Archive for the 'How to really make the world safer' Category

Jun 23 2016

What was it all for?

June 23rd this year is a big day.

Its a big day because the United Kingdom is about to potentially make a really stupid decision and leave the EU. ( A really stupid decision).

It's also a day that I made a really stupid personal decision and it set the course of the rest of my life, and not necessarily for the better. Six weeks after graduation, I foolishly got married. Now its 37 years later and the damage that one decision caused still lingers.

I remember senior year, imagining what the future was going to be like. I had envisioned getting married and having children, but it certainly was with a very different idea of what that was going to be like.

I of course also envisioned going into the Navy, but the idea of being an NFO in a twin engine propeller aircraft was not in that dream. ( Fortunately, that decision was not one I have to take responsibility for-and all things considered, worked out all right).

When I imagined what the country and the world was going to be like, well my vision of the future was nothing like the way the future actually turned out.  Certainly I never expected the country to fall into the political morass the first 16 years of the 21st century have proven to be.

Being the Star Trek fan that I am, I expected the world to improve and not just in technology. I believed that the country would continue to be true to a baseline set of principles and that the American Dream would come true for not just me, but most of my fellow citizens too. I knew that economics would go up and down, but I always expected, in the long haul that things would get better. Technology was going to improve our lives-and we would all be better for it.

Boy, that train sure went off the tracks, didn't it?

One of the benefits of living 14 of the last 17 years overseas, is that it gives you a chance to see how other countries do mundane things like infrastructure, and daily life in general. As a typical xenophobic American, I always had assumed that America would always do things better. 

14 years overseas experience have disabused me of that notion. If anything the US is barely treading water, if not being slowly pulled down beneath the surface of the water.

If you are an optimist deep down like me, to come to that realization that country is not advancing, but failing, is truly a sad one.

Because what kind of world have we left for our children? Clearly not a very good one-even if they will be able to document the journey across the river Styx with their cell phones and Go-Pro cameras.

Now some people  want to put the blame for the decline on just one generation, the baby boomers. Of which I am proudly a part. I reject that notion-because the evidence clearly shows it is cross generational. Boomers to Millennial,we all bear a piece of the blame for not creating the world that we could have. And should have.

And so the end result is that we have not left a better world for our children at all. And we have no one to blame for that but ourselves. We failed to keep our eyes fixed on progress, after a certain subset of Americans decided it was more satisfying and more profitable in the short term to destroy companies and people, rather than work together for a better long term view. I believe that came about due to the acceptance of a vision of the future that should never have been acceptable, no matter what generation you were a part of.

Little decisions, that seem inconsequential at the time, rise up and become your fate. That happens to individuals and to nations.

And for what? What has 37 years service to a nation been for? It can't have been for this. Or this.

Alternative histories talk about a "point of departure", the point where the timeline changed. Certainly this happens in people personal lives and it happens in the lives of nations too.

But what was it all for? It can't have been for the rotten place the United States is in today. It has to have been for something more?

It should have been for something more.


No responses yet

Jun 13 2016

Vichy Republicans

Is my new favorite put down for those members of the GOP who can't seem to find where they left their moral compass………

Drowned out in the cacophony of tragedy this weekend, was a very well delivered and well written speech by filmmaker Ken Burns (who has done great documentary series on The Civil War among many others) who let us know, in no uncertain terms, why, He, Trump, is a dangerous threat to the American Republic-every bit as dangerous as our fetish about firearms. It is worth reading, and for the record I agree with him. If you don't, well, may God have mercy on you, but don't expect any sympathy here.

Take it away Mr. Burns:

For 216 years, our elections, though bitterly contested, have featured the philosophies and character of candidates who were clearly qualified. That is not the case this year. One is glaringly not qualified. So before you do anything with your well-earned degree, you must do everything you can to defeat the retrograde forces that have invaded our democratic process, divided our house, to fight against, no matter your political persuasion, the dictatorial tendencies of the candidate with zero experience in the much maligned but subtle art of governance; who is against lots of things, but doesn’t seem to be for anything, offering only bombastic and contradictory promises, and terrifying Orwellian statements; a person who easily lies, creating an environment where the truth doesn’t seem to matter; who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment; who insults veterans, threatens a free press, mocks the handicapped, denigrates women, immigrants, and all Muslims; a man who took more than a day to remember to disavow a supporter who advocates white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan; an infantile, bullying man who, depending on his mood, is willing to discard old and established alliances, treaties, and longstanding relationships. I feel genuine sorrow for the understandably scared and — they feel — powerless people who have flocked to his campaign in the mistaken belief that — as often happens on TV — a wand can be waved and every complicated problem can be solved with the simplest of solutions. They can’t. It is a political Ponzi scheme. And asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.

As a student of history, I recognize this type. He emerges everywhere and in all eras. We see nurtured in his campaign an incipient proto-fascism, a nativist anti-immigrant Know Nothing-ism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies, African-Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic saber-rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong. These are all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past. But they now loom in front of us again — all happening at once. We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires. The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.

We no longer have the luxury of neutrality or “balance,” or even of bemused disdain. Many of our media institutions have largely failed to expose this charlatan, torn between a nagging responsibility to good journalism and the big ratings a media circus always delivers. In fact, they have given him the abundant airtime he so desperately craves, so much so that it has actually worn down our natural human revulsion to this kind of behavior. Hey, he’s rich; he must be doing something right. He is not. Edward R. Murrow would have exposed this naked emperor months ago. He is an insult to our history. Do not be deceived by his momentary “good behavior.” It is only a spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert.

And do not think that the tragedy in Orlando underscores his points. It does not. We must “disenthrall ourselves,” as Abraham Lincoln said, from the culture of violence and guns. And then “we shall save our country.”

This is not a liberal or conservative issue, a red state–blue state divide. This is an American issue. Many honorable people, including the last two Republican presidents, members of the party of Abraham Lincoln, have declined to support him. And I implore those “Vichy Republicans” who have endorsed him to please, please reconsider. We must remain committed to the kindness and community that are the hallmarks of civilization and reject the troubling, unfiltered Tourette’s of his tribalism.

The next few months of your “commencement,” that is to say, your future, will be critical to the survival of our republic. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty.” Let us pledge here today that we will not let this happen to the exquisite, yet deeply flawed, land we all love and cherish — and hope to leave intact to our posterity. Let us “nobly save,” not “meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”


The entire address can be found on Stanford's You Tube channel here.




4 responses so far

Jan 10 2015

Busy week.

And what a sad week it has been too.

The news from Paris is sad, tragic and sadly, all too expected in this day and age. In solidarity with the right of a free press to publish what it wants to and not be subject to censorship at the point of a gun- I am republishing one of the Charlie Hedbo cartoons. Oh, and fuck Mohammed too.



And maybe I'll publish another one too.  And while I am at it, fuck Islam. (Click to see propely).


As angry as this apostate religion makes me; as disgusted as I am with their stupid dietary laws, the shitty way they treat women, the clothing things they make women wear-and how frustrated I am that these people will not assimilate into European society, I also have to think hard on what the facts really are.

Contrary to the assertions of some, Islam is not overrunning Europe:(click to see properly)



A disgruntled and radicalized minority is indeed a problem as this week has once again shown us. But one needs to remember the world has over a billion Muslims. They are not going away and we can't kill them all-no matter how much some of our neocon masters would like to try. And I also have to remind myself that it is a minority. Most of the Hijab wearing set here in Germany just want to live their lives. (and they speak better German than I do).

So yea, I am disgusted and angry. I'm tired of Islam's sickness infecting parts of the world I like. I want the women to take off the hijabs and abayas, put on some dresses and shoes and dress like a Western woman.  But in the end, cartoonist Joe Sacco may have it right. And with his cartoon I will close. My deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives this week in and around Paris. The Western World HAS to prove that it is better than these thugs. ( Click to see the cartoon properly-its worth reading).


8 responses so far

Nov 12 2014

But I thought we lost the war during Obama’s West Point speech?

LTG Daniel Bolger (Citadel Class of 1978) has a very good book out chronicling the truth that a whole lot of people don't want to admit. For them, the wars were lost when the President of the United States decided to :1) not hang US troops out to dry with a worthless Iraqi government when they refused to negotiate on a SOFA treaty and 2) the day Obama gave a speech at West Point that acknowledged what many Americans already knew-that there was a limit to how much we could do for people who over the last 8 years had proven themselves completely worthless and unworthy of the sacrifices being made  on their behalf. And that a lot of Americans were sick of it.

Fortunately for us, there are some military professionals, who actually fought in the war, who know better:

As a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, I lost 80 soldiers. Despite their sacrifices, and those of thousands more, all we have to show for it are two failed wars. This fact eats at me every day, and Veterans Day is tougher than most.

As veterans, we tell ourselves it was all worth it. The grim butchery of war hovers out of sight and out of mind, an unwelcome guest at the dignified ceremonies. Instead, we talk of devotion to duty and noble sacrifice. We salute the soldiers at Omaha Beach, the sailors at Leyte Gulf, the airmen in the skies over Berlin and the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and we’re not wrong to do so. The military thrives on tales of valor. In our volunteer armed forces, such stirring examples keep bringing young men and women through the recruiters’ door. As we used to say in the First Cavalry Division, they want to “live the legend.” In the military, we love our legends.

Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that — a story.  (Emphasis mine-SS)



Clearly this will get many "surgeaholics" riled up. Devotees of the theory of ever continuing warfare, and of never blaming the people of Iraq or Afghanistan themselves for the mistakes they made,  just does not fit the narrative. Troublesome facts are not the things they wish to hear:

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that. What went wrong in Iraq and in Afghanistan isn’t the stuff of legend. It won’t bring people into the recruiting office, or make for good speeches on Veterans Day. Reserve those honors for the brave men and women who bear the burdens of combat. That said, those who served deserve an accounting from the generals. What happened? How? And, especially, why? It has to be a public assessment, nonpartisan and not left to the military. (We tend to grade ourselves on the curve.) Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens

Reviews for Bolger's book, Why We Lost, are mixed-I agree with his conclusion- while I agree also with those who think he doesn't place enough strategic blame with our top level civilian leadership. Furthermore, its clear he thinks we had to invade-and that is a conclusion that is not borne out by history. The invasion of Iraq is the biggest Foreign Policy mistake in the last 30 years. Nonetheless he gives an objective and necessary telling of how we far exceeded our original needs and objectives after 9-11 and plunged into a global rat hole. That alone makes it worth the read.


One response so far

Jan 06 2014

There was never a chance………..

Phib, in one of his repeated themes, bemoans the fact that we did not give ourselves a chance to "succeed" in Afghanistan. "All it required was about another four-five years of patience. Of course, that 4-5 from now is based on an alternative history where we did not announce our retreat in DEC 09 … but what is, is. District by district "Shape, Clear, Hold, Build" was a solid way to do it – but just as it was getting roots as the surge soaked in, we stopped feeding it. The following results will be sadly predictable."

Complete and total horseshit.

This is a peculiarly American disease where we always place the blame everywhere but where it really lies. This is how we get pundits like William "The Bloody" Kristol- who,  incidentally, could not be bothered to serve one day in his miserable life, but is more than willing to send other people's children to die for his right to earn six figures a year-advocating war with out end in the Middle East.

Didn't give it enough time? We will have been in that Godforsaken country for over 13 years. How much f*cking time do we need? Or more correctly, how many chances do the Afghans get before we tell them to go f*ck themselves?

Two facts here are really important. One, the clock did not stop ticking in Afghanistan just because we invaded Iraq. So the very idea that we could "just pick up where we left off" and somehow, magically we would have a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, by spending ten plus years-losing Americans-to create what? And two, the patience of the American people is not unlimited-and we are long past the point of patience with any of the wars for most reasonable Americans.

A land of people who refuse to help themselves. This, by the way is backed up by over a 100 years of Afghan history. This is what we are getting today, it is what we would have gotten 10 years from now-it will pretty much always be that way as long as the country is saddled with albatross of Islam.

Want to know the day we "lost" Afghanistan? March 19,  2003. That's the day the United States in one of the most stupid moves in its history, foolishly invaded a land that had not attacked it, and in the process metastized what was a essentially a localized disturbance into the world's blood stream. One could even make the point that we could look further back-to the point where a man like George Bush, under the advice of some pretty questionable characters, decided that the United States could somehow accomplish the impossible and eliminate terrorism from the earth. Rather than pursue the vengeance that our public opinion required in the aftermath of 9-11, the grey hair allowed himself to be diverted into what has now quite well been proven, to be a worthless, damn fool ideological crusade.

And what do we have to show for it? Nothing of substance.

Oh sure, Bin Laden is dead, but as it turned out, that had nothing to do with clear, hold, and build. And Al Queda has been disrupted-but again, that happened with out years of counterinsurgency. We have lost over 6000 fine Americans dead and almost 50,000 wounded for the "right" to stay in a backward nation from over a decade, however. What did they suffer for?

Nothing of value Phib. Nothing of value. And that was true in 2009, as assuredly as it is today. Put the blame where it belongs and leave it there-on the Afghan people.

Now that is what I will drink more over. The  tendency on the part of policy makers — and probably a tendency in the part of some Americans — to think that the problems we face are problems that are out there somewhere beyond our borders, and that if we can fix those problems, then we'll be able to continue the American way of life as it has long existed. I think it's fundamentally wrong. Our major problems are at home in the US.

Starting with the idea that we can somehow "fix" people who are unfixable.


4 responses so far

Nov 14 2012

The real Petreaus problem.

"The issue at Tailhook is not that we took a few liberties with our female party guests. We did."

Just have to do one more Petraeus post.

And its not to condemn him for slicing off what appears to be a fine hunk of tuna. I don't condemn him for that at all. Actually applaud him for getting laid. And laid well-by all appearances. If American sexual mores were not all screwed up-he'd be getting a pat on the back instead of a kick in the ass.

As my Canadian Counterpart points out:

But there's one important fact that I think everyone is overlooking in this tawdry tale. Paula Broadwell is pretty fucking hot, especially for a 40-year-old Army chick. I'd most assuredly hit it, and I think that's really the most important thing to remember here.


The real problem with Petreaus is not his sexual proclivities. I think I have made it clear that I think there are two sides to every story and until I know the other side I will reserve any judgment on that. However-and long time followers of this blog will know this-I am no fan of King David. The real crimes of General Petreaus happened long before he joined the CIA.

What I’d like to propose, I guess, is that none of these perspectives quite captures reality. That’s the thing about Petraeus. He isn’t some sort of paragon of virtue as people on the right want to claim, nor is he just business as usual in his abuse of power and position as some on the left seem to believe. There is something unique about him and what he’s done, and I just wish people would look at the situation essentially sui generis rather than as confirmation of one worldview or another.

Let me make one more note on the seksytime issue. There is a perception, I think, that general officers are  swinging dick, alpha-males, screwing, boozing, and brawling their way through life. And sure, there are some like that, but in my experience, general officers are about as far from that stereotype as possible. They are usually driven, hard-working, introspective, and bookish. Whether they went to the service academies or ROTC, they rarely had time to party even as undergrads. They often marry young, have kids young, and spend much of their time either deployed or struggling to pay attention to their families when they are home.  They are, in short, often nerds (in a good way), and they are not always well-equipped emotionally to deal with the kind of attention they begin to attract as they rise in rank, and particularly as they pin on stars. General Allen, for instance, has a reputation as a serious, bookish guy. Now maybe he’s a serial cheater, and Jill Kelley was just another actual or potential conquest, but more likely, in my estimation, is that he just didn’t quite know how to handle her attention. I dunno, but I think it worth keeping in mind that possibility.

A good point and it reinforces my current opinion of Navy flags too. The daring do-the guys who led from the front in the cockpit and the bar-those guys have been thrown on the scrap heap a long time ago. What's left is not so great.

But that's not what makes the story of Petreaus so sad. Not at all. What the real problem is with Petreaus started in 2004 if not sooner:

But the warning signs about Petraeus’ core dishonesty have been around for years. Here's a brief summary: We can start with the persistent questions critics have raised about his Bronze Star for Valor. Or that, in 2004, during the middle of a presidential election, Petraeus wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post supporting President Bush and saying that the Iraq policy was working. The policy wasn’t working, but Bush repaid the general’s political advocacy by giving him the top job in the war three years later.

There’s his war record in Iraq, starting when he headed up the Iraqi security force training program in 2004. He’s more or less skated on that, including all the weapons he lost, the insane corruption, and the fact that he essentially armed and trained what later became known as “Iraqi death squads.” On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called "surge," he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in recent American history. He convinced the entire Washington establishment that we won the war.

He did it by papering over what the surge actually was: We took the Shiites' side in a civil war, armed them to the teeth, and suckered the Sunnis into thinking we’d help them out too. It was a brutal enterprise — over 800 Americans died during the surge, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives during a sectarian conflict that Petraeus’ policies fueled. Then he popped smoke and left the members of the Sunni Awakening to fend for themselves. A journalist friend told me a story of an Awakening member, exiled in Amman, whom Petraeus personally assured he would never abandon. The former insurgent had a picture of Petraeus on his wall, but was a little hurt that the general no longer returned his calls.

MoveOn may have been ill-advised to attack the general as "Betray Us" in Washington, but there was little doubt that many in the Awakening felt betrayed.

Petraeus was so convincing on Baghdad that he manipulated President Obama into trying the same thing in Kabul. In Afghanistan, he first underhandedly pushed the White House into escalating the war in September 2009 (calling up columnists to “box” the president in) and waged a full-on leak campaign to undermine the White House policy process. Petraeus famously warned his staff that the White House was “fucking” with the wrong guy.

The doomed Afghanistan surge would come back to bite him in the ass, however. A year after getting the war he wanted, P4 got stuck having to fight it himself. After Petraeus frenemy General Stanley McChrystal got fired for trashing the White House in a story I published in Rolling Stone, the warrior-scholar had to deploy yet again.

The Afghan war was a loser, always was, and always would be — Petraeus made horrible deals with guys like Abdul Razzik and the other Afghan gangsters and killed a bunch of people who didn’t need to be killed. And none of it mattered, or made a dent in his reputation. This was the tour where Broadwell joined him at headquarters, and it’s not so shocking that he’d need to find some solace, somewhere, to get that daily horror show out of his mind.

Basically, a 21'st century version of MacArthur. A General who also became a political force. He became the icon of the surge-a holics in 2007, leading the country into an even greater butcher's bill and accomplishing very little for the United States in the long run-except for prolonging our agony in Iraq by almost 5 years.

But Petraeus’ crash is more significant than the latest nonsense sex scandal. As President Obama says, our decade of war is coming to an end. The reputations of the men who were intimately involved in these years of foreign misadventure, where we tortured and supported torture, armed death squads, conducted nightly assassinations, killed innocents, and enabled corruption on an unbelievable scale, lie in tatters. McChrystal, Caldwell, and now Petraeus — the era of the celebrity general is over. Everyone is paying for their sins. (And before we should shed too many tears for the plight of King David and his men, remember, they’ll be taken care of with speaking fees and corporate board memberships, rewarded as instant millionaires by the same defense establishment they served so well.)

 Before Dave fell for Paula, we fell for Dave. He tried to convince us that heroes aren’t human. They are human, like us, and sometimes worse.

An end to the celebrity general? Who can talk an entire nation into a pointless conflict based on a concept that has been adequately discredited? That may be the best service David Petreaus performed for his country.  That we might be able to return to the more normal civil military relationship-along with a long overdue acknowledgement that wars without end are no way to run a foreign policy-the United States might actually start down a long road to recovery.

4 responses so far

Oct 26 2012

The enemy is us

I've been rather busy this week. On travel and next week I will be working some unusual hours. So what that means is posting will continue to be light.

Plus, if the truth is to be told-I am viewing the upcoming election in the United States with increasing pessimism. Primarily because of what the argument says about the average American. If you think American electoral politics paints the country in a good light you are just kidding yourself in the extreme. The face we are presenting to the world is one of stupidity and selfishness in the extreme.

If Obama wins-it will be a good thing, but he will still not be able to govern the country because of the caliber of people in the Congress. If Romney wins-it will be a disaster, if he gets the Congress to approve his draconian proposals. I have no doubt that Romney will enact the Ryan budget, and as I have clearly stated before-his budget and his policy ideas are evil. I despise Ryan personally and politically-Charles Pierce's term "zombie eyed granny starver" is an apt description.

But fundamentally, the reason our politics is fundamentally screwed up has nothing to do with either man. They are simply reacting to the body politic. They speak to the level of education that is becoming apparent. If the US electorate was truly educated-the GOP would be on its way to oblivion, or it would have reformed itself and cast its tea bagger zealots out into the outer darkness. They haven't however-and that should speak volumes about what they REALLY value.

In the macro sense I view this election as one of the capstone events of America not recognizing the changes that have occurred in the world. The changes are going to go forward-the fundamental question is whether  America can adapt to the changes. Increasingly it appears to me that we cannot-or will not adapt to those changes. So we will get passed by. We are already seeing evidence of it-it will get worse. Again, this will happen no matter who wins.

And that's depressing. America needs to fix itself. Don't like the caliber of our leaders? Look in the mirror-you created them. Through your own selfishness and stupidity. As a result you get the politics you deserve. Wake up and grow up.

9 responses so far

Jan 09 2012

Acknowledging the truth that you do not wish to hear.

I have been watching with interest, the mil-blog reaction to the “new” strategy announced by the President and the Secretary of Defense-namely that the US has to know its limitations; and that so long as we choose to not raise enough revenue, then cuts must come to the federal budget. And as much as it pains some people, those cuts have to include the defense budget.

Now that rightly concerns me-since for better or for worse, I have thrown my lot in with DOD-so as to fund and extend the expatriate life style I aspire to. In a proper world-DOD funding would be at Cold War levels with respect to US GDP and the invention of the VTC would be undone-thus necessitating the kinds of frequent travel I desire and crave. But deep in my heart of hearts-as painful for me as it is to admit-making cuts to the defense budget is something the nation will have to do. No matter what the personal costs are to yours truly.

It is not that the United States can no longer afford to be a world power-it has the resources to be one for many years to come. However, as long as the country makes the cutting of taxes a pre-eminent priority, then the die has been cast and the great retrenchment must surely come.

Now Lex would have you believe that this folding of our military tent is not a requirement. It seems that he would rather place the blame-and the burden-on the weakest members our own society. This so we can ensure we remain involved in helping worthless Arabs accomplish nothing-primarily because its in their nature to do so. They are Arabs after all-residing at the bottom of the human evolutionary ladder. They don’t have to stay there of course-but until they discard their apostate religion of Islam-then at the bottom they shall remain. As recent events in Libya and Egypt are proving-Arabs can screw up anything in just a little time. They have made their choice.

And regrettably-so too have we.  As long as the United States chooses not to raise the revenue it needs to raise to take car of its own citizenry, then cuts and retrenchment must surely come. In that regard, I have to sullenly admire Ron Paul, for he-alone among the clown circus that is the current GOP Presidential field-has been forthright in acknowledging the facts: a good deal of our growth in government has come as a result of the wars-and the costs of maintaining the “empire”. ( An empire with none of the perks that come with empire-land to raise our flag over, vestal virgins to be ravished. )

Lex believes its all to rest on the collectors of the results of the social contract:

As has been pointed out in these pages many times, the ongoing financial crisis is not defense driven – we are currently expending a historically low percentage of our Gross Domestic Product on DoD accounts. What has changed is that entitlement programs have mushroomed to hitherto unthinkable levels, and they show no signs of abating. Spending on social services has taken all the oxygen out of the federal budget, even as deficit spending has risen to giddying heights. Slashing defense spending is not the cure, but rather a palliative: The patient is bleeding out, and in response the doctors are surgically removing a leg. True, that will reduce the gross need for blood, at least for a little while. But it does nothing to stanch the bleeding.


They’re called “entitlements” because, once the public has been introduced to them, they feel entitled to equal or greater levels of dependency. Rolling them back requires massive expenditures in political capital, and virtually guarantees popular revolt. See also; Greece, Italy.



In a word-bullshit.

As I have shown in these pages repeatedly-its not a spending problem that we have, it’s a revenue and fairness problem. Just eliminating the Bush tax cuts-while at the same time withdrawing from the foolish wars we have started, would more than halve the current –and projected -deficit. Ezra Klein has adeptly pointed out that most of our financial woes are self-inflicted. We would rather enable the selfish and elite-than do what’s best for the majority of our citizenry. Social Security can be fixed-and maintained or transitioned. And Medicare can be helped by a comprehensive overhaul of all of our health care system. Something we sort of achieved in 20009-but not fully.  Lex conveniently ignores the fact that every other civilized nation on the planet provides universal health care access for its citizens. The United States, however, turns its back on obvious solutions. Or was it just a figment of my imagination that my first doctor’s appointment here in Germany cost me half what my last appointment did here in the United States. Which works out fine for me-because my employer, unlike so many that Lex praises-provides health insurance. And what they didn’t pay-was paid for by one of those pesky entitlements. An entitlement I am entitled to-because I earned it.

So I should be on the same side as Lex-and rooting for holding the line on defense cuts. From a purely selfish standpoint-I can see the point of view. But as I said earlier, in my heart of hearts, I know it’s a fools errand. To quote Lex, “as long as the country has its attitude towards taxation’-then cuts must come. Kind of sad really since-when viewed in the macro perspective-we have the money for both guns and butter. But we would rather make the richest one percent of the US even richer-while a great percentage of the workforce eeks by on 30,000 per year or less. Is this a viewpoint you really want to defend?

A couple of other points. Lex hangs his hat on the fact that percentage wise-defense is a small part of GDP. My response to that is: “So what? That proves nothing. What percentage is it of the Federal budget?” Its 25%.  The U.S. Department of Defense budget accounted in fiscal year 2010 for about 19% of the United States federal budgeted expenditures and 28% of estimated tax revenues. Including non-DOD expenditures, defense spending was approximately 28–38% of budgeted expenditures and 42–57% of estimated tax revenues.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, defense spending grew 9% annually on average from fiscal year 2000–2009. Because of constitutional limitations, military funding is appropriated in a discretionary spending account.   The numbers would go down-if we didn’t have the burden of the wars-wars Bush started and refused to pay for. Percentage quotations of GDP are just a red herring. Its where (some of) the money is.

“But what about all the world’s bad actors?”

What about them? If you want to have a role to play in countering them-then you have to have the resources to do so. We do not. Being a super power costs money-we are choosing not to get the money to pay the bills. The money is there-especially in a country that has rich people making the kinds of obscene sums they do. And-as gruesome as it maybe-some of the killing by the actors is not our affair. The Arabs can kill themselves all they want to-it does not require the presence of Americans to happen. And given a choice-I’d rather an Iraqi to die in Iraq than an American. If nine years of a presence in Iraq have proven one thing-it’s that our being there is not going to stop that.

The Lex’s among us would rather point fingers at Europe and decry their priorities. Europe has its problems as I am learning now first hand-but it’s also made a lot of progress in valuing things that are important and discarding the things that no longer serve the citizenry well. ( It certainly has better food, booze, train service and a better attitude about time off than my homeland).   Perhaps through bitter experience they have learned the value of Herman Wouk’s admonishment: “Either war is finished-or we are.”

Now that’s a hard thing for a guy who grew up and thrived on  adventures due to the cold war to admit. I like being a part of the empire. I want to live my life overseas and in its benefits. However the nation of my birth has chosen to no longer pay for that empire-and so like our British forefathers our empire will probably enter into decline.

And much as it pains me to admit it, maybe it needs to.


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May 24 2011

Unrequired hysteria.

I have been watching with considerable interest, the generally unhinged reaction of many prominent mil-blogs and other commentaries about President Obama’s speech last Thursday regarding Israel and the Palestinians. It would be funny, if the consequences were not so serious.

The most unhinged reactions I have read to date-have come from several sources, retired military officers ( many of whom ought to know their history better), hysterical Fox News commentators,  and today’s outraged column in the Wall Street Journal. Obama hates Israel. Obama is picking on poor little beleaguered Israel. The Palestinians are thugs and terrorists and have no right to settle in the holy land of Zion. Why can’t Obama just leave Israel alone?

This of course leads, in the American context, to the not so subtle innuendo’s from all of the usual suspects. Obama must be a Muslim not to support America’s best buddy in the whole world, he’s obviously arrogant, and he’s throwing Israel under the bus.  Israel, in their eyes, has done nothing wrong. Those settlements in the West Bank?  Just good business-not colonization of in support of the goal of Yeretz Israel. Don’t even think about calling it an occupation! Bibi says so.  Israeli-and more specifically Likud obstructionism to any settlement with the Palestinians? Just plain good faith diplomacy.

Now I will put my cards on the table-if I had my way, a third party along the lines of the British (preferably Britain) and their mandate would administer Palestine-just as was done in the years prior to World War II. I base that wish on the fact that for the long term I: 1) Do not believe a Palestinian state is viable along the West Bank and 2) I don’t think that Israel wants or can, come to a long term settlement with Palestinian authority.

Of course that is just nostalgic and wishful thinking on my part. It’s not going to happen-nor is it representative of what the current situation on the ground,  its sheer historical fantasy on my part.

And fantasy is what it seems Americans love to indulge in when it comes to Israel. Commentators over at OPFOR-when they are not attacking anyone who supports Obama’s speech as a raging anti-semite, are indulging in some historical fantasies of their own.

Fantasy #1.

Obama’s statements differ from previous US presidents. Flash traffic sports fans-they don’t.

But on substance, what did we learn yesterday? Certainly not that a Palestinian state must be “based on” the 1967 borders. Why this has been described as some kind of radical betrayal of Israel (“thrown under the bus”, in Mitt Romney’s words), is utterly beyond me. When Bill Clinton pushed the same thing, Aaron David Miller said America was acting as “Israel’s lawyer”. George W. Bush, whom Israelis saw as a staunch supporter, said the same. According to my colleague in Jerusalem, the innovation seems to have been the invocation of “1967” in so many words. Why this is substantial is a mystery to me.

As the same colleague also mentions, there was an innovation, one not of substance but of sequencing—always close to the heart of these negotiations, since everyone knows what the substance must be. Mr Obama talked about settling borders and security first, and refugees and Jerusalem later. The more intransigent Israelis and their American supporters dislike this; they want a comprehensive settlement or nothing. But it’s not clear to me why this is the best option, even from their point of view. Israel is going to give up most of the West Bank in any settlement, and will and must only do so with security guarantees, as Mr Obama reiterated today. Land-for-peace would be most of what Israel wants. Meanwhile the status quo on refugees and Jerusalem favour Israel, which has its way on both at the moment.


The 1967 borders are indefensible. First of all-this statement presumes that Israel will actually end up back at the 67 borders. The odds of that happening are slim to none. For one thing-there is no way on God’s green earth that Israel will ever give up East Jerusalem, and there is no opposing Army that would even have the gumption to try. What part of “mutually agreed land swaps” did you not understand? ( or care to listen to). Since most folks are learning impaired when it comes to Israel, let me show you a visual aid that will show you why the 67 borders have to be the starting point for a final settlement:

If you have ever been to Israel and to the West Bank, as I have, you will know right away why Israel has the land to the East in the West Bank-that’s where the flat farmland is. The territory rises in elevation as you head west towards Jerusalem. Furthermore, the big takeaway from that graphic is that “Palestinian living space”, such as it is-is an archipelago of distinct ghettos. I guess I am the only person who appreciates the irony of a state that was formed as a result of outrage about rounding people up into ghettos and placing movement restrictions on them-doing the same thing to other people 40+ years later. The reason the territory is so chopped up? Jewish settlements that Israel was never supposed to allow in the first place, but did as a way to appease its orthodox population.”The settler movement could put down settlements in much of the sparsely populated south of Israel proper with no problem. Instead, they insist on taking Palestinian land. They are not colonizing the West Bank only to make it more ‘secure’ (they are making it less so), but rather out of greed, ambition, and expansionism. It is not about defense, it is about offense.”  (and water availability).

Those orange spots are not a way to create a viable state-and Netanyahu knows it. And that’s perfectly fine with him. But it shouldn’t be for any thinking American. The 1967 lines dividing Israel from the West Bank and from Gaza have always  been Washington’s point of departure for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But now, for the first time, the four digits have become formal American policy.

Now that position has a pretty firm basis in international law-but this is where the irrational factor comes into play with American supporters of Israel. They don’t care-they just want the Palestinians to go away and die. After all, in the eyes of some wild eyed conservatives-they are all terrorist savages anyway.

There are only a couple of problems I can think of with this line of thinking. 1) They are not going away and dying-they are breeding like rabbits. and 2) they have no place to go. Any chance for them to go someplace else evaporated in 1988 when Jordan ceded its claim to the West Bank to the PLO.  The Oslo accords formalize that by paving the way to a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. That peace treaty recognized the Mandate border between Palestine and Jordan, but specifically makes note that the treaty does no prejudice the status of the territories occupied( there is that pesky word again) by the Israeli military. Don’t forget too, that in 1987, Jordan and Israel actually tried to negotiate giving the West Bank ( but not East Jerusalem) back to Jordan, but the deal was nixed by Yitzak Shamir. So like it or not-Jordan is not a part of this picture anymore.

Fantasy #3

‘Jordan is Palestine’. Good luck with that. King Abdullah is not that stupid-and it also ignores the reason Britain broke Jordan away from the Palestine to begin with.  See Fantasy 2 above.

Fantasy #4

Israel is ringed by enemies on all sides, so it has to take drastic action to defend itself. Oh really? Those peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt don’t mean anything? And last time I checked-the Syrian military is a little busy right now trying to keep Al Asad in power. A better way to describe the situation is “Israel is ringing a lot of really pissed off people with no place to go“. And why not? Half of Palestinians in Gaza are unemployed and Israel will not allow them to export what they produce  and deeply restricts imports.  Restrictions within the West Bank make it difficult for Palestinians to commute to their places of employment and for goods to be transported to where they are needed. This has increased the costs of transportation and has thus led to lower profits for companies operating in the territories. Any wonder they are all pissed off?

It’s probably also a great time to point out that Israel is the only nation in the Levant with nuclear weapons and a military that outclasses any military,  with the sole exception of the United States.

However-Israel’s security rests on achieving a deal with the Palestinians. Because right now they are facing two ticking time bombs they can’t control. One is the “Arab Spring”:

Netanyahu ignored a very important historical reality on Friday in Washington, that Israel’s intractable enemies are always replaced with something worse. The PLO was replaced with Hezbollah in Lebanon and supplanted by Hamas in Gaza. There is a very real possibility that Hamas could be overtaken by an al-Qaeda inspired or affiliated group in the near future. Waiting for a more agreeable negotiating partner is an exercise in folly, if only because one has never appeared before.
On the other hand, I could be wrong. Problematically, that could be even worse for Israel. That would be widespread blooming of democracy in the Arab world. There is no reason to believe that democratic Arab governments would demand anything less than their autocratic ones do now. But they would have a great deal more credibility with the international community generally, and the United States in particular.
It should be remembered that America’s great democratic ally, Iraq, does not recognize Israel, nor does it denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. There is no reason to believe that any other democratic Arab government would behave any differently, but their positions might seem a tad more reasonable when unattached to names like Bashir Assad or Saddam Hussein.
Add to that the possibility that the Palestinians might have learned from their mistakes and come to understand that violent resistance isn’t going to get them anywhere. A peaceful intifada might be an irresistible force in the international community and could very well isolate Israel, especially an Israel with a hardline Likud government. There’s no way of knowing how even Israeli public opinion would react to demonstrations like the ones in Tahrir square, but it’s virtually certain that the American consensus in support of Israel would fracture.


The other is, the fact that for a population that hates sex-Palestinians sure seem to f*ck a lot:

The most likely outcome of Israel’s present course is a one state solution, achieved over decades, with much heartbreak and violence and ruined lives in the meantime. The Jews of Israel will likely end up like the Maronite Christians of Lebanon. France created Lebanon in 1920 for a then Christian majority, but Christian out-migration and rapid Muslim population growth reduced the Maronites to only about 22 percent of the population today if we count children. Likewise, Israeli Jews have already lost their majority among first-graders in what was Mandate Palestine in favor of Palestinians and Palestinian-Israelis. Current demographic trends will likely produce an Israel that is a third Arab by 2030 and that is not even counting the Occupied Territories. The instability in the Arab world and the Greater Middle East, which is growing, could well over time increase Jewish out-migration (out of sheer nervousness) so that it outstrips in-migration of Jews. I can’t see a way for Israel to escape this demographic and geopolitical fate and remain viable as a nation-state. Plans on the Israeli right to denaturalize and expel the 1.5 million Palestinian-Israelis are unrealistic and do not reckon with the likely backlash from the Arab world, which won’t remain weak and abject forever.

In summary-a whole lot of Americans would do well to look at Israel as it really is-not as they think it is. It’s not a Jewish version of America. It is a complicated society with some very unique things foisted upon because its foundation based on a religious basis and not a national one. More importantly, Israeli and American interests are not always aligned. None of this is to suggest that Washington should turn its back on the Jewish state. But this is also a time when a more evenhanded position on the conflict is desperately needed. That’s what Obama is trying to do-and if he has to kick Bibi in the nuts to do it-well I won’t cry salt tears. You know who told me that? David Petreaus:

“Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region].” His statement provoked controversy in Washington, but ask any seasoned Middle East observer and you’d be hard-pressed to find one who disagrees with the general’s assessment. It is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya which is the greatest source of anti-American attitudes in the Arab world — it is the continued lack of resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the view of many in the region that the United States has its thumb on the scale in favor of Israel.

At some point, you have to ask yourself the legitimate question of who is looking out not for Israel’s interests, but America’s. It certainly wasn’t the slobbering idiots on the floor of the US Congress today.

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Sep 04 2010

They left me, I did not leave them.

The Republican party that is.

This is a serious post-to try to explain why I feel as strongly as I do on several issues and why I feel abandoned by the political party I once considered my home. A post over at the League of Ordinary Gentleman by E.D. Kain and another one by him over at John Cole’s place got me to thinking.

Until the election of 2004, I had voted Republican all my life. I first voted in 1976 for Gerald Ford and voted Republican all the way through 2000 when I held my nose and voted for George Bush -even though I remained appalled at the sleazy way he treated McCain.  In hindsight-I wish I had voted for Gore, perhaps the country might have been spared eight years of misery. In 2004 my vote was a one issue vote-I truly believed ( and I still believe) that the War in Iraq was a huge mistake.  I did not want to lend my support to those who would see us continue to pour lives and effort into that sinkhole. I feel I have been vindicated by the last six -years of the Iraqi experience-which for whatever benefits came, the costs of the effort-in terms of the overall loss to the United States and the contribution of the war to our economic instability far outweighed them. The United States is weaker over all because of this endeavor and the fiasco in Iraq has hastened the rise of nations that are truly not our friends and made the multi-polar world we dislike more of a reality than most Americans realize. ( There is a reason we now rank 11th in all objective measures of national prominence). In 2008, my vote was again motivated primarily by the war(s) and the prospect of more “just let real people suffer and lose ground” economics. So I voted for Obama with a clear conscience-although I did not and still do not consider him to be the best qualified candidate. It was simply that John McCain had foreited any right to that support after choosing someone to appease those who do not deserve such attention. Clearly Obama has made some mistakes ( the gravest being not vetoing the Ominbus Budget bill early on and putting Pelosi in her place-and show the country and the Democrats who is boss). But on a lot of issues I care about-he’s advocated better positions than his opposition. It is clear to me that by 2010-Republicans in general had given up any desire to be concerned with you know, data and facts.

As Kain points out though-during that period, really starting in 1996, the Republican party morphed into something unrecognizable. With the advent of Newt Gingrich and the rise in talk radio and later on Fox News to stoke the propaganda flames, the party slowly, but inexorably abandoned all of the things that made it the reasonable man’s alternative. As Kain points out at Cole’s:

I’m not signing on, carte blanche, to the Democratic party here or to its platform though I am choosing to align myself with that party and with liberalism more broadly. I’m sure I will still find plenty of things the Democrats do that deserve a pox or two. But I did feel as though I was boxing myself in by calling myself a conservative and then finding every way under the sun to undermine that description. My “switch” is not about adopting a brand new pre-packaged ideology. No, I’m much more interested in creating new ways, third ways maybe, alternatives to the accepted left/right divide. But I found myself more and more interested and compelled by the liberal-tarian project. But I’m not a libertarian either, and so perhaps the term ‘liberal’ fits me better. In fact, I’m quite sure it does.

But what Kain pointed out is that it is becoming increasingly difficult-from the perspective of facts to remain allied in support of positions that no compassionate human being can be aligned with. Kain again:

Furthermore, while I think there’s a great deal of merit to competition (one reason I really liked Ron Wyden’s healthcare plan!), free markets, economic liberalism and so forth I find the fetishization of low taxes among the right and among many American libertarians more than a bit silly. I favor investment in public health, public transit and infrastructure, and in the welfare system generally rather than some vague bare-boned state. Sure, there’s problems with all sorts of government programs, with some public sector unions, etc. but at least liberals seem open to tackling these problems. At least within the big tent of liberalism there is room to disagree.

I’ve noted before that I don’t think free markets are sustainable without a broad and sturdy welfare state to support them. Theoretically, sure – anything is possible – but the fact is markets fail and must fail to be effective as a system, and very real people pay the price – not because they are lazy, or because they are lacking enough rugged individualism, but because life can be hard, and it is much harder for those people who lack strong family or community support. Ultimately, the highest price is paid by those who can afford it least. We need to craft a society where that price is not so high – and I think we can use markets and the welfare state to achieve this, much as they have done in northern Europe (though undoubtedly our version will be unique and we can, on the way, learn from their mistakes). I don’t see many conservatives taking these questions seriously, and even the most progressive-minded conservatives out there, I fear, are placing their hopes in the wrong coalition.

The demonization of “moderate” Republicans-leaders who actually put “Country First” ahead of partisan ideology is troublesome to me. And in folks like Palin and Beck I see that trend being carried out to its own serious, destructive, and out right pathological ends.  Furthermore-especially in Palin, there are clear indicators of a crass, selfish, narcissism that will be destructive to both her and the country in the long run if she were to run and win the highest office in the land.

It is not that some of the ideas that conservatives have put forward are not without merit-it is their refusal to accept that the opposite may aslo be true that really troubles me. I agree with Kain when he states:

At the end of the day, I guess I just find very little in common with the right save for a sort of loose commitment to limited government, and even then it becomes more and more apparent that this is only true in a fictional world that bears no resemblance to our own.

Torture, war, mindless obstructionism, a rigid more-conservative-than-thou orthodoxy, the constant parroting of right-wing pundits, and a blatant disregard for civil liberties all lead me to the conclusion that I have no place in the modern American right. Perhaps that makes me a neoliberal or a liberal-tarian or an independent or a lost boy – I have no idea.

As move on into my graying years-I remain distinctly troubled by the fact that collectively-humanity has failed to advance to realize its real potential. We can-and should be- a lot further along in defeating diseases like AIDS and Cancer, and worldwide there should be a greater commitment to at least a baseline quality of life for all of a country’s citizens. The only place I actually see any of this occuring is in Asia-and even then the progress is very uneven. Troubling too,  is the countries that have made the most progress are also the most non-Democratic. (e.g. LKY’s Singapore-nice place to live, could never ever vote there). The colossal waste of what we-the supposedly civilized Western world, spend our resources on is troubling me more than you know. The income divide between the “haves and have nots” is growing and not shrinking-and we are failing to notice that. If you want a real reason for world wide terrorism we should be looking there first.

And at the end of the decade-I am still no safer than I was on Sept 10, 2001.

And so it has come down to this-I cannot, I will not,  ally myself with people who for whatever reason deliberately choose to be stupid and ignore facts and/ or historical precedents. The world is not black and white-it is only grey. But it should be progressing forward. And its not.

And I will not ally myself with those who will not support that.

So yes, I will continue to write passionately against those who advocate positions that are ultimately destructive to the USA as a whole-and who would rather take a selfish short term view -than seek to move ahead for the long term.  I’m sure my one lone, little, under-reported or read voice will not accomplish much. But at least I will be on record in opposition to collective stupidity.

And that is a better place to be than on the Washington Mall last weekend.

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