Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Senate Bill Cuts Veterans' Pensions; Democrats Block Fix

The new compromise budget deal worked out by Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), after having passed the House, was discovered to have a provision to cut the pensions of military retirees and disabled veterans. 

The two-year budget agreement is to cut the benefits by some $6 billion over ten years from the pensions of this segment, by pegging any pay increase to the rate of inflation, minus 1%, affecting all military retirees under the age of 62.  Over the course of their retired life, retirees could lose up to 20% of their pension.
Sessions, Ryan, Murray
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) sought to force a vote on an amendment that would halt that provision, and instead close a loophole that allows illegal immigrants to claim an IRS credit for child welfare through the Additional Child Tax Credit.  The IRS paid out some $4.2 billion to people with invalid Social Security numbers in 2010, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration estimates that the payout this year to be some $7.4 billion. 

Senator Sessions' amendment was blocked by the Democrats in the Senate, with Senator Murray claiming that the move was a plot by the Republicans to kill the entire bill.  Senator Sessions replied,
By blocking my amendment, they voted to cut pensions for wounded warriors.  Senators in this chamber have many valid ideas for replacing these pension cuts, including my proposal to close the tax welfare loophole for illegal filers, and all deserved a fair and open hearing.  But they were denied.
Almost all Democrats voted along party lines to preserve the payouts to illegal immigrants, much of which goes outside the US, and to cut veterans' pay.  The lone dissenter from the Democrats was Senator Kay Hagan, whose state of North Carolina contains two of the largest remaining bases in the US: Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, along with a sizeable population of military retirees who tend to settle near military bases for access to retirement benefits.  Senator Hagan is up for re-election next year.

The pensions of civilian federal retirees are not affected.
Update: From Congressman Ryan: A temporary fix has been applied that will delay implementation of the cuts in order to give a special commission on military pay and benefits time "to find a better solution."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Chinese Economy in Perspective

There has been a rising expectation for the last ten years or so about the rapid rise of the Chinese economy, along with fears that it will soon overtake our own.  A splendid symbolic example is this Reuters photo showing the growth of the Pudong financial district in Shanghai between 1987 and 2013:

        Shanghai 1987-2013, with the new Shanghai Tower building on the right (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
But it is best to study the trend as best we can through the lens of the dismal science.  I always think of Truman's quote about how, if all the economists in the world were to be laid end to end, they would still be pointing in all directions. 

Derek Scissors of the Heritage Foundation provides a more Cassandra-like contribution, written as of 2011.  He cites the US unemployment figure then at 9%, just before we were entering what was to be the third "summer of recovery", and it is now lingering at around 7%.  (The press would like you to disregard the wailing about the US economy under Bush when it rose to 4.9% – make no comparisons, nothing to see here, move along…)
One of the most surprising developments resulting from the financial crisis is the belief among ordinary Americans that China has become the world's leading economy.  This view appeared in the roughest times of 2009 and has persisted even though the impact of the crisis has begun to ebb.  US media have frequently conveyed the same belief.  But it is patently absurd. 
Buried within the report is a quick but cogent comparison to the Japanese stagnation, now entering the 23rd year of its "lost decade", with a chart that lays out how Japan's GDP growth increased by 444% between 1971 and 1991, but has increased only 3% since.
Tokyo repeatedly chose fiscal stimulus over reform.  The outcome has been unpleasant.
Indeed, "fiscal stimulus".  The Japanese invented the term "quantitative easing".  There are some other factors to be sure – there always are – such as the fact of Japan's aging population, a situation that the US won't equal until 2035 (with the maximum effect starting to show on the same people expected to put more money into ObamaCare now).  But in general, how has that worked out for Japan, and how successful have we been in implementing the same efforts, despite such inane media drivel such as Chris Matthews simpering about the "amazing economy" under Obama? 

The Japanese notwithstanding, Scissors presents a detailed look at the Chinese management of their economy, from the significant market reform begun in 1978 – experimentation with a capitalist economy under a Chinese Communist leadership – until the party leaders sought to increase its intervention in the market in 2003, fearing an increasing loss of control.  He ends with some sharp recommendations:
Limit federal control of lands to defense needs and preservation of natural and cultural phenomena.
Immediately and sharply cut the federal deficit.
In particular, reduce subsidies of every kind./
Ensure a well-educated and growing labor force.
Last March, even CBS in its 60 Minutes provided a glimpse behind those Potemkin façades in the sparkling new yet empty Chinese cities:

Zhengdong New Area, central district (BI)

Monday, December 2, 2013


Ben Schott is not well known on this side of the Atlantic but has gained quite a following in the UK, not large but a quality bunch, for his work initially as a photographer as well as his way with language and his ability to describe matters with a precise amount of pith.  (He described his session while photographing Tony Blair.  As they finished, Blair offered to show Schott his son, then an infant, but Cherie barked at him that they were about to have lunch.  Cherie, like Hillary – often her own worst press adversary.)

Yet Schott is best known for a series of small books – three altogether now – gathered together as Schott's Miscellanies, collections of trivia that deal with the culture of the UK and to some extent with the EU and Commonwealth.  He has since expanded into a series of almanacs.

His latest endeavor is published with the delightful title of Schottenfreude (a take on the more common and enjoyable term 'Schadenfreude'), and reflects on how the German language has the elastic capacity to enjoin meanings into words that are simply too tempting not to incorporate into other languages: e.g., Doppelgänger, Zeitgeist, Wanderlust, Götterdämmerung, Katzenjammer, Schrecklichkeit, Schwerpunkt, Sitzpinkler, Gemütlichkeit, Sprachgefühl, Weltanshauung, Weltschmerz. 

Schott's idea is to help along this remarkably conjunctive quality of the language by crafting words that we can immediately put to good use, those words that we have unconsciously sought to use but didn't have at our behest.  Some are admittedly a bit too precise for everyday usage but still enjoyable to know, while others we can put to use in short fashion. 

Some examples which caught my eye:
- Plauschplage (prattle-plague): The pressure to make bantering small talk with people you interact with every day.
- Tantalusqualerlösung (Tantalus-torment-redemption): The relief and delight of perfectly slaked thirst.
- Fingernageltafelquietschen (fingernail-blackboard-squeal): The visceral hatred of certain noises.
- Gastdruck (guest-pressure): The exhausting effort of being a good houseguest. 
- Fingerspitzentanz (fingertips-dance): Tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity.
- Traumneustartversuch (dream-restart-experiment): The (usually futile) attempt to return to the plot of the dream after having been awakened.
And my particular favorite (the word, certainly not the action), if only for the imagery enticed:
- Dornhöschenschlaf (thorny-lingerie-sleep): Feigning sleep to avoid sexual intimacy.
It promises to be quite entertaining and a welcome source of useful words in general, as well as words of limited application:
- Gaststattenneueröffnungsuntergangsgewissheit (inn-new-opening-downfall-certitude): The certainty that a newly opened restaurant will fail.

Besides the words themselves, the entertainment value of the book is found in the accompanying notes to each of the words.

In time for Christmas ...

(H/T to Never Yet Melted)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving with the Troops: Obama Phones It In

The White House announced that Obama was thinking of the troops this Thanksgiving holiday, and showed his concern by phoning ten servicemembers, two each from the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. 

We were spared the typical breakdown of the recipients by gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. 

Half of the AP story focused on Obama himself, not surprisingly, reporting that he eschewed the quiet retreat of Camp David in order to remain in the Executive Mansion.  There was no report of who dined with the President and his family, leaving one to ponder who from among the list of usual suspects sat upon his right hand. 
A possible family dining tableau
There was, however, an extended paragraph about the menu of the Commander in Chief which listed a "traditional" Thanksgiving menu including both turkey and ham.  Left unsaid is the army of White House chefs who prepared the meal.  The list did include some nine varieties of pie to cater to Obama's well-known penchant for that dish. 

The typical menu of the troops down-range was not mentioned either, though it would appear that the modern logistical system supports a healthy attention to preparing some great feasts for troops in the rear-echelon areas.  I can remember on several Thanksgivings during my military career that I squirreled away a Turkey MRE in anticipation of my situation in those instances.  (I see that the system has eliminated – with good reason – the Turkey ration from the inventory.  Let's just say that it didn't have a reliable shelf life.) 

In contrast:

President George W Bush at Baghdad Thanksgiving celebration, 2003

This was the surprise visit that George W Bush paid to Baghdad in 2003 (not his only trip to Indian country), which caused a media feeding frenzy when the press falsely proclaimed that he displayed a plastic turkey.  (The report was a desperation move, trying to find anything to criticize.)  The reaction in the hall when he walked in was loud and euphoric. 

If only our troops in the field could feel as supported today.  Instead they have to be worried about their combat pay and other hazardous duty incentives being taken from them.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Colorado: Another Senate Gun Control Advocate Gone

Colorado State Senator Evie Hudak (D-Arvada/Westminster) has resigned "effective immediately" in the face of a recall drive that previously unseated two of her colleagues.  Hudak was known for her support on a package of highly controversial bills that restricted the rights of gun owners and ended up with several firearms-affiliated companies moving out of state rather than be a target of state laws.

Ex-Senator Evie Hudak (D)

The highly publicized row over the gun control bills drew national attention, not the least reason being its draw on outside sources of funding for the effort.  The recall election, which had never previously occurred in Colorado, initially included her but the effort was dropped for a time to concentrate on unseating Senate President John Morse and Senator Angela Giron, who were successfully recalled last September. 

Those outside funding sources continued to lend support during that previous recall election, seeing a 7-to-1 ratio in favor of the two Democrats who were eventually unseated.  Gun rights advocates saw this as a portentous event with national implications, and no less so locally. 

Invigorated by their success, they turned their sights again on Hudak, who had barely held onto her seat in 2012 against Republican opponent Lang Sias by an official count of less than 600 votes. 

Hudak initially mocked the recall effort, but she has been prevailed upon to resign by the state Democrat party.  If she had been removed from office in favor of a Republican opponent, as happened with her two predecessors, the Democrats would have lost control of the state Senate, which they currently hold by a margin of 18-17.  This maneuver allows Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper to instead appoint her successor and preserve the Democrat edge. 

Hudak is also remembered for her cross-examination of a rape victim during the Senate hearings on the gun control bills.  The victim had been brutally attacked – at gunpoint within a hundred yards of the police station – on a college campus and, though she had a concealed carry permit, she was nevertheless unarmed because the campus was declared to be a gun-free zone.  The rapist went to rape two more victims and murder one of them.

Hudak interrupted her to say, "I just want to say that, actually, statistics are not on your side even if you had a gun.  And chances are that if you would have had a gun, then he would have been able to get that from you and possibly use it against you."  Hudak went to say that for every woman who kills an attacker, some 83 women are killed with their own weapon.  (Note the statistical rendering: Hudak uses cases of women who kill their attacker, not instances where the attackers are dissuaded by the fear that the woman may be armed, or who flee when they discover that the woman is prepared to shoot them.  The 83 women "killed" includes a likely majority of suicide cases.)  These hearings also revealed that college campuses are telling women that they should vomit or urinate on their attackers in an effort to dissuade them.  When the victim later asked Hudak how being unarmed makes her safer, Hudak had no reply.
Outrage at her remarks and her treatment of the witness was immediate and profound.  A stunned Professor Dave Kopel of the University of Denver law school and author of a textbook on firearms law and policy, called Hudak's remarks "outrageous".  He went on to say that her statements displayed "self-righteous, ignorant bigotry".  Hudak later gave a qualified apology: "I feel so horrible for what some of these people have endured.  I am only looking out for their best interest."

The recall effort, led by Compass Colorado, will persevere in obtaining the needed 18,900 signatures on the recall petition before the deadline of 3 December.  Executive Director Kelly Maher stated that they already have over 90% of the signatures needed, and as of last month some 15% were Democrats.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Kipling's 'Hyaenas' Are Still in Our Midst

After the burial parties leave
  And the baffled kites have fled;
The wise hyaenas come out at eve
  To take account of our dead. 

How he died and why he died
  Troubles them not a whit.
They snout the bushes and stones aside
  And dig till they come to it. 

They are only resolute they shall eat
  That they and their mates may thrive,
And they know that the dead are safer meat
  Than the weakest thing alive. 

(For a goat may butt, and a worm may sting,
  And a child will sometimes stand;
But a poor dead soldier of the King
  Can never lift a hand.) 

They whoop and halloo and scatter the dirt
  Until their tushes white
Take good hold of the Army shirt,
  And tug the corpse to light, 

And the pitiful face is shewn again
  For an instant ere they close;
But it is not discovered to living men –
  Only to God and to those 

Who, being soulless, are free from shame,
  Whatever meat they may find.
Nor do they defile the dead man's name –
  That is reserved for his kind.
Benton County Courthouse, Oregon - part of the daily gathering of the cackle (Molly Woodstock)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ugly Women Encouraged For the Army

Colonel Lynette Arnhart recently commented upon an article in Army magazine concerning women in the Army, stating that the woman featured, a Corporal Kristine Tejada (1st Cavalry Division), is a "pretty woman" whose photo "undermine[s] the rest of the message" of the article which is to ensure "opening previously closed positions and occupational specialties to women while maintaining our combat effectiveness."
There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article where the article does not reference a specific person. It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered a hazardous duty).
In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead.
The offending photo
Arnhart is in charge of a study on how to overcome obstacles of moving more women into front-line combat duties, thus her opinion is not just a catty snippet.
Since she is quite open on the issue of appearance affecting effectiveness, I am sure that we all want to study her appearance as well:

COL Arnhart
Note her branch insignia, the Adjutant General Corps, which places her firmly in the category of a professional staff officer.  Thus the Table of Organization and Equipment lists her assigned weapon as a letter opener.
Sergeant Theresa Vail of the Kansas ARNG, who is otherwise Miss Kansas and a top-ten contender for the title of Miss America, responded, "Unfortunately that is the sick reality and one of the many stereotypes I'm trying to break.  However, it is going to take an army of women to break that perception, not just myself."
SGT Vail

Friday, November 15, 2013

Eisenhower's Full Warning

The Left often speaks of the threat from the "military-industrial complex", and it is delighted to proclaim that the term came from none other than President Dwight Eisenhower in his Farewell Address of 17 January 1961. 

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.  The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Just so.  Conservatives are admonished to heed the words of one of our own heroes.  The words take on added significance having come from the American victor of the European theatre of World War II, and as the only military general elected president in the 20th century. 
But as for this chimera (Eisenhower was warning of the potential, not the actual danger), the Left is apt to fire and forget and move on to other arguments.  But Eisenhower was speaking of the military-industrial complex as something new.  Read the preceding comments:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry.  American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well.  But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense.  We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.
But as my father said, "Don't read to the first comma and quit."  Read on, dear Academician and barista, and learn:
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.  In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly.  A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields.  In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research.  Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.  For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.  The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time.  As we peer into society's future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow.  We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.  We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.
So shall it be written.  So shall it be done.

(H/T to Gerard van der Leun)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

ObamaCare and the World War (Update: Digging In, and Media Bias)

It is a common cliché, at least since 1969, to say, "Why is it that the country that put a man on the moon can't [fill in the blank]?" 

Leaving aside the fact that we are no longer capable of doing that, particularly since Obama shut down the manned space program, nevertheless historical comparisons habitually leap to mind when considering great endeavors, much the same way that people compare prices, as my wife thinks in terms of gallons of milk and I usually consider tanks of gasoline. 

The current story which grips our media and the national economy is ObamaCare.  (Note that the Democrats initially insisted on its somewhat official name of the Affordable Care Act, but even Obama picked up on the ObamaCare title when it still had a positive cachet enforced repeatedly by the press.  Now fewer and fewer of them are using anything which associates ObamaCare with the word 'affordable'.)
So think of it in these terms: ObamaCare was finally signed into law (the history of which is an entirely significant story all its own, but let's not digress) on 21 March 2010, with the planned implementation date of 1 October 2013.  That is a span of 3 years, 6 months, and 10 days. 

The American entry into World War II was thrust upon us by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.  We fought through to win the war in Europe which was marked by the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945.  After the mobilization of millions of Americans, building tens of thousands of tanks, aircraft, vehicles, ships of all kinds, and millions of tons of munitions, then after the invasion and sweep through North Africa, the invasion of Italy, the largest invasion in history on D-Day in France (and another one in southern France), the sweep through to the Battle of the Bulge, and then finally the race to Berlin and the final capitulation of the Nazis – all that was accomplished within 3 years, 5 months, and 1 day. 

And all that done while we were still fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.  (And while we're on the subject, the entire Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb took place between 18 December 1941 and the detonation of the first such device at Trinity Site in New Mexico on 16 July 1945.  That took 3 years, 6 months, 28 days.) 

Yet in the time allotted, the Obama administration can't build a webpage to kick this off, and the webpage is only the beginning of this fiasco. 

Obama's pronouncement today declared an "administrative fix" that will compel insurance companies to retain current insurance policies for another year while the administration figures out some way to make this all work, which is supposed to declare some kind of King's X on some 5 million policies that have been cancelled – so far.  "I completely get how upsetting this could be for many Americans," he deadpanned.
Not a good day
Left unexplained is how those insurance companies will accomplish this gargantuan turn-around, or whether he has the authority to compel private companies to do so.  If one wants to answer with his actions against the auto industry a few years ago, such as his firing of the CEO of General Motors, well, that isn't exactly considered kosher in some quarters.

Leave aside the unanswered question – or for that matter strangely unasked to a great extent – how the president can simply make declarations that change a Congressional law as if by imperial fiat, such as his exemption of Congress and its staff from ObamaCare, or his declaration that the employer mandate will be postponed for a year (if you think this is bad, wait until that disaster looms on the horizon).

(H/T to Posts from Blair)

Update: The House passed a bill today (Friday, 15 November) to let insurance companies sell the cancelled policies that resulted from ObamaCare, one day after Obama announced a unilateral "fix" to the problem. 

The final tally on the House bill, the Keep Your Plan Act, was 261-157, with 39 Democrats crossing over.  It would seem that Obama's hasty press conference yesterday gave cover for the Democrats who were faced with putting a vote for or against the unfolding ObamaCare debacle.  Without the president's declared "fix", possibly a hundred or so Democrats would have gone over to support the Republican bill.

The bill would not only allow the insurance companies to sell the same plans to those who had had them cancelled, but would allow them to sell to others as well.  Obama's concession would only permit the previous policy holders to retain their old policies.  Both cases apply the extension for one year. 

The Republican bill though, also questions Obama's "authority to make those changes on his own". 

Insurance companies were already questioning Obama's pronouncement about reversing the cancellations brought on by ObamaCare, and I expect that problem would be applied to the House bill as well. 

Obama replied, "What we want to do is to be able to say to these folks, you know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan." 

Of course not.  Now the administration is going to blame the insurance companies for not being able to fix the mess that the administration and the Democrats in Congress foisted on them and the American people.  Remember that not one Republican voted for ObamaCare. 

Obama has threatened to veto the House bill, assuming of course that Harry Reid allows the bill on the Senate floor. 

In other news, this concerning an example of the media coverage of Obama (and yes, that is deliberately ambiguous), this morning's Good Morning America had this tidbit from Josh Elliott:
We're going to begin with the continuing battle now over ObamaCare.  The House will vote today on a Republican-backed bill that can dramatically undermine the President's health care law.  For his part, the President is vowing to help millions of Americans who had their policies cancelled by allowing insurance companies to offer their old policies for one more year.  But now it is up to the states to implement that change and one state – Washington – is already saying the President's fix is unworkable.
Catch that?  Republicans: "… dramatically undermine the President's health care law."  Democrats: "… the President is vowing to help millions of Americans …".  A good exercise in value-laden terms.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

UN Ambassador Samantha Power Praises Jane Fonda

Just in time for Veterans Day no less, Obama's UN ambassador Samantha Power, speaking in New York City to the United Nations Association, led off her remarks last week thusly:

You know life has changed when you're hanging out with Jane Fonda backstage.  There is no greater embodiment of being outspoken on behalf of what you believe in – and being "all in" in every way – than Jane Fonda.  And it's a huge honor just to even briefly have shared the stage with her.
As one reads these words there is a sense of other-worldly incredulity that she is actually praising 'Hanoi Jane'.  But that last line jabs the barb firmly in place and twists it.

It is rare that one becomes a living legend.  The story of Fonda's perfidious narcissism has become convoluted, but the most well known act of betrayal is her vamping it up during a 1972 goodwill visit to a North Vietnamese* anti-aircraft battery, singing songs and laughing with the assembled gun crew, all while during the time when they would otherwise be occupied in trying to shoot down and kill American aircrews.  She also asked for a publicized visit with American POWs, using them as a shill for her popularity.  [* Critics often incorrectly describe the site as a Viet Cong battery.]

Fonda became a celebrity among the radical Left who weren't merely content to criticize the American war effort, but to condemn our military – each individual – who participated in any way, along with America as a nation and culture.  (Not to be confused with John Kerry, however easy that may be to conflate.)
The general story today in the main-stream media is that she later apologized, in a Barbara Walters interview in 1988 and in 2005 in her autobiography, saying that she was "thoughtless and careless" about "things that [she] said or did" and later, as to the photograph, claimed that she was an "emotional wreck" at the time, and that "It was possible that it was a set-up, that the [North] Vietnamese had it all planned."  This has been used by the Left to put some sort of finality to the subject – a "Get over it" attitude to her critics – as an apology for all of her actions.  Examine her claims though; she addresses the photograph almost exclusively, mostly as bad PR for herself, and parses her words carefully about the rest of her extreme statements.

Unfortunately, some stories have sprouted up about Fonda's willing collaboration that frankly aren't true, and they have done her opposition no good whatsoever.  These stories are used in the tried and true fashion of finding one small element that is askew and then use that to impeach the entire story, allowing the Left and the press (but I repeat myself) to ignore it henceforth. 

Discarding the false allegations (e.g., American POWs slipped her notes which she turned over to the NVA guards, denied even by the POWs), there is enough factual information to rightly condemn her: 

- She made some ten broadcasts over Radio Hanoi, condemning Americans as war criminals. Her defenders argue that the 'Hanoi Jane' label is harsh, but she actually made the broadcasts and truly deserves the moniker just as surely as Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally. 

- She took up the cry and became the poster child for the claim that the US was deliberately bombing the dikes in and around Hanoi in an effort to flood the area and target civilians.  There was no such operation but the propaganda campaign persisted nonetheless, aided by occasional foreign diplomats.  Dismissing the obvious case of fighters jettisoning their bomb loads during maneuvers and the stray bomb off target, the major defense against the claim was that if the US had sought to eliminate the dike systems, it would have done a far more credible job of it.  The US also cited examples of anti-aircraft emplacements being built on dikes in coordination with the propaganda campaign, but she proclaimed that it was a lie, up until the point when we took the unprecedented step of publishing classified photos of such sites. 

- With our troops in the field, Fonda often said that what Viet Nam really needed was a "victory for the Viet Cong."

- When our POWs returned with stories of torture, Fonda called them "hypocrites and liars".  When later called to task for her remarks in the face of irrefutable proof, she backtracked by saying that whatever torture that might have occurred could not have been "systematic", and thus the claims of the POWs were still lies.  She went on to insist that they were nevertheless "professional killers" and "war criminals". 

Fonda's two cases of her qualified 'apologies' both occurred with a mercenary sense of timing during movie projects and book tours that were coming under increasing pressure from veterans groups. 

This is the example that Irish-born Samantha Power edifies, and it is no surprise that she feels comfortable in her presence. 

Power first hit the national news circuit as an Obama wonkette during the 2008 presidential campaign, when in a fit of pique in what she thought was an off-mike moment, condemned then-rival Hillary Clinton as a "monster" who would "do anything" after she had capitalized on the fact that the Obama campaign had "fucked up in Ohio", as Power condemned the voters in Ohio as well. 

She was publically dismissed from the campaign but didn't stray far, remaining as the ex officio human rights advisor and married to Cass Sunstein, one of Obama's retinue of czars.  After the dust settled from the campaign, she was promptly brought back onboard and made her amends with Hillary. 

She was instrumental, along with Susan Rice and later Hillary, in goading Obama into the Libyan attacks – Obama's "lead from behind" strategy with NATO – that resulted in the serendipitous killing of Muammar Qaddafi six months into what Obama declared would be a one-month campaign.  The rationale for our involvement in the civil war there was the imminent chance that Qaddafi's army would attack Benghazi, which could result in perhaps a thousand civilian casualties, giving it a humanitarian excuse.  (Left unexplained is the lack of involvement in Syria that has seen well over 100,000 civilian deaths.) 

Of course, that same blithering misunderstanding of whatever goals we have in Libya has resulted in that country being the new Somalia, and led to the attack on our consulate in Benghazi. 

Power has a strained relationship with Israel, which helps her fit in with the current White House staff.  She has called for a 'legitimate' use of US power by providing a "mammoth protection force" into Israel to prevent "actual genocides" and "major human rights abuses" by both Israel and the Palestinians.  We have to put "something on the line" to impose a "solution on unwilling parties".  This is an example of the fundamental shift in our relationship with Israel, no longer spoken of as an ally, and she implied in a 2007 interview that we had brought the 2001 attacks on ourselves by acquiescing in Israel's "human rights abuses". 

It isn't only Israel, of course.  She argued that, like former German Chancellor Willy Brandt apologizing for the atrocities of the Nazis, we too should have "a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States."  She is one of the originals after 9/11 who literally asked "Why do they hate us?" 

Is it any wonder that Power so blithely gushed about someone so rightfully vilified outside the clutch of the lumpenintelligentsia?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Birthday of the United States Marines

The 10th of November, 1775 marks the establishment of the United States Marine Corps by act of the Second Continental Congress (seventeen days before that same Congress established the United States Navy).  Recruitment began shortly thereafter at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, a fact cherished by Marines ever since, not so much the site itself but the fact that it was a bar.

The US Marines went on to establish themselves as one of the premier fighting forces in the history of mankind, from the Battle of Bladensburg ("Board 'em, boys!") to Belleau Wood ("Come on, you bastards.  You want to live forever?"), from Iwo Jima ("Uncommon valor was a common virtue.") to Chosin ("Surrounded?  Good – we can attack in any direction."), and all the many battles between and since that show that the US Marines are "No greater friend, no worse enemy". 

I am both proud to have served in the Marines, and humbled to have been associated with such magnificent warriors.  This is not to say that I have not benefited immensely from my extreme good fortune to have been posted to serve with Marines of foreign countries, as well as specialized operators and common grunts in our own military, who have shown a grinding determination to succeed in that greatest challenge of humanity. 

But there is something about the spirit of the United States Marine Corps that makes it separate and distinct among the fighting men of the world.  Mark this day to enjoy a libation to the Marines, and all our kindred souls and absent companions.

Semper Fidelis.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

CMA Awards Takes On ObamaCare

A lot of web sites are taking this up, but I can't resist.  Off topic?  You bet. 

There are people who don't like football (pity) but will tune in to the Super Bowl because of the chance to see the brace of new and (hopefully) funny, high-quality commercials.  In the same way, folks who aren't particularly attracted to country music should tune in to the Country Music Association Awards if for no other reason than to see the cutting-edge comedy of what has become the standard co-hosts of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.

Some of the jokes require a more-than-passing knowledge of pop news about the stars of that genre (e.g., Zac Brown and Luke Bryan were 'feuding'?), but last night the routine slid into the topic of ObamaCare.  Two impressions came quickly to mind: the crowd reaction was an immediate roar of laughter – louder than any other time of the show – in anticipation of the skewering of the disastrous launch of the attempt to "fundamentally transform" the most successful health care system in the world; and the apparently clueless response – caught in close-up – of Taylor Swift to the huge swell of the audience laughter and cheers. 

Paisley and Underwood limited themselves to a quick send-up of the incredible failure of the web site.
Imagine what a rich trove of comedy material awaits as the nation staggers and stumbles into the program itself. 

As for Swift, I expect that her reaction was likely one of realizing that practically the entire auditorium was clearly on the opposite side of her attitude about ObamaCare.  Don’t get me wrong – she's sweet and sincere, and has nailed her position within her niche of the music industry with her obvious talent – but she probably falls within a political category populated otherwise only by Willie Nelson.  After all, in her bid to challenge Jennifer Aniston for the tabloid queen of blowing through boyfriends, she has dated one of the Kennedy clan – not the social circle that country folk typically fall within – and she received the endorsement of Ethel Kennedy (weirder still) when she was given the Pinnacle Award at the conclusion of the show.
Either that or, immersed as she is in her career, she actually doesn't get it.
Funnier still is the outpouring of suggestions that started flooding a new Twitter site: #ObamaCountrySongs.  Some of my favorites: 

- Because you're mine, I impose a fine
- Man, I throw like a woman
- Jarrett take the wheel
- God bless the NSA
- All my axis lives on taxes
- All my taxes are in excess
- Don't take your guns to Mexico
- I walk the lie
- Benghazi's never on my mind
- He stopped treating her today
- Fire a nurse, fine a young guy
- Penury for the red, white and blue
- I'm a rhinestone golfer
- I love this par
- Here's seventeen trillion dollars, call someone who cares
- God damn the USA
- I never promised that in the Rose Garden
- Nobody ever told me
- You can't hide you're spyin' eyes
- I snort the line
- We are never, ever getting out of debt
- You picked a fine time to leave me, Blue Shield
- Hey, won't you play another George Bush done somebody wrong song
- I'm proud to be with Blago from Chicago

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Campaign to Eliminate Santa's Little Black Helper

Most Christian nations have similarities in their end-of-year celebrations, often observed to commemorate Christmas on 25 December or Epiphany on 6 January (with some slight variations in Orthodox churches and those of other sects). 

A third option is to observe the feast day (anniversary of the death) of Saint Nicholas on 5 (or 6) December, and within the Netherlands that takes the tradition of a Sinterklaas, robed in the vestments of a bishop (as the original Nicholas held that post in Myra in present-day Turkey, a Christian bishopric until the Seljuk Turks rolled over it in the early 15th century), visits the children to deliver gifts in the form of traditional candy and sweets placed in their shoes, in exchange for the thoughtful remembrance of the children leaving apples and carrots for Sinterklaas' horse.  The parallel to the later American Santa Claus is obvious, as we derive much of our tradition from the story. 

The Dutch have differences too, and one has come under fire from the Gauleiters of Political Rectitude, now from the United Nations. 

Most of the St Nicholas figures in Europe have assistants of some sort, and in the case of Sinterklaas, that assistant takes the form of Zwarte Piet ('Black Pete'), though in recent decades he is in many cases no longer simply a single assistant but a group – Zwarte Pieten.  The reason for the name should be obvious:

The idea many years ago was that, like other such holiday duos in Europe, the two would serve as a sort of Manichaean lesson for the children – St Nicholas bestowing candy and gifts on the good children, and the assistant reporting on and delivering the benign (or not so) consequences to the bad.   In time, Piet has assumed more the attitude of a mischievous elf and helper.

For the Dutch, the story has developed that Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piet(en) arrive by ship from Spain.  Piet has already reconnoitered all the homes by listening in to determine if the kinderen have been bad or good, reported in the book that Sinterklaas carries as he makes his rounds astride his horse that flies from rooftop to rooftop, with his Pieten delivering the gifts through chimneys or through the back door, for Sinterklaas has the master of master keys. 

Whereas the American Santa Claus leaves his elves behind at the North Pole, Sinterklaas brings his Pieten to join in the festivities and street celebrations, and jolly little elves they are, with their blackface, red lipstick, sedate afro wigs, snappy velvet feathered berets atop some semblance of a Moorish costume.  For a Moor he was, back in the days when he first appeared, and that made all the sense in the world during those times when the fight between Christianity and Islam was believed to be literally a struggle between good and evil, a fight for the salvation of souls. 

I was introduced to the tradition many years ago while doing a training stint with the British Royal Marines, who maintain a close working relationship with their Dutch counterparts.  Early December in the field found the two cultures in an amicable juxtaposition of festivities – the UK Marines (by way of the attached 29 Commando Royal Artillery) had the excuse of celebrating the feast of St Barbara, the patron saint of artillery and explosives, followed closely by the Dutch Commandos returning the favor with Sinterklaas, all somewhat ad hoc and therefore that much more fun.  I have a vague recollection of someone dressing up as the bearded saint, but what really sticks in my mind is the large Dutch Kaporal, normally rather gruff yet nonetheless witty, doing an absolutely hilarious and side-splitting turn as a Zwarte Piet on steroids.  It took a lot of Courage (the English beer, not the attitude) and Heineken to really appreciate what a grand time we had. 

And did I say blackface?  Ah, there you are – blatant racism that is, at least according to the varieties of Professional Indignants who are famous for their shakedowns and power thrusts.  Not only are the Pieten in blackface, but they're servants – how demeaning.
Allow Dan Goad of the web log Taki's Magazine to explain in a not-for-prime-time commentary:
I understand the "servant" part, but isn't it good to be black?  This shit is always so confusing.  And is there anything that Black Pete does or symbolizes that is more derogatory toward black people than the very existence of, say, Flavor Flav or Lil Wayne? … 
This isn't about sensitivity, it's about power – specifically, the power to dictate to others what their history and traditions actually mean, whether they want to hear it or not…. 
The UN [Human Rights Commission] suggested that black Dutch citizens' human rights were being violated…. No mention was made as to whether the Dutch majority had any right to promote and maintain their own identity…. 
Thankfully, mercifully, and quite refreshingly, the Dutch populace has told the world to go fuck itself.  A "Pete-ition" in support of Black Pete on Facebook gathered over two million likes in the matter of a few days.  And according to a poll of nearly 10,000 Netherlanders, 96% said the debate shouldn't even be occurring.  It's almost as if the entire Dutch nation has applied blackface to its posterior and is mooning the world.
Amid all the guilt-tripping about atoning for colonialism, it bears noting that most accounts suggest that the Black Pete character is based on Spanish Moors – you know, the Africans who invaded and occupied Spain for over five hundred years.
They should know something about colonialism.  They were doing it long before the Dutch were. 
The letter from the UNHCR that set off the current row came from Verene Shepherd, a Jamaican professor of Social History, but after the dust-up, a UN spokesman quickly repudiated the letter.  In addition, the Belgian representative to UNESCO (Belgium shares the tradition to a great extent) further tried to clarify the embarrassment:
[Shepherd] is just a consultant who abused the name of the UN to get her own agenda into the media... [it is] nothing more than a bad move in a game by pressure groups in the Netherlands.
The four signatories of that letter do not belong to a competent organ of UNESCO, but just used paper with a United Nations letterhead, actually from the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
It's not surprising that the UN contributed to this opera buffa.

Another historical note is that the Netherlands arose from the horrific eighty-year struggle to gain independence from the Spanish Habsburgs, with the atrocities of the Gran Duque de Alba and the Spanish Inquisition, a war later subsumed into the cataclysmic Thirty Years War.  The fact that the Dutch entertain any notion at all of a grand guest and patron from Spain is ample evidence of their let-bygones-be-bygones openness to a reasonable diversity.  But then, reasonableness or even accuracy and truth are rarely ingredients in the grievance industry.

Monday, October 28, 2013

We Will Sell the Rope to the Hangman

As my faithful readers know, I was born and raised in Texas and immersed and nurtured in its unique culture, and I miss it so.  But fate and family have brought me to the outback of Oregon and I have made an acceptable accommodation despite the dominating political atmosphere of the big cities nearby. 

Nevertheless, there are good features of the state, not the least of which are its scenery, salmon, coffee, blueberries, and, due to the fortunate geographical fact that the Willamette River valley is the second-best place on the planet (after Germany) for growing hops, it is home to a staggering amount of micro-breweries and their product: the place is practically awash in beer.
One of my favorites, when I'm in the mood, is Ninkasi, out of the Land of the Lotus Eaters otherwise known as Eugene.  This opinion is shared with one of my sons who recently purchased a nice metal thermos bottle from their Bierstube: the narrow-mouthed 'black butte' in the 24-oz size, because it nicely accommodates a 22-oz beverage.  It works quite well in this regard, but has the additional advantage that, when struck lightly on a tightly padded object, such as one's knee, it produces a satisfying and spiritual tone of Tibetan quality.  (Ladies, don't seek a further explanation.  This falls within the category of a 'guy thing'.  If it had a small blinking light as well, it would probably fly off the shelves.) 

Naturally, I bought one too. 

I was washing it out with hot soapy water prior to its first use, because I am one of those people who read directions, and continued on to read: "[Trade name]'s bottles are designed in Bend, Oregon, and handcrafted in China at meticulously chosen factories that practice social responsibility, fair labor, and strong ethics." 

Excuse me?  A manufacturer "meticulously" chosen for its "social responsibility, fair labor, and strong ethics"?  In Communist China?! 

Where have these people been?  Certainly not to China, or if so, not outside the control of their handlers.  They should get out more and read up on the history of their friends, or just check current events.  Certainly they (or anyone else for that matter) should read the Belgo-Australian Pierre Ryckmans (writing as Simon Leys) and his scathing and quite readable critiques of China's Great Leap Forward and the still devastating aftermath, covered over by a thin patina of commercial success copied from the West.  But it's not like the human rights abuses in China are some sort of arcane secret; this is a very easy topic to research.

Of course, we hear variations on this all the time.  Around here, with a Starbucks, Dutch Bros, Human Bean, or smaller independent coffee kiosk on every corner, we see reference to 'fair trade coffee' all the time, but few actually recognize that it's a scam and whenever the subject comes up, no one with whom I have spoken grasps the irony that they are often dealing with Daniel Ortega's Sandinistas in Nicaragua or FARC-controlled areas in Colombia, and hardly anyone has a clue about the worsening human rights conditions in Venezuela or Bolivia.  Last week, I saw a Ché t-shirt on a completely oblivious attendee at a funeral service for a soldier.  If you are a left-wing dictator of fairly generous brutality, you are given a very wide berth indeed from the dudgeon of the sophisticated press; the spirit of Walter Duranty, secure in the faith of the Pulitzer committee that he retain his prize despite the magnitude of his deceit, lives on as a muse for main stream media.

Lenin is often quoted as the source of the observation that the West has an abundance of "useful idiots", and that "the Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we shall hang them."  In an earlier academic environment, a fellow traveler once challenged that there is no source for Lenin having made these exact quotes, and for the sake of argument in that discussion I was willing to cede the claim but I rejoined with an established quote from the artist Yuri Annenkov, a protégé of Lenin who copied the following from Lenin's personal notes before wisely emigrating to Paris after Lenin's demise (as he was showing a tendency to favor Trotsky, a rather unhealthy interest in the eyes of Stalin): 
Lenin, by Annenkov
To speak the truth is a petit-bourgeois habit.  To lie, on the contrary, is often justified by the lie's aim.  The whole world's capitalists and their governments, as they pant to win the Soviet market, will close their eyes to the above-mentioned reality and will thus transform themselves into men who are deaf, dumb and blind.  They will give us the credits … they will toil to prepare their own suicide.
But when I see such patently absurd claims such as the like on the water flask above, my mind goes to wonderful 1970 book by advertising great Jerry Della Femina, a book that was to provide the basis for the recent hit television series Mad Men.  The title derives from a moment of sardonic frustration during a meeting about pitching the advantages in the early 1960s of selling new market technology from Japan, a nation then still freshly remembered as the primary source for the atrocious Pacific portion of World War II: From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor. 
I am reminded too often that nothing much has changed.