to separate in her mind the conflict and the killing in Iraq from our troops who are necessarily part of that killing.  She believes that military service attracts the worst in us, while I happen to think that it attracts the best in us.  So I answered her email in the following way: 

You have obviously been convinced or have somehow convinced yourself that the military attracts the most heinous of human instincts.  I reject that idea and wish that I could persuade you someway to think more generously toward our young men and women who are serving to protect and defend us — even if in Iraq they are only making matters worse.  Most of them believe in their mission, even if at the same time they doubt the prospects of their efforts to restore the peace there.  Don’t you see how heroic that is?

Even though the horrors of battle can do terrible things to the minds of some who have heeded our nation’s call to service, things that might cause a tiny few to do crazy things in the heat of the moment, the vast majority of our soldiers serve with honor and distinction, targeting only “bad guys” and attempting to minimize collateral losses.  I truly believe this because I’ve been a soldier myself.  Don’t forget too, that the generals did not, by themselves, choose to invade Iraq; most, at the time of decision in the Pentagon, spoke against doing so.  Rightly or wrongly, they and their troops were sent there by civilian leaders of our nation to do a job, the President, all the president’s men, and the vast majority of Congress. 

It makes me sad to think that, by mentioning him in your message, you perhaps equate our soldiers and their motivations to serve in the military with Cho Seung-Hui and the tragic events that happened at Virginia Tech back in April of this year.  That young man was a madman – he was either a psychopath, a schizophrenic, a psychotic, or maybe just an angry depressive.  Since he took his own life too, we will never know.  But our soldiers in Iraq are nothing like this.  They are heroes, not unlike the policemen who rushed to the scene of the Virginia Tech massacre for the sake of the students and facuty there, putting themselves in harm’s way by so doing.

Until we do have new leadership in the White House, and I don’t see anything changing much until we do, we should not blame our troops for the mistakes and miscalculations that have taken place.  These belong in the Oval Office, where a past great President once declared, “The Buck Stops Here.”

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Published in: on July 31, 2007 at 9:03 am  Comments (1)  

Thinking Globally

This video has made a big impression on me.  Check it out (click the play button twice).

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Published in: on June 13, 2007 at 3:00 pm  Comments (2)  

Iraq — An al-Qaeda Tar Baby for Us

As but one theater of the greater war that Congress gave President Bush cart blanche authority to wage after Nine-Eleven, Iraq has devolved into an order-less hodgepodge of mixed national objectives inflamed by ethnic rivalries in the region.  It has become an al-Qaeda tar baby for us.  Could we not have seen this coming? 

NOTE:  For those who are unsure as to the meaning of the term, “tar baby,” please be assured that I am referring to the character in the second of the Uncle Remus stories from African-American folk lore, the one about Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox.  In this sense, the term metaphorically implies a situation or problem from which one finds it virtually impossible to become disentangled.

Home alone this year on a rainy Memorial Day, I morosely sat in front of the TV watching war movie after war movie in which the “good guys” always win. Growing increasingly glum, I pondered the prospects for success by our military in Iraq. War! I thought, remembering my own experience in Vietnam where the enemy wore no uniform and could be anybody, man, woman or child, is this even the right name for it?

In something akin to agony, I concluded that patriotism today, and all that it implies for us veterans of American foreign wars, is definitely not as simply defined as it once was. In the wake of WWII and Korea when I was still a boy, none of us doubted the righteousness of America’s military might. We played soldier in neighborhood vacant lots and proudly marched in our Boy Scout uniforms in Fourth of July parades. We read comic books featuring defenders of Truth, Justice and the American Way.  Our high school history books glossed over details of the Mexican and Spanish-American Wars. These were but side shows to the great American Civil War which was fought, so we were taught, to end slavery in this country. In college U.S. History courses we learned something else. Then came the nightly news programs on TV, Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs. Students of draft age and others, many in the media like Jane Fonda and future politicians like John Kerry, began to question American foreign policy and demonstrated against it. As the war in Southeast Asia dragged on year after year, soldiers returning for state-side rotation assignments were spit upon and called, baby-killers. I know, I was one of them. So, to be proud of our men and women in uniform today, which I am, and to continue affording them moral support on the one hand while doubting the mission for which they are dying or coming home from in pieces on the other hand… well, Memorial Day this year hardly seemed like an occasion to celebrate.

More than four years ago now, as our armed forces were pre- paring to launch “Iraqi Freedom,” one of my World Geography students here in Waxahachie, Texas raised his hand and asked, “Mr. Garry, are we going to win this war?” I hesitated only briefly, thinking back on Vietnam, then responded, “Yes, we will win this war, but I seriously doubt that we’ll ever be able to win the peace.”  I knew that my student didn’t understand the dis- tinction that I was making, but I wanted to be reassuring to my class without fostering naivety.

According to a CNN news story, in a recent polling of 1,027 adult American opinions conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, fewer than half said that they thought the United States can win the war in Iraq, forty-six percent.  Another forty-six percent said they thought we could win. However, only twenty-nine percent said they thought things were going well in Iraq, and nearly sixty percent said that they want to see U.S. troops leave Iraq either immediately or within a year. Had I been included in this polling, I’d have had to cast my lot with the majority. Frankly, I think the pollsters asked the wrong question. I think they should have asked, “Can Iraq ever have peace if we don’t get out of the way so that they can resolve their own differences?”

Writing for the Associated Press in an article published on Saturday, May 26th, Katherine Shrader reported that intelligence analysts warned President Bush in advance of Iraqi Freedom that al-Qaeda would see U.S. military action there as an opportunity to increase its operations and that Iran would try to shape a post-Saddam Iraq. This, she reported, was revealed to the Congress in secret papers declassified on Friday. The top analysts in the government who authored these papers also warned Mr. Bush that establishing a stable democracy in Iraq would be a “long, difficult and probably turbulent process.” Democrats in Congress said that these papers, part of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, make it clear that the administration was warned about the very challenges it now faces as it tries to stabilize Iraq. “Sadly,” said Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), according to Ms. Shrader, “the administration’s refusal to heed these dire warnings — and worse, to plan for them — has led to the tragic consequences for which our nation is paying a terrible price.”

This now revealed, I anticipate the next polling of opinions on the war in Iraq will reflect an even greater percentage of Americans wanting our President to accept the reality of a failed strategy.  Better military minds, retired generals who would not serve under this Commander-In-Chief, have advised for some time now that we stop playing the jihadists’ game. Read what Lt. General Gregory Newbold, retired director of operations at the Pentagon’s military joint staff has to say about this. I sense a consesus among many from the recent editorials I have read that we should start the redeployment our forces in Iraq to other locations in the region from where they can do more good.

The ongoing Surge, I am convinced, is delusional thinking, a costly mistake in experimental counter insurgency tactics that plays right into al-Qaeda’s game book. Border control, in my own opinion, to restrict the movement of foreign insurgents, weapons and munitions into Iraq might well be the best thing that we can do for the Iraqi people now, that and continued training of the Iraqi army.  But whatever else we do, we must begin now to prepare for the next phase of the War on Terrorism.

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Published in: on May 29, 2007 at 10:55 am  Comments (2)  

Losing the Will to Win

In the immortal words of U.S. philosopher, poet, George Santayana (1863–1952), “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In the news this week was a story about the Democratic primary race going on in Connecticut between incumbent Senator, Joseph Liebermann and challenger, Ned Lamont for the party’s nomination.  The fight, which Liebermann seems to be loosing at this point, is over whether America should stay the course in Iraq or start bringing our troops home now.  As I understand it, the three-term senator (Lieberman) isn’t saying we were right to go into Iraq in the first place, he’s just saying that it would be irresponsible for us to “cut and run” now.  There’s an article about this, published just this morning, in the Houston Chronicle.

This all brings to mind a discussion I had with one of my sons shortly after President Bush made his now-famous speech from the deck of  the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on May 1st 2003, the one in which he announced “major” combat in Iraq finished.  During our exchange of e-mail messages, I expressed a serious concern I had about Iraq turning into another Vietnam — by that, I meant a quagmire, both in a military and a political sense.  Of course, my son, at that time an avid supporter of Mr. Bush and his administration’s decision to take Saddam out and establish “democracy” in the region, argued that Vietnam and Iraq have nothing in-common.  Well, just look at it now, son.

Historically, Vietnam was a quagmire waiting to happen even before Eisenhower handed over the reins to Kennedy.  How was Iraq different?  Anybody?  Anybody? 

Kennedy saw Vietnam for what it was, and started laying the groundwork for our disengagement.  Now, some conspiracy theorists believe that it was this objective, coupled with his brother’s running battles with Hoover and the intelligence community, that eventually led to his assassination… the industrial-military complex that Eisenhower tried to warn us about. 

Vietnamization was Nixon’s brainchild early-on in his administration, four administrations after the conflict and our involvement in it began.  Vietnamization, which sounds a lot like what Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is arguing as the current plan for Iraq (see this recent Fox News report on the face-off between Senator Clinton and Secretary Rumsfeld), was Nixon’s strategy for getting us out of that mess.  This, coupled with our country’s waning support for a continued military presence there, is what makes Vietnam, in my mind, similar to Iraq. The problem with the whole idea of Vietnamization was that the government we had engineered for the Republic of Vietnam became too corrupt for its own good, and the RVN forces, to include their leadership, could never be trusted to conduct independent operations.  Sound familiar?  All the billions that were spent to help the country stand on its own never built anything better than a house of cards. 

Now, corruption may not be a major problem with the Iraqi government, but dissention between major factions there certainly is.

Today, the Bush administration argues that the Iraqi government is functioning well.  But then, for all the American public knew about the government of the Republic of Vietnam back in the early 70s, it was functioning well too, right up until the day it surrendered to North Vietnamese forces.  In case you’re interest in the history of Vietnam… http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/South-Vietnam.

Vietnam proved beyond a doubt that success in war depends upon more than economic power and an edge in technology.  Carl von Clausewitz (German general and oft-quoted authority on modern war), years before the war in Vietnam, pointed to the importance of “moral factors” — fear, the impact of danger, and physical exhaustion — observing that “military activity is never directed against material forces alone; it is always aimed simultaneously at the moral forces which give it life, and the two cannot be separated.”  Our adversaries in Iraq are well aware of this and they are growing increasingly effective by appealing to moral forces according to fundamentalist interpretations of the Islamic faith.  This, to the majority of the people in the region, justifies, their use of terrorist tactics against us and their own countrymen.

Another requirement for success in war, of which the Bush administration must be painfully aware, is the commitment of the people behind the opposing forces.  Call it, the will to win.  In Vietnam, long before we had endured ten years of bloody battle scenes on the nightly news and suffered 47,410 recorded battle deaths, 10,789 other deaths in-theater, and 153,303 non-lethal battle casualties, we lost the will to win.  And so we lost the war.  As a nation, I fear that we are already losing our will to win in Iraq too.

In March 2003, when Operation Iraqi Freedom was first launched by the U.S., one of my geography students asked, “Mr. Garry, will we win this war?”

I answered that I had no doubt that we would win the war.  I hedged, however, by also saying that I questioned whether we would ever be able to win the peace. Was I wrong?  Is it time yet to admit our mistakes, cut our loses, and come home?  Lieberman doesn’t think so.  I wonder what you think?

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Published in: on August 5, 2006 at 3:57 pm  Comments (2)  

What if Diplomacy Fails?

Don’t you just love what-If questions?  I do — they make me think.  They make me have to… speculate.  And when I speculate, based on an infinite number of variables, I can think up all manner of possible futures.  Let me give you an example.  First, some background…

My wife and I started surprising our friends and relatives a couple of months ago with the announcement, “We’re going to be parents again.”  We loved to watch their jaws drop open when we said this.  In response to this, one of the daughters of some couple-friends of ours said, “Naaaa… that’s impossible!”  At that, everyone had a good laugh.  Then we completed our announcement, “We’re going to host a foreign exchange student for the following school year.” 

Jeong Hae Yun (she wants to be called Betsy), a sixteen year-old girl from South Korea, will be part of our family beginning this August through at least the end of May next year, and we’re really excited about it.  We’ve been empty-nesters for over fifteen years now, and we have missed the sense of purpose that comes from having a young person living with us.  She may even become one of my World Geography students because she will be attending classes on the same campus were I teach in Waxahachie, Texas.  But what if something terrible happens on the Korean peninsula and surrounding area while she is here?

(more…)

Published in: on July 9, 2006 at 3:27 am  Leave a Comment