The blunder of Iraq is back to haunt us this Halloween…

October 31, 2013

See what happens when you blunder into a war and then don’t fight to win?

After losing nearly 5,000 troops in Iraq we up and left Iraq, well after the government we helped install there virtually kicked us out. Some may have said that was the best decision, kind of like the doves or anti-war people said during our hopeless endeavor in Vietnam — just declare victory and go home. President Barack Obama did just that in Iraq, saying it was a war we never should have gotten into in the first place. Well he is probably right on that. But you know, since we went to all the effort, a few trillion dollars and lives (American sons, daughters, mothers, fathers) that can’t be counted in dollars, it seems like we should have gotten something. We did not even get a lock on its oil reserves, which was the overriding reason for going in there in the first place.

Now to add insult to injury, the Iraqi government wants us back — well initially they want weapons and other assistance to fight an ongoing insurgency, said to be as bad as the worst days of our involvement there. But they also mention that maybe some military advisors might be useful as well.

And as pressure Iraq is using the old developing-nation blackmail routine. If you (the U.S.) won’t help us, we’ll just have to go elsewhere, such as Russia or China. The Iraqi prime minister is meeting with President Obama Friday.

So, yes, going into Iraq in the first place was not a well thought out move. But we did, and in a big way. Just not big enough. We stopped way short of victory. And what would victory have looked like? I guess all-out control of the nation by the victor, for a time, and then maybe an exclusive agreement on oil in return for some return of sovereignty. Well, too late for that. But if we start pumping money into there again — not to mention lives — we better get something for it.

The problem with trying to help those who might be friendly and amenable to Western ways in these areas is that we always seem to end up decimating their infrastructure and killing off innocent people. We have a hard time making friends that way.

Whatever we do, we better think this one out.

It seems the blunder of Iraq is back to haunt us this Halloween.

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The news story that inspired this post: http://www.armytimes.com/article/20131030/NEWS08/310300028/Iraq-seeking-new-aid-after-pushing-out-U-S-troops

I


If more of us knew the history of the Western Powers in the Middle East we’d be better off…

October 30, 2013

In less than two hours you can be brought up to date on the background of the Middle East therefore allowing you to have a much better understanding of why the place seems to be such a mess and why the Western powers, especially the U.S. these days, is so interested in it. Well you already knew the latter, oil. But why is the place such a mess and so hard to control or stabilize so the people who live there and the rest of the world who deals with it can live in peace and harmony?

What you do is watch a documentary: “Blood and Oil, the Middle East in World War I”. The running time is 1 hour 54 minutes. It was released in 2009 and was directed by Marty Callaghan (yeah I don’t know who he is either, but great job on the film).

If you just listen to some of the talking heads on current events/ political shows you probably know bits and pieces of the story or maybe not. But the thesis of the documentary is that all our troubles in the Middle East (sometimes referred to as the Near East) today are the result of Great Britain and France being interested in the resources there back in the time of World War I. For one thing, Great Britain had just switched its fuel for its naval vessels from coal to oil. When it realized that there was such an abundance of oil in the region, well it got highly interested. In addition, as part of the battle scene in World War I, Great Britain was at war with the Ottoman Empire, headquartered in modern-day Turkey, but including a large part of the Middle East. France was interested too. So the two nations entered into a secret agreement to divide up the Middle East after the war. As it turns out — I think I am correct in saying — Great Britain wound up with most of it, but France did get Syria and Lebanon at least. But as still is the case today, much of that region was/is controlled more by tribal interests than central governments. The only thing that seems to have kept people from going after each other’s throats is strong men leaders (dictators), often or always propped up by the Western powers.

Iraq, which has caused us (the U.S.) so much woe, was really an artificial nation state designed and created by Great Britain. The people are of different religions or at least of different sects of Islam (primarily) and even different ethnicities. Not part of the film, but you can see what happens when you topple the dictator. Complete chaos. And by the way, look what’s happening in Libya today: complete chaos, the country’s present so-called leader was even kidnapped briefly a few weeks ago. Today in the news, tribal interests are cutting off part of the oil supply, disrupting exports (thereby endangering the nation’s own economy and that of the rest of the world, due to dependence on oil). All this after the West supported insurgents in toppling the late crazy Muammar Gaddafi.

The documentary also either enlightens you or reminds you that all of World War I did not take place along the border of France and Germany, or on the high seas of the North Atlantic (as in “Sink the Bismarck”).

Actually, the U.S. role in the Middle East is barely mentioned because it is a background report that centers on the time frame of World War I and maybe a decade after.

But if you are not already up on all of this, I urge you to watch the film. It is not completely objective (I don’t know if such things ever are or could be), but I think it is accurate in its presentation of history (if not all its conclusions).

If more of my fellow citizens were up on such things I think the U.S. would have not become so bogged down in the Middle East. We might have been engaged, but we would have at least had a better idea of what we are trying to accomplish or what even could be accomplished.

I see the film may be available simply by clicking YouTube. I watched it on my Kindle (paying a nominal price).

P.s.

Well after writing all of the above, it occurred to me that I neglected to mention that Russia, the Soviet Union, and then again Russia (all the same thing in this context) has been highly interested and involved in the region too, having fought the Ottoman Empire in World War I and because of its historic desire for access to the Oceans in the area.

P.s. P.s.

Yes I realize France has had colonies in North Africa (sometimes these days referred to as the Middle East), but I was not trying to present a history or political or geography lesson myself, just a review of a documentary.

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CLARIFICATION: In my previous post I misidentified a military officer speaking to JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I should have written Air Force Gen. Curtiss LeMay, but instead wrote Gen. Maxwell Taylor (both were involved in all of this, but I was referring to a sound recording of LeMay).


Modern presidents get us into hopeless wars, possibly in part to prove something about themselves…

October 29, 2013

So maybe you’re familiar with the idea that if JFK had lived we would not have become bogged down in Vietnam because he was trying to get us out of there (while continuing to support the government of South Vietnam against the communist led insurgency). I watched a documentary last night called “Virtual JFK” that dealt with the what if. A couple of things stood out. President John F. Kennedy apparently was able to stand up to the military brass who were adamant that we had to invade Cuba at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In one segment there is an actual recording in which Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay flatly tells the young president that he has no choice. But Kennedy had already been burned by the Bay of Pigs fiasco, something set into motion by the former president, Dwight Eisenhower (although JFK signed onto it). The U.S. backed some anti-Castro forces but it was seen that they had no chance once they went ashore. Kennedy wisely, well in retrospect, decided not to send in the Marines and not to provide air cover. So we didn’t get involved in a jungle war in Cuba. Back to the missile crisis:

Instead of invading Cuba when we found out they secretly had Soviet missiles ready to launch at us Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of the island and negotiated a deal with the Soviets to remove the missiles (I don’t think the documentary mentioned it, but as I recall the deal involved us giving up some so-called “obsolete” missiles in Turkey that were aimed at the Soviet Union).

Kennedy was relatively young, but he had served in the battle zone of the South Pacific in WWII as the skipper of a torpedo patrol boat. With the help of his father’s connections the legend of PT 109, the story of how young Kennedy saved fellow crew members, was built. There have been some questions as to the real facts in the matter, but he was an actual combat veteran and he apparently did save some lives. Unlike future presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, he had nothing to prove in regard to his character in the face of war. Been there, done that.

Lyndon Johnson served in the South Pacific in the war as well, but he ran into the problem of failing to make the case to the electorate of the need to fight in Vietnam. At one point in the film Johnson admits that a woman told him that her husband fought in WWII and she understood that, but now her son was sent to Vietnam and she did not understand the need for that.

Of course anyone who lived through all that or has looked into recent history knows that all this was based on the pre-conceived notion called the Domino Theory, in which if we let one nation fall to the communists in South East Asia, they all would.  Even Kennedy enunciated that I believe. I think Eisenhower may have been the first to suggest it (not sure).

And that is another a problem in foreign policy. We often operate on pre-conceived notions that eventually are proved wrong. I think that was the second thing that stood out in the documentary. We finally gave up in Vietnam. It fell to the communists. But the other nations in the region did not. Vietnam is still communist but has had to turn to capitalism to survive and is a trading partner with us today.

Well that was what got me thinking of the following:

What with the fiasco that has been the roll out of Obamacare (computer glitches), the shut down of the government and threat to default on its bills (resolved temporarily now), the news has been more on the domestic side. But we’re still involved in costly war in the Middle East with no good conclusion seen. We will eventually withdraw and things will pretty much fall into the hands of those we have considered the enemy no doubt. Was it all worth it? It would not seem so.

It seems we have once more been led into senseless war under the notion that we are somehow fighting for freedom or world security and that if we get involved we automatically win (the illusion left over primarily from WWI and WWII, and maybe to a lesser extent Korea — we did kick the invading communists out of South Korea).

I don’t want to waste time going over the history of our current and most recent engagements in the Middle East, except to say that the 9/11 attack did propel us to go into Afghanistan, but Afghanistan per se did not attack us. It was a somewhat amorphous and mysterious group called Al Queda, who can be anywhere and everywhere. We were not going after the Empire of Japan like after the Pearl Harbor attack that got us into WWII.

So even if we could conquer Afghanistan (and its long history of repelling foreign invaders indicates otherwise) we’d have Afghanistan but not the actual enemy who attacked us.

(And let’s not even bother to go into the pivot into Iraq where we stirred things up got thousands of people killed and then were unceremoniously kicked out by the government we helped install. And that nation has devolved back into internal violence once more and is friendly with Iran, a nation seen as an enemy to us.)

And of course realizing that it all would not be a conventional war between nation states, President George W. Bush, at the urging of war hawks, declared a “War on Terror” and got congress to back him, and the resolution is still used today to justify open-ended war with no clearly defined goal or even enemy.

Almost forgot to mention the ongoing situation in Syria, but President Obama almost sent us into war there recently.

The trillions of dollars this war on terror has cost us has pretty much led to the position we are in today. We don’t have enough money to pay our bills and the government cannot justify its actions well enough to sell the public on the idea of paying maybe a war tax, so we borrow money and go further and further into debt and then the political parties argue about raising something called the debt limit and in the process one party plays the blackmail game that it will shut the government down but blame it on the other party.

The realities of modern war, and I mean 21st Century War, have changed a lot about what is practical and what is not in military engagements. But I’m thinking that one thing that remains constant is that one must pick and choose battles and once a battle is chosen it must be sold to those who will be called on to support it, and then it must be fought to win, not to eventual loss by default (that is  by quitting short of victory), or just as bad, stalemate.

Another problem is that nowadays we have presidents who have never even served in the military, let alone war. Now of course that is not a requirement to be president and the Constitution provides for civilian control of the military (The president is a civilian but is also the commander in chief of the military). But one wonders sometimes if presidents with no personal military history feel that they have something to prove and let that get in their way of judgment.

(Okay, technically George W. Bush was in the military, opting to serve in the U.S. Air National Guard stateside during the Vietnam War. But his attendance is in question.)

In my mind the most notorious of the non-military servers was Bill Clinton, who if you read the history, was an out-and-out draft dodger, pretending to intend to go into officer training, thus excluding him from the Vietnam draft, and then dropping out when the coast was a little clearer. Yes, Vietnam was an unpopular war and a needless one on our part, but one has to wonder, so who died in Clinton’s place? I guess what galls me is that then when he was president he would wear pseudo-military jackets when touring, say, an aircraft carrier. Dwight Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander, an Army general, in World War II. As President he wore civilian clothes. Clinton was not afraid to use the military, most notably in the air campaign over Bosnia. He presided over a military embarrassment and tragedy in Somalia, and was accused of launching air strikes to divert attention from his own Monica Lewinsky bimbo affair. I don’t think his lack of military service affected him. Clinton has always proved that he has no shame. (And yet, one has to admit he is a clever and actually highly intelligent politician, and a scum bag at the same time. To be fair in regard to his sexual scandal (s), he probably did nothing more nor less than some of his predecessors, but unfortunately for him at the time, the rules had changed in reporting the side activities of important people.)

As is often the case, I’ve gotten off the track. Anyway, yes, the nature of war has changed. But victory is still victory. And if you do not get a victory (pretty much vanquish the enemy) you lose. And you lose for one main reason: You did not allow your forces to fight to win. That’s a much more egregious thing to do than to send them to war in the first place.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of you have that on your conscience.

P.s.

I don’t mean to suggest that George W. or Obama took their actions solely out of personal vanity, but knowing what people might think of them plays into the politics of the whole thing.

I should also note that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had no actual military service (he was physically handicapped but had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy), and yet he guided the nation through WWII (our last truly successful war).

P.s. P.s.

It occurs to me that then there is the question of what does the Commander in Chief do when he (or she) realizes that victory is not attainable. I’m not sure, except pressing on to save face (Nixon in Vietnam?) at the expense of American lives seems abhorrent to me. (Nixon was a World War II veteran).

And still more afterthought here: I think Johnson and Nixon, and Obama today may all three have one thing in common, that is feeling forced to continue on with a lost cause. Who would want to be blamed for a loss?

And that is why I see war as a necessary evil when used purely or primarily as a defensive strategy. Victory is more assured because we know we have no choice but to win. Used as a tool of foreign policy it puts us in ambiguous situations.

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CLARIFICATION: In the original version of this post I misidentified a speaker to JFK as Gen. Maxwell Taylor when I should have written Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. I subsequently corrected that (both men were involved in all of this but I was referring to a specific sound recording of LeMay).


My congressman, Doug LaMalfa, voted against re-opening the government and preventing default, he’s wrong, but I owe his family thanks…

October 19, 2013

I don’t know my congressman personally, but I did once have a connection with his family, if ever so briefly, and it was positive (well in the end). But it had nothing to do with politics. I did not vote for him and never could, but I owe perhaps his father a debt of gratitude from way back.

He, that is my congressman, voted against re-starting the government and preventing default on its debts.

My congressman is Doug LaMalfa. He was only perhaps 4 or 5 or even younger when I had a chance encounter with his family in front of the headquarters of their farming operation where they grow one heck of a lot of rice. I’ll get into that shortly.

Congressman LaMalfa identifies with the Tea Party. They hate government. They think it taxes too much and meddles in the affairs of people.

Strangely, however, that does not stop the LaMalfa farming operation from accepting millions of dollars of federal taxpayer-funded rice subsidies over the years. So I guess it is okay if that nasty federal government is paying them, just not someone else. Now I know that they probably think they deserve it and others do not. And I know they would probably point out that their rice farming, along with that of others in the area, brings a lot into the local (and state and national) economy. And I could hardly argue with the latter. I have worked as a truck driver for almost the last two decades now and early on in my truck driving career I hauled a load of rice from near their ranch (could have been theirs or partly theirs) from California to Connecticut. Also, an acquaintance of mine has done a lot of local-area agricultural hauling and has pulled one heck of a lot of loads of fertilizer for the rice fields. And I usually don’t admit this (I mean I have a right against self-incrimination), but for a very short time I sold insurance door to door. The few policies I ever sold were primarily to rice farmers. And this past season as I drove my big rig up and down the highway I watched the whole process from last spring when tractor drivers worked the ground, to when pilots aerial-seeded the gigantic fields and applied fertilizer by air as well. I saw the green rice shoots peep up above the water in the flooded fields (many via subsidized federal irrigation) and I see the rice trucks hauling the finished product. Ironically a lot of it goes overseas to areas that were once self-sufficient in rice (but that is another story). And I know that the farm towns I drive through in the rice country are heavily dependent upon the income the rice industry brings in, even though everyone does not work directly in the farming business. So what I am trying to say is I get it. There is an argument to be made for those subsidies (there is also one to be made against). I just find it terribly contradictory and two-faced that Congressman LaMalfa rails against the government but takes money in the way of a federal salary and rice subsidies for his family’s farming operation. It’s like federal government stay out of my life but keep those checks coming. And some of that money comes from taxpayers who have nothing to do with rice farming and may not even eat rice.

Oh, the connection with the LaMalfas:

When I took my first relatively long solo trip driving a vehicle I was maybe 16 years old. I left our home south of Red Bluff, Ca. and headed for Yuba City, Ca. I was driving a 1949 Willy’s jeep my folks bought after the war when regular automobiles were not as available yet. On a two-lane stretch of Highway 99 out in the middle of rice country the jeep overheated, clouds of steam coming out from under the hood on both sides, and conked out, as luck (and it was luck) would have it, right in front of the LaMalfa Ranch headquarters. I walked up the driveway past a couple of houses to a large shop building. I asked one of the maybe two or three men inside if I could borrow a pail and get some water because my jeep overheated. I think they were working on some farm equipment. They paid me no mind as I walked back to the jeep. I proceeded to pour water into the radiator. I then tried to start the jeep. The engine would try to start but would only make a terrible coughing sound.

I walked back and told them of my plight.

I’m paraphrasing but it was something like this:

“Son, you didn’t pour cold water into the hot radiator did you? You should have let it cool down first.”

They towed the jeep into their shop, and before my eyes they dismantled the engine and showed me the large cracks on the piston heads.

I dolefully said that I would have to call my dad. They had a phone right there in the shop (for you younger readers, these were the dark ages before cell phones).

One of the men, and it may have been Congressman La Malfa’s dad for all I know, said: “You know that’s a pretty good looking jeep. We wouldn’t mind having it around here. You can ask your dad if he wants to sell it to me.”

When I contacted my dad I handed the phone to the man. The man told my dad we could either leave the jeep with them until we could get it towed or he would be more than happy to buy it. My dad opted to sell it.

The LaMalfas, multi-millionaires, likely know a good deal when they see it. But I think they paid a fair price.

I drive by there often these days in a big truck. If I ever have an overheated engine there, at least I’ll know not to pour cold water into the radiator until it cools down (and they might not be in the market for a big truck).

P.s.

And I have to ask this congressman: If the government stayed shut down and the U.S. defaulted on what it owes to foreign creditors, might the ports where the rice is shipped be shut down as well and who would buy our rice?


The congressional earmark lives: funding and debt limit deal pays wealthy widow $174,000 of taxpayer money tax free…

October 17, 2013

I thought that awhile back there was much hullabaloo about getting rid of those odious congressional earmarks, the practice of inserting special interest gifts to serve one or a few into an unrelated bill, and usually done without public notice.

But ironically, as the nation was at the brink of financial collapse — the federal government already shut down for lack of a funding bill or continuing resolution for funding and facing a failure to pay its debts (in some circles called bankruptcy) for lack of a bill to allow the treasury to borrow more money (something it unfortunately has to do to service its debt) a last-minute deal was worked out to avert the calamity, and in that deal was provision to pay the widow of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (a Democrat) of New Jersey, at one time the wealthiest or among the wealthiest men in the Senate, a $174,000 tax-free death benefit. Apparently such benefits have been a longstanding practice. That in itself seems rather insane (I mean what ever happened to privately purchased life insurance?). And, why are we sending money to a wealthy person in a time of financial crisis? At his death Lautenberg was said to be worth $56.8 million.

And besides that absurdity and insult, the spectacle of our legislators allowing the nation to creep toward the edge of financial abyss when it did not even need to happen and sullying the reputation of the world’s still only superpower (and for how long?) is disgraceful. Even if default was averted we came so close that the whole world, which like us or hate us, or indifferent, depends upon our word on paying what is due on our treasury bonds for the world economy. A treasury bond, even when it pays next to nothing, has been the only safe place to park money (people now wonder how safe it is). I’m not an economist, but I know we benefit from the dollar being the world’s reserve currency. People all over the world desire American dollars.

P.s.

I don’t know the inside baseball of it all, but I could not understand that if the news media reports of only about 20 House Republican Tea Party members being holdouts for keeping the government shut down and going to default if necessary (necessary?) are true, then why didn’t the hopefully more sensible majority (in both parties) brush them aside in the first place. I did read accounts that said they were intimidating other Republicans by threatening to run opposition to them in primaries. Imagine, a candidate afraid to have opposition.

(I have also read that the now discredited Tea Party might face primary opposition itself.)

Even though the Tea Party (a kind of rogue right-wing populist faction of the Republican Party) pushed us to the brink, I have to agree with them on one thing: “Throw the bums out” (but that includes the Tea Party).

I think Washington is rotten to the core and needs new blood, irrespective of party and political ideology.

And one more thing: do you see a viable third party in the offing? Maybe the Centrist Clean Government Party? (okay, kind of dull)


The Beatles’ music hit the American airwaves and I attended a hog auction…

October 12, 2013

What does a hog auction and the Beatles have in common?

Nothing actually, except maybe in my life.

I just read an article noting that 50 years ago now the Beatles wrote a song one day and recorded it the next and the rest was history. That song was “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.

It was a cheery and lighthearted and upbeat tune coming on the heels of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

If you were not around then but only knew the Beatles from later photos you might not recognize them. At the time they wore close-fitting suits with weird mop-top hairdos (mop top, not long, shaggy hair). They did not look like they were part of the drug culture — that came later. And their music was simple and innocent (and I am not criticizing their subsequent work).

I was a freshman in high school, and I recall I had seen a news report on them on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. We watched that every night at home at dinner time. We actually sometimes moved our plates into the living room and watched the news on our small  black and white set. As I recall, the gist of the story was that this new rock ‘n’ roll group in Great Britain was gaining a lot of popularity with their upbeat, happy tunes.

Okay, the hog auction.

So, unrelated to this, I was at the time a member of the Future Farmers of America chapter at my high school in Northern California. With the donation of what was called a Sears Project pig (never did understand why Sears did this), that is a baby sow (called a “gilt”), I was on my way to make my name in the swine business (was, I said). My dad was a newspaper man with a rural background. So he arranged to cover a hog auction in a nearby town, just north in the next county. My dad and I and my mom were the ones still at home by then, my siblings off in the world, and we made a day of it. They even pulled me out of school. I recall that my math teacher was not too enthused about that. I was not a top student in that subject, and he was having hard time understanding that I was skipping his class for a hog auction (and I imagine if you ever intended to attend a hog auction as other than an observer you might need some good and quick math skills).

We indeed attended the auction. And really, like I said, no real connection between the Beatles and a hog auction, except that on the way back home we took the scenic route out, what some locals in Shasta or Tehama counties will recognize, Bowman Road. Somewhere out there at a country store we stopped. That little store had a hamburger stand and we had our lunch. And there was a juke box and it was playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — or was it “She Loves You, yeah, yeah, yeah”? Well, anyway, it was the Beatles singing one of those two songs.

The Beatles of course went on to super fame.

I did not end up a big time or even a small time hog farmer. I did raise a litter out of that little pig who grew up to be a big sow and I did show some swine at the Junior Grand National Livestock Show at the San Francisco Cow Palace and at my local county fair.

Although hogs had been quite popular in my local area at an earlier time — not as much in the more modern times. I think I learned something about the livestock raising business, though. You have to have a cheap source of feed and you have to have good markets nearby. The major hog markets were gone by my time, and cheap feed was scarce, with good land being used for higher-priced things. I mean if you don’t see a lot of other people doing a particular thing, there must be a reason why.

But I’m glad I had the experience. And I’m glad I witnessed the early popularity of the Beatles. The assassination of JFK notwithstanding, it was a happy and innocent time, except I guess that assassination portended darker things to come.

Everything would soon change:

Protests against the draft and the Vietnam War, more assassinations (Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy), and even the Beatles’ music changed. It was still good, but some of it was kind of weird (always original and inventive, though). It was not of the world I grew up in.

Yup, I remember when the Beatles’ music came to America and the day of the hog auction.

P.s.

About that happy and innocent time stuff. It’s in my mind. My mom, who’s almost 103 years old, would scoff at that. She always tells me things have not changed as much as people say they have.

P.s. P.s.

Oh, and the story that inspired this little essay, here’s a link: http://music.yahoo.com/blogs/stop-the-presses/want-hold-hand-turns-50-half-century-hand-171236686.html


We need government, its employees, and to be free of politics by extortion…

October 10, 2013

Blogger’s Note: I wrote the following post before the news today of a Republican offer to temporarily raise the debt limit (but not to reopen the government yet), but with continuing demands that the new health care law be delayed (or abolished probably), then I had computer problems and could not post it on the web. And while I have written previously that I think the president should offer some type of deal, that is give in a little, not a lot, in the interest of functioning democracy, I’m now thinking he is correct to stand his ground. It seems that the Republican Party is in danger of self-destructing with a major schism among its ranks, although the cooler and more moderate heads and the business community at large may be finally waking up and may stand up to the band of know nothings that threaten the GOP. I know. I sound partisan against the GOP. Well I am. But like I always say, I often would like to call myself a Republican if given a reason to do so — it’s hard in the current climate. I’m going to try to attach a link to an interesting New York Times piece today on the upheaval in the GOP and place it at the bottom of this post.

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I would not be one to proclaim that we need each and every one of our government employees. Like in every line of work there are the workers and the shirkers.

But I always remember what the saw mill executive said on my first job out of the army:

“Every job here is important. I don’t care if you’re sweeping the floor. If you were not important, we wouldn’t have hired you.”

So I’m going to assume that all those federal employees being put out on furlough (paid, unpaid, we don’t know at this time, but probably eventually paid?) were hired because they were needed. Are they suddenly not needed? Did the federal government go bankrupt?

No to both of those.

It’s instead a political game of chicken.

Or maybe more accurately it is extortion by the party that failed to win the presidency, originally instigated by a minority of that party, but taken up by the weak me-tooers of that party. It seemed like clever politics at the time, but now they are being caught in their own bluff by the president who refuses to give in. They hold a gun (figuratively) to his head, threatening make him take all the blame for any ills that may befall everyone from a government shutdown and ultimate default on financial obligations and demand for starters that his signature piece of legislation, passed by both houses of congress and signed into law, be abandoned. And when he fails to go for it, they blame him and his party on the shut down.

And then when the out-of-the White House party is nervous that it will shoulder the blame for denying death benefits to families of soldiers killed in combat, due to the government shut down, they rush to put up an amendment to fund that, or other various things piecemeal in order to not take the public ire (thereby setting the president up for other demands he would not want to or should not accept) — but when the president balks at that saying that we can’t run a government by extortion, that we have to go through the political process as laid down by the constitution, they try to blame him for everything.

So far, news stories indicate that polling shows that a majority among the public sees through all of this and blames the extorters and not the victim of the extorters.

A private charity has jumped in to pay those death benefits. It is not known whether the president might sign an amendment introduced by the extorters to restore the funding for the benefits. Again, if he does, then that’s the way it will likely be every time — sign here or we’ll make you look bad.

As the president himself has said, if the shoe were on the other foot and the one party was holding a gun to the other party’s head they would not like it either and would see the wrongness in it.

Politics is always played. But this is way too extreme and goes against democratic (small d) principles. Bills are supposed to go through both houses of the legislature and then get a signature by the president (or a veto, which can be overridden) and then become law. Laws can later be repealed or amended if the votes are there (that does not mean there won’t be some back room intrigue).

Government provides the public with a myriad of services and protections and provides an infrastructure for our society and economy and is indeed itself a part of that infrastructure.

Shutting down the government is an idiot move. The thinking people in both the major parties, especially the one currently out of the White House, need to stand up to the whackos and demagogues and get on with the business of government.

We need the ongoing debate over the role of government, levels of funding, and social policy, but we also need a democratic (small d again) form of government.  We are devolving into chaos.

Remember when Richard Nixon won re-election by a landslide but the ugly and embarrassing details of Watergate came out? Members of his own party met with him in private and told him he must go. They were willing to give up the White House (the predictable result in the next election) in order to do the right thing. (And to his credit, Nixon left peacefully.)

Where are those kind of leaders today? Nowhere to be found apparently.

P.s.

Eventually if or when the pain from an idle government, no services, no contracts for work, no public safety, and so on becomes too much to bear, public pressure will come to fore. But in the interim, if we let the nation default on its bond obligations — if a treasury note is not honored at the time it is to be paid, it’s hard to see how that can be anything but disastrous for the domestic and world economy. I mean exactly how long it would take for things to go to hell I don’t know. It could be that as soon as it comes to pass, that a treasury note is not paid, the damage would be irreparable. Markets are prone to panic. By the time the public realizes that we are really in trouble it could be too late.

P.s. P.s.

And for those who say we have too many government employees anyway: so if a business owner thought he had too many workers would he just shut down the whole company? No he’d try to look for efficiencies while maintaining the level of service or quality of product produced, I would think. Government has a hard time doing that. I guess it’s up to the executive to hire the right managers and up to the political parties to get their candidate into the executive office.

P.s. P.s. P.s.

And finally, I found this New York Times piece on the current relations between the GOP and business groups fascinating:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/10/us/business-groups-see-loss-of-sway-over-house-gop.html?hp&_r=0


I add another name to list of famous demagogues and despair of professional politicians…

October 9, 2013

When one hears or reads the word “demagogue” the names Adolph Hitler, the Nazi leader of World War II Germany, and Joseph McCarthy, once a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, who gained power by accusing people of being communist, come to mind.

Demagogues of course are those who make impassioned appeals to emotions and prejudices in order to gain power, and of course this virtually always involves out and out lies or at best half truths, which of course are meant to deceive or mislead, so are no more than lies themselves.

Of course other names may come to mind as well, but I think those two are usually connected with that term in documentaries, just as the name Neville Chamberlain has become synonymous with the word “appeasement” which has become a pejorative through the decades since Chamberlain’s time.

But after hearing a few words uttered by the junior U.S. senator from Texas Ted Cruz about how Obamacare must be repealed before it ruins America, I would add his name to the list in the category of “demagogue”.

I admit that this was the first time, or maybe second (and I hope last), that I ever heard him utter anything, but I have been reading and hearing a lot of what he has said. As far as I can tell he just spouts of wild claims and never backs them up with any substantive evidence. Now of course that is pretty much what a lot of politicians do, but this man has taken it to the extreme and it is plain that his mission is to grab power for Ted Cruz by making wild accusations that he knows somehow will catch on with many (or at least he hopes so) because so many are uninformed and are quite willing to take his word for things without any objective evaluation, especially if he plays on their built-in prejudices and distrust of people who take a wider view of things (for some reason many seem to feel that thinking things through is a waste of time).

If Mr. Cruz actually had an alternative plan — a plan, not just slogans, talking points, hot button words, platitudes — for providing universal health care at an affordable price, that would be something different. As far as I know, he does not.

(Of course I realize that a lot of people actually have no desire for universal care — just their own . That fact was made plain in the Republican presidential primary debates when some said people without medical insurance and no means to pay should be left to die. That aside, part of the idea of universal health care is to bring costs for everyone down by improving efficiencies in medical care delivery and eliminating out and out price gouging and unfair practices.)

The fact that Cruz is willing to bring the government to a halt and bring it ever closer to financial calamity that could affect every man woman and child in our nation as well as the rest of the world (hey, I know little of economics — I’m just going by what economic experts say and some common sense — not trying to be a demagogue myself), makes it clear he is out for a power grab plain and simple.

He has managed to cow the more moderate Speaker of the House John Boehner, who seems to be afraid to bring the budgetary matters to a vote in the House of Representatives. And by the way, Boehner has become a Neville Chamberlain in a matter of sorts, in a different context. We all know somehow that Boehner would just like to get this whole government shut down issue out of the way and move on but he is appeasing the Tea Party.

One of my best read posts (people read it every day) is about the threat ignorance poses to our democracy.

I wished a moderate Republican would rise up in the House and say: “Mr. Cruz, have you no shame?” (like someone finally did to McCarthy)

I keep hearing that the more reasonable Republicans are afraid to buck the Tea Party for fear that when they run for re-election that group will challenge them in the primaries. They speak of such a horrible turn of events as being “primaried”.

And that is why I am against professional politicians. They put their jobs before their country and their fellow citizens. Since that is their livelihood, maybe I can see why. But that’s the point. It makes them too vulnerable.

There have been professional politicians who have also been statesmen. But that seems something of history now.

—————–

I give you a link to that best read post I mentioned: https://tonywalther.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/mass-ignorance-is-the-worst-enemy-of-democracy/


Obama and Boehner need to sit down and compromise…

October 7, 2013

 

It is unfortunate that both the congress and the president are playing politics with this government shut down. Even though it is primarily the fault of a Republican renegade minority, usually called the Tea Party, and a timid Republican majority, I think some blame has to go to the president for not providing some kind of leadership to resolve the impasse.

The big danger is that nothing will be done in time to prevent the failure to raise the debt ceiling (a peculiar thing that needs some investigation, the idea of a debt ceiling that is) and thus put the nation into default on its financial obligations to the rest of the world. Economic observers warn this could have catastrophic consequences on the economy of the whole world.

As I understand it, the impasse is a result of extreme polarization in politics in the United States. The opposite sides refuse to negotiate, to find middle ground, and instead say to each other: “my way or the highway”.

This cannot work forever. Eventually our whole system of government will be paralyzed and we will drift into chaos as is the case in many parts of the world.

One of the reasons for the polarization is the break down of the political party system. Office holders these days tend to run independently, depending more on their own fundraising than that of a party, and they are more likely to be supported by special interest groups than the party itself, even though most office holders label themselves as Republican or Democrat. This has been made possible by the formation in gerrymander fashion of “safe” districts, where once in office, an office holder can pretty well bet he or she can stay there as along as he or she follows what a narrow constituency seems to support — no compromise among diverse groups is needed. Unfortunately the nation as a whole is diverse.

The Tea Party faction hates the president’s signature health care insurance reform law, even though in reality it might well help many of its members. But people see it as a government takeover, and so many people never read or study things, but instead just listen to their favorite propaganda source and make up their minds accordingly. I want to make it clear, however, that I am neither a proponent nor opponent of the so called Obamacare. I do think, however, that it is going to work and in all likelihood become quite popular in the coming years, much as Social Security did. And that may be what some of the serious ideologues of the Tea Party and elsewhere in the conservative movement may be afraid of. If Obamcare works and becomes accepted they will never be able to kill it.

Some in the conservative movement must understand that the fight against Obamacare is a losing battle. But they are using it as a symbol of costly liberal programs that run up the national debt. Conservatives of course have their own costly programs, but that can be argued at another time.

I find this notion of a debt ceiling to be strange. Why do we have a ceiling if we must always raise it? Why not just have it unlimited? That is the practical effect.

This might not be possible or legal or practical, but other than that, my idea is that should the current debt ceiling not get raised, the president should order bills to be paid anyway, but with the provision that cuts have to be made elsewhere. He would both pay the bills and make the necessary cuts via executive order as an emergency measure.

The fact that we as a nation have to continually borrow money to pay bills and to pay interest on interest is a symptom of our failed government financial policy. In some respects we really do need to hold the debt ceiling where it is and quit spending money we do not have.

The only way a government can get money is through taxes. But there is a limit to how much a government can tax. At some point those who make the spending laws must realize that economic choices have to be made. But much like modern families have done, the government fails to make those choices and instead borrows money. Borrowing money to pay for services and projects is bad enough, but borrowing money to pay back money already borrowed is ultimately disastrous, as many a family finds out.

Necessary economic choices cannot be made in the current polarized political environment. The best we come up with is to add to our expenses without raising the corresponding revenue and thus we get further into debt. And here I will pick on Mr. Obama. He tells us that even though Obamacare will cost a lot of money, it will actually save money by its efficiency. In reality that type of thinking is always dealing with an unknown and can be illusory (on purpose). Time will tell on this one.

Right now President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner need to sit down and come up with a compromise. The Tea Party is right in that the government is too profligate in its spending, but ruining the U.S. economy and that of the world is not the solution.

A compromise that is a real compromise, not just some face-saving sham, such as the last time when they came up with the ridiculous automatic spending cuts (if they can be done automatically then who needs a government?), in which both sides actually give up something (not Obamacare, though — parts of it? I don’t know), is what is needed. And in so doing they should ignore the narrow-minded Tea Party. If Boehner could get a good deal, he could claim credit for it and not even mention the Tea Party. He would do well to ignore them — they might eventually fade away.

And that is a little contradictory on my part, I suppose. I mean concessions on the part of the Democrats might be the result of the Tea Party action. But the Tea Party in its narrowness, its willingness to bring down the government to get what it wants, is a danger. This is not 1776. We are not a colony breaking away from a monarchy. We have a representative form of government. The problem is not enough people choose to get involved as informed voters. And I do have to tip my hat to the Tea Party for taking an interest, I suppose. 

 

,


Politics of division in a nation lost in texting and self gratification where objective information is missing…

October 4, 2013

Not sure I have seen such polarization in national politics since the Vietnam War. Adding to that is the fact that more than ever the populace seems separated from politics and current events in its own electronically-driven world in which supposedly we now have more access to news and its background than ever before. But do we?

Not really. We have a lot of data but most of it is one-sided propaganda or short summaries leaving out necessary explanations and background. But few want to be bothered with the details anyway. Families for the most part are way too busy to be bothered by such stuff — if there is mom and dad, both, at home, they both work (or with such high unemployment maybe look for work). The kids have their activities, and so many people seem self-absorbed in texting each other and what ever else they do on those I-phones and tablets and so on. People actually sit at restaurant booths and don’t talk to each other but text on their phones. What they are texting I have no clue. I don’t text — I have a hard enough time typing in the conventional mode. But then again, I am usually by myself. And I do sometimes lug my laptop around and mess with it while I am waiting for my food.

And so many people do not keep up on current events. And for those who do, the trend now is to read only stuff that is targeted to your beliefs. The advertisers who fund all of this like it that way. It’s called reaching a certain demographic I think. They try to target certain segments of the national audience who might be interested in buying their particular product or service.

Purely objective journalism — well there may be no such thing, but there was an ideal — is pretty much passé. Some people feel that the old he said, she said, is not really all that informative. And I understand this. I mean I once was a journalist and I covered many a public meeting. One person says one thing and one person says another. Somewhere in there is the truth. But if you simply write what was said you are no better than a transcriptionist — you might as well have sent a shorthand reporter and submitted a long transcript to the readers and then they still would not make heads or tails of it unless they knew all the background that goes with it (and who would have time to read it all anyway?). But objective reporting and fair reporting can be done but it may seem dull and it might not fit into those demographics of the targeted audience.

Even public broadcasting seems to be slanted, and virtually always to the left of the political spectrum. And that is because it is done by thinking people with open minds — but that does not mean they are correct. They’re just seeing another point of view. Sometimes they seem to go overboard in always going against the status quo. Sometimes status quo is what works best.

Adding to all of this is the fact we seem to be living in an age where entertainment and self-gratification takes center stage, and that is not to say those two things have not always been sought after, it’s just that it seems more so now.

And still more confusion comes from the fact that the makeup of our American society is changing. We are so much more diverse now. We used to be a society based on white European values (good and bad), with others basically assimilating into that for the most part. And maybe they still do, but I see conflict.

Also, in my lifetime the sexual revolution has taken over and the norms of home life and everything have changed and in some strange way that has changed politics.

(Along with this we are a much more vulgar society. Child entertainment stars move into their teenagehood and then adulthood engaging in what used to be considered bad taste, but what today is just expected if one wants to remain in the game make more and more money.)

And back to the so-called information age. Now no one can do anything without it showing up on YouTube. I heard one politician say that he is afraid to talk to groups unless he sticks to prepared remarks, lest someone post a YouTube video showing him talking one way to one group and one way to another. I added that last part, but I think that is what he meant. And I think I understand it. I mean if you want to represent all of the people and all of the people don’t agree, you have to offer compromises to some but that may not sit well with others.

(Also, see link at end of post for more on the YouTube reality –nothing is private.)

So today we have a vast majority of the public uninterested and uninformed and even if they wanted to be it would be difficult due to the lack of objective sources of information or at least the confusion caused by the overabundance of sites on the computer purporting to offer facts. And let me stop here to explain why “objective” is so important. I mean if you were going to buy a car, wouldn’t you want the full run down on the thing — the pros and the cons with no spin? What good would it do just to read the dealer’s hype? My product is best!

Meanwhile, politics is polarized and many politicians care more about their jobs than statesmanship — read John Boehner seems to care more about retaining his speakership in congress than introducting a bill to end the government shutdown in the current blackmail by a  minority of Tea Party Republicans who feel they have the right to rule the majority. (At last word, though, he supposedly has hinted he has something in the offing.)

And I am not saying that their opposition to Obamacare is without merit (although I have my doubts), but we have constitutional procedures and free elections to resolve those problems. Why they think they should bring the world’s only super power and the world’s last guardian of democracy (even though we have slipped at that at times by supporting dictators — but we had our reasons — good intentions) to its knees, unable to function, over opposition to one law, is beyond me. (And yes, I can see the argument that once something is entrenched it is hard to kill, but Obamacare is not that far along.)

I have heard that they are deathly afraid that Obamacare might catch on and really work — then what would they do?

And, if it is so bad, as they say, then surely that will be political gold for them in coming elections.

P.s.

I also heard this: maybe pork barrel politics had its merits. Used to be when there seemed to be a standoff, one side would secretly offer to vote for the other side’s pork barrel project in order to clinch a deal. Harder to do in the information age.

The Keystone Pipleline? I’ve heard as much.

An unwelcome result, as far as political strategy goes, of information technology may be seen here (kind of like the opposing team having a bug planted inside your huddle) :

http://thehill.com/video/in-the-news/326359-mcconnell-and-paul-on-hot-mic-we-will-win