It looks as if the military draft may be needed and it may be the right thing to do…

March 3, 2010

The move back in the early 70s to an all-volunteer military may have been seen as a victory to the anti-war or anti-Vietnam War crowd, but maybe it was not such a victory after all. And maybe it’s just not practical.

With draft-age young people and their parents not having to worry about the military draft it is far too easy to go to war — it doesn’t require the political calculation it once did.

And I really believe that the majority of the American public, although said to be weary of the wars, is more like disconnected with them. Unless you have a loved one or friend over there, it’s just not part of your life.

The all-volunteer approach has made the “war of choice”, i.e., Iraq (and maybe Afghanistan) possible.

I wonder if these so-called wars of choice are not unconstitutional.

The British government has even held hearings on whether George W’s sycophant and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his advisors went to war illegally in Iraq.

It would probably be difficult to determine whether such is the case in the U.S. Our Constitution is somewhat ambiguous as to the rules regarding what is a legal war or if there is indeed such a thing or what are the proper steps to go to war, and besides the modern method has been to officially call these actions something other than “war”, even though in the popular vernacular and even in the governmental policy discussions the word “war” is freely used. But remember? When we first went down the path of these not-so-conventional wars we used the term “conflict”, as in the “Korean Conflict”, or worse yet, the “police action in Korea”. It was not until years afterward, I think, that the term “Korean War” became accepted. Vietnam was referred to as a “conflict” for a long time to get around the various requirements, deliberation, and scrutiny that the word “war” would have entailed.

But a war is a war is a war. And the public after a decade got fed up with the thousands of casualties for no purpose and the idea that your government could force you or your children to go to war for some vague and nebulous purpose. So the all-volunteer military was born in the USA.

But now, according to an article I read in USA Today, 70 percent of the 460,000-person U.S. Army has seen combat. Half of the troops have seen combat tours once. One third have been over there twice, 13 percent three times, and 4 percent four times.

That’s incredible! I recall that during the Vietnam War an Army recruiter told me that if I joined the Army the odds were that I would not even go to Vietnam. And that was in 1968. The Vietnam military operation was much larger than the ones we have today, but the Army was bigger too. At its height we had more personnel in Vietnam War than the size of the whole Army today.

Yes, I joined, but I did not go to Vietnam. In fact, I was sent to Germany, and found out upon arrival that is was highly unlikely that I would be called up to Vietnam during my three-year enlistment (and I was not).

I’m not big on the draft, really. I am not big on military service. It is not for everyone. It can be a noble calling, but I think it takes a special breed.

Nonetheless, there can come a time when our nation is threatened, or actually, I suppose, we are always threatened, and we have to maintain a defense, and defending our free nation is everyone’s business.

A mandatory draft (would it now include women in this 21st Century society?) may be necessary and right. But if it were to be implemented — and the selective service is still in operation, we’re just not actually drafting now — I would want to make sure that there were safeguards against new wars of choice being declared. I think a legal question in that regard needs to be dealt with and a new war policy enacted.

There are reports now that soldiers not fit for duty due to war injuries, physical and mental, are being pressed back into service nonetheless. There is a definite strain on the military now and it is not clear how we move forward from here.

The draft may simply become necessary. But it also may be right.

P.s.

Although I am sincere in suggesting that perhaps we should return to the draft, implicit in my argument is the idea that if the draft were to return, our wars would end a lot sooner!

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Mulling over the libertarian option…

February 6, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

During our recent presidential election we chose between the two major parties, but there was a third way, libertarianism. Maybe we should have elected Ron Paul president, but of course we would not have done that because as most libertarians he came across as kind of cranky and he has that kind of whiny and raspy voice and he’s totally out of the mainstream.

What made me think about this is an article I read a few hours ago by libertarian economist Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University.

I was also mulling over an opinion piece written by President Obama and published in the Washington Post. And I caught a few minutes of Republican right wing radio.

As we know, Obama wants to push through an ever-expanding “stimulus” bill – it started out at $800 billion the first time I heard about it and now the new reports put it at $900 Billion. It has been heavily criticized for containing all kinds of pet projects, often called “pork”, to include things that seemingly have nothing or nothing directly to do with immediately stimulating the economy, such as family planning and health care.

The Republicans are calling for more tax cuts, their idea being that the economy can be stimulated better by cutting taxes than increasing government spending. By a little legerdemain, Obama proposes to increase taxes and cut spending (by borrowing money).

Obama wrote in his opinion piece that cutting taxes alone as an approach to stimulate the economy is part of the “failed theories” from the previous administration that have been resoundingly rejected by the electorate.

My view of what the traditional Democrats and Republicans want is unchanged. Despite what they claim, they are basically both in support of huge, overbearing government because it is the status quo with which they are accustom.

The Democrats want that big government to use its resources to do all kinds of things for a wide range of people. The Republicans want to use the resources of government to help the business class (there may be somewhat of a split between Wall Street and Main Street).

So anyway, even though I mentioned Ron Paul, I’m really thinking of what Mr. Miron wrote.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of what he wrote, but I think he made some good points. So I thought I might list some of them and give my response:

REPEAL THE CORPORATE INCOME TAX: I’m rather sure the Republicans would agree with this one. Miron thinks this would free up more money for more corporate investment, thus stimulating the economy. Also some argue that corporate income taxes are double taxation since shareholders must also pay income taxes on their dividends. I think this is worth consideration (taxes do have to be collected somewhere, though, and corporations benefit from the services and protections government affords).

INCREASE CARBON TAXES WHILE LOWERING MARGINAL TAX RATES: Miron opines that upping carbon taxes would be a more efficient way of going green because it would give industry an incentive to clean up its act without risking the likely boondoggles of so-called government green programs. It would also reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. I like it.  As far as lowering tax rates, I don’t know. Everyone wants to have their own tax rate cut, but someone has to pay the bills. Perhaps a flat tax or a consumption tax is a better way to go. A lot of resources are wasted and and a lot of taxable income is hidden under the present hodgepodge.

MODERATE GROWTH OF ENTITLEMENTS: Our libertarian friend suggests raising the retirement age and putting a hold on increases in various social programs. For my part, I am sure those who have no need for the entitlements (and I don’t like that term) programs don’t mind cutting back. Social Security does need a stable and equitable funding system that is secure from raiding for other uses. Unlike libertarians and Republicans, I think government ought to be able to provide the citizenry with some protections as long as we all pay for it on an equitable basis. But it is true that while all industrialized nations provide social protections, they all face the problem of ever increasing costs. So entitlement spending does have to be kept in check. It could indeed bankrupt the nation. And I want to add that I don’t think raising the Social Security retirement age again is a good idea. We already have too big of a labor pool with too few jobs, and why do we want to work all of our life?

ELIMINATE WASTEFUL SPENDING: And who could argue with this? Problem is that one person’s wasteful spending is another’s much needed project. But included in Mr. Miron’s examples of wasteful spending are fixing levees in New Orleans, thus encouraging folks to live below sea level, farm subsidies, Amtrak, when, according to Miron, buses are more efficient, and the U.S. Postal Service when Fed Ex is more efficient (and I would add e-mail). I could actually write in defense of some farm subsidies because of the stability in agriculture that benefits all, but the problem is that a large portion of those subsidies unfairly go to the super rich (who are super rich due primarily to the subsidies) and also to people not involved in farming. As to the other examples, truly food for thought.

WITHDRAW FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: And this is true libertarian doctrine. To my knowledge libertarians believe in using our military for direct defense of our country only. During the Cold War era, which included some hot wars (Korea and Vietnam, for example) we were locked into a military spending competition with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union finally and essentially went bankrupt. What we do about our present engagements in the Middle East is a question. But I for one would hope we resist being suckered into war here and there and everywhere. Our present military adventures are a major drain on our failing economy and threaten the immediate defense of our own country by stretching us too thin. And then there are the moral considerations.

LIMIT UNION POWER: The big issue nowadays is card check. It is a system that circumvents the secret ballots workers use to vote a union in. Under card check, union organizers can bully workers into signing cards (and there is no protection of secrecy) in order to push through a union. I am against card check. I am neutral on unions themselves. But workers should not be required to belong to unions. In some cases businesses might find it advantageous to employ workers who belong to unions that stress professionalism. In my own working experience I have witnessed both the good and bad of unionism. The good: excellent wages and benefits and job security (except possibly in this economy). The bad: Work slow downs, refusals to work at a related job when the help is needed, indifference to the needs of the employer. (My experience primarily is from working as a non-union truck driver, who at one point did nonetheless benefit from a wage scale related to union contracts).

People who are paid well indeed help the economy.

EXPANDING LEGAL IMMIGRATION: The libertarian here calls for making it even easier for employers to hire foreign workers with specialized skills. I am not against this if it can be proved that U.S. citizens with the needed skills are not available, but I am against companies using the special visa program to undercut wages, and I think it is highly unpatriotic for them to do so. If we do have a dearth of skilled workers, industry should sponsor education programs to rectify the situation. And needed skill training should get more attention in public education as well.

RENEW OUR COMMITMENT TO FREE TRADE: This is a tricky one. We know from experience that during the Great Depression (the last one) raising tariffs brought on reprisals from other countries and exacerbated the economic woes. Right now, like it or not, we are a consumer nation and our whole economy is structured around free trade. While I think it might not be a good idea to raise tariffs or otherwise officially discourage imports, I do think we need to expand or rebuild our own industry and become more competitive on the world market.

STOP BAILING OUT BUSINESSES THAT TOOK ON TOO MUCH RISK: Nothing more I can say on this other than I agree. As the bailout billions (to become trillions) multiply and the nation goes deeper and deeper into debt and as the economy spirals downwards it may become all too apparent that bankruptcy was the answer the whole time. Bailouts, which have been done in times past, send the message to the marketplace that risk can be hedged at the cost of the taxpayers – wrong message.

Separate from all of the preceding, and of libertarian thought, I personally suggest an expansion of or creation of federal job corps type programs that put people to work doing things that the private sector never gets around to doing but are needed nonetheless.

Also, reinstating the military draft could help relieve our stressed armed forces and provide relief in the ever-shrinking job sector. It would also make our presidents and the electorate itself become more circumspect in ordering or supporting military interventions. Just an idea.


We need to WORK our way out of economic crisis

December 15, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

We need to get the money circulating again and the only practical way to do that is reverse the tide of expanding unemployment.

Once Barack Obama becomes president he should institute a humongous public works program, bigger than FDR could have ever conceived, and put all kinds of folks to work, everyone from the highly skilled to the unskilled. We need roads, bridges, and schools, and parks and probably all kinds of environmental cleanup.

In a recent blog I noted that historians say it was not FDR’s public works projects but WWII that finally brought us out of the Great Depression. I also wrote that I don’t want us to have to go to war on that scale to pull us out of our economic crisis, but maybe we ought to expand our military and even create some type of non-military public service corps and re-instate the draft for both.

The draft gives me mixed emotions. In the context of military draft, I am really conflicted. The military is not for everyone (except maybe in the most dire circumstances). I joined and realized in the first five minutes it wasn’t for me, but served three years plus, nonetheless (and of course I was young and didn’t fully appreciate the sometimes necessary hardships of life). And certainly compulsory service puts a damper on freedom. Back in Europe, as late as the Nineteenth Century, the common folk were used as cannon fodder at the discretion of the King or Emperor or Duke or Baron or whatever. And, unfortunately, it could be said at times even in the U.S. and other parts of the free world soldiers have been essentially cannon fodder – the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, all are examples. And I quickly add that I certainly don’t mean to disparage those who served. It’s a cruel paradox – citizens find themselves in the predicament of having to do their duty in the cause of freedom and at the same time military planners know full well that they are ordering up a sacrifice of human lives with the thought that it is all for the greater good.

But I am thinking that the military draft is needed to restore our military and to restore a sense of purpose to our citizenry. And if everyone knew he (or she?) were subject to a military draft, the powers that be might have to be more circumspect in deciding to move militarily in various parts of the world.

And perhaps a new draft law could include the option of serving in a civilian corps (at a lower rate of pay), unless circumstances were so dire that everyone was needed in the military.

With so many people receiving a paycheck from Uncle Sam, but gainfully employed doing needed work, the economy and our infrastructure and our quality of life would be the beneficiary and growth in the private sector could be achieved through more circulating dollars and that improved infrastructure. It worked in WWII, but if we could avoid war, instead of producing so many tanks and airplanes and such, we could be producing consumer goods (fuel-efficient autos?) to improve the quality of life for everyone.

And in my opinion we really need to squelch illegal alien labor. All those jobs that illegal foreign workers take could and would be filled by U.S. citizens. Most people, as strange as it may seem in today’s world, will take sometimes rather distasteful and difficult work if that is what it means to survive. So yes we have to be more vigilant in policing the rules of public assistance (my wife was once an eligibility worker and did home visits and then they cut out the home visits).

There needs to be strict safety regulations, but perhaps some of the burdensome work restrictions, such as mandatory overtime or hourly wages for work better measured by piece rate might need to be lifted. I’m not talking sweat shop or slavery, but practicality. You can’t have it where an employer has to pay one worker who is slacking off, watching the clock, the same as the go-getter who is working at the best of his or her ability. That is a tough one (and I in no way condone things such as long-haul trucking where a company-employed driver is not paid when he or she is not moving but is required to babysit the truck), but we do have to be practical.

I know I repeat myself a lot in this blog space, but I have to say that the U.S. is so blessed with land and resources, it seems a shame to let it go to waste and so many of us go wanting in the process.


Political confusion, division, indifference…

September 16, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

While I don’t think one can put all the blame on the wars we are fighting for our current economic crisis, they sure play a major role. You just can’t spend billions of dollars every week on war and not have it take a toll on the U.S. treasury (estimated total, $3 trillion). We don’t tax directly to supply the war effort. Instead we borrow money from foreign nations, to include the oil-rich Middle East nations and China.

And I would like to write a blog without mentioning the lipstick on a pig woman (and I’m not really calling her a pig – I actually have a soft spot for pigs, real swine that is), but I read an opinion piece in the New York Times online that suggests that some conservatives are uneasy with John McCain’s vice presidential pick. They actually think experience matters. The piece is interesting in that the author brings out something I have noticed but would have had a harder time describing. It has to do with the fact that conservatism in America has a divide between traditional conservatism and a kind of uniquely American populist conservatism (and then there is neo conservatism, but I’m not going into that today). The best example I could think of along these lines is that in my neck of the woods folks whom might normally be considered part of the base of the Democratic Party, so-called working class or tradespeople, more often than not align themselves with conservative Republicans. They liken Democrats to the flag-burning, pot smoking, unpatriotic hippie war protestors of the past. Now for sure there is a lot of contradiction here. Some of those who detest the so-called left wing radicals of the past (the 60s) were part of that rabble themselves. I actually had a right wing guy confide in an e-mail to me that he was a hippie war protestor back in the 60s and never served in the military. He changed his mind. Today he sees politics as basically Bush or Reagan type Republicans against left leaning appeasers who would sell out their own country and run away from a fight in a second. Also, as a truck driver, I worked with a lot of guys who seemed to follow the conservative line, but admit that they were pot smoking anti-war, almost hippie types, but they served in Vietnam (and most seem proud of it, even though they realize it was a hopeless and misguided cause).

While I think that the bulk of the troops who were drafted and actually served in combat in the Vietnam War from the lower end of the economic scale, there were also those from nearly every level of society and every political persuasion (and as in society as a whole, no political persuasion). They were drafted, they did their duty as required by law, and if they were fortunate, they got to come home after two years or less, one year approximately of Vietnam service required.

Not to disparage our current all-volunteer military, but it primarily has to draw from those in search of employment who might not be able to find it elsewhere. Even though that force is fighting valiantly (by all accounts), it seems there is something inherently unfair in having primarily one part of society do our fighting and sacrificing for us. If all were subject to service and all were subject to sacrifice, we would as a nation be more selective in our use of military force, but more committed  toward meaningful results once the decision was made.

Another way to look at all of this is that in the world of politics, you have college educated people who look at things one way, and non-college educated people, who tend to see things from another perspective. To the latter, right and left and liberal and conservative are esoteric terms that carry little meaning or significance or even clear recognition (although calling someone “liberal” and “leftist” does seem to be an epithet). To them, you are either common sense and practical or you are someone with your nose in books and your head in the clouds and just don’t get it (in effect, you are too smart). You are either willing to defend your country (and that means support any military adventure the president initiates) or not. You either support the troops or not.

At any rate, I’m not sophisticated enough to do links correctly, but you can find that column I referred to earlier by calling up New York Times, Sept. 15, David Brooks column, “Why Experience Matters”.

I’m not in favor of re-instituting the military draft at this point, but I do think that if it were, we would quickly be out of our wars. The problem with instituting a draft would be that we have never resolved the issue of how it is we decide to go to war. It seems that despite the fact that the Constitution gives the power to declare war to the Congress, in reality it plays out another way. The president as commander in chief (as designated in the Constitution) can commit troops or take military actions and then essentially black mail the Congress to go along, with the argument that not to do so amounts to treason, and much of the public buys this or is indifferent to this.

The draft would force many to drop their indifference, but it would be unfair to call up people to fight in an unjust war under threat of imprisonment if they don’t.

I may have written here that many people still mistakenly believe we went to war because Iraq attacked us. In reality, I don’t think many believe that by now. It seems apparent that a primarily indifferent or apathetic public just went along with it content that without a draft, who cares? and besides, maybe we can whip those Arabs and get their oil, that would pay them back for gouging us and would send a message to Islamic terrorists (after all we are fighting over there in that world).

Supposedly, there is a lot more interest in the current presidential election than has previously been the case, with voters unhappy about the economy and the war. The turnout in November will tell the tale.

Indifference or not, reckless and unethical practices in the financial markets and the monetary cost of war is responsible for the economic crisis we now face.

Also I agree with a line out of a Barack Obama speech today that blamed our financial mess on: “policies that reward manipulation rather than productivity.”

John McCain rather weakly, I think, claims that he realizes that some things are amiss and that he will work for reform. Rather hard to believe since he has been in Washington for 26 years, and although he has differed from Republican administrations on some issues, for the most part he has gone along. Besides he is counting on the support and votes from the so-called Republican base who got us into this mess. While he may be trying to reach out to undecideds there is no indication he would abandon his base if elected.

When the cost of war and the cost of indifference and apathy toward both war and the out-of-whack financial practices really hits home, the mood will change.

Actually, that gives me hope, for no matter whether Obama or McCain is elected, they will face that mood of the public, who probably won’t be so indifferent anymore.

As to our war effort, strangely I see little difference between Obama and McCain, except that McCain has a natural proclivity for armed conflict.

Maybe Obama is closer to being anti-war, but he wouldn’t dare be too direct about that. I remember what happened to George McGovern.

The war issue is confusing in that there is certainly a terrorist movement, at least somewhat coordinated, and now centered in the Middle East, that means to do us harm (in the manner of 9/11 or worse).

But that just means we need someone level headed and not hot headed who can make reasonable decisions about the deployment of military force and other defense issues. And this is the 21st Century. We need someone who can think in terms of modern realities.

And finally, although I didn’t want to mention her name, Sarah Palin, due to McCain’s age primarily, has a good chance of becoming president. So far, the only knowledge of foreign affairs she has shown is that she says that from some point in Alaska you can see Russia. To realize that she would actually use that point to answer a question about her worldly knowledge, is scary, to say the least.

Setting things straight:

In the initial draft of my previous blog I said something about a woman who said she had no previous interest in politics but was intrigued with Sarah Palin and I went on to suggest that people who have no knowledge of current events should not be able to vote (I was being kind of sarcastic). Anyway, I wrote that after misinterpreting a TV soundbite. I saw the piece later and realized it was not what I thought. But then I read in the paper today that Palin is attracting some former Hillary Clinton supporters. I can’t see the logic there. The only similarity or connection that the two have is that they are both women and that putting them together makes a hilarious Saturday Nigh Live skit. Oh, and I removed my erroneous info and posted a new draft.