Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chas Freeman and Intelligence Judgements

Before I reference the more extreme websites, here is a Washington Post opinion piece by the New Republic's Jon Chait.  The article, "Obama's Intelligence Blunder," bemoan's President Obama's appointment of Charles Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council.  Before you dismiss this as another worthless committee, consider that the NIC leads the preparation of the National Intelligence Estimates (NIE).  The NIEs are the documents that tell us if Iran is developing a nuclear device (judgement is "no") or if Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction (judgement in 2002, "yes").

Mark Steyn, writing a National Review Online deplores the appointment.  Thursday Mr Steyn said:
Re Charles Freeman, a truly dreadful appointment,
That seems to express a strong opinion.

Jonah Goldberg, also of the National Review Online also weighed in on Thursday.  He doesn't favor Chas either.

Then there is a summary from Richard Fernandez at the The Belmont Club. That is found here.

What to think?  Only time will tell.  No amount of whining is going to change this appointment.  But, the important point, as usual, is that all need to take NIEs with a sense of caution and consideration, no matter who is in charge of the National Intelligence Council or what the subject.  Intelligence provides information.  Policy makes must make the judgement calls.


From The Volokh Conspiray we have additional comments from David Bernstein, with (as of this time) 36 comments.

Regards  --  Cliff

The Forgotten Man

This is my first book review.  This book has had some controversy recently, including some comments at Left in Lowell.

The Forgotten Man:  A New History of the Great Depression
Amity Shlaes
Publisher:  Harper Perennial (May 27, 2008)
Paperback:  512 pages

I have been meaning to blog on this book for about a month, but between one thing and another have not gotten around to it. Since then the global economic crisis has loomed ever larger.

I enjoyed reading the book and about 50 pages from the end put it down for a while, because I realized there were not enough pages left to take this story into the early years of US involvement in World War II, when the US finally really came out of the Great Depression (except for the Stock Market, which took much longer to recover).

The book is not, to me, an economic history so much as a social history and a review of the players in the New Deal, to include their backgrounds.  The author spends a fair amount of time on the main economic alternative, which was the Soviet model.   The Roosevelt Administration's New Deal included leaders who had visited the Soviet Union in the 1920s, to see what was going on.  Mentioned in the books is The New York Times reporter in Moscow, Walter Duranty, who provided the readers of the day with a very positive view of the Soviet Union.  In 1932 his reporting won him a Pulitzer Prize.  Much of what he wrote has since been called into question.

The heart of the book flows from period to period.  Each chapter heading includes the unemployment rate for the period.  None of those numbers are pretty and all are worse than our current unemployment rate, which sits at 7.6%, but will likely be worse when the numbers are released by the Department of Labor early in March.  But, still, likely not as bad as any month during the Great Depression.

Given the general collapse across the globe, many are concerned that this is the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression.  I am not sure that is true, but it is something we need to be concerned about.

The heart of the controversy surrounding the book turns on if we believe the New Deal ended the Depression or prolonged it.  There is a paper out of UCLA that talks to this issue from the "prolonged the Depression" point of view.  A UCLA 2004 news release says:
Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude in a new study that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.
The law in question was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA).

While there are big question as to if FDR and his advisors were Keynesians, today we cage the discussion in terms of Keynesian economics.  Professor and NYT Columnist Paul Krugman is one of the most vocal advocates for the Keynesian approach.  He basically believes the $787 Billion dollar stimulus package is only one-third of what we will need. And, our own Left in Lowell blog site advocates for the FDR approach.

The other approach believes that action is needed, especially with regard to failed banks--one of the things that is needed in a depression is to get the credit flowing again--but that a Keynesian stimulus is not the answer.  That view is that running up the debt does not solve the problem.  That is mostly advocated by Troglodytes and others who live in caves and eat little children for dinner. What can I say?

A CNN poll, reported by Consumer Reports, shows that on 20 February 53% of the American People believe the Stimulus Package would help the economy and 44% thought it would not.  That left 3% who were in the dark, which is a pretty small number.

In sum, I liked the book and thought it opened a new view on what has become received wisdom, with little dissent.  Reading the book is a chance to think again about a very important question.  What is the best path out of a Recession or a Depression.

Regards  --  Cliff

Friday, February 27, 2009

Flag Drapped Coffins

UPDATE  Here is the front page story from The Lowell Sun.  Local people quoted.

"Beat the Press," after dealing with the demise of The Rocky Mountain Spotted Rag talked about press access at Dover AFB, Delaware, for returning Service Members who have died overseas.  Their title, "The Pentagon relaxes its ban on photographing flag-draped coffins."

But, the relaxation is not very large.  Quoting the Pentagon News Release:
The Defense Department will allow the news media to photograph the flag-draped caskets of fallen U.S. troops returning home if their families agree, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
Ms Emily Rooney claims to be "hard line" on this.  She is.  And, she is wrong.

This is actually a relatively new situation.  In the past we have buried our dead in the land where they died. There are a number of Cemeteries in Europe.  The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, in France, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, plus a monument with the names of 1,557 Missing in Action, some of whom have subsequently been recovered.  We even have a Cemetery in Mexico City, for the dead from the Mexican War, including 750 who were not otherwise identified.

If we are to continue to return the bodies of those who died overseas--and we will continue--the families deserve their space during this traumatic period in their lives.  The Media is not invited to accompany the notifying officer during the initial notification.  The return of the coffins falls within that same period of grief.  If the family wishes to allow a press intrusion, then fine, allow it.  If they don't, then the press should look away and find their story elsewhere--and the information is plainly available.

The information on deaths (combat and other) is available from the Pentagon every time a Service Member is killed, or a Service Member previously Missing in Action (MIA) is returned to his or her loved ones.  If the press needs to know, they can go to the Pentagon website and sign up for the death notices.  I did.  Why can't others?

The only "Beat the Press" panel member to support the ban, Mr Joe Sciacca, talked about the Press using this for political purposes.  I think Mr Sciacca is correct. It comes down to media responsibility.  I have my doubts about that working in the case of our fallen.

The families deserve consideration.

Regards  --  Cliff

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Working With People

I have hijacked this from Julie Davis of Happy Catholic.  You might say to yourself, "I don't care about any of that Catholic/religious stuff," but the general theme of the quote is good for all of us and I don't think I have seen it said this well elsewhere.  You can just delete "Gospel" and put in Democrat or Trash Collectors or whatever you like.

This is a quote from St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), describing his daily life.
The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel's opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.
This is daily life.  My oldest son, who is a manager with a defense contractor down in DC, and I were talking about managing people this evening and I read this quote to him, because I think it talks to being a manager, but it really talks to the responsibilities we all have toward our fellow man and fellow woman.

Regards  --  Cliff

UPDATE  I had a typo I fixed. Probably more than one, but only one I found.

Farewell Rocky Mountain News

The Rocky Mountain Spotted News publishes its last edition Friday.  While it was a long time coming, the end happened quickly.

Their own article is here. From the article:
The Rocky was founded in 1859 by William Byers, one of the most influential figures in Colorado history. Scripps bought the paper in 1926 and immediately began a newspaper war with The Post.  That fight ebbed and flowed over the course of the rest of the 20th century, culminating in penny-a-day subscriptions in the late '90s.
It will be interesting to see what Emily Rooney and the "Beat the Press" crew has to say about this Friday evening.

It would be like Boston losing the Herald.


Regards  --  Cliff

Let the Games Begin

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the Senate Homeland Security Committee, under Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CN), will hold hearings on the violence in Mexico and how the US should respond.

Why is the Homeland Security Committee doing this and not Senator John Kerry's Foreign Relations Committee?  I checked the Foreign Relations Committee schedule just now.  Nothing.  A lot on Iran and some on Global Warming, but nothing on Mexico.

But, back to where the action is, Senator Lieberman said:
The southern border has always been on our radar screen as an entry point for narcotics and human smugglers, and others who might threaten our homeland security.  But the recent escalation of violence along the southern border demands our immediate attention.
I actually feel good about Senator Lieberman sticking his oar in this water.

Hearing are set for 25 March in Washington and for some time in April in Arizona.

Presidential Spokesman Robert Gibbs had this to say:
There's no doubt that the situation is of interest to the president. Strong interest.  It's something that the national security team and the president are watching closely.
What I would like to hear is that President Obama has appointed an Ambassador to Mexico--the position is now vacant.  The Ambassador needs to be someone who is a strong presence, but is sensitive to Mexican sensitivities. This is not a payoff position this time around.

The fact that there is a problem seems pretty obvious.  The solution is a little more complicated.

One of the key questions to be answered is if we focus on actions to knock down the narco-insurgency in Mexico or if we focus on supporting human rights in that nation.  From my point of view, getting the narco-insurgency under control is supporting human rights.

To focus on the consequences of Mexico as a failed state for a moment, we could see:
  • A flood of refugees coming across our Southern border.
  • Disruption of the flow of oil from one of our major suppliers.
  • Illegal drugs moving across the US southern border more easily and in greater amounts.
  • A mostly corrupt regime as our partner to the immediate South (this would not be like Cuba, separated by a serious stretch of water).
  • Increased violence within our border states as drug cartels protect their supply lines.
  • The movement of drug cartels deep into the US, corrupting our own law enforcement.
What is worse than a Recession?  A Recession coupled with a lot of violence as groups compete for control of the illegal drug trade and control of the streets upon which those illegal drugs are sold.

Good luck to you Joe Lieberman and God's Speed.

Regards  --  Cliff

Louisiana Unemployment

Some TV Station (KSLA) out in the Shreveport, Louisiana, area has an item on their website taking issue with Vice President Biden's contention that Governor Bobbie Jindal is clueless and so was his response to the President on Tuesday.

Here is Vice President Biden talking on the CBS Early Show on Wednesday:
But what I don't understand from Governor Jindal is what would he do?  In Louisiana, there's 400 people a day losing their jobs.  What's he doing?
Apparently the Vice President was fed the wrong statistics. According to Ms Patty Granier, with the Louisiana Workforce Commission:
In December, Louisiana was the only state in the nation besides the District of Columbia, according to the national press release, that added employment over the month
We know why DC adds jobs.  It is the growth of the Federal Government.  Every time I am down in Northern Virginia I am even more amazed at how new houses are springing up.

But, back to the topic, this point goes to Governor Jindal.  While there is no doubt the overall economy is shedding jobs, the Vice President appears to have gotten some bum data with regard to Louisiana.

Regards  --  Cliff

"Mexico is in free fall"

Policy Analyst David Rieff, writing in the The Manchester Guardian is the one who says so.  Here is his article, which explains the situation and points out that US policy toward Mexico is flawed.

Talking about Vice President Joe Biden's October 2008 prediction about the new Administration facing a crises early on in its term, Mr Rieff says:
That crisis is located in Mexico, which is in free fall, its state institutions under threat as they have not been since at least the Cristero uprising of the late 1920s and possibly since the Mexican revolution of 1910.  While the Obama administration is obviously aware of what is happening south of the Rio Grande, the threat simply does not command the attention that its gravity requires.
But, to readers of this blog, this should not be news--except for the history lesson.

We have ignored the southern border for too long. Latin America is not about President Fidel Castro and Cuba or even about President Hugo Chavez and Venezuela.  It is first and foremost about Mexico, our neighbor to the south.

Actor Leo Carrillo told my Ninth Grade Class in Lakewood, California, this truth over 50 years ago.  If a TV kids show co-star can figure it out, why can't all the smart policy wonks in DC and up the Eastern Shore from there?

In closing out, I was given this web site to look at.  This is the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). WOLA is active in the Social Justice arena, on both sides of the border.  I expect that they are for finding a non-violent solution to the current troubles, as am I.  However, my expectation is that the path to restoring peace and freedom to the people of Mexico will be via managed violence--police and military action.  Legal police and military action, but still, the use of force to enforce the laws of the land.

Regards  --  Cliff

Website Number

I must have too much time on my hands.

Here is an item from the LA Times about Vice President Joe Biden, during a live interview, turning to someone off camera and asking them for the "website number."

This is the kind of blunder I am capable of on any given day, so I have some sympathy for the VP.

And, it is actually a small gaffe, at least it is small when made by VP Biden.  But, for sure, if it had been VP Palin, then it would have been another matter. I was surprised the LA Times picked up on it.

Regards  --  Cliff

The Drug War / Mexico

Here is a web site that talks about the drug war and the war in Mexico, and also Attorney General Eric Holder's move on an "Assault Weapons" Ban.

The post starts with the news about the Joint US/Mexican raids on drug cartels.

The new Attorney General also is interested in banning Assault Rifles.  The ABC News report states:
The Assault Weapons Ban signed into law by President Clinton in 1994 banned 19 types of semi-automatic military-style guns and ammunition clips with more than 10 rounds.
That wasn't very clear to me. The Wikipedia discussion of assault rifles is here.  Right now the definition is about as clear as what really is the Bush Doctrine.

The good news is that we are looking to see what we can do to help Mexico.  The Wilson Center, in DC, has a web site on the Mérida Initiative.  I am not sure it is being maintained.  I am trying to check on that.  In the mean time, the above web site has a photocopied paper on the money being appropriated for the Mérida Initiative.

One of the comments has a link to this website, which talks to legalization of drugs as the solution to the problem, although, as others point out, the Drug Cartels, having money and manpower, will seek other avenues of revenue--prostitution, for example.

It is a mess and US citizens using drugs is part of the equation.  I am hoping that the new Attorney General will soon produce a report that tells us who--statistically--are the drug users.

Regards  --  Cliff

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Service Differences

I came across this quote today:
In the Army if it is not specifically authorized in regulations, it is forbidden.  In the Navy if it is not specifically forbidden in regulations, it is authorized.
I have seen this before. My experience is that it is true.

I am thinking that the Lowell Blogger, "The New Englander," might find this to be true as he leaves the Navy and joins the Army National Guard.

My experience is that the Air Force tends to follow the Army's approach, but less so in the fighter community.  The Marine Corps tends to follow the Navy approach.

When people are talk about consolidating the Services, or even consolidating certain support functions, it is important to include a discussion of the different cultures.  Some of that cultural difference has to do with the different environments in which the Services operate.  Other cultural differences have to do with the command and control relationships.  In the Army there are few independent organizations with 200 to 1000 people.  In the Navy those are ships and they are much more on their own.  Further, the levels of command between the junior enlisted member and the commander seem to be fewer in the Navy.

The Services do talk about culture and cultural differences amongst themselves.  Further, it is a subject of interest in a narrow academic area.  Here is an article from the Winter of 2005/6, which talks mostly to the Army and Air Force.  I am not sure I agree with it, but it is an example of such self-examination.

The late Carl Builder wrote about Service cultures.  His book, The Masks of War, is a good examination of this subject.  (I was honored by being footnoted in this book.)

All told, the aphorism at the beginning of this post is a good summing up of the differences in philosophy between two of our Services.

Regards  --  Cliff

Outback Question of the Week

The question for this week relates to the President's speech to Congress on Tuesday evening.  I was in class, so I missed it.

The question is, who gave the Republican rebuttal?

The supplemental question is, who said "Oh my God" just before this person walked to the podium?

The tie breaker is, how did the speech go?

A hint for those exploring for information.  The University of Wisconsin Law Professor, Ann Althouse, has a lot of this information on her blog.

Regards  --  Cliff

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Iraq--When Can We Go Home?

Report Tom Ricks had an article in Sunday's edition of The Washington Post, talking about Iraq.  Titled "The war in Iraq isn't over. The main events may not even have happened yet," this article explores the question of how long our presence in Iraq may continue, even under the Obama Administration.  It is a good article and well written.

Here is the money quote:
"What the world ultimately thinks about us and what we think about ourselves," U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said to me last year, "is going to be determined much more by what happens from now on than what's happened up to now."

In other words, the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably haven't even happened yet.
Remembering that we are still in Germany, Japan, Italy and Korea, we should realize that the troops don't come home quickly.  Heck, we are still in the UK and we were allies with the Brits during WWII.

Iraq is at the stage we were when some woman asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of Government they had developed and he responded, "A Republic; if you can keep it."

Yes, we are pulling our forces back into base camps and turning more responsibilities over to the Iraqi Army and Police, but it will be a while before we know if Iraq has settled in to being some form of a democracy.  I wish them well.  I hope that our Federal Government doesn't pull out too early and undo what our time, treasure and sacrifice has achieved.

Iraq as a functioning democracy would be a wonderful thing.  It would also be an example for other nations in the region.  It won't be easy.  Look at poor Lebanon.  But, it is doable.

Regards  --  Cliff

Monday, February 23, 2009

Its All About Logistics

This snippet from the "Stratfor" folks tells us a lot about the war we are fighting in Afghanistan.
A train carrying non-lethal supplies for the U.S. military in Afghanistan has left the Latvian port city of Riga Feb. 19, RIA Novosti reported, citing a source in the port administration.  The shipment will cross Russia and likely go through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan before entering Afghanistan.  Russia and NATO signed an agreement on the transit of non-military cargos along the "northern corridor" in April 2008, and a subsequent Russia-U.S. deal was signed in January.
The complete article is here.

We are shipping things like foot and fuel and spare parts destined for Afghanistan.  The materiel travels across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Baltic Sea, by ship, and then by train for a couple of thousand miles, through Russia, into Afghanistan.  That is quite a trek.  That is a lot of supplies.

I saw somewhere recently that it costs $750,000 to station one person in Iraq or Afghanistan.  I discounted the number, but when you consider having to ship things all the way to Afghanistan, overland for a couple of thousand miles, it makes you wonder.  We are spending billions on those two wars.  And, our number of troops "in country" is relatively low, at least compared to other wars we have fought overseas.  But, it is still expensive, at least from a logistics points of view.

Regards  --  Cliff


I was slow.  I didn't get it right away.  AFPAK is apparently the new Washington term for the combined problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Or so says Columnist David Ignatius of The Washington Post.  In his article "A Three-Pronged Bet on 'AFPAK'" he talks to the problems facing the United States in that region.

(I was going to write "facing the Obama Administration," but while those are the folks wrestling with this at this time, in fact, it is a problem for all of us.  We are the People of the United States and with either success or failure the economic and human costs will be paid by us.  Usually success incurs fewer costs.)

Mr Ignatius:
But at the same time, he has ordered a strategy review to make sure the United States isn't marching blindly into what historians call "the graveyard of empires."
Even as 17,000 additional troops deploy to Afghanistan.  It isn't like there weren't folks out there saying that we needed to ask ourselves what the real question was.  But, making a strategic assessment takes time and the troops are needed now.

Here is the gist of it:
The Obama team's broad goal for AFPAK is a three-way strategic engagement to fight a common enemy.  This means billions in economic aid for a collapsing Pakistani economy; it means a new focus on fighting corruption in Afghanistan; and it may mean distancing the United States from President Hamid Karzai in advance of Afghanistan's presidential elections in August.  (Complicating the situation is the fact that Karzai's legal mandate may expire in May.)
The complicating factors are long term concern about India, the recent bombings in Mumbai and the issue of who has control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.  This last issue is particularly troubling, in that it has implications that could travel to the United States in the form of a stolen nuclear weapon.  It is my hope that the United States has quietly given Pakistan technology to allow them to install Permissive Action Links on their nuclear weapons.  These items won't prevent their being stolen or even rebuilt to detonate, but would prevent their immediate use after being pilfered.  That would buy us time to hunt for them.

What is going on in AFPAK is important to our future.  We should all be paying attention.

Regards  --  Cliff

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Appointing Senators

I am blaming my wife for this.  Both she and Senator Russ Feingold are from Janesville, Wisconsin.  My wife does claim, by way of exculpation, that she is older than the Senator and had left for college by the time he was in Kindergarten, but I believe she is just a young thing.

George Will, writing in The Washington Post, talks to the proposal by Senator Feingold, supported by Senator McCain, to Amend the 17th Amendment to require direct election of all Senators, even replacements, like Senator Roland Burris.  I agree with Mr Will.  This is a bad idea.

Mr Will's article can be found here.  The Statement of Senator Feingold on the Senate floor, 29 January 2009, can be found here.

Mr Will states:
The Framers established election of senators by state legislators, under which system the nation got the Great Triumvirate (Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun) and thrived. In 1913, progressives, believing that more, and more direct, democracy is always wonderful, got the 17th Amendment ratified.  It stipulates popular election of senators, under which system Wisconsin has elected, among others, Joe McCarthy, as well as Feingold.
I think Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy came up in the local blogosphere recently.

While I don't agree with Mr Will that we should abolish the 17th Amendment (which requires direct election of Senators), I think this point is well taken
Although liberals give lip service to "diversity," they often treat federalism as an annoying impediment to their drive for uniformity.  Feingold, who is proud that Wisconsin is one of only four states that clearly require special elections of replacement senators in all circumstances, wants to impose Wisconsin's preference on the other 46.  Yes, he acknowledges, they could each choose to pass laws like Wisconsin's, but doing this "state by state would be a long and difficult process."  Pluralism is so tediously time-consuming.
While direct election would have saved us the embarrassment of the Great and General Court deciding that while Democratic Governors were good enough to make appoints, Republican Governors were not, this proposal by Senator Feingold is a bad one.  Couldn't he have gone out on a junket, rather than submitting this even greater waste of money into the hopper for bills.

Regards  --  Cliff


A friend of mine, Bill, who lives in Chelmsford, chided me about the lack of two spaces after periods (full stops) in the blog.

He is correct.  The HTML editor will put in one space, even if you type two or three.

Thus, the pure HTLM paragraph looks like this. The space between two sentences is very small. I am putting in two spaces, but it doesn't look like it.

Here is the same sentence with an artificial correction.

Thus, the pure HTLM paragraph looks like this.  The space between two sentences is very small.  I am putting in two spaces, but it doesn't look like it.

I am using the code that stands for Ampersand, Non-Breaking Space Semicolon.  Here it is, with spaces between the characters: "& n b s p ;".  If I close them up it looks like this " ".

Does anyone have an opinion? It takes time to put in the artificial space, but it looks nicer. Post a comment at the bottom of this post or send me an EMail at


Regards  --  Cliff

Soak the Few?

This all goes to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is in this Wall Street Journal piece.
One percent of the households that file in this city pay something like 50% of the taxes," explained the Mayor.  "In the city, that's something like 40,000 people.  If a handful left, any raise would make it revenue neutral.  The question is what's fair.  If 1% are paying 50% of the taxes, you want to make it even more?"
The New York Daily News quote of the same radio program the Mayor was on is here:
“The first rule of taxation should be you don’t try to tax people who can move.  And…one percent of the…households that file in this city, pay something like 50% of the taxes.  I mean in the city that’s about 40,000 people, so, you know, a handful left, any raise would make it revenue neutral.”
As Lynne from Left in Lowell said in a post on the proposed gas tax, during WWII the top tax bracket was paying 90%.  (That said, I would like to see the actual returns.)  But, the big thing about WWII was that the Roosevelt Administration was trying to sop up money to avoid inflation and was also trying to keep the deficit from ballooning.

The question to be asked in this case is if a small location can raise taxes without creating economic migration.  How many people live close enough to New Hampshire or Rhode Island that they will go across the border to purchase their gasoline?  And, while they are purchasing their gasoline, since Service Stations are no more, but convenience stores are all the rage, what else will they buy while getting gas?

And, with regard to the gasoline tax increase, it is not only recessive, but to the degree it causes us to take actions to reduce our "carbon footprint," it is a dwindling revenue source.

The Mayor of New York City has a point about taxes.

Another point that needs to be made and often isn't is that we are a democracy and there needs to be some sharing of the cost as well as the benefits.  I am not in favor of trying to make up shortfalls on the backs of the poor, but I believe it would be good if everyone paid some nominal amount, even those receiving an Earned Income Credit.  I get Social Security from the Federal Government, but I pay some tax on it.  We all need to feel like we are in this together.

Regards  --  Cliff

Is it a Depression?

A person I am helping write a book has stated in the book that we are in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  She has written:  "in the winter of 2009, the nation is sinking into an economic crisis recalling the suffering of the Depression...".  I thought she was being a little dramatic.

Now comes Judge Richard Posner, claiming it is just that, a Depression. 

This comes about in the Becker-Posner Blog, which this week is about China and our trade imbalance and financial reserve imbalances with that nation.

First up is Professor Gary Becker talking to the issue of China and trade. In his response to Professor Becker, Judge Richard Posner makes the point that our economic crisis is a depression.
One reason that we are in a depression and not merely the "severe recession" that is the preferred euphemism is that, because of those deficits, we cannot spend our way out of the depression without increasing the national debt to a point at which either horrendous inflation or huge tax increases will be required to pay it down.
Maybe we are in a Depression after all.  Worse, maybe Keynes doesn't hold the key to the exit.

Regards  --  Cliff

The Service Academies

Reporter Jennifer Myers has an interesting and informative article on Service Academy appointments in the Sunday Lowell Sun.

This is a great story and one that I hope will inspire other high school and junior college students to consider the application process and to take advantage of such opportunities to serve and to obtain an education.

About the idea that it is a free education.  You pay for it by a lot of hard work.  In four years I graduated with over 150 academic credit hours--that doesn't count the "ROTC" and the (mandatory) physical education.  On the other hand, classes were usually 12 to 16 cadets.  Instruction was excellent.  The Summers were interesting.  And, the resulting career was wonderful.

For the Military Academy (Army), at West Point, New York; the Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point), in New York; the Naval Academy (Navy and Marine Corps), Annapolis, MD; and the Air Force Academy, outside Colorado Springs, Colorado, appointments generally come through the candidates' US Representative or either of the two US Senators.  Each of those elected officials can have several cadets (or midshipmen) in each academy at any one time.  Thus, Representative Tsongas having such a larger number of appointees at this time.

The Coast Guard Academy, in New London, Connecticut, doesn't require a Congressional appointment.  It is all about passing the tests.  You can check it out on line here.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  The writer of the headline, who is usually not the reporter, has seen My Cousin Vinnie one too many times.  I think that the headline should have read "Tsongas nominates local youth for top military academies," rather than "local youths."  And, he could have skipped "Top."  What would Norwich and VMI and Texas A&M think about not being part of the "top." And, I think of them as "Service Academies," not military academies--that would be West Point--the United States Military Academy (USMA).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Safety First

Coming from the flying dodge, where a major effort reduced accident rates dramatically from the early 1950s to today, I am aware of the importance of safety and of properly incentivizing people in that regard.

I thought the sign in this blog post was an effective incentive.

My Father's approach, in his days as a Safety Engineer, centered on empowering first line supervisors.  That is something that I have tried to keep in mind over the years--empowering first line supervisors.

Regards  --  Cliff

Peak Oil

I stumbled across a web site that talks to Peak Oil.

I found this particular post interesting.  It talks about supply and demand and suggests we are in for a number of ups and down in the price of crude oil and thus of gasoline.

There is a chart in the comments, just a couple down, talking about the price of whale bone and whale bone "production."  This had to do mainly with corsets, which generally went away a hundred years ago.

In a way this problem of supply and demand and the resulting price talks to the question of a gas tax, which was discussed yesterday by Lynne at Left in Lowell.  A tax on a product which has a fluctuating demand, based upon price, is not a steady revenue stream for the Government.  (I left a comment there this AM (after comment 6) but my comment has yet to show up.)

Regards  --  Cliff

Friday, February 20, 2009

The War Next Door

Is anyone paying attention to Mexico?

There was this article in Thursday's edition of the El Paso Times, headlined "Death threats against Juárez police put force on high alert."  The article talks to four policemen being murdered this last week.  We are talking about right on the US border.

Basically, the article says there is a parallel government in Mexico, the drug cartels.  A parallel government, working in the shadows, is a classic signal of an insurgency.  The point is, Mexico as a democracy on our border, is seriously threatened.  It is not the illegal immigrants from Mexico that should worry us, it is the power of the drug cartels and the danger they pose to democracy south of the border, and within our own nation.

Someone I know from the Internet noted
The drug gangs have now turned to political mobilization to force the [Mexican] Army's withdrawal; it's entirely possible, if the violence continues, that we'll have a replay of the Swat Valley, where the people were willing to accept Taliban rule and Sharia law simply to have some kind of public order.  Mexico is in turmoil, the Army is apparently not able to control the violence (indeed, many soldiers with real talent get out and go to work for the cartels), and American support has been grudging and tied to all kinds of conditions about human rights and so forth.

There are two things worth considering.
  1. What can we do for Mexico? Congressional inactivity and disputatious support is our record so far, but our problem with the war inside Mexico is that it is a Mexican law enforcement problem that exists because of the North American drug market and is financed and supported by our own drug habits.  Certainly we should be giving them a few of the billions we're throwing around lately--this couldn't come at a worse time--but we also have got to do something about the market.  We are the cause.
  2. What can we do for ourselves?  The cartels' influence inside the U.S. is growing daily; their SOP is to knock off competing drug markets, which they are now doing, and then begin to knock off or buy out law enforcement and public officials who get in their way, which--I think--they are beginning to do around LA.
We need to get serious about Mexico before the comparison to the 1930s is not about the Great Depression but rather Prohibition, or worse, we will skip through the 1930s to 1916 and Pershing's Punitive Expeditionary.

Frankly, this situation in Mexico could make us forget all about Iraq and Afghanistan.

As for the US Congress being concerned about human rights abuses, there were 6000 deaths last year tied to the drug trade. That is a serious abuse of human rights, including the rights of quite a few policemen and women.  Of those, 1,600 were in Ciudad Juárez, just across the border.

It is easy to think that this is a problem for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, but the drug trade is everywhere in the United States.  If this violence spills over into the United States it will spread across this nation like spilled milk across the kitchen floor.  A lot of spilled milk.

It would be a lot better to take this seriously now, and maybe even throw a couple of billion dollars at it.  If we wait until it blows up, we will have to spend a lot of time and military manpower and national treasure on it.  It is likely that American civilian bystanders will get caught in the crossfire and die.

One first step might be to legalize drugs and make the US Government the dispenser (or better yet, each individual State, with the Federal Government as the funneling source).  Frankly, while I have considered this in the past, there are arguments against it.  But, if not that solution, then what?  What we are currently doing is not working and hasn't been working for a couple of decades.  And, the size of the drug problem should tell us that this is not about minority citizens in inner cities.  This is a wide spread problem.

And yet, I see nothing on the pages of the local newspapers.  I don't hear people talking about this on the radio.  Few blogs present this in the stark terms that help us comprehend what is happening.  The US Congress is out of town on junkets and not paying attention.  The President has been to Canada and the Secretary of State to the Far East.  The Vice President has been dispatched to Germany.  Who went to Mexico?

We are being lousy neighbors and if our neighbor's house burns down we are likely going to have some problems.

Regards  --  Cliff

Tax Us By Our Mileage?

In an interview with the AP, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahoodsays:
We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled
This does have the advantage of eliminating the gas tax, if you believe Secretary LaHood.

Actually, what are the odds that the gas tax will go away if we institute a mileage tax?  Those of you who picked "ZIP" were amongst the winners, along with those who picked "NONE" and "NOTA" and "ZERO."

That is not to say it is a bad idea.  But, before we jump into it we need to ask ourselves about the various possible bad outcomes.

The article goes on to say:
The idea also is gaining ground in several states.  Governors in Idaho and Rhode Island are talking about such programs, and a North Carolina panel suggested in December the state start charging motorists a quarter-cent for every mile as a substitute for the gas tax.

A tentative plan in Massachusetts to use GPS chips in vehicles to charge motorists by the mile has drawn complaints from drivers who say it's an Orwellian intrusion by government into the lives of citizens.  Other motorists say it eliminates an incentive to drive more fuel-efficient cars since gas guzzlers will be taxed at the same rate as fuel sippers.
The reason for considering these alternative (or additional) taxes is that there has been a revenue shortfall for funding highway construction and repair. (FYI:  a quarter-cent per mile works out to be $25 for every 10,000 miles driven. How long will that last?)

I am sure someone has a law of human nature named after them that points out that use taxes are not always a good way to pay for things.  For years people have been telling us we need more fuel efficient cars.  Other people (and often the same people) have been telling us we have been driving too much and need to think before we head out and that we should consolidate trips.

Guess what? Due to the strange increase in the price of crude oil last year people have been following those tips.  The result is that revenue from gas taxes have retreated.  But, did anyone pay attention in the various legislatures and consider how to make up the shortfall that they and others were in fact encouraging?  Of course not.

A hint here--the same thing could happen with taxes on cigs.  We want people to stop smoking or smoke less.  Excellent goal.  What will make up the revenue shortfall?  I wonder what our team down on Beacon Hill has in mind?

Now, back to the VMT (can European style VAT be far behind?).  As the above quote notes, this seems to not encourage the kind of public behaviors that created this mess.  So, we will have a Government entity making tax decisions based upon the type of car we drive.  That doesn't sound good.  Will the Federal Government make allowances for the fact that Montana is not Rhode Island?  When I moved from Naples, Italy, to Fairbanks, Alaska, I was very happy that I had traded my Morgan Plus 4 (although I weep at the loss) for a Jeep Cherokee. Those kinds of questions are why federalism is good and centralization is bad.

Then there is the ability to fudge.  People are inventive and Americans perhaps more than most.  I thought the recent post Dick Howe said it all.  The Good People of Gloucester had been forging stickers for trash bags.  The City Fathers had to switch to selling bags and even then had the printer deliberately misspell "Official," to catch counterfeiters.  This VMT sounds rife for such activities.

Finally, one of my concerns, how does this system protect those in the lower income brackets, who must depend upon their automobiles to get to work and to shop.  They may face longer distances than those of us who could afford to remember the meme "Location, Location, Location."

Here is the bad news, if VMT worries you:
A blue-ribbon national transportation commission is expected to release a report next week recommending a VMT.
Do you think Secretary LaHood has been given a sneak preview?

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  In the end, the power to tax is the power to shape behavior.  We need to be careful about how our State and Federal Legislatures are trying to shape our behavior.  Not just because they might do something we don't like, but because they may do something without considering all the consequences.

Outback Question of the Week

OK, so I am late, I admit it.

The question though is here.  Which Cabinet Secretary in the new Administration called Americans "cowards" this week?

For bonus points, what was he referring to?

And, for the Nobel Prize, was he correct or was he wrong?

Regards  --  Cliff

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Talking About Race

Our new Attorney General, Eric Holder, provided some remarks to commemorate Black History Month.  There has been some criticism for the passage:
Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.  Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.  It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable.
While I think Attorney General Holder is all wet on Gun Control, I think he is spot on about race relations.

Of course I don't want to talk about it.  What are the odds that if I open my mouth and my mind that I will offend someone?  The problem is that I believe the odds to be high.  Worse, I believe that we live in a "zero mistakes" environment.  My chances of growing are limited by the fact that I don't feel I can ask questions and explore issues without possibly offending someone.

The political correctness I have read about on US College Campuses only reinforces my concern about this.  My experience in the early 1970s with US Department of Defense Social Actions courses on race also were unhelpful in terms of helping me feel that this was an open discussion, rather than an indoctrination.

And, what can I do to help others understand that I am working to be open to people of different races, ethnic groups, religions and so on?

I, for one, am glad that Attorney General Eric Holder said what he said.  He continued:
And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.  But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility.  Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.
Further on, he says:
We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character
I do believe the Justice Department is one place where we can start to overcome this problem.  As Attorney General Holder "revitalizes the Civil Rights Division" I hope that part of this revitalization is an effort to encourage more dialogue and a willingness to accept that under the First Amendment everyone has the right to be either stupid or a jerk as they work their way toward enlightenment.

Regards  --  Cliff

The Legacy of FDR

There was an interesting OpEd in The Boston Globe this morning, by Professor Patrick Maney, of Boston College.  An historian, Professor Maney is the author of The Roosevelt Presence: The Life and Legacy of FDR.

The essence of the article, "The legend of FDR's first 100 days in office," is that FDR provided the inspiration, but the US Congress, which had been exploring options for several years, provided the power to pass needed legislation, often of its own conception.  Here is the quote:
The problem with the 100 days paradigm is that it obscures the vital role played by Congress - Republicans as well as Democrats - in crafting the First New Deal.  It's too FDR-centric, what with Roosevelt and his brain trust bending a pliant Congress to their will within months of taking power. ...

The real 100 days - March 9 to June 16, 1933 - bear little resemblance to the legend.  True, Roosevelt inspired a nation as perhaps no president ever has, and yes, the early months of his administration produced an outpouring of constructive legislation unequaled in the nation's history.  But the early New Deal was hardly a one-man operation.  As often as not, Congress, not Roosevelt, forced the action.  Of the 15 major bills that constitute the First New Deal, most originated in Congress and many had legislative histories predating Roosevelt's assumption of power.  There were even some key measures FDR initially opposed.
A prime example provided by Professor Maney was the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which was an idea out of Congress.  Then there was TVA, which had been pushed in several sessions of Congress, but was finally passed and signed in the 100 days.

I wish to take nothing away from President Roosevelt.  He did provide the inspiration.  But, it is important to understand that our Central Government is about the US Congress, which passes legislation.  Those 535 members must be strong and intelligent and provide leadership for the nation, along with the President.

Professor Maney makes the point that a misunderstanding of Roosevelt's 100 Days places too much of a burden on the Presidents to follow.

Regards  --  Cliff

Change of Command

I was hoping to find a news article on line for this story, but it is too good to wait for the MSM to come up with the details.  There is an article in The Fort Campbell Courier, here.

As the article tells us, on 5 February 2009 Colonel Viet Luong assumed command of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).  He relieved Colonel Dominic Caraccilo as commander of "The Rakkasans."  The 3rd CBT is also known as the 187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne Infantry Regiment, as some would point out).  The term Rakkasan is Japanese for “falling down umbrella man.”  The term was used in World War II Japanese Intelligence reports to describe the 187th.

The reason this is interesting and worth celebrating is that Colonel Luong is the first immigrant from Viet-nam to command a U.S Army brigade combat team.  Colonel Luong left Vietnam in 1975.  There are some biographical details at this web site, along with some pictures.  The basics are that Colonel Luong, age 42, was born in Bien Hoa, Viet-nam.  When Viet-nam fell in 1975, the future Colonel was 10 years old.  He followed his father, Major Luong xuan Duong, a Republic of Viet-nam Marine, to USA.  As an aside, the referenced web site has a great collection of photos of gas stations.

The reason I like this story is that is is about my vision of America--from Dominic Caraccilo to Viet Luong--Italian to Viet-namese--leading US soldiers of all ethnic groups and many different religions (or no religion), in a unit with a Japanese nickname, to execute the orders of our elected civilian leadership.

Regards  --  Cliff


Didn't we just talk about this a few days ago?  Of course we did.  And we should be talking about it a lot more.  Here is an Opinion Piece by retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters that talks to Afghanistan.

As an up front caveat, I don't really agree with much of what Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters writes, from his novels to his columns.  He tends to be parochial and he tends to favor violence over reaching out.

Even so, this column (in The New York Post) is worth thinking about.  Colonel Peters talks about our commitment to the war in Afghanistan and the fact that 80% of our supplies for the troops travel through Pakistan.  Pakistan, as he notes, is not a good place for us at this time:
I'm convinced that the recent flurry of successful attacks on supply yards in Peshawar and along the Khyber Pass route were tacitly - if not actively - approved by the Pakistani intelligence service (the ISI) and the military.

Previous attacks were rare and unsuccessful.  Suddenly, in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, our trucks were burning.  The Pakistanis were making the point that we're at their mercy:  They wanted us to rein in a (rightly) outraged India.
Our efforts to run our supply lines in from the north of Afghanistan are too successful either.  We have been banned from one airfield.

But, be warned, Ralph Peters is pretty sarcastic about the Afghan commitment.
Instead of setting a realistic goal - mortally punishing our enemies - we decided to create a model democracy in a territory that hasn't reached the sophistication of medieval Europe.

And our own politics only complicate the mess.  Since Iraq was "Bush's war," the American left rejected it out of hand.  For Democrats seeking to prove they're tough on terror, Afghanistan became the "good war" by default.

Yet partial success in Iraq could spark positive change across the Middle East.  Success in Afghanistan - whatever that is - changes nothing.  Iraq is the old, evocative heart of Arab civilization.  Afghanistan is history's black hole.
I am not sure that Afghanistan is "history's black hole," but it is definitely the black hole of invading armies, from Alexander the Great (and probably before) to the British and then to the Soviet Union.  But, like the recent president, I like to believe that people around the world wish to live in peace and with democracy.  Perhaps we can help them along the road (and every time someone throws acid in the face of some young girl for going to school I get a little firmer in my resolve).  Only time will tell.

While time may turn out to be on our side, it is possible it is not.  The problem is, we are not having the national debate on Afghanistan that we need to be having.  As the Broadway Tune goes, "Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?"

Regards  --  Cliff

Joy in Times of Trouble

I am experimenting here.  I have never used someone's "Track Back" capability and am trying it with this post.

UPDATE:  Turns out "Track Back" doesn't mean what I assumed it meant.

I usually go over to Julie D's blog over the weekend to see the "Joke of the Week."  While catching up today I found that she had posted a quotation on Joy.  Joy is in short supply these days, so I thought I would share what she had posted.

The quote lifted is:
Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer.  Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak.  When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer.  I don't have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice.

I can understand that.  There is a moral attitude at work here.  But this attitude is nonetheless wrong.  The loss of joy does not make the world better - and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer.  The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good.
I think there is truth here.  It is easy for me to not rejoice in something because I see the larger unhappy picture.  But, each small victory should be rejoiced in.  Campaigns are the summation of battles.

Regards  --  Cliff

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Congressman Steny Hoyer

The House of Representatives unstable?  Some would have us think so.

Here is a Post from The Reihl World.  The Instapundit talks to "an anti-Pelosi coup?"

Here is the gist of it.  The Blue Dog Democrats (I wonder if our Rep is still one of them) include House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer as being on their side, if not one of their number.  Mr Hoyer was elected House Majority Leader over Speaker Pelosi's own choice, Representative Jack Murtha of Johnstown, PA (PA-12).

The money quote:
And Obama is working primarily with the Blue Dogs to do an end run on the Liberal House with his fiscal responsibility summit.  The commissions would then present plans to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
"Fiscal Responsibility Summit?"  The WTOP Web Site says that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is saying the 23rd of this month.

The blog with the quote connects to this one, with more detail.  I don't vouch for the Sundries Shack, but do vouch for The Riehl World View.

The coup part of this issue is not as interesting as the question of what the Blue Dog Democrats are up to and what impact they might have on the path the House of Representatives takes.

I note that per Wikipedia, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas is NOT a Blue Dog.  Chancellor Marty Meehan, when I moved to Lowell, was touted as a Blue Dog.  Made me think about my affiliations as I left the military and accepted that I could align with one party or another in my voting registration. As the real estate agents say, location, location, location.  Representative Loretta Sanchez is a Blue Dog.  She has a district (CA-47) snap dab in the middle of Orange Country (Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana).  That is still a somewhat conservative area.  But, Rep Gary Condit (CA-18) was a Blue Dog.  That isn't good company.

It will be interesting to see if President Obama is really allied with the Blue Dog Democrats and what that will mean for the future.

Regards  --  Cliff

Barone on the Great Depression

Here is commentary by Michael Barone on Roosevelt and the Great Depression.

I thought this was a pretty interesting read, albeit short, of the Great Depression from a political point of view. He did leave out Huey P Long.

The definition of a depression, which I had thought was 20% unemployment, is listed in Wikipedia as
Some economists require a fall in GDP of 10 per cent or more before a recession would be referred to as a depression.
Regards  --  Cliff

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Global WarmingClimate Change

I am a bit of an agnostic on Global warming, now known as Climate Change.  I am a STRONG advocate of alternative fuels, new ways of doing business and other actions to reduce our dependence on liquid fossil fuels.  I am not sure Climate Change is all bad.  Wasn't life better when winters were longer and ice from the Merrimack was cut and stored, to be used to keep ice boxes working during the summer?

Now comes George Will with an OpED (Washington Post, Sunday, 15 February 2009), "Dark Green Doomsayers."

Mr Will trots out the normal arguments about how we were concerned about Global Cooling only a few decades ago--a time period familiar to many of us older voters.  Then there is Arctic Ice:
According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.
I could be accused of posting on this subject just to see what my friends say.  But, I do have some serious questions, including one that Mr Will alluded to.

What is the optimum global climate?

The Supplemental Question is, who benefits (to include flora and fauna, but also nations and peoples) and who loses with this optimum climate?

Regards  --  Cliff

The Plain Folk and Technology

Kevin Kelly has blogged about the Amish and their adaptation of technology to fit the needs of their community.

I think this article does a good job of explaining the Amish attitude toward technology to "the English."  A couple of the Commenters took offense at the the blogger's use of Geek to describe the Amish first adopters.  I think it is an acceptable term and in no way diminishing of the Amish.

The blogger, Mr Kelly did lay out what he thought were a set of rules to describe how the Amish approach new technology:
  1. They are selective.  They know how to say "no" and are not afraid to refuse new things. They ban more than they adopt.
  2. They evaluate new things by experience instead of by theory.  They let the early adopters get their jollies by pioneering new stuff under watchful eyes.
  3. They have criteria by which to select choices:  technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world.
  4. The choices are not individual, but communal.  The community shapes and enforces technological direction.
I don't see the Amish approach being useful to the larger "English" community in the United States, but it is an interesting one and one that could be of value to small communities with a religious or green motivation.

Regards  --  Cliff

A Plan for Afghanistan

The long commentary below is a week old, but getting permission to publish sometimes takes time.

The author is Mr Carson Morris who is a Director of the Association for Intelligence Officers and works for a well known Defense Contractor as an Executive Vice President, where he is involved in the Afghan question. You can look him up on the WWW. Suffice it to say he has been involved in the Intelligence Dodge since 1970, including supporting the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy and acting as advisor on Defense Intelligence Oversight.

Carson Morris had made some comments to a small group about the situation in Afghanistan and was invited by some associates to "fish or cut bait;" pretend he was POTUS, and identify actions and orders he would issue.

To quote Carson:
I took a bit of umbrage to this; in the Mideast I've been skinning and eating for a long time.
Having overcome his umbrage, he laid out a solid plan. It may not be the plan you would write, but he has the advantage of being the first one to put something down on paper and other plans are just going to be derivative.

All that said, I would love to test the limits of the Comments Section. Please consider:
  1. It is possible none of Carson's corrective actions can turn adverse trends around quickly. What short-term policies and programs should POTUS additionally prescribe?
  2. What mid- and long-term initiatives might supplement or replace the eleven that Carson champions?
So, on to the plan of Carson Morris, President of the United States.


This Afghan/Pakistan business troubles me deeply, as do the one-song counterinsurgency types making a career of their unique solutions and now focusing on Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not a nation and never will be. Many who have been on the ground here know that, but the last thing our country needs is to be sold into continuing an unwinnable war in a non-nation against a religious group that belongs to no nation and is very adept at strengthening its ranks by playing the anti-westerner theme.

Even more so than two years ago, I hear the anti-West cries across Afghan and throughout Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and northern Pakistan. The Afghanis are likening the US occupation to that of the Soviets; not in practice but in our just being here. They're quite willing to accept the Taliban as a political party, despite the strictures of Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism, if it's the price of every day security.

And a point that evades the COIN bunch and the neophytes in the new Administration is that we don't have an insurgency in Afghan; rather, it's a civil war. You and I know the Afghan-Pashto tribes can't be separated from those in the FATA, but US policy-makers continue to believe the Afghani/Paki border is inviolate.

How do we get the point across that the problem isn't so much Afghanistan as the fragility and corruptness of Pakistan and failure by the US to clean up the FATA? I see this as exacerbating as we ratchet up the resentment of the Afghanis by moving in more troops and limiting their involvement to Afghanistan. Many in the US can't (or don't want to?) distinguish between Al Qaeda and the Taliban because an enemy, any enemy, is good for the cause or the business. Fortunately, I've recently had the assets to call some strikes across this border that have clobbered some Taliban training centers and depots, but they're too few and each strike has to be argued although we've spotlighted many more than we've been able to hit.

The continuing posturing by the USMC commandant and MARSOC commander is reminiscent of interservice rivalry that doomed Eagle Claw [the failed US hostage rescue operation in Iran, April 1980], because everyone claimed a piece of the action. The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is fanning the flames of continued involvement, not for reason of national objectives but to perpetuate their COIN cause. I rarely agree with the people who are worried about the Army's conventional capabilities, but I have to agree with their rejection of the COIN advocates' one-size-fits-all concept of counter-insurgent warfare.

We need to bring this enterprise to a close quickly and in a manner that gives some hope of future stability and does not further alienate the Afghanis.


1. Immediately initiate a three-pronged psychological operations (psyop) program using all media--internet, radio, TV, and discussion forums:

Psyop #1 - Explain in Islamic terms and context why we're in Afghanistan. Objectives are security for the United States, its allies, and other friends -- especially Afghanis -- not to re-form Afghanistan in Western image. Emphasize intent to withdraw US armed forces ASAP, ie when those objectives are reasonably fulfilled

Psyop #2 - Counter Al-Qaeda and Wahhabism Quran spin with teachings by moderate and accepted Arabic scholars selected from across Islamic countries

Psyop #3 - State firmly our intent to decimate Al Qaeda plus its supporters in the FATA and concurrently to protect non-combatants.

2. Appoint as ambassadors to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and neighboring Iran only fully qualified businessmen and scholars conversant with relevant Islamic culture and history.

3. Open private dialogues with Iran. Initially work toward a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) partnership designed to improve on-scene visibility of their nascent space program. Later open to Deputy Level negotiations that emphasize U.S. efforts to assist Iran in gaining recognition and respectability in Middle East. Privately seek to fragment Mid East political entities.

4. Encourage Iranian and Tajik economic exchanges (even fund them if necessary) to further fence Afghanistan

5. Encourage cultivation of foodstuffs and biofuel as alternatives to opium poppies and drug production

6. Encourage mutual interest of Tajik, China, and India to diplomatically squeeze Pakistan

7. Enlist China's aid to cool off Kashmir and further politically squeeze Pakistan

8. As a political - not military - statement, increase significantly number of armed Predator and unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) strikes. Forbid use of Hermes 450, Eitan, or any UAV being used by Israel in the Gaza to deny adverse propaganda.

9. Treble the number of US covert action, Special Operations, and paramilitary forces operating in FATA forward. Deploy similar forces into the rear areas of North and South Waziristan and Tribal Agencies of Kurram, Khyber, Mohmand, and Bajaur.

10. Accept no logistic routes offered through, or controlled by, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Company. Recognize that Putin retains tight ties with members of the former Soviet KGB (Committee of State Security), its Russian successor, the FSB (Federal Security Service), and his burning ambition is to restore former Soviet hegemony.

11. Secure Afghan "border" in Afghanistan with US conventional troops but allow no incursions by them into the FATA.

That is Carson Morris's stand. What is your stand?

Regards  --  Cliff

Free Speech in the UK

The question of the Dutch Parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, keeps popping up.  The British banned him from visiting the UK after he was invited to a viewing of his 17 minute film, Fitna, by the House of Lords.  Here is a comment on it by Mike McNally, in a post on Pajamas Media.

I am a little surprised that the House of Lords would be screening Mr Wilders' short film, but Her Majesty's Government (HMG) would see fit to ban him from entering the country for the event.

I am all for civility and for being polite, but we should not hesitate to state what we believe to be the truth.  We may be wrong, and it is the duty of others to politely tell us where we are wrong.  But, free speech means the right to state things that are wrong or stupid.  Shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater that is, in fact, not on fire, is wrong.  Otherwise, the field should be pretty open.

Regards  --  Cliff

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Stimulus Package

The Washington Post has an article on Saturday that heralds the passage of the Stimulus Package as a "Victory of Historic Proportions." White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Thursday evening in the West Wing.
We've been in office, what, 2 1/2 , three weeks? We've passed the most major sweeping comprehensive legislation as relates to economic activity ever in a three-week period of time.
Chief of Staff Emanuel is absolutely correct. But, is it enough or too much. That is the question.

I would have presented the below anonymous quote at Left in Lowell, given their recent discussions of the economic situation and the Stimulus Plan. However, ever since they rehosted the site, I have been unable to post comments. I have tried a number of things, but nothing is working for me. So, I am making a Blog Post of my own for the following comments from an economics PhD and current economics professor:
It certainly looks like we are going to have to re-learn the 1930s lessons (and have not yet begun). Although John Maynard Keynes was British his homeland did not put the prescriptions from his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money into effect. British employment figures began to come back about 1936.

President Roosevelt signed on the Keynes' ideas yet US employment did not respond until the build up for WW II (1938 was, for the US, about the same as 1933). Then we put not quite 10% of the total US population in uniform and a great many more into the industrial base needed to support a military of that size fighting a world war. Were we to do that today the US military would have somewhere north of 25-30 million troops.
None of this is to take away from the contributions of the WPA and other organizations to the betterment of the People of the United States. The Civilian Construction Corps (CCC) employed millions of men during the depression and helped us prepare for World War II. In fact, due to a clerical error, for a couple of years my source of commission was listed in the Air Force Computer System as the CCC.

The 1930s were a time of desperation, with the Depression being part of the problem. In addition, farm foreclosures were combined with the dust bowl. Arkies and Oakies fled to the West Coast. My daughter-in-law's grandparents were from both Arkansas and Oklahoma and settled in Central California (Big Creek).

Then there were the political problems of the time, including WWI Veterans who marched on Washington to get their promised Veterans Bonus early, to help them through the Depression. Governor and then Senator Huey Long (memorialized in the Robert Penn Warren historical novel, All The King's Men) was expected to opposed President Franklin D Roosevelt. The Huey Long program as described in Wikipedia is as follows:
Long created the Share Our Wealth program in 1934, with the motto "Every Man a King," proposing new socialist wealth redistribution measures in the form of a net asset tax on corporations and individuals to curb the poverty and crime resulting from the Great Depression. To stimulate the economy, Long advocated federal spending on public works, public education, old-age pensions and other social programs. He was an ardent critic of the Federal Reserve System's policies to reduce lending.
If Senator Huey Long had run as a third party candidate in 1936 he might have endangered Roosevelt's chance of victory. Can you say President Alf Landon? Governor of Kansas, Alfred Landon was a Liberal Republican of the Teddy Roosevelt mold. He was the only Republican Governor to be reelected in 1934.

But, the question remains, what is the path out of the current economic troubles?
  • We know that people need jobs.
  • We know that the Housing Market is in trouble, to include many evictions of people with nowhere to turn.
  • We know that credit is tight, which means that innovative new ideas are not being launched as businesses--thus not creating new jobs.
  • We may remember what happened in the German Weimar Republic with its rampant inflation.
  • We have been told by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman that the Stimulus Package is not nearly enough to pull us out.
    • In an earlier opinion piece Dr Krugman had suggested it is only a third of what we really need to achieve a Keynesian recovery.
  • We have the British example from the 1930s, where they pulled themselves out of the Depression well before we did.
  • What we don't know is what is the best path out of this situation.
We need to ensure that the unemployed don't fall through the crack. We need to clear out the bank mess--24 bank failures last yearand 13 so far this year. As an item of interest, I am told that banks only fail on Fridays--so the FDIC has the weekend to clean up the mess for a Monday opening.
As an aside, if Senator Chuck Schumer isn't worried (NB Sound involved) about a billion dollars of pork here and a billion dollars of pork there, neither he nor we should be too worried about this or that bank executive making a million dollars.
What we need to be doing is working to ensure credit is available to companies taking the risk involved in starting a new product line or ramping up production in an old one. They will need to borrow money and that means that someone has to loan it to them.

We can be writing checks to citizens who are unemployed, but if some of that money doesn't find its way to businesses, old and new, and into the investment accounts of those businesses, we are going to be in this economic mess for a long time.

Is $787 Billion, followed by another $1.5 Trillion, the answer? I am not convinced. There is no doubt in my mind that, like in the 1930s, the American People are looking for the Federal Government to do something and to then explain it. Senator Chuck Schumer notwithstanding, while the American People favor the Stimulus Package, there are not overwhelming numbers in favor of this approach, although after the package is signed the poll numbers might go up from the low 50s.

But, in the end, it is about economics and not poll numbers.


Here is a comment from France, pointing out the structural problems in the current economic crisis and calling for a solution that involves increased international control. I do not favor some of his solutions. I don't believe there is sufficient global concensus on things like human rights and economic policies.

Regards  --  Cliff

Friday, February 13, 2009

Iran and Nuclear Weapons

There I was, happy in the knowledge that the US Intelligence Community (the IC) was certain that Iran was not in the pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Now comes the Los Angeles Times with a report that says the US IC actually thinks Iran is in pursuit of nuclear weapons.

That can't be right, can it? Here we were living in dread of the Bush Administration doing something dreadful to Iran to prevent it from gaining nuclear weapons. The December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) relieved us of our fears, although maybe not the Israelis. The Key Judgements of the NIE are here. The New York Times article declaring the Bush Administration Policy to be over is located here. The headline that Daily Kos used was "Oh... Nevermind.

Now I am not sure what to think. Greg Miller, writing in the LA Times says:
Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.

In his news conference this week, President Obama went so far as to describe Iran's "development of a nuclear weapon" before correcting himself to refer to its "pursuit" of weapons capability.

Obama's nominee to serve as CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, left little doubt about his view last week when he testified on Capitol Hill. "From all the information I've seen," Panetta said, "I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability."
The closest The Globe has come to touching on this is this Friday the 13th article on the US using the missile defense system in Europe as a bargaining chip to get Russia to work to turn off Iran's nuclear program.

My check of The Boston Globe has this 15 January article that has this from outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden:
The possibility of an Iranian warhead is on a list of 10 potential problems that Hayden says his successor should keep watch on over the next 12 months.
Frankly, if one is planning for the long run it doesn't make much difference if their first weapon is available in 2009 or 2019. Is there anyone who thought it really wasn't going to happen? And, is there anyone who thinks that when it happens it won't result in other Middle Eastern nations (Israel aside) seeking the same capability. The only surprise would be if Israel extended its nuclear umbrella to Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia accepted.

A hat tip to TigerHawk and to Instapundit.

Regards  --  Cliff

Collision in Space

By now we have all read about the collision of two satellites in Low Earth Orbit.

Joel Achenbach, of The Washington Post, tells us "Debris From Satellites' Collision Said to Pose Small Risk to Space Station." Somehow I am not assured that those who missed this coming collision (or were not prepared to tell us about its impending occurrence) are going to be able to handle protecting the International Space Station.

Then there is Mike Moore, writing in Foreign Policy, who tells us "Space Debris:  From Nuisance to Nightmare." Mr Moore, no relation to Michael Moore than I know of, is concerned about the fact that the US won't sign on to a treaty banning weapons in space. One wonders how such a treaty would be verified.

But, back to the collision. Apparently the striker was the spent Russian Cosmos 2251, Strela-2M communications satellite, launched in 1993, which had been non-operational for a decade, The other satellite was one of the privately owned Iridium satellites, Iridium 33.

From this simulation from AGI, a firm to be trusted, it looks like the satellites meet at almost a 90 degree crossing angle, which means that the speed at impact was likely much greater than the speed of either of the individual satellites. Pretty spectacular. Stay with the animation to see the two debris fields form and then disperse over space.

According to a Reuters report in The Boston Globe:
Iridium Satellite LLC said Thursday it had no advance warning of an impending collision between one of its communications satellites and a defunct Russian military satellite above Siberia.
It's not like folks aren't offering to help report possible satellite collisions or near misses--like the Satellite Orbital Conjunction Reports Assessing Threatening Encounters in Space.

So far, this seems to be put down to Russian incompetence. I have not seen the suggestion that this was either (a) a test by Russia of their ability to take out a satellite or (b) a signal to the Obama Administration that the Russians are not going to be messing around. I see either of those two options as being within the realm of possibility.

I was advised to check Slash Dot for additional insights. However, I was delayed by a post on the Leeuwarden, Netherlands, Mayor's office having lost some data off their computer. But, the proper URL is located here for the Slash Dot Post.

No, I am not going to start building a bunker to protect me from space debris.


Here is a Reuters report on the episode, including a statement from the French Space Operations Center at Toulouse, they were aware of the fact that the two satellites would pass very close by each other.


Now someone suggests to me that maybe Iridium Satellite LLC, at the behest of its largest customer, flew one of its birds into Cosmos 2251. Why? For the US to send a message to the Soviet Union and China and maybe Iran. Frankly, I don't believe the new Obama Administration could have acted this quickly, although it might have signed off on a previously planned action.

I discount this as a likely explanation. One reason is that I would hope people in a position to make decisions in the US space program understand the danger of so much debris in space. Another reason is that this does not seem to be the type of approach the Obama Administration is taking, at least initially, to international problems. Finally, given how "whistle blowers" worked to control the Bush Administration, I would think that the same ethic and imperative would apply to the new Administration, no?


There is this view from J D "Illiad" Frazer, in his Sunday cartoon.

Regards  --  Cliff


This Washington Post article by Anne Applebaum, The Only 'Surge' That Will Last," is short but it is on the mark.

As one commentator said, "Anne Applebaum hit this one out of the park," and then went on to quote this passage:
If we use our new "surge" to improve the Afghan army, on the other hand, expanding its role in the south and on the border, it could eventually provide basic security in most of the country.  It could also create an institution that Afghans of all ethnic backgrounds would admire -- assuming it doesn't turn authoritarian or corrupt in the meantime.  Still, it's not like we have a choice.  The Afghan army may not be our best ticket out of Afghanistan, but it's the only one we've got.
Sadly, we are manning our own identified requirement of advisors to the Afghan National Army at 50%.  On the "non-military side, the Afghan National Police advisory effort is manned at 33%.  This second statistic is why the US Congress needs to get serious about funding the Department of State and other Departments that are part of the Global War on Terrorism.

There has been some talk about the over-militarization of our foreign policy.  When we don't properly fund our Department of State and don't ask that other Departments be ready to do more, people naturally turn to the Department of Defense, which is seen has having all that "unused" manpower, sitting around, waiting for someone else in the Government to have a need.  It is time to reverse that trend.

I commend the article to you.

Regards  --  Cliff

Congrats to Allie Stanzione

One of my coworkers at Dynamics Research Corporation (DRC), Allie Stanzione, had an article published in Contract Managementt, the professional journal of the National Contract Management Association.  I used to be a member of NCMA, but let my membership lapse while I was enjoying life in Thailand.

The article, The Path of Servant Contract Leadership, written while Ms Stanzione was at DRC, captures one approach to the problem of line and staff organizations working together.

One of the things I liked was that not only did the author give me a nod of recognition, she also captured my two brothers.  I am expecting it is not often that three brothers get footnoted in the same article.

And a hat tip to DRC's own Andy Habina for telling me about this article. Also, it was recently announced that Andy was designated as a Fellow by NCMA. Congratulations to Andy.

Regards  --  Cliff