September 28, 2012

Don't Know Much About His-tor-y...

I received this story from a great friend who has long been concerned about the quality of education (more accurately, the 'lack of') in our public school system. In the combined six years his two girls have been in a well-regarded high school in northern Virginia, neither has had any instruction in 'modern history' stretching from WWII through the post-Cold War period. Of my three kids, only one is old enough to have completed high school so I have fewer data points but my insights are similar. Our kids simply aren't receiving much, if any, education about 'how' and 'why' our world is the way it is, what forces  have shaped it in the modern age or even explanation of the various regimes and/or ideologies that vied for dominance across the 20th Century. I guess it shouldn't be surprising to see Che Guevara shirts or hammer-and-sickle graphics adorning our youth if they don't have the slightest notion of the terrible cost in human lives and squandered opportunity exacted by communism from hundreds of millions of people. 

In a similar way, one can't expect people to vote on policies, or the people who espouse them, with any sense of historically-based understanding if they've never been exposed to the harsh realities of our own history. I believe the truth of the matter is that most parents have largely ceased to care about such things...not all, of course, but a majority sufficiently large enough such that state governments and local public school systems are allowed to teach whatever drivel they choose without having to worry about being held accountable by the very population they are failing. What a shame. 

   By Paul Kengor, September 27, 2012, FoxNews.com

“What do you think of this?” So began a phone call from Todd Starnes of FoxNews Radio. Starnes called me for a comment on a shocking story: A band at a high school near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania performed a halftime show titled, “St. Petersburg 1917,” a musical commemoration of the Bolshevik Revolution, replete with hammers and sickles, military uniforms, and red flags.

“No way,” I responded. “Are you sure this wasn’t a joke, a parody?”

It wasn’t. And parents of the students aren’t laughing.

The superintendent of the school genuinely pleaded innocence. “It’s a representation of the time period in history, called ‘St. Petersburg 1917,’” she said. “I am truly sorry that somebody took the performance in that manner. I am.” She continued: “If anything is being celebrated it’s the music…. I’m just very sorry that it wasn’t looked at as just a history lesson.”

Well, as a history lesson, I give it a giant, red “F.”

To be fair to the superintendent, she sincerely doesn’t seem to understand what’s so bad about this incident, and why it’s in bad taste. In fact, therein is the basic problem: We have failed to teach the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution specifically and of communism generally.

Those horrors include over 100 million corpses generated by communist governments, starting with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917—that is, “St. Petersburg 1917.” For perspective, 100 million is twice the combined deaths of World War I and II, the two deadliest conflicts in history. Even then, 100 million dead, which is the estimate provided by the seminal Harvard University Press work, "The Black of Book of Communism," is a conservative figure. The latest research claims that Mao Tse-Tung was responsible for the deaths of at least 70 million in China, and Joseph Stalin alone may well have killed 60 million in the USSR.

And yet, far too many American are ignorant of this catastrophe, especially younger Americans. I know. I’ve been observing it carefully for years. I could give a thousand examples, but here are just a few:

September 27, 2012

RIP PFC Jon Townsend, USA

We considered ourselves privileged, today, to take part in turning out for the return of PFC Jon Townsend, a U.S. soldier recently killed in Afghanistan (local stories here and here, national here). PFC Townsend, 19, was a 2011 graduate of Sequoyah High School--the same school from which I graduated 30 years ago. He was on his first deployment. He leaves behind a young bride, only 18 years old herself. We read and hear stories on almost a daily basis of US losses in distant theaters. Our town of Claremore ensured this loss didn't become just another statistic; there was a terrific outpouring of support to honor this young man along the route taken by the lengthy convoy of escorts accompanying him. It was a solemn and moving occasion. Here's some video taken by my wife:

video


September 26, 2012

Semper Paratus!


The U.S. Coast Guard is one of those organizations that has a great reputation with the general public but about which that same general public knows very little. Unless you are involved in a business that brings you into direct contact with the Coast Guard on a regular basis or that depends heavily on what Coasties do especially when it comes to 'aids to navigation', the most any of us really know about the Coast Guard is that they save stranded boaters and occasionally pluck flooding victims from roof tops. That's a shame. The U.S. Coast Guard is one of those unheralded services that does so much for the country, on a shoe-string budget, and with little fanfare. I've had the great pleasure of getting to know various Coasties over the years and they are as solid, professional, and patriotic a group of people as one could wish for.

No surprise, then, that this article on the potential impact of sequestration on the U.S. Coast Guard caught my eye. Scary stuff made worse in that such arbitrary cuts would come on top of the long-running budget and programmatic challenges with which the Coast Guard is already struggling. Its effort to modernize its force, especially its fleet of ships many of which date back to the 1960s and 70s, has been fraught with problems. Just mention "Deepwater" to any Coastie and you're likely to see a shudder ripple through their body. The missteps associated with this program have accumulated over time to leave the Service operationally challenged though its spirit of service and courage in carrying out its missions remain unbroken - thank goodness! It is forging ahead (and here) in its efforts to replace old ships/craft, improve its ability to secure America's ports and harbors, interdict bad guys from making it to our shores, and ensure that commerce flows along our waterways. But all this might be undone if sequestration is allowed to happen. 

If you have little idea of what our Coast Guard does, what its origins are, or where it needs to head in carrying out its core functions, take a few minutes to read this excellent article written by a dear friend of mine a couple of years ago. You'll be better informed than 99% of your fellow citizens.

September 25, 2012

The Vagaries of War

A number of stories have hit-the-wire over the past few days regarding the end of the 'surge' in Afghanistan, the recent Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, and the publication of a new book by Michael Gordon and LtGen Bernard Trainor (USMC, Ret), 'The Endgame' (review here by John Barry (thanks for the h/t, Wes) the key points of which are summarized by Gordon in this NYT piece.) Much too much to cover in a single post so I'll just make a few remarks:

- Iraq. Read Gordon's NYT piece first, then Barry's book review. The short story: lots of mistakes were made, certainly, but that's the nature of war. What can't be forgiven is the lack of understanding and willpower exhibited by the Obama administration necessary to address America's long-term interests vis-a-vis Iraq, Iran, Syria and the larger Middle East. While he did inherit the war via election, he had to deal with the presence of the US in Iraq and the consequences of the situation that could evolve along a number of paths. Obama's opposition to Iraq in favor of the 'good war' in Afghanistan was essentially a political tactic in his contest with McCain. Once in office, he couldn't backtrack on his campaign pledge to 'end the war in Iraq' and shift emphasis to Afghanistan. That said, his higher responsibility was for the long-term security interests of the US which did not include the rise of a dysfunctional Iraq and a leadership overly influenced and leverage by Iran. Much like Afghanistan, our military leadership advised certain force levels to accomplish stated objectives but were ignored in favor of a domestic political agenda that did not account for the compromised security situation that would result from short-changing our efforts.

- Afghanistan. The 'surge' was a strategic mistake. As mentioned by Fred Kaplan here, our initial war objectives were accomplished fairly early on in Afghanistan, i.e. the breaking up of the Taliban and subsequent damage to Al Qaeda to eliminate it as an effective threat to the US (something very different than eliminating Al Qaeda). Though Obama had to make good on his campaign rhetoric to reinvest US efforts in Afghanistan, he committed a fraction of what his military commanders assessed (and privately requested) was necessary to accomplish the objectives articulated by his Administration. So, lives and treasure were committed to an end that could not be achieved. What a waste. For their part, the military commanders did the best they could with the resources they had, but given the odds stacked against them it was a fools-errand. As in Vietnam, successful tactics were found such as the Marine Corps' CAP effort. Counterinsurgency properly done however is very manpower- and time-intensive. Obama committed neither the necessary manpower nor the time. Further, like in Vietnam, one can only do so much when the host country's national leadership structure is fundamentally corrupt. 'Free and fair' democratic elections are the result of democracy, not the catalyst for it.

- War objectives and reasonable expectations. The military is inordinately fond of quoting Clausewitz, but for good reason. It was he who said 'war is the continuation of politics by other means,' meaning that war is carried out to achieve some political end...not for its own sake. Therefore, the resources committed to war must reflect the political objective to be achieved by means of military action OR the objectives must be adjusted to account for the resources available or the objectives that can actually be achieved by military action. In Afghanistan we have seen a terrible disconnect between objectives and resources. Gian Gentile gets at this point in his latest opinion piece entitled 'War: Sometimes There Is a Substitute for Victory,' I only disagree with Gentile in my interpretation of the extent to which the military has argued 'for' national building in Afghanistan. As stated above, the military does its best to accomplish the mission handed to it. It is not in our (US) military tradition for our forces to refuse orders from the civilian leadership. Tell our men and women to dig wells, promise democracy, establish local security, etc., and they'll given their lives to the cause. All the more important, then, for our civilian leadership to think carefully before ordering 'surges'.

It has been said that the primary objective of NATO during the Cold War was to "keep the U.S. 'in', the Russians 'out', and Germans 'down." In other words, the political-military alliance had broader motives than just marshaling the military strength of many countries to offset the numerical superiority of the Soviet Union. The strategic thinking underlying the compact took into account the characteristics of the primary actors, their main objectives, and the context of Europe...all necessary to maintain peace in the region.

We've forgotten this and so many other lessons of history these past few years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, we're doing much the same thing in the Middle East with respect to the "Arab Spring," Israel, Iran, and Egypt and even in Asia when one considers the evolving dispute in the South China Sea and increasing tensions between China and Japan.

What a mess.

September 21, 2012

Bookends

I've already commented a bit about 2016: Obama's America. As stated earlier, Dinesh D'Souza presents an explanation for Obama's 'world view' that, in turn, provides a basis for understanding the policy decisions Obama has made since gaining the Presidency. D'Souza explores the various people, settings and relationships that shaped Obama's view of the world and, arguably, America's place in it, advancing the theory that the anti-colonial views of Obama's father, reinforced by a series of mentors and associates of Obama, are the driving force behind the President's beliefs and actions. 


With D'Souza's movie providing the global context for Obama's ideology, The Washington Examiner has published an in-depth 'special report' entitled "The Obama You Don't Know" in which the Examiner's staff presents a critique and clarification of Obama's domestic story, in effect countering the idealized narrative repeated by the President and his supporters since the beginning of his political career. 

It's not a pretty picture. 

While the story does spend time correcting the myths of Obama's 'impoverished childhood' and reported success as an educator at Chicago Law School (anything but...), The Examiner spends most of its time reviewing Obama's rise through the Chicago political establishment and the rather sordid set of characters he meets and befriends along the way. 

Take a few minutes to read the story. With the amount of coverage given to Romney's time at Bain Capital (in reality an American success story if ever there was one), you just have to marvel at the complicity of the media establishment in keeping the details of Obama's rise and relationships so hidden from public scrutiny. 

September 19, 2012

Who Killed the Liberal Arts?

This is a rather long article but worth the time to read...at least in my opinion. Joseph Epstein makes the case, using a review of "College: What is Was, Is, and Should Be" by Andrew Delbanco as a launching pad, that the classic 'liberal arts' education is rarely found in higher-ed and that this is a significant loss for our country. I agree. 


Some excerpts:
- In a loose definition, the “liberal arts” denote college study anchored in preponderantly Western literature, philosophy, and history, with science, mathematics, and foreign languages playing a substantial, though less central, role... For the ancient Greeks, the liberal arts were the subjects thought necessary for a free man to study. If he is to remain free, in this view, he must acquire knowledge of the best thought of the past, which will cultivate in him the intellectual depth and critical spirit required to live in an informed and reasonable way in the present.

- Whether students today, despite all their special tutoring and testing, are any better than those of earlier generations is far from clear. Trained almost from the cradle to smash the SATs and any other examination that stands in their way, the privileged among them may take examinations better, but it is doubtful if their learning and intellectual understanding are any greater. Usually propelled by the desires of their parents, they form a meritocracy that, in Delbanco’s view, as in that of the English sociologist Michael Young whom he quotes, comprises a dystopia of sorts, peopled by young men and women driven by high, but empty, ambition. “Are these really the people we want running the world?” Delbanco asks. Unfortunately, they already are. I am not the only one, surely, to have noticed that some of the worst people in this country—names on request—are graduates of the Harvard and Yale law schools.

- Studies cited by Delbanco in his footnotes claim an increase among college students in cheating, drinking, and depression. In their book Academically Adrift, Richard Arum and Josipa Roska argue that the gain in critical thinking and complex reasoning among the majority of students during college years is very low, if not minimal.

- Serious intellectual effort requires slow, usually painstaking thought, often with wrong roads taken along the way to the right destination, if one is lucky enough to arrive there. One of the hallmarks of the modern educational system, which is essentially an examination system, is that so much of it is based on quick response solely. Give 6 reasons for the decline of Athens, 8 for the emergence of the Renaissance, 12 for the importance of the French Revolution. You have 20 minutes in which to do so.

- Student evaluations, set in place to give the impression to students that they have an important say in their own education, are one of the useless intrusions into university teaching by the political tumult of the 1960s. Teaching remains a mysterious, magical art. Anyone who claims he knows how it works is a liar.

- The contention in favor of a liberal arts education was that contemplation of great books and grand subjects would take students out of their parochial backgrounds and elevate them into the realm of higher seriousness. Disputes might arise from professor to professor, or from school to school, about what constituted the best that was thought and said—more Hobbes than Locke, more Yeats than Frost—but a general consensus existed about what qualified to be taught to the young in the brief span of their education. That consensus has split apart, and what gets taught today is more and more that which interests professors.

- The death of liberal arts education would constitute a serious subtraction. Without it, we shall no longer have a segment of the population that has a proper standard with which to judge true intellectual achievement. Without it, no one can have a genuine notion of what constitutes an educated man or woman, or why one work of art is superior to another, or what in life is serious and what is trivial. The loss of liberal arts education can only result in replacing authoritative judgment with rivaling expert opinions, the vaunting of the second- and third-rate in politics and art, the supremacy of the faddish and the fashionable in all of life. Without that glimpse of the best that liberal arts education conveys, a nation might wake up living in the worst, and never notice.

Muslims, Mormons and Liberals

Agreed!! I think hypocrisy so quickly and easily offends because it violates the basic notion of fairness. I also think this is at the root of why 'politics' frustrates so many people, leading the majority of Americans to avoid getting involved in civic affairs at all. On the international stage, America gained the reputation it did--defending and promoting freedom, equality, and opportunity--because it had the habit of pointing out such injustice and acting to correct such wrongs when and where it could...not perfectly, of course, but far better, more consistently, and with purer intent than anyone else. That's where this Administration has been so disappointing.

Why is it OK to mock one religion but not another?

By BRET STEPHENS

'Hasa Diga Eebowai" is the hit number in Broadway's hit musical "The Book of Mormon," which won nine Tony awards last year. What does the phrase mean? I can't tell you, because it's unprintable in a family newspaper.

On the other hand, if you can afford to shell out several hundred bucks for a seat, then you can watch a Mormon missionary get his holy book stuffed—well, I can't tell you about that, either. Let's just say it has New York City audiences roaring with laughter.

The "Book of Mormon"—a performance of which Hillary Clinton attended last year, without registering a complaint—comes to mind as the administration falls over itself denouncing "Innocence of Muslims." This is a film that may or may not exist; whose makers are likely not who they say they are; whose actors claim to have known neither the plot nor purpose of the film; and which has never been seen by any member of the public except as a video clip on the Internet.

No matter. The film, the administration says, is "hateful and offensive" (Susan Rice), "reprehensible and disgusting" (Jay Carney) and, in a twist, "disgusting and reprehensible" (Hillary Clinton). Mr. Carney, the White House spokesman, also lays sole blame on the film for inciting the riots that have swept the Muslim world and claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff in Libya.

So let's get this straight: In the consensus view of modern American liberalism, it is hilarious to mock Mormons and Mormonism but outrageous to mock Muslims and Islam. Why? Maybe it's because nobody has ever been harmed, much less killed, making fun of Mormons.

Here's what else we learned this week about the emerging liberal consensus: That it's okay to denounce a movie you haven't seen, which is like trashing a book you haven't read. That it's okay to give perp-walk treatment to the alleged—and no doubt terrified—maker of the film on legally flimsy and politically motivated grounds of parole violation. That it's okay for the federal government publicly to call on Google to pull the video clip from YouTube in an attempt to mollify rampaging Islamists. That it's okay to concede the fundamentalist premise that religious belief ought to be entitled to the highest possible degree of social deference—except when Mormons and sundry Christian rubes are concerned.

And, finally, this: That the most "progressive" administration in recent U.S. history will make no principled defense of free speech to a Muslim world that could stand hearing such a defense. After the debut of "The Book of Mormon" musical, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded with this statement: "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."

That was it. The People's Front for the Liberation of Provo will not be gunning for a theater near you. Is it asking too much of religious and political leaders in Muslim communities to adopt a similar attitude?

It needn't be. A principled defense of free speech could start by quoting the Quran: "And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation." In this light, the true test of religious conviction is indifference, not susceptibility, to mockery.

The defense could add that a great religion surely cannot be goaded into frenetic mob violence on the slimmest provocation. Yet to watch the images coming out of Benghazi, Cairo, Tunis and Sana'a is to witness some significant portion of a civilization being transformed into Travis Bickle, the character Robert De Niro made unforgettable in Taxi Driver. "You talkin' to me?"

A defense would also point out that an Islamic world that insists on a measure of religious respect needs also to offer that respect in turn. When Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi—the closest thing Sunni Islam has to a pope—praises Hitler for exacting "divine punishment" on the Jews, that respect isn't exactly apparent. Nor has it been especially apparent in the waves of Islamist-instigated pogroms that have swept Egypt's Coptic community in recent years.

Finally, it need be said that the whole purpose of free speech is to protect unpopular, heretical, vulgar and stupid views. So far, the Obama administration's approach to free speech is that it's fine so long as it's cheap and exacts no political price. This is free speech as pizza.

President Obama came to office promising that he would start a new conversation with the Muslim world, one that lectured less and listened more. After nearly four years of listening, we can now hear more clearly where the U.S. stands in the estimation of that world: equally despised but considerably less feared. Just imagine what four more years of instinctive deference will do.

On the bright side, dear liberals, you'll still be able to mock Mormons. They tend not to punch back, which is part of what makes so many of them so successful in life.

The End of Men?

I've had this WSJ book review, Battle Hymn of the Slacker Father, next to my computer since reading it ten days ago. I should probably just let it go but there's something about the statistics quoted within and the general argument being made (and its implications) that just keep nagging at me.

'Battle Hymn' is a review of a recently released book by Hanna Rosin, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, in which she argues that the shift from a manufacturing-based economy to one that is service-based has all but eliminated the need for what have historically been masculine advantages such as brute physical strength in favor of mental, emotional, and social strengths that have been the domain of women. She argues that men are having a very hard time adjusting to this change and that the age of women is already, irresistibly, and perhaps irrevocably emerging.

Jennifer Homans does a pretty good job in her critique, A Woman's Place (published in the New York Times of all places) of Rosin's book. She points out how Rosin cherry-picks supporting statistics that support her argument and that the entire argument, for that matter, is premised on a shaky set of assumptions about economic trends and the like. I'd add that such assumptions should also include the absence of events that inevitably arise to disrupt trends and that there is a tendency in any given society or culture to cyclically vary 'left and right' (like the swing of a pendulum) from a generalized mainstream norm over time.

Thought there are a multitude of reviews of this book and commentary about the general gender issues involved in shifting demographic trends, education, the changing nature of the economy, and implications for our society, I like what the Economist had to say:
     "This is not the first recession that has triggered a crisis of masculinity in America. After the recession in the early 1990s, Susan Faludi wrote “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man”, which lamented that men were underworked, underachieving and undersupported. This time the story is somewhat different. Had Ms Rosin put off writing her book for a few years, she would probably have seen women’s jobs go the way of men’s. The economic dislocations that have erupted in male-dominated industries, such as construction and finance, are making their way into industries dominated by women, as governments cut back on services, teaching staff and the like. The real story about men and women is about how this economic crisis will harm both genders, and future generations."

In other words, before we start jumping to conclusions about the final status of 'this' or 'that,' let's see what actually happens over time and do our best to 'do our best' regardless of gender, the economy, or political outcomes.

But for any of you needing some pointers on 'manliness,' there's always this site. Then again, the very best reference I've ever read on the 'art of manliness' is this one. Enjoy!

The Fed and Our Future

Among the least understood but most important issues confronting the future of our country is the fiscal policy of our government--and especially that of the current Obama Administration, how it is enacted, and the role of the Federal Reserve. Even with Ron Paul's (among the more well-known critics of the Fed) most recent run for President, I think the general public has very little understanding of what the Fed is, how it works, its status as a public-private entity, and the effect it has on the future of our country's fiscal (and therefore economic) viability. 

I often find the whole thing confusing so I take a few minutes every now and then to review relevant materials. That's why I found Monday's WSJ opinion piece, The Magnitude of the Mess We're In, by GP Shultz, et al, so interesting. He and his co-authors wade into discussing the fiscal mess with which we are saddling ourselves. Maddeningly, it doesn't have to be this way but we (as a country) seem unable or unwilling to stop from immersing ourselves in financial lunacy. 

Since the Federal Reserve features so prominently in the article, I thought it might be helpful to have a very concise explanation at hand. After scanning several sources for an overview of the Federal Reserve, Wikipedia actually had the most easily understood entry. Here is an edited extract from its article on the Federal Reserve System (the Fed), the central banking system of the United States:

     "The Fed was created on December 23, 1913, with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, largely in response to a series of financial panics, particularly a severe panic in 1907. 

     "The Fed is independent within government in that "its monetary policy decisions do not have to be approved by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branches of government." Its authority is derived from statutes enacted by the U.S. Congress and the System is subject to congressional oversight. The members of the Board of Governors are chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate. 

     "In its role as the central bank of the United States, the Fed serves as a banker's bank and as the government's bank. As the banker's bank, it helps to assure the safety and efficiency of the payments system. As the government's bank, or fiscal agent, the Fed processes a variety of financial transactions involving trillions of dollars. Just as an individual might keep an account at a bank, the U.S. Treasury keeps a checking account with the Federal Reserve, through which incoming federal tax deposits and outgoing government payments are handled. As part of this service relationship, the Fed sells and redeems U.S. government securities such as savings bonds and Treasury bills, notes and bonds. It also issues the nation's coin and paper currency. The U.S. Treasury, through its Bureau of the Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing, actually produces the nation's cash supply and, in effect, sells the paper currency to the Federal Reserve Banks at manufacturing cost, and the coins at face value. The Federal Reserve Banks then distribute it to other financial institutions in various ways."

As for the WSJ piece, here are some goodies:
- The amount of debt is one thing. The burden of interest payments is another...Treasury must raise $4 trillion this year alone. So the debt burden will explode when interest rates go up."
- President Obama's budget will raise the federal debt-to-GDP ratio to 80.4% in two years, about double its level at the end of 2008, and a larger percentage point increase than Greece from the end of 2008 to the beginning of this year
- Under the president's budget, for example, the debt expands rapidly to $18.8 trillion from $10.8 trillion in 10 years. The interest costs alone will reach $743 billion a year, more than we are currently spending on Social Security, Medicare or national defense, even under the benign assumption of no inflationary increase or adverse bond-market reaction. For every one percentage point increase in interest rates above this projection, interest costs rise by more than $100 billion, more than current spending on veterans' health and the National Institutes of Health combined.
- We cannot count on problems elsewhere in the world to make Treasury securities a safe haven forever. We risk eventually losing the privilege and great benefit of lower interest rates from the dollar's role as the global reserve currency. In short, we risk passing an economic, fiscal and financial point of no return...Our first Treasury secretary [Alexander Hamilton] famously argued that one of a nation's greatest assets is its ability to issue debt, especially in a crisis... As historian John Steele Gordon has written, our nation's ability to issue debt helped preserve the Union in the 1860s and defeat totalitarian governments in the 1940s. Today, government officials are issuing debt to finance pet projects and payoffs to interest groups, not some vital, let alone existential, national purpose.
- The fixes are blindingly obvious. Economic theory, empirical studies and historical experience teach that the solutions are the lowest possible tax rates on the broadest base, sufficient to fund the necessary functions of government on balance over the business cycle; sound monetary policy; trade liberalization; spending control and entitlement reform; and regulatory, litigation and education reform. The need is clear. Why wait for disaster? The future is now.

September 18, 2012

On the Radio...

Had a very enjoyable time this morning as the on-air guest of Pat Campbell, host of Tulsa's only morning talk-radio show. Discussed the very dynamic and worrisome situation in the Middle East that has resulted in attacks on our Embassies in a number of countries and the deaths of four Americans in Libya. Here's the link

Short story, our current response to the attacks, deaths of our citizens and the long-term implications of the erosion of US influence in the region has been horrible. In a region that understands strength, we behave in polar-opposite fashion. The current Administration is rapidly destroying the reputation and influence of the US built over decades by a succession of Presidents from both parties. Yes, there was a lot of verbal abuse heaped on the US during the GW Bush years, but that happens when you're on top. Our interests globally weren't attacked. Not the case today.

Continuing the Mission...

I can't think of anything I could add that would be of value, so here's his story and message in full. Thanks for the h/t Wes!

September 18, 2012, 12:00 PM
Courtesy of Thomas Gibbons-Neff
The author in Afghanistan

It was the fall of 2011, and I was the quintessential fresh-out-of-the-fleet 23-year-old Marine. I was preparing for Georgetown University’s New Student Orientation, my first official re-entry into academia and a day of assemblies and awkward greetings with a bunch of kids who would have been barely teenagers when I was spending my first weeks in Afghanistan.

I found out Matt had died at 10 a.m. that first day of orientation. I was devastated. Matt was my best friend and one of the most outstanding Marines I had ever served with.

I made my way to the bar on campus and ordered two shots of whiskey. One for me and one for Matt. I drank that entire morning, and as I drank I found myself staring at the new students outside the window bouncing on their way to school and despising them. A mere pane of glass separated me from those students, but yet I felt as if I wasn’t human, that I was from some bygone era, and that I had no place among them.

I had become what so many Americans think veterans are like: the lone guy with military backpack, the thousand-yard stare, the student veteran who keeps to himself and glares at the innocence all around him.

This was my first experience as a student veteran. Attending those orientation assemblies obliterated on Jack Daniel’s and wallowing in the memories of a dead friend.

To be honest, I don’t really know why I went to those assemblies. But at the time I equated my attendance to duty. I had to go. I wasn’t going to let another death stop my life. I had attended too many funerals and too many memorial services, and had watched too many of my friends tear themselves apart in guilt. I had been there too many times and I knew that on that first day of school there was only one way to go, and that was forward. I knew that stereotype lay lurking, waiting for me to fall into its grasp.

But I didn’t let it take me. I went to the second day of assemblies bleary-eyed and depressed, and I stuck my right hand out and shook those kids’ hands and found a way to tell them about Matt. I’m sure they weren’t expecting a story about the greatest man they had never met, but they got it anyway. Matt’s story is my story, and in many ways all of our stories. I saw it as my duty to succeed, to succeed for Matt, for Josh, for Brandon and for all of those who never came home. So I put my head down, raised my hand in class and got on the dean’s list at Georgetown University.

I know this all sounds melodramatic, but aren’t most articles about student veterans these days tinged with despair? I feel like it’s all I see: the blurbs about the misunderstood tattooed guys in the back of the class struggling to fit in. Struggling to relate to their younger classmates.

Is it tough? Yes. It is impossible? Absolutely not. I think my colleagues expect too little of themselves when they return to campus, just as I did that first day in that bar. Too often I hear stories about how ignorant some eighteen year old is. Of course they are. They’re eighteen. If they’re just learning how to do their own laundry they probably have no clue where Helmand Province is.

That’s why it’s our duty to explain to them the best way we know how. No one likes to articulate loss and pain, but we live in a society defended by an all-volunteer military, a military that after a decade of conflict can barely relate to the people we swore to defend.

That’s why we have to do it. We have to bridge the gap.

It won’t be done in Congress or on CNN. It’ll be done in the back of the classroom where you’ll sit down and explain to some kid what it’s like to shoulder a ruck and what it’s like to march for miles, and you’ll tell him how it felt when you wrote home to your girlfriend every night as friendly artillery thudded through the dawn, and you’ll explain how Afghanistan looks on the other side of that television screen.

So, I ask you, my generation of fellow veterans, to be outgoing. I know, it sounds tough, and it is, but these kids we go to school with are going to be the future leaders of our country along side us, and we’re going to have to work with them, not against. We can’t sit in the back of the class forever while they commit our children to future conflicts.

Represent yourselves well, and with pride. Don’t show disdain for our fellow millennials who thankfully haven’t had to experience the horrors that we chose to experience.

Our grandfathers came home from Europe and the Pacific and built highways, raised families and defined our country as we know it today.

Now, I ask that we do the same.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a native of Boston, is president of Georgetown University’s Student Veterans Association and a former Marine. He served on active duty with the First Battalion, Sixth Marines, from 2007 to 2011 as a rifleman and participated in two deployments to Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

September 15, 2012

WSJ: The New World Disorder

I'm copying this Wall Street Journal editorial in full. Two key paragraphs are:

The larger concern is that these attacks fit a pattern of declining respect for U.S. power and influence. The Obama Administration has been saying for four years that the U.S. needs to defer to the U.N. and other nations, and the world has taken notice and is more willing to ignore U.S. desires and interests. 

...and...

Mr. Obama also came to office saying, and apparently believing, that a more deferential America would be better respected around the world. He will finish his term having disproved his own argument. The real lesson of the last four years—a lesson as much for Republican isolationists as for Democrats who want to lead from behind—is the ancient one that weakness is provocative.

The New World Disorder - WSJ, Sept 13

As the U.S. retreats, bad actors begin to fill the vacuum.

By their nature, foreign policy problems often have a long fuse. The successes of one Administration (Truman, Reagan) sometimes don't pay off for years (Bush 41), while dangers can simmer until they suddenly explode (al Qaeda). The Obama Presidency has been an era of slowly building tension and disorder that seems likely to flare into larger troubles and perhaps even military conflict no matter who wins in November. 

This is the bigger picture behind this week's public fight between the U.S. and Israel, as well as the anti-American violence in Cairo and Benghazi. In the Persian Gulf, across the Arab Spring and into the Western Pacific, the U.S. is perceived as a declining power. As that perception spreads, the world's bad actors are asserting themselves to fill the vacuum, and American interests and assets will increasingly become targets unless the trend is reversed. 

The Administration can't be blamed for the 9/11 anniversary attack in Benghazi, which was an act of terrorism by anti-American Islamists that wasn't stopped by a weak new government. Chris Stevens, the first U.S. Ambassador killed abroad in 33 years, was one of America's most capable diplomats who was deeply engaged in the post-Gadhafi transition. Libya's government has condemned the attack, and one test of its desire for close U.S. ties will be whether it punishes the perpetrators. 

Though less violent, the mob that was able to scale the U.S. Embassy wall in Cairo is in other ways more troubling. Egypt and the U.S. have worked closely since Anwar Sadat, and Cairo is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. Only last week the U.S. announced it will forgive about $1 billion in Egyptian debt. Yet the new Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi has failed to stop an assault on the Cairo Embassy, and it hadn't condemned the latest attack by late Wednesday. 

Almost as disconcerting was President Obama's failure to mention the Cairo assault in his Rose Garden remarks on Wednesday morning. He condemned the Libyan attacks, praised the fallen U.S. diplomats, and pledged that "justice will be done." But he didn't offer any larger warning that such attacks will have consequences if they continue elsewhere around the world. 

This is no idle worry. The 1979 seizure of U.S. diplomats in Tehran was followed that year by attacks on American Embassies in Tripoli and Islamabad. The U.S. Ambassador to Kabul was also killed. It isn't enough for a President to say, as Mr. Obama did Wednesday, that he will work with other countries to secure the safety of U.S. diplomats. These governments have to know they will be held accountable if they don't do so. 

The larger concern is that these attacks fit a pattern of declining respect for U.S. power and influence. The Obama Administration has been saying for four years that the U.S. needs to defer to the U.N. and other nations, and the world has taken notice and is more willing to ignore U.S. desires and interests. 

Across the Arab Spring, the U.S. has done little to shape events and is increasingly irrelevant. The U.S. angered Saudi Arabia by calling for the ouster of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and now has little sway in Bahrain. Mr. Obama has washed his hands of Syria, allowing Russia and Iran to keep their proxy in power and stir up trouble for Turkey and Lebanon. The Chinese have brazenly occupied disputed territories in the South China Sea, hinting at war if the U.S. intercedes on behalf of its Asian allies. 

The U.S. withdrew in toto from Iraq, and now its Prime Minister ignores Vice President Joe Biden's request to stop Iranian arms flights to Damascus. Even America's dependent in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, is refusing to honor his commitments on holding Taliban detainees. Perhaps he has heard Mr. Obama describe Afghanistan in his re-election campaign as if the U.S. is already halfway out the door.

Most of all, Iran continues its march toward a nuclear weapon despite the President's vow that it is "unacceptable." The U.S. says it has isolated Iran, but only last month the U.N. Secretary-General defied a U.S. plea and attended a non-aligned summit in Tehran. The Administration has issued wholesale exemptions to Congressional sanctions, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on the weekend that the U.S. is "not setting deadlines" for Iran as it sprints to a bomb. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. has engaged in repeated public arguments with Israel, supposedly its best ally in the region. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, recently declared that he doesn't want to be "complicit" in any Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites. The White House failed to contradict him. A nation that appears so reluctant to stand by its friends won't be respected or feared by its enemies. 

President Obama has had successes against terrorism, notably Osama bin Laden and a stepped-up pace of drone strikes. But both the hunt for al Qaeda and the drone program were part of the larger antiterror policy architecture established by his predecessor. He campaigned against much of that policy only to adopt it while in office. 

Mr. Obama also came to office saying, and apparently believing, that a more deferential America would be better respected around the world. He will finish his term having disproved his own argument. The real lesson of the last four years—a lesson as much for Republican isolationists as for Democrats who want to lead from behind—is the ancient one that weakness is provocative.

September 14, 2012

What A Mess! - Other Voices

Here are a handful of stories (excerpts provided) that echo, elaborate, buttress points made earlier on this blog. You'll notice the authors discuss the true basis for fundamentalist Islamic anger, the danger to the U.S. of appearing and/or actually being weak, and the importance of 'getting our act together' with realistic foreign policy.

- At the heart of Muslim street violence is the frustration of the world's Muslims over their steady decline for three centuries, a decline that has coincided with the rise and spread of the West's military, economic and intellectual prowess. 
- Frustration with their inability to succeed in the competition between nations also has led some Muslims to seek symbolic victories. 
- Yet the momentary triumph of burning another country's flag or setting on fire a Western business or embassy building is a poor but widespread substitute for global success that eludes the modern world's 1.5 billion Muslims. 
- For Islamists, wrath against the West is the basis for their claim to the support of Muslim masses, taking attention away from societal political and economic failures. For example, the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Conference account for one-fifth of the world's population but their combined gross domestic product is less than 7% of global output—a harsh reality for which Islamists offer no solution.
- Mainstream discourse among Muslims blames everyone but themselves for this situation. The image of an ascendant West belittling Islam with the view to eliminate it serves as a convenient explanation for Muslim weakness.
- Once the Muslim world embraces freedom of expression, it will be able to recognize the value of that freedom even for those who offend Muslim sensibilities. More important: Only in a free democratic environment will the world's Muslims be able to debate the causes of their powerlessness, which stirs in them greater anger than any specific action on the part of Islam's Western detractors.
- Until then, the U.S. would do well to remember Osama bin Laden's comment not long after the Sept. 11 attacks: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." America should do nothing that enables Islamists to portray the nation as the weak horse.

The Global War, Michael Ledeen
- No serious person believes that an obscure movie shown to less than a dozen people many months ago was the “cause” of the simultaneous assaults in Cairo and Benghazi.
- Whoever masterminded [the string of attacks] has scored a win against the United States, and signals to our friends and enemies that killing Americans incurs no cost. 
- All will see an America that apologizes to our killers as we retreat from Afghanistan and slash our military power.
- If we do not support revolution within Iran, we will get more of these attacks, and more dead Americans. In the end, we will fulfill Churchill’s prophecy to Chamberlain on the day after Munich: you thought you had to choose between dishonor and war. You chose dishonor, and you will have war. We may yet have time to choose honor — support those who have already risked their lives to defeat our enemies — and avoid the big war relentlessly engulfing us.

The Abandonment, Charles Krauthammer
- What is incoherent is President Obama’s position. He declares the Iranian program intolerable — “I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” — yet stands by as Iran rapidly approaches nuclearization.
- A policy so incoherent, so knowingly and obviously contradictory, is a declaration of weakness and passivity. And this, as Anthony Cordesman, James Phillips and others have argued, can increase the chance of war. It creates, writes Cordesman, “the same conditions that helped trigger World War II — years of negotiations and threats, where the threats failed to be taken seriously until war became all too real.”
- This has precipitated the current U.S.-Israeli crisis, sharpened by the president’s rebuff of the Israeli prime minister’s request for a meeting during his upcoming U.S. visit. Ominous new developments; no Obama response. Alarm bells going off everywhere; Obama plays deaf.
- The Obama policy is in shambles. Which is why Cordesman argues that the only way to prevent a nuclear Iran without war is to establish a credible military threat to make Iran recalculate and reconsider. 
- The Obama policy is a double game: a rhetorical commitment to stopping Iran, yet real-life actions that everyone understands will allow Iran to go nuclear.
- Yet at the same time that it does nothing, the administration warns Israel sternly, repeatedly, publicly, even threateningly not to strike the Iranian nuclear program. With zero prospect of his policy succeeding, Obama insists on Israeli inaction, even as Iran races to close the window of opportunity for any successful attack.
- Not since its birth six decades ago has Israel been so cast adrift by its closest ally.

[A sampling of views from the German Press about the Middle East violence against American embassies]

Anti-US Protests and Other Items Sure to Cause Sleepless Nights in the White House

Protests against the U.S. (sparked by the [stupid] film Innocence in Islam) are rapidly spreading across the world. "The Guardian," a UK-based news service, has established a tracking blog and has provided a link to a related and very interesting map. As usual, the Drudge Report is tracking (with its usual flavor of sensationalism) events being reported here in the U.S.: e.g. evacuation of North Dakota State U. and U. of Texas, threats at Valparaiso U., etc. 

Small, singular events (a protest against a movie, for example) can have a catalytic effect spurring protests in other locations and for other reasons - 'sympathetic detonations' in the social realm - much like the self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouaziz in Tunisia sparked the 'Arab Spring.' 

The timing couldn't be worse for the Obama campaign, of course. He is now 3 points behind Romney in the latest Rasmussen poll, recently released employment numbers are terrible, and the Fed decided yesterday to implement a third round of 'stimulus' or 'quantitative easing' (known as QE3) which means the government will incur another $40 billion in debt every month for the foreseeable future above what it is already planning for the FY13 budget (another $1 trillion in deficit spending).

The road to Nov 6 should be interesting. Hold on to your hats!

Obama and the Middle East

I have purposefully waited to post something about the current turmoil unfolding in the Middle East resulting in the attacks on U.S. embassies and the deaths of our citizens. I learned over many years that ‘first reports’ are (almost) always wrong and at best serve as a starting point for asking the right questions about what is really happening. This is never more the case than when you have to rely on ‘breaking news reports’, the blogosphere, and (worst of all) official U.S. government statements. 

The current crisis started in Cairo on Tuesday with the storming of our Embassy in Egypt; next came the attack on our consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi (and the deaths of our Ambassador and some of his staff); then the protests spread to Yemen, Tunisia, Iraq, and Iran. The State Department has issued warnings about potential unrest in other Gulf States. 

Over what? A stupid movie. And not even a whole movie...a 13 minute trailer for the movie posted to YouTube. I watched it. It’s stupid. Stupid dialogue, horrible acting, even worse cinematography. So why all the commotion? Because Muhammad is portrayed as a lecherous, self-serving, hypocritical opportunist. Have all the people storming embassies, killing Americans, burning flags, looting buildings and causing general mayhem seen even the YouTube video? Probably not. But that’s the nature of mobs - they act on rumor and raw emotion and they are easily exploited by others for ulterior motives. 

Understandably this diplomatic crisis has been fodder for the presidential campaigns, news media, and pundits of all stripes. For me, the incident serves as one more bit of evidence that: 
- our foreign policy is in shambles; 
- our President and his staff are either sincere but don’t understand the Middle East (or other any other country), are incompetent, or actually wish our country harm (one can make a solid argument for all three propositions); 
- if sequestration is allowed to continue we will not only see more of this nonsense but greater and more serious threats to our national security, the security of our friends, and the balance of power in key regions; and 
- political, radicalized, militant, fundamentalist Islam is a sorry system that will keep its adherents rooted culturally, technologically, educationally, and socially in the 11th Century. 

Across history, leaders in politics, the military, and business have known that strength begets respect and influence while weakness invites abuse. Americans do not view ‘strength’ as a means to dominate; rather, strength provides us the means to protect from abuse and to create an environment in which much good can be done for a great many people. Remember President Theodore Roosevelt’s pithy phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick...”? He knew that diplomatic words were only effective if they were backed by military power. Ronald Reagan’s take was, “Experience has taught us that preparedness deters aggression and that weakness invites it.” Over a half-century ago, the American statesman Dean Acheson said, “Weakness invites aggression. Now and in the future, strength is the precondition of peace” and "No people in history have ever survived, who thought they could protect their freedom by making themselves inoffensive to their enemies." 

September 11, 2012

Remembering 9/11

Best collection of links here. WNU editor has done a superb job building this list. 

September 10, 2012

Obama's Handling of Iran - A Slo-Mo Train Wreck of Epic Proportions and So Painful to Watch!

Where to start with commentary about Iran, the threat it poses to Middle East stability, to the security of Israel, and to the reputation (and thereby the global influence) of the U.S.?

According to the 2012 Democratic National Platform, the President:
- has placed 'unprecedented sanctions' against Iran,
- is 'committed to using all instruments of national power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons',
- 'expose[d] Iranian intransigence' (re its continued violation of NPT protocols) by making an offer to engage which the Iranians--surprise!--rebuffed, and
- has 'rall[ied] the international community as never before' supposed in unified opposition to Iran's effort to acquire a nuclear weapon.

According to the President's team, it would seem things are well in hand. But a look at the facts on the ground paints a different and very disturbing picture. Without doubt a covert war is ongoing between Iran and the US and Israel but this has been the case for some time, certainly preceding the current Administration (just 'google' 'covert war us israel iran' for a deluge of reporting, but here and here are a couple to make the point). What is most worrisome is that the Administration seems not to understand how severe the danger posed by Iran truly is and that continued foot-dragging to explore 'all diplomatic options' will most probably result in either a nuclear-armed Iran or an Israeli attack to keep it from happening. Both outcomes will upend the Middle East and impact US interests not just regionally, but globally.

Consider this, Iran has relentlessly pursued development of a nuclear capability for decades in spite of sanctions, diplomatic pressures, security council resolutions, IAEA inspections, domestic discord, or speeches by American Presidents in Cairo. All the while it has protested that its effort are peaceful and exclusively focused on civilian power generation. As detailed by multiple reports, however (see here, here, and here for examples), civilian nuclear power requires uranium fuel enriched to 3-5%; Iran is producing enriched uranium at 20% purity. (According to 'the experts', the 20% threshold takes Iran ninety percent of the way to full weapons grade highly enriched uranium (HEU). As in almost any pursuit, there are thresholds and rapid advances... i.e. it takes a while to master a skill at a given level but once that skill is achieved one makes rapid progress to the next skill/capability threshold). Also it is quickly gathering momentum in both enrichment capacity and speed as well as the technical know-how to configure a warhead and deliver it to a target.

If you were Israel, would this worry you? It certainly would me. But not to worry, says our President; things are well-in-hand. He may truly believe this but the Israelis have a much different perspective, one not so nearly complacent. See this and this for starters. So while they legitimately worry about national survival, we have a hard time deciding where their capitol (and here) is or whether we need to reduce the level of ambiguity about where we stand relative to Iran's drive for a nuclear weapons capability.

This Administration just doesn't seem to understand how and why cultures in that region behave nor the age-old lesson that influence is significantly dependent on physical presence. When armies are on the march, one cannot simply 'phone in' objections. For example, while the President and his party tout withdrawal from Iraq as a victory for American diplomacy under his watch, they fail to realize that US absence from that region enables our enemies to pursue actions that cause a much greater harm, such as Iranian use of Iraqi airspace as a corridor to resupply Assad so he can continue slaughtering civilians in his effort to retain power.

It's a sad day when Canada understands the threat posed by Iran better than we do and takes action accordingly. In our country, I'd just like to see the President take a real interest in our security given the stakes involved. Perhaps then our policies, actions, and interests would align in a way that advanced our interests, protected our friends, and neutralized our enemies. Wouldn't that be nice?

[Update: New story from AP - New Intelligence on Iran Nuke Work - underscore the concerns discussed above.]
[Update 2: Obama Snubs Netanyahu. Supposedly the 'U.S. has Israel's back' while tensions continue to rise regarding Iran's nuclear program but our President can't find time to meet with Israel's Prime Minister?]

September 9, 2012

The Democratic National Platform in Context - A Sampling

It's been much too long since my last post. Amazing how busy the days get just keeping up with the myriad details associated with home, kids, church, etc. While absent from the blog, I've certainly kept tuned to the stream of reporting covering the dueling national political conventions, ever darker reports about Iran's nuclear program, Israel's brow-mopping angst about developments in its neighborhood, the relentless takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood, China's increasingly testy relations with neighbors in the South China Sea, and the dismal economic news from both Europe and our own country. I'll be posting items specific to each of these and others but first I can't help but make a comment on the silliness that emanates from political conventions and campaigns in general. 'Context is everything' and context is wonderfully enabled by an awareness of history, i.e. memory of what preceded and led up to an event...which implies some amount of reading or involvement in the world so as to gain knowledge of events, their settings, and the issues in play. Lacking such context one can only take statements from politicians at face value and in so doing be remarkably unaware of whether or not there is any truth to them at all. 

Take for example the 2012 Democratic National Platform, a gem of misdirection, half-truths, and imagined realities. Harsh? Not really. Here's just one example from the text to illustrate the theme of this post: 
     In our current fiscal environment, we must also make tough budgetary decisions across the board – and that includes within the defense budget. The Budget Control Act enacted by Congress last year, with the support of Republicans and Democrats alike, mandates reductions in federal spending, including defense spending. The administration has worked with Congress to make these decisions, which has been a strategy-driven process.

The authors of the Platform would have the American public believe that the BCA of 2011 was a well-considered effort by Congress and the Administration, one driven by a strategy that we are to assume was thoroughly crafted to account for the deliberate application of scarce resources (tax money) to achieve national objectives and which forces the hand of the Administration (and Congress) to implement such 'reductions'. The reality, of course, is that nothing could be further from the truth. 

Let's consider that context of the BCA. In the summer of 2011, the country was on the brink of default and the national debt ceiling needed to be raised immediately. Budget deliberations between the Democrats and Republicans, between the House and Senate, and between Congress and the White House had stalled. In a last ditch attempt to preclude default, the Administration struck a deal with Republicans: set-up a joint/bipartisan committee (the Supercommittee) that would find 'savings' across the federal budget in return for agreement to raise the debt ceiling a little over $2 trillion (supposedly enough buffer to preclude Congress and the White House from having to deal with the issue again until after the 2012 election cycle). The 'poison pill' that would force the Supercommittee to act was a set of mandatory budget cuts that would total $1.2 trillion, split roughly equally between defense and non-defense spending. The thinking at that time was "surely no one will allow defense accounts to be cut a half-trillion dollars over the next ten years especially since DOD is already having to reduce spending by nearly a half-trillion dollars over that same period already!"

As it turned out, the White House pushed the Republicans too far on new taxes (see here) thereby spoiling a budget deal at the last minute, collapsing the work of the Supercommittee, and resulting in 'sequestration' - the automatic cuts mandated by the BCA and mentioned by the Democrats in their Platform. 

So the reality is this: if 'strategy' appeared anywhere in the process it was a strategy of political maneuvering that preceded the BCA...maneuvering that failed and resulted in the "this will never actually happen' outcome: mandatory, indiscriminate, and entirely arbitrary cuts to the defense budget of a half-trillion dollars. To the extent 'bipartisanship' played a role in the BCA it was driven entirely by fear in both Democratic and Republican camps of what defaulting on our national debt would due to our national fiscal situation, economy, and reputation. 

But this is the game played in Washington and one that permeates the Democratic National Platform, at least the portions on national defense and foreign policy that I've most closely read. 

If you've time and interest, read through the Platform and compare what it asserts with what you know to be the case re global affairs, our eroding relationships with 'long time friends' like Israel, Germany, Japan and even the UK, the increasing assertiveness of China, Russia, and Iran, the methodical spread and entrenchment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other militant Islamist entities across the Middle East (the real fruit of the 'Arab Spring'), advances in the Iranian nuclear program, the slaughter of civilians in Syria and general unrest in the Middle East, the betrayal of Poland...the list goes on.

Our Air Force is flying some of the oldest aircraft on record and its current aircraft procurement plan equates to a 100-year replacement rate. Our Navy is the smallest since World War I and its 30-year shipbuilding plan is underfunded by 20% making it impossible to reach the objective of 310 ships for the entire duration of the 30-year plan. The Army and Marine Corps are faced with reset costs of $5.45 billion and $3.2 billion, respectively, for 2013 and they, like the other services, are awaiting the impact of sequestration (a further reduction of $50 billion across DOD for 2013).

The Democratic National Platform may assert that we're stronger than ever, that our alliances are as robust as ever, than our standing in the world has improved and as a result that advances in freedom and democracy are being seen in every region, but even a cursory glance at the actual evidence puts a lie to all of it.

September 3, 2012

American Character Is at Stake

This is a superb essay by Nicholas Eberstadt. Read it. This version posted by the Wall Street Journal is a summarized version by Eberstadt of a longer version found here. In the longer version, Eberstadt covers much more material to include a more detailed overview of the growth of our entitlement society over the past half century and discussions of the flight of males from the work force, the "Myth of the 'Pay-as-You-Go' Entitlement:In Reality, Increasingly Financed by the Unborn," "making national defense unaffordable," and the "politics of populist redistribution" among other issues.

Here are some excerpts from the WSJ story to whet your appetite and spur some much needed soul-searching for all of us:

"From the founding of our nation until quite recently, the U.S. and its citizens were regarded, at home and abroad, as exceptional in a number of deep and important respects. One of these was their fierce and principled independence, which informed not only the design of the political experiment that is the U.S. Constitution but also their approach to everyday affairs.

"The proud self-reliance that struck Alexis de Tocqueville in his visit to the U.S. in the early 1830s extended to personal finances...American men and women viewed themselves as accountable for their own situation through their own achievements...The corollaries of this American ethos were, on the one hand, an affinity for personal enterprise and industry and, on the other, a horror of dependency and contempt for anything that smacked of a mendicant mentality."

"Overcoming America's historic cultural resistance to government entitlements has been a long and formidable endeavor. But as we know today, this resistance did not ultimately prove an insurmountable obstacle to establishing mass public entitlements and normalizing the entitlement lifestyle. The U.S. is now on the verge of a symbolic threshold: the point at which more than half of all American households receive and accept transfer benefits from the government. From cradle to grave, a treasure chest of government-supplied benefits is there for the taking for every American citizen—and exercising one's legal rights to these many blandishments is now part of the American way of life.

"As Americans opt to reward themselves ever more lavishly with entitlement benefits, the question of how to pay for these government transfers inescapably comes to the fore. Citizens have become ever more broad-minded about the propriety of tapping new sources of finance for supporting their appetite for more entitlements. The taker mentality has thus ineluctably gravitated toward taking from a pool of citizens who can offer no resistance to such schemes: the unborn descendants of today's entitlement-seeking population.

"The U.S. is a very wealthy society. If it so chooses, it has vast resources to squander. And internationally, the dollar is still the world's reserve currency; there remains great scope for financial abuse of that privilege.

"Such devices might well postpone the day of fiscal judgment: not so the day of reckoning for American character, which may be sacrificed long before the credibility of the U.S. economy. Some would argue that it is an asset already wasting away before our very eyes."