How Snowden turned U.S. intel into a healthcare.gov Tech-Apocalypse

Unknown

The Federalist‘s Ben Domenech wrote a great analysis of how Eric Snowden‘s revelations hurt the U.S. when he released information on U.S. international intelligence operations that really had no relation to the protection of American privacy.  It only hurt U.S. intelligence efforts around the world.

And if you really think the U.S. shouldn’t be doing this at all, as if no other countries do whatever they can to figure out what the U.S. is up to or what our interests might be internationally, you are quite the naive one!

The other interesting development from President Obama’s speech yesterday was the decision (See second paragraph.) to allow his subordinates to determine and design a system for allowing access to U.S. phone records when needed for reasons of national security.

The president said he no longer wants the National Security Agency to maintain a database of such records. But he left the creation of a new system to subordinates and lawmakers, many of whom are divided on the need for reform.

Wait a second …

Isn’t this the same creative team with the same management and executive leadership that came up with the healthcare.gov website?!?

So how well will all of you be sleeping NOW with that little nugget of info???

About these ads

Changing Hearts and Minds through Weakness

Leadership a foreign concept

Leadership – a foreign concept

Have to give President Barack H. Obama credit.  He has changed my mind on the prospects of taking action against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria in the face of alleged – and all but certain – use of chemical weapons against opposition forces and civilians.

My nut is not an easy nut to crack.  I have long-held the personal belief that the United States held a special place in the community of nations.  It’s a place – to my own thinking and values – where a World Superpower belongs.  It’s the role that goes beyond the kind of standard-setting usually the purview of the United Nations.  It’s the role of enforcing those standards of common decency when it comes to the bitter realities of armed conflict.

A lot of Americans will categorize this simplistically as the role of World Cop.  Many disagree with me on this premise, that our country should be involved in events overseas that appear to have little or no direct impact on U.S. interests.

Those sentiments are well-founded and reflect the commonly held belief that American military personnel and U.S. treasure should be risked only in those situations linked to National Security in almost all cases.  So maybe my viewpoint is quite firmly in the minority.

Yet it is a role that in my mind comes with being a World Leader and Superpower.  It is a role we have filled many times in the past in various regions of the world in varying degrees of participation.

images-1I am not fond of unilateral U.S. action.  I do not favor the use of American boots-on-the-ground, especially in a situation like Syria.  What I look for is an American-led process of Consensus Building; the development of a common sense and purpose amongst our primary allies, major world powers, and those countries in closest proximity to the danger and most likely to be affected by any widening of a regional conflict.

My view is of the United States as The Point Man on the diplomatic front and The Muscle when it comes to the military response for which we hold a decided advantage (i.e. technological, hardware, delivery systems, weaponry).  When it comes to boots on the ground, the only enforcement situation where this should apply – in my humble opinion – is as part of a multi-national approach to a controllable environment (e.g. Bosnia; Clinton 1999) or where an immediate U.S. response would be sufficiently overwhelming (e.g. Grenada; Reagan 1983).

Now when it comes to Syria, President Obama has sufficiently altered the course of my thinking in a situation where a struggling regime gassed an overmatched military uprising and a defenseless civilian population …

… for all the wrong reasons.

Introducing the Freedom Muffin!

Introducing the Freedom Muffin!

Suddenly, under his mislaid concept of “leadership”, the U.S. looks timid, indecisive, and unfocused.  American efforts to build an International Coalition of the Willing was shot in the foot by its biggest allie (Great Britain) before it even got rolling.  (WIll we have to rename the English muffin?)

The Office of the President – long The Decider when it comes to the use of U.S. military power in short, direct, and sometimes personal (Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, 1986) responses to violations of international norms – appears confused by Britain’s rejection and unsure as to what to do next.

Instead the country’s Decider punted the issue – just as British Prime Minister David Cameron did – to the Legislator.  From my perspective, this has the look of a President hoping someone will get him off the fish-hook he firmly set in his own mouth.  When you use terms like “red line”, you had better have a plan of action with several iterations to account for unexpected developments like your Biggest International Allie getting cold feet.

The alternative, fall-back strategy?  Apparently there wasn’t one.  Which leads one to the obvious question … Who was doing the Leading?  Right now, it looks like Cameron and the Brits.

Where's Margaret Thatcher when you need her?

Where’s Margaret Thatcher when you need her?

So now Syria mocks us.

To fill the role of International Leader, you must be convinced of your Righteousness; firm in your ability to Lead, even if it means you must lead without your closest friends and allies at your side; and when all else fails, you must be prepared for bold action if necessary and if supported by the facts.

These are the kind of considerations President Obama should have kept in mind before speaking of “red lines” in August 2012.  Obviously he and his National Security team didn’t.

And this is what ultimately changed my mind.

If you can not be a strong, prepared, flexible leader, you have no business  drawing lines; making promises; and scheduling attacks when you do not have the backbone for the toughest decisions … actually sending Americans to clean up the World’s ugliest messes.

God help the Syrian people …

The Admirals (Walter R. Borneman)

Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King and Bill Halsey

Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King and Bill Halsey

I have always enjoyed reading American history, especially about both the American Civil War and World War II.  One – a domestic conflict - determined the future course of America’s development as a “united nation”; the other – a world-wide conflict – resulted in America’s emergence as a global leader.

That’s not to say I have read everything out there on either subject.  And from time-to-time I run across a book that teaches me a new thing or two.  In the case of The Admirals, I gained a new perspective on America’s military leadership during the last world war to end all world wars.

Walter R. Borneman ‘s enlightening work focuses on the four admirals, who transcended the U.S. Navy’s pre-World War II rank hierarchy, to become the first five-star admirals in American history.  This development was made necessary by the British Allies’ penchant for Fleet Admirals and Field Marshalls.  The 5-star rank was added (by Act of Congress in June 1944) to the American military ranks to place U.S. admirals and generals on equal footing with their European counterparts.

Flag of the Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy

Flag of the Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy

Five-star ranks of Fleet Admiral were bestowed on the four U.S. Navy Admirals and subjects of the book: William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, Chester W. Nimitz, and William F. Halsey, Jr.  Fifth stars have not been issued to a Navy officer since 1945 and the conclusion of World War II.

Prior to reading The Admirals I was much more familiar with the four U.S. Army Generals, who carried the five-star rank of General of the Armies:  George C.Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Henry H. Arnold.  (Omar Bradley was added as a five-star General in 1950, the only officer in U.S. military service so honored after WWII.)

In The Admirals a new appreciation is gained for the leadership exhibited by two men often overlooked in most media presentations on the War in the Pacific.  Those men are Admirals Leahy and King.  Until I picked up The Admirals, I had no appreciation for the contributions they made in the prosecution of America’s WWII efforts.

The exploits and accomplishments of Admirals Nimitz and Halsey during the Pacific campaign are well-known and referred to relatively often.  For instance, the other night I could not resist watching part of the movie, Midway in which Nimitz and Halsey are prominent.  For that reason, the following speaks mostly of Bill Leahy and Ernest King.

____________________

Admirals King, top left and Leahy, behind FDR, at the Yalta Conference in June 1945

Admirals King, top left and Leahy, behind FDR, at the Yalta Conference (June 1945)

Bill Leahy had been age-retired and was serving as Governor of Puerto Rico when the long-anticipated conflict with Japan broke with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  His friendship with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, cultivated during a period in his Navy career when – as a Navy captain - Leahy ferried the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy up and down the U.S. eastern coast.  Their relationship led to Leahy being named the Ambassador to Nazi-controlled Vichy, France when the Germans had overrun most of Western Europe.

Leahy’s role as ambassador was to influence the Vichy government from total subservience to the Nazi government, especially when it came to the remnants of the French fleet.  When the Vichy eventually fell in line with the Nazis through the elevation of the pro-German Pierre Laval to the head of its government, FDR kept his promise to the previously retired Admiral Leahy; brought him home from France; and recalled him to military service to help fight the war.

Leahy, left, and King, top right, in conference with Generals George C. Marshall, right, and Henry "Hap" Arnold, top left

Leahy, left, and King, top right, in conference with Generals George C. Marshall, right, and Henry “Hap” Arnold, top left

Tragedy befell Leahy as he prepared to leave the Vichy.  His wife, Louise died suddenly from medical complications of a rushed hysterectomy performed in France.

In time Leahy came to be viewed by  FDR and – almost as importantly – General George Marshall as the perfect candidate to become Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  From this position Bill Leahy would not only coordinate the military’s strategic implementations with FDR’s global considerations, he became the man The President relied upon more and more for all manner of domestic and foreign policy execution.

Admiral Leahy accompanied President Roosevelt to most of the major war conferences, being left behind once in Tunis and missing Casablanca due to a high fever.  He acted as a gatekeeper to information, communications, and personal access to FDR; coordinated execution of the both military and domestic presidential directives; and as Roosevelt’s health diminished, assumed responsibility for the daily functions of The Chief Executive.

The true testament to Admiral Bill Leahy’s effectiveness in those positions was his retention by Harry S Truman as his Chief of Staff for the entirety of his first term following FDR’s death in April 1945.

_______________

Fleet Admirals Nimitz and King with Admiral Raymond Spruance aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis

You gain keen insight from the earlier, less exciting chapters of The Admirals for the process through which the U.S. Navy ensures its officers and future leaders are well-rounded and thoroughly trained.  In the pre-World War II chapters, Borneman concentrates on the early careers of his four study subjects.  What is learned is the important role played by the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation (Bureau of Navy Personnel since 1942), an administrative position that controls the assignment and detailing of naval officers throughout the vast opportunities offered by Navy service.  Each of the World War II five-stars is exposed to the various types of boats, ships and planes.  From destroyers, to submarines, through cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers …

Although none of the four officers Borneman follows gains experience in every possible Navy assignment, the reader sees how each officer’s background developed and how those experiences contributed to their efforts, ideas and strategies during the war.

For a U.S. Navy plying the seas leading to an intriguing World War II theatre of operations in a Pacific Ocean covering tens of millions of square miles, this background provides perspective to the Navy’s evolution from a force built around the great battleships of the Great White Fleet to a fighting force oriented around the aircraft carrier and the long-distance reach of ship-borne aircraft.

It was this kind of ingenuity, an ability to take what was experienced and learned in career assignments that led to a vastly improved vision of modern ocean combat.  The kind of vision that most adequately prepared the U.S. Navy for the challenges of fighting a veteran Japanese navy in the expansive Pacific Theatre.

For this reason, Borneman’s focus remains almost exclusively on the Pacific side of the two-front war America faced during World War II.  There is little mention – aside from Admiral King’s assignment as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet – of the Atlantic conflict that was more narrowly focused in the fight against the German U-boat.

__________________

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King

Ernest J. King was known as cold, career-oriented, hands-on boss with a penchant for hard-drinking, something which changed in the years just before the war broke out.  One of the most senior Navy officers, who was on the short list for mandatory retirement when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Recalled to active fleet duty, King was initially assigned to lead the Atlantic campaign against the German U-boats.  After convincing FDR to use his flag-ship, U.S.S. Augusta in his initial meeting with Winston Churchill off the coast of Newfoundland, King began consolidating a leadership position that would eventually land him as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet (COMINCH).  From this position he would direct the overall strategy of fending off the advances of the Japanese in the Pacific even as the U.S. and its allies pursued its Germany First war strategy in Europe.

King realized that to leave the Japanese free to roam the Pacific, if the Allies became exclusively focused on Fortress Europe, would make retaking the largest ocean in the world that much harder.  Throughout the war King would beg, borrow and steal to keep the Japanese at bay, then slowly start pushing them back towards their home islands.

It was King who charged Nimitz with preserving the vital ocean links from the U.S. west coast to Hawaii and Wake Island as well as the ocean routes to Australia through New Caledonia and Saipan. A strategy that led to the early and successful battles at Coral Sea and Midway.

Admiral "Fighting Bill" Halsey on a Victory poster

Admiral “Fighting Bill” Halsey on a Victory poster

King also endorsed a plan, developed by his Operations Officer, Captain Francis “Frog” Low to bomb Tokyo with Army Air Force bombers launched from aircraft carriers known as the Doolittle Raid.  King’s global strategic vision made winning the war in the Pacific less costly than a myopic obsession with Germany First could have cost the Allies in time, lives and treasure.

As with such major world conflicts, even Allies don’t always get along.  Besides clashes with British and Soviet priorities and strategic visions, American military leaders had to deal with their own internecine struggles over power, resources, and tactical ideas.  As one would expect the U.S Army and Navy did not always see eye-to-eye on how and where the great battles should be fought.  And with personalities as large as Generals George Marshal and – more pointedly – Douglas MacArthur there were more than a few opportunities for paralyzing disagreement.

Borneman credits Admiral King for smoothing the often ruffled feathers of his Army counterparts, particularly MacArthur.  King’s relationship with General Marshall got off to a slow start; would never be particularly close; but was always of mutual respect.  King wholeheartedly endorsed Eisenhower to head the North African invasion (Operation Torch), a success that led to Ike’s leading of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France (Operation Neptune).

MacArthur, as most who competed with or tried to control would learn, was another story.  But King was deft at keeping MacArthur from interfering too much in the Navy’s war efforts; and usually was able to keep him happy enough to remain an effective threat to the Japanese.

_________________

In an attempt to summarize this very long post, Borneman’s The Admirals forces the reader to focus on the complexities of developing properly trained, strategic-thinking naval officers; the prosecution of wide-ranging global warfare on a scale rarely seen in any generation; and the way personalities and the politics of leadership comes together in just one arm of the U.S. military.  In a war that encompassed much of the globe and no less than three major Allied powers, respective political establishments and military organizations, it is a tribute to confident and visionary Allied leadership that the effort didn’t simply collapse under the weight of its divergent personalities and priorities.

Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz at Japanese surrender Behind him stand MacArthur, Halsey and Admiral Forrest Sherman

Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz at Japanese surrender
Behind him stand MacArthur, Halsey and Admiral Forrest Sherman

Other random bits of knowledge picked up from reading The Admirals:

  • Vice Admiral Ernest King staged an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1938 from the U.S.S. Saratoga as part of Fleet Problem XIX manuevers.  The result was complete surprise.
  • When asked what won the war in the Pacific, Bull Halsey stated, “I would rank them in this order: submarines first, radar second, airplanes third, bulldozers fourth.”
  • By FDR’s fourth inaugural, Roosevelt was so weakened and Bill Leahy so trusted by the President that it was Leahy who rendered Roosevelt’s remarks at his fourth inaugural dinner.
  • In early December 1941 Vice Admiral Bill Halsey commands Task Force 8 on a mission to reinforce one of America’s isolated island bases.  Bad weather delays their expected return to Pearl Harbor on Saturday, December 6.
  • Ensign Chester A. Nimitz ran his very first ship command, the destroyer U.S.S. Decatur, aground on a reef near Manila Bay in 1908, an event that usually dooms a Navy officer’s career.  He also once jumped into the water to rescue an overboard sailor who could not swim.
  • Admiral Nimitz almost died in a PB2Y Coronado (flying boat) crash at
    PB2Y Catalina

    PB2Y Catalina

    NAS Alameda after the Battle of Midway.  The crash was caused by a telephone pole-sized piling allowed to drift into the landing area.  The aircraft flipped onto its back and broke apart.  Although Nimitz escaped without injury, the co-pilot, Lt. Thomas M. Roscoe of Oakland, CA, was killed.

  • Early in the war, U.S. submarines were plagued by a host of defective torpedoes.  Many exploding prematurely or, when they did hit, simply emitting a hollow thud and sinking.  The problem wasn’t solved until well after the summer of 1943.
  • In another torpedo story, as FDR - with Admiral Leahy in tow – was sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to the Teheran Conference (November 1943 with Churchill and Stalin) aboard the battleship U.S.S. Iowa, the destroyer U.S.S. W.D. Porter decided to track the Iowa in a targeting exercise.  Inexplicably, with the President on the main deck watching a gunnery exercise, someone on the Porter accidentally hit the FIRE button for one of the torpedo tubes.  The Iowa’s skipper, Captain John McCrea, was forced to take violent evasive action to prevent the accidental assassination-by-friendly-fire of much of the country’s war leadership!

As you can see, there’s a lot of good sea and war tales in this very enjoyable and informative book.  And despite the length of this post, it barely scratches the surface.  If you have a “WWII habit” like I do, you should find a few new topics in The Admirals to scratch that itch.

Thoughts for a Memorial Day

memorial-dayAnother Summer is upon us!  As always, the quasi-official start of Summer is marked by the three-day Memorial Day weekend and its rituals of beach days, barbecues, and neighborhood parties.

It is no doubt the most favorite time of the year for Americans from Georgia to Oregon, Minnesota to New Mexico.

As Americans however, it is also important that we take a bit of time during what looks to be a glorious weekend in the greater Philadelphia area to remember the meaning of Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor the sacrifices made by thousands and thousands of citizen soldiers since the founding of the United States of America in 1776.

Common people – not unlike many of us - chose to leave families, to forego careers, and to risk the opportunities that a full and vibrant life offers in order to preserve those same possibilities for their fellow Americans.  It’s a Choice many of us, be it through luck or timing or fortuitous periods of peaceful coexistence, may never have had to face.

This post is dedicated to those who faced the danger, to the sacrifices they made, and to the loved ones they too often left behind.

There but for the Grace of God …

.

One Congressional Medal of Honor posthumous recipient only recently returned home after 50 years lying in a North Korean grave.

Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr.

Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr.

Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr. of Washington, Indiana

At the time of his death, Faith and his unit — 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment — were attached to the 31st Regimental Combat Team as it advanced along the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.

During attacks by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces, Faith assumed command with his supervisor missing, and he continuously rallied his troops, personally leading an assault on an enemy position.

He was seriously injured by shrapnel on Dec. 1, 1950, and died a day later from those injuries. However his body was not recovered by U.S. forces at the time.

In 2004 a joint U.S.-North Korea team returned to the spot where Lt. Col. Faith was last seen and recovered his remains.  He was returned to his family and interred on U.S. soil just this past April.

.

Throughout American military history, there have been 15 Congressional Medal Honor recipients who earned The Medal for actions taken on the date May 27th.  Eleven of those 15 Medals were awarded during the American Civil War, five of which were earned by crew members aboard the Union ironclad U.S.S. Cincinnati when the ship was shelled and sank during a maritime assault on Confederate gun emplacements in the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

.

U.S.S. Drexler (DD-741)

U.S.S. Drexler (DD-741)

On May 27, 1945 - Okinawa, Japan - American forces attacking southward, continue to encounter heavy Japanese resistance. Japanese aircraft begin a two-day series of strikes against the Allied naval forces around the island. The destroyer U.S.S. Drexler is hit by two kamikaze planes and sinks so quickly 158 sailors are killed.

.

One particular Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam era caught my attention for his selfless bravery.

CHARLES CLINTON FLEEK

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U .S. Army, Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Binh Duong Province, Republic of Vietnam, 27 May 1967. Entered service at: Cincinnati, Ohio. Born: 28 August 1947, Petersburg, Ky.

UnknownCITATION:  For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Fleek distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader in Company C, during an ambush operation. Sgt. Fleek’s unit was deployed in ambush locations when a large enemy force approached the position. Suddenly, the leading enemy element, sensing the ambush, halted and started to withdraw. Reacting instantly, Sgt. Fleek opened fire and directed the effective fire of his men upon the numerically superior enemy force. During the fierce battle that followed, an enemy soldier threw a grenade into the squad position. Realizing that his men had not seen the grenade, Sgt. Fleek, although in a position to seek cover, shouted a warning to his comrades and threw himself onto the grenade, absorbing its blast. His gallant action undoubtedly saved the lives or prevented the injury of at least 8 of his fellow soldiers. Sgt. Fleek’s gallantry and willing self-sacrifice were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

.

The purpose of these posts during our most American of holidays is not to spoil the mood of a dawning Summer or to lay guilt at the feet of those of us who benefitted from selfless acts in far, far away locales.  It’s simply a reminder that as you enjoy your long weekend, take a moment or two to reflect on those – both living and deceased – who have made good times and fun weekends possible.

Lifting-an-Inflatable-Tank-620x412In closing I leave you with a happier story.  It’s about a group of soldiers in World War II, known as The Ghost Army, whose actions were purported to have saved many American lives in the lead-up to the invasion of Normandy, France and later in battles across western Europe

These soldiers were responsible for the creation of fake Army units designed to mislead German intelligence-gathering efforts and the tactical decisions that would result.  The unique way in which they were able to deceive enemy strategists was through the use of inflatable forms in the shape of tanks, vehicles, airplanes and artillery.

Although there is no definitive way to determine how many Allied soldiers might have been spared over Ghost Army efforts, one would conclude that the efforts German units undertook to destroy what amounts to an Army of Balloons, including artillery bombardment and air attacks, certainly had the desired effect on enemy decision-making!

And with that, I send wishes for a glorious Memorial Day weekend!

Sequestration: The President’s ugly Child

obamaHow many people realize sequestration, which The White House continually warns will be a “disaster” for the country and its citizens from Arizona to Connecticut, was actually The White House’s brain-child???

Don’t listen to the hype … or the lies.  The sky, if it falls, will not be the sole responsibility of Congress.  Heck, it wasn’t even their idea.

The Public is a pawn in this chess game.  The political pressure being applied by The White House, in the form of Dire Economic Impacts on individual states and even the victims of Superstorm Sandy, is intended to force Congress (i.e. Republicans) – by portraying them as the troublemakers – to cave in so they can pass to the American people an even bigger financial federal budget burden without cutting a single one of the Democrats’ Sacred Cows.

Sequestration was the gamble suggested by then White House Chief-of-Staff Jack Lew (Secretary of the Treasury nominee) and White House Congressional liaison Rob Nabors.  It was endorsed by President Obama before being presented to the Senate Finance Committee, and proposed as a negotiating strategy to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) during the 2011 negotiations to raise the National Debt Ceiling.

Certainly House Republicans accepted the sequestration as part of those negotiations, but it wasn’t their idea; it wasn’t their gamble.

It was the President’s idea of “leadership” in difficult political times.  Push it off; deal with it later.  Maybe, just maybe it will go away on its own.

Keep that in mind as you continue to hear about how Sequestration will damage your benefits; your income; your local economy!

Remember it when The President shows up on C-Span or the nightly news speaking about the dangers of sequestration and surrounding himself with Emergency Responders, teachers, healthcare workers, and seniors warning about all the damage the sequestration cuts will entail.

Sequestration:  The President’s ugly child!

My case for Mitt Romney

As the most anticipated Election Day in years approaches, it’s time to make my last pitch for Mitt Romney in what has been a loooooong, LOUD, and contentious process.  At least fellow Pennsylvanians – on both sides of The Great Divide – can give thanks for one small advantage; we don’t live in Ohio, where the Political Saturation Level is reaching the Please-Just-End-This-Madness stage.

I hold no illusions that this will change any minds, let alone sway the end result one way or the other.  But if it helps anyone to firm up their position in support of Change in The Oval Office, it will be well worth the effort.

My approach will mirror that which I suspect most voters will consider when it comes time to decide which man will lead the country over the next four years:

  • Are We better off today than We were four years ago?
  • Has the President performed as well as We expected, and prioritized as he should have since taking office in January 2009?
  • Does Mitt Romney offer Us the Vision and Leadership that would make a significant improvement in Our lives?

Déjà vu all over again … Are You better off today than you were in 2009?

Jimmy “Malaise in a Cardigan” Carter

Who has been confident in what the Economy has had to offer in the past four years?  Yes, President Obama was dealt a crappy economy when he came into office, as was Jimmy Carter, as was Ronald Reagan.  And yes, that comparison was deliberate!  It’s been four years – almost; and what have we seen?  Forty-three months of unemployment over 8%, with the real unemployment rate - which includes those who have lost all Confidence in finding employment - estimated to be as high as 11%!  (The recent down-tick in unemployment from 8.1% to 7.8% was most likely the result of seasonal holiday, part-time job offerings.)

Priorities has been President Obama’s problem when it comes to improving the Economic picture.   At a time when bailouts were needed to keep banks from failing and automakers from going belly up, when the Democrats held an eight-month stranglehold on Legislative decision-making, the focus of the Obama Administration was not on the Economy.  Instead their focus was on an age-old Liberal bugaboo, finding a way to steer the American system - including its economic engine – towards Socialized Medicine.  (That’s not to claim that this is what the Affordable Care Act accomplishes at this point.  The ACA is simply the first step in the process.  A simple Google search including the words “Obama socialized medicine” will give you plenty of information that proves the point.)

All their political capital was expended in that single decision to make Obamacare the over-riding priority of those heady days of Democrat dominance over Washington, D.C.!  The Economy?  Not so much …

So what it that instills Confidence in Mitt Romney?  SUCCESS!

Confidence is the most powerful word one can use when describing the psyche of a successful Economy.  Confidence breeds investment.  Confidence encourages Business – both Big and Small – to plan bigger, to expand, and to hire more workers in the expectation of Opportunity and Success.  Confidence encourages those, who have stopped looking for work, to get back out into the job market.  Confidence drives the Economy.

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Mitt Romney’s taxes, his wealth, his reign at Bain Capital, there is a very large, very common thread … He was Successful!  He was successful at Bain Capital where 80% of the companies Bain worked with increased revenues, and investors that included pension plans, college funds, and charitable organizations realized positive returns on their investments.  Check out the stories of Bain Capital and Staples or The Sports Authority or Bright Horizons (a leader in employer-provided child-care) or Physio Control (developer/manufacturer of critical care medical devices).  The list goes on and on and on …

Mitt Romney saved the 2002 Olympics

Romney was Successful when he left Bain in 1999 to save a debt-ridden, scandal scarred 2002 Olympics.  He was Successful when he was elected Governor of Massachusetts’ and worked across  the aisle to fix the State’s budget shortfall and continue Massachusetts inroads to improving Education.  Ask yourself the question, what has President Obama ever turned around that didn’t require a massive infusion of TAXPAYER money?

So you have to wonder why is Mitt Romney and his Success such a target of the Obama campaign?  Wealth is not what preys on the Middle Class.  If Confidence drives the Economy, investment – which comes from excess wealth – feeds the Economic engine.

Economic stagnation is what kills all classes of society.  It kills jobs; kills nest eggs; kills buying power; and it kills prospects of greater opportunity for EVERYONE!  Wealth is what feeds the country’s Economic Engine.  Wealth creates investment, expansion, spending and – most importantly right now – JOBS!  When the Economy is cooking properly, ALL CLASSES of society benefit!

That is the definition of a Confident Economy!

The Lion of Ozbama

Political Courage is a short commodity.  It requires Leadership in the face of difficult decisions.  It requires the Vision to tackle National priorities when Populist ideals are competing for attention.  It requires the Will to stand tall on the Beliefs you hold, and damn the political consequences.  Political Courage is something that has been lacking in the Obama White House.

Consider the following:

  • When the Economy needed Action and Leadership to jumpstart growth; to expand Opportunities; to get people back to work President Obama took to the backseat, as House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid drove a legislative bulldozer towards a single-payer healthcare that did NOTHING to reign in the costs of medical care.  Actions taken to sustain long-term Economic Growth: NONE
  • When it came to implementation of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama ensured that it’s most dramatic and costly provisions would not take effect until AFTER the 2012 election.  They will not go into effect until 2014!  Actions taken to promote sustained growth in Employment: NONE
  • In an era that almost BEGS for the deficit-slashing approach of former President Bill Clinton, the U.S. of A. must absorb the “gift” of deficits that increased from $10 trillion to $16 trillion; 13 million disadvantaged added to the food stamps rolls; and little in Hope that the credit card spending will Change!
  • During a National Debate on the question of Gay Marriage, everyone KNEW where President Obama would eventually come down on the subject.  But as weeks turned into months and acrimony built, nothing was heard from The White House.  Why?  Because President Obama knew his position – during an election year – would cause him problems with those of his own Political Base with devout religious beliefs.  If it hadn’t been for VP Joe “Shoot from the Hip” Biden, President Obama would still be in the proverbial closet!
  • When President Obama did “come out of the closet”, it was not until the night before a fund-raiser in Hollywood – a region full of campaign cash and most decisively in favor of expanding gay rights – on the tennis courts of actor George Clooney!  And that’s when the Lion finally found “courage”!!
  • LATE BREAKING NEWS:  Des Moines Register blasts President Obama for not allowing his presentation – in an attempt to win their Editorial Board’s endorsement – from being released publicly to the voters of Iowa. an extremely close swing state!  If President Obama only had Courage in his convictions!

As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of President Obama; and certainly I believe his priorities have not been where they should be, especially when it comes to the Economy!

And what does Mitt Romney offer us?

Throughout the debate cycle, Mitt Romney has effectively cast off every wild dispersion the Democrats have attempted to heap on him.  He proved he has the temperament and Vision to be a successful President.  He has provided his framework for digging the Economy out its hole; for re-energizing the Job Market; and for reducing the choking debt that will eventually kill the U.S. Economy if not turned around.

The Right Man for right now!

Romney’s plan for tax cuts across all but the highest tax brackets, combined with reductions in tax deductions is a sound solution that involves little pain.  By reducing taxes, the Economy will be reinvigorated with Confidence that will encourage Investment and expansion.  A more robust Economy will generate additional business, more jobs and a greater demand for manufactured goods and construction materials.  This higher level of business activity begets greater tax revenue across a much broader segment of the Market, even as tax rates are lowered!  The result will be an off-set of those tax reductions, lower debt aided by cuts to expenses, and fewer claims for welfare subsistence as the result of increased employment levels.

It’s a simple, logical approach that will put people back to work while increasing tax revenues that can be used to pay down the deficits.

This election will be about the Economy.  It must be because our continually escalating debt has become the BIGGEST threat to our National Security.  Between being over-leveraged in debt to the Chinese and the enormous stress the costs of servicing that debt (i.e. interest paid), the debt threatens to choke our country’s ability to provide essential social services; maintain a fully equipped, technologically advanced military; and protect the future of our children.

Regardless of what you believe about how we got into this Economic morass, you must recognize the fact that not only has the last four years yielded little – if any – progress, President Obama’s policies and misplaced priorities have only worsened the situation.

Now is the time to make a change and put a man in charge who KNOWS how to reverse a desperate situation before it’s too late!

Vote for a return to Prosperity!  Vote for Mitt Romney!

A Tuesday like No Other

Last year, the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks didn’t seem to elicit much of a reaction in me.  I wrote one blog post that dealt with the physical, personal, and economic toll of America’s response to the attacks via the War on Terror … the war in Afghanistan, the number of wounded and killed American soldiers, the casualties suffered by the Afghan people, etc.  But the decade commemoration itself was not as noteworthy for me, troubling though that may be to some people.

I think it was the higher level of attention the ten-tear mark received from the media, the Government, the City of New York and all those smaller communities that the tragedy touched that might have muted my own personal reaction.  These were people who were more directly and personally affected that rightfully deserved and received the attention of a country still mourning in many ways that tragic September day.

So I was a bit surprised to feel a bit more connected to this year’s anniversary – the 11th.  Not uneasy exactly … pensive might be the better word.  Why was a bit of a mystery to me.

Then I realized that this year’s anniversary would fall on a Tuesday.  And that’s when it clicked.  Due to that quirky 11-year Roman calendar cycle, September 11 this year would fall on the very day of the week it occurred in September 2001.  Tuesday … a bright, clear sunny day … cloudless sky, Indian summer temps … a Tuesday in Manhattan.

I was at work that day.  Had just gotten to my desk at the Naval Inventory Control Point (now NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support)  at 8:30 that morning, and almost immediately heard about a private plane that had crashed into The World Trade Center in New York City.  I remember thinking what stupid pilot could crash into such a huge building on a cloudless, crystal clear day.  When I found one of the randomly placed TV monitors located throughout the work spaces, I was struck by the size of the hole punctured in the side of the North Tower, almost like an aluminum can pierced by a bullet.  The hole didn’t look right.  It was too big for a private plane.  So when I heard it was a larger airliner, I wasn’t surprised … just more confused by the apparent ineptitude required to cause such a tragedy.

Then I saw the second plane hit, and the horror took on a totally different meaning.

I won’t bore you with my reactions to all the horrors that unfolded that day or the painful images we were to view over the following days and weeks.  What I will share were two reactions that for some reason have stayed with me through this decade-plus-one since that Tuesday in September.

The first was related to a local event that occurred just the weekend before … the semi-regular airshow at the now shuttered JRB Willow Grove had just concluded the Sunday before the attacks.  I can remember thinking that many of those pilots and ground troops that showed off their skills for the tax-paying public over those three days would soon be heading into harm’s way, actual combat, and the very real possibility of not coming home.

My second reaction was that Tuesday evening, taking a walk with the dog, and looking up into what’s normally a very active Northeastern sky.  I was struck by the absolute absence of any moving lights in that dark, star-filled sky … no air traffic at all … The realization that “they” could hit us here and could disrupt our normal everyday lives.  The thought gave me an empty, chilled feeling.

I just know if Tuesday morning opens with clear blue skies and Indian summer temperatures that empty chill will be back cold and hard in the pit of my stomach.

Understanding China – John Bryan Starr

China has become one of the most important influences on U.S. foreign policy in the years since the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) dissolved into a smaller version of itself (Russia) and a collectively less prominent scattering of nation states.  The Peoples Republic of China has impressively grown beyond being Southeast Asia’s powerbroker of the 1970s and ’80s to be recognized as an international force in the world’s economy, as well as a major industrial contributor to the planet’s environmental problems.

It slowly dawned on many Americans that China was emerging as the United States chief international rival.  But the relationship between the two major superpowers developed a unique twist that was never an issue in the U.S. competition with the U.S.S.R.  China became a significant holder of American international financial debt, a situation created in part by our own credit card addict’s view of financial (mis)management, aggravated by a growing U.S.-China trade imbalance.

For these reasons I became very interested in former Ambassador to China, John Huntsman’s unsuccessful run at the Republican Presidential nomination.  Suddenly, here was someone who understood the intricacies of our relationship with the Chinese.  But I also came to realize my own “China problem”.  I knew very, very little about the Peoples Republic of China. 

This glaring blind spot led me to John Bryan Starr‘s Understanding China, an expanded 2010 study of a nation so few of us know much about, let alone understand.  This is Starr’s third revision of his original book, published in 1997.

Starr is a former U.S. Navy officer and current political science lecturer at Yale University.  Before Yale he taught Chinese politics at UC-Berkeley.  He has served as Executive Director of the Yale-China Association and as President of the China Institute in New York City.

The Great Wall

I found Understanding China to be a well-organized and enlightening look into a region of the world I have admittedly ignored over the years, at least since those heady days of fifth-grade geography and 10th grade world science.  Starr’s approach begins with a discussion of 12 critical issues facing China as it moved from being the brunt of jokes about cheap toys and flimsy consumer products to a regional military power and international economic force. 

The 12 issues range from those that most affect the Chinese people (e.g. housing and feeding a growing population, restrictions in the free flow of information) to the issues that challenge the country of China as it emerges as a developing economic power (e.g. environmental degradation, finding sufficient sources of energy, relationships with Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States).  This outline sets in the reader’s mind the questions that will be addressed throughout the book and serves as a useful guide for framing Starr’s discussion.

It proves difficult for me to do such in-depth studies justice in a blog post.  So many of my readers have short attention spans and prefer lawn care tips over international political science.  With those restrictions in mind, I’ll limit my discussion here to those aspects of China I found new and most interesting.  A serious study such as Understanding China is a useful tool for gaining an overview on a broad spectrum of issues; the reader can then decide which specific areas might require more in-depth research. 

Points of interest I was surprised to learn:

  • China experiences approximately 120,000 very public protests every year.  Quite the surprising statistic for such an authoritarian and – in the case of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising - downright brutal government.
  • China is just a tad larger than the United States (3.7 million square miles vs. 3.6 million).  But 75% of its population lives on just 15% of the land mass; two-thirds of which is covered by mountains akin to the U.S. Rockies.  China’s arable land for farming is limited to just 10% of the total.
  • The 2008 global financial meltdown had a relatively limited effect on the Chinese economy.  The reason was the authoritarian government’s capability to quickly and effectively inject new capital into the domestic economy.  So there does seem to be at least one advantage to not having to kowtow to a democratically elected legislature … quick action in a crises!
  • Foreign investment, channeled primarily through the Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong, Macao), tops $1.6 trillion a year; consisting of 60,000 joint ventures; and accounting for half of all Chinese exports.
  • China’s People’s Liberation Army receives an official annual budget of only $70 billion; but experts estimate that it’s truly 3-4 times that large.  In addition, the PLA self-finances in part through the manufacture and international sale of military weapons and equipment.  And until recently ordered to divest,  military-owned and operated facilities also produced consumer goods for domestic sale that accounted for 20% of the domestic consumer market. 
  • In 2004 Morgan Stanley estimated that high quality, less expensive Chinese products saved the U.S. consumer an astounding $100 billion!    

There were several topics in which I was keenly interested, given China’s expanding global presence and impact.

Interests of local authorities and economies vs. objectives of the national government …

Despite China’s authoritarian communist rule, the countryside is relatively free of control by the central government.  Local authorities are delegated much latitude on a broad spectrum of administrative and operational issues.  This arrangement serves to contradict certain objectives like reducing pollution and feeding an expanding population. 

The crux of the problem is that local authorities at regional and village levels are incentivized (or penalized) based on production outputs and cost efficiencies, along with ensuring compliance by its citizens with social programs (e.g. one-child birth policy).  Often the extent of local compensations, power, and access to corruptive practices causes local interests to run counter to national policy.  Local leaders will overlook environmental threats, sacrifice arable land – which are already scarce in relation to farming needs – for modern industrial facilities, and coerce social compliance with the one-child policy simply as a cost reduction measure.

Mao Zedong

The environment was just one sacrificial lamb in Mao Zedong’s vision of the Chinese nation.  He portrayed Nature as an enemy to be overcome in the struggle for a powerful, independent China.  Water and energy were provided free of charge, which ensured no one questioned the economies of conservation or the use of alternate energies. China is the largest user of coal, the second largest of oil (with 60% coming from the Middle East), and home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities on the planet. 

China’s refusal to commit to most international environmental restrictions is based on its claim as a developing industrialized power (i.e. not yet fully developed).  The claim has some merit since all developing nations, including the U.S., have histories as a major polluters as they grew into advanced industrial powers.  This standoff does not bode well for international efforts to reduce the global effects of man-made pollution.

The family responsibility system …

The Chinese are well-known for the strength of their family system; and this is illustrated nowhere better than the reliance on the family responsibility system as a glue that holds Chinese rural society together.  Due to China’s sparse infrastructure outside its urban concentrations, huge swaths of rural land especially in the north and west have limited accessibility, little in the way of government and social support structures (hospitals, schools, roads, communication, etc.), and less government control.  As a result, a loose federation of local authorities coupled with a strong family agrarian culture are left to their own devices for sustenance, industry, and social support.

The family structure is most important here.  The family system is responsible for seeing the individual through life from birth to death.  With national priorities focused on feeding the much larger urban populations, the family structure is crucial to the success of rural farms which are owned and operated primarily by family units.  Farming and limited rural industrial capacity is owned, managed, and staffed almost entirely within the family system.  For this reason the limits of the one-child policy are largely ignored in rural areas since the larger the family, the greater the output; the greater the output, the more healthy and wealthy the family.  These families find the penalties for multiple births and additional children over one-child to be well worth the investment, even a matter of pride. 

In addition, older Chinese in rural areas do not benefit from the pensions city dwellers can accumulate.  So younger generations see providing for their elderly parents and grandparents to be part of their family duty. 

One interesting spinoff from this significant urban-rural divide is that rural Chinese do not identify with the problems and shortcomings faced by those Chinese in the big cities.  As a result, rural Chinese felt little compulsion to become involved in the Tiananmen Square uprisings of 1989, which were initially caused by protests over poor education and living conditions at Chinese universities, located in its major urban centers like Beijing.      

Remaking the Chinese economy …

This post is already way too long for some of my attention-span-challenged fans, but Starr’s biggest contribution to my understanding of China’s present day status was his explanation of the remaking of the Chinese economy.  For decades China was the land of cheap toys and poorly made consumer products.  Now it’s known for cheaper priced consumer products and top-line brand-name clothing and electronics.

China’s status as The Land of American Outsourcing hits a sensitive nerve with work-a-day Americans, particularly those without good jobs and especially those who have lost jobs to cheaper overseas labor.  It’s an issue that will plague Chinese-American relations for years to come until some form of equilibrium is reached.  One cold, hard reality is that the outsource destinations did nothing other than take advantage of the high cost structure in this country, much of it the result of the high level of Government regulation and the expenses of a union-committed labor force.

China’s big chance to remake its often ridiculed economy came with the cessation of Hong Kong by Great Britain.  This handover opened the door for China’s own brand of “capitalism with Chinese characteristics”.  Hong Kong, which had long existed as a conduit for financial activity, opened the floodgates for a dramatic expansion of foreign investment. 

Deng Xiaoping

It was Deng Xiaoping who set the stage by initiating a number of reforms that eased the transition for China’s economy.  Deng’s reforms included moving industrial development from central government planing to market-driven decisions, and shrinking the state-owned industrial sector in favor of an expanded private sector.  These decisions accomplished more for China’s economy than any other outside development.  

From the socialist/communist point-of-view however, China also moved from an economy among the most equal in income distribution to one that is now one of the most unequal in terms of the differences between rich Chinese and poor Chinese.  This just goes to prove that trying to force a philosophy of income equality for all does absolutely nothing for the long-term financial and economic health of a developing country.

And that’s it, a rather long-winded but inadequate attempt to portray John Bryan Starr’s look inside the Chinese behemoth.  I certainly have skipped and skimmed a large part of Starr’s treatment.  For a real appreciation of China’s story from the age of dynasties to land of Wal*Mart you really need to pick up Understanding China.

Citizen U.S.A.

I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on Monday, December 26.  Well, almost nothing …  I had to do some post-Christmas clean-up, since we host a house full of relatives for Christmas dinner every year.  So the Day After Christmas is reserved for Decompression and Recovery.

The one thing I’m glad I did was catch an HBO documentary called Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip, where director Alexandra Pelosi travels to naturalization ceremonies in all 50 states; meeting brand new American citizens to learn why they chose America as their new home.  I found it inspiring and thought-provoking.

Two experiences I have had with younger, liberal family members made the story Pelosi tells all the more poignant.

Documented and legal vs. Undocumented and running scared 

One young relative not only constantly shines the light on the dangerous sub-culture of illegal aliens (The PC term is now apparently “undocumented workers“.) … pouring across the southern U.S. border, he has actually spent time in that hostile environment working with charitable organizations trying to help these “undocumented workers” survive the physical ordeal of crossing the desert border region.  It’s an admirable humanitarian effort, providing they aren’t directly abetting illegal entry. 

We have gotten into some spirited internet discussions about the subject of illegal/undocumented aliens/immigrants/workers.  My central point in these discussions comes down to what barriers prevent these illegal border crossers from going through the process of becoming legally announced, recognized and controlled immigrants?  How difficult it is really to apply and obtain legal work permits, then enter the country and work here legally?  

From my research, it appears that the only practical barrier undocumented immigrants face to become documented laborers is the bureaucratic wait to receive work visas from the U.S. Government.  But a New York Times report found that H2-A visa for agricultural workers, one of the few unlimited visa categories, can be obtained on the same day.

The HBO documentary – on the other hand – showed thousands of legally documented immigrants, who not only came here to attend schools and/or to work, but who have flourished to the point where they persistently and successfully sought to become fully naturalized U.S. citizens.  They did not have to live a life under the radar, isolated from helpful human services; constantly on the move; always looking over their shoulder due to the fear of being caught and sent home.  No hiding, no running.

How can the undocumented worker lifestyle be any freer, safer or more productive for the individual when they determine it necessary to leave their home and sneak into the U.S. for work, better wages and services that would improve their family’s quality-of-life? 

Legal entry is obviously the safer, cleaner choice for the immigrant, even with the bureaucratic hoops which – according to the above NY Times link – is not an unreasonable barrier to LEGAL entry.  So for me, it is hard to argue with the premise that illegals would rather enjoy the improved lifestyle and new opportunities without having to contribute a fair share towards the human services (schools, hospitals, etc.) they and their families enjoy while here.

The part that doesn’t make sense is having to SURVIVE the ordeal of a border crossing so dangerous that charitable organizations are compelled to be there to provide survival assistance.

I am hardly one who fails to recognize the value that foreign migrant workers contribute to the U.S. economy.  Their labor is indispensable to many areas of our agricultural industry.  So I’m waiting – even hoping – for someone to disprove this negative view of a generally hard-working, productive people, who – on the surface at least – appear to be only interested in improving their lot in life.  These are givens.

(As an interesting aside, in six months during 2006 Mexico deported over 100,000 illegal immigrants.  It is illegal for foreign nationals to be in Mexico – including Americans – without proper documentation.  Mexican immigration law allows authorities to arbitrarily check immigration papers and to racially profile groups determined more likely to be in Mexico illegally.)

America:  An Ideal not a guarantee

In the middle of watching the HBO presentation, I caught my eldest son snickering at one newly naturalized citizen’s proclamation that in America you can become successful, accomplish anything, and realize a better quality-of-life. 

I’m willing to bet this is a fairly common reaction in some people.  Those who have come to believe that corporatism and the financial system keeps the lower and middle classes hopelessly bogged down; those who think that social inheritance and political opportunism will always trump hard work and creativity; the cynical who look at the faults one can inevitably find in a society as large and complex as ours and conclude the deck is fixed against all but the properly connected.

I prefer to look at it another way.

Living in America is an Ideal, not a guarantee.  It is a Promise that Hard Work and Creativity will be rewarded.  It’s not a guarantee that you will be made rich and amazingly successful or even that all your Hard Work and Creativity will free you of financial pressures or eliminate all social disadvantages.   

The Ideal is an objective for which we should reach up and out.  The Ideal may very well be unattainable, which any true Ideal worth working towards should be.      

America is still an Experiment just as the Founding Fathers saw it 235 years ago.  America is imperfect.  There are flaws in every segment of the Political, Economic, and Social orders.  Solutions to these problems, whether these challenges develop over decades or pop up suddenly like cracks on a windshield, are tweaks in the Experiment that in reality are experiments on the Experiment.  And sometimes the Solutions end up causing more problems elsewhere.   

As in any experiment, when the variables – like economic stability or political efficacy - get out of whack the results suffer.  Sometimes the confluence of problems and events within The Experiment develops into a perfect storm that threatens much of what has been accomplished.  The storms can hold us back; and sometimes they can ruin the Individual.  But part of the Promise is that the Foundation will always be there for You, a Foundation that can protect you and help you to recover.    

The Promise isn’t that You will be carried forever.  The Experiment has developed mechanisms that allow You to be carried when You cannot carry yourself.  Yet even these support structures were never guaranteed to be there always or to carry into perpetuity those who fall on hard times, especially when they have the basic capabilities to work for themselves.  Certainly the Promise was never intended to be a substitute for Hard Work.    

In the end, You get out of the Experiment what you put into it.  And if You wait only for what America will give you, you only cheat yourself, and the Promise will turn into nothing more than that … a promise.        

As I viewed Citizen U.S.A. I heard people who spoke of their love for America – their new home.  They understood the distinction between the Promise of America vs. America as a guarantee.  Some spoke of how much is taken for granted by birthright Americans … how many things we accept as givens, such basic concepts as physical safety, freedom of speech and religion, freedom from overt government harassment, even the simple conveniences of running water and electricity at the flip of a switch.  Things that many of these newly naturalized Americans saw as Miracles of Democracy, because in so many other parts of the world even these simple expectations regularly go unfulfilled.                               

Discomfort and disbelief with 9/11 coverage

I had considered writing a personal 9-11 perspective for this past weekend’s remembrances, but felt it would have been an inappropriate self-indulgence.  So many others were more directly and frightfully affected by the events of that day, to add my own personal noise to the remembrances of survivors and those who lost friends and family members seemed superfluous.

However, after reading much of what was published Sunday in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I became sufficiently motivated to address what I consider the wayward perspectives on what has happened since that day in this country and in its responses to those attacks. 

The Inqy’s coverage of such an emotional event was quite detailed, complete, and somber.  It’s certainly not easy to strike the right balance when trying to accurately portray such a huge, complicated picture.  This is especially true when trying to put into perspective the hard data (costs in blood and treasure) along with the social, psychological, and emotional toll of such an event.  Maybe the smart thing would have been to treat this data separately, perhaps at another time even.  And yet – I’m sure – many people would have complained had not “the other half” of this story been presented on such a momentous anniversary.  

For instance,  The Inqy ran two charts in its paper edition on Sunday, describing both The Human Toll and The Financial Toll since the 9/11 attacks.  I thought it an unfortunate juxtaposition, having both of these displayed together.  (I would link them here, if I could find them on the philly.com site.  After two days of searching, I have given up.) 

Several data points caught my attention.

  • The Financial Toll of 9/11 was split between War Costs and Security Costs.  Among the latter category (Totaling $819 billion) was included $100 billion for the “Cost of delay to passengers for airport screening”! 

After seeing that, I was interested in how that was calculated and searched for the source from which the numbers came.  What I found was a study performed for an financial-based risk-assessment/benefit analysis by two professors analyzing the costs of preventing terrorist attacks vs. the actual risk of loss from such attacks.  The authors attempt to equate the value or benefit of prevention to a number of successful attacks needed to reach a so-called break-even point.

I was - almost immediately – sorry I dove into the deep end of this pool.  My problem being that one must be able to put a price tag on the value of a life.  And although this is something that’s certainly done in instances such as the cost and design of highway/auto safety features or in analyzing the costs of environmental protection measures; it’s still a nasty concept with which to deal.  

In this case, it’s a lose-lose situation, even if you’re able to get past the human element of the equation.  The psychological effects of massive casualty events puts an equation-type approach in evaluating responses to such attacks well beyond the realm of acceptability. 

For example, one conclusion made by the authors was that it would require 1667 Times Square-type attacks (i.e. like the one thwarted by poor design this past New Years Eve) to reach the break-even point of security measures needed to prevent any such attacks.  I doubt we could get to the point – psychologically – where, if one such attack was successful, that even two such events would be acceptable. 

You just have to wonder whether the likes of an Osama bin Laden understood that concept to the extent that it did not matter - to him anyway – what might happen to himself or to his organization.  They would win either way.  

It’s not a comforting thought.  But it’s not like we, as a nation that cherishes its domestic freedoms, would have the choice to consider the alternatives of such cost-benefit analyses either.

(I never did find an explanation of how they calculated the cost a traveler incurs waiting for a security screening, as opposed to the coast of being vaporized as a passenger on an 175 ton missile.  I guess I’d have to buy the book to find out, but that’s not going to happen.)

  • The Human Toll of 9/11 included U.S. and Iraqi military casualties, the civilian losses on 9/11, and a section on Iraqi civilian deaths, estimated to be 125,000.  The fine print attributed the Iraqi casualty estimate to a professor working on the Costs of War project at Boston University.  It attributed an estimated 15% of those Iraqi deaths to American and Iraqi military operations; the rest to sectarian violence, insurgent assassinations, and other criminal acts.

It was as early as 2006 that Iraqi War protestors were claiming upwards of 600,000 civilian Iraqi deaths as the result of the war.  Supposedly, these estimates were gleaned by surveys conducted on less than 2,000 Iraqi households and were then extrapolated for the entire war-ravaged country.

I never bought that methodology.  It was just too difficult to balance the claims of such widespread and willful violence and death in an almost lawless environment with what I imagined were census-type surveyors going door-to-door in Baghdad.  Even the margin-of-error (426,369 to 793,663 deaths) was over three times the figure now claimed in The Inqy chart!

I also found it odd that there was no information provided on estimated Afghanistan civilian deaths.  If your intent is to present “the whole picture”, it’s difficult to get past this glaring omission.

In another area of Sunday Inqy Karen Heller, a regular contributor, provided her perspective on that day in Forgetting isn’t possible.  One segment drew my attention.  

Everything about that morning, and almost all that came after, was characterized by speed: the planes crashing, the buildings falling, the deaths mounting, the rush to a wrongheaded costly war.

Now Ms. Heller and I rarely agree.  She being quite to left of me in her opinions and writings.  And my first take on this statement was that she was speaking about Iraq, not Afghanistan.  On the other hand, her piece was presented as a reflection on the events of 9-11 and the developments that resulted from the events of that day.  Yet she never once mentions Afghanistan; but does make mention of Saddam Hussein and even Niger yellowcake.  

So I’m left to wonder whether the “rush to a wrongheaded war” is an oblique reference to Afghanistan that coyly attempts to seek cover from the later - more deliberate – decision to overthrow Hussein.  Or was she unwilling to concede that Afghanistan was a “rightheaded war”, and so glosses over that episode in order to stick to the Liberal storyline. 

I suspect that latter, since I cannot fathom one suggesting after 9-11 that invading Afghanistan wasn’t “rightheaded”.  Then again, there is that storyline …

Finally on Sunday, a Letter to the Editor in the Currents section (no link still available) relates how the writer called his mother on 9-11 to check on her, and in their conversation compares the events of the day to Pearl Harbor.  Mom rather pointedly declares that the attacks were nothing like the 1941 attack that kicked off World War II.  She claims the 9-11 attacks were the result of America’s years of bullying other countries.  He concludes after ten years that he agrees with her, ” … as he watches America … launching one preemptive war after another.”

Sentiments like these are difficult to accept, given how ignorant the logic is. 

Bin Laden’s so-called justification for the 9-11 attacks was the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, as they protected Islam’s holiest lands from the invasion threat posed by Saddam Hussein, who had just crushed the Kuwaiti armed forces.  This son should be prohibited from further editorials until he lists the multiple preemptive wars we have launched since 9/11. 

But I know of only two wars initiated by the U.S. since 9/11.  One was reactive, one preemptive.  Am I missing a few wars?!?  Even the “preemptive” war on Iraq was preceded by a decade of U.N. pronouncements and Congressional resolutions under the Clinton Administration declaring Hussein a lethal threat to his regional neighbors, the international community, and national security!

It boggles my mind the extent to which people cannot – or simply will not – admit who the aggressor was that day; why they attacked us; or that our response had to go beyond flushing out and punishing the cowards who perpetrated 9/11 and were responsible for everything that followed. 

 What’s really, really disturbing is that I’m not at all surprised that they still don’t get it.